Later On

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

Archive for July 2012

Not knowing what you’re feeling

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I happened to note a particular passage in a book I mention from time to time: Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious:

At the beginning of the chapter I mentioned a standard view of the adaptive unconscious: it consists of a vast array of mental processes that can result in feelings, which emerge into consciousness. Imagine a compact disc player that can be programmed to search for and play various kinds of musical selections. The hardware and software that find and play the music operates out of view; but the end product—the sweet melody of an early Beatles song, say—is what we hear (what reaches awareness). Similarly, mental selection and interpretation can be non-conscious, but the feelings they produce are conscious.

In contrast, I have argued that even the products of the adaptive unconscious—the melody itself—can fail to reach consciousness. Nonetheless, I think that feelings differ from the rest of the adaptive unconscious in their potential to reach awareness. … Under some circumstances, however, people are aware of the feelings they produce.

It might even be the case that the default is for feelings to emerge into awareness, and that it take special circumstances to prevent them from doing so. We have seen three such circumstances. The first is repression, whereby forces are brought into play to hide a threatening feeling (as in the case of homophobia). The second is inattention, or the failure to notice that a feeling has changed (as in Carpenter’s example of falling in love). The third is the obscuring of feelings by the smoke screen of people’s conscious theories and confabulations. People fail to recognize a feeling or evaluation if it conflicts with a cultural feeling rule (“people love their ponies,” “my wedding day will be the happiest time of my life”), a personal standard (“I am not prejudiced at all toward African Americans”), or conscious theories and inferences about how one feels (“I must love him because he conforms to my idea of Mr. Right”).

He goes on to say that, as we observe, we generally do recognize our feelings and their causes, but that failure to recognize some feelings is probably not all that rare. It occurs to me that some of that lack of recognition is also due to misdirection, as when a magician (the unconscious) focuses our attention in the wrong direction to hide what is actually happening: we see this in maladaptive responses to situations/feelings.

It’s a fascinating book, at least to me.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2012 at 9:20 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Fox guarding the henhouse in the banking industry

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Pam Martens has an interesting column in Wall Street on Parade today:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s statement to Congress last week that the process for setting Libor is “structurally flawed” may live in infamy as the understatement of this financial era.

According to documents available on the British Bankers Association’s web site, just 90 days before Barclays was charged with rigging Libor and fined $453 million by U.S. and U.K. regulators, it had been appointed to a steering committee to oversee the integrity of Libor.

LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate, is the benchmark interest rate set each business day, in 10 currencies and 15 maturities. It is supposed to represent the actual rate at which banks are borrowing from each other.  The rate is used as an index to set approximately $10 trillion in consumer loans, including adjustable rate mortgages, credit card debt and student loans in the U.S.  It also impacts the rate of interest received by municipalities, pensions, and corporations around the world on hundreds of trillions of dollars in interest rate swaps. Financial institutions peg their interest rates on notes they issue to Libor as well and it impacts trillions in exchange traded derivatives.

On March 28 of this year, the BBA announced that a Libor review was being conducted to consider three areas: “The financial instruments included for the purposes of defining the rate; a rigorous code of requirements for all contributors; and strengthening the statistical underpinning of the contributions.”

Conducting the review would be a steering group to “include Barclays, . . . “

Continue reading. There’s more. The fact that Barclays leads the list of the steering group is an artifact of alphabetic listing, but there’s still a lot of meat in the article. From further down in the article:

Up to now, the public had been led to believe that the British Bankers Association (BBA), a  trade association of international banks, was overseeing the setting of Libor. As bad as that sounds, the reality is even worse. . .

