Later On

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

Archive for October 23rd, 2013

The Game of the Century: Donald Byrne v. Bobby Fischer, 1956

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Great game. Fischer was 13 years old.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2013 at 10:39 am

Posted in Games, Video

Politicians’ Extortion Racket

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Very interesting op-ed in the NY Times by Peter Schweizer:

WE have long assumed that the infestation of special interest money in Washington is at the root of so much that ails our politics. But what if we’ve had it wrong? What if instead of being bribed by wealthy interests, politicians are engaged in a form of legal extortion designed to extract campaign contributions?

Consider this: of the thousands of bills introduced in Congress each year, only roughly 5 percent become law. Why do legislators bother proposing so many bills? What if many of those bills are written not to be passed but to pressure people into forking over cash?

This is exactly what is happening. Politicians have developed a dizzying array of legislative tactics to bring in money.

Take the maneuver known inside the Beltway as the “tollbooth.” Here the speaker of the House or a powerful committee chairperson will create a procedural obstruction or postponement on the eve of an important vote. Campaign contributions are then implicitly solicited. If the tribute offered by those in favor of the bill’s passage is too small (or if the money from opponents is sufficiently high), the bill is delayed and does not proceed down the legislative highway.

House Speaker John A. Boehner appears to be a master of the tollbooth. In 2011, he collected a total of over $200,000 in donations from executives and companies in the days before holding votes on just three bills. He delayed scheduling a vote for months on the widely supported Wireless Tax Fairness Act, and after he finally announced a vote, 37 checks from wireless-industry executives totaling nearly $40,000 rolled in. He also delayed votes on the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act and the Small Company Capital Formation Act, scoring $91,000 from investment banks and private equity firms, $32,450 from bank holding companies and $46,500 from self-described investors — all in the 48 hours between scheduling the vote and the vote’s actually being held on the House floor.

Another tactic that politicians use is something beltway insiders call “milker bills.” These are bills designed to “milk” donations from threatened individuals or businesses. The real trick is to pit two industries against each other and pump both for donations, thereby creating a “double milker” bill.

President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. seemed to score big in 2011 using the milker tactic in connection with two bills: the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. By pitting their supporters in Silicon Valley who opposed the bills against their allies in Hollywood who supported the measures, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden were able to create a sort of fund-raising arms race.

In the first half of 2011, Silicon Valley had chipped in only $1.7 million to Mr. Obama’s political campaign. The president announced that he would “probably” sign antipiracy legislation — a stance that pleased Hollywood and incensed Silicon Valley. The tech industry then poured millions into Mr. Obama’s coffers in the second half of 2011. By January of 2012, Hollywood had donated $4.1 million to Mr. Obama.

Then, suddenly, on Jan. 14, 2012, the White House announced that it had problems with the antipiracy bills and neither passed. “He didn’t just throw us under the bus,” one film executive and longtime supporter of Mr. Obama anonymously told The Financial Times, “he ran us down, reversed the bus and ran over us again.”

To be sure, not all legislative maneuvers are extortive; sincere and conscientious political deeds occur. Still, the idea that Washington gridlock is an outgrowth of rank partisanship and ideological entrenchment misses a more compelling explanation of our political stasis: gridlock, legislative threats and fear help prime the donation pump. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2013 at 9:24 am

First Lavabit, now CryptoSeal pulls the plug: VPN service axed

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Companies offering secure communications in the US now have a choice: turn over everything to NSA or go out of business. I can’t help but feel the government’s determination to be able to read all communications whatsoever is a bad idea—and overkill by a long shot. Richard Chirgwin writes in The Register:

VPN service CryptoSeal has followed Lavabit’s example and shuttered its consumer service, saying its CryptoSeal Privacy service architecture would make it impossible to comply with a government order without handing over the crypto keys to its entire system.

The company, which will continue offering business services, made the announcement via a notice to users trying to log into the service, which has been posted to ycombinator here.

“With immediate effect as of this notice, CryptoSeal Privacy, our consumer VPN service, is terminated. All cryptographic keys used in the operation of the service have been zerofilled, and while no logs were produced (by design) during operation of the service, all records created incidental to the operation of the service have been deleted to the best of our ability,” the notice states.

Referring to the pen register issues that drove Lavabit’s decision to close, the post continues: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2013 at 9:16 am

Interesting graph on trend of attitudes toward marijuana legalization

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Kevin Drum has a post with an interesting graph:


Drum notes:

Today, for the first time ever, Gallup reports that a solid majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana.I’ve drawn my own chart of Gallup’s data because I think their chart doesn’t really give a good sense of just how quickly public opinion on this is changing.

I have a rule of thumb that favorability ratings need to reach about 65 percent before you hit a tipping point where a major social change starts getting codified into law nationwide. There’s nothing magic about this threshold. It’s just a general sense based on previous issues similar to this. And as you can see, public opinion isn’t merely rising on marijuana legalization, it’s accelerating. The rate of increase has gone from about 0.5 points per year in the 90s to 1.5 points in the aughts to 4 points so far in the teens. If this keeps up, we’ll pass the 65 percent threshold by 2016 or so.

There’s a lot of noise in polls like this, and we might see a bit of regression to the mean in the next few years. And Mark Kleiman offers a few other cautionary notes here. So 2016 is hardly a sure thing. But 2020? That seems like a pretty safe bet in most of the country. By coincidence, this was my horseback guess when I wrote about marijuana back in 2009, and it looks like I don’t have any good reason to change my mind on that.

In the meantime, the Obama DoJ is still doing its best to send to prison those operating medical marijuana dispensaries that are legal under state law, despite repeated assurances from Obama and Holder that this would not happen. The latest target is a medical marijuana provider in Oakland CA, as reported by Nicole Flatow:

A novel legal challenge by the city of Oakland, Calif. has spared the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary from shutdown for likely at least another year. A federal judge ruled last week that the Department of Justice could not proceed with its action to evict Harborside Health Center and seize its assets until Oakland completed its appeal of a lawsuit against the DOJ challenging the crackdown.

Oakland escalated the local-federal showdown over marijuana last fall when itfiled the first lawsuit by a jurisdiction to challenge federal crackdowns on dispensaries that are complying with state and local laws. The federal trial judge rejected the challenge, holding that the city did not have standing to challenge the action. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James ruled last week that Oakland had presented a novel legal challenge that a federal appeals panel might interpret differently, and that Oakland should therefore have the opportunity to make this argument before it is mooted by Department of Justice action. Lawyers have estimated the appeal will take at least a year.

Harborside Health Center, which has locations in Oakland and San Jose, Calif. and more than 100 employees, has held itself out as a model for legal, regulated medical marijuana distribution, and has been praised by Oakland officials as providing “access to safe, affordable and effective medicine.” It is also a major source of tax revenue for the city, and is expected to generate $1.4 million in city sales tax this year. The dispensary has thus far beat back several shutdown attempts, and Oakland argued in its latest legal filing that the dispensary’s shutdown would precipitate a “’a public safety crisis it’s not yet equipped to meet,’ by forcing tens of thousands of patients who are served by medical cannabis dispensaries to either forgo their medicine or turn to illegal markets to obtain it, thereby endangering their health and safety and further straining the limited resources of the Oakland Police Department.”

But in spite of resounding calls for the federal government to step back its sometimes-aggressive actions against state-compliant dispensaries, the federal government retains constitutional supremacy over federal drug law. So Oakland can only succeed if a court is persuaded by its case-specific arguments that the Department of Justice exceeded its authority by missing time limits for following suit, and acting contrary to earlier statements and actions that indicated it would not crack down on state-compliant distributors. After two states passed ballot initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana, President Obama made similar statements that he has “bigger fish to fry” than “going after recreational users” in states that have legalized their conduct. Butrenewed medical marijuana crackdowns suggest the federal government is continuing to make a policy distinction between users of marijuana and distributors.

Last week, Berkeley became the second city to file a legal challenge against federal crackdowns, intervening in a similar action to seize the assets of that city’s largest medical marijuana dispensary.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2013 at 9:13 am

Posted in Drug laws

Saudi Arabia may be moving out of the US orbit

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The problem is that Saudi Arabia really dislikes democracy, and the US keeps pushing the idea. Juan Cole has an interesting report at Informed Comment:

The royal family of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy with no constitution and no elected legislature, is in a snit about US foreign policy. King Abdullah doesn’t like even the mild American criticism of the Sunni Bahrain monarchy’s brutal crackdown on the majority Shiite community in that country. He is furious that President Obama went with the Russian plan to sequester Syria’s chemical weapons rather than bombing Damascus. He is petrified of a breakthrough in American and Iranian relations that might permit Iran to keep its nuclear enrichment program and allow Tehran to retain a nuclear breakout capacity, which would deter any outside overthrow of the Iranian regime. Those are the stated discontents leaked by Saudi uber-hawk Bandar Bin Sultan.

Behind the scenes, another Saudi concern is that the US likes democracy too much. Washington ultimately backed the Arab upheavals that led to the fall of presidents for life in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Saudi Arabia hated this outbreak of popular politics and parliamentary competition. It connived with Egypt’s generals to roll back gains in Egypt in favor of more authoritarian rule. It has just cut off Yemen because the post-Saleh situation there isn’t developing its way. Only in Syria do the Saudis want regime change, and there it is because they want to weaken Iran and depose a Shiite ruling clique in favor of a fundamentalist Sunni one.

The Saudi royal family is looking for a different model of politics in the world, one where absolute monarchy and hard line Wahhabi fundamentalism wouldn’t look out of place. America is not it. They have been toying in Riyadh with a pivot to China. An unelected Communist Party that has taken the capitalist road and desperately needs Saudi petroleum has started to look good to the king. Beijing would make no annoying demands to open up Saudi politics. And if a Riyadh-Beijing axis could be established, Iran’s favored position with the Chinese might be cut back. Saudi Arabia is after all a much bigger oil producer and much less problematic as a trading partner.

Why should the US care if Saudi Arabia wants to abandon its special relationship with America? Oil.

The world produces about 90 million barrels of petroleum a day. Saudi Arabia produces about ten percent of that amount. And, it exports most of what it produces (unlike the US, which produces a similar amount but uses it all and half again as much). . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2013 at 8:58 am

US drone strikes drawing condemnation from rights groups

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McClathcy has a report by Jonathan Landay:

The Obama administration violated international law with top-secret targeted-killing operations that claimed dozens of civilian lives in Yemen and Pakistan, according to reports that two international human rights organizations released Tuesday.

The Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports focus fresh attention on the most controversial facet of the U.S. campaign to cripple al Qaida and allied Islamic extremist groups, underscoring unresolved disputes over the legality of the targeted-killing program, the vast majority of which is carried out by missiles fired from unmanned drone aircraft.

Despite a vow by President Barack Obama to institute greater transparency, “the administration has yet to officially disclose any new information about drone policy, the legal framework or particular strikes,” Amnesty International said.

The reports follow the release last week of a United Nations study that questioned the legality of some U.S. drone strikes and said it had identified 33 incidents “that appear to have resulted in civilian casualties.”

Obama and senior U.S. officials have defended targeted killings as legal under U.S. and international laws. In a speech last May, . . .

Continue reading.

Also, on the same topic, a report from Rachel Oldroyd, who writes for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Leading human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have raised serious concerns about the legality of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

The two organisations have conducted separate investigations into specific strikes to highlight how civilians are being killed. Such killings, they claim, are a violation of international law.

The groups say the US must investigate all drone attacks that kill civilians and those responsible for such ‘unlawful killings’ should be disciplined or prosecuted.

The reports follow calls last week by two UN experts for more disclosure of information about drone deaths.

report by Christof Heyns, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, called for nations that operate armed drones to be more transparent and ‘publicly disclose’ how they use them.

This was followed by the findings of Ben Emmerson, a British barrister and UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, who urged the US to ‘release its own data on the level of civilian casualties’ caused by drone strikes.

Amnesty’s report focuses on drone strikes in Pakistan. Human Rights Watch has concentrated on airstrikes, including those conducted by drones, in Yemen.

The Amnesty report, Will I be next? US drone strikes in Pakistannames a group of 18 labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, killed in a drone attack on Pakistan in July 2012. This is the first time that all victims of the strike have been identified.

The group of men had been gathered for their evening meal when the first strike hit. In July field research by the Bureau found that this strike was then followed by another attack that killed rescuers trying to retrieve bodies. This was confirmed by Amnesty’s research.

The report states: . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2013 at 8:50 am

Slant for smoothness

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SOTD 23 Oct 2013

More celebrations of the slant-bar razor recently posted on Wicked_Edge, including praise for the Merkur 37C. I have a 37G, as you see, and it is indeed an extremely good razor.

But first, the prep. You cannot tell from the label, but this is HowToGrowAMoustache’s Cavendish shaving soap, and I highly recommend it to any man who smokes or has smoked a pipe: it’s very like the aroma of a good pipe tobacco (as opposed to the overly sweet pipe tobaccos with cherry flavors and the like). A good aroma and, using my Frank Shaving synthetic brush, a good lather. The Frank Shaving synthetic is a fine synthetic, very like the EJ and Mühle silverfiber.

Three passes of the slant with a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade, and the result is comfort and smoothness. A good splash of Alt-Innsbruck to carry along the tobacco theme. I haven’t used Alt-Innsbruck for a while, and I do notice the menthol.

More on the Scent-Off. Here’s the schedule:

October 28 – Mystic Water
November 4 – Barrister & Mann
November 11 – How To Grow A Moustache
November 18 – Fitjar Soaps
November 25 – Petal Pushers
December 2 – Green Mountain

I’ll be using the shaving soap for three consecutive shaves, using in turn a badger, boar, and horse shaving brush. We are to rate the soaps on this scale:

  • Scent (up to 10 points): strength, duration, accuracy (does it smell like the artisan described it), spirit (does it capture the “seasonal” intent).
  • Performance (up to 10 points): lubrication, cushion, ease of lathering, lack of irritation
  • Presentation (up to 5 points): packaging, color, shape.

I probably will simply discuss each soap and send the point counts to Mantic59 for summarizing in Sharpologist.

So Monday is the kickoff. I’m intrigued. I’m holding off on trying the entries early: I’ll follow the schedule.


Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2013 at 7:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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