Later On

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

Archive for March 2016

Why don’t they just feed us kibble? It’s going in that direction. — Jaw-dropping story of a Silicon Valley juice-box startup

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Yes, really. Read this NY Times article by David Gelles: what sure seems like a crackpot money-sinkhole of an idea is sold on the basis of machine feeding, more or less. From the article:

By some measures, Juicero is very much on trend. Soylent, a liquefied meal replacement, is already popular among single-minded coders too busy to eat. Chime, a device meant to brew Indian chai, will soon be on the market. A company called Tovala is raising money on Kickstarter, hoping to build a hybrid microwave and toaster, and also sell specialized meal packs.

You have to read the article to believe it.

BTW, note also in the article this very clear depiction of meme competition and evolution (and dead-ends).

To succeed, Juicero will have to buck these trends, and also clear a more pedestrian hurdle — persuading people to pay a premium for another kitchen doodad. “Seven hundred dollars for a small cooking appliance is extremely high,” said Virginia Lee, beverage analyst for Euromonitor. “There are a lot of appliances competing for counter space, never mind the wallet.”

And I personally, as a type-2 diabetic (and I’ve heard that there are more than a few of us around), juice is contraindicated: a type-2 diabetic needs the fiber that the Juicero discard and definitely doesn’t need the quickly-digestible high-carb product. So I think the reception might be substantially underwhelming. But I’m sure he’s made his bundle, which is what the whole exercise seems to be about, unless it actually is to move us all closer to a piped-in diet of kibble and sludge.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 8:45 pm

Why it’s not a good idea to wear the same aftershave, day after day

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This. If you can’t smell it, you can’t enjoy it, and that’s at least part of the point: wearing a fragrance you yourself enjoy. No smell, no enjoyment.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 8:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science, Shaving

Memes are evolving so rapidly, what happens when they attain consciousness?

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Well, it’s already happened, hasn’t it? Corporations are memeplexes that strive to avoid death, seek to grow, and when grown will spawn off other corporations (subsidiaries until sold), children that resemble and reflect the parent corporation, though with some variations, which may have different survival rates. Replication with some variation and intense competition for available resources (money, mainly), thus inducing natural selection.

And once corporations are legally considered persons, then the memeplex has become a (conscious) person—the consciousness expressing itself as the corporation’s, culture, values, goals, and point of view, which is independent, in a way, of the individuals who work there (the hosts) just as we are independent of the individual cells that make up our body. They live and die but the body (physical or corporate) lives on, until it at last dies as well. But a successful life includes reproduction: the essence of a replicator. And we have indeed seen how the same corporate personality and character, for a successful corporation, will span several or many generations of CEOs, operating staff, etc.: the personnel change, but the meme goes on. Same with the cells in our body and our conscious selves.

That seems very like consciousness, if you ask me, close enough so that it can be tricky to distinguish once you view things from the meme’s point of view.

The corporate/governmental/organizational memeplexes seem to be increasingly interested in tracking every individual—cf. the iPhones that so many host individuals carry, while it transmitsand records all sorts of information about the host, information that the government meme can access at any time. A memeplex can presumably detect changes in behavior that might affect it negatively, and by definition the most successful memeplexes will take action to protect themselves and extend their life. One version of a memeplex immune system (such as the one we see in North Korea) does require certain forms of government that are heavy on power and authority. Have you checked out lately what police forces in the US have been up to. Check out Radley Balko in the Washington Post by subscribing to his feed.

It could conceivably fit together as a science-fiction novel. It surelu isn’t reality, is it?

But it is interesting the extent to which large corporations and industries—memeplexes all—now control the government to such a degree. Take, for example, the Department of the Treasury: heavily staffed by each administration, Democrt or Republican, with denizens of Wall Street taking a ride through the revolving door? And all the financial regulatory agencies, the SEC and others, staffed in all higher-level positions by Wall Street representatives. There are a few others, but look at the pattern.

And lobbyists, quite overtly in action to benefit this memeplex or that one. Firece competition, easy adaptation, rapid evolution.

I describe. You decide.

UPDATE: After sleeping on it, I realized the idea of a single entity whose individual components are separate humans is a fairly old conceit. For example, the title page of Hobbes’s Leviathan includes this image:

Hobbes-Leviathan

The memeplex illustrated is of a “nation” meme, with citizens as the body and the monarch as the head.

Hobbes talked about the state of nature in which humanity lived before organizations (memeplexes) arose, a state he famously characterized as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” in which a state of perpetual war of one against another, since the only way to decide conflicts was by fighting or retreating. And that is not unlike the state of memes, though I suppose other meme-constructs, like laws and courts, are used. But it does seem that large memeplexes struggle against each other more or less constantly.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 8:05 pm

Be careful what you wish for: Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia

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Ben Hubbard reports in the NY Times:

BURAIDA, Saudi Arabia — The men were not hardened militants. One was a pharmacist, another a heating and cooling technician. One was a high school student.

They were six cousins, all living in Saudi Arabia, all with the same secret. They had vowed allegiance to the Islamic State — and they planned to kill another cousin, a sergeant in the kingdom’s counterterrorism force.

And that is what they did. In February, the group abducted Sgt. Bader al-Rashidi, dragged him to the side of a road south of this central Saudi city, and shot and killed him. With video rolling, they condemned the royal family, saying it had forsaken Islam.

Then they fled into the desert. The video spread rapidly across the kingdom, shocking a nation struggling to contain a terrorist movement seen as especially dangerous not just because it promotes violence, but also because it has adopted elements of Saudi Arabia’s conservative version of Islam — a Sunni creed known as Wahhabism — and used them to delegitimize the monarchy.

“Wahhabism is fundamental to the Islamic State’s ideology,” said Cole Bunzel, a scholar of Wahhabi history at Princeton University and the author of a recent paper on Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State. “It informs the character of their religion and is the most on-display feature, in my opinion, of their entire ideology.”

Among 20 terrorist episodes in Saudi Arabia since late 2014, the killing of Sergeant Rashidi was the third in which citizens had secretly joined the Islamic State and killed relatives in the security services. In each case, they justified their acts by saying Saudi Arabia practiced a corrupted version of the faith, a charge aimed at a kingdom that holds itself up as the only true Islamic state.

The Islamic State, however, has been able to infiltrate the kingdom through digital recruiting, and it has found devotees willing to kill fellow Sunnis, as well as Shiites, to destabilize the monarchy.

In July, a 19-year-old man murdered his uncle, a police colonel, before carrying out a suicide attack near a prison, wounding two guards.

In an audio message released by the Islamic State after his death, he addressed his own mother.

“Your apostate brother was a loyalist to the tyrants,” he said. “Were it not for him, the tyrants would not exist.”

Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, said that terrorist attacks over the past two years had killed scores of people, along with about two dozen militants.

In addition, about 3,000 Saudis have joined militant groups abroad, and more than 5,000 have been incarcerated at home on terrorism charges, a large increase in recent years.

Saudi Arabia has a tangled history with Islamic militant groups. For a long time, it backed them as proxy forces to push its agenda in places like Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan (where it worked with the United States). But that largely ended in 2003, when Al Qaeda turned its focus on the kingdom and staged a series of deadly attacks.

Now the Islamic State poses a new challenge, by turning aspects of Saudi Arabia’s conservative creed against it. Wahhabism has been molded over the years to serve the interests of the monarchy, emphasizing obedience to the rulers and condemning terrorist attacks, even against those seen as apostates.

Still, among the Islamic State’s many enemies, Saudi Arabia is the only one that considers the Quran and other religious texts its constitution, criminalizes apostasy and bans all forms of unsanctioned public religion.

The country was founded on an alliance between the Saud family, whose members became the monarchs, and a cleric named Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, whose teachings were used to justify military conquest by labeling it jihad against those deemed to be infidels, most of whom were other Muslims. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 7:16 pm

“Kind of Blue,” discussed by Nancy Wilson

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Well worth a listening.

The best-selling jazz record of all time is a universally acknowledged masterpiece, revered as much by rock and classical music fans as by jazz lovers. The album is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which brought together seven now-legendary musicians in the prime of their careers: tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Jimmy Cobb and, of course, trumpeter Miles Davis.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Jazz

Creating cuisine from indigenous foods in Bolivia

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Carolyn Kormann has a New Yorker article that is fascinating reading for a foodie:

Look out the windows of Gustu, the most ambitious restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia, and you’ll see the city climbing up toward the looming peaks of the Andes in a lumpy, shimmering mosaic. You might experience a momentary dread, like the one that hits before a steep hike: you’re at the bottom of the bowl. But in La Paz the lower the elevation the better you feel. The city’s average altitude is twelve thousand feet above sea level, which means about a third less oxygen per breath. The lowest-altitude neighborhoods are the most desirable. In the one called Calacoto—where Gustu is situated, at 10,993 feet—quiet cobblestone streets are lined with embassies and the offices of N.G.O.s. Local kids pronounce rico, meaning rich or delicious, as an American would, without rolling the “r”—a Bolivian version of a Brahmin lockjaw. “In the U.S. you pay for the view,” a resident told me. “Here you pay for the oxygen.”

Gustu, housed in an imposing gray concrete cube with a bank of protruding windows, is both a restaurant and an experiment in social uplift. It was opened in 2013 by the Danish food entrepreneur Claus Meyer. At the time, his most widely known venture, Noma, in Copenhagen, had been named the world’s best restaurant for the third year in a row by a jury of international chefs, critics, and restaurateurs. Meyer’s sprawling food company had come to include an apple orchard, a vinegar factory, a coffee roaster, and a salmon smokehouse. “The total group suddenly went from earning a hundred thousand dollars a year to four million a year,” he told me recently. He was surprised, and a little uncomfortable. He had always been more concerned with things like finding “an unseen vinegar-flavor balance” or harvesting the uniquely succulent turnips of the Faeroe Islands.

In recent years, Meyer and René Redzepi, Noma’s head chef, have promoted an influential declaration of gastronomic principles: the “New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto.” The document has ten points, including pleas for using local ingredients (often highly obscure ones) and a call for “purity, freshness, simplicity, and ethics.” Making millions of dollars is not one of the points. “I got to thinking I could give a little bit away, in a nice way, without feeling poor afterwards,” Meyer said. He started a foundation called Melting Pot, which taught prisoners in Denmark how to cook, but that came to seem insufficiently ambitious. He wanted to fight against “McDonaldization,” and see if his philosophy of food could help lift people out of poverty. Maybe, he thought, eating sea buckthorn and gooseberries had “something in it for mankind.”

His first idea was to open an outpost in one of the troubled countries of southeastern Europe—Bulgaria, Greece, Romania—or possibly in Kazakhstan. He wrote to the European commissioner of agriculture to ask “if she thought there would be a poor country in Europe that would maybe benefit.” When she didn’t answer, he started researching other possibilities, looking for a poor (but not too poor) place with exceptional biodiversity and relatively little crime. He developed a ranked list and considered Ghana, Vietnam, and Nepal. Vietnamese cuisine was already too good, Meyer decided; all the great combinations of ingredients had been discovered. Then he hit on Bolivia. Though it is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, it has, Meyer said, “a great undiscovered larder of fantastic products that people could be seduced by.”

Yet when Meyer visited La Paz, he recalled, he was “frustrated and depressed.” The altitude made him so sick that he brought an oxygen tank to meetings. “I would never take my family to live there,” he concluded. “You can’t even drink the water.” The average monthly wage was less than two hundred dollars, and most locals preferred to eat traditional Bolivian dishes sold at sidewalk stalls and markets; soups made with dehydrated potatoes or beef kidneys were popular. The tourist trade catered largely to backpackers looking for cheap hostels and coca tea. Meyer remembered thinking, “This can never happen. There is no market for this. We will have forty employees but no clients.” Then he descended to Calacoto and began to feel better. “We found a place in La Paz that looked as if it had some well-dressed people.”

He began planning a Bolivian equivalent of Noma: a “fine-dining temple” with an avant-garde tasting menu, composed entirely from indigenous ingredients. To advance his goal of “fighting poverty through deliciousness,” he would create a culinary school for disadvantaged youths. Meyer wanted to train a generation of cooks who would educate their communities and redefine the way Bolivians perceive traditional ingredients. “When you see kids in the slums growing up on white rice, potatoes, and white flour, all imported from another country, then getting diabetes before they turn twenty, something is wrong,” Meyer said. He formed a partnership with a Danish N.G.O. called IBIS, which had been working in Bolivia for decades, and started a Bolivian offshoot of Melting Pot. Each organization agreed to an initial investment of five hundred thousand dollars. To his critics, especially in Bolivia, the idea smelled like a Viking in need of a shower. Meyer shrugged them off

The cooks for his restaurant could come from the culinary school, he decided. But he needed a chef to lead the kitchen. He approached Kamilla Seidler, a thirty-two-year-old Dane who had worked in some of Europe’s top restaurants, including Mugaritz, a two-Michelin-star establishment in northern Spain that is known for such whimsical experiments as edible cutlery. To interview for the job, Seidler went to Meyer’s house and cooked for his family: four courses, she recalls, with a dessert built around passion fruit (“giving it the Latin touch”) and sorrel (“for some acidity”). She got the job, and in the next three years she was joined by staff members from Bolivia and half a dozen other countries. Her friend Michelangelo Cestari, an Italian-Venezuelan chef, was hired as Gustu’s C.E.O. “I’m extremely impressed with what they are doing down there,” Meyer told me. “And the fact that they have found—what do you call it?—peace. I think it changed their lives in a good way and not a strange way.”

Seidler might disagree about the strange part. To bring prosperity to the restaurant, she participated in a sacrifice of a llama fetus. She helped craft a recipe for quinoa Communion wafers and had them delivered to Pope Francis when he passed through La Paz. She hosted a lunch for families of Amazonian reptile hunters. Although she went to Bolivia planning to stay for a year, she recently bought a house next to a tourist attraction called the Valley of the Moon—an expanse of sandstone and clay that resembles a colossal sea sponge. “I feel like I’m in a Tarantino movie every time I drive home,” she said.

Seidler grew up in Copenhagen, cooking with her grandmothers, and got her first food job, in a bakery, at fifteen. From the start, she was implacable in the kitchen. When burglars broke into the bakery one day, she chased them off with a bread knife. At Gustu, she has the attentive look of a goalkeeper surveying the field; the anxieties of the job show only in her hands, which fidget constantly. She spends most of her time at work, but during off hours she reads about the local cuisine or flips through Danish thrillers or goes to the movies, occasionally by herself. One evening in La Paz, when a ticket-seller asked if she was alone, she retorted, “Would you like to accompany me?”

On a recent Saturday morning, Seidler drove her black Suzuki to a market in central La Paz. It was the day before a national referendum that would shut down the city, and shoppers jostled along the steep street, hurrying to gather provisions. Venders—mostly fierce-looking women with long braids and bowler hats—sat in stalls between heaps of Andean produce: watermelons as big as a bulldog’s belly, purple corn with kernels like gumballs, plantains the color of paprika. Seidler, dressed all in black, had her blond hair tied in a messy bun. She gestured at a stall where silvery trout were arrayed, without ice, in the hot sun. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. “Or terrifying.” The vender smiled and started sharpening her knives.

When Seidler moved to Bolivia, in October, 2012, the street food made her sick, but she visited the market every day. Occasionally, she was reminded of something that Meyer had told her: “This could be the biggest career shortcut you’ve ever made, or the biggest mistake.” As she began to create Gustu’s first menu, Meyer gave her complete freedom. “He was just, like, ‘Make sure there’s a lot of acidity in the food,’ ” she said. Although she had prepared for her move by reading about Bolivian history, politics, and economics, she didn’t want to know anything about the food until she could see and taste for herself. She discovered a cornucopia. Bolivia, two-thirds the size of Alaska, is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, with more than twenty thousand documented species of plants. It contains an extraordinary range of ecosystems, from the alpine valleys and salt flats of the western highlands to the rain forest and wetlands of the eastern lowlands. La Paz, in the west, sits on the altiplano, a vast plateau whose altitude prevents many trees from growing there, leaving the wind free to rip across its expanse. Yet even the altiplano supports some hardy nutritious plants, including quinoa, amaranth, and cañahua, which Seidler describes as “quinoa’s little brother.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 5:17 pm

Craft beer revitalizes a city—and here’s why

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Very interesting Atlantic blog post by James Fallows:

If you’re going to subscribe to only one magazine — well, really you should be subscribing to more! But you could start with The Atlantic, and then move on to be sure, as I have, to include All About Beer on your list (subscribe!).

I mention it now on general principles, and because its site now features an interesting piece by Jeff Alworth, author of The Beer Bible, extending my premisethat craft breweries have become a no-joke indicator of larger civic revival. This is how he explains it, in a way that rings absolutely true to what my wife Deb and I have seen from Georgia to California to Mississippi to Minnesota:

[Fallows] suggests that the appearance of a craft brewery is one effect of community health—but I’d argue that it’s at least in part the cause of a community’s vitality.

Breweries are industrial operations, and they’re expensive. Beer is a mass beverage, and even making it on a brewpub scale means you have to have quite a bit of space for the brewhouse, fermentation, and storage. All that equipment costs a lot, and real estate does, too. When you’re spending a quarter- or half-million dollars on equipment, you can’t afford expensive commercial space. So breweries end up on the fringes, in bad parts of town where the rent is cheap. That alone is the first step of revitalization. [Emphasis in first paragraph was from Allworth. This is added by me.]

But breweries aren’t like the average industrial plant. They are people magnets, bringing folks in who are curious to try a pint of locally made IPA. In fairly short order, breweries can create little pockets of prosperity in cities that can (and often do) radiate out into the neighborhood. Pretty soon, other businesses see the bustle and consider moving in, too.

It doesn’t hurt that breweries often find run-down parts of towns that have great buildings. Once a brewery moves in and refurbishes an old building, it reveals the innate promise of adjacent buildings to prospective renters.

Alworth gives an example of the way a brewpub is affecting development in bigger cities like Tampa. Then he adds:

But the effect may even be stronger in smaller communities. Little towns are often underserved with regard to cool places to hang out. When they open up shop, they provide much-needed social hubs. That the rent is cheaper there than in big cities gives these breweries a competitive boost, to boot—and we have seen many small towns (like Petaluma, California; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Milton, Delaware) spawn outsized breweries. And whether they’re in small towns or cities, breweries serve an important community-building function. They’re not only a nice place to spend an evening, but serve as venues for events like meetings, weddings, and even children’s birthday parties.

Continue reading.

I got a mention in the “continue reading” part. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Tagged with

Maryland Appellate Court Rebukes Police for Concealing Use of Stingrays

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Alex Emmons has a good article in The Intercept, well worth reading because of its heartening content. But I have to wait and see what the outcome will be, since in America today police seem to feel free to ignore the courts.

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31 March 2016 at 1:27 pm

Brave new world: The Spreading Epidemic of Hospital Ransomware

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Joseph Cox writes in Motherboard:

Cybercriminals have found a new, soft target for mass extortion schemes. Since February, at least a dozen hospitals have been affected by ransomware—malware that encrypts a victim’s files until they pay a hefty bounty. Some of the victims have had to resort to using pen-and-paper and diverting emergency services to other hospitals while they try to regain control of their systems.

Judging by interviews with researchers working alongside the FBI on an active investigation into a related case, as well as others who have found serious issues with the security of hospitals and medical devices, the ransomware problem facing the healthcare sector may be set to get worse.

“We made a decision very quickly to shut down our systems,” Ann Nickels, a spokesperson for MedStar Health, told Motherboard in a phone call. MedStar is a non-profit network that runs 10 hospitals in the Baltimore and Washington area and was attacked with malware earlier this week. As of Wednesday, computers in at leastfour associated hospitals remained offline. Nickels refused to say whether the attack involved ransomware, but staff at MedStar facilitates have reportedly seen pop-upson their computers demanding around $19,000 in bitcoin.

MedStar, it seems, is just the latest suspected victim of ransomware in a months-long campaign targeting the healthcare sector.

On February 5, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles was hit and eventually coughed up just under $17,000 to hackers in order to decrypt its files. At least two facilities in Germany were targeted around the same time, and a handful of computers at the Ottawa Hospital were infected in March. The Methodist Hospital in Henderson, Kentucky was targeted shortly after.

“Methodist Hospital is currently working in an Internal State of Emergency due to a Computer Virus that has limited our use of electronic web based services,” the hospital said in a statement at the time.

The damage to many of these hospitals has been debilitating. Doctors pushed high-risk surgeries to later dates, records had to be faxed or hand-delivered, and written notes then had to be entered back into computers once everything was up and running again.

Even if certain systems weren’t infected with malware, some hospitals still pulled the plug as a precaution, seriously affecting productivity. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 1:21 pm

Omitting Sanders from favorability ratings—because he looks too good?

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Take a look at the Washington Post article by Philip Rucker and Robert Costa that includes this table:

2300-weakcandidate03xx

Isn’t it odd that Bernie Sanders is not listed? Perhaps not, when you consider that Sanders has extreely high favorability ratings, much higher than other candidates, and the Washington Post doesn’t favor Sanders—so they simply airbrush him out of the results.

Amazing. This is what passes for journalism.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 12:45 pm

Maggard Edge

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Maggard offers a kind of “Maggard Prime,” a la Amazon Prime: $20 for 6 months membership. Details at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Shaving

One stretch of Route 66 plays “America the Beautiful” if you drive at the speed limit

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Very interesting article by Maceagon Voyce on Nerdist. This video from the article:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 11:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Music, Video

‘China’s Worst Policy Mistake’

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Nicholas Kristof reviews two books on China’s one-child policy in the NY Review of Books:

China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy
by Kay Ann Johnson
University of Chicago Press, 218 pp., $22.50

One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment
by Mei Fong
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 250 pp., $27.00

Perhaps no government policy anywhere in the world affected more people in a more intimate and brutal way than China’s one-child policy. In the West, there’s a tendency to approve of it as a necessary if overzealous effort to curb China’s population growth and overcome poverty. In fact, it was unnecessary and has led to a rapid aging of China’s population that may undermine the country’s economic prospects. The scholar Wang Feng has declared the one-child policy to be China’s worst policy mistake, worse even than the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward (which led to the worst famine in world history). The one-child policy broke up families and destroyed lives on an epic scale—and although it officially ended last fall, it continues to ripple through the lives of Chinese and the 120,000 Chinese babies who were adopted in America and other Western countries.

It has often been said, in China and abroad, that those adopted babies, mostly girls, were unwanted in a male chauvinist society and abandoned by their parents. Many of those children, some of them now young adults, should know that it’s far more complicated than that. They are the products not of unloving parents, not so much of a misogynist tradition, but of a government policy that sundered families.

If you’re a (precocious) Chinese-born twelve-year-old girl reading this essay in your adoptive American home, then you just might be the girl whose birth name was Shengshi, Victory, whose story is told in China’s Hidden Children, by Kay Ann Johnson of Hampshire College. Victory’s story lays bare how the one-child policy actually unfolded and how so many adopted children were not “abandoned” in any normal sense of the word.

Xu Guangwen and his wife, Jiang Lifeng, were villagers who had a son in 1994. The one-child policy—introduced by the central government of China in 1980—is something of a misnomer, because in some circumstances a second or even third child is permitted: if Xu and Jiang had had a daughter first, they might have been given permission after several years to bear another child. But because they had a son first, that was it. Still, both wanted another child, and Jiang in particular wanted a daughter. So they began to plot.

All fertile married women in their region were obliged to pee into a cup for a pregnancy test every three months; a positive result could lead to a mandatory abortion. Any couple that somehow evaded the controls risked a fine, the demolition of the family home, and forced sterilization. Yet when Jiang became pregnant in 2003, she and her husband decided to keep the baby, hoping for a girl. Jiang secretly carried a friend’s fresh urine to the pregnancy tests and used it to achieve a negative result, and in the final months of the pregnancy she hid in her mother’s house and delivered there. Jiang and Xu named their baby Victory because she had arrived against all odds. They decided that if questioned by the authorities, they would claim that they had found Victory outside and taken her in because no one else would.

Unfortunately, a new official had been dispatched to this township to oversee a crackdown on family planning. Officials now had their salaries docked if there were babies born without permission in their localities, and the village leader had lost half his salary for that reason. The local official in charge of family planning promised a $380 reward, presented anonymously, to anyone who informed on an unauthorized baby. Someone reported on Victory, and seven men showed up one day, approaching the home from all directions to prevent escape. They grabbed nine-month-old Victory as she slept and left in a van for the family planning office.

Xu and Jiang spent eight hours crying and pleading with the family planning officials. They confessed that Victory was their biological child and offered anything to keep her. Xu promised to pay the highest possible fine for an unauthorized birth. The officials brushed him off, so he said he would borrow and pay double that. The officials still refused. They said that Victory had to be taken to an orphanage, and they forced Xu to sign documents saying that he had found the baby in the fields—but there was still hope that they could adopt Victory the next day from the orphanage.

Jiang and Xu stayed up all night and were at the orphanage when it opened the next morning, explaining that the child brought in overnight was theirs and that they wanted to formally adopt her. The orphanage wouldn’t let them inside. Jiang and Xu begged but never even got to see Victory. They sent other relatives to try to adopt the child, but they too were rejected. It may be that the orphanage preferred to send Victory abroad because foreigners paid more for an adoption and often showered the orphanage with gifts to show their thanks.

“For many months, Jiang was barely able to eat or speak and cried day and night,” Johnson writes.

Her family feared for her health and sanity. At night she would dream that her child was back with her, that her life was happy and normal; then she would wake with a gasp, realizing that the reality was a nightmare. It took Jiang almost three years to “calm her heart” and go on. She had a wonderful son and a husband and needed to find life again.

In the end the orphanage held Victory for more than a year as the adoption paperwork was processed. One can only imagine how traumatizing this was for the child, yanked from her loving parents and housed on a cot in an institution. Finally, the orphanage gave Victory to a childless American middle-class couple. Victory presumably has been raised in the US with love and in financial comfort, enjoying a better education and more opportunities than if she had remained in China. But she was still stolen: I hope she doesn’t think, as some adopted Chinese children do, that she was “abandoned” by misogynist parents who discarded her because she was a girl.

Each of the books under review offers a searing, important, and eminently readable exploration of China’s one-child policy, with Mei Fong’s One Child the more comprehensive and Kay Ann Johnson’s China’s Hidden Children more focused on adoptions. The one-child policy, unlike many Chinese missteps, was not a product of Chairman Mao’s zeal or ideology; in fact, China was extricating itself from Maoism when it adopted the one-child policy.

Mao had earlier made the opposite error, doubting any need for family planning. When Ma Yinchu, the American-educated president of Peking University, suggested in the 1950s that China should try to curb runaway population growth, Mao fired him. But as Fong, a former reporter in China for The Wall Street Journal, writes, by the early 1970s China had adopted a highly successful voluntary family planning program called “Later, Longer, Fewer.” Its slogan was “One child isn’t too few, two are just fine, three are too many.” And within about a decade it managed without coercion to reduce the average number of births per woman from six to three, a remarkable achievement. It’s rarely acknowledged that the biggest drop in Chinese fertility came not from the one-child policy, but earlier during this voluntary birth control campaign. If it had continued, China’s birth rates would have continued to drop, as they have for the rest of the region (Malaysia today averages just under two births per woman; Bangladesh averages 2.2).

China’s leaders wanted sharper cuts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 11:47 am

Evolution and diet

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One thing about evolution: it may be blindly responding to the current environment, but it never ever stops—and over (long periods of) time, it does produce amazing results.

Take food. I recently blogged how some humans have genetically adapted to vegetarian diets. That makes sense if for many generations a regional group of humans subsist on a vegetarian diet: those who can get more nutrients from non-meat foods will then have a survival advantage, so that tiny mutations and changes in that direction tend to accumulate. At one extreme of this in the animal kingdom, you have animals that can detrive nutrients from bamboo (like the giant panda), a food with not much nutritional density.

And natural selection also favored those among the Inuit who could best tolerate the high-meat, high-fat diet on which they subsist, so they evolved to do some tricks with the available foods.

And then another obvious example occurred to me: how a mutation for lactose tolerance conveyed a survival advantage to some groups and enabled some humans to digest milk as adults. (More (and better) information here.)

I continue to be unable to understand how so many in the US can deny the truth of evolution when the evidence is so overwhelming and the idea makes so much sense. But I suppose I could say the same about global warming.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 11:41 am

Posted in Evolution, Food, Science

Did humans evolve to believe in God?

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Certainly humans (and other predators) find hope a survival advantage. I’ve watched my cats check certain spots for prey, day after day, despite prey never being present. But predators that lose hope—that give up looking—would not survive so well as those that always continue looking, despite many failures. So hope certainly would seem to convey a survival advantage and thus be favored by natural selection.

As this article points out, attributing events to a conscious agent that has a purpose also offers a survival advantage, even though the result is many false positives (since most events are random and lacking in purpose—e.g., the tree that topples onto your car in a windstorm: it’s not doing that for a purpose, it just happened. It’s not because (for example) you overdrew your account at the bank or were mean to your kids, but it might feel that way—particularly if you already harbor beliefs in a conscious controlling superpower.

Sarah Emerson writes at Motherboard:

More than eight in ten people worldwide have some sort of religious belief, according to a Pew Research Center study. Approximately one third of those people are Christian.

Even though the percentage of people who identify as atheist is on the rise, the world is an overwhelmingly devout place.

And while science versus religion has been debated since classical antiquity, we’re still a long ways off from definitively knowing how and why the human species came to attribute its existence—and the creation of everything in the universe—to spiritual entities we cannot see, and cannot prove to be real.

One theory, as illustrated in this short video from New Scientist’s Explanimator series,presents the possibility that religion emerged a long time ago as an evolutionary adaptation. According to this argument, early forms of organized religion were necessary for the building of clans that helped to ensure the long-term survival of large groups of people. Religion encouraged clans to unite around a shared belief or ritual, and allowed for the cultivation of community practices like foraging for food, hunting, and sharing childcare duties. These things would have given religious groups a key advantage over their competitors.

So as these clans continued to thrive and survive, their genes were passed on, and religion was selected for by evolution, according to the video. Clans, over time, grew into large communities that supposedly benefited from the stability that a shared faith provided, until religion eventually appeared in some form throughout every human society.

No matter how we ended up like this, our brains do seem biologically wired for religion, the video adds. “Many think our brains evolved to assume that things that happen in the world have a purpose, and if that purpose is mysterious, perhaps an unseen supernatural agent is at work.”

The argument here is that humans are “strongly attracted to explanations of events in terms of agent action—particularly events that are not readily explained in terms of ordinary causation.” Existential threats scare us, and we desire tools that help us reason with them.

Religion is therefore much like language. Humans aren’t born with an innate knowledge of French, English, Chinese, or whatever. But we are born with the ability to learn those languages based on the societies into which we are born or raised, the video adds. They help us to make sense of the world around us. Likewise, none of us are born believers, but we can pick up our faiths depending on whether or not we’re raised to believe.

It’s pointed out that religion came to be so diverse because of the different needs of different types of societies. Agrarian tribes, for example, believed in gods that represented the things they found important such as crops, water, or fire. While larger, sedentary civilizations often worshiped entities responsible for protecting elements like human affairs [e.g., a god of war – LG].

But the larger these communities grew, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 11:27 am

Posted in Evolution, Religion, Science

The Eclipse Red Ring razor: It adjusts like the Dorco PL-602

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SOTD 2016-03-31

A milestone was reached in today’s shave, not shown in the photo. Each day I’ve been loading my Semogue 1430 and palm lathering and then setting the brush aside, checking its lather content after each pass. Until today, the lather always had died completely by the time I finished the first pass. Today, surprisingly, the lather persisted quite well through all three passes. I don’t know whether it was the Seifenglatt Soap (now called Soap Smooth) or in fact the brush simply broke in abruptly. I’m going to try it for a shave tomorrow, but I’m going to try a different (but still good) soap.

For my shaving lather, I used the Vie-Long horsehair brush shown, a very nice brush that makes a good lather, has excellent capacity, and is generous with the lather.

I got into discussion of the adjustment technique used in the Eclipse Red Ring (shown in photo above) because the Dorco PL-602 uses the same approach: a series of markings that let you measure how far you’re backing off from perfectly tight. And, of course, this is exactly how the Merkur Progress and the Apollo Mikron work: tighten all the way, then loosen to the adjustment you want, with a mark near the adjustment knob allowing you to measure the amount of loosening according to the numbers on the adjustment (loosening) knob.

The Eclipse Red Ring is interesting in several ways. It has a comb guard, as shown in this photo (in which you can also see the rays issuing from the sun emblem on the cap):

Cap

I took the photo with the cap upside down, so I had to invert the photo to get the rays rising. You can see the comb, and here’s a (slightly out-of-focus) view of the razor from the bottom:

Bottom

In this photo, you can see the reinforcement bar attached to the back of the ends of the comb’s teeth, leaving a space for the lather pass-through. Also note the magnet embedded in the base of the handle, which is to assist in picking up a razor blade lying flat on a counter top: actually quite handy. The Merkur 34C and 37C have a hole in the base of the handle just the right size for a small magnet, so you could enhance those with this feature.

And here’s the point: the Eclipse is a two-piece razor that, like the 34C and 37C, has a tightening shaft inside the hollow handle: you twist the knob at the base the tighten the cap. In this closeup you can see an arrow just above the tightening knob and, if you look close, grooves cut into the knob itself to allow you to tighten the cap fully, then back off by 1, 2, or 3 marks, so you can repeat the setting. This is exactly what the PL-602 does, only in their case the tightening knob (and thus the marks) are at the top of the handle.

DSCN4024

And the shave? Really excellent. The Eclipse Red Ring is an excellent razor. Too bad there are not more of them about.

A good splash of Fine’s American Blend on my BBS face, and I’m ready for another day.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2016 at 10:13 am

Posted in Shaving

The law is also a burglar, only greedier

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Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 7.23.24 PM

The chart above is from a Washington Post article by Christopher Ingraham, which suggests that law enforcement might start viewing burglars as competition. He writes:

Here’s an interesting factoid about contemporary policing: In 2014, for the first time ever, law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens than burglars did. Martin Armstrong pointed this out at his blog, Armstrong Economics, last week.

Officers can take cash and property from people without convicting or even charging them with a crime — yes, really! — through the highly controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. Last year, according to the Institute for Justice, the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.

Armstrong claims that “the police are now taking more assets than the criminals,” but this isn’t exactly right: The FBI also tracks property losses from larceny and theft, in addition to plain ol’ burglary. If you add up all the property stolen in 2014, from burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and other means, you arrive at roughly $12.3 billion, according to the FBI. That’s more than double the federal asset forfeiture haul.

[In tough times, police start seizing a lot more stuff]

One other point: Those asset forfeiture deposit amounts are not necessarily the best indicator of a rise in the use of forfeiture. “In a given year, one or two high-dollar cases may produce unusually large amounts of money — with a portion going back to victims — thereby telling a noisy story of year-to-year activity levels,” the Institute for Justice explains. A big chunk of that 2014 deposit, for instance, was the $1.7 billion Bernie Madoff judgment, most of which flowed back to the victims.

For that reason, the net assets of the funds are usually seen as a more stable indicator — those numbers show how much money is left over in the funds each year after the federal government takes care of various obligations, like payments to victims. Since this number can reflect monies taken over multiple calendar years, it’s less comparable to the annual burglary statistics.

Still, even this more stable indicator hit $4.5 billion in 2014, according to the Institute for Justice — higher again than the burglary losses that year.

One final caveat is that these are only the federal totals and don’t reflect how much property is seized by state and local police each year. Reliable data for all 50 states is unavailable, but the Institute of Justice found that the total asset forfeiture haul for 14 states topped $250 million in 2013. . .

Continue reading.

Consider what you’d think if you read that the police in some other country were taking stuff from citizens who had not been convicted or even charged with a crime, just simply using the badge and the gun to take things. That would sound bad, wouldn’t it? That country is the USA. (See the earlier blog post about the shattering experience of the Michigan family who tried to do everything right, including contacting the police and asking them to review their plans. What the police did not take, they destroyed and traumatized the children—and then the sheriff lied about what was done. Fortunately, the family took photos of the destruction.)

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2016 at 7:31 pm

Six years after Obamacare’s signing, Republicans still don’t have a health-care plan — or a leg to stand on

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James Downie has an excellent column in the Washington Post showing the GOP vacuum regarding healthcare:

Six years ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Before and after the stroke of the president’s pen, Republicans predicted doom and gloom for an Obamacare-infected United States: skyrocketing health-care costs, a ruined economy, the end of freedom and so on.

It didn’t take long to see that these predictions proved just as true as Ronald Reagan’s prediction that Medicare would lead to a future where “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” Twenty million people have gained health insurance from the Affordable Care Act — a number that would be higher but for the 19 red states that have rejected the law’s Medicaid expansion. The percentage of Americans without insurance has declined from 17.1 percent to 11.9 percent in the past two years. A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as reported in Forbes, found states “that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act saw more job growth, lower health inflation and spent less on social and health services unneeded once more residents had medical coverage.” Initiatives in the ACA designed to encourage hospitals to reduce errors are credited with helping to save 87,000 lives (and nearly $20 billion). Premium increases on the Obamacare exchanges last year averaged less than 4 percent — before tax credits. And the law hasn’t just preserved the decline in health-care spending growth; it has also accelerated it.

To be sure, the law isn’t an unmitigated success. Fewer people than projected have signed up on the exchanges, which could be a challenge to their long-term stability in some places (though that has led to the law being cheaper than expected). Half the co-ops set up under the law have failed. But overall, the law looks to be a clear victory. Perhaps as a result, Republicans have quietly dialed down the anti-Obamacare rhetoric. Two of the three remaining Republican candidates embrace key parts of the ACA, and few GOP Senate candidates in close races are trumpeting their opposition to the law. (It can’t help that some conservatives, including Supreme Court justices, still need versing in the law’s basics.)

Yet even if Obamacare were the train wreck that Republicans claim it has been, their failure to unite around a replacement would then be all the more incredible. Two thousand and two hundred days after Obamacare became law, there have been zero Republican votes on a replacement. In that time, Taylor Swift became a pop artist, the House and the Senate have changed hands in separate elections, Obama won reelection and millions of women have reaped the benefits of free birth control.

All of which brings me to Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The House speaker’s speech last week was mostly covered as an implied rebuke to the outrageous rhetoric of Donald Trump. Some — rightly — took him to task for not mentioning Trump by name. But that dodge was merely a matter of degree. What differentiated Ryan’s speech from a mere critique of Trump’s tone was what he offered against it. “Ideas, passionately promoted and put to the test—that’s what politics can be,” he said. “That’s what our country can be.” Praising Jack Kemp’s push for tax cuts, he said, “All it took was someone willing to put policy on paper and promote it passionately. This is the basic concept behind the policy agenda that House Republicans are building right now.”

Except the “policy on paper” is nowhere to be found. In December, Ryan promised to introduce an alternative to Obamacare this year. Then he began to edge away from that. (His office tried to spin it as staying out of the process of assembling an alternative, dodging the reality that choosing a specific GOP alternative will require the speaker to rally support around it.) . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2016 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Healthcare

“The law is a ass—a idiot”: Michigan medical marijuana example

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From Oliver Twist (always worth rereading):

“It was all Mrs. Bumble. She would do it,” urged Mr. Bumble; first looking round, to ascertain that his partner had left the room.

That is no excuse,” returned Mr. Brownlow. “You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and, indeed, are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction.”

If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass — a idiot. If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience — by experience.”

Christopher Ingraham reports in the Washington Post:

A self-described Michigan “soccer mom” who had “every belonging” taken from her family in a 2014 drug raid has been cleared of all criminal charges, 19 months after heavily armed drug task force members ransacked her home and her business. But in many ways, her ordeal is only beginning.

Annette Shattuck and her husband, Dale, had been facing felony charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession with intent to manufacture marijuana and maintaining a drug house. But last month, Michigan Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kelly threw out all criminal complaints filed against the Shattucks “on the grounds of entrapment by estoppel,”according to court filings. Entrapment by estoppel occurs when a government official leads a defendant to believe that their conduct is permissible under the law.

The Shattucks’ case is an illustration of how the nation’s patchwork marijuana laws can be a confusing mess for patients, businesses and law enforcement officials alike. Nearly two dozen states now have medical marijuana laws on the books, but laws vary significantly from state to state. And even within states, various arms of government have clashed over how the laws are interpreted and enforced.

In 2014, the Shattucks were starting up a marijuana dispensary under Michigan’s medical marijuana law. They worked to ensure every last detail was in full compliance with the law as they understood it: They obtained the permission of the landlord of the building where the dispensary, called the DNA Wellness Center, was to be housed. They went to local planning commission meetings to obtain the proper permits and licenses. They discussed business hours, security measures and even signage requirements with the planning commission.

The town building inspector checked the property and approved the signage. The chairman of the planning commission publicly thanked the Shattucks for working within the allowed legal framework. According to court documents, the Shattucks even went so far as to call the local sheriff’s Drug Task Force to invite them to inspect the property and verify their compliance with the law.

“We really went above and beyond,” Annette Shattuck said in an interview. “We asked for help. We went out of our way to make sure that everything was legit.”

But the Task Force never inspected the property. Instead, acting on an anonymous tip that marijuana was being sold at the location, agents of the St. Clair County Drug Task Force conducted a number of “controlled buys,” where informants with medical marijuana cards entered the dispensary and purchased marijuana under the guise of medical use. That gave them enough probable cause to execute a raid.

Michigan’s existing voter-approved medical marijuana law doesn’t address the legal status of dispensaries, leaving room for conflicting interpretations. The Shattucks’ case is an example of what some drug policy experts say are the shortcomings of writing drug policy via ballot initiative. A more carefully considered piece of legislation may have clarified the gray areas that led to the raid on the Shattucks’ home and business, for instance.

Michigan’s medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 2008, “is a very confusing statute,” according to Stephen Guilliat, chief assistant prosecutor for St. Clair County, where the dispensary was located. “Whoever drafted it was either crazy as a fox, or didn’t know what they were doing.”

Of the 22 states plus D.C. with medical marijuana laws currently on the books, only Michigan, Montana and Alaska do not allow for medical marijuana to be sold from dispensaries. Patients in those states are, however, allowed to cultivate limited numbers of marijuana plants themselves, according marijuana reform group NORML. Michigan’s legislature has been working on legislation that would allow regulated dispensaries, but progress has been slow.

Technically, Shattuck’s dispensary should not have been approved by the town planning commission, because the law does not provide for selling marijuana in dispensaries, Guilliat said. “I think the township probably thought they were doing the right thing, without knowing what the law says,” he added.

On July 28, 2014 — not long after the couple reached out to them to perform a compliance check — task force agents raided both the dispensary and the Shattucks’ home. In addition to charging the Shattucks with a variety of marijuana-related drug crimes, they took a lawnmower, a bicycle, their daughter’s birthday money, their marriage certificate and numerous other belongings, according to Annette Shattuck’s testimony before the Michigan House last year.

But Judge Daniel Kelly ruled last month that, because the town planning commission had signed off on the dispensary, and because the Shattucks “would not have called [the Drug Task Force] and invited law enforcement to their compassion center for an inspection unless [they] believed in good faith” that they were operating within the bounds of the law, “basic principles of due process preclude prosecution in this case.” In short, the government can’t prosecute you for operating an “illegal” business if another arm of government has given you the green light on it.

Annette Shattuck says “it’s beyond exciting” to have the criminal charges cleared. But the tough work of getting her forfeited property back has only just begun.

Under asset forfeiture laws, police are allowed to seize and keep property suspected of involvement in a crime, regardless of whether the property’s owners are ever convicted — or even charged, in many cases. Michigan’s laws are particularly skewed against property owners, according a 2015 report from the Institute for Justice. The nonprofit civil liberties law firm gave Michigan a D- on its forfeiture laws, citing “poor protections for innocent property owners” and policies that allow police to keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property, creating a profit motive for seizing belongings.

Annette Shattuck says that since the charges have been dismissed, the Drug Task Force has returned some of her property. But much of it is damaged. Electronic items are missing power cords and remotes. Her and her husband’s phones were smashed. They returned her husband’s guns and the safe he stored it in, but they didn’t return the key. Two of the kids’ insurance cards are missing. Shattuck says her marriage and birth certificates haven’t been returned, and since the Task Force does not itemize seized documents in its paperwork, it has no record of taking them in the first place. . .

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. It gets worse. From the article:

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 4.35.16 PM

I wonder why police departments get so much bad publicity. Perhaps from their actions?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2016 at 4:33 pm

Strange dichotomy on treatment of women

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The GOP wants to punish doctors and clinics who provide abortions, but not the women who request the abortions.

The GOP wants to punish prostitutes, but not the men (like David Vitter) who ask (and pay) for sex.

Why are women but not the men punished in one case, and the doctors and clinic workers and not the women in the other case? I don’t get it. (Truly.)

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2016 at 4:13 pm

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