Later On

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

Archive for September 1st, 2011

For authoritarian regimes, turning off Internet is a fatal error, study says

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Fascinating. Begins:

What’s the News: Social networking has been a star of the Arab Spring revolutions. People can’t stop talking about how Twitter and Facebook helped protestors organize, and when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak suddenly cut access to the Internet and cell phone service on January 28th, many wondered how the protestors would share information and keep momentum. But as it turned out, depriving people of information had an explosive effect—far from the epicenter at Tahrir Square in Cairo, so many grassroots protests sprung up that the military was brought in. Two weeks later, Mubarak resigned.

Using the Egyptian revolution as a case study, a new paper makes the case that theories of group dynamics explain why access to information can actually have a quenching effect on revolutions, and argues that regimes that shut information sources down are signing their own death warrants.

How the Heck: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2011 at 8:02 pm

Great find by The Wife: happy girl kitchen co.

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happy girl kitchen co. (certified organic)” is happily located next door to The Wife’s apartment building, and she’s an inquisitive shopper, so she checked it out. For her, she found some fabulous marmalades and “jamalades” and for me all sorts of pickled stuff in home-canning-style jars. And they do all that on the premises, with an open kitchen. Very nice, actually.

So I got the cumin pickled green beans and the dilly green beans because neither had any sodium to speak of. (5 gm per serving, and the servings were reasonable). And spicy pickled carrots.

You know, it makes sense that people who truly are all about the food—not just a marketing position, but truly want to create good food from good ingredients (“certified organic”), such people would of course watch the damn sodium levels. It’s exactly what large food corporations would be doing IF they cared about food. But they don’t: they care about profits, and could switch from food to widget parts in a heartbeat without a tinge of regret so long as the profits were significantly better. “What they want to do” isn’t in it: what they want to do is grow profits. That’s the focus. They really don’t notice anything else. It’s all spreadsheets, all the time. [I’m practicing my curmudgeon rap.]

But clearly the people at happy girl kitchen co really are all about the food. You can tell it just from a look at the clear glass jars of canned foods: the foods look good: not mushy, not off-color, not misshapen. Just perfectly good (certified organic) vegetables and fruit picked at the peak of ripeness (because we’re dealing here with small batches) and canned with care. So, big surprise? It’s great! Probably not such a surprise, looking at the whole operation.

At any rate, both the beans were good, carrots were good, My Chai Cola Light (5 calories) made in Santa Cruz—“Spices, Tea, & Fizz!”—is terrific, as well as was the bottle of pu-erh and Earl Grey tea (unsweetened) that I had earlier.

As you can see, I’ll be a regular customer.

Oh, and I bought a jar of canned, peeled, whole “dry farmed” tomatoes. They look wonderful in the glass jar: too pretty to eat. But I’ll force myself.

UPDATE: To give a perfect example of the Big Business approach to food: Excess salt has been linked to many health problems, particularly hypertension. Doctors continually advise patients to cut back on salt. Now it’s been found that salt, in the form of salty foods (particularly when combined with fat and/or sugar) is highly addictive.

Now when you say “addictive”, corporate ears listen carefully. Tobacco’s appeal as a product is exactly that it is addictive, and it turned out that tobacco companies were carefully titrating the nicotine content of cigarettes (which, in their eyes, constitute nothing more than a nicotine delivery system and—primarily—a source of profite) to increase the addictive potential. (And, of course, that’s why cigarette companies target the young: once you’ve got them hooked, you are pretty much home free. They will be buying cigarettes, and now all you have to do is to get them to pick your brand.)

At any rate, Campbell Soup, on learning of the addictive quality of salt, recently increased the salt content of their Select Harvest soups. Wall Street loved it.

The laughable bit—bitter laughter, true, but take what you can get: Campbell said that they had to do this because their customers wanted the soup saltier, and so Campbell had to make the soup saltier because their customers, poor things, do not have salt shakers and so cannot add salt if they want more. And the rest of us, who do not want excess salt, can simply remove some of the salt from the soup. Or go pound sand.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2011 at 5:08 pm

The objects of loyalty

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I think we’ve all known people for whom loyalty is a primary virtue, by which they mean loyalty to them—not to principles, not to integrity, not to the law, but to them personally. The Bush and Kennedy political dynasties are very much from this mold. Usually when a person so heavily emphasizes personal loyalty to them as an individual (rather than, say, a loyalty to the rule of law), it’s because they expect to demand cooperation on things that are of a very dubious nature, and they want to be sure that you’ll go along with that. Most people of this ilk spend much more time enforcing loyalty than they do in deserving it.

I thought of this in the following instances of “loyalty” in this column:

The CIA’s spokesman atThe Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius,recently announced that the glorifying term “Arab Spring” is no longer being used by senior intelligence officials to describe democratic revolutions in the Middle East.  It has been replaced by the more “neutral” term “Arab transition,” which, as Ignatius put it, “conveys the essential truth that nobody can predict just where this upheaval is heading.”  Note that what was until very recently celebrated in American media circles as a joyous, inspirational awakening of “democratic birth and freedom” has now been downgraded to an “upheaval” whose outcome may be odious and threatening.

That’s not surprising.  As I’ve written about several times, public opinion in those nations is so strongly opposed to the policies the U.S. has long demanded — and is quite hostile (more so than ever) to the U.S. itself and especially Israel — that allowing any form of democracy would necessarily be adverse to American and Israeli interests in that region (at least as those two nations have long perceived of their “interests”).  That’s precisely why the U.S. worked so hard and expended so many resources for decades to ensure that brutal dictators ruled those nations and suppressed public opinion to the point of complete irrelevance (behavior which, predictably and understandably, exacerbated anti-American sentiments among the populace).

An illustrative example of this process has emerged this week in Egypt, where authorities have bitterly denounced Israel for killing three of its police officers in a cross-border air attack on suspected Gaza-based militants, and to make matters worse, thereafter blaming Egypt for failing to control “terrorists” in the area.  Massive, angry protests outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo led to Egypt’s recalling of its Ambassador to Israel and the Israeli Ambassador’s being forced to flee Cairo.  That, in turn, led to what The New York Times called a “rare statement of regret” from Israel in order to placate growing Egyptian anger: “rare” because, under the U.S.-backed Mubarak, Egyptian public opinion was rendered inconsequential and the Egyptian regime’s allegiance was to Israel, meaning Israel never had to account for such acts, let alone apologize for them.  In that regard, consider this superbly (if unintentionally) revealing phrase from the NYTabout this incident:

By removing Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian but dependably loyal government, the revolution has stripped away a bulwark of Israel’s position in the region, unleashing the Egyptian public’s pent-up anger at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians at a time when a transitional government is scrambling to maintain its own legitimacy in the streets.

That word “loyal” makes the phrase remarkable: to whom was Mubarak “loyal”?  Not to the Egyptian people whom he was governing or even to Egypt itself, but rather to Israel and the United States.  Thus, in the past, Egypt’s own government would have sided with a foreign nation to which it was “loyal” even when that foreign nation killed its own citizens and refused to apologize (exactly as the U.S. did when Israel killed one of its own citizens on the Mavi Marmara and then again over the prospect that Israel would do the same with the new flotilla: in contrast to Turkey which, acting like a normal government, was bitterly furious with Israel — and still is — over the wanton killing of its citizens; in that sense, the U.S. is just as “dependably loyal” as the Mubarak regime was).

But as remarkable as it is, that phrase — “authoritarian but dependably loyal” — captures the essence of (ongoing) American behavior in that region for decades: propping up the most heinous, tyrannical rulers who disregard and crush the views of their own people while remaining supremely “loyal” to foreign powers: the U.S. and Israel.  Consider this equally revealing passage from The Guardian: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2011 at 8:52 am

Posted in Government, Law

Why the Farm and Food Bill is important—beyond that it affects your life each day

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Assuming that you eat daily, the Farm and Food Bill has a direct impact on you. And looking at the obesity rates in the US—still climbing—it has had a severely deleterious impact.

It’s a complex issue, but this blog post helps one understand it, at least in the context of a specific state. This sort of research and active participation is, I desperately hope, in progress in each state. The post begins:

Every 5 years the Food and Farm Bill is up for renewal. Since we’re approaching the next renewal period we’re starting to hear a lot of buzz coming from different vocal organizations as well as cities and states standing together to build power in numbers – Seattle issued their platform. This is going to be a difficult renewal period due to a complicated political and economic environment.

New York’s Senator Kristen Gillibrand is taking part in listening sessions throughout New York. She also sits on the House Agriculture Committee (first NY Senator to serve on the Agriculture Committee in 40 years!), so it’s imperative for her to understand New York’s role in farming and the potential growth for the State’s production throughout the food system. She was recently in Amagansett Long Island, hosting one of these listening sessions at Quail Hill Farm. She spoke about the security implications of food, why we need to reward farmers for conservation not production, and how food related issues would reduce our healthcare liabilities.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Title IV (Nutrition) received the portion of the 2008 Farm Bill budget, even more than the Commodity Subsidy title. In 2008, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Title IV Nutrition of the 2008 Farm Bill, which includes SNAP, would cost over $188 billion, or about 66% of the bill’s estimated $283 billion in total spending (Food Systems Network NYC). More recent data, however, shows that in 2011 the Nutrition Title will account for over $69 billion, which is actually more than 75% of total Farm Bill spending this year (House Ag Committee 2011).

Why SNAP Matters. . .

Continue reading. Full disclosure: The author is my daughter-in-law.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2011 at 8:38 am

Good warning plus useful knowledge

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Thanks to Steve of Kafeineo for this 1-minute video:

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2011 at 8:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

The military’s biased use of the death penalty

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The military has many problems, among them one noted in this editorial in the NY Times:

Racism in the application of capital punishment has been well documented in the civilian justice system since the Supreme Court reinstated the penalty in 1976. Now comes evidence that racial disparity is even greater in death penalty cases in the military system.

Minority service members are more than twice as likely as whites — after accounting for the crimes’ circumstances and the victims’ race — to be sentenced to death, according to a forthcoming study co-written by David Baldus, an eminent death-penalty scholar, who died in June.

The analysis is so disturbing because the military has made sustained, often successful efforts to rid its ranks of discrimination. But even with this record, its failure to apply the death penalty fairly is more proof that capital punishment cannot be free of racism’s taint. It is capricious, barbaric and discriminatory, and should be abolished.

The number of capital cases in the military system is small: of 105 cases in which the death penalty might have been applied between 1984 — when the military revamped its death penalty process — and 2005, 15 defendants were sentenced to death. (Another capital case in 2010 was not included in the study.) Eight have since been removed from death row because of various legal errors, and two were granted clemency.

In its analysis, the new report found a significant risk that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2011 at 8:07 am

Posted in Government, Law, Military

Shooting children in the head

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This cell phone photo was shot by a resident of Ishaqi on March 15, 2006, of bodies Iraqi police said were of children executed by U.S. troops after a night raid there. A State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks quotes the U.N. investigator of extrajudicial killings as saying an autopsy showed the residents of the house had been handcuffed and shot in the head, including children under the age of 5. McClatchy obtained the photo from a resident when the incident occurred.

It’s okay: they covered up the evidence with an airstrike. I can’t imagine that any of our troops were so much as disciplined for this episode. (Our military is increasingly beyond our control, it seems to me, and it is taking steps to extend its autonomy. For example, see my earlier post on their increasing grip on Hollywood.)

I wonder if our wars in Muslim countries have a net positive or negative effect on terrorism efforts against the US. I imagine we’ll find out.

Here’s the story at McClatchy by Matthew Schofield:

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks provides evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.

The unclassified cable, which was posted on WikiLeaks’ website last week, contained questions from a United Nations investigator about the incident, which had angered local Iraqi officials, who demanded some kind of action from their government. U.S. officials denied at the time that anything inappropriate had occurred.

But Philip Alston, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a communication to American officials dated 12 days after the March 15, 2006, incident that autopsies performed in the Iraqi city of Tikrit showed that all the dead had been handcuffed and shot in the head. Among the dead were four women and five children. The children were all 5 years old or younger.

Reached by email Wednesday, Alston said that as of 2010 — the most recent data he had — U.S. officials hadn’t responded to his request for information and that Iraq’s government also hadn’t been forthcoming. He said the lack of response from the United States “was the case with most of the letters to the U.S. in the 2006-2007 period,” when fighting in Iraq peaked. . .

Continue reading. FWIW, Dick Cheney is very proud of having brought about this war.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2011 at 8:03 am

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