Later On

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

Archive for March 30th, 2015

Under Obama, access denied: Reporters say federal officials, data increasingly off limits

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Obama’s words about “transparency” are completed contradicted by his actions. He talks the talk, but he doesn’t walk the walk. Paul Farhi reports in the Washington Post:

Stacey Singer, a health reporter for the Palm Beach Post in Florida, was perusing a medical journal in 2012 when she came across something startling: a federal epidemiologist’s report about a tuberculosis outbreak in the Jacksonville area. Singer promptly began pursuing the story.

But when she started seeking official comment about the little-reported outbreak, the doors began closing. County health officials referred her to the state health department. State officials referred her to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though the CDC’s own expert had written the investigative report, the agency’s press office declined to let Singer speak with him. A spokesman told her it was a local matter and sent her back to the state office in Tallahassee.

Through public-records requests, Singer eventually was able to piece together the story of a contagion that had caused 13 deaths and 99 illnesses — the worst the CDC had found in 20 years.

“It’s really expensive to fight this hard” for public information, said Singer, now an editorial writer at the newspaper, who suspects that officials were slow to respond because news of the TB outbreak might have harmed Florida’s tourism industry. “They know that to delay is to deny. . . . They know we have to move on to other stories.”

The stories aren’t always as consequential or as dramatic as a TB outbreak, but Singer’s experience is shared by virtually every journalist on the government beat, from the White House on down. They can recite tales with similar outlines: An agency spokesman — frequently a political appointee — rejects the reporter’s request for interviews, offers partial or nonresponsive replies, or delays responding at all until after the journalist’s deadline has passed.

Interview requests that are granted are closely monitored, reporters say, with a press “minder” sitting in. Some agencies require reporters to pose their questions by e-mail, a tactic that enables officials to carefully craft and vet their replies.Tensions between reporters and public information officers — “hacks and flacks” in the vernacular — aren’t new, of course. Reporters have always wanted more information than government officials have been willing or able to give.

But journalists say the lid has grown tighter under the Obama administration, whose chief executive promised in 2009 to bring “an unprecedented level of openness” to the federal government.

The frustrations boiled over last summer in a letter to President Obamasigned by 38 organizations representing journalists and press-freedom advocates. The letter decried “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies” by spokesmen. “We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear,” the groups wrote.

They asked for “a clear directive” from Obama “telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so.”

Obama hasn’t acted on the suggestion. . .

Continue reading.

Our government is going dark. And Obama has repeatedly proved to be untrustworthy. Of course he’s not acted on the suggestion. He doesn’t want the government to be open and transparent.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2015 at 5:57 pm

Totally missing the impact of the Indiana law

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Lesley Clark writes in McClatchy: “Republican presidential hopefuls are lining up behind a controversial Indiana law that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers by invoking religious freedom.”

She totally misses the point. Religious beliefs are very personal and idiosyncratic. A Christian, for example, might turn away someone who’s divorced, since Jesus condemned divorce. Or some might believe that African-Americans are the cursed descendents of Ham, as the Mormons once held (and some Mormons might still believe). Or a person might refuse service to someone of another religion, a “pagan” or “heathen” of one sort of another.

Really, the law allows businesses to refuse to serve anyone, since the test is personal religious belief, and that can be pretty much anything. Gays and lesbians are only a small part of it.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2015 at 5:52 pm

Non-hierarchical management system

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Very interesting development, reported by Rebecca Greenfield in Fast Company:

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh offered his nearly 4,000 employees an ultimatum last week: accept Holacracy or leave.

While the word may conjure images of a new-age cult, Holacracy is an alternative organizational structure that has been adopted by companies around the world—including Medium, the alt-publishing platform from Twitter cofounder Ev Williams, and the David Allen Company, the productivity consultants. It sheds traditional hierarchies for self-governing teams that get work done through tactical meetings. Zappos is the largest company to have adopted the system, and the transition hasn’t been entirely smooth. By multiple reports and now an admission in an internal memo, first posted by Quartz and obtained by Fast Company, people don’t love the idea of relinquishing their manager titles.

Nevertheless, Hsieh is anxious to fully embrace Holacracy, and is going all-in on the new structure by offering three months severance to people who don’t want to adapt. “We’ve been operating partially under Holacracy and partially under the legacy management hierarchy in parallel for over a year now,” Hsieh writes in the memo. “Having one foot in one world while having the other foot in the other world has slowed down our transformation towards self-management and self-organization.”

Adopting Holacracy isn’t cheap or easy. The system has its own set of rules and lingo, and is complicated to implement. The Holacracy parent company, HolacracyOne, helps companies transition by offering consulting services that run from $50,000 to $500,000, depending on how long it takes to achieve self-sufficiency. Even for much smaller companies, like Medium, which implemented Holacracy when it was just a couple dozen people in 2012, the journey takes multiple years and has a steep learning curve.

Holacracy was invented by Brian Robertson, a 35-year-old former programmer with barely any management experience. He created Holacracy in 2007 because he had a “burning sense that there has to be a better way to work together,” he said in an interview with Fast Company. Robertson, who describes himself as a coding savant, says he taught himself to program at age 6. By the time he was 13, he says he was charging $25 an hour for software development through the Sierra Network, an early competitor to AOL. “They had no idea how old I was” Robertson said. “I didn’t even know enough to name my business.”

After dropping out of the Stevens Institute of Technology, 17-year-old Robertson managed to get a job at Analytical Graphics, an aerospace company known for its perk-laced work culture. “You couldn’t beat the benefits, the environment, the culture. From a conventional view, they were really cool” he said. They had free meals, a gym, and a game room. Robertson had a great boss, who he still considers a friend and mentor. Analytical Graphics even won an award for being one of the best small companies to work for in the U.S. by the Great Place to Work Institute.

Robertson hated it.

“The bureaucracy seemed to be set up in a way that people couldn’t use their gifts, their talents,” Robertson said. In 2001, he started his own company to figure out a better way to run one.

Robertson certainly isn’t alone in his disdain for top-down order. Holacracy comes out of and operates within a milieu of unconventional ways to work that have become more popular in the last decade as younger and more visionary CEOs eschew tradition and seek out a new way of working. Among the options are sociocracy, Freedom at Work, the Morning Star Self Management System, and the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). Each of those systems, including Holacracy, has a distinct approach to the same general problem. “The industrial age operating system is no longer compatible,” said Traci Fenton, the founder and CEO of WorldBlu, which preaches the Freedom at Work method used by hundreds of companies worldwide, including Zappos before it adopted Holacracy. “You have to move into the new age to realize we’ve outgrown the clothes.”

The hierarchical organization dates back to the industrial revolution, when companies wanted to preserve accountability while employing large numbers of people. . .

Continue reading. A sidebar to the article defines some terms:


Circle: In a Holacracy, people work within circles that represent different aspects of a company’s work.

Role: A job with a specific mandate within a circle. The person who empowers a given role has autonomy over that domain.

Governance: A regimented meeting where the structure of the organization—circles, roles—is decided. These can happen as often as an organization thinks is necessary.

Tactical Meeting: A replacement for weekly team meetings, during which circle members “process tensions” until they’re resolved.

Tension: “Dissonance between what is (current reality) and what could be (the purpose).” In other words: the problem someone has with the work.

Tension Processing: Each person talks out his problem with the group until he who raised the tension is satisfied with a next step.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2015 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Business

GitHub’s Largest DDoS Attack Is Still Going, 4 Days Later

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The Chinese government is determined to keep their citizens from getting information from the outside world. Report at Motherboard.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2015 at 9:51 am

Posted in Government, Technology

Indiana Is Neither Kind Nor Welcoming to Gays

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Excellent post by Kevin Drum on Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s refusal to recognize the language and plain intent of the law he signed. Pence was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos and twisted himself silly to avoid understanding (or answering) the questions he was asked. From Drum’s post:

Hoosiers may indeed be the kindest and most welcoming folks in the country, but that cuts no ice in court. In court, any business can claim that it’s being discriminated against if it’s forced to sell its services to a gay couple, and thanks to specific language in the Indiana statute, no court can throw out the claim on the grounds that a business is a public accommodation.

That’s different from other RFRAs, and it’s neither especially kind nor welcoming. Indiana has taken anti-gay hostility to a new and higher level, and Pence and his legislature deserve all the flack they’re getting for it. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2015 at 9:32 am

Posted in Government, Religion

Interesting analysis of the movie Pretty Woman

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I hadn’t realized that it was the 25th anniversary of Pretty Woman, directed by Garry Marshall and starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. I had seen it mentioned a couple of places, so I just watched it again, and then I found these two excellent exegeses of the movie, one on plot and one on the use of fashion. It always surprises me at how little is left to chance in a big-budget movie: everything is a carefully considered decision. The articles are recommended:

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2015 at 9:02 am

Posted in Movies & TV

i Coloniali and the Walbusch

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SOtD 30 Mar 2015

Not so good a shave, though the aftershave is surprisingly good—it has a very interesting note in the fragrance.

The Kent BK4 is a terrific brush. My error was in forgetting how very thirsty i Coloniali’s soap is. I should have added some driblets of water as I loaded the brush. Thus the lather was somewhat subpar, but totally my own fault.

Then the Walbusch vintage plastic slant, normally superb, had a blade that, after finishing the first pass, just seemed too dull. So I removed it (a Personna Lab Blue) and replaced it with a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge. Whether my error, the dull blade, the new blade, or the contrast, I managed to get two nicks. Neither was serious, but this is normally a nick-free razor. Again, I chalk it up to operator error, and I am thankful that I have My Nik Is Sealed on hand: great stuff and highly effective.

A splash of the aftershave which I discovered lurking at the back of one of the lower shelves, so it’s not been used for a while, and I did like it for the interesting fragrance. I’ll probably be using it more often.

Still, I look forward even more to tomorrow’s shave. Learning through experience is what it’s all about.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2015 at 8:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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