"But they knew in their hearts that once science had declared a thing possible, there was no escape from its eventual realization..."
15318 stories
·
13 followers

America Is Failing the Bad-Break Test and People Are Dying -- Science of Us

1 Share

About a year ago, the husband-and-wife team of Anne Case and Angus Deaton published some alarming numbers: Unlike citizens of just about every other wealthy, advanced country, and most other American subgroups, middle-aged white Americans have not seen reductions in their mortality between 1999 and 2013, and had by many metrics been getting sicker and sicker.

It was a shocking finding that garnered numerous headlines, the sort of thing that just isn’t supposed to happen in a rich, developed country, let alone the richest developed country. And it lent credence to what some public-health researchers and other societal observers had been saying for a while: The United States likes to view itself as a singular force of prosperity and opportunity, but by many public-health metrics — including infant mortality and preventable deaths and a variety of others — it doesn’t look like a top-tier world power.

Yesterday, the National Center for Health Statistics released a report that should further puncture the myth of American superiority when it comes to health outcomes — and which should set alarm bells loudly clanging for anyone worried about how the country treats its most vulnerable residents. The report found that life expectancy in the United States dropped from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, the first drop in life expectancy since 1993. (For men, the decline was from 76.5 to 76.3; for women, from 81.3 to 81.2.)

“I think we should be very concerned,” Case told Lenny Bernstein of the Washington Post. “This is singular. This doesn’t happen.” When Case and Deaton released their finding, they argued that it was largely attributable to disturbing upticks in various forms of addiction — opioids, most importantly — as well as suicide. The new statistics get more granular, and they suggest the misery is well-dispersed: There were increases in just about every major cause of death between 2014 and 2015, and the death-rate increases centered on whites and black men — they remained flat for Latinos and for black women. People are dying for a lot of reasons, but drugs stand out as a particularly devastating part of the problem: In fact, one key to the racial divide may also come from numbers released yesterday, these from the CDC: For the first time ever, more people died from heroin overdoses than from gun homicides in 2015.

Whatever’s going on, a lot of it has to do with opioid abuse — the government believes that those who illicitly take prescription opioids are far more likely than other people to try injecting heroin — and the opioid crisis has hit whites harder than blacks, partly for the depressing reason that doctors appear to be less likely to recognize and treat pain in black patients. These new stats reflect the massive amounts of despair strongly hinted at by Case and Deaton’s work — after all, two of the areas that saw mortality increases between 2014 and 2015 were suicide and “unintentional injuries,” a category that includes overdoses.

So when those two findings are combined, it’s hard to deny that something truly dire has ensnared a large chunk of the country. In a country as big, complicated, and diverse as the United States, that “something” is actually a great many things, but I would argue they can be broadly summed up by one idea: what I call the “one-bad-break test.”

The one-bad-break test states simply that you can tell a lot about a society by what happens when its economically vulnerable members encounter a majorly bad break. That bad break can be anything — an injury, the sudden need to take in and care for an ailing relative, an unexpected layoff — and the effects of a single bad break vary tremendously depending on who you are, where you live, and what resources you have access to. (Rich people hit bad breaks too, of course, but they generally have far more capacity to handle them than everyone else, so I’m restricting this discussion to those who lack those resources.)

In societies that function well, there are various safety nets in place to prevent a bad break from leading to a tailspin for particularly vulnerable victims. Compared to many other rich nations, the U.S. is not such a society — all too often, when vulnerable Americans encounter a bad break, there’s nothing underneath them to stop their slide. Instead, devastation follows, sometimes in the form of bankruptcy and addiction and death.

For a particularly painful example of the one-bad-break test in action, take Inara Verzemnieks’s wrenching New York Times story about “Life in Obamacare’s Dead Zone” — that is, the Republican-controlled states that turned down the Obamacare-trigger Medicaid expansion after the Supreme Court ruled they had the right to do so in 2012 (19 states did so in total, and the illness and death toll of this missed opportunity to cover vulnerable populations is staggering to think about).

Verzemnieks focuses on Kansas, which was denied expanded Medicaid by its hard-right governor, Sam Brownback, who has also sought to cut back social safety-net programs in various ways. Here’s what happened to one of her subjects, Janet Foy:

At 56, Foy was broke, jobless and living with her older sister in public housing in Kansas City, Mo. … Recently, she had been told by a manager at a Victoria’s Secret that there was no need to leave her résumé. But not too long ago, she wanted me to know, she was pulling in $1,000 a week at a Merle Norman makeup store, helping other people look and feel their best. But then she took in her brother to try to help him overcome an addiction, and soon she was pulled under financially as he spiraled out of control. She would show up to work too overwhelmed and exhausted to make any sales, and had to dip into her savings until that was gone. She begged to borrow against her next paycheck but eventually lost her apartment and moved into a friend’s spare room.
[…]
“I tried to get Obamacare,” Foy recalls. “I called the number, and when the woman told me what it would cost me, I just about dropped the phone. She told me I’d needed to make at least $12,000 a year for there to be any help to make it something I might be able to afford. Which still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, even now, that having no money meant I got no help when I really needed it.”

Foy’s bad break was the direct result of her brother’s bad break: addiction. This story would have turned out differently if her brother had had options for treating his addiction other than moving in with a sister who was in no position to offer him the help he needed. He lacked any such options, so he moved in with Janet instead, and shortly thereafter her life, too, was spiraling out of control. Sometimes, if you have a bad break and there isn’t a net to catch you, you slide into a compassionate loved one, triggering a bad break of their own.

This is happening over and over and over throughout the country. Of course, it wouldn’t be right to say things are getting worse everywhere, that every part of the U.S. fails the bad-break test as badly as Kansas does on health issues. Obamacare wasn’t perfect, for example, but it did bring insurance to 20 million low-income people who lacked it previously — it saved some lives where it was allowed to. There are a lot of places where people are better able to weather medical bad breaks now than they were before the law passed.

So if we have an inflection point signaling that things really are getting worse, rather than at least chugging along stably, part of the mystery is why. A partial answer is that while Obamacare passed in 2009, the Great Recession hit in December of 2007. But layered atop both events is the nation’s grim long-term economic reality for working people, which is that for a huge chunk of the country wages have been stagnant and economic opportunity constricting for a very long time. There are intimate connections between economic opportunity and psychological well-being, and between psychological well-being and potentially disastrous outcomes like addiction and suicide. Another finding just released yesterday? As The Wall Street Journal puts it, “Barely half of 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did at a similar age, a research team found, an enormous decline from the early 1970s when the incomes of nearly all offspring outpaced their parents. Even rapid economic growth won’t do much to reverse the trend.”

We don’t know how bad the United States’ burgeoning mortality crisis is going to get. Russia provides a disturbing worst-case scenario. “Sometime in 1993, after several trips to Russia, I noticed something bizarre and disturbing: people kept dying,” wrote Masha Gessen in New York Review of Books in 2014. “I was used to losing friends to AIDS in the United States, but this was different. People in Russia were dying suddenly and violently, and their own friends and colleagues did not find these deaths shocking.” She went on to explain that “In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent — a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality,” with alcohol a prime culprit. This is what happens when the insides of a developed country begin to rot.

The United States isn’t Russia. Probably. But wherever this trend goes, what we’re seeing is the end result of decades of slow-burn economic decline and decay, with no end in sight. You can only make it hard for people to work and pay rent and buy necessities and live so long, you can only have them living right on the brink of bad-break ruin for so long, before there will be serious consequences. And we’re seeing those serious consequences in every new set of shocking mortality statistics.

Read the whole story
zipcube
9 days ago
reply
Dallas, Texas
Share this story
Delete

What Happens When Discs Die

1 Share
Today in Tedium:

Often, it looks like a coffee stain—a noticeable discoloration that for whatever reason you can’t get rid of. Sometimes, it looks like tiny pin pricks on the surface. And there are other times when the whole thing changes color. In any case, when you run into what’s known as “disc rot,” you’re out

a great album

or

an interesting movie

. It’s a serious situation, whether you’re a digital archivist or simply someone who wants to watch a movie on a weird format like a Laserdisc. Today’s Tedium dives head first into the decay.

— Ernie @ Tedium

“I suppose that if you ran a knife over a disc it would not do it any good, and you might destroy it if you stubbed out of cigar on it. But you could pour jam on it without causing any damage.”

— A spokesperson for EMI, commenting on research done on the permanence of compact discs by the record label Nimbus in 1988. Nimbus, the first CD manufacturer in the U.K., said that it had done some research into the disc rot issue and found that most discs will self-destruct after between eight and 10 years. The company’s findings, which went against prevailing theories of the time that CDs were indestructible, blamed the problems on improper dyes that reduced the quality of the discs. As highlighted by the quote, record companies were at first skeptical, but Nimbus’ concerns about disc integrity turned out to be important and true.

Disc rot

Why “disc rot” is a massive challenge for both archivists and collectors

Back in 2010, a blogger on the video game website RF Generation, frustrated with a series of purchases in which the games had suffered a degree of “disc rot” before reaching him, wrote a PSA to the game-collector community, calling on them to keep an eye out regarding the problem.

The blogger, who goes under the pseudonym “slackur” or “Jesse Mysterious,” then described a harrowing tale for a serious collector: After reading up on the disc rot problem, he went through his game collection, much of it in mint condition, and found white specs on many of the discs—a major tell sign of “disc rot,” or the eventual decay of optical media.

I’ll let him take it from here:

Even though it is only one little dot, it represents damage that cannot be repaired. No scratch removal process can restore the data that is now lost. The game is forever damaged, and likely to get worse over the years.

Now, many sources online will claim that disc rot is a limited-scope problem, concerning only a few years worth of discs from certain manufacturers, (and CD-Rs) and that it is not wide-spread.

But when I learned about this problem, I checked my several hundred discs between Sega CD, Turbo CD, Saturn, and even Dreamcast games and found DOZENS had this problem. Several expensive games I owned were mint—except when held to the light I could see one or more little white dots that proved my game had damage. Some of these I went back to play after not touching for years and found they now would occasionally lock up or not play at all. I had a few FACTORY SEALED games that I opened and found the same thing.

It has been a nerve-shattering nightmare for a collector like me.

Michele Youket, a preservation specialist at the Library of Congress, often deals with similar situations in her role. She says that this kind of silent destruction, which shows up in three different forms—the “bronzing” of discs, small pin-hole specs located on the discs, or “edge-rot”—became an important one for the national library when the organization started archiving music on CD formats, with the format’s weaknesses soon becoming apparent.

The thing to keep in mind about optical discs is that, although they generally look the same, there are often notable, but minor, differences in how the discs are produced can have significant effects on the end results. An older disc might not use the same chemicals as a newer one, and over time, techniques tend to become more sophisticated.

“Many of the causes of early failures of these discs would disappear as the technology matured. However, as new and more complex formats of these discs were introduced other mechanisms of failure would appear,” Youket explained.

(By the way, she calls the “disc rot” terminology inexact, because when it comes down to it, the discs failed because the protective covering didn’t do its job.)

Whether you’re trying to protect your country’s cultural heritage or your own collection, it’s safe to say that disc rot is a huge, lingering problem.

15

The number of years that a major British CD manufacturer, Philips and Dupont Optical (PDO) operated a customer support line specifically so it could replace consumers’ “bronzed” discs. Here’s what happened: Between 1988 and 1993, PDO pressed a number of CDs that used an inferior lacquer that wasn’t resistant to sulphur, which was a problem because there were trace amounts of sulphur in the attached books and CD inlays—meaning the stuff meant to protect the disc would damage it. This led the aluminum layer to eventually corrode, making the discs look bronze in color—and damaging the quality on the audio of the discs. PDO ran a hotline, allowing music-buyers to exchange these damaged discs, between 1991 and 2006.

Michele Youket

Library of Congress preservation specialist Michele Youket, shown assessing a CD for damage. (Amanda Reynolds/Library of Congress)

Five notable facts about “disc rot,” according to the Library of Congress

  1. Discs with significant errors are often still at least partially readable, according to Youket. “In the case that a disc has an uncorrectable error, depending on where this error occurs much of the data is still recoverable,” she explained in an interview. “Many discs with high errors are still playable, and depending on the content—audio, video, or data—even an uncorrectable error may not be serious.”
  2. A scratch at the top of a CD is more problematic than one on the bottom. Why’s that? Youket says that the standards for these optical formats include built-in error-correction schemes that can work around scratches in at the bottom of the discs. “However,” she says, “because the reflective layer is only covered by a thin coating of acrylic with an ink-printed label, scratches to the top surface can penetrate through and damage the reflective layer.”
  3. DVDs generally have better integrity than do CDs because the disc’s reflective layer is pressed inside the polycarbonate discs. But the discs are often more susceptible to breaking apart due to chemical reactions between the layers and the polycarbonate discs—and as a result, layers can delaminate over time. Dual-layer discs, however, tend not to hold up so well.
  4. Recordable discs don’t last as long, in part because of the organic dye used to record the bytes onto discs, which Youket says is vulnerable to degradation—particularly in the case of recordable DVDs, which have higher levels of light sensitivity, making them more susceptible to failure. Additionally, she says the way a recordable disc is burned is a major factor in defining its lifespan—a poorly recorded disc tends to wear out more quickly.
  5. Proper storage and handling helps. Ultimately, Youket notes that, according to LoC’s own aging tests (which determined the life expectancy of discs based on changes in their bit-level error rate), discs are much more likely to survive over long periods if they’re handled correctly and stored in good conditions. “These studies have shown that a well-made pressed compact disc can last many decades if stored and handled properly,” she noted, adding that “discs that are stored in harsh environmental conditions with elevated temperature and/or humidity will have shorter expected lifetimes than discs stored in more controlled conditions.”

Laser rot

(via Wikimedia Commons)

Laserdisc owners can tell you all about the horrors of “laser rot”

If CD or DVD owners wanted to know what they were in for, all they had to do was ask Laserdisc owners, who were all too familiar with the early demise of their paid-for media all the way back in the ’80s.

In fact, the term used by Laserdisc owners is “laser rot,” highlighting its first-mover importance in optical media.

In the case of Laserdiscs, the glitches show themselves largely when playing the discs, which initially highlight small flecks of snow when playing the films, then devolve from there. The discs themselves often take on a cloudy appearance (as shown in this YouTube clip highlighting the rot on a copy of Saturday Night Fever) and the result is often quite disappointing considering the platform’s reputation for high picture and sound quality.

The problem is so widespread in the Laserdisc community that the Laserdisc Database (LDDB), a hub for collectors, has an entire page dedicated to listing the most prevalent films featuring such issues with decay—essentially as a way to warn its members not to buy specific discs.


Like what you‘re reading?

Consider subscribing to our freaking newsletter. We publish stuff like this twice a week.

Learn More, Hoser


See, much like the PDO factory giving British CD owners discs that eventually turned bronze, a U.S factory is often the target of blame for Laserdisc’s many woes—specifically Sony’s DADC factory, based in Indiana.

If you dig far enough, you’ll find all sorts of conspiracy theories about why this Sony factory, far more than any other manufacturer, was building discs that weren’t made to last.

“Over the years, most pressing plants had problems with rot at one time or another, but most of them managed to clean themselves up,” Josh “Laserdisc Guru” Zyber wrote on his website in 2005. “DADC never did.”

The trouble that Laserdiscs face means the people are always looking for ways to preserve what they had. Last year, Engadget writer Sean Cooper discussed how he was nearly stuck throwing out a copy of the original Dragon’s Lair arcade cabinet, because he couldn’t find a working copy of the original disc—makes sense, considering it was in production more than 30 years ago.

Ultimately, Cooper was forced to replace the original disc with a Raspberry Pi. Maybe not as authentic, but at least it works.

There’s obviously something to be said about enjoying a piece of entertainment in its original format, but when it’s out of the view of the mainstream, both companies and the bulk of consumers are often ready to move on to the next thing.

But where does that leave the stuff in the older format? Often, businesses tend not to be the greatest shepherds of the formats they sell once they fall out of mainstream interest.

While the Library of Congress’ Youket cites the existence of “archival-grade” recordable discs as a way to better keep things safe in the long-term, her LoC colleague Peter Alyea, a digital conversion specialist, says that the shift to cloud computing has likely pushed companies away from supporting their data formats in the long run.

“With the move away from physical media at the consumer level, I think this isn’t the question most companies are wrestling with these days,” he explained to me in an interview. “Consumers are more interested in long term accessibility to personal data archived on remote storage and access to entertainment (music, video, games) at the moment they desire it. It would be nice if manufacturers always place high importance on the long-term integrity of this products, but it is probably not realistic to expect that.”

Things age, and stuff inevitably loses its luster with the passage of time. But in the age of the cloud, at least, consumers are pretty close to making it someone else’s problem.

Archivists don’t have that luxury.

Read the whole story
zipcube
9 days ago
reply
Dallas, Texas
Share this story
Delete

The US Claims It Doesn't Need a Court Order to Ask Tech Companies to Build Encryption Backdoors

1 Share

Federal authorities say they can request a U.S. tech company build surveillance backdoors into their products without any kind of court order, according to statements from July released this weekend, ZDNet reported.

Read more...

Read the whole story
zipcube
11 days ago
reply
Dallas, Texas
Share this story
Delete

New Evidence Points to Icy Plate Tectonics on Europa

1 Share

Jupiter’s moon Europa features a warm subterranean ocean covered in ice. For years, scientists have wondered if certain surface features are the result of plate tectonics, which, if true, would make Europa the only known place in the Solar System other than Earth to experience large, subduction-driven quakes. What’s…

Read more...

Read the whole story
zipcube
11 days ago
reply
Dallas, Texas
Share this story
Delete

Netflix is moving forward with the final season of House of Cards

1 Share

Netflix’s first original series House of Cards has been on hold ever since sexual abuse allegations surfaced against lead actor Kevin Spacey, but today, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos confirmed that the service plans to move forward with the final season of the series. The executive made the comments during the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York.

According to Variety, the final season of House of Cards will include eight episodes (previous seasons have been 13 episodes long), and will focus on Robin Wright’s character Claire Underwood. Spacey will not be involved, as Netflix announced last month that it would no longer be working with him. Production will resume in January.

House of Cards was shooting its sixth season when actor Anthony Rapp said in a BuzzFeed interview that Spacey made unwanted sexual advances toward him when Rapp was just 14. The interview quickly led to a flood of similar allegations against Spacey, with some detailing inappropriate behavior on the set of the Netflix show itself. The streaming service and its production partner Media Rights Capital almost immediately suspended production, with the fate of the season left up in the air. Along with announcing that the show will be moving forward, Sarandos also described the revamped final season as a “good creative conclusion” to the series’s larger story.

Read the whole story
zipcube
11 days ago
reply
Dallas, Texas
Share this story
Delete

Donald Trump makes history — with massive cuts to Utah's national monuments

1 Share

Bears Ears National Monument will shrink by 90 percent, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to half its original size, President Trump announced today. The land remaining in these Utah monuments will be divided into multiple smaller sections — an unpopular move that could open once-protected land to fossil fuel extraction and put sacred sites and local species at risk. Native American tribes and conservation groups are preparing to fight back in court.

Outside the Utah State Capitol today, President Trump said that he will cut Bears Ears National monument in southeastern Utah — from 1.35 million acres to 228,784 acres, according to a White House statement. The remaining scraps will be sliced into two different sections named Indian Creek and Shash Jaa. Grand Staircase-Escalante will shrink to 1,006,341 acres from 1.9 million acres and will be chopped up into three different units. “I have come to Utah to take a very historic action: to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens,” Trump said.

We’ve known that these cuts were coming since September, thanks to a leaked memorandum that outlined the Interior Department’s four-month review of 27 national monuments. That memorandum, obtained by the Washington Post, proposed shrinking the borders of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and California, and Gold Butte in Nevada. But the memorandum didn’t say by how much.

Now, Trump has revealed the size of the cuts planned for Utah — and conservation groups, hunters, and native tribes in the area aren’t happy. “This represents the largest rollback of protections on public lands and waters in history,” says Dan Hartinger with the conservation group The Wilderness Society. “Over 2 million acres would be opened up to commercial exploitation in places that the public overwhelmingly supports protecting.”

“This is a dark day for conservation,” agrees Land Tawney, CEO of the outdoor recreation advocacy group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “We’re irate about this because these monuments were designated to protect special places really from development.” His organization is especially concerned that cuts to Grand Staircase Escalante could harm its population of bighorn sheep, a popular game animal.

In fact, fragmenting these habitats could kill off resident plants and animals more quickly than if they were left with a larger, continuous territory, says William Newmark, a conservation biologist with the Natural History Museum of Utah. “What is particularly disturbing about Grand Staircase Escalante is not only have they reduced its total area, but they fragmented it into three units,” he says.

The changes also put key archaeological sites in Bears Ears at risk, says Katherine Belzowski, an attorney for the Navajo Nation. “Bears Ears is kind of a twofold monument,” she says. “It’s protecting not only the archaeological sites in the area, but it’s also protecting the landscape, which is considered sacred.”

It’s not clear if President Trump’s actions today are legal. While the Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president authority to designate national monuments, it doesn’t explicitly permit abolishing them, according to High Country News. In fact, previous presidents have only shrank national monuments a handful of times in the past — like Mount Olympus National Monument, which Woodrow Wilson cut to half its size.

The Navajo Nation is gearing up to sue, Belzowski says, along with the four other tribes who pushed for Bears Ears to be designated a national monument in the first place: the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Zuni Tribe. “This vast reduction leaves out so many of our sacred sites and landscapes,” Belzowski says. “And we intend to defend those.”

Read the whole story
zipcube
11 days ago
reply
Dallas, Texas
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories