Later On

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

Archive for December 23rd, 2016

Jeff Sessions thinks civil asset forfeiture is an excellent idea

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George Will, of all people, tears a strip off Jeff Sessions:

“The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. . . . The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual.”

— George Orwell, “1984”

For Christos and Markela Sourovelis, for whom the worst thing was losing their home, “Room 101” was Courtroom 478 in City Hall. This “courtroom’s” name is Orwellian: There was neither judge nor jury in it. There the city government enriched itself — more than $64 million in a recent 11-year span — by disregarding due process requirements in order to seize and sell the property of people who have not been accused, never mind convicted, of a crime.

The Sourovelises’ son, who lived at home, was arrested for selling a small amount of drugs away from home. Soon there was a knock on their door by police who said, “We’re here to take your house” and “You’re going to be living on the street” and “We do this every day.” The Sourovelises’ doors were locked with screws, and their utilities were cut off. They had paid off the mortgage on their $350,000 home, making it a tempting target for policing for profit.

Nationwide, proceeds from sales of seized property (homes, cars, etc.) go to the seizers. And under a federal program, state and local law enforcement can partner with federal authorities in forfeiture and reap up to 80 percent of the proceeds. This is called — more Orwellian newspeak — “equitable sharing.”

No crime had been committed in the Sourovelises’ house, but the title of the case against them was Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. 12011 Ferndale St. Somehow, a crime had been committed by the house. In civil forfeiture, it suffices that property is suspected of having been involved in a crime. Once seized, the property’s owners bear the burden of proving their property’s innocence. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards,” says the queen in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

In Courtroom 478, the prosecutors usually assured people seeking to reclaim their property that they would not need lawyers. The prosecutors practiced semi-extortion, suggesting how people could regain limited control of their property: They could sell it and give half the proceeds to the city. The “hearings” in Courtroom 478 were often protracted over months, and missing even one hearing could result in instant forfeiture.

The Sourovelises were allowed to return to their house only after waiving their rights to statutory or constitutional defenses in a future forfeiture action. Such action was forestalled when their case came to the attention of the Institute for Justice (IJ), public-interest litigators who never received the “You can’t fight city hall” memo. It disentangled the Sourovelises from the forfeiture machine, shut down Courtroom 478 and now is seeking a court ruling to tether this machine to constitutional standards.

There might somewhere be a second prominent American who endorses today’s civil forfeiture practices, but one such person [Jeff Sessions] is “very unhappy” with criticisms of it. At a 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on forfeiture abuses, one senator said “taking and seizing and forfeiting, through a government judicial process, illegal gains from criminal enterprises is not wrong,” and neither is law enforcement enriching itself from this. In the manner of the man for whom he soon will work, this senator asserted an unverifiable number: “95 percent” of forfeitures involve people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope.” This senator said it should not be more difficult for “government to take money from a drug dealer than it is for a businessperson to defend themselves in a lawsuit.” In seizing property suspected of involvement in a crime, government “should not have a burden of proof higher than in a normal civil case.”

IJ’s Robert Everett Johnson notes that this senator missed a few salient points: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2016 at 7:46 pm

The case against sugar

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Pam Weintraub writes in Æon:

‘Virtually zero.’ That’s a reasonable estimate of the probability that public health authorities in the foreseeable future will successfully curb the worldwide epidemics of obesity and diabetes, at least according to Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) – a person who should know. Virtually zero is the likelihood, Chan said at the National Academy of Medicine’s annual meeting in October, that she and her many colleagues worldwide will successfully prevent ‘a bad situation’ from ‘getting much worse’. That Chan also described these epidemics as a ‘slow-motion disaster’ suggests the critical nature of the problem: ‘population-wide’ explosions in the prevalence of obesity along with increases in the occurrence of diabetes that frankly strain the imagination: a disease that leads to blindness, kidney failure, amputation, heart disease and premature death, and that was virtually non-existent in hospital inpatient records from the mid-19th century, now afflicts one in 11 Americans; in some populations, as many as one in two adults are diabetic.

In the midst of such a public health crisis, the obvious question to ask is why. Many reasons can be imagined for any public health failure, but we have no precedents for a failure of this magnitude. As such, the simplest explanation is that we’re not targeting the right agent of disease; that our understanding of the aetiology of both obesity and diabetes is somehow flawed, perhaps tragically so.

Researchers in harder sciences have a name for such situations: ‘pathological science’, defined by the Nobel Laureate chemist Irving Langmuir in 1953 as ‘the science of things that aren’t so’. Where experimental investigation is prohibitively expensive or impossible to do, mistaken assumptions, misconceived paradigms and pathological science can survive indefinitely. Whether this is the case with the current epidemics is an all-too-regrettable possibility: perhaps we’ve simply misconceived the reality of the link between diet, lifestyle and the related disorders of obesity and diabetes? As the Oxford scholar Robert Burton suggested in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), in cases in which the cures are ‘imperfect, lame, and to no purpose’ it’s quite possible that the causes are misunderstood.

The history of obesity and nutrition research suggests that this is indeed what has happened. In the decades leading up to the Second World War, German and Austrian clinical investigators had concluded that common obesity was clearly caused by a hormonal disturbance; starting in the1960s, other research would link that disturbance to the sugar in our diets. But the German and Austrian thinking evaporated with the war, and the possibility that sugar was to blame never took hold, dismissed by a nutrition community who, by the 1970s, became fixated on dietary fat as the trigger of our chronic diseases. Now, with an explosion of the epidemic and compelling new research, it’s time to reconsider both our causal thinking on obesity and diabetes, and the possibility that sugar is playing the critical role.

When researchers and public health authorities today discuss their failure to curb the rising tide of obesity and diabetes, they offer the explanation that these disorders are ‘multifactorial and complex’, implying that failure is somehow understandable. But this obscures the reality that prescriptions to prevent and treat the two depend almost entirely on two simple causal concepts, neither one of which is necessarily correct.

The first assumption equates obesity and Type 2 diabetes (the common form of the disease, formerly known as ‘adult-onset’ until it began appearing in children as well). Because obesity and Type 2 diabetes are so closely associated in both individuals and populations, the assumption is that it’s the obesity – or at least the accumulation of excess fat – that causes the diabetes. By this logic, whatever causes obesity is ultimately the cause of the diabetes as well.

The second assumption then strives to explain ‘the fundamental cause’ of the obesity itself: an energy imbalance between calories consumed on one hand, and calories expended on the other hand.

This thinking, espoused by the WHO and virtually every other medical authority, is a paradigm in the true Kuhnian sense of the word. Researchers and public health authorities describe obesity as a disorder of ‘energy balance’. This conception underlies virtually all aspects of obesity research from prevention through treatment, and, by association, diabetes. As such, it has also shaped how we think about the role of what is now, finally, considered a prime suspect – refined or ‘added’ sugars, and specifically, sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup.

he WHO and other health organisations have recently taken to arguing that sugar and particularly sugary beverages should be taxed heavily or regulated. But they do so not because they say sugar causes disease – using the same definition of causality that we use when we say cigarettes cause lung cancer – but, rather, because, from their perspective, sugar represents ‘empty calories’ that we eat in excess. By this thinking, we still get fatter because we eat too much or exercise too little. The solution is to eat in moderation, and consume sugar in moderation or balance it with more physical activity.

The energy balance paradigm implies that the only way in which foods influence our body fat is through their energy content, or calories – that is, through the energy that we absorb without excreting, and so make available to be oxidised or stored. This is the only variable that matters. It’s the implication of the phrase ‘a calorie is a calorie’, which, by the 1960s, had become a mantra of nutrition and obesity researchers, evoked invariably to support the dogma that only calories count when it comes to understanding and treating human obesity.

This logic has been the lifeblood of the sugar industry. If sugar was uniquely toxic, in that it possessed some special property that made us respond to it by accumulating fat or becoming diabetic, then government health agencies would have to regulate it. If all sugar does is add calories to the diet, just as any other food does, then it is, in effect, benign. When the sugar industry embarked in 1956 on a nationwide advertising offensive to knock down reports that sugar is ‘fattening’, it did so on the seemingly sound scientific basis that ‘[s]ugar is neither a “reducing food” nor a “fattening food”’, as the industry advertisements explained. ‘There are no such things. All foods supply calories and there is no difference between the calories that come from sugar or steak or grapefruit or ice cream.’ . . .

Continue reading. The article argues that the thinking expressed in the last paragraph is fundamentally flawed, and it provides reasons for this argument. Well worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2016 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

For “Love, Actually” fans: A detailed network analysis

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I like Love, Actually, and I found this analysis by Walt Hickey and Gus Wezerek, published in McClatchy, quite interesting. It begins:

“Love Actually,” the 2003 film that launched a generation of cinematic hottakes  [and do click that link: very interesting commentary on the move – LG], is the story of nine interconnected relationships in the weeks ahead of Christmas in the United Kingdom. They’re united not just in their relationships but also by Heathrow Airport, a third space that bookends the film and is used by lowly tourists and prime ministers alike. It has a plotline for every moment in your relationship, from first crush to the grave, and the story covers all the holiday season staples: the Christmas party, the school pageant, the holiday songs. Plus, the cast is great, and the performances are solid — there’s a lot to like, actually. Yet by the time the credits roll, you may not have learned much about the titular emotion.1

To get to the bottom of this intricately structured Christmas classic, we watched the film and ruthlessly coded scenes — how long they were, who was in them, who spoke to whom — and pulled a big pile of box office data to figure out what happened to all of these nice, attractive actors after they wrapped up this movie that makes us all cry. Then we diagramed all of that using network analysis strategies recently applied to “Hamlet” and “Les Misérables” — you know, “Love Actually’s” literary equals — to find the most important character at the core of the film. (It’s not the manic pixie dream Mr. Bean played by Rowan Atkinson.)

The film has launched careers. Thomas Brodie-Sangster — who played Sam, the precocious kid who falls for the girl with the same name as his recently deceased mother — has gone on to appear as a regular character on “Game of Thrones” and as a lead in the ongoing Maze Runner franchise. Still, it’s the actor who played Sammo’s step-father whose post-“Love Actually” movies have made the most money. Liam Neeson’s parenting in the movie was questionable — encouraging a child to sprint through security toward an airplane post-9/11 is never good fatherhood — but Neeson’s later attempts at parenting were even worse, oftentimes resulting in the child being Taken. That awful parenting, though, led to an outstanding and lucrative franchise. . .

Continue reading.

Charts and network graphs at the link. Worth reading if you’ve seen the movie.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2016 at 8:29 am

Posted in Movies & TV

A Classic shave (Fine and Tallow + Steel) with an iKon open-comb

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SOTD 2016-12-23

After yesterday’s Reserve Classic aftershave, I thought I’d go Classic all the way today. The Fine Classic synthetic brush, one of my favorites, easily produced a fine lather from Tallow+Steel’s Classic shaving soap:

Oakmoss + Patchouli + Guaiacwood + Vetiver + Geranium + Anise + Rosemary + Bergamot + Lavender

It’s a pleasant fragrance with a classic reserve: not a warm fragrance, but one with balance.

The iKon open-comb (which also has a bar-guard baseplate) is a very comfortable, very effective razor and three passes produced a smooth result with no problems.

A splash of Tallow + Steel Classic aftershave and I’m ready for the day, which will include picking up the Christmas roast.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2016 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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