Later On

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

Archive for July 23rd, 2018

Second Nordic walking lesson

leave a comment »

Second Nordic walking lesson, and the last for a while. The instructor took videos from the side and it was evident I was not swinging my arms back enough. She said that those muscles were weak from disuse and I was judging extension by effort: misleading.

If you do this, videos of your style are useful since you can step back, as it were, and view your performance from a distance.

Tomorrow I will have a 15-day streak so Pedometer++ will give me another little award (no monetary value, alas). But adding a lesson to my regular day’s walk certainly adds up: see histogram at left. 29.4 miles this week. Not bad.

Nordic walking links and discussion in this post.

Update: I no longer use the Pedometer++ app. The Eldest gave me an Amazfit Band 5, and I find that it provides much more information, including route (on a map), distance, time, speed, calories burned, and average and maximum heart rates. Here’s my review. New update: I’m hooked on a fitness tracker, but not the Amazfit Band 5 — see the link where I review it.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 7:35 pm

Isn’t Trump supposed to DEFEND the Constitution? Trump is attacking the First Amendment again

leave a comment »

Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

Never let it be said this administration learns from past losses or takes the Constitution seriously. The Post reports:

President Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of a handful of former officials who have been critical of his rhetoric and actions toward Russia, the White House announced Monday, in a move that immediately prompted claims of political retaliation.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the officials being examined are former CIA director John Brennan; former FBI director James B. Comey; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden; former national security adviser Susan E. Rice; former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.; and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

Not all these individuals have security clearances. But regardless, the attempt to squelch criticism of the administration based on the content of these ex-officials’ speech is a blatant violation of the First Amendment. “Despite the great latitude given the president in national security matters, and particularly on clearances, this is a new low,” says former White House counsel Norman Eisen. “It is so transparently based upon personal and political retaliation.” He continues, “It brings to mind other Trump classifications found unconstitutional by courts, including on First Amendment grounds, like the first Muslim ban or the Twitter ban. Because of the extreme deference to the executive here, court redress might be tough to obtain — but Trump and team are certainly creating an extremely unflattering evidentiary record.”
It also recalls an embarrassing legal loss in which a federal court instructed Trump not to block people on Twitter based on their political views. In May U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald ruled:

Our inquiry into whether the speech at issue is protected by the First Amendment is straightforward. The individual plaintiffs seek to engage in political speech . . . and such “speech on matters of public concern” “fall within the core of First Amendment protection,” Engquist v. Ore. Dep’t of Agric., 553 U.S. 591, 600 (2008) . . . .
Here, the individual plaintiffs were indisputably blocked as a result of viewpoint discrimination. The record establishes that “[s]hortly after the Individual Plaintiffs posted the tweets . . . in which they criticized the President or his policies, the President blocked each of the Individual Plaintiffs” . . .  and defendants do “not contest Plaintiffs’ allegation that the Individual Plaintiffs were blocked from the President’s Twitter account because the Individual Plaintiffs posted tweets that criticized the President or his policies.” The continued exclusion of the individual plaintiffs based on viewpoint is, therefore, impermissible under the First Amendment.

So it should also go with the notion that ex-officials would have privileges revoked because they dare criticize a president. Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me, “This is probably the clearest and most indefensible of Trump’s First Amendment violations.” He observes, “The idea that it could be covered up vis-à-vis the courts by blanket claims that national security is at issue strikes me as highly implausible.” He continues, “If the president [were] to make individualized findings that one of the officials he seeks to deprive . . . of security clearance has in fact [abused] the privilege of using that security clearance by releasing classified information, that would be another thing. But to take an enemies list of this kind and threaten every member of it the way the president has done makes Nixon’s enemies list look trivial by comparison.”
Constitutional lawyer Joshua Matz, who with Tribe co-authored To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment, concurs. “The president properly enjoys great latitude in controlling access to sensitive information, but Trump’s use of that power to retaliate against political critics poses a clear threat to First Amendment values. That is most clearly true to the extent Trump is establishing and acting pursuant to a policy of punishing former officials for protected political speech,” he tells me. He explains that “allowing Trump to allocate security clearance based solely on agreement with his positions will deprive the American people of vital information and analysis. It will also cast a chill far beyond the executive branch, leading some of our most savvy experts to fall silent or speak in whispers for fear of presidential retaliation.”
Trump’s threat is outrageous but not surprising. In threatening to “revoke” NBC’s license, casting the media as the enemy of the people, muzzling scientific panels and attempting to use the U.S. Post Office to punish Amazon for The Post’s coverage (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Post), Trump has aligned himself with a raft of illiberal strongmen who have recently won elections in Eastern Europe (and of course Turkey, Russia and other blatantly undemocratic countries).
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, tweets, “Politicizing security clearances to retaliate against former national security officials who criticize the President would set a terrible new precedent. An enemies list is ugly, undemocratic and un-American.” He adds, “Is there no length Trump will not go to stifle opposition? Wake up GOP.” That’s unlikely anytime soon.
Protect Democracy’s Roadmap for Renewal, released on July 4, warned against “threats against critics of the presidency, or government actions that bully private individuals.” The report recommends that legal redress for government retaliation against dissenters be strengthened, a proposal that certainly seems prescient. In the short run, robust criticism from the public and Congress should rebuke the president. Ultimately, however, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 5:13 pm

Ominous report: Trump Administration Neuters Nuclear Safety Board

leave a comment »

Rebecca Moss reports in ProPublica:

The Trump administration has quietly taken steps that may inhibit independent oversight of its most high-risk nuclear facilities, including some buildings at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a Department of Energy document shows.

An order published on the department’s website in mid-May outlines new limits on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — including preventing the board from accessing sensitive information, imposing additional legal hurdles on board staff, and mandating that Energy Department officials speak “with one voice” when communicating with the board.

The board has, by statute, operated independently and has been provided largely unfettered access to the nation’s nuclear weapons complexes in order to assess accidents or safety concerns that could pose a grave risk to workers and the public. The main exception has been access to the nuclear weapons themselves.

For many years, the board asked the Department of Energy to provide annual reviews of how well facilities handled nuclear materials vulnerable to a runaway chain reaction — and required federal officials to brief the board on the findings. It also has urged the energy secretary not to restart certain nuclear operations at various sites until work could be done safely.

At Los Alamos, the board has conducted ongoing reviews of the plutonium facility, holding hearings in Santa Fe and in recent years identifying imminent and “major deficiencies” in the building that could put the public at risk in the event of an earthquake. The lab sits on an active and complex geological fault system capable of causing a high magnitude quake.

The Energy Department’s order is the latest effort to limit transparency and weaken the board’s ability to conduct oversight, experts and critics say. And it represents another step by the Trump administration to stall or halt the work done by advisory boards and committees across the federal government, including a scientific advisory board at the Environmental Protection Agency and several of the Department of Labor’s advisory committees established to protect worker safety and health.

“This administration is very regressive,” said Robert Alvarez, who helped draft the legislation that created the board in the 1980s as a senate staff expert for Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, and subsequently served as senior policy adviser for former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. “We shouldn’t have to wait for something to blow up or catch fire in order to pay attention to a safety problem.”

The Department of Energy did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but said in a presentation that the order will increase efficiency and decrease costs. “This order does not hinder cooperation with the board or to prevent them from accomplishing their safety oversight responsibilities,” the presentation said. A spokesman for the safety board also declined comment on the order, saying it was in the Energy Department’s purview. The spokesman said the board and staff are waiting to see how it “shakes out.”

