Later On

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

Archive for October 2017

Thought length

leave a comment »

I recall reading that Walter Lippmann, after decades of writing his NY Times column, said that he found that he tended to have 750-word thoughts.

It occurs to me that Trump has 140-character thoughts.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 6:13 pm

What a real president would have said about Mueller’s indictments

leave a comment »

The Washington Post editorial board points out:

HERE IS how President Trump responded to the news that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has brought charges against Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Mr. Manafort’s deputy and a foreign policy aide on Mr. Trump’s campaign:

Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus????? . . . Also, there is NO COLLUSION!

Here is what a presidential president might have said:

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 6:11 pm

So: A Dolph Lundren movie, “Ambushed” is quite good (surprisingly)

leave a comment »

Dolph Lundgren usually plays one-dimensional characters in one-dimensional movies, but in Ambushed (on Netlfix), although he is pretty one-dimensional, the plot and characters are in fact interesting. Worth watching, I’d say.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

What Experts Know About Men Who Rape

leave a comment »

Heather Murphy reports in the NY Times:

In 1976, a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University placed a rather unusual personal ad in newspapers throughout Los Angeles:


Researcher interviewing anonymously by phone to protect your identity. Call 213-…  9-9pm.

He sat by his phone, skeptical that it would ring. “I didn’t think that anyone would want to respond,” said Samuel D. Smithyman, now 72 and a clinical psychologist in South Carolina.

But the phone did ring. Nearly 200 times.

At the other end of the line were a computer programmer who had raped his “sort of girlfriend,” a painter who had raped his acquaintance’s wife, and a school custodian who described 10 to 15 rapes as a means of getting even with “rich bastards” in Beverly Hills.

By the end of the summer, Dr. Smithyman had completed 50 interviews, which became the foundation for his dissertation: “The Undetected Rapist.” What was particularly surprising to him was how normal these men sounded and how diverse their backgrounds were. He concluded that few generalizations could be made.

Over the past few weeks, women across the world have recounted tales of harassment and sexual assault by posting anecdotes to social media with the hashtag #MeToo. Even just focusing on the second category, the biographies of the accused are so varied that they seem to support Dr. Smithyman’s observation.

But more recent research suggests that there are some commonalities. In the decades since his paper, scientists have been gradually filling out a picture of men who commit sexual assaults.

The most pronounced similarities have little to do with the traditional demographic categories, like race, class and marital status. Rather, other kinds of patterns have emerged: these men begin early, studies find. They may associate with others who also commit sexual violence. They usually deny that they have raped women even as they admit to nonconsensual sex.

Clarifying these and other patterns, many researchers say, is the most realistic path toward curtailing behaviors that cause so much pain.

“If you don’t really understand perpetrators, you’re never going to understand sexual violence,” said Sherry Hamby, editor of the journal Psychology of Violence. That may seem obvious, but she said she receives “10 papers on victims” for every one on perpetrators.

This may be partly connected to a tendency to consider sexual assault a women’s issue even though men usually commit the crime. But finding the right subjects also has complicated the research.

Early studies relied heavily on convicted rapists. This skewed the data, said Neil Malamuth, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has been studying sexual aggression for decades.

Men in prison are often “generalists,” he said: “They would steal your television, your watch, your car. And sometimes they steal sex.”

But men who commit sexual assault, and are not imprisoned because they got away with it, are often “specialists.” There is a strong chance that this is their primary criminal transgression.

More recent studies tend to rely on anonymous surveys of college students and other communities, which come with legal language assuring subjects their answers cannot be used against them. The studies avoid using terms such as “rape” and “sexual assault.”

Instead, they ask subjects highly specific questions about their actions and tactics. The focus of most sexual aggression research is acknowledged nonconsensual sexual behavior. In questionnaires and in follow-up interviews, subjects are surprisingly open about ignoring consent.

Men who rape tend to start young, in high school or the first couple of years of college, likely crossing a line with someone they know, the research suggests.

Some of these men commit one or two sexual assaults and then stop. Others — no one can yet say what portion — maintain this behavior or even pick up the pace.

Antonia Abbey, a social psychologist at Wayne State University, has found that young men who expressed remorse were less likely to offend the following year, while those who blamed their victim were more likely to do it again.

One repeat offender put it this way: “I felt I was repaying her for sexually arousing me.”

There is a heated debate among experts about whether there is a point at which sexual assault becomes an entrenched behavior and what percentage of assaults are committed by serial predators.

Most researchers agree that the line between the occasional and frequent offender is not so clear. The recent work of Kevin Swartout, a professor of psychology and public health at Georgia State University, suggests that low-frequency offenders are more common on college campuses than previously thought.

“It’s a matter of degree, more like dosage,” said Mary P. Koss, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona, who is credited with coining the term “date rape.”

Dosage of what? Certain factors — researchers call them “risk factors” while acknowledging that these men are nonetheless responsible for their actions — have an outsize presence among those who commit sexual assaults.

Heavy drinking, perceived pressure to have sex, a belief in “rape myths” — such as the idea that no means yes — are all risk factors among men who have committed sexual assault. A peer group that uses hostile language to describe women is another one.

Yet there also seem to be personal attributes that have a mediating effect on these factors. Men who are highly aroused by rape porn — another risk factor — are less likely to attempt sexual assault if they score highly on measures of empathy, Dr. Malamuth has found.

Narcissism seems to work in the other direction, magnifying odds that men will commit sexual assault and rape.

What about the idea that rape is about power over women? Some experts feel that research into hostile attitudes toward women supports this idea.

In general, however, researchers say motives are varied and difficult to quantify.

Dr. Malamuth has noticed that repeat offenders often . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 4:44 pm

Botched police raid roundup

leave a comment »

Radley Balko has a little list in the Washington Post. Here are some of the items:

The latest in the world of botched police raids:

  • A Toledo, Ohio, man says the city’s SWAT team got the wrong house when it raided his home and killed his two dogs on Saturday. The police reportedly found a single pill . . . for high blood pressure. On Monday, local media said the SWAT team paid a visit to a children’s hospital dressed as superheroes including Captain America.
  • The Southaven, Miss., police department still refuses to release the names of the police officers who shot and killed Ismael Lopez in July. The officers shot Lopez after raiding the wrong address in search of a man suspected of assault.
  • In Georgia, an investigator for the Clayton County district attorney’s office went to the wrong house to serve a subpoena, then shot a dog at that house in the head. The investigator claims the dog was attacking him, but neighbors dispute his account of the incident.
  • In somewhat surprising news, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has denied qualified immunity to the Pearl, Miss., police who raided the wrong house during a drug sting. . .

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 4:00 pm

Timelapse video of Devil’s Fingers growing

leave a comment »

Explanation here.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 11:22 am

Posted in Science, Video

Easy video intro to neural networks

leave a comment »

Part 1:

Part 2:

And also:

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 9:30 am

The Broken Check and Balance

leave a comment »

James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

Only a country with as much going for it as the United States—scale, resources, location, historic openness to energy and ambition and change—could withstand a national governing structure as ill-matched to current conditions as America’s has become.The intricate trade-offs and compromises behind the constitutional structures of the 1780s may have suited the fledgling United States of that era—which had a smaller total population than today’s Los Angeles, which ran only from the Atlantic coastline to the Appalachians, which had few international ambitions beyond survival, and which uneasily spanned both free and slave states. Almost every circumstance of today’s United States is different, except, of course, for the ambition of creating an ever-more-perfect Union.

What has kept the country going through these centuries of change is not the superbness of its original rules—which, significantly, have been adopted by few of the hundreds of new governments that have come into being since the American founding. (The closest comparison among surviving governments would be the Philippines, and then Liberia. Mexico tried a similar constitution in the mid-1800s. I argued this point in more detail back in 2010.)

Rather the United States has coped, and overall thrived, through a variety of non-constitutional advantages. These include its favorable placement on Earth, its early creation of mass-education and higher-education networks, its providentially most gifted leaders at times of its greatest crisis—Washington, Lincoln, FDR—and a long list of other factors. Among the latter has been a willingness by most political participants, most of the time, to observe the unwritten rules necessary for a democracy’s survival. The losing parties in presidential campaigns have complained, but have let the winners take office. The losing parties in big judicial battles have complained, but complied. The big crises in American governance have occurred in the moments when written-and-unwritten rules have been defied, from many Southern states’ refusal to accept the outcome of the 1860 presidential election, to some Southern states’ refusal to accept judicial rulings on desegregation under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.

* * *

The boring name for these unwritten rules is “norms.” Boring or not, they’re at the center of the potential crisis over Donald Trump’s performance in office. By the letter of the Constitution, and by the unwritten norms of American separation-of-powers governance, the main restraint on an over-reaching, dishonest, or incompetent executive is a resolute legislative branch. But today’s legislative leaders—Mitch McConnell and his slim Republican majority in the Senate, Paul Ryan and his large Republican majority in the House—are ostentatiously refusing to play that check-and-balance function. They are operating as members of a tribe, the Republican tribe, rather than as components of a branch, the checks-and-balances legislative branch. Ryan has not “had time to read” the indictment of Donald Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort. McConnell wants to concentrate on the “real issues,” namely a tax-cut plan. (As I’ve been typing, I see that Ezra Klein has made a similar argument, on “The Cowardice of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.”)

Because the legislative majority is choosing a tribal rather than a governing role, the checks and balances necessary for democracy have fallen to an ad-hoc group of others. For instance:

  • The Generals: The positive news about foreign policy is supposed to be that a group of flag officers stands between Donald Trump and the next reckless military move. They are of course retired four-star General James Mattis of the Marine Corps and active-duty three-star General H.R. McMaster of the Army, heading the Pentagon and the National Security Council, respectively, and retired four-star Marine Corps General John Kelly as White House chief of staff.Mattis—whom I’ve known for decades, and liked and respected—is civic-minded, broadly informed, historically aware. Among all Trump appointees, he has best maintained his pre-Trump reputation and dignity. McMaster, who came to fame with his book about the career military’s failure to live up to its values during the Vietnam War, has walked a fine line, too often dragooned into service to explain away Trump’s lies, threats, or mistakes. With his recent comments, Kelly is either revealing himself as, or under Trump has become, a figure of crude Bannon-style divisiveness.

    But despite their differences, they’re all assumed to be the buffer that stands between the world and a Trump outburst that could lead to war with North Korea, with China, with almost any country you could name except Russia. In the short term, I’m glad they’re on the job. In the long term, their presence and importance is quite an unhealthy sign. This is not how “civilian control of the military” has usually looked.

    Remember why they’re playing this role: “The generals” are on guard against militaristic excess, because Congress has refused to play that role. Ryan in the House and McConnell in the Senate could hold hearings, pass resolutions, put on budget restraints, and in other ways set guidelines to guide and limit most of what a president can do. But they haven’t. They won’t. Thus for now we have the generals—better than nothing, much worse than Congress doing its job.

  • The Judges: The judiciary is of course a written-and-unwritten part of the checks-and-balances system. But federal courts work best and most sustainably when they are not the first resort for bitter political arguments but rather an ultimate referee.Many members of Congress, including many Republicans, know that the crude overreach of Trump’s travel bans and other executive orders will eventually force the courts to throw the orders out. (How can I say this? Because I’ve heard it from Republican legislators, as other reporters have. Not for quotation, of course.) But because they’d rather spare themselves the political heat of challenging Trump or making realistic immigration- or environmental-policy compromises, they deflect that political pressure onto the federal judiciary. They know full well that this will deflect the political backlash onto the judges, complete with Trump tweets and Fox segments on the “out of touch” and “unelected” judiciary. That is bad for the country but convenient for the Congress.
  • The Press: The investigative and analytic press is overall rising to the strange challenge of these times. And even in the best of times, the press should have an arm’s-length critical posture toward centers of political power. From the days of the Alien and Sedition Acts onward, government leaders have generally been steamed about the press.But most Republicans in Congress know—and those like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake who’ve decided not to run again have suddenly become willing to say, that on the main axes of Trump-press contention—the press is right and Trump is wrong. He does endlessly tell lies. He is temperamentally uncontrolled and intellectually unprepared for the office he holds. Those around him are not “the very best people” and are entangled in clouds of financial conflicts.Because Flake’s and Corker’s colleagues mainly remain silent, they abet Donald Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the press and promote his siloed, tribal version of Fox News reality.
  • The Prosecutor: Robert Mueller’s investigators and prosecutors clearly know what they are doing. But relying on governance-by-investigation is not a good long-term democratic model.The only thing that could make it worse is Republican equivocation about whether the investigation will be allowed to run its honest course. Paul Ryan minimized his short-term pain by pleading ignorance about the Mueller case. But everyone knows what he is doing (notably including John Boehner, as shown in this delightful new Politico profile). And as David Frum argued yesterday in The Atlantic, any calculation of self-interest beyond the next micro-second should lead Republicans to a more critical approach to Trump:

You need to wonder whether the avoidance of blowback from Fox News in November 2017 is worth the risks hurtling at you in the weeks ahead. The Trump administration’s authoritarian moment is on the verge of materializing. The president seems likely to openly stake a claim to use his position as head of the executive branch to exempt himself from all law enforcement. If the president can never obstruct justice, he can use the pardon power to protect himself and his associates from any investigation into criminal wrongdoing.

By speaking out today, you may dissuade the White House from staking the whole Republican Party to an authoritarian, anticonstitutional position. At a minimum, you protect yourself from answering for it. Nobody’s asking you to be a hero. Just think ahead beyond the next 10 minutes and 10 days to your own interests and future. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 8:47 am

Posted in Daily life

Vie-Long, Nancy Boy, Above the Tie R1, and Esbjerg

with 2 comments

The Vie-Long brush in the photo is a bit of a mystery. It was sold as a boar brush, but to me it feels like horsehair. At any rate, it’s a very nice brush, and I do like octagonal handles.

I soak both boar and horsehair brushes, and I soaked this one. It made a very satisfactory lather with a little of the Nancy Boy signature shaving cream

I have to say that, although the Above the Tie R1 is a fine razor, it’s really not quite so good as those I listed in this post. The drawback is not its efficiency but the comfort level: it is simply not so comfortable (for me—even with razors there’s some YMMV) as those in the post. Given that the R1 (with one of the ATT handles) is $185 and the Baili BR171 is $6, you can see why some might well prefer to get the Baili (more comfortable (for me) than the R1) and spend the remaining $179 on something else.

A little squirt of Esbjerg aftershave gel applied to my smooth face, and Tuesday is launched.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2017 at 8:24 am

Posted in Shaving

Quote of the Day: White House Backs Compromise on Chattel Slavery

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2017 at 11:04 pm

Here’s How the Trump Tax Plan Will Affect Your Income

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum has a clear explanation, with two charts.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2017 at 6:51 pm

Researchers have ditched the autism-vaccine hypothesis. Here’s what they think actually causes it.

leave a comment »

Julia Belluz reports in Vox:

Of all the issues doctors have explored in children’s health, none has been more exhaustively researched than the question of whether vaccines are linked to autism. After hundreds and hundreds of studies in thousands of children, “We can say with almost as much certainty than anybody could ever say that vaccines don’t cause autism,” Mayo Clinic autism researcher Dr. Sunil Mehta told me.

And yet the fear that they do remains stubbornly persistent, as a recent measles outbreak in Minnesota shows. The virus spread among unvaccinated children — in this case, Somali-Americans in Minneapolis, after anti-vaccine advocates targeted their parents with a misinformation campaign. By the end of the outbreak in August, 79 people, most of them children, got the disease.

Today, about one in 68 US children has autism — a rate that’s remained unchanged since at least 1990, though there’s been a steady increase in awareness and diagnosis. And it’s the parents of some of these children who are among the most vocal proponents of the vaccine-autism link — in Minnesota and elsewhere. Many are frustrated, confused, and desperate for an explanation for why and how their children got the disorder.

It doesn’t help that doctors have long struggled to explain what exactly causes autism if vaccines don’t — many medical theories have been debunked and then replaced by new ones.

The medical community is getting closer and closer to finally zeroing in on the cause. I recently talked to half a dozen researchers on the cutting edge of this work to find out what they see as the latest and best evidence for what might trigger autism. They were excited about their new understandings of the genetic basis for autism — what they view as the most promising area of research on the disorder right now. They also talked about recent advances in grasping how particular genetic mutations change the biology of the brain in ways that cause autism symptoms.

More blurry is their research on the non-genetic (or environmental) contributors to autism, like pollution or medications. Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about the causes of autism — from most well-established to least well-established.

The strongest evidence of a cause: genetics

Autism spectrum disorder is a collection of close to 1,000 different conditions, with symptoms ranging from delayed speech development to asocial behavior and repetitive movements.

But “of all the causes of autism, the thing we know with the greatest certainty is that it’s a very genetic disorder,” said UCSF geneticist and autism researcher Stephan Sanders. “If you look at a child with autism, then look at their siblings, you’ll find the rate of autism is 10 times higher in those siblings than in the general population. This has been looked at in populations of millions.”

Researchers first recognized the genetic underpinnings of the disorder in the 1970s, with studies on twins involving at least one sibling with autism. They found that monozygotic twins (with nearly identical genetics) were more likely to have autism in common than dizygotic (or non-identical) twins who shared less in common genetically.

Since then, large-scale population studies have uncovered the same pattern — and researchers have come to believe that shared genetic variants in families are probably more important than shared environments for triggering the disorder.

“The bottom line is that when you add up all of the genetic risks, it looks like genetics can account for 50 percent of the risk for autism, which is very high,” said David Amaral, an autism specialist at the UC Davis MIND Institute. To put that into context, compared to other common health problems — like heart attacks, or cancer — autism is much more genetic, with well over 100 genes now implicated.

The big question now is how these genes affect the brain in a way that leads to autism symptoms. So the next frontier in this area of autism research is understanding the biological effects of autism genes (or the genes where a mutation boosts a person’s risk of developing the disorder).

“We anticipate some commonality in the effects of the [autism] genes, which we hope would reflect the most important aspects of autism biology,” Sanders said. Putting together the puzzle pieces on autism’s underlying biology will help researchers narrow in on potential treatments for autism, he added.

To get there, researchers have been using whole-exome sequencing. The technique has been transformative for autism research since it allows researchers to sequence a person’s coding genes — or the small percentage of DNA in the genome that has translated into proteins to make functioning genes — and see how the exomes of people with autism differ from those without the disorder.

Through exome sequencing, Sanders and his colleagues found that genetic variants in the gene SCN2A are linked with autism. Based on that discovery, they were able to uncover the “Rosetta Stone” of autism pathology: the particular genetic defects in an individual neuronal protein that lead to either epilepsy or autism, depending on how the mutations worked on the protein.

Narrowing in on how these single genetic mutations can lead to autism or other health problems opens the door to better understanding the biology of the disorder, and how to treat it.

Exposure to infections and certain medicines during pregnancy may be linked to autism . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2017 at 6:19 pm

What’s killing America’s new mothers?

leave a comment »

Annalisa Merelli writes in Quartz:

Elizabeth “Liz” Logelin was a young, fit woman with a promising career in operations management at Disney. On March 24, 2008, after a complicated pregnancy that saw her bedridden for nearly two months (three weeks of which were in the hospital), she delivered her daughter Madeline (Maddie) through an emergency cesarean section. Two and a half months early, Maddie was healthy, if tiny. Twenty seven hours after the delivery, Liz was finally cleared to hold her firstborn. Her husband Matt Logelin already was, he teased her, several diaper changes ahead of her. She got up from the bed, ready to make her way to the nursery, and stopped in front of the mirror. “My hair looks like shit,” she said, of her long tresses. She laughed, Matt laughed, the nurses laughed. He thought her hair looked great.

She walked towards the wheelchair that was going to take her to the nursery, and suddenly didn’t feel well. “I feel lightheaded,” she complained. Moments later, at age 30, Liz was dead.

The cause was a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot that travelled from her leg to her lungs, and killed her instantaneously.

Though she had a family history of blood clots, suggesting a genetic predisposition, and her risk was increased by the prolonged bed rest and the subsequent c-section surgery, to Matt’s knowledge Liz wasn’t given anticoagulant medications, or advised to exercise to help stimulate her blood flow. Everyone’s attention, hers included, was turned elsewhere, to baby Maddie—so precious, so perfect.

There’s an assumption that death from childbirth is just not something that happens—not in America, or at the very least not in Matt and Liz’s America. “We were very healthy people living in Southern California, with great jobs; [Liz] was very healthy—she didn’t smoke, she barely drank,” Matt says. “We thought we were untouchable,” he adds ruefully.

But dying of childbirth, Matt would learn in the worst possible way, did happen in America. Even to women as young and healthy as Liz, with access to good medical care, and the wherewithal to understand and follow up on their doctor’s advice.

On that May day, she joined one of the US’s most shameful statistics. With an estimated 26.4 deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2015, America has the highest maternal mortality rate of all industrialized countries—by several times over. In Canada, the rate is 7.3; in Western Europe, the average is 7.2, with many countries including Italy, Norway, Sweden, and Austria showing rates around 4. More women die of childbirth-related causes in the US than they do in Iran (20.8), Lebanon (15.3), Turkey (15.8), Puerto Rico (15.1), China (17.7), and many more.

While most of the world has drastically reduced maternal mortality in the past three decades, the US is one of just a handful of countrieswhere the problem worsened, and significantly.

Between 700 and 1,200 women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth every year in the US. Fifty times that number—about 50,000 in all—narrowly escape death, while another 100,000 women a year fall gravely ill during or following a pregnancy.

The dire state of US data collection on maternal health and mortality is also distressing. Until the early 1990s, death certificates did not note if a woman was pregnant or had recently given birth when she died. It took until 2017 for all US states to add that check box to their death certificates. Calculating the number of near-deaths and severe illnesses related to pregnancy is still guesswork. There is no standard or official method of tracking, and cases are not routinely documented. In other words, data collection about maternal health and mortality is a complete mess. Even gathering reliable data for this story was difficult. Quartz was forced to turn to state data where there was a lack of national data, and to supplement gaps of any data with anecdotal evidence. If the US does not know it faces a crisis, how can it reverse the tide, and prevent the needless death of the next Liz Logelin?

Quartz probes the sorry state of US maternal data in a separate story.

The lack of proper documentation of maternal health is about more than data collection though, and speaks volumes about what little thought or consideration has been given to expectant and new mothers in the US. It’s hard to avoid the inference that they’re not considered important enough to merit focused attention. It’s certainly representative of a bigger problem, that women in the US are not getting the medical attention they need. It’s as though the US is rendering its mothers invisible.

“It’s the biggest catastrophe that we have in medicine to have young mothers die of preventable causes,” says Elliot Main, the medical director of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC).

Determining exactly why so many American mothers are dying of, or suffering through, pregnancy is a gargantuan public-health puzzle. Through the course of reporting this story, it quickly became apparent that there is no single reason, but instead a complex brew of factors that, together, point to deep-rooted, systemic problems that run through the entire social and health care system of the country. Gender, class, race—and across all, a fragmented, mainly private health system—conspire to work against maternal health. In many ways, it’s a litmus test of the health of health care in the US. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2017 at 4:22 pm

The Mechanics of History (Dance)

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2017 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Art, Video

A Different Take: Our Robot Hellscape Awaits Us

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum has a somewhat depressing view of where AI will take us:

As you all know, I think that intelligent robots will eventually take over all human work. The standard take on this—which I repeat in my recent article—is that even if this produces mass unemployment in the medium term, it will be great in the long term. No more work! We can all live in comfort, pondering philosophy and engaging in uplifting conversation. We will paint and read and admire nature. We will explore the planets and send generation ships to distant stars. It will be a golden age for humanity.

Maybe, but it so happens that I don’t believe this. So just in case you’re not depressed enough by all things Trump, here are a few scenarios I actually consider more likely. Trigger warning: I’m not joking! I don’t have any special knowledge, of course, but I really believe that some of these things are pretty plausible. Conversely, I don’t believe the golden age stuff for a second. Without the pressure of needing to survive, the vast majority of humanity has very little ambition. We’re a lot more likely to watch dumb TV and play video games than we are to read Plato or study cures for cancer. In fact, it’s way worse than that.

Here are a few possibilities. Note that for the purposes of this thought experiment, I’m assuming that we succeed in building strong AI that’s better and smarter than the smartest human being. That may or may not happen, but those are the rules of the game: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2017 at 11:43 am

Squishy or Solid? A Neutron Star’s Insides Open to Debate

leave a comment »

Joshua Sokol writes in Quanta:

The alerts started in the early morning of Aug. 17. Gravitational waves produced by the wreck of two neutron stars — dense cores of dead stars — had washed over Earth. The thousand-plus physicists of the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) rushed to decode the space-time vibrations that rolled across the detectors like a drawn-out peal of thunder. Thousands of astronomers scrambled to witness the afterglow. But officially, all this activity was kept secret. The data had to be collected and analyzed, the papers written. The outside world wouldn’t know for two more months.

The strict ban put Jocelyn Read and Katerina Chatziioannou, two members of the LIGO collaboration, in a bit of an awkward situation. In the afternoon on the 17th, the two were scheduled to lead a panel at a conference dedicated to the question of what happens under the almost unfathomable conditions in a neutron star’s interior. Their panel’s topic? What a neutron-star merger would look like. “We sort of went off at the coffee break and sat around just staring at each other,” said Read, a professor at California State University, Fullerton. “OK, how are we going to do this?”

Physicists have spent decades debating whether or not neutron stars contain new forms of matter, created when the stars break down the familiar world of protons and neutrons into new interactions between quarks or other exotic particles. Answering this question would also illuminate astronomical mysteries surrounding supernovas and the production of the universe’s heavy elements, such as gold.

In addition to watching for collisions using LIGO, astrophysicists have been busy developing creative ways to probe neutron stars from the outside. The challenge is then to infer something about the hidden layers within. But this LIGO signal and those like it — emitted as two neutron stars pirouette around their center of mass, pull on each other like taffy, and finally smash together — offers a whole new handle on the problem.

Strange Matter

A neutron star is the compressed core of a massive star — the super dense cinders left over after a supernova. It has the mass of the sun, but squeezed into a space the width of a city. As such, neutron stars are the densest reservoirs of matter in the universe — the “last stuff on the line before a black hole,” said Mark Alford, a physicist at Washington University in St. Louis.

To drill into one would bring us to the edge of modern physics. A centimeter or two of normal atoms — iron and silicon, mostly — encrusts the surface like the shiny red veneer on the universe’s densest Gobstopper. Then the atoms squeeze so close together that they lose their electrons, which fall into a shared sea. Deeper, the protons inside nuclei start turning into neutrons, which cluster so close together that they start to overlap.

But theorists argue about what happens farther in, when densities creep past two or three times higher than the density of a normal atomic nucleus. From the perspective of nuclear physics, neutron stars could just be protons and neutrons — collectively called nucleons — all the way in. “Everything can be explained by variations of nucleons,” said James Lattimer, an astrophysicist at Stony Brook University.

Other astrophysicists suspect otherwise. Nucleons aren’t elementary particles. They’re made up of three quarks. Under immense pressure, these quarks might form a new state of quark matter. “Nucleons are not billiard balls,” said David Blaschke, a physicist at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. “They are like cherries. So you can compress them a little bit, but at some point you smash them.”

But to some, the prospect of a quark jam like this is a relatively vanilla scenario. Theorists have long speculated that layers of other weird particles might arise inside a neutron star. As neutrons are jostled closer together, all that extra energy might go into creating heavier particles that contain not just the “up” and “down” quarks that exclusively make up protons and neutrons, but heavier and more exotic “strange” quarks.

For example, neutrons might be replaced by hyperons, three-quark particles that include at least one strange quark. Laboratory experiments can make hyperons, but they vanish almost immediately. Deep inside neutron stars, they might be stable for millions of years.

Alternatively, the hidden depths of neutron stars might be filled with kaons — also made with strange quarks — that collect into a single lump of matter sharing the same quantum state.

For decades, though, the field has been stuck. Theorists invent ideas about what might be going on inside neutron stars, but that environment is so extreme and unfamiliar that experiments here on Earth can’t reach the right conditions. At Brookhaven National Laboratory and CERN, for example, physicists smash together heavy nuclei like those of gold and lead. That creates a soupy state of matter made up of released quarks, known as a quark-gluon plasma. But this stuff is rarefied, not dense, and at billions or trillions of degrees, it’s far hotter than the inside of neutron star, which sits in the comparatively chilly millions.

Even the decades-old theory of quarks and nuclei — “quantum chromodynamics,” or QCD — can’t really provide answers. The computations needed to study QCD in relatively cold, dense environments are so devastatingly difficult that not even computers can calculate the results. Researchers are forced to resort to oversimplification and shortcuts.

