Later On

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

Archive for August 2011

Meta-startup: Memetic evolution in high gear

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Quite an interesting development, I think, reported in the NY Times by David Freedman:

Hari Kaur has been teaching yoga for 20 years as a private instructor and at other people’s studios, most recently in New York, but it was only late last year that she decided she wanted to start her own Jazz Yoga school — the world’s first, as far as she knew. What she didn’t know was much about how to start and run a business.

But one of her students happened to be an experienced entrepreneur who had recently started his fourth company, and he gave her some smart-sounding advice on funding, marketing and leasing a space. When she came up with more questions, he told her she ought to check out that latest business of his, which happened to be a free online service focused on … how to start a company.

Web-based tools are becoming nearly essential to many aspects of running a business, so why not bring them into the process of creating and executing a business plan? That’s the idea behind Wicked Start, the brain child of Bryan Janeczko, the yoga student. Mr. Janeczko had been a management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and then on his own, and later did a stint as a vice president at J.P. Morgan. But his real entrepreneurial awakening occurred, he said, when in 2003 he set out to found a company that delivered meals to dieters: “I thought, ‘I’m smart, I have an M.B.A., how hard could this be?’”

You know the answer to that one. . .

Continue reading. (I love recursion.)

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2011 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Interesting Pilates lesson

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I’m (very) gradually becoming aware of how these movements and exercises work. One interesting lesson today: at the end of the exercise, recovery must be as controlled and balanced as the exercise itself. For example, I was standing with “Cossack arms” (folded in front of me as if for a Russian dance) in front of the Wunda chair, standing with one foot on the ground, the other, heel raised, ball of foot on the springboard. The exercise is to stand straight, and move the springboard up and down, while you are completely balanced.

I do a number of these, and then when the exercise was over, I raised the springboard, then relaxed and went floppy and got off.

No. Wrong. Instead, raise the springboard, then remain balanced with muscles working to maintain stance, remove foot from springboard once the board has returned to its rest position and place foot next to the unmoving foot, all the while maintaining posture and control.

Very different. The instructor said that a lot of learning takes place in the controlled finish of the exercise and that sometimes that finish is the point of the exercise: you do the movements to get your body ready to hit that note, as it were.

This reminds me of the flashcard idea that you continue to keep a flashcard in the current session until you get it right, even if you’re down to that one card, saying the answer, looking, getting it wrong, then do the card again—you don’t top until you get the answer right because at that instant, getting the answer right sort of cements the answer in place.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2011 at 3:20 pm

Interesting look at Libertarianism

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Fascinating column—especially, I imagine, for Libertarians.

I make common cause with Liberatarians on some issues, but sharply diverge on others (the social safety net, for example: essential, in my view; completely inappropriate, in the Libertarian view).

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2011 at 11:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

The US military and Hollywood

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Interesting column by David Sirota in Salon. I had already realized that some movies are little more than lengthy recruiting ads, but the strength of the US military’s grip on Hollywood is instructive as the US moves strongly right. The military always plays a major role in authoritarian governments.

Sirota’s column begins:

Yesterday, I had a big article in the Sunday Washington Post looking at the long-term legacy of “Top Gun” – a film that turned 25 years old this summer. This is part of my unofficial beat reporting on the Military-Entertainment Complex – reporting I first started a few years back as part of the research for my book “Back to Our Future.”

For too long, the media has ignored the relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon. Knowing this, I figured my Washington Post piece would vanish into the ether. However, to my surprise, it came out in the same week that the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal provided stunning new details about how the shadowy relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon is setting new standards for government-subsidized propaganda.

Hollywood As Complicit As Ever

First and foremost, both the Times and Journal tells us that collusion between the military and Hollywood – including allowing Pentagon officials to line edit scripts – is once again on the rise, with new television programs and movies slated to celebrate the Navy SEALs. They also give us up-to-date proof that major Hollywood directors remain more than happy to ideologically slant their films in precisely the pro-war, pro-militarist direction that the Pentagon demands in exchange for taxpayer-subsidized access to military hardware.

The Journal, for instance, quotes director Peter Berg saying that his upcoming cinematic tribute to the SEALs was approved by Pentagon-compliant studio execs specifically because the project avoids any nuanced take on the politics of war. “The idea of a good old-fashioned combat yarn, in which the politics are very clear – we support these men – was more appealing to them,” he said, noting that his film will be “an unabashed tribute to the courage of (the SEALs).” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2011 at 11:42 am

Posted in Business, Military, Movies

Profits before environment

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Very interesting column in the NY Times by Mark Bittman:

I wasn’t surprised when the administration of George W. Bush sacrificed the environment for corporate profits. But when the same thing happens under a Democratic administration, it’s depressing. With little or no public input, policies that benefit corporations regardless of the consequences continue to be enacted.

No wonder an April 2010 poll from the Pew Research Center found that about only 20 percent of Americans have faith in the government (it’s one thing upon which the left and right and maybe even the center agree). But maybe this is nothing new: as Glenda Farrell, as Genevieve “Gen” Larkin, put it in “Gold Diggers of 1937,” “It’s so hard to be good under the capitalistic system.”

But is anyone in power even trying? Last winter, the Department of Agriculture deregulated Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa, despite concerns about cross-pollination of non-genetically modified crops. It then defied a court order banning the planting of genetically modified sugar beets pending completion of an environmental impact study.

Monsanto engineers these plants and makes Roundup, the herbicide they resist. But Roundup-ready crops don’t increase long-term yields, a host of farmers are now dealing with “superweeds” and there is worry about superbugs, nearly all courtesy of Monsanto. In fact, this system doesn’t contribute to much of anything except Monsanto’s bottom line. Yet Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gave Monsanto the nod, perhaps yielding to pressure from the White House.

The United States exerts that same kind of pressure abroad. WikiLeaks cables show that U.S. “biotechnology outreach programs” have promoted genetically modified crops in Africa, Asia and South America; they’ve also revealed that diplomats schemed toretaliate against any European Union countries that oppose those crops.

Sacrificing the environment for profits didn’t stop with Bush, and it doesn’t stop with genetically modified organisms. Take, for example, the . . .

Continue reading.

I think the problem is that capitalism makes all decisions based on the impact on profit. Unfortunately, that’s too narrow a basis, but the rapid evolution of the memes “capitalism” and “corporation” have resulted in corporations that simply cannot consider any other basis for decisions, even legally: they MUST increase shareholder value. Indeed, as we saw with the Pinto and the Ford Motor Company, corporations now are perfectly willing to break the law if the cost of breaking the law is significantly less, overall, than the profit achieved by breaking the law. Ford knew that they would be sued for designing a car that would burst into flames in a low-impact collision, immolating the occupants, but their calculations showed that the profits of building the car in that way would far exceed what they were likely have to pay in jury awards or settlements. So they went ahead with it, and people died.

And, of course, there are companies who directly realize a profit from selling products harmful to health and ultimately lethal: tobacco leaps to mind. But that side of the equation is a trivial cost to the company in comparison to the profits they can reap—plus there’s always hope of undermining the law by gaining greater control of the legislative branch.

Basically, corporations are willing to do ANYTHING—even things immoral, unethical, dishonest, and/or illegal—if doing that will increase their profits. And they’re getting better and better at it, and now have the funds to basically purchase control of the US government—they’ve long since had a secure hold on most state governments.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2011 at 10:36 am

One of our own terrorists

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Terrorism seems to come along with nation formation—proponents for Israel’s nationhood used terrorism on the British, and of course we know about Hamas and Hezbollah (and others) using terrorism on the Israelis. Northern Ireland had both Protestant and Catholic terrorists busy at work. And the US has its own terrorists, notably John Brown of pre-Civil-War fame.

But I hadn’t really understood that Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys were, for all practical reasons, terrorists. A recent biography clarifies:

Ethan Allen: His Life and Times
by Willard Sterne Randall

A review by Robert K. Landers

By 1771, a conflict over frontier settlements in what is today Vermont had begun to turn violent. Colonial officials in New York, eager to profit from making land grants in the territory between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River, refused to recognize grants already made there by the New Hampshire colony. The Hampshire settlers themselves, meanwhile, were determined to hold on to their property and not pay twice for it. Ethan Allen, a major property owner in the region known as the New Hampshire Grants, emerged as the leader of the opposition to New York’s efforts.

In June 1771, getting word that a New York surveyor was running lines in the woods 20 miles away, Allen and some of his followers went to the scene. Dressed as Indians, with soot-blackened faces, they threatened to kill the “Yorker” — who fled with his crew. Later that year, Allen formally organized the “Green Mountain Boys” to defend the Hampshire settlements and scotch any New York-backed settlements. He and his “boys” torched fences and haystacks as warnings to New York settlers reluctant to leave; in October, the Green Mountain Boys burned down the cabin of a Yorker who refused to depart.

In Ethan Allen, historian Willard Sterne Randall cites the behavior by the nascent folk hero and his men — who in extreme cases flogged defiant Yorkers — and links it with “the tactics of intimidation used by ten thousand Sons of Liberty in the period before the Revolution” to raise “an unsettling question: was America founded, at least in part, on terrorism?” Mr. Randall does not attempt an answer, however.

The author and his publisher call Ethan Allen a “founding father,” presumably to appeal to all those readers with a seemingly insatiable appetite for books about those so designated, but if Allen was a founding father, it was of Vermont, not of the United States. Still, by my reading of Mr. Randall’s exhaustively researched and insightful (but overly long) biography, Allen did make two significant contributions to the war for independence, each the result, directly or indirectly, of his recklessness.

The first was what many considered a premature attack on . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2011 at 10:33 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Terrorism

Censored by the CIA (to hide its failures)

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Laura Miller has an interesting post at Salon:

News that the CIA has demanded “extensive cuts” from a forthcoming book by former FBI agent Ali Soufan made the front page of the New York Times last week. But Soufan’s isn’t the only recent memoir to earn the intelligence agency’s wrath by, in part, criticizing its use of brutal interrogation techniques in the decade since 9/11. There’s also “The Interrogator,” by Glenn Carle, a 23-year CIA veteran who was given the task of questioning a purported al-Qaida kingpin in 2002. Carle’s book was published earlier this summer with many passages — and occasionally entire pages — blocked out with black bars to show where the agency had insisted on redactions.

Soufan has called many of the CIA’s excisions from his own book “ridiculous,” pointing out that some of the “classified” information is a matter of public record and appears in the 9/11 report and even in a memoir by former CIA director George Tenet. Carle had a similar experience; “The Interrogator” is laced with caustic footnotes explaining that redacted passages revealed the agency’s incompetence, rather than sensitive information.

When I reviewed Carle’s book in July, I made a few guesses about facts the author was obliged to leave out of “The Interrogator.” Less than a day had passed before I learned that most of my guesses were wrong. Readers sent me helpful emails with links to articles supplying all the missing details, including the identity of the detainee Carle interrogated, a man he eventually came to believe was innocent.

If the CIA is trying to prevent information in Soufan’s and Carle’s manuscripts from reaching the public, they’ve obviously already failed. If anything, the agency’s efforts to censor these and other books only seem likely to inflame interest in the forbidden material, which will surface anyway. Does the CIA’s power to vet the writings of former government employees have any teeth in the Internet age? I decided to call up Carle to ask about his experience with the agency’s censors.

Carle explained that an author negotiates the approval of his or her book with the CIA’s Publications Review Board, a handful of staffers who coordinate input submitted by several  agency departments. “My goal was not to piss them off to the extent that I couldn’t get anything that I wanted,” he said. “Their goal was to intimidate me. That was quite clear.”

Because Carle knew and even respected some individuals on the board, he felt that its members were exceptionally (and perhaps recklessly) candid with him. At one point, a man standing next to him at a urinal remarked, “Don’t you realize that people could go to jail for this?” referring to passages in “The Interrogator” where Carle alludes to detention and interrogation practices he regards as illegal.

The two things a former CIA officer is instructed to keep secret, Carle says, are “sources and methods.” However, like Soufan, he soon discovered that the PRB had no intention of stopping there. “They told me, ‘We will not allow you to take the reader into the interrogation room. We will not allow you to make the prisoner a human being. To the extent that we can, we will take out anything that gives him a personality.’ I couldn’t say I saw fear in his eyes, or that he was a middle-aged man. They had no right to take that out. But they did.”

Like Soufan, Carle complained when the PRB insisted on cutting information from his book that was already common knowledge. Two reasons are offered for such demands. One is the “mosaic theory of classification,” characterized by Carle as “one of the most harmful consequences of eight years of the Bush administration. And that is not a partisan statement.” According to Carle, “The White House freaked out after Michael Scheuer’s book [“Imperial Hubris” (2004), originally published anonymously] came out. They thought the CIA was out to get them. Bush said, ‘I don’t want anything to come out of the agency. Shut this down.'”

The mosaic theory alleges that pieces of information that may seem innocuous enough on their own — including material that has already been cleared by the CIA — can, when combined with similar pieces of information, present a potential threat that might be of use to the enemy. “By that rationale,” Carle observed, “you should take every chemistry textbook out of every high school in America.”

To get around the PRB’s objections, Carle had to resort to some unusual tactics. When forbidden to describe in much detail the bombed-out wasteland surrounding one overseas prison where he worked (because this would reveal the location to be Afghanistan, a fact obvious to any informed reader), he ended up quoting T.S. Eliot. “They forced me to be more pretentious than I actually am,” Carle joked.

The other justification the agency commonly offers for redacting material is . . .

Continue reading. I stick with my earlier characterization: “CIA” means “Criminals in Action.” At the end of the column appear these links:

Further reading:

The New York Times reports on CIA efforts to censor Ali Soufan’s book, “The Black Banners.”

Salon’s review of “The Interrogator: An Education” by Glenn Carle

Salon’s review of “Imperial Hubris: How the West Is Losing the War on Terror” by Michael Schueur

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2011 at 10:13 am

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