Later On

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Displaced by meme evolution

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In reading this profile of one of the last professional pickpockets, I noted the ripple effect of meme evolution:

These are lean years for pickpockets. People carry more credit cards and less cash; men wear suits less, and tightfitting pants more. The young thieves of today have turned to high-tech methods, like skimming A.T.M.s.

Displaced by cultural change.

Notice how intimately the Internet is woven into the above cultural change: it’s throughout that particular cultural change. And the Internet (including music, video, Twitter, forums, news, blogs, and so on) is a perfect meme medium: enormous reach and rapid mutation and selection. And, as noted above, the ripple effects are enormous (cf. Ferguson MO, identified as a hotspot via Twitter).

Indeed, the international criticism of what is happening in Ferguson is quite severe: the US no longer occupies any sort of moral high ground, and with its recent military failures and destructiveness, respect for it has ebbed. The Week magazine carried an abstract of a column by Daniel Haufler that appeared in Berliner Zeitung:

America is a de facto apartheid state, said Daniel Haufler. Blacks have ostensibly had civil rights for 50 years, but in reality “white reactionaries have fought unabated against equality.” Today, discrimination against African-Americans is pervasive and devastating. When unarmed teenager Michael Brown was hot dead by a white cop after being stopped for jaywalking in Forguson, Mo., he was just one more in a long line of black victims. [Indeed, we have another not far from Ferguson: two white cops show up to confront a man behaving irrationally. Within 15 seconds they had shot him dead. The police chief explained that he had attacked them with a knife, wielded overhand. A video made with a smartphone shows that the police chief's statement was false. - LG]

Whites, by contrast, can “brandish machine guns at the police”—as did supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy—without fear of reprisal. And it’s not just the police but the entire government that is arrayed against black Americans. Systematically denied equal access to education and employment, they are demonized when seek government benefits. in fact, the higher the black population in a state, “the lower that state’s social spending.” Ongoing white resentment of the civil rights movement that took away their privilege is the reason the U.S. is the only developed country in which a major party, the GOP, “wants to abolish the welfare state.” That party is also actively trying to change state electoral laws to diseenfranchise African-Americans. It isn’t just the police that must change—-it’s the entire culture.

Very clear-sighted, I’d say—and note particularly this Kevin Drum post from today, regarding the last points.

But the point is: things are shifting rapidly. That is, cultural values are not so insulated by distance and language and expense of travel as once was true: Internet again.

So we’re in the midst of a major meme war, in effect, or—more appropriately—Cambrian Explosion of memes, evolving rapidly, exchanging patches of meme-DNA, and so on.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 August 2014 at 1:04 pm

In Ferguson, Cops Hand Out 3 Warrants Per Household Every Year

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This seems more like banditry than police work. And read the comments: it is the way cities avoid raising taxes—they need the revenue to function, and if they can’t get it through taxes, they get it through (legalized) robbery.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 August 2014 at 12:34 pm

Still not vegan, but inching closer—and you raise them at home, in your spare time

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I think the kitties would be interested. But probably not The Wife.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2014 at 1:24 pm

Alcohol is still the deadliest drug in the United States, and it’s not even close

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We all know that alcohol, the true gateway drug to violent crime and drug abuse, is more dangerous than marijuana, but I was surprised to see how much more dangerous alcohol is. Does D.A.R.E. discuss alcohol, and give more time to discussing alcohol than discussing marijuana, since alcohol is not only more dangerous, but more readily available? I wonder. (Actually, I bet I know.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2014 at 9:05 am

Let’s see how many white people in and near Ferguson respond to the call

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This is powerful stuff. This link should go everywhere. I hope it causes a Twitter storm.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 August 2014 at 11:19 am

One example of why homicides are higher in states with “Stand your ground” laws

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Here’s the law. Here’s an example of what was totally predictable (and indeed was predicted). Is anyone surprised? Does anyone think this is good? Can anyone think of a way that it could have been prevented? (Elaborate strings of “maybe”s, “what if”s, and “suppose”s are irrelevant: look at what did happen, and is happening more now because of the law.

Note that gun right’s advocates will not face facts or take responsibility. Of course the bill will be blamed. The bill created exactly the conditions under which such things happen: drunken people, many carrying guns. Jesus.

Via this post on Daily Kos.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 August 2014 at 10:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns

Ten things about Ferguson to keep in mind

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This seems important. Don Hazen, Terrell Starr, Steven Rosenfeld, and Tana Ganeva of AlterNet report at AlteNet:

Ten days after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by officer Darren Wilson, police and protestors continue to face off in the city of Ferguson. Last night’s protests broke into chaos [3] as riot police descended on the streets of the city in an attempt to disperse protestors.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon deployed the National Guard, allegedly without alerting [4] the White House. The first Humvees have left the National Guard base, according to reports from the scene highlighted in the Guardian.  [5]

As the tense situation on the ground quickly evolves, here are 10 things you should know:

1. National Guard trained in fighting protesters

The Missouri National Guard troops being sent into Ferguson are military police, which, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have studied the Occupy protests and demonstrations that followed George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. These soldiers are now trained to deal with “crowd control measures, understanding protester tactics, incident management, and operating inside an area contaminated with chemical and biological hazards,” FEMA said, in a chillingly bland report [6] on its website touting the anti-protester training that military police now receive.

“We serve as a force multiplier during a natural disaster or civil unrest,” a platoon leader and deputy sheriff who completed the training said. “We have experienced protest from the Occupy Movement and, most recently, from the Zimmerman trial. This training makes us all more proficient MP soldier[s] and helps us communicate more effectively with local law enforcement.”

The photos on FEMA’s site show the military police practicing with protesters who are sitting down in the street and shows MPs cutting through plastic pipes that some protesters have used to chain themselves to each other. One can only imagine how military police, whose main training is designed for overseas war zones, will fare in Ferguson, where the underlying issues are institutional racism and police brutality.

2. Autopsy report: Why so many bullets?

It’s not clear how many bullets were fired by Officer Darren Wilson, and whether he fired his gun while he was still in his car.

But according to a private autopsy report, Michael Brown was hit by six bullets. Four hit him on the right arm, and two hit him in the head. Some of the bullets created several entry points.  . .

Continue reading.

I for one am very glad that UN Observers will be on the ground in Ferguson to attempt to ensure that human rights are respected.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2014 at 1:35 pm

Extremely cogent report on the source of the Ferguson situation

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It’s not segregation in terms of housing, it’s how power and accountability are distributed. Well worth reading and note the conclusions.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2014 at 1:20 pm

The FDA is failing us: Will Obama even mention this?

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Kimberly Kindy writes in the Washingon Post:

The explosion of new food additives coupled with an easing of oversight requirements is allowing manufacturers to avoid the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of chemicals streaming into the food supply.

And in hundreds of cases, the FDA doesn’t even know of the existence of new additives, which can include chemical preservatives, flavorings and thickening agents, records and interviews show.

“We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food.

The FDA has received thousands of consumer complaints about additives in recent years, saying certain substances seem to trigger asthmatic attacks, serious bouts of vomiting, intestinal-tract disorders and other health problems.

At a pace far faster than in previous years, companies are adding secret ingredients to everything from energy drinks to granola bars. But the more widespread concern among food-safety advocates and some federal regulators is the quickening trend of companies opting for an expedited certification process to a degree never intended when it was established 17 years ago to, in part, help businesses.

A voluntary certification system has nearly replaced one that relied on a more formal, time-consuming review — where the FDA, rather than companies, made the final determination on what is safe. The result is that consumers have little way of being certain that the food products they buy won’t harm them.

“We aren’t saying we have a public health crisis,” Taylor said. “But we do have questions about whether we can do what people expect of us.”

In the five decades since Congress gave the FDA responsibility for ensuring the safety of additives in the food supply, . . .

Continue reading.

We all know exactly how well voluntary guidelines work for corporations: they simply do not work. Profit is more important. The reasons corporations like voluntary guidelines instead of laws that exactly match the guidelines, is that if it is a law, they will have to observe the guidelines, something none of them intend to do, so they all object to the law.

The importance of the safety of our food should be obvious to everyone, but obviously it is not.  It’s as if we’re in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2014 at 12:00 pm

U.S. firm helped the spyware industry build a potent digital weapon for sale overseas

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A weapon that will make it much easier for malefactors to break into your own computer. Barton Gellman reports for the Washington Post:

CloudShield Technologies, a California defense contractor, dispatched a senior engineer to Munich in the early fall of 2009. His instructions were unusually opaque.

As he boarded the flight, the engineer told confidants later, he knew only that he should visit a German national who awaited him with an off-the-books assignment. There would be no written contract, and on no account was the engineer to send reports back to CloudShield headquarters.

His contact, Martin J. Muench, turned out to be a former developer of computer security tools who had long since turned to the darkest side of their profession. Gamma Group, the British conglomerate for which Muench was a managing director, built and sold systems to break into computers, seize control clandestinely, and then copy files, listen to Skype calls, record every keystroke and switch on Web cameras and microphones at will.

[Read: How to implant a Trojan Horse: a user manual]

According to accounts the engineer gave later and contemporary records obtained by The Washington Post, he soon fell into a shadowy world of lucrative spyware tools for sale to foreign security services, some of them with records of human rights abuse.

Over several months, the engineer adapted Gamma’s digital weapons to run on his company’s specialized, high-speed network hardware. Until then CloudShield had sold its CS-2000 device, a multipurpose network and content processing product, primarily to the Air Force and other Pentagon customers, who used it to manage and defend their networks, not to attack others.

CloudShield’s central role in Gamma’s controversial work — fraught with legal risk under U.S. export restrictions — was first uncovered by Morgan Marquis-Boire, author of a new report released Friday by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He shared advance drafts with The Post, which conducted its own month-long investigation.

The prototype that CloudShield built was never brought to market, and the company parted ways with Gamma in 2010. But Marquis-Boire said CloudShield’s work helped pioneer a new generation of “network injection appliances” sold by Gamma and its Italian rival, Hacking Team. Those devices harness malicious software to specialized equipment attached directly to the central switching points of a foreign government’s national Internet grid.

The result: Merely by playing a YouTube video or visiting a Microsoft Live service page, for instance, an unknown number of computers around the world have been implanted with Trojan horses by government security services that siphon their communications and files. Google, which owns YouTube, and Microsoft are racing to close the vulnerability.

Citizen Lab’s report, based on leaked technical documents, is the first to document that commercial spyware companies are making active use of this technology. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2014 at 12:35 pm

Celebration weekend

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This weekend is the Concours d’Elegance, so we’re seeing a lot of elegant vintage cars around town. There’s an auction—one car sold on Wednesday for $38 million. (I did not bid.) And tomorrow is our wedding anniversary so we’re going out for a steak dinner. I seldom eat steak these days. I don’t have a charcoal grill, for one thing, and finishing a steak requires a higher temperature than one can get in a domestic range—something like a restaurant’s salamander is needed.

So it will be a relaxing and fun weekend. Hope you are having the same.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2014 at 8:57 am

Posted in Daily life

Very important point regarding privacy: the data belong to you, not to their handlers

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Important article on issues likely to grow more pressing in days ahead.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2014 at 5:19 pm

What is happening in Ferguson is breaking open some rotten eggs

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Read this interesting article by Sarah Stillman in the New Yorker. I think it is a hopeful sign that this is all coming to light and is an international spectacle. Perhaps some changes can be made. The article begins:

Two crucial battles broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. The first began with the public airing of sorrow and rage after the death of the eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer, on Canfield Court, in the St. Louis suburb, at 2:15 P.M. last Saturday. Then came the local law enforcement’s rejoinder to the early round of protests. Officers rolled in with a fleet of armored vehicles, sniper rifles, and tear-gas cannisters, reinserting the phrase “the militarization of policing” into the collective conscience. The tactical missteps by the town’s police leadership have been a thing to behold. (They’re also to be expected; anyone doubting as much should pick up Radley Balko’s “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.”)

One moment, we see a young man with a welt from a rubber bullet between his eyes; the next, three officers with big guns are charging at another black man who has his hands up. On Thursday, Jelani Cobb filed a powerful accountfrom the sidewalks and homes of Ferguson. Cobb asks about “the intertwined economic and law-enforcement issues underlying the protests,” including, for instance, the court fees that many people in Ferguson face, which often begin with minor infractions and eventually become “their own, escalating, violations.” “We have people who have warrants because of traffic tickets and are effectively imprisoned in their homes,” Malik Ahmed, the C.E.O. of an organization called Better Family Life, told Cobb. “They can’t go outside because they’ll be arrested. In some cases, people actually have jobs but decide that the threat of arrest makes it not worth trying to commute outside their neighborhood.”

The crisis of criminal justice debt is just one of the many tributaries feeding the river of deep rage in Ferguson. But it’s an important one—both because it’s so ubiquitous and because it’s easily overlooked in the spectacular shadow of tanks and turrets. Earlier this year, I spent six months reporting on the rise of profiteering in American courts, which happens by way of the proliferation of fees and fines for very minor offenses—part of a growing movement toward what’s known as offender-funded justice. Private companies play an aggressive role in collecting these fees in certain states. (Often, this tactic is aimed at the poor with unpaid traffic tickets.) The reports from Ferguson raise questions about how militarization and economic coercion feed a shared anger.

Missouri was one of the first states to allow private probation companies, in the late nineteen-eighties, and it has since followed the national trend of allowing court fees and fines to mount rapidly. Now, across much of America, what starts as a simple speeding ticket can, if you’re too poor to pay, mushroom into an insurmountable debt, padded by probation fees and, if you don’t appear in court, by warrant fees. (Often, poverty means transience—not everyone who is sent a court summons receives it.) “Across the country, impoverished people are routinely jailed for court costs they’re unable to pay,” Alec Karakatsanis, a cofounder of Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil-rights organization that has begun challenging this practice in municipal courts, said. These kinds of fines snowball when defendants’ cases are turned over to for-profit probation companies for collection, since the companies charge their own “supervision” fees. What happens when people fall behind on their payments? Often, police show up at their doorsteps and take them to jail.

From there, the snowball rolls. “Going to jail has huge impacts on people at the edge of poverty,” Sara Zampieren, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me. “They lose their job, they lose custody of their kids, they get behind on their home-foreclosure payments,” the sum total of which, she said, is “devastating.” While in prison, “user fees” often accumulate, so that, even after you leave, you’re not quite free. A recent state-by-state survey conducted by NPR showed that in at least forty-three states defendants can be billed for their own public defender, a service to which they have a Constitutional right; in at least forty-one states, inmates can be charged for room and board in jail and prison.

America’s militarized police forces now have some highly visible tools at their disposal, some of which have been in the spotlight this week: machine guns, night-vision equipment, military-style vehicles, and a seemingly endless amount of ammo. But the economic arm of police militarization is often far less visible, and offender-funded justice is part of this sub-arsenal. . .

Continue reading. And it’s pretty easy to see more facets of the racist aspects: cf. marijuana arrests—they’ve tripled over the past few years and blacks are arrested grossly disproportionately to whites. Things are very out of whack.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2014 at 5:00 pm

Low doses of antibiotics early in life lead to adult obesity in mice

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I can readily believe that it’s a good idea to avoid antibiotics whenever feasible, and particularly avoid giving them to infant children unless there’s no other choice. Jyoti Madhusoodanan reports at The Scientist:

A brief, low dose of antibiotics shortly after birth can have long-lasting consequences on gut microbes in mice and lead to obesity once the rodents reach middle age. These findings, published today (August 14) in Cell, suggest that the gut microbiome may influence the development of metabolic pathways during a critical time window early in life.

Low doses of antibiotics have been used to promote animal growth in agriculture for several decades, although the mechanism underlying the drugs’ fattening effect was unclear. Martin Blaser of the New York University Langone Medical Center and his colleagues showed in a 2012 Nature paper that early-life antibiotic therapy in mice altered hormone levels and the activities of genes involved in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.

For this latest study, Blaser and his colleagues aimed to better understand how the timing of such treatment might mediate microbial effects on host metabolism, he told The Scientist. The researchers treated two groups of mice with low doses of penicillin either shortly before pups were born or while they were weaning. A third group of pups received the antibiotic after they had been weaned. The low doses of penicillin used in the experiments were not strong enough to decrease the overall gut microbial population, although the treatment did lead to increased body fat and skewed the proportions of dominant bacterial species in the gut.

Treated mice had significantly lower levels of Lactobacillus in their guts than untreated mice; Candidatusand Allobaculum, two other bacteria that typically reach peak proportions early in life, were suppressed by the small penicillin doses.

“We usually see that high doses of antibiotics decrease microbial diversity, but that’s typical of ‘antibiotic bombs,’” said microbiologist Federico Rey of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved with the work. “Here, this suppression of dominant bacteria may allow other species to flourish.”

Compared to untreated animals, mice treated with penicillin after they were weaned showed . . .

Continue reading.

And of course food animals are given low doses of antibiotics because that causes faster weight gain, though at the cost of breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a tradeoff that businesses are happy to make. Indeed, the trade-off probably doesn’t even appear on their radar, since that would be an external cost, not relevant to the business’s profits.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2014 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

A cat video can open your computer to hackers

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Morgan Marquis-Boire has an interesting article at The Intercept:

Many otherwise well-informed people think they have to do something wrong, or stupid, or insecure to get hacked—like clicking on the wrong attachments, or browsing malicious websites. People also think that the NSA and its international partners are the only ones who have turned the internet into a militarized zone. But according to research I am releasing today at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, many of these commonly held beliefs are not necessarily true. The only thing you need to do to render your computer’s secrets—your private conversations, banking information, photographs—transparent to prying eyes is watch a cute cat video on YouTube, and catch the interest of a nation-state or law enforcement agency that has $1 million or so to spare.

To understand why, you have to realize that even in today’s increasingly security-conscious internet, much of the traffic is still unencrypted. You might be surprised to learn that even popular sites that advertise their use of encryption frequently still serve some unencrypted content or advertisements. While people now recognize that unencrypted traffic can be monitored, they may not recognize that it also serves as a direct path into compromising their computers.

Companies such as Hacking Team and FinFisher sell devices called “network injection appliances.” These are racks of physical machines deployed inside internet service providers around the world, which allow for the simple exploitation of targets. In order to do this, they inject malicious content into people’s everyday internet browsing traffic. One way that Hacking Team accomplishes this is by taking advantage of unencrypted YouTube video streams to compromise users. The Hacking Team device targets a user, waits for that user to watch a YouTube clip like the one above, and intercepts that traffic and replaces it with malicious code that gives the operator total control over the target’s computer without his or her knowledge. The machine also exploits Microsoft’s web site in the same manner.

Fortunately for their users, both Google and Microsoft were responsive when alerted that commercial tools were being used to exploit their services, and have taken steps to close the vulnerability by encrypting all targeted traffic. There are, however, many other vectors for companies like Hacking Team and FinFisher to exploit.

In today’s internet, there are few excuses for any company to serve content unencrypted. Anyunencrypted traffic can be maliciously tampered with in a manner that is invisible to the average user. The only way to solve this problem is for web providers to offer fully encrypted services.

Last year, my colleagues at the Citizen Lab and I released a paper on the commercialization of digital spying and the burgeoning third-party online-surveillance market. Historically, this technology has been the province of nation-states with the capacity to develop their own boutique capability. Targeted online surveillance typically involves a software “implant” surreptitiously installed on a user’s machine allowing complete control of, for instance, a mobile device or laptop. Intelligence agencies in the U.S., U.K., Russia, Israel, China, etc. have developed their own custom versions of these. But over the last five years, Hacking Team and other players have begun selling this type of capability for what could be considered “dictator pocket change.” Nations who lack the ability to create their own tools can now accelerate their online targeted surveillance programs relatively cheaply.

These so-called “lawful intercept” products sold by Hacking Team and FinFisher can be purchased for as little as $1 million (or less) by law enforcement and governments around the world. They have been used against political targets including Bahrain Watch, citizen journalists Mamfakinch in Morocco, human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor in the UAE, and ESAT, a U.S.-based news service focusing on Ethiopia. Both Hacking Team and FinFisher claim that they only sell to governments, but recently leaked documents appear to show that FinFisher has sold to at least one private security company.

It is important to note what I’m describing today is not massive intercept technology (although it can be used at scale). Unlike the NSA’s metadata collection, these tools are not used to target entire nations. Nevertheless, we need to have an open discussion about how we want law enforcement using this type of technology. Is it being used to catch child pornographers? Kidnappers? Drug dealers? Tax cheats? Journalists who receive leaked documents?

In the digital age, a search through the contents of your laptop, online accounts, and digital communications is just as invasive as a search of your bedroom. Historically, being privy to someone’s most intimate moments and conversations would once have required placing bugging devices inside their home, not to mention the time and manpower to listen to what was being captured. The cost of such an operation required the target to be someone of reasonable interest. Now, it’s possible to watch someone through the lens of their laptop’s camera, to listen to them through the microphone of their cell phone, and to read through online correspondence cheaply and remotely. The canonical surveillance van full of bored government employees (being paid overtime) deployed 24 hours a day is increasingly a thing of the past.

We simply don’t know how often this type of surveillance occurs. . . .

Continue reading. Cute cat video at the link. :)

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2014 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life

Overeating on carbs vs. Overeating on LCHF

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Interesting article at

Sam Feltham carried out an experiment a few months ago that caught a lot of attention. For three weeks he pigged out on low-carb LCHF foods, 5,800 calories a day.

According to simplistic calorie counting, Feltham should have gained 16 lbs (7.3 kg). But in reality, he only gained less than 3 lbs (1.3 kg).

Now Feltham has repeated his experiment with exactly the same amount of calories, but from carbohydrate-rich junk food. On the same amount of calories he gained more than five times as much weight: almost 16 lbs (7.1 kg)!

The difference in waist circumference was even more significant: 5,800 calories of LCHF food for three weeks reduced his waist measurement by 1 1/4 inches (3 cm). The same amount of junk food led to a 3 1/2 inch (9.25 cm) increase in his waist. And you can see the difference visually. . .

Continue reading. Photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2014 at 9:56 am

The militarization of America’s police forces

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Although I am directing my attention to positive stories, I cannot ignore the events in Ferguson MO that provide an excellent example of the transition of community police forces to what is in effect military occupation forces—particularly true in Ferguson, where the police are not part of the community at all.

Rather than a series of posts, I’m including here some links to stories that I found informative.

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery gives an account of his arrest (without cause) in Ferguson. It’s interesting that police officers there conceal their badge numbers and will not give their names—one even wore a mask. Shame? Knowledge that they are breaking the law? It’s a brief article and worth reading for a specific instance of police behavior.

The Post has another article on the general topic of recording police officers as they work in public. That article notes:

There’s also a growing movement in the United States to have on-duty officers use body cameras to record their interactions with the public. Police officers in Rialto, Calif., started wearing cameras in February 2012. The result? The volume of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous year, and use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent, according to the New York Times. The tactic adds an extra layer of accountability on police actions and creates a record that officers can fall back on if their account differs from that of an arrestee. [Body cameras seem much more useful than tanks---and much less expensive as well. - LG]

Other jurisdictions have also started using cameras on officers. Police in Laurel, Md., started using them last summer. Not long after that, a federal judge ordered police officers in some New York precincts to use bodycams to monitor how they were enforcing the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program — something then-mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed, even though he was generally in favor of increased surveillance elsewhere.

Even the American Civil Liberties Union, which typically raises the alarm over practices that potentially infringe on privacy, has endorsed the idea. “Although we generally take a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers,” the group argued in a position paper released last fall.

James Fallows has an excellent post in the Atlantic:Turning Policemen Into Soldiers, the Culmination of a Long Trend.” It’s well worth reading and includes photos of small-town police forces with their new tanks and IED-resistant vehicles. From his post:

1) The Book on this topic: Rise of the Warrior Cop, by Radley Balko. It came out a year ago and is more timely now than ever.

2) “Lockdown Nation,” a Peter Moskos review of Balko’s book last year in PS magazine.

3) “How the War on Terror Has Militarized the Police,” an Atlantic dispatch by Arthur Rizer and Joseph Hartman three years ago.

The New Yorker has two excellent articles: one is a first-person report by Jelani Cobb, “What I Saw in Ferguson,” and the other is a long article by Sarah Stillman, “Taken,” on police abuse of civil forfeiture, which allows them simply to take your possessions even if you’ve not been charged with a crime: they simply seize your car or your house or your savings. Needless to say, this tactic is never used against people with any power: it is focused on the poor and powerless. The article is well worth reading.

At The Intercept Glenn Greenwald has a lengthy summary article. In the article, he describes the incident in which two reporters working from a MacDonald’s were arrested in Ferguson:

Reilly, on Facebook, recounted how he was arrested by “a Saint Louis County police officer in full riot gear, who refused to identify himself despite my repeated requests, purposefully banged my head against the window on the way out and sarcastically apologized.” He wrote: ”I’m fine. But if this is the way these officers treat a white reporter working on a laptop who moved a little too slowly for their liking, I can’t imagine how horribly they treat others.” He added: “And if anyone thinks that the militarization of our police force isn’t a huge issue in this country, I’ve got a story to tell you.”

And he notes that some police departments resist militarization:

In June, the ACLU published a crucial 96-page report on this problem, entitled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” Its central point: “the United States today has become excessively militarized, mainly through federal programs that create incentives for state and local police to use unnecessarily aggressive weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield.”

The report documents how the Drug War and (Clinton/Biden) 1990s crime bills laid the groundwork for police militarization, but the virtually unlimited flow of “homeland security” money after 9/11 all but forced police departments to purchase battlefield equipment and other military paraphernalia whether they wanted them or not.  Unsurprisingly, like the War on Drugs and police abuse generally, “the use of paramilitary weapons and tactics primarily impacted people of color.”

Some police departments eagerly militarize, but many recognize the dangers. Salt Lake City police chief Chris Burbank is quoted in the ACLU report: “We’re not the military. Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.” A 2011 Los Angeles Times article, noting that “federal and state governments are spending about $75 billion a year on domestic security,” described how local police departments receive so much homeland security money from the U.S. government that they end up forced to buy battlefield equipment they know they do not need: from armored vehicles to Zodiac boats with side-scan sonar.

Finally, Matthew Harwood reports at “To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents.” That article begins:

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

The intruders, however, weren’t small-time crooks looking to make a small score. Rather they were members of the Tampa Bay Police Department’s SWAT team, which was executing a search warrant on suspicion that Westcott and his partner were marijuana dealers. They had been tipped off by a confidential informant, whom they drove to Westcott’s home four times between February and May to purchase small amounts of marijuana, at $20-$60 a pop. The informer notified police that he saw two handguns in the home, which was why the Tampa Bay police deployed a SWAT team to execute the search warrant.

In the end, the same police department that told Westcott to protect his home with defensive force killed him when he did. After searching his small rental, the cops indeed found weed, two dollars’ worth, and one legal handgun — the one he was clutching when the bullets ripped into him.

Welcome to a new era of American policing, where cops increasingly see themselves as soldiers occupying enemy territory, often with the help of Uncle Sam’s armory, and where even nonviolent crimes are met with overwhelming force and brutality.

The War on Your Doorstep

The cancer of militarized policing has long been metastasizing in the body politic.  It has been growing ever stronger since the first Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were born in the 1960s in response to that decade’s turbulent mix of riots, disturbances, and senseless violence like Charles Whitman’s infamous clock-tower rampage in Austin, Texas.

While SWAT isn’t the only indicator that the militarization of American policing is increasing, it is the most recognizable. The proliferation of SWAT teams across the country and their paramilitary tactics have spread a violent form of policing designed for the extraordinary but in these years made ordinary. When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphiaand Los Angeles Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials nationwide.  Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or large-scale disturbances.

Nearly a half-century later, that’s no longer true.

In 1984, according to Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it’s still rising, though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.

As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids. Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding community into terror.

Upping the Racial Profiling Ante

In a recently released report, “War Comes Home,” the American Civil Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a search warrant.

Pause here a moment and consider that these violent home invasions are routinely used against people who are only suspected of a crime. Up-armored paramilitary teams now regularly bash down doors in search of evidence of a possible crime. In other words, police departments increasingly choose a tactic that often results in injury and property damage as its first option, not the one of last resort. In more than 60% of the raids the ACLU investigated, SWAT members rammed down doors in search of possible drugs, not to save a hostage, respond to a barricade situation, or neutralize an active shooter.

On the other side of that broken-down door, more often than not, are blacks and Latinos. . .

Continue reading.

The militarization of the police is ominous. It must be stopped.


Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2014 at 9:02 am

The story of your life

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When I was very young, I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandmother. I liked her place a lot—a wood-burning Ben Franklin stove in the living room, in which I could build fires: how cool is that? Plus I could dig foxholes in her garden plot in the back yard. (This was during WWII, so foxholes were well known.) I’d dig earnestly, sometimes holes as deep as two feet—well, certainly 18 inches. At least a foot. Maybe less. And then when I had given that up for the pleasure of climbing the big oak tree in her front yard to sit in the tree house platform my uncles had built in earlier years, she would fill the holes with table scraps, feathers from slaughtered chickens (she raised, killed, cleaned, plucked, and cooked her own chickens), and the like and then cover the hole to let the buried matter contribute to the garden’s bounty. Or I could pick Monarch caterpillars from her dill plants (naturally, she put up pickles). In those days we saw a lot more butterflies and birds—I imagine the increasingly heavy use of pesticides accounts now for their relative rarity.

Monarch caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar

She was an interesting woman. She had a Merriam-Webster 2nd International Unabridged Dictionary and we used to read words from it. She bought herself a typewriter when she was in her 60’s—a large office Royal—and taught herself to type. She had a rain gauge and reported rainfall to the US Weather Bureau for a modest stipend. She got a book on clouds and taught me the names of many. On summer nights we’d lie on cots in the garden and look at the stars and watch for meteors—and saw some, too. We played checkers a lot on a homemade board with whiskey caps (the cork part cut off) for pieces. I never really wondered why the whiskey caps were so plentiful in a dry state, but my paternal grandfather, whom I never knew, had been an alcoholic—and as a result I have always been wary of alcohol during my adult life, though I am not a teetotaler. (I did not have my first drink until my freshman year of college, though.) I recall her telling me once while cooking hotcakes (the regional term for pancakes) that when she cooked for a restaurant in New Mexico, the hotcakes had to be perfectly round.

All that is to say that, now that I’m her age, I really wish I had learned more about her. I have lots of questions, but no one to ask. I do recall that when she was quite young, she told me that her family “headed west.” I was fascinated by that. “In a covered wagon?” I asked. “No,” she said. “We took the train.” That was such a letdown I didn’t ask much more, though as I recall they traveled as far as Greenville TX, and that at the time Wee Scot the end of the line. I do know that my own father was born in a tiny hamlet called “Lone Tree,” which had vanished by the time I grew up. Lone Tree, IT (Indian Territory, before statehood).

I got to thinking about how one becomes curious about one’s progenitors as on reaches their age, and so I decided on a little project: I’m starting to collect recollections of my childhood and subsequent life in a Scrivener document—no rush, I hope—and when I have it in shape, I’ll use CreateSpace to make a book of it for my grandsons. Then it will be available as they reach my age and (perhaps) become curious about me.

I have to say that in looking back and recounting events, I see some in a very different light now: the same events I’ve always known, but transformed by new insights and new information. It’s an interesting exercise.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2014 at 5:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

Excellent photo to illustrate an abstract scientific finding

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The finding was an experiment to determine whether a person is more likely to buy the game s/he’s researched and read good reviews about, or one s/he knows that friends have already purchased?

Here’s the article that explains the study and findings. And clearly we are a social species. I think the result would be very different for, say, tigers—but then tigers would not even use Facebook (even if they could): they’re not all that social.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2014 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

For those who are mildly obsessive in tracking things

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Take a look at this review of rTRACKER. I would buy it in a heartbeat if I had a smartphone—and if I had a smartphone, I think I would go with iPhone based on what I’ve been reading about security issues: Android phones, in being more open, are also more vulnerable. But even the iPhone is a little unsettling in how much info is collected.

Still, for me it’s not an issue: I’m mostly at home. But I do like rTRACKER.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2014 at 11:37 am


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