Later On

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Archive for November 6th, 2017

VA Delays Key Agent Orange Decisions

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Charles Ornstein reports in ProPublica. The blurb:

Since March 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been weighing whether to expand Agent Orange benefits to Vietnam vets with bladder cancer and hypothyroidism, as well as other ailments. It keeps missing its own deadlines to act.

The article begins:

Days after he was sworn in as Veterans Affairs secretary this year, Dr. David Shulkin held a digital town hall meeting to take veterans’ questions.

A veteran named Jack posed a question of paramount importance to many Vietnam veterans: Would the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs expand the list of diseases that are presumed to be linked to Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide used to kill forests during the Vietnam War?

“We’re getting very close to being able to give you a final answer on that,” Shulkin said on Feb. 24, adding that he was weeks away from being presented with the data he needed to make a decision. “I’m anxious to get it so that we can begin to get answers to people like Jack, because it’s been too long that they’ve been waiting to get those answers.”

Yet more than eight months later — and after his department promised a decision by Nov. 1 — the VA essentially punted, issuing a statement late Wednesday saying it would “further explore” the issue and pushing its decision to some undisclosed point in the future.

The VA said the department would now work with others in the Trump administration to conduct a legal and regulatory review of conditions for awarding disability compensation to eligible veterans.

Many veterans said they thought that was exactly the review that has been ongoing since March 2016, when the National Academy of Medicine, then known as the Institute of Medicine, said there is now evidence to suggest that Agent Orange exposure may be linked to bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. The National Academy also confirmed, as previous experts have said, that there is some evidence of an association with hypertension, stroke and various neurological ailments similar to Parkinson’s Disease.

In the past, the VA has found enough evidence to link 14 health conditions, including various cancers, to Agent Orange, which the U.S. military sprayed by the millions of gallons in Vietnam.

The Agent Orange Act of 1991 had required that the VA secretary take action on National Academy recommendations within 60 days of receiving a report; the law expired in 2015.

“Son of a gun,” said Dick Pirozzolo, 73, when he was informed of the VA’s decision to delay. Pirozzolo served as an information officer in the Air Force in Vietnam and has had bladder cancer and a thyroid condition called Graves’ disease. “That sucks.”

Pirozzolo said he applied for benefits based on his bladder cancer — and was denied. He is in the process of seeking benefits for his thyroid. “It’s frustrating,” he said. “The politicians all talk a good game about the VA, but then when it comes down to making a decision, they drag their heels.”

Carla Dean’s husband, James T. Dean Jr., died of bladder cancer last year at age 72, six days after his birthday. His application and appeals for VA benefits have been denied. Dean said she feels “gobsmacked” by the VA’s actions this week, especially because her husband died feeling relieved that he and his wife had helped persuade the National Academy of the link between his disease and Agent Orange exposure.

“My husband gave 11 1/2 years of his life to the United States Army willingly, 19 months in Vietnam, heavy combat,” Dean said. “Never in a million years did he dream basically that his government betrayed him.”

ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot have profiled the efforts of vets with bladder cancer to secure benefits. . .

Continue reading.

The US government seems increasingly paralyzed and enfeebled.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2017 at 3:53 pm

Which is more fundamental: processes or things?

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I would vote for processes, obviously, since things are in fact processes (though sometimes slow processes). Celso Vieira writes in Aeon:

Metaphysics is the attempt to understand how existence works by examining the building blocks of reality, the distinctions between mental and physical entities, and the fundamental questions of being and reality. But metaphysics is not only an arcane branch of philosophy: human beings use metaphysical assumptions to navigate the world. Assumptions about what exists and what is fundamental exert a powerful influence on our lives. Indeed, the less aware we are of our metaphysical assumptions, the more we are subject to them.

Western metaphysics tends to rely on the paradigm of substances. We often see the world as a world of things, composed of atomic molecules, natural kinds, galaxies. Objects are the paradigmatic mode of existence, the basic building blocks of the Universe. What exists exists as an object. That is to say, things are of a certain kind, they have some specific qualities and well-defined spatial and temporal limits. For instance: Fido is my dog, he is grey, and was born one year ago. (It’s worth noting that such a simple statement will give rise to a litany of metaphysical disputes within substance metaphysics: realists believe that universals, such as the natural kind ‘dogs’, exist while nominalists believe them to be only intellectual abstractions.)

Though substance metaphysics seems to undergird Western ‘common sense’, I think it is wrong. To see this, consider the cliché about the glass of water: is it half-empty or half-full? The question assumes a static arrangement of things serving as a basis for either an optimistic or a pessimistic interpretation. One can engage in interminable disputes about the correct description of the physical set-up, or about the legitimacy of the psychological evaluations. But what if the isolated frame ‘a glass of water’ fails to give the relevant information? Anyone would prefer an emptier glass that is getting full to a fuller one getting empty. Any analysis lacking information about change misses the point, which is just what substance metaphysics is missing. Process philosophers, meanwhile, think we should go beyond looking at the world as a set of static unrelated items, and instead examine the processes that make up the world. Processes, not objects, are fundamental.

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus provides the most famous image of process metaphysics. ‘It is not possible,’ he says, ‘to step twice into the same river’ – because existence depends on change; the river you step into a second time is changed from the river you stepped into originally (and you have changed in the interval, too). And while substance philosophers will tend to search for the smallest constituent objects in order to locate reality’s most fundamental building blocks, process philosophers think this is insufficient. So do modern physicists. Electrons are now understood as bundles of energy in a field, and quantum vacuum fluctuations prove that there are fields without bundles but no bundles without fields. Things seem to be reducible to processes – and not the reverse. (As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead put it, we should think about ‘occurrences’ instead of ‘things’.)

Change poses a recurring problem for substance metaphysics. Universals have traditionally been a popular way to circumvent it. These static entities are difficult to define precisely, but can be thought of as ‘hyper-things’ that are instantiated in many different particular things. A universal is the thing that particulars have in common, such as types, kinds and relations. Universals are essentially different from particulars: Aristotle, for instance, argued that particulars – such as Fido my dog – are subject to generation and corruption, while species – the universal – are eternal. This particular example provides another instance in which science seems to favour process metaphysics. Thanks to the theory of evolution, the Aristotelian view that species are unchanging and eternal was proven wrong. Species evolve. They change. Dogs, after all, evolved from wolves to constitute a whole different kind. Once again, we’re better off using the paradigm of change rather than substance.

Process metaphysics leads to a re-evaluation of other important philosophical notions. Consider identity. To explain why things change without losing their identity, substance philosophers need to posit some underlying core – an essence –that remains the same throughout change. It is not easy to pin down what this core might be, as the paradox of Theseus’ ship illustrates. A ship goes on a long voyage and requires significant repairs: new planks to replace the old, fresh oars to replace the decayed, and so on, until, by the time the ship returns to port, there is not one single piece that belonged to the ship when it departed. Is this the same ship, even though materially it is completely different? For substance philosophers, this is something of a paradox; for process philosophers, this is a necessary part of identity. Of course it is the same ship. Identity ceases to be a static equivalence of a thing with itself. After all, without the repairs, the ship would have lost its functionality. Instead, as the German philosopher Nicholas Rescher argues in Ideas in Process (2009), identity just is a programmatic development. That is, the identity of a process is the structural identity of its programme. Other things being equal, every puppy will turn out to be a dog. (This programme need not be thought of as deterministic. The interactions between processes, Rescher argues, open room for variations.)

Processes are not the mere intervals between two different states of affairs or two objects, as the paradox of the heap exemplifies: take a heap of sand and remove one grain. It remains a heap; one grain doesn’t make a difference. But if you repeat the subtraction enough times, eventually there will be just one grain. Clearly, this isn’t a heap. Where did it become a non-heap? By looking at the process, and not the end-states of affairs, you’ll realise the impossibility of pinpointing the boundary between heap and non-heap. (Similarly, no individual was the exact turning point between wolves and dogs.) At the very least, this gives us a warning about the unnoticed abstraction operating on our division of natural kinds. Process philosophers such as Henri Bergson stop at this negative conclusion, believing that processes cannot be known but only experienced. Regardless, as the Danish philosopher Johanna Seibt notes, it might just be the case that focusing on the process requires a whole new perspective.

Looking at the world as a manifold of interconnected processes has scientific and philosophical advantages, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2017 at 11:20 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with ,

White Male Terrorists Are an Issue We Should Discuss

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Lincoln Anthony Blades has a good article in Teen Vogue:

Since September 11, 2001, preventing terrorism in the United States has become one of the main concerns of citizens, policymakers, and law enforcement agencies. Leaders believe that battling “terror” isn’t just done by waging war on jihadists themselves, but also on their ideology. When an attack whose perpetrator is affiliated with Islam occurs on American soil, the nation collectively recoils in horror at the audacious attack, mourns for those we’ve lost, and then subsequently doubles down on rooting out any semblance of pro-extremist thought in our society.

When the assailant is identified, intelligence agencies conduct a thorough investigation into the subject’s known terror ties. These ties are provided to outlets that, in real time, condemn the violent extremism that animated the subject. When bad actors align themselves with extremist Islamic ideology, information about those who propagate this dangerous dogma is eagerly consumed because we deem it essential — not to just know what happened, but everything and every person that may have influenced what happened. Yet when it comes to domestic terrorism carried out by white men, such thorough accounting lacks.

Last week, America found itself in a terrifying and simultaneously familiar place: mourning the loss of life after a mass shooting. On Sunday, April 30, Monique Clark, a 35-year-old mother of three daughters, was killed after a gunman opened fire at guests at a poolside party inside an apartment complex. In addition to Clark, six other people — mostly black and Latinx — were injured in the shooting spree by a 49-year-old white male named Peter Selis. In the wake of the attack, witnesses and victims attested that race was a prominent factor in the shooting. Yet San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said just one day after the shooting that there was “zero information” that race contributed to the attack. (Navy Lt. j.g. Lauren Chapman, one of the attendees of the party, said she felt “heartbreak” at the police’s dismissal of this motive, which witnesses say was a major factor.) The shooting received such little immediate coverage that people took to social media to blast major networks and politicians for their lack of reporting, and terror context. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2017 at 10:44 am

How bad is US gun violence? These charts show the scale of the problem

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I would think that by now everyone would recognize that “thoughts and prayers” have no discernible effect on the problem of gun violence in the US. Mona Chalabi has an article—and some charts—in an article in the Guardian that shows just how bad the US is in terms of gun violence. (I do understand that many believe either (a) nothing can be done about it or (b) the best thing to do is to make sure everyone carries a gun. I’m not convinced: as the number of guns in circulation increases, so does the number of gun deaths, and that has been repeatedly shown to be true.)

Chalabi writes:

Gun violence in the US isn’t just bad, it’s uniquely bad in terms of the number of lives that are affected by it and how rare such violence is in a wealthy country. The charts below illustrate the scale of the problem.

1. The outlier

Other wealthy countries don’t have as many guns as the US. They don’t have as many gun deaths as the US, either. . .

Continue reading. And look at those charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2017 at 9:51 am

Posted in Guns

Rooney Victorian, Lenthéric, and Above the Tie S1

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I do like Lenthéric shaving soap, with its excellent lather and intense lavender fragrance. My Rooney Victorian did its usual fine job. I decided that since the ATT S1 was so comfortable on Saturday, it was only fair to give it a chance with a two-day stubble, and I’m glad I did: still very comfortable and totally efficient: BBS result in three easy passes, with no nicks.

A splash of Lenthéric Tweed, and the week begins on a very pleasurable note: well begun is half done.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2017 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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