Later On

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

Archive for September 17th, 2015

Omega-3 benefits may depend on a mutation: cf. the Inuit

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Carl Zimmer reports in the NY Times:

As the Inuit people spread across the Arctic, they developed one of the most extreme diets on Earth. They didn’t farm fruits, vegetables or grains. There weren’t many wild plants to forage, aside from the occasional patch of berries on the tundra.

For the most part, the Inuit ate what they could hunt, and they mostly hunted at sea, catching whales, seals and fish. Western scientists have long been fascinated by their distinctly un-Western diet. Despite eating so much fatty meat and fish, the Inuit didn’t have a lot of heart attacks.

In the 1970s, Danish researchers studying Inuit metabolism proposed that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish were protective. Those conclusions eventually led to the recommendation that Westerners eat more fish to help prevent heart disease and sent tens of millions scrambling for fish oil pills.

Today, at least 10 percent of Americans regularly take fish oil supplements. But recent trials have failed to confirm that the pills prevent heart attacks or stroke. And now the story has an intriguing new twist.

A study published on Thursday in the journal Science reported that the ancestors of the Inuit evolved unique genetic adaptations for metabolizing omega-3s and other fatty acids. Those gene variants had drastic effects on Inuit’s bodies, reducing their heights and weights.

Rasmus Nielsen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of the new study, said that the discovery raised questions about whether omega-3 fats really were protective for everyone, despite decades of health advice. “The same diet may have different effects on different people,” he said.

Food is a powerful force in evolution. The more nutrients an animal can get, the more likely it is to survive and reproduce. Humans are no exception. When we encounter a new kind of food, natural selection may well favor those of us with genetic mutations that help us thrive on it.

Some people, for example, are able to digest milk throughout their lives. This genetic adaptation arose in societies that domesticated cattle thousands of years ago, in such places as Northern Europe and East Africa. People who trace their ancestry to other regions, by contrast, tend to more often be lactose-intolerant.

Dr. Nielsen wondered if the Inuit had a similar evolutionary change when they shifted to a diet made up mainly of meat.

In recent years, he and his colleagues have been collaborating with researchers at the University of Greenland to study Inuit DNA. Originally, they searched for mutations that raise the risk of developing diseases such as diabetes.

But then Dr. Nielsen and his colleagues took a different tack, searching for mutations that might have provided the Inuit with some benefit.

To sharpen the focus of their search, the scientists selected 191 Greenlanders whose ancestry was 95 percent Inuit or greater. (Many Greenlanders can trace some of their ancestry to Europe because of the island’s colonization by Denmark.) The researchers looked at the DNA of these people for variations in genes important to metabolism. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Evolution, Food, Health, Science

I didn’t even know paper quilling was a thing, much less a cool thing

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Those are just some examples from this fascinating article about artist/paper quiller Sena Runa.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Art

Forest Managers: We’re Just Making Wildfires Worse

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What do you call it when the correct course of action is quite well known and understood, but the wrong course of action is continually followed? Stupidity? Insanity? Irresponsibility?

Michael Byrne provides an excellent example in Motherboard:

It’s an old warning, but one that’s become only more prescient as wildfires increasingly become a foreground fact of life in the United States: Forest fires should be managed, not vanquished.

To be sure, the US Forest Service and other agencies have gotten better at this over the past couple of decades, most visibly through controlled burn programs. But, as a panel of land managers and researchers from several Western states argue in this week’s issue of Science, fire management reforms have still largely failed: 98 percent of the time, wildfires are suppressed before they reach 120 hectares (12,000 acres) in size and have had little chance to consume fuel.

The reason is simple enough and has nothing to do with policy. Putting out small fires is cheap.

But killing fires when they’re tiny serves a single purpose—putting out a tiny fire. There’s no consideration of the larger wildfire regime, and where a small fire might have grown to consume some of the vast stockpiles of dead wood clogging up mismanaged forests, it remains ready to burn another day. More fuel accumulates on top of it. And more and more and more.

