Later On

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Archive for the ‘Daily life’ Category

Obama Overtime Plan Won’t Hurt Businesses, Executives Admit

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In other words, executives admit to being gratuitously hard on their workforce, just because they can. Power does indeed corrupt. Story here.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2016 at 2:54 pm

War of the Roses in the US

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This interesting piece by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in the New Yorker, which that our political leaders are devolving into a kind of titled aristocracy and royalty in the context, say, of the War of the Roses, during which great struggles were undertaken within the public on which party to support. And those leading the parties might be purely a fiction of position: the person designated to be “x”, but of course succession is never, as we’ve seen, certain. It’s going to make a fantastic miniseries by some future Shakespeare interpreting (and thus shaping) the preceding history of the culture. They have power, but otherwise they are placed by position and cultural role and family connections (just as with royalty and titled artistocrats) and so on. Looking at it from that perspective US political history since (say) 1932 has been extremely interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2016 at 1:08 pm

Another way a functional Congress would come in handy: Scientists say nuclear fuel pools around the country pose safety and health risks

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Read to see how we seem to be waiting to see what happens when the fuse burns up.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2016 at 12:24 pm

An autistic man writes a moving letter to police

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This Washington Post report by Colby Itkowitz is well worth reading:

For the first 14 and a half years of Gordy’s life, Evan and Dara Baylinson had no reason to think their son could comprehend anything they said: He had never spoken, and he couldn’t really emote. They worried aloud about his future, not filtering what they said, because they didn’t think he understood.

But Gordy, it now appears, was absorbing everything.

“My brain, which is much like yours, knows what it wants and how to make that clear,” he wrote in a letter he sent this month to a police officer. “My body, which is much like a drunken, almost six-foot toddler, resists.”

He typed each letter one at a time with his right index finger. No one coached him, edited his words or told him what to say, according to his parents and therapist.  After two one-hour sessions, he had written a nearly 400-word note. [See full letter below.]

“This letter is not a cry for pity, pity is not what I’m looking for,” he wrote. “I love myself just the way I am, drunken toddler body and all. This letter is, however, a cry for attention, recognition and acceptance.”

Unbeknownst to his parents for so many years, their son was a beautiful writer with a lot to say.

Gordy’s autism spectrum disorder was diagnosed when he was 17 months old. Gordy, now 16, doesn’t speak, but his mind is a treasure trove of knowledge and opinions about the world that he has picked up from listening.

But it wasn’t until February 2015 that his parents found that out.

It was then that one of Gordy’s many therapists, Meghann Parkinson, started teaching him the Rapid Prompting Method, a relatively new communication technique developed for people with severe autism. She asked him questions and he answered by pointing to letters on an alphabet board. In a little more than a year, Gordy has advanced to aQWERTY keyboard, his words appearing in large font on an iPad screen propped in front of him as he types.

The technique is very controversial, with some experts convinced that therapists are leading the autistic children who employ it. But others say it’s possible that in a minority of cases people like Gordy can learn to communicate independently using the technique and can benefit from it.

Connie Kasari, a well-known expert in autism and a founding member of the Center for Autism Research and Treatment at UCLA, said the question of whether RPM works is a “highly charged issue,” but that she tries to keep an open mind about evolving communication methods for autism.

“I’m not going to be a naysayer,” said Kasari, a professor at UCLA. “Some kids will benefit, some kids will not. It’s not one size fits all. Some individuals who aren’t verbal are incredibly smart.”

Gordy’s father was initially skeptical. He knew there had been controversies with forced “facilitated communication.” But the more he watched, the more he said  it became clear to him that these words were Gordy’s and Gordy’s alone.

It’s through this work with Parkinson at Growing Kids Therapy in Herndon, Va., that Gordy wrote an eloquent and poignant letter to a police officer about what it’s like to be autistic.

Weeks earlier, the Baylinsons, who live in Potomac, Md., had seen a flier for an Autism Night Out held by the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland. They asked him if he’d rather attend that or his prom on Friday. He chose the police event. There was an email address at the bottom of the flier, and Parkinson asked him if he’d like to send the officer a letter.

They had no idea their son had strong opinions about the police or the treatment of autistic people. But they sat stunned as the words poured out of Gordy with humor and empathy and maturity.

The letter reached Laurie Reyes, a police officer who started a department autism outreach program that trains officers on how to approach and handle someone with autism. They get two to four calls per week for “elopements,” which means an autistic child who has wandered off, she said. More than a decade ago, she started the unique program to teach officers to treat autistic people with dignity and compassion. . .

Continue reading.

Gordy’s letter is reproduced at the end of the article. By all means click the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2016 at 4:55 pm

A tough look at the decline of the middle class through the prism of one Indiana town

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Eli Saslow has a sobering account in the Washington Post:

Chris Setser worked a 12-hour graveyard shift while his children slept, cleaned the house while they were at school and then went outside to wait for the bus bringing them home. He stood on the porch as he often did and surveyed the life he had built. The lawn was trimmed. The stairs were swept. The weekly family schedule was printed on a chalkboard. A sign near the door read, “A Stable Home Is A Happy Home,” and now a school bus came rolling down a street lined by wide sidewalks and American flags toward a five-bedroom house on the corner lot.

“Right on time,” Setser called out to the driver, waving to his children as they came off the bus.

It had been two months since Setser and 800 others in Huntington were told their manufacturing jobs would soon be outsourced to Mexico, but so far nothing about his routine had changed. He was still making $17 an hour on the third-shift line at United Technologies. The first layoffs wouldn’t take place for a year, maybe more. “We’ll be fine because we’ve always been fine,” Setser had said again and again, to his fiancee, his four children, and most of all to himself, but he was beginning to wonder if the loss of something more foundational in Huntington was underway.

Into the house came 10-year-old Johnathan, who had heard a rumor at school that factory workers would also be moving to Mexico. “No way, bud,” Setser told him. “We’re staying right here.”

In came 14-year-old Ashley, holding a payment notice for a school field trip. “Are we going to become one of those families with a voucher?” she asked.

“Don’t worry,” he said, handing her $20 from his wallet.

All around him an ideological crisis was spreading across Middle America as it continued its long fall into dependency: median wages down across the country, average income down, total wealth down in the past decade by 28 percent. For the first time ever, the vaunted middle class was not the country’s base but a disenfranchised minority, down from 61 percent of the population in the 1970s to just 49 percent as of last year. As a result of that decline, confusion was turning into fear. Fear was giving way to resentment. Resentment was hardening into a sense of outrage that was unhinging the country’s politics and upending a presidential election.

But Setser remained a believer in what he called the “basic guarantees” of the working class. He had his work history of near-perfect attendance. He had his home mortgage, his two cars, his weekly bowling night and his annual family trip to a small Indiana lake.

Most of all he had the assurances of what life had always been in Huntington, a town of 17,000 that remained a living museum to the iconic middle class. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2016 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

New Political Earthquake in Brazil: Is It Now Time for Media Outlets to Call This a “Coup”?

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Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Fishman, and David Miranda report in The Intercept:

Brazil today awoke to stunning news of secret, genuinely shocking conversations involving a key minister in Brazil’s newly installed government, which shine a bright light on the actual motives and participants driving the impeachment of the country’s democratically elected president, Dilma Rousseff. The transcripts were published by the country’s largest newspaperFolha de São Paulo, and reveal secret conversations that took place in March, just weeks before the impeachment vote in the lower house took place. They show explicit plotting between the new planning minister (then-senator), Romero Jucá, and former oil executive Sergio Machado — both of whom are formal targets of the “Car Wash” corruption investigation — as they agree that removing Dilma is the only means for ending the corruption investigation. The conversations also include discussions of the important role played in Dilma’s removal by the most powerful national institutions, including — most importantly — Brazil’s military leaders.

