Later On

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

Archive for June 29th, 2010

Once again, thank God for the ACLU

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And again I shake my head that the GOP doesn’t support the ACLU and its mission—until I recall that the GOP hates the "other": any marginalized (or marginizable) group other than white males and those, being most powerless, are most often victimized, and so represent a good proportion of ACLU clientele. At any rate, Peter Finn in the Washington Post:

The American Civil Liberties Union plans to sue the U.S. government Wednesday on behalf of 10 citizens or legal permanent residents who have been placed on a no-fly list and, in some cases, stranded abroad.

The suit, in which the ACLU accuses the government of violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, is the group’s first legal challenge of the no-fly list.

The number of names placed on the list has increased significantly since the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas Day, U.S. officials said. Some Americans have been barred from flying home from overseas because their names were listed.

The ACLU says Americans are being deprived of their rights as citizens and of due process.

"It really is abominable that they would treat U.S. citizens this way," said Ben Wizner, a staff lawyer at the ACLU’s National Security Project. "There is simply no legal basis for placing a U.S. citizen into involuntary exile. And to use a secret government list without any process to accomplish that goal is so un-American and so unconstitutional."

The suit, a draft copy of which was provided to The Washington Post, names as defendants Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Timothy J. Healy, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center. In it, the ACLU argues that there is little that people can do if they think their names were erroneously added to the no-fly list. They can appeal to the Department of Homeland Security, but the government will not confirm who is on the list or that any names have been removed from or kept on it.

"The government does not provide the individual with any opportunity to confront, or to rebut, the grounds for his possible inclusion on the watch list," according to the suit, which will be filed in Oregon. "Thus, the only ‘process’ available to individuals is to submit their names and other identifying information to the Department of Homeland Security and hope that an unknown government agency corrects an error or changes its mind."

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the suit, noting that the agency had not seen it. He referred to a previous statement on the no-fly list that said that the "FBI is always careful to protect the civil rights and privacy concerns of all Americans."

Before December, the number of people whose names on the no-fly list — and who are thus barred from boarding a U.S. carrier, a U.S.-bound flight or entering U.S. airspace — was approximately 4,000, U.S. officials said. It is unclear how many U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are on the list now.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 5:55 pm

The US would be a much better nation without the GOP

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Ben Armbruster at ThinkProgress:

Today, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) brought her bill — the Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans With Children Act — to the Senate floor seeking unanimous consent. Murray said the bill would “expand assistance for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children and would increase funding and extend federal grant programs to address the unique challenges faced by these veterans.” However, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objected on behalf of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to this seemingly non-controversial issue:

McCONNELL: Madam president, reserving the right to object and I will have to object on behalf of my colleague Sen. Coburn from Oklahoma. He has concerns about this legislation, particularly as he indicates in a letter that I’ll ask the Senate to appear on the record that it be paid for up front so that the promises that makes the Veterans are in fact kept. So madam president I object.

Watch it:

This is pretty low, even for Republicans,” the Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen said. While Murray pledged to continue to fight for the bill’s passage, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) spokesperson said “Republicans have their priorities backwards — according to them, it’s OK to give tax breaks to CEOs who send American jobs overseas, but not to help out-of-work Americans and homeless veteran.”

How does the GOP hold its reputation for supporting the troops with actions like this?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 3:23 pm

Chicken legs roasted with mustard

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This recipe sounds tasty and easy. Ingredients:

4 chicken legs (thighs included, about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 teaspoons fresh, minced herbs, such as a mixture of sage, thyme and tarragon or marjoram
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard or tarragon mustard
1/3 cup panko
2 tablespoons melted butter

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 10:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Surveillance and power

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From The Economist:

WHILE we’re talking about Journolist and the "culture of exposure", philosophy professor Emrys Westacott has an essay out in Philosophy Now (via Andrew Sullivan) addressing the effects of surveillance on morality. From a Kantian perspective, Mr Westacott worries, increased surveillance may diminish our moral character even as it improves our moral behaviour. To illustrate, he uses the example of the progression of police enforcement of speed limits. Drivers who want to speed buy radar detectors, but police respond with cameras, and ultimately cars might be equipped by law with computers that automatically detect speed limits and make it impossible to exceed them. At this point the question of speeding simply exits the moral realm, since it becomes impossible apart from disabling your car’s anti-speeding computer (which Mr Westacott terms an act of "radical evil"). Are we then better or worse off, from a moral point of view?

Here is one way of thinking: surveillance edifies—that is, it builds moral character—by bringing duty and self-interest closer together. This outlook would probably be favoured by philosophers such as Plato and Thomas Hobbes. The reasoning is fairly simple: the better the surveillance, the more likely it is that moral transgressions will be detected and punished… But there is another perspective—the one informed by Kantian ethics. On this view, increased surveillance may carry certain utilitarian benefits, but the price we pay is a diminution of our moral character. Yes, we do the wrong thing less often; in that sense, surveillance might seem to make us better. But it also stunts our growth as moral individuals.

The rest of the essay is pretty interesting, but I want to point out that the way it’s phrased skirts an important issue right at the beginning. As anyone who’s ever been stopped at a speed trap knows, police don’t always intend speeding arrests to cause all traffic to obey the speed limit. Sometimes they enforce speed limits selectively in order to meet ticket quotas or make up shortfalls in the department’s annual budget. The big electronic signs that flash "YOU ARE SPEEDING"—that’s transparent surveillance. The intent is clearly to reduce speeding. But speed traps are secret surveillance. The intent of secret surveillance can be to induce the citizen to behave at all times as though he were under surveillance, since he never knows for sure. But it can also be to lull the citizen into a false sense of security in the hopes that he will break the rules and enable the police to enforce them. This may be done either in order to collect fines (or, in less fortunate societies, bribes), or in order to create an opportunity for the display of dominance by security forces, to assert their social position and back up demands for resources and authority.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 10:30 am

How to destroy a company

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Put out bad products, and then lie, lie, lie. Dell has done it and is still struggling to make its way back. (Full disclosure: I have a new Dell Studio XPS and it’s actually working pretty well.) Ashlee Vance reports in the NY Times:

After the math department at the University of Texas noticed some of its Dell computers failing, Dell examined the machines. The company came up with an unusual reason for the computers’ demise: the school had overtaxed the machines by making them perform difficult math calculations.

Dell, however, had actually sent the university, in Austin, desktop PCs riddled with faulty electrical components that were leaking chemicals and causing the malfunctions. Dell sold millions of these computers from 2003 to 2005 to major companies like Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo, institutions like the Mayo Clinic and small businesses.

“The funny thing was that every one of them went bad at the same time,” said Greg Barry, the president of PointSolve, a technology services company near Philadelphia that had bought dozens. “It’s unheard-of, but Dell didn’t seem to recognize this as a problem at the time.”

Documents recently unsealed in a three-year-old lawsuit against Dell show that the company’s employees were actually aware that the computers were likely to break. Still, the employees tried to play down the problem to customers and allowed customers to rely on trouble-prone machines, putting their businesses at risk. Even the firm defending Dell in the lawsuit was affected when Dell balked at fixing 1,000 suspect computers, according to e-mail messages revealed in the dispute.

The documents chronicling the failure of the PCs also help explain the decline of one of America’s most celebrated and admired companies. Perhaps more than any other company, Dell fought to lower the price of computers.

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 9:44 am

"Terrorism": it means whatever you want it to mean

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"Terrorism" and "terrorist" turn out to be very flexible labels. Greenwald:

I’ve written numerous times about how "terrorism" is the most meaningless and most manipulated word in the political lexicon; the best demonstration of this dynamic is the work of NYU’s Remi Brulin, whose dissertation documents how Western governments and media outlets have applied the term so inconsistently and self-servingly.  One of the principal dangers of the Supreme Court’s recent, free-speech-decimating decision in Humanitarian Law Project — which held that the Government has a sufficiently compelling interest to restrict citizens’ First Amendment rights by criminalizing even political speech made to designated Terrorist groups — is that Terrorism means whatever the U.S. Government says it means:  they create the list of off-limit Terrorist groups and they essentially have unfettered, un-reviewable discretion to do so.  That’s because the word is so ill-defined and manipulated that it’s impoverished of any real meaning.

I happened to come across a typical though highly illustrative example of this manipulation when reading this NYT interview yesterday with Israeli politician Tzipi Livni.  After railing against the Terrorists in Gaza, Livni said this:

NYT: Your parents were among the country’s founders.

Livni:  They were the first couple to marry in Israel, the very first. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.

If any group meets the definition of "terrorism," the Irgun does.  In July, 1946, the group (led by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin)notoriously bombed the King David Hotel, which housed British government offices, killing 91 people (Irgun claimed they warned of the bombing in advance, a claim denied by many British officials).  Israel and its defenders love to point to the naming of a public square after a Terrorist by the Palestinian Authority, while ignoring the fact that the current Israeli Prime Minister, in 2006, actually led a celebration of the King David Hotel bombing with an official commemorative ceremony and plaque outside the building.  Irgun also perpetrated numerous armed attacks on civilian structures, train stations, government buildings, and bridges.  On December 30, 1947, the first paragraph of The New York Times read as follows:

IRGUN BOMB KILLS 11 ARABS, 2 BRITONS

A bomb thrown by the Jewish terrorist organization Irgun Zvai Leumi from a speeding taxi today killed eleven Arabs and two British policemen and wounded at least thirty-two Arabs by the Jerusalem Damascus Gate, the same place where a similar bombing took place sixteen days ago.

In reporting on a plot egged on by Begin to kill the German Foreign Minister, The London Times wrote that the Irgun "used terrorist tactics against the British occupation of Palestine."

It was once commonly accepted that Irgun members were Terrorists.  But that was then and this is now.  Bombings, stealing and killing in pursuit of statehood by some groups is Terrorism and by other groups it is "freedom fighting."  And thus does Israel, which justifies the most extreme brutality and violence based on the pure evil of Terrorism, celebrate those acts as "freedom fighting" when done by its own side.  This would be all tolerable if it were merely about rhetorical inconsistencies.  But since our wars are justified, our laws are enacted, and our rights increasingly restricted based on this term — see Leon Panetta justify the Government’s targeting of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki based on his unchecked decree that Al-Awlaki is a Terrorist due to his constitutionally protected advocacy of Muslims fighting against the U.S. (video below: Trial By CIA Director, just like the Constitution guarantees) — the malleable, manipulated, meaningless nature of this all-justifying term deserves much more attention.

And, responding on another program:

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

Aha! Lara Logan works in pr, not in news

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I understand why Lara Logan is incensed that Michael Hastings didn’t stop the trash talk among McChrystal and his subordinates as soon as it started, warning them that the sort of things they were saying could be quite damaging. That’s Logan’s view of the reporter’s job—which to me sounds exactly like the publicist’s job, which I guess is what she things reporting is all about: giving favorable coverage to people so that you can continue to have access to them. That, or she sees herself as a pathetic parasite living on the droppings of the famous.

Matt Taibbi does an excellent job of dissecting Logan’s views. I now see Logan and Dana Perino is quite the same light: air-headed eye-candy.

Here is a video clip of Logan addressing the shameful act of a reporter actually, you know, reporting.

Taibbi’s article begins:

I thought I’d seen everything when I read David Brooks saying out loud in a New York Times column that reporters should sit on damaging comments to save their sources from their own idiocy. But now we get CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan slamming our own Michael Hastings on CNN’s "Reliable Sources" program, agreeing that the Rolling Stone reporter violated an "unspoken agreement" that journalists are not supposed to "embarrass [the troops] by reporting insults and banter."

Anyone who wants to know why network television news hasn’t mattered since the seventies just needs to check out this appearance by Logan. Here’s CBS’s chief foreign correspondent saying out loud on TV that when the man running a war that’s killing thousands of young men and women every year steps on his own dick in front of a journalist, that journalist is supposed to eat the story so as not to embarrass the flag. And the part that really gets me is Logan bitching about how Hastings was dishonest to use human warmth and charm to build up enough of a rapport with his sources that they felt comfortable running their mouths off in front of him. According to Logan, that’s sneaky — and journalists aren’t supposed to be sneaky:

"What I find is the most telling thing about what Michael Hastings said in your interview is that he talked about his manner as pretending to build an illusion of trust and, you know, he’s laid out there what his game is… That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do, who don’t — I don’t go around in my personal life pretending to be one thing and then being something else. I mean, I find it egregious that anyone would do that in their professional life."

When I first heard her say that, I thought to myself, "That has to be a joke. It’s sarcasm, right?" But then I went back and replayed the clip – no sarcasm! She meant it! If I’m hearing Logan correctly, what Hastings is supposed to have done in that situation is interrupt these drunken assholes and say, "Excuse me, fellas, I know we’re all having fun and all, but you’re saying things that may not be in your best interest! As a reporter, it is my duty to inform you that you may end up looking like insubordinate douche bags in front of two million Rolling Stone readers if you don’t shut your mouths this very instant!" I mean, where did Logan go to journalism school – the Burson-Marsteller agency?

But Logan goes even further that that. See, according to Logan, not only are reporters not supposed to disclose their agendas to sources at all times, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 9:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

Castle Forbes Lavender

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Castle Forbes Lavender is the exact shaving cream that you see on the cover of the book, and a very nice shaving cream it is, too. I forget how absolutely top-drawer Castle Forbe is, so this was a good reminder this morning. Totally wonderful lather, worked up by the Simpson Emperor 3 Super, and then three passes with a Swedish Gillette blade in the Mühle open-comb razor, finishing with a splash of Lustray Spice, a very nice aftershave. A great shave—which is nice, because my temporary crown broke in half last night so I have to go to the dentist for a replacement.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 9:11 am

Posted in Shaving

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