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Archive for January 18th, 2011

US principles and Internet freedom

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Wonderful column by Glenn Greenwald:

Hillary Clinton, speech on Internet freedom, Newseum, Washington, DC, January, 21, 2010:

Countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation. In an interconnected world, an attack on one nation’s networks can be an attack on all.

The New York Times, Saturday:

Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role . . . . Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. . . . the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program. . . . The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed.

Clinton’s Internet freedom speech:

During his visit to China in November, President Obama held a town hall meeting with an online component to highlight the importance of the internet. In response to a question that was sent in over the internet, he defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity. The United States’ belief in that truth is what brings me here today.

Salon, December 6, 2010:

Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters today that he is personally involved in the ongoing criminal probe of WikiLeaks and that he authorized "a number of things to be done so that we can get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable."

Clinton’s Internet speech:

Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. . . . They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right "to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Huffington Post, December 4, 2010:

Talking about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter could endanger your job prospects, a State Department official warned students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs this week.

An email from SIPA’s Office of Career Services went out Tuesday afternoon with a caution from the official, an alumnus of the school. Students who will be applying for jobs in the federal government could jeopardize their prospects by posting links to WikiLeaks online, or even by discussing the leaked documents on social networking sites, the official was quoted as saying.

ACLU, September, 2010:

DHS asserts the right to look though the contents of a traveler’s electronic devices — including laptops, cameras and cell phones — and to keep the devices or copy the contents in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S., regardless of whether the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing . . . . Documents obtained by the ACLU in response to a separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for records related to the DHS policy reveal that more than 6,600 travelers, nearly half of whom are American citizens, were subjected to electronic device searches at the border between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010.

Clinton’s Internet freedom speech:

But amid this unprecedented surge in connectivity, we must also recognize that these technologies are not an unmitigated blessing. These tools are also being exploited to undermine human progress and political rights. . . . technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.

The New York Times, Sunday:

Tunisia’s president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled his country on Friday night, capitulating after a month of mounting protests calling for an end to his 23 years of authoritarian rule. . . . The United States had counted Tunisia under Mr. Ben Ali as an important ally in battling terrorism. . . .

The protesters, led at first by unemployed college graduates like Mr. Bouazizi and later joined by workers and young professionals, found grist for the complaints in leaked cables from the United States Embassy in Tunisia, released by WikiLeaks, that detailed the self-dealing and excess of the president’s family. . ."Thank you, Al Jazeera," read one sign, commending the Arab news channel for its nightly coverage of the unrest in the past month — long before the Western news media took serious notice. Many here credit Al Jazeera’s broadcasts with forging the sense of solidarity and empowerment that moved Tunisians across the country to take to the streets simultaneously.

The U.S. has spent years warning that cyber warfare is the New Terrorism of the 21st Century; former DNI Michael McConnell even demanded in The Washington Post that the Internet be re-engineered to vest government and the private sector much greater surveillance controls to combat it (without disclosing the huge profits his Booz Allen clients stand to gain from such measures).  All the while, the U.S. was collaborating with the Israelis to engineer the most sophisticated and destructive cyber warfare weapon the world has ever known, one it secretly unleashed last year (and that’s to say nothing of the assassination of Iranian scientists which this weekend’s New York Times article obliquely mentions without expressing any interest in knowing who the culprits are).  Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s alwaysescalating war on whistleblowers — symbolized by its recent digging into Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks volunteers — is accompanied by sermons about the evils of punishing those who expose government wrongdoing and deceit and of exploiting Internet technologies to stifle transparency and accountability.

But it’s the Tunisia example that is most striking.  Virtually everyone is celebrating this triumph over oppression, with hopes that it can spark similar events in other nations in that region.  The causes of this uprising are complex and difficult to discern; it’s unclear how large of a role, if any, the WikiLeaks cables or Al Jazeera reports actually played in inspiring it.  But what is clear is that cables released by WikiLeaks — which, we should recall, were allegedly first obtained and disclosed by Bradley Manning — graphically detailed for the Tunisian citizenry the opulence and corruption of Tunisia’s U.S.-backed ruling family, and they were amplified by Al Jazeera.  By stark contrast, the U.S. Government — under both Bush and Obama — were steadfast supporters of this regime.

Exposing this type of corruption, oppression and deceit, and spurring these types of reforms, is exactly what Bradley Manning said (if one believes the chats) was his reason for his wanting the world to see these documents.  And using the Internet to promote what Hillary Clinton called "human progress and political rights" is precisely one of WikiLeaks’ primary objectives.  Yet the real agents of harnessing Internet and media technologies to promote freedom and human rights in Tunisia (and elsewhere) are either currently imprisoned by the U.S. (Manning), being harassed and on the verge of being prosecuted (WikiLeaks), or constantly demonized in the American media (Al Jazeera).  And that’s all being done by the same government that stands behind these repressive regimes and punishes those who seek to expose them — all while lecturing the world about the evils of those who seek to stifle transparency and freedom.  It’s hard to imagine anyone outside of the U.S. reacting with anything other than scornful laughter in the face of these American lectures on Internet freedom.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2011 at 2:17 pm

More of the US being an international bully without regard for law

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The US seems to be throwing its weight around in a fashion I really dislike:

I’ve written several times about the plight of Gulet Mohamed, the American teenager detained without charges more than three weeks ago in Kuwait by unknown captors, relentlessly interrogated about numerous matters of interest to the Obama administration, and, he claims, severely beaten and tortured.  One of the central questions of this episode has been this:  who is responsible for what has happened to him — the Kuwaiti government or his own country’s government?  From the beginning, it seemed highly implausible that a country as subservient to the U.S. as Kuwait would detain and relentlessly interrogate an American citizen without the assent or at least the knowledge of the U.S.  Those suspicions were heightened by (a) the strange refusal of the U.S. government to act to help their own citizen (instead repeatedly sending FBI agents to aggressively interrogate him), (b) the interrogation focus on Anwar Awlaki, an obsession of the Obama administration, and (c) the placement by the U.S. of Mohamed on the no-fly list, preventing his return.

Mohamed’s family has been insisting that it is the Americans behind his detention, while State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley denied this and insisted that they have provided Mohamed with consular assistance.  But new facts have emerged strongly suggesting that Crowley’s denials are false, and that it is indeed the Americans responsible for the 19-year-old’s ongoing, due-process-free detention.

When Mohamed was detained, none of his family members knew where he was or what had happened, and learned of it only because — once he was transferred to a deportation center — he was able to use an illicitly smuggled cellphone to call family members and journalists (The New York Times‘ Mark Mazzetti wrote an article about his plight and I posted a recorded interview with him from detention).  Once they learned of it, Gulet’s older brother, Mohad, traveled from the U.S. to Kuwait to work on securing his release.  I spoke with Mohad last night about these new events and the 8-minute interview can be heard on the player below.

On Friday, Kuwaiti officials told Gulet’s family that they had no cause or desire to detain Gulet.  To the contrary, as Mother Jones‘ Nick Baumann reported, the Kuwaits told his family that they would release Mohamed and deport him as soon as his family presented a purchased air ticket back to the U.S. (under Kuwaiti immigration law, foreign nationals being deported must travel on a direct flight by plane back to their country of citizenship).  Following the Kuwaitis’ instructions, Gulet’s family purchased and brought to the detention center a one-way ticket on United Airlines from Kuwait to Dulles International Airport in Washington, which was scheduled to depart last night.

Last night, the Kuwaiti deportation officers took Gulet, along with the ticket, to the airport and were prepared to send him back to the U.S.  But when he attempted to board the plane, he was told that he was barred from doing so.  According to Mohad, no reason was given, but it is presumably due to the U.S.’s placement of him on the no-fly list (which State Department officials, to The New York Times, previously confirmed they had done).  As a result, Gulet — thinking he was finally headed home — instead was returned to his detention facility, where he remains, and his prospects for release are now very unclear.

What’s going on here is a pure travesty.  As an American citizen, Gulet has the absolute right to return to and re-enter his country.  But by secretly placing him on the no-fly list while he was halfway around the world — and providing no information about why he was so placed — the U.S. Government is denying him his right to return.  Worse, they know that this action is not only preventing him from returning, but is keeping the 19-year-old in a state of absolute legal limbo, where’s he imprisoned by a country that admits it has no cause for holding him and does not want to hold him, yet which cannot release him.  The U.S. government has the obligation to assist its citizens when they end up detained without cause; here, they are doing the opposite:  they’re deliberately ensuring it continues.

If there’s any evidence that he has has done anything wrong, he should be charged, indicted, and brought back to the U.S. for trial.  What the Obama administration is doing instead is accomplishing what they could not do if he were in the U.S.:  holding him without a shred of due process, interrogating him without a lawyer present, and — if his credible claims are to believed — using beatings and torture to get the information it wants (or false information:  Gulet told me he was very tempted to falsely confess to make the beatings stop).  This abuse of the no-fly list is a common tactic used by the U.S. Government to circumvent all legal and constitutional constraints when it comes to its own citizens; this case just happens to be extra viscerally repellent.

Interview with Mohad Mohamed:

Click to go to original post to hear the interview.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2011 at 2:14 pm

Senile, not activist, judges are the problem

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Joseph Goldstein in ProPublica:

Judge Richard Owen of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan gathered a group of lawyers in his courtroom in 2007 to discuss the possible leak of sealed documents in a business case. As the hearing got under way, Owen, then 84, asked for someone to explain this newfangled mode of communication the lawyers kept mentioning — e-mail. "It pops up in a machine in some administrative office, and is somebody there with a duty to take it around and give it to whoever it’s named to?" he asked.

Some of the lawyers figured that Owen, whose chambers came with a mimeograph machine when he became a judge in 1973, was just behind the times. Others wondered if the judge’s memory was failing him. After all, the most famous case in his long career — the back-to-back trials of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone — had revolved around a single e-mail. Yet he now acted as though this was the first he was hearing about it. "He didn’t understand what was happening in his own courtroom," said one lawyer present that day.

Owen’s memory lapses popped up at critical moments. A month after his e-mail query, the judge stumbled badly when handing down a life sentence to drug dealer Darryl Henderson for his connection to a robbery crew that murdered three people in a Bronx apartment. The prosecutor had previously called Henderson "the key into that apartment," because Henderson was sleeping with the apartment’s female tenant and conceivably helped the murderers get past the front door. In Judge Owen’s mind, the metaphorical key became a literal key. He announced that the tenant had given Henderson "a key to get into that apartment," and seemed unperturbed when the prosecutor explained there was no such evidence.

Then Owen expressed confusion over the relatively limited counts the jury had found Henderson guilty of and grew exasperated when the defense and prosecution tried to set him straight. Lawyers questioned whether Owen’s mind was working well enough to be deciding matters of life and liberty. "Do I think age was a factor in some of his cloudy thinking? Yes," said David Patton, a defense attorney for Henderson. "There were many times when he seemed confused and exhausted.” Owen declined repeated interview requests.

Life tenure, intended to foster judicial independence, has been a unique feature of the federal bench since the Constitution was ratified in 1789. Back then, the average American lived to be about 40 and the framers didn’t express much worry about senile judges. "A superannuated bench," Alexander Hamilton said, is an "imaginary danger."

No longer. Today, aging and dementia are the flip side of life tenure, with more and more judges staying on the bench into extreme old age. About 12 percent of the nation’s 1,200 sitting federal district and circuit judges are 80 years or older, according to a 2010 survey conducted by ProPublica. Eleven federal judges over the age of 90 are hearing cases — compared with four just 20 years ago. (One judge, a Kansan appointed by President John F. Kennedy, is over 100.) The share of octogenarians and nonagenarians on the federal bench has doubled in the past 20 years. . . 

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2011 at 2:02 pm

Crazy drug laws

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This one is surpassingly stupid, and of course the US is right in there, being as obnoxious, stupid, and bullying as it can be. What has happened to this country? A press release from the International Drug Policy Consortium, including a couple of updates to the original post:

The following press release and advocacy note were issued by the International Drug Policy Consortium (of which Transform is a partner member) on Jan 13th

Update Sunday Jan 16: Diplomatic games to oppose lifting unjust ban on coca chewing

TNI detail latest developments as a number of countries withdraw objections, whilst the US continues its manoeuvring to push the objection through.

Update Tuesday Jan 18: The U.S. Moves to Block Bolivia’s Request to Eliminate U.N. Ban on Coca Leaf Chewing TNI cover latest developments as US prepare to lodge their objection 

Correcting a historical error: IDPC calls on countries to abstain from submitting objections to the Bolivian proposal to remove the ban on the chewing of the coca leaf

Several governments led by the United States are mobilising to block a request by the Bolivian government to remove an international ban on the centuries-old practice of chewing coca leaves. The 18-month period to contest Bolivia’s requested amendment ends January 31, 2011.

In 2009, Bolivia’s first indigenous President, Evo Morales Ayma, sent a request to the United Nations to remove the unjustified ban on coca leaf chewing. This would amend the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and bring it in line with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mr Morales sought to correct a historical error. He stated in his letter to the Secretary General: "Coca leaf chewing is one of the socio-cultural practices and rituals of the Andean indigenous peoples. It is closely linked to our history and cultural identity.” This ancestral practice "cannot and should not be prohibited.”

In the 1990s, a study conducted by the World Health Organisation concluded that chewing coca causes none of the harmful health or social consequences as cocaine use.  The US blocked the publication of this evidence.

The US and a number of other governments including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, the Russian Federation, Japan and Colombia are now planning to stop the right of Bolivians to express their own culture. They are planning to lodge formal objections to the amendment prior to the deadline on the January 31, 2011 which would result in the UN rejecting the Bolivian request.

Jeremy Corbyn, a UK Member of Parliament and the Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Bolivia, said,

At a time when drug prohibition has enriched and emboldened criminal cartels to such an extent that they are attempting to violently annex the state in parts of Mexico and Guatemala, the US is expending considerable effort in blocking the Bolivian government’s legitimate and democratic right to protect and preserve a harmless indigenous practice. The international community needs to get its priorities right and resist this culturally ignorant attempt to dictate to indigenous people in Bolivia.

The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) calls on countries not to oppose the amendment. Ann Fordham, the Coordinator of IDPC, stated,

Bolivia has made a reasonable and democratic request to the international community. The fact that predominantly Western countries are unwilling to allow even the slightest amendments to the drug control regime, even where they conflict with the cultural and indigenous rights, is a very worrying development.”

ends

IDPC Advocacy Note (available in pdf here)

The advocacy note is rather lengthy, so it’s below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2011 at 1:57 pm

Soft brush, triple-milled soap, great lather

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I happened to read this post by Joseph in Edinburgh on Shaving 101 this morning:

It is common to hear an experienced wet shaver refer to a particular brush as a “good soap [or cream] brush.” Although any shaving brush can be used to create lather, some work better and create lather more quickly than others.  Shaving brushes that are filled with a dense concentration of badger hair do a much better job with soaps because they have the extra “backbone” required to quickly agitate the surface of the soap and combine the product with water to create a rich lather. This is especially true for triple-milled soaps, such as D.R. Harris Arlington, which has a harder surface texture than other shaving soaps. On the other hand, shaving brushes that are softer, often referred to as “floppy,” are better suited for creams because they hold more water and the softer bristles are efficient at mixing cream into a thick lather. Floppy brushes can work for soap as well, but they take more work and a longer time to generate lather. If you frequently use both soaps and creams and only want to use a single shaving brush, then I recommend purchasing a dense brush, such as a Simpsons Chubby. The Chubby has a firm backbone helpful for hard soaps, but also has softer grades of badger hair suited for shaving creams, so it works well with both types of products…

My own experience is totally contrary to the above, but it is possible that Joseph’s lathering difficulties are due to working with hard water, and Monterey has soft water.

I simply don’t understand how anyone, working with reasonably soft water, can believe—based on experience—that a soft brush cannot efficiently (and with little effort) generate a fine lather from a hard, triple-milled shaving soap. My own experience is this:

There is an odd notion about, unsupported by experience (at least, unsupported by my own experience), that a soft brush cannot generate lather from hard shaving soaps—e.g., triple-milled soaps. I fully understand that some may prefer a brush that’s on the stiff side—we all have personal preferences—but a preference for a stiff brush does not imply that a soft brush doesn’t perform equally well in generating lather.

I think the mistaken notion arises simply because some men fail to load the brush with soap—they brush the surface of the soap briefly, then try to make a lather. Surprise! You cannot make a good lather with insufficient soap. But a soft brush can pick up plenty of soap through this technique: Wet brush with hot tap water, shake the brush, then brush the surface of the shaving soap briskly for 30-45 seconds. Move the brush to your wet beard and brush vigorously. Voilà! Lather.

Except maybe not: If you follow the above instructions and still get miserable lather, I suspect that you may be a victim of hard water.To check, go to the drugstore and buy a gallon of distilled water (sometimes called “purified” water—it’s sold for use in steam irons and humidifiers and the like). Heat some of that and try making the lather with that water. If that works, you pretty clearly have hard water.

So, having read Joseph’s note, I picked for my shave today my softest brush and a triple-milled soap:

The result: loads of lather generate quickly and easily. I loaded the brush for probably 15-20 seconds, brought it to my beard, and enjoyed wonderful lather. The Progress with a Swedish Gillette blade did three very nice passes, and a bit of the Castle Forbes Lavender aftershave balm set me up.

I surely hope that this strange notion about soft brushes being unable to perform well with hard soaps dies quickly.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2011 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Shaving

Design-Scene: A cool iPad app for designers

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2011 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

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