Later On

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

Archive for April 1st, 2012

Thinking about selection criteria

leave a comment »

The Wife had occasion to replace a faucet adapter—the nylon one simply wore out—and went to buy a good one: stainless or chrome-plated brass. It would cost more, but it would solve the problem once and for all, rather than replacing the damn things every three or four years. But: no one had them in stock. She visited three different hardware stores (and different chains): none stocked it. At our local PG hardware store, she was able to special-order it and was marveling that it wasn’t stocked, and the guy behind the counter explained, “People now buy strictly on price. That’s the only thing they look at. Quality of manufacture is not a consideration.”

Two things occurred to me: part of this may be that the cheaper solution also uses newer materials, quite often (that’s how they got it cheaper), and in this case, nylon is more “modern” than chrome-plated brass or stainless, so it’s “better” to some.

The other was stimulated by the comment that making a Wee Scot was the culminating step in the apprenticeship system, since it drew on so many skills. Similarly, in a machinist/metal worker apprenticeship, a final test was for the apprentice to submit a set of gauge blocks he had made by hand. Union painters, as I recall, had one test that required painting a vertical sheet of glass with high-gloss enamel: the finish when dry had to be perfect. And barbers having to “shave” (using a straight razor) a lather-covered balloon. All sorts of apprenticeships include a range of “mastery” tests. I’m sure shoemakers face such a test, for example.

But we’ve mostly left the apprenticeship system behind. Few today follow formal apprenticeships, and few are involved in making things, whether factory manufacture or craft/artisan manufacture. People most seem to meet or talk on the phone or move papers.

One side-effect of the diminution of the apprenticeship system is that fewer and fewer are, by virtue of their training, accustomed to viewing critically how a product is made or put together. Striving to improve his or her own skills, the person who works to make things doesn’t much care for poorly made things, especially when (as is so often the case) the poor quality is overt and evident: who wants to buy, say, a handbag that will be hard to use and fall apart in a year or two? But if one cannot recognize the difference in quality, s/he will naturally buy the cheapest one—because the differences between the cheapest (poorly made) one and the expensive (carefully made of better materials) are invisible to her or him. Not being able to recognize differences in quality, they make the obvious choice: buy the cheapest.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2012 at 5:19 pm

Posted in Daily life

Caste and class still alive and well in the US

leave a comment »

Extremely interesting column by Isabel Wilkerson in the NY Times:

IN the mid-1930s, a Yale anthropologist ventured to an unnamed town in the South to explore the feudal divisions of what we commonly call race but what he preferred to describe with the more layered language of caste. When he arrived — white, earnest and fresh from the North — white Southerners told him that a Northerner would soon enough “feel about Negroes as Southerners do.” In making that prediction, the anthropologist John Dollard wrote in his seminal study “Caste and Class in a Southern Town,” they are saying “that he joins the white caste. The solicitation is extremely active, though informal, and one must stand by one’s caste to survive.”

Americans tend to think of the rigid stratification of caste as a distant notion from feudal Europe or Victorian India. But caste is alive and well in this country, where a still unsettled multiracial society is emerging from the starkly drawn social order that Dollard described. Assumptions about one’s place in this new social order have become a muddying subtext in the case of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager slain at the hands of an overzealous neighborhood watch captain, who is the son of a white father and a Peruvian mother.

We do not know what George Zimmerman was thinking as he watched Mr. Martin from afar, told a 911 dispatcher that he looked suspicious and ultimately shot him. But we do know that it happened in central Florida, a region whose demographic landscape is rapidly changing, where unprecedented numbers of Latino immigrants have arrived at a place still scarred by the history of a vigilante-enforced caste system and the stereotypes that linger from it. In this context, newcomers — like previous waves of immigrants in the past — may feel pressed to identify with the dominant caste and distance themselves from blacks, in order to survive.

A study released in 2006 by Duke University on attitudes on race in Durham, N.C., a city with one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country, found that an overwhelming majority of Latinos — 78 percent — felt they had the most in common with whites, while 53 percent of them felt they had the least in common with blacks. So it would make sense for those respondents to act with the same assumptions about blacks that they perceive are held by native whites. In fact the Latino respondents, many of them immigrants from Mexico and Central America, actually reported higher negative feelings toward blacks than most native-born whites. Nearly 60 percent reported feeling that few or almost no blacks were hard-working or could be trusted, while only 10 percent of whites held that view.

On the other hand, almost three-quarters . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2012 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Daily life

How nice: It’s not just NSA spying on you now: the local police have joined the fun

leave a comment »

Does anyone else see the clear trend of law enforcement in the Prison Nation as we move toward an uncertain future? Take this NY Times story by Eric Lichtblau, for example (and as another data point in an increasingly clear pattern in the growing collection of dots):

Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations.

With cellphones ubiquitous, the police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls and investigations in drug cases and murders. One police training manual describes cellphones as “the virtual biographer of our daily activities,” providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels.

But civil liberties advocates say the wider use of cell tracking raises legal and constitutional questions, particularly when the police act without judicial orders. While many departments require warrants to use phone tracking in nonemergencies, others claim broad discretion to get the records on their own, according to 5,500 pages of internal records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union from 205 police departments nationwide.

The internal documents, which were provided to The New York Times, open a window into a cloak-and-dagger practice that police officials are wary about discussing publicly. While cell tracking by local police departments has received some limited public attention in the last few years, the A.C.L.U. documents show that the practice is in much wider use — with far looser safeguards — than officials have previously acknowledged.

The issue has taken on new legal urgency in light of a Supreme Court ruling in January finding that a Global Positioning System tracking device placed on a drug suspect’s car violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches. While the ruling did not directly involve cellphones — many of which also include GPS locators — it raised questions about the standards for cellphone tracking, lawyers say.

The police records show many departments struggling to . . .

Continue reading, especially if you happen to use a cellphone from time to time—or carry one with you, turned on.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2012 at 4:08 pm

A point of view I’d not previously considered

leave a comment »

I have long been aware that some people show an odd (to me) resistance to the idea of trying out traditional wetshaving with a DE razor. One conversation I had summed it up succinctly: the guy said that he hated shaving, and I said that the traditional approach made shaving actually enjoyable, plus a year’s supply of blades runs about $4.50. “Yeah,” he said, “but I can finish shaving in two minutes.” I responded that my traditional shave took only eight minutes, and he said, “Well, there you go,” as if that decided it.

I wanted to be sure: “You are saying that, given a choice between doing something you hate for two minutes—and paying substantially more for it—and doing something you enjoy for eight minutes, at a considerable savings, you would choose the former.” And he agreed.

I wonder at how he values time—and money—but I got an insight today from this comment DoinTheCockroach on Wicked_Edge:

It’s hard to see something so ubiquitous and constantly changing (we joke about way too many blades, but new models for razors are always coming out) that it’s hard to not make the same parallels we do with other technology. If you told me that the performance of televisions, cars or even computers was far superior in the ’60s -70’s, and even further for straight razors, I would have considered you insane. Even toasters are improved and more convenient, surely shaving had the same route? That’s how I felt about it, why else would people move on if it was so much better? Functionally inferior, but fashionable clothes are one thing, but tools? But I guess that’s the power of advertisements. I get mail from Gillette sending me razors all the time, I can imagine someone getting a decent shave and never trying anything else…especially not ‘outdated’ technology.

I got to thinking about it, and I have to agree: in most areas of technology, “newer” means “better”, and quite often “faster, better, cheaper.” Look at autos, telephones, telescopes, microscopes, microphones, firearms, television, power tools, and so on. Photography has some interesting curlicues, but in many fields, “newer” does indeed mean “better.” So naturally when you mention that you’re suggesting a razor technology from 50 years ago, of course a person immersed in the idea of “newer = better” (i.e., a person who is ill-educated, which is more common than you might suppose) would simply not understand why anyone would want to use a technology that’s 50 years old when you can easily get modern tools for the same function (“modern” meaning, to this person, “obviously better”). So he could simply not grasp what I was saying.

The Wife and I were discussing this idea, and she told of a posting in a forum she saw, in with the writer was bemoaning people who bring in the reusable grocery bags and use them—the “they look dirty and who knows where they’ve been” sort of line—and wrote, “I’m a modern girl and I want a modern plastic bag.”

There it is: “This is newer, so it’s obviously better, so I don’t even have to think about the merits of the case: newer = better. Doesn’t it?” Total incomprehension that newer might be worse.

And that’s it! I suddenly realized. I’ve talked to people who won’t watch a movie that’s in black and white, and now I understand why: because those movies are older and now we have newer (and therefore better) movies, so why would I watch the old (and thus inferior) ones. “Black and white” is easier and simpler than saying (for example) “movies made before 1995”.

And I’ve known people who would not read books written by authors no longer living, and now I get it: once again, a simple rule of thumb to separate the older (chaff) from the newer (grain). Dickens, Austen, Trollope, and the like? They’re dead. Those books are old. We now have much newer books. Better. Modern.

No wonder there was a lack of communication.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2012 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Daily life

Perhaps it is a good idea to record police doing their duties

leave a comment »

Michael Powell wrote this op-ed in the NY Times:

The niece stood in the darkened stairwell of the Winbrook Houses, listening, as 20 feet away five police officers yelled at her uncle, who had locked himself in his apartment.

It was 5:25 on a chill November morning. The officers banged loud and hard, demanding that her 68-year-old uncle open his door.

“He was begging them to leave him alone,” she recalls. “He sounded scared.” She pulls her shawl about her shoulders and her voice cracks; she is speaking for the first time about what she saw. “I heard my uncle yelling, ‘Officers, officers, why do you have your guns out?’ ”

The string of events that night sounds prosaic, a who-cares accumulation of little mistakes and misapprehensions. Cumulatively, though, it is like tumbling down the stairs. Somehow the uncle, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., a former Marine who had heart problems and wheezed if he walked more than 40 feet, triggered his medical alert system pendant. The system operator came on the loudspeaker in his one-bedroom apartment, asking: “Mr. Chamberlain, are you O.K.?” All of this is recorded.

Mr. Chamberlain didn’t respond. So the operator signaled for an ambulance. Police patrol cars fell in behind — standard operating procedure in towns across America. Except an hour later, even as Mr. Chamberlain insisted he was in good health, the police had snapped the locks on the apartment door.

They fired electric charges from Tasers, and beanbags from shotguns. Then they said they saw Mr. Chamberlain grab a knife, and an officer fired his handgun.

Boom! Boom! Mr. Chamberlain’s niece Tonyia Greenhill, who lives upstairs, recalls the echoes ricocheting about the hall. She pushed out a back door and ran into the darkness beneath overarching oaks. He lay on the floor near his kitchen, two bullet holes in his chest, blood pooling thick, dying.

It makes sense to be humble in the presence of conflicting accounts. The White Plains public safety commissioner declared this a “warranted use of deadly force”; the shooter was later put on modified assignment. Mr. Chamberlain, in the commissioner’s telling, had withstood electric charges, grabbed a butcher knife and charged the officers.

The alert system phone in Mr. Chamberlain’s apartment recorded most of the standoff, as did a security camera in the hall. And the officers’ Tasers carried video recorders.

Last month, the Westchester County district attorney played these for the dead man’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., who teaches martial arts for a local nonprofit organization and intends to file a lawsuit. He is lithe, with a shaved head, and takes pride in a reasoned manner. “My family, we’re not into histrionics,” he says. “We don’t run down the street inciting riot.”

His voice cracks, though, as he describes the tapes. “I heard fear,” he says. “In my 45 years on this earth, I never heard my father sound like that.”

The district attorney will present the case to a grand jury and has not released transcripts. But the family’s recollection matches that of neighbors who listened through closed doors. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2012 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

More on how the Catholic church handles things

leave a comment »

Interesting story by Maryclaire Dale for Associated Press via The Sister:

PHILADELPHIA — The long, typed letter fantasizes about a seventh-grader’s body, and asks if the boy wants to try various sex acts.

“You are soooo cute. I have been thinking about you for a long time. … You’re the cutest in our grade,” the author wrote in a rare line that wasn’t overtly obscene.

But the anonymous author was not a classmate at the boy’s Catholic school in northeast Philadelphia. It was a parish priest. One with a cache of gay pornography and sadomasochistic videos in the rectory.

Files show the letter-writing priest was sent to a church-run treatment center for priests, where staff concluded he did not have “a pathological interest in children or adults.” Doctors racked the letter up to a single fantasy. And they believed him when he said he hadn’t sent it — or acted out with children.

“Cardinal Bevilacqua is granting him a health leave, and that should be the announcement to the (St. Anselm’s) parish,” reads a December 1995 memo, found in secret personnel files at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The memo, along with the priest’s letter, aired in court this week in a landmark criminal trial in Philadelphia. Accused is Monsignor William Lynn, the first U.S. church official charged with child endangerment for allegedly leaving predator-priests in ministry, and conspiring with others to cover up the festering problem.

Prosecutors call the archdiocese of 1.5 million Catholics “an unindicted co-conspirator.”

Defense lawyers counter that Lynn took orders from the archbishop during his 12-year run as secretary for clergy, when he supervised about 900 priests. [Ah, yes: the “I vas yust following orders!” defense, which the Nuremberg trials specifically disallowed. Presumably if Lynn had been ordered to shoot to death the first three people he met in the morning, he would have happily obeyed, and his defense would again be that he was just following orders. It doesn’t wash: he is responsible for his own actions.  – LG] Lynn, 61, faces years in prison if convicted.

By August 1996, the priest had been released, and reassigned to a far suburb. Lynn recommended that he return to full ministry, with no limits on his work with children. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died this year, approved the plan, initializing Lynn’s memo with his ornate “AB.”

The priest’s therapy notes — describing the “release of guilt” he felt after childhood whippings by his father and his “compulsive” interest in pornography and masturbation — were shipped to “File 3,” archdiocesan code for the locked, secret archives room.

“That kind of information coming out through these trials, regardless of the verdict, is of enormous significance, for the church and also for our understanding of how sexual abuse was handled in institutions outside the church. … That includes schools and prisons and youth groups and sports teams,” said Timothy Lytton, an Albany Law School professor who wrote a book on the priest-abuse crisis.

The Catholic church is far from alone in protecting predators, he said, but its hierarchical nature gives authorities a long paper trail. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2012 at 1:47 pm

12 UN agencies issue a joint statement calling for closure of compulsory drug detention centers

leave a comment »

A post at Transform:

Twelve United Nations agencies, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNAIDS, UNHCR, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF have issued a joint statement in the run up to next week’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, unambiguously calling on member states to ‘close compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres and implement voluntary, evidence-informed and rights-based health and social services in the  community’ .

The full text of the statement is available in pdf here and is copied below.

This is a very welcome response to a serious and long overlooked human rights issue, and the agencies involved are to be congratulated for making this clear public statement.

It is notable the International Narcotics Control Board (whilst unclear whether they were approached to add their name to this initiative) have never made such a clear call. Indeed, in the recent 2011 report they note the existence of such centers, but fail to condemn them, or mention the abuse that routinely takes place in them. Worse, in the section on Viet Nam (a country with tens of thousands in such centers), the INCB report states that it ‘welcomes the steps taken in Viet Nam to improve the treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers’ and that it ‘encourages the Government to reinforce and support existing facilities’. That these publications come within weeks of each other shows just how bizarrely out of kilter the INCB is with the rest of the UN and its established thinking on human rights issues.

Continue reading for the text of the Joint Statement.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2012 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Drug laws

%d bloggers like this: