Later On

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

Archive for May 2013

The most embarrassing graph in American drug policy

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Here’s the graph:

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 1.49.39 PM

And here’s the story by Harold Pollack in the Washington Post:

When it comes to drugs, it’s all about prices.

The ability to raise prices is– at least is perceived to be–a critical function of drug control policy. Higher prices discourage young people from using. Higher prices encourage adult users to consume less, to quit sooner, or to seek treatment. (Though higher prices can bring short-term problems, too, as drug users turn to crime to finance their increasingly unaffordable habit.)

An enormous law enforcement effort seeks to raise prices at every point in the supply chain from farmers to end-users: Eradicating coca crops in source countries, hindering access to chemicals required for drug production, interdicting smuggling routes internationally and within our borders, street-level police actions against local dealers.

That’s why this may be the most embarrassing graph in the history of drug control policy. (I’m grateful to Peter Reuter, Jonathan Caulkins, and Sarah Chandler for their willingness to share this figure from their work.) Law enforcement strategies have utterly failed to even maintain street prices of the key illicit substances. Street drug prices in the below figure fell by roughly a factor of five between 1980 and 2008. Meanwhile the number of drug offenders locked up in our jails and prisons went from fewer than 42,000 in 1980 to a peak of 562,000 in 2007.

The second embarrassment may reflect policymakers desire to ask fewer questions that bring up the first. We have remarkably little evidence that the billions of dollars spent on supply-side interdiction have much impact. There’s surprisingly little demand in the policy community to collect such evidence, despite considerable investments at every level of American government.

In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences concluded: “Neither the data systems nor the research infrastructure needed to assess the effectiveness of drug control enforcement policies now exists.”  That remains true today, 12 years and hundreds of billions of dollars later.

That’s not to say enforcement has zero effect.

Continue reading.

It’s totally astonishing to read such a reasonable article in a mainstream publication—and the Washington Post of all places!

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2013 at 1:53 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Exercise thought

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2013 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Fitness

Molly in the sun

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Molly on chair

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2013 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Cats, Molly

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Visualized in a Computer Animation for Its 100th Anniversary

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Quite fascinating. Here’s the first part:

Part 2 and more information in this post by Colin Marshall at OpenCulture.com.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2013 at 11:34 am

Posted in Music, Video

“Gesture writing”

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Very interesting piece by Rachel Howard in the NY Times:

Five years ago, I walked into a third-floor art studio on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, climbed atop a wooden stage covered in stained padding and dropped my ratty yellow bathrobe. A panel of strangers asked me to pose, and then to freeze. I had never modeled for artists, and had no idea how I would feel standing naked as people I had just met stared at me. The idea held some bohemian appeal, but more urgently, I needed to supplement my income as a freelance writer while I worked on a novel.

I made the cut, and became a member of the Bay Area Models Guild. I had hoped this gig might earn me grocery money. I soon grew to love the freedom and strange relinquishment of status that comes from offering your nude presence to artists. What surprised me the most, though, was how profoundly it changed my writing life.

Soon I was sent out on bookings, mostly to introductory college drawing classes. The professor’s approach was always the same. I was asked to do many sets of active one- or two-minute poses.

“Find the gesture!” the instructor would shout, as the would-be artists sketched. “What is the essence of that pose? How does that pose feel to the model? The whole pose — quick, quick! No, not the arm or the leg. The line of the energy. What is that pose about? Step back and see it — really see it — whole.” And then, my timer beeped, I moved to a new pose and the students furiously flipped to a clean page.

This “gesture” idea was fundamental. In painting classes, where I held the same pose for three hours (with frequent five-minute breaks, thank God), the paintings that looked most alive were built on top of a good gesture sketch, a first-step, quick-and-dirty drawing in which many crucial decisions about placement, perspective and emphasis were made intuitively.

In a gesture drawing, a whole arm that didn’t matter much might be just a smudgy slash, while a line that captured the twist of a spine might stand in sharp, carefully observed relief. The “gesture” was the line of organic connection within the body, the trace of kinetic cause-and-effect that made the figure a live human being rather than a corpse of stitched-together parts. If you “found the gesture,” you found life.

I was, during those early days of art modeling, struggling to find the life in my stylistically choppy novel. At home alone, I heard the drawing instructors’ voices.

Find the gesture. Don’t worry about the details. What is the essence of that pose?

I left my laptop at my desk and moved to the other side of the room to sit on the floor with my notebook. I chose a scene that involved a woman and a man sitting at a table with a priest, going over the results of a premarital counseling questionnaire.

I knew what happened in the scene, and what each character said, but when I’d tried to write it on my computer, the results were clunky. I kept trying to make the scene better by adding more about the woman’s thoughts and tinkering with the dialogue.

Step back. See it whole. Sitting on the floor with my notebook, I didn’t worry about words, about sentences. I thought about how the woman and her fiancé were sitting next to each other at the table, how the priest was wearing a high-necked orange sweater, how the woman’s fiancé assumed the priest didn’t know about “intimacy” with a woman . . . click. Yes, it was so much more interesting from the husband-to-be’s point of view!

Where’s the line of energy? What is the essence of what you see? Quick! I wrote all over the page, a line of complete dialogue followed by a place-holder phrase of exposition, a one-word reminder of the next action followed by an arrow to the margin where I’d scribbled a description of a key image. The page looked a mess. But I had captured the movement of the scene, not one line of dialogue connected clunkily to the next action. There was thewhole. It made leaps. It had perspective. It had emphasis and connection. It had life.

Later, I could go back and do what artists call rendering — working the drawing, adding detail. But now I had a solid gesture sketch to work from. And this had happened in five minutes.

Perhaps this shouldn’t have been a revelation. According to “The Writer’s Notebook,” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2013 at 11:13 am

Posted in Writing

Charting a New Course on Illegal Drugs

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Jess Hunter-Bowman reports at OtherWords.org:

As Manuel, a Colombian farmer, showed me his peppercorn crops ravaged by the defoliant sprayed in a futile effort to kill his neighbor’s drug crops, he explained why the Drug War could never be won. No matter how much money or chemicals drug warriors threw at eradication efforts, he told me, the crops always reappeared.

After 40 years of failing to stem the drug trade, there’s a global conversation about new approaches. That debate is particularly vibrant south of the Rio Grande.

“Human rights abuses in the war on drugs are widespread and systematic,” wrote former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a recent New York Times op-ed. “A systemic problem demands systemic change…it is time for the human rights movement to take a leading role in calling for an end to the war on drugs.”

Even Guatemala’s hard-line president has called for regulating instead of outlawing drugs as an option to deal with the scourge of the drug trade. “The struggle against drugs, in the way it has been conducted, has failed,” saidOtto Pérez Molina, who served as the head of military intelligence during that country’s brutal civil war. “There is going to be a change away from the paradigm of prohibitionism and the war against drugs.”And that’s exactly what is happening across the hemisphere.

Uruguay is in the final stages of passing legislation that make way for a fully regulated and legal marijuana market. And even our government’s closest Drug War partners, Colombia and Mexico, have signaled their openness to new approaches.

The Organization of American States . . .

Continue reading. Apparently 40 years of appalling and expensive failure has started to capture people’s attention.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2013 at 11:00 am

Posted in Drug laws

Gillette British Aristocrat Jr. — and avocado

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SOTD 29 May 2013

BBS result, but I had to work a bit for it, so I replaced the Astra Superior Platinum blade immediately after the shave.

My Rooney butterscotch Emilion got a very good lather easily and quickly, thanks in large part to TOBS Avocado Shaving Cream, which lathers easily and who mild, gentle fragrance I like. Three passes with a fair amount of blade buffing following the last pass, then a dab of Saint Charles Shave Avocado Oil aftershave balm.

Face feels very nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2013 at 10:56 am

Posted in Shaving

Obamacare is More Popular Than CNN Thinks

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Kevin Drum has an important post—and Wonkblog got it wrong today:

From CNN:

A majority of Americans still oppose the nation’s new health care measure, three years after it became law, according to a new survey.

According to the poll, 43% of the public says it supports the health care law….Fifty-four percent of those questioned say they oppose the law, also relatively unchanged since 2010. The survey indicates that 35% oppose the health care law because it’s too liberal, with 16% saying they oppose the measure because it isn’t liberal enough.

Right. Let me rephrase this:

According to a recent poll, 59 percent of Americans support Obamacare, while 35 percent oppose it. Among supporters, 43 percent support the law as is, while 16 percent think it doesn’t go far enough.

The way CNN words the question in this poll, they almost have no choice but to say that 54 percent of the public opposes Obamacare. But that’s wildly misleading. If you oppose Obamacare solely because you think it should be more generous, then you’re not part of the group that’s commonly thought of as the opposition: tea partiers, conservatives, Republicans, and so forth. These are the folks who want to repeal Obamacare completely and leave it a smoking husk, and they’re the ones most of us think of as the “opposition.” If your main problem with Obamacare is that it’s not the NHS, you aren’t part of that group.

This has been a problem with Obamacare polls since the beginning. It’s also been a problem with CNN polls since the beginning. Why do they refuse to fix it and describe things more accurately?

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Government, Healthcare

Inherited aristocracy, here we come…

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Chuck Collins writes at The American Prospect:

Two 21-year-old college students sit down in a coffee shop to study for an upcoming test. Behind the counter, a barista whips up their double-shot lattes. In the back kitchen, another young adult washes the dishes and empties the trash.

These four young adults have a lot in common. They are the same age and race, each has two parents, and all grew up in the same metropolitan area. They were all strong students in their respective high schools. But as they enter their third decade, their work futures and life trajectories are radically different—and largely determined at this point.

The culprit is the growing role of inherited advantage, as affluent families make investments that give their children a leg up. Combined with the 2008 economic meltdown and budget cuts in public investments that foster opportunity, we are witnessing accelerating advantages for the wealthy and compounding disadvantages for everyone else.

One of the college students, Miranda, will graduate without any student-loan debt and will have completed three summers of unpaid internships at businesses that will advance her career path. Her parents stand ready to subsidize her lodging with a security deposit and co-signed apartment lease and will give her a no-interest loan to buy a car. They also have a network of family and professional contacts that can help her. While she waits for a job with benefits, she will remain on her parents’ health insurance.

Ten years later, Miranda will have a high-paying job, be engaged to another professional, and will buy a home in a neighborhood with other college-educated professionals, a property that will steadily appreciate over time because of its location. The “parental down-payment assistance program” will subsidize the purchase.

The other collegiate, Marcus, will graduate with more than $55,000 in college debt, a maxed-out credit card, and an extensive résumé of part-time food-service jobs that he has taken to pay for school, both during summers and while in college, reducing the hours he can study. Though he will obtain a degree, he will graduate with almost no work experience in his field of study, lose his health insurance, and begin working two part-time jobs to pay back his student loans and to afford rent in a shared apartment.

Ten years later, Marcus . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Daily life

Unfortunately, this speaks volumes about Obama and his administration

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Juan Cole posts:

Just a reminder that President Obama has not yet pardoned John Kiriakou, the CIA whistleblower who revealed the agency’s torture practicesKiriakou went to jail on February to serve 30 months.

Obama has also not punished anyone in the US government for extensive torture practices and has allowed evidence to be destroyed.

RT interviewed Kiriakou before he went to prison:

http://youtu.be/kEv5oexuNRg

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 1:24 pm

What has happened to the GOP?

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Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas have a sobering report in the Washington Post. The situation is truly growing dire: a stubborn minority of irrational (in the sense that they neither use nor respond to reason) zealots are willing to damage the country to express their ire: the fact that they are showing themselves to be petty-minded and mean-spirited bothers them not at all because they lack even the rudimentary moral consciousness to be aware of those as problems. The report begins:

Ever heard the line “no plan survives first contact with the enemy?” Well, no big law ever fully survives first contact with reality. There are always provisions that prove poorly drafted, or parts that don’t elicit quite the behavior you expected. Then there are the parts that work better than you expected, and which you want to expand.

Medicare was signed into law in 1965. In 1967, Congress passed a bill making a suite of technical changes and modest reforms to the new program. They did the same in 1972. The 1986 immigration bill was corrected in 1988. Social Security was altered in 1939, and has been changed time and again in the intervening years. Medicare Part D’s difficult implementation process led to Democrats calling hearings to gather ideas on how to fix it. This is how it should be. Laws are written on paper, not stone. They can be easily changed.

Usually.

In today’s New York Times, Jonathan Weisman and Robert Pear report on a peculiar problem faced by the Affordable Care Act: Republicans who’re unable to repeal it also refuse to permit any tweaks or technical correction that would help it work better. In fact, they’re creating new problems by withholding implementation funds.

This is a real problem for the law, and for the country. Back in January 2011, I called itthe biggest danger for health reform, and I still think that’s right: If it persists, “what America will get is not the Affordable Care Act, and nor will it be repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It’ll be a hobbled version of the Affordable Care Act, where what works isn’t expanded and what fails isn’t replaced. And though that might be better than nothing for the uninsured, it will be pretty terrible policy.”

There’s both a strategy and a principle at play here. The GOP really, truly hates Obamacare. They believe that their best chance to repeal it is to make it as big a mess as possible. Anything that makes it easier to live with makes it harder to get rid of. But they know that the chances of repeal are pretty slim. That’s where the politics come in. They think their best chance to retake the Senate in 2014 is to make Obamacare as big a mess as possible and then ride the outrage in the midterms.

