Saturday, February 28, 2009
I am off tonight to see my father's hometown in what is now Latvia. I don't know how much internet access I will have there so it may be a while before I can make another entry. But I will be back late on March 16 and should have some reflections on the Baltic countries by Saint Patrick's Day.
Wish me luck.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Study Zeroes In on Calories, Not Diet, for Loss
For people who are trying to lose weight, it does not matter if they are counting carbohydrates, protein or fat. All that matters is that they are counting something.
That is the finding of the largest-ever controlled study of weight-loss methods published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. More than 800 overweight adults in Boston and Baton Rouge, La., were assigned to one of four diets that reduced calories through different combinations of fat, carbohydrates and protein. Each plan cut about 750 calories from a participant’s normal diet, but no one ate fewer than 1,200 calories a day.
While the diets were not named, the eating plans were all loosely based on the principles of popular diets like Atkins, which emphasizes low carbohydrates; Dean Ornish, which is low-fat; or the Mediterranean diet, with less animal protein. All participants also received group or individual counseling.
After two years, every diet group had lost — and regained — about the same amount of weight regardless of what diet had been assigned. Participants lost an average of 13 pounds at six months and had maintained about 9 pounds of weight loss and a two-inch drop in waist size after two years. While the average weight loss was modest, about 15 percent of dieters lost more than 10 percent of their weight by the end of the study. Still, after about a year many returned to at least some of their usual eating habits.
The lesson, researchers say, is that people lose weight if they lower calories, but it does not matter how.
“It really does cut through the hype,” said Dr. Frank M. Sacks, the study’s lead author and professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It gives people lots of flexibility to pick a diet that they can stick with.”
Dr. Sacks said that to reduce bias the researchers avoided associating any of the diets with well-known commercial eating plans. While attendance at counseling sessions was linked with better weight loss, that was not true for every dieter. In some groups, people lost large amounts of weight even though they attended only a few counseling sessions.
The real question for researchers, Dr. Sacks said, is what are the biological, psychological or social factors that influence whether a person can stick to any diet.
“The effect of any particular diet group is minuscule, but the effect of individual behavior is humongous,” Dr. Sacks said. “We had some people losing 50 pounds and some people gaining five pounds. That’s what we don’t have a clue about. I think in the future, researchers should focus less on the actual diet but on finding what is really the biggest governor of success in these individuals.”
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The President's address to a Joint Session of Congress on February 24. Well worth watching. Note when the Republicans rise to applaud and when they don't.
Monday, February 23, 2009
'Doubt' is a truly riveting movie about a Catholic school in a working class section of New York in 1964. It pairs two of the best actors of the age, Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman plays a priest in the school and Streep is Sister Aloysius, a mother superior to the nuns who teach in the school.
The school gets it first black kid. Sister Aloysius soon accuses the priest of molesting the boy. The story develops as the evidence evolves and the certainty grows.
The story and the dialogue are nuanced and layered. The writing is splendid and the acting superb. All four of the principal actors were nominated for academy awards. The screenplay was nominated as well. The cinematography was excellent too, if on occasion a bit much.
The emotional pitch as the movie progresses was so strong that I found myself tensing and having trouble calming myself with assurances that it was just a movie.
The only failing of the movie is a big one. I simply did not believe the last scene that supposedly morally resolves the conflict. It just isn't believable. The character Streep draws for Sister Aloysius is just too harsh, unrelenting, and un-self-critical for the ending to work.
The story reinforced my long-standing resolve never to be around children. Friends from middle schools have told me that it is uniform practice never to be alone with a child for fear of accusation. And that is when they have the whole weight of an institution on their side.
For an elderly single man, well-known to be eccentric, any suggestion would bring instant conviction by any jury just for the profile. Even if I proved by photos, witnesses, and passport stamps that I was in Canada at the time, I would be permanently tainted in the eyes of everyone I know.
It is not an exaggeration that the consequences to my life would be worse than if I committed armed robbery. Which is too bad. I like kids and have often been told that I would be a good teacher. But the risk of encountering an unstable child or even a persistent liar is not a risk worth taking.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I am planning a trip to my father's home town in Lativa, formerly Mitau, now Jelgava, and to my grandfather's hometown in Lithuania, formerly Zheimely, now Sonauli.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The object of renting out my house as an inn was to make enough money to not lose the house. I have just written a check for the spring property taxes. I didn't have to use savings. My pension just covers the monthly mortgage payment. I am as poor as an inn mouse, but my house is covered for now.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Monday, February 09, 2009
Sunday, February 08, 2009
FIRST, Chilean cherries and American seedless mandarins are ripe and on sale. Both are cheap and delicious. Both, especially the cherries, are the fruit equivalent of salted nuts. Unlike nuts, fruit soon requires one to get up and take a quick walk to the room with the shower in it, but not to take a shower. So there is some exercise involved.
The great virtue of Internet Explorer is that you already have it and don't have to do anything. Just click on it and it comes up.
The great virtue of Firefox is that it uses tabs, so you can have several pages loaded at once and switch among them just by clicking on the tabs. You can have your startup page be several pages each in a separate tab. If your computer has enough memory, you can have lots of them. I used Firefox for years, until very recently.
The newest version of Internet Explorer now has tabs too, but they are cumbersome and insincere by comparison. For some, the fact that Firefox is from a nonprofit competitor to mega-Microsoft is also a reason to use it.
Google Chrome confused me at first. It has a simpler less cluttered appearance than the other two so I didn't see the point. Until I did comparison tests. Chrome is a mile faster at loading pages than Internet Explorer and several hundred yards faster than Firefox. It starts up faster than they do as well. Internet Explorer, which had seemed normal before, now seems painfully slow, almost unusable.
The confusing simplicity turns out to be a trick. Google has concentrated the menus under three icons, the wrench, the page, and the star. Roughly the same collection of features are there, but take up less space on the screen.
Today I learned a useful and cool feature. Say one is writing a blog entry fulminating against something one read in the Times. One has to keep switching tabs to have the object of one's ire in view, then switch to the blog composition screen to vent in, and then back for the next quote and so on.
With Chrome in a window rather than full-screen, one can click on a tab and drag it onto the open screen, et voila, a new Chrome window with the tab in it. Right-clicking on a tab gives the opportunity to duplicate it before dragging it to the screen. This is useful if one screen is previous to the other like an inbox is to an email. One can see both on screen at the same time by clicking the back arrow on one of them.
Attempting to drag and drop a tab in Firefox just puts an icon on the screen. Attempting it in Internet Explorer gets a blank look -- nothing happens.
I have not fiddled with Safari much since it seems like a Mac-specific thing though it is now available for Windows. Thoughts from the MacMeister, the Sage of Chico?
THIRD, don't ditch your Internet Explorer yet. A few things will only run in it, notably Netflix's instant movies. These are an amazing service. There are no end of movies, literally thousands, that will play on your computer screen directly, just by clicking on them.
Just a little background here - High Definition (HD) television screens come in two flavors, the older 720p or 720 vertical lines, and the newer 1080p or 1080 vertical lines. Standard broadcast has 480 vertical lines. By comparison, computer monitors have mainly 1024x768 resolution or 1280x1024 for larger ones, which is 768 lines or 1024 lines. That is, they are roughly the same as HD televisions, only smaller.
One huge drawback of computer monitors compared to televisions is that one generally cannot watch them from a couch. Which presumably is why the newer televisions come with pc input plugs, to make them function as big, couch-watchable computer monitors.
The petty nastiness here is Radio Shack which has some ludicrous price on the video cord from the box to the tube. As your consumer reviewer here, on a scale of one to five, the Scenic Route awards Radio Shack the full five Eff You's. Buy the connector mail order online from someone else.
Once you've got a $9 a month Netflix subscription, a computer connection to your television, a freezer full of food, and someone you love near at hand, there is no reason why you should ever leave your house.
From a Wikipedia background note to its entry on the 1942 Battle of the Solomons --
In the words of the Japanese Navy's Combined Fleet Secret Order Number One, dated November 1, 1941 [five weeks before Pearl Harbor], the goals of the initial Japanese campaigns in the impending war were to, "(eject) British and American strength from the Netherlands Indies and the Philippines, (and) to establish a policy of autonomous self-sufficiency and economic independence."
Which is to say the purpose of the War in the Pacific was to free Japan from globalization.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Friday, February 06, 2009
From the LA Times story about negotiations in Egypt about the ship that attempted to run the Gaza blockade --
The Hamas delegation later was stopped from returning to Gaza with $9 million and 2 million euros in their suitcases, an Egyptian security official said.The official said the group initially refused to be searched by Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.The money stayed in Egypt while the delegation was allowed to return to Gaza, said another security official.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Consumer panel's decision on lead testing law is overturnedManufacturers and retailers cannot sell children's products containing phthalates, which are chemicals used to soften plastic, after Tuesday, a federal judge rules.
By Alana SemuelsFebruary 6, 2009
Environmentalists are battling small businesses to preserve a law that would pull children's products that may contain lead and chemicals from shelves by next week.The environmentalists won a round Thursday when a federal judge overturned a decision by a government commission and said manufacturers and retailers could not sell children's items containing phthalates, which are chemicals used to soften plastic, after Tuesday.The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, adopted last year, bans use of phthalates in children's products. But the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which enforces the act, said retailers could sell items containing phthalates if they were manufactured before Tuesday.The National Resources Defense Council and consumer group Public Citizen had sued to reverse the commission's decision. Without the ruling, "a consumer going to the store to buy a teething ring or any other children's product would have no idea if it contains phthalates or not," said Aaron Colangelo, senior attorney at the council.Small businesses are trying to buy time by asking the commission to postpone the effective date of the law, especially the portion of it that makes it illegal to sell any products that contain more than 600 parts per million of lead."Compliance with these new lead content requirements will be a practical impossibility for thousands of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and resellers," read a letter from the National Assn. of Manufacturers asking for the effective date of law to be postponed.Colangelo said that any movement by the commission to postpone the rules would violate the law and would "perpetuate harm through children's exposure to lead."But business groups aren't surrendering. On Thursday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and five other Republican senators introduced an amendment to the economic stimulus bill that would make changes to the consumer product safety act. It would delay the regulations by six months, clarify rules about component testing, exempt resellers from the act, prevent retroactive enforcement of the act and require the commission to provide small businesses with a compliance guide.The bill is being backed by small business groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In 1974 the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Capucci was arrested, tried and convicted of smuggling arms to the Palestinians. In 1977 he was released from prison by the Israelis.
On the stamp issued by Syria in 1977 (above image) Archbishop Capucci is pictured in front of prison bars beside a map of an undivided Palestine colored red.
Never underestimate an Anti-Semite.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Samira Ahmed Jassim is seen in a detention facility in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 27, 2009. The woman, nicknamed "Umm al-Mumineen," suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has been arrested, the Iraqi military said Tuesday, dealing a major blow to one of the most effective forms of attacks in Iraq. Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the suspect had recruited more than 80 women willing to carry out attacks and had admitted masterminding 28 bombings in different areas. (AP Photo/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)
`Mother' of Iraqi women bomber network arrested
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and BRIAN MURPHY – 1 hour ago
BAGHDAD (AP) — A woman accused of helping recruit dozens of female suicide bombers looked into the camera and described the process: trolling society for likely candidates and then patiently converting the women from troubled souls into deadly attackers.
The accounts, in a video released Tuesday by Iraq police, offer a rare glimpse into the networks used to find and train the women bombers who have become one of the insurgents' most effective weapons as they struggle under increasing crackdowns.
In a separate prison interview with The Associated Press, with interrogators nearby, the woman said she was part of a plot in which young women were raped and then sent to her for matronly advice. She said she would try to persuade the victims to become suicide bombers as their only escape from the shame and to reclaim their honor.
The AP was allowed access on condition the information would not be released until the formal announcement of the arrest.
The U.S. and Iraqi militaries have made past claims without providing much evidence about efforts by insurgents to recruit vulnerable women as well as children as attackers. Those included statements by the Iraqis that two women who blew themselves up last year in Baghdad had Down's Syndrome, accounts that were not supported by subsequent investigations.
It also was not possible independently to verify the claim that insurgents sent out people to rape women who could then be recruited as bombers in the volatile Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.
But the suspect, 50-year-old Samira Ahmed Jassim — who said her code name was "The Mother of Believers" — has given unusual firsthand descriptions of the possible workings behind last year's spike in attacks by women bombers.
The Iraqi military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the suspect had recruited more than 80 women willing to carry out attacks and admitted masterminding 28 bombings in different areas.
Female suicide bombers attempted or successfully carried out 32 attacks last year, compared with eight in 2007, according to U.S. military figures. Most recently, a woman detonated an explosive under her robes that killed at least 36 people during a Shiite religious gathering last month.
The attacks reflected a shift in insurgent tactics: trying to exploit cultural standards that restrict male security forces from searching women and use the traditional flowing robes of women to hide bomb-rigged belts or vests.
In response, Iraqi security forces have tried to recruit more women. In last week's provincial elections, women teachers and civic workers helped search voters.
Al-Moussawi, the military spokesman, alleged Jassim was in contact with top leaders of Ansar al-Sunnah in Diyala, the last foothold of major Sunni insurgent strength near Baghdad. The group is one of the factions with suspected ties to al-Qaida in Iraq.
Al-Moussawi said Jassim "confessed to recruiting 28 female suicide bombers who carried out terrorist operations in different areas." He gave no other details on the locations or dates of the attacks.
In the video played for reporters, Jassim described how she was approached by insurgents to urge women to carry out suicide attacks. She said her first assignment was Um Hoda, a nickname meaning mother of Hoda.
"I talked to her a number of times," said Jassim, who has four daughters and two sons. "I went back to them and gave them the details on her. And they told me, bring her to us. ... And I took her to the police station, and that's where she blew herself up."
Another woman, whom she called Amal, was involved in long conversations, Jassim said.
"I talked to her many times, sat with her, and she was very depressed," she said on the video. "I took her to them, and then went back for her and she blew herself up."
Jassim gave no further information on the attacks or her role in the video.
In speaking with the AP — a week after her Jan. 21 arrest — Jassim repeated statements she had allegedly made to interrogators that insurgents organized rapes of women and that she would then try to coax the victims to become suicide bombers.
She said she was "able to persuade women to become suicide bombers ... broken women, especially those who were raped."
In many parts of Iraq, including conservative Diyala, a rape victim may be shunned by her family and become an outcast in society.
Police interrogators were not in the room during Jassim's interview with the AP, but they were in an adjoining chamber.
Jassim did not offer additional details on her alleged role in the attacks, but suggested she was pressured into working with the insurgency.
She claimed that Ansar al-Sunnah provided her a house in Diyala, where she operated a shop selling the traditional robes for women called abaya. She added, however, that Ansar al-Sunnah once threatened to bomb her house if she did not cooperate.
"I worked with (Ansar al-Sunnah) for a year and a half," she told the AP.
Women suicide bombers are uncommon, but not unknown, outside Iraq.
Among Palestinians, several woman have carried out suicide bombings for militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
There also have been cases of women in the West Bank attacking Israeli soldiers so they can be imprisoned after being accused of breaking traditional rules on sexual conduct. In the Palestinian territories, relatives can seek harsh punishments, including death, on women seen as dishonoring the family.
Associated Press Writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.
Sunday, February 01, 2009
The Australian Open tennis tournament was the scene of the Changing of the Guard today. The huge, familiar champion, Roger Federer, lost. He was by far the best tennis player of his era for years. He won the four big national tournaments - the Australian, the French, Wimbledon, and the US Open, 13 times, the second most anyone has won ever. Mind you, each tournament starts with 128 contenders, of whom only one gets his name on the trophy. He was the one of the 128 who did that -- 13 times. All 128 are so good at tennis that they get paid to do it. He was consistently better than any of them.
Except occasionally. When he played the Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal, for instance. Nadal, the Majorcan Strongboy, consistently beat Federer on slow clay courts, common in Spain and France, but in not too many other places. But that was a sort of anomaly. Nadal was a clay court specialist. And besides, Federer could beat everyone except Nadal even on clay.
Last year Nadal beat Federer in the Wimbledon final, on a fast grass court. But Federer had mononucleosis so that couldn't be taken seriously. Even so, he beat everybody else but Nadal at Wimbledon, so it would be the Age of Federer again as soon as he got well.
Today at Melbourne, the court was hard court and Federer did not have mononucleosis. But Nadal won anyway. Given that Federer served abominably it was remarkable that he could stay with Nadal until the end of the fifth set. Even so, I served abominably when I played, and that didn't mean I was a better player on account of it.
So, at least for now, the Age of Federer is over, and the Age of Nadal has begun.
Why is sports news worth noting in a blog entry?
Because Federer is done -- at 27. Nadal is 22. Part of the reason Nadal has surpassed Federer is that he is still getting better. Federer is at his peak and will never get any better than he is now.
The stadium in which all this took place was the Rod Laver Arena. Rod Laver was the greatest tennis player of his era, arguably of all time. I remember seeing him play on black-and-white television in the great era of Australian dominance in tennis. He had a devastating forehand, which earned him the nickname 'Rocket Rod'. He was in the stands for the Federer-Nadal match, a man in his 70's.
Laver's era has been over for 40 years. Federer's has been over for a day. For the rest of us there are no obvious markers like losing a tennis tournament to tell that our day is done and the rest is just a long goodbye.
But what does it mean to be over with? Laver and Federer were each the greatest tennis players of their eras. That feature of their lives is what defined them to other people, and doubtless to themselves. Australia named a tennis stadium after Laver, not an art gallery or a courthouse, because that is how it defined him.
Most of us are not defined by our public lives like famous athletes because we don't have public lives. But even for the many who have only private lives we are still defined by externalities to others and generally to ourselves. Strangers we meet always inquire after our occupations. Strangers look for wedding rings or the lack of them to size us up. Many men are prouder of being daddies than of anything else in their lives. But it is a doomed relationship. Success means that the twerps will ripen into independent adults. Then one is only sentimentally a daddy.
Even good values lead us into self-definitions that melt in our hands. Shallower values melt even faster.
Everything that we are changes, decays, and ends. So, in the self-help phrase, we have to continually re-invent ourselves, to find new ways to define who we are. Like Roger Federer will have to, like you and I will have to.
Maybe that is what is meant in the blather phrase that one has to keep growing to stay alive. Maybe the phrase is merely inarticulate. Maybe what is meant that one has to be constantly defining oneself anew just to stay afloat.