Later On

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

Archive for March 15th, 2015

Something has gone very wrong with the selection, training, and supervision of police in the US

with 3 comments

Just read this.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2015 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Teaching doubt: The most important teaching

leave a comment »

Lawrence Krauss writes in the New Yorker:

Last month, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin and a presumed Presidential candidate, delivered an address at Chatham House, an international-affairs think tank in London. For Walker, the point of the address was to bolster his foreign-policy credentials. That’s probably why the last question—“Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution?”—took him by surprise. “I’m going to punt on that one,” he said.

It’s obvious why politicians avoid the evolution question. A large fraction of the population—including more than fifty per cent of Republican voters—doesn’t believe in it. But politicians aren’t the only ones who punt. When it comes to questions that confront religious beliefs, many scientists and teachers do it, too. Recent studies—including a comprehensive national survey by researchers at Penn State University, in 2007—show that up to sixty per cent of high-school biology teachers shy away from adequately teaching evolution as a unifying principle of biology. They don’t want to risk potential controversy by offending religious sensibilities. Instead, many resort to the idea, advocated by the late Stephen Jay Gould, that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria”—separate traditions of thinking that need not contradict one another.

“Non-overlapping magisteria” has a nice ring to it. The problem is that there are many religious claims that not only “overlap” with empirical data but are incompatible with it. As a scientist who also spends a fair amount of time in the public arena, if I am asked if our understanding of the Big Bang conflicts with the idea of a six-thousand-year-old universe, I face a choice: I can betray my scientific values, or encourage that person to doubt his or her own beliefs. More often than you might think, teaching science is inseparable from teaching doubt.

Doubt about one’s most cherished beliefs is, of course, central to science: the physicist Richard Feynman stressed that the easiest person to fool is oneself. But doubt is also important to non-scientists. It’s good to be skeptical, especially about ideas you learn from perceived authority figures. Recent studies even suggest that being taught to doubt at a young age could make people better lifelong learners. That, in turn, means that doubters—people who base their views on evidence, rather than faith—are likely to be better citizens.

Last year, writing in the Times, the political scientist Brendan Nyhan explainedhow “identity often trumps the facts.” We would rather reject evidence than change our sense of who we are. Knowledge is comparatively helpless against identity: as you grow better-informed about the issues, you just get better at selectively using evidence to reinforce your preëxisting commitments. A 2014 Yale Law School study, for example, demonstrated that the divergence between religious and non-religious peoples’ views on evolution actually grows wider among those who are familiar with math and science. Describing Nyhan’s work for this Web site, Maria Konnikova summarized his findings by writing that “it’s only after ideology is put to the side” that the facts become “decoupled from notions of self-perception.” One conclusion we might draw is that we ought to resist ideology in the first place. If we want to raise citizens who are better at making evidence-based judgments, we need to start early, making skepticism and doubt part of the experience that shapes their identities from a young age.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, an AP-GfK poll revealed that less than a third of Americans are willing to express confidence in the reality of human-induced climate change, evolution, the age of the Earth, and the existence of the Big Bang. Among those surveyed, there was a direct correlation between religious conviction and an unwillingness to accept the results of empirical scientific investigation. Religious beliefs vary widely, of course—not all faiths, or all faithful people, are the same. But it seems fair to say that, on average, religious faith appears to be an obstacle to understanding the world.

Science class isn’t the only place where students can learn to be skeptical. A provocative novel that presents a completely foreign world view, or a history lesson exploring the vastly different mores of the past, can push you to skeptically reassess your inherited view of the universe. But science is a place where such confrontation is explicit and accessible. It didn’t take more than a simple experiment for Galileo to overturn the wisdom of Aristotle. Informed doubt is the very essence of science.

Some teachers shy away from confronting religious beliefs because they worry that planting the seeds of doubt will cause some students to question or abandon their own faith or the faith of their parents. But is that really such a bad thing? It offers some young people the chance to escape the guilt imposed upon them simply for questioning what they’re told. Last year, I received an e-mail from a twenty-seven-year-old man who is now studying in the United States after growing up in Saudi Arabia. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2015 at 4:52 pm

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) shows his foreign policy expertise by bemoaning that Tehran is already controlled by Iran

leave a comment »

What will be next? (It’s not quite so stupid as it looks: I have a strong feeling that Washington DC is not controlled by the US, at least in terms of the people.)

Story here. Tom Cotton is the guy leading the GOP on their foreign policy. Not so strange, when you consider that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK & Big Oil() is leading the GOP on environmental matters.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2015 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

Why do politicians not want the public to know what they are doing or have done?

with one comment

One can think of a variety of reasons, most not very complimentary to the politician. Taking pains to hide or destroy the record of what s/he has done in office makes a prima facie case that the actions are reprehensible and would not withstand public scrutiny. That concealing or destroying records is so common speaks volumes about the state of political corruption in the US.

Here’s a ProPublica Muck Reads email:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been on the defensive ever since the New York Times first reported that she used a private email account for government business. In light of the imbroglio, we decided to look at the email escapades of other politicos for this week’s MuckReads.

Colin Powell relied on personal emails while secretary of state, Politico, March 2015

Since news of Clinton’s use of private email for White House business broke, an aide to Colin Powell says he “might have occasionally used personal email addresses” to correspond with staff and officials during his tenure as Secretary of State.

Bush Advisers’ Approach on E-Mail Draws Fire, The New York Times, April 2007

The Bush Administration admits that as many as 22 political advisers to the president, including Karl Rove, used their Republican National Committee email accounts for White House related business. At the time, the RNC automatically purged emails after 30 days. Later, a White House spokesperson reported that as many as 5 million emails could have been lost from the White House’s official server.

Jeb Bush Owned Personal Email Server He Used as Governor, NBC News, March 2015

A Mar. 4, 2015 report from NBC News finds that between 1999 until early 2007 Jeb Bush used his own private email server for official business as Florida Governor.

Two ex-Walker aides charged with illegal campaigning, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, January 2012

Two former aides to Gov. Scott Walker, while he was Executive of Milwaukee County, used a private Internet network to conduct campaign work. They are later charged with illegally campaigning on government time.

Trove of Palin E-Mails Draws Press to Alaska, The New York Times, June 2011

In 2011, Sarah Palin releases more than 24,000 pages of emails sent from a private account while she was Alaska governor, responding to public records requests made in 2008. The emails reveal less-than scandalous details of her life including her early attempts to meet John McCain, a draft ghostwritten letter-to-the-editor in response to criticism against her and plans to see a controversial Christian pastor in Juno, Alaska.

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya J. Scott Gration resigns over ‘differences’ with Washington, The Washington Post, June 2012

Scott Gration, US Ambassador to Kenya, resigns in Jun. 2012 just before the publication of an Office of Inspector General report that found he had “repeatedly violated diplomatic security protocols at the embassy” by using a private email account for official business, according to the Washington Post.

Christie administration may have violated public records law, The Record, January 2014

The Record releases a cache of emails sent from personal accounts between top Chris Christie aides that reveals their plan to create a traffic jam over the George Washington Bridge possibly as retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee who refused to endorse Christie in the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election.

After Pledge of Sunlight, Gov. Cuomo Officials Keep Their Email in the Shadows, ProPublica, May 2014

ProPublica finds that top advisers to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo conduct government business through personal email accounts including Howard Glaser. ProPublica recently obtained emails from Glaser in which he touted his ” significant, critical, and current input” on a deal that weakened rules to prevent misdeeds in the mortgage market.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2015 at 9:52 am

A Kremlin Conspiracy Gone Wrong?

leave a comment »

Amy Knight has an interesting report in the NY Review of Books:

Last week, when Russian authorities rounded up five Chechen suspects in the assassination of leading opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, it appeared the Kremlin was following a predictable path. After offering numerous far-fetched hypotheses about who committed the murder and why, the Russian Investigative Committee settled on the same explanation it has put forth in numerous past political murders, including that of Anna Politkovskaya: the Chechens did it.

According to the usual pattern, the suspects would then be expected to confess, a motive would be concocted—in this case, that Nemtsov had made statements against Russian Islamists—and the crime would be declared solved. But hardly anyone in Russia seems to believe that this is why Nemtsov was killed, or indeed, that these suspects, if they were the killers, acted on their own. Instead, the arrests have led to new speculation about the Kremlin’s involvement in the murder. They also appear to be causing an internal struggle within the government itself—a struggle that could help explain President Vladimir Putin’s absence from public view for over a week.

Russian authorities have accused one of the five Chechens, Zaur Dadayev, of organizing the crime, but even if he did, it is unlikely that he would have decided to do so on his own. Dadayev was a deputy commander of the crack “North” battalion, which is based in the Chechen capital of Grozny and is under the patronage of the authoritarian Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a close Putin loyalist. Many commentators think that Dadayev would not have undertaken such a bold assassination—in the center of Moscow just minutes from the Kremlin—without Kadyrov’s explicit orders.

But the chain of command would have to go higher than the Chechen president. Although Kadyrov runs Chechnya like a fiefdom, and has for years cracked down on his enemies with impunity, even reportedly using death squads against them, his powers have clear limits in the Russian capital. On Friday, I spoke with Akhmed Zakaev, head of the Chechen government in exile, who is based in London, and he stressed that Kadyrov would never embark on a mission to kill such a prominent figure as Boris Nemtsov without Putin’s approval. Kadyrov, he said, “can do what he wants in Chechnya, but not in Moscow or Russia. It is most likely that Nemtsov was assassinated because it was Putin’s wish.”

Yet even if Zakaev is right, it is hard to explain why Putin would then go out of his way to praise Kadyrov in public. On March 9, just two days after the arrests of Dadayev and the other four Chechens was made public, the Kremlin announced that it had awarded Kadyrov a medal of honor for his service to the Russian state. (Amazingly, at the same time, Putin also conferred a medal of honor on Andrei Lugovoy, the prime suspect in the fatal 2006 poisoning in London of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB officer who was an outspoken enemy of Putin. As it happens, a British public inquiry into the Litvinenko murder is now taking place, in which Lugovoy’s name has been coming up almost daily.)

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov immediately dismissed the timing of the two awards as a coincidence. But to many observers it looked like . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2015 at 8:43 am

Posted in Government, Law, Politics

%d bloggers like this: