Later On

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

Archive for January 16th, 2013

Drawbacks to marijuana legalization fall one by one

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Especially when you compare marijuana to tobacco and alcohol, both perfectly legal, taxed, regulated, and in some states sold in state-run stores (for alcohol), the reasons to keep marijuana illegal are silly. Deadly? No, unlike alcohol and tobacco. Bad health effects? Much less than alcohol or tobacco. Addictive? Not nearly so addictive as alcohol and tobacco. Gateway drug? Not nearly so much as alcohol. And so on.

And now this report in The Scientist by Kate Yandell:

A study claiming that pot use in youth has long-term cognitive effects is being challenged. The original study, published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that smoking marijuana as a teenager may be associated with IQ declines by middle age. The new study, published in the same journal on Monday (January 14), said that IQ declines were likely a product of socioeconomic status, Nature reported.

“Although it would be too strong to say that the results have been discredited, the methodology is flawed and the causal inference drawn from the results premature,” Ole Røgeberg, the sole author of the new study and an economist at The Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research in Oslo, wrote in the paper.

Both papers used data from the Dunedin Study, which followed more than 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to until age 38 and interviewed them periodically about cannabis use starting at age 18. Previous analyses of the Dunedin Study showed that starting to use marijuana young and becoming dependent on it were both associated with low socioeconomic status. Røgeberg said that low socioeconomic status, which may come with lower educational attainment and less challenging work, is associated with IQ declines.

But Madeline Meier, a psychologist at Duke University and author of the original PNAS study, said that her study controlled for socioeconomic status and found that, among participants who did not use marijuana heavily in their youths, IQ remained the same throughout the study regardless of socioeconomic status.

Other research has shown that in the short-term, marijuana use is related to reversible problems with memory and focus.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2013 at 3:00 pm

Wedding-ring excitement

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I just lost my wedding ring—but I found it. The story: I walked the 1.5 blocks to the grocery store to pick up broccoli and chicken to make the Chinese-themed GOPM again. (It was a big hit.) I returned home, sat in my chair, and went to twiddle my wedding ring as I do—but it was gone.

Panic. I checked bathroom, kitchen, the empty grocery bag, the fridge, my chair. No sign. I knew I had it when I left.

Naught to do but to walk to the store, keeping an eye out on the way, and hope that perhaps someone had turned it in. As I walked, keeping an eye out for a sparkle of gold, I was dismayed at the abundance of hard, flat surfaces: a metal ring would hit, bounce, and roll…

All the way to the store: nothing. And no one had turned anything in. They did take my name and number, and I traced my steps through the store. I checked the chicken section of the meat cooler, thinking perhaps my hands had contracted with the cold, etc. (I did have the ring resized as I was losing weight, but I kept losing, and it was loose, so for a long time it resided in a drawer. I just started wearing it again after the move.)

So turned to trudge home, and then, halfway up the parking lot, I spotted it lying there! I was, to say the least, delighted and relieved. I returned to the store, gripping it tightly, told them I had found it, and then walked home and put it again in the drawer.

I mostly wear it to keep nubile young women from clustering around me all the time—and it’s surprisingly effective—but for now I’ll try staying mostly indoors with the door locked. And the ring safely in a drawer.

It was a special gift to my wife’s father when he was a young man. Very precious. And now safe again.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2013 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Daily life

Slavery in the US—in the 20th century

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Douglas Blackmon, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II,  has an article in the Washington Monthly that deserves wide circulation:

On July 31, 1903, a letter addressed to President Theodore Roosevelt arrived at the White House. It had been mailed from the town of Bainbridge, Georgia, the prosperous seat of a cotton county perched on the Florida state line.

The sender was a barely literate African American woman named Carrie Kinsey. With little punctuation and few capital letters, she penned the bare facts of the abduction of her fourteen-year-old brother, James Robinson, who a year earlier had been sold into involuntary servitude.

Kinsey had already asked for help from the powerful white people in her world. She knew where her brother had been taken—a vast plantation not far away called Kinderlou. There, hundreds of black men and boys were held in chains and forced to labor in the fields or in one of several factories owned by the McRee family, one of the wealthiest and most powerful in Georgia. No white official in this corner of the state would take an interest in the abduction and enslavement of a black teenager.

Confronted with a world of indifferent white people, Mrs. Kinsey did the only remaining thing she could think of. Newspapers across the country had recently reported on a speech by Roosevelt promising a “square deal” for black Americans. Mrs. Kinsey decided that her only remaining hope was to beg the president of the United States to help her brother.

“Mr. Prassident,” she wrote. “They wont let me have him.… He hase not don nothing for them to have him in chanes so I rite to you for your help.”

