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Archive for September 30th, 2021

Police officers convicted of rape, murder and other serious crimes are collecting tens of millions of dollars during retirement

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Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken report for CNN:

Tens of millions of dollars are flowing into the bank accounts of retired police officers convicted of breaking the very laws they were sworn to uphold. They have been found guilty of sexual and violent crimes, including murder and rape, or other serious job-related offenses, such as bribery and embezzlement.

Some have admitted to molesting young children. Others have used their badges to enrich themselves or wield power over vulnerable members of their communities. Many are still sitting in prison cells. Yet the checks keep coming and will for the rest of their lives all as taxpayers help foot the bill.

The promise of these unlimited monthly retirement checks is one of the biggest perks of going into the physically demanding and dangerous field of law enforcement. It is only in rare cases that governments strip disgraced officers of these benefits, using a harsh penalty known as pension forfeiture.

Now, in the face of growing calls for police reform, some lawmakers, academics and police reform advocates say forfeiture of these coveted police retirement packages could be used as a tool to discourage the worst behavior. Recent research backs this up, suggesting that states with strict pension forfeiture laws have experienced lower levels of police misconduct.

Nationally, however, there is no consensus on when and if pensions should be taken away. Laws, if they exist at all, vary widely from state to state and don’t always target the same crimes meaning that whether convicted cops are able to keep their benefits largely depends on the state where they worked.

More than 350 officers convicted of felony crimes have already received pension payments or are eligible in the future, according to a CNN analysis. Reporters identified the officers using individual member pension data from more than 70 funds obtained through records requests, retirement vesting schedules, and data on convicted officers arrested between 2005 and 2015 from Bowling Green State University’s Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database. Officers convicted of sexual and violent felonies, as well as felony crimes committed within an officer’s ‘official capacity,” were included in the analysis. And this is just a snapshot of those eligible for taxpayer funded payments in part because pension data is kept confidential in more than 15 states and not all funds queried by CNN responded to requests.

Of the officers identified by CNN, more than 200 have already received benefits and collectively taken in roughly $70 million, the analysis of pension data shows. Current retirees will take in more than $8 million this year alone not including payments from states where pension amounts are confidential. They stand to receive hundreds of millions of dollars during the course of their retirements.

“There’s got to be a way to hold their feet to the fire,” said D. Bruce Johnsen, a George Mason University law professor emeritus who has studied pension forfeiture specifically for police officers. “If you have more serious penalties for misconduct, you’re going to have less misconduct.”

The dark parking lot

The woman in the burgundy van already sensed she was being followed. Then, the police lights began flashing in her rearview mirror, illuminating the midnight sky.

Officer Bradley Stewart Wagner had noticed the woman filling up with gas moments earlier. When she drove off, he followed, stopping her vehicle as she headed toward a secluded, industrial part of town not far from Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

This isn’t right. There is something deeply wrong with American police departments. Partly, I imagine, it’s that power corrupts.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 1:20 pm

Mac Miller “Colors and Shapes”

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Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Art, Movies & TV, Video

Knowledge is power: The unintended outcomes of Orientalist William Jones’ study of Sanskrit texts

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The story is perhaps familiar, but this is a good retelling at an apropos time: the 275th anniversary of his birthday was on September 28. Girish Shahane writes in Scroll.in:

By 1783, the year he was appointed judge in the Bengal Supreme Court, William Jones could read some two dozen languages. He had composed Latin poems, rendered pre-Islamic Arabic odes in English, and translated a biography of Nadir Shah from Persian into French. Jones received the lucrative judgeship because his accomplishments and genial personality deflected attention to a sufficient degree from his sympathy for the American side in that country’s war for independence from Britain. The post was worth 6,000 pounds a year, or about 9,30,000 pounds sterling in today’s currency, equivalent to a little over Rs 9 crore at current exchange rates. [According to one calculator, £6000 in 1783 is equivalent to US$971,157 in 2021. – LG]

Once his appointment was confirmed, the 38-year-old Jones could afford to marry his longtime betrothed, Anna Shipley. He planned to spend five or six years in India before retiring and returning to England. As things turned out, he continued to live in Bengal till his death in 1794, and it is for his Indian enquiries that he is chiefly remembered. Within four months of stepping on Indian shores, he founded the Asiatic Society, which was devoted to studying the culture of the largest continent. Apart from being white and male, prospective members needed only to express a love of knowledge to be admitted to the club, whose initial meetings were held in a jury room of the Calcutta court. He nudged his fellow Britons to welcome Indian members but only got them to accept the inclusion of native contributions in the society’s journal. [It should perhaps be mentioned that Sir William was studying Sanskrit because Indian law depended on texts in that language. – LG]

It was around this time that Jones began to study Indian languages in earnest, employing a group of Indian scholars to collect and translate Sanskrit and Persian manuscripts. In the weeks he had free from court duties, he would move upriver to a thatch-roof bungalow in Krishnagar, a centre of Sanskrit learning, discarding his judge’s robes for loose kurtas and spending more time conversing with pandits than with fellow-countrymen. Only a handful of Europeans before him had acquired a working knowledge of Sanskrit and none of them possessed anything like his command over numerous other tongues. Mulling over the structure of the language that had opened the doors of classical Indian learning to him, he came to a momentous conclusion, made public in his third annual address to the Asiatic Society, delivered on February 2, 1786:

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from a common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.

In the same passage, he perspicaciously included Gothic, Celtic and Persian in the list of languages which had sprung from the same root as Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. With a few cursory observations, he had inaugurated the field of comparative linguistics and the idea of what came to be called the Indo-European family of languages. Other philologists had previously produced analogous hypotheses, but his was the definitive statement. To put it another way, William Jones was the last person to discover the Indo-European language family, just as Christopher Columbus was the last to discover the Americas and Charles Darwin the last to discover the evolution of species.

Three Legends

In 1788, Jones translated into English the 4th century Indian playwright Kalidasa’s most celebrated drama, Abhijnanasakuntalam, giving it the title, Sacontala, or The Fatal Ring. His preface mentioned that Kalidasa lived “at a time when the Britons were as unlettered and unpolished as the army of Hanuman”, and described the play as “a most pleasing and authentic picture of old Hindu manners, and one of the greatest curiosities that the literature of Asia has yet brought to light”. The published translation was faithful to the original apart from a deleted description of Shakuntala’s breasts, considered too steamy for an increasingly conservative British public (The first edition of Thomas Bowdler’s Family Shakespeare was printed not long after Sacontala).

The action of Abhijnanasakuntalam commences with the great king Dushanta on a hunt. Pursuing a deer, Dushanta chances upon the hermitage of sage Kanva and is captivated by his foster-daughter Shakuntala. He courts Shakuntala, weds her, gets her pregnant, and leaves for his kingdom, promising an early reunion. Lost in dreamy memories of her time with Dushanta, Shakuntala fails to notice the arrival at Kanva’s hermitage of sage Durvasa, who feels affronted by her lack of hospitality. Most sages are quick with their curses and Durvasa is one of the tetchiest of the lot. He tells Shakuntala that she will be completely forgotten by the man whose thoughts kept her from doing her duty. After being mollified, he partially retracts the curse, allowing that Dushanta’s memory will return on seeing the ring he has left with Shakuntala as a remembrance. Unfortunately, Shakuntala loses the ring while bathing in a river, and is rejected by Dushanta when she appears in his court. The ring she has lost has been swallowed by a fish, which is snared by a fisherman, who finds the precious object in its belly. He recognises the king’s seal, and restores the ring, and thus the memory of Shakuntala, to Dushanta.

The earliest extant version of the Shakuntala legend is found in the Mahabharata. The son born to Shakuntala and Dushanta is, after all, Bharata, the ancestor of the Indian nation, whose domain is the location of the great Bharata war. But the story of Shakuntala as presented in the epic is rather different from Kalidasa’s version. In the Mahabharata, Dushanta recognises Shakuntala immediately but refuses to acknowledge their connection fearing public censure. It takes a voice from the heavens confirming Shakuntala’s story for her claim to be accepted. There’s no lost ring, no fish and no recognition scene.

There are, however, two other places in the epic where a fish plays an important intermediary function. These narratives  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

King Dushanta proposes to Shakuntala with a ring. Credit: Raja Ravi Varma/Wellcome Trust/Wikimedia Commons [Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license].

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, History

Congress is an ineffectual organization

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Congress seems to be designed to not accomplish things, a problem when a bad-faith party like Republicans have a significant voice — and in the Senate, the ability to veto action (thanks in large part to Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, two Democratic Senators who side with Republicans). Heahter Cox Richardson writes:

We are coming down to the wire for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

This bill was hammered out earlier in September by a group of senators trying to find common ground with conservative Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who objected to the sweeping For the People Act passed by the House. The Freedom to Vote Act pared down that larger bill but retained its most important pieces. It creates a national standard for voting rules and tries to stop voter suppression, modernizes voter registration, and replaces old, paperless voting machines with new ones that have a voter-verified paper trail. It slows the flood of money into our elections and ends partisan gerrymandering. It establishes strict rules for post-election audits.

This defense of voting is popular. A Data for Progress poll found that 70% of likely voters support the act. That number includes 85% of self-identified Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 54% of Republicans.

Manchin maintains that he can find 10 Republican senators to join the Democrats to get 60 votes, enabling the measure to overcome a Republican filibuster. But there is, so far, no sign that those votes are materializing, and every day that goes by brings us closer to having gerrymandered district lines hardened into place before the 2022 election. Indeed, the stonewalling by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of Democratic attempts to lift the debt ceiling is wasting time that otherwise would be given to the voting rights bill.

If Manchin cannot find ten Republican votes, the measure will die unless the Senate agrees to block a filibuster on it, as it has done for judicial appointments. A simple majority cannot pass it, even though the 50 Democratic senators (who would make a majority of 51 if Vice President Kamala Harris were called in to break a tie) represent about 40.5 million more Americans than the 50 Republican senators. (The U.S. has about 328 million people.)

It is imperative that this bill become law. Without it, the Republicans will almost certainly regain control of Congress, and with new voter suppression and election-counting laws in place in 18 Republican-dominated states, they will likely command the Electoral College as well. Once installed in power, will this particular incarnation of the Republican Party ever again permit a Democratic victory?

Congress today illustrated the importance of making sure all Americans have the right to choose their lawmakers.

The media focused on the intraparty fighting of the Democrats over a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that is supposed to be linked to the $1 trillion bipartisan package, but it is important to remember that the only reason anyone is even discussing an infrastructure package is because voting rights activist Stacey Abrams helped so many Georgians register to vote in 2020 that they were able to overcome Republican roadblocks and elect two Democratic senators. Without Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff, the two men who gave the Democrats 50 seats in the Senate to shift the majority from the Republicans, we would not be having this discussion at all.

Both infrastructure bills are popular. Americans support the bipartisan bill by 51% to 19% (with 30% unsure). About 62% of Americans like the larger package, despite a price tag that seems larger than it really is, since it spreads out funding for ten years. Even among Republicans, more like it than dislike it, at 47% to 44%.

But it took months of negotiations to secure the ten Republican votes necessary on the smaller package to get it past a filibuster of the other Republican senators, and the Republicans are united in their opposition to the larger bill.

Our right to vote was also on the table as our most effective tool for stopping the Republican Party’s current fall into authoritarianism.

After yesterday’s hearing in the Senate, Senator Angus King (I-ME) told reporters that the Senate Armed Services Committee had had only one hearing all last year when the Republicans were in control of the Senate. Washington reporter Laura Rozen recounted the conversation on Twitter. Since the Democrats retook control of the Senate, King said, they have held five hearings. But he pointed out that senators in yesterday’s hearing spent a great deal of time asking questions about the decisions to withdraw from Afghanistan, a decision made by former president Trump and unquestioned either as he made it or as he quickly began withdrawing troops. King noted that those questions should have been asked a year ago.

In today’s hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, Republicans defended the former president and attacked the man who helped to stop his takeover of the U.S. government, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley.

They insisted that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was “an extraordinary disaster” that “will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of American leadership,” although it was former president Trump who set the terms of the withdrawal and tried to make it happen in the dead of winter, which would almost certainly not have permitted the successful airlift of 130,000 Americans and allies that the military ultimately pulled off. (Interestingly, Milley also explained that U.S. commanders missed that the Afghan army and government would crumble because the withdrawal of tactical advisers over the past few years hurt U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities.)

Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Ronny Jackson (R-TX) did not simply defend Trump, though. They demanded that Milley resign. Gaetz repeatedly interrupted and berated the general, who has served the United States in uniform for more than 40 years—two years longer than Gaetz has been alive.

The attacks on Milley were not simply partisanship. They are part of a longer crusade of the pro-Trump forces against the man who stood against Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. For months now,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:22 pm

Obesity as a wicked problem

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“Wicked problems” are complex systems such that if you fix one part of the system, the overall system simply adapts, so that the problem remains. See this post for more info on wicked problems.

To see the complexity of the problem of obesity, check out this map (PDF).

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

The perfecting of the Edwin Jagger razor, and good marketing thought in the Wilkinson Sword shave stick

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I mentioned yesterday that the Speick shave stick bore its brand identification only on the bottom of the plastic base. Wilkinson Sword not only has the name proudly (and visibly) displayed on the foil wrapping, it also has given the stick a distinctive color (perhaps chosen in homage to woad — “Woad is the plant from which the indigo dye is made.  Ancient warriors such as Boudicca’s Iceni tribe and the Picts are thought to have decorated their skin with woad before going into battle.”). Even if the foil’s gone, the stick’s brand is still evident from the color.

I got quite a good lather, but it did take some time. I washed my stubble with MR GLO, rinsed partially with a splash, and rubbed the stick well over all my stubble. Then I went to work with the damp Rooney Style 2 Finest. The lather developed slowly because, unlike when the brush is loaded from the tub, I had to coax the soap awake, using only a little water — too much, and it would just run off my face. After a first brushing, the brush had picked up enough soap so that, when I added a driblet of water and continued brushing, the lather started to form. I continued to brush and did add a little water twice more, and by then the lather was fully alive and raring to go. It struck me that this small amount of additional time spent in lathering before starting to shave would probably better prepare the stubble.

And indeed I did get a remarkably good result — perfectly smooth in three passes — but credit must be shared by the razor. The RazorRock MJ-90A is probably the razor that an Edwin Jagger razor hopes to be when it grows up: the same design, but better materials and more precision — and, surprise!, a lower price: $30 for a truly great razor.

A splash of Penhaligon’s wonderful Blenheim Bouquet, and the day has started very well indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 10:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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