Later On

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

Archive for July 24th, 2014

An amazing confluence of music, networking, high finance, and synergy

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This article is totally amazing—and it gets more so as it goes.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Business, Music

Can meditation slow aging?

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Maybe so. From an interesting article by Jo Marchant in Pacific Standard:

. . . The paper triggered an explosion of research. Researchers have since linked perceived stress to shorter telomeres in healthy women as well as in Alzheimer’s caregivers, victims of domestic abuse and early life trauma, and people with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Ten years on, there’s no question in my mind that the environment has some consequence on telomere length,” says Mary Armanios, a clinician and geneticist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who studies telomere disorders.

There is also progress toward a mechanism. Lab studies show that the stress hormone cortisol reduces the activity of telomerase, while oxidative stress and inflammation—the physiological fallout of psychological stress—appear to erode telomeres directly.

This seems to have devastating consequences for our health. Age-related conditions from osteoarthritis, diabetes, and obesity to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and stroke have all been linked to short telomeres.

The big question for researchers now is whether telomeres are simply a harmless marker of age-related damage (like grey hair, say) or themselves play a role in causing the health problems that plague us as we age. People with genetic mutations affecting the enzyme telomerase, who have much shorter telomeres than normal, suffer from accelerated-aging syndromes and their organs progressively fail. But Armanios questions whether the smaller reductions in telomere length caused by stress are relevant for health, especially as telomere lengths are so variable in the first place.

Blackburn, however, says she is increasingly convinced that the effects of stress do matter. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Most would-be US terrorists wouldn’t have committed a crime without FBI entrapment

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Data are a two-edged sword: One wants to collect metrics to determine quality of performance, but as soon as metrics are defined they distort performance, which takes as a new goal to drive up good metrics (measures of success). For example, if you are fighting terrorism, it’s good to know how many terrorist plots are disrupted, but once you start counting, those in the agency start pushing for the number to go higher, and soon it’s found that not enough terrorist plots are disrupted to make the numbers look good. So the FBI starts promoting terrorist plots (in an undercover fashion, of course), contributing plans, contacts, helping to arrange for supplies, and then step in and arrest everyone and chalk up another big win for the FBI. (Cf. the stop-and-frisk quotas in Bloomberg’s NYPD.) For example:

In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

That’s from this Juan Cole’s post at Informed Comment:

The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.

The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.

“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks, the groups found. But many others have targeted people who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them. And many of the cases involve due process violations and abusive conditions of confinement that have resulted in excessively long prison sentences.

The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.

In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. . .

Continue reading. And watch this:

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 5:21 pm

More from the Obama Administration’s “Watchlist Guidance”

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I blogged this article earlier, and in case you didn’t read it—it’s long—let me post a few paragraphs about what sort of things the US government checks for if you happen to be on the Watchlist or have the same name as someone on the Watchlist:

In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE database.

Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition—”e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information”—details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips—is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.

The list of government entities that collect this data includes the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is neither an intelligence nor law-enforcement agency. As the rulebook notes, USAID funds foreign aid programs that promote environmentalism, health care, and education. USAID, which presents itself as committed to fighting global poverty, nonetheless appears to serve as a conduit for sensitive intelligence about foreigners. According to the guidelines, “When USAID receives an application seeking financial assistance, prior to granting, these applications are subject to vetting by USAID intelligence analysts at the TSC.” The guidelines do not disclose the volume of names provided by USAID, the type of information it provides, or the number and duties of the “USAID intelligence analysts.”

We are more and more living under a government that believes it has the right to build a dossier on any citizen. More controls (over citizens) is coming, if this plays out according to history.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 5:04 pm

The stock markets are rigged, part MMDCCCLXIV: Half of Futures Trades in Chicago Are Illegal Wash Trades

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Read and ponder. The regulations and laws and watchdog agencies are failing.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Preventable patient harm is the third-leading cause of death in America

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And we do little to prevent it: like many American failures, it is simply accepted as part of “having the best healthcare system in the world.” Marshall Allen reports in Pacific Standard:

The health care community is not doing enough to track and prevent widespread harm to patients, and preventable deaths and injuries in hospitals and other settings will continue unless Congress takes action, medical experts said last week on Capitol Hill.

“Our collective action in patient safety pales in comparison to the magnitude of the problem,” said Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We need to say that harm is preventable and not tolerable.”

Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said patients are no better protected now than they were 15 years ago, when a landmark Institute of Medicine report set off alarms about deaths due to medical errors and prompted calls for reform.

“We can’t continue to have unsafe medical care be a regular part of the way we do business in health care,” Jha said.

One of the biggest problems, the experts told the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, is that providers and public health agencies still are not accurately measuring the harm.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the panel’s chairman, said afterward that most patients probably don’t know that preventable patient harm is the third-leading cause of death in America. He said the problem hasn’t received the attention it deserves in the public arena or from lawmakers.

Jha said it is crucial to develop better metrics to produce credible data about harm that is valid and credible. Without data, providers don’t know how they’re doing or if quality improvement efforts are working, he said.

