Later On

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

Archive for September 2015

The Connection Between Cleaner Air and Longer Lives

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The reason the criminal fraud VW committed is so important that it killed people. Kevin Drum, using available data, estimates the death toll from the higher pollution of 11,000,000 cars to be 4,000 worldwide. (One hopes that’s high enough to trigger criminal prosecutions of individuals responsible; recall that GM’s concealing the problem defective ignition switch caused 153 deaths according to Reuters, and not only were no GM employees prosecuted, the company itself got what amounts to probation. So car companies have to kill many people for individuals to be held responsible for committing a crime. Usually the company can simply write a check, though to be sure the amount of the check may be relatively large.

But did the pollution actually kill people—that is, caused them to die before they otherwise would have? Yes, according to this article in the NY Times by Michael Greenstone:

Back in 1970, Los Angeles was known as the smog capital of the world — a notorious example of industrialization largely unfettered by regard for health or the environment. Heavy pollution drove up respiratory and heart problems and shortened lives.

But 1970 was also the year the environmental movement held the firstEarth Day and when, 45 years ago this month, Congress passed a powerful update of the Clean Air Act. (Soon after, it was signed by President Richard Nixon, and it was followed by the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Water Act, making him one of the most important, though underappreciated, environmentalists in American history.)

Since that time, the Clean Air Act has repeatedly been challenged as costly and unnecessary. As a fight brews over President Obama’s new use of the law to address global warming, it’s worth re-examining the vast differencethe law has already made in the quality of the air we breathe, and in the length of our lives.

Numerous studies have found that the Clean Air Act has substantially improved air quality and averted tens of thousands of premature deathsfrom heart and respiratory disease. Here, I offer new estimates of the gains in life expectancy due to the improvement in air quality since 1970 — based on observations from the current “smog capital” of the world, China. (To learn more about how this was calculated, click here.)

For several decades starting in the 1950s, China’s government gave residents in the northern half of the country free coal for winter heating, effectively creating a natural experiment in the health impact of pollution. My colleagues and I recently compared pollution and mortality rates between the north south of China and calculated the toll of airborne particulate matter, widely believed to be the most harmful form of air pollution, on life expectancy.

Applying that formula to E.P.A. particulate data from 1970 to 2012 yields striking results for American cities.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 4.15.14 PM

In Los Angeles, particulate pollution has declined by more than half since 1970. The average Angeleno lives about a year and eight months longer. Residents of New York and Chicago have gained about two years on average. With more than 42 million people currently living in these three metropolitan areas, the total gains in life expectancy add up quickly.

But some of the greatest improvements occurred in smaller towns and cities where heavy industries appeared to operate with few restrictions on pollution.

In 1970, the Weirton, W.Va.–Steubenville, Ohio, metropolitan area had particulate concentrations similar to current-day Beijing. A child born there today can expect to live about five years longer than one born in 1970.

More than 200 million people currently live in places monitored for particulates in 1970 and today. (The E.P.A. focuses on the most heavily populated or polluted areas of the country, which is why these calculations exclude approximately 115 million people.) On average, these people can expect to live an additional 1.6 years, for a total gain of more than 336 million life-years. . .

Continue reading.

VW really was responsible for killing people; we just don’t know which ones.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 4:18 pm

The Inevitable Rise of the Internet of Shipping Containers

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An interesting development indeed. I wonder whether it will extend to vehicles—trucks carrying shipping containers and cars carrying people, so that those will be tracked 24/7 as well. Tim Maughan reports at Motherboard:

The shipping container has become the ubiquitous mechanism of logistics, its generic shape and size an iconic symbol of globalization itself. By standardizing how cargo is packaged and moved, it has streamlined costs to an extent that has transformed global economics.

The container, and the vast infrastructure of trucks, ships, and mega-ports that move them, have reduced shipping costs and times enough to transform where industrial manufacturing and agricultural production can be located. It’s because of containers that pretty much everything you consume—from electronic gadgets to bananas—can be manufactured or grown where the labour costs are lowest, and shipped halfway around the world to you without it impacting how much you pay for them. It’s the shipping container that has tipped the global economic balance, allowing the economies of nations like China and India to explode.

But with millions of boxes circulating the world everyday, making sure they get from point A to point B has become a hugely complex problem, and one that’s increasingly managed by computer networks and algorithms rather than people. At present, containers are tracked via a complex system of identification numbers and barcodes, which allow them to be checked in and out of ports and other distribution hubs, or on and off flatbed trucks and vast containerships. But apart from these connecting points, the individual container is largely off-grid and dumb, unable to be monitored or contacted by those who depend on its cargo being delivered safely or on time. It opens up a whole barrage of security holes and opportunities for the system to be exploited.

This might be about to change, and, surprisingly, it could be thanks to the once-popular smartphone maker Blackberry. By plugging each lowly container directly into a network, Blackberry wants to make sure they can never be lost, misused, or hidden. It wants to make them aware of their location, its surroundings, its status. It wants to make containers smart.

In an interview with Indian Express, the president of Blackberry’s Technology Solutions lab Dr. Sandeep Chennakeshu revealed a new, as-yet unnamed device—a 20mm weatherproof box that can be used to retrofit existing containers and hook them up to the network.

“You can fix it to containers that carry highly valuable goods” he explained, “and since it has GPS, sensors and a cellular modem it can measure temperature, humidity pressure and movement. It can also figure out the location, if someone has opened the door, and cargo levels in the container and send the data securely to the cloud.”

