Later On

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Archive for January 23rd, 2015

Obama Wants You to Have Cheap, Fast Internet, But Many Cities Aren’t Allowed to Provide It

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America, the land of being in bondage to corporate interests (and the home of the fearful). Leticia Miranda writes in ProPublica:

On Tuesday evening during the State of the Union address, President Obama pledged “to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks.” Obama is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to challenge a wave of state laws blocking the construction of municipal broadband networks, which are high-speed Internet services run by local communities.

Here’s what you need to know about the president’s proposal and what it might mean for consumers.

Why can’t cities just build their own broadband networks?

Although there are about 300 municipal broadband networks across the country, laws in about 20 states create multiple administrative and financial hurdles for new networks to get off the ground. Such legislation makes it difficult, for example, for communities to issue bonds to cover the upfront costs of building a network or to lease out unused fiber as a way to offset their costs. In Florida, residential broadband networks must demonstrate how they plan to turn a profit within four years, a tall order. According to The Baller Herbst Law Group, so-called fiber-to-the-home networks often take muchlonger to become profitable. In Nevada, there are population restrictions. Municipalities are prohibited from providing broadband if the populationexceeds 25,000; for counties, it is 55,000 or more.

Why have some states put these restrictions on municipal broadband networks?

The cable lobby and some conservatives believe that the business of Internet service should stay in the private sector. Last week, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer called Obama’s plan “a new federal takeover of state laws governing broadband and the Internet.” Telecom industry groups such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association have argued that these networks are risky investments that could drive cities into debt. Telecom companies have donated millions of dollars to state and federal politicians on both sides of the aisle. Besides contributions, the cable lobby has directly submitted legislation to restrict municipal broadband networks and taken fledgling networks to court. Last year, according to a report by Ars Technica, the Kansas Legislature squashed a bill to limit municipal broadband networks that was drafted and submitted by the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association. When Lafayette Utilities System in Louisiana announced its intention to build a municipal broadband network, they faced three years of court battles with two incumbent Internet providers, costing them $4 million, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity.

How is Obama going to get around these restrictions to expand municipal broadband?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 4:57 pm

nside U.S. Torture Chambers: Prisoner’s Guantánamo Diary Details 12 Years of Abuse, Terror

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A video interview with transcript at Democracy Now! Their blurb:

After a seven-year legal battle, the diary of a prisoner held at Guantánamo Bay has just been published and has become a surprise best-seller. Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary details his experience with rendition, torture and being imprisoned without charge. Slahi has been held at the prison for more than 12 years. He was ordered released in 2010 but is still being held. “The cell — better, the box — was cooled down so that I was shaking most of the time,” he writes. “I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day. Every once in a while they gave me a rec time in the night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. I don’t remember having slept one night quietly; for the next 70 days to come I wouldn’t know the sweetness of sleeping. Interrogation for 24 hours, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off.” We air a clip of a Guardian video about Slahi’s case, which features actors Colin Firth and Dominic West reading from his diary. We speak with three guests: Slahi’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander; book editor, Larry Siems; and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay, who says Slahi is “no more a terrorist than Forrest Gump.”

The US is a nation that tortures people, some of them totally innocent, all of them merely suspects. The torture system, instituted by the Bush Administration, was quite active, albeit ineffective, and President Obama’s decision that no one who tortured people, whether those victims were innocent or not, should suffer any punishment or indeed any inconvenience pretty much establishes that we’ll be doing this again. Protection of torturers is common in totalitarian regimes, which the US is on the path to becoming.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 4:52 pm

We are governed by zombies…

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Tom Englehardt writes at TomDispatch.com:

When it comes to the national security state, our capital has become a thought-free zone. The airlessness of the place, the unwillingness of leading players in the corridors of power to explore new ways of approaching crucial problems is right there in plain sight, yet remarkably unnoticed.  Consider this the Tao of Washington.

Last week, based on a heavily redacted 231-page document released by the government in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Charlie Savage, a superb reporter for theNew York Times, revealed that the FBI has become a “significant player” in the world of warrantless surveillance, previously the bailiwick of the National Security Agency.  The headline on his piece was: “FBI is broadening surveillance role, report shows.”

Here’s my question: In the last 13 years, can you remember a single headline related to the national security state that went “FBI [or fill in your agency of choice] is narrowing surveillance role [or fill in your role of choice], report shows”?  Of course not, because when any crisis, problem, snafu or set of uncomfortable feelings, fears, or acts arises, including those by tiny groups of disturbed people or what are now called “lone wolf” terrorists, there is only one imaginable response: more money, more infrastructure, more private contractors, more surveillance, more weaponry, and more war.  On a range of subjects, our post-9/11 experience should have taught us that this — whatever it is we’re doing — is no solution to anything, but no such luck.

More tax dollars consumed, more intrusions in our lives, the further militarization of the country, the dispatching of some part of the U.S. military to yet another country, the enshrining of war or war-like actions as the option of choice — this, by now, is a way of life. These days, the only headlines out of Washington that should surprise us would have “narrowing” or “less,” not “broadening” or “more,” in them.

Thinking outside the box may seldom have been a prominent characteristic of Washington, but when it comes to innovative responses to problems, our political system seems particularly airless right now.  Isn’t it strange, for instance, that being secretary of state these days means piling up bragging rights to mileage by constantly, frenetically circumnavigating the globe?  The State Department website now boasts that John Kerry has traveled 682,000 miles during his time in office, just as it once boasted of Hillary Clinton’s record-breaking956,733 miles, and yet, like the secretary of defense or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or the CIA director or the national security advisor or the president himself, when it comes to rethinking failing policies, none of them ever seem to venture into unknown territory or entertain thoughts that might lead in unsettling directions.  No piling up of the mileage there.

In a sense, there are only two operative words in twenty-first-century Washington: more andwar.  In this context, there really is just one well-policed party of thought in town.  It matters not a whit that, under the ministrations of that “party,” the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state have grown to monstrous proportions, even though American war and security policies don’t have a significant success to their name.

Four Words That Rule Washington (and Two Words That Don’t)

Here then are four key words — security, safety, intelligence, and war — essential to present-day Washington.  Add in two others, peace and bases, that for very different reasons are missing in action.  Now, put together both the chatter and the silences around those six words and you can begin to grasp why our nation’s capital is such a dead zone in terms of new ideas or ways of acting in our world.

Let’s start with two words so commonplace that no serious player would bother to question them: security (as in “national”) and safety (as in “American”).  On those two words alone, the new Washington has been funded and expanded endlessly in the post-9/11 era.  They are the soil in which has grown just about every action that put the state intrusively in our lives, sidelined the citizenry, and emboldened a spirit of impunity in the national security bureaucracy, a sense that no one will ever be held accountable for any action, includingkidnapping, torture, murder, the destruction of evidence, assassination, and perjury.  Both words have an implied “from” after them, as in “from terrorism.”

And yet it has been estimated that an American’s annual fatality risk from terrorism is only one in 3.5 million.  When it comes to your security and safety, in other words, don’t focus on local lone wolf jihadists; just put your car in the garage and leave it there.  After all, your odds on losing your life in a traffic accident in any year are about one in 8,000.

Put another way, Americans have learned how to live with, on average, approximately 38,000 traffic deaths a year in the post-9/11 era without blinking, without investing trillionsof dollars in a network of agencies to protect them from vehicles, without recruiting hundreds of thousands of private contractors to help make them safe and secure from cars, trucks, and buses.  And yet when it comes to the deaths of tiny numbers of Americans, nothing is too much for our safety and security.  More astonishing yet, almost all of this investment has visibly led not to the diminution of terrorism, but to its growth, to ever more terrorists and terror organizations and ever greater insecurity.  This, in turn, has spurred the growth of the national security state yet more, even though it has shown little evidence of offering us significant protection.

Imagine that the government suddenly decided to build . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 4:40 pm

Two Young Officers on How the Country Let the Military Down, and Vice Versa

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James Fallows continues to receive communications from service members reacting to his Atlantic article. Note at the end of the post the complex index of links to earlier entries.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Military

The origin of the slow cooker

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Very interesting little article by Max Ehrenfreund in the Washington Post. From the article:

Seventy-five years ago today, an inventor named Irving Nachumsohn received a patent for the first commercially successful electric slow cooker. … Nachumsohn, who went by the surname “Naxon,” invented the slow cooker to be able to cook cholent, a traditional stew eaten by Jews in eastern Europe on the Sabbath. Since they were forbidden from cooking, the Jews would bring pots of stew to a nearby bakery the day before. They would cook slowly in the residual heat from the ovens, his daughter Lenore told NPR last year.

“The advent of the slow cooker — it saved the Jewish housewife,” said Laura Frankel, the executive chef in Wolfgang Puck’s kosher division in Chicago and author of “Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.”

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Technology

Muck-reads

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Terry Parris, Jr. has the weekly muck-reads:

Cows normally have one calf, not twins or triplets. Pigs generally have eight piglets, not 14. “Easy care” sheep sounds more like a product than a herd left to die in the elements. This is what’s happening at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, a taxpayer-financed institution that is helping the meat industry produce more profitable livestock. Over the last 50 years, the center has “fought the spread of disease, fostered food safety and helped American ranchers compete in a global marketplace.” But a Times investigation found that these gains have come at a steep cost to animal welfare. — The New York Times via @kmieszkowski

The mining industry has changed a lot since 1872, but this law has not. The Mining Law of 1872 allows hardrock mining companies — those that mine gold, silver, copper, iron and uranium — to drill on 245 million acres of federal land without paying a cent. By contrast, oil and gas companies pay a 12.5 percent royalty fee (about $11 billion a year). And that’s just the business side. Environmentally speaking, this 133-year law doesn’t include any protections. “The environmental laws we have right now are not really covering the damage done by the hardrock mine industry,” said one environmental policy expert. — The Center for Investigative Reporting via @prbrescouncil

Did the Park Service use bad science to kill an oyster farm? Kevin Lunny has owned and operated the Drakes Bay Oyster Company in a Pacific inlet north of San Francisco since 2005. This winter, an 80-year tradition of shellfish farming in the estuary came to an end when the National Park Service shut Drakes Bay down, claiming the company was a “heavy industry that imperiled the park’s wildlife.” While some environmentalists say “good government prevailed,” an investigation by Newsweek found that the science-as-evidence used to close down Lunny’s farm was either altered or bad. — Newsweek via @CivilEats

Colorado is one of five states that allow childcare providers to go three years without inspection. A Denver Post investigation found that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Daily life

Watch the rapid decline of “white America” over three decades

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Very interesting article with an interactive graphic that shows the shrinkage of “white only” counties (98% or greater white) decade by decade. It also includes this video:

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

How much civil asset forfeiture will Holder’s new policy actually prevent?

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Radley Balko finds that Holder’s new civil asset forfeiture policies are less than meets the eye:

When a federal agency announces a significant new policy, it isn’t always clear what actual effects that policy will have in practice. It takes some time to sift through the language and figure out how it will apply in the real world. And, of course, many times we won’t know for sure until it has been in effect for a while and we can analyze the results. I’ve already put up a couple of posts praising Attorney General Eric Holder’s new policy on civil asset forfeiture, but I’ve also expressed concern about its limitations, as have other critics of forfeiture. Unfortunately, the more scrutiny the policy gets, the less significant it seems to be.

Part of the confusion lies in the different terms the federal government uses to describe the different ways it works with state and local police agencies to seize assets. “Equitable sharing” is the broad term the government uses any time the feds and local police use federal forfeiture law to split up the assets seized in a joint investigation. “Adoption” cases are a subset of cases within the equitable sharing program. Adoption cases have minimal federal involvement. They are cases in which a local police agency simply calls up a field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or other federal law enforcement agency to sign some papers so that the case gets kicked up to federal court, where it will be governed by the less restrictive federal forfeiture laws.

Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum notes that Holder’s new policy will apply only to adoption cases. And using the Department of Justice’s own data, he points out that adoption cases make up only a small percentage of the larger equitable sharing program.

“Over the last six years,” the DOJ says in the press releaseannouncing Holder’s new policy, “adoptions accounted for roughly three percent of the value of forfeitures in the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program.” By comparison, the program’s reports to Congress indicate that “equitable sharing” payments to state and local agencies accounted for about 22 percent of total deposits during those six years. That means adoptions, which the DOJ says represented about 3 percent of deposits, accounted for less than 14 percent of equitable sharing. In other words, something like 86 percent of the loot that state and local law enforcement agencies receive through federal forfeitures will be unaffected by Holder’s new policy.

Sullum points out that this is a far different picture from that portrayed by media reports of the new policy (including reports here at The Washington Post). For example, this New York magazine post on Holder’s announcement ran under the headline “Cops can no longer just seize your money.” The post itself was a bit more circumspect, but even there the effects of the new policy were grossly exaggerated. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 11:10 am

For techies and car aficionados: An excellent article on the Chevy Volt and its likely future

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Very interesting article. From the article:

So is the Volt a Prius beater? GM’s Pam Fletcher, executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles said in a separate interview she thinks in ways it is, but GM acknowledges it’s not been a compete home run.

In its favor, a strong case exists the expected-to-be 41 mpg Volt offers a drivetrain that can save more fuel for most drivers than a 50 mpg Prius Liftback. Aside from design, performance, handling, and other features, one big advantage is its 50-mile EV range, enough, studies say, to satisfy daily driving requirements for three-quarters of Americans.

According to GM’s OnStar data, the Volt now goes an average 900 miles between fill-ups, and up to several months for some owners, while burning nary any gas – something the Toyota can never do.

But the Prius Liftback has had

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 10:57 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Why on earth do people respect the military?

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It’s a broken organization, with perverse incentives galore. It tortures prisoners, abuses veterans, and with officers deeply infected with careerism. James Fallows points out some terrible decisions being pushed by this incompetent organization:

First, the background. Two military airplanes are getting a lot of attention: the A-10 “Warthog” — “Honey Badger” would be a better name — a kind of flying tank that has been crucial in “close air support” missions from the first Gulf War onwards; and the F-35 “Lighting II,” a still-in-development multi-purpose airplane that has been plagued by technical problems, production delays, and cost overruns.

As my “Tragedy of the American Military” article argues, the two airplanes don’t have a necessary logical connection, since they’re meant for different roles. But they have a close political and budgetary link, because first the George W. Bush and now the Obama administration have been trying to phase out the (battle-proven, reliable, relatively cheap) Warthog in part to pay for the (opposite of all those things) Lighting II.

Now the developments, which are genuinely bad.

1) “F-35 Massages Flight Test Results,” which is the title of a new article by Giovanni de Briganti in Defense-Aerospace.com. The article in turn draws from a report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluationdocumenting on the mounting technical and financial problems for the project.

Last Friday Tony Capaccio reported for Bloomberg that this report, then being sent to Congress, was full of bad news about the F-35. “What is clear is that [the F-35] will finish with deficiencies remaining that will affect operational units,” the story quoted testing director Michael Gilmore as saying. According to the story, “Gilmore warned that unless ‘immediate action is taken to remedy these deficiencies,’ the aircraft’s ability to ‘be effective in combat is at substantial risk.’”

Then on Monday came the Defense-Aerospace.com story, which included the F-35 portion of the report (it is detailed and acronym-dense, but you can read it here) and highlighted something much more damaging than ongoing bugs. Namely, efforts by the F-35 program team to rig the results of their operational tests. The Defense-Aerospace.com report said (emphasis added):

Recent improvements in F-35 reliability figures are due to changes in the way failures are counted and processed, but do not reflect any actual improvement, according to the latest report by the Pentagon’s Director Operational Test & Evaluation….

Three different types of data “massaging” are identified in the report: moving failures from one category to another, less important one; ignoring repetitive failures, thus inflating numbers of failure-free hours; and improper scoring of reliability. In all these instances, data reporting and processing rules were changed during the year for no other reason than to paint a more favorable picture.

Oh, yes, in case you were wondering: despite the mounting problems the Pentagon is expected to request more F-35 purchases in its next budget — 57 for fiscal year 2016, versus the mid-30s this year.

2) Getting involved in A-10 fight is “treason.” Last week the Arizona Daily Independent carried what is at face value a shocking report of an Air Force general telling his troops that speaking positively about what the A-10 could do was “treason.” According to a followup in DOD Buzz:

Maj. Gen. James Post, vice commander of Air Combat Command, was quoted as saying, “If anyone accuses me of saying this, I will deny it … anyone who is passing information to Congress about A-10 capabilities is committing treason” ….

In a response to the news outlet, a spokesman at the command, based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, described the comments to attendees of a recent Tactics Review Board at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada as “hyperbole.”

A retired Air Force officer named Tony Carr, on a military-related site John Q. Public, said that Gen. Post’s comments represented “creeping fascism” within the career military (emphasis in original):

Assuredly not lost on an officer of Post’s intelligence was that his crowd included many A-10 practitioners as well as others possessed of the view that the Air Force owes ground forces the very best Close Air Support possible, and that this is currently only achievable via the A-10. This wasn’t the first time Post had engaged in this particular exposition. He’s reportedly been saying it to groups of A-10 operators for some time.

These comments can be seen as nothing less than an attempt to intimidate subordinates into refraining from exercising their rights to free expression and civic participation.

This is morally reprehensible conduct by someone in a position of such trust and responsibility that it is implausible to think he wouldn’t know better.

Here’s the point that makes these controversies more important than any detail involving this or that airplane. . .

And definitely continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 10:53 am

Posted in Military

King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez compared and contrasted

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Interesting article by Glenn Greenwald, well worth a read. The conclusion:

One obvious difference between the two leaders was that Chávez was elected and Abdullah was not. Another is that Chávez used the nation’s oil resources to attempt to improve the lives of the nation’s most improverished while Abdullah used his to further enrich Saudi oligarchs and western elites. Another is that the severity of Abdullah’s human rights abuses and militarism makes Chávez look in comparison like Gandhi.

But when it comes to western political and media discourse, the only difference that matters is that Chávez was a U.S. adversary while Abdullah was a loyal U.S. ally – which, by itself for purposes of the U.S. and British media, converts the former into an evil villainous despot and the latter into a beloved symbol of peace, reform and progress. As but one of countless examples: last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron – literally the best and most reliable friend to world dictators after Tony Blair – stood in Parliament after being questioned by British MP George Galloway and said: “there is one thing that is certain: wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have the support of [Galloway]”; last night, the very same David Cameron pronounced himself “deeply saddened” and said the Saudi King would be remembered for his “commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.”

That’s why there is nobody outside of American cable news, DC think tanks, and the self-loving Oxbridge clique in London who does anything but scoff with scorn and dark amusement when the US and UK prance around as defenders of freedom and democracy. Only in those circles of tribalism, jingoism, and propaganda is such tripe taken at all seriously.

More on Abdullah here. He was a tyrant, literally.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 10:44 am

Interesting look at Netflix’s corporate culture

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Check out this orientation slide show. The presentation wisely distinguishes the codes of behavior given lip service and the actual codes of behavior used in an organization. (Chris Argyris in his books has much to say about this.) As they say in an earlier slide, “The actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.” They then list the nine behaviors and skills that are particularly valued at Netflix.

I got this link to the slide show from this post, by a guy talking about what it’s like working at Netflix.

I do, however, disagree with one of the points on this slide on one of the behaviors and skills particularly valued:

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 8.35.51 AM

Focusing on “great results rather than on process” may be okay for a worker bee, but anyone with any responsibility must focus on getting a great process established—that is, a process that regular produces great results. Without a good process, great results happen by accident or by some exceptional effort. A good process can go a long way to make great results consistent. A bad process can go a long way to making great results something rare and exceptional.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 8:43 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Perfect smoothness with Maggard MR18C and Wickham’s Garden Mint

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SOTD 23 Jan 2015

I thought rather than another photo of the surface of the soap, I’d let you see the information label. Click photo to enlarge; if it’s still not maximum size, click again.

The lather was excellent in all respects, thanks in part to the Rooney Victorian brush, a very nice brush indeed.

The Maggard MR18C gave a terrific shave: very smooth, very easy, and both comfortable and efficient. I used a SuperMax Titanium blade, and I got one small nick—not the razor’s fault, but my own: I some set the razor to my face directly on the blade’s edge. I didn’t press at all, but those things are razor sharp. A small nick, and My Nik Is Sealed once more showed why I like it: immediate sealing.

Three very pleasant passes to a BBS result, then a hearty splash of Paul Sebastian.

I’m told that many men to this day do not thoroughly enjoy their shaves, which gives me a sad.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2015 at 8:24 am

Posted in Shaving

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