Later On

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

Archive for January 2nd, 2018

Stop using Facebook and start using your browser

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Jason Kottke makes a good point:

In “an open memo, to all marginally-smart people/consumers of internet ‘content’”, Foster Kamer has a small suggestion to those who care about the health and diversity of online media: stop reading what Facebook tells you to read and use your browser bar (or bookmarks) instead.

Literally, all you need to do: Type in web addresses. Use autofill! Or even: Google the website you want to go to, and go to it. Then bookmark it. Then go back every now and again.

Instead of reading stories that get to you because they’re popular, or just happen to be in your feed at that moment, you’ll read stories that get to you because you chose to go to them. Sounds simple, and insignificant, and almost too easy, right?

It’s only easy, and simple to do. As for why you should do it: It’s definitely not simple, nor insignificant. By choosing to be a reader of websites whose voices and ideas you’re fundamentally interested in and care about, you’re taking control.

And by doing that, you’ll chip away at the incentive publishers have to create headlines and stories weaponized for the purpose of sharing on social media. You’ll be stripping away at the motivation for websites everywhere (including this one) to make dumb hollow mindgarbage. At the same time, you’ll increase the incentive for these websites to be (if nothing else) more consistent and less desperate for your attention.

*head nodding vigorously* I mean, it’s a complicated situation. Facebook and Twitter are easily the best news/blog reading platforms ever invented, better than any RSS reader for most people. By putting most of the web’s information all in one place, they offer incredible speed and convenience, which is hard for people to ignore. I made this point in a footnote this morning: using Facebook instead of just bookmarks is compelling in the same way that shopping at Walmart instead of small-town shops was in the 80s. We blame Walmart for decimating small businesses, but ultimately,  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2018 at 3:07 pm

Cannabis News Round-Up

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Daniel Harvester provides a cannabis news update:

Pot bust in Mendocino, California pits legit industry against law enforcement. California highway patrol arrests marijuana delivery workers, sparking debate over laws. California could make more money from legal pot than beer by 2019. California towns scramble to prepare for legal marijuana on Jan. 1. ER doctor has concern for California legal edible marijuana. California marijuana start-ups, shut out from banks, turn to private backing. As California legalizes recreational marijuana, this Los Angeles pot shop weighs closing its doors. Pot legalization could spell end to California medical marijuana industry. As pot becomes legal in California, law enforcement will be looking for high driversCalifornia central valley cities ready to capitalize on legalization of recreational marijuana. Labor unions see organizing California marijuana workers as a way to grow. First rule of California pot legalization: Don’t smoke in public. I grow pot in California for a living. I’m worried about legalization. As California legalizes pot sales, laws collide at US checkpoints. With clock ticking down to California legalization, marijuana becomes a suburban affair. Some California police fear more crime with marijuana legalization.

Colorado is using pot tax money to save programs funded by big tobacco settlement. The world’s strongest pot product is for sale in Seattle, and it looks almost like crystal meth.

With the groundwork laid, Massachusetts cannabis business likely to take off in 2018Maine regulated marijuana market could still be saved. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2018 at 2:13 pm

Journalistic malpractice: Who got NATO members to contribute more?

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Journalists can be very lazy, and Kevin Drum has a great example. Susan Glasser in Politico credits Donald Trump with causing NATO members to increase their contributions. Susan Glasser is flat-out wrong. From Drum’s post:

There’s more. Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2018 at 2:06 pm

Trump’s foreign corruption problem gets worse — and the GOP’s indifference is disturbing

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

McClatchy reports:

In Indonesia, a local government plans to build a road to shorten the drive between the main airport on the island of Bali and the new high-end Trump resort and golf course.

In Panama, the country’s federal government intervened to ensure a sewer system around a 70-story Trump skyscraper shaped like a sail in Panama City would be completed.

And in other countries, governments have donated public land, approved permits and eased environmental regulations for Trump-branded developments, creating a slew of potential conflicts as foreign leaders make investments that can be seen as gifts or attempts to gain access to the American president through his sprawling business empire.

This goes to the underlying purpose of the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, which was designed to prevent manipulation of our democratic government by foreign powers. In response to the McClathy article, former director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub tweeted, “THIS is why conflicts of interest matter. These [examples in the report] are only the ones we’ve found. There are so many un-knowables. The burden shouldn’t be on the public to find conflicts of interest, the burden should be on the public servant to show they’ve been eliminated.”

In the case of President Trump, his conduct regarding foreign monies and benefits is egregious, widespread and worsening. Senior fellow in the Democracy and Rule of Law program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Sarah “Chayes, a former adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, argues that emoluments clause violations can be much broader than just infrastructure improvements and include benefits such as donated public land, approved permits and eased regulations, which is occurring in every country Trump has a development,” McClatchy noted. “Trump, for example, applied for new trademarks for a variety of businesses from hotels to apparel in China in June 2016 when he was a presidential candidate. They were granted in the weeks after he became president.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2018 at 11:43 am

4 ways to cook using water to transmit heat

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From Cook’s Illustrated:

Boiling

Water is as hot as possible (212 degrees at sea level), with many large bubbles constantly breaking the surface. This method is reserved mainly for cooking pasta or starchy foods such as potatoes. Since prolonged boiling can compromise color and flavor, we don’t recommend it for most vegetables.

Blanching

Blanching involves quickly involving food into boiling water, then transferring it into ice water (called “shocking”). We like to blanch green vegetables—such as green beans, broccoli rabe, and snap peas—to help set their color and remove any bitterness. Blanching also helps loosen the skins of nuts or soft fruits such as tomatoes and peaches.

Poaching

This technique uses water between 160 and 180 degrees (depending on the delicacy of the item being cooked), at which point small bubbles just begin to break the surface. This gentle cooking method is good for delicate foods such as fruit, fish, or eggs. The poaching liquid is often seasoned with aromatics or alcohol to induce an exchange of flavors between the food and the liquid.

Braising

This method calls for slowly simmering food in a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pot. (The temperature of the simmering liquid is 180 to 190 degrees.) Braising is most often used for tough cuts of meat that need to cook gently until tender. Braised items are usually browned in hot oil before aromatics and flavorful liquids such as wine or stock are added.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2018 at 11:03 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

America’s own Cultural Revolution

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Catherine Rampell writes in the Washington Post:

Last month in Shanghai, Chinese venture capitalist Eric X. Li made a provocative suggestion.

The United States, he said, was going through its own “Cultural Revolution.”

For those unfamiliar, Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was a traumatic period of political upheaval, ostensibly intended to cleanse the People’s Republic of impure and bourgeois elements.

Universities were shuttered. Public officials were purged. Youth paramilitary groups, known as Red Guards, terrorized civilians. Citizens denounced teachers, spouses and parents they suspected of harboring capitalist sympathies.

Millions were uprooted and sent to the countryside for reeducation and hard labor. Millions more were persecuted, publicly humiliated, tortured, executed.

All of which is why, when Li first made this comparison — at a lunch with American journalists sponsored by the Asia Society — I laughed. Li is known as a sort of rhetorical bomb-thrower, an expert defender of the Communist regime, and this seemed like just another one of his explosive remarks.

And yet I haven’t been able to get the comment out of my head. In the weeks since I’ve returned stateside, Li’s seemingly far-fetched analogy has begun to feel . . . a little too near-fetched.

Li said he saw several parallels between the violence and chaos in China decades ago and the animosity coursing through the United States today. In both cases, the countries turned inward, focusing more on defining the soul of their nations than on issues beyond their borders.

He said that both countries were also “torn apart by ideological struggles,” with kinships, friendships and business relationships being severed by political differences.

“Virtually all types of institutions, be it political, educational, or business, are exhausting their internal energy in dealing with contentious, and seemingly irreconcilable, differences in basic identities and values — what it means to be American,” he said in a subsequent email exchange. “In such an environment, identity trumps reason, ideology overwhelms politics, and moral convictions replace intellectual discourse.”

Li also pointed to the “big-character posters” — large, hand-painted propaganda slogans and calls to action — used during the Cultural Revolution to denounce purported enemies of the state and call for class struggle against them.

These find a contemporary counterpart in the hashtags and public pilings-on in social media, which also frequently leverages paranoia and mob rule. Today’s big (280) character posters — whether crafted by public figures, trolls, political groups or us laobaixing (commoners) — often take the form of calls for resignations or collective harassment, threats of violence and attacks on adversaries as “the enemy of the American People.”

Li didn’t mention these other similarities, but in both periods: Higher education is demonized. National symbols and cultural artifacts once seen as unifying, such as the Statue of Liberty and the American flag, become politicized. Specific words and ideas are stricken or bannedfrom government communiqués.

Both Mao’s decade-long tumult and today’s Cultural Revolution with American characteristics also feature cults of personality for the national leader, who thrives in the surrounding chaos. Each also gives his blessing, sometimes explicitly, for vigilantes to attack ideological opponents on his behalf.

But the most troubling parallel is the call for purges. Then, Mao and his allies led purges of political and military ranks, allegedly for seditious or just insufficiently loyal behavior. Today, White House officialsright-wing media hosts and federal lawmakers have called for a “cleansing” of the nation’s top law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, because the “deep state” is conspiring against the president. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2018 at 9:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Politics

Why American doctors keep doing expensive procedures that don’t work

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The procedures are ineffective and expensive, but doctors keep doing them, in part because doctors get their income (for the most part) from their fees: no procedure, no fee. The same applies to hospitals: if you’re not hospitalized, the hospital doesn’t make money.

Eric Patashnik reports in Vox:

The recent news that stents inserted in patients with heart disease to keep arteries open work no better than a placebo ought to be shocking. Each year, hundreds of thousands of American patients receive stents for the relief of chest pain, and the cost of the procedure ranges from $11,000 to $41,000 in US hospitals.

But in fact, American doctors routinely prescribe medical treatments that are not based on sound science.

The stent controversy serves as a reminder that the United States struggles when it comes to winnowing evidence-based treatments from the ineffective chaff. As surgeon and health care researcher Atul Gawande observes, “Millions of people are receiving drugs that aren’t helping them, operations that aren’t going to make them better, and scans and tests that do nothing beneficial for them, and often cause harm.”

Of course, many Americans receive too little medicine, not too much. But the delivery of useless or low-value services should concern anyone who cares about improving the quality, safety and cost-effectiveness of medical care. Estimates vary about what fraction of the treatments provided to patients is supported by adequate evidence, but some reviewsplace the figure at under half.

Naturally that carries a heavy cost: One study found that overtreatment — one type of wasteful spending — added between $158 billion and $226 billion to US health care spending in 2011.

The stunning news about stents came in a landmark study published in November, in The Lancet. It found that patients who got stents to treat nonemergency chest pain improved no more in their treadmill stress tests (which measure how long exercise can be tolerated) than did patients who received a “sham” procedure that mimicked the real operation but actually involved no insertion of a stent.

There were also no clinically important differences between the two groups in other outcomes, such as chest pain. (Before being randomized to receive the operation or the sham, all patients received six weeks of optimal medical therapy for angina, like beta blockers). Cardiologists are still debating the study’s implications, and more research needs to be done, but it appears that patients are benefitting from the placebo effect rather than from the procedure itself.

Once a treatment becomes popular, it’s hard to dislodge

Earlier cases in which researchers have called into question a common treatment suggest surgeons may push back against the stent findings. In 2002, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study demonstrating that a common knee operation, performed on millions of Americans who have osteoarthritis — an operation in which the surgeon removes damaged cartilage or bone (“arthroscopic debridement”) and then washes out any debris (“arthroscopic lavage”) — worked no better at relieving pain or improving function than a sham procedure. Those operations can go for $5,000 a shot.

Many orthopedic surgeons and medical societies disputed the study and pressed insurance companies to maintain coverage of the procedure. Subsequent research on a related procedure cast further doubt on the value of knee surgeries for many patients with arthritis or meniscal tears, yet the procedures remain in wide use.

Other operations that have continued to be performed despite negative research findings include spinal fusion (to ease pain caused by worn disks), and subacromial decompression, which in theory reduces shoulder pain.

There have been fitful efforts to improve the uptake of empirical studies of medical practices by doctors — one seemingly promising initiative being the “Choosing Wisely”campaign, launched in 2012 by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation in partnership with Consumer Reports. Its goal is to get medical societies to develop lists of treatments of minimal clinical benefit to patients.

But Choosing Wisely seems to have had little impact so far. One study of that campaign’s results examined seven procedures that have widely been shown to be ineffective, including imaging tests for “uncomplicated” headaches, cardiac imaging for patients without a history of heart problems, and routine imaging for patients with low-back pain. In the two-to-three-year period leading up to 2013, only two of the seven practices targeted for reduction showed any decrease at all in the US. (And the declines were tiny: The use of scans for those uncomplicated headaches decreased from 14.9 percent to 13.4 percent, for instance.) . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2018 at 9:39 am

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