Later On

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

Archive for March 9th, 2017

The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.

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Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Productive People used an image of the ladder of success, which he borrowed from Thomas Merton, who wrote, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” That seems to apply to many American men who were sold on the idea that the ladder of success referred to achieving career goals, only to find that once they achieved (or abandoned) their career goals, they had nothing of personal value.

Billy Baker writes in the Boston Globe:

LET’S START WITH THE MOMENT I realized I was already a loser, which was just after I was more or less told that I was destined to become one.

I’d been summoned to an editor’s office at the Globe Magazine with the old “We have a story we think you’d be perfect for.” This is how editors talk when they’re about to con you into doing something you don’t want to do.

Here was the pitch: We want you to write about how middle-aged men have no friends.

Excuse me? I have plenty of friends. Are you calling me a loser? You are.

The editor told me there was all sorts of evidence out there about how men, as they age, let their close friendships lapse, and that that fact can cause all sorts of problems and have a terrible impact on their health.

I told the editor I’d think about it. This is how reporters talk when they’re trying to get out of something they don’t want to do. As I walked back to my desk in the newsroom — a distance of maybe 100 yards — I quickly took stock of my life to try to prove to myself that I was not, in fact, perfect for this story.

First of all, there was my buddy Mark. We went to high school together, and I still talk to him all the time, and we hang out all the . . . Wait, how often do we actually hang out? Maybe four or five times a year?

And then there was my other best friend from high school, Rory, and . . . I genuinely could not remember the last time I’d seen him. Had it already been a year? Entirely possible.

There were all those other good friends who feel as if they’re still in my lives because we keep tabs on one another via social media, but as I ran down the list of those I’d consider real, true, lifelong friends, I realized that it had been years since I’d seen many of them, even decades for a few.

By the time I got back to my desk, I realized that I was indeed perfect for this story, not because I was unusual in any way, but because my story is very, very typical. And as I looked into what that means, I realized that in the long term, I was heading down a path that was very, very dangerous.

Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the United States, has said many times in recent years that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.

I TURNED 40 IN MAY. I have a wife and two young boys. I moved to the suburbs a few years ago, where I own a fairly ugly home with white vinyl siding and two aging station wagons with crushed Goldfish crackers serving as floor mats. When I step on a Lego in the middle of the night on my way to the bathroom, I try to tell myself that it’s cute that I’ve turned into a sitcom dad.

During the week, much of my waking life revolves around work. Or getting ready for work. Or driving to work. Or driving home from work. Or texting my wife to tell her I’m going to be late getting home from work.

Much of everything else revolves around my kids. I spend a lot of time asking them where their shoes are, and they spend a lot of time asking me when they can have some “dada time.” It is the world’s cutest phrase, and it makes me feel guilty every time I hear it, because they are asking it in moments when they know I cannot give it to them — when I am distracted by an e-mail on my phone or I’m dealing with the constant, boring logistics of running a home.

We can usually squeeze in an hour of “dada time” before bed — mostly wrestling or reading books — and so the real “dada time” happens on weekends. That’s my promise. “I have to go to work, but this weekend,” I tell them, “we can have ‘dada time.’ ”

I love “dada time.” And I’m pretty good about squeezing in an hour of “me time” each day for exercise, which usually means getting up before dawn to go to the gym or for a run. But when everything adds up, there is no real “friend time” left. Yes, I have friends at work and at the gym, but those are accidents of proximity. I rarely see those people anywhere outside those environments, because when everything adds up, I have left almost no time for friends. I have structured myself into being a loser.

“YOU SHOULD USE THIS story suggestion as a call to do something about it.”

That’s Dr. Richard S. Schwartz, a Cambridge psychiatrist, and I had reached out to him because he and his wife, Dr. Jacqueline Olds, literally wrote the book on this topic, The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century.

He agreed that my story was very typical. When people with children become overscheduled, they don’t shortchange their children, they shortchange their friendships. “And the public health dangers of that are incredibly clear,” he says.

Beginning in the 1980s, Schwartz says, study after study started showing that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2017 at 4:45 pm

26 dirt-cheap meals

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None actually include dirt. (Interestingly, the URL is “thesimpledollar.com/20-favorite-dirt-cheap-meals/.” Apparently there were 6 last-minute additions.

The meals themselves make sense, though they generally are not low-carb (because carbohydrates are the cheapest way to get calories). But definitely worth looking at:

26 Favorite Cheap-and-Easy Meals, by Trent Hamm (no relation: “Hamm” is German, “Ham” is English).

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2017 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Recipes

Chatbot that overturned 160,000 parking fines now helping refugees claim asylum

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Elena Cresci reports in the Guardian:

 The creator of a chatbot which overturned more than 160,000 parking fines and helped vulnerable people apply for emergency housing is now turning the bot to helping refugees claim asylum.

The original DoNotPay, created by Stanford student Joshua Browder, describes itself as “the world’s first robot lawyer”, giving free legal aid to users through a simple-to-use chat interface. The chatbot, using Facebook Messenger, can now help refugees fill in an immigration application in the US and Canada. For those in the UK, it helps them apply for asylum support.

The London-born developer worked with lawyers in each country, as well as speaking to asylum seekers whose applications have been successful.

Browder says this new functionality for his robot lawyer is “long overdue”. He told the Guardian: “I’ve been trying to launch this for about six months – I initially wanted to do it in the summer. But I wanted to make sure I got it right because it’s such a complicated issue. I kept showing it to lawyers throughout the process and I’d go back and tweak it.

“That took months and months of work, but we wanted to make sure it was right.”

Browder began working on this project before Donald Trump’s election as US president but he said he feels it’s more important now than ever. “I wanted to add Canada at the last minute because of the changes in the political background in the US,” he said.

The chatbot works by asking the user a series of questions, in order to determine which application the refugee needs to fill out and whether a refugee is eligible for asylum protection under international law.

After this, it takes down the necessary details required for the appropriate asylum application – an I-589 for the United States or a Canadian Asylum Application for Canada. Those in the UK are told they need to apply in person, and the bot helps fill out an ASF1 form for asylum support.

Browder says it was crucial the questions were in plain English. “The language in these forms can be quite complicated,” he said.

These details are used to auto-fill an application form for either the US, Canada or the UK. “Once the form is sent off, the details are deleted from my end,” said Browder.

The 20-year-old chose Facebook Messenger as a home for the latest incarnation of his robot lawyer because of accessibility. “It works with almost every device, making it accessible to over a billion people,” he said.

Browder acknowledges Messenger doesn’t come without its pitfalls. Unlike some other chat apps, it’s not automatically end-to-end encrypted. Browder says . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2017 at 4:11 pm

Disappointing news: There’s No Guarantee Trump’s Tax Returns Would Reveal Russia Ties

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Alan Sloan reports in ProPublica:

Every week seems to bring yet another revelation about possible relationships between Russia and people close to Donald Trump. Combine that with the fact that this is the height of tax preparation season, and you can see why lots of people seem obsessed with finding a supposed Russian connection in Trump’s tax returns.

Hence the increased demands for Trump to make his returns public the way presidents and presidential candidates have done since Richard Nixon, but that Trump has refused to do despite initially saying that he would.

However, even if Trump has business ties with Russian oligarchs or the Russian government — please note the “if” because there is nothing suggesting that is the case — it’s highly unlikely that evidence of that would show up in his personal tax returns. That’s the unanimous opinion of three respected tax experts I consulted, none of whom is an apologist for Trump.

A primary reason, they told me, is that Trump does business through hundreds of entities, including partnerships, corporations and LLCs (short for limited liability companies).

If you could read the relevant documents — IRS Forms 1040 and 8938 and Schedules C, E and S — you would see that unless Trump has a personal Russian bank account or shows a gain or a loss on the sale of a Russian security or property, financial results of Russian dealings (if they exist) would likely be lumped in with hundreds of other dealings rather than being broken out specifically.

In fact, searching for a Russian connection in Trump’s returns is a diversion from the real reasons the American public has a stake in seeing them.

We’ll get to those. But first, let’s see what the experts have to say.

“Tax forms don’t require much specificity,” said Steve Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Rosenthal, who has helped news organizations including The New York Times and The Washington Post parse Trump tax documents, says that, “You’re not going to see an entry that says, ‘Loan from Russian oligarch.’… Even if you borrowed money directly from the Russian government, you don’t have to say to whom you paid the interest.”

“Trump’s income is derived from the business entities — LLCs, corporations and partnerships — in which he owns interests,” says tax lawyer Bob Lord, an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies who was an informal adviser on tax matters to Bernie Sanders’s campaign.

“It is possible, albeit unlikely, the tax returns of the business entities in which Trump owns an interest might reveal a relationship with Russia or a Russian oligarch,” Lord added. “Because Trump’s personal tax return will reflect only the income or loss flowing to Trump from those entities, his personal tax return would not be a reliable indicator of whether such a relationship exists.”

And now, to our third expert: Bob Willens of Robert Willens LLC, who for decades has helped journalists, including me, understand complex tax and accounting issues. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2017 at 3:09 pm

The big lie about sex offenders

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Much of the destructive, extra-punishment punishment we inflict on sex offenders is due to the widely held belief that they’re more likely to re-offend than the perpetrators of other classes of crimes. This has been the main justification for the Supreme Court’s authorization of sex-offender registries and for holding sex offenders indefinitely after they’ve served their sentences. Lower courts have then cited those rulings to justify a host of other measures, from severe restrictions on where sex offenders can live to GPS monitoring of their every move.

The problem, as Adam Liptak writes at the New York Times, is that the claim just isn’t true.

Last week at the Supreme Court, a lawyer made what seemed like an unremarkable point about registered sex offenders.

“This court has recognized that they have a high rate of recidivism and are very likely to do this again,” said the lawyer, Robert C. Montgomery, who was defending a North Carolina statute that bars sex offenders from using Facebook, Twitter and other social media services.

The Supreme Court has indeed said the risk that sex offenders will commit new crimes is “frightening and high.” That phrase, in a 2003 decision upholding Alaska’s sex offender registration law, has been exceptionally influential. It has appeared in more than 100 lower-court opinions, and it has helped justify laws that effectively banish registered sex offenders from many aspects of everyday life.

But there is vanishingly little evidence for the Supreme Court’s assertion that convicted sex offenders commit new offenses at very high rates. The story behind the notion, it turns out, starts with a throwaway line in a glossy magazine.

The quote came from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, and it claims that the recidivism rate for sex offenders is 80 percent. If true, that would indeed be “frightening and high.” But it isn’t true. At Slate, David Feige brings the data:

In the most comprehensive single study on reoffense rates to date, the U.S. Department of Justice followed every sex offender released in almost 15 states for three years. The recidivism rate? Just 3.5 percent.These numbers have been subsequently verified in study after study. The state of Connecticut Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division did a five-year study that found a recidivism rate of 3.6 percent. A Maine study found that released sex offenders were arrested for a new sex crime at a rate of 3.9 percent. Government studies in Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, and South Carolina have also replicated these results—all finding same-crime recidivism rates of between 3.5 and 4 percent.

We’ve discussed this before here at The Watch, as well as other areas where the Supreme Court has relied on bad information in important rulings. And this is just a small slice of a much larger problem — the courts’ inability to reconcile the evolving nature of science with the criminal-justice system’s premium on precedent and finality.

There isn’t much sympathy out there for sex offenders. But if the public wants to prioritize retributive justice over all else and put every sex offender away for life after the first offense, then let’s have that debate. I wouldn’t favor that approach. But that at least is a much more honest discussion than how we’ve approached this issue for the past 30 years or so. What we’ve done instead is allowed sex offenders to be “released” from prison, but then made it impossible for them to live anything resembling normal lives. Casting them off and marginalizing them after they’re out, regardless of the nature of their crimes, isn’t just cruel; it doesn’t make society any safer, either. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2017 at 12:35 pm

Chiseled Face brush, Pure2O, the Stirling slant, and Leviathan aftershave

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I really like this Chiseled Face brush from some time back: comfortable and attractive handle and a good synthetic knot.

Pure2O is a soap apparently commissioned by Damn Fine Shave. It has a good lather with a pleasant but somewhat faint fragrance.

Stirling’s slant is a Merkur 37 clone and it shaves quite well. They seem to appear periodically on the Stirling site for $15, which is a bargain. Three passes to a BBS finish without problems.

Leviathan, a leather/coffee/sandalwood fragrance, is very nice. There’s a matching soap, which I do not have and my not be currently stocked.

All in all, a very nice shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2017 at 8:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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