Later On

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

Archive for June 2015

A really remarkably good movie: Sword of the Beast

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A movie with a complex and nuanced plot. Really intriguing in the moral trade-offs and balancing. Quite remarkable.

Netflix makes it extraordinarily difficult to find. I guess they really are trying to shut down the DVD line—like GM shut down public transit in LA, for example.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2015 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

Pot’s Pesticide Problem

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Kaleigh Rogers reports at Motherboard on a problem due totally to marijuana being illegal instead of being legal, taxed, and regulated:

It goes without saying that growing weed is a little different from growing other kinds of crops. I mean, I don’t suspect vegetable farmers lose much sleep worrying aboutmischievous teens sneaking into their fields at night to grab fistfuls of organic kale (maybe hipster teens). But there’s one area where the difference between marijuana and other crops is particularly stark: pesticides, and it has both growers and consumers concerned.

For every other crop grown in the US, the chemicals used on them (like pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides) are carefully monitored and restricted by the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. There are different limits setfor what kind of pesticides can be used and what is an acceptable level of chemicals that can be left behind on a crop (crops we eat, like tomatoes, are treated differently than crops we use for other purposes, like cotton).

But because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, there are no protocols for pesticides when it comes to growing weed. From the federal government’s point of view, you shouldn’t be using any pesticides on cannabis because you shouldn’t be growing cannabis in the first place.

This has left growers with limited resources for trying to determine the best way to keep their crops healthy and their customers safe.

“Until very recently, it was the wild west: everyone was using whatever they wanted to, whatever they heard about on the internet,” said Whitney Cranshaw, a professor of entomology at the University of Colorado who studies pest management for crops. “Some were appropriate, others were inappropriate, but there was no direction from the feds, no direction from the state, no direction from anybody. So they just did what they thought was right.”

Recently, states where it’s legal to grow and sell medical or recreational marijuana have started rolling out recommendations for growers. In May, Colorado’s Department of Agriculture released a list of pesticides and fungicides that cannabis growers can use. Washington state followed suit earlier this month. But the lists are limited—they mostly focus on natural pesticides like cinnamon oil and garlic—and don’t provide a lot of info about the potential long-term effects of synthetic pesticides on a crop that isn’t just ingested, but inhaled.

“You can consume a large amount of pesticides from the plant by smoking it,” said Jeffrey Raber, a chemistry PhD who has studied the effects of pesticides on cannabis with his lab The WercShop. In 2013, The WercShop published a peer-reviewed study on the effects of pesticides on marijuana and found that up to 70 percent of pesticide residues on pot could be ingested through smoking. Aside from the high rate, Raber pointed out that inhaling a chemical very different from eating it.

“Usually the safety limits for a chemical on an inhalable substance are about ten times greater because they feel it’s that much more sensitive,” Raber said. “You don’t have stomach acid and your liver coming at things first. When you inhale things, it goes directly into your bloodstream. That’s a very different beast.”

The easy solution would seem to be looking to the pesticide restrictions on tobacco. People inhale tobacco the same way they inhale marijuana, so if a pesticide is safe to use on tobacco it must be safe for growing weed, right? Not quite, Raber said. Turns out the EPA has never been all that strict with tobacco regulations: research has shown the tobacco industry lobbies hard to keep its favored pesticides legal, and the list of pesticides commonly used on tobacco is fairly lengthy. Raber said at the end of the day, tobacco is getting mixed up with dozens of other nasty chemicals before it’s rolled into a cigarette. If you’re getting sick from a cigarette, it’s probably not because of a little bit of residual pesticide on the tobacco leaf.

And besides, Raber pointed out that tobacco, though also smoked, is a pretty different product than marijuana. While pot is often prescribed for people going through cancer treatments like chemotherapy to help ease pain and curb nausea, cigarettes are pretty much universally considered a bad idea when you’re going through chemo.

So if growers can’t look to the government and they can’t look to other crops as an example, what’s a modern day grow-op to do? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2015 at 10:43 am

Posted in Business, Drug laws, Health

California Just Banned the ‘Personal Belief’ Exemption for Vaccines

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High time. When personal beliefs have a social cost that results in harm to the public, then it’s right that the government can act to protect the public. Kaleigh Rogers reports at Motherboard:

It’s official: California has passed a law prohibiting parents from using personal belief as an excuse to keep their kids unvaccinated.

Under the new law, parents can still choose not to vaccinate their children if they wish, but those kids won’t be allowed to attend public schools or daycares, and will have to either be homeschooled or enter a private school.

There are a few exceptions: kids who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons are exempt from the ruling, and only 10 specific vaccines are required, including the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. Children who have special education needs will also still be guaranteed access to resources they need if they are booted from public school for being unvaccinated.

Last week, California’s State Assembly considered the bill, which had already been green-lit by the state senate, ultimately voting to approve it 46-30. This week, the senate approved the amendments that were added to the bill before passing it to the desk of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who signed the bill this morning.

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” the governor wrote in a memo about his decision. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2015 at 10:39 am

Things the criminal justice system has difficulty addressing

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Darryl Greer published a vivid description of a young criminal (psychopath? cyber-terrorist?) recently in Motherboard:

It begins with a phone call to a police force that could be thousands of miles away, claiming wild threats of violence and mayhem or desperate pleas for help—and then, the sound of a doorbell or a hard knock at the door.

Under the watchful eye of a webcam, victims can be seen lifting a headphone from one ear and momentarily pausing to listen. Some stand up from their computer screens to go investigate, while others go right back to gaming. Whatever the case, the outcome is always the same: well-armed police officers storm in and shout orders to get-the-fuck-on-the-floor.

The phenomenon, known as “swatting,” is not new. But some, hiding behind a shroud of internet anonymity, have taken the practice to new extremes. Such is the case of a 17-year-old teen with a knack for hacking and a penchant for terrorizing fellow gamers—mostly young women—whose fate will be decided in a courtroom in the Vancouver, British Columbia suburb of Port Coquitlam later this month.

In May, he plead guilty to 23 charges of extortion, public mischief and criminal harassment related to several swatting incidents in Canada and the US—out of 40 total charges—but as a young offender he cannot be named.

His guilty plea made international headlines, in part due to his association with a hacking group called Lizard Squad, known for its attacks on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live online gaming services, amongst other video gaming sites. In one eight-hour video, which has since been taken offline, Ars Technica reported that the teen identified himself as a member of the group, and has used the handles “obnoxious” and “internetjesusob” online (Lizard Squad denies the teen was a core member).

But, as local media has reported, the young hacker’s victims were not only the large networks and institutions that Lizard Squad targeted, but unsuspecting fans of the popular video game League of Legends, as well as other gamers who had the misfortune of crossing his path online.

Florida’s Polk County Sheriff’s Office first identified the teen after he placed several threatening calls to locations in the area in late 2014, including threats to shoot and blow up a high school where one of his targets attended. According to a report in The Province, “when [targets] would not acknowledge friend and follow requests or send him things that he wanted, such as photos, he would harass them and their families.”

There was a woman in Arizona, swatted repeatedly and terrorized to the point of dropping out of university for a semester, and the Minnesota parents whose credit was in shambles after the teen swatted their child and posted the parents’ personal information online. In other instances, the teen would call in hostage situations, murders, bomb threats, and threatened to kill police, The Province reported, and would then hack and harass targets and their families for months with “phone calls, texts and by spamming social media accounts.”

In the case of the Arizona woman, the teen even “cancelled utilities, phone and Internet accounts, called her parents in the middle of the night and released their financial information online.” . . .

Continue reading.

He’s now gone to trial, and from this report I don’t think the system really has an effective approach. He will be sentenced on 9 July.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2015 at 10:35 am

Testing Mongoose blades plus Eva Nestorova soap

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SOTD 30 June 2015

I am going to use the Mongoose steadily for the next couple of weeks so I can test various brands of blades. I’m thinking I’ll do three shaves with each brand. Today’s blade: Kamisori.

But first came prep. I do like my Omega 20102, which is now well broken in. And I like  Eva Nestorova shaving soaps (evanestorova on Etsy), though I really do wish she’d sell the soaps in tubs rather than as pucks. But they’re good soaps, and having a goat-milk shaving soap is pleasant.

I used the polished Mongoose and I restored the handle. The Mongoose handle really does go well with—and balances—the head, though I continue to recommend the satin finish over the polished finish.

Kamisori blades seem very nice, at least in this first: no problems, easy shaving, good finish. I’m not sure they will best Feather Pro Super or Kai Captain Sharpblade, the other two contenders in this round. Still, a problem-free BBS is not to be sneezed at.

A good splash of D.R. Harris Pink, and I’m getting ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2015 at 10:15 am

Posted in Shaving

More on Obama’s speech: Reader reactions to the Fallows column

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Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2015 at 6:21 pm

Tim Wu: Google ‘Knowingly Degrades’ Search Results

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The pursuit of profit often leads to results antithetical to the public interest (cf. for-profit hospitals). Jordan Pearson points out in how Google distorts search results to increase profits in this article at Motherboard:

Google uses its role as the internet’s chief information gatekeeper to boost its own products and undercut competitors, according to a new study—and users are worse off because of it.

The study, funded by Yelp, found that Google routinely filters its search results to favour results from Google+. This is because Google’s universal search algorithm mixes “organic” results from around the web with a select few plucked from Google’s own services.

Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” in 2003, and Harvard business professor Michael Luca conducted the study with members of Yelp’s Data Science Team. According to Wu and Luca, Google’s algorithm actually harms users by limiting the information they see to what resides in the Google ecosystem.

“By prominently displaying Google content in response to search queries, Google is able to leverage its dominance in search to gain customers for this content,” the study reads. “This yields serious concerns if the internal content is inferior to organic search results.”

Wu and Luca had 2,690 people first search Google normally, and then with an open source plug-in called Focus on the User, which automatically augments searches to fetch results from third party review sites instead of Google+. The results of the survey showed that users clicked through on search results 45 percent more often when using Focus on the User.

The researchers interpreted this finding as indicating that customers prefer when results come from outside of Google’s ecosystem, and demonstrates that Google is “intentionally degrading” the customer experience in order to undercut its competitors.

A Google representative declined to comment on the study. . .

Continue reading.

After reading this, I immediately installed the Focus on the User plug-in in my Chrome browser.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2015 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Business, Software

Absolutely terrific interactive graphic on global warming

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Press the down-arrow at bottom for each step. Great graphic. Watch it now.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2015 at 11:42 am

Posted in Global warming

Starting the week with a perfect shave: Strop Shoppe, S1, Clean Vetiver

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SOTD 29 June 2015

Truly wonderful shave. The R&B Omega boar brush, a very nice brush indeed, seems well into the break-in and is wonderfully soft on my face. It worked up a very fine lather from the Strop Shoppe Via dell’Ambra shaving soap, one of their Limited Edition soaps.

With a great lather, I set to work with a great (for me) combo: a new Personna Lab Blue blade, the Above the Tie S1 slant head, and the Stealth stainless handle. I was quite skeptical of this handle design when I saw it—basing that opinion purely on expectations, since I had yet to hold the handle. But once I had some actual experience with the handle, I realized that my expectations were way off the mark, as is so often the case: the handle is comfortable and has a peculiarly strong non-slip grip without the need for any chequering.

Three passes to a nick-free BBS result, then a good splash of Fine’s Clean Vetiver, which has a modest amount of menthol and a fine fragrance.

The week lurches into motion…

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2015 at 8:09 am

Posted in Shaving

The difficulties of attempting to regulate sex

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Judith Shulevitz has a very interesting op-ed in the NY Times:

THIS is a strange moment for sex in America. We’ve detached it from pregnancy, matrimony and, in some circles, romance. At least, we no longer assume that intercourse signals the start of a relationship. But the more casual sex becomes, the more we demand that our institutions and government police the line between what’s consensual and what isn’t. And we wonder how to define rape. Is it a violent assault or a violation of personal autonomy? Is a person guilty of sexual misconduct if he fails to get a clear “yes” through every step of seduction and consummation?

According to the doctrine of affirmative consent — the “yes means yes” rule — the answer is, well, yes, he is. And though most people think of “yes means yes” as strictly for college students, it is actually poised to become the law of the land.

About a quarter of all states, and the District of Columbia, now say sex isn’t legal without positive agreement, although some states undercut that standard by requiring proof of force or resistance as well.

Codes and laws calling for affirmative consent proceed from admirable impulses. (The phrase “yes means yes,” by the way, represents a ratcheting-up of “no means no,” the previous slogan of the anti-rape movement.) People should have as much right to control their sexuality as they do their body or possessions; just as you wouldn’t take a precious object from someone’s home without her permission, you shouldn’t have sex with someone if he hasn’t explicitly said he wants to.

And if one person can think he’s hooking up while the other feels she’s being raped, it makes sense to have a law that eliminates the possibility of misunderstanding. “You shouldn’t be allowed to make the assumption that if you find someone lying on a bed, they’re free for sexual pleasure,” says Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of a judicial education program at Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense organization.

But criminal law is a very powerful instrument [and in the context, I think she means a very blunt instrument—or perhaps simply “overkill” – LG] for reshaping sexual mores. Should we really put people in jail for not doing what most people aren’t doing? (Or at least, not yet?) It’s one thing to teach college students to talk frankly about sex and not to have it without demonstrable pre-coital assent. Colleges are entitled to uphold their own standards of comportment, even if enforcement of that behavior is spotty or indifferent to the rights of the accused. It’s another thing to make sex a crime under conditions of poor communication.

Most people just aren’t very talkative during the delicate tango that precedes sex, and the re-education required to make them more forthcoming would be a very big project. Nor are people unerringly good at decoding sexual signals. If they were, we wouldn’t have romantic comedies. “If there’s no social consensus about what the lines are,” says Nancy Gertner, a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School and a retired judge, then affirmative consent “has no business being in the criminal law.”

PERHAPS the most consequential deliberations about affirmative consent are going on right now at the American Law Institute. The more than 4,000 law professors, judges and lawyers who belong to this prestigious legal association — membership is by invitation only — try to untangle the legal knots of our time. They do this in part by drafting and discussing model statutes. Once the group approves these exercises, they hold so much sway that Congress and states sometimes vote them into law, in whole or in part. For the past three years, the law institute has been thinking about how to update the penal code for sexual assault, which was last revised in 1962. When its suggestions circulated in the weeks before the institute’s annual meeting in May, some highly instructive hell broke loose.

In a memo that has now been signed by about 70 institute members and advisers, including Judge Gertner, readers have been asked to consider the following scenario: “Person A and Person B are on a date and walking down the street. Person A, feeling romantically and sexually attracted, timidly reaches out to hold B’s hand and feels a thrill as their hands touch. Person B does nothing, but six months later files a criminal complaint. Person A is guilty of ‘Criminal Sexual Contact’ under proposed Section 213.6(3)(a).”

Far-fetched? Not as the draft is written. The hypothetical crime cobbles together two of the draft’s key concepts. The first is affirmative consent. The second is an enlarged definition of criminal sexual contact that would include the touching of any body part, clothed or unclothed, with sexual gratification in mind. As the authors of the model law explain: “Any kind of contact may qualify. There are no limits on either the body part touched or the manner in which it is touched.” So if Person B neither invites nor rebukes a sexual advance, then anything that happens afterward is illegal. “With passivity expressly disallowed as consent,” the memo says, “the initiator quickly runs up a string of offenses with increasingly more severe penalties to be listed touch by touch and kiss by kiss in the criminal complaint.”

The obvious comeback to this is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2015 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Addiction: Not a disease, but an example of the brain’s plasticity in learning

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Very interesting article in Salon by Laura Miller. The whole thing’s worth reading, but note this:

. . .  This conception of addiction as a biological phenomenon seemed to be endorsed over the past 20 years as new technologies have allowed neuroscientists to measure the human brain and its activities in ever more telling detail. Sure enough, the brains of addicts are physically different — sometimes strikingly so — from the brains of average people. But neuroscience giveth and now neuroscience taketh away. The recovery movement and rehab industry (two separate things, although the latter often employs the techniques of the former) have always had their critics, but lately some of the most vocal have been the neuroscientists whose findings once lent them credibility.

One of those neuroscientists is Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself, also the author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.” Lewis’s argument is actually fairly simple: The disease theory, and the science sometimes used to support it, fail to take into account the plasticity of the human brain. Of course, “the brain changes with addiction,” he writes. “But the way it changes has to do with learning and development — not disease.” All significant and repeated experiences change the brain; adaptability and habit are the brain’s secret weapons. The changes wrought by addiction are not, however, permanent, and while they are dangerous, they’re not abnormal. Through a combination of a difficult emotional history, bad luck and the ordinary operations of the brain itself, an addict is someone whose brain has been transformed, but also someone who can be pushed further along the road toward healthy development. (Lewis doesn’t like the term “recovery” because it implies a return to the addict’s state before the addiction took hold.)

“The Biology of Desire” is grouped around several case studies, each one illustrating a unique path to dependency. A striving Australian entrepreneur becomes caught up in the “clarity, power and potential” he feels after smoking meth, along with his ability to work long hours while on the drug. A social worker who behaves selflessly in her job and marriage constructs a defiant, selfish, secret life around stealing and swallowing prescription opiates. A shy Irishman who started drinking as a way to relax in social situations slowly comes to see social situations as an occasion to drink and then drinking as a reason to hole up in his apartment for days on end.

Each of these people, Lewis argues, had a particular “emotional wound” the substance helped them handle, but once they started using it, the habit itself eventually became self-perpetuating and in most cases ultimately served to deepen the wound. Each case study focuses on a different part of the brain involved in addiction and illustrates how the function of each part — desire, emotion, impulse, automatic behavior — becomes shackled to a single goal: consuming the addictive substance. The brain is built to learn and change, Lewis points out, but it’s also built to form pathways for repetitive behavior, everything from brushing your teeth to stomping on the brake pedal, so that you don’t have to think about everything you do consciously. The brain is self-organizing. Those are all good properties, but addiction shanghais them for a bad cause.

As Lewis sees it, addiction really is habit; we just don’t appreciate how deeply habit can be engraved on the brain itself. “Repeated (motivating) experience” — i.e., the sensation of having one’s worries wafted away by the bliss of heroin — “produce brain changes that define future experiences… So getting drunk a lot will sculpt the synapses that determine future drinking patterns.” More and more experiences and activities get looped into the addiction experience and trigger cravings and expectations like the bells that made Pavlov’s dogs salivate, from the walk home past a favorite bar to the rituals of shooting up. The world becomes a host of signs all pointing you in the same direction and activating powerful unconscious urges to follow them. At a certain point, the addictive behavior becomes compulsive, seemingly as irresistibly automatic as a reflex. You may not even want the drug anymore, but you’ve forgotten how to do anything else besides seek it out and take it. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2015 at 12:24 pm

The VA’s Broken Promise To Thousands Of Vets Exposed To Mustard Gas

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The VA too often fails in its mission, and very little seems to be done to fix that. If we had a functioning Congress, they could exercise their oversight, but Congress is almost totally dysfunctional at this point. Caitlin Dickerson reports on NPR (and there’s an audio report at the link):

In secret chemical weapons experiments conducted during World War II, the U.S. military exposed thousands of American troops to mustard gas.

When those experiments were formally declassified in the 1990s, the Department of Veterans Affairs made two promises: to locate about 4,000 men who were used in the most extreme tests, and to compensate those who had permanent injuries.

But the VA didn’t uphold those promises, an NPR investigation has found.NPR interviewed more than 40 living test subjects and family members, and they describe an unending cycle of appeals and denials as they struggled to get government benefits for mustard gas exposure. Some gave up out of frustration.

In more than 20 years, the VA attempted to reach just 610 of the men, with a single letter sent in the mail. Brad Flohr, a VA senior adviser for benefits, says the agency couldn’t find the rest, because military records of the experiments were incomplete.

“There was no identifying information,” he says. “No Social Security numbers, no addresses, no … way of identifying them. Although, we tried.”

Yet in just two months, an NPR research librarian located more than 1,200 of them, using the VA’s own list of test subjects and public records.

The mustard gas experiments were conducted at a time when American intelligence showed that enemy gas attacks were imminent. The tests evaluated protective equipment like gas masks and suits. They also compared the relative sensitivity of soldiers,including tests designed to look for racial difference.

The test subjects who are still alive are now in their 80s and 90s. Each year more of their stories die with them.

“We weren’t told what it was,” says Charlie Cavell, who was 19 when he volunteered for the program in exchange for two weeks’ vacation. “Until we actually got into the process of being in that room and realized, wait a minute, we can’t get out of here.” . . .

Continue reading.

There’s lots more: it’s a lengthy report.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2015 at 11:22 am

Attempting to change police tactics—and police culture

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I am reminded of an old joke: Q. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? A. Only one, but it takes a long time and the bulb has to want to change. From a NY Times report by Timothy Williams, it seems clear that at least some police do not want to change:

Officer Corey Papinsky was recently showing a group of Seattle police officers how to reduce the chance of using force against a citizen during a suddenly antagonistic encounter.

Approaching a civilian with your hands on a weapon or making too much eye contact with someone could unnecessarily escalate a situation, Officer Papinsky said. “Keep your hands visible at all times,” he advised.

But he faced a tough crowd. “It seems good advice for the suspect,” one officer said. “We want to see their hands.”

Another officer had a different approach.

“Last week, there was a guy in a car who wouldn’t show me his hands,” the officer said. “I pulled my gun out and stuck it right in his nose, and I go, ‘Show me your hands now!’ That’s de-escalation.”

Across the country, police departments from Seattle to New York and Dallas to Salt Lake City are rethinking notions of policing that have held sway for 40 years, making major changes to how officers are trained in even the most quotidian parts of their work.

The changes that departments are considering include revising core training standards and tactics, reassessing when and how to make arrests, and re-evaluating how officers approach and interact with members of the public during street and traffic stops.

At the forefront are de-escalation tactics, the variety of methods officers use to defuse potentially violent encounters, such as talking and behaving calmly and reasonably with sometimes unreasonable people.

But some of the officers’ reactions in Seattle show just how hard it might be to change entrenched ideas about what their job involves.

For police departments, the question is whether today’s standard model of aggressive policing — based in part on the broken windows theory of making arrests and issuing citations for even the most minor offenses — is compatible with a more progressive goal of simultaneously catching criminals and building greater trust within neighborhoods.

“I was trained to fight the war on crime, and we were measured by the number of arrests we made and our speed in answering 911 calls,” said Kathleen O’Toole, the Seattle police chief, who is overseeing the department’s changes as part of a consent decree with the Justice Department.

“But over time,” she continued, “I realized that policing went well beyond that, and we are really making an effort here to engage with people, not just enforce the law.”

The efforts nationwide are largely a response to a series of fatal police shootings of unarmed African-American men and boys during the past year, and to pressure from both the White House and the public for local law enforcement agencies to become more transparent in their operations. They are also a recognition that as the high crime rates of the 1980s and 1990s have ebbed, the country’s appetite for a continuing war on crime seems to have diminished. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2015 at 10:49 am

A Christian speaks to his fellows about the Supreme Court Decision

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Michael Cheshire writes in the Huffington Post:

For all my Christian friends blowing up the internet angry about the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage for our country. Please remember a few things before you vent…

First and foremost….calm down. Some of us are already acting like buffoons.

Your religion is not being attacked. In fact, this ruling actually reinforces our countries commitment to let people live, grow, and even worship as they believe.

This ruling doesn’t ask you to change any of Jesus’ message.

We can still love.

We can still show kindness and understanding.

We can still show everyone they really do matter to God.

We can still marry the opposite sex, as well.

We can still feed the hungry and clothe the poor.

We can still worship God the way we believe we should. Even this Sunday, you can attend a church. Nothing has changed.

Maybe now that we are not trying to stop others from getting married, we can finally take the time to figure out why our own marriages are failing; because, the argument that a gay-marriage is somehow soiling the sanctity of our third marriage, is as ridiculous as it sounds.

We can now focus on bigger issues that actually matter and impact humanity for the good.

We can still (and should) be accepting to the entire LGBT community no matter what differences we may or may not have with them, (FYI- we should have been doing this all along guys).

You know, I have always found it interesting how our religion, based so deeply in love, acceptance, and kindness, gets easily hijacked into political hatred and social judgments. We need to stop trying to legislate our own morality and ethics onto those who don’t believe the same way. Jesus never did this. And in truth, most of us “Christians” disagree greatly on the tenants of what are “moral issues” within our own faith. In many ways, we are a herd of cats trying to steer the world. And, it’s not working people. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2015 at 10:05 am

Posted in Law, Religion

A former presidential speechwriter discusses Obama’s superb oratory in Charleston

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In this piece in his Atlantic blog, James Fallows (former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter) examines and explains what made Obama’s Charleston speech so excellent. Well worth reading. It begins:

I think Barack Obama’s eulogy yesterday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was his most fully successful performance as an orator. It was also one that could have come only at this point in his public career—and not, for instance, when he was an intriguing figure first coming to national notice, as he was during his celebrated debut speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston 11 years ago; or when he was a candidate fighting for political survival, as he was when he gave his “Race in America” speech in Philadelphia early in 2008.I’ll explain why I say so, but first a word about the odd circumstances in which I’ve heard and learned about the speech.

* * *

During the past week’s tumultuous events I have been physically and electronically removed from the swirl of news. Through the Confederate-flag aftermath of the murders in Charleston, to the Supreme Court’s healthcare and same-sex marriage rulings, to the president’s speech yesterday, I wasn’t in range of TVs or radios or more than a little trickle of the Internet and thus am catching up on everything all at once now.

Our scene of removal was the American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana, a Serengeti-scale longterm project to restore the northern grasslands to their original plant and animal population. It is a deeply impressive undertaking, and part of its power is the very fact that it is so far distant from urbanized America and its dramas and concerns. We’ll be writing more about it.Yesterday, on our Cirrus flight down from northern Montana to the Denver area, we were listening to news programs on Sirius XM radio—which is (properly!) designed so that the news/music programming automatically blanks out whenever there’s a transmission on the air-traffic control frequencies. We were about 100 miles (or 30 minutes) north of Gillette, Wyoming, where we’d planned to make a refueling stop, when we came across a station playing the memorial service for Reverend Clementa Pinckney. We began listening, and heard the introduction for the president when we were about 20 minutes out.

The closer we got to the airport, the more frequent the air-traffic chatter became. In the final few minutes, it was back and forth: “We do not earn grace. We don’t deserve it. It is freely given by God—” “—Cirrus Five-Sierra-Romeo, runway three-four in use, report ten miles out, altimeter three zero two four—” “—We cannot leave our children in poverty.” It was only when we’d landed and were rolling along the taxiway to the refueling area, and the controller part of the conversation was done, that Sirius kicked back  in with someone singing Amazing Grace. Deb and I looked at each other and thought: Could that have been Obama?

* * *

And of course it was. His singing was the aspect of the speech that will be easiest to remember. That is in part because it was so unusual and in part because it was so brave: Obama sang well, but not perfectly. For someone so precise and aspiring-to-perfection in most other realms of achievement, and so obviously hyper-aware of his levels of skill (he told Marc Maron in his remarkable WTF interview that he didn’t like playing basketball any more, now that he recognized that age had made him the weakest player on the court), singing like another enthusiastic parishioner, and not like a featured member of the choir, was brave and said something about his comfort with this crowd.

And of course he was aware that “this crowd” was not simply the many hundreds packed into that arena but the many millions around the world who would see it live, or later on. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the value of seeing this speech, in one of the video versions now available, versus just reading the text. (For the record: a video of the full nearly five-hour session is here, with Obama appearing around time 3:55; a New York Times video of his 35-minute speech itself is here; and the White House transcript of his remarks is here.) Like most Obama speeches, the text is indeed carefully written. But it is something entirely different as … I was going to say “as delivered,” but really the term is “as performed.”Here are the three rhetorical aspects of the speech that I think made it more artful as a beginning-to-end composition than any of his other presentations: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2015 at 9:21 am

Selling a chess set

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White pieces

I got this set 18 years ago, planning to give it to my first grandson at some point. But things change, and though he is intensely interested in games, his interest is in digital games. So the set has never once been used. (I also have some Go sets to somehow get rid of.)[

At any rate, here’s the eBay listing. This particular set is $795 new.

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2015 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Games

Why Do Prosecutors Fight to Maintain Wrongful Convictions?

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This seems particularly relevant in view of the previous post. Lorenzo Johnson writes at Huffington Post:

When it comes to our criminal justice system, prosecutor and police misconduct remains the elephant in the courtroom. Sometimes it is spoken about, but rarely is any action taken. One recent exception to this pattern of inaction, however, can be seen in Orange County, California, where all 250 lawyers in the district attorney’s office have been disqualified from participation in a capital murder case. After evidence surfaced that the District Attorney’s office, in concert with the county sheriff’s department, had systematically suppressed exculpatory evidence in at least forty cases, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed every single prosecutor from the DA’s office from the case.

The widespread misconduct involved a secret database of information about defendants being held in custody. This database was related to false testimony obtained by prison informants. The Sheriff’s Office denied this database existed. This deception was further concealed by prosecutors while these cases went on for decades. Judge Goethals helped bring this to light, and recommended that the prosecutors be prosecuted.

People are paying attention to this unusual and shocking case. Even the ultra-conservative National Review is covering this story:

The database tracking inmates’ movements around the jail and the reason for those movements is significant, because Orange County law enforcement and prosecutors were in the habit of placing targeted suspects in proximity to criminal informants, who were rewarded with reduced sentences, favors, or money — payments in some instances ran into the six figures — for helping put together cases against jailed suspects. This practice is illegal. It is one thing if a suspect in custody speaks about his crimes and an informant comes forward to report that confession; it is another thing to operate a program under which the interrogation of suspects is effectively delegated to incarcerated felons who are secretly on the county’s payroll. The lack of present legal counsel is only the beginning of what is wrong with that practice.

To operate such a program is ipso facto a violation of the law and of ethical standards for jailers and prosecutors both. To lie about it is a serious crime. It may turn out to be a lucky thing after all that these defective prosecutions will probably open up a great many jail cells: Orange County is going to have to put these sheriff’s officers and prosecutors somewhere.

This is as case of organized crime on the part of the same people who are supposed to enforce the law and guarantee our constitutional rights. And hard as it is to believe, these same procedures have long been in existence. This problem is bigger than you can ever imagine. I would like to personally commend Judge Thomas M. Goethals for two things: First, for having the courage to say “enough is enough” and take a stand for justice. Second, for letting these sheriffs and district attorneys know that they are not above the law. Judge Goethals gives innocent prisoners like myself some hope that one day the misconduct in our cases could be addressed.

Careers are made off of many wrongful convictions. Some of these same officers go on to be police commissioners. Some district attorneys go on to become judges in state and federal courts, and some become attorney generals. Innocent prisoners are the skeletons in their closets. If our stories were ever to get out, their careers–and those of many others–would come into question. It’s sad, but egos also play an integral part. Most of the time, prosecutors are only concerned with winning cases to put more notches on their belts. Justice is rarely on their agendas.

In my case, the prosecution and police withheld evidence of my innocence for nineteen years. For example, their chief witness against me turned out to have initially been a suspect in the same murder I was later charged with. Among other kinds of misconduct, perjured testimony went uncorrected, witnesses received deals to testify falsely, and the lead detective bullied witnesses not to come forth and help show my innocence at trial.

Once most of this evidence came to light, Senior Deputy Attorney General William Stoycos, the current prosecutor on my case, agreed to do a “good-faith” investigation of my claims. But how could that be possible when he’s still involved in maintaining my wrongful conviction?

Back in 2011, after 16-and-a-half years, my conviction was overturned by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, on the grounds of insufficient evidence, which is equivalent to a “not guilty” verdict. I was released from my natural-life sentence. This all took place before my defense had any knowledge that the prosecution knew I was innocent from day one. Prosecutor Stoycos went as far as filing a late appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Without the knowledge of the perjured testimony that convicted me, the Supreme Court relied on this testimony to reinstate my wrongful conviction. Just think about it: not once did Stoycos say to my trial judge–or any other judge up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court–that the testimony before them was false. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2015 at 10:12 am

The FBI loves entrapment because it’s so much less work to get good headlines that way

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Murtaza Hussain and Razan Ghalayini report in The Intercept:

On the evening of May 7, 2007, 48-year-old Lata Duka was doing dishes in the kitchen of her home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, when she heard a loud bang come from the front of the house. “It wasn’t a normal sound. I was very scared,” Lata recalls nearly a decade later.

Thinking someone was breaking in, Lata grabbed a chair from the kitchen table and hoisted it above her head, waiting for the intruder. Moments later a swarm of armed men burst through the front door and ran into her kitchen. “Put the chair down or I’ll shoot!” she says one exclaimed, pushing his gun against her chest.

The armed men were FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. As they searched the house, one of the men approached Lata. He was smiling.

“He kept asking me, where are my sons!” Lata remembers. “Just smiling and going up and down the stairs, asking me all the time, where are your sons? I told him my sons were at work. He just kept smiling at me.”

Lata didn’t know that at roughly the same time, authorities were conducting raids at separate locations in Cherry Hill to arrest her three sons, Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka. Over 100 officers and agents were involved in what at the time was one of the most high-profile counterterrorism arrests in the post-9/11 era.

The next morning, Chris Christie, then the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, appeared at a press conference flanked by law enforcement officials to announce the arrests. “The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threatened the lives of our citizens through these defendants,” he said.

Christie said that five men apprehended the previous night — the three Duka brothers along with two friends, Mohamad Shnewer and Serdar Tatar — had been planning to launch a terrorist attack against the nearby Fort Dix military base. “Fortunately, law enforcement in New Jersey was here to stop them,” he said.

The press conference and ensuing case garnered national attention, and the brothers and their friends quickly became known as the “Fort Dix Five,” characterized in the media as a terrorist cell that intended to kill servicemen and attack facilities at the base. For Christie, now a possible contender for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination, the arrests would be a career turning point, helping galvanize his eventual rise to governor of New Jersey.

Entrapped by Razan Ghalayini

For the Duka family, the arrests marked a tragic turn. They had escaped the turmoil of the former Yugoslavia and managed to start anew in the United States, only to find three sons publicly branded as terrorists. Dritan, Shain and Eljvir, seized when they were 28, 26 and 23, would be convicted of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel and sentenced to life in prison, devastating the Duka family and putting an end to their nascent American dream.

Beyond the sensational headlines is the story of paid FBI informants with long criminal histories who spent a year working to befriend the brothers and enlist them as terrorists. This effort, both expensive and time-consuming, nevertheless failed to convince the Duka brothers to take part in a violent attack. Indeed, over the course of hundreds of hours of surveillance, the plot against Fort Dix was never even raised with them.

In the years since these events occurred, the use of dubious informants in terrorism investigations by the FBI has become almost routine. When purported terror plots are “revealed,” they almost invariably involve paid government informants at every level of their ideation, facilitation and planning. But the story of the Duka brothers is an early example of this type of case — and it still stands out because of the deliberate and brazen way the brothers were entrapped by authorities, assisted by their paid informants. Indeed, one might argue that the targeting of the Dukas was the prototype for the program of state-orchestrated terrorism plots that continues today.

IN THE 1980s, Yugoslavia was in its final chaotic decade of existence. Lata Duka and her husband, Firik, both ethnic Albanian Muslims, decided to leave their small village of Spas in search of a better life for their three young boys. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2015 at 10:09 am

Fougère, Martin de Candre and Barrister and Mann–and… The Wolfman!

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SOTD 27 June 2015

While first-rate products are not necessary or sufficient for a fine shave, the two go together wonderfully well, like a horse and carriage.

This is the fougère version of Martin de Candre as you can tell from the blurry notation written with a ballpoint pen. That is my writing. Martin de Candre provides no indication other than fragrance.

With the Plisson synthetic I quickly achieved a wonderful lather. I’m finding that now that I use a dampish wet rather than dripping wet, I get good lathers more easily and with less mess.

The Wolfman WR1-SB with a Voskhod blade did a non-bloody marvelous job: not a single nick, total BBS result, and a pleasure throughout. I think the handle shown may be my favorite of his handles.

Continuing the fougère theme, I applied a splash of Barrister & Mann’s Fougère Classique to finish the shave.

A great way to start the weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2015 at 9:28 am

Posted in Shaving

Good thoughts on gay marriage

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Amy Davidson has a good column in the New Yorker:

“Choices about marriage shape an individual’s destiny,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a powerful opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, for a 5-4 majority, bringing marriage equality to all fifty states. The choice about marriage, it became clear this morning, was also a rendezvous with destiny for the nine members of this Court. Kennedy, joined by the Court’s four liberals, met that test with eloquence and insight into, as he wrote, “the abiding connection between marriage and liberty.” Chief Justice Roberts failed it, with a dissent notable for its pinched defensiveness and worries about polygamy. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia wrote their own dissents, each characterized by the author’s particular brand of crankishness, and warnings about tyranny. Scalia spent most of his dissent attacking Kennedy’s opinion; he referred to its “mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages.” There was no straining, and no need for it. Kennedy’s opinion will be long remembered.

The opinion is at once profoundly legalistic and romantic. It is probably the strongest manifesto in favor of marriage—anybody’s marriage—a Court could produce. And Kennedy understood how, as he wrote, “far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.” He noted Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation that Americans place a particular value on marriage, and emphasized its relation to the particular value we place on the domestic underpinnings of democracy—the household as a refuge of privacy and deliberation. (And love.) This is why his decision draws on the promise of equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. He outlined four premises for the argument that the right to marriage ought to be—and has been, in a sizable network of Supreme Court precedents—regarded as a fundamental: first, “the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy”; second, “it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals”; third, “it safeguards children and families”; fourth, “this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order.”

That last one suggests, correctly, that there is also something conservative, in the better sense, about Kennedy’s decision. We are past the point where gays and lesbians must effectively live in hiding. That also means, from the Kennedy perspective, that it is wrong to deny them them sort of family and community life that might be called traditional. It is not enough, he writes in the opinion, that gays and lesbians are no longer arrested for being who they are: “Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty.” Similarly, he writes, no one says that marriage requires any couple in America to commit to having children; but

Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples.

Those children deserve to walk into school and say that their parents are married, in addition to all the legal protections the fact of their parents’ marriage might bring. And there are hundreds of thousands of children in America with same-sex parents; they are more secure today than they were yesterday. It has long been clear, from Kennedy’s 2013 opinion in U.S. v. Windsor, and his questions in oral arguments, that the well-being of these children is of profound interest to him—“urgent” is a word he used this morning. Indeed, there have been times when it seems like the soundtrack to Kennedy’s thinking on marriage includes the Supremes’ “Love Child.” And well it should. Without marriage equality, Kennedy writes, “Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives.”

Justice Roberts hopes those people are happy now—“by all means celebrate today’s decision,” he writes. But, he says, “do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.” He goes on to complain, as he has in oralarguments, that all this didn’t happen through the voting booth or in various legislatures. (In some states, of course, it has.) Kennedy disposes of this particular line of argument by writing, “The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter.”

But that basic truth—that the assignment of rights is not a popularity contest—seems lost on Roberts. He is more concerned with his own reputation, and that of those who voted with him. “Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of today’s decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate,” he writes. Roberts finds Kennedy’s use of the word “demean,” in reference to laws denying marriage equality, to be “accusatory.” (He is surpassed by Alito, who talked about efforts “to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”) What is extraordinary is that Roberts writes this with a look back at Kennedy’s generous and loving opinion, and with a blindness toward Scalia’s screeching dissent, which truly is accusatory in its insults to Kennedy and his “patrician” ilk. The opinion, he says, “is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic,” and somehow undoes the work of the American Revolution. Scalia then demeans that struggle by offering what he says is “a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.” This is an extremist version of Roberts’s complaints about the Court vs. the ballot, and rather extraordinarily makes one wonder if Scalia thinks that every step of progress this country has made should have been dependent on majority approbation. (“Ask a Hippie,” Scalia throws in at one juncture, bafflingly.) Gratuitously, Scalia adds, “The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me”—suggesting that neither he nor anyone he loves will be affected by having access to same-sex marriage. He may be surprised, some day, by the love around him. For the moment, though, he is blind to it.

But a majority of the Court, and an emerging majority of the country, are not. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 June 2015 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Government, Law

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