Later On

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

Archive for December 16th, 2015

Teen Marijuana Use Holds Steady Despite Legalization

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Vikas Bajaj writes in the NY Times:

People who oppose the legalization of marijuana argue that changing the law will encourage more teenagers to try the drug and will lead them to more dangerous substances like heroin, ecstasy and amphetamines. But a new study provides fresh evidence that contradicts both of those assertions.

The latest installment of an annual survey on drug use by teenagers, published on Wednesday, shows that the percentage of young people using marijuana has held steady even as more states have legalized medicinal and recreational use of the drug. And fewer teens are using more dangerous drugs like heroin. Furthermore, the percentage of high school students using cigarettes and alcohol has fallen to the lowest level since 1975, when the study first began. The survey, called Monitoring the Future, is conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

According to the survey, 44.7 percent of 12th graders in 2015 said they have tried marijuana, up slightly from 44.4 percent last year. The rate of marijuana use fell among 10th graders (to 31.1 percent, from 33.7 percent) and 8th graders (15.5 percent, from 15.6 percent). Marijuana rates for all three groups have been fairly steady in recent years and notably lower than they were in the late 1990s when nearly half of all high school seniors had tried the drug and more than one fifth of 8th graders had.

In recent years four states – Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska – and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of the drug. Many others, including California, Massachusetts and, last year, New York, have passed laws legalizing medicinal useof the drug. (Medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to open in New York State next month.)

If the arguments of lawmakers like Chris Christie, the Republican presidential candidate and governor of New Jersey, were correct, the percentage of teenagers using marijuana should be rising and we should be seeing early signs of the gateway-drug effect. That this is not happening strongly suggests that legalization is not the bogeyman it was made out to be. It also suggests that the states that have relaxed their marijuana laws are doing a good job of educating teenagers about the harms of drug use and limiting access to marijuana by regulating businesses that grow and sell it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2015 at 4:56 pm

A few law-enforcement links from Radley Balko

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You can see all the links in the Washington Post, but these in particular seemed worth pointing out:

  • It’s telling that something like “police officers who lie in court should be prosecuted for perjury” would be offered as a reform — and a controversial one at that.
  • The only police officer to be criminally charged in the botched drug raid that critically wounded a Georgia toddler … has been acquitted.
  • Texas criminalizes apps that match people who need furniture moved with people willing to help them move furniture.

Police seem rarely to be held in any way accountable for criminal behavior and misconduct. That’s a bad sign.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2015 at 1:54 pm

Made a very tasty Caldo Verde, a Portuguese soup

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Here’s the recipe I used. (I’ve made it before.)

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2015 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

Amazing sculptures carved from pencils

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You can see more at Cindy Chinn’s Art Blog.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2015 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Art

Why Are Drug Monopolies Running Amok? Meet Deborah Feinstein

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David Dayen reports in The Intercept:

One of the biggest policy debates in America today concerns the unparalleled rise in prescription drug costs. Enormous pharmaceutical industry profit margins, tales of companies like Turing, Valeant and Gilead Sciences jacking up the price of life-saving medicines, and a spate of industry mergers (the latest being a $150 billion deal between Pfizer and Allergan, designed mostly to lower their tax rate) have lawmakers and presidential candidatesscrambling for answers.

But one point has been lost among the various proposals: The U.S. has had antitrust laws on the books for over 100 years to reduce the power of monopolies and restrain consumer costs. They could come in handy in situations like these.

Bernie Sanders recognized this when he urged the Obama Administration to block the Pfizer-Allergan merger. Hillary Clinton has promised to “stop corporate concentration” in the pharmaceutical industry.

The problem is that the federal agency responsible for antitrust oversight of drug companies – the Federal Trade Commission – has a terrible track record of supporting the public interest.

And the reason why can be seen in the career trajectory of one woman: Deborah Feinstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, the agency’s main enforcement entity. During Feinstein’s tenure, the FTC has largely abandoned its attempts to block mergers, instead favoring consent agreements that have a history of failing to achieve their goals.

Feinstein has gone back and forth through the so-called revolving door. From 1989 to 1991, she worked at the FTC as an assistant director in the Bureau of Competition. In 1995, she moved to high-powered corporate law firm Arnold & Porter, becoming a partner and the head of the firm’s antitrust practice. Feinstein “specialized in representing clients before the FTC and Department of Justice,” including General Electric, NBC Universal, Unilever and Pepsi.

On its website, Arnold & Porter brags about its robust practice in helping pharmaceutical and medical device companies “respond to complex regulatory and compliance changes.”

In 2013, Feinstein returned to the FTC to run the Bureau of Competition, while reportedly speaking fondly about how her private practice experience informed her decisions.

Arnold & Porter’s antitrust group, in fact, has a pipeline into government service. Lawyers from the group have become chair of the FTC, general counsel of the FTC, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, and head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. The current Antitrust Division chief, William Baer, had two stints at the FTC in between his tenure at Arnold & Porter. Robert Pitofsky, former chair of the FTC, also went back and forth between the agency and Arnold & Porter. And it’s an open secret that Feinstein will return to Arnold & Porter again after her stint is up.

“The elite DC antitrust bar is a small, chummy circle whose members spend most, if not all, of their time representing corporations,” said Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Effective Government. “Law firms eagerly market their attorneys’ government experience, signaling to clients that their team possesses relationships with current regulators.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and unfortunately it seems not uncommon in the Obama Administration.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2015 at 1:31 pm

A Fight for the Soul of Science

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Natalie Wolchover reports in Quanta:

Physicists typically think they “need philosophers and historians of science like birds need ornithologists,” the Nobel laureate David Gross told a roomful of philosophers, historians and physicists last week in Munich, Germany, paraphrasing Richard Feynman.

But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Fundamental physics faces a problem, Gross explained — one dire enough to call for outsiders’ perspectives. “I’m not sure that we don’t need each other at this point in time,” he said.

It was the opening session of a three-day workshop, held in a Romanesque-style lecture hall at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU Munich) one year after George Ellis and Joe Silk, two white-haired physicists now sitting in the front row, called for such a conference in an incendiary opinion piece in Nature. One hundred attendees had descended on a land with a celebrated tradition in both physics and the philosophy of science to wage what Ellis and Silk declared a “battle for the heart and soul of physics.”

The crisis, as Ellis and Silk tell it, is the wildly speculative nature of modern physics theories, which they say reflects a dangerous departure from the scientific method. Many of today’s theorists — chief among them the proponents of string theory and the multiverse hypothesis — appear convinced of their ideas on the grounds that they are beautiful or logically compelling, despite the impossibility of testing them. Ellis and Silk accused these theorists of “moving the goalposts” of science and blurring the line between physics and pseudoscience. “The imprimatur of science should be awarded only to a theory that is testable,” Ellis and Silk wrote, thereby disqualifying most of theleading theories of the past 40 years. “Only then can we defend science from attack.”

They were reacting, in part, to the controversial ideas of Richard Dawid, an Austrian philosopher whose 2013 book String Theory and the Scientific Method identified three kinds of “non-empirical” evidence that Dawid says can help build trust in scientific theories absent empirical data. Dawid, a researcher at LMU Munich, answered Ellis and Silk’s battle cry and assembled far-flung scholars anchoring all sides of the argument for the high-profile event last week.

Gross, a supporter of string theory who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the force that glues atoms together, kicked off the workshop by asserting that the problem lies not with physicists but with a “fact of nature” — one that we have been approaching inevitably for four centuries.

The dogged pursuit of a fundamental theory governing all forces of nature requires physicists to inspect the universe more and more closely — to examine, for instance, the atoms within matter, the protons and neutrons within those atoms, and the quarks within those protons and neutrons. But this zooming in demands evermore energy, and the difficulty and cost of building new machines increases exponentially relative to the energy requirement, Gross said. “It hasn’t been a problem so much for the last 400 years, where we’ve gone from centimeters to millionths of a millionth of a millionth of a centimeter” — the current resolving power of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, he said. “We’ve gone very far, but this energy-squared is killing us.”

As we approach the practical limits of our ability to probe nature’s underlying principles, the minds of theorists have wandered far beyond the tiniest observable distances and highest possible energies. Strong clues indicate that the truly fundamental constituents of the universe lie at a distance scale 10 million billion times smaller than the resolving power of the LHC. This is the domain of nature that string theory, a candidate “theory of everything,” attempts to describe. But it’s a domain that no one has the faintest idea how to access.

The problem also hampers physicists’ quest to understand the universe on a cosmic scale: No telescope will ever manage to peer past our universe’s cosmic horizon and glimpse the other universes posited by the multiverse hypothesis. Yet modern theories of cosmology lead logically to the possibility that our universe is just one of many.

Whether the fault lies with theorists for getting carried away, or with nature, for burying its best secrets, the conclusion is the same: Theory has detached itself from experiment. The objects of theoretical speculation are now too far away, too small, too energetic or too far in the past to reach or rule out with our earthly instruments. So, what is to be done? As Ellis and Silk wrote, “Physicists, philosophers and other scientists should hammer out a new narrative for the scientific method that can deal with the scope of modern physics.”

“The issue in confronting the next step,” said Gross, “is not one of ideology but strategy: What is the most useful way of doing science?”

Over three mild winter days, scholars grappled with the meaning of theory,confirmation and truth; how science works; and whether, in this day and age, philosophy should guide research in physics or the other way around. Over the course of these pressing yet timeless discussions, a degree of consensus took shape. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2015 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Science

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US criminal justice system begins (slowly) to investigate the cruel and inhumane (and constant) use of solitary confinement

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New York state has agreed to overhaul the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, as reported in the NY Times by Michael Schwirtz and Michael Winerip:

New York has agreed to a major overhaul in the way solitary confinement is administered in the state’s prisons, with the goal of significantly reducing the number of inmates held in isolation, cutting the maximum length of stay and improving their living conditions.

The five-year, $62 million agreement, announced on Wednesday, is the result of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union over the abusive treatment of inmates in solitary in the state’s prisons. For 23 hours a day, 4,000 inmates are currently locked away in concrete 6-by-10-foot cells, sometimes for years, with little if any human contact, no access to rehabilitative programs and a diet that can be restricted to a foul-tasting brick of bread and potatoes known at the prisons as “the loaf.”

The changes are expected to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement by at least a quarter and usher in a range of reforms, including limiting the time served to three months in most cases and providing the prisoners with certain privileges, like monthly phone calls and group recreation. . .

Continue reading.

Kelly Davis reports in The Intercept that a lawsuit is challenging the use of solitary confinement in California’s county jails:

Brian Chavez was considered a model inmate, a “trustee” granted special privileges for his good behavior during the first three years he was in jail. Then, last November, Chavez was moved with no explanation to the jail’s maximum security unit and placed in a 6-by-7-foot cell, where he was often locked up for 47 hours straight.

Chavez is one of two plaintiffs — both inmates in Santa Clara County, California — named in a federal class-action lawsuit filed late last month by the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office against the Sheriff’s Office.

(The Intercept covered the Prison Law Office’s investigation of the Santa Clara County jails in October.)

The lawsuit argues that Santa Clara’s sheriff is locking up hundreds of inmates in small filthy jail cells and allowing them out for as few as three hours a week. Inmates held in isolation, the lawsuit argues, are subjected to conditions that “serve no penological purpose.” In addition to having very little out-of-cell time, inmates receive limited visiting time and are completely shackled whenever they leave their cells. They are regularly strip-searched — “sometimes up to six times a day,” the lawsuit alleges — and are denied access to “physical exercise, fresh air, sunlight, normal human contact, meaningful activity, and environmental stimulation.”

Inmates in solitary confinement are barred from using any sort of cleaning tools in their cells — brooms, mops, sponges, rags, or towels — except for the inmate’s personal towel. Meanwhile, these units often house mentally ill inmates, who sometimes throw feces and urine or smear it around their cells.

“Plaintiffs,” the suit charges, “are forced to live in areas covered in dirt, hair, blood, feces, urine, food remnants, and vermin, including large cockroaches.”

Rarely are inmates given a clear reason for why they’ve been isolated, said Prison Law Office staff attorney Kelly Knapp. “They’ve been told various things by various officers,” she said, “including that they’re there for their charges, gang status, or some made-up or minor behavioral problem.”

Jail policy requires that an inmate’s housing status be reviewed every 30 days to ensure it’s appropriate, and any inmate who feels he’s been unfairly housed can file a grievance. Both Chavez and Brandon Bracamonte, the other plaintiff named in the suit, have filed numerous grievances, the lawsuit says, but are repeatedly told they’re “properly housed.” Bracamonte, like Chavez, had also been granted jail “trustee” status for good behavior before he was moved to solitary confinement. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2015 at 12:56 pm

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