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Archive for July 12th, 2015

Some wild 3-cushion billiards trick shots

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The idea of 3-cushion billiards is to make your cue ball hit both of the other balls, but before it hits the second ball, it must strike cushions at least 3 times—it can be the same cushion 3 times, and any number greater than 3 is fine.

Some are just carom billiards shots: make the cue ball hit both of the other balls with no cushion requirements.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2015 at 9:17 pm

Posted in Games

Speaking of the FBI being incompetent: Memories of Waco Siege

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Clyde Haberman reports in the NY Times (and there’s a video at the link):

On Wednesday, the Army is scheduled to begin two months of training exercises across the American Southwest. If the past is a reasonable guide, some on the outer reaches of the far right are bound to recycle warnings that martial law is at hand. Conspiracy theorists were singularly imaginative after these war games, code-named Jade Helm 15, were announced.

Among the dire predictions: Citizens’ guns will be confiscated. Political opponents of President Obama will be rounded up and herded into detention centers. Mr. Obama will suspend the Constitution and cling to office indefinitely. All this is part of a plan to establish a “new world order.”

While not endorsing those prophecies, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas did little to tamp them down when he ordered the Texas State Guard to “continuously monitor” Jade Helm to reassure Texans that “their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”

As the conspiracy theories bubbled, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carterwas asked point blank at a news conference in May if a military takeover of Texas was in the works. “No,” Mr. Carter replied. Laughter accompanied both the question and the response, underscoring how frivolous the very idea seemed to those in the room.

Still, that such an exchange even took place was testament to the deep mistrust of government harbored by some Americans, more than a few of whom come to any dispute heavily armed. Hostility toward the federal government is hardly new. It can be traced at least as far back as the anti-tax Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s. But its modern roots may be summed up in a single word: Waco.

That word and its abiding significance are explored in the latest episode ofRetro Report, a series of video documentaries that study the lasting consequences of major news stories of the past. For right-wing militias and so-called Patriot groups, Waco amounts to evidence of a tyrannical, illegitimate government unblinkingly prepared to kill its own people.

In early 1993, a religious sect with apocalyptic visions, the Branch Davidians, was ensconced in a compound called the Mount Carmel Center, just outside Waco, Tex. Its adherents were led — some would say dominated — by a man with a messianic sense of himself, David Koresh.

Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms suspected that, whatever their theology, the Davidians were amassing an illegal arsenal. On Feb. 28, 1993, agents descended on Mount Carmel. A gun battle broke out. Each side blamed the other for having fired first. Either way, the results were disastrous: Four agents and half a dozen members of the sect were killed.

The shootout led to a 51-day siege, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation taking charge for the government. Hoping to induce a surrender, agents tried to disorient the Davidians — by way of sleep deprivation, for instance, with all-night floodlighting of the compound and the blaring of horrible sounds like the screams of rabbits being slaughtered.

All that did was impel the group to dig in. Finally, on April 19, the F.B.I. mounted a full assault, pumping in large quantities of military-grade tear gas. Fires, which independent investigators later deemed to have been set by the Davidians, engulfed the compound. Shooting could be heard inside. When it was all over, 75 people were dead, a third of them children. Some, including Mr. Koresh, had been shot by fellow sect members. There were few survivors.

The Waco events did not occur in a vacuum. Eight months earlier, federal agents laid siege to the compound of a family of white separatists in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. That encirclement also ended badly, with several people killed, among them a 14-year-old boy. F.B.I. officials later acknowledged that their operations at Ruby Ridge had been “terribly flawed.”

As for Waco, a Harvard professor of law and psychiatry, Dr. Alan A. Stone, took the F.B.I. to task in a report to the Justice Department in November 1993. An apocalyptic sect like the Branch Davidians should not have been handled as if it would “submit to tactical pressure” the way a band of ordinary criminals would, Dr. Stone said. Government agents sought to prove to Mr. Koresh that they were in control. Instead, Dr. Stone said, they drove him to the “ultimate act of control — destruction of himself and his group.”