They may be right about that, or they may be very wrong. But this is a theory that requires Republicans to knowingly damage America’s health-care system on the off-chance the damage is severe enough to help them accomplish a much larger policy goal. It’s a theory that requires them to choose to let problems fester because the pain is more politically useful than the cure.

There’s an emergent argument, and some strong evidence, that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 12:29 pm

Taxing the rich

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Paul Krugman has a blog post that is totally persuasive to me, though I may be missing something:

For my sins (and, yes, an honorarium too), I’m doing this. So it’s worth putting out some of the basics.

First, over the past three decades we’ve seen a soaring share of income going to the very top of the income distribution (right scale) even as tax rates on high incomes have fallen sharply, with the recent Obama increases clawing back only a fraction of the previous cuts:

Inequality and taxes

Second, there is now a lot of hard empirical work on the incentive effects of high top tax rates. None of it shows the kind of huge negative effects that figure so prominently in right-wing rhetoric. In particular, none of it suggests that we are anywhere close to the point where raising taxes on the rich would reduce revenue as opposed to increasing it.

Finally, you can use the results of these studies to estimate the “optimal” tax rate on top incomes; I think the best way to think about what optimality means is, what’s best for the 99 percent, since the 1 percent will be doing fine regardless. And just about everything points to substantially higher tax rates than we now have.

This has nothing to do with envy, or a desire to punish the rich, or anything other than a recognition of tradeoffs: if we choose to raise less revenue from the rich than we can without hurting the economy, we will be forced either to raise more taxes from or provide fewer valuable services to everyone else.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

The life of a new U.S. Representative

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Kevin Drum asked for someone to recall a profile of the insane amount of time members of Congress spend doing telemarketing fundraising by phone. And a reader identified the (still fascinating) article by Michael Leahy in the Washington Post:

When Joe Courtney, small-town Connecticut lawyer, knocked off a Republican incumbent in the closest 2006 congressional race in the country — a margin of 83 votes out of more than 242,000 ballots cast — he won more than a seat in the House of Representatives. He earned an ironic nickname: Landslide Joe. While in Washington, Landslide Joe stays in nearby Capitol Hill for a variety of reasons, among which is that he has no car in the city. He blew the engine of his old minivan back in Connecticut during the campaign, and he hasn’t gotten around to replacing it. Not a fan of paying for cabs, he generally walks to places.

But even if he had a limousine, the Democratic freshman congressman’s instinct for self-preservation would guarantee he didn’t stray far. If not in his office or at the Capitol doing official business, he is regularly raising campaign money a few blocks away. His euphoria over making it to Congress has already been tempered by the recognition that his razor-thin 2006 victory reflects at once his own vulnerability and the fragility of his party’s new congressional control.

It’s not just that Courtney is a self-described “Irish fatalist.” His career underscores the reality of national politics in an era where the major parties are stuck in bitter parity. Any slight advantage is hard won and easily lost. To even dream of staying in power takes a constant stream of campaign contributions, so that compiling legislative achievements and “representing constituents” must compete on a congressman’s to-do list with never-ending fundraising, especially for a first-termer such as Courtney. Add to that the fickle nature of Connecticut voters, and you can understand when Courtney admits to running scared in politics. “You can’t count on much,” he says.

WITH DARKNESS FALLING ON A COLD WINTER NIGHT, COURTNEY IS FINALLY TRUDGING HOME. He lives alone in a small Washington basement apartment. It is about a 10-minute walk from his Capitol Hill office — past the Library of Congress and around the corner from the Supreme Court, points of reference that, as he notes, make his abode sound undeservingly upscale. The front door has bars on it, and he’s having difficulty getting his key in the lock because the light around the door is lousy. The place — for which he pays $1,350 a month in rent — is a cross between drab university housing and an economy motel room. One of its walls is made of red brick that, apparently, no one got around to drywalling.

There are only a few furnishings: a bed, a small couch, a chair for a solitary visitor, a TV, a tiny table. The table is covered with books, most of them about Iraq and national security. Courtney doesn’t have a big staff to do prodigious research as some of the senior members do, which means that, like an average citizen, he must scour newspapers and other publications to keep up to date on the issues. He tosses his overcoat on the little couch. Mostly he views this ascetic place as a way station in which to shower and shave, decompress and crash for a few hours, before rushing back to his office by 7:15 the next morning.

“I didn’t clean up,” he says to me. Khakis and a couple of worn shirts are strewn on his unmade bed. Two pairs of athletic shoes, an unopened box of Titleist golf balls and a blue folder that he received months ago during freshmen orientation are lying askew on the floor. His four suits stand like little sentries at attention in a closet.

