Later On

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

Archive for September 19th, 2015

The US Forest Service Is Trying To Bury a Crucial Journal Article

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Michael Byrne reports at Motherboard:

On Thursday, Science magazine published a crucial and overdue commentarylamenting the current state of wildfire management on US public lands. Among the authors was Malcolm North, a plant ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in California.

As it turns out, the USFS was none too pleased about the piece or North’s name being attached to it. According to Valley Public Radio, the central California NPR affiliate, the agency has barred North from discussing the paper and had even attempted to prevent Science from publishing it.

“The Pacific Southwest Research Station says its role is to conduct and publish research, not to evaluate land management policy,” VPR’s Amy Quinton reports. “Editors at Science refused to hold the article from publication or remove North’s name and affiliation. A disclaimer was added telling readers that the content does not necessarily reflect the views of the US Forest Service.”

The Science commentary, which Motherboard covered in more depth here, basically argues that we’re doing wildfires all wrong. 98 percent of all fires are quashed before they can grow in size and consume their host forests’ overaccumulation of fuels. And so the accumulation continues year after year until a deadly, catastrophic wildfire hurricane shreds 70,000 acres in a weekend.

The piece advocates for the public to put pressure on land managers and politicians to begin allowing for more controlled burns, mechanical thinning, and for allowing some fires to grow to the point that they’re able to consume significant amounts of deadfall and other fuels. This is not just a reasonable position, but a widely-accepted one as well.

UC Berkeley Fire Scientist Scott Stephens tells VPR, “I read the paper many times, and I thought the same thing, I just didn’t see something jump, like this would be something that would really cause great problems.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2015 at 7:03 pm

GM—and the DoJ—duck responsibility

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David Uhlmann writes in the NY Times:

With tough talk that its actions belie, the Justice Department announced last week that it was bringing criminal charges against General Motors for “concealing a potentially deadly safety defect” from regulators and “misleading consumers regarding the safety” of G.M. vehicles, which caused or contributed to at least 124 deaths in accidents when airbags failed to deploy.

As part of a deferred prosecution agreement resolving the charges, G.M. admitted that it knew as early as 2004 that many of its vehicles contained defective ignition switches — and that the company had concluded by 2012 that the defective switches could cause airbags to fail. Yet G.M. did not recall the 2.6 million affected vehicles until nearly two years later and instead hid the fatal safety defects to increase sales.

To make amends, the company agreed to forfeit $900 million to the government and to retain an outside monitor who would oversee its safety programs to help prevent future violations.

This outcome sounds impressive, except for two alarming shortcomings: All charges against G.M. will be dropped if it complies with the deferred prosecution agreement, and no company officials have been charged with crimes based on G.M.’s deadly concealment scheme.

The Justice Department’s willingness to dismiss all charges against the company underscores how badly the federal government has lost its way in the prosecution of corporate crime.

In a case in which more than 100 people have died, it is inexcusable that G.M. will not be required to plead guilty to any criminal charges for misleading safety regulators and the American public. The United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, insisted that G.M. deserved credit for its “fairly extraordinary” cooperation, which no doubt is true. But lower fines and perhaps reduced charges are the right way to credit cooperation, not the dismissal of all charges when corporate deception claimed so many lives.

Moreover, the failure to bring criminal charges against individual G.M. officials, just one week after the United States deputy attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, announced the Justice Department’s new policies to crack down on corporate crime, shows how hollow it is for the department to claim that it is increasing its focus on individual accountability.

Holding individuals responsible is not a new policy. Prosecutors always seek to charge individuals in corporate crimes but they don’t always succeed because of labyrinthine corporate hierarchies and the diffusion of responsibility within corporations, which may have frustrated prosecutors in the G.M. case.

The best way to combat corporate crime is to bring criminal charges against corporations and culpable individuals within those companies — and to insist that defendants plead guilty or go to trial. Charging and convicting corporations addresses the flawed corporate cultures and misplaced priorities that encourage criminal behavior; holding individuals accountable is the best way to deter future wrongdoing and promote law-abiding behavior.

Instead, in case after case over the last decade, the Justice Department has treated the worst corporate criminals like first-time drug offenders, agreeing to dismiss or not bring charges if the companies clean up their acts. G.M. is just the latest example. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2015 at 3:41 pm

A thought on a student’s response to the speech Bernie Sanders gave at Liberty University

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I blogged the response—the highly supportive response—from a Liberty University alumnus, but Politico has an article that includes the response of a currently enrolled Liberty University student:

David Nasser, Liberty’s senior vice president for spiritual development, asked an audience-based question about how Sanders reconciles his support for the underprivileged, while those in the womb are arguably in most need of protection.

If you watch Bernie’s speech, in the video below, you will note these words:

Let me be frank, as I said a moment ago. I understand that the issues of abortion and gay marriage are issues that you feel very strongly about. We disagree on those issues. I get that, but let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and in fact to the entire world, that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on and maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them.

And he went on to list and describe some things—some unjust and immoral things—that are happening in the US, some unjust and immoral conditions. He in effect points out that this is one area of agreement between his values and the Christian values espoused by Liberty University, and that by working together in those areas, progress is possible.

But addressing areas of agreement and working together to address problems in those areas is, apparently, simply beyond the capability of (e.g.) David Nasser, who immediately moves away from the area of agreement to focus on an area of disagreement: abortion.

But Bernie clearly stated that he understands the Liberty University position on abortion, and that is something with which he disagrees. His focus is to be where he and Liberty University (should) agree. The student simply cannot grasp the idea of working together on situations about which they agree.

I wondered why, and it occurred to me that the student is speaking from a deep tribal sense of identity, in which the most important thing is to distinguish members of the tribe (“us”) from non-members of the tribe (“them”). In this way of thinking, disagreement is the paramount value and always the focus, because in this way of thinking the goal is not to accomplish good things in areas of agreement, it is to distinguish “us” from “them,” so the focus will always be on the distinguishing beliefs. Getting something accomplished is irrelevant. The only accomplishment worth seeking is to separate the sheep from the goats.

Here’s Bernie’s talk, and you can see how earnestly he seeks to find a common ground from which constructive programs can be launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2015 at 11:20 am

The toxin from Teflon goes to court

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Sharon Lerner reports in The Intercept:

DUPONT WENT TO COURT this week, defending its use of C8, the chemical that spread from the company’s Parkersburg, West Virginia, plant into the drinking water of some 80,000 people in West Virginia and Ohio. A jury in Columbus, Ohio, is now hearing the case of Carla Bartlett, a 59-year-old woman who developed kidney cancer after drinking C8-contaminated water for more than a decade.

As The Intercept reported in a three-part series last month, Bartlett’s is the first of some 3,500 personal injury and 37 wrongful death claims stemming from the 2005 settlement of a class-action suit filed on behalf of people who lived near the plant. Another trial over the chemical, which for decades was used in the production of Teflon and many other products, is scheduled for November. Together, the “bellwether” cases, six in all, are expected to give attorneys on both sides a sense of whether the rest of the claims will proceed or settle — and for how much.

Bartlett’s attorneys, including Robert Bilott, who has been working on C8 since taking the case of a West Virginia farmer named Wilbur Tennant in 1999, argue that DuPont is guilty of negligence, battery, and infliction of emotional harm for exposing Bartlett to C8 in her drinking water.

DuPont’s attorneys, who summarized their case in opening arguments and will present their witnesses later in the trial, insist that the company bears no responsibility for the kidney tumor for which Bartlett was treated in 1997. “Nobody at DuPont expected that there would be any harm from the extremely low levels of C8 that were reached in the community,” said DuPont’s attorney Damond Mace in his opening argument.

The company’s defense hinges on the contention that company employees did not realize C8 was dangerous at the time Bartlett was exposed — despite hundreds of internal documents detailing DuPont’s knowledge that the chemical posed risks to both animals and humans. When evidence of its harm did emerge, said Mace, it was too late: “Nothing that happened after 1997 would have allowed DuPont to go back and do things any differently than had already been done.”

The particular threats posed by the chemical were detailed by the findings of a panel of scientists, who in 2012 determined that C8 exposure at the level measured in six water districts — at least .05 parts per billion — was “more likely than not” linked with six illnesses: preeclampsia; ulcerative colitis; high cholesterol; thyroid disease; testicular cancer; and Bartlett’s disease, kidney cancer.

The 2005 class-action settlement requires DuPont to accept C8’s links to these diseases, and that agreement forces the company’s attorneys to walk a legal tightrope over causality. While they must admit that C8 can cause kidney cancer, they deny that it caused Bartlett’s particular cancer. As Mace told the jury: “Kidney cancer occurs every day all across this great country of ours.” He then pointed out that Bartlett, who weighs 230 pounds, displayed one of the “major risk factors” for the cancer: obesity.

DuPont also contends that C8 isn’t as toxic as the plaintiffs claim. As evidence, Mace cited a report produced by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, with the help of an industry-funded group and several DuPont employees, that set a temporary standard for drinking water safety that was 150 parts per billion (ppb). Yet the company’s own internal standard for the chemical was 1 ppb.

The DuPont lawyer also told the jury . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2015 at 10:28 am

Interesting description of the hidden parts of daily life: Prelude to George Eliot’s Middlemarch

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I read a comment recently on Middlemarch as the best novel of a marriage, so I picked it up for my Kindle. (One great thing is that many if not most of 19th-century novels in Kindle format are free.)

I started with the Prelude, of course, and found it thought-provoking:


Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother, to go and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors? Out they toddled from rugged Avila, wide-eyed and helpless-looking as two fawns, but with human hearts, already beating to a national idea; until domestic reality met them in the shape of uncles, and turned them back from their great resolve. That child-pilgrimage was a fit beginning. Theresa’s passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life: what were many-volumed romances of chivalry and the social conquests of a brilliant girl to her? Her flame quickly burned up that light fuel; and, fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self. She found her epos in the reform of a religious order.

That Spanish woman who lived three hundred years ago, was certainly not the last of her kind. Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity; perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet and sank unwept into oblivion. With dim lights and tangled circumstance they tried to shape their thought and deed in noble agreement; but after all, to common eyes their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and formlessness; for these later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul. Their ardor alternated between a vague ideal and the common yearning of womanhood; so that the one was disapproved as extravagance, and the other condemned as a lapse.

Some have felt that these blundering lives are due to the inconvenient indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of women: if there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as the ability to count three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude. Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains, and the limits of variation are really much wider than anyone would imagine from the sameness of women’s coiffure and the favorite love-stories in prose and verse. Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centring in some long-recognizable deed.

Passages like this require a way of reading that differs a lot from the short-sentenced, pre-digested, list-oriented writing that pours from our computer screens and runs across our magazine pages today, but by slowing down a bit and engaging the text with your mind is richly rewarded, though the amount of the reward is, I think, heavily dependent on one’s life experience: a person of 40 will have a much deeper understanding of the passage—the words highlighted by lived experience—than a person of 20, and a person of 60 will similarly see more in the passage than a person of 40.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2015 at 10:06 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

The lingering costs of war: USMC Second Battalion, Seventh Regiment

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Dave Phillips reports in the NY Times:

After the sixth suicide in his old battalion, Manny Bojorquez sank onto his bed. With a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam beside him and a pistol in his hand, he began to cry.

He had gone to Afghanistan at 19 as a machine-gunner in the Marine Corps. In the 18 months since leaving the military, he had grown long hair and a bushy mustache. It was 2012. He was working part time in a store selling baseball caps and going to community college while living with his parents in the suburbs of Phoenix. He rarely mentioned the war to friends and family, and he never mentioned his nightmares.

He thought he was getting used to suicides in his old infantry unit, but the latest one had hit him like a brick: Joshua Markel, a mentor from his fire team, who had seemed unshakable. In Afghanistan, Corporal Markel volunteered for extra patrols and joked during firefights. Back home Mr. Markel appeared solid: a job with a sheriff’s office, a new truck, a wife and time to hunt deer with his father. But that week, while watching football on TV with friends, he had wordlessly gone into his room, picked up a pistol and killed himself. He was 25.

Still reeling from the news, Mr. Bojorquez surveyed the old baseball posters on the walls of his childhood bedroom and the sun-bleached body armor hanging on his bedpost. Then he took a long pull from the bottle.

“If he couldn’t make it,” he recalled thinking to to himself, “what chance do I have?”

He pressed the loaded pistol to his brow and pulled the trigger.

Mr. Bojorquez, 27, served in one of the hardest hit military units in Afghanistan, the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment. In 2008, the 2/7 deployed to a wild swath of Helmand Province. Well beyond reliable supply lines, the battalion regularly ran low on water and ammunition while coming under fire almost daily. During eight months of combat, the unit killed hundreds of enemy fighters and suffered more casualties than any other Marine battalion that year.

When its members returned, most left the military and melted back into the civilian landscape. They had families and played softball, taught high school and attended Ivy League universities. But many also struggled, unable to find solace. And for some, the agonies of war never ended.

Almost seven years after the deployment, suicide is spreading through the old unit like a virus. Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.

The deaths started a few months after the Marines returned from the war in Afghanistan. A corporal put on his dress uniform and shot himself in his driveway. A former sergeant shot himself in front of his girlfriend and mother. An ex-sniper who pushed others to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder shot himself while alone in his apartment.

The problem has grown over time. More men from the battalion killed themselves in 2014 — four — than in any previous year. Veterans of the unit, tightly connected by social media, sometimes learn of the deaths nearly as soon as they happen. In November, a 2/7 veteran of three combat tours posted a photo of his pistol on Snapchat with a note saying, “I miss you all.” Minutes later, he killed himself.

The most recent suicide was in May, when Eduardo Bojorquez, no relation to Manny, overdosed on pills in his car. Men from the battalion converged from all over the country for his funeral in Las Vegas, filing silently past the grave, tossing roses that thumped on the plain metal coffin like drum beats.

“When the suicides started, I felt angry,” Matt Havniear, a onetime lance corporal who carried a rocket launcher in the war, said in a phone interview from Oregon. “The next few, I would just be confused and sad. Then at about the 10th, I started feeling as if it was inevitable — that it is going to get us all and there is nothing we could do to stop it.”

For years leaders at the top levels of the government have acknowledged the high suicide rate among veterans and spent heavily to try to reduce it. But the suicides have continued, and basic questions about who is most at risk and how best to help them are still largely unanswered. The authorities are not even aware of the spike in suicides in the 2/7; suicide experts at theDepartment of Veterans Affairs said they did not track suicide trends among veterans of specific military units. And the Marine Corps does not track suicides of former service members. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2015 at 9:39 am

The Gillette flat-bottom Tech and the Pro 48

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SOTD 19 Sept 2015

Shave 15 with the sample, and I picked the Omega Pro 48 to show that I’m not trying to stretch the sample: the Pro 48 is a big brush (though for me quite comfortable for face lathering) and thus tends to require a fair amount of soap for a good loading.

It easily worked up quite a nice lather, and the Gillette flat-bottom Tech gave a nice shave. I photographed the bottom of the razor so you can observe how its baseplate differs from the regular Tech. No problems, very smooth result.

A good splash of K.C. Atwood aftershave from Like their Peary & Henson aftershave I used yesterday, it contains zero alcohol and is a witch hazel aftershave.

Very nice way to start the weekend.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2015 at 9:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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