The grim events in Texas and Idaho proved sobering for the government. Its agents began to exercise more patience with defiant militant groups. An armed standoff in 1996 with the Montana Freemen ended without a shot fired and with the Freemen’s surrender after 81 days. In Nevada last year, agents of the federal Bureau of Land Management tactically retreated rather than get into a shooting war with rifle-toting supporters of Cliven Bundy. Mr. Bundy, a rancher given to racist rants, owed the government more than $1 million in grazing fees amassed over two decades, but cast his refusal to pay as the act of a patriot and not, as many of his critics suspected, of a deadbeat.

Throughout, the specter of Waco has not faded. Right-wing extremists regularly invoke it as a defining moment, proof of Washington’s perfidy. “Waco can happen at any given time,” Mike Vanderboegh, a prominent figure in the Patriot movement, told Retro Report. He added ominously: “But the outcome will be different this time. Of that I can assure you.”

One man who took the notion of a different outcome to a murderous extreme was Timothy J. McVeigh, who went to Mount Carmel and observed the siege. On April 19, 1995, two years to the day after the mass deaths there, he and an accomplice, Terry L. Nichols, bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and wounding nearly 700 others. It was the most devastating act of domestic terrorism in American history. Mr. Nichols was sentenced to life in prison, Mr. McVeigh to death.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2015 at 6:08 pm

Mexico: A country without an effective government

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Patrick Keefe writes in the New Yorker:

Mexico’s most secure prison, Federal Social Readaptation Center No. 1, is home to the country’s most violent narcotraffickers. Altiplano, as the prison is known, is located in central Mexico, not far from Toluca. The surrounding air space is a no-fly zone, to prevent an escape by helicopter. So that prisoners cannot communicate by cell phone with the outside, the airwaves are restricted. Nobody had ever escaped from the facility, until last night.

At 8:52 P.M., Altiplano’s surveillance cameras captured the prison’s most famous inmate, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the drug baron known as “El Chapo,” as he entered the shower area. Guzmán had lived in Altiplano since last February, when he was captured by Mexican authorities in the resort town of Mazatlan. (I wrote an account of that operation, “The Hunt for El Chapo,” last year.)  Before his capture, following an escape from another secure prison in 2001, Guzmán had been on the run for thirteen years.

Or maybe not “on the run,” exactly. Guzmán had enjoyed a degree of impunity during his years at large, operating out of a series of mountain hideouts in his home state of Sinaloa. He got married, had children, enjoyed meals at restaurants, and continued to manage, and dramatically expand, his multi-billion-dollar narcotics business. After his arrest in Mazatlan, American authorities, citing the earlier escape, pushed to have Guzmán extradited to the United States. But their Mexican counterparts were offended at the suggestion that having finally caught up with the world’s most-wanted fugitive, they might just turn him over to the Gringos. Instead, the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that Guzmán would face justice for his crimes in Mexico. Peña Nieto’s attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, joked that he would be happy to extradite Guzmán to the U.S.—“in three hundred or four hundred years.”

When I was reporting my story in 2014, the Mexican officials I spoke with were contemptuous of any suggestion that Guzmán might be allowed to escape again. This was a matter of Mexico’s national credibility, they assured me: with the world watching, they would never permit Guzmán to embarrass the country a second time. When I met with Eduardo Medina Mora, a former attorney general who until this year was Mexico’s ambassador in Washington, he said with an unflappable smile, “Once bitten, twice shy.”

Medina Mora and others insisted that Mexico’s institutions of criminal justice had improved dramatically since Guzmán’s earlier escape, and that the prosecution of someone who had once seemed so untouchable would represent an important benchmark for rule of law in the country—a sort of proof of concept.

But worrisome stories began to trickle out of Altiplano. There were reports in the Mexican press last July that Chapo had organized hundreds of inmates in a hunger strike over the conditions of their confinement. A Mexican official laughed off this story when I asked about it, maintaining that Chapo was being held “in isolation.” But it was not hard to believe that the drug lord might cultivate a following behind bars. (I also couldn’t help noticing that while Chapo, who is a bit of a gourmand, may have spurred other inmates to swear off food, he was not reported to be declining meals himself.)

