Archive for July 12th, 2011
For some reason, a large segment of the population clings tenaciously to the idea that, sure, smoking cigarettes is probably bad for you (which they see as a generous admission, however grudgingly given), but that same smoke just drifting in the air—that’s got to be harmless, right? Only the pesky studies keep popping up on the harm from secondhand smoke (not to mention how it gunked up the exhaust fans on airplanes back when they were smoking chambers)—and that seemed to set their minds even more firmly against the notion that secondhand smoke could in any way be harmful.
Here’s the latest study, reported in Science News by Janet Raloff:
Children exposed to secondhand smoke at home are at least twice as likely to develop a neurobehavioral disorder as are kids in smokefree homes, a new study finds. And roughly 6 percent of U.S. children — some 4.8 million — encounter smoke at home. . .
Just watched The Negotiator as we wait for The Niece to arrive for a week’s visit. Very excited, of course, but fortunately it’s an exciting and intriguing film. Well worth the rental. Currently DVD only, at least for Netflix.
After a series of gloomy posts about US atrocities abroad and terrible things happening domestically, I feel I should search for some good news, and I’m happy to report that the buttermilk culture is doing quite well in the goat milk. This is a room-temperature culture, and it looks as though it will be ready before I go to bed: buttermilk in a day.
An important story in the Huffington Post by John Heilprin:
GENEVA — The United Nations’ torture investigator on Tuesday accused the United States of violating U.N. rules by refusing him unfettered access to the Army private accused of passing classified documents to WikiLeaks.
Juan Mendez, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for torture, said he can’t do his job unless he has unmonitored access to detainees. He said the U.S. military’s insistence on monitoring conversations with Bradley Manning “violates long-standing rules” the U.N. follows for visits to inmates. . .
A US human rights group has called on foreign governments to prosecute George W Bush and some of his senior officials for war crimes if the Obama administration fails to investigate a growing body of evidence against the former president over the use of torture.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday that the US authorities were legally obliged to investigate the top echelons of the Bush administration over crimes such as torture, abduction and other mistreatment of prisoners. It says that the former administration’s legal team was part of the conspiracy in preparing opinions authorising abuses that they knew to have no standing in US or international law.
Besides Bush, HRW names his vice-president, Dick Cheney, the former defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the ex-CIA director, George Tenet, as likely to be guilty of authorising torture and other crimes.
The group says that the investigation and prosecutions are required “if the US hopes to wipe away the stain of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo and reaffirm the primacy of the rule of law”. . .
Do you think anything will be done? I don’t. I think the US has now fully embraced torture and war crimes and locking people up for years with no charges—and keeping them locked up even after it is clear that they are totally innocent of any wrongdoing—and spying on its own citizens and in general dismantling the institutions that once made the country great.
Bad news, reported in Science News by Janet Raloff:
Consumers who switched from polycarbonate-plastic water bottles to metal ones in hopes of avoiding the risk that bisphenol A will leach into their beverages aren’t necessarily any better off, a new study finds. Some metal water bottles leach even more BPA — an estrogen-mimicking pollutant — than do ones made from the now-pariah plastic.
That BPA doesn’t come from the metal, by the way, but from an epoxy-resin lining that is based on BPA’s recipe.
That’s the bad news.
If you’re willing to spring for name-brand bottles, however, several included in the new study either did not contain a resin liner or did not contain one that leached BPA. These data suggest such products would be a better bet for individuals who are especially risk averse. But BPA leaching by even the worst performing water bottles was low, observes toxicologist Scott Belcher of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, an author of the new study. . .
Glenn Greenwalk opens a column with this:
In just the past two months alone (all subsequent to the killing of Osama bin Laden), the U.S. Government has taken the following steps in the name of battling the Terrorist menace: extended the Patriot Act by four years without a single reform; begun a new CIA drone attack campaign in Yemen; launched drone attacks in Somalia; slaughtered more civilians in Pakistan; attempted to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki far from any battlefield and without a whiff of due process; invoked secrecy doctrines to conceal legal memos setting forth its views of its own domestic warrantless surveillance powers; announced a “withdrawal”plan for Afghanistan that entails double the number of troops in that country as were there when Obama was inaugurated; and invoked a very expansive view of its detention powers under the 2001 AUMF by detaining an alleged member of al-Shabab on a floating prison, without charges, Miranda warnings, or access to a lawyer. That’s all independent of a whole slew of drastically expanded surveillance powers seized over the past two years in the name of the same threat. . .
And closes with this:
. . . I long believed that the most patently irrational American policy — the one that would cause future generations to look back in baffled disgust — was the Drug War: imprisoning huge numbers of citizens for years and years for nothing more than possessing or selling banned substances to consenting adults. But now I think it’s this: that the U.S. Government is able to persuade the populace to continue to support and pay for blood-spilling and liberty-destroying policies in the name of Terrorism when nothing sustains and exacerbates the threat of Terrorism more than those very policies. Just like the FBI continues to manufacture its own Terrorist plots that it then flamboyantly boasts of thwarting, the U.S. continues to generate the threat that justifies its National Security and Surveillance State.
* * * * *
In the last week alone, U.S.-allied governments have done the following to their own citizens: killed “dozens of civilians” in Yemen; beaten anti-government protesters in Baghdad while the Iraqi Prime Minister threatened “bloodshed” and “blood . . . to the knee” if protests continued;attacked protesters in Cairo with arms; and beat opposition protesters in prison and branded them “traitors” in Bahrain. As we recently learned, the U.S. cannot and will not “stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.” What, then, can and should the U.S. do in the face of this oppression? Don’t we have more of a responsibility to act when such brutality is carried out by regimes that we arm, support and prop up than by ones we don’t?
The US military is conducting itself abroad with jack-booted belligerence. The quoted account reminds me of nothing more than how the German army behaved in Poland early in WW II. Take a look:
Last week, New York Magazine published a somewhat tabloidy profile of Bradley Manning by Steven Fishman, focusing on the purported personal and psychological aspects of his life as a means of understanding his alleged leaking, and I responded to it the following day. Now there is another response that I hope as many people as possible read; with permission, I’m publishing it in its entirety below. It’s by former Army Specialist Ethan McCord, who served in Bravo Company 2-16, the ground troops involved in the “Collateral Murder” video released by Wikileaks in April of last year and allegedly leaked by Manning (McCord can be seen in the video carrying the wounded children from the bullet riddled van). Just consider what Spc. McCord says about Manning (“a hero of mine”), the media coverage of these leaks, and what all of this reveals about American wars and how we’re propagandized about them:
Serving with my unit 2nd battalion 16th infantry in New Baghdad Iraq, I vividly remember the moment in 2007, when our Battalion Commander walked into the room and announced our new rules of engagement:
“Listen up, new battalion SOP (standing operating procedure) from now on: Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire. You kill every [expletive] in the street!”
We weren’t trained extensively to recognize an unlawful order, or how to report one. But many of us could not believe what we had just been told to do. Those of us who knew it was morally wrong struggled to figure out a way to avoid shooting innocent civilians, while also dodging repercussions from the non-commissioned officers who enforced the policy. In such situations, we determined to fire our weapons, but into rooftops or abandoned vehicles, giving the impression that we were following procedure.
On April 5, 2010 American citizens and people around the world got a taste of the fruits of this standing operating procedure when WikiLeaks released the now-famous Collateral Murder video. This video showed the horrific and wholly unnecessary killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists.
I was part of the unit that was responsible for this atrocity. In the video, I can be seen attempting to carry wounded children to safety in the aftermath.
The video released by WikiLeaks belongs in the public record. Covering up this incident is a matter deserving of criminal inquiry. Whoever revealed it is an American hero in my book.
Private First Class Bradley Manning has been confined for over a year on the government’s accusation that he released this video and volumes of other classified documents to WikiLeaks — an organization that has been selectively publishing portions of this information in collaboration with other news outlets.
If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then it is clear — from chat logs that have been attributed to him — that his decision was motivated by conscience and political agency.These chat logs allegedly describe how PFC Manning hopes these revelations will result in “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.”
Unfortunately, Steve Fishman’s article Bradley Manning’s Army of One in New York Magazine (July 3, 2011) erases Manning’s political agency. By focusing so heavily on Manning’s personal life, Fishman removes politics from a story that has everything to do with politics. The important public issues wrapped up with PFC Manning’s case include: transparency in government; the Obama Administration’s unprecedented pursuit of whistle-blowers; accountability of government and military in shaping and carrying out foreign policy; war crimes revealed in the WikiLeaks documents; the catalyzing role these revelations played in democratic movements across the Middle East; and more.
The contents of the WikiLeaks revelations have pulled back the curtain on the degradation of our democratic system. It has become completely normal for decision-makers to promulgate foreign policies, diplomatic strategies, and military operating procedures that are hostile to the democratic ideals our country was founded upon. The incident I was part of — shown in the Collateral Murder video — becomes even more horrific when we grasp that it was not exceptional. PFC Manning himself is alleged to describe (in the chat logs) an incident where he was ordered to turn over innocent Iraqi academics to notorious police interrogators, for the offense of publishing a political critique of government corruption titled, “Where did the money go?” These issues deserve “discussion, debates, and reforms” — and attention from journalists.
Fishman’s article was also ignorant of the realities of military service. Those of us who serve in the military are often lauded as heroes. Civilians need to understand that we may be heroes, but we are not saints. We are young people under a tremendous amount of stress. We face moral dilemmas that many civilians have never even contemplated hypothetically.
Civil society honors military service partly because of the sacrifice it entails. Lengthy and repeated deployments stress our closest relationships with family and friends. The realities, traumas, and stresses of military life take an emotional toll. This emotional battle is part of the sacrifice that we honor. That any young soldier might wrestle with his or her experiences in the military, or with his or her identity beyond military life, should never be wielded as a weapon against them.
If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of, he is a hero of mine; not because he’s perfect or because he never struggled with personal or family relationships — most of us do — but because in the midst of it all he had the courage to act on his conscience.
Shortly after the Collateral Murder video was released, I interviewed McCord’s fellow Specialist in that company, Josh Stieber, who said much the same about what this video revealed: as he put it, . . .
This is the sort of thing that happens more and more frequently when you have a Commander-in-Chief who has pledged that people who have committed war crimes will not be punished or prosecuted or even investigated, regardless of what the law requires.
You really should read the entire column.
It seems increasingly clear that the US is in decline, unable to stir itself to solve serious problems, mired in dopey counter-factual ideas passionately supported by ignorant people impervious to reason. On every hand we see serious problems whose obvious solutions are unreachable due to ideological opposition. President Obama, rather than solving problems, has set a course to make them worse. Take a look at some very recent reappraisals:
Frank Rich Blasts Obama For Letting Wall Street Off the Hook — an article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone that begins:
A lot of people are talking about Frank Rich’s explosive new article in New York magazine. I think it is a remarkable thing, the latest and maybe the most comprehensive in an increasingly lengthy series of articles and investigations into the Obama administration’s failure to properly investigate the causes of the financial crisis.
By now this is not quite a mainstream media drumbeat, but it’s coming close: between the reporting of Louise Story and Gretchen Morgenson at the New York Times to the recent not-terribly-laudatory piece on New York Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara by the New Yorker’s George Packer, to Eliot Spitzer’s bitter commentary on the subject on CNN, to my own bleatings, and now this Rich broadside, it seems quite clear that the Obama administration’s failure to clean up Wall Street is becoming a matter of some fascination with the few investigative journalists who are not covering the Casey Anthony case.
Rich’s thesis is that this issue is becoming important not just to reporters, but to voters, and that Obama may soon pay for his failures at the polls: . . .
After 9/11, Rudy Giuliani went on Saturday Night Live to give New Yorkers permission to laugh again. But Mayor Bloomberg never did tell us when we could resume conspicuous consumption after the crash of 2008. And so, as we stumble through the second year of the official “recovery,” it’s been an improvisational return to high-end carousing in Manhattan.
A case in point was the late-May celebration of the centennial rededication of the New York Public Library. Surely no civic institution could be a more unimpeachable beard for a blowout. The dress code—no black tie—was egalitarian. The Abyssinian Baptist Church Gospel Choir, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, and that cute chorus from P.S. 22 in Staten Island—Gleediversity on steroids—were in the house along with some 900 invited guests, marquee names included (Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen). Bloomberg delivered a pre-dinner benedictionfrom an altarlike perch on the main reading room’s balcony. “Free and open access to information may be the single most important component of any democratic society,” he said.
But it was impossible to banish toxic trace memories of the financial meltdown. Some two weeks earlier, the mayor had restricted the “free and open access” he now extolled. His fiscal 2012 budget called for slashing $40 million from the library system, a cut that would have mandated four-day weeks and the shutdown of a dozen branches.
There was also the awkward matter of the gala’s “corporate chair,” Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America. In the pageantry preceding Bloomberg’s remarks, the slightly flushed Moynihan, looking like a nervous ring bearer in a stately wedding ceremony, was among those singled out by the announcer while marching down the reading room’s long center aisle in a processional of library trustees. No doubt he earned this honor by ponying up to give more New Yorkers more books. But free and open access to the unexpurgated books of his own bank—and of its gutted acquisitions, Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial—would be a far more valuable gift to our democratic society. Just a week before the library fête, the Huffington Post reported that B of A was stonewalling the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s investigation into fresh charges of defrauding taxpayers. Down in Naples, Florida, one Bank of America victim, Warren Nyerges, a 45-year-old retired cop, was getting ready to take the law into his own hands. Through a bureaucratic blunder—or worse—the bank had hounded his family for over a month, trying to foreclose on his house even though it was entirely debt-free. Unable to recover the legal expenses inflicted by this harassment, Nyerges staged a ruckus by hiring a lawyer who “foreclosed” on the bank’s local branch instead. . .
And, of course, Obama is joining the GOP in pushing for cuts to Social Security (a program that is not even in trouble) and Medicare. Glenn Greenwald dissects Obama’s position adroitly.
The problem is with the off-shore origins of much of our information technology, both hardware (which nowadays inevitable contains microcode, aka firmware, aka embedded programming) and software. The complexity of the system can hide quite dangerous capabilities to be triggered at some later date.
David Sirota takes a look at the problem in this article in Salon. From the article:
. . . In an announcement largely ignored by the Washington press corps — the Department of Homeland Security made a stunning disclosure at a congressional hearing. As the business trade publication Fast Companyreports (emphasis added):
A top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official has admitted on the record that electronics sold in the U.S. are being preloaded with spyware, malware, and security-compromising components by unknown foreign parties. In testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, acting deputy undersecretary of the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate Greg Schaffer told Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) that both Homeland Security and the White House have been aware of the threat for quite some time.
When asked by Rep. Chaffetz whether Schaffer was aware of any foreign-manufactured software or hardware components that had been purposely embedded with security risks, the DHS representative stated that “I am aware of instances where that has happened,” after some hesitation.
This supply chain security issue essentially means that, somewhere along the line, technology being marketed in the United States was either compromised or purposely designed to enable cyberattacks.
The process by which this happens is fairly straightforward — and its connection to our tariff-free trade policies that encourage outsourcing is obvious. First, an American company or governmental agency orders a piece of computer hardware or software from a tech company. Then, because the “free” trade era has economically incentivized those companies to move their production to low-wage countries, much of that order is actually fulfilled at foreign facilities where security and quality standards may be, ahem, lacking.
If this still sounds far-fetched, remember that in the offshoring/outsourcing epoch, one of the major exporters of computer hardware — and increasingly, software — is China. That is, the country whose government has been at the forefront of aggressively researching, developing and implementing covert technologies that turn computers into stealth weapons of the police state.
There is, for example, . . .
What a day. Up late, things being obstinate, boiled milk over in making another half-gallon of yogurt (do NOT go in to do something quickly on the computer while the milk heats).
Speaking of yogurt: the Greek culture, to which I added some Filmjölk culture, made a batch of rich, thick, cheese-like yogurt. I had used whole milk with some added cream. The cream floated to the top as I cultured the milk in a yogurtmaker (at around 110ºF). The Filmjölk is supposed to culture at room temperature, but I’m convinced that’s what gave this batch the cheesy taste. It’s thick because I used my yogurt strainer to let the whey drain. However the culture sorted out the Greek-Filmjölk combination, we like the yogurt and I’m doing another half-gallon now (using whole organic milk and 1 cup of nonfat dried milk added, but no cream, milk heated to 180ºF and then cooled before adding some of the earlier batch.
I also made a half-gallon using Yogurmet culture, nonfat organic milk, plus 1 cup nonfat dried milk. This turned out quite nicely and I’m using the trick that Steve of Kafeneio learned from his grandmother: paper towels placed atop the yogurt to soak up excess whey, with the towels wrung out in the sink and replaced until they get wet no more. This (for half-gallon quantities) is much easier than trying to strain it, and the process seems to work very well indeed. I’ve not yet tried that batch.
The second batch of crème fraîche made in a much shorter time than the first batch, and using the same culture (the buttermilk culture), I’m making a second quart of buttermilk using goat milk.
Finally, I’m trying the pure Filmjölk culture—my last attempt—in a quart of whole organic cow milk. I started the culture in half a cup of milk and let it grow for a couple of days, so I’m hoping that it attacks the new quart of milk with gusto. Failing that, I think I might try this one in the yogurtmaker at the higher temperature.