Later On

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

Archive for September 2nd, 2016

In Kill Decision, Odin fails to recognize an important force

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On page 126 of Daniel Suarez’s Kill Decision (excellent sf techno-thriller set in near future):

There were Westerners who looked with concern at the suffering of burgeoning Third World populations, but Odin knew that Mother Nature wasn’t the nurturing type. In fact, she might view the stable populations of the West as a failure—a rebellion against primordial order. Nature wanted only one thing: for creatures to produce viable offspring. After that, you were genetically dead. Nature had no more use for you. Your extended lifespan, your biography, your Hummel figurine collection, were all just taking up space. By some cosmic joke, nearly the entire scope of human experience was at odds with the biological world.

The problem here is that Odin (and Suarez) have too limited a perspective on Mother Nature, which not only provides the laws and settings for the emergence of lifeforms and their subsequent evolution, but has also produced another emergence from that: memes, the units on which human culture is based and whose interactions drive memetic/cultural evolution. Memes evolve at a rate millions of times faster than do lifeforms, and nowadays the dominant force in human life is not biological evolution but memetic evolution. Indeed, the novel itself is about the evolution of memes and how humans created an environment that supports and nourishes memes and facilitates their evolution.

He should read The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore. And he’s not the only one.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 6:49 pm

A don’t-miss on Netflix: “Our World War”

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It’s an excellent BBC series. The first episode, for example, is based on the actual battle reports of the 4th Battalion of The Royal Fusiliers at Mons, in Belgium. Worth watching. On Netflix streaming.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Military, Movies & TV

Hillary Clinton Suggests That Congress Actually Do Something About Predatory Drug Prices

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Kevin Drum points out at Mother Jones:

The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill gave us the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, designed to protect consumers from predatory lending. So how about a Consumer Pharmaceutical Protection Bureau to protect us from predatory drugmakers? That’s pretty much what Hillary Clinton proposed today in the wake of outrage over the 500 percent increase in the cost of EpiPens. Her proposed agency would be empowered to investigate price hikes for old drugs:

Should an excessive, outlier price increase be determined for a long-standing treatment, Hillary’s plan would make new enforcement tools available, including:

  • Making alternatives available and increasing competition: Directly intervening to make treatments available, and supporting alternative manufacturers that enter the market and increase competition, to bring down prices and spur innovation in new treatments.
  • Emergency importation of safe treatments: Broadening access to safe, high-quality alternatives through emergency importation from developed countries with strong safety standards.
  • Penalties for unjustified price increases to hold drug companies accountable and fund expanded access: Holding drug makers accountable for unjustified price increases with new penalties, such as fines — and using the funds or savings to expand access and competition.

In combination with her broader, previously announced prescription drug plan — which addresses the costs facing consumers from both long-standing and patented drugs — these new tools to address price spikes for treatments available for many years will lower the burden of prescription drug costs for all Americans.

EpiPens are hardly the first case of this happening. We’ve seen it many times before, and Republicans and Democrats alike join in a familiar dance: outrage, congressional hearings, and demands that this kind of price gouging end. But that’s it. Congress has no actual power to do anything, and eventually the attention dies away. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 5:09 pm

And talk differently about Brock Turner as well: Media Continues to Refer to Him as a “Stanford Swimmer” Rather Than a Rapist

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Naomi LaChance reports in The Intercept:

When Bock Turner was released from jail today after serving half of his six-month sentence for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman, headlines referring to him as a Stanford swimmer sparked renewed controversy.

Associated Press, USA Today, TIME, CNN, Sports Illustrated, MSNBC, and the BBC were criticized by readers for failing to immediately identify Turner as someone who had committed sexual assault.

TIME referred to Turner as a swimmer and didn’t note that he had committed a sexual assault until the third line of the story. The magazine called him a “former Stanford student and star swimmer.”

“I am no longer a swimmer, a student, a resident of California, or the product of the work that I put in to accomplish the goals that I set out in the first 19 years of my life,” Turner said in a court statement.

Turner will not be returning to Stanford, and he has been banned for life by USA Swimming. He will move in with his parents in Ohio, where he will register as a sex offender.

During Turner’s trial in the spring, the news media drew criticism for lauding his swimming accomplishments at the elite California school. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 5:03 pm

“We Need to Talk About Huma Abedin Differently”

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 3:59 pm

What I Said When They Came For The Handmaid’s Tale

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Really excellent column (and statement) by Josh Korman at Book Riot.

I had the chance, once, to put my money where my mouth was. It was an experience not unlike being woken in the middle of the night by a foreign noise in your home and having only seconds to decide whether you will grab the baseball bat from the corner and walk toward the sound or hide in the closet instead.

My 110 eleventh graders were reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and one of our administrators had notified me that the parents of one of those students had contacted the superintendent directly to complain about the assignment and, of course, demand that the book be removed from the curriculum, the school, the county, and, if possible, scrubbed from the fabric of their child’s brain. I told the administrator that I would gladly meet with the parents to discuss their concerns.

This was a lie on two fronts. For one, I wasn’t glad about any of this. And for another, I was using a broader definition of the word “discuss” which includes indignant shouting and fist-shaking. But meet we did. I could tell you that, with Darrow-like precision, I cut away the heart of their argument and led them into the green pastures of enlightened understanding, but two lies is enough for one paragraph. No one shouted, minds and hearts failed to transform, and we promised nothing more than to revisit the policy allowing for alternate novel assignments if requested. Shortly thereafter, I was asked by a very supportive administrator to draft a statement detailing my rationale for selecting the novel in the first place so that if anyone else, including district-level personnel, expressed concerns about the book, the statement could be given to them in lieu of dragging me to more meetings.

This is what I wrote:

My selection of Margaret Atwood’sThe Handmaid’s Tale for study in my AP Language and Composition classes has come under scrutiny, related primarily (though not exclusively) to a passage which includes explicit reference the sexual assault of a woman enduring forced servitude in a dystopian, totalitarian future. I would like to take this opportunity to provide a cogent rationale for my selection of the book in response to the concerns expressed by some parents.

To start, it is worth noting that

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Despite 10,000 civilian casualties in Yemen — 13 per day — U.S. reaffirms support for Saudi Arabia

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Wonder whether this plays any role in driving Islamic terrorists? One I would imagine that they have the same regard for their civilian fellows as we do in the U.S., and the U.S. really gets bent out of shape when some foreign power casually kills one American citizen, much less 13 per day. Maybe—just maybe—those on the receiving it do not like it a lot, and observe the U.S. role.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 2:32 pm

SRSLY: Making Stuff Up, a Winning Legal Strategy

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The problem is that as government becomes increasingly arbitrary in its interpretation and application of the law, the system starts to break down. It only works well with consistency among the people and the government and the law.

David Epstein reports in ProPublica:

You’ve watched plenty of television this election season, so you know what it’s like for arbiters of public sentiment to give impassioned and authoritative decrees that happen to rely on completely wrong information. Somehow, though, it’s slightly less amusing when the Supreme Court does it. As the Wall Street Journal notes, in a 2003 case, the Justice Department convinced the Supreme Court to uphold “a blanket policy of denying bail to thousands of immigrants imprisoned while appealing deportation orders.” And all it took was a little totally wrong data. Your mere three W’s:


According to the Journal, the 2003 case — Demore v. Kim — was a challenge to the federal government’s practice of holding non-citizen immigrants (including those with green cards) without bail once they became eligible for deportation. The Supreme Court ruled that the feds could keep on doing that, because it only took four months on average to resolve deportation appeals. This “very limited time of detention,” in the Court’s words, is so short that it doesn’t violate a constitutional right to a bail hearing. I mean, I get it, four months, it’s like not even enough time for an Austrian to go on vacation. (On the other hand, as HBO’s “The Night Of” showed, it took about six hours of imprisonment for Naz to go from college tutor to hardened criminal crack addict, so maybe languishing in prison, not so great … )

What’s wrong with the ruling?

You know how when your family plays Trivial Pursuit at Thanksgiving, and you correctly answer that the capital of North Dakota is Bismarck, but your Uncle Theo is holding the card and swears you’re wrong and the answer is Fargo? Well, the Journal reports that the DOJ’s “four months” claim sounded so preposterous to immigrant advocates that they were pretty sure the answer on the back of the card was something completely different. Said advocates — particularly the American Civil Liberties Union — filed Freedom of Information Act requests, and it turns out the average detention is more than a year. Whoops. That’s enough time for Naz to have detonated a nuclear weapon in prison.

What now? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 2:20 pm

North Carolina’s Voting Bill Is Egregiously, Indefensibly Racist

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post at Mother Jones, and also read the news article at the link:

I’ve written about this before in connection with the 4th Circuit Court overturning North Carolina’s new voting law, but today William Wan of the Washington Post takes a closer look at how the law took shape. It all started when Republicans finally installed one of their own as governor:

Within months of McCrory’s victory, emails show, the state election board began receiving requests for demographic data from a group of GOP lawmakers….They asked for statistics on voter behavior broken down by race:Who voted early, and who voted on Election Day? Who voted out of precinct?

They asked about what kinds of people were registered to vote but did not have a driver’s license….In another email exchange, officials at the University of North Carolina received a data request from Lewis. “I was asked by a State Representative about the number of Student ID cards that are created and the % of those who are African American,” a university official says to his lower staff. No explanation is given on why Lewis needs the data, just a plea to hurry on it. “He needs it in 2 hours or less.”

Literally within hours of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina began putting together their bill. As the 4th Circuit opinion stated, the bill targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” Nonetheless, Rep. David Lewis, the ringleader of the legislation, was offended by the suggestion that race had anything to do with it:

Lewis said he deeply resented critics who have painted the bill and its supporters as racist. “When Democrats were in power, I may not have agreed with them, but I never questioned them personally or tried to impugn their reputations,” he said.

Uh huh. But in a way, he’s right. A North Carolina party wheel explains:

Longtime Republican consultant Carter Wrenn, a fixture in North Carolina politics, said the GOP’s voter fraud argument is nothing more than an excuse. “Of course it’s political. Why else would you do it?” he said, explaining that Republicans, like any political party, want to protect their majority. While GOP lawmakers might have passed the law to suppress some voters, Wrenn said, that does not mean it was racist.

“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was,” Wrenn said. “It wasn’t about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat.

This is probably true, but also spectacularly . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 12:21 pm

The Lesson of EpiPens: Why Drug Prices Spike, Again and Again

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Elisabeth Rosenthal, editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News and the author of the forthcoming An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How to Take It Back, writes in the NY Times:

When I was a kid in the late 1960s, I suffered from serious asthma attacks. About twice each summer, struggling for air, I received a shot ofepinephrine drawn up in a syringe from the camp nurse. The relief was nothing short of miraculous.

Today that same tiny, lifesaving bolus of epinephrine — used mostly to treat severe allergic reactions — is delivered via sometimes elaborate devices called auto-injectors. Though the medicine itself hasn’t changed, the delivery devices have been protected by patents, enabling drug makers to charge ever escalating — sometimes prohibitive — prices for one of the oldest drugs in medical use.

Though Mylan, the maker of the EpiPen auto-injector, had been raising prices by 20 percent annually in recent years without much blowback, it set off political outrage last month by raising the price to over $600 for two pens just before parents were buying new EpiPens for their school-bound children. Heather Bresch, the chief executive of Mylan, suddenly found herself in the same penalty box as Martin Shkreli, the pharma bad boy, who last year raised the price of an old drug for parasites, Daraprim, by over 5,000 percent. Members of Congress called for hearings. Hillary Clinton denounced Mylan on Twitter.

To mitigate the widespread outrage, Mylan first announced that it would give insured patients $300 coupons to offset the higher price and then, last week, that it would make a cheaper generic version of its own product. Patients may have, once again, won a battle. But they are losing the war on high drug prices.

Ms. Bresch was in many ways acting in accordance with a core strategy in the pharmaceutical industry’s playbook — take something old and repackage it to make it new and patentable — and then see what price the market will bear. Sometimes extortionate prices are a predictable outcome. Yet the government has no real tools to curb them.

Many other old medications have been delivered in new packages in recent years, with startling price increases. Basic asthma inhalers, which once cost under $15 (and still do in many countries), cost $50 to $100 in the United States. A portion of the big price rises for insulin in recent years is attributable to new types of injectors to deliver the medicine. Long-off-patent emergency rescue drugs delivered by auto-injector — not just epinephrine, but also glucagon to ward off diabetic coma and naloxone to reverse opiate overdose — have seen particularly perplexing price escalations.

New devices can make it more convenient and safer to deliver a lifesaving drug during a medical crisis. But when is new packaging — often accompanied by bells and whistles of uncertain value — worth an exponential rise in price? That’s something a nation struggling with a $3 trillion health bill must consider, and it merits a response beyond a few days of executive public shaming. . .

Continue reading.

Somehow, I’m reminded of the introduction of cartridge razors and the price escalator for those, to the point where a single cartridge can cost more than a year’s supply of DE blades—plus the DE razor is kinder to the skin and delivers a better shave: better result, better experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 12:07 pm

The Pill, the Condom, and the American Dream

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Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic:

It might seem like a mystery at first, even a paradox: The income gap between rich and poor adults is growing, but the achievement gap between rich and poor kids is shrinking.

This was not expected. For the last few decades, adult income inequality and childhood achievement inequality both increased at the same time, and the former trend seemed to drive the latter. Rich parents can spend more money on a variety of things (e.g., summer camps, tutors, musical crib mobiles that play Chopin’s “Nocturne in E-Flat”) to ensure that their kids grew up to be similarly successful. Between the 1970s and 2000s, the richest 10 percent of households more than doubled their spending per child, while the poorest third of the country could barely afford an increase.

But something important has changed recently—at least for the kids. Between 1998 and 2010, “the school readiness gap [between rich and poor kindergarteners] narrowed by 10 percent in math and 16 percent in reading,” as Sean F. Reardon, Jane Waldfogel, and Daphna Bassok write in The New York Times. The authors emphasize that this is because of better reading and math skills among poor kids, not a sudden collapse in literacy among six-year-olds in affluent private schools.

If poor parents are falling further behind rich parents, how are poor kids closing the gap? The researchers offer several explanations, like increased enrollment among state-funded preschools and low-income parents spending more time with their kids.

But here is another sudden and surprising trend that might be a factor: a great reduction in teen pregnancy between 2007 and 2013. A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded that teenagers aren’t having less sex, but they are having fewer babies, because of a significant increase in contraceptives. Reported use of the pill, condoms, IUDs, and even the withdrawal method all increased substantially in the last nine years. The key statistic: The number of teens who self-reported using no contraception fell from 20 percent to 13 percent.

This is a huge deal: The number of sexually active American teenagers using no contraception fell by 35 percent in just seven years. Meanwhile, the teen birth rate has fallen almost 50 percent since 1990.

Why might a reduction in teen pregnancy lead to higher achieving poor kids? Unintended pregnancies are concentrated among poor and less educated mothers who are younger, not married, and often not ready to devote the amount of time, money, and attention to children that rich married couples can. With better contraceptive use, poor women can plan to have children only when they’re ready to raise them.

For the past four decades, the income gap isn’t the only chasm that has opened between the rich and poor. There is also what sociologist Robert Putnam calls . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 11:27 am

Bike Batman, a real-life superhero

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Worth reading. One point of interest: in a potentially fraught situation, he tries to exude negative energy, absorbing and neutralizing any energy given off by those he confronts, so that if they start to become frightened or angry or the like, he absorbs and grounds that energy so that the energy level of the confrontation stays low.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 11:21 am

This small Indiana county sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, N.C., combined.

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Josh Keller and Adam Pearce report in the NY Times about another travesty of justice in the US criminal court system:

Donnie Gaddis picked the wrong county to sell 15 oxycodone pills to an undercover officer.

If Mr. Gaddis had been caught 20 miles to the east, in Cincinnati, he would have received a maximum of six months in prison, court records show. In San Francisco or Brooklyn, he would probably have received drug treatment or probation, lawyers say.

But Mr. Gaddis lived in Dearborn County, Ind., which sends more people to prison per capita than nearly any other county in the United States. After agreeing to a plea deal, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

“Years? Holy Toledo — I’ve settled murders for a lot less than that,” said Philip Stephens, a public defender in Cincinnati.

Dearborn County represents the new boom in American prisons: mostly white, rural and politically conservative.

A bipartisan campaign to reduce mass incarceration has led to enormous declines in new inmates from big cities, cutting America’s prison population for the first time since the 1970s. From 2006 to 2014, annual prison admissions dropped 36 percent in Indianapolis; 37 percent in Brooklyn; 69 percent in Los Angeles County; and 93 percent in San Francisco.

But large parts of rural and suburban America — overwhelmed by the heroin epidemic and concerned about the safety of diverting people from prison — have gone the opposite direction. Prison admissions in counties with fewer than 100,000 people have risen even as crime has fallen, according to a New York Times analysis, which offers a newly detailed look at the geography of American incarceration.

Just a decade ago, people in rural, suburban and urban areas were all about equally likely to go to prison. But now people in small counties are about 50 percent more likely to go to prison than people in populous counties.

The stark disparities in how counties punish crime show the limits of recent state and federal changes to reduce the number of inmates. Far from Washington and state capitals, county prosecutors and judges continue to wield great power over who goes to prison and for how long. And many of them have no interest in reducing the prison population.

“I am proud of the fact that we send more people to jail than other counties,” Aaron Negangard, the elected prosecutor in Dearborn County, said last year. “That’s how we keep it safe here.”

He added in an interview: “My constituents are the people who decide whether I keep doing my job. The governor can’t make me. The legislature can’t make me.”

But many criminal justice experts say that the size of the disparities undercuts the basic promise of equal protection under the law.

“Letting local prosecutors enforce state laws differently throws all notions of equality under the law out the window,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, which advocates reducing incarceration rates. “This data puts governors and legislative leaders on notice that if they want to put criminal justice reforms into effect, they need to look at how prosecutors use and abuse their discretion.”

The analysis is based on previously unpublished data from the Department of Justice on state prisons, which hold the vast majority of American inmates sentenced to a year or more.

The divide does not appear to be driven by changes in crime, which fell in rural and urban areas at roughly equal rates, according to the F.B.I. Instead, it reflects growing disagreement about how harshly crime should be punished, especially drivers of the criminal justice system like theft, drugs, weapons and drunken driving. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 11:01 am

Using AI deep learning to sort cucumbers

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Kaz Sato has a very interesting report of using Google’s open-source machine-learning library TensorFlow:

It’s not hyperbole to say that use cases for machine learning and deep learning are only limited by our imaginations. About one year ago, a former embedded systems designer from the Japanese automobile industry named Makoto Koike started helping out at his parents’ cucumber farm, and was amazed by the amount of work it takes to sort cucumbers by size, shape, color and other attributes.

Makoto’s father is very proud of his thorny cucumber, for instance, having dedicated his life to delivering fresh and crispy cucumbers, with many prickles still on them. Straight and thick cucumbers with a vivid color and lots of prickles are considered premium grade and command much higher prices on the market.

But Makoto learned very quickly that sorting cucumbers is as hard and tricky as actually growing them. “Each cucumber has different color, shape, quality and freshness,” Makoto says.

In Japan, each farm has its own classification standard and there’s no industry standard. At Makoto’s farm, they sort them into nine different classes, and his mother sorts them all herself — spending up to eight hours per day at peak harvesting times.

“The sorting work is not an easy task to learn. You have to look at not only the size and thickness, but also the color, texture, small scratches, whether or not they are crooked and whether they have prickles. It takes months to learn the system and you can’t just hire part-time workers during the busiest period. I myself only recently learned to sort cucumbers well,” Makoto said.

There are also some automatic sorters on the market, but they have limitations in terms of performance and cost, and small farms don’t tend to use them.

Makoto doesn’t think sorting is an essential task for cucumber farmers. “Farmers want to focus and spend their time on growing delicious vegetables. I’d like to automate the sorting tasks before taking the farm business over from my parents.”

Makoto first got the idea to explore machine learning for sorting cucumbers from a completely different use case: Google AlphaGo competing with the world’s top professional Go player.

“When I saw the Google’s AlphaGo, I realized something really serious is happening here,” said Makoto. “That was the trigger for me to start developing the cucumber sorter with deep learning technology.”

Using deep learning for image recognition allows a computer to learn from a training data set what the important “features” of the images are. By using a hierarchy of numerous artificial neurons, deep learning can automatically classify images with a high degree of accuracy. Thus, neural networks can recognize different species of cats, or models of cars or airplanes from images. Sometimes neural networks can exceed the performance of the human eye for certain applications. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 10:13 am

Leaked catalogue reveals a vast array of military spy gear available to U.S. police departments

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The militarization of police departments continues as though the police were an occupation force in a hostile country. Sam Biddle reports in The Intercept:

A confidential, 120-0age  catalogue of spy equipment, originating from British defense firm Cobham and circulated to U.S. law enforcement, touts gear that can intercept wireless calls and text messages, locate people via their mobile phones, and jam cellular communications in a particular area.

The catalogue was obtained by The Intercept as part of a large trove of documents originating within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where spokesperson Molly Best confirmed Cobham wares have been purchased but did not provide further information. The document provides a rare look at the wide range of electronic surveillance tactics used by police and militaries in the U.S. and abroad, offering equipment ranging from black boxes that can monitor an entire town’s cellular signals to microphones hidden in lighters and cameras hidden in trashcans. Markings date it to 2014.

Cobham, recently cited among several major British firms exporting surveillance technology to oppressive regimes, has counted police in the United States among its clients, Cobham spokesperson Greg Caires confirmed. The company spun off its “Tactical Communications and Surveillance” business into “Domo Tactical Communications” earlier this year, presumably shifting many of those clients to the new subsidiary. Caires declined to comment further on the catalogue obtained by The Intercept or confirm its authenticity, but said it “looked authentic” to him.

“By design, these devices are indiscriminate and operate across a wide area where many people may be present,” said Richard Tynan, a technologist at Privacy International, of the gear in the Cobham catalogue. Such “indiscriminate surveillance systems that are not targeted in any way based on prior suspicion” are “the essence of mass surveillance,” he added.

The national controversy over military-grade spy gear trickling down to local police has largely focused on the “Stingray,” a single type of cellular spy box manufactured by a single company, Harris Corp. But the menu of options available to domestic law enforcement is enormous and poorly understood, mostly because of efforts by both manufacturers and their police clientele to suppress information about their functionality and use. What little we know about Stingrays has often been the result of hard-fought FOIA lawsuits or courtroom disclosures by the government. When the Wall Street Journal began reporting on the use of the Stingray in 2011, the FBI declined to comment on the grounds that even discussing the device’s existence could jeopardize its usefulness. The effort to pry out details about the tool is ongoing; just this past April, the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation prevailed in a federal court case, getting the government to admit it used a Stingray in Wisconsin.

Unsurprisingly, the Cobham catalogue describes itself as “proprietary and confidential” and demands that it “must be returned upon request.” Information about Cobham’s own suite of Stingray-style boxes is almost nonexistent on the web. But starting far down on Page 105 of the catalogue is a section titled “Cellular Surveillance,” wherein the U.K.-based manufacturer of defense and intelligence-oriented hardware lays out all the small wonders it sells for spying on people’s private conversations, whether they’re in Baghdad or Baltimore: . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it shows the direction at least some police departments in the US are heading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 9:49 am

Environmental lead and public health: Still a serious problem

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Paul Krugman writes in today’s NY Times:

Donald Trump is still claiming that “inner-city crime is reaching record levels,” promising to save African-Americans from the “slaughter.” In fact, this urban apocalypse is a figment of his imagination; urban crime is actually at historically low levels. But he’s not the kind of guy to care about another “Pants on Fire” verdict from PolitiFact.

Yet some things are, of course, far from fine in our cities, and there is a lot we should be doing to help black communities. We could, for example, stop pumping lead into their children’s blood.

You may think that I’m talking about the water crisis in Flint, Mich., which justifiably caused national outrage early this year, only to fade from the headlines. But Flint was just an extreme example of a much bigger problem. And it’s a problem that should be part of our political debate: Like it or not, poisoning kids is a partisan issue.

To be sure, there’s a lot less lead poisoning in today’s America than there was back in what Trump supporters regard as the good old days. Indeed, some analysts believe that declining lead pollution has been an important factor in declining crime.

But I’ve just been reading a new study by a team of economists and health experts confirming the growing consensus that even low levels of lead in children’s bloodstreams have significant adverse effects on cognitive performance. And lead exposure is still strongly correlated with growing up in a disadvantaged household.

But how can this be going on in a country that claims to believe in equality of opportunity? Just in case it’s not obvious: Children who are being poisoned by their environment don’t have the same opportunities as children who aren’t.

For a longer perspective I’ve been reading the 2013 book “Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and Fate of America’s Children.” The tale the book tells is not, to be honest, all that surprising. But it’s still depressing. For we’ve known about the harm lead does for generations; yet action came slowly, and remains highly incomplete even today.

You can guess how it went. The lead industry didn’t want to see its business cramped by pesky regulations, so it belittled the science while vastly exaggerating the cost of protecting the public — a strategy all too familiar to anyone who has followed debates from acid rain to ozone to climate change.

In the case of lead, however, there was an additional element of blaming the victims: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 9:43 am

Trying two samples, plus Wee Scot, Phoenix Solstice, and Wolfman

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SOTD 2016-09-02

When I received my Solstice shaving soap from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements, I also got a couple of samples: their Crown King Prickly Pear Preshave Jelly and Solstice aftershave balm. Today, I thought I’d take them for a spin.

The preshave jelly is, I quickly discovered, strongly mentholated—something one might well appreciate at the solstice in Phoenix AZ. (My sister lives there and tells me calmly of daytime temperatures of around 118ºF. My own preference is about 50º lower.) And it’s not just lightly mentholated. Phoenix Artisan describes it:

Talk about a chilly desert night frost, this stuff will freeze your face off while providing you with one of the most comfortable shaves in your life!  The post shave feel after using this jelly is like satin! Inspired by the desert outside the town of Crown King AZ, this Pre-Shave came to life! 85% organic and contains locally sourced Prickly Pear Juice, Pulp and Prickly Pear Oil!

Unfortunately, I’m not all that fond of menthol, so I can’t give a balanced appraisal. However, I did indeed have a very smooth shave—but of course I also used the excellent Solstice shaving soap, which I like quite a bit, and the Wolfman razor shown, which is no slouch in the stubble-subtraction department. Three passes to a satiny BBS.

I tried the balm—not mentholated—and it is quite nice. It takes only a tiny dot of balm to do your entire face, and it is both fragrant and somehow comforting.

A really fine shave. The Prickly Pear Preshave is not for me, but the menthol heads will love it.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 9:39 am

Posted in Shaving

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