Later On

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

Archive for March 18th, 2015

It’s bad that the US cannot effectively address its problems

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Juan Thompson has a disturbing story in The Intercept, disturbing in part because our social system and services are simply not working.

The short video is remarkably unsettling and difficult to watch. In the span of three short, wretched minutes, six teenage girls inside a Brooklyn McDonald’s viciously attack a smaller girl in a blue jacket, who gutsily fights back, as onlookers watch and cheer. During the brawl, one of the participants’ shirts is ripped off, exposing her purple bra. Despite this, the attacker, 16-year-old Aniah Ferguson, continues to beat the victim, 15-year-old Ariana Taylor, even after Taylor is apparently knocked unconscious. Ferguson stomps and kicks Taylor’s head multiple times before a merciful spectator carries a motionless Taylor to safety.

The video, posted on World Star Hip Hop, sparked a huge outcry. On March 12, three days after the fight, the New York Police Department arrested Ferguson and charged her with felonious gang assault and robbery. Four of the other assailants who appear in the video have been arrested since.

“I can’t defend what happened there,” Ferguson’s mother told me the weekend after her daughter’s arrest. “I don’t know what happened there, I mean I don’t know why.” We talked as we noshed over Dunkin’ Donuts at the Prospect-Lefferts Gardens apartment that Ferguson’s mother, grandmother, siblings, and 1-year-old daughter all share. That’s right: 16-year-old Ferguson has a young daughter who will now be the sole responsibility of Ferguson’s mother, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s going to be hard. I know she’s going away for a while,” she said with embarrassment and sadness.

“Aniah always had her problems. I can’t lie. And I tried to get help but it didn’t happen,” her mother said. “She was in [anger management]  classes though when this happened.” Ferguson’s mother describes her daughter’s life as a continual struggle. She was raised by a single mother (as much as one can use the past tense for a girl only 16 years old) and was lashing out long before the high-profile attack at McDonald’s. In the past eight months alone, Ferguson has been arrested a half dozen times; the charges included stabbing a brother in the arm, punching her grandmother in the face, and attacking a pregnant woman, according to court records. Prosecutors claim she belongs to a street organization known as the Young Savages — an offshoot of the Chicago-born Folk Nation gang.

“I can’t say for sure, but they was fighting over something somebody said on Facebook or something,” a neighbor told me, with regard to the incident at McDonald’s. The Flatbush fight was reportedly the culmination of a dispute between Ferguson and Taylor that stretched back to at least January. When a friend of Ferguson’s texted her to say that Taylor was at McDonald’s that day, Ferguson rounded up her crew and, after initially going to the wrong McDonald’s, spotted Taylor at the 943 Flatbush Avenue location.

“The assault and the attack on this 15-year-old girl should be a wake up call internationally on what are we doing with our young people,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said on the day Aniah Ferguson was arrested, after he offered a $1,000 award — from his personal funds — for tips leading to the arrest of other suspects. Adams’ statement was unintentionally ironic. The punishment now faced by Ferguson for this brutal assault highlights our country’s grim and unrivaled record when it comes to locking up its youth, especially black youth, at a rate that further contributes to incidents like those at the Flatbush McDonald’s. 

Take the sentence Ferguson faces for gang assault and robbery: up to twenty five years behind bars. She will be charged as an adult even though she isn’t one. And the seeds for treating poor children like Ferguson as adults were planted long ago. Before her arrest, Ferguson attended Erasmus High School, which is part of the New York Public school system — whichemploys “over 5,000 school safety agents and 191 armed police officers, effectively making the school district the fifth largest police district in the country,” as Mariame Kaba and Erica R. Meiners recently pointed out atJacobin.

In all the outrage about her case, few are asking the most basic pragmatic questions. Even given Ferguson’s recent history of violence, is long term imprisonment the correct route to take? Should a troubled and emotionally unstable teen be thrust into a harsh prison environment, when research shows she will likely pick up worse criminal habits there? Will Ferguson’s incarceration solve any of her problems — or society’s — or will it exacerbate them? The United States already imprisons 30% of incarcerated women worldwide.

The four others arrested for their actions in the video include . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 7:09 pm

Racism in the Ferguson and San Francisco police departments

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In Ferguson, as reported in the New Yorker by Jack Hitt:

The Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson Police Department is full of eye-catching numbers that reveal a culture plagued by significant racism. Statistically significant. For instance, nearly ninety per cent of the people who prompted a “use of force” by the F.P.D. were black. Even among such skewed percentages, there are some standouts. Among cases in which a suspect was bitten by an attack dog and the suspect’s race was recorded, what percentage were black?

A hundred per cent.

There is little nuance in the incidents described in the report; the police simply sicced their dogs on unarmed black males. According to the F.P.D’s own guidelines, handlers should not release the hounds “if a lower level of force could reasonably be expected to control the suspect or allow for the apprehension.” But the report reveals that the F.P.D. is quick to set loose its trained attack dogs—often on black children.

In one account, a dog was sent after an unarmed sixteen-year-old who was also Tasered. The electric shock of that weapon partially paralyzes a person. If that were to happen while a dog was tearing at your arms and legs, all you could do would be to watch in immobilized horror.

Another case involved four police officers, including a canine handler, trapping an unarmed fourteen-year-old in an abandoned basement. The crime? Trespassing. The D.O.J. report recounts what the boy says happened to him: “When he saw the dog at the top of the steps, he turned to run, but the dog quickly bit him on the ankle and then the thigh, causing him to fall to the floor. The dog was about to bite his face or neck but instead got his left arm, which the boy had raised to protect himself. F.P.D. officers struck him while he was on the ground, one of them putting a boot on the side of his head. He recalled the officers laughing about the incident afterward.”

The starkness of these accounts prompts some questions. Were no white suspects ever subdued with dogs? Were all the white suspects perceived as less dangerous (than a kid playing hookie)? Was this just overt Bull Connor-style racism? Or was there something more subtle going on in these incidents—an unconscious cuing by the dog’s handlers as to whom the animals should attack the most aggressively.

The use of canines in American policing and surveillance has spiked since 9/11. They have been hired to work as bomb-detection dogs, methamphetamine-sniffing dogs, and cadaver dogs, and they have been trained to detect mines. There are arson dogs, of course, but there are also dogs trained to detect bed bugs and dogs that specialize in locating invasive quagga mussels at boat landings. Then there are dogs trained to find orca scat, or forbidden mobile phones in prison, or Townsend’s Big-Eared Bats.

The conventional wisdom is simply that dogs have supersensitive, trustworthy noses. We hear about these dogs that perform amazing feats, such as sniffing out cancer, and it reinforces our common faith that they are nearly flawless in this regard—a trust that is further reinforced when we recall our childhood dog, who loved us unconditionally (Wendy, you big loveball), or maybe our favorite on-screen canine star (depending on your generation: Petey, Lassie, Old Yeller, Comet, Hooch, Brian Griffin). The Supreme Court agrees, resisting evidence that a dog’s power to smell and detect might be anything less than an unquestionable fact. In a 2006 paper about detector dogs, Richard Myers, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, summarized the lazy rhetoric that courts often use to avoid questioning supposedly tried-and-true methodologies: “The use of [insert technology here] is well-settled in the law of this [state/circuit] and we need not revisit it here.”

It would appear that science supports giving dogs’ noses the benefit of the doubt. Humans have about five million olfactory cells, while dogs have as many as two hundred and twenty million. And one study of the canine snout found that it is able to detect scents at concentrations as low as five hundred parts per trillion. But there’s a catch, which most of us (including the Supreme Court, a few years back) don’t consider: dogs are also astute at picking up on subconscious cues from their handlers—a talent that, like their sense of smell, is exquisite and astonishingly fine-tuned.

Science fans may recall the story of Clever Hans—the German horse that, at the turn of the twentieth century, wowed audiences by telling time, reading calendars and solving math problems. Two Berlin academics, named Pfungst and Stumpf, figured out that Hans was reading not only his handler but also the faces of the audience to know when to stop pawing the ground as he had arrived at the right mathematical answer. Around the same time, Americans were being entertained by a similarly talented horse, named Beautiful Jim Key. In later years there came Lady Wonder, the telepathic horse, and Jim the Wonder Dog, another psychic. Domesticated animals are pretty good at figuring out what we want them to do, and for good reason.

Continue reading. It’s quite evident that dogs that signal that a stopped car smells of drugs are quite often cued by the dog handler so that the police can then search the car (generally looking for money they can keep).

And in San Francisco, as reported by CBS:

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi estimates as many as 1,000 criminal cases will be reviewed following the racist and homophobic text messages allegedly sent by four San Francisco police officers.

Adachi and his colleagues said today that their office has already identified 120 cases involving two of the four officers and said those cases could get thrown out beginning as early as next week.

District Attorney George Gascon said he was “deeply disturbed by these text messages” and said that “in order to ensure our criminal justice system is fair and equitable,” his office will also be assessing every prosecution in the past 10 years in which the officers participated.

Adachi said its important to go through those cases that the officers touched since the racist statements in the text messages reflect attitudes of hatred that “were not born overnight” and may have impacted their conduct as officers.

Although the four officers who are being investigated were not named by the Police Department, their respective lawyers confirmed their identities are officers Michael Robison, Michael Celis, Rain Daugherty, and Noel Schwab.

San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen said today that she is concerned that as many as 10 officers, including a captain, may be associated with the text messages, a sampling of which were released publicly on Friday.

San Francisco Police Department spokesman Albie Esparza said the four officers were reassigned last month to jobs in which they have no contact with the public during a department probe of the messages, which were sent to and from disgraced former Sgt. Ian Furminger’s personal cellphone in 2011 and 2012.

The messages were discovered by the FBI in an investigation of thefts by Furminger and two other officers of money and property seized from suspects in 2009.

Furminger was convicted in federal court in San Francisco in December of four felonies related to the scheme and was sentenced by U.S.  District Judge Charles Breyer last month to three years and five months in prison. Furminger resigned from the force after being convicted.

Some of the messages were made public Friday by federal prosecutors in a court filing opposing Furminger’s request to Breyer for release on bail while he appeals his conviction. The FBI previously gave the texts privately to the Police Department.

In Friday’s filing in the Furminger case, prosecutors alleged the messages show the former sergeant was “a virulent racist and homophobe” and argued the judge should take that into account in deciding whether to grant him release during the appeal.

Breyer turned down Furminger’s request for bail during appeal on Monday. He is due to begin serving his sentence on April 3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 5:38 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

US sets new record for denying, censoring government files

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The US government continues its move toward becoming a secret government, in which citizens cannot learn what their government is doing, and the Obama administration has exercised a lot of leadership in the move to secrecy (and strong punishments for leaking secrets—except for David Petraeus, of course).

Take a look at this report in McClatchy by Anita Kumar and Lesley Clark: White House is again refusing transparency, groups charge. The report begins:

The White House is exempting an office from compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, angering open-government advocates, who accuse President Barack Obama of not living up to his pledge to run the “most transparent administration in history.”

The White House said Tuesday that the move to exclude the White House Office of Administration from the federal open-access law reflected a court ruling that predated the Obama administration and wouldn’t have any effect on its commitment to open records and its compliance with requests for records.

“This is a matter of just cleaning up the records that are on the books,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “It has no impact at all on the policy that we had maintained from the beginning to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, when it’s appropriate.”

The move, announced Tuesday in the Federal Register, came as news organizations markedSunshine Week to showcase the public’s right to know, and it drew sharp criticism from advocates who already give the administration poor marks for news-media access.

“This is another example of the White House position avoiding transparency,” said John Wonderlich, policy director of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation. “Instead of creating more and better access to information, it’s trying to control it.”

“The president has routinely failed to deliver on his promise,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who’s proposed a law that would reduce the use of exemptions to withhold information from the public. . .

Continue reading.

Ted Bridis has this report, also in McClatchy:

The Obama administration set a new record again for more often than ever censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.

It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged.

Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent, the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in five years.

The government’s new figures, published Tuesday, covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. They showed that despite disappointments and failed promises by the White House to make meaningful improvements in the way it releases records, the law was more popular than ever. Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to keep up. It also spent about $28 million on lawyers’ fees to keep records secret.

The government responded . . .

Continue reading.

Obama has been a major disappointment in this area, and his promises about transparency are worthless.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 5:18 pm

We’re asking the wrong question about police shootings

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A very strong and good column by Radley Balko on how we are asking the wrong questions. He writes in the Washington Post:

The video below depicts the fatal police shooting of 38-year-old Jason Harrison in Dallas last year. Harrison’s mother had told the police that her son had been making threats, and that he was “bipolar schizo.”

More from the Dallas Morning News:

Police officials have previously said the body camera video backs up the officers’ accounts of self-defense, showing a fast-unfolding event in a tightly confined space. They were protecting themselves, police said.

Dallas police said Monday the department has completed its internal investigation into whether the officers broke any laws. The department did not make a ruling on that issue and instead forwarded the file to the Dallas County district attorney’s office, said police spokesman Lt. Jose Garcia.
Internal investigators are still reviewing the case to see if the officers violated any policies, Garcia said.

The two officers, John Rogers and Andrew Hutchins, are back on full duty and the case is awaiting review by a grand jury. Both officers had been on the force for more than five years at the time of the shooting.

I’d be very surprised if the grand jury indicts these officers. And I’m not sure it should. But the video is a great argument for changing the way we think about killing by police officers. From Eric Garner to Tamir Rice to the countless other shootings and initiations of force to make headlines in recent months, we’ve waited for grand jury investigations to pronounce a shooting legal or illegal, or a DA to pronounce it justified of unjustified, or for an internal investigation to deem it within or outside of a police agency’s policies and procedures.

But I recently spoke on a panel at the University of South Carolina with the former police officer and now law professor Seth Stoughton. He made a point that I think is critical in how we think about these incidents: We shouldn’t be asking if the police actions were legal or within department policy; we should be asking if they were necessary. Or if you’d like to use a word with a bit more urgency behind it, we should ask if they’re acceptable.

Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law. Asking whether or not it was within a police agency’s policies and procedures tells us nothing about the wisdom of those policies and procedures. Of course, both of those questions are important if your primary interest is in punishing police officers for these incidents. But while it can certainly be frustrating to see cops get a pass over and over again, even in incidents that seem particularly egregious, focusing on the individual officers involved hasn’t (and won’t) stopped people from getting killed.

Let’s go back to that Dallas shooting. Unfortunately, the video camera doesn’t capture the critical moments immediately prior to the shooting. But it does capture the initial police contact with Harrison. Let’s assume for a moment that the police account of the incident is 100 percent true — that Harrison did come at them with the screwdriver. The question we should be asking isn’t whether or not the police decision to shoot Harrison at that moment was justified. The question we should be asking is whether the interaction ever should have reached that moment. Or, to go back to our more basic question: Was this shooting necessary?

The video strongly suggests that it wasn’t. Why were two patrol officers responding to a call about a possibly schizophrenic man? Would it be better for a mental health professional to have accompanied them? If Dallas police officers are going to be the first responders to calls about mentally ill people who have possibly become dangerous, are they at least given training on how to interact with those people? Are they taught how to deescalate these situations?

From the video, it seems clear that these particular police officers did the escalating, not Harrison. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 5:10 pm

Closing in on the origin of life

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God doesn’t seem to be directly involved, at least not in the common way of thinking about it. Robert Service writes in Science:

The origin of life on Earth is a set of paradoxes. In order for life to have gotten started, there must have been a genetic molecule—something like DNA or RNA—capable of passing along blueprints for making proteins, the workhorse molecules of life. But modern cells can’t copy DNA and RNA without the help of proteins themselves. To make matters more vexing, none of these molecules can do their jobs without fatty lipids, which provide the membranes that cells need to hold their contents inside. And in yet another chicken-and-egg complication, protein-based enzymes (encoded by genetic molecules) are needed to synthesize lipids.

Now, researchers say they may have solved these paradoxes. Chemists report today that a pair of simple compounds, which would have been abundant on early Earth, can give rise to a network of simple reactions that produce the three major classes of biomolecules—nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids—needed for the earliest form of life to get its start. Although the new work does not prove that this is how life started, it may eventually help explain one of the deepest mysteries in modern science.

“This is a very important paper,” says Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist and origin-of-life researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who was not affiliated with the current research. “It proposes for the first time a scenario by which almost all of the essential building blocks for life could be assembled in one geological setting.”

Scientists have long touted their own favorite scenarios for which set of biomolecules formed first. “RNA World” proponents, for example suggest . . .

Continue reading.

The exciting thing is that if it’s the result of a natural process, then life must be present across our galaxy and others. Intelligent life, of course, is another story, and is rare even on earth.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

No more peacetime. Perpetual war instead

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Rosa Brooks writes in Foreign Policy:

Most of us view perpetual war as deeply inimical to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

We’re not wrong: Since the 9/11 attacks, two successive U.S. presidential administrations have embraced indefinite detention, massive secret surveillance programs, covert cross-border targeted killings, and a host of other troubling practices. In reaction, those concerned with rights and the rule of law have called for an end to the post-9/11 “war paradigm,” insisting that counterterrorism should not be conceptualized as war and urging a return to a law enforcement framework.

That’s an understandable impulse. It’s also largely a waste of time and energy. A decade and a half after 9/11, the war on terror continues to open new fronts from Syria to Libya to Nigeria. And it’s hard to see this changing under a Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush administration. Perpetual war is unlikely to end in our lifetimes. Until we accept this, the post-9/11 erosion of human rights is likely to continue.

That’s counterintuitive, but bear with me. Consider, first, the question of whether war and peace have ever been as distinct as we like to imagine and whether war has historically been the exception or the norm. Second, consider the degree to which the protection of human rights and the constraint on untrammeled state power currently depends on our ability to draw sharp lines between war and peace (or, at least, between war and not-war). Much that’s considered unacceptable and unlawful in peacetime becomes permissible in wartime. Third, consider that today it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war — not just because of bad-faith legal and political arguments made by U.S. officials (though we’ve seen plenty of those), but because of genuine and significant changes to the global geopolitical landscape. Finally, think about what we might gain if we abandoned the effort to draw increasingly arbitrary lines between peacetime and wartime and instead focused on developing institutions and norms capable of protecting rights and rule-of-law values at all times.

1. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

“I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war or by remaining on a perpetual war footing,” President Barack Obama said in February. That this statement came as the U.S. president unveiled his request for Congress to authorize military force against yet another enemy — the self-styled Islamic State, this time — was an irony lost on few observers.

No modern politician will praise war. Individual wars, perhaps — but not war as such. American political culture regards war as an occasional but regrettable necessity, at best, and a tragic and wholly avoidable failure, at worst. Either way, we view war as the exception and peace as the norm. As Obama put it in a 2013 speech, “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises.”

On the contrary: For much of human history, war has been the norm and peace has been the exception, though Americans have been largely blind to this reality. Foreign attacks on U.S. soil have been few and far between, and for most of U.S. history, the country’s wars have been fought by a small and highly professionalized military, making them largely invisible to the bulk of the American population.

The American Civil War — one of the few to visit its harms on the nation as a whole — occasioned the first U.S. government effort to codify the laws of armed conflict, a set of 1863 instructions issued to Union Army troops during the Civil War. “Modern times are distinguished from earlier ages by the existence, at one and the same time, of many nations and great governments related to one another in close intercourse,” declared General Orders No. 100, better known as the Lieber Code. “Peace is their normal condition; war is the exception. The ultimate object of all modern war is a renewed state of peace.”

This was an optimistic perspective in 1863, coming, as it did, in the middle of a century kicked off in Europe by the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted for over a decade and killed more than 3 million people, and during a bloody civil war that killed some 2 percent of the U.S. population. The 19th century was racked by conflict, from uprisings in Serbia and Greece to the Crimean War and the wars of Italian unification.

The 18th, 17th, 16th, and 15th centuries were similarly marred by widespread conflict, punctuated less by periods of peace than by periods of smaller-scale conflicts. Look back further, and the same is true. As historian Michael Howard put it in The Invention of Peace, “Archaeological, anthropological, as well as all surviving documentary evidence indicates that war, armed conflict between organized political groups, has been the universal norm in human history.”

And the century that followed the Lieber Code’s historical misremembering was no better: Two world wars wiped out tens of millions, to say nothing of the numerous non-Western conflicts that engulfed parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even the fortunate United States was in a state of near-constant warfare throughout the 20th century. There were the two world wars, of course, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. And there were many other conflicts between 1900 and 2000 that Americans have largely edited out of the national narrative. Between 1900 and 2000, the United States has also used military force in China, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Turkey, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, and El Salvador, among other places. Granted, these were mostly “small wars” — but as legal historian Mary Dudziak notes in her fine book War Time, “It is only through forgetting the small wars that so much of American history is remembered as peacetime.”

Why should Americans expect anything different from the 21st century? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Government, Military

What the GOP wants for the country, according to their budget

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post at Mother Jones:

I would like to nominate this for least surprising headline of the year:

GOP cuts

And it gets even better. This is unusually straightforward reporting:

House Republicans called it streamlining, empowering states or “achieving sustainability.” They couched deep spending reductions in any number of gauzy euphemisms.

What they would not do on Tuesday was call their budget plan, which slashes spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, a “cut.” The 10-year blueprint for taxes and spending they formally unveiled would balance the federal budget, even promising a surplus by 2024, but only with the sort of sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.

I get that budget documents are often as much aspirational as anything else, but surely they should have at least some grounding in reality? Here’s the best part:

The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated,the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place —essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.

House Republicans sure don’t make it easy to take them seriously, do they?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 2:32 pm

Sharp knives at last

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I have coaxed my kitchen knives along for some time, but lately I’ve been clubbing my food more than sharpening it. I have had a Cher’s Choice electric knife sharpener, but I strongly advise against those: they do a bad job and they are designed to fail after a certain period so that you either pay a hefty refurbishing fee or buy a new one. The sign of failure is when your knives after being “sharpened” on the machine have a blunt edge that will cut nothing.

So I finally ordered an Edge Pro Apex, a sharpener system I’ve been wanting for (literally) years. I don’t know why I hesitated so long. Here it is in use:

He has other videos (sharpening serrated knives, sharpening large and small knives, and finishing the knife, but that gives you the idea. (The site has a collection of videos.)

The reason I’m posting: it’s out for delivery right now, so I’ll get it today. I’m so excited.

UPDATE: My kitchen knife is sharp once more, and I don’t think I even did a good job. I’ll get better with practice: at first it feels like trying to pat your head with one hand rub your stomach with the other. But even though I stopped at the 400 grit stone (skipping the 1000 grit and not doing the polish), the knife behaved much better on a test carrot. Lamb curry tonight, so I’ll be doing some chopping…

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 11:08 am

Posted in Daily life

For the Laura Ingalls Wilder fans

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My children, especially The Eldest, greatly loved the memoir-ish accounts by Laura Ingalls Wilder, of “Little House on the Prairie” fame. This review by April Barnard in the NY Review of Books of the actual memoir from which the books were drawn and adapted will be of interest to all who read those books as (or to) children.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 10:52 am

Posted in Books

The Scandal of the Anti A-10 Campaign

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It’s been read that, within the US military, the true enemy is not some foreign power, but the other branches of the service: if you’re Navy, the enemy is the Army and the Air Force and the Marine Corps; if you’re Air Force, the enemy is the Army and the Navy and the Marine Corps; and so on.

The budgetary fights and the deep-seated desire to dominate and control the other service branches is profound. The Coast Guard, as part of DHS and not DOD, stands somewhat aside.

In particular, the Air Force resents being tasked with close air support—supporting the troops on the ground feels to Air Force brass like having their wings clipped. So the Air Force has fought to kill the A10 Warthog from the outset. The fact that the A10 is a low-cost and highly effective combat aircraft is irrelevant: the Air Force does not want to do close air support. Period.

James Fallows has a good column on the intense fight—which may be successful—to kill the A10.

I argued that the importance of the A-10/F-35 story had relatively little to do with the comparative virtues of either airplane—one relatively cheap but battle-proven and very effective, the other increasingly expensive but also fragile and increasingly difficult to keep out of the repair shop. Rather the real significance was what their stories showed about the cultural and even moral characteristics of the way we think and act on national defense.

Moral?  Yes, moral. In public we generally talk about defense as if it were mainly a matter of bombs, machines, and the dollars that buy them. Of course those matter. But from Napoleon (“in warfare the moral is to the physical as three is to one”) to Air Force strategist John Boyd (what counts in combat is “people, ideas, and hardware — in that order!”), students of conflict have emphasized the crucial role of character and integrity.

Character and integrity are involved in this battle-of-the-warplanes in the following way (as sketched out in my story): The A-10, which is flown by the Air Force, has always had a strange stepchild status there. It is truly beloved by the Army, whose ground troops the A-10 has saved or protected in so many engagements. To the Air Force, in contrast, this mission of “close air support” has never been a budgetary or cultural priority—as opposed to bombing, aerial combat, “air superiority” in general, and even transport.

In a rationally organized defense system, the A-10 would belong to the Army, which needs and loves it. The Army could include it in its budgets, keep as many flying as possible, make it the center of its close-air-support arsenal. But for bureaucratic reasons known in shorthand as the “Key West agreement,” the Army directly controls armed helicopters but not many fixed-wing airplanes. Thus through the decades we’ve seen a long push-pull struggle between the Air Force, chronically eager to dump the A-10 and make way for other models, including now the troubled F-35, and the Army, which wants the A-10 but has no direct way to keep it in the budget.

Several weeks ago I mentioned the truly alarming news that a three-star Air Force general had warned his officers against speaking up about the A-10’s (very strong) combat record. As the Arizona Daily Independent reported, Air Force Maj. Gen. James Post told officers that if word of his views ever got out he would deny it, but he wanted them to know that passing information to Congress about the A-10’s effectiveness constituted “treason.” When the news came out, the Air Force didn’t even deny the comments; a spokesperson just called them “hyperbole.”

Since then, news continues to emerge of the institutional military—some people in uniform, others in the contractor diaspora—trying to make the A-10 look worse than it really is, and the F-35 look better. For what these episodes show about military-industrial-political culture, here is a reading list:

Lying to Win: Air Force Misrepresents Combat Records In Campaign to Retire A-10.” This is a report last month from a retired Air Force officer named Tony Carr at his John Q. Public blog.

The Little “Fighter” That Couldn’t: Moral Hazard and the F-35,” a John Q. Public update by Carr yesterday on the mounting bad news about the F-35 and military efforts to contain it.

Not Ready for Prime Time,” a report by the Project on Government Oversight(POGO) on problems, failures, and deception involving the (favored) F-35.

Now the U.S. Air Force Wants You to Believe the A-10 Is Too Old to Fight,” byJoseph Trevithick this week for the War Is Boring site on Medium. You’re getting the drift of these news reports.

The F-35 Is Still FUBAR,” by A.C. Vicens yesterday in Mother Jones.

Operation Destroy CAS Update,” by the Arizona Daily Independent, which has been all over the A-10 story. CAS is, again, close air support, the mission at which the A-10 has been unexcelled, and the story details Air Force efforts to blunt that fact.

U.S. Rep. McSally Urges Halt to ‘Disproportionate’ A-10 Cuts.” Martha McSally, a first-term Republican Representative from Arizona who is herself a former A-10 pilot (and was the first woman in U.S. history to fly combat missions), writes to the new Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, to complain about the anti-Warthog effort.

The Monthly Newsletter, by Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group.  My friend Richard Aboulafia is an always-quoted expert on aircraft issues both civilian and military. He devotes his latest newsletter to putting the A-10 debate in strategic perspective.

As I say, it’s a debate that matters in the short- and medium- term for the aircraft the military uses, and in the long term for the way the country thinks about its defense. More links after the jump. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 10:15 am

Trumper Coconut Oil shaving cream and Krampert’s Finest Bay Rum

with 4 comments

SOTD 18 Mar 2015

A request shave. I didn’t have the brush requested (a Savile Row) so I picked the big, soft Omega silvertip shown. The shaving cream is pretty dried out, and in fact I had a little difficulty in getting a good lather going—I’ve become so accustomed to shaving soaps may be some of it, but I think I should hydrate the cream a little.

The Feather AS-D2 with (of course) a Feather blade did a very nice job: 3 passes to a very smooth outcome.

Bay rum seems to go with coconut in my mind, so I picked Krampert’s Finest, which I think really is my favorite. It’s a shake-before-each-use bay rum, and a good splash of that finished the shave in fine style.

Here’s an interesting article on shaving.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 10:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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