September 15, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM



The Shenango Coke Works facility -- which produced coke, a coal-derived product, for over 50 years -- shut down in January 2016 following community activism and sizable fines for pollution, per Euronews Green.

Since then, a study from the New York University Grossman School of Medicine published in the journal Environmental Research: Health has found a 42% decrease in average weekly visits to emergency health services for heart-related illnesses, as the media organization NowThis tweeted about.

Furthermore, when looking at data from January 2016 through December 2018, the researchers discovered there were 33 fewer average annual hospitalizations for heart disease compared to the preceding three years of the coal plant's operation, corresponding to a "near-instant drop" in air pollution, as NYU Grossman School of Medicine observed. 

Among that number, the study found there were "13 fewer average yearly hospitalizations for ischemic heart disease (typically heart attack) and 12 fewer average yearly hospitalizations for cerebrovascular events (most often stroke)." 

And that's not even mentioning the impact on the air quality in the local area. As Euronews Green noted, "average daily levels of toxic sulfur dioxide fell by 90 percent at government air-monitoring stations near the plant" following the coal plant's closure. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


AI can help screen for cancer--but there's a catch (Cassandra Willyardarchive page, September 15, 2023, MIT Technology Review)

In theory, catching cancers earlier should make them easier to treat, saving lives. But that's not always what the data shows. A study published in late August combed the literature for randomized clinical trials that compared mortality (from any cause, not just cancer) in two groups: people who underwent cancer screening and people who did not. For most common types of cancer screening, they found no significant difference. The exception was sigmoidoscopy, a type of colon cancer screening that involves visualizing only the lower portion of the colon. [...]

There is no question that screening programs have caught cancers that would have killed people had they gone undetected. So why worry about overdiagnosis? Screening can also cause harm. Patients undergoing colonoscopies sometimes end up with a perforated bowel. Biopsies can lead to infection. Treatments like radiation and chemotherapy come with serious risks to people's health, and so does surgery to remove tumors.

So will AI-assisted screening lead to more overdiagnosis? I checked in with Adewole Adamson, a dermatologist and researcher at the Dell School of Medicine at the University of Texas at Austin. "Without reservation I would say 'Yes, it will,'" he says. "People think that the goal is to find more cancer. That's not our goal. Our goal is to find cancers that will ultimately kill people."  

And that's tricky. For the vast majority of cancers, there aren't good ways to separate nonlethal cases from lethal ones. So doctors often treat them all as if they might be deadly.
In a 2019 paper, Adamson explains how these cancer-detecting algorithms learn. The computer is presented with images that are labeled "cancer" or "not cancer." The algorithm then looks for patterns to help it discriminate. "The problem is that there is no single right answer to the question, "What constitutes cancer?" Adamson writes. "Diagnoses of early-stage cancer made using machine-learning algorithms will undoubtedly be more consistent and more replicable than those based on human interpretation. But they won't necessarily be closer to the truth--that is, algorithms may not be any better than humans at determining which tumors are destined to cause symptoms or death."

But there's also a chance AI might help address the problem of overdiagnosis. The Australian researchers I referenced above offer up this example: AI could use the information embedded in medical records to examine the trajectories of different patients' cancers over time. In this scenario, it might be possible to distinguish those who don't benefit from a diagnosis.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


How to Reduce Your Energy Bills - or Even Pay Nothing At All (Bloomberg, 9/14/23) 

The winter heating season is looming and finances remain strained, but UK homes are getting the chance to cut energy bills -- or even pay nothing at all -- by effectively becoming mini power plants.

Households with solar panels, heat pumps and batteries can store power produced when prices are low and then sell to the grid when they're high. Versions of these flexible tariffs have been around for a while, but suppliers are trying to increase subscribers and major provider Octopus Energy Ltd. is taking that further by rolling out a version guaranteeing zero bills.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


What Matters Now to Jewish Law Prof. Benny Porat: Common ground as titans clash: A resident of a West Bank settlement city, the Hebrew U prof. is a vocal opponent of the coalition's judicial overhaul. Hear how 2,000 years of Jewish law shapes his thinking (AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN, 9/15/23, Times of Israel)

We have to remember that all of the mess that we are experiencing now is just because Israel doesn't have a constitution. Once we have a constitution, we won't be in this kind of a mess and debate. And it's not by accident that we don't have a constitution, it's because we couldn't reach agreements about all of these basic principles, and most of them are about the relationship between the three branches, so between the executive branch and the judiciary. So it's not by accident that we don't have a constitution and by the way, some of the supporters of this judicial reform are trying to bring some examples from other states, for example from the US. They say: "Listen, in the US, the president has the authority to nominate judges. So if it's good for the US. Why won't it be good for us?"