The five-member board was formed in 1988 near the close of the Cold War, as the public and Congress began to question the lack of accountability at the Department of Energy and its predecessor agencies, which since the end of the Manhattan Project had made their own rules and been entirely self-regulating. At the time, there were reports of widespread radiological contamination at the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado and problems at other nuclear facilities. The board’s formation also came on the heels of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Chernobyl, Alvarez said, showed the lax conditions in which nuclear power and materials were being manufactured both in the then-Soviet Union and the United States, and the calamity that could arise from an accident. The board was born out of that understanding, and now relies on a staff of more than 100, several of whom are stationed at lab sites. These staffers create weekly one-page reports that outline mishaps and near-misses and help inform larger recommendations.

The board does not have regulatory power, but for the first two decades of its life, all of its recommendations were adopted by the energy secretary.

Now, Alvarez said, the Department of Energy is trying to “isolate and fence off” the board’s access, part of a “constant effort to chip away at the ability of the board to do oversight.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in an email that the board is integral to New Mexico’s weapons labs. The board also oversees facilities in California, Washington state, South Carolina and other states.

“We have seen too many serious safety and security lapses at DOE nuclear sites to accept any attempts to weaken” the board, Udall said, adding that he wants to preserve the board’s “critical role as an independent watchdog for public health and safety.”

He said he will be asking the Department of Energy for a “full account” of how the changes will affect worker safety and public health.

The safety board’s very existence — and its ability to provide nuclear safety information to the public — has been threatened in recent years, advocates of the board say. Last summer, for example, the board’s then-chairman proposed dissolving the board entirely. A few months later, the National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of the Energy Department that oversees the nation’s nuclear stockpile, said less information should be made public by the board.

Last September, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 12:56 pm

Study Ties Autism to Maternal High Blood Pressure, Diabetes

leave a comment »

Certainly as more in the US are obese, more develop (type 2) diabetes, and we also see an increase in the number of autistic children. Nicholette Zeliadt writes in Scientific American:

Children born to women who had diabetes or high blood pressure while pregnant are at an increased risk of autism, two new studies suggest.

Autism has previously been linked to type 2 diabetes and to gestational diabetes—a temporary condition in which a woman develops diabetes during the course of her pregnancy.

One of the new studies confirms these risks and extends the link to type 1, or juvenile, diabetes, the most severe form of the condition. Children born to women with this form have about twice the risk of autism as those born to women who do not have any form of diabetes. The findings appeared 3 July in JAMA.

They suggest that children born to women with diabetes should be monitored closely for autism, says lead investigator Anny Xiang, director of biostatistics research at Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena.

In the other study, published in June in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers reviewed 61 reports on the link between developmental conditions and types of high blood pressure, including preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication involving high blood pressure.

Overall, the new work suggests that children whose mothers had preeclampsia have a 50 percent higher risk of autism than controls do. Previous studies have not consistently linked autism to preeclampsia, but the new findings solidify the connection.

“There seems to be some pretty solid evidence that hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are associated with autism,” says Diana Schendel, professor of public health and epidemiology at Aarhus University in Denmark, who was not involved in either study.

Still, the increase in risk from either maternal condition is small. For example, the blood pressure study suggests that only about 1.5 percent of children born to women with preeclampsia have autism, compared with about 1 percent of children in the general population.

And neither study provides insights into the mechanisms underlying the links. It is possible that genetics underlies the associations, Schendel says.

Xiang and her colleagues analyzed the medical records of 419,425 children born in Kaiser Permanente hospitals in southern California from 1995 to 2012. Of those, 621 children were born to women with type 1 diabetes.

Among the 5,827 children later diagnosed with autism, 19 have mothers with type 1 diabetes. The researchers estimate that children born to women with type 1 diabetes have more than double the average risk of autism. Type 2 diabetes boosts the risk by about 45 percent, and gestational diabetes before the 27thweek of pregnancy by 30 percent. (Gestational diabetes later in pregnancy has no effect on autism risk.)

Xiang’s team controlled for potentially confounding variables, including the child’s birth year and sex, as well as maternal age, education, income, race and history of chronic health conditions.

The finding that type 1 diabetes carries a greater risk of autism than other forms suggests that the severity of the condition may influence risk, Xiang says.

The three forms of diabetes have distinct causes, but all of them result in high blood sugar. Xiang says she would like to explore whether blood sugar levels independently track with autism risk.

In the other study, researchers analyzed 61 studies linking maternal high blood pressure to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other developmental conditions; 20 focused on autism and 10 on ADHD.

They pooled the results from the 11 most rigorous autism studies and found that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 12:44 pm

The big gains for women’s rights in the Middle East, explained

leave a comment »

Benjamin G. Bishin and Feryal M. Cherif have an interesting article in the Washington Post. Who are they?

Benjamin G. Bishin is professor of political science at University of California, Riverside, and author of  “Tyranny of the Minority: The Subconstituency Politics Theory of Representation.

Feryal M. Cherif is associate professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University and author of “Myths About Women’s Rights: How, Where and Why Rights Advance.”

Their article begins:

Saudi Arabia, under the initiative of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, gave women in the kingdom the right to drive.
Saudi Arabia has been the only country in the world to ban women from driving — an internationally recognized symbol of unequal status. Along with the ability to drive has come new rights and freedoms: the ability to join the military, work in intelligence services and attend sporting events and concerts. A senior cleric even commented that women should not be required to wear the abaya.
Saudi Arabia is in good company. Across the Middle East and North Africa, countries have been upgrading women’s rights. Since 2011, nearly every country in North Africa has adopted a gender quota, in which parties are required to nominate a minimum percentage of women as candidates for office, to increase women’s representation in politics. In Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Yemen and Morocco, women can now pass on citizenship to their children, and Lebanon may soon join this list. The region has seen widespread repeal of laws letting rapists escape punishment if they marry their victims. And nine countries adopted laws against domestic violence.

Why are Middle Eastern countries advancing women’s rights — and why have they lagged for so long? Many observers have blamed women’s inequality on religion, specifically Islam. Our research finds that these explanations are too simplistic, as we will explain.
Religious explanations fall short.
Some observers argue that women’s inequality in Muslim-majority countries, particularly in places like Saudi Arabia, is because of Islam — implying that reform will come only if more liberal interpretations emerge or these nations secularize. Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris find that gender inequality is more prevalent in societies where Islam is the dominant faith. Muslims living in the West appear to hold more patriarchal views than non-Muslims, suggesting that inequality adheres to the religion’s teachings or values.
But if religion is a primary factor, then individuals and statesmen should conform to Islam’s tenets — even where Islamic texts call for equality between the sexes.
In a recent Comparative Politics paper, we find that when Islam dictates support for women’s rights — such as the right to own and manage property — Muslim-majority nations may be reluctant to extend or enforce these rights. We examined three aspects of women’s property rights — the right to own and manage property, to inherit, and to own land — using data from the OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index, which examines these rights in both law and practice.
Dominant Sunni and Shiite jurisprudence agree that women have equal rights to acquire and manage property — but that they should inherit half as much as men. Islamic law’s distinction among property rights allows us to examine whether it is religion or the presence of other patriarchal institutions, as other scholars contend, that limits women’s rights. We find that countries tend to discriminate against women by applying religious norms in inheritance rights — but for property rights where Islam enjoins equality, the practice is more mixed. This inconsistency suggests that religion-based explanations fall short.

The rights to education and employment plus women’s activism make a big difference in women’s rights.
So if religion isn’t the limitation, what can change women’s status? In “Myths About Women’s Rights: How, Where and Why Rights Advance,” one of us, Feryal Cherif, examines two theories for why cultures advance gender equality.
The first is what we call “core rights”: that women’s rights to education and employment are the building blocks with which to begin political organizing for equality, developing a group sense of fairness (or the lack thereof), and building public support for women’s equal socioeconomic standing. This gives politicians, pundits and other domestic elites reasons to support women’s rights.
The second theory is that women’s rights advocacy fosters change as domestic and international activists promote new norms of equality by publicizing nations’ practices — both those that treat women equally and those that lag — and pressuring governments to conform to global standards.
Our research shows that these theories are consistent with the recent advances in gender equality in Saudi Arabia and the region at large. Examining women’s property rights in 41 Muslim-majority countries, we find that women are likely to enjoy more secure property rights in countries where, first, women have greater access to education and second, where there are dense networks of women’s-rights activists. Where women are more aware of their rights, better positioned to challenge male kin, and have the socioeconomic power to hold politicians accountable, their property rights are stronger.
That’s true as well for the Saudi Arabian expansion of women’s rights, including the right to drive. It is probably not a coincidence that, over the decades, the gap between Saudi Arabian boys’ and girls’ education has substantially narrowed.
And it’s true in many other Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries, where girls outperform boys in school and enroll in universities at higher rates than boys. Moreover, an increasing number of Arab women have joined the labor force — albeit not yet at levels as high as global averages. Even in Saudi Arabia, with its extreme and unique forms of gender segregation, women are working in more and more fields. And with the ability to drive, more women will be able to seek employment.
In addition to core rights, women’s-rights activism has also substantially increased in the Middle East and North Africa in the past few decades. Between 1980 and 2015, the number of women’s-rights groups operating in the region nearly tripled. Some scholars and reporters have argued that advocacy campaigns and global pressure have helped push MENA nations toward gender equality. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 12:24 pm

The Neuroscience of Pain

leave a comment »

Nicola Twilley reports in the New Yorker:

On a foggy February morning in Oxford, England, I arrived at the John Radcliffe Hospital, a shiplike nineteen-seventies complex moored on a hill east of the city center, for the express purpose of being hurt. I had an appointment with a scientist named Irene Tracey, a brisk woman in her early fifties who directs Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and has become known as the Queen of Pain. “We might have a problem with you being a ginger,” she warned when we met. Redheads typically perceive pain differently from those with other hair colors; many also flinch at the use of the G-word. “I’m sorry, a lovely auburn,” she quickly said, while a doctoral student used a ruler and a purple Sharpie to draw the outline of a one-inch square on my right shin.

Wearing thick rubber gloves, the student squeezed a dollop of pale-orange cream into the center of the square and delicately spread it to the edges, as if frosting a cake. The cream contained capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the burn of chili peppers. “We love capsaicin,” Tracey said. “It does two really nice things: it ramps up gradually to become quite intense, and it activates receptors in your skin that we know a lot about.” Thus anointed, I signed my disclaimer forms and was strapped into the scanning bed of a magnetic-resonance-imaging (MRI) machine.

The machine was a 7-Tesla MRI, of which there are fewer than a hundred in the world. The magnetic field it generates (teslas are a unit of magnetic strength) is more than four times as powerful as that of the average hospital MRI machine, resulting in images of much greater detail. As the cryogenic units responsible for cooling the machine’s superconducting magnet clicked on and off in a syncopated rhythm, the imaging technician warned me that, once he slid me inside, I might feel dizzy, see flashing lights, or experience a metallic taste in my mouth. “I always feel like I’m turning a corner,” Tracey said. She explained that the magnetic field would instantly pull the proton in each of the octillions of hydrogen atoms in my body into alignment. Then she vanished into a control room, where a bank of screens would allow her to watch my brain as it experienced pain.

During the next couple of hours, I had needles repeatedly stuck into my ankle and the fleshy part of my calf. A hot-water bottle applied to my capsaicin patch inflicted the perceptual equivalent of a third-degree burn, after which a cooling pack placed on the same spot brought tear-inducing relief. Each time Tracey and her team prepared to observe a new slice of my brain, the machine beeped, and a small screen in front of my face flashed the word “Ready” in white lettering on a black background. After each assault, I was asked to rate my pain on a scale of 0 to 10.

Initially, I was concerned that I was letting the team down. The capsaicin patch hardly tingled, and I scored the first round of pinpricks as a 3, more out of hope than conviction. I needn’t have worried. The patch began to itch, then burn. By the time the hot-water bottle was placed on it, about an hour in, I was surely at an 8. The next set of pinpricks felt as if I were being run through with a hot metal skewer.

“You’re a good responder,” Tracey told me, rubbing her hands together, when I emerged, dazed. “And you’ve got a lovely plump brain—all my postdocs want to sign you up.” As my data were sent off for analysis, she pressed a large cappuccino into my hands and gently removed the capsaicin with an alcohol wipe.

Tracey didn’t need to ask me how it had gone. The imaging-analysis software, designed in her department and now used around the world, employs a color scale that shades from cool to hot, with three-dimensional pixels coded from blue through red to yellow, depending on the level of neural activity in a region. Tracey has analyzed thousands of these “blob maps,” as she calls them—scans produced using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Watching a succession of fiery-orange jellyfish flaring up in my skull, she had seen my pain wax and wane, its outlines shifting as mild discomfort became nearly unbearable agony.

For scientists, pain has long presented an intractable problem: it is a physiological process, just like breathing or digestion, and yet it is inherently, stubbornly subjective—only you feel your pain. It is also a notoriously hard experience to convey accurately to others. Virginia Woolf bemoaned the fact that “the merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.” Elaine Scarry, in the 1985 book “The Body in Pain,” wrote, “Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it.”

The medical profession, too, has often declared itself frustrated at pain’s indescribability. “It would be a great thing to understand Pain in all its meanings,” Peter Mere Latham, physician extraordinary to Queen Victoria, wrote, before concluding despairingly, “Things which all men know infallibly by their own perceptive experience, cannot be made plainer by words. Therefore, let Pain be spoken of simply as Pain.”

But, in the past two decades, a small number of scientists have begun finding ways to capture the experience in quantifiable, objective data, and Tracey has emerged as a formidable figure in the field. By scanning several thousand people, healthy and sick, while subjecting them to burns, pokes, prods, and electric shocks, she has pioneered experimental methods to survey the neural landscape of pain. In the past few years, her work has expanded from the study of “normal” pain—the everyday, passing experience of a stubbed toe or a burned tongue—to the realm of chronic pain. Her findings have already changed our understanding of pain; now they promise to transform its diagnosis and treatment, a shift whose effects will be felt in hospitals, courtrooms, and society at large.

The history of pain research is full of ingenious, largely failed attempts to measure pain. The nineteenth-century French doctor Marc Colombat de l’Isère evaluated the pitch and rhythm of cries of suffering. In the nineteen-forties, doctors at Cornell University used a heat-emitting instrument known as a “dolorimeter” to apply precise increments of pain to the forehead. By noting whenever a person perceived an increase or decrease in sensation, they arrived at a pain scale calibrated in increments of “dols,” each of which was a “just-noticeable difference” away from the adjacent dols. Last year, scientists at M.I.T. developed an algorithm called DeepFacelift, which attempts to predict pain scores based on facial expressions.

The most widely adopted tools rely on the subjective reports of sufferers. In the nineteen-fifties, a Canadian psychologist named Ronald Melzack treated “an impish, delightful woman in her mid-seventies” who suffered from diabetes and whose legs were both amputated. She was tormented by phantom-limb pain, and Melzack was struck by her linguistic resourcefulness in describing it. He began collecting the words that she and other patients used most frequently, organizing this vocabulary into categories, in an attempt to capture pain’s temporal, sensory, and affective dimensions, as well as its intensity. The result, published two decades later, was the McGill Pain Questionnaire, a scale comprising some eighty descriptors—“stabbing,” “gnawing,” “radiating,” “shooting,” and so on. The questionnaire is still much used, but there have been few surveys of its efficacy in a clinical setting, and it’s easy to see how one person’s “agonizing” could be another person’s “wretched.” Furthermore, a study by the sociologist Cassandra Crawford found that, after the questionnaire’s publication, clinical descriptions of phantom-limb pain shifted dramatically, implying that the assessment device was, to some extent, informing the sensations it was intended to measure.

Meanwhile, as the historian Joanna Bourke has shown, in her book “The Story of Pain,” attempts to translate the McGill Pain Questionnaire into other languages have revealed the extent to which cultural context shapes language, which, in turn, shapes perception. In mid-century Montreal, Melzack’s talkative diabetic might have described a migraine as lacerating or pulsing, but the Sakhalin Ainu traditionally rated the intensity of pounding headaches in terms of the animal whose footsteps they most resembled: a bear headache was worse than a musk-deer headache. (If a headache was accompanied by a chill, it was described with an analogy to sea creatures.)

By far the most common tool used today to measure pain is the one I employed in the scanner: the 0-to-10 numerical scale. Its rudimentary ancestor was introduced in 1948, by Kenneth Keele, a British cardiologist, who asked his patients to choose a score between 0 (no pain) and 3 (“severe” pain). Over the years, the scale has stretched to 10, in order to accommodate more gradations of sensation. In some settings, patients, rather than picking a number, place a mark on a ten-centimetre line, which is sometimes adorned with cheerful and grimacing faces.

In 2000, Congress declared the next ten years the “Decade of Pain Control and Research,” after the Supreme Court, rejecting the idea of physician-assisted suicide as a constitutional right, recommended improvements in palliative care. Pain was declared “the fifth vital sign” (alongside blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and temperature), and the numerical scoring of pain became a standard feature of U.S. medical records, billing codes, and best-practice guides.

But numerical scales are far from satisfactory. In Tracey’s MRI machine, my third-degree burn felt five points more intense than the initial pinpricks, but was it really only two points less than the worst I could imagine? Surely not, but, having never given birth, broken any bones, or undergone serious surgery, how was I to know?

The self-reported nature of pain scores leads, inevitably, to their accuracy being challenged. “To have great pain is to have certainty,” Elaine Scarry wrote. “To hear that another person has pain is to have doubt.” That doubt opens the door to stereotyping and bias. The 2014 edition of the textbook “Nursing: A Concept-Based Approach to Learning” warned practitioners that Native Americans “may pick a sacred number when asked to rate pain,” and that the validity of self-reports will likely be affected by the fact that Jewish people “believe that pain must be shared” and black people “believe suffering and pain are inevitable.” Last year, the book’s publisher, Pearson, announced that it would remove the offending passage from future editions, but biases remain common, and study after study has shown shocking disparities in pain treatment. A 2016 paper noted that black patients are significantly less likely than white patients to be prescribed medication for the same level of reported pain, and they receive smaller doses. A group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that women are up to twenty-five per cent less likely than men to be given opioids for pain.

In addition, once pain assessment became a standard feature of American medical practice, doctors found themselves confronted with an apparent epidemic of previously unreported agony. In response, they began handing out opioids such as OxyContin. Between 1997 and 2010, the number of times the drug was prescribed annually grew more than eight hundred per cent, to 6.2 million. The disastrous results in terms of addiction and abuse are well known.

Without a reliable measure of pain, physicians are unable to standardize treatment, or accurately assess how successful a treatment has been. And, without a means by which to compare and quantify the dimensions of the phenomenon, pain itself has remained mysterious. The problem is circular: when I asked Tracey why pain has remained so resistant to objective description, she explained that its biology is poorly understood. Other basic sensory perceptions—touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing—have been traced to particular areas of the brain. “We don’t have that for pain,” she said. “We still don’t know exactly how the brain constructs this experience that you absolutely, unarguably know hurts.”

Irene Tracey has lived in Oxford almost all her life. She was born at the old Radcliffe Infirmary, went to a local state school, and studied biochemistry at the university. Her husband, Myles Allen, is an Oxford professor, too, in charge of the world’s largest climate-modelling experiment, and they live in North Oxford, in a semidetached house comfortably cluttered with their children’s sports gear and schoolwork. In 1990, Tracey embarked on her doctorate at Oxford, using MRI technology to study muscle and brain damage in patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. At the time, the fMRI technique that she used to map my brain in action was just being developed. The technique tracks neural activity by measuring local changes associated with the flow of blood as it carries oxygen through the brain. A busy neuron requires more oxygen, and, because oxygenated and deoxygenated blood have different magnetic properties, neural activity creates a detectable disturbance in the magnetic field of an MRI scanner.

In 1991, a team at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, showed its first, grainy video of a human visual cortex “lighting up” as the cortex turned impulses from the optic nerve into images. Captivated, Tracey applied for a postdoctoral fellowship at M.G.H., and began working there in 1994, using the MRI whenever she could. When Allen, at that time her boyfriend, visited from England one Valentine’s Day, she cancelled a trip they’d planned to New York to take advantage of an unexpected open slot on the scanner. Allen spent the evening lying inside the machine, bundled up to keep warm, while she gazed into his brain. He told me that he had intended to propose to Tracey that day, but saved the ring for another time.

It was toward the end of her fellowship in Boston that Tracey first began thinking seriously about pain. Playing field hockey in her teens, she’d had her first experience of severe pain—a knee injury that required surgery—but it was a chance conversation with colleagues in a pain clinic that sparked her scientific interest. “It was just one of those serendipitous conversations that you find yourself in, where this whole area is opened up to you,” she told me. “It was, like, ‘God, this is everything I’ve been looking for. It’s got clinical application, interesting philosophy, and we know absolutely nothing.’ I thought, Right, that’s it, pain is going to be my thing.”

By then, Tracey had been recruited to return home and help found the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain. Scientists had already largely given up on the idea of finding a single pain cortex: in the handful of fMRI papers that had been published describing brain activity when a person was burned or pricked with needles, the scans seemed to show that pain involved significant activity in many parts of the brain, rather than in a single pocket, as with hearing or sight. Tracey’s plan was to design a series of experiments that picked apart this larger pattern of activity, isolating different aspects of pain in order to understand exactly what each region was contributing to the over-all sensation.

In 1998, while her lab was being built, she took her first doctoral student, a Rhodes Scholar named Alexander Ploghaus, to Canada, their scientific equipment packed in their suitcases, to use a collaborator’s MRI machine for a week. Their subjects were a group of college students, including several ice-hockey players, who kept bragging about how much pain they could take. While each student was in the scanner, Tracey and Ploghaus used a homemade heating element to apply either burns or pleasant heat to the back of the left hand, as red, green, and blue lights flashed on and off. The lights came on in a seemingly random sequence, but gradually the subjects realized that one color always presaged pain and another was always followed by comfortable warmth. The resulting scans were striking. Throughout the experiment, the subjects’ brain-activity patterns remained consistent during moments of pain, but, as they figured out the rules of the game, the ominous light began triggering more and more blood flow to a couple of regions—the anterior insula and the prefrontal cortices. These areas, Tracey and Ploghaus concluded, must be responsible for the anticipation of pain.

Showing that the experience of pain could be created in part by anticipation, rather than by actual sensation, was the first experimental step in breaking the phenomenon down into its constituent elements. “Rather than just seeing that all these blobs are active because it hurts, we wanted to understand, What bit of the hurt are they underpinning?” Tracey said. “Is it the localization, is it the intensity, is it the anticipation or the anxiety?” During the next decade, she designed experiments that revealed the roles played by various brain regions in modulating the experience of pain. She took behavioral researchers’ finding that distraction reduces the perception of pain—as when a doctor tells a child to count backward from ten while receiving an injection—and made it the basis of an experiment that showed that concentrating on a numerical task suppressed activity in several regions that normally light up during pain. She examined the effects of depression on pain perception—people suffering from depression commonly report feeling more pain than other people do from the same stimulus—and demonstrated that this, too, could change the distribution and the magnitude of neural activity.

One of her most striking experiments tested the common observation that religious faith helps people cope with pain. Comparing the neurological responses of devout Catholics with those of atheists, she found that the two groups had similar baseline experiences of pain, but that, if the subjects were shown a picture of the Virgin Mary (by Sassoferrato, an Italian Baroque painter) while the pain was administered, the believers rated their discomfort nearly a point lower than the atheists did. When the volunteers were shown a secular painting (Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine”), the two groups’ responses were the same. The implications are potentially far-reaching, and not only because they suggest that cultural attitudes may have a neurological imprint. If faith engages a neural mechanism with analgesic benefits—the Catholics showed heightened activity in an area usually associated with the ability to override a physical response—it may be possible to find other, secular ways to engage that circuit.

Tracey’s research had begun to explain why people experience the same pain differently and why the same pain can seem worse to a single individual from one day to the next. Many of her findings simply  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 11:40 am

Carter Page FISA warrants underscore the difficulty of disproving presidential falsehoods

leave a comment »

James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: The truth gets lost in the tweets. If you repeat a falsehood enough times, many people will believe it. Especially if you have 53.2 million Twitter followers, the bully pulpit of the presidency and some media outlets that uncritically repeat your false claims.

It’s been 503 days since President Trump falsely claimed that he had “just found out” Barack Obama ordered his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower before the 2016 election. “This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted. “This is Nixon/Watergate.”

This astonishing accusation caught White House aides off guard, who scrambled on a Saturday to figure out what he was talking about. They discovered that right-wing pundit Mark Levin had made the claim without evidence on his radio show. Breitbart, then at the zenith of its influence, highlighted Levin’s comments. Someone placed a printout of their article in Trump’s reading pile. And, presto, a conspiracy theory from the fever swamps was injected into the national conversation.

Loath to admit when he is wrong, Trump has spent the past 16 months determined to prove that he was at least partially correct about being under surveillance by the Obama administration. The president has repeatedly asserted that he’s been vindicated when he has not, and it’s become a central part of the White House’s strategy to undermine the credibility of special counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation. Trump is trying it again this morning.

The Justice Department on Saturday released a previously classified application to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who was under suspicion by the FBI of being engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia. The government included redacted copies of the initial warrant application from October 2016 and three 90-day extensions of the warrant that were approved by judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Trump surely knows that very few people will take the time to study a 412-page tranche of heavily redacted FISA warrants released on a summer Saturday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuitIt’s hard to imagine that the president himself pored over the files, as opposed to watching the “Fox & Friends” coverage of them.

In a string of four Sunday tweets, Trump made demonstrably false assertions about what’s in the documents. He insisted that the warrants “confirm with little doubt that the Department of ‘Justice’ and FBI misled the courts.” “Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC,” Trump tweeted. “An illegal Scam! … Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam! … ILLEGAL!”

He continued to hammer on this theme Monday morning, live-tweeting quotes from an appearance by Tom Fitton of the pro-Trump group Judicial Watch on “Fox & Friends.” Trump claimed the revelations are “a disgrace to America”: “They should drop the discredited Mueller Witch Hunt now!”

In fact, the release of the FISA warrants further undermines the credibility of the partisan memo that Trump declassified in February from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Contrary to one of the memo’s central claims, the warrants show that the judges were told that the source of the so-called dossier had political motivations. While most of the warrants are still redacted, it’s also clear that the FBI was basing its request on more than just what former British spy Christopher Steele told them.

“The Nunes memo accused the FBI of dishonesty in failing to disclose information about Steele, but in fact the Nunes memo itself was dishonest in failing to disclose what the FBI disclosed,” writes David Kris, a former assistant attorney general for national security, on Lawfare. “Now we can see that the footnote disclosing Steele’s possible bias takes up more than a full page in the applications, so there is literally no way the FISA Court could have missed it.

The warrant also shows that the government told the judges after officials discovered Steele went to the press with the dossier. (He notified reporters about the dossier after FBI Director James Comey disclosed the discovery of emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop in the Hillary Clinton investigation in October 2016). “According to the FISA applications, Steele complained that Comey’s action could influence the election,” Kris notes. “But when Steele went to the press, it caused FBI to close him out as an informant — facts which are disclosed and cross-referenced in the footnote in bold text.”

Moreover, Page was no longer associated with the Trump campaign by the time the FISA warrant was approved — so this cannot really be considered surveillance on the Trump campaign. And Obama was not involved in authorizing the surveillance.

The Nunes memo also falsely claimed that a Yahoo News article was used to corroborate the dossier, even though Steele had been the source. In fact, the article was cited in a section on “Page’s Denial of Cooperation with the Russian Government.” It was used to lay out an argument against the warrant.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said the newly disclosed materials show that the FBI followed the law and had “a lot of reasons unrelated to the dossier” for why it wanted to monitor Page.

“I have a different view on this issue than the president and the White House,” Rubio said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “They did not spy on the campaign from anything that I have seen. You have an individual here who has openly bragged about his ties to Russia and Russians. … And the FBI’s job is to protect this country from threats … So they look at all this information. They say: We have a guy here who’s always in Russia, brags about Russia, and we have reason to believe — and they list those reasons — why this is someone we should be watching. And they followed the legal process by which to do so.”

With the release of the warrants, we’ve also finally learned the identity of the four judges who signed off on the FISA warrants. All were appointed by Republican presidents and put onto the special FISA court by Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a GOP appointee. Anne Conway was picked by George H.W. Bush, Rosemary Collyer and Michael Mosman were tapped by George W. Bush and Raymond Dearie was chosen by Ronald Reagan. Each of them concluded that the government had demonstrated “probable cause” that Page was acting as an agent of the Kremlin. Two of the surveillance requests were also signed off by Trump appointees at the Justice Department, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

On Sunday, Trump approvingly quoted a conservative pundit who said on TV that the judges who authorized the warrants should be looked at, not just the FBI agents who sought the wiretaps. This represents just the latest in a string of attacks by the president on judges, including GOP nominees.

Scott Hechinger, a public defender in Brooklyn, clerked for Dearie, the Reagan appointee. “He’s no rubber stamp,” Hechinger wrote in a string of impassioned tweets defending his former boss: “If you look him up on judge rating websites, the consensus is in line w/ reality: An incredibly good man. A fair jurist. Smart & knowledgeable about the law. One ‘flaw’ — takes too long to render decisions. I saw why firsthand. He always wanted to make sure he got the law right.

“He took no pleasure in the deprivation of liberty,” Hechinger added. “On ‘sentencing days,’ he’d lock his door for hours. Indeed, the only time his door in chambers was ever closed. He took the obligation of sending someone away really seriously. He felt it. Doesn’t matter what you were accused of.

“The allegations from Trump about FISA have long burned me up,” he concluded. “I’m sure it has him too (though he is incredibly tight lipped about his FISA service). … And in the case of approving surveillance of Carter Page, I know he applied the same care, allegiance to the Constitution, fairness, and deliberation he put into every decision big or small I ever saw him make.”

Even as more and more facts undercut Trump’s declarations, the president’s insistence that there was illegal spying on his campaign has broken through and been accepted by millions of Americans. Several polls have shown that huge numbers of Americans, especially Republicans, buy it.

An April 2017 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 32 percent of Americans thought the Obama administration intentionally spied on the Trump campaign, while 58 percent said it did not spy. A slight 52 percent majority of Republicans said the Obama administration did so.