And a related story in the NY Times by Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg: New York Fed Faces Questions Over Policing Wall Street. And, of course, Timothy Geithner, former head of the NY Fed, is now our Secretary of Treasury, where he oversees much more. The tentacles extend in all directions.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2012 at 8:22 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

FLAC -> MP3

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I belatedly realized that a bunch of music tracks I transferred from my Windows machine to my MacBook were in FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) format—high fidelity, but also about 5-6 times larger: 13MB instead of 3-4MB, for example. This makes them too large for convenient loading to an MP3 player, so I cast about for a solution and found the free special-purpose Mac program All2MP3. The program converts MPC, APE, WV, FLAC, OGG, WMA, AIFF and WAV to the MP3 format. It has no controls, really: you highlight the programs in Finder (a search of “All files” for “.flac” will display all the .FLAC files), then drag them to the All2MP3 window. It loads them and awaits your command. You cannot change the bitrate option—at least not if converting FLAC to MP3: it converts at a high bitrate setting, appropriately enough. You can have it trash the FLAC files on completion, which I did after my first tentative batch and it worked fine.

So now all my former FLAC files are in MP3 format, taking up much less space and perfectly fine for the sort of listening that I do. Installation of All2MP3 is quite simple: you don’t have to drag an icon to the Apps folder, it simply installs itself. It exits completely when you close it, unlike other Mac apps (because, I believe, it’s simply a script), so to keep it, I first dragged the icon on the dock to the Apps folder. Now it sticks around in case I have other files I need to convert—I’m pretty sure I have some in .OGG format.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2012 at 7:26 am

Posted in Software

An artisanal lavender shave

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Mostly artisanal products this morning. First, the Whipped Dog ceramic-handled silvertip brush and Mystic Waters shaving soap. A couple of things I noted this morning: I really like the look and feel of the handle, but ceramic is indeed slippery when wet and soapy (no surprise: so is everything), so a certain amount of care must be exercised. Simply rinsing the handle works, or one can use the alum-block trick: brushing wet fingertips across the block to enable a secure grip—which also readies that hand for skin-stretching in the shave. The brush lost 3-4 hairs in this shave, which I think is its second or third: normal.

Also, for some reason the lather was short lived in the first pass. It may be that I didn’t load the brush long enough, but I’m going to try a different Mystic Water soap to see whether this is a peculiarity of this variety. It wasn’t a real problem: I simply reloaded the brush prior to the second pass, and all went well.

The Gillette Slim Handle with an Astra Keramik Platinum blade did a terrific job: three very pleasant passes to a smooth face, and then a splash of Saint Charles Shave’s Bulgarian Lavender as a finish. The feel of the Saint Charles Shave splashes is quite nice and unlike other splashes: a kind of smooth almost powdery drydown.

Altogether a fine start to the morning.

I’m thinking of moving shaving-related posts to a new blog, whose focus would exclusively be shaving. Your thoughts are welcome.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2012 at 7:13 am

Posted in Shaving

Water problems for energy production and possible solutions

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I didn’t realize that we used so much water in our energy sector. Michael Webber outlines the details in the NY Times:

We’re now in the midst of the nation’s most widespread drought in 60 years, stretching across 29 states and threatening farmers, their crops and livestock. But there is another risk as water becomes more scarce. Power plants may be forced to shut down, and oil and gas production may be threatened.

Our energy system depends on water. About half of the nation’s water withdrawals every day are just for cooling power plants. In addition, the oil and gas industries use tens of millions of gallons a day, injecting water into aging oil fields to improve production, and to free natural gas in shale formations through hydraulic fracturing. Those numbers are not large from a national perspective, but they can be significant locally.

All told, we withdraw more water for the energy sector than for agriculture. Unfortunately, this relationship means that water problems become energy problems that are serious enough to warrant high-level attention.

During the 2008 drought in the Southeast, power plants were within days or weeks of shutting down because of limited water supplies. In Texas today, some cities are forbidding the use of municipal water for hydraulic fracturing. The multiyear drought in the West has lowered the snowpack and water levels behind dams, reducing their power output. The United States Energy Information Administration recently issued an alert that the drought was likely to exacerbate challenges to California’s electric power market this summer, with higher risks of reliability problems and scarcity-driven price increases.

And in the Midwest, power plants are competing for water that farmers want for their devastated corn crops.

Unfortunately, trends suggest that this water vulnerability will become more important with time.

Population growth will mean over 100 million more people in the United States over the next four decades who will need energy and water to survive and prosper. Economic growth compounds that trend, as per-capita energy and water consumption tend to increase with affluence. Climate-change models also suggest that droughts and heat waves may be more frequent and severe.