So first, it doesn't work like that in the US. But second, more importantly, in the US there is a constitution, and once you have a constitution -- and other mechanisms as well. You have two houses of Congress, and you have separation between the federal level and the state level. All of these mechanisms we don't have here in Israel. First and foremost, we don't have a constitution and therefore the only entity that can limit the government is the Supreme Court. And therefore it's so crucial, this debate.

Let's talk a little bit more about the religious sensitivity of having a secular authority interpret law in general. And you wrote an essay which talks about the concept of "Adam Hashuv," I think you called it "A Dignified Person" in English? First of all, explain what this concept is.

Yes. What I tried to do in my research, with one of my colleagues, about this judicial reform from a Jewish law perspective. Our argument was that the debates that we are experiencing today are not new. The Jewish community during the Middle Ages had the same debates. The Jewish community of course was not a modern state, but it was a political entity that was run by some politicians, which was called the "Seven Good People of the Town." And they, of course, the authorities, wanted power. They wanted to do a lot of things. And there were the rabbinical courts, which was a judiciary, and there were a lot of tensions between these two entities. And we can see how the Jewish legal tradition saw so much importance in the idea that there should be independent judiciaries that put some limitations on the politicians.

So, for example, one of the mechanisms that Jewish law established for that purpose was the doctrine of Adam Hashuv, the dignified person, which is, according to our argument, similar to the Attorney General, which is not part of the court. But before, when enacting enactments in the Jewish community, according to Jewish law sources, the politicians, the leader of the community has to get the approval of this "dignified person," which is the rabbi of this place, or the one who is expert in law. His purpose was to look for two things. First, that the communal enactments are aligned with the law, and the second one, that they are aligned not only with the interest of the majority, but with the interest of the whole community. These two things should be checked before enacting an enactment. Actually today, this is what the legal advisors and the attorney generals, this is their main role -- to see that the actions and decisions of the executive branch are aligned with the law in the general interest of the state. And from this perspective, it was so important for Jewish law that, while we are recognizing the authority of the majority to control the community, we will put some checks and balances, and the dignified person is one of them.

Tell us about other checks and balances throughout Jewish history, on leadership.

So, another very important mechanism which is also very relevant for today. Once the Jewish community enacted an enactment. If someone felt that [the enactment] is unpleasant, that he's being damaged or it has violated his right, he has a right to appeal to the rabbinical court, and the rabbinical court has the authority to overrule the criminal enactment. So even though it was legislated by the majority, the rabbinical court had the authority to overrule this kind of enactment. And by the way, of course the idea of override clause or something like that, that the majority can reenact something that was overruled, of course it was not an option. So once the enactment was recognized as illegitimate, it was annulled. And this is something that also is part of the judicial reform -- to what extent the Supreme Court had the authority to overrule regular legislation, special legislation like Basic Laws. This is something that was also part of yesterday's hearing at the Supreme Court.

As a non-religious person, I shudder inside every time you say that it's a rabbinical authority who had the final say. But, it sounds to me like you're doing a one-to-one ratio with the civil authority that we have today. Is that correct?

Yeah, there is some kind of a jump here, because in the arena of the Jewish traditional communities, the judiciary was a rabbis. There was a rabbinical court, and we are not living here today in an halachic state, this is a secular state or at least non-religious state. So of course now one should ask himself: "Who are the modern Israeli parallels to this 'dignified person' of the rabbinical court?" One can argue that we want a halachic state and we want it to be the rabbis. So, we can debate whether it's good or bad. But this is definitely not the current situation.

So having said that, and if we assume that if we are in a secular state, my argument here is that we, as Israelis, as modern Israelis that want some connection with our Jewish roots, need to think who is a modern translation of this "dignified person?" From my suggestion, this is an attorney general. Who is a parallel to the rabbinical court in the Jewish community? My suggestion is the Supreme Court. I think we should establish our check and balance mechanisms in modern Israel with some conversation with this Jewish past. And I think this is a very important infrastructure from which we can derive a lot of insights, a lot of vocabulary, very interesting terminology and ways of thinking in order to enrich our modern legal discourse.

I will say it even from a different perspective. There are those who try to present the current debate between the Israelis and the Jews. The Jews represent traditional authentic Jewish perspective and the Israelis represent modern, secular, liberal, et cetera, et cetera. From my perspective, this is a very dangerous exposition. And my argument is that also from a Jewish perspective, these checks and balances are very important, but we have to think about the modern secular translation of these Jewish ideas and this is the deep meaning of being a Jewish and democratic state. Being a Jewish and democratic state, from my perspective, it's not only a state of the Jews, but also a state that has some interesting open-minded conversation, which is a Jewish tradition, and mainly with its Jewish legal tradition.

...first, guarantee that all laws are adopted in participatory fashion; and, second, that all laws apply universally.  This is how we safeguard republican liberty.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Republicans scramble to avert shutdown (Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Kadia Goba, Sep 14, 2023, Semafor)

One senior Republican said the House GOP conference may be edging closer to tearing itself apart, drawing a comparison to what ultimately happened with the so-called "Five Families" in the Godfather movies.

"The whole family kills each other," the senior GOP lawmaker said. " I think we're close to that right now. We are in maybe the Godfather II stage."

A GOP aide lambasted hardliners from the Freedom Caucus, saying "they are hellbent on losing the majority" for Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Researchers reveal benefits of exercise as an antidepressant (Gudrun Heise, 9/15/23, Deutsche-Welle)

Anti-depression therapy is often combined with sports. Backed up by studies, therapists have long reported that exercise can complement depression therapy. Now, some are asking whether sports alone might be enough for some patients to overcome depression.

If so, patients would no longer have to rely on counseling, which can last for years, and could forgo antidepressants. The advantages are obvious: There would be no side effects -- except perhaps for sports injuries such as sprained ankles and sore muscles.

In collaboration with scholars from Australia, Belgium, Britain, Sweden and Brazil, researchers from Potsdam University's Department of Sport and Health Sciences systematically reviewed 41 studies on the subject of exercise and depression for a meta-analysis published in February in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The authors conclude that sports can offer "a further evidence-based treatment option for the large amount of untreated individuals with depression, including individuals who refuse or cannot tolerate medication and/or psychotherapy." They add, however, that "given the high heterogeneity and mainly small and selected samples of the included studies, this requires individual decisions involving the treating physician to determine if and which conditions of exercise are the optimal treatment of choice while also recognising the potential synergistic effects of exercise in managing both physical and mental well-being."

It's all in your head.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


September 14, 2023 (HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, SEP 15, 2023, Letters from an American)

Romney said that "[a]lmost without exception" his Republican colleagues "shared my view of the president," but they refused to speak up out of fear that their voters would turn against them. Coppins recounts a weekly caucus lunch at which Republicans gave Trump a standing ovation, listened as he boasted and rambled through remarks, and then burst into laughter as soon as Trump left.  

That loyalty appears to have been behind leaders' refusal to address rumors of violence on January 6, 2021. According to Coppins, on January 2, 2021, Senator Angus King (I-ME) warned Romney that a high-ranking Pentagon official had told King that right-wing extremists online appeared to be planning to attack the government on January 6 to stop what Trump had told them was the stealing of the 2020 presidential election. They talked of guns and arson and bombs, and they talked of targeting the traitors in Congress, among whom they counted Romney for his vote to convict Trump on one count in his first impeachment trial. King was concerned for Romney's safety.

Romney promptly texted then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to recount the conversation. "There are calls to burn down your home, Mitch; to smuggle guns into DC, and to storm the Capitol," Romney wrote. "I hope that sufficient security plans are in place, but I am concerned that the instigator--the President--is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require." McConnell never answered. 

When even after the events of January 6, fellow senators continued to execute their plan of objecting to the counting of electoral votes for certain states, Romney called them out on the floor of the Senate for "being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy." 

Romney recalled that some senators refused to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial out of concerns for their safety and that of their families. Romney himself had hired a security detail for his family since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but at $5,000 a day such security was out of reach for most of his colleagues. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


My hands-free drive halfway across the U.S. (Joann Muller, 9/14/23, Axios)

Using a combination of GPS mapping and a forward-facing camera, the system advised when I was on a pre-qualified stretch of road -- a "Blue Zone" -- where hands-free driving was available.

All I had to do was push the cruise control button on the steering wheel.

Blue light cues appeared on both the digital instrument panel and the head-up display on the windshield.

A large blue steering wheel icon indicated it was OK for me to remove my hands.

A driver-facing camera in the instrument panel monitored my eye gaze and head position to ensure that I was looking at the road. (If you do take your eyes off the road, there will be a series of audible and visual alerts, and eventually the car will slow down.)

What I found: I was surprised by how much more relaxed my upper body felt -- plus, I turned on the cooling seat massager, which helped keep me alert while eliminating pressure points.

Turning on the BlueCruise felt seamless and intuitive.

When it was time to regain control, the blue steering wheel icon changed, showing digital "hands" back on the wheel. Again, a seamless transition, with no panic.