Later On

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

Archive for December 26th, 2012

The assault weapons ban did in fact work

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The NRA is a busy organization, and they work especially hard at spreading lies and propaganda, among them the idea that the assault weapons ban didn’t work. (If it didn’t work, why are they so opposed to it? Because it made it harder to buy assault weapons? Then it worked…) But for more details, check out this report in by Alex Seitz-Wald:

As Democrats move to once again ban assault weapons and NBC host David Gregory gets investigated for using a high-capacity magazine, banned in D.C., as a prop in his interview with the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, one key question still hasn’t been properly addressed by the media thus far — did the 1994 Assault Weapon Ban actually work?

Even Gregory, who convincingly played a devil’s advocate to LaPierre Sunday, was dismissive of its effect on Sunday. “I mean the fact that that it just doesn’t work is still something that you’re challenged by if you want to approach this legislation again,” he said of the ban to New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, a supporter of the ban.

There’s a dearth of quality empirical research on the efficacy of the ban, thanks in part to Congress’ statutory limitations on the type of gun violence research the federal government is allowed to conduct. Pro-gun lawmakers made it illegal for research agencies to advocate for gun control, which effectively means looking for any connection between guns and gun violence, but the evidence suggests the law had positive effects, if not as much as advocates would like.

The single formal assessment of the ban, as required by Congress in passing the law, was conducted by criminologists Christopher Koper, Jeffrey Roth and others at the University of Pennsylvania (Koper is now at George Mason). The National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Department of Justice, paid for the evaluation, which was first conducted in 1999 and updated in 2004, and looked at everything from homicide rates to gun prices.

A few key findings emerged. Overall, banned guns and magazines were used in up to a quarter of gun crimes before the ban. Assault pistols were more common than assault rifles in crimes. Large-capacity magazines, which were also prohibited, may be a bigger problem than assault weapons. While just 2 to 8 percent of gun crimes were committed with assault weapons, large-capacity magazines were used in 14 to 26 percent of of firearm crimes. About 20 percent of privately owned guns were fitted with the magazines.

But even though assault weapons were responsible for a fraction of the total number of gun deaths overall, the weapons and other guns equipped with large-capacity magazines “tend to account for a higher share of guns used in murders of police and mass public shootings,” the study found.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention to the recent history of mass shootings. In just the past year, the same .223 Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle was used in the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre, the shooting at the Clackamas Mall in Oregon, the Newtown elementary school shooting, and, just a few days ago, the killing of two firefighters in upstate New York. Jared Loughner used 33-round high-capacity magazines in a handgun to shoot former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and more than a dozen others. Seung-Hui Cho used a 15-round magazine to kill 32 and wound 17 at Virginia Tech in 2007.

An October 2012 study from Johns Hopkins, which looked at newer data than Koper’s, concluded that that “easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings.”

So, according to the official study, was the ban effective in stopping killings? The short answer is yes, though it’s a bit unclear because of the massive loopholes in the law. “Following implementation of the ban, the share of gun crimes involving AWs [assault weapons] declined by 17 percent to 72 percent across the localities examined for this study (Baltimore, Miami, Milwaukee, Boston, St. Louis, and Anchorage),” the Koper study concluded.

Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also shows a significant drop in assault weapon usage in gun crimes. In the five-year period before the enactment of the ban, the weapons constituted almost 5 percent of the guns traced by the Bureau (the ATF is responsible for tracking guns used in crimes), while they accounted for just 1.61 percent of gun traces after the ban went into effect — a drop of 66 percent. The effect accelerated over time, as the guns presumably became harder to find.

The problem with the ban, as both gun rights advocates (seeking to cast aspersions on the law) and gun control proponents (seeking to explain its limited impact) agree, is that it was weak to the point of being meaningless. As the bill made its way through Congress, gun lobbyists managed to create bigger and bigger carve-outs, the largest being the grandfathering in of guns and magazines produced and owned before the ban went into effect. The guns and magazines could also continue to be imported, as long they were produced before the law went into effect. . .

Continue reading. Here’s an idea: if an assault-weapons ban full of loopholes doesn’t work, why don’t we establish an assault-weapons ban without loopholes?

Written by Leisureguy

26 December 2012 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

The US does not in fact care a whit about human rights

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The US is not truly interested in human rights, as is evident from all sorts of things—e.g., not investigating the convictions of thousands of people now serving time because of poor forensics (taught to state and local forensic departments by the FBI, which also used the faulty practices) because it would be too much trouble. Better just to let the innocent stay in prison. We can’t be bothered to fix that. Or by the systematic use of torture by the US and the subsequent protection of the torturers while denying the tortured access to courts of law to sue for redress. (That also shows a total disregard for the law.)

Now it’s the US benign attitude toward the horrendous human rights abuses in Bahrain, as discussed in this column by Zainab al-Khawaja in the NY Times:

EARLIER this month, Aqeel Abdul Mohsen, 19, was shot in the face for protesting against Bahrain’s government. He was covered in blood, with the lower side of his face blown open, his jaw shattered, and a broken hand hanging awkwardly from his wrist. It’s one of those images that you wish you had never seen, and can never forget.

After more than 10 hours of surgery, and before Mr. Abdul Mohsen regained consciousness, his hospital room was already under guard by the police. Had he been able to speak, he might even have been interrogated before going into surgery. Others have lain bleeding without medical attention while government security agents asked questions like: “Were you participating in a protest? Who else was with you?”

Bahrain, a small island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia, has been ruled by the Khalifa family for more than 200 years. It is also home to the headquarters of the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols regional shipping lanes, assists with missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and monitors Iran as tensions in the region mount.

The oppressed people of Bahrain joined the Arab Spring soon after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. With newfound hope, Bahrainis took to the streets on Feb. 14, 2011. Rich and poor, Shiite and Sunni, liberal and religious, they felt what it was like to speak freely for the first time in the capital, Manama, at a traffic circle with a pearl monument at its center. The Pearl Roundabout came to symbolize the Bahraini revolution.

But this newfound freedom didn’t last long. The government’s security forces attacked the peaceful protesters, then tore down the Pearl monument. And in March 2011, troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened to suppress our pro-democracy protests.

Going out on the streets, carrying nothing but a flag and calling for democracy could cost you your life here. Chanting “down with the dictator” could lead to your being subjected to electric shocks. Giving a speech about human rights and democracy can lead to life imprisonment. Infants have died after suffocating from toxic gases used by riot police. And teenage protesters have been shot and killed.

It’s not unusual in Bahrain to find families with four or five members in prison at the same time. My father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was beaten unconscious in my apartment in front of my family, as a report last year by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented. He was then taken away with my husband and brother-in-law; they were all tortured.

My husband was released in January, and my brother-in-law was released after a six-month sentence in late 2011; my father was sentenced to life in prison. He staged four hunger strikes; the longest lasted 110 days and almost cost him his life. (He was force-fed at a military hospital.)

But despite all these sacrifices, the struggle for freedom and democracy in Bahrain seems hopeless because Bahrain’s rulers have powerful allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United States.

For Bahrainis, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the Saudis and the Americans. Both are supporting the Khalifa regime to preserve their own interests, even if the cost is the lives and rights of the people of Bahrain.

The United States speaks about supporting human rights and democracy, but while the Saudis send troops to aid the Khalifa government, America is sending arms. The United States is doing itself a huge disservice by displaying such an obvious double standard toward human rights violations in the Middle East. Washington condemns the violence of the Syrian government but turns a blind eye to blatant human rights abuses committed by its ally Bahrain.

This double standard is costing America its credibility across the region; and the message being understood is that if you are an ally of America, then you can get away with abusing human rights. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 December 2012 at 1:16 pm

Very nice little vaporizer

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Inhaling the products of combustion—i.e., smoke—is always a bad idea. The idea of a vaporizer is to heat the material hot enough to release the volatile elements as vapor, while still keeping the temperature below the combustion point. This makes sense whether you’re using tobacco or cannabis. Cool Tools today lists a small portable vaporizer that looks to be quite good, though probably not of the quality of a digital Volcano—but also about half the price of the latter.

Written by Leisureguy

26 December 2012 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Inspector General finds VERY bad behavior in DoJ

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Though—weirdly—the guy still doesn’t understand that he did anything wrong. He should be fired forthwith. The report is by Dafna Linzer in ProPublica (and at the link is a sidebar with many interesting links):

In blasting the Justice Department’s pardon office earlier this week, the agency’s inspector general said senior department officials shared responsibility for failures in the case of Clarence Aaron, a federal inmate serving a triple life sentence for his role in a drug conspiracy.

The inspector general’s report found that David Margolis, an associate deputy attorney general and among the Justice Department’s highest-ranking career lawyers, had not properly overseen the work of pardon attorney Ronald L. Rodgers on Aaron’s commutation petition in 2008.

Margolis was sent all the underlying information about the case — including new material showing that Aaron’s application for release had the support of the sentencing judge and the Alabama U.S. attorney’s office that had tried him — but did not read any of it, the inspector general’s report said.

Margolis also did not read a memo from Rodgers recommending that Aaron’s request be denied before it was sent to the White House. The inspector general’s report found Rodgers’ recommendation withheld critical information from the White House.

“The primary responsibility for the inaccuracies and ambiguity contained in the email that was sent to the White House ultimately lies with Rodgers,” Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz wrote. “Nevertheless, we believe that the office of the deputy attorney general shares some responsibility for this error because the office of the deputy attorney general had ultimate responsibility for making the recommendation to the White House on the clemency petition.”

The inspector general also found fault with the work of Margolis’ then-assistant, Marc L. Krickbaum, apparently the only Justice Department official who reviewed Rodgers’ recommendation to deny Aaron.

Krickbaum, referred to as “Counsel” in the inspector general’s report, also edited a draft of an email the pardon attorney sent to the White House summing up his findings.

“We found that the Counsel should have done a better job of editing Rodgers’ proposed email,” the inspector general’s report said, adding that the deputy attorney general or another supervisor “should have reviewed the contents of the email before it was sent.”

The Justice Department declined ProPublica’s request to interview Margolis for this story. When interviewed by the inspector general about his oversight of the pardon attorney, Margolis said he saw no problem with the way the Aaron case was handled. [Margolis should be fired immediately, and disbarred to boot. How can he think that not even reading the materials is not a problem?? – LG]

The inspector general disagreed. “We remain concerned about the process that was followed,” the inspector general wrote in Tuesday’s report, noting that it “precluded any review of the merits of the pardon attorney’s recommendation by the deputy attorney general or his delegates, including any significant changed circumstances,” in Aaron’s case. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 December 2012 at 12:59 pm

The helplessness of the invisible hand of the market

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For a while, there seemed to be a fad of believing that a free market could solve all problems—the invisible hand would unfailingly direct resources where needed, and the government should just stand back, butt out, and let the market work its magic.

I think with the bank scandals and depressed economy from the bursting of the financial bubble (a bubble created by the rolling back of regulations that had prevented such follies), the bloom is off that particular Libertarian rose. But just to drive the point home—that government intervention is often needed to make free markets responsive to human needs—take a look at this story by Joshua Green in the Washington Post:

The actor Jack Klugman died on Christmas Eve at age 90. Klugman was best known for his roles as the unkempt sportswriter in “The Odd Couple” and as the crusading medical examiner on “Quincy, M.E.” the wildly popular 1980s medical drama. Few people remember it today, but he also played an instrumental role in passing critical health-care legislation, the Orphan Drug Act, through Congress in the early 1980s, using “Quincy” and his own celebrity to roll Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), who was blocking the bill.

Klugman’s unlikely star turn in Washington stemmed from a 1980 hearing by the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment on the problem of developing treatments for rare diseases. The problem was that many terrible diseases didn’t afflict enough people to entice pharmaceutical companies to develop treatments. Hence they were ”orphan” diseases. They included Tourette’s syndrome, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, ALS and many more. The situation was especially tragic because scientists who discovered promising treatments often couldn’t interest drug makers, who didn’t see potential for profit.

The issue of orphan diseases was so obscure that only a single newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, sent a reporter to the hearing (and the Times only did so because a local boy suffering from Tourette’s testified). But the article caught the eye of a Hollywood writer and producer named Maurice Klugman, who himself suffered from a rare cancer and also happened to be Jack Klugman’s brother. Maurice Klugman wrote an episode of “Quincy” about Tourette’s and the orphan drug problem.

To capitalize on the publicity and build momentum for a bill, Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California, the subcommittee chairman, invited Jack Klugman to testify before Congress. Nowadays on Capitol Hill, you’re as likely to run into Bono or Ben Affleck as your own representative. But at the time, a bona fide celebrity speaking to Congress was a huge deal. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 December 2012 at 11:38 am

Brassica Tea—and it’s tasty

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I’m sitting here enjoying a big cup of Brassica Green Tea with SGS:

Brassica® Tea with SGS is gourmet Chinese Sencha full-leaf natural green and black tea with 15 milligrams of SGS (sulforaphane glucosinolate) extract from broccoli added to each tea bag. It is available in 6 varieties, two of which are decaffeinated.

Brassica Tea takes the world’s favorite beverage (tea) and adds the natural antioxidant found in broccoli (SGS).

The long-lasting activity of SGS was discovered by scientists at Johns Hopkins University Medical School while studying the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Only Brassica teas are patented and licensed by Johns Hopkins University under US patents 5,725,895; 5,968,505; 5,968,567, 6,177,122 and 6,242,018.

You can find Brassica Teas in four Chinese Sencha green tea flavors (Green Tea with SGS, Decaffeinated Green Tea with SGS, Green Tea with Natural Lemon Flavor and SGS, and Green Tea with Natural Orange Flavor and SGS), and two Chinese black tea flavors (Black Tea with SGS and Decaffeinated Black Tea with SGS). Our decaf teas are naturally decaffeinated and GMO and chemical free.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of all Brassica Teas will go to the Brassica Foundation for biomedical research on vegetables.

I received this from The Eldest, who works right next door to Johns Hopkins (and who is a graduate from a JHU master’s program).

As stated on another page of the website:

The Science Behind SGS

The need? A way to deliver a reliable, highly consistent, natural amount of the phytochemical SGS for use as a supplement.

The answer? SGS

Sulforaphane belongs to the class of chemicals known as isothiocyanates. Studies demonstrated that plants normally contain insignificant quantities of the isothiocyanate sulforaphane, but rather contain its glucosinolate precursor known as glucoraphanin (SGS).

These compounds are believed to be produced by plants largely for defense against predators (Fahey 1997). The heat-stable, water-soluble glucosinolates invariably co-exist in plant cells with the enzyme myrosinase, which hydrolyzes glucoraphanin to sulforaphane but is normally inactive because it is physically segregated from the glucosinolates. Upon chewing or food preparation, the enzyme is freed and the formation of sulforaphane takes place. But even if myrosinase is inactivated by heating (e.g., cooking), the microflora of the human gastrointestinal tract carries out this conversion (Shapiro 1998; 2001).

This enzymatic conversion is critical, because sulforaphane is the biologically active form of these compounds. On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that glucoraphanin is probably an efficient precursor vehicle for delivery of sulforaphane in animals and in humans.

They took the words right out of my mouth. (My marketing thought: keep scientists away from writing marketing copy.) But I do believe the compound is important—I daily eat foods from the brassica family, aka the cruciferous vegetables: cabbage, kale, collards, brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, rutabaga, turnips, kohlrabi, and of course mustard. And now I’m going to be drinking the tea as well.

Written by Leisureguy

26 December 2012 at 10:27 am

Posted in Drinks, Food, Health, Science

Adirondack Jack & the Pils

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SOTD 26 Dec 2012

The brush is the Wet Shaving Products Monarch Super Silvertip Two-Band, which has a much stiffer knot than the Monarch HMW. My preference is decidedly in favor of the HMW, but I know that some others like a knot with a lot of resilience, and they will go for the Two-Band.

Withal, I got a good lather from Mystic Waters Adirondack Jack shaving soap. It has an intriguing fragrance, which is evident from the soap though not the lather.

My Pils was loaded with a new Astra Superior Platinum blade. This is another razor that has the aligning studs on the baseplate rather than the cap (like the iKon S3S), so you load the blade onto the baseplate rather than onto the cap.

I got a fine shave, though something about the weight balance of the Pils sets my tremors a-going, so I don’t use the razor much. It’s not the weight, but rather the balance. People who lack tremors will not have that problem.

Three smooth passes, and a good splash of Saint Charles Shave Woods aftershave, one of my favorites, and Boxing Day holds no terrors. I will personally put away all the Christmas decorations—all three of them.

Written by Leisureguy

26 December 2012 at 10:02 am

Posted in Shaving

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