Later On

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

Archive for November 13th, 2013

Apt quotation from A Man for All Seasons

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I’m watching the movie—and Robert Shaw does a great job of a sociopath as Henry VIII—and was struck by the contemporary relevance of this passage—but perhaps the passage is relevant to every time:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Movies & TV

Calling Darrell Issa: Why not look at something real at the State Department?

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Justin Elliott and Liz Day expose the tip of what is probably a very large (and quite smelly) iceberg (in terms of ultimate impact) in ProPublica. The interesting thing is that State probably doesn’t have a chance: with crowdsourcing and easy communications—I bet hashtags are already being developed—these people are quickly going to be found. It’s like a reality-show contest: Find the Next Special Employee. And the criteria are obvious: simultaneous employment by State and by a private firm.

Their report:

Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin drew scrutiny for a special arrangement that allowed her to work part time at the State Department while simultaneously maintaining a side gig working for a corporate consulting firm.

Under the arrangement, first reported byPolitico, Abedin was a “special government employee,” a category created decades ago designed to allow experts to serve in government while keeping outside jobs.

So who else is a special government employee at the State Department? The department won’t say — even as eight other federal agencies readily sent us lists of their own special government employees.

A State Department spokeswoman did confirm that there are “about 100” such employees. But asked for a list, she added that, “As general policy, [the department] does not disclose employee information of this nature.”

Meanwhile, after we filed a Freedom of Information Act request in July for the same information, State responded in September that no such list actually exists: The human resources department “does not compile lists of personnel or positions in the category of ‘special government employee.’”

Creating such a list would require “extensive research” and thus the agency is not required to respond under FOIA, said a letter responding to our request.

In late September, after we told State we were going to publish a story on its refusal to provide the list, the agency said our FOIA request was being reopened. The agency said it would provide the records in a few weeks.

The State Department has since pushed back the delivery date three times and still hasn’t provided any list. It has been four months since we filed the original request.

Several other agencies, including the Energy and Commerce departments, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission, promptly responded to similar FOIA requests with lists of their own special government employees. Requests with several other agencies are still pending.

(See the lists of other agencies’ special government employees.)

Agencies reported having anywhere from just one special government employee (SEC) to nearly 400 over the past several years (Energy Department). Many are academics, interns, or private industry professionals and they often serve on government advisory boards.

As for the State Department, two other special government employees have been identified recently, and both are former Clinton staffers. As of August ex-chief of staff Cheryl Mills was still working at the agency part time with a focus on Haiti, according tothe Washington Post’s Al Kamen. Maggie Williams, who ran Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, worked at the agency’s Office of Global Women’s Issues in 2011 and 2012, according to Politico. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 10:38 am

Interesting essay on NSA’s catch-22

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Juan Cole has an interesting Tom Englehardt column musing on the NSA situation and future prospects.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 9:19 am

Contraception mandate heads for SCOTUS

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Dorothy Samuels writes in the NY Times:

With a ruling on Friday by the Seventh Circuit, a total of five federal circuit courts have weighed in on religious challenges to the health care law’s contraception mandate.

It now seems virtually certain that the Supreme Court, which is due to consider pending petitions for review on November 26th, will agree to decide the issue this term.

Among the federal circuit courts that have spoken so far, three – the Seventh, Tenth and D.C. Circuits – have ratified the dangerous view that secular, profit-making private employers can claim a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act, and  deny female employees an important health benefit.  Two – the Third and Sixth – sensibly rejected the religious liberty claims.

The 2-1 Seventh Circuit ruling, written by Judge Diane Sykes and joined by Judge Joel Flaum was ultra-aggressive (and ultra-wrong) in finding that the contraception mandate violated the religious exercise rights of the law’s challengers: Closely held construction and vehicle safety companies, and their Roman Catholic owners.

In a 91-page dissent, Judge Ilana Rovner shredded the majority’s departure from precedent, historic facts and common sense, providing a model of what a sensible Supreme Court decision would look like.

Summing up where her Seventh Circuit colleagues went wrong, Judge Rovner had this to say about their decision:

“It bestows a highly personal right to religious exercise on two secular, for-profit corporations that have no facility of thought, conscience, or belief.  It deems the religious rights of the plaintiffs burdened by the contraceptive mandate without consideration of the indirect and minimal intrusion on the exercise of religion.  And it disregards the extent to which the exemption from the mandate burdens the rights of the plaintiffs’ employees.  Finally, it establishes a precedent which invites free-exercise challenges to a host of federal laws by secular corporations which, in reality, have no religious beliefs of their own and cannot exercise religion.”

Exactly right.

Soon it will be the justices’ turn.

As pointed out, though corporations are legal “persons,” they are not persons who have or practice a religion (much less ethical behavior, but I digress). So it is unclear how a corporation providing (perfectly legal) contraceptives could violate any religion—well, if it forced employees to practice contraception even though it is against their religion: that would certainly violate religious freedom. But employees are perfectly free to observe their own religion’s precepts regarding contraception (allowed or forbidden), so it’s well taken care of at the individual level.

I do understand that some people believe that if they are forbidden a practice by their church, then everyone everywhere, whether a member of the church or not, must follow those rules, but that is not a supportable position, in my view. (Note that people who hold that view routinely violate teachings of other religions, so the rule fails the basic test of reciprocity.)

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 9:11 am

Gun violence like a disease epidemic?

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Interesting NY Times column by Joe Nocera. I would guess that a lot of gun enthusiasts would support this initiative, which reduces violence without seizing guns, just by providing information and helpful intervention.

In 1995, an epidemiologist named Gary Slutkin returned to the United States from Africa where he had spent the previous decade helping Africans stem the spread of diseases like tuberculosis, AIDS and cholera. “I was exhausted,” he said in a TED Talk earlier this year. “I wanted to come home and take a break.”

Once back in Chicago, however, friends kept telling him about the epidemic of violence in inner-city neighborhoods. As he began to study the problem he came to the view that gun violence in poor neighborhoods did indeed resemble the epidemics he had treated in Africa. Maps that charted gun violence showed clustering — just like maps tracking infectious diseases. The greatest predictor of violence was a prior violent incident, which also mirrors epidemics.

In 2000, he founded CeaseFire (now known as Cure Violence), a Chicago-based organization that treated violence in one such local cluster — in West Garfield, one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city — as a public health problem rather than a criminal justice issue. Shootings dropped dramatically.

Slutkin’s idea has since been replicated in communities across the country, including Crown Heights in Brooklyn, where a program called Save Our Streets, or S.O.S. — an outgrowth of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center — has been up and running since 2010. I spent a recent afternoon there, to see what a public health approach to gun violence looked like.

The center’s director, Amy Ellenbogen, had decided several years earlier to begin focusing on gun violence in the African-American community. It took her three years to get financing — it came from the stimulus — at which point she began to investigate potential models for reducing shootings. When she saw what Slutkin was doing, she got excited: “This made so much sense to us,” she says.

Just as with epidemics, the key is intervention. The first step in combating an epidemic is to find the disease carriers. Save Our Streets hired what it called “outreach” staff — who had once been prone to gun violence themselves — whose job it was to identify the people in the community most likely to commit gun violence. Then they developed a relationship with them, with the goal of dissuading them from using a gun.

A second group of staff members are called “violence interrupters.” They try to mediate when something happens that could cause someone in the neighborhood to shoot someone else. Finally, an S.O.S. staffer has the task of going to the hospital whenever a shooting takes place. His role is to convince both the person who has been shot and his family and friends not to exact revenge with a gun.

When I expressed some mild skepticism that gang members would listen to this kind of counseling, one of the outreach workers quickly replied: “We have influence because we have lived that life.”

There is a second reason the interventions work. “If you are a gang member, your No. 1 fear is getting shot,” says Daniel Webster, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Webster has studied the public health approach in Baltimore. His belief is that programs like S.O.S. are effective because gang members are often looking for reasons not to resort to gun violence. “If you ask gang members to take a vote on whether someone who disrespects someone should be shot, the vast majority would answer no,” Webster said. “But they feel powerless to stop the behavior by themselves.” In Crown Heights, S.O.S. gives them the out they are looking for.

In 2010, the first full year Save Our Streets was in business, the number of shootings in the 40-block area where the program was focused dropped from . . .

Continue reading.

It looks like an excellent approach. I wonder whether the NRA will provide funding: it does reduce gun violence but doesn’t touch guns, so they should be solidly behind it—except that lately they seem to see their mission as increasing gun purchases.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 9:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns, Science

Newborn Immune Systems Suppressed

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Another indication of how vital our microbiome is, and how we’ve evolved to make sure it’s there and working. Ed Yong writes at The Scientist:

From the sterile world of the womb, at birth babies are thrust into an environment full of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They are very vulnerable to these infections for their first months of life—a trait that has long been blamed on their immature immune systems.

But Shokrollah Elahi from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has shown that, at least in mice, this susceptibility is the work of special cells that actively suppress immune responses in newborns. This raises their risk of diseases, but it also creates a window during which helpful bacteria can colonize their guts. The results are published today (November 6) in Nature.

“This more intricate regulation of immune responses makes more sense than immaturity,” said Sing Sing Way, who led the study, “because it allows a protective response to be mounted if needed.” This may explain why newborn immune responses, though generally weak, also vary wildly between different babies and across different studies.

If the same suppressive cells are at work in humans, Way suggested that they might lead to new avenues for boosting immune responses in newborns, or making vaccines administered early on in life more effective.

The team began by  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 8:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Special FAA permit required to fly model airplanes?

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This seems excessive, though the final rules will not be out until next year. But it sure sounds as though if you fly a model airplane using radio control, you will have to apply to the FAA for a special permit. I imagine a lot of young boys are going to be very disappointed.

I’m thinking of models like this (from a while back), which apparently will now fall under FAA jurisdiction:

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 8:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

BornSharp: Today’s version of the Rolls Razor

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The Rolls Razor was very popular in its day (the 30s, 40s, and 50s): a permanent blade that could be honed and stropped, the hone and strop being part of the case. The sharpening system required no skill: you just ran the blade back and forth. They are still in use by some, with the source now being eBay and the like. (If you prowl eBay, beware of cracked hones and rotted strops.)

But today we have a product that uses modern technology:

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 8.10.44 AM

The razor is shown secured in the sharpening system, housed within the unit. You can find more information at the BornSharp site, and there’s an Indiegogo campaign to raise enough capital to begin production. Indeed, scroll down at the Indiegogo page and you get an excellent tour of the entire system, both the razor and the sharpening mechanism and procedure.

The price point ($370) is high for a razor, but of course that includes a lifetime supply of blades (one blade, but you can sharpen it indefinitely). And the gadget appeal is very high: this is the razor that Flash Gordon might use.

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 8:21 am

Frost Rose (Isrose), a Scent-Off fragrance

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SOTD 13 Nov 2013 1

Above you see the unopened package from Fitjar Såpekokeri: printed box, custom label, and a leaflet providing background information: intention of fragrance and its components, along with a list of ingredients.

Fitjar Såpekokeri sent both a shaving soap and shaving cream. Here is the box opened:

SOTD 13 Nov 2013 2

I chose an Omega boar brush, one of two commonly named “the Mighty Midget.” I’ll discuss the soap and lather in detail in Monday post, following the Sharpologist summary. But I can certainly say now that the lather was totally shaveworthy, and I am the happy owner of a BBS face, thanks to the Elite Razors version of the Edwin Jagger: a jasper handle with the EJ head, which in this case holds a Swedish Gillette blade.

Three easy passes, no nicks, and very smooth action. I really should use my EJs more often: the head is very nice.

A good splash of La Toja aftershave (couldn’t locate my Speick splash until the shave was done, so that’s up for tomorrow).

Topic change:

Mama Bear is apparently closing her online shop at the end of the year: She plans to sell through Amazon, but I am taking this as a call for a good-sized order. Someone on WE was surprised to find that there were coffee-fragranced shaving soaps. I suspect his surprise is because he’s looked only at mainline shaving soaps (TOBS, D.R. Harris, Geo. F. Trumper, and so on), and those are not in a position to provide unusual fragrances: they have to stick to the mainstream. That’s one reason I like artisanal shaving soaps and creams. (The other reasons are that it’s not unusual to get superb performance at a modest price, though of course the occasional artisan doesn’t understand shaving and sells something as a shaving soap that simply does not work. Mama Bear soaps, along with those from other artisans, do work well.)

Written by Leisureguy

13 November 2013 at 7:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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