Later On

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

Archive for December 11th, 2012

Strong pushback against idea that Jeffrey MacDonald is innocent

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I blogged earlier a review of an Erroll Morris book that made the case that Jeffrey MacDonald is innocent. Gene Weingarten had a long story in the Sunday Washington Post about the prosecutor, who continues to believe that MacDonald is guilty and is fighting against MacDonald’s appeal. Today Weingarten follows up with more thoughts on the issue:

Welcome to an unscheduled Flash Chat about my Sunday magazine story on the Jeffrey MacDonald murders and the prosecutor who is still on the case.

This is an odd thing to say about a 6,400-word story, but I found myself without the space to tell it as completely as I’d have liked. The introduction to this chat is mostly for those of you who have read the story and are still not persuaded, beyond a reasonable doubt, that MacDonald killed his family and that “A Wilderness of Error” is a deeply flawed and manipulative book. All the rest: Feel free to plow ahead into the questions.

I remember the killings. I was an 18-year-old hippie at the time, roughly the same age as Helena Stoeckley. I didn’t do as many drugs as she did, but I did plenty, including mescaline, LSD, and heroin. When I read in the newspaper that Jeffrey MacDonald – still presumed an innocent victim – told police that his attackers had been vicious hippie intruders who chanted “acid is groovy – kill the pigs,” I knew he had done it. As did every hippie in every city who read that statement with any degree of analytical thought. No self-respecting killer hippie would ever have uttered, let alone chanted, that uncool, anachronistic thing as late as 1970. That was exactly what some ramrod-straight 26-year-old Ivy League frat-boy doctor who was contemptuous of the counterculture would have thought a hippie would say.

Not to mention that hippies, um, didn’t kill people, at least not while stoned in drug-induced trances. The Manson gang were not hippies. They were weirdo murderers. They went around murdering people, not just Sharon Tate and her friends. They did not come out of the dark, descend on a house, do their savage thing, and then disappear back into the world never to be heard of again. That’s not how it works with murderous gangs who would kill sleeping children. Oh, and hippies also don’t arrive at a house intent on mass murder without remembering to bring along any weapons, relying on whatever knives and pieces of wood they might happen to find inside the house. The Manson people brought a shotgun.

But, okay. Forget all that. That’s just me bloviating. Maybe the MacDonald killers were different from all other killers. Maybe they were really disorganized, absentminded murderous hippies who talked funny and only killed just this once. Oh, and who came to hassle the doctor for drugs because they were drug addicts, and who killed his family, but never opened a closet to discover a big stash of syringes and drugs, including amphetamines. Or maybe they saw that stuff but didn’t steal it because murder may be one thing, but stealing is just plain wrong.

So, fine. I’m just bloviating. Let’s just go to the evidence.

It is true that the cops focused on MacDonald almost from the beginning. They did not do this because they were lazy and wanted to go home early and pop a brewski, or because they had a grudge against the handsome, arrogant, smug doctor. They focused on MacDonald because just about every single thing they found suggested that his story was a desperate, audacious lie, from beginning to end. Some of these things were in my story; some I didn’t have room for. You’ll get a few of that second group here.

One of the first things Jeffrey MacDonald told police when they arrived was that he had pulled out of Colette’s chest a short, dull knife with a bent blade. But that knife had not inflicted her chest wound, nor the knife cuts to her pajama top; the forensics were very clear on that. She had been stabbed only by the ice pick and the Old Hickory knife, not by the Geneva Forge knife with the bent blade. Why did MacDonald volunteer that odd lie, then, not once but twice, as medics were working on him? Brian Murtagh’s guess: because the doctor suddenly remembered that the curved-blade knife had his fingerprints on it – it was the one he likely grabbed from Colette as she was trying to defend herself — and he had to account for those prints.

Do you know where they found the knife and ice pick and club used in the murders? The murderous hippies didn’t carry them away, to ditch the evidence where it couldn’t be found. No, they left them right outside the back door of the house, in a bush, a place that someone could reach by opening the back door and leaning out and pitching them there, without having to step out into the rain and getting your feet and shoes and clothes wet, or leaving your own footprints in the dirt, all of which might have made police suspicious. So, see, they were outside the house — suggesting intruders who left — but not so FAR outside the house you’d have to walk in the rain to get there, or maybe be seen by a neighbor disposing of them. So.

Much of the so-called exculpatory evidence produced by the defense over the many years of this case has been focused on various fibers and hairs and fuzz and other detritus found in the house that cannot now be linked to any of the people living in the house on the night of the murders, any of the people who lived in the house or to the household items which had been collected and retained in evidence. Each and every such item, it seems to the defense, is evidence of intruders that night. The prosecution has always made the reasonable argument that these things are proof of nothing more than the fact that this is a rental apartment used by many, many families over the years. Stuff accumulates. Both the original jury and countless appellate courts have agreed with this repeatedly over the years.

The hero of the original investigation was a 30 year old Army investigator named Bill Ivory, who Jeffrey MacDonald really didn’t like at all. Bill was not Ivy League educated. He was plodding and methodical. He was the guy who discovered that MacDonald’s pajama top, when shredded down a certain seam, had leaked highly distinctive v-shaped seam threads all over the crime scene, most notably in the master bedroom where prosecutors contend the violence began – where they think Colette, trying to ward off Jeffrey, had reached out and torn his top. The most notable place there were NO seam threads? Anywhere near the sofa on which MacDonald claims he was sleeping when attacked into unconsciousness — the place where he says his pajama was torn.

So what about “A Wilderness of Error”? Didn’t the methodical Errol Morris deal with all these seemingly inculpatory things? The answer, in a nutshell, is no. Errol Morris doesn’t like the physical evidence. He basically dismisses all of it as unreliable, or so compromised by bad police work as to be useless. And it is true that if your attitude is that no physical evidence is of any value – why, the case against Jeffrey MacDonald suddenly seems pretty weak! . . .

Continue reading. He picks more holes in Morris’s case in favor of MacDonald.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2012 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Books, Law

Should Environmentalists Just Say No to Eating Beef?

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Full disclosure: Although I haven’t said “No” to eating beef, I don’t eat it very often at all: I go for months with no beef. No big decision, I just drifted away, in part because of repeated reports of grave illness people had from eating contaminated beef and also finding how much I enjoy a diet with fish, soy (tofu and tempeh), chicken, and pork as protein sources.

Marc Gunther has a very interesting report in Yale Environment 360 on a beef industry makeover/PR campaign to try to bring people back to beef.

Like plastic bags, coal, and SUVs, beef has few friends in the environmental community. Most environmentalists would point to beef — in particular, beef cattle that spend their final days in confined feedlots — as being responsible for an array of ills — the greenhouse gas emissions that the cattle generate; the groundwater pollution from their manure; the use of antibiotics in animal feed; the vast quantities of monoculture corn grown to feed the cattle; and the enormous amount of chemical fertilizers and water needed to grow the corn. As advocacy group Food and Water Watch put it in a 2010 report, “The significant growth in industrial-scale, factory-farmed livestock has contributed to a host of environmental, public health, food safety and animal welfare problems.”

Jason Clay believes those problems can be fixed. Clay, 61, who grew up on a Missouri farm, is senior vice president for market transformation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and an expert on the environmental impacts of farming. He has now set out to “green” the hamburger — along with the steak, the prime rib, and the rest of the steer.

To that end, WWF this year helped launch the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, an association of businesses and environmental groups that has begun to “facilitate a global dialogue on beef production that is environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable.” The roundtable plans to identify the best practices for raising beef, and spread them widely using the leverage of retailers like Wal-Mart and brands like McDonald’s to do so. Someday your burger may come with fries, a Coke, and a “green” seal of approval.

This is a controversial undertaking for a bunch of reasons, and not just with vegetarians. First, cattle are by nature inefficient converters of plants into protein, so beef has a far bigger environmental footprint than foods like fish or even poultry. Second, given the strong involvement of the beef industry, the roundtable is likely to challenge a green orthodoxy that says cattle should be allowed to run free on pasture and eat grass. (All cattle are grass-fed when young, but conventionally raised cows spend most of their lives in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, where they are fed corn.)