How the question is worded matters. A CBS poll conducted around the same time found a larger 47 percent of Americans and 69 percent of Republicans thought it was very or somewhat likely Trump’s offices were wiretapped or under government surveillance during the 2016 campaign.

A more recent poll, from this February, by TIPP/IBD found that 54 percent of the people who say they have followed news about the FBI and DOJ’s role in 2016 closely – a group that makes up 72 percent of adults – said it is very or somewhat likely that the “previous administration” improperly surveilled the Trump campaign in 2016. That suspicion rose to 87 percent among Republicans.

Fresh polls released this weekend did not ask about surveillance, but they show how tribalism continues to heavily shape people’s perceptions. A Post-ABC poll conducted Wednesday through Friday finds that, overall, 33 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of his meeting with Vladimir Putin while 50 percent disapprove. “The new Post-ABC poll finds 40 percent saying Trump went ‘too far’ in supporting Putin. However, almost as many — 35 percent — say Trump handled Putin ‘about right,’ while an additional 15 percent say he did not go far enough to support Putin,” Scott Clement and Dan Balz report:

  • Democrats, liberals and college graduates are the only groups in the poll among whom a majority say Trump went too far in supporting Putin. Among Democrats, 83 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of the meeting, while among Republicans, 66 percent approve of Trump’s performance.
  • A bare majority of Republicans in the new poll — 51 percent — approve of Trump expressing doubts about U.S. intelligence conclusions on Russian election interference. But a smaller 31 percent disapprove, with 18 percent offering no opinion. Among Democrats, 78 percent disapprove of what Trump said about U.S. intelligence findings, as do 59 percent of independents.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.


Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 10:29 am

A frightful scenario: Trump is under the sway of a hostile foreign power

leave a comment »

Jennifer Rubin has a hard-hitting column in the Washington Post:

After President Trump’s ghastly performance in Helsinki, a few sober conservatives joined a wide assortment of Democrats in observing that it is not irrational to presume that Trump is in some way “compromised.” Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), a former CIA agent, wrote in the New York Times on Thursday:

Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.

The president’s failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans. By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.

In other words, Trump is acting an awful lot like a man under the sway of a hostile foreign power. Hurd is not alone in thinking this.

Former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) observed Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “The worst — the worst possible thing you can do is give information from your own words that they can use against the credibility of our intelligence and defense services around the world. That’s exactly what the Russians are doing.” He added: “They’re taking the president’s words. They’re injecting it into the influence operations and that’s causing a problem.” Trump, in other words, is acting no differently from the way an effective Russian asset would.

A third Republican steeped in national intelligence matters agrees. NPR reports:

A GOP Congressman and former FBI agent says he thinks President Trump was manipulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Brian Fitzpatrick told NPR’s Michel Martin on “All Things Considered” that he drew that conclusion after the two leaders appeared in Helsinki.

“The president was manipulated by Vladimir Putin,” Fitzpatrick said. “Vladimir Putin is a master manipulator.” …

Fitzpatrick sits on the House committees on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security. In his previous role as an FBI special agent, he said he was assigned to Ukraine and worked on counterintelligence, collecting Russian propaganda reports.

He told Martin he was “frankly sickened by the exchange” between Trump and Putin.

The congressman, who represents Pennsylvania’s 8th District, said he shared his view with former CIA agent and fellow House Republican Will Hurd of Texas. Hurd wrote recently in The New York Times that Trump “actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign.”

The voters at large have figured out that Russia is not a friend that deserves the benefit of the doubt. According to the most recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, “65 percent of voters believe the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election (up 12 points from a year ago); 41 percent say the interference affected the election’s outcome (up 8 points from a year ago); and 30 percent think Democrat Hillary Clinton would have won without the interference (up 6 points from last year).” Trump, however, continues to stick with Putin’s line that the investigation into Russian manipulation of our election is all a “hoax.”

Perhaps the Russia investigation will solve the mystery of exactly what Putin has on Trump — or whether Trump’s solicitude is settlement of a debt (figuratively, if not literally) for bailing him out when he couldn’t get U.S. banks to lend him money in the 2000s. It hardly matters what precisely is the source of leverage — or even if Trump personally and privately colluded with Russians in the campaign. (He did so publicly in calling for Russia to release emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee; his son, son-in-law and campaign chief Paul Manafort did so by meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer for the purpose of getting “dirt” on Clinton.) Rather, the crucial problem is what to do about a president beholden to a hostile power.

Democracy activist and former Russian chess impresario Garry Kasparovknows a thing or two about Russian intelligence operations. “While it’s irresistible to theorize about what exactly Putin has on Trump to keep him on such a tight leash, it’s more important to accept the fact that it is happening,” he writes. “With the Mueller investigation indicting more Russian agents and a potential Democratic takeover in the midterm elections threatening to curtail Trump’s authority, Putin is rushing to squeeze everything he can from his prized Oval Office asset before it is devalued.” He warns, “Aside from a few notable exceptions like Sens. John McCain, Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse, the Republicans in Congress have been far too quiet. They are afraid of losing in primaries to Trumpist extremists, and fear has made them swallow their tongues. Many of these quietly critical Republicans hope to outlast Trump by not confronting him and his voters.”

This “dangerous delusion,” as Kasparov describes it, results not only from naivete but also from Republicans’ self-interest. They fear the GOP base; they cannot bring themselves to admit that they have enabled a pro-Russian operator. They surely don’t want a full accounting of Russian infiltration of the National Rifle Association. In their refusal to admit error and risk the wrath of the increasingly irrational GOP base, these lawmakers turn their foolish bet — that they would mitigate Trump’s unfitness to serve in order to obtain policy goals — into a conscious decision to put partisanship over country at a time that Russia continues to wage a cyberwar against our democracy. (As #NeverTrump conservative Charles Sykes puts it, “Many Republicans have rationalized their support for Trump by pointing to tax cuts, rollbacks in regulation and Trump’s appointments of conservative judges. But last week reminded us how many of their values they have been willing to surrender.”)

It’s not only politicians who have fallen into this trap. Upwards of 80 percent of GOP voters support Trump, and a throng of conservative media apologists insist daily that it has all been worth it (to get tax cuts or judges or whatever). Now, however, the issue is not whether it was “worth it” to have a racist president, or an irrational one, or one who wasn’t Hillary Clinton, but whether it was worth it to elect a president who takes the side of a hardened enemy of the United States. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 10:20 am

Finally: Experts Explain the Truth About Lead and Flint

leave a comment »

It wasn’t nearly so bad as it was made out to be. Read Kevin Drum’s post.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 10:06 am

What Mueller Knows About the DNC Hack—And Trump Doesn’t

leave a comment »

Thomas Rid writes in the Washington Monthly:

n Helsinki on Monday, President Donald Trump stood feet away from Russian President Vladimir Putin and fielded a simple question from an AP reporter: Whose account of the 2016 election does he believe—that of Putin, who claims Russia did not interfere in the U.S. presidential election, or every major U.S. intelligence agency, which have unanimously concluded that it did?

In response, the president brought up a well-rehearsed conspiracy theory implying that after being hacked, the Democratic National Committee refused to help the FBI investigation, and that therefore all evidence implicating Russia in election meddling was shaky. “You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server,” Trump said. “Why didn’t they take the server? Where is the server, I want to know, and what is the server saying?”

Trump’s view is unmoored from reality in several ways.

Three days earlier, special counsel Robert Mueller published an indictment of 12 officers from the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election, including by hacking into the DNC. The indictment is historically unprecedented in scope and detail. The FBI named-and-shamed two specific GRU units, their commanding officers and 10 subordinate officers while revealing stunning details of Russia’s hacking tradecraft. And a close read of it all shows why Trump’s “DNC didn’t give the server to the FBI” conspiracy theory makes no sense.

