Later On

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

Archive for February 15th, 2015

Texas set to execute yet another innocent man

with one comment

When being innocent—not having done anything wrong—is insufficient, you know that our government is seriously out of whack. The earlier one was a man convicted of murdering his family by setting a fire, and experts pointed out the flaws in the forensic analysis that (wrongly) led to the conclusion the fire was arson. And, of course, think of all the death-row inmates exonerated by DNA evidence or finding that the prosecution simply lied.

Jordan Smith writes of the upcoming execution of another innocent:

Kevin Gannon, a retired detective sergeant with the New York Police Department, spent just 10 minutes looking at official documents related to the case of Rodney Reed — slated for execution in Texas on March 5 — before concluding that something was very, very wrong.

It was October 2014 and Gannon was working as part of a three-cop team featured on the A&E channel true-crime show Dead Again. The program follows the trio of veteran detectives as they reinvestigate old murder cases. The team approaches the cases cold, not knowing what original police investigators concluded — or who was arrested and prosecuted in the end. Sometimes, Gannon says, he and his colleagues end up agreeing with the official outcome. Sometimes, they do not.

In this case, the investigators were probing the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in a rural town in Central Texas. Gannon was given the autopsy report, crime scene photos and video, and police reports. “The first thing I remember [thinking] is, ‘oh my god, this is way off,’” he told The Intercept. I knew it was wrong.” He went to talk to his producer and, by 7 p.m. that night, was sitting across from Reed’s Innocence Project lawyer, Bryce Benjet. Today, Gannon is among a number of people who are convinced the state of Texas is preparing to execute an innocent man.

Gannon’s reinvestigation of the Reed case will be shown in Monday night’s episode of Dead Again. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed about my reporting by A&E.) At the same time, Gannon’s conclusions, along with that of three of the country’s leading forensic pathologists who have studied the case, are at the heart of a new appeal on Reed’s behalf, filed on Thursday, February 12. The appeal argues that new scientific evidence proves conclusively that the state’s theory of the murder is “medically and scientifically impossible,” and that Reed is, in fact, innocent.

Specifically, Gannon and the forensic experts have concluded that the state’s timeline for Stites’ death is off by several hours. They contend that the decomposing of Stites’ body — observed in crime scene photos and video — prove that she was murdered at least four hours earlier than the state claims. Moreover, they conclude that she was likely killed somewhere far from where her body was found.

The findings are significant. Both the timeline and the location of the murder have been central to the state’s theory of the case since the beginning. What’s more, the new revelations contained in the defense brief point to a different man, a man who has long been suspected by Reed’s supporters to be the real murderer, and who was the source of the police and prosecutors’ timeline from the start. That man is Stites’ then-fiancé, Jimmy Fennell, Jr., a rookie police officer at the time of her death, who testified that he was alone with Stites on the night before she was found murdered.

Reed’s lawyers are now asking Texas’ highest criminal court to stay his execution and overturn his conviction. Andrew MacRae, one of Reed’s attorneys, told reporters at a press conference last week, “Ultimately, we’re convinced that Mr. Reed will be found innocent if given a new, and fair, trial.” . . .

Continue reading for more details of the crime and the investigation.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Ten-second load of MWF: The Movie

with 6 comments

Per a request from lonesomewhistle (or, as he’s known on Wicked_Edge, /u/lonesomewhistle), The Wife consented to be cinematographer of my loading a brush in about 10 seconds.

The soap is a totally dried-out (to the point of cracks showing) puck of Mitchell’s Wool Fat, the brush is the very soft and pleasant Omega S-Series synthetic with a beechwood handle.

Loading a brush takes about the same amount of time for any type of brush—boar, badger, horsehair, synthetic. For example, it also takes about ten seconds to load my big, fluffy, soft Omega silvertip. Brush fluffiness and softness have no effect on loading (assuming your tap water is reasonably soft), but fluffy, soft brushes do hold more lather and feel softer and gentler on the face than dense, stiff, scrubby brushes with lots of backbone.

I did not use a clock, just loaded until I get the right look and a full brush (10 seconds, I see, almost exactly) and then lathered my beard until I felt it was read (30 seconds). It felt a little awkward wearing a shirt. I’m normally more in a state of deshabille.

I should add that applying the lather generally goes much more easily and smoothly because normally I would have just washed my beard with MR GLO and partially rinsed it, so beard would be wet and accept the lather well. Beard in the video is dry. Makes more difference than I expected.

I’ve also updated the shaving-patterns poll chart with the latest data. WTG = with the grain; XTG = across the grain; ATG = against the grain. You can use this interactive diagram to help map your beard’s grain. Wait 24 hours after you’ve shaved and feel your beard with your fingertip. The roughest direction at each point is against the grain at that point.

Shave patterns chart

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Shaving

Game Theory Calls Cooperation Into Question

leave a comment »

Robert Axelrod’s book The Evolution of Cooperation suggested that (in the context of the Prisoner’s Dilemma) cooperation is a winning strategy. (It’s a very interesting book, BTW. It describes a competition of algorithms for playing Prisoner’s Dilemma. One algorithm (by Anatol Rapoport) won the first competition easily. Axelrod (who created the tournament) published the results, including the various algorithms used, then launched a second tournament. Anatol Rapoport was again the winner, using the same algorithm. His book Operational Philosophy had a big impact on me in high school.)

But perhaps cooperation’s victory then was less decisive than we thought. Emily Singer writes in Quanta:

en the manuscript crossed his desk, Joshua Plotkin, a theoretical biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, was immediately intrigued. The physicist Freeman Dyson and the computer scientist William Press, both highly accomplished in their fields, had found a new solution to a famous, decades-old game theory scenario called the prisoner’s dilemma, in which players must decide whether to cheat or cooperate with a partner. The prisoner’s dilemma has long been used to help explain how cooperation might endure in nature. After all, natural selection is ruled by the survival of the fittest, so one might expect that selfish strategies benefiting the individual would be most likely to persist. But careful study of the prisoner’s dilemma revealed that organisms could act entirely in their own self-interest and still create a cooperative community.

Press and Dyson’s new solution to the problem, however, threw that rosy perspective into question. It suggested the best strategies were selfish ones that led to extortion, not cooperation.

Plotkin found the duo’s math remarkable in its elegance. But the outcome troubled him. Nature includes numerous examples of cooperative behavior. For example, vampire bats donate some of their blood meal to community members that fail to find prey. Some species of birds and social insects routinely help raise another’s brood. Even bacteria can cooperate, sticking to each other so that some may survive poison. If extortion reigns, what drives these and other acts of selflessness?

Press and Dyson’s paper looked at a classic game theory scenario — a pair of players engaged in repeated confrontation. Plotkin wanted to know if generosity could be revived if the same math was applied to a situation that more closely resembled nature. So he recast their approach in a population, allowing individuals to play a series of games with every other member of their group. The outcome of his experiments, the most recent of which was publishedin December in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that generosity and selfishness walk a precarious line. In some cases, cooperation triumphs. But shift just one variable, and extortion takes over once again. “We now have a very general explanation for when cooperation is expected, or not expected, to evolve in populations,” Plotkin said.

The work is entirely theoretical at this point. But the findings could potentially have broad-reaching implications, explaining phenomena ranging from cooperation among complex organisms to the evolution of multicellularity — a form of cooperation among individual cells.

Plotkin and others say that Press and Dyson’s work could provide a new framework for studying the evolution of cooperation using game theory, allowing researchers to tease out the parameters that permit cooperation to exist. “It has basically revived this field,” said Martin Nowak, a biologist and mathematician at Harvard University.

Tit for Tat

Vervet monkeys are known for their alarm calls. A monkey will scream to warn its neighbors when a predator is nearby. But in doing so, it draws dangerous attention to itself. Scientists going back to Darwin have struggled to explain how this kind of altruistic behavior evolved. If a high enough percentage of screaming monkeys gets picked off by predators, natural selection would be expected to snuff out the screamers in the gene pool. Yet it does not, and speculation as to why has led to decades of (sometimes heated) debate.

Researchers have proposed different possible mechanisms to explain cooperation. Kin selection suggests that helping family members ultimately helps the individual. Group selection proposes that cooperative groups may be more likely to survive than uncooperative ones. And direct reciprocity posits that individuals benefit from helping someone who has helped them in the past.

The prisoner’s dilemma helps researchers understand . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 12:31 pm

Undercover atheists: When faith is lost but the desire to belong remains

leave a comment »

Interesting article by Batya Ungar-Sargon in Aeon:

The moment Solomon lost his faith, he was standing on the D train, swaying back and forth with its movement as if in prayer. But it wasn’t a prayer book that the young law student was reading – he had already been to synagogue, where he had wrapped himself in the leather thongs that bound him to Orthodox Judaism, laying phylacteries and reciting the prayers three times daily.

The tome in his hands now was Alan Dershowitz’s The Genesis of Justice (2000), which used Talmudic and Hasidic interpretations of the Bible to argue that stories in the book of Genesis, from Adam and Eve eating the apple to Noah and his ark, constituted God’s learning curve – a means of establishing a moral code and the rules of justice that prevail today.

What struck him about the book was its depth, and a complexity of thought that he had been raised to believe was the exclusive domain of the rabbis whose authority commanded his community of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The book’s brilliance, coupled with its unabashed heresy, created the first of many cracks in Solomon’s faith. Seeing the scriptures interpreted in methods so compelling and yet entirely inconsistent with the dogmas of his youth caused Solomon to question everything he believed to be true.

From Dershowitz, Solomon moved on to evolutionary biology, and then to Stephen Hawking and cosmology, and then biblical criticism, until finally, he was unable to deny the conclusion his newly developed capacity for critical thinking had led him to: he no longer believed in the existence of God.

‘It was the most devastating moment of my life,’ he told me. ‘I wish to this day that I could find the holy grail that proves that I’m wrong, that it’s all true.’

And yet 15 years later, Solomon’s life looks exactly the way it did the day of that fateful train ride, give or take a few infractions. Solomon is still leading the life of an Orthodox Jew. He is married to an Orthodox Jew. His children are Orthodox Jews who go to study the Torah at yeshiva. His parents are ultra-Orthodox Jews. And so, with his new-found atheism, Solomon did nothing.

Solomon is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men and women whose encounters with evolution, science, new atheism and biblical criticism have led them to the conclusion that there is no God, and yet whose social, economic and familial connections to the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities prevent them from giving up the rituals of faith. Those I spoke to could not bring themselves to upend their families and their children’s lives. With too much integrity to believe, they also have too much to leave behind, and so they remain closeted atheists within ultra-Orthodox communities. Names and some places have been changed – every person spoke to me for this story on condition of anonymity. Part of a secret, underground intellectual elite, these people live in fear of being discovered and penalised by an increasingly insular society.

But they are also proof of the increasing challenges fundamentalist religious groups face in the age of the internet and a globalised world. With so much information so readily available, such groups can no longer rely on physical and intellectual isolation to maintain their boundaries. In addition to exposing religious adherents to information that challenges the hegemony of their belief systems, the internet gives individuals living in restrictive environments an alternative community.

‘It helps people find others in the same boat,’ said Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College in California who studies apostates and secularism. ‘Twenty, thirty years ago, if you were living in Borough Park, Brooklyn, or Alabama and you were surrounded by Hasids or Pentecostal Christians and you started to have doubts, well, you were alone. Now, you can find someone right away who is in the same boat as you and is also sharing your doubts. You can find community, you can find a connection that bolsters your own situation and gives you support – intellectual and emotional. Religious fundamentalists want to have a monopoly on truth, a monopoly on lifestyle, a monopoly on morality, a monopoly on authority, but the internet undermines all those facades.’

Yanky cut an incongruous figure. A tall ultra-Orthodox man with a short, scruffy beard and short side-locks wrapped behind his ears, wearing traditional Hasidic black-and-white garb, he was sitting on a barstool in an out-of-the-way dive bar in South Brooklyn on a Monday afternoon, sipping a Corona. But Yanky is an incongruous man. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

An open and prosperous society, Norway, tries to understand its internal enemies

with one comment

Disturbing article on how doing the right things for the people of a country does not prevent aggressive enmity against it among some. In the NY Review of Books Hugh Eaken reviews three book on Norway:

One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway
by Åsne Seierstad, translated from the Norwegian by Sarah Death
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 526 pp., $26.00 (to be published in April)Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia
by Sindre Bangstad
London: Zed, 286 pp., $95.00; $24.95 (paper)A Norwegian Tragedy: Anders Behring Breivik and the Massacre on Utøya
by Aage Borchgrevink, translated from the Norwegian by Guy Puzey
Polity, 299 pp., $25.00

“The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom among us is the compact majority.”

—Dr. Stockmann in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People

1. More Democracy, More Extremism?

Last summer, on the evening of August 16, 2014, Norway’s largest tabloid, Verdens Gang, posted on its website an extended videotaped interview with Ubaydullah Hussain, the spokesman of a small Islamist fringe group called the Prophet’s Umma (umma refers to the community of believers in Islam). A twenty-nine-year-old Norwegian of Pakistani descent, Hussain grew up in a successful immigrant household in an Oslo suburb and had begun a promising career as a soccer referee in the Norwegian leagues—one newspaper described him as “bland and sociable.” Around 2011, however, he began associating with radical Islamists and was later expelled from the sport for making extremist comments on social media. In the VG interview, appearing in a black skullcap and dark tunic with a Taliban-style beard, he declared his “absolute” support for ISIS and his belief that Norway should be governed by sharia law.

What made these comments particularly startling, however, was the way Hussain was able to frame them in reference to Norwegian concepts of political rights. Largely unchallenged by the VG journalist, he used the forty-three- minute interview to argue calmly against Western “propaganda” about the Islamic State and to assert the right of Norwegians to travel to Syria to join it. He also defendedISIS’s practice of decapitating nonbelievers. “Beheading is not torture, people die instantly,” he said, “as opposed to what the West does with Muslim prisoners.” Three days later, on August 19, ISIS announced the beheading of the American journalist James Foley.Norway seems an unlikely place for Islamist extremism. Exceptionally wealthy, this small Nordic country has an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent and offers enviable welfare benefits to citizens and new immigrants alike. Though Muslims account for less than 5 percent of the country’s five million citizens, there are both Shias and Sunnis, including sizable Pakistani and Somali communities, as well as smaller numbers with Iranian, Turkish, and North African backgrounds. This diverse population is comparatively well integrated. Norway does not have radical mosques and several Muslims serve in Parliament. On the main street of Grønland, the central Oslo neighborhood that is the epicenter of the Muslim community, there are Islamic centers and halal butchers, but also an upscale bar serving high-end beer from a local brewery.

In recent months, however, European governments have become alarmed by the flow of more than three thousand of their citizens to Syria to join jihadist groups there; and following the tragic Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in early January, new questions have emerged about the ability of European nations to cope with terror threats from within their own populations. Norway has been no less affected than its neighbors. In the days since the Paris killings, some Norwegian commentators, including several Muslims, have defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish offensive cartoons even if they find them distasteful. But in early February, security officials told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that as many as 150 Norwegians have joined jihadist groups in Syria, among them several teenage girls and a Prophet’s Umma member now described as a senior lieutenant of ISIS; and in comments to the Norwegian press, Ubaydullah Hussain, the spokesman for the Prophet’s Umma, said that, under sharia law, the death penalty is “entirely appropriate” for those who lampoon the Prophet.

Already in 2010, during an earlier demonstration against a Norwegian newspaper for publishing a Muhammad caricature, another Norwegian Islamist warned that it could bring about a “September 11 on Norwegian soil.” This was followed, in 2012, by a letter sent by an anonymous Islamist group to then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre demanding that the Grønland neighborhood in Oslo be turned into an “Islamic State.” Last summer, the Norwegian government announced that it had uncovered a terrorist plot by “persons associated with an extremist group in Syria.” And in November, in its latest threat assessment, the PST, Norway’s domestic intelligence agency, put the likelihood of an extremist attack in the next twelve months at well over 50 percent. As the prominent Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad put it when I met her in Oslo in late August, “Is there something we are doing wrong?”

The question is particularly vexing for Norwegians because, amid the alleged threats from jihadists, their country has been recovering from an actual act of devastating terrorism—from an avowed enemy of Islam. The meticulously planned July 22, 2011, massacre by the ethnic Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik—the subject of Seierstad’s chilling new book—was the worst mass killing in Norwegian history. First he set off a car bomb in front of the prime minister’s office in Oslo, an explosion that killed eight people and left more than two hundred people injured. (As with the Oklahoma City bombing, he had hoped to make the entire building collapse but was unable to park close enough.) He then proceeded to a summer youth camp run by the ruling and long-dominant Labor Party on the small island of Utøya, near the capital. Disguised as a PSTofficer, he methodically killed sixty-nine more people with high-powered rifles—most of them teenagers, including a number with immigrant or refugee backgrounds.

In a 1,518-page manifesto released on the Internet hours before the attacks, Breivik made clear that one of his main preoccupations was the “Islamic colonization” of the country abetted by the Labor Party’s “multiculturalist” immigration policies. In murdering so many children, he later explained, he aimed “to kill the party leaders of tomorrow.” Shortly after his arrest he also told Norwegian police that “it’s the media who are most to blame…because they didn’t publish my views.” Yet his extraordinary violence also bore uncanny similarities to the Islamic extremism he purported to hate.

During his trial in 2012, Breivik revealed that his three principal targets at Utøya were Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway’s first female prime minister, who was on the island earlier that day; then Foreign Minister Støre, one of the country’s most prominent advocates of pluralism and diversity, who visited a day earlier; and Labor youth leader Eskil Pedersen, who managed to flee shortly after Breivik arrived. Once the killer had captured them, he had planned to force the hostages down on their knees while he read a “judgment” against them; then he would decapitate each of them with a bayonet. All this would be filmed on his iPhone and posted on the Internet. “It is a strategy taken from al-Qaeda,” Breivik told the court, explaining that Christian Europe had had an earlier tradition of beheading. “It is a very potent psychological weapon.”

It is hard to overstate the trauma caused by the July 22 attacks to Norway’s political establishment. In a stirring speech three days after the massacre, Prime Minister Stoltenberg vowed to handle the crisis with frank discussion rather than a new security state. “We will not allow the fear of fear to silence us,” he said. “More openness, more democracy…. That is us. That is Norway.” But in 2012 an official investigation found that the police and security forces’ response during the attacks had been seriously flawed, and in September 2013, the Labor Party was voted out of office. It was replaced by the Conservative Party in coalition for the first time with the populist anti-immigration Progress Party—a party that Breivik belonged to in the early 2000s and that is known for, among other things, its warnings about “stealth Islamicization.”

Even as the nation recoiled in horror from Breivik’s atrocity, the Norwegian press began devoting increasing attention to the Prophet’s Umma, though its few dozen followers make up a tiny fraction of the Muslim community. On the weekend that Ubaydullah Hussain’s defense of beheadings was posted on VG’s website last summer, one Norwegian activist told me, it was accessed more than 500,000 times, a number equal to roughly one tenth of Norway’s population.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 11:13 am

Netanyahu increasingly embraces dictatorial approaches

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Corporations will do anything for profits, including false promises of football safety

leave a comment »

The helmet seems mostly designed to facilitate a self-delusion that football is—or can be made—safe. Jack Moore writes at Vice Sports:

“I want kids to play football,” Mike Rolando writes in an email. “And I want kids to be safe.” Rolando is the football coach at St. Edward’s Central Catholic High School in Elgin, Illinois. This year, he will begin outfitting some of his players with the new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet, which costs $400—a price, he says, that will allow his program to purchase “12 or so” of the helmets over the next four seasons, depending on the size of future budgets. When Rolando announced that his Green Wave players would soon be wearing the SpeedFlex on his Twitter account in January, he attached a simple message: “Protect the Wave.”

Question is, will Rolando’s good intentions—and additional money spent on expensive new helmets—actually make his players safer?

“The future of football helmets has arrived,” Riddell, the nation’s top-selling football helmet manufacturer, proclaimed last August when introducing the SpeedFlex. The helmet’s defining feature is a flexible panel on its crown, and its side panels are built to flex upon impact as well. According to a company press release, the SpeedFlex “reduces impact force transfer to the athlete by selectively adding flexibility to key helmet components,” while “flexibility engineered into the helmet’s shell, face mask and face mask attachment system reduces impact force transfer to the athlete.”

A tech website praises the SpeedFlex’s ability to absorb impacts and evokes the crumple zones designed to soften car crashes (the specific phrase “although we admire old cars’ ability to hold together in a collision” appears in at least 50 different posts on the SpeedFlexacross the Internet). A business website cites the “give” of the helmet’s crown panel and notes, “but extra protection isn’t cheap.” In late August and early September, the web was peppered with similar posts on any website whose readership might have even a tangential interest in football.

Conspicuously absent from this and other press releases, advertisements, and articles about the SpeedFlex, however, are claims that the helmet can reduce or prevent concussions.

Riddell has good reason to not advertise the SpeedFlex as a concussion-preventer: it can’t. As reported in the book League of Denial, the Federal Trade Commission ruled in 2013 that there was insufficient evidence to support a longstanding Riddell claim that its Revolution series of helmets “reduce concussions or the risk of concussions by 31 percent.” That claim—based on a study conducted by former members of the National Football League’s controversial and since-disbanded Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which was funded by Riddell—did not stand up to scientific scrutiny. The University of Michigan’s Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher testified before the Senate Commerce Committee that “there is no significant data” to support Riddell’s claim. And, as reported in League of Denial, Riddell even attempted to extend the claim to the youth versions of its Revolution line, which weren’t included at all in the original study. . .

Continue reading.

Football is a big business, and businesses strongly resist anything that might hurt profits, so naturally businesses push back hard against the findings that show how destructive football is to those who play the game. In the view of the corporations involved, what happens to the players is unimportant, just as in the view of coal-mining corporations, what happens to miners is unimportant: the key is to grow profits. (Cf. Don Blankenship’s current trial.)

For a good look at the cost to players, read this article in the NY Review of Books by Nathaniel Rich:

During the two weeks before the Super Bowl there were more than 10,000 news articles written about the slight deviation in air pressure of the footballs used by the New England Patriots in their American Football Conference Championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in an attempt to defuse conspiracy allegations, joked in a press conference, “Things are fine—this isn’t ISIS.”

He was right: it wasn’t ISIS. During those two weeks, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was the subject of only seventy-nine articles in The New York Times. “Deflate-gate” was the subject of eighty. These included interviews with football players, who explained why a deflated ball was easier to throw and catch; physicists, who suggested that the deflation might have occurred due to climate effects; logisticians, who opined on the time necessary to deflate a football; and a seamstress of Wilson footballs who vowed, “It’s not Wilson’s fault.” Even the leader of the free world felt obliged to make a statement. “Here’s what I know,” said President Obama on Super Bowl Sunday. “The Patriots were going to beat the Colts regardless of what the footballs looked like.”

In that period Andy Studebaker’s name appeared in only nine articles, all published in sports blogs. Studebaker is the twenty-nine-year-old backup linebacker for the Colts who, while defending a punt return, was blindsided with a gruesome hit to the chest by the Patriots’ backup running back Brandon Bolden. Studebaker’s head jerked back and he landed on his neck. On the sideline after the play Studebaker was seen coughing up blood.

Nor was much made of the fine levied on professional monster Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers for illegally smashing into the defenseless head of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in the National Football Conference Championship game. Matthews’s fine was $22,050, or approximately what he earns every ninety seconds of game play. There was also little attention given to the fact that, in the second half of that game, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman injured his left arm so badly that he couldn’t straighten it; he played the final quarter with it bent and pressed tightly to his chest like a chicken wing.

Was it broken? Badly sprained? Was he given shockingly powerful illegal or legal drugs in order to endure the pain? The league, and Seattle, were mum on these points. When asked ten days later about the injury, Sherman said, “It’s a little sore, but not too bad.” Then, with a wink: “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Minutes after the Super Bowl ended it was revealed that Sherman had torn ligaments in his elbow and will have to undergo reconstructive surgery.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might have been grateful for the deflation controversy because it distracted from what otherwise have been the season’s two dominant storylines: the league’s reluctance to discipline players who commit domestic violence and its failure to protect its players from brain damage. But Goodell didn’t need the help. Every thinking fan must, in order to enjoy any NFL game, consent to participate in a formidable suspension of disbelief. We must put aside our knowledge that nearly every current NFL player can expect to suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease that leads to memory loss, impaired judgment, depression, and dementia.

Football players are also four times more likely both to die from ALS (a fact that Goodell, despite participating in this past year’s ALS ice-bucket challenge, refuses to acknowledge) and to develop Alzheimer’s disease. An NFL player can expect to live twenty years less than the average American male. The average NFL career lasts 3.3 years. By that measure, each season costs an NFL player about six years of his life. Football fans, in other words, must ignore the fact that we are watching men kill themselves.

We must also ignore the fact that we are supporting an industry so averse to negative press that for decades it has systematically covered up incidents of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and bullying within its ranks. More than half of the players accused of sexual assault during Goodell’s nine-year term have avoided punishment. We must pretend that NFL players, despite all appearances to the contrary, do not ingest large quantities of chronically impairing, performance- enhancing drugs. We mustn’t mind that, while the players are mostly black, the league’s main beneficiaries are the team owners, all of whom are white, and the majority of whom are male billionaires. (The Green Bay Packers, owned collectively by their fans and governed by a board of directors, are the single exception.)

If some of the league’s sins remain foggy to the average NFL fan, it may have something to do with the NFL’s tenacious public relations policy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 9:40 am

Posted in Business

Prison Dispatches From The War On Terror: Confessed Plotter Gives Insight Into Radicalization

with one comment

Interesting “origins” article in The Intercept by Murtaza Hussain:

In 2006, 21-year-old Fahim Ahmad was arrested and charged with leading a group of young men who planned to bomb power stations, take hostages and “behead politicians” in order to compel the Canadian government to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Ahmad was also accused of planning to travel abroad to join Islamist insurgents fighting in foreign conflicts.

While the group he led was described by authorities as “Al-Qaeda inspired,” it was not believed to have direct links to the group or any other designated terrorist organizations. 

Born in Afghanistan, Ahmad moved with his family to Canada at the age of 10, and became a naturalized citizen. He lived in the working-class inner suburbs of Toronto, where he married and had two children. At the time of his arrest in 2006, he was unemployed.

After serving several years in pre-trial custody, Ahmad pleaded guilty to terror charges in 2010 and was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment, minus credit for time served.  He is currently incarcerated at a facility outside Toronto, and is scheduled to be released in 2018.

Speaking to The Intercept from prison, Ahmad offered some insight into the process that led to his own radicalization.

What started you down this path of radicalism and advocating violence?

It didn’t come from a bad place, originally. It came from a place of concern. At the time I started coming to these views, I was a teenager. It was 2002, 2003, the invasion of Iraq; it made it seem like there was really a war going on. It forced an identity check on me. At the time, you think by doing something like this you’re doing something that’ll in the end make a positive difference.

What role did religion play in the process of your radicalization?

After the mosque services, some guys would get together and talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People started saying that we need to do something about this. Older guys who I respected were telling me that this is wrong and we need to be doing something.

At the time, I didn’t even know how to read the Quran. In fact, I only ended up learning it later when I was in jail. When I was out I didn’t know anything about religion other than what these guys were telling me, and I ended up developing tunnel vision where everything revolved around things like jihad.

What were the influences that made you develop this worldview? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 9:34 am

Posted in Terrorism

The man who actually invented the “Ten Most Wanted” list

leave a comment »

Fascinating article in the NY Review of Books by Luc Sante:

One night in the 1980s, a low period for me, as I slumped on my regular stool at Farrell’s, in Brooklyn, staring into my fourth or fifth of their enormous beers, the gentleman to my left struck up a conversation. Like nearly everyone in the bar but me, he was a cop, a retired cop to be exact, and unlike most of them he looked like a churchwarden, lean and grave and puckered, definitely on the farther shore of eighty. He had much to say; his proudest accomplishments had gone unrecognized. It seemed he had been the first to put together a numbered list of the most-sought reprobates from justice. He’d gotten the idea sometime in the late 1940s, he recalled. He had been listening to Symphony Sid, his favorite radio disk jockey. It was the week that “Twisted” by Wardell Gray moved into the pole position on the chart. The idea of a Top Ten was itself new.

There were some good cases on tap that week, too. Someone had stolen all the sacramental vessels, worth many thousands, from the sacristy at St. Patrick’s; someone else had apparently scaled the sheer face of a skyscraper to murder a diplomat in his heavily-guarded thrity-fifth-story bedroom; a gang of miscreants in fright masks had walked off with the gate receipts during the seventh inning of a game at the Polo Grounds. My friend deplored these crimes, naturally, but still felt they deserved something more than the usual tabloid-headline form of appreciation. He imagined a Top Ten of crimes—the Most Audacious Felonies. He saw himself announcing the list on the radio, becoming a personality, a sensation. There would be a spin-off comic book with his name and face at upper left, “presenting” the felonies to an eager public. In the meantime he got himself some sheets of oaktag and posted a list in the squad room.

His superiors were not amused. He was informed that as a property clerk his job was to keep track of evidence and exhibits and not go inserting his nose in places where it did not belong, and he was furthermore forcibly reminded why at age forty-five he was still nothing more than a property clerk—my new friend did not enlighten me on that particular score. Not a week later, however, a list appeared on every bulletin board of every precinct house in the city. Nicely typed and roneographed, it was headed “The Ten Most Wanted Men.” Immediately my friend knew just which ambitious, sniveling lieutenant it was who had stolen his idea, but there was nothing he could do about it. Adding insult to injury, the FBI caught wind of the list and called the plagiarist down to D. C. to advise on the creation of a nationwide Top Ten. By the end of the month the rat was heading up his own Special Squad.

Right away the list entered popular culture. It was just as my friend imagined it, down to the comic book, although J. Edgar Hoover was the personality charged with “presenting” it. The FBI list—the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives—garnered the lion’s share of publicity, but the New York City version, which evolved into the Thirteen Most Wanted, more than held its own. My friend, who was not short of contacts on the other side of the law, had any number of stories about crooks vying for a position, gunning for the number-one man in order to take his place, becoming depressed and allowing themselves to be arrested when they were bumped down to number fourteen, and so on. The public, for their part, were intoxicated—the number of wanton misidentifications and groundless accusations of bosses and neighbors and rivals in love more than quintupled, and so correspondingly did the number of false arrests. Even more than during the “public enemy” craze of the 1930s, law enforcement had become a spectacle.

At some point in the late 1950s, my friend made the acquaintance of a boy, a “bohunk” from Pittsburgh, who had come to town to become an artist. He didn’t say how they met, but they seem to have become rather close, although he didn’t think much of the boy’s attempts at art. The boy liked to draw “fruity” things, like women’s shoes, and serenely ignored my friend’s attempts to steer him toward something more substantial, such as true-crime comics. Still, they had some good times before the boy started becoming a success, designing greeting cards and wallpaper and shopping bags, and began thinking himself “too good” for my friend. As the boy became ever busier attending fancy cocktail parties on Fifth Avenue, their acquaintance languished. My friend was sad, but moved on, and had put the boy well out of his mind by 1962 or so, when like the rest of America he was made aware of a huckster who was making a fortune painting pictures of soup cans. He laughed when he read the story in the Daily News, but the laughter caught in his throat when he saw the picture next to it. It was the boy.

My friend had . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 9:25 am

The 36 questions: How to fall in love with anyone

with 2 comments

Interesting article in the NY Times by Mandy Len Catron. Falling in love, it turns out, is pretty easy—it seems to be something we’re primed to do. Having love endure is harder, as many have learned.

Updated, Feb. 13, 2015 | To try the 36 questions described below, download our free app for your phone, tablet or other device.

More than 20 years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. Last summer, I applied his technique in my own life, which is how I found myself standing on a bridge at midnight, staring into a man’s eyes for exactly four minutes.

Let me explain. Earlier in the evening, that man had said: “I suspect, given a few commonalities, you could fall in love with anyone. If so, how do you choose someone?”

He was a university acquaintance I occasionally ran into at the climbing gym and had thought, “What if?” I had gotten a glimpse into his days on Instagram. But this was the first time we had hung out one-on-one.

“Actually, psychologists have tried making people fall in love,” I said, remembering Dr. Aron’s study. “It’s fascinating. I’ve always wanted to try it.”

I first read about the study when I was in the midst of a breakup. Each time I thought of leaving, my heart overruled my brain. I felt stuck. So, like a good academic, I turned to science, hoping there was a way to love smarter.

I explained the study to my university acquaintance. A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony.

“Let’s try it,” he said.

Let me acknowledge the ways our experiment already fails to line up with the study. First, we were in a bar, not a lab. Second, we weren’t strangers. Not only that, but I see now that one neither suggests nor agrees to try an experiment designed to create romantic love if one isn’t open to this happening.

I Googled Dr. Aron’s questions; there are 36. We spent the next two hours passing my iPhone across the table, alternately posing each question.

They began innocuously: “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” And “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”

But they quickly became probing. . .

Continue reading. In a brief note, the NY Times adds:

A recent Modern Love essay refers to a study that explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. The idea is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness.

Now you can try it out using our free mobile app, designed in consultation with Arthur Aron, the lead author of the study. Visit on your phone or tablet to get started. You’ll want a partner (friend, lover or stranger) and about 50 minutes.

For additional context, you can read the study, by Dr. Aron, Edward Melinat, Elaine N. Aron, Robert Darrin Vallone and Renee J. Bator, originally published in the Personality and Social Psychology Journal (PDF), and a blog post on how the study came to be.

I’m curious about the ethics of the study. While it seems true that it’s relatively easy to cause two people to fall in love, it’s also quite obvious that love often does not endure and that breakups are generally unpleasant and occasionally disastrous if not deadly. I hope the participants were fully informed of the risks, both short-term and long-term, prior to the experiment.

Written by Leisureguy

15 February 2015 at 8:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

%d bloggers like this: