Later On

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

Archive for April 29th, 2015

When Korean movies are good, they are very, very good. Example: The Suspect

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Here it is. Action thriller. Unbelievable car chase just now.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 10:26 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Recipe comment: Shakshuka with Feta

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I just made this recipe. I followed it pretty closely: 8 oz (sheep-milk) feta instead of 5 oz, but everything else, including times, as specified.

For those using jumbo eggs, cook in the oven for 12 minutes, not 10—and not 14, which results in the yolks (including the one double yolk I got) cooking solid.

Although recipe suggests the red bell pepper be cut in strips, as I cooked the pepper with the onions, I used my cherrywood spatula to cut the strips in half, a more comfortable size. I highly recommend this spatula, but with a 12″ handle instead of a 10″. (He will do custom orders if you want.) I have four, in case of breakage, and I use them for everything. They are terrific for stirring, and for sautéing they cannot be beat.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 6:21 pm

How Baltimore’s police and poverty fueled a youth revolt

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UPDATE: The NY Times chimes in with an editorial that’s worth reading.

It did seem to be like a revolt more than a riot, and the David Simon interview I blogged earlier touched on some of the causes. In The Intercept Juan Thompson and George Joseph report more about the situation:

West Baltimore, the site of most of the unrest that’s erupted in this city in the wake of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, has all the staples of a forgotten, neglected urban neighborhood: liquor stores, storefront churches, check-cashing joints and vacant buildings. Lots of vacant buildings. In fact, riding into Baltimore’s Penn Station, the first sight for Amtrak passengers is row after row of vacant houses.

“Those vacant houses almost represent our lost dreams,” said Kianda Miller, 33. Miller is a single mother of four children who lives near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, in the area in which Gray was detained by police before struggling in a police van and dying as a result of spinal injuries. “People are kinda lost,” Miller added. “No jobs, no money, no hope, nothing.”

In order to understand the events that followed Gray’s killing — the fires, the looting, the clashes with police that occurred Saturday and Tuesday — one must first understand the relationship between the police and the poor, mostly black residents of this section of the city. In her book, The Hero’s Fight: African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State, author Patricia Fernandez-Kelly wrote about “how growing up poor in the richest nation in the world involves daily interactions with agents of the state, an experience that differs significantly from that of more affluent populations.” When Kianda Miller said that her neighbors didn’t have money, she was right. One entity, however, has plenty of resources: the police department. Last summer, The Baltimore Sun reported that “police departments in Maryland have received more than $12 million in excess equipment from the U.S. military through a federal program that has come under bipartisan scrutiny.”

The Baltimore PD has enough of an outsized bank account to rank as the eigthth largest department in the country — in a city that’s only the nation’s 27th largest. The bulked up department has developed a reputation for brutal treatment of black residents. Since 2011 alone, the city has paid nearly $6 million to settle police brutality cases.

One man was beaten bloody because he refused to sit down in the grass when a plains clothes officer approached him after he bought some fried chicken for dinner. The Sun cataloged the attacks:

Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

We approached a number of younger protesters at the the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North Avenues for interviews in West Baltimore on Tuesday. The vast majority of them declined. “I don’t want to answer y’all questions. We don’t trust y’all either,” one demonstrator said.

As often happens within social movements, a generational divide has opened up. The youth who rebelled didn’t “have any home training,” local resident Lorraine Hall said in an interview. “All police aren’t bad. There’s the good and there’s the bad. Deal with it and get out there and protest peacefully.”

A younger resident, who identified himself as Naz Gibson, 22, and who lives in the Gilmor Homes, said, “The old heads don’t understand, we’re not going to take a back seat anymore. We don’t wanna live like them. Look around! We’re going to do better!”

A blighted neighborhood in an impoverished city

The poisoned relationship between police and residents in West Baltimore has unfolded against the backdrop of economic devastation. Baltimore is ranked the sixth poorest city in the country. The Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, where the Gilmor Homes are located, is one of the poorest in the city. More than half of its residents aged 16-64 are unemployed. The median household income is only $24,000, and more than 60 percent of the population doesn’t have a high school diploma. Nearly 33 percent of the homes in Sandtown-Winchester sit vacant.

The economic situation has been exacerbated by institutionalized racism against black residents. In 2008, Baltimore officials alleged, in a suit supported by testimony from former Wells Fargo loan officers, that the national bank engaged in unscrupulous lending practices, while its staffers called black Baltimore residents “mud people” and referred to loans given out to black residents as “ghetto loans.” The city said the bank’s predatory lending ultimately exacerbated Baltimore’s problem with vacant buildings.

On top of its other problems, Sandtown-Winchester also suffers under one of the highest incarceration rates of any one community in the state.

A thoroughly militarized police force

Since 2006, Baltimore’s Police Department has bulked up its surveillance and military capacities. Some of the huge guns, riot gear, and armored vehicles currently being used to intimidate protestors in Baltimore may have come directly from the Department of Defense’s Excess Property program, left over from the American invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2006, The Baltimore Sun reported, the Department of Defense’s Excess Property program gave over $12 million worth of excess military equipment to police departments across Maryland, including mine-resistant and armed combat vehicles. Since the program began, The City of Baltimore has received at least $553,000 worth of military equipment and the county received 283 rifles. (The Baltimore Police Department did not respond toThe Intercept’s inquiry as to whether weapons used in response to the Freddie Gray protests were received from the Department of Defense.)

Since 2007, the Baltimore police have spent more than $250,000 on cell-phone tracking devices, which have been used to monitor thousands of Baltimore residents indiscriminately and without warrant. The department uses this technology with almost complete impunity, and has even publicly disclosed it is following directions from the FBI to block information on the program from judges and prosecutors. This fact is even more alarming when put in the national context. Over the past seven years, Baltimore’s police department has used stingray data collection 4,300 times, usage that goes far beyond many cities and even states across the country.

Indeed, the Baltimore PD’s surveillance capabilities are now a far cry from the bygone era of Lester Freamon’s dusty intelligence basement. Last year, the department unveiled its new “Watch Center,” a central intelligence hub equipped to collect, centralize, and comb through data across the entire city. As ABC News reported, inside the “Watch Center” police intelligence officials can view all city surveillance footage, track the location of social media posts in real time, and use this data to map social media movement across the city — an ominous sign for protestors and the horde of reporters tweeting after them.

Many black residents in West Baltimore say all this gear has been used to treat them like enemies on the battlefield. Betty Smith, a young person from the Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray once lived, said she’s never been able walk around without being stopped and harassed by police. “I grew up with him [Gray], he was a fun loving guy… Once the police hopped on me, my daughter, and my two nephews and made us sit down at gun point. We’re kids! They’re one and two!” says Smith. “The police are bullies with badges. They harass us all day long and we can’t even walk down the street. They lock us up for jay-walking. We can’t do nothing.”

James Drummond, a 29-year-old protester from West Baltimore, said the police’s surveillance technologies are being used inappropriately against protestors. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Vegetarians Less Healthy, Lower Quality Of Life Than Meat-Eaters

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Interesting article. (I may have noticed it because of confirmation bias, it should be noted.)

UPDATE: Here is some disconfirming evidence.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Low carb, Science

It’s unfortunate, but we must face the fact that the FBI is, in general, clueless

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Look at the mess they made of their forensic lab, and now Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports at Motherboard on FBI cluelessness regarding encryption:

The FBI has been railing against encryption for more than six months, arguing that its widespread use would “lead us all to a very dark place,” and that it would help child abusers, terrorists, and other criminals escape the long arm of the law.

On Wednesday, the FBI had a chance to make its case in the first congressionalhearing on this issue in years. And yet, Amy Hess, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch, failed to clearly say exactly what the FBI wants from Apple, Google, and other companies—once again.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on encryption technology, with the goal of discussing American law enforcement claims that new security measures by Apple and other companies might hinder investigations, and what can be done to prevent that. The FBI, as well as President Barack Obama and other government officials, are worried that the encryption used to secure data stored on a cellphone, as well as messages sent by cellphone users, could stop investigators from accessing relevant information during investigations.

When asked directly if the FBI wants a backdoor, Hess dodged the question and did not describe in detail what actual solution the FBI is seeking.

“We are simply asking for information that we seek in response to a lawful order in a readable format,” Hess responded, while also repeating that the Bureau supports strong encryption. “But how that actually happens should be the decision of the provider.”

When pressed again, Hess said that it would be okay for the FBI not to have a key to decrypt data, if the provider “can get us that information by maintaining the key themselves.”

The problem, according to numerous technologist and encryption experts, is that you cannot design a secure encryption system that would allow for something like that. Because if someone has a key, or a backdoor to access supposedly encrypted data, criminals or malicious hackers can get their hands on that too.

During the hearing, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) asked whether anyone among the witnesses believed you could build a technically secure backdoor with a “golden key”—a term that’s been used by some to describe a potential solution in the past— and encouraged them to raise their hand if they did.

No one, including the FBI’s Hess, as well as Daniel Conley, the Suffolk County District Attorney in Massachusetts, who denounced that mobile phones are “the tools of terrorists” and that encryption will help perverts and terrorists, raised their hand.

Technologists and privacy advocates quickly decried the FBI’s lack of technical details when requesting a solution to what the bureau calls the “going dark” problem, a scenario where unbreakable encryption is so pervasive that agents don’t have access to relevant data during investigations.

Matt Blaze, an associate professor in computer science at Penn and a respected cybersecurity and cryptography expert, repeated that point during the hearing, saying that there’s no such thing as “security systems that can be bypassed by the good guys but that also reliably keep the bad guys out. As a technologist I can’t ignore a stark reality, which is simply that it can’t be done safely.”

But, in a bizarre response, Conley complained about Blaze’s and other technologists’ attitude, invoking the moon race. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 3:17 pm

David Simon on what happened in Baltimore and why

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The war on drugs has been incredibly destructive—and pointless. Indeed, Nixon’s own commission recommended a moderate (and medical) approach to the drug problem, but instead we opened the door to tyranny. At the Marshall Project Bill Keller interviews David Simon the Baltimore context. The interview covers that actual causes of the rioting and burning that happened in Baltimore. The actual causes go back a way:

David Simon is Baltimore’s best-known chronicler of life on the hard streets. He worked for The Baltimore Sun city desk for a dozen years, wrote “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” (1991) and with former homicide detective Ed Burns co-wrote The Corner: A Year in the Life of An Inner-City Neightborhood” (1997), which Simon adapted into an HBO miniseries. He is the creator, executive producer and head writer of the HBO television series “The Wire” (2002–2008). Simon is a member of The Marshall Project’s advisory board. He spoke with Bill Keller on Tuesday.

BK: What do people outside the city need to understand about what’s going on there — the death of Freddie Gray and the response to it?

DS: I guess there’s an awful lot to understand and I’m not sure I understand all of it. The part that seems systemic and connected is that the drug war — which Baltimore waged as aggressively as any American city — was transforming in terms of police/community relations, in terms of trust, particularly between the black community and the police department. Probable cause was destroyed by the drug war. It happened in stages, but even in the time that I was a police reporter, which would have been the early 80s to the early 90s, the need for police officers to address the basic rights of the people they were policing in Baltimore was minimized. It was done almost as a plan by the local government, by police commissioners and mayors, and it not only made everybody in these poor communities vulnerable to the most arbitrary behavior on the part of the police officers, it taught police officers how not to distinguish in ways that they once did.

Probable cause from a Baltimore police officer has always been a tenuous thing. It’s a tenuous thing anywhere, but in Baltimore, in these high crime, heavily policed areas, it was even worse. When I came on, there were jokes about, “You know what probable cause is on Edmondson Avenue? You roll by in your radio car and the guy looks at you for two seconds too long.” Probable cause was whatever you thought you could safely lie about when you got into district court.

Then at some point when cocaine hit and the city lost control of a lot of corners and the violence was ratcheted up, there was a real panic on the part of the government. And they basically decided that even that loose idea of what the Fourth Amendment was supposed to mean on a street level, even that was too much. Now all bets were off. Now you didn’t even need probable cause. The city council actually passed an ordinance that declared a certain amount of real estate to be drug-free zones. They literally declared maybe a quarter to a third of inner city Baltimore off-limits to its residents, and said that if you were loitering in those areas you were subject to arrest and search. Think about that for a moment: It was a permission for the police to become truly random and arbitrary and to clear streets any way they damn well wanted.

How does race figure into this? It’s a city with a black majority and now a black mayor and black police chief, a substantially black police force.

What did Tom Wolfe write about cops? They all become Irish? That’s a line in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” When Ed and I reported “The Corner,” it became clear that the most brutal cops in our sector of the Western District were black. The guys who would really kick your ass without thinking twice were black officers. If I had to guess and put a name on it, I’d say that at some point, the drug war was as much a function of class and social control as it was of racism. I think the two agendas are inextricably linked, and where one picks up and the other ends is hard to say. But when you have African-American officers beating the dog-piss out of people they’re supposed to be policing, and there isn’t a white guy in the equation on a street level, it’s pretty remarkable. But in some ways they were empowered. Back then, even before the advent of cell phones and digital cameras — which have been transforming in terms of documenting police violence — back then, you were much more vulnerable if you were white and you wanted to wail on somebody. You take out your nightstick and you’re white and you start hitting somebody, it has a completely different dynamic than if you were a black officer. It was simply safer to be brutal if you were black, and I didn’t know quite what to do with that fact other than report it. It was as disturbing a dynamic as I could imagine. Something had been removed from the equation that gave white officers — however brutal they wanted to be, or however brutal they thought the moment required — it gave them pause before pulling out a nightstick and going at it. Some African American officers seemed to feel no such pause.

What the drug war did, though, was make this all a function of social control. This was simply about keeping the poor down, and that war footing has been an excuse for everybody to operate outside the realm of procedure and law. And the city willingly and legally gave itself over to that, beginning with the drug-free zones and with the misuse of what are known on the street in the previous generation as ‘humbles.’ A humble is a cheap, inconsequential arrest that nonetheless gives the guy a night or two in jail before he sees a court commissioner. You can arrest people on “failure to obey,” it’s a humble. Loitering is a humble. These things were used by police officers going back to the ‘60s in Baltimore. It’s the ultimate recourse for a cop who doesn’t like somebody who’s looking at him the wrong way. And yet, back in the day, there was, I think, more of a code to it. If you were on a corner, you knew certain things would catch you a humble. The code was really ornate, and I’m not suggesting in any way that the code was always justifiable in any sense, but there was a code.

In some districts, if you called a Baltimore cop a motherfucker in the 80s and even earlier, that was not generally a reason to go to jail. If the cop came up to clear your corner and you’re moving off the corner, and out of the side of your mouth you call him a motherfucker, you’re not necessarily going to jail if that cop knows his business and played according to code. Everyone gets called a motherfucker, that’s within the realm of general complaint. But the word “asshole” — that’s how ornate the code was — asshole had a personal connotation. You call a cop an asshole, you’re going hard into the wagon in Baltimore. At least it used to be that way. Who knows if those gradations or nuances have survived the cumulative brutalities of the drug war. I actually don’t know if anything resembling a code even exists now.

For example, you look at the people that Baltimore was beating down in that list in that story the Sun published last year about municipal payouts for police brutality, and it shows no discernible or coherent pattern. (In 2014 The Baltimore Sun published a breakdown of money awarded to settle claims of police brutality, totaling $5.7 million.) There’s no code at all, it’s just, what side of the bed did I get up on this morning and who looked at me first? And that is a function of people failing to learn how to police. When you are beating on 15-year-old kids and elderly retirees – and you aren’t even managing to put even plausible misdemeanor charges on some arrestees, you’ve lost all professional ethos.

The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O’Malley. (O’Malley was mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007, governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015, and may seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.) He destroyed police work in some real respects. Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart. Everyone thinks I’ve got a hard-on for Marty because we battled over “The Wire,” whether it was bad for the city, whether we’d be filming it in Baltimore. But it’s been years, and I mean, that’s over. I shook hands with him on the train last year and we buried it. And, hey, if he’s the Democratic nominee, I’m going to end up voting for him. It’s not personal and I admire some of his other stances on the death penalty and gay rights. But to be honest, what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing.

Originally, early in his tenure, O’Malley brought Ed Norris in as commissioner and Ed knew his business. He’d been a criminal investigator and commander in New York and he knew police work. And so, for a time, real crime suppression and good retroactive investigation was emphasized, and for the Baltimore department, it was kind of like a fat man going on a diet. Just leave the French fries on the plate and you lose the first ten pounds. The initial crime reductions in Baltimore under O’Malley were legit and O’Malley deserved some credit.

But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation. And so there were people from City Hall who walked over Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically. On paper.

How? There were two initiatives. First, the department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month. They actually had police supervisors stationed with printed forms at the city jail – forms that said, essentially, you can go home now if you sign away any liability the city has for false arrest, or you can not sign the form and spend the weekend in jail until you see a court commissioner. And tens of thousands of people signed that form.

My own crew members [on “The Wire”] used to get picked up trying to come from the set at night. We’d wrap at like one in the morning, and we’d be in the middle of East Baltimore and they’d start to drive home, they’d get pulled over. My first assistant director — Anthony Hemingway — ended up at city jail. No charge. Driving while black, and then trying to explain that he had every right to be where he was, and he ended up on Eager Street. Charges were non-existent, or were dismissed en masse. Martin O’Malley’s logic was pretty basic: If we clear the streets, they’ll stop shooting at each other. We’ll lower the murder rate because there will be no one on the corners.

(Eager Street is the location of the notorious Baltimore City Detention Center. The jail was embroiled in a widespread corruption scandal that resulted in dozens of inmates and corrections officers convicted on federal charges. It has also been under a federal civil rights investigation for more than a decade over its use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders.)

The city eventually got sued by the ACLU and had to settle, but O’Malley defends the wholesale denigration of black civil rights to this day. . .

Continue reading.

By all means, read the entire interview. Simon clearly lays out what caused those riots and those fires, and the details will astound you.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 2:21 pm

How the Aurora Mass Shooting Cost More Than $100 Million

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Mark Follman reports on the total costs of the Aurora mass shooting, which is just one of many mass shootings that occur in the US on a regular basis:

“We focus on the proceedings. We focus on the death penalty. We focus on the perpetrator. But we don’t focus on the people affected.”

That was how Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was among the 12 people murdered in a movie theater in July 2012, described the American public’s perception as the trial of mass shooter James Holmes got underway on Monday in Aurora, Colorado. It’s a fair point given theinordinate attention that such killers crave, and tend to get, from the media. Yet as Phillips also noted, “that ripple effect of how many people are affected by one act by one person, one animal, is incredibly large.”

She’s right—not just in terms of the trauma and suffering borne by the victims (an additional 58 wounded and 12 others injured in the chaos), their families, and their communities, but also in terms of the literal cost. The price tag for what was one of the worst mass murders in US history is in fact stunningly high: well over $100 million, according to our groundbreaking investigation into the costs of gun violence published earlier this month.

For a quick explanation of the data behind the large sums our country pays for this problem, watch the following 90-second video, with more details on the Aurora tally continuing just below:

The economic impact of Aurora: For starters, long before the attorneys gave opening statements this week, legal proceedings for Holmes had already topped$5.5 million back in February, including expenses related to the unusually large pool of 9,000 prospective jurors called for the case. Add to that the total costs for each of the 12 victims killed: At an average of about $6 million each, that’s another $72 million. For the 58 who survived gunshots and were hospitalized, with an average total cost for each working out to about $583,000, add another $33 million. (Costs for some of the gunshot survivors may have varied widely, of course.) And these figures don’t even begin to account for what the city of Aurora, the state of Colorado, and the federal government have since spent on security and prevention related to the attack.

Indeed, a mass shooting like the one in Aurora doesn’t just have an outsize psychological impact but also a financial one. And these days, fiscal conservatives may want to note, we’re paying that price more often.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Guns

Flash-crash case against the London day-trader rapidly falls apart

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The government prosecutor’s seem to be focused on finding a small-time scapegoat to protect the trading techniques of large firms. This story quotes a variety of testimony that show how implausible a case the government presents.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 1:07 pm

Judge: DEA not liable for botched sting that killed truck driver

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To state the obvious: Law enforcement officers are seldom held accountable for their actions. They are protected first by their fellow officers (the Blue Code of Silence: omerta for the uniformed), then by their unions, and ultimately by the criminal justice system itself. Radley Balko provides a particularly flagrant example:

The drug war means never having to say you’re sorry.

A Houston-based federal judge ruled that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration does not owe the owner of a small Texas trucking company anything, not even the cost of repairing the bullet holes to a tractor-trailer truck that the agency used without his permission for a wild 2011 drug cartel sting that resulted in the execution-style murder of the truck’s driver, who was secretly working as a government informant.

The Houston Chronicle story also points out that the ruling will spare the DEA a “potentially embarrassing trial.” Another way to phrase that might be that the ruling prevents the public from knowing the details of just how ruthless and indifferent to collateral damage drug warriors can sometimes be. In fact, the owner of the trucking company, Craig Patty, said that this was his reason for bringing the lawsuit — to shed light on what happened. This ruling will prevent that.

Not that the action didn’t hurt his business. Patty had only two trucks at the time, and the truck the DEA decided to drive to the border and load up with drugs was out of commission for two months. His insurance company also refused to reimburse him, because the vehicle was used to commit a crime. The DEA also introduced this trucking business to the world of Mexican drug cartels, potentially putting its owner and other employees at risk as well.

It’s interesting that this ruling comes down a week after DEA administrator Michele Leonhart resigned after allegations that DEA attended cartel-funded sex parties in South America. The DEA took a truck, filled it with drugs, then screwed up and put the truck in the middle of a shootout that damaged the truck and killed its driver. Yet Leonhart was forced to resign because of sex parties.

It isn’t the illicit stuff the DEA does that should worry us; it’s all the horrific stuff the agency does that we’ve somehow permitted to be protected by law.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 12:27 pm

How some police officers respond to police being held accountable

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Police have been able to brutalize and kill people with no repercussions for so long that some police officers now believe that it is their right, to be defended with violence or threats of violence. An example is provided by emobile at DailyKos:

Here’s some more scary news from the Duke City, and it’s for real. Not from any of its famous TV series.

The county district attorney overseeing Albuquerque Police has gone on the record in the ABQ Free Press, saying that sympathetic police have informed her that others on the force may intend to do her physical harm.  She told the recently established alternative weekly:

“I don’t think they’re going to kill me, but I have been told to fear for my safety,”

The DA, Kari Brandenburg, has been under massive pressure from the APD thanks to her decision to charge two officers with murder in the death of homeless camper James Boyd last spring. The image of Boyd being shot down while retreating from police in the foothills east of the city went viral, leading to major demonstrations locally and heightened interest shortly thereafter when the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on years of excessive force by the APD.More recently, in what was perceived as an act of preemptive retaliation before Brandenburg had even filed the murder charges, police announced that they were investigating her for intimidation and bribery of witnesses in relation to a burglary case involving her son. In spite of that, Brandenburg maintained her cool, answering those accusations and not backing down on the murder charges.

In any event, since that time a judge has decided the appearance of conflict of interest was too much and ordered Brandenburg off the Boyd murder case. That might actually have been to the detriment of the accused cops, since she then turned around and appointed a special prosecutor who has an equally tough reputation (and happens to be the wife of a state Supreme Court justice).

A lesser known, but possibly as disturbing, case of APD abuse is that of the late 2010 death of civil rights attorney Mary Han. APD quickly ruled it a suicide, but there was much more to the story (again courtesy the Free Press):

Han was prominent among civil rights and criminal defense attorneys, but was especially prominent for her success in bringing lawsuits against the Albuquerque Police Department, against which she had won judgments. News of Han’s death began to spread via texts and phone calls among APD officers and officials. Within an hour of [her law partner’s] 911 call, every one of APD’s deputy chiefs was on the scene.

The story concluded with a view from a retired APD forensic investigator:

“One of two things happened that day. Either it was an absolute case of total incompetence by everyone involved, or it was cover-up. Those are the only two possibilities.”

To date that investigation remains, in my opinion, possibly the creepiest cover-up ever perpetrated by APD. (The author of that piece, David Correia, had his own brush with APD in the past year. He was arrested on a ludicrous charge of felony assault on an officer at a city council meeting.)Then there is another heartbreaking story, that of the 2011 fatal shooting of a mentally ill young man, Christopher Torres, reported in the New Yorker. Unlike Boyd, Torres’ parents were well-connected in city government.  But that did not help avoid the insanely tragic ending of his life and the blue-washing of its account.  As usual, the local media were all too happy to regurgitate the predictable lies put forth in the APD’s version of the death:

The Torres family learned how Christopher died from watching the news the next day. At a press conference, the department’s chief public-safety officer said that two officers had tried to arrest Christopher at home, but, when he resisted and grabbed a gun from one of them, the officers felt that their lives were in danger. The local television stations ran an unflattering picture of Christopher with his eyes bugged out. One station reported that the “police suspected Torres is responsible for several violent road rage incidents around the city.” The police department said publicly that Christopher had a lengthy criminal history, which was untrue.