He turns to an aide, who thinks the place looks lonely, even depressing. “It’s functional,” Courtney says, as if reading his mind. “All you need.”

Courtney could have considered rooming with other congressmen, as some representatives do in the interests of saving money and enjoying a little camaraderie. But a friend and former Connecticut congressman named Toby Moffett had given him some advice before he entered office: Get your own place and space — you’ll welcome the opportunity to be alone. At the end of a long day of chattering lobbyists and cacophonous committee meetings, of impassioned rants and heartbreaking pleas, it’s sometimes a luxury, Courtney says, to come back to this hovel and hear no human voice at all. “Quiet,” he says, investing the word with a kind of dreaminess.

He lives about 10 blocks from his Connecticut congressional colleague Rosa DeLauro if he ever needs to talk to a friend. And, generally on Tuesday nights, DeLauro hosts a private, informal get-together for fellow Democratic representatives (“an off-the record gathering,” Courtney happily notes).

But the romanticized era of nightly congressional poker games, of friendships and political alliances forged around Scotch and stogies, is long gone, Courtney realizes. The day-and-night political demands on the modern representative, notably the imperative to raise money, leave less time than ever for collegial activities. Sometimes he’ll slip out in the evenings to meet a group who might be able to help him in his next campaign. Other nights he is just another freshman studying policy and keeping an eye on his district’s political maneuverings.

“You have homework,” Courtney says. “There’re things to read to get ready for committee meetings. You have to get ready for the weekend back in your district . . . You’re on your BlackBerry. You have to make phone calls . . . The pace is like a freight train’s.”

Slacking off would be career suicide. Courtney must prove himself to his 2nd District constituents in eastern Connecticut, but he must also set aside enough time to raise funds for a new campaign that has already begun. The margin for mistakes on either front is small for a freshman. Not long after arriving in Washington, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life

The Post Office is Failing, and It’s Congress’s Fault

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Kevin Drum has a good post at Mother Jones:

The Postal Service is losing money and needs to make changes. The problem is that Congress refuses to let it raise more money, refuses to let it spend less money, and refuses to let it cut service:

Postal officials recently tried to end Saturday letter delivery, which could have saved $2 billion per year, but Congress blocked it. A legislative proposal to replace doorstep delivery with curbside delivery, which would save $4.5 billion, failed last year. A plan to close thousands of rural post offices was abandoned after postal officials deemed the closures would “upset Congress a great deal,” Barnett said.

But one of the Postal Service’s biggest problems has nothing to do with the mail. Its finances sank in fiscal year 2007, shortly after Congress passed the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. The act, among other things, required the Postal Service to start pre-funding the health benefits of future retirees 50 years in advance at a rate of about $5.6 billion a year. The year after the act was passed, Postal Service ledgers showed a loss of $5.1 billion.

….The act also limited the Postal Service’s ability to raise rates, forbidding increases larger than the federal consumer price index. America’s stamps, now 46 cents, are among the cheapest in the world’s developed countries.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if the post office deunionized, suddenly its problems would be over. Republicans would be delighted to give it all the funding it needed. Until then, though, the more problems the better.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 11:51 am

Spending the big bucks on execs while cutting back elsewhere

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Kate Yandell has the report in The Scientist:

An investigation by The Cancer Letter reveals that the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center may have spent at least $1.5 million dollars on a project to remodel a suite of office and meeting spaces for Lynda Chin, chair of MD Anderson’s department of genomic medicine and scientific director of the new Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS). Chin is also the wife of Ronald DePinho, MD Anderson’s president.

MD Anderson disputes the report, saying that the office renovations cost $547,434 and that the higher figure of $1.5 million included lab equipment such as fume hoods and ventilation.

The Cancer Letter based its assertions on 680 pages of internal documents it obtained through the Texas Public Information Act. The purchases included a total of $210,000 worth of glass walls and doors to “provide a feeling of transparency,” according to the documents. It also includes two settees worth $7,754 and $6,961, two $5,000 credenzas, and other expensive furniture. The money came from MD Anderson’s capital project funds, which are “derived from investment income, philanthropy, and patient revenue,” according to an MD Anderson statement sent to The Cancer Letter.

The renovations were supposed to make the suite look more “corporate,” according to the documents. The goal of the IACS is to forge partnerships between the center and pharmaceutical companies to create better cancer drugs. “The renovations of space for the Institute for Applied Cancer Science and Department of Genomic Medicine—both new entities for MD Anderson—transformed a traditional academic office suite to a work environment and meeting area for a science/business enterprise, a concept new not only to MD Anderson, but most of academic medicine,” MD Anderson’s statement said.

