Later On

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

Archive for November 23rd, 2015

Agriculture Linked to DNA Changes in Ancient Europe

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Carl Zimmer reports in the NY Times:

The agricultural revolution was one of the most profound events in human history, leading to the rise of modern civilization. Now, in the first study of its kind, an international team of scientists has found that after agriculture arrived in Europe 8,500 years ago, people’s DNA underwent widespread changes, altering their height, digestion, immune system and skin color.

Researchers had found indirect clues of some of these alterations by studying the genomes of living Europeans. But the new study, they said, makes it possible to see the changes as they occurred over thousands of years.

“For decades we’ve been trying to figure out what happened in the past,” said Rasmus Nielsen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the new study. “And now we have a time machine.”

Before the advent of studies of ancient DNA, scientists had relied mainly on bones and other physical remains to understand European history. The earliest bones of modern humans in Europe date to about 45,000 years ago, researchers have found.

Early Europeans lived as hunter-gatherers for over 35,000 years. About 8,500 years ago, farmers left their first mark in the archaeological record of the continent.

By studying living Europeans, scientists had already found evidence suggesting that their ancestors adapted to agriculture through natural selection. As tools to sequence DNA became more readily available, researchers even discovered some of the molecular underpinnings of these traits.

But these studies couldn’t help determine exactly when the changes occurred, or whether they resulted from natural selection or the migrations of people into Europe from other regions.

Scientists are now tackling these questions in a much more direct way, thanks to a rapidly growing supply of DNA from ancient skeletons. These studies have revealed that the DNA of Europeans today comes from three main sources. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 9:24 pm

Vital Lies, Simple Truths should be required reading for all journalists

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Michael Massing writes in the NY Review of Books:

Despite fizzling out within months, Occupy Wall Street succeeded in changing the terms of political discussion in America. Inequality, the concentration of wealth, the one percent, the new Gilded Age—all became fixtures of national debate thanks in part to the protesters who camped out in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. Even the Republican presidential candidates have felt compelled to address the matter. News organizations, meanwhile, have produced regular reports on the fortunes of the wealthy, the struggles of the middle class, and the travails of those left behind.

Even amid the outpouring of coverage of rising income inequality, however, the richest Americans have remained largely hidden from view. On all sides, billionaires are shaping policy, influencing opinion, promoting favorite causes, polishing their images—and carefully shielding themselves from scrutiny. Journalists have largely let them get away with it. News organizations need to find new ways to lift the veil off the superrich and lay bare their power and influence. Digital technology, with its flexibility, speed, boundless capacity, and ease of interactivity, seems ideally suited to this task, but only if it’s used more creatively than it has been to date.

Consider, for instance, DealBook, the online daily financial report of The New York Times. It has a staff of twelve reporters plus a half-dozen columnists covering investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, and regulatory matters. Every day, DealBook posts a dozen or so pieces on theTimes website, some of which also appear in the print edition, making it seem a good vehicle for showing how Wall Street really works.

Unfortunately, it only intermittently delivers. Most DealBook postings are narrowly framed, with a heavy emphasis on CEO comings and goings, earnings and expectations, buyouts and IPOs. Some sample headlines: “BB&T Is New Deal-Making Powerhouse in Banking.” “Investors Hope to Ride Swell of SoulCycle Fever in Coming IPO.” “Dell Is the Straw That Stirs Tech M&A.” “Strong Profit for Bank of America, and Investors See Signs of Progress.” Some pieces veer into outright boosterism. A long feature on “How Jonathan Steinberg Made Good on a Second Chance,” for instance, described in admiring detail how this mogul, through a combination of pluck and savvy, built his asset management firm into “one of the fastest-growing fund companies around.”

DealBook’s founder and editor, Andrew Ross Sorkin, is known for his closeness to Wall Street executives (many of whom serve as sources of information), and it often shows in his weekly column. In one that appeared on October 3, 2011, two weeks after the start of Occupy Wall Street, he explained that he had decided to visit Zuccotti Park after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank:

“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the CEO asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?”

After speaking with some of the occupiers, Sorkin concluded that the bankers were not in imminent danger, though he warned that they did have to grapple with the demonstrators’ demands for accountability for the financial crisis and growing inequality. . .

Continue reading.

I highly recommend Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception; in it, Daniel Goleman explains why blind spots occur: that is, what is the value of having a blind spot? Why do we create them? Some of the secondhand copies at the link cost little more than shipping.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Business, Media

Watch it happen: New Rubik’s Cube world record solution time, 4.904 seconds

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Story here.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Games, Video

Everyone loves the tardigrade, but they’re weirder than we thought

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I think it’s the cuteness of those eight stubby little legs. Victoria Turk writes in Motherboard:

I’m going to call it: tardigrades are the weirdest animal on the planet (and beyond).

Also known as water bears, the microscopic eight-legged creatures have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and are best known for being almost indestructible. They can go into a state of suspended animation and survive temperatures way below freezing and well above boiling, go without food and water for years, and have even been known to survive the vacuum and radiation of space. A new study published in PNAS adds another to the list of tardigrades’ extraordinary features: their genome contains an unprecedented proportion of foreign DNA. Lead author Thomas Boothby said the finding was “extremely surprising.”

The group of researchers based out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill set out to sequence the genome of the tardigrade species Hypsibius dujardini, in the hope of gaining more insight into the unusual creature’s biology. What they found was that an unprecedented one-sixth of the tardigrade’s genome was not made of tardigrade DNA. It was composed of “foreign” DNA from a large range of completely different organisms—mainly bacteria, but also plants, fungi, and single-celled archaea. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Another excellent Netflix original: River

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River is a 6-part miniseries, so far as I can tell. It’s called “Season 1,” but I think that’s simply an artifact of a poorly designed naming system/database: for example, the (excellent) Worricker Trilogy, three episodes in total, is also shown as “Season 1.” There will be no season 2.

At any rate, River was quite good.

I’d put in links, but Netflix won’t come up in my browsers any more. That particular site times out. Any idea of what causes that. Same thing happens periodically with USPS.com.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Highly recommended: Sherlock Junior, free streaming on Amazon Prime

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I had not seen Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Junior  previously, though it’s often (and rightly) included in Buster Keaton collections. I watched it today and it’s quite amazing in many ways, not least in having the often-mentioned but seldom seen slipping on a banana peeled, and played in the teasing way that is the strategy of several of the sequences (e.g., the murder methods, and in particular the quite amazing trick-shot pool sequence (and note that the take can encompass sever shots, though then the cuts are mode to return to a set-up shot): always about to happen, but doesn’t, until it does, unexpectedly (though we in general did expect it).  Plus a nice art v. reality sequence worthy of Cervantes but set in the idiom of filmmaking  rather than literature. And the unreal shadowing the suspect sequence.

Well worth watching—in addition to all of the above, it’s funny: Buster Keaton.

A bonus: One of the title cards reads: “His assistant — Gillette. A Gem who was Ever-Ready in a bad scrape.”

And of course today one has to wonder: paid product placement?

Another bonus: You see the source of Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Movies & TV

Community policing initiative in New Haven CT

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Conor Friedersdorf reports in the Atlantic:

What if more cops walked a beat?

Dean Esserman, the chief of police in New Haven, Connecticut, wants to find out. At a criminal-justice reform conference* earlier this month, he explained that he has been assigning all rookie police officers to daily foot patrols on the same blocks––and that in doing so, he is being true to both the history of policing in the United States and his father’s career as a doctor who made house calls in his neighborhood.

The details are engaging.

And overall, he conveys a vision of law enforcement as it is conceived by advocates of community-based policing. Before I present his case at greater length, a bit of context is useful. New Haven is a high-crime city. It is also home to Yale, and Esserman is a guest lecturer at Yale Law School. He has been profiled favorably in the Yale Daily News, as in this article about a protest related to Ferguson, Missouri, when he ordered officers to refrain from deploying force against students.

Here’s a slightly condensed version of his words:

In 2011, New Haven celebrated its 150th anniversary as a police department. We’re one of the oldest police departments in the nation. The problem is we’ve been policing in New Haven for more than 250 years. So did we get the math wrong because, unlike my sister, we didn’t go to Yale?

What I’ve come to learn after being a police chief for 25 years in four American cities is that we lost our way. We don’t know our own history. But our history has a lot to do with who we are and where I think we need to head.

Before there were police there were constables. And before there were constables there was the night watch. Originally, the police were the citizens that night who were just chosen to walk the street, with a bell, a staff, and a lantern, and look out for the community. The next night another citizen did that job. And no one was paid. It was a caretaker job.

Later, night watchmen became constables, and they got paid. Later still they got trained. And only 100 years later did they become organized police departments. So the truth is that we always were a part of the community.

We were actually community members.

But the average American police officer doesn’t know that history. They don’t connect to that history. They connect to the uniform. They connect to the distance and the professionalism and the apartness. So we’re trying to return to that. And I think America has been grappling with this constantly redefined definition of community policing for a generation now.

I tell the story this way.

My father was the love of my life. He was an old fashioned doctor in New York. He didn’t make a lot of money. All us kids knew to take messages at home, and after dinner my father would make house calls. And if you said, “Who is the neighborhood doctor?” or “Who is your family doctor?” it was my father, Paul Esserman, in our neighborhood in New York City.

I learned my policing that way. Because right now if you ask people, “Who is your family cop?” they say,”I don’t have a cop in the family.” They think you mean someone who took the civil service test. In New Haven we’re challenging that. What we’re doing is going toward that model where your neighborhood cop is like my old neighborhood’s doctor.

In New Haven, we’re the only city in America where, when you graduate the police academy, everybody walks a beat for a year. It doesn’t matter who you are. Everybody walks their same beat every day. And I wear a uniform everyday and I walk a beat every week myself.

Every month or two, I bring these young rookies into my conference room alone with the door closed. And we go around the room and I say, “Tell me a story.” I’ve been doing this now for the four years that I’ve been chief in New Haven. And the stories are always the same. The first week it’s a quiet walk. Everybody is kind of eyeballing you and you’re eyeballing everybody. By the end of the month you can’t get down the block without a half-a-dozen conversations and honking their horns. People know your children’s names and you know their children’s names.

They know your days off.

By the second or third month I almost always hear this story:

Chief, you gotta explain this to me, I don’t get it. I’ve walked this beat everyday with my partner for three months. And I say hello to this lady every morning. Yesterday, she asked me if I could stay a minute. She wanted to talk. She told me something horrendous had happened to her three or four months ago. I said, Ma’am, why didn’t you tell me then? She said, “Because I didn’t know you then, officer.”

And that’s when the moment of insight occurs. That’s why I do something crazy like give my cops cell phones. I know people who don’t believe in organized medicine, but they believed in my father as their doctor. I know people who don’t believe in the organized church, and believe that Dan Brown books about the scandals in the Vatican are all true. But they believe in their parish priest. I know people who don’t believe in Congress––it seems everybody––but they believe in their Congressman. What we’re realizing is that we’re in the relationship business.

The only way you get past that barrier of a uniform or skin color is through relationships. So we have people who don’t believe in the New Haven police department, and God knows they don’t believe in the chief of police.

But they believe in their cop. That’s what we’re going back to––we’re going back to a cop that has to earn their trust in the neighborhood, and that takes time. We’re going back to when the community embraces their officer. Not necessarily their department, but the person they know.

I’ll close with this story. I have three children who are my life, which is why I have three jobs. And my oldest graduated college. If you knew him you’d be as proud and as amazed as me. He got a job in Washington, D.C., which I’ve come to learn, because I’ve avoided it my whole life, is the nation’s most dangerous city, right, politically and otherwise. When he graduated I bought him a bicycle, because I’m an honest police chief, and I couldn’t afford to buy him a car. About the third or forth week someone clipped the chain on the bannister and stole his bike. Who do you think is the first person that my son called? Me. Now how is it that the son of an American police chief wouldn’t have the instinct to call 911? If the son of an American police chief wouldn’t have the instinct to call 911, why do we think anyone else does? Reality is, you call who you know. And you don’t know us anymore.

We’ve become strangers in the community. It’s why we’ve been ordered to wear numbers on our badges and why we have to wear our name on our uniforms. It’s by court orders. My hope is, one day, to come full circle. When someone asks some citizen in New Haven, who is your family cop, who is your neighborhood cop, they’re gonna know I don’t mean that they have a cop in the family who took the civil service test.

I mean the officer on your beat, like my father was the neighborhood doctor. That’s going back to where we began, when it was a citizen who had the duty for the night. We are not the military. We are not an army in occupation. There is no national American police force and there never will be.

There’s just thousands of local police forces and what we have to do is take it one step farther, and make it thousands and thousands of local police cops.   . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

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