Later On

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

Archive for November 2015

Cover-Up in Chicago

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Absolutely crystal-clear case of corruption: using the power of pubic office for private gain, obstruction of justice, destroying evidence, and so on. Bernard Harcourt reports in the NY Times:

THERE’S been a cover-up in Chicago. The city’s leaders have now brought charges against a police officer, Jason Van Dyke, for the first-degree murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. But for more than a year, Chicago officials delayed the criminal process, and might well have postponed prosecution indefinitely, had it not been for a state court forcing their hand.

They prevented the public from viewing crucial incriminating evidence — first one police car’s dashboard camera video; now, we learn, five such videos in total. And these senior officials turned a blind eye to the fact that 86 minutes of other video surveillance footage of the crime scene was unaccountably missing.

The Cook County prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, must have had probable cause to indict Officer Van Dyke for the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting death of Mr. McDonald the moment she viewed the police dash-cam video, after her office received it two weeks later. That video, in her own words, was “everything that it has been described to be by the news accounts. It is graphic. It is violent. It is chilling.”

Ms. Alvarez, and other city leaders, surely knew they would have to indict Mr. Van Dyke for murder as soon as the public saw that footage. “I have absolutely no doubt,” Ms. Alvarez finally said last week, “that this video will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.”

But the timing, in late 2014, was not good.

Then up for re-election, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, was looking ahead to a contested election on Feb. 24, 2015, which would ultimately result in a runoff election on April 7. In Ferguson, Mo., a grand jury was hearing testimony on the police shooting of Michael Brown. The video of Eric Garner being choked to death during an arrest in New York had gone viral. The Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum across the country.

The video of a police shooting like this in Chicago could have buried Mr. Emanuel’s chances for re-election. And it would likely have ended the career of the police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy.

And so the wheels of justice virtually ground to a halt. Mayor Emanuel refused to make the dash-cam video public, going to court to prevent its release. The city argued that releasing the video would taint the investigation of the case, but even the attorney general of Illinois urged the city to make it available.

Then the city waited until April 15 — one week after Mr. Emanuel was re-elected — to get final approval of a pre-emptive $5 million settlement with Mr. McDonald’s family, a settlement that had been substantially agreed upon weeks earlier. Still, the city’s lawyers made sure to include a clause that kept the dash-cam video confidential.

Around the time the freelance journalist Brandon Smith filed suit for release of the dash-cam video, on Aug. 5, 2015, the Chicago Police Department told him that it had already received, and rejected, 14 other Freedom of Information Act requests for the evidence. The city spent thousands of dollars in legal expenses to keep the video under wraps. And it would probably have continued to do so, had Judge Franklin Valderrama of the Cook County Circuit Court not ordered its release.

Meanwhile, the state’s prosecutor, Ms. Alvarez, concluded that there had been no evidence of tampering when police officers allegedly erased 86 minutes of video footage from Burger King surveillance cameras close to the location of Mr. McDonald’s shooting by Officer Van Dyke. The missing footage was from 9:13 to 10:39 p.m. — bracketing the time when Mr. McDonald was shot (around 9:50 p.m.).

City leaders did everything in their power to keep the homicide from the public as long as possible. Indeed, Mr. Van Dyke was indicted only after the forced release of the videos.

We can surmise that each had particular reasons. Mayor Emanuel was fighting for re-election in a tight race. Superintendent McCarthy wanted to keep his job. Ms. Alvarez needed the good will of the police union for her coming re-election campaign and probably wished to shield the police officers who bring her cases and testify in court.

None of that alters the fact that these actions have impeded the criminal justice system and, in the process, Chicago’s leaders allowed a first-degree murder suspect, now incarcerated pending bail, to remain free for over a year on the city’s payroll.

There is good reason to appoint an independent commission to investigate the conduct of these public servants. But frankly, at this point, who would trust Chicago’s political institutions or criminal justice system? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2015 at 3:48 pm

Challenging the Oligarchy

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In the NY Review of Books, Paul Krugman reviews an interesting book by Robert Reich:

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few
by Robert B. Reich
Knopf, 279 pp., $26.95

Back in 1991, in what now seems like a far more innocent time, Robert Reich published an influential book titled The Work of Nations, which among other things helped land him a cabinet post in the Clinton administration. It was a good book for its time—but time has moved on. And the gap between that relatively sunny take and Reich’s latest, Saving Capitalism, is itself an indicator of the unpleasant ways America has changed.

The Work of Nations was in some ways a groundbreaking work, because it focused squarely on the issue of rising inequality—an issue some economists, myself included, were already taking seriously, but that was not yet central to political discourse. Reich’s book saw inequality largely as a technical problem, with a technocratic, win-win solution. That was then. These days, Reich offers a much darker vision, and what is in effect a call for class war—or if you like, for an uprising of workers against the quiet class war that America’s oligarchy has been waging for decades.

1.

To understand the difference between The Work of Nations and Saving Capitalism, you need to know about two things. One, which is familiar to most of us, is the increasingly ugly turn taken by American politics, which I’ll be discussing later. The other is more of an insider debate, but one with huge implications for policy and politics alike: the rise and fall of the theory of skill-biased technological change, which was once so widely accepted among economists that it was frequently referred to simply as SBTC.

The starting point for SBTC was the observation that, around 1980, wages of college graduates began rising much more rapidly than wages of Americans with only a high school degree or less. Why?

One possibility was the growth of international trade, with rising imports of labor-intensive manufactured goods from low-wage countries. Such imports could, in principle, cause not just rising inequality but an actual decline in the wages of less-educated workers; the standard theory of international trade that supports such a principle is actually a lot less benign in its implications than many noneconomists imagine. But the numbers didn’t seem to work. Around 1990, trade with developing countries was still too small to explain the big movements in relative wages of college and high school graduates that had already happened. Furthermore, trade should have produced a shift in employment toward more skill-intensive industries; it couldn’t explain what we actually saw, which was a rise in the level of skills within industries, extending across pretty much the entire economy.

Many economists therefore turned to a different explanation: it was all about technology, and in particular the information technology revolution. Modern technology, or so it was claimed, reduced the need for routine manual labor while increasing the demand for conceptual work. And while the average education level was rising, it wasn’t rising fast enough to keep up with this technological shift. Hence the rise of the earnings of the college-educated and the relative, and perhaps absolute, decline in earnings for those without the right skills.

This view was never grounded in direct evidence that technology was the driving force behind wage changes; the technology factor was only inferred from its assumed effects. But it was expressed in a number of technical papers brandishing equations and data, and was codified in particular in a widely cited 1992 paper by Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard and Kevin M. Murphy of the University of Chicago.1 Reich’s The Work of Nations was, in part, a popularization of SBTC, using vivid language to connect abstract economic formalism to commonplace observation. In Reich’s vision, technology was eliminating routine work, and even replacing some jobs that historically required face-to-face interaction. But it was opening new opportunities for “symbolic analysts”—people with the talent and, crucially, the training to work with ideas. Reich’s solution to growing inequality was to equip more people with that necessary training, both through an expansion of conventional education and through retraining later in life.

It was an attractive, optimistic vision; you can see why it received such a favorable reception. But while one still encounters people invoking skill-biased technological change as an explanation of rising inequality and lagging wages—it’s especially popular among moderate Republicans in denial about what’s happened to their party and among “third way” types lamenting the rise of Democratic populism—the truth is that SBTC has fared very badly over the past quarter-century, to the point where it no longer deserves to be taken seriously as an account of what ails us.

The story fell apart in stages.2 First, over the course of the 1990s the skill gap stopped growing at the bottom of the scale: real wages of workers near the middle stopped outpacing those near the bottom, and even began to fall a bit behind. Some economists responded by revising the theory, claiming that technology was hollowing out the middle rather than displacing the bottom. But this had the feel of an epicycle added to a troubled theory—and after about 2000 the real wages of college graduates stopped rising as well. Meanwhile, incomes at the very top—the one percent, and even more so a very tiny group within the one percent—continued to soar. And this divergence evidently had little to do with education, since hedge fund managers and high school teachers have similar levels of formal training.

Something else began happening after 2000: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2015 at 2:26 pm

Very tasty fish soup, chowder-like

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I made a very tasty fish soup because the supermarket has some nice-looking true-cod fillets. My recipe was really just a list of ingredients:

Butter

Leeks [started sautéing these and added the rest as it cooked; include salt and a good amount of pepper]
Carrot
Celery
Garlic
Yellow bell pepper
Red bell pepper
Pasilla pepper

Flour [2 Tbsp added a cooked a while to make a roux]

Water [added by eye; probably 3 cups]
Penzey’s Seafood Soup Base
Canned tomatoes [1 can of original Ro-Tel]
Bag of frozen edamame
Marjoram
Herbes de Provence

Simmer

Fish [It turned out to be 1.5 lb, and I cut it into chunks]
Cream [around 1/2 c of heavy cream]

Simmer

It is very tasty.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2015 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Recipes

Focusing on the right things

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A recent post on Wicked_Edge expressed combined surprise and dismay:

I felt like I was fully converted. bought a shiny expensive razor, hundreds of blades, new products, and loving using them. asking questions on here, thinking about new brushes and blades. a full convert.

until just now when my faith was shaken.

just now I got a whisker away from a BBS with a $3 disposable and canned foam that I only used because I was in a hurry. shave took less than 2 minutes, and it’s about 95% perfect. another 2 minutes and I would have had a BBS.

I don’t know what to do with this information.

He augmented the post the next day, after reading and sleeping on the replies he received. And one of those replies was from me:

You may be looking in the wrong direction: toward efficiency instead of enjoyment. I regularly got good shaves with a cartridge and canned foam, though generally short of a BBS result, and the shave didn’t take long. It certainly took much less time than the 25 minutes I spent at the outset, though over a few months that dropped to about 15-20 minutes (and now is 5 minutes).

However, shaving was for me a tedious, boring, hateful chore, devoid of enjoyment. I got a clean-shave face, but I hated the task. The biggest payoff for me was that, using brush and soap and a DE razor, I found I actually enjoyed shaving and looked forward to my morning shave, which was a period of meditative activity that left me feeling refreshed and restored and ready for the day and what it might bring.

iIn the early chapters of my Guide I point out this particular benefit in detail, since most men who shave with cartridges and canned foam focus only on the end result, and (for obvious reasons) pay little attention to the nature of the experience of the process of shaving. Their attention is directed away from the experience, so it requires some effort to focus on the right things. It’s as though one goes to a concert and pays attention to the orchestra’s attire and not to the music, and becomes impatient for the concert to end once he’s looked over the orchestra carefully. What more is there?, he might ask as the music swirls around him, unnoticed.

If you truly enjoy what is happening, you generally don’t mind the time it takes. Men who brag that they can make love in 3 minutes flat are missing the point. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2015 at 11:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Testing the 37C v. the 34C, with Bee Witched

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SOTD 30 Nov 2015

Extremely smooth result today: the two-day-stubble effect, in part.

I really like Mickey Lee’s Bee Witched a lot and was recommending it until I learned it was a limited edition rather than regular stock. It has a fine fragrance and makes a terrific lather quite easily. Today I just Mr Pomp, the brush shown, and the lather was as good as ever.

I’m still comparing slants v. regular razors in the same shave, using razors with a similar format. This morning I picked the Merkur fraternal twins, 34G and 37G. I used both in each of the first two passes. I started by putting a brand new Gillette Silver Blue blade in each razor so I could test the razors and not the blade. (The Gillette Silver Blues, I’m beginning to think, should be included in every sampler pack.)

I did find that, for me, the 37G glided through the stubble a little more easily. The effect would doubtless be more noticeable for those whose beards are thicker and tougher and harder to cut, but I could detect it. YMMV, of course, depending on your beard.

I used the slant only in the final pass, since I’ve found that, for me, a slant more easily results in a BBS result. And indeed the final result was BBS.

This is the end of the Alt-Innsbruck: one final splash, and the bottle heads for recycling.

A very nice shave, in terms of both experience and result. A fine way to start the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2015 at 11:05 am

Posted in Shaving

A Master lock takes 5 seconds to open without a key

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Via this article.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2015 at 12:03 pm

Billy Strayhorn, musical genius

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Tom Vitale has a good report at NPR, and at the link is a podcast. Story begins:

In 1964, near the end of his career, Billy Strayhorn accompanied himself on a live recording of one of his best-known songs. It starts:

I used to visit all the very gay places
Those come-what-may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life
From jazz and cocktails …

When Strayhorn wrote “Lush Life” in 1936, he could only dream of the Paris nightlife described in the lyrics. He was a 20-year-old living in the poorest neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He had already written a musical revue called Fantastic Rhythm, but he wanted to play classical piano.

Strayhorn was working at a drugstore to pay for his lessons, and when he made deliveries, he played for the customers who had pianos. He had also written a number of original songs.

“They were unheard,” Strayhorn told interviewer Paul Worth in 1962. But “they were heard by the drugstore customers. And they got after me to have someone else hear them.”

Composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn would go on to create some of the most popular American music of the 20th century: songs like “Lush Life” or “Take The ‘A’ Train.” Born 100 years ago today, Nov. 29, 1915, Strayhorn did it his way — without ever hiding who he was.

His accomplishments are made all the more remarkable by the fact that he received little attention during his own lifetime. Strayhorn spent the bulk of his career in the shadow of his employer — bandleader Duke Ellington.

You Must Take The ‘A’ Train

In December 1938, a friend took Strayhorn backstage at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh to meet Duke Ellington. Strayhorn played some of his music for Ellington, who invited him to New York — scribbling down directions to his home in Harlem.

Strayhorn turned those notes into a song, and took it to Ellington a month later. Duke Ellington hired the young composer and made Strayhorn’s “Take The ‘A’ Train” his theme song. . .

Continue reading.

See also: Billy Strayhorn in Five Songs

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2015 at 9:25 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

Amazing clearance by Ronnie O’Sullivan

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Just under 20 minutes but well worth watching, assuming you enjoy watching snooker. The table layout became very gnarly and difficult for a while, requiring some astonishing shots. The commentary in this one is helpful.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 November 2015 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Games, Video

Otoko Organics, the S-Brush, and a great shave with the ATT R1

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SOTD 28 Nov 2015

A very fine shave indeed. Since the two appeared in the new starter kit I blogged yesterday, I used the S-Brush and Otoko Organics for today’s shave, and I have to say they are excellent. The S-Brush in the regular size really is a fine brush, and I do like the lather from Otoko Organic’s somewhat odd formula: it’s a somewhat stiffish lather, and has a very clean and refreshing smell.

The ATT R1 on the UFO handle did an excellent job. I did think that perhaps it did not plow through the stubble quite so easily as the S1, but it was hard to tell on separate shaves, so on Monday I’ll use both razors in the same shave, followed the next day by a shaving using both the Merkur 34G and the 37G, and then on Wednesday a shaving using both the iKon Shavecraft #101 and #102. By pairing in the same shave excellent razors of the same overall format, but one a slant and the other not, I think I’ll be better able to detect the difference.

Three passes resulted in a fine BBS result, and splash of TOBS Shaving Shop finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 November 2015 at 9:07 am

Posted in Shaving

Terrorist attack at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs

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Another terrorist attack. So far no reported killed. (Since the guy is white, the media will refuse to label it as a terrorist act; terrorists can only be from the Middle East, so far as US media are concerned. But this is quite clearly an ideology-driven attack aimed at innocent people.)

UPDATE: The terrorist in Colorado Springs killed three people, including one police officer.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2015 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Terrorism

Interesting (and excellent) DE shaving starter kit

with 4 comments

Here’s the kit.

Full disclosure: I did make recommendations for the kit contents, but I have no affiliation with the vendor nor do I receive any consideration (complimentary product, discounts, money, etc.) for my mention. I point out the kit not only because it includes an excellent (IMO) basic kit of brush, soap, razor, and blade sampler, but also the soap, Otoko Organics shave soap, has not previously been available in the US. (I have used the soap, which I like a lot, but I had to order it from Australia—and I totally understand the issue Australians have with shipping costs.)

Just in time for the holidays.

UPDATE: I posted this on Wicked Edge and there is what amounts to some uproar over the pricing. The razor ($29), brush (just under $10), and blade sampler pack probably run to about $45, compared to other stores. So the soap in effect costs $19. That seems reasonable to me in comparison to what it would cost you to order it from Australia, if you live in the US. As noted, the shipping costs are high. The soap sells for around US$15 in Australia, and you cannot ship a tub of soap to the US for $4.

However, my main point was to comment on the excellent (IMO) choice of items. I was not commenting on the price. I figure the potential customer will decide for himself whether or not he wants to buy it.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2015 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Shaving

How to Prosecute Abusive Prosecutors

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We repeatedly discover just how bad prosecutors can be: deliberately sending an innocent man to death row, for example, or hiding evidence that would exonerate a defendant. And prosecutors enjoy some immunity from lawsuits. But Brandon Buskey describes some recourse:

WHEN it comes to poor people arrested for felonies in Scott County, Miss., Judge Marcus D. Gordon doesn’t bother with the Constitution. He refuses to appoint counsel until arrestees have been formally charged by an indictment, which means they must languish in jail without legal representation for as long as a year.

Judge Gordon has robbed countless individuals of their freedom, locking them away from their loved ones and livelihoods for months on end. (I am the lead lawyer in a class-action suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against Scott County and Judge Gordon.) In a recent interview, the judge, who sits on the Mississippi State Circuit Court, was unapologetic about his regime of indefinite detention: “The criminal system is a system of criminals. Sure, their rights are violated.” But, he added, “That’s the hardship of the criminal system.”

There are many words to describe the judge’s blunt disregard of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Callous. Appalling. Cruel. Here’s another possibility: criminal — liable to prosecution and, if found guilty, prison time.

If this notion seems radical, it shouldn’t. Federal law already provides a mechanism to prosecute judges and district attorneys as criminals when they willfully deprive people of their civil rights: Title 18, Section 242, of the federal code.

This isn’t some dusty, rarely used legal tool. The Department of Justice typically wields Section 242 against police and correctional officers accused of physical or sexual violence. But Section 242 applies with equal force to those who prosecute and sentence, the state officials whose deliberate skirting of civil rights can be most devastating.

At least, that’s how it is on paper. The federal government has not in recent memory pursued a judge under Section 242, and it has only rarely enforced this law against prosecutors.

It is absolutely essential to bring rogue law enforcement officers to justice, particularly in a post-Ferguson world in which violations of constitutional rights have come under intense scrutiny. However, the government’s focus on abuses by law enforcement officials leaves the burden of curbing abuse by judges and prosecutors to private individuals.

This is a responsibility few lawyers are willing to accept, in large part because the United States Supreme Court has made pursuing a civil case against a prosecutor or judge practically impossible.

Consider the case of John Thompson, who spent 14 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit because the New Orleans Parish district attorney’s office intentionally concealed forensic evidence establishing his innocence. After his exoneration, Mr. Thompson sued the office under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, landmark legislation intended to provide a federal forum to those deprived of their civil rights by state officials.

Though Mr. Thompson won a $14 million jury award, the Supreme Court set aside the verdict on appeal. Notwithstanding the fact that the New Orleans prosecutors had similarly withheld evidence in at least four other cases, or the fact that several prosecutors suppressed the evidence in Mr. Thompson’s own case, the court said that Mr. Thompson had failed to demonstrate a pattern of wrongdoing by the district attorney’s office, which it held was required by Section 1983. The court’s decision illustrates just one of a host of protections it has given to prosecutors and judges to shield them from liability. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2015 at 10:54 am

Belgian Physicists Calculate that Both Turkey and Russia Are Lying About the Downed Russian Jet

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A very interesting analysis is reported in Motherboard by Alejandro Tauber:

It’s rare to see physics being used as an effective tool to comment on current events, but astrophysicists Tom van Doorsslaere and Giovanni Lapenta of the Belgian KU Leuven used some simple Newtonian mechanics to show that both the Russian and Turkish accounts of what happened with the downed jet can’t be right.

Using video of the incident and the maps provided by Turkish and Russian officials, they show in a post on a blog run by KU Leuven that what went down couldn’t possibly have happened as both parties present it.

First, the “facts.” The downed jet was shot down by the Turkish military Tuesday because the pilot reportedly ignored several warnings about entering Turkish airspace. Turkish officials say the military warned the jets ten times in a period of five minutes. When these warnings went unheeded, the Turkish prime minister himself gave the command to take the jets down, according to several reports. Both jet fighters were in Turkish airspace for just 17 seconds, Turkish officials say.

And now, the science. In the video of the incident, which was posted online, it can be seen that one of the two jets got hit and starts crashing to the ground. The jet takes approximately 30 seconds to hit the ground. “Because the vertical movement is only dependent on gravity (g=9.81m/s², z=gt²/2), we can calculate that the plane was moving at a height of at least 4500 meters,” the phisicists write in their blog. “That number is consistent with the Turkish statement of the jets being at an altitude of 19,000 feet (5800 meters).”

On the map provided by Turkish officials, it can be seen that the plane crashed eight kilometers from the place it was hit. The jet traveled those eight kilometers from the time it was hit until the time it crashed. A simple division gives an initial speed of 980 km/h, a perfectly acceptable speed for an aircraft travling at that altitude. So far, so good.

Then, the physicists take that speed and compare it to the distance the jets traveled in Turkish airspace according to the Turkish map, around 2 kilometers. When flying at a speed of 980 km/h, an object would cover that distance in seven seconds, instead of the 17 seconds according to Turkish reports. To cross that distance in 17 seconds, the plane should have been traveling at a meager 420 km/h. The video shows this simply could not be true, if the crash site is accurate. Physics 1, Turkey 0.

The Turkish airforce says it warned the fighter jets ten times in five minutes. In five minutes, an aeroplane traveling at 980 km/h would cross a distance of about 80 kilometers. From these facts, the professors conclude: “How could the Turkish airforce predict that the Russian jets were about to enter Turkish airspace? Military jets are very agile, and in theory the Russian jets could have turned at the last moment to avoid Turkish airspace. The warnings issued to the Russian pilots were mere speculation at the moment they were made.”

According to those facts, the warnings couldn’t possibly have been issued in the time the jets were in Turkish territory. Unless Turkish air controllers can speak impossibly fast, issuing ten warnings in seven seconds seems kinda improbable. Physics 2, Turkey 0.

In issues like these, there’s never one party to blame. This is international geopolitics, a discipline in which the truth is as malleable as Play-Doh. . .

Continue reading.

Video in the article.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2015 at 10:28 am

Posted in Government, Military

Tighter Lid on Records Threatens to Weaken Government Watchdogs

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One aspect of group loyalty is for members of a group to resist strongly (for reasons of loyalty) any investigation of the group and, when an investigation is launched, to attempt to conceal problems and wrong-doing from “outsiders.” We see this in how the Chicago Police Department lied about what happened and destroyed evidence in order to protect the murderer James Van Dyke, a member of the department. And now, we see it in US government agencies, as described in this NY Times story Eric Lichtblau:

Justice Department watchdogs ran into an unexpected roadblock last year when they began examining the role of federal drug agents in the fatal shootings of unarmed civilians during raids in Honduras.

The Drug Enforcement Administration balked at turning over emails from senior officials tied to the raids, according to the department’s inspector general. It took nearly a year of wrangling before the D.E.A. was willing to turn over all its records in a case that the inspector general said raised “serious questions” about agents’ use of deadly force.

The continuing Honduran inquiry is one of at least 20 investigations across the government that have been slowed, stymied or sometimes closed because of a long-simmering dispute between the Obama administration and its own watchdogs over the shrinking access of inspectors general to confidential records, according to records and interviews.

The impasse has hampered investigations into an array of programs and abuse reports — from allegations of sexual assaults in the Peace Corps to the F.B.I.’s terrorism powers, officials said. And it has threatened to roll back more than three decades of policy giving the watchdogs unfettered access to “all records” in their investigations.

“The bottom line is that we’re no longer independent,” Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, said in an interview.

The restrictions reflect a broader effort by the Obama administration to prevent unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information — at the expense, some watchdogs insist, of government oversight.

Justice Department lawyers concluded in a legal opinion this summer that some protected records, like grand jury transcripts, wiretap intercepts and financial credit reports, could be kept off limits to government investigators. The administration insists there is no intention of curtailing investigations, but both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have expressed alarm and are promising to restore full access to the watchdogs.

The new restrictions grew out of a five-year-old dispute within the Justice Department. After a series of scathing reports by Glenn Fine, then the Justice Department inspector general, on F.B.I. abuses in counterterrorism programs, F.B.I. lawyers began asserting in 2010 that he could no longer have access to certain confidential records because they were legally protected.

That led to a series of high-level Justice Department reviews, a new procedure for reviewing records requests and, ultimately, a formal opinion in July from the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. That opinion, which applies to federal agencies across the government, concluded that the 1978 law giving an inspector general access to “all records” in investigations did not necessarily mean all records when it came to material like wiretap intercepts and grand jury reports. [That is, “all records” means “only some records.” This goes against the clear statement: “all records,” as most would clearly see, means “all records.” – LG]

The inspector-general system was created in 1978 in the wake of Watergate as an independent check on government abuse, and it has grown to include watchdogs at 72 federal agencies. Their investigations have produced thousands of often searing public reports on everything from secret terrorism programs and disaster responses to boondoggles like a lavish government conference in Las Vegas in 2010 that featured a clown and a mind reader.

Not surprisingly, tensions are common between the watchdogs and the officials they investigate. President Ronald Reagan, in fact, fired 15 inspectors general in 1981. But a number of scholars and investigators said the restrictions imposed by the Obama administration reflect a new level of acrimony.

“This is by far the most aggressive assault on the inspector general concept since the beginning,” said Paul Light, a New York University professor who has studied the system. “It’s the complete evisceration of the concept. You might as well fold them down. They’ve become defanged.”

While President Obama has boasted of running “the most transparent administration in history,” some watchdogs say the clampdown has scaled back scrutiny of government programs. [Indeed, the Obama administration consistently denies or delays FOIA requests, or provides materials so redacted as to be useless. The Obama administration is far from being transparent—it regularly refuses to cooperate with compensating victims of our undeclared warfare, such as those innocents tortured, or those killed in drone attacks. – LG]

“This runs against transparency,” said the Peace Corps inspector general, Kathy Buller.

At the Peace Corps, her office began running into problems two years ago in an investigation into the agency’s handling of allegations of sexual assaults against overseas volunteers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2015 at 10:13 am

Beginning the slant/nonslant test: Above the Tie R1 and S1

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SOTD 27 Nov 2015

Some men cannot detect differences apparent to others—colors, tastes, DE blades, and razors. The slant razor, for example, cuts more easily than a regular razor because the shearing cut of a slanted blade encounters less cutting resistance than the chop of a regular blade. This is well known—with a regular blade the Gillette slide, which presents the blade at an angle, is a common technique favored by men with thick bears and regular razors. (You can see the Gillette slide demonstrated in a video by Mantic59.)

Although the Gillette slide works well in some circumstances, there’s a reason it’s always shown being done on the cheek. Trying it on the neck—with, across, or against the grain—is more challenging. The slant razor, by slanting the blade, in effect packages the Gillette slide into the razor itself, so that in using the razor in the usual manner reaps the benefits of the Gillette slide without requiring any new skills or techniques, and the slant razor works easily wherever a regular razor works: neck, point of chin, upper lip, whatever.

Since the slant overcomes cutting resistance, its advantage increases along with the cutting resistance of the beard. Men with thick, tough, wiry, coarse beards very much appreciate the slant, particularly if they have sensitive skin (since a good slant is very gentle on the skin when used with light pressure). Men with beards that do not offer much resistance to cutting doubtless do not find much advantage. My own beard is in the normal range, though, and I can detect easier cutting and also find I more easily/frequently get a BBS result with a slant.

Of course, one’s own experience is so vivid that it is difficult for some to believe that someone else may have a different experience. Thus those who cannot detect a difference in the performance of a slant compared to a regular razor often go to some lengths to attempt to establish that there is no difference: that those who detect the difference are “wrong”: deluded, perhaps, by confirmation bias. (Similarly, I suppose, those who experience no differences between different brands of blades might believe that everyone is pretending that such differences exist; or a person who finds Brand X wonderful (or bad) might dismiss the experience of someone who finds Brand X bad (or wonderful). “YMMV” is easy to say but hard to internalize, despite quite clear evidence that YMMV holds in many areas: cilantro, for example, tastes wonderful to me and awful to my daughter (“like soap!”).

So those who can’t tell the difference between a slant and a regular razor argue mightily that, since they cannot detect the difference, it must exist and those who do detect it are being fooled somehow. They often will admit that the Gillette slide cuts more easily, but cannot believe that a slant also benefits from a slanted cutting angle.

So I decided to run a test, alternately using a slant and a regular razor for the next week or so. I’ll try to match the two in terms of overall format—e.g., the Above the Tie R1 (regular) and the S1 (slant); or the Merkur 34C (regular) and the 37C (slant). Initially I’ll try using the razors on alternate days, but I may switch to using both razors in a single shave to get a better feel for the differences.

Today I’m using the Above the Tie S1 slant, and tomorrow I’ll use the ATT R1 regular razor. Both are pictured above, both on UFO handles. you’ll note the degree of the slant slant is not very great. I’m running this little test to reconfirm to myself that I can feel a real difference between the two razors.

This morning I used my silvertip badger brush from the Copper Hat, which has a Delrin® handle of a pleasant shape, and Tim’s Soaps Greek Peach shaving soap. The soap makes a fine and fragrant lather. I did add a couple of driblets of water as I loaded the brush and had no problems at all in lather quality or quantity.

Three easy passes with the S1 left me with a BBS result, though I was not especially trying for that. A good splash of Penhaligon Blenheim Bouquet finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2015 at 9:54 am

Posted in Shaving

Amazing snooker mastery: Ronnie O’Sullivan clears two frames in 2014 Welsh open

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Just to reprise the rules of snooker:each time you pot a red ball (1 point) you can pot any numbered ball and get that many points. Until all the red balls are sunk, each time you pot a numbered ball, it is replaced on its original position at the opening of the game. Once all the red balls are sunk (and the numbered ball after the final red ball), then you must pot the numbered balls in order, 2 (yellow) through 7 (black).

In the first sequence, Barry Hawkins is ahead 58 – 0, misses, and O’Sullivan plays some good safety shots, leaving Hawkins snookered: the cue ball placed so it has no shot at the reds. In the second, Hawkins is ahead even more, 64 – 0.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2015 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Games, Video

Meditation Helped Me Survive Death Row and 19 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

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Damien Echols has an interesting article in Motherboard:

I am a magician.

I don’t pull rabbits out of hats, saw attractive young women in half, or wear a tuxedo. I practice magick, spelled with a “k” in order to differentiate it from slight of hand, and once upon a time I was sentenced to death for it.

My name is Damien Echols, and in 1993 I was arrested for three counts of capital murder in the town of West Memphis, Arkansas. Nine months later I was sentenced to death, and spent almost 19 years on death row before being released in 2011 when new evidence came to light.

Prison is a dark and stagnant place. It’s filled with the most cold, horrendous energy you can imagine. It feels like a kind of psychic filth that penetrates into your very soul.

Much of magick is about is learning to change states of consciousness at will. I learned to use meditation and ritual as shields. They prevented the hellish energy of prison from changing me and making me more like the people all around me—people who had given up on even trying to be human.

This is a story about how I kept my sanity.

***

I fell in love with magick when I was first learning to read and realized that such a thing existed. At about the age of twelve I discovered the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and my life changed forever. The Golden Dawn was an order of ceremonial magicians that lived in the mid to late 1800s in England, and included such luminaries as W.B. Yeats, Pamela Coleman Smith, who painted the artwork we now know as the Rider-Waite tarot deck, and the notorious Aleister Crowley.

Crowley was the person who deigned that magick be spelled with a “k.” He was also a big part of the reason I was sentenced to death.

In 1993, when three eight year old boys were found murdered in my small town, attention immediately turned to me. Why? Because I was the town weirdo. I dressed in all black, had long hair, and listened to heavy metal music. As if this wasn’t enough to make me suspect in a small, hardcore fundamentalist town in the midst of the era of Satanic panic, I also practiced magick. Some of the most damning evidence brought against me during the trial was my love of knowledge of Crowley, and the fact that I owned Stephen King novels.

If you want to know more about the case, watch any of the Paradise Lostdocumentaries about it, as well as West of Memphis, the documentary I myself was a producer on. You could also read my book, Life After Death.

My interest in magick may have contributed to my being sentenced to death, but it was also a huge part of what allowed me to survive for the better part of two decades in the American prison system.

***

For a huge chunk of my incarceration—nearly nine years—I was in a super maximum security unit prison, where I spent 24 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is like living in a vacuum in which no comforts exist. You spend every single moment alone, with nothing to distract you from the horror of your situation and no contact with anything or anyone that can possibly provide you with a shred of hope. Time ceases to exist, as there is no way to mark its passage. Noon is the same as midnight. Christmas is the same as the Fourth of July. All you can do is sit with your fears, waiting for the next time the guards decide to hurt you.

It was here that I decided to dedicate every single waking moment of my life to delving deeper and deeper into the realm of magick.

I had several teachers I corresponded with, including the priest of a Japanese zen temple who would travel from Japan to the prison in Arkansas to give me ordination in the Rinzai Zen tradition of Japanese Buddhism, the same tradition that used to train the samurai in older times. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2015 at 1:14 pm

John Hope Franklin: Race & the Meaning of America

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Drew Gilpin Faust has a good essay in the NY Review of Books, well worth reading:

. . . Defying, not crying. That captures John Hope Franklin’s life, and it captures the history he wrote, a history that would, in his words, “attempt to rehabilitate a whole people” and serve them as a weapon of collective defiance. Inspired by a brilliant teacher at Fisk University, Franklin came to see how “historical traditions have controlled…attitudes and conduct,” and how changing history, challenging the truth of the “hallowed past,” was the necessary condition for changing the present and future. In important ways, the study of history was for Franklin not a choice; it was an imperative. “The true scholar,” he wrote in 1963, “must pursue truth in his field; he must, as it were, ply his trade…. If one tried to escape,…he would be haunted;…he would be satisfied in no other pursuit.” History, in the many meanings of the term, chose him.

But the “Negro scholar,” Franklin wrote, should not imagine he could disappear into an ivory tower. The choice to “turn his back on the world” was not available. From Jonathan Edwards, to Thomas Jefferson, to Ralph Waldo Emerson, to John Kenneth Galbraith, Franklin observed, the American scholar had been drawn into policy and the practical. The black scholar must fully embrace this tradition of American intellectual life. “I now assert,” Franklin proclaimed,

that the proper choice for the American Negro scholar is to use his history and ingenuity, his resources and talents, to combat the forces that isolate him and his people and, like the true patriot that he is, to contribute to the solution of the problems that all Americans face in common.

Fundamental to the task at hand would be rewriting the history of history, revising the “hallowed” falsehoods, illustrating how the abuse and misuse of history served to legitimate systems of oppression not just in the past but in the present as well. Misrepresentations of the past, Franklin came to recognize, had given “the white South the intellectual justification for its determination not to yield on many important points, especially in its treatment of the Negro.” Post–Civil War southerners had endeavored to “win with the pen what they had failed to win with the sword.”

Franklin detailed the way the antebellum South rewrote the history of the American Revolution to justify its increasing commitment to slavery, how the popular history represented by the 1915 film Birth of a Nation worked to justify the early-twentieth-century revival of the Klan, how in a volume commissioned for a prominent series on southern history, respected historian E. Merton Coulter’s racist assumptions produced a distorted view of Reconstruction that made an implicit argument against the extension of civil rights in the years immediately following World War II.

But Franklin did not simply critique and revise; he did not just overturn existing interpretations by bringing a different lens to bear, or even by just grounding the narrative of the past in what were quite revolutionary assumptions of common human capacity and dignity. Franklin, the scholar, unearthed reams of new facts—facts no one had bothered to look for previously, facts buried in archives, newspapers, government records, facts no historian had searched for until history decided black lives mattered.

Franklin’s approach to the doing of history is perhaps most faithfully and explicitly chronicled in the introduction to his biography of the nineteenth-century African-American historian George Washington Williams. A pioneer in charting the black experience, Williams, who died in 1891, had been all but forgotten until Franklin began “stalking” him. Franklin recounts the story of how over three decades he traveled to countless offices, libraries, and archives on three continents. He pursued clues and leads with imagination and unquenchable curiosity until he was able to piece together a full portrait of the man and his work. Franklin rescued Williams from oblivion to install him in his rightful place as a pathbreaking black intellectual, a precursor to Franklin himself in creating a true history of the nation’s past and the place of African-Americans within it. . .

. . .

Even Franklin, who had personally felt the brunt of segregation, who had understood the terrors of racial violence and oppression, was sobered by what he found. WritingFrom Slavery to Freedom, piecing together a comprehensive account of five hundred years of black history, brought tales of horror before his eyes:

I had seen one slave ship after another…pile black human cargo into its bowels…. I had seen them dump my ancestors at New World ports as they would a load of cattle and wait smugly for their pay…. I had seen them beat black men…and rape black women until their ecstasy was spent leaving their brutish savagery exposed. I had heard them shout, “Give us liberty or give us death,” and not mean one word of it…. I had seen them lynch black men and distribute their ears, fingers, and other parts as souvenirs…. I had seen it all, and in the seeing I had become bewildered and yet in the process lost my own innocence.

The past and present of racial oppression in America angered Franklin. His own treatment in graduate school, in the profession, in humiliating incidents that occurred till the very last years of his life provoked him to express his outrage—in autobiographical writings and in what he called “literary efforts” that he refrained from publishing. He was scrupulous and insistent that such emotions and any of what he called “polemics” or “diatribes” should not “pollute” his scholarly work. Yet he acknowledged that “the task of remaining calm and objective is indeed a formidable one.” . . .

The entire essay is well worth reading and thought provoking: How should US history be taught in our schools? What should citizens of the US know of the history of their own country and culture? Is it important to mislead citizens about what actually happened? If so, who decides which false picture to present?

Consider this latter passage in the essay:

. . . In April 1992, while Franklin was in the air en route to the University of Missouri to deliver a series of endowed lectures, a Simi Valley, California, jury announced the acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers who had beaten Rodney King. By the time he reached the St. Louis airport, Los Angeles had erupted in riots that ultimately killed fifty-three people before the California National Guard was summoned to quell the violence. For Franklin, these events seemed a tragic affirmation of the argument at the core of his already-prepared Missouri lectures: racism, “the most tragic and persistent social problem in the nation’s history,” had not been eliminated—even with the notable progress of the civil rights movement. As W.E.B. Du Bois had proclaimed the problem of the twentieth century to be “the problem of the color line—the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea,” so now Franklin cast his eyes forward to declare it the fundamental challenge for the twenty-first. “I venture to state categorically,” he proclaimed, “that the problem of the twenty-first century will be the problem of the color line.”

And again (or still) he worried about willful distortions of history—this time including more recent emerging histories—that threatened to undermine the nation’s capacity to confront and eliminate racial injustice. The myth of a colorblind society, often erected upon a cynical celebration of the achievements of civil rights legislation and the Voting Rights Act, was being developed in the 1980s and 1990s, Franklin believed, to end the struggle for racial equality by proclaiming it already achieved. “A color-blind society does not exist in the United States,” Franklin stated emphatically to his Missouri audience, “and never has existed.” But to advance the myth, Franklin asserted, was not simply a delusion; it was a far more pernicious act of bad faith. “Those who insist we should conduct ourselves as if such a utopian state already existed have no interest in achieving it and, indeed, would be horrified if we even approached it.”

Brown v. Board of Education had, in Franklin’s words, been “no magic wand.” “Litigation, legislation, and executive implementation, however effective some of it was, did not wipe away three centuries of slavery, degradation, segregation, and discrimination.” Color remained “a major consideration in virtually everything Americans thought, said, or did.” Rodney King’s beating was clear testimony to the persisting force of race. Today, more than twenty years later, Franklin could deliver the same message. We are neither colorblind nor post-racial. Franklin would have been deeply saddened, but I doubt he would have been surprised, by the events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Charleston, Cleveland, Baltimore. He would have been equally saddened and, one guesses, angered by the recent evisceration of the Voting Rights Act and by the threat to student body diversity in higher education implied by the Supreme Court’s decision to reconsider Fisher v.University of Texas. . .

And in this context I will again point out Kevin Drum’s excellent post on how the Democrats lost the white South. It’s relevant because it provides a clear example of how history, even if not acknowledged, shapes the present.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2015 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Tagged with

Excellent clear example of corruption: Rep. Roger Williams (R-Austin TX)

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Corruption is when a person uses his official powers for private gain—for example, if Dick Cheney as Vice President had caused no-bid cost-plus contracts to be given to companies (such as Halliburton and KBR), that would be corruption. John Dunbar at the Center for Public Integrity points out one example:

A watchdog group has called for the investigation of the actions of an auto-dealing congressman who proposed an amendment that would exempt his industry from a safety requirement.

The amendment, which passed the House of Representatives, was offered just before midnight on Nov. 11. It allows automobile dealers to rent or loan out vehicles even if they are subject to safety recalls. Rental car companies, meanwhile, don’t get the same treatment under the proposed law.

It was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, a self-described “second-generation auto dealer.”

The Campaign Legal Center in a letter sent Monday urged the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics to review Williams’ actions and also recommended changes to clarify House rules concerning recusal and conflicts of interest by members.

The request was prompted by a Center for Public Integrity report posted last week. The story was also posted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Texas Tribune.

“The specific actions of Rep. Williams must be reviewed for compliance with current rules, but even if he did clear his amendment with the Ethics Committee, his actions are a prime example of why the current rules are both too weak and in need of further clarification,” said Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director in a press release.

An email to Williams’ press aide was not immediately returned.

The rental car provision in the legislation, which is also in the Senate bill, was spurred by the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, ages 24 and 20. The two sisters were killed in 2004 while driving a rented, recalled vehicle that caught fire and crashed head-on into a semi, according to consumer groups that have backed the rental car proposal.

Williams’ amendment would make the act apply only to companies whose “primary” business is renting cars, which would effectively exclude dealerships. No such provision exists in the Senate bill.

Williams is chairman of Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM SRT in Weatherford. In his remarks on the House floor, Williams said the bill was bad for small businesses.

“Vehicles would be grounded for weeks or months for such minor compliance matters as an airbag warning sticker that might peel off the sun visor or an incorrect phone number printed in the owner’s manual,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps of California didn’t agree with that reasoning, however.

“This is ridiculous. NHTSA (National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration) does not issue frivolous recalls,” she said. “All safety recalls pose serious safety risks and should be fixed as soon as possible.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2015 at 12:57 pm

Why didn’t the RCMP test the camera that met their criteria?

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal police force in Canada, has claimed that they want to introduce body cameras, but they cannot find cameras that will pass their tests because they choose only cameras that don’t meet the criteria. For example, they require a camera with a 12-hour battery life, but for their tests they picked only cameras that could not meet that criterion. Could be they’re stalling…

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2015 at 12:51 pm

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