Later On

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Archive for May 2018

High-protein diets are linked to heightened risk for heart disease, even for vegetarians

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Chase Purdy reports at Quartz:

For 20 years a team of researchers watched more than 2,400 Finnish men eat. What they learned gives us a glimpse into some of the long-term health effects of one of today’s most popular dieting fads.

The fascination with high-protein diets isn’t new. In the 1970s, American doctor Robert Atkins popularized the idea with his namesake eating plan, designed to help people lose weight fast. Today, similar regimens are still hitting the market. In April 2018, Pierre Dukan, a French doctor, introduced the Dukan Diet, which also emphasizes limited carbohydrate intake while promoting protein.

Despite the popularity of such diets, the research on how they impact heart health has been relatively scant. A new study, though, published this week by the American Heart Association, shows that eating a lot of protein—derived from both plants and animals—is linked to an elevated risk of cardiovascular failure. Even still, the University of Eastern Finland researchers who undertook the study noted in the paper that many unanswered questions about their findings remain. For example, it’s not yet clear how and why various amino acids abundant in animal protein sources often lead to poor heart function. Also left unanswered: why fermented dairy foods (which also contain protein) such as cheese are worse for heart health than unfermented dairy, such as milk.

This research project began in 1984, when scientists launched the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. As part of the study, scientists recruited 2,441 middle-aged and older men and tracked their daily protein consumption for an average of 22 years.

Each participant was assessed on how much dairy, animal, plant, and overall protein they ate. In each of those four categories, the participants were divided into four quartiles; the researchers then compared the top quartile in each category to the bottom quartile. So, for example, they looked at the risk of heart failure for the 25% who ate the most dairy protein compared to the 25% who ate the least dairy protein.

In general, a higher intake of protein was associated with a greater risk of heart failure. A total of 334 people experienced heart failure over the course of the research period. But those study participants who ate (and drank) the most dairy and animal protein sources had the highest risk for heart failure—and there was no correlation found between heart failure and consumption of fish and egg protein. The results give health experts even more reason to promote diets rich in vegetables, fish, beans, and nuts.

These findings are especially important for establishing policies and health guidance in wealthier countries, where protein consumption is typically higher than in poorer parts of the world. In the US, for instance, the average person eats about 100 grams (a little less than 0.25 lb) (paywall) of protein per day, about double the recommended amount given by the Institute of Medicine. Even vegans, who don’t eat meat, typically—in the US—consume 60 to 80 grams per day from foods such as beans, nuts, and broccoli.

All that protein contributes to broader heart health trends. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2018 at 7:07 pm

“Bye, Chrome: Why I’m switching to Firefox and you should too”

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Full disclosure: I write my blog in Firefox and use Opera as my regular browser. (Opera, like Chrome, is based on Chromium — the article at the link lists several such browsers, including Opera.)

Katharine Schwab writes in FastCo:

You’re probably sick of hearing about data and privacy by now–especially because, if you live in the United States, you might feel like there’s very little you can do to protect yourself from giant corporations feeding off your time, interests, and personal information.

So how do you walk the line between taking advantage of the internet’s many benefits while protecting yourself from the corporate interests that aim to use your data for gain? This is the push-and-pull I’ve had with myself over the past year, as I’ve grappled with the revelations that Cambridge Analytica has the personal data of more than 50 million Americans, courtesy of Facebook, and used it to manipulate people in the 2016 elections. I’ve watched companies shut down their European branches because Europe’s data privacy regulations invalidate their business models. And given the number of data breaches that have occurred over the past decade, there’s a good chance that malicious hackers have my info–and if they don’t, it’s only a matter of time.

While the amount of data about me may not have caused harm in my life yet–as far as I know–I don’t want to be the victim of monopolistic internet oligarchs as they continue to cash in on surveillance-based business models. What’s a concerned citizen of the internet to do? Here’s one no-brainer: Stop using Chrome and switch to Firefox.