What makes the self-powered box revolutionary is its claim to have a battery with a five-year lifespan, meaning that in theory it could be installed in any existing container, instantly turning it into a monitor-able, controllable, data collecting node in the already incredibly complex supply chain network, and one that understands more about its status than the humans that put it there.

This may sound futuristic, but it’s already started happening. As generic, interchangeable, and ubiquitous as they seem, the reality is that not all containers are created equal. Last year I spent a week on a Maersk container ship as it travelled between the mega-ports of the China sea.

I was first introduced to ‘reefers’: containers outfitted to be advanced climate-controlled, computer monitored micro-environments, plumbed directly into the ship’s power supply. Used to move everything from food to pharmaceuticals, the reefers on the cargo ship I rode were mainly carrying fish meal—processed fish guts used for fertilization and feeding cattle, exported from Chile and headed to China—one of the few items to flow that direction through the supply chain in large quantities.

The reefers highlight the changing role of human crew in what is an increasingly automated system. Unlike the other containers on the ship, which were little more than anonymous boxes to human eyes, their contents, origins, and destinations unknown, the reefers presented one of the few direct responsibilities the crew had for looking after their cargo.

It was the crew’s duty to ensure they constantly had power, were maintaining the right temperature, and to repair them if they malfunctioned. But even then the crew’s relationship to the reefers was heavily mediated by technology: not only are the reefers smart enough to know when something has gone wrong, but they’re picky about who they tell when it does. Connected directly to Maersk’s global network, when something fails, they don’t tell the crew directly, but instead call home—thousands of miles back to the company’s computers in Denmark, who in turn relay the message to the ship’s captain, who then tells the crew what to do.

These containers seem to have more agency in the decision-making process than the humans on the ship, something starkly illustrated by how painfully slow internet access was out at sea. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Pope lays egg in addressing the issue of child rape by church officials

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Pam Martens has an interesting column on this. From the column:

. . . The Pope’s laundry list of criticisms of where society is off the rails includes rising poverty, homelessness, income inequality, and climate change but the Pope appeared yesterday to want to push the rape of children by “men of God” into the same dark shadows for which the church has now become notorious. The Pope’s sole reference in his address at St. Matthew’s to the horrific acts upon children by Catholic priests and the bishops who shunted the priests from parish to parish to perpetuate the abuse, was this:

“I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice. Nor have you been afraid to divest whatever is unessential in order to regain the authority and trust which is demanded of ministers of Christ and rightly expected by the faithful. I realize how much the pain of recent years has weighed upon you and I have supported your generous commitment to bring healing to victims – in the knowledge that in healing we too are healed – and to work to ensure that such crimes will never be repeated.”

Commenting on the “pain” of the bishops and their “courage” was met with outrage by victims of the abuse. Barbara Blaine, President of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), released a statement noting that it was bishops who “enabled horrific crimes,” and that only four have resigned. Blaine said further:

“Virtually none of the other US clerics, (out of thousands) have ever been punished in the slightest for protecting predators, destroying evidence, stonewalling police, deceiving prosecutors, shunning victims or helping child molesting clerics get new jobs or flee overseas.

“And no one in the entire US Catholic hierarchy, despite 30 years of horrific scandal and at least 100,000 US victims, has been defrocked, demoted, disciplined or even publicly denounced by a church colleague or supervisor, for covering up child sex crimes, no matter how clearly or often or egregiously he did so.”

Blaine was particularly incensed that the Pope claimed that “such crimes will never be repeated,” stating that “such crimes are happening right now, all across the world.” She said the Pope had confirmed their organization’s worst suspicions, that he, like his predecessors, “will do little if anything to bring real reform to this continuing crisis.”

Dennis Coday, a reporter for the independent National Catholic Reporter, echoed some of the criticism, writing: “I have to wonder where is the forthrightness we have come to expect of Pope Francis. At the very least he could have used the words ‘clergy sexual abuse of minors.’ This oblique reference will do nothing to assuage the fears of victims’ advocates who believe Francis is more public relations manager than crisis manager when it comes to sexual abuse.” . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 3:05 pm

Interesting look at the environmental legacy of the VW fraud

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James Surowiecki has an interesting column in the New Yorker:

It took a few days, but the inevitable happened Wednesday: Martin Winterkorn, the embattled C.E.O. of Volkswagen, stepped down in the wake of revelations that his company had equipped eleven million diesel-engine cars with software explicitly designed to cheat on emissions tests. The cars were set to recognize when they were being tested and, if they were, to abruptly begin emitting far less nitrogen oxide than they would on the road. Winterkorn had initially tried to ride out the scandal, and there’s no evidence (so far) that he knew about the software cheating. But, given that this was not, as in most auto-industry scandals, a case of a defective part but rather a deliberate corporate effort to deceive consumers and regulators, it was impossible for him to stay on, particularly given his reputation as a hands-on, technically adept micromanager: he either did know or should have known, and, in either case, he has to bear the blame. Winterkorn’s departure, though, will do little to relieve the pressure on Volkswagen, or to save it from the travails to come. This is one of the more remarkable corporate scandals in history, and by the time it’s over the company, which at the moment is the world’s largest automaker, is likely to be a shadow of its past self.

Volkswagen’s lies to consumers and regulators weren’t tangential to its business: instead, they were crucial to how it marketed its diesel cars, at least in the United States. Diesel has always been a tough sell in the U.S., where the technology is associated with the dirty, clunky engines of the nineteen-seventies, and where fuel economy (typically a strong selling point for diesel) tends to matter less to consumers than it does in Europe. Volkswagen’s solution to this problem was to trumpet a “new era of diesel,” featuring engines that were cleaner than ever. The headline on a 2008 BusinessWeek article summed up the pitch: “This Is Not Your Father’s Diesel.” Improvements in diesel technology had made it possible for diesel engines to run cleaner than ever before. But the assumption had been that there was a trade-off: making diesel cleaner would also lower a car’s fuel economy and/or its performance. Volkswagen promised customers that they didn’t have to make these trade-offs. They could, for a relatively modest price, get a high-performing car with great fuel economy (and, therefore, lower CO2 emissions), while also releasing less of other pollutants. It sounded too good to be true—and, for Volkswagen, it was. (BMW and Mercedes made a similar case for their diesel cars; neither has been implicated in the emissions scandal, though.) Volkswagen did deliver the high performance and the fuel economy but did so, it has now become clear, only by disabling the emissions controls, which meant its cars were pouring hundreds of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere.

In that sense, Volkswagen’s actions are oddly reminiscent of (while obviously far more serious) the classic “Seinfeld” episode in which the characters become enamored with a new frozen yogurt that’s incredibly tasty but still somehow “a hundred percent nonfat.” The principle is the same: you can make a lot of money by promising people that they can have all the pleasure and none of the guilt. As Newman says to Jerry, “This yogurt is really something, huh? And it’s nonfat! I’ve been waiting for something like this my whole life, and it’s finally here!” Needless to say, the frozen yogurt turns out to be full of fat.

The centrality of Volkswagen’s deceptive promise to its marketing strategy in the United States is precisely why the stock market’s reaction to the scandal has been so dramatic. While the stock rebounded slightly on Thursday, it’s still down almost thirty per cent from when the news broke. It isn’t just the cost of fixing the emissions problem that’s the issue—it’s possible that, because the emissions controls are already in the cars, the only fix that will be needed will be a software patch that, in effect, disables the cheat. Nor is it just the fines, though those could be huge, and will presumably be the biggest ever levied against an automaker. (The Environmental Protection Agency, which helped uncover the scandal, can fine the company up to thirty-seven thousand dollars for each of the four hundred and eighty-two thousand cars Volkswagen sold in the United States with the software.) There will also be class-action lawsuits, and the possibility that Volkswagen might have to compensate owners for the full value of their cars. Whatever patch Volkswagen offers, after all, won’t make the cars run just the way they did—in fact, it’s likely to make them run worse in terms of performance and fuel economy. That means, in effect, that the cars Volkswagen said it was selling were not the cars it actually sold. It would be very surprising if this doesn’t end up costing the company many billions of dollars. (It has already set aside more than seven billion, which may be conservative.) And the hit to its reputation, especially in the United States, will be long-lasting.
While the scandal is a disaster for Volkswagen, there’s a good chance it’ll end up being a boon for the environment, since the fallout from the controversy will hurt not just the company but also diesel technology itself.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 3:01 pm

Cool interactive graphic shows when you’ll die (more or less)

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain

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I’ve commented before on how knowledge is lost, the canonical example being the secret of the Stradivarius stringed instruments (e.g., violins, violas). Michaeleen Doucleff at NPR has an article from last June about an interesting example of knowledge that our own culture has lost:

Editor’s note, June 10: We have added an acknowledgement of several sources that Esther Gokhale used while developing her theories on back pain. These include physiotherapy methods, such as the Alexander Technique and theFeldenkrais Method, and the work of anthropologist Noelle Perez-Christiaens.

Back pain is a tricky beast. Most Americans will at some point have a problem with their backs. And for an unlucky third, treatments won’t work, and the problem will become chronic.

Believe it or not, there are a few cultures in the world where back pain hardly exists. One indigenous tribe in central India reported essentially none. And the discs in their backsshowed little signs of degeneration as people aged.

An acupuncturist in Palo Alto, Calif., thinks she has figured out why. She has traveled around the world studying cultures with low rates of back pain — how they stand, sit and walk. Now she’s sharing their secrets with back pain sufferers across the U.S.

About two decades ago, Esther Gokhalestarted to struggle with her own back after she had her first child. “I had excruciating pain. I couldn’t sleep at night,” she says. “I was walking around the block every two hours. I was just crippled.”

Gokhale had a herniated disc. Eventually she had surgery to fix it. But a year later, it happened again. “They wanted to do another back surgery. You don’t want to make a habit out of back surgery,” she says.

This time around, Gokhale wanted to find a permanent fix for her back. And she wasn’t convinced Western medicine could do that. So Gokhale started to think outside the box. She had an idea: “Go to populations where they don’t have these huge problems and see what they’re doing.”

[Added June 10] So Gokhale studied findings from anthropologists, such as Noelle Perez-Christiaens, who analyzed postures of indigenous populations. And she studied physiotherapy methods, such as the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method.

And the original post continues …

Then over the next decade, Gokhale went to cultures around the world that live far away from modern life. She went to the mountains in Ecuador, tiny fishing towns in Portugal and remote villages of West Africa.

“I went to villages where every kid under age 4 was crying because they were frightened to see somebody with white skin — they’d never seen a white person before,” she says.

Gokhale took photos and videos of people who walked with water buckets on their heads, collected firewood or sat on the ground weaving, for hours.

“I have a picture in my book of these two women who spend seven to nine hours everyday, bent over, gathering water chestnuts,” Gokhale says. “They’re quite old. But the truth is they don’t have a back pain.”

She tried to figure out what all these different people had in common. The first thing that popped out was

Continue reading.

The article includes an interesting sidebar:

Esther Gokhale’s Five Tips For Better Posture And Less Back Pain

Try these exercises while you’re working at your desk, sitting at the dinner table or walking around, Esther Gokhale recommends.

1. Do a shoulder roll: Americans tend to scrunch their shoulders forward, so our arms are in front of our bodies. That’s not how people in indigenous cultures carry their arms, Gokhale says. To fix that, gently pull your shoulders up, push them back and then let them drop — like a shoulder roll. Now your arms should dangle by your side, with your thumbs pointing out. “This is the way all your ancestors parked their shoulders,” she says. “This is the natural architecture for our species.”

2. Lengthen your spine: Adding extra length to your spine is easy, Gokhale says. Being careful not to arch your back, take a deep breath in and grow tall. Then maintain that height as you exhale. Repeat: Breathe in, grow even taller and maintain that new height as you exhale. “It takes some effort, but it really strengthens your abdominal muscles,” Gokhale says.

3. Squeeze, squeeze your glute muscles when you walk: In many indigenous cultures, people squeeze their gluteus medius muscles every time they take a step. That’s one reason they have such shapely buttocks muscles that support their lower backs. Gokhale says you can start developing the same type of derrière by tightening the buttocks muscles when you take each step. “The gluteus medius is the one you’re after here. It’s the one high up on your bum,” Gokhale says. “It’s the muscle that keeps you perky, at any age.”

4. Don’t put your chin up: Instead, add length to your neck by taking a lightweight object, like a bean bag or folded washcloth, and balance it on the top of your crown. Try to push your head against the object. “This will lengthen the back of your neck and allow your chin to angle down — not in an exaggerated way, but in a relaxed manner,” Gokhale says.

5. Don’t sit up straight! “That’s just arching your back and getting you into all sorts of trouble,” Gokhale says. Instead do a shoulder roll to open up the chest and take a deep breath to stretch and lengthen the spine.

Take a look at the photos in the original article, particularly the photo of the Greek statue that shows good spinal alignment.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 12:32 pm

Prehistoric fish invented the enamel we use in our teeth

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Karen Kaplan reports in the LA Times:

The enamel that covers your teeth originated in an unlikely place: on the scales of ancient fish.

Scientists say they figured this out by examining the fossils of long-dead fish, as well as the DNA of a range of creatures alive today. They make their case in a report published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Enamel is the hardest tissue in our bodies, made almost entirely of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals. It protects our teeth when we chew and shields them from pain when encountering things that are very cold or very hot.

Nearly all four-limbed creatures have enamel, including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. So do so-called lobe-finned fish, some of which evolved to walk and live on land.

Some types of primitive fish had similar kinds of tissue covering the exterior of their bodies. And some had enamel-like substances both on their exterior and on parts of their teeth. The genes needed to make all of these hard tissues are largely the same, and most are clustered together in the genome.

By comparing the teeth and outer skeletons of various groups of fish, the researchers determined that enamel first arose in fish that had skeletons made of bone. (Other fish, including sharks and rays, have skeletons made of cartilage.)

Then the scientists turned their attention to a fish species called Psarolepis romeri, which lived in present-day China roughly 445 million to 420 million years ago. This fish intrigued them because it was one of the oldest species known to sport enamel.

However, the researchers wrote, the one part of the fish where enamel was conspicuously absent was their teeth.

Psarolepis makes clear that a single species can have enamel on some parts of its body but not others. With that in mind, the scientists turned their attention to another prehistoric fish called Andreolepis hedei.

Andreolepis, which lived around the same time as Psarolepis, has been a puzzle to scientists. Specimens have been found with enamel on their scales but not on bones in the skull. Some researchers have argued that these specimens must represent two separate kinds of fish. But the example of Psarolepis means that Andreolepis could be a single species with enamel on its scales, but not elsewhere.

Pulling it all together, the study authors concluded that “enamel originated on the scales, before colonizing the dermal bones and finally the teeth.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 11:20 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Taking Blood Pressure Drugs at Night May Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

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Interesting finding reported by Dennis Thompson at HealthDay:

In surprising new research, experts report that the timing of taking your blood pressure medicine could have a big impact on whether or not you develop type 2 diabetes.

Specifically, the Spanish researchers found that taking blood pressure medications at bedtime rather than waiting until morning may cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than half.

People with high blood pressure tend to suffer from a phenomenon called “non-dipping,” in which their blood pressure does not substantially decrease during sleep as it does in healthy people, the researchers said in background information.

In an initial study, the investigators found that “non-dippers” tended to have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared with people whose blood pressure decreased normally during sleep.

A follow-up clinical trial by the same research group revealed that taking high blood pressure medications right before bed helped lower a person’s sleeping blood pressure, and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

For every 14-point decrease in a person’s average sleeping systolic blood pressure, they experienced a 30 percent reduction in their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, said lead author Dr. Ramon Hermida. Systolic pressure is the top number in a blood pressure reading.

“The results from our prospective study indicate lowering asleep blood pressure could indeed be a significant method for reducing the risk of developing [type 2] diabetes,” said Hermida, who’s a professor of medicine at the University of Vigo in Spain.

So, how are these two very different diseases connected? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 11:14 am

Edwin Jagger old head = Merkur 34C head, so far as I can tell

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SOTD 24 Sept 2015

A very fine shave today, with a scotch-fragranced shaving soap: Meißner Tremonia’s Strong ‘n’ Scottish. The description, from the link:

Masculine, strong and incredibly intense. Plenty of genuine Scotch whiskey, pure sheep wool fat with the peaty-smoky fragrance of burnt oak.

It’s definitely an Islay scotch. (And I only recently learned that the “s” is silent in “Islay,” like the “s” in “isle” (which is what it means—and indeed is what it is pronounced like if you pronounce the “e” in “isle” like an unaccented schwa: IL-uh, with the “i” being long.))

Despite the strong and present fragrance, it is rinsed away with the lather, so the much lighter fragrance of the Bathhouse aftershave is all the fragrance I have now.

I used two razors, the Georgian Edwin Jagger (an older EJ, from before the their new head design) and the Merkur 34G. I read early on that Edwin Jagger had at that time the same head as the Merkur 34C/G, and simply repeated that knowledge until the idea was challenged by arbarnes on Wicked Edge (see this thread for the discussion).

He pointed out that the 34C is a two piece razor, but that seems irrelevant: the head is manufactured and then the baseplate is (permanently) attached to the 34C handle. (That is, the baseplate and handle are not manufactured as a unit.) And since Merkur provided unplated heads to EJ (which did their own plating, or had it done to their specifications), they presumably would not break down assembled 34Cs, but ship the heads before attachment.

Another point is that the EJ cap’s threaded post is substantially different from the threaded post on the 34C cap:Two caps
So certainly the cap differs between the two razors, due to the 34C’s two-piece design requiring a threaded post that can reach the internal tightening shaft. So in that sense, the caps are different.

But, as arbarnes points out, the key fact is the head geometry—that is, the overall shape of the head as it holds the blade and presents it for shaving. The length of the threaded stud is irrelevant to that, and as you can see from the photo below, the head geometries are, so far as I can tell in holding the razors side by side together, identical: Comparison

Unfortunately the focus sort of escapes me, but I think the shot is clear enough so se that the razors are at the least quite similar. When you inspect them in person, they definitely can been seen to have thee same head geometry.

So it seems to me that the old Edwin Jagger head, sourced from Merkur, used the exact same design (so far as head geometry is concerned) as the Merkur 34C/G.

In the meantime, I have contacted Edwin Jagger and asked them which Merkur head they previously used, but so far no reply—and, indeed, I may get no reply. But I have new confidence in the proposition that the head Edwin Jagger used was the same design (in terms of head geometry, if not in the length of the threaded stud) as the head of the 34C. This was called the Merkur Classic head.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 10:32 am

Posted in Shaving

Irony in action: Saudi Arabia to head UN Human Rights panel—and the US State Department welcomes that

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

Last week’s announcement that Saudi Arabia – easily one of the world’s most brutally repressive regimes – was chosen to head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel provoked indignation around the world. That reaction was triggered for obvious reasons. Not only has Saudi Arabia executed more than 100 people already this year mostly by beheading (a rate of 1 execution every two days), and not only is it serially flogging dissidents, but it is reaching new levels of tyrannical depravity as it is about to behead and then crucify the 21-year-old son of a prominent regime critic, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted at the age of 17 of engaging in demonstrations against the government.

Most of the world may be horrified at the selection of Saudi Arabia to head a key U.N. human rights panel, but the U.S. State Department most certainly is not. Quite the contrary: they seem quite pleased about the news. At a State Department briefing yesterday afternoon, Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was questioned by the invaluable Matt Lee of AP, and this is the exchange that resulted:

QUESTION: Change topic? Saudi Arabia.

MR TONER: Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Saudi Arabia was named to head the Human Rights Council, and today I think they announced they are about to behead a 21-year-old Shia activist named Muhammed al-Nimr. Are you aware of that?

MR TONER: I’m not aware of the trial that you – or the verdict – death sentence.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, he was arrested when was 17-years-old and kept in juvenile detention, then moved on. And now, he’s been scheduled to be executed.

MR TONER: Right. I mean, we’ve talked about our concerns about some of the capital punishment cases in Saudi Arabia in our Human Rights Report, but I don’t have any more to add to it.

QUESTION: Well, how about a reaction to them heading the council?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have any comment, don’t have any reaction to it. I mean, frankly, it’s – we would welcome it. We’re close allies. If we —

QUESTION: Do you think that they’re an appropriate choice given – I mean, how many pages is – does Saudi Arabia get in the Human Rights Report annually?

MR TONER: I can’t give that off the top of my head, Matt.

QUESTION: I can’t either, but let’s just say that there’s a lot to write about Saudi Arabia and human rights in that report. I’m just wondering if you that it’s appropriate for them to have a leadership position.

MR TONER: We have a strong dialogue, obviously a partnership with Saudi Arabia that spans, obviously, many issues. We talk about human rights concerns with them. As to this leadership role, we hope that it’s an occasion for them to look at human rights around the world but also within their own borders.

QUESTION: But you said that you welcome them in this position. Is it based on improved record? I mean, can you show or point to anything where there is a sort of stark improvement in their human rights record?

MR TONER: I mean, we have an ongoing discussion with them about all these human rights issues, like we do with every country. We make our concerns clear when we do have concerns, but that dialogue continues. But I don’t have anything to point to in terms of progress.

QUESTION: Would you welcome as a – would you welcome a decision to commute the sentence of this young man?

MR TONER: Again, I’m not aware of the case, so it’s hard for me to comment on it other than that we believe that any kind of verdict like that should come at the end of a legal process that is just and in accordance with international legal standards.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR TONER: Sure.

That’s about as clear as it gets. The U.S. Government “welcomes” the appointment of Saudi Arabia to a leadership position on this Human Rights panel because it’s a “close ally.” As I documented two weeks ago courtesy of an equally candid admission from an anonymous “senior U.S. official”: “The U.S. loves human-rights-abusing regimes and always has, provided they ‘cooperate’ . . . . The only time the U.S. government pretends to care in the slightest about human rights abuses is when they’re carried out by ‘countries that don’t cooperate.’”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 September 2015 at 12:06 pm

What Pope Francis could say that would stun Congress

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Jon Schwarz has an interesting article in The Intercept:

There are many things Pope Francis could say in his Thursday address to Congress that would make them uncomfortable. Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican Catholic from Arizona, has already announced that he’s refusing to attend because the Pope may urge action on global warming. The Pope could also strongly criticize capitalism, as he did in great detail in his 2013 apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel

But the Pope’s critique of the world has an even more radical component, one that’s gotten little notice in the United States — maybe because it’s so radical that many Americans, members of Congress in particular, might not even understand what he’s saying.

And what Francis is saying is that capitalism and our growing environmental disasters are rooted in an even older, larger problem: centuries of European colonialism. Moreover, he suggests this colonialism has never really ended, but merely changed forms — and much of U.S. foreign policy that’s purportedly about terrorism, or drugs, or corruption, or “free trade,” is actually colonialism in disguise.

That’s a perspective that no one in Congress — from Ted Cruz to Bernie Sanders or anyone in between — is going to get behind.

The Pope’s most extensive denunciation of colonialism is probably his speech last June at the World Meeting of Popular Movements (an event nurtured by the Vatican at the Pope’s initiative) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It’s genuinely startling. Read this and try to imagine what would happen if it were spoken at the U.S. Capitol:

The Earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil.” … Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women …

Let us always have at heart the Virgin Mary, a humble girl from small people lost on the fringes of a great empire. … Mary is a sign of hope for peoples suffering the birth pangs of justice. …

[W]e see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice the possibility of peace and justice. … The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain “free trade” treaties, and the imposition of measures of “austerity” which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor. …  At other times, under the noble guise of battling corruption, the narcotics trade and terrorism — grave evils of our time which call for coordinated international action — we see states being saddled with measures which have little to do with the resolution of these problems and which not infrequently worsen matters.

Moreover, the location of the event and the Pope’s speech was certainly not random. Bolivia today is an international symbol of both the evils of European colonialism and resistance to it, with history running from the founding of La Paz in 1548 to right now.

For instance, while it’s almost completely unknown in Europe and the U.S., an estimated eight million indigenous Bolivians and enslaved Africans died mining silver for Spain from the Bolivian mountain Cerro Rico — or as it’s known in Bolivia, “The Mountain That Eats Men.” Potosí, the city that grew up around Cerro Rico, is now extraordinarily polluted, and the mountain is still being mined, often by children. On the conquerors’ side of the ledger, Potosí was the source of tens of thousands of tons of silver, leading to the Spanish phrase vale un potosi — i.e., worth a fortune. (Some also believe the U.S. dollar sign originated from the design of coins minted there.)

More recently, in a faint echo of Potosí, the International Monetary Fund tried to force the Bolivian city of Cochabamba to lease its water system to a consortium of international investors. Enormous, successful protests helped make then-Congressman Evo Morales famous — enough so that he went on to become Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president.

Morales kicked out the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2008, and now the U.S. has secretly indicted several Bolivian officials connected to his administration — under, as the Pope might put it, “the noble guise of battling the narcotics trade.” The U.S. also appears to have been behind the forcing down of Morales’ presidential plane as it flew across Europe from Moscow, because the U.S. believed Morales might have had Edward Snowden onboard.

This history is why the Pope could tell Bolivians, “I do not need to go on describing the evil effects of this subtle dictatorship: you are well aware of them.”

And whether white people are ready to hear it or not, Bolivia’s experience is the norm across the planet, not the exception. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 September 2015 at 12:02 pm

Idiocracy is here: The GOP job-killers

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Two columns worth reading: “Defunding the ExIm Bank,” by James Fallows in the Atlantic, and “Republican Job Killers and the Export-Import Bank,” by Joe Nocera in the NY Times.

It turns out that ignorance and zealous ideology don’t work well in governing.

From the first article:

. . . The anti-ExIm argument was that big, rich companies like Boeing or GE should not depend on taxpayer help for financing their sales to customers overseas. That might sound true enough, within the confines of the 11th-grade Ayn Rand Debating Club.

In the actual world we inhabit, those firms are competing with others from Europe, China, Japan, Brazil, Russia, South Korea, etc. From places, that is, where government officials dozed through (or laughed at) the Ayn Rand part of the economics courses and are happy to promote their own exporters.

The results? Here’s one, from a Reuters story yesterday: . . .

From the second:

. . . What Oberhelman finds “staggering,” Immelt finds “hard to believe” and McNerney finds ironic is the refusal of Republican extremists — led by the House Financial Services Committee’s chairman, Jeb Hensarling — to allow a vote on the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a vote that would pass in a landslide. The Ex-Im Bank, which insures and sometimes finances export sales, had to stop making deals at the end of June, when its reauthorization deadline came and went.

Although the Ex-Im Bank still exists, it has been reduced these days to managing its portfolio, rather than underwriting or insuring new deals. According to Boeing, its foreign rival Airbus, which can tap not one but three export credit agencies, is spreading the word to potential aircraft customers that Boeing can no longer compete when bids require sovereign insurance. That is hardly the only such example.

The damage this is doing to our economy is starting to become clear. In recent weeks, Boeing, America’s largest exporter in dollar volume, made two sobering announcements: first, that Asia Broadcast Satellite canceled an $85 million satellite contract expressly because there was no Ex-Im support. (Boeing is hoping to renegotiate.) More recently, Kacific, a Singapore-based satellite company, told Boeing not to bother bidding on a satellite contract, again because of a lack of Ex-Im financing.

As a result, McNerney told me, “layoffs in the hundreds” have taken place in Boeing’s satellite division.

This week, it was G.E.’s turn to make Ex-Im-related news. First, it said it would move 400 jobs to France to manufacture — and export — gas turbines, and 100 final assembly jobs to Hungary and China. Then it said it would create a new turboprop center in Europe that would employ up to 1,000 people. In both cases, G.E. said the moves would allow the company to take advantage of European export credit agencies.

When I spoke to Immelt, McNerney and Oberhelman, whose company also uses the agency, they all sounded astonished that this important tool, which they need to compete with companies abroad, was being taken away for purely ideological reasons. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

23 September 2015 at 9:20 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

Another beer-fragranced shave: Oatmeal Stout

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SOTD 23 Sept 2015

Shaver Heaven makes a nice beer-fragranced shaving soap, their Oatmeal Stout, from which the Simpson Duke 3 Best brush drew a fine lather, thick and ample.

Three passes with the Gillette NEW shown—a lovely razor—and then a generous splash of Anthony Gold’s Red Cedar, which I like a lot—thus the repeat.

Now we turn from beer to spirits, for tomorrow’s shave. Oddly, I cannot think of any shaving soaps with a wine-oriented fragrance…

Written by LeisureGuy

23 September 2015 at 8:41 am

Posted in Shaving

Visions of Future Physics

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Fascinating article by Natalie Wolchover in Quanta:

Get Nima Arkani-Hamed going on the subject of the universe — not difficult — and he’ll talk for as many minutes or hours as it takes to transport you to the edge of human understanding, and then he’ll talk you past the edge, beyond Einstein, beyondspace-time and quantum mechanics and all those tired tropes of 20th-century physics, to a spectacular new vision of how everything works. It will seem so simple, so lucid. He’ll remind you that, in 2015, it’s still speculative. But he’s convinced that, someday, the vision will come true.

On the strength of the torrent of ideas he has produced over the past 20 years — he won the inaugural $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012 “for original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realizations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes” — Arkani-Hamed, 43, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, N.J., is widely considered one of the best theoretical physicists working today. Colleagues point to his knack for simplifying impossibly complex problems, as well as his exceptional mathematical ability, creativity, instincts and vast knowledge of physics. “Nima is amazing in every component of talent space,” said Savas Dimopoulos, a theoretical particle physicist at Stanford University.

But while many top physicists shy away from stagecraft, Arkani-Hamed functions, colleagues say, as a “messiah,” a “Pied Piper,” an “impresario.” Arms in motion and dark hair spilling to his shoulders, he weaves together calculations, thought experiments and historical precedents into narratives, confidently outlining chapters to come. His listeners range from graduate students to Nobel Prize winners. “He keeps coming up with the goods, and his persuasiveness is hypnotic,” said Raman Sundrum, a theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland in College Park, “so a lot of people follow where he leads.”

Arkani-Hamed’s mission — simple to state, but so all-consuming that he barely sleeps — is to understand the universe. “I don’t feel I have any time to lollygag, at all,” he said this summer in Princeton. This obsession takes him in several directions, but in recent years one question about the universe has come to preoccupy him, along with the field as a whole. Particle physicists seek to know whether the properties of the universe are inevitable, predictable, “natural,” as they say, locking together into a sensible pattern, or whether the universe is extremely unnatural, a peculiar permutation among countless other, more mundane possibilities, observed for no other reason than that its special conditions allow life to arise. A natural universe is, in principle, a knowable one. But if the universe is unnatural and fine-tuned for life, the lucky outcome of a cosmic roulette wheel, then it stands to reason that a vast and diverse “multiverse” of universes must exist beyond our reach — the lifeless products of less serendipitous spins. This multiverse renders our universe impossible to fully understand on its own terms.

As things stand, the known elementary particles, codified in a 40-year-old set of equations called the “Standard Model,” lack a sensible pattern and seem astonishingly fine-tuned for life. Arkani-Hamed and other particle physicists, guided by their belief in naturalness, have spent decades devising clever ways to fit the Standard Model into a larger, natural pattern. But time and again, ever-more-powerful particle colliders have failed to turn up proof of their proposals in the form of new particles and phenomena, increasingly pointing toward the bleak and radical prospect thatnaturalness is dead.