Thankfully, there are some solutions. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2012 at 9:39 am

Harry James blows the roof off

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The Harry James Orchestra began solidly in the jazz/swing idiom, but financial pressures drove it to a more pop sound in time. This performance showcases Harry James’s incredible technique. The mustache, as I recall, he grew because when he joined the Benny Goodman band at 21 he was so baby-faced. A note by commenter gsmonks at the YouTube post provides some interesting info:

Dizzy Gillespe, Miles Davis and a few other of the jazz greats were asked who had the best overall trumpet technique. Without hesitation, they all said, “Harry James.” Harry always pulled off a technical gem or two at this concerts. He used a very shallow Parduba mouthpiece, and was using zero pressure long before most players had heard of the non-pressure system. When I was a kid, every young trumpet player had an Arban’s, and Mendez and James records.

You’ll note in the Wikipedia article on Harry James, link above, that his father made him learn a page from Arban’s each day.

This came via the 30sJazz.com newsletter:

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2012 at 9:28 am

Posted in Jazz

3-D printing as a scientific tool

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Interesting applications of new technology, reported in The Scientist by Kerry Grens:

If you’ve worn out the spike on your stiletto, misplaced your kazoo, or you need a cheap little centrifuge, three-dimensional printing and a growing community of designers devoted to open-source software have the solutions for you. Once considered the realm of tinkerers and toy makers, 3-D printing is providing scientists with a treasure trove of opportunities to custom-design equipment and experiments. Kevin Lance, a graduate student at the University of California, San Francisco, once fixed a broken Pipetboy by simply drawing up the dimensions of the disabled part and printing it out. “It was an obscure internal part. You’d have to spend hundreds of dollars on a replacement,” Lance says. It took him a grand total of a few hours to make the part himself.

In its simplest application, 3-D printing can produce solid plastic objects from a digital file that is written in what is called standard tessellation language. The printers, which are about the size of a copy machine, use the design instructions to lay down layers of material on top of one another to form a 3-D shape. On open-source websites such as thingiverse.com, designers offer free instructions for downloading and printing their products. The DremelFuge, for example, is a printed rotor with mounts for six microcentrifuge tubes. Pop it onto a drill or rotary tool and spin away. “Biohackers and frugal lab workers,” as the designer puts it, can also download free instructions for printing molds and combs for gel electrophoresis.

Inspired by such industriousness, Lance and a group of other graduate students recently sponsored a competition called “Print My Lab.” . . .

Continue reading. Printing beakers whose interiors contribute to the reactions, described later in the article, shows that this technology has lots of room to grow.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2012 at 8:36 am

Posted in Science, Technology

Rapid decline and fall of the MInuteman movement following murders

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Interesting recent history: an account of the rise and fall of the Minuteman movement, in which citizens armed themselves as unofficial guardians of the borders. Following a grisly murder of a 9-year-old girl and her father by three members of the movement, the decline was swift: people in general realized that the recruitment standards of vigilante movements are not always the best.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2012 at 7:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Law

Interesting budgeting tool

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Cool Tools today identifies an interesting piece of software for creating and tracking a budget. Some years back I took a stab at creating a tool to create a budget, but it didn’t include any tracking ability. It did, however, help identify some “implicit” expenses that are often overlooked until they hit. There’s a link to it in this post.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2012 at 7:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

The Super is super

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The Gillette Super Adjustable, as I belatedly realized, is really an exceptional razor. Version 3.0 of the Gillette Adjustables (Fat Boy is 1.0, Slim Handle is 2.0), it shave smoothly and with finesse. Chrom suggests, in a comment to this post, that dialing the adjustment to 1 (and make sure the doors are open before turning the adjustment dial) makes the razor an angle instructor, in a sense: it will cut at that setting only if the angle is exactly right. (The same may be true of the Fat Boy and probably is true of the Slim Handle, whose head seems quite similar to the Super’s, but I’ve not tried the trick for either.)

