Later On

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

Archive for April 15th, 2018

The painful truth of life after prison: Getting a job can be impossible

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And now President Trump has cut off assistance (food stamps, heating bills, Medicaid, etc.) to those who do not work. And those who can’t find a job are out of luck. The US is becoming a heartless place.

D. Watkins writes in Salon:

One day I pulled over in front of my aunt’s place to use the bathroom. Six pounds on the door before Big Guy A yelled across the yard, “She not home, dummy, you just missed her!”

(I’m calling him Big Guy A to protect his identity.)

“Lemme use your bathroom, bro!”

He cracked the door as I ran past the small group of dudes hanging in front of the complex. They were playing cards, talking trash, trading insults — just waiting around. Being black and poor comes with a lot of waiting.

A steamy locker room funk greeted me at the door. Clothes decorated the floor; I tried not to step on them but couldn’t help kicking some jeans out of the way to close the door. This bathroom had never been cleaned. I aimed for the center of the brown-tinted water in the rusted bowl and flushed with the tip of my Nike. A white bar of soap with beige edges perched on the sink. I just used water.

I glanced in the kitchen on the way out, and saw Big Guy A taking empty gel caps out of a plastic bag and placing them into a drawer next to his fridge. I understood the dirty soap, stink and overall grimness of the spot. I was in a trap house.

A trap house is a place where illegal drugs are bought, sold, packaged and stored. The word “trap” is pretty self-explanatory — once you start, death or jail (which is basically death) are the only two destinations, so we call it a trap.

“Yo, you want some water, bro?” Big Guy A said, opening a 24-pack of Deer Park. “I got chips too!”

“Bring the water out front, homie,” I replied. “I can’t chill in a trap house, man. Plus it stinks in here.”

He laughed and followed me out front with three waters and a bag of Rap Snacks, the chips with a picture of Fabolous on the front. Big Guy A tossed me the bottle of water and flopped on a busted office chair pulled up to a makeshift table made from a milk crate and half of a broken-off door. Teenage boys lined each corner of the complex. Their heads tilted toward their phones until customers walked up: middle-aged black dudes, white men in Under Armour and work boots, and a slew of El Salvadorian guys dressed like construction workers in carpenter jeans and unbuttoned flannels. The game is the same as it has always been: One kid collects the money and sends a signal to another kid who fetches the product, repeat over and over, like clockwork.

“Grandpa! We almost up,” a thin, heavily tattooed woman with small square gold teeth yelled. “We ready to be done, you can come out in like 30 minutes.”

“Hurry up Lil Man,” Big Guy A yells at her. “I’m tryin to eat too! Damn!”

She looked him up and down, laughed, shook her head, squinted her eyes and said, “You ain’t ruining my Sunday, pops, so shut ya mouth before I shut it for you.” She gave me and another dude a handshake and walked over to stand next to the kid who was collecting the money.

“They not your workers?” I asked Big Guy A. “This is your strip, right?”

“Nah, they work for her,” he replied. “I can’t sell a thing until the kids say it’s OK. They got the muscle, the weapons, they out here. It’s really their block.”

Big Guy A used to be a street legend. He’s a god’s height, preteen goofy, wide as an Escalade and stayed covered in gold and diamonds. He never ratted, wasn’t a hater and always made everyone laugh. He’s a real OG, and always gave advice, his grandmother’s wisdom and $20 to all of kids who chased the ice cream trucks up and down Broadway. I’m not sure how or why he got in the drug game, but I do know that he ran it like a champ.

“You know I did all that time, bro,” Big Guy A said, removing some bags of weed and gel caps from his pocket and placing them under the crate. “When I came home my team was gone, the block has changed, and I’m just out here tryin to live.”

Big Guy A sat in federal prison for about eight years for drug distribution. He came home, lived in a halfway house and created a plan to stay out of prison, which basically consisted of working two or three jobs until he saved up enough money to buy a dump truck.

“With a dump truck,” he explained, “I could get money in the blizzard, when it’s hot out, all that. The one I want cost like $28-30 thou at the auction. I’m tryin to stack. Still looking for a job, too. I filled out apps everywhere. Ain’t no work out here for me.”

My aunt pulled up with some grocery bags. I helped her carry them into the house. She put them away and joined me on the front steps, asking me about work. “Work is cool.” I couldn’t help but watch Big Guy A in action. Well, it wasn’t much action; he mostly lounged in the chair and waited, and every once in a while a straggler would straggle by and make a purchase.

“He is too old,” my aunt said about Big Guy A. “Some people never grow up.”

I saw him make about four sales over two hours. Every transaction looked painful. Big Guy A was like the before model in a Bengay ad. Dude was slow — too slow to outrun anything­­ — and slanging dope is a young person’s game. You should be sharp, agile, ripped and able to dip, duck, hide and fit into small places. A few people stopped by to crack jokes, and I saw him hesitantly passing money to a woman who only yelled at him, but he mostly sat alone.

“Big fella,” I said, walking in his direction.“It’s crazy out here, be careful.”

He got up to greet me. “All I can do; if you hear anything about a job, bro, holla at me,” he said, giving me a half-hug with a handshake. “Janitor, dog walker, mall rental cop, whatever. I’ll do anything to get from up and around here, you hear me? I’m tryin to work.”

I told him I’d try as I walked back to my car. He thanked me too many times. I turned around to yell “no problem,” and the sun fell on his sad eyes and wet smile. “Take care!” I said one more time before pulling off.

I’m an artist, not a reentry expert, and I have little to no experience getting companies to hire ex-offenders, but I do care and want to help. I put in a good word for a few of my friends who had spent some time in jail and some got hired because of my connections. They didn’t get high-paying jobs, but they made enough to leave the streets alone.

We condemn people who are in and out of prison, but regularly fail to address the system that prohibits ex-offenders from successfully reentering society.

The hard truth is that everyone does not have connections. Going to jail as a poor person is easy; going to jail as a poor black person is super-easy. So many people who are lucky enough to survive prison like Big Guy A did have nothing to come home to. We have to be the generation that changes this.

The Ban the Box campaign was set up to remove questions about prior criminal activity from job applications­, to give ex-offenders a fair shot at gaining employment with livable wages. To date, 45 cities and seven states — Hawaii, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Connecticut — have complied. This progress is amazing, but we still need more. Many of those states have online databases where anybody can gain civil or criminal background information on anybody as long as you can spell their name correctly.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2018 at 1:45 pm

My current diet advice

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I’ve been tinkering with my diet over the years, and here’s my current approach. I think this is worth considering (the reason I’m posting it). It takes a couple of weeks to get the hang of it, so I would recommend you stick with it for two months and then take stock, evaluating it in the light of your own experience.

Sugar, along with other simple starches (white potatoes, rice, and foods made with flour—bread, bagels, pasta, pancakes, boxed cereals, etc.) disrupt the metabolism, as described in Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes. (Also, his excellent book Good Calories, Bad Calories summarizes the research that demonstrates that not all calories are the same: 100 calories from refined sugar affect the body in a very different way than 100 calories from, say, extra-virgin olive oil. That’s why those who focus only on calories—”just consume fewer calories than you burn”—miss a vital point: the nature of the foods that carry the calories are vital: you cannot (without consequences) ignore the foods and look only at the calories.)

I follow a diet that severely restricts carbohydrates and totally eliminates the simple carbohydrates mentioned above. Unlike fats and proteins, there are no “essential carbohydrates,” so minimizing their intake runs no risk of a deficiency disease. The calories lost by eliminating the carbs are replaced by calories from fat, which is digested more slowly and thus prolongs satiation, meaning that one tends to eat less and/or less often. See A low-carb diet for beginners – Diet Doctor and A Low Carb Diet Meal Plan and Menu That Can Save Your Life for an introduction. If you’re concerned about eating fats, I highly recommend the book The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz. (Book links are to inexpensive secondhand copies.)

I should note that I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is why I switched to a low-carb, high-fat diet. That did in fact put my diabetes in remission and I have maintained an HbA1C of 5.7%-5.8% for years now. (If you also have type 2 diabetes—it is unfortunately not rare—I highly recommend The Other Diabetes, by Elizabeth Hiser)

It’s important to note that the LCHF diet is not intended as a weight-loss diet; its purpose is to address metabolic issues. Weight-loss diets require calorie restriction. Many do lose weight on the LCHF diet (because the increase in satiation results in eating less), but that’s not true for everyone, and I was one who did not lose weight on the LCHF diet.

However, when I combined the LCHF diet with the online Weight Watchers Freestyle program, the pounds dropped away easily. I like that program because I can do it online (no meetings) and I have to do very little counting because an enormous number of foods have zero points (though obviously one should not be a glutton in any event). And, best of all, the transition from weight loss to weight maintenance is very easy: you change your setting on your Weight Watchers page from “lose” to “maintain,” and points allowances are adjusted accordingly—there is no change in the way you eat.

Tip: Look to all the zero-point foods and meals you can make with them. If you focus your attention on what you can eat and not dwell on what you can’t (or shouldn’t) eat, you’ll feel much more satisfied with your lot. If you constantly obsess about foods you should avoid, you’ll make yourself unhappy and undermine your will to eat well.

Since vegetables are zero points, we eat a lot more of those, which usually involves a certain amount of chopping. That works best if you have a good chef’s knife. These are modestly priced but excellent:

Mercer Millennia 8″ Chef’s Knife – $13.95
Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8″ Chef’s Knife – $35.99
Mercer Renaissance 8″ Chef’s Knife – $36.45

Watch this excellent 4-lesson series: This Free Online Knife Skills Class Will Teach You Everything You Need To Know You will eventually have to sharpen the knife, but if you get a good steel you can touch up the edge for quite a while. (The knife’s cutting edge will curl over a bit in use, and the steel straightens it out.)

Tip: Do all the chopping and measuring of ingredients before you begin cooking, so that everything to be used is already prepared and measured. I use various prep bowls to hold the ingredients. The cooking then consists of simply dumping the contents from the prep bowls into the pot in the proper sequence and at the proper time. Rinse each bowl as you empty it, and put it into a rack to dry. Cleaning as you go means that when you finish cooking, the kitchen will be clean. (Bowls and measuring utensils that were used with oil will require a little detergent, but for other ingredients a rinse is sufficient.) By doing all prep work ahead of time, you avoid being rushed and frantic when you start cooking. (It took me too long to learn this.) “Measuring” includes weighing (particularly meat), so a digital kitchen scale (about US$10) is a good investment.

One very easy way to prepare meals is the technique Elizabeth Yarnell developed under the name “Glorious One-Pot Meals.” The food is layered in a cast-iron dutch oven. (She recommends using an enameled cast-iron dutch oven; if you use a plain one, which also works, this conditioner will be a big help in seasoning it and keeping it seasoned.)

A 2-qt dutch over is an ample size for 2 meals (for active adults) or 4 meals (for sedentary adults, of which my wife and I are two). The food is cooked for just 45 minutes in a hot oven (450ºF/232ºC), then let rest for 15 minutes. The best thing about the meals, beyond nutrition and taste, is that they make improvisation easy. Check out these links for:

GOPM: Explanation and template
First Glorious One-Pot Meal in quite a while
Lamb sausage one-pot meal
Time for more Glorious One-Pot Meals  

Those offer general guidance and advice, and you can see various recipes here: GOPM | Later On. Once you’ve made a couple, you’ll get the idea and then you can freely improvise. And here you don’t need prep bowls: you add each ingredient in its layer as you prepare it. The pot itself acts as one big prep bowl, then you cook the meal in it.

I have noticed a change in our foods after being on WW Freestyle for a few months. (I do all the cooking in our family.) Sources of protein now are almost entirely eggs, fish, shellfish, and boneless skinless chicken breasts, and we are eating a lot more vegetables (since they are zero points). On the whole, it’s been a healthful change. We eat very little red meat (pork, beef, and lamb) and much less cheese and butter.

Economists will be interested in the effects of just a slight increase in costs (in this case, cost = WW points) resulting in substitution of lower-cost (fewer points) alternatives. Example: 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil is 4 points, 1 tablespoon of butter is 5 points. That small difference is enough that I almost always use olive oil now instead of butter (though I will occasionally use butter). And that sort of gentle nudge on all the foods gradually shifted our diet in a more healthful direction.

Sugar is particularly bad. See The Startling Link Between Sugar and Alzheimer’s and watch this video:

Note that food cravings can be driven by the makeup of your gut microbiome. If you eat high-starch food, the microbiome tilts strongly toward microbes that prefer such foods, and the microbiome can drive food cravings if those microbes become hungry: Why you’re still hungry: 6 obstacles to healthy eating

By sticking with the LCHF diet (with or without Weight Watcher guidlines), in time your gut microbiome will change to favor other microbes, and carb cravings will dwindle. Dietary fiber is an important food source for gut microbes, so pay attention to it—see How probiotics and prebiotics team up in your gut. I take 1 tsp of inulin and 2 tablespoons of chia seed in a glass of water each morning. Chia seed has benefits beyond fiber, of course. (And BTW, in the LCHF diet, one counts net carbs: total carbohydrates minus dietary fiber. Chia seed has very low net carbs: 2 tablespoons has 13.1g carbohydrates and 11.2g dietary fiber, so only 1.9g net carbs.)

BTW, if you must regularly take antibiotics, which can devastate the gut microbes, you might try Floristor, a yeast-based probiotic unaffected by antibiotics.

Dietary fiber is not just for weight loss: it’s vital to our health. See Fiber Is Good for You. Now Scientists May Know Why.

Plateaus: Plateaus are important in weight loss. They are a time when the body makes changes: shrinking the skin, rearranging things internally, etc. Those who get bariatric surgery achieve rapid and significant weight loss without plateaus, but then cosmetic surgery is generally required to remove the floppy skin that results. My daughter knows a woman who did have bariatric surgery and then had to have cosmetic surgery to remove excess skin on thighs, tummy, and arms.

Knowing that the plateaus serve a purpose makes them easier to endure. She also said that, in general, each plateau lasts twice as long as the previous one. In my current weight-loss regimen, I hit my first plateau at Day 47, and then for 11 days my weight stayed at 208.x, going up and down within that range, before resuming a steady loss. I expect my next plateau will last around 22 days.

Lately I’ve been eating about an ounce of oyster mushrooms a day, usually with my breakfast egg. Here’s why: What Is the Health and Nutritional Value of Mushrooms?. For my wife, I make this recipe each week (and eat a couple myself): Low-carb breakfast on the run. Very tasty, very easy, and light on the carbs—plus she could eat it in the car when she had to commute. It also has the advantage that you cook just once to get 9 breakfasts. For myself, lately I’ve been eating this breakfast, but doubtless that will vary in time. And two scrambled eggs for breakfast takes less than minute, and this pan makes clean-up easy.

An excellent way to cook chicken breasts so they are moist and tender rather than dry and tough is included in this recipe: Very satisfying dinner: Ratatouille with chicken. (You can browse recipes on my blog to get ideas: Recipes | Later On)

I suggest you avoid seed oils (oils like canola (rapeseed), grapeseed, corn, peanut, soybean, cottonseed, safflower—all have bad omega-6 to omega-3 ratios). Soybean oil and cottonseed oil are mostly found in processed foods—e.g., store-bought mayonnaise—so read ingredients labels. (And it’s easy to make your own mayo.). Use avocado oil for high-temperature sautéing (it has a smoke point of 271ºC / 520ºF, higher than any other cooking oil), and use extra-virgin olive oil for low-temperature cooking and as a dressing.

More info here: Healthiest Cooking Oil Comparison Chart with Smoke Points and Omega 3 Fatty Acid Ratios. And regarding olive oil, I highly recommend this fascinating and informative book: Extra-virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2018 at 9:18 am

The tale of the painting robot that stole no one’s job

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Matt Simon writes in Wired:

THE ARRIVAL OF the robotic arm was not a happy affair at Professional Finishing in Richmond, California, just across the bay from San Francisco. In contrast to the hulking factory arms that have traditionally labored in isolation, this robot was meant to work right alongside humans, delicately sanding and painting things like speaker cases or cabinets for medical devices. Which sounded a lot like a first step toward replacing the company’s workers altogether.

“We did have one employee tell us, ‘Hey let me know when the robot’s up and running and I’ll just quit,’” says Professional Finishing co-owner Dawn White. “We said, just bear with us. Watch what happens. Help us and everybody will keep their jobs.”

Everyone did indeed keep their jobs. Today, three of these machines from Universal Robots handle the brute sanding and painting, while humans handle more complicated tasks like assembly. Some of these workers even turned into robot technicians. It’s called collaborative robotics, and it’s popping up all over the place, thanks to advanced machines that sense when they’ve contacted a person and stop, as opposed to launching them across the room.

Like many companies, Professional Finishing moved into robotics as a matter of economics. Just months after purchasing the business in 2013, Dawn White and her husband Chad learned that the minimum wage would jump from $9 an hour to $15 by 2020. Which is great for workers—don’t get me wrong—but certainly complicates matters for a finishing company that’s competing with cheap labor abroad.

“It was a matter of survival for us,” says Dawn. “We would have closed in less than two years if we had not brought in the robots. Everyone here would have lost their jobs.”

So 10 months after purchasing the company, the Whites hired their first robot painter, which increased the productivity of the human laborers by a factor of four. And bonus: those humans’ jobs got a lot easier. “The operator would have to do a lot of bending, crouching, lifting the part, twisting, just all day long,” says Chad. “The robot now does all that for them. And now the the operators who used to paint these parts are now actually running the robot.”

Which of course required some adaptation on the part of the humans. “The robot made me nervous, I thought it was going to lead to layoffs,” says painter Eric Magallon, who now works as a robot operator, making sure it’s loaded with enough paint and the like. “But when we started working with the robot it became normal. We got used to it.”

You are more likely to work with a robot than have one replace you in the near future. Because while robots are great at repetitive tasks, humans still beat them at delicate, complex jobs. “We think more jobs will change their activities than completely disappear, and so we’ll see more of these collaborations between machines and people,” says Michael Chui, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute and co-author of a recent report on automation. “When you actually have a robot next to a person or artificial intelligence next to to a person and they work better together to produce higher quality products than any one of them working alone.”

The machines aren’t so much stealing jobs en masse as they are taking over parts of jobs. Professional Finishing’s workers don’t have to do all that crouching and twisting anymore, but they do have look after the machines and handle more sensitive tasks. A desk job is no different: Think how much time you save and productivity you gain by using a simple word processor instead of a typewriter. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2018 at 8:29 am

Wage growth well short of what was promised from tax reform

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Chris Macke reports The Hill:

The latest Employment Situation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows weekly employee earnings have grown $75 since tax reform passed, well short of the $4,000 to $9,000 annual increases projected by President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

During the three months following passage of the tax bill, the average American saw a $6.21 increase in average weekly earnings. Assuming 12 weeks of work during the three months following passage of the corporate tax cuts, this equates to a $75 increase.

Assuming a full 52 weeks of work, the $6.21 increase in weekly earnings would result in a $323 annual increase, nowhere near the minimum $4,000 promised and $9,000 potential annual increases projected by President Trump and Speaker Ryan if significant cuts were made to corporate tax rates.

Unless something drastically changes, it seems that Americans are going to have to settle for much less than the $4,000 to $9,000 projected wage increases. An extra $322 a year isn’t going to do much to pay down the $1 trillion in additional debt they are projected to take on as a result of the tax cuts.

Yet, a key part of the argument for the recently passed corporate tax cuts and more than a trillion dollars in debt was the substantial wage hike promised by the president’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

From a document titled, “Corporate Tax Reform and Wages: Theory and Evidence,” on the White House’s website:

“Reducing the statutory federal corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent would, the analysis below suggests, increase average household income in the United States by, very conservatively, $4,000 annually.”

The document goes on to say:

“When we use the more optimistic estimates from the literature, wage boosts are over $9,000 for the average U.S. household.”

No less than Speaker Ryan’s website trumpeted the Council of Economic Advisers report claiming that on average, the proposed corporate tax cuts would result in at least a $4,000 annual increase in wages.

Now, some supporters of the tax bill may say this analysis is unfair because it is too early for the effects of the tax bill to show up in wages. By that logic, they also shouldn’t take credit for reported employment growth increases.

Still others may point to the $1,000 bonuses announced by some companies shortly after passage of the tax bill. First, that is significantly less than the promised $4,000 to $9,000. Second, these are not wage increases; these are one-time bonuses.

Will companies pay them again, and if so when? Third, the $1,000 represents a fraction of the estimated potential company tax savings.

Using 2016 net income, 2016 effective tax rates, the new 21-percent corporate tax rate and company bonuses, we estimated company bonuses as a percentage of a number of company’s potential tax savings. The results: In many cases, the bonuses represent a mere pittance of the possible tax savings. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, including a chart that will make your blood boil.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2018 at 6:52 am

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