Later On

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

Archive for May 12th, 2013

Extremely good movie: A Dark Truth

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A movie with Andy Garcia, Forest Whitaker, Eva Longoria, and others, and it’s a “written-and-directed” by. I just watched it on Netflix streaming: A Dark Truth. Highly recommended and thought-provoking.

And, speaking of Netflix, read this interesting profile of Reed Hastings and Netflix by Ashlee Vance in Bloomberg Businessweek:

On a normal weeknight, Netflix accounts for almost a third of all Internet traffic entering North American homes. That’s more than YouTube, Hulu, Amazon.com, HBO Go, iTunes, and BitTorrent combined. Traffic to Netflix usually peaks at around 10 p.m. in each time zone, at which point a chart of Internet consumption looks like a python that swallowed a cow. By midnight Pacific time, streaming volume falls off dramatically.

As prime time wound down on Jan. 31, though, there was an unusual amount of tension at Netflix. That was the night the company premièred House of Cards, its political thriller set in Washington. Before midnight about 40 engineers gathered in a conference room at Netflix’s headquarters. They sat before a collection of wall-mounted monitors that displayed the status of Netflix’s computing systems. On the conference table, a few dozen laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other devices had the Netflix app loaded and ready to stream.

When the clocks hit 12 a.m., the entire season of House of Cards started appearing on the devices, as well as in the recommendation lists of millions of customers chosen by an algorithm. The opening scene, a dog getting run over by an SUV, came and went. At 12:15 a.m., around the time Kevin Spacey’s character says “I’m livid,” everything was working fine. “That’s when the champagne comes,” says Yury Izrailevsky, the vice president in charge of cloud computing at Netflix, which has a history of self-inflicted catastrophes. Izrailevsky stayed until the wee hours of the morning—just in case—as thousands of customers binge-watched the show. The midnight ritual repeated itself on April 19, when Netflix premièred its werewolf horror series Hemlock Grove, and will again on May 26, when its revival of Arrested Development goes live.Netflix has more than 36 million subscribers. They watch about 4 billion hours of programs every quarter on more than 1,000 different devices. To meet this demand, the company uses specialized video servers scattered around the world. When a subscriber clicks on a movie to stream, Netflix determines within a split second which server containing that movie is closest to the user, then picks from dozens of versions of the video file, depending on the device the viewer is using. At company headquarters in Los Gatos, Calif., teams of mathematicians and designers study what people watch and build algorithms and interfaces to present them with the collection of videos that will keep them watching.

Netflix is one of the world’s biggest users of cloud computing, which means running a data center on someone else’s equipment. The company rents server and storage systems by the hour, and it rents all this computing power from Amazon Web Services, the cloud division of Amazon.com, which runs its own video-streaming service that competes with Netflix.

It’s a mutually beneficial frenemy relationship. Over the years, Netflix has built an array of sophisticated tools to make its software perform well on Amazon’s cloud. Amazon has mimicked the advances and offered them to other business customers. President Barack Obama’s data-fueled reelection campaign, for example, was run almost entirely on Amazon with the help of code built by Netflix engineers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

Cute story

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Neil Irwin has a cute story, aptly titled “The mystery of Ben Bernanke and the Japanese ketchup is solved!”.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Business, Government

A fascinating examination of the “Islam tilts to violence” meme

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I found Eisler’s entire column good—read the whole thing. Quite enlightening, including a clarifying example/scenario. The column begins:

Recently I watched a terrific exchange between Glenn Greenwald and Bill Mahr on Mahr’s show Real Time.  Mahr was arguing that there’s something peculiarly violence-prone about Islam; Greenwald countered (devastatingly, in my opinion) that Muslim violence is likely caused more by US imperialism than by anything intrinsic to Islam itself.

This led to an odd post by David Atkins at the excellent blog Hullabaloo (Digby, who runs Hullabaloo, has her own response to Atkins here) in which Atkins argues that because we haven’t seen in other countries and cultures subjected to US imperialism the kinds of reactions we’ve seen in the Islamic world, it means Islamic violence is not being caused by US imperialism — quod erat demonstrandum.

There’s something that’s been bugging me about Atkins’ post (bugging me beyond the fact that he attributed to Greenwald something that not only did Greenwald not say — “Imperialism is to blame for everything” — but that Greenwald specifically and repeatedly disclaimed).  What’s been bugging me is Atkins’ logic.  Or, more precisely, his lack of it.

tweeted that the shorter version of Atkins is “If blowback doesn’t happen everywhere, it can’t happen anywhere,” and that’s part of what I find illogical about his overall argument.  But here’s another way of understanding it.

