Later On

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

Archive for October 17th, 2016

Start out with half a house and build out as needed

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half-a-house

Jason Kotte blogs:

An architecture firm called Elemental recently completed a disaster relief project in a city in Chile which was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. Rather than build typical public housing (high-rise apartments), the firm built out neighborhoods with the necessary infrastructure and populated them with half-finished houses.

The houses are simple, two-story homes, each with wall that runs down the middle, splitting the house in two. One side of the house is ready to be moved into. The other side is just a frame around empty space, waiting to be built out by the occupant.

That’s from a recent episode of 99% Invisible that covered the trend toward incremental buildings. . . .

Continue reading. And there’s a podcast at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Venida Browder, RIP

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Jennifer Gonnerman writes in the New Yorker:

Venida Browder died on Friday, at age sixty-three, after suffering a heart attack at her home, in the Bronx. She had seven children; her youngest, Kalief, was known as Peanut. After he was charged with a robbery at age sixteen, in the spring of 2010, Venida spent the next three years trying to get him out of jail. Every time he was brought to Bronx State Supreme Court to appear before a judge, Venida was there. He had thirty-one court dates before a judge released him and dismissed the charges against him. “You don’t see a mother showing up that many times,” Kalief’s defense attorney told me. He recalled that she always had the same question for him: “She just wanted to know when he could come home.”

Every week, Venida made the trip to Rikers Island to see Kalief. She would bring him books, magazines, and a stack of fresh clothes, and take home his laundry to wash. “There was a lot of hate and animosity I got from other inmates: ‘Oh, your mom always comes to see you,’ ” Kalief told me, when I interviewed him in 2014. “A lot of guys would call me ‘mama’s boy.’ They tried to tease me, make fun of me.” But Kalief knew the other teen-age boys in his jail were jealous. Most had to hand-wash their clothes in a bucket. Some of their mothers wouldn’t pick up the phone when they called home.
“If not for my mom, I don’t think I would’ve made it,” Kalief told me. For most of his time on Rikers, he was held in solitary confinement. “Imagine being in solitary for all that time with no books, no magazines,” he said. “Or walking around with the same clothes on every day, the same T-shirt, same underwear. I’ve seen people like that. They stink.” When Kalief was finally released from Rikers, he moved back into the two-story brick house where he had grown up. Venida could tell that he had changed—he paced around his bedroom, and talked to himself—and she tried to help him the best she could. But his mental-health problems were too severe. On June 6, 2015, he hanged himself at home from a second-floor window.
In the following months, Venida, who was fairly shy, became much more outspoken. Although she had serious health problems, she travelled to Washington, D.C., in July of 2015 to attend a press conference for “Kalief’s Law,” a bill intended to improve the treatment of young people in prison. . .

Continue reading.

It’s worth noting that Kalief Browder was never convicted and never went to trial. The government just locked him up for three years, mostly in solitary confinement.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 5:05 pm

Men at Forty (a poem by Donald Justice)

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Donald Justice wrote an interesting essay, “Double Solitude,” in a recent New Yorker, probably more interesting to me because when I was living in Cleveland and applied to the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa (then called State University of Iowa, constantly confused with Iowa State University, thus the name change), it was Donald Justice who interviewed me and approved my application.

I’ve always like this poem he wrote, originally published in 1967:

Men at Forty
Donald Justice (b. 1925)

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Writing

The grim details of ISIS’s rule come to light

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James Verini wries in the National Geographic:

The Kurdish soldiers stood on a berm, next to a gunner’s dugout, in a corner of their position. It was one of several forward positions on a front line that ran along the crest of a mountainside and faced west onto the Tigris River Valley. The sun had set on a late summer day—the driest season in Iraq, when land and sky seem to merge. Still, through the thickening dark the soldiers could make out, on the river’s near bank, the lights of the city of Mosul. Though this was a vista they could have described in their sleep—for months these soldiers, who were with thepeshmerga, the army of Iraqi Kurdistan, had surveilled and mapped and discussed every inch—its fascination and menace never dimmed. Everything they looked at belonged to the Islamic State.

The battle for Mosul, long rumored, was finally at hand. An international invasion force had assembled. The Iraqi military had beaten ISIS out of Fallujah and was now fighting its way north toward Mosul. The peshmerga was pushing in from this mountain. U.S. troops were massing, as were Iraqi militias and foreign fighters from Turkey, Iran, and elsewhere.

Inside Mosul there was panic. The United Nations was expecting a humanitarian crisis. More than a million people would be displaced by the battle, it estimated. Civilian casualties would be grievous: ISIS was busy mining streets and booby-trapping buildings. Residents were fleeing the city by any means they could, and this Kurdish position was the terminus of a popular route of escape. Almost every night people scrambled up the mountainside and arrived here with only the clothing on their backs.

Tonight the soldiers were expecting a family of seven. The father, a nurse, had phoned a cousin who lived near the mountain. The cousin had notified the commander. Now cousin and commander stood on the berm together.

The family’s journey would be treacherous. If they were caught by ISIS trying to escape Mosul, they might be jailed, beaten, beheaded, or all three. If they got out of the city, that was only the beginning: Next they would have to get to Fazilia, the village the position overlooked, at the foot of the mountain. ISIS controlled Fazilia and sent up the slope homemade artillery—including, lately, crude chemical missiles—snipers, and suicide bombers. (Recently a pair had gotten to within 50 feet of where the soldiers now stood before blowing themselves up.) If the nurse’s family made it out of Fazilia, they would have to negotiate the mountainside’s boulders without aid of trail or light. With so much dust in the sky, not even the moon would help. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 4:43 pm

You have to read Henry Green

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This has convinced me.

And besides that, Leo Robson has a review in the New Yorker:

One night in the spring of 1955, the actress Elaine Dundy was leaving a party in New York when a sharp-nosed, floppy-haired young man came toward her and, without context or introduction, asked, “Do you know Henry Green?” Dundy replied that she did. The young man told her his name—she instantly forgot it. Dundy told him to contact her, but he didn’t call. Instead, he started appearing in the lobby of the Buckingham Hotel, in the West Fifties, where Dundy was staying. On one occasion, he had been waiting around so long that, by the time Dundy showed up, the tulips he was holding had gone droopy. Dundy apologized: could they speak another time? The young man returned the next day, and so did the tulips. But Dundy was running late. When, finally, he caught her at a good time, she invited him up to her room, and he helped her prepare for the arrival of guests while explaining that his name was Terry Southern, that he was a writer from Alvarado, Texas, and that he had waited a very long time to find someone who, on being presented with the question he had posed at their first meeting, was able to answer yes.

At the time, Green was in his late forties and the author of nine novels, including “Living,” “Party Going,” and “Loving,” and a memoir, “Pack My Bag.” His stock was high among fellow-writers. In a 1952 Life profile, W. H. Auden was quoted calling him “the best English novelist alive.” The following year, T. S. Eliot, talking to the Times, cited Green’s novels as proof that the “creative advance in our age is in prose fiction.” But Green had never been a popular success. In 1930, Evelyn Waugh had reviewed “Living,” Green’s novel about Birmingham factory life, under the headline “A Neglected Masterpiece.” It was the first of several dozen articles that bemoaned Green’s lack of acceptance and helped bind his name as closely to the epithet “neglected” as Pallas Athena is to “bright-eyed.”
Waugh blamed philistine book reviewers, but he knew that Green’s image hadn’t helped. “From motives inscrutable to his friends, the author of Living chooses to publish his work under a pseudonym of peculiar drabness,” he wrote. Green was born Henry Vincent Yorke, to a prominent Gloucestershire family, and he worked as the managing director of H Pontifex & Sons Ltd., a manufacturing company purchased by his grandfather; he presented himself as a Sunday writer. (Where other novelists might serve as secretary of pen, Green did a stint as chairman of the British Chemical Plant Manufacturers’ Association.) He claimed that he wrote under an assumed name in order to hide his writing from colleagues and associates. The Life profile, “The Double Life of Henry Green,” had the subtitle “The ‘secret’ vice of a top British industrialist is writing some of Britain’s best novels.” But Green’s first book, “Blindness,” was published in 1926, while he was at Oxford, and a desire for privacy characterized much of his behavior. After a certain point, he refused to have his portrait taken. Dundy had first recognized him from a Cecil Beaton photograph that showed only the back of his head.
The literary scholar Nick Shepley, in “Henry Green: Class, Style, and the Everyday” (Oxford), writes that “the search for an identifiable or classifiable Henry Green retreats into the shadowy distance as the layers accumulate.” But, as Shepley notes, and as NYRB Classics’ new reissues of Green’s novels illustrate, his fiction was autobiographical—at times consciously parasitic. He claimed that he disliked Oxford because “literature is not a subject to write essays about.” In reality, he had discovered that Oxford was not a subject to write novels about—at least, not his time there, which was mostly spent watching movies, playing billiards, poring over Proust with his Eton classmate Anthony Powell, and ignoring his tutor, C. S. Lewis. In a letter to his father, Green explained his decision to abandon his degree in favor of a stint working on the floor at the Pontifex iron foundry: “Of course I have another book in my mind’s eye. . . . I want badly to write a novel about working men.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 4:39 pm

Posted in Books

The Universe has 10 times more galaxies than we thought

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hubble-ultra-deep-field

Jason Kottke has an interesting post on his blog. From the post:

. . . So how many stars are there in the Universe? The Milky Way contains about 400 billion stars. Some massive elliptical galaxies house more than 100 trillion stars. Estimates of the total number are rough, but it’s probably around 10^24 stars…that’s a septillion stars, a trillion trillion. It’s absurd that we’d be the only planet in the Universe with life on it.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Science

Barrett Brown reports from prison

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Barrett Brown writes in The Intercept:

I never really got a chance to play any pen-and-paper role-playing games growing up, so being thrown into a prison system in which such things as Dungeons and Dragons are relatively common constituted one of the silver linings of my 2012 arrest, along with not having to deal with an infestation of those little German roaches that had colonized my kitchen or having to see “World War Z.”

As it happens, I’d actually learned about the prevalence of tabletop games among inmates a few months before my own incarceration, in the days after the FBI first raided both my apartment and my mother’s home in March 2012 and seized laptops and papers without yet making an arrest. As they themselves noted in the search warrant, which the late Michael Hastings published at BuzzFeed, the focus of the investigation was my collaborative journalism outfit Project PM as well as echelon2.org, the online repository where we posted our ongoing findings on the still-mysterious “intelligence contracting” sector (which has since been moved here). The warrant listed HBGary Federal and Endgame Systems — two firms on which we’d focused particular attention — as topics for the FBI’s search. This was revealing. A year prior, a raid by Anonymous on the servers of HBGary had revealed, among other things, the firm’s leading role in a conspiracy by a consortium calling itself Team Themis to conduct an array of covert operations against WikiLeaks and even journalists like Glenn Greenwald, prompting a congressional inquiry that would ultimately be squashed by a Republican committee chairman.

It’s often been reported, incorrectly, that I was the one to reveal the Themis conspiracy, different aspects of which were in fact discovered more or less simultaneously by several parties shortly after HBGary’s emails were made public. My own initial role, which began when I was informed of the hack as it was being conducted, was merely to explain developments to the press. But as it became clear that the media was losing interest despite clear evidence there was much more to the story, I began working with a rotating team of volunteer researchers to determine further details of Themis and related programs by searching through the remaining 70,000 emails that the hackers had seized and following up on the various mysterious references found therein. Although we made a number of significant discoveries and managed to shed light on other matters, the press didn’t generally realize the significance of these things until later.

On the other hand, I did get to indirectly gum up the works at Endgame Systems, which, though one of the four firms involved in Themis’s proposed operations against journalists and activists, managed to avoid being mentioned in most of the press coverage that followed the original exposure of the plot. You see, Endgame’s execs had insisted in one particular email thread that its name never appear in any Themis operational materials, explaining that the nature of the firm’s central activities was such that any public scrutiny would lead to disaster, and that this was a particular concern of their partners. Other emails ended up working against it, though, as I was able to pique the interest of Bloomberg Businessweek by forwarding this hilariously sinister “NO ONE MUST EVER KNOW” exchange to a contact I had there. A few months later, the magazine ran a long feature on Endgame revealing its ability to seize control of computers across the world and that it was offering this service to unknown customers outside of the U.S. government. This in turn prompted sufficient discomfort that the firm had to stop doing this, or at least claim to have stopped. Perhaps that’s why Endgame Systems was listed on my search warrant — and never mentioned again in a single other filing by the government in my case.

But the chief enemy I’d made was apparently the Department of Justice — because when Team Themis was exposed, the emails revealed that the whole indefensible conspiracy had been set in motion by the DOJ itself, which had made the necessary introductions when Bank of America came to the agency looking for advice on how to go after WikiLeaks. There were no known consequences for anyone at the DOJ; a congressman’s calls for an official inquiry were shot down by Lamar Smith, the relevant committee chair, who proclaimed that the DOJ itself should handle any investigation. Whether the DOJ took Smith’s advice and investigated itself for secretly arranging a corporate black ops partnership is unknown. Rather, it was my head that was to roll, in retaliation for my efforts to keep the story alive in articles I continued to write for The Guardian as well as for my occasional successes in causing difficulties to Themis participants like Endgame and the intelligence contracting industry as a whole, which regularly hires ex-government officials at high salaries and thus has a working relationship with most federal agencies. And so when the FBI came for my laptops and left that search warrant listing the entirely legal journalism entity I’d been using to lead an investigation into the state-affiliated firms that the warrant also listed, I knew from the brazenness of this move that I’d eventually be arrested and charged. I didn’t know for what, exactly, but that was OK — the DOJ didn’t know yet either. Eventually they resorted to indicting me on charges related to another firm, Stratfor, that wasn’t even listed on my search warrant, which were so flimsy that they eventually had to be dropped in favor of a vague “accessory after the fact” count.

Anywho, after that first FBI raid I started reading those little guides on life in prison that one finds online and noticed several references to role-playing games. When I got to the jail unit at Federal Correctional Institution Fort Worth shortly after my arrest, then, I immediately started agitating in favor of a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons or whatever was available, to begin ASAP, with the wooden table in the little corner library to be requisitioned for our use. A huge black guy awaiting trial on complicated fraud charges happened to have the basic mechanics memorized; I drafted him to be the dungeon master. Soon enough I’d also managed to recruit a white meth dealer who was familiar enough with the game to help the rest of us create our characters, a large and bovine Hispanic gangland enforcer who wanted to try the game and was at any rate influential enough to help us secure control over the table, and a fey Southern white guy for atmosphere.

With unlimited paper and pencils provided by the federal government, we had everything we needed except for a set of variously sided dice. It turned out that this was generally handled by making a spinner out of cardboard, a paperclip, and the empty internal plastic tube from an ink pen. This latter item is impaled loosely on the paperclip, itself positioned in the center of the cardboard, on which has been drawn a diminishing series of concentric circles divided into 20, 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4 equal segments, respectively. As we attended to this chore at the wooden table, an inmate sitting nearby realized what we were making and proceeded to tell us about a cell mate he’d had during a previous bid who’d used something similar. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 3:45 pm

A person-less variant of the Bernadete paradox

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From an intriguing post by Roy Cook in the Oxford University Press blog:

. . . Imagine that A, B, and C are points lying exactly one meter from the next, in a straight line (in that order). A particle p leaves point A, and begins travelling towards point B at exactly one second before midnight. The particle p is travelling at exactly one meter per second. The particle p will pass through B (at exactly midnight) and continue on towards C unless something prevents it from progressing further.

There is also an infinite series of force-field generators, which we shall call G1, G2, G3, and so on. Each force-field generator in the series will erect an impenetrable force field at a certain point between A and B, and at a certain time. In particular:

(1) G1 will generate a force-field at exactly ½ meter past B at ¼ second past midnight, and take the force-field down at exactly 1 second past midnight.

(2) G2 will generate a force-field at exactly ¼ meter past B at exactly 1/8 second past midnight, and take the force-field down at exactly 1/2 second past midnight.

(3) G3 will generate a force-field at exactly 1/8 meter past B at exactly 1/16 second past midnight, and take the force-field down at exactly 1/4 second past midnight.

And so on. In short, for each natural number n:

(n) Gn will generate a force-field at exactly 1/2n meter past B at exactly 1/2n+1 second past midnight, and take the force-field down at exactly 1/2n-1 second past midnight.

Now, what happens when p approaches B?

Particle p’s forward progress will be mysteriously halted at B, but p will not have impacted any of the barriers, and so there is no explanation for p’s inability to move forward. Proof: Imagine that particle pdid travel to some point x past B. Let n be the largest whole number such that 1/2n is less than x. Thenp would have travelled at a constant speed between the point ½n+2 meter past B and 1/2n meter past Bduring the period from ½n+2 second past midnight and 1/2n second past midnight. But there is a force-field at 1/2n+1 meter past B for this entire duration, so p cannot move uniformly from ½n+2 meter past Band 1/2n meter past B during this period. Thus, p is halted at B. But p does not make contact with any of the force-fields, since the distance between the mth force-field and p (when it stops at B) is 1/2m meters, and the mth force-field does not appear until 1/2m+1 second after the particle halts at B. . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Math

The University: past, present, … and future?

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Zachary Purvis, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, posts at the Oxford University Press blog:

By nearly all accounts, higher education has in recent years been lurching toward a period of creative destruction. Presumed job prospects and state budgetary battles pit the STEM disciplines against the humanities in much of our popular and political discourse. On many fronts, the future of the university, at least in its recognizable form as a veritable institution of knowledge, has been cast into doubt. Has the university, whose origins trace back to 12th and 13thcentury Paris, Bologna, Oxford, and Padua, now outlived its sell-by date? Sages of Silicon Valley, for starters, would offer a resounding yes.

But the anxieties of the present invite reflection on higher education’s past. If one digs deeper, a curious point emerges. In our current cultural moment, it may come as a surprise that the modern scientific research university, born in early 19th century Berlin in the context of war, revolution, and swelling national interest—circumstances not entirely unlike our own—was founded by … a theologian.

In the late 18th century, universities as institutions appeared on the brink of collapse. The Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic era subjected universities—and theological faculties in particular—to an unrelenting onslaught of hostility. As the armies of the French Revolution spread across Europe, they seized university endowments for the state and suppressed theological and other faculties in favor of specialized professional and technical academies. In 1789, Europe counted 143 universities; by 1815 there were only 83. France had abolished its 24 universities; Spain lost 15 out of 25; and in Germany, 7 Protestant and 9 Catholic universities folded. From the 1820s to the 1840s, Swiss reformers proposed collapsing all of Switzerland’s universities into one remaining national institution.

It was in this context that the modern university system found its legs in Berlin in 1810, when Humboldt University, initially called simply the University of Berlin, first opened its doors. Its principal intellectual architect was Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), pioneer in religion, hermeneutics, and Plato scholarship, among other domains, and the soon-to-be dean of Berlin’s first theological faculty.

Schleiermacher’s intellectual blueprint, laid out in a few short, fascinating treatises, belonged to a remarkable Prussian political initiative in response to Prussia’s humiliating loss of the University of Halle to Napoleon in 1806. The initiative also attracted proposals from such illustrious names as Wilhelm von Humboldt, F. W. J. Schelling, and J. G. Fichte, each committed to the unity of knowledge understood in organic, idealist terms, and addressing the structure and ethos of a new university and the proper balance between the free pursuit of knowledge and the interests of the state. Never before in Western history—nor, arguably, since—has the founding of a university attracted such excitement, promise, and self-conscious reflection.

Though drawing from earlier Enlightenment precedents, especially at Halle and Göttingen, and reinterpreting practices traceable to the Renaissance and even Aristotle and the ancient world, Berlin marked, in the eyes of many, a new creation: an institution that embraced the ideal of academic freedom, prioritized cross-disciplinary teaching, exhibited a novel research imperative, nurtured ethical character formation, and above all promoted critical and rigorous scholarship—the latter summed up in the German word Wissenschaft. By the first decades of the 20th century, the so-called German model or Prussian model of the university would rise to become the global standard of higher education. Indeed, quipped G. W. F. Hegel, Germany’s star philosopher of the 19th century, “our universities and schools are our churches.” With missionary zeal, students and scholars alike spread the idealized institution’s fame across Europe and across the Atlantic to the New World, carrying the tools of professionalization and specialization. For them, universities functioned as communities that cultivate practices and virtues in which knowledge is a legitimate good. Knowledge or scholarship depended on the forging of a scientific character marked by rigor, a critical disposition, clear communication, and sustained exchange.

In an important, unexpected feature of Schleiermacher’s vision, professors of seemingly “practical” disciplines, such as law, medicine, or theology, who did not make an effort to contribute to “philosophy”—understood in the widest sense to include fields like history and philology alongside metaphysics and ethics—should be excluded from the university. One could not do without the other. In short, the onset of “modernity” meant rethinking prior classifications of knowledge. The process of cross-fertilization, in fact, would characterize some of the greatest intellectual achievements of the age.

Seen in such a light, present polarizations appear myopic at best. We are once again in a time of chaos and turmoil—different in important respects, to be sure, though similarly full of perils and possibilities. As we contemplate the future of the university in our own time, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Education

‘There is no such thing as “free” vaccines: Why we rejected Pfizer’s donation offer of pneumonia vaccines.’

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Jason Cone, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders in the United States explains why a contribution of a million doses of a pneumonia vaccine was declined:

I recently had the difficult task of telling Ian Read, Pfizer’s CEO, that Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is rejecting the company’s offer to donate a significant number of pneumonia vaccine (PCV) doses for the children we serve. This is not a decision that we took lightly, since our medical teams working in the field witness the impact of pneumonia every day.

Pneumonia claims the lives of nearly one million kids each year, making it the world’s deadliest disease among children. Although there’s a vaccine to prevent this disease, it’s too expensive for many developing countries and humanitarian organizations, such as ours, to afford. As the only producers of the pneumonia vaccine, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are able to keep the price of the vaccine artificially high; since 2009, the two companies have earned $36 billion on this vaccine alone. For years, we have been trying to negotiate with the companies to lower the price of the vaccine, but they offered us donations instead.

You might be wondering, then, why we’d rather pay for the vaccine than get it for free. Isn’t free better?

No. Free is not always better. Donations often involve numerous conditions and strings attached, including restrictions on which patient populations and what geographic areas are allowed to receive the benefits. This process can delay starting vaccination campaigns, which would be an untenable situation in emergency settings, or grossly limit who you’re able to reach with the vaccine.

Donations can also undermine long-term efforts to increase access to affordable vaccines and medicines. They remove incentives for new manufacturers to enter a market when it’s absorbed through a donation arrangement. We need competition from new companies to bring down prices overall — something we don’t have currently for the pneumonia vaccine.

Donations are often used as a way to make others ‘pay up.’ By giving the pneumonia vaccine away for free, pharmaceutical corporations can use this as justification for why prices remain high for others, including other humanitarian organizations and developing countries that also can’t afford the vaccine. Countries, which continue to voice their frustration at being unable to afford new and costly vaccines such as PCV, need lower prices as well to protect children’s health.

Critically, donation offers can disappear as quickly as they come. The donor has ultimate control over when and how they choose to give their products away, risking interruption of programs should the company decide it’s no longer to their advantage. For example, Uganda is now facing a nationwide shortage of Diflucan, an essential crytpococcal meningitis drug, in spite of Pfizer’s commitment to donate the drugs to the government. There are other similar examples of companies’ donation programs leaving governments and health organizations in a lurch without the medical tools they need to treat patients.

To avoid these risks and to limit the use of in-kind medical products donations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other leading global health organizations such as UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, have clear recommendations against donation offers from pharmaceutical corporations.

Donations of medical products, such as vaccines and drugs, may appear to be good ‘quick fixes,’ but they are not the answer to increasingly high vaccine prices charged by pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and GSK.

There are times, however, when overwhelming pragmatic needs demand a short-term solution. Such was the case in 2014, when, after five years of unsuccessful price negotiations, MSF agreed to accept a one-time donation from Pfizer and GSK of their pneumonia vaccines. This was a notable exception to our prohibition on in-kind corporate donation policy that was made with great consideration, so that children would not go unvaccinated while issues of affordability and sustainability were under discussion. But in agreeing to the donation, both Pfizer and GSK assured us that they would work on a longer-term solution for children caught in crisis and developing countries.

Finally, just last month, in a significant shift — and after years of negotiations and months of public campaigning — GSK announced that it would offer its pneumonia vaccine to humanitarian organizations at the lowest global price (currently $3.05 per dose or $9.15 per child for all three doses needed for full vaccination). This is an important step towards a sustainable solution for humanitarian organizations that wish to extend the benefits of pneumonia vaccination to children caught in crisis. In contrast, Pfizer has not made any pricing concessions, and has yet to announce any meaningful solutions. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 2:17 pm

The absolutely epic trolling letter Jeb Bush’s leadership PAC sent to Donald Trump’s lawyer

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By all means, read it. Wonderful!

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Law

Hillary Clinton’s speeches to Goldman Sachs: What was most surprising

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Daniel Drezner writes in the Washington Post:

As WikiLeaks continues to dump John Podesta’s emails onto the world, there’s a cornucopia of information to digest. I decided to start by focusing on a key source of tension between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary: the transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches at Goldman Sachs. These were supposed to contain information damaging to Clinton’s campaign.

After reading all three speeches … I don’t understand why Clinton didn’t make them public back in the spring.

Okay, I understand a little. Clinton’s Goldman Sachs transcripts are not speeches per se but rather structured conversations between Clinton and a Goldman Sachs interlocutor, as well as a Q&A with the audience. Clinton references the same Winston Churchill joke a bit much. She praises Chinese President Xi Jinping on occasion, mostly for his political skills and his apparent ability to rein in the People’s Liberation Army. Mostly, however, what comes through is Clinton’s comfort talking about the subtleties of international relations. The contrast with the current GOP nominee is rather striking.

In particular, there are three aspects of the speeches that are worthy of note in 2016:

1. Clinton sounded more enthusiastic about trade in 2013. From the transcript of her first speech:

But on the trade and regulatory harmonization, we are very serious about [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] and something that I strongly supported. The discussions are ongoing. It will come down, as it often does, to agriculture, particularly French agriculture, and we’ll just have to see how much we can get done by that process.  And there is no doubt that if we can make progress on the trade regulatory front it would be good for the Europeans. It would be good for us. And I would like to see us go as far as we possibly can with a real agreement, not a phony agreement. You know, the E.U. signs agreements all the time with nearly everybody, but they don’t change anything.  They just kind of sign them and see what comes of it.

I think we have an opportunity to really actually save money in our respective regulatory schemes, increase trade not only between ourselves but also be more effective in helping to keep the world on a better track for a rural spaced global trading system by having us kind of set the standards for that, along with the [Trans-Pacific Partnership], which we didn’t mention when we talked about Asia, which I think is also still proceeding.

This isn’t terribly surprising, as Clinton’s position on trade policy has easily been the most cynical part of her campaign. But it is worth noting.

2. Clinton is keenly aware of the link between domestic dysfunction and foreign policy. Clinton relayed this anecdote from her first speech about the effect of Congress’s possible failure to lift the debt ceiling:

I was in Hong Kong in the summer of 2011 and I had a preexisting program with a big business group there, and before we had a reception and there were about a hundred business leaders, many of them based in Hong Kong, some of them from mainland China, some of them from Singapore and elsewhere. They were lining up and saying to me: Is it true that the American Congress might default on America’s full faith and credit, their standing, that you won’t pay your bills?

And you know I’m sitting there, I’m representing all of you.  I said: Oh, no. No. No. That’s just politics. We’ll work it through. And I’m sitting there: Oh, boy. I hope that is the case.

So for all of their efforts to take advantage of whatever mistake we might make or whatever problem we might have, they know right now at least in 2013, the beginning of this century, the United States isn’t strong at home and abroad. They’ve got problems, and it is for me pretty simple.  If we don’t get our political house in order and demonstrate that we can start making decisions again — and that takes hard work.

In all three speeches, Clinton talks about the necessity for political compromise in the American system of government. In this polarized climate, I guess I can see how such statements would be seen as politically problematic. No, wait, I can’t.

3. Clinton presaged the rise of Trump. In her third speech, Clinton refers to shifts in the political culture of the United States, and places them in the proper historical context:

We have always had this kind of streak of whether it’s know-nothingism or isolationism or, you know, anti-Communism, extremism. Whatever. We’ve had it forever from the beginning. So it’s important that people speak out and stand up against it, and especially people who are Republicans, who say, look, that’s not the party that I’m part of. I want to get back to having a two-party system that can have an adult conversation and a real debate about the future.

A bit later, she elaborates further on the obstructionists in the GOP. See if this description sounds familiar:

What I really resent most about the obstructionists is they have such a narrow view of America. They see America in a way that is no longer reflective of the reality of who we are. They’re against immigration for reasons that have to do with the past, not the future. They can’t figure out how to invest in the future, so they cut everything. You know, laying off, you know, young researchers, closing labs instead of saying, we’re better at this than anybody in the world, that’s where our money should go. They just have a backward-looking view of America. And they play on people’s fears, not on people’s hopes, and they have to be rejected. I don’t care what they call themselves. I don’t care where they’re from. They have to be rejected because they are fundamentally un-American. And every effort they make to undermine and obstruct the functioning of the government is meant to send a signal that we can’t do anything collectively. You know, that we aren’t a community, a nation that shares values.

I mean, America was an invention. It was an intellectual invention, and we have done pretty well for all these years. And these people want to just undermine that very profound sense of who we are. And we can’t let them do that.

After that passage, Clinton goes on to discuss Alexis de Tocqueville. The horror, the horror. . .

. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 1:42 pm

Ayn Rand’s description of the US becoming more popular with the GOP: Now Ryan’s doing it

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Note, as Paul Krugman points out in his excellent column, those stark, dark, despairing profiles of the US in Atlas Shrugged were her impressions of the Eisenhower years. Good grief.

From that column:

. . . [C]onsider the portrait of America Mr. Ryan painted last week, in a speech to the College Republicans. For it was, in its own way, as out of touch with reality as the ranting of Donald Trump (whom Mr. Ryan never mentioned).

Now, to be fair, Mr. Ryan claimed to be describing the future — what will happen if Hillary Clinton wins — rather than the present. But Mrs. Clinton is essentially proposing a center-left agenda, an extension of the policies President Obama was able to implement in his first two years, and it’s pretty clear that Mr. Ryan’s remarks were intended as a picture of what all such policies do.

According to him, it’s very grim. There will, he said, be “a gloom and grayness to things,” ruled by a “cold and unfeeling bureaucracy.” We will become a place “where passion — the very stuff of life itself — is extinguished.” And this is the kind of America Mrs. Clinton “will stop at nothing to have.”

Does today’s America look anything like that? No. We have many problems, but we’re hardly living in a miasma of despair. Leave government statistics (which almost half of Trump supporters completely distrust) on one side; Gallup finds that 80 percent of Americans are satisfied with their standard of living, up from 73 percent in 2008, and that 55 percent consider themselves to be “thriving,” up from 49 percent in 2008. And there are good reasons for those good feelings: recovery from the financial crisis was slower than it should have been, but unemployment is low, incomes surged last year, and thanks to Obamacare more Americans have health insurance than ever before.

So Mr. Ryan’s vision of America looks nothing like reality. It is, however, completely familiar to anyone who read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as a teenager. Nowadays the speaker denies being a Rand devotee, but while you can at least pretend to take the boy out of the cult, you can’t take the cult out of the boy. Like Ms. Rand — who was basically writing about America in the Eisenhower years! — he sees the horrible world progressive policies were supposed to produce, not the flawed but hopeful nation we actually live in.

So why does the modern right hate America? There’s not much overlap in substance between Mr. Trump’s fear-mongering and Mr. Ryan’s, but there’s a clear alignment of interests. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 1:08 pm

Worth reading again: The lawyer’s letter from the NY Times responding to Trump’s threat to sue

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It’s worth another look. The background is in this NY Times article by Alan Rappeport.

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I think the letter is well stated. What’s strange to me: When women whose encounters with Donald Trump exactly match how he stated he treats women (saying he can get away with it because he’s a “star’), some people immediately say the women are lying, that they must have been paid to say it, that if it did happen they are sluts. It doesn’t even occur to them (apparently) that the women’s reports are totally consistent with what Donald Trump said that he does. They also wonder why the women did not speak up immediately, apparently not connecting a reluctance to speak up with what happens if they do: accused of lying, accused of being paid to make false claims, accused of being sluts. No wonder women are reluctant to speak up.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Election, GOP, Law

Wolfman bar-guard razor and Rod Neep Dreadnaught brush go to auction

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Wolfman side

This Wolfman razor is now listed on eBay, and the Rod Neep Dreadnaught silvertip brush pictured below is also now listed. The Dreadnaught has a 1984 U.S. nickel coin embedded in the bottom of the handle. The listing has photos of the brush from both sides.

Neep side 1

 

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 11:58 am

Posted in Shaving

Vie-Long badger+horse brush, B&M Leviathan, and the Fine slant

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SOTD 2016-10-17

Vie-Long’s badger+horsehair brushes are denser than horsehair along, and also tend to have a grey color. I had several, but found that in general I prefer horsehair by itself. Still, I kept one, and this morning I enjoyed it. Make the lather was quite easy, thanks to the high quality of both brush and soap, and I did a good job of working the lather into my stubble, enjoying the process.

I did not do such a good job in the shave: the first pass was fine, but the second pass produced several nicks, a couple of them fairly big. I don’t know what’s happening. Maybe I’ve become accustomed to the comfort and reluctance to nick of the iKon 102 and X3 and have let my technique slip somewhat. Maybe I’ll just stick with those (and so far the Merkur 37G, The Holy Slant’s SR-71, and the Above the Tie are well behaved, but I have had problems with the Fine (today), the Phoenix Artisan Bakelite (the last time I used it), and the Maggard slants. I want them to work, but one can’t force that.

My face at least was smooth. Alum block held against the nicks stopped some, others required My Nik Is Sealed and some time.

A good splash of Leviathan aftershave, and I’m going to mull whether the slant department will have some layoffs.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2016 at 9:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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