Later On

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

Archive for November 24th, 2014

A Thanksgiving dinner to remember: People shriek and kids cry

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An octopus-stuffed turkey with crab legs and bacon. Yum!—or perhaps, Get that thing away from me and out of here!

Thanksgiving dinner turkey stuffed with octopus with bacon and crab

More photos here should you happen to want them.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 9:45 pm

Posted in Food

Wow! Sunlight is the best disinfectant: Federal Reserve makes changes

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Take a look at this story. Very interesting indeed—and note the stimulus was newspaper articles. And not the flattering kind.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Business, Government

An alleged Cosby ‘fixer’ comes out of the shadows

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Interesting report in the Washington Post.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Top Five Washington Assumptions on Mideast that Are not True

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Andrew Bacevich writes at Informed Comment:

“Iraq no longer exists.” My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  It’s been years since we’ve last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: “Iraq just doesn’t exist.”

His is an opinion grounded in experience.  As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus “surge.”  After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies.  Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research.  Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening.  As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or IS, has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.

Few in Washington would endorse M’s assertion, of course.  Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq’s existence for granted.  Many can even locate it on a map.  They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence.  To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Considered from this perspective, the “Iraqi government” actually governs, the “Iraqi army” is a nationally representative fighting force, and the “Iraqi people” genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.

Arguably, each of these propositions once contained a modicum of truth.  But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted, broke the place, any merit they previously possessed quickly dissipated.  Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted.  Yet even today, in Washington the conviction persists that trying harder might somehow turn things around.  Certainly, that conviction informs the renewed U.S. military intervention prompted by the rise of IS.

So when David Ignatius, a well-informed and normally sober columnist for the Washington Post, reflects on what the United States must do to get Iraq War 3.0 right, he offers this “mental checklist”: in Baghdad, the U.S. should foster a “cleaner, less sectarian government”; to ensure security, we will have to “rebuild the military”; and to end internal factionalism, we’re going to have to find ways to “win Kurdish support” and “rebuild trust with Sunnis.”  Ignatius does not pretend that any of this will be easy.  He merely argues that it must be — and by implication can be — done.  Unlike my friend M, Ignatius clings to the fantasy that “Iraq” is or ought to be politically viable, militarily capable, and socially cohesive.  But surely this qualifies as wishful thinking.

The value of M’s insight — of, that is, otherwise intelligent people purporting to believe in things that don’t exist — can be applied well beyond American assumptions about Iraq.  A similar inclination to fanaticize permeates, and thereby warps, U.S. policies throughout much of the Greater Middle East.  Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.

* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

* The interests of the United States and Israel align.

* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.  To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

Let’s examine all five, one at a time. . .

Continue reading. He effectively demolishes each of the claims as a pernicious pipe dream.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 3:06 pm

Cool idea: Don’t just punish bad drivers, reward good drivers.

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Negative fines, in effect. Good article, cool idea.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:57 pm

Public shaming is not going to work: they must fire the guy

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And fire him they should: note the emphasized passage below. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Last Friday, the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, chaired by Sherrod Brown, effectively put William Dudley, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in stocks in the village square and engaged in a rather brilliant style of public shaming. With each well-formed question posed by the panel, Dudley’s jaded leadership of a hubristic regulator came into ever sharper focus.

There were a number of elephants in the room during the lengthy session that were only briefly touched upon but deserve greater scrutiny by the press. First, Congress knew that the New York Fed was a failed, crony regulator during the lead up to the financial collapse in 2008, but it granted it an even greater supervisory role under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation in 2010. This Congress has also failed to engage in public shaming of President Obama for brazenly ignoring the Dodd-Frank’s statutory mandate that calls for him to appoint, subject to Senate confirmation, a Vice Chairman for Supervision at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, who could have shaped and monitored a more credible policing role for the New York Fed.

Senator Sherrod Brown Questions the New York Fed President During Senate Hearing , Novemer 21, 2014

Section 1108 of Dodd-Frank requires: “The Vice Chairman for Supervision shall develop policy recommendations for the Board regarding supervision and regulation of depository institution holding companies and other financial firms supervised by the Board, and shall oversee the supervision and regulation of such firms.” President Obama was required to nominate this individual once the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act became effective; that was July 21, 2010 – more than four years ago. The President has simply ignored this provision of the law – no doubt to the extreme satisfaction of Wall Street.

The final elephant is that as a result of giving a failed regulator enhanced power and failing to appoint a person to a leadership role in supervision, the U.S. Senate has effectively become Wall Street’s cop on the beat, doing the job the New York Fed’s cronyism prevents it from doing.

The last point was buttressed by the fact that simultaneous with this hearing, Senator Carl Levin’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was holding its second day of hearings on how Wall Street, under the nose of the New York Fed, has massively and secretly gobbled up a huge swath of the nation’s physical commodities, like oil and aluminum, creating cost spikes for the consumer and industrial users while also placing huge trading bets on commodity prices.

Levin’s subcommittee, in place of the New York Fed, has also had to conduct exhaustive investigations into JPMorgan’s London Whale trading scandal, where the bank lost over $6.2 billion of depositors funds; HSBC’s money laundering; Credit Suisse’s tax evasion scam; and various other Wall Street abuses.

Senator Jeff Merkley touched on this aspect after Dudley had the audacity to imply in his opening remarks that the concept of “too big to jail” had been consigned to history “when Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas pleaded guilty to criminal charges.”

Senator Merkley asked Dudley how many names of the individuals who engaged in the tax evasion scam deployed by Credit Suisse were turned over to authorities. Dudley said he didn’t know. Merkley asked how many Americans who created those secret tax evasion accounts with Credit Suisse were prosecuted. Dudley said he didn’t know. Merkley asked how many of the hundreds of Credit Suisse employees that set up these sham accounts were indicted. Dudley said he didn’t know. Merkley said the answer to all of these questions was “none.”

Merkley went on to say that the Credit Suisse guilty plea to criminal charges came about not because of any advance information provided by the New York Fed or any investigation undertaken by the New York Fed, but because of the work of Senator Levin’s subcommittee.

Showing deep frustration, Senator Merkley said: “You’re the regulator; why did it take the U.S. Senate committee to find out those facts.” Dudley responded: “I don’t know the answer to that.” [The sonofabitch doesn’t know much, does he? Certainly nothing about his job. – LG]

Senator Elizabeth Warren drilled down to just how Dudley sees his role as a regulator. In an enlightening exchange, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:54 pm

More people in Utah are shot by police than by criminals

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Think of it: in Utah the police are more dangerous (with respect to shootings) than criminals. From an excellent column by Radley Balko that includes some other examples of police shooting innocent people:

. . . Finally, a sobering report from the Salt Lake Tribune.

In the past five years, more Utahns have been killed by police than by gang members.

Or drug dealers. Or from child abuse.

And so far this year, deadly force by police has claimed more lives — 13, including a Saturday shooting in South Jordan — than has violence between spouses and dating partners.

As the tally of fatal police shootings rises, law enforcement watchdogs say it is time to treat deadly force as a potentially serious public safety problem.

“The numbers reflect that there could be an issue, and it’s going to take a deeper understanding of these shootings,” said Chris Gebhardt, a former police lieutenant and sergeant who served in Washington, D.C., and in Utah, including six years on SWAT teams and several training duties. “It definitely can’t be written off as citizen groups being upset with law enforcement.”

Through October, 45 people had been killed by law enforcement officers in Utah since 2010, accounting for 15 percent of all homicides during that period.

A Salt Lake Tribune review of nearly 300 homicides, using media reports, state crime statistics, medical-examiner records and court records, shows that use of force by police is the second-most common circumstance under which Utahns kill each other, surpassed only by intimate partner violence.

Saturday’s shooting, which occurred after an officer responded to a trespassing call, remains under investigation.

Nearly all of the fatal shootings by police have been deemed by county prosecutors to be justified. Only one — the 2012 shooting of Danielle Willard by West Valley City police — was deemed unjustified, and the subsequent criminal charge was thrown out last month by a judge.

The report also looks into police training, and finds that while academy cadets in Utah do get some instruction on deescalation and conflict resolution, in much of the state, that’s all they get. The ongoing training for the rest of their careers is more one sided — lots of education pertaining to using force, but little to no guidance on how to avoid the use of force. The good news is that there is an interesting and so far somewhat successful police reform movement currently underway in Utah.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:51 pm

Slack alters privacy policy to let bosses read your messages

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Interesting report. I think most people assume that any email (or documents) on company computers cannot have an expectation of privacy, but it seems as though Slack is going to provide tools to make it easy for bosses to read through any messages from subordinates.

In somewhat related news, Jason Koebler reports in Motherboard how Facebook and Twitter cooperate immediately with a request from (any) government to censor what you’ve posted—and they do that in secret. Corporations are not interested in human rights; they’re interested in profits.

And another good article on how Facebook is quick to work with repressive governments.

I wonder how long it will be before Twitter and Facebook offer a service (expensive, of course) to authoritarian governments to flag for their attention tweets and posts that the government probably won’t like.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:44 pm

HBO is going after Scientology with a new documentary

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This should be fun.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Religion

Mental-health treatment and policies in the US

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The US mostly treats mental illness by either shooting the person or putting them in prison. Actual medical treatment is less common—even when the problem is obvious and acute. Sam Collins writes at ThinkProgress:

Months before Myron May opened fire on students in a Florida State University (FSU) library, his closest friends made three unsuccessful attempts to admit the troubled lawyer and FSU alumnus into a mental health clinic, even as he spoke about the voices in his head and mentioned plans to purchase a gun.

According to May’s friends’ accounts in the Tampa Bay Times, law enforcement officials either ignored or laughed at May’s pleas for help in the months before he shot three people at FSU and was killed by police. Sessions with May’s psychologist also didn’t help; after a one-hour appointment, he was deemed fine and continued to receive the medication that caused his paranoia.

May’s friends later reached the height of their frustration when staff at Mesilla Valley Hospital in New Mexico told them that even in his psychotic state, they couldn’t take May. Instead, he would have to seek their services on his own accord.

“You have to commit a crime to get the help you need. Why isn’t it the reverse?” said Kimberly Snagg, a Houston lawyer who described May as one of her best friends, told the Tampa Bay Times. “This could have been avoided. The entire thing.”

According to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), less than 30 percent of the 61 million Americans who have a mental illness get connected to inpatient medical services. . .

Continue reading.

“Best healthcare system in the world”? Please.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:36 pm

43 Sexual Harassment Cases That Were Thrown Out Because Of One Supreme Court Decision

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The Supreme Court increasingly seems like a partisan political body less interested in protecting citizens’ rights than in protecting corporations and the wealthy. Bryce Covert writes at ThinkProgress:

In March of 2011, Samantha Stabenchek, a 17-year-old at the time, was cornered by her Safeway colleague Jose Lopez at their store. He grabbed her buttocks and kissed her. Stabenchek had endured months of sexual harassment at the hands of Lopez, who made inappropriate comments and sent her explicit text messages. After an internal investigation, the Scottsdale, Arizona store fired him.

Less than a month later, Stabenchek’s mother Mary McCormack, who also worked at Safeway and reported the assault on behalf of her daughter, was accused of violating a store policy on coupons, and the two resigned, feeling that it was connected to the complaint.

They filed a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against Safeway in 2012. The details of the harassment Stabenchek experienced were never up for debate. Instead, the case hinged on whether Lopez counted as her supervisor. When a supervisor harasses someone who works under him, a company like Safeway has a heightened level of responsibility and can be held vicariously liable. If, on the other hand, Lopez was deemed to merely be her coworker, the employer is only held liable if it was negligent in overseeing working conditions and addressing harassment once it became aware of the situation, a standard that’s become very hard for victims to meet and therefore get recompense from their employers.

Stabenchek and McCormack argue that Lopez was, for all intents and purposes, her supervisor. When Stabenchek started the job, he was a front-end manager who was often in charge of the store and controlled when she could take breaks and clock out of work.

“Things like schedules are significant changes for workers,” Liz Watson, senior counsel and director of workplace justice for women at the National Women’s Law Center, told ThinkProgress, “because they have everything to do with how much money someone earns.” He also sat in on one of her initial job interviews and directed her to sign binding documents for the company.

Before June of 2013, a court may have very well found that Lopez was her supervisor. But that’s not how her case went. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision in the Vance v. Ball State University case, the judge presiding over Mary McCormack, et al v. Safeway Stores Incorporated decided that Lopez wasn’t her supervisor. The Vance decision significantly narrowed the definition of supervisor when it comes to harassment cases, limiting it to someone who has the power to hire, fire, promote, or otherwise tangibly impact a report’s employment.

Advocates for the victims of sexual harassment feared that the Vance decision would make it more difficult to get justice. Their fears have played out. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:33 pm

Restrictions on drones are advancing rapidly

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Note, though, that the restrictions are for commercial use of drones—they don’t seem to mention hobbyists. However, the next step is to say that all drone usage is commercial.

I think the wealthy might be nervous that hoi polloi is going to peek into the luxurious grounds and compounds of the very wealthy, uploading YouTube videos that show how unimaginably luxurious are the lives of the super-rich. And the super-rich love privacy as much as the next person; they just have more means to enforce it: locked gates, guards, etc. Those are not so effective against drones.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:29 pm

More information on the Regin malware/spyware

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First, the British version of NSA, GCHQ, has made use of the malware, which again is a trail that leads to NSA as the author. Joseph Cox writes at Motherboard:

One of the most sophisticated pieces of malware ever seen has been discovered by researchers. Dubbed Regin, the tool has reportedly been spying on telecoms companies, governments, businesses, and individuals for at least the past six years, and appears to have been used by the UK’s intelligence services.

Security company Symantec announced the existence of Regin yesterday, and the researchers say it is a “​groundbreaking and almost peerless” piece of malware “whose structure displays a degree of technical competence rarely seen.”

The architecture is the hallmark of Regin: each stage of the malware is stored surreptitiously in the section that precedes it. These unload bit by bit, with five stages in total, culminating in an attacker being able to monitor nearly everything carried out on a target device.

In this regard, Symantec compared Regin to the infamous Stuxnet malware, which also had a multi-stage approach. Costin Raiu, director of the Global Research and Analysis Team at security firm Kaspersky Lab agreed with the comparison. “It’s a very good analogy,” he told me, but also pointed out some of the key differences. Kaspersky had also been working on researching the Regin malware, according to a blog post published after Symantec’s white paper, and provided some additional insights.

Stuxnet was designed to infiltrate and ultimately tamper with the Iranian nuclear programme. For this, it was given the power to self-replicate, move from one computer to another, and infect USB sticks, which would then be carried into the facility. From here, Stuxnet would attempt to override the centrifuges crucial to Iran’s nuclear enrichment plants.

Regin doesn’t do any of these things. It works as quietly as possible, granting attackers access to computer systems so they can monitor, not break them. “The main focus of Regin would be surveillance, while Stuxnet was designed for sabotage,” Raiu said. . .

Continue reading.

And The Intercept has an article:

Complex malware known as Regin is the suspected technology behind sophisticated cyberattacks conducted by U.S. and British intelligence agencies on the European Union and a Belgian telecommunications company, according to security industry sources and technical analysis conducted by The Intercept.

Regin was found on infected internal computer systems and email servers at Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian phone and internet provider, following reports last year that the company was targeted in a top-secret surveillance operation carried out by British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, industry sources told The Intercept.

The malware, which steals data from infected systems and disguises itself as legitimate Microsoft software, has also been identified on the same European Union computer systems that were targeted for surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The hacking operations against Belgacom and the European Union were first revealed last year through documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The specific malware used in the attacks has never been disclosed, however.

The Regin malware, whose existence was first reported by the security firm Symantec on Sunday, is among the most sophisticated ever discovered by researchers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 2:23 pm

Molly, the refined feline

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Just to explain: Molly started eating on the dining room table so she could eat without Megs bullying her away. She has some tummy-acid problems, so we wanted to elevate the food somewhat (mouth above stomach) and used a little box for that, but a box did not seem in keeping with the occasion.

So yesterday The Wife found what amounts to a tiny café table made so that it looks as though it has a scalloped tablecloth. Molly now eats in style. Here she is, beckoning the waiter.

Molly beckoning the waiter

And here she is at breakfast this morning:

Molly at breakfast

Her china pattern is Spode Buttercup.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 10:19 am

Posted in Cats, Molly

What shaving should be: Great shave to start the week

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SOTD 24 Nov 2014

A really fine shave today, and Maggard shaving soaps are first-rate, though personally I do not like the packaging: the tub is 2″ high, which leaves 1 1/8″ of empty space above the soap—that is, the tub is more than half empty. I don’t like it because I stack my soaps on shelves, and that empty space takes up room. And (for me) the empty space serves no purpose: I buy many soaps from makers that fill their containers to the brim, and have no problem loading the brush. So all that empty space is (for me) wasted space.

Some use a dripping wet brush (which I formerly did as well), and apparently do not hold the tub on its side but leave the water in the tub to be mixed with the soap, and the high sides keep the water in the tub, though probably 1 1/8″ is more than needed. I would think even 1/4″ would be plenty. (I give my dripping wet brush a shake, and then proceed to load, and the shake removes the excess water so that I load the brush even from full tubs with no mess.)

The soap itself is terrific, and I love the Lilac fragrance. I wonder why more soapmakers don’t offer a Lilac. Floral fragrances are very nice in the winter, it seems to me.

Three passes with the Shavecraft #102, which is rapidly becoming my favorite slant. It holds a Personna Lab Blue blade of several uses, and after three passes I had a lovely nick-free BBS result, having enjoyed the shave along the way.

A good splash of Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, which has already dried down to a very nice hint of fragrance, and Thanksgiving week begins.

The soap

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2014 at 10:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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