The revelation comes at a time when MD Anderson is facing some financial troubles. DePinho announced earlier this month in a letter to employees that the center had been spending more than it had been earning and would be cutting expenses by freezing salaries, slowing hiring, and postponing some projects,The Cancer Letter said.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 11:20 am

Posted in Business, Medical

BPA Dangers in Pregnancy?

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Edyta Zielinska reports in The Scientist:

At low doses, such as those considered safe for humans, mice exposed to bisphenol A (BPA) in utero showed sex-specific changes in their brains that could have affected social behaviors such as grooming and aggression, according to a study published yesterday (May 27) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Specifically, Frances Champagne from Columbia University in New York City and colleagues found changes in estrogen receptor expression in the cortex of male mice and in the hypothalamus of females whose mothers’ had been exposed to BPA. These expression changes were associated with epigenetic modifications to the genes coding for that receptor, which could have affected the animals’ social behavior.

In the paper, the authors write that “low-dose, prenatal BPA exposure induces lasting epigenetic disruption in the brain that possibly underlie enduring effects of BPA on brain function and behavior.”

Some researchers, however, are skeptical whether the findings wIll hold true in humans. “If the effects described work through an oestrogen mechanism, they are unlikely to be human relevant because pregnancy levels of oestrogens in humans are far higher than in mice and would swamp any weak oestrogenic effects of bisphenol A,” Richard Sharpe of the Medical Research Council’s Centre for Reproductive Health in Edinburgh told The Independent.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 10:53 am

Jay Sekulow: The Man Pumping the IRS Scandal on Network TV

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Pam Martens writes at Wall Street on Parade:

Jay Sekulow will never be accused of a lack of audacity. The man who has orchestrated and pumped the “scandal” that the IRS was unfairly targeting nonprofits tied to the Tea Party, is the same man who filed 27 applications with the IRS in recent years seeking tax-exempt status for Tea Party and related groups. He’s also the man who together with family and business interests have reaped at least $40 million since 1998 from a tangled web of IRS approved nonprofits with eye-popping conflicts of interest.

In the early days of the IRS controversy, Jay Sekulow was a major source of information for network news. On May 13, he framed the controversy for CBS News and the PBS Newshour. Two days later he appeared on GBTV with Glenn Beck, framing the current IRS matter as “worse” than in the days of Nixon. He also appeared on the Larry Kudlow show on CNBC, which ran a headline across the screen “Time for Independent Counsel.”

From May 14 onward, he has been interviewed repeatedly by Fox News’ commentators presenting his side of the “scandal”: interviewers included Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity, Eric Bolling, and Jeanine Pirro. His son, Jordon Sekulow, who is part of his nonprofit empire, appeared on Geraldo Rivera’s Fox News show to pump the story.

In Sekulow’s interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, Kelly concedes just who it is that has been pushing this story, saying: “I tip my hat to you Jay because you and Mark Levin have really been the motivating forces behind this whole thing…” Later, Kelly ferociously points her finger at viewers and demands to know “whether somebody should be behind bars for this behavior.” Indeed.

Levin is the President of Landmark Legal Foundation, a nonprofit which five days ago announced it was petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Landmark Legal receives funding from right-wing foundations, Exxon Mobil and Donor’s Trust, a secretive money funnel tied to Charles Koch.

As first reported by Bob Smietana in 2011 in USA Today, . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 10:31 am

The Endless War

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At TomDispatch.com:

Twelve and a half years after Congress didn’t declare war on an organization of hundreds or, at most, thousands of jihadis scattered mainly across the backlands of the planet, and instead let President George W. Bush and his cohort loose to do whatever they wanted; twelve and a half years after the president, his top officials, his neocon supporters, assembled pundits, and others swore we were nonetheless “at war” and the country in “wartime,” after our media beat the drums for “war” and assured us that “war” was our fate, after followers of the president insisted we were entering a monumental, multigenerational struggle, or even World War IV; twelve and a half years after the war that hadn’t been declared was launched and the bombing of Afghanistan began, after the CIA and Washington targeted up to 80 countries in a “worldwide attack matrix” — later given the leave-no-location-out name the Global War on Terror — and after top Washington officials swore we would soon “drain the [global] swamp,” another president has now assured us that someday, in a distant future, in a way that we might not even notice (“Our victory against terrorism won’t be measured in a surrender ceremony at a battleship…”), we might possibly find ourselves approaching the sort-of-end of what will have been a 20- or 30-year conflict.

At the National Defense University (NDU) last Thursday, President Obama, so media reports and editorials assured us, gave a speech in which he promised to dial back the war on terror as a “global” operation, curtail U.S. drone operations abroad, and launch another effort to whittle down, if not close, Guantanamo.  But a careful look at the text of his speech indicates that he still accepts the most basic premises of the previous administration: that we are “at war”; that the country, despite visible evidence to the contrary, is in “wartime”; and that, when a president decides it’s necessary, this planet will remain a global free-fire zone for drones, special operations forces, or whatever else he choses to throw at it.  He may even, reports Jonathan Landay of McClatchy News, have quietly expanded the categories of human beings that U.S. drones can attack.

In those twelve and a half years between 9/11 and the recent speech, it’s been a bumpy ride through a minefield of unexpected IEDs.  Two invasions of the Eurasian mainland have led to two defeats that passed for better here and are bringing U.S. combat troops home with, as this president said, their “heads held high,” but also with massive numbers of PTSD casessuicides, and other debilitating issues.  In the meantime, America’s global warring has resulted in a significant destabilization of the Greater Middle East.  (The present Syrian disaster would have been unimaginable without the U.S. invasion of Iraq.)  It’s also resulted in the growth of an ever larger secret military cocooned inside the U.S. military, the special operations forces — 10,000 of whom are now in Afghanistan alone — and the launching of a series of drone wars and assassination campaigns across a significant swath of the planet.  These, from a White House that has taken on ever more power to do as it pleases in foreign and military policy, the president now claims to be curtailing and bringing under his version of the rule of law, largely because they haven’t been working out so terribly well.  Finally, there’s the spread of the al-Qaeda franchise into areas Washington has helped unsettle, which, as the president indicated, ensures that our “war” cannot end any time soon.  Think of it as a Mobius strip of self-justifying conflict.

And yet, the ability of the U.S. to “project force” everywhere from the Mali-Niger border to the Philippines remains impressive.  Even its capacity to engage in a series of disasters over such an expanse of the planet for twelve and a half years and still be talking about “pivoting” militarily to Asia, while maintaining a massive build-up of U.S. forces around Iran, should give anyone pause.  It’s a reminder that the now-seldom-heard term “sole superpower” continues to mean something.

But what? Somehow, like our empire of bases (and the private contractors that go with it), it’s been hard to absorb the continual use of such power projection and the vast web of military-to-military relationships and weapons sales that go with it, or the increasing ability of the White House alone to determine what makes sense and what doesn’t abroad, even as both the Greater Middle East and what’s left of American democracy and liberties are further destabilized.

Much of this has not yet been taken in here in a meaningful way, though you can feel it lurking, half-expressed, half-grasped, in the president’s NDU speech.  To begin to understand what’s actually been going on, it would help to define the “war” that we’ve been fighting all these years from North Africa to China’s Central Asian border.  TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, whose latest book Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country will be published in September, suggests that a good place to begin is by naming that now nameless “war.” (In fact, if, having checked out his piece, TomDispatch readers want to send in their own naming suggestions, along with their explanations for them, we might highlight a few of them above a future post.) Tom 

Naming Our Nameless War
How Many Years Will It Be?
By Andrew J. Bacevich

For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name?

It did at the outset.  After 9/11, George W. Bush’s administration wasted no time in announcing that the U.S. was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT.  With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age. In neoconservative circles, it was known as World War IV.

Upon succeeding to the presidency in 2009, however, Barack Obama without fanfare junked Bush’s formulation (as he did again in a speech at the National Defense University last week).  Yet if the appellation went away, the conflict itself, shorn of identifying marks, continued.

Does it matter that ours has become and remains a nameless war? Very much so.

Names bestow meaning.  When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about.  To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others. Let me provide a few illustrations.

With rare exceptions, Americans today characterize the horrendous fraternal bloodletting of 1861-1865 as the Civil War.  Yet not many decades ago, diehard supporters of the Lost Cause insisted on referring to that conflict as theWar Between the States or the War for Southern Independence (or even theWar of Northern Aggression).  The South may have gone down in defeat, but the purposes for which Southerners had fought — preserving a distinctive way of life and the principle of states’ rights — had been worthy, even noble.  So at least they professed to believe, with their preferred names for the war reflecting that belief.

Schoolbooks tell us that the Spanish-American War began in April 1898 and ended in August of that same year.  The name and dates fit nicely with a widespread inclination from President William McKinley’s day to our own to frame U.S. intervention in Cuba as an altruistic effort to liberate that island from Spanish oppression.

Yet the Cubans were not exactly bystanders in that drama.  By 1898, they had been fighting for years to oust their colonial overlords.  And although hostilities in Cuba itself ended on August 12th, they dragged on in the Philippines, another Spanish colony that the United States had seized for reasons only remotely related to liberating Cubans.  Notably, U.S. troops occupying the Philippines waged a brutal war not against Spaniards but against Filipino nationalists no more inclined to accept colonial rule by Washington than by Madrid.  So widen the aperture to include this Cuban prelude and the Filipino postlude and you end up with something like this:  The Spanish-American-Cuban-Philippines War of 1895-1902.  Too clunky?  How about the War for the American Empire?  This much is for sure: rather than illuminating, the commonplace textbook descriptor serves chiefly to conceal.

Strange as it may seem, Europeans once referred to the calamitous events of 1914-1918 as the Great War.  When Woodrow Wilson decided in 1917 to send an army of doughboys to fight alongside the Allies, he went beyond Great.  According to the president, the Great War was going to be the War To End All Wars.  Alas, things did not pan out as he expected.  Perhaps anticipating the demise of his vision of permanent peace, War Department General Order 115, issued on October 7, 1919, formally declared that, at least as far as the United States was concerned, the recently concluded hostilities would be known simply as the World War. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 10:29 am

Is Obama trying to have it both ways? Condemning the actions of his administration while continuing them?

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Obama’s sense of shock at the actions of his administration is sort of odd. Ray McGovern comments on it at ConsortiumNews.com:

An article in the Washington Post on July 6, 2010, reported me standing before the White House, announcing a new epithet for President Barack Obama: “Wuss – a person who will not stand up for what he knows is right.”

The report is correct – and so, I believe, is the epithet. And after the sleight-of-tongue speech given by the President of the United States at the National Defense University on May 23, I feel I can rest my case. (Caution: my wife insists that I mention at the outset that I’ve been angry since I listened to the speech.)

The day after Obama’s speech I found myself struck by Scott Wilson’s article on the front page of the Post, in which he highlighted the “unusual ambivalence from a commander-in-chief over the morality of his administration’s counterterrorism policies.”And someone at the Post also had the courage that day to insert into a more reportorial article by Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller a hitting-the-nail-right-on-the-head quote from Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at Brookings: “To put it crassly, the President sought to rebuke his own administration for taking the positions it has – but also to make sure that it could continue to do so.”

Call me naïve for putting the wish before the thought, but two days later my hopes zoomed when I saw that page A5 of the Post was dominated by a long article by Glenn Kessler, the Post’s normally soporific “fact checker.” After the first seven words of the banner headline – “Red herrings, dissemblance and misleading statements …” – Kessler had me, so to speak.

You will understand my disappointment, then, when I read the rest of the headline: “… from the IRS’s Lerner,” not from Obama.

And so I read Obama’s speech again, initially with the thought of doing Kessler’s job for him. But the lies, half-truths and pettifoggery are legion and the task truly Herculean. Besides, many readers will decipher Obama’s new “transparency” as transparently self-serving, without any help from me.

Hooray! Obama ‘Gets It’

Some progressive pundits have noted, correctly, that Obama’s speech shows that he does “get it” when it comes to the many constitutional problems with his preferred violent approach to meeting external threats and his infringement on civil rights at home.

But it seems to me that this now-open sensitivity-to-the-problem is to be applauded ONLY if he also summons the courage to change course. One gets the idea from Obama’s words that he may indeed wish to, IF only this, or IF only that. … Have we not tired of applauding Obama in the subjunctive mood? I certainly have.

He has now been unusually candid about the dilemmas he faces. But lacking is any real sign – there is just hope – that he will change character. From his speech we know that he understands he needs to change course in order to discharge his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

But I, for one, see little basis for hope that he will go beyond the carefully crafted all-things-to-all-people rhetoric in his speech. In my view, this makes him even more culpable – an even more transparent flouter of his oath to defend the Constitution.

Ah, but what about the oft-expressed hope that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 10:20 am

Rose and a Wilkinson “Sticky”

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SOTD 28 May 2013

Extremely good shave today. I began with a wonderfully fragrant lather made by the Vie-Long badger+horse brush—a very nice brush indeed—and D.R. Harris Rose shaving cream. Then I loaded my new (to me—thanks, Tonality!) Wilkinson “Sticky” (which won loads of design awards when it was introduced) with a Feather blade (the Sticky is a mild shaver and requires a sharp blade). Three wonderfully comfortable passes left me with a BBS face. As splash of Saint Charles Shave Savory Rose aftershave, and I’m feeling great.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2013 at 9:48 am

Posted in Shaving

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