Later On

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

Archive for October 16th, 2016

Two election posts, one on Trump and one on Ryan

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Settlement Debate Flares Again in Israel

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Isabel Kershner reports in the NY Times:

Israel’s long-smoldering debate over Jewish settlement in the West Bank reignited on Sunday with a fierce exchange between the government and a human rights organization that touched on broader arguments over definitions of patriotism and the very character of the country.

The latest cross-fire of accusations began after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced late Saturday that he would push for legislation to bar Israelis from volunteering for national service with B’Tselem, an organization that focuses on allegations of human rights violations againstPalestinians in Israeli-occupied territories.

On Friday, Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, addressed a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council devoted to a discussion titled “The Settlements as the Obstacle to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” referring to the internationally endorsed goal of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The session was initiated by the Palestinians and requested by five countries, including Egypt, a regional ally with which Israel signed a peace treaty in the late 1970s.

Most of the world considers Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories that were conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law. The Palestinians demand those areas as the heart of a future independent state, and continued Israeli building there has been a constant source of tension between Israel and the United States.

Mr. Netanyahu’s pronouncement was largely symbolic: Only three volunteers from a program for 18-year-olds exempted from compulsory military service on ideological, religious, health or other grounds have applied to perform national service at B’Tselem in the last seven years. Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for B’Tselem, said no other volunteers were in the pipeline. He described Mr. Netanyahu’s ban as “spin” and “a distraction from the actual issues.”

Yet it underscores the rawness of the political divide in Israel over the fate of the territories it seized nearly 50 years ago, the work of nongovernmental organizations that oppose the occupation, and the wedge that Jewish settlement there drives between Israel and the rest of the world.

“Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation,” Mr. El-Ad told the Security Council. Living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank, he said, “mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence.”

Israel officially considers the West Bank disputed, not occupied, and it annexed East Jerusalem in a move that was never internationally recognized.

Mr. Netanyahu denounced B’Tselem and Americans for Peace Now, a sister organization of the leftist Israeli Peace Now group, on Facebook. He said they had “joined the chorus of besmirching Israel” and had repeated “the mendacious claim that ‘the occupation and settlements’ are the cause” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 4:14 pm

Why Walmart didn’t work

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In a comment in the NY Times, I give my take on the reason:

The problem with the Walmart model is that their model goes through fuel too fast—or, in another metaphor, you can shear a sheep many times, but skin it only once. Walmart was siphoning too much money too quickly out of the community, so (naturally enough) pretty soon there’s a great shortage of money: people don’t make much so they don’t buy much, so local merchants don’t make much and (a) don’t buy much and (b) lay people off, which exacerbates the problem: a vicious circle, the obvious solution to which is to take better care of the demand side: the basic infrastructure of our economic life became as neglected and decayed as as our physical infrastructure, and for much the same reason: refusal to invest in ourselves—or, rather, not having the money to invest in ourselves because it is so rapidly being siphoned off: see above.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

An NFL statistic that would be interesting: Concussion count (player/team/records/etc.)

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I’m sure the data are available, and it would be interesting to see such things as whether a team’s win rate and concussion count are positively correlated. Or not. And which team leads each league in concussion counts. All-time record number of concussions—player, team (all seasons), team (one season), by salary level, and so on.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games, Medical

Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor’s Onion Pie, modified a bit

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A savory pie that makes a nice snack. The original recipe is here; the version below reflects various changes I made.

• 3 large onions, finely sliced – I did a Neapolitan thing: one red onion, one yellow, and one white.
•  2 tablespoons butter
•  2 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil
•  Salt and pepper, to taste
•  2 tablespoons flour
•  4 eggs – I use jumbo, but extra-large would do
•  3/4 cup heavy cream or sour cream

My diet preference is low-carb (less than 50g net carbs a day, and closer to 30g than to 50g), so I just omitted the crust altogether. It’s just (high-carb) filler.

Sauté the onions in butter and bacon fat or olive oil until they are tender and translucent.

Season generously with salt and pepper.

Add the flour, and cook for just a few more minutes, then turn off the heat. Let it cool a while. Take a break.

Whisk the eggs with the (heavy or sour) cream, and mix well with the onions, then pour the mixture into an 8×8 pan lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 350ºF until the egg mixture is set, about 35 minutes with jumbo eggs.

Experiment with adding crumbled Gorgonzola or Blue cheese with the cream.

It makes a lovely savory pie, and the 8×8 pan easily produces 9 pieces, 3×3, with the center piece a special treat. I like the look the red onion adds, the red bits seeming like random mosaic over the surface of the pie, which comes out a cream color. I used bacon fat and sour cream this time and like the pie. I’ll try olive oil and heavy cream next time.

I particularly enjoy it because:

  1. It’s a dark, cold, windy, rainy day. A warm treat is a very nice idea.
  2. It sounded perfect for a teatime treat, and I like savory more than sweet.
  3. I had all the ingredients on hand—I love it when that happens.

Well worth the minimal effort.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 3:18 pm

Why the Taliban and other fundamentalist sects dislike education

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Precisely because it educates: opens new perspectives, increases knowledge, imparts respect for reason, etc. This story is a perfect example.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 1:06 pm

National The drug industry’s answer to opioid addiction: More pills

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Ariana Eunjung Cha has an interesting albeit infuriating article in the Washington Post:

Cancer patients taking high doses of opioid painkillers are often afflicted by a new discomfort: constipation. Researcher Jonathan Moss thought he could help, but no drug company was interested in his ideas for relieving suffering among the dying.

So Moss and his colleagues pieced together small grants and, in 1997, received permission to test their treatment. But not on cancer patients. Federal regulators urged them to use a less frail — and by then, rapidly expanding — group: addicts caught in the throes of a nationwide opioid epidemic.

Suddenly, Moss said, investors were knocking at his door.

“As clinicians, we wanted to help palliative patients,” said Moss, a professor and physician at University of Chicago Medicine. “The company that bought our work saw a broader market.”

Today, Moss’s side project is hailed as the next billion-dollar drug. And the once-disinterested pharmaceutical industry is bombarding doctors and the public with information about a serious, if previously unrecognized, condition common among the millions of Americans who take prescription painkillers. They call it “opioid-induced constipation,” or “OIC.”

The story of OIC illuminates the opportunism of pharmaceutical innovators and the consequences of a heavily drug-dependent society. Six in 10 American adults take prescription drugs, creating a vast market for new meds to treat the side effects of the old ones.

Opioid prescriptions alone have skyrocketed from 112 million in 1992 to nearly 249 million in 2015, the latest year for which numbers are available, and America’s dependence on the drugs has reached crisis levels. Millions are addicted to or abusing prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that, from 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people died in the United States from prescription-opioid overdoses, which have contributed to a startling increase in early mortality among whites, particularly women — a devastating toll that has hit hardest insmall towns and rural areas.

The pharmaceutical industry’s response has been more drugs. The opioid market — now worth nearly $10 billion a year in sales in the United States — has expanded to include a growing universe of medications aimed at treating secondary effects rather than controlling pain.

There’s Suboxone, financed and promoted by the U.S. government as a safer alternative to methadone for those trying to break their dependence on opioids. There’s naloxone, the emergency injection and nasal spray carried by first responders to treat overdoses. And now there’s Relistor, the drug based on Moss’s work, and a competitor, Movantik, for constipation.

In colorful charts designed to entice investors, numerous pharmaceutical makers tout the “expansion opportunity” that exists in the “opioid use disorders population.”

Indivior, a specialty pharmaceutical company listed on the London Stock Exchange, sees “around 2.5m potential patients, the majority of whom are addicted to prescription painkillers,” as opposed to illicit drugs such as heroin. Another company, New Jersey-based Braeburn Pharmaceuticals,highlights “growth drivers” for the market, noting that millions of additional Americans not yet identified are also likely to be dependent on opioid painkillers.

Analysts estimate that each of these submarkets — addiction, overdose and side effects — is worth at least $1 billion a year in sales. These economics, experts say, work against efforts to end the epidemic.

If opioid addiction disappeared tomorrow, it would wipe billions of dollars from the drug companies’ bottom lines.