And so it has gone for years and years. For deeper historical perspective, this Weekly Alibi article (also penned by Correia) describes “an internal APD report showing that its officers killed 15 people between 1987 and 1991, a number that exceeded fatal shootings over the same period in Tucson, Austin, El Paso, Colorado Springs and Tulsa combined. Then, as now, the shooting victims included unarmed suspects.”  The story reveals that, aside from heightened public awareness, little has changed over the years.Even after the nationwide outcry over Boyd, the D.O.J. intervention and Brandenburg’s prosecution efforts, the dark forces within the APD are essentially just flipping off anyone in the community that stands up to them.  Their tactic of arresting Correia on phony assault charges (which they dropped a few months later) appeared amateurish and stupid. But their ability to rule by fear of force remains unabated. . .

Continue reading.

To make an obvious point: Not all police respond aggressively to the notion that police should be accountable—indeed, many police hold themselves accountable and uphold professional standards. But certainly there is a bad element among many police forces, and it has come to have considerable power (as witness the gutting of the Maryland bill to provide better accountability for police misconduct).

UPDATE: See also “In Albuquerque, police killings divide law enforcement agencies,” by Nigel Duara in the LA Times. It begins:

After a fitful few hours of sleep, Kari Brandenburg reads a note every morning on a bulletin board in her closet, written to herself: “Being a hero is enduring for one moment more.”

The sentiment has become a source of inspiration for Brandenburg, Albuquerque’s chief prosecutor, and a signal of how deep the rift has grown between the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office and the police in this city.

For months, the region’s two top law enforcement agencies have been locked in a conflict over last year’s fatal police shooting of a mentally ill homeless man — a case the officers said was self-defense, but which Brandenburg alleged was murder.

Since January, the civic drama has featured dueling investigations and mutual accusations of wrongdoing, but at its heart is the city’s record on fatal police shootings: 28 people have been shot to death by Albuquerque police over the last five years, a per capita rate eight times that of New York.

The shootings have sparked protests across the city, and a U.S. Justice Department report in 2014 found excessive deadly force and “broken” oversight at the Police Department. But not a single officer had been charged in a shooting during the last 50 years, according to the Albuquerque Journal, and certainly none during the 14 years Brandenburg has held office.

That changed Jan. 12, when Brandenburg said she was filing murder charges against Officer Dominique Perez and recently retired Det. Keith Sandy in the March 2014 death of the homeless man, James Boyd, who had been illegally camping in the scrubby foothills on the eastern edge of town.

Officials said Boyd had wielded two knives, but a police video of the incident shared widely online showed he’d taken them out of his pocket only after one of the dozens of police officers confronting him at his campsite fired a stun grenade and another officer unleashed a police dog. Still, Boyd appeared in the video to be turning away as officers fired six shots. He quickly collapsed.

“Please don’t hurt me anymore,” Boyd says in the video. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 12:20 pm

The Austerity Delusion

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UPDATE: See also “So, David Cameron When Are You Going to Apologise?” by Ramesh Patel in the Huffington Post, via @IamalrightJack.

Paul Krugman has a long article in The Guardian that explains how the case for austerity in the UK was a lie, pure and simple, and struggles to understand why people believe it still.

In May 2010, as Britain headed into its last general election, elites all across the western world were gripped by austerity fever, a strange malady that combined extravagant fear with blithe optimism. Every country running significant budget deficits – as nearly all were in the aftermath of the financial crisis – was deemed at imminent risk of becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Concerns that imposing such austerity in already depressed economies would deepen their depression and delay recovery were airily dismissed; fiscal probity, we were assured, would inspire business-boosting confidence, and all would be well.

People holding these beliefs came to be widely known in economic circles as“austerians” – a term coined by the economist Rob Parenteau – and for a while the austerian ideology swept all before it.

But that was five years ago, and the fever has long since broken. Greece is now seen as it should have been seen from the beginning – as a unique case, with few lessons for the rest of us. It is impossible for countries such as the US and the UK, which borrow in their own currencies, to experience Greek-style crises, because they cannot run out of money – they can always print more. Even within the eurozone, borrowing costs plunged once the European Central Bank began to do its job and protect its clients against self-fulfilling panics by standing ready to buy government bonds if necessary. As I write this, Italy and Spain have no trouble raising cash – they can borrow at the lowest rates in their history, indeed considerably below those in Britain – and even Portugal’s interest rates are within a whisker of those paid by HM Treasury.

On the other side of the ledger, the benefits of improved confidence failed to make their promised appearance. Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity. In late 2012, the IMF’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, went so far as to issue what amounted to a mea culpa: although his organisation never bought into the notion that austerity would actually boost economic growth, the IMF now believes that it massively understated the damage that spending cuts inflict on a weak economy.

Meanwhile, all of the economic research that allegedly supported the austerity push has been discredited. Widely touted statistical results were, it turned out, based on highly dubious assumptions and procedures – plus a few outright mistakes – and evaporated under closer scrutiny.

It is rare, in the history of economic thought, for debates to get resolved this decisively. The austerian ideology that dominated elite discourse five years ago has collapsed, to the point where hardly anyone still believes it. Hardly anyone, that is, except the coalition that still rules Britain – and most of the British media.

I don’t know how many Britons realise the extent to which their economic debate has diverged from the rest of the western world – the extent to which the UK seems stuck on obsessions that have been mainly laughed out of the discourse elsewhere. George Osborne and David Cameron boast that their policies saved Britain from a Greek-style crisis of soaring interest rates, apparently oblivious to the fact that interest rates are at historic lows all across the western world. The press seizes on Ed Miliband’s failure to mention the budget deficit in a speech as a huge gaffe, a supposed revelation of irresponsibility; meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is talking, seriously, not about budget deficits but about the “fun deficit” facing America’s children.

Is there some good reason why deficit obsession should still rule in Britain, even as it fades away everywhere else? No. This country is not different. The economics of austerity are the same – and the intellectual case as bankrupt – in Britain as everywhere else.

Chapter one: Stimulus and its enemies

When economic crisis struck the advanced economies in 2008, almost every government – even Germany – introduced some kind of stimulus programme, increasing spending and/or cutting taxes. There was no mystery why: it was all about zero.

Normally, monetary authorities – the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England – can respond to a temporary economic downturn by cutting interest rates; this encourages private spending, especially on housing, and sets the stage for recovery. But there’s a limit to how much they can do in that direction. Until recently, the conventional wisdom was that you couldn’t cut interest rates below zero. We now know that this wasn’t quite right, since many European bonds now pay slightly negative interest. Still, there can’t be much room for sub-zero rates. And if cutting rates all the way to zero isn’t enough to cure what ails the economy, the usual remedy for recession falls short.

So it was in 2008-2009. By late 2008 it was already clear in every major economy that conventional monetary policy, which involves pushing down the interest rate on short-term government debt, was going to be insufficient to fight the financial downdraft. Now what? The textbook answer was and is fiscal expansion: increase government spending both to create jobs directly and to put money in consumers’ pockets; cut taxes to put more money in those pockets.

But won’t this lead to budget deficits? Yes, and that’s actually a good thing. An economy that is depressed even with zero interest rates is, in effect, an economy in which the public is trying to save more than businesses are willing to invest. In such an economy the government does everyone a service by running deficits and giving frustrated savers a chance to put their money to work. Nor does this borrowing compete with private investment. An economy where interest rates cannot go any lower is an economy awash in desired saving with no place to go, and deficit spending that expands the economy is, if anything, likely to lead to higher private investment than would otherwise materialise.

It’s true that you can’t run big budget deficits for ever (although you can do it for a long time), because at some point interest payments start to swallow too large a share of the budget. But it’s foolish and destructive to worry about deficits when borrowing is very cheap and the funds you borrow would otherwise go to waste.

At some point you do want to reverse stimulus. But you don’t want to do it too soon – specifically, you don’t want to remove fiscal support as long as pedal-to-the-metal monetary policy is still insufficient. Instead, you want to wait until there can be a sort of handoff, in which the central bank offsets the effects of declining spending and rising taxes by keeping rates low. As John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1937: “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.”

All of this is standard macroeconomics. I often encounter people on both the left and the right who imagine that austerity policies were what the textbook said you should do – that those of us who protested against the turn to austerity were staking out some kind of heterodox, radical position. But the truth is that mainstream, textbook economics not only justified the initial round of post-crisis stimulus, but said that this stimulus should continue until economies had recovered.

What we got instead, however, was a hard right turn in elite opinion, away from concerns about unemployment and toward a focus on slashing deficits, mainly with spending cuts. Why? . . .

Continue reading.

It’s a crying shame that so many in government—legislators and those leading the various executive branches (the President, the Prime Minister, the various Secretaries and Cabinet Ministers, Governors, Mayors, and the like) have so little education in or understanding of science and scientific thought. Many seem to have been educated in the law, in which they learn to seek justifications and arguments for whatever they want to do. In a trial, neither the plaintiff’s lawyer or prosecutor nor the defendant’s lawyer are engaged in any search for the truth: they see their duty as making the most compelling case they can for the side they represent. So when lawyers move into government, they continue to look for the most compelling case for whatever they want to do, without any notion that they might want to look for the reality of the situation.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 12:02 pm

The Man Who Tastes Sounds

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An interesting type of synesthesia reported at Motherboard by Kate Samuelson:

Tomato ketchup, salty ham, elastic bands, and bakewell tart are just four of the many flavours that James Wannerton tastes during our interview. Having only agreed to speak to me because my name, Kate, tastes like a creamy bar of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate, Wannerton is repeatedly distracted by his taste buds throughout our conversation.

Wannerton has a rare form of synaesthesia known as lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, meaning that his taste and hearing senses do not operate independently of each other. As a result, for Wannerton every word and every sound has a distinctive flavour. Although the words and sounds do not usually bear any relation to what they taste like, the flavours are always consistent; “speak”, for example, has tasted like bacon for as long as Wannerton can remember.

“Words and sounds go ‘bink, bink, bink’ in my mouth all the time, like a light flickering on and off,” he explained. “Some tastes are very quick but others can last for hours and make me crave that particular thing; I’ll feel distracted until I actually eat it.”

Wannerton believes he has been a synaesthete all his life, and that he inherited his condition from his mother who “sees days of the week as colours.” Synaesthesia in general is not uncommon; it is found in roughly four percent of the population and usually takes the form of a connection between letters and colours known as grapheme-colour synaesthesia, where, for example, those with the condition innately “know” that “A” is red. Wannerton’s unusual form, however, meant that it took decades before it was seriously addressed. . .

Continue reading.

See also the interesting book by Richard Cytowic, The Man Who Tasted Shapes. (inexpensive secondhand copies at the link)

Will it someday be possible to induce (temporarily) various types of synesthesia? That could be very helpful in some fields.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 11:53 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

The fragility of high-tech interdependence: A Buggy iPad Update Grounded a Whole Fleet of Planes

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I’m sure the techs who failed to test adequately the update had no idea of the follow-on effects. So far we know of no deaths that resulted, if deaths had occurred—if some bad automatic update results in planes falling from the skies—would there be any legal accountability?

Jordan Pearson reports at Motherboard:

Dozens of American Airlines flights in Dallas, New York City, and Chicago, experienced unexpected delays yesterday when pilots’ iPads unexpectedly crashed. The reason for the widespread crashes was a buggy update to the app that pilots use for everything from flight planning to checking the weather.

Passengers on the affected flights reported witnessing pilots in distress after their iPads powered down without warning. “The pilot came on and said that his first mate’s iPad powered down unexpectedly, and his had too, and that the entire 737 fleet on American had experienced the same behavior,” Philip McRell, one passenger, told Quartz.

According to Michael Pound, a representative for Jeppesen, a Boeing subsidiary that built the in-flight app that American Airlines pilots use, an app update was to blame for the widespread glitches.

“The issue causing several flights to be delayed last night was traced [to] a navigation database update causing a duplicate chart to be in existence for one airport,” Pound told Motherboard in an email. “Pilots were given instructions for remedying the situation, which involved uninstalling and reinstalling the app. They were able to proceed normally afterward.” — American Airlines (@AmericanAir) April 29, 2015

American Airlines pilots traded their flight bags—stacks of paper documents like manuals and maps that can weigh up to 40 pounds each—for electronic versions in the form of iPad apps like Jeppesen’s Flightdeck Pro in 2013. Electronic Flight Bags, as they’re called, contain the same kinds of important information that was included in paper versions, with the added bonus of being updatable without having to kill trees.

Amateur pilots have also latched on to iPads and apps to manage their flights. Some, like Garmin Pilot, cost as little as $75 per year. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 11:48 am

Blaming the rioters for the Baltimore fires is akin to blaming the matches: Cutting short the chain of causation

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It seems as though the mainstream media is satisfied that they have identified what caused the burning buildings in Baltimore: it was the rioters. But it seems equally informative to say the the cause was matches.

You’ll notice that most communities in the US did not riot. Why did riots happen in Baltimore? The answer, “Because there were rioters there” won’t satisfy anyone except a news anchor.

Baltimore is a community in trouble: it is a distillation of the problems that now afflict this country: a government no longer responsive to the people, a public who feel powerless as their jobs move off-shore and their income is redirected to enrich the coffers of the 0.01%, who gobble up more and more of the wealth of the country.

Powerless, poor, and prey for predatory police—who have no accountability and seem to have absolute immunity regardless of their crimes against the public—they feel they have nothing left to lose, so they strike out in anger, despair, and a profound sense that their government has abandoned them—a feeling rooted in reality.

The government is very accommodating to the wealthy and very considerate of their needs, but the government now gives the back of its hand to the public: the dwindling middle class, the growing group living on the edge of poverty and beyond.

That’s the cause: not the matches, not the rioters: the concentration of self-interested power, the loss of a sense of community and commitment to the general welfare.

People are trying to revive that feeling that we’re all in this together—see this very interesting note by James Fallows about what’s happening in San Bernardino. It ultimately depends on citizens taking back their government, but the 0.01% will fight that every step of the way.

UPDATE: From a story in the LA Times concerning police murders in Albuquerque, quoted in this post:

The problem, she said, is “a lack of faith in government, a lack of faith in elected officials, a lack of faith in police.”

That is the cause of the fires in Baltimore—not the matches, not the rioters.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 11:43 am

Using a drone as a super-extensible selfie stick

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From this article, which provides more information.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 11:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Techie toys

British Gillette Aristocrat does a fine job

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SOTD 29 Apr 2015

Very smooth and trouble-free shave today—dare I say even pleasant?

Mickey Lee Soapworks Panty Dropper made a very nice lather indeed, thanks in part to the Rooney Heritage Victorian brush, which played a key supporting role. Then the open-comb British Gillette Aristocrat, holding a Ladas blade, did three very smooth and easy passes. A splash of Fine’s Clean Vetiver, and things are looking good.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2015 at 10:15 am

Posted in Shaving

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