The transcripts are filled with profoundly incriminating statements about the real goals of impeachment and who was behind it. The crux of this plot is what Jucá calls “a national pact” — involving all of Brazil’s most powerful institutions — to leave Michel Temer in place as president (notwithstanding his multiple corruption scandals) and to kill the corruption investigation once Dilma is removed. In the words of Folha, Jucá made clear that impeachment will “end the pressure from the media and other sectors to continue the Car Wash investigation.” It is unclear who is responsible for recording and leaking the 75-minute conversation, but Folha reports that the files are currently in the hand of the prosecutor general. The next few hours and days will likely see new revelations that will shed additional light on the implications and meaning of these transcripts.

The transcripts contain two extraordinary revelations that should lead all media outlets to seriously consider whether they should call what took place in Brazil a “coup”: a term Dilma and her supporters have used for months. When discussing the plot to remove Dilma as a means of ending the Car Wash investigation, Jucá said the Brazilian military is supporting the plot: “I am talking to the generals, the military commanders. They are fine with this, they said they will guarantee it.” He also said the military is “monitoring the Landless Workers Movement” (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST), the social movement of rural workers that supports PT’s efforts of land reform and inequality reduction and has led the protests against impeachment.

The second blockbuster revelation — perhaps even more significant — is Jucá’s statement that he spoke with and secured the involvement of numerous justices on Brazil’s Supreme Court, the institution that impeachment defenders have repeatedly pointed to as vesting the process with legitimacy in order to deny that Dilma’s removal is a coup. Jucá claimed that “there are only a small number” of Court justices to whom he had not obtained access (the only justice he said he ultimately could not get to is Teori Zavascki, who was appointed by Dilma and who — notably — Jucá viewed as incorruptible in obtaining his help to kill the investigation (a central irony of impeachment is that Dilma has protected the Car Wash investigation from interference by those who want to impeach her)). The transcripts also show him saying that “the press wants to take her [Dilma] out,” so “this shit will never stop” — meaning the corruption investigations — until she’s gone.

The transcripts provide proof for virtually every suspicion and accusation impeachment opponents have long expressed about those plotting to remove Dilma from office. For months, supporters of Brazil’s democracy have made two arguments about the attempt to remove the country’s democratically elected president: (1) the core purpose of Dilma’s impeachment is not to stop corruption or punish lawbreaking, but rather the exact opposite: to protect the actual thieves by empowering them with Dilma’s exit, thus enabling them to kill the Car Wash investigation; and (2) the impeachment advocates (led by the country’s oligarchical media) have zero interest in clean government, but only in seizing power that they could never obtain democratically, in order to impose a right-wing, oligarch-serving agenda that the Brazilian population would never accept.

The first two weeks of Temer’s newly installed government provided abundant evidence for both of these claims. He appointed multiple ministers directly implicated in corruption scandals. A key ally in the lower house who will lead his government’s coalition there — André Moura — is one of the most corrupt politicians in the country, the target of multiple, active criminal probes not only for corruption but also attempted homicide. Temer himself is deeply enmeshed in corruption (he faces an eight-year ban on running for any office) and is rushing to implement a series of radical right-wing changes that Brazilians would never democratically allow, including measures, as The Guardian detailed, “to soften the definition of slavery, roll back the demarcation of indigenous land, trim housebuilding programs and sell off state assets in airports, utilities and the post office.”

But, unlike the events of the last two weeks, these transcripts are not merely clues or signs. They are proof: proof that the prime forces behind the removal of the president understood that taking her out was the only way to save themselves and shield their own extreme corruption from accountability; proof that Brazil’s military, its dominant media outlets, and its Supreme Court were colluding in secret to ensure the removal of the democratically elected president; proof that the perpetrators of impeachment viewed Dilma’s continued presence in Brasilia as the guarantor that the Car Wash investigations would continue; proof that this had nothing to do with preserving Brazilian democracy and everything to do with destroying it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2016 at 9:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Detailed report on a different (and very promising) approach to virtual reality

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In Wired Kevin Kelly has an interesting, lengthy, and detailed account of the coming next step in virtual reality:

The is something special happening in a generic office park in an uninspiring suburb near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Inside, amid the low gray cubicles, clustered desks, and empty swivel chairs, an impossible 8-inch robot drone from an alien planet hovers chest-high in front of a row of potted plants. It is steampunk-cute, minutely detailed. I can walk around it and examine it from any angle. I can squat to look at its ornate underside. Bending closer, I bring my face to within inches of it to inspect its tiny pipes and protruding armatures. I can see polishing swirls where the metallic surface was “milled.” When I raise a hand, it approaches and extends a glowing appendage to touch my fingertip. I reach out and move it around. I step back across the room to view it from afar. All the while it hums and slowly rotates above a desk. It looks as real as the lamps and computer monitors around it. It’s not. I’m seeing all this through a synthetic-reality headset. Intellectually, I know this drone is an elaborate simulation, but as far as my eyes are concerned it’s really there, in that ordinary office. It is a virtual object, but there is no evidence of pixels or digital artifacts in its three-dimensional fullness. If I reposition my head just so, I can get the virtual drone to line up in front of a bright office lamp and perceive that it is faintly transparent, but that hint does not impede the strong sense of it being present. This, of course, is one of the great promises of artificial reality—either you get teleported to magical places or magical things get teleported to you. And in this prototype headset, created by the much speculated about, ultrasecretive company called Magic Leap, this alien drone certainly does seem to be transported to this office in Florida—and its reality is stronger than I thought possible.

I saw other things with these magical goggles. I saw human-sized robots walk through the actual walls of the room. I could shoot them with power blasts from a prop gun I really held in my hands. I watched miniature humans wrestle each other on a real tabletop, almost like aStar Wars holographic chess game. These tiny people were obviously not real, despite their photographic realism, but they were really present—in a way that didn’t seem to reside in my eyes alone; I almost felt their presence.

Virtual reality overlaid on the real world in this manner is called mixed reality, or MR. (The goggles are semitransparent, allowing you to see your actual surroundings.) It is more difficult to achieve than the classic fully immersive virtual reality, or VR, where all you see are synthetic images, and in many ways MR is the more powerful of the two technologies.

Magic Leap is not the only company creating mixed-reality technology, but right now the quality of its virtual visions exceeds all others. Because of this lead, money is pouring into this Florida office park. Google was one of the first to invest. Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, and others followed. In the past year, executives from most major media and tech companies have made the pilgrimage to Magic Leap’s office park to experience for themselves its futuristic synthetic reality. At the beginning of this year, the company completed what may be the largest C-round of financing in history: $793.5 million. To date, investors have funneled $1.4 billion into it.

That astounding sum is especially noteworthy because Magic Leap has not released a beta version of its product, not even to developers. Aside from potential investors and advisers, few people have been allowed to see the gear in action, and the combination of funding and mystery has fueled rampant curiosity. But to really understand what’s happening at Magic Leap, you need to also understand the tidal wave surging through the entire tech industry. All the major players—Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung—have whole groups dedicated to artificial reality, and they’re hiring more engineers daily. Facebook alone has over 400 people working on VR. Then there are some 230 other companies, such as Meta, the Void, Atheer, Lytro, and 8i, working furiously on hardware and content for this new platform. To fully appreciate Magic Leap’s gravitational pull, you really must see this emerging industry—every virtual-reality and mixed-reality headset, every VR camera technique, all the novel VR applications, beta-version VR games, every prototype VR social world.

Like I did—over the past five months.

Then you will understand just how fundamental virtual reality technology will be, and why businesses like Magic Leap have an opportunity to become some of the largest companies ever created.

Even if you’ve never tried virtual reality, you probably possess a vivid expectation of what it will be like. It’s the Matrix, a reality of such convincing verisimilitude that you can’t tell if it’s fake. It will be the Metaverse in Neal Stephenson’s rollicking 1992 novel, Snow Crash, an urban reality so enticing that some people never leave it. It will be the Oasis in the 2011 best-selling story Ready Player One, a vast planet-scale virtual reality that is the center of school and work. VR has been so fully imagined for so long, in fact, that it seems overdue. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2016 at 9:39 am

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