Later On

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

Trying to tell history convincingly in re: Causes and effects

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One of my favorite books of history, which I’ll again recommend, is The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society Since A.D. 1000, by William H. McNeill (who also wrote the equally fascinating Plagues and Peoples, written before sub-titles made it big. (At each link you will find inexpensive secondhand copies of the book. My advice: Buy and read.)

Louis Menand has some interesting thoughts in a book review in the New Yorker:

History is the prediction of the present. Historians explain why things turned out the way they did. Since we already know the outcome, this might seem a simple matter of looking back and connecting the dots. But there is a problem: too many dots. Even the dots have dots. Predicting the present is nearly as hard as predicting the future.

Once, history was a game played with giant billiard balls: wars, revolutions, scientific inventions, the major awards shows. You knocked a combination of these together and you got our world. Then people realized that wars, revolutions, the Grammys, etc., are not explanations at all. They are themselves things that need to be explained. Something made them possible, too. Was it money? Ideas? Genes? Germs? Great men? Deepwater ports?

Histories are categorized according to what the historian has chosen as the basic unit of explanation. There are top-down histories, bottom-up histories, and sideways histories, histories in which causes have an oblique relation to effects. (Rome fell because the wine jars were made of lead—a fun explanation, though somehow unsatisfying.) There is history of the longue durée, which doesn’t help us understand why 2015 is different from 2000 (or, for that matter, from 1900 or 1800). There is species history, which explains even less. Humans invented agriculture: bad news, end of story. And there is “history of the present,” which tries to see today the way historians a hundred years from now will see it—as one more slice of time during which people had no idea how completely wrong they were about everything.

No historian lines up all the dots. Every work of history is a ridiculously selective selection from the universe of possible dots. What the historian is claiming is that these are the particular dots that lead us from there to here, or from time step 1 to time step 1.1. Lots of other stuff happened, the historian will agree. But, if these things hadn’t happened, then life as we know it wouldn’t be, well, as we know it.

This can be an existentially entertaining thought—that, but for some fluky past event, experience would be entirely, or at least interestingly, different. We tend to imagine our own lives that way, a story of lucky breaks, bullets dodged, roads diverged on a snowy evening, and the like. Speculating about sparks that failed to ignite versus sparks that did and contingencies that failed to materialize versus contingencies that did is one of the reasons people like to write history and like to read it. There is even, to appeal to this taste, the subgenre of counterfactual history, in which Napoleon conquers Russia, or the Beatles give “The Ed Sullivan Show” a pass.

There are many ways of agglomerating past events, parcelling up old clicks of the clock and endowing them with collective meaning. There is the concept of the historical period: the Age of Reason, the long eighteenth century (which seems like cheating; if you call something a century, you should stick to a hundred years), the Victorian era, the Cold War, the all-purpose and infinitely capacious “modernity.”

There is the concept of the generation, an empirically specious category (as though the human race reproduced itself just once every twenty-five years) that nevertheless captures an element in everyone’s sense of identity. And, of course, there is the decade. For some obviously bogus reason, presumably because we have ten fingers, we find it natural to imagine that life assumes a completely new character every ten years.

Centuries, generations, and decades are terms of convenience. They attach handles to the past, they give titles to books, and, most important, they put a spin on a chunk of time and differentiate it from all the rest. They give history some coherence. But the most enjoyable histories to read (and, probably, to write) are “the x that changed the world” books. These are essentially one-dot explanations. They try to make the course of human events turn on a single phenomenon or a single year. Recent works in the single-phenomenon category include books on bananas, fracking, cod (that’s correct, the fish), the Treaty of Versailles, pepper, the color mauve, and (hmm) the color indigo. (All right, who’s the baddest color?) In the single-year category, we have books on 33, 1492 (huh?), 1816 (long story involving a volcano), 1944, 1945, 1959 (even though, without going to Wikipedia, you probably can’t come up with two important things that happened in 1959), 1968, 1969, and 1989.

Now there is W. Joseph Campbell’s 1995: The Year the Future Began (California), a worthy, informative, and sporting attempt to convince us that the world we live in was crucially shaped by things that happened in 1995. (Campbell insists that there is a distinction between “the x that changed the world” books and his own “the year the future began” book, although it’s hard to grasp.)

