Later On

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

Archive for February 2019

Dr. Gary Fettke – ‘Is Fruit Good or Bad For You?’

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Very interesting video. I’ll point out this article, which describes how modern fruit has been bred to be so sweet that zoos cannot feed it to some animals.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2019 at 8:11 pm

The mob analogy got a whole lot stronger

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Jennifer Rubin has a good column today:

“He doesn’t give you questions, he doesn’t give you orders, he speaks in code, and I understand the code because I’ve been around him for a decade,” Michael Cohen told the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday about President Trump. It was not the most shocking statement, but it might have been the most insightful.
As when viewing a Pointillism painting, it’s helpful to step back to examine the portrait of the Trump Organization that Cohen painted:

  • Everything goes through Trump (including the details of the hush-money reimbursement payments)
  • By Cohen’s estimate, Trump used him more than 500 times to threaten and intimidate people.
  • Tactics such as “catch and kill” and inflating or deflating his wealth are standard Trump tactics, Cohen says.
  • Trump is a pathological liar in Cohen’s telling, looking him in the eye to inquire about the Moscow Tower deal and going out to tell crowds the same day “No Russia deals.”
  • Trump used lawyers to shield himself from detection (e.g., Jay Sekulow edited Cohen’s false testimony, the hush-money payments went through Cohen). Lawyers are there not to advise as to legality but to enable Trump’s allegedly illegal acts.
  • Protecting Trump requires finessing testimony, scaring witnesses and flat-out perjury.

If all that sounds familiar, you might be a fan of mob movies. In Cohen’s telling, Trump sits atop a kind of crime factory mowing down red lines daily, operating above and beyond the law to enrich its top boss and depending on the ultimate loyalty of underlings. Reporters have often commented that Trump publicly speaks in language a crime boss would use (e.g., deploring “flipping”). That may not be a coincidence. Trump’s self-image and organization are very much styled after a Hollywood movie portrayal of a gangster and his crime family.
As in the movies, the organization breaks down when someone becomes a “rat,” a cooperating witness. You have to find someone deep in the organization to provide insight into the day-to-day operation, to break the code, as Cohen said. These people are criminals, which is why they have access to even bigger criminals. Saying Cohen is a convicted perjurer is like saying Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was a felon. Well, duh. How else were the feds going to catch up to John Gotti and dozens of other mobsters?
Furthermore, Cohen brought documents with him, no doubt a fraction of what prosecutors have, and put other witnesses, especially Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, in the center of activities. (Weisselberg is cooperating with prosecutors under a grant of immunity.) . . .

Continue reading.

She concludes:

It was telling, however, that just like mob lawyers defending their client, Republicans only attack the cooperating witness. They have nothing to say about the substance of Cohen’s testimony. None other than former prosecutor and New Jersey governor Chris Christie observed, “The interesting thing is that there hasn’t been one Republican yet who has tried to defend the president on the substance, and I think that’s something that should be concerning to the White House. Why are no Republicans standing up and defending the president on the substance?” I think the question was rhetorical.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2019 at 3:29 pm

Cognitive biases that trip us up

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From here. I particularly like this explanation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is too often (mis)stated as a result of lacking intelligence (which is wrong: intelligence is no guard against DK), rather than as a result of lacking knowledge (the essential cause of DK). I think the (perhaps unconscious) reason for the misstatement—that it is stupidity and not ignorance that results in the fallacy—is that intelligent people want to believe that they are immune to the effects of DK. The misstatement is itself an instance of the DK effect.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2019 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Science

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Manipulating data: Milton Packer describes how to distinguish science from magic

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Milton Packer, M.D., writes at MedPage Today:

Every magician is master of deception, and we adore being deceived. How do magicians accomplish their illusions? The key to every magic trick is misdirection. If you tell the members of the audience to look at A, then they will not look at B. And it is B that makes the trick work.

That is why many magicians forbid cell phones during their performances. If you can take a video of the trick and play it back repeatedly, you might eventually be able to find out how the trick works. You can keep looking for B, even though the performer is doing everything to make sure that you are focused on A.

Why am I talking about magicians in a blog devoted to medicine?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about my experiences as a principal investigator in large-scale clinical trials. Several readers thought that my personal experiences did not represent the norm. Many thought that clinical trial data are commonly manipulated in order to put them in the best possible light. I had to acknowledge that their concerns were valid.

A respected friend suggested that I devote a post to describing how someone might manipulate data in order to make a negative trial look like a positive one. My challenge: how could I possibly describe it in a blog?

Soon the answer became obvious. Deception of the audience in presenting a clinical trial is based on the same strategy of misdirection that magicians use to make their performances work.

Believe it or not, there are dozens of possible forms of misdirection that are possible when presenting the results of a clinical trial. They could fill an entire book. But today, I am going to mention the two most important ones, which any reader or listener can look for.

First and most important is the trick of missingness. The best way to make data look better is to take out data that you do not like or not bother to collect it at all. If the presentation does not account for missing data, all sorts of mischief are possible.

Let us say that you have randomized 600 patients in a trial. According to the intention-to-treat principle that governs the integrity of clinical trials, you need to show data on 600 patients. But often, investigators will show you data on 550 patients, having taken 50 patients out of the analysis.

Clinical investigators can provide all sorts of reasons why the 50 patients are missing. They can say that the patients never returned for follow-up, or that they violated the protocol and were removed from the analysis. Investigators can get very creative in devising reasons that seem credible but are biased. They can even claim that the missingness does not matter if it affects both treatment groups equally, even though that is certainly not true.

The truth: Missingness is never random, and if it is large enough, it is always a source of bias. Did the patient not return for a repeat evaluation because they died or suffered a serious adverse effect? The investigator might not even know. The integrity of a clinical trial depends on the ability of an investigator to fully describe and account for all missing data. A strong investigator worries about missing data; a careless investigator ignores the problem.

When is missingness important? When the amount of missing data is a meaningful proportion of the size of the treatment effect. Example: if the treatment group had 25 fewer deaths than the control group, missing data in 15 patients is meaningful. If the treatment group had 200 fewer deaths than the control group, missing data in five patients is very unlikely to be relevant.

Second is the trick of not showing a planned analysis, or alternatively, showing an analysis that was not planned. In every clinical trial, the rules governing data analysis are written down in advance in a protocol and a formal statistical plan. These documents provide evidentiary proof that the investigators are planning to look at a very specific endpoint that is defined in a very specific way and analyzed in a very specific manner in a very specific sequence. These rules are defined before anyone has a chance to look at the data.

How do you know if the investigators followed their prespecified rules? You need to read the protocol and the statistical plan. And if you can, you need to look at the dates that these documents were filed in advance with regulatory agencies.

These documents might reveal that the investigators defined four endpoints in a very specific manner, and that they intended to analyze them in the following sequence: A, D, C, B.

So would you worry if the investigators only presented the results of A and C? Would you worry if they changed the definition of A after the fact? Would you worry if they analyzed C in a way that was not planned? And would you worry if the presenter told you to focus your attention on a new endpoint — let us called it E — which was never planned in advance at all?

You should worry under all these circumstances.

How can you tell if the investigators followed their plan faithfully? A few top-tier journals require that the investigators provide files of their protocol and a statistical plan at the time of initial peer-review, and they are published as online supplements to the paper reporting the main study results. Sadly, most journals do not have this requirement. And even when these documents are published, most readers do not bother to look at them.

There are four important things to remember about these documents.

  • Investigators know that these documents will be closely scrutinized. Therefore, some might be tempted to specify an improper analysis in advance. Specifying something stupid in the statistical plan does not make it valid.
  • Investigators should summarize the essence of these documents on a slide shown at the time of their presentation at a scientific meeting. It is one of their most important slides, but it is also the one that most people in the audience ignore. And all too often, it is missing entirely.
  • If the drug or device is approved, the FDA is required to make its analyses available to the public. Therefore, it is possible to compare the analyses in a publication with the analyses performed by the FDA. For all prespecified analyses, these should look very similar to each other. The FDA analyses are particularly easy to access if the drug or device has been considered at a public advisory committee, since they are posted simultaneously on the FDA website.
  • The statistical plan focuses only on the analyses that are relevant to demonstrating the intervention’s efficacy for a specific indication. Many secondary papers from a clinical trial describe analyses intended to learn about other effects of the intervention or about the disease itself. These analyses are not part of the regulatory approval process, and their findings should always be considered in the context of the totality of evidence in the medical literature. Some are hypothesis-generating; some confirm similar observations in other trials.

So in a nutshell, here are two simple rules.

First, are there missing data and is the degree of missingness meaningful?

Second, did the authors specify a valid analysis plan in advance and did they follow it?

If these two simple rules are not followed, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2019 at 11:21 am

Posted in Science

The heritage of a slave-owning culture

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Southern honor society was strictly for whites. Slaves and, later, African-Americans were not allowed to be sensitive about their honor, so their stance was more like that of Br’er Rabbit, who could slyly outwit his much stronger (and more dangerous) antagonists but could not afford to confront them directly—and Br’er Rabbit had to be constantly alert, with running and escape as virtues.

In general, the culture of the slave owners and their supporters in a slave-owning society must necessarily devalue empathy because empathy is risky when dealing with slaves, the risk coming from other slave owners rather than the slaves themselves. A slave owner who treats his or her slaves kindly and advances their interests is viewed by other owners as a threat and a possible cause of slaves becoming aggressively dissatisfied with their lot. Indeed, the antebellum South seemed to live with a constant low-level fear and anxiety about the possibility of a slave rebellion. We see that lack of empathy still very much a part of the dominant (conservative) Southern culture: the attitude of seeking their own gain and not caring about the community as a whole.

US police departments developed their own culture from their origins as slave patrols and nightwatchers, with responsibility to see that slaves did not escape and that no slave rebellion could take place.

Cultures persist over generations, and I think we still see the scars of the cultural accommodations of slavery to this day, both among Southern conservatives and in many police departments. One characteristic of Republican politics is looking out for oneself and having no empathy for those who are in strained circumstances. (For example, Republican states were willing to spend money to prevent Medicaid expansion which would give the poor access to healthcare.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2019 at 9:08 am

A lather every bit as good as from a Mama Bear shaving soap

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D.R. Harris is the only big-name English shaving soap company that continues to make its own soap: the others contracted out soap production and accepted the reformulation that the soap producer imposed. As a result, D.R. Harris is the only big-name English shaving soap company to preserve quality and reputation.

When I was in the early days of my return to DE shaving I would occasionally think, “Wow! Excellent lather today,” and look to see what soap I was using. Virtually always, it was D.R. Harris, and once again today I had the “Wow!” experience. The lather was thick, creamy, and dense, just like the lathers I get from Mama Bear soaps, though the two differ considerably in their formulation—D.R. Harris is a tallow-based soap, Mama Bear’s is a glycerin-based soap. But the lather from both is, if I may be technical, scrumptious.

My little Whipped Dog silvertip did a fine job, and the Baili 171 was its usual wonderful self, delivering a BBS result in three passes with total comfort. A splash of Marlborough aftershave, with its wonderful woody fragrance, finished the job and left me feeling ready for the day and what it might bring.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2019 at 8:48 am

Posted in Shaving

GOP Strategy: Call Michael Cohen a Liar, Don’t Rebut His Specific Claims About Trump

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Ed Kilgore writes in New York:

In today’s dramatic House Oversight Committee hearing featuring former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, Republicans have not bothered with any complex strategy to undermine his testimony, much less to pursue the truth. Led by ranking minority member and pro-Trump conservative firebrand Jim Jordan, so far committee Republicans have painted Cohen as someone who’s already (admittedly) lied to Congress, and thus can’t be trusted on any matter. For the most part, they have not even made an effort to rebut Cohen’s specific claims against Trump, though they have made bold allegations of their own, suggesting that he and congressional Democrats are conspiring against their beloved leader.

In fact, even before Jordan started throwing serial fits over Cohen’s mendacity, his House Freedom Caucus colleague Mark Meadows objected to the entire hearing, arguing that Cohen’s prepared testimony was submitted too late to be reviewed. You have to wonder what in the GOP’s one-note attack on Cohen would have changed given more advance notice of what he planned to say. But after the committee predictably brushed aside this effort to shut down the hearing, Jordan heatedly sent the signal for all-out war not only on Cohen but on the evil, godless liberal “Democrat” agents persecuting the noble president, as Galen Druke observed in the FiveThirtyEight live blog of the event:

Jordan has opened this hearing by essentially describing a Democratic conspiracy to discredit the president or even remove him from office, relying on a witness who already lied to Congress.

That accurate description, however, doesn’t do justice to the tone and demeanor of Jordan and his troops. Gaze in awe:

A lowlight was this passage, the only time Jordan appeared to treat Cohen as anything other than a low-life who should be in prison already:

[The Democrats] just want to use you, Mr. Cohen. You’re their patsy today. They’ve gotta find someone, somewhere, to say something, so that they can try to remove the president from office — because Tom Steyer told them to.

Steyer, in case you’ve missed it, is the billionaire agitating for formal impeachment proceedings against Trump, whom a solid majority of congressional Democrats (and all of their leadership) have been resolutely ignoring or rebuking.

Later on, Representative Paul Gosar nicely encapsulated the case against Cohen himself:

GOP Rep. Paul Gosar used his time to repeatedly blast Cohen as a liar. He called Cohen “a pathological liar” who knows nothing but lying. He even said “liar, liar, pants on fire” at one point.

Cohen did manage a riposte:

“Are you talking about me or the president?” Cohen shot back.

Louisiana Republican Clay Higgins expressed sympathy for Cohen’s family in a courtly Southern manner and addressed him as “good sir.” But then he suggested, implausibly, that the Long Island attorney reminded him of “thousands” of bad actors he had arrested as a law enforcement officer back in the bayous.

The GOP strategy of loud and furious objection to Cohen’s very existence is part of a broader strategy of dismissing every allegation against the president as part of a “witch hunt” that Democrats have cooked up out of thin air to overturn the 2016 election results. It’s an interesting question whether there is any revelation that Cohen (or, for that matter, Robert Mueller) could produce that would convince them to abandon this advanced line of defense for their hero. The answer, at this point, would appear to be no.

Perhaps the most searing critique of today’s behavior by House Republicans came from Cohen himself: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2019 at 8:45 am

Posted in Daily life

How Civilian Firms Fact-Check North Korea’s Denuclearization Efforts

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Doug Bock Clark writes in the New Yorker:

During eight and a half months of negotiations with North Korea, the White House has maintained that its “goal is to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK as Chairman Kim committed to in Singapore.” The Trump Administration has touted small victories, such as the fact that North Korea has not conducted any new missile or nuclear tests, and that several nuclear-testing facilities have been partially or fully decommissioned. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea in October, 2018, North Korea pledged to destroy all of its nuclear-enrichment facilities, according to Stephen Biegun, the United States Special Representative for North Korea. (North Korea never confirmed this.) At the end of January, as preparations for a second summit, to be held on Wednesday and Thursday, ramped up, Trump said, “We’ve made tremendous progress with North Korea.” On Sunday morning, he tweeted, “I will be leaving for Hanoi, Vietnam, early tomorrow for a Summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea, where we both expect a continuation of the progress made at first Summit in Singapore. Denuclearization?”

In the past, North Korea’s isolation might have allowed the Administration to present an unchallenged narrative. But, as commercial satellite photography has become significantly cheaper and more powerful—to the point that it rivals that of intelligence agencies—civilian experts have been able to monitor North Korea’s nuclear program. What they are seeing differs dramatically from what the Administration has been saying.

Jeffrey Lewis, a director at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, leads a team that uses satellite imagery to surveil North Korea’s nuclear program. Lewis became interested in fact-checking government intelligence after the George W. Bush Administration misled the American public and much of the international community about Saddam Hussein’s capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. “Only U.S. intel got to have an opinion on things like how many nukes a foreign country had,” he said. “We were excited to take techniques from them and do the same kind of analyses for the public record.” Businesses typically turn to satellite-imaging companies for activities like counting cars in competitors’ parking lots or mapping demolitions of houses in developing neighborhoods. For Lewis, they have provided daily images of every inch of North Korea at a resolution of about three metres, and less frequent images with a resolution of about a foot.

In July, 2018, when an intelligence source tipped off the Washington Post that North Korea was continuing to manufacture missiles, Joby Warrick, a Postreporter, turned to Lewis for independent confirmation. Lewis’s team identified the factory in question and used historical commercial-satellite imagery to rewind the clock. They discovered images of supply trucks, including bright red trailers that had traditionally been used to transport intercontinental ballistic missiles, travelling in and out of the facility. By matching details from North Korean media photos with those of satellite images, they were also able to confirm that it was one of the missile factories where Kim had, in recent years, personally examined missiles and launch vehicles. As Lewis told Warrick, the facility “is not dead, by any stretch of the imagination.”

In November, 2018, while the Trump Administration was touting recent steps to dismantle a well-known rocket-test stand, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (C.S.I.S.) published satellite images showing that North Korea had been making improvements at sixteen hidden ballistic-missile bases. “Work is continuing,” Victor Cha, the group’s Korea chair, told the New York Times in an article that suggested North Korea was engaged in a “great deception.” “The existence of the ballistic missile bases,” the Times wrote, “contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program.”

In response to the article, the Trump Administration declared that there was no “deception,” as it had long known about the bases, and other commentators pointed out that North Korea had never promised to immediately give up its I.C.B.M.s—the Singapore declaration only included a commitment to “work toward” that goal. Some suggested that Cha, who had been a candidate for Ambassador to South Korea before disagreeing with Trump over how to handle Kim Jong Un, had an axe to grind. According to Cha, people aligned with the Administration accused C.S.I.S. of trying to “submarine” negotiations over the second summit that were taking place around that time. The timing, he explained, had been coincidental. But the goal of such reports, he said, “is to show the general public that there are scores of missile bases harboring I.C.B.M.s, and to influence opinion leaders, journalists, members of Congress, and others to take action about them.” The Administration, he pointed out, had never previously acknowledged the existence of these bases, and instead framed its negotiations around other less-threatening assets. The work of C.S.I.S., Cha said, is “certainly pushing back against the President’s narrative that he has already solved this. There’s other things we should be negotiating over besides one rocket test stand.”

The American intelligence community has also found ways to publicize disagreements with the President. Two weeks after the first summit, NBC reported that classified intelligence assessments had found that North Korea was increasing its production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel. The regime, according to a dozen anonymous officials, was trying to extract concessions from Trump while clinging to its nukes. Other intelligence sources soon leaked evidence that showed senior North Korean officials discussing how to deceive the U.S. by publicly disposing of only a small number of warheads. In January, at the annual worldwide threat assessment before the U.S. Senate, the intelligence chiefs warned that North Korea was not willing to denuclearize. “We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its W.M.D. capabilities,” Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, said, “and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.” As recently as Saturday, the Washington Post reported that American and North Korean negotiators had yet to agree on the definition of “denuclearization” to be negotiated at the summit, as the term has taken on a number of meanings during two decades of negotiations.

Siegfried Hecker, a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, who personally examined some of North Korea’s nuclear facilities about a decade ago, has a different interpretation of the available data. In a report updated in February, Hecker, who has advised Trump’s Special Representative to North Korea, found that, although North Korea has “continued to operate and, in some cases, expand the nuclear weapons complex infrastructure,” the over-all situation on the peninsula has greatly improved. “I am hopeful about the summit,” he said. Although North Korea has test-launched three long-range missiles that could possibly strike the United States, Hecker suggested that “North Korea has not been able to perform enough tests of long-range missiles or nuclear weapons in order to deliver a warhead to the United States.” Among other things, he explained, North Korea still needs to perfect a vehicle to keep its warheads from disintegrating upon reëntry into the atmosphere. He suggested that if Trump won an agreement to permanently end such testing and then roll back the nuclear program, Kim might never achieve an arsenal capable of reliably threatening the United States. “I don’t know if they will give up nuclear weapons,” Hecker said, “but we’ve got to see if they will take additional positive concrete steps toward denuclearization.”

The day before leaving for Asia, Trump tweeted, “So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway!” As the President arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday, Vox reported that the outlines of a tentative deal had been reached by the American and North Korean advance teams: both sides will declare an official end to the Korean War, which has technically been ongoing since 1950, and North Korea will stop production of bomb-making materials at its aging Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for the United States asking the United Nations to ease some sanctions. (Asked for his opinion on the deal, Cha told me, “Terrible.”) Regardless of  . . .

Continue reading.

Donald Trump’s focus is not the US national interest but increasing the value of his own brand.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2019 at 1:38 pm

Why Do We Crave Sweets When We’re Stressed?

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Achim Peters  writes in Scientific American:

Although our brain accounts for just 2 percent of our body weight, the organ consumes half of our daily carbohydrate requirements—and glucose is its most important fuel. Under acute stress the brain requires some 12 percent more energy, leading many to reach for sugary snacks.

Carbohydrates provide the body with the quickest source of energy. In fact, in cognitive tests subjects who were stressed performed poorly prior to eating. Their performance, however, went back to normal after consuming food.

When we are hungry, a whole network of brain regions activates. At the center are the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) and the lateral hypothalamus. These two regions in the upper brain stem are involved in regulating metabolism, feeding behavior and digestive functions. There is, however, an upstream gatekeeper, the nucleus arcuatus (ARH) in the hypothalamus. If it registers that the brain itself lacks glucose, this gatekeeper blocks information from the rest of the body. That’s why we resort to carbohydrates as soon as the brain indicates a need for energy, even if the rest of the body is well supplied.

To further understand the relationship between the brain and carbohydrates, we examined 40 subjects over two sessions. In one, we asked study participants to give a 10-minute speech in front of strangers. In the other session they were not required to give a speech. At the end of each session, we measured the concentrations of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in participants’ blood. We also provided them with a food buffet for an hour. When the participants gave a speech before the buffet, they were more stressed, and on average consumed an additional 34 grams of carbohydrates, than when they did not give a speech.

So what about that chocolate, then? If a person craves chocolate in the afternoon, I advise him or her to eat chocolate to stay fit and keep his or her spirits up. That’s because at work people are often stressed and the brain has an increased need for energy. If one doesn’t eat anything, it’s possible the brain will use glucose from the body, intended for fat and muscle cell use, and in turn secrete more stress hormones. Not only does this make one miserable, it can also increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke or depression in the long run. Alternatively, the brain can save on other functions, but that reduces concentration and performance.

In order to meet the increased needs of the brain, one can either eat more of everything, as the stressed subjects did in our experiment, or make it easy for the body and just consume sweet foods. Even babies have a pronounced preference for sweets. Because their brain is extremely large compared with their tiny bodies, babies require a lot of energy. They get that energy via breast milk, which contains a lot of sugar. Over time, our preference for sweets decreases but never completely disappears, even as we become adults. The extent to which that preference is preserved varies from person to person and seems to depend, among other things, on living conditions. Studies suggest people who experience a lot of stress in childhood have a stronger preference for sweets later in life.

For some, the brain cannot get its energy from the body’s reserves, even . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2019 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

Cheap, reliable suicide drones that carry 6 pounds of high explosives, courtesy of Kalashnikov

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I imagine that entire container-loads of these will be purchased by small countries and by terrorists. This from a Washington Post report by Liz Sly, which begins:

The Russian company that gave the world the iconic AK-47 assault rifle has unveiled a suicide drone that may similarly revolutionize war by making sophisticated drone warfare technology widely and cheaply available.

The Kalashnikov Group put a model of its miniature exploding drone on display this week at a major defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where the world’s arms companies gather every two years to show off and market their latest wares.

The tiny item was dwarfed by the tanks, armored vehicles and fighter jets that were also on display. But it has as much potential to change the face of war as its older cousin, the AK-47, widely referred to simply as the Kalashnikov.

With its low price, high efficiency and ease of use, the Kalashnikov rifle became the weapon of choice for revolutionaries and insurgents around the world, empowering disgruntled citizens against their governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia. It remains a potent tool to this day: The Pentagon purchases secondhand Kalashnikov rifles for its allies in Syria and Afghanistan, rather than give them more expensive American-made guns.

The Kalashnikov drone — officially named the KUB-UAV — will likewise be simple to operate, effective and cheap, its manufacturers claim — and just as revolutionary. It will mark “a step toward a completely new form of combat,” said Sergey Chemezov, chairman of Russia’s state-owned Rostec arms manufacturer, which owns a controlling stake in Kalashnikov, according to Kalashnikov’s news statement on the launch.

The KUB is four feet wide, can fly for 30 minutes at a speed of 80 mph and carries six pounds of explosives, the news release says. That makes it roughly the size of a coffee table that can be guided to explode on a target 40 miles away — the equivalent of a “small, slow and presumably inexpensive cruise missile,” according to a report by the National Interest website.
Whoever buys one will have the ability to steer a bomb with a high degree of accuracy unparalleled except by some of the U.S. military’s smartest bombs, said Nicholas Grossman, a professor of international relations at the University of Illinois and author of the book “Drones and Terrorism.”
“I think of it as democratizing smart bombs,” he said “It means disseminating smart bombs more widely. This would shrink the gap between the most advanced militaries and the smaller ones.”
Suicide drones are not new. The Islamic State pioneered the art of attaching explosives to commercially available drones and detonating them on advancing troops and enemy bases during the battles for the cities of Mosul and Raqqa in Iraq and Syria. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2019 at 12:26 pm

Claim Denials Are Huge on Obamacare

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In Canada, healthcare claims are not denied because you don’t have to make claims: if you’re ill, you go to the doctor and the doctor treats you and/or sends you for tests (which in my case were done at the ER). No claims, no forms, no pre-authorization, no pre-existing conditions. Just medical treatment.

Kevin Drum points out that the situation in the US is somewhat different:

Via Andrew Sprung, here is a Kaiser analysis of data from Obamacare claims:

We find that, across issuers with complete data, 19% of in-network claims were denied by issuers in 2017, with denial rates for specific issuers varying significantly around this average, from less than 1% to more than 40%.

This is solely for providers on the federal exchange, but it matches data for California, which has its own exchange. Apparently there’s no data for employer insurance to compare this to, but a best guess suggests that the denial rate on Obamacare claims is at least twice that of private employer insurance.

This is fodder for critics of Obamacare on both the right and the left. It’s certainly one way in which health coverage via Obamacare is worse than private insurance, and it’s especially noteworthy given that so many Obamacare providers use narrow networks. After all, the whole point of narrow networks is that customers are forced to see only pre-screened doctors that the insurance company trusts not to overtreat.

At the same time, Medicare almost certainly has a much lower incidence of claim denial, which is yet another mark in favor of universal health care. It is really amazing the number of problems that could be solved by simply giving up the long twilight struggle that’s produced America’s insane patchwork of health care providers and insurers. Employers pay more than they have to, patients pay more than they have to, millions go without coverage at all, and those of us who do have coverage have to put up with terrible service. What an unholy mess.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2019 at 10:32 am

Interesting takes on Michael Cohen’s testimony

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At this point, Cohen has nothing to lose and he seems seriously trying to set the record straight before starting his prison term. David Troy nailed it on Facebook:

Cohen presents like a deprogrammed cult member.

All the R’s on the committee can think to do is question his credibility, which is what you would expect cult members to do to a former cult member. This is revealing; we are dealing with a death cult. Proceed accordingly.

In the comment thread to that, Lisa Magil wrote:

if all your opponent can do is attack your credibility, it implies they know the facts are on your side…..

Another comment from Jen Fischetti:

ironically those Republicans in the committee are doing the exact same thing that Cohen said everyone at the Trump organization was paid to do, which was to protect the Trump.

This “cross examination” wasn’t about truth, as when the Republicans ran the committee, it was all about tamping down inquiry, it is about protecting a criminal organization.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2019 at 10:16 am

Video compendium of big fails

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Note especially the warehouse scene that starts at 8:02.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2019 at 10:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Breakfast this morning

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I cook my breakfast in a 2-qt All-Clad Stainless sauté pan, which has a lid. Here is this morning’s breakfast, with comments:

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil (and lately I’ve been using this one)
1 bunch scallions, chopped (including leaves)
6 stalks asparagus, chopped
1 jalapeño, chopped (with core and seeds)
10-12 cherry tomatoes, sliced
greens of some sort—this morning, 2 baby Shanghai bok choy, chopped
1 cup (approx) oyster mushrooms, stems and caps, chopped
pinch of salt and several grindings black pepper

I also add some sort of protein: a slice of ham, chopped; a sole fillet, cut into pieces; some bay scallops; “sea-food medley” (sold frozen: pieces of cuttlefish, octopus, clam, etc.); frozen clam meat; frozen oysters; and so on. This morning: squid-carved.

I just happened to see this in my local supermarket whose clientele includes a good representation of Chinese. That’s also where I get various greens, bitter melon, chicken hearts, etc. In fact, I had stopped to buy chicken hearts for my breakfast, but they were out, and these carved squid looked intriguing. So, continuing the recipe:

several pieces of carved squid

Bring heat to the high edge of medium and cook covered for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. I did add a splash of soy sauce, just for the heck of it.

2 eggs, cracked and added on top of the vegetables and squid.

Cover and cook for two minutes, then scoop into a bowl and enjoy.

I never heard of carved squid. They were quite tasty and tender.

The recipe is 3 WW points from the olive oil. Everything else is 0 points.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2019 at 9:35 am

Stubble Trubble swan song, with the Phoenix Ascension, a double open comb

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I mentioned the last time I used Stubble Trubble’s Up & Adam shaving so that they had gone out of business, but Eddie in Australia pointed out that Above the Tie still had some tubes of their Lavender & Lemonade, and I couldn’t resist: it’s a truly excellent shaving soap and quite interesting (to me) in that it contains olive oil as an ingredient. Until Stubble Trubble, the presence of olive oil in a shaving soap was definitely a warning sign—I had tried several shaving soaps made with olive oil, and they were all bad. But Stubble Trubble cracked the code and the ST shaving soaps are really first-rate.

And the shave was also first-rate, if I say it myself: the lather was extremely dense and fragrant, and my Phoenix Artisan’s Ascension, a double-open-comb, did a really outstanding job. I have the aluminum version, and after fully tightening it, I loosened it a fraction of a turn, somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 turn, and that provided a slight increase in efficiency with no compromise on comfort.

A splash of Ogallala’s Bay Rum & Sandalwood finished the job and left me feeling quite squared away. What a pleasure!

Update: I was just pondering this—still enjoying the shave—and thought again of how there are men who simply have no idea of the pleasure they forego by not approach their shave as something that can be enjoyable and thus not taking any steps to make it enjoyable (the same sort of thing that makes people view cooking as a chore rather than a pleasure). Perhaps you have to realize the possibility of pleasure to take steps to make sure you achieve it.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2019 at 7:42 am

Posted in Shaving

Overt obstruction of justice: On Eve of Michael Cohen’s Testimony, Republican Threatens to Reveal Compromising Information

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Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos report in the NY Times:

On the eve of the long awaited public testimony of Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, a Republican member of Congress from Florida threatened on Tuesday to reveal information about what he alleged were Mr. Cohen’s extramarital affairs.

“Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot,” Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida said on Twitter.

Mr. Gaetz’s threat and the enraged reaction to it reflected the explosive atmosphere on Capitol Hill in anticipation of Wednesday’s open hearing at which Mr. Cohen is expected to allege a litany of misdeeds by Mr. Trump over the course of a decade, including his use of racist language, lies about his wealth and possible criminal conduct.

In a text, Mr. Gaetz rejected assertions that his tweet could amount to witness intimidation.

“It’s testing the veracity and character of Michael Cohen,” he wrote. “That is allowed.”

Like all members of Congress, Mr. Gaetz is covered under the “speech or debate” clause of the Constitution, which grants lawmakers wide latitude in their comments when Congress is in session and has been cited many times in the past as protection against punishment.

Mr. Gaetz has developed a reputation as full-throated champion of Mr. Trump who, like the president, is unafraid of making statements many would consider outlandish. At a recent Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control, he got into an argument with parents of students killed last year in a massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla., and sought to have them ejected.

The son of a prominent Florida politician, Mr. Gaetz rose from the State Legislature to represent a House district in the Florida Panhandle. He is a regular on cable television shows. And he has also come under criticism for repeated comments about the attractiveness and personal appeal of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile new progressive Democrat from New York.

“I aspire to be the conservative A.O.C.,” he recently told Politico, referring to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

Mr. Cohen’s spokesman and lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, could not immediately be reached for comment about the threat.

Mr. Gaetz tweeted his comments as Mr. Cohen was wrapping up the first of three days of testimony on Capitol Hill. Mr. Cohen appeared behind closed doors on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Cohen began his meeting with the senators by apologizing for lying to them in 2017 about the duration of time during the 2016 campaign that the Trump Organization was in discussions about a Trump Tower project in Moscow, people familiar with his plans said.

Mr. Cohen is scheduled to testify on Wednesday in an open hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

In “granular detail,” Mr. Cohen plans to describe a scheme hatched in the run-up to the 2016 election to make hush money payments to a pornographic film actress who claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, people familiar with his plans said. And he will say

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2019 at 5:05 pm

The Cook-Together-Things-You-Like-And-It’ll-Taste-Good Recipe

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The template is simple: pick out some things you like to eat and cook them together and you’ll probably like the result.

Case in point:

Put Field No. 10 cast-iron skillet in oven, then heat to 350ºF.

While that heats, prepare the vegetables

• 3-4 yellow crookneck squash (can use zucchini), quartered lengthwise, then cut across into thickish pieces.
• 1 rather large leek, halved lengthwise, then cut across into relatively thin slices, including all the green (rinse the top well, since dirt often collects there
• 1 dry quart bok choy mue, chopped. (Mue: You know baby boky choy? Mue is infant bok choy: tiny and cute)
• 3 cloves garlic, minced.

Turn burner on to medium high; when burner is hot remove skillet from oven and put on the burner (and put the sleeve cover over the handle). Put into the hot skillet:

• 1.5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• all the chopped vegetables and garlic
• about 2-3 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables wilt and are cooked.

Remove vegetables to a bowl or storage container and squeeze a lemon over them. You could also add some soy sauce and/or toasted sesame oil if you’re so inclined.’

I found this was also quite tasty cold, as a leftover.

Obviously, you could also include prawns, or chopped chicken breast, or (what I got today frozen at my Chinese-oriented supermarket) carved squid.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2019 at 2:33 pm

Suicidal policy-making: Skeptics Are Being Recruited for an “Adversarial” Review of Climate Science

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Scott Waldman writes in Scientific American:

The White House is recruiting researchers who reject the scientific consensus on climate change for its “adversarial” review of the issue.

The proposal to form a “Presidential Committee on Climate Security” at the National Security Council has shifted, into an ad-hoc group that will review climate science out of the public eye. Those involved in the preliminary discussions said it is focused on recruiting academics to conduct a review of the science that shows climate change presents a national security risk.

William Happer, a senior director at the NSC and an emeritus Princeton University physics professor not trained in climate science, is leading the effort.

Among those who have been contacted are the relatively small number of researchers with legitimate academic credentials who question the notion that humans are warming the planet at a rapid pace through the burning of fossil fuels. A number of the names the White House is targeting are those frequently invited by Republicans to testify at congressional hearings on climate change where uncertainty is emphasized.

The stated goal of the committee, according to a leaked White House memo, is to conduct “adversarial scientific peer review” of climate science.

Those involved in the preliminary discussions caution that the list of researchers, which could include scientists as well as statisticians, is still under discussion and that the shape of the committee has yet to be determined. Most of the members are expected to come from outside the federal government.

Happer did lead a meeting Friday to discuss the goals of the committee, according to a White House official. It could take about a month for an executive order creating the committee to receive President Trump’s signature, the official said.

The official would not confirm those who attended Friday’s meeting, but a memo that leaked ahead of the gathering showed representatives from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy were among those invited to participate.

On Friday, White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway would not comment on why the administration was challenging the science of its own agencies. . .

Continue reading.

Perhaps next they’ll move on to showing how evolution is nonsense and endorse whatever-its-called now: Creationism, Creation Science, Intelligent Design, …

Read the whole article. There’s much more.

And, really, it’s not suicide—it’s homicide. Later in the article:

Happer, who once compared the “demonization” of carbon dioxide to the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust, has pushed for some members of the CO2 Coalition—a group he founded—to take an active role in the White House effort, according to sources.

The CO2 Coalition receives funding from the Mercer family, a key Trump donor that supports groups that attack climate science, as well as the Koch political network, which has also given millions of dollars to such groups. The coalition’s board of directors and members include researchers who have received funding from the fossil fuel industry and whose work is used to tear down climate regulations.

The coalition’s stated purpose is “educating thought leaders, policy makers, and the public about the important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy.” A number of its members have called for burning more fossil fuels to benefit humanity and the planet.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2019 at 12:56 pm

Uh-Oh: AI Department

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Garrett Kenyon writes in Scientific American:

The recently signed executive order establishing the American AI Initiative correctly identifies artificial intelligence as central to American competitiveness and national defense. However, it is unclear if AI has accomplished anywhere near as much as many have claimed. Indeed, current technology exhibits no convincing demonstration of anything remotely approaching “intelligence.”

To maintain U.S. supremacy in AI, the best way forward is to adopt a strategy hewing more closely to the way humans learn, which will put us on the best path to the economic growth and widespread social benefits promised by full-fledged artificial intelligence.

Here’s the challenge with most deep learning neural networks, which reflect the prevailing approach to AI: calling them both deep and intelligent assumes they achieve ever more abstract and meaningful representations of the data at deeper and deeper levels of the network. It further assumes that at some point they transcend rote memorization to achieve actual cognition, or intelligence. But they do not.

Consider computer vision, where deep neural networks have achieved stunning performance improvements on benchmark image-categorization tasks. Say we task our computer vision algorithm with correctly labeling images as either cats or dogs. If the algorithm correctly labels the images, we might conclude that the underlying deep neural network has learned to distinguish cats and dogs.

Now suppose all of the dogs are wearing shiny metallic dog tags and none of the cats are wearing cat tags. Most likely, the deep neural network didn’t learn to see cats and dogs at all but simply learned to detect shiny metallic tags. Recent work has shown that something like this actually underpins the performance of deep neural networks on computer vision tasks. The explanation may not be as obvious as shiny metallic tags, but most academic data sets contain analogous unintentional cues that deep learning algorithms exploit.

Using adversarial examples, which are designed to foil neural networks, adds even more disturbing evidence that deep neural networks might not be “seeing” at all but merely detecting superficial image features. In a nutshell, adversarial examples are created by running in reverse the same computational tools used to train a deep neural network. Researchers have found that adding very slight modifications to an image—imperceptible to humans—can trick a deep neural network into incorrectly classifying an image, often radically.

The problem, it turns out, is one of computational misdirection. Adding or deleting just a few pixels can eliminate a particular cue that the deep neural network has learned to depend on. More fundamentally, this error demonstrates that deep neural networks rely on superficial image features that typically lack meaning, at least to humans.

That creates an opportunity for serious mischief by bad actors using targeted adversarial examples. If you’re counting on consistent image recognition for self-driving cars designed to recognize road signs, for example, or security systems that recognize fingerprints … you’re in trouble.

This flaw is built into the architecture. Recent research in Israel led by Naftali Tishby has found that a deep neural network selectively drops non-essential information at each layer. A fully trained deep neural network has thrown away so much information and has become so dependent on just a few key superficial features—“shiny metal tags”—that it has lost all semblance of intelligence. Deep learning is more accurately described as deep forgetting.

Even more damning, . . .

Continue reading.

I imagine there will soon be real-world measures—e.g., accidents per 100,000 miles driven, autonomous (AI) vehicles vs. vehicles driven by humans. If AI does better, then perhaps humans have some perception problems as well.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2019 at 12:52 pm

What has the US become? Thousands of migrant youth allegedly suffered sexual abuse in U.S. custody. By U.S. officials.

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Officials who believed, given the current US government and the direction of public opinion, that they could get away with it. They’s why they did it: they thought it would be safe to do and they were that sort of person.

Official acts. That, unfortunately, says a lot (cf. the number of unarmed black victims of police shootings: another example of government officials attacking vulnerable citizens. I think I’ve seen this movie before. It did not end well.

Caitlin Owens, Stef W. Kight, and Harry Stevens report in Axios:

Thousands of allegations of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors (UAC) in the custody of the U.S. government have been reported over the past 4 years, according to Department of Health and Human Services documents given to Axios by Rep. Ted Deutch’s office.

Allegations against staff members reported to the DOJ included everything from rumors of relationships with UACs to showing pornographic videos to minors to forcibly touching minors’ genitals.

By the numbers: From October 2014 to July 2018, the HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement received 4,556 complaints, and the Department of Justice received 1,303 complaints. This includes 178 allegations of sexual abuse by adult staff.

What they’re saying: Deutch said these documents were included in HHS’ response to a House Judiciary Committee request for information made in January.

  • “This behavior — it’s despicable, it’s disgusting, and this is just the start of questions that HHS is going to have to answer about how they handle these and what’s happening in these facilities,” Deutch told Axios.

HHS’ response, per spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley: . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the report:

Details: One of the documents given to Axios, embedded below, gives some detail about the allegations, although it only includes descriptions of the incidences for fiscal years 2015 and 2016. We also don’t know what happened to the accused staffers in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

  • Based on the information provided in the documents, it’s unclear whether there’s overlap between allegations reported to ORR and those made to DOJ. Axios assumed that some OOR allegations are referred to DOJ, so the numbers included in our chart are conservative.
  • All allegations referred to DOJ are also referred to HHS, according to the documents.
  • In many cases, the staff members were removed from duty and ultimately fired.

UPDATE: LA Times report: “California immigrant detainees face long periods of confinement, barriers to medical treatment, state audit reveals

The government is failing. The endless budget cutting for the sake of tax reductions is now taking its human toll.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2019 at 12:20 pm

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