A potent product

From a profit-making standpoint, opioids are a potent product. Chronic use can cause myriad side effects that usually are mild enough to keep people taking painkillers but sufficiently uncomfortable to send them back to the doctor.

Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said this domino effect can turn a patient worth a few hundred dollars a month into one worth several thousand dollars a month.

“Many patients wind up very sedated from opioids, and it’s not uncommon to give them amphetamines to make them more alert. But now they can’t sleep, so they get Ambien or Lunesta. The amphetamines also make them anxious, paranoid and sweaty, and that means even more drugs,” said Kolodny, who also serves as chief medical officer to Phoenix House, a nonprofit organization that offers drug and alcohol treatment in 10 states and the District.

Women, in particular, are ideal customers [probably should say “victims” – LG] . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 8:51 am

How to Build an Exit Ramp for Trump Supporters

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UPDATED below.

Deepak Malhotra has a very interesting article in the “negotiations” section of the Harvard Business Review:

Despite recent setbacks — from video of Donald Trump bragging about committing sexual assaults, to increasing concerns regarding his preparedness and temperament, to the unprecedented pace at which high-profile Republicans are pulling their support — polls show that approximately 40% of likely voters continue to support Trump.  On the one hand, this is good news for Clinton supporters who foresee a comfortable margin of victory. On the other, unless Trump loses by historic margins, it is bad news for America.

When Americans wake up on November 9, we will need to reexamine how we can work with and live with each other.  We will have to re-learn how to respect and listen to one another.  It’s never easy after a national election, but it has also never been more difficult.  There is one simple reason for this.  While presidential candidates of both parties, throughout American history, have often relied on fear and anger to boost their electoral odds, Trump is the first major party candidate to have relied so intensely on hate.

Hate is unique in its ability to spare neither perpetrator nor victim.  It’s very hard to hate without inspiring hate in others.  Hate is not easily contained.  Fear can grow or shrink, anger can escalate or subside, but hate sinks in.  It becomes a part of us.  It even begins to dictate what is to be feared, why we should be angry, and who is good or evil.  Fear and anger might make it difficult for us to work with each other, but hate strips away our willingness to even try.

It’s normal—and okay—for some people to be jubilant and others to be upset after an election.  It’s okay for fear and even anger to linger in the wake of a national referendum.  There is a lot at stake.  But hate is not normal, and it cannot be allowed to gain legitimacy.  If it does, it can irreparably rend the constituent fabric of a country.

If this ends up being a close election, it will allow hate to retain the foothold it needs to survive.  That is why, for the first time in U.S. history, Americans need one candidate—in this case, Donald Trump—to lose decisively. A loss of historic proportions is the only way to ensure that future candidates are never again tempted to consort with the politics of hate.  It is the only outcome that will allow Americans of tomorrow to peer into the reflecting pool of history and say “that is not who we are.”

So how do we get there?  Is it really possible to change the minds of those who continue to support Donald Trump?  In some cases, almost certainly not.  But in others, I am confident that it is.  More generally, how can you nudge someone to reevaluate a deep-seated belief? How do you make progress when people are entrenched in their positions?  How can you convince someone to abandon a course of action to which they are emotionally, ideologically, or publically committed?

In my research, consulting, advisory work with businesses and governments, and in my bookNegotiating the Impossible, I focus precisely on situations that seem hopeless.  One of the problems that we regularly face in these environments is how to get someone to challenge a long-held belief or preference.  As it turns out, having facts and data on your side is not enough. If someone’s ego or identity is on the line, overwhelming them with evidence will do little good.

If you want people to change course, you have to create an “exit ramp” for them.  This entails creating the space and safety they need to acknowledge and pursue a better way forward.  Here’s how you might go about doing that when the situation is emotionally or ideologically charged.

  1. Don’t force them to defend their beliefs. Whether you’re having drinks at a bar or scrolling through your Facebook feed, when you come across someone whose views you find abhorrent or absurd, it’s tempting to engage them in a debate.  After all, it seems like a reasonable way to get someone to change their mind. The problem is, when you tell people they are wrong, stupid, immoral or irrational, they simply dig in and get more entrenched in their views.  This is because no matter how confident you are that they are misguided, they will always be able to find at least one line of defense.  All they need is one reason that you might be wrong, one weakness in your argument, or one factor that supports their position—and then they can claim it is the most important factor in the entire debate.  When your “discussion” is over, they are more firmly committed to their position than they were before.
  1. Provide information, and then give them time. When dealing with someone who passionately disagrees with you, a more effective approach than debating is to provide information without demanding anything in return.  You might say (or post on Facebook) something along the lines of: “That’s interesting.  Here’s some information I came across. You might find it useful given your interest in this topic.”  Or, “when you get a chance, I’d appreciate you taking a look at this.” You’ve done about as much as you can for now.  If they can consider what you’ve said without carrying the additional burden of having to agree with you, it is more likely it sinks in a little bit.  This is why, over weeks and months, polls do change.  Trump has lost ground as additional information about his behavior and temperament and weak grasp of issues has come to light.  But the change doesn’t tend to happen during a heated argument.  It doesn’t happen immediately.
  1. Don’t fight bias with bias. . . .

Continue reading.

The whole list is worth considering, and it obviously has broader application than just Trump/Clinton. Later in the list:

  1. Help them save face. Just because you’ve finally convinced someone that they were wrong, or that they should reconsider their point of view, doesn’t mean they will actually change course.  People won’t change their behavior if they can’t find a way to do it without losing face.  The question we often fail to ask is: have we made it safe for them to change course?  How will they change their mind without looking like they have been foolish or naïve?  If you can’t find a way for them to change their attitude or actions without being able to save face, you still have a problem.
  1. Give them the cover they need. Often what’s required is some change in the situation—however small or symbolic—that allows them to say, “That’s why I changed my mind.”  For example, a former Trump supporter who is looking to abandon Trump might find the excuse they need to do so after a poor debate performance (“It showed me he is not prepared for the job”), a new allegation of sexual assault (“It’s now too many for them to have all been made up”), or a recent Trump attack on other Republicans (“Going after Paul Ryan shows that he really isn’t a conservative”).  For most people, these events are just “one more thing” that happened, but don’t underestimate the powerful role they can play in helping people who, while finally mentally ready to change their position, are worried about how to take the last, decisive step.

UPDATE: And very relevant to the above, read “The white flight of Derek Black,” by Eli Saslow, which describes how going to college, learning new ideas, and making new friends allowed a young white nationalist to wake up, re-evaluate his beliefs, and find a new direction. Well worth reading and a very interesting story about how much a college can affect the direction of one’s life.

UPDATE 2: And read “Unfollow” in the New Yorker about a woman raised in the Westboro Baptist Church (“God hates fags”) and her awakening.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 7:54 am

The Man Who Stood Up To Facebook

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Big corporations act on the belief that they should be able to do whatever they want, and they use their power in support of that goal. Take a look at this legal battle that Facebook initiated:

There is a man who is a thorn in the side of Facebook — a problem that just won’t go away. In 2008, Facebook sued him, saying he was a hacker and a spammer who was putting users at risk. But in a truly bizarre plot twist, he stood up to the Internet giant — and he has become the unlikely protagonist in a battle for your rights online.

Our protagonist

Steven Vachani and I are sitting at a Starbucks because, he doesn’t want to say it, but: He doesn’t have an office or a home in Silicon Valley anymore.

“I’m passionate about what I believe in and I’m also confident that even when the path is not clear, you know, you’ll find a path,” he says. “I’m also willing [to] suffer. I think a lot of people have a — they’re not adaptable.”

Vachani is based in Brazil, where life is more affordable. He flies into San Francisco a lot, though, in an ongoing effort to stay in the tech biz.

He’s got a daily routine here: Go on Priceline and look for the cheapest room in town. And when that’s too expensive, the 41-year-old with graying hair checks into a youth hostel. “I spent years of my life living in a youth hostel, so it’s a place where I feel very comfortable,” he says.

Vachani has had very high highs, and very low lows. In 2008, he was the CEO of a hot startup called Power Ventures. Some of the biggest investors in the Valley — the same people who back billionaire Elon Musk — backed him and his vision.

Closed versus open Internet

The Internet was different back then. You could say a war was brewing between two camps: open borders and closed borders. Facebook, he says, wanted closed borders. “Facebook would be this walled garden where everything would be safely stored there, by their definition of safely. And they would decide how you access it — and if and when you could take it out.”

Current and former Facebook employees say there’s a reason you can’t, with the click of a button, grab all your selfies, rants and newborn baby pics. While your data is not Facebook property — it’s yours, under the terms of service — the company makes it hard for you to take it and go on purpose.

Power wanted a world where users, not a company, were at the center — where they controlled their own data, and could take it with them wherever they wanted freely.

So that’s what Power built: a dashboard for all your social networks. Say you had a LinkedIn, a Twitter, Facebook and MySpace (remember MySpace!). You’d put your usernames and passwords for each into the Power portal. And from there, you could post to any account, grab contacts and pictures, and so on.

Vachani claims his site had about 20 million users at its peak (so people liked it); and the social networks let him be — except for Facebook.

“Their response to us was — was a lawsuit,” he stutters as he recounts.

Clever charges

Facebook and Power had heated exchanges in 2008. And on Dec. 30 (call it a late Christmas present), Facebook went into court and filed a complaint.

It included two big charges: one, that Vachani is a hacker, breaking into Facebook’s computers without the company’s permission. Never mind that Facebook users gave him their names and passwords freely.

Point two — and this caught Vachani off guard — was that he was a spammer. “The word ‘spam’ is kind of like calling someone a rapist. It has — in [the] digital world — calling someone a spammer is the worst thing you could possibly call them.”

It’s actually quite clever. The complaint made it sound like Power was sending unsolicited emails to users, possibly from a fake Facebook account. It wasn’t true. But that didn’t matter. The allegation stuck.

Facebook could have taken a different tack and told users: “Hey, you’re not allowed to use this competitor.” They set other rules, like telling users not to post nude photos. But that directive would reveal a well-kept secret in Silicon Valley.

“Nobody up until that point had ever had, I think, the courage to publicly say to users that they don’t control their data,” he says, “and honestly Facebook didn’t have the courage to say that.

A window into Facebook

Antonio García Martínez agrees. “That’s probably true, yeah. They like the fact that users don’t actually read the terms of service. They absolutely love that.”

García Martínez used to work at Facebook, as a leader in its ad business, and recently wrote a best-selling book about it called Chaos Monkeys.

He doesn’t think much of Steven Vachani’s startup, or get how scraping data from someone else’s social network is fair or even lucrative. But he does think this little-known standoff is an important window into Facebook.

In dealings with users as well as with advertisers, he says, the company is run by control freaks. “They see Facebook as the end all, be all of your social life. And they expect you to accept that, as a worldview. And this guy’s whole product flies in the face of that,” García Martínez says.

Hustling for a lawyer

Power Ventures attorney Amy Sommer Anderson says the very first judge in the case didn’t get the technicalities. “That’s how it seemed. And so he just sort of ate up what Facebook said. Yeah, this sounds complicated!” But, she says, “It’s not.”

Another judge ruled that Vachani was personally responsible for paying Facebook about $3 million in damages. His life was pretty much blown to smithereens. Vachani tried to declare bankruptcy and Facebook blocked him. His company imploded. Prior counsel walked out on him.

It’s in that context he met Anderson, “and he sold it as, you know, it’s just an appearance. It’s one time. Just a fixed fee, just to keep this from getting thrown out,” Anderson says.

Adaptable and resourceful Vachani went on Elance, the site where you find freelancers, and posted about his case — without naming the parties. If he had mentioned Facebook, he says, no one would have been crazy enough to bite.

Anderson had just become a lawyer — she went to law school at night and had never represented anyone before. Her “initial appearance” lasted about a year — and after that, she was not that great at negotiating salary. She says she agreed to a “stupid low rate.”

Asked how low, she hesitates to admit: $55 an hour. Facebook-level lawyers get paid more like $1,000 an hour.

But the more Anderson pored over the briefs and decisions, the more she felt an injustice was being done. “I was hooked on the case. It was like crack. I mean, as soon as I was in, I was in,” she says.

A little vindication

Vachani and Power kept on losing, badly. Until they got to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2016 at 7:19 am

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