Later On

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

Archive for October 20th, 2014

Obama considering that torture is probably okay if done outside the US

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Interesting how something that violates human rights—something, in fact, that the US has signed a treaty that it will not do—is perfectly okay if you do it in another country.

Read this excellent editorial in the NY Times:

One of the proudest moments of President Obama’s presidency took place on his second day in office, when he signed an executive order that banned torture and cruel treatment in the interrogation of terror suspects.

But apparently some of his subordinates didn’t get the message. As Charlie Savage of The Times reported on Sunday, some military and intelligence lawyers in the administration are pressuring the White House to adopt a Bush-era position that there is no bar against the use of torture by the United States outside American borders. And, unfortunately, the White House is considering the proposal.

The issue has come up because the United States is required to appear in Geneva next month before the United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the global Convention Against Torture, adopted in 1984 and ratified by the United States 10 years later. State Department lawyers want the administration to abandon the position of the George W. Bush administration and state plainly that it will not engage in torture or cruel treatment of prisoners anywhere in the world, including at detention camps on foreign soil.

But military and intelligence officials don’t want the administration to make that public statement. They’re worried that such a declaration could result in the prosecution of the Bush-era officials who did practice torture.

That fear seems misplaced. There should be legal accountability from those who tarnished the country’s reputation by ordering and practicing torture, but it’s hard to see how agreeing to a global ban on torture now would increase the chances for such a prosecution. For one thing, Congress already passed a law in 2005 saying that no one in American custody shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment “regardless of nationality or physical location.” Mr. Bush reserved the right to bypass the law, but the plain language of the statute is quite clear.

Last year, . . .

Continue reading.

President Obama seems quite happy to ignore the legal requirements of the Conventions Against Torture with regard to investigating and prosecuting those Americans who tortured prisoners, suspects, and detainees.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 6:27 pm

Politicians who cannot comment on climate change because they are “not a scientist” speak out about Ebola

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Inconsistency, thy name is Politician. Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:

On Saturday, political blogger Lee Papa made an interesting observation about Republicans who widely recommend panicking about Ebola. “Does any Republican talking about Ebola say, “I’m not a scientist” like they do with climate change?” he tweeted, referencing the long list of political figures who claim to not know the science behind climate change, even though they actively oppose any policy to fight it.

On Monday, Papa answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” As might be expected, most prominent Republican politicians who are not willing to talk about climate change because they lack qualifications are willing to talk about Ebola, despite the fact that they lack qualifications. As might also be expected, all those politiciansfavor strict policy measures to deal with the disease, even though most scientists say Ebola is not easily transmittable and does not pose a widespread threat to Americans.

“Republicans are glad to tell you that either the evidence is inconclusive or that they are too dumb to understand the science when it comes to climate change, so they think it’s wrong to act like it’s a crisis and refuse to do anything to slow or halt it,” Papa writes at his blog Rude Pundit. “However, they will go bugnuts crazy and try to cause panic when it comes to the science around the spread of Ebola, even when they have it wrong.”

The list of perpetrators is long. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 4:09 pm

Comcast, Net Neutrality, and a supine Congress

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Years ago (1964) a book was written about Congress titled Congress: The Sapless Branch, and that title rings true today. We have reached the point now where Congressional action contrary to the interests of large corporations seems increasingly difficult. T. C. Sottek writes in the Verge:

Here’s what’s happening right now on net neutrality:

The FCC’s comment period is over and 3.7 million people weighed in — that means even more people are concerned about net neutrality than Super Bowl XXXVIII: Wardrobe Malfunctiongate. And, yes, America, it’s totally reasonable and appropriate to be mad at the FCC. It has screwed up on net neutrality for years from cowardice and simply by using the wrong words. But Americans who want to protect net neutrality should also start being mad at Congress.

It’s Congress that has largely turned net neutrality regulation into a partisan charade that occasionally results in threats to the FCC’s budget and authority via Congress’ telecommunications benefactors. The FCC’s dithering on net neutrality has been enabled for years by this nonsense and it’s now reflected even by the agency’s bench, which seats some commissioners who have advocated stripping themselves of power to avoid going against corporate interests. Even the FCC’s chairman is intimately familiar with those corporate interests; Tom Wheeler is a former telecom lobbyist and was appointed by a president who promised that lobbyists wouldn’t run his administration in a distant magical time called “Before He Was Elected.”

If you want a clear example of Congress’ ineptitude on net neutrality, look no further than a letter sent to Comcast today by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 4:02 pm

Jane Mayer on Snowden—with video

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The New Yorker videos are good. Mayer writes:

My interview of Edward Snowden, conducted remotely in front of an audience at the New Yorker Festival, was a chance to pose not just my own questions but also those that have been raised by his fiercest critics. One of his most interesting answers was his explanation for why he had decided to flee the United States. A number of detractors have suggested that if Snowden, who disclosed controversial top-secret N.S.A. programs to reporters, truly wanted to commit an act of civil disobedience for reasons of conscience, then he should have faced the legal consequences, making his case to the American public while standing trial at home.

When I asked why he didn’t take this route, Snowden said that because of the way national-security laws have been interpreted since September 11, 2001, he believed that the government had deprived him, and other whistle-blowers, of ever having the opportunity to make their cases in this time-honored tradition. Instead of being allowed to make his arguments in an open, public court, he said, his lawyers were told that the government would close the court for national-security reasons. (When asked to comment, a Justice Department spokesman would say only, “It remains our position that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the charges filed against him. If he does, he will be accorded full due process and protections.”)

Snowden said that he would “love” to return to the United States and stand trial, if he could be assured that it would be open and fair. He said, “I have told the government again and again in negotiations that if they’re prepared to offer an open trial, a fair trial, in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg got, and I’m allowed to make my case to the jury, I would love to do so. But they’ve declined.”

Instead, Snowden said, “They want to use special procedures. They want a closed court. They want to use something called the Classified Information [Procedures] Act.”

Snowden pointed out that in other post-9/11 whistle-blower cases, such as those of the former N.S.A. employee Thomas Drake, the government invoked national-security concerns in order to keep the public from fully hearing the basis of his arguments. (I covered Drake’s case, and remember well the stifling secrecy surrounding the proceedings; in the end, the serious charges were dropped in return for Drake pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor.) National security became, in essence, a form of legal censorship, blocking communication between the accused and the American public. With no assurance that he could make his case to the American public at home, Snowden said that he instead has found himself, ironically, in Russia, a state not exactly known for its defense of civil liberties.

I asked him what he missed about the United States. “The question is, What don’t I miss?” Snowden replied. “It’s a great country.”

By all means, watch the videos.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:51 pm

Wage stagnation

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I think the lack of wage growth is simply because businesses and corporations are now so totally focused on increasing their profits that they do not want to spend money on anything: not on taxes, not on wages, not on plant maintenance, not on supplies. They are continuing an effort to reduce costs everywhere because increasing prices doesn’t work well when the great mass of consumers are underpaid and thus cannot afford things—so that cutting cost becomes the primary strategy to increase profits.

Obviously there are exceptions, but one economist seems to go along with the idea. Jared Bernstein has an interesting article in the Washington Post. Here are his conclusions:

. . .

And that’s what I think is really going on here. Worker bargaining power may be so diminished in this country that it’s become what you may recall from Algebra II as a “non-continuous function.” That is, wage growth doesn’t continuously accelerate as slack is diminished. It plods along until the job market is at truly full employment, which is the only thing that we can count on to budge wage growth from its entrenched moorings.

That’s just a hypothesis, but here are some things you’d expect to see if I’m right:

— Employers complaining about not finding the workers they need but not raising pay to get them. Check.
— High levels of income inequality. with most of the growth flowing into profits, not wages. Check.
— Less movement in the job market by workers seeking to upgrade to a better job. Check.
— A flattening of the slack/wage-growth curve, as shown above. Check.

The U.S. business model has devolved to a point where raising pay is antithetical to sound practice. If you’re a successful employer, it’s the very last thing you do, and you do it only if you’re pushed to the wall by such a tight labor market that you’ll literally lose workers and, thus, profits if you don’t.

That, in turn, has two implications. First, policymakers seeking to raise workers’ pay need to be mindful of this dynamic and push for chock-full employment and other countervailing measures, like a higher minimum wage. Second, the Federal Reserve must factor severely diminished worker bargaining power into its calculus, a factor that militates against preemptive tightening.

Longer term, workers need a lot more bargaining clout. But that won’t happen until there’s a politics that reacts to all this technical analysis with the urgency it deserves. I know, the working class isn’t the donor class. But they are, or at least they should be, the voter class, and last I checked, at least on paper, this is still a democracy.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:38 pm

Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden

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I just found a couple of excellent long reads about the Snowden affair and Laura Poitras’s role in it.

First is an interview of Poitras by Tom Englehardt; second is an article by Alex Pasternack in Motherboard. I strongly encourage you to read both.

Englehardt begins:

Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The answer: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access to our secret world (to the tune of billions of dollars). We’re talking here about the total population of Norway and significantly more people than you can find in Costa Rica, Ireland, or New Zealand. And yet it’s only about 1.6% of the American population, while on ever more matters, the unvetted 98.4% of us are meant to be left in the dark.

For our own safety, of course. That goes without saying.

All of this offers a new definition of democracy in which we, the people, are to know only what the national security state cares to tell us.  Under this system, ignorance is the necessary, legally enforced prerequisite for feeling protected.  In this sense, it is telling that the only crime for which those inside the national security state can be held accountable in post-9/11 Washington is not potential perjury before Congress, or the destruction of evidence of a crime, or torture, or kidnapping, or assassination, or the deaths of prisoners in an extralegal prison system, but whistleblowing; that is, telling the American people something about what their government is actually doing.  And that crime, and only that crime, has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and beyond) with a vigor unmatched in American history.  To offer a single example, the only American to go to jail for the CIA’s Bush-era torture program was John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who revealed the name of an agent involved in the program to a reporter.

In these years, as power drained from Congress, an increasingly imperial White House has launched various wars (redefined by its lawyers as anything but), as well as a global assassination campaign in which the White House has its own “kill list” and the president himself decides on global hits.  Then, without regard for national sovereignty or the fact that someone is an American citizen (and upon the secret invocation of legal mumbo-jumbo), the drones are sent off to do the necessary killing.

And yet that doesn’t mean that we, the people, know nothing . . .

Continue reading.

And Pasternack begins:

I get my face photographed and printed on a temporary ID card that I deposit into a slot and I get on an elevator and am led down a hallway. On a desk, I spot a signed letter with the Vice President’s seal. I’m brought into a windowless room, and there is the filmmaker Laura Poitras. On a coffee table is a MacBook Pro with a sticker that says “National Security Agency—Monitored Device.” Behind her, there’s a framed Ricky Gervais poster. We are at the offices of HBO, which began discussions to acquire the TV rights to her new film, “Citizenfour,” even before it was finished, not long before it premiered at the New York Film Festival to a standing ovation. We shake hands and I display my recorder. “Mind if I record?” I ask.

She laughs briefly and agrees. “That’s very respectful, given the context,” she says.

The context is quite serious. It was a 12-minute video made by Poitras that in June 2013 attached a name and a face to disclosures of a massive secret and legally dubious global surveillance system. A year earlier, Poitras became the first journalist to communicate with the NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, then anonymously. Though she shared bylines on stories in the Guardian and the Times and Der Spiegel, much of the reporting was done by Glenn Greenwald and others, most recently at The Intercept, the upstart outlet where Poitras is also now also a founding editor. She has been in more of a hide-out mode, working on her much-anticipated documentary on multiple computers out of a bunker-like editing studio in Berlin. She moved there from New York in 2012, after years of getting stopped at the airport every time she tried to fly; starting in 2006, her air tickets were marked “SSSS” for Secondary Security Screening Selection, subjecting her to extra scrutiny at the borders.

She is no longer stopped, but wagers that she is still watched by her own government. She uses her cell phone sparingly and has become an expert in encrypted communications. “I really do feel that there are some really angry powerful people, mad at the reporting that we’re doing. I should expect they’re paying attention to my communications and who I spend time with.”

I asked her if she thought that by speaking with her, I too would end up on such a list.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:22 pm

Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’

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In the NY Review of Books Rory Stewart reviews a recent book on Afghanistan:

1.

Ashraf Ghani, who has just become the president of Afghanistan, once drafted a document for Hamid Karzai that began:

There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence…must end. National reconciliation and respect for fundamental human rights will form the path to lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, representative government that delivers daily value.

That was twelve years ago. No one speaks like that now—not even the new president. The best case now is presented as political accommodation with the Taliban, the worst as civil war.Western policymakers still argue, however, that something has been achieved: counterterrorist operations succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there has been progress in health care and education, and even Afghan government has its strengths at the most local level. This is not much, given that the US-led coalition spent $1 trillion and deployed one million soldiers and civilians over thirteen years. But it is better than nothing; and it is tempting to think that everything has now been said: after all, such conclusions are now reflected in thousands of studies by aid agencies, multilateral organizations, foreign ministries, intelligence agencies, universities, and departments of defense.

But Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

As Gopal explains, however, the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of two district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.” Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. [And now those very former prisoners hate us for our freedoms. /snark – LG] It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words:

The toll…: twenty-one pro-American leaders and their employees dead, twenty-six taken prisoner, and a few who could not be accounted for. Not one member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was among the victims. Instead, in a single thirty-minute stretch the United States had managed to eradicate both of Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies.

Gopal then finds the interview that the US Special Forces commander gave a year and a half later in which he celebrated the derring-do, and recorded that seven of his team were awarded bronze stars, and that he himself received a silver star for gallantry.

Gopal’s investigations into development are no more encouraging. I—like thousands of Western politicians—have often repeated the mantra that there are four million more children, and 1.5 million more girls, in school than there were under the Taliban. Gopal, however, quotes an Afghan report that in 2012, “of the 4,000 teachers currently on the payroll in Ghor, perhaps 3,200 have no qualifications—some cannot read and write…80 percent of the 740 schools in the province are not operating at all.” And Ghor is one of the least “Taliban-threatened” provinces of Afghanistan.

Or consider Gopal’s description of the fate of several principal Afghan politicians in the book:

Dr. Hafizullah, Zurmat’s first governor, had ended up in Guantanamo because he’d crossed Police Chief Mujahed. Mujahed wound up in Guantanamo because he crossed the Americans. Security chief Naim found himself in Guantanamo because of an old rivalry with Mullah Qassim. Qassim eluded capture, but an unfortunate soul with the same name ended up in Guantanamo in his place. And a subsequent feud left Samoud Khan, another pro-American commander, in Bagram prison, while the boy his men had sexually abused was shipped to Guantanamo….

Abdullah Khan found himself in Guantanamo charged with being Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban minister of the interior, which might have been more plausible—if Khairkhwa had not also been in Guantanamo at the time….

Nine Guantanamo inmates claimed the most striking proof of all that they were not Taliban or al-Qaeda: they had passed directly from a Taliban jail to American custody after 2001.

Why didn’t I—didn’t most of us—know these details? . . .

Continue reading.

The US has fucked up. But still we honor many of those responsible for the fuck-up. We do not learn, as a nation, or at least we learn quite slowly and uncertainly and quickly forget our lessons. We are a people who will put a teacher on leave because she was in Dallas, though she did not get within 10 miles of Texas Presbyterian Hospital. (On the bright side, we did not force everyone in Dallas to stay home for a couple of weeks.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:06 pm

Police over-reaction and misbehavior

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Milwaukee officer fired for shooting to death an unarmed, homeless, mentally ill man. (No charges so far.)

SWAT team invades the wrong house. (This seems to happen a lot.)

San Francisco bicyclist roughed up and arrested for carrying his 10-month-old son in a baby carrier.  (It’s unclear (a) why they beat him up, and (b) why the infant was sent to Child Protective Services instead of notifying the mother, who lived two blocks away.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

The government can punish you for a crime for which you’re not convicted

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Somehow I’m not surprised. Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Most Americans probably believe that the government must first convict you of a crime before it can impose a sentence on you for that crime. This is incorrect: When federal prosecutors throw a bunch of charges at someone but the jury convicts on only some of those charges, a federal judge can still sentence the defendant on the charges for which he was acquitted. In fact, the judge can even consider crimes for which the defendant has never been charged.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Jones v. U.S., a case that would have addressed the issue. The National Law Journal summarizes the facts: . . .

Continue reading.

And what’s worse, the government can also break the law to make you guilty of a crime, if the government can make money from it. Elliott Hannon writes at Slate:

How long is a yellow light? Most people would—reasonably—have no idea the exact length of time before a traffic light goes from yellow to red. The answer is: A minimum of three seconds, according to federal safety regulations. What happens when a mere tenth of second is shaved off that time and a yellow light lasts 2.9 seconds? If you thought, not much, you’d be wrong.

The city of Chicago and its mayor, Rahm Emanuel, are taking heat—thanks to aChicago Tribune investigationfor ever-so-quietly sanding that measly tenth of a second off of the length of yellow lights in the city this past spring. The impact was substantial: 77,000 additional red light camera tickets were issued, at $100 a pop, which added up to nearly $8 million forked over by unsuspecting drivers.

Here’s more from the Tribune: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Government, Law

32 Cities Want to Challenge Big Telecom, Build Their Own Gigabit Networks

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This is interesting. Big Telecom does not want to build a gigabit network in major cities and—very much like the dog in the manger—also does not want anyone else to do it. Big Telecom, when you get down to it, wants us simply to send them money every month and otherwise leave them alone. They have been quite happy to help the government spy on us.  Jason Koebler writes at Motherboard:

More than two dozen cities in 19 states announced today that they’re sick of big telecom skipping them over for internet infrastructure upgrades and would like to build gigabit fiber networks themselves and help other cities follow their lead.

The Next Centuries Cities coalition, which includes a couple cities that already have gigabit fiber internet for their residents, was devised to help communities who want to build their own broadband networks navigate logistical and legal challenges to doing so.

Over the last several months, there’s been a Federal Communications Commission-backed push for cities to build their own broadband networks because big telecom companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon either don’t or won’t offer competitive broadband speeds in certain parts of the country.

“Across the country, city leaders are hungry to deploy high-speed Internet to transform their communities and connect residents to better jobs, better health care, and better education for their children,” Deb Socia, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “These mayors are rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done.”

That’s turned out to be a tricky proposition in a legal environment where more than 20 states have passed legislation (lobbied for by telecom companies and ALEC, acontroversial, big business-backed “charity” that writes legislation for states) making it illegal or legally difficult for cities to build their own networks. [Sort of gives the game away, doesn’t it? The idea is to keep people from getting the benefits of the internet unless they also pay Big Telecom. – LG]
Of the cities involved in the coalition, 12 are located in states where there are legal barriers to building community networks. Those cities include Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Chattanooga, Morristown, Jackson, and Clarksville, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Lafayette, Louisiana; Montrose, Colo.; Mount Vernon, Wash.; Raleigh and Wilson, N.C.; and Winthrop, Minn. To be fair, some of these cities, such as Wilson, Chattanooga, and Austin already have gigabit service (Wilson and Chattanooga built it before a law was passed, Austin has Google Fiber).

“Towns and communities struggle with limited budgets, laws that restrict their opportunity to build/support a network that fits their needs, and even market pressures,” the group of cities said in a recent blog post. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Isaiah Berlin’s Message to the 21st Century

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From the NY Review of Books:

Twenty years ago—on November 25, 1994—Isaiah Berlin accepted the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws at the University of Toronto. He prepared the following “short credo” (as he called it in a letter to a friend) for the ceremony, at which it was read on his behalf.“

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With these words Dickens began his famous novel A Tale of Two Cities. But this cannot, alas, be said about our own terrible century. Men have for millennia destroyed each other, but the deeds of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Napoleon (who introduced mass killings in war), even the Armenian massacres, pale into insignificance before the Russian Revolution and its aftermath: the oppression, torture, murder which can be laid at the doors of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and the systematic falsification of information which prevented knowledge of these horrors for years—these are unparalleled. They were not natural disasters, but preventable human crimes, and whatever those who believe in historical determinism may think, they could have been averted.

I speak with particular feeling, for I am a very old man, and I have lived through almost the entire century. My life has been peaceful and secure, and I feel almost ashamed of this in view of what has happened to so many other human beings. I am not a historian, and so I cannot speak with authority on the causes of these horrors. Yet perhaps I can try.

They were, in my view, not caused by the ordinary negative human sentiments, as Spinoza called them—fear, greed, tribal hatreds, jealousy, love of power—though of course these have played their wicked part. They have been caused, in our time, by ideas; or rather, by one particular idea. It is paradoxical that Karl Marx, who played down the importance of ideas in comparison with impersonal social and economic forces, should, by his writings, have caused the transformation of the twentieth century, both in the direction of what he wanted and, by reaction, against it. The German poet Heine, in one of his famous writings, told us not to underestimate the quiet philosopher sitting in his study; if Kant had not undone theology, he declared, Robespierre might not have cut off the head of the King of France.

He predicted that the armed disciples of the German philosophers—Fichte, Schelling, and the other fathers of German nationalism—would one day destroy the great monuments of Western Europe in a wave of fanatical destruction before which the French Revolution would seem child’s play. This may have been unfair to the German metaphysicians, yet Heine’s central idea seems to me valid: in a debased form, the Nazi ideology did have roots in German anti-Enlightenment thought. There are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached.

Let me explain. If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally any.

The root conviction which underlies this is that the central questions of human life, individual or social, have one true answer which can be discovered. It can and must be implemented, and those who have found it are the leaders whose word is law. The idea that to all genuine questions there can be only one true answer is a very old philosophical notion. The great Athenian philosophers, Jews and Christians, the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Paris of Louis XIV, the French radical reformers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of the nineteenth—however much they differed about what the answer was or how to discover it (and bloody wars were fought over this)—were all convinced that they knew the answer, and that only human vice and stupidity could obstruct its realization.

This is the idea of which I spoke, and what I wish to tell you is that it is false. . .

Continue reading.

It’s difficult to decide which differences among us are important and worth a fight and which are merely interesting cultural or individual variations that simply offer diversity.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

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As you might expect, pets are very important.  Zazie Todd’s Pacific Standard article begins:

A research team led by Michelle Lem of the University of Guelph asked homeless young people (aged 18-24) what their pet means to them. Previous studies have focused on the benefits to homeless people of owning a dog or cat. The aim of this study was to get a balanced picture of both the advantages and disadvantages.

Ten homeless young people took part in in-depth interviews about their pet. Eight of them had a dog, and two had a cat but had previously had a dog while homeless. Most lived on the street or in a vulnerable housing situation (squatting/couch-surfing), and three had found stable housing.

The main theme to emerge was that of putting the animal first. Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves. For example, they would not take up housing if they could not bring the animal with them. This shows the value they place on the companionship they get. The authors point out that for some youth their relationship with their pet is the most meaningful relationship they have, and potentially the only loving relationship in their life. For example, one youth said, “My relationship with MacKenzie [the dog] … is the best I ever had.” . . .

Continue reading. This suggests that the need for a person to love some living thing—to observe it, get to know it, and keep it safe and take care of it—is a very strong need. People hunger to love something that will love them back.

It’s pretty easy to recognize that the homeless might enjoy the love they get from their pets, but I had not considered the importance to them of the love they give to their pets—and it’s a strong love: “Everyone in the study said they put their pet first, even if this meant suffering hardship themselves.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

When police officers are allowed to shoot to death unarmed people

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Shaun King has a very valuable and detailed post on two critical cases that define when a police officer can validly shoot a suspect to death. What’s interesting is that one of the cases actually involved the current Ferguson chief of police:

The Killing of Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley by St. Louis Officers Robert Piekutowski and Keith Kierzkowski in 2000

No case, perhaps nationwide, better displays how easily a state and its local prosecutors can escape the rigors of the Tennessee v. Garner decision than the killing of Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley by two St. Louis police officers in 2000. The major players in this shooting, for anyone following the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, will feel a lot like deja vu.

The small town of Berkeley, Missouri, literally borders Ferguson. In 2000, the deputy commander of a countywide drug task force was none other than the current Ferguson chief of police, Tom Jackson. In what was then called a “drug sting,” police officers, on a sunny May afternoon, were tracking two young black men, Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley, at a local Delwood Jack In The Box restaurant.

The officers then claimed that Murray and Beasley attempted to run them over with the car they were in. Saying they feared for their safety, police fired 21 shots into their car and killed Murray and Beasley right there in the parking lot. Five major problems with the case then caused local citizens to be outraged.

1. It turned out that Murray and Beasley were completely unarmed.

2. Eyewitnesses claimed the car never moved forward an inch, and then a federal investigation actually proved that the car the officers claimed was going to hit them never moved forward.

3. The local prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, who is now in charge of the Darren Wilson case, greatly inflamed tensions by calling Murray and Beasley “bums”when commenting about why he just didn’t understand why the community cared so much.

4. Beasley, a father of three and the manager of a local auto shop, as it turned out, wasn’t even a part of the alleged drug sting and was determined to be a completely innocent bystander.

5. A grand jury, convened by McCulloch, in spite of the evidence submitted from the federal investigation that the car didn’t actually move forward, opted not to charge the officers.

Although this was 14 years ago, not only were Chief Tom Jackson and Bob McCulloch deeply involved, so was the Rev. Al Sharpton, who traveled to St. Louis in the aftermath to help lead citywide protests and argue for justice. The police, claiming that the car, while it wasn’t actually used as a weapon, could have been, were never indicted and soon returned to their jobs.

This is just one of the two cases. The entire post is worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

‘Science is our best answer, but it takes a philosophical argument to prove that’

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Rebecca Goldstein is an interesting writer, and Andrew Anthony has a good column on her position regarding philosophy and science, a topic she has written some books about:

For some time now the discipline of philosophy has been under something of an assault from the world of science. Four years ago Stephen Hawking announced that philosophy was “dead”. He was referring specifically to the philosophy of science, which he said was still bogged down in epistemological questions from which science had moved on.

But philosophy in general has increasingly been viewed as irrelevant by many scientists. It’s a perspective that may be best summed up by the cosmologist Lawrence M Krauss, who has said: “science progresses and philosophy doesn’t”.

What’s more, science has begun to progress into areas previously occupied by philosophy and the humanities at large. These incursions have not gone unchallenged.

Last year the debate flared up in a much-publicised intellectual spat between the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker and the cultural criticLeon Wieseltier, who accused Pinker and his fellow scientists of practising “scientism”, a term he defined as “the translation of nonscientific discourse into scientific discourse”.

“It is not for science to say whether science belongs in morality and politics and art,” wrote Wieseltier. To which Pinker replied: “It’s not for Leon Wieseltier to say where science belongs.”

Now into the fray, mounting a spirited defence of philosophy, steps the novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. And the philosopher she has selected to show the subject’s enduring relevance today is someone from the fifth century BC. In her new book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, Goldstein draws on her talents both as an analytical thinker and a fiction writer to bring the founding father of philosophy into the 21st century.

Goldstein is the author of six novels, as well as studies of the mathematician Kurt Gödel and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Her fiction often features philosophical or scientific elements — for example 2000’s Properties of Light was a ghost story that took in quantum physics. She studied with the great philosopher of the mind Thomas Nagel at Princeton in the 1970s, where she gained her PhD. In 1996 she was awarded a “genius grant” from the MacArthur fellows programme.

Goldstein is a small woman with big ideas. In person she is almost doll-like, with fine, tiny bones, an elegant high forehead and an easy smile. There’s nothing about her manner – no lofty airs or scholarly posing – that suggests the formidable intellect at her disposal.

For not only is she able to deliver an exhilarating exposition of ancient Greek and Platonic thought, she also brings Plato back to life, by having him conduct a series of dialogues in current-day America. One moment he’s at Google’s headquarters holding forth on the limits of democratic wisdom, the next he’s discussing child-rearing with an Amy Chua-type tiger mother, before taking on an abrasive Fox News presenter much like Bill O’Reilly.

It’s an interesting conceit that Goldstein handles with wit and a deft appreciation of Plato’s thinking, though it does serve to make her book a curious hybrid. What gave her the idea?

“Well, the idea of the dialogues came later. The germ of the book was that my background is scientific. I take science extremely seriously. I started in physics. But so many of my scientific friends have been attacking philosophy. The theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg said that philosophy asks questions until the empirical methodology comes along, and now it’s coming to the terminus. And I believe this to be so very wrong.”

One of the intriguing footnotes of the science v philosophy debate is that Goldstein is married to Pinker. . .

Continue reading. Later in the column:

“There are two kinds of questions,” she says. “‘What is?’ and ‘What matters?’ And when it comes to descriptions of reality, ontology, I do think that science is our best answer, but I think it takes a philosophical argument to prove that. It’s an epistemological argument. You have to argue for scientific realism against instrumentalism, and that’s all philosophical stuff. But the upshot is that science provides the best description of what is: it’s energy and matter and genes and neurons. That’s what reality consists of. But the realm of philosophy is in trying to reconcile what science is telling us – which is why philosophers have to know science – with other intuitions we have, without which we can’t make sense of our lives. Like, for example, personal identity. Is there any room for that, given what neuroscience is telling us? Or questions of agency and accountability.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 11:12 am

Posted in Science

Honeybee Week: A confirmation series

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Honeybee soap samples

I ordered the samples shown above after reading this review of one shaver’s experience with Honeybee Soaps shaving soap. I decided to do the test because his experience was completely different than my own. The YMMV effect (“your mileage may vary”) is strong in shaving, but it does not often lead to such contrasting results, so I thought perhaps the formulation had changed: thus the samples. I will use a different sample each day, and today I began with Double Chocolate because, when in doubt, go for chocolate. (Also go for chocolate when you have no doubts, to celebrate.)

SOTD 20 Oct 2014

And here’s the shave. I used the Omega 11047 boar+badger brush because I was talking about how good it is. And lo! I got an excellent lather: fragrance, fine-grained, and effective.

Why the difference? It could be water, since soaps are sensitive to the hardness of water, but the reviewer said he was unable to get a good lather even in using distilled water. So probably it is not the water. It could be the brush (I don’t know what brush he was using), so I’ll use a variety of brushes this week: horsehair tomorrow. And, of course, it could be simply a matter of practice: over the years, I’ve made a lot of lathers. But Honeybee Soaps have always worked well for me, even at the beginning of my reacquaintance with traditional shaving.

I got a very fine shave with the iKon DLC slant (shown with the SE handle). I did get 3 very small weepers on the upper lip, but more and more I’m thinking that the nicks I occasionally get with this razor are due to a skill issue. I’m going to be using it more to see.

Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte as an aftershave balm, and this time I very much noticed (and liked) the fragrance.

Stay tuned for the entire Honeybee Soaps series.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 7:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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