Later On

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

Archive for May 8th, 2013

Solar energy breakthrough too good to be true?

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Read it and see what you think. It’s a McClatchy article by Greg Gordon:

In a U.S. patent application, a little-known Maryland inventor claims a stunning solar energy breakthrough that promises to end the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels at a fraction of the current cost – a transformation that also could blunt global warming.

Inventor Ronald Ace said that his flat-panel “Solar Traps,” which can be mounted on rooftops or used in electric power plants, will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy a cheap, clean and reliable alternative.

“This is a fundamental scientific and environmental discovery,” Ace said. “This invention can meet about 92 percent of the world’s energy needs.”

His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser, who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology.

Ace said he is arranging for a national energy laboratory to review his calculations and that his own crude prototypes already have demonstrated that the basic physics for the invention work.

If the trap even comes close to meeting his futuristic vision, its impact could be breathtaking: It could reorder the world’s energy landscape, end the global economic drag of soaring energy costs, and eventually curb greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for climate change.

That all might sound rather rosy, since the previously undisclosed invention has yet to be constructed and fully tested. But John Darnell, a scientist and the former congressional aide who has monitored Ace’s dogged research for more than three years and has reviewed his complex calculations, has no doubts.

“Anybody who is skilled in the art and understands what he’s proposing is going to have this dumbfounding reaction: ‘Oh, well it’s obvious it’ll work,’” said Darnell, a biochemist with an extensive background in thermodynamics.

“Ron has turned conventional wisdom about solar on its head,” he said. “He thinks outside the box.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more detail at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 7:27 pm

Do not miss

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Read. Watch. Sound must be turned on.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Sen. Warren Introduces the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act

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Naima Ramos-Chapman writes about this:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced her first bill in the Senate today, the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, which would prevent Stafford loan interest rates from doubling this summer by dropping rates for one year from 3.4 percent to 0.75 percent, the rate at which the government loans money to big banks through the Federal Reserve discount window. If Congress fails to act by July 1 this year, interest rates on Stafford loans reserved for undergraduates will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

Though the bill would only quash the hike for one year, Warren noted the short-term solution would allow lawmakers to shift focus to working on a long-term solutions to address the student debt crisis.

“The student debt problem in this country is a quite but a growing problem,” said the Democratic senator from Massachusetts. “This will give them relief while giving Congress a chance to find a long-term solution. Doubling interest rates on new loans will just increase pressure on our young people. These young people didn’t go to the mall and run up charges on a credit card. They worked hard; they stayed in class; they learned skills; and they borrowed what they needed to get an education.”

Warren also proposed moral arguments as to why Congress should act to ensure American student loan borrowers get the “same deal” on loan interest rates as financial institutions do.

“The federal government is going to charge interest rates nine times higher than the rates they charge the biggest banks,” she said. “The same banks that destroyed millions of jobs and nearly broke the economy. That isn’t right. We shouldn’t be profiting from our students who are drowning in debt while we’re giving a great deal to the big banks.”

“We should be investing in our young people so they can get good jobs and grow the economy,” she said.

Last year, when rates on Stafford loans were also set to double, young people mobilized and averted the hike thanks to the successful #DontDoubleMyRate campaign.This year, Campus Progress, though it supports congressional action on preventing the rate hikes on Stafford loans, is also calling on congress to think of long-term solutions to the student debt problem facing 37 million Americans of all ages with the #ItsOurInterest campaign.

One way Congress could lessen the burden for millions of American student loan borrowers is to allow refinancing on their student loans. The idea is simple: By providing student loan borrowers the same benefits that mortgage and credit-card borrowers and even the government have enjoyed during the recession, we could lower monthly payments, give graduates a fair chance to actually pay off debts, and inject more money into our struggling economy.

“Allowing borrowers to refinance their student loans is a critical first step to solving the student debt crisis,” Campus Progress’ Director Anne Johnson said earlier this year, launching the It’s Our Interest campaign. “As we start this new campaign, we call on the White House, Congress, and federal agencies to release their own proposals so we can make this happen and bring relief to millions of Americans and their families.”

