Later On

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

Archive for October 17th, 2014

Cats as pets, reconsidered

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I still like cats, but I do keep them indoors at all times

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 7:51 pm

How marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington may make the world a better place

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Very interesting article by Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post:

No pressure, Colorado and Washington, but the world is scrutinizing your every move.

That was the take-home message of an event today at the Brookings Institution, discussing the international impact of the move toward marijuana legalization at the state-level in the U.S. Laws passed in Colorado and Washington, with other states presumably to come, create a tension with the U.S. obligations toward three major international treaties governing drug control. Historically the U.S. has been a strong advocate of all three conventions, which “commit the United States to punish and even criminalize activity related to recreational marijuana,” according to Brookings’ Wells Bennet.

The U.S. response to this tension has thus far been to call for more “flexibility” in how countries interpret them. This policy was made explicit in recent remarks by Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, who last week at the United Nations said that “we have to be tolerant of different countries, in response to their own national circumstances and conditions, exploring and using different national drug control policies.” He went on: “How could I, a representative of the Government of the United States of America, be intolerant of a government that permits any experimentation with legalization of marijuana if two of the 50 states of the United States of America have chosen to walk down that road?”

As far as policy stances go this is an aggressively pragmatic solution. . .

Continue reading. Certainly a change of tune after the verbal abuse the US has heaped on other countries that dared to liberalize their drug laws in the light of the obvious failure of the US approach.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Drug laws

This is why we can’t have nice corporations

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Because they never suffer any real punishment. Alan Pyke writes at ThinkProgress:

A high-speed trading company the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) believes committed fraud will pay $1 million to put the matter to rest — without admitting or denying the charges.

Athena Capital Research created a computer program that abused the way Nasdaq calculates the closing price of stocks and resolves outstanding buy and sell orders on each trading day, according to the SEC, in order to manipulate the market and earn fraudulent profits. Despite holding just $40 million in assets in the fund that was allegedly using the fraudulent market-rigging tactics, Athena “dominated the market in the last few seconds of a trading day” thanks to a program it dubbed “Gravy.”

The settlement documents do not say how much Athena netted from the alleged violations or provide any information about how the parties arrived at the one million dollar figure. The agency declined to comment on the sum, on its policies about settlements in cases like this one, and on the decision to allow Athena to pay without conceding that it had broken the rules or even agreeing that the SEC’s version of events is accurate.

Two of the most senior SEC officials labeled Athena’s conduct “fraud” in the press release announcing the deal. “Traders today can certainly use complex algorithms and take advantage of cutting-edge technology, but what happened here was fraud,” Enforcement Division Director Andrew Ceresney said.

Ceresney’s boss, SEC Chair Mary Jo White, has defended high-frequency trading as a business model against high-profile charges that the practice has produced stock markets that are rigged against the average investor. She also condemned Athena’s conduct on Thursday. “When high-frequency traders cross the line and engage in fraud we will pursue them as we do with anyone who manipulates the markets,” she said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 6:20 pm

Information continues to seep out about the US torture system

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Cora Currier writes in The Intercept:

In the fall of 2006, Nathaniel Raymond, a researcher with the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, got a call from a man professing to be a CIA contractor. Scott Gerwehr was a behavioral science researcher who specialized in “deception detection,” or figuring out when someone was lying.  Gerwehr told Raymond “practically in the first five minutes” that he had been at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo in the summer of 2006, but had left after his suggestion to install video-recording equipment in detainee interrogation rooms was rejected. “He said, ‘I wouldn’t operate at a facility that didn’t tape. It protects the interrogators and it protects the detainees,’” Raymond recalls.

Gerwehr also told Raymond that that he had read the CIA Inspector General’s report on detainee abuse, which at the time had not been made public. But “he didn’t behave like a traditional white knight,” Raymond toldThe Intercept. Though he had reached out to Raymond and perhaps others, he didn’t seem like a prototypical whistleblower. He didn’t say what he was trying to do or ask for help; he just dropped the information. Raymond put him in touch with a handful of reporters, and their contact ended in 2007.

In 2008, at the age of forty, Gerwehr died in a motorcycle accident on Sunset Boulevard. Years after Gerwehr died, New York Times reporter James Risen obtained a cache of Gerwehr’s files, including emails that identify him as part of a group of psychologists and researchers with close ties to the national security establishment. Risen’s new book, Pay Any Price, uses Gerwehr’s emails to show close collaboration between staffers at the American Psychological Association (APA) and government officials, collaboration that offered a fig leaf of health-professional legitimacy to the CIA and military’s brutal interrogations of terror suspects.

Risen describes Gerwehr as “living a highly compartmentalized life.” A Santa Monica liberal who “expressed distaste for George Bush,” he was nonetheless tightly connected to people involved in the administration’s interrogation program. He had Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance, according to Risen, and a psychologist told Risen “he seemed optimistic about the possibilities of testing out psychological theories on interrogation issues.” Indeed, in a 2005 New York Times op-ed that reads almost naïvely, post-Abu Ghraib, he and a co-author wrote that the idea “that harsh treatment of prisoners can be less effective than showing compassion…now deserves a test in Iraq.” Treating prisoners well “would help reverse the terrible propaganda defeat suffered with the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib,” he wrote, and “prisoners released by our forces would return to their communities with stories of American generosity and tolerance.”Risen says that Gerwehr’s files don’t contain “explosive bombshells,” or indicate “the extent of his knowledge of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs.” But they narrate a period in 2004 and 2005 when the APA was being forced to respond to revelations about detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and the role of psychologists in designing and condoning brutal questioning tactics. (Subsequentgovernment investigations and reporting would show the foundational roleof psychology, and in particular, two psychologists and CIA contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.)

The APA in 2002 famously revised its ethics code to allow for a psychologist to follow the law or a “governing legal authority,” even if it clashed with the APA’s own code of ethics. It was, essentially, the Nuremberg Defense of “just following orders.” (In 2010 the APA definitively disavowed it.) As Risen writes, the 2002 change allowed psychologists to be involved in CIA and military interrogations, and “helped the lawyers in the Justice Department to argue that the enhanced interrogation program was legal because health professionals were monitoring the interrogations to make sure they stayed within the limits established by the Bush administration.”

In 2005, after the revelations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, the APA put together a task force on ethics and national security, which, while affirming the organization’s opposition to torture, determined that psychologists could be involved with interrogations “to assist in ensuring that such processes are safe and ethical for all participants.”

Gerwehr was copied on emails discussing a confidential APA lunch meeting in July 2004, attended by psychologists from the CIA, Department of Defense, and other agencies. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 12:15 pm

High-level managers overestimate their knowledge and competence: FBI division

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CEOs and other very high-level managers—especially the highest-level manager at any location—have a lot of responsibilities—management responsibilities—and as they devote their time and attention to that, their technical skills and knowledge gradually becomes more and more dated. So when the top guy/gal decides to step in and solve a problem, the resulting suggestion is often embarrassingly wrong-headed and tin-eared. The game actually will pass you by if you stay out of it long enough—and even ten years is a long time these days.

Take, for example, James Comey of the FBI commenting way out of his depth on encryption standards. Dan Froomkin and Natasha Vargas-Cooper report in The Intercept:

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday about how cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. To make his case, he cited four real-life examples — examples that would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic.

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.

In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.

In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.

And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested a few hours later in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident.

Los Angeles

Comey described the cases differently. Here’s one:

In Los Angeles, police investigated the death of a 2-year-old girl from blunt force trauma to her head. There were no witnesses. Text messages stored on her parents’ cell phones to one another and to their family members proved the mother caused this young girl’s death and that the father knew what was happening and failed to stop it. Text messages stored on these devices also proved that the defendants failed to seek medical attention for hours while their daughter convulsed in her crib.

Comey was evidently referring to Abigail Lara-Morales, a 2-year old Latina from Lynwood, California who died in 2011 at the hands of her parents. What Comey skipped over was that an independent audit of problems at the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS)  found that Abigail’s death was avoidable had any of the three government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents done their jobs. The text messages Comey characterizes as an evidentiary clincher in Abigail’s sad death just added to the prosecutors’ already overwhelming case. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 12:01 pm

Beautiful gates—and railings and tables and…

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Quite a while back I posted a photo of a beautiful gate that I saw in my walks:

Nice gate

As you see, that was more than 3 years ago. I just recently learned the identity of the artist, who also made this gate:

Fancy gate

The above photo is from 4 May 2011. The artist is Owen Gabbert and he does a variety of beautiful work which you can see at his on-line gallery. Here is an example from the gate category:

Metal Gate

Links to his gallery:

Main
About
Gates & Railings
Metal Sculptures
Leaded &
Slumped Glass

Metal & Glass
Furniture

Kinetic Art
Public Art
Concepts
Contact

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 8:44 am

Posted in Art, Daily life

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

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Very interesting article—and I was intrigued to read that there is a genetic connection. Daphne Chen reports at Pacific Standard:

In 1977, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started receiving reports that otherwise healthy Southeast Asian men were dying mysteriously in their sleep, some with terrified expressions on their faces. Researchers, at a loss, called it SUNDS—Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome. In particular, SUNDS disproportionately affected Hmong refugees from Laos. At the peak of the “epidemic” in 1981, Hmong men were dying from SUNDS at the same rate as American men in the same age group were dying from the five leading causes of natural death—combined.

“People didn’t know at all what was going on,” says University of California-San Francisco professor Shelley Adler, who was a graduate student studying medical anthropology at the time. But afterinterviewing 118 Hmong men and women about their experiences, her suspicions were confirmed. Many attributed the deaths to fatal attacks from dab tsog, an evil nighttime spirit in the traditional Hmong religion that crushes men at night. Their descriptions of dab tsog were similar to sleep paralysis, a disorder in which a person’s mind awakens while their body is still asleep or paralyzed; they often feel like they are being crushed and experience hallucinations.

But there were still unanswered questions. “Sleep paralysis alone is not fatal,” Adler says. “Sleep paralysis alone does not kill anyone. Why was it fatal for the Hmong?”

SCIENTISTS ARE JUST BEGINNING to understand how cultural beliefs can lead to psychological stress, illness, and even death. American physiologist Walter Cannon was one of the first people to write about the potentially fatal consequences of these intense beliefs. In 1942, reports were streaming in from around the world about “voodoo” death: South American Tupinamba men, condemned by medicine men, died of fright. Hausa people in Niger withered away after being told they were bewitched. Aboriginal tribesmen in Australia, upon seeing an enemy pointing a hexed bone at them, went into convulsions and passed away. “Voodoo” death, according to Cannon, was real: “It is a fatal power of the imagination working through unmitigated terror.”

Researchers today continue to find evidence of it. “I’d been thinking for a long, long time, how I would test this idea that fear makes a difference,” says David Phillips, a sociology professor at the University of California-San Diego. He learned from a student that many Chinese and Japanese people are superstitious about numbers, particularly the number four, which is considered unlucky because it sounds like the word for “death.” Phillips decided to crunch cardiac mortality figures for all Chinese and Japanese Americans who died from 1973 to 1998 on the fourth of each month. He found that cardiac deaths were seven percent higher than expected for Chinese and Japanese Americans on the fourth day of each month when compared to white Americans. That number rose to 13 percent for chronic heart disease deaths and was at its strongest, at 27 percent, in California, which accounts for almost half of the Chinese and Japanese deaths in the U.S.

After examining other plausible reasons for this phenomenon, Phillips’ paper concludes that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 8:13 am

The NY Times has a special definition for “democracy” in other countries

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The NY Times considers other countries to be a “democracy” if they follow US instructions. Countries that don’t fall in line are not “democracies” (in this meaning) and the US considers it legitimate to undermine or actively overthrow those democratically elected governments. Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept:

One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”

More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chavez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chavez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”

If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”

The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”

The Editors depict their concern as grounded in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 7:57 am

BBS with the Standard—and Sweet Gale

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SOTD 17 Oct 2014

Extremely smooth and pleasant shave today, with no nicks or other problem.

The shave began well with the wonderful Rusty-Nail fragrance of Sweet Gale. Mr Pomp created a fine lather immediately, and then the Standard with a SuperMax Titanium blade cut away the stubble. I read where some find this razor has a very narrow angle of efficacy, but I’ve never had a problem finding the angle: for me, it is quite natural and quite easy to use.

I did notice that the blade was not cutting quite so easily as before, so at the end of the shave, I swapped in a new blade.

A good splash of Aventus by Creed, and the work week draws to a close.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 7:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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