Later On

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

Archive for October 9th, 2014

Mexico is failing badly

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It simply cannot protect its own citizens. It’s amazing to me that we do not legalize drugs now—though we’ve already made the cartels wealthy and powerful, there’s no need to keep it up. Addiction is then treated as a medical problem.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Government

The NYPD seems shot through with corruption, brutality, and dishonesty

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That’s something they probably should work on. Here’s a cellphone video of a NYPD police officer stealing money from a man and then pepper-spraying on-lookers.

UPDATE: And read this brief editorial on the state of Rikers Island, the NYC jail. NYPD seems to be taken over by criminals.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

An interesting point about police-academy curricula

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From this ThinkProgress post by Alice Ollstein:

“Police have to ask themselves, are you enforcing the law or are you a warrior? Oftentimes, police officers feel like they’re ‘fighting crime’ instead of the enforcing the law. There’s a distinction.”

That distinction, said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, begins in the academies, before officers even get their badges. “We learn the technical aspects of policing: what report to fill out for this offense, how to properly handcuff, how do you make a stop, this, that and the other,” he said, but pointed out that the training doesn’t emphasize the protection of civil rights and liberties. “We don’t spend time talking about the role of the police in a democratic society. We don’t talk much about constitutional policing, including the right to assemble and peacefully demonstrate.”

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Courts are waking up to forced secrecy’s First Amendment problem

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Cora Currier writes at The Intercept:

Can the government make demands for data entirely in secret?

That was the question yesterday before a federal appeals court in San Francisco, where government lawyers argued that National Security Letters — FBI requests for information that are so secret they can’t be publicly acknowledged by the recipients — were essential to counterterrorism investigations. The telecom company and internet provider that have challenged the National Security Letters (known as NSLs) still can’t even be named.

Last year, in a sharp rebuke to the government, a judge found that the gag order that comes with NSLs violated the First Amendment. The nondisclosure rule “significantly infringe[s] on speech regarding controversial government powers,” U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, of Northern California, wrote in March 2013. She also ordered that the FBI stop sending out NSLs entirely, but put the order on hold to give the government a chance to appeal.

The government, predictably, did appeal, and in arguments yesterday before the 9th Circuit, a Justice Department lawyer said that they would lose “an extremely useful tool” if the court upholds the ban on NSLs. (Documents related to the case can be found here.) . . .

Continue reading.

Losing “an extremely useful tool”? I’m sure cops felt the same way when they could not longer beat confessions out of a suspect. Our society exists for a higher purpose than to ease the job of law enforcement by allowing them to do anything they please.

And in that regard, check out this good clip:

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

What risks does use of cannabis entail?

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For an adult, almost none. See this Washington Post article by Christopher Ingraham:

You may have read this week that a new “20-year research study” on marijuana use “finally demolishes claims that smoking marijuana is harmless,” and has found that it “makes you stupid,” that “smoking marijuana over the long-term can develop cancer” [SIC], and that marijuana is “as addictive as heroin.” At least, that’s what you’d conclude if you’d read most media coverage of the study. But if you’d actually read the study yourself (which I highly recommend!), you’d likely walk away with very different conclusions.

The paper in question is a review of 20 years of existing research into the health effects of marijuana use. By design, it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. The focus is almost exclusively on the effects of long-term heavy (daily or near-daily) marijuana use: “this paper deals with the adverse effects of cannabis smoking, especially the adverse health effects of regular, typically daily, cannabis smoking,” the author, Wayne Hall, a drug adviser to the World Health Organization, writes.

Setting aside the alarmist accounts of the study in many media outlets, here’s what Hall actually found:

You can’t OD from marijuana
“The estimated fatal dose [of THC, the primary active compound in marijuana] in humans derived from animal studies is between 15 and 70 grams. This is a far greater amount of cannabis that even a very heavy cannabis user could use in a day,” Hall writes. The average joint contains about a half a gram of marijuana, and the average potency of seized marijuana in 2013 was 12.58 percent, which means there are about 0.06 grams of THC in the average joint, which means that somebody would need to smoke somewhere between 238 and 1,113 joints in a day – or at least 10 joints an hour, for 24 hours straight – before overdose could become a realistic concern.

Don’t drive stoned

Stoned driving is considerably safer than drunk driving, but it’s still a dumb thing to do, Hall writes. “Cannabis users who drive while intoxicated increase their risk of motor vehicle crashes 2–3 times as against 6–15 times for comparable intoxicating doses of alcohol.”

Don’t smoke weed while you’re pregnant

Studies have demonstrated a link between marijuana use during pregnancy and low birth weight, “although the effect was smaller than that for tobacco smoking,” Hill notes. There is some evidence of a link between prenatal cannabis exposure and a variety of problems later in life, like lower IQ and behavioral problems. But, “uncertainty remains because of the small number of studies, the small samples of women in each and the researchers’ limited ability to control for the confounding effects of other drug use during pregnancy, maternal drug use post-birth and poor parenting.”

In short, “it is prudent to counsel women against using cannabis during pregnancy,” Hall concludes.

You can get addicted to marijuana, but it’s highly unlikely

People who try marijuana are significantly less likely to become dependent on it than users of just about any other drug, including tobacco, heroin, cocaine, alcohol or stimulants: “The life-time risk of developing dependence among those who have ever used cannabis was estimated at 9% in the United States in the early 1990s as against 32% for nicotine, 23% for heroin, 17% for cocaine, 15% for alcohol and 11% for stimulants.” More than nine-in-ten people who try marijuana don’t get addicted to it.

The risk of addiction is higher (one-in-six) if you start using in your teens. Dependent users can experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit, including “anxiety, insomnia, appetite disturbance and depression.” That said, “The adverse health and social consequences of cannabis use reported by cannabis users who seek treatment for dependence appear to be less severe than those reported by alcohol and opioid-dependent people,” Hall writes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Health, Science

An interesting counterpoint to Reza Aslan

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UPDATE: Here is an op-ed by Reza Aslan, again defending Islam.

I recently blogged Reza Aslan’s CNN interview in which he offered a rebuttal of Bill Maher’s comments on Islam. Now Jeffrey Tayler comes to Maher’s defense in an article in Salon in which he offers a rebuttal of Aslan’s position:

Bill Maher’s recent monologue on “Real Time” excoriating self-professed liberals for going soft on Islam — hotly debated again last Friday with Ben Affleck and Sam Harris, and expounded on in this exclusive Salon interview — might well serve as a credo for atheist progressives the world over.  He began by introducing a photo, originally posted on a social media site, showing a teenager in Pennsylvania mounting a statue of Jesus Christ in such a way as to create the impression that Jesus was fellating him.  Noting that it “may not be in good taste,” Maher declared that “there’s no picture that makes my heart swell with patriotism quite like this one.”

Why?  He explained that in the United States, with separation of church and state enshrined in the Constitution, the youth, on account of his sacrilegious prank, would not do jail time or face violence because “liberal Western culture is not just different, it’s better. . . . rule of law isn’t just different than theocracy, it’s better.  If you don’t see that, then you’re either a religious fanatic or a masochist, but one thing you are certainly notis a liberal.”

(In fact, Maher proved too sanguine about the supposedly religion-free workings of the U.S. justice system.  As punishment for the irreverent post, a court ordered the teen to do community service, observe a curfew, and stay off social media for six months.  Hardly comparable to facing a fatwa for drawing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, but indicative nonetheless of the worrisome pro-faith bias infecting at least courts of law in our supposedly secular republic.)

Maher included Barack Obama among those unwilling to talk straight about Islam, and rebutted the president’s repeated statements that ISIS is “not Islamic” by pointing out that “vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe . . . that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea, or drawing a cartoon, or writing a book.”  This means, said Maher, that “not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.”

Maher’s is no offhand opinion, but a blunt statement of fact.  A wide-ranging 2013 Pew Research Center poll, conducted between 2008 and 2012 in 39 countries, offered a deeply disturbing, unequivocal overview of the faith-based intolerance prevalent across much of the Muslim world.  Among other things, majorities of Muslims – varying somewhat according to region – favor putting to death apostates and adulterers, condemn homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia as immoral, and believe that “a wife must obey her husband.”  Large minorities condone “honor killings.”  It should be noted that for practical reasons, the Pew Center could not survey Muslims in the repressive, highly conservative Gulf States (including Saudi Arabia, the homeland of Wahhabism), so, if anything, these numbers provide an excessively moderate summary of Muslim positions on issues progressives hold dear.

There can be no doubt about the wellspring of these nevertheless profoundly illiberal results.  Texts in the Koran and the Hadith (the sayings and teachings traditionally attributed to the prophet Muhammad) back every one of the retrograde, even repulsive, positions the Pew Center catalogued.  There are also passages in these writings that appear more tolerant, but the point is, Muslims looking to back up hardline interpretations of Islam do not lack for scriptural support.

Maher did not cite polls on his show – he is, after all, a comedian – but had he done so, he would have given doubters a way to verify the veracity of his monologue.  That left room for interpretation and dispute, or at least for what passes for such on cable news channels.  To decode Maher’s pronouncements about Islam, “CNN Tonight’s” hosts Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota called on Reza Aslan, the author of “No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam” and “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

To start the discussion, Lemon asked Aslan what he thought of Maher’s performance.  Jumpy and defensive from the start, Aslan quickly steered the discussion away from the gist of Maher’s monologue – that Islam does have a violence problem Western liberals need to be frank about – and toward Maher’s outrage at Female Genital Mutilation.  FGM, was “not an Islamic problem, it’s an African problem . . . a Central African problem,” Aslan asserted.  “Nowhere else in the Muslim, Muslim-majority states is [FMG] an issue.”

This is flat-out wrong.  Though the barbaric practice predates Islam, FMG occurs, as far as is known, in at least twenty-nine countries (among them Egypt, Kurdistan, and Yemen) across a wide swath of Africa and the Middle East, and beyond.  Muslims even exported the savage custom to Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is a growing problem.  Those working locally to eradicate FGM have, understandably, a good deal of trouble making it an “issue,” given the lack on openness in discussing sex-related topics in the countries involved, so the situation may in fact be worse than is now recognized.  And if it wasn’t originally Islamic, it has so been for fourteen centuries.  The Prophet Muhammad, in the Hadith, condoned it, even encouraged it (calling it an “honorable quality for women”) and ordaining only that it not be performed “severely.”

Aslan’s erroneous dismissal of FGM as a “central African problem” will help none of the tens of millions of girls and women who have suffered mutilation across the Islamic world, but it will give comfort to those who hope to continue butchering their victims without scrutiny from abroad.  Neither CNN’s hosts nor Aslan mentioned Maher’s call to liberals to stop ignoring the practice, nor did they bring up his pointed words about Yale’s craven, abrupt cancelation, earlier this year, of the invitation to speak sent to one of FMG’s most prominent victims, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the brave, Somali-born anti-Islam activist and writer.  Maher blames a misguided attempt at evenhandedness by the school’s “atheist organization” for the disinvitation, but — surprise! — it was actually the Muslim Students Association that first asked for her event to be called off.

Lemon pressed Aslan to admit that mistreatment of women is nonetheless a problem in Muslim countries.  Aslan misleadingly relegated the problem to Iran and Saudi Arabia, while declaring no such ill bedevils women in Turkey (where honor killings have increased in recent years), Bangladesh, and (FMG-riddled) Malaysia and Indonesia.  Nor did he mention the salient fact about the status of women in his chosen “lands of enlightenment” — that women owe their well-being (at least in his eyes) there not to Islam, but to secularism and legal systems based on Western models curbing religious influence in jurisprudence.  In Indonesia, however, Shariah law is advancing and may undo protections women now enjoy.

Camerota, however, insisted, wanting to explore “the commonplace wrongs that are happening [to women] in some of these countries.”  She mentioned the Saudi prohibition on women driving, which gave Aslan the chance to browbeat both presenters for cherry-picking examples from one “extremist” country and using them to unjustly besmirch the entire Muslim world.  He then kept on about Saudi Arabia, as though his hosts, not he, were harping on the country, and declared that their Saudi-centered approach was not a “legitimate” way to talk about Muslim women, but amounted to “bigotry” – a charge sure to intimidate his questioners and get them to back off.

It worked, at least for a moment.  “Fair enough,” Lemon answered, though possibly less because he agreed and more because he wanted to move the interview along.  After airing a clip of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu equating ISIS and Hamas at the United Nations, he asked Aslan straight-out: “Does Islam promote violence?”

“Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace,” said Aslan.  “Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it . . . .  There are Buddhist marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children.  Does Buddhism promote violence?  Of course not.  People are violent or peaceful. . . .”  He then dribbled off into generic blather about social, political and psychological reasons for violence, none of which, in his telling, had anything to do with Islam or any other faith. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 12:50 pm

Posted in Media, Religion

What is going on? Women attacked for refusing an advance?

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Apparently some men truly believe that a woman has no right of refusal, and a woman who rebuts an advance (e.g., will not give her phone number to a man she doesn’t know, or will not accept go on a date with a man she doesn’t know, or (in at least one case I know) would not return a stranger’s smile are then attacked by the man. What?

It seems to be happening more. Tara Culp-Ressler reports a couple of incidents from just this week.

Although the men’s actions seem batshit crazy to me, the men apparently present as normal. This change in attitude—to a vicious and active brand of misogyny—is also at the root of Gamergate, so far as I can tell.

How are these men raised? Is there something in their family dynamics that makes them hate women?

Only in recent years have I realized how much risk of physical danger women experience just in daily life. I read recently of a woman pointing out that men are frightened of going to prison because of the threats of rape and violent attacks—but those are the risks that women face daily as they go about in public. And lest they forget, they will often encounter men who think it’s fine to shout double-entrendes at a woman they do not know.

I think women don’t talk about it all that much because (a) they all know it and have experienced it, and (b) men feel uncomfortable when women tell them of their experience—basically, men do not want to know. “You deal with it” seems to be a common response.

UPDATE: There’s a bad sentence in Tara Culp-Ressler’s article: “He was asking for her number, which she refused to give to him because she was in a relationship.” I have struck out the bad phrase—she does not have to provide a reason for not giving her phone number to a stranger. The fact that she was in a relationship is irrelevant.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Daily life

NSA requires new and more sensible leadership

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Unfortunately, just as corporate CEOs are driven to sociopathic behavior—or, probably more accurately, non-sociopaths are disadvantaged in the competition for CEO slots—so leaders in the intelligence community are driven to paranoid levels of suspicion and secrecy—or, more likely, those lacking those characteristics lose out to those who have them. Dan Froomkin points out in The Intercept where that leads:

It’s an assertion that defies common sense but speaks volumes about how the U.S. intelligence complex dodges accountability: The National Security Agency is arguing that even the secrets it has intentionally disclosed to reporters are still so secret that disclosing their disclosure threatens national security.

At issue is a report to Congress from the NSA on instances of “authorized disclosures” of classified intelligence to the media. The report was mandated by the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.

Steven Aftergood, who writes the essential Secrecy News blog for the Federation of American Scientists, requested a copy under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The NSA’s response, dated Oct. 2: “The document is classified because its disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”

Has it ever been more clear that the NSA uses the phrase “could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security” as a euphemism for “could gravely embarrass us?”

As Aftergood notes in his appeal, the legal precedent is that once information has been “officially acknowledged” it isn’t exempt from FOIA anymore – it’s not secret.

So what is the NSA so desperately eager to cover up?

Aftergood charitably tried to explain in his own post on the matter this morning:

Confronted by a pressing question from a reporter on a classified matter, an official might opt to acknowledge or disclose classified information in response, without necessarily intending to broadcast that information to everyone. In such cases, the information might be disclosed without being declassified, especially if it is already known to the reporter through other channels.

But more likely, what the NSA is so sensitive about is how frequently its officials disclose secrets when doing so serves the agency’s political agenda – and especially when it discredits the agency’s critics.

(That, and inappropriately friendly strategizing with tame reporters.)

One of the biggest open secrets in Washington is that, despite officialdom’s intensive efforts to demonize whistleblowers like former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, the vast majority of disclosures of secret information are not “leaks” but “pleaks” — a term Columbia Law Professor David E. Pozencoined to describe something that is more like an official “plant” than a “leak.”

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were particularly adept at selectively disclosing secret intelligence findings that served their agenda – even while aggressively asserting the need to keep secret the information that would damage them.

I found Pozen’s study on pleaks thanks to Aftergood, naturally.

Pozen’s starting point in that study is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 10:25 am

Synthetic performers

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An extremely interesting 10-minute video at Verge on the creation of (in effect) synthetic Justin Biebers. Worth watching, IMO. It’s the video at the top of the page.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 10:12 am

Posted in Software, Technology, Video

Excellent result, fine shave: Indian Summer and Gillette Tech

with 6 comments

SOTD 9 Oct 2014

The photo is somewhat deceptive, as I’ll explain. I was talking with someone yesterday about the Kent BK4, the brush shown, and I thought I might as well use it. It’s quite a nice brush. We were talking about the time it took to load the brush, and the key factor seems to be speed of brushing: the more briskly you brush the soap, the faster the brush will load. I use a wet brush, holding the tub on its side over the sink to let excess water/sloppy lather spill away, and I do brush very briskly. I’m looking for the lather being formed to go big bubbles to smaller to microscopic, and then I brush a couple more seconds.

Indian Summer seemed well-timed, and the lather was excellent and fragrant. Mystic Water makes a tallow-based soap of high quality.

Three passes with the Gillette Tech holding a Feather blade left my face BBS, and it was quite comfortable shave. There’s a reason that Gillette made millions of Techs. The aftershave shown was not what I used: in the bathroom I happened to see The Shave Den’s Lavender and Rose aftershave, and that appealed to me more.

I have a post on Wicked Edge to gather data about razor performance to locate each model on a plane, one axis of which represents comfort (from -5 being extremely uncomfortable to +5 being extremely comfortable), and the other axis representing efficiency, from 1 (not cutting so well) to 10 (practically BBS after the first pass). This effort will come to nothing—the problem is how Reddit posts are continually pushed down by new posts and thus effectively vanish after a few days—but it has been instructive to try. (What this really needs is a dedicated Website where guys can register, log in with a password, and enter and update their ratings as needed (new razor, old razor re-evaluated, etc.). Razor models would have to be a dropdown list to keep the ratings straight, and of course there’s no need to be exhaustive—obscure and rare razors need not be listed. I think adjustable razors might also be not listed.

Since I got a BBS with the Tech, would its efficiency not be high? No, because a highly efficient razor leaves a lot of one’s face BBS after the first pass, and the second pass almost finishes the job—often the final ATG pass is mostly pro forma, just cleaning up a few spots.

Here are the ratings so far on the Gillette Tech. As you can see, there is one outlier I would probably omit in the final summary:

Gillette Tech

The comfort level is the x-axis, efficiency is the y-axis, and Excel’s chart function decides how big to make the chart. The point at (3,5) (comfort = 3, efficiency = 5) actually represents two different response, and that dot does indeed look a little bigger, but I need a better way to distinguish the number of instances a dot represents.

Here’s another try:

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 8.29.28 AM

Sorry about the typo. This chart, for reasons best known to Excel, is rotated 90º from the chart above. In this one, the x-axis is efficiency, the y-axis comfort. There seems to be general agreement on the comfort level (average is 4 if you drop the outlier, otherwise 2.5—and I think 4 is closer to the mark), but there’s a fair spread on efficiency—though we do have an outlier there, as well. Again, the dot at (3,5) (in this graph) represents two instances. The average efficiency level is 4.4 with that bottom dot included, 4.8 without it. But if we also drop the observation (5, 6), which also seems to be an outlier, we get average comfort of 3.8 (because of the two data points at (3, 5) and average efficiency of 4.5.

Obviously, with a lot more observations a tighter cluster might emerge—and in any event the ratings are mainly of interest as a point of comparison. I do believe, however, that the two axis representation better captures the actual performance of a razor—for example, the Weishi and the Feather AS-D2 would be quite close in the comfort rating, but very far apart with respect to efficiency. My own ratings:

Weishi: comfort 4, efficiency 2.5
AS-D1: comfort 4.5, efficiency 9.

In a linear ranking of razors such as the one described here, the Weishi and AS-D1 are quite close, which would make one expect them to perform about the same, only to be surprised in the event.


Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2014 at 8:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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