Later On

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

Archive for August 8th, 2014

A very powerful column on Iraq based on what actually happened

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The beginning told through old newspaper headlines. Those of a certain age will find it mesmerizing to track the changing mood and story. By all means click this link. The Iraq War just goes on and on. Wasn’t it smart of Bush and Cheney to do an unprovoked invasion of the country?

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Iraq War

Letting one’s expectations bar one from enjoyable experience

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I beat the drum of “experience often contradicts expectations” pretty frequently. Expectations are known to be unreliable, and yet people insist on making choices based on expectations rather than on experience. Tom Jacobs describes a good example in the Pacific Standard:

Public radio host Ira Glass was widely ridiculed last week following an ill-advised tweet, in which he expressed his admiration for John Lithgow’s Central Park performance as King Lear, but added: “Shakespeare: not good. No stakes, not relatable.”

It goes without saying that anyone who can’t relate to Lear—which is to say, anyone who can’t imagine making a complete fool of him or herself in old age, and paying a terrible price for such self-delusion and hubris—is simply in denial. Glass has since walked back his statement as basically indefensible, and the controversy has produced some intelligent discussion about the apparent limits of our empathy.

Talk to actual theater professionals, however, and you’ll find that the key problem they face isn’t audience apathy, but rather the presumptive fear of boredom.

If a production of a great Shakespeare tragedy is even minimally effective, audiences tend to get deeply involved; if they didn’t, the plays wouldn’t exert their continuing pull on our imagination. But many potential theatergoers don’t expect to have such a reaction, and are therefore reluctant to buy tickets. The plays, they fear, are too old, too far removed from their worlds—not “relatable” enough, in other words.

A recently published study suggests this disconnect between expectation and experience extends beyond the Bard. In a series of experiments, it finds people incorrectly believe they will have a stronger emotional reaction to stories that are based on fact, or ones that are set in the recent rather than the distant past.

Based on this inaccurate belief, people “may choose to see a play about their home town, watch a basketball game live on television, or read a novel based on a true story, but miss out on seeing a more enjoyable play about a distant city, watching a more exciting game recorded earlier, or reading a more entertaining fictional novel,” write Jane Ebert of Brandeis University and Tom Meyvis of New York University. . .

Continue reading. The experiments described later in the article are interesting.

Of course, any DE shaver who has talked to a head-in-the-sand cartridge-razor shaver knows that many people operate a lot by expectations, even when talking to someone with direct actual experience. So it goes.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

To Fix the Child Refugee Crisis, End the War on Drugs

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Charles Kenny has a good article in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Congress closed for the August recess this weekend without passing legislation to address the child refugee crisis on the Mexican border. Nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children, most from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, have entered the U.S. across that border in the last nine months, fleeing spiraling violence in their home countries—murder, rape, and attacks carried out by rival drug gangs, and attacks by police on suspect gang members.

The refugee crisis is now our problem, which is appropriate: The drug-linked violence that the children are fleeing is in large part our fault. Anti-drug policies in the U.S. and Europe have not succeeded in curbing drug use or in raising drug prices, but they have considerably increased crime and violence worldwide. It is time to shift the effort to focus on helping drug users at home rather than battling drugmakers and traffickers abroad.

A little-considered consequence of criminalization is displacement: When a state or country makes an activity illegal, the new criminals find new haven. Bordellos relocate to Nevada, Puritans flee to America, polluting industries settle in China. This kind of displacement suggests that others can bear the costs of an individual or community’s anti-crime measures. For example, if in the interest of preventing burglaries, home insurers require all their policyholders to use alarms or security cameras, burglars would shift their efforts to those without enhanced security measures: in this example, the uninsured, a group that is more vulnerable to begin with.

Story: Mexico’s Drug Cartels Scare Oil and Gas Investors

This is what has happened with drug production, which has concentrated in countries least able to control crime. Here’s a domestic example: In 2004, Oklahoma created the first state law mandating that drug stores place pseudoephedrine behind the pharmacy counter, limiting individual sales and registering the photo ID of purchasers. These regulations severely disrupted the supply of a vital ingredient in methamphetamine, and for Oklahoma, it was an effective intervention: The number of meth labs confiscated in the state dropped 71 percent in three months. But in neighboring Texas and Kansas, where pseudoephedrine remained more easily available, police officers complained of a dramatic increase in meth production. In 2008 the U.S. restricted pseudoephedrine sales nationally. So production moved abroad, first to Mexico and, when that country introduced similar laws, further south to Central America and Africa.

Trade routes can also be displaced. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Corporations are using dubious research to take over prisons

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Certain services should be run by the state, not private corporations (whose efforts are always directed toward cutting costs and increasing profits). These include hospitals, schools, postal services, and prisons. Matt Stroud takes a look at the corporate approach to prisons at The Verge:

Since the mid-1980s, private companies have contracted with states and branches of the federal government to assume certain prison operations. The argument behind these contracts has been that private companies — which are not beholden to things like pension arrangements with correctional officer’s unions — can cut prison spending in ways that governments can not.

For the most part, this argument was theoretical — an idea never definitively proven by any significant academic studies (though some have tried to do so). But then, in April 2013, came a study out of Temple University in Philadelphia. This study found that private prison companies could help governments cut costs from between 12.46 percent and 58.61 percent. It looked like a groundbreaking study on its surface, and the private prison industry ran with it. But recently that appearance has begun to fade and reveal a very different picture: that of corporate prisons taking a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook.

Private prison companies were doing well enough without the academic boost. Though these companies only oversee about 8 percent of United States prisons, the number of prisoners in private facilities rose by 37 percent between 2002 and 2009, and the companies generally make a lot of money: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the world, has a market cap of $3.74 billion; one of its competitors, the GEO Group, has a market cap of $2.46 billion. But the study was nonetheless helpful; it backed up the savings claims with an ostensibly independent study from a reputable academic institution. It brought private prisons — and the contracts those companies were lobbying to secure with states and the federal government — into policy discussions all over the country. The study’s authors, Temple economics professors Simon Hakim and Erwin A. Blackstone, even wrote op-eds in newspapers where private prisons were being considered by lawmakers. This was all excellent news for private prison companies.

Soon after, however, the study’s findings began to look a little less excellent.

Private prison companies have an enemy in a man named Alex Friedmann. He’s a former CCA prisoner and editor of Prison Legal News who has devoted a significant portion of his post-prison life to pointing out the faults in private prisons. He’s aligned with unions — which are opposed to private prison companies — and he argues that, by cutting costs, these companies put the welfare of prisoners in jeopardy.

When the Temple study was released, he noticed the very last line in a press release that went along with it: “The study received funding by members of the private corrections industry.”

Friedmann wondered: how could the study be independent if it received funding from private prison companies? The press release had made it clear that these companies had helped pay for the study, but the original study itself did not. He wrote about his concerns in op-eds, often responding directly to op-eds written by professors Hakim and Blackstone. He filed an ethics complaint in May 2013 with Temple University alleging that the professors “breached their ethical responsibilities” by not disclosing their funding sources. In the meantime, members of the private prison industry continued to tout the study’s findings.

Then last month, the ACLU got involved, publishing . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Jazz

Medical ethics—or, rather, the lack thereof

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Nathalia Holt writes in The Scientist:

With the right drugs given at the right time, we can prevent HIV from being passed from mother to child. Despite this technological breakthrough, established in the mid-1990s, some HIV-positive women are being denied access to this potentially life-saving treatment for their infants. And it’s not due to a lack of money or healthcare coverage; it’s the result of a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported clinical study that is withholding such treatments for the sake of having a control group.

It’s reminiscent of a dark period in American medical history: the Tuskegee study. Conducted from 1932 to 1976, African American men in Alabama were denied therapy for syphilis with the rationale that the participants wouldn’t have access to therapy anyway. During the past decade, similar arguments have been made to withhold therapy to pregnant women infected with HIV at international research sites.

Each time a baby is infected with HIV it’s a tragedy, one that we have the technology to prevent. Now, an NIH-supported study is raising debate in how we treat our most vulnerable research subjects. The study, called the Promoting Maternal-Infant Survival Everywhere (PROMISE) trial, aims to compare treatment options for HIV-positive mothers and their newborns. The controversy lies in the below-standard-of-care offered to some pregnant mothers who are participating. For some physicians and activists, this study is only the latest chapter in researchers’ exploitation of HIV-positive pregnant women.

Placebos offer the promise of an elegant, powerful dataset but also carry the risk of denying a patient needed medicine. The open language of our medical ethics means that every study is a balance between providing the best medical care possible and furthering our scientific understanding. Controversy arises when we tip the scale. While no researcher would withhold therapy to a pregnant woman in this country, some researchers make exceptions when applying this research to developing nations. [Presumably that’s because people in developing nations are less import and of less value than Americans, at least in the eyes of these researchers. – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Medical, Science

Researchers put two Spanish-speakers on a train and changed commuters’ views of immigration

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Very interesting report—but read the whole thing.

People in general dislike change: we’re all settlers at heart.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Another reason I don’t surf: Shark attacks (on drone camera) in vivid video

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Take a look at this video—full screen is best, and the theme from Jaws would be a good soundtrack.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Science, Video

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