Later On

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

Archive for June 8th, 2013

Good question: “Is a democratic surveillance state possible?”

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Mike Konczal writes in the Washington Post:

Being able to name things is an important part of our humanity. (Before everything went sideways, Adam was supposed to spend eternity in the Garden of Eden naming animals.) Being able to name things gives us a power to describe them, identify what we like and don’t like, and begin to think of better alternatives.

So it’s important to name what we are seeing with the recent stories from the Guardian and The Washington Post on how the U.S. government is collectingcell-phone metadata and mining data from Internet companies. The best name that I have seen for this is the “National Surveillance State.”

A surveillance state is one that uses bulk information and data techniques to monitor its citizens and draw inferences about their potential behavior in the service of carrying out the responsibilities that it sets out for itself. Like other parts of the state (welfare, national security), the surveillance state provides a type of security for its citizens through the manipulation of knowledge and resources. And like other parts of the state, the surveillance state fights against democratic efforts to provide accountability and transparency.

This name comes from a 2008 paper, “The Constitution in the National Surveillance State,” by Yale law professor Jack Balkin. He provocatively argues that “[t]he question is not whether we will have a surveillance state in the years to come, but what sort of state we will have.”

If that’s true, how can we distinguish between better and worse surveillance states? Balkin identifies and contrasts two. The first is . . .

Continue reading.

And Barry Eisler has a comment as well (point 3 and Update to this post).

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2013 at 4:14 pm

Strawberries and balsamic vinegar

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I found some good, ripe, organic fresh strawberries today, so I bought a couple of pounds. “Organic” is important because strawberries perennially are near the top of the “Dirty Dozen”: the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue after being washed.

I washed, hulled, and halved them into a bowl, added 1/4 c balsamic vinegar and 2 Tbsp Demerara sugar (which The Wife brought down from Canada—hard to find here).

The bowl is now covered and sitting out for the afternoon. Tonight I’ll grind a little black pepper over them. I’m thinking a blob of sour cream would also be good…

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2013 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Daily life, Recipes

Here are the questions about gun violence the CDC would study — if it could

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Given the extent of gun violence in the US, you would assume that we have studied the phenomenon in depth, but in fact the GOP is really opposed to knowledge, so they scuttle every attempt to learn anything about what is happening. Very weird, but this is the party that explicitly opposes the teaching of critical thinking skills (for reasons obvious to those outside the party). Brad Plumer has a good story in the Washington Post:

Back in January, President Obama signed an executive order directing the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to start studying “the causes of gun violence.” The idea was to restart federal research into the topic after a longtime freeze.

But that still left a key question unanswered: What would the CDC actually study, if it could? What more is there to know about gun violence that we don’t already know?Quite a bit, it seems. Earlier this week, a panel at the Institutes of Medicine released a big new report outlining a research agenda for the CDC over the next three to five years. Topics would include the effects of media portrayals of violence and a look at whether “smart guns” that only fire for registered users could decrease accidents.

An accompanying brief (pdf) outlines a number of things that researchers still don’t know — and should study. Here are some highlights:

– “[The] exact number and location of guns and gun types is unknown.”

– “What characteristics differentiate mass shootings that were prevented from those that were carried out?”

– Researchers should try to “identify factors associated with juveniles and youths having access to, possessing, and carrying guns.” In other words, it’s still not entirely clear what types of guns kids get, or how they get them.

– Researchers should also “improve understanding of whether reducing criminal access to legally purchased guns reduces firearm violence.” For instance, would universal background checks actually work?

– Another key question: “Do programs to alter physical environments in high-crime areas result in a decrease in firearm violence?” Do restrictions on alcohol sales, for instance, have any effect on gun violence?

– “Identify the effects of different technological approaches to reduce firearm-related injury and death.” Are there realistic ways to make guns child-proof, for instance?

– “Examine the relationship between exposure to media violence and real-life violence.”

The report also argues that researchers should try to conduct more studies that involve controlled trials that can actually show causation. At the moment, a big chunk of what we know about gun violence is based on studies that simply look at correlations between different laws in different states — which isn’t terribly conclusive.

So there’s a lot to find out. That said, it’s still not clear that the CDC will actually move ahead. Congress, after all, has long barred the CDC from funding any research that could be used to “advocate or promote gun control.” Technically, that’s not a ban on all gun research, but the law is hazy enough that the centers have shied away from the topic altogether.

“Now scientists will have one interpretation of the law from the executive branch and another from Congress,” Andrew Rosenberg of the Union of Concerned Scientists back said in January. And lawmakers still control the funding. So until Congress gives its explicit blessing to the CDC, federal gun research is likely to proceed only haltingly.

Related: closer look at why federal gun research has wilted since the 1990s.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2013 at 11:08 am

Senator Wyden tried to warn us

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I blogged yesterday an interview with Wyden’s communications person. Here is the attempt Sen. Wyden made to warn us:

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2013 at 10:36 am

Some police activity this past month

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Our police forces have become more militarized and more brutal. Tana Ganeva gives 12 examples from May at AlterNet:

American law enforcement has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past few decades. The war on drugs, the world’s most effective way to fill prisons with minorities while doing nothing to curtail drug use, has warped the priorities and practices of police departments around the country. As Kristen Gwynne has reported [3] on AlterNet, federal funding incentivizes police to go after low-level drug use while neglecting more serious crimes like rape. In city after city, the crackdown on drug crime has expanded police power and pointed it straight at minorities and the poor. It’s the reason we’re number one when it comes to rates of incarceration. With 5 percent of the population, America has a quarter of the world’s prisoners, according to the New York Times.  [4]

Meanwhile, the decade-long war on terror has stocked local police departments with weapons from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan—do local police really need drones and tanks? (Journalist Radley Balko has extensively documented the militarization of police [5] by way of the wars on drugs and terror.) The shift toward more aggressive, violent policing has had tragic results on the ground. AlterNet has assembled an incomplete list of brutal and unnecessary police actions, from this month alone.
Cell phone footage taken by his mother shows a teen boy being thrown to the ground and pinned by police. His crime? Giving officers a funny look while armed with a puppy. As Steven Hsieh wrote [6] on AlterNet:

Fourteen-year-old Tremaine McMillan says he was feeding his puppy and playing on the beach with some friends when cops riding ATVs approached him and asked what he was doing. The “peacekeeping” officers say they saw McMillan roughhousing with another teenager, told him it was “unacceptable behavior,” and asked where his mother was. When McMillan walked away, they chased him on ATVs, jumped out, pinned him to the ground and arrested him. According to police reports, McMillan “attempted to pull his arm away, stating, ‘Man, don’t touch me like I did something.'”

[…]
Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta justified the use of force, saying McMillan was exhibiting threatening “body language,” which includes “clenched fists.” McMillan adamantly denies this charge because, well, he was holding a puppy.
Why wait for a crime to occur when you can just instigate one? As Kristen Gwynne reported: [7]

In a video segment on ABC News [8], they say they were “thrilled” when their son—who has Asperger’s and other disabilities and struggled to make friends—appeared to have instantly made a friend named Daniel.

“He suddenly had this friend who was texting him around the clock,” Doug Snodgrass told ABC News. His son had just recently enrolled at Chaparral High School.

“Daniel,” however, was an undercover cop with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department who ” hounded” [9] the teenager to sell him his prescription medication. When he refused, the undercover cop gave him $20 to buy him weed, and he complied, not realizing the guy he wanted to befriend wanted him behind bars.

In December, the unnamed senior was arrested along with 21 other students [10] from three schools, all charged with crimes related to the two officers’ undercover drug operation at two public schools in Temecula, California (Chaparral and Temecula Valley High School). This March, Judge Marian H. Tully ruled [9] that Temecula Valley Unified School District could not expel the student, and had in fact failed to provide him with proper services.

After beating a father of four to death, police allegedly tried to cover up video evidence. Natasha Lennardreported: [11]

Following the death of father of four, David Sal Silva last week, his family’s attorneys are calling for police to release bystander video evidence that reportedly shows California Highway Patrol officers brutally beating the 33-year-old. A video from a surveillance camera (which does not show the scene closeup) has been released and shows the man repeatedly struck with a baton. Local press have also reported on details from a 911 call made, in which witness Sulina Quair, 34, said “There is a man laying on the floor and your police officers beat the (expletive) out of him and killed him. I have it all on video camera. We videotaped the whole thing.” Officers say they were responding to a call about an intoxicated man and that Silva had fought them.

Attorneys representing the Silva family expressed concern that police may tamper with video evidence and demanded that they be given access to any recordings of the lethal incident. Details emerged, the Bakersfield Californian reported [12], that officers confiscated the phones of bystanders who had captured the event as it unfolded. Police reportedly arrived at Quair’s home to take his phone.

Why let all that coke go to waste? Courthouse News  [14]reports: [13]

South Texas lawmen ransacked an elderly couple’s home looking for drugs, and finding none, forced the husband to set up a cocaine dealer and took a kilo for themselves, the couple claim in court.

Jose and Maria Perez sued Hidalgo County, Sheriff Guadalupe “Lupe” Trevino and the City of Mission in Federal court.

Five sheriff’s officers, including members of the unit mentioned in the Perezes’ lawsuit, pleaded guilty this week to drug charges.

“In July 2012, Jose G. Perez and his wife, Maria Guadalupe Perez … were sitting in their home when six armed men burst into their home demanding drugs,” the complaint states. “These invaders were agents and officers of the Panama Unit of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department and officers of the Mission Police Department. These intruders proceeded to ransack the furniture and broke open cabinets searching for their illegal prize.

“When the intruders found nothing in the home of plaintiffs, they forced the elderly couple into an unmarked SUV, and told Jose G. Perez to ‘call someone that sells drugs or else.’

Police often rely on their tasers to diffuse dangerous situations. Then there are times tasers turn a non-dangerous situation into a deadly one.

On May 16th, Forth Worth police entered the home of Jarmaine Darden in search of cocaine. The raid, which does not appear to have uncovered any cocaine, ended with the 34-year-old father dead after he was tased multiple times by police.

Family members told CBS 11 [16] that the 350-pound man, who’d been asleep on the couch when police came in, couldn’t drop to the ground on his stomach as officers commanded because he suffered from asthma.

“They physically pulled him off the couch because, like I said, he was asleep. They pulled him off the couch and they tried to put him on his stomach. He can’t breathe on his stomach. He don’t even lie on the bed on his stomach,” said Donna Randle, the mother of victim Jarmaine Darden, 34.

Continue reading. Generally speaking, municipalities pay the enormous settlements (often well north of $1 million) and continue as before: a terrible drain on taxpayer money, but nothing is done. Cf. NYC.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2013 at 10:07 am

Posted in Government, Law

Five canards about legalizing marijuana

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In the Washington Post Doug Fine notes 5 common false beliefs about legalizing marijuana.

Doug Fine is the author of Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution, in which he followed one legal medicinal cannabis plant from farm to patient.

by Doug Fine With 16 states having decriminalized or legalized cannabis for non-medical use and eight more heading toward some kind of legalization, federal prohibition’s days seem numbered. You might wonder what America will look like when marijuana is in the corner store and at the farmers market. In three years spent researching that question, I found some ideas about the plant that just don’t hold up.

1. If pot is legal, more people will use it.

As drug policy undergoes big changes, I’ve been watching rates of youth cannabis use with interest. As it is for most fathers, the well-being of my family is the most important thing in my life. Whether you like the plant or not, as with alcohol, only adults should be allowed to partake of intoxicating substances. But youth cannabis use is near its highest level ever in the United States. When I spoke at a California high school recently and asked, “Who thinks cannabis is easier to obtain than alcohol?,” nearly every hand shot up.

In Portugal, by contrast, youth rates fell from 2002 to 2006, after all drugs were legalized there in 2001. Similarly, a 2011 Brown University-led study of middle and high school students in Rhode Island found no increases in adolescent use after the state legalized medical marijuana in 2006.

As for adult use, the numbers are mixed. A 2011 University of California at Berkeley study, for example, showed a slight increase in adult use with de facto legalization in the Netherlands (though the rate was still lower than in the United States). Yet that study and one in 2009 found Dutch rates to be slightly lower than the European average. When the United States’ 40-year-long war on marijuana ends, the country is not going to turn into a Cheech and Chong movie. It is, however, going to see the transfer of as much as 50 percent of cartel profits to the taxable economy.

2. Law enforcement officials oppose legalization.

It is true that many law enforcement lobby groups don’t want to end America’s most expensive war (which has cost $1 trillion and counting), but that’s because they’re the reason it’s so expensive. In 2010, two-thirds of federal spending on the drug war, $10 billion, went toward law enforcement and interdiction.

But law enforcement rank and file know the truth about the drug war’s profligate and ineffective spending, says former Los Angeles deputy police chief Stephen Downing, one of 5,000 public safety professionals who make up the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Most law enforcers find it difficult not to recognize the many harms caused by our current drug laws,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. Those harms include, according to a new ACLU report, marijuana-possession arrests that are skewed heavily toward minorities.

Since marijuana prohibition drives the drug war, these huge costs would end when federal cannabis law changes. Sheriff Tom Allman in Mendocino County, Calif., helped permit, inspect, and protect local cannabis farmers in 2010 and 2011. When I asked him why, he said: “This county has problems: domestic violence, meth, poverty. Marijuana isn’t even in the top 10. I want it off the front pages so I can deal with the real issues.”

3. Getting high would be the top revenue generator for the cannabis plant.

I called both of my U.S. senators’ offices to support inserting a provision into this year’s farm bill to legalize hemp for domestic cultivation. Based on my research on industrial cannabis, commonly called hemp, I’m staggered by the potential of this plant, which is not the variety you smoke.

In Canada, where 90 percent of the crop is bought by U.S. consumers, the government researches the best varieties for its hemp farmers, rather than refusing to issue them permits, as the United States tends to do. In a research facility in Manitoba, I saw a tractor whose body was made entirely of hemp fiber and binding. BMW and Dodgeuse hemp fibers in their door panels, and homes whose insulation and wall paneling are made partially of hemp represent a fast-growing trend in the European construction industry.

Jack Noel, who co-authored a 2012 industrial hemp task force report for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, says that “within 10 years of the end of the war on drugs, we’ll see a $50 billion domestic hemp industry.” That’s bigger than the $40 billion some economists predict smoked cannabis would bring in.

Foods such as cereal and salad dressing are the biggest U.S. markets for hemp today, but industrial cannabis has the brightest future in the energy sector, where a Kentucky utility is planning to grow hemp for biomass energy.

4. Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol would control the legal cannabis industry. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2013 at 10:02 am

Posted in Drug laws

Two travel cases for cartridge razors

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Razor cases

I was offered a free copy of a RazorKeeper travel razor case, which I accepted somewhat reluctantly: I prefer to buy products that I test. So I bought a second one to compare: the Radius case.

Neither works for a DE safety razor: they are made for the flat head of a cartridge razor. Of the two, the RazorKeeper is better: better mechanism, stoutly made, smaller for packing. Either would work, but I definitely would go with the RazorKeeper.

For us DE shavers, I find that a three-piece razor works fine for travel: disassemble it and roll the parts up in a small plastic baggie, making sure that parts are separated by folds of the plastic bag—e.g., drop in the handle, roll up the bag a bit, drop in the baseplate, roll up more, then drop in cap and finish rolling up. You can also leave the baseplate and cap together. When the razor parts are in place, secure the package by wrapping a rubber band around it: Bob is indeed your uncle.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2013 at 9:56 am

Posted in Shaving

Perfect shave, fine day

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SOTD 8 June 2013

Really, a terrific shave today. I don’t know how much credit is due to the Jlocke98 pre-shave I used (this time, as noted, a 1:12 mix of lanolin oil and Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (lavender, in this case, but the lanolin oil overrides the fragrance). The metric system makes the mix easy to calculate. If you use the English system, the amounts are 1 tsp lanolin oil and 1/4 c Dr. Bronner’s (US measure—the US cup is 8 fl oz, the UK cup is 10 fl oz). I poured into a small pop-cap plastic travel bottle and shook well. For the pre-shave, pour a little in your palm, wash beard well, and rinse partially with a splash (or not: Jlocke98 doesn’t rinse, just applies lather).

I got a very fine lather from RazoRock’s Napoleon Violet shave soap, thanks in part to the Wet Shaving Products Stubby brush, and three completely comfortable passes using the Gillette TV Super Speed holding a previously used Swedish Gillette blade left me with a BBS face. The smoothness is emphasized by the softness from the moisturizing effect of Krampfert’s Finest Bay Rum aftershave.

Really a super start to the weekend. Shaving is still a great pleasure.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2013 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life

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