Later On

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

Archive for July 17th, 2014

Endless innovation has a big downside

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Check out this interesting article by Robert Pogue Harrison. From the article:

Our silicon age, which sees no glory in maintenance, but only in transformation and disruption, makes it extremely difficult for us to imagine how, in past eras, those who would change the world were viewed with suspicion and dread. If you loved the world; if you considered it your mortal home; if you were aware of how much effort and foresight it had cost your forebears to secure its foundations, build its institutions, and shape its culture; if you saw the world as the place of your secular afterlife, then you had good reasons to impute sinister tendencies to those who would tamper with its configuration or render it alien to you. Referring to all that happened during the “dark times” of the first half of the twentieth century, “with its political catastrophes, its moral disasters, and its astonishing development of the arts and sciences,” Hannah Arendt summarized the human cost of endless disruption:

The world becomes inhuman, inhospitable to human needs—which are the needs of mortals—when it is violently wrenched into a movement in which there is no longer any sort of permanence.

The twenty-first century has only aggravated the political, moral, social, and environmental concussions of the twentieth. There would be reason to applaud the would-be world-changers and start-up companies of Silicon Valley if they made it their business to resist or reverse this process of planetary upheaval, the way environmentalists seek to do with the wounds we have afflicted on nature. Sadly they have no such militancy in their souls, nor much thoughtfulness. With a few exceptions, our new tech armies rarely take the time to think through what they are doing. Or if they do, they tend to think in ways that only add to the turmoil and agitation.

By giving no thought and little effort to preserving the world—the natural world, the world of human culture and human institutions and societies and attitudes in which we live our daily lives—we are well on the way to destroying it (and ourselves).

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Daily life

Interruptions kill writing

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There’s a lot to be said for sitting at a table alone in a room that’s free of distractions, and writing in pencil on pads of paper. Certainly better than writing on a computer, because interruptions kill writing, and self-interruptions (to check email, to glance at the headlines, and perhaps click on a few stories—it’s now a full-fledged derailment of one’s train of thought.

It seems to me that prior to putting thoughts into words, there is first a mostly unconscious process of gathering allusions and associations and letting the idea take form in a sort of web or nest of our other notions/ideas/knowledge, testing the developing idea for fit and comfort. That is,when we write we are putting into words an ideational entity that is the outcome of a process of concept formation, and I think it’s at this stage that the interruptions are killers. You’re trying to “gather your thoughts”—leaning back in the chair with the pencil poised as you sort of get a grip on the outlines of the thought, and then you lean forward and start writing.

Breaking up that in-gathering to create the concept means starting anew, which means finding your way back to the place where you started.

And of course, computers abound with interrupters. That’s what they are, in fact.

And by all means read this article on how computers and tablets and e-readers have changed the way that we read. And the way we read is a skill—if you don’t practice reading books, it becomes harder to read book. In reading books I can get so immersed in the book that when I stop, it takes me a beat or two to realize where I am, to re-orient myself from the world of the book, a world that seemed somehow real enough to daze me a bit upon departing it.

Those things don’t happen with on-screen reading, for reasons the article explains.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:38 pm

New York Times Photographer Witnesses Israeli Killing of 4 Palestinian Boys

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A video report (with transcript) from Democracy Now! Their blurb:

Israel says it is considering a new ceasefire proposal from Egypt that would take effect on Friday. There is no word yet from Hamas, which rejected the last proposal on the grounds its leaders were never consulted and the terms would have allowed for the continued siege of Gaza and for Israeli bombardment at will. The news of a fresh proposal comes just as a five-hour humanitarian pause has ended. The United Nations asked for the break to let Gazans receive supplies and repair damage following 10 days of Israeli bombings. On Wednesday, an Israeli gunboat shelled a beach, killing four boys who were playing. The boys were all between the ages of nine and 11 and from the same extended family. Seven other adults and children were wounded in the strike. The scene was witnessed by several international journalists, including our guest Tyler Hicks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning staff photographer at The New York Times. We are also joined from Gaza City by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who has interviewed family members of the young victims.

Israel disclaims any responsibility, saying “Hamas made us do it!”

That is not an exaggeration. Israel takes no responsibility for the deaths (or the hundreds of other civilian deaths), using a line from Kindergarten: “It’s not my fault! He made me do it! Blame him! Not me!”

UPDATE: I can’t believe it. Obama says he’s heartbroken by this, but then goes right into Israel “has the right to defend itself.” Yes, but those four children were not attacking Israel. Killing those children was not an act of defense in the least.

From later in the interview:

TYLER HICKS: Yeah, I mean, they have a very sophisticated military, and they can see what’s going on, whether it’s from a drone, from a ship. I mean, they know what they’re hitting. And it’s pretty hard—in my opinion, would be—to mistake grown men and, you know, Hamas militants, at that, for children no more than four feet high wearing beach clothes, scattering from this initial explosion. I mean, in my opinion, it would be pretty obvious, especially given the 30-second window between the first explosion and the second that killed three of the four. One was actually killed by that first bomb. But that 30 seconds should be enough to assess whether or not those are children or civilians or actual Hamas militants.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

The case for decriminalizing heroin, cocaine, and all other drugs

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German Lopez makes a strong case at Vox.com. It is really unclear why we don’t try experimenting with wholesale legalization, regulation, taxation, and treatment.

America’s war on drugs has, by several measures, failed to live up to its goals.

Over the past couple of decades, illicit drug use has not decreased in a significant way. At the same time, the war on drugs has fallen short of its key economic goal: to make drugs more expensive, and therefore make them less accessible to drug users.

Even the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy seems to agree with this point. In a release detailing the Obama administration’s new anti-drug strategy, Michael Botticelli, acting director of ONDCP, wrote, “This Strategy … rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem.”

The White House’s strategy, to be sure, doesn’t completely do away with incarceration and law enforcement in the fight against drugs, but the statement acknowledges that the last 40 years of the war on drugs have not produced the desired results.

Given the failures of the war on drugs and the spread of marijuana legalization, many drug policy experts are now thinking about what’s next. What should happen with other illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, if the war on drugs isn’t working? Should illicit drugs even be considered illegal in the first place?

I reached out to three drug policy experts for answers. They agreed that the criminalization of drugs has clearly failed, but where drug policy should go next remains a matter of debate.

There’s one point of agreement: the war on drugs is a failure

No matter their academic background or political leanings, there seems to be a consensus among many drug policy experts that the criminalization of drugs hasn’t worked. This is the one point of agreement among Mark Kleiman, drug policy expert at UCLA; Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard University and the libertarian Cato Institute; and Isaac Campos, a drug historian at the University of Cincinnati.

The war on drugs goes after drug producers and dealers in an attempt to cut drugs at the source — before they reach the user. The idea is to cut down the supply, so drugs are more expensive and, therefore, less affordable and accessible for a drug user. [And, OTOH, with more money at stake and to be made, you have created a lucrative opportunity for miscreants who don’t shirk from breaking the law. It seems counter-productive—and, in fact, it is, as the article demonstrates. – LG]

One way to check whether this strategy has succeeded is by looking at whether the price of drugs has gone up during prohibition. According to the most recent report from the White House’s ONDCP, that’s not the case. The prices of cocaine, crack, and heroin plummeted then stabilized in the past few decades, and meth’s price has remained largely stable since the 1980s. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:13 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Law, Politics, Science

When Rhode Island accidentally legalized prostitution, rape decreased sharply

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Also gonorrhea dropped sharply. Hmm.

Prostitution-and-rape

The Washington Post report is by Max Ehrenfreund:

For decades, few people noticed that legislators in Providence had deleted crucial language from Rhode Island state law in 1980. It wasn’t until a 2003 court case that police, to their chagrin, discovered they couldn’t prevent prostitutes and their customers from engaging in commercial exchange.

For the next six years until legislators corrected their error, the oldest profession was not a crime in Rhode Island — and public health and public safety substantially improved as a result, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The statewide incidence of gonorrhea among women declined by 39 percent, and the number of rapes reported to police in the state declined by 31 percent, according to the paper.

The study by Baylor University’s Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah of the University of California, Los Angeles contributes to an impassioned, long-running debate about prostitution among advocates for women’s rights. Their work appears to be the first quantitative evidence that removing criminal penalties for prostitutes can reduce violence against women and curtail sexually transmitted infections in society generally — and dramatically so. Yet opponents argue that legal prostitution would encourage traffickers to kidnap women and girls into lives of sexual slavery. . .

Continue reading. Worries about what might happen seem misplaced. Better to focus on what does happen.

See next post on decriminalizing all drugs. (We know what happens when we make the drugs illegal, and it’s very bad indeed. Let’s see what happens when we legalize, regulate, and tax the drugs, and tread addiction as a medical problem rather than a crime.)

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

NBC News Pulls Veteran Reporter from Gaza After Witnessing Israeli Attack on Children

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

Ayman Mohyeldin, the NBC News correspondent who personally witnessed yesterday’s killing by Israel of four Palestinian boys on a Gazan beach and who has received widespread praise for his brave and innovative coverage of the conflict, has been told by NBC executives to leave Gaza immediately. According to an NBC source upset at his treatment, the executives claimed the decision was motivated by “security concerns” as Israel prepares a ground invasion, a claim repeated to me by an NBC executive. But late yesterday, NBC sent another correspondent, Richard Engel, along with an American producer who has never been to Gaza and speaks no Arabic, into Gaza to cover the ongoing Israeli assault (both Mohyeldin and Engel speak Arabic).

Mohyeldin is an Egyptian-American with extensive experience reporting on that region. He has covered dozens of major Middle East events in the last decade for CNN, NBC and Al Jazeera English, where his reporting on the 2008 Israeli assault on Gaza made him a star of the network. NBC aggressively pursued him to leave Al Jazeera, paying him far more than the standard salary for its on-air correspondents.

Yesterday, Mohyeldin witnessed and then reported on the brutal killing by Israeli planes of four young boys as they played soccer on a beach in Gaza City. He was instrumental, both in social media and on the air, in conveying to the world the visceral horror of the attack.

Mohyeldin recounted how, moments before their death, he was kicking a soccer ball with the four boys, who were between the ages of 9 and 11 and all from the same family. He posted numerous chilling details on his Twitter and Instagram accounts, including the victims’ names and ages, photographs he took of their anguished parents, and video of one of their mothers as she learned about the death of her young son. He interviewed one of the wounded boys at the hospital shortly before being operated on. He then appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, where he dramatically recounted what he saw.

Despite this powerful first-hand reporting – or perhaps because of it – Mohyeldin was nowhere to be seen on last night’s NBC Nightly News broadcast with Brian Williams. Instead, as Media Bistro’s Jordan Chariton noted, NBC curiously had Richard Engel – who was in Tel Aviv, and had just arrived there an hour or so earlier – “report” on the attack. Charlton wrote that “the decision to have Engel report the story for ‘Nightly’ instead of Mohyeldin angered some NBC News staffers.”

Indeed, numerous NBC employees, including some of the network’s highest-profile stars, were at first confused and then indignant over the use of Engel rather than Mohyeldin to report the story. But what they did not know, and what has not been reported until now, is that Mohyeldin was removed completely from reporting on Gaza by a top NBC executive, David Verdi, who ordered Mohyeldin to leave Gaza immediately.

Over the last two weeks, Mohyeldin’s reporting has been far more balanced and even-handed than the standard pro-Israel coverage that dominates establishment American press coverage; his reports have provided context to the conflict that is missing from most American reports and he avoids adopting Israeli government talking points as truth. As a result, . . .

Continue reading.

Israel doesn’t seem to care at all about Palestinian civilians. I know that a very few Israeli citizens have been killed, and in reaction Israel kills hundreds of Palestinian civilians as a kind of group punishment (illegal, but beloved of heavy-handed governments—including, oddly, the Germans in WWII, where a similar sort of struggle played out between the occupying Germans and the French Resistance and other resistance groups.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 10:39 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Wall Street seems to be able to direct malicious government prosecutions

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Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:

Wall Street On Parade has been reporting for the past six months on a series of tragic, sudden deaths of Information Technology workers at JPMorgan. Now coming to the fore are stories of relentless prosecutions of Wall Street’s IT workers by Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance. Bloomberg News reports today that Vance is engaged in at least four prosecutions of Wall Street workers over theft of computer code or other intellectual property.

Bestselling author, Michael Lewis, devoted a significant part of his latest book, Flash Boys, to the prosecution of Sergey Aleynikov over alleged stolen computer code. Aleynikov had been working for Goldman Sachs when he received an offer to move to a hedge fund and build a system from scratch. Aleynikov accepted the offer but agreed to stay at Goldman for six weeks to train his colleagues. (That does not seem like the action of a person on the run with stolen computer code.)

That was 2009. For the past five years, Aleynikov has been arrested and jailed by the Feds, had his conviction overturned by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, rearrested by the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and now faces more prosecution over the same set of facts: namely, that he took computer code that belonged to Goldman Sachs. Aleynikov is said to be among the best coders in the industry. He is increasingly being seen as the victim of malicious prosecution at the behest of the powerful Goldman Sachs.

According to the Lewis book, on the very same day that Kevin Marino, Aleynikov’s lawyer, gave his oral arguments to the Appeals Court, “the judges ordered Serge released, on the grounds that the laws he stood accused of breaking did not actually apply to his case.” He had been in prison for a year.

When the Second Circuit Appeals Court handed down its opinion of the case in December 2010, it found that Aleynikov had neither taken a tangible good from Goldman nor had he stolen a product involved in interstate commerce – noting that at oral argument the government “was unable to identify a single product that affects interstate commerce.”

But the hounds from hell were not finished with Aleynikov. Approximately six months after his vindication by the Second Circuit Appeals Court, the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, arrested Aleynikov, placed him in jail on essentially the same charges, and sought to have bail denied on the basis that he was a flight risk. Lewis notes in the book that the prosecutor put in charge of the case, Joanne Li, was actually the flight risk – Li soon fled the case, getting a job at Citigroup.

The ill repute that is now surrounding the Vance case is sending a message to close observers that this is more about harassing IT workers and delivering a cautionary warning to others than it is about punishing a real crime.

On Friday, June 20 of this year, New York State Judge Ronald A. Zweibel found that Aleynikov’s arrest at the hands of the Feds had been illegal. The Judge wrote that the FBI agent “did not have probable cause to arrest defendant, let alone search him or his home.” The Judge further noted that the “defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated.”

The Judge also ruled that Aleynikov’s computer property seized by the FBI should have been returned to him after his case was overturned by the Federal Appeals Court. Instead, the Federal prosecutors turned the computers over to Vance’s office.

After Zweibel’s ruling, Aleynikov’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, released a statement saying that the Judge’s decision “represents a damning indictment of those assistant U.S. attorneys, assistant district attorneys and FBI agents who have now twice pursued an unlawful prosecution of an innocent man at the behest of Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs.” Marino added that Goldman “not only provoked but has been an active co-conspirator in the government’s case against Mr. Aleynikov.”

Is co-conspirator too strong a word? To comprehend the arrest and imprisonment of IT workers on Wall Street, one has to have context.

For many decades, there was a saying on Wall Street that . . .

Continue reading.

It’s pretty clear that Wall Street controls at least some of the Federal government. They do not use their power to good ends.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 10:24 am

The corruption of Andrew Cuomo

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I think Cuomo has shown his true colors, and they are unattractive in the extreme. Consider this report from Justin Elliott in ProPublica:

In early 2007, when he was New York State attorney general, Andrew Cuomo brought on a longtime confidant as a consultant on mortgage industry investigations, a move that has gone undisclosed until now.

The friend was Howard Glaser and he had another job at the same time: consultant and lobbyist for the very industry Cuomo was investigating.

Glaser, who went on to become a top state official in Cuomo’s gubernatorial administration, was operating a lucrative consulting firm, the Glaser Group, with a host of mortgage industry clients.

Later that year, Glaser provided insights on Cuomo’s investigations to industry players on a conference call hosted by an investment bank.

Cuomo’s office ended up giving immunity to one of Glaser’s clients a year into his term as attorney general.

In the end, experts say, the mortgage investigations Cuomo touted as “wide-ranging” came to little, even as he held one of the country’s most powerful prosecutorial positions through the financial crisis and its aftermath.

Glaser’s role in the attorney general’s investigations was disclosed to ProPublica in response to a public records request. The extent of his work is unclear, as is how long it lasted. Glaser told ProPublica the scope of the work was limited. While it was a formal arrangement, it was unpaid.

Cuomo’s office referred questions to Steven Cohen, who was chief of staff when Cuomo was attorney general. “There is no doubt Glaser provided advice to the governor when he was attorney general,” said Cohen. “The role he served was as a general consultant on the industry overall. He did not provide advice on specific investigations.”

Glaser also said that, despite the investment bank conference call, he never advised clients on Cuomo investigations.

One person who worked in the mortgage industry during that time said Glaser had a reputation as having Cuomo’s ear.

“If you needed to get to Cuomo, Glaser was the guy to go to,” the person said.

Before becoming a lobbyist for the mortgage industry, Glaser worked in the late 1990s under Cuomo at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was known as Cuomo’s “right-hand man” and “hammer.”

Glaser declined to release a list of his clients from the period he worked for the attorney general. . .

Continue reading.

This is similar to Obama’s picking a telecommunications industry lobbyist to head the FCC or a Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC: finding foxes to guard chicken coops. It shows where Cuomo’s (and Obama’s) true loyalties lie.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 10:18 am

Can the FCC keep states from banning public Internet?

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Corporations will do anything to make money (read this article on how they are leeching money from higher education), and one tactic is to get states to make it illegal for cities to offer free (and quite good) broadband services to residents. The FCC might be able to forestall this heavy-handed tactic, as Brian Fung explains:

While everyone’s worked up about how to keep the Internet an open platform, another little-known controversy is quickly gaining steam. How it plays out could determine whether millions of Americans get to build their own, local alternatives to big, corporate ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon.

Last night, House lawmakers pushed through legislation that would effectively undo those prospects for many cities around the country. In an amendment to a must-pass funding bill, Republicans led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee approved an amendment that would prohibit federal regulators from ensuring cities’ ability to sell their own high-speed broadband directly to consumers.

Cities have lately been taking matters into their own hands, attempting to lay down publicly owned fiber optic cables where they say there are gaps in coverage, quality or price from incumbent ISPs. In Blackburn’s state, Chattanooga has emerged as a prominent example of a city that successfully challenged the status quo; the local government now offers 1 Gbps service for $70 a month. (Those speeds are roughly 100 times faster than the national average.) Longmont, Colo. is also moving forward with its municipal broadband project despite earlier resistance from the cable industry.

In Longmont and various other jurisdictions, though, state laws have made it difficult if not impossible for cities to build their own broadband networks. Some states, like Colorado, require voter referendums to reach a certain threshold before it’ll let cities proceed. Google Fiber reportedly passed over Boulder, Colo. because of such restrictions, meaning that consumers missed out on a potentially game-changing service.

Other states have sought to ban municipal networks outright: Earlier this year, Kansas tried to outlaw city broadband before public opposition convinced the legislature to back down. New Mexico is also considering a ban.

The Federal Communications Commission has signaled its intention to intervene, saying that its congressional charter, the Communications Act of 1996, gives it the authority to overturn or “preempt” the state-level restrictions. A federal court seemed to agree with that interpretation of the law in January when it wrote that the bans posed a “paradigmatic barrier to infrastructure investment” that the FCC is empowered to move against.

“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent blog post.

But opponents of intervention argue that whatever the law says about the FCC’s authority, the agency must first deal with a higher constitutional problem. By leaping into the municipal broadband debate, the FCC would be inserting itself into the relationship between states and their cities — a potential no-no when it comes to the issue of federalism. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

“If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition,” wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a recent blog post.

The GOP pretty much hates anything the government does that benefits the public. The GOP wants businesses to make money from the public in every way possible, because the GOP derives its support from businesses. It’s very difficult to see any benefit to the people of the state for the legislature to make it illegal for cities to offer a municipal broadband service—and the vigorous public reaction in Kansas showed that the state legislature was doing this in obedience to private businesses, not out of a concern for citizens.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 9:09 am

Three slants

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Three slants

The slant in the middle is a vintage Walbusch slant I just got, with the iKon slant to the left and the Stealth on the right. The Walbushch is on the sample puck of soap because the bottom of the handle is rounded and the razor wouldn’t stand upright otherwise.

The Walbusch does not apply torque to the blade, so the blade slants from upper left to lower right on the visible side, and on the other it slants from lower left to upper right. I have another slant like this, which I think is also a Walbusch, and it turns out that the opposite slant on opposite sides is totally not a problem: one doesn’t even notice it.

The odd thing about the Walbusch is that the entire head is tilted. The iKon’s guard is tilted, but the baseplate is at right angles to the handle’s axis, and the same is true of the Stealth. But the baseplate of the Walbusch is at an angle to the handle’s axis, not perpendicular to it. (I do understand that being perpendicular is also “at an angle,” where the angle is 90º, but the angle for the Walbusch is not 90º.)

I can’t wait to shave with it.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 8:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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