Still, many physicists, Arkani-Hamed chief among them, seek a more definitive answer. And right now, his quest to answer the naturalness question leads through China. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Science

This free online encyclopedia has achieved what Wikipedia can only dream of

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Nikhil Sonnad writes in Quartz:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy may be the most interesting website on the internet. Not because of the content—which includes fascinating entries on everything from ambiguity to zombies—but because of the site itself.

Its creators have solved one of the internet’s fundamental problems: How to provide authoritative, rigorously accurate knowledge, at no cost to readers. It’s something the encyclopedia, or SEP, has managed to do for two decades.

The internet is an information landfill. Somewhere in it—buried under piles of opinion, speculation, and misinformation—is virtually all of human knowledge. But sorting through the trash is difficult work. Even when you have something you think is valuable, it often turns out to be a cheap knock-off.

The story of how the SEP is run, and how it came to be, shows that it is possible to create a less trashy internet—or at least a less trashy corner of it. A place where actual knowledge is sorted into a neat, separate pile instead of being thrown into the landfill. Where the world can go to learn everything that we know to be true. Something that would make humans a lot smarter than the internet we have today.

The impossible trinity of information

The online SEP has humble beginnings. Edward Zalta, a philosopher at Stanford’s Center for the Study of Language and Information, launched it way back in September 1995, with just two entries. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Books, Education, Technology

Fascinating story from a wrong turn in life

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The headline is “Jeff Smith was supposed to be in Congress by now. Instead he’s an ex-con — with a story to tell.” Worth reading the Washington Post article by Ben Terris. From the article:

. . . But Smith also found prison to be a land of untapped potential, of witty banter and life lessons. The most important thing he learned: stop obsessing about the people who put you there.

“You can’t do time like that,” a man nicknamed KY told him. “Your boy with the wire, man, you can’t even think about the [expletive]. It’ll make you crazy.”

So Smith threw himself into prison life as best he could. He stole vegetables from the warehouse to participate in the underground economy, a system that convinced Smith that his fellow convicts were no different from “business students at Wharton,” just using different lingo and pushing different products.

If there was a villain in Smith’s story, it was the system that was built to beat them down.

“Indeed, upon closer inspection one might say that mass incarceration isn’t the product of a system that is broken but rather the result of a well-oiled machine,” he wrote. He calls out an industry that he says relies on ex-cons cycling back to prison, that would rather teach inmates how to grow tomatoes than offer them business classes, and makes it extremely difficult to maintain ties to family on the outside. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 1:14 pm

One of the better bromance spy thriller comedies: Secret Reunion

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Extremely well done, and watchable on Amazon Prime Streaming. Good Korean movies are, I find, really good movies.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Game design for video games

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Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.32.44 AM

The Son has a new book out, using what he has learned in several years of teaching game design (and many more years of playing games and programming games). It looks good to me, but of course I’m his father and possibly not objective.

If you’re interested in this subject, take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 10:35 am

Great shave, mostly Canadian

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SOTD 22 Sept 2015

Very fine shave this morning, the second in the alcoholic beverage series, today using Mickey Lee Soapworks The Drunken Goat, whose fragrance to my nose is indeed very beer-like, and indeed very Guiness-Stout-like. I easily made a fine lather with my new brush from The Copper Hat of Victoria BC, and with the stainless Stealth I had no trouble achieving a BBS result.

A good splash of Anthony Gold’s remarkably good Red Cedar aftershave, also from The Copper Hat, and the day begins with a trip to the PO to ship two boxes of soaps.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 September 2015 at 9:47 am

Posted in Shaving

‘We Have to Raise Our Voices’ to Legalize Medical Weed, Senator Kirsten GallibrandSays

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Kari Paul reports at Motherboard:

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wants to live in a country where parents don’t have to choose between potentially life-saving benefits of medical marijuana for their children and federal prosecution, she said on Monday.

In her keynote at the Cannabis Business Summit, the politician told tales of constituents who were forced to navigate the patchwork of federal and state medical marijuana laws as she advocated for the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States Act (CARERS Act), a bill aiming to decriminalize medical marijuana at a federal level.

“It’s a really exciting time, not just for your industry, but for our state and our country,” the California Democrat said. “Across the country, lawmakers are catching up with science, and finally recognizing the medical benefits of cannabis.”

Central to the bill, introduced by Gillibrand, Rand Paul (R-KY), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), is rescheduling marijuana as a Schedule II drug, the same category as prescription drugs like adderall, methadone, oxycodone, Percocet, and morphine, and giving it the classification of “accepted medical use.”

The drug is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, the same category as LSD, heroin, ecstasy, and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Gillibrand said this classification creates major obstacles to research and safe medical use.

“There’s a grave lack of any marijuana research,” she said. “This is a direct result of federal requirements that only govern the study of marijuana. No other drug, Schedule I or otherwise, has been subjected to the same constraints.”

She said the bill would eliminate fear of federal prosecution for patients and businesses in states with legal medical marijuana for the first time. It would also lift the financial restrictions preventing marijuana businesses from using banks andleaving many running dangerous cash-only operations.

It is unclear if and when this bill will come to a vote, but Gillibrand called on attendees to demand action from Washington. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2015 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Congress, Drug laws, Medical

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