Later On

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

Archive for July 19th, 2015

Salmon roasted in foil for dinner

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This very easy recipe, which we’ve made before. Obviously, use top-notch olive oil. The salmon tonight is wild-caught sockeye salmon. A nice Chardonnay to go with.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2015 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

Why is the US government so determined that US citizens not know what it is doing?

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Ravi Somaiya reports in the NY Times:

When the reporter Jason Leopold gets ready to take on the United States government, he psyches himself up by listening to the heavy metal bands Slayer and Pantera.

He describes himself as “a pretty rageful guy.” He argued recently with the staff at his son’s preschool because he objected to their references to “Indians” and they objected to his wearing family-unfriendly punk rock T-shirts to school meetings.

Mr. Leopold, 45, who works for Vice News, reserves most of his aggression for dealing with the government. He has revealed about 20,000 pages of government documents, many of them the basis for explosive news stories. Despite his appearance — on a recent day his T-shirt read “Sick of It All” — his secret weapon is the opposite of anarchic: an encyclopedic knowledge of the Freedom of Information Act, the labyrinthine administration machine that serves it and the kind of legal judo often required to pry information from it.

His small office, just off the kitchen in his home here, is littered with envelopes from various branches of the government and computer disks filled with secrets. His persistence has led to numerous revelations — some in documents that have been released exclusively to him, and others in documents that have been released to multiple reporters after pressure has been brought by Mr. Leopold.

They have included the government’s legal justification for killing an American citizen in a drone strike in Yemen and the details of a second, unreleased Central Intelligence Agency report on torture (the first was released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in December); a series of disclosures from Guantánamo Bay; and racist emails from the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department released after the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer and the subsequent racial unrest in the city.

“Every time I have a FOIA I think nobody has come across, he seems to already have a piece of it,” said Adam Goldman, who reports on terrorism and national security for The Washington Post.

Since the Obama administration has overseen a crackdown on government employees talking to journalists, the Freedom of Information Act has gained a new importance as a source of information. But critics accuse the government of deliberately making the process difficult — Mr. Leopold must often sue to get documents. Its role, as a fraught but increasingly mainstream means of maintaining government transparency, has been the subject of a series of congressional hearings, which have aired the experiences of journalists and others, including Mr. Leopold, who testified at one this summer.

A number of stories over the last several years based on government documents leaked by WikiLeaks and by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden seem to have piqued the interest of the public, and of journalists, in acquiring such materials, Mr. Leopold said.

In 2009, according to its own figures, the government received about 560,000 Freedom of Information Act requests. By 2014, that number had risen to about 715,000.

And nobody seems to do it as well as Mr. Leopold. In an era of ideologically driven news, Mr. Leopold says, publishing government documents is perhaps the most neutral form of reporting. A recent scoop, a defense intelligence agency document that said the government had estimated that Mr. Snowden had taken 900,000 Defense Department documents, was seized on by supporters and opponents of Mr. Snowden to make their own points, he said. . .

Continue reading.

The fact that our government really does not want us to know what it’s doing disturbs me. I understand that they have reasons, but when we pry information from them, it often turns out that the reasons are not good reasons, but rather a desire to conceal illegal actions, stupid behavior, and criminal waste.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2015 at 3:43 pm

How some Republicans are receptive to Snowden’s revelations

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Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky, hands me a copy of a letter from James Clapper in which the director of national intelligence complains to two members of the House Intelligence Committee about Massie’s recent attempts to reform one of the NSA’s massive surveillance programs.

On the top right, in curly script, Massie has written his response: “Get a warrant”. It’s in red ink. He’s underlined it.

get-a-warrant-promo-large

“If you assume the worst” about the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, Massie tells me, “it’s not a bad position to take, given what we’ve found out.”

Indeed, for Massie, as with so many others, the information NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden gave journalists two years ago about the extraordinary sweep of U.S surveillance programs was a huge eye-opener.

Prior to the Snowden revelations, Massie says, he knew almost nothing about the NSA’s implementation of the tools Congress gave them to protect national security.

When he tried to find out more, his friends on the Intelligence Committee and in secret briefings told him things he isn’t allowed to share. He tells me he is sure that there is more he doesn’t know—because it’s hard to know what to ask. “It’s ’20 questions’ — you don’t know what questions to ask,” he says. “There are concentric rings of knowledge” when it comes to surveillance. “I am on the outer ring.”But what he does know about NSA surveillance, aside from what Snowden released to the public, he doesn’t like. “There are line items we’re paying for…” he says, and shakes his head, unable to finish his sentence.

Massie is one of several Tea Party Republicans, including presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, and privacy hawk Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich, who have been fighting against NSA surveillance since soon after Snowden first revealed it.

He joined Paul’s attempt to block renewal of portions of the Patriot Act in May, literally cheering him from the sidelines during Paul’s 10 and a half hour filibuster on the Senate floor. Eventually, with the passage of the USA Freedom Act in July, Paul and his camp saw their first victory: Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Act, which the NSA had used to justify its bulk collection of American telephone data was amended, forcing the NSA to shut down the current program in less than five months.

When we meet in his office, Massie is eager to talk about the next big fight in Congress, over Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2015 at 10:29 am

The undermining of the hyperlink

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Marketing and business is all about control in general and more specifically about controlling you, the consumer. Once you control the consumer, you’ve got it made, so naturally enough much money, research, and thought goes into controlling you (the consumer).

And some things you don’t notice if they change gradually. <Cue story of frog in slowly heated water: apocryphal but useful. It works only if the frog has been pithed—is brain dead—but an amazing proportion of consumers fall into that category.>

Hossein Derakhshan describes what happened to the hyperlink while he was away:

Seven months ago, I sat down at the small table in the kitchen of my 1960s apartment, nestled on the top floor of a building in a vibrant central neighbourhood of Tehran, and I did something I had done thousands of times previously. I opened my laptop and posted to my new blog. This, though, was the first time in six years. And it nearly broke my heart.

A few weeks earlier, I’d been abruptly pardoned and freed from Evin prison in northern Tehran. I had been expecting to spend most of my life in those cells: In November 2008, I’d been sentenced to nearly 20 years in jail, mostly for things I’d written on my blog.

But the moment, when it came, was unexpected. I smoked a cigarette in the kitchen with one of my fellow inmates, and came back to the room I shared with a dozen other men. We were sharing a cup of tea when the voice of the floor announcer — another prisoner — filled all the rooms and corridors. In his flat voice, he announced in Persian: “Dear fellow inmates, the bird of luck has once again sat on one fellow inmate’s shoulders. Mr. Hossein Derakhshan, as of this moment, you are free.”


That evening was the first time that I went out of those doors as a free man. Everything felt new: The chill autumn breeze, the traffic noise from a nearby bridge, the smell, the colors of the city I had lived in for most of my life.

Around me, I noticed a very different Tehran from the one I’d been used to. An influx of new, shamelessly luxurious condos had replaced the charming little houses I was familiar with. New roads, new highways, hordes of invasive SUVs. Large billboards with advertisements for Swiss-made watches and Korean flat screen TVs. Women in colorful scarves and manteaus, men with dyed hair and beards, and hundreds of charming cafes with hip western music and female staff. They were the kinds of changes that creep up on people; the kind you only really notice once normal life gets taken away from you.

Two weeks later, I began writing again. Some friends agreed to let me start a blog as part of their arts magazine. I called it Ketabkhan — it means book-reader in Persian.

Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online. Writing on the internet itself had not changed, but reading — or, at least, getting things read — had altered dramatically. I’d been told how essential social networks had become while I’d been gone, and so I knew one thing: If I wanted to lure people to see my writing, I had to use social media now.

So I tried to post a link to one of my stories on Facebook. Turns out Facebook didn’t care much. It ended up looking like a boring classified ad. No description. No image. Nothing. It got three likes. Three! That was it.

It became clear to me, right there, that things had changed. I was not equipped to play on this new turf — all my investment and effort had burned up. I was devastated.

Blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars back in 2008 when I was arrested. At that point, and despite the fact the state was blocking access to my blog from inside Iran, I had an audience of around 20,000 people every day. Everybody I linked to would face a sudden and serious jump in traffic: I could empower or embarrass anyone I wanted.

People used to carefully read my posts and leave lots of relevant comments, and even many of those who strongly disagreed with me still came to read. Other blogs linked to mine to discuss what I was saying. I felt like a king.

The iPhone was a little over a year old by then, but smartphones were still mostly used to make phone calls and send short messages, handle emails, and surf the web. There were no real apps, certainly not how we think of them today. There was no Instagram, no SnapChat, no Viber, no WhatsApp.

Instead, there was the web, and on the web, there were blogs: the best place to find alternative thoughts, news and analysis. They were my life.


It had all started with 9/11. I was in Toronto, and my father had just arrived from Tehran for a visit. We were having breakfast when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I was puzzled and confused and, looking for insights and explanations, I came across blogs. Once I read a few, I thought: This is it, I should start one, and encourage all Iranians to start blogging as well. So, using Notepad on Windows, I started experimenting. Soon I ended up writing on hoder.com, using Blogger’s publishing platform before Google bought it.

Then, on November 5, 2001, I published a step-to-step guide on how to start a blog. That sparked something that was later called a blogging revolution: Soon, hundreds and thousands of Iranians made it one of the top 5 nations by the number of blogs, and I was proud to have a role in this unprecedented democratization of writing.

Those days, I used to keep a list of all blogs in Persian and, for a while, I was the first person any new blogger in Iran would contact, so they could get on the list. That’s why they called me “the blogfather” in my mid-twenties — it was a silly nickname, but at least it hinted at how much I cared.

Every morning, from my small apartment in downtown Toronto, I opened my computer and took care of the new blogs, helping them gain exposure and audience. It was a diverse crowd — from exiled authors and journalists, female diarists, and technology experts, to local journalists, politicians, clerics, and war veterans — and I always encouraged even more. I invited more religious, and pro-Islamic Republic men and women, people who lived inside Iran, to join and start writing.

The breadth of what was available those days amazed us all. It was partly why I promoted blogging so seriously. I’d left Iran in late 2000 to experience living in the West, and was scared that I was missing all the rapidly emerging trends at home. But reading Iranian blogs in Toronto was the closest experience I could have to sitting in a shared taxi in Tehran and listening to collective conversations between the talkative driver and random passengers.

There’s a story in the Quran that I thought about a lot during my first eight months in solitary confinement. In it, a group of persecuted Christians find refuge in a cave. They, and a dog they have with them, fall into a deep sleep. They wake up under the impression that they’ve taken a nap: In fact, it’s 300 years later. One version of the story tells of how one of them goes out to buy food — and I can only imagine how hungry they must’ve been after 300 years — and discovers that his money is obsolete now, a museum item. That’s when he realizes how long they have actually been absent.

The hyperlink was my currency six years ago. Stemming from the idea of thehypertext, the hyperlink provided a diversity and decentralisation that the real world lacked. The hyperlink represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web — a vision that started with its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralization — all the links, lines and hierarchies — and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks.

Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in. They were Tehran’s taxicabs writ large.

Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realized how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2015 at 10:24 am

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