Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Daily life’ Category

Slow loading but beautiful butterfly collection

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2015 at 10:31 am

Posted in Daily life

Some points that will be omitted in the State of the Union speech

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In the US system of government, it’s pretty clear that the power resides principally in Congress: control of the purse and making laws are extremely powerful levers. Indeed, the President is required by the Constitution to report to Congress (Article II, Section 3, fully explained at the link):

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; . . .

Tom Englehardt outlines some aspects of the state of our nation that perhaps Congress and the President prefer not to consider:

The rise and fall of great powers and their imperial domains has been a central fact of history for centuries.  It’s been a sensible, repeatedly validated framework for thinking about the fate of the planet.  So it’s hardly surprising, when faced with a country once regularly labeled the “sole superpower,” “the last superpower,” or even the global “hyperpower” and now, curiously, called nothing whatsoever, that the “decline” question should come up.  Is the U.S. or isn’t it?  Might it or might it not now be on the downhill side of imperial greatness?

Take a slow train — that is, any train — anywhere in America, as I did recently in the northeast, and then take a high-speed train anywhere else on Earth, as I also did recently, and it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. in decline.  The greatest power in history, the “unipolar power,” can’t build a single mile of high-speed rail?  Really?  And its Congress is now mired in an argument about whether funds can even be raised to keep America’s highways more or less pothole-free.

Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to my long-dead parents because I know how such things would have astonished two people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and a can-do post-war era in which the staggering wealth and power of this country were indisputable.  What if I could tell them how the crucial infrastructure of such a still-wealthy nation — bridges, pipelines, roads, and the like — is now grossly underfunded, in an increasing state of disrepair, and beginning to crumble?  That would definitely shock them.

And what would they think upon learning that, with the Soviet Union a quarter-century in the trash bin of history, the U.S., alone in triumph, has been incapable of applying its overwhelming military and economic power effectively?  I’m sure they would be dumbstruck to discover that, since the moment the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been at war continuously with another country (three conflicts and endless strife); that I was talking about, of all places, Iraq; and that the mission there was never faintly accomplished.  How improbable is that?  And what would they think if I mentioned that the other great conflicts of the post-Cold-War era were with Afghanistan (two wars with a decade off in-between) and the relatively small groups of non-state actors we now call terrorists?  And how would they react on discovering that the results were: failure in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of terror groups across much of the Greater Middle East (including the establishment of an actual terror caliphate) and increasing parts of Africa?

They would, I think, conclude that the U.S. was over the hill and set on the sort of decline that, sooner or later, has been the fate of every great power. And what if I told them that, in this new century, not a single action of the military that U.S. presidents now call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” has, in the end, been anything but a dismal failure?  Or that presidents, presidential candidates, and politicians in Washington are required to insist on something no one would have had to say in their day: that the United States is both an “exceptional” and an “indispensible” nation? Or that they would also have to endlesslythank our troops (as would the citizenry) for… well… never success, but just being there and getting maimed, physically or mentally, or dying while we went about our lives? Or that those soldiers must always be referred to as “heroes.”

In their day, when the obligation to serve in a citizens’ army was a given, none of this would have made much sense, while the endless defensive insistence on American greatness would have stood out like a sore thumb. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2015 at 10:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

“Look for disconfirming evidence”: Easy to say, difficult to do

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It’s well known that one should also look for disconfirming evidence to test the truth of a statement. In mathematics, looking for a counter-example to any general statement is a reflex. But in real life, we tend to work out a hypothesis and then look for confirming evidence. Somehow we immediately become fans and proponents of our hypotheses and it seems almost rude to try to falsify them: to seek evidence that what we think is true is not, in fact, true at all.

Here’s a nice little interactive test in the NY Times. Try it.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2015 at 7:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Math

California Just Banned the ‘Personal Belief’ Exemption for Vaccines

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High time. When personal beliefs have a social cost that results in harm to the public, then it’s right that the government can act to protect the public. Kaleigh Rogers reports at Motherboard:

It’s official: California has passed a law prohibiting parents from using personal belief as an excuse to keep their kids unvaccinated.

Under the new law, parents can still choose not to vaccinate their children if they wish, but those kids won’t be allowed to attend public schools or daycares, and will have to either be homeschooled or enter a private school.

There are a few exceptions: kids who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons are exempt from the ruling, and only 10 specific vaccines are required, including the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. Children who have special education needs will also still be guaranteed access to resources they need if they are booted from public school for being unvaccinated.

Last week, California’s State Assembly considered the bill, which had already been green-lit by the state senate, ultimately voting to approve it 46-30. This week, the senate approved the amendments that were added to the bill before passing it to the desk of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who signed the bill this morning.

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” the governor wrote in a memo about his decision. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2015 at 10:39 am

The difficulties of attempting to regulate sex

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Judith Shulevitz has a very interesting op-ed in the NY Times:

THIS is a strange moment for sex in America. We’ve detached it from pregnancy, matrimony and, in some circles, romance. At least, we no longer assume that intercourse signals the start of a relationship. But the more casual sex becomes, the more we demand that our institutions and government police the line between what’s consensual and what isn’t. And we wonder how to define rape. Is it a violent assault or a violation of personal autonomy? Is a person guilty of sexual misconduct if he fails to get a clear “yes” through every step of seduction and consummation?

According to the doctrine of affirmative consent — the “yes means yes” rule — the answer is, well, yes, he is. And though most people think of “yes means yes” as strictly for college students, it is actually poised to become the law of the land.

About a quarter of all states, and the District of Columbia, now say sex isn’t legal without positive agreement, although some states undercut that standard by requiring proof of force or resistance as well.

Codes and laws calling for affirmative consent proceed from admirable impulses. (The phrase “yes means yes,” by the way, represents a ratcheting-up of “no means no,” the previous slogan of the anti-rape movement.) People should have as much right to control their sexuality as they do their body or possessions; just as you wouldn’t take a precious object from someone’s home without her permission, you shouldn’t have sex with someone if he hasn’t explicitly said he wants to.

And if one person can think he’s hooking up while the other feels she’s being raped, it makes sense to have a law that eliminates the possibility of misunderstanding. “You shouldn’t be allowed to make the assumption that if you find someone lying on a bed, they’re free for sexual pleasure,” says Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of a judicial education program at Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense organization.

But criminal law is a very powerful instrument [and in the context, I think she means a very blunt instrument—or perhaps simply “overkill” – LG] for reshaping sexual mores. Should we really put people in jail for not doing what most people aren’t doing? (Or at least, not yet?) It’s one thing to teach college students to talk frankly about sex and not to have it without demonstrable pre-coital assent. Colleges are entitled to uphold their own standards of comportment, even if enforcement of that behavior is spotty or indifferent to the rights of the accused. It’s another thing to make sex a crime under conditions of poor communication.

Most people just aren’t very talkative during the delicate tango that precedes sex, and the re-education required to make them more forthcoming would be a very big project. Nor are people unerringly good at decoding sexual signals. If they were, we wouldn’t have romantic comedies. “If there’s no social consensus about what the lines are,” says Nancy Gertner, a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School and a retired judge, then affirmative consent “has no business being in the criminal law.”

PERHAPS the most consequential deliberations about affirmative consent are going on right now at the American Law Institute. The more than 4,000 law professors, judges and lawyers who belong to this prestigious legal association — membership is by invitation only — try to untangle the legal knots of our time. They do this in part by drafting and discussing model statutes. Once the group approves these exercises, they hold so much sway that Congress and states sometimes vote them into law, in whole or in part. For the past three years, the law institute has been thinking about how to update the penal code for sexual assault, which was last revised in 1962. When its suggestions circulated in the weeks before the institute’s annual meeting in May, some highly instructive hell broke loose.

In a memo that has now been signed by about 70 institute members and advisers, including Judge Gertner, readers have been asked to consider the following scenario: “Person A and Person B are on a date and walking down the street. Person A, feeling romantically and sexually attracted, timidly reaches out to hold B’s hand and feels a thrill as their hands touch. Person B does nothing, but six months later files a criminal complaint. Person A is guilty of ‘Criminal Sexual Contact’ under proposed Section 213.6(3)(a).”

Far-fetched? Not as the draft is written. The hypothetical crime cobbles together two of the draft’s key concepts. The first is affirmative consent. The second is an enlarged definition of criminal sexual contact that would include the touching of any body part, clothed or unclothed, with sexual gratification in mind. As the authors of the model law explain: “Any kind of contact may qualify. There are no limits on either the body part touched or the manner in which it is touched.” So if Person B neither invites nor rebukes a sexual advance, then anything that happens afterward is illegal. “With passivity expressly disallowed as consent,” the memo says, “the initiator quickly runs up a string of offenses with increasingly more severe penalties to be listed touch by touch and kiss by kiss in the criminal complaint.”

The obvious comeback to this is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2015 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Foods that work together

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An interesting article from Eliza Barclay at NPR. Note that an oil-based dressing does as well as an egg in a green salad, but certainly a poached egg atop a salad—or, less ambitiously, a boiled egg or two sliced into the salad—is more interesting.

I like that she explains the why—e.g., red bell pepper with beans because the vitamin C the pepper adds helps. That lets one decide to use, say, orange sections instead in a bean salad.

What are the makings of a great salad? You need fresh greens, of course, and then a layer of colorful vegetables like tomatoes and carrots.

That’s a good start. But to help the body absorb more of the nutrients packed into this medley, you may want to add something else: a cooked egg.

A small study published in May in The American Journal of Clinical Nutritionconcludes that adding eggs to salads makes it easier to absorb the carotenoids in the raw vegetables. Carotenoids are the yellowish-red pigments that give carrots and tomatoes — and lots of other fruits and vegetables — their color. Two famous ones are beta carotene and lycopene. In addition to giving us those pretty colors, they’re also beneficial phytonutrients that help fight inflammation.

For the study, the researchers gave 16 participants raw mixed-vegetable salad with no eggs, a salad with one and a half eggs and a salad with three eggs. They found that the absorption of carotenoids was 3.8-fold higher when the salad included three eggs compared to no eggs.

Now, we should point out that the study was funded by a grant from the American Egg Board’s Egg Nutrition Center, which may raise eyebrows. But the scientists at Purdue University who carried out the study say they worked independently. And the findings hold up, since the scientific mechanism behind this phenomenon is well-documented in other studies.

It’s the fat in the egg yolk that is responsible for upping the nutrient intake. And, as we’ve reported, oil-based salad dressing helps accomplish the same goal.

The dynamic duo of eggs and carrots (or any other vegetable or fruit high in carotenoids) got us wondering about other food power couples. Turns out, they’re not so hard to find.

“The impact of consuming one food with another on the absorption of nutrients is well known in nutrition science,” Wayne Campbell, professor of nutrition science at Purdue University and lead author of the egg and salad study, tells The Salt. “Sometimes the impact may be positive and at other times negative.”

A classic example: After corn is soaked in lime and water, then ground up, all kinds of nutrients in the corn are released and made available for absorption — calcium, iron, niacin and minerals. This is why corn tortillas have been one of the bedrocks of Mesoamerican cuisine for millennia.

So, what about some other foods that you might as well throw together if you’ve got them on hand?

Campbell tells us that eating something high in vitamin C, like a red pepper, helps convert the nonheme iron in plant foods and iron-fortified foods into a chemical form that promotes absorption. (The other form of iron is heme iron, which is only found in meat and seafood.) Sounds like a good excuse to go Tex-Mex and stir some peppers into your black beans. . .

Continue reading. The article discusses other good combinations.

I am right now altering the Breakfast Bites recipe to include lots of freshly ground black pepper to aid with the turmeric.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2015 at 8:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

California’s Drought Is Part of a Much Bigger Water Crisis. Here’s What You Need to Know

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Abrahm Lutgarten, Lauren Kirchner, and Amanda Zamora report at ProPublica:

Why do I keep hearing about the California drought, if it’s the Colorado River that we’re “killing”?

Pretty much every state west of the Rockies has been facing a water shortage of one kind or another in recent years.  California’s is a severe, but relatively short-term, drought. But the Colorado River basin — which provides critical water supplies for seven states including California — is the victim of a slower-burning catastrophe entering its 16th year. Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California all share water from the Colorado River, a hugely important water resource that sustains 40 million people in those states, supports 15 percent of the nation’s food supply, and fills two of largest water reserves in the country.

The severe shortages of rain and snowfall have hurt California’s $46 billion agricultural industry and helped raise national awareness of the longer-term shortages that are affecting the entire Colorado River basin. But while the two problems have commonalities and have some effect on one another, they’re not exactly the same thing.

Just how bad is the drought in California right now?

Most of California is experiencing “extreme to exceptional drought,” and the crisis has now entered its fourth year. This month, signaling how serious the current situation is, state officials announced the first cutback to farmers’ water rights since 1977, andordered cities and towns to cut water use by as much as 36 percent. Those who don’t comply with the cuts will face fines, but some farmers are already ignoring the new rules, or challenging them in court.

The drought shows no sign of letting up any time soon, and the state’s agricultural industry is suffering. A recent study by U.C. Davis researchers projected that the drought would cost California’s economy $2.7 billion in 2015 alone.

In addition to the economic cost, the drought has subtle and not-so-subtle effects on flora and fauna throughout the region. This current drought may be contributing to the spread of the West Nile virus, and it’s threatening populations of geese, ducks and Joshua trees. Dry, hot periods can exacerbate wildfires, while water shortages are making firefighters’ jobs even harder.

And a little bit of rain won’t help. NOAA scientists say it could take several years of average or above-average rainfall before California’s water supply can return to anything close to normal.

What about a lot of rain? Couldn’t that end the drought in California and across the West?

Not necessarily. A half-decade of torrential rains might bail California out of its crisis, but the larger West’s problems are more structural and systemic.  “Killing the Colorado” has shown that people are entitled to more water from the Colorado than has flowed through it, on average, over the last 110 years. Meanwhile much of the water is lost, overused or wasted, stressing both the Colorado system, and trickling down to California, which depends on the Colorado for a big chunk of its own supply. Explosive urban growthmatched with the steady planting of water-thirsty crops – which use the majority of the water – don’t help. Arcane laws actually encourage farmers to take even more water from the Colorado River and from California’s rivers than they actually need, and federal subsidies encourage farmers to plant some of the crops that use the most water. And, as ProPublica has reported, it seems that “the engineering that made settling the West possible may have reached the bounds of its potential” — meaning that even the big dams and canals we built to ferry all this water may now be causing more harm than good.

Water use policies—perhaps more than nature—have caused the water crisis in the West. As the former Arizona governor and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt told ProPublica: “There is enough water in the West‚ [but] there are all kinds of agriculture efficiencies that have not been put into place.”

While there are mixed views on whether climate change can be blamed for California’s drought, a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reportfound climate change was not the cause. Global warming has caused excessive heat that may have worsened the drought’s effects, but it isn’t necessarily to blame for the lack of rain. It’s true that recent years have yielded much less rain and snow than previous times in history, the NOAA report explains, but that’s just a result of “natural variance” and not necessarily because of man-made pollution. But in both California and the larger Colorado River basin, mismanagement of the water supply has left the West more vulnerable to both short and long-term changes in climate.

What do you mean by mismanagement?

When officials divvied up rights to Colorado River water nearly a century ago, it happened to be a wetter period than usual. The result? The states vastly overestimated the river’s annual flow. Today, the river’s reserves are especially low and states are stillclaiming the same amount of water from the Colorado River that they always have — which is 1.4 trillion gallons a year more than the river actually produces. This sort of oversubscription is similar in California, where historic water rights give many farms first rights to California’s streams and rivers, and haven’t been adjusted as the state’s population has increased and its cities have grown.

Wait — don’t we all have equal water rights? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2015 at 2:40 pm

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