Later On

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

Archive for May 26th, 2017

How Finland Created One of the Best Educational Systems in the World (by Doing the Opposite of U.S.)

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Josh Jones writes at Open Culture:

Every conversation about education in the U.S. takes place in a minefield. Unless you’re a billionaire who bought the job of Secretary of Education, you’d better be prepared to answer questions about racial and economic equity, disability issues, protections for LGBTQ students, teacher pay and unions, religious charter schools, and many other pressing concerns. These issues are not mutually exclusive, nor are they distinct from questions of curriculum, testing, or achievement. The terrain is littered with possible explosive conflicts between educators, parents, administrators, legislators, activists, and profiteers.

The needs of the most deeply invested stakeholders, as they say, the students themselves, seem to get far too little consideration. What if we in the U.S., all of us, actually wanted to improve the educational experiences and academic outcomes for our children—all of them? Where might we look for a model? Many people have looked to Finland, at least since 2010, when the documentary Waiting for Superman contrasted struggling U.S. public schools with highly successful Finnish equivalents.

The film, a positive spin on the charter school movement, received significant backlash for its cherry-picked examples and blaming of teachers’ unions for America’s failing schools. By contrast, Finland’s schools have been described by William Doyle, an American Fulbright Scholar who studies them, as “the ‘ultimate charter school network’” (a phrase, we’ll see, that means little in the Finnish context.) There, Doyle writes at The Hechinger Report, “teachers are not strait-jacketed by bureaucrats, scripts or excessive regulations, but have the freedom to innovate and experiment as teams of trusted professionals.”

Last year, Michael Moore featured many of Finland’s innovative educational experiments in his humorous, hopeful travelogue Where to Invade Next. In the clip above, you can hear from the country’s Minister of Education, Krista Kiuru, who explains to him why Finnish children do not have homework; hear also from a group of high school students, high school principal Pasi Majassari, first grade teacher Anna Hart and many others. Shorter school hours—the “shortest school days and shortest school years in the entire Western world”—leave plenty of time for leisure and recreation. Kids bake, hike, build things, make art, conduct experiments, sing, and generally enjoy themselves. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2017 at 8:27 pm

Posted in Education

Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with KremlinI

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I think it’s natural to wonder exactly why the son-in-law and close adviser of the president wanted a secret communication channel with the Kremlin. Perhaps he will explain and it will all turn out to be a big misunderstanding. Or it may turn out that Russia is putting serious moves on the US now that they believe we have a weak, venal, easily manipulated, ignorant, angry, and impulsive man as president.

Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous, and Greg Miller report in the Washington Post:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, then President-elect Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the fact of the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.

The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts. But officials said that it’s unclear what Kislyak would have had to gain by falsely characterizing his contacts with Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin still saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Trump.

Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than rely on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2017 at 4:15 pm

Arkansas executed a man for a crime to which another person had confessed

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Arkansas doesn’t seem to value human life all that much, for all its “Pro-Life” enthusiasm. Among Radley Balko’s morning links (and it’s worth looking at them all):

Last night, Alabama executed Thomas Arthur, despite the fact that there was DNA that may have shown he was innocent — and that another man confessed to the crime.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2017 at 11:06 am

Kafka in Vegas

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The blurb:

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a Vegas showman even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal known as an Alford plea. If he took it he could go free, but he’d remain a convicted killer.

Megan Rose reports in ProPublica:

FRED STEESE, Inmate No. 45595, often gazed at the 18-wheelers rumbling by the state prison on a desolate stretch of highway outside Las Vegas, yearning to be behind the wheel. Lying in his bunk in Cell Block A, Unit 7, he’d picture himself double-clutching down hills, filling out the logbook, expertly backing up as he made deliveries. Semis had been an obsession since he’d begun hitching rides with truckers between stints with foster families and in group homes. By 16 he’d stolen his first big rig. Now middle-aged, Steese treasured a commercial driver’s license manual, so well-used it was held together by tape.

As a lifer, however, he knew that even this modest ambition was out of reach. In 1992, a once famous trapeze artist who’d moved on to performing with a costumed poodle act on the Strip had been found murdered, stabbed dozens of times in his trailer on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Police found a prime suspect in Steese, a drifter with a record, who for a short time had been the victim’s lover and assistant, and who, after protesting that he was innocent, offered a confession.

But there was evidence Steese had been 670 miles away at the time — and prosecutors in Las Vegas didn’t share it. The prosecutors went on to win seats as state district court judges, where they still sit. Steese went to prison for life with no possibility of parole. That would have remained his fate except that, somehow, in a life with few breaks, Steese finally caught one. Prodded by his original attorney, the federal public defender sent a team burrowing into the prosecution’s files and ultimately dismantled its case.

In October 2012, a judge declared that Steese, after 20 years in prison, was innocent. It was an extraordinary ruling — in fact, unprecedented in that court. But the Clark County district attorney was not willing to free Steese. Prosecutors vowed to put him through lengthy appeals. Even to re-try him. The process would take years. Or, if Steese just wanted to be released, the prosecutors had a tantalizing proposition: he could agree to an Alford plea. In a feat of logical gymnastics, this obscure plea allows defendants to maintain their innocence while at the same time pleading guilty and accepting the status of a convicted felon. And, perhaps most damaging to prisoners like Steese, after decades behind bars, the plea meant giving up the right to sue. It would also allow prosecutors to keep a “win” on the books, admit no wrongdoing, and avoid civil and criminal sanctions for their behavior. In exchange for all this, the prosecution in Las Vegas would let Steese go.

In legal circles, prosecutorial misconduct is viewed by many as a pervasive problem — an “epidemic,” as one prominent federal judge called it in 2013. Jurisdictions large and small are riddled with corrupt practices. Misconduct lies behind more than half of all cases nationwide in which convicted defendants are ultimately exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Driven by a win-at-all-costs culture, such misbehavior is especially hard to root out because, many experts say, there’s little incentive to play by the rules. Appellate courts often sweep misconduct aside as harmless. Top prosecutors, burnishing their own careers, rarely punish underlings for it — and indeed they often flourish, going on to become judges reluctant to police their former peers. And the law gives prosecutors broad immunity from civil lawsuits, even when their bad behavior lands the wrong people in prison.

Fred Steese’s case exposed the rot in the system that robbed him of two decades of his life. Yet even then prosecutors worked to keep it hidden, forcing him into an almost incomprehensible choice: Risk freedom to fight for an uncertain exoneration that might take years, or cop to a crime he didn’t commit and walk away.

II. Death of a Poodle Master

LUCKY THE CLOWN, a 123-foot-tall blast of frenzied neon, has greeted visitors to the Strip since 1976. With its massive grin and pinwheel lollipop, the marquee beckons gamblers inside the striped big top at the Circus Circus hotel and casino. In 1992, low rollers fed cups of change into slot machines while acrobats swung overhead. A rotating lineup of circus performers did free shows on a small dark stage on the second floor until midnight. Passersby would stop to watch before moving along to the $2.99 dinner buffet. Among the performers was a faded but still handsome dog trainer with the bearing of a dancer, often dressed elaborately in sequined tails and matching bow tie. Gerard Soules, known as Jerry, was circus royalty of sorts, a trapeze artist who had traveled the world, performing for the queen of England and dazzling the crowd in the Ringling Bros. center ring. A preening showman, he had worn a cape that he would fling open before beginning the 40-foot climb to the pedestal. From there he’d launch his daring signature move, a somersault forward off the trapeze, catching himself by his heels at the last second on the bar of the same trapeze.

Soules had grown up devoutly Catholic in 1940s blue-collar Michigan. When he came out as gay to his mother as a teenager, his family defied expectations by supporting him. Soules left home at 16 to join the circus. After a trapeze accident in his late 20s, he reinvented himself as the ringmaster of a pack of well-dressed poodles. In 1992, Soules took his act to Circus Circus, where, six days a week, his 14 poodles hopped on their hind legs across the stage: One in a poncho and sombrero to a Mexican march, another to a can-can with her dress attached to her front paws, Moulin Rouge-style, still others wearing three-foot-tall hats or giant hoopskirts — all of the outfits handstitched by Soules himself.

Despite the act’s popularity, Soules had lost his spirit. The casino wouldn’t let him stay at its own RV park with his poodles, so he was banished to the Silver Nugget Camperland, in much less desirable North Las Vegas. And he’d been living in a heartbroken fog since his partner of decades had died, several years earlier. Eager for companionship, the 55-year-old had recently taken to helping young men in need. . .

Continue reading. It is an extremely interesting story.

And also note:

Vegas Judge Had Long History of Prosecutorial Misconduct

The behavior of Bill Kephart, who led the murder prosecution of Fred Steese, was repeatedly lambasted by the Supreme Court of Nevada. But that didn’t stop him from becoming a judge. Read the story.


Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2017 at 10:24 am

House Republicans will not concede they broke a fundamental health-care promise

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House Republicans are, so far as I can tell, fundamentally dishonest and lie more or less constantly, mainly about their actions and their words. Mike DeBonis reports in the Washington Post:

The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Republican health-care bill had just been made public Wednesday, and Rep. Mark Meadows was standing off the House floor, 15 minutes into a sparring session with reporters over its significance when he suddenly paused.

“Listen,” Meadows (R-N.C.) said, his voice cracking. “I lost my sister to breast cancer. I lost my dad to lung cancer. If anybody is sensitive to preexisting conditions, it’s me. And I’m not going to make a political decision today that affects somebody’s sister or father because I wouldn’t do it to myself. So I tell you that in the most earnest of ways that we’re going to get this right.”

The burst of emotion from the House Freedom Caucus chairman, a man who played a crucial role in shepherding the American Health Care Act to passage, was a poignant reaction to an uncomfortable fact: According to the nonpartisan CBO, the GOP bill broke a fundamental promise GOP leaders made to the public.

Repeatedly, top Republicans said, people with preexisting medical conditions would still be able to purchase affordable insurance under the AHCA. They downplayed concerns from independent analysts that the protections they included would not be sufficient to protect the sickest patients from drastic price hikes — touting a last-minute fix to beef up subsidies without waiting for the CBO to judge whether it would work.

“Preexisting conditions are in the bill,” President Trump said last month. “I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’ ”

“Under this bill, no matter what, you cannot be denied coverage if you have a preexisting condition,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said earlier this month, after his office issued a release saying the bill “protects people with preexisting conditions.”

“We need to protect the most vulnerable people,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who worked with Meadows to craft a viable bill, told CNN. “These are people with preexisting conditions. We want to make sure they are protected.”

The CBO found that while insurers could not deny coverage to sick Americans, they would be far from being “protected.”

In states that choose to waive certain insurance coverage mandates as allowed under the GOP bill, the report stated, “people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all.”

The scorekeepers added: “[L]ess healthy people would face extremely high premiums, despite the additional funding that would be available under [the AHCA] to help reduce premiums. Over time, it would become more difficult for less healthy people (including people with preexisting medical conditions) in those states to purchase insurance because their premiums would continue to increase rapidly.”

The analysis undermines not only the claims made by GOP leaders, but also shows that their bill could, by undoing what is perhaps the Affordable Care Act’s single most popular provision, throw consumers back into insurance markets where their ability to purchase affordable insurance would depend on their health.

The CBO report prompted a variety of explanations and evasions this week. Many House Republicans simply cast doubt on the CBO’s ability to analyze health-insurance markets. . .

Continue reading.

I have to say that the US political situation looks increasingly bad. Seriously bad.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2017 at 10:15 am

Wet Shaving Products Monarch, Van Yulay After Dark, and the iKon Short Comb on a Kronos handle

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Van Yulay’s After Dark shaving soap is also better (for me) than the Hercules formula. After Dark’s ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera, Coconut Fatty Acid, Castor, Glycerin, Potassium Hydroxide, Coconut-Emu-Babassu-Olive-Argan-Jojoba-Oils, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Sodium Lactate, Allantoin, Silica, Liquid Silk, Bentonite Clay, Essential Oil, and EO’s and Fragrance.

With the WSP Monarch brush, the soap was easy to load and made a very nice lather.

I used the Short Comb on an Above the Tie Kronos handle and got a good shave. The iKon Short Comb is somewhat similar to the RazoRock Old Type, but on the whole I prefer the Old Type to the Short Comb. And I also find the iKon 101 better (for me) than the Short Comb. That said, I did get a very nice shave., and at the end I enjoyed Van Yulay’s After Dark aftershave splash.

A good way to end the week. And backribs tonight…

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2017 at 9:55 am

Posted in Shaving

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