Later On

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

Archive for February 6th, 2019

Speaking of evolution, check out hummingbird beaks

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Evolution really does try everything. Read the article.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2019 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

The sexual abuse of nuns

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This report searingly shows clearly what women have had to endure, and the degree to which everyone carefully cultivated a social blind spot, simply not seeing what was directly in front of them, something that when you describe it as though it were an alien culture (which in many ways it actually is: cultural evolution is quite rapid, and we don’t see things the same way), stripping it of the dull edges of familiarity so that you are looking head-on at what was being done, you do become aware of how blind you had been, and how many voices you had to ignore to keep that spot blind.

Anyway: read the report, and think about how it reads if you remove the familiar elements and just describe objectively what happened. And for how long.

That meme is by no means dead, obviously, but it also has evolved over time and takes new shapes today, and occupies new houses and high office. Have you noticed how many are being brought low as our culture has evolved?

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2019 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Memes, Religion

Here’s a Closer Look at President Trump’s Big Lie About El Paso

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Do you ever tire of the US President constantly telling obvious lies to the American public? I sure do. Read this post by Kevin Drum. Two charts from the post are shown.

This first chart is what Trump told us, more or less:

That’s matches Trump’s rhetoric. But if you go ahead and complete the chart:

Read the post, which has another chart…

 

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2019 at 2:33 pm

The Emotional Toll of Graduate School

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Prateek Puri writes in Scientific American:

A recent Harvard study concluded that graduate students are over three times more likely than the average American to experience mental health disorders and depression. The study, which surveyed over 500 economics students from eight elite universities, also concluded that one in 10 students experienced suicidal thoughts over a two-week period, a result consistent with other recent reports. While these findings are alarming to some, as a current graduate student myself, I regard them as hardly surprising. But to understand the struggles graduate students face, you have to understand the structure of graduate school itself.

Most people probably lump doctoral students into the same category as undergrads or students in professional schools such as law or medicine. The reality is their lifestyle and the nature of their work are fundamentally different. In the STEM fields where I have personal experience, as well as many other fields, graduate students are really hardly students at all. For most of their programs, which last over six years on average, they aren’t preparing for written exams, taking courses or doing any of the tasks usually associated with student life. Instead they are dedicating often over 60 hours a week towards performing cutting edge research and writing journal articles that will be used to garner millions of dollars in university research funding.

While graduate students are compensated for their work by a supervising professor, their salaries substantially lag what the open job market would offer to people with their qualifications, which often include both master’s and bachelor’s degrees. For example, graduate student salaries are typically around $30,000 a year for those in STEM—and can be substantially lower for those in other fields.

Further, unlike many professional school students, doctoral students do not leave their program with job security or even optimistic financial prospects. In fact, according to a study in 2016, nearly 40 percent of doctoral students do not have a job lined up at the time of graduation. Even for those who do snag a job, mid-career salaries can be significantly less than those for individuals who graduated from other professional programs.

So if doctoral students are underpaid and overworked, why do over100,000 students—more than the number for dentistry, medical and law schools combined—complete these programs every year?

There are many answers to this question, and they vary from department to department, individual to individual. For some, graduate school is a convenient next step, a way to inch towards adulthood while keeping your career options open and remaining in a familiar university environment. For others, graduate school offers something they simply cannot get elsewhere. These students enter graduate school because they are extremely passionate about their field—passionate enough that they are willing to dedicate over six years to studying off-the-wall research ideas in excruciating detail.

Universities, with a commitment to intellectual freedom, are one of the few environments capable of providing the funding and resources necessary for this type of work. So, we put up with the hours, put up with the pay, and put up with the dwindling career prospects in the hope that we can pursue research we are passionate about—and then we cross our fingers and hope the rest will work out.

Unfortunately, as the study pointed out, it often does not work out. Mistaking casual interest for passion, many students realize halfway through their degree that they aren’t as enthusiastic as they thought about their research. Still several years away from graduating, they have to deliberate between grinding through the remainder of their program or exiting early and entering the job market in an awkward position: underqualified compared to other doctoral graduates and inexperienced compared to others who joined the workforce directly after college.

