Later On

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

Archive for December 12th, 2013

DUI teenager kills 4, uses his extreme wealth as his defense, and gets off

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This one takes the cake—and read the updates at the link as well.

I wish this was a snark.  But this is so shocking it makes me ill.

16-year old Ethan Couch was driving drunk at THREE times the legal limit and had Valium in his system.  He plowed into four people going 70 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour zone, killing them.  Other victims are severely injured; one has severe brain damage.  Even after he killed and maimed those people, he was uncooperative and combative with the emergency services and walked away from the police saying “I’m outta here”.

He pleaded guilty, of course.  But Ethan’s parents are very wealthy. (We are talking the 1%.)  They hired an attorney that brought on a psychologist to say Couch was “a product of wealth” and was used to getting “whatever he wanted”.  Because he was so affluent and accustomed to never having consequences, the attorney argued that he should get therapy as opposed to jail.

This was the argument, mind you, used in the defense:

He said Couch got whatever he wanted. As an example, Miller said Couch’s parents gave no punishment after police ticketed the then-15-year-old when he was found in a parked pickup with a passed out, undressed 14-year-old girl.Miller also pointed out that Couch was allowed to drive at 13. He said the teen was emotionally flat and needed years of therapy. At the time of the fatal wreck, Couch had a blood alcohol content of .24, said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson. It is illegal for a minor to drive with any amount of alcohol in his or her system.

Prosecutors tried to get 20 years.   The Defense argued for therapy and probation.Texas State District Judge Jean Boyd bought the inane “I’m too rich for consequences” defense and actually sided with the Defense and gave him probation: . . .

Continue reading. And don’t miss the updates.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2013 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Law

New: A greenhouse gas 7,000 times more effective than CO2

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Methane has been a big worry: lots of it trapped in the tundra, now boiling off over the summers. Methane (CH4) is 25 times more warming than CO2, and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is 298 times more warming than CO2. But Suzanne Goldenberg brings us some bad news in The Guardian:

A new greenhouse gas that is 7,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth has been discovered by researchers in Toronto.

The newly discovered gas, perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), has been in use by the electrical industry since the mid-20th century.

The chemical, that does not occur naturally, breaks all records for potential impacts on the climate, said the researchers at the University of Toronto’s department of chemistry.

“We claim that PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any molecule detected in the atmosphere to date,” said Angela Hong, one of the co-authors.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found PFTBA was 7,100 times more powerful at warming the Earth over a 100-year time span than CO2.

Concentrations of PFTBA in the atmosphere are low – 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto area – compared to 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide. So PFTBA does not in any way displace the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal as the main drivers of climate change.

Dr Drew Shindell, a climatologist at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said:

“This is a warning to us that this gas could have a very very large impact on climate change – if there were a lot of it. Since there is not a lot of it now, we don’t have to worry about it at present, but we have to make sure it doesn’t grow and become a very large contributor to global warming.”.

He said a number of recent studies had drawn attention to other potential new greenhouse gases which, like PFTBA, pack a lot of warming potential in each molecule but are not very prevalent in the atmosphere.

Such studies were a warning against increasing uses of such compounds without first understanding their impact on climate change, he added.

“From a climate change perspective, individually, PFTBA’s atmospheric concentration does not significantly alert the phenomenon of climate change,” Hong said. “Still the biggest culprit is CO2 from fossil fuel emissions.”

But PFTBA is long-lived. The Toronot researchers estimated PFTBA remains in the atmosphere for about 500 years, and unlike carbon dioxide, that is taken up by forests and oceans, there are no known natural “sinks” on Earth to absorb it.

“It is so much less than carbon dioxide, but the important thing is on a per molecule basis, it is very very effective in interacting with heat from the Earth,” she said. “Individually each molecule is able to affect the climate potentially and because its lifetime is so long it also has a long-lasting effect.”

Hong said the discovery of PFTBA and its warming potential raises questions about the climate impacts of other chemicals used in industrial processes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2013 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Global warming

Trans-Pacific Partnership

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The US is very much an outlier in the negotiations, which I believe is a reflection of the degree to which corporations have taken control of the US government. Kevin Drum has an interesting blog post, from which this chart is taken (post explains the chart):

blog_tpp_us_distance

Josh Eidelson has a brief and useful status report in Salon.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2013 at 12:33 pm

The Populist Politics of Cannabis Reform

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Interesting article by Martin Lee in The Nation:

On January 10, 1965, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg led a march for marijuana legalization outside the New York Women’s House of Detention in lower Manhattan. A dozen demonstrators waved placards and chanted slogans, resulting in one of the iconic images of the 1960s: a picture of Ginsberg, snowflakes on his beard and thinning hair, wearing a sign that said Pot Is Fun. Another picket sign read Pot Is a Reality Kick.

The pro-pot protest was the inaugural event of the New York chapter of the Committee to Legalize Marijuana, a group launched by Ginsberg and fellow poet Ed Sanders at a time when most pot smokers remained in the closet about their recreational substance of choice. The idea, Sanders explained, was “to get people who use marijuana to stand up and agitate for its legalization.” The protest marked the beginning of a grassroots countercultural movement that would develop years later into a widespread populist revolt against conventional medicine and extra-constitutional authority.

Ginsberg sensed that marijuana, a substance essentially banned by the US government since 1937, “was going to be an enormous political catalyst.” Though marijuana prohibition didn’t deter widespread use, the funny stuff did encourage doubts about officialdom in general. It wasn’t the chemical composition of cannabis that fostered skepticism toward authority—it was the contradiction between lived experience and the hoary propaganda of “reefer madness,” enshrined in draconian legislation mandating five years in prison for possession of a nickel bag of grass.

Marijuana’s status as a forbidden substance added to its allure in the 1960s, when cannabis first emerged as a defining force in a culture war that has yet to cease. From the outset, efforts to end pot prohibition were inextricably linked to a broader movement for social justice that encompassed many causes. Marijuana was never a single-issue obsession for Ginsberg or Sanders. Both were high-profile peace activists who protested against nuclear proliferation, racial discrimination and censorship. In October 1967, Sanders and his folk-rock ensemble, the Fugs, stood on a flatbed truck and performed “The Exorcism of the Pentagon” at a huge antiwar rally that bequeathed to the world another iconic image: the stunning picture of flowers sprouting from the rifle barrels of young soldiers guarding the high church of the military-industrial complex.

For good or ill, cannabis was intimately associated with the rising tide of cognitive dissonance that prompted millions of Americans to question, re-evaluate and oppose their nation’s bully-boy foreign policy. “You couldn’t separate laws against drugs from the war,” said Yippie impresario Paul Krassner, who declared at a peace rally that he “wouldn’t stop smoking pot until it was legal.” To many onlookers, however, the widespread consumption of cannabis was a symptom—if not the actual cause—of public disorder and moral decay. Henry Giordano, chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the mid-1960s, told Congress that calls to legalize pot were “just another effort to break down our whole American system.” Denigrated by politicians and deified by dissidents, the little flower that millions loved to smoke had become a totem of rebellion, a multivalent symbol of societal conflict.

* * *

President Richard Nixon saw marijuana as a useful wedge issue that he could play for political advantage. His declaration of all-out war against illicit drugs in general, and cannabis in particular, cast aspersions on all the troublesome currents that flowed from the rebellious ’60s. For Nixon, the anti-drug crusade was more than just a formula for padding arrest statistics and appearing tough on crime. It was also a symbolic means of stigmatizing youth protest, antiwar sentiment, Black Power and anyone with a nonregulation haircut—underscoring once again that pot prohibition had little to do with the actual effects of the herb and everything to do with who was using it.

On October 27, 1970, Congress ratified the Controlled Substances Act, which placed all drugs into five different categories or “schedules” according to their safety, medical uses and potential for abuse. There was a political calculus behind Attorney General John Mitchell’s decision to label marijuana a Schedule I narcotic, a designation reserved for dangerous drugs with no therapeutic value. “This country is going so far to the right you won’t recognize it,” Mitchell blithely assured a reporter. His prediction would come to pass, and the drug war would figure prominently in American democracy’s long slide toward oblivion.

The Controlled Substances Act required the president to appoint a national commission to assess the dangers of marijuana and make long-term policy recommendations. Nixon stacked the commission with drug war hawks, who nonetheless confounded expectations by issuing a comprehensive 1,184-page report, Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, that endorsed the removal of criminal penalties for “possession of marihuana for personal use” and for “casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana.” The commission also asserted that cannabis should be studied for possible medical benefits. Nixon never read the report before dismissing its recommendations. . .

Continue reading.

Other articles in The Nation on the topic:

Katrina vanden Heuvel: “Why Its Always Been Time to Legalize Marijuana

Mike Riggs: “Obama’s War on Pot

Carl L. Hart: “Pot Reform’s Race Problem

Harry Levine: “The Scandal of Racist Marijuana Possession Arrests—and Why We Must Stop Them

Martin A. Lee: “The Marijuana Miracle: Why a Single Compound in Cannabis May Revolutionize Modern Medicine

Kristen Gwynne: “Can Medical Marijuana Survive in Washington State?

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian: “Baking Bad: A Potted History of High Times

Various Contributors: “The Drug War Touched My Life: Why I’m Fighting Back

And only online…

J. Hoberman: “The Cineaste’s Guide to Watching Movies While Stoned

Harmon Leon: “Pot Block! Trapped in the Marijuana Rescheduling Maze

Seth Zuckerman: “Is Pot-Growing Bad for the Environment?

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2013 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Materialism promises satisfaction. It delivers despair.

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By “materialism,” George Monbiot means the compulsive acquisition of fine possessions. This essay first appeared in the Guardian:

That they are crass, brash and trashy goes without saying. But there is something in the pictures posted on Rich Kids of Instagram (and highlighted by the Guardian last week(1)) that inspires more than the usual revulsion towards crude displays of opulence. There is a shadow in these photos – photos of a young man wearing all four of his Rolex watches(2), a youth posing in front of his helicopter(3), endless pictures of cars, yachts, shoes, mansions, swimming pools, spoilt white boys throwing gangster poses in private jets – of something worse; something that, after you have seen a few dozen, becomes disorienting, even distressing.

The pictures are, of course, intended to incite envy. They reek instead of desperation. The young men and women seem lost in their designer clothes, dwarfed and dehumanised by their possessions, as if ownership has gone into reverse. A girl’s head barely emerges from the haul of Chanel, Dior and Hermes shopping bags she has piled onto her vast bed(4). It’s captioned “shoppy shoppy” and “#goldrush”, but a photograph whose purpose is to illustrate plenty seems instead to depict a void. She’s alone with her bags and her image in the mirror, in a scene that seems saturated with despair. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2013 at 11:43 am

Posted in Daily life

The Decay of American Political Institutions

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Interesting essay by Francis Fukuyama (he of The End of History), which begins:

M

any political institutions in the United States are decaying. This is not the same thing as the broader phenomenon of societal or civilization decline, which has become a highly politicized topic in the discourse about America. Political decay in this instance simply means that a specific political process—sometimes an individual government agency—has become dysfunctional. This is the result of intellectual rigidity and the growing power of entrenched political actors that prevent reform and rebalancing. This doesn’t mean that America is set on a permanent course of decline, or that its power relative to other countries will necessarily diminish. Institutional reform is, however, an extremely difficult thing to bring about, and there is no guarantee that it can be accomplished without a major disruption of the political order. So while decay is not the same as decline, neither are the two discussions unrelated.

There are many diagnoses of America’s current woes. In my view, there is no single “silver bullet” cause of institutional decay, or of the more expansive notion of decline. In general, however, the historical context of American political development is all too often given short shrift in much analysis. If we look more closely at American history as compared to that of other liberal democracies, we notice three key structural characteristics of American political culture that, however they developed and however effective they have been in the past, have become problematic in the present.

The first is that, relative to other liberal democracies, the judiciary and the legislature (including the roles played by the two major political parties) continue to play outsized roles in American government at the expense of Executive Branch bureaucracies. Americans’ traditional distrust of government thus leads to judicial solutions for administrative problems. Over time this has become a very expensive and inefficient way to manage administrative requirements.

The second is . . .

Continue reading.

Kevin Drum has a good post on the essay.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2013 at 11:38 am

Posted in Government

The difficulty of apologizing

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As every adult knows, an apology cannot contain the word “if,” but “if” allows a handy way to avoid accepting responsibility and convey a vague impression that one is sort of apologizing. The typical form for a non-apology is, “I’m sorry if…”, with the blank filled by something like “[anyone took offense” or “people misunderstood,” etc. Ryan O’Hanlon has a good article in Pacific Standard:

It’s not the most notable example, but it’s the most recent one I can remember. Last week, after police decided not to charge Florida State quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Jameis Winston with rape, the NBC Sports Radio Twitter account tweeted the following message:

nbcsports

In keeping with what seems like a mass, ongoing effort by inhuman entities to do anything that will make them appear the slightest bit human, this was an insensitive (at best) attempt to, I believe the word is, “synergize” a radio station or a brand with a fraught current or historical event. The tweet was quickly deleted, only to be followed with this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 11.23.31 AM

At this point, if someone issues a public apology, they’re probably not actually apologizing.

The term “non-apology” first appeared in 1971, but it wasn’t commonly used until the late ’90s and then on into today. It’s when you apologize … if you’ve offended anyone. “I’m sorry … if you felt this way.” Or when you say you’re sorry because you didn’t mean to do whatever terrible thing you ended up doing. It’s a conditional apology. It’s an apology, plus more some words that make it into something that’s not an apology.

Here’s a brief, partial list of people who’ve employed the form: Alberto Gonzalez, Pete Rose, Paul Wolfowitz, Justin Bieber, Daniel Tosh, Don Imus, Beyonce, the kid from Two and a Half Men, Ricky Gervais, Hugh Grant, the chairman of Lululemon, John Mayer, Serena Williams, Michael Richards, Chris Brown, Sarah Palin.

To all of those names: If you’re willing to go through the whole process of “issuing an apology,” why not just, you know, actually apologize?

THE HARDEST PART OF apologizing, when you’re first learning how, is having to see the person you stole that baseball card from or punched off of the see-saw when you apologize to them. It’s not difficult to say the right words; it’s the whole process of bringing yourself to begin to say them that can be excruciating. When you give a non-apology, you’re avoiding the hardest part. Or, if you’re issuing a prepared statement, the hardest part doesn’t exist. Should it be so difficult to just say “I’m sorry for [thing]. It won’t happen again”? And if you’re not planning on saying that, why say anything at all?

Part of the issue is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2013 at 11:26 am

Posted in Daily life

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