The book is not completely persuasive, but that’s not important. None of the “x that changed the world” books are completely persuasive, for the reason that all dots have dots of their own. Unless you count God, there is no uncaused cause. Even the butterfly that started the hurricane flapped its wings for a reason. Whatever happened in 33 or 1959 or 1995 never would have happened unless certain things had happened in 32, 1958, and 1994. And so on, back into the protozoic slime. All points are turning points.

All points might not be tipping points. But that’s not what these books are arguing. They are seeking to confer before-and-after explanatory power on a single thing, or on what happened on a single date on the calendar. We can doubt the premise. But what the melodramatic titles are really and usefully doing is drawing our attention to something—pepper or 1959—that we might otherwise have ignored. Do melodramatic titles also sell books? So what if they do? We’re in favor of selling books.

Campbell’s book draws our attention to the nineteen-nineties. And he’s right when he points out that the decade is pretty much ignored. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Books

Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison

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Mark Binelli reports in the NY Times Magazine:

In prison, Rodney Jones told me, everyone had a nickname. Jones’s was Saint E’s, short for St. Elizabeths, the federal psychiatric hospital in Washington, best known for housing John Hinckley Jr. after he shot Ronald Reagan. Jones spent time there as well, having shown signs of mental illness from an early age; he first attempted suicide at 12, when he drank an entire bottle of Clorox. Later, he became addicted to PCP and crack and turned to robbery to support his habit.

I met Jones a few blocks from his childhood home in LeDroit Park, a D.C. neighborhood not far from Howard University. It was a warm October afternoon, but Jones, 46, was wearing a puffy black vest. The keys to his grandmother’s house, where he currently lives, hung from a lanyard around his neck. His face was thin, a tightly cropped beard undergirding prominent cheekbones, and he had a lookout’s gaze, drifting more than darting but always alert.

Jones had been out of prison for three years, a record for him, at least as an adult, but he still sounded a bit like Rip Van Winkle as he marveled at how gentrified his old neighborhood had become. We sat on a cafe’s sun-dappled terrace, surrounded by creative-class types. A chef wandered outside to pluck some fresh rosemary from a planter. Jones was the only black patron at the cafe and probably the only person who remembered when it used to be a liquor store. “You wouldn’t be sitting here,” Jones said. He nodded at some toddlers playing across the street. “That park right there, that wasn’t a park. That was just an open field where everybody gambled. At any given time, you would hear shots ring out.”

From the age of 15, Jones found himself in and out of juvenile detention, St. Elizabeths or prison — never free for much longer than a month or so. The outside world came to feel terrifying; once, he wanted to get back inside so badly, he bought a bag of crack and called the cops on himself. “That was the world that I knew,” he said.

It hadn’t been easy for Jones to transition back to a life of freedom. He managed to stick it out, he said, because he was determined not to return to the place where he spent the final eight years of his last sentence: the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., known more colloquially as the ADX. The ADX is the highest-security prison in the country. It was designed to be escape-proof, the Alcatraz of the Rockies, a place to incarcerate the worst, most unredeemable class of criminal — “a very small subset of the inmate population who show,” in the words of Norman Carlson, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “absolutely no concern for human life.” Ted Kaczynski and the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph call the ADX home. The 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is held there, too, along with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef; the Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols; the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and the former Bonanno crime-family boss Vincent Basciano. Michael Swango, a serial-killing doctor who may have poisoned 60 of his patients, is serving three consecutive life sentences; Larry Hoover, the Gangster Disciples kingpin made famous by rappers like Rick Ross, is serving six; the traitorous F.B.I. agent Robert Hanssen, a Soviet spy, 15.

Along with such notorious inmates, prisoners deemed serious behavioral or flight risks can also end up at the ADX — men like Jones, who in 2003, after racking up three assault charges in less than a year (all fights with other inmates) at a medium-security facility in Louisiana, found himself transferred to the same ADX cellblock as Kaczynski.

