Later On

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

Archive for February 24th, 2015

Americans in Havana

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Interesting report in the New Yorker by Rubén Gallo:

“The Americans are coming,” a waiter announced at Mediterráneo, a private seafood restaurant in Vedado, one of Havana’s trendiest districts, where eateries and bars of all sorts have opened rapidly over the past two years. Some have set up shop in leafy villas that were, until recently, home to at least one Cuban family; others have taken over rooftops or penthouses in apartment buildings; and a few, like the flashy Saraos bar on Calle 17, are slick architect-designed spaces, complete with bouncers and valet parking, that would be more at home on South Beach than amid the tree-lined (and potholed) streets of a neighborhood still filled with ruined nineteenth-century mansions and populated by stray cats.

The waiter was referring not to the impending arrival of mass tourism but to a more immediate invasion: a tour bus had just pulled up by the entrance gate and two dozen well-heeled tourists in their sixties were pouring into the lobby, the villa’s former living room; a small army of uniformed waiters showed them to their table. “We just started working with groups,” the host later told me. “Travel agents were tired of the poor service and bland food at government-run restaurants, so they started coming to us and to other private places in the neighborhood. This week, we have a group coming almost every day: some from New York, others from California.”

The Americans have arrived, and they seem to be everywhere in Havana. On a recent Sunday night, Holly Block, the director of the Bronx Museum, led a group of collectors from New York on a tour of artist studios in Vedado. One of the artists—a successful painter who lives and works in a spacious apartment in a midcentury building—hired a waiter to serve drinks and offer small bites, pork brochettes and ceviche on oyster shells. At one point, as she stood next to a painting, she explained the importance of sugar cane in Cuban history, until a grey-haired man in the group interrupted her midsentence: “If you have so much sugar cane, you can process it into ethanol. Then you guys wouldn’t have to import fuel from Venezuela.” The artist politely replied that such a plan might be difficult to implement given the country’s economic woes, but her interlocutor was undeterred. “Ethanol fuel can solve all your problems,” he drummed. Minutes later, one of the collectors inquired about the dimensions of a small painting and the artist rushed back to one of the bedrooms to retrieve a measuring tape.

Over the past decade, Havana’s . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Recalling the 1950’s via wonderfully accurate models

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Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Daily life

The coming water wars

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Michael Specter writes in the New Yorker:

Angry protesters filled the streets of Karachi last week, clogging traffic lanes and public squares until police and paratroopers were forced to intervene. That’s not rare in Pakistan, which is often a site of political and religious violence.

But last week’s protests had nothing to do with freedom of expression, drone wars, or Americans. They were about access to water. When Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Minister of Defense, Power, and Water (yes, that is one ministry), warned that the country’s chronic water shortages could soon become uncontrollable, he was looking on the bright side. The meagre allotment of water available to each Pakistani is a third of what it was in 1950. As the country’s population rises, that amount is falling fast.

Dozens of other countries face similar situations—not someday, or soon, but now. Rapid climate change, population growth, and a growing demand for meat (and, thus, for the water required to grow feed for livestock) have propelled them into a state of emergency. Millions of words have been written, and scores of urgent meetings have been held, since I last wrote about this issue for the magazine, nearly a decade ago; in that time, things have only grown worse.

The various physical calamities that confront the world are hard to separate, but growing hunger and the struggle to find clean water for billions of people are clearly connected. Each problem fuels others, particularly in the developing world—where the harshest impact of natural catastrophes has always been felt. Yet the water crisis challenges even the richest among us.

California is now in its fourth year of drought, staggering through its worst dry spell in twelve hundred years; farmers have sold their herds, and some have abandoned crops. Cities have begun rationing water. According to the London-based organization Wateraid, water shortages are responsible for more deaths in Nigeria than Boko Haram; there are places in India where hospitals have trouble finding the water required to sterilize surgical tools.

Nowhere, however, is the situation more acute than in . . .

Continue reading. As pointed out later in the article:

There are ways to replace oil, gas, and coal, though we won’t do that unless economic necessity demands it. But there isn’t a tidy and synthetic invention to replace water. Conservation would help immensely, as would a more rational use of agricultural land—irrigation today consumes seventy per cent of all freshwater.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 4:30 pm

Break up the telecoms, ensure net neutrality

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Big telecom companies are not investing in improved infrastructure and fight fiercely any efforts to force them to improve services. Perhaps breaking them up (as AT&T was broken up) might offer more competition (most markets are in effect local monopolies, with only one telecom active).

In the meantime, telecoms will fight. Jason Koebler reports for Motherboard:

Think this whole net neutrality thing is almost over? It’s not. The president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said Tuesday that the industry is prepared and ready to sue the hell out of the Federal Communications Commissionin a process that could last up to five more years.

Public sentiment, federal and local governments, and small internet service providers have already begun responding to market forces pushing them to provide faster, indiscriminate service. But the giant telecoms, unsurprisingly, are vowing to litigate the FCC’s new rules, which will take a very long time.

“There’ll likely be an appeal, and litigation with FCC appeals is a pretty long, drawn-out process,” Michael Powell, head of the NCTA, told CNBC. “I would predict it’s at least two and up to five years before the rules are fully and finally settled.”

The NCTA represents Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, and other major telecom companies. Powell pointed out that we have been talking about net neutrality for quite some time now—it hasn’t just been the last year or so since Verizon won a landmark court case that put the FCC’s existing rules against “fast lanes” and other paid prioritization for certain types of traffic at risk. Before that, there was another debate.

“The current set of net neutrality rules is from 2010. It’s 2015, and we still don’t have a new set, and this debate has gone on for a decade,” he said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 4:20 pm

Law enforcement links

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Radley Balko has some good links today. Here are a few, but at the link are more:

  • Former federal prosecutor Ken White writes candidly about the immense discretion afforded to the people in that position.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Red Barns and White Barns: Why Rural Crime Skyrocketed in the Late 1800s

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Fascinating post by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.

Here’s a fascinating little anecdote about lead and crime from a recent paper by Rick Nevin. It shouldn’t be taken as proof of anything, but it’s certainly an intriguing little historical tidbit about the association between lead exposure and increases in crime rates.

Here’s the background. Homicides increased dramatically between 1900-11, but most of that appears to be the result of increased rural homicides, not urban homicides. If lead exposure is part of the reason, it would mean that rural areas were exposed to increasing levels of lead about 20 years earlier, around 1880 or so. But why? Nevin suggests that the answer to this question starts with another question: Why are barns red? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 2:35 pm

Another sign the US is becoming a police state: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’

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UPDATE: It suddenly struck me that there are some interesting parallels: Soviet Union, Moscow, Lubyanka Building, KGB on the one hand, and US, Chicago, Holman Square, Chicago PD on the other. It seems to be a matter of convergent meme evolution: two highly authoritarian organizations with police powers and immunity from oversight and above the law arrive at similar institutions.

Spencer Ackerman writes in The Guardian:

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.

Brian Jacob Church, a protester known as one of the “Nato Three”, was held and questioned at Homan Square in 2012 following a police raid. Officers restrained Church for the better part of a day, denying him access to an attorney, before sending him to a nearby police station to be booked and charged.

“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church told the Guardian on Friday. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”

The secretive warehouse is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. While those abuses impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles, interrogation cells and even a cage – trains its focus on Americans, most often poor, black and brown.

Unlike a precinct, no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. Witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.

“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.

Chicago civil-rights attorney Flint Taylor said Homan Square represented a routinization of a notorious practice in local police work that violates the fifth and sixth amendments of the constitution. . .

Continue reading. It gets pretty grim.

Other countries are familiar with how the police-state can “disappear” people. That approach has now taken hold in the US. And, as we’ve seen in NYC, police departments and prison guards are no longer responsive to or accountable to the civilian government. As an example, look at this editorial in the NY Times on how Riker’s Island refuses to reform.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 2:32 pm

As Netanyahu Tries to Stop U.S.-Iran Deal, Leaked Cables Show Israeli Spies Reject His Nuke Claims

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Interesting video program with transcript at Democracy Now! Their blurb:

In what has been described as the biggest intelligence leak since Edward Snowden, Al Jazeera has begun publishing a series of spy cables from the world’s top intelligence agencies. In one cable, the Israeli spy agency Mossad contradicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own dire warnings about Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb within one year. In a report to South African counterparts in October 2012, the Mossad concluded Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” The explosive disclosure comes just as the United States and Iran have reported progress toward reaching a nuclear deal, an outcome Netanyahu will try to undermine when he addresses the U.S. Congress next week. We go to Doha to speak with Clayton Swisher, the head of Al Jazeera’s investigative unit, which broke the Iran story and several others in a series of articles called, “The Spy Cables.”

 

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 12:05 pm

Interesting word note: The origin of “ampersand,” the name for “&”

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From my morning email from Wordsmith.org:

per se

PRONUNCIATION:  (puhr SAY)

MEANING: adverb: In or by itself; intrinsically.

ETYMOLOGY: From Latin per se, translation of Greek kath auto. Earliest documented use: 1505. Perse is something different.

NOTES: Today’s term makes an appearance in the word ampersand which is a corruption of “and per se and”. What does it mean? Earlier the & symbol was considered the 27th letter of the alphabet. Yes, they used to say “A to ampersand” instead of “A to Z”. It’d be awkward to recite the alphabet as “… X Y Z &” (and what?), so schoolchildren reciting the alphabet would end it with “& per se and”, meaning the symbol &, by itself, is the word “and”.

Where did the symbol & come from? It’s a corruption of “et”, the Latin word for “and”. That explains why sometimes “etc.” is written as “&c”.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

One drawback of robotic killing machines: They can be (and will be) hacked.

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Kari Paul writes at Motherboard:

Autonomous weapons could be hacked and turned against us, said Peter W. Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at the think tank New America Foundation, at the first annual Future of War Conference on Tuesday. We are entering “a whole new realm” when it comes to autonomous weapons, he argued as part of a panel discussing the future of smart weapons.

“Cyberwarfare offers you the ability to persuade the target to do something it wouldn’t do otherwise,” he said. “I gain access to its software, if I [hack] into it, I can then make it do things other than the operator wants it to do.”

He said this includes hacks as simple as changing the GPS location of a drone, which he said has been done with relative ease by the Department of Homeland Security and by college students, or what he called “ultimate co-option,” which would be, for example, “recoding all American systems as Chinese systems.”

“A human would think, ‘That makes no sense, I’m questioning that order,’ but a computer, if you have that access, will follow that instruction,” he said. “It’s a whole new realm where you’ve never been able to convince a bullet or an arrow to change direction in mid-flight, you can with this kind of system. That points to both possibilities and perils.”

However, it’s unclear how long it will be until we see technology like this come to fruition. Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Automation Laboratory at MIT, said “we’re not even close” to developing autonomous killing machines in the sense that many people think of them. . .

Continue reading. Of course, automobile systems can also be hacked, and if the hacker locks the doors and the steering, disengages the brakes, and pumps up the accelerator, bad things will certainly happen.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 10:09 am

Posted in Military, Technology

LinkedIn Settles Class-Action Suit Over Weak Password Security

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Corporations are not going to fix their weak security until they are financially penalized (at very hefty amounts) when customer files are hacked. With the complete focus on profits, it must become more expensive to lack good security than to implement and maintain good security because corporations will always choose the least costly course (cf. Ford Motor Company’s decision that it was better (i.e., cost less) to burn 180 customers alive than to spend $10/car to prevent the deaths).

I can already predict that corporations will, as they always do, push for “voluntary guidelines” rather than laws, since the former can simply be ignored.

Vindu Goel has the report in the NY Times:

LinkedIn, the largest business-oriented social network, has agreed to compensate up to 800,000 people who paid for its premium services to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging that it falsely assured them it was using strong security measures to protect their personal information.

In June 2012, a file containing 6.5 million encoded LinkedIn user passwords was posted on a Russian hacker site. The passwords were protected with a weak form of security, allowing hackers to easily unravel the code and find the actual passwords. The company, which had about 160 million users at that time, quickly put in place improved security measures, but everyone was advised to change their passwords immediately.

While there was no indication that the breach had any disproportionate effect on the small number of LinkedIn users who were paying the company a subscription fee for extra services, those customers argued in court that the company had deceived them about the level of its Internet security when they had signed up. . .

Continue reading.

An interesting note: LinkedIn itself thinks the profiles on its site are essentially worthless. They figure a profile is worth about $1.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Quotations from the Reddit AMA with Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras

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Here’s the full “Ask Me Anything,” and Venture Beat offers some notable quotations from the session:

Nearly two years after orchestrating the biggest leak in U.S. history, mass surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden sat down with journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald for a Reddit AMA (ask me anything).

We’ve collected some of the more interesting questions and answers below.

TheJackal8: Mr. Snowden, if you had a chance to do things over again, would you do anything differently? If so, what?

Snowden: I would have come forward sooner. I talked to Daniel Ellsberg about this at length, who has explained why more eloquently than I can.

Had I come forward a little sooner, these programs would have been a little less entrenched, and those abusing them would have felt a little less familiar with and accustomed to the exercise of those powers. This is something we see in almost every sector of government, not just in the national security space, but it’s very important:

Once you grant the government some new power or authority, it becomes exponentially more difficult to roll it back. Regardless of how little value a program or power has been shown to have (such as the Section 215 dragnet interception of call records in the United States, which the government’s own investigation found never stopped a single imminent terrorist attack despite a decade of operation), once it’s a sunk cost, once dollars and reputations have been invested in it, it’s hard to peel that back.

Don’t let it happen in your country.


LegalNerd1940: What validation do we have that Putin is being honest about NOT spying in Russia?

Snowden: To tag on to the Putin question: There’s not, and that’s part of the problem worldwide. We can’t just reform the laws in one country, wipe our hands, and call it a day. We have to ensure that our rights aren’t just being protected by letters on a sheet of paper somewhere, or those protections will evaporate the minute our communications get routed across a border. The only way to ensure the human rights of citizens around the world are being respected in the digital realm is to enforce them through systems and standards rather than policies and procedures.


masondog13: What’s the best way to make NSA spying an issue in the 2016 Presidential Election?

Snowden: This is a good question, and there are some good traditional answers here. Organizing is important. Activism is important.

At the same time, we should remember that governments don’t often reform themselves. One of the arguments in a book I read recently (Bruce Schneier, “Data and Goliath”) is that perfect enforcement of the law sounds like a good thing, but that may not always be the case. The end of crime sounds pretty compelling, right, so how can that be?

Well, when we look back on history, the progress of Western civilization and human rights is actually founded on the violation of law. America was of course born out of a violent revolution that was an outrageous treason against the crown and established order of the day. History shows that the righting of historical wrongs is often born from acts of unrepentant criminality. Slavery. The protection of persecuted Jews.

But even on less extremist topics, we can find similar examples. How about the prohibition of alcohol? Gay marriage? Marijuana?

Where would we be today if the government, enjoying powers of perfect surveillance and enforcement, had — entirely within the law — rounded up, imprisoned, and shamed all of these lawbreakers? … [Read more]

Greenwald: The key tactic DC uses to make uncomfortable issues disappear is bipartisan consensus. When the leadership of both parties join together — as they so often do, despite the myths to the contrary — those issues disappear from mainstream public debate.

The most interesting political fact about the NSA controversy, to me, was how the divisions didn’t break down at all on partisan lines. Huge amount of the support for our reporting came from the left, but a huge amount came from the right. When the first bill to ban the NSA domestic metadata program was introduced, it was tellingly sponsored by one of the most conservative Tea Party members (Justin Amash) and one of the most liberal (John Conyers).

The problem is that the leadership of both parties, as usual, are in full agreement: they love NSA mass surveillance. So that has blocked it from receiving more debate. That NSA program was ultimately saved by the unholy trinity of Obama, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, who worked together to defeat the Amash/Conyers bill … [Read more]


LegalNerd1940: What was the most alarming revelation(s) you discovered throughout this process, and is there more to come? . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 8:57 am

Gillette Slim and 20102 with Mickey Lee

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SOTD 24 Feb 2015

An extremely nice shave today. The lather was excellent, and I need to use my Omega 20102 more often: it’s broken in nicely and is really a good brush.

The Gillette Slim is particularly handsome because it was replated in rhodium, which looks better than the original nickel. And it has one of my few remaining Astra Keramik Platinum blades, so the shave was super-nice: easy cutting, BBS finish.

A little bit of Mickey Lee Sopaworks Italian Stallion aftershave milk—which I like a lot—and another day begins. I don’t know what the day is like in other parts, but here on the Central Coast it’s pretty nice: daytime temperature in the mid-60’s. The view from my balcony yesterday morning:

Vie from balcony

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2015 at 8:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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