Later On

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

Archive for September 8th, 2016

Crux of Connecticut Judge’s Grim Ruling: Schools Are Broken

leave a comment »

Kate Zernike has a grim report in the NY Times:

When a Connecticut judge threw out the state’s school financing system as unconstitutional this week, his unsparing 90-page ruling read and resonated like a cry from the heart on the failings of American public education.

Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher of State Superior Court in Hartford was scathing: He criticized “uselessly perfect teacher evaluations” that found “virtually every teacher in the state” proficient or exemplary, while a third of students in many of the poorest communities cannot read even at basic levels. He attacked a task force charged with setting meaningful high school graduation requirements for how its “biggest thought on how to fix the problem turned out to be another task force,” and called it “a kind of a spoof.”

Though his ruling was about Connecticut, he spoke to a larger nationwide truth: After the decades of lawsuits about equity and adequacy in education financing, after federal efforts like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, after fights over the Common Core standards and high-stakes testing and the tug of war between charter schools and community schools, the stubborn achievement gaps between rich and poor, minority and white students persist.

Too many American high school graduates are “let down by patronizing and illusory degrees,” Judge Moukawsher wrote. And too many decisions and too much debate about schools seem, as he wrote, “completely disconnected to the teaching of children.”

Judge Moukawsher’s decision in the case, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, which has been making its way through the courts for more than a decade, did not say money does not matter. But it was a strikingly blunt way of saying what many people feel: The system is broken. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 9:36 pm

Seeing the bright side of Apple’s headphone switch

leave a comment »

I’m not totally convinced, but in Quartz Amy Wang gives arguments in favor of ditching the traditional headphone jack.

And John Paczkowski provides more technical details in BuzzFeed.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Technology

New York Times gives GOP Zika obstruction and anti-Planned Parenthood crusade a pass

leave a comment »

Daniel Denvir reports in Salon:

What liberal media? Nowhere is the false balance of mainstream media reporting more apparent than in coverage of the relentless Republican obstruction in Congress.

The latest episode: Republicans are refusing to pass a $1.1 billion package to fight the Zika virus unless it blocks Planned Parenthood from receiving funding. Yesterday’s New York Times print headline? “Senate Democrats Again Stymie Funding for Zika.”

This is false. Democrats are happy to support funding the Zika fight, which might soon run out of money for crucial measures like mosquito-control programs in Puerto Rico. It is Republicans who have made Zika funding the latest hostage to their crusade to defund Planned Parenthood.

Balance is often false because facts have a bias. Sometimes, reporters try to split the baby, suggesting that both parties have equal blame for gridlock even when this is untrue. (From June: “Whichever side is more to blame, it was clear that no new government funds would be approved to fight the Zika . . .”). In this case, however, The Times is apparently accepting the Republican premise that stigmatizing reproductive health as something other than a basic part of medicine is somehow related to Zika. It’s not.

According to the relevant experts at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, reproductive health should be considered a basic feature of normal health care. What’s holding up the passage of Zika funding is that Republicans want to ensure that it’s not.

As has been long the case with the news coverage of issues like global warming, government shutdowns and voter identification, reporting on the politics of reproductive health shoves expert opinions to the sidelines. Instead, it not only gives readers the false impression that all sides are putting forth an opinion that has equal empirical weight but also fails to honestly evaluate the nature of the conflict at hand. I get that the Times can’t assert as fact that the anti-abortion movement is a wrongheaded and religiously inspired effort to control women’s bodies in its news section. But the Times can make it clear that it is Republican opposition to abortion and Planned Parenthood that is holding up Zika funding and not Democrats.

Journalism about politics becomes reduced to theater criticism.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 3:24 pm

Ayahuasca seems to have interesting effects

leave a comment »

Ariel Levy has a long and interesting article on ayahuasca in the New Yorker. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s just a snippet:

. . . Having studied fMRIs and EEGs of subjects on ayahuasca, Araujo thinks that the brain’s “default-mode network”—the system that burbles with thought, mulling the past and the future, while your mind isn’t focussed on a task—is temporarily relieved of its duties. Meanwhile, the thalamus, which is involved in awareness, is activated. The change in the brain, he notes, is similar to the one that results from years of meditation.
Dennis McKenna told me, “In shamanism, the classic theme is death and rebirth—you are reborn in a new configuration. The neuroscientific interpretation is exactly the same: the default-mode network is disrupted, and maybe things that were mucking up the works are left behind when everything comes back together.”
In the early nineties, McKenna, Charles Grob, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Harbor-U.C.L.A. Medical Center, and James Callaway, a pharmaceutical chemist, conducted a study in Manaus, Brazil, that investigated the effects of ayahuasca on long-term users. Fifteen men who had taken part in bimonthly ceremonies for at least a decade were compared with a control group of people with similar backgrounds. The researchers drew blood from the subjects and assessed the white blood cells, which are powerful indicators of the condition of the central nervous system. (McKenna told me, “In psychopharmacology, we say, ‘If it’s going on in the platelets, it’s probably going on in the brain.’ ”) They found that the serotonin reuptake transporters—the targets that many contemporary antidepressants work on—were elevated among habitual ayahuasca drinkers. “We thought, What does this mean?” McKenna said. They couldn’t find any research on people with abnormally high levels of the transporters, but there was an extensive body of literature on low levels: the condition is common among those with intractable depression, and in people who suffer from Type 2 alcoholism, which is associated with bouts of violent behavior. “We thought, Holy shit! Is it possible that the ayahuasca actuallyreverses these deficits over the long term?” McKenna pointed out that no other known drug has this effect. “There’s only one other instance of a factor that affects this upregulation—and that’s aging.” He wondered if ayahuasca is imparting something to its drinkers that we associate with maturity: wisdom.

Charles Grob told me, “Some of these guys were leading disreputable lives and they became radically transformed—responsible pillars of their community.” But, he noted, the men were taking ayahuasca as part of a religious ceremony: their church, União do Vegetal, is centered on integrating the ayahuasca experience into everyday life. Grob cautioned, “You have to take it with a facilitator who has some knowledge, experience, and ethics.” In unregulated ceremonies, several women have been molested, and at times people have turned violent. Last year, during a ceremony at an ayahuasca center in Iquitos, Peru, a young British man started brandishing a kitchen knife and yelling; a Canadian man who was also on ayahuasca wrestled it from him and stabbed him to death.

Grob speculated that the shaman in that case had spiked the ayahuasca. Often, when things go wrong, it is after a plant called datura is added to the pharmacological mix. “Maybe facilitators think, Oh, Americans will get more bang for their buck,” Grob said. He also wondered if the knife-wielding British man had been suffering a psychotic break: like many hallucinogens, ayahuasca is thought to have the potential to trigger initial episodes in people who are predisposed to them.

Problems can also arise if someone takes ayahuasca—with its potent MAOI—on top of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a common class of antidepressants. The simultaneous blocking of serotonin uptake and serotonin degradation encourages enormous amounts of the neurotransmitter to flood the synapses. The outcome can be disastrous: a condition called serotonin syndrome, which starts with shivering, diarrhea, hyperthermia, and palpitations and can progress to muscular rigidity, convulsions, and even death. “I get calls from family members or friends of people who seem to be in a persistent state of confusion,” Grob said. He had just received a desperate e-mail from the mother of a young woman who had become disoriented in the midst of a ceremony. “She ran off from where she was, and when she was found she was having breathing difficulties and is now having what appears to be a P.T.S.D. reaction.”

These cases are rare, but profoundly upsetting trips are common. People on ayahuasca regularly report experiencing their own death; one man told Araujo that he had a terrifying visualization of being trapped in a coffin. “There are some people who are getting damaged from it because they’re not using it the right way,” Dennis McKenna warned. “It’s a psychotherapeutic process: if they don’t integrate the stuff that comes up, it can be very traumatic. That’s the whole thing with ayahuasca—or any psychedelic, really. Set and setting is all-important: they’ve been telling us this since Leary! It’s not to be treated lightly.” . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 12:27 pm

Trump candidacy presaged in “Calvin and Hobbes”

leave a comment »

Look at these “Cavin and Hobbes” strips: Trump to a T.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 11:55 am

Posted in Election, GOP

A pipeline fight and America’s dark past when immigrants committed genocide against Americans

leave a comment »

The crimes that Donald Trump claims that Mexican immigrants commit are absolutely nothing compared to what earlier immigrants did to Americans: the great genocide of Native Americans is a national crime on a level with institutionalized slavery.

Bill McKibbben comments in the New Yorker:

This week, thousands of Native Americans, from more than a hundred tribes, have camped out on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, which straddles the border between the Dakotas, along the Missouri River. What began as a slow trickle of people a month ago is now an increasingly angry flood. They’re there to protest plans for a proposed oil pipeline that they say would contaminate the reservation’s water; in fact, they’re calling themselves protectors, not protesters.

Their foe, most directly, is the federal government, in particular the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has approved a path for the pipeline across the Missouri under a “fast track” option called Permit 12. That’s one reason the Dakota Access Pipeline, as it’s known, hasn’t received the attention that, say, the Keystone XL Pipeline did, even though the pipe is about the same length. Originally, the pipeline was supposed to cross the Missouri near Bismarck, but authorities worried that an oil spill there would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. So they moved the crossing to half a mile from the reservation, across land that was taken from the tribe in 1958, without their consent. The tribe says the government hasn’t done the required consultation with them—if it had, it would have learned that building the pipeline there would require digging up sacred spots and old burial grounds.
In fact, the blade of a bulldozer cut through some of those burial grounds on Saturday—during a holiday weekend, days before a federal judge is supposed to rule on an emergency petition filed by the tribe which would slow the project down, and immediately after the tribe identified the burial grounds’ locations in a filing to the court. The company building the pipe—Energy Transfer Partners—has already constructed more than half the pipeline, which, when completed, would stretch from Stanley, North Dakota, near the Canadian border, to Patoka, in southern Illinois. It apparently wanted to create facts on the ground in North Dakota—wanted to do so badly enough, it seems, that it was willing to employ a private security force, which used dogs to confront the Native Americans who tried to prevent the desecration of old graves. Tribal officials said that the dogs bit six protesters, including a small child. (The company did not respond to requests for comment, but had previously stated that demonstrators “attacked” their workers and the guard dogs. It has stressed in the past that it has been “constructing this pipeline in accordance with applicable laws, and the local, state and federal permits and approvals we have received.”)
Pictures from that confrontation recall pictures from Birmingham circa 1963. But the historical parallels here run much deeper—they run to the original sins of this nation. The reservation, of course, is where the Native Americans were told to live when the vast lands they ranged were taken by others. The Great Sioux Reservation, formed in the eighteen-sixties, shrunk again and again—in 1980, a federal court said, of the whole sad story, “a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history.” In the nineteen-fifties and early sixties, the Army Corps of Engineers—the same Army Corps now approving the pipeline—built five large dams along the Missouri, forcing Indian villages to relocate. More than two hundred thousand acres disappeared beneath the water.
Sioux history, and Native American history, is filled with one massacre and battle after another. Most of us have never heard of some of those encounters—the Whitestone, or Inyan Ska, massacre, for instance, not far from the present encampment, where at least three hundred Sioux lost their lives when Brigadier General Alfred Sully attacked men, women, and children feasting after a buffalo hunt. Some we do remember, albeit differently: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 11:51 am

OPM was a cheapskate on cybersecurity, and they got what they paid for: very little security.

leave a comment »

Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:

The Federal agency that stored, and lost, millions of current and former government employees’ sensitive files, fingerprints, and security clearances spent only a small fraction of what other federal agencies allocated for cybersecurity, according to a new report published by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday.

The Office of Personnel Management breach, announced last June, involved the personal data of over 20 million individuals and was described by a former NSA senior official as “crown-jewels material.” The report was the conclusion of a year-long investigation following the breach.

The personnel agency spent just $2 million in 2015 to prevent malicious cyber activity, while the Department of Agriculture doled out $39 million. The departments of Commerce, Education, and Labor also spent more in this area. Among the categories of cybersecurity spending delineated by the committee — preventing malicious cyber activity, detecting, analyzing, and mitigating intrusions, and shaping the cybersecurity environment — only the Small Business Administration spent as little as OPM (although Small Business Administration spent more overall on cybersecurity).

OPM responded by saying the report does not actively reflect the progress the agency has made since the hack, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, insisted the report was flawed, in part because it failed to place blame on or otherwise account for the contractors involved in the agency’s cybersecurity. Additionally, an entirely new agency, the National Background Investigations Bureau, will now be in charge of the security clearance process.

More money doesn’t necessarily mean better security, however. According toanalysis from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University published in January 2015, the government invested more money in cybersecurity, but failed to stem the increasing flow of cyber breaches.

Yet for an agency tasked with protecting sensitive personnel data, it didn’t appear to invest much in making sure adversaries couldn’t access its databases. The breach, according to many national security officials, will take years to recover from. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 11:20 am

The Trump University bribe to get the Florida Attorney General to drop the case

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum posted a useful timeline:

Ladies and gentlemen, here is a timeline of events for your consideration. All of these events took place in 2013:

Late August: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi calls Donald Trump to ask for a donation to her reelection campaign.

September 10: In an unusual show of interest in a down-ballot race in Florida, Ivanka Trump donates $500 to Bondi. Apparently that’s insultingly small.

September 13: Bondi tells the Orlando Sentinel that her office is “currently reviewing the allegations” that Trump University has defrauded its students.

September 17: The Trump Foundation makes a $25,000 contribution to a PAC backing Bondi.

October 15: The Florida Attorney General’s office backtracks, telling the Orlando Sentinel there was never any consideration of joining the lawsuit against Trump U because they had received only one complaint during the time Bondi was in office. This was untrue: the AG’s office had received a couple dozen complaints, but had weeded them out so they could say there was only one.

There have been an endless number of stories about “clouds” and “suspicions” and “questions raised” regarding donations to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. So far, though, there’s nothing even close to a smoking gun. Quite the opposite: the evidence so far suggests very strongly that nobody ever got anything for contributing to the Foundation.

But here we have a case that’s a mere hair’s breadth away from a smoking gun. There’s only the slightest wiggle room for believing that the events in Florida are all just a big coincidence. Maybe they deserve a little bit more front-page attention?

John Cassidy in the New Yorker discusses this case in greater detail:

If news cycles were driven by issues of import, rather than what’s new, Trump University, the scandal-plagued learning annex which promised to teach its students Donald Trump’s secrets of how to get rich in real estate, would never leave the front pages and home pages of American media outlets. As I noted in a June post that was based on court documents, even some of Trump University’s own employees regarded it as giant ripoff.  The idea that the proprietor, and principal promoter, of such an enterprise could end up in the Oval Office is absurd on its face.

In California, three lawsuits filed by aggrieved former Trump University attendees, some of whom spent many thousands of dollars on courses, are still working their way through the court system. Another case, which was brought by Eric Schneiderman, New York’s Attorney General, is also pending. What brought the story back into the spotlight recently was a story by the WashingtonPost’s David Fahrenthold.

Late last week, Fahrenthold reported that Trump had earlier this year paid a twenty-five-hundred-dollar penalty to the Internal Revenue Service for violating tax laws. The penalty stemmed from a donation Trump’s charitable foundation made in September, 2013, a twenty-five-thousand-dollar payment to a political group supporting the reëlection of Pam Bondi, the Attorney General of Florida. When Trump’s charity made the donation, Bondi, a Republican who took office in 2011, was deciding whether to launch a formal investigation into Trump University, following complaints by Florida residents who claimed that they had been bilked. Shortly after Trump’s charity made the donation, Bondi announced that she wouldn’t go ahead with the probe of Trump University. In 2014, she was reëlected.

In a saner country, it would be a crime for a businessman to make a large contribution to an elected law-enforcement officer whose office was looking into his dealings. Thanks to our nutty campaign-finance laws, Trump was perfectly within his rights to send twenty-five thousand dollars to the pro-Bondi group—which went by the name And Justice for All—or so it seems. But it was a violation of tax laws for his charity to make a political contribution—that’s why he had to pay a penalty to the I.R.S. One of Trump’s aides told Fahrenthold that the donation from the Trump charity was the result of a clerical error. The aide said the money should have come from one of Trump’s personal accounts.

Precisely where the money came from within the Trump empire is not the real issue, of course. The question is whether Trump effectively bribed Bondi to back off the investigation. Both parties have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 11:17 am

Mühle R41 goes to auction

leave a comment »

R41 side

This little-used Mühle R41 razor is now up on eBay—little used because it was not my cup of tea. More at the link. BTW, the handle is very nice and would work well with the iKon X3 head. (For me, the X3 is equally efficient but more more forgiving.)

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 9:17 am

Posted in Shaving

Van Yulay’s new Puros de Habana hits it out of the park

with 3 comments

SOTD 2016-09-08

I tried a sample of Puros de Habana a while back, and the fragrance was “meh.” Today’s sample—and she has indeed revised the formula—had a very authentic fine-Cuban-cigar smell, at least to my nose and as I recall. The lather was exceptional in general, but not exceptional for Van Yulay soaps, all of which seem to lather extremely well.

I used my usual technique: start with a damp brush and add small amounts of water during loading, working each increment of water into the brush before adding the next. Very slick and creamy lather, and with a wonderful cigar aroma.

The Wee Scot holds plenty of lather for multiple passes. I did but three, and the Baby Smooth will never be sold: what a wonderful razor it is. I think some of its magic comes from the extreme curvature of the blade, presenting the edge at an ideal angle.

Three passes, BBS result, and a splash of Chiseled Face Tradewinds, whose fragrance I like a lot.

A great shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 8:57 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: