Later On

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

Archive for August 2016

Looks like another bad choice by Obama

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As when he appointed Mary Jo White to head the SEC. David Dayen reports in The Intercept:

ANDREW BIGGS, AN American Enterprise Institute resident scholar and architect of conservative efforts to cut and privatize Social Security, has been named by President Obama to a seven-member fiscal oversight board for the debt-ridden U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. That board, which will work out restructuring for over $70 billion in debt, has widespread authority to institute additional austerity on the island’s citizens, including potential reductions in public pensions. And Biggs appears to be the only member of the board that has significant experience with social insurance.

Under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act  signed into law in June, the fiscal oversight board will be effectively in charge of the island’s finances, usurping its democratically elected government. The oversight board is tasked with balancing Puerto Rico’s budget and pursuing all avenues to pay off its massive debt, including cuts to the island’s education, police, and health care systems. It can sell off Puerto Rican assets, lower the island’s minimum wage, order layoffs, and enforce a ban on public employee strikes. Only as a last resort can the island obtain court approval for a debt restructuring agreement, and negotiate with creditors, which include several “vulture funds” that scooped up Puerto Rican debt at a discount in the hopes of a big payday.

The president gets to freely choose one of the seven fiscal oversight board members; the other six must come from approved lists provided by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Bloombergwas the first to release the seven names.

The lists from which President Obama chose have not been publicly released. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 5:42 pm

Peach-pit sculptures

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Very cool. Click on arrows on screen to navigate.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Art

Kiwis (the birds) are more interesting than you might think.

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Read this.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

#VeteransForKaepernick Trend Shows Freedom Means More than Flag to Many Who Serve

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Extremely interesting report in The Intercept by Robert Mackey, and definitely worth reading in its entirety. It begins:

HASHTAG ACTIVISM HAS its limits, and most social-media reaction stories are predictable and boring, but the discussion of Colin Kaepernick’s “Star-Spangled Banner” protest taking place in #VeteransForKaepernick threadson Twitter and Facebook right now is more varied and interesting than almost all of the commentary on the subject cramming the airwaves.

My colleague Jon Schwarz startled many Americans by pointing out that our national anthem “literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans” in a rarely sung or talked about third verse about slaughtering escaped slaves who chose to fight for their freedom, and against the United States, in the War of 1812.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback, however, told reporters on Tuesday that he was aware of those lyrics before he began his protest by refusing to stand for the anthem before exhibition games.

In the heated environment of the election campaign, it is also notable that Kaepernick explained that his attempt to draw attention to racial injustice — which was criticized by Donald Trump — is not something he expects to be resolved by the victory of either candidate. . .

Continue reading.

And definitely read the whole thing. I didn’t know that about the third verse of the “Star Spangled Banner,” for example:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 3:10 pm

Anyone who’s read Kill Decision, by Daniel Suarez: It’s here.

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Read this article in BuzzFeed by Sarah Topol. It begins with a quotation from Stuart Russell, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of California Berkeley:

A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: “Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target.” A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone’s head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.

There will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch them. So you can just imagine that in many parts of the world humans will be hunted. They will be cowering underground in shelters and devising techniques so that they don’t get detected. This is the ever-present cloud of lethal autonomous weapons.

They could be here in two to three years. . .

Continue reading.

The U.S. example and precedent is that nations can use this sort of weapon against their enemies anywhere in the world and keep secret all information about the program including its existence. The U.S. has unfortunately established the ground rules by its own acts.

And if you’ve not read it, read Kill Decision. Kindle owners can download a free sample.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 1:24 pm

Why Most Non-Whites Can’t Stand Republicans

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It’s pretty obvious, if you look at it, and Kevin Drum looks at it:

Over at The Corner, Roger Clegg highly recommends a piece in Forbes about a new SEC proposal that would require public companies “to include in their proxy statements more meaningful board diversity disclosures on their board members and nominees.” This rule would not mandate any diversity goals. It would merely require a disclosure of current board diversity and any future diversity plans, if any. Here’s theForbes piece:

In May, 1996, Sister Doris Gormley wrote a letter to T.J. Rodgers, the founder and then-CEO of Cypress Semiconductor. She argued that Cypress ought to diversify its board by adding some women.

Replying to her, Rodgers wrote, “Choosing a Board of Directors based on race and gender is a lousy way to run a company. Cypress will never do it. Furthermore, we will never be pressured into it, because bowing to well-meaning, special-interest groups is an immoral way to run a company, given all the people it would hurt. We simply cannot allow arbitrary rules to be forced on us by organizations that lack business expertise.”

To people who actually run business enterprises, getting sound advice from the board is important. It can help them avoid costly mistakes. But that requires deep knowledge of the specific business field. Companies have every incentive to find such people, which has nothing at all to do with the happenstance of their ancestry or sex. [Note that he does not give a second’s thought to try to understand the reasons and look at actual evidence, particularly looking for evidence that disconfirms what he is about to say—and, as Kevin Drum points out, that evidence is very easy to find. Instead, this fool just delivered a patronizing little speech that revealed he simply does not think about things and coasts along on unexamined suppositions and unsubstantiated expectations. – LG]

If Republicans are wondering why blacks, women, Hispanics, Asians, and pretty much every non-white-male group in America seems to hate them, this is why. If you want to oppose diversity mandates, that’s one thing. There are ways to do it. But to blithely claim that the whole idea is nonsense because no board of directors in America wouldever choose a board member for any reason other than pure merit? This is just willful blindness. Every black, woman, Hispanic, and Asian in the country has been a victim of this faux meritocracy argument and knows perfectly well that it’s rubbish.

All that is bad enough. But then to get high-fived for it by National Review and theWall Street Journal and Fox News? It rubs non-white faces in the fact that conservatives not only don’t want to make any real efforts to break up the white men’s club, but that they’ll go out of their way to deny that it even exists. So they vote for Democrats. At least the Dems don’t flatly insult them with obvious baloney.

For reference, compare this to Lauren Rivera’s conclusions after sitting in on post-interview discussions of candidates for a professional services firm (via Leniece Brissett at Vox). Here’s a summary in the Harvard Business Review:

Black and Hispanic men were often seen as lacking polish and moved to the reject pile, even when they were strong in other areas, whereas white men who lacked polish were deemed coachable and kept in the running. A similar pattern emerged among men who appeared shy, nervous, or understated: Nonwhites were rejected for being unassertive, but in whites, modesty was seen as a virtue. Among candidates who made minor mistakes in math, women were rejected for not having the right skills, and men were given a pass—interviewers assumed they were having an “off” day.

Different kinds of people, it turns out, were evaluated very differently: . . .

Continue reading.

Chart follows at the link, along with further argument.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, GOP

Excellent analys by Kevin Drum: Obamacare’s Latest Problem is Real, But Not Fatal

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Well worth reading: a blog post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 1:09 pm

Newest oldest fossils found

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Very interesting article by Becky Ferreira in Motherboard. It begins:

he oldest fossils in the entire goddamn record have been found in Greenland’s Isua Greenstone Belt, according to new research published Wednesday in the journalNature. These fossils advance our understanding of how and when life formed on our planet, and the role it played in shaping the planet’s biosphere.

Forged by cyanobacteria some 3.7 billion years ago, these layered sedimentary formations, called “stromatolites,” push the timeline of confirmed life on Earth back by a full 220 million years. The previous record-holder, the well-known 3.5-billion-year-old stromatolites of Western Australia, has now been unseated by a wide temporal margin. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 11:49 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Bad news, IMO: Hedge Fund Billionaires Help Push Wasserman Schultz to a Primary Win

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Debbie Wasserman Schulz is, in effect, a corporate shill—or even worse, a corporate plant: someone who will sit in Congress, accept money from payday-lending industry lobbyists, and attack the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when it attempted to protect consumers from that rapacious industry. She seems to operate on one single principle: “Show me the money.” It was she who changed the rules so that lobbyists could officially be part of the Democratic Central Committee—because, in her view, you cannot have too much corporate influence on the government.

I am disappointed, to say the least, but this is truly the direction the U.S. is going, as fast it can. Bernie was our best chance—in part because he recognized that the change we need is not something any one person can do (a sentiment with which I believe President Obama would wholeheartedly agree) but requires a movement, a national group of people who connect with each other to drive a change from the ground up.

I don’t think that will happen. At least, I see few signs of it. EpiPens are a case in point: they cost less than $12 in Canada, and the new special “generic” wholesale price is $150 each (a two-pack for $300).

But it will have a wholesale list price of $300 for a pack of two, half the price of the brand-name EpiPen.

When Mylan bought EpiPens, they sold in the US for $57 each.

The Mylan CEO is the very sort of person whom Debbie Wasserman Schulz has elected to serve. That, I think, is telling.

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

Democratic primary voters in South Florida’s 23rd Congressional District ignored the Democratic National Committee scandal that has engulfed Debbie Wasserman Schultz and gave the incumbent a 56.46 percent win over her Democratic challenger, Tim Canova, who claimed 43.54 percent of the vote. Unfortunately for Canova, who had the backing of Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters, Independents were not allowed to vote in this closed primary.

Wasserman Schultz will still have to compete against a Republican rival, Joe Kaufman, in the November 8 general election. Her District is heavily Democratic, however, and she is expected to achieve an easy win – unless new scandals arrive between now and election day.

Canova is a law professor at Nova Southeastern University. This was his first endeavor in running for public office. His strong showing in this race and his ability to raise $3.3 million from predominantly small donors around the country suggests that voters have not heard the last from Tim Canova.

Fundraising data at the Center for Responsive Politics shows that Wasserman Schultz’s main campaign committee raised a similar $3,373,950 but her Leadership PAC spent an additional $1,193,571. According to Politico, the “super PAC Patriot Majority PAC also spent $640,000 to back her.”

Unlike Canova, whose small donors constituted 75 percent of his fundraising total, only 23 percent of Wasserman Schultz’s main campaign committee donors were small.

During the primary campaign, Canova had repeatedly challenged Wasserman Schultz on her ability to fairly represent the interests of her constituents when in her role as Chair of the DNC she has allowed the Wall Street takeover of the Democratic party. Campaign records for her primary campaign committee and/or her Leadership PAC show she was receiving large checks from many of the same Wall Street billionaire hedge fund or private equity titans as Hillary Clinton’s committees and PACs: S. Donald Sussman of Paloma Partners, Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investments, and Haim Saban of Saban Capital to name just a few. (See related articles below.)

Hedge funds and private equity firms are desperate to hold on to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 11:21 am

Good news for Tasmanian Devils: They Are Becoming Resistant to Species-Ending Infectious Cancer

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Michael Byrne reports in Motherboard:

There are good reasons that transmissible cancer isn’t really a thing. This mostly has to do with the immune systems of advanced organisms—while our own cancer evades immune responses by virtue of being, well, part of us, cancer from other individuals is recognized as an invader. Thus, outside cancer is quickly rooted out and eliminated. Cases of transmissible cancer in humans are extreme novelties, occurring rarely in immunocompromised patients, such as those with HIV.

In nature, a few species are unlucky enough to have infectious cancer as an everyday threat. Shellfish get it thanks to weak immune systems and an existence based on the constant ingestion and filtering of seawater shared by other shellfish. Dogs get itthanks to the swapping of tissues that occurs in rough dog sex. Tasmanian devils get it because of the tissue swapping involved in constantly fucking up each other’s faces. That’s a prerequisite for transmissible cancer occurring at all: the transmission of full-on tissue. A cancer cell doesn’t behave like a bacterium or virus—cancer needs to be transplanted en masse for it to gain footing elsewhere.

In most cases, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) is fatal. Over the past two decades, some 80 percent of the entire Tasmanian devil population has been decimated by the cancer. The disease has spread across nearly 95 percent of the island of Tasmania and has affected all known devil populations. Epidemiological models have predictedthat DFTD likely portends the end of the entire Tasmanian devil species.

Read More: The Adorably Ferocious Tasmanian Devils Are Being Driven to Extinction by Face-Melting Disease

There may be hope, however. No, the devils don’t seem to be learning to interact socially without destroying each other’s faces, but their immune systems are learning to fight back against the infection via phenomenally rapid adaptations. This is according to a paper published on Tuesday in Nature Communications by disease ecologist Andrew Storfer and colleagues at Washington State University.

“Overall, our results reflect a rapid evolutionary response to this strong selection imposed by DFTD, and such a response to a highly lethal, novel pathogen has rarely, if ever been documented in wild populations,” Storfer and co. write. “The only other well-studied example, the evolution of rabbit resistance to myxomatosis following its release in Australia, took place over a much larger number of host generations.”

The swapping of tissues is a necessary but not sufficient condition for transmitting cancer. There is still the issue of immune responses. . .

Continue reading.

This is, quite literally, evolution in action.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 10:40 am

Posted in Science

Drugs and privilege: Big business, Congress and the EpiPen

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Michael Winship writes at BillMoyers.com:

Cash and carry has become nothing more than standard operating procedure in politics and government, and it’s wrecking the republic. The whole system is rotten to the core, corrupted by big business and special interests from the seventh son to the seventh son.

Or daughter, as we learned these past few days when the news introduced us to Heather Bresch, CEO of a drug company called Mylan and daughter of Democratic US Sen. Joe Manchin III, who’s also the former governor of West Virginia.

Mylan manufactures and sells EpiPen, the emergency delivery system for an allergy drug, epinephrine, that can make the difference between life and sudden death. The cost for a two-pack of the devices has soared nearly 550 percent to $608.61. That’s a price far beyond the means of most families with kids threatened by possibly fatal allergic reactions.

At the same time, Bresch has seen her own compensation increase a whopping 671 percent, from $2,453,456 in 2007 (the year that Mylan bought EpiPen) to $18,931,068 in 2015.

She should resign for price gouging rather than get a raise, but like so many of her fellow executives Bresch sails serenely on as her fellow Americans drown in health care debt. Her career and the success of her company epitomize everything that so enrages every voter who believes that the fix is in and that the system is weighted in favor of those with big money and serious connections.

According to reports, Bresch got her first job at Mylan working in the factory basement, when her well-connected dad asked the company’s then-CEO, Milan Puskar, for a favor. Later, a scandal erupted when it was discovered that West Virginia University, which had received a $20 million donation from Puskar and whose president was a Manchin and Bresch family friend, had awarded her an MBA although she had not completed the required coursework.

The school president and other administrators were forced to resign, but Bresch survived the controversy and has done very well indeed in the pharmaceutical business, rising through the ranks and at the same time learning how to adroitly manipulate government and its regulations — lessons for which life in a successful political family with its network of friends and colleagues prepared her well.

For a time, she was Mylan’s chief lobbyist (working to help pass the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, among other legislation) and Anna Edney at Bloomberg Politics writes that “Mylan spent about $4 million in 2012 and 2013 on lobbying for access to EpiPens generally and for legislation, including the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, according to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Office of the Clerk for the House of Representatives. Mylan also was the top corporate sponsor of a group called Food Allergy Research & Education that was the key lobbyist pushing for the bill encouraging schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors, of which EpiPen is by far the leading product.”

The company also took advantage of what President Obama has called an “unpatriotic tax loophole,” making a deal in 2014 with Abbott Laboratories to incorporate in the Netherlands — one of those infamous “inversions” that allow companies to pay a much lower tax rate abroad than here at home — even as they rake in profits from US taxpayer-subsidized programs like Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits. Political expedience and maybe embarrassment saw Joe Manchin denouncing his daughter’s inversion deal. But no one stopped it.

Like so many businesses eager to purchase politicians all their own, Mylan has made significant cash contributions to both sides of the aisle. Emmarie Huetteman at The New York Times reports, “Mylan’s political action committee has given at least $71,000 to congressional candidates from both parties this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with about 72 percent of those contributions going to Republicans.”

Dad got a taste, too: “It has been one of the biggest donors to Mr. Manchin since he joined the Senate in 2010, giving more than $60,000 in total.”

Mylan also has brushed up against . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . And even at half-price, the cost of an EpiPen remains an outrage. In fact, some estimate that the dose of epinephrine used in the injector may really cost as little as a dollar.

In other words, this is one more, big old scam — yet another case of big business trying to pull the wool over the citizens’ eyes and pick our pockets while the government and our politicians mostly look the other way.

The Mylan mess is the cozy relationship between regulators and the regulated in a nutshell. Throughout government, politics and business, cash contributions are made, connections are used, strings are pulled and favors are requested and returned. So the system wins again, corrupt as hell.

But take notice . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 9:34 am

Will this TSA supervisor ever be held accountable?

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Quite the story, via TYD, by Ronnie Polaneczky at Philly.com:

I’ve got my fingers crossed so tightly for Roger Vanderklok, I think I’ve busted some knuckles.

That’s how much I want his lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration to go to trial already. I have no doubt a jury would hand Vanderklok some long-overdue justice.

As a happy consequence, a ruling in Vanderklok’s favor could change the way travelers experience airport-security screening.

I’ll get to that in a sec. But first, let me refresh your memory about Vanderklok’s saga, which I detailed in a column last year.

On Jan. 26, 2013, Vanderklok, now 60, a Philly architect and avid runner, went through the security screening area of Terminal B at Philly International Airport. He was scheduled to board an early morning flight to Miami for a half-marathon.

Packed in his bag were a short length of capped PVC pipe, which held his heart-monitoring watch, and a stack of Power Bars.

The items looked suspicious to a TSA agent, who asked his supervisor, Charles Kieser, to take a look. For 30 minutes, screeners checked the bag before giving it the OK.

Vanderklok, who had remained calm but felt he had not been treated professionally by the increasingly agitated Kieser, told him he wanted to file a complaint.

Kieser left the area, allegedly to retrieve the proper form for Vanderklok to do so. Instead, he summoned Philadelphia police and told them that Vanderklok had made a bomb threat.

On Kieser’s word alone, Vanderklok was held for 20 hours before being charged with threatening the placement of a bomb and making terroristic threats.

At trial, Vanderklok’s attorney, Thomas Malone, proved that Kieser’s story had more holes than a golf course, and Vanderklok was acquitted.

The acquittal happened so fast, Malone didn’t even need to play for the court the very damning surveillance videos from Terminal B on the day of Vanderklok’s run-in with Kieser. They showed major discrepancies between Kieser’s sworn testimony about what happened and what the videos actually showed.

Kieser, unbelievably, remains employed by the TSA.

Said Malone, “He should’ve been fired and charged with perjury.”

Not that Malone didn’t try, in the latter case, to persuade Philly District Attorney Seth Williams to charge Kieser with lying under oath. But Williams declined to prosecute.

Vanderklok subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the police department and the TSA alleging violation of his civil rights.

The case against the police was dismissed at an early stage because the police had acted on the belief that Kieser had told them the truth about Vanderklok’s bomb threat.

But last month, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 9:10 am

Omega 20102, Nuávia, and the iKon Shavecraft #101

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SOTD 2016-08-16

I figured I would use an Italian brush for my Nuávia this morning, it being an Italian soap, so I brought out my Omega 20102, a very nice boar brush. And after loading the brush, I decided to palm lather, since that is an expeditious way of working in additional water. Nuávia can take a fair amount of water, and the lather was particularly creamy and thick this morning. I like the fragrance, which is modest, and the lather is excellent. However, I would not say this soap is worth the price, at least not to me. It is quite good, but it is also very expensive—four times what a good artisan soap would cost, and it’s no better than those.

Still, it’s always good to be using a good shaving soap, and I set to work with the iKon Shavecraft #101, which I think is an overlooked or underrated gem of a razor. Anyone wanting an open comb razor should certainly consider the #101. Three trouble-free passes left a totally BBS result.

A good splash of Van Yulay’s After Dark aftershave splash—a somewhat unusual splash in that it is no vegan, containing emu oil—and my day is well begun.

I think I’ve mention that an alum block makes an excellent styptic if you use, not as you use it for a skin treatment—gliding the block over your wet, shaved face, letting it sit for a moment or two, and then rinsing (and this will indeed stop weepers, but not actual nicks)—but by wetting a corner of the block and pressing it against the nick/cut for 30-40 seconds. That has worked extremely well to stop any bleeding and seal the cut.

I mentioned this on WE and /u/almightywhacko said that the alum was beside the point: applying pressure for 30-40 seconds was the secret, and a clean finger would work as well as the alum block. I have to admit I’m skeptical, but I’ve learned that my expectations are quite often contradicted by experience, so I’m eager to try it. Unfortunately (in a way), I no longer get nicks very often at all.

So I’m asking your help should you have the misfortune to get get a nick in shaving: press the cut for 30-40 seconds with your finger and let me know if that does indeed stop the bleeding and seal the cut.

My skepticism is due to the fact that alum does indeed have some styptic properties—powdered alum is sold as a styptic, in fact—so there is more that pressure at work when you press an alum block against a cut. But what is needed is some actual experience.

I would be particularly interested in hearing from those who try both methods: pressing the corner of an alum block against a cut and how that compares to pressing a finger against the cut. (Different people have different clotting rates: cf. hæmophilia.)

Thanks for your help, and I hope that most readers will be unable to contribute due to not getting any nicks.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2016 at 9:02 am

Posted in Shaving

Unusual solutions that work: School washing machines to boost attendance

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Inside the Federal Bureau Of Way Too Many Guns

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Jeanne Marie Laskas has a good article in GQ on how obstacles are legislated. It’s worth reading. From the article:

. . . Anytime a cop in any jurisdiction in America wants to connect a gun to its owner, the request for help ends up here, at the National Tracing Center, in a low, flat, boring building that belies its past as an IRS facility, just off state highway 9 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in the eastern panhandle of the state, a town of some 17,000 people, a Walmart, a JCPenney, and various dollar stores sucking the life out of a quaint redbrick downtown. On any given day, agents here are running about 1,500 traces; they do about 370,000 a year.

“It’s a shoestring budget,” says Charlie, who runs the center. “It’s not 10,000 agents and a big sophisticated place. It’s a bunch of friggin’ boxes. All half-ass records. We have about 50 ATF employees. And all the rest are basically the ladies. The ladies that live in West Virginia—and they got a job. There’s a huge amount of labor being put into looking through microfilm.”

I want to ask about the microfilm—microfilm?—but it’s hard to get a word in. He’s already gone three rounds on the whiteboard, scribbling, erasing, illustrating some of the finer points of gun tracing, of which there are many, in large part due to the limitations imposed upon this place. For example, no computer. The National Tracing Center is not allowed to have centralized computer data.

“That’s the big no-no,” says Charlie.

That’s been a federal law, thanks to the NRA, since 1986: No searchable database of America’s gun owners. So people here have to use paper, sort through enormous stacks of forms and record books that gun stores are required to keep and to eventually turn over to the feds when requested. It’s kind of like a library in the old days—but without the card catalog. They can use pictures of paper, like microfilm (they recently got the go-ahead to convert the microfilm to PDFs), as long as the pictures of paper are not searchable. You have to flip through and read. No searching by gun owner. No searching by name.

“Okay?” Charlie’s tapping a box of Winston Reds. His smile is impish, like he’s daring you to say what needs to be said: This is a fucking nightmare. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 2:53 pm

Making air-pressure variation visible

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Via this article by Sarah Emerson in Motherboard:

 

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 1:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

California and EPA Poised to Expand Pollution of Potential Drinking Water Reserves

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Drinking water? We don’t need no stinking drinking water!

Abrahm Lustgarten reports at ProPublica:

As the western United States struggles with chronic water shortages and a changing climate, scientists are warning that if vast underground stores of fresh water that California and other states rely on are not carefully conserved, they too may soon run dry.

Heeding this warning, California passed new laws in late 2014 that for the first time require the state to account for its groundwater resources and measure how much water is being used.

Yet California’s natural resources agency, with the oversight and consent of the federal government, also runs a shadow program that allows many of its aquifers to be pumped full of toxic waste.

Now the state — which relied on aquifers for at least 60 percent of its total water supply over the past three years — is taking steps to expand that program, possibly sacrificing portions of dozens more groundwater reserves. In some cases, regulators are considering whether to legalize pollution already taking place at a number of sites, based on arguments that the water that will be lost was too dirty to drink or too difficult to access at an affordable price. Officials also may allow the borders of some pollution areas to be extended, jeopardizing new, previously unspoiled parts of the state’s water supply.

The proposed expansion would affect some of the parts of California hardest hit by drought, from the state’s agriculturally rich central valley to wine country and oil-drilling fields along the Salinas River. Some have questioned the wisdom of such moves in light of the state’s long-term thirst for more water supplies.

“Once [the state] exempts the water, it’s basically polluted forever. It’s a terrible idea,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which is suing California to force it to complete an environmental impact assessment of the proposed aquifer changes. California, she said, is still offering breaks to its oil industry. “We’re at a precipice point where the state is going to have to prioritize water over an industry that isn’t going to last.”

California is one of at least 23 states where so-called aquifer exemptions — exceptions to federal environmental law that allow mining or oil and gas companies to dump waste directly into drinking water reserves — have been issued.

Exemptions are granted by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency division that has had difficulties in recordkeeping and has been criticized for its controversial management of groundwater reserves. A 2012 ProPublica investigation disclosed that the federal government had given energy and mining companies permission to pollute U.S. aquifers in more than 1,000 locations, as part of an underground disposal program that allows toxic substances to be disposed of in nearly 700,000 waste wells across the country. . .

Continue reading.

This is insane.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 1:38 pm

A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system

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James Hamblin writes in the Atlantic:

Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.

Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.

“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”

Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?

The stress response in humans is facilitated by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of our kidneys and spit adrenaline into our blood whenever we’re in need of fight or flight. That stress response is crucial in dire circumstances. But little of modern life truly requires it (especially among academic scientists). Most of the time, our stress responses are operating as a sort of background hum, keeping us on edge. Turn that off, and we relax.

For a long time, it has been understood that the adrenal glands were turned on and off by a couple discrete pathways coming from the brain. “Folks said there was one particular cortical area, perhaps two, that controlled the adrenal medulla,” Strick explained.

Randy Bruno, an  associate professor of neuroscience at Columbia University, further explained that “the way people usually think about the cortex, it’s very hierarchical.” That is, perceptions come in from the world and get sent from one part of the brain to the next, to the next, to the next. They go all the way up the chain of command to the frontal cortex. That sends some signals down to create motor actions.

If stress is controlled by these few cortical areas—the part of the brain that deals in high-level executive functioning, our beliefs and existential understandings of ourselves—why would any sort of body movement play a part in decreasing stress?

Now Strick seems to have solved his own problem. In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Pittsburgh neuroscientists showed that they have discovered a discrete, elaborate network in the cerebral cortex that controls the adrenal medulla. It seems that the connections between the brain and the adrenal medulla are much more elaborate than previously understood. Complex networks throughout the primary sensory and motor cortices are tied directly to our stress responses.

That discovery transformed Stricks’ understanding of how bodily movements influence our health. He’s starting Pilates. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 12:11 pm

For nine years, DEA withholds names of masked agents who violently raided two innocent women. Federal court shrugs.

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This seems to be the very definition of a police state. Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

A few years ago, I wrote about the raid on Geraldine and Caroline Burleyfor the Huffington Post:

When Caroline Burley, now 51, first heard the boom around 5:30 on the evening of June 13, [2007] it sounded like it had come from outside her bedroom window. She rushed to investigate, and as she came out of the room, a man with a gun confronted her, threw her into a wall and then hurled her to the floor. A SWAT team had burst through her front door. Wearing only her nightgown, she asked for mercy. She recently had back surgery, she explained. Instead, one officer, then another kept her close to the floor by putting a boot in her back, according to court filings.

Caroline’s mother, Geraldine Burley, was sitting at her computer in the basement when she heard a loud thud overhead, followed by a scream from her daughter and a man’s voice ordering Caroline Burley to the floor. When she ascended the stairs, she too found a gun pointed at her head, and a man ordered her to get on the floor as well. She thought at first that she was being robbed.

Geraldine, now 70, pleaded with the man to let her move to the floor slowly, explaining to him that she’d had both of her knees replaced. Instead, another officer approached, grabbed her by the face, demanded that she “get the [f–––] on the floor,” then threw her into a table. She tumbled to the ground. At that point, she said later in a deposition, everything turned to “a fire, white and ringing in my ear.” Another officer came up from the basement with her grandson, stepping on her knees in the process. She cried out again in pain.

The officers searched the home but found no drugs, weapons or any other contraband. (They arrested Geraldine’s grandson on an unrelated misdemeanor warrant.)

This was part of Operation Eight Mile, a three-day period in 2007 in which drug cops from 21 federal, state and local police agencies conducted hundreds of raids on the famously crime-ridden road. (For all that manpower, the raids didn’t turn up much: 50 ounces of marijuana, 6.5 ounces of cocaine and 19 guns.)

The Burleys tried to get the officers’ names and badge numbers to file a complaint. This presented a problem:

According to the Burleys’ accounts, the officers who raided their home were clad in black. Some wore balaclava masks or face shields that hid all but their eyes. Others pulled their hats down low to shield their identities. They had also obscured their names and badge numbers. Once the Burleys’ house had been thoroughly searched, both women asked the officers for their names. After holding an impromptu meeting, the officers told the Burleys that they wouldn’t divulge any information that could identify them individually. Instead, they told the women that they had just been raided by “Team 11.” The women weren’t given a search warrant.

“Team 11″ didn’t actually exist. It was part of a Drug Enforcement Administration squad called “Team 6.” But for the Eight Mile operation, the team was partially split up and reorganized with members of state and local police agencies, then renamed just for that particular operation.

The entire operation was coordinated by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. When the Burleys asked the office for the names of the officers who raided their home, the office said it had no record of that raid, directing them instead to the DEA. The DEA told the Burleys that the agency was transitioning to a new administration and couldn’t respond, but that it would eventually get back to them. It never did. The Burleys finally filed a lawsuit in state court, which forced the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department to give them the records of the raid that the office previously said didn’t exist. Included in those records was a DEA report with the names of the agents who participated in the raid.

For their lawsuit, the Burleys sent the named agents questionnaires. The agents filled them out, denying that they ever violated the women’s civil rights. But notably, none of the agents denied that they had participated in the raid.

That all changed during depositions for the lawsuit. In what was a complete surprise to the Burleys’ attorneys, every agent named in the report denied participating in the raid. Instead, they claimed that “Team 11″ had actually been split into two on that particular day. One team raided the Burleys, while the other raided a home nearby. The agents claimed that the DEA report must have included the names of the wrong half of “Team 11″ by mistake. They were all in the other house.

So the Burleys’ attorneys did what you’d expect them to do: They deposed the other half of the team. You probably know where this is going. All of those agents also claimed to have been in the other house. No one denies that the Burleys were raided. No one denies that one half of “Team 11″ conducted that raid. But both halves of “Team 11″ insist it was the other half that was in in the Burleys’ home. Deputies from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department were also on the raid, but apparently stood outside the home while the DEA agents did the dirty work. Yet none of the deputies on the Burley raid could remember which DEA agents were with them.

“It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen,” Burley attorney Stanley Okoli told me a few years ago. “I asked, ‘which amongst you went to one address?’ and they said they couldn’t remember. So I asked, ‘which amongst you went to the other address?’ and they said they couldn’t remember.”

To file a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement officers, you need to know the names of the actual officers. The courts won’t allow you to file a civil rights claim against a police or government agency in general. By the time the DEA agents sprang their surprise on the Burleys, the statute of limitations on their lawsuit had nearly run out.

The Burleys filed their lawsuit anyway, hoping they could persuade a court to compel the DEA to name the officers who participated in the raid. It just got worse from there:

In June 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman first dismissed the Burleys’ claims against Wayne County, then preempted a jury verdict in the trial against the federal agents. He ruled that, given the evidence, no reasonable jury could find in the plaintiffs’ favor, and in addition ordered the Burleys to pay the DEA agents $5,000 to compensate them for court costs.

“These women are destitute,” Okoli told HuffPost. “That was completely discretionary. He didn’t have to do that.” Because the women couldn’t pay, the government moved to garnish their Social Security disability checks to cover the fine.

The following year, a panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the dismissal of the sheriff’s deputies from the lawsuit, but reinstated the claims against the federal agents and vacated the order for the Burleys to pay court costs. The panel found that “the agents’ intent to conceal contributed to the plaintiffs’ impaired ability to identify them.”

The problem:  . . .

Continue reading.

This is where the US is headed: police operating as a paramilitary force with no accountability and no transparency. (Recall that the NYPD has just proclaimed that it will release no information about disciplinary proceedings against any officer. Their position is that the public has no right to know and that the public should simply trust the NYPD to discipline or terminate officers guilty of misconduct.

What happened in this raid seems to amount to little more than terrorism of citizens by government officials.

And do read the rest of the report. Kafka would be proud.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 11:12 am

At Least 110 Republican Leaders Won’t Vote for Donald Trump. Here’s When They Reached Their Breaking Point.

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The NY Times has an excellent timeline of the Trump campaign, showing in chronological order what he said (on one side of the line) and when various Republicans spoke out against Trump (on the other). It shows at just what point responsible Republicans decided that Trump had gone beyond the pale.

Needless to say, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, George P. Bush, Marco Rubio do not show up: they are standing with Trump and endorse and support his candidacy. Rubio is a special case, though: when he was running he thought Trump was awful, but when he decided to run again for Senate (a position that barely interested him before), he thinks Trump is great. Rubio seems to have absolutely no convictions of his own. He reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon years ago that depicted a statue in a park of a politician, who’s pointing the direction to go. The statue is mounted on its pedestal free to rotate as a wind vane.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 10:53 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Politics

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