Later On

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

Archive for November 11th, 2015

Intriguing sounding novel: A Little Life

leave a comment »

I want to point out..

. . . an interesting novel about a subject that is too rarely explored in contemporary letters: nonsexual friendship among adult men. In an interview she gave to Kirkus Reviews, Yanagihara described her fascination with male friendship—particularly since, she asserted to the interviewer, men are given “such a small emotional palette to work with.”

The novel is A Little Life. The quotation is from the review at the link. Sounds interesting, and I think the observation in the quotation is spot-on.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Michigan Creates ‘Bogus Crimes’ by Conflating Cannabis Extracts With Synthetic THC

leave a comment »

Jacob Sullum reports in Reason magazine:

On a Wednesday evening in September 2014, Max Lorincz called 911 after his wife, Erica Chittenden, fell unconscious on the kitchen floor of their house in Crockery Township, Michigan, apparently after overdosing on prescription drugs. Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Gedeon, who responded along with an EMT from the Crockery Township Fire Department and an ambulance from North Ottawa Community Hospital, noticed a clear plastic container on the kitchen counter containing a tarry residue that looked like butane hash oil (BHO). Lorincz explained that he had a state-issued medical marijuana card and had obtained the BHO from a dispensary in Muskegon. Gedeon removed the plastic container from the house, setting in motion a series of events that ended with Lorincz facing a felony charge and the loss of his 6-year-old son. The puzzling case revealed a change in policy at the Michigan State Police (MSP) Forensic Science Division that Lorincz’s lawyers say may have tainted hundreds of convictions by falsely identifying cannabis extracts as synthetic THC.

Originally Lorincz was charged with marijuana possession, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. He refused to plead guilty, since under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act state-registered patients like him are allowed to have up to two and a half ounces of “usable marihuana.” The tiny amount of extract that Gedeon confiscated clearly fell below that limit, even if the weight of the container was included. But instead of dropping the criminal charge against Lorincz, as state law seemed to require, Ottawa County prosecutors elevated it from marijuana possession to THC possession, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison.

The basis for that felony charge was a laboratory report from William Ruhf, an MSP forensic scientist who tested Lorincz’s BHO and found that it contained “delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol (origin unknown).” Under “weight,” Ruhf typed “residue,” indicating that the quantity of BHO was too small to weigh. Under “Schedule,” he typed “1,” indicating that the delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol (a.k.a. delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) was synthetic, since under Michigan law that category does not include THC in marijuana. In other words, Ruhf implicitly asserted that the THC was synthetic, thereby justifying the felony charge, even while saying that the compound’s origin could not be determined.

“This is doubly fallacious,” says Jeff Frazier, of counsel to Michigan attorney Michael Komorn’s law firm, which represents Lorincz. “The lab knew the substance tested was plant-based and yet reported it Schedule 1 synthetic. And it reports the origin is unknown when it isn’t. Both can’t be true. In fact, both are false. The lab is systematically reporting felonies that don’t exist.”

Documents obtained by Komorn and his legal assistant Chad Carr under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act indicate that Ruhf was following a policy adopted by the MSP’s Forensic Science Division in 2013 at the urging of Ken Stecker, who works for both the state Attorney General’s Office and the the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. Under the new policy, samples that do not include any visible plant matter are identified as THC rather than marijuana. “This is part of the AG’s long-running crusade against patients and a plant,” Frazier says. “The emails show that pressure also came from the drug task forces so as to better establish probable cause to arrest marijuana patients and forfeit their assets.” [Going for civil assets forfeiture – LG]

That new policy raised complaints from MSP forensic scientists who viewed it as misleading and legally unjustified. In a May 30, 2013, email message to his colleagues,  Scott Penabaker, a forensic scientist at MSP’s Northville Laboratory, wrote:

In order to place the actual compound THC in schedule 1, the criteria of “synthetic equivalent” should be met. Since we really can’t do this, there are many of us who feel that these new evidentiary materials containing THC without any botanical morphology characteristics (candy, butter, etc.) should be identified as resinous extracts of Marihuana.

If you are to call it “THC,” at a minimum, a statement should be provided in the additional information stating that the “origin, whether naturally occurring or synthetic, could not be determined.” Also, by going out on that limb and calling it THC, you now jump from a misdemeanor to a felony charge.

We’re bringing this up because there seemed to be some concern about uniformity in making these calls. Further, it is highly doubtful that any of these Med. Mari. products we are seeing have THC that was synthesized. This would be completely impractical. We are most likely seeing naturally occurring THC extracted from the plant!

In February 2014, after Kyle Ann Hoskins, the Forensic Science Division’s technical leader for controlled substances, announced that lab reports on “oils, food products and other substances that are not grossly plant” should list THC rather than marijuana, Bradley Choate, supervisor of the Controlled Substance Unit at the MSP’s Lansing Laboratory strongly objected:

When THC is identified in a case, the analysts has two choices: 1) identify it as Marihuana which for possession is a Schedule 1 misdemeanor, 2) identify it as a synthetic equivalent which for possession is a Schedule 1 felony. There is not a third choice. The question then becomes is the THC from a natural source i.e., Marihuana or a synthetic source. The presence of other cannabinoids indicates that the substance is from a natural source….

Prosecutors rely on our reports to determine what to charge a person with. A report that states delta 1 THC without any other statement would lead a prosecutor to the synthetic portion of the law….This could lead to the wrong charge of possession of synthetic THC and the ultimate wrongful conviction of an individual. For the laboratory to contribute to this possible miscarriage of justice would be a huge black eye for the Division and the Department.

We are Forensic Scientists which means that we have to apply science to the law. It is our responsibility to team and interpret the law in regards to Controlled Substances. We do this with every report we issue since we determine whether a substance is controlled and then list what schedule it is in. We don’t leave it up to the prosecutor to figure this out.

The MSP says “laboratory policy was changed to include the statement ‘origin unknown’ when it is not possible to determine if THC originates from a plant (marihuana) or synthetic means.” But as Penabaker and Choate pointed out, a sample can be pretty confidently identified as a marijuana extract when it contains cannabinoids other than THC, such as cannabinol and cannabidiol. Experts hired by Lorincz’s lawyers made the same point.

“Upon review of the data and its accompanying report, is our opinion that there is an inconsistency with the analytical results and the final report,” said Evan McNabb, chief biology director at ACT Laboratories in Lansing. “Specifically, multiple cannabinoid compounds were identified in the analysis, but the final report lists only a single compound which was not found in the data. Further, the ‘unknown origin’ designation is dubious in our opinion as the presence of multiple natural cannabinoid compounds provides clear evidence of a plant origin.” University of California at Davis chemist Donald Land agreed that “the ‘(origin unknown)’ designation is dubious,” since “the identified presence of multiple natural cannabinoid compounds provides clear evidence in support of plant origin, and clear counter evidence contrary to the hypothesis of synthetic origin.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 12:33 pm

The atrocity of civil asset forfeiture

leave a comment »


The chart above is from this post at Mother Jones by Kevin Drum. It shows how the government—city, county, state, and federal—have embraced the practice of taking assets from people, including people who have not been convicted of any crime and in many cases people not even accused of a crime: they simply had a lot of money, so the government took it. Why not? They can, because almost all states and certainly the federal government say they can. (New Mexico has disallowed the practice.)

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 12:22 pm

Massive Hack of 70 Million Prisoner Phone Calls Shows Violations of Attorney-Client Privilege

leave a comment »

Jordan Smith and Micah Lee report in The Intercept:

An enormous cache of phone records obtained by The Intercept reveals a major breach of security at Securus Technologies, a leading provider of phone services inside the nation’s prisons and jails. The materials — leaked via SecureDrop by an anonymous hacker who believes that Securus is violating the constitutional rights of inmates — comprise over 70 million records of phone calls, placed by prisoners to at least 37 states, in addition to links to downloadable recordings of the calls. The calls span a nearly two-and-a-half year period, beginning in December 2011 and ending in the spring of 2014.

Particularly notable within the vast trove of phone records are what appear to be at least 14,000 recorded conversations between inmates and attorneys, a strong indication that at least some of the recordings are likely confidential and privileged legal communications — calls that never should have been recorded in the first place. The recording of legally protected attorney-client communications — and the storage of those recordings — potentially offends constitutional protections, including the right to effective assistance of counsel and of access to the courts.

“This may be the most massive breach of the attorney-client privilege in modern U.S. history, and that’s certainly something to be concerned about,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “A lot of prisoner rights are limited because of their conviction and incarceration, but their protection by the attorney-client privilege is not.”

The blanket recording of detainee phone calls is a fairly recent phenomenon, the official purpose of which is to protect individuals both inside and outside the nation’s prisons and jails. The Securus hack offers a rare look at this little-considered form of mass surveillance of people behind bars — and of their loved ones on the outside — raising questions about its scope and practicality, as well as its dangers.

Securus markets itself to government clients as able to provide a superior phone system — its Secure Call Platform — that allows for broad monitoring and recording of calls. The company also promotes its ability to securely store those recordings, making them accessible only to authorized users within the criminal justice system. Thus, part of the Securus promise is not only that its database is vast, but also that it meets rigorous standards for security. “We will provide the most technologically advanced audio and video communications platform to allow calls with a high level of security,” reads the company’s Integrity Pledge. “We understand that confidentiality of calls is critical, and we will follow all Federal, State, and Local laws in the conduct of our business.”

But the fact that a hacker was able to obtain access to over 70 million prisoner phone call records shows that Securus’ data storage system is far more vulnerable than it purports to be.

More broadly, the Securus leak reveals just how much personal information the company retains about prisoners and the countless people to whom they are connected. It is information that, in the narrow context of incarceration, may not be considered private, but in the larger world raises serious questions about the extent to which people lose their civil liberties when their lives intersect, however briefly, with the criminal justice system.

Securus is a telecommunications company based in Dallas, Texas, owned by a private equity firm. Its primary business is providing phone and video visitation services to incarcerated people — ostensibly offering a meaningful way for them to keep in touch with loved ones on the outside, as well as to communicate with attorneys. Until now, Securus was probably best-known for the incredibly high rates it has traditionally charged for phone calls, a burden borne almost exclusively by the very people who are the least able to afford it. (The Federal Communications Commission in October voted to cap calling rates and fees, a move that Securus and other industry leaders had fought, claiming the change would have a “devastating effect” on their businesses.)

It isn’t just Securus whose business model has relied on gouging people caught up in the criminal justice system. The industry’s other players, including the leading prison telecom company, Global Tel*Link, largely do the same. Prison and jail communications is a $1.2 billion a year business, whose handsome profits come from serving a captive and inelastic market. According to public relations materials, Securus provides communications platforms used by more than 1.2 million inmates across the country, who are confined in more than 2,200 facilities; by 2012 the company was processing more than 1 million calls each day. In 2014, Securus took in more than $404 million in revenue.

Securus does business with local and county governments (which operate the nation’s jails) and with state departments of correction (which, with some exceptions, run the nation’s prison systems). A key selling point to its clients is that the company not only installs and maintains phone systems at little to no cost to the government, but also that it agrees to pay back to its clients generous “site commissions,” a kickback that comes from revenue generated by inmate calls — on average 42 percent of the revenue from its state contracts, according to researchdone by Prison Legal News. (The FCC rate caps threaten the industry’s ability to keep revenues large enough to fund the exorbitant kickback scheme it created. Lowering and capping the rates and fees charged for calls means at least some industry players could be forced to dip into company coffers in order to comply with contracted payoff schedules, unless they renegotiate existing contracts. How the new rate caps will impact these payoffs remains to be seen.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 12:01 pm

The cost of ‘quality of life’ policing

leave a comment »

“Quality of life” policing can wreck people’s lives, and it is specifically targeted at people of color—just read this report by Tobi Haslett in the New Yorker:

On a nippy Sunday afternoon last month, about a dozen volunteers for the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) descended on Park Slope, Brooklyn. Zipped up against the chill, they were unassuming, anonymous. In three groups of four people (a few more arrived later), they patrolled the western perimeter of Prospect Park, stood guard by the Park Slope Food Co-Op, and walked the avenues of kingly row houses. They were scouring the streets for white people behaving badly—littering, spitting, jaywalking, biking on the sidewalk, carrying open containers of alcohol, letting their French bulldogs off the leash, or committing any other quality-of-life violations, as the city’s officials call them. The day’s action was part parable, part prank. PROPvolunteers were to approach wrongdoers and flash a sheet of paper that looked like a summons. It was, in fact, a little pamphlet, and inside everything was explained: these are not police officers, this is not a real stop, and you have notbeen given a criminal summons, “although you very well might have if you were in a different neighborhood and a person of color.” As Bob Gangi, the white founder and director of PROP, told me, “We want to dramatize a point.”

Tanyanne Ball was the best at dramatizing the point. Ball is a small, polite woman with a bun of curly red hair and a Northern English accent. She worked as a police officer in the United Kingdom for two years, a job she is at pains to distinguish from its American counterpart. (British bobbies don’t carry firearms.) She lives in Park Slope, and the volunteers had gathered at her house beforehand for a training session, the turkey sandwiches circulating in her light-filled living room on the top floor of a converted brownstone. Ball seemed to have mastered the form of affable confrontation: as soon as she saw someone perpetrating a civic peccadillo, she would stride up and calmly, grinningly ask, “Are you aware that you have just committed a violation?”

Reactions varied. Some offenders stood politely, listened to the whole speech, expressed one of several variations on liberal piety (they were, after all, well-informed people), and then went briskly about their business. A well-dressed couple—man and woman—briefly stopped but grew resentful of this rude interruption in the name of politics. Halfway through an activist’s little lecture, the man snarled that this was taking longer than an actual ticket would have. Gangi, in one of the first stops of the day, launched his body in front of a bicyclist who was freewheeling down the sidewalk. The rider, a woman with a backpack, was incensed. Gangi presented his information—bikes couldn’t be ridden on sidewalks, certainly not by black or Hispanic people—but she refused to be placated. To each of his statistics, she replied, with bitter insistence, “Yes. Yes. I am perfectly aware of that. Now get out of my way.”

Although quality-of-life violations are against city law, they have been effectively decriminalized in places like Park Slope, where affluent couples push strollers down gleaming sidewalks and life pulses along to the gentle beat of white liberalism. If you jaywalk, it’s safe to assume that no cop will stop you and no penalty awaits you. But in the poorer, darker neighborhoods of New York, something as small as jaywalking can often lead to a ticket. The numbers on thePROP pamphlet are stark: about eighty-one per cent of the 7.3 million people who were charged with summons violations between 2001 and 2013 were black or Hispanic. Or, to zoom in a little, there were eight bicycle-on-the-sidewalk summonses in Park Slope between 2008 and 2011; in Bedford-Stuyvesant, there were two thousand and fifty.

This sort of enforcement is the cornerstone of broken-windows policing, a method rooted in the theory that cracking down on minor infractions can reduce the incidence of more serious crimes. (If people can jaywalk with impunity, what else might they try to get away with?) The method has been denounced in progressive quarters for its disproportionate and largely negative effect on low-income communities of color. In 2013, twenty per cent of the four hundred and fifty-eight thousand summonses issued in New York City were dismissed because the original tickets were either defective or deemed factually insufficient. But the practice persists. “You’re not going to find the scientific study that can support broken- windows one way or the other,” Bill Bratton, the city’s police commissioner, recently told Ken Auletta. “The evidence I rely on is what my eyes show me.”

Certain consequences, however, are clear. That ticket for jaywalking, if ignored, can result in an open warrant. A subsequent stop for jaywalking, or littering, or public urination, or an open container can lead to arrest. (In the case of Eric Garner, who had a history of selling untaxed cigarettes, such a stop led to his death by asphyxiation.) The offender is then exposed to a criminal-justice system that, in the view of Gangi and PROP—and the thousands who flooded the streets to protest the police killings of Garner, Michael Brown, andhundreds of other people of color—is racist.

Back in Brooklyn, the sun fell behind a bank of clouds; it was getting colder and the Park Slopers were becoming more possessive of their time. They marched, bent, down the avenues. Impatient smiles flashed across their faces asPROP volunteers tried to stop them. They could be any old street canvassers, pleading for a contribution or a signature. A handsome couple in their twenties, each bearing a bouquet of flowers, were kind enough to stop (they had jaywalked) as Ball explained to them the privilege that they had so thoughtlessly exercised. The man fidgeted, the woman blinked into the wind. “The inequality is ridiculous,” she said softly. “I don’t know anyone who has ever been harassed by the police.” They walked on.

“What they’re admitting is that they don’t know any people of color,” Shivani Manghnani, who had been posted at the Park Slope Food Co-Op, said as the couple moved out of earshot. By this point, we were standing outside the Barnes & Noble on Seventh Avenue. Someone peered through the glass and saw that there was an officer, in full N.Y.P.D. regalia, stationed inside, guarding the door of the bookstore. Ball, the most diplomatic of the group, went in to talk to him.

Their conversation began cordially enough . . .

Continue reading.

Alexandra Natapoff, professor of law and associate dean at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, writes in the Washington Post:

At their inaugural debate, the Democratic presidential candidates finally agreed that black lives matter. If they mean it, they should take a stand against a common but overlooked way that our criminal system devalues black lives: convicting African American men of minor crimes that they did not commit.

These wrongful convictions are largely byproducts of “order maintenance” or “quality-of-life” policing, in which police arrest large numbers of young black men on baseless charges. Baltimore police, for example, are under court-ordered monitoring for making baseless quality-of-life arrests. As described by one former officer, police tell young men to move along, then arrest them for loitering when they don’t. Maryland courts have already explained thatthis police practice is illegal: people who are merely standing on the street, even those ordered to move along, are not actually “loitering,” which the city ordinance defines as “to interfere with, impede or hinder the free passage of pedestrian or vehicular traffic” after having been warned to desist.

But police in many cities use loitering-type arrests for all sorts of purposes — to clear a street corner, to send a message to gangs or drug dealers, or to assert their own authority. Once charged, the misdemeanor process then exerts enormous pressure on individuals to plead guilty, especially if they are stuck in jail because they cannot make bail. As a result, many of them end up convicted of crimes they never committed, such as loitering, trespassing, disorderly conduct, or resisting arrest. It can happen to anyone, but because we overpolice young black men in low-income neighborhoods for precisely these types of minor crimes, it’s more likely to happen to them.

Similarly, New York police had a 20-year policy of arresting people on the premises of public housing projects even when they had the legal right to be there. The vast majority of those charged with trespassing pled guilty — the easiest way to get out of jail. The policy was so egregious that the Bronx District Attorney’s Office announced in 2012 that it would no longer file trespassing cases based solely on police reports, and in 2013 the policy was found unconstitutional. But thousands of individuals had already been convicted, many of them wrongfully.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that police in Ferguson, Missouri, illegally arrest numerous residents for the vague offense entitled “Failure to Comply.” As the DOJ explained,

Officers frequently arrest individuals under Section 29-16(1) on facts that do not meet the provision’s elements. Section 29-16(1) makes it unlawful to “[f]ail to comply with the lawful order or request of a police officer in the discharge of the officer’s official duties where such failure interfered with, obstructed or hindered the officer in the performance of such duties.” Many cases initiated under this provision begin with an officer ordering an individual to stop despite lacking objective indicia that the individual is engaged in wrongdoing. The order to stop is not a “lawful order” under those circumstances because the officer lacks reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. [] Nonetheless, when individuals do not stop in those situations, FPD officers treat that conduct as a failure to comply with a lawful order, and make arrests.”

Once arrested, innocent residents can languish in a jail so filthy and dangerous that one lawsuit described it as “Dickensian.” They may also face extortionate bail prices.  Most people plead guilty. (The DOJ described trials in Ferguson as “rare.”) The problem is pervasive across St. Louis County.

We know such details about Baltimore, New York, and St. Louis County because of high-profile lawsuits and investigations.  But quality-of-life policing occurs all over the country, and the misdemeanor process exerts the same pressures to plead on millions of defendants.  In other words, this type of wrongful conviction is likely occurring every day out of public sight.

Such wrongful convictions represent the convergence of two of our criminal system’s worst flaws: . . .

Continue reading.

Bill Bratton said that he supports “broken-windows” policing because, he said, it works, and his evidence for that comes not from any research or data—there is none. He says, “The evidence I rely on is what my eyes show me.” His eyes are selective about what they look at, apparently.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 11:55 am

Glenn Greenwald interviews Charlie Savage on Obama’s War on Terror

leave a comment »

Glenn Greenwald has a good interview with Charlie Savage at The Intercept. The transcript is here and begins:

GREENWALD: This is Glenn Greenwald with The Intercept and my guest is the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with The New York Times, Charlie Savage, who has a newly published book, the title of which is Power Wars: Inside Obama’s Post-9/11 Presidency. And I think the best way to describe this book is that it’s really a comprehensive history on all of the many civil liberties and war power controversies that have taken place over the last seven years under Obama and especially the extent to which Obama has or has not, as one chapter put it, been acting like Bush in these areas.

One of the things I found most valuable about the book, Charlie, is that you have access to a lot of sources who have been inside these controversies – White House lawyers, lawyers in the Justice Department, key Pentagon officials ­– who we haven’t heard all that much from on these controversies until your book. It gives some great insight into what a lot of these people who have been responsible for these decisions have been thinking about; why they made the choices they made. I want to begin by taking a step back and asking you the history of these issues. Of course these issues were very controversial after 9/11.

Under George Bush and Dick Cheney, there were a lot of accusations that they were constructing what was called “an imperial presidency,” and yet as you point out, this kind of model and concern about the imperial presidency dates back to the end of World War II when all of these war agencies and militarized policies were implemented, and then after the war they weren’t deconstructed. And it was Arthur Schlesinger the historian who coined the term imperial presidency. How did those events create the conflicts that ended up being so controversial first under Bush and now under Obama?

SAVAGE: Sure. Thank you very much for having me on, Glenn, I really appreciate it. In some ways, what you’re asking me to do is summarize my first book about the growth of executive power, especially from Watergate to the present and especially under the Bush administration at that time.

You’re absolutely right that it was typical in American history, up until World War II, that when there was a war, there would be a tremendous growth in executive power. There would be the creation of a big army, and the president would have all kind of tools at his disposal and things that he was in charge of – that when the war was over would be dismantled again. The army would be largely decommissioned and the people would come home and the special powers that had been asserted would lapse.

And that changed after World War II because we segued from that war into the Cold War, and we’re right away in a major global cold, but sometimes hot, conflict with the Soviet-driven Communist empire. We keep our large standing army; we keep standing bases all around the world. Agencies like the NSA and the CIA are sort of created out of predecessors that were invented sort of for the purpose of winning World War II.

At the same time the massive administrative state that had grown up in the New Deal becomes entrenched as the first Republican president since FDR takes office and keeps it rather than scrapping it. Because of this climate of perpetual emergency, you see the executive branch, under presidents of both parties, increasingly making claims of great power that puts them beyond Congress and the judiciary in matters of secrecy, and so forth, that largely the other branches acquiesce to, and for that reason, what Schlesinger calls the imperial presidency grows up and peaks with Nixon, although certainly LBJ and Democratic presidents – JFK – were also as involved with it.

GREENWALD: It almost seems like we do have this vision of the country as it was supposed to exist that has become pretty distant from the role that the US government actually plays in the world. And yet at the same time, we’ve retained those founding documents, particularly the Constitution, that is supposed to govern how everything functions.

And so you have this document, the Constitution, that was created with this very limited vision of what the president’s powers and authorities would be and yet now we’re trying to kind of take this Constitution and squeeze it into this vastly expanded role where the US in the dominant power in the world. Where it’s more or less permanently at war. Where the president has these vast powers.

Do you think that that is a significant part of what generates the tension in these areas?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 10:07 am

One Degree of Separation in the Forever War

leave a comment »

Brian Castner writes a piece for Motherboard that is definitely worth reading, especially today:

On April 9, 2011, Captain Jaymes Collin Uriah “Yuri” Hines drank a beer with a friend at a brewery in Bruges, Belgium, and tried desperately to relax.

Yuri was a Weapon Systems Officer on an F-15E, a backseater who dropped the bombs, and he was exhausted. Just back from a combat tour, he had been conducting airstrikes only two weeks before.

His brother Reese was deployed to Afghanistan, and something in his voice, the last time they had talked on the phone, still haunted him. Yuri would soon leave for US Air Force pilot training, to move to the front seat of a fighter jet and fulfill a boyhood dream. He was newly married, but had barely seen his bride. He was only 29, and the stress of so many significant life events in so short a period of time was taking its toll.

Yuri was relieved to finally just sit and have a drink. Then his phone rang. It was his mother. His mother never called.

“It’s Reese, he’s been hit,” she sobbed. “They don’t know if he’s going to survive.”

***Yuri spoke to his mother for only a moment. Then he hung up, walked out of the Belgian brewery, got in his truck, and with no other planning or preparation, drove directly to Germany. If Reese lived, the Landstuhl military hospital would be his first stop out of the war zone. Yuri drove 110 miles per hour the entire way. It took him six hours on the autobahn, and he didn’t arrive until after midnight.

All the next day, Yuri was beset by rumors. On Facebook someone said that Reese had died. It took time to prove that wasn’t true, but the initial wrong report traveled fast, and many of Reese’s family members only learned he was injured at all from this incorrect post. Yuri got, as he put it later, “pretty fucking pissed,” so frustrated that he begged favors from every colonel he knew, ultimately discovering the phone number of the hospital room in Afghanistan that mostly likely held his brother.

A doctor answered the phone. He sounded hesitant and suspicious. “I’m sorry, who is this?”

“Captain Hines. Reese Hines is my brother.”

“I don’t know if I can talk to you right now,” said the hesitant voice. “I’m kinda in the middle of something. Can I call you back?”

“Sir,” pleaded Yuri, “I’m in Germany. I just found out my brother got hit. Can you please tell me what the hell’s going on?”

The voice took a deep breath. There was a muffling passing of the phone. A woman began speaking. “We’re in the middle of surgery,” she began, and then calmly explained every injury that Reese had endured.

“That’s the exact opposite way of how notifications are supposed to happen,” Yuri reflected later. “And I’m pretty sure I broke a million rules.”

Reese finally arrived from Bagram the following day, on a massive KC-135 refueler that had been chartered just for him; he and the medical staff were the only passengers in the cavernous belly of the aircraft. Yuri talked his way onto the flight line, helped carry his brother off the plane and onto a bus that would take them to the hospital. Reese was strapped down, face and arms a mass of bandages. No one knew if he would live.

“What do I do?” Yuri begged of a doctor accompanying Reese. “I don’t know what to do.”

“He’s your brother, just talk to him,” the doctor said.

So Yuri did. He told Reese he was there and that he was going to make it. Reese was in a drug-induced coma, but Yuri swore his wounded brother turned his head toward his voice, and it was in that moment that the strain of the previous two weeks finally overcame him. Yuri put his head in his hands and cried so hard, so uncontrollably, that he shook until he couldn’t breathe.

“They had to escort me off the bus, until I could be a person again,” Yuri said.

***Some now call it the Forever War, and every day that name grows more appropriate.

Soldiers are dying again in Iraq. President Obama extended the mission in Afghanistan through 2017 after the city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban in October.Leaked classified documents reveal a barely acknowledged drone war in Somalia and East Africa. Plus strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, direct action raids against ISIS leaders, a proxy war in Syria and al-Anbar. Between 1975 and 2000—in Grenada, Panama, the First Gulf War and Somalia—the United States fought a total of twelve days of conventional ground combat. Since October of 2001, it hasn’t ceased.

This longest war in American history has created a warrior caste. Less than one percent of the US population, the “Other One Percent,” served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly half of those veterans completed two or more tours, and 51,000 of them, a Spartan-esque subculture than would barely fill Yankee stadium, have deployed six or more times. The Delta operator who fell in Iraq in October was on his fourteenth tour.

Our professional military is staffed entirely by volunteers. Returning to combat this often is a choice, and our culture has turned to explanations from camaraderie to adrenaline to economics to explain this drive.

But this Veterans Day, it is worth considering another reason, unique to our current conflict: saving a life within a very small world. So small, in fact, that using small world theory, the math tells us that statistically they are not saving the lives of strangers, but of known quantities.

Over dozens of interviews with men and women about why they continue to volunteer to fight the Forever War, the only universal motivation I encountered was the desire to protect. To clear an improvised explosive device (IED) threatening a patrol, to helicopter in for a medical rescue, to patch up a wounded Marine, to drop a bomb to keep a platoon from being overrun. Surely, most rescuers must assume that the soldier they are helping—from another unit, another service—is a stranger; Joseph Campbell and Arthur Schopenhauer wrote volumes of essays about the mystical empathy present at such a moment of rescue.

But the science of modern social network research tells us something different about these lives that are saved. In previous American wars, soldiers bonded over a single definitive experience and went home. Today, these 51,000 veterans have spent years building an extensive social network in harm’s way. When they go back to war, they know the soldiers in their new units as well as former comrades still fighting throughout the battlefield. In the modern US military, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game needs a new name. Only one or two degrees separate these men and women.

This phenomenon is embodied in the tale of Reese and Yuri Hines, two brothers in two wars, and all of the ways coincidence and fate and loyalty and purpose bind together those very few soldiers who deploy to fight over and over and over again.

***The brothers have a story. They call it “our story,” and they will tell you that the story starts in Libya. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 9:39 am

Life’s Secrets Sought in a Snowflake

leave a comment »

How does multicellularity arise? Emily Singer describes several ways:

Until one or two billion years ago, life on Earth was limited to a soup of single-celled creatures. Then one fateful day, a lonely cell surrendered solitude for communal living. It developed a chance mutation that made its progeny stick together, eventually giving rise to the first multicellular life. link

With that simple innovation, a world of possibilities burst open. These new organisms were too big to be eaten, and their mammoth size allowed them to pull in more food from the environment. Most important, individual cells within the bunch could begin to specialize, taking on new functions, such as hunting, eating and defense. The transition to multicellularity was so successful that it happened over and over again in Earth’s evolutionary history — at least 25 times, and very likely more.

Multicellularity has clear advantages — just look at the menagerie of form and function among animals, plants and fungi. But scientists have long been puzzled as to how this transformation took place. A true multicellular organism acts as a unit, meaning that each cell must surrender its will to survive as an individual and act to ensure the survival of the larger group. “The problem with all the major evolutionary transitions is how Darwinian entities relinquish their individual fitness and become part of a higher-level unit,” said Richard Michod, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Scientists are gaining insight into the process by re-creating the evolution of multicellularity in the lab. Using an approach known as experimental evolution, they prod single-celled microbes, such as yeast, algae or bacteria, to develop a multicell form.

“It’s easy to think of [these major transitions] as a giant leap in evolution, and in some sense that’s true,” said Ben Kerr, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle and one of the researchers studying major transitions in evolution. But each transition actually involved a series of small advances — the organisms had to evolve effective ways to stick together, to cooperate, to divide and to develop specialized jobs within the greater whole. “We’re trying to do the opposite of a giant leap. We’re trying to break one giant leap for evolution into an understandable series of small steps.”

William Ratcliff, a biologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and his collaborators have discovered a surprisingly simple route to multicellularity: a single mutation in yeast that adheres the mother cell to its daughter to create a snowflake-like shape. These snowflakes grow and divide in a way that provides a clever solution to one of the major pitfalls of multicellularity: the cheater problem, in which lazy cells take advantage of cooperative ones. And while the work hasn’t produced a true multicellular organism, the snowflake yeast has shown just how easy it can be for life to take the first step toward a major biological transformation.

Falling Snow

Ratcliff began his quest for multicellularity while still a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Over a series of coffee-fueled conversations, Ratcliff and his collaborator Michael Travisano began brainstorming the “coolest experiment we could do,” according to Ratcliff. Tackling the biggest unsolved question in biology — how life first began — was too far out of their wheelhouse, the pair decided. So they settled on the runner-up: How did multicellular creatures evolve? To untangle that transition, the researchers would try to re-create it, converting single-celled yeast into multicellular organisms. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 8:53 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

A Mühle silverfiber synthetic with Mystic Water Sensitive Skin, and the Baby Smooth

with 4 comments

SOTD 11 Nov 2015

A really wonderful shave today. I used the Mühle silverfiber (early version) with Mystic Water Sensitive Skin and got a great and long-lasting lather: plenty for three passes. The lather problem I encountered a couple of days ago seems specific to that particular combination (the Semogue boar, which does fine with other soaps, and MW Sensitive Skin, which does fine with other brushes). I can’t explain why, but I certainly can observe the result.

And with the excellent lather I got an excellent shave, thanks to RazoRock’s Baby Smooth. I doubt the razor will return, but I’m very pleased that I got one. The razor is uncommonly comfortable but also uncommonly efficient: I get a BBS result every time I use it.

A good splash of Fine American Blend, and here we are at the middle of the week.

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2015 at 7:52 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: