Later On

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

Archive for July 3rd, 2013

How the US treats its prisoners

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The US—what can you say? Well, here‘s what a prisoner (detainee?) at Guantánamo says:

This is my call to the outside world from behind these rusty bars, in this monstrous cell. Does the world know what is happening in this prison?

Despite the long years we the prisoners have spent in this place from 2002 to 2013, the American government does not seem interested in solving the problem. The past few months have been among the harshest lived by the prisoners here. During the Bush years, solutions seemed possible. Under Obama, it seems like there is no will to solve the problem.

I once lived communally with the other prisoners in Camp Six. Now we are all in solitary confinement here, with only two hours of recreation a day. Some prisoners are too weak and sick to ever leave their cells as a result of the hunger strike and the U.S. military’s reaction to it.

The military here has used brute force against the hunger strikers. They have beaten us and used rubber-coated bullets and tear gas against us. They have confiscated everything from our cells, from toothbrushes to blankets and books. They have confined us to cold, windowless cells, beyond the reach of the sun’s rays or a fresh breeze. Sometimes, we don’t even know if it’s day or night out.

It isn’t unusual for prison guards here to search prisoners’ genital parts and their rectum ten times in a single day.

Daily, I am forced into a restraint chair, my arms, legs and chest tied down tight. Big guards grab my head with both hands. I feel like my skull is being crushed. Then, so-called nurses violently push a thick tube down my nostril. Blood rushes out of my nose and mouth. The nurses turn on the feeding solution full throttle. I cannot begin to describe the pain that causes.

Recently, a nurse brutally yanked out the force-feeding tube, threw it on my shoulder, and left the cell, leaving me tied down to the chair. Later, the nurse returned to the cell, took the tube off my shoulder and began to reinsert it into my nose. I asked him to cleanse and purify the tube first but he refused.

When I later tried to complain to another nurse about the incident, the other nurse threatened to force the feeding tube up my rear, not down my nose, if I didn’t suspend my hunger strike.

And when I tried taking the matter to a senior medical officer, he told me that they would strap me to a bed and make me urinate through a catheter forced into my penis if I kept up my peaceful protest.

I used to think I was the only one coping with severe joint pain, a weakened memory, having a hard time concentrating, and feeling constantly distracted as a result of all this. But I’ve since discovered that many hunger strikers struggle with the same symptoms. Without realizing it, some of the hunger strikers even speak to themselves out loud when they’re alone.

But we also know that there are peaceful protests in solidarity with our plight in many countries. Even in America itself, there are protests demanding that the U.S. government close this prison that has hurt America’s reputation. And international criticism mounts daily.

We the hunger strikers continue to demand our rights. President Obama can begin by releasing those of us who have been cleared for release years ago, followed by the prisoners who have not been charged with any crime after eleven years in captivity.

Despite the difficulties, the hard conditions, and the challenges created by the U.S. government, those of us on hunger strike will continue protesting until our demands for justice are met.

Abdelhadi Faraj is a Syrian national who has been in U.S. custody since 2002. At Guantánamo, the U.S. military assigned him Internment Serial Number (ISN) 329. Faraj was cleared for release by a U.S. government interagency taskforce in 2010, yet he remains imprisoned at Guantánamo today. This article was translated from the Arabic by his attorney, Ramzi Kassem.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 1:11 pm

Public Research for Private Gain

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Taxpayers pay for the research, private corporations steal it. Our system is corrupt, but is it hopelessly corrupt? I’m starting to think the answer is “yes.” Darwin Bondgraham reports in the East Bay Express:

In a unanimous vote last month, the Regents of the University of California created a corporate entity that, if spread to all UC campuses as some regents envision, promises to further privatize scientific research produced by taxpayer-funded laboratories. The entity, named Newco for the time being, also would block a substantial amount of UC research from being accessible to the public, and could reap big profits for corporations and investors that have ties to the well-connected businesspeople who will manage it.

Despite the sweeping changes the program portends for UC, the regents’ vote received virtually no press coverage. UC plans to first implement Newco at UCLA and its medical centers, but some regents, along with influential business leaders across the state, want similar entities installed at Berkeley, Davis, Santa Cruz, and other campuses. UC Regents Chairwoman Sherry Lansing called Newco at UCLA a “pilot program” for the entire UC system.

The purpose of Newco is to completely revamp how scientific discoveries made in UC laboratories — from new treatments for cancer to apps for smartphones — come to be used by the public. Traditionally, UC campuses have used their own technology transfer offices to make these decisions. But under Newco, decisions about the fate of academic research will be taken away from university employees and faculty, and put in the hands of a powerful board of businesspeople who will be separate from the university. This nonprofit board will decide which UC inventions to patent and how to structure licensing deals with private industry. It also will have control over how to spend public funds on these activities.

Newco’s proponents contend that the 501(c) 3 entity will bring much-needed private-sector experience to the task of commercializing university inventions. Ultimately, it will generate more patents, and thus bigger revenues for UC through licensing deals and equity stakes in startups, they claim. UC administrators also say they have established sufficient safeguards for Newco and that UCLA’s chancellor and the regents will have oversight over the entity.

But if last month’s regents meeting in Sacramento is any indication, UC oversight of Newco may be less than robust. Several regents, in fact, objected to creating an oversight committee that would keep tabs on the new entity. The debate over the issue concluded after Regent Norman Pattiz suggested that “it shouldn’t be called the Regents Oversight Committee. It should be called the Regents’-Encouragement-and-Finding-You-the-Dough Committee.” . . .

Continue reading.

And, speaking of corporate relationships with (i.e., control over) universities, look at this pair of articles from the same site:

Atrazine Feminizes Male Frogs – research done by UC Berkeley professor

Pesticide Manufacturer Targeted UC Berkeley Professor – smear attempt against the same professor

That last article begins:

To protect profits threatened by a lawsuit over its controversial herbicide atrazine, Syngenta Crop Protection, a major manufacturer of pesticides, launched an aggressive multimillion-dollar campaign that included hiring a detective agency to investigate scientists on a federal advisory panel, looking into the personal life of a judge, and commissioning a psychological profile of a leading UC Berkeley scientist who has been critical of atrazine.

The Switzerland-based company also routinely paid “third-party allies” to appear to be independent supporters, and kept a list of 130 people and groups it could recruit as experts without disclosing ties to the company. Recently unsealed court documents also reveal a corporate strategy to discredit critics and to strip plaintiffs from a class-action case against Syngenta. The company specifically targeted one of atrazine’s fiercest and most outspoken critics, Tyrone Hayes of UC Berkeley, whose research suggests that atrazine feminizes male frogs. . .

It reminds me of the treatment our media are being encouraged to use for Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden, while very little is said about their discoveries: it becomes all about the individuals, not about what they found.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 12:28 pm

And, speaking of languages, the weirdest languages in the world

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Worth reading, despite lack of mention of Esperanto. He mentions it in the comments, but goes with the canard that Esperanto is difficult to learn for people who don’t speak Western languages—totally without evidence and in my opinion false. Here are some reasons why Esperanto is easy to learn even for those who don’t speak Western languages:

  • only 5 vowel sounds, and those distinct from each other
  • spelling is phonetic, without exception
  • A simple grammar: a few rules, without exceptions
  • no irregular declensions or conjugations—e.g., all verbs are regular and all are conjugated the same
  • only a small vocabulary is required because of the system of affixes
  • politically neutral (i.e., there were never Esperanto colonials who exploited native populations)

Those characteristics make the language easy to learn—which is the point. Zamenhov wanted a politically neutral language that was very easy to learn (even for non-linguists—e.g., athletes, businessmen, and the like) to serve as a common second language. Each person would learn his or her native language, and then in school would also learn Esperanto, which would be a language common to all. At least, that was the idea.

So simply to state, as the author does, that Esperanto is difficult for non-Westerners to learn—I don’t buy it. I would love to see evidence. Certain there are Esperanto enthusiasts in China and Japan, for example.

UPDATE: Removed the pernicious assertion that Esperanto’s grammar comprises 16 rules. The point in any event is this: the gramma is dead simple to master—it’s like the test for being a coal miner: as easy as falling off a log. Much easier than the judging.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 12:08 pm

For really important inventions, once is enough

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Take language, for example. It’s probably the most significant invention of all, since it supported the development of humans from the animals we had been—and it seems to have been invented only once, with all other languages descendant of that first ur-language.

Agriculture is a big invention, but that was invented at least three times (Meso-America, Southeast Asia, and the Fertile Crescent) and some say it was invented as many as seven times.

The wheel is another one-time invention. Although the wheel was known in pre-Columbus, it was merely a toy. I imagine the wheel was not considered seriously in the Americans because the mountainous spine of North and South America, the location of the Aztecs, Incas, and other great civilizations, meant that pack animals were used extensively, especially since the Americans had the good fortune of possessing a pack animal amenable to domestication: the llama. (In southern Africa, pickings were slim: the zebra, for example, cannot be domesticated and in fact is extremely dangerous.) Pack animals work well on mountain trails, but wheels require a nice flat surface: roads, in the case of mountains.

So wheels were invented in Assyria by people familiar with the broad, flat plains of the steppes, where the wheel was highly developed for the war machine of the day: chariots. No roads required in the steppes, and much use made of the wheel, with the idea spreading quickly.

So I think the wheel, too, is a one-time invention. Those are the big ones.

Religion is a big idea, but it’s clear that it was invented pretty much by all peoples.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 11:48 am

Posted in Technology

Employees as computer-controlled automatons

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This is the future that large corporations hope to create for you, previewed in an Amazon UK warehouse, reported in the Daily Mail by Sarah Connor—sorry: Sarah O’Connor. A natural mistake, as you see when you read the article:

Between a sooty power station and a brown canal on the edge of a small Midlands town, there is a long blue building that looks like a smear of summer sky on the damp industrial landscape.

Inside, hundreds of people in orange vests are pushing trolleys around a space the size of nine football pitches, glancing at the screens of their hand-held satnav computers for directions on where to walk next and what to pick up when they get there.

They do not dawdle — the devices in their hands are also measuring their productivity. They might each walk between seven and 15 miles today.

Before they can go home at the end of their eight-hour shift, or go to the canteen for their 30-minute break, they must walk through a set of airport-style security scanners to prove they are not stealing anything.

Scroll down for video.

Amazon warehouse

They also walk past a life-sized cardboard image of a cheery blonde woman in an orange vest. ‘This is the best job I have ever had!’ says a speech bubble near her head.

If you could slice the world in half here, you could read the history of this Staffordshire town in the layers. Below the ground are the tunnels of the coal mine that fed the power station and was once the local economy’s beating heart. Above the ground are the trolleys and computers of Amazon, the global online retailer that has taken its place.

As online shopping explodes in Britain, helping to push traditional retailers such as HMV out of business, more and more jobs are moving from High Street shops into warehouses like this one.

Under pressure over its tax arrangements, Amazon has tried to stress how many jobs it is creating across the country at a time of economic malaise.

The undisputed behemoth of the online retail world has invested more than £1 billion in its UK operations and announced last year that it would open another three warehouses over the next two years and create 2,000 more permanent jobs.

Amazon even had a quote from the Prime Minister, in its September press release. ‘This is great news, not only for those individuals who will find work, but for the UK economy,’ said David Cameron.

The undisputed behemoth of the online retail world has invested more than £1billion in its UK operations

People in Rugeley felt exactly the same way in the summer of 2011 when they heard Amazon was going to occupy the empty blue warehouse. Rugeley is a mostly white working-class town of about 22,000 that has never fully recovered from the mine’s closure in 1990. This was its chance  to reinvent itself after decades of  economic decline.

Most people are still glad Amazon has come, believing that any sort of work is better than no work at all, but many have been taken aback by the conditions, and bitterly disappointed by the insecurity of much of the employment on offer.

Like almost everyone without a job in Rugeley, 54-year-old Chris Martin started scouring the internet for application details as soon as he heard Amazon was coming.He was thrilled when he passed the Amazon recruitment process, which includes drug and alcohol tests, and was given a job on the night-shift.

A global employment agency called Randstad, which had handled the recruitment process for Amazon, was also to arrange his shifts, manage him on the warehouse floor and pay him his near-minimum wage.

After three months, if he had performed well, he could apply to be an Amazon employee, though there was no guarantee. Randstad calls this sort of system ‘Inhouse Services’ and describes it as a ‘flexible work solution designed exclusively for each client to optimise the work force and drive cost-effectiveness’.

One of the benefits for clients, it says, is the ‘removal of the administrative burden of recruiting and managing large numbers of staff’.

There was an electric atmosphere in the big blue warehouse that autumn as the operation geared up for the first time. ‘At the start it was buzzing,’ said a member of the Amazon management team who didn’t want to be named. ‘Everyone was just so pleased to have jobs. Everything was new.’

Workers in Amazon’s warehouses — or ‘associates in Amazon’s fulfilment centres’ as the company would put it — are divided into four main groups. There are the people on the ‘receive lines’ and the ‘pack lines’: they either unpack, check and scan every product arriving from around the world, or they pack up customers’ orders at the other end of the process.

Another group stows suppliers’ products somewhere in the warehouse. They put things wherever there’s a free space — in Rugeley, there are inflatable palm trees next to milk frothers and protein powder next to kettles. Only Amazon’s vast computer brain knows where everything is.

The fourth group, the ‘pickers’,  push trolleys around and pick out customers’ orders from the aisles.

Amazon’s software calculates the most efficient walking route to collect all the items to fill a trolley, and then directs the worker from one shelf space to the next via instructions on the screen of the handheld satnav.

Even with these efficient routes, there’s a lot of walking. One of the new Rugeley ‘pickers’ lost almost half a stone in his first few shifts. ‘You’re sort of like a robot, but in human form,’ said the Amazon manager. ‘It’s human automation, if you like.’

Continue reading.

I assume that soon the employees will headsets so that the computer can communicate via voice rather than (expensive) hand-carried satnav computers. The employee can wear a GPS button and the headset. The computer knows his or her location and can provide spoken directions. I assume the headset would be able to apply mild electric shocks if the employee is taking too long to do something—just as a friendly reminder to pick up the pace, since detailed performance statistics will automatically be compiled and the worker would not want to be fired without warning: the little electric shocks will be the warnings.

I bet the profits simply soar…

Obviously, companies have no real interest in improving their employees’ lives: they will do anything at all if it improves profits.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 9:51 am

Obama protects the energy industry; EPA rolls over; the people will suffer

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The Obama Administration is great at one thing: disappointing its supporters and supporting GOP values. Abrahm Lustgarten reports on ProPublica:

When the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly retreated on its multimillion-dollar investigation into water contamination in a central Wyoming natural gas field last month, it shocked environmentalists and energy industry supporters alike.

In 2011, the agency had issued a blockbuster draft report saying that the controversial practice of fracking was to blame for the pollution of an aquifer deep below the town of Pavillion, Wy. – the first time such a claim had been based on a scientific analysis.

The study drew heated criticism over its methodology and awaited a peer review that promised to settle the dispute. Now the EPA will instead hand the study over to the state of Wyoming, whose research will be funded by EnCana, the very drilling company whose wells may have caused the contamination.

Industry advocates say the EPA’s turnabout reflects an overdue recognition that it had over-reached on fracking and that its science was critically flawed.

But environmentalists see an agency that is systematically disengaging from any research that could be perceived as questioning the safety of fracking or oil drilling, even as President Obama lays out a plan to combat climate change that rests heavily on the use of natural gas.

Over the past 15 months, they point out, the EPA has:

·      Closed an investigation into groundwater pollution in Dimock, Pa., saying the level of contamination was below federal safety triggers.

·      Abandoned its claim that a driller in Parker County, Texas, was responsible for methane gas bubbling up in residents’ faucets, even though a geologist hired by the agency confirmed this finding.

·      Sharply revised downward a 2010 estimate showing that leaking gas from wells and pipelines was contributing to climate change, crediting better pollution controls by the drilling industry even as other reports indicate the leaks may be larger than previously thought.

·      Failed to enforce a statutory ban on using diesel fuel in fracking.

“We’re seeing a pattern that is of great concern,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “They need to make sure that scientific investigations are thorough enough to ensure that the public is getting a full scientific explanation.”

The EPA says that the string of decisions is not related, and the Pavillion matter will be resolved more quickly by state officials. The agency has maintained publicly that it remains committed to an ongoing national study of hydraulic fracturing, which it says will draw the definitive line on fracking’s risks to water.

In private conversations, however, high-ranking agency officials acknowledge that fierce pressure from the drilling industry and its powerful allies on Capitol Hill – as well as financial constraints and a delicate policy balance sought by the White House — is squelching their ability to scrutinize not only the effects of oil and gas drilling, but other environmental protections as well.

Last year, the agency’s budget was sliced 17 percent, to below 1998 levels. Sequestration forced further cuts, making research initiatives like the one in Pavillion harder to fund.

One reflection of the intense political spotlight on the agency: . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. I think the US is falling fast. I just shake my head at this stuff. Times have indeed changed, and I don’t see that the citizens of the US are inclined to fight for a better government: most seem happy to turn the country over to businesses to own, run, and exploit.

That can get extremely grim. Look at the next post for how Amazon has turned employees into helpless, computer-controlled automatons.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 9:30 am

Snowden: US now using deprivation of Citizenship as a Weapon

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I think the government’s decision that Snowden is no longer a US Citizen is much too high-handed and authoritarian. They don’t do things like that to rich financiers who flee the country, for example. It seems a petty, vindictive, small-minded, and inappropriate action. All he did was to tell the American people how the government spies on its people, and he exposed some serious government lies. Of course the government is angry at being shown as a lying group of authoritarians—and unfortunately, their response is right in tune with the characterization. Juan Cole writes at Informed Comment:

Edward Snowden released a statement from Moscow on Monday, slamming Barack Obama for revoking his passport and rendering him stateless and unable to seek asylum even though Snowden has not been found guilty of any crime. (The US denies that revoking a passport is the same as deprivation of citizenship, but in this case it is hard to see the difference. The full statement is below. Snowden has applied for asylum to 15 countries.

In other news, Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa has said that Snowden cannot apply for asylum to that country unless he is already on Ecuadoran soil (thus underscoring Snowden’s point that depriving him of a passport is a means of keeping him from having the right to seek asylum.) Russia’sVladimir Putin said that Snowden would only be granted asylum in the Russian Federation if he ceases leaking US secrets and “harming our American partner.”

Glenn Greenwald pointed out on Twitter that Snowden turned over his material to The Guardian and that from here on out it isn’t Snowden who is leaking, it is The Guardian and its media partners.

Russian media may not be very free, but Russia Today reports on and discusses Snowden’s statement in a way that muzzled US media will not:

And here is the statement:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 9:26 am

How internet censorship works

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3 July 2013 at 9:04 am

The awkwardness of the Indian tie

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Fascinating little essay by Santosh Desai in The Times of India:

The necktie in India, is in all probability a tortured soul. Found most often either dangling decrepitly on a schoolboy’s neck or shuffling awkwardly on the  bobbing adam’s apple of a pharmaceutical sales executive, the tie has ended up far from its somewhat loftier origins.  It is true that in the rest of the world too, it has come under challenge and undergone some creative re-interpretation as the codes of clothing have evolved to mirror new social realities. If earlier it was a mark of belonging to a privileged club, a sign that one was a valued member of that part of society that made the rules and lived in exaggerated deference to them, today, it lives a more complex existence. The absence of the tie is a powerful sign today, with new professions marking their distance from the old by publicly discarding the necktie. Simultaneously, as the needs of identity become more playful and multiple, the tie is being re-invented in a more casual form to add a touch of enigmatic flourish to one’s persona.

In India, there is a small section where the tie is evolving similarly, but for a large part of heartland India, the tie is an object that produces more than a little puzzlement. Its meaning is not quite clear, and its lack of obvious function makes it apparent that it has some symbolic value, but it is uncertain as to what precisely that might be. Most often, the tie in the Indian context is a flag of incomprehension that billows in the stiff breeze of Someone Else’s Rules. Other modes of western wear are easier to adopt, for they have some visible reason for existence. One can fathom the need for a shirt and a pair of trousers, and even a belt has good reason to exist given the slippery fullness of Indian paunches. Socks  struggle a bit, for their battle against gravity is one that seems heroic but fruitless, but even they have a role that is possible to understand. The tie on the other hand, is not quite as self-explanatory in its function, and given that its primary seems to lie in the grey area between imprisoning the throat and throttling it,  is decoded as a sign of powerlessness. It doesn’t help that learning to knot a tie is a skill that surpasses the difficulty of eating with a knife and fork, and seems even more pointless. It calls for a high degree of motor skills, and trying to knot a tie on one’s own while looking at a mirror is the kind of the thing that is guaranteed to make one feel utterly inadequate. Wearing a tie is an act of becoming someone else with the foreknowledge that one will fail in one’s attempt.

As part of a school uniform, the tie is part of the mysterious set of rules that are meant to be followed without question.  Of course, schoolchildren have the great ability to puncture the pretensions of a tie, by wearing it as if it were a piece of rope. Schools use the necktie as an instrument to shimmy up the class ladder, but in doing so, end up advertising the futility of the quest. Without a meaningful function ,and adrift of the cultural reference points that lend it meaning, the tie in a school uniform is more a derisive hoot than a humble application for inclusion into a higher class. The idea that a garment could alter the enormous asymmetry that exists between people born in vastly different circumstances, is exposed for the  patronising fantasy that it is. The tie is so far away from the reality of its wearer, that instead of serving as a symbol, it becomes a slightly tasteless joke, better ignored than acknowledged.

When a schoolboy’s tie grows up, it becomes a sales executive’s neckwear. On a sales executive , the tie is an admission of submission, of the acceptance of an individual of the power of a dominant collective to which obeisance must be paid in order to gain entry. It is a confession of one’s inherent inability to belong to an exalted group, and needing the help of external props that convey one’s willingness to play the game by the rules. There is no pride’s in a salesman’s tie; it is either an entreaty or a slightly resentful curbing of a natural instinct that is put on display. Ties are worn on the sales cadre, not by them.

The tie is part of the new hierarchies that have . . .

Continue reading. My own preference is for a bowtie, which communicates rebellion rather than submission—and thus can cause people to view you differently. It’s a good example of how a cultural meme affects behavior, the cultural world exercising control over the physical world.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 8:59 am

Posted in Daily life

Why Snowden’s fate matters: A column by a former intelligence analyst

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Elizabeth Murray writes at ConsortiumNews.com:

As he lingers in the “twilight zone” of the transit area in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, the future of U.S. whistleblower Edward J. Snowden hangs in the balance. Lobbying in the form of a personal phone call by Vice President Joseph Biden appears to have cooled Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s initial receptivity to the prospect of granting Snowden’s request for asylum.

Snowden now plans to request asylum from a number of other countries, including Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and Venezuela. Russian President Vladimir Putin already issued an ambiguous, noncommittal response to Snowden’s request, indicating his preference for Snowden to find another host country, although he reiterated that Russia would not extradite Snowden to the United States. It’s clear that any country that accepts Snowden’s asylum bid will come under tremendous political pressure and risk the wrath of Official Washington.

Whatever fate awaits the young American whistleblower — who recently turned 30 and who sacrificed a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle to disclose the NSA’s expansive and arguably criminal clandestine telecommunications monitoring network which spies on the private communications of people the world over — his selfless public act of truth-telling will have left an indelible mark on the world.The far-reaching scope of the NSA’s infringement on private communications has stunned and enraged U.S. friends and foes alike; foreign governments and their publics are now insisting on accountability from Washington — as are some U.S. congressmen and senators. Snowden has put in train a series of actions that could eventually rein in these abuses.

As the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen noted in his June 27 column, if Snowden had not taken his courageous step, “we would not know how the N.S.A., through its Prism and other programs, has become, in the words of my colleagues James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, ‘the virtual landlord of the digital assets of Americans and foreigners alike.’ We would not know how it has been able to access the e-mails or Facebook accounts or videos of citizens across the world; nor how it has secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; nor how through requests to the compliant and secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (F.I.S.A.) it has been able to bend nine U.S. Internet companies to its demands for access to clients’ digital information.

“We would not be debating whether the United States really should have turned surveillance into big business, offering data-mining contracts to the likes of Booz Allen and, in the process, high-level security clearance to myriad folk who probably should not have it. We would not have a serious debate at last between Europeans, with their more stringent views on privacy, and Americans about where the proper balance between freedom and security lies.

“We would not have legislation to bolster privacy safeguards and require more oversight introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Nor would we have a letter from two Democrats to the N.S.A. director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, saying that a government fact sheet about surveillance abroad ‘contains an inaccurate statement’ (and where does that assertion leave Alexander’s claims of the effectiveness and necessity of Prism?).

“In short, a long-overdue debate about what the U.S. government does and does not do in the name of post-9/11 security — the standards applied in the F.I.S.A. court, the safeguards and oversight surrounding it and the Prism program, the protection of civil liberties against the devouring appetites of intelligence agencies armed with new data-crunching technology — would not have occurred, at least not now.”

The appreciation for Snowden’s courageous endeavor spread across the globe. “The world will remember Edward Snowden,” declared the South China Morning Post on June 25. “It was his fearlessness that tore off Washington’s sanctimonious mask.” But is there a country that will be remembered by history for being fearless enough to offer Snowden asylum?

Prior to Vice President Biden’s phone conversation with Ecuadorean President Correa (one has to wonder what sorts of carrots or sticks the U.S. offered Correa that resulted in the Ecuadorean leader’s change of heart), Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño conducted an extraordinary press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, on June 24. He delivered the address in Spanish, and it appears to have received little media coverage beyond an English translation of the text of Snowden’s letter requesting asylum. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 8:50 am

I’m going to take a break from Stirling soap

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SOTD 3 July 2013

Today I did used a Jlocke98 pre-shave mix with jojoba oil, and that also does a good job. The lather I made using a shaken out brush with good loading of the soap, and then I even tried working the lather up in my cupped palm. I do get good lather, but I can’t achieve (so far) the extra level of creaminess that I enjoy. So I’m taking a break. It could be anything, up to and including my own taste in lather. So while Stirling is perfectly fine and usable, I’m going to move on to some other soaps: variety, that’s what I enjoy.

No problems at all with the shave: once again the bakelite slant delivered a superb shave, both supremely comfortable and extremely efficient. Some don’t like the razor because if you drop it, it might break. (I’ve dropped mine a couple of times, but it hit the bathmat and no damage done: because the razor is so light, the force of the impact is not great: F = ma.) These same people undoubtedly dislike (among other things) wineglasses and fine china, iPhones and laptop computers, cameras, and so on. For me, the bakelite slant is probably the razor I would save first.

A good splash of Pashana and off to get a fasting blood test. And a haircut.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2013 at 8:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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