Inmates at the ADX spend approximately 23 hours of each day in solitary confinement. Jones had never been so isolated before. Other prisoners on his cellblock screamed and banged on their doors for hours. Jones said the staff psychiatrist stopped his prescription for Seroquel, a drug taken for bipolar disorder, telling him, “We don’t give out feel-good drugs here.” Jones experienced severe mood swings. To cope, he would work out in his cell until he was too tired to move. Sometimes he cut himself. In response, guards fastened his arms and legs to his bed with a medieval quartet of restraints, a process known as four-pointing.

One day in 2009, Jones was in the rec yard and spotted Michael Bacote, a friend from back home. The familiar face was welcome but also troubling. Bacote was illiterate, with an I.Q. of only 61, and suffered from acute paranoia. He had been sent to the ADX for his role as a lookout in a murder at a Texas prison, and he was not coping well. His multiple requests for transfers or psychological treatment had been denied. He was convinced that the Bureau of Prisons was trying to poison him, so he was refusing meals and medication. “You would have to be blind and crazy yourself not to see that this guy had issues,” Jones said, shaking his head. “He can barely function in a normal setting. His comprehension level was pretty much at zero.”

Bacote had paperwork from previous psychiatric examinations, so Jones went to the prison’s law library (a room with a computer) and looked up the address of a pro bono legal-aid group he had heard about, the D.C. Prisoners’ Project. Because Bacote couldn’t write, Jones ghosted a query. “I suppose to have a hearing before coming to the ADX,” Jones, as Bacote, wrote. “They never gave me a hearing.” He continued, “I need some help cause I have facts! Please help me.”

The story of the largest lawsuit ever filed against the United States Bureau of Prisons begins, improbably enough, with this letter. Deborah Golden, the director of the D.C. Prisoners’ Project, fields approximately 2,000 requests each year, but Bacote’s, which she received in October 2009, caught her eye. “I thought I might be missing something, because it was inconceivable to me that the Bureau of Prisons could be operating in such a blatantly illegal and unconstitutional manner,” she said. Golden was referring to B.O.P. regulations that forbid the placement of inmates who “show evidence of significant mental disorder” in prisons like the ADX.

Groups like Golden’s D.C. Prisoners’ Project tend to focus their reform efforts on state-run prisons — in part because the Prison Litigation Reform Act, passed by Congress in 1996, made it more difficult for prisoners to file federal lawsuits, and in part because the federal government possesses, as Golden put it, “an inexhaustible supply of resources.” A droll 42-year-old attorney who once considered rabbinical school, Golden has spent her entire career practicing human rights law. As she investigated Bacote’s claims, she came to realize there were dozens of inmates at the ADX with comparable stories, or worse: cases of self-mutilation, obvious psychosis, suicide. Her organization had never considered filing such an enormous suit. Because it is so difficult to win cases against the federal government, challenging the B.O.P. “just didn’t fit into anyone’s strategic goals,” Golden explained. The last major B.O.P. lawsuit to result in a settlement was in the mid-’90s (Lucas v. White, brought by a group of female inmates who had been sexually assaulted). But the clarity of Bacote’s claims gave her pause. “A lot of cases we see involve matters of interpretation: Who knew what and when,” she said. “This didn’t seem to involve that kind of uncertainty. I wasn’t sure if we had a chance. But it seemed like a court had to see it.”

Since opening in 1994, the ADX has remained not just the only federal supermax but also the apogee of a particular strain of the American penal system, wherein abstract dreams of rehabilitation have been entirely superseded by the architecture of control. Throughout our country’s history, there have been different ideas about what to do with the “worst of the worst” of our criminal offenders, ranging from the 19th-century chain gangs, who toiled in enforced silence, to the physical isolation of Alcatraz Island. The use of solitary confinement in the United States emerged as a substitute to corporal punishments popular at the end of the 18th century. The practice was first promoted in 1787, by a group of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 4:15 pm

Teaching evolution at closed minds

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Fascinating article by James Krupa in Orion magazine:

i’m often asked what I do for a living. My answer, that I am a professor at the University of Kentucky, inevitably prompts a second question: “What do you teach?” Responding to such a question should be easy and invite polite conversation, but I usually brace for a negative reaction. At least half the time the person flinches with disapproval when I answer “evolution,” and often the conversation simply terminates once the “e-word” has been spoken. Occasionally, someone will retort: “But there is no evidence for evolution.” Or insist: “It’s just a theory, so why teach it?”

At this point I should walk away, but the educator in me can’t. I generally take the bait, explaining that evolution is an established fact and the foundation of all biology. If in a feisty mood, I’ll leave them with this caution: the fewer who understand evolution, the more who will die. Sometimes, when a person is still keen to prove me wrong, I’m more than happy to share with him an avalanche of evidence demonstrating I’m not.

Some colleagues ask why I bother, as if I’m the one who’s the provocateur. I remind them that evolution is the foundation of our science, and we simply can’t shy away from explaining it. We don’t avoid using the “g-word” when talking about gravitational theory, nor do we avoid the “c-word” when talking about cell theory. So why avoid talking about evolution, let alone defending it? After all, as a biologist, the mission of advancing evolution education is the most important aspect of my job.

TO TEACH EVOLUTION at the University of Kentucky is to teach at an institution steeped in the history of defending evolution education. The first effort to pass an anti-evolution law (led by William Jennings Bryan) happened in Kentucky in 1921. It proposed making the teaching of evolution illegal. The university’s president at that time, Frank McVey, saw this bill as a threat to academic freedom. Three faculty members—William Funkhouser, a zoologist; Arthur Miller, a geologist who taught evolution; and Glanville Terrell, a philosopher—joined McVey in the battle to prevent the bill from becoming law. They put their jobs on the line. Through their efforts, the anti-evolution bill was defeated by a forty-two to forty-one vote in the state legislature. Consequently, the movement turned its attention toward Tennessee.

John Thomas Scopes was a student at the University of Kentucky then and watched the efforts of his three favorite teachers and President McVey. The reason the “Scopes Monkey Trial” occurred several years later in Dayton, Tennessee—where Scopes was a substitute teacher and volunteered to be prosecuted—was in good part due to the influence of his mentors, particularly Funkhouser. As Scopes writes in his memoir, Center of the Storm: “Teachers rather than subject matter rekindled my interest in science. Dr. Funkhouser . . . was a man without airs [who] taught zoology so flawlessly that there was no need to cram for the final examination; at the end of the term there was a thorough, fundamental grasp of the subject in bold relief in the student’s mind, where Funkhouser had left it.”

I was originally reluctant to take my job at the university when offered it twenty years ago. It required teaching three sections of non-majors biology classes, with three hundred students per section, and as many as eighteen hundred students each year. I wasn’t particularly keen on lecturing to an auditorium of students whose interest in biology was questionable given that the class was a freshman requirement.

Then I heard an interview with the renowned evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson in which he addressed why, as a senior professor—and one of the most famous biologists in the world—he continued to teach non-majors biology at Harvard. Wilson explained that non-majors biology is the most important science class that one could teach. He felt many of the future leaders of this nation would take the class, and that this was the last chance to convey to them an appreciation for biology and science. Moved by Wilson’s words, and with the knowledge that William Funkhouser once held the job I was now contemplating, I accepted the position. The need to do well was unnerving, however, considering that if I failed as a teacher, a future Scopes might leave my class uninspired.

I realized early on that many instructors teach introductory biology classes incorrectly. Too often evolution is the last section to be taught, an autonomous unit at the end of the semester. I quickly came to the conclusion that, since evolution is the foundation upon which all biology rests, it should be taught at the beginning of a course, and as a recurring theme throughout the semester. As the renowned geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky said: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” In other words, how else can we explain why the DNA of chimps and humans is nearly 99 percent identical, and that the blood and muscle proteins of chimps and humans are nearly identical as well? Why are these same proteins slightly less similar to gorillas and orangu­tans, while much less similar to goldfish? Only evolution can shed light on these questions: we humans are great apes; we and the other great apes (gibbons, chimps, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans) all evolved from a common ancestor.

Soon, every topic and lecture in my class was built on an evolutionary foundation and explained from an evolutionary perspective. My basic biology for non-majors became evolution for non-majors. It didn’t take long before I started to hear from a vocal minority of students who strongly objected: “I am very offended by your lectures on evolution! Those who believe in creation are not ignorant of science! You had no right to try and force evolution on us. Your job was to teach it as a theory and not as a fact that all smart people believe in!!” And: “Evolution is not a proven fact. It should not be taught as if it is. It cannot be observed in any quantitative form and, therefore, isn’t really science.”

We live in a nation where public acceptance of evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution, believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Where I live, many believe evolution to be synonymous with atheism, and there are those who strongly feel I am teaching heresy to thousands of students. A local pastor, whom I’ve never met, wrote an article in The University Christian complaining that, not only was I teaching evolution and ignoring creationism, I was teaching it as a non-Christian, alternative religion.

There are students who enroll in my courses and already accept evolution. Although not yet particularly knowledgeable on the subject, they are eager to learn more. Then there are the students whose minds are already sealed shut to the possibility that evolution exists, but need to take my class to fulfill a college requirement. And then there are the students who have no opinion one way or the other but are open-minded. These are the students I most hope to reach by presenting them with convincing and overwhelming evidence without offending or alienating them.

Some students take offense very easily. . .

Continue reading.

And Phil Plait in Slate offers some answers to questions asked by creationists:

After writing yesterday about the now-famous/infamous debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I don’t want to make this blog all creationism all the time, but indulge me this one more time, if you will. On BuzzFeed, there is a clever listicle that is a collection of 22 photos showing creationists holding up questions they have for people who “believe” in evolution.

These questions are fairly typically asked when evolution is questioned by creationists. Some are philosophical, and fun to think about, while others show a profound misunderstanding of how science works, and specifically what evolution is. I have found that most creationists who attack evolution have been taught about it by other creationists, so they really don’t understand what it is or how it works, instead they have a straw-man idea of it.

Because of this, it’s worth exploring and answering the questions presented. Some could be simply answered yes or no, but I’m all about going a bit deeper. With 22 questions I won’t go too deep, but if you have these questions yourself, or have been asked them, I hope this helps.

I’ll repeat the question below, and give my answers.

1) “Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?”

I’m not Bill, but I’d say yes, he is. More than just giving them facts to memorize, he is showing them how science works. Not only that, his clear love and enthusiasm for science is infectious, and that to me is his greatest gift.

2) “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”

No. In fact, if there is a Judeo-Christian god, that would have fascinating implications for much of what we scientists study, and would be a rich vein to mine. Perhaps a more pertinent question is, “Are you scared there might not be a Divine Creator?” There is more room for a god in science than there is for no god in religious faith.

3) “Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings … Adam created as an adult ….”

It might be internally consistent, even logical, but a bit of a stretch. After all, we can posit that God created the Universe last Thursday, looking exactly as it is, with all evidence pointing to it being old and your memories implanted such that you think you’re older than a mere few days. Consistent, sure, but plausible? Not really.

4) “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 3:26 pm

Ronnie O’Sullivan, King of Snooker

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In my small southern-Oklahoma town—really, more a village if we used that term—the local pool hall was really a snooker hall. In front were four (or six) square tables for playing dominoes, then crossways down the length of the hall six snooker tables, and way in the back two pocket-billiards (pool) tables for those who lacked the competence for snooker. No billiards table, I regret to say. Snooker was the real game. Pool was child’s play. In snooker the pockets have rounded corners so that a ball even slightly off-course is likely to bounce out, away from the pocket, rather into the pocket, as it would in pool. (Billiards gets around that by having no pockets at all.)

Sam Knight has an interesting profile in the New Yorker:

rly on a Tuesday morning last fall, Ronnie O’Sullivan was running through the woods near his home, in Chigwell, Essex, northeast of London. It was damp and muddy, England in November. O’Sullivan, who is thirty-nine, loves the anonymity of running. About ten years ago, he discovered that it was one thing that truly takes him out of himself—more than the drink and the drugs and the antidepressants—and suspends the otherwise unavoidable fact that he is the most talented snooker player of all time. At the age of eleven, O’Sullivan was making good money in the sport, and in the past three decades he has won five World Championships and set a number of records while enduring a bewildering odyssey of breakdowns, addictions, and redemptions, largely precipitated by the imprisonment of his father, whom he loves, for murder. O’Sullivan is frequently described as a genius. But he does not see how this can be so. Most days, he feels like a fraud. His game comes only in fits and starts. He wins because the others lose. He has wondered for a long time whether he would be happier doing something else. He has moved nine times in the past ten years. “I’m fucking, you know, searching,” he told me recently. “I kind of know who I am but I don’t like who I am, do you know what I mean? I wish I was a bit more fucking stable.”

O’Sullivan tries to run six or seven miles a day. That morning, he was with his best friend from school, George Palacaros. (O’Sullivan grew up a short distance from Chigwell, in the town of Ilford.) It was a final run before the U.K. Championship, snooker’s second-biggest tournament, in York, two hundred miles to the north. O’Sullivan’s first-round match, against an amateur named Daniel Wells, was two days away. About five miles into the run, Palacaros called out to O’Sullivan to check the heart-rate monitor that he wears on his wrist. As O’Sullivan turned to reply, he slipped and fell, breaking his left ankle.

He tried to carry on. “I thought, I ain’t going to waddle back,” he said. He jogged another mile, but whenever he looked down he saw his ankle swelling up. By the time O’Sullivan reached the changing room at his running club, he couldn’t put any weight on his leg.

At the hospital, O’Sullivan was told that he had a simple fracture. His ankle wouldn’t need surgery, but it would take twelve weeks to heal and he would have to wear a protective brace. He called his psychiatrist. In the afternoon, O’Sullivan posted a picture of his ankle, bulging alarmingly, on Twitter, with the message “Might be one legged Snooker at the #UKChampionship on Thursday.” He found a pair of soft blue boots in his closet that fit over the brace. The next day, a friend drove him to York so that he could keep his foot elevated on the way.

Snooker, like its poor relation pool, is a cue sport. Unlike pool, snooker has twenty-two balls: fifteen red, six of other colors, and one white. (Pool and its variants involve sixteen balls or fewer.) Players take turns attempting to clear the table and earn as many points as possible, using the white cue ball to “pot” a red, then a colored ball (which is returned to the table), then a red, and so on. When all the reds are gone, the players dispatch the colors in order of their value, from the yellow, which is worth two points, up to the black, which is worth seven. If a player fails to pot a ball at any point, he must yield the table to his opponent. Matches are divided into frames, each won by whichever player scores the most points. In the professional game, frames tend to unfold with vivid, unsettling ease—the balls slide into the pockets as if there were nowhere else for them to go—or with staggering, metaphysical difficulty, as the players foil one another by arranging the balls in illogical patterns, a type of play known as “safety,” and everyone’s nerves go to hell.

Snooker’s civilized appearance belies its vicious and enervating nature. A snooker table is three times larger than a pool table and its pockets are an inch smaller. Even the most basic shot is a concatenation of foresight, friction, and various Newtonian laws. Players seek to control where at least two balls are going: the red or colored “object” ball, preferably toward a pocket; and the white ball, its rate of braking and spin carefully calibrated, either to stop near another object ball, so the process can begin again, or to continue toward some hostile district of the table, from where the opponent will be unlikely to score. The best players string together thirty shots in a row, in a hushed environment of thick carpet and dinner suits. (Snooker’s dress code recalls, more or less, that of a nineteen-thirties music hall.) Players compete to pot the same balls, so every shot has a psychological echo: What is good for me is bad for you. The longer I am at the table, the longer you must watch and fret. Players avoid eye contact. No one speaks.

At the U.K. Championship, all matches except the final were . . .

Continue reading. A sample of O’Sullivan’s play (and there are more on YouTube):

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Games

The Air Marshall service seems rotten with corruption

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Andrew Becker reports at Reveal News:

Faced with a Department of Justice investigation into the men and women charged with protecting U.S. commercial flights from terrorism, former and current air marshals are coming forward to describe a “wheels-up, rings-off” culture rife with adultery, prostitution and other misconduct.

The tone, they say, was set at the top. Former air marshals who worked in the service’s Orlando, Florida, field office say managers directed subordinates to modify assignments for the bosses’ benefit. That included supervisors jumping on flights or bumping air marshals off missions so they could play golf in Scotland, travel to exotic locations or meet a lover.

Around the country, others tell similar stories. They say managers flew around the globe at little personal expense and even padded their paychecks, under the guise of so-called check rides to monitor air marshals’ job performance.

Reveal disclosed late last month that an investigation into misconduct may involve dozens of employees of the Federal Air Marshal Service and manipulation of marshals’ flight schedules for personal gain. The reportsparked a House oversight committee investigation. The Senate homeland security committee has begun a preliminary inquiry as well, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a written statement.

In a Senate commerce subcommittee hearing last week . . .

Continue reading.

Nine-minute audio at the link. Later in the article:

Insiders say a permissive culture that also punishes and intimidates whistleblowers has enabled such misbehavior for years. They say it leaves the service vulnerable to security risks, including situations that could unveil air marshals’ identities and put them in harm’s way.

The No. 1 person responsible for punishing and intimidating whistleblowers? Barack Obama and his Department of Vindictive Persecution of Whistleblowers.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 2:04 pm

Why we must end the War on Drugs: DEA agents had ‘sex parties’ with prostitutes

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John Bresnahan and Lauren French report in Politico:

Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration reportedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by drug cartels in Colombia, according to a new inspector general report released by the Justice Department on Thursday.

In addition, Colombian police officers allegedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties,” the report states. Ten DEA agents later admitted attending the parties, and some of the agents received suspensions of two to 10 days.

Story Continued Below

The stunning allegations are part of an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general into claims of sexual harassment and misconduct within DEA; FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the U.S. Marshals Service. The IG’s office found that DEA did not fully cooperate with its probe.

The congressional committee charged with federal oversight is already promising hearings and an investigation into the allegations.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told POLITICO on Thursday he wanted the agencies involved to swiftly fire those involved and that his panel would immediately start digging into the allegations.

“You can’t ignore this. This is terribly embarrassing and fundamentally not right,” the Utah Republican said. “We need to understand what’s happening with the culture … anytime you bring a foreign national into your room, you’re asking for trouble.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 2:00 pm

Willie Nelson prepares to launch his own line of cannabis and accessories

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James Joiner reports in the Daily Beast:

Willie Nelson takes a hit of the cigarette-sized vaporizer in his gnarled hand, exhaling a small cloud, before placing it on the foldout table in front of us. We’re seated in the cool enclave of his tour bus, at the entrance to his sprawling property just outside Austin, Texas, which he has dubbed the town of Luck. Up a hill and around a corner, people are rocking out at Willie’s own Heartbreaker Banquet, an annual fundraiser/music festival held concurrently with SXSW.

Now 81, Willie is biding his time before joining the festivities, and we’re talking about why he puts on the event every year. In the process, he lets slip that he has something else in the works: a new brand of weed, called, naturally, Willie’s Reserve.

Pressed on this, he’s either dismissive or coy, though he does indicate that the smoking implement he has again picked up is a part of the line. The PR person promises to connect me with Michael Bowman, a veteran hemp and pot lobbyist who serves as the fledgling brand’s spokesperson. Two days later, much colder, much more sober, and back in my native New England, Bowman and I connect by phone.

The discussion is below, but the rub is that the marijuana world is about to get its first connoisseur brand, edging it farther from an illegal substance and closer to the realm of fine wines.

So what exactly is Willie’s Reserve?

Well, you know, Willie has spent a lifetime in support of cannabis, both the industrial hemp side and the marijuana side. He wants it to be something that’s reflective of his passion. Ultimately, it’s his. But it was developed by his family, and their focus on environmental and social issues, and in particular this crazy war on drugs, and trying to be a bright light amongst this trail as we’re trying to extract ourselves from the goo of prohibition.

Really he wants it, at the end of the day, to envelop what his personal morals and convictions are. So from the store itself to how they’ll work with suppliers and how things are operated, it’s going to be very reflective of Willie’s life.

Wait, so there’s going to be stores?

Well, yeah, they’re in the making. I think it’s safe to say that there will be stores that roll out in the states where marijuana has become legal.

So will there be signature strains that you grow under Willie’s oversight? Or will you sell other people’s strains? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 1:56 pm

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