Later On

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

Archive for January 23rd, 2011

Supreme Court Justices: Conflicts of interest

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A “conflict of interest” is a polite way of referring to a pay-off—probably not in cash on the spot, but in cash in the future from investments and rewards. Tom Hamburger (no relation) reports for the LA Times:

A government watchdog group alleges that two of the Supreme Court’s most conservative members had a conflict of interest when they considered a controversial case last year that permitted corporate funds to be used directly in political campaigns.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the subject of an unusual letter delivered Wednesday by Common Cause asking the U.S. Justice Department to look into whether the jurists should have disqualified themselves from hearing the campaign finance case if they had attended a private meeting sponsored by Charles and David Koch, billionaire philanthropists who fund conservatives causes. A Supreme Court spokesperson said late Thursday that the two justices did not participate in the Koch brothers’ private meetings, though Thomas “dropped by.”

If it believes there is a conflict, the Justice Department, as a party to the case, should ask the court to reconsider its decision, Common Cause said.

The landmark case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, was decided a year ago this week. It permitted corporate and union funds to be spent directly on election advertising, a practice that had previously been restricted. The Kochs have been significant donors to independent-expenditure campaigns, which increased dramatically after the Citizens United decision.

The letter is based in part on references to Scalia and Thomas made in an invitation to an upcoming meeting this month of elite conservative leaders sponsored by the Kochs. The invitation, first obtained by the liberal blog Think Progress, names the two justices among luminaries who have attended the closed Koch meetings at unspecified dates in the past.

Representatives of the Kochs declined repeated requests for comment. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Decisions about recusal from individual cases are up to each individual justice.

Some legal scholars dismiss the complaint as unlikely to succeed. But others said raising the issue could engender useful public scrutiny and debate about judicial independence.

Steven Gillers, a legal ethics specialist at New York University, said the Koch brothers’ use of Scalia and Thomas’ name for their upcoming meeting was “troubling.”

“I believe the nation has a right to know exactly what role if any the Justices played in the Koch gatherings, including the content of any remarks they made and whether Citizens United was a subject of any gathering they attended,” Gillers said. “The answers can help determine whether they were able to sit in the case and, if not, whether the result should be overturned. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2011 at 2:43 pm

One-pot meals

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Today’s one-pot meal was extremely tasty:

1/4 large onion, sliced
1.5 cups egg noodles
1/3 cup lite coconut milk
sprinkling of turmeric
8 oz boneless pork chop, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-size pieces
salt, pepper, a little crushed red pepper flakes
sliced mushrooms (does everyone use an egg slicer to slice mushrooms?)
1/2 bulb fresh fennel, cored and sliced
1/2 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1″ squares

I planned the next layer to be chopped cabbage, but I was using one of the squat Dutch ovens and ran out of room. No doubt that the Texsport 2-quart Dutch oven, with its greater height, is better for this type of cooking. I do have a Staub 2.25-quart enameled cast-iron cocotte on the way, and I think that will work well. (It comes in many colors. I was tempted by Grenadine, but went with the color at the link.)

Whisk together:

2 Tbsp vinaigrette
1 Tbsp golden balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Pour over the top, cover, and put in 450º F oven for 45 minutes.

It was quite tasty, but a little monochrome. I think I should have used a red bell pepper instead of yellow and also put a chopped zucchini in. A layer of sliced tomatoes on the top would have been good.

But, hey! no complaints. It was quite tasty indeed. [UPDATE: The turmeric, BTW, gave the egg noodles a wonderful rich golden color. I used only a light sprinkling, and perhaps the coconut milk helped as well. At any rate, I’m doing it again. – LG]

TYD pointed out that the current issue of Fine Cooking features one-pot meals (links here and below are to the magazine), and it has some good ones. They are all braises, however: a different approach. They also looked harder: this method is just:

1. Load the pot
2. Roast for 45 minutes
3. Eat two meals

No leftovers, only one pot to clean.

I did enjoy the issue, except the strange article on “grains” that talks at length about seeds that are NOT grains. (I think the author is simply ignorant.) The seeds discussed: teff, farro, millet, quinoa, and amaranth. Farro and millet are indeed grains; teff, quinoa, and amaranth (and buckwheat, for that matter) are not. The unfortunate author then exposes profound food ignorance in a national magazine. And doesn’t Fine Cooking have editors? or are they as ignorant as the author?

I really liked the article on meat loaves. I’ll be making some of those.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2011 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Do SWAT teams have adequate training?

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Radley Balko describes a total mess:

Last week The Washington Post reported that Sal Culosi’s parents have reached a $2 million settlement with Fairfax County, Virginia, police Detective Deval Bullock, who shot and killed the 38-year-old optometrist during a January 2006 SWAT raid on his home. The unusual settlement reflects the outrageous facts of this case, in which an unarmed man suspected of nothing more than betting on sports was recklessly gunned down during an unnecessarily violent operation.

The SWAT team came to Culosi’s house because another Fairfax County detective, David Baucum, overheard him and some friends wagering on a college football game at a bar. "To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends," a friend of Culosi’s told me shortly after his death. "None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting 50 bucks or so on the Virginia/Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation." Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi. During the next several months he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were friendly wagers. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day, enough under Virginia law for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. That’s when they brought in the SWAT team.

On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team moved in. Moments later, Bullock, who had had been on duty since 4 a.m. and hadn’t slept in 17 hours, killed him. Culosi’s last words: "Dude, what are you doing?"

Culosi’s parents, Sal and Anita Culosi, later learned that police stopped a nurse at Fairfax Hospital, where Culosi’s body was taken after the raid, from notifying them that their son, one of three children, had been shot. (The optometrist’s father is also named Salvatore, shortened to Sal, although the son was named after an uncle on his mother’s side—ironically, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty.) The Culosis did not hear about the raid until five hours after their son had been shot and killed, preventing the devout Catholic family from administering last rites.

In the months that followed, Baucum continued his investigation, badgering Culosi’s grieving friends and relatives after pulling their names and numbers from the cell phone he was carrying and a computer taken from his home the night he was killed. Steve Gulley, Culosi’s brother-in-law, told The Washington Post the following April that Baucum called him and menacingly asked, "How much are you into Sal for?" Scott Lunceford, a lifelong friend of Culosi’s, told the Post Baucum called him and accused him of being a gambler. The calls, Gulley told the paper, smacked of intimidation aimed at discouraging a lawsuit.

Police departments in Northern Virginia are notoriously stingy with information, and the Culosis grew increasingly frustrated with Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer. The public did not even learn Bullock’s name until The Washington Post‘s Tom Jackman reported it based on a tip from a confidential source. (The Fairfax County Police Department still has not released the name of the police officer who shot unarmed motorist David Masters in November 2009.) It took more than a year for the police department to issue its report (PDF) on Culosi’s death. The report, prepared by Chief Rohrer’s staff, claimed Bullock accidentally fired his gun—resulting in a direct hit that pierced Culosi’s heart—after the door to Bullock’s SUV recoiled and struck him in the arm as he was getting out of the vehicle. The report did at least acknowledge that Bullock inappropriately had his finger on the trigger of his weapon. It also conceded that in hindsight sending a SWAT team after an unarmed man accused of a nonviolent crime probably was a mistake, although it did not fault the department for doing so.

The Culosis were dubious. They believed Bullock mistook the cell phone their son was holding the night he was shot for a gun. They hired their own investigators, who determined, based on the department’s own measurements of the crime scene, that when Bullock pulled the trigger he was away from his vehicle and much closer to Culosi than he had claimed. Using the recorded locations of shell casings, police vehicles, and Culosi’s body, they produced computer animations (see below) showing that the incident could not have happened in the manner described by Chief Rohrer’s report. . .

Continue reading. You really should watch that animation at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2011 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Antikythera mechanism in Legos

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Thanks to The Wife for pointing out. More info here.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2011 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

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