Later On

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

Archive for November 6th, 2014

George Orwell would not be surprised: British spies are free to target lawyers and journalists

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The free world continues to close down privacy and increase surveillance. We know where that leads, but we allow it anyway. Ryan Gallagher reports in The Intercept:

On Thursday, a series of previously classified policies confirmed for the first time that the U.K.’s top surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters (pictured above) has advised its employees: “You may in principle target the communications of lawyers.”

The U.K.’s other major security and intelligence agencies—MI5 and MI6—have adopted similar policies, the documents show. The guidelines also appear to permit surveillance of journalists and others deemed to work in “sensitive professions” handling confidential information.

The documents were made public as a result of a legal case brought against the British government by Libyan families who allege that they were subjected to extraordinary rendition and torture in a joint British-American operation that took place in 2004. After revelations about mass surveillance from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden last year, the families launched another case alleging that their communications with lawyers at human rights group Reprieve may have been spied on by the government, hindering their ability to receive a fair trial.

In a statement on Thursday, Reprieve’s legal director Cori Crider said that the new disclosures raised “troubling implications for the whole British justice system” and questioned how frequently the government had used its spy powers for unfair advantage in court.

“It’s now clear the intelligence agencies have been eavesdropping on lawyer-client conversations for years,” Crider said. “Today’s question is not whether, but how much, they have rigged the game in their favor in the ongoing court case over torture.”

Rachel Logan, a legal adviser at rights group Amnesty International, said that spying on lawyers affords the U.K. government an “unfair advantage akin to playing poker in a hall of mirrors.”

“It could mean, amazingly, that the government uses information they have got from snooping on you, against you, in a case you have brought,” Logan said. “This clearly violates an age-old principle of English law set down in the 16th century—that the correspondence between a person and their lawyer is confidential.”

In the U.S., the NSA has also been caught spying on lawyers. Earlier this year, the agency was forced to reassure attorneys that it “will continue to afford appropriate protection to privileged attorney-client communications acquired during its lawful foreign intelligence mission in accordance with privacy procedures required by Congress, approved by the Attorney General, and, as appropriate, reviewed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”

In the U.K., the oversight of intelligence agencies is undoubtedly far more lax.

According to the documents released Thursday, in at least one case . . .

Continue reading.

One of the things we’ve learned is the close cooperation between NSA and GCHQ: if laws are written to allow spying on foreign nationals, then NSA can spy on Brits and report what they find to GCHQ, and GCHQ can spy on Americans and report what they find to NSA, and no national laws are broken. In fact, though, NSA seems to feel entitled to spy on whomever it chooses, and the same is true for GCHQ, as this story demonstrates.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 5:19 pm

Criminal acts by corporations: Airbag Maker Takata Saw and Hid Risk in 2004

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So long as corporations can simply pay a fine to settle misdeed, they will continue to do misdeeds. Executives need to be imprisoned for the message to get across. Hiroko Tabuchi reports in the NY Times:

Alarmed by a report a decade ago that one of its airbags had ruptured and spewed metal debris at a driver in Alabama, the Japanese manufacturer Takata secretly conducted tests on 50 airbags it retrieved from scrapyards, according to two former employees involved in the tests, one of whom was a senior member of its testing lab.

The steel inflaters in two of the airbags cracked during the tests, a condition that can lead to rupture, the former employees said. The result was so startling that engineers began designing possible fixes in preparation for a recall, the former employees said.

But instead of alerting federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Takata executives discounted the results, and ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflaters in the trash, they said.

The secret tests, which have not been previously disclosed, were undertaken after normal work hours and on weekends and holidays during summer 2004 at Takata’s American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., the former employees said.

That was four years before Takata, in regulatory filings, says that it first tested the problematic airbags. The results from the later tests led to the first recall over airbag rupture risks in November 2008.

Today, 11 automakers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide because of the rupture risks. Four deaths have been tied to the defect, which can cause the airbag’s steel canister to crack and explode into pieces when the device deploys in a crash.

Continue reading. Video at the link, along with related stories. The video is well worth watching: it shows complete unconcern with damage to the units being shipped for installation.

Of course, nobody at GM really faced any penalties for covering up the ignition-switch defect, which killed at least 13 people. And I imagine that once again the government will impose a fine and no one responsible will face any prison time. We do not like to publish corporations—that is, actually punish them.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

More Than 600 Reported Chemical Exposure in Iraq, Pentagon Belatedly Acknowledges

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I assume the Pentagon acknowledged the problem only because the NY Times was going to break the story. As with Agent Orange (dioxin) from the Vietnam war, the Pentagon refused to acknowledge the problem, denigrated veterans who were suffering from the effects of exposure to the toxin, and in general showed the military’s notion of “Honor,” which now seems to amount to “Cover Your Ass.” It is extremely difficult to respect the military as an organization.

C.J. Chivers reports in the NY Times:

More than 600 American service members since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq, but the Pentagon failed to recognize the scope of the reported cases or offer adequate tracking and treatment to those who may have been injured, defense officials say.

The Pentagon’s disclosure abruptly changed the scale and potential costs of the United States’ encounters with abandoned chemical weapons during the occupation of Iraq, episodes the military had for more than a decade kept from view.

This previously untold chapter of the occupation became public after aninvestigation by The New York Times revealed last month that while troops did not find an active weapons of mass destruction program, they did encounter degraded chemical weapons from the 1980s that had been hidden in caches or used in makeshift bombs.

The Times initially disclosed 17 cases of American service members who were injured by sarin or sulfur mustard agent. And since the report was published last month, more service members have come forward, pushing the number who were exposed to chemical agents to more than 25. But an internal review of Pentagon records ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has now uncovered that hundreds of troops told the military they believe they were exposed, officials said.

The new and larger tally of potential cases suggests that there were more encounters with chemical weapons than the United States has acknowledged and that other people — including foreign soldiers, private contractors and Iraqi troops and civilians — may also have been at risk.

Having not acted for years on that data, the Pentagon says it will now expand outreach to veterans. One first step, officials said, includes a toll-free national telephone hotline for service members and veterans to report potential exposures and seek medical evaluation or care.

Phillip Carter, who leads veterans programs at the Center for a New American Security, called the Pentagon’s failure to organize and follow up on the information “a stunning oversight.” Paul Reickhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the military must restore trust by sharing information. . .

Continue reading. It’s yet another instance of the military refusing to help their own troops.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 4:47 pm

Scientists enable people to experience ghosts

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A “ghost” is best defined, I would think, as a particular type of experience—that is, the ghost is an artifact of a person’s experience, and scientists have figured out how to trigger that experience, as explained in an article by Jason Koebler in Motherboard:

A recent study undertaken in Switzerland was so disconcerting that several participants asked researchers to stop the experiment because they were too scared. What were they scared of? Well, using a robot and some brain trickery, researchers successfully tricked people into thinking there were ghosts in the room with them.

The study, amazingly titled “Neurological and Robot-Controlled Induction of an Apparition,” is one of the first to help us understand why and how people—specifically, those with psychological issues such as schizophrenia or people who are placed into extreme situations—start to perceive ghosts or, as the authors put it, the “feeling of a presence.”

“We had two participants who wanted to stop because it was so creepy,” Giuilo Rognini, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, told me. “What we were inducing is an illusory feeling. It’s not a hallucination, they really feel there is somebody there.”

To do this, Rognini set up what’s called a “master / slave” robot system. Participants stood between these two robots and moved around the master robot for three minutes. The slave robot, which was positioned behind them, touched the participants in the back in a fashion that mirrored the master robot’s movements.

This wasn’t enough to create the feeling of a ghost being in the room, but it gave participants the feeling of touching their own backs. But then, when that synchronism was delayed, they began suggesting that other people were indeed in the room, when they actually weren’t. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Science

Managing the Master Clock(s)

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Motherboard has a long article by Alex Pasternack on the science and technology behind the US Master Clocks. It’s quite interesting for those of a technical bent:

For the chief scientist charged with keeping America on time, Demetrios Matsakis may seem to possess a surprisingly casual attitude about timeliness. For instance, he doesn’t wear a wristwatch.

“The smartest person I knew at the Naval Observatory was never on time. And as a graduate student, one of those scientists I most admired was not only always late but also had an extremely messy desk,” he said. “I used to refer to ‘excavating it.'”

Time is also very messy, it might be said, and measuring it is a kind of excavation. Matsakis, a “sixty-something” physicist and astronomer with a tousled shock of silver hair, has been digging a lot. As the chief scientist and former department head of the US Naval Observatory’s Time Services department, he has spent an inordinate amount of time with what’s called the Master Clock. It is, essentially, America’s fifty-year-old grandfather clock, the hidden instrument of Washington’s dominion over the world’s time.

At its heart, the USNO’s Master Clock operates much like grandfather clocks do: with pendulums. More precisely: a set of the most sophisticated pendulums ever built, carefully counting the “swings” of atoms’ radiation with a precision unknown anywhere else in the universe.

It is the ticking of these clocks that tells so many of the other clocks—the ones on our phones, on our computers, our webpages, our TV screens, our radios, and our GPS systems—from your geolocation app to your Predator drone—what is the thing called “the time.”

In this context, a simple wristwatch equipped with a measly quartz crystal, might seem almost offensive. Matsakis likes to say he is often frustrated by expressions like “surgical precision” and “like clockwork.”

“Anyone who has had an operation can tell you about the former,” he said wryly, “and anyone who tries to combine precise clock data at the nanosecond level can tell you about the latter.”

Matsakis’s interaction with time began, naturally, with an attempt to fix a clock. He arrived at the USNO in 1979 to work as a radio astronomer, measuring the rotation of the Earth. In 1990, a new clock came in, an experimental Mercury, and promptly started to malfunction. Matsakis was the only physicist on the premises, so his supervisor asked him to fix it.

“After about two months I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so I told the director, ‘The things I’ve tried haven’t worked out. If you find someone else to do this, I won’t be offended.’ He didn’t, and eventually I figured out what was wrong.” His foray into timekeeping was, he said, “a total coincidence.”

The primary aim of timekeeping is to measure the passage of a second. To be precise, that is equivalent to the amount of time it takes for the cesium-133 atom at its ground state to transition between energy levels—which is to say, the time during which the hyperfine radiation emitted by the atom oscillates 9,192,631,770 times.These days, counting a second depends upon firing a microwave beam at one of these cesium atoms and counting the resulting pulse of its electrons. At that scale, the slightest aberration can knock a clock off its count. And then there are the effects of gravity, which Einstein’s theory of special relativity showed can shift the pace of time. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 11:59 am

Posted in Science, Technology

Free on-line contract-bridge program lets you see how well you play

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Or, in my case, how poorly I play. But for the solitary bridge player, it is superb. And free.

You can download the app from, but it’s also available for Macs in the App Store, and if you get it there (it’s still free), updates are automatically installed.

You can choose which bidding system you use, and the conventions are explained on their Website.

The display when playing was too large for my screen until I clicked the green button at the upper left corner. Then it fits.

In displaying bids, some bids are shown in a red square. Their meanings:

X = double
XX = redouble
STOP = they just made a jump bid—to call your attention to it.

The great thing is that after you finish your hand, you see how you rank compared to others who played the same hand. You are South, and the program plays West, North, and East.

If you’re interested in Contract Bridge, this is a great program. It won’t teach you the game, but it will let you practice.

Also available for Android, iPhone, iPad, etc.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 11:29 am For the video-game enthusiast

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Full disclosure: Ethan Ham, the author of the book and the site, is my son. However, I think this will be of interest to anyone interested in video games—and particularly those interested in designing such games.

Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 10:14 am

How much has the US bombed Muslims since 1980?

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The energy and anger behind the radical Islamist movement undoubtedly has many sources—including repressive dictatorships (which the US uniformly has supported—thus perhaps some of the anger at the US stems from that support, which generally includes providing dictatorships with weapons and other armaments, surveillance tools, and training in how to use them.

But perhaps some of the anger—at the US specifically—comes from the US habit of bombing Muslim nations. Glenn Greenwald takes a look at our track record in an interesting article in The Intercept, from which this brief extract (but read the whole thing):

To get a full scope of American violence in the world, it is worth asking a broader question: how many countries in the Islamic world has the U.S. bombed or occupied since 1980? That answer was provided in a recent Washington Post op-ed by the military historian and former U.S. Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich:

As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extent into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

Bacevich’s count excludes the bombing and occupying of still other predominantly Muslim countries by key U.S. allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, carried out with crucial American support. It excludes coups against democratically elected governments, torture, and imprisoning people with no charges. It also, of course, excludes all the other bombing and invading and occupying that the U.S. has carried out during this time period in other parts of the world, including in CentralAmerica and the Caribbean, as well as various proxy wars in Africa.

Read the whole thing.

The people of the US understandably become enraged when the US is attacked (cf. 9/11), but apparently our view is that people in other countries really don’t mind all that much—that we can bomb freely without triggering blowback.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 10:08 am

Posted in Military, Terrorism

When Your Stalker Is a Cop

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As we see more and more criminal behavior by police throughout the country, the possibility of a police stalker/rapist seems much higher than one would have thought. This Pacific Standard article by Lauren Kirchner is well worth reading. Let me quote only where to get help if you are being stalked by someone in a position of authority:

The National Center for Victims of Crime, which has a special Stalking Resource Center, insists that people who think they are being stalked by police officers, or by any other people in positions of authority, don’t have to go to their local precincts for help if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. They should call either the NCVC or the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help instead.

But read the entire article.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 9:30 am

Another torqued-slant shave: 37C, plus great lather from Maggard soap

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SOTD 6 Nov 2014

I have to say that I’m quite impressed with the lather I get from the two Maggard soaps I’ve tried—today is London Barbershop, which has tallow in addition to the coconut oil. Once again a very thick, creamy lather easily achieved. Great stuff–and that Wet Shaving Products Monarch is no slouch either. The knot looks flat on one side: that’s where the damp (fully shaken out) brush dried while pressed against the back of the shelf. I really should let them dry out in the open to keep their shape better, my counter is currently short of “open.”

The Merkur 37C did an efficient job. Some have said, and I agree, that the 37C is more aggressive than (say) the Shavecraft #102 or the Stealth. NOT more efficient—they are all extremely efficient—but not so comfortable. By “comfort” I mean that the razor feels good on your face and as though it cannot nick you. The 37C does not feel so comfortable as the Stealth or #102, and indeed I did get a small nick on lower lip in the XTG pass.

Obviously, razors do have some YMMV involved, and I know some prefer the 37C to the Stealth (after having tried both, of course), but for me the more comfortable slants are my own favorites.

A small dollop—a dillip?—of D.R. Harris After Shaving Milk, which has a very fine fragrance and feel, and I’m ready for another day.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2014 at 9:24 am

Posted in Shaving

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