Later On

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

Archive for November 2010

Data visualization – pretty cool!

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Via PZ Myers:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 9:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

The response to Wikileaks is even more revealing than the leaks themselves

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Very interesting what has been said. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent column in which he summarizes some of the responses to the leaks. You really should read the entire column. Here are a few snippets from it:

The WikiLeaks disclosure has revealed not only numerous government secrets, but also the driving mentality of major factions in our political and media class.  Simply put, there are few countries in the world with citizenries and especially media outlets more devoted to serving, protecting and venerating government authorities than the U.S.  Indeed, I don’t quite recall any entity producing as much bipartisan contempt across the American political spectrum as WikiLeaks has:  as usual, for authoritarian minds, those who expose secrets are far more hated than those in power who commit heinous acts using secrecy as their principal weapon.

First we have the group demanding that Julian Assange be murdered without any charges, trial or due process.  There was Sarah Palin on on Twitter illiterately accusing WikiLeaks — a stateless group run by an Australian citizen — of "treason"; she thereafter took to her Facebook page to object that Julian Assange was "not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders" (she also lied by stating that he has "blood on his hands":  a claim which even the Pentagon admits is untrue).  Townhall’s John Hawkins has a column this morning entitled "5 Reasons The CIA Should Have Already Killed Julian Assange."  That Assange should be treated as a "traitor" and murdered with no due process has been strongly suggested if not outright urged by the likes of Marc Theissen, Seth Lipsky (with Jeffrey Goldberg posting Lipsky’s column and also illiterately accusing Assange of "treason"), Jonah Goldberg, Rep. Pete King, and, today, The Wall Street Journal.

The way in which so many political commentators so routinely and casually call for the eradication of human beings without a shred of due process is nothing short of demented.  Recall Palin/McCain adviser Michael Goldfarb’s recent complaint that the CIA failed to kill Ahmed Ghailani when he was in custody, or Glenn Reynolds’ morning demand — in between sips of coffee — that North Korea be destroyed with nuclear weapons ("I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs").  Without exception, all of these people cheered on the attack on Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 innocent human beings, yet their thirst for slaughter is literally insatiable.  After a decade’s worth of American invasions, bombings, occupations, checkpoint shootings, drone attacks, assassinations and civilian slaughter, the notion that the U.S. Government can and should murder whomever it wants is more frequent and unrestrained than ever. . . 

And this:

. . . Then, with some exceptions, we have the group which — so very revealingly — is the angriest and most offended about the WikiLeaks disclosures:  the American media, Our Watchdogs over the Powerful and Crusaders for Transparency.  On CNN last night, Wolf Blitzer was beside himself with rage over the fact that the U.S. Government had failed to keep all these things secret from him:

Are they doing anything at all to make sure if some 23-year-old guy, allegedly, starts downloading hundreds of thousands of cables, hundreds of thousands of copies of sensitive information, that no one pays attention to that, no one in the security system of the United States government bothers to see someone is downloading all these millions — literally millions of documents? . . . at this point, you know, it — it’s amazing to me that the U.S. government security system is so lax that someone could allegedly do this kind of damage just by simply pretending to be listening to a Lady Gaga C.D. and at the same time downloading all these kinds of documents.

Then — like the Good Journalist he is — Blitzer demanded assurances that the Government has taken the necessary steps to prevent him, the media generally and the citizenry from finding out any more secrets:  "Do we know yet if they’ve [done] that fix? In other words, somebody right now who has top secret or secret security clerics can no longer download information onto a C.D. or a thumb drive? Has that been fixed already?"  The central concern of Blitzer — one of our nation’s most  honored "journalists" — is making sure that nobody learns what the U.S. Government is up to.

Then there’s the somewhat controversial claim that our major media stars are nothing more than Government spokespeople and major news outlets little more than glorified state-run media.  Blitzer’s CNN reporting provided the best illustration I’ve seen in awhile demonstrating how true that is.  Shortly before bringing on David Gergen to rail against WikiLeaks’ "contemptible behavior" (while, needless to say, not giving voice to any defenders of WikiLeaks), this is what was heard in the first several minutes of the CNN broadcast (video below): . . .

And this:

. . . Then we have The New York Times, which was denied access to the documents by WikiLeaks this time but received them from The Guardian.  That paper’s Executive Editor, Bill Keller, appeared in a rather amazing BBC segment yesterday with Carne Ross, former British Ambassador to the U.N., who mocked and derided Keller for being guided by the U.S. Government’s directions on what should and should not be published:

KELLER:  The charge the administration has made is directed at WikiLeaks: they’ve very carefully refrained from criticizing the press for the way we’ve handled this material . . . . We’ve redacted them to remove the names of confidential informants . . . and remove other material at the recommendation of the U.S. Government we were convinced could harm National Security . . .

HOST (incredulously):  Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the Government in advance and say:  "What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that, and you get clearance, then?

KELLER:  We are serially taking all of the cables we intend to post on our website to the administration, asking for their advice.  We haven’t agreed with everything they suggested to us, but some of their recommendations we have agreed to:  they convinced us that redacting certain information would be wise.

ROSS:  One thing that Bill Keller just said makes me think that one shouldn’t go to The New York Times for these telegrams — one should go straight to the WikiLeaks site.  It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the U.S. Government, but that says a lot about the politics here, where Left and Right have lined up to attack WikiLeaks – some have called it a "terrorist organization."

It’s one thing for the Government to shield its conduct from public disclosure, but it’s another thing entirely for the U.S. media to be active participants in that concealment effort.  As The Guardian‘s Simon Jenkins put it in a superb column that I can’t recommend highly enough:  "The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. . . . Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets."  But that’s just it:  the media does exactly what Jenkins says is not their job, which — along with envy over WikiLeaks’ superior access to confidential information — is what accounts for so much media hostility toward that group.  As the headline of John Kampfner’s column in The Independent put it:  "Wikileaks shows up our media for their docility at the feet of authority." . . .

And this:

. . . The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog has an equally excellent analysis:

The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.

As Scott Shane, the New York Times‘ national security reporter, puts it: "American taxpayers, American citizens pay for all these diplomatic operations overseas and you know, it is not a bad thing when Americans actually have a better understanding of those negotiations".  Mr Shane goes on to suggest that "Perhaps if we had had more information on these secret internal deliberations of governments prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, we would have had a better understanding of the quality of the evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

I’d say providing that information certainly would have been a socially worthy activity, even if it came as part of a more-or-less indiscriminate dump of illegally obtained documents. I’m glad to see that the quality of discussion over possible US efforts to stymie Iran’s nuclear ambitions has already become more sophisticated and, well, better-informed due to the information provided by WikiLeaks.

If secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy, it is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents. I suspect that there is no scheme of government oversight that will not eventually come under the indirect control of the generals, spies, and foreign-service officers it is meant to oversee. Organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy.

The central goal of WikiLeaks is to prevent the world’s most powerful factions — including the sprawling, imperial U.S. Government — from continuing to operate in the dark and without restraints.  Most of the institutions which are supposed to perform that function — beginning with the U.S. Congress and the American media — not only fail to do so, but are active participants in maintaining the veil of secrecy.  WikiLeaks, for whatever its flaws, is one of the very few entities shining a vitally needed light on all of this.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that those factions — and their hordes of spokespeople, followers and enablers — see WikiLeaks as a force for evil.  That’s evidence of how much good they are doing. . .

There’s much more—it’s a long column that makes a strong case (in my mind) for what Wikileaks is doing. (He does include some specific criticisms of what he views as mistakes Wikileaks has made.)

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 9:35 am

A Darwinian theory of Beauty

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Via Open Culture, which has more info.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Excellent point: "Israel" does not equal "Jews"

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Andrew Sullivan:

Jeffrey replies to my inference that he wants a war with Iran:

I am opposed to a military strike on Iran for the foreseeable future. Last week, I wrote, of the Stuxnet virus that has apparently slowed down Iran’s centrifuges: "It is too early, obviously, to assess how much long-term damage the virus has done to the Iranian enrichment program, but I think it is possible to say that Stuxnet might be the best thing to happen to the Jewish people since the discovery that Scarlett Johansson is an M.O.T."… I believe, with some relief, that we are farther now from a military confrontation with Iran than we were six months ago, when I wrote my cover story on this subject, in part because of the subterfuge program, and in part because of the sanctions regime put in place by President Obama.

I take him at his word, and he has a right to veer back and forth on this as events and circumstances change. That’s called exercising practical judgment, even if it can be confusing for some readers over time. But in addressing his ugly claim that I believe

it is a group of warmongering Jews — alone — who seek to ignite World War III.

he now merely writes:

What is pleasing about the Wikileaks dump to me is that it disproves the narrative perpetrated by Andrew, and others, that it is only Israel advocating for war against Iran. This is an argument he has been making obsessively for more than a year. These documents seem to prove that, all the while, the most strident lobbyists for war against Iran have been Arab leaders, not Jews. I can understand why Andrew is so upset.

Notice something about these two passages. Jeffrey interchangeably uses "Israel" and "Jews" in the paragraph above, when it suits him, which makes anyone’s commentary on Israel at any particular time indistinguishable from some grand ethnic or racial statement about "Jews". For me and most people, there is, of course, a distinction. There is also a distinction between Israel and any particular Israeli government. And that is why strongly resisting the arguments and actions of any one Israeli government is not about Israel as such or "Jews" or "the Jews." It is about my good faith belief about US interests. By conflating these things so casually, Jeffrey keeps the anti-Semite card fully on the table, chilling criticism of Israel as if it were indistinguishable from bigotry. This rhetorical game really does have to stop.

As for the substantive issue, I am not upset, just amazed at how shamelessly many neocons dance from one position to another – now seeking to destabilize the Arab autocracies, now citing them as allies in their campaign for World War III.

And it is simply a fact that I have not argued that Israel alone wants war, although Israel has obviously been the main public champion. I have long fully understood and acknowledged that the Arab Sunni dictators are deeply hostile to Iran’s nuclear weapon development, and would love to crush the "Shiite trash" they despise and fear, especially if someone else can take the blame. Since Jeffrey actually witnessed my taking on the King of Jordan in this respect, and since it is integral to my most detailed argument about Israel and Palestine here and here, it is particularly disingenuous of him to maintain the canard that I have denied this in some fashion. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:52 am

DOJ does something right: DNA testing

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Jerry Markon reports in the Washington Post:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is reversing a controversial Bush administration policy under which numerous defendants have waived their right to DNA testing even though that right is guaranteed under federal law, Justice Department officials said Wednesday.

Holder will issue a memo on Thursday to the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, which overturns the practice of seeking "DNA waivers,” said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the policy shift had not been publicly announced.

The waivers have been in widespread use in federal cases for about five years and run counter to the national movement toward allowing prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing to prove their innocence. More than 260 wrongly convicted people have been exonerated by such tests, though virtually all have been state prisoners.

The waivers are filed only in guilty pleas and bar defendants from ever requesting DNA testing, even if evidence emerges that could exonerate them. Statistics show that innocent people sometimes plead guilty, often for a reduced sentence. One quarter of the 261 people who have been exonerated by DNA testing had falsely confessed to crimes they didn’t commit, and 19 of them pleaded guilty, according to the New York-based Innocence Project.

Holder last year ordered a review of the little-known policy, under which the Bush Justice Department had told prosecutors to seek DNA waivers whenever possible. The review came after inquiries about DNA waivers by The Washington Post.

The waivers have been part of the standard plea agreement filed by some of the nation’s most prominent U.S. attorneys, including those in the District, Alexandria and Manhattan. Defense lawyers say their clients are essentially forced to sign the waivers or lose the benefits of a plea agreement, such as a lighter sentence.

Holder’s memo, according to sources who have seen it, says the DNA waiver policy is rigid and inconsistently applied. As of last year, . . .

Continue reading.

Ed Brayton points out an interesting aspect of story:

. . .  We know now that people often plead guilty to crimes they did not commit for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they actually become convinced that they committed the crime. Other times they are coerced into doing so because the police lie to them during interrogations and tell them that they have their fingerprints or their DNA so they’d better plead guilty to get a lesser sentence. In most cases, they do so because their court-appointed attorney gives them little choice because they’re too busy to actually put on a defense and lack the resources to put on a competent one even if they had the time.

This is a very good thing the Obama administration is doing. But it makes their position in Osborne last term all the more bizarre. In that case, Obama’s Solicitor General — that would be Justice Kagan now — took the appalling position that there is no constitutional right to access DNA evidence for testing that could prove one’s innocence even if they pay for the testing themselves. The inconsistency is obvious.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:41 am

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Wants To Spill Your Corporate Secrets

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Interesting story by Andy Greenberg in Forbes:

In a rare interview, Assange tells Forbes that the release of Pentagon and State Department documents are just the beginning. His next target: big business.

Early next year, Julian Assange says, a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out. Tens of thousands of its internal documents will be exposed on with no polite requests for executives’ response or other forewarnings. The data dump will lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.

(For the full transcript of Forbes’ interview with Assange click here.)

When? Which bank? What documents? Cagey as always, Assange won’t say, so his claim is impossible to verify. But he has always followed through on his threats. Sitting for a rare interview in a London garden flat on a rainy November day, he compares what he is ready to unleash to the damning e-mails that poured out of the Enron trial: a comprehensive vivisection of corporate bad behavior. “You could call it the ecosystem of corruption,” he says, refusing to characterize the coming release in more detail. “But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest.”

This is Assange: a moral ideologue, a champion of openness, a control freak. He pauses to think—a process that occasionally puts our conversation on hold for awkwardly long interludes. The slim 39-year-old Wiki­Leaks founder wears a navy suit over his 6-foot-2 frame, and his once shaggy white hair, recently dyed brown, has been cropped to a sandy patchwork of blonde and tan. He says he colors it when he’s “being tracked.”

“These big-package releases. There should be a cute name for them,” he says, then pauses again.

“Megaleaks?” I suggest, trying to move things along.

“Yes, that’s good—megaleaks.” His voice is a hoarse, Aussie-tinged baritone. As a teenage hacker in Melbourne its pitch helped him impersonate IT staff to trick companies’ employees into revealing their passwords over the phone, and today it’s deeper still after a recent bout of flu. “These megaleaks . . . they’re an important phenomenon. And they’re only going to increase.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:32 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The Passport in America: The History of a Document

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The Passport in America: The History of a Document

by Craig Robertson

A review by Sarah E. Igo

Craig Robertson opens his history of the passport with a seemingly trivial anecdote: In 1923, a Danish man traveling in Germany reportedly had to regrow his mustache before border officials would permit him to return home. When clean-shaven, he did not resemble the photograph in his passport, a document that had only recently become essential for travel across national boundaries.

The Dane’s experience seems benign compared to those of Arizona’s immigrants and other undocumented individuals in our post-9/11 world. But the beauty of Robertson’s The Passport in America is that it shows how a modern "documentary regime of verification" created new rules of movement for the well-heeled and marginal alike. The United States was slower than Europe to require identity papers, devising a universal passport system only after World War I hardened borders abroad and internal clamor resulted in immigration restriction in the 1920s. Yet America was perhaps more vigorous in its effort to track individuals and make them visible to the state.

Robertson, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, asks how "a piece of paper" came to be thought of as official identification, and why that document "was considered reliable and accurate enough to secure the border of a nation-state." The emergence of nation-states themselves, the new value placed on experts’ claims to objective knowledge, and increasing bureaucratic centralization are all part of his answer. Tracing the career of the American passport from "a letter of introduction to a certificate of citizenship to an identification document" between the 1840s and the 1920s, when it assumed its modern form, Robertson takes fascinating excursions into the history of currency, voting, immigration, tourism, and even filing methods.

Robertson probes the technologies of identification that gradually became part of the U.S. passport, such as the bearer’s name, signature, physical description, and photograph, as well as the ever-more-standardized bureaucracy that produced it. The result, he argues, was official, state-produced identities that became truer, in a sense, than individuals’ own testimony about who they were. Yet, Robertson regularly reminds us, public (and even official) acceptance of the passport was contested.

One hurdle was the persistent association of official documentation with suspect populations such as criminals and the insane, so that "respectable" travelers took offense at the idea that their word could not substantiate their identity. The flip side was the fact that official-looking papers were not enough to enable particular sorts of individuals — Mexican workers crossing the border, merchants exempted from the draconian Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — to prove that they were who they said they were. In these instances, bodies were scrutinized more carefully than papers, inspectors’ personal judgment trumping bureaucratic procedure.

One might imagine a history of bureaucracy to be dreary, but apart from a few moments of excessive technical detail,The Passport in America is compelling reading. We learn, for instance, about the difficulty that newly enforced borders posed for …

Continue reading:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:16 am

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