This woman will, I hope, run for president some day.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Business, Education

So much for the reputed “efficiencies” profit-seeking brings

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From an article by Wilson Andrews, Darla Cameron and Dan Keating in the Washington Post:

hospital fees

The article is well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 12:29 pm

Yet another important victory for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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So far, the only therapy that has been demonstrated to work is CBT. At Mother Jones Kevin Drum points to a new example of its effectiveness:

Harold Pollack draws my attention today to the results of a large-scale study he conducted recently with several other researchers in low-income Chicago schools. The study design was fairly simple: first, they chose several thousand teenage boys with horrible risk profiles. Their group was 70 percent black and 30 percent Hispanic; had an average GPA of 1.7; and had missed 40 out of 170 days of school the previous year. Over a third of them had been arrested at least once prior to the study.

They randomly assigned these boys to a control group or a treatment group. The randomization was done beforehand to avoid choosing a treatment group that differed in some unknown way from the control group. The treatment group was offered a chance to participate in a program called “Becoming a Man,” which focused strongly on improving poor judgment and decision making. Here’s an example:

At 3pm on Saturday, June 2, 2012, in the South Shore neighborhood just a few miles from the University of Chicago, two groups of teens were arguing in the street about a stolen bicycle. As the groups began to separate, someone pulled out a handgun and fired….Two weeks later, prosecutors filed first-degree murder charges against the alleged shooter, Kalvin Carter — 17 years old.

…. In Chicago, the site of our study, police believe that roughly 70 percent of homicides stem from “altercations,” compared to only about 10 percent from drug-related gang conflicts….At 3pm on June 2 on the south side of Chicago, is Kalvin Carter thinking about 3:01 — or even consciously thinking at all, for that matter? Automatic, intuitive decision-making is also susceptible to systematic biases, partly because the brain’s automatic “system” tends to emphasize explanations that are coherent rather than necessarily correct. Examples of such errors include hostile attribution bias….confirmation bias….or catastrophizing.

The intervention in the study was not really all that intense: the kids all skipped one regular class and attended 27 one-hour weekly sessions during the school year. In addition, some of the kids also attended after-school sessions. The primary purpose of the sessions was to teach cognitive behavioral therapy—”thinking about thinking”—in an effort to get the participants to change the way they interact with the rest of the world. The results were pretty stunning: . . .

Continue reading.

The GOP strongly and explicitly opposes teaching critical thinking skills, in school or out. And in looking at the GOP, you can see that they follow their own advice.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 12:21 pm

Try to Find the Heritage Foundation’s Anti-Immigration Study on its Spanish-Language Site

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Very cute. And very telling, for anyone who didn’t already know the nature of the Heritage Foundation.

UPDATE: And perhaps even more telling, this post at The American Prospect by Paul Waldman:

When the Heritage Foundation released that study showing immigration reform would cost American taxpayers a gajillion feptillion bazillion dollars, people were obviously going to pick it apart and reveal its flaws and tendentious assumptions, which they did. But today came something else interesting. Dylan Matthews readthe dissertation written by one of the authors, Jason Richwine, in which Richwin writes that “The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations.” In order to deal with the problem, Richwine suggests IQ-testing everyone who wants to immigrate, and taking only the smart ones. As Matthews describes it, “Richwine’s dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races … He writes, ‘No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.'” Well now.

So: does this provide even more reason to reject the Heritage study Richwine co-wrote? In other words, how much weight should we give to someone’s repellent views on a topic when evaluating an empirical piece of work they produce? If you conclude that Richwine has bad intentions, can that be all you need to know to reject what he has to say about the costs of immigration reform?

My answers to those questions are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

English May Have Retained Words From an Ice Age Language

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Absolutely fascinating article by Elizabeth Norton in Wired Science:

If you’ve ever cringed when your parents said “groovy,” you’ll know that spoken language can have a brief shelf life. But frequently used words can persist for generations, even millennia, and similar sounds and meanings often turn up in very different languages. The existence of these shared words, or cognates, has led some linguists to suggest that seemingly unrelated language families can be traced back to a common ancestor. Now, a new statistical approach suggests that peoples from Alaska to Europe may share a linguistic forebear dating as far back as the end of the Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago.

