Later On

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

Archive for November 7th, 2017

Wilbur Ross will shepherd Trump’s trade policy. Should he also own a shipping firm?

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Quite obviously there is a conflict of interest. What is best for his shipping company and his personal wealth (that his line get maximum amount of business) is not at all what is optimal for the US as a whole. Carrie Levine and Chris Zubak-Skees report for the Center for Public Integrity:

When private equity billionaire Wilbur Ross Jr. signed on to be President Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, he agreed to divest millions of dollars in assets.

But one asset Ross plans to keep is his stake in Diamond S Shipping Group Inc., one of the world’s largest owners and operators of medium-range tanker vessels, which crisscross the globe as crucial cogs in the transoceanic shipping trade. In a new administration full of successful businessmen dealing with a complex web of conflict-of-interest concerns, Ross’ part ownership of Diamond S Shipping stands out.

Center for Public Integrity examination of Diamond S Shipping’s operations found its vessels sail under Chinese flags, even as Ross is being tapped to take an unusually muscular role shaping U.S. trade policy under President Trump’s “America First” mantra. The company has ties to a major Chinese investment fund, and one of its ships has traveled to an Iranian port.

Diamond S Shipping has also said it has — and may continue in the future to — “call on ports located in countries subject to sanctions and embargoes imposed by the U.S. government and countries identified … as state sponsors of terrorism, such as Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria,” according to its 2014 filingwith the Securities and Exchange Commission.

And one of Diamond S Shipping’s main customers recently acquired a stake in a Russian national oil company.

Ross has said he doesn’t believe the shipping investment presents a conflict. To take the Trump administration job, Ross agreed to step down from positions with the company, according to his ethics agreement, and plans to be a passive investor going forward.

Commerce Department spokesman James Rockas declined to answer specific Center for Public Integrity questions about Ross’ Diamond S Shipping investments, but emailed a statement that in part reads: “Commerce’s ethics officials provide the Secretary with ongoing guidance to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.”

Ethics lawyers offered a range of opinions on potential conflicts presented by Ross’ Diamond S Shipping investment. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2017 at 4:28 pm

Why the AR-15 Is So Lethal

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In the Atlantic James Fallow reprises an article from 1981, newly relevant today. I vividly recall it all in his excellent book National Defense (and note the full text of the AR-15 story is available at a link in the story):

Americans who know nothing else about firearms are all too familiar with the name AR-15. It’s the semi-automatic weapon that murderers have used in many of the most notorious and highest-casualty gun killings of recent years: Aurora, Colorado. Newtown, Connecticut. Orlando, Florida, San Bernardino, California.  Now, with modified versions, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

What is this gun? Why is it the weapon that people who want to kill a lot of other people, in a hurry, mainly choose? Tim Dickinson offered a useful history of the AR-15’s emergence as the main implement of mass murder last year in Rolling Stone (“All-American Killer: How the AR-15 Became Mass Shooters’ Weapon of Choice”), and Megan O’Dea in Fortune and Aaron Smith for CNN also had valuable reports.

But there’s another angle of the AR-15 saga that has slightly slipped from view. It is why this particular weapon is so unusually effective in killing things—even when compared with other firearms.

As it happens, I did an Atlantic article on exactly this subject, back in a very different era of American politics. In 1981, I published a book called National Defensewhich was popular at the time and was excerpted in three installments in the magazine. One of the installments was called “The M-16: A Bureaucratic Horror Story,” and it included the origin story of the AR-15. That article was not previously available online, but my colleague Annika Neklason has just digitized it from the archives, and it’s now available.

* * *

The AR-15 was newsworthy in those days mainly as the original civilian version of what became the U.S. military’s standard M-16 combat rifle. The problem with the M-16, from the perspective of many of the Americans who had been using it during the 1960s and 1970s in Vietnam, is that it too often failed at the fundamental task of combat weaponry: killing troops on the other side.

The M-16 jammed. It was touchy if it got wet or dirty—which, in jungle warfare, weapons generally did. Veterans’ stories about the M-16, which became newspaper exposés, which became congressional hearings, concerned the battles in which an American soldier or marine was found shot to death by an enemy AK-47, a jammed M-16 clutched in the American’s hands.

The point of my story was to explain how the Army’s procurement bureaucracy had systematically, and knowingly if not intentionally, converted the early-model AR-15 into the fully “militarized” but vastly less reliable M-16. Those were the comparisons that mattered most in the aftermath of Vietnam: the M-16 versus its AR-15 predecessor, and the M-16 against the adversary’s practically indestructible AK-47.

Along the way, I examined the other side of the comparison: why the AR-15 was such a revolution in killing power. That’s the part of the story that is most relevant now.

* * *

The AR-15, created by the celebrated armaments designed Eugene Stoner, had many advantages, but a crucial one was that . . .

Continue reading.


Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2017 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Military

A Zombie Gene Protects Elephants From Cancer

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Viviane Callier writes in Quanta:

Elephants and other large animals have a lower incidence of cancer than would be expected statistically, suggesting that they have evolved ways to protect themselves against the disease. A new study reveals how elephants do it: An old gene that was no longer functional was recycled from the vast “genome junkyard” to increase the sensitivity of elephant cells to DNA damage, enabling them to cull potentially cancerous cells early.

In multicellular animals, cells go through many cycles of growth and division. At each division, cells copy their entire genome, and inevitably a few mistakes creep in. Some of those mutations can lead to cancer. One might think that animals with larger bodies and longer lives would therefore have a greater risk of developing cancer. But that’s not what researchers see when they compare species across a wide range of body sizes: The incidence of cancer does not appear to correlate with the number of cells in an organism or its lifespan. In fact, researchers find that larger, longer-lived mammals have fewer cases of cancer. In the 1970s, the cancer epidemiologist Richard Peto, now a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, articulated this surprising phenomenon, which has come to be known as Peto’s paradox.

The fact that larger animals like elephants do not have high rates of cancer suggests that they have evolved special cancer suppression mechanisms. In 2015, Joshua Schiffman at the University of Utah School of Medicine and Carlo Maley at Arizona State University headed a team of researchers who showed that the elephant genome has about 20 extra duplicates of p53, a canonical tumor suppressor gene. They went on to suggest that these extra copies of p53 could account, at least in part, for the elephants’ enhanced cancer suppression capabilities. Currently, Lisa M. Abegglen, a cell biologist at the Utah School of Medicine who contributed to the study, is leading a project to find out whether the copies of p53 have different functions.

Yet extra copies of p53 are not the elephants’ only source of protection. New work led by Vincent Lynch, a geneticist at the University of Chicago, shows that elephants and their smaller-bodied relatives (such as hyraxes, armadillos and aardvarks) also have duplicate copies of the LIF gene, which encodes for leukemia inhibitory factor. This signaling protein is normally involved in fertility and reproduction and also stimulates the growth of embryonic stem cells. Lynch presented his work at the Pan-American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology meeting in Calgary in August 2017, and it is currently posted on

Lynch found that the 11 duplicates of LIF differ from one another but are all incomplete: At a minimum they all lack the initial block of protein-encoding information as well as a promoter sequence to regulate the activity of the gene. These deficiencies suggested to Lynch that none of the duplicates should be able to perform the normal functions of a LIF gene, or even be expressed by cells.

But when Lynch looked in cells, he found RNA transcripts from at least one of the duplicates, LIF6, which indicated that it must have a promoter sequence somewhere to turn it on. Indeed, a few thousand bases upstream of LIF6 in the genome, Lynch and his collaborators discovered a sequence of DNA that looked like a binding site for p53 protein. It suggested to them that p53 (but not any of the p53 duplicates) might be regulating the expression of LIF6. Subsequent experiments on elephant cells confirmed this hunch.

To discover what LIF6 was doing, the researchers blocked the gene’s activity and subjected the cells to DNA-damaging conditions. The result was that the cells became less likely to destroy themselves through a process called apoptosis (programmed cell death), which organisms often use as a kind of quality control system for eliminating defective tissue. LIF6 therefore seems to help eradicate potentially malignant cells. Further experiments indicated that LIF6 triggers cell death by creating leaks in the membranes around mitochondria, the vital energy-producing organelles of cells.

To find out more about the evolutionary history of LIF and its duplicates, Lynch found their counterparts in the genomes of closely related species: manatees, hyraxes and extinct mammoths and mastodons. His analysis suggested that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2017 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Evolution, Health, Science

Law enforcement links from Radley Balko

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Here’s the list.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2017 at 3:37 pm

A very nice lunch, step by step

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Step 1: Pour a glass of 5 Vineyards Lyric Velvety Red 2016 to sip while I cook.

Step 2: Heat the 12″ Griswold skillet over low-to-medium heat and add 5-6 slices bacon cut into chunks and let that start cooking as I chop.

Step 3: Chop. Specifically:

2 large cloves of enormous garlic, probably 5-6 regular cloves, minced
3 long onions
2 King Oyster mushrooms (cut lengthwise in half, then across)
1 regular carrot (not the giant ones)
1/2 of a bitter melon (cut lengthwise into fourths, then across)
1 Serrano pepper
5-6 asparagus spears

Also: grate about 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger root

Step 4: When bacon is browned and almost crisp, add 454g (1 lb) chicken hearts and sauté for several minutes until hearts are cooked.

Step 5: Remove bacon and hearts with a slotted spoon, add to the pan the chopped veggies, and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. I covered the skillet for a while to speed the cooking.

Step 6: Once veggies are cooked, return bacon and hearts to the pan and sauté briefly to get everything heated, then add the grated ginger, about 1 Tablespoon soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon mirin, and 1 Tablespoon gochujang (Korean red chili paste). Stir to combine.

Step 7: Sauté for 2-3 minutes to reduce the liquid.

Step 8: Spoon a serving into a bowl and sprinkle with Jen-Jen’s West Coast Gomashio, made on Gabriola Island. Ingredients: organic unhulled sesame seeds (toasted), organic sunflower seeds & pumpkin seeds (raw & toasted), powdered kelp, dulse flakes, Celtic sea salt. Extremely tasty. Thanks, Lynne.

Step 9: Enjoy. (It’s wonderful.)

Step 10: Thoughts for the future: definitely a keeper. I have a couple of nice leeks and will use those for the next one. And I think I’ll try adding pitted California green ripe olives. And maybe two packages of hearts. But definitely keep the gomashio, and start using it on other things, like (one of Jen-Jen’s suggestions) using it for breading. Yum.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2017 at 2:23 pm

Good news: Over-the-counter painkillers treated painful injuries just as well as opioids in new study

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Melissa Healy reports in the LA Times:

In an opioid epidemic that currently claims an average of 91 lives per day, there have been many paths to addiction. For some, it started with a fall or a sports injury, a trip to a nearby emergency room and a prescription for a narcotic pain reliever that seemed to work well in the ER.
New research underscores how tragically risky — and unnecessary — such prescribing choices have been.

In a new study of patients who showed up to an emergency department with acute pain in their shoulders, arms, hips or legs, researchers found that a cocktail of two non-addictive, over-the-counter drugs relieved pain just as well as — and maybe just a little better than — a trio of opioid pain medications widely prescribed under such circumstances.

The epidemic of opiate addiction, which has left roughly 2 million Americans addicted to narcotic painkillers, has claimed more than 183,000 lives since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emergency department prescribing decisions have played a key role in fueling that crisis. One study found that between 2001 and 2010, the share of U.S. emergency department visits that resulted in a prescription for an opioid analgesic rose by nearly 50%, from 21% to 31%.

Not everyone who gets narcotic pain medication will become addicted. But a report released in July by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that, among patients prescribed opioid pain relievers, at least 8% develop “opioid use disorder,” and 15% to 26% engage in problematic behaviors that suggest they have become dependent.

And a 2015 study found that, among Colorado ER patients who had never taken opioids but filled such a prescription to treat a short-term pain condition, 17% were still taking a narcotic pain reliever a year later.

The report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. suggests that much of this misery could have been avoided. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2017 at 2:02 pm

Watch the Casting of a Giant Mirror for the First Extremely Large Telescope

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Very interesting article by Daniel Oberhaus in Motherboard, with excellent photos and a great chart:

The article begins:

Galileo didn’t invent the telescope, but he may as well have. Prior to the Italian polymath’s foray into optics, astronomers were relying on telescopes that only magnified objects three times—not great when your job is looking at celestial objects that are millions of miles away. Within a year of making his first telescope in 1609, Galileo had modified the device so that it could magnify objects by a factor of twenty, an improvement that facilitated some of the most important discoveries in early astronomy, such as four Jovian moons and the existence of sunspots.

Today, astronomers are just as dependent on telescopes to observe the cosmos, although the complexity and sheer size of modern telescopes would make them inscrutable to Galileo. At the forefront of modern telescopy is the Giant Magellan Telescope, the first device in a new class of ground-based optical instruments appropriately named “Extremely Large Telescopes.”

When the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) becomes operational in the early 2020s, its effective aperture—a way of measuring the optical ‘strength’ of a telescope—will be double the size of the largest optical telescopes operating today. This feat of engineering is largely the result of advances in manufacturing the giant lenses at the heart of the GMT, and no one knows this better than the scientists at the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab, where astronomers go when they need some serious glass.

“This is pretty much the limit for the limit of a mirror you can cast and still move around,” Robert Shelton, president of the international consortium of universities called the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization that is building the telescope, told me over the phone. “It’s truly an incredible feat of engineering.” . . .

Continue reading.

I wish they hand’t cancelled the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2017 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

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