Even those who are interested in their work have to grapple with seemingly infinitely postponed graduation dates. Unlike other programs, there is no “units threshold” you have to meet in order to graduate—instead your graduation date is overwhelmingly determined by the amount of novel research you perform. No matter how hard you may work, no results will likely mean no degree. Even the best researchers can see years slip by without any significant results as a result of factors completely out of their hands such as faulty equipment, dwindling research budgets or pursuing research ideas that simply just don’t work.

Even for students who are lucky enough to produce results, frustratingly, individual professors have their own standards for what constitutes “enough research” to graduate. Is it four first-author research articles? What about one review paper and a few conference presentations? The answers you hear will vary widely, and ultimately, a student’s supervising professor usually has sole power in determining when a student graduates. At best, this creates a confusing system where students perform substantially different amounts of work for the same degree. At worst, it fosters a perverse power dynamic where students feel powerless to speak out against professors who create toxic working conditions, even resulting in cases of sexual exploitation.

Then there’s always the existential, “what even is my purpose?” mental black hole that many graduate students fall into. Yes, research has historically produced innovations that have revolutionized society. But for every breakthrough there are many other results without any clear social application, and given the slow, painstaking process of research, you may not be able to tell which is which for decades. As a student, it’s can be easy to doubt whether you’re pursuing work that will ever be useful, producing a sense of meaninglessness for some that can facilitate depression.

Clearly, if nearly 10 percent of the graduate population is experiencing suicidal thoughts, something is not working right in the system. Still, progress on these issues has been slow, largely because the people who are most affected—graduate students– are often the ones with the least agency to spur change. As a student, by the time you’ve seen the cracks in the academic infrastructure, you’ll likely only have a few more years until graduation. Do you really want to dedicate time towards fixing a system you’re leaving soon when you could be performing career-vaulting research instead? Are you willing to risk upsetting professors whose recommendation letters will dictate your employment prospects? For many, the answer is no.

Granted, the issues surrounding graduate student mental health are much easier to describe than to solve. But if academia is good at anything, it’s tackling complex, multifaceted problems exactly like these, and there are number of starting points for both students and administrators to push forward. For example,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2019 at 1:48 pm

How a Strange Grid Reveals Hidden Connections Between Simple Numbers

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This Quanta article is fascinating. Math is so weird, given the simplicity of the premises, postulates, and axioms. The richness of what results is totally unexpected. Perhaps it is a type of emergence.

At any rate, I highly recommend the article.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2019 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Math

Detective in Elkhart, Indiana, Wrongful Conviction Case Dies in Apparent Suicide

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The South Bend Tribune and ProPublica report:

The former Elkhart police detective who was central in an investigation that led to the wrongful convictions of Keith Cooper and another man died this week in an apparent suicide, authorities said.

Steve Rezutko, 78, was found Tuesday afternoon at his home on Sturdy Oak Drive, just north of Elkhart, county coroner James Elliott said.

Rezutko was an Elkhart police officer for more than 30 years, starting in 1969. He served in the Army for three years before joining the Police Department. On the police force, he rose to the rank of sergeant and then was named a detective. After resigning from the Police Department, Rezutko worked as a corrections officer at the St. Joseph County Jail. He retired last year.

Rezutko was the lead detective in a 1996 shooting that resulted in the convictions of Cooper and Christopher Parish. After the evidence in the case unraveled, Parish had his conviction overturned in court and got a $4.9 million settlement, and Cooper received a gubernatorial pardon based on innocence.

Rezutko’s death this week came in the midst of a lawsuit filed by Cooper against the city of Elkhart, Rezutko and several other former officers. Last month, the city disclosed long-missing records that showed Rezutko’s 2001 resignation from the Police Department came after an internal investigation into improper contact with female informants. For more than a decade, the city had failed to disclose those records in lawsuits filed by Parish and Cooper.

Cooper alleges he was wrongfully convicted largely because Rezutko showed witnesses suggestive photo lineups. His lawsuit also claims the city of Elkhart condoned or enabled misconduct that led to his conviction.

American police departments seem to have some serious problems.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2019 at 1:17 pm

Fight the Ship: Death and valor on a warship doomed by its own Navy.

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The American government and its institutions are crumbling around us, and those who are elected to deal with those problems are failing. T. Christian Miller, Megan Rose, and Robert Faturechi report in ProPublica:

little after 1:30 a.m. on June 17, 2017, Alexander Vaughan tumbled from his bunk onto the floor of his sleeping quarters on board the Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald. The shock of cold, salty water snapped him awake. He struggled to his feet and felt a torrent rushing past his thighs.

Around him, sailors were screaming. “Water on deck. Water on deck!” Vaughan fumbled for his black plastic glasses and strained to see through the darkness of the windowless compartment.

Underneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean, 12 miles off the coast of Japan, the tidy world of Berthing 2 had come undone. Cramped bunk beds that sailors called coffin racks tilted at crazy angles. Beige metal footlockers bobbed through the water. Shoes, clothes, mattresses, even an exercise bicycle careered in the murk, blocking the narrow passageways of the sleeping compartment.

In the dim light of emergency lanterns, Vaughan glimpsed men leaping from their beds. Others fought through the flotsam to reach the exit ladder next to Vaughan’s bunk on the port side of the ship. Tens of thousands of gallons of seawater were flooding into the compartment from a gash that had ripped through the Fitzgerald’s steel hull like it was wrapping paper.

As a petty officer first class, these were his sailors, and in those first foggy seconds Vaughan realized they were in danger of drowning.

At 6 feet, 1 inch and 230 pounds, Vaughan grabbed a nearby sailor by the T-shirt and hurled him toward the ladder that led to the deck above. He yanked another, then another.

Vaughan’s leg had been fractured in three places. He did not even feel it.

“Get out, get out,” he shouted as men surged toward him through the rising water.

Berthing 2, just below the waterline and barely bigger than a 1,200-square-foot apartment, was home to 35 sailors. They were enlisted men, most in their 20s and 30s, many new to the Navy. They came from small towns like Palmyra, Virginia, and big cities like Houston. They were white, black, Latino, Asian. On the Fitzgerald, they worked as gunners’ mates, sonar experts, cafeteria workers and administrative assistants.

Seaman Dakota Rigsby, 19, was newly engaged. Sonar Technician Rod Felderman, 28, was expecting the birth of his first child. Gary Rehm Jr., 37, a petty officer first class, was the oldest sailor in the compartment, a mentor to younger crew members.

As the water rose past their ankles, their waists, their chests, the men fought their way to the port side ladder and waited, shivering in the swirling debris, for their chance to escape.

Shouting over a crescendo of seawater, Vaughan and his bunkmate, Joshua Tapia, a weapons specialist, worked side by side. They stationed themselves at the bottom of the ladder, grabbing the sailors and pushing them, one by one, up the steps. At the top, the men shot out the small opening, as the rising water forced the remaining air from the compartment.

Suddenly, the ship lurched to the right, knocking sailors from their feet. Some slipped beneath the surface. Others disappeared into the darkness of a common bathroom, carried by the force of water rushing to fill every available space.

Vaughan and Tapia waited until they were alone at the bottom of the ladder. When the water reached their necks, they, too, climbed out the 29-inch-wide escape hatch. Safe, they peered back down the hole. In the 90 seconds since the crash, the water had almost reached the top of Berthing 2.

Now they faced a choice. Naval training demanded that they seal the escape hatch to prevent water from flooding the rest of the ship. But they knew that bolting it down would consign any sailors still alive to death.

Vaughan and Tapia hesitated. They agreed to wait a few seconds more for survivors. Tapia leaned down into the vanishing inches of air left in Berthing 2.

“Come to the sound of my voice,” he shouted.

The Fitzgerald had been steaming on a secret mission to the South China Sea when it was smashed by a cargo ship more than three times its size.

The 30,000-ton MV ACX Crystal gouged an opening bigger than a semitruck in the starboard side of the destroyer. The force of the collision was so great that it sent the 8,261-ton warship spinning on a 360-degree rotation through the Pacific.

On the ship’s bridge, a crewman activated two emergency lights high on the ship’s mast, one on top of the other: The Fitzgerald, it signaled, was red over red — no longer under command.

Continue reading. There’s much more—and starting at this point, a graphic map of the encounter with moving images. This one is worth clicking through, for sure.

Following the graphics, the report continues:

The collision of the vessels was the Navy’s worst accident at sea in four decades. Seven sailors drowned. Scores were physically and psychologically wounded. Two months later, a second destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, broke that grim mark when it collided with another cargo vessel, leaving 10 more sailors dead.

The successive incidents raised an unavoidable question: How could two $1.8 billion Navy destroyers, protected by one of the most advanced defense systems on the planet, fail to detect oncoming cargo ships broadcasting their locations to a worldwide navigational network?

The failures of basic seamanship deeply embarrassed the Navy. Both warships belonged to the vaunted 7th Fleet — the most powerful armada in the world and one of the most important commands in the defense of the United States from nuclear attack.

ProPublica reconstructed the Fitzgerald’s journey, relying on more than 13,000 pages of confidential Navy investigative records, public reports, and interviews with scores of Fitzgerald crew members, current and former senior Navy officers, and maritime experts.

The review revealed neglect by Navy leadership, serious mistakes by officers — and extraordinary acts of valor and endurance by the crew.

The Fitzgerald’s captain selected an untested team to steer the ship at night. He ordered the crew to speed through shipping lanes filled with cargo ships and fishing vessels to free up time to train his sailors the next day. At the time of the collision, he was asleep in his cabin.

The 26-year-old officer of the deck, who was in charge of the destroyer at the time of the crash, had navigated the route only once before in daylight. In a panic, she ordered the Fitzgerald to turn directly into the path of the Crystal.

The Fitzgerald’s crew was exhausted and undertrained. The inexperience showed in a series of near misses in the weeks before the crash, when the destroyer maneuvered dangerously close to vessels on at least three occasions.

The warship’s state of readiness was in question. The Navy required destroyers to pass 22 certification tests to prove themselves seaworthy and battle-ready before sailing. The Fitzgerald had passed just seven of these tests. It was not even qualified to conduct its chief mission, anti-ballistic missile defense.

A sailor’s mistake sparked a fire causing the electrical system to fail and a shipwide blackout a week before the mission resulting in the crash. The ship’s email system, for both classified and non-classified material, failed repeatedly. Officers used Gmail instead.

Its radars were in questionable shape, and it’s not clear the crew knew how to operate them. One could not be made to automatically track nearby ships. To keep the screen updated, a sailor had to punch a button a thousand times an hour. The ship’s primary navigation system was run by 17-year-old software.

The Navy declined to directly answer ProPublica’s questions about its findings. [This is why it is important that we have competent Senators and Representatives, since Congress can demand answers and subpoena personnel and Congress has the right and the duty to exercise oversight—unfortunately, however, the US Congress today seems to consist most of incompetents. – LG] Instead, a spokesman cited previous reports that the Navy published during its own months-long review of the collisions.

The Navy inquiries determined that there had been widespread problems with leaders regarding shortfalls in training, manning and equipment in the 7th Fleet. The Navy fired admirals, captains and commanders, punished sailors and criminally prosecuted officers for neglecting their duties.

Adm. John Richardson, head of the Navy, called the two collisions “avoidable tragedies.” The ships’ commanders and their superiors, he said in a written statement to ProPublica, were responsible for the results.

“The tragedies of USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain reminded us that all commanders, from the unit level to the fleet commander, must constantly assess and manage risks and opportunities in a very complex and dynamic environment,” Richardson said. “But at the end of the day, our commanders make decisions and our sailors execute and there is an outcome — a result of that decision. The commander ‘owns’ that outcome.”

Sidelined during years of land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy is now stragegically central to containing North Korea’s nuclear threat, China’s expansionist aims and a newly aggressive Russia.

Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin was commander of the 7th Fleet at the time of the collisions. A Naval aviator who fought in the Balkans and Iraq, he made repeated pleas to his superiors for more men, more ships, more time to train. He was ignored, then fired.

More than 18 months later, Aucoin believes that the Navy has yet to disclose the full story of the disasters. Navy leaders, he said in his first extended interview, have not taken accountability for their role in undermining America’s sea fighting ability.

“I just want the truth to come out,” Aucoin said.

In the end, the Fitzgerald’s crew fought to keep the ship from sinking. They worked in the dark, without power, without steering, without communications.

A young officer scribbled algebraic equations in a notebook to figure out how to right the listing vessel. The crew bailed out the ship with buckets after pumps failed. As the Fitzgerald struggled to return to port, its navigational displays failed and backup batteries ran out. The ship’s navigator used a handheld commercial GPS unit and paper charts to guide the ship home.

At the top of the flooded berthing compartment, just seconds after Tapia’s shout, a hand thrust up through the scuttle opening. It was Jackson Schrimsher, a weapons specialist from Alabama. Vaughan reached down and pulled him up.

