Later On

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Archive for December 8th, 2013

Did Obama lie about the Syrian gas attack?

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2013 at 4:48 pm

The criminalization of everyday life

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A sobering column from TomDispatch.com:

Sometimes a single story has a way of standing in for everything you need to know.  In the case of the up-arming, up-armoring, and militarization of police forces across the country, there is such a story.  Not the police, mind you, but the campus cops at Ohio State University now possess an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the Afghan War and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs, and nuclear, biological, and chemical environments.”  Sounds like just the thing for bouts of binge drinking and post-football-game shenanigans.

That MRAP came, like so much other equipment police departments are stocking up on — from tactical military vests, assault rifles, and grenade launchers to actual tanks and helicopters — as a freebie via a Pentagon-organized surplus military equipment program.  As it happens, police departments across the country are getting MRAPs like OSU’s, including the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota.  It’s received one of 18 such decommissioned military vehicles already being distributed around that state.  So has Warren County which, like a number of counties in New York state, some quite rural, is now deploying Afghan War-grade vehicles.  (Nationwide, rural counties have received a disproportionate percentage of the billions of dollars worth of surplus military equipment that has gone to the police in these years.)

When questioned on the utility of its new MRAP, Warren County Sheriff Bud York suggested, according to the Post-Star, the local newspaper, that “in an era of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and mass killings in schools, police agencies need to be ready for whatever comes their way… The vehicle will also serve as a deterrent to drug dealers or others who might be contemplating a show of force.”  So, breathe a sigh of relief, Warren County is ready for the next al-Qaeda-style show of force and, for those fretting about how to deal with such things, there are now 165 18-ton “deterrents” in the hands of local law enforcement around the country, with hundreds of requests still pending.

You can imagine just how useful an MRAP is likely to be if the next Adam Lanza busts into a school in Warren County, assault rifle in hand, or takes over a building at Ohio State University.  But keep in mind that we all love bargains and that Warren County vehicle cost the department less than $10.  (Yes, you read that right!)  A cornucopia of such Pentagon “bargains” has, in the post-9/11 years, played its part in transforming the way the police imagine their jobs and in militarizing the very idea of policing in this country.

Just thinking about that MRAP at OSU makes me feel like I grew up in Neolithic America.  After all, when I went to college in the early 1960s, campus cops were mooks in suits.  Gun-less, they were there to enforce such crucial matters as “parietal hours.”  (If you’re too young to know what they were, look it up.)  At their worst, they faced what in those still civilianized (and sexist) days were called “panty raids,” but today would undoubtedly be seen as potential manifestations of a terrorist mentality.  Now, if there is a sit-in or sit-down on campus, as infamously at the University of California, Davis, during the Occupy movement, expect that the demonstrators will be treated like enemies of the state and pepper-sprayed or perhaps Tased.  And if there’s a bona fide student riot in town, the cops will now roll out an armored vehicle (as they did recently in Seattle).

By the way, don’t think it’s just the weaponry that’s militarizing the police.  It’s a mentality as well that, like those weapons, is migrating home from our distant wars.  It’s a sense that the U.S., too, is a “battlefield” and that, for instance, those highly militarized SWAT teams spreading to just about any community you want to mention are made up of “operators” (a “term of art” from the special operations  community) ready to deal with threats to American life.

Embedding itself chillingly in our civilian world, that battlefield is proving mobile indeed.  As Chase Madar wrote for TomDispatch the last time around, it leads now to the repeated handcuffing of six- and seven-year-olds in our schools as mini-criminals for offenses that once would have been dealt with by a teacher or principal, not a cop, and at school, not in jail or court.  Today, Madar returns to explain just how this particular nightmare is spreading into every crevice of American life. Tom

The Over-Policing of America 
Police Overkill Has Entered the DNA of Social Policy 
By Chase Madar

If all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.

By now, the militarization of the police has advanced to the point where “the War on Crime” and “the War on Drugs” are no longer metaphors but bland understatements.  There is the proliferation of heavily armed SWAT teams, even in small towns; the use of shock-and-awe tactics to bust small-time bookies; the no-knock raids to recover trace amounts of drugs that often result in the killing of family dogs, if not family members; and in communities where drug treatment programs once were key, the waging of a drug version of counterinsurgency war.  (All of this is ably reported on journalist Radley Balko’s blog and in his book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.) But American over-policing involves far more than the widely reported up-armoring of your local precinct.  It’s also the way police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

It starts in our schools, where discipline is increasingly outsourced to police personnel. What not long ago would have been seen as normal childhood misbehavior — doodling on a desk, farting in class, a kindergartener’stantrum — can leave a kid in handcuffs, removed from school, or even booked at the local precinct.  Such “criminals” can be as young as seven-year-old Wilson Reyes, a New Yorker who was handcuffed and interrogated under suspicion of stealing five dollars from a classmate. (Turned out he didn’t do it.)

Though it’s a national phenomenon, Mississippi currently leads the way in turning school behavior into a police issue.  The Hospitality State hasimposed felony charges on schoolchildren for “crimes” like throwing peanuts on a bus.  Wearing the wrong color belt to school got one child handcuffed to a railing for several hours.  All of this goes under the rubric of “zero-tolerance” discipline, which turns out to be just another form of violence legally imported into schools.

Despite a long-term drop in youth crime, the carceral style of education remains in style.  Metal detectors — a horrible way for any child to start the day — are installed in ever more schools, even those with sterlingdisciplinary records, despite the demonstrable fact that such scanners provide no guarantee against shootings and stabbings.

Every school shooting, whether in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, or Littleton, Colorado, only leads to more police in schools and more arms as well.  It’s the one thing the National Rifle Association and Democratic senators canagree on. There are plenty of successful ways to run an orderly school without criminalizing the classroom, but politicians and much of the media don’t seem to want to know about them. The “school-to-prison pipeline,” a jargon term coined by activists, is entering the vernacular.

Go to Jail, Do Not Pass Go

Even as simple a matter as getting yourself from point A to point B can quickly become a law enforcement matter as travel and public space are ever more aggressively policed.  Waiting for a bus?  Such loitering just got three Rochester youths arrested.  Driving without a seat belt can easily escalate into an arrest, even if the driver is a state judge.  (Notably, all four of these men were black.) If the police think you might be carrying drugs, warrantless body cavity searches at the nearest hospital may be in the offing — you will be sent the bill later.

Air travel entails increasingly intimate pat-downs and arbitrary rules that many experts see as nothing more than “security theater.” As for staying at home, it carries its own risks as Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates found out when a Cambridge police officer mistook him for a burglar and hauled him away — a case that is hardly unique.

Overcriminalization at Work

Office and retail work might seem like an unpromising growth area for police and prosecutors, but criminal law has found its way into the white-collar workplace, too.

Continue reading.

You know, we’re watching this happen. It’s going on, and we are just watching (probably because the FBI and NSA seem to respect no bounds of privacy). But at least it’s being done out in the open, before our very eyes..

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2013 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Thoughts from watching Chinese gangster movie

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I was just watching a kind of Chinese Godfather, quite good but having bouts of graphic violence—New World, on Netflix Watch Instantly—and I got to thinking about how you rise in such an organization—or, indeed, in politics, in the business world, wherever.

Setting aside pure luck and favoritism, advancement means getting to know people—not merely acquaintances, and probably not friends, but to know a lot of people very well so that you know how they will respond to various things, what pleases them, what they fear, what they want, and all that. And not just individuals along: you have to learn who wields the real power in each group, and how the groups are connected and what influences them. You have to know whom to stroke, whom to ignore, and whom to fight.

It takes a lot of knowing, and that is probably why those who achieve power and position generally are older: while there are books on negotiating and managing and the like, the practical skills, naturally enough, require practice.

And it struck me that what is being learned are patterns. Our pattern recognition engine has to work overtime—that is, for a long time—to suss out the complex patterns of a large organization, including the outside influences on it.

I realize that patterns turn up everywhere, but much of our learning and culture is pattern-based: when you learn a game (say, Go or Chess), you learn the rules that govern allowable patterns, and then you play games until you start to recognize patterns, at which point you start to learn. And as you learn, you are discovering more and more complex patterns—some you know, some you’re just starting to work out, some remain to be discovered. And the board games are simple compared to the complexities of a large organization and all the patterns, internal and external, that are learned in order to achieve a prominent position in the organization.

Obviously, our pattern-recognition abilities are formidable, and I got to wondering why. Pattern-recognition at some level occurs as the basic level of life, as proteins “recognize” molecules and all the subcellular making and matching patterns goes on. But take it up to the level of vertebrates: animals clearly recognize and use patterns to some degree: predators use the patterns of their prey in order to hunt.

In animals there is not the kind of conscious recognition we bring to patterns—not that this matters, but I’ll grant that—but the question is how did we get so very good at patterns, so that we can speak (patterns), make music (patterns), appreciate music (patterns), and so on?

Well, being able to learn/recognize any pattern is an evolutionary advantage over not being able to learn/recognize one, so as soon as the ability appeared, it would encounter strongly favorable natural selection. And the more patterns the organism can recognize, the better off it is in comparison to its more limited fellows. Thus it would seem that pattern-recognition-capability would advance quickly, with the ability to recognize more patterns generally a benefit.

So in modern humans we have advanced pattern-recognition ability, which means we can recognize extremely complex patterns involving many aspects (visual, lingual, action, context, etc.), but of course the more complex patterns take longer to work out.

I imagine someone will throw up Alexander the Great, but of course the pattern he created was quite fragile—lack of sufficient experience in making/recognizing patterns?—and it all fell apart when he died: making a pattern that would endure was not something he achieved.

And it was an excellent movie. Truly is a Chinese Godfather of a sort. And during the movie, the viewer has to work out the patterns in play. Worth seeing, but watch out for the violence: not a kid’s movie by any means.  If you see the movie, you’ll understand why the above occurred to me.

And, it occurs to me, human culture is a way to preserve and pass on the patterns we’ve worked out (some of which correspond to reality, some of which do not).

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2013 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

5 common beliefs about disaster relief that are flat wrong and harmful

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The specific disaster is the aftermath of the typhoon in the Philippines, but the same incorrect beliefs hinder relief work elsewhere. Jessica Alexander writes in the Washington Post:

Since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines a month ago, the world has wanted to help the devastated areas. Yet as we’ve seen in the wake of other mega-disasters, well-meaning assistance to shattered communities can cause more harm than good. Let’s lay to rest some of the biggest misconceptions about how best to help victims of storms, earthquakes and other calamities.

1. Locals in disaster areas wait for the international community to come save them.

The first responders after any emergency are always the survivors. Before Typhoon Haiyan struck, a large international aid organization on the ground in the Philippines employed 95 local staffers. Within a week after the storm, it had hired close to 3,000 Filipinos. According to the program’s emergency director, people coming into the office made their sentiments clear: They didn’t want to be paid; they just wanted to help their communities.

There is no shortage of people in the Philippines who want to help their country rebuild. They are sheltering homeless neighbors, searching for lost parents, and providing food and care for newly orphaned children. This is what happens after any natural disaster. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers drove to the Rockaways to bring food to the disabled. After the earthquake in Haiti, locals didn’t wait for search-and-rescue teams: They dug one another out. International aid will fill important gaps, but Filipinos aren’t waiting.

2. Goods and services are “free” donations.

A friend working at that same aid group got a call a week after the typhoon struck. It was one of many he received from people in the United States who had organized aid drives.

“I have 5,000 bottles of water sitting in my garage for the Philippines,” a woman said. “Can you pick them up and take them there?”

When he told her no — that his organization took money, not goods or services, known as “gifts in kind” — she was dismayed. Didn’t Filipinos need clean water? Besides, she emphasized, her bottles were free.

What this would-be donor didn’t consider was the cost to the agency of transporting her bottles. They would have to travel from her garage to an international airport; from the United States to Tacloban, capital of the province hit hardest by the storm; from the airstrip in Tacloban on the back of a truck to a warehouse; and finally from a warehouse to a remote community. With the money it would take to do that, an aid organization could build a purification system that would provide clean water for years.

“Free” in-kind donations aren’t really free. Much of the Tacloban airport is destroyed. Planes are having a hard time landing. Finding places to store items is a problem. It takes only a week or so after a crisis for aid agencies to procure necessities locally, which has the dual benefit of rebuilding markets while saving lives.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2013 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Philanthropy

Men and their (lack of) friends

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Interesting article in Salon by Lisa Wade:

Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends. Moreover, the friendships they have, if they’re with other men, provide less emotional support and involve lower levels of self-disclosure and trust than other types of friendships. When men get together, they’re more likely to do stuff than have a conversation. Friendship scholar Geoffrey Greif calls these “shoulder-to-shoulder” friendships, contrasting them to the “face-to-face” friendships that many women enjoy. If a man does have a confidant, threequarters of the time it’s a woman, and there’s a good chance she’s his wife or girlfriend.

When I first began researching this topic I thought, surely this is too stereotypical to be true. Or, if it is true, I wondered, perhaps the research is biased in favor of female-type friendships. In other words, maybe we’re measuring male friendships with a female yardstick. It’s possible that men don’t want as many or the same kinds of friendships as women.

But they do. When asked about what they desire from their friendships, men are just as likely as women to say that they want intimacy. And, just like women, their satisfaction with their friendships is strongly correlated with the level of self-disclosure. Moreover, when asked to describe what they mean by intimacy, men say the same thing as women: emotional support, disclosure and having someone to take care of them.

Men desire the same level and type of intimacy in their friendships as women, but they aren’t getting it.

In an effort to understand why men’s friendships are less intimate than women’s, psychologist Niobe Way interviewed boys about their friendships in each year of high school. She found that younger boys spoke eloquently about their love for and dependence on their male friends. In fact, research shows that boys are just as likely as girls to disclose personal feelings to their same-sex friends and they are just as talented at being able to sense their friends’ emotional states.

But, at about age 15 to 16 — right at the same age that the suicide rate of boys increases to four times the rate of girls — boys start reporting that they don’t have friends and don’t need them. Because Way interviewed young men across each year of high school, she was able to document this shift. One boy, Justin, said this in his first year, when he was 15:

[My best friend and I] love each other… that’s it… you have this thing that is deep, so deep, it’s within you, you can’t explain it. It’s just a thing that you know that person is that person… I guess in life, sometimes two people can really, really understand each other and really have a trust, respect and love for each other.

By his senior year, however, this is what he had to say about friendship:

[My friend and I] we mostly joke around. It’s not like really anything serious or whatever… I don’t talk to nobody about serious stuff… I don’t talk to nobody. I don’t share my feelings really. Not that kind of person or whatever… It’s just something that I don’t do.

What happens?

During these years, young men are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2013 at 11:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

A tale of two drugs: “Do you want the $50 cure? or the $2000 cure? Both work the same.”

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Read Kevin Drum’s post—and note how the GOP made it illegal for Medicare to negotiate drug prices. That GOP! Always up to something!

From the link:

And here’s the most ironic part: Avastin continues to be widely used for cancer treatment, where it’s extraordinarily costly and of only modest benefit, but isn’t used for AMD, where it’s quite cheap and works well. This is lovely for Genentech, but not so much for the rest of us. Isn’t American health care great?

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2013 at 11:28 am

Life: Not like the movies

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I was thinking about this amazing piece by Pratap Chatterjee on how the CIA has seen too many Jason Bourne movies and has adopted the derring-do and bravado tactics that work so well in the movies but, in real life, turn out to make a mess. One thinks of the person who sees in a movie the tablecloth trick—whisking a tablecloth away from a fully set table, disturbing nothing—and decides to show his family at Thanksgiving dinner, only to discover that movies hide the effort, the practice, and the failed attempts and show only the shot that came out perfectly. In real life, things are different, as Chatterjee shows. Instead of Jason Bourne, think of Inspector Clouseau, only not funny.

And the piece, which I blogged earlier, is really worth reading in its recitation of how would-be Jason Bournes and James Bonds fare in real life: poorly. He doesn’t even mention the CIA’s kidnapping and torture of a totally innocent German citizen (Khalid El-Masri), apparently thinking they had Khalid Al-Masri. Or the entire CIA team that kidnapped the Egyptian cleric in Italy and were then tried and convicted of the kidnapping (in abstentia). The messy story, so unlike a movie, is described by an agent who was part of the team.

And in the post just blogged, car-jack victim Edward Bell fired on his own car as it was being driven away by an assailant. In the movies, depending on the rating, he would have shot out a tire and stopped the car, or wounded the driver and stopped the car, or (for R-rated) shot the driver through the back of the head. But it wasn’t a move, and Bell instead killed 69-year-old Geraldine Jackson inside her house. Movie shootings and stunts are choreographed and follow the plot and if a mistake is made, the scene is reshot until it is done right. Jackie Chan once did 2900 takes before the scene was done right. (In life, you get one take and have to carry on from there.)

So the CIA needs to rethink its programs and tactics. Read Chatterjee’s piece and see if you don’t agree.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 December 2013 at 8:27 am

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