Later On

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

Archive for August 11th, 2015

Pretty good jazz singing for an 8-year-old

with one comment

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2015 at 8:40 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

Upcoming cultural tsunami?

leave a comment »

I was reading an article today about the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004, and it described how the ocean withdrew, leaving the bottom exposed, and some people just watched the unusual phenomenon, straining to see where the water had gone in the distance, wandering out where water had been—then the realization of what was happening, the screams, the running: 230,000 people killed.

And I got to thinking all the weird things going on in our cultural world: the GOP presidential race, the immigration crisis, the increasingly obvious problems presented by police and prosecutorial immunity for misconduct, the intense surveillance (both foreign and domestic), the strong politicization of SCOTUS, the increasing dysfunction of Congress, the cyber-attacks and cyber-insecurity, the continuing insistence by the FBI and NSA and the Obama Administration that secure encryption be illegal (combined with increasing secrecy and opacity in the Federal government), the increasing criminality of Wall Street, the environmental devastation now on us from climate change, and also income inequality: look at this article where billionaires are quite openly worrying about what will happen if inequality continues to increase. The fact that they acknowledge it as a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape: that’s unusual.

All these things, plus others you can read about in your daily news, seems metaphorically sort of similar to the withdrawing of the ocean before the tsunami hits. What we see is a loosening of the ties of community and common interest. We are at a point where companies are willing to poison and kill their customers for profit (the Peanut Corporation of America case), where the Olsen twins, who own a billion-dollar fashion empire, can simply decide that they will not pay their employees, thus increasing profits. There’s not much feel that we’re in this together, so the groundwork is laid for some serious cultural tsunami, I would say. Once the conflagration begins, the things that would normally control it—sense of community and civic pride—have been destroyed. John D. MacDonald wrote an interesting book—not his usual mystery novel—about the ecology of the barrier islands, and how destroying the vegetation to facilitate development removed natural storm protections, leading to the total demolition of a skyscraper in a storm surge. We’ve culturally burned the vegetation that protected our society from storms. Condominium, that was its name.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2015 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Daily life

How Life and Luck Changed Earth’s Minerals

leave a comment »

Very interesting article in Quanta by Roberta Kwok:

Is evolution predictable, or was it heavily shaped by random events? Biologists have argued over this question for decades. Some have suggested that if we replayed the history of life on our planet, the resulting species would be different. Opponents counter that life is largely deterministic.

Recently, researchers have begun to ask the same questions about rocks. About 5,000 minerals — crystalline substances such as quartz, zircon and diamond — have been found on Earth. But minerals didn’t just appear all at once when the Earth formed. They materialized over time, each crystal arising in response to the conditions of the particular epoch in which it formed. Minerals evolved — in some cases, in response to life. And so geologists are left to ask: Are today’s minerals a predictable consequence of the planet’s chemical makeup? Or are they the result of chance events? What if we were to look out at the cosmos and spot another Earth-like planet — would we expect its gemstones to match ours, or would they shine with a luster never seen before?

Robert Hazen, a mineral physicist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory, and his colleagues are publishing a series of four papers this year that reveal broad insights into whether geology is a matter of fate. Minerals on Earth may indeed have been guided by some deterministic rules that could apply to other worlds as well, they found. But our planet is rife with extremely rare minerals, which suggests that chance occurrences also play a significant part.

In addition, if we found an Earth-like twin elsewhere in the universe, many common minerals would likely be the same — but that planet would probably also hold many minerals unlike any that exist here.

The findings aren’t just a matter of curiosity. Some minerals may have helped early organisms emerge. And understanding which minerals could have formed on Earth-like planets may help scientists better predict which worlds are likeliest to harbor life. Conversely, some minerals arise only in the presence of organisms. So finding patterns in Earth’s mineral distribution could help scientists identify a mineralogical signature for life, which they could then search for on other planets.

Time and Chance

Traditionally, mineralogy has been dominated by analyzing the structures and formation of individual minerals. But in a 2008 study in American Mineralogist, Hazen and his colleagues took a more historical view. The researchers assessed Earth’s known minerals and tried to figure out when the conditions were right for their formation. The team concluded that about two-thirds of Earth’s minerals would not have emerged until life was present.

For example, early microorganisms seeded the atmosphere with oxygen, which interacted with existing minerals to yield new ones. The so-called Great Oxygenation Event “was a huge game changer,” said Hazen. “You open the door to literally thousands of new minerals.”

Hazen and collaborators then set out to investigate the role that chance played in mineral formation. First, the researchers studied the relationship between mineral diversity and the abundance of individual elements in Earth’s crust. They found that the more abundant the element, the more minerals it formed, a relationship that was published last month in The Canadian Mineralogist. They then performed the same exercise with minerals from the moon. A similar relationship held, even though the number of known minerals there is much smaller. This common trend suggested an element of determinism: Given starting chemical conditions, one could predict, to a certain extent, which minerals would form.

The team did find outliers, however. For instance, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2015 at 6:19 pm

Meet ‘RaBBi-Q’ — Kansas City’s kosher BBQ star

leave a comment »

Very cute article by Victor Wishna in JTA:

Mendel Segal wears two particular titles that each reflect a devotion to tradition, imply an unending pursuit of precision and command immediate respect.

One is rabbi. The other is pitmaster.

The 33-year-old Orthodox rabbi (and follower of the late Lubavitcher rebbe) is readying to oversee the fourth annual Kansas City Kosher BBQ Festival on Sunday, an event that is expected to attract as many as 4,000 attendees.

Segal — known as “RaBBi-Q” to his fans and fellow competitors on the circuit — is a kosher barbecue champion in more ways than one, standing (and cooking) at the forefront of a rising movement within a distinctly American subculture.

“I just want to energize people,” Segal said from his home in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas. “Kosher can be fun.”

After a long, slow burn, kosher barbecue is catching fire: New restaurants and food trucks are popping up from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the number of kosher barbecue events across the country has tripled, from a handful to more than a dozen. Many credit Segal’s passion and leadership as a major spark.

“Mendel’s been instrumental in changing kosher barbecue everywhere you can see,” said Mordechai Striks, a New York City psychologist and paramedic who took home the all-around title at last year’s Southern New England Kosher BBQ Championship. “He’s involved in every competition. People look to him because he runs a damn tight ship and he does it right.”

In the few years since he dived whole hog — well, minus the hog — into the national scene, Segal has racked up wins in kosher contests as well as on the mainstream barbecue circuit. In the latter he is seen as a worthy competitor and not just a curiosity — long, bristly beards aren’t so uncommon among barbecue buffs, though the tzitzit, or ritual fringes, worn by observant Jewish men under their clothes sometimes raise eyebrows. This summer he launched his own line of Mendel’s Kansas City BBQ Sauce and BBQ Rub (“Don’t worry, it’s kosher,” the packaging reassures), available in seven states.

“It happens that I’m obsessed with barbecue,” said Simon Majumdar, a Food Network regular who met Segal in 2012 while in Kansas City researching his book “Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America With My Fork.” “And what I say is that Mendel’s not making kosher barbecue — he’s making really, really terrific barbecue that happens to be kosher.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2015 at 1:35 pm

Business, profit, anything: Mary-Kate And Ashley Olsen example

with one comment

Jessica Goldstein reports in ThinkProgress on how the Olsens pumped up profits: don’t pay employees:

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s fashion empire is worth an estimated $1 billion. Interns at the Olsens’ Dualstar Entertainment company are unpaid. And, as of Tuesday, they’re suing.

A class-action lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court alleges the Olsens failed to pay 40 past and present interns. Lead plantiff Shashista Lalani, a former design intern, told Page Sixabout her unpaid gig at the Olsens’ Dualstar Entertainment Group in 2012, where she worked under the head technical designer for The Row, the Olsen’s high-end fashion label, for five months.

“I was doing the work of three interns,” Lalani told Page Six.” I was talking to her all day, all night. E-mails at nighttime for the next day, like 10 p.m. at night.” She also says she worked 50-hour weeks and was hospitalized for dehydration. “You’re like an employee, except you’re not getting paid. They’re kind of mean to you. Other interns have cried.” (The Row did not return a request for comment.)

This is the latest in a string of unpaid intern lawsuits — against Conde Nast, Hearst, and Elite Model Management, to name a few — that claim these internships, long a staple of their respective industries, violate state and federal minimum wage laws.

The suits have a handful of key things in common: They’re all from the past five years or so. The defendants are famous corporations and/or individuals, which means the optics are not in favor of the well-heeled and wealthy companies or celebrities neglecting to scrape together pay for their interns.

The industries are in the sectors of media, entertainment, and fashion, where unpaid internships are traditionally considered a right of passage. There is something almost sweet in how sour it is — it’s not unlike the way some Greek organizations or athletic teams feel about hazing — that everyone will go through something objectively bearable-but-bad in order to ascend to true membership. A classic vision of the harried fashion intern persists, with her Devil Wears Prada boss, the samples piled high in the crook of her elbow, stack of Starbucks orders in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

“I think it’s reflective of the fact that advocates in this emerging intern rights movement are trying to identify, as a strategic mater, wealthy, high-visibility companies to bring these lawsuits at,” said David Yamada, a law professor at the University of Suffolk in Boston and founding director of the New Workplace Institute, by phone. “It really underscores the fact that a lot of these internships are, frankly, exploitative, and these are entities that could easily afford to pay interns minimum wage and for whatever reason, they’re not doing so.”

What sparked the explosion of the unpaid intern lawsuit? First, in April 2010, the Department of Labor released “Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act,” a document specifying the requirements employers should meet in order to be exempt from paying minimum wage to interns.

In it, a six point “Test For Unpaid Interns” lists the criteria used to determine whether an internship is “for the [intern’s] own educational benefit.” Included on the list are vague guidelines such as “the internship experience is for the benefit of the intern,” “the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern,” and that “the intern does not displace regular employees.”

“Aren’t most interns at least performing entry level tasks that have to get done in the office?” Yamada said. “Even if somebody is ‘just getting copies’ or running errands, someone elsewould have to do that work if the intern wasn’t doing it.”

The Fact Sheet was met with pushback, notably from thirteen University presidents, including John Sexton of New York University and Mark G. Yudof of University of California,who wrote to the Department of Labor to fight back against these regulations. Plenty of corporations hire unpaid interns through colleges, which in turn award academic credit for the internship, absolving the employer of the obligation to pay interns. But colleges can, and often do, charge interns tuition for the privilege of getting credit for the internship. It is the inverse of the intern’s experience: Instead of doing all the work for no pay, universities do none of the work for all of the pay.

But the case that kicked off this wave of lawsuits belonged to . . .

Continue reading.

Anything—anything at all—to grow profits. And how callous a soul must one have to steal the wages of employees, creating de facto slaves—or at least suspiciously slave-like.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2015 at 12:47 pm

Interesting column on the degree to which speech is free—and why don’t groups have libel protection?

leave a comment »

Kelefa Sanneh has a very interesting article on Free Speech in the New Yorker. From the article:

. . . [O]ne of the most influential free-speech skeptics in America today is an immigrant. Jeremy Waldron is a law professor from New Zealand who teaches at New York University. In 2012, he published “The Harm in Hate Speech,” a powerful little book that seeks to dismantle familiar defenses of the right to indefensible speech. Waldron is unimpressed by the “liberal bravado” of free-speech advocates who say, “I hate what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In his view, the people who say this rarely feel threatened by the speech they say they hate. Unfettered political expression came to seem like a bedrock American value only in the twentieth century, when the government no longer feared radical pamphleteers.

This, in essence, was Justice Holmes’s rationale, in 1919, when he argued in an influential dissent that antiwar anarchists should be free to agitate. “Nobody can suppose that the surreptitious publishing of a silly leaflet by an unknown man, without more, would present any immediate danger,” he wrote. Free-speech advocates typically claim that the value of unfettered expression outweighs any harm it might cause, offering assurances that any such harm will be minimal. But what makes them so sure? America’s free-speech regime is shot through with exceptions, including civil (and, in some states, criminal) laws against libel. By what rationale do we insist that groups—races, communities of faith—don’t deserve similar protection? Waldron uses the term “hate speech” in a particular sense, to denote not speech that expresses hatred but speech likely to inspire it. If we want a society that recognizes the dignity of marginalized groups, he argues, then we should be willing to enact “laws that prohibit the mobilization of social forces to exclude them.” This would involve carving out an exception to the First Amendment. But there are plenty of exceptions already, and taken together they form a rough portrait of what we value and what we don’t. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2015 at 12:39 pm

Documents Reveal the Fearmongering Local Cops Use to Score Military Gear From the Pentagon

leave a comment »

Molly Redden reports in Mother Jones:

Mother Jones obtained more than 450 police department requests for armored tactical vehicles from the Pentagon. Did your police force request one? Browse all of them here.

One year ago this week, hundreds of camouflaged officers in Ferguson, Missouri bore down on residents protesting the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown.

Riot cops, their faces sometimes concealed by gas masks, fired off tear gas canisters, and as they stood on top of hulking, mine-resistant vehicles, they appeared to train their assault rifles on the crowds. On some nights, they greeted demonstrators with a storm of rubber bullets.

Images of this chaos provoked a furious debate over the billions of federal dollarsthat have helped local police forces amass combat style weapons, trucks, and armor. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), echoing concerns from across the political spectrum, fumed that “lawful, peaceful protesters did not deserve to be treated like enemy combatants.”

Law enforcement agencies responded by stoking old fears. No community, they argued, not even the smallest one, is safe from worst-case scenarios like mass shootings, hostage situations, or terrorist attacks. The use of this military equipment has resulted in “substantial positive impact on public safety and officer safety,” Jim Bueermann, the president of the Police Foundation, a research group, said in a 2014 Senate hearing on police militarization. He cited hostage situations, rescue missions, and heavy-duty shootouts where the vehicles had come in useful.

But in private, police justify these same programs in radically different ways.

Mother Jones obtained more than 450 local requests, filed over two years, for what may be the most iconic piece of equipment in the debate over militarizing local police: the mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP.* And an analysis of these documents reveals that in justifying their requests, very few sheriffs and police chiefs cite active shooters, hostage situations, or terrorism, as police advocates do in public.

Instead, the single most common reason agencies requested a mine-resistant vehicle was to combat drugs. Fully a quarter of the 465 requests projected using the vehicles for drug enforcement. Almost half of all departments indicated that they sit within a region designated by the federal government as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. (Nationwide, only 17 percent of counties are HIDTAs.) One out of six departments were prepared to use the vehicles to serve search or arrest warrants on individuals who had yet to be convicted of a crime. And more than half of the departments indicated they were willing to deploy armored vehicles in a broad range of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) raids.

By contrast, out of the total 465 requests, only 8 percent mention the possibility of a barricaded gunman. For hostage situations, the number is 7 percent, for active shooters, 6 percent. Only a handful mentioned downed officers or the possibility of terrorism.

“This is a great example of how police as an institution talk to each other privately, versus how they talk to the public and journalists who might raise questions about what they’re doing with this equipment,” says Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University who has studied police militarization for decades. When police are pressured in public, Kraska says, “They’re going to say, ‘How about Columbine?’ or point to all these extremely rare circumstances.”

The requests flowed to a massive Pentagon program—known as the 1033 program—that has given communities across the country a total of $5.6 billion in combat equipment left over from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon said, 625 MRAPs. A 2014 NPR analysis found that the Pentagon has also doled out 80,000 assault rifles, 200 grenade launchers, and 12,000 bayonets. In 2012, the program began making MRAPs available. The vehicles weigh around 14 tons, and feature armored hulls and tiny, blast-proof windows. “Nothing short of a rocket-propelled grenade will trouble this powerhouse,” one manufacturer boasted.

The documents reveal that many departments are willing to bring a startling show of force to ordinary communities.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2015 at 12:04 pm

%d bloggers like this: