Later On

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

Archive for July 12th, 2014

Good movie, and dabbawallas

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The Lunchbox is a pleasant romantic film from India—a movie, though, far from Bollywood: no song, dance, production numbers, and so on. And it introduced me to the dabbawalls:

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Still Living With Jack Bauer in a Terrified New American World

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Rebecca Gordon has a good column at

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

These were the ruling fantasies of the era, onscreen and off. But didn’t that sorry phase of our national life end when Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney departed? Wasn’t it over once Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and issued an executive order closing the CIA black sites that the Bush administration had set up across the planet, forbidding what had euphemistically come to be called “enhanced interrogation techniques?” As it happens, no. Though it’s seldom commented upon, the infrastructure for, the capacity for, and the personnel to staff a system of institutionalized state torture remain in place, ready to bloom like a desert plant in a rain shower the next time fear shakes the United States.

There are several important reasons why the resurgence of torture remains a possibility in post-Bush America:

* Torture did not necessarily end when Obama took office.

* We have never had a full accounting of all the torture programs in the “war on terror.”

* Not one of the senior government officials responsible for activities that amounted to war crimes has been held accountable, nor were any of the actual torturers ever brought to court.

Torture Did Not Necessarily End When Obama Took Office

The president’s executive order directed the CIA to close its detention centers “as expeditiously as possible” and not to open any new ones. No such orders were given, however, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine force composed of elite fighters from several branches of the U.S. armed forces. JSOC had run its own secret detention centers in Iraq. At Camp Nama, interrogations took place in the ominously named “Black Room.” According to the New York Times, the camp’s chilling motto was “no blood, no foul.” JSOC is presently deployed on several continents, including Africa, where gathering “intelligence” forms an important part of its duties.

The president’s executive order still permits “rendition” — the transfer of a terror suspect to another country for interrogation, which in the Bush years meant to the prisons of regimes notorious for torture. It does, however, impose some constraints on the practice. Such “transfers” must be approved by a special committee composed of the director of national intelligence, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the secretary of homeland security, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is to be chaired by the attorney general. The committee must not “transfer… individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”

This last constraint, however, has been in place at least since 1994, when the Senate ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. That did not prevent the rendition of people like Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian citizen sent by the United States to Syria, where he endured 10 months of torture in an underground cell. Nor did it save Binyam Mohammed, whose Moroccan jailers sliced his chest and penis with a scalpel — once a month for 18 months, according to British human rights lawyer Andy Worthington.

Nor has the CIA itself been prepared to end all its torture programs. In his confirmation hearings, Obama’s first CIA director Leon Panetta told members of Congress that “if the approved techniques were ‘not sufficient’ to get a detainee to divulge details he was suspected of knowing about an imminent attack, he would ask for ‘additional authority’ to use other methods.” It is, however, unlikely that such “other methods” could be brought to bear on the spur of the moment. To do so, you need an infrastructure and trained personnel. You need to be ready, with skills honed.

Torture, though by another name, still goes on in the American prison complex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama came into office promising to close Guantánamo within a year. It’s a promise he repeats occasionally, but the prison is still open, and some detainees are still being held indefinitely. Those who use the only instrument they have to resist their hellish limbo — a hunger strike — are strapped into chairs and force-fed. In case you think such “feeding” is a humanitarian act, Guantánamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:

“I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat, and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”

The U.S. has a long history of involvement with torture — from its war in the Philippines at the dawn of the twentieth century on. It has also, as in Latin America in the 1960s, trained torturers serving other regimes. But until 9/11 top officials in this country had never publicly approved of torture. Whatever might happen behind closed doors (or in training sessions provided by the School of the Americas, for example), in public, everyone — government officials, the press, and the public — agreed that torture was wrong.

That consensus no longer exists today. After 9/11 those “gloves” came off. Waterboarding prisoners who might have information about a plot that could threaten us was a “no brainer” for Vice President Dick Cheney, and he wasn’t alone. In those years, torture, always called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a phrase the media quickly picked up), became a commonplace, even celebrated, feature of our new landscape. Will it remain that way?

We Have Never Had a Full Accounting of All the Torture Programs Used in the “War on Terror”

Thanks to the work of persistent reporters, we now know many pieces of the torture puzzle, but we still have nothing like a complete, coherent narrative. And if we don’t know just what happened in those torture years, we are unlikely to be able to dismantle the existing infrastructure, which means we won’t be able to keep it from happening again.

In addition, . . .

Continue reading.

The US is becoming a frightening place as it becomes ever more frightened. Many men fear to go in public unless they are armed. (Some were upset at not being able to carry a gun into the polling place, so frightening is it to be unarmed in America today.) Having to arm yourself to go to the store is a new kind of United States.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 6:18 pm

Marijuana as a political issue in upcoming election

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Good rundown in this McClatchy story by Rob Hotakainen. From the story:

In Maryland, Republican Rep. Andy Harris is getting a taste of things to come.

Last month, Americans for Safe Access ran an ad against Harris after he gave a speech opposing medical marijuana and voted against the bill to strip funding from the Justice Department.

He’s also upset officials in Washington, D.C., by trying to block the city from decriminalizing marijuana. In March, the D.C. Council voted to make possession of a small amount a misdemeanor with a $25 fine, but Congress must approve the law. Harris got the House Appropriations Committee to back an amendment to kill the plan.

“Congress has the authority to stop irresponsible actions by local officials, and I am glad we did for the health and safety of children throughout the District,” Harris said in a statement.

Last week, Democratic D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray urged residents of the nation’s capital to stay away from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a vacation spot in Harris’ district.

And Eidinger said pot activists were ready to campaign heavily in Harris’ district before the Nov. 4 general election.

“This is serious business,” Eidinger said. “If he’s successful, we’ll have nothing to do but go campaign and fight to get him out of office to make an example of him. That’s all we’ll do.”

The story includes some examples of ads. This one’s similar to those in the article:

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 4:27 pm

“Human consciousness may be just a simple on-off switch in the brain”

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Very interesting finding. If I understand it correctly, consciousness resides in the function that integrates the nerve impulses from all our sensors so that we get the cross-connections (that-sound-goes-with-that-image sort of thing—different modes of perception linked—but obviously much more complex, since the input stream is effectively continuous from all those nerves. Some doubtless are handled locally—reflex actions, for example—and those apparently continue with some degradation of performance even when the integrative function is taken offline. It sounds sort of as thoough sensory integration/ consciousness is the OS. If it goes offline, everything stops working together so well until it’s rebooted and becomes operational again.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Bill Maher on the GOP’s zombie lies

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They continue walking the earth even after they have been completely exposed as counterfactual. As Maher says:

What they do is they pass a zombie lie down to dumber and dumber people, who believe it more and more.

Hank Paulson may be over the one about climate change being a hoax, but it’s still good enough for Sean Hannity. Who then gets quoted by Michele Bachmann. Who forms the intellectual core of the thinking of Victoria Jackson. And when you think the zombie lie has finally gone to die at the idea hospice of the absolutely stupidest people on Earth, there it is being retweeted by Donald Trump.

But that’s just the summation of a very good rant about all the zombie lies about Obamacare. Maher goes through the list—lies that have been solidly refuted but never acknowledged by the GOP, which simply moves on to the next round of lies, leaving their litter of lies to blow around and soil our daily lives.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 11:28 am

Posted in GOP, Healthcare

Charlie Haden, great bass player, has died

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Born in August of 1937. Charlie Haden and his Quartet West were wonderful. Here’s a moving post with a lot of information and several YouTube performances.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 11:13 am

Posted in Jazz

The American Century (1914-2014) has ended

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This article by Michael Lind in Salon makes a very good case, IMO.

In 1914, the American Century began. This year the American Century ended. America’s foreign policy is in a state of collapse, America’s economy doesn’t work well, and American democracy is broken. The days when other countries looked to the U.S. as a successful model of foreign policy prudence, democratic capitalism and liberal democracy may be over. The American Century, 1914-2014. RIP.

A hundred years ago, World War I marked the emergence of the U.S. as the dominant world power. Already by the late nineteenth century, the U.S. had the world’s biggest economy. But it took the First World War to catalyze the emergence of the U.S. as the most important player in geopolitics. The U.S. tipped the balance against Imperial Germany, first by loans to its enemies after 1914 and then by entering the war directly in 1917.

Twice more in the twentieth century the U.S. intervened to prevent a hostile power from dominating Europe and the world, in World War II and the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, America’s bipartisan elite undertook the project of creating permanent American global hegemony. The basis of America’s hegemonic project was a bargain with the two major powers of Europe, Germany and Russia, and the two major powers of Asia, Japan and China. The U.S. proposed to make Russia and China perpetual military protectorates, as it had already done during the Cold War with Germany and Japan. In return, the U.S. would keep its markets open to their exports and look after their international security interests.

This vision of a solitary American globocop policing the world on behalf of other great powers that voluntarily abandon militarism for trade has been shared by the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. But by 2014 the post-Cold War grand strategy of the United States had collapsed.

China and Russia have rudely declined America’s offer to make them subservient military satellites, like Japan and Germany. China has been building up its military, engaging in cyber-attacks on the U.S., and intimidating its neighbors, to promote the end of American military primacy in East Asia.

Meanwhile, Russia has responded to the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO alliance to its borders by going to war with Georgia in 2008 to deter Georgian membership in NATO and then, in 2014, seizing Crimea from Ukraine, after Washington promoted a rebellion against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president.

There are even signs of a Sino-Russian alliance against the U.S. The prospect excites some neoconservatives and neoliberal hawks, who had been quiet following the American military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a second Cold War against a Sino-Russian axis, the European Union, with its economy comparable to America’s, will not provide reliable support. Russia is a nuisance, not a threat to Europe. China doesn’t threaten Europe and Europeans want Chinese trade and investment too much. In Asia, only a fool would bet on the ability of a ramshackle alliance of the U.S., Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Australia to “contain” China.

The U.S. still has by far the world’s most powerful and sophisticated military — but what good is it? Russia knows the U.S. won’t go to war over Ukraine. China knows the U.S. won’t go to war over this or that reef or island in the South China Sea. As Chairman Mao would have said, America is a paper tiger.

The U.S. military was able to destroy the autocratic governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — but all the foreign policy agencies of the U.S. have been unable to help create functioning states to replace them. Since 2003, Uncle Sam has learned that it is easier to kick over anthills than to build them.

In addition to having a huge military that for the most part can neither intimidate strong adversaries nor pacify weak ones, America has an economy that for decades has failed to deliver sustained growth that is widely shared. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:20 am

Pentagon really doesn’t care about MIAs

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Despite repeated efforts to get Pentagon attention to the incompetent leadership and ineffective organization of the department responsible for identifying remains of MIA troops, things continue much as before. The reason is obvious: the Pentagon simply doesn’t care. Megan McCloskey reports at ProPublica:

The Defense Department’s inspector general has drafted a stinging rebuke of the Pentagon’s struggling effort to recover the remains of missing service members from past wars, concluding the mission lacks the most elemental building blocks for success.

According to a draft report of its investigation obtained by ProPublica, the mission lacks agreed upon goals, objectives and priorities. It lacks a strategic plan and up-to-date policies. It lacks standard operating procedures, a complete centralized database of the missing, and a disinterment plan, among other flaws.

Many of these same issues were also laid out by a ProPublica and NPR investigation earlier this year.

The shortcomings have contributed to a remarkably low number of identifications each year – just 60 in 2013 out of the tens of thousands missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam — despite about $100 million annually to get the job done.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced an overhaul in late March of the MIA effort. The current agencies involved in the mission will be consolidated within the next year into a new agency.

The revamped organization will have quite a job ahead of it. The Inspector General also laid out problems with leadership at the main agency involved with the mission, which have yet to be publicly acknowledged by the Pentagon. Complaints from about 50 current and former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command employees, “paint a picture of long-term leadership and management problems resulting in a hostile and dysfunctional work environment,” the report states.

“If left uncorrected, the problems driving these complaints will be brought into the new Defense agency…hindering mission accomplishment.”

About a dozen former J-PAC employees have told ProPublica that they loved the mission but quit because of leadership issues.

When the Pentagon announced the revamp of the mission this spring, it stressed a structurally flawed system rather than issues regarding individual leaders and sidestepped any questions about accountability. Most of the leaders within the various agencies have been in charge in different positions for decades.

The Inspector General recommended that the Pentagon immediately “take corrective action” on the leadership problems, as well as cut back on staff to eliminate duplicative positions among the various agencies.

Continue reading.

It’s worth noting that the Pentagon does not believe in personal responsibility and accountability. The primary motivation and rive seems to be to protect officers at all costs, regardless of their performance.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 9:01 am

Corporations in the US can do what they want and suffer mild punishment if that

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John Ryan reports (and with an audio report at the link):

It was the state’s worst industrial accident in nearly 50 years.

On a chilly April night in 2010, a giant fireball lit up the sky above Anacortes, Washington. A southeast wind pushed a plume of black smoke toward the heart of this seaside town an hour north of Seattle.

Just after midnight, 911 calls poured in from residents shaken from their sleep.

Dispatch: “Skagit 911. What’s your emergency?”

Caller: “I’m trying to find out what’s going on at the refinery.”

Dispatch: “We don’t know at this point, sir.”

Caller: “All I can tell you is I live 2 ½ miles from it, and the explosion was hard enough to rock my house, and there’s one hell of a fire going there.”

That explosion at the Tesoro refinery on the outskirts of Anacortes killed seven workers.

Four years later, no one has been held publicly accountable for the deaths of Daniel Aldridge, Matt Bowen, Matt Gumbel, Darrin Hoines, Lew Janz, Kathryn Powell and Donna Van Dreumel.

Refinery owner Tesoro agreed to pay millions to families of the dead, but the company continues to fight government accusations that it willfully put its workers in harm’s way. The families have also sued Lloyd’s Register Energy Americas, a company that advised Tesoro on how to inspect the refinery’s maze of high-temperature, high-pressure machinery.

With legal proceedings still under way, it remains unclear whether government will hold anyone responsible for the human cost of Tesoro gasoline.

State efforts to penalize Tesoro have stalled on appeal. Federal prosecutors are attempting to go after Tesoro under environmental laws, which are tougher than the nation’s workplace-safety laws.

Yet, the Obama administration’s attempt to impose criminal penalties has made little headway. Four years after the explosion, no one has been charged with any crimes.

After a six-month investigation, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries accused Tesoro of willfully breaking the law 39 times. In October 2010, the agency hit Tesoro with the biggest workplace-safety fine in state history: $2.39 million.

That penalty made headlines, and it might sound like a strong deterrent to any company running a dangerous operation. But to a Fortune 100 company like Tesoro, a couple million is petty cash. The San Antonio, Texas, firm brings in that much revenue in about half an hour.

Still, Tesoro attorneys have appealed the penalty, and they’ve been fighting it for the past three and a half years before a judge with a little-known state agency, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.

Last year, Judge Mark Jaffe overturned 28 of Tesoro’s 39 alleged willful violations of state law. He also slashed more than two-thirds off that record fine. It’s now down to $685,000 and could go lower. He’s expected to make his final decision next year.

It’s par for the course for major industrial accidents in the United States. Companies are often able to whittle down or at least delay the consequences of their unsafe workplaces. . . .

Continue reading.

It’s a lengthy article and it is infuriating at how corporations can literally kill people through forcing practices that it knows are unsafe and have no accountability—certainly no officer of the corporation is held responsible (despite their high salaries and big bonuses that seem to indicate that they are responsible for what happens), and the fines that corporations pay are laughably small: pocket change, in effect.

I encourage you to read the entire article and listen to the audio clips.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:51 am

VA efforts to hide problems so as to get bonuses worked well

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A lot of bonuses were paid based on outright lies and fabrications—lies that led to some patient deaths and much patient suffering. But the latter does not seem to be all that important to the VA bureaucracy.

Truly, why are these people not going to prison? I think that is much more justified than paying them large bonuses.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:41 am

@CongressEdits tells you when Congress is changing Wikipedia

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Unfortunately, the US Congress has repeatedly demonstrated that it is not to be trusted, and like any organization works very hard to conceal its mistakes and malfeasance. One technique members of Congress use is to rewrite history—e.g., Rand Paul now claims that his support for the Civil Rights Act is strong, whereas previously he slammed it.

One target for revisionism is Wikipedia, which is regularly altered by members of Congress and/or their staff to present (or hide) things to produce a better image of the member of Congress and/or cast his/her enemies in a worse light. These are almost impossible to detect—until now. As this article in Verge explains, there is a now a Twitter feed that broadcasts Wikipedia revisions coming from Congress.

I believe that Congress currently has a 7% approval rating. This sort of activity should drive it a bit lower.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:34 am

Posted in Congress, Technology

Elon Musk donates $1 million to Nikola Tesla museum

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:27 am

Posted in Business

Col. Conk and the iKon DLC Slant

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SOTD 12 July 2014

A very nice shave today. I had promised to use Col. Conk a while back, only to discover I had given away my last (large) puck of it. I ordered a replacement, shown above: a noticeably smaller puck, but then I don’t use it all that often—although it does provide a perfectly serviceable lather, as I quickly obtained with the little Omega boar brush shown. The brush held plenty for three passes, and the iKon slant, with the second shave on this blade, did give me a small nick in the XTG pass—obviously my technique must be somewhat sloppy when shaving XTG.

Still, that’s why I have My Nik Is Sealed, and the nick was small. I am going to use the blade for another shave and see whether I get more nicks. If so, I think it is evident that the problem is an aging blade.

A good splash of Clean Vetiver (not the other vetiver, which must be the Dirty Vetiver), and the weekend is launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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