First off, CrowdStrike, the company the DNC brought in to initially investigate and remediate the hack, actually shared images of the DNC servers with the FBI. For the purposes of an investigation of this type, images are much more useful than handing over metal and hardware, because they are bit-by-bit copies of a crime scene taken while the crime was going on. Live hard drive and memory snapshots of blinking, powered-on machines in a network reveal significantly more forensic data than some powered-off server removed from a network. It’s the difference between watching a house over time, carefully noting down who comes and goes and when and how, versus handing over a key to a lonely boarded-up building. By physically handing over a server to the FBI as Trump suggested, the DNC would in fact have destroyed evidence. (Besides, there wasn’t just one server, but 140.)

An advanced investigation of an advanced hacking operation requires significantly more than just access to servers. Investigators want access to the attack infrastructure—the equivalent to a chain of getaway cars of a team of burglars. And the latest indictments are rich with details that likely come from intercepting command-and-control boxes (in effect, bugging those getaway cars) and have nothing to do with physical access to the DNC’s servers.

The FBI and Robert Mueller’s investigators discovered when and how specific Russian military officers logged into a control panel on a leased machine in Arizona. They found that the GRU officers secretly surveiled an empoyee of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee all day in real time, including spying on “her individual banking information and other personal topics.” They showed that “Guccifer 2.0,” the supposed lone hacker behind the DNC hack, was in fact managed by a specific GRU unit, and even reconstructed the internet searches made within that unit while a GRU officer with shoddy English skills was drafting the first post as Guccifer 2.0. None of this information could have possibly come from any DNC server.

With help from the broader intelligence community, the FBI was able to piece all these details together into the bigger picture of the GRU’s vast hacking effort. The complexity of high-tempo, high-volume hacking campaigns means that attackers can make myriad mistakes; Mueller’s latest indictments reveal just how successful American investigators have been at exploiting those repeated errors and uncovering more and more information about what Russia did.

The Russian spies, for example, reused a specific account for a virtual private network (a purportedly secure communication link) to register deceptive internet domains for the DNC hack, as well as to post stolen material online under the Guccifer 2.0 front. Cryptocurrency payments—the kind the Russians used to pay for registering the site and their VPN—were neither as anonymous nor as secure as the GRU thought they would be. Third-party platforms including Google, Twitter and the link-shortening service Bitly were convenient and reliable for Russian hackers, but they could also be subpoenaed. Mueller’s team did exactly that, reconstructing how, when and how frequently Russian intelligence officers communicated with WikiLeaks, which they used as an outlet for the stolen material. The Russians weren’t even particularly careful: WikiLeaks and the Russians officers, in a major cock-up, encrypted the hacked emails, but did not encrypt the details of their collaboration. And in using a Bitly account to automate the shortened links sent out to targets of their email-phishing scheme, the GRU left an investigative gold mine: a vast target list of more than 10,000 potential victims’ email addresses.

American spies could even watch the Russian spies trying, in vain, to cover their tracks, likely in real time. Indeed, the Russian officers made so many mistakes that it is almost surprising the GRU even tried to be stealthy. The U.S. intelligence community has stunning visibility into GRU hacking operations—not just against the DNC, but against the Hillary Clinton campaign, the DCCC and state election infrastructure. The notion that all this high-resolution visibility hinges on physical access to “the DNC server” defies logic or even a basic understanding of what is actually happening.

The Mueller indictment of GRU officers is so detailed and comprehensive that it represents a major humiliation for what used to be one of the world’s most respected intelligence agencies. One can imagine laughter over at FSB and SVR, Russia’s other intelligence agencies, which are traditionally fierce rivals of GRU.

But in Helsinki, that laughter found a new target, as the president missed Mueller’s brilliant pass and turned it into a major American own goal. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 10:02 am

Trump administration officials dismissed benefits of national monuments

leave a comment »

Juliet Eilperin has a report in the Washington Post that vividly describes how the Trump administration is simply not doing its job, which is to represent and protect the interests of the American people. She writes:

In a quest to shrink national monuments last year, senior Interior Department officials dismissed evidence that these public lands boosted tourism and spurred archaeological discoveries, according to documents the department released this month and retracted a day later.

The thousands of pages of email correspondence chart how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides instead tailored their survey of protected sites to emphasize the value of logging, ranching, and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated as national monuments.

Comments that the department’s Freedom of Information Act officers made in the documents show that they sought to keep some of the references out of public view because they were “revealing [the] strategy” behind the review.

Presidents can establish national monuments in federal land or waters if they determine that cultural, historical or natural resources are imperiled. In April, President Trump signed an executive order instructing Zinke to review 27 national monuments established over a period of 21 years, arguing that his predecessors had overstepped their authority in placing these large sites off-limits to development.

Trump has already massively reduced two of Utah’s largest national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, and has not ruled out altering others.

The new documents show that as Zinke conducted his four-month review, Interior officials rejected material that would justify keeping protections in place and sought out evidence that could buttress the case for unraveling them.

On July 3, 2017, Bureau of Land Management official Nikki Moore wrote colleagues about five draft economic reports on sites under scrutiny, noting that there is a paragraph within each on “our ability to estimate the value of energy and/or minerals forgone as a result of the designations.” That reference was redacted on the grounds it could “reveal strategy about the [national monument] review process.”

Officials also singled out BLM acting deputy director John Ruhs’s July 28 response to questions from Katherine MacGregor, acting assistant secretary of lands and minerals management, as eligible to be redacted. MacGregor had asked about the logging potential of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument if Trump reversed the expansion that Barack Obama carried out at the end of his second term.

“Previous timber sale planning and development in the [expansion area] can be immediately resumed,” Ruhs wrote.

Zinke proposed removing some of the forested areas within Cascade-Siskiyou, where three mountain ranges and several distinct ecosystems intersect, to “allow sustained-yield timber production.” Trump has yet to alter the site, which was established by Bill Clinton as a 65,000-acre monument and then enlarged by nearly 48,000 acres days before Obama left office.

These redactions came to light because Interior’s FOIA office sent out a batch of documents to journalists and advocacy groups on July 16 that they later removed online.

“It appears that we inadvertently posted an incorrect version of the files for the most recent National Monuments production,” officials wrote July 17. “We are requesting that if you downloaded the files already to please delete those versions.”

Aaron Weiss, a spokesman for the advocacy group Center for Western Priorities, said in an email that the “botched document dump reveals what we’ve suspected all along: Secretary Zinke ignored clear warnings from his own staff that shrinking national monuments would put sacred archaeological and cultural sites at risk.”

“Trying to hide those warnings from the public months later is disgraceful and possibly illegal,” Weiss added.

Asked for comment, Interior Department officials said they were looking into the matter.

The inadvertently released documents show that department officials dismissed some evidence that contradicted the administration’s push to revise national monument designationswhich are made under the 1906 American Antiquities Act. Estimates of increased tourism revenue, analyses that existing restrictions had not hurt fishing operators and agency reports that less vandalism occurred as a result of monument designations were all set aside.

On Sept. 11, 2017, Randal Bowman, the lead staffer for the review, suggested deleting language that most fishing vessels near the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument “generated 5% or less of their annual landings from within the monument” because it “undercuts the case for the ban being harmful.”

Robert B. Vanasse, who represents groups that have lobbied to allow commercial fishing in national marine monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, said Trump administration officials have been more open to outside input than their predecessors.

“They had a lot of meetings with our folks but didn’t listen,” he said of Obama officials, adding that even some Massachusetts Democratic lawmakers objected to the New England marine monument.

Department officials also redacted the BLM’s assessment that “it is unlikely” that the Obama administration’s establishment of the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument “has impacted timber production” because those activities were permitted to continue.

In response to questions about Grand Staircase-Escalante, BLM wrote that “less inventory” of cultural sites would have occurred without the 1996 monument designation, noting that more than twice as many sites are now identified each year than before. “More vandalism would have occurred without Monument designation,” it states, noting that four visitors centers were established to help protect the area.

P. David Polly, the president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and a professor of sedimentary geology at Indiana University, said in an interview that “there’s specific funding that comes” with a monument designation, which BLM itself identified in its submission as one of the reasons behind the “increase” in archaeological finds.

Polly added that the funding also accounts for why the number of paleontological finds in Grand Staircase-Escalante has risen from a few hundred before 1996 to “several thousand.”

“This funding will disappear for the areas that are no longer in the monument,” he said.

Agencies typically incorporate material submitted through public comments into their regulatory proposals, but documents released under the FOIA earlier this year show that Bowman told colleagues in a May 2017 webcast that “barring a surprise, there is no new information that’s going to be submitted” through the public comment process on the monuments review.

Polly said the new documents show how Interior officials disregarded the material they gathered during the comment period. “They knew all of these things, and went ahead and cut them anyway,” he said. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 9:54 am

Excellent points re: Revenge: “Ever Wanted to Get Revenge? Try This Instead”

leave a comment »

A short while ago I responded to a Quora question:

Q: Does taking revenge give you peace of mind? When I think about the consequences, I feel guilty, but I really want to see a person in pain. What should I do?

My answer:

“Living well is the best revenge” has a lot of truth to it. Living well is not being directed by hatred. Living well is directed by other things and in other directions. Live your life to its fullest. That’s the best revenge. The person on whom you wanted to wreak revenge? Forget ’em. Look to what your life can be, not what it has been. That’s revenge you can sink your teeth into!

So I was quite in agreement with Caroline Cox’s column in the NY Times:

So you’ve been wronged. A friend casually dismissed a goal you set for yourself, or a colleague threw you under the bus, and you feel hurt and angry — maybe you even want payback. Sometimes those negative feelings dissipate over time, but other times they fester and become toxic obsessions.

You know that “letting go” is probably the healthiest move, but wanting revenge is often much more appealing.

But why?

It all starts with our nature, since humans are protective beings, especially when we feel threatened, according to Dr. Robin Gaines Lanzi, professor of health behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“If what we care about — whether it’s our children, spouse or other loved ones, our work or some cause that we are passionate about — is harmed or threatened in any way, it is instinctual to want to do something about it,” said Dr. Gaines Lanzi. It’s a primal instinct to want to exact revenge when we’re wronged, she added.

To wit: the American figure skater Adam Rippon said he wouldn’t have made it to the Winter Olympics without his haters. The reality star and nascent denim entrepreneur Khloe Kardashian created an entire TV showaround the “revenge body,” wherein someone undergoes a makeover (which often includes losing weight) in retaliation against an enemy, bully or erstwhile romantic partner. And Taylor Swift looks to have used the idea of getting even to fuel the latest trajectory of her career.

Whether we want to admit it, revenge is a bona fide motivator. But is it healthy?

Well … yes and no.

“In novels and movies, revenge turns out to be this great cleansing moment that permits someone who’s been abused to triumph,” said Peg Streep, a science writer and author of “Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt.”

“Revenge works well in plot lines because there’s something very satisfying about a tit-for-tat payback, especially in a world that isn’t always fair,” she said.

But while it’s true that the vigilante is a popular protagonist in everything from cult-level comic books to action blockbusters, studies show that not only is revenge often short-lived, but it can also make the incident much harder to get over.

“Retribution ties you back to the person you’re trying to get payback from, instead of turning on your heel and walking away,” Ms. Streep said. “Revenge keeps you focused on the mistreatment and doesn’t allow you to move forward and redirect your life.”

So if ruminating on the offense to the point of obsession is the wrong way to deal with mistreatment, the right way appears to lie in how you frame or process these toxic emotions, experts said.

“Oftentimes it’s not necessarily the emotion itself that’s bad or toxic, but how one copes with it,” said Dr. Erin Engle, clinical director of Psychiatry Specialty Services at Columbia University Medical Center.

“That’s why people come to therapy, especially for something like anger — the problem is not the anger per se, but the expressing of that anger that results in some sort of negative consequence.”

While these inclinations of anger and revenge are understandable, that doesn’t mean they’ll do us any good. In reality, they’re more likely to just make things worse. That feeling of motivation to “get even” can tether you to the past in a way that overshadows any potential positive outcome the motivation might bring, said Dr. Merideth Thompson, associate professor in the Department of Management at Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business.

“It tends to anchor that person in the past,” she said.

Dr. Thompson co-authored “We All Seek Revenge: The Role of Honesty-Humility in Reactions to Incivility,” a research paper that looked at how the traits of being humble or honest correlated with engaging in overt or covert forms of revenge in the workplace. Dr. Thompson determined that if the motivation isn’t sinking effort, time and attention into a toxic relationship, then revenge, per se, may be helpful.

“If somebody tries to take revenge and have a more future-oriented approach,” she said, “that kind of thinking tends to orient the person to the future and can make them stronger, happier and healthier.”

Think of it this way: You could use a feeling of envy to examine whether or not it illuminates what you value and prioritize, or you could spend time dwelling, ruminating and calculating a plan to hurt someone in an attempt to quash the feeling. Which seems more likely to be ineffective?

According to Dr. Engle, it’s the latter.

“Some of the most important political movements of our time probably started in anger,” she said. The catalyst lies in making meaning of a feeling like anger and channeling it into advocacy, for example.

It’s not about trying to ignore negative feelings entirely, which studies show isn’t effective anyway. Rather, it’s a choice between focusing on the transgressor and making sure they pay, or deciding that the 17th-century English poet and orator George Herbert was right: Living well is the best revenge.

Dylan Marron, a writer and performer who focuses on L.G.B.T. issues, recently gave a TED Talk in which he discussed how he addresses the hateful messages he gets in response to his videos. He reaches out to them to ask, “Why did you write that?”

A digital video maker, Mr. Marron became popular — some of his content went viral, and responses to his work began to pour in.

“Unfortunately, the flip side of success on the internet is internet hate,” he said. After initially responding by blocking and muting people, he began to wonder if some of the negative messages and comments he was getting could be starting points for conversations rather than dead ends.

“I wanted to confront my detractors,” he said, “not to shame them, but to simply ask why they wrote that negative thing about me. And then see where the conversation could go from there.”

Those conversations became part of a podcast Mr. Marron created called “Conversations With People Who Hate Me.” The dialogue often featured people finding a common ground or similar experience, such as being bullied in high school. Through these conversations, Mr. Marron is able to spin negativity into something that can be leveraged for good.

Moreover, letting go of toxic feelings can give you an added bonus of making you feel powerful — not by exerting power over someone else, but power over yourself.

“A person who feels wronged, betrayed or damaged by another person, group or system, might have lost their sense of personal power, and this can be deeply troubling,” said Tiffany Towers, a clinical and forensic psychologist who has worked with parolees who have chronic recidivism issues.

She said a person can develop a type of tunnel vision and start to . . .

Continue reading.

Emphasis above was added by me.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 8:21 am

WSP Baroness, Van Yulay After Dark, and the Gillette 1940s Aristocrat

leave a comment »

Van Yulay soaps are a favorite, and I do like the fragrance of this one. The Wet Shaving Products Baroness is a very nice brush at a modest price and works quite well.

Three passes with my Gillette Aristocrat left a perfectly smooth face, ready for a splash of After Dark. Then out for a 55-minute Nordic walk. Great way to start the day. And it’s just 8:00 a.m..

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2018 at 8:09 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: