Later On

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

Archive for April 4th, 2018

Grand theft auto — by the U.S. government

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I don’t often agree with George F. Will, but he’s absolutely right in this Washington Post column:

After two years of stonewalling about its theft of Gerardo Serrano’s 2014 Ford F-250 pickup truck, the government suddenly returned it. It sparkled from having been washed and detailed, bumper to bumper, and it had four new tires and a new battery. The government probably hoped that, mollified by the truck’s sprucing-up, Serrano would let bygones be bygones and go back to Kentucky. This was another mistake by our mistake-prone government.

Assisted by litigators from the Institute for Justice (IJ), whose appearance on the West Texas horizon probably panicked the government into pretending to be law-abiding, Serrano wants to make the government less larcenous and more constitutional when it is enriching itself through civil forfeiture.

On Sept. 21, 2015, Serrano drove to the Eagle Pass, Tex., border crossing, intending to try to interest a Mexican cousin in expanding his solar panel installation business in the United States. To have mementos of his trip, he took some pictures of the border with his cellphone camera, which annoyed two U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, who demanded the password to his phone. Serrano, who is what an American ought to be regarding his rights, prickly, refused to submit to such an unwarranted invasion of his privacy. One agent said he was “sick of hearing about your rights” and “you have no rights here.” So, they searched his truck — this was unusual for a vehicle leaving the country — and one agent said, “We got him!”

Having found five .380-caliber bullets in the truck’s center console — he has a concealed-carry permit but had no weapon with him — they handcuffed him and seized his truck under civil forfeiture, saying it had been used to transport “munitions of war.” The next time someone warns about the potential for domestic abuse of supposed national security measures, do not dismiss him or her as a neurotic libertarian.

Civil forfeiture is the power to seize property suspected of being produced by, or involved in, crime. In this “Through the Looking-Glass,” guilty-until-proven-innocent inversion, the property’s owners bear the burden of proving that they were not involved in such activity, which can be a costly and protracted process as people must hire lawyers and do battle with a government wielding unlimited resources. Law enforcement agencies get to keep the profits from forfeited property, which gives them an incentive to do what too many of them do: abuse the process. But, then, the process — punishment before a crime is proven — is inherently abusive.

The government seems mystified that Serrano will not leave bad enough alone and drive away. It says he got his truck back after a mere 25 months, so “there is no longer any case or controversy.” Serrano says, let me count the ways I have been injured by “thugs with badges.”

Before the government would deign to promise (falsely, it turned out) to give him due process — to allow him to request a judicial hearing — it extorted from Serrano a bond of 10 percent of the truck’s value ($3,804.99). The government quickly cashed his check. (Not until the IJ cavalry rode in did he get his money back.) The hearing never happened. During the two years Serrano was without the truck, he had to continue making $672.97 monthly payments on it, and he had to pay more than $700 to insure it, $1,004.61 to register it in Kentucky and thousands more for rental cars.

Serrano is suing for restitution but also seeking a class-action judgment on behalf of others who have been similarly mistreated. Just at Eagle Pass, one of 73 crossing points on the U.S.-Mexico border, the CBP seizes, on average, well more than 100 Americans’ vehicles a year. Serrano seeks to establish a right to prompt post-seizure judicial hearings. These would be improvements, but of a process that requires radical revision, if not abolition.

Robert Everett Johnson is one of the IJ lawyers whose interest in the case galvanized the CBP’s hitherto dormant interest in Serrano’s rights. Johnson says: . . .

Continue reading.

This is the sort of action that gives the U.S. government a bad reputation. It seems authoritarian and overbearing.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 8:08 pm

When religion undermines knowledge: Why Is New York Condoning Illiteracy?

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Shulem Deen writes in the NY Times:

Last Friday, as observant Jews hurried with last-minute preparations for Passover, one Orthodox Jew was in Albany, holding up the New York State budget. He was insisting that this roughly $168 billion package include a special provision that would allow religious schools to meet the state’s educational requirements by using their long hours of religious instruction.

In recent years, education activists, among them former Hasidic yeshiva graduates, have pushed aggressively to bring the yeshivas into compliance with the state’s education laws. Simcha Felder, the state senator from Brooklyn who represents the heavily ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Borough Park and Midwood, was on a mission to get legal permission for the state to turn a blind eye to the near-absence of secular instruction in many yeshivas. The upshot? Tens of thousands of children would continue to graduate without the most basic skills.

I know about the cost. I was one of those kids.

I was raised in New York’s Hasidic community and educated in its schools. At my yeshiva elementary school, I received robust instruction in Talmudic discourse and Jewish religious law, but not a word about history, geography, science, literature, art or most other subjects required by New York State law. I received rudimentary instruction in English and arithmetic — an afterthought after a long day of religious studies — but by high school, secular studies were dispensed with altogether.

The language of instruction was, for the most part, Yiddish. English, our teachers would remind us, was profane.

During my senior year of high school, a common sight in our study hall was of students learning to sign their names in English, practicing for their marriage license. For many, it was the first time writing their names in anything but Yiddish or Hebrew.

When I was in my 20s, already a father of three, I had no marketable skills, despite 18 years of schooling. I could rely only on an ill-paid position as a teacher of religious studies at the local boys’ yeshiva, which required no special training or certification. As our family grew steadily — birth control, or even basic sexual education, wasn’t part of the curriculum — my then-wife and I struggled, even with food stamps, Medicaid and Section 8 housing vouchers, which are officially factored into the budgets of many of New York’s Hasidic families.

I remember feeling both shame and anger. Shame for being unable to provide for those who relied on me. Anger at those responsible for educating me who had failed me so colossally.

A woman I know works as a physician at Maimonides Medical Center, in heavily Hasidic Borough Park in Brooklyn, and often sees adult male patients who can barely communicate to her what ails them. “It’s not just that they’re like immigrants, barely able to speak the language,” she told me. “It’s also a lack of knowledge of basic physiology. They can barely name their own body parts.”

This experience — of lacking the most basic knowledge — is one I have come to know well. Ten years ago, at age 33, I left the Hasidic community and sought to make my way in the secular world. At 35, I got my G.E.D., but I never made it to college, relying instead on self-study to fill in my educational gaps. I still live with my educational handicaps.

I now have two sons, ages 16 and 18. I do not have custody of them — I lost it when I left the Hasidic world, and so I have no control over their education. Today, they cannot speak, read or write in English past a second-grade level. (As for my three daughters, their English skills are fine. Girls, not obligated with Torah study, generally receive a decent secular education.)

Like me, my sons will be expected to marry young and raise large families. They too will receive no guidance on how to provide for them and will be forced into low-wage jobs and rely heavily on government support.

They are not alone. Across the state, there are dozens of Hasidic yeshivas, with tens of thousands of students — nearly 60,000 in New York City alone — whose education is being atrociously neglected.

These schools receive hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding, through federal programs like Title I and Head Start and state programs like Academic Intervention Services and universal pre-K. For New York City’s yeshivas, $120 million comes from the state-funded, city-run Child Care and Development Block Grant subsidy program: nearly a quarter of the allocation to the entire city.

According to New York State law, nonpublic schools are required to offer a curriculum that is “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools. But when it comes to Hasidic yeshivas, this law has gone unenforced for decades. The result is a community crippled by poverty and a systemic reliance on government funding for virtually all aspects of life.

Men like Mr. Felder, beholden not so much to his Hasidic constituents as much as to their leaders who promise him votes, would like to pretend that this problem doesn’t exist. The leadership of the Hasidic community argues that the issue is exaggerated, an attempt by outsiders to malign their community. They point to outliers, successful entrepreneurs — the Hasidic-owned electronics store B & H Photo Video in New York City is often touted — as examples of success.

But these are rare exceptions.

According to a report by Yaffed, or Young Advocates for Fair Education, an organization that advocates for improved general studies in Hasidic yeshivas, an estimated 59 percent of Hasidic households are poor or near-poor. According to United States Census figures, the all-Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, an hour north of New York City, is the poorest in the country, with median family income less than $18,000.

One heavily Hasidic district of Brooklyn, South Williamsburg, has, over the last decade, shown dramatic increases in using public  . . .

Continue reading.

This is the sort of thing that gives religion a bad reputation.

And this is another example of how religion gets a bad reputation.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 7:55 pm

A title that reveals a very protected life: “Doing Dishes Is the Worst”

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I’m blogging this, but I have to say that I don’t get it. I do all the cooking in this household, and I also do all the dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher (nor did we in our US apartment), and I quickly if not immediately figured out that the best approach is to keep a dish drainer in one side of the double sink and immediately wash any dirty item and put it in the drainer to dry. Periodically I empty out the drainer, putting away the clean, dry items.

So usually I am washing very few items, and since I’m washing the immediately, they’re easy to clean, generally requiring no more than a good rinse: a couple of small plates or bowls after breakfast, along with a couple of pieces of silverware. One pan and a couple of bowls after lunch. And so on. I spend about 20 seconds washing off the items, and that’s done.

Whenever I walk through the kitchen, I look for anything that needs washing, and if I find something, I wash it on the spot. The job becomes trivial. (I admit that we do not have large dinner parties, which would make the job harder.)

I don’t understand why, when people are faced with something like doing the dishes, they don’t simply figure out a good way to do the dishes that will minimize the effort. Am I missing something? When I take a dirty dish into the kitchen, I wash it on the spot: mere seconds and no effort.

Caroline Kitchener writes in the Atlantic:

Every day, they slowly accumulate. [Or not, if you wash them as they are dirtied. – LG] Plates covered in sauces and crumbs. Bowls with a fine layer of sticky who-knows-what. Forks, knives, and spoons all gummed with bits of this and that. At the end of a long day of work, cooking, cleaning, and, for many, negotiating with small children, a couple has to face the big question: Who is going to do the dishes?

A forthcoming report from the Council of Contemporary Families (CCF), a nonprofit that studies family dynamics, suggests that the answer to that question can have a significant impact on the health and longevity of a relationship. The study examined a variety of different household tasks—including shopping, laundry, and housecleaning, and found that, for women in heterosexual relationships, it’s more important to share the responsibility of doing the dishes than any other chore. Women who wash the vast majority of the dishes themselves report more relationship conflict, less relationship satisfaction, and even worse sex, than women with partners who help. Women are happier about sharing dishwashing duties than they are about sharing any other household task.

What is it about dishes? Dan Carlson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Utah, and the lead author of the study, offers one possible reason: “Doing dishes is gross. There is old, moldy food sitting in the sink. If you have kids, there is curdled milk in sippy cups that smells disgusting.” Additionally, unlike some other chores such as cooking or gardening, doing dishes well does not beget compliments, he observes: “What is there to say? ‘Oh, the silverware is so … sparkly’?”

The most unpopular household tasks, Carlson told me, also tend to be the ones most often associated with women. Traditionally, women have shouldered full responsibility for chores that involve cleaning up after someone else: doing the laundry, cleaning the toilet, washing dishes. Men, on the other hand, are often associated with mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, washing the car—tasks that don’t require getting up close and personal with somebody else’s daily grime. Today, women who have to shoulder those traditionally female chores alone “see themselves as relegated to the tasks that people don’t find desirable,” Carlson said. That breeds resentment.

Over the past several decades, men have assumed a greater share of household chores. Today, they perform an average of four hours of housework every week, compared to two in 1965. Dishwashing is actually one of the tasks partners are most likely to take turns doing: Between 1999 and 2006, the share of couples who divvy up dishwashing responsibilities rose from 16 to 29 percent, according to the CCF report. This may make it all the more annoying for women who still find the task falling to them. If a woman goes over to a friend’s house and sees a male partner handling or helping with the dishes, Carlson told me, she’s likely to feel worse about her own arrangement. “The more often a task is shared, the worse it is for you not to share it,” Carlson said.

Couples who do share dishwashing responsibilities seem to have better relationships. According to Carlson, that’s because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

On Narcissistic Collusion or How Evil “just happens”

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Elizabeth Mika, born in Poland and trained as a clinical psychologist, currently living in the US and working as an educational consultant, writes in Medium:

The Pivoting, dear reader, is now in full force — and what a spectacle it is. It is as scary as The Shining, only less bloody — so far.

But that’s how it always goes, as anyone familiar with the horror genre knows: an innocent, idyllic even, adventure turns surely but imperceptibly enough into a full-blown nightmare from which there is no escape. And the protagonists, mired in horror, are left to wax regretful — between whatever tortures are imposed on them — about their wrong choices that led them to their terror. “If only we knew!”

I am not talking about Brexit, though it too qualifies as another sign of our Shadow trying to break through our narcissistic blindness and force us to pay attention to the invisible suffering contained within, a process complete — as it always is — with its own uber-narcissist enabling it.

I am talking about the shameful spectacle of the GOP politicos lining up behind (or in front, as in the picture on top) Agent Orange, a man whose painfully apparent character defect is somehow blissfully unnoticed or blithely disregarded — often by the same people who openly pointed it out before. Pivoting, they call it, and hope, naively, that the process would be mutual.

Pivoting is the word of the year — or should be, if the Merriam-Webster folks are paying attention as they should. And even though Cenk Uygur calls it plain lying, there is more to it.

The Guardian has an open and growing gallery of these pivoters, the Enduring Hall of Shame of sorts; but their graphics showing Trump as the star in the center of this disordered solar system are wrong.

The man is not a star but a black hole — a singular event in the spacetime fabric of America that bends and defies reality as we understand it and sucks in everything around it, destroying it in the process, as he was designed to do. Nothing can escape from it. That’s what black holes do.

It is easy to guess why so many of the conscience-deficient GOPers support their problematic candidate — the two all too obvious reasons are fear (of ostracism if refusing to follow the herd), and a desire to remain in good graces of the future president and his sycophants, assuring a place at the trough of power and the perks that come with it. And an adherence to a perverted principle that the good of the party comes above all else.

This short-sighted complicity that makes even people with a conscience, albeit a weak one, compromise their principles for safety and primitive goals always ends badly for everyone involved, including the compromisers whose dignity never recovers, even if they survive. Dignity, of course, is one of those values that only exist and matter if you have a functioning conscience, the part of human beings that’s both most elusive and most important as it makes all the difference in the world.

It may be that the pivoting GOPers are not craven, but just do not fully, or at all, understand the extent of their candidate’s character problem, especially if they themselves share his narcissistic defect and the blindness it creates. People with clouded minds and/or consciences sometimes do not see things clearly; so as a Public Service Announcement for the non-seeing ones, I’d like to take this opportunity to address this issue:

Your candidate, dear GOPers, is not going to change. Not because he does not want to — and he surely does not want to — but because he cannot. In order to change in any meaningful fashion, a person must have a functioning conscience. There is no way around it, no matter how hard we may try to find it. There’s just not enough lipstick in the world.

A functioning conscience, much better than reason itself, tells us when and where we erred and how, and what we must do to correct our errors. A functioning conscience with its empathy, guilt, and humility — the three capacities distinctly missing from a narcissist’s inner milieu — is what makes it possible for us to notice and admit that we are at fault, want to rectify our mistakes and change our behavior.

No functioning conscience, no change; not even a possibility of acknowledging a wrongdoing. And, if you are a grandiosely narcissistic “winner” (triple redundancy warning!), the best in all you do and also in things you have never done, you would see no need whatsoever to learn anything. Why, perfection means no need to ever say you’re sorry — it is one of its undeniable benefits, for gods and narcissistic humans alike.

This also means your candidate is not going to surround himself with reasonable, or — god forbid — wise people, because, again, he does not believe he could be wrong and he does not need anyone’s advice. And, as he’s someone with the best brain, whose advice could even come close to his own? Besides, he has no tolerance for competition.

The impairment of conscience characteristic for narcissism severely limits a person’s cognitive capacities, as it makes him (or her) incapable of, among so many things, understanding points of view other than his own. This itself makes objective — or at least non-egocentric — reasoning impossible.

The result is dangerous solipsism where one’s desires become a substitute for reality, and facts (and people), particularly those that are unpleasant for the narcissist to acknowledge, cease to exist. What he wants, must happen, regardless of consequences for the world — the consequences he is unable to envision in the first place, but even if he did so, he would disregard them.

Unable and unwilling to learn — a distinction without a difference in a narcissist’s case — the best your candidate can be expected to do is to stick to a teleprompter and read the scripts written for him by his children and handlers.

Those scripts are not going to be free of their own pathology, however, one which they share with your candidate; but they will be more subdued and polished, as such things go. So they may fool more people, maybe even enough to have your candidate elected, if that’s what you’re after. They will not help your candidate grow a conscience, though. He probably does not understand a lot of what he reads in those prepared speeches; and if he does, he likely does not care to notice how it may differ from what he is about and what it could possibly mean. No conscience, no values, no problem.

Once he’s off the teleprompter, he will remain his usual “winning” self, looking for any opportunity to make a “deal” that would personally elevate him and humiliate someone else, because this is his lifelong modus operandi.

Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” You have been shown time and again, and also explained, one hopes clearly enough; so don’t say you have not been warned.

With the PSA concluded, let’s pivot back to our narcissistic collusion in progress.

What is both fascinating and frightening — but also instructive — in this case is that the GOPers’ presumptive nominee openly promises to undo most of the things that supposedly have made America the beacon of freedom and democracy — and his eager supporters are the very same people who routinely sloganeer about that freedom and democracy when it suits their personal agenda (= they are up for election). We are getting a glimpse of the inner corruption that lurks right behind the polished facade, corruption that stems from the all too common deficits of conscience.

What’s happening on the American political stage now is what happens in all organizations run, or soon to be run, by character-disordered tyrants: a willful and spontaneous collusion of people who should know better (one sometimes still erroneously assumes) with a deeply immoral and inherently destructive leader.

We are watching history repeat itself with a maddening insistence, and we are privileged, if one can call it that, to observe this phenomenon live, as it takes place before our very eyes. Being a witness to history can be educational, should one want to learn a thing or two about the curious malleability of the human conscience.

Frederick Burkle describes this process of narcissistic collusion as applied to politics in his paper on Narcissism in the US polity where he talks about political parties that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 1:37 pm

Lawsuit against the US government over paywalled immigration data

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David Yanofsky reports in Quartz:

Above the forwarded email I sent to my editor in March 2015 were the following remarks: “FYI, FOIAing two databases because they charge $13,000 a piece per year to access them.” Three years later, a federal district court judge says I’m entitled to that data—the only near-comprehensive records of people coming to the US—for the same fees afforded any other Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Between these two moments, the government missed administrative and court deadlines, and even changed its reason for denying my request. We’ve learned that there are few, if any, buyers of the data I’m seeking, yet staffers of the office who maintain the data say it generates revenue essential to their operation, and that governments officials couldn’t understand why a media company would want it. In that time, three more years of data have also been released, with the most recent year’s priced at $16,770.

The databases I seek are maintained by The US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA). They don’t just tally US visitors by their origin, but also by age, residency, port of entry, visa type, and initial destination.

In a new ruling from the US District Court for the District of Columbia filed on March 30, judge Ketanji Brown Jackson agreed with my lawyers from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Commerce had no legal basis to charge me exorbitant fees to access government data. My lawyers are representing me in this case pro bono.

Commerce argued that the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 and the Appropriations Act of 2016 taken together constitute a statute that can preempt the FOIA. At its core, Jackson says, the laws that Commerce points to “cannot plausibly be read” to contain the two requirements needed to supersede FOIA rules on charging for government records. They do not contain language about setting fees or mention the specific data I requested.

The case is not without a silver lining for the agency and the government. In a more technical part of the decision, Jackson ruled that what I and my lawyers characterized as an unallowable change of reasoning by the government between the administrative and judicial stages is—in fact—allowable. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 9:24 am

Great pizza in Baltimore

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Check it out. I do like interesting and novel combinations. (And I’ve had their pizza: wonderful.)

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 9:20 am

Posted in Food

Why the objections to collecting citizenship status in the census: Secret use of census info helped send Japanese Americans to internment camps in WWII

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Lori Aritani reports in the Washington Post:

The Census Bureau plans to ask people if they are U.S. citizens in the 2020 count of the nation’s population, igniting fears that the information could be used to target those in the country illegally.

Census officials said the question is being reinstated for the first time since 1950 to help enforce the Voting Rights Act and that there are safeguards in place to prevent any abuse of the information. It is illegal to release information that would identify individuals or families.

But that does not mean that census data has not been used to target specific populations in the past.

In fact, information from the 1940 Census was secretly used in one of the worst violations of constitutional rights in U.S. history: the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II.

In papers presented in 2000 and 2007, historian Margo J. Anderson of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and statistician William Seltzer of Fordham University found evidence that census officials cooperated with the government, providing data to target Japanese American citizens.

The Japanese American community had long suspected the Census Bureau of playing a role in the push to banish 120,000 Japanese Americans, mostly living on the West Coast, into nearly a dozen internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, according to former commerce secretary Norman Mineta.

Mineta, who lived in San Jose, was 11 when he and his family were sent to live in an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyo.

For decades, though, census officials denied that they had played any role in providing information. [Lie, lie, lie—I do get tired of that. – LG]

According to Anderson and Seltzer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and military intelligence agencies began pushing in late 1939 to relax census confidentiality rules in the hope of accessing data on individuals. But the effort was opposed by Census Bureau Director William Lane Austin.

After the 1940 presidential election, however, Austin was forced to retire. He was replaced by J.C. Capt, who backed efforts to remove confidentiality provisions. Capt’s efforts helped clear the way for other agencies to access the information on Japanese Americans.

In 2000, Anderson and Seltzer found documents that showed officials with the Census Bureau had provided block-level information of where those of Japanese ancestry were living in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Arkansas.

The revelations prompted Kenneth Prewitt, then director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to issue a public apology. Prewitt wrote: “The historical record is clear that senior Census Bureau staff proactively cooperated with the internment, and that census tabulations were directly implicated in the denial of civil rights to citizens of the United States who happened also to be of Japanese ancestry.”

Anderson and Seltzer, however, weren’t finished. They suspected that despite the bureau’s denials, it had also released “microdata” — information about individuals, including names and addresses.

In 2007, they found proof, uncovering documents that showed Census Bureau officials provided names and addresses of individuals of Japanese ancestry in Washington, D.C. . .

Continue reading. There’s more at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 7:49 am

Van Yulay Achilles and the iKon 101

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The Maggard Razors 22mm synthetic brush, a favorite, made a very fine lather from Van Yulay Achilles, another favorite: great fragrance and extremely slick lather.

I used my iKon 101, yet another favorite, to produce a totally smooth face in three easy passes, and then a splash of Achilles aftershave finished the job.

I have to admit that I was taken by surprise to the negative comments my post on Wicked Edge, made to point out Van Yulay’s soaps and attest based on my experience to their excellence, particularly since some of the most negative came from men who had never tried any Van Yulay soap (and seemed somehow proud of that). I think I have lost track of the zeitgeist. But let me again recommend here trying some samples of these soaps—and note that the formulations vary considerably from soap to soap.

Tonight we are going out to dinner, something now unusual for us, and I’m looking forward to it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2018 at 7:29 am

Posted in Shaving

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