Suppose I walked up to a dozen people at random and . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 1:31 pm

Active opposition to Citizens United decision

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Interesting post at Daily Kos by Joan McCarter:

Maine became the 13th state in the nation to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Twenty-five House Republicans (in the state House) and five Senate Republicans joined Democrats to “call upon each Member of the Maine Congressional Delegation to actively support and promote in Congress an amendment to the United States Constitution on campaign finance.”

Maine joins West Virginia, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, New Mexico and Hawaii in calling for that Constitutional amendment. Which means momentum: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 11:47 am

How does your doctor stand on prescribing meds?

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An interesting article by Tracy Weber, Charles Ornstein, and Jennifer LaFleur in the Washington Post, along with a ProPublica look-up so that you can see how your own physician stands in terms of prescribing drugs.. My former doctor prescribed more drugs than the average doctor, and my current doctor prescribes fewer. I had already noticed that my doctor likes to wean me off unnecessary meds, though he doesn’t hesitate to prescribe when needed. Look up your own doc.

The article begins:

Ten years ago, a sharply divided Congress decided to pour billions of dollars into subsidizing the purchase of drugs by elderly and disabled Americans.

The initiative, the biggest expansion of Medicare since its creation in 1965, proved wildly popular. It now serves more than 35 million people, delivering critical medicines to patients who might otherwise be unable to afford them. Its price tag is far lower than expected.

But an investigation by ProPublica has found the program, in its drive to get drugs into patients’ hands, has failed to properly monitor safety. An analysis of four years of Medicare prescription records shows that some doctors and other health professionals across the country prescribe large quantities of drugs that are potentially harmful, disorienting or addictive for their patients. Federal officials have done little to detect or deter these hazardous prescribing patterns.

Searches through hundreds of millions of records turned up physicians such as the Miami psychiatrist who has given hundreds of elderly dementia patients the same antipsychotic, despite the government’s most serious “black box” warning that it increases the risk of death. He believes he has no other options.

Some doctors are using drugs in unapproved ways that may be unsafe or ineffective, records showed. An Oklahoma psychiatrist regularly prescribes the Alzheimer’s drug Namenda for autism patients as young as 12; he says he thinks it calms them. Autism experts said there is scant scientific support for this practice.

The data analysis showed widespread prescribing of drugs such as carisoprodol, which was pulled from the European market in 2007. In 2010 alone, health-care professionals wrote more than 500,000 prescriptions for the drug to patients 65 and older. The muscle relaxant, also known as Soma, is on the American Geriatrics Society’s list of drugs seniors should avoid.

The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, makes public for the first time the prescribing practices and identities of doctors and other health-care providers. . .

Continue reading. The lookup for the database, along with a variety of interesting info, is at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 10:57 am

Why an election campaign may not be what wins

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Interesting article by John Sides where he offers four reasons why a presidential campaign may not be relevant to victory.

The narrative after the 2012 campaign was that President Obama’s victory was due to his superior campaign — better messaging, better technology, better organizing, better everything.  But this narrative had a circular logic to it: Obama won because of his superior campaign, and we know that his campaign was superior because he won.

Several initial forays into the data on advertising and field offices suggest a much more qualified conclusion: yes, campaigning did matter, but it was not decisive in 2012.  This parallels what Ezra wrote earlier last week: we got too excited over money in this election — and by extension the electioneering it could buy. In this post, I build on some previous work for Wonkblog and work with Lynn Vavreck for our book on the 2012 campaign, The GambleI’ll briefly explore 4 reasons why it is hard for all that money — in particular the ads and field organization, or what I’ll call “campaign activity” — to be the “game-changer” it is so often made out to be.

Reason #1: Campaign activity can be overwhelmed by other events in the campaign.

Throughout the 2012 campaign, candidates were spending millions every week — blanketing key states with advertisements — only to find that other events swamped any advantage they might have had on the airwaves. Consider what happened to Mitt Romney before his loss to Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary. Below are South Carolina polling and advertising data that was gathered by Kantar Media|CMAG and obtained by the Washington Post.  (I analyzed these data throughout the fall of 2012 for Wonkblog.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 10:39 am

Posted in Election, Politics

And while we’re talking about words: Dr. Samuel Johnson

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Kate Chisholm reviews a couple of books about Samuel Johnson in the Times Literary Supplement:

There is a particular challenge in trying to pin down, quantify, assess the literary achievement of a dictionary-maker who has spent years searching for the elusive, chameleon-like meanings of even the most mundane of words. Samuel Johnson, though, offers his own validation for such an enterprise in the preface to his great Dictionary of 1755, in which he confesses that he set out to codify the language only to realize before he was even halfway through that no such thing is possible. Instead of giving up, Johnson persisted, even while recognizing the futility of his ambition, and understanding too well that “one enquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed; and that thus to pursue perfection, was, like the first inhabitants of Arcadia, to chase the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them”.

Who could fail to admire the frank, unvarnished modesty of such a man? Yet such parings have their critics. Not everyone wants to admit a world in which there is so much futile industry, pained creation, and in which nothing can be concluded. Johnson has always aroused love or condemnation to a degree unusual in a writer who is also one of the most often quoted. Even before his death in December 1784, publishers were producing collections with titles such asDeformities of Dr Samuel Johnson, frustrated by his stylistic habit of swapping sides, even within the same sentence, and by his “love of contradiction”, fearing that such balancing and pairing of opposites leaves us with a bottomless well.

Thirty-five years later, the critic William Hazlitt, in his essay “On the Periodical Essayists”, attacked Johnson’s prose style not so much for its inconclusiveness but because his circumlocutions, his fondness for antithesis, are stultifying and restrictive. The structure of his sentences, Hazlitt complained, is monotonous, and “produces an apparent monotony of ideas”. Johnson’s powers of articulation, though, were a different matter. When “he threw aside his pen”, Hazlitt wrote, “he became not only learned and thoughtful, but acute, witty, humorous, natural, honest”.

Herein lies the paradox which the sixteen essays in Samuel Johnson: The arc of the pendulum seek to redress. We know Johnson, or rather we think we do, but the Johnson we know is not the author of the Dictionary, the Rambler essays, or the Lives of the Poets. On the contrary, it is only in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, LLD that you find women preachers, Scottish savages, the temptations of the theatre and a man who is tired of London. How, then, do we go back to read Johnson as if the Life, with all its anecdote and conversation, did not exist? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 10:11 am

Posted in Books

The origins of “shyster”

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Very interesting article on the etymology of some slang. From the article:

His first major endeavor in this field, beginning in 1976, was a seven-year effort to clarify the origin of shyster.After he had begun his research, Roger Mohovich of the New-York Historical Society drew his attention to newspaper articles in 1843 about the Tombs, the city prison. Editor Mike Walsh denounced scammers who took prisoners’ money by pretending to be lawyers who would get them out. One of the scammers who actually knew something about the law disparaged his rivals by calling them shisers, British criminal slang for worthless people. (It comes ultimately from the German word for excrement [shit (=Scheiße); the German word for excrement is “Kot” – LG]) Walsh misheard it as shiseters, and a new word was born.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 10:08 am

Posted in Education

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Now They Want to Take Away the 8-Hour Day and 40-Hour Week

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Even anti-union workers enjoy the benefits that unions have won for all workers, such as the 8-hour day and the 40-hour week, a part of the FDR legacy. But all of that is under attack as corporations find they can now get government help in exploiting workers. Dave Johnson writes at TruthOut:

Republicans are trying to pass an “alternative” to overtime pay. This is really about taking away the eight-hour workday and 40-hour workweek. Will weekends be next? What about an “alternative” to paying workers at all?

House Republicans are pushing a bill that takes away extra pay for overtime, substituting “comp” time instead. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 is the law that brought us the eight-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek. This law does not prohibit employers from requiring workers to work over 40 hours. Instead, it gives employers an incentive to instead pay extra or hire more people, and gives employees a premium if they do have to work longer. (Note that this is also the law that brought us a minimum wage and outlawed child labor.)

There is proof that overtime pay works: workers like domestic workers and agricultural workers – jobs not covered by the FLSA – are twice as likely to have to work more than 40 hours in a week. And even with this law, Americans already work more hours than in almost any other industrialized country.

The Bill – No Guarantees

The House will be voting on H.R. 1406, The Working Families Flexibility Act, which lets employers offer “comp time” instead of overtime pay. The problem is that employers will pressure workers to take comp time instead of overtime, which reduces paychecks and gets rid of the incentive to hire more people. Later, the employees will be pressured to not take that comp time, or will have to be “on call,” etcetera.

It is important to note that the law does not guarantee workers the right to actually use the comp time they get instead of extra pay. Employers can put it off forever. You can’t use this time when you want to, only when the employer decides it is okay.

This really is a flat-out pay take-away, can’t use it another day.

Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economic and Policy Research drives this point home in her article “Working Families Flexibility Act: Not Good for Working Parents and Bad for the Economy,” on The Huffington Post: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 9:49 am

Good take on Dan Brown

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If you feel about Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code et al.) as I do, you’ll love this.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2013 at 6:46 am

Posted in Books

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