Considered more than a century later, her letter courses with desperation and submerged outrage. Yet when received at the White House, it was slipped into a small rectangular folder and forwarded to the Department of Justice. There, it was tagged with a reference number, 12007, and filed away. Teddy Roosevelt never saw it. No action was taken. Her words lie still at the National Archives just outside Washington, D.C.

As dumbfounding as the story told by the Carrie Kinsey letter is, far more remarkable is what surrounds that letter at the National Archives. In the same box that holds her grief-stricken missive are at least half a dozen other pieces of correspondence recounting other stories of kidnapping, perversion of the courts, or human trafficking—as horrifying as, or worse than, Carrie Kinsey’s tale. It is the same in the next box on the shelf. And the one before. And the ones on either side of those. And the next and the next. And on and on. Thousands and thousands of plaintive letters and grimly bureaucratic responses—altogether at least 30,000 pages of original material—chronicle cases of forced labor and involuntary servitude in the South decades after the end of the Civil War.

“i have a little girl that has been kidnapped from me … and i cant get her out,” wrote Reverend L. R. Farmer, pastor of a black Baptist church in Morganton, North Carolina. “i want ask you is it law for people to whip (col) people and keep them and not allow them to leave without a pass.”

A farmer near Pine Apple, Alabama, named J. R. Adams, writing of terrible abuses by the dominant landowning family in the county, was one of the astonishingly few white southerners who also complained to the Department of Justice. “They have held negroes … for years,” Adams wrote. “It is a very rare thing that a negro escapes.”

A similar body of material rests in the files of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the one institution that undertook any sustained effort to address at least the most terrible cases. Dwarfing everything at those repositories are the still largely unexamined collections of local records in courthouses across the South. In dank basements, abandoned buildings, and local archives, seemingly endless numbers of files contain hundreds of thousands of handwritten entries documenting in monotonous granularity the details of an immense, metastasizing horror that stretched well into the twentieth century.

By the first years after 1900, tens of thousands of African American men and boys, along with a smaller number of women, had been sold by southern state governments. An exponentially larger number, of whom surviving records are painfully incomplete, had been forced into labor through county and local courts, backwoods justices of the peace, and outright kidnapping and trafficking. The total number of those re-enslaved in the seventy-five years between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II can’t be precisely determined, but based on the records that do survive, we can safely say it happened to hundreds of thousands. How many more African Americans circumscribed their lives in dramatic ways, or abandoned all to flee the South entirely, to avoid that fate or mob violence? It is impossible to know. Millions. Generations.

This is not an easy story for Americans to receive, much less accept. The idea that not just civil rights but basic freedom itself was denied to an enormous population of African Americans until the middle of the twentieth century fits nowhere in the triumphalist, steady-progress, greatest-generations accounts we prefer for our national narrative. That the thrilling events depicted in Steven Spielberg’s recent film Lincoln—the heroic, frenzied campaign by Abraham Lincoln leading to passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery—were in fact later trumped not just by discrimination and segregation but by the resurrection of a full-blown derivative of slavery itself.

This story of re-enslavement is irrefutably true, however. Indeed, even as Spielberg’s film conveys the euphoria felt by African Americans and all opposed to slavery upon passage of the amendment in 1865, it also unintentionally foreshadows the demise of that brighter future. On the night of the amendment’s passage in the film, the African American housekeeper and, as presented in the film, secret lover of the abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, played by the actress S. Epatha Merkerson, reads the amendment aloud. First, the sweeping banishment of slavery. And then, an often overlooked but powerful prepositional phrase: “except as a punishment for crime.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2013 at 12:54 pm

US DoJ out of control

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Well, not completely out of control: it seems very controlled indeed in its pursuit of bank fraud and stock manipulation. But for small offenses (growing medical marijuana in accordance with state law, or publishing public-domain information) it seems determined to prosecute savagely. Marcy Wheeler notes the way our DoJ handled the Aaron Schwartz case:

On Friday, January 11, 2013, 26-year-old visionary technologist and social activist Aaron Swartz hanged himself in New York City. A passionate advocate for making access to online information as widespread as possible, Swartz was grappling with the fallout from his efforts to do just that.

Two years before Swartz ended his life, he was arrested [3] by police from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the City of Cambridge, Mass., police for breaking and entering into an MIT storage closet. In the closet, Swartz had stashed an Acer laptop  he had programmed to download in bulk millions of scholarly articles from JSTOR, a non-profit database that provides access to the articles for academic libraries. At the time, articles on JSTOR were locked behind a paywall for non-academics who wished to access them through their own computers. Swartz aimed to make them available, free of charge, to anyone who wanted to read them.

At the time of his arrest, an investigation of Swartz’s MIT/JSTOR action was already underway, and two days earlier, the Secret Service’s online crime division assumed control [4]of the probe. The Secret Service routinely conducts complex computer crime investigations; its involvement signaled the treatment of this as a major crime, not a caper. Six months later, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz charged Swartz with a four-count indictment [5].

To those who knew Swartz’ ethic, that indictment already seemed like overkill, essentially labeling an effort to share information as wire and computer fraud. But then last year, Ortiz multiplied each of the main charges, turning the same underlying actions into a 13-count indictment [6] that threatened Swartz with a 35-year sentence.

Swartz had long struggled with depression [7] that may have contributed to his suicide. But his family [8] and associates [9] have also blamed the government’s conduct in prosecuting Swartz. A statement issued by the family the day after Swartz’s suicide charges that “the U.S. Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.”

And therein lies the almost incomprehensible legal background to this tragedy. Both before and after his arrest, Swartz had dedicated much of his life to using the internet to making information freely accessible. His goal here — the government claims he intended to publish the journals online, but made no claim he wanted to profit off of them — would have put academic research, much of it funded by federal grants, in the hands of the people who paid for it.

The Free Exchange of Ideas

Academic inquiry is founded on the free exchange of ideas. And most of the journals’ authors do not get paid for the articles they wrote. Swartz’s “crime” here would have served to foster intellectual exchange, the entire point of publishing scholarly journals. In fact, since Swartz’s indictment, JSTOR hasopened up access [10] to its journals for individuals who register. To some extent, then, Swartz’ goal has been implemented by his alleged victim.

Moreover, as Alex Stamos, an expert witness who would have testified in Swartz’s defense, points out [11], both the alleged victims of this crime had built their systems to foster openness. MIT deliberately allows visitors to access their system. At the time of the alleged crimes, JSTOR permitted users at MIT an unlimited number of downloads. Both networks lacked very basic safeguards to prevent abuse.

And both alleged victims have expressed regret at what has happened. Before the federal government charged Swartz, JSTOR settled its complaint against him, though MIT did not. In response to his death, JSTOR reiterated [12] that it “regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge.” And in addition to also expressing sorrow, MIT President Rafael Reif promised an investigation [13] into MIT’s role in his prosecution, raising questions about what alternatives MIT had to cooperating in Swartz’s prosecution.

While MIT’s remorse may be tragically belated, both the alleged victims in this case seem to recognize that the prosecution violated the ethics of openness that JSTOR and MIT claim to uphold.

In spite of all this, the government portrayed Swartz’s action [14] as theft, painting him as a common criminal. “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away,” said Ortiz at a press conference announcing the charges. . .

Continue reading.

DoJ priorities seem totally out of whack. Eric Holder is the man in direct charge—and he seems to favor Wall Street quite overtly (not surprising, given his background and what doubtless are his future plans).

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2013 at 12:36 pm

Isaac Newton

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Apparently this is well known on the Internet, but new to me:

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2013 at 11:22 am

Posted in Science, Video

Where Congress stands regarding guns

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A very interesting interactive graphic at ProPublica lets you examine Congressional positions on the gun issue from a variety of viewpoints.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2013 at 10:08 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life

Useful household adhesive

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Cool Tools discusses an adhesive that sounds like a good thing to have around.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2013 at 9:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

The Aristocrat, the Diplomat, and the Whipped Dog

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SOTD 16 Jan 2013

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, eh? Especially if the next phrase is “walked into a bar.” But it is today’s shave.

First, I have to admit that I forgot the pre-shave balm today. So now I’m putting the little tub of it in the sink before I go to bed so I’ll remember.

The Whipped Dog silvertip badger brush with the ceramic handle is a fine brush, and I got a very good lather from the Figaro shaving cream. I did a soap-like loading since the cream is quite firm, and I did enjoy taking my time lathering my beard.

In the foreground are the two Gillettes from the late ’40s: on the left, the very Aristocrat pictured on the cover of the book, and on the right the Gillette Diplomat—the same razor plated in nickel instead of gold is called the President. (My own President has been replated in rhodium. Click photo twice to fully magnify the image to inspect the details of the razors.) Both razors gave a superbly smooth shave, and both hold a Swedish Gillette blade. It may well be that Gillette blades work especially well in Gillette razors, but the smoothness of the shave was noticeable.

A final rinse, dry, and good splash of Saint Charles Shave Bulgarian Rose, and all is well.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2013 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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