In April, it emerged that Guzmán’s lawyers had employed a ruse involving a phony birth certificate to sneak a woman into Altiplano for an unauthorized visit. The nature of the visit remains unclear, but some speculated, given Guzmán’s reputation as an inveterate womanizer, that it was conjugal. During his previous stint in prison he played host to the occasional busload of prostitutes. In June, it was reported that the young woman who visited Guzmán happens to be a politician with Mexico’s National Action Party. (She has said that she is not Guzmán’s girlfriend.)

Several of Guzmán’s children maintain an active presence on Twitter. On May 8, his son Ivan wrote in a tweet, in a possible reference to his father,“I promise you, the general will soon be back.” Six days ago, he tweeted, “Everything comes to those who know how to wait.”

After the cameras clocked him entering the shower last night, Chapo did not re-appear. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2015 at 5:40 pm

The FBI: Totally incompetent? or determined to avoid accountability?

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The FBI is not a well-run organization, as we know from the totally messed up FBI forensics lab and the FBI’s training of police forensic staff to do forensics analysis incorrectly. But there’s more, as reported by Matt Connolly at WhoWhatWhy.com:

Matt Connolly is a former Deputy District Attorney of Norfolk County, Massachusetts

How credible are the reports of interviews filed by FBI agents working a case? In fact, such reports are known to be so unreliable that in one case, a federal judge refused to be interviewed by agents unless he was allowed to review their report and make corrections.

That case was more than a decade ago, but the problems raised by these FBI reports—which are often offered in evidence during criminal trials—are very much current. Indeed, the judge in the recent trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev specifically warned the jurors against giving too much credence to such a report.

***

The case of the judge who insisted on fact-checking the FBI’s work is particularly instructive. This occurred during the much-watched 2002 trial of retired FBI agent John Connolly, the handler of the notorious gangster Whitey Bulger.

Connolly was charged with, among other things, obstruction of justice involving a letter Connolly sent to the presiding federal judge, Mark Wolf. Wolf’s testimony was needed to prove the obstruction.

As is standard practice, prosecutors asked that Wolf submit to an FBI interview in advance of any courtroom testimony. The  interview reports, commonly called 302 reports, are named after the form on which they are written.

The FBI’s process for handling 302s is hardly an ideal one for accurate recording and transmittal of what was said during an interview.

The process is thus: two FBI agents ask questions and listen to the answers—without tape recording or obtaining a certified transcript. Instead, they return to their office and, based on their recollection and any notes they may have taken during the interview, write up a summary of what transpired. Summaries are, in most cases, written hours later, sometimes even the following day.

***

This reporter sat in court listening to Judge Wolf’s testimony—which is included in my book, Don’t Embarrass The Family, based on FBI agent Connolly’s trial. Under questioning, Judge Wolf revealed that he had agreed to be interviewed, but only on the condition that he would be able to review the 302 for accuracy and to make any necessary corrections. It was clear he had little confidence the FBI agents would accurately reproduce what he said. In plain English, he did not trust them. Judge Wolf had seen his share of FBI interview reports, as he had been a federal judge since 1985 and prior to that had served as an assistant US attorney for eight years.

Judge Wolf’s concern about FBI agents’ ability to accurately render interview content is made even more clear in a footnote in his 661page decision filed on September 15, 1999 in the matter of US v. Salemme, where it was disclosed Whitey Bulger was an informant.

In footnote 35, Wolf quotes Edwin O. Guthman, who once served as press secretary to Attorney General Robert Kennedy: “You can have a conversation with an agent… and when it is over he will send a memo to the files. Any relation between the memo and what was said in the conversation may be purely coincidental. You would think you were at different meetings.”

Wolf says that after reviewing the 302s, he made only minor changes or corrections. Thus, in this case, at least, no substantive errors had been introduced. But then other interviewees, such defendants and key witnesses, have no right to review and correct 302s. And a presiding judge is hardly the most likely victim of misstatements by FBI agents. Based on a variety of published claims, such misstatements, tendentious or otherwise,may be distressingly common. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2015 at 5:26 pm

The US criminal justice system in action

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Ralph Lopez reports in WhoWhatWhy.com:

When Kalief Browder was wrongly arrested at the age of 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack, he had not yet begun to shave. By the time he was released from Riker’s Island in New York three years later—convicted of nothing and never having gone to trial—he felt like a very old man indeed.

After his arrest, Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson and the court set a bail which Browder’s family could not meet. Browder was brought to court from Riker’s Island at least 30 times over three years, ready to assert his innocence. Each time, D.A. Johnson’s office stated that it was not yet ready to try the case. The D.A.’s office continuously requested, and was granted, a continuance.

In June 2013, after three years, with no explanation, all charges were dropped and Browder was released.

Though he had no previous history of mental illness, Kalief Browder is now known as the young man who, damaged beyond recovery by his incarceration, took his own life at 22.

Browder’s attorney told The Los Angeles Times:

“I think what caused the suicide was his incarceration and those hundreds and hundreds of nights in solitary confinement, where there were mice crawling up his sheets in that little cell… Being starved, and not being taken to the shower for two weeks at a time… those were direct contributing factors. … That was the pain and sadness that he had to deal with every day, and I think it was too much for him.”

The case against Browder was weak. The person who accused Browder of stealing the backpack kept changing his story: The backpack was stolen two days before he first reported the theft, then he said it was two weeks earlier. There were other inconsistencies. Browder consented to a search which turned up nothing belonging to the owner of the backpack. It was the kind of case, says Browder’s attorney, that should have been instantly thrown out.

Be Labelled “Criminal” and Go Home, or Face 15 Years in Jail

Browder was threatened with a 15-year prison sentence if he went to trial and was convicted. But D.A. Johnson offered a deal: Plead guilty to the charge and leave Riker’s on the spot with a sentence of “time served.” Steadfast in proclaiming his innocence, Browder repeatedly refused the deal.

It was a system, Browder later contended, guaranteed to produce a high number of guilty pleas from prisoners who were in fact not guilty. He said many minors facing similar charges lacked the same determination to prove their innocence, and accepted prosecutors’ offers in order to avoid exorbitant jail time while awaiting trial for often trivial crimes.

The Catch-22 erected by the prosecutor was formidable, symmetrical, and complete: Accept the deal and go home, with a criminal record. Do not accept: stay on Riker’s Island, possibly for a very long time, and risk losing a good portion of your life if your trial goes badly, even for a minor charge.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2015 at 5:19 pm

Robots Are Wandering Through Oil Pipelines That Have Never Been Inspected

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Of course oil companies don’t inspect their pipelines—what’s the worst that could happen? — Ah, well. Perhaps that’s why they’re now using robots to inspect the lines from the inside. Jordan Pearson reports in Motherboard:

Oil and natural gas are flowing through nearly 1 million kilometres of aging pipelineacross Canada at high pressure, and some of the pipes have never been inspected for defects—ever.

Robots could change this, but industry observers are skeptical about the possibility of mechanical safety technicians making a positive change in the often reckless oil industry.

Oil pipes are inspected by defect-detecting devices called “smart pigs,” named for the ultrasonic or magnetic sensors they carry. Uninspected lines are typically secondary pipes welded on to the main line at pumping stations. These lines are referred to as “unpiggable” because their geometry or small size makes them impossible for smart pigs to traverse.

“There are definitely pipelines in Canada that have not been inspected,” said Greg Zinter, manager of pipeline integrity assessment at inspection tech company Applus RTD. Seventy percent of TransCanada’s rural pipeline system is made up of small diameter pipe, according to a presentation last year, and at the time only 26 percent of it had been pigged.

The condition of these pipes is essentially unknown, and so they’re often considered a safety hazard. In 2014, after a spate of ruptures in TransCanada’s pipeline system, Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) ordered the company to reduce the pressure in unpiggable lines deemed to be high risk—based on factors like their proximity to a populated area, and the type of protective coating used on the pipe—to 20 percent of their normal levels.One company is proposing a possible solution. Diakont, a Russian company with offices in San Diego and Italy, built a robot that makes unpiggable lines piggable by rumbling along on tank-like treads connected to actuators that allow them to morph to the contours of the pipe.

A smart pig is normally carried through a main pipe by the flowing oil or gas itself. They tend not to do so well with 90 degree turns. Diakont’s robot can handle these obstacles because its form-fitting treads give it enough traction to pull off Spiderman-level stunts like climbing vertically.

Pig

The main issue with going with the flow is that the pigs can’t stop to inspect anything that looks sketchy. “The problem is that you’re not in control of where you are in the pipe,” said Brian Carlson, director of pipeline services for Diakont. “If you see an anomaly, you’re essentially just flying past it. Our system is very deliberate in the way it drives through the pipe, so you can stop and analyze anything as you’re going through.”

The robot carries a video camera, ultrasonic sensors, and a laser scanner that measures the anomalies it detects. The robot sends the data back to HQ in real time through a tethered line. This means that it can do a decent job of inspecting a portion of a pipe, but not a whole line.

Diakont’s robot was used last year to inspect a part of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System after a 2011 leak shut down the entire pipeline for days, prompting federal regulators to order the company that manages the pipeline to replace hazardous pipes. According to Carlson, Diakont has customers across the US and Russia, but none in Canada. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2015 at 9:15 am

Pope Francis on how corporations in pursuing profit destroy so much

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Jim Yardley and Binyamin Appelbaum report in the NY Times:

His speeches can blend biblical fury with apocalyptic doom. Pope Francis does not just criticize the excesses of global capitalism. He compares them to the “dung of the devil.” He does not simply argue that systemic “greed for money” is a bad thing. He calls it a “subtle dictatorship” that “condemns and enslaves men and women.”

Having returned to his native Latin America, Francis has renewed his left-leaning critiques on the inequalities of capitalism, describing it as an underlying cause of global injustice, and a prime cause of climate change. Francis escalated that line last week when he made a historic apology for the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church during the period of Spanish colonialism — even as he called for a global movement against a “new colonialism” rooted in an inequitable economic order.

The Argentine pope seemed to be asking for a social revolution.

“This is not theology as usual; this is him shouting from the mountaintop,” said Stephen F. Schneck, the director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic studies at Catholic University of America in Washington.

The last pope who so boldly placed himself at the center of the global moment was John Paul II, who during the 1980s pushed the church to confront what many saw as the challenge of that era, communism. John Paul II’s anti-Communist messaging dovetailed with the agenda of political conservatives eager for a tougher line against the Soviets and, in turn, aligned part of the church hierarchy with the political right.

Francis has defined the economic challenge of this era as the failure of global capitalism to create fairness, equity and dignified livelihoods for the poor — a social and religious agenda that coincides with a resurgence of the leftist thinking marginalized in the days of John Paul II. Francis’ increasingly sharp critique comes as much of humanity has never been so wealthy or well fed — yet rising inequality and repeated financial crises have unsettled voters, policy makers and economists.

Left-wing populism is surging in countries immersed in economic turmoil, such as Spain, and, most notably, Greece. But even in the United States, where the economy has rebounded, widespread concern about inequality and corporate power are propelling the rise of liberals like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who, in turn, have pushed the Democratic Party presidential front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to the left.

Even some free-market champions are now reassessing the shortcomings of unfettered capitalism. George Soros, who made billions in the markets, and then spent a good part of it promoting the spread of free markets in Eastern Europe, now argues that the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

“I think the pope is singing to the music that’s already in the air,” said Robert A. Johnson, executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, which was financed with $50 million from Mr. Soros. “And that’s a good thing. That’s what artists do, and I think the pope is sensitive to the lack of legitimacy of the system.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2015 at 7:57 am

Posted in Business, Religion

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