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Archive for February 5th, 2019

Confidential Memo: Company of Trump Inaugural Chair Sought to Profit From Connections to Administration, Foreigners

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It’s starting to break.  Justin Elliott, ProPublica, and Ilya Marritz, WNYC, report in ProPublica:

The investment firm founded by the chairman of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, Tom Barrack, developed a plan to profit off its connections to the incoming administration and foreign dignitaries, according to a confidential memo obtained by WNYC and ProPublica.

“The key is to strategically cultivate domestic and international relations while avoiding any appearance of lobbying,” the memo says. Colony, which primarily invests in real estate, sought to capitalize on its access to the White House to get an early lead on infrastructure investments and to attract assets from potential investors.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Monday subpoenaed documents from the nonprofit 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee, including anything related to foreign donations. Such donations to presidential inaugural committees are barred by law. Investigators are probing whether foreigners gave money in exchange for influence with the incoming Trump administration, NBC News reported.

The memo, from Barrack’s investment firm, then called Colony NorthStar, is dated February 2017, just a month after the inaugural festivities organized by Barrack, who is a longtime Trump friend.

The Colony memo shows how the company was positioning itself to take advantage of Barrack’s relationship with Trump and foreign officials immediately after the president was sworn in. Barrack hosted a chairman’s dinner during inaugural week, with his own invite list, which included businesspeople and foreign dignitaries.

“‘Contact’ — ‘Cultivation’ — ‘Conversion’ should be the mantra and objective of Colony NorthStar’s international program in DC and internationally,” the memo said. No other firms “can currently match the relationships or resources that we possess,” it added.

The memo outlines a “strategic plan” for Colony, which now has $44 billion under management, to ramp up its operations in Washington and open an office there. It envisions “setting up roundtables between Ambassadors and members of the Administration to cultivate relationships” in areas including infrastructure and plans to “tie into international bilateral meetings already occurring with key members of the Trump Administration. This would include taking a leadership role in forming the events, the participants, and the agenda.”

Barrack’s company should do all this while keeping a low profile, seeking to build a “subtle brand,” the memo says.

A Colony spokesman said in a statement: “This memo was simply an outline of a proposed potential business plan which was never acted upon or implemented. Colony at no time has maintained a DC office.”

A person familiar with the creation of the memo said it was written by Rick Gates, who was deputy chairman of the inaugural committee and was then hired by Barrack as a Colony consultant. The memo is on Colony letterhead. Gates, who was fired by Colony after he was indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian interference investigation in October 2017, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gates has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI, and he is cooperating with law enforcement.

While Colony says . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2019 at 6:10 pm

Scientists Crack A 50-Year-Old Mystery About The Measles Vaccine

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And when you read this keep in mind that in the US many parents deliberately prevent their children from getting a measles vaccine. Michaeleen Doucleff reports for NPR:

Back in the 1960s, the U.S. started vaccinating kids for measles. As expected, children stopped getting measles.

But something else happened.

Childhood deaths from all infectious diseases plummeted. Even deaths from diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea were cut by half.

Scientists saw the same phenomenon when the vaccine came to England and parts of Europe. And they see it today when developing countries introduce the vaccine.

“In some developing countries, where infectious diseases are very high, the reduction in mortality has been up to 80 percent,” says Michael Mina, a postdoc in biology at Princeton University and a medical student at Emory University.

“So it’s really been a mystery — why do children stop dying at such high rates from all these different infections following introduction of the measles vaccine,” he says.

Mina and his colleagues think they now might have an explanation. And they published their evidence Thursday in the journal Science.

Now there’s an obvious answer to the mystery: Children who get the measles vaccine are probably more likely to get better health care in general — maybe more antibiotics and other vaccines. And it’s true, health care in the U.S. has improved since the 1960s.

But Mina and his colleagues have found there’s more going on than that simple answer.

The team obtained epidemiological data from the U.S., Denmark, Wales and England dating back to the 1940s. Using computer models, they found that the number of measles cases in these countries predicted the number of deaths from other infections two to three years later.

“We found measles predisposes children to all other infectious diseases for up to a few years,” Mina says.

And the virus seems to do it in a sneaky way.

Like many viruses, measles is known to suppress the immune system for a few weeks after an infection. But previous studies in monkeys have suggested that measles takes this suppression to a whole new level: It erases immune protection to other diseases, Mina says.

So what does that mean? Well, say you get the chicken pox when you’re 4 years old. Your immune system figures out how to fight it. So you don’t get it again. But if you get measles when you’re 5 years old, it could wipe out the memory of how to beat back the chicken pox. It’s like the immune system has amnesia, Mina says.

“The immune system kind of comes back. The only problem is that it has forgotten what it once knew,” he says.

So after an infection, a child’s immune system has to almost start over, rebuilding its immune protection against diseases it has already seen before.

This idea of “immune amnesia” is still just a hypothesis and needs more testing, says epidemiologist William Moss, who has studied the measles vaccine for more than a decade at Johns Hopkins University.

But the new study, he says, provides “compelling evidence” that measles affects the immune system for two to three years. That’s much longer than previously thought.

“Hence the reduction in overall child mortality that follows measles vaccination is much greater than previously believed,” says Moss, who wasn’t involved in the study.

That finding should give parents more motivation to vaccinate their kids, he says. “I think this paper will provide additional evidence — if it’s needed — of the public health benefits of measles vaccine,” Moss says. “That’s an important message in the U.S. right now and in countries continuing to see measles outbreaks.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2019 at 6:03 pm

Tasty health: Salmon-Red Chard Stew

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As always, improvised. This time I used the 6-qt All Clad pot (wide diameter so good for sautéing). I had steamed green beans (first cut into 1″ lengths) and then refrigerated. I stopped steaming just before they were done, since I planned on cooking them in various dishes—like this one

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 bunches scallions, chopped—thick ones if possible (I wasn’t so lucky)
1 cup leafy celery, chopped—the leafy-ness was unexpected but welcome
1 large carrot, cut on diagonal, rotating carrot 90º after each cut
1 cup steamed green beans cut into 1″ lengths, not quite done
chopped stems from one bunch of red chard
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
big pinch of salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauté, stirring occasionally (I use a wooden spatula because it stirs better than a spoon) until the vegetables start to soften a bit (8-10 minutes, I’d guess).

Add:

I large zucchini, halved lengthways, cut into strips and then crossways into chunks—large enough to hold the texture when cooked

Continue sautéing for a bit longer (4-6 minutes), then add:

1 bunch red chard, chopped (stems chopped and sautéed with above)
dash Worcestershire sauce
juice of 1 lemon

Stir to mix, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes over medium heat. Then add:

1 large salmon fillet, skin removed and then cut into chunks
1/4 cup good sherry (cream sherry or Amontillado or the like)

Cover and simmer for another 8-10 minutes. Really yummy. 8 WW points for olive oil, probably 8 for Kalamata olives: 16 total, or 4 points a serving.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2019 at 5:36 pm

How seeing snakes in the grass helped primates to evolve

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Lynne A Isbell, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis and author of The Fruit, the Tree, and the Serpent: Why We See So Well (2009) writes at Aeon:

Evolution has favoured the modification and expansion of primate vision. Compared with other mammals, primates have, for example, greater depth perception from having forward-facing eyes with extensively overlapping visual fields, sharper visual acuity, more areas in the brain that are involved with vision, and, in some primates, trichromatic colour vision, which enables them to distinguish red from green hues. In fact, what separates primates from other mammals most is their much greater reliance on vision as the main sensory interface with the environment.

Vision is a window onto the world, its qualities determined by natural selection and the constraints of both animals’ bodies and the environments in which they live. Despite their long, shared evolutionary history, mammals don’t all see the world in the same way because they inhabit a variety of niches with different selective pressures. What were those selective pressures for primates, our lineage, that led to their having visual systems more expansive and more complex than those of other mammals?

In 2006, I published a new idea that could answer that question and more: the ‘snake detection theory’. I hypothesised that when large-gaped constricting snakes appeared about 100 million years ago and began eating mammals, their predatory behaviour favoured the evolution of changes in the vision of one kind of prey, the lineage that was to become primates. In other words, the ability to see immobile predatory snakes before getting too close became a highly beneficial trait for them to have and pass on to their descendants. Then, about 60 million years ago, venomous snakes appeared in Africa or Asia, adding more pressure on primates to detect and avoid them. This has also had repercussions on their visual systems.

There is a consistency between the degree of complexity in primate visual systems and the length of evolutionary time that primates have spent with venomous snakes. At one extreme, the lineage that comprises Old World monkeys, apes and humans has the best vision of all primates, including excellent visual acuity and fully trichromatic colour vision. Having evolved roughly at the same time and in the same place as venomous snakes, these primates have had continuous coexistence with them. They are also uniformly wary of snakes.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Malagasy primates have the simplest visual systems. Among other things, they have low visual acuity because the fovea, a depression in the retina that is responsible for our visual acuity wherever we focus our eyes, is poorly developed (when it’s present at all). Although Madagascar has constricting snakes, it has no venomous snakes, so primates on that island never had to face that particular selective pressure. Behavioural evidence also reveals that they don’t all react fearfully toward snakes. Some can even walk on snakes or snake models, treating them as if they’re just another branch.

The visual systems of New World monkeys are in the middle. They have better visual acuity than Malagasy primates but more variability in their visual systems than Old World monkeys. For example, New World howler monkeys are all trichromatic, but in other New World primate species, only some individuals are able to distinguish red from green hues. New World primates were originally part of the anthropoid primate lineage in Africa that also includes Old World monkeys and apes, and so had to deal with venomous snakes for about 20-25 million years, but then, some 36 million years ago, they left Africa and arrived in South America where venomous snakes were not present until roughly 15 million years later. By then, New World monkeys had begun to diversify into different genera, and so each genus evolved separate solutions to the renewed problem caused by the arrival again of venomous snakes. As far as I know, no other explanation for the variation in their visual systems exists.

Since I proposed the snake detection theory, several studies have shown that nonhuman and human primates, including young children and snake-naive infants, have a visual bias toward snakes compared with other animate objects, such as lizards, spiders, worms, birds and flowers. Psychologists have discovered that we pick out images of snakes faster or more accurately than other objects, especially under cluttered or obscuring conditions that resemble the sorts of environments in which snakes are typically found. Snakes also distract us from finding other objects as quickly. Our ability to detect snakes faster is also more pronounced when we have less time to detect them and when they are in our periphery. Moreover, our ‘primary visual area’ in the back of the brain shows stronger electrophysiological responses to images of snakes than of lizards 150-300 milliseconds after people see the images, providing a measurable physical correlate of our greater visual bias toward them.

Since vision is mostly in the brain, we need to turn to neuroscience to understand the mechanisms for our visual bias toward snakes. All vertebrates have a visual system that allows them to distinguish potential predators from potential prey. This is a nonconscious visual system that involves only subcortical structures, including those that in mammals are called the superior colliculus and the pulvinar, and it allows for very fast visual detection and response. When an animal sees a predator, this nonconscious visual system also taps directly into motor responses such as freezing and darting.

As vertebrates, mammals have this nonconscious visual system, but they have also incorporated vision into the neocortex. No other animals have a neocortex. This somewhat slower, conscious visual system allows mammals to become cognizant of objects for what they really are. The first neocortical stop is the primary visual area, which is particularly sensitive to edges and lines of different orientations.

In a breakthrough study, a team of neuroscientists probed the responses of individual neurons in the pulvinar of Japanese macaques as they were shown images of snakes, faces of monkeys, hands of monkeys, and simple geometric shapes. Sure enough, many pulvinar neurons responded more strongly and more quickly to snakes than to the other images. The snake-sensitive neurons were found in a subsection of the pulvinar that is connected to a part of the superior colliculus involved in defensive motor behaviour such as freezing and darting, and to the amygdala, a subcortical structure involved in mediating fear responses. Among all mammals, the lineage with the greatest evolutionary exposure to venomous snakes, the anthropoid monkeys, apes and humans, also have the largest pulvinar. This makes perfect sense in the context of the snake detection theory.

What is it about snakes that makes them so attention-grabbing to us? Naturally, we use all the cues available (such as body shape and leglessness) but it’s their scales that should be the most reliable, because a little patch of snake might be all we have to go on. Indeed, wild vervet monkeys in Africa, for instance, are able with their superb visual acuity to detect just an inch of snake skin within a minute of coming near it. In people,  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2019 at 2:36 pm

Other lies: Time and time again, hyped claims of rampant illegal voting turn out to be untrue

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Phillip Bump writes in the Washington Post:

It took just over a day for an announcement from the office of the Texas secretary of state hinting that thousands of noncitizens might have voted to make it into President Trump’s Twitter feed.

“58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote,” Trump wrote, apparently lifting the data from an episode of “Fox & Friends.” “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!”

A bit later, he retweeted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who hyped the same numbers with an all-caps intro: “VOTER FRAUD ALERT.”

Paxton’s presentation of the argument was at least nuanced in a way that Trump’s wasn’t. He pointed out that the 95,000 noncitizens had been identified as such by the Department of Public Safety. In fact, as the world quickly learned, it was even less firm than that.

The name matches were weak (as the notice to counties indicated in an all-caps warning of its own), and in short order the state and individual counties started clearing names from the list as people’s statuses were confirmed. As our fact-checkers noted, it’s also more than possible that people on the list obtained citizenship since the time they first presented documentation to the state about their status. In 2016, more than 110,000 people in Texas were granted citizenship. Over the decade from 2007 to 2016, nearly a million people became citizens in the state.