But first things first: A fine lather from Vintage Blades LLC’s own private-label shaving soap, quite nice, worked up with the hooked-tipped Rooney Victorian of their Heritage line. Then three passes with the Super holding an Astra Keramik Platinum blade. (I wonder if part of the coating really is ceramic—somehow I doubt it.) A splash of Paul Sebastian on the very smooth result, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2012 at 7:07 am

Posted in Shaving

Interesting if management overreach provokes new wave of unionization

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Read in Sarah Jaffe’s AlterNet report the conditions that led to the union effort:

Last month, 60 workers at a Brooklyn Cablevision contractor, Falcon Data Com, went on a wildcat strike after one of their colleagues was fired for union organizing.

“I was one of the primary organizers and I was in the shop handing out union cards and the manager saw me, called me in the office and they said that my ID had expired and they were choosing not to renew it and to have a nice life, basically,” Kirk Collins explained.

He quickly reached out to the Communications Workers of America local he’d been organizing with and his colleagues at Falcon, and 60 of them went out on strike. The strike lasted just a couple of hours, as management quickly caved and rehired not just Collins, but two other Falcon techs who’d been fired for union activity in previous weeks. “We banded together, and we were able to shut the shop down,” Collins said. “It shows the strength of unity and having a common cause.”

On Friday, the workers at Falcon voted 53 to 5 to join CWA Local 1109, joining 282 Cablevision workers who voted for a union in January; Bronx Falcon workers have a vote coming this week, and another Cablevision contractor, Vision Pro, is also expected to have a union election soon.

The technicians were working 12 to 14 hours a day, according to Collins, with no overtime, no holiday pay, and getting paid piece work rather than an hourly wage. But it’s not just wages that drove him to start agitating for a union at his workplace. “We were being made to fuel up the company’s trucks every morning with our own money,” he said, and they had no running water (during a heat wave, no water fountain) and only a porta-potty rather than a real bathroom.

“We’ll be looking for some quality now, and a decent living wage in this economy,” Collins said.

As always, I highly recommend Thomas Geoghegan’s book Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It’s Flaton Its Backan entertaining and informative book by a labor lawyer. It’s also available from Abebooks.com in inexpensive secondhand editions.

With government now primarily in support of big business, the only counterbalance that I see to the power of corporations over employees is a strong union, but over the past several decades the labor movement in the US has been greatly disempowered.

 

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2012 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Pruning dead branches to allow new growth

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I’ve been in this apartment for 20 years and recently I have looked around me and seen on every hand things that I have acquired but that have long since fallen into disuse as interests have shifted and grown in the new directions. These possessions, once the tools of active interests, are now clutter, and I have allowed them to accumulate to almost unmanageable proportions. “Almost” unmanageable because I perforce must manage them. I am doing a lot of sorting, discarding, donating, and selling to get back to a reasonable balance.

The point of this post is to encourage those of you who have become settled to undertake something like this annually so you don’t have to do 20 years’ worth at one fell swoop. (Those who still are living lives of transition generally already enjoy a pruned existence.) It’s probably especially bad for my generation, whose adult years were spent in a time of prosperity and strong consumerist currents: we tended to overbuy, much more so than our parents (who lived through the Great Depression).

I don’t mean to whine, simply to warn. Be careful, and prune regularly.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2012 at 10:37 am

Posted in Daily life

Dean Baker points out a tilt in how economists view things

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The tilt is definitely slanted toward the wealthy—and Baker (an economist himself) refers to pushing such a view as “corrupt economics,” just as corruption in public office consists of using the power of the office for private ends. This blog post deals with how economists are opposing China’s one-child policy because it threatens the supply of “cheap labor” (that is, it means that with fewer workers, their pay would improve, something the wealthy and corporations strongly oppose).

Given the failure of the economics profession to see the economic crisis coming or to devise an effective path forward, many people have come to question its competence and/or integrity. Somehow its assessments often seem to favor the rich.

For example, economists can be counted on to get really hot under the collar over a 20-30 percent tariff barrier that is designed to temporarily protect manufacturing workers, but don’t even notice that patent protection for prescription drugs raises their price by tens of thousands percent. Economists can’t even seem to remember that in a system of floating exchange rates, like the one we have, a decline in the value of the dollar is supposed to be the remedy for a trade deficit.

The NYT tells us that China’s economists are equally incompetent and/or corrupt. It tells us that they are worried that the Chinese are not having enough kids:

“Pressure to alter the policy [the one child policy] is building on other fronts as well, as economists say that China’s aging population and dwindling pool of young, cheap labor will be a significant factor in slowing the nation’s economic growth rate.”

Yes, that sounds like a real problem: “a dwindling pool of cheap labor.” Any economist who complains about this is working for the people who want to employ cheap labor, he/she does not give a damn about the economy.

Insofar as growth is a measure of anything, it is per capita growth that matters. Why would anyone be happier if the economy grew 20 percent, but population grew 50 percent? This is unambiguously bad for the country as a whole, even if there are some people who might benefit from being able to hire cheaper labor.

Economists who are not employed by rich people understand that “cheap labor” means that lots of people are working for little money. This should not be a goal of any honest economist.

The numbers presented later in the article show how utterly absurd the supposed demographic problem in China is. We are told: . . .

Continue reading.

He also points out in separate posts how Bill Keller in the NY Times is calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and how Steve Pearlstein is doing the same at the Washington Post. It seems as though the mass media are on-board with the 1% to divert Federal dollars from the elderly and needy to the 1% via bailouts and subsidies. From the first of the two links:

I guess it’s childish name-calling time at the NYT. Hence Bill Keller tells readers that if you ask any “credible economist” you will get Keller’s preferred solution to the budget. At the top of the list is “entitlement reforms.”

For those who don’t know, “entitlement reforms” is Washington elite speak for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. They know that these programs are hugely popular, so the Washington elite crew use their little code word “entitlements,” since they know that “entitlements” don’t have nearly as much support. They also use “reform” since it sounds much nicer than “cuts.” Of course the point is to cut Social Security and Medicare; Keller is simply not honest enough to say this to readers.

Anyhow, let me just briefly explain why at least one non-credible economist doesn’t support the cuts to Social Security and Medicare that former Senator Alan Simpson and Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles proposed. (Keller wrongly referred to their plan as a being a plan approved by their commission. This is not true, to be approved as a commission proposal a plan would have required the support of 14 of the 18 members of the commission.)

The Bowles-Simpson plan would impose substantial cuts to Social Security benefits that would hit people already getting benefits. . . .

And from the second link:

Steven Pearlstein, the Washington Post business columnist, often writes insightful pieces on the economy, not today. The thrust of his piece is that we all should be hopeful that a group of incredibly rich CEOs can engineer a coup.

While the rest of us are wasting our time worrying about whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney are sitting in the White House the next four years, Pearlstein tells us (approvingly) that these honchos are scurrying through back rooms in Washington trying to carve out a deficit deal.

The plan is that we will get the rich folks’ deal regardless of who wins the election. It is difficult to imagine a more contemptuous attitude toward democracy.

The deal that this gang (led by Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles) is hatching will inevitably include some amount of tax increases and also large budget cuts. At the top of the list, as Pearlstein proudly tells us, are cuts to Social Security and Medicare. At a time when we have seen an unprecedented transfer of income to the top one percent, these deficit warriors are placing a top priority on snatching away a portion of Social Security checks that average $1,200 a month. Yes, the country needs this. . . .

The gloves have come off and the 1% are grabbing everything in sight.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2012 at 9:41 am

QED and the bakelite Slant

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Patchouli, Tea Tree, and Peppermint is a great combination for an early morning wake-up fragrance. The Vie-Long flat-top make a fine lather from it, and the bakelite Slant, which I increasingly like, did a good job though this may be this Swedish Gillette blade’s last shave—I’ll see how the first pass of the next shave goes. Of course, poor prep and dull blades have the same effect, but the prep was good—the usual pre-shave shower and beard wash, and I took my time with the lather. I don’t count shaves on a blade, simply using them until dull, but this seems like early retirement for this blade. But blades do vary occasionally, so we’ll check it on the next shave.

A splash of Floris JF, and I’m ready for the start of a new week.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2012 at 8:36 am

Posted in Shaving

Hope for controlling climate change

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Hope feels a lot better than despair. Here’s a hopeful article by David Leonhardt in the NY Times on progress in attacking climate change, and I would imagine that a couple more summers like the current summer will engage the attention of the citizenry so that more pressure in the right direction may be brought to bear. The article begins:

YOU don’t have to be a climate scientist these days to know that the climate has problems. You just have to step outside.

The United States is now enduring itswarmest year on record, and the 13 warmest years for the entire planethave all occurred since 1998, according to data that stretches back to 1880.  No one day’s weather can be tied to global warming, of course, but more than a decade’s worth of changing weather surely can be, scientists say. Meanwhile, the country often seems to be moving further away from doing something about climate change, with the issue having all but fallen out of the national debate.

Behind the scenes, however, a somewhat different story is starting to emerge — one that offers reason for optimism to anyone worried about the planet. The world’s largest economies may now be in the process of creating a climate-change response that does not depend on the politically painful process of raising the price of dirty energy. The response is not guaranteed to work, given the scale of the problem. But the early successes have been notable.

Over the last several years, the governments of the United States, Europe and China have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on clean-energy research and deployment. And despite some high-profile flops, like ethanol and Solyndra, the investments seem to be succeeding more than they are failing.

The price of solar and wind power have both fallen sharply in the last few years. This country’s largest wind farm, sprawling across eastern Oregon, is scheduled to open next month. Already, the world uses vastly more alternative energy than experts predictedonly a decade ago.

Even natural gas, a hotly debated topic among climate experts, helps make the point. Thanks in part to earlier government investments, energy companies have been able to extract much more natural gas than once seemed possible. The use of natural gas to generate electricity — far from perfectly clean but less carbon-intensive than coal use — has jumped 25 percent since 2008, while prices have fallen more than 80 percent.Natural gas now generates as much electricity as coal in the United States, which would have been unthinkable not long ago. . .

Continue reading. He makes the point that the success of alternatives makes cap-and-trade or carbon taxes not so urgent, though obviously the combination of cheaper alternatives and more expensive fossil fuels would be even better—and two more summers hotter than this summer may push cap-and-trade and/or carbon tax into the “acceptable” column even if not all the way to “desirable.” Things change.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 5:13 pm

Lawsuit over assassinations

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Charlie Savage had an interesting article in the NY Times on 18 July that I just spotted:

Relatives of three American citizens killed in drone strikes in Yemen last year filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against four senior national security officials on Wednesday. The suit, in the Federal District Court here, opened a new chapter in the legal wrangling over the Obama administration’s use of drones in pursuit of terrorism suspects away from traditional “hot” battlefields like Afghanistan.

The first strike, on Sept. 30, killed a group of people including Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico, and Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen who lived at times in Queens, Long Island and North Carolina. The second, on Oct. 14, killed a group of people including Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Colorado.

Accused in the suit of authorizing and directing the strikes are Leon E. Panetta, the secretary of defense; David H. Petraeus, the director of the C.I.A.; and two senior commanders of the military’s Special Operations forces, Adm. William H. McRaven of the Navy and Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Votel of the Army.

“The killings violated fundamental rights afforded to all U.S. citizens, including the right not to be deprived of life without due process of law,” the complaint says.

Press officials with the C.I.A., the Pentagon and the Justice Department declined to comment.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed by Nasser al-Awlaki, who was Anwar’s father and Abdulrahman’s grandfather, and Sarah Khan, Samir’s mother. Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights are assisting them in the legal action.

In 2010, the two groups helped Nasser al-Awlaki in an effort to obtain a court injunction against government efforts to kill his son. A federal judge threw out the case, primarily on the ground that Nasser al-Awlaki had no standing to sue in place of his son. Now Nasser al-Awlaki and Ms. Khan represent the estates of their sons and his grandson.

But the new lawsuit may face other procedural impediments before it would reach any substantive ruling on whether the strikes violated the Constitution — or even a public acknowledgment that the United States government did carry them out and an explanation of the evidence and decision-making behind them.

The Justice Department, which is likely to provide lawyers for the defendants, may ask a judge to dismiss the case by asserting that the evidence necessary to litigate it would disclose state secrets, or that decisions about whom to kill in an armed conflict are “political questions” not fit for judicial review. The government asserted both arguments in the 2010 case, and the judge who dismissed that lawsuit also cited the “political question” doctrine.

Even if a judge declined to dismiss the case on those grounds, the officials could assert that “qualified immunity” protected them from lawsuits that accuse them of violating someone’s constitutional rights while performing official actions that did not violate “clearly established law” at the time. President Obama is not named in the lawsuit; the Supreme Court has ruled that presidents enjoy “absolute immunity” from lawsuits stemming from their official actions.

While it has been widely reported that the United State carried out the strikes, the Obama administration has never officially acknowledged responsibility for them. The New York Times has described the details of a secret Justice Department memorandum that concluded that it would be lawful to target Anwar al-Awlaki if capturing him was infeasible. The Times and the A.C.L.U. have sued for disclosure of that document under the Freedom of Information Act.

Several administration officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in a speech at Northwestern University in March, have also defended the targeting of citizens, without a trial, if they join terrorist groups and under certain conditions.

“Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces,” Mr. Holder said. “This is simply not accurate. ‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” . . .

Continue reading. TomDispatch has a good discussion of this action along with an article by Noam Chomsky on the Magna Carta.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 4:15 pm

Those who fought against Sheriff Joe Arpaio

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They are brave people, they stayed with the fight, and they are now winning. Particularly revealing is the degree to which the sheriff and the county attorney trumped up lawsuits to harass Arapio’s critics—in one case costing the county $975,000 in a settlement. Read this editorial by Lawrence Downes.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Knowing that we don’t know about James Holmes

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Interesting column in the NY Times by Dave Cullen, a reporter who reported on the Columbine mass shooting at the time, but then later wrote a book about it (Columbine) in which he discusses how wrong many of those early reports were:

YOU’VE had 48 hours to reflect on the ghastly shooting in Colorado at a movie theater. You’ve been bombarded with “facts” and opinions about James Holmes’s motives. You have probably expressed your opinion on why he did it. You are probably wrong.

I learned that the hard way. In 1999 I lived in Denver and was part of the first wave of reporters to descend on Columbine High School the afternoon it was attacked. I ran with the journalistic pack that created the myths we are still living with. We created those myths for one reason: we were trying to answer the burning question of why, and we were trying to answer it way too soon. I spent 10 years studying Columbine, and we all know what happened there, right? Two outcast loners exacted revenge against the jocks for relentlessly bullying them.

Not one bit of that turned out to be true.

But the news media jumped to all those conclusions in the first 24 hours, so they are accepted by many people today as fact. The real story is a lot more disturbing. And instructive.

At every high school, college and school-safety conference I speak at, I hold up the journals left behind by the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The audience is shocked at what they learn. Perpetrators of mass murder are usually nothing like our conceptions of them. They are nothing like a vision of pure evil. They are complicated. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Increasingly restricted childhoods

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Comparison of sizes of areas for independent play over 4 generations in one family:

The graphic above is from this story by David Derbyshire in the Mail of 15 June 2007, on how children have lost the right to roam independently. It is referenced in this intriguing article in Salon by Will Doig on how a plummeting crime rate seems to have increased, rather than decreased, allowing children independence in their neighborhoods. Doig’s article begins:

When Lenore Skenazy was growing up in Wilmette, Ill., in the 1960s, she routinely walked the four blocks between her home and her kindergarten all by herself. She knew to stay safe near traffic and not go anywhere with a stranger. And to help her cross the street was a friendly crossing guard — a sixth-grader named Joey. “For the record, I ended up marrying him,” she laughs.

That a kindergartner was allowed to toddle four blocks without adult supervision seems extraordinary now, even though cities are at least as safe for children today as they were then. Crime is at a 40-year low. The percentage of kids fatally hit by cars has been dropping for decades. And the child abductors that leer from every corner are tabloid fantasy — only about 100 kids,out of tens of millions, are kidnapped in public by a stranger each year.

So naturally, children can now be found romping unsupervised throughout our neighborhoods, acquiring the intuition, resourcefulness and sense of independence that such a childhood provides, right?

Actually, no. In the time since Skenazy walked off to kindergarten alone, the number of children that can be found in public without supervision has only diminished. In one survey, 85 percent of mothers said they allowed their kids outside unsupervised less frequently than they themselves were allowed.In Britain, the average age of children allowed to play outside adult-free has risen by more than a year since the ’70s, and 25 percent of 8- to 10-year-olds have never played outside without an adult. . .

Continue reading, but fair warning: it’s a bit depressing. For example, just one paragraph later in the article:

. . . The UCLA study also details the differences between how kids get to school in Japan and the United States. Whereas half of all American kids now get dropped off by private car, that practice is banned at public schools in Japan, and even school buses are rare. Instead, the money is spent on crossing guards and an enviable pedestrian infrastructure. Children as young as 5, in a choreographed daily routine, arrive at each other’s homes, one by two by three. Once a critical mass has formed, they walk the route as a group (in adorable yellow hats, no less).

Compare that to the U.S., where the anecdotes about unsupervised kids being caught in the net of paranoid parenting are as laughable as they are depressing: the Davidson, N.C., school that ended its long tradition of fifth graders walking to the village green over “concerns about safety”; the Pittsburgh dad who was charged with child endangerment for letting his 9- and 6-year-olds play in a park; the Florida community thatbanned anyone under 18 from being outdoors without a chaperone.

“It’s almost a suburbanization of cities,” says Skenazy. “The idea that we should keep kids in cars and hover at the park and be with them 24/7 — it started in the suburbs and became the norm for parenting.” . . .

And an interesting factoid:

. . . It says something that we perceive walking down the street to be a greater risk to kids than speeding along in two tons of steel and glass, when in actuality, four-fifths of kids killed by cars are in those cars. No parent, however, is going to be accused of endangering their child by driving them to school, but the parent who lets them walk might be — the fear of being judged by other parents looms large. As does the fear of liability on the part of these schools and cities. . .

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life

A good word for grub (in effect)

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I continue to make batches of grub—a mix of some protein, some starch, a little oil, and a varied mix of vegetables: for example, onions, garlic, zucchini/summer squash, beans (green or cooked dried), eggplant, tomatoes, and always at least one kind of greens and often two—greens are the heart of the meal. I could cook each food in a separate pot and arrange them on a plate, but being practical/lazy, I normally cook them all in a single pot as a sort of thick semi-stew. While its appearance is … understated?, the taste is excellent, plus I know that I’m getting a well-balanced meal.

And, it turns out, grub (or at any rate, such a varied mix) has other benefits as well, as reported by Allison Aubrey on NPR:

There’s no magic elixir for healthy aging, but here’s one more thing to add to the list: good gut health.

study published in the latest issue ofNature finds diet may be key to promoting diverse communities of beneficial bacteria in the guts of older people.

To evaluate this, researchers analyzed the microbiota, or gut bacteria, of 178 older folks, mostly in their 70s and 80s.

Some of the people were living in their own homes, and their diets were rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry and fish.

Others were living in long-term care facilities or nursing homes where the typical diet was much less varied. “Mashed potato and porridge were the only staples in this diet type that were consumed daily,” explains Paul O’Toole of the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre at University College Cork in Ireland. Meals were supplemented with puddings, cookies and sugar-sweetened beverages such as tea.

O’Toole’s team found that people living independently, who had the most diverse diets, also had more varied gut bacteria. And they also scored better on clinical tests measuring frailty and cognitive function. In other words, “they were healthier older people,” says O’Toole.

There may be many factors at play here, but O’Toole thinks diet is key. “We were surprised that the correlations between microbiota and health came out so strongly,” O’Toole says.

There’s an explosion of research into the gut microbiome as scientists fine-tune methods to analyze bacteria in the gut, and with that comes an emerging body of evidence that diversity of gut bacteria is important. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2012 at 9:38 am

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