Later On

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

Archive for July 19th, 2013

Obama’s war against transparency continues

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Obama seems determined that a “free press” exists as a handmaiden of the government and the Constitution is no protection. See this story.

Americna democracy is closing down. The military and the secret government has taken over.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 4:12 pm

Human Nature May Not Be So Warlike After All

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Interesting article by Brandon Keim at Wired Science:

Given the long, awful history of violence between groups of people, it’s easy to think that humans are predisposed to war. But a new study of violence in modern hunter-gatherer societies, which may hold clues to prehistoric human life, suggests that warlike behavior is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Sure, humans are violent, the researchers say — but most hunter-gatherer killing results from flared tempers and personal feuds rather than group conflicts.

The findings contradict the notion “that humans have an evolved tendency to form coalitions to kill members of neighboring groups,” wrote anthropologists Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg in their July 18 Sciencepaper.


“The vast majority of us assume that war is ancient, that it’s part and parcel of human nature,” said Fry. “These types of perceptions have very strong influences on what goes on in current-day society.”

Fry and Soderberg hope to illuminate an era stretching from roughly 10,000 years ago, when metal tools appear in the archaeological record, to about 2.5 million years ago, when stone tool use became widespread. This period looms in our anthropological self-regard as humanity’s adolescence, an evolutionary crucible that would shape our species.

One view, reinforced by studies of conflict in chimpanzees and scattered archaeological evidence of violent deaths in prehistoric humans, holds that group-on-group violence was common and constant, both reflecting and influencing human nature.

A few other researchers consider that view unjustifiably dark, a sort of scientific version of original sin. They say collective human violence was an aberration, not a basic feature of life. In this camp is Fry, who in 2007′s Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace argued that archaeological evidence of prehistoric warfare was often misinterpreted, and modern hunter-gatherer violence exaggerated.

‘The vast majority of us assume that war is ancient, that it’s part of human nature.’

In most foraging societies, said Fry, lethal aggression was infrequent, and in the archaeological record violence didn’t take regular group-on-group character until relatively recently, when people settled down in ever-larger, more complex and hierarchical societies.

In the new paper, Fry and Soderberg looked at ethnographic histories of 21 nomadic forager societies, compiling a database of every well-documented incidence of lethal aggression that could be found in reputable accounts spanning the last two centuries.

They counted 148 incidents in all, of which more than half involved a single person killing another. Only 22 percent involved multiple aggressors and multiple victims, and only one-third involved conflicts between groups.

Most killings were motivated by sexual jealousy, revenge for a previous murder, insults or other interpersonal quarrels. Collective, between-group violence was the exception, not the rule. To Fry, the weight of evidence suggests that humanity’s origins were, if not exactly peaceful, then not warlike, either.

“When you look at these foraging groups, you see a great deal of cooperation. There are homicides on occasion, but generally people get along very well,” said Fry. “Humans have a capacity for warfare — nobody’s denying that. But to make it a central part of human nature is grossly out of contact with the data.”

Fry’s take on the history of conflict has prompted some conflict itself. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Science

A smooth shave but no shame felt

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SOTD 19 July 2013

Another BBS shave, and a very fine shave it was. As you see, I used my Ecotools Finishing Kabuki for my shave brush. The title reference is to this comment on Reddit’s Wicked_Edge:

I know that some people on here like to recommend that EcoTools brush as a starting brush, but I would advise you to get a real shaving brush ASAP since you know you enjoy it. That is a horrid brush for shaving. The people who recommend it should be ashamed of themselves since an Omega brush can be had for a few dollars more.

I think the writer doesn’t understand the weight of the word “ashamed”: shame is a very strong and deep emotion, and the idea that one should feel shame for recommending an inexpensive brush to someone wanting to test shaving at the lowest cost is… well, “off the mark” is probably the most tactful description. In fact, the Ecotools brush is quite good for shaving. Perhaps the writer hasn’t actually tried it, or perhaps it’s not to his taste, but I can verify that it works well and feels good—and costs little, so overall, I continue to think it’s a good recommendation. His casual “for a few dollars more” shows that he missed the point, as well: the idea was to specify a beginner shaving kit at the lowest possible cost. I did post a response to his comment, but have not received a reply.

But based on that, I decided to use my Ecotools today, along with Mike’s Natural shaving soap, since that also was recently discussed. I immediately got a great lather—why was I having problems with Mike’s Natural before? Perhaps it works better with the Ecotools. But I also used plenty of water, which Mike’s likes.

A fine lather, and with a Personna Lab Blue in my razor—the Sodial head on a new, aluminum-bronze UFO handle—I did three very smooth and easy passes with a BBS result.

The touch of menthol in the Floïd aftershave was quite pleasant today. A great shave, with quite serviceable tools.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Shaving

Five books on the argument against Creationism

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From the Five Books series, an interview with Kenneth Miller, biology professor and Catholic:

Kenneth Miller is a biology professor at Brown University. He is particularly well known for his opposition to creationism, including the intelligent design movement. He has written two books on the subject: Finding Darwin’s God which argues that a belief in evolution is compatible with a belief in God, and Only a Theory, which explores intelligent design.

Here’s the interview:

Before we look at your five book choices, can you tell me a bit more about where you stand in the argument against creationism?

It is really very simple. Like most scientists, I understand the evidence that has been marshalled in support of the theory of evolution. I find the evidence convincing. I find it has predictive power, and also that evolution is the thread by which we tie everything together in life science. A famous biologist once wrote that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. And that is absolutely, positively true.

In the States, the word “creationism” is understood to mean the belief that the earth is 6,000 or 7,000 years old, that all living species were created at pretty much the same time, and that the geological formations of the planet do not reflect the world of the past but are simply artefacts of the worldwide flood. And there is this belief that the mechanism of evolution simply doesn’t work. That is what creationists believe, and on every single one of those central points the creationists are wrong. I think the creationists arguments against evolution are wrong scientifically.

Which is interesting because you are a Catholic, but you see your faith as being outside the scientific debate surrounding creationism.

I certainly do, and the important thing on the issue of creationism and faith is a very simple point – that the creationists, or for that matter advocates of intelligent design, would argue that natural processes alone are not sufficient to bring about the world of life as we know it. And I maintain, as I think nearly all scientists do, that natural processes alone are indeed sufficient to bring about the world as we know it. You couldn’t have a starker difference. So where does religion fit into that? Essentially, any person of faith believes that the very existence of those natural processes have to be explained one way or another. And their explanation is the hypothesis of God.

Your first book choice, The Blind Watchmaker, is by the leading British atheist Richard Dawkins. He argues that the only watchmaker in nature is the blind force of physics, rather than a creator who puts us together.

I think that is right. I was torn between two of Richard’s books to recommend. The first one is really a classic, and that is The Selfish GeneThe Selfish Gene is an extraordinary book and I always recommend it to people who want to understand the way in which evolution can grapple with the question of self-sacrificing, altruistic behaviour, because many people regard this as a fundamental problem for evolutionary theory. What Richard did brilliantly inThe Selfish Gene was to popularise the ideas of WD Hamilton and others, that explain altruistic social behaviours in terms of kin selection. I am not an evolutionary psychologist, but social behaviour is one of the most fascinating things in evolutionary theory, and Richard’s explanations in The Selfish Gene have stood up very well.

In the Dawkins book I chose, The Blind Watchmaker, he brilliantly explains how complex mechanisms and structures are put together by the process of evolution. It is true that he makes certain theological points that I don’t agree with. In particular, he equates virtually any belief in God with creationism.

Which is not the case, especially from your point of view.

Indeed. I certainly think that is an over-simplification and an invalid connection, but that doesn’t detract from the brilliance of the book. One of my favourite examples is a discussion he puts forward on the evolution of the bat’s auditory system. Bats, as I think most people know, are able to fly about in near total darkness because they use a kind of sonar. They have specialised hearing apparatus and use hearing rather than sight to help them navigate. Creationists might wonder, how could evolution ever produce the integrated system of sound production?

But as Dawkins explains, pretty much all living beings have some ability to do this, and evolution has built upon those basic capabilities. One of the ways in which I demonstrate this to my students is by having one of them come up on stage, I place a blindfold over their eyes and spin them around two, three times. Then I move the large blackboard very close to them and ask them where the blackboard is while they still have their blindfold on. They are not allowed to touch anything, but simply by using their voice and the reverberations it causes they are easily able to locate the blackboard. Richard’s point is that the rudimentary ability to carry out this function is something that many animals have. What natural selection can do is refine that ability – to make it better and better, and eventually evolve it to perfection.

Next up is Sean B Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful, which explores evolutionary developmental biology. Can you explain what that is? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 3:15 pm

The Deep State, the Permanent Campaign, and the Frayed Fabric of American Democracy

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James Fallows has an interesting post on three topics, and this seemed especially worth considering:

The “Deep State,” Cont. Two days ago I quoted Mike Lofgren and Mark Bernstein on structural paradoxes of our current politics. In response to Lofgren’s description of the military-police-financial-technological “Deep State,” here is Joseph Britt of Wisconsin, who like Lofgren previously worked as an aide to a Republican U.S. senator:

First:  with respect to how the federal government functions, the level of continuity over the last dozen years or so doesn’t get nearly enough attention.  In the Bush as in the Obama administration, Executive Branch agencies had little policy autonomy — except for the security services, DoD and the intelligence agencies, who operated with little oversight even from within the administration in spite of major policy failures.

Republicans in Congress didn’t defend the Bush administration so much as they repeated verbatim what they were told to say on national security affairs.  Meanwhile, other federal agencies dealt with a White House hypersensitive about political message discipline by undertaking as few potentially controversial initiatives as possible — something that hasn’t changed all that much under Barack Obama.

Second:  the absolute primacy of the permanent campaign industry in the policy making process gets rather taken for granted by many commentators.   Organized interest groups have traditionally been thought to exercise outsized influence within the two national parties, especially the Democratic Party.  One thing that’s changed in recent years is the emergence of the people who do campaigns for a living as a powerful and effectively organized interest group themselves.

It is the pollsters, “strategists,” and other campaign operatives, after all,  who are the chief beneficiaries of the continual fundraising that Senators and Congressmen now do.  Not only do these electioneering hands now work on campaign business full-time, but they have also gotten used to a standard of living requiring high and predictable levels of income.

The influence of campaign primacy on policy flows outward from Capitol Hill and the White House, enveloping agencies engaged in work that might offend any monied interest.  The military and intelligence agencies tend not to do work of this kind; their budgets, increased substantially after 9/11, tend therefore to receive little scrutiny, and their senior officials are normally treated with deference.

Is campaign primacy worse than it has ever been?  I’d say it is.  The very transparency celebrated by some in the media (because, among other things, it takes some of the hard work out of political reporting) makes it harder to do politically controversial business out of the view of rent-seeking monied interests.  Advocacy of causes with no potential to support the permanent campaign infrastructure — from reducing unemployment to preparing for climate change to adhering to regular order on appropriations bills in Congress — is effectively deterred.  The influence of campaign primacy on tax policy can’t be overestimated.

The root cause of the latest crisis in Washington is that, for the party that came up short in the last election, the campaign never ended.  There is nothing but the campaign for Congressional Republicans — and mostly for Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as well, with the difference that they feel they have to at least look as if they want the government to function.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Government, Politics

Study Finds iOS Apps Just As Intrusive As Android Apps

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Those apps are collecting your data and send it on to be sold. Be careful what you put on your phone: the little free app may just be bait, and when you install it, you’re caught.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Software, Techie toys

Why we think we need vitamin supplements

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Full disclosure: I take a vitamin D supplement because I’m an indoors sort of guy. Still, I found this article by Paul Offit in the Atlantic to be interesting:

On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn’t. Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer. “It’s been a tough week for vitamins,” said Carrie Gann of ABC News.

These findings weren’t new. Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realize, however, is that their fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world’s greatest quack.

In 1931, Linus Pauling published a paper in theJournal of the American Chemical Society titled “The Nature of the Chemical Bond.” Before publication, chemists knew of two types of chemical bonds: ionic, where one atom gives up an electron to another; and covalent, where atoms share electrons. Pauling argued that it wasn’t that simple — electron sharing was somewhere between ionic and covalent. Pauling’s idea revolutionized the field, marrying quantum physics with chemistry. His concept was so revolutionary in fact that when the journal editor received the manuscript, he couldn’t find anyone qualified to review it. When Albert Einstein was asked what he thought of Pauling’s work, he shrugged his shoulders. “It was too complicated for me,” he said. For this single paper, Pauling received the Langmuir Prize as the most outstanding young chemist in the United States, became the youngest person elected to the National Academy of Sciences, was made a full professor at Caltech, and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was 30 years old.

In 1949, Pauling published a paper in Science titled “Sickle Cell Anemia, a Molecular Disease.” At the time, scientists knew that hemoglobin (the protein in blood that transports oxygen) crystallized in the veins of people with sickle-cell anemia, causing joint pain, blood clots, and death. But they didn’t know why. Pauling was the first to show that sickle hemoglobin had a slightly different electrical charge–a quality that dramatically affected how the hemoglobin reacted with oxygen. His finding gave birth to the field of molecular biology.

In 1951, Pauling published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “The Structure of Proteins.” Scientists knew that proteins were composed of a series of amino acids. Pauling proposed that proteins also had a secondary structure determined by how they folded upon themselves. He called one configuration the alpha helix–later used by James Watson and Francis Crick to explain the structure of DNA.

In 1961, Pauling collected blood from gorillas, chimpanzees, and monkeys at the San Diego Zoo. He wanted to see whether mutations in hemoglobin could be used as a kind of evolutionary clock. Pauling showed that humans had diverged from gorillas about 11 million years ago, much earlier than scientists had suspected. A colleague later remarked, “At one stroke he united the fields of paleontology, evolutionary biology, and molecular biology.”Pauling’s accomplishments weren’t limited to science. Beginning in the 1950s–and for the next forty years — he was the world’s most recognized peace activist. Pauling opposed the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, declined Robert Oppenheimer’s offer to work on the Manhattan Project, stood up to Senator Joseph McCarthy by refusing a loyalty oath, opposed nuclear proliferation, publicly debated nuclear-arms hawks like Edward Teller, forced the government to admit that nuclear explosions could damage human genes, convinced other Nobel Prize winners to oppose the Vietnam War, and wrote the best-selling book No More War! Pauling’s efforts led to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In 1962, he won the Nobel Peace Prize–the first person ever to win two unshared Nobel Prizes.

In addition to his election to the National Academy of Sciences, two Nobel Prizes, the National Medal of Science, and the Medal for Merit (which was awarded by the president of the United States), Pauling received honorary degrees from Cambridge University, the University of London, and the University of Paris. In 1961, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s Men of the Year issue, hailed as one of the greatest scientists who had ever lived.

Then all the rigor, hard work, and hard thinking that had made Linus Pauling a legend disappeared. In the words of a colleague, his “fall was as great as any classic tragedy.”

The turning point came in March 1966, when Pauling was 65 years old. He had just received the Carl Neuberg Medal. “During a talk in New York City,” recalled Pauling, “I mentioned how much pleasure I took in reading about the discoveries made by scientists in their various investigations of the nature of the world, and stated that I hoped I could live another twenty-five years in order to continue to have this pleasure. On my return to California I received a letter from a biochemist, Irwin Stone, who had been at the talk. He wrote that if I followed his recommendation of taking 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C, I would live not only 25 years longer, but probably more.” Stone, who referred to himself as Dr. Stone, had spent two years studying chemistry in college. Later, he received an honorary degree from the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic and a “PhD” from Donsbach University, a non-accredited correspondence school in Southern California.

Pauling followed Stone’s advice. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Tracking people—and being tracked by people

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The Younger Daughter points out this new device that will clearly be used by guys who are stalking their ex-wives/girlfriends, private detectives, nosy parkers, and just about anybody who in interested in amateur surveillance.

Obviously, the device has benign uses, but just as obviously, it lends itself to malign purposes.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Technology

Emerging From Darkness, the Edward Snowden Story

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It’s true that, as Glenn Greenwald and others have written, the American media has focused attention on the supposed peccadillos of Edward Snowden so as not to have to spend too much time on the sweeping system of government surveillance he revealed. At least for now, the Obama administration has cornered the document-less whistleblower at Moscow’s international airport, leaving him nowhere on the planet to go, or at least no way to get there. As a result, the media can have a field day writing negative pieces about his relationship to Putin’s Russia.

So Greenwald certainly has a point, and yet it would be a mistake to ignore Snowden’s personal story.  After all, the unending spectacle of a superpower implacably tracking down a single man across the planet has its own educational value.  It’s been a little like watching one of those Transformers movies in which Megatron, the leader of the evil Decepticons, stomps around the globe smashing things, but somehow, time and again, misses his tiny human target.  In this strange drama, in a world in which few eyeball-gluing stories outlast the week in which they were born, almost alone and by a kind of miracle Snowden has managed to keep his story andthe story of the building of the first full-scale global surveillance state going and going.  He seems a little like the Energizer Bunny of whistleblowers.

No matter what’s written about him here in the mainstream, the spectacle of a single remarkably articulate and self-confident individual outwitting the last superpower has been, in its own way, uplifting.  Although the first global polls haven’t come in, I think it’s safe to assume that from Bolivia to Hong Kong, Germany to Japan, Washington is taking a remarkable licking in the global opinion wars.  Even at home, we know that, among the young in particular, opinion seems to be shifting on both Snowden’s acts and the surveillance state whose architecture he revealed.

Given its utter tone-deafness and its flurry of threats against various foreign governments, the downing of Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane, and ever more ham-handed moves against Snowden himself, Washington is clearly building up a store of global anger and resentment, including over the way it’s scooping up private communications worldwide.  In the end, this twenty-first-century spectacle may truly make a difference. As Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch regular and author of the new book The Faraway Nearby, writes today, it’s been a moving show so far. One man against the machine: if you’ve ever been to the local multiplex, given such a scenario you can’t for a second doubt where global sympathies lie. Tom

Prometheus Among the Cannibals 
A Letter to Edward Snowden
By Rebecca Solnit

Dear Edward Snowden,

Billions of us, from prime ministers to hackers, are watching a live espionage movie in which you are the protagonist and perhaps the sacrifice. Your way forward is clear to no one, least of all, I’m sure, you.

I fear for you; I think of you with a heavy heart. I imagine hiding you like Anne Frank. I imagine Hollywood movie magic in which a young lookalike would swap places with you and let you flee to safety — if there is any safety in this world of extreme rendition and extrajudicial execution by the government that you and I were born under and that you, until recently, served. I fear you may pay, if not with your death, with your life — with a life that can have no conventional outcome anytime soon, if ever. “Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped,” you told us, and they are trying to stop you instead.

I am moved by your choice of our future over yours, the world over yourself.  You know what few do nowadays: that the self is not the same as self-interest. You are someone who is smart enough, idealistic enough, bold enough to know that living with yourself in a system of utter corruption would destroy that self as an ideal, as something worth being.  Doing what you’ve done, on the other hand, would give you a self you could live with, even if it gave you nowhere to live or no life. Which is to say, you have become a hero.<

Pity the country that requires a hero, Bertolt Brecht once remarked, but pity the heroes too. They are the other homeless, the people who don’t fit in.  They are the ones who see the hardest work and do it, and pay the price we charge those who do what we can’t or won’t. If the old stories were about heroes who saved us from others, modern heroes — Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Rachel Carson, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi — endeavored to save us from ourselves, from our own governments and systems of power.

The rest of us so often sacrifice that self and those ideals to fit in, to be part of a cannibal system, a system that eats souls and defiles truths and serves only power. Or we negotiate quietly to maintain an uneasy distance from it and then go about our own business. Though in my world quite a few of us strike our small blows against empire, you, young man, you were situated where you could run a dagger through the dragon’s eye, and that dragon is writhing in agony now; in that agony it has lost its magic: an arrangement whereby it remains invisible while making the rest of us ever more naked to its glaring eye.

Private Eyes and Public Rights

Privacy is a kind of power as well as a right, one that public librarians fought to protect against the Bush administration and the PATRIOT Act and thatonline companies violate in every way that’s profitable and expedient. Our lack of privacy, their monstrous privacy — even their invasion of our privacy must, by law, remain classified — is what you made visible. The agony of a monster with nowhere to stand — you are accused of spying on the spies, of invading the privacy of their invasion of privacy — is a truly curious thing. And it is changing the world. Europe and South America are in an uproar, and attempts to contain you and your damage are putting out fire with gasoline.

You yourself said it so well on July 12th:

“A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise, and I lived in great comfort. I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates. It is also a serious violation of the law. The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the U.S. Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice — that it must be seen to be done.”

They say you, like Bradley Manning, gave secrets to their enemies.  It’s clear who those enemies are: you, me, us. It was clear on September 12, 2001, that the Bush administration feared the American people more than al-Qaeda.  Not much has changed on that front since, and this almost infinitely broad information harvest criminalizes all of us. This metadata — the patterns and connections of communications rather than their content — is particularly useful, as my friend Chris Carlsson pointed out, at mapping the clusters of communications behind popular movements, uprisings, political organizing: in other words, those moments when civil society rises to shape history, to make a better future in the open world of the streets and squares.

The goal of gathering all this metadata, Chris speculates, “is to be able to identify where the ‘hubs’ are, who the people are who sit at key points in networks, helping pass news and messages along, but especially, who the people are who spread ideas and information from one network of people to the next, who help connect small networks into larger ones, and thus facilitate the unpredictable and rapid spread of dissent when it appears.”

Metadata can map the circulatory system of civil society, toward what ends you can certainly imagine. When governments fear their people you can be sure they are not serving their people. This has always been the minefield of patriotism: loyalty to our government often means hostility to our country and vice-versa. Edward Snowden, loyalist to country, you have made this clear as day.

Those who demonize you show, as David Bromwich pointed out in a fine essay in the London Review of Books, their submission to the power you exposed. Who stood where, he writes, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 2:48 pm

The police as first-echelon mental-health professionals

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This story makes me feel a strong sense of despair. Mac McClelelland writes in Mother Jones of her cousin’s schizophrenic breakdown and how resources in the US are generally unavailable to deal with such problems:

THE THING THAT STRUCK ME when I first met my cousin Houston was his size. He wasn’t much taller than me, if at all, and was slight of frame. On the other side of the visitors’ glass, he looked surprisingly small, young for his 22 years. The much more remarkable thing about him turned out to be his vocabulary, vast and lovely, lyrical almost—until it came to an agitated or distracted halt. In any case, all things considered, he seemed altogether extremely unlike a person who had recently murdered someone [1].

The symptoms displayed by Houston (in my family, a cousin of any degree is simply “a cousin”; technically, Houston is my third) in the year preceding this swift and horrific tragedy have since been classified as “a classic onset of schizophrenia.” At the time, it was just an alarming mystery. Houston had been attending Santa Rosa Junior College, living with his mom, playing guitar with his dad, when he became withdrawn and depressed. He slept all day; his band had broken up, and suddenly he had no friends. His dad, Mark, who had once struggled with depression and substance abuse but was now a pillar of the recovery community, and his mom, Marilyn, tried to help, took him to a psychiatrist. Houston didn’t have a drinking problem, but he mostly stopped drinking anyway. He didn’t smoke pot anymore, or even cigarettes. His psychiatrist indicated possible schizoaffective disorder in his notes, but put Houston on a changing regimen of antidepressants over the next eight months. It didn’t make any difference. Houston had started stealing his mom’s Adderall. He said it helped him feel better. He got fired from multiple jobs. Marilyn kicked him out, and he moved in with Mark.”This was not my nephew,” my Aunt Annette, Mark’s sister, says of Houston’s behavior then. “He was always solicitous and loving and talkative with me. Now, he was anxious, quiet, said very strange things. He would say things that seemed not to come from him. I asked him how his therapy was going, and he said, ‘Terrible.'”Toward the end of Houston’s devolution, he started having violent outbursts, breaking furniture; he tossed his mom across a room. Desperate now, Mark and Marilyn called the psychiatrist repeatedly and asked what to do. He told them to call the police.

“You can call the police,” the deputy director of Sonoma County’s National Alliance on Mental Illness [7] (NAMI), David France, said when I asked him what options are available to a parent whose adult child appears to be having a mental breakdown. “The police can activate resources,” like an emergency psych bed in a regular hospital, or transport and admission to a psychiatric hospital in a county that, unlike Sonoma, has one. But only if the police decide your child is a danger to himself or others can they arrest him with the right to hold him for three days—what in California is called a 5150 [8], after the relevant section of state law. Otherwise you can be turned away for lack of space even if your loved one is willing to be admitted, or be left no good options if they’re not. Ninety-two percent [9] of the patients in California’s state psych hospitals got there via the criminal-justice system.

But Mark didn’t want to call the police. For one, he didn’t think Houston was dangerous, just upset, despairing. Also, Mark read the news. The Santa Rosa cops had killed two mentally ill men they’d been called to intervene with in the last six years, one case resulting in a federal civil rights suit. This is not a problem unique to Santa Rosa—or to greater Sonoma County, which in 2009 paid a $1.75 million settlement to [11] the family of a mentally ill 16-year-old whom sheriff’s deputies shot eight times. There’s no comprehensive data yet, but mental illness appears to be a factor in so many arrest-related deaths that the Justice Department has considered adding mental-health status to its national database of such deaths. Just last year, for example, the DOJ found the Portland, Oregon, police department had a “pattern or practice of using excessive force…against people with mental illness,” including eight shootings in 18 months [12] and the beating to death of an unarmed man[13] in 2006.Anyway, Mark didn’t think three days of lockdown in a mental facility would make his son less unstable. He was looking for a meaningful treatment plan, not to rustle Houston through emergency services. “All those kids get shot by the police,” he told Marilyn. “Just let me handle it.” . . .

Continue reading. I have read of many police responses to mentally ill individuals. Most are probably caring and supportive, but the ones that make the news are those involving brutal treatment, sometimes leaving the mentally ill person dead. So one does get the feeling that you call the police in order to have a mentally ill person put down, like shooting a dog (another police specialty).

It’s a mystery to me why the US seems to care so little for its citizens and so much for its corporations.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 2:20 pm

I do not understand the outrage on the Rolling Stones cover

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Perhaps someone can explain why running a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stones to accompany an article on how the charming exterior hid a monster within. Indeed, the cover is part of the story: the charming exterior. But many people (and I bet a lot of them didn’t bother reading the article) found the photo outrageous, or so they claim. But I don’t understand why, and I’ve not seen any good explanation.

Celebrities routinely adorn covers of magazines, including those who did awful things (think: Josef Stalin, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and so on—people who arguably did more damage than Tsarnaev).

Perhaps it’s that in the photo he seems attractive, and people who believe that an evil person cannot be attractive are outraged at having their belief shattered. “But if you can’t trust attractive people, whom can you trust?” Is that it?

Or perhaps it’s not news, and people are tired of reading about the bombing, but I don’t think that’s it.

Some have said the photo “glorifies” him—those surely are among the many who have not read the article—but I don’t see much glorification: it’s simply a picture of a murderer/terrorist.

Maybe we’re supposed to ignore that someone did it and not try to find out about him?

As Mat Taibbi points out in this explanation, the same photo appeared on the front page of the NY Times. No outrage. I don’t get it. The NY Times has greater circulation and arguably greater prestige—at least in the recent past—than Rolling Stone. Same photo. No outrage.

I totally don’t get it. I am no stranger to feelings of outrage, as readers know, but I do try to direct it at things that are in fact outrageous—like our president trying very hard to ignore or flout the law. But a photo of a terrorist is not an outrage. Terrorism itself, yes. Photos of terrorists, no.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media, Terrorism

Is FEMA stupid? or evil?

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FEMA flood zone

They are deliberately placing people in flood zones. Maybe it’s just an odd sense of humor: a long-term practical joke. Not funny, guys. Here’s the story. And this story asks for more examples: crowd-sourcing research.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 12:57 pm

Obama has zero respect for the law

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He will use it—indeed, practically distort it—to achieve his goals (cf. the vicious persecution of whistleblowers and his determination to prevent Edward Snowden from gaining asylum, something the US readily gave an acknowledged terrorist who blew up an airliner. But if the law gets in his way, it is simply ignored—cf. his ignoring of the Convention Against Torture, a US law that requires the credible allegations of torture be investigated.

Right now, Obama and his administration are trying to ignore the absolutely clear law that the US cannot give aid to a coup d’etat—in Egypt, the democratically elected president and government were overthrown by the military, which has taken control. That is exactly a coup. But Obama doesn’t want to obey the law, so his administration refuses to recognize it as coup. This is very close to deliberate breaking the law: the same thing that resulted in a prison term for an 83-year-old nun.

Will Obama face prison time for breaking the law? Somehow, I doubt it. He’s broken the law before, so why not again?

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 12:34 pm

Types of knowledge

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I accidentally fell into a discussion on evolution with a young-earth creationist recently—I thought we were simply talking about evolution, but I started getting some strange responses, and then when he quote Holy Scripture to prove his positions, I understood better what was going on and ceded the field to him.

But I got to thinking about what he views as “knowledge” vis-à-vis my own use of the term in the discussion, and I realized something that’s doubtless obvious: knowledge can be faith-based or evidence-based, but not both. If you have evidence, you don’t need faith: it just is. Faith takes over when evidence is sparse.

Specifically, questions of fact seem to me to be best resolved through the use of evidence-based reasoning. Questions of morality and ethics tend to call for faith-based reasoning.

Some overlap and cross-over occurs: when Thomas indeed put his hands on the wounds of the risen Jesus to verify their reality, he was going for an evidence-based, but nowadays the entire incident lies in the realm of faith-based knowledge.

Evidence-based knowledge is extraordinarily useful. For one thing, it facilitates the acquisition of new knowledge: you apply the methods now worked out in the various sciences—what I would term, broadly, a scientific approach: collect observations, develop a theory that accounts for the observations as simply as possible, and test the theory by looking for disconfirming evidence. If the theory is true, you’ll never find disconfirming evidence, but if the theory’s false, perhaps you simply have not yet discovered the evidence that will disprove it. Thus scientific knowledge is in general provisional: as good as we have at the time.

Faith-based knowledge is more certain—it doesn’t change over time (except that it does, obvious: BC and AD hold different faith-based knowledge, and faith-based knowledge seems to evolve over time—cf. Robert Wright’s extremely interesting book The Evolution of God.

Still, I think the two spheres are generally identifiable, and one does not look to faith for answers to factual questions: if you want to know what time it is, you look at a clock rather than praying.

Thus the literal reading of Scripture to establish the facts of evolution is a fool’s errand, not to put too fine a point on it. Scripture and faith address moral, ethical, and religious issues in general, not the evidentiary facts of the world. For that, we use another tool in our intellectual toolbox.

Indeed, using faith-based to resolve questions about evolution makes no more sense than using musical knowledge in that context.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 12:18 pm

The power of raw cannabis

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A reader points out this video:

Despite a plethora of evidence showing that marijuana has a wide range of medicinal properties, the DEA, the DoJ, and the Obama Administration in particular—well, along with a lot of Congress—simply refuse to reclassify marijuana, so it remains a Schedule 1 drug, which means:

Required findings for drugs to be placed in this schedule:[1]

  1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Of course, marijuana does not have a high potential for abuse—alcohol, completely street-legal, has a much higher potential for abuse. And marijuana does indeed have medicinal use (thus we have medical marijuana). And marijuana is totally safe: smoking it seems to prevent cancer rather than cause it. One scientist discovered to his surprise when he did a research study to compare effects of smoking marijuana to smoking cigarettes and to not smoking at all: he had assumed that because marijuana smokers tended to inhale more deeply than cigarette smokers and also hold the smoke longer, that the incidence of lung cancer would be higher. He discovered that not only did marijuana smokers have lower rates of lung cancer than cigarette smokers, they even had slightly lower rates than the nonsmokers. (It’s probably always wise to avoid inhaling the products of combustion, so many who use medical marijuana use a vaporizer, thus avoiding products of combustion altogether.)  Finally, there has never (repeat: never) been a death due to overdosing on marijuana.

So marijuana does not meet any of the criteria for a Schedule 1 drug, and that of course is now the subject of a lawsuit.

This kind of insanity drives me up the wall—just as the Obama Administration’s refusal to term what happened in Egypt as a “coup.” It was a coup, as is totally obvious. A refusal to face facts will in the long run backfire horribly—as we see with climate change.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2013 at 10:50 am

Posted in Drug laws

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