Later On

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

Archive for August 2013

Ripping Victor Davis Hanson a new one

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And rightly so. Hanson is, alas, an insufferable Right-wing apologist who is also a Classics scholar. Read this wonderful column in Salon by Curtis Dozier:

Imagine who might deliver a tirade against the “sexual shamelessness of Lady Gaga,” global warming, the liberal media, Washington elites, political correctness, “Kardashian-style displays of wealth,” and “Clintonian influence peddling.” You probably aren’t imagining a professor of Greek and Roman Classics, usually regarded as one of the tweedier and more buttoned-up academic disciplines. But Victor Davis Hanson, a prominent classical scholar, ancient historian and Hoover Institution senior fellow, has given us exactly that in a blog post for the National Review last week, complete with a picture of Miley Cyrus’ now notorious performance at the Video Music Awards.

True to his training in Classics, Hanson takes inspiration and his title, “American Satyricon,” from a venerable ancient text, the “Satyricon” of Petronius, which was probably written in the 60s A.D. and which Hanson describes as “a brilliant satirical novel about the gross and pretentious new Roman-imperial elite.” It is certainly that, but Hanson’s is not the only way to read it. In fact a more careful reading of Petronius’ text tells a different story, not only about the decline of societies like Rome or our own, but about diatribes like Hanson’s.

Hanson focuses on the description in the “Satyricon” of the banquet of Trimalchio, an over-the-top orgy of luxury and excess, which for Hanson embodies the decline of the Roman Empire and provides a cautionary parallel to the jaded self-absorption, immorality and hypocrisy of our own culture. But Hanson fails to account for the lens through which the reader sees this banquet unfold. The “Satyricon” is one of the earliest examples of a first-person narrative, and Trimalchio’s banquet is described not by Petronius but by the novel’s main character, perhaps the first example of what American high school students have learned to call an “unreliable narrator.” This is Encolpius, whose name means something like “Mr. Crotch” and who, by his words and deeds, shows himself to be a pretentious buffoon whose cultural aspirations can’t conceal that he is little more than a strung-out petty criminal suffering from erectile dysfunction.

When Encolpius arrives as a guest at Trimalchio’s house, he . . .

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I bet it really stings when a Classics scholar must defer on a point of critical knowledge to high-school students.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2013 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Down With Love

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I’m rewatching yet again Down With Love, a 2003 parody (starring Ewan MacGregor and Renée Zellweger) of a Rock Hudson/Doris Day romcom cum musical. It is totally dead-on—even the studio logo that prefaces the movie was that of the earlier time, along with the giant “CINEMASCOPE” logo that had a screen to itself: a lead actor, as it were. The topic is the culture war—really, the enduring cultural anxiety—about equal rights and equal pay for women, and all associated with that. But it’s done in perfect tone of the RH/DD movies, which of course carried traditional messages in (somewhat) daring clothing. (I must say that, whereas the subject of the parody used a fair amount of double entendre, the new version, with more relaxed consorship, turns it up to 11: it’s 1.5-entendre at most, and often closer to 1.)

Along the way they touch on all aspects of the women’s liberation movement of the time: women entering the workforce, women starting to have independent money, and so on.

The fashion-show aspect of this sort of movie is given free rein. (Remember Cover Girl, the Gene Kelly (prior to 10,000-watt smile) and Rita Hayworth in a wonderful musical, with Phil Silvers, Eve Arden (love that woman), and others: the fashion-show aspect of that movie was deftly achieved by having Hayworth become a model for a fashion magazine. The tableaux of fashion-magazine covers by itself would totally justify the movie.

At any rate, that’s two movies I’m recommending. I don’t know whether you have to have lived through the time period of those Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies, but it certainly would help catch some of the more glancing allusions.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2013 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

The Light-Bulb Conspiracy

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An entertaining little video, with some food for thought. They do planned obsolescence pretty hard, which I think is silly. What do they want? Unplanned obsolescence?

Look, if you’re making a washing machine, say, it is silly to call for an electric motor made with an expected life of 100 years. It would be much more costly than a motor that will last for 20, and since washing machines have a typical life of 14 years, it makes perfect sense (to me) to select components with that lifetime in mind.

Think of the computer: should the early computers have been built with 50-year lifespans in mind? More expensive, but by God! they will last!

But of course technology advances, and the TRS-80, great as it was, is obsolete. I don’t know that its obsolescence was planned, exactly, but it certainly was no surprise.

I do agree with the general principle of making simple devices that last—I regularly use a razor made more than 80 years ago—but with more complex machines, one should figure a reasonable life and then build the machine to last that long.

Cultural restrictions apply: I have read that Germans expect to pay top dollar for home appliances, but then they expect those appliances to last decades. Americans do not want to pay so much, but are willing to replace cheaper equipment when it breaks. I personally prefer the German outlook, but I think if you did offer expensive but long-lived toasters (for example), you wouldn’t sell many here, but perhaps you could succeed in Germany.

I suppose I’m simply saying that the issue is more nuanced than “planned obsolescence is bad.” OTOH, building products so that they are readily repaired and, ultimately, recycled makes a lot of sense.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2013 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

CEO pay in 3 charts

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Very interesting charts. Short article, good charts, click link. Here’s one of the charts:

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 1.34.49 PM

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2013 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Business

The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities

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Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman report in New York magazine:

After 9/11, the NYPD built in effect its own CIA—and its Demographics Unit delved deeper into the lives of citizens than did the NSA.

On the morning of September 11, the detectives of the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division traveled in force toward the burning towers of the World Trade Center, the biggest crime scene in American history, to find absolutely nothing for themselves to do. The city had been quickly cordoned off. Some made it as far as Chambers Street. Others were stopped at Canal Street. “Stand by,” they were told. They milled about for hours, waiting for orders that never came. Finally, a contingent of officers was dispatched toward ground zero with garbage cans to collect guns and equipment left by fallen first responders.

Later in the day, a group of them gathered at the Police Academy, where Deputy Chief John Cutter told them to start contacting their informants. At that moment, it may have been the only possible command—which didn’t mean it was a useful one. Despite the name, the Intelligence Division was mostly concentrated on gangs and drug dealers, as well as providing a glorified chauffeur service for visiting dignitaries. International terrorism had never been part of their purview.

But they had to start somewhere, and the detectives did what they were told, reaching out to their network of informants—dope dealers and gang members—to ask what they knew about the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

For the next few months, the Intel cops worked alongside the FBI out of makeshift command centers aboard the decommissioned USS Intrepid and in an FBI parking garage, where detectives sat on the concrete floor, responding to a flood of tips pouring in from a public consumed with the possibility of another attack, questioning Muslims whose neighbors suddenly deemed them suspicious.

When Ray Kelly was sworn in as police commissioner in January 2002, one of his first goals was to eliminate that kind of aimless fumbling. The first man to rise from cadet to police commissioner and the first person to hold the top job twice, Kelly was police commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins, when terrorists detonated a truck bomb in the garage below the World Trade Center’s North Tower in 1993.

Though Kelly’s detectives were instrumental in solving that bombing, they’d never had a chance to prevent it. And that attack had done nothing to change the attitude of the federal government—specifically the FBI—which rarely gave local police information it could use ahead of time.

After 9/11, the debris field smoldering a block away from Kelly’s Battery Park apartment crystallized the notion that as long as the federal government controlled all the information, the NYPD was merely waiting to respond to the next attack, helpless to prevent it.

So Kelly called for a new approach, the likes of which America had never seen. Over the ensuing decade, the FBI, CIA, and NSA would build surveillance programs that monitored bank transactions, phone records, and the e-mail routing fields known as metadata, which have recently erupted in the scandal surrounding Edward Snowden’s revelations. But the NYPD went even further than the federal government. The activities Kelly set in motion after 9/11 pushed deeply into the private lives of New Yorkers, surveilling Muslims in their mosques, their sporting fields, their businesses, their social clubs, even their homes in a way not seen in America since the FBI and CIA monitored antiwar activists during the Nixon administration. It was a proactive approach, but, in constitutional terms, a novel one.

To reinvent the Intelligence Division, Kelly called on David Cohen, a former senior CIA officer who was a year into a post-retirement stint with the Wall Street insurance giant American International Group. Kelly offered a rare opportunity not just to return to intelligence work but also to build something from scratch—in effect, the city’s own CIA.

Cohen joined the CIA in 1966 as a 26-year-old economist, a slender young man with a firm jaw and conservative pompadour haircut in the style of a young Ronald Reagan. He left in 2000, having served as the deputy director of operations—America’s top spy. And during those nearly 35 years, the bookish, bespectacled Cohen had been one of the most creative agents at the CIA, with a gift for reshaping bureaucracies toward new ends.

Back in the eighties, he started an analytical team to . . .

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Local police departments—especially in cities as large as New York—require close, independent oversight.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2013 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Government, Law

I don’t get it: Chemical weapons dept.

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Jack Goldsmith has a very good op–ed in the NY Times on the legal issues surrounding a US attack on Syria—it would be highly illegal, in fact. Read his column for details. One very weird thing: He does not even mention how the US helped Saddam Hussein launch chemical weapons attacks on Iran in 1988. I do think that is relevant, and I can’t figure out why it’s not mentioned. Note that in the US case, the attack was on another sovereign nation and thus completely illegal according to all sorts of agreements the US has signed. Syria, in contrast, is not attacking another sovereign nation, but its own citizens.

Shane Harris and Matthew Aid report on the US-supported chemical-weapons attack in Foreign Policy:

The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen,Foreign Policy has learned.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

In contrast to today’s wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein’s widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people. The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.

In the documents, the CIA said that Iran might not discover persuasive evidence of the weapons’ use — even though the agency possessed it. Also, the agency noted that the Soviet Union had previously used chemical agents in Afghanistan and suffered few repercussions.

It has been previously reported that the United States provided tactical intelligence to Iraq at the same time that officials suspected Hussein would use chemical weapons. But the CIA documents, which sat almost entirely unnoticed in a trove of declassified material at the National Archives in College Park, Md., combined with exclusive interviews with former intelligence officials, reveal new details about the depth of the United States’ knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They show that senior U.S. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more at the link.

Why is this not being discussed as Obama pushes the US to launch military attacks on another nation for the heinous crime of using chemical weapons when it seems perfectly okay for us to do it? Shouldn’t that at least be discussed?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2013 at 11:07 am

Feds plow $10 billion into “groundbreaking” crypto-cracking program

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NSA wants to know everything—but also wants to reveal nothing. Why would anyone trust such an organization?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2013 at 10:03 am

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