Author Archives: postroad
By Jonah Bennett, DCNF
A report released by the inspector general for the Veteran Affairs Department (VA) has discovered incredible levels of fraud and abuse, detailing extensive retaliation against whistleblowers, Federal News Radio reports.
—Along with whistleblower harassment come findings of lying to investigators and procurement fraud, with the main culprit being Susan Taylor, the deputy chief procurement officer in the Veterans Health Administration’s Procurement and Logistics Office (VHA).
—The 82-page report shows that Taylor used her office for private gain in awarding a contract to FedBid, a reverse auction service, whose executives also interfered in the process by preventing the VA from operating in an honest and impartial manner.
Based on a perusal of the vitamin section of most drug stores, you’d think Americans need a lot of vitamins. And almost 50 percent of adult Americans reported taking some dietary supplement, according to the most recently published data in the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). People take specific vitamin supplements, of course — B, C, D, E and so on — and if taking one vitamin at a time is too much, one-a-day multivitamins abound, designed for each specific life circumstance. (Are you an active man over 50? Support your cell health with extra selenium!)
Many medical studies show positive health effects from higher vitamin levels. The only problem? These studies often can’t tease out the effect of the vitamins from the effect of other factors, such as generally healthy living.
Physical movement improves mental focus, memory, and cognitive flexibility; new research shows just how critical it is to academic performance.
James Hamblin Sep 29 2014, 6:05 AM ET
Electrophysiological plots representing brain processing
capacity and mental workload (P3 amplitude) during
cognitive tasks that require executive control in children
in the experiment and control groups. Red represents
the greatest amplitude, and blue the lowest.
(Hillman et al, Pediatrics/The Atlantic)
Mental exercises to build (or rebuild)attention span have shown promise recently as adjuncts or alternatives to amphetamines in addressing symptoms common to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Building cognitive control, to be better able to focus on just one thing, or single-task, might involve regular practice with a specialized video game that reinforces “top-down” cognitive modulation, as was the case in a popular paper in Nature last year. Cool but still notional. More insipid but also more clearly critical to addressing what’s being called the ADHD epidemic is plain old physical activity.
For much of the month of September, after a disappointing summer, Tokyo basked in temperatures of 25C or more.
In most countries there would be a rush for the beach, but not here. Overnight on 1 September, beach-going Japanese become as rare as buttered sushi.
The free-will fix
New brain implants can restore autonomy to damaged minds, but can they settle the question of whether free will exists?
Just when I thought I’d found the outer limits of the Internet, I stumbled across safe-for-work porn. It’s X-rated material that’s been edited and crudely drawn upon so as to appear G-rated. Thus, a penis becomes a bottle of Ensure, a vagina a corncob — oh, you’ll see, soon enough.
There are discussion threads and entire websites devoted to this genre. The creative minds behind the curious art form work tirelessly to reimagine the male member as a candy cane, a soda can, a very large pencil — you name it. (I have one sole artistic critique: No one eats a banana like that.) Their creations are posted with remarks like, “She Really Likes Ice Cream” or “Just enjoying a popsicle.” Commenters then weigh in with kudos (“this is pure art”), a link to the original NSFW image or video and sometimes harsh critique (“I get the idea but this kinda misses the SFWporn mark”).
The overall effect is of making you believe that there might be some innocence left in the world. Although, a funny thing happens after you view enough SFW porn: Everything begins to look like undercover smut. Microphones, ice cream cones and hot dogs start to look real suspicious. Melons and bowling balls leave you thinking, “Pssh, yeah right!” Suddenly you’re editing in genitals everywhere you look. Also, be forewarned: Despite the name, these are not exactly safe for work. Sure, you can try telling you boss, “Look, he’s just performing the heimlich!” or “Those spherical objects that he’s placing on her face are cucumber slices, for a facial!” But I wouldn’t recommend it.
Nancy Andreasen is not a smooth performer-of-ideas in the TED vein, the sort who roams the stage wirelessly mic’d, dispensing wisdom with Broadway-caliber aplomb. She does it old school, podium and PowerPoint, describing her research as she clicks through slides. The 400 or so people gathered for a midafternoon session of this summer’s Aspen Ideas Festival were drawn by the promise of learning “The Secrets of the Creative Brain” from Andreasen, a literary scholar turned psychiatrist and neuroscientist, winner of the National Science Medal, and author of a landmark study that found that eight out of 10 writers had experienced some form of mental illness during their lives. When the study was published in 1987, it was taken as scientific confirmation that there is indeed a link between creativity and mental illness, that most of our geniuses are fragile, moody, and perhaps a bit mad.
An orphaned swamp wallaby joey named Alkira is being hand-raised by Matt Dea at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, AustraliaPicture: EPA/TARONGA ZOO
At the foot of Montmartre under a heavy wrought-iron bridge that skims the tips of blackened mausoleums, forgotten souls are spending their after lives in perpetual darkness– not exactly what they might have had in mind when they reserved the best plots in the house for their final curtain call…
March 1943. “Brakeman Jack Torbet, sitting at the window of the caboose pulling out of Waynoka, Oklahoma, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.” Photo by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information
Today’s picture features a policeman with a pretty cool motorcycle. The picture was taken in 1932, and the policeman is part of the Washington DC Metropolitan Police force.
Welcome to Coober Pedy.
When one first walks into the small Australian town of Coober Pedy, it does not look like a place that would be conducive to human life. The arid scenery resembles an otherworldly landscape, and due to the extreme temperatures, neither flora nor fauna flourish here.
Ill-health is the price rural Indians have to pay for seeking a better life in the city. Twenty-nine villages near Hyderabad are helping to explain why, Michael Regnier discovers.
There’s a swing on the edge of a cliff in Ecuador. It has no safety measures and is called the ‘Swing at the End of the World’. It’s a tourist attraction and in order to get there, you have to hike up the path to Bellavista from Banos, until you reach a viewpoint and a seismic monitoring station named La Casa del Árbol (The Tree-house).
Among the holdings of the collection of the International Center of Photography is an important archive of photo-illustrated periodicals from the 1930s and 1940s. These weekly news magazines—many of which are now quite rare–chronicle the rise of photojournalism and photomontage and include such pioneering efforts as USSR in Construction (Russia), Life (US), AIZ (Germany), Vu (France), Estampa (Spain), and Picture Post (England). Recently, we acquired a run of 36 early issues of Shashin Shuho (Photo Weekly), an important World War II-era Japanese propaganda organ published by the government’s Naikaku Johobu (Cabinet Information Division) between 1937 and 1945. The goal of this well-designed and widely distributed publication was to encourage nationalist sentiments as Japan engaged in wars with China and the Allies.
A protester walks in tear gas fired by riot policemen after thousands of protesters blocked the main street to the financial Central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sunday.
In this provocative study of censorship as it was practiced in three different places at three different times, the distinguished scholar Robert Darnton argues that it can be a considerably subtler and more nuanced undertaking than it is generally assumed to be. He has not written a defense of censorship — far from it — but he emphasizes that when the state sets itself up as arbiter of what goes into books and what does not, the results are not always predictable, but are sometimes surprising and even — occasionally — beneficial to authors and their publishers.
—Darnton begins with a brief evocation of the risks posed by cyberspace, where the instinctive assumption is that “electronic communication could take place without running into obstacles,” but where in fact “the Great Firewall of China and the unrestricted surveillance by the National Security Agency illustrate a tendency for the state to assert its interests at the expense of individuals.” Why, though, should we care today about the censorship of books in France during the Enlightenment, India during the Raj and East Germany during communist rule? Darnton explains:
The childless, the parentless, and the Central Sadness.
By Meghan Daum
—The first child whose life I tried to make a difference in was Maricela. She was twelve years old and in the sixth grade at a middle school in the San Gabriel Valley, about a half hour’s drive from my house, near downtown Los Angeles. We’d been matched by the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, which put us in a “school-based program.” This meant that Maricela would be excused from class twice a month in order to meet with me in an empty classroom. On our first visit, I brought art supplies—glue and glitter and stencils you could use to draw different types of horses. I hadn’t been told much about Maricela, only that she had a lot of younger siblings and often got lost in the shuffle at home. She spent most of our first meeting skulking around in the doorway, calling out to friends who were playing kickball in the courtyard. I sat at a desk tracing glittery horses, telling myself she’d come to me when she was ready.
—Several months later, it was determined that Maricela saw me largely as a way to get out of class and therefore needed “different kinds of supports.” I was transferred to a Big Brothers Big Sisters community-based program to work with fifteen-year-old Kaylee. She had requested a Big Sister, writing on her application that she needed “guidance in life.” I found out that Kaylee had mentors from several volunteer organizations. Each had an area of expertise: help with college applications and financial aid, help finding a summer job, help with “girl empowerment.” Nearly every time I asked her if she’d been to a particular place—to the science center or the art museum or the Staples Center to see an L.A. Sparks women’s basketball game—she told me that another mentor had taken her. So we often wound up going to the mall.
It was 10:02 AM local time when the sound emerged from the island of Krakatoa, which sits between Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. It was heard 1,300 miles away in the Andaman and Nicobar islands (“extraordinary sounds were heard, as of guns firing”); 2,000 miles away in New Guinea and Western Australia (“a series of loud reports, resembling those of artillery in a north-westerly direction”); and even 3,000 miles away in the Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, near Mauritius* (“coming from the eastward, like the distant roar of heavy guns.”1) In all, it was heard by people in over 50 different geographical locations, together spanning an area covering a thirteenth of the globe.
—Think, for a moment, just how crazy this is. If you’re in Boston and someone tells you that they heard a sound coming from New York City, you’re probably going to give them a funny look. But Boston is a mere 200 miles from New York. What we’re talking about here is like being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Travelling at the speed of sound (766 miles or 1,233 kilometers per hour), it takes a noise about 4 hours to cover that distance. This is the most distant sound that has ever been heard in recorded history.