Later On

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

Archive for August 10th, 2021

“We Research Misinformation on Facebook. It Just Disabled Our Accounts.”

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Facebook increasingly acts in an authoritarian and bad-faith manner. It’s a dangerous company because it defies any effort to study or regulate it, and it does not have our interests at heart: it is concerned only with becoming more powerful and profitable.

Laura Edelson, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science at N.Y.U.’s Tandon School of Engineering, and Damon McCoy, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the same school, are affiliated with the nonpartisan research group Cybersecurity for Democracy, and their column in the NY Times illuminates Facebook’s determination to keep its operations secret. They write:

We learned last week that Facebook had disabled our Facebook accounts and our access to data that we have been using to study how misinformation spreads on the company’s platform.

We were informed of this in an automated email. In a statement, Facebook says we used “unauthorized means to access and collect data” and that it shut us out to comply with an order from the Federal Trade Commission to respect the privacy of its users.

This is deeply misleading. We collect identifying information only about Facebook’s advertisers. We believe that Facebook is using privacy as a pretext to squelch research that it considers inconvenient. Notably, the acting director of the F.T.C.’s consumer protection bureau told Facebook last week that the “insinuation” that the agency’s order required the disabling of our accounts was “inaccurate.”

“The F.T.C. is committed to protecting the privacy of people, and efforts to shield targeted advertising practices from scrutiny run counter to that mission,” the acting director, Samuel Levine, wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive.

Our team at N.Y.U.’s Center for Cybersecurity has been studying Facebook’s platform for three years. Last year, we deployed a browser extension we developed called Ad Observer that allows users to voluntarily share information with us about ads that Facebook shows them. It is this tool that has raised the ire of Facebook and that it pointed to when it disabled our accounts.

In the course of our overall research, we’ve been able to demonstrate that extreme, unreliable news sources get more “engagement” — that is, user interaction — on Facebook, at the expense of accurate posts and reporting. What’s more, our work shows that the archive of political ads that Facebook makes available to researchers is missing more than 100,000 ads.

There is still a lot of important research we want to do. When Facebook shut down our accounts, we had just begun studies intended to determine whether the platform is contributing to vaccine hesitancy and sowing distrust in elections. We were also trying to figure out what role the platform may have played leading up to the Capitol assault on Jan. 6.

We are privacy and cybersecurity researchers whose careers are built on protecting users. That’s why we’ve been so careful to make sure that our Ad Observer tool collects only limited and anonymous information from the users who agreed to participate in our research. And it is also why we made the tool’s source code public so that

Facebook and others can verify that it does what we say it does.

We strongly believe we are not violating Facebook’s terms of service, as the company contends. But even if we had been, Facebook could have authorized our research. As Facebook declared in announcing the disabling of our accounts, “We’ll continue to provide ways for responsible researchers to conduct studies that are in the public interest while protecting the security of our platform and the privacy of people who use it.”

Our research is responsible and in the public interest. We’ve protected the privacy of our volunteers. Essentially, our ad tool collects the ads our volunteers see on their Facebook accounts, plus information provided by Facebook about when and why they were shown the ads and who paid for them. These ads are seen by the specific audience the advertiser targets.

This tool provides a way to see what entities are trying to influence the public, and how they’re doing it. We think that’s important to democracy. Yet Facebook has denied us important access to continue to do much of our work.

One of the odd things about this dispute is that while Facebook has barred us from research tools available to users and other academic researchers, it has not blocked our Ad Observer browser either by technical or legal means. It is still operational, and we are still collecting data from volunteers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 9:57 pm

A class with impact

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I don’t have words to describe this teacher/student interaction, but you must read it.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 8:42 pm

Here’s why your efforts to convince anti-vaxxers aren’t working

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Brooke Harrington, a professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, writes in the Guardian:

hat should we do about people who refuse to get vaccinated, or who continue to deny that Covid is real? Debate on this issue has raged for months in the US. “Respect them!” scolded conservative commentators. “Shame them!” urged some. Others counselled empathy for them as victims of disinformation.