Third, WWF has chosen to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2012 at 2:21 pm

Something good in Oklahoma education

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Rural, conservative, impoverished Oklahoma has built the nation’s brightest model for early education. Sharon Lerner reports in The American Prospect:

Four-year-old John Kaykay is a serious and quiet boy—“my thoughtful one,” his dad calls him. When the official greeters at the front door of the McClure early-childhood center in Tulsa welcome him with their clipboards and electric cheer—“Good morning, John! How are you today?”—he just slowly nods his small chin in their direction. When he gets to Christie Housley’s large, sunny classroom, he focuses intensely on signing in, writing the four letters of his name with a crayon as his dad crouches behind him. When he’s asked the question of the day—“Do you like music?”—he pauses for a minute before putting his magnetic nameplate in the “no” section.

John’s third day of pre-kindergarten will be filled with more questions. Since yesterday was the 20th and tomorrow is the 22nd, what day is today? Can he pick out the card with the number 21 written on it? If the colors go pink, blue, pink, blue, what comes next in the pattern? How many of his friends are in school today? Can he think of a word that rhymes with dog?

Historically, Americans have operated on the assumption that kids will just somehow pick up such essentials along the way to “real” school. But, with concerns mounting over rising dropout rates and grim earning prospects for poorly educated Americans, the matter of when and under what circumstances we begin to teach children is of growing importance. Guided by research that shows that most of the wiring for future academic accomplishment happens in the first five years of life, education experts have been exploring how to get our children off to a better, and earlier, start. Many point to France and some of the Scandinavian countries, where almost all three- and four-year-olds participate in good, public preschool.

But the United States has several stalwarts of early education, too. Even with budgetary challenges, Georgia, Arkansas, and West Virginia have all managed to create high-quality pre-kindergarten programs with strong enrollment over the past few years. But it is John Kaykay’s home state, Oklahoma, that offers the single best example of how preschool can work when it’s done well—of how it can elevate its students’ learning, expand the horizons of the educational system, and enhance the entire community.

Despite growing evidence of the benefits of early education, nationwide only 28 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in public pre-K. Among three-year-olds, a paltry 4 percent are enrolled in a public educational program. The numbers could decrease even more as pre-K falls victim to recessionary belt-tightening. States have already cut $90 million from education for three- and four-year-olds over the past two years. Eleven states provide no program at all.

Oklahoma has bucked the national trend. Seventy-four percent of four-year-olds—more than in any other state—are in high-quality pre-K. Virtually every parent who wants a spot can get one, whether in a public school or in a partner organization, such as Tulsa’s Community Action Project, which runs John Kaykay’s pre-K classroom. The effort has been so thorough and so widely embraced that, in effect, public school in Oklahoma begins at age four. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2012 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Education

Goodbye, wheat

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Wheat turns out to be the grain most vulnerable to climate change. Remember last year’s drought? Mark Hertsgaard reports in the Newsweek Magazine part of The Daily Beast:

A world without pasta seems inconceivable. Mac-and-cheese-loving children across the United States would howl in protest. Italy might suffer a cultural heart attack. Social unrest could explode in northern China, where noodles are the main staple.

But if humans want to keep eating pasta, we will have to take much more aggressive action against global warming. Pasta is made from wheat, and a large, growing body of scientific studies and real-world observations suggest that wheat will be hit especially hard as temperatures rise and storms and drought intensify in the years ahead.

Hurricane Sandy’s recent devastation of New York and neighboring states reminded Americans of what Hurricane Katrina demonstrated in 2005: global warming makes weather more extreme, and extreme weather can be extremely dangerous. But flooding coastlines aren’t our only worry. Climate change is also imperiling the very foundation of human existence: our ability to feed ourselves.

Three grains—wheat, corn, and rice—account for most of the food humans consume. All three are already suffering from climate change, but wheat stands to fare the worst in the years ahead, for it is the grain most vulnerable to high temperatures. That spells trouble not only for pasta but also for bread, the most basic food of all. (Pasta is made from the durum variety of wheat, while bread is generally made from more common varieties, such as red spring.)

“Wheat is a cool-season crop. High temperatures are negative for its growth and quality, no doubt about it,” says Frank Manthey, a professor at North Dakota State University who advises the North Dakota Wheat Commission. Already, a mere 1 degree Fahrenheit of global temperature rise over the past 50 years has caused a 5.5 percent decline in wheat production, according to David Lobell, a professor at Stanford University’s Center on Food Security and the Environment.

By 2050, scientists project, the world’s leading wheat belts—the U.S. and Canadian Midwest, northern China, India, Russia, and Australia—on average will experience, every other year, a hotter summer than the hottest summer now on record. Wheat production in that period could decline between 23 and 27 percent, reports the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), unless swift action is taken to limit temperature rise and develop crop varieties that can tolerate a hotter world.

“International agricultural research centers and the private sector have woken up to the fact that higher temperatures are almost inevitable and they have little in their genetic toolbox to deal with them,” says Gerald Nelson, a senior research fellow at IFPRI. “We are all worried.”

The record-breaking summer of 2012—which brought the hottest July in U.S. history and the worst drought in 50 years (a drought that continues to afflict 60 percent of the nation)—hints at what may lie ahead. Corn and soybean yields plummeted in 2012, driving up world food prices, increasing hunger, and triggering protests in Indonesia that recalled the street riots that afflicted dozens of nations after the last big food-price jump in 2007–08.

“We stressed our farm crops this year pretty strongly, and many of them almost folded,” says Jay Fuhrer, a U.S. Department of Agriculture extension agent in North Dakota. “Does that concern you as a consumer? It should.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2012 at 1:58 pm

Legalizing And Regulating Pot: A Growth Industry

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An NPR interview with Tony Dokoupil, a reporter on the marijuana industry. The full interview is at the link, along with printed extracts:

When reporter Tony Dokoupil was a teenager, he found out that his father had sold marijuana, but he just thought his parents “were hippies.” A few years ago, while working on a story about his father’s drug dealer past, he discovered that actually, in the 1970s and ’80s, his father, Anthony Dokoupil, had been a big-time marijuana smuggler.

“He was arrested in the early ’90s on a job selling 17 tons of marijuana,” Dokoupil tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, “which was enough at the time to roll a joint for every college kid in the U.S.”

Dokoupil is now writing a book about the controversial plant, and is the author of the recent Newsweek cover story “The New Pot Barons,” about the group of entrepreneurs who are growing medical marijuana in Colorado and hoping to cash in on the plant’s recent legalization there for recreational use. On Election Day, Colorado and Washington became the first states to greenlight marijuana for recreational use, which is big news for the expanding marijuana industry.

If legalization is here to stay, Dokoupil says Colorado’s tightly regulated for-profit medical marijuana market will likely be the basis for the legalized recreational markets in other states as well. In Colorado, more than 1 million square feet of warehouse space outside of Denver are dedicated to growing marijuana, and hundreds of dispensaries sell it. To manage this growing business, the state has 200-plus pages of regulation to explain what is legal and isn’t. Marijuana grown in the state, says Dokoupil, is tracked from “the time it blooms to final sale — every single ounce is accounted for.”

Interview Highlights

On the initial “Green Rush”

“After Eric Holder and the Obama administration suggested that they weren’t going to crack down on medical marijuana, everybody and their brother grabbed a trash bag full of weed out of their backyard and were like, ‘All right, medical marijuana here for sale!’ … Then Colorado was really interesting … because there’s a core of young, educated, politically connected and well-financed guys who said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. We can’t have former black market drug dealers and bikini girls as the face of our industry, because the community’s not going to accept it.

“So they partnered with law enforcement. They partnered with state legislators. They hired incredibly high-level political consultants and lobbyists who have worked nationally. And they are the inside force that led to the creation of Colorado’s regulated medical marijuana industry, which is unlike any in the country and which will be the basis for the legalized, regulated market. And so in response to the craziness that we saw in 2009 … a movement toward controlled, regulated, not-in-your-face, nonconfrontational pot culture has begun.”

On Colorado’s tightly regulated, commercial medical marijuana growing market

“So in Colorado, the medical marijuana growers have to have 24-hour video of their operations, and that video is accessible by the state at any time — they can tap into it. And they all have these badges, and they had to go through background checks to get these badges. So there’s an attempt to keep black market money out of it … in Colorado, you’re unlikely to see a situation where a dispensary is, in fact, just a front for a Mexican cartel. And then they had this additional rule, which is pretty revolutionary — it’s called a 70-30 rule, where 70 percent of all the marijuana that each store sells, they have to grow themselves. … That goes a long way to eliminating the introduction of black market weed. … Stores aren’t just buying all their weed from Mexican cartels and marking it up. …

“That’s a huge reason why the feds have focused on California. California doesn’t have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2012 at 1:45 pm

Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply

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Abrahm Lustgarten reports for ProPublica:

Federal officials have given energy and mining companies permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation’s drinking water.

In many cases, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted these so-called aquifer exemptions in Western states now stricken by drought and increasingly desperate for water.

EPA records show that portions of at least 100 drinking water aquifers have been written off because exemptions have allowed them to be used as dumping grounds.

“You are sacrificing these aquifers,” said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado and a member of a National Science Foundation team studying the effects of energy development on the environment. “By definition, you are putting pollution into them. … If you are looking 50 to 100 years down the road, this is not a good way to go.”

As part of an investigation into the threat to water supplies from underground injection of waste, ProPublica set out to identify which aquifers have been polluted.

We found the EPA has not even kept track of exactly how many exemptions it has issued, where they are, or whom they might affect.

What records the agency was able to supply under the Freedom of Information Act show that exemptions are often issued in apparent conflict with the EPA’s mandate to protect waters that may be used for drinking.

Though hundreds of exemptions are for lower-quality water of questionable use, many allow grantees to contaminate water so pure it would barely need filtration, or that is treatable using modern technology.

The EPA is only supposed to issue exemptions if aquifers are too remote, too dirty, or too deep to supply affordable drinking water. Applicants must persuade the government that the water is not being used as drinking water and that it never will be.

Sometimes, however, the agency has issued permits for portions of reservoirs that are in use, assuming contaminants will stay within the finite area exempted.

In Wyoming, people are drawing on the same water source for drinking, irrigation and livestock that, about a mile away, is being fouled with federal permission. In Texas, EPA officials are evaluating an exemption for a uranium mine — already approved by the state — even though numerous homes draw water from just outside the underground boundaries outlined in the mining company’s application.

The EPA declined repeated requests for interviews for this story, but sent a written response saying exemptions have been issued responsibly, under a process that ensures contaminants remain confined. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2012 at 1:27 pm

Computer for the elderly non-technical

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Very interesting computer. I was casting about for a replacement computer for The Sister, who is not technically oriented, and The Wife suggested that I look at computers and software designed for seniors. I did a search, and lo! this model turned up.

It looks like a good idea, particularly the virus-proof nature: her previous Windows machines have in time become inoperable, and I believe the cause is primarily viruses. The Gizmodo review was positive.

Another suggestion, from The Son, is an iPad with a keyboard. That, too, is virus proof and has the virtue of easy portability. She would need WiFi for that, but an Apple Airport Express should be easily installed.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2012 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Technology

D.R. Harris: Always great lather

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SOTD 11 Dec 2012

As I’ve often said, I used a D.R. Harris shave stick for quite a while before I noticed that every time I used it, I would think, “Oh, wow. Very good lather today.” And it still is true.

The Wee Scot worked up a very good lather from the Marlborough shave stick, and the Edwin Jagger once again demonstrated to me its excellent design: a comfortable, BBS shave with a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade: three very nice passes. The EJ is really a terrific razor.

A splash of the Marlborough aftershave, and things are popping.

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2012 at 11:34 am

Posted in Shaving

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