Schrimsher had gotten trapped in his top bunk by floating furniture that blocked the aisle. He climbed over to another bunk and jumped down. A wall of water rushed toward him, and a locker toppled onto him. Looking up, he saw the light coming from the open scuttle and fought his way toward it.

Schrimsher had recently become certified as a master helmsman, specially trained to maneuver the ship during complicated operations. With the Fitzgerald in distress, his skills were needed. He raced off for the ship’s bridge, clad only in a drenched T-shirt and shorts heavy with seawater.

Vaughan and Tapia took one last look at each other. It was time to seal the hatch.

CHAPTER 1. THE COMMANDER’S QUARTERS

“Fuck Your Boots, Captain, Grab My Hand.”

At impact, the Crystal’s prow punched into another sleeping compartment, this one occupied by a single man: Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the 40-year-old captain of the Fitzgerald.

Benson’s cabin lay high above the surface of the ocean, four decks above his sailors in Berthing 2. The Crystal had pierced the Fitzgerald’s hull right at the foot of Benson’s bed. It crushed together the bedroom and office of his stateroom like a wad of tinfoil.

The collision jolted Benson awake. Metal ductwork had fallen on him. He was bleeding from the head. He tried to get up from his bed but could not. He was trapped, buried amid a tangle of steel and wires. He clutched the quilt his wife had sewn him, its blue and white squares forming the image of a warship.

The cabin was cold and dark. He felt air rush past him. With a shock, Benson realized he was staring at the Pacific. The tear in his cabin’s wall had left Benson with a 140-degree view of dark water and dark sky. He could make out lights from the distant shore of Japan.

He suspected the ship had been hit. He could hear the shouts and groans of his sailors.


The captains of Navy warships are uniquely accountable in the modern American military. They have “absolute responsibility” for their vessels and face absolute blame when something goes wrong — whether they are asleep or even on board. In the case of a collision, no matter how minor, the consequences are usually severe: The captain is relieved of command.

The outcome is common enough that captains joke with the young officers steering their ships. “In case anything goes wrong, call me so that I can see the end of my career.”

Benson was determined not to be that captain. Just 20 hours earlier, he had set sail from the Fitzgerald’s home port in Yokosuka, Japan, after receiving last-minute orders to head for the South China Sea. Benson had ordered all sailors to report to the Fitzgerald at 6 a.m. to get an early start so he could squeeze in some training.

The Fitzgerald didn’t wrap up the long day of drills until 11 p.m. The ship was moving through a strait between Japan’s Izu Peninsula and Oshima Island. It was roughly 20 miles wide and filled with scores of cargo vessels and fishing boats streaming into and out of Tokyo.

Exhausted, Benson made a change to the night orders to guide the sailors who would pilot the Fitzgerald during the dark early morning hours. Normally, Benson directed the officer of the deck to call him if the ship deviated from its planned course by more than 500 yards to avoid traffic. But this night, Benson doubled the number to 1,000 yards, giving the officer more room to maneuver without having to wake him.

At 11:30 p.m., Benson left the bridge to turn in for the night. Captains often insist on remaining on the bridge when maneuvering through traffic at night. Or they sleep in a special cabin on the bridge. They want to monitor their officers closely during less-than-ideal sailing conditions.

Benson judged he was suffering the effects of “fatigue and sleep deprivation.” He needed to rest. He was concerned about the secret part of his mission. The Fitzgerald was going to sail through contested waters off China, which could result in confrontations with Chinese warships.

But Benson’s decisions set up a risky situation: a relatively junior crew run ragged by a long day, loosened restrictions on the officers steering the vessel and a captain not on the bridge.

Now, Benson realized that his worst nightmare had happened. His ship was in danger. And so was the crew. He was wet, chilled and slipping into shock. Benson reached for the phone by his bed and stopped. His brain had failed him. He couldn’t remember the four digits he’d called countless times to reach the bridge.

He fought through the confusion until the numbers came to him at last. He punched the keypad and hoped for an answer from above.

Benson and his sailors belonged to the 7th Fleet, which won fame during the Second World War as “MacArthur’s Navy,” battling across the Pacific under the direction of the American general to retake the Philippines.

Its modern incarnation is based in Yokosuka — the Navy’s largest overseas installation.  . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2019 at 12:32 pm

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