Later On

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

Archive for June 7th, 2013

For video-game fans

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An interesting article.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Games, Technology

Trying to find a way to tell without telling

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Very interesting interview of Jennifer Hoelzer by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

The chairs of both committees have aggressively defended the Obama administration. The Obama administration has repeatedly pointed to oversight from Congress. But few seem comforted. And even on the committees themselves, there was considerable dissent. The New York Times today reported on the strange, long campaigns Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden mounted to bring these programs to public attention.

The problem for Udall and Wyden was they couldn’t tell the American people anything about the programs they were worried about. They couldn’t even tell most of their staffs. “Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to have your boss ask you to get reporters to write about something he can’t tell you about?” wrote Jennifer Hoelzer, who served as Wyden’s communications director. So I asked Hoelzer: How effective can the intelligence committees be if they can’t tell anyone what they know? And if no one trusts the intelligence committees to be effective, is their oversight really enough?

Ezra Klein: You wrote about the experience of being asked to raise awareness and get reporters interested in a top secret program your boss couldn’t describe to you. How do you carry out a task like that?

Jennifer Hoelzer: It’s a challenge! And I think it’s always the challenge with the intelligence committee and the intelligence world. Ron and his intelligence committee staffer John Dickas deserve a lot of credit. There’s so much you can’t say. And sometimes people risk not saying anything because they don’t want to violate classification. If they did, Ron would lose his seat on the committee, and John would lose his clearance, and they couldn’t conduct oversight.

In this case, I don’t have clearance, and I didn’t know what I couldn’t say. So it’s like minesweeper. You just have to ask questions to try to get the outlines of what they’re not telling you. Because they can’t tell you what they’re not telling you. And so there are all these tricks. For instance, you can’t really use adjectives.

EK: Why can’t you use adjectives? . . .

Continue reading.

One thing that interested me was the great importance of courage in a good politician, and how lacking in that virtue our current Congress seems to be. We know that we want ethical, honest, etc., politicians, and we generally include “courageous” in that list, but I was never sure exactly how it would be needed. (There’s little hand-to-hand combat in the halls of power, for example.) But the interview makes it clear how important it is and how so very, very few in Congress possess any courage at all.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Congress, Government, NSA

Another Civil War Reenactment: Virginia

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A well-written, well-crafted article in The American Prospect by Jamelle Bouie, a name I plan to remember:

By the summer of 1864, Confederate armies were hitting the limits of their strength: short on men, short on supplies, and losing ground in key theaters of the war. A reinvigorated Army of the Potomac, led by Ulysses S. Grant, had inflicted heavy casualties throughout the spring, pushing closer to the Confederate capital of Richmond. To regain the initiative, Robert E. Lee directed Lieutenant General Jubal Early to assault the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia, clear it of Union troops, then move on to Maryland and force Grant to defend Washington, D.C. The plan worked, but the fundamentals of the war hadn’t changed. The Confederacy was still weak, and Grant still had more men, more supplies, and a talented corps of experienced generals. At most, Lee had managed to delay the inevitable.

Today’s political situation in Virginia resembles those Civil War dynamics from 1864. . .

Continue reading. I love the lede: it almost demonstrates by analogy what is happening to the GOP, not only in Virgina but even across the country: their ranks are falling without replacement.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 5:59 pm

Posted in Politics

TIA is a zombie program

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Total Information Awareness: killed once but still lumbering around. Kevin Drum:

Here’s the latest from the Wall Street Journal:

The National Security Agency’s monitoring of Americans includes customer records from the three major phone networks as well as emails and Web searches, and the agency also has cataloged credit-card transactions, said people familiar with the agency’s activities.

….It couldn’t be determined if any of the Internet or credit-card arrangements are ongoing, as are the phone company efforts, or one-shot collection efforts. The credit-card firms, phone companies and NSA declined to comment for this article.

This is sure starting to sound a lot like our old friend, Total Information Awareness. You remember TIA, don’t you? It was the Bush-era program designed to tap into commercial and government databases across the country and hoover up credit card statements, medical records, travel plans, phone bills, grocery receipts, and anything else that sounded interesting. Congress killed it in 2003, but forgot to salt the earth behind it:

A program can survive even when the media, the public, and most of Congress wants it killed. It turns out that, while the language in the bill shutting down TIA was clear, a new line had been inserted during conference—no one knew by whom—allowing “certain processing, analysis, and collaboration tools” to continue.

….Thanks to the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, which had lobbied for the provision, TIA didn’t die—it metastasized. As the AP reported in February [of 2004], the new language simply outsourced many TIA programs to other intelligence offices and buried them in the so-called “black budget.” What’s more, today, several agencies are pursuing data mining projects independent of TIA, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the CIA, the Transportation Security Administration, and NASA….Even with TIA ostensibly shut down, many of the private contractors who worked on the program can continue their research with few controls.

I’d pretty much forgotten all about this. I guess it’s time to brush up.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 5:18 pm

Turning local police departments into storm troopers

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Kristen Gwynne writes are AlterNet:

Another raid on the wrong residence; another dead dog. This time [3], Iraq War veteran Adam Arroyo says he came home on Monday to find his door busted down, and his beloved pup dead from bullet wounds. The Buffalo, NY police did not seem too concerned with cleaning up blood or anything like that, but nonetheless left behind a note of sorts: a search warrant for the apartment next door.

“They busted the door down, with a battering ram or whatever,” he told the Buffalo News [4]. “They came in, and within a few seconds of entering the apartment, they murdered my dog. They shot her multiple times. They had no reason to do that.” Arroyo says his dog, a two-and-a-half-year-old pit bull named Cindy, was killed while chained up in the kitchen, which he discovered ridden with bullet holes.

As WKBW points out [3], the police made a serious error:

The suspect named in the warrant [3] was described as a black male and was wanted on suspicion of dealing crack.Arroyo is Hispanic and lives at 304 Breckenridge, upper-rear apartment, which has a completely separate entrance and is clearly marked on his mail box.

“I don’t do drugs. I’m a United States veteran. I work everyday. I’m just trying to live my life,” Arroyo told WKBW. Crazy as this story might sound, raids on the wrong residences happen regularly, and the results can be traumatic, not to mention deadly. Militant SWAT raids are often used in drug busts, and have become increasingly popular over the past couple of decades. They are so prevalent — and such a significant factor of police militarization — that the ACLU recently launched an investigation [5] into their use.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda told WIVB [6] that the department is investigating the case, and taking it “very seriously.” He added, “If [the dog] was attacking an officer and he was … stopping the dog from attacking, he’d be justified.” Nevermind that they had the WRONG apartment.

He is right, however, that the raid was pretty standard. Here’s how former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper has described [7] SWAT busts:

The officers are armed with automatic weapons and are sometimes deployed from armored personnel carriers or rappelling from helicopters. Doors are smashed open with battering rams or are ripped from their hinges by ropes tied to vehicles. And, to further disorient those inside, officers are trained to use explosives—“flash-bang” grenades—upon entry. The slightest provocation, including any “furtive” moments on the part of the residents, often results in shots fired. Since drug dealers sometimes use dogs to protect their stash, family pets are shot, kicked, or, in the recent case of a New York City raid, thrown out the window.

It’s probably a good thig Arroyolo wasn’t home. When police become the military, their tactics lead to some of the same civilian casualties as war. Still, some discretion, at least, would be nice. Maybe double check the address next time armed men bust through a door?

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Murder Rehab?

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Interesting article by Maia Szalavitz at

In March, Evan Ebel gunned down the Colorado state police chief and was later shot dead by cops after a car chase. This was only the most recent in a string of bizarre murders by men who attended a brutal teen rehab called Paradise Cove.

The crimes are heinous: murdering a pizza deliveryman for his uniform, then wearing it to shoot down Colorado’s state prison chief; hiring a hit man to kill your parents; stabbing both of your grandfathers to death. Besides the horror, these recent homicides share a surprising common element: In each case, the alleged or convicted perpetrator had been sent to an unregulated tough-love camp known as Paradise Cove.

Evan Ebel, the 28-year-old ex-con who is now notorious for the Colorado killings and the high-speed Texas car chase and shootout that ultimately led to his own death in March, attended at least two such programs, including Paradise Cove. His parents apparently sent him there around age 12 because they were concerned about his destructive behavior and suspicious that he was using hard drugs and alcohol.

But Paradise Cove was anything but paradise for the boys who attended. The Samoa-based camp was part of a “troubled teen” chain—variously known as the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP), Teen Revitalization Inc., and Youth Foundation Inc.—that has had over a dozen of its programs (including Paradise Cove) closed down following reports of abuse. Former participants link at least 11 suicide or overdose deaths as well as three homicides to this particular camp—and many more to the network overall. Although apparently not using the WWASP name these days, the same high-level management is still involved in residential youth programs today, mainly in Utah.

The boys at Paradise Cove slept in straw-roofed huts on mats on a concrete floor. To prevent escapes, fluorescent lights burned all night, attracting mosquitos. Flip-flops were the only shoes permitted—another security measure—but these were rapidly destroyed by the sharp coral beaches where the boys exercised and worked. The cuts that resulted attracted flies and infections. “They’d just swarm on you,” Paul Richards, who attended Paradise Cove in 1997, told me for my book on troubled teen programs, Help at Any Cost.

Breaking any of the program’s strict rules—for example, sitting in the wrong position or talking out of turn—resulted in severe, escalating punishment. Beatings by staff were common. But the worst consequence was “The Box,” a three-foot-square windowless, wooden hut with a concrete floor, where teens were made to stay for days to months, subsisting on rice and water. Sometimes, they were thrown in hog-tied and left for hours. Other times, they were made to kneel or sit in stress positions, which rapidly became agonizing. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

How Congress unknowingly legalized PRISM in 2007

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Timothy Lee reports in the Washington Post:

On Sept. 11, 2007, the National Security Agency signed up Microsoft as its first partner for PRISM, a massive domestic surveillance program whose existence was reported by the Washington Post today. That’s barely a month after Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed, the Protect America Act.

The Bush Administration portrayed the PAA as a technical fix designed to close a gap in America’s surveillance capabilities that had been opened by a then-recent ruling of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). It proved to be much more than that.While the details are still classified, reports suggested that the FISC had ruled that it was illegal for the government to intercept communications between two foreign endpoints if the communications happened to pass through the United States. Warning that the U.S. would suddenly lose the ability to continue its surveillance of terrorists, the administration pushed the PAA through Congress in a matter of days.

In reality, the PAA represented a sweeping change to American surveillance law. Before conducting surveillance, the PAA only required executive branch officials to “certify” that there were “reasonable procedures” in place for ensuring that surveillance “concerns” persons located outside the United States and that the foreign intelligence is a “significant purpose” of the program. A single certification could cover a broad program intercepting the communications of numerous individuals. And there was no requirement for judicial review of individual surveillance targets within a “certified” program.

Civil liberties groups warned that the PAA’s vague requirements and lack of oversight would give the government a green light to seek indiscriminate access to the private communications of Americans. They predicted that the government would claim that they needed unfettered access to domestic communications to be sure they had gotten all relevant information about suspected terrorists.

It now appears that this is exactly what the government did. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 12:06 pm

GOP shows dishonesty/stupidity (your choice)

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Take a look at the 11 lamest “scandals” the GOP has touted, compiled for the Washington Monthly by Ryan Cooper.

With most of the right convinced that Barack Obama is the most corrupt president since Nixon, or maybe Harding, or probably Of All Time, conservative media just can’t resist a good scandal. And it’s killing them. From deliberately cooked-up lies, to garbled reporting, to failures of the most basic due diligence, there’s scarcely a breath between one conservative media faceplant and the next. Even Erick Ericksonrecognizes the damage this behavior is doing to the Republican brand, but so far at least, the right can’t help itself.

So here is a (non-exhaustive) list of the biggest failures of conservative media in the Obama age.

11. No, Obamacare won”t increase the deficit by $6.2 trillion. This one was cooked up by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who directed the General Accounting Office to make a report detailing what would happen if all the cost-control and revenue measures were removed from Obamacare. Take it away, Jon Chait:

So, yeah. If Congress keeps the parts of the law that cost the government money, and repeals the parts that save money, the law will increase deficits. Alternatively, if the government repeals the parts that cost money and keeps the parts that save money, it will reduce the deficit by more than we’re projecting. Who knows? If I were a senator, I’d ask GAO to model what would happen if Jeff Sessions acquires a loose nuclear weapon and sets it off in Manhattan, and then tout my incredible new report finding that Jeff Sessions is going to kill 4 million people.

10. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 11:49 am

Posted in GOP

GOP shows spite

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Paul Krugman in the NY Times:

House Republicans have voted 37 times to repeal ObamaRomneyCare — the Affordable Care Act, which creates a national health insurance system similar to the one Massachusetts has had since 2006. Nonetheless, almost all of the act will go fully into effect at the beginning of next year.

There is, however, one form of obstruction still available to the G.O.P. Last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding the law’s constitutionality also gave states the right to opt out of one piece of the plan, a federally financed expansion of Medicaid. Sure enough, a number of Republican-dominated states seem set to reject Medicaid expansion, at least at first.

And why would they do this? They won’t save money. On the contrary, they will hurt their own budgets and damage their own economies. Nor will Medicaid rejectionism serve any clear political purpose. As I’ll explain later, it will probably hurt Republicans for years to come.

No, the only way to understand the refusal to expand Medicaid is as an act of sheer spite. And the cost of that spite won’t just come in the form of lost dollars; it will also come in the form of gratuitous hardship for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Some background: Obamacare rests on three pillars. First, insurers must offer the same coverage to everyone regardless of medical history. Second, everyone must purchase coverage — the famous “mandate” — so that the young and healthy don’t opt out until they get older and/or sicker. Third, premiums will be subsidized, so as to make insurance affordable for everyone. And this system is going into effect next year, whether Republicans like it or not.

Under this system, by the way, a few people — basically young, healthy individuals who don’t already get insurance from their employers, and whose incomes are high enough that they won’t benefit from subsidies — will end up paying more for insurance than they do now. Right-wingers are hyping this observation as if it were some kind of shocking surprise, when it was, in fact, well-known to everyone from the beginning of the debate. And, as far as anyone can tell, we’re talking about a small number of people who are, by definition, relatively well off.

Back to the Medicaid expansion. Obamacare, as I’ve just explained, relies on subsidies to make insurance affordable for lower-income Americans. But we already have a program, Medicaid, providing health coverage to very-low-income Americans, at a cost private insurers can’t match. So the Affordable Care Act, sensibly, relies on an expansion of Medicaid rather than the mandate-plus-subsidy arrangement to guarantee care to the poor and near-poor.

But Medicaid is a joint federal-state program, and the Supreme Court made it possible for states to opt out of the expansion. And it appears that a number of states will take advantage of that “opportunity.” What will that mean?

A new study from the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan research institution, examines the consequences if 14 states whose governors have declared their opposition to Medicaid expansion do, in fact, reject the expansion. The result, the study concluded, would be a huge financial hit: the rejectionist states would lose more than $8 billion a year in federal aid, and would also find themselves on the hook for roughly $1 billion more to cover the losses hospitals incur when treating the uninsured.

Meanwhile, Medicaid rejectionism will deny health coverage to roughly 3.6 million Americans, with essentially all of the victims living near or below the poverty line. And since past experience shows that Medicaid expansion is associated with significant declines in mortality, this would mean a lot of avoidable deaths: about 19,000 a year, the study estimated.

Just think about this for a minute. It’s one thing when politicians refuse to spend money helping the poor and vulnerable; that’s just business as usual. But here we have a case in which politicians are, in effect, spending large sums, in the form of rejected aid, not to help the poor but to hurt them. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 11:40 am

iKon Stainless Steel Slant

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Gregory Kahn sent me some pix:


That’s it in the wild, and here are two other views:


And the underside of the head:


Availability is in “a few weeks”—I would guess late July or early August. He likes to ship when orders arrive, so no pre-orders.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 11:21 am

Posted in Shaving

Lenthéric and Annik Goutal: Classic shave

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SOTD 7 June 2013

Good shave with a small harvest of nicks across upper lip, immediately staunched with My Nik Is Sealed. But first:

Vintage soaps of good quality are great sources of lather. My Wet Shaving Product Monarch quickly made a sumptuous lather. Three passes with the Tradere holding a new Kai blade—and I may move the Kai to a more Kai-friendly razor—left my face smooth and bleeding (a bit). After the styptic, a good application of the Annik Goutal Eau de Sud, and I’m ready for a good Friday.

I tried the Jlocke98 pre-shave again today. I mixed a small bottle with a 24:1 mix of Dr. Bronner’s and lanolin oil. It did okay but not so well as yesterday, so I’m making a new batch 12:1, using 1/4 c Dr. Bronner’s and 1 tsp lanolin oil. We’ll see tomorrow how that works.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2013 at 11:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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