“Historical linguists study language evolution using cognates the way biologists use genes,” explains Mark Pagel, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. For example, although about 50% of French and English words derive from a common ancestor (like “mere” and “mother,” for example), with English and German the rate is closer to 70%—indicating that while all three languages are related, English and German have a more recent common ancestor. In the same vein, while humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas have common genes, the fact that humans share almost 99% of their DNA with chimps suggests that these two primate lineages split apart more recently.

Because words don’t have DNA, researchers use cognates found in different languages today to reconstruct the ancestral “protowords.” Historical linguists have observed that over time, the sounds of words tend to change in regular patterns. For example, the p sound frequently changes to f, and the t sound to th—suggesting that the Latin word pater is, well, the father of the English word father. Linguists use these known rules to work backward in time, making a best guess at how the protoword sounded. They also track the rate at which words change. Using these phylogenetic principles, some researchers have dated many common words as far back as 9000 years ago. The ancestral language known as Proto-Indo-European, for example, gave rise to languages including Hindi, Russian, French, English, and Gaelic.

Some researchers, including Pagel, believe that the world’s languages are united by even older superfamilies, but this view is hotly contested. Skeptics feel that even if language families were related, words suffer from too much erosion, both in terms of sound and meaning, to be reliably traced back further than 9000 or 10,000 year, and that the similarities of many cognates may be pure chance. What was missing, Pagel says, was an objective method of analysis.

Pagel and his co-workers took a first step by building a statistical model based on Indo-European cognates. Incorporating only the frequency of a word’s use and its part of speech (noun, verb, numeral, etc.)—and ignoring its sound— the model could predict how long the word persisted through time. Reporting in Naturein 2007, they found that most words have about a 50% chance of being replaced by a completely different word every 2000 to 4000 years. Thus the Proto-Indo-European wata, winding its way through wasser in German, water in English, and voda in Russian, became eau in French. But some words, including Iyou,herehownot, and two, are replaced only once every 10,000 or even 20,000 years.

The new study, appearing today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, makes an even bolder statement. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Science

One-Third of U.S. Honeybee Colonies Died Last Winter, Threatening Food Supply

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Of course, the invisible hand of the market will fix this problem, leading (for example) pesticide manufacturers to cut back on the total load of toxins released into the environment. Or maybe this is a job for strict government regulation and enforcement.

In the meantime, why isn’t the EPA and FDA and the Dept of Agriculture jumping up and down with hair on fire to solve the problem? (Rhetorical question, since it’s clear that these agencies tend to be controlled by the industries they are to regulate, and those industries don’t want the problem solved.)

Brandon Keim at Wired Science:

Nearly one in three commercial honeybee colonies in the United States died or disappeared last winter, an unsustainable decline that threatens the nation’s food supply.

Multiple factors — pesticides, fungicides, parasites, viruses and malnutrition — are believed to cause the losses, which were officially announced today by a consortium of academic researchers, beekeepers and Department of Agriculture scientists.

“We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands,” said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.

Beekeepers lost 31 percent of their colonies in late 2012 and early 2013, roughly double what’s considered acceptable attrition through natural causes. The losses are in keeping with rates documented since 2006, when beekeeper concerns prompted the first nationwide survey of honeybee health. Hopes raised by drop in rates of loss to 22 percent in 2011-2012 were wiped out by the new numbers.


The honeybee shortage nearly came to a head in March in California, when there were barely enough bees to pollinate the almond crop.

Had the weather not been ideal, the almonds would have gone unpollinated — a taste, as it were, of a future in which honeybee problems are not solved.

“If we want to grow fruits and nuts and berries, this is important,” said vanEngelstorp. “One in every three bites [of food consumed in the U.S.] is directly or indirectly pollinated by bees.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 11:52 am

Is Obama Delivering on His Promise of a “21st Century” Approach to Drugs?

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Does a chicken have lips? Christie Thompson in ProPublica:

When the Obama administration released its2013 Drug Control Strategy recently, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske called it a “21st century” approach to drug policy. “It should be a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue,” he said.

The latest plan builds on Obama’s initial strategy outlined in 2010. Obama said then the U.S. needed “a new direction in drug policy,” and that “a well-crafted strategy is only as successful as its implementation.” Many reform advocates were hopeful the appointment of former Seattle Police Chief Kerlikowske as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy signaled a shift in the long-lasting “war on drugs.”

But a government report released a day after the latest proposal questioned the office’s impact so far.

“As of March 2013, GAO’s analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results are available, one shows progress and four show no progress,” the report by the Government Accountability Office found. For instance, the GAO noted that there’s actually been an increase in HIV transmissions among drug users and drug-related deaths, as well as no difference in the prevalence of drug use among teens.

Many public health experts say the administration deserves credit for increasing access to drug treatment. But others say despite an increase in funding for rehab, the administration has continued to push programs and policies built to punish drug users.

As the administration lays out its latest plan on a new approach to drugs, here’s look at what’s in it, and what they’ve done so far.

“Break the cycle of drug use, crime, delinquency and incarceration”

“While smart law enforcement efforts will always play a vital role in protecting communities from drug-related crime and violence,” the latest strategy says, “we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem.”

FBI records indeed show a drop in drug arrests, from 1.8 million in 2007 to 1.5 million in 2011.

But overall, the government spends roughly the same proportion of the drug policy budget on law enforcement now as was spent during Bush’s final years in office. In Obama’s 2014 budget proposal, 38 percent is allocated for domestic drug law enforcement, while another 20 percent would be spent to crack down on drugs along U.S. borders and abroad.

The Obama administration has also renewed funding for controversial programs like theJustice Assistance Grant program, formerly known as Byrne Grants, which had been cut under President Bush. The funding created local drug task forces, which critics say were quota-driven and increased corruption and misconduct. Budget-minded conservatives like the Heritage Foundation also argued the grants hadn’t led to a decrease in crime.States like California and New York have used some funding from the program for treatment instead of enforcement.

The administration has made progress when it comes to . . .

Continue reading.

The ending seems important:

. . . Obama has overseen far more medical marijuana raids than under the Bush administration. For states that have legalized pot, Attorney General Eric Holder said he intends to “enforce federal law”, though Obama said he had “bigger fish to fry.” The Department of Justice said it is still reviewing the latest laws.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 11:43 am

A poignant essay on guns

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James Fallows has an interesting piece from a reader who writes about his relationship with guns:

John Stockwell is a Marine and former CIA agent, known for (among other things) his book In Search of Enemies.
He sent this message about why he, as a person well familiar with guns and shooting, no longer had any stomach for them. For reasons I will describe at the end, this resonated with me. John Stockwell writes:
I was around guns much of my life. Grew up in the Congo, hunting.  Marine Corps recon, professional training and use. CIA paramilitary, more training and use. Three wars: upcountry in Vietnam I had a bunker full of exotic weapons that had been collected over a ten-year period but were not on the inventory and could not be taken home by our military when they left – – we’d take them out and fire them every week; we carried guns everywhere we went, again upcountry just a few miles from the enemy’s battalions; then in the Angola War I hired and organized three bands of professional mercenaries, killers by definition.
In the consulate in the Katanga I had an impressive collection, bought out the weapons of the retiring elephant hunter. And I hunted. And at the family ranch in South Texas I hunted deer and javelinas.
Then I lost all interest in hunting. I killed a beautiful animal and looked at the carcass thinking how much more beautiful it had been alive. I shot a bird and had the same feeling. Both dead so I could have the dubious Freudian pleasure of pulling a trigger and killing them.
The Katanga had been flush beautiful wildlife; it had been alive, the hills crawling with beautiful animals.  Then came independence and arms turned over to the new armies.  And our war in the Katanga (JFK/CIA), thousands of modern semiautomatic and automatic weapons left in the hands of our disbanded army, and the animals were broadly exterminated, the rolling plains were lifeless–we could drive all day and not see an animal.
In Burundi, where I served, President Micombero got himself a helicopter. Began flying around the shores of Lake Tanganyika machine-gunning hippopotamuses in the water.
 Recalling as a boy in the Congo driving with my father in a truck across the plains area.  We came on a Belgian who had been hunting all day, had a camera, wanted my father to take a picture of him with his trophies. He stood with his gun and his foot on a pile of 26 heads of little gazelles he had killed. In later years we drove through the same plains, and never ever saw another antelope.
 Even here in Austin, we are retired across the street from a lovely quiet park on the river. I walk my dog. Talk to the squirrels – – they sit on limbs not far above my head. Then one morning I found my neighbor down in the park with his son and a 22, killing the squirrels to “teach his son how to hunt.” I pleasantly explained to him that he could teach his son how to enjoy live animals, that the squirrels he had killed were gone, dead. (He won– the park no longer has any squirrels.)
Here is the part that connected with me, and that has kept me from giving the standard “I love to hunt, but …” preface to discussions about gun policy. When I was a Boy Scout long ago, learning to shoot was part of the drill. One time I was out in the canyon and, with our scoutmaster, we were shooting at rabbits. I shot one, and then it was dead. And I thought, I never want to do that again.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 9:56 am

Posted in Guns

Republicans Refuse to Negotiate Unless They Can Take a Hostage

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The GOP is also known (to me) as The Bad-Faith Party. Kevin Drum points out their current approach to the budget:

Today’s Washington Post story about the tepid pace of budget negotiations may seem like a snoozer at first glance, but it’s really pretty mind-boggling. Here’s a snippet:

That might seem like good news, but it is unraveling Republican plans to force a budget deal before Congress takes its August break….In the meantime, Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement….“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington. “I’d like to go through regular order and get something done sooner rather than later. But we need to get a down payment on the debt. We need entitlement reform.”

….Democrats are urging Republicans to initiate talks well before the next deadline and at last resolve the long-standing dispute over whether to tame the debt solely by cutting spending, as Republicans demand, or also by raising taxes on the wealthy, as Obama insists….But senior Senate Republicans, including several who recently dined with Obama and huddled with administration officials, conceded that it may be tough to bring their colleagues to the table too far ahead of the debt-ceiling deadline….“We need to realize this debt ceiling is out there. It’s inevitable. It’s coming. And [the later deadline] should not relieve pressure,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. But “sometimes we don’t want to act until a gun is at our heads.”

So that’s that. Republicans are flatly refusing to even start budget negotiations until they can threaten default on the national debt if they don’t get their way. Apparently this is literally the only way they’re now willing to do business.

I should have something snappy to say about this, I suppose. But it’s still too early in the morning here in California. I’ve always said that Sacramento made Washington DC look like pikers in the government dysfunction department, but I think I’m getting ready to change my mind about that. As always, California is a bellwether for the nation.

Harry Reid points out the GOP tactic of demanding a win even if they lose the vote.

UPDATE: Another note on the hostage-taking before negotiations.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 9:54 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Robert Fisk on Syria’s Civil War, Chemical Weapons “Theater” & Obama’s Backing of Israeli Strikes

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An excellent interview by Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow!, with the video of the interview at the link:

As the United States moves toward increased intervention in Syria, we’re joined by Robert Fisk, the longtime Middle East correspondent of the British newspaper The Independent. Just back from two weeks in Syria reporting around the capital Damascus, Fisk discusses what he calls the “theater of chemical weapons,” the latest in Syria’s civil war — a battle he says the Syrian government is winning — as well as his reaction to what he calls President Obama’s “pitiful” backing of the recent Israeli missile strikes. “Don’t ask me if they have used chemical weapons,” Fisk says. “It’s conceivable. There really isn’t any proof. What you have got to realize is that this is a propaganda war just as much as it is a savage war, killing many thousands of human beings.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: We begin today’s show looking at Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin following this weekend’s Israeli air strikes on Syrian military facilities. Syria calls the strikes “an act of war” that’s, quote, “opened the door to all possibilities.” Earlier today, the Turkish government described the Israeli attacks as “unacceptable,” calling them, quote, a “golden opportunity” for President Bashar al-Assad to cover up massacres of his opponents.

AMY GOODMAN: The United States is moving closer toward directly intervening in Syria. On Monday, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey introduced a bill to allow U.S.-provided arms, military training and supplies to be sent to some Syrian rebel groups. The bill comes amidst conflicting reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.

Meanwhile, the civilian death toll in Syria continues to rise. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nearly 200 people died each day in April. Half the nearly 6,000 people killed last month were civilians; nearly 1,700 were rebel fighters; just over a thousand were members of the Syrian army.

For more on Syria, we turn to Robert Fisk, longtime Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper in London. He was just in Syria for two weeks. He is author of a number of books, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

Robert, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about your time in Syria? You were embedded with Syrian soldiers?

ROBERT FISK: No, I was not embedded with Syrian soldiers. I’ve never been embedded with American soldiers or British soldiers or Iraqi soldiers or any other. What actually happened was I got a visa to go to Damascus, from the Syrian government, of course. I have a colleague who goes regularly into northern Syria and reports from rebel areas. I spent quite a lot of time talking to old friends in Syria, talking to the military, whom I have always been able to talk to. And while I was talking to them, I said, “Look, I would like to go up to the front lines in northwestern Syria.” That is to say within a mile of the—just a mile and a half of the Turkish border. To my amazement, they said, “Yeah, fine. Get on a plane. Go to Latakia. We’ll meet you there. You can go and see our soldiers and talk to them.” And this is what I did. The only restriction they had on me is they didn’t want me to take photographs of their faces. I could take pictures of them from behind. I could take pictures of the front line. I could climb on their tanks and take pictures, which I did. And I had—I got a pretty graphic and rather grim idea of what the Syrian army—I’m talking about the Syrian government army—is doing at the moment. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 9:49 am

Congress wakes up to the US incarceration rate: worst in the world.

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Scott Lemieux reports in The American Prospect:

In today’s Washington, the formation of a bipartisan committee and/or commission is generally reason to cringe. Today, however, Congresscreated a bipartisan committee that could deserve optimism. The House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force will address an extremely severe problem: mass incarceration in the United States.

There is very good reason for the formation of the committee. The rates of incarceration in this country are staggering. The United States imprisons more people per capita than any country in the world—not only far more than any comparable liberal democracy, but more than the world’s authoritarian regimes as well. Even worse, this mass incarceration reflects and exacerbates racial and economic inequalities. As scholars such as Michelle Alexander and Becky Pettit have shown in chilling detail, mass incarceration has taken a massive toll on racial minorities. One in every 36 Hispanic men over the age of 18—and one in 15 African-American males over the age of 18—are in prison. In many states, convicted felons continue to be formally sanctioned by the state, losing the right to vote or to join certain professions. The informal effects of having a felony conviction are even greater; particularly in a buyer’s market for labor, the economic prospects of convicted felons attempting to get a job and put their lives in order are generally bleak.

Mass incarceration is also a massive burden on state and federal coffers, consuming taxpayer money that could go to other important public purposes. Better funded anti-poverty, education, and mental-health programs could alleviate crime in addition to their other positive benefits. Spending huge amounts of money to incarcerate nonviolent offenders or people long ago convicted of violent crimes who no longer pose a substantial safety risk is not only an offense against human rights but is an extremely inefficient use of resources.

Perhaps the many horrible consequences of mass incarceration would be defensible if it made Americans unusually secure. It doesn’t. Rates of homicide, sexual assault, and robbery in the United States are allhigher than in most comparable liberal democracies.

Because mass incarceration entails massive costs in exchange for highly dubious benefits, legal experts from acrossthe political spectrum—not only civil libertarians but conservative Republicans such as former Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese—have joined the call for alternatives. This increasing consensus is reflected in the makeup of the House Committee, led by Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner and consisting of five Democrats and five Republicans. The committee will search for parts of the criminal code that are unnecessary or counterproductive.

Even if it makes worthwhile proposals, there are major limitations to what this bipartisan committee can accomplish. It is interesting to compare the statements of the Republican and Democratic members of the Over-Criminalization Task Force about what they perceive the problem to be. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 9:46 am

Posted in Congress, Law

Excellent shave with slant and The Holy Black

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SOTD 8 May 2013

In contrast to my previous experience with The Holy Black, this lather was good—and I really like the fragrance. I loaded the brush longer, and I found no problems. I will return to the earlier soap, and I have a third bar to test, but this one I like. My butterscotch Rooney Emilion produced abundant good lather, and the Fasan slant with a Trig blade did a fine job. This is not so “natural” and comfortable a slant as my other bakelite slant, but quite serviceable withal. I have no idea of the purpose of that red dot on the cap. I can’t tie it to anything meaningful. It does not seem to be for cap orientation.

Three passes, BBS result, and a splash of Floris No. 89 to get me going. I noted that today the nick site of a couple of days ago is back to normal—and it didn’t trigger a nick.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 9:30 am

Posted in Shaving

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