Eventually, a fire event occurs that is not among those 98 percent of fires. This is a cataclysmic wildfire storm of the sort we’re watching this week in California as the Valley and Butte fires continue on their 150,000 acre reigns of terror. When fuel is left to accumulate for years and years, there is pretty much only one possible outcome.

Quashing small fires is a delaying tactic in the same sense that ignoring a cancer symptom is a delaying tactic. It’s a dangerous illusion.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 1:42 pm

Good news: 2000 fishing slaves have been freed so far

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Esther Htusan and Margie Mason of Associated Press report:

AMBON, Indonesia — More than 2,000 fishermen have been rescued this year from brutal conditions at sea, liberated as a result of an Associated Press investigation into seafood brought to the U.S. from a slave island in eastern Indonesia.

Dozens of Burmese men in the bustling port town of Ambon were the latest to go home, some more than a decade after being trafficked onto Thai trawlers. Grabbing one another’s hands, the men walked together toward buses last week. As they pulled away for the airport, some of those still waiting their turn to go home cheered, throwing their arms in the air.

“I’m sure my parents think I’m dead,” said Tin Lin Tun, 25, who lost contact with his family after a broker lured him to Thailand five years ago. Instead of working in construction, as promised, he was sold onto a fishing boat and taken to Indonesia. “I’m their only son. They’re going to cry so hard when they see me.”

The reunion he envisions has played out hundreds of times since March, after the AP tracked fish — caught by men who were savagely beaten and caged — to the supply chains of some of America’s biggest food sellers, such as Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and popular brands of canned pet food like Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. It can turn up as calamari at fine restaurants, as imitation crab in a sushi roll or as packages of frozen snapper relabeled with store brands that land on our dinner tables. The U.S. companies have all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and are taking steps to prevent it.

In response, a multimillion-dollar Thai-Indonesian fishing business has been shut down, at least nine people have been arrested and two fishing cargo vessels have been seized. In the U.S., importers have demanded change, three class-action lawsuits are underway, new laws have been introduced and the Obama administration is pushing exporters to clean up their labor practices. The AP’s work was entered into the congressional record for a hearing, and is scheduled to be brought up for discussion again later this month.

The largest impact, by far, has been the rescue of some of the most desperate and isolated people in the world. More than 2,000 men from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have been identified or repatriated since the AP’s initial story ran, according to the International Organization for Migration and foreign ministries. The tally includes eight fishermen trafficked aboard a Thai cargo ship seized in neighboring Papua New Guinea.

And those returnee figures don’t tell the whole story: Hundreds more have been quietly sent home by their companies, avoiding human trafficking allegations.

“We’ve never seen a rescue on this scale before,” said Lisa Rende Taylor, an anti-trafficking expert formerly with the United Nations who now heads the anti-slavery nonprofit Project Issara. “They deserve compensation and justice.”

Many experts believe the most effective pressure for change can come from consumers, whose hunger for cheap seafood is helping fuel the massive labor abuses. . .

Continue reading.

Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Current (2014) record in stone-skipping

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 1:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Selling another razor—and a Randall Made knife

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Joris razor

Just put up two more eBay listings: a Joris razor (shown above) and a Randall Made knife.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Shaving

Interesting observations on the GOP debates

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Kevin Drum has some good observations on the GOP debates:

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Media

A good outcome, thanks to DHS: More libraries will host TOR nodes

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Interesting outcome of the DHS hysteria that criminals might use TOR nodes in libraries—indeed, criminals might even use the libraries themselves—checking out books, reading magazines, and so on. And probably criminals use supermarkets. There’s no end of things that could be shut down because criminals might use them…

But back to the TOR nodes: One happy outcome of the heavy-handed actions by DHS is that it publicized how libraries can assist by hosting TOR nodes. Jason Koebler writes at Motherboard:

As so often happens, a government attempt to quash the use of technology it doesn’t like has made that tech more popular than ever. A week after the Department of Homeland Security intimidated a New Hampshire public library into shutting down its Tor relay, about a dozen other libraries nationwide have shown interest in running their own Tor services.