Google already runs a lot of my online life–it’s my email, my calendar, my go-to map, and all my documents. I use Duck Duck Go as my primary search engine because I’m aware of how much information about myself I voluntarily give to Google in so many other ways. I can’t even remember why I decided to use Chrome in the first place. The browser has become such a default for American internet users that I never even questioned it. Chrome has about 60% of the browser market, and Firefox has only 10%. But why should I continue to use the company’s browser, which acts as literally the window through which I experience much of the internet, when its incentives–to learn a lot about me so it can sell advertisements–don’t align with mine?

Firefox launched in 2004. It’s not a new option among internet privacy wonks. But I only remembered it existed recently while reporting on data privacy. Unlike Chrome, Firefox is run by Mozilla, a nonprofit organization that advocates for a “healthy” internet. Its mission is to help build an internet in an open-source manner that’s accessible to everyone–and where privacy and security are built in. Contrast that to Chrome’s privacy policy, which states that it stores your browsing data locally unless you are signed in to your Google account, which enables the browser to send that information back to Google. The policy also states that Chrome allows third-party websites to access your IP address and any information that site has tracked using cookies. If you care about privacy at all, you should ditch the browser that supports a company using data to sell advertisements and enabling other companies to track your online movements for one that does not use your data at all.

Though Mozilla itself is a nonprofit, Firefox is developed within a corporation owned by the nonprofit. This enables the Mozilla Corporation to collect revenue to support its development of Firefox and other internet services. Ironically, Mozilla supports its developers using revenue from Google, which pays the nonprofit to have Google Search as Firefox’s default search engine. That’s not its sole revenue: Mozilla also has other agreements with search engines around the world, like Baidu in China, to be the default search engine in particular locations. But because it relies on these agreements rather than gathering user data so it can sell advertisements, the Mozilla Corporation has a fundamentally different business model than Google. Internet service providers pay Mozilla, rather than Mozilla having to create revenue out of its user base. It’s more of a subscription model than a surveillance model, and users always have the choice to change their search engine to whichever they prefer.

I spoke to Madhava Enros, the senior director of Firefox UX, and Peter Dolanjski, a product manager for Firefox, to learn more about how Mozilla’s browser builds privacy into its architecture. Core to their philosophy? Privacy and convenience don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Instead, Firefox’s designers and developers try to make the best decision on behalf of the user, while always leaning toward privacy first. “We put the user first in terms of privacy,” Dolanjski says. “We do not collect personally identifiable data, not what you do or what websites you go to.”

That’s not just lip service, like it often is when companies like Facebook claim that users are in control of their data. For instance, Firefox  protects you from being tracked by advertising networks across websites, which has the lovely side effect of making sites load faster. “As you move from website to website, advertising networks essentially follow you so they can see what you’re doing so they can serve you targeted advertisements,” Dolanjski says. “Firefox is the only [major] browser out of the box that prevents that from happening.” The browser’s Tracking Protection feature automatically blocks a list of common trackers in private browsing mode and can be enabled to run all the time, something you need a specific, third-party browser extension to do on Chrome.

The “out of the box” element of Firefox’s privacy protection is crucial. Chrome does give you many privacy controls, but the default for most of them is to allow Google to collect the greatest amount of information about you as possible. For instance, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2018 at 3:17 pm

Mitch McConnell Committed a Judicial Heist and Blames Obama for His Crime

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Here is a story about how the Republican Party violated governing norms, and lied about it, and ultimately convinced themselves that the crime they committed was actually committed against them.

The story comes to us today via George F. Will, who has given up his Republican Party identity out of dismay at the crassness of Donald Trump, but who remains mostly loyal to the party’s congressional wing. In his Washington Post column today, Will lavishes praise upon Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who deftly outmaneuvered Democratic attempts to pack the federal courts. “To prevent Republicans from reciprocating with filibusters against Obama’s packing-by-enlargement of the nation’s second-most-important court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Democrats changed Senate rules to bar filibusters of judicial nominees other than those for the Supreme Court,” writes Will. “McConnell removed that pointless exemption to make possible the confirmation of Neil M. Gorsuch.”

So the history, as described by Will today, is:
1. Obama enlarged the D.C. Circuit Court, to create more seats he could fill with his nominees
2. Republicans retaliated by filibustering his judicial nominees
3. Senate Democrats changed the rules to eliminate the filibuster of Court nominees, except for the Supreme Court
4. McConnell eliminated the exception for filibustering the Supreme Court

First, Step 1 never happened. It is a pure figment of Will’s imagination — or, far more likely, it is a lie McConnell told Will that Will uncritically conveys. Court-packing is a pretty serious violation of political norms — if one party can change the number of seats on a court, they can quickly seize the ability to manipulate its power balance.

But Obama did not propose enlarging the D.C. Circuit. Instead, he nominated judges to fill three existing vacancies. Republican senators filibustered these nominees. Republicans didn’t argue that Obama’s choices were unqualified or too extreme. Instead they took the novel position that Obama had no right to nominate anybody, and instituted a blanket filibuster against all his nominees for the court. They proposed to eliminate the three open seats, which was itself a form of court-packing: Altering the number of seats on a court in order to manipulate its balance is court-packing, whether it’s done by adding to or subtracting from the number of seats.

In an Orwellian twist, Republicans at the time described Obama’s plan to nominate judges for the existing vacancies as “court-packing.” Again, as Politifact pointed out at the time, Obama was not packing the court, because nobody had ever described filling existing vacancies as “court-packing.” Now, the McConnell version passed on by Will today not only repeats the lie that Obama “packed” the courts, it extends it by pretending Obama wanted to add new seats to the court.

The rest of Will’s narrative is hardly more accurate. Republicans didn’t “reciprocate” Obama’s completely imaginary court-packing by filibustering his judicial nominees. They instituted a filibuster of all his nominees first. Democrats then retaliated by eliminating the judicial filibuster. Once Republicans won a Senate majority in 2014, they slowed down judicial confirmations to a historically low rate, coming close to their total blockade without quite approaching it.

Of course, the broader point of Will’s column is true. By gleefully smashing governing norms, McConnell cleared dozens of vacancies in the courts which he has helped Trump to fill. Lying about how he did it is simply the crowning touch. The Republican Party has . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2018 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Media

Looking for Life on a Flat Earth

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Alan Burdick reports in the New Yorker:

On the last Sunday afternoon in March, Mike Hughes, a sixty-two-year-old limousine driver from Apple Valley, California, successfully launched himself above the Mojave Desert in a homemade steam-powered rocket. He’d been trying for years, in one way or another. In 2002, Hughes set a Guinness World Record for the longest ramp jump—a hundred and three feet—in a limo, a stretch Lincoln Town Car. In 2014, he allegedly flew thirteen hundred and seventy-four feet in a garage-built rocket and was injured when it crashed. He planned to try again in 2016, but his Kickstarter campaign, which aimed to raise a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, netted just two supporters and three hundred and ten dollars. Further attempts were scrubbed—mechanical problems, logistical hurdles, hassles from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Finally, a couple of months ago, he made good. Stuff was leaking, bolts needed tightening, but at around three o’clock, and with no countdown, Hughes blasted off from a portable ramp—attached to a motorhome he’d bought through Craigslist—soared to nearly nineteen hundred feet, and, after a minute or so, parachuted less than gently back to Earth.

For all of that, Hughes might have attracted little media attention were it not for his outspoken belief that the world is flat. “Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is,” he told the Associated Press. “Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up in space.”

Hughes converted fairly recently. In 2017, he called in to the Infinite Plane Society, a live-stream YouTube channel that discusses Earth’s flatness and other matters, to announce his beliefs and ambitions and ask for the community’s endorsement. Soon afterward, The Daily Plane, a flat-Earth information site (“News, Media and Science in a post-Globe Reality”), sponsored a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than seventy-five hundred dollars on Hughes’s behalf, enabling him to make the Mojave jump with the words “Research Flat Earth” emblazoned on his rocket.

To be clear, Hughes did not expect his flight to demonstrate Earth’s flatness to him; nineteen hundred feet up, or even a mile, is too low of a vantage point. And he doesn’t like that the mainstream media has portrayed things otherwise. This flight was just practice. His flat-Earth mission will come sometime in the future, when he will launch a rocket from a balloon (a “rockoon”) and go perhaps seventy miles up, where the splendor of our disk will be evident beyond dispute.

If you are only just waking up to the twenty-first century, you should know that, according to a growing number of people, much of what you’ve been taught about our planet is a lie: Earth really is flat. We know this because dozens, if not hundreds, of YouTube videos describe the coverup. We’ve listened to podcasts—Flat Earth Conspiracy, The Flat Earth Podcast—that parse the minutiae of various flat-Earth models, and the very wonkiness of the discussion indicates that the over-all theory is as sound and valid as any other scientific theory. We know because on a clear, cool day it is sometimes possible, from southwestern Michigan, to see the Chicago skyline, more than fifty miles away—an impossibility were Earth actually curved. We know because, last February, Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics point guard, told us so. “The Earth is flat,” he said. “It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” We know because, last November, a year and a day after Donald Trump was elected President, more than five hundred people from across this flat Earth paid as much as two hundred and forty-nine dollars each to attend the first-ever Flat Earth Conference, in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Look around you,” Darryle Marble, the first featured speaker on the first morning of the conference, told the audience. “You’ll notice there’s not a single tinfoil hat.” He added, “We are normal people that have an abnormal perspective.”

The unsettling thing about spending two days at a convention of people who believe that Earth is flat isn’t the possibility that you, too, might come to accept their world view, although I did worry a little about that. Rather, it’s the very real likelihood that, after sitting through hours of presentations on “scientism,” lightning angels, and nasa’s many conspiracies—the moon-landing hoax, the International Fake Station, so-called satellites—and in chatting with I.T. specialists, cops, college students, and fashionably dressed families with young children, all of them unfailingly earnest and lovely, you will come to actually understand why a growing number of people are dead certain that Earth is flat. Because that truth is unnerving.

The November conference was held in a darkened ballroom of an Embassy Suites near the Raleigh airport. Dozens of rows of chairs had been set out and nearly all were filled. To my right, a young couple with a stroller listened intently; a man in front of me wore a T-shirt with the words “They Lied” across the back. Onstage, Marble recounted his awakening. Marble is African-American and was one of a handful of people of color in the room. He had enlisted in the Army and gone to Iraq after 9/11; when he returned home, to Arkansas, he “got into this whole conspiracy situation,” he said.

For two years, Marble and his girlfriend drank in YouTube. “We went from onething to another to another—Sandy Hook, 9/11, false flags,” he said. “We got into the Bilderberg, Rothschilds, Illuminati. All these general things that one ends up looking into when you go on here, because you look at one video and then another suggestion pops up along the same lines.” Finally, he had to step away. “You come to a place where you start to feel that reality is just kind of scary,” he said. “You’ll find out that nothing, ultimately, is what it seems to be. I hit my low point, where everything was just terrifying.”

Marble found the light in his YouTube sidebar. While looking for videos related to “Under the Dome,” a TV sci-fi drama, he came across “Under the Dome,” a two-hour film, which takes the form of a documentary, by Mark K. Sargent, one of the leading flat-Earth proselytizers. The flat-Earth movement had burbled along in relative darkness until February of 2015, when Sargent uploaded “Flat Earth Clues,” a series of well-produced videos that, the Enclosed World site notes, “delves into the possibility of our human civilization actually being inside a ‘Truman Show’-like enclosed system, and how it’s been hidden from the public.” (Access to those videos and more is available on Sargent’s personal Web site, for ten dollars a month.) It announced itself as “a Reader’s Digest version” of the flat-Earth theory; Marble watched it over and over, all weekend.

“Each thing started to make that much more sense,” he said. “I was already primed to receive the whole flat-Earth idea, because we had already come to the conclusion that we were being deceived about so many other things. So of course they would lie to us about this.”

If we can agree on anything anymore, it’s that we live in a post-truth era. Facts are no longer correct or incorrect; everything is potentially true unless it’s disagreeable, in which case it’s fake. Recently, Lesley Stahl, of “60 Minutes,” revealed that, in an interview after the 2016 election, Donald Trump told her that the reason he maligns the press is “to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.” Or, as George Costanza put it, coming from the opposite direction, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

The flat Earth is the post-truth landscape. As a group, its residents view themselves as staunch empiricists, their eyes wide open. The plane truth, they say, can be grasped in experiments that anyone can do at home. For instance, approach a large body of water and hold up a ruler to the horizon: it’s flat all the way across. What pond, lake, or sea have you ever seen where the surface of its waters curves? Another argument holds that, if Earth were truly spherical,  . . .

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“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2018 at 2:38 pm

A primer on fentanyl(s)

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Mark Kleiman posts at The Reality-Based Community:

The synthetic opioids – usually referred to both in the press and by law enforcement as “fentanyl” – have now outstripped not only the prescription opioids such as oxycodone but also heroin in terms of overdose deaths, and (as you can see below) the trend line is almost vertical.

Keith Humphreys warns of “fentanyl’s potential to permanently alter illegal drug markets.”

Kevin Drum asks about the causes of the change:   “Fentanyl has been around for a long time, and only recently has its use become widespread. Why?”

Why, I thought you’d never ask. Settle back; this is a complicated story, and it’s going to take a while to tell. But Keith is right: this is a BFD. So it’s worth understanding.

First, a little bit of chemistry and pharmacology. “Fentanyl,” in its precise use, is the name of a single molecule. It’s a purely synthetic opioid: that is, it binds to the same μ opioid receptors as do oxycodone or heroin and has most of the same effects, but it’s not made from the opium produced by the poppy plant; its raw materials are chemicals, not crops. It’s about thirty times as “potent” as morphine: that is it takes about thirty times as much morphine as it does fentanyl to get the same pain relief. (Here’s a handy chart.) Morphine is the standard reference molecule here; note that both diamorphine (heroin) and oxycodone are about 1.5x as potent as morphine itself. Potency also varies with route of administration; injection is about 3x as effective as swallowing a pill.

For a person who hasn’t developed a tolerance (and who enjoys the emotional effects of opioids: most people don’t) 5mg. of oxycodone (by mouth) is enough to get high on; that’s also the dose that will handle moderate pain, and the amount in a Percocet. That same person would likely get the same effect with about 1-1.5 mg. of injected heroin.  But it would only take about 1/20th of a milligram – that’s 50 micrograms – of injected fentanyl.

In medical practice, injected fentanyl is most common as part of surgical anaesthesia; as a pain reliever – generally for people with severe, chronic pain – it’s more usually administered as a transdermal patch from which the molecule gradually leaches into the bloodstream, or as a lozenge.

But the “parent” fentanyl compound turns out to be one member of a very large chemical family, known generically as “fentanyls,” each with its own name and a varying set of pharmacological properties. Some of them are astoundingly potent: carfentanil, for example, has something like 100 times the potency of fentanyl itself, which makes the effective dose for a human a fraction of a microgram. (And yes, it’s literally used – in dart guns – as an elephant tranquilizer.) Legally, those other molecules are “fentanyl analogues.”

The opioids as a class have what is known as a “narrow therapeutic window,” where the “window” is the range between the median effective dose (ED50) – the dose that’s has the desired effect in half the population – and the median lethal dose (LD50). The larger the LD50/ED50 ratio (the wider the “window”) the safer the drug will be in terms of overdose risk.

For the opioids, the ratio (also called the “therapeutic index”) is typically about six, which sounds like a reasonable margin of safety until you remember that individuals differ, that individual vulnerabilities differ from occasion to occasion (especially with the presence of other drugs, notably alcohol), and that people make mistakes, especially when drugs are made and distributed illicitly rather than in pharmaceutical factories and taken by people who are not always operating at their cognitive peak.  Given all that, a factor of six is an uncomfortably narrow window.

The narrow therapeutic window explains why overdose death is so much more common with the opiods than with the stimulants or the benzos or alcohol. And the smaller the intended dose, the harder it is to measure out precisely.  So high potency, which can be an advantage clinically (allowing less painful injections and the use of things like transdermal patches) can be a nightmare on the street. To make things even worse, neither users nor dealers have reliable ways of knowing just what’s in the white powder they’re consuming or selling: someone who injects what he thinks is the right dose of heroin, but has in fact purchased fentanyl, is likely to stop breathing. Even someone who intends to take fentanyl could die if he’s actually been given, say, 3-methylfentanil or some other high-potency analogue.

Which – finally – brings us back to Kevin’s question: “Why is this stuff just getting popular now?” Fentanyl was patented as a pharmaceutical nearly 60 years ago. It was in limited use as a street drug – some diverted from medical use, some illicitly synthesized (back then, mostly domestically) by the early 1980s. From a trafficker’s viewpoint, high potency meant high value-to-bulk, making it much easier to ship illegally without getting caught. But from a user’s viewpoint, it was Russian Roulette. A street dealer buying fentanyl from a higher-level supplier and “stepping on it” – diluting it with mostly inert chemicals – would have needed remarkable skill to ensure that every dose had just 50 micrograms of the active agent and that none had the 300 micrograms – roughly the weight of a grain of table salt – that could be deadly. So fentanyl never really caught on.

At the same time, the price of heroin started to fall, and kept falling. In 1979, a milligram of pure heroin delivered to an illegal consumer in the U.S. sold for about $2.40; that’s something like $9 in today’s money. Today, that same milligram sells for something less than a quarter. The causes of that decline – and similar declines seen over the same time period in the prices of cocaine and cannabis (adjusted for its rising potency) – aren’t entirely clear. It certainly hasn’t been for want of vigorous enforcement; we have about thirty times as many drug dealers behind bars today as we had in 1980 (450,000 v. about 15,000). My guess is that it’s mostly learning-by-doing: over time, drug dealers develop smoother and smoother procedures for doing business and avoiding enforcement, helped along by the falling prices of transportation and information and the rising volume of international and long-distance commerce. (Falling homicide rates also reduced one major risk of drug-selling.)

Then we got hit with the wave of prescription-opioid (mostly hydrocodone and oxycodone) diversion and dependency that started around 1992 and was accelerated by the introduction of Oxycontin in 1996, and its relentless marketing by Purdue Pharma. The widespread availability of diverted prescription opioids – available in pharmaceutical bottles, in every neighborhood, often from friends or at least from people who didn’t look as scary as old-fashioned heroin dealers, and cheap enough to be taken orally rather than by the more efficient, but ickier, injection route – created a widespread national demand for opioids. As those oxycodone users built up habits they could no longer afford, or lost access to their favorite script-happy M.D. or “pill mill” pharmacy, the falling price of heroin enticed many of them to “trade down.” Milligram-for-milligram, heroin cost about a quarter as much as oxycodone (25 cents vs. a dollar). The 2011 reformulation of Oxycontin – a high-dose, time-release form of oxycodone, whose time-release feature turned out to be trivially easy to circumvent and which could be dissolved and then injected – into a less-easily-abusable form accelerated the transition from pills to strictly illegal street drugs.

At the same time, people in the U.S. were learning how to buy chemicals unavailable here – banned drugs, cheap unbranded pharmaceuticals, Human Growth Hormone, you name it – by mail-order from illicit or quasi-licit outfits in China, ordering over the Internet (and, when law enforcement made that dangerous, over the “Dark Web”) often paying in cryptocurrencies. Instead of using complicated smuggling schemes, sellers simply put these products in the mail; for about $20, you can get a package of up to four pounds mailed from China to New York.

It didn’t take long for some of those Chinese outfits to start making fentanyl; unlike heroin dealers, they didn’t need a source of opium. The chemistry involved isn’t especially challenging (not, for example, like making LSD). Fifty grams  of fentanyl – just over an ounce and a half – has the punch of a kilogram of heroin, and it’s way, way cheaper.

Somewhere in here someone figured out a technique for diluting the stuff with enough accuracy to reduce the consumer’s risk of a fatal overdose: far from perfectly, but enough to create a thriving market. (I don’t know what that technique is, though I can think of at least one way to do the trick.) And for a retail heroin dealer, the financial savings from buying fentanyl (or an analogue) rather than heroin, and the convenience of having the material delivered directly by parcel post rather than having to worry about maintaining an illegal “connection,” constituted an enormous temptation. More sophisticated . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2018 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Business, Drug laws

No more robocalls—if your carrier is listed

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Ours, unfortunately, is not, but it’s worth a look if you dislike robocalls.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2018 at 11:10 am

Puerto Rico, an American tragedy (thanks to an incompetent president)

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David Leonhardt reports in the NY Times:

Puerto Rico. When President Trump traveled to Puerto Rico last October after Hurricane Maria, he touted the storm’s low death toll as proof that his administration had done its job well. “Every death is a horror,” he said. “But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina … what is your death count, as of this moment? 17?”

He was very wrong.

The true death toll could exceed 4,600, according to a study published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine that appears to be the most rigorous count yet. Many of the victims likely died from delayed medical care, which is something that a competent government response could have avoided. Puerto Rico’s fatality count is now more than twice as high as the Katrina count that Trump called a “real catastrophe.”

It’s easy to overlook Puerto Rico with everything else going on — the latest news about Trump’s apparent efforts to obstruct justice, his continuing criticism of his own attorney general and so on. But I urge you to not forget Puerto Rico. Here is a selection of commentary on the new study:

“There are life-and-death consequences to putting someone like Donald Trump in command of the federal government,” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie writes. “The profound failure of leadership and management that Trump’s critics feared has actually happened, and we are just now learning the scale of that disaster.”

“If we had a responsible Congress that took oversight seriously there would be a top-to-bottom review” of the administration’s response, writesThe Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. “But don’t hold your breath.”

On Twitter, Refinery29’s Andrea González-Ramírez has compiled a list of the dead and invites others to add their loved ones’ names. “Most of these deaths were preventable,” she writes.

Puerto Rico’s crisis isn’t only Trump’s fault. As NPR’s Laura Sullivan has documented for Frontline, decades of irresponsible loans, lack of oversight from Washington and bad financial decisions by Puerto Rico’s leaders also played a role. They hurt the island’s economy and infrastructure, worsening the hurricane’s impact.

The study’s methodology is unavoidably imprecise, explains The Atlantic’s Vann R. Newkirk II. The actual toll could be higher or lower than 4,600. Almost certainly, though, “Hurricane Maria is one of the most significant and destructive natural disasters in recent American history,” he writes.

About 30,000 people in Puerto Rico still lack electricity, Emily Atkin of The New Republic notes. They lack it, she explains, because of a combination of government incompetence and neglect.

This year’s hurricane season starts Friday. Several vulnerable areas in the United States, including Puerto Rico, seem prepared to distribute food and water more quickly than last year. But many dangers remain. “We have not fixed the underlying major problem, which is an utterly non-resilient infrastructure that at the end of the day will determine how much suffering there is after a large storm,” Irwin Redlener, the director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told Atkin.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2018 at 10:35 am

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