Later On

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

Archive for August 24th, 2018

More on pu-erh tea cakes: how they’re made, how to age them, how to break them up and rewrap them

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Three videos:

First, how the tea cake is made (and you’ll notice that the cake contains a lot of tea):

Next, how the tea cake is aged. Amazon.ca currently offers some tea cakes that are 20 years old and some that are 16 years old, and neither is particularly expensive (around CDN$20). So if you want an aged tea cake, they’re available.

And finally, how to break the cake and how to rewrap it. (There’s much more to this than I realized.)

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2018 at 3:38 pm

5 Reasons LeBron James’s School Really Is Unique

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Good things can be done. Alia Wong reports in the Atlantic:

Headlines touting the Next Big Idea in education have become so common in recent years that it’s tempting to dismiss every new K-12 initiative as a fad or fantasy doomed to either flatline or fail. A skeptical observer might be inclined to sweep LeBron James’s I Promise School into that pile. But teachers and executives who’ve worked closely with James on this endeavor insist that he won’t let that happen. The professional basketball player and Akron, Ohio, native, they say, really wants to rethink how public education should be delivered—not only in Akron, but across the country.

And his vision is already having a tangible impact: Last week, the Democratic U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Chris Van Hollen, of Ohio and Maryland respectively, introduced a bill that would set aside $45 million for federal competitive grants to fund partnerships between schools and their communities. The idea, Senator Brown indicated in a tweet, is to replicate the I Promise model in places that don’t have “a LeBron James.”

What makes I Promise unique, its creators and outside experts say, is that it combines various features that are seldom seen in a single school—and that it is poised to potentially spur similar education-reform efforts across the country. The Atlantic has obtained I Promise’s “master plan” document—its blueprint for the next five years, which was approved last fall by Akron’s school board. The document can be found in full at the end of this article. While the plan leaves some questions unanswered—about the details of the curriculum, for example—it reveals much about the school’s philosophy and unorthodox approach. Here are some of the things that make I Promise unique:

1. It’s a public school.

Unlike many other celebrities and magnates who’ve turned to education philanthropy—James created a school that would belong to the district, rather than a private school or a charter school. James’s school is housed under his I Promise nonprofit, which he created in 2011 as part of an effort to shift his now-14-year-old foundation’s focus toward education. From the get-go, I Promise sought to tackle the high-school dropout rate in Akron Public Schools. It made a lot of progress in that effort over the years: In 2015, for example, it started funding full-tuition, four-year scholarships to the University of Akron for eligible students in the I Promise program. Still, fewer than three in four public-school students in Akron—where about a quarter of the city’s population livesbelow the poverty level—graduate high school within four years.

The I Promise school was designed to target the Akron Public Schools students who struggle despite the existing supports provided by the nonprofit. It started its first year of classes on July 30, welcoming onto campus 240 students in the third and fourth grades, and will grow gradually over the years, eventually serving children in grades one through eight by 2022.

It would have been challenging for James to target this population through a charter or private school. While those models may have, in theory, allowed for more experimentation, such innovation would happen in isolation and would be difficult to extend into the city’s other public schools. It could alienate the local teachers’ union and district administrators and, potentially, families without the savvy to take advantage of public-school alternatives. Pulling away from Akron Public Schools would have also made it difficult to create a pipeline into I Promise for the at-risk students he sought to target.

James and his nonprofit team started developing the master plan in April 2017. By October, they’d finalized the first draft of the proposal and presented it to the school board for consideration. The proposal details five teams tasked with designing different components of the school—including its “instructional framework,” its human resources, and its community-engagement efforts—each of which was co-chaired by an Akron Public Schools staff member. The board formally approved the plan a month later.

“LeBron grew up as a public-school kid,” says Michelle Campbell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation, which partnered with Akron Public Schools in creating the I Promise School. “And the reality is that, in a lot of our urban cities, the vast majority of kids are going to go to public schools.” Making I Promise a part of the public-school system, she believes, “is what helps make what we’re doing scalable and provide a learning laboratory for the rest of the country.”

2. It has huge ambitions.

Akron Public Schools states on its website that it wants to be the “#1 urban school system in the United States.” I Promise is on a mission to help make that happen, and has an explicit goal of improving the well-being of residents across Akron—not just its students. “Classroom instruction and assignments are grounded in the health and prosperity of the City of Akron and local efforts to build inclusive, healthy, and socially just neighborhoods for all its citizens and families in an increasingly global and multicultural world,” the master plan says. To do so, it’s implementing a suite of supports that are rare at conventional public schools: attendance incentives, outings to local businesses, mentorship programs, after-school tutoring, and constant encouragement from James through things like video messages and written notes.

“I remember when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2018 at 2:48 pm

America’s Invisible Cannabis Addicts

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Annie Lowrey reports in the Atlantic on a problem that is likely to become more visible over time:

The proliferation of retail boutiques in California did not really bother him, Evan told me, but the billboards did. Advertisements for delivery, advertisements promoting the substance for relaxation, for fun, for health. “Shop. It’s legal.” “Hello marijuana, goodbye hangover.” “It’s not a trigger,” he told me. “But it is in your face.”

When we spoke, he had been sober for a hard-fought seven weeks: seven weeks of sleepless nights, intermittent nausea, irritability, trouble focusing, and psychological turmoil. There were upsides, he said, in terms of reduced mental fog, a fatter wallet, and a growing sense of confidence that he could quit. “I don’t think it’s a ‘can’ as much as a ‘must,’” he said.

Evan, who asked that his full name not be used for fear of professional repercussions, has a self-described cannabis-use disorder. If not necessarily because of legalization, but alongside legalization, such problems are becoming more common: The share of adults with one has doubled since the early aughts, as the share of cannabis users who consume it daily or near-daily has jumped nearly 50 percent—all “in the context of increasingly permissive cannabis legislation, attitudes, and lower risk perception,” as the National Institutes of Health put it.

[ The surprising effect of marijuana legalization on college students ]

Public-health experts worry about the increasingly potent options available, and the striking number of constant users. “Cannabis is potentially a real public-health problem,” said Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University. “It wasn’t obvious to me 25 years ago, when 9 percent of self-reported cannabis users over the last month reported daily or near-daily use. I always was prepared to say, ‘No, it’s not a very abusable drug. Nine percent of anybody will do something stupid.’ But that number is now [something like] 40 percent.” They argue that state and local governments are setting up legal regimes without sufficient public-health protection, with some even warning that the country is replacing one form of reefer madness with another, careening from treating cannabis as if it were as dangerous as heroin to treating it as if it were as benign as kombucha.

But cannabis is not benign, even if it is relatively benign, compared with alcohol, opiates, and cigarettes, among other substances. Thousands of Americans are finding their own use problematic in a climate where pot products are getting more potent, more socially acceptable to use, and yet easier to come by, not that it was particularly hard before.

For Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, the most compelling evidence of the deleterious effects comes from users themselves. “In large national surveys, about one in 10 people who smoke it say they have a lot of problems. They say things like, ‘I have trouble quitting. I think a lot about quitting and I can’t do it. I smoked more than I intended to. I neglect responsibilities.’ There are plenty of people who have problems with it, in terms of things like concentration, short-term memory, and motivation,” he said. “People will say, ‘Oh, that’s just you fuddy-duddy doctors.’ Actually, no. It’s millions of people who use the drug who say that it causes problems.”

Users or former users I spoke with described lost jobs, lost marriages, lost houses, lost money, lost time. Foreclosures and divorces. Weight gain and mental-health problems. And one other thing: the problem of convincing other people that what they were experiencing was real. A few mentioned jokes about Doritos, and comments implying that the real issue was that they were lazy stoners. Others mentioned the common belief that you can be “psychologically” addicted to pot, but not “physically” or “really” addicted. The condition remains misunderstood, discounted, and strangely invisible, even as legalization and white-marketization pitches ahead.

The country is in the midst of a volte-face on marijuana. The federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, with no accepted medical use. (Meth and PCP, among other drugs, are Schedule II.) Politicians still argue it is a gateway to the use of things like heroin and cocaine. The country still spends billions of dollars fighting it in a bloody and futile drug war, and still arrests more people for offenses related to cannabis than it does for all violent crimes combined.

Yet dozens of states have pushed ahead with legalization for medical or recreational purposes, given that for decades physicians have argued that marijuana’s health risks have been overstated and its medical uses overlooked; activists have stressed prohibition’s tremendous fiscal cost and far worse human cost; and researchers have convincingly argued that cannabis is far less dangerous than alcohol. A solid majority of Americans support legalization nowadays.

Academics and public-health officials, though, have raised the concern that cannabis’s real risks have been overlooked or underplayed—perhaps as part of a counter-reaction to federal prohibition, and perhaps because millions and millions of cannabis users have no problems controlling their use. “Part of how legalization was sold was with this assumption that there was no harm, in reaction to the message that everyone has smoked marijuana was going to ruin their whole life,” Humphreys told me. It was a point Kleiman agreed with. “I do think that not legalization, but the legalization movement, does have a lot on its conscience now,” he said. “The mantra about how this is a harmless, natural, and non-addictive substance—it’s now known by everybody. And it’s a lie.”

Thousands of businesses, as well as local governments earning tax money off of sales, are now literally invested in that lie. “The liquor companies are salivating,” Matt Karnes of GreenWave Advisors told me. “They can’t wait to come in full force.” He added that Big Pharma was targeting the medical market, with Wall Street, Silicon Valley, food businesses, and tobacco companies aiming at the recreational market.

Sellers are targeting broad swaths of the consumer market—soccer moms, recent retirees, folks looking to replace their nightly glass of chardonnay with a precisely dosed, low-calorie, and hangover-free mint. Many have consciously played up cannabis as a lifestyle product, a gift to give yourself, like a nice crystal or an antioxidant face cream. “This is not about marijuana,” one executive at the California retailer MedMen recently argued. “This is about the people who use cannabis for all the reasons people have used cannabis for hundreds of years. Yes, for recreation, just like alcohol, but also for wellness.”

Evan started off smoking with his friends when they were playing sports or video games, lighting up to chill out after his nine-to-five as a paralegal at a law office. But that soon became couch-lock, and he lost interest in working out, going out, doing anything with his roommates. Then came a lack of motivation and the slow erosion of ambition, and law school moving further out of reach. He started smoking before work and after work. Eventually, he realized it was impossible to get through the day without it. “I was smoking anytime I had to do anything boring, and it took a long time before I realized that I wasn’t doing anything without getting stoned,” he said.

His first attempts to reduce his use went miserably, as the consequences on his health and his life piled up. He gained nearly 40 pounds, he said, when he stopped working out and cooking his own food at home. He recognized that he was just barely getting by at work, and was continually worried about getting fired. Worse, his friends were unsympathetic to the idea that he was struggling and needed help. “[You have to] try to convince someone that something that is hurting you is hurting you,” he said.

Other people who found their use problematic or had managed to quit, none of whom wanted to use their names, described similar struggles and consequences. “I was running two companies at the time, and fitting smoking in between running those companies. Then, we sold those companies and I had a whole lot of time on my hands,” one other former cannabis user told me. “I just started sitting around smoking all the time. And things just came to a halt. I was in terrible shape. I was depressed.”

Lax regulatory standards and aggressive commercialization in some states have compounded some existing public-health risks, raised new ones, and failed to tamp down on others, experts argue. In terms of compounding risks,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2018 at 2:34 pm

Why Manafort and Cohen Thought They’d Get Away With It

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Jesse Eisinger reports in ProPublica:

Oh, the audacity of dopes. The crimes of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are notable not just for how blatant they were but also for their lack of sophistication. The two men did little to hide their lying to banks and the Internal Revenue Service. One can almost sympathize with them: If it wasn’t for their decision to attach themselves to the most unlikely president in modern history, there’s every reason to think they might be still working their frauds today.

But how anomalous are Mssrs. Manafort and Cohen? Are there legions of K Street big shots working for foreign despots and parking their riches in Cypriot bank accounts to avoid the IRS? Are many political campaigns walking felonies waiting to be exposed? What about the world of luxury residential building in which Cohen plied his trade with the Trump Organization?

The answer is more disturbing than the questions: We don’t know. We don’t know because the cops aren’t on the beat. Resources have been stripped from white-collar enforcement. The FBI shifted agents to work on international terror in the wake of 9/11. White-collar cases made up about one-tenth of the Justice Department’s cases in recent years, compared with one-fifth in the early 1990s. The IRS’ criminal enforcement capabilities have been decimated by years of budget cuts and attrition. The Federal Election Commission is a toothless organization that is widely flouted.

No wonder Cohen and Manafort were so brazen. They must have felt they had impunity.

How could they not? Any person in any bar in America can tell you who was held accountable for the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which peaked 10 years ago next month: No one. No top officer from any major bank went to prison.

But the problem goes beyond big banks. The Department of Justice — in both Democratic and Republican administrations — has lost the will and ability to prosecute top executives across corporate America, at large industrial firms, tech giants, retailers, drug makers and so on. Instead the Department of Justice reaches settlements with corporations, which pay in dollars instead of the liberty of their top officers and directors.

Beginning with a charge to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, special counsel Robert Mueller has fallen upon a rash of other crimes. In doing so, he has exposed how widespread and serious our white-collar fraud problem really is, and how lax enforcement has been for years.

At least he is also showing a way out of the problem. He and his team are demonstrating that the proper attention, resources, technique and experience can go a long way to rectify the white-collar prosecution crisis.

What’s Mueller’s secret? For one thing, he has a focus. He and his team have sufficient resources to go after a discrete set of investigations. In the early 2000s, the Justice Department had similar success setting up the Enron Task Force, a special SWAT team of government lawyers that prosecuted top executives of the failed Texas energy trader. That contrasts with the financial crisis, when the Justice Department never created a similar task force. No single department official was responsible for the prosecutions of bankers after the global meltdown.

The investigation’s techniques are also instructive. The Southern District of New York, which was referred the Cohen case by Mueller, raided President Trump’s former attorney’s offices and fought for access to the materials, even as Cohen asserted attorney-client privilege. When federal prosecutors investigate large companies, out of custom and deference they rarely use such aggressive tactics. They place few wiretaps, conduct almost no undercover operations and do almost no raids. Instead government attorneys reach carefully negotiated agreements about which documents they can review, the product of many hours of discussion with high-powered law firms on behalf of their clients. All the battles over privileged materials happen behind closed doors and without the benefit of a disinterested special master, as the Cohen case had.

Indeed it’s worse than that. The government has essentially privatized corporate law enforcement. The government effectively outsources the investigations to the companies themselves. The companies, typically trying to appear cooperative or to forestall government action, hire law firms to do internal investigations. Imagine if Mueller relied on Trump to investigate whether he colluded with the Russians or violated any other laws, and Trump hired Rudy Giuliani’s firm to do the probe.

The aggressive Mueller techniques have yielded the most crucial element for white-collar cases: flippers; i.e., wrongdoers who agree to testify against their co-conspirators. Rick Gates, the Manafort protégé, helped tighten his mentor’s noose. We are going to see in the next few months how many people flip and what they will say. No wonder President Trump mused that flipping “almost ought to be illegal.”

Mueller’s experience has given him the courage to take cases to trial, where juries are mercurial and the federal bench has turned hostile. Mueller’s prosecutors tried a “thin case” against Manafort, as the expression goes, boiling their evidence down to a few elements that the jury could absorb easily. They even managed to overcome the open hostility of U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis. Good prosecutors are used to that in white-collar cases. Judges and justices have not looked favorably upon white-collar prosecutions for more than a decade now, overturning verdicts and narrowing statutes. But with well-marshaled evidence and clear presentation, prosecutors can surmount the difficulties.

Moreover, Mueller isn’t looking to go soft in order to preserve his professional viability. I’m assuming that at age 74, he’s not going to go through the revolving door after this. That hasn’t been true for most top Justice Department officials in recent years. Many of them come from the defense bar and when they leave government they go back to defending large corporations. The same goes with the younger prosecutors who negotiate those corporate settlements. Almost all go on to become corporate defense attorneys. In those negotiations, they are auditioning for their next jobs, wanting to display their dazzling smarts but also eventually needing to appear like reasonable people and avoid being depicted by the white-collar bar as cowboys unworthy of a prestigious partnership.

Of course, we don’t know whether Mueller can go all the way to the top. The big issue in white-collar crime is whether the Justice Department can prosecute CEOs. Sure, it occasionally brings charges against lower-level executives of major corporations, but hasn’t held the chief of a Fortune 500 company accountable in more than a decade. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s bad news. Later in the article:

Here’s the bad news, which will be the least surprising thing you’ll read today: the Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction. Its law enforcement agencies are engaged in something of a regulatory strike, especially when it comes to white-collar enforcement. Regulators are not policing companies or industries and are not referring cases to the Justice Department. The number of white-collar cases filed against individuals is lower than at any time in more than 20 years, according to research done by Syracuse University. The Justice Department’s fines against companies fell 90 percent during Trump’s first year in office, compared with in Obama’s last year in office, according to Public Citizen.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2018 at 1:39 pm

Montem now offers Nordic walking poles

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Back in June I ordered trekking poles from Montem before I understood the difference between trekking poles and Nordic walking poles. When I learned what Nordic walking poles are, I bought a pair locally, and I also emailed Montem to suggest that they should offer Nordic walking poles, particularly since they had the pole technology in hand: all they would have to do is offer the slanted paw tip and add a glove and attachment system.

To my surprise, when I went to their site today for something else, I found that they had done exactly that: the Montem Pro Walker Nordic Fitness Poles.

It’s a two-section pole, which makes it adjustable so that it can work with a person of any height. $70, which is right in line with other prices.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2018 at 10:54 am

Posted in Fitness

“Theft: A History of Music”

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You can download this very interesting graphic novel as a regular or hi-res PDF. Check out the web page, from which I quote:

Theft! A History of Music is a graphic novel laying out a 2000-year long history of musical borrowing from Plato to rap. It is available as a handsome paperback, and for free download under a Creative Commons license.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2018 at 9:48 am

Posted in Books, Music

Rooney Style 1 Size 1, Mama Bear Hydrogen Fragrance, Rockwell 6S, Fine Fresh Vetiver

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I think glycerin-based shaving soaps are very much underrated. The passion for the past decade has been tallow-based shaving soaps, but I could not ask for a better lather than I got this morning from Mama Bear‘s glycerin-based shave stick. I also like the fragrance of the Hydrogen stick, but really can’t identify it (illiterate nose). I’m pretty sure it’s not hydrogen, though (hydrogen being odorless). The site describes it thusly:

Top fruity notes of apple, grapefruit, peach and leafy greens; with middle notes of lily, lavender, rose and violet; and finally base notes with amber, sandalwood, and raspberry musk.

The lather was at first quite thick—almost paste-like—because I used a brush that was merely damp to start with, but I added water to the brush and worked it into the lather, developing more volume and better consistency, and repeated. The lather was a very nice consistency at the end, quite a good volume, and slick. I was impressed, in fact—a very fine lather indeed.

Three passes with the Rockwell R3 baseplate left my face perfectly smooth (and unharmed), and a splash of Fine Fresh Vetiver finished the job.

This is the way to start the day. And now I drive TYD to the airport. A good visit, enjoyed by all.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2018 at 7:19 am

Posted in Shaving

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