Later On

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

Archive for March 2019

Rapper Nipsey Hussle killed in shooting, and something he said

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From an article in the LA Times:

Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, was from South L.A. and had talked in the past about his early life in a street gang. He was a well-known community organizer who most recently was involved in the new Destination Crenshaw arts project.

He told The Times in 2018 that he had managed to develop a love of music and technology.

“I grew up in gang culture,” he said. “We dealt with death, with murder. It was like living in a war zone, where people die on these blocks and everybody is a little bit immune to it. I guess they call it post-traumatic stress, when you have people that have been at war for such a long time. I think L.A. suffers from that because it’s not normal yet we embrace it like it is after a while.”

In a 2014 interview with YouTube channel Vlad TV, Hussle confirmed that he had joined the Rollin’ 60s, a notorious Crips gang clique, as a teen. . .

Read the whole thing.

I find it interesting and likely that those living under near-wartime conditions will fall prey to PTSD, and they go untreated and unremarked. As he says, LA suffers from it.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 5:39 pm

Boeing Crashes Highlight the High Costs of Cheap Government

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Eric Levitzz writes in New York:

In 2005, the Federal Aviation Authority gave airplane manufacturers the power to cast their own employees as in-house regulators. This policy streamlined the inefficient “revolving door” process by making it possible for Boeing to regulate itself without the hassle of getting its lobbyists appointed to the F.A.A. The George W. Bush-administration argued that such “delegation” would allow the agency to concentrate its scarce resources on the most important safety issues, while also helping America’s aviation giants get new planes to market faster.

The F.A.A.’s rank and file saw things differently. As the New York Timesreports:

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, whose members include F.A.A. certification employees, said at the time that the F.A.A.’s new approach “provides less specific and technical F.A.A. oversight and therefore would in time lower the safety of the flying public.”

Another F.A.A. union now known as the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists said it would oppose “any system that allows industry to self-regulate oversight via the honor system.” The union wrote that the F.A.A.’s “blatant outsourcing” was “reckless” and would “actually compromise public air safety, not enhance it.”

The F.A.A. was “rushing to hand off their oversight responsibilities to industry and virtually establishing a ‘fox guarding the henhouse’ mentality,” the union wrote.

Nevertheless, delegation persisted. And for a simple reason: The F.A.A. could not afford to directly oversee all aircraft certification without either slowing aviation production to a crawl, or securing much higher funding from Congress. The cost of bringing all aviation certifications under the F.A.A.’s roof last year would have meant a $1.8 billion increase to the agency’s budget, the F.A.A.’s acting director told the Senate this week.

The cost of not doing so, meanwhile, might have been 346 human lives.

Within the past five months, two Boeing 737 MAX airplanes have crashed, killing all who were aboard them. Investigators now believe that the 737 MAX’s flawed flight-control system — known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) — caused these tragedies. And reporting from the Seattle Times suggests that — if the flight control system is responsible — then the F.A.A.’s delegation policy is, too:

As Boeing hustled in 2015 to catch up to Airbus and certify its new 737 MAX, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers pushed the agency’s safety engineers to delegate safety assessments to Boeing itself, and to speedily approve the resulting analysis.

But the original safety analysis that Boeing delivered to the FAA for a new flight control system on the MAX — a report used to certify the plane as safe to fly — had several crucial flaws.

… [B]lack box data retrieved after the Lion Air crash indicates that a single faulty sensor — a vane on the outside of the fuselage that measures the plane’s “angle of attack,” the angle between the airflow and the wing — triggered MCAS multiple times during the deadly flight, initiating a tug of war as the system repeatedly pushed the nose of the plane down and the pilots wrestled with the controls to pull it back up, before the final crash.

It is true that the F.A.A.’s current delegation rules have been around for more than a decade — and that America’s commercial airlines have assembled an enviable safety record over that period. But the available evidence also suggests that America’s refusal to adequately fund the F.A.A. allowed corporations to gain inordinate influence over a public-sector function — and many people died as a result.

In this respect, the Boeing 737 Max fiasco is indicative of a broader pathology in American civic life. In the U.S., we don’t just underfund our regulatory agencies (thereby forcing them to outsource many of their core functions, and making it impossible for them to compete with the private sector for top talent), but scrimp on virtually every level of government.

The stinginess might be most egregious at the state level. In Nebraska, state legislators earn just $12,000; in North Carolina’s statehouse, lawmakers are provided no staff while the legislature is in session. Many progressives attribute regressive policy outcomes to the abundance of corporate money in political campaigns, but the dearth of public money in governance is similarly corrosive. As the political scientist Alexander Hertel-Fernandez documents in his new book State CaptureThe American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — a right-wing organization that drafts model legislation to fit the specifications of its corporate benefactors, and then provides ready-made bills to state lawmakers across the country — owes much of its success (if not, it’s entire existence) to the lack of public resources at state legislature’s disposal.

And our federal legislature suffers from a similar pathology. As Betsy Wright Hawkins explained for The Hill in 2018:

When House and Senate appropriations deliberations began this year, funding levels for the Legislative Branch had been stagnant for a decade. Numbers of experienced policy staff in personal and committee offices were hollowed out, and the salaries of those who remain eroded. The resulting staff attrition means Congress employs roughly three-quarters of the people it did in the late 1970s. Meanwhile, the average House member represents approximately 200,000 more constituents, and each senator an estimated 1.6 million more constituents than they did 30 years ago …

… As a chief of staff in the House of Representatives for more than 25 years, I saw firsthand the personal toll funding shortfalls took on the dedicated, civic-minded men and women who are the lifeblood of the institution. Personal office budgets were cut by more than 20 percent during the last 10 years I served there. In the mid-2000s, I could budget to pay a highly-qualified legislative assistant $60,000 — no pittance, but an amount stretched by Washington’s high cost of living. By the end of my service in the House in 2015, I could afford to pay a similarly qualified staffer about $40,000.

As Congress has cut spending on legislative aid, the private sector has filled in the gap. Today, corporations spend more than $2.6 billion a year on congressional lobbyists — more than American taxpayers spend on all of Congress. If our elected representatives didn’t let special interests write legislative copy for them, it’s not clear that they would be able to do their jobs.

This is not an accident. The conservative movement understands that the fewer resources legislatures and bureaucracies receive from the public, the more they will accept from private interests — who will then see considerable returns on their investment in state capture.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 5:31 pm

Food discovery for bitter melon

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I made the rest of the chicken hearts, and since I just improvise all my recipes, it came out a little different. For oil, I had earlier cooked some marrow bones: I roasted for 15 minutes in a 425ºF oven, in the Field No. 12, and the fat that cooked out was what I used: marrow fat. There wasn’t quite enough, so I added about 1.5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil—really, a glug or two.

I used mostly the same veggies—a carrot chopped with the cut-roll-cut-roll method, a long Chinese leek, 10 cloves minced garlic, 2 jalapeños chopped small, half a red bell pepper, chopped, 2 baby bok choy, sliced, and a bitter melon (a whole one this time) halved lengthwise and each half cut lengthwise into three radial segment, all the same. Plus a good pinch of salt and several grindings of pepper.

But I also added several stalks of asparagus, chopped, and as it cooked, several dashes of Maggi and about 1.5 Tbsp toasted sesame oil, for flavor. When the dish was cooked, the bitter melon and asparagus were the same color and looked, to my bleary eyes, pretty much the same. Thus you didn’t know which taste to be set for, asparagus or bitter melon. And sometimes you’d take a spoonful that has one asparagus and one bitter melon. That combination turns out to have a very interesting and pleasant taste, taken together.

If I were making this in my stainless steel pan, I would add the juice of a lemon or two, but I don’t think that would be a good idea in the cast iron. Of course, I can easily squeeze lemon juice over the plated dish. Do that.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 5:00 pm

Why Barr’s summary of the Mueller report is a big win for America

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Andrew Sullivan, a conservative, writes in New York:

Why do I find the summary of the Mueller report by Attorney General William Barr to be something of a relief?

Firstly, I’m relieved as an American that a serious and dogged prosecutor deemed it impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the president of the United States had knowingly conspired with a foreign government to undermine the integrity of the 2016 presidential election. It’s not exactly a high bar, I know, but we have been failing to reach the lowest bars lately, so count me a happy person. I’m glad, simply, that the worst doesn’t appear to be true. I prefer my presidents not to be traitors.

Second, we were able to hold an independent inquiry into a serious question of electoral malfeasance and see it to a conclusion, without Mueller being fired, or the inquiry blocked, or stymied. When push came to shove, the Congress protected Mueller, despite an avalanche of abuse and propaganda directed toward him. And the president didn’t fire him, which, let’s be honest, we were all fearing he would. We ducked that particular constitutional crisis.

More to the point, in what was an inevitably fraught political moment, Robert Mueller conducted himself impeccably. How thrilling to hear absolutely nothing from him. I don’t even know what his voice sounds like. The lack of leaks or grandstanding; the efficiency and obvious rigor of the process; the resistance to becoming the Resistance: Mueller single-handedly showed that the norms of liberal democracy and the rule of law can be upheld even as most of the political actors, especially the president, have been behaving like bit players in a banana republic.

Give it up for old-school WASP Republican values! And in this, Mueller is someone we should study if we want to see how to oppose this president effectively. You can’t out-tweet or out-insult the clinically narcissistic and characterologically disgusting. You cannot beat him at his own game. But you can consistently refuse to take his boorish bait and maintain your own standards of conduct. You can calmly stare down a bully, and you can let your actions speak louder than your words.

In a world of endless distraction, Mueller kept his focus. It is hard not to see the inquiry as an epic cultural and moral clash between the honorable American and the irredeemably ugly one; between the war-hero public servant and a draft-dodging liar and thug; between elegant, understated class and fathomless, bullhorn vulgarity. In a liberal society, it really does matter more that the rules are fair than that any side wins. Mueller walked that line — and did not fall off it, as, for example, James Comey did.

Above all, I’m grateful Mueller did not find a clear-cut case of provable treasonous criminality either on the president’s part or his family’s. The reason I’m relieved is that, however grave the crime, Trump would almost certainly have gotten away with it. In our current politics, there is simply no way for this Senate to convict Trump of an impeachable offense. And so there was always a real danger that this entire ordeal would end with an obviously proven high crime and misdemeanor, a thereby unavoidable impeachment process, and then an inevitable failure to convict in the Senate. And so Trump would become an openly criminal president, a walking inversion of the rule of law, leverage impeachment into his reelection, and our slide into strongman politics would have accelerated still further.

The other lesson to learn is that Trump would happily obstruct justice even if he knew he was as innocent as the driven snow. It’s his core instinct. He’ll always act guilty — whether he’s guilty or not. He cannot see the process of an inquiry as a way for the entire system to examine and fix itself — let alone exonerate him. He instinctively recoils from any independent challenge to his control. Letting the law take its course would require a modicum of appreciation of a liberal society, and an understanding that the world doesn’t simply revolve around him. And he is clinically incapable of either.

And so if Trump is charged or accused of anything, he has the identical reflex. Always deny. Always lie. Always undermine. Never concede. Accuse your opponents of doing exactly what they accuse you of. Even if you’re innocent. This is the Roy Cohn playbook, and it’s damaging when even a real-estate developer deploys that kind of tactic, but in a president, charged with the faithful execution of the laws, it’s potentially fatal. But it will also mislead others, as it may have in this case. Most people tend to assume that someone who is acting incredibly guilty probably is a little guilty. But that misses the particular mind-set of this particular president.

None of this is to say this is over. No one apart  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 4:18 pm

Have you tried drawing?

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Drawing is mostly a matter of getting your mind out of the way so you can actually see what you’re looking at without the shortcuts the mind imposes. That’s the idea behind Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, and she has ingenious exercises to short-circuit the mind’s shortcuts (e.g., turn a picture upside down to draw it, which forces you to focus on what you see rather on your assumptions of what you see; or drawing not the object (a chair, say) but rather the space around the object: the boundary between that space and the chair).

Mark Frauenfelder points out a good site for drawing exercises, and of course like any skill, drawing requires practice.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 8:18 am

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Education

Should Hillary Clinton be in prison?

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The question above was asked on Quora, and it is certainly no secret that many Republicans would like to “Lock her up! Lock her up!

Ron Wagner (who describes himself as “USAF pilot in Presidential Wing at Andrews, airline pilot, aero engineer”) has an excellent answer to the question:

This is a good, simple question and I’ll give you a good, simple answer.

Lots of answers here go into all kinds of detail and speculation, which none of us really have access to. So, let’s consider just the bright, glaring facts that we know for absolutely sure:

  1. The Republicans have conducted somewhere around 17 federal investigations into the Clintons and the Clinton Foundation.
  2. The Republicans absolutely hate both Clintons and would walk across the country bare-foot on broken glass to get them in prison.
  3. Putting either of the Clintons in prison would be the greatest political victory the modern Republicans have ever attained.
  4. The Republicans have investigated both Clintons and their foundation over about two decades.
  5. The Republicans have spent more than $100 million of yours and my taxpayer money on these investigations.
  6. Millions of Republican voters absolutely believe that the Clintons are the most corrupt two people in the USA. There would be dancing in the streets if either Clinton were so much as arrested. The day of their entering prison would be celebrated among Republicans for generations.
  7. The Republicans would charge the Clintons or any employee of their staff or of the Clinton Foundation with jaywalking if they could substantiate it with evidence.
  8. The Republicans have never, ever filed a single charge against the Clintons—nor anyone who works for them or has ever worked for them. Contrast this to the 200+ charges filed already against people who worked for or with Donald Trump.
  9. People don’t go into prison in the USA without four things happening first:
    1. They must be charged with a crime.
    2. Then there has to be a trial.
    3. The trial must end with a guilty verdict from a jury.
    4. And, finally, a judge has to invoke a sentence of prison time.

So, the answer to your question is a simple no.

Or, maybe, Hillary Clinton will be in prison as soon as those four things happen, but not one day before.

THE CLEAN CLINTONS

And now I’m going to close with my personal beliefs, which are separate from the list of undeniable facts I wrote above.

I used to think as much as anyone else that the Clintons were sleazy and corrupt. I would have loved to see them taken down.

And finally, in October of 2015 I figured the day of reckoning had come for Hillary. She was summoned to sit down at a table in front of Trey Gowdy, a panel of angry Republicans who hate both Clintons, and a bank of national TV cameras.

She had with her a microphone and a glass of water—actually I think she had a couple of Diet Cokes during the day.

Trey Gowdy and his panel had with them an army of staffers, advisors, and lawyers, running back and forth with a library of documents.

But 11 hours later—speaking only from memory with no reference material and no advisor—she alone slaughtered all of them.

Trey Gowdy closed down the investigation.

And then, in shame, in 2018 he didn’t even run for reelection for his own seat in Congress.

MODERN DAY INSPECTOR JAVERT

No two people in American history have been investigated more doggedly and had more money spent on those insane pursuits than the Clintons. Their pursuers make the infamous Inspector Javert in Les Misérables look like a boy scout.

Today’s Republicans would write the ending of Les Miz to have Javert shoot Jean Valjean, dump him in the river, and walk away laughing.

I guess that few Republicans have watched and understood Les Miz.

But for me, after October, 2015 I realized that the Jean Valjean character in the drama of pursuing Hillary—the good guy—was Hillary Clinton.

I almost hated to admit it, but after the epic failure to find even a single charge against either Clinton, or even against a lowly Clinton staffer, I have concluded that the Clintons are either the cleanest couple in America or the smartest of all time.

They have either not committed crimes, or they are vastly smarter than any Republican they’ve faced over the past 20 years.

Either way, they have earned my respect and I thank the Republicans for spending $100 million to teach me that.

And, in case you’re wondering, I’ll be clear that unless the Republicans end this drama the way Inspector Javert did, I will never respect them again. Of course they won’t actually shoot themselves, die, and float away, but metaphorically it’s time for them to give us a Les Miz ending.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 6:31 am

Mayor Pete is very impressive

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I like the way he talks: he doesn’t orate, he converses. Watch this:

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2019 at 5:55 am

It’s official: I’ve changed my goal to 8000 steps per day

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The Nordic walk is only a portion of that, of course, but a pretty good portion (about 7100 steps) is the Nordic walk. Additional steps are from around the apartment, shopping, etc. I usually go well above 8000.

And I thought “The Highwaymen” on Netflix was quite good.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2019 at 5:52 pm

Against metrics: how measuring performance by numbers backfires

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We hang on to some things long after they have been shown to be counterproductive (cf. two books by Alfie Kohn, No Contest: The Case Against Competition and Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes). Metrics (and rewards based on metrics) is another.

Some examples from my direct experience: First, measuring sales reps (and rewarding them) based on their sales numbers, which quickly leads to the discovery by some sales reps that they can prevail by increasing their own sales and sabotaging the efforts of the other reps. Second, the attitude I can “bending the needle”: if a gauge’s needle has reached into the red zone, one simple(minded) fix is to bend the needle so that it points to the green: not fixing the problem, just changing the metric. Example: the changing definitions of the unemployment rate to minimize the number of unemployed.

Jerry Z Muller, professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D C., and author of The Tyranny of Metrics has in Aeon an extract from his book:

More and more companies, government agencies, educational institutions and philanthropic organisations are today in the grip of a new phenomenon. I’ve termed it ‘metric fixation’. The key components of metric fixation are the belief that it is possible – and desirable – to replace professional judgment (acquired through personal experience and talent) with numerical indicators of comparative performance based upon standardised data (metrics); and that the best way to motivate people within these organisations is by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance.

The rewards can be monetary, in the form of pay for performance, say, or reputational, in the form of college rankings, hospital ratings, surgical report cards and so on. But the most dramatic negative effect of metric fixation is its propensity to incentivise gaming: that is, encouraging professionals to maximise the metrics in ways that are at odds with the larger purpose of the organisation. If the rate of major crimes in a district becomes the metric according to which police officers are promoted, then some officers will respond by simply not recording crimes or downgrading them from major offences to misdemeanours. Or take the case of surgeons. When the metrics of success and failure are made public – affecting their reputation and income – some surgeons will improve their metric scores by refusing to operate on patients with more complex problems, whose surgical outcomes are more likely to be negative. Who suffers? The patients who don’t get operated upon.

When reward is tied to measured performance, metric fixation invites just this sort of gaming. But metric fixation also leads to a variety of more subtle unintended negative consequences. These include goal displacement, which comes in many varieties: when performance is judged by a few measures, and the stakes are high (keeping one’s job, getting a pay rise or raising the stock price at the time that stock options are vested), people focus on satisfying those measures – often at the expense of other, more important organisational goals that are not measured. The best-known example is ‘teaching to the test’, a widespread phenomenon that has distorted primary and secondary education in the United States since the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Short-termism is another negative. Measured performance encourages what the US sociologist Robert K Merton in 1936 called ‘the imperious immediacy of interests … where the actor’s paramount concern with the foreseen immediate consequences excludes consideration of further or other consequences’. In short, advancing short-term goals at the expense of long-range considerations. This problem is endemic to publicly traded corporations that sacrifice long-term research and development, and the development of their staff, to the perceived imperatives of the quarterly report.

To the debit side of the ledger must also be added the transactional costs of metrics: the expenditure of employee time by those tasked with compiling and processing the metrics in the first place – not to mention the time required to actually read them. As the heterodox management consultants Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman note in Six Simple Rules (2014), employees end up working longer and harder at activities that add little to the real productiveness of their organisation, while sapping their enthusiasm. In an attempt to staunch the flow of faulty metrics through gaming, cheating and goal diversion, organisations often institute a cascade of rules, even as complying with them further slows down the institution’s functioning and diminishes its efficiency.

Contrary to commonsense belief, attempts to measure productivity through performance metrics discourage initiative, innovation and risk-taking. The intelligence analysts who ultimately located Osama bin Laden worked on the problem for years. If measured at any point, the productivity of those analysts would have been zero. Month after month, their failure rate was 100 per cent, until they achieved success. From the perspective of the superiors, allowing the analysts to work on the project for years involved a high degree of risk: the investment in time might not pan out. Yet really great achievements often depend on such risks.

The source of the trouble is that when people are judged by performance metrics they are incentivised to do what the metrics measure, and what the metrics measure will be some established goal. But that impedes innovation, which means doing something not yet established, indeed that hasn’t even been tried out. Innovation involves experimentation. And experimentation includes the possibility, perhaps probability, of failure. At the same time, rewarding individuals for measured performance diminishes a sense of common purpose, as well as the social relationships that motivate co-operation and effectiveness. Instead, such rewards promote competition.

Compelling people in an organisation to focus their efforts on a narrow range of measurable features degrades the experience of work. Subject to performance metrics, people are forced to focus on limited goals, imposed by others who might not understand the work that they do. Mental stimulation is dulled when people don’t decide the problems to be solved or how to solve them, and there is no excitement of venturing into the unknown because the unknown is beyond the measureable. The entrepreneurial element of human nature is stifled by metric fixation.

Organisations in thrall to metrics end up motivating those members of staff with greater initiative to move out of the mainstream, where the culture of accountable performance prevails. Teachers move out of public schools to private and charter schools. Engineers move out of large corporations to boutique firms. Enterprising government employees become consultants. There is a healthy element to this, of course. But surely the large-scale organisations of our society are the poorer for driving out staff most likely to innovate and initiate. The more that work becomes a matter of filling in the boxes by which performance is to be measured and rewarded, the more it will repel those who think outside the box. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2019 at 9:59 am

Phoenix Artisan Doppelgänger and Feather AS-D1, with an assist from Rooney Style 1

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Not a very sharp photo. I had to take it freehand with my iPhone: the battery in my Nikon died, but I’ll have another soon.

The shave, however, was totally satisfactory. Doppelgänger Orange is a CK-6 soap, so great lather, great slickness, great feel—and the fragrance is quite nice:

Top notes: Anise, Clary Sage, Bergamot, Lavender, Lime, Lemon
Heart notes: Jasmine, Patchouli, Orris, Geranium, Sandalwood, Cedarwood
Base notes: Amber, Vanilla, Musk, Honey, Moss, Benzoin, Tonka Bean

Tonka Bean and Vanilla are to me the same fragrance, but I have a dull nose.

The Rooney Style 1, Size 1 is a very nice little brush and set the stubble up nicely for my Feather AS-D1, which did a wonderful job. Three passes to perfection, and then a splash of the aftershave.

Great way to begin the weekend.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2019 at 8:45 am

Posted in Shaving

Comics offer radical opportunity to blend scholarship and art

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An interesting article in Aeon by Trevor R Getz, professor of history and director of the Initiative for Public Humanities at San Francisco State University and author of Cosmopolitan Africa, 1700-1875 (2012).

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Books, Education

Portugal’s Path to Breaking Drug Addiction

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Rob Waters has a very interesting article in Craftsmanship magazine. It begins:

For the past 50 years, Italy, Portugal and the United States have taken radically different approaches to drug enforcement and to the epidemics of drug use and addiction that have afflicted each country. One, the U.S., has emphasized punishment. It leads the world in incarcerating people—and at burying them after drug overdoses. Another, Portugal, has decriminalized drugs and created a model for effective drug treatment. Italy, meanwhile, has veered wildly between these two poles, never settling on a clear approach.

This is the story of how Portugal has dealt with its drug problems and largely succeeded, while the U.S. and Italy, despite pockets of success—like the San Patrignano rehabilitation community in northern Italy described in another article in this issue—have mostly failed.

For all three countries, the modern epidemic of hardcore drugs began with a dramatic rise in the use of heroin. In the U.S., heroin use surged during the Vietnam War, as American soldiers experimented with Southeast Asian heroin and many became addicted. When they came home, drug syndicates saw a market and filled it, putting large quantities of heroin onto the streets of U.S. cities.

Heroin came to Italy in the mid-1970s and its use grew rapidly, striking all social classes. By the late 1980s, Milan alone had an estimated 100,000 heroin users, according to a 1989 article in the New York Times, which noted that in 1988,  809 Italians died of overdoses.

At its peak in the late 1990s, Portugal had one of the highest rates of heroin addiction and fatal overdoses in the world. About one percent of Portugese people were using heroin and one person a day was dying of an overdose—in a country of just 10 million. Then Portugal changed course and took a radical step, eliminating criminal penalties for drug use and possession and making a commitment to provide treatment to all who want it. Today, Portugal has arguably the world’s most enlightened set of drug policies.

As in the U.S., Portugal’s heroin experience began with war. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Portugal deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers to suppress uprisings in the country’s African colonies. Like the Americans’ experience in Vietnam, these soldiers were exposed to marijuana and other drugs. Then, in 1974, a military coup struck Portugal, followed by a peaceful popular uprising (the “Carnation Revolution”). Almost overnight, decades of rule by a right-wing dictatorship were brought to an end.

A young doctor named João Goulão was then working in the Algarve area of southern Portugal. He had a front-row seat to what happened next.

“Suddenly almost a million soldiers and settlers came back to the mainland, bringing literally tons of cannabis, and there was an explosion of experimentation,” Goulão, who now runs the country’s drug agency, told me in a recent interview. Portugal at the time was going through an extraordinary upheaval, creating a new government and new laws. Young people and returning soldiers savored their new freedom by experimenting with drugs as marijuana, heroin, cocaine and LSD flooded in. “We were completely naïve about drugs,” says Goulão, “and completely unprepared to deal with it.”

FROM BAD TO WORSE

In a flash, Portugal went from having one of the lowest rates of drug use among European countries to having perhaps the highest. The biggest problem was heroin.

“Heroin spread very fast and among all social groups,” says Goulão. “It was not something that happened only among marginalized people and minorities, or in ghettoes. Suddenly everybody knew someone who had problems with drugs.”

As heroin use grew, so did overdoses. Doctors and public health professionals throughout the country began setting up treatment programs. After his daughter died of an overdose, the Minister of Justice set up treatment centers in three large cities. Private programs popped up as well, but Goulão says most were of poor quality and many ripped off the patients and families who came to them for help.

These efforts amounted to Band-Aids, not a concerted national policy. The number of providers and treatment programs kept growing but heroin use grew even faster. The sharing of needles also spread AIDS, adding to the death toll. With drug possession and sales seen as crimes, the prison population soared. And since drugs circulated widely within prisons, it had little effect on the underlying problem.

“People could spend two or three years in jail and come back worse than when they went there,” says Goulão. “The situation was getting worse every day.”

STEP ONE: DECRIMINALIZATION

In 1998, Portugal Prime Minister António Guterres, (now secretary-general of the United Nations) convened a group of nine experts—judges, psychologists and health professionals including Goulão—to develop a national strategy for addressing the crisis. The group visited other European countries, interviewed professionals and researched different approaches. In the end, they concluded they could do relatively little to address the supply of drugs—but could do a lot to address the demand.

The committee developed a set of concrete proposals focused largely on “prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and the reintegration of people,” Goulão says. “All of it was based in the idea that we were dealing with a health and social condition rather than a criminal one.”

The committee’s most radical proposal was to eliminate criminal penalties for the use and possession of drugs. Government leaders accepted the proposal but it also required the approval of Parliament. So Goulão and his colleagues took their case to the public and spent the next year presenting their plan in dozens of forums and discussions.

Their proposal was opposed by right-wing parties and Goulão remembers their arguments: “Portugal will become a paradise for drug addicts and drug users from all over the world. We will have planes coming to Lisbon every day with people to use drugs. Our children will start using drugs at early ages.”

But support from the public and, surprisingly, from the Catholic Church carried the day—in 2001, Parliament passed the sweeping changes. “Using drugs in Portugal was no longer a crime,” Goulão says.

STEP TWO: MULTIPLE OPTIONS FOR TREATMENT

Today, some 40 programs in Portugal provide detoxification and long-term treatment, with 1600 beds in residential treatment programs known as “therapeutic communities,” Goulão says. Most are run by nonprofit agencies, under contract with the government. They employ a variety of treatment approaches, but all must provide  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 4:58 pm

A very nice linner: Chicken hearts with bitter melon, and a BC gewürztraminer

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Odd that we have “brunch” for a meal that combines breakfast and lunch, but no “linner” for lunch and dinner. Perhaps it should be “lunner.”

I used the Field Company No. 12, which I put into the oven and turned it on to 350ºF.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 very long Chinese leek, sliced
1/2 very large red bell pepper, chopped (a very dark red: lovely pepper)
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped small
1/2 large bitter melon, chopped (see photo)
good pinch of salt and several grindings of black pepper
280g (about 10 oz) chicken hearts

Once the oven came to temperature and the skillet was hot, I put it on a hot burner and added olive oil, vegetables, salt, and pepper. I cooked that for a minute or two, then added the chicken hearts.

I cooked, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. It was extremely tasty, and I believe good for me. No asparagus, you will note. I’m trying to pace that.

I did pick up three different kinds of Chinese greens, and one is new to me: a Chinese spinach. I’ll have that tomorrow.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 4:22 pm

The Day the Dinosaurs Died

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Douglas Preston has an amazing article in the New Yorker about a paleontological dig that lays out the first hour after the Earth was struck by a large asteroid 66 million years ago, which ended the reign of the dinosaurs and just about ended life on Earth. It’s a long article, and it’s well worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Science

Mueller was looking ahead: What’s still to come

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Troy Chittum has an interesting post on Facebook:

According to a new report from the New York Times Mueller has farmed out federal indictments to:

1) the SDNY, in Manhattan
2) the EDNY, in Brooklyn
3) the EDVA in Virginia
4) the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles
5) the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington DC
6) the DOJ National Security Division
7) the DOJ Criminal Division.

So what is the take away from all this?

Those who are familiar with Mueller’s investigation understand that “no more indictments from Mueller” doesn’t mean “no more indictments.”

It means every single one of Mueller’s existing indictments resides in a “presidential pardon proof” prosecutorial district.

Recall how Mueller handed off the Cohen case to the U.S. Attorneys’ office for the SDNY, who sent Cohen to prison.

As his own investigation ends, it becomes clear Mueller plans to handle all indictments/prosecutions resulting from his investigation through these seven federal prosecutorial entities.

So now we know Mueller has equipped seven different federal prosecutorial bodies to carry out investigations and indictments, and “most” of those investigations focused specifically on Donald Trump, his family, and his people.

In other words, the people on Team Trump who are celebrating right now are merely suffering from a lack of understanding about how prosecutions work.

He may last until 2020, but rest assured, Trump and his criminal family are toast.

Mueller is a RICO expert. He took down the mob and others infinitely smarter than Trump and his idiot sons. He has a 100% conviction rate. This is just the beginning.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 11:21 am

Saudi Arabia a nuclear power? Trump administration authorized nuclear energy companies to share technological information with Saudi Arabia

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Steven Mufson reports for the Washington Post:

The Trump administration has kept secret seven authorizations it has issued since November 2017 allowing U.S. nuclear energy companies to share sensitive technological information with Saudi Arabia, even though the kingdom has not yet agreed to anti-proliferation terms required to construct a pair of U.S.-designed civilian nuclear power plants.

The Energy Department and State Department have not only kept the authorizations from the public but also refused to share information about them with congressional committees that have jurisdiction over nuclear proliferation and safety.

The authorizations, issued to at least six companies, cover “Part 810” information, named for a regulatory clause that allows U.S. companies to divulge some design information to compete for contracts with foreign buyers. The regulations for Part 810 technology-sharing provide a list of “generally authorized destinations.” Saudi Arabia is not on the list.

Saudi Arabia has said it wants to build two nuclear power plants, and companies from Russia, China, South Korea, France and the United States have expressed interest in obtaining the contracts.

If a U.S. consortium is to build a reactor in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom would have to commit to what is known as a “123 agreement.” Without that, Congress could vote to block. The kingdom so far has refused to give up its right to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel, both of which can be used to build nuclear weapons.

In a “60 Minutes” interview last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

In a December email obtained by The Washington Post, an Energy Department official conceded that “general practice is to place signed authorizations in the Department’s [Freedom of Information Act] Public Reading Room.” However, in justifying the handling of Part 810 information, the Energy Department has cited the companies’ requests to protect proprietary information.

The Daily Beast first wrote about the 810 authorizations.

“These U.S. companies that are going to be doing this work want to keep that proprietary information from being out in the public domain,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry testified Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I totally understand that.”

Members of Congress are upset about the administration’s stance and are trying to learn whether the United States has been sharing information with Saudi Arabia even after the October killing in Istanbul of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and U.S. resident.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) questioned Perry about whether any Part 810 licenses for Saudi Arabia were issued after the killing of Khashoggi. Perry said he did not know. “I’ll get back to you,” he said.

erry said that since 2017, there had been 65 applications from companies seeking to share information under Part 810 of the legislation authorizing the licenses. So far, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 10:08 am

Betsy DeVos is a horrible human being

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Just a few selections from today’s “Daily 202”:

Trump’s sudden reversal, after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent three days publicly defending the cut, highlighted 10 deeper truths about his presidency:

1. The president vs. the presidency: It actually seems plausible that Trump didn’t know he had signed off on a budget request that cut the Special Olympics until he saw cable news coverage yesterday of people criticizing him for doing so. If he was telling the truth on the South Lawn, it reflects the extent to which he has outsourced most policymaking to conservative ideologues like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

2. The buck stops with … who exactly? DeVos released a statement last night insisting that she was against the Special Olympics cuts all along, and her staff blamed the Office of Management and Budget for including the proposal. “This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years,” she said. “I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye to eye on this issue, and that he’s decided to fund our Special Olympics grant.”

Even by Washington standards, this took chutzpah. During testimony earlier in the day before a Senate appropriations panel, DeVos defended the cuts as necessary and argued that private donors like her – she married into the billionaire Amway fortune – would step up to fill the gap. Then she took umbrage at Democratic criticism. “I hope all of this debate encourages lots of private contributions to Special Olympics,” she told Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “So let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative. That is just disgusting, and it’s shameful.”

3. Trump is constantly looking to get credit for cleaning up messes of his own making: The president declared that he had decided to save the Special Olympics as he left the White House to fly to Michigan for a rally to support his reelection campaign. Then, in Grand Rapids last night, Trump announced that he’s going to make sure the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is fully funded. Trump’s budget earlier this month proposed slashing that program, which funds the cleanup of the Great Lakes, by 90 percent – from $300 million to $30 million.

“We have some breaking news! You ready? Can you handle it? I don’t think you can handle it,” he said, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I support the Great Lakes. Always have! They are beautiful. They are big, very deep, record deepness, right? And I am going to get, in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which you have been trying to get for over 30 years. So we will get it done.”

During his first year in office, Trump called for eliminating the program entirely. Last year and this year, he asked Congress to cut it by 90 percent. But Republicans and Democrats on the Hill teamed up to fully fund it over White House objections.

This is part of a pattern. Remember when Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and then attacked Democrats for not protecting the “dreamers” from deportations that he put them at risk for? . . .

5. Audacity, always audacity: The president has stocked his political team with operatives who share his zeal for counterpunching. It’s this mentality that prompted the Trump reelection campaign’s deputy communications director, Matt Wolking, to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy yesterday for wanting to fund the Special Olympics while simultaneously supporting abortion rights.

“I’m sure Democrats who see abortion as the cure for Down syndrome and other disabilities are sincerely concerned about kids having the chance to be in the Special Olympics,” Wolking tweeted. “The Special Olympics proves people with disabilities can live meaningful, fulfilling lives. It’s a powerful monument to the value of all lives — the same lives Democrats are fine with seeing snuffed out.”

These comments offended many Democrats who identify as pro-choice and who have children or relatives with Down syndrome. Moreover, they came just hours before Trump changed course.

6. No one can really speak for Trump – but Trump: He routinely contradicts or otherwise undercuts his top aides. Trump has often said that his own spokespeople cannot speak for him, which makes it harder for people like Wolking to spin reporters. DeVos is far from the first Cabinet secretary to get thrown under the bus. That makes it hard for presidential emissaries, even Vice President Pence, to negotiate credibly on his behalf when they’re on Capitol Hill or in foreign capitals. When Rex Tillerson was secretary of state, recall how Trump publicly chastised his own diplomat’s efforts to engage with North Korea. He called it a waste of time – a few months before doing so himself.

7. It’s still not clear that Trump understands how the appropriations process works: “I just authorized a funding,” the president told reporters of the Special Olympics. But Trump does not get to appropriate funds. The Constitution makes clear that this is Congress’s most important function. This has come up recently with the president’s declaration of a national emergency to try building a border wall that a majority of the House has explicitly rejected.

8. Budget proposals are statements of principles and values. By definition, they’re aspirational. And this was just the tip of the iceberg. The Special Olympics line item is only $17.6 million. The Trump budget released this month asked Congress to cut Education Department spending by more than $8.5 billion from this year, or about 12 percent.

Among the initiatives that Trump said should go on the chopping block: the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program, which underwrites school safety efforts, including mental-health services. He also wants to take the ax to after-school activities for children who live in impoverished communities, which are designed to keep at-risk teens off the streets and out of trouble. And he wants a $7.5 million cut to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a $13 million cut for Gallaudet University in the District and a $5 million cut for the American Printing House for the Blind, a federal program that produces books for blind students.

During a House subcommittee hearing to review the Trump budget on Tuesday, Republican Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said that, while some of the proposed reductions make sense, others are “somewhat shortsighted.”

9. “One of the reasons the special education cuts drew fire this week was because DeVos had found money to support her own pet projects,” Valerie Strauss explains. “She proposed creating a controversial new federal tax-credit program, which, capped at $5 billion, would allow the use of public money for private and religious schooling. She also proposed adding $60 million to the Charter Schools Program, which funds the creation and expansion of charter schools. Some critics said they were angered that DeVos found money to support the expansion of alternatives to traditional public school districts, which enroll most U.S. schoolchildren, while cutting special education.” . . .

— Overshadowed by the Special Olympics donnybrook: During her Senate appearance yesterday, DeVos also acknowledged that she has not begun implementing an Obama-era regulation designed to ensure children of color are not disproportionately punished or sent to special-education classrooms – despite a judge’s rebuke and a court order to do so. “Three weeks ago, a federal court ruled that the Trump administration must implement the rule immediately,” Laura Meckler reports. “DeVos (said) the Education Department was still ‘reviewing the court’s decision and discussing our options.’ Published in the final days of the Obama administration, the rules were supposed to have taken effect in 2018. DeVos moved last summer to delay them for two years. … Under the regulation, states face tighter rules about how they tabulate data about the demographics and treatment of children in special education to ensure there are not racial disparities.”

— On today’s opinion page, Helaine Olen makes an extended case that DeVos is “the worst member of Trump’s Cabinet.” Not because of the Special Olympics, Olen says, but because of her friendliness toward predatory lenders. The Education Department stalled Obama-era rules intended to make it easier for people who racked up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans attending for-profit colleges that lured them in with phony come-ons and job placement statistics to receive relief, and backed down only when a court stepped in last year, Olen explains: “Now DeVos’s department is moving slower than a tortoise. According to reporting by CNN, the Department of Education did not review any requests for loan dismissal under ‘borrower defense’ provisions between June and September of last year, and is refusing to answer questions about how many it has signed off on since. …

“DeVos is also supporting eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which permits borrowers who can show they worked for a nonprofit or the government — think teachers and librarians and firemen — for 10 years while making regular and on-time student loan payments to see the remainder of their balance forgiven. … There is something particularly distasteful about DeVos, whose wealth is inherited, essentially kicking sand in the faces of people who are trying to get ahead by doing what society tells them to do — get an education.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 10:05 am

Rep. Adam Schiff’s statement

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I was very impressed with the statement Adam Schiff made in the video at the beginning of this article, and I suggested that my readers watch the video. Here’s what Schiff said:

My colleagues might think it’s OK that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for president as part of what’s described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign. You might think that’s OK.

My colleagues might think it’s OK that when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the president’s son did not call the FBI; he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help – no, instead that son said that he would ‘love’ the help with the Russians.

You might think it’s OK that he took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that the president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that they concealed it from the public. You might think it’s OK that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think that’s OK.

You might think it’s OK that when it was discovered, a year later, that they then lied about that meeting and said that it was about adoptions. You might think that it’s OK that it was reported that the president helped dictate that lie. You might think that’s OK. I don’t.

You might think it’s OK that the campaign chairman of a presidential campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian oligarch in exchange for money or debt forgiveness. You might think that’s OK, I don’t.

You might think it’s OK that that campaign chairman offered polling data to someone linked to Russian intelligence. I don’t think that’s OK.

You might think it’s OK that the president himself called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails, if they were listening. You might think it’s OK that later that day, in fact, the Russians attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign. I don’t think that’s OK.

You might think it’s OK that the president’s son-in-law sought to establish a secret back channel of communication with the Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility. I don’t think that’s OK.

You might think it’s OK that an associate of the president made direct contact with the GRU through Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks, that is considered a hostile intelligence agency. You might think it’s OK that a senior campaign official was instructed to reach that associate and find out what that hostile intelligence agency had to say in terms of dirt on his opponent.

You might think it’s OK that the national security adviser designate secretly conferred with the Russian ambassador about undermining U.S. sanctions, and you might think it’s OK that he lied about it to the FBI.

You might say that’s all OK, that’s just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s OK. I don’t think it’s OK. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic and, yes, I think it’s corrupt – and evidence of collusion.”

Now I have always said that the question of whether this amounts to proof of conspiracy was another matter. Whether the special counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the proof of that crime would be up to the special counsel, and I would accept his decision, and I do. He’s a good and honorable man, and he is a good prosecutor.

But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is OK. And the day we do think that’s OK is the day we will look back and say that is the day that America lost its way.”

And I will tell you one more thing that is apropos of the hearing today: I don’t think it’s OK that during a presidential campaign Mr. Trump sought the Kremlin’s help to consummate a real estate deal in Moscow that would make him a fortune – according to the special counsel, hundreds of millions of dollars. I don’t think it’s OK to conceal it from the public. I don’t think it’s OK that he advocated a new and more favorable policy towards the Russians even as he was seeking the Russians’ help, the Kremlin’s help to make money. I don’t think it’s OK that his attorney lied to our committee. There is a different word for that than collusion, and it’s called ‘compromise.’

And that is the subject of our hearing today.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 9:58 am

Waterlyptus and TOBS No. 74—with Rooney and Ed Jagger

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What a great shave! I haven’t used my Rooney Super Silvertip (each brushmaker has its own terminology regarding badger), Style 3, Size 1 for quite a while, and I do like it. And Catie’s Bubbles Waterlyptus—watermelon + eucalyptus + peppermint—is a wonderful morning fragrance—and the lather’s damn good, too.

My favorite Edwin Jagger did its usual sterling job, and a splash of TOBS No. 74 aftershave finished the shave with a classic fragrance and good feel.

I’m ready for the day. Those who follow my walking adventures will be pleased to know that I’ve blown past my 6000-steps-per-day goal and the last three days have gone over 8000 steps/day (with a good cadence: 108 steps/minute). Nordic walking poles make an enormous difference: once I’m out the door and start walking, they keep me moving and make the walk enjoyable.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2019 at 7:43 am

Posted in Nordic walking, Shaving

What we know from court records regarding the Mueller investigation

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This comment on Quora from Michael Rees provides some very useful information:

Luckily there is some stuff Mueller released that can be read right now that once read you will know for sure that Barr is full of it

Most people don’t realize this but all those people that took plea deals you can read what they admitted to right on the DOJ website:

Special Counsel’s Office

Just click on the statement of offense under the name of the case.

I recommend starting with George Popadopolis. It is short but extremely informative and interesting if you like stories about attempted collusion.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2019 at 7:34 pm

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