Later On

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

Archive for November 1st, 2014

For 10 years IDF troops have had to escort Palestinian children to school to keep Israeli illegal settlers from attacking the children with stone and clubs

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The settlers have stolen Palestinian territory and are trying to drive away Palestinians who live near—destroying their wells, cutting down their orchards, and (apparently) beating their children if given the chance.

Israel really does not look good in this. Israel does have the right to defend itself, but beating children trying to go to school doesn’t really strike me as a defensive measure. Quite the contrary.

Anne-Marie O’Connor writes in the Washington Post:

— Ten years ago, Israeli lawmakers convened a special meeting to hear testimony about Palestinian children being menaced by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank. The politicians called for an unprecedented emergency solution: Israeli soldiers would walk the children to school until their assailants could be stopped.

A decade later, a dozen Palestinian children trudge up the rocky hilltop here flanked by Israeli troops in full body armor. The soldiers are escorting them past a Jewish settlement harboring teens and adults who have attacked the youngsters with sticks and stones.

The now decade-old scene has become what critics call a metaphor for the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in which solutions devised as ad hoc and temporary have become, like the conflict itself, a permanent status quo.

“I thought this problem would be solved long ago,” said Avshalom Vilan, a former member of an elite Israeli army commando unit who served on the Knesset committee that called for the soldier escort in 2004.

“This is the heavy price we are paying for being conquerors. This is a terrible example to Israeli society. It’s like a cancer,” said Vilan, who now leads the Israeli Farmers Federation.

About 350,000 Jews live in 121 West Bank settlements that most countries consider illegal because they are built on land occupied by the Israeli military — land Palestinians hope to claim for a sovereign state. Many are bland suburbs; others are ideological centers where Israeli activists clash with their Palestinian neighbors.One of the hot spots is Havat Maon, a Jewish settlement established in 2000 on a pine-covered hill overlooking the Arab town of Tuwani. Since then, Palestinians say they have been displaced from agricultural land, their sheep have been shot, hundreds of their olive trees have been destroyed and poison has been scattered in the fields.

A Palestinian who was stabbed by a masked man in 2011 is suing for negligence because Israeli soldiers didn’t arrest the assailant as he ran past them into Havat Maon, according to his Jerusalem attorney, Eitay Mack. Israeli news reports say international volunteers, and even a few Israeli soldiers, have been attacked by Havat Maon settlers over the years. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2014 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Interesting view of ADHD, with a natural fix

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Richard A. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College. He writes in the NY Times:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17. The rates of both diagnosis and treatment have increased so much in the past decade that you may wonder whether something that affects so many people can really be a disease.

And for a good reason. Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting.

One of my patients, a young woman in her early 20s, is prototypical. “I’ve been on Adderall for years to help me focus,” she told me at our first meeting. Before taking Adderall, she found sitting in lectures unendurable and would lose her concentration within minutes. Like many people with A.D.H.D., she hankered for exciting and varied experiences and also resorted to alcohol to relieve boredom. But when something was new and stimulating, she had laserlike focus. I knew that she loved painting and asked her how long she could maintain her interest in her art. “No problem. I can paint for hours at a stretch.”

Rewards like sex, money, drugs and novel situations all cause the release of dopamine in the reward circuit of the brain, a region buried deep beneath the cortex. Aside from generating a sense of pleasure, this dopamine signal tells your brain something like, “Pay attention, this is an important experience that is worth remembering.”

The more novel and unpredictable the experience, the greater the activity in your reward center. But what is stimulating to one person may be dull — or even unbearably exciting — to another. There is great variability in the sensitivity of this reward circuit.

Clinicians have long known this to be the case, and everyday experience bears it out. Think of the adrenaline junkies who bungee jump without breaking a sweat and contrast them with the anxious spectators for whom the act evokes nothing but terror and dread.

Dr. Nora D. Volkow, a scientist who directs the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has studied the dopamine reward pathway in people with A.D.H.D. Using a PET scan, she and her colleagues compared the number of dopamine receptors in this brain region in a group of unmedicated adults with A.D.H.D. with a group of healthy controls. What she found was striking. The adults with A.D.H.D. had significantly fewer D2 and D3 receptors (two specific subtypes of dopamine receptors) in their reward circuits than did healthy controls. Furthermore, the lower the level of dopamine receptors was, the greater the subjects’ symptoms of inattention. Studies in children showed similar changes in dopamine function as well.

These findings suggest that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2014 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Mental Health, Science

Maybe Andrew Cuomo is not cut out for government

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He seems more focused on politicking than doing the job. Note this NY Times editorial with some damning facts about Cuomo’s performance and behavior:

Two years ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the Eastern Seaboard. Close to one million customers of the Long Island Power Authority lost power, some for weeks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controlled the authority, decided that LIPA’s miserable performance needed to be investigated and, to that end, created the Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response.

The inquiry was a good idea. But even before the commission got to work, it was clear that Mr. Cuomo was largely responsible for LIPA’s failings, since he did not fill vacant positions on LIPA’s board or appoint a permanent chief executive. When the storm hit, Mr. Cuomo lashed out repeatedly at LIPA’s performance, and required all news releases to go through his office, which meant it took longer to get information to the public.

A New York Times investigation by Susanne Craig now shows that Mr. Cuomo’s administration meddled with the commission’s inquiry and report, partly to shield him from any blame for LIPA’s bumbling response to the storm. Kathleen Rice, who was in charge of the section of the commission’s report dealing with LIPA, dedicated several pages to staffing issues and concluded that LIPA “may have benefited” during the storm if positions like that of communications chief, the person who could have kept customers informed, had been filled. That finding did not appear in a report to the governor in January 2013.

Mr. Cuomo’s aides have argued that he did not fill vacancies before the storm because he felt LIPA was “bloated” and that it made no sense to fill jobs that might be eliminated later. And they contend that a final report from the commission was only slightly edited, not rewritten to suit the governor’s needs. But The Times’s account is consistent with Mr. Cuomo’s recurring efforts to control the narrative to protect himself from criticism. He has also been widely criticized for his efforts to manipulate the activities and findings of the Moreland Commission on government ethics, which he shut down in the spring. . . .

Continue reading.

And click that link to the investigative report: it’s quite damning. Ms. Teachout would have been a better choice.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2014 at 8:18 pm

The Guantánamo Tapes

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The US is continuing to blacken its name at Guantánamo. Joe Nocera writes in the NY Times:

Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab is a Syrian man who has been a detainee at the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002. In 2009, the Guantánamo Review Task Force ruled that he was not a threat to national security and could be released. Yet here we are five years later, and Diyab is still imprisoned at Guantánamo, having never been tried, or even accused of a crime, and with no idea when — or if — he’ll ever get out. Last year, to protest their continued confinement, he and many other detainees began a hunger strike. Most of the detainees have since given up their hunger strikes. Diyab, however, has never completely stopped his.

One reason many detainees abandoned their hunger strikes is because, twice a day, the government used what is called “enteral feeding” to ensure that they were getting nutrients. A more common term is force-feeding. The ordeal begins with something called “forced cell extraction,” which one of Diyab’s lawyers, Jon Eisenberg, described to me as “a highly orchestrated procedure.”

“A five-man riot squad in complete armor pins the guy to the floor, shackles him, and carries him out,” Eisenberg says. Then the detainee is strapped into a restraint chair — which the prisoners have dubbed the “torture chair.” One soldier holds the detainee’s head, while another feeds a tube into his nose and down to his stomach. It is very painful to endure.

Last year, I wrote several columns about force-feeding, asking whether it could be classified as torture. At the time, I didn’t think there would ever be a way to test that premise in an American court. The federal judge who seemed most sympathetic to the detainees’ plight, Gladys Kessler, had concluded that she simply lacked the authority to rule on the conditions of their confinement, based on a 2006 law intended to prevent the prisoners from petitioning the judiciary and challenging their detention.

Lo and behold, Judge Kessler turned out to be wrong. Earlier this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled, 2 to 1, that she did have jurisdiction. There are strict medical protocols for force-feeding hospital patients or prisoners. If the military violated those protocols — especially if detainees were force-fed in an abusive, punitive manner — then she could order them to stop.

Thus began eight months of legal wrangling between Diyab’s lawyers and the government that culminated in a three-day hearing that took place earlier this month. Though no one put it like this, its purpose, at least in part, was . . .

Continue reading.

See also this article by Charlie Savage in the NY Times: Judge Orders Disclosure of Guantánamo Videos

I believe those videos will (or should) shock the conscience, particularly since some of the prisoners were just swept up in a general action and in fact are guilty of nothing.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2014 at 11:23 am

Deceptions of the F.B.I.

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The FBI has a bad record of illegal and unethical behavior. A NY Times editorial comments today:

If your Internet service goes down and you call a technician, can you be certain that the person who arrives at your door is actually there to restore service? What if he is a law enforcement agent in disguise who has disabled the service so he can enter your home to look around for evidence of a crime?

Americans should not have to worry about scenarios like this, but F.B.I. agents used this ruse during a gambling investigation in Las Vegas in July. Most disturbing of all, the Justice Department is now defending the agents’ actions in court.

During the 2014 World Cup, the agents suspected that an illegal gambling ring was operating out of several hotel rooms at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, but they apparently did not have enough evidence to get a court-issued warrant. So they enlisted the hotel’s assistance in shutting off the Internet to those rooms, prompting the rooms’ occupants to call for help. Undercover agents disguised as repairmen appeared at the door, and the occupants let them in. While pretending to fix the service, the agents saw men watching soccer matches and looking at betting odds on their computers.

There is nothing illegal about visiting sports-betting websites, but the agents relied primarily on that evidence to get their search warrant. What they failed to tell the judge was that they had turned off the Internet service themselves.

Of course, law enforcement authorities regularly rely on sting operations and other deceptive tactics, and courts usually allow them if the authorities reasonably believe they will find evidence of a crime. Without that suspicion, the Constitution prohibits warrantless searches of peoples’ residences, including hotel rooms. The authorities can jump that hurdle if a home’s occupant consents to let them enter, as when an undercover officer is invited into a home to buy drugs.

The Las Vegas case fails on both counts, according to a lawyer for the defendants. Although one of the defendants in the case, Wei Seng Phua, a Malaysian citizen, had been arrested in Macau earlier this year for running an illegal sports-gambling business, the agents did not have probable cause to believe anything illegal was happening in two of the rooms they searched. And a federal prosecutor had initially warned the agents not to use trickery because of the “consent issue.” In fact, a previous ruse by the agents had failed when a person in one of the rooms refused to let them in.

In a separate case out of Seattle, F.B.I. agents pretended to be journalists in a 2007 investigation of high school bomb threats, according to documentsrecently uncovered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Agents there concocted a fake online news article by The Associated Press about the threats. They sent a link to the Myspace page of a student they suspected of making the threats, and when he opened the link, it downloaded malware that enabled the agents to track him down and arrest him. The A.P. is rightly outraged and has protested the F.B.I.’s misappropriation of its name as undermining “the most fundamental component of a free press — its independence.” . . .

Continue reading.

And, for another example, note this Washington Post story by Peter Hermann:

An investigation into possible misconduct by an FBI agent has forced authorities to quietly release at least a dozen convicts serving prison sentences for distributing drugs in the District and its suburbs, according to law enforcement officials, court documents and defense attorneys.

In addition, several suspects awaiting trial on drug charges and a man convicted but not yet sentenced have also been freed. Officials said more cases­ that could involve the agent are under scrutiny, including one involving 21 defendants.

None of the suspects or felons have had their charges dropped or convictions overturned. Most are on home detention in what many of their attorneys describe as a holding pattern, awaiting the outcome of the investigation into the agent, who was assigned to a D.C. police task force.

The scope and type of alleged misconduct by the agent have not been revealed, but defense lawyers involved in the cases­ described the mass freeing of felons as virtually unprecedented — and an indication that convictions could be in jeopardy. Prosecutors are periodically faced with having to drop cases over police misconduct, but it is unusual to free those who have been found guilty.

A law enforcement official speaking on the condition of anonymity said the agent has been suspended indefinitely. The agent has not been criminally charged.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the District said in a statement Friday that it is “conducting a case-by-case review of matters in which the FBI agent at issue played some role.”

“We have already begun taking steps to address this issue and are committed to doing everything that is necessary to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice process,” the statement said.

The decision to release the defendants and convicts was made with little or vague public notice. In one case, eight convicts and one defendant who pleaded not guilty were released to home detention Monday, with no indication publicly filed in court. One man who had served nine months of a 10-year sentence was sent back to the District from a federal prison in North Carolina. In another case, a cryptic court document ordered the “immediate release from incarceration” on Oct. 17 of four convicts and others with pending trials for the “duration of a current investigation.”

“I’ve never, ever seen something like this before,” said Robert Lee Jenkins Jr., a lawyer from Alexandria who is representing Anthony McDuffie, 50, who pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge and has been released pending sentencing. “It suggests to me that whatever is going on is very significant.”

Said another defense lawyer, Gregory English, whose client was released as he awaits trial: “This is stunning.” . . .

Continue reading.

We still don’t know what that particular FBI agent did. Add to the list the complete breakdown of the FBI forensics lab, which affected thousands of cases—this is an agency in trouble.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2014 at 10:47 am

Figured out Barrister & Mann lathering—and the Feather AS-D1 problem

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SOTD 1 Nov 2014

A really good shave this morning. Several things I was checking: brush, soap, and razor. (No check on aftershave, but I’m going to have to get a new bottle of this one soon.)

On Wicked Edge I was discussing brushes and brush preferences. Some like a brush whose knot tends to the stiff and scrubby: dense knots with a lot of resilience. Others, like me, enjoy knots that are a soft as a fluffy pillow, though still having good resilience: a fluffy pillow easy to compress that regains it shape when pressure is released.

The difference is in preference, not performance: both types of brush can make good lather efficiently as you learn them. And it’s good to note that one’s preferences are in general discovered rather than decided: if you’ve not used any shaving brush, you won’t know your preference until you try a few.

The brush shown is one of my softer knots, on a snakewood handle, a brush I bought from StropShoppe.com. This morning I used with with a Barrister & Mann soap, and regular readers may recognize the Vanille as the soap I tossed into the dustbin after being frustrated by yet another fading lather, a problem I’ve had periodically with several soaps: initially, Mike’s Natural, then with Barrister & Mann, Stirling, and Green Mountain. (I later retrieved the soap after I calmed down.)

With Mike’s Natural, I figured out the problem was insufficient water, and by adding water as I loaded the brush, I got a very fine lather indeed. This morning I remembered that approach, and I tried it with the Vanille—and the lather was stupendous. A really great lather, thick, creamy, lubricating, and ample: lots for each pass, lots left at the end.

Here’s how I did it: wet the knot well, give it a little shake to lower the initial water content, and start brushing the puck. The brush will quickly start picking up soap. Add a small driblet of water to the brush, and resume brushing the puck. The lather being formed as the brush is loaded will increase a little, but since only a small amount of water was added, it won’t increase much. Add another small driblet of water, and resume loading the brush on the puck.

I think I added quite small amounts of water three times this morning, and by the end, the brush was quite well loaded and the lather had a very pleasing consistency. I worked up the lather a bit more on my beard, and was totally satisfied by the lather’s quality and quantity.

That’s the secret for me: starting with a damp brush and adding small amounts of water as I load the brush. I’m very glad that I retrieved this excellent soap from the dustbin.

Now, the razor: In comparing the shave with this Feather AS-D1 and the shave day before yesterday with the loaner, I do see that Feather did indeed have a quality-control problem with the D1: they were (apparently) unable to produce a consistent razor. (Edward Deming, in Out of the Crisis, points out that reducing variation to obtain consistency is the first step in any quality-control program.) Feather failed the test of consistency with the D1, as is obvious from the very different shaves from the loaner and my own D1.

I must have lucked out with a good one: an easy shave and BBS result. But the other D1 seemed quite often to stop cutting altogether. It may be that the “good” angle was in too narrow a range, but too often the razor simply slid through the lather, apparently cutting nothing. That problem did not arise at all with my own D1: I could always feel the cutting, with every stroke. The razor is extraordinarily comfortable (“mild,” in that sense) but also extraordinarily efficient with a Feather blade (“aggressive,” in that sense). The loaner D1 simply doesn’t match the performance.

I assume that this was the quality problem that led to the D2. I don’t have a D2, but so far I’ve not heard negative reports about its performance, so my hope is that the problem was fixed.

A good splash of Alt-Innsbruck, and tonight I set the clocks back.

Written by Leisureguy

1 November 2014 at 10:04 am

Posted in Shaving

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