Later On

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

Archive for March 17th, 2015

My college had no fraternities

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And that seems wise: first ΣAE and now this. At least the college is not trying to cover it up and actual law enforcement is involved.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2015 at 9:56 pm

Posted in Education, Law

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

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Gabrielle Glaser writes in the Atlantic:

J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.

J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.

His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.

By the time he was a practicing defense attorney, J.G. (who asked to be identified only by his initials) sometimes drank almost a liter of Jameson in a day. He often started drinking after his first morning court appearance, and he says he would have loved to drink even more, had his schedule allowed it. He defended clients who had been charged with driving while intoxicated, and he bought his own Breathalyzer to avoid landing in court on drunk-driving charges himself.

In the spring of 2012, J.G. decided to seek help. He lived in Minnesota—the Land of 10,000 Rehabs, people there like to say—and he knew what to do: check himself into a facility. He spent a month at a center where the treatment consisted of little more than attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He tried to dedicate himself to the program even though, as an atheist, he was put off by the faith-based approach of the 12 steps, five of which mention God. Everyone there warned him that he had a chronic, progressive disease and that if he listened to the cunning internal whisper promising that he could have just one drink, he would be off on a bender.

J.G. says it was this message—that there were no small missteps, and one drink might as well be 100—that set him on a cycle of bingeing and abstinence. He went back to rehab once more and later sought help at an outpatient center. Each time he got sober, he’d spend months white-knuckling his days in court and his nights at home. Evening would fall and his heart would race as he thought ahead to another sleepless night. “So I’d have one drink,” he says, “and the first thing on my mind was: I feel better now, but I’m screwed. I’m going right back to where I was. I might as well drink as much as I possibly can for the next three days.”

He felt utterly defeated. And according to AA doctrine, the failure was his alone. When the 12 steps don’t work for someone like J.G., Alcoholics Anonymous says that person must be deeply flawed. The Big Book, AA’s bible, states:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.

J.G.’s despair was only heightened by his seeming lack of options. “Every person I spoke with told me there was no other way,” he says.

The 12 steps are so deeply ingrained in the United States that many people, including doctors and therapists, believe attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol is the only way to get better. Hospitals, outpatient clinics, and rehab centers use the 12 steps as the basis for treatment. But although few people seem to realize it, there are alternatives, including prescription drugs and therapies that aim to help patients learn to drink in moderation. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, these methods are based on modern science and have been proved, in randomized, controlled studies, to work.

For J.G., it took years of trying to “work the program,” pulling himself back onto the wagon only to fall off again, before he finally realized that Alcoholics Anonymous was not his only, or even his best, hope for recovery. But in a sense, he was lucky: many others never make that discovery at all.

The debate over the efficacy of 12-step programs has been quietly bubbling for decades among addiction specialists. But it has taken on new urgency with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which requires all insurers and state Medicaid programs to pay for alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment, extending coverage to 32 million Americans who did not previously have it and providing a higher level of coverage for an additional 30 million.

Nowhere in the field of medicine is treatment less grounded in modern science. A 2012 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University compared the current state of addiction medicine to general medicine in the early 1900s, when quacks worked alongside graduates of leading medical schools. The American Medical Association estimates that out of nearly 1 million doctors in the United States, only 582 identify themselves as addiction specialists. (The Columbia report notes that there may be additional doctors who have a subspecialty in addiction.) Most treatment providers carry the credential of addiction counselor or substance-abuse counselor, for which many states require little more than a high-school diploma or a GED. Many counselors are in recovery themselves. The report stated: “The vast majority of people in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything that approximates evidence-based care.”

Alcoholics Anonymous was established in 1935, when knowledge of the brain was in its infancy. It offers a single path to recovery: lifelong abstinence from alcohol. The program instructs members to surrender their ego, accept that they are “powerless” over booze, make amends to those they’ve wronged, and pray.

Alcoholics Anonymous is famously difficult to study. By necessity, it keeps no records of who attends meetings; members come and go and are, of course, anonymous. No conclusive data exist on how well it works. In 2006, the Cochrane Collaboration, a health-care research group, reviewed studies going back to the 1960s and found that “no experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or [12-step] approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.”

The Big Book includes an assertion first made in the second edition, which was published in 1955: that AA has worked for 75 percent of people who have gone to meetings and “really tried.” It says that 50 percent got sober right away, and another 25 percent struggled for a while but eventually recovered. According to AA, these figures are based on members’ experiences.

In his recent book, The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Lance Dodes, a retired psychiatry professor from Harvard Medical School, looked at Alcoholics Anonymous’s retention rates along with studies on sobriety and rates of active involvement (attending meetings regularly and working the program) among AA members. Based on these data, he put AA’s actual success rate somewhere between 5 and 8 percent. That is just a rough estimate, but it’s the most precise one I’ve been able to find. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2015 at 2:14 pm

Texas believes in revenge, not in justice

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Dahlia Lithwick writes at Slate:

One of the sad truths of the capital defense business is that some trial lawyers who show up to defend their clients have been known to sleep through their trials, fail to interview witnesses, or are too drunk to do their jobs. And yet reviewing courts almost invariably determine that such lawyers provided perfectly competent defense. As one Texas judge put it in the face of such allegations: “The Constitution does not require perfection in trial representation.” So, for instance, judges in Houston continued to appoint lawyer Jerome Godinich to represent capital defendants even as he missed one filing deadline after another, depriving his clients of crucial judicial review. That there is really no such thing as an ineffective lawyer is one of the cardinal rules of the death penalty machine. But dare to be an effective one? Well, that’s another story.

David Dow is one of the best-known capital defense attorneys in America today. Over his 20-year career, he has represented more than 100 people who had been sentenced to die. What he does truly matters. He was on the team representingAnthony Graves, exonerated in 2010 after serving 18 years in prison, most of them on Texas’ death row. Dow was litigation director at the Texas Defender Service and founder and co-director of the Texas Innocence Network—an organization that supervises law students working pro bono on claims of actual innocence. He teaches at the University of Houston Law Center. Dow, who is an acquaintance (I reviewed one of his books and blurbed another) has published and spoken out widely and passionately about the death penalty, particularly as it’s practiced in Texas—which happens to be the death-penaltiest state in America, by rather a large margin.

Dow is now in trouble because he filed a late petition. In October of 2014, Dow may or may not have missed a filing deadline in an appeal before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—the state’s highest criminal appeals court—on behalf of his client Miguel Paredes, sentenced for the triple murder of members of a rival street gang. Dow had come very late to the case and, with the execution scheduled, he discovered that Paredes’ trial lawyer had called no witnesses in this capital case, and he sought to file a petition with the court. Paredes was executed a few days later.

I say he “may or may not” have missed a deadline because one of the judges looking at Dow’s conduct in that case has written that “Dow’s pleadings were arguably timely filed,” and because, if his filing was indeed late, it was late by a matter of either 30 minutes or a few hours, depending on who’s counting.

But in 2009, Dow was also late with a filing before the CCA. So on Jan. 14 of this year, the CCA determined that Dow’s tardiness last fall was such an egregious piece of lawyerly misconduct that it warranted a contempt order. The court fashioned a new punishment and suspended him from practicing before the CCA for 12 months. (Alternative sanctions suggested by the more lenient judge on the panel included home confinement and electronic monitoring.) In other words, one of Texas’ leading death penalty lawyers has been benched for a year for maybe missing a deadline. One wonders what the sanction might be for using the incorrect font.

Where did the CCA’s draconian new filing rules come from? Dow could tell you.

Back in 2007 his office was scrambling to file pleadings in the case of a convicted killer by the name of Michael Richard. That morning the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear a challenge about the constitutionality of lethal injection—the form of execution administered by Texas—and Dow’s team sought to stay Richard’s execution while the court considered the case. As members of Richard’s defense team on the Texas Defender Service later explained, their computers crashed and they asked that the court stay open 20 minutes late so they could deliver the pleading. The court’s presiding judge, Sharon Keller, who’d gone home to deal with a repairman,answered: “We close at 5.” Richard was later executed.

A complaint was filed against Keller, and a special master was appointed by the Texas Supreme Court to investigate. The special master eventually determined that Keller’s action was “not exemplary of a public servant,” but allowed her to keep her seat. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2015 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Government, Law

From Etsy to Sweatsy

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Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2015 at 10:12 am

Posted in Business

Recent killings by police increase calls for independent probes

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I think people are starting to notice (a) that police often kill unarmed citizens, and (b) when police investigate such shootings, the finding is always that the shooting was justified. (This is right in line with other examples of organizations investigating themselves: somehow the organization is seldom found to be in the wrong.)

Tony Pugh writes for McClatchy:

When New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently sought authority to investigate and prosecute cases that involve police killings of unarmed civilians, it was a watershed moment for Vincent Warren.

The executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit legal group that grew out of the civil rights movement, Warren has long called for independent investigations when there are questions about the use of lethal force by police.

Local prosecutors are ill-suited for the investigations, Warren said, because their cozy working relationships with local police pose a dangerous conflict of interest. [In fairness, police as a group have extremely effective means of retaliation against any prosecutor who finds police officers in the wrong. Coziness does exist, but there is also the obvious threat of overt retaliation to keep prosecutors meek. – LG] But as he and other activists in the police accountability movement had called for change, their proposals were ignored as a solution in need of a problem.

With little support from politicians, prosecutors and the police themselves, Warren and others were largely dismissed as criminal-justice critics too eager to assume foul play when disputed police encounters weren’t adjudicated to their liking.

That perception changed with Eric Garner’s death in July after an aggressive chokehold and bodily restraint by New York City police officers.

When a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict the officers, despite troubling video footage of the incident, an eruption of nationwide protests and an erosion of public trust pushed Schneiderman to seek what Warren had called for all along.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is weighing Schneiderman’s call for independent police probes. Warren is keeping his fingers crossed.

“I’m gratified that Attorney General Schneiderman has proposed a sensible solution to this long-standing problem,” Warren said recently. “Amidst all the hand-wringing and soul-searching on this issue, this is very much a step in the right direction.”

Warren said jurisdictions nationwide should consider similar measures, such as appointing special prosecutors, as questionable police shootings of black men created uncertainty about local prosecutors’ ability and willingness to police the police. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2015 at 10:01 am

Inequality examined: An interesting comparative review of books on inequality

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This article by Jill Lepore is long, but it is well worth reading. From the article:

It might be that people have been studying inequality in all the wrong places. A few years ago, two scholars of comparative politics, Alfred Stepan, at Columbia, and the late Juan J. Linz—numbers men—tried to figure out why the United States has for so long had much greater income inequality than any other developed democracy. Because this disparity has been more or less constant, the question doesn’t lend itself very well to historical analysis. Nor is it easily subject to the distortions of nostalgia. But it does lend itself very well to comparative analysis.

Stepan and Linz identified twenty-three long-standing democracies with advanced economies. Then they counted the number of veto players in each of those twenty-three governments. (A veto player is a person or body that can block a policy decision. Stepan and Linz explain, “For example, in the United States, the Senate and the House of Representatives are veto players because without their consent, no bill can become a law.”) More than half of the twenty-three countries Stepan and Linz studied have only one veto player; most of these countries have unicameral parliaments. A few countries have two veto players; Switzerland and Australia have three. Only the United States has four. Then they made a chart, comparing Gini indices with veto-player numbers: the more veto players in a government, the greater the nation’s economic inequality. This is only a correlation, of course, and cross-country economic comparisons are fraught, but it’s interesting.

Then they observed something more. Their twenty-three democracies included eight federal governments with both upper and lower legislative bodies. Using the number of seats and the size of the population to calculate malapportionment, they assigned a “Gini Index of Inequality of Representation” to those eight upper houses, and found that the United States had the highest score: it has the most malapportioned and the least representative upper house. These scores, too, correlated with the countries’ Gini scores for income inequality: the less representative the upper body of a national legislature, the greater the gap between the rich and the poor.

The growth of inequality isn’t inevitable. But, insofar as Americans have been unable to adopt measures to reduce it, the numbers might seem to suggest that the problem doesn’t lie with how Americans treat one another’s kids, as lousy as that is. It lies with Congress.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2015 at 9:49 am

Iran, Inequality, and the Battle of American Norms

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Adam Gopnik has an interesting piece in the New Yorker:

The word “norm” seems to have crawled out of the swamps of sociologese, and into the public conversation, almost becoming the word of the week. Right now, it’s a way of saying that following (or fixing) a law isn’t enough: to do the right thing you have also to follow the unwritten rules, the accepted underlying practices, the norms, of societies and institutions. The Timess David Brooks, in praise of a new book by the Harvard professor Robert Putnam, wrote a column recently arguing that we can’t solve the problem of poverty with cash handouts and good government alone—the social norms of the poor have to change, or be changed, first. Those social norms, like the expectation that, having made a woman pregnant, a man should marry and support her, are, Brooks writes, more important than any other element in making poor people rich, or at least richer. (Jill Lepore, to be sure, writing for this magazine, drew different conclusions from Putnam’s book.)

In an ironically parallel move, the same Republican moralists who condemn the poor, or their politicians, for not enforcing social norms were accused all week of betraying an essential constitutional norm themselves—in this case, that you don’t effectively tell the nation’s enemies to ignore its twice-elected leader. Their pay-no-attention-to-the-President letter to the Iranian government wasn’t illegal, much less “treasonous,” but it certainly and grossly violated an unwritten but widely understood norm of political behavior. It wasn’t that no one had ever done something like this before. It was that there had been an assumption that it wasn’t remotely doable. That’s what made it a norm. If Barry Goldwater had written a letter to Khrushchev at the height of the Cuban missile crisis insisting that anything J.F.K. promised to do to resolve it should be ignored, it wouldn’t have just seemed destructive. It would have been unimaginable.

That’s the difference. A law is something that exacts an announced cost for being broken. A norm is something that is so much a part of the social landscape that you wouldn’t think, really, that anyone could break it. Laws are plans, like the city grid, that must be followed; norms are landmarks, like the old Penn Station—you don’t think anyone could tear them down, and then someone does.

Political norms matter because any constitutional arrangement known to man can break down if it isn’t played by the laws as well as by the rules. “The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” a great Justice famously said, but in truth any constitution can become a suicide pact if people ignore what’s left unwritten in it. If people choose not to buy the basic premise, the joke won’t land. Any social arrangement can disintegrate as much from misuse as repeal. If, as has happened in many an empire, the army figures out that it can buy and sell the emperors, pretty soon you no longer have an empire, or at least no longer much of an emperor. One shockingly violated norm of American constitutional practice was the old one against impeachment on a party-line vote. It’s always been the case that a simple majority in the House can send an American President to a Senate trial, with all the costs that involves. It was just taken for granted that no one would try this without bipartisan support and the likelihood of a conviction. Back in 1998, the Republicans decided to do it anyway—Why the hell not, the country’s booming and can run itself—at a cost that is still not fully understood.

The social norms that Brooks writes about matter a lot. Putnam’s great accomplishment, in his earlier books about the social roots of democracy, including “Bowling Alone,” was to make the case that civil society did indeed precede democratic institutions. Learning to play nice with others before you ever saw a voting booth was the best guarantee that the voting booths would remain open. The number of glee clubs or volunteer firemen in a community was a better guide to how well they adapted to democracy than any other metric.

Putnam’s earlier work certainly presupposes a feedback between prosperity and sane social practices. Do societies get rich because they have good norms, or do sound norms spread when societies get rich? One needn’t be terminally wishy-washy to think that a virtuous circle sets in, in which more money makes for more social peace (and more stable families), even as social peace and stable families help people make more money. Certainly, no one doubts the vicious circle of poverty producing social despair, with social despair producing more poverty. Isolating norms away from the booms and busts that help make them happen is as odd as isolating spare change from the pockets in which it sits.

So norms like playing well together really do matter. But they are a lot more plastic and locally enforced, less organic and hallowed, than can sometimes seem plain. The sociologist Howie Becker spent a career documenting all the ways in which norms are not just malleable over time but a lot more fragmentary than the people with power choose to believe. There are norms alongside norms sitting by norms around the corner from other norms. Reefer smokers follow them as tightly as prohibitionists. Willie Nelson obeyed as many as Nancy Reagan; they were just harder to spot through the smoke. Some social norms that are taken to be obvious in certain times and circles (homosexuals should be prosecuted, blacks and whites shouldn’t marry) turn out to be intolerable, and others that look trivial (people should go bowling with each other) turn out to be indispensable. Which one is which often becomes apparent only after they’ve been altered.

One way to get poor people to act like rich people is to give them more money. Prosperous societies have fewer social problems than poor ones, and when poor societies become more prosperous they generally become more placid. What the right wing is really asking is how you get poor people to act like rich people without actually giving them more money. That is a harder question. But the idea that there’s a causal connection between things like sexual permissiveness and social harm is obviously fatuous. The most astonishing change in American life in recent times has been . . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2015 at 9:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Politics

Creed’s Green Irish Tweed today, naturally

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SOTD 17 Mar 2015

I had a reader-requested shave lined up, but I could scarcely let St. Patrick’s Day go by with no acknowledgement, and Creed’s Green Irish Tweed seemed to fit the bill. The small white flecks are from dried lather from the tub. The requested shave will be tomorrow.

The brush is a Mühle brush, but I bought it from, so it also counts, in a way. And of course  IRA did support Nazi Germany, including active support, up to around 1944. It was not so much that the IRA loved Nazi Germany as the idea that “the enemy of my enemy is my  friend,” and of course the IRA had an unremitting hatred toward the British, thus the many IRA terrorist acts.

The lather was, as usual, superb. It really is a very good soap. And the Standard head on the UFO handle was extremely comfortable efficient: BBS in three easy passes, no nicks, no trouble.

A few sprays of Green Irish Tweed EDT as an aftershave, and I’m thinking perhaps I should make corned beef, but what’s up next is lamb curry.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2015 at 9:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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