Later On

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

Archive for November 21st, 2014

The U-curve of happiness: What underlies the mid-life crisis

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Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2014 at 6:06 pm

Excellent review of Citizenfour in the NY Review of Books

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What Snowden has revealed is crucial to our understanding: he shows how the currents of the country are shaped and channeled by the underwater rocks, as it were, of the security apparatus, and reveals those forces to us. David Bromwich writes in the NY Review of Books:

a film directed by Laura Poitras

At some point in the chase that led the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras from America to Berlin and finally to the hotel room in Hong Kong where she would meet the whistle-blower who identified himself as “Citizenfour,” her unnamed informant sent this warning: “I will likely immediately be implicated. This must not deter you.”

What did he offer in return for the risk he hoped she would take? The answer was compelling. He knew things that the American public ought to know. The director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, had “lied to Congress, which I can prove.” Alexander denied under oath that the NSA had ever engaged in the mass surveillance of Americans that was then going forward under the codenames PRISMand XKeyscore. Citizenfour could also demonstrate that General James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, came no closer than General Alexander to telling the truth. When asked, under oath, by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon whether the NSAcollects data on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Clapper had answered: “Not wittingly.”

Clapper’s statement was false in every possible sense of the words “not” and “wittingly.” [And yet Obama leaves him in office, while doing everything a president can to stifle the Senate’s report on the US program of kidnapping and torture—either Obama is in the grip of the security apparatus, or he is a part of it. His constant appointment of Wall Street insiders to regulatory agencies is a clue: this is not the president we were promised. – LG] The agency was indeed collecting data, it was doing so in accordance with a plan, and the director had ordered no halt to the mass collection. The extraction of private information about Americans without our consent seems to have troubled Edward Snowden far back in his employment by the NSA. But there were other things that gave him pause: the astonishing license for ad hoc spying, for example, that was granted to those NSA data workers who had been awarded the relevant “authorities”—a bureaucratic synonym for permissions. “We could watch drone videos [of the private doings of families in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan] from desktops.” This, Snowden has said, was one of those things “that really hardened me.

Citizenfour, a documentary about the rise of mass, suspicionless surveillance and about the dissidents who have worked to expose it, naturally centers on Snowden; and most of the film concentrates on eight days in Hong Kong, during which Poitras filmed while the Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill introduced themselves, conducted searching interviews and conversations with Snowden, and came to know something of his character. The focus on a single person is consistent with the design of all three of the extraordinary films in the trilogy that Poitras has devoted to the war on terror.

The first, My Country, My Country (2006), covered a short stretch in the life of an Iraqi doctor, Riyadh al-Adhadh, during the American occupation of Baghdad. In the months before the election of January 2005, al-Adhadh was beset by a family in bad straits and by patients whose physical and emotional state had suffered terribly in the war. He resolved at that exigent moment to help his country by standing as a candidate for the assembly. When his Sunni party withdrew from participation, he was left disappointed and uncertain, his commitment invalidated by the very people he hoped to serve.

The Oath (2010) offered a portrait of Abu Jandal, a taxi driver in Yemen, initially famous only by association as the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan. It was Hamdan who suffered five years of imprisonment in Guantánamo before being tried on charges of conspiracy and “material support” of al-Qaeda. A deeply religious man, he was cleared by a military tribunal of the charge of conspiracy and transferred to Yemen, where he secluded himself and maintained an ascetic silence. (On October 16, 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court threw out Hamdan’s conviction on the remaining count, “material support” for terrorism, on the ground that it violated the constitutional ban on ex post facto prosecutions: the acts for which he was charged and convicted were not yet crimes when he performed them.)

As if between the lines of the film, it emerges that Abu Jandal himself—charismatic, masculine, a hero to the intellectual Muslim radicals who seek him out, yet touchingly gentle in the work of raising his five-year-old son—had been closer to bin Laden than the relative who was sent to Guantánamo. And even that is not the end: the protagonist is not what he seems at second glance any more than at first. He was once a committed jihadist, yet he was also full of doubts and capable of acting on his doubts. The film leaves him, as the earlier film had left the Iraqi doctor, uncertain and in suspense.

In the same way, we are left without a finished story at the end of Citizenfour. Snowden departs Hong Kong for Moscow, under the protection of human rights lawyers, hoping to fly from there to a Latin American country that will offer him refuge (probably Ecuador). But as we now know and the film reminds us, the US State Department revoked his passport and Snowden in Moscow is still in limbo. Though the film, in a kind of denouement, shows him reunited with his American girlfriend, visited by a political ally, Glenn Greenwald, and encouraged to hear that another whistle-blower has cropped up and disclosed the exorbitant scale of the American “watch list,” it is hard to know where his story will end.

Citizenfour gives a setting for Snowden’s action through its portrait of several other vivid personalities. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

Snowden is often called a “fanatic” or a “zealot,” a “techie” or a “geek,” by persons who want to cut him down to size. Usually these people have not listened to him beyond snippets lasting a few seconds on network news. But the chance to listen has been there for many months, in two short videos by Poitras on the website of The Guardian, and more recently in a full-length interview by the NBC anchorman Brian Williams. The temper and penetration of mind that one can discern in these interviews scarcely matches the description of fanatic or zealot, techie or geek.

An incidental strength of Citizenfour is that it will make such casual slanders harder to repeat. Nevertheless, they are likely to be repeated or anyway muttered in semiprivate by otherwise judicious persons who want to go on with their business head-down and not be bothered. It must be added that our past politics give no help in arriving at an apt description of Snowden and his action. The reason is that the world in which he worked is new. Perhaps one should think of him as a conscientious objector to the war on privacy—a respectful dissident who, having observed the repressive treatment endured by William Binney, Thomas Drake, and other recent whistle-blowers, does not recognize the constitutional right of the government to put him in prison indefinitely and bring him to trial for treason. His action constitutes a reproach to the many good citizens who have learned what is happening and done nothing about it. That, too, is surely a cause of the resentment that has a hard time finding the appropriate adjectives for Snowden.

“The right of privacy,” wrote the great scholar of constitutional law Herbert Packer inThe Limits of the Criminal Sanction (1968),

as implied by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, cannot be forced to give way to the asserted exigencies of law enforcement. The use of electronic surveillance constitutes just the kind of indiscriminate general search that helped to bring on the American Revolution and that the framers of the Constitution were alert to guard against. In the name of necessity this grant of power would permit an unscrupulous policeman or prosecutor to pry into the private lives of people almost at will. Knowledge that this was so would certainly inhibit the free expression of thoughts and feelings that makes life in our society worth living.

Packer’s understanding of the internalized character of free expression is close to Snowden’s language about the freedom of the Internet before it was watched. But as the film illustrates in detail, Snowden does not in fact oppose police work or the arrest of people dangerous to the country. The trouble, he says, is that the NSA has overseen the almost immeasurable expansion of “a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.” At the same time, Snowden goes further than many who call themselves libertarians. He believes that the American government has no more right to spy on private individuals in other countries than it does to spy on citizens of the United States.

Later still:

In watching her films, one is always aware of the impact of the large institution on the person, but the person stands at the center of the portrayal. And in her trilogy about the war on terror, that institution is the state, the state, and the state: American power, with its long reach, its credulous belief in its own good intentions, its quenchless thirst for control, its devotion to expertise and system, and its heavy consequent burden of incompetence.

Definitely read this review. Its concluding paragraph:

The strangest revelation of Citizenfour may therefore be this: Snowden, in his hotel room with his journalistic confidants Greenwald and Poitras and MacAskill, affords a picture of a free man. It shows in his posture, and in a sense of humor touched by self-irony. He is not haunted by any fretful concern with what comes next. He is sure he has done something he chose, and sure that someone had to do it. He acted in obedience to a principle; and it was right that the actor should disappear in the action. Citizenfour, by simply using the real-life actor as a way to consider the nature of freedom, honors the premise that moved Snowden to take his unique and drastic step. “The final value of action,” wrote Emerson, “is, that it is a resource.” It is up to other Americans now, the uncertain end of Citizenfour says, to rouse ourselves and find the value of Snowden’s action as a resource.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2014 at 4:35 pm

Chicken alla Cacciatora tonight: A new variation

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I started with my 6-qt, 10″-diameter stainless pot and this recipe, which I revised as follows:

Cut 6 pieces not especially thick pepper bacon into squares, sauté until browned and crisp. Remove cooked bacon pieces with slotted spoon.

Add some olive oil (probably 3-4 Tbsp) and brown the chicken, which for me was 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into chunks and shaken in a plastic bag with 1/2 cup flower, 1 Tbsp salt, 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper.

I browned the chicken in batches, and by the second and third batch I had to add a little oil. As soon as I removed the chicken, I deglazed the pan with about 1/3 c red wine, then added the chopped vegetables. In addition to those in the recipe, I added:

3 ancho chiles, seeded and cut into thin strips – [These didn’t go well with other flavors. Omit. – LG]
6-8 domestic white mushrooms, chopped
6-8 large cloves of garlic, chopped fine

I skipped the bay leaf, and I used fresh rosemary, stripped from twig and chopped fine.

After sauteing the vegetables, I added about 1/3 c red wine and reduced it somewhat, then added the sauteed chicken, the bacon, and the following:

26.46 oz carton of chopped Roma tomatoes
3 large fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c pignolas (maybe about 1-2 Tbsp more)
3/4 c pitted Kalamata olives

I cook it covered, and I’m giving it 45 minutes with occasional stirring and scraping of bottom of pot.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2014 at 3:41 pm

Interesting article: The “New Atheists” are (a) not new, and (b) not atheists

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They are anti-theists, an attitude that dates back at least to the 18th century. As for atheism—disbelief in God, with no particular animus against believers or religion—that dates back as far as religion: it is certainly not to be supposed that no one ever disbelieved. People vary, and some will not believe.

More in this interesting article by Reza Aslan.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2014 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Religion

Tennessee DA Restricts Use Of Civil Forfeiture

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While a welcome development, note that it depends entirely on the character and decisions of one person,District Attorney General Ray Crouch, who is the new boss of the 23rd Judicial District Drug Task Force. When he is eventually replaced in that position, the new boss could readily resume robbing citizens on the Interstate.

We need protection against Civil Asset Forfeiture to be built into the law, not depending on the whim (or good will) of whoever is in a position to decide locally.

Here’s the story, and it’s worth reading. It’s a good development, but ephemeral.

And here’s a report on how the robberies work.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2014 at 11:12 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

European science’s great leap backward

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Michael Specter writes at the New Yorker:

Since 2012, the distinguished Scottish biologist Anne Glover has served as chief scientific adviser to the President of the European Commission. When José Manuel Barroso, who was then President, appointed her to the post, he described the job as one that should “provide independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation.”

Last week, Jean-Claude Juncker, the man who has just succeeded Barroso, announced that he would not reappoint Glover. In fact, Juncker, the former Prime Minster of Luxembourg, abolished the position of chief scientific adviser entirely. The decision was a clear victory for Greenpeace and its hidebound allies, who had long sought Glover’s dismissal.

The complaint against Glover was simple: when providing scientific advice to the commission on a range of issues, from nanotechnology to G.M.O.s, she invoked data rather than rely on politics or whim. Last year, at a conference in Scotland, for example, she said that there was “not a single piece of scientific evidence” to support critics’ claims that food produced from G.M.O.s was less safe than food grown in any other way. “No other foodstuff has been so thoroughly investigated as G.M.,” Glover said, and described the opposition as “a form of madness.”

This kind of talk from a public scientist was too much for European activists to bear. In July, several groups, led by Greenpeace, expressed their displeasure with Glover in a letter to Juncker: “The current CSA presented one-sided, partial opinions in the debate on the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, repeatedly claiming that there was a scientific consensus about their safety.… We hope that you as the incoming Commission President will decide not to nominate a chief scientific adviser.” Score one for the Luddites.

When commenting on Glover’s dismissal, a spokeswoman for the European Commission said, “President Juncker believes in independent scientific advice. He has not yet decided how to institutionalize this independent scientific advice.” This sentiment would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous. When politicians reject verifiable data and reputable research and rely instead on politics or desire, the results can be devastating. To cite a particularly painful example, Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa and an AIDSdenier, refused to recognize Western pharmaceutical solutions to the H.I.V. epidemic. In urging the use of home remedies like beetroot and garlic instead of anti-retroviral drugs, Mbeki hastened the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Glover has been dismissed at a time when there has never been a broader scientific consensus about the safety of agricultural biotechnology or better data to support that consensus. Recently, for example, researchers at the University of Göttingen published a comprehensive analysis of studies that have assessed the impact of G.M. crops. It found that the agronomic and economic benefits, not only in the United States but in the developing world, have been significant: “On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.”

The World Heath Organization has repeatedly weighed in on the safety of genetically engineered products, proclaiming, “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of G.M. foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.” Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine has come to the same conclusion: “Foods derived from G.M. crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than fifteen years with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health) despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries the U.S.A.” In addition to the W.H.O. and the Royal Society, scientific organizations from around the world, including the European Commission and, in the United States, the National Academy of Sciences, have strongly endorsed the safety of G.M. foods. (It should be noted that the U.S. can claim no superiority in our approach to evidence-based science, as demonstrated by the fact that nearly half of the country rejects the “theory” of evolution, and that vaccination rates in the fancier precincts of Los Angeles are comparable to those in Sudan.)

Scientific leaders were outraged by Juncker’s action. . .

Continue reading.

Greenpeace is drunk on righteousness.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2014 at 11:07 am

Gecko gloves to climb glass-sided buildings (for example)

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The Wife passes along an interesting nugget from Stanford.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2014 at 11:03 am

Posted in Technology

Wholly Kaw and fine shave

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SOTD 21 Nov 2014

A very pleasant shave, though at the end I did switch out the Swedish Gillette blade for a new blade: a little too much work on the ATG pass.

But first, the prep. Mr Pomp remains a favorite brush, and Wholly Kaw, a vegan (kaw) soap, made a very nice lather quite easily. The tube is 2 1/8″ tall, and the soap occupies less than half of that, allowing 1 1/4″ for room to load the brush. This is rather generous—anything more than 1/4″ seems more than necessary, and some fine soaps fill their tubs to the very brim (e.g., Martin de Candre).

I have learned, however, that some rely on the empty space because their lathering method is such that without the space to contain the spray from loading, they get lather everywhere. (Presumably they avoid the various soaps that go to the brim of the container or close to it—soaps such as those from Al’s Shaving, Catie’s Bubbles, D.R. Harris, Dr. Selby’s 3x Concentrated, Geo. F. Trumper, La Père Lucien, Martin de Candre, Strop Shoppe, TOBS, Truefitt & Hill, Wickham’s, and doubtless others.)

My own technique seems to have evolved with experience, and I no longer experience significant spillage and can load easily even the full soap containers.

With the fine lather, I did a three-pass shave with the Gillette Toggle: very nice, though it will be even better next time with the new blade.

A good splash of Captain’s Choice Bay Rum, and we hover on the edge of the weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2014 at 10:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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