Later On

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

Archive for April 5th, 2010

A thought triggered by the Wikileak video

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I’m talking about this video:

I can understand why the military would try to cover this up—the military, so far as I can tell, always tries to cover up their misdeeds. If that doesn’t work, the lowest ranking soldier(s) have to take the fall, and everyone else gets off. At least that’s how it seems to work in the past decade.

But seeing this makes me wonder just what is in the terror photos that they will not release and do not want us to know. That’s the most overt coverup yet—and of course Obama is fully participating.

The thing is, we the American people have the right to know. This is our government, and it is our responsibility and duty to know what the government is doing (in general) and take action (through voting, calling Representatives and Senators, writing blogs, and the like) when action is required. Having the government keep everything secret—lately even from the Congressional committees responsible for oversight—will lead to extremely serious problems. Inevitably, those in on the secrets start to think, “We’ve gotten away with all this. Why not more?” and authoritarianism starts to take over—how else to keep things secret when you have many secrets that must be kept? (The first thing they’ll try is to shut down Wikileaks, and of course they’re trying that already. They don’t want to fix the problem, they want the problem kept secret.)

Obama is terribly, terribly wrong. The American people must know what was done by their government, and people must be held to account—and not just the lowest ranking, either. Monica Goodling was sacrificed, but who believes that she did all that on her own?

Think about it: that video is just the tiniest tip of an enormous iceberg.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 4:09 pm

Sexual abuse in the Catholic church over time

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Interesting post by Andrew Sullivan:

A reader writes:

Searching Google Books using euphemistic keywords like +cleric +corrupt reveals a centuries long history of rape and abuse within the Church, a history often celebrated by the Church itself, but as a lesson of overcoming temptations of the flesh. For example, consider the 12th century Christina of Markyate, a “young girl or adolescent” who after taking a vow of chastity, fled from an arranged marriage and sought protection from the Archbishop of York. Her story is told in John of Tynemouth‘s 13th century Latin manuscript Sanctilogium Angliae:

The archbishop commended her to the charge of a certain cleric, a close friend of his, whose name, I am under obligation not to divulge. He was at once a religious and a man of position in the world: and relying on this twofold status Christina felt the more safe in staying with him. And certainly at the beginning they had no feelings about each other, except chaste and spiritual affection. But the devil, the enemy of chastity, not brooking this for long, took advantage of their close companionship and feeling of security to insinuate himself first stealthily and with guile, than later on, alas, to assault them more openly. And, loosing his fiery darts, he pressed his attacks so vigorously that he completely overcame the man’s resistance. But he could not wrest consent from the maiden …  Sometimes the wretched man, out of his senses with passion, came before her without any clothes on and behaved in so scandalous a manner that I cannot make it known, lest I pollute the wax by writing it, or the air by saying it.

This one story, 900 years old now, contains all the key elements of the scandal: abuse of trust, secrecy, and complicity of the hierarchy. As you have been writing, there are many more recorded accounts like it, and undoubtedly innumerable accounts never recorded.

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that perhaps one reason this problem continues so strongly to afflict the Catholic church is the Catholic view of human nature—actually, it’s the Christian view, but perhaps it’s more emphasized and understood within the Catholic church and its traditions. That view, of course, is that humanity’s current state is one of terrible corruption, brought about by the Fall, whether interpreted literally (eating a fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil) or metaphorically (becoming a “hunter” of some sort in a social setting, not just a hunter of game). The corruption is so bad, in fact, that to balance it (somehow) God itself had to become one of us and suffer an execution, thereby providing a way out for those who accept, etc.

BUT: as I understand it, human nature remains corrupt, even after belief and baptism. This corruption, it’s taught, is the reason for all the human evil we see, and everyone is vulnerable to being corrupted. Thus one must maintain a more-or-less constant stream of protective acts (prayer, holy communion, confession—the last because even with all the protection one can get, one is still a sinner and weak, etc., and more or less constantly sins).

Having this outlook perhaps made the bishops and their subordinates a little too understanding: “a terrible thing to do, but of course we are all weak and he fell in a moment of temptation, look that he gets to confession, and now we have to handle the fallout and not scandalizing the church, for sure that is also a terrible sin. What happened to the children was awful, but kids get over things, and we can make them understand that they MUST NOT TELL.” That sort of thing.

At least it may have contributed.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 3:42 pm

Breast-Feeding and the Affordable Care Act

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Interesting post by Matt Yglesias:

Apparently we could do a lot of good if there was more breast-feeding happening:

The lives of nearly 900 babies would be saved each year, along with billions of dollars, if 90 percent of U.S. women fed their babies breast milk only for the first six months of life, a cost analysis says.

Those startling results, published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, are only an estimate. But several experts who reviewed the analysis said the methods and conclusions seem sound.

Monica Potts observes that breast-feeding is largely a class phenomenon and that the Affordable Care Act (conveniently!) has provisions that may help make it more widely accessible:

The study found that only about 12 percent of American women exclusively breast feed their children for the first six months of life, as recommended. College graduates are the most likely to breast feed; their rates are at 45 percent. The least likely are poor women and teenage mothers. There are reasons for this that go beyond education, of course.Non-college grads are more likely to have jobs where they’re unable to stay on maternity leave for a long time, and then more likely to go back to work in places where it is difficult to pump breast milk. So that makes this not just a public health issue, but a social justice one.

The health-care bill includes requirements for employers to start accommodating women who are breast feeding. The next step is to encourage doctors to encourage mothers to do it.

More robust family leave policies are going to have to be a key objective for the next wave of progressive social policy activism.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 2:38 pm

Obama really needs to get his act together and decide what he’s supporting

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Ed Brayton:

Forget about being for a policy before you were against it; the Obama administration is mastering the art of being for something while simultaneously being against it. The same administration that is now seeking to overturn the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in Congress is also defending that policy in court, using most of the same arguments used by their opponents in Congress. Here’s the brief the Obama administration just filed in one such case.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 12:47 pm

More popcorn toppings

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From the Kitchn [sic]:

We always toss the popcorn with melted butter or a drizzle of olive oil before adding any of the toppings. It helps the spices and herbs to stick to the individual kernels. In all cases, we use around a tablespoon of spice mix for a 6 cup batch of popped corn.

Herbes de ProvenceLight and savory, perfect for an afternoon snack
Chili Powder – We love the spicy smoky flavor with the popcorn
Lemon Zest and Cracked Pepper - The zest gets so fragrant!
Chinese 5-Spice PowderWarm spices make this a sweet treat
Furikake – This Japanese seasoning is full of umami goodness
Nutritional Yeast – Sounds strange, but this adds a cheesy flavor!
Powdered Sugar – A quick version of kettle-corn
Browned Butter and SaltNutty and caramel-sweet, like a cross between kettle and caramel corn

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Green is a bad color

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The Wife will be disappointed. Alice Rawsthorn in the NY Times:

As Kermit the Frog sang so wisely, it’s not easy being green. Think of Britain’s wannabe prime minister, David Cameron, cycling to Parliament followed by a limo carrying his papers. The “organic” products that are smothered by superfluous biodegradable packaging. And “caring” celebrities who blow their eco-cool by flying into environmental protests on private jets.

Even those deluded celebs don’t seem as daft as the 265 ton “iceberg” built by Chanel as the set for a recent fashion show in Paris. Made from ice and snow imported from Sweden, it was “recycled” afterward by being returned there in yet another gas-guzzling journey. Presumably it was meant to make me crave a new Chanel bag, but all I could think of were those heartbreaking photographs of polar bears marooned on melting ice caps.

Kermit was correct, being green really is tough, so tough that the color itself fails dismally. The cruel truth is that most forms of the color green, the most powerful symbol of sustainable design, aren’t ecologically responsible, and can be damaging to the environment.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” said Michael Braungart, the German chemist who co-wrote “Cradle to Cradle,” the best-selling sustainable design book, and co-founded the U.S. design consultancy McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry. “The color green can never be green, because of the way it is made. It’s impossible to dye plastic green or to print green ink on paper without contaminating them.”

This means that green-colored plastic and paper cannot be recycled or composted safely, because they could contaminate everything else. The crux of the problem is that green is such a difficult color to manufacture that toxic substances are often used to stabilize it.

Take Pigment Green 7, the commonest shade of green used in plastics and paper. It is an organic pigment but contains chlorine, some forms of which can cause cancer and birth defects. Another popular shade, Pigment Green 36, includes potentially hazardous bromide atoms as well as chlorine; while inorganic Pigment Green 50 is a noxious cocktail of cobalt, titanium, nickel and zinc oxide.

If you look at the history of green, it has always been troublesome. Revered in Islamic culture for evoking the greenery of paradise, it has played an accident-prone role in Western art history. From the Italian Renaissance to 18th-century Romanticism, artists struggled over the centuries to mix precise shades of green paint, and to reproduce them accurately.

Even if they succeeded, the results often faded or discolored, as did green dyes. When the 19th-century British designer William Morris created wallpapers inspired by medieval tapestries, he copied the blue hues in the originals. But most of those “blues” were really greens, which had changed color over the years.

Green even has a toxic history…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 11:54 am

Inventor of wine-in-a-box dies at 92

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From the Herald Sun:

WINEMAKER and businessman John Angove remembers telling his father it was crazy to think anyone would buy wine sold in a plastic bag held inside a cardboard box.

Fortunately for consumers and perhaps the wine industry at large, Thomas Angove didn’t listen to his then 15-year-old son and pressed ahead with his idea to make wine cheaper.

The result was the early versions of the wine cask, a packaging concept that revolutionised wine marketing and has since spilled over into other sectors.

But Thomas Angove, 92, who passed away at his home in the Riverland town of Renmark yesterday, was much more than just the 1960s inventor of the wine cask.

He will also be remembered as the man who introduced significant wine grape varieties to the Riverland and as a leading figure in the Australian brandy industry for much of his life.

Industry experts admit no-one knew more about distilling brandy.

Thomas Angove was also the first winemaker in Australia to use stainless steel for the storage of wine in bulk, something which is now standard practice across the industry.

John Angove, now the managing director of Angove Wines, remembers being carted around by his father looking at land to plant vines and later playing in the wineries on the weekend while his father worked.

He also recalls his father’s knack with providing innovative solutions to problems that always seemed both effective and appropriate.

Hence the wine cask.

"I do remember when I was about 15 and he brought home a prototype and I said to him: ‘that’s ridiculous, nobody is going to buy wine out of a cardboard box and a plastic bag’," he said.

"But he persevered, didn’t listen to me and he was determined.

"He had a very broad vision." …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 11:51 am

Pope Vows To Get Church Pedophilia Down To Acceptable Levels

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The Onion reports:

VATICAN CITY—Calling the behavior shameful, sinful, and much more frequent than the Vatican was comfortable with, Pope Benedict XVI vowed this week to bring the widespread pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church down to a more manageable level.

Addressing thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday, the pontiff offered his "most humble apologies" to abuse victims, and pledged to reduce the total number of molestations by 60 percent over the next five years.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," Pope Benedict said. "It seems a weakening of faith in God has prevented our priests from exercising moderation when sexually abusing helpless minors."

"And let me remind our clergy of the holy vows they all took when they entered the priesthood," he continued. "They should know that they’re only allowed one small child every other month."

The pope said he was deeply disappointed to learn that the number of children sexually abused by priests was almost 10 times beyond the allowable limit clearly outlined in church doctrine. Admitting for the first time in public that the overindulgent touching of "tender, tender young flesh" had become a full-blown crisis, the Holy Father vowed to implement new reforms to bring the pedophilia rate back down to five children per 1,000 clergy.

"The truth is there will always be a little bit of molestation—it’s simply unavoidable," Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi said. "But the fact that young boys have gotten much more attractive over the past few decades is no excuse for the blatant defiance of church limits that have been in place for centuries."

"The majority of priests don’t want to molest kids at all," he added. "But for those who do, we must make sure they’re doing it at a reasonable rate."

Following the pope’s speech, the Vatican released a statement outlining its plan to reduce pedophilia. Starting next year, specially trained cardinals will make unannounced visits to inspect and observe random churches in order to ensure they are not going beyond diocese-wide molestation caps. The inspector-cardinals will grade each parish based on long, private interviews with altar boys in darkened church basements, and careful observation of priests’ sexual activity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 11:37 am

Posted in Comedy, Daily life

Ross Douthat indulges in the old GOP trick of just making stuff up and reporting it as fact

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Greenwald:

In his New York Times column today, Ross Douthat laments the lack of real political debates on cable news shows, and writes this:

What might work, instead, is a cable news network devoted to actual debate. For all the red-faced shouting, debate isn’t really what you get on Fox and MSNBC. Hannity has ditched Colmes, and conservatives are only invited on Rachel Maddow’s show when they have something nasty to say about Republicans.

Here we find two of the most common pundit afflictions:  (1) a compulsion to assert equivalencies even when they don’t exist, and (2) a willingness to spout anything without doing the slightest work to find out if it’s true.  Douthat’s claim about Maddow — that "conservatives are only invited on [her] show when they have something nasty to say about Republicans" — is completely false.

The real problem is not that Maddow fails to invite conservatives on her show; she does exactly that relentlessly.  The problem is that most leading conservatives refuse to be interviewed by anyone — such as Maddow — who will conduct adversarial interviews.  They thus restrict themselves to the friendly confines of Fox News or to television interview shows where the hosts refuse to question them aggressively due to a fear of being perceived as something other than "neutral."  Indeed, I noted before, after Maddow had interviewed GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty (who said nothing "nasty about Republicans"):  Maddow is constantly attempting to lure right-wing and other Republican guests to her show, but they almost always refuse.  As she put it after the Pawlenty interview:

Governor Pawlenty represents Minnesota and I will just say — we ask a lot of Republicans to be on the show and they almost always say no. So, I am particularly grateful whenever anybody says yes. And to any Republicans out there who we ask — see — I’m not so bad.

And as Maddow told me this morning regarding Douthat’s claim:

Just off the top of my head and just recently — I’ve repeatedly asked people like Michael Steele, Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney, Scott Brown, Joe Lieberman, Dana Perino to be on my show. Even though those folks do other cable, they’ve all declined to come on with me.

I’ve also had folks like J.D. Hayworth, Tom Ridge, Tim Phillips, Rick Berman, and other conservatives on the show not to bash conservatives or republicans, but to speak their piece.

What Douthat wrote today was just entirely false.  He had no way of knowing who Maddow invites, never asked her, and instead just made up a "fact" and put it in his column without checking.  And, just as bad, it his doing that concealed the real problem:  leading political figures are able to spew all sorts of claims, in all sorts of venues, while steadfastly avoiding answering questions from the handful of journalists (like Maddow) who will ask them real questions.  Speaking of which:  I’m going to email Douthat to ask him for the basis of his claim today and see if he can identify it.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 11:29 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Media, NY Times

Faster programs coming

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Interesting:

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new approach to software development that will allow common computer programs to run up to 20 percent faster and possibly incorporate new security measures. The researchers have found a way to run different parts of some programs – including, for the first time, such widely used programs as word processors and Web browsers – at the same time, which makes the programs operate more efficiently.

In order to understand how they did it, you have to know a little bit about computers. The brain of a computer chip is its central processing unit, or "core." Computing technology has advanced to the point where it is now common to have between four and eight cores on each chip. But for a program to utilize these cores, it has to be broken down into separate "threads" – so that each core can execute a different part of the program simultaneously. The process of breaking down a program into threads is called parallelization, and allows computers to run programs very quickly.

However, some programs are difficult to parallelize, including word processors and Web browsers. These programs operate much like a flow chart – with certain program elements dependent on the outcome of others. These programs can only utilize one core at a time, minimizing the benefit of multi-core chips.

But NC State researchers have developed a technique that allows hard-to-parallelize applications to run in parallel, by using nontraditional approaches to break programs into threads.

Every computer program consists of multiple steps. The program will perform a computation, then perform a memory-management function – which prepares memory storage to contain data or frees up memory storage which is currently in use. It repeats these steps over and over again, in a cycle. And, for difficult-to-parallelize programs, both of these steps have traditionally been performed in a single core.

"We’ve removed the memory-management step from the process, running it as a separate thread," says Dr. Yan Solihin, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State, director of this research project, and co-author of a paper describing the research. Under this approach, the computation thread and memory-management thread are executing simultaneously, allowing the computer program to operate more efficiently.

"By running the memory-management functions on a separate thread, these hard-to-parallelize programs can operate approximately 20 percent faster," Solihin says. "This also opens the door to development of new memory-management functions that could identify anomalies in program behavior, or perform additional security checks. Previously, these functions would have been unduly time-consuming, slowing down the speed of the overall program."

Using the new technique, when a memory-management function needs to be performed, "the computational thread notifies the memory-management thread – effectively telling it to allocate data storage and to notify the computational thread of where the storage space is located," says Devesh Tiwari, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper. "By the same token, when the computational thread no longer needs certain data, it informs the memory-management thread that the relevant storage space can be freed."

Source: North Carolina State University

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 11:27 am

Sibling conflict harms trust and communication between adolescent siblings

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Interesting:

Whether it is about who gets to ride shotgun or who wore a shirt without asking, siblings fight. While seemingly innocent, a recent study at the University of Missouri reveals that certain types of fights can affect the quality of sibling relationships. MU researchers identified two major types of conflict among adolescent siblings and found that conflicts about personal space have a negative impact on trust and communication between siblings. "The first conflict area we found includes issues about physical and emotional personal space, such as borrowing items without asking and hanging around when older siblings have friends over," said Nicole Campione-Barr, assistant professor in the MU Department of Psychological Sciences. "When these issues were present, both younger and older siblings reported less trust and communication. The second conflict area includes equality and fairness issues, such as taking turns and sharing responsibilities. These conflicts had no impact on relationship quality."

While both younger and older siblings reported personal space conflicts, older siblings reported these conflicts more frequently, according to the researchers. This suggests that older siblings are more sensitive to personal space issues and may indicate the beginning of their separation from the family.

The findings of this study can help parents, psychologists and other individuals who work with teens understand the impact that conflicts can have on sibling relationships. For parents, Campione-Barr suggests setting up family boundaries to reduce sibling conflicts about personal space.

"Parents need to establish and enforce family rules about respecting privacy, personal space and property," Campione-Barr said. "However, when sibling conflicts occur, there needs to be negotiations between siblings. Previous research tells us that parents should step aside because they have a tendency to make matters worse."

In the study, the researchers interviewed and surveyed pairs of siblings, ages 8-20. This study is the first to examine types of sibling conflict between adolescent age children. Research has traditionally focused on sibling relationships among younger children. Campione-Barr is conducting a follow-up study to examine the impact that conflicts have on the adjustment of adolescents as individuals.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 11:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Good move in Philly

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Eric Martin at Obsidian Wings:

This move makes so much sense, it’s remarkable that more states and municipalities haven’t followed the handful of trail…um…blazers:

The city’s new district attorney and the state Supreme Court are moving to all but decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in an effort to unclog Philadelphia’s crowded court dockets.

Under a policy to take effect later this month, prosecutors will charge such cases as summary offenses rather than as misdemeanors. People arrested with up to 30 grams of the drug – slightly more than an ounce – may have to pay a fine but face no risk of a criminal record.

With states and municipalities struggling to balance budgets in lean economic times, the utterly pointless policy of criminalizing a relatively benign substance (compared to alcohol and tobacco at least) is a luxury that we as a society cannot afford.  Nor is a policy of criminalizing individual use of such substances a particularly sound approach to governing: leading to unnecessary big government intrusion and severe consequences for citizens that run afoul of what are, ultimately, draconian laws – with penalties that bear little relation to the actual infraction.  Which says nothing of the havoc our drug policies are wreaking on places like Mexico.

While many states and cities are making deep cuts in education funding, social safety net programs and other vital services, it is nearly impossible to justify large expenditures in the pursuit of criminalizing marijuana use.  Full legalization would also have the added benefit of increasing tax revenue.  For that reason and others, it would be better if more cities, states and then the federal government adopted this approach, and then an even more comprehensive decriminalization.

But the proliferation of decisions such as this one taken by Philadelphia is a nice start.

(via)

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 11:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

How the GOP gets away with it

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Chris Bowers at OpenLeft:

Today, Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning hard some harsh words for himself over his leadership role in the Republican filibuster of unemployment benefits:

I am disappointed that the I continue to play political games to avoid extending unemployment benefits to struggling families across our nation who rely on them to make ends meet while they search for work. Clearly, I don’t want to help the unemployed.

OK, this isn’t what Bunning said.  Actually, he blamed Democrats for not agreeing to fund the unemployment benefits by taking money from the stimulus:

I am disappointed that the Democrats continue to play political games to avoid paying for these benefits that are so important to the many struggling families across our nation who rely on them to make ends meet while they search for work. Clearly, the Democrats don’t want to help the unemployed unless they can increase the deficit while they’re doing it.

Of course Bunning is blaming Democrats for the failure to pass unemployment benefits.  And really, most of the country will blame Democrats, too, because Democrats are in charge of the Senate.

People don’t understand Senate process.  A recent Pew poll showed that only 26% of the country even knows that 60 votes are required to break a filibuster.  As such, the idea that Republicans are going to be blamed for denying unanimous consent on a motion to proceed, thus forcing a week-long process that requires three cloture votes each with a 60-vote threshold,  is laughable.

The party in charge has to either get the benefit extensions passed, or end up with the blame.  You can’t spin this stuff.   People face economic issues as objective conditions of their lives.  No matter what you tell them, they already know if they have a good job or not, if they are receiving their unemployment checks or not, if they can pay their bills or not, if they are saving for retirement or not.

Spin and communications cannot convince someone that their economic situation is somehow different from what their experience indicates.  Either most Americans are experiencing an improvement to their economic condition, or they are not.  The party in charge will get the blame or the credit either way.  As such, Democrats have to improve the objective economic conditions most Americans experience, by an procedural means necessary, or they will lose the 2010 elections.  Jim Bunning, and other Republicans, are not just going to tell the rest of the country that they are using obscure Senate procedure to block much needed unemployment benefit extensions.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 11:17 am

“Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

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Marcy Wheeler on the video included in this post.

Wikileaks has now posted the video that–they have suggested–is one of the reasons the US government has been surveilling them. Here’s part of Wikileaks’ description:

The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-site, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.

While there were armed men among those shot at, they were not engaging the Americans at all. At the moment the Americans started shooting, a number of the targeted men had their back to the helicopter flying overhead. And after they wound the Iraqi photo-journalist, they fly around a while waiting for an excuse to re-engage; they seem to admit he was unarmed when they hit him, and therefore can’t shoot further unless he shows a weapon.

When ground troops arrive at the site and discover two children among the wounded, they blame the Iraqis for the kids’ injuries (this is after 15:30 on the video).

“Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

“That’s right.”

Of course, this wasn’t a battle at all. It was unprovoked killing, including the killing of two journalists.

The release of this video, of course, comes on the same day that the NYT details how Special Forces killed three women in Afghanistan and then tried to cover up their actions.

After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.

The admission immediately raised questions about what really happened during the Feb. 12 operation — and what falsehoods followed — including a new report that Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.

A NATO official also said Sunday that an Afghan-led team of investigators had found signs of evidence tampering at the scene, including the removal of bullets from walls near where the women were killed. On Monday, however, a senior NATO official denied that any tampering had occurred.

I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about civilian killings in the days ahead.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 10:55 am

How Americans are propagandized about Afghanistan

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Extremely interesting Greenwald column in which he dissects overt propaganda that we are subject to:

On February 12 of this year, U.S. forces entered a village in the Paktia Province in Afghanistan and, after surrounding a home where a celebration of a new birth was taking place, shot dead two male civilians (government officials) who exited the house in order to inquire why they had been surrounded, and then shot and killed three female relatives (a pregnant mother of ten, a pregnant mother of six, and a teenager).  The Pentagon then issued a statement claiming that (a) the dead males were “insurgents” or terrorists, (b) the bodies of the three women had been found by U.S. forces bound and gagged inside the home, and (c) suggested that the women had already been killed by the time the U.S. had arrived, likely the victim of “honor killings” by the Taliban militants killed in the attack.

Although numerous witnesses on the scene as well as local investigators vehemently disputed the Pentagon’s version, and insisted that all of the dead (including the women) were civilians and were killed by U.S. forces, the American media largely adopted the Pentagon’s version, often without any questions.  But enough evidence has now emerged disproving those claims such that the Pentagon was forced yesterday to admit that their original version was totally false and that it was U.S. troops who killed the women:

After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.

One NATO official said that there had likely been an effort to cover-up what happened by U.S. troops via evidence tampering on the scene (though other NATO officials deny this claim).  The Times of London actually reported yesterday that, at least according to Afghan investigators, “US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened.”

What is clear — yet again — is how completely misinformed and propagandized Americans continue to be by the American media, which constantly “reports” on crucial events in Afghanistan by doing nothing more than mindlessly and unquestioningly passing along U.S. government claims as though they are fact.  Here, for instance, is how the Paktia incident was “reported” by CNN on February 12:

Note how the headline states as fact that the women were dead as the result of an “honor killing.”  The entire CNN article does nothing but repeat what an “unnamed senior military official said” about the incident, and it even helpfully explained:

An honor killing is a murder carried out by a family or community member against someone thought to have brought dishonor onto them.

The U.S. official said it isn’t clear whether the dishonor in this case stemmed from accusations of acts such as adultery or even cooperating with NATO forces.

“It has the earmarks of a traditional honor killing,” said the official, who added the Taliban could be responsible. . .

The operation unfolded when Afghan and international forces went to the compound, which was thought to be a site of militant activity.  A firefight ensued and several insurgents died, several people left the compound, and eight others were detained.

Similarly, The New York Times, while noting that there were “varying accounts of what happened” among U.S. forces and their allies in the Afghan police, also passed along the Pentagon’s false version of events with no questioning.  Here’s the NYT‘s February 12 article in its entirety: …

Continue reading. The whole thing is important. Later he writes:

… At the Nieman Watchdog Foundation, Jerome Starkey, the Afghanistan war reporter for The Times of London who published the March 13 investigative report, has a crucial, must-read piece on all of this.  Amazingly, his Nieman piece was written three weeks ago, and recounted in detail:  (a) how clearly the U.S.-led forces had lied about what happened in Paktia; and (b) the reasons why the U.S. media continuously spews false government propaganda about the war.  Starkey wrote under this headline:

In this mid-March piece, Starkey explained how he had discovered that NATO’s claims about the Paktia incident were false (he recounted that evidence in gruesome detail in the Times on March 13, three days before the NYT finally returned to the story to correct its original reporting), and more importantly, highlighted why the U.S. media so frequently disseminates false NATO claims with no questioning:

The only way I found out NATO had lied — deliberately or otherwise — was because I went to the scene of the raid, in Paktia province, and spent three days interviewing the survivors. In Afghanistan that is quite unusual.

NATO is rarely called to account. Their version of events, usually originating from the soldiers involved, is rarely seriously challenged. . . .

It’s not the first time I’ve found NATO lying, but this is perhaps the most harrowing instance, and every time I go through the same gamut of emotions. I am shocked and appalled that brave men in uniform misrepresent events. Then I feel naïve.

There are a handful of truly fearless reporters in Afghanistan constantly trying to break the military’s monopoly on access to the front. But far too many of our colleagues accept the spin-laden press releases churned out of the Kabul headquarters. Suicide bombers are “cowards,” NATO attacks on civilians are “tragic accidents,” intelligence is foolproof and only militants get arrested.

Starkey describes some of the understandable reasons so many reporters do nothing more than regurgitate officials claims:  resource constraints, organizations limits, dangers of traveling around, and the “embed culture.”  But he also recounts how NATO tries to intimidate, censor and punish any reporters like him who report adversely on official claims.  Illustratively, in response to Starkey’s March 13 article detailing what really happened at Paktia and the cover-up that ensued,NATO issued a formal statement singling him out and accusing him of publishing an article that was “categorically false.” As recently as that mid-March statement, NATO was still claiming — falsely — that the women in Paktia were killed prior to the arrival of American troops, and they were impugning the integrity of the reporter (Starkey) who was proving otherwise…

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 10:43 am

Craig Ferguson discusses moral philosophy with a moral philosopher

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From Dan Colman’s Open Culture, where Colman notes:

Last week, Craig Ferguson probably made a little television history when he invited a philosophy professor to appear on The Late Late Show. The guest is Jonathan Dancy, a prof at UT-Austin, who also happens to be the father of actor Hugh Dancy, and the father-in-law of actress Claire Danes. And the unlikely topic of discussion? Moral particularism, which argues that morality is contextual, not objectively defined. The conversation runs 11 minutes, and it’s intriguing to see how Ferguson and Dancy navigate the interview, trying to bring philosophy and comedy together. Meanwhile, if you’re a regular Open Culture reader, you’ll note that Dancy’s thinking stands in sharp contrast to the controversial vision of moral philosophy outlined by Sam Harris at the recent TED Conference. HT to Mike for this clip.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 10:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Video

Is The U.S. Military Covering Up A 2007 Killing Of Reporters And Civilians In Baghdad?

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Read the UPDATE to the posts below and think about what it means.

Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress:

In 2007, two Reuters employees — photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh — were killed by a U.S. helicopter strike in Baghdad. The U.S. military’s official response to the killings argued that the attack occurred after security forces came under fire from men accompanying the reporters, and that the rules of engagement were followed in returning fire. Skeptical of the military’s claim, Reuters filed a Freedom of Information Act request for video of the killings, but was unable to get the videos from the military, despite warnings from the Pentagon’s inspector general that future shootings were “likely to reoccur” if the event was not closely examined.

During an event this morning at the National Press Club, whistleblower website Wikileaks unveiled that it has a video, obtained from unnamed military sources, from one of the Apache helicopters involved in the attack. The video, which has now been uploaded to YouTube and placed on a Wikileaks website dedicated to the incident, appears to show that the military’s helicopters attacked the Reuters employees unprovoked, apparently mistaking their cameras and tripods for weapons. The video does not show the victims firing on U.S. military personnel, nor does it show that they were any apparent threat. Watch it (warning — contains violent imagery):

If the video is indeed an accurate portrayal of events, it would appear that the military’s official response to the events is inaccurate and that it has not been telling the truth when it claims that the Apache attack “occurred after security forces came under fire.” Additionally, it would appear that the Apache pilots in question violated the2007 U.S. Rules of Engagement for Iraq, which permit the use of “deadly force” only against individuals who “pose a threat to Coalition Forces by committing a hostile act or demonstrating hostile intent.”

The Wikileaks’ revelation strengthens the case for a thorough and transparent investigation into the events that led to the killing of the Reuters employees and Iraqi civilians.

UPDATE: Last month, the New York Times revealed that Wikileaks has been targeted by the Pentagon and related intelligence agencies for its cooperation with military whistleblowers. In 2008, the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center put together a report outlining tactics to suppress whisteblowers, in which it cited Wikileaks by name as one organization it intends to "destroy [as] a center of gravity" for whisteblowing activity. Meanwhile, the Wikileaks founder has alleged that his organization is being intimidated and spied on by American intelligence agencies.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 10:13 am

Does This Bank Watchdog Have a Bite?

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That’s the title of Andrew Martin’s article in the NY Times, which convinced me that the answer is "No, he doesn’t. He seems his job as protecting banks, not consumers." The article begins:

FOR now at least, the nation’s front line for consumer financial protection resides on the 34th floor of a downtown office tower here, amid cubicles surrounded by posters that read, “Improving the Customer Experience — Be a LEADER in every call.”

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency operates this service center, fielding thousands of complaints each year about the nation’s banks.

One recent morning, a woman groused that her credit card limit had been cut for no apparent reason. Another said her bank had continued to charge her for disputed transactions on her credit card. A man said he was charged overdraft fees on the same day he made several deposits.

What many customers may not realize is that the man who oversees the operation used to represent the very banks they are complaining about.

John C. Dugan, a former bank lobbyist, has been comptroller since 2005 — when the mortgage boom was in full force — and he’s responsible for regulating banks with national charters, including giants like Citibank and Chase. Like his recent predecessors, Mr. Dugan often takes positions that align with banks, even as they have come under withering attack for their role in the financial crisis.

For instance, he has opposed efforts by state officials who try to crack down on abusive consumer-lending practices, arguing that national banks aren’t in their jurisdiction. At the same time, he rarely imposes serious penalties related to consumer protection, particularly against the big banks.

“To have a regulator this partial and this helpful to the people he is supposed to regulate is, to say the least, very troubling,” says the Iowa attorney general, Tom Miller, who has tangled with the O.C.C. “It’s a pretty warped view of public responsibility.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 9:56 am

How CIA Avoided Negligent Homicide Charges in the Salt Pit Killing

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Marcy Wheeler:

Since the AP story on the Salt Pit death, reporters have focused a lot of attention to a particular footnote in Jay Bybee’s second response to the OPR Report and what it claims about intent (and, to a lesser degree, what it says about Jay Bybee’s fitness to remain on the 9th Circuit). In it, Jay Bybee references a memo CIA’s Counterterrorism Center wrote in response to Gul Rahman’s death at the Salt Pit; the memo argued that the CIA officer in charge should not be prosecuted under the torture statute because he did not have the specific intent to make Rahman suffer severe pain when he doused him with water and left him exposed in freezing temperatures.

Notably, the declination memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Section regarding the death of Gul Rahman provides a correct explanation of the specific intent element and did not rely on any motivation to acquire information. Report at 92. If [redacted], as manager of the Saltpit site, did not intend for Rahman to suffer severe pain from low temperatures in his cell, he would lack specific intent under the anti-torture statute. And it is also telling that the declination did not even discuss the possibility that the prosecution was barred by the Commander-in-Chief section of the Bybee memo.

As Scott Horton noted the other day, analysis of the torture statute should not have been the only thing in the declination memo. Prosecutors should have analyzed whether or not Rahman’s killing constituted negligent homicide, among other things:

Note that the declination, issued by politically loyal U.S. attorneys who were subsequently rewarded with high postings at Main Justice, carefully follows the rationalizations that Yoo and Bybee advanced for not prosecuting deaths or serious physical harm resulting from state-sanctioned torture. But the obvious problem, as John Sifton notes at Slate, is that torture and homicide are hardly the only charges that could be brought in such a circumstance. Negligent homicide or milder abuse charges would have obviously been available, and a survey of comparable cases in the setting of state and local prisoners suggests that they are far more common. By looking only at homicide and torture, the prosecutors were paving the way for a decision not to charge.

But the OPR Report and the Legal Principles/Bullet Points documents it describes may explain why this didn’t happen. The Legal Principles/Bullet Points document shows that CIA claimed–possibly, with the tacit approval of the Principals Committee–that the only two criminal statutes that could be applied to its interrogation program were the Torture Statute and the War Crimes Statute.

As a threshold matter, Horton appears to be misstating what the declination memo described in the footnote is and–more importantly–who wrote it. “Politically loyal US Attorneys” did not write the declination described here. Some lawyer at CIA’s CTC wrote it. That’s because, as the OPR Report explains in the section preceding the entirely redacted passage that discusses this letter (the declination letter appears on PDF 98, which appears in the same section as the following quotes from pages PDF 96 and 97), DOJ told CIA to go collect facts about the abuses they reported in January 2003 (which include the Salt Pit killing and threats of death used with Rahim al-Nashiri) themselves: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 9:51 am

Spencer Ackerman on why McChrystal wants control of Special Forces in Afghanistan

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Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

In February, U.S. Special Operations Forces raided a house in Gardez, in the eastern district of Paktia, searching for Taliban militants. They killed two men they believed to be insurgents. A NATO statement at the time said that soldiers also “found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed.”

But last night, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s command announced the results of an investigation into the raid that calls the initial account into question. From an official statement:

A thorough joint investigation into the events that occurred in the Gardez district of Paktia province Feb. 12, has determined that international forces were responsible for the deaths of three women who were in the same compound where two men were killed by the joint Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban insurgent.

The two men, who were later determined not to be insurgents, were shot and killed by the joint patrol after they showed what appeared to be hostile intent by being armed. While investigators could not conclusively determine how or when the women died, due to lack of forensic evidence, they concluded that the women were accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men.

The statement has a vague explanation for the February report about the women being bound and gagged: “this information was taken from an initial report by the international members of the joint force who were not familiar with Islamic burial customs.” Presumably that means the women were shrouded, but that’s hard to square with U.S. forces being responsible for the actual killing. Additionally, the New York Times further reports that the “lack of forensic evidence” about those dead women civilians may be attributable to Special Operations Forces digging “bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.”

Last month, McChrystal, himself a former Special Operations commander, took greater control over the Special Operations chain of command in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s move was an attempt to end a semi-autonomous war effort that can too often place a giant asterisk on his strategy of prosecuting the war through protecting the civilian population. One area he apparently left untouched is detention operations. Will there be further clarifications in the future about ultimately-untrue statements about the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan?

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2010 at 9:48 am

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