Later On

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

Archive for March 3rd, 2018

WOW! Change is a-comin’

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Just read this report in The Hill. It’s short, but big. I tell you, a new cultural meme is proving powerful.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2018 at 8:45 pm

An absolute must-read report on a school-shooter’s mind

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This is stunning. And will it ever propel the new meme forward.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2018 at 8:39 pm

A really stunning documentary, especially if you don’t play Go: “The Surrounding Game”

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It’s about Go, but I mean really about Go. The reason that it’s good for those who don’t know Go is that there’s an initial section providing information and context for the last part of the film, which is the greater part of the film, in every sense. It was as tense as you could want. And it just got better and better. Man. I’m impressed.

The Surrounding Game

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2018 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Games, Go, Movies & TV

Bad news: Yes, bacon really is killing us

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Bee Wilson writes in the Guaardian:

There was a little cafe I used to go to that did the best bacon sandwiches. They came in a soft and pillowy white bap. The bacon, thick-cut from a local butcher, was midway between crispy and chewy. Ketchup and HP sauce were served in miniature jars with the sandwich, so you could dab on the exact amount you liked. That was all there was to it: just bread and bacon and sauce. Eating one of these sandwiches, as I did every few weeks, with a cup of strong coffee, felt like an uncomplicated pleasure.

And then, all of a sudden, the bacon sandwich stopped being quite so comforting. For a few weeks in October 2015, half the people I knew were talking about the news that eating bacon was now a proven cause of cancer. You couldn’t miss the story: it was splashed large in every newspaper and all over the web. As one journalist wrote in Wired, “Perhaps no two words together are more likely to set the internet aflame than BACON and CANCER.” The BBC website announced, matter-of-factly, that “Processed meats do cause cancer”, while the Sun went with “Banger out of Order” and “Killer in the Kitchen”.

The source of the story was an announcement from the World Health Organization that “processed meats” were now classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning scientists were certain that there was “sufficient” evidence that they caused cancer, particularly colon cancer. The warning applied not just to British bacon but to Italian salami, Spanish chorizo, German bratwurst and myriad other foods.

Health scares are ten-a-penny, but this one was very hard to ignore. The WHO announcement came on advice from 22 cancer experts from 10 countries, who reviewed more than 400 studies on processed meat covering epidemiological data from hundreds of thousands of people. It was now possible to say that “eat less processed meat”, much like “eat more vegetables”, had become one of the very few absolutely incontrovertible pieces of evidence-based diet advice – not simply another high-profile nutrition fad. As every news report highlighted, processed meat was now in a group of 120 proven carcinogens, alongside alcohol, asbestos and tobacco – leading to a great many headlines blaring that bacon was as deadly as smoking.

The WHO advised that consuming 50g of processed meat a day – equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog – would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime. (Eating larger amounts raises your risk more.) Learning that your own risk of cancer has increased from something like 5% to something like 6% may not be frightening enough to put you off bacon sandwiches for ever. But learning that consumption of processed meat causes an additional 34,000 worldwide cancer deaths a year is much more chilling. According to Cancer Research UK, if no one ate processed or red meat in Britain, there would be 8,800 fewer cases of cancer. (That is four times the number of people killed annually on Britain’s roads.)

The news felt especially shocking because both ham and bacon are quintessentially British foods. Nearly a quarter of the adult population in Britain eats a ham sandwich for lunch on any given day, according to data from 2012 gathered by researchers Luke Yates and Alan Warde. To many consumers, bacon is not just a food; it is a repository of childhood memories, a totem of home. Surveys indicate that the smell of frying bacon is one of our favourite scents in the UK, along with cut grass and fresh bread. To be told that bacon had given millions of people cancer was a bit like finding out your granny had been secretly sprinkling arsenic on your morning toast.

Vegetarians might point out that the bacon sandwich should never have been seen as comforting. It is certainly no comfort for the pigs, most of whom are kept in squalid, cramped conditions. But for the rest of us, it was alarming to be told that these beloved foods might be contributing to thousands of needless human deaths. In the weeks following news of the WHO report, sales of bacon and sausages fell dramatically. British supermarkets reported a £3m drop in sales in just a fortnight. (“It was very detrimental,” said Kirsty Adams, the product developer for meat at Marks and Spencer.)

But just when it looked as if this may be #Bacongeddon (one of many agonised bacon-related hashtags trending in October 2015), a second wave of stories flooded in. Their message was: panic over. For one thing, the analogy between bacon and smoking was misleading. Smoking tobacco and eating processed meat are both dangerous, but not on the same scale. To put it in context, around 86% of lung cancers are linked to smoking, whereas it seems that just 21% of bowel cancers can be attributed to eating processed or red meat. A few weeks after publishing the report, the WHO issued a clarification insisting it was not telling consumers to stop eating processed meat.

Meanwhile, the meat industry was busily insisting that there was nothing to see here. The North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, called the report “dramatic and alarmist overreach”. A whole tranche of articles insisted in a commonsense tone that it would be premature and foolish to ditch our meaty fry-ups just because of a little cancer scare.

Nearly three years on, it feels like business as usual for processed meats. Many of us seem to have got over our initial sense of alarm. Sales of bacon in the UK are buoyant, having risen 5% in the two years up to mid-2016. When I interviewed a product developer for Sainsbury’s supermarket last year, she said that one of the quickest ways to get British consumers to try a new product now was to add chorizo to it.

And yet the evidence linking bacon to cancer is stronger than ever. In January, a new large-scale study using data from 262,195 British women suggested that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit moe, and it’s interesting.

Later in the article:

The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didn’t have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we haven’t been told – including by the WHO – is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2018 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Instead of Taking on Gun Control, Democrats Are Teaming With Republicans for a Stealth Attack on Wall Street Reform

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David Dayen reports in The Intercept:

IN MID-JANUARY, Citigroup executives held a conference call with reporters about the bank’s fourth-quarter 2017 earnings. The discussion turned to an obscure congressional bill, S.2155, pitched by its bipartisan supporters mainly as a vehicle to deliver regulatory relief to community banks and, 10 years after the financial crisis, to make needed technical fixes to the landmark Wall Street reform law, Dodd-Frank.

But Citi’s Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach told the trade reporters he thought that some bigger banks — like, say, Citigroup — should get taken care of in the bill as well. He wanted Congress to loosen rules around how the bank could go about lending and investing. The specific mechanism to do that was to fiddle with what’s known as the supplementary leverage ratio, or SLR, a key capital requirement for the nation’s largest banks. This simple ratio sets how much equity banks must carry compared to total assets like loans.

S.2155 did, at the time, weaken the leverage ratio, but only for so-called custodial banks, which do not primarily make loans but instead safeguard assets for rich individuals and companies like mutual funds. As written, the measure would have assisted just two U.S. banks, State Street and Bank of New York Mellon. This offended Gerspach. “We obviously don’t think that is fair, so we would like to see that be altered,” he told reporters.

Republicans and Democrats who pushed S.2155 through the Senate Banking Committee must have heard Citi’s call. (They changed the definition of a custodial bank in a subsequent version of the bill. It used to stipulate that only a bank with a high level of custodial assets would qualify, but now it defines a custodial bank as “any depository institution or holding company predominantly engaged in custody, safekeeping, and asset servicing activities.”) The change could allow virtually any big bank to take advantage of the new rule.

Multiple bank lobbyists told The Intercept that Citi has been pressing lawmakers to loosen the language even further, ensuring that they can take advantage of reduced leverage and ramp up risk. “Citi is making a very aggressive effort,” said one bank lobbyist who asked not to be named because he’s working on the bill. “It’s a game changer and that’s why they’re pushing hard.” A Citigroup spokesperson declined to comment.

A bill that began as a well-intentioned effort to satisfy some perhaps legitimate community bank grievances has instead mushroomed, sparking fears that Washington is paving the way for the next financial meltdown. Congress is unlikely to pass much significant legislation in 2018, so lobbyists have rushed to stuff the trunk of the vehicle full. “There are many different interests in financial services that are looking at this and saying, ‘Oh my God, there’s finally going to be reform to Dodd-Frank that may move, let me throw in this issue and this issue,’” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., in an interview. “There are a dozen different players who decided this is the last bus out of town.”

And Coons is a co-sponsor of the bill.

A hopeful nation — and the president himself — expected that the Senate would begin debate on major gun policy reform next week, but instead a confounding scenario has emerged: In the typically gridlocked Congress, with the Trump legislative agenda mostly stalled, members of both parties will come together to roll back financial rules, during the 10th anniversary of the biggest banking crisis in nearly a century. And it’s happening with virtually no media attention whatsoever.

Aside from the gifts to Citigroup and other big banks, the bill undermines fair lending rules that work to counter racial discrimination and rolls back regulation and oversight on large regional banks that aren’t big enough to be global names, but have enough cash to get a stadium named after themselves. In the name of mild relief for community banks, these institutions — which have been christened “stadium banks” by congressional staff opposing the legislation — are punching a gaping hole through Wall Street reform. Twenty-five of the 38 biggest domestic banks in the country, and globally significant foreign banks that have engaged in rampant misconduct, would get freed from enhanced supervision. There are even goodies for dominant financial services firms, such as Promontory and a division of Warren Buffett’s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. The bill goes so far as to punish buyers of mobile homes, among the most vulnerable people in the country, whose oft-stated economic anxiety drives so much of the discourse in American politics (just not when there might be something to do about it).

“Community banks are the human shields for the giant banks to get the deregulation they want,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is waging a last-minute, uphill fight to stop the bill. “The Citigroup carve-out is one more example of how in Washington, money talks and Congress listens.”

The Community Bank Hustle

S.2155 is known in Washington as the Crapo bill, named for the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Idaho Republican Mike Crapo. But it is at least equally authored by North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, with strong input from Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.; and Mark Warner, D-Va.

Warner, known lately for his role on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is a conventional ’90s-era moderate-to-conservative Democrat, a believer in businesses’ ability to self-regulate and a skeptic of onerous banking rules, as is Donnelly. But Heitkamp and Tester are cut from more populist cloth. Both played a quiet but potent role in 2013 in linking up with bank reformers Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Jeff Merkley to form a wall of Banking Committee Democrats who stopped cold Larry Summers’s bid to become chair of the Federal Reserve, instead backing Janet Yellen. Despite the partisan lean of their respective states, Heitkamp and Tester have often been reliable allies of progressives in the Senate.

Facing re-election in states that President Donald Trump won handily, the fundraising benefit of backing a bank reform bill needs little explanation. But that a populist Democrat feels they can sponsor such a bill and see political benefit — or at least not face much pain — represents a stark failure on the left to adequately frame and define the conversation around banking, Wall Street, inequality, and the economy. For years, big Wall Street banks have laundered themselves through down-home community banks, with bored Democrats and a bored public helpless to lift the mask.

With just days before the floor debate begins, the bill has the support of 13 Democrats, enough to break a filibuster.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2018 at 1:13 pm

Is This the Beginning of Trump’s End?

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Andrew Sullivan (a conservative) writes in New York magazine:

One of my favorite words is quickening as a noun. The dictionary will tell you it means the period in early pregnancy when an unborn child first starts to move in her mother’s womb, or the act of bringing something to life. And what this last week suggests to me is that there is a quickening in the crisis of the Trump presidency. I’m not sure where it will lead, but something is stirring.

Everything we’re seeing from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, suggests the growing possibility, at the very least, that Trump is implicated in a conspiracy with a foreign power to defraud the United States of America (that’s a better way of describing it than “collusion”). We can intuit this because we now know that the Trump campaign official George Papadopoulos knew by April 2016 that Russia had thousands of allegedly incriminating emails from Hillary Clinton, and planned to release them. It’s extremely hard to believe Papadopoulos didn’t share this information with his confreres on the Trump campaign. Why on earth would he not? (Papadopoulos’s source, the mysterious Professor Joseph Mifsud, disappeared from the face of the earth last October, and has not been seen since. His fiancée told BuzzFeed this week that he feared for his life and boasted of his friendship with Putin’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov: “He said, ‘I have dinner with Lavrov tonight. Lavrov is my friend. Lavrov this, Lavrov that … He even show me picture with Lavrov.”)

Trump then went out of his way repeatedly in the campaign to draw the media’s attention to the hacked emails, kept denying they were definitively the result of Russian interference, then publicly urged Russia, on national television, to release them. That summer, Donald Trump Jr. was thrilled to meet with Kremlin-connected Russians who might provide more information about the hacked emails, hoping that they could be released later in the campaign. He subsequently lied about this in a statement reportedly co-written by the president and Hope Hicks. Then there’s Mueller’s successful bid to get Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s right-hand man, to cooperate with the ongoing case against Trump’s former campaign manager. Gates knows everything about that sleazeball’s money-raking over the years, and his enmeshment with some of the most repellent tyrants on the planet (not including Trump). His testimony could be devastating. All of this lends considerably more credibility to the notion that Trump may have effectively committed treason during his campaign, and that Mueller may hit pay dirt. I have to say I’ve become much less skeptical of this idea as time has passed and the evidence has accumulated. It reached a tipping point for me last week.

Then there’s the New York Times story this week detailing Jared Kushner’s obvious conflict of interest in meeting with subsequent lenders to his company in his White House capacity. It’s one of the more damning exposés of a White House official that I’ve ever read. It reveals the character of the man (he’s just like his dad), and the removal of this gilded, mute grifter’s top security clearance is a sign that some small constraints on the unprecedented corruption in Trump’s orbit are beginning to emerge. Exposing the petty perks of Scott Pruitt and Ben Carson and Steve Mnuchin adds some background color to the general picture of sleaze and self-serving. The swift departure of Hope Hicks after Trump berated her for telling the truth to the House Intelligence Committee — he reportedly asked her how she could “be so stupid” — is another sign of unraveling. (If true, by the way, then Trump’s interference with an individual’s possible future testimony under oath, is also, strictly speaking, a crime.)

At the same time, a remarkable hero is emerging in the fight for the norms of liberal democracy:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2018 at 9:59 am

California’s gun seizure squad finds an arsenal under a bed

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California in many ways is a heads-up state. Jason Kravarik and Stephanie Elam report at CNN:

Piled high with clothes and junk, a bedroom in this small stucco home looks like it belongs to a hoarder.

But when Special Agent Sam Richardson spots a green ammunition can, he knows he has to dig further.

“There’s a fair chance he’s going to have a gun,” Richardson says.

In another room, guarded by another agent, sits 57-year-old Timothy Pope. He once registered weapons legally. But he lost the right to have guns when he was convicted of a felony for possessing a destructive device.

California keeps a list of people who should have surrendered or sold their weapons and sends agents like Richardson to check on homes and seize any weapons that should not be there.

Back in the bedroom — as a “Law and Order” rerun blares from down the hall — Richardson lifts up a mattress to reveal an assault-style weapon and ammunition.

“It’s like blood in the water,” he said. “What else could this guy have in here?”

For the next hour, agents from the California Attorney General’s Division of Law Enforcement haul out more weapons than they had listed in this suburban Los Angeles home: three assault-style rifles, a shotgun, a pistol, and 6,500 rounds of ammunition.

One of the rifles is outfitted with a bump stock, which allows a semi-automatic weapon to function similarly to a machine gun.

Two of the rifles are considered “ghost guns” — weapons free of serial numbers so they can’t be traced by law enforcement.

“Can you imagine if these guns got in the wrong hands, through a burglary?” said Special Agent in Charge Tony LaDell.

Pope, who spoke freely to CNN while sitting in handcuffs, acknowledged a judge told him he couldn’t possess weapons.

“I had them prior to being arrested and I didn’t think about it, or take the action to get them out of my possession,” Pope said.

As state agents buzzed through the house, gathering evidence that could be used against him, Pope was asked how he feels now.

“Stupid,” he said.

For the team of agents, it’s another name cleared from their database. But there are more than 10,000 cases still to clear and more are added frequently.

“This is one of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement,” Richardson said. “It is not a job where you run up to the front door and hopefully they hand you their gun.”

‘Only in California’

The gun seizure squads are part of California’s strict gun control laws that were further tightened in January after voters backed a proposition for the banning of large-capacity magazines, an end to ammunition being sold online and shipped directly to homes, and new procedures to make sure those who shouldn’t have guns don’t have guns.

The Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) includes people who are not allowed to own a weapon because of a conviction in a felony or violent misdemeanor. But it also includes people who have not been convicted but have restraining orders against them, or who have mental health problems. The latter most often includes people who have been placed on a three-day mental health hold by law enforcement or a physician, Richardson said.

“We’re not telling anyone who’s law abiding … that they’re going to have to give up anything,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “We’re talking about folks who have proven themselves unworthy.”

“Only in California do we have (this) law,” Becerra added. “And we encourage other states, in fact the country, to do the same thing.”

Continue reading. Some striking photos in the report.

The idea of verifying that people who are not allowed to have firearms do in fact have no firearms makes sense to me. Trust but verify, as Henry Kissinger advised.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2018 at 9:57 am

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