Later On

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

Archive for October 18th, 2014

Interesting idea: Who you are lies not in your memes but in your decisions

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I sort of like that simply from a process viewpoint; perhaps it is more accurately stated, “We are the residue of our decisions.” Here’s the article.

Carla Needleman, in her excellent book The Work of Craft, writes… well, this is your assignment: go to the link, click the “Look Inside” link, and start reading. (The specific thing that brought it to mind is her anecdote about finishing a pot too quickly because she wanted certainty too much: she aborted the incubation period.)

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 4:56 pm

I believe “FUBAR” was originally a Navy term?

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It’s easy to see why. Read this whole story, and think about iceberg visibility or about pulling just one thread on the coat…  for want of a nail. This thing has the potential to uncover quite a bit.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 2:49 pm

Prison debate team vs. Preppy debate team

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This wouldn’t be a blog post if the prisoners didn’t win, and at first one is taken aback—but then, on reflection, prison costs a lot more than college, so… Here’s an extract from the complete article about Max Kenner and his program at Bard College to reach out to the imprisoned, but do read the entire thing. Definitely worth pondering.

The extract, from Kenner’s acceptance speech for the American Ingenuity Award he was granted:

A few weeks ago the debate team from the University of Vermont walks into the auditorium at Eastern Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Three of them, preppy, young.

Our guys are all in their 30s. Rodney came to prison as a 20-year-old doing 20 to life. Paul is not an obvious candidate for debate; he rarely speaks, but he’s thriving in calculus. And Daryl is getting set to complete his associate’s degree. However electric the room, they all seem remarkably calm.

I’m not.

Resolve: NATO should be immediately abolished. Our guys are arguing the negatives. They haven’t had access to the Internet for research or e-mail for professional advice, no debate camps. UVM’s team is ranked 14th in the world. After 45 minutes of arguing, it’s over. UVM, one of the top programs on the planet. Our guys did their best.

And after some discussion, the judges reach a decision. The incarcerated Bard students had won.

Afterwards everyone shakes hands. When our students are alone they take stock. In the end the UVM team missed their golden opportunity.

“What about Latvia?” Rodney says.  I mean how could they not mention Latvia.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about. But there’s no time for him to explain. The guards return to take them back to their other lives and their 8-by-11 cells.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Education, Government, Law

Siri helps those with autism

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Siri has more patience and is more even-tempered than most people, and that makes Siri a good interlocutor with someone who is autistic. Judith Newman writes in the NY Times:

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called “21 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do.” One of them was this: I could ask Siri, “What planes are above me right now?” and Siri would bark back, “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights — numbers, altitudes, angles — above my head.

I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. “Why would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?” I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: “So you know who you’re waving at, Mommy.”

Gus had never noticed Siri before, but when he discovered there was someone who would not just find information on his various obsessions (trains, planes, buses, escalators and, of course, anything related to weather) but actually semi-discuss these subjects tirelessly, he was hooked. And I was grateful. Now, when my head was about to explode if I had to have another conversation about the chance of tornadoes in Kansas City, Mo., I could reply brightly: “Hey! Why don’t you ask Siri?”

It’s not that Gus doesn’t understand Siri’s not human. He does — intellectually. But like many autistic people I know, Gus feels that inanimate objects, while maybe not possessing souls, are worthy of our consideration. I realized this when he was 8, and I got him an iPod for his birthday. He listened to it only at home, with one exception. It always came with us on our visits to the Apple Store. Finally, I asked why. “So it can visit its friends,” he said.

So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 12:48 pm

Warehouses: The largest undercover bribe the FBI ever paid to a public official

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Jessica Garrison has a fascinating story at Buzzfeed. If you ever order stuff from Amazon, check it out. The photos at the link are stunning.

MORENO VALLEY — The largest bribe the FBI has ever paid to a public official in a sting operation wasn’t to a United States senator or even a state lawmaker. It was to a lowly city councilman in this gritty, unglamorous Los Angeles exurb, where a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line, and local headlines play a steady drumbeat of grim news such as the daytime murder of a grandmother at a gas station.

Councilman Marcelo Co didn’t seem particularly interested in improving the town. Even as he ran for office in 2010, he faced criminal charges for renting out apartments that were slummy and unsafe. Midway through his first term, he was caught on tape taking $2.36 million in cash from an undercover agent he thought was a land developer. Co told the agent that for enough money he would vote “yes” on any land-use plans. “I don’t care if it’s the shittiest can of worms,” Co said.

Despite Moreno Valley’s depressed property values, control over its land is actually worth a fortune. Indeed, nearly every major retailer in the world covets the kind of real estate the city offers: empty acres near freeways and train tracks at the epicenter of one of the largest but least noticed land rushes in America.

This arid flatland, shimmering and indistinct in the heat and smog, is just perfect for warehouses. These are not, however, warehouses as most people think of them. These are massive, futuristic behemoths that have proliferated on a scale seen nowhere else on the continent to usher in goods from Asia to consumers across a vast swath of the United States.

Americans have grown to expect the goods they want delivered to their homes or nearby store shelves within days or hours. But all this two-day shipping, click-to-ship, and get-it-on-your-doorstep-by-noon-tomorrow has come at a price, paid by the people who live in the shadows of the mega-warehouses: lung-stunting, cancer-causing pollution and, in some cases, political corruption.

The underside of our consumer economy can be seen in a tale of two cities, just 20 miles apart. There is Moreno Valley, where developers have shoveled in money to win the political approvals to build new warehouses. And there is Mira Loma, a tiny community already awash in warehouses and suffering some of the worst pollution in America.

“Everyone wants a new flat-screen TV,” said Ed Avol, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine who has spent the last two decades studying the effects of air pollution on children. “Everyone wants new clothing. But nobody thinks about how it got [to them.]”

Moreno Valley and Mira Loma lie in the vast sprawl east of Los Angeles known as the Inland Empire. Three decades ago, the area was a bastion of orange groves, military bases, and light manufacturing. But in recent years, a number of Inland Empire cities, which even many Southern California residents couldn’t locate on a map, have quietly become pivotal to a transformation in the global economy.

More than 40% of all shipping containers imported to the United States enter through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Most of that cargo then moves through the Inland Empire.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:40 am

The Government War Against Reporter James Risen

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Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler have an excellent article in The Nation, which Margaret Sullivan points out in the column mentioned in my previous post. The article is good enough that I wanted to highlight it. The article begins:

Ever since New York Times reporter James Risen received his first subpoena from the Justice Department more than six years ago, occasional news reports have skimmed the surface of a complex story. The usual gloss depicts a conflict between top officials who want to protect classified information and a journalist who wants to protect confidential sources. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Sterling—a former undercover CIA officer now facing charges under the Espionage Act, whom the feds want Risen to identify as his source—is cast as a disgruntled ex-employee in trouble for allegedly spilling the classified beans.

But the standard media narratives about Risen and Sterling have skipped over deep patterns of government retaliation against recalcitrant journalists and whistleblowers. Those patterns are undermining press freedom, precluding the informed consent of the governed and hiding crucial aspects of US foreign policy. The recent announcement of Eric Holder’s resignation as attorney general has come after nearly five years of the Obama administration extending and intensifying the use of the Justice Department for retribution against investigative journalism and whistleblowing.

Official enmity toward Risen had simmered for years before the Bush administration sent him a subpoena on January 24, 2008. Shortly before the 2004 presidential election, Risen and his colleague Eric Lichtblau put together breakthrough reporting on a warrantless domestic-wiretap program. As it sometimes does with stories deemed sensitive for national security, the Times notified the government of its intent to publish. But under strong pressure from White House officials—including some later implicated in the legally suspect program—Times editors delayed the story’s publication for over a year, until December 2005. The coverage won Risen and Lichtblau a Pulitzer Prize for “carefully sourced stories on secret domestic eavesdropping that stirred a national debate.” It was the kind of debate that the people running the US surveillance state had been desperate to avoid.

The belated publication of those stories came just before Risen brought out a book that contained reporting on the wiretap program and several other sinister initiatives under categories like “counterterrorism” and “counterproliferation.” On January 13, 2006, the week after Risen’s book State of War reached the stores, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told a news conference that an investigation into the Times wiretap stories was under way and that “it’s too early to make decisions regarding whether or not reporters should go to jail.” Though not apparent at the time, facts later emerged to show that Gonzales was implicated in the illegal wiretapping that Risen exposed. (As White House counsel, Gonzales had authorized continued operation of the program after the Justice Department refused to do so.)

It turned out that the Justice Department was not able to prosecute any whistleblower or make legal trouble for any journalist in connection with the wiretap revelations. But as attorney general—an office he assumed in early 2005—Gonzales ran the department as it collected information that would not only jeopardize the confidentiality of Risen’s sources but also impede his ongoing reporting. Risen’s book, a bestseller, included a chapter that became the ostensible reason for the series of subpoenas and legal threats that have been aimed at Risen since George W. Bush began his final year in the Oval Office.

Under Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama’s Justice Department took up where the Bush DOJ left off. Risen received a second subpoena for grand-jury testimony in late April 2010. As he noted in a mid-2011 affidavit, “It was my reporting, both in The New York Times and my book State of War, that revealed that the Bush Administration had, in all likelihood, violated the law and the United States Constitution by secretly conducting warrantless domestic wiretapping on American citizens.” At the White House and the Justice Department, he remained unforgiven.

Anger at Risen also endured at the CIA, where officials have loathed his way of flipping over their rocks. Former head CIA lawyer John Rizzo singles out Risen for condemnation in a memoir this year, writing that inside the agency “he has had a reputation for being irresponsible and sneaky.” State of War, which depicted the agency’s leadership as inept and dangerous, only stoked that antipathy.

Some high-ranking individuals have been mainstays in the continuation of policies that Risen exposed in his book. John Brennan—President Obama’s former counterterrorism czar and now CIA director—has been at notable cross-purposes with both Risen and Sterling for more than a decade. Brennan was a senior CIA official when the agency rolled out its torture program under Bush, which came under intense public scrutiny after the use of waterboarding was revealed in a May 13, 2004, front-page Times story with Risen as the lead reporter. And Brennan played a key role in the illegal wiretap program, overseeing the production of what personnel in the program called the “scary memos” intended to justify the domestic spying exposed by Risen. (Brennan has since admitted that he relied on intelligence from the CIA’s interrogation programs to develop such memos, and his tenure in that role spanned the period when the CIA used its most extreme torture.)

As for Sterling, Brennan played a role in his unhappy departure from the CIA a dozen years ago. In 2000, Sterling filed a discrimination complaint within the agency, asserting that he had been denied certain assignments because of his race. (Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American officers.) Brennan, as deputy executive director, was involved in rejecting Sterling’s claim. Sterling responded by suing the CIA; he was fired in 2002. The CIA rebuffed a number of settlement offers and then won dismissal of the entire lawsuit in 2004 after claiming that the litigation would expose state secrets.In early March 2003, Sterling met with two Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to report that Operation Merlin—the CIA’s ill-conceived and bungled effort in 2000 to use a former Russian scientist to pass flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints to Iran—may have helped Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The government concedes that Sterling went through proper channels when he “disclosed classified information” to committee staff. (In court documents, the prosecution has complained that Sterling was unfairly critical of that operation when he spoke to committee staffers.)

The New York Times was even more deferential to government pressure on the Operation Merlin story than it was with its fourteen-month delay of the warrantless wiretap scoop: it never published the Merlin story, which finally reached the public via Risen’s book after remaining bottled up at the paper of record for more than two years. Later, in an affidavit responding to his third subpoena, which was issued on May 23, 2011, Risen said that he included the exposé of Operation Merlin in his book to help prevent another trumped-up war: “I realized that U.S. intelligence on Iran’s supposed weapons of mass destruction was so flawed, and that the information I had was so important, that this was a story that the public had to know about before yet another war was launched.”

Alarm bells had gone off as soon as the National Security Council got a bootlegged copy of State of War before its publication. . .

Continue reading. It has important content.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:22 am

For James Risen, a Struggle That Never Ends

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A good column by the Public Editor of the NY Times, Margaret Sullivan:

Readers of this blog may know that I’m particularly interested in the situation involving James Risen, a Times investigative reporter who is at risk of going to jail to protect a confidential source from his 2006 book, “State of War.”

What’s happened to Mr. Risen is one of the two most telling journalism episodes of the past decade or so, the other being the Edward Snowden leak.  They share common themes, of course: the growth of post-9/11 government surveillance in America and the role of the National Security Agency in spying on American citizens, among others. (I interviewed Mr. Risen at his home in suburban Maryland last year about his and fellow Times reporter, Eric Lichtblau’s, extraordinary warrantless-wiretapping story that was delayed for 13 months, finally appearing in 2005; it won a Pulitzer Prize.)

There have been some developments in the Risen story — and some fascinating coverage. I’ll summarize them here and comment only to say that I admire Mr. Risen’s toughness and a great deal of his work.

1.  Thomas E. Ricks, in Monday’s Times, gives a generally favorable review to Mr. Risen’s new book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War.” . . .

Continue reading.

The second resource she mentions is definitely worth a click:

2.  CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” ran a comprehensive story on Mr. Risen’s legal situation over the weekend. It included an interview with Michael Hayden, the former N.S.A. director in which he said he thought the government was overdoing its pursuit of Mr. Risen. “Frankly,” he told the interviewer, Lesley Stahl, “I don’t understand the necessity to pursue Jim.” The transcript, which includes comments from former executive editors Bill Keller and Jill Abramson, is worth reading.

UPDATE: See also this Salon interview with James Risen.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:17 am

NSA corruption

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If one has procurement authority for an organization, it’s doubtless tempting to form some corporation (or have your spouse do it) and then order equipment and supplies and services from that company—which, indeed, can simply act as a broker, taking a cut and then passing the orders to third parties. For obvious reasons, most companies do not allow that. The NSA, though?

Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:

A new report suggests that a high-ranking NSA official may have a profitable side-gig in the “electronics” business.

Last month a Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston published a story documenting potential self-dealing by the head NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, Teresa O’Shea. O’Shea happens to be married to the Vice President of DRS Signal Solutions – a company which circumstantial evidence suggests was the beneficiary of significant contracting work from the agency.

Now, it looks as though in addition to her work at the NSA, O’Shea might be a successful businessperson in her own right:

“Yet another company, apparently focused on the office and electronics business, is based at the Shea residence on that well-tended lot. This company is called Oplnet LLC.

Teresa Shea, who has been at the NSA since 1984, is the company’s resident agent. The company’s articles of organization….show that the firm was established in 1999 primarily “to buy, sell, rent and lease office and electronic equipment and related goods and services.

Records show Oplnet does own a six-seat airplane, as well a condominium property with an assessed value of $275,000 in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina.”

O’Shea’s company has apparently procured a “1972 Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft” which for some reason has been flying all over the country over the past several years. It’s unclear what these flights have been about, but the destinations include Hilton Head, where the condominium is located and which BuzzFeed conspicuously describes as a “resort town.” As of now there is no evidence that O’Shea’s company has done work for the federal government.

The NSA declined to comment to Buzzfeed about this story. But with the potential suggestion of high-level corruption in the agency, it’s clear that that some answers are going to be needed. After all, if top NSA officials are apparently spending their time running secret side-businesses, it’s going to be difficult for them to focus on their day jobs of  spying on American citizens and eroding the country’s civil liberties.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:12 am

Armed Israeli Squatters attack Jerusalem Home of Returning Pilgrim

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Juan Cole reports the latest incident, and it is evident from the video clip below that Israel is losing support by its unceasing illegal hostile actions against Palestinians—all Palestinians, including children and women.

Armed Jewish settlers on Thursday attacked a Palestinian home in the al-Suwanna neighborhood on the Mount of Olives east of the Old City of Jerusalem, removing banners celebrating the return of a family member from the Hajj pilgrimage.

Witnesses said settlers from the nearby Beit Orot settlement carrying automatic weapons approached the house on Thursday and tore down Islamic banners that the members of the al-Qadamani family had previously hung up.

The witnesses added that the assailants gave the banners to a dog that accompanied them on the raid.

The family had decorated the exterior of their house with banners reading the traditional Islamic inscription “There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his prophet” in order to welcome home their son, who had returned from pilgrimage in Mecca.

Israel seems to have no interest in a peaceful resolution. Here’s an official US comment:

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:07 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

BBS with Garden Mint pleasure

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SOTD 18 Oct 2014

A very nice shave today. The Whipped Dog silvertip with the optional ceramic handle did a fine job with Wickham’s Garden Min shaving soap, which is a soft soap—you can see where the soap stuck to the lid and got lifted when lid was removed.

The ATT with the R1 baseplate did a fine job: it has both comfort (the feeling that the razor is safe and will not cut you) and efficiency (face is largely BBS after the second pass).

A splash of Shulton Old Spice—which always heats up my skin slightly—and the weekend gets underway.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:02 am

Posted in Shaving

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