Later On

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

Archive for May 10th, 2014

Building the police state, one brick at a time

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This is amazing, but it shows the direction the US is headed.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 4:00 pm

How efficiency killed the department store

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Fascinating account by Lisa Hix in Collectors Weekly (of all places).

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Business

Makes a good case for the CIA and covert ops

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Though it reads somewhat like a press release and doubtless was intended as a PR move to defend our operations in Yemen, it does make a good account.

First, it seems obvious that the two Special Ops guys were going after a gang that regularly tried to kidnap or murder various foreign officials and too often succeeded. And it seems that they offered themselves as bait, presumably posing as American officials. I don’t think it is remotely like entrapment: it was a case of their being more prepared for this than were their would-be kidnappers.

As a result the kidnapping ring—the overall target—is broken up. All to the good.

And the litany of successes—preventing explosives being hidden in printer cartridges, for example—shows that such operations are necessary and can be done well.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 2:00 pm

Why military commanders should have no role in legal proceedings

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Yet another example of a military commander riding roughshod over good legal practice, reported by Michael Doyle in McClatchy.

An unusual government search of Marine Corps defense attorneys’ offices at California’s Camp Pendleton could cast a cloud over dozens of criminal cases.

The search May 2, which lasted about two and a half hours, included investigators opening more than 100 case files compiled by defense attorneys, Marine Corps officers say. The search went beyond what was necessary and exceeded applicable legal standards, officers think.

“It’s unacceptable,” Lt. Col. Clay Plummer, the Marine Corps’ regional defense counsel for the West Coast, said in an interview. “We’re going to litigate this, to make sure this never happens again.”

The courtroom fallout might take time to settle, as defense attorneys with Camp Pendleton’s Legal Service Support Team Echo consider challenges for each of the cases in which investigators allegedly accessed files. Among other arguments, the defense attorneys could charge interference with privileged communications.

In theory, defense attorneys could go so far as to seek the dismissal of charges against individual defendants whose files were allegedly compromised. Lesser remedies could also be sought

In a statement Friday afternoon, Camp Pendleton officials said the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West had appointed an independent, neutral judge advocate to review evidence seized during the search.

The judge advocate will “identify whether any potentially privileged material was improperly disclosed,” the statement said, adding that “due to the pending litigation, and the independent review of the search, further comment on the facts of this search would be inappropriate.”

“The search of (defense attorneys’) offices is a rare event,” the statement stressed.

Rule 502 of the Military Rules of Evidence specifies that a client “has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications made for the purpose of facilitating the rendition of professional legal services.” Marine Corps defense attorneys typically won’t even disclose whether a service member has talked to them.

The defense services office that was searched at what’s formally called Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton is one of two at the sprawling Southern California facility. It’s the busiest defense office in the Marine Corps, typically staffed by about eight active-duty attorneys.

Nationwide, the Marine Corps Defense Services Organization typically represents more than 1,100 Marines annually at courts-martial and administrative hearings. The organization prides itself as “Marines defending Marines.”

According to several Marine Corps officers familiar with the May 2 search incident, it arose out of prosecutors’ interest in a defendant’s cellphone for a particular Camp Pendleton investigation. A defense attorney offered to provide the phone, but wanted a judicial order first.

Instead, officers say, a prosecutor _ known as a trial counsel _ showed up accompanied by at least four armed Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division agents. They had a search authorization, similar to a search warrant, but signed by a local commander rather than a judge.

The trial counsel escorted the agents into the defense offices, and then left. Wearing light blue latex gloves, investigators found the cellphone within about 20 minutes. Nonetheless, officers say, the search continued for another two-plus hours. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Law, Military

All interrogations should be recorded, video and audio

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One reason is that it’s often instructive, in the light of subsequent information, to view again an earlier interrogation. (This is another reason the CIA showed enormously bad faith and bad judgment in destroying the video record of the interrogations of terrorists.) One good initiative by Barack Obama when he was in the Illinois legislature was getting a law passed that required the recording (video and audio) of interrogations. Joaquin Sapien discusses the issue in a good article in Pacific Standard:

The crime was brutal: Rebecca Lynn Williams, a 19-year-old mother of three, was raped and later stabbed 38 times, left dead in her home in rural Virginia in June 1982.

Justice was swift: Earl Washington, a local farmhand with an IQ of 69, confessed to the crime less than a year later and was sentenced to death in January 1984.

And, fortunately, a gross legal mistake was eventually caught: After 17 years in prison, much of it on death row, Washington was freed, DNA evidence having made clear he had nothing to do with Williams’ rape and murder.

On Wednesday, a report issued by a committee of legal experts cited the Washington case in urging that all interrogations of suspects in capital cases be videotaped. Such recordings, the committee said, help to prevent wrongful convictions by deterring police coercion and documenting how suspects with serious mental impairments are handled.

According to a 2004 study cited in the committee’s report, Earl Washington’s experience wasn’t isolated. More than 80 percent of 125 documented false confessions in the study occurred in homicide cases, and 20 percent of the defendants in those cases received death sentences.

The failure to record interrogations, the committee asserted, should be disclosed at any subsequent trial, with juries explicitly instructed to consider whether an unrecorded statement was coerced or made voluntarily.

The controversy over taping interrogations was at the heart of a ProPublica report last year. In it, we examined the murder case against 52-year-old disabled construction worker Pedro Hernandez. In 2012, Hernandez confessed to killing Etan Patz, a six-year-old boy who famously disappeared while walking to school in New York in 1979.

Hernandez has since recanted his confession, and his lawyers have argued that Hernandez only made it because he is mentally ill, borderline intellectually disabled, and had been subjected to hours of unrecorded interrogation. The case is currently scheduled to go to trial this fall.

Several police stations in New York City are outfitted to video record police interrogations, but not all them, despite former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s 2012 pledge that the department would begin recording as a matter of policy. The practice is not currently required by state law. . .

Continue reading.

I’m a little puzzled by the references to “taping” and “videotaping”. Is magnetic tape still used as a recording medium? I truly doubt it.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 12:53 pm

Diet notes

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I have now been using Diet Controller on my MacBook for exactly 6 weeks. My starting weight was 232.5 and this morning I weighed 223.0, so 9.5 lbs lost in 6 week. My goal was to lose 1.5 lbs/week, so I’m pretty much on target. I felt for the past week that my weight hasn’t really budged, but in fact it was only 5 days and the weight was very gradually dropping.

I did learn enough from my previous weight loss to know to ignore plateaus and just keep up with the discipline, which I’ve gradually (re)learned. You can track my learning by looking at the calorie balance chart. Calorie balance = calories burned minus calories consumed, so positive is good, negative is bad. The red shaded are denotes more calories consumed than burned, and the area above that denotes that I burned more than I consumed, but not enough more to meet my 1.5 lb/week goal. The calorie balance to meet the goal must fall above both shaded areas:

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 11.34.52 AM

Notice how I improved as I got more experience and practice.

My weight jumps around. In the chart below note that before today I had five days in which my weight remained between 224 and 225—days in which I felt like I would never see my weight drop. Though it was only five days I felt like I was making no progress at all (especially since I had dropped to the 223 range just before). But here is where experience gave me patience, and you’ll note that my calorie balance has been good for the past 11 days. I knew if I just maintained good meal discipline the weight would eventually drop. But it’s odd how 5 days can feel like weeks—a good reason to keep track and review data.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 11.39.47 AM

The weekly average, though, smooths out the readings considerably. The weekly averages, in chronological order:


A very rapid drop at first, and then slower. But, on the whole, I’m staying below the line:

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 11.48.58 AM

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 11:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

And, speaking of stupidity, Charles Krauthammer on physics—and global warming

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Paul Krugman has an excellent blog entry:

Jonathan Chait has an extended discussion and takedown of the Fox News All-Star Panel reaction to the National Climate Assessment, which I won’t try to summarize. But I do want to delve a bit more into one point. Chait quotes Charles Krauthammer dismissing the scientific consensus because

99 percent of physicists were convinced that space and time were fixed until Einstein working in a patent office wrote a paper in which he showed that they are not.

As Chait notes, this logic would lead you to dismiss all science — hey, maybe tomorrow someone will write a paper showing that the germ theory of disease is all wrong, so why bother with sterilized instruments in the hospital? But there’s something else wrong here — the complete misunderstanding of what Einstein did.

Yes, Einstein showed that space and time were relative concepts. But did he show that everything physicists had been doing up to that point was all wrong? Of course not — classical physics was an incredibly useful and successful field, and almost none of what it said had to change in light of relativity. True, Einstein showed that it was a special case — but one that applied almost perfectly at the speeds and accelerations we encounter in normal conditions.

So if we had an Einstein equivalent in climate science, he or she would find that existing models were right in 99.9% of what they assert, even though under extreme conditions they might be misleading.

Or maybe the simpler way to put it is, Dr. Krauthammer, you’re no Einstein.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 11:17 am

Posted in Global warming, GOP, Science

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

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Thanks to Steve of Kafeneio for pointing this out:

The first basic law of human stupidity

The first basic law of human stupidity asserts without ambiguity that:

Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

At first, the statement sounds trivial, vague and horribly ungenerous. Closer scrutiny will however reveal its realistic veracity. No matter how high are one’s estimates of human stupidity, one is repeatedly and recurrently startled by the fact that:

a) people whom one had once judged rational and intelligent turn out to be unashamedly stupid.

b) day after day, with unceasing monotony, one is harassed in one’s activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments.

The First Basic Law prevents me from attributing a specific numerical value to the fraction of stupid people within the total population: any numerical estimate would turn out to be an underestimate. Thus in the following pages I will denote the fraction of stupid people within a population by the symbol σ.

The second basic law

Cultural trends now fashionable in the West favour an egalitarian approach to life. People like to think of human beings as the output of a perfectly engineered mass production machine. Geneticists and sociologists especially go out of their way to prove, with an impressive apparatus of scientific data and formulations that all men are naturally equal and if some are more equal than others, this is attributable to nurture and not to nature. I take an exception to this general view. It is my firm conviction, supported by years of observation and experimentation, that men are not equal, that some are stupid and others are not, and that the difference is determined by nature and not by cultural forces or factors. One is stupid in the same way one is red-haired; one belongs to the stupid set as one belongs to a blood group. A stupid man is born a stupid man by an act of Providence. Although convinced that fraction of human beings are stupid and that they are so because of genetic traits, I am not a reactionary trying to reintroduce surreptitiously class or race discrimination. I firmly believe that stupidity is an indiscriminate privilege of all human groups and is uniformly distributed according to a constant proportion. This fact is scientifically expressed by the Second Basic Law which states that

The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

In this regard, Nature seems indeed to have outdone herself. It is well known that Nature manages, rather mysteriously, to keep constant the relative frequency of certain natural phenomena. For instance, whether men proliferate at the Northern Pole or at the Equator, whether the matching couples are developed or underdeveloped, whether they are black, red, white or yellow the female to male ratio among the newly born is a constant, with a very slight prevalence of males. We do not know how Nature achieves this remarkable result but we know that in order to achieve it Nature must operate with large numbers. The most remarkable fact about the frequency of stupidity is that Nature succeeds in making this frequency equal to the probability quite independently from the size of the group.

Thus one finds the same percentage of stupid people whether one is considering very large groups or one is dealing with very small ones. No other set of observable phenomena offers such striking proof of the powers of Nature.

The evidence that education has nothing to do with the probability was provided by experiments carried on in a large number of universities all over the world. One may distinguish the composite population which constitutes a university in five major groups, namely the blue-collar workers, the white-collar employees, the students, the administrators and the professors.

Whenever I analyzed the blue-collar workers I found that the fraction σ of them were stupid. As σ’s value was higher than I expected (First Law), paying my tribute to fashion I thought at first that segregation, poverty, lack of education were to be blamed. But moving up the social ladder I found that the same ratio was prevalent among the white-collar employees and among the students. More impressive still were the results among the professors. Whether I considered a large university or a small college, a famous institution or an obscure one, I found that the same fraction σ of the professors are stupid. So bewildered was I by the results, that I made a special point to extend my research to a specially selected group, to a real elite, the Nobel laureates. The result confirmed Nature’s supreme powers: σ fraction of the Nobel laureates are stupid.

This idea was hard to accept and digest but too many experimental results proved its fundamental veracity. The Second Basic Law is an iron law, and it does not admit exceptions. The Women’s Liberation Movement will support the Second Basic Law as it shows that stupid individuals are proportionately as numerous among men as among women. The underdeveloped of the Third World will probably take solace at the Second Basic Law as they can find in it the proof that after all the developed are not so developed. Whether the Second Basic Law is liked or not, however, its implications are frightening: the Law implies that whether you move in distinguished circles or you take refuge among the head-hunters of Polynesia, whether you lock yourself into a monastery or decide to spend the rest of your life in the company of beautiful and lascivious women, you always have to face the same percentage of stupid people – which percentage (in accordance with the First Law) will always surpass your expectations.

The third (and golden) basic law

The Third Basic Law assumes, although it does not state it explicitly, that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 11:10 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

How big a deal is metadata? The US kills people based on metadata.

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David Cole writes in the NY Review of Books:

Supporters of the National Security Agency inevitably defend its sweeping collection of phone and Internet records on the ground that it is only collecting so-called “metadata”—who you call, when you call, how long you talk. Since this does not include the actual content of the communications, the threat to privacy is supposedly not grave. That argument is profoundly misleading. It’s actually much easier as a technological matter to search huge amounts of metadata than to listen to millions of phone calls, and our metadata reveals a great deal about the pattern of our lives and our most intimate associations and interests. As NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker has said, “metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata, you don’t really need content.” When I quoted Baker at a recent debate at Johns Hopkins University, my opponent, General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, called Baker’s comment “absolutely correct,” and raised him one, asserting, “We kill people based on metadata.”

It is precisely this power, in fact, that has prompted one of Congress’s most bipartisan initiatives in recent years. On May 7, the House Judiciary Committee voted 32-0 to adopt an amended form of the USA Freedom Act, a bill to rein in NSA spying on Americans’ metadata, initially proposed by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner. On May 8, the House Intelligence Committee, which has until now opposed any real reform of the NSA, also unanimously approved the same bill. And the Obama administration has welcomed the development.

For some, no doubt, the very fact that this bill has attracted such broad bipartisan approval will be grounds for suspicion. After all, this is the same Congress that repeatedly reauthorized the 2001 USA Patriot Act, a law that was also proposed by Sensenbrenner and on which the bulk collection of metadata was said to rest—even if many members of Congress were not aware of how the NSA was using (or abusing) it. And this is the same administration that retained the NSA’s data collection program, inherited from its predecessor, as long as it was a secret, and only called for reform when the American people learned from the disclosures of NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the government was routinely collecting phone and Internet records on all of us. So, one might well ask, if Congress and the White House, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, all now agree on reform, how meaningful can the reform be?

It’s a reasonable question. This compromise bill addresses only one . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 11:03 am

Miss Megs checks out the laundry

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Friday is laundry day chez Ham, and Megs seems to approve:

Megs on laundry day

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 9:00 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

The super-smooth slant shave, today with an iKon slant

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SOTD 10 May 2014

Terrific shave this morning. The Sabini brush worked up a fine lather immediately from the Figaro shaving cream, another of the almond-scented shaving creams the Italians enjoy. And I can see why: very nice fragrance for early in the morning.

Three passes with the iKon slant left my face utterly smooth, and a good splash of Fine Fresh Vetiver finished the job. I just spotted this aftershave at the back of one of my shelves of aftershaves, and I liked it. I’m moving it to a more prominent position.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2014 at 8:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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