In July, the Kilton Public Library in New Hampshire agreed to become the first library to operate a Tor node, meaning its contributing bandwidth to the popular anonymous web browsing protocol. There is a well-known dearth of node operators, which are also known as relays. Because of the way Tor distributes traffic across many different servers, as more people operate these relays, the network becomes both faster and more secure.

The plan, launched by the Library Freedom Project, is to get public libraries across the country to agree to operate relays. Progress was slow as its founder, Alison Macrina, slowly reached out to individual libraries about the project.

And then the Department of Homeland Security got involved.

Last week, DHS warned Lebanon, New Hampshire police that Tor can be used by criminals—the standard federal line is that the service fosters a “zone of lawlessness” filled with terrorists and child pornographers. The Kilton Library shut down its relay in order to hold a public meeting about the future of the relay. Internet freedom activists started online petitions asking the library to restore the node, news stories about the shutdown shot to the top of Reddit, and, on social media, the news went about as viral as a fairly esoteric privacy story could.

Tuesday night, the Lebanon Library Board of Trustees unanimously decided to resume operating the node.

“Not a single person in the audience had a dissenting thing to say, it was amazing,” Macrina told me. “I’ve never seen a public referendum like that come down so strongly in favor of free speech. It was the world’s first ever Tor protest, and we were just blown away.”

The attention didn’t just spur the Kilton Public Library to take a stand, however. It’s also blown up the project as a whole, according to Nima Fatemi, who works with Macrina on the project.

“Librarians started emailing us saying ‘How can we join the movement? How can we run these relays?'” he told me. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 12:34 pm

Life’s Deepest Partnerships

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In Quanta Emily Singer has an interesting interview with biologist Nancy Moran on types of symbiosis:

Two years ago, Nancy Moran moved from Yale University to the University of Texas, Austin, along with 120,000 bees. Bees are famous for living in large social groups, but Moran was interested in more than just the hive: She’s delving into the diverse ecosystem of bacteria that evolved along with the bees, a group that contributes to the health of hives and their resilience to infection.

Bees and their microbiota are just one example of symbiosis — a close relationship between two species that typically helps both. Symbiosis can take a variety of forms. Cleaner fish scour dead skin from other fish and gain a meal in the process. The myriadmicrobes that live within our guts help us digest certain foods.

But much of Moran’s work has focused on a deeper kind of partnership, one involving microbes known as endosymbionts that are passed from their host to its offspring. With her collaborator Paul Baumann, a bacteriologist at the University of California, Davis, Moran uncovered the tightly interwoven nature of these host-microbe relationships. Many pairs have become completely dependent on each other, some even swapping genes. Her research centered largely on aphids, sap-feeding insects that infest plants. The aphids can’t survive without a microbe called Buchnera aphidicola, which lives within the insect and provides it with essential nutrients.

Moran is now doing similar work with bees, and her research could eventually help scientists understand colony collapse disorder, the mysterious plague devastating honeybee populations. Moran hopes an evolutionary biologist’s perspective will also provide important insight into the workings of the human microbiome — the collection of microbes that live on and inside us — which has become a hot topic in human health.

Quanta Magazine spoke with Moran in July at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution conference in Vienna, where she presented her latest research on bees. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.

QUANTA MAGAZINE: What was the field of symbiosis like when you started in the 1980s?

NANCY MORAN: It was a fringe topic in biology at the time. Most symbionts can’t be studied outside their host, and everyone was ignoring them. There were very limited tools for studying them. Then in the 1980s, new molecular methods became available to amplify DNA and then sequence it.

How did you use those tools to study symbiosis? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Science

Terrorism is bad, whether by Israelis or Palestinians

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Assaf Sharon reviews two books on Jewish terrorism in the NY Review of Books:

Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917–1947
by Bruce Hoffman
Knopf, 618 pp., $35.00

The Reckoning: Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land—A True Detective Story
by Patrick Bishop
Harper, 299 pp., $26.99

In the early morning hours of July 31 this summer masked men torched two houses in the West Bank village of Duma. One of the houses was empty. In the other, the Dawabsheh family lay sleeping. Saad, his wife Riham, and their four-year-old son Ahmad were severely injured as flames spread through their bedroom. Eighteen-month-old Ali burned to death, and Saad died a week later of his wounds. A year ago three Jewish extremists kidnapped sixteen- year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir outside his East Jerusalem home. They drove him to a forest where, after beating him, they poured gasoline over his head and burned him alive.

Execution by fire has always been about more than just killing. It carries a message. The masked men who threw the Molotov cocktail into the Dawabshehs’ bedroom made their message explicit, leaving graffiti of a Star of David with NEKAMA! (Hebrew for revenge) sprayed on the wall.

This brand of Jewish terrorism is not new. In 2002 a clandestine group of Jewish settlers attempted to blow up a Palestinian girls’ school. In 1994 an American-born Jewish settler gunned down twenty-nine Palestinians while they were praying in Hebron. A decade earlier a number of loosely connected underground cells carried out terrorist attacks against Palestinian targets, including the Islamic college in Hebron, public buses, and West Bank mayors.

The roots of contemporary Jewish terrorism lie in the radical movements and individuals who roamed Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s. Two new books, Bruce Hoffman’s Anonymous Soldiers and Patrick Bishop’s The Reckoning, explore these roots.


While I was in Jerusalem I heard nine bomb explosions not far from my hotel. The immigration offices of the Palestine Mandate at Haifa and Tel Aviv were blown up, and two Palestine policemen were murdered. There are three extremist groups, all illegal military organisations. They have Fascist manners and Fascist uniforms, and are storm troopers.

This is how a Reader’s Digest reporter, Frederick Painton, described his encounter with Jewish terrorism early in 1944. (1) The bombings Painton heard were the opening shot of the revolt against the British Mandate announced on February 1 by the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization, also known by its Hebrew acronym, Etzel). Eleven days later members of the Irgun, under the direction of their recently appointed leader, Menachem Begin, bombed British immigration offices in Palestine’s main cities.

Begin, who had emigrated from Poland in 1942, belonged to the Revisionist faction of the Zionist movement, formed by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Its aim was to revise the Zionist Labor movement’s “practical Zionism,” which was primarily concerned with building national institutions and cultivating a Jewish society in Palestine. “Jabotinsky’s grand ‘Revisionist’ Zionism put the Jewish state first,” Avishai Margalit recently wrote in these pages, “and worried about the society later. The Jewish state was to be achieved by aggressive diplomacy and military might.” (2) On one fundamental issue, Jabotinsky agreed with his Labor Zionist rivals: Zionism’s goals were to be achieved through alliance with the British Empire. Correctly predicting that the Ottomans would be defeated in World War I, Jabotinsky organized five battalions of Jewish volunteers to fight with the British. He hoped this would bolster the Zionist case after the war and create the foundation for a Jewish defense force.

Both hopes would be frustrated. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Books, Mideast Conflict

Super shave with Edwin Jagger razor—and, of course, Meißner Tremonia

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SOTD 17 Sept 2015

A really fine shave today. The Plisson synthetic easily launched a great lather from the (slowly) dwindling sample of Meißner Tremonia Pots o’ Milk shaving soap, the 13th shave from the sample, which looks to last for another half-dozen shaves.

Three passes with the Edwin Jagger having a fluted black-rubber handle (this one) left a BBS result. A splash of Bulgari and I’m ready for the day.

I have a few “shaving-soap surprise” boxes left: each box contains 10 excellent shaving soaps lightly used (or used not at all). I simply have to winnow the collection, which has become too large. I will ship you a box for $30 ($3/soap), plus $10 for shipping. Email me (at Leisureguy dot wordpress at gmail dot com) if you’re interested, and I’ll let you know if any are left.

On the agenda today: making chili garlic paste. It’s easy.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2015 at 7:41 am

Posted in Shaving

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