But as the surging Delta variant ushers in the “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, uncertainty about persuading pandemic holdouts has given way to anger and despair. This was exemplified by the recent public reaction to a viral news video showing a Louisiana man recovering from a severe Covid-19 infection in a hospital bed, stating that he would still rather have had to be in hospital than accept a vaccine. It was the first time many of us saw the human face of a puzzling phenomenon which healthcare workers have been telling us about since last year: patients denying the realities of the virus even as they lay sick and dying from it.

As Leo Tolstoy famously asked of another seemingly hopeless social problem – poverty – “what then must we do?” The sociology of fraud, one of my research specialties for the past decade, offers some answers.

In 1952, the sociologist Erving Goffman analysed the art of the con in a seminal essay, On Cooling the Mark Out. To understand the phenomenon, he identified a cast of characters: first, the “operator”, who perpetrates the con; second, the “mark”, the target of the con; and third, the “cooler”, an ally of the con artist who attempts to console the victim once the fraud has become apparent “in a way that makes it easy for him to accept the inevitable and quietly go home”.

Goffman observed that all “marks” eventually come to understand that they have been defrauded. But strangely, they almost never complain or report the crime to the authorities. Why? Because, Goffman argues, admitting that you have been conned is so deeply shameful that “marks” experience it as a kind of social death – the painful end of one of the many social roles we all play.

Instead, many “marks” simply deny the con, claiming they were “in on it” the whole time. This saves their pride and cheats social death, but it allows the con to continue unchecked, entrapping others. By prioritising their self-image over the common good, “marks” make a cowardly, selfish choice. Goffman doesn’t shrink from calling this out as a “moral failure”.

In 2021, this “moral failure” takes the form of Covid-infected pandemic deniers and anti-vaxxers ranting from hospital beds: they have chosen saving face over saving other people’s lives. They could do this by telling the truth and exposing the con, saying: “Covid is real, get vaccinated.” Some do. But many won’t. It’s difficult not to conclude that some are making a conscious choice to protect themselves socially and emotionally at the expense of the rest of us.

Goffman’s work suggests two parallel strategies for dealing with people who have committed themselves to false ideas. The first is to let them experience the shame of what he terms “social death”. But the second, and perhaps the more productive, is to identify and deploy “coolers” to coax the pandemic holdouts back into the fold of mainstream society.

The most effective “coolers” are figures that the “marks” trust, people whose opinion they value. Most people aren’t interested in earning the good opinion of just anyone. Rather, we care about status and “face” within specific communities that matter to us, what two other sociologists of the mid-20th century, Herbert Hyman and Robert Merton, called “reference groups”.

Everyone belongs to multiple reference groups, many of which overlap, including their families, neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces, and their political affiliations. These groups not only structure our social networks, but serve a gatekeeping function: we generally trust information gleaned from our reference group, and seek approval from others within it.

Covid deniers and anti-vaxxers are just like everyone else in this regard: they don’t crave validation or seek information from everyone. This is why the “respect them”, “shame them” and “empathise with them” approaches haven’t worked and won’t change a thing. Respect, shame and empathy only have currency and impact within specific social networks; so, too, with the trustworthiness of information. For someone who considers themselves part of the “Fox Nation” reference group, pandemic precautions recommended by the “lamestream media” are to be disregarded. But if the same information were to come from Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson, it would probably be taken far more seriously.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, it’s good news for everyone that some influential conservative figures are beginning to act as “coolers” in relation to pandemic holdouts by encouraging vaccination – even if the “coolers” have often been, as in Goffman’s theory, complicit in the con. The call back to reality has to come from inside the house.

But there are still too few Fox News hosts and Republican politicians encouraging vaccination, masking and other Covid precautions. We need more “coolers” – and we need them quickly.

One way to do this is by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 6:57 pm

Radish Rapture: An ad hoc radish dish

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The finished dish

For Good Measure had bunches of extremely fresh and attractive radishes with their leaves, so I got a bunch. Radish leaves are very tasty, and radish is a cruciferous vegetable — and thus the leaves are cruciferous greens. So I’m cooking some now:

Radish Rapture

• 1 bunch very fresh red radish with leaves
• 4 cloves wonderful fresh Russian red garlic — this kind of garlic:

I chopped the radish — roots and leaves — and set aside to rest for 45 minutes, and I also peeled the garlic, chopped it small, and let it rest.

When the timer beeped, I proceeded to the next steps:

• 1/2 large red onion, chopped
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• pinch of salt
• a little kala namak

I cooked that at 3 on the induction burner in my 2-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan until it was softened and translucent, then added the garlic and cooked for a minute more. Then I added the radish and:

• 1 San Marzano tomato, diced
• 1/4 cup cooked oat groats
• 1/4 cup cooked soybean/pinto bean mix
• a splash of Bragg’s apple-cider vinegar
• a few dashes of fish sauce
• about 2 teaspoons ground black pepper

— right here I realize I should have included a turmeric root, chopped small

I switched the heat to 225ºF and set the timer for 15 minutes and covered the pan. When the timer goes off, the burner turns itself off, so I can continue with what I’m doing (in this instance, writing this post).

Once it cools, I’ll have it as dinner with the hot sauce I got at the same time as the  tomatoes and radishes — the flavor sounds interesting: cilantro-lime .

Note that this meal checks quite a few of Greger’s Daily Dozen: Beans, Whole Grain, Greens, Other Vegetables, and Cruciferous Vegetable, and it includes garlic and onion — excellent fiber for the microbiome since it supports some particular beneficial microbes:

But it’s not enough to just get beneficial bacteria into your body. To make sure these good guys stay and thrive, you’ve got to feed them. One of their preferred meals is a type of soluble fiber called fructooligosaccharides (FOS), found in a wide range of vegetables, fruits and grains.

. . . You won’t find prebiotic fiber listed on nutrition labels, so the best way to boost your intake is to focus on getting more total fiber (most of us fall sorely short of getting enough fiber in general), and with that, regularly including more foods known to be richest in FOS, such as bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, barley, whole wheat, garlic, and onions. Just add them gradually to avoid upsetting your digestive system.


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I’m having a bowl now. Very tasty. Might be two meals — but might not (because very tasty).

Update: Turns out it was two bowls, not two meals. Loved it.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 5:04 pm

The Truth Behind the Great Bacon Shortage of 2022

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I adopted a whole-food plant-based diet for health reasons, not because of the cruel way animals are treated by a greedy industry, but now that I learn more about it, I think that subsidizing cruelty to animals is something I don’t want to do.

Jan Dutkiewicz writes in the New Republic:

Americans love few things more than bacon. American media outlets love few things more than running stories about bacon shortages. In 2012, in the face of drought and record-high corn prices, one headline predicted a “Porkpocalypse.” In 2014, outlets fretted over the outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which killed millions of piglets around the world. In 2020, the nation was deluged with stories about meat supply chains disrupted as the outbreak of Covid-19 in meatpacking plants sickened workers and shut down slaughterhouses. And now, as California prepares to implement wide-ranging standards mandating more humane housing for animals like egg-laying chickens and pigs, the country’s top outlets have been filled with dire predictions about the coming “bacon apocalypse.”

This panic is different from prior ones. Production costs for hog producers and the price of pork for consumers could actually go up this time—unlike with prior fearmongering, when the shortages never materialized. In part, that’s because this piece of legislation is different from prior state legislations intended to reform factory farming: It would change not only how California’s pork producers need to raise their pigs but how any company in any state selling meat to California’s 40 million residents needs to raise them.

The panic from pork producers is palpable. It shows just how comfortable American agribusiness has become with a business model predicated on appalling cruelty—and how uncomfortable it is with the public exercising its democratic rights to reel it in with regulations. But while California’s cage ban might save some animals from the worst of abuses, it will take much more than cage bans to challenge industrialized animal agriculture.

The vast majority of the approximately 130 million pigs slaughtered for meat in the United States every year come from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs—commonly known as factory farms—where animals will spend their entire lives confined indoors as they are fattened for slaughter. This economies-of-scale model of producing standardized animal commodities is predicated on squeezing as much productivity as possible from female breeding animals. This relies on so-called gestation crates: individually confining metal cages measuring about 7 by 2 feet, into which pregnant sows will be locked for the 114 days of their gestation, unable to turn around and often unable even to lie down or stretch comfortably.

Crates are so objectively cruel that they’ve been at the heart of animal rights campaigns for decades, producing promises from major processors like Smithfield Foods and major fast-food chains like McDonald’s to shift some of their operations to crate-free systems. Concerned citizens and groups like the Humane Society of the United States have succeeded in getting state-level crate bans on ballot initiatives, winning victories in places like Massachusetts and Florida. These states, however, are not major producers of pork, so even if local producers are obliged to go cage-free by new regulation, most bacon sold in those states will come from leading pig-producing states like North Carolina and Iowa, where crates are standard. (Exact numbers on crate use are hard to come by, but estimates suggest about 96 percent of all factory-farmed animals come from systems that use crates.)

In 2008, over 60 percent of Californians voted in favor of Proposition 2, which would require “that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.” But lack of clarity about what exactly that meant and who would enforce it effectively left it dead in the water. In 2018, Proposition 12, a much clearer and expanded version of Proposition 2, again won over 60 percent of the vote, giving egg, veal, and pork producers until January 1, 2022, to conform to new standards, which included giving breeding pigs 24 square feet of space (almost double the space they are afforded in standard gestation crates). What makes Prop 12 different from the anti-crate laws that have passed in other states is that it applies not only to California-based producers but to all producers who want to sell pork in California, including those in places like Iowa.

Given that Californians consume about 255 million pounds of pork every year, Prop 12 has the power to shift how pigs are produced around the USA. But retrofitting factory farms is expensive and changes how most pork companies produce their animals. Some estimates place the cost of retrofitting all CAFOs in the U.S. to cage-free systems in the billions of dollars, costs that might be borne by already highly indebted contract farmers who work with major processors like Smithfield and Tyson. Rather than use their time to comply with the changed regulations, meat producers and processors have been fighting Californians’ democratic decision in court, with the National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation losing an appeal in California, and the North American Meat institute having its petition for Supreme Court consideration rejected. Now, with January 2022 looming, the pork industry, the politicians who support it, and California’s restaurant industry have launched a last-ditch attack.

Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, the two senators from Iowa, have pushed for federal legislation to allow interstate trade to continue unimpeded, arguing that Prop 12 violates interstate commerce laws by imposing Californian law on Iowa. Meanwhile, California’s retail and restaurant lobbies have launched a public relations offensive, backed by white papers and studies conducted by the major agricultural lender Rabobank and agricultural economists, arguing that increased pork prices and decreased supply will harm the Golden State’s businesses and consumers.

Like almost all pushback to meat industry reform, lobbyists’ claims here boil down to a simple and pernicious moral claim: that “consumer welfare,” measured in the cost of food, will be hurt by the ethical decision to vote for animal welfare; in other words, that Californians’ love for animals is going to hurt them at the checkout and that they should reconsider their votes. Media coverage of the affair has taken the bait, with the Associated Press’s Scott McFettridge writing that this is “a rare case of consumers clearly paying a price for their beliefs.”

Given that Californians have twice voted to remove pregnant sows from cages, it’s likely they understand that more humane treatment of animals comes with a price tag. As the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times wrote, in a rebuke of the critics, “For fans of bacon and other pork, any rise in cost is the price of not having a pig suffer before it’s killed for food. It’s a price the animals shouldn’t have to pay.”

But removing animals from cages is the lowest-hanging fruit in combating the animal cruelty that is baked into factory farming. Even in gestation-stall-free systems, sows may be locked in individually confining farrowing crates to nurse their young, injected with drugs to jump-start their estrous cycle as soon as possible so that they can be forcibly impregnated via artificial insemination, and have their piglets euthanized with carbon dioxide if they don’t gain weight fast enough. In industrial animal production, cruelty is systemic, endemic, and inescapable, even if it can be ever so slightly moderated by things like cage-free regulations. And, of course, all animals produced for food, regardless of production system, are slaughtered. In the case of sows, their bodies used up by multiple pregnancies, this likely means getting ground down into highly processed food like sausage. Making pork entirely cruelty-free would render the factory farm production model economically unviable.

Cory Booker’s proposed Farm System Reform Act, which would put a moratorium on the construction of new large CAFOs and introduce a CAFO phaseout by 2040, comes close to proposing this kind of wholesale reform. While the act is imperfect—it makes the mistake of . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it is interesting — for one thing, it shows how callous people can be toward suffering if they make money from it (cf. the Sackler family, cigarette manufacturers, and so on).

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 3:59 pm

Nordic walking poles do push you along

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I walked to a little local grocery store, For Good Measure. It turns out to be 0.741 miles round trip, and though I felt I was walking briskly enough — certainly as rapidly as my morning walk — my odometer showed a speed of 2.8 mph for this little trip vs. 3.2 mph for my walk this morning. Subjectively, I felt I was walking at the same pace, though I did notice my walk to the store seemed to require more effort. The push on the poles propels one along and lightens the load on the legs.

Update: Today (2021-08-11) I walked downtown, a longer walk, and I could clearly tell that walking without the Nordic walking poles is definitely harder — and, as a result, I walked slower (and became more tired). It’s surprising how much using the poles helps reduce the effort and increase my pace and walking speed.

I went to pick up some San Marzano tomatoes (my haul pictured above) — that’s the variety, but since they are grown locally (just up the road in Saanich), they don’t benefit from the terroir of authentic San Marzano tomatoes, grown in a volcanic topsoil. Still, these are very nice: two-chambered, and thicken well when cooked. (I generally cook tomatoes so the lycopene they contain will become bioavailable.)

I also picked up a few things to make this recipe. I’ll skip the cacao nibs and chocolate wafers, and I’m using unsweetened natural (i.e., not Dutch process) cocoa powder. Update: I’ve made it, and I’ve revised the recipe for next time. Note: The revised recipe is 77 WW points.

CACAO CHIA PUDDING – REVISED

• 2 1/2 cups water
• 1 cup raw cashews
• 5 soft dates (preferably Medjool), pitted and chopped
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
• 1/2 cup raw cacao powder (or use regular unsweetened natural cocoa powder)
• 1/2 cup chia seeds (white or black) – [originally 1/3 cup]
• 2 tablespoons maple syrup – [originally optional]
• 1 cup frozen blueberries or mixed berries – [my addition]

If the dates are hard, soak them in hot water for an hour to soften, then drain before chopping.

Make Ahead: The pudding needs to be chilled for 2-3 hours before serving. It can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Put into a blender the cashews, dates, vanilla extract, maple syrup, salt, and chia seeds and add 1-1 1/2 cups water. Then puree until very smooth. Add cocoa power and the remaining water and blend to mix thoroughly.

Pour into a glass storage container and mix in the berries. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, until set.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 3:26 pm

Plea Bargaining in the Shadow of Narrative

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Simon Stern writes at Nonsite.org:

The trial has for a long time dominated the imaginations of those who write on law and narrative. And no wonder: as both a process and a metaphor, the trial conjures up a whole series of familiar narrative tropes associated with the staging of an adversarial dispute and its resolution. The publicity of trials, too, helps to account for their appeal in this regard: as events presumptively open to public, and as vehicles for various forms of legal writing (pleadings, transcripts, decisions), trials readily lend themselves to scrutiny and analysis. The concern with trials has tended to focus more intensively on criminal cases than civil cases, for all the obvious reasons.

Yet as anyone familiar with the American legal system knows, trials account for a tiny proportion of criminal convictions. According to the statistics for 2019, nearly 98% of convictions in the federal system resulted from guilty pleas, and the rate in the state systems appears to be the same.1 Given that the vast majority of defendants who plead out (at least 80%) are eligible for court-appointed attorneys, plea bargaining functions as one of the most significant practices by which the legal system imposes harm on the basis of socioeconomic status and class. Plea bargaining by itself cannot account for the damage and destruction that the legal system inflicts in the U.S. Ubiquitous surveillance, racial profiling, overpolicing, overcriminalization, “drug exceptionalism,” racially and economically discriminatory bail practices and sentencing disparities, the slow and steady erosion of Fourth Amendment protections, and a host of other factors and practices would ensure that even if many more cases went to trial, the same harms would persist, reinforcing continuing mass incarceration. But plea bargaining remains an important factor in the equation, partly because it facilitates some of these other practices, helping them to pass without notice, and partly because the lack of transparency surrounding it encourages some excesses that would be curtailed if they received more attention. For example, lengthy pretrial incarcerations give plea bargaining its teeth. Unlike the trial, the plea-bargaining process does not readily lend itself to analysis in terms of narrative. As conducted at present, this process leaves many fewer traces of the kind that would allow anyone to reconstruct a story about how the negotiations proceeded. Even if the story could be told, it would lack many of the appealing narrative tropes that make trials so engaging—such as a surprise witness or a devastating cross-examination. Yet plea bargaining is a vital element of the criminal justice system, and it deserves more attention from scholars interested in law and culture.

The system of plea bargaining allows prosecutors to exaggerate the strength of their case, even to the point of inventing evidence and witnesses that would not withstand scrutiny if the case went to trial. The result is that people may take a plea deal even when the prosecution has a weak case, or when the person being accused is innocent. In Brady v. United States (1970), which played a crucial role in conferring constitutional legitimacy on the use of plea bargains, the Supreme Court explained that there would be “serious doubts” about the result if prosecutors’ “offers of leniency” in exchange for a guilty plea “substantially increased the likelihood that defendants … would falsely condemn themselves.” But not to fear: “pleas of guilty are voluntarily and intelligently made by competent defendants with adequate advice of counsel, and … there is nothing to question the accuracy and reliability of the defendants’ admissions that they committed the crimes with which they are charged.”2 This assertion was wrong in 1970, and the problem has only grown worse with time. According to the Innocence Project, nearly 12% of those exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence pleaded guilty.3 That figure, of course, captures only some of the innocent defendants who enter guilty pleas.

One of the commonest gambits is for a prosecutor to secure a guilty plea by threatening defendants with various penalties for insisting on a trial—for instance, by promising to seek a vastly more serious penalty at trial (say, fifteen years rather than two), or to bring more serious charges, or to bring charges against other family members. The U.S. Supreme Court has given its blessing to this practice not only in Brady, but also in Bordenkircher v. Hayes (1978). U.S. courts had once looked skeptically on confessions secured by “promise of favor,” but in Bordenkircher, Justice Stewart remarked that deciding to threaten defendants with a “more severe punishment” if they insist on going to trial is simply one of “these difficult choices” that constitutes an “inevitable—and permissible—attribute of any legitimate system which tolerates and encourages the negotiation of pleas.”4

This sort of resigned pragmatism reflects the courts’ realization that plea bargaining has become an essential device in the prosecutor’s arsenal, so essential that the system could not function without it. Justice Kennedy recognized as much when he observed in 2012 that “criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials.”5 Treating such negotiations as akin to the kind of bargaining that goes on between equally matched actors—a negotiation whose “legitimacy” may be taken for granted rather than requiring scrutiny—Stewart implied that all parties to a plea deal are equally capable of gamesmanship. It takes little reflection to see how implausible that assumption is, particularly for racialized defendants who, because of previous experiences with being policed and lack of access to legal information, are at a grave disadvantage in these situations. Thus, it is hardly surprising that Black defendants tend to suffer the most from the plea-bargaining system as it presently operates.

The events surrounding the imprisonment and death of Kalief Browder illustrate the damage created by this system. Charged in 2010 with the theft of a backpack that contained a camera, an iPod, and $700 in cash, the 17-year-old Browder denied any involvement in the crime. Despite having a very weak case, the prosecutors pressed him to plead guilty, offering first a sentence of three and a half years, and later reducing it to an offer of two and a half years. Browder refused these deals, continuing to maintain his innocence. After being imprisoned for nearly three years after his arrest, Browder appeared before a judge who offered him immediate release in exchange for a plea to two misdemeanors, with the sentence limited to the time he had already served. He again refused, and the prosecutor freed him some two months later, a week before the pending charges were due to be dismissed.6 Browder spent about two years of his imprisonment in solitary confinement, and attempted suicide twice during that time. During the two years after he was freed, he made two more suicide attempts; the second time, in 2015, he died.7

Commentators have suggested various reforms to mitigate the damage that flows from plea bargaining in its current form. Jenia Iontcheva Turner has suggested  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 12:42 pm

The Lawn Problem

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Arianne Shahvisi writes in the London Review of Books:

On hot days, a friend and I used to sneak away from school and dodge through a gap in the fence to the golf course next to the playing field. There, on the manicured grass, we would roll up our shirts and trouser legs and lie in the sun until we were weak with sunstroke. By the sixth form, I’d progressed to year-round bottled sunshine: golden cans of pungent foam that dyed my skin a glorious shade of bronze within minutes. At university, a baffled boy pointed out the streaks and I added my fake tan to the list of things that lost their currency outside Essex.

Last summer, when my neighbours concreted over their lawn and unfurled lurid rolls of synthetic turf, I bit back my own aversion to fakeness. They passed us their unwanted compost bin over the fence, cheerily announcing they’d have no more garden waste. I was horrified that they had replaced a complex living ecosystem with a slowly degrading plastic sham that would eventually become matted and scraggy and spend hundreds of years leaching toxic chemicals in a landfill site, or be burned into noxious gases. Artificial turf is not only extruded from fossil fuel polymers, but composed of at least two kinds of plastic and therefore cannot be recycled.

Artificial lawns are booming: the global market in plastic turf is expected to exceed £4 billion by 2023. Like a fake tan, fake grass only fools you from a distance. Up close, its vividness, uniformity and occasional creases give it away. (Though like the deliberate flaws in Persian rugs – only Allah’s creations can be perfect – more upmarket brands often have a few yellow strands.)

Sturdy, all-weather fake turf makes sense for sport, and can save water. Before the pandemic, I played five-a-side football every week on a 3G Astroturf pitch. Even in heavy rain, we could carry on without churning up the ground with our boots. But tumbles, dives or slide tackles abrade the skin like carpet burns, and once you’ve picked the crumbs of rubber from the graze, it weeps angrily for days. I’d try not to think about the spit, blood, food, scabs, snot, bird faeces and worse that ended up enmeshed with the underlay and cultured a cornucopia of festering bacteria, unprocessed by soil.

Without soil, insects can’t burrow into the ground and lay eggs, birds can’t tug out worms, roots can’t dig in and buttress the land against erosion or suck up and store water. As artificial lawns and sports fields replace grass, they increase the risk of flooding. Half of all incident rain runs off the surface of artificial turf (carrying microplastics with it), whereas the earth under gardens and parks serves as a sponge, soaking up precipitation in urban settlements and acting as a buffer against flash floods.

Artificial turf also contributes to the problem of urban heat islands. Albedo is a measure of how much of the sun’s radiation is reflected, and how much absorbed. Ice has a higher albedo than seawater, which means melting icecaps not only cause rising sea levels, but also lead to further atmospheric heating. Grass has an albedo of 0.25, close to that of the earth as a whole (0.3); artificial turf has an albedo of 0.08: not much better than asphalt (0.05). On hot days, fake turf can be twice as hot as real grass. That’s bad news for children and pets, worse news for a heating planet. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released today, as some of the largest wildfires on record gush carbon into the atmosphere, notes that the temperature of the earth’s surface has increased faster since 1970 than in any other fifty-year period in the last two thousand years.

The most common species of grass in British parks and lawns is ryegrass: a hardy perennial that germinates quickly. It’s the plant that is mowed to a uniform eight millimetres at Wimbledon, it’s the staple food of many sheep and cows, and its pollen is one of the chief causes of hayfever. Among the blades of ryegrass there are dandelions, mosses, clover, daisies, dock, creeping thistle, buttercups: the flowers of childhood games, and a food source for the pollinators that underwrite the global food supply.

Like other vegetation, grass sequesters carbon. Around a third of the earth’s land is grasslands, but grass only works as a carbon sink if it isn’t continually grazed or mowed. Ranch-owners in the American Midwest are paid to leave grass ungrazed as heavy polluters seek to offset some of their emissions. But the warming effect of managed grasslands now cancels out the cooling effect of unmanaged grasslands. This is especially troubling because grasslands are less vulnerable to wildfires than forest, and may represent a more dependable carbon sink in coming decades.

Meanwhile, forty million acres of land in the US consists of lawns. Maintaining them requires 800 million gallons of mower fuel and three million tonnes of (carcinogenic, endocrine-disrupting) fertilisers a year, and they guzzle up to 60 per cent of fresh water in urban areas. In the UK, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 12:37 pm

Back on track with Dr. Ken Cooper’s aerobics target

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I happened to look at a post from some time back, when I was routinely walking a different route at my old apartment. At that time, as I explain in the post, I was getting about 47.5 points of aerobic exercise (using Cooper’s point system), comfortably above his recommended minimum of 35 points a week for men, 27 points a week for women, exercising at least 4 days a week and at most 6.

And in fact my route here is a bit longer — 4.1 miles instead of 3.8 miles — and so my times are a bit longer — around 1 hr 15 min (though times are dropping somewhat as I get in better condition). But with that distance and time, regular walking is 7.2 points, and with the 20% premium that Nordic walking gets, each walk is 8.64 points — and done 6 days a week, that totals to 51.8 points a week. That should do it.

The thistle is very tall and just starting to bloom. I pass it on my walk to For Good Measure, a grocery store that specializes in bulk bins of various foods — beans, grains, nuts, and so on.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 11:20 am

Best modern TTO adjustable, with Barrister & Mann Lavanille

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This morning, after more than a week using Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave in the newer and more liquid formulation, I switched back to a tub I have of the earlier version, which is the consistency of soft wax. I have to say I prefer that formulation, though of course YMMV and many apparently do like the newer formulation. But for me the soft-wax consistency seems noticeably better — and, alas, is no longer available. So it goes.

Today Lavanille’s fragrance fully hit me, and a wonderful fragrance it is — and the lather’s no slouch either. With my Vie-Long horsehair brush — selected for this soap for the obvious reason — I easily got a lather that was first-rate in fragrance, consistency, and effectiveness.

RazoRock’s Adjust turn-to-open (TTO) adjustable razor is, I realized this morning, the most comfortable and efficient modern TTO adjustable I’ve used. Specifically, for me it’s more comfortable than the more expensive Rockwell Model T and the new model T2 (both of which I have and use). I would not say it’s more efficient, though the greater comfort makes it seem so: the Adjust feels so pleasant sliding across my face that I’m surprised at what a good job it does in delivering a perfectly smooth finish.

Some of the non-TTO adjustables — Merkur Progress, Parker Variant, Rockwell 6S — can, however, match it in comfort (though they’re a long way from matching it in price: the Adjust is just $15, and it feels sturdy and well made). In terms of bang for the buck, the Adjust ranks very high indeed.  Indeed, I think it might be the best (in terms of comfort and efficiency) modern TTO razor around, adjustable or not. (And in fact I don’t adjust it — for me it works fine at the default setting.) — Oops: I just remembered the Vikings Blades/Baili 179: an exceptionally comfortable and efficient TTO. But the Adjust definitely takes the gold for a TTO adjustable.

Update: Mantic59 of Sharpologist pointed out that the Adjust is the Baili BD191 and is available for $13 from Stirling Soap Company. I have to say that the four different models of Baili safety razors I’ve tried have all been extremely good.

Three passes easily left my face completely smooth, and a splash of Lavanille aftershave, augmented with a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, finished the job — a great start for a new day.

And I did finally finish the post I mentioned yesterday, which sets out the budget planning and tracking method I use.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2021 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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