Later On

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Ready meals and cereals linked with rise in cancer

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Something that The Wife and I don’t have to worry about: cancer risk from factory food products. Chris Smyth writes in the Times:

Eating factory-made food including cornflakes, pizza and chocolate bars every day increases the risk of cancer by a quarter, the first study of its kind suggests.

Additives in ready meals, packaged snacks and shop-bought cakes may combine to trigger the disease, researchers warned last night.

Cancer caused by highly processed food would be over and above the harmful effects of the sugar and fat it contains, scientists fear.

The West’s increasing taste for packaged food on the go could fuel a further rise in cancer in the future, they say.

French researchers studied the diets of 105,000 people, of whom 2,228 developed cancer over an eight-year period. The quarter who ate the most “ultra-processed” food were 23 per cent more likely to get any type of cancer than the quarter who ate the least, researchers report in The BMJ.

Those in the top quarter obtained a third of their calories from such products, roughly equivalent to a man consuming a chocolate bar, a can of cola, a bowl of cornflakes and a quarter of a pizza daily.

A study revealed last week that half of the food bought in Britain is made in a factory.

Mathilde Touvier, of the Sorbonne Paris Cité Epidemiology and Statistics Research Centre, who led the study, said the cancer risk could be even greater in this country.

The French research cannot prove that the processing of food directly increases cancer risk and some experts said that the effect was more likely to be a result of the lack of vitamins in the kinds of foods that tend to be sold packaged, or the unhealthy lifestyles of those who tend to eat them.

However, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2018 at 8:29 am

The tech bias: Why Silicon Valley needs social theory

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Jess Beir writes in Aeon:

In the summer of 2017, a now infamous memo came to light. Written by James Damore, then an engineer at Google, it claimed that the under-representation of women in tech was partly caused by inherent biological differences between men and women. The memo didn’t offer any new evidence – on the contrary, it drew on longstanding sexist stereotypes that have been disproven time and again, and it included only the vaguest mention of decades of research in relevant domains such as gender studies. Given the expansive resources at Google, his omissions didn’t stem from a lack of access to knowledge. Instead, they pointed to an unwillingness to accept that social theory is actually valid knowledge in the first place.

That Google memo is an extreme example of an imbalance in how different ways of knowing are valued. Silicon Valley tech companies draw on innovative technical theory but have yet to really incorporate advances in social theory. The inattention to such knowledge becomes all too apparent when algorithms fail in their real-life applications – from automated soap-dispensers that fail to turn on when a user has dark brown skin, to the new iPhone X’s inability to distinguish among different Asian women.

Social theorists in fields such as sociology, geography, and science and technology studies have shown how race, gender and class biases inform technical design. So there’s irony in the fact that employees hold sexist and racist attitudes, yet ‘we are supposed to believe that these same employees are developing “neutral” or “objective” decision-making tools’, as the communications scholar Safiya Umoja Noble at the University of Southern California argues in her book Algorithms of Oppression (2018).

In many cases, what’s eroding the value of social knowledge is unintentional bias – on display when prominent advocates for equality in science and tech undervalue research in the social sciences. The physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for example, has downplayed the link between sexism and under-representation in science. Apparently, he’s happy to ignore extensive research pointing out that the natural sciences’ male-dominated institutional cultures are a major cause of the attrition of female scientists at all stages of their careers.

By contrast, social theorists have shown a keen interest in illuminating how unjust social relations inform the development of science and technology. In the 1980s, the anthropologist Lucy Suchman, now at Lancaster University in the UK, showed that even the employees at Xerox in California struggled to use the copy machines the company produced – leading them to laugh, mumble to themselves, and repeatedly ask questions such as: ‘Where’s the start button?’ The machines’ designers had made an effort to write clear instructions, but people interpreted those guidelines in different ways, depending on factors that included their gender and class. The result was a machine that made sense to the engineers themselves, but didn’t work so well for everyone else.

Social theory also plays a critical role in understanding rare, catastrophic events, which can’t be assessed solely in terms of technical failure. Human error and forms of social organisation – such as the hierarchies used to manage sensitive technologies – often play a critical role in whether or not a crisis is averted, as the sociologist Charles Perrow argues in Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies (1984). For example, prior to the Challenger disaster in 1986 – in which a space shuttle exploded shortly after a take-off, killing all the crew-members on board – it turned out that some NASA staff had been aware of potential problems, caused by the material used to seal the rotating joints. However, certain organisational norms prevented these worries being transmitted to those who had the power to delay the launch. Because of a failure to appreciate the power dynamics behind NASA’s structure, scientific knowledge could not prevent the crash, even when some of the scientists clearly saw the potential for disaster.

These examples show that social theory is not about detaching oneself from the world, so as to observe it at a distance. Instead, its many practitioners often try to develop knowledge from the standpoint of engaged participants, questioning the limits of their own perspective. The goal is to improve knowledge of the social world, an effort that goes hand in hand with active efforts to change society for the better, while also thinking critically, and continuously, about what ‘better’ means, and for whom.

Detractors of social theory dislike it not because it’s not effective, but because it is. It has catalysed profound shifts in race and gender relations in recent decades. In activist and community groups, people who were historically excluded from universities, such as people of colour and women, have been the pioneers of perspectives on the world that have an impact on everyday life for billions of people.

In spite of these ongoing contributions, technical knowledge continues to be privileged over social knowledge. The disconnect is apparent in numerous ways, such as the salaries of researchers. While academic scientists tend to earn lower salaries than those in industry, scholars in the social sciences and the humanities earn less across the board than both groups – and have fewer grant and employment options overall, too. Science and tech are viewed as revenue-generating down the line, but the cost-saving benefits of improved social understanding, and the benefits that go beyond costs, tend to go underappreciated.

Ironically, the same discriminatory systems targeted by social theory end up blocking underrepresented groups from getting a toehold in academia, the very seedbed of these ideas. Sexual harassment and racism are much more than individual incidents; they’re institutionalised mechanisms for maintaining  systemic barriers. As the feminist theorist Sara Ahmed points out in her book Living a Feminist Life (2017), sexual harassment is ‘a network that stops information from getting out. It is a set of alliances that come alive to stop something.’ Such behaviour raises the stakes of fighting against the system, she says, by offering a choice to those who are on the receiving end: ‘get used to it, or get out’ of the institution. ‘No wonder if these are the choices,’ she notes, ‘many get out of it.’

The skewed institutions that result should be everyone’s concern. If tech companies are serious about building a better society, and aren’t just paying lip service to justice for their own gain, they must attend more closely to social theory.

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2018 at 10:10 am

Mulvaney orders consumer protection agency to drop lawsuit against lender that charged 950 percent interest rates

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Perhaps the agency should change its name to the Lender Protection Bureau. Jacqueline Thomsen reports in The Hill:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has dropped a lawsuit against a lender that was allegedly charging interest rates up to 950 percent, NPR reported.

The case against Golden Valley Lending had taken CFPB staffers years to establish, but new agency Director Mick Mulvaney instructed staffers to drop the lawsuit, according to NPR.

“People are devastated and angry — just imagine how you would feel if years of your life had been dedicated to pursuing justice and you lose everything,” Christopher Peterson, a former attorney at the bureau who had worked on the case, told the news outlet.

The agency had sued Golden Valley in April, alleging unfair, deceptive and abusive business practices. Golden Valley declined NPR’s request for comment.

“The Trump administration is just going to turn them loose and let them off the hook despite the fact they were making 950 percent interest rate loans to struggling families in ways that were illegal and unauthorized under both state and federal law,” Peterson said.

Mulvaney’s spokesperson told NPR that the decision to drop the suit wasn’t made by him, but by “professional career staff.”

However, several bureau staffers pushed back against that claim, saying that Mulvaney was involved in the decision to stop pursuing the lawsuit. The spokesperson later said Mulvaney had in fact been involved. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2018 at 9:35 am

The Deadly Rule of the Oligarchs

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Chris Hedges writes at TruthDig:

Oligarchic rule, as Aristotle pointed out, is a deviant form of government. Oligarchs care nothing for competency, intelligence, honesty, rationality, self-sacrifice or the common good. They pervert, deform and dismantle systems of power to serve their immediate interests, squandering the future for short-term personal gain. “The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments that rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, of the few or of the many, are perversions,” Aristotle wrote. The classicist Peter L.P. Simpson calls these perversions the “sophistry of oligarchs,” meaning that once oligarchs take power, rational, prudent and thoughtful responses to social, economic and political problems are ignored to feed insatiable greed. The late stage of every civilization is characterized by the sophistry of oligarchs, who ravage the decaying carcass of the state.

These deviant forms of government are defined by common characteristics, most of which Aristotle understood. Oligarchs use power and ruling structures solely for personal advancement.

Oligarchs, though they speak of deconstructing the administrative state, actually increase deficits and the size and power of law enforcement and the military to protect their global business interests and ensure domestic social control. The parts of the state that serve the common good wither in the name of deregulation and austerity. The parts that promote the oligarchs’ power expand in the name of national security, economic growth and law and order.

For example, the oligarchs educate their children in private schools and buy them admissions into elite universities (this is how a mediocre student like Jared Kushner went to Harvard and Donald Trump went to the University of Pennsylvania), so they see no need to fund good public education for the wider population. Oligarchs can pay teams of high-priced lawyers to bail them and their families out of legal trouble. There is no need, in their eyes, to provide funds for legal representation for the poor. When oligarchs do not fly on private jets, they fly in first class, so they permit airlines to fleece and abuse “economy” passengers. They do not use subways, buses or trains, and they slash funds for the maintenance and improvement of these services. Oligarchs have private clinics and private doctors, so they do not want to pay for public health or Medicare. Oligarchs detest the press, which when it works shines a light on their corruption and mendacity, so they buy up and control systems of information and push their critics to the margins of society, something they will accelerate with the abolition of net neutrality.

Oligarchs do not vacation on public beaches or in public parks. They own their own land and estates, where we are not allowed. They see no reason to maintain or fund public parks or protect public land. They hand such land over to other oligarchs to exploit for profit. Oligarchs cynically view laws as mechanisms to legalize their fraud and plunder. They use their lobbyists in the legislative branch of government to author bills that increase and protect their wealth, through the avoidance of taxes and other means. Oligarchs do not allow free and fair elections. They use gerrymandering and campaign contributions to make sure other oligarchs are elected over and over to office. Many run unopposed.

Oligarchs look at regulations to protect the environment or the safety of workers as impediments to profit and abolish them. Oligarchs move industries to Mexico or China to increase their wealth while impoverishing American workers and leaving U.S. cities in ruins. Oligarchs are philistines. They are deaf, dumb and blind to great works of art, reveling in tawdry spectacles, patriotic kitsch and mindless entertainment. They despise artists and intellectuals who promote virtues and self-criticism that conflict with the lust for power, celebrity and wealth. Oligarchs always unleash wars on culture, attacking it as elitist, irrelevant and immoral and cutting its funding. All social services and institutions, such as public housing programs, public parks, meals for the elderly, infrastructure projects, welfare and Social Security, are viewed by oligarchs as a waste of money. These services are gutted or turned over to fellow oligarchs, who harvest them for profit until they are destroyed.

Oligarchs, who do not serve in the military and who ensure their children do not serve in the military, pretend to be great patriots. They attack those who oppose them as anti-American, traitors or agents for a foreign power. They use the language of patriotism to stoke hatred against their critics and to justify their crimes. They see the world in black and white—those who are loyal to them and those who are the enemy. They extent this stunted belief system to foreign affairs. Diplomacy is abandoned for the crude threats and indiscriminate use of force that are the preferred forms of communication of all despots.

There is little dispute that we live in an oligarchic state.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2018 at 12:17 pm

W.Va. candidate removed from hearing after speaking out against oil and gas drilling legislation

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The interesting part is that the legislators stopped her from speaking because of what they called “personal attacks”: reading out the names of legislators and the amount each received from oil and gas industry lobbyists. Legislators apparently do not want that information known. Rebecca Savransky has the report in The Hill (with video). From the report:

. . . She was reportedly told during her testimony that she should not be making “personal comments” regarding members of the House Judiciary Committee.

“The people who are going to be speaking in favor of this bill are all going to be paid by the industry,” Lucas said, according to the Huffington Post.

“The people who are going to be voting on this bill are often also paid by the industry,” she added.

“I have to keep this short because the public only gets a minute and 45 seconds while lobbyists can throw a gala at the Marriott with whiskey and wine and talk for hours to the delegates,” she added.

Her microphone was cut off during her testimony and her request for more time was denied, according to the Huffington Post.

She then told lawmakers to “drag me off.”

On her personal blog, Lucas wrote that as she tried to give her remarks in defense of “constitutional property rights,” she was “dragged out of House chambers.”

“Allow me to point out that if Delegates genuinely think that my talking about who their campaign donors are ― and how much they’re receiving from corporate lobbyists/corporate PACs ― is an ad hominem attack … then they should be refusing those donations,” she wrote.

She also wrote that lawmakers should refuse any donation that, “if someone mentions it, makes you feel personally attacked.”

“Because that’s not an attack. That’s guilt. And you SHOULD be feeling that. Let that guilt about who you’re really working for inform your votes; don’t let the corporate money do it.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2018 at 10:33 am

What “work smarter, not harder” means

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It’s not a short-term solution. Like compounding interest, the benefits increase dramatically over time. Tim Herrera in the NY Times writes:

At an old job, I worked with a person I had been following for years and whose work I deeply admired. He’s not much older than I am, and we had worked in similar-ish jobs, but he just seemed so much better than I was at the time.

After a few months of working with him, it became obvious why that was: A crazy work ethic and drive, yes, but he had figured out what to do and how to react in situations that would’ve left me stumped. It seemed like he had a playbook for every scenario, and the next move was automatic. (He’s still freakishly good at his job, and we’re still friends, if you’re wondering.)

The people at the top of any given field didn’t get there just by working hard. Yes, hard work is necessary, but just as important is being smart about the work you’re doing, and focusing on doing the things that will help you improve.

2005 study in Applied Cognitive Psychology looked at a number of variables to predict skill level in chess players. The strongest predictor of skill wasn’t simply time spent practicing; rather, it was time spent in serious study: “Chess players at the highest skill level (i.e. grandmasters) expended about 5,000 hours on serious study alone during their first decade of serious chess play — nearly five times the average amount reported by intermediate-level players.”

But we’re not all aspiring grandmasters, so here’s a more real-world example: Just as the best chess players in the world get there through serious study, research has shown that “structured reflection” of one’s performance has a positive impact on leadership development, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Meaning: Spend more conscious hours and effort in genuine introspection and self-examination, and fewer hours … ahem, goofing around on Twitter.

One last thought I’ll leave you with: One of the best pieces of career counseling I’ve read is this advice column addressing what boils down to career-induced #fomo: Why is everyone else so much more successful than I am? What’s wrong with me?

The despairing advice-seeker wonders why, despite multiple attempts, she hasn’t gotten a job at a particular company, then lists a few successful people she wants to be like. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2018 at 9:58 am

Wow: Unilever’s warning to Google and Facebook

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From the newsletter Reliable Sources:

Unilever, the world’s second-biggest marketing spender, is threatening to pull its advertising from digital platforms such as Google and Facebook if they ‘create division,’ foster hate or fail to protect children,” the FT’s Shannon Bond reports.

Unilever CMO Keith Weed is speaking at the Interactive Advertising Bureauconference on Monday… The company shared portions of his speech ahead of time… Two key quotes here:

— “Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate. We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

— “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online. We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain — one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers — which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.”

Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2018 at 8:11 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

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