Later On

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

Archive for May 11th, 2021

Conservative critics of the CIA think that “excellence” and “diversity” are opposites

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As Susan M. Gordon, deputy director of national intelligence from 2017 to 2019, points out, we see a lot of blatant bias from conservatives. She writes in the Washington Post:

A recent installment of the CIA’s social media series, “Humans of CIA”, depicted a young (to me, at least) Latina telling her story as she walked the sacred halls of Langley. It is part of the Agency’s effort to share real stories and show the many faces, perspectives, and experiences of today’s intelligence officers. Their aim is to connect to America, and if they’re lucky, attract new talent.

Well, you would have thought the free world had come to an end.

And not because trolls on Twitter had lots of inane comments about the officer herself or the sad decline of the Agency because it aspired to be an inclusive, diverse organization. (Without trolls and inane comments, there would be no Twitter.)

What was shocking — more exhausting than shocking, really — was the number of notable leaders who decided to weigh in with similar commentary.

Mike Pompeo — a former CIA director, no less — tweeted this spectacular non sequitur: “The collection of incredibly talented patriots serving at the CIA is what makes it the best spy agency in the world — and we must continue to recruit the best and brightest. We can’t afford to risk our national security to appease some liberal, woke agenda.”

His implication, of course was that women such as the one in the video do not represent the best and brightest — even though she is definitionally one of the “talented patriots” he longs for. Not to be outdone, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted: “If you’re a Chinese communist, or an Iranian Mullah, or Kim Jong Un . . . would this scare you? We’ve come a long way from Jason Bourne.”

When reminded that Bourne was, um, fictional, Cruz clarified: “My point is that CIA agents should be bad-asses — not woke, fragile flowers.”

This is what systemic bias sounds like, for all those who don’t know or question its existence. It is the suggestion that there is only one look to excellence, only one kind of experience of value, and that any change of the status quo — or the Hollywood-fed stereotype — must mean a reduction in standards. It is also how power keeps power.

And it’s not just in intelligence that the battle is still being fought. In March, when the Air Force and the Army made long overdue changes in uniforms and personal (hair) standards, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson used his on-air time to opine, “So we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military.” He does know that women have served in the military since its inception and in combat for decades, right? Our military’s record of achievement is their record of achievement.

As a woman, I am plenty familiar with the false choice between diversity or excellence; the seemingly legitimate argument of “merit-based” selection that advances the notion that if organizations increase diversity and expand inclusion, they sacrifice mission or quality. Nothing could be further from my experience during my more than 30 years in the intelligence community, no matter how many times it is stated or implied. In reality, the smart move is to choose both. Inclusion and excellence. Diversity and mission. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2021 at 4:11 pm

Safety of Probiotics

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Dr. Michael Greger has an interesting post on probiotics:

In certain medical conditions, probiotic supplements may actually make things worse.

If you’ve ever made sauerkraut at home, you know you don’t have to add any kind of starter bacteria to get it to ferment, because the lactic acid-producing bacteria are already present on the cabbage leaves themselves out in the field. This suggests that raw fruits and vegetables may not only be a source of prebiotics—that is, fiber—but also a source of “novel” probiotics. 

As I discuss in my video Culture Shock: Questioning the Efficacy and Safety of Probiotics, researchers have since worked on characterizing these bacterial communities and found two interesting results. First, “the communities on each produce type were significantly distinct from one another.” Indeed, the tree fruits harbor different bacteria than veggies on the ground, and grapes and mushrooms seem to be off in their own little world. So, if these bugs do indeed turn out to be good for us, this would underscore the importance of eating not just a greater quantity but also a greater variety of fruits and veggies every day. And, second, the researchers found that there were “significant differences in [microbial] community composition between conventional and organic” produce. “This highlights the potential for differences in the microbiota [or bacteria] between conventionally and organically farmed produce items to impact human health”—but we don’t know in what direction. They certainly found different bacteria on organic versus conventional produce, but we don’t know enough about fruit and veggie bugs to make a determination as to which bacterial communities are healthier.

What about probiotic supplements? I’ve talked before about their potential benefits in my videos Preventing and Treating Diarrhea with Probiotics and Gut Feelings: Probiotics and Mental Health, but there appears to be publication bias in the scientific literature about probiotics. This is something we see a lot with drug companies, where the sponsor, such as the supplement company paying for its own probiotic research, may not report negative results. It won’t publish it, as if the study never happened. In that case then, doctors just see the positive studies.  

As you can see at 2:00 in my Culture Shock: Questioning the Efficacy and Safety of Probiotics video, using fancy statistical techniques, researchers estimated that as many as 20 unflattering studies “with smaller or deleterious results” were simply MIA. They just weren’t published. What’s more, even in the studies that were published, even when the authors were directly sponsored by a yogurt company, for example, “very commonly conflicts of interest are not reported…”

There’s also been concerns about safety. A review for the government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concluded that there’s “a lack of assessment and systematic reporting of adverse events in probiotic intervention studies,” so while “the available evidence in RCTs [randomized controlled trials] does not indicate an increased risk [for the general public]…the current literature is not well equipped to answer questions on the safety of probiotic interventions with confidence.”

Let’s talk about the study that freaked people out a bit. Acute pancreatitis, sudden inflammation of the pancreas, is on the rise and can become life-threatening in some cases, as bacteria break through our gut barrier and infect our internal organs. Antibiotics don’t seem to work, so how about probiotics? They seemed to work on rats. If you cause inflammation by cutting the rats open and “mechanically damaging” their pancreas, not only do probiotics show “strong evidence for efficacy,” but there were “no indications for harmful effects…” So, half the people with pancreatitis got probiotics, and the other half got sugar pills. As you can see at 3:37 in my video, the mortality rates shot up in the probiotics group compared to placebo within ten days. More than twice as many people died on the probiotics. Thus, probiotics for acute pancreatitis probably aren’t a good idea, and, even further, probiotics “can no longer be considered to be harmless”…

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2021 at 8:46 am

The marvelous iKon 102 with Cuppa Joe

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The iKon Shavecraft 102 remains one of my all-time favorite razors. It is a slant that I believe would be safe for a novice, but despite its great comfort and reluctance to nick, it is nevertheless extremely efficient, and this morning I noted how the head mass assists in the smooth cutting action it delivers.

Of course, good prep helps as well. The lather from Mystic Water Cuppa Joe was bountiful and fragrant, and after 3 passes my face felt fine.

A splash of Master Bay Rum, and I’m ready for another sunny day.

Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2021 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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