Later On

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

Police over-reaction and misbehavior

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Milwaukee officer fired for shooting to death an unarmed, homeless, mentally ill man. (No charges so far.)

SWAT team invades the wrong house. (This seems to happen a lot.)

San Francisco bicyclist roughed up and arrested for carrying his 10-month-old son in a baby carrier.  (It’s unclear (a) why they beat him up, and (b) why the infant was sent to Child Protective Services instead of notifying the mother, who lived two blocks away.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

The government can punish you for a crime for which you’re not convicted

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Somehow I’m not surprised. Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Most Americans probably believe that the government must first convict you of a crime before it can impose a sentence on you for that crime. This is incorrect: When federal prosecutors throw a bunch of charges at someone but the jury convicts on only some of those charges, a federal judge can still sentence the defendant on the charges for which he was acquitted. In fact, the judge can even consider crimes for which the defendant has never been charged.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Jones v. U.S., a case that would have addressed the issue. The National Law Journal summarizes the facts: . . .

Continue reading.

And what’s worse, the government can also break the law to make you guilty of a crime, if the government can make money from it. Elliott Hannon writes at Slate:

How long is a yellow light? Most people would—reasonably—have no idea the exact length of time before a traffic light goes from yellow to red. The answer is: A minimum of three seconds, according to federal safety regulations. What happens when a mere tenth of second is shaved off that time and a yellow light lasts 2.9 seconds? If you thought, not much, you’d be wrong.

The city of Chicago and its mayor, Rahm Emanuel, are taking heat—thanks to aChicago Tribune investigationfor ever-so-quietly sanding that measly tenth of a second off of the length of yellow lights in the city this past spring. The impact was substantial: 77,000 additional red light camera tickets were issued, at $100 a pop, which added up to nearly $8 million forked over by unsuspecting drivers.

Here’s more from the Tribune: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Government, Law

32 Cities Want to Challenge Big Telecom, Build Their Own Gigabit Networks

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This is interesting. Big Telecom does not want to build a gigabit network in major cities and—very much like the dog in the manger—also does not want anyone else to do it. Big Telecom, when you get down to it, wants us simply to send them money every month and otherwise leave them alone. They have been quite happy to help the government spy on us.  Jason Koebler writes at Motherboard:

More than two dozen cities in 19 states announced today that they’re sick of big telecom skipping them over for internet infrastructure upgrades and would like to build gigabit fiber networks themselves and help other cities follow their lead.

The Next Centuries Cities coalition, which includes a couple cities that already have gigabit fiber internet for their residents, was devised to help communities who want to build their own broadband networks navigate logistical and legal challenges to doing so.

Over the last several months, there’s been a Federal Communications Commission-backed push for cities to build their own broadband networks because big telecom companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon either don’t or won’t offer competitive broadband speeds in certain parts of the country.

“Across the country, city leaders are hungry to deploy high-speed Internet to transform their communities and connect residents to better jobs, better health care, and better education for their children,” Deb Socia, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “These mayors are rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done.”

That’s turned out to be a tricky proposition in a legal environment where more than 20 states have passed legislation (lobbied for by telecom companies and ALEC, acontroversial, big business-backed “charity” that writes legislation for states) making it illegal or legally difficult for cities to build their own networks. [Sort of gives the game away, doesn't it? The idea is to keep people from getting the benefits of the internet unless they also pay Big Telecom. - LG]
Of the cities involved in the coalition, 12 are located in states where there are legal barriers to building community networks. Those cities include Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Chattanooga, Morristown, Jackson, and Clarksville, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Lafayette, Louisiana; Montrose, Colo.; Mount Vernon, Wash.; Raleigh and Wilson, N.C.; and Winthrop, Minn. To be fair, some of these cities, such as Wilson, Chattanooga, and Austin already have gigabit service (Wilson and Chattanooga built it before a law was passed, Austin has Google Fiber).

“Towns and communities struggle with limited budgets, laws that restrict their opportunity to build/support a network that fits their needs, and even market pressures,” the group of cities said in a recent blog post. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Isaiah Berlin’s Message to the 21st Century

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From the NY Review of Books:

Twenty years ago—on November 25, 1994—Isaiah Berlin accepted the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws at the University of Toronto. He prepared the following “short credo” (as he called it in a letter to a friend) for the ceremony, at which it was read on his behalf.“

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With these words Dickens began his famous novel A Tale of Two Cities. But this cannot, alas, be said about our own terrible century. Men have for millennia destroyed each other, but the deeds of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Napoleon (who introduced mass killings in war), even the Armenian massacres, pale into insignificance before the Russian Revolution and its aftermath: the oppression, torture, murder which can be laid at the doors of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the systematic falsification of information which prevented knowledge of these horrors for years—these are unparalleled. They were not natural disasters, but preventable human crimes, and whatever those who believe in historical determinism may think, they could have been averted.

I speak with particular feeling, for I am a very old man, and I have lived through almost the entire century. My life has been peaceful and secure, and I feel almost ashamed of this in view of what has happened to so many other human beings. I am not a historian, and so I cannot speak with authority on the causes of these horrors. Yet perhaps I can try.

They were, in my view, not caused by the ordinary negative human sentiments, as Spinoza called them—fear, greed, tribal hatreds, jealousy, love of power—though of course these have played their wicked part. They have been caused, in our time, by ideas; or rather, by one particular idea. It is paradoxical that Karl Marx, who played down the importance of ideas in comparison with impersonal social and economic forces, should, by his writings, have caused the transformation of the twentieth century, both in the direction of what he wanted and, by reaction, against it. The German poet Heine, in one of his famous writings, told us not to underestimate the quiet philosopher sitting in his study; if Kant had not undone theology, he declared, Robespierre might not have cut off the head of the King of France.

He predicted that the armed disciples of the German philosophers—Fichte, Schelling, and the other fathers of German nationalism—would one day destroy the great monuments of Western Europe in a wave of fanatical destruction before which the French Revolution would seem child’s play. This may have been unfair to the German metaphysicians, yet Heine’s central idea seems to me valid: in a debased form, the Nazi ideology did have roots in German anti-Enlightenment thought. There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached.

Let me explain. If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally any.

The root conviction which underlies this is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it are the leaders whose word is law. The idea that to all genuine questions there can be only one true answer is a very old philosophical notion. The great Athenian philosophers, Jews and Christians, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Paris of Louis XIV, the French radical reformers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth—however much they differed about what the answer was or how to discover it (and bloody wars were fought over this)—were all convinced that they knew the answer, and that only human vice and stupidity could obstruct its realization.

This is the idea of which I spoke, and what I wish to tell you is that it is false. . .

Continue reading.

It’s difficult to decide which differences among us are important and worth a fight and which are merely interesting cultural or individual variations that simply offer diversity.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

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As you might expect, pets are very important.  Zazie Todd’s Pacific Standard article begins:

A research team led by Michelle Lem of the University of Guelph asked homeless young people (aged 18-24) what their pet means to them. Previous studies have focused on the benefits to homeless people of owning a dog or cat. The aim of this study was to get a balanced picture of both the advantages and disadvantages.

Ten homeless young people took part in in-depth interviews about their pet. Eight of them had a dog, and two had a cat but had previously had a dog while homeless. Most lived on the street or in a vulnerable housing situation (squatting/couch-surfing), and three had found stable housing.

The main theme to emerge was that of putting the animal first. Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves. For example, they would not take up housing if they could not bring the animal with them. This shows the value they place on the companionship they get. The authors point out that for some youth their relationship with their pet is the most meaningful relationship they have, and potentially the only loving relationship in their life. For example, one youth said, “My relationship with MacKenzie [the dog] … is the best I ever had.” . . .

Continue reading. This suggests that the need for a person to love some living thing—to observe it, get to know it, and keep it safe and take care of it—is a very strong need. People hunger to love something that will love them back.

It’s pretty easy to recognize that the homeless might enjoy the love they get from their pets, but I had not considered the importance to them of the love they give to their pets—and it’s a strong love: “Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

When police officers are allowed to shoot to death unarmed people

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Shaun King has a very valuable and detailed post on two critical cases that define when a police officer can validly shoot a suspect to death. What’s interesting is that one of the cases actually involved the current Ferguson chief of police:

The Killing of Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley by St. Louis Officers Robert Piekutowski and Keith Kierzkowski in 2000

No case, perhaps nationwide, better displays how easily a state and its local prosecutors can escape the rigors of the Tennessee v. Garner decision than the killing of Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley by two St. Louis police officers in 2000. The major players in this shooting, for anyone following the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, will feel a lot like deja vu.

The small town of Berkeley, Missouri, literally borders Ferguson. In 2000, the deputy commander of a countywide drug task force was none other than the current Ferguson chief of police, Tom Jackson. In what was then called a “drug sting,” police officers, on a sunny May afternoon, were tracking two young black men, Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley, at a local Delwood Jack In The Box restaurant.

The officers then claimed that Murray and Beasley attempted to run them over with the car they were in. Saying they feared for their safety, police fired 21 shots into their car and killed Murray and Beasley right there in the parking lot. Five major problems with the case then caused local citizens to be outraged.

1. It turned out that Murray and Beasley were completely unarmed.

2. Eyewitnesses claimed the car never moved forward an inch, and then a federal investigation actually proved that the car the officers claimed was going to hit them never moved forward.

3. The local prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, who is now in charge of the Darren Wilson case, greatly inflamed tensions by calling Murray and Beasley “bums”when commenting about why he just didn’t understand why the community cared so much.

4. Beasley, a father of three and the manager of a local auto shop, as it turned out, wasn’t even a part of the alleged drug sting and was determined to be a completely innocent bystander.

5. A grand jury, convened by McCulloch, in spite of the evidence submitted from the federal investigation that the car didn’t actually move forward, opted not to charge the officers.

Although this was 14 years ago, not only were Chief Tom Jackson and Bob McCulloch deeply involved, so was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who traveled to St. Louis in the aftermath to help lead citywide protests and argue for justice. The police, claiming that the car, while it wasn’t actually used as a weapon, could have been, were never indicted and soon returned to their jobs.

This is just one of the two cases. The entire post is worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

‘Science is our best answer, but it takes a philosophical argument to prove that’

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Rebecca Goldstein is an interesting writer, and Andrew Anthony has a good column on her position regarding philosophy and science, a topic she has written some books about:

For some time now the discipline of philosophy has been under something of an assault from the world of science. Four years ago Stephen Hawking announced that philosophy was “dead”. He was referring specifically to the philosophy of science, which he said was still bogged down in epistemological questions from which science had moved on.

But philosophy in general has increasingly been viewed as irrelevant by many scientists. It’s a perspective that may be best summed up by the cosmologist Lawrence M Krauss, who has said: “science progresses and philosophy doesn’t”.

What’s more, science has begun to progress into areas previously occupied by philosophy and the humanities at large. These incursions have not gone unchallenged.

Last year the debate flared up in a much-publicised intellectual spat between the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker and the cultural criticLeon Wieseltier, who accused Pinker and his fellow scientists of practising “scientism”, a term he defined as “the translation of nonscientific discourse into scientific discourse”.

“It is not for science to say whether science belongs in morality and politics and art,” wrote Wieseltier. To which Pinker replied: “It’s not for Leon Wieseltier to say where science belongs.”

Now into the fray, mounting a spirited defence of philosophy, steps the novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. And the philosopher she has selected to show the subject’s enduring relevance today is someone from the fifth century BC. In her new book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, Goldstein draws on her talents both as an analytical thinker and a fiction writer to bring the founding father of philosophy into the 21st century.

Goldstein is the author of six novels, as well as studies of the mathematician Kurt Gödel and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Her fiction often features philosophical or scientific elements — for example 2000’s Properties of Light was a ghost story that took in quantum physics. She studied with the great philosopher of the mind Thomas Nagel at Princeton in the 1970s, where she gained her PhD. In 1996 she was awarded a “genius grant” from the MacArthur fellows programme.

Goldstein is a small woman with big ideas. In person she is almost doll-like, with fine, tiny bones, an elegant high forehead and an easy smile. There’s nothing about her manner – no lofty airs or scholarly posing – that suggests the formidable intellect at her disposal.

For not only is she able to deliver an exhilarating exposition of ancient Greek and Platonic thought, she also brings Plato back to life, by having him conduct a series of dialogues in current-day America. One moment he’s at Google’s headquarters holding forth on the limits of democratic wisdom, the next he’s discussing child-rearing with an Amy Chua-type tiger mother, before taking on an abrasive Fox News presenter much like Bill O’Reilly.

It’s an interesting conceit that Goldstein handles with wit and a deft appreciation of Plato’s thinking, though it does serve to make her book a curious hybrid. What gave her the idea?

“Well, the idea of the dialogues came later. The germ of the book was that my background is scientific. I take science extremely seriously. I started in physics. But so many of my scientific friends have been attacking philosophy. The theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg said that philosophy asks questions until the empirical methodology comes along, and now it’s coming to the terminus. And I believe this to be so very wrong.”

One of the intriguing footnotes of the science v philosophy debate is that Goldstein is married to Pinker. . .

Continue reading. Later in the column:

“There are two kinds of questions,” she says. “‘What is?’ and ‘What matters?’ And when it comes to descriptions of reality, ontology, I do think that science is our best answer, but I think it takes a philosophical argument to prove that. It’s an epistemological argument. You have to argue for scientific realism against instrumentalism, and that’s all philosophical stuff. But the upshot is that science provides the best description of what is: it’s energy and matter and genes and neurons. That’s what reality consists of. But the realm of philosophy is in trying to reconcile what science is telling us – which is why philosophers have to know science – with other intuitions we have, without which we can’t make sense of our lives. Like, for example, personal identity. Is there any room for that, given what neuroscience is telling us? Or questions of agency and accountability.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 11:12 am

Posted in Science

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