This wasn’t a mystery at the time of Trump’s tweet. The Texas Tribune had already written an entire thread on Twitter urging caution after the state’s initial announcement.

“You might be seeing headlines or tweets tonight that claim Texas says 58,000 non-citizens have voted in Texas,” the paper wrote on Jan. 25. “That is not true. That is not what the state has said.” Two days later, watching “Fox & Friends,” that’s what the president tweeted anyway.

Trump and the Tribune are not in the same business. The latter is interested in sharing accurate information about what’s happening in Texas; the former is interested in sharing information, regardless of provenance, that advances his political goals. Often, during his time in politics, that has meant hyping misunderstood, misrepresented or completely untrue claims about voter fraud. Most infamously, Trump championed an apparently entirely fabricated claim of millions of fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 election with zero evidence — his goal being to cast doubt on the popular vote margin that year, in which he placed second. (That, too, is why he isolated California as being another example of alleged fraud: Hillary Clinton’s wide margin of victory there alone gave her more total votes than Trump.)

By now, Americans should be conditioned to applying a wait-and-see approach to claims of rampant in-person voter fraud. Beyond the fact that such claims have been repeatedly investigated without turning up examples of significant fraud, there have been repeated announcements from authority figures (generally agencies led by Republicans) about thousands of questionable votes or voters — assertions that, in short order, fritter away into dust.

There was a similar push in Florida a few years ago, which gained newfound attention with the state’s contested Senate and gubernatorial races last year. Initial news reports suggested that perhaps 200,000 voters in the state might not be citizens; the actual number was 207, one one-thousandth of that number. There, too, an initial list was quickly whittled down to 1 percent of its initial size, and further investigation determined that only a tenth of that group were ineligible.

A lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania last year claimed that perhaps as many as 100,000 voters in that state were noncitizens ineligible to vote. The state determined that there was actually a pool of only about 11,200 voters about whom there might be questions, a group then narrowed further to about 8,700 before being sent to counties for evaluation. Results of those evaluations do not appear to have been finalized.

Trump’s narrow loss in New Hampshire in 2016 prompted him to claim that voter fraud had blocked his victory, a claim seemingly bolstered when the state discovered more than 6,000 voters who’d registered with out-of-state driver’s licenses. An investigation found that only 66 of those individuals (many of whom were believed to be college students) didn’t have their identities verified — and only four people were found to have voted illegally, mostly out of confusion about where to vote.

Last year, Georgia’s then-secretary of state, Brian Kemp, flagged 53,000 voter registrations that failed the state’s strict “exact match” verification system. Kemp at the time was facing off against Democrat Stacey Abrams for governor. That system was thrown out by a judge shortly before the election. Four years earlier, Kemp had flagged for additional scrutiny 85,000 applications submitted by a voter-registration organization founded by Abrams. Of that total, about 50 were identified as fraudulent.

The most recognizable advocate for cracking down on voter registrations was Kansas’s former secretary of state, Kris Kobach. At one point, he claimed that changes to registration laws that he had championed might have prevented as many as 18,000 people from voting illegally — though after a fervent effort on his part to uproot illegal voting during his tenure, his office could document only 127 ineligible individuals who voted or tried to vote. By the end of 2017, he had obtained nine convictions for voting illegally. One of those convicted was a noncitizen.

Kobach also ran for governor last year but, unlike Kemp, was unsuccessful. In the wake of his departure from the capitol, the state appears to be winding down his more aggressive anti-fraud efforts.

It’s the specter of rampant voter fraud that is important from a political perspective. Much of the national political debate is centered on unseen and uncountable threats: fraudulent voters, people being smuggled across the border with Mexico for human trafficking, terrorists swarming into the United States. It seems, at first glance, possible that thousands of people might have voted illegally in Texas, especially for those inclined to take Trump’s warnings about fraud at face value.

Time and again, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2019 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Three entertaining charts: How to Lie With Statistics, Manufacturing Edition

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2019 at 11:23 am

Col. Conk and the Feather AS-D1

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Col. Conk makes a glycerine-based shaving soap, and it makes a fine lather in terms of consistency though the fragrance is lacking. But this is a mass-market product and boutique fragrances just don’t match the need. The Amber soap I used this morning has a light and inoffensive fragrance, and the lather is quite good in all respects save fragrance. In fact, I have a YouTube video of my making lather with Col. Conk:

The lather this morning was made with my Chiseled Face synthetic brush, and my excellent Feather AS-D1 produced a totally comfortable shave with a totally smooth result. (I lucked out and got one of the good AS-D1s—some were not so good, being totally inefficient, and that’s why the AS-D2 came along.) A splash of Pinaud Lilac Vegetal finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2019 at 6:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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