Later On

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

Archive for September 2015

Medical Weed Is Safe, Longest Ever Study on Managing Pain with Pot Finds

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Jordan Pearson reports at Motherboard:

The results from the first and longest study ever conducted on medicinal cannabis use for chronic pain management are finally in: medical pot is safe to use. Nobody’s brain turned into a fried egg.

The study was conducted by researchers at McGill University in Montreal and followed 215 experienced smokers as they toked up 2.5 grams a day, as well as 216 non-smokers, for four years—between 2004 and 2008, with a follow up after one year. The participants, who all suffered from a wide range of noncancer chronic pains, were tested for lung function, underwent blood tests, and had cognitive abilities like memory examined. All adverse effects, from mild headaches to serious disorders, were reported by subjects.

In a paper describing the results of the study, published Tuesday in The Journal of Pain, the researchers write that the cannabis users reported less pain, better overall moods, and had no increased risk of serious adverse effects compared to the control group. Cognitive functions like memory, the researchers wrote, “improved in both groups.”

“The results suggest that cannabis at average doses of 2.5g/d in current cannabis users may be safe as part of carefully monitored pain management program when conventional treatments have been considered medically inappropriate or inadequate,” the authors wrote.

That’s not to say frequent smoking didn’t have any drawbacks at all. Compared to the control group the experienced smokers reported more non-serious adverse effects, such as dizziness and mild respiratory issues associated with smoking.

“Respiratory illnesses and other minor side effects are real risks, but they’re much more modest (in my opinion), than some of the risks that people believe exist,” Dr. David Casarett, a physician at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the measured Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana, wrote me in an email. “So this is a useful reality check.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Medical, Science

The decline and fall of the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution

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The courts find the Bill of Rights just too much trouble. Radley Balko gives examples at the link, and concludes:

. . . So if you’re a cop who wants to search a home without a warrant, simply knock on the door, claim to have heard “rustling around” or to have smelled marijuana. Break in and search the home. If you find something illegal, make your arrests and celebrate your success. Just remember to note what you smelled or heard on your report, and be sure to note that you originally knocked on the door after mistaking it for a different one.

If you don’t find anything illegal, you’re probably going to be fine. It’s expensive and time-consuming for an innocent person to file a civil rights lawsuit over an illegal search. Most won’t find an attorney willing to take the case. Most won’t bother to try. For the few who do, your qualified immunitywill make it difficult for them to even get in front of a jury. Again, remember the courts aren’t likely to second-guess your claims about what you heard or smelled, even if your search comes up empty. On the off-chance that your victim somehow gets over those hurdles and gets to trial, you can take comfort in the fact that juries rarely rule against police officers. Finally, if you somehow lose in front of a jury (what bad luck you have!), unless the search resulted in bodily injury, your victim isn’t likely to collect much in the way of damages. And unless you’ve done something really egregious, the city or state that employs you will likely indemnify you. The taxpayers will foot the bill. That’s usually the case with your legal representation, too.

Point is, there’s plenty of incentive for you to bend or break the rules. Busts, seizures and arrests are good for your career. Depending on what you find, frequent searches based on little more than hunches will help you know which hunches to trust, making you a better cop. On the other side, there’s almost no incentive to play it by the book. Take the time to get a warrant and the perps get time to move the drugs. You’ll probably do dozens of illegal searches before someone complains, and once that happens, there’s plenty of machinery in place to both protect you from liability and to prevent the victim from collecting.

This isn’t to say that all cops want to conduct illegal searches.* Only that the courts have provided a pretty easy-to-follow road map for those who do. But that’s sort of the point. Those are precisely the authorities from whom the Fourth Amendment is supposed to protect us.

(*Though let’s be honest, finding ways around the Fourth Amendment certainly makes the job a bit easier. And if the courts have made illegal searches this easy, and mostly consequence-free, at some point you have to question what illegal really means in the first place.)

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 1:59 pm

Dishonest Prosecutors, Lots of Them

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The editorial board of the NY Times:

Prosecutors who bend or even break the rules to win a conviction almost never face any punishment. But even given lax controls, the blatant and systemic misconduct in the Orange County district attorney’s office in Southern California stands out. In a scheme that may go back as far as 30 years, prosecutors and the county sheriff’s department have elicited illegal jailhouse confessions, failed to turn over evidence that is favorable to defendants and lied repeatedly in court about what they did.

These unconstitutional abuses are all the more troubling because Orange County is not some corrupt backwater with one rogue prosecutor. With more than three million residents, the county itself is more populous than nearly half the states in the country. Its district attorney’s office employs 250 prosecutors. In March, a California judge, Thomas Goethals, removed all of them from the county’s highest-profile murder prosecution in years because misconduct had tainted the entire office’s handling of the case. He reassigned the case to the California attorney general, Kamala Harris, a ruling her office is appealing.

The case involved a 2011 mass shooting in which eight people were killed by a man named Scott Dekraai. Mr. Dekraai pleaded guilty in 2014, and a jury will consider whether to sentence him to death or life in prison. In early 2014, Mr. Dekraai’s public defender filed a 505-page motion detailing illegal and unconstitutional acts by prosecutors and the sheriff’s department, arguing that this record should take the death penalty off the table. Among other things, the defense argued, deputies intentionally placed informants in cells next to defendants facing trial, including Mr. Dekraai, and hid that fact.

The informants, some of whom faced life sentences for their own crimes, were promised reduced sentences or cash payouts in exchange for drawing out confessions or other incriminating evidence from the defendants. This practice is prohibited once someone has been charged with a crime. Even when using an informant is allowed, defendants and judges must be told of the arrangement. That did not happen in Orange County. As Mr. Dekraai’s defense lawyer discovered, the sheriff’s department kept secret a computer file showing where jailhouse informants were placed that went back decades. The prosecutor’s office kept separate files of data on informants and their deals. Some of the informants have helped law enforcement repeatedly in exchange for favors, a fact that is highly relevant in weighing their credibility.

The debacle in Orange County may be notable for its sheer size and impact — already, some murder convictions have been thrown out while other prosecutions have fallen apart — but such misconduct is an all-too familiar scenario when prosecutors value winning above justice. Alex Kozinski, a federal appeals court judge in San Francisco, has written that the withholding of exculpatory evidence has reached “epidemic” levels, and that the only way to stop it is for judges to hold prosecutors accountable.

Judge Goethals has set an important example on that count. The district attorney’s office continues to deny any wrongdoing, and has recentlysought to have the judge removed from dozens of cases. Meanwhile, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas says the office’s failings are no more than the result of overworked prosecutors making isolated mistakes. Given the scope of what has been uncovered, that explanation is implausible.

The Justice Department should . . .

Continue reading.

See also, from July 9, 2015: “Oklahoma Prepares to Execute Richard Glossip” on Oklahoma’s strange urgency to execute people.

And, from yesterday, “Why Is Oklahoma So Eager to Kill Richard Glossip?

If you read those articles, it’s hard to understand why a state, guilty of such misconduct in the trial, is so eager to kill a man who apparently is innocent.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 1:04 pm

A New Map Traces the Limits of Computation

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John Pavlus has an extremely interesting article in Quanta on efforts to understand just how difficult it is to compute certain things:

At first glance, the big news coming out of this summer’s conference on the theory of computing appeared to be something of a letdown. For more than 40 years, researchers had been trying to find a better way to compare two arbitrary strings of characters, such as the long strings of chemical letters within DNA molecules. The most widely used algorithm is slow and not all that clever: It proceeds step-by-step down the two lists, comparing values at each step. If a better method to calculate this “edit distance” could be found, researchers would be able to quickly compare full genomes or large data sets, and computer scientists would have a powerful new tool with which they could attempt to solve additional problems in the field.

Yet in a paper presented at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put forth a mathematical proof that the current best algorithm was “optimal” — in other words, that finding a more efficient way to compute edit distance was mathematically impossible. The Boston Globe celebrated the hometown researchers’ achievement with a headline that read “For 40 Years, Computer Scientists Looked for a Solution That Doesn’t Exist.”

But researchers aren’t quite ready to record the time of death. One significant loophole remains. The impossibility result is only true if another, famously unproven statement called the strong exponential time hypothesis (SETH) is also true. Most computational complexity researchers assume that this is the case — including Piotr Indyk and Artūrs Bačkurs of MIT, who published the edit-distance finding — but SETH’s validity is still an open question. This makes the article about the edit-distance problem seem like a mathematical version of the legendary report of Mark Twain’s death: greatly exaggerated.

The media’s confusion about edit distance reflects a murkiness in the depths ofcomplexity theory itself, where mathematicians and computer scientists attempt to map out what is and is not feasible to compute as though they were deep-sea explorers charting the bottom of an ocean trench. This algorithmic terrain is just as vast — and poorly understood — as the real seafloor, said Russell Impagliazzo, a complexity theorist who first formulated the exponential-time hypothesis with Ramamohan Paturiin 1999. “The analogy is a good one,” he said. “The oceans are where computational hardness is. What we’re attempting to do is use finer tools to measure the depth of the ocean in different places.”

According to Ryan Williams, a computational complexity theorist at Stanford University, an imprecise understanding of theoretical concepts like SETH may have real-world consequences. “If a funding agency read that [Boston Globe headline] and took it to heart, then I don’t see any reason why they’d ever fund work on edit distance again,” he said. “To me, that’s a little dangerous.” Williams rejects the conclusion that a better edit-distance algorithm is impossible, since he happens to believe that SETH is false. “My stance [on SETH] is a little controversial,” he admits, “but there isn’t a consensus. It is a hypothesis, and I don’t believe it’s true.”

SETH is more than a mere loophole in the edit-distance problem. It embodies a number of deep connections that tie together the hardest problems in computation. The ambiguity over its truth or falsity also reveals the basic practices of theoretical computer science, in which math and logic often marshal “strong evidence,” rather than proof, of how algorithms behave at a fundamental level.

Whether by assuming SETH’s validity or, in Williams’ case, trying to refute it, complexity theorists are using this arcane hypothesis to explore two different versions of our universe: one in which precise answers to tough problems stay forever buried like needles within a vast computational haystack, and one in which it may be possible to speed up the search for knowledge ever so slightly. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 11:39 am

Posted in Math, Science

When cops choose empathy

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A very interesting New Yorker article by Jamil Zaki, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University:

About four years ago, in a city park in western Washington State, Joe Winters encountered a woman in the throes of a psychotic episode. As he sat down next to her, she told him that she had purchased the bench that they now shared and that it was her home. “I didn’t buy the hallucinations, but I tried to validate the feelings underneath them,” Winters told me. His strategy resembled Rogerian psychotherapy—unconditionally accepting a patient’s experience, even when it is untethered from reality. But Winters is not a roving psychologist; he is a deputy in the King County Sheriff’s Office. He had been called to the scene in response to the woman’s behavior, which nearby residents deemed disruptive. After talking with Winters for several minutes, the woman left of her own volition, without Winters having to arrest her or resort to physical force.

Policing can seem like barren ground for empathy, the experience of understanding, sharing in, and caring about another’s emotions. According to the Web site Fatal Encounters, cops were involved in the deaths of twelve hundred and sixty-one people in the United States last year, an average of about three and a half each day. A recent string of brutal arrests by officers in Missouri, New York, Texas, South Carolina, Ohio, and elsewhere has helped to drive the public’s faith in law enforcement to a twenty-two-year low. National confidence in police officers’ racial impartiality has also fallen. But, for communities of color, incidents like these are nothing new; they often confirm a longstanding perception of police as antagonists.

Many theories, both old and new, hold that empathy is inevitable and automatic. When you witness someone suffer a severe bone fracture, it doesn’t take mental gymnastics to figure out how you feel; a wave of discomfort might wash over you, the emotional equivalent of a knee-jerk reflex. In fact, though, empathy is a fragile reaction, one that often fails when it is most needed. Conflicts between groups (racial, social, or competitive) can reduce its potency. So can stress, which limits the psychological space that people have for others, and power, which can numb those who possess it to the plight of those who don’t.

Each of these factors is common in policing. From their earliest days of training, many recruits are steeped in a so-called warrior mentality, in which routine patrols resemble combat and citizens pose a potentially mortal threat. Last year, the Santa Fe New Mexican obtained a draft of instructional materials from the state law-enforcement academy that offer a striking example of this philosophy. According to the proposed curriculum, cadets would be taught that, during traffic stops, they should “assume that … all the occupants in the vehicle are armed.” Expectations like these encourage a volatile mindset, and they play directly into the tendency to see weapons where there are none, especially in the hands of black men. The warrior mentality also instills chronic anxiety. Seth Stoughton, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and a former police officer, told me that such fear colors the way that cops treat civilians. “If I’m worried about never making it home again, I don’t really give a damn if I offend someone,” he said. “Whatever emotional toll my actions take on them, it will feel less important than my survival.”

If you wanted to decrease recruits’ empathy, you could scarcely do better than to enshrine a warrior mentality. Recently, however, recruits in several cities—among them Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Memphis—have begun to learn a different approach: command less, listen more. A strong example of such a program comes from Sue Rahr, the executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. Rahr’s curriculum, which has produced about seven hundred and fifty graduates in the past two years, is designed to do away with the warrior mentality and encourage recruits to view themselves not as combatants within a community but as guardians of it. (President Obama’s Task Force on Twenty-First-Century Policing, whose final report Rahr helped shape, aims to do the same.)

One strategy that flows from Rahr’s philosophy is known as . . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

. . . Another way to bolster caring is to emphasize empathy-positive norms, as the British psychologist Mark Tarrant found in a study in 2009. Tarrant and his colleagues told a group of college students about another student whose parents had died in a car accident. Participants felt more empathy when they believed that this victim attended their own university, as opposed to another school. Tarrant then ran his study again, but first told half the group that their own university was an unusually empathic place, high in “compassion, tenderness, and sympathy.” This simple prompt erased the empathy gap; students now expressed equal empathy for victims from their own and other schools. In the world of law enforcement, the city police department in Decatur, Georgia, seems to have adopted a similar empathic norm, as can be seen in the first seconds of its recruitment video—a stark contrast with more warrior-oriented messages offered elsewhere. . .

The difference between the two recruitment videos is astonishing.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 11:28 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Extremely cool on-line outliner

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Ever since Grandview passed from the scene, I’ve been searching for an equivalent outliner. They are damned hard to find, but today’s Cool Tools discusses Workflowy, which really does seem excellent. And it’s free.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 11:14 am

Posted in Software, Writing

If we have ended our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why are we still bombing there?

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Bombing runs do not indicate a war is over. Quite the contrary. Glenn Greenwald discusses this contradiction (“The wars are over” and “We’re doing bombing runs”) in detail.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 11:06 am

The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific? The British Medical Journal says “No.”

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As scientists understand better what happens from our dietary choices, those creating the US government’s dietary guidelines ignore the findings. Nina Teicholz reports in the British Medical Journal (and there is also a 15-minute audio at the link):

The expert report underpinning the next set of US Dietary Guidelines for Americans fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture, an investigation byThe BMJ has found. The omissions seem to suggest a reluctance by the committee behind the report to consider any evidence that contradicts the last 35 years of nutritional advice.

Issued once every five years, the guidelines have a big influence on diet in the US, determining nutrition education, food labeling, government research priorities at the National Institutes of Health, and public feeding programs, which are used by about a quarter of Americans each year.1 The guidelines, which were first issued in 1980, have also driven nutrition policy globally, with most Western nations subsequently adopting similar advice.

The guidelines are based on a report produced by a dietary guidelines advisory committee—a group of 11-15 experts who are appointed to review the best and most current science to make nutrition recommendations that both promote health and fight disease. The committee’s latest report was published in February2 and is under review by the government’s health and agricultural agencies, which will finalize the guidelines in the fall.

Concern about this year’s report has been unprecedented, with some 29 000 public comments submitted compared with only 2000 in 2010. In recent months, as government officials convert the scientific report into the guidelines, Congress has sought to intervene. In June, it proposed a requirement that the guidelines be based exclusively on “strong” science and also that they focus on nutritional concerns without consideration of sustainability. Other debated topics include newly proposed reductions in consumption of sugar and red meat.

These issues will likely come to a head at a Congressional hearing on the guidelines in October, when two cabinet secretaries are scheduled to testify.

The BMJ has also found that the committee’s report used weak scientific standards, reversing recent efforts by the government to strengthen the scientific review process. This backsliding seems to have made the report vulnerable to internal bias as well as outside agendas.

The 2015 report states that the committee abandoned established methods for most of its analyses. Since its inception, the guideline process has suffered from a lack of rigorous methods for reviewing the science on nutrition and disease, but a major effort was undertaken in 2010 to implement systematic reviews of studies to bring scientific rigor and transparency to the review process. The US Department of Agriculture set up the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) to help conduct systematic reviews using a standardized process for identifying, selecting, and evaluating relevant studies.3

However, in its 2015 report the committee stated that it did not use NEL reviews for more than 70% of the topics, including some of the most controversial issues in nutrition.4 Instead, it relied on systematic reviews by external professional associations, almost exclusively the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), or conducted an hoc examination of the scientific literature without well defined systematic criteria for how studies or outside review papers were identified, selected, or evaluated.

Use of external reviews by professional associations is problematic because these groups conduct literature reviews according to different standards and are supported by food and drug companies. The ACC reports receiving 38% of its revenue from industry in 2012, and the AHA reported 20% of revenue from industry in 2014. Potential conflicts of interest include, for instance, decades of support from vegetable oil manufacturers, whose products the AHA has long promoted for cardiovascular health. This reliance on industry backed groups clearly undermines the credibility of the government report.

Saturated fats

On saturated fats, for example, . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. On low-carb diets, for example:

Low carbohydrate diets

Another important topic that was insufficiently reviewed is the efficacy of low carbohydrate diets. Again, the 2015 committee did not request a NEL systematic review of the literature from the past five years. The report says that this was because, after conducting “exploratory searches” of the literature since 2000, the committee could find “only limited evidence [on] low-carbohydrate diets and health, particularly evidence derived from US based populations.”27

The report provides no documentation of these “exploratory searches,” yet many studies of carbohydrate restriction have been published in peer review journals since 2000, nearly all of which were in US populations. These include nine pilot studies, 11 case studies, 19 observational studies, and at least 74 randomised controlled trials, 32 of which lasted six months or longer (see table C on A meta-analysis and a critical review have concluded that low carbohydrate diets are better than other nutritional approaches for controlling type 2 diabetes,28 29 and two meta-analyses have concluded that a moderate to strict low carbohydrate diet is highly effective for achieving weight loss and improving most heart disease risk factors in the short term (six months).30 31Weight loss benefits on different diets tended to converge over the long term (12 months), according to various reviews, but a recent meta-analysis found that if carbohydrates are kept “very low,” weight loss is greater than with a low fat diet maintained for a year.32 Given the growing toll taken by these conditions and the failure of existing strategies to make meaningful progress in fighting obesity and diabetes to date, one might expect the guideline committee to welcome any new, promising dietary strategies. It is thus surprising that the studies listed above were considered insufficient to warrant a review.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 10:27 am

A red-tipped Rocket and Neat Lathering™

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SOTD 30 Sept 2015

In yesterday’s post and the comments that followed I figured out that loading in the brush is a thing—something that repays mindful attention—so today I selected another soap sold in full (rather than partially empty) containers and tried loading with minimal mess.

It turns out to be pretty easy (but then I’ve had a fair amount of experience in brush-loading, so I am better able to recognize when the goal (a fully loaded brush) has been achieved). I picked the Vie-Long horsehair brush shown, and wet the knot well before showering. Then I held the knot under the hot-water tap to get it dripping wet, gave it a shake or two to leave the right amount of water in the brush (the Goldilocks amount: not too much, not too little, but just right—and, obviously, this is where experience pays off and where learning occurs), and then brushed the soap briskly and with focused attention.

It took very little time—my impression is that it took no more time, but when an activity is the focus of mindful attention one’s sense of time passing is distorted, but I didn’t feel that it took any longer than my usual brush loading, and it was indeed more interesting.

I got an excellent lather—it’s quite a good soap—and picked up the red-tipped Rocket, the British version of the Super Speed, made to a higher standard of manufacture and noticeably more skookum. (Tomorrow I’ll use the regular Rocket.) Three passes, very comfortable, BBS result.

A good splash of Pinaud’s Lilac Vegtal, and we get underway.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2015 at 10:22 am

Posted in Shaving

American corporations laud the idea of “loyalty,” and then this

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Julia Preston reports in the NY Times:

When Congress designed temporary work visa programs, the idea was to bring in foreigners with specialized, hard-to-find skills who would help American companies grow, creating jobs to expand the economy. Now, though, some companies are bringing in workers on those visas to help move jobs out of the country.

For four weeks this spring, a young woman from India on a temporary visa sat elbow to elbow with an American accountant in a snug cubicle at the headquarters of Toys “R” Us here. The woman, an employee of a giant outsourcing company in India hired by Toys “R” Us, studied and recorded the accountant’s every keystroke, taking screen shots of her computer and detailed notes on how she issued payments for toys sold in the company’s megastores.

“She just pulled up a chair in front of my computer,” said the accountant, 49, who had worked for the company for than 15 years. “She shadowed me everywhere, even to the ladies’ room.”

By late June, eight workers from the outsourcing company, Tata Consultancy Services, or TCS, had produced intricate manuals for the jobs of 67 people, mainly in accounting. They then returned to India to train TCS workers to take over and perform those jobs there. The Toys “R” Us employees in New Jersey, many of whom had been at the company more than a decade, were laid off. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Pharmaceutical Gremlin Martin Shkreli Is Nothing Compared to the TPP

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Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 8:27 pm

Just a few of Radley Balko’s afternoon links about daily life in the US

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A few links from Balko’s Washington Post column, which has more:

  • It’s difficult to understand why someone who is dying shouldn’t have access to a drug that could save his life, regardless of whether that drug has been approved by the FDA.
  • Indiana couple say they were pulled over while speeding to a hospital to give birth. The couple claims one officer then pointed a gun at the pregnant woman’s belly and arrested her husband, causing him to miss the birth of his kid. One officer also apparently assured the other that he would “get rid of” the dash cam video of the incident. Portage, Ind., police chief Troy Williams later said the gun-pointing officer “should not be demonized for one unfortunate incident.”
  • DOJ is reviewing what a federal judge called use of “staggering” NSA surveillance data by the FBI and DEA for investigations that have nothing to do with national security.


Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 8:25 pm

The effects of not governing (in this case by the GOP Congress)

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James Fallows has an excellent column in the Atlantic:

Here’s another challenge for the press — and members of the American public, and people in the rest of the world affected by U.S. debates — in reckoning with this moment in U.S. political history. It’s one that Paul Krugman, with whom I’ve sometimes disagreed about politics, mentions almost as a throwaway line in his column early today, as shown at right.

The United States still has two major parties. But one of them is no longer interested actually in governing. And we’re dealing with the consequences.

Running any government, in any country subject to any kind of non-Kim Jong Un-style checks and balances, involves compromises, tradeoffs, making the best of imperfect choices. As John Boehner put it yesterday (a phrase I didn’t imagine myself writing) in explaining his frustration with his fire-breathing caucus, “You know this is the part that I really don’t understand. Our founders didn’t want some parliamentary system where if you won the majority you got to do whatever you wanted to do. They wanted this long, slow process.”

That Republican party competition now is over positions — who can be more anti-Obama (and Obamacare), pro-Israel, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-climate science and EPA — rather than over policies, which imply the tedious work of operating a government, is a familiar point. Here are two less familiar reminders than the momentum in the party is not about this or that policy detail but effectively against governance itself.

1) From Australia, the American security-policy veteran Aaron Connelly (now with my friends at the Lowy Institute in Sydney) writes about the damage that anti-governance paralysis in Congress has done to America’s position in Asia. You should read the whole essay, but here is his description of the key points:

There are three core arguments:

· First, while partisan gridlock in Congress has hindered the execution of US foreign policy overall,  it has disproportionately affected US policy towards the Asia Pacific, because the region has had few champions in either house in recent years. See, for example, the unequal treatment of ambassadorial nominees for the Middle East and and East Asia during the GOP lockdown on appointments last year, which I address in the paper.

· To the extent individual members have focused on the region in recent years, it has often been in pursuit of narrow objectives focused on a single country or issue area, without reference to a broader strategy…

· Though there are signs of increased interest in the region among more junior members of the current Congress, the nature of that interest and whether it can be sustained will depend on how the White House and its partners in the region engage them. The problems of Congressional dysfunction, as you well know, aren’t going away soon. But we can cultivate leaders who better understand the stakes.

So when it comes to the region that contains the world’s most populous nations and its fastest-growing economies, and where long-term U.S. security interests are enormous in both a positive and a potentially negative sense, today’s posturing Congress cannot be bothered to do such things as confirming ambassadorial nominees.


2) From General Electric, an announcement that it is moving 350 jobs from the United States to Canada because of the ongoing Tea Party stand of blocking the Export-Import Bank.

Could this be posturing by GE to shift an American policy? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more and it’s powerful.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Madam Secretary

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This series, with Téa Leoni as the eponymous character and also as a producer, has got me hooked. One thing I like about it (aside from the various plot twists and turns and nice interlacing of disparate story arcs) is that the protagonist has that rare thing on TV: a functional family, a family able to settle agreements and, though making mistakes from time to time, is able to respond rationally.

Free on Netflix streaming.

Some nice touches—and let this be a SPOILER ALERT




The father-in-law who conceals his losing his position (superannuated due to age) because revealing it makes it difficult to ignore the mortality issues: i.e., being too old for the job means . . .

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Women in sports and social media

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A very interesting article that is also, I think, very important to read. Julie DiCaro reports in Sports Illustrated:

Editor’s Note: The following contains offensive, vulgar language used to address an important but sensitive subject matter. Reader discretion is advised.

The first time I was ever called a “cunt,” at least to my “face,” was on a sports blog in 2006. The comment that evoked the slur had nothing to do with the guy who aimed it at me. I had disagreed—politely—with something he had said about the Cubs’ starting lineup, and that prompted a reply along the lines of “Why would you bat Todd Walker second, you filthy cunt?” (If I recall correctly, it was because Walker had an OPS of almost .900 in spring training, but I digress.)

The offender had often debated lineups with other posters on the site, whose audience was almost all male. While I didn’t expect him to send me flowers for offering a different opinion, I certainly didn’t anticipate that kind of response. The site moderator quickly rebuked the offender and deleted the comment, but the message got through loud and clear: “You may not share your sports opinion while, at the same time, being a woman.”

Nine years later, in the midst of the Patrick Kane rape investigation, I found myself working from home Friday, having received a threat on Twitter that hit a little too close to home.

As an anchor for a prominent Chicago sports radio station, I understand my opinions are much more open to commentary now than they were 10 years ago, but this particular tweet contained personal details, and I simply did not feel entirely safe walking to my office. It didn’t help matters that I, like far too many women, am a rape victim, but I wasn’t taking any chances with my safety.

That threatening tweet, like the “cunt” comment nine years ago, was deleted immediately, but other unsettling remarks remained: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

Wall Street in action: A big hand for the free market

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens write in Wall Street on Parade:

Stocks were variously spiking and tanking from moment to moment in early morning trade and much of the problem resides in one eight letter word – Glencore. The Switzerland-based industrial metals producer and commodity trading firm has lost over 75 percent of its share value this year, dumping 29 percent of that just yesterday. Two of the major credit ratings agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, have stated they may downgrade the debt of the company. Credit markets have effectively made those rating outlooks moot and already started trading the debt as junk. The Lehman Brothers’ analogy is being made by market pundits.

As if all of this weren’t causing enough market angst, yesterday UK investment firm Investec issued a research report on Glencore, suggesting that shareholders could be wiped out if low raw material prices persist. The report stated: “In effect, debt becomes 100% of enterprise value and the company is solely working to repay debt obligations.”

The market has watched the cost of buying Credit Default Swaps (CDS) on Glencore debt jump dramatically and the added worry is just which financial institutions are on the hook to pay on those bets. That same kind of opacity persisted during the Lehman debacle, leading to credit markets seizing up.

Against this backdrop, the last place one would expect to find shares of Glencore is in college savings plans known as 529 plans. But according to a report from Morningstar, as of June 30, 2015, six VA CollegeAmerica 529 funds were holding a total of 179 million shares of the American Depository Receipts (ADRs) of Glencore (symbol: GLCNF). While the stakes represent a small percentage of the total assets in each fund, one has to wonder why the shares were not sold as the stock went into a nosedive beginning in December of last year.

Mutual funds report their portfolio holdings on a delayed basis so the 529 plans may have since sold their shares. But as of June 30, 2015, Morningstar reports that 179 million shares were still in the portfolios and that one of the 529 plans, the VA CollegeAmerica EuroPacific Growth Fund had increased its stake by 47.56 percent.

CollegeAmerica is managed by the well known mutual funds company, American Funds. Its web site says it “launched in 2002,” is the “nation’s largest 529 plan,” manages assets “topping $45 billion” and has been chosen by “1 million families nationwide.”

Recalling the research conflicts that got Citigroup’s Jack Grubman barred from the industry for life, Citigroup has been hired as an advisor to Glencore and is also issuing a buy rating on the stock. . .

Continue reading. Outright fraud is clearly being perpetrated—and that’s in large part because the perpetrators always escape any real punishment. Why not do it again?

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 12:54 pm

Cogent comment from Paul Krugman on proposed GOP tax plans

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Krugman in his blog:

. . .  I do want to weigh in for a minute on Donald Trump’s tax plan — which would, surprise, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit. That’s in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

At this point there are no Republican candidates deviating at all from the usual pattern. Why, it’s almost as if nobody in the party ever cared about deficits except as an excuse to slash social spending, and is totally committed to redistributing income upward.

And there is, of course, no evidence — zero, nada, zilch — that cutting taxes on the rich will yield large economic benefits.

What we’re seeing here is a party completely incapable of reforming …

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 12:49 pm

NY Times breathlessly reports something that did not happen

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A crusty Down Easter made a purchase at a hardware store and was staring hard at the change he was given. The clerk asked, “That’s the correct change, isn’t it?” The grudging reply was “Just barely.”

I was reminded of this by how the NY Times reported a recent story on Hillary Clinton, who is (too) frequently the object of animus from the Times.

The “story,” if you can call it that, is that a Clinton adviser did exactly the proper thing and removed herself from a discussion to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

That’s a news story? If the Times thinks that’s a story, then I have a great news story for them about how a bus full of people avoided crashing into a train!!! The bus came to a stop at the barrier as the train rushed by. Upwards of 50 people might have been killed! The bus was only 20 feet from the train!

That’s the sort of thing that passes for news at the NY Times these days.

The Times devoted 652 words to telling us that a conflict of interest did not arise. Was it a slow news day? Is it a way of breaking in reporters gently: first they report on things that did not happen and then later, as they gain experience, they report on things that do happen?

I think it’s just a particularly naked display of the Times’ traditional Clinton hatred—cf. Whitewater…

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 11:05 am

Posted in Election, NY Times

The primary military impulse is to hide problems: Concussions in the military academies

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The NY Times has an interesting story about how common concussions are as a result of the requirement that first-year students at the military academies take boxing. It’s not surprising that boxing would produce concussions, and it’s only in recent decades that we’ve learned about how much long-term damage concussions, particularly repeated concussions, can cause.From the story:

Twenty years ago, the Air Force announced plans to end mandatory boxing because of mounting pressure from the medical community. But boxing continues. The Air Force did not respond to questions, or make any staff members available for interviews.

So the story is interesting as another instance of something known to be a problem that requires fixing or replacement. (Another recent story told how high schools are starting to drop their football programs in favor of soccer, sometimes simply because the number of studies willing to accept the risk of concussions and injuries has dropped too low to field a team.)

The most interesting aspect of the story is how the military immediately started stalling and developing ways to cover up or minimize the problem—and that’s a story in itself, this one by Dave Philipps in the NY Times:

Two top Army generals recently discussed trying to kill an article in The New York Times on concussions at West Point by withholding information so the Army could encourage competing news organizations to publish a more favorable story, according to an Army document.

The generals’ conversation involved a Freedom of Information Act request that The Times made in June for data on concussions resulting from mandatory boxing classes at the United States Military Academy. The Times also requested similar data from the Air Force Academy in June, and from the Naval Academy this month.

During a Sept. 16 meeting at the Pentagon, the Army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, recommended to the superintendent at West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., that the Army delay responding to The Times’s request, according to the document. General Horoho then suggested trying to get The Wall Street Journal or USA Today to publish an article about a more favorable Army study on concussions.

According to the document, described by Army officials as an executive summary of the meeting, the public affairs staff at West Point and the surgeon general’s office were instructed to promote that study, by a West Point sports medicine doctor, Col. Steven Svoboda, to the other publications. . .

Continue reading.

The report contains stunning examples of bad faith by the Army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho:

. . . Chris Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates transparency in government, called the details of the meeting as described in the document “disturbing.”

“To think that high-level officials at the U.S. Army and West Point would intentionally delay responding to a FOIA request in order to place a more favorable story in another outlet,” he said in an email. “Every level of the U.S. government should follow the spirit of the law and comply with FOIA, not use it as an opportunity for media manipulation.”

In the Sept. 16 meeting, according to the summary, General Horoho cited having successfully undermined the news media in the past, referring to how she manipulated coverage of the Army’s Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Col., last year.

“We were able to do something similar with the 4th ID when The Colorado Springs Gazette attacked them with treatment of wounded warriors last year — killed any scrutiny from the media and killed their story,” the document summarizes General Horoho as saying.

The media coverage that the document says the Army surgeon general “killed” at The Gazette focused on an investigation into mistreatment of soldiers by psychologists at the Army hospital at Fort Carson in 2014, according to The Gazette’s military reporter, Tom Roeder. The Gazette waited six months to receive a copy of the Army Medical Command’s completed investigation, Mr. Roeder said in an email.

About a week before the investigation was released to The Gazette, General Horoho held a “media round table” inviting competing military reporters to the Pentagon to learn about the investigation. The event resulted in several stories that had her playing down the mistreatment of soldiers with mental health issues.

The Gazette article, which came out 10 days later, found that “some workers in the hospital’s behavioral health department were demeaning, patronizing, foul-mouthed” and that they felt pressured by commanders to push mentally ill soldiers out of the Army.

The briefing summary also quoted General Horoho as saying that she felt blindsided by coverage of a pillow fight at West Point, first reported by The Times, that caused 24 concussions — more this quarter than boxing or football.

“Next time when cadets are injured and it is sensationalized, please let me know ahead of time,” she is summarized as saying. “I can help shape the reaction from my position as surgeon general. I actually learned about this incident from the news.”

Lt. Gen. Horoho should be encouraged to leave the Army, or at least be removed from the position of surgeon general. Her priorities are clearly not to protect the health of service members but rather to protect the Army’s image, and to do that regardless of ethical considerations. She apparently thinks her primary responsibility is not medical but public relations.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 10:27 am

Starting the Super Speed series with the first Super Speed

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SOTD 29 Sept 2015

This is the first Super Speed Gillette offered in the 1940s—the one in the photo has an unnotched center post. (A notch was added fairly soon to make it easier to pull the blade from the dispenser.)

The brush is from Brent’s Brushes. As with yesterday’s brush, I initially didn’t like the brush because it was so soft—”lack of backbone” is the common expression—but once I decided to learn to use it, I find I like the brush a lot.

The soap, Le Père Lucien, is quite good, an artisanal soap from France, and you’ll note the tub is filled to the brim. This does not, in practice, present any difficulty in loading. I wet the brush well, give it a good shake, and brush the soap briskly. Because this brush is soft, I cannot use much pressure—though I do use some pressure—but briskly brushing the soap suffices to load the brush well.

Sharpologist has an interesting review by Craig K of Catie’s Bubbles, another soap that fills the containers rather than shipping partially empty tubs, and the reviewer comments:

Tub is crammed full of product and so cannot be easily loaded and cannot be brush lathered in the tub should you lack a scuttle of some sort. This close tolerance packing makes loading a mess, and cleanup more extensive than it ought to be. CB should either use an 8 oz container for their 6 ozs of product, or scale back loaded volume and prices accordingly.

I don’t quite understand what he means by “crammed full” (as distinct from “full”), but he clearly prefers to use partially empty containers: indeed he specifically states that he likes the soap container to be 1/3 empty when new.

I also don’t understand what he means by “brush lathered in the tub should you lack a scuttle.” I asked about it, since building the lather is normally done in a separate bowl or scuttle, or on the hand or face—but not directly on the soap. In his response, he noted that he also face lathers, so I’m still not sure what “brush lathered in the tub should you lack a scuttle” refers to. It sure sounds to me that he’s suggesting that one build the lather directly on the soap, using the tub as a scuttle.

In any event, I found that loading from the (crammed?) full tub of Le Père Lucien was not a mess, but easy and quick. Perhaps it’s simply that I have more experience and have learned how much water the brush should hold for efficient loading without a mess: too much water, and you get spills; too little water and loading is more difficult. Learning the right amount of water to use is where experience helps—and, of course, paying attention to the brush’s action in loading, in much the same way that one pays attention to the razor’s action in shaving: enough focus on what’s happening so that one can control it. I find that sense of control, whether loading the brush neatly or shaving with the right angle and pressure, to be gratifying.

I did have this thought: wetshaving is increasingly popular, so naturally we have many who are using a brush and shaving soap to make lather for the first time. Novices by nature lack the experience and thus the skill of more seasoned practitioners. Many probably do not pay the sort of attention to the loading because it’s one more thing to learn and the cost of being sloppy with the brush is nowhere near so dear as being sloppy with the razor. So novices pay close attention to the razor and quickly learn to avoid using too much pressure or a bad angle, but in using a brush carelessly just makes a mess, and if that can be blamed on something other than lack of skill or learning (“It’s not my fault. The container is too full!”), then that’s one less thing to learn. But learning occurs quickly if loading the brush is given the same degree of focused attention as using the razor, and the result is similarly satisfying.

In today’s shave, no cleanup was required, other than rinsing the brush at the end and sponging some water (not lather) from the counter. (I rinse the razor after each pass and place it on the counter while I rinse my beard and lather for the next pass, so the razor wets the counter a bit.)

And no additional loading was required: the reviewer commented that he must reload the brush a bit after the first pass. Again, one learns from experience how to load the brush with enough soap for all three passes, which mostly amounts to loading a bit longer (though my loading time is generally around 10 seconds and I doubt that it ever exceeds 15 seconds). Brisk brushing is the key, with a pressure appropriate to the nature of the knot: firmer pressure for firm knots, lighter pressure for soft knots.

If sloppy loading produced nicks, then proper loading would quickly be learned. But brushes don’t nick, so less attention is given to how they are used.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2015 at 9:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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