Later On

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Archive for July 26th, 2021

Police Are Telling ShotSpotter to Alter Evidence From Gunshot-Detecting AI

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Police departments seem not to be trustworthy, which IMO is a serious defect. Todd Feathers reports in Motherboard:

On May 31 last year, 25-year-old Safarain Herring was shot in the head and dropped off at St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago by a man named Michael Williams. He died two days later.

Chicago police eventually arrested the 64-year-old Williams and charged him with murder (Williams maintains that Herring was hit in a drive-by shooting). A key piece of evidence in the case is video surveillance footage showing Williams’ car stopped on the 6300 block of South Stony Island Avenue at 11:46 p.m.—the time and location where police say they know Herring was shot.

How did they know that’s where the shooting happened? Police said ShotSpotter, a surveillance system that uses hidden microphone sensors to detect the sound and location of gunshots, generated an alert for that time and place.

Except that’s not entirely true, according to recent court filings.

That night, 19 ShotSpotter sensors detected a percussive sound at 11:46 p.m. and determined the location to be 5700 South Lake Shore Drive—a mile away from the site where prosecutors say Williams committed the murder, according to a motion filed by Williams’ public defender. The company’s algorithms initially classified the sound as a firework. That weekend had seen widespread protests in Chicago in response to George Floyd’s murder, and some of those protesting lit fireworks.

But after the 11:46 p.m. alert came in, a ShotSpotter analyst manually overrode the algorithms and “reclassified” the sound as a gunshot. Then, months later and after “post-processing,” another ShotSpotter analyst changed the alert’s coordinates to a location on South Stony Island Drive near where Williams’ car was seen on camera.

“Through this human-involved method, the ShotSpotter output in this case was dramatically transformed from data that did not support criminal charges of any kind to data that now forms the centerpiece of the prosecution’s murder case against Mr. Williams,” the public defender wrote in the motion.

The document is what’s known as a Frye motion—a request for a judge to examine and rule on whether a particular forensic method is scientifically valid enough to be entered as evidence. Rather than defend ShotSpotter’s technology and its employees’ actions in a Frye hearing, the prosecutors withdrew all ShotSpotter evidence against Williams.

The case isn’t an anomaly, and the pattern it represents could have huge ramifications for ShotSpotter in Chicago, where the technology generates an average of 21,000 alerts each year. The technology is also currently in use in more than 100 cities.

Motherboard’s review of court documents from the Williams case and other trials in Chicago and New York State, including testimony from ShotSpotter’s favored expert witness, suggests that the company’s analysts frequently modify alerts at the request of police departments—some of which appear to be grasping for evidence that supports their narrative of events.

Untested evidence

Had the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office not withdrawn the evidence in the Williams case, it would likely have become the first time an Illinois court formally examined the science and source code behind ShotSpotter, Jonathan Manes, an attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center, told Motherboard.

“Rather than defend the evidence, [prosecutors] just ran away from it,” he said. “Right now, nobody outside of ShotSpotter has ever been able to look under the hood and audit this technology. We wouldn’t let forensic crime labs use a DNA test that hadn’t been vetted and audited.”

Sam Klepper, senior vice president for marketing and product strategy at ShotSpotter, told Motherboard in an email that the company has no reason to believe the prosecutor’s decision reflects a lack of faith in its technology.

ShotSpotter evidence and employee testimony has been admitted in 190 court cases, he wrote. “Whether ShotSpotter evidence is relevant to a case is a matter left to the discretion of a prosecutor and counsel for a defendant … ShotSpotter has no reason to believe that these decisions are based on a judgment about the ShotSpotter technology,” he said.

The Chicago Police Department, Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, and Alderman Chris Taliaferro, who chairs the city council’s public safety committee, did not respond to interview requests or questions.

A pattern of alterations

In 2016, Rochester, New York, police looking for a suspicious vehicle stopped the wrong car and shot the passenger, Silvon Simmons, in the back three times. They charged him with firing first at officers.

The only evidence against Simmons came from ShotSpotter. Initially, the company’s sensors didn’t detect any gunshots, and the algorithms ruled that the sounds came from helicopter rotors. After Rochester police contacted ShotSpotter, an analyst ruled that there had been four gunshots—the number of times police fired at Simmons, missing once.

Paul Greene, ShotSpotter’s expert witness and an employee of the company, testified at Simmons’ trial that “subsequently he was asked by the Rochester Police Department to essentially search and see if there were more shots fired than ShotSpotter picked up,” according to a civil lawsuit Simmons has filed against the city and the company. Greene found a fifth shot, despite there being no physical evidence at the scene that Simmons had fired. Rochester police had also refused his multiple requests for them to test his hands and clothing for gunshot residue.

Curiously, the ShotSpotter audio files that were the only evidence of the phantom fifth shot have disappeared.

Both the company and the Rochester Police Department “lost, deleted and/or destroyed the spool and/or other information containing sounds pertaining to the officer-involved shooting,” according to Simmons’ civil suit. “Greene acknowledged at plaintiff’s criminal trial that employees of ShotSpotter and law enforcement customers with an audio editor can alter any audio file that’s not been locked or encrypted.”

A jury ultimately acquitted Simmons of attempted murder and a judge overturned his conviction for possession of a gun, citing ShotSpotter’s unreliability.

Greene—who has testified as a government witness in dozens of criminal trials—was involved in another altered report in Chicago, in 2018, when Ernesto Godinez, then 27, was charged with shooting a federal agent in the city.

The evidence against him included . . .

Continue reading. I don’t think its ShotSpotter that’s unreliable. It seems to be the police.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 9:09 pm

The FBI’s Garbage Chute

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Another example of FBI incompetence and/or corruption (in deferring to power and position) is described by Judd Legum in Popular Information:

It was Friday, September 28, 2018, and Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was in serious trouble.

The day before, Christine Blasey Ford had testified under oath that she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when she was in high school. Trump described Ford’s testimony as “very compelling” and “very credible.” The AP reported that, after Ford’s testimony and Kavanaugh’s response, “it was clear Republicans were still short of votes for final Senate approval.”

Republicans held a narrow 51 to 49 majority in the Senate. No Democrat had publicly backed Kavanaugh. And at least three Republican Senators — Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Susan Collins (R-ME) — had not committed to supporting Kavanaugh.

Trump had resisted calls to reopen the FBI background investigation to examine the sexual assault allegations raised by Ford and other women. (The FBI had not reviewed the allegations in its initial probe.) But when Flake said he would not vote to confirm Kavanaugh without further action by the FBI, Trump had no choice but to agree.

Trump said the FBI would be “talking to everybody” and would “have free rein” to “do whatever they have to do.” Less than a week later, the FBI completed its supplemental investigation and Kavanaugh was quickly confirmed on a 50-48 vote. Republicans declared that the investigation found “no corroboration of the allegations made by Dr. Ford” or of another accuser, Debbie Rameriez. Flake and Collins, along with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), voted to confirm Kavanaugh on October 6. Murkowski voted “present.”

But this week, we learned that the FBI investigation was mostly a sham. And the truth about the investigation was covered up for years.

The secret scope of the supplemental Kavanaugh investigation

Democrats were left “in the dark about the inquiry’s parameters.” But press reports indicated that the White House decided “the breadth of the inquiry” working “in concert with Senate Republicans.”

The nature of the inquiry was addressed during a July 23, 2019 hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray, who remains in that position. Kavanaugh and Wray overlapped at Yale Law School, where they were both members of the right-wing Federalist Society. They also worked together in the George W. Bush administration.

Wray, who acknowledged he was personally involved with supervising the supplemental Kavanaugh investigation, testified that it was “consistent with our longstanding policies, practices, and procedures for background investigations.”

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Chris Coons (D-DE) were not satisfied with Wray’s testimony. They wrote to Wray on August 1, 2019, with a series of questions. They were specifically concerned with a tip line that was established by the FBI as part of the investigation.

To the extent that the public did reach out to provide information — and we know they did — it appears the information disappeared into a “tip line.” We still do not know how leads to FBI’s tip line were processed and evaluated, or whether they were processed and evaluated at all. It is particularly unusual in a background investigation to deploy a “tip line,” and we are not aware of that ever being done before.

Among other inquiries, Whitehouse and Coons asked whether any of the tips were vetted and whether any steps were taken to follow up on any of the tips. They gave Wray a deadline of August 30, 2019, to respond.

For nearly two years, Wray ignored these questions.

The FBI finally responds

The FBI finally responded to Whitehouse and Coons on June 30, 2021, in a letter authored by Assistant FBI Director Jill Tyson. “We apologize for the extended delay in responding,” Tyson wrote, without providing any further explanation.

At the end of her two-page letter, Tyson briefly addressed the tip line. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it shows the degree to which the FBI needs some serious revamping.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 3:54 pm

Can Science Explain Everything? Anything?

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Steven Weinberg shared the Nobel prize in physics for his work in the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles. He died today at the age of 88. He wrote this article in the NY Review of Books in May 2001.

One evening a few years ago I was with some other faculty members at the University of Texas, telling a group of undergraduates about work in our respective disciplines. I outlined the great progress we physicists had made in explaining what was known experimentally about elementary particles and fields—how when I was a student I had to learn a large variety of miscellaneous facts about particles, forces, and symmetries; how in the decade from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s all these odds and ends were explained in what is now called the Standard Model of elementary particles; how we learned that these miscellaneous facts about particles and forces could be deduced mathematically from a few fairly simple principles; and how a great collective Aha! then went out from the community of physicists.

After my remarks, a faculty colleague (a scientist, but not a particle physicist) commented, “Well, of course, you know science does not really explain things—it just describes them.” I had heard this remark before, but now it took me aback, because I had thought that we had been doing a pretty good job of explaining the observed properties of elementary particles and forces, not just describing them.

I think that my colleague’s remark may have come from a kind of positivistic angst that was widespread among philosophers of science in the period between the world wars. Ludwig Wittgenstein famously remarked that “at the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.”

It might be supposed that something is explained when we find its cause, but an influential 1913 paper by Bertrand Russell had argued that “the word ’cause’ is so inextricably bound up with misleading associations as to make its complete extrusion from the philosophical vocabulary desirable.”

This left philosophers like Wittgenstein with only one candidate for a distinction between explanation and description, one that is teleological, defining an explanation as a statement of the purpose of the thing explained.

E.M. Forster’s novel Where Angels Fear to Tread gives a good example of teleology making the difference between description and explanation. Philip is trying to find out why his friend Caroline helped to bring about a marriage between Philip’s sister and a young Italian man of whom Philip’s family disapproves. After Caroline reports all the conversations she had with Philip’s sister, Philip says, “What you have given me is a description, not an explanation.” Everyone knows what Philip means by this—in asking for an explanation, he wants to learn Caroline’s purposes. There is no purpose revealed in the laws of nature, and not knowing any other way of distinguishing description and explanation, Wittgenstein and my friend had concluded that these laws could not be explanations. Perhaps some of those who say that science describes but does not explain mean also to compare science unfavorably with theology, which they imagine to explain things by reference to some sort of divine purpose, a task declined by science.

This mode of reasoning seems to me wrong not only substantively, but also procedurally. It is not the job of philosophers or anyone else to dictate meanings of words different from the meanings in general use. Rather than argue that scientists are incorrect when they say, as they commonly do, that they are explaining things when they do their work, philosophers who care about the meaning of explanation in science should try to understand what it is that scientists are doing when they say they are explaining something. If I had to give an a priori definition of explanation in physics I would say, “Explanation in physics is what physicists have done when they say Aha!” But a priori definitions (including this one) are not much use.

As far as I can tell, this has become well understood by philosophers of science at least since World War II. There is a large modern literature on the nature of explanation, by philosophers like Peter Achinstein, Carl Hempel, Philip Kitcher, and Wesley Salmon. From what I have read in this literature, I gather that philosophers are now going about this the right way: they are trying to develop an answer to the question “What is it that scientists do when they explain something?” by looking at what scientists are actually doing when they say they are explaining something.

Scientists who do pure rather than applied research commonly tell the public and funding agencies that their mission is the explanation of something or other, so the task of clarifying the nature of explanation can be pretty important to them, as well as to philosophers. This task seems to me to be a bit easier in physics (and chemistry) than in other sciences, because philosophers of science have had trouble with the question of what is meant by an explanation of an event (note Wittgenstein’s reference to “natural phenomena”) while physicists are interested in the explanation of regularities, of physical principles, rather than of individual events.

Biologists, meteorologists, historians, and so on are concerned with the causes of individual events, such as the extinction of the dinosaurs, the blizzard of 1888, the French Revolution, etc., while a physicist only becomes interested in an event, like the fogging of Becquerel’s photographic plates that in 1897 were left in the vicinity of a salt of uranium, when the event reveals a regularity of nature, such as the instability of the uranium atom. Philip Kitcher has tried to revive the idea that the way to explain an event is by reference to its cause, but which of the infinite number of things that could affect an event should be regarded as its cause?

Within the limited context of physics, I think one can give an answer of sorts to the problem of distinguishing explanation from mere description, which captures what physicists mean when they say that they have explained some regularity. The answer is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 3:38 pm

Modest walk, with trees

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Just 3030 steps, but at this point consistency is more important than distance or duration. The two trees at the left have the dooping branches that I seem to like. Bottom right is a stout little tree that when freshly trimmed looks like an ornament. Click any image to get a slide show, and right-click on any slide to open image in a new tab; click it there to enlarge it. 

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 3:18 pm

Revealed: the true extent of America’s food monopolies, and who pays the price

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Nina Lakhani, Aliya Uteuova, and Alvin Chang write in the Guardian:

A handful of powerful companies control the majority market share of almost 80% of dozens of grocery items bought regularly by ordinary Americans, new analysis reveals.

A joint investigation by the Guardian and Food and Water Watch found that consumer choice is largely an illusion – despite supermarket shelves and fridges brimming with different brands.

In fact, a few powerful transnational companies dominate every link of the food supply chain: from seeds and fertilizers to slaughterhouses and supermarkets to cereals and beers.

The size, power and profits of these mega companies have expanded thanks to political lobbying and weak regulation which enabled a wave of unchecked mergers and acquisitions. This matters because the size and influence of these mega-companies enables them to largely dictate what America’s 2 million farmers grow and how much they are paid, as well as what consumers eat and how much our groceries cost.

It also means those who harvest, pack and sell us our food have the least power: at least half of the 10 lowest-paid jobs are in the food industry. Farms and meat processing plants are among the most dangerous and exploitative workplaces in the country.

Overall, only 15 cents of every dollar we spend in the supermarket goes to farmers. The rest goes to processing and marketing our food.

The Guardian and Food and Water Watch investigation into 61 popular grocery items reveals that the top companies control an average of 64% of sales.

We found that for 85% of the groceries analysed, four firms or fewer controlled more than 40% of market share. It’s widely agreed that consumers, farmers, small food companies and the planet lose out if the top four firms control 40% or more of total sales.

Our investigation is based on the analysis of market share data from thousands of supermarkets across the US.

“It’s a system designed to funnel money into the hands of corporate shareholders and executives while exploiting farmers and workers and deceiving consumers about choice, abundance and efficiency,” said Amanda Starbuck, policy analyst at Food & Water Watch.

The consolidation runs deep: four firms or fewer controlled at least 50% of the market for 79% of the groceries. For almost a third of shopping items, the top firms controlled at least 75% of the market share.

For instance, PepsiCo controls 88% of the dip market, as it owns five of the most popular brands including Tostitos, Lay’s and Fritos. Ninety-three per cent of the sodas we drink are owned by just three companies. The same goes for 73% of the breakfast cereals we eat – despite the shelves stacked with different boxes. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it shows the degree to which corporations control not only us but also our government.

See also “The illusion of choice: five stats that expose America’s food monopoly crisis.” (I don’t eat any of those foods — they are both unhealthy and unnecessary.)

We are finding that all our eggs are in a very few baskets.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 1:34 pm

The Economic Consequences of Major Tax Cuts for the Rich

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Thanks to a reader for pointing out this interesting study (PDF). The abstract:

This paper uses data from 18 OECD countries over the last five decades to estimate the causal effect of major tax cuts for the rich on income inequality, economic growth, and unemployment. First, we use a new encompassing measure of taxes on the rich to identify instances of major reductions in tax progressivity. Then, we look at the causal effect of these episodes on economic outcomes by applying a nonparametric generalization of the difference-in-differences indicator that implements Mahalanobis matching in panel data analysis. We find that major reforms reducing taxes on the rich lead to higher income inequality as measured by the top 1% share of pre-tax national income. The effect remains stable in the medium term. In contrast, such reforms do not have any significant effect on economic growth and unemployment.

It’s worth reading since it shows how the extremely wealthy work to increase their wealth regardless of the consequences to community and the common welfare. From the paper:

Our findings align closely with the existing correlational evidence showing that tax cuts for the rich are associated with rising top income shares (Atkinson and Leigh, 2013; Huber et al., 2019; Piketty et al., 2014; Roine et al., 2009; Volscho and Kelly, 2012). We make an important contribution to this literature, however, as our empirical strategy allows for the estimation of causal effects. This is particularly pertinent in this case, as there is a large political science literature on the power of rich voters and organised business interests to shape public policies incl. tax policies) in their favour (Bartels, 2009; Emmenegger and Marx, 2019; Gilens, 2005; Hacker and Pierson, 2010; Svallfors, 2016), which suggests reverse causality could be a major issue in empirical studies lacking a clear identification strategy. . .

Our findings on the effects of growth and unemployment provide evidence against supplyside theories that suggest lower taxes on the rich will induce labour supply responses from high-income individuals (more hours of work, more effort etc.) that boost economic activity (see standard models of optimal labour income taxation in Piketty and Saez, 2013 and Saez, 2001). They are, in fact, more in line with recent empirical research showing that income tax holidays and windfall gains do not lead individuals to significantly alter the amount they work (Akee et al., 2010; Jones and Marinescu, 2018; Martinez et al., 2018). Overall, our analysis finds strong evidence that cutting taxes on the rich increases income inequality but has no effect on growth or unemployment.

Just as corporations have no interest at all in the health of the customers, so the wealthy have no interest at all in improving the common welfare (one of the primary purposes of our government).

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 1:26 pm

Dick Gregory — great comedian and civil rights icon — wrote a great cookbook

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Shea Peters has an interesting article in Atlas Obscura on the origin an impact of Dick Gregory’s cookbook (available in a Kindle edition for US$1.79):

Adrian Miller, the author of Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue, remembers how for his family, holidays like Juneteenth always meant celebrating with food. “We went to the public celebrations in the Five Points neighborhood, Denver’s historic Black neighborhood. At those events, the celebrated foods were barbecue, usually pork spareribs, giant smoked turkey legs, watermelon, and red-colored drinks.”

To many Black Americans, barbecue and soul food mean victory. Cooking techniques passed down for generations speak to the fortitude and perseverance of Black culture and cuisine. But along with celebration comes the consideration of the health effects of meat, sugar, and fat. Running parallel to the narrative of soul food lies another story, one that ties nutrition with liberation, and one that features an unlikely hero: a prominent Black comedian whose 1974 book filled with plant-based recipes continues to influence Black American diets today.

I grew up with Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature in my home in Memphis. I even took it along with me for my first semester at Tennessee State University. The campus was surrounded with fast-food and soul food restaurants, and I often referred back to Gregory’s book for nutritional advice. I also made recipes from its pages, such as the “Nutcracker Sweet,” a fruit smoothie made with a mixture that would now be known as almond milk. Today, many years later and living in Brooklyn, I still consult the book. The same copy I first saw on my mother’s bookcase—with its cover depicting Gregory’s head wearing a giant chef’s hat topped with fruit and vegetables—now sits on my own.

Now considered one of history’s greatest stand-up comedians, Dick Gregory skyrocketed to fame after an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar in 1961, a segment that almost didn’t happen. Gregory initially turned down the opportunity because the show allowed Black entertainers to perform, but not to sit on Parr’s couch for interviews. After his refusal, Parr personally called Gregory to invite him to an interview on the Tonight Show’s couch. His appearance was groundbreaking: “It was the first time white America got to hear a Black person not as a performer, but as a human being,” Gregory later said in an interview.

Gregory was particularly adept at using humor to showcase the Black experience at a time of heightened tension and division in the United States. During a performance early in his career, he quipped, “Segregation is not all bad. Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?”

“He had the ability to make us laugh when we probably needed to cry,” U.S. representative and civil rights icon John Lewis said in an interview after Gregory’s death in 2017. “He had the ability to make the whole question of race, segregation, and racial discrimination simple, where people could come together and deal with it and not try to hide it under the American rug.”

But Gregory didn’t just tackle racial inequality at comedy clubs. He also used his voice to advocate for civil rights at protests and rallies. After emceeing a rally with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in June 1961, Gregory developed a relationship with King. (Gregory’s close ties to leaders like King and Mississippi activist Medgar Evers would eventually lead to his becoming a target of FBI surveillance.) He aided in the search for the missing civil rights workers that were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during the intense “Freedom Summer” of 1964 and performed at a rally on the last night of 1965’s Selma to Montgomery march.

For Gregory, who became a vegetarian in 1965, food and diet became inextricably linked to civil rights. “The philosophy of nonviolence, which I learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during my involvement in the civil rights movement, was first responsible for my change in diet,” he writes in his book. “I felt the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ applied to human beings not only in their dealings with each other—war, lynching, assassination, murder, and the like—but in their practice of killing animals for food or sport.”

Throughout Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet, he ties the liberation of Black people to health, nutrition, and basic human rights. Gregory was all too familiar with the socioeconomic obstacles to a healthy diet: Growing up poor in St. Louis, he had limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In his book, he notes that readers may not always have the best resources, but they can have the best information. Each chapter serves as both a rallying cry and a manual, offering everything from primers on the human body to lists of foods that are good sources of particular vitamins and minerals.

Thanks to Gregory’s longstanding collaboration with nutritionist Dr. Alvenia Fulton, the book offers healthy recipes as well as natural remedies for common ailments. The chapter  . . .

Continue reading. The article includes two recipes.

And see also this earlier post about a food that came from a radical movement: Bean Pie.

I’ll also note that the FBI’s surveillance of civil-rights leaders is yet another example of the FBI’s sleazy side, as is its support of the pedophile Larry Kassar (refusing to investigate credible allegations) and its blaming on an Oregon man for the bomb attacks in Spain because the FBI couldn’t read fingerprints — not to mention the scandal of the incompetence and bad practice at FBI forensic labs. It’s an agency that needs considerable work (and a new culture).

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 12:40 pm

That’s why they call it “snooker”: O’Sullivan and Selby contest the deciding frame

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Tied 16-16 in a best out of 33 match, Selby and O’Sullivan throw snookers at each other with astonishing skill and finesse.

And as a bonus, here’s a video of Ronnie O’Sullivan making astounding comebacks from being very far down — for example, the first frame is O’Sullivan vs. Bingham and begins at the point where O’Sullivan has 1 point and Bingham has 67 points.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Games, Snooker, Video

Foods Designed to Hijack Our Appetites

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This video is quite interesting — and the function of the ileal brake is eye-opening (see this previous post for details).

Companies that manufacture food products (as opposed to whole plant foods, which are grown and harvested, not manufactured) are focus on their profits and not your health. Corporations in general have little interest in consumers’ health (cf. cigarette companies).

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 11:52 am

Why Gas Stoves Are More Hazardous Than You’ve Been Led to Believe

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If you cook with a wok, a gas stove is the only good option, but then you should also have a strong exhaust fan that vents to the outside (and a quiet one, if possible) and a good range hood that directs the products of combustion from the burning gas into the hood. Recirculating fans are pointless unless you like the sound. (I will add: a) electric ovens with convection capabilities are far superior to gas ovens; and b) for most stovetop cooking an induction range is by far the best: heats the pan (and quickly), not the kitchen.

This December 2020 Slate article by Jonathan Mingle explains why gas burners are a health risk:

As a physician and epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, T. Stephen Jones spent his career fighting major threats to public health in the United States and globally, from smallpox to HIV to viral hepatitis. But it wasn’t until Jones was well into retirement that he learned about a widespread yet widely overlooked health risk in his own home in Florence, Massachusetts, and in most U.S. households: pollution emitted by natural gas appliances.

While many Americans might think illness linked to indoor cooking and heating is a problem confined to smoke-filled kitchens in the developing world, the natural gas-burning stoves and furnaces found in millions of U.S. kitchens and basements can produce a range of health-damaging pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde. Over the past four decades, researchers have amassed a large body of scientific evidence linking the use of gas appliances, especially for cooking, with a higher risk of a range of respiratory problems and illnesses.

Since the publication of two new reports on the subject from the nonprofit research group the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, this past spring, the existence of these gas-fired health hazards has garnered increasing media scrutiny. But less discussed has been how the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the risks of this pollution, especially for low-income and vulnerable populations, and how key regulatory agencies have lagged decades behind the science in acting to protect them.

“There’s no question this has been a neglected issue,” said Jones, who has drawn on lessons from his long career in public health epidemiology and disease prevention in sounding the alarm throughout Massachusetts and with former CDC colleagues over the past few years. The first step, he said, is “letting people know what the risks are — particularly when they can be substantial, life-threatening risks that can kill kids.”

One of the clearest signals emerging in the scientific literature is the connection between cooking with gas and childhood asthma — a disease suffered by people of color and lower-income groups at much higher rates than the rest of the population. A 2013 meta-analysis of 41 studies found that children living in homes with gas stoves had a 42 percent higher risk of experiencing asthma symptoms, and, over their lifetime, a 24 percent increase in the risk of being diagnosed with asthma. That study confirmed, in turn, what a 1992 meta-analysis found: Children exposed to higher levels of indoor NO2 (at an increment “comparable to the increase resulting from exposure to a gas stove”) had an elevated risk of respiratory illness. More recently, a 2018 study from the University of Queensland found that in Australia, where 38 percent of households rely on gas stoves for cooking, more than 12 percent of the total burden of childhood asthma was attributable to their use.

Meanwhile, troubling new findings suggest that exposure to NO2 — the primary pollutant of concern from gas appliances — could compound the dangers of the novel coronavirus in communities that are already at higher risk of infection and of dying from the disease. A recent peer-reviewed study led by researchers at Emory University examined Covid-19 mortality data in more than 3,000 U.S. counties, and found that long-term exposure to elevated NO2 was correlated with a higher risk of death from Covid-19 — and that NO2 appeared to be more dangerous than particulate matter or ozone.

The hazards now have a growing chorus of scientists and public health experts insisting that better and stricter oversight of burning gas indoors — a health threat that has been hiding in plain sight for decades, they say — can no longer be ignored. “It’s fundamental and imperative,” said Jones. “We ought to get up on the rooftops and shout about it.”

The cumulative evidence was enough for the venerable New England Journal of Medicine to publish an editorial in January recommending that “new gas appliances be removed from the market.” It was co-authored by Howard Frumkin, a former director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, which is responsible for investigating environmental drivers of illness and promulgating guidance about those risk factors.

Despite such calls — and despite compelling evidence that gas appliances can produce levels of air pollution inside homes that would be illegal outdoors in the United States — indoor air quality remains entirely unregulated in the U.S. today, and gas appliances largely maintain their industry-manufactured reputation as “clean.” The Environmental Protection Agency only monitors pollutants in outdoor air. And while building codes typically require natural gas furnaces and water heaters to be vented outside, many states lack requirements that natural gas cooking stoves be vented to the outdoors.

Still, recent signs suggest that some measure of regulatory action reflecting the current understanding of the health risks of gas cooking and heating devices might finally be forthcoming. At the end of September, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 11:03 am

The freedom indie artisans enjoy

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I recently read again the article “Led by the Nose” in Craftsmanship magazine. The article tells of the burgeoning of indie perfume makers, thanks in part to the internet, which provides a platform and communications channel that allows them to reach consumers without going through gatekeepers like department store fragrance departments.

Commercial perfume houses must think in terms of mass markets, and as a result they cannot afford to produce niche products. The article came to mind because this morning I am using a shaving soap that no mass market soap producer could produce: Catie’s Bubbles Waterlyptuis projectss, a watermelon + eucalyptus fragrance that is very appealing — but probably lacking in mass market appeal. Catie’s Bubbles can do this because, as an indie artisan, he can choose his projects without corporate (accountants, lawyers, sales force, et al.) having a thumb in the pie.

Here’s a passage from the article:

“The creativity of these makers is off the hook,” Kohl says. “Sometimes, because they aren’t classically trained, they are willing to take more risks.” We start spraying perfumes on our arms and wrists, evaluating scents as Kohl details each maker’s biography, choice of materials, and process of extraction.

Overhearing us, one customer described the smell of commercial fragrance as “blurry,” or “smeared.” Indie compositions, however, allowed her to differentiate individual scent notes that combine in surprisingly unique ways.

I had to agree, especially when Kohl had me sample a perfume called “Bat,” one of several animal-themed scents produced by a Toronto-based company, Zoologist. With my first breath, “Bat” smelled fruity, yet richer, cleaner, and more distinct than those candied, commercial florals we’d sampled downtown. Other notes emerged as I patiently savored the fragrance, letting it work with my skin. The sweet, almost banana-like smell resolved into cool limestone, like being in a cave. Stunned, I closed my eyes. There was a spatial 3D effect, an olfaction-induced sense of place.

My sensations were due, in part, to Zoologist’s owner, Victor Wong, choosing not to hire a classically French-trained “nose” to create the scent formula, but instead hiring Dr. Ellen Covey, a neuroscientist turned perfume artist. Covey’s scientific background includes the study of bat sounds (called “echolocation”), which included visits to numerous bat caves while she was writing her PhD dissertation. “The sweet note is inspired by the rotten fruit and other bat droppings,” explained Kohl. “The leathery smell that emerges during dry-down is based on their wings.”

My sense of surprise and delight continued as we sampled fragrances based on printer’s ink, burnt matches, driftwood, and salt water, even Stanley Kubrick’s horror film, “The Shining.” (That perfume, by Bruno Fazzolari, was “Room 237,” the scene of some of the film’s scariest moments, and it stinks of moldy hotel hallways and vinyl shower curtains. My friend, a film editor, would love it.) Needless to say, it’s hard to imagine a commercial perfumer who would approve such whimsical choices or hire “noses” whose skills were developed in a bat cave, or anywhere else outside of France’s rigorous perfume schools.

As I look at the world of artisan shaving soaps, I see the same rich variety of fragrances and formulas, some of which simply will never be found in the soaps of (say) Trumper, TOBs, and Truefitt & Hill. Look at the soaps from (say) Southern Witchcraft, Phoenix Artisan, Tallow + Steel, and Grooming Dept. Wonderful soaps and interesting fragrances.

I started the shave, as always of late, with Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, and this morning I used the new formulation — a viscous liquid rather than a soft, waxy solid. I’ll use that for a couple of weeks and report back.

The lather I got from Waterlyptus was excellent, thanks in part to the Omega 20102 boar brush. This is a very nice brush indeed, though I do think the Omega Pro 48 has a somewhat better feel due to its greater loft.

Again as I applied my iKon stainless slant (here with the head boasting a DLC coating), I noticed that pleasant crisp cackling of stubble being cut. I wonder why we don’t have any razors whose design specifically aids such sound, with the head design incorporation some sort of mini-soundbox — probably because it’s harder to do than to describe.

Three passes to a perfect result, and then a splash of Diplomat augmented with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, this being one of the plain aftershaves (albeit one with an excellent fragrance and a good brisk feel on the face).

In the Sharpologist today I have an article on using Hydrating Gel to take an aftershave splash to the next level. I hope Grooming Dept is ready for the surge in orders. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2021 at 10:08 am

Posted in Shaving

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