Later On

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

Archive for June 12th, 2010

Great dinner

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Staying with the spirit if not the exact letter of my first-week regimen, I made a stir fry as follows:

2 tsp sesame oil (a cheat, clear and simple)

Get that hot in large cast-iron skillet, then add

1 chopped shallot

Let that sauté for a few minutes (depending on how hot the skillet became), then add:

5 oz lean beef cut into thin strips

Sauté for a few minutes, turning beef as it browns. Increase heat if needed. Add:

1 c steamed green beans
1 c steamed broccoli
1/2 c brown rice (cooked in the broth from poaching the chicken breasts)

Stir and sauté until heated through and beginning to crisp. The add:

1/2 c beef broth (which I made from Penzeys Soup Base)
good dash soy sauce
good dash black Chinese vinegar
good dash Annie’s Naturals Worcestershire sauce
good shake of crushed red pepper
[and, had I thought of it, some crushed Szechuan pepper—dang! next time for sure]

I stirred that as it boiled and continued stirring until the liquid was reduced to a sauce.

Wonderful.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2010 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

True vampires

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I recall reading some time ago about the career arc of the very top level of women who act as escorts professionally. These are the women whom billionaires hire for the weekend or vacation month.

What I read was that the women who did this made enormous amounts of money for a year or two—but then the requests dried up. The article explained that something develops—a kind of cynicism and jadedness—and it shows in the eyes.

I was thinking about that, and thought that almost certainly it didn’t show “in the eyes,” but rather in posture, breathing, reactions, speech: it’s the natural result of many experiences of sufficient rarity and intensity. It’s a matter of the person (naturally enough) being affected by what they do, and learning through their experience.

What had been lost was the intensity of innocence, of the reactions and excitement of encountering pleasurable things, new sights, novel events for the very first time. After a year or two of that, the woman of course will not be able to react honestly and spontaneously as at the very first time. Faking it will not work for long, and the men paying for the company will look for a new escort—someone totally fresh and young and unspoiled—to have for a year or two to feast off her reactions, getting his energy from being around youthful excitement. And when the excitement fades, the current woman is dropped and a new one brought on.

In the article it said that women who had been through this had a difficult time transitioning back into the real world. The smart ones had their benefactor start them in some business—a fashion store, say, or a perfumery—and used their experience and contacts to build a career. Others simply swirled, at a loss, finding re-engagement with the mundane world difficult.

It struck me that the men who hire these young women to, in  effect, drain them of their élan vital are the true vampires, in our very midst.

UPDATE: The draining of the élan vital (or, alternately, using up such a portion of “first” experiences and living at such a high level of luxury) would, if true, tend to deprive these women of feelings of happiness and joy the first years after their removal from the life: everything in mundane life would seem so second-rate, scarred, and random, a great let-down.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2010 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Daily life

Flanders and Swann

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Remember these guys?

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2010 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues

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While Obama has his Justice Department putting in prison whistleblowers who expose government scandals that Obama would rather keep secret, he continues to protect the murderers and torturers in his administration. Andy Worthington has a long post on the topic:

Sometimes the truth is so sickening that no one in a position of authority — senior government officials, lawmakers, the mainstream media — wants to go anywhere near it.

This appears to be the case with the deaths of three men at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006. According to the official version of events, Salah Ahmed al-Salami (also identified as Ali Abdullah Ahmed), a 37-year old Yemeni, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a 30-year old Saudi, and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan, died by hanging themselves, in what Guantánamo’s then-Commander, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, described as an act of “asymmetric warfare.”

Adm. Harris was, appropriately, censured for describing as an act of warfare the deaths of three men, held for over four years without charge or trial, but although his comments — and those of Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, who described the men’s deaths as a “good PR move” — were despicable, it was true that all three men had been implacably opposed to the regime at Guantánamo, and that each had expressed their opposition to it — and their solidarity with their fellow prisoners — through resistance, by enduring painful months of force-feeding as three of the prison’s most persistent hunger strikers, and by raising their fellow prisoners’ spirits as accomplished singers of nasheeds (Islamic songs).

Former prisoners cast doubt on the suicide story

In a statement issued just after the announcement of the deaths in June 2006, nine British ex-prisoners recalled the men’s indefatigable spirit, and cast doubt on the US military’s claims that they had committed suicide:

The prisoners in Guantánamo knew Manei al-Otaibi [Mani al-Utaybi] as someone who recited the Qur’an and poetry with a beautiful voice. He was of high moral character and was loved and respected amongst the prisoners, as was Yasser. They both came from wealthy backgrounds and had everything to live for.

They were often involved in protests and hunger strikes, which meant that they were always given “level four” statuses. That means the only items they would be allowed in the cell were a mat, and a blanket (only at night). They didn’t have toilet paper, let alone bed sheets that could be easily constructed into a noose, or even a pen and paper with which to write a suicide note.

A more detailed analysis was provided by one of the nine British ex-prisoners, Tarek Dergoul, who wrote:

I knew them personally, so I can judge well their frame of mind. Their iman (belief in God) was very strong, there was high morale and it comes as a complete shock to my system when it is said to me that they could have committed suicide. I was with them for a long period of time, and it never even came into our mind the thought of committing suicide. We were always far too busy constructing some form of hunger strike or non-cooperation strike, to even register the thought of suicide. It is quite simply ridiculous. When we were not in isolation for our continued protests we were in the regular blocks planning our next move.

Dergoul also provided further descriptions of two of the men and their state of mind, explaining that Yasser al-Zahrani and Manei al-Otaibi “would be the first amongst all others to stand up for our rights and the rights of others.”

He added that al-Zahrani was “a beautiful brother,” who had memorized the entire Qur’an, and “was softly spoken and had a very nice voice. He used to sing nasheeds for us and all the brothers loved him as he was always optimistic. He would sing morale-boosting nasheeds for the other detainees nearby to him. He was very well known to everyone in the camp.”

He also explained that al-Zahrani had “participated in all the hunger strikes and non-cooperation strikes,” which, he added, “include[d] not speaking in interrogation and also not standing for any immoral behavior (such as being sexually harassed or watching the Qur’an being desecrated).” Non-cooperation, he pointed out, “would result in punishment,” and al-Zahrani “ended up doing a lot of time in isolation simply due to the fact that he would never allow for an injustice to take place before him without being defiant for the sake of our rights,” but he “had so much determination, will-power and morale that it is ridiculous to think he could have taken his own life.”

Writing about Manei al-Otaibi, Dergoul described him as “another beautiful brother,” who was “extremely funny,” and explained that, like al-Zahrani, he “used to recite poetry — in fact this was the thing he was best known for — and he also used to sing nasheeds for us.” He added:

I stayed beside Manei for three weeks inside the regular blocks, and that is when he told me about his wealthy family and his previous life and how he used to get up to no good as people do when they are young. It was also during those three weeks that he taught me tajweed (the science of reciting the Qur’an correctly). By the end of that time we had shared with one another our inner most thoughts. I consider it an insult and I am sure that his family finds it equally offensive, to suggest that he would stoop to the level of taking his own life.

Admittedly, the men’s outlook on life could have changed in the two years following Tarek Dergoul’s release from Guantánamo, but Omar Deghayes, who was still in Guantánamo at the time of their deaths, recently backed up his analysis, describing them as poets with beautiful voices whose spirits were unbroken at the time of their deaths, although he did acknowledge that they had been subjected to severe mistreatment.

Seton Hall Law School demolishes the suicide story

If the profiles above suggest problems with the official suicide story, that is entirely appropriate, as development in the last two years — and particularly in the last six months — have demonstrated. The first of these was the publication, in August 2008, of the official report into the deaths, conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The report — actually, nothing more than a 934-word statement — was presumably intended to be buried under coverage of the Presidential election, and did nothing to address doubts about the official story, but over the next year a colossal archive of documents collected for the investigation was thoroughly analyzed by staff and students at the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey.

On December 7, 2009, Seton Hall published a 136-page report, “Death in Camp Delta” (PDF), which comprehensively undermined the conclusion of the NCIS investigation. Some of the most important questions asked in the report were: …

Continue reading, there’s lots more. Obama is himself a criminal in that he is flouting the law by protecting these malefactors. The Convention Against Torture, as well as common decency and morality, requires that he investigate the crimes and prosecute those responsible. He doesn’t care, though. He has his hands full going after whistleblowers.

I sure wish we had an aggressive, intelligent, and skeptical press corps instead of low-level sycophants who’ll write anything to get invited to a beach party.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2010 at 10:58 am

Unedited video of the beginning of the flotilla raid

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Very interesting. Somehow a video has escaped the hands of the Israelis.

Here’s the story by Robert Mackey in the NY Times:

Iara Lee, a Brazilian-American filmmaker and activist who was shooting a documentary on the flotilla of ships that was intercepted last week on its way to Gaza, has posted one hour of unedited video online that shows the early stages of the Israeli commando raid.

Ms. Lee’s raw video, posted on YouTube on Friday, gives viewers a chance to see the atmosphere on the main ship in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, just before and during the raid. The footage was shot over the course of more than one hour, as the camera was turned on and off a few times, but it shows long, uninterrupted stretches of the event. (Please be aware that the video contains graphic images of people who have been badly wounded and may have died.)

Since the camera was on a lower deck of the ship, it also shows but does not give a clear view of the violent confrontation and shootings that took place on the top deck of the ship, after Israeli commandos boarded from a helicopter and met with resistance from passengers on board. But the video, and accompanying audio, will help give a better sense of the timeline of the raid. It also shows clearly the area of the ship where wounded and dying passengers — and soldiers — were brought for medical treatment.

At a news conference at the United Nations on Thursday, where the video was screened for members of the media, Ms. Lee explained that she managed to smuggle out the video by …

Continue reading. At the link is also a 15-minute edited version of the video.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2010 at 10:49 am

In the US, the police can seize your assets even if you didn’t commit a crime

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Basically, the police have found a great way to augment their budgets: seizing assets from private citizens. The Economist notes:

He arrived in Houston with $500 in his pocket. A man he met on the Greyhound bus gave him a room until he found his feet. Zaher El-Ali, a Jordanian immigrant, worked hard and built up a small business renovating and selling cars and houses. He is now a proud American citizen. But, ridiculous though it sounds, his truck is in trouble with the law.

Six years ago, he sold a Chevy Silverado to a man who agreed to pay for it in installments. Before the truck was paid off, the buyer was arrested for drunken driving. It was his third such arrest, so he was sent to prison and the police seized the truck. Mr Ali applied to get it back. He pointed out that he still held title to the vehicle, and that since the buyer had stopped making payments on it, he was entitled to reclaim it. But the government refused.

In most states the police can seize property they suspect has been used to commit a crime. Under “civil asset forfeiture” laws, they typically do not have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a crime was committed, or even charge anyone with an offence. What is more, the money raised by auctioning seized houses, boats and cars is often used to boost the budgets of the police department that did the seizing. That can mean fancier patrol cars, badass hardware or simply keeping the budget plump in lean times. In one survey 40% of police executives agreed that funds from civil-asset forfeiture were “necessary as a budget supplement”. This conflict of interest has predictable consequences. It spurs the police to pay more attention to cases that are likely to involve seizable assets (such as drug busts) and less attention to other ones. A report from the Institute for Justice, a pressure group, calls it “Policing for Profit”.

An owner can usually challenge a seizure by arguing that he did not know his property was being used for criminal purposes. But in 38 out of 50 states, the burden of proof is on him to prove his innocence. In February Texas demanded to know from Mr Ali whether he had asked the buyer about his previous arrests for drunk driving—as if that were a car dealer’s responsibility. It also demanded a sheaf of irrelevant documents, such as Mr Ali’s bank and tax records for the past two years. Mr Ali’s lawyer, Scott Bullock, argues that this is “clearly designed to intimidate” Mr Ali into giving up. Instead, he is suing to have the Texas civil asset forfeiture law struck down.

Civil and criminal asset forfeiture laws are often confused. Criminal forfeiture involves proven criminals. A convicted bank robber may lose his getaway car; a money-launderer may lose the house he bought with his illicit profits. Civil forfeiture is different. No conviction is necessary. If the government suspects that property has been used in the commission of a crime, it files an action against the property itself. This leads to odd case names, such as State of Texas v One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado (Mr Ali’s case) and United States v $10,500.

Even in states where local rules make civil asset forfeiture hard, police can get around that problem by …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2010 at 10:43 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

One-Man Government: The Clock Ticks On

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James Fallows, documenting a bit more of the country’s decline: how its highest legislative body is destroying itself:

It’s been just over two weeks since Senator Mitch McConnell, on his own, derailed the planned Senate confirmation of 80-plus federal nominees. This left U.S. embassies vacant and the US embarrassed in those countries, scores of nominees and their families preparing to move but in limbo, various agencies without their Inspector General or Deputy Director — and all because, as McConnell freely said on the Senate floor, he objected to exactly one of the nominations. This nominee, perversely, is unlike most of the others already in his job (Craig Becker, of the National Labor Relations Board), since Barack Obama had given him a recess appointment. McConnell wanted to register his retroactive unhappiness with Becker’s labor-union background by holding up the rest of the seemingly agreed-on nominees.

This is an insane way to do the nation’s business. (I write this having spent the day hearing in Beijing about new energy-efficiency and infrastructure projects here — a setting that concentrates the mind. Yes, yes, despite all of China’s own problems, of governance and otherwise.) If you check out the Senate’s current "executive calendar" you see that the number of pending nominations — those already vetted and approved by committee — continues to back up . The U.S. Constitution reflected a complex balance of interests — majority v. minority, big state v. small, countryside v. city, in those days free states v. slave states. It is inconceivable that the Founders intended what Senate custom and "comity" have recently been warped into: open-ended one-man obstructionism, via "holds" and "objections" to unanimous consent.

In the long run, I don’t know the right way to re-set this majority/minority balance. (My previous best effort here. Among other reports on aspects of the slowdown see this from NPR last year and this from FoxNews.com.) In the short run, the power of public embarrassment needs to be used against individual politicians who recognize so little check on their personal power. This might be a good time to make reservations for Sen. Tom Harkin’s "Living Constitution" lecture at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU next Monday. Two weeks ago Harkin had a memorable real-time colloquy with McConnell about the mass blocking of appointments. The title of his upcoming lecture is promising: "Filibuster Reform: Curbing Abuse to Prevent Minority Tyranny in the Senate."

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2010 at 8:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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