Later On

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

Archive for May 24th, 2021

Healthiest sources of iodine, a necessary nutrient

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I didn’t know that about kelp. I was just about to buy some kelp noodles. I will now buy nori sheets instead. See also this video.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 7:54 pm

What’s the healthiest news diet?

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Joshua Benton writes at NiemanLab:

What sorts of media diets actually make you more knowledgeable about politics?

Is it one packed full of newspaper fiber? High-sugar clickbait? A day full of smartphone snacking, or three square meals? Can cable news really be part of a complete breakfast? Er…any idea what keto news consumption would be in this over-extended metaphor? (Vice, maybe?)

new study in The International Journal of Press/Politics, looking at news usage in 17 European countries, finds that good ol’ traditional media is probably best for your political IQ — including high-quality public media, if you can find it. A vigorous online news regimen can also be good for knowledge, mostly. But ironically, gorging on all the news you can find might leave you less informed than someone who’s more selective.

The list of researchers is a veritable Schengen area of academics — 18 in all, led here by Laia Castro of the University of Zurich.1 (They make up NEPOCS, the Network of European Political Communication Scholars.)2 Here’s the abstract, emphases mine.

The transition from low- to high-choice media environments has had far-reaching implications for citizens’ media use and its relationship with political knowledge. However, there is still a lack of comparative research on how citizens combine the usage of different media and how that is related to political knowledge.

To fill this void, we use a unique cross-national survey about the online and offline media use habits of more than 28,000 individuals in 17 European countries. Our aim is to (i) profile different types of news consumers and (ii) understand how each user profile is linked to political knowledge acquisition.

Our results show that five user profiles — news minimalists, social media news users, traditionalists, online news seekers, and hyper news consumers — can be identified, although the prevalence of these profiles varies across countries. Findings further show that both traditional and online-based news diets are correlated with higher political knowledge. However, online-based news use is more widespread in Southern Europe, where it is associated with lower levels of political knowledge than in Northern Europe.

By focusing on news audiences, this study provides a comprehensive and fine-grained analysis of how contemporary European political information environments perform and contribute to an informed citizenry.

The research is based on an online survey of 28,317 Europeans, with per-country samples of around 1,700 each. (The samples are “fairly representative” of the broader populations, though a little more female, a little more educated, and a little younger.) Subjects were asked about how frequently they used different kinds of news media — TV, radio, newspaper, public service broadcasters, social media, online news sites, alternative media, and “infotainment” (political talk shows, comedy news shows, etc.). Researchers also asked about how often they actively try to avoid the news, how often their friends share news stories on social platforms, and how often they bump into political news without specifically seeking it.

They used the responses to all of those questions to categorize people into five “news user profiles”: news minimalistssocial media news userstraditionalistsonline news seekers, and hyper news consumers.

  • News minimalists: 17%. “Those who seldom consume news and use very few media outlets or platforms, if any…they are also the least politically interested, do not perceive they will be well-informed regardless of their actively following the news…and are older and slightly more educated than the average news user.”
  • Social media news users: 22%. They “mainly inform themselves through social media and consume little information beyond that…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

These corporations broke the commitments they made after January 6

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Judd Legum reports in Popular Information:

It’s been nearly five months since the attack on the United States Capitol. But in many respects, nothing has changed.

None of the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election on January 6 — fueling the lie that motivated the attack — have expressed contrition or remorse. Several have attempted to recast the riot as a peaceful protest. This month, Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-GA) compared the events of that day to a “normal tourist visit” to the Capitol and Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said the Department of Justice, which has filed criminal charges against more than 400 people, was “harassing peaceful patriots.”

Last Wednesday, of the 139 Republican members of the House who objected to the certification of the Electoral College, all but six voted against the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attack.

In January, hundreds of corporations announced they were suspending PAC donations to the Republican objectors or all members of Congress. These corporations — explicitly or implicitly — recognized that the Republican members who voter against certification bore some responsibility for the violence.

Since then, most of these corporations have kept their promises. But others have not.

There are hundreds of corporations, each making a slightly different commitment after January 6. And there are a variety of ways the campaign finance system allows corporations to funnel money to campaigns. Each month a flood of campaign finance records are reported to the FEC. The most recent data dump came last Thursday.

But Popular Information has been keeping a close eye on the issue. This is a breakdown of companies that have broken the letter or spirit of their post-January 6 commitments. . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Business, Congress, Election, GOP, Politics

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Radioactivity May Fuel Life Deep Underground and Inside Other Worlds

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More and more it seems as though if life is possible in an environment, then it is inevitable. Matter wants to live.

Jordana Cepelewicz writes in Quanta:

Scientists poke and prod at the fringes of habitability in pursuit of life’s limits. To that end, they have tunneled kilometers below Earth’s surface, drilling outward from the bottoms of mine shafts and sinking boreholes deep into ocean sediments. To their surprise, “life was everywhere that we looked,” said Tori Hoehler, a chemist and astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. And it was present in staggering quantities: By various estimates, the inhabited subsurface realm has twice the volume of the oceans and holds on the order of 1030 cells, making it one of the biggest habitats on the planet, as well as one of the oldest and most diverse.

Researchers are still trying to understand how most of the life down there survives. Sunlight for photosynthesis cannot reach such depths, and the meager amount of organic carbon food that does is often quickly exhausted. Unlike communities of organisms that dwell near hydrothermal vents on the seafloor or within continental regions warmed by volcanic activity, ecosystems here generally can’t rely on the high-temperature processes that support some subsurface life independent of photosynthesis; these microbes must hang on in deep cold and darkness.

Two papers appearing in February by different research groups now seem to have solved some of this mystery for cells beneath the continents and in deep marine sediments. They find evidence that, much as the sun’s nuclear fusion reactions provide energy to the surface world, a different kind of nuclear process — radioactive decay — can sustain life deep below the surface. Radiation from unstable atoms in rocks can split water molecules into hydrogen and chemically reactive peroxides and radicals; some cells can use the hydrogen as fuel directly, while the remaining products turn minerals and other surrounding compounds into additional energy sources.

Although these radiolytic reactions yield energy far more slowly than the sun and underground thermal processes, the researchers have shown that they are fast enough to be key drivers of microbial activity in a broad range of settings — and that they are responsible for a diverse pool of organic molecules and other chemicals important to life. According to Jack Mustard, a planetary geologist at Brown University who was not involved in the new work, the radiolysis explanation has “opened up whole new vistas” into what life could look like, how it might have emerged on an early Earth, and where else in the universe it might one day be found.

Hydrogen Down Deep

Barbara Sherwood Lollar set off for university in 1981, four years after the discovery of life at the hydrothermal vents. As the child of two teachers who “fed me on a steady diet of Jules Verne,” she said, “all of this really spoke to the kid in me.” Not only was studying the deep subsurface a way to “understand a part of the planet that had never been seen before, a kind of life that we didn’t understand yet,” but it “clearly was going to trample [the] boundaries” between chemistry, biology, physics and geology, allowing scientists to combine those fields in new and intriguing ways.

Throughout Sherwood Lollar’s training in the 1980s and her early career as a geologist at the University of Toronto in the ’90s, more and more subterranean microbial communities were uncovered. The enigma of what supported this life prompted some researchers to propose that there might be “a deep hydrogen-triggered biosphere” full of cells using hydrogen gas as an energy source. (Microbes found in deep subsurface samples were often enriched with genes for enzymes that could derive energy from hydrogen.) Many geological processes could plausibly produce that hydrogen, but the best-studied ones occurred only at high temperatures and pressures. These included interactions between volcanic gases, the breakdown of particular minerals in the presence of water, and serpentinization — the chemical alteration of certain kinds of crustal rock through reactions with water.

By the early 2000s, Sherwood Lollar, Li-Hung Lin (now at National Taiwan University), Tullis Onstott of Princeton University and their colleagues were finding high concentrations of hydrogen — “in some cases, stunningly high,” Sherwood Lollar said — in water isolated from deep beneath the South African and Canadian crust. But serpentinization couldn’t explain it: The kinds of minerals needed often weren’t present. Nor did the other processes seem likely, because of the absence of recent volcanic activity and magma flows.

“So we began to look and expand our understanding of hydrogen-producing reactions and their relationship to the chemistry and mineralogy of the rocks in these places,” Sherwood Lollar said.

A clue came from their discovery that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 4:26 pm

The Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Hackers Had a Secret Weapon: Self-Promoting Cybersecurity Firms

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ProPublica has a very interesting report by by Renee Dudley and Daniel Golden that begins:

On Jan. 11, antivirus company Bitdefender said it was “happy to announce” a startling breakthrough. It had found a flaw in the ransomware that a gang known as DarkSide was using to freeze computer networks of dozens of businesses in the U.S. and Europe. Companies facing demands from DarkSide could download a free tool from Bitdefender and avoid paying millions of dollars in ransom to the hackers.

But Bitdefender wasn’t the first to identify this flaw. Two other researchers, Fabian Wosar and Michael Gillespie, had noticed it the month before and had begun discreetly looking for victims to help. By publicizing its tool, Bitdefender alerted DarkSide to the lapse, which involved reusing the same digital keys to lock and unlock multiple victims. The next day, DarkSide declared that it had repaired the problem, and that “new companies have nothing to hope for.”

“Special thanks to BitDefender for helping fix our issues,” DarkSide said. “This will make us even better.”

DarkSide soon proved it wasn’t bluffing, unleashing a string of attacks. This month, it paralyzed the Colonial Pipeline Co., prompting a shutdown of the 5,500 mile pipeline that carries 45% of the fuel used on the East Coast, quickly followed by a rise in gasoline prices, panic buying of gas across the Southeast and closures of thousands of gas stations. Absent Bitdefender’s announcement, it’s possible that the crisis might have been contained, and that Colonial might have quietly restored its system with Wosar and Gillespie’s decryption tool.

Instead, Colonial paid DarkSide $4.4 million in Bitcoin for a key to unlock its files. “I will admit that I wasn’t comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this,” CEO Joseph Blount told The Wall Street Journal.

The missed opportunity was part of a broader pattern of botched or half-hearted responses to the growing menace of ransomware, which during the pandemic has disabled businesses, schools, hospitals, and government agencies across the country. The incident also shows how antivirus companies eager to make a name for themselves sometimes violate one of the cardinal rules of the cat-and-mouse game of cyber-warfare: Don’t let your opponents know what you’ve figured out. During World War II, when the British secret service learned from decrypted communications that the Gestapo was planning to abduct and murder a valuable double agent, Johnny Jebsen, his handler wasn’t allowed to warn him for fear of cluing in the enemy that its cipher had been cracked. Today, ransomware hunters like Wosar and Gillespie try to prolong the attackers’ ignorance, even at the cost of contacting fewer victims. Sooner or later, as payments drop off, the cybercriminals realize that something has gone wrong.

Whether to tout a decryption tool is a “calculated decision,” said Rob McLeod, senior director of the threat response unit for cybersecurity firm eSentire. From the marketing perspective, “You are singing that song from the rooftops about how you have come up with a security solution that will decrypt a victim’s data. And then the security researcher angle says, ‘Don’t disclose any information here. Keep the ransomware bugs that we’ve found that allow us to decode the data secret, so as not to notify the threat actors.’”

Wosar said that publicly releasing tools, as Bitdefender did, has become riskier as ransoms have soared and the gangs have grown wealthier and more technically adept. In the early days of ransomware, when hackers froze home computers for a few hundred dollars, they often couldn’t determine how their code was broken unless the flaw was specifically pointed out to them.

Today, the creators of ransomware “have access to reverse engineers and penetration testers who are very very capable,” he said. “That’s how they gain entrance to these oftentimes highly secured networks in the first place. They download the decryptor, they disassemble it, they reverse engineer it and they figure out exactly why we were able to decrypt their files. And 24 hours later, the whole thing is fixed. Bitdefender should have known better.”

It wasn’t the first time that Bitdefender trumpeted a solution that Wosar or Gillespie had beaten it to. Gillespie had broken the code of a ransomware strain called GoGoogle and was helping victims without any fanfare, when Bitdefender released a decryption tool in May 2020. Other companies have also announced breakthroughs publicly, Wosar and Gillespie said.

“People are desperate for a news mention, and big security companies don’t care about victims,” Wosar said.

Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research at Bucharest, Romania-based Bitdefender, said the company wasn’t aware of the earlier success in unlocking files infected by DarkSide. Regardless, he said, Bitdefender decided to publish its tool “because most victims who fall for ransomware do not have the right connection with ransomware support groups and won’t know where to ask for help unless they can learn about the existence of tools from media reports or with a simple search.”

Bitdefender has provided free technical support to more than a dozen DarkSide victims, and “we believe many others have successfully used the tool without our intervention,” Botezatu said. Over the years, Bitdefender has helped individuals and businesses avoid paying more than $100 million in ransom, he said.

Bitdefender recognized that DarkSide might correct the flaw, Botezatu said. “We are well aware that attackers are agile and adapt to our decryptors.” But DarkSide might have “spotted the issue” anyway. “We don’t believe in ransomware decryptors made silently available. Attackers will learn about their existence by impersonating home users or companies in need, while the vast majority of victims will have no idea that they can get their data back for free.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and more about what is being done to protect data systems.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 3:24 pm

America’s Final Descent Into a Failed State

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In Medium Umair Haque lays out a future for the US:

By now, the contours of what look like a strategy are emerging. A strategy to take revenge on American democracy — this time, successfully. The five elements of this strategy — it’s the GOP’s, of course — go something like this.

One, put in place as party leaders those who’ve basically sworn allegiance to Trump, his movement, and his aims, which seem to be the violent overthrow of American democracy. Two, have them propound the Big Lie that the election was stolen. Three, at the state level, restrict voting rights as severely as possible. Four, elevate a new generation of fanatics and radicals — who openly bask in violence, like Marjorie Taylor Greene — to prominence. And five, of course, block any attempt to investigate the coup on Jan 6th.

All of that adds up to a nightmare scenario, come the next election. This fivefold strategy gives the GOP options. Options of the kind it shouldn’t have. To overthrow American democracy in any number of ways.

Let’s consider a few.

One: the Republicans take the house, and refuse to certify the President, if he or she’s a Democrat. What happens then? Constitutional crisis — of the most severe kind. It ends up at the Supreme Court — which, of course, leans heavily, heavily Republican.

Two: the Republicans lose the election — and attempt another coup. Only this time, they’re successful — remember, last time, America got lucky, and it was a minor miracle political leaders weren’t assassinated, which was the explicit goal of the coup. But this time, Republicans do manage to block vote certification through outright violence. What happens then? Chaos does. The GOP claims they’re the “true” winners — and America’s left in a twilight zone.

Three: the many, many ways the Republicans are attacking voting at the state level pay off. Through a combination of gerrymandering, sympathetic officials who are fanatics, restrictions, and “fraudits,” the Republicans manage to swing the election their way — by simply hacking away at the most basic mechanisms of democracy.

I could go on, but the point is this. Trump may seem “gone” — for now — but American democracy is in grave danger. It may be in more danger now than during the Trump years, in fact. Why is that?

Because what all the above means is that the GOP has radicalized. They have made three significant choices, in the last few months, as an institution, as a set of people, as a social group. One, they have doubled down on the idea that if democracy doesn’t serve their ascendance to power, then it’s OK to do away with democracy. Two, they’ve doubled down on the idea that violence is a perfectly acceptable means to take power. Three, they’ve decided that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 2:10 pm

When an algorithm taps you on the shoulder

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Matt Stroud reports in the Verge:

ROBERT MCDANIEL’S TROUBLES began with a knock on the door. It was a weekday in mid-2013, as he made lunch in the crowded three-bedroom house where he lives with his grandmother and several of his adult siblings.

When he went to answer the door, McDaniel discovered not one person, but a cohort of visitors: two police officers in uniform, a neighbor working with the police, and a muscular guy in shorts and a T-shirt sporting short, graying hair.

Police officers weren’t a new sight for McDaniel. They often drove down his tree-lined street in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago making stops and arrests. Out of the 775 homicides tracked by the Chicago Sun-Times in 2020, 72 of them happened in Austin. That’s almost 10 percent of the city’s murder rate, in a region that takes up just 3 percent of its total area. The City of Chicago puts out a “heat map” of where gun crimes occur, with areas of moderate shooting numbers shaded in blue or green. Red splotches represent large numbers — and hottest concentrations — of shootings. On the map, Austin is the color of a fire engine.

Still, this visit from authorities caught McDaniel off guard: at that point in time, he had nothing remotely violent on his criminal record — just arrests for marijuana-related offenses and street gambling. And despite two officers showing up at his front door with the cohort, neither of them, nor anyone else in the cohort, accused McDaniel of breaking the law. They were not there to arrest him. No one was there to investigate a crime. They just wanted to talk.

“I had no idea why these cops were here,” McDaniel says, recounting it to me years later. “I didn’t do shit to bring them here.”

He invited them into this home. And when he did, they told McDaniel something he could hardly believe: an algorithm built by the Chicago Police Department predicted — based on his proximity to and relationships with known shooters and shooting casualties — that McDaniel would be involved in a shooting. That he would be a “party to violence,” but it wasn’t clear what side of the barrel he might be on. He could be the shooter, he might get shot. They didn’t know. But the data said he was at risk either way.

McDaniel was both a potential victim and a potential perpetrator, and the visitors on his porch treated him as such. A social worker told him that he could help him if he was interested in finding assistance to secure a job, for example, or mental health services. And police were there, too, with a warning: from here on out, the Chicago Police Department would be watching him. The algorithm indicated Robert McDaniel was more likely than 99.9 percent of Chicago’s population to either be shot or to have a shooting connected to him. That made him dangerous, and top brass at the Chicago PD knew it. So McDaniel had better be on his best behavior.

The idea that a series of calculations could predict that he would soon shoot someone, or be shot, seemed outlandish. At the time, McDaniel didn’t know how to take the news.

But the visit set a series of gears in motion. This Kafka-esque policing nightmare — a circumstance in which police identified a man to be surveilled based on a purely theoretical danger — would seem to cause the thing it predicted, in a deranged feat of self-fulfilling prophecy. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and story gets even more interesting. The “help” offered causes the problem it was intended to prevent.

Later in the article, Stroud points out one weakness built into the system:

Forecasting isn’t magic; it’s an educated guess about what might happen based on things that have already occurred. The data feeding forecasting software for police are typically built around police stops and arrests. That might sound straightforward and unbiased, but consider that US Department of Justice data show that African Americans are more than twice as likely to be arrested than white people. And if you’re Black, your likelihood of being stopped by a police officer can be nearly four times higher than if you’re white, depending on which city you live in, according to the Stanford Open Policing Project.

Building a forecasting model around data like these can run the risk of stigmatizing entire populations based on discriminatory data; a 2017 study from the Journal of Statistics and Public Policy found that arrests doubled in a quadrant of Los Angeles where its police department tested forecasting software. Another problem — exacerbated when forecasting programs do not disclose their sources of data — is that of “dirty data” being mixed with more straightforward crime reports: a 2019 study out of New York University’s AI Now Institute identified jurisdictions where inaccurate or falsified records were directly fed into the data. Chicago’s one of them.

Which is all to say that forecasting can put entire populations at risk of over-policing — which has led to countless unnecessary police killings for relatively insignificant infractions. (Think George Floyd. And Michael Brown. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Walter Scott. Thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo, this year, in Chicago. Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. The list goes on.)

Later still:

IN MCDANIEL’S VIEW, the heat list caused the harm its creators hoped to avoid: it predicted a shooting that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t predicted the shooting.

As the heat list continued to operate, researchers tore it to shreds. A 2016 paper published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology came to some troubling conclusions about the list that had, by then, been rebranded as the “Strategic Subject List,” or SSL. Among them: “The individuals on the SSL were considered to be ‘persons of interest’ to the CPD,” meaning that McDaniel’s description of being routinely targeted for surveillance and searches matched what researchers discovered. “Overall,” the report goes on, “there was no practical direction about what to do with individuals on the SSL, little executive or administrative attention paid to the pilot, and little to no follow-up with district commanders.”

The heat list wasn’t particularly predictive, it turned out. It wasn’t high-tech. Cops would just use the list as a way to target people.

There was another problem, too. . .

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 1:41 pm

Drunk as a Lord: The Regency Bottle Men

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The blog Georgian and Victorian Britain has an interesting post (which includes several images, including the one above) that begins:

All the decent people in Lichfield got drunk every night and were not the worse thought of.

                                                                   Samuel Johnson

Sir Murrough O’Brien, Marquess of Thomond, was riding through Grosvenor Square one February morning in 1808 when his fell from his horse, smashed his head on the pavement, was run over by a cart and died the same day. He was not a fashionable member of the bon ton, but was important enough to have an obituary.  What could be said about him? He was a six bottle man, said the newspapers- a celebrated six bottle man. Alcohol did not cut short his life however; he was 82.

What was a six bottle man? You may well be guessing that they were people, who drank six bottles of alcohol a day, and on one level you are correct, but there is a lot of ambiguity in that statement. What would have been in the bottle? The answer is best expressed in the negative; not beer or gin (‘Hollands’), as they were drinks of the poor, but possibly port, sherry, brandy or wine – claret or hock.

The six bottle men – and they were men – were the top of the tree, and there was no such thing as a seven or one bottle man. Indeed there was no such thing as a two bottle man, as they would have represented below average consumption for a gentlemen’s convivial evening. The Duke of Queensbury was a two bottle man, said the Morning Advertiser in 1810. He had just died and Lord Yarmouth inherited his wine cellar, most of which, the newspaper implied had not been used up and therefore Yarmouth was a lucky man.  The entry level was the three bottle man- that is three bottles in one sitting- but there were thousands and thousands of these.

William Pitt and Charles James Fox had little in common, but one habit they shared was addressing the House of Commons under the influence of alcohol; mostly port once again. Pitt picked up the port habit in  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks, History

“You Save as Long as You Have To” — Rape kits and DNA

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Catherine Rentz reports in ProPublica:

Almost 50 years ago, a woman showed up in the emergency room of a hospital in Maryland. She said she had been raped. A doctor examined her and wrote a report. Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker can recite the words of the report from memory nearly half a century later: “I examined this woman. She said she was raped. She was.”

Breitenecker, a forensic pathologist, worked at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, a hospital just outside the Baltimore city limits, and as an expert in courtrooms across the country.

“Worthless,” he remembered thinking when he reviewed the report from another hospital.

Breitenecker had come to America from Austria after World War II, haunted by the wholesale rapes carried out by Russian soldiers as they swept victoriously through Europe.

“Lawless,” he recalled.

And so what he encountered in Baltimore deeply distressed him. Rape victims sat in emergency rooms for up to 10 hours before being treated and examined. When they did get to see a doctor, the exam was rudimentary. There were no standardized rape kits. And no law required that evidence left by the perpetrators be preserved, so it was often destroyed within months by police or hospitals for no better reason than to save space.

“Women were considered more nuisance than victims,” Breitenecker said. “Nothing of value was done.”

Breitenecker decided that would not stand.

He opened the Rape Care Center within the hospital, a unit dedicated to doing better for the traumatized women who wound up there. He trained physicians on how to conduct respectful but meticulous exams and how to preserve the evidence of a possible crime.

Women would be seen within an hour of their arrival. A physician trained by Breitenecker would swab the vagina, vulva, cervix, legs and wherever else there could be physical traces of the attacker. They documented any injuries and took fingernail scrapings. They combed for pubic hair and pulled blood and urine. They put a small amount of saline water inside the vaginal canal to collect the washings into test tubes.

The swabs and tubes were transported to a hospital laboratory where Breitenecker — “Dr. B,” as he was known among colleagues — smeared the contents from the swabs onto thin glass slides, then slid the evidence under a microscope, which he used to check for spermatozoa.

Breitenecker also extracted fluid from the test tube to measure the level of acid phosphatase, which would confirm the existence and approximate timing of the semen release. He then typed the summary and conclusions in a report that would go to the Baltimore County police if they were investigating the case. If the acid phosphatase was markedly elevated, he would write “recent intercourse.” He checked for any sexually transmitted diseases, did a pregnancy test, and recommended medical treatment for the victim.

Looking back, what he did next was effectively create one of the first DNA databases in the country, makeshift as it was.

Breitenecker stuck tiny labels on each of the tubes and slides that included the last two digits of the year, last name of the patient, the pathology department case ID and the number of the slide or tube, added another sticker that said “Greater Baltimore Medical Center,” and recorded every case in a logbook.

He opened a deep freezer and placed the tubes from the vaginal washings inside for preservation. He then opened a room-temperature cabinet, where he placed the microscopic glass slides, also for long-term storage.

“It could be useful one day,” he said of his evidence collection, which grew to include thousands of samples from more than 2,200 cases. “You save as long as you have to.”

The stash of physical evidence from rape cases became an open secret among the local authorities, but it was underused and overlooked, even outright ignored. When Breitenecker retired in 1997, leaving perhaps his life’s most significant work behind at the hospital, relatively few of the thousands of specimens he’d kept had been put to use.

In 2004, Rose Brady, the first woman ever to serve as the head of the Baltimore County Police Department’s special victims unit, heard about Breitenecker’s trove of microscopic slides. Over the next 10 years, with a small but dedicated team of detectives, she obtained subpoenas for 158 sexual assault kits and scoured the police property room for any remaining forensic evidence from cold cases. Police then developed 101 DNA profiles, generating 84 hits in the FBI’s DNA database.

Serial rapists might have thought they had gotten away with their crimes, assaults committed from 1978 to 2004. Then Brady’s team showed up and put them in handcuffs. They made 62 arrests and got 49 convictions, according to arrest records and court files obtained by ProPublica. Several men were arrested multiple times for different cases.

Survivors finally got justice. Prosecutors celebrated clearing career criminals from the streets. Police from across the country called Baltimore County asking how they did it. They knew evidence from around that time that had been put in police storage rooms is typically long gone.

Brady would ask them: “Do you have a Dr. Breitenecker?” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 12:31 pm

Meal serving size update

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I’ve mentioned before some adjustments I made to serving sizes after my increased. Because I have for a long time measured my food servings — I keep measuring cups handy on the counter — it is easy for me to cut back: a 1/2-cup serving (greens, or other vegetables) becomes a 1/3-cup serving. The 1/4-cup servings (beans/lentils, or cooked whole grain, or nuts/seeds) become 2-tablespoon servings. The three pieces of fruit I eat each day are consumed together, as breakfast, instead of being spaced through the day. And I do a hard cutoff of food intake at 5:00pm (though I continue to drink iced hibiscus tea — through the afternoon and into the evening). The bowl of berries becomes a mid-afternoon snack.

I’ve included these changes by updating an earlier post on meal size and planning to show them as an option.

And it’s successful. So far I’ve dropped 10 lbs pretty easily. I noted that to get blood glucose to a level I like I’m goiing to have to add exercise — cutting food intake is probably necessary but it’s not sufficient. So I’ll resume walking.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 11:51 am

Deadly Fungi Are the Newest Emerging Microbe Threat All Over the World

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Maryn McKenna writes in Scientific American:

It was the fourth week of June in 2020, and the middle of the second wave of the COVID pandemic in the U.S. Cases had passed 2.4 million; deaths from the novel coronavirus were closing in on 125,000. In his home office in Atlanta, Tom Chiller looked up from his e-mails and scrubbed his hands over his face and shaved head.

Chiller is a physician and an epidemiologist and, in normal times, a branch chief at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in charge of the section that monitors health threats from fungi such as molds and yeasts. He had put that specialty aside in March when the U.S. began to recognize the size of the threat from the new virus, when New York City went into lockdown and the CDC told almost all of its thousands of employees to work from home. Ever since, Chiller had been part of the public health agency’s frustrating, stymied effort against COVID. Its employees had been working with state health departments, keeping tabs on reports of cases and deaths and what jurisdictions needed to do to stay safe.

Shrugging off exhaustion, Chiller focused on his in-box again. Buried in it was a bulletin forwarded by one of his staff that made him sit up and grit his teeth. Hospitals near Los Angeles that were handling an onslaught of COVID were reporting a new problem: Some of their patients had developed additional infections, with a fungus called Candida auris. The state had gone on high alert.

Chiller knew all about C. auris—possibly more about it than anyone else in the U.S. Almost exactly four years earlier he and the CDC had sent an urgent bulletin to hospitals, telling them to be on the lookout. The fungus had not yet appeared in the U.S., but Chiller had been chatting with peers in other countries and had heard what happened when the microbe invaded their health-care systems. It resisted treatment by most of the few drugs that could be used against it. It thrived on cold hard surfaces and laughed at cleaning chemicals; some hospitals where it landed had to rip out equipment and walls to defeat it. It caused fast-spreading outbreaks and killed up to two thirds of the people who contracted it.

Shortly after that warning, C. auris did enter the U.S. Before the end of 2016, 14 people contracted it, and four died. Since then, the CDC had been tracking its movement, classifying it as one of a small number of dangerous diseases that doctors and health departments had to tell the agency about. By the end of 2020 there had been more than 1,500 cases in the U.S., in 23 states. And then COVID arrived, killing people, overwhelming hospitals, and redirecting all public health efforts toward the new virus and away from other rogue organisms.

But from the start of the pandemic, Chiller had felt uneasy about its possible intersection with fungal infections. The first COVID case reports, published by Chinese scientists in international journals, described patients as catastrophically ill and consigned to intensive care: pharmaceutically paralyzed, plugged into ventilators, threaded with I.V. lines, loaded with drugs to suppress infection and inflammation. Those frantic interventions might save them from the virus—but immune-damping drugs would disable their innate defenses, and broad-spectrum antibiotics would kill off beneficial bacteria that keep invading microbes in check. Patients would be left extraordinarily vulnerable to any other pathogen that might be lurking nearby.

Chiller and his colleagues began quietly reaching out to colleagues in the U.S. and Europe, asking for any warning signs that COVID was allowing deadly fungi a foothold. Accounts of infections trickled back from India, Italy, Colombia, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and France. Now the same deadly fungi were surfacing in American patients as well: the first signs of a second epidemic, layered on top of the viral pandemic. And it wasn’t just C. auris. Another deadly fungus called Aspergillus was starting to take a toll as well.

“This is going to be widespread everywhere,” Chiller says. “We don’t think we’re going to be able to contain this.”

We are likely to think of fungi, if we think of them at all, as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 11:41 am

Things that work all the time conceal the effort that makes that happen

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Michelangelo once said (presumably in Italian), “It takes work to remove the traces of work.” What looks effortless, as I imagine any professional dancer will tell you, looks that way from hours of unremitting effort. Fred Astaire did not just walk on the set and do the routine impromptu. He worked for hours to make it seem effortless.

The same goes with public health. Public health professionals work hard, and they judge their efforts successful when nothing happens — everything goes just fine, so that their work becomes invisible.

Fire departments spend a lot of time in fire prevention: fire inspections, enforcing fire regulations, and the like. When no fires occur, that’s a major success for them.

Dentists focus on preventing tooth decay and other problems. Doctors are an exception: most doctors (except doctors in public health) focus not so much on preventing disease or injury but rather on treating those who are sick or injured. (Success in that sort of treatment is indeed recognized and applauded.) Medical professionals (doctors and nurses) who want to prevent disease and injury tend to go into public health, and their successes are generally unrecognized — because no bad thing happened.

That’s the problem in working to prevent disease, accidents, and other problems: people don’t notice success — “Of course things are going well,” they think — but they quickly notice when things do go wrong (and some even become enraged).

Not being aware of the work involved in making sure things go right leads to a serious problem. Cash-strapped governments (underfunded due to tax cuts) must cut costs, and if people are generally healthy enough and preventable accidents are relatively low, public health effort will be cut (“We don’t need it because things are going well”). If the infrastructure — streets and roadways, bridges, sewers, dams, and the like — is in  good shape, maintenance will be cut. If people are not getting injured or killed in the workplace, safety inspections will be cut back. If people are not getting sick from what they eat, food inspections will be cut back.

And then, of course, problems ensue.

In considering costs, note that cure costs 16 times more than prevention.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 11:37 am

Monday shaves are the best

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The combination of good products, good prep, a good slant, and a two-day stubble results in a shave that’s hard to beat for pleasure and result. Today was not an exception.

I decided to go this full week with using MR GLO to wash my stubble, rinsing it all off, and then applying Grooming Dept pre-shave. Next week I’ll skip the MR GLO and see how that compares.

Exotic Elemi does indeed have an exotic and extremely pleasant fragrance, and from it the Green Ray brush made an excellent lather. This iKon slant is a favorite and does a wonderful job. Three passes left my face totally smooth and undamaged, and a splash of Speick aftershave finished the job.

Written by Leisureguy

24 May 2021 at 9:48 am

Posted in Shaving

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