Later On

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

Archive for August 12th, 2014

A Militarized Night in Ferguson

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Jay Caspian Kang writes in the New Yorker:

Last night, as the images and stories from Ferguson, Missouri, joined the news churn, many who registered their thoughts via social media noted that what they were seeing—policemen with dogs and AR-15 assault rifles standing in a Stygian, blue-lit cloud of tear gas; crowds of protesters with their hands in the air, screaming “Hands up, don’t shoot”; members of the press being removed from the scene—did not look like America. The sentiment underlying the shock—that the United States should be better, that we have a Constitution that protects its citizens from violent excesses, that an unarmed young man ought to be able to live through an encounter with a police officer—seems almost precious, when one considers the country’s racial history. The tragedy of the story of Michael Brown is that it’s not much different from the stories of the other men—young, unarmed, and black—who have been gunned down by the police. But after last night’s militarized reaction to the protests in Ferguson, it’s worth considering whether the typical ending to the story, wherein the outrage of the community is met with silence on the part of the authorities, has changed for the worse.

Writing in The Nation in the summer of 1966, James Baldwin described an instance of police brutality that had taken place two years earlier, several months before the death of an African-American teen-ager at the hands of the N.Y.P.D. sparked the Harlem race riots.

On April 17, 1964, in Harlem, New York City, a young salesman, father of two, left a customer’s apartment and went into the streets. There was a great commotion in the streets, which, especially since it was a spring day, involved many people, including running, frightened, little boys. They were running from the police. Other people, in windows, left their windows, in terror of the police because the police had their guns out, and were aiming the guns at the roofs. Then the salesman noticed that two of the policemen were beating up a kid: “So I spoke up and asked them, ‘why are you beating him like that?’ Police jump up and start swinging on me. He put the gun on me and said, ‘get over there.’ I said, ‘what for?’ ”

An unwise question. Three of the policemen beat up the salesman in the streets. Then they took the young salesman, whose hands had been handcuffed behind his back, along with four others, much younger than the salesman, who were handcuffed in the same way, to the police station. There: “About thirty-five I’d say came into the room, and started beating, punching us in the jaw, in the stomach, in the chest, beating us with a padded club—spit on us, call us niggers, dogs, animals—they call us dogs and animals when I don’t see why we are the dogs and animals the way they are beating us. Like they beat me they beat the other kids and the elderly fellow. They throw him almost through one of the radiators. I thought he was dead over there.”

If you take out the date, there is little in this passage that anchors it to any particular moment in the past century. The beatings could have happened as easily in 2014 or 1914 as in 1964. The only difference is that the police now are armed to the teeth.

In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) released “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” a report that tracks how equipment donations made through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Excess Property Program, along with grants from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, funnel money and matériel—including firearms, explosives, tactical vests, and vehicles—to state and local law enforcement. (A report in the Times noted that the Pentagon has also distributed silencers.) Between 2011 and 2012, sixty-three agencies polled by the A.C.L.U. reported that they had received “a total of 15,054 items of battle uniforms or personal protective equipment”; some five hundred agencies had received “vehicles built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs.” In many instances, the receipt of these military-grade weapons is contingent on their use within a calendar year. “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Kara Dansky, one of the authors of the A.C.L.U.’s report, told me. “When the police have these weapons, they’re more likely to use them.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2014 at 8:18 pm

This, I think, helps account for the callous brutality of Israel toward the Palestinians

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Read the article.

Ripples in the psychological/social continuum. Physicality and memes interacting once more: physical changes but also cultural changes (i.e., meme changes, including one’s self, composed of memes).

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2014 at 7:53 pm

Bush didn’t know anything about Maliki, but put him in charge of Iraq anyway

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Of course, we did know quite a bit about Bush—particularly after the first term—but we put him in charge of the US anyway. People in glass houses should not throw stones.

Zack Beauchamp writes (or at least “updates”) at Vox:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has just lost the support of his party, and looks like he will soon be pushed out of office, barring a coup or wildly implausible political turnaround. Maliki’s eight years in office have been a disaster for Iraq — his increasingly authoritarian rule and oppression of Iraq’s Sunni minority bears no small amount of responsibility for the current Islamic State (ISIS) crisis, which is part of why the US and many others are pushing for him to go.

So maybe now’s a good time to remember that the US put him in power in the first place.

An April 2014 piece in The New Yorker, by Dexter Filkins, lays the story out in all of its sordid details. In 2006, the Iraqi civil war seemed uncontrollable, and the Bush administration wanted incumbent Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari gone. “Can you get rid of Jaafari?”, Bush asked US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. “Yes,” Khalilzad said, “but it will be difficult.” Tough as it may have been, Khalilzad eventually got Iraq’s parliament to end Jaafari’s premiership. But there was not clear candidate to replace him — so the US wanted to find someone to put forward themselves.

According to Filkins, Khalilzad rejected at least one other candidate before turning to the CIA for help in picking Iraq’s next PM. The CIA suggested Maliki — a remarkable choice, as it knew almost nothing about him:

Frustrated, Khalilzad turned to the C.I.A. analyst assigned to his office, a fluent Arabic speaker whose job was to know Iraq’s leaders. “Can it be that, in this country of thirty million people, the choice of Prime Minister is either Jaafari, who is incompetent, or Ali Adeeb, who is Iranian? Isn’t there anyone else?”

“I have a name for you,” the C.I.A. officer said. “Maliki.”

Among the Americans, Maliki was largely unknown, though he served on the committee charged with purging the Iraqi government of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. “He’s clean,” the C.I.A. officer said; he wasn’t corrupt, and he had no apparent connection to terrorist activities. “We haven’t got any evidence on him.” And, unlike Jaafari, Maliki was “a tough guy,” seemingly able to defy the Iranian regime.

Further down in Filkins’ piece, we learn just how ignorant US officials were of Maliki. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2014 at 4:24 pm

Drinking moderately improves your health

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Nothing is so hard to accept as findings that contradict a position with which you’ve been comfortable for years. It’s perfectly clear that alcoholism is a serious disease and that alcohol, unlike (say) marijuana, is not only very addictive, it can be harmful to your health and even cause death, something marijuana won’t do. But drinking a glass of wine every night with dinner: that is a benefit. It is, however, a benefit that people with serious problems with alcoholism must forgo—for them, the risks greatly outweigh the benefits.

But if you’re a member of the majority who are not alcoholics, a glass of wine with a meal is a good idea.

See this article at Pacific Standard. From the article:

The evidence that abstinence from alcohol is a cause of heart disease and early death is irrefutable—yet this is almost unmentionable in the United States. Even as health bodies like the CDC and Dietary Guidelines for Americans(prepared by Health and Human Services) now recognize the decisive benefits from moderate drinking, each such announcement is met by an onslaught of opposition and criticism, and is always at risk of being reversed.

Noting that even drinking at non-pathological levels above recommended moderate limits gives you a better chance of a longer life than abstaining draws louder protests still. Yet that’s exactly what the evidence tells us.

Driven by the cultural residue of Temperance, most Americans still view drinking as unhealthy; many call alcohol toxic. Yet, despite drinking far less than many European nations, Americans have significantly worse health outcomes than heavier-drinking countries. (For example, despite being heavily out-drunk by the English, we have almost exactly twice their levels of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.)

 

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2014 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Health, Science

Andrew Cuomo seems to be a major-league sleazeball

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He established a commission to look into corruption in New York state government, and when it seemed it might turn its gaze on his own administration, he immediately dissolved the commission. And now he’s making sure that there will be now awkward paper trail by having state employee’s emails all deleted after 90 days. Theodoric Meyer has the story in ProPublica:

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration — which the governor pledged would be the most transparent in state history — has quietly adopted policies that allow it to purge the emails of tens of thousands of state employees, cutting off a key avenue for understanding and investigating state government.

Last year, the state started deleting any emails more than 90 days old that users hadn’t specifically saved — a much more aggressive stance than many other states. The policy shift was first reported by the Albany Times Union.

A previously unpublished memo outlining the policy raises new questions about the state’s stated rationale for its deletions policy. What’s more, the rules on which emails must be retained are bewilderingly complex – they fill 118 pages – leading to further concern that emails may not be saved at all.

New York State Employees’ Emails Are Automatically Deleted After 90 Days Unless:

  • Employees specifically save individual emails in a special folder. They can also “save” them by printing them out or pasting them into Microsoft Word documents.
  • The state’s rules for which emails have to be saved run to 118 pages and include 215 separate categories — including two separate categories dealing with office supplies.

“If you’re aggressively destroying your email, it looks like you’re trying to hide something,” said Benjamin Wright, a Dallas lawyer who has advised companies and government agencies on records retention.

ProPublica obtained the memo through a public records request.

In the June 18, 2013, memo, Karen Geduldig, the general counsel of the state’s Office of Information Technology Services, described New York’s decision to automatically delete emails as a way to cut down on the state’s “enormous amount of email data.”

But the state implemented the policy as part of a move to Microsoft’s Office 365 email system, which offers 50 gigabytes of space per email user — enough to store hundreds of thousands or even millions of emails for each state worker. The state’s version of Office 365 also offers unlimited email archiving.

The Office of Information and Technology Services declined to comment on the record. . . .

Continue reading.

Cuomo is clearly not to be trusted. If I lived in New York, I would vote against him. He seems to have a criminal mindset.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2014 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Government

Interesting: Police seem to have no interest in interviewing witness to the shooting in Ferguson

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The fact that the police do not seem to want to interview the witness to the shooting suggests that the police do not want to find out what actually happened, probably because they strongly suspect that what actually happened will not look good for the police.

UPDATE: Elias Isquith in Salon reports:

As the hard-luck suburb that he once called home descends into open conflict between citizens and police, an eyewitness to the killing of Michael Brown is now sharing his recollection [and do read the article at the link: it rings true to me, and apparently there were other witnesses as well—also being ignored by the police: witnesses would mess up the story they’re constructing – LG] of how the unarmed 18-year-old was shot by a still-unknown Ferguson cop.

“Get the fuck on the sidewalk!” is what the officer who killed Brown said to him 20 minutes before he died, according to Dorian Johnson, an eyewitness who says he was with Brown when the incident occurred. At the time, Brown and Johnson were walking on the side of the road, heading home, Johnson says.

According to Johnson, Brown responded by refusing to step to the sidewalk, telling the cop that it was unnecessary because they were almost home. Brown and Johnson continued on their way, but the officer reportedly slammed his brakes and backed up his car in order to confront them.

The officer then said something along the lines of “What’d you say?” Johnson claims, before he slammed his car door into the adjacent Brown and then grabbed him by the neck. “I could see the muscles in his forearm,” Johnson said. “Mike was trying to get away from being choked.”

Johnson says what happened next differs from the story the Ferguson police department has told, in which Brown was shot while trying to wrestle the officer’s gun away from him. “They’re not wrestling so much as his arm went from his throat to now clenched on his shirt,” Johnson said. “It’s like tug of war. He’s trying to pull him in. He’s pulling away, that’s when I heard, ‘I’m gonna shoot you.’”

The next thing he knew, Johnson says, the cop had unholstered his weapon, pointed it at Brown, and pulled the trigger. Johnson claims the officer was still holding Brown “until the gun went off.”

The two boys then fled for safety, Johnson says. Johnson hid behind some nearby cars, while Brown kept running. Johnson says Brown had passed about three cars before he was shot again, this time in the back.

After being shot in the back, Johnson says, Brown turned around to face the policeman with his hands up. “I don’t have a gun! Stop shooting!” he exclaimed. The cop responded by firing several more bullets into Brown, after which he collapsed to the ground in a fetal position.

“After seeing my friend get gunned down, my body just ran,” Johnson says. He eventually made it to his apartment, where he collected himself and confirmed that he had not been shot. When he left his apartment five minutes later, he claims, he saw Brown, dead, lying in the middle of the street.

Johnson has offered his testimony to the Ferguson police, his attorney and former St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley says, but was rejected.

“They didn’t even want to talk to him,” said Bosley. “They don’t want the facts. What they want is to justify what happened … what they are trying to do now is justify what happened instead of trying to point out the wrong.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2014 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Only cowards suffer from depression? Shepard Smith thinks so

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Shepard Smith of Fox News, in reporting the suicide of Robin Williams:

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known. And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it. Robin Williams, at 63, did that today.

Shepard Smith, like virtually everyone on Fox News, has no idea on earth what he is talking about. The notion that only cowards suffer from overwhelming depression is just plain stupid.

A more informed report from Dean Burnett in The Guardian includes this passage (emphasis added):

Depression, the clinical condition, could really use a different name. At present, the word “depressed” can be applied to both people who are a bit miserable and those with a genuine debilitating mood disorder. Ergo, it seems people are often very quick to dismiss depression as a minor, trivial concern. After all, everyone gets depressed now and again, don’t they? Don’t know why these people are complaining so much.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; dismissing the concerns of a genuine depression sufferer on the grounds that you’ve been miserable and got over it is like dismissing the issues faced by someone who’s had to have their arm amputated because you once had a paper cut and it didn’t bother you. Depression is a genuine debilitating condition, and being in “a bit of a funk” isn’t. The fact that mental illness doesn’t receive the same sympathy/acknowledgement as physical illness is often referenced, and it’s a valid point. If you haven’t had it, you don’t have the right to dismiss those who have/do. You may disagree, and that’s your prerogative, but there are decades’ worth of evidence saying you’re wrong.

Depression doesn’t discriminate

How, many seem to wonder, could someone with so much going for them, possibly feel depressed to the point of suicide? With all the money/fame/family/success they have, to be depressed makes no sense?

Admittedly, there’s a certain amount of logic to this. But, and this is important, depression (like all mental illnesses) typically doesn’t take personal factors into account. Mental illness can affect anyone. We’ve all heard of the“madness” of King George III; if mental illness won’t spare someone who, at the time, was one of the most powerful well-bred humans alive, why would it spare someone just because they have a film career?

Granted, those with worse lives are probably going to be exposed to the greater number of risk factors for depression, but that doesn’t mean those with reduced likelihood of exposure to hardships or tragic events are immune. Smoking may be a major cause of lung cancer, but non-smokers can end up with it. And a person’s lifestyle doesn’t automatically reduce their suffering. Depression doesn’t work like that. And even if it did, where’s the cut-off point? Who would we consider “too successful” to be ill?

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2014 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Mental Health

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