Pronovost and Jha called for requiring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which already collects data about hospital-acquired infections, to begin tracking other patient harms.

Dr. Tejal Gandhi, president of the National Patient Safety Foundation, said studies show that medication errors, adverse drug events, and injuries due to drugs occur in up to 25 percent of patients within 30 days of being prescribed a drug.

Missed and delayed diagnosis is also a problem, and a primary cause of malpractice lawsuits in the outpatient setting, she said. Systems need to be put in place to monitor patient care instead of simply relying on doctors to get it right, Gandhi said.

“We cannot just tell clinicians to try harder and think better,” Gandhi said.

The title of the hearing, “More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day Is Too Many: The Need to Improve Patient Safety,” was inspired by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 4:48 pm

Why Germans are angry about U.S. spying

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A very good column in the Washington Post by Andreas Busch, professor of comparative politics and political economy at the University of Göttingen. Well worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 4:35 pm

Can Americans learn how to teach math in elementary schools?

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Full disclosure: I once wrote textbooks for the “new math,” and specifically for the Greater Cleveland Mathematics Program. This was in 1962-63, and years later as director of admissions I talked with a student who had gone through the program.

Based on that I fully recognize the syndrome described in this NY Times article by Elizabeth Green: the failure to teach the teachers and to spend enough time teaching the teachers so that they actually understand.

The entire article is worth reading. The conclusion:

. . . Today Takahashi lives in Chicago and holds a full-time job in the education department at DePaul University. (He also has a special appointment at his alma mater in Japan, where he and his wife frequently visit.) When it comes to transforming teaching in America, Takahashi sees promise in individual American schools that have decided to embrace lesson study. Some do this deliberately, working with Takahashi to transform the way they teach math. Others have built versions of lesson study without using that name. Sometimes these efforts turn out to be duds. When carefully implemented, though, they show promise. In one experiment in which more than 200 American teachers took part in lesson study, student achievement rose, as did teachers’ math knowledge — two rare accomplishments.

Training teachers in a new way of thinking will take time, and American parents will need to be patient. In Japan, the transition did not happen overnight. When Takahashi began teaching in the new style, parents initially complained about the young instructor experimenting on their children. But his early explorations were confined to just a few lessons, giving him a chance to learn what he was doing and to bring the parents along too. He began sending home a monthly newsletter summarizing what the students had done in class and why. By his third year, he was sending out the newsletter every day. If they were going to support their children, and support Takahashi, the parents needed to know the new math as well. And over time, they learned.

To cure our innumeracy, we will have to accept that the traditional approach we take to teaching math — the one that can be mind-numbing, but also comfortingly familiar — does not work. We will have to come to see math not as a list of rules to be memorized but as a way of looking at the world that really makes sense.

The other shift Americans will have to make extends beyond just math. Across all school subjects, teachers receive a pale imitation of the preparation, support and tools they need. And across all subjects, the neglect shows in students’ work. In addition to misunderstanding math, American students also, on average, write weakly, read poorly, think unscientifically and grasp history only superficially. Examining nearly 3,000 teachers in six school districts, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently found that nearly two-thirds scored less than “proficient” in the areas of “intellectual challenge” and “classroom discourse.” Odds-defying individual teachers can be found in every state, but the overall picture is of a profession struggling to make the best of an impossible hand.

Most policies aimed at improving teaching conceive of the job not as a craft that needs to be taught but as a natural-born talent that teachers either decide to muster or don’t possess. Instead of acknowledging that changes like the new math are something teachers must learn over time, we mandate them as “standards” that teachers are expected to simply “adopt.” We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that their students don’t improve.

Here, too, the Japanese experience is telling. The teachers I met in Tokyo had changed not just their ideas about math; they also changed their whole conception of what it means to be a teacher. “The term ‘teaching’ came to mean something totally different to me,” a teacher named Hideto Hirayama told me through a translator. It was more sophisticated, more challenging — and more rewarding. “The moment that a child changes, the moment that he understands something, is amazing, and this transition happens right before your eyes,” he said. “It seems like my heart stops every day.”

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Education, Math

Food shortages showing up in fishing, and the follow-on effects are bad

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Michelle Nijhuis writes in the New Yorker:

In 1998, a young American biologist named Justin Brashares, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, went to Ghana to research antelope behavior. But, as he hiked the West African forests and savannahs, he didn’t see many antelope. He also didn’t see many hippos, leopards, duikers, or lions. What he did see were large, aggressive troops of olive baboons. They had recently begun to raid maize crops and steal chickens, causing such serious and persistent damage that many Ghanaians were keeping their young children out of school to help guard family farms.

How had baboons gained influence over the education of Ghanaian children? In search of an answer, Brashares dug into the fantastically detailed records of wildlife populations and hunting activity that Ghana has kept since its days as a British colony. He found that as populations of large mammal species had declined in the country’s national parks over the decades, baboon populations had expanded into the newly predator-free habitat. Hunting intensified by human population growth was one reason for the over-all declines, but the mammal numbers didn’t follow a straight line toward extinction: they rose, then fell, then rose again.

Brashares asked Ghanaian farmers about the pattern. “Oh, it’s the fish,” he remembers them saying dismissively. Poor fishing on the Atlantic coast, they told Brashares, drove more people into the forest to hunt for bushmeat. More hunting meant fewer large mammals, more olive baboons—and, eventually, more kids kept home from school. Brashares’ analysis of data collected by researchers from his lab and elsewhere showed that, in 2009, sixty-five per cent of school-age children in sixty-four baboon-affected villages were withdrawn from school for at least one month, and many for much longer than that.

This causal chain from the health of ocean fisheries to educational success was so straightforward that Brashares initially didn’t believe it. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, but these uninformed people aren’t aware of some bigger dynamic,’ ” Brashares told me. “Of course, they were right all along.” With the Ghanaian park data and extensive surveys of twelve Ghanaian markets over several years, Brashares and his colleagues eventually showed that when fish populations were low, fish prices were high, and bushmeat hunting increased, a relationship that was especially strong near the coast. Other researchers documented similar patterns elsewhere in Africa and in South America, further proving what Ghanaian farmers already knew: wildlife declines aren’t only a result of social ills but also a cause.

Brashares and his students have since looked more closely at the global social effects of fish and wildlife declines. In a review article published today in the journal Science, and in a talk at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Missoula, Montana, last week, Brashares detailed examples: declining fish populations off the coast of southern Thailand are forcing Thai fishing fleets to work harder for the same catch, and the resulting desperation for labor has triggered an epidemic of indentured servitude and child slavery. (The United Nations estimates that ten to fifteen per cent of the global fisheries workforce now suffers some form of enslavement.) Over the past decade, more than a hundred “fishing militias” have formed in Thailand, and clashes over local fishing rights have killed an estimated three thousand nine hundred people. In surveys of Kenyan households conducted by Kathryn Fiorella, a graduate student who works with Brashares, a large proportion of women reported exchanging sex for fish because, they said, fish had become too scarce and expensive to secure otherwise. (More than half the women who had exchanged sex for fish were H.I.V.-positive.) In West Africa, where Brashares began his work, child labor and child slavery are increasing as both fishing and bushmeat hunting become more difficult.

These linkages are rarely discussed in academic circles, or even in the popular press. Not long after Brashares published his work on fisheries and bushmeat trends in Ghana, Science published a high-profile article on the decline of global fisheries; the same week, the Times published a story on forced child labor in the fishing industry, drawing on research and analysis by UNICEF and the International Labor Organization. Science made no mention of forced labor, and the Times made no mention of fisheries’ declines. “The science side is very focused on natural-resource trends and not really thinking about social consequences, while the policy side is looking at Somali pirates or elephant ivory, and totally disconnected from the root causes,” Brashares said.

Meanwhile, non-specialists—from Ghanaian farmers to English-speaking magazine readers—may well be surprised to learn that the people charged with solving such problems aren’t making what seem like patently obvious connections.

Academic institutions reward specialization, and specialists are invariably at risk of missing the larger problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 3:43 pm

FDA can continue to ignore the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

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The FDA isn’t doing its job because it’s almost totally in thrall to the businesses that it is supposed to regulate and seems mostly to do their bidding. And, given the GOP pressures, I imagine funding has been cut. But still, for a Federal judge to explicitly rule that the FDA doesn’t have to do its job to protect the public makes one throw up his hands.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 3:38 pm

BBS with ATT

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SOTD 24 July 2014

My ATT set-up came with two handles, a longer one whose handle was chequered, and this shorter one with a very nice spiral engraving: very nice. And this one has the H baseplate; I had assumed “H’ meant something like “Heavy-duty,” but now I think it means “Harsh”—the razor is not quite harsh, since it is controllable, but it definitely belongs in the “Aggressive” class and not the “Mild-Aggressive.” Still: a BBS result with no nicks and no burn.

But let’s begin at the beginning. I selected my Simpson Emperor 2 Super and Strop Shoppe’s excellent Teakwood shaving soap, which I believe was the first Special Edition soap she made. Ingredients are specified and on the label, and I lathered using the wet-brush method and working the lather up on my beard. One effect of using palm-lathering, though, is that I spent a little longer working up the lather on my beard and got a better lather as a result.

The H1 baseplate carried a new SuperMax Titanium blade, and it may not be the best brand for this razor. As noted, the razor’s feel tilted toward harshness, unlike the mild feel of the R baseplate, but it certainly removed stubble effectively: I was BBS in some places after the first pass. A guy with a thick, tough, coarse beard would be best served by a slant, but if he wanted a straight-bar razor, this one would do a good job. I will make light use of it, though: I simply prefer the feel of the R.

Next up: the M baseplate, and probably tomorrow.

A good splash of Saint Charles Shave’s Very V aftershave—and yes, I still like it a lot.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 8:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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