Later On

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

Archive for August 4th, 2011

Two must-reads, one on-line

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Both are in the New Yorker.The on-line one is comic: a comment thread in God’s blog.

The other hit me with one of those self-revelations you sometimes get. It’s an article on Lucretius by Stephen Greenblatt, but it’s locked on-line.

I realized as I read the article the source of much of my outlook and worldview: Lucretius. I was particularly struck by Lucretius when we read him in seminar in my Sophomore year [update: I just remembered that De Rerum Natura was the book we read over the summer between freshman and sophomore year—the summer I was 18 and (obviously) impressionable], and seriously considered writing my senior essay on Lucretius (but instead wrote an essay titled The Education of Huckleberry Finn). Later I read him anew when I was a tutor there, and again I was taken by him.

The years go on, and what I remember (apart from the obvious highlights and issues) was a strong feeling of connection, but I couldn’t remember why. Now, in reading the article which lays out Lucretius’s worldview, I realized why: his book was where I got much of my own worldview, either directly (as in the reading and teaching) or indirectly (e.g., through reading Machiavelli in high school and being totally entranced—I don’t know what directed me there, but it was probably a mention in some science-fiction story; the connection is that Machiavelli as a young man read Lucretius closely and indeed made a manuscript copy).

And, of course—and as Greenblatt’s essay makes clear—Lucretius’s ideas had in effect created the modern world, so it is small wonder that I picked up that worldview: it’s the common worldview of today.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2011 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

No Apple, for a while

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The mysterious and intermittent screen blackout (which was accompanied I eventually noted by an equally mysterious and intermittent screen refusal-to-turn-off-when-lid-is-closed) had not reappeared since I installed OS X Lion, so I thought the problem was fixed. But this morning as I sat is my chair, I heard the faintest “ping” and the screen went black for good: there was no turning on the computer.

This afternoon I was at the Genius Bar. The immediate suspicion was the third-party RAM I installed (though I think the blackouts were occurring before that), but when they replaced that RAM (temporarily) with new Apple RAM, still not joy: a dead computer.

It’s gone in and I should have it back next week. Light blogging until then.

I’m SO glad I got the little 1 TB My Passport hard drive and have been doing regular Time Machine backups. I’m now thinking that I should have gotten the Time Capsule: backups via wireless every 10 minutes. But I’ll lose very little even if they do lose data—and they probably won’t. It sounds like a physical switch is bad.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2011 at 3:14 pm

Posted in Technology

Building a Brompton

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I thought this was pretty cool:

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2011 at 10:19 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with , ,

Obama’s War on Whistleblowers

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I included a link to this column yesterday, but I wanted to be sure you got a chance to read it. The column is by two whistleblowers, one of whom, Thomas Drake, was the guy who was prosecuted vengefully, though the government ended up dropping most charges.

When President Obama took office, federal employees who had exposed wrongdoing or were considering doing so had reason for hope. Eight years of the Bush administration’s relentless retaliation against whistle-blowers had ended, and Obama spoke encouragingly of transparency and due process.

Since then, the administration has taken some positive steps for whistle-blowers, most notably in (unsuccessfully) advocating legislation to protect them and in loosening the government’s grip on public information. However, its treatment of national-security and intelligence whistle-blowers – arguably the ones we need most – has been brutal. It has pursued multiple prosecutions of such whistle-blowers on espionage charges.

As prominent whistle-blowers on matters of national security, we have experienced the crackdown firsthand.

Each of our cases began shortly after 9/11. One of us (Radack) warned the Justice Department against interrogating “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh without an attorney. She later exposed the FBI’s ethics violations in deciding to proceed, its barbaric treatment of him, and the mysterious disappearance of evidence of the warning from DOJ files.

The other (Drake) exposed billions of dollars in waste, mismanagement, and malfeasance at the National Security Agency, epitomized by an expensive surveillance program that was ultimately canceled.

Neither of us knew we had stumbled on and disrupted the embryonic stages of two of the most controversial policies of George W. Bush’s administration: torture and secret surveillance. The government attempted to justify both through a theory of expansive presidential power, enabled by a state-secrets doctrine that was used to evade judicial review.

We both complained through internal channels – our supervisors and respective inspectors general – and, when that failed, made the difficult choice to go to the press. Then we became targets of federal criminal investigations into the leaks. In effect, for exercising our First Amendment right to speak to reporters about issues of public concern – revealing only unclassified information – we were designated traitors and enemies of the state.

Our “crimes” amounted to embarrassing the government by exposing high-level corruption, incompetence, and illegality. Neither of us was ever even alleged to have harmed national security. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2011 at 8:56 am

James Fallows on the breakdown of rules and norms

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Fallows brings up some interesting points in this post:

A few months ago, after I had done a post about destructive rule-changes in current American politics,Andrew Sprung wrote back with this refinement:

It’s not the rules, it’s the norms. That is, the GOP, led first by Gingrich and then by Bush Jr., blew through norms and broke taboos that had greased our democratic machinery for decades prior to the early 90s. These include, “you shall not filibuster every pending bill or block every opposition appointment” as well as “you shall not torture detainees or politicize Justice Department hiring.” On the other hand: with the old norms broken, we need some new rules to create new norms.&

That’s on my mind more and more as we assess the damage of the past month in American politics. Let’s assess why the results are so sobering:

1. In economics, we have the spectacle of a new wave of public austerity just as the private economy begins to contract again. World markets were “uncertain” during the period of doubt about a debt-ceiling agreement. Now that we have the certainty of contraction and austerity, markets have been down, hard. More important, layoffs are headed up.

2. In the realm of public discourse, we have a discussion that proceeds as if no one had ever heard that cutting government spending, as private payrolls fall, is a time-tested route toward lower payrolls, more cutbacks, and a longer, harder descent for everyone involved. Maybe you don’t want to believe Keynes (even just The Economic Consequences of the Peace) or other postwar economists, or historians or analysts from Robert Skidelsky to Liaquat Ahamed, or Richard Nixon! In that case maybe you’ll believe Hu Jintao. We’ve just had a debate about public finance comparable to a debate about the moon program in which no one had heard of gravity.

3. In the realm of public function, we have the unbelievable travesty of the FAA quasi-shutdown. As Don Brown, longtime FAA controller and safety expert, and former guest blogger on this site, has explained, it’s largely thanks to one man — Rep. John Mica, shown looking dapper in an official photo at right — that at this moment some 4,000 FAA employees and their families are without income, plus some 70,000 construction workers and their families who are laid off without income while construction projects have been frozen. All this while Mica and his colleagues go on their (paid) month-plus vacation. And while the FAA loses far more in tax revenue from the airlines each day than the “wasteful” spending being argued about each year.

Mica and his colleagues did this through a step that was “within the rules” though obviously destructive. They passed a version of the FAA bill with provisions they knew the Senate wouldn’t accept — and then adjourned for (paid) August vacation, leaving the Senate to swallow their unilateral demands or leave tens of thousands of families without paychecks. All this, of course, as opposed to arranging a way to keep things running while they worked out their political disputes. Many airport safety inspectors are being asked to do their work as volunteers, and run up expenses on their personal credit cards in hopes of later reimbursement. We’re not just asking the Chinese to cover our inability to pay our way; we’re asking our own GS-12s. This is squalid. As one reader wrote today:

>>I have to wonder, how long can the airport inspectors continue to do their jobs without pay while covering their own travel expenses?  I know this isn’t exactly a typical charity case but have you heard anything about a fund being set up for these guys or anything like that?  I’d certainly donate to help keep these guys afloat while the FAA’s finances are in limbo.<<

Governments exist precisely because it doesn’t make sense to pass the hat for airport safety  — or border protection or the public-health service etc. You can argue about a lot of government responsibilities, but transportation safety is pretty close to everyone’s idea of a core public function. But — to hell with it! And to those 70,000 families with no paycheck. Let them cut back. This will help the recovery in so many ways, just as the the $1 billion or so in foregone FAA revenues will help cut the deficit.

Maybe Congressman Mica and others who voted for the bill would be willing to front their pay, during the shutdown, to help tide FAA employees or contractors through the hardship? Just a thought.

4. As a matter of political norms, we’ve been through a change that may be hard to reverse. In essence: moves that were technically legal, but were “not done” because they were too brutal or destructive, have now been done — and have paid off. It’s like the Indiana Jones scene where a sword fighter is warming up for a duel and Indy pulls out his gun to shoot him dead. No one will enter a fight without a gun again. As David Frum put it today:

>>The debt ceiling debate feels like one of those tragic episodes out of the history of the fall of republics. To gain their point on a budget matter, Republicans did something unprecedented in the annals of American government. They made a bargaining chip out of the public credit of the United States. In a well-functioning democracy, certain threats are just not used [not a rule but a norm], and the threat to force the country into default should rank high on the list of unacceptable threats.

Yet congressional Republicans not only issued the threat, they did so successfully. They have changed the rules of the game in ways that will have ramifications for a long time. Maybe Democrats will copy them. Or maybe Republicans will do it again. Either way — something that was once unthinkable has become thinkable.<<

To draw out the comparison, the President appears to have approached the showdown as neither a chess master nor a pawn but as a dignified sword fighter, against foes with guns in both hands.

More on this anon, including reader messages both pro and con the President’s handling of the challenge.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2011 at 8:49 am

NAACP calls for end to War on Drugs

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From Transform Drug Policy blog:

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, (the oldest and largest civil rights organisation in the US) has joined the list of prominent organisations and individuals calling for a major paradigm shift away from the failed and punitive “war on drugs” and toward a health-based approach, with a resolution passed last week at the organization’s national conference in Los Angeles (see the full press release below).

Neill Franklin, an African American former narcotics cop from Baltimore and executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, who presented on the need to end the “war on drugs” at the NAACP conference, said about the resolution:

“The NAACP has been on the forefront of the struggle for civil rights and social justice in this country for over a century. The fact that these leaders are joining others like the National Black Police Association in calling for an end to the ‘war on drugs’ should be a wake up call to those politicians – including and especially President Obama – who still have not come to terms with the devastation that the ‘drug war’ causes in our society and especially in communities of color.”

This is a video of Neill’s address to the conference:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2011 at 8:45 am

Posted in Drug laws

Rumsfeld can be sued over torture, Federal judge rules

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There must be panic in the Obama Department of Justice at the thought that victims of US torture might finally have their day in court. Obama and Holder have done everything in their power, including flouting laws, to protect those in the US government who tortured and murdered people under the guise of “interrogation.” I imagine that they will mount a full-scale effort here, and of course the current Supreme Court is far to the right on the issue, so once again justice will be denied.

Still, it’s nice to see a step toward justice taken, however late and haltingly. Nedra Pickler reports for Associated Press:

A federal judge has ruled that former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld can be sued personally for damages by a former US military contractor who says he was tortured during a nine-month imprisonment in Iraq.

The suit lays out a dramatic tale of the disappearance of the then-civilian contractor, an Army veteran in his 50s whose identity is being withheld from court filings for fear of retaliation.

Attorneys for the man, who speaks five languages and worked as a translator for Marines collecting intelligence in Iraq, say he was preparing to go home to the United States on annual leave when he was abducted by the US military and held without justification while his family knew nothing about his whereabouts or whether he was alive. . .

Continue reading. The guy was never charged with a crime, and after they got tired of torturing him, they let him go, confident (no doubt) that he would be denied legal recourse.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2011 at 8:41 am

Tobacco theme, with Super Speed (and Slant)

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I went with a horsehair brush once more. Tobacco flower has a nice fragrance, but I wasn’t able to get as rich a lather as with Ginger’s Garden shaving cream soap. Still, a usable lather and I enjoyed using my Milord, of early enough manufacture that the notched center bar had not yet been introduced. (I opened the doors so you could see the center bar, unnotched.)

Two passes with the Astra Superior Platinum blade and then, after yesterday’s experiment, I reached for the Slant Bar for the third pass: the against-the-grain, polishing pass. Once more the Slant bar seemed ideal for this step of the shave.

A splash of Alt-Innsbruck, continuing the tobacco theme, and I’m ready to roll. I got my Brompton tuned up yesterday and today I’m going to make a trip to the PO on it. Still wearing my ankle brace, though.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2011 at 8:33 am

Posted in Shaving

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