Later On

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

Data Shows Little Evidence for FBI’s Concerns About Criminals ‘Going Dark’

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It’s difficult to trust the FBI. Not only is there the matter of dissembling (describing laughable plots that the FBI had to use paid confidential informants (entrapment artists) to suggest, plan, and support before the FBI arrested the participants and issued press releases), but there’s also the outright incompetence (the FBI forensics lab did an incredibly bad job for years, and the FBI has deliberately avoided scientific testing to determine good procedures).

Now we see the FBI dissembling again, as described in Motherboard by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

In the last few months, several government officials, led by the FBI’s Director James Comey, have been complaining that the rise of encryption technologies would lead to a “very dark place” where cops and feds can’t fight and stop criminals.

But new numbers released by the US government seem to contradict this doomsday scenario.

In 2014, encryption thwarted four wiretaps out of 3,554, according to an annual report published on Wednesday by the US agency that oversees federal courts.

The report reveals that state law enforcement agencies encountered encryption in 22 wiretaps last year. Out of those, cops were foiled on only two occasions. As for the feds, they encountered encryption in just three wiretaps, and could not decipher the intercepted communications in two of them.

“This is on a downward trend, not upward.”

“They’re blowing it out of proportion,” Hanni Fahkoury, an attorney at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told Motherboard. “[Encryption] was only a problem in five cases of the more than 3,500 wiretaps they had up. Second, the presence of encryption was down by almost 50 percent from the previous year.

“So this is on a downward trend, not upward,” he wrote in an email.

In fact, cops found less encryption last year than in the year prior. In 2013, state authorities encountered encryption in 41 cases, versus 22 in 2014. At the federal level, there were three cases of encryption in 2014, against none in 2013. (The report also refers to five federal wiretaps conducted in “previous years” but only reported in 2014. Of those, the feds were able to crack the communications in four of the five.)

The FBI did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.

Yet, other experts warn that the Wiretap Report is only a small window into the world of government surveillance.

First of all, the FBI has been railing against encryption not just when it’s used for communications, but especially when it’s used to safeguard data on the phone or computer. The whole recent debate was spurred by Apple’s announcement that it wouldn’t be able to unlock phones for the police anymore, and that new iPhones would be encrypted by default. Wiretaps aren’t used to get that kind of data, but cover mostly communications.

Moreover, the FBI has said in the past that it doesn’t apply for wiretaps when it know it can’t intercept the targeted communications, according to Albert Gidari, a lawyer at Perkins Coie who has worked with technology firms on surveillance matters, and Jonathan Mayer, a computer scientist and lawyer at Stanford University.

“The report is suggestive, but hardly conclusive,” Mayer told Motherboard. “Much more telling, in my view, is that law enforcement and intelligence officials remain unable to provide episodes where encryption frustrated an investigation.”

So far, the FBI has yet to put forth a valid example where encryption really thwarted an investigation. In fact, some of the examples cited by Comey have been debunkedin media reports. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2015 at 12:23 pm

Why Obama Gave a Christian Speech Without Mentioning Jesus

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James Fallows continues his series of columns on the Obama speech in Charleston.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2015 at 12:09 pm

Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy?

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James W. Loewen, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont, has an interesting column in the Washington Post:

History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley allegedly said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War. As soon as Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done, and why. Their resulting mythology went national a generation later and persists — which is why a presidential candidate can suggest that slavery was somehow pro-family, and the public believes that the war was mainly fought over states’ rights.

The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation that they spread, which has manifested in both our history books and our public monuments.

Take Kentucky. Kentucky’s legislature voted not to secede, and early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm as we imagined and hoped but hostility … in Kentucky.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

Neo-Confederates also won western Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville courthouse. Montgomery County never seceded, of course. While Maryland did send 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, it sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Nevertheless, the UDC’s monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland / That we through life may not forget to love the Thin Gray Line.”

In fact, the Thin Grey Line came through Montgomery and adjoining Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington. Lee’s army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing and information. They didn’t. Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile, Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early demanded and got $300,000 from them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to at least $5,000,000 today. Today, however, Frederick boasts what it calls the “Maryland Confederate Memorial,” and the manager of the Frederick cemetery — filled with Union and Confederate dead — told me in an interview, “Very little is done on the Union side” around Memorial Day. “It’s mostly Confederate.”

In addition to winning the battle for public monuments, neo-Confederates also managed to rename the war, calling it “the War Between the States.” Nevermind that while it was going on, no one called it that. Even Jeopardy!accepts it.

Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South seceded for states’ rights. When each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights. In its “Declaration Of The Causes Which Impel The State Of Texas To Secede From The Federal Union,” for example, the secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended them: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. These states had in fact exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Some also no longer let slaveowners “transit” through their states with their slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for: white supremacy:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Despite such statements, during and after the Nadir, neo-Confederates put up monuments that flatly lied about the Confederate cause. For example, . . .

Continue reading.

The outright lies are amazing, particularly those included in school textbooks: despite being blatant falsehoods, they are taught to young American children.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2015 at 9:49 am

Posted in Education, GOP

Semogue, Phoenix, and the Mongoose

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SOTD 1 July 2015

Another very good shave, and I think I’m becoming accustomed to the handle: seemed perfectly okay today.

The Semogue has more breaking in to do: lather was gone by the third pass, so I just reloaded. But I think it’s coming along, and the knot’s well behaved.

I do like the fragrance of Phoenix Artisan’s Otra shaving soap, and the lather was quite good. On the Phoenix Artisan site, he tells quite a tale of the origin of the fragrance (and in the process makes me want to buy the Al Fin soap or aftershave):

Otra is built on a fougère base that I constructed from the ground up, note for note and drop by drop. I could have just stopped there but I chose to go further and build on top of this very green foundation, imagining it to be the mossy green wrappings around the riverbed. Next comes the sandalwood and rosewood, scents I imagine the trees that populate the forest to be emitting. I sprinkled the forest bed with white clover and watched it shoot to life, full & four leafed! Then the river itself, reeds and water plants were created with the addition of white sage hydrosol, rose water, and organic seaweed extract, not overpowering but in the background, you wouldn’t notice it sitting on the banks but you would if it was absent. Lastly our star player, Centaurea Cyanus.

Three passes with the Mongoose holding the Kamisori blade, and once again a trouble-free shave. However, I’m getting the impression that the Kamisori does not cut quite so easily as some of the others. I’ll give it one more shave, then I’m replacing it with a different brand to see.

A good splash of Bathhouse Soapery’s aftershave splash, and the shave is done.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2015 at 9:45 am

Posted in Shaving

A really remarkably good movie: Sword of the Beast

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A movie with a complex and nuanced plot. Really intriguing in the moral trade-offs and balancing. Quite remarkable.

Netflix makes it extraordinarily difficult to find. I guess they really are trying to shut down the DVD line—like GM shut down public transit in LA, for example.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2015 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

Pot’s Pesticide Problem

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Kaleigh Rogers reports at Motherboard on a problem due totally to marijuana being illegal instead of being legal, taxed, and regulated:

It goes without saying that growing weed is a little different from growing other kinds of crops. I mean, I don’t suspect vegetable farmers lose much sleep worrying aboutmischievous teens sneaking into their fields at night to grab fistfuls of organic kale (maybe hipster teens). But there’s one area where the difference between marijuana and other crops is particularly stark: pesticides, and it has both growers and consumers concerned.

For every other crop grown in the US, the chemicals used on them (like pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides) are carefully monitored and restricted by the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. There are different limits setfor what kind of pesticides can be used and what is an acceptable level of chemicals that can be left behind on a crop (crops we eat, like tomatoes, are treated differently than crops we use for other purposes, like cotton).

But because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, there are no protocols for pesticides when it comes to growing weed. From the federal government’s point of view, you shouldn’t be using any pesticides on cannabis because you shouldn’t be growing cannabis in the first place.

This has left growers with limited resources for trying to determine the best way to keep their crops healthy and their customers safe.

“Until very recently, it was the wild west: everyone was using whatever they wanted to, whatever they heard about on the internet,” said Whitney Cranshaw, a professor of entomology at the University of Colorado who studies pest management for crops. “Some were appropriate, others were inappropriate, but there was no direction from the feds, no direction from the state, no direction from anybody. So they just did what they thought was right.”

Recently, states where it’s legal to grow and sell medical or recreational marijuana have started rolling out recommendations for growers. In May, Colorado’s Department of Agriculture released a list of pesticides and fungicides that cannabis growers can use. Washington state followed suit earlier this month. But the lists are limited—they mostly focus on natural pesticides like cinnamon oil and garlic—and don’t provide a lot of info about the potential long-term effects of synthetic pesticides on a crop that isn’t just ingested, but inhaled.

“You can consume a large amount of pesticides from the plant by smoking it,” said Jeffrey Raber, a chemistry PhD who has studied the effects of pesticides on cannabis with his lab The WercShop. In 2013, The WercShop published a peer-reviewed study on the effects of pesticides on marijuana and found that up to 70 percent of pesticide residues on pot could be ingested through smoking. Aside from the high rate, Raber pointed out that inhaling a chemical very different from eating it.

“Usually the safety limits for a chemical on an inhalable substance are about ten times greater because they feel it’s that much more sensitive,” Raber said. “You don’t have stomach acid and your liver coming at things first. When you inhale things, it goes directly into your bloodstream. That’s a very different beast.”

The easy solution would seem to be looking to the pesticide restrictions on tobacco. People inhale tobacco the same way they inhale marijuana, so if a pesticide is safe to use on tobacco it must be safe for growing weed, right? Not quite, Raber said. Turns out the EPA has never been all that strict with tobacco regulations: research has shown the tobacco industry lobbies hard to keep its favored pesticides legal, and the list of pesticides commonly used on tobacco is fairly lengthy. Raber said at the end of the day, tobacco is getting mixed up with dozens of other nasty chemicals before it’s rolled into a cigarette. If you’re getting sick from a cigarette, it’s probably not because of a little bit of residual pesticide on the tobacco leaf.

And besides, Raber pointed out that tobacco, though also smoked, is a pretty different product than marijuana. While pot is often prescribed for people going through cancer treatments like chemotherapy to help ease pain and curb nausea, cigarettes are pretty much universally considered a bad idea when you’re going through chemo.

So if growers can’t look to the government and they can’t look to other crops as an example, what’s a modern day grow-op to do? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2015 at 10:43 am

Posted in Business, Drug laws, Health

California Just Banned the ‘Personal Belief’ Exemption for Vaccines

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High time. When personal beliefs have a social cost that results in harm to the public, then it’s right that the government can act to protect the public. Kaleigh Rogers reports at Motherboard:

It’s official: California has passed a law prohibiting parents from using personal belief as an excuse to keep their kids unvaccinated.

Under the new law, parents can still choose not to vaccinate their children if they wish, but those kids won’t be allowed to attend public schools or daycares, and will have to either be homeschooled or enter a private school.

There are a few exceptions: kids who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons are exempt from the ruling, and only 10 specific vaccines are required, including the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella. Children who have special education needs will also still be guaranteed access to resources they need if they are booted from public school for being unvaccinated.

Last week, California’s State Assembly considered the bill, which had already been green-lit by the state senate, ultimately voting to approve it 46-30. This week, the senate approved the amendments that were added to the bill before passing it to the desk of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who signed the bill this morning.

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” the governor wrote in a memo about his decision. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2015 at 10:39 am

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