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 . . .

Continue reading.

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 . . .

Continue reading.

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

Simple things that are difficult

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We understand how something complicated (functions in Hilbert Spaces, for example) is difficult, but it’s always a bit of a shock to run into something dead simple that turns out to be extremely difficult. Some examples:

1. Three-cushion billiards. Three balls are used: a red one, a white cue ball, and the other player’s white cue ball, which has a black dot. Each player hits one cue ball to make it hit the two other balls, but before the player’s cue ball strikes the second ball for the first time, the cue ball must have previously hit the cushions around the table three times. Seems pretty simple. Actually, even simple billiards—your cue ball must strike the other two, no requirement regarding cushions) is pretty difficult.

2. Go/Baduk/Weichi. An oriental game in which a move consists of placing a stone on a board. Groups of stones unconnected to any free intersections are dead and removed. You get a point for each stone you capture, and a point for each vacant intersection that you surround

3. Being honest. Dead simple idea, very difficult to put into practice. Indeed, it’s difficult to be honest simply with yourself, much less with other people. Too many things we want to avoid, deny, or forget. Honesty does bring good rewards—being trusted is nice—but the challenges are easy to underestimate.

I do note that “honesty” can be used aggressively, as a weapon, and I’ve noticed that those who practice this technique are never honest about what they’re doing. Maybe honesty is not so simple: it just sounds simple, but runs afoul of our own confusion and cowardice.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that the first two are skills that can be acquired through practice and coaching—in other words, you can get better at it, and if you practice, you do get better. You may never make it to master, but practice will improve your skill.

So I imagine the same thing applies to being honest. One would, I suppose, start with short intervals, working first on being honest with oneself: trying to dispel illusions, seek counter-examples and contrary evidence for beliefs we hold dear—that sort of thing. Say, 10 minutes to start with, then gradually increasing time. Then add being honest with others: tricky. But I bet practice improves performance.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2013 at 9:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Games

NSA security flaw and difficulties with honesty

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NSA runs a loose ship, at least in some respects. See this story about how sysadmins at NSA have access to high-level users’ IDS and logins. You can practically see the thoughts that slowly scrolled through their minds when Snowden had material classified far above his grade: “He can’t possibly have those, because those are protected by a set of passwords, and the only person with access that that information is … wait a minute. I just had a thought,..” and so on. I suggest that NSA seriously consider changing their middle name.

And this article is interesting because, although NSA is perfectly willing to tell a direct lie (James Clapper telling Congress that the NSA does not have records for millions or hundreds of millions of Amercians when in fact it did at the time, as he knew perfectly well, or any number of lies from Keith Alexander), but clearly that would rather mislead people—to get the benefit of a lie without technically telling a lie.

In short: the NSA cannot be trusted. Not at all. That is why independent monitors, who report to Congress and not to the Executive Branch, are needed.

Trevor Timm gives in Salon an example of how carefully one must parse NSA statements:

The Wall Street Journal published an important investigation last week, reporting that the National Security Agency (NSA) has direct access to many key telecommunications switches around the country and “has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans.” Notably, NSA officials repeatedly refused to talk about this story on their conference call with reporters the next day. Instead, the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA released a statement about the story later that evening.

If you read the statement quickly, it seems like the NSA is disputing the WSJ story. But on careful reading, they actually do not deny any of it. As we’ve shown before, often you have to carefully parse NSA statements to root out deception and misinformation, and this statement is no different. They’ve tried to deflect an accurate story with their same old word games. Here’s a breakdown:

The NSA does not sift through and have unfettered access to 75% of United States online communications…The report leaves readers with the impression that the NSA is sifting through as much as 75% of the United States online communications, which is simply not true.

Of course, the Wall Street Journal never says the NSA “sifts through” 75 percent of U.S. communications. They reported the NSA’s system “has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic.” The NSA’s new term “sift” is undefined, but regardless of what the NSA is doing or not doing to 75 percent of Americans’ emails, they do have the technical capacity to search through it for key words—which they do not deny.

In its foreign intelligence mission, and using all its authorities, NSA “touches” about 1.6%, and analysts look at 0.00004% of the world’s Internet traffic.

See what they did there? The Wall Street Journal was talking about US-only communications traffic, not the world’s total Internet traffic. The vast majority of the world’s Internet traffic is video—streaming and downloads. According to a study done by Cisco, video made up more than half of all web traffic in 2012—and that does not include peer-to-peer sharing. By 2017, they predict 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video.

As Jeff Jarvis aptly documented, the NSA can vacuum up an extraordinary percentage of the world’s (and American) communications while only touching 1.6 percent of total Internet traffic.

Oh, and that 0.00004 percent? That math may be wrong too. The Atlantic Wire double-checked the NSA’s numbers when they first used that stat and determined the NSA’s math was off by an order of magnitude – it actually searches ten times more than they say they do.1

The assistance from the providers, which is compelled by the law, is the same activity that has been previously revealed as part of Section 702 collection and PRISM.

First, notice that they are conflating PRISM—which involves collection from Internet companies like Facebook—with the “upstream” collection the Wall Street Journal reports on: telecommunications companies like AT&T that give the NSA direct access to the fiber optic cables that all Internet traffic travels over. Here’s the NSA’s own leaked graphic explaining the difference: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2013 at 9:47 am

Best stand-up desk

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According to Wirecutter, it’s this desk. (You can read at the link the reasons for their decision. But note that the range of choices is pretty extensive. And Google will doubtless find more.

When you look at them, keep door width in mind. (Been there.)

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2013 at 9:31 am

Posted in Daily life

ARC Weber and Strop Shoppe

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SOTD 31 Aug 2013

A terrific shave today. Strop Shoppe’s Teakwood was the first of her Special Edition soaps that I purchased, and I still love it. With the Plisson Chinese Grey brush, a gift from Paris from The Wife, I got an extremely good lather, and the ARC Weber was, as usual, wonderful. The previously used Astra Keramik Platinum blade did a fine job and now advances to the next shave.

A good splash of Aventus from Creed, and the weekend begins.

Let’s start with a photo of Megs at rest last night. Megs is not actually boss-eyed: if you look closely, you can see that her left eye is reflecting the flash and thus looks to be crossed. It’s not. She does have a touch of Sartre eyes (sounds better than Marty Feldman eyes), but she isn’t boss-eyed.

Megs boss-eyed

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2013 at 9:28 am

Posted in Cats, Megs, Shaving

Poverty may tax thinking abilities

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Interesting finding reported in Science News by Bruce Bower:

Poverty drains brains while it empties pocketbooks, a new study concludes.

Money worries consume poor people’s attention, dramatically undermining their performance on IQ-related tests of reasoning and mental control, say economist Anandi Mani of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, and her colleagues. Among the poor, but not the rich, evoking financial concerns damages reasoning abilities about as much as going a night without sleep or losing 13 IQ points, Mani’s team reports in the Aug. 30 Science.

Shortly after reaping a financial windfall, poor individuals perform far better on the same mental tests. That improvement may be thanks partly to temporary freedom from money concerns, the scientists propose.

Their findings follow evidence that scarcity of money (or anything else important) promotes short-term thinking, helping to explain why poor people generally save too little and borrow too much (SN: 12/1/12, p. 17).

The new study raises a valid concern, although people barely scraping by frequently deal with money in sophisticated ways, says Harvard University sociologist Kathryn Edin, who studies U.S. families subsisting on welfare. “Poverty can lead to better, not just worse, mental functioning.”

Many mothers on welfare, for instance, work out complicated family budgets and keep careful spending records, Edin finds.

In one experiment, Mani’s group classified nearly 400 shoppers at a New Jersey mall as affluent or poor based on self-reported incomes and family size. Participants made easy or hard hypothetical financial decisions before taking nonverbal tests of logical thinking and the ability to control rapid responses to computer images.

Poor people who contemplated tough money problems scored lower on both mental tests than their wealthy counterparts. On easy problems, rich and poor groups scored similarly.

In a second experiment, the researchers administered the same tests to 364 sugarcane farmers in India. Farmers eked out a living until harvests yielded big pay days.

The researchers gave tests before and after harvests; test scores rose substantially after harvests. Stress reduction, indicated by lower blood pressure and heart rate, partially explained farmers’ mental turnaround, Mani says.

Policymakers should consider . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: See also this article.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2013 at 10:53 am

Gut Microbe Diversity, Weight Linked

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Obesity turns out to be a more complex phenomenon than anticipated. Chris Palmer reports at The Scientist:

Individuals with fewer numbers of so-called “good” bacteria are more likely to be obese and develop obesity-related ailments such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. That’s according to research conducted by the international MetaHIT consortium published Thursday (August 29) inNature.

The MetaHIT team analyzed the genomes of gut bacteria from 123 non-obese and 169 obese Danish individuals. The resulting quantitative metagenomic analysis revealed stark differences between people with high versus low bacterial diversity. Individuals with more diversity had an average of 580,000 different microbial genes, compared to just 380,000 among the nearly 25 percent of the cohort with reduced diversity. Obesity was more prevalent in the reduced diversity population, as was increased resistance to insulin and higher levels of inflammatory agents and white blood cells.

“We also see that if you belong to the group with less intestinal bacteria and have already developed obesity, you will also gain more weight over a number of years,” Oluf Pederson, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement. “We don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg, but one thing is certain: it is a vicious circle that poses a health threat.”

Just six bacterial species appeared to protect against obesity, providing researchers with potential therapeutic targets to fight excessive weight gain.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2013 at 10:47 am

Posted in Fitness, Health, Science

In Effort to End Prison Rape, Questions About a Monitor’s Independence

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Joaquin Sapien reports for ProPublica:

After more than a decade of national legislative efforts to end prison rape, this month was supposed to produce a significant victory: formal audits of prisons and jails around the country that would more reliably chronicle incidents of sex abuse and the consequences for its perpetrators.

But that moment of possible progress has turned out to be more complicated than many had hoped. The first round of audits will be chiefly conducted by the American Correctional Association (ACA), the very organization that has been criticized over the years for failing to identify and address safety problems at prisons across the country.

The ACA, based in Virginia, performs an array of services for the corrections industry: it provides training for guards and other officials, hosts conferences, and lobbies in Washington. But it is perhaps best known for its accreditation service. Prison officials pay the organization to evaluate facilities on issues such as inmate healthcare, sanitation, food service, and personnel training. ACA’s blessing is sought, in part, to help prisons defend against inmate lawsuits.

Now, as part of legislation aimed at reducing the incidence of sexual assaults in prison, the ACA will be responsible for helping make sure the state and federal adult prisons and juvenile detention centers it accredits are properly investigating allegations of sexual abuse, disciplining guards and inmates and providing appropriate medical attention to victims.

The development has dismayed some of those involved in improving the safety of the country’s prisons.

“If some group were closely tied to the police, would you really go to them to complain about police brutality?” asked Jack Beck, a director of the Correctional Association of New York, a non-profit organization dedicated to prison reform efforts.

“This is a way to manage this whole thing so it’s not going to rock the boat too much,” Beck said.

The American Correctional Association has yet to respond to questions for this story. If they do, we’ll post an update.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who helped author the national legislation, known as the Prison Rape Elimination Act, said he is comfortable with ACA handling the work.

“It’s the natural organization to do the audits,” Scott said. “If they turn out not to be that aggressive, then it will become a problem. But I don’t think it’s a problem now. These people have a lot invested in their professionalism.”

The U.S. Justice Department, which played a critical role in the development of the legislation, sent a four-page statement in response to questions for this story. It said the first group of auditors were “handpicked” but did not address the concerns about the propriety of ACA conducting the sex abuse audits. The department said mandatory training sessions will be required for all auditors, no matter who they work for.

Over the years, the ACA’s work for the country’s prisons and jails has been scrutinized by federal courts and occasionally found wanting.

In January 1999, a U.S. District Court in Texas presided over a lawsuit filed by prisoners who claimed they were abused by guards and other inmates. After a three-week-long fact-finding hearing, the court found that constitutional violations were widespread, this despite the fact that the state’s prisons were accredited by the ACA.

The court found that inmates in Texas state prisons lived “under conditions allowing a substantial risk of physical and sexual abuse from other inmates, as well as malicious and sadistic use of force by correctional officers.” Further, the court determined that the state “failed to take reasonable measures to protect vulnerable inmates from other, predatory prisoners and overzealous, physically aggressive state employees.”

Courts have come to similar conclusions about the conditions in ACA accredited prisons in California and Florida.

Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said such a track record undercuts the ACA’s credibility as an effective agent in the push to truly limit sexual violence in the country’s prisons. Fettig and other advocates are now pushing the Justice Department to expand its pool of potential auditors to include options other than the ACA.

Those options could include judges or lawyers or other organizations with expertise in corrections issues. The ACLU, which does not accept government funding, would not be a candidate. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2013 at 10:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

A movie about Home Children

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Last night I watched Oranges and Sunshine, which was the promise made to poor children in the UK to get them to agree to be shipped off to Australia and to Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, where many were treated pretty much like slave labor and all too often as sex slaves. “Home Children” is the term applied to the forced migration, which from 1869 to 1970 relocated approximately 190,000 children, often taking them from their parents. The children were told that their parents were dead, the parents were told that the children were “gone,” and the scheme continued for decades. Britain apologized in 2010, Australia in 2009, but in response to those apologies the Canadian Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney, said

There’s no need for Canada to apologise for abuse and exploitation suffered by thousands of poor children shipped here from Britain starting in the nineteenth century … the issue has not been on the radar screen here, unlike Australia where there’s been a long-standing interest. The reality is that, here in Canada, we are taking measures to recognise that sad period, but there is, I think, limited public interest in official government apologies for everything that’s ever been unfortunate or [a] tragic event in our history.

Margaret Humphreys, who investigated the migration and its outcomes, wrote a book, Empty Cradles, now republished under the movie’s title, Oranges and Sunshine.

The movie’s worth watching and now I want to read the book. As you can see, some see nothing wrong in what was done. My own reaction is stronger, and I find Canada’s attitude particularly offensive. The complacent smugness and easy acceptance of atrocious behavior exemplified by Jason Kenney’s remarks are shocking to me.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2013 at 7:21 am

Occams Shaving Cream and a good shave

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SOTD 30 Aug 2013

I used Occams pre-shave soap—the lime rectangular bar—which did a fine job. The shaving cream is soft, so I twirled the damp tips of the Reddit Vie-Long Badger+Horse brush in the tub to coat the tips, then worked up a fine lather. I like the Occams fragrance: very solid and satisfying.

Three passes of the Gillette English Aristocrat holding a Swedish Gillette blade left a perfectly smooth visage, though I think I may have to change the blade after the next shave.

A good splash of Saint Charles Shave Woods and the long weekend begins: The Wife is taking today off.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2013 at 6:59 am

Posted in Shaving

The Untimely Death of Unemployment Insurance

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Evan Soltas writes in Bloomberg:

In 1934, one year before signing the bill that created a national system of unemployment insurance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt voiced an American sense of what a safety net should and shouldn’t be. “We must not allow this type of insurance to become a dole through the mingling of insurance and relief,” Roosevelt said. “It is not charity. It must be financed by contributions, not taxes.”

The U.S. has never been enthusiastic about redistribution, but it has always understood that bad things happen to good people. That’s why Roosevelt drew a line between “insurance” (which you pay for) and “relief” (which you don’t).

To cover the cost of unemployment benefits, businesses pay premiums of about 1 percent of total wages. Every state government manages its own system, setting requirements for contributions and conditions for benefits. Three states — Georgia, Florida and North Carolina — have now decided they’ve had enough of this social-insurance thing.

Georgia began last year to cut off its unemployed at 19 weeks. As of this July, it’s 18. Florida and North Carolina now stop at 19 weeks. In a few years, as unemployment rates fall, Georgians who lose their jobs will get no more than 14 weeks of support, and Floridians and North Carolinians just 12, according to new “sliding-scale” systems passed by their state legislatures. That’s less than the 15 weeks all three gave in 1938, the year the program fully launched. Wisconsin may follow their lead. Six other states have cut their unemployment benefits, though not below 20 weeks. Other states havetightened eligibility.

States have long been expected to cover 26 weeks, in good times and bad, with the federal government stepping in to cover additional weeks during recessions. That supplement varies between states, but until recently the unemployed could expect at least 40 weeks of benefit in every state.

Last month North Carolina decided to forfeit federal funding for extended unemployment benefits by cutting not just the duration but also the maximum weekly amount from $535 a week to $350. In doing so it went beyond all other states — and afoul of a “nonreduction rule” in the 2008 law that established federal funding. The state’s average weekly benefit had been a princely $299, near the national average of $306.

It’s partly Washington’s fault, as President Barack Obama’s administration ignored the state’s request for cooperation so it could keep federal support. In all three states, as elsewhere, the recession has strained state finances and put unemployment-insurance funds under particular stress: North Carolina’s is $2.8 billion in debt, Florida’s $1.6 billion and Georgia’s $721 million. But the three chose to cut benefits rather than, as in the past, raise premiums on businesses.

Roosevelt would have seen the cuts as an attack on the principle of social insurance. He would have been right. In all three states, local chambers of commerce led the effort to cut unemployment benefits. Businesses never enjoyed paying the premiums — but this is the first time they’ve been able to undermine the programs. Once this might have been seen as reneging on the implicit contract between workers and employers. Now it’s a matter of “tax relief” for “job creators.”

Sequestration has already cut . . .

Continue reading. Part of the idea of making the US more like a third-world nation (a tiny, incredibly wealthy elite, untouchable because of their power, and everyone else, struggling to stay afloat) is that no help must be given to the poor. The goal is to take the US in a direction in which the poor live as in a Calcutta slum, near as I can figure out, and God forbid that US citizens help one another.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2013 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Paul Waldman gives some context for the next US bombing mission

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An article in The American Prospect by Paul Waldman is well worth reading:

It seems obvious at this point that 1) The Obama administration is going to drop some bombs on something or someone in Syria, even if no one is yet sure what or whom; and 2) This is something they’d rather not do.

Back when George W. Bush was president, he and his team were practically giddy with excitement over the Iraq War, and much was made of the fact that nearly all the top people whose loins were burning to blow stuff up and send other people’s children to fight had themselves worked hard to avoid serving in Vietnam. But the truth is that whether we’re talking about a Republican administration filled with eager armchair warriors or a Democrat administration filled with peaceniks, everyAmerican president eventually scrambles the jets and orders the bomb bays loaded. And when you step back to look at all our military adventures, every invasion and police action and no-fly zone, you can’t help wonder whether we’ll ever see a presidency in which we don’t project our military force over somebody else’s borders. Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s secretary of State, once said to Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”, and the implicit answer seems to be, none at all.

So I thought it would be worthwhile to take a quick look at some of the places we’ve invaded, bombed, or otherwise used our military on just in the last half-century, to put this in context: . . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

. . . This is a partial list, excluding the dozens of times we’ve shot down a jet or sent a small number of troops somewhere to help an ally put down a rebellion (here’s a much more comprehensive list). It doesn’t include the proxy wars we’ve waged in places like Nicaragua. It doesn’t include all the places we’re now using drones to pop off the occasional suspected terrorist, like Pakistan and Yemen. And it obviously excludes the lengthy list of places we sent our military in the country’s first century and a half.

Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context. . . .

Kevin Drum comments:

This is a perspective that’s sorely missing from most mainstream discourse. Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2013 at 12:13 pm

Shredded Brussels sprouts

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This is quite tasty:

Shredded Brussels sprouts

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb Brussels sprouts, shredded
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
A few sprigs thyme, chopped
3/4 c chicken stock
1 Tbsp butter, chopped
A few sprigs tarragon, chopped

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Stir in the Brussels sprouts, season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes.

Stir in the shallot, bell pepper, garlic and thyme. Add 3/4 cup chicken stock and cook until evaporated, 2 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and tarragon.

For me, it took longer than 2 minutes to evaporate the stock.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2013 at 11:49 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

How our intelligence dollars are spent

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Dylan Matthews offers a series of charts to explain the budgets of the CIA, NSA, et al.:

Barton Gellman, the crazy good investigative reporter who broke the NSA story for us a few months back, has a major scoop with Greg Miller and researcher Julie Tate breaking down the Black Budget, a $52.6 billion portion of the federal government that goes to the CIA, NSA, and other secret intelligence agencies. They got the budget from Edward Snowden, who, you’ll recall, was also the whistleblower responsible for the NSA story. Since 2007, we’ve known how much the total Black Budget is (before that, with some years excepted, we didn’t even know that), but not how much is spent on specific things. Now we know that too.

You can read a PDF of the budget’s basics here, and read Gellman and Miller’s storyhere. Wilson Andrews and Todd Lindeman at the graphics team did an awesome interactive breaking down the budget here. But if you’re in a rush, here are the basics of what we know now that we didn’t yesterday.

We spend more, across the whole Black Budget, on providing warnings of impending big events than on fighting terrorism or WMDs: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 August 2013 at 11:45 am

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