Later On

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

Archive for May 23rd, 2013

Daily life, some reflections, and a GOPM recipe

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Let’s get the recipe out of the way first, since that’s fresh in my mind. This one turned out exceptionally well, saith The Wife. As always, I give the recipe as I made it from what I have. If I used a Meyer lemon, I’ll write that, but obviously you can substitute as you wish. I used sherry vinegar because sherry vinegar is what I happened to have. If I had apple cider vinegar, I would have used that. Recipes generally have an unrealistic level of specificity, IMO.

Rub the inside of a Staub 2.25-qt round cocotte (I used the red one) with olive oil. Note—and this is very important—do NOT buy a Staub round cocotte from Amazon.com. I bought mine there—it was $110 and quite obviously superior to the $135 Le Creuset—but tonight their prices are, literally, insane. Depending on the color, the price varies, all over the place, but is uniformly HIGH—Jeff Bezos must be having trouble reaching profit goals. $170, $285, and $460, depending on color. That is crazy. The link above is to a store that is not having a nervous breakdown, pricing-wise.

The layers, from bottom up:

1/2 cup Lundberg Organic White Basmati rice — I buy Lundberg because their rice is lower in arsenic and they address the problem directly. It’s also what Whole Foods has in the bulk bins.

1 quite large leek, quartered lengthwise and sliced
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
1 Tbsp sherry vinegar (meant to put it on the rice, forgot until this layer)
1 medium zucchini, diced
1/3 large eggplant, diced
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
3/4 bunch asparagus, cut into segments
1 organic Eureka lemon (probably would have used a Meyer lemon if available), diced after ends removed

Pour-over:

2 Tbsp Penzeys Country French Vinaigrette (mixed according to instructions)
2 Tbsp Ponzu sauce
2 Tbsp Amontillado sherry
1 Tbsp Red Boat fish sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard

Shake well in bottle, pour over.

Cover cocotte and cook in 450ºF oven for 45 minutes.

The rice formed a sort of rice cake in the bottom. All very tasty—and I put it together in 15 minutes.

I am pleased at some progress on the project of converting daily common chores into sources of enjoyment (cf. shaving).

In pondering this, I recently recalled the story in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which you surely have read more than once, of the episode of whitewashing the fence: a horrible chore that was so bad that whitewasher’s coevals felt free to mock him. Tom neatly turns the tables, making the practice—indeed, art—of whitewashing something so desired that others pay him for the privilege and perform the chore with thorough and genuine enjoyment—genuine enough so that they pay for the privilege and in no wise feel cheated.

I suddenly realized that what I’m saying is that we can do this to ourselve—we don’t need a Tom Sawyer, we can be our own Tom Sawyer.

We have no dishwasher, so dishes are washed by hand. I do this, and dishes build up—you know the story. Then recently I decided that I would not have a dirty dish dormant in the kitchen. At the earliest possible moment—i.e., as soon as either of us finishes eating from a dish—I grab the dish and wash it and put it in the rack to dry. At first this took time, but the more I did it, the less time it took: there was never a backlog, so I would be washing one bowl or two, for example. That’s easily and quickly done. When I found dry dishes in rack, I immediately put them away. Dirty dishes became rare, so I would wipe off counters, put things away. Soon even that was rare. A dirty dish became a kind of prize. And keeping the kitchen clean was easy: the effort involved at any time was tiny, and I practically can do it as I walk through the kitchen.

As I thought about it, I realized I had also discovered something else: a natural and unique time to tackle it. The time was as soon as I had something to clean. That is, as soon as something was dirtied, I cleaned it. “As soon as” is quite specific and easily identifiable. “Later” is vague, amorphous, and no particular time. “Later” omits a starting bell, whereas with “as soon as” sounds the bell clearly.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 9:23 pm

Hemingway’s reading list for young writers

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From an interesting post at Open Culture—I recommend you read it. But the list:

Hemingway wrote down a list of 16 books and handed it to Samuelson (many of the texts you can find in our collection of Free eBooks):

    • The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane
    • The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
    • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
    • Dubliners by James Joyce
    • The Red and the Black by Stendhal
    • Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
    • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    • Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
    • Hail and Farewell by George Moore
    • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    • The Oxford Book of English Verse
    • The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
    • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    • Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
    • The American by Henry James

 

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Books, Writing

Government surveillance of the Occupy movement

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The government now can claim to be “suspicious” that terrorism is being contemplated, and that suspicion triggers the Patriot Act and other repressive legislation and court decisions that allow the government to do anything it wants without regard to legal and human rights. Naturally enough, such tools are appealing to the authoritarian mind, and “dissent” to such a mind looks very much like “terrorism” (authoritarians are easily frightened), which is an enormous threat to the US, much greater than any threat of terrorism. PR Watch has published a report on our government’s activities:

Government Surveillance of Occupy Movement

Special Report by Center for Media and Democracy and DBA Press

– by Beau Hodai, CMD/DBA

On May 20, 2013, DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy 
released the results of a year-long investigation: “Dissent or Terror:
 How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, In Partnership With 
Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street.”

 The report, a distillation of thousands of pages of records obtained
 from counter terrorism/law enforcement agencies, details how
 state/regional “fusion center” personnel monitored the Occupy Wall
 Street movement over the course of 2011 and 2012.

The report also examines how fusion centers and other counter terrorism entities that 
have emerged since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have
 worked to benefit numerous corporations engaged in public-private
 intelligence sharing partnerships. 

While the report examines many instances of fusion center monitoring
 of Occupy activists nationwide, the bulk of the report 
details how counter terrorism personnel engaged in the Arizona Counter
 Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC, commonly known as the “Arizona fusion center”) monitored and otherwise surveilled citizens active in
 Occupy Phoenix, and how this surveillance benefited a number of 
corporations and banks that were subjects of Occupy Phoenix protest 
activity.

While small glimpses into the governmental monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street movement have emerged in the past, there has not been any reporting — until now — that details the breadth and depth with which the nation’s post-September 11, 2001 counter terrorism apparatus has been applied to politically engaged citizens exercising their Constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights.

REPORT Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s ‘Counter Terrorism’ Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street

REPORT APPENDIX open records materials cited in report.

PRESS RELEASE “New Report Details How Counter Terrorism Apparatus Was Used to Monitor Occupy Movement Nationwide”(PDF)

SOURCE MATERIALS almost 10,000 pages of open records materials are archived on DBA Press.

PRWATCH ARTICLE “Dissent or Terror: How Arizona’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate Interests, Turned on Occupy Phoenix”

Key Findings
Key findings of this report include:

  • How law enforcement agencies active in the Arizona fusion
 center dispatched an undercover officer to infiltrate activist groups
 organizing both protests of the American Legislative Exchange Council 
(ALEC) and the launch of Occupy Phoenix and how the work of this 
undercover officer benefited ALEC and the private corporations that
 were the subjects of these demonstrations.
  • How fusion centers, funded in large part by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, expended countless hours and tax dollars in the monitoring of 
Occupy Wall Street and other activist groups.
  • How the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has financed
 social media “data mining” programs at local law enforcement agencies engaged in fusion centers.
  • How counter terrorism government employees applied facial
 recognition technology, drawing from a state database of driver’s
 license photos, to photographs found on Facebook in the effort to 
profile citizens believed to be associated with activist groups.
  • How corporations have become part of the homeland security “information sharing environment” with law enforcement/intelligence agencies through various public-private intelligence sharing partnerships. The report examines multiple instances in which the counter terrorism/homeland security apparatus was used to gather intelligence relating to activists for the benefit of corporate interests that were the subject of protests.
  • How private groups and individuals, such as Charles Koch, 
Chase Koch (Charles’ son and a Koch Industries executive), Koch 
Industries, and the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council 
have hired off-duty police officers — sometimes still armed and in
 police uniforms — to perform the private security functions of keeping
 undesirables (reporters and activists) at bay.
  • How counter terrorism personnel monitored the protest
 activities of citizens opposed to the indefinite detention language
 contained in National Defense Authorization Act of 2012.
  • How the FBI applied “Operation Tripwire,” an initiative
 originally intended to apprehend domestic terrorists through the use
 of private sector informants, in their monitoring of Occupy Wall 
Street groups. [Note: this issue was reported on exclusively by DBA/CMD in December, 2012.]

Press

Alternet has published an except from the report:

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a nationwide “counter terrorism” apparatus emerged. Components of this apparatus include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (U.S. DHS), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), ODNI’s “National Counterterrorism Center” (NCTC), and state/regional “fusion centers.”

“Fusion centers,” by and large, are staffed with personnel working in “counter terrorism”/ “homeland security” units of municipal, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement/”public safety”/”counter terrorism” agencies. To a large degree, the “counter terrorism” operations of municipal, county, state and tribal agencies engaged in “fusion centers” are financed through a number of U.S. DHS grant programs.

Initially, “fusion centers” were intended to be intelligence sharing partnerships between municipal, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement/”counter terrorism” agencies, dedicated solely to the dissemination/sharing of “terrorism”-related intelligence. However, shortly following the creation of “fusion centers,” their focus shifted from this exclusive interest in “terrorism,” to one of “all hazards” — an umbrella term used to describe virtually anything (including “terrorism”) that may be deemed a “hazard” to the public, or to certain private sector interests. And, as has been mandated through a series of federal legislative actions and presidential executive orders, “fusion centers” (and the “counter terrorism” entities that they are comprised of) work — in ever closer proximity — with private corporations, with the stated aim of protecting items deemed to be “critical infrastructure/key resources” (CI/KR, typically thought of as items such as power plants, dams or weapons manufacturing plants).

As detailed in a report from DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy (DBA/CMD), “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street [3],” through 2011 and 2012, “fusion centers” and other “counter terrorism” agencies engaged in widespread monitoring of Occupy Wall Street activists.

Records obtained by DBA/CMD indicate that, in some instances, these “counter terrorism” agencies worked in partnership with corporate interests to gather and disseminate intelligence relating to the activities of citizens engaged in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Ironically, records indicate that corporate entities engaged in such public-private intelligence sharing partnerships were often the very same corporate entities criticized, and protested against, by the Occupy Wall Street movement as having undue influence in the functions of public government.

This article examines the effects of such public-private intelligence sharing partnerships in Arizona, and how such partnerships benefited corporate interests that were subjects of Occupy Phoenix protest actions through 2011 and 2012.

Arizona Fusion Center Work on Behalf of Banks

In October of 2011, Jamie Dimon, president and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, had plans to travel to Phoenix for a “town hall” event with 2,000 of his employees at Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, located in downtown Phoenix). As Dimon is one of the most powerful men on Wall Street and the head of the largest bank in the country — a bank that played a key role in the collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008 — JP Morgan Chase Regional Security Manager Dan Grady contacted Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center personnel on October 17 (the day before Dimon’s scheduled visit), to ensure a smooth landing for Dimon in Phoenix.

The Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC), commonly known as the “Arizona Fusion Center,” is comprised of personnel from such entities as the Arizona Department of Public Safety Intelligence Bureau, the Phoenix Police Department Homeland Defense Bureau, the Tempe Police Department Homeland Defense Unit, the Mesa Police Department Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Unit, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI Phoenix Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Transportation Security Administration, and the U.S. DHS offices of Infrastructure Protection and Intelligence and Analysis.

Records indicate that Grady’s chief point of law enforcement/”counter terrorism” personnel contact in Phoenix — with whom he discussed the particulars of Dimon’s visit and shared a detailed itinerary — was Phoenix Police Department Homeland Defense Bureau (PPDHDB) Detective, and ACTIC Community Liaison Program Coordinator, Jennifer O’Neill. As records indicate, the chief area of discussion between Grady and O’Neill were concerns that citizens engaged in Occupy Phoenix, an Occupy Wall Street-inspired group that had launched only days prior, on October 14 and 15, might try to disrupt the event — or otherwise inconvenience Dimon.

According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, in response to Grady’s concerns, O’Neill stated that she and a PPDHDB “CI/KR security specialist” colleague had engaged in the monitoring of known online “social networking” outlets used by Occupy Phoenix for discussion relating to the Dimon visit. As such O’Neill stated: “we have not seen anything on social networking that leads us to believe protestors are aware of this event.”

By no stretch of the imagination was this monitoring of social media (known in the world of “counter terrorism” agencies as the acquisition of “open source intelligence”) for the benefit of JP Morgan Chase President and CEO Dimon the full extent of such activity conducted by ACTIC personnel. Records indicate that ACTIC personnel consistently gathered “open source,” and other, intelligence relating to Occupy Phoenix protests of corporate entities throughout 2011 and 2012. According to these records, in many instances ACTIC personnel would share this intelligence with personnel employed by corporations who were subject to these protests.

Another example of Occupy Phoenix-related ACTIC CLP work for the benefit of banks would . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 2:01 pm

Obama’s forgotten victims

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Mirza Akbar has an op-ed in the NY Times:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — WHEN Barack Obama ran for president of the United States in 2008, his message of hope and change gave us, the citizens of lesser republics, hope that he would close Guantánamo and shut down programs where extrajudicial killing or bribing foreign heads of state with American taxpayer dollars had become standard practice.

Instead, a few days after his inaugural address, a C.I.A.-operated drone dropped Hellfire missiles on Fahim Qureishi’s home in North Waziristan, killing seven of his family members and severely injuring Fahim. He was just 13 years old and left with only one eye, and shrapnel in his stomach.

There was no militant present. A recent book revealed that Mr. Obama was informed about the erroneous target but still did not offer any form of redress, because in 2009, the United States did not acknowledge the existence of its own drone program in Pakistan.

Sadaullah Wazir was another victim of hope and change. His house in North Waziristan was targeted on Sept. 7, 2009. The strike killed four members of his family. Sadaullah was 14 years old when it happened. A few days after the attack, he woke up in a Peshawar hospital to the news that both of his legs had to be amputated and he would never be able to walk again. He died last year, without receiving justice or even an apology. Once again, no militant was present or killed.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on drones at the National Defense University today. He is likely to tell his fellow Americans that drones are precise and effective at killing militants.

But his words will be little consolation for 8-year-old Nabila, who, on Oct. 24, had just returned from school and was playing in a field outside her house with her siblings and cousins while her grandmother picked flowers. At 2:30 p.m., a Hellfire missile came out of the sky and struck right in front of Nabila. Her grandmother was badly burned and succumbed to her injuries; Nabila survived with severe burns and shrapnel wounds in her shoulder.

Nabila doesn’t know who Mr. Obama is, or where the Hellfire missile that killed her grandmother came from. As she grows older, she will learn about the idea of justice. But how will she be able to grasp it if she herself has been denied this basic right?

The civilian victims of drone strikes have not been let down just by Mr. Obama. Their own government is equally culpable; Pakistan has been complicit in several strikes.

I have brought litigation on behalf of more than 100 civilian victims and their families before the provincial High Court in Peshawar and lower courts in Islamabad, the capital, to demand that the Pakistani government exercise its duty to protect the lives of its citizens.

A growing number of civilian casualties has raised the question of the efficacy of drone strikes in killing militants. Clearly Fahim, Sadaullah and Nabila were not menaces to America who had to be attacked in a brutal and lawless manner. According to the revelations in a recent McClatchy News Service article, the C.I.A. has no idea who is actually being killed in most of the strikes. Despite this acknowledgment, the drone program in Pakistan still continues without any Congressional oversight or accountability.

The burden of accountability is not exclusively on the American side. It is widely believed that the Pakistani government not only gives tacit consent for such strikes but also provides ground intelligence to the United States. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 1:29 pm

An enormously bad idea: Corporate wrong-doers get to remain anonymous

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Alex Seitz-Wald writes in Salon:

If you look at the redacted decision a federal judge in the District Court of Maryland handed down last October, you would think it involves a classified CIA program, burying all pertinent information — sometimes almost entire pages — under black boxes.

But the case isn’t about a secret weapons program — it’s about baby strollers or kitchen appliances or action figures or some other consumer product. But we don’t actually know because everything, from the name of the company involved to the product it makes, is secret, thanks to a potentially unprecedented court ruling that consumer advocates fear could set a standard of allowing corporations to challenge actions they don’t like without even revealing their names. Welcome to the “Company Doe” case.

In 2008, after a spate of high-profile recalls of lead-tainted toys from China and other products, Congress passed a law to beef up the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent federal agency that regulates everything from baby cribs to ATVs to swimming pools — over 15,000 different products, altogether. The law also created a user-friendly online database aimed at making it easier for consumers to learn about potentially dangerous products by centralizing government reports and allowing any consumer to post his or her own complaints.

The whole point of the database is transparency. It can take months for the agency’s investigations to run their course, and companies have a great deal of control over any eventual recall or public action, so the idea of the database was to close the gap between what the agency knows and what the public knows — “letting the sun shine in,” as CPSC chairwoman Inez Moore Tenenbaum said in a speech last year.

So it’s ironic that the very first lawsuit challenging the database could become a test case on corporate secrecy.

In October of 2011, a company asked a federal court to stop the agency from including in its database a report filed by a local government agency of alleged harm to a consumer. It was the first such suit, but was generally expected, as manufacturers fought the creation of the database tooth and nail. But what’s unusual is that the plaintiff called itself “Company Doe” and asked the judge to litigate the entire case under seal and under pseudonym so as to protect it from the taint of perceived impropriety.

Balking at this secrecy, a coalition of consumer advocacy groups intervened in the case and filed a motion to unmask the company. They didn’t hear anything for nine months after their first filing. Then, in July of 2012, they were told that not only had the court rejected their effort to unseal the records, but that the case had already been decided in favor of “Company Doe” — all in total secret. A few months after that came a heavily redacted decision, blacking out the name of the company, the type of product, the local government agency that reported the problem, the potential harm and all other potentially identifying information.

“As far as we can tell, it’s unprecedented,” Scott Michelman, an attorney at Public Citizen who is leading the consumer groups’ litigation, told Salon. “We know of no case anywhere in the country in which companies have been allowed to proceed under a pseudonym, just to protect its reputation.”

This kind of secrecy is common in grand jury proceedings, national security cases and criminal cases to protect the identify of sexual assault victims, legal experts say, but highly unusual beyond that. . .

Continue reading.

This is a terrible decision, but to be expected as corporations seize control of the country.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Business, Law

Wouldn’t it be good if citizens of the US had the right to vote?

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The US certainly insists on the right to vote for other countries, as Michael Lind points out in Salon:

Is it time, at long last, for the citizens of the United States to enjoy the constitutional right to vote for the people who govern them?

Phrased in that way, the question may come as a shock. The U.S. has waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan justified, at least in rhetoric, by the claim that people deserve the right to vote for their leaders. Most of us assume that the right to vote has long been enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Not according to the Supreme Court. In Bush v. Gore (2000), the Court ruled that “[t]he individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.” That’s right. Under federal law, according to the Supreme Court, if you are a citizen of the United States, you have a right to own a firearm that might conceivably be used in overthrowing the government. But you have no right to wield a vote that might be used to change the government by peaceful means.

FairVote, a nonprofit organization that leads the fight for electoral reform in the U.S.,points out:

The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy. Yet most Americans do not realize that we do not have a constitutionally protected right to vote. While there are amendments to the U.S. Constitution that prohibit discrimination based on race (15th), sex (19th) and age (26th), no affirmative right to vote exists.

And that’s just the beginning. While the Voting Rights Act eliminated overt disenfranchisement based on racial discrimination, state governments retain many tools that state politicians can use to disfranchise citizens, not only in state and local elections but also in federal elections. Among these tools are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Election, Government

Interesting excerpt from The Autistic Brain

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Wired Science has an excerpt from The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek:

Reading an interview with Steve Jobs, I came across this quote: “The thing I love about Pixar is that it’s exactly like the LaserWriter.” What? The most successful animation studio in recent memory is “exactly like” a piece of technology from 1985?

He explained that when he saw the first page come out of Apple’s LaserWriter — the first laser printer ever — he thought, There’s awesome amounts of technology in this box. He knew what all the technology was, and he knew all the work that went into creating it, and he knew how innovative it was.

But he also knew that the public wasn’t going to care about what was inside the box. Only the product was going to matter — the beautiful fonts that he made sure were part of the Apple aesthetic. This was the lesson he applied to Pixar: You can use all sorts of new computer software to create a new kind of animation, but the public isn’t going to care about anything except what’s on the screen.

He was right, obviously. While he didn’t use the terms picture thinker and pattern thinker, that’s what he was talking about. In that moment in 1985, he realized that you needed pattern thinkers to engineer the miracles inside the box and picture thinkers to make what comes out of the box beautiful.

I haven’t been able to look at an iPod or iPad or iPhone without thinking about that interview. I now understand that when Apple gets something wrong, it’s because they didn’t get the balance between the kinds of thinking right.

The notorious antenna problem on the iPhone 4? Too much art, not enough engineering.

Contrast this philosophy with Google’s; the minds behind Google, I guarantee you, were pattern thinkers. And to this day, Google products favor engineering over art.

After I gave a talk at one high-tech firm in Silicon Valley, I asked some of the folks there how they wrote code. They said they actually visualized the whole programming tree, and then they just typed in the code on each branch in their minds. I recalled my autistic friend Sara R. S. Miller, a computer programmer, telling me that she could look at a coding pattern and spot an irregularity in the pattern. Then I called my friend Jennifer McIlwee Myers, another computer programmer who is autistic. I asked her if she saw programming branches. No, she said, she was not visual in that way; when she started studying computer science, she got a C in graphic design. But she did think in patterns. “Writing code is like crossword puzzles, or sudoku,” she said. (Crossword puzzles involve words, of course, while sudoku involves numbers. But what they have in common is pattern thinking.)

Once I realized that thinking in patterns might be a third category, alongside thinking in pictures and thinking in words, I started seeing examples everywhere. (At this point, this third category is only a hypothesis, though I’ve found scientific support for it. It has transformed my thinking about autistic people’s strengths.)

‘Pattern Thinking’

I’m certainly not the first person to notice that patterns are part of how humans think. Mathematicians, for instance, have studied the patterns in music for thousands of years. They have found that geometry can describe chords, rhythms, scales, octave shifts, and other musical features. In recent studies, researchers have discovered that if they map out the relationships between these features, the resulting diagrams assume Möbius strip-like shapes.

The composers, of course, don’t think of their compositions in these terms. They’re not thinking about math. They’re thinking about music. But somehow, they are working their way toward a pattern that is mathematically sound, which is another way of saying that it’s universal. The math doesn’t even have to exist yet.

The same is true in visual arts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The sea’s strangest square mile

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Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Science, Video

A Prosecutor, a Wrongful Conviction and a Question of Justice

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Joaquin Sapien has a disturbing article at ProPublica:

Edwin Oliva, a 29-year-old petty thief and drug addict, says he was a wreck as he sat in a chair in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office in winter 1995. A year earlier, he’d told police a lie that helped implicate a possibly innocent man in a murder. Now, prosecutors wanted him to repeat his story in court; he wanted to take it back.

Oliva says he had been on a crack and heroin binge at the time he’d made his initial claim, and that he told prosecutors he implicated the man only because of relentless pressure from police. A statement he had signed — asserting that he had heard a young man named Jabbar Collins discussing a murder plot days before a man wound up shot to death in a Brooklyn apartment building — was a fiction that detectives had fed him.

But the prosecutors, Oliva says, weren’t having it. Collins, the man Oliva had fingered, had already been arraigned based in part on Oliva’s word. Collins, then 21, was sitting in a Rikers Island jail cell awaiting trial, and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office was intent that he stay behind bars for a very long time. Oliva was going to be a critical witness, whether he liked it or not.

When Oliva refused to testify, the prosecutors, led by senior Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione, threatened to charge him with conspiracy to commit murder, Oliva says. Prosecutors then held Oliva for several days at Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison in Harlem. But Oliva held firm.

“I refused to testify to a lie,” he said in a sworn statement submitted years later in federal court.

Vecchione’s team, Oliva says, finally found a way to leverage him: Oliva was out of prison on a work release program, so prosecutors got the privilege revoked, and on March 1, 1995, Oliva was transferred to Ulster Correctional Facility, a maximum security state prison two hours north of New York City.

Oliva was brought back to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office for a meeting with Vecchione’s partner, Assistant District Attorney Charles Posner. According to Oliva, Posner told him that he could have his work release privileges restored if he’d testify against Collins.

“I felt trapped and desperate,” Oliva said. “And so I agreed.”

Oliva took the stand against Collins, insisting that his testimony was not a result of any agreement with prosecutors. And Vecchione, in a powerful closing argument, vouched for Oliva’s credibility.

“He saw something. He heard something,” Vecchione told the jury. “Someone asked him about it. And he is telling what he saw and he is telling what he heard. Nothing else.”

Jabbar Collins was convicted of murdering Abraham Pollack, a rabbi from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and spent the next 15 years in prison. But he eventually gained his freedom through a rare federal petition in 2010, one asserting that prosecutors and police had invented, distorted and withheld evidence in his case. And now Collins is suing for $150 million, naming the individual prosecutors and detectives as defendants along with the city.Based on an assortment of prosecution and government documents, as well as a number of sworn statements, Collins and his lawyer have asserted a staggering array of misconduct on Vecchione’s part:

Vecchione, they charge, . . .

Continue reading. It’s quite a lengthy article because Vecchinone has been active for a long time. Rogue prosecutors do a lot of damage and get little supervision.

Also, take a look at:

Who Polices Prosecutors Who Abuse Their Authority? Usually Nobody, by Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica, and Sergio Hernandez, Special to ProPublica, April 3

Lasting Damage: A Rogue Prosecutor’s Final Case, by Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica, April 5

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 9:59 am

Posted in Government, Law

Will growing industrial hemp become legal again in the US?

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During WWII, the government pleaded with farmers to grow industrial hemp, but then we won and industrial hemp again became (apparently) a dangerous product that was illegal to grow—though perfectly legal to buy as imports. The DEA has stubbornly resisted efforts to grow hemp—which is not a drug, so it’s unclear to me how the DEA should be involved at all. (It’s as if the DEA opposed the growing of cotton or corn.)

Phillip Smith reports at Drug War Chronicles:

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) Monday introduced an amendment to the omnibus farm bill to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, the Huffington Post reported. The move picked up momentum the next day, when Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) said he would support, the Huffington Post reported separately.

Vote Hemp, a hemp industry group, has been urging supporters to lobby senators to add and support the amendment. There is an opening on the farm bill this year because it failed to pass last year.”For me, what’s important is that people see, particularly in our state, there’s someone buying it at Costco in Oregon,” Wyden told the Post. “I adopted what I think is a modest position, which is if you can buy it at a store in Oregon, our farmers ought to be able to make some money growing it.”

Wyden wasn’t alone. The bipartisan amendment is cosponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY).

On Tuesday, Sen. Leahy told members of the farm advocacy group Rural Vermont he would support the amendment, and a Leahy aide confirmed his support to the Post.

“We are optimistic that the hemp amendment to the farm bill will pass and be attached,” Tom Murphy, the national outreach coordinator for Vote Hemp, told the Post. “We just received word from Rural Vermont that Sen. Patrick Leahy will support the amendment.”

This week’s moves come after McConnell tried and failed last week to get the amendment added to the farm bill. Now, momentum appears to be mounting.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 9:51 am

A step, however late and small, toward reforming chemical-safety laws

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Brad Plumer reports in the Washington Post:

The current U.S. law on chemical safety is 37 years old, riddled with exceptions, and widely seen as ineffective — so much so that the federal government hasn’t even tried to restrict an unsafe chemical since an asbestos ban was overturned in courts in 1991.

Now that law could soon get a face-lift, amid growing concern that ingredients in ordinary consumer products are leading to health problems.On Wednesday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) announced they had reached a “groundbreaking” agreement to revamp the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, ending two decades of gridlock in the Senate over how to test and regulate the tens of thousands of chemicals found in everything from crib mattresses to water bottles.

If the legislation were to pass, it would be the first time that a major U.S. environmental law was updated since the 1990 overhaul of the Clean Air Act.

“This bill proves that bipartisan compromise can still work in Washington,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who Senate staffers say was critical in bringing the main authors together. All told, the bill has eight Democratic co-sponsors and eight Republicans onboard.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers like Dow and Dupont, hailed the compromise. Environmentalists were split, with some viewing it as a encouraging step and others criticizing it for doing too little.

All sides seem to agree that the current process is dysfunctional. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 9:03 am

Interesting route to civic renewal: The New Haven story

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New Haven, despite the presence of Yale University, has been a town plagued with problems, but a renascence is underway due to an unusual movement, as reported in The American Prospect by Harold Meyerson:

Major Ruth became a civic leader because he made a promise to his neighbor, Brian Wingate. Both had moved to the Beaver Hills section of New Haven, Connecticut, in 2003. A neighborhood of aging single–family homes that had seen better days, Beaver Hills had been targeted by the city for a housing–rehabilitation program, and, with the zeal of new arrivals, Ruth, a manager at the local utility company, and Wingate, a custodian and union steward at nearby Yale University, sought to involve themselves in neighborhood–improvement ventures. That proved harder than they had anticipated.  Although New Haven aldermanic districts are tiny, encompassing no more than 4,300 residents, Ruth and Wingate couldn’t find anyone who could identify, much less locate, their alderman. “We joked that one of us would run for alderman and the other would have to run his campaign,” Ruth says. In 2010, Wingate told Ruth he was running and a deal was a deal.

“It started out as a simple promise,” Ruth says, “but it became part of a citywide initiative.” As Win-gate was deciding to run, his union at Yale, UNITE HERE, was deciding to support not just him but an entire slate of labor and community activists. New Haven was in crisis—its murder rate spiking, its jobless rates chronically high—and UNITE HERE concluded that saving its city required nothing short of taking it over.

To a degree that has astounded both New Haven and the union itself, UNITE HERE has done just that. In 2011, union-backed candidates won a veto-proof majority on the city’s Board of Aldermen. Within months, the board adopted policies that reintegrated the police department into the city’s communities and persuaded large employers to begin hiring New Haven residents when jobs fall open. At the very moment when organized labor has come under relentless attack in cities and states across the nation, New Haven has chosen a coalition of union and neighborhood activists to try to rebuild its government and economy. There’s a lot of rebuilding to be done.

Long before the industrial Midwest became the post–industrial Midwest, before Detroit and Cleveland were hollowed out, industrial New England began to implode. The place where America had industrialized first became the first place in America to deindustrialize, and nowhere more completely than New Haven.

At the turn of the 20th century, the city was home to the main factories of Winchester firearms, Stanley Hardware, and hundreds of other manufacturing firms, big and small, that employed tens of thousands of workers, many of whom were Italian immigrants and their children. By midcentury, just as African Americans were arriving to take those jobs, the factories began to close and middle–class employment declined precipitously. Although Connecticut has long ranked at or near the top of the nation’s most prosperous states, New Haven is one of the country’s poorest cities, with 30 percent of its population living beneath the poverty line, according to 2011 census data.

As the manufacturing firms closed their doors, only one major New Haven employer kept growing: Yale. The university and the Yale–New Haven Hospital are now the city’s largest private-sector employers. During the 1970s, John Wilhelm, a recent Yale graduate who had gone to work for the hotel and restaurant employees union, concluded that the only way to re-create a sizable New Haven middle class would be to unionize Yale—to turn the university’s clerical, technical, and blue-collar jobs into the well-paying positions that the city’s unionized manufacturing firms had once provided. A decade later, the hotel and restaurant workers union, today called UNITE HERE, won its first contract after a bitter strike.

Over the next quarter-century, through a series of equally bitter strikes, Yale employees won successively improved contracts, restoring the middle class that Wilhelm had envisioned. (Wilhelm went on to become the national president of UNITE HERE, a post from which he recently retired.) But building a middle class in Greater New Haven didn’t mean building a middle class in New Haven proper. The two UNITE HERE locals—34, which represents Yale clerical and technical workers, and 35, which represents blue-collar employees—are by far the largest unions in the New Haven area, but many of their members live in the towns and suburbs beyond the city line. This isn’t simply flight from urban decay. Because Yale and the Yale–New Haven Hospital are both exempt from standard property taxes, the burden of paying for city services falls disproportionately on homeowners, who face some of the highest property tax rates in the country.

Over the years, the two Yale unions had enlisted the city’s clergy as well as community and civil-rights groups to support their job actions when their contracts were up for renegotiation. In the mid-1990s, a number of ministers and community leaders asked the unions to reciprocate by helping them grapple with their own cascading problems of inner-city poverty.

The unions responded by establishing the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, modeled loosely after the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which had pioneered the concept of a community benefits agreement: A deal in which an employer, in return for assistance from a local government, is required to undertake some project—hiring local residents, building neighborhood parks, offering job training—that benefits city residents. Since it was established in 2000, the center has conducted multiple voter-mobilization drives and persuaded the Yale–New Haven Hospital to forgive the debts of 18,000 low-income New Havenites whom it was dunning and pursuing in court. Separately, under the guidance of political organizer Gwen Mills, UNITE HERE produced high voter turnouts in working-class and minority neighborhoods in the 2010 election, helping liberal Democrat Dannel Malloy win the governorship.

With the union’s electoral clout on the rise, and with the gap between Yale employees and much of the rest of New Haven growing, UNITE HERE decided to take a political leap. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 8:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Fine shave with Gillette NEW

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SOTD 23 May 2013

I just recommended the Gillette NEW to a guy who specifically wanted an open-comb razor. The NEW is a delight, and the long-toothed version shown in the photo I find particularly nice. The handle shown is not the NEW handle, but a red-bronze handle by UFO Razor Handles.

But first, the lather: my Mühle silverfiber synthetic brush worked up an immediate fine lather from Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition (with Tallow) Barbershoppe shaving soap. A very fine lather, modestly fragrant, and with three easy passes I exposed a BBS face hiding beneath the stubble. The Personna Blue Lab blade was a significant help in the effort.

A splash of a homemade Bay Rum a reader kindly sent me, and I’m already enjoying the day.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2013 at 8:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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