Later On

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

Archive for September 12th, 2016

Chili discovery: Beef, not pork

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I like to make chili, a primitive sort of dish for which the butchering/carving instructions are “cut the meat into small pieces.” I use my own mix of spices, with emphasis on ground ancho peppers, ground cumin, smoked paprika, Mexican oregano (lots), and thyme. Unsweetened 100% cacao chocolate and finely-ground coffee are among the ingreidents.

At any rate, I made one recently using both pork and beef, and it revealed that, really, beef is the only good choice. I buy boneless chuck roasts, ideally with a good strip of fat, and cut it by hand into little chunks. Besides the tomatoes I also add 2 Tbsp vinegar (red-wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, usually) to up the acidity.

It makes quite a tasty chili. I also use tomatillos and green peppers. And onion, lots of onion: most recently a mix of scallions, shallots, and red onion, along with garlic. And I add 1.5 Tbsp liquid smoke, and about the same for soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 8:57 pm

My God! Another awesome Jennifer Rubin column.

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I’m becoming a fan, of all things. She writes:

Donald Trump’s contempt for American values and human rights is one of many reasons to oppose his candidacy and to reflect on the noxious influence of the right-wing media, which confuses despotism with strength, and military strength with barbarism. Criticism of the Obama administration’s feckless foreign policy — which we have frequently voiced — does not require support for war crimes. This seems to have eluded the Trumpkins, who instead adopt shameful positions that are in every sense un-American.

Donald Trump and his advisers’ infatuation with Vladimir Putin is well known. Trump seems not to know or care that Putin has invaded Ukraine and Georgia, continues to have his troops occupy parts of both, represses gays and political opponents, is linked to the murder of numerous journalists, and operates an economy for the benefit of himself and his oligarchs. But what about those who should know better?

Hugh Hewitt argues: “Putin’s an evil man. POTUS a good but incompetent man. Putin has served his country’s national interest better.” Really!? It’s in Russia’s interest to repress civil rights, have a Third World economy, lack a non-corrupt judicial system, shoot down a civilian airliner, jail dissidents, become an international scofflaw, etc.? The praise of an “evil” man is indicative of the moral confusion that has overtaken many on the right. A freshman philosophy student learns that an evil man does not advance his country’s interests (See: European despots of the 1930s).

As a practical matter, Russia is a basket case under Putin. James Pethokoukis cites the Index of Economic Freedom:

Russia’s prospects for long-term, diversified, sustainable economic growth remain bleak. There is no efficiently functioning legal framework, and government continues to interfere in the private sector through myriad state-owned enterprises. Corruption pervades the economy and continues to erode trust in the government. … Progress with market-oriented reforms has been uneven and often reversed at the urging of those with an interest in maintaining the status quo. Increasing inflationary pressure poses a major risk to overall macroeconomic stability. Large state-owned institutions have increased their domination of the financial sector at the expense of private domestic and foreign banks.

Oh, and the Russian economy shrank 5 percent since 2013, and life expectancy is 70.4 years, “#153 on the global league tables, by the way, a sweet spot just below Bangladesh and above North Korea.” No, Trump and more-educated defenders are bizarrely wrong. Putin has not been good for Russia. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Here’s a Cautionary Tale of Pension Privatization From Chile

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There are still people/businesses trying to privatize Social Security. Kevin Drum writes:

Among free-market fans, Chile’s privatized pension plan has long been held up as a model for us to follow. The problem, as the Financial Times notes today, is that it’s performed pretty dismally. Daniel Gross suggests that it was all well-intentioned, but for some reason just didn’t work out:

There’s one thing Gross and I agree about: net returns of 3 percent during the booming market of the past 35 years is indeed a disaster. It’s the “just turned out” part that deserves closer scrutiny. Sadly, I can’t read Spanish and therefore can’t inspect theprimary source for this debacle, but there’s no way that management fees indistinguishable from highway robbery just happened to happen. This may not be corruption in the sense of fund managers embezzling trillions of pesos for hookers and blow, but it’s certainly corruption in the more refined sense of deliberately allowing the financial sector to enrich itself at the expense of workers who are required to give them their money.

Why is this becoming a big issue now? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 6:54 pm

Legal Victory Overturns Federal Plan To Open 1 Million Acres Of California Public Land To Drilling, Fracking

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It’s very pleasant to read some good news, but do keep in mind that the memeplex known as a corporation views this only as a setback and will keep up the pressure until it succeeds or dies: the drive to increase profits is fundamental to its life.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 6:40 pm

Mutant cattle show exactly what’s wrong with the meat industry

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Wow. Just read and view.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 6:35 pm

Texas: A state to avoid

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Texas has many wonderful people as inhabitants, but the Texas government is backward and uninterested in furthering the common welfare. Brian Rosenthal reports in the Houston Chronicle on how Texas kicks special needs kids to the curb:

During the first week of school at Shadow Forest Elementary, a frail kindergartner named Roanin Walker had a meltdown at recess. Overwhelmed by the shrieking and giggling, he hid by the swings and then tried to escape the playground, hitting a classmate and biting a teacher before being restrained.

The principal called Roanin’s mother.

“There’s been an incident.”

Heidi Walker was frightened, but as she hurried to the Humble school that day in 2014, she felt strangely relieved.

She had warned school administrators months earlier that her 5-year-old had been diagnosed with a disability similar to autism. Now they would understand, she thought. Surely they would give him the therapy and counseling he needed.

Walker knew the law was on her side. Since 1975, Congress has required public schools in the United States to provide specialized education services to all eligible children with any type of disability.

But what she didn’t know is that in Texas, unelected state officials have quietly devised a system that has kept thousands of disabled kids like Roanin out of special education.

Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services — 8.5 percent — and since then they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids.

Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

More than a dozen teachers and administrators from across the state told the Chronicle they have delayed or denied special education to disabled students in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark. They revealed a variety of methods, from putting kids into a cheaper alternative program known as “Section 504” to persuading parents to pull their children out of public school altogether.

“We were basically told in a staff meeting that we needed to lower the number of kids in special ed at all costs,” said Jamie Womack Williams, who taught in the Tyler Independent School District until 2010. “It was all a numbers game.”

Texas is the only state that has ever set a target for special education enrollment, records show.

It has been remarkably effective.

In the years since its implementation, the rate of Texas kids receiving special education has plummeted from near the national average of 13 percent to the lowest in the country — by far.

During the first week of school at Shadow Forest Elementary, a frail kindergartner named Roanin Walker had a meltdown at recess. Overwhelmed by the shrieking and giggling, he hid by the swings and then tried to escape the playground, hitting a classmate and biting a teacher before being restrained.

The principal called Roanin’s mother.

“There’s been an incident.”

Heidi Walker was frightened, but as she hurried to the Humble school that day in 2014, she felt strangely relieved.

She had warned school administrators months earlier that her 5-year-old had been diagnosed with a disability similar to autism. Now they would understand, she thought. Surely they would give him the therapy and counseling he needed.

Walker knew the law was on her side. Since 1975, Congress has required public schools in the United States to provide specialized education services to all eligible children with any type of disability.

But what she didn’t know is that in Texas, unelected state officials have quietly devised a system that has kept thousands of disabled kids like Roanin out of special education.

Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services — 8.5 percent — and since then they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids.

Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

More than a dozen teachers and administrators from across the state told the Chronicle they have delayed or denied special education to disabled students in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark. They revealed a variety of methods, from putting kids into a cheaper alternative program known as “Section 504” to persuading parents to pull their children out of public school altogether.

“We were basically told in a staff meeting that we needed to lower the number of kids in special ed at all costs,” said Jamie Womack Williams, who taught in the Tyler Independent School District until 2010. “It was all a numbers game.”

Texas is the only state that has ever set a target for special education enrollment, records show.

It has been remarkably effective.

In the years since its implementation, the rate of Texas kids receiving special education has plummeted from near the national average of 13 percent to the lowest in the country — by far. . . .

Continue reading.

Bottom line: Stay away from Texas.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 5:48 pm

Cellphones vs. Education

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Joelle Renstrom writes in Aeon:

ave a rule about cellphones in class: if one disrupts us by ringing, vibrating or sounding an alarm, the owner has to sing a song or bust some dance moves in front of the class. At first, this provision in the syllabus elicits snickers, but it’s no laughing matter. You need to be able to turn off your phones and pay attention, I say. On the first day of class, they shut off their phones. But it doesn’t stay that way.

While my students – undergraduates at Boston University who are taking classes on writing and research – agree that there’s a problem if they can’t go 50 minutes without checking their phones, few of them can resist, despite knowing that this is my biggest pet peeve. A University of Nebraska-Lincolnstudy indicates that 80 per cent of college students send text messages during class. Nearly 100 per cent of them text before and after class. In the minutes before class – the ones I used to spend shooting the breeze with students about TV shows, sports or what they did over the weekend – we now sit in technologically-induced silence. Students rarely even talk to each other anymore. Gone are the days when they gabbed about the impossible chemistry midterm they just took or the quality of the food at the dining halls. Around the 30-minute mark in class, their hands inch toward their backpacks or into their pockets, fingers feeling around for the buttons as though their mere shape offers comfort. When I end class, they whip out their phones with a collective sigh of relief, as though they’ve all just been allowed to go to the bathroom after having to hold it all day.

Even when my students stash their cellphones, my classes look like an Apple commercial – faces hide behind screens embossed with the same famous fruit. I have no delusions that they’re taking notes for class or referencing that day’s reading. A University of Waterloo professor who put a postgraduate at the back of his lecture hall to observe his students learned that 85 per cent of them did something unrelated to class on their laptops; a Cornell University study confirms that most students engage in ‘high-tech “doodling”’ and communication during class. One might think that the whopping $65,000 cost of attending Boston University for a year would provide ample reason to maintain focus during class, but one would be wrong.

Even students who take notes on their laptops miss out. A study from Princeton University shows that we process information better when taking notes by hand because writing is slower than typing (an argument often spun in favour of laptops), which helps students learn and retain the material. Similarly, people better comprehend what they’re reading if it’s on paper rather than on the screen. In a study from the University of Stavanger in Norway, readers on Kindle struggled to remember plot details in comparison with those who read printed books, perhaps because the physical act of turning the pages helps our memories encode the words.Another study revealed comprehension loss for subjects reading PDF versions of texts. Such findings have caused professors to ban computers in the classroom, which is something I used to do but can’t any more.

An increasing number of students present me with documentation from the student disabilities office that entitles them to use a laptop to take notes. If students see a few classmates with laptops, they inevitably start using theirs too. I can’t tell them that only a couple people are sanctioned to use the computers because of learning or cognitive difficulties without infringing on the students’ privacy, so I try instead to encourage students to take notes by hand and I ask to see their faces, not their Apples.

In an effort to save my students exorbitant coursepack fees, I used to photocopy course readings. But when my department clamped down on copier use, I scanned the articles and put them online, which meant I had to allow students to open their laptops during discussions. On the one hand, they’re adults – if they want to go to shop for shoes on the Zappos website or look at celebrities’ Instagram accounts during class, they’ll have to deal with the consequences. But our discussions suffer, which makes my job harder. When reading on screens, students don’t annotate or reread. They get glassy-eyed, zone out, and then struggle to find quotes they only vaguely remember when it comes time to write the paper. The endless opportunities for distraction also mean that they miss other aspects of class, including important instructions.

That’s when they come to me and we have some version of the following conversation:

Student: ‘I have no idea what’s going on.’

Me: ‘What do you mean “no idea”? The assignment sheet details all the requirements, we’ve reviewed them in class, and we’ve read example essays. What exactly are you having trouble understanding?’

Student: ‘I don’t know… everything?’

I used to jump to the conclusion that students with whom I had such interactions were inherently flawed, academic lost causes. But that’s a reductive explanation, and doesn’t get at the heart of the problem; it’s not just that they have trouble paying attention or are distracted by their phones or laptops in the classroom. The problem is their use of technology in general. Technology demands a significant amount of time and attention and has conditioned them to not question it. It takes up more and more of their bandwidth, and the net effect is lobotomising.

onsumed by technology that they cannot bear to disable or ignore, my students lose awareness of what’s going on around them. They don’t know what they’ve missed – often, they don’t know that they’ve missed anything. They’re still accountable for it, but such mindlessness has become an epidemic: a study from the Ohio State University found that walking while texting has caused a significant rise in injuries. In Chongqing in China, sidewalks contain a special lane for people who can’t be bothered to look up from their phones. And in the German city of Augsburg, there are traffic signals on the ground for people who would otherwise endanger themselves by failing to notice red lights.

Part of the reason people can’t seem to look up from their phones is that we’ve convinced ourselves we’re multitasking, rather than failing to focus (like the way I toggle between various browser tabs and apps even as I write this). A California State University study monitored middle-, high-school and college students who had been instructed to research something important for 15 minutes. Two minutes in, students’ focus started to wane as they checked messages, texts and various websites. The average student lasted six minutes before caving to the temptation to engage in social media. Despite being watched, students spent only approximately 65 per cent of the allotted time studying. Given that most students spend far longer than 15 minutes trying to do coursework, it’s easy to see how little gets done, and how checking messages or opening up another browser tab would be increasingly difficult to resist, especially if we tell ourselves it’s related to work or study. . .

Continue reading.

I actually have been pondering this general phenomenon—how cellphone messaging, laptop computers, and the like are changing human culture. I was thinking that people in general no longer seem able to immerse themselves in a long novel, losing track of time because they are so involved with the story. I imagine that few today read (say) War and Peace and the reason is simply its length and the amount of time it takes.

Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about the difference between “urgent” and “important.” Some important things are indeed urgent, but many urgent things are not. If your phone is ringing, then there is a sense or urgency—you must take the call—but often the call is not important. But those urgent unimportant can crowd out the non-urgent important: the very things that pay off over time. (You can download a brief outline (PDF) of the book, but I highly recommend that in addition you read the book itself.)

The situation seems easier to understand if you look at it as the evolution of memes in response to natural selection. Success for a meme means that it propagates widely and exploits its environment (our attention) better than competing memes. The Internet is a rich environment for memes—they can easily and quickly be passed from person to person and they can evolve quickly. Moreover, by demanding our time and attention they crowd out memes that do not capture out time and attention so well: a dozen text messages every hour or two pretty much triumphs over War and Peace in terms of one’s attention.

I have fairly often recommended Susan Blackmore’s book The Meme Machine (and it is available as a Kindle edition, though some of the secondhand copies at the title link cost less).

Read that and think about what you see our current cultural life in terms of the struggle of memes to survive and you’ll see how quickly memes evolve. And memes evolve to ensure their own survival: what happens to their (human) hosts is not so important—cf. Richard Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 5:13 pm

Trump’s dishonesty in charitable giving

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Trump is amazingly dishonest and little more than a scam artist—in fact, he pretty much is a scam artist. The Washington Post has been trying to confirm his charitable contributions. David Fahrenthold reports:

Donald Trump’s charity is not like other charities.

For one thing — as The Washington Post explained Sunday — the money in the Donald J. Trump Foundation does not come from Trump himself. Tax records show that Trump hasn’t donated any money to his foundation since 2008. Instead, he has retooled his personal charity so that it gives away other people’s money — although Trump has kept his name on the foundation, and atop its checks.

For another, the Trump Foundation seems to have repeatedly defied the Internal Revenue Service rules that govern nonprofits. It gave a prohibited political gift to help Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi (R). It appears to have bought items for Trump — including a $12,000 football helmet and a $20,000 portrait of Trump — despite IRS rules against “self-dealing” by charity leaders.

And, in at least five cases, the Trump Foundation may have reported making a donation that didn’t seem to exist.

These five cases turned up in The Post’s reporting, which looked at 24 years of tax filings and reached out to more than 200 people and groups listed in those filings as donors or recipients of gifts.

Five times, the Trump Foundation’s tax filings described giving a specific amount of money to a specific charity — in some cases, even including the recipient’s address. But when The Post called, the charities listed said the tax filings appeared wrong. They’d never received anything from Trump or his foundation.

The Post asked Trump’s staff to explain these five apparent errors.

It has explained one.

Regarding that one (No. 5 on the list below), the Trump organization’s explanation showed something very unusual. The incorrect gift had been listed on the Trump Foundation’s tax filings in a way that served to hide a real gift — the improper donation to Bondi’s group — from the IRS. Trump’s staffers say there was no intent to mislead: The improper gift was left off, and the false gift was added, by accident.

It’s still unclear how the four other apparent errors arose.

We post them here, in case somebody out there knows more of the story than we do.

INCORRECT LISTING 1): A $10,000 gift to the Giving Back Fund in 2008.

The Giving Back Fund is a Los Angeles-based charity that serves as an umbrella group for smaller charities run by actors and celebrities. Marc Pollick, the group’s president and founder, said the group had searched its donor files and found no evidence of this gift. “We have already reached out to the Trump Foundation to ask them to actually SEND us the $10,000 that they claimed they sent in 2008!” he wrote in an email.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for an explanation of this gift.

The Trump Foundation’s accountants — the firm WeiserMazars — declined to comment about this gift, and all the others, citing company policy.

2.) A $5,000 gift to the Children’s Medical Center in Omaha in 2010.

“Children’s Hospital & Medical Center’s Foundation does not have a gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation or Donald Trump in its records,” said Sarah Weller, a spokeswoman for the medical center.

Weller suggested that the Trump Foundation may have sent the money to another children’s hospital, in another city. But the foundation’s tax returns had the right address for the one in Omaha, down to the suite number.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for an explanation of this gift.

3.) A $10,000 gift to the Latino Commission on AIDS in 2012.

This was one of the gifts that Trump promised on air during a taping of “The Celebrity Apprentice.” During an episode in 2012, contestant Dayana Mendoza — a former Miss Universe — was there when Trump made a sweeping promise. “I’m gonna give $10,000 each to each one of you, everybody sitting at this table, for your charity,” he said.Five other contestants were at the table. The Trump Foundation sent $10,000 to each of their charities. This was typical for the show: Although Trump often made seemingly heartfelt promises to donate his own money, it seems that he never did so. Instead, the donations were made by a production company, or by Trump’s foundation — by then, filled with other people’s money.

The Trump Foundation told the IRS that it also had given $10,000 to Mendoza’s charity, the Latino Commission on AIDS.

But the money didn’t arrive. “No … donations of any kind from Donald Trump or the Donald J. Trump Foundation were received,” said Daniel Leyva, at the commission.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for an explanation of this gift.

4.) A $1,000 gift to Friends of Veterans in 2013. . .

Continue reading.

This is at a grade-school level of deception: “Don’t do it but say that you did.”

What a putz.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Philanthropy

West Virginia cop fired for not killing a man with an unloaded gun

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Radley Balko points to a story that shows that a police department can be tough on holding police accountable, firing an officer for failing to kill a man:

We’ve tracked countless cases here where cops were able to keep their jobs after killing unarmed people, killing people after responding to the wrong house, killing people and then lying about it . . . the list goes on.

Give the Weirton, W.Va., police chief some credit. He’s come up with a new spin on the the same problem. He just fired a cop for not killing someone.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

After responding to a report of a domestic incident on May 6 in Weirton, W.Va., then-Weirton police officer Stephen Mader found himself confronting an armed man.

Immediately, the training he had undergone as a Marine to look at “the whole person” in deciding if someone was a terrorist, as well as his situational police academy training, kicked in and he did not shoot.

“I saw then he had a gun, but it was not pointed at me,” Mr. Mader recalled, noting the silver handgun was in the man’s right hand, hanging at his side and pointed at the ground.

Mr. Mader, who was standing behind Mr. Williams’ car parked on the street, said he then “began to use my calm voice.”

“I told him, ‘Put down the gun,’ and he’s like, ‘Just shoot me.’ And I told him, ‘I’m not going to shoot you brother.’ Then he starts flicking his wrist to get me to react to it.

“I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate it. I knew it was a suicide-by-cop” situation.

Mader was responding to a 911 call from Williams’s girlfriend. In that call, she told police that Williams was threatening to kill himself, not anyone else.

What Mader did upon arriving at the scene is a hell of a lot braver course of action than simply opening fire when the suspect doesn’t immediately disarm. What Mader did is in fact exactly what we want cops to do when someone is in crisis. It’s also precisely what law enforcement officers say they do on a daily basis — put themselves at risk in order to save lives. Mader should have been given a medal. Unfortunately, two more cops then showed up, and quickly shot Williams dead.

As it turns out, Williams’s gun wasn’t loaded. There’s no way any of the police officers could have known that. But it does show that Mader had read Williams correctly — he wasn’t actually a threat to anyone but himself. His life could have been saved.

The Weirton police department then refused to name Williams for three days and assigned an investigator to look into the shooting . . . who then promptly left for a weeklong vacation. Then came the punchline.

Mr. Mader — speaking publicly about this case for the first time — said that when he tried to return to work on May 17, following normal protocol for taking time off after an officer-involved shooting, he was told to go see Weirton Police Chief Rob Alexander.

In a meeting with the chief and City Manager Travis Blosser, Mr. Mader said Chief Alexander told him: “We’re putting you on administrative leave and we’re going to do an investigation to see if you are going to be an officer here. You put two other officers in danger.”

Mr. Mader said that “right then I said to him: ‘Look, I didn’t shoot him because he said, ‘Just shoot me.’ ”

On June 7, a Weirton officer delivered him a notice of termination letter dated June 6, which said by not shooting Mr. Williams he “failed to eliminate a threat.”

The city mentioned two other incidents in firing Mader, but it seems clear that his failure to kill Williams was the motivation for his termination. Even the rare cop who gets fired often gets to keep his pension. Mader won’t be getting one.

After he received his termination notice, Mr. Mader sought attorneys to help him fight the city. He was told because he was still a probationary employee in an “at-will” state, he could be fired for any reason and there was no point in fighting the city.

One attorney told him the best he could hope for was to ask to resign instead of being terminated.

“But I told [the attorney] ‘Look, I don’t want to admit guilt. I’ll take the termination instead of the resignation because I didn’t do anything wrong,’ ” Mr. Mader said. “To resign and admit I did something wrong here would have ate at me. I think I’m right in what I did. I’ll take it to the grave.”

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran an article about the longstanding problem in which even the rare bad cops who do get fired are often able to quickly find work at another policy agency.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

US Gillette Aristocrat goes to auction

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Aristocrat side

This open-comb Aristocrat is up for auction on eBay. The plating on the cap is worn, and if you buy you might want to look into having it replated. It shaves well.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Shaving

Facebook Is Collaborating With the Israeli Government to Determine What Should Be Censored

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

Last week, a major censorship controversy erupted when Facebook began deleting all posts containing the iconic photograph of the Vietnamese “Napalm Girl” on the ground that it violated the company’s ban on “child nudity.” Facebook even deleted a post from the prime minister of Norway, who posted the photograph in protest of the censorship. As outrage spread, Facebook ultimately reversed itself — acknowledging “the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time” — but this episode illustrated many of the dangers I’ve previously highlighted in having private tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google become the arbiters of what we can and cannot see.

Having just resolved that censorship effort, Facebook seems to be vigorously courting another. The Associated Press reports today from Jerusalem that “the Israeli government and Facebook have agreed to work together to determine how to tackle incitement on the social media network.” These meetings are taking place “as the government pushes ahead with legislative steps meant to force social networks to rein in content that Israel says incites violence.” In other words, Israel is about to legislatively force Facebook to censor content deemed by Israeli officials to be improper, and Facebook appears eager to appease those threats by working directly with the Israeli government to determine what content should be censored.

The joint Facebook-Israel censorship efforts, needless to say, will be directed at Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians who oppose Israeli occupation. The AP article makes that clear: “Israel has argued that a wave of violence with the Palestinians over the past year has been fueled by incitement, much of it spread on social media sites.” As Alex Kane reported in The Intercept in June, Israel has begun actively surveilling Palestinians for the content of their Facebook posts and even arresting some for clear political speech. Israel’s obsession with controlling Palestinians’ use of social media is motivated by the way it has enabled political organizing by occupation opponents; as Kane wrote: “A demonstration against the Israeli occupation can be organized in a matter of hours, while the monitoring of Palestinians is made easier by the large digital footprint they leave on their laptops and mobile phones.”

Notably, Israel was represented in this meeting with Facebook by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, an extremist by all measures who has previously said she does not believe in a Palestinian state. Shaked has “proposed legislation that seeks to force social networks to remove content that Israel considers to be incitement,” and recently boasted that Facebook is already extremely compliant with Israeli censorship demands: “Over the past four months Israel submitted 158 requests to Facebook to remove inciting content,” she said, and Facebook has accepted those requests in 95 percent of the cases.

All of this underscores the severe dangers of having our public discourse overtaken, regulated, and controlled by a tiny number of unaccountable tech giants. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 2:39 pm

Intimations of a police state: Local departments build up their own DNA databases

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Lauren Kirchner reports in ProPublica:

The five teenage boys were sitting in a parked car in a gated community in Melbourne, Florida, when a police officer pulled up behind them.

Officer Justin Valutsky closed one of the rear doors, which had been ajar, and told them to stay in the car. He peered into the drivers’ side window of the white Hyundai SUV and asked what the teens were doing there. It was a Saturday night in March 2015 and they told Valutsky they were visiting a friend for a sleepover.

Valutsky told them there had been a string of car break-ins recently in the area. Then, after questioning them some more, he made an unexpected demand: He asked which one of them wanted to give him a DNA sample.

After a long pause, Adam, a slight 15-year-old with curly hair and braces, said, “Okay, I guess I’ll do it.” Valutsky showed Adam how to rub a long cotton swab around the inside of his cheek, then gave him a consent form to sign and took his thumbprint. He sealed Adam’s swab in an envelope. Then he let the boys go.

Telling the story later, Adam would say of the officer’s request, “I thought it meant we had to.”

Over the last decade, collecting DNA from people who are not charged with — or even suspected of — any particular crime has become an increasingly routine practice for police in smaller cities not only in Florida, but in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and North Carolina as well.

While the largest cities typically operate public labs and feed DNA samples into the FBI’s national database, cities like Melbourne have assembled databases of their own, often in partnership with private labs that offer such fast, cheap testing that police can afford to amass DNA even to investigate minor crimes, from burglary to vandalism.

And to compile samples for comparison, some jurisdictions also have quietly begun asking people to turn over DNA voluntarily during traffic stops, or even during what amount to chance encounters with police. In Melbourne, riding a bike at night without two functioning lights can lead to DNA swab — even if the rider is a minor.

“In Florida law, basically, if we can ask consent, and if they give it, we can obtain it,” said Cmdr. Heath Sanders, the head of investigations at the Melbourne Police Department. “We’re not going to be walking down the street and asking a five-year-old to stick out his tongue. That’s just not reasonable. But’s let’s say a kid’s 15, 16 years old, we can ask for consent without the parents.”

In Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, those stopped for DUI or on the street for acting suspiciously may be asked for DNA. Director of Public Safety Frederick Harran credits the burgeoning DNA database Bensalem now shares with Bucks County’s 38 other police departments with cutting burglaries in the township by 42 percent in the first four years of the program. Plus, Bensalem pays for the testing — which is conducted by a leading private lab, Bode Cellmark Forensics — with drug forfeiture money, making it essentially free, Harran added.

“This has probably been the greatest innovation in local law enforcement since the bulletproof vest,” Harran said. “It stops crime in its tracks…. So why everyone’s not doing it, I don’t know.”

While Harran tells his officers to be careful not to push people to consent, civil rights advocates see a minefield in cases that morph from stop-and-frisk to stop-and-spit. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 2:29 pm

Sugar industry secretly bought favorable Harvard research

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Businesses like science only to the extent that science increases profits. If science has a negative impact on profits, then science must go. Businesses are fortunate in that it seems easy to find scientists who, like those at Harvard, will make experiments produce whatever findings a business wants, provided the remuneration is suitable. Melissa Bailey reports in Stat:

s nutrition debates raged in the 1960s, prominent Harvard nutritionists published two reviews in a top medical journal downplaying the role of sugar in coronary heart disease. Newly unearthed documents reveal what they didn’t say: A sugar industry trade group initiated and paid for the studies, examined drafts, and laid out a clear objective to protect sugar’s reputation in the public eye.

That revelation, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, comes from Dr. Cristin Kearns at the University of California, San Francisco, a dentist-turned-researcher who found the sugar industry’s fingerprints while digging through boxes of letters in the basement of a Harvard library.

Her paper recounts how two famous Harvard nutritionists, Dr. Fredrick Stare and Mark Hegsted, who are now deceased, worked closely with a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, which was trying to influence public understanding of sugar’s role in disease.

The trade group solicited Hegsted, a professor of nutrition at Harvard’s public health school, to write a literature review aimed at countering early research linking sucrose to coronary heart disease. The group paid the equivalent of $48,000 in 2016 dollars to Hegsted and colleague Dr. Robert McGandy, though the researchers never publicly disclosed that funding source, Kearns found.

Hegsted and Stare tore apart studies that implicated sugar and concluded that there was only one dietary modification — changing fat and cholesterol intake — that could prevent coronary heart disease. Their reviews were published in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which back then did not require researchers to disclose conflicts of interest.

That was an era when researchers were battling over which dietary culprit — sugar or fat — was contributing to the deaths of many Americans, especially men, from coronary heart disease, the buildup of plaque in arteries of the heart. Kearns said the papers, which the trade group later cited in pamphlets provided to policymakers, aided the industry’s plan to increase sugar’s market share by convincing Americans to eat a low-fat diet.

Nearly 50 years later, some nutritionists consider sugar a risk factor for coronary heart disease, though there’s no consensus. Having two major reviews published in an influential journal “helped shift the emphasis of the discussion away from sugar onto fat,” said Stanton Glantz, Kearns’s coauthor and her advisor at UCSF. “By doing that, it delayed the development of a scientific consensus on sugar-heart disease for decades.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Later in the article:

. . . Letters show the scientist communicating with his funder not just at the outset, but while writing the review, Kearns found. In April 1966, Hegsted wrote to the sugar trade group to report that his review had been delayed because researchers in Iowa had produced new evidence linking sugar to coronary heart disease. “Every time the Iowa group publishes a paper we have to rework a section in rebuttal,” Hegsted wrote. . .

Hickson got a final draft a few days before Hegsted intended to submit it for publication. The funder was happy: “Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print,” Hickson wrote.

When the papers were published the following year, authors disclosed other industry funding, but made no mention of the Sugar Research Foundation.

Hegsted’s reviews examined a wide range of research. He downplayed and dismissed papers that argued that sugar was a cause of coronary artery disease. He found merit only in those that saw fat and cholesterol as a culprit.

Glantz, Kearns’s coauthor, said the major problem with the review is that it was not even-handed: In the cases where sugar was implicated, Hegsted and colleagues dismissed entire classes of epidemiological evidence. But they didn’t hold studies that implicate fat to the same standard, Glantz said. . .

See also the Vox article, “How the sugar industry has distorted health science for more than 50 years.”

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 2:09 pm

Is the mind just an accident of the universe?

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Godehard Brüntrup and Ludwig Jaskolla write in the OUP Blog:

The traditional view puts forward the idea that the vast majority of what there is in the universe is mindless. Panpsychism however claims that mental features are ubiquitous in the cosmos. In a recent opinion piece for “Scientific American” entitled “Is Consciousness Universal?” (2014), neuroscientist Christof Koch explains how his support of panpsychism is greeted by incredulous stares–in particular when asserting that panpsychism might be the perfect match for neurobiology (see also his piece for Wired in 2013):

“As a natural scientist, I find a version of panpsychism modified for the 21st century to be the single most elegant and parsimonious explanation for the universe I find myself in. … When I talk and write about panpsychism, I often encounter blank stares of incomprehension.” (Koch, 2014, n.p.)

Yet despite abundant skepticism, in the end of 20th century, panpsychism has seen nothing short of a renaissance in philosophy of mind–a trend which is also beginning to be mirrored in the sciences: Physicist Henry Stapp’s “A Mindful Universe” (2011) embraces a version of panpsychism heavily influenced by the works of Harvard mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.

Panpsychism has a long, albeit unfortunately sometimes forgotten tradition in the history of philosophy. Philosophers including Giordano Bruno, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Teilhard de Chardin, and Alfred North Whitehead have embraced different forms of panpsychism, and indeed the presocratic Thales of Miletus claimed that “soul is interfused throughout the universe” (Aristotle, De Anima, 411a7).

In in his seminal 1979 work “Mortal Questions,” NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel put forth the idea that both reductive materialism and mind-body dualism are unlikely to be successful solutions to the mind-body problem. Specifically, a reductive world-view leaves the mind lacking any purpose, while a dualist conception deprives the non-spatial Cartesian mind of any connection to spatial matter. Additionally, the idea of an emergent mind seems inexplicable, even miraculous; it merely puts a label on something that otherwise remains completely mysterious. Thus some version of panpsychism might be a viable alternative–and may even be the “last man standing.”

Yet it was not until David Chalmers’s groundbreaking “The Conscious Mind” (1996) that debates on panpsychism entered the philosophical mainstream. The field has grown rapidly ever since. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 11:48 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

Pharma Company Funding Anti-Pot Fight Worried About Losing Business, Filings Show

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Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

Pharmaceutical executives who recently made a major donation to an anti-marijuana legalization campaign claimed they were doing so out of concern for the safety of children — but their investor filings reveal that pot poses a direct threat to their plans to cash in on a synthetic cannabis product they have developed.

On August 31, Insys Therapeutics Inc. donated $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, becoming the single largest donor to the group leading the charge to defeat a ballot measure in Arizona to legalize marijuana.

The drug company, which currently markets a fast-acting version of the deadly painkiller fentanyl, assured local news reporters that they had the public interest in mind when making the hefty donation. A spokespersontold the Arizona Republic that Insys opposes the legalization measure, Prop. 205, “because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children.”

A Washington Post story on Friday noted the potential self-interest involved in Insys’s donation.

Investor filings examined by The Intercept confirm the obvious.

Insys is currently developing a product called the Dronabinol Oral Solution, a drug that uses a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to alleviate chemotherapy-caused nausea and vomiting. In an early filing related to the dronabinol drug, assessing market concerns and competition, Insys filed a disclosure statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission stating plainly that legal marijuana is a direct threat to their product line:

Legalization of marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids in the United States could significantly limit the commercial success of any dronabinol product candidate. … If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected.

Insys explains in the filing that dronabinol is “one of a limited number of FDA-approved synthetic cannabinoids in the United States” and “therefore in the United States, dronabinol products do not have to compete with natural cannabis or non-synthetic cannabinoids.”

The company concedes that scientific literature has argued the benefits of marijuana over synthetic dronabinol, and that support for marijuana legalization is growing. In the company’s latest 10-K filing with the SEC, in asection outlining competitive threats, Insys warns that several states “have already enacted laws legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

It’s not the first time pharmaceutical companies have helped bankroll the opposition to marijuana reform. The Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, a nonprofit that organizes anti-marijuana activism across the country, has long received corporate sponsorship from Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, another opioid manufacturer.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 11:13 am

Foreign Spending on U.S. Elections Threatens National Security, FEC Commissioner Says

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Remember when President Obama in a state of the union address mentioned that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision had opened US elections to foreign money, and Justice Samuel Alito ostentatiously mouthed “Not true” at the cameras. He was wrong, either speaking from ignorance or deliberately lying, and now the FEC is issuing serious warnings. Jon Schwarz reports in The Intercept:

Calling foreign influence on U.S. elections “a matter of national security,” FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub is joining her colleague Ann Ravel in calling for the full commission to plug the flow of foreign money into American political campaigns.

In a new memo to her five fellow commissioners, Weintraub writes that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision created “new avenues for corporate political activity would make our democracy vulnerable to foreign individuals, corporations, and governments that seek to manipulate our elections.” Weintraub will ask the full FEC at its meeting on Thursday to begin the process of writing new regulations to deal with Citizens United and foreign money.

Weintraub cites recent reporting by The Intercept on a $1.3 million donation by a U.S. corporation owned by Chinese citizens to a Super PAC backing Jeb Bush as evidence that this is not a “hypothetical” issue. “A person would have to be wearing some very rose-colored glasses,” Weintraub writes, “to think there are not foreign operatives interested in exploiting any vulnerability to influence our elections.”

Her fellow commissioner Ann Ravel called on the FEC to take action in August, in the wake of The Intercept’s story.

The Citizens United decision opened up a peculiar loophole for foreign money. Federal law prohibits “foreign nationals” — a legal term encompassing foreign individuals, corporations and governments — from putting money into the U.S. political process. But federal law also states that any company legally incorporated in the U.S., no matter its ultimate ownership, is a U.S. national.

This was not a significant concern prior to the Citizens United decision, because corporations had been largely barred from spending money on federal elections. By lifting that ban on corporate political donations, Citizens United changed the equation and made it possible for a corporation that is 100 percent owned by foreigners to participate in U.S. politics.

Barack Obama warned in his State of the Union address immediately after the Citizens United ruling that foreign-owned corporations would now be able to “spend without limit in our elections.” Justice Samuel Alito, part of the Citizens United majority, was in the audience and shook his head at Obama’s claim, mouthing “not true.”

The Intercept obtained a memo from Charles Spies, one of the Republican Party’s top campaign finance lawyers, written for a client and showing exactly how to do it.

Weintraub is asking the FEC to direct its counsel to begin the process of creating new regulations to close the Citizens United loophole and prevent corporations with significant foreign ownership from participating in U.S. elections. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 11:10 am

Posted in Election, Law

Donald Trump’s experience regarding 9/11

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Kevin Drum points out how Donald Trump handled 9/11: no real surprises, given Trump’s crass nature, but it’s worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 10:31 am

Not to bury the lede: The Maggard slant is terrific! – Updated

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SOTD 2016-09-12

My prep was good: I started a new bar of MR GLO this morning and enjoyed that. RazoRock’s excellent Zi’ Peppino shaving soap was easily transformed in a highly satisfying slick lather with the Wolf Whiskers brush (which I am going to part with). I took my time working the lather into my stubble before picking up the razor.

I’m using the Maggard slant head ($20, amazing) on their MR11 handle, and it is a good match, though I think any of their handles will do. The head is 31g, and that’s exactly the same weight as an Edwin Jagger head, so you could readily use the Maggard slant head on an Edwin Jagger handle with no change in balance.

The head is coated with a shiny, slick coating in gun-metal gray. It looks very handsome, and the feel of the coating is really nice. I would guess this coating will wear well.

The shave was wonderful. I think this one is as good as any slant I have. I want to do a comparison shave with the X3, but my impression is that it will be a tie in terms of comfort and efficiency, and the X3 has been my favorite slant for a while.

UPDATE: Lately, for some reason, I have been experiencing lots of nicks with this slant. I don’t think my technique has changed, but obviously it must have. I’m now trying different brands of blades, but still have not cracked the code. FWIW, the Fine Superlite and Phoenix Artisan Bakelite slants are also causing me trouble. The Merkur 37C and The Holy Black’s take on it, their SR-71 slant, still work, as does the RazoRock German 37, but I’m finding that the most comfortable and flawless shaves are with the iKon X3 and the iKon 102. (The RazoRock Wunderbar never did work for me: I routinely got a lot of nicks with that and sold it fairly soon.) No idea what’s going on, but my slant recommendations have devolved to the two that work best for me: the iKon 102 and the iKon X3. /update

The head is wide enough to just cover the tabs of the blade (in this case a Personna Lab Blue, a brand I have found works well for me in my slants), and I like that style: like the finish on the head, it seems urbane and polished.

Three passes, an absolutely BBS finish and no nicks or other problems. I’m extremely happy with this slant.

A splash of Zi’ Peppino aftershave, and the week begins.

UPDATE: A commenter notes that he has seen several reports of people having blade alignment problems. I use the method illustrated in this video, and I had no problems at all.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 8:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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