Later On

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

Archive for August 2018

A light dinner and a note on Siegerrebe wine from De Vine Vineyards

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The Wife wanted something light, so:

Dressing I mix in a little jar so I can shake it:

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
good pinch of Maldon salt
about 1 Tbsp ground pepper
about 2 tsp smoked paprika
about 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Shake well and hold in readiness.

In large bowl, put:

1 handful (fairly large) baby arugula
1 handful (likewise) baby romaine
2 yellow bell peppers chopped
12-14 San Marzano cherry tomatoes, trisected
(bunch of scallions chopped: I would do this but omitted in deference to The Wife)

Then cook the prawns:

300g tiger prawns, peeled and cut in half
1 Tbsp butter
6-8 cloves garlic (and we’re now getting the hard-stem red Russian garlic, very easy to peel and delicious), peeled and minced

Mince garlic and let sit 15 minutes.

Melt butter in 11 7/8″ carbon-steel pan, add garlic, sauté for a couple of minutes, then add prawns, salt them, and stir as they cook. When done, add to bowl of salad greens, shake jar containing dressing and pour over, then toss well.

I had this with a glass of De Vine Siegerrebe, and they’re right: it’s very like Gewurtztraminer, which I like.

Since we split it, 4 WW points each.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2018 at 6:02 pm

A peculiar pattern that shows up in seemingly unrelated contexts

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Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2018 at 10:55 am

Posted in Math, Science, Video

First walk after visit from TYD—and after smoke invaded Victoria

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Victoria last week had some very bad smoke days from the wildfires, particularly Wednesday, when the shifting winds brought the smoke directly here. The Eldest had strongly recommended getting a mask that filters out particulate matter (e.g., smoke particles), and I ordered these.

Today before I went for my walk—first walk in a week—I checked the Air Quality Health Index for Victoria:

The bottom of the “Moderate Risk” category does not seem all that bad (particularly since this past week some days were at 10+), but I did click the “Find out if you are at risk” link, where I read:

Oh, all right. I’ll wear the damn mask. I wore it for the first outbound leg, which is strongly uphill at the end, and that’s where I really start breathing heavily and deeply. No problems from air quality, but the mask was not exactly comfortable and kept my hot damp breath trapped around my mouth, so I thought “The hell with it” and removed the mask.

I had not gone 50 meters before I was coughing hard and wheezing and my throat felt sore. Wow. Mask went right back on and I wore it the rest of the (64-minute, 7200-step) walk.

I’m very glad I got the masks (20 for CDN$19), and I’ll definitely check the AQHI before my walk each morning. Smoky air is no joke.

If we have a lot of smoky days, I’ll get vented N95 respirator masks, which would be more comfortable.

Update: Important note on selecting a mask. The one I got is good, some others are not so good.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2018 at 9:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Health

Secret Israeli Report Reveals Armed Drone Killed Four Boys Playing on Gaza Beach in 2014

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Robert Mackey reports in the Intercept:

A CONFIDENTIAL REPORT by Israeli military police investigators seen by The Intercept explains how a tragic series of mistakes by air force, naval, and intelligence officers led to an airstrike in which four Palestinian boys playing on a beach in Gaza in 2014 were killed by missiles launched from an armed drone.

Testimony from the officers involved in the attack, which has been concealed from the public until now, confirms for the first time that the children — four cousins ages 10 and 11 — were pursued and killed by drone operators who somehow mistook them, in broad daylight, for Hamas militants.

The testimony raises new questions about whether the attack, which unfolded in front of dozens of journalists and triggered global outrage, was carried out with reckless disregard for civilian life and without proper authorization. After killing the first boy, the drone operators told investigators, they had sought clarification from their superiors as to how far along the beach, used by civilians, they could pursue the fleeing survivors. Less than a minute later, as the boys ran for their lives, the drone operators decided to launch a second missile, killing three more children, despite never getting an answer to their question.

Suhad Bishara, a lawyer representing the families of the victims, told The Intercept that Israel’s use of armed drones to kill Palestinians poses “many questions concerning human judgment, ethics, and compliance with international humanitarian law.”

Remotely piloted bombers “alter the process of human decision-making,” Bishara said, and the use of the technology in the 2014 beach attack “expands the circle of people responsible for the actual killing of the Bakr children.”

Just hours before the attack, on the morning of July 16, 2014, the public relations unit of the Israel Defense Forces had been promoting the idea that the live video feeds provided by drones enabled its air force to avoid killing Palestinian civilians.

The PR unit released operational footage, apparently taken from the screens of Israeli drone operators, which documented how three Israeli airstrikes had been called off that week because figures, identified as civilians, had appeared close to targets in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

Those images were released one week into Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, a 50-day offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza in which Israel would eventually kill 1,391 civilians, including 526 children.

Later that same day, at about 3:30 p.m., an Israeli Hermes 450 surveillance drone hovering over a beach in Gaza City transmitted images of eight figures clambering from the strand onto a jetty.

A small shipping container on the jetty had been destroyed by an Israeli missile the day before, based on intelligence indicating that it might have been used by Hamas naval commandos to store weapons. Some analysts have questioned that intelligence, however, since there were no secondary explosions after the structure was hit and journalists staying in nearby hotels reported that no militants had been seen around the jetty that week.

The Israeli military police report reviewed by The Intercept documents what happened next. After one of the figures on the jetty entered the container that had been destroyed the previous day, an Israeli air force commander at the Palmachim air base, south of Tel Aviv, ordered the operators of a second drone, which was armed, to fire a missile at the container.

AS MY COLLEAGUES Cora Currier and Henrik Moltke reported in 2016, although the Israeli government maintains an official stance of secrecy around its use of drones to carry out airstrikes, hacked Israeli surveillance images provided to The Intercept by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed an Israeli drone armed with missiles in 2010.

Speaking privately to a visiting American diplomat after Israel’s 2009 offensive in Gaza, Avichai Mandelblit, who was the country’s chief military prosecutor at the time and now serves as its attorney general, acknowledged that two missiles that injured civilians in a mosque had been fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle, according to a leaked State Department cable.

One reason that Israel might decline to acknowledge that its drones have been used to kill Palestinian children is that such information could complicate sales of its drones to foreign governments. In June, the state-owned company Israel Aerospace Industries signed a $600 million deal to lease Heron drones to Germany’s defense ministry. That deal was initially delayed by concerns from German politicians that the drones, to be used for surveillance, could also be armed. The same state-owned company has also sold drones to Turkey, a strongly pro-Palestinian nation, which has nonetheless used the Israeli technology to bomb Kurds in Iraq.

The Israeli military police report on the 2014 strike seen by The Intercept offers the most direct evidence to date that Israel has used armed drones to launch attacks in Gaza. Testimony from the drone operators, commanders, and intelligence officers who took part in the attack confirms that they used an armed drone to fire the missile that slammed into the jetty, killing the person who had entered the container, and also to launch a second strike, which killed three of the survivors as they fled across the beach.

According to the testimony of one naval officer involved in the strikes, the mission was initially considered “a great success,” because the strike team believed, wrongly, that they had killed four Hamas militants preparing to launch an attack on Israeli forces.

Within minutes of the two strikes, however, a group of international journalists who had witnessed the attack from nearby hotels reportedthat the victims torn apart by the missiles were not adult militants but four small boys, cousins who were 10 and 11 years old. Another four boys from the same family survived the attack, but were left with shrapnel wounds and deep emotional scars.

Harrowing images of the children running desperately across the beach after the first missile had killed their cousin were quickly shared by a Palestinian photographer, an Al Jazeera reporter and a camera crew from French television.

A brutal image of the immediate aftermath captured by Tyler Hicks of the New York Times, one of the journalists who witnessed the attack, made the killing of the four boys, all of them sons of Gaza fishermen from the Bakr family, reverberate worldwide. . .

Continue reading. More at the link, including photos.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2018 at 7:51 am

Louisiana Senate President Sank Ride-Sharing Bill. His Close Pal Sells Insurance to Cabs.

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This is an example of how broken politics in the US have become. Rebekah Allen reports in ProPublica:

Gordy Dove has begged Uber and Lyft to make their ride-sharing services available in Terrebonne Parish, where he serves as parish president.

The sprawling coastal parish of 112,000 people is not easily walkable, and Dove worries about how students at colleges in the area will get home from the bars after they’ve had a few drinks.

But the big ride-sharing companies aren’t coming to places like Houma, the parish’s biggest city, or many other parts of Louisiana anytime soon. That’s because Louisiana does not have legislation in place allowing them to operate. The state is one of only five that lacks such a law, instead requiring the companies to go through the costly and time-intensive process of getting approval in each locality.

A bill to change that has garnered widespread and bipartisan support. It was backed by the governor, a Democrat, and sponsored by the House speaker, a Republican. It had 56 co-sponsors from both parties — nearly 40 percent of the state’s lawmakers — in both chambers and from all corners of the state. It was favored by the potent Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and other economic development groups.

But the bill is not going anywhere, thanks to one man, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

The powerful politician twice used parliamentary maneuvers this year to sideline the bill.

More than a dozen legislators, lobbyists and Capitol staff pointed to Alario’s close personal, professional and political alliance with former Sen. Francis Heitmeier, who makes a living selling insurance to cab companies and lobbied against the ride-sharing bill.

The cab industry was one of the few opponents of the bill.

In interviews with The Advocate, the legislators, lobbyists and Capitol staff said they didn’t want to speak about Alario on the record for fear of antagonizing the most powerful man in the Legislature, who has more say over what becomes law in Louisiana — and what doesn’t — than any other person, except perhaps the governor.

Those willing to speak publicly hinted at Alario’s influence on the bill but stopped short of using his name.

“There’s one really important person who’s just not on board,” said Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, a frustrated proponent of the bill. Asked if that person was Alario, Magee said he didn’t want to answer the question.

This year, The Advocate is partnering with ProPublica to investigate conflicts of interest in the Louisiana Legislature. The news organizations have shown how legislators routinely sponsor, speak on behalf of and vote for bills that benefit their own businesses or help their relatives and clients. Another story illustrated how financial disclosure reporting is so poorly policed in Louisiana that lawmakers can easily hide how they earn their income — even when the source is public money.

Alario, in an interview, said that he had not taken a position on the ride-sharing bill and that his actions were not motivated by a desire to kill it. He said he and Heitmeier may have “talked about it in passing,” but their friendship had no impact on his actions.

“Francis is a dear friend of mine, but that would not sway me. I have friends on all sides, a whole slew of lobbyists that I’m friends with,” Alario said. “Sometimes I’m on the same side as them and sometimes I’m not.”

He said he believes the accusations stem from people who are unhappy that the bill died.

Heitmeier said in an email that his opposition to the bill “has always been a case of public safety.”

Proponents of the failed ride-sharing bill say it makes no sense that Louisiana, which depends on tourism but lacks reliable public transportation, would reject a bill designed to allow ride-sharing. Lyft called the political landscape in Louisiana “tough” but said it would keep trying to bring service to the state. Uber has been careful not to blame players by name, but it is getting close.

“The personal allegiances of a few powerful people shouldn’t obstruct the ability of Louisianians to earn flexible income and get a reliable ride,” Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George said.

Pearson Cross, a political science professor and an associate dean at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said the situation illustrates the way business is conducted in Louisiana and every other state legislature.

“It seems clear that personalities, interests and webs of influence matter a great deal to what does and what does not get passed by the state legislature,” he said, adding that legislators are within their legal and ethical rights, per state law.

Sent to a Committee “So It Could Be Killed”

The bill, which would have legalized ride-sharing and outlined uniform regulations for drivers, was sponsored by House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia. Such high-profile backing was meant to ensure its passage.

“We thought we could neutralize the Senate with having the speaker’s name on it, thinking they wouldn’t quite put up the opposition,” said Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, who sponsored the bill in 2017, when it also was killed.

But after the bill easily passed the House 97 to 1 in April, Alario used a parliamentary maneuver that doomed the bill from the start.

The bill’s sponsors and other supporters wanted it to be heard in the Senate transportation committee, where it would have passed easily, according to the committee chairman Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette. However, in April, Alario assigned it to the committee known as Judiciary A, which typically handles bills concerning criminal justice and civil law and procedure.

Barras found the move confusing.

“I assigned it to House Transportation for that very reason. It’s a transportation company asking to do business in the state; that would have been a logical assignment to me,” he said in an interview.

But the Judiciary A committee also happens to have several members who oppose the bill.

Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, a member of Judiciary A who supported the bill, said he thought the assignment was strategic. “I think it was sent to Judiciary A so it could be killed,” he said.

Asked about the assignment, Alario said it was “the proper subject matter” for Judiciary A without elaborating. He added that he was unsurprised that Barras, the bill’s sponsor, wanted it to be assigned to a committee where it had an easier path to victory.

In 2017, when Alario assigned a similar ride-sharing bill to the same committee, Havard, the House author, withdrew it before debate, sensing it was dead.

In the committee this year, the bill faced tough questioning from Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, an ardent defender of the taxi industry who has been open about his distaste for companies like Uber and Lyft.

“For those of you who are cab drivers, I have led the charge to stop what they are trying to do to you with the Uber and Lyft people,” he said in 2017 while stumping for a seat on the Jefferson Parish Council, a race he ultimately lost.

During the committee hearing, Martiny sometimes angrily questioned Uber and Lyft representatives about what he said was the lax way in which their companies are regulated in other states, and how they were proposing to be regulated in Louisiana. He also questioned why the bill called for the state Agriculture Department to oversee ride-sharing, rather than the Public Service Commission.

Martiny had an ally in Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, who works with a law firm that represents 50 taxicab drivers and companies that sued Uber in March, saying the ride-sharing firm’s aim was ”to unfairly compete, crowd the market and eliminate competition.”

Bishop is “of counsel” to attorney Ira Middleberg’s law firm, meaning he is not directly employed by the firm but has a close relationship with its lawyers. The status is sometimes used for high-profile attorneys, such as politicians, who serve as rainmakers. Bishop’s connection to Middleberg was first reported this summer by WVUE-TV.

In the end, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2018 at 7:42 am

Interesting snooker game between Ronny O’Sullivan and Sean Murphy

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Interesting to see calm recovery from a few bad spots—and impressive precision on the pots made.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2018 at 7:38 am

Posted in Games

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. 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

Me and the world’s tallest totem pole

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The Younger Daughter took this photo in Beacon Hill Park. The totem pole is 127 feet 7 inches tall (non-metric because it was erected in the 1950s.) We also walked to the top of Beacon Hill to look out to the gray haze. Then to Murchie’s for lunch and various packets of tea. (She bought a lot of samples to try and will order larger amounts of those she likes.) We stopped in Munro Bookstore next door after lunch, and then home. Tonight: Q at the Empress for dinner.

Written by Leisureguy

23 August 2018 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Daily life

Edwin Jagger synthetic, Natural Bay Rum, Baby Smooth, and Dominica Bay Rum

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I did not do my usual vigorous shake of the synthetic brush. Since Meißner Tremonia shaving soaps contain clay, I figured a little extra water would not be out of order, and indeed I loaded the brush easily with no need for any adding of water.

Natural Bay Rum smells quite good to me, and the Baby Smooth delivered its usual excellent shave. A splash of Dominica Bay Rum finished the job, and the air quality today is quite good: the shifting winds have carried the forest-fire smoke away from us.

Written by Leisureguy

23 August 2018 at 9:30 am

Posted in Shaving

Fun day again

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The Younger Daughter and I went to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to start the day. Good art and interesting exhibits, including some Japanese swords (one from 1430 CE) and a doll house to die for, along with a fair number of Emily Carr paintings. Here’s one, but they had a lot more, and TYD bought me a book of reproductions of Emily Carr paintings.

We also saw quite a stunning fire truck in screaming yellow—for me, much more visible than the traditional red. It was not doing anything, just sitting at the curb.

We all (including The Wife) then went to Abkhazi Garden for tea and a walk through the garden. We had high tea, which was extremely nice. On the bottom are little pastry-wrapped lamb sausages, some mini-tarts of a savory kind. The scones on the next level up were extremely nice, and we finished up with the sweets on the top level—or perhaps they finished us up.

After walking through the garden, we drove to Silk Road Tea on the edge of Chinatown, the source of the teas used at the Abkhazi Garden tearoom.

I was surprised to find that they had tea cakes—tea leaves pressed into a cake, which you break apart, little by little, to make tea. Tea cakes are often aged (since they improve with aging), and I bought a White Pu-Erh tea cake from Spring 2015. (Pu-erh teas are interesting.)

At the left is a photo of it in its box, and below a photo with the lid off. It is wrapped simply in a square of paper, folded and not sealed. This one tea cake will make a lot of tea. Below is a tea cake I’ve been using, breaking off enough each day to make a pot of tea. The leaves are tightly compressed but form layers, so with a little twisting and pressure you can break off—and then break up—enough to make a pot of tea. The cake is lying on the paper it was wrapped in, and I rewrap it (artlessly) after breaking off enough for a new pot of tea.

The tea cake I’m working on is one of several I ordered from China from Teasenz, a site that offers an excellent selection of white teas. I drink white tea because in terms of anti-oxidants and cancer-preventive it is superior even to green tea. (Google “health benefits white tea” for more info.)

All in all, a very good day. Tomorrow TYD and I will walk around Beacon Hill Park, and tomorrow night we’ll enjoy enjoy a dinner at Q at the Empress. And the next morning TYD returns home and I return to Nordic walking.

UPDATE: I found some useful (and interesting) videos on pu-erh tea cakes. 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:

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

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2018 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks, Food

Not just misleading. Not merely false. A lie.

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Glenn Kessler, fact checker for the Washington Post, writes:

The first denial that Donald Trump knew about hush-money payments to silence women came four days before he was elected president, when his spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, without hedging, “we have no knowledge of any of this.”
The second came in January of this year, when his attorney Michael Cohen said the allegations were “outlandish.” By March, two of the president’s spokesmen — Raj Shah and Sarah Huckabee Sanders — said publicly that Trump denied all the allegations and any payments. Even Cohen’s attorney, David Schwartz, got in on the action, saying the president “was not aware of any of it.”
In April, Trump finally weighed in, answering a question about whether he knew about a payment to porn star Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, with a flat “no.”
It’s now clear that the president’s statement was a lie — and that the people speaking for him repeated it.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Donald Trump’s presidency has been his loose relationship with facts. As of the beginning of this month, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker had documented 4,229 false or misleading claims from the president — an average of nearly 7.6 a day.
Trump’s allies have defended the president by suggesting that facts are debatable. Early into his presidency, one aide famously said he was operating with “alternative facts.” On Sunday, Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani declared: “Truth isn’t truth.”
How to characterize Trump’s statements has become its own pitched political battle, with many of the president’s critics demanding that they be called “lies.” The Fact Checker has been hesitant to go that far, as it is difficult to document whether the president knows he is not telling the truth.
On Wednesday, Sanders said during a White House briefing that it was “a ridiculous accusation” to say the president has lied to the American people.
But this week’s guilty plea by Cohen, offers indisputable evidence that Trump and his allies have been deliberately dishonest at every turn in their statements regarding payments to Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Here is the definitive story of a Trump lie:
The initial lie: ‘no knowledge’
Nov. 4, 2016: The Wall Street Journal reports days before the election that the National Enquirer agreed to pay $150,000 to McDougal, a former Playboy centerfold model, for an account of an alleged affair with Trump but did not publish it, part of a “catch and kill” operation.
The publisher of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., issues a statement: “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.” Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks says: “We have no knowledge of any of this.”
What we know now: In August 2015, Cohen; David Pecker, the chairman of AMI; and “one or more members of the campaign” forged an agreement under which AMI would deal with negative stories about Trump’s “relationships with women” by purchasing the stories and then not publishing anything, according to the criminal information filed by federal prosecutors in the Cohen case. (In court, Cohen said he took action “at the request of the candidate” and knew it was illegal.) In August 2016, McDougal was paid $150,000 by AMI for the rights to her story – which the National Enquirer never published.
More revelations, more disinformation
Jan. 12, 2018: The Wall Street Journal exposes the $130,000 payment to Daniels. Cohen and the White House sidestep questions about the payment but deny an affair between Daniels and Trump ever took place. “This is now the second time that you are raising outlandish allegations against my client,” Cohen tells the Journal. “You have attempted to perpetuate this false narrative for over a year; a narrative that has been consistently denied by all parties since at least 2011.”
Jan. 18: White House spokesman Raj Shah dodges questions about Daniels by telling reporters: “This matter was asked and answered during the campaign, and anything else could be directed to Michael Cohen.”
The lie evolves: Cohen made the payments on his own
Feb. 13: Cohen tells the New York Times he used his own funds to pay Daniels. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” he says. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
What we know now: Cohen, in pleading guilty to two felony violations of campaign finance law, said he was reimbursed by the Trump Organization. Court filings showed that the company “grossed up” the payments to cover Cohen’s taxes and also added a bonus, for a total of $420,000 in payments, according to the criminal information.
Trump’s spokespeople keep saying he ‘was not aware of any of it’
March 7: White House press secretary Sanders asserts that the president told her he was unaware of the payments. “I’ve had conversations with the president about this,” she says. “There was no knowledge of any payments from the president, and he’s denied all of these allegations.” She adds: “Anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president’s outside counsel.”
March 9: Michael Avenatti, Daniels’s lawyer, discloses emails showing that Cohen used his Trump Organization email address when he arranged the $130,000 wire transfer. Cohen tells ABC News that he used his own funds: “The funds were taken from my home equity line and transferred internally to my LLC account in the same bank.” He said the use of the Trump Organization email address meant nothing because “I basically used it for everything.”
March 26: After Daniels appears on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to describe the alleged affair, White House spokesman Raj Shah sidesteps a question about whether the Trump campaign violated campaign finance laws, referring reporters to Cohen. “The president strongly, clearly and consistently denied the underlying claims,” he adds.
March 28: David Schwartz, an attorney for Cohen, tells CNN that Trump was completely unaware of the payment. “The president was not aware of the agreement. At least Michael Cohen never told him about the agreement. I can tell you that,” he says. Asked whether Trump was aware of the money, Schwartz affirms: “He was not aware of any of it.”
What we know now: Cohen, in making his guilty plea, said he worked “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to Trump, to make payments to thwart McDougal and Daniels from telling their stories.
March 29: Schwartz tells NBC News that Trump “100 percent” did not reimburse Cohen.
Trump weighs in: ‘I don’t know’
April 5: Trump flatly tells reporters he did not know about the $130,000 payment.
Reporter: “Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?”
Trump: “No, no.”
Reporter: “Then why did Michael Cohen make [the payment], if there was no truth to her allegations?”
Trump: “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael’s my attorney, and you’ll have to ask Michael.”
Reporter: “Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?”
Trump: “No. I don’t know.”
What we know now: Every answer was false. Trump knew about the payment, he knew Cohen made the payment as part of an effort to kill damaging stories, and he knew Cohen was reimbursed.
The lie shifts again: Trump ‘did know about the general arrangement’
April 26: The White House spin starts to shift after Cohen’s office is raided by federal prosecutors on April 9. Trump tells Fox News: “Michael would represent me, and represent me on some things. He represents me — like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me.”
May 2: Giuliani tells Fox News that Trump paid Cohen back for the $130,000 payment, but it could not be considered a campaign finance violation.
“They funneled it through the law firm, and the president repaid it,” Giuliani says, adding that “is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money. Sorry, I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money, no campaign finance violation.”
Giuliani suggests Trump was largely in the dark about what the money was used for. “He didn’t know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this,” he says.
May 3: Trump tweets about the supposed arrangement. “Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA,” he says, adding: “Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction.”
What we know now: This was a lie. Cohen did not get repaid through a monthly retainer. He sought reimbursement for the payment, and the Trump Organization agreed to pay $420,000, at a monthly rate of $35,000, according to court filings. The company then falsely listed the payments in its books as a retainer for legal work. “In truth and in fact, there was no such retainer agreement, and the monthly invoices Cohen submitted were not in connection for any legal services he had provided in 2017,” prosecutors wrote.
The lie unravels
May 4: Giuliani releases a statement in which he claims the payment to Daniels was intended only to “protect the president’s family” from painful publicity about an alleged affair and that “it would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.”
What we know now: The deal with Daniels was part of an arrangement to shield Trump from negative stories that was hatched by Cohen, AMI and the Trump campaign shortly after he started running for president, according to court filings.
July 24: Cohen attorney Lanny Davis releases a recording Cohen had secretly made of a conversation with Trump two months before the election, which the two discussed the arrangement with the National Enquirer to pay $150,000 to McDougal.
Aug. 21: Cohen, in court, implicates Trump by admitting that the hush-money payments had been intended to help the campaign. The payment to Daniels was deemed an excessive campaign contribution by Cohen — and the McDougal payment from AMI violated a ban on corporate donations to campaigns.
Aug. 22: In a Fox News interview, Trump sought to reframe the issue. He insisted that the payments had not been a “campaign violation.” The payments “didn’t come out of the campaign,” he said. “They came from me.”
After months of denial and deception, Trump was still not telling the truth.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2018 at 6:17 pm

ICE detained a US citizen for 2 years and tried to deport him

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ICE needs to be abolished. Morgan Gstalter reports in The Hill:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reportedly detained a U.S. citizen for nearly two years and tried to have him deported.

Levy Jaen, a father of four, was held in a New Jersey ICE detention facility as his attorneys argued with federal prosecutors over how immigration is passed from parent to child and how ICE determines “family,” BuzzFeed News reported Monday, the same day the White House held an event honoring immigration agents.

Jaen, 46, was born in Panama, although his parents were living in New York at the time. His father later became a citizen.

His mother was allegedly having an affair at the time, and his original birth certificate lists another man. His mother stayed in the marriage, and Jaen spent his life with the man he considered his father.

BuzzFeed News reports that Jaen came to the U.S. in 1988 at the age of 15 on a visa and has lived in New York ever since, assuming he earned American citizenship through his father.

He was, however, detained by immigration officials in May 2016 after he completed a two-year sentence for his second drug possession conviction.

ICE tried to have him deported for overstaying a visa and his drug charges.

His attorneys argued that he was born into a marriage where one of his parents — the man he always considered to be his father — was a U.S. citizen, so he was as well.

ICE attorneys said that his father could not pass on citizenship to Jaen without a biological relationship.

“It is really striking for the government to be running around telling marital families that ‘no, this isn’t really a family,’ ” Ian Samuel, one of his attorneys, said. “That offends some of the oldest instincts we have as a civilized people.”

Jaen remained inside the Hudson County Correctional Facility, away from his four children, the youngest of whom is autistic.

“ICE seemed totally unconcerned they were imprisoning and deporting a U.S. citizen,” his immigration attorney, Andrea Saenz, told BuzzFeeed News. “I felt that they only saw him as a person with a criminal history.”

It wasn’t until April when a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed his citizenship and ordered for him to be released, BuzzFeed News reported.

He was reunited with his children at their home in Queens that same day.

“I felt that weight uplifted from my back. It was the happiest day of my life for me, my kids and my family,” Jaen told the outlet.

The court issued its written opinion last week, arguing that the country has long recognized that a child born into a legally married couple is considered the child of the husband — regardless of biological relations.

That has been the standard at the state and federal level for decades, the judges ruled.

“This presumption has reflected the traditional ‘aversion to declaring children illegitimate,’ as well as an interest in promoting familial tranquillity through deference to the marital family,” the court wrote in the ruling obtained by BuzzFeed News. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2018 at 1:53 pm

All career advice for women is a form of gaslighting

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Ephrat Livni has an interesting article in Quartz:

If you’re a working woman, you’ve likely been inundated with advice about how to ensure that gender double standards don’t impede your brilliant career. Assert yourself boldly at meetings in an appropriately low tone of voice, yet purr pleasingly when negotiating salary. Be smart but never superior, a team player though not a pushover, ever-effective yet not intimidatingly intellectual. Calibrate ambition correctly, so that none are offended by your sense of self-worth, but all seek to reward your value. Dress the part.

Inevitably, even in the most allegedly enlightened workplaces, women contend with subtle biases. And so the fairer sex gets the message that we can’t just work. We must also contort and twist and try not to seem bitchy as we lean in.

But the obstacles that come with working in a sexist culture are beyond any individual’s control. And so advocating a do-it-yourself approach to on-the-job equality may actually be a kind of gaslighting—just one more way for institutions to deflect blame and make women question themselves and doubt their sanity. It’s the society we operate in that needs fixing, not how we ask for money, the tone of our voices, or our outfits.

In fact, research by Duke University department of neuroscience professors Grainne Fitzsimons, Aaron Kay, and Jae Yun Kim, to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, shows that overemphasizing messages of individual female empowerment diminishes people’s sense of systemic obstacles that require societal redress. It puts major historic problems on the shoulders of individuals, who are actually minor players, they write in the Harvard Business Review (paywall).

The problem with “Lean In”

Empowerment advice for women provides an “illusion of control” that’s not realistic, the researchers say. The advice may be good insofar as it gives us hope, but it fails to recognize larger, much more powerful forces at work, like a long history of discrimination and patriarchy.

“We suspected that by arguing that women can solve the problem themselves, advocates of the ‘DIY’ approach may imply that women should be the ones to solve it—that it is their responsibility to do so,” they write. “We also hypothesized that this message could risk leading people to another, potentially dangerous conclusion: that women have caused their own under-representation.”

To test their theories, the researchers conducted six studies on 2,000 male and female subjects in the US. Participants read text from Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, or listened to audio clips from her TED talks that describe the problem of women’s under-representation in leadership. Sandberg’s work was chosen for its prominence and because it advocates a DIY approach while also laying out the systemic problems that women face. This ensured that subjects got different messages from the same messenger—Sandberg.

Some participants read or heard the DIY messages telling women to be more ambitious, speak confidently, demand a seat at the table, and take risks. Others read or listened to information about structural and societal factors causing under-representation, like discrimination. It turned out that people who heard the DIY messages were more likely to believe women have the power to solve the problem and were also more likely to believe women are responsible for both causing and fixing gender issues. Meanwhile, subjects who heard about structural problems tended to see a need for institutions and society to address discrimination.

“What’s more, these effects were even associated with people’s policy preferences,” the scientists write. For example, people who encountered the DIY messages were more likely to blame women in a subsequent study showing that code written by female engineers at Facebook was rejected more often than code written by men.

The roots of the phenomenon at Facebook were ambiguous—meaning it might have come down to the quality of coding, or could have been because the managers were biased against women engineers. However, study subjects exposed to Sandberg’s arguments about leaning in didn’t think policy changes—like having managers review code anonymously, or training managers on bias—would be worthwhile.

The researchers note that there are limitations to their findings. The study hasn’t been replicated by other scientists, for one. Also, the work focuses, as Sandberg’s book did, on women in leadership positions, and doesn’t address working class women’s issues at all. Still, they say they’re concerned, writing, “Humans don’t like injustice, and when they cannot easily fix it, they often engage in mental gymnastics to make the injustice more palatable. Blaming victims for their suffering is a classic example — eg, that person ‘must have done something’ to deserve what’s happened to them.”

May it please the court

The truth is that women face biases that are far too profound and complex to expect any individual to resolve them on their own. Consider women attorneys. As Deborah Rhode, a Stanford Law professor, wrote in 2001 (pdf), women in the courtroom face a “double standard and a double bind.” They must avoid being seen as too soft or too strident, too aggressive or not aggressive enough.

That’s still true today, as University of San Francisco law school professor and former federal public defender Lara Bazelon explains in a recent post in The Atlantic. Women trial attorneys must do argumentative gymnastics to ably represent clients while also seeming like they are fighting nice. Unlike male lawyers who impress judges and jurors when they’re aggressive or tough, female counselors have to tread carefully, lest they displease an audience that still expects them to be mild.

“Sexism infects every kind of courtroom encounter, from pretrial motions to closing arguments—a glum ubiquity that makes clear how difficult it will be to eradicate gender bias not just from the practice of law, but from society as a whole,” Bazelon writes.

The double standard for male and female attorneys applies to attire, too. Men show up in a suit and tie and they are fine—that’s it. Women lawyers are much more intensely scrutinized—the height of their heels, length of their hair and skirts, and whether they wear pants or pantyhose or makeup is all up for discussion among judges, counselors, jurors, and clients.

I can confirm this based on my own experience. As a public defender in Palm Beach County, Florida, I heard a lot about my look and I took it to heart, mostly, dressing for my clients’ success. Notably, during my first week handling 100 clients in a domestic violence court, my mom was serving on a criminal trial jury in Massachusetts, where she told me that her fellow jurors spent much time discussing the defendant’s female counselor’s suit and shoes rather than the evidence presented. As a result, she was less concerned about my difficulties representing the indigent accused than with me finding the right outfit to do so.

My mom wasn’t wrong, though it also wasn’t even possible to dress in exactly the “right” way. As sociolinguist Deborah Tannen notes in her essay “There Is No Unmarked Woman” (pdf), there’s no such thing as a standard style for women that will enable their appearance to go unremarked upon.

Personally, I solved the problem of preferring pants to skirts and flats to heels by becoming an appellate attorney. A written brief never shows the lawyer’s outfit, and my name is too confusing and foreign to reveal my gender. But when my husband and I were partners at our own small law firm together, I was quickly reminded of bias again, as clients almost invariably assumed that I was his secretary, rather than a person who’d be fighting for them in court. Except of course—as did happen on occasion—when I’d write the motion and send a male attorney in my stead so as not to disadvantage a client in a rural part of the state where neither my name or gender would go over well. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a job I kept long.

Similarly, Bazelon escaped the courtroom after seven years and found her way to academia. Now she advises aspiring female attorneys, offering counsel she’d rather not have to share:

I tell my female students the truth: that their body and demeanor will be under relentless scrutiny from every corner of the courtroom. That they will have to pay close attention to what they wear and how they speak and move. That they will have to find a way to metabolize these realities, because adhering to biased expectations and letting slights roll off their back may be the most effective way to advance the interests of their clients in courtrooms that so faithfully reflect the sexism of our society.

Bazelon acknowledges that women are forced to play by different rules; anything less would be unfair to students. But she doesn’t disguise that reality as a pep talk, nor does she pretend that the career advice she offers is anything other than than an indictment of the larger sexist system in which she, and her students, operate.

Getting on with it

Although there’s lots of talk about equality in the workplace today, eradicating sexism from our culture is no easy task. For one thing, it starts early in our families. Disparate treatment of boys and girls begins at home, where girls do more chores (paywall) yet allowances for male children are greater than for females. The pattern continues in schools around the world, where children are socialized differently, with boys encouraged to express ideas more and girls praised for their neatness and niceness.

Despite advice to lean in, it’s still difficult for women who already know they’re equal and perform as well as men to assert themselves and be rewarded accordingly. Making your case doesn’t always result in a raise or promotion—sometimes you actually pay for the audacity.

We can even be punished for just being ourselves. For example, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2018 at 1:39 pm

We Are Not Born Human

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Bernard-Henri Lévy writes in the NY Times:

What does it mean to be human? The immensity of this question can be boiled down to an old principle proposed by the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, which he attributed to fellow philosopher Baruch Spinoza: “Determination is negation.”

But negation of what?

First, of God. In the beginning there was God — the source of infinite action. In the Western tradition, man has no purpose without God. For Christians, man was created in God’s image; for Jews, God is a good worker who lends a hand. For atheists (who, let’s not forget, are Judeo-Christians in their own way), man’s purpose is in part to topple God from his throne. If this isn’t a complete negation of God, then it at least limits his power, as humans come to occupy the space formerly reserved for God alone.

Determination is also a negation of nature. Nobody will deny — most of all not Spinoza — that a human is “natura naturata,” a thing among things, a nature among natures, a figure of the world woven from the same fiber as all other ordinary figures. But to be human is also to desire transcendence, to aspire to be more than merely a sliver of nature.

In his day, the philosopher René Descartes pondered the difference between humans and machines. Today, on the cusp of a revolution in artificial intelligence, we are pondering a similar question: How will we be able to tell a real human from a synthetic one?

A real human is “res cogitans,” a thinking thing, as Descartes put it. A source of “intentionality,” as the philosopher Edmund Husserl wrote. Being human means taking a leap out of the natural order. To be human requires an escape, in one way or another, from that mass of atoms, cells and particles from which you and I and everything else is composed. It is to be endowed with a soul, which — even if it is immaterial, without expanse or density, even if it is perfectly invisible, impalpable and inconsistent — acts as a passport out of nature and into our human essence.

This systematic denaturalization, this confidence that a piece of oneself can escape from the natural order of the world, is akin to a second birth. Nature is the first stage of humanity; but it can, under no circumstance, be its horizon.

But there is also a third birth. To be human, of course, is to be part of another entity that we call society. With all due respect to the “Rousseauism” of those who have never truly read Jean-Jacques Rousseau, man has never existed entirely on his own, with no attachment to a community of others.

But here, we must be very careful. To idolize the social sphere, to passively accept the constraints that result from the imposition of social laws and norms, can prove fatal for human striving. Here lies the bleak realm of Martin Heidegger’s “we.” Here are the nameless, faceless mobs prophesied by Edgar Allan Poe and who today have been unleashed on social media.

To be human is to preserve, inside oneself, against all forms of social pressure, a place of intimacy and secrecy into which the greater whole cannot set foot. When this sanctuary collapses, machines, zombies and sleepwalkers are sure to follow.

This private power may not be accessible to us at first. We aren’t born human; we become it. Humanity is not a form of being; it is a destiny. It is not a steady state, delivered once and for all, but a process.

To be human also means knowing that one can win battles, but never the war. Death will have the final say. If this seems all too tragic, if we are troubled by the sense that the inhuman is the rule and the human the exception, we must come to understand it as a source of salvation.

Ultimately, I am sure of nothing. Philosophy is strictly concerned with the field of the possible, not the knowable, so I can only wager on what may be.

But I do know one thing: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2018 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Daily life

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