The only other option is for astronomers to study neutron stars themselves. Unfortunately, neutron stars are distant, thus dim, and difficult to measure for anything but the very basic bulk properties. Even worse, the truly interesting physics is happening under the surface. “It’s a bit like there’s this lab that’s doing amazing things,” Alford said, “but all you’re allowed to do is see the light coming out of the window.”

With a new generation of experiments coming online, though, theorists might soon get their best look yet.

Squishy or Hard?

Whatever might be inside the core of a neutron star — loose quarks, or kaon condensates, or hyperons, or just regular old nucleons — the material must be able to hold up to the crushing weight of more than a sun’s worth of gravity. Otherwise, the star would collapse into a black hole. But different materials will compress to different degrees when squeezed by gravity’s vise, determining how heavy the star can be at a given physical size.

Stuck on the outside, astronomers work backwards to figure out what neutron stars are made of. For this purpose, it helps to know how squishy or stiff they are when squeezed. And for that, astronomers need to measure the masses and radii of various neutron stars.

In terms of mass, the most easily weighed neutron stars are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2017 at 11:38 am

Posted in Science

Fine Classic, Meißner Tremonia Indian Flavour, iKon 102, and Floris No. 89 add up to a great shave

with 2 comments

Nothing really extraordinary about today shave except the great pleasure it afforded.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2017 at 9:32 am

Posted in Shaving

Tasty pork stir-fry dinner

leave a comment »

A supermarket here carries a cut of pork favored by their Chinese clientele (I gather from the ideograms on the package). It’s a strip cut from a pork butt, thus tender and with adequate fat to keep it moist when you cook it. Here’s the recipe I used in my Field 8″ cast-iron skillet—and I have to say, that really is an excellent skillet, and I have a few Griswold skillets. The Field, not to put too fine a point on it, is better.

I asked about a larger size, and they will soon announce a skillet 11.5′ in diameter. I will have to get that even if it means goodbye, Griswold.


5 thick scallions, including all the green
3 large garlic cloves, minced
4 red Thai chiles, chopped with seeds
8 oz. strip from pork butt, cut into small pieces
1 lemon, ends cut off, halved vertically and then cut thinly crossways into half-moons

Heat the skillet add 1 glug avocado oil and 1 glug toasted sesame oil. when oil is hot, add the above along with good pinch salt and about 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper.

Some liquid may cook from the pork. If so, continue cooking until liquid is boiled away (perhaps 10 minutes).


good shake of soy sauce
about 2 Tbsp mirin
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

Stir and sauté until liquid almost gone. Serve.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2017 at 5:11 pm

Trump’s Legacy: Damaged Brains

leave a comment »

Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times:

The pesticide, which belongs to a class of chemicals developed as a nerve gas made by Nazi Germany, is now found in food, air and drinking water. Human and animal studies show that it damages the brain and reduces I.Q.s while causing tremors among children. It has also been linked to lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease in adults.

The colored parts of the image above, prepared by Columbia University scientists, indicate where a child’s brain is physically altered after exposure to this pesticide.

This chemical, chlorpyrifos, is hard to pronounce, so let’s just call it Dow Chemical Company’s Nerve Gas Pesticide. Even if you haven’t heard of it, it may be inside you: One 2012 study found that it was in the umbilical cord blood of 87 percent of newborn babies tested.

And now the Trump administration is embracing it, overturning a planned ban that had been in the works for many years.

The Environmental Protection Agency actually banned Dow’s Nerve Gas Pesticide for most indoor residential use 17 years ago — so it’s no longer found in the Raid you spray at cockroaches (it’s very effective, which is why it’s so widely used; then again, don’t suggest this to Dow, but sarin nerve gas might be even more effective!). The E.P.A. was preparing to ban it for agricultural and outdoor use this spring, but then the Trump administration rejected the ban.

That was a triumph for Dow, but the decision stirred outrage among public health experts. They noted that Dow had donated $1 million for President Trump’s inauguration.

So Dow’s Nerve Gas Pesticide will still be used on golf courses, road medians and crops that end up on our plate. Kids are told to eat fruits and vegetables, but E.P.A. scientists found levels of this pesticide on such foods at up to 140 times the limits deemed safe.

“This was a chemical developed to attack the nervous system,” notes Virginia Rauh, a Columbia professor who has conducted groundbreaking research on it. “It should not be a surprise that it’s not good for people.”

Remember the brain-damaging lead that was ignored in drinking water in Flint, Mich.? What’s happening under the Trump administration is a nationwide echo of what was permitted in Flint: Officials are turning a blind eye to the spread of a number of toxic substances, including those linked to cancer and brain damage.

“We are all Flint,” Professor Rauh says. “We will look back on it as something shameful.”

Here’s the big picture: The $800 billion chemical industry lavishes money on politicians and lobbies its way out of effective regulation. This has always been a problem, but now the Trump administration has gone so far as to choose chemical industry lobbyists to oversee environmental protections. The American Academy of Pediatrics protested the administration’s decision on the nerve gas pesticide, but officials sided with industry over doctors. The swamp won.

The chemical industry lobby, the American Chemistry Council, is today’s version of Big Tobacco. One vignette: Chemical companies secretly set up a now-defunct front organization called Citizens for Fire Safety that purported to be a coalition of firefighters, doctors and others alarmed about house fires. The group called for requiring flame retardantchemicals in couches, to save lives, of course.

In fact, this was an industry hoax, part of a grand strategy to increase sales of flame retardants — whose principle effect seems to be to cause cancer. The American Chemistry Council was caught lying about its involvement in this hoax.

Yet these days, Trump is handing over the keys of our regulatory apparatus to the council and its industry allies. An excellent Times articleby Eric Lipton noted that to oversee toxic chemicals, Trump appointed a council veteran along with toxicologist with a history of taking council money to defend carcinogens.

In effect, Trump appointed two foxes to be Special Assistant for Guarding the Henhouse. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2017 at 12:51 pm

It’s getting clearer — the diet-cancer connection points to sugar and carbs

leave a comment »

Sam Apple writes in the LA Times:

In August of 2016, the New England Journal of Medicine published a striking report on cancer and body fat: Thirteen separate cancers can now be linked to being overweight or obese, among them a number of the most common and deadly cancers of all — colon, thyroid, ovarian, uterine, pancreatic and (in postmenopausal women) breast cancer.

Earlier this month, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added more detail: Approximately 631,000 Americans were diagnosed with a body fat-related cancer in 2014, accounting for 40% of all cancers diagnosed that year.

Increasingly, it seems not only that we are losing the war on cancer, but that we are losing it to what we eat and drink.

These new findings, while important, only tell us so much. The studies reflect whether someone is overweight upon being diagnosed with cancer, but they don’t show that the excess weight is responsible for the cancer. They are best understood as a warning sign that something about what or how much we eat is intimately linked to cancer. But what?

The possibility that much of our cancer burden can be traced to diet isn’t a new idea. In 1937, Frederick Hoffman, an actuary for the Prudential Life Insurance Co., devoted more than 700 pages to a review of all the medical thinking on the topic at the time. But with little in the way of evidence, Hoffman could only guess at which of the many theories might be correct. If we’ve made little progress since then in pinpointing specific foods that cause cancer, it’s in large part because nutrition studies aren’t well-suited to cracking the problem.

A cancer typically arises over years, or decades, making the type of study that might definitively establish cause and effect — an experiment in which people are randomly assigned to different diets — nearly impossible to carry out. The next-best option — observational studies that track what a specific group of individuals eats and which members of the group are later diagnosed with cancer — tends to generate as much confusion as knowledge. One day we read that a study has linked eating meat to cancer; a month later, a new headline declares the exact opposite.

And yet researchers have made progress in understanding the diet-cancer connection. The advances have emerged in the somewhat esoteric field of cancer metabolism, which investigates how cancer cells turn the nutrients we consume into fuel and building blocks for new cancer cells.

Largely ignored in the last decades of the 20th century, cancer metabolism has undergone a revival as researchers have come to appreciate that some of the most well-known cancer-causing genes, long feared for their role in allowing cancer cells to proliferate without restraint, have another, arguably even more fundamental role: allowing cancer cells to “eat” without restraint. This research may yield a blockbuster cancer treatment, but in the meantime it can provide us with something just as crucial — knowledge about how to prevent the disease in the first place.

Lewis Cantley, the director of the cancer center at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been at the forefront of the cancer metabolism revival. Cantley’s best explanation for the obesity-cancer connection is that both conditions are also linked to elevated levels of the hormone insulin. His research has revealed how insulin drives cells to grow and take up glucose (blood sugar) by activating a series of genes, a pathway that has been implicated in most human cancers.

The problem isn’t the presence of insulin in our blood. We all need insulin to live. But when insulin rises to abnormally high levels and remains elevated (a condition known as insulin resistance, common in obesity), it can promote the growth of tumors directly and indirectly. Too much insulin and many of our tissues are bombarded with more growth signals and more fuel than they would ever see under normal metabolic conditions. And because elevated insulin directs our bodies to store fat, it can also be linked to the various ways the fat tissue itself is thought to contribute to cancer.

Having recognized the risks of excess insulin-signaling, Cantley and other metabolism researchers are following the science to its logical conclusion: The danger may not be simply eating too much, as is commonly thought, but rather eating too much of the specific foods most likely to lead to elevated insulin levels — easily digestible carbohydrates in general, and sugar in particular. . .

Continue reading.

For a good introduction to a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, see this post or this post. The increase in fat intake is to provide the calories lost when carbohydrate intake is greatly reduced. And we now know that fat fears were greatly overblown: see The Big Fat Surprise, by Nine Teicholz, a highly readable and well-researched book

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2017 at 8:28 am

%d bloggers like this: