Later On

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Archive for December 21st, 2015

Don’t Blame the Military Drone Pilots

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Claudia Hauer reports on Motherboard:

Opinion: Claudia Hauer teaches at the US Air Force Academy and interviewed the sources quoted here for academic purposes. Names are withheld for privacy reasons and quotes have been reconstructed.

The twenty-three-year-old pilot sat at his console in Nevada staring at his screen. He keyed the mic to the joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) in Afghanistan, who coordinated his attack orders with the ground force. “Standby 9-line. Standby. There are kids in the field of view. Confirm you copy kids?”

The lieutenant pilot and his crew watched on the silent video monitor as their target’s children fluttered around him. They had been tracking the target, whose identity was unknown to them, for weeks, and the JTAC had just ordered them to prepare for a lethal strike, but the presence of the children was unmistakable. Aside from the height difference, which was pronounced in the long morning shadows, Afghan adults do not typically run.

The radio was silent for a few moments while the JTAC undoubtedly conferred with the ground force commander. The JTAC responded, “I copy kids. I see the kids. But when I tell you to shoot, you’re gonna shoot.”

The Air Force remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) program, also known as the drone program, is often criticized as a lethal video game played with innocent people. But who’s really playing the game, if higher-ups can watch a live-feed via satellite and give orders to kill? The lieutenant pilot in Nevada wanted to hold his fire. It was his ground force commander, watching over his shoulder from the battlefield in Afghanistan, thousands of miles away, who took that decision out of his hands.

RPA technology has brought big changes to the way lethal strike decisions are made. Clausewitz talked about “fog of war,” but maybe we should be talking about the “fog of virtual reality.”

The Air Force corrects the myth that drones are autonomous machines by asserting that “human beings are an integral part of the system and will continue to be the decision-makers,” but this human being is not necessarily the RPA pilot. One pilot recalled years later how a ground force commander with a laptop, viewing a Reaper’s live-feed and angry about a recent strike on Americans, ordered the pilot to shoot down what turned out to be Afghani men and children digging an irrigation ditch.

The psychological effects on the airman, commander, and strategist as a result of changes in weapons and technology platforms are still unclear. Studies on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within the RPA pilot community have considered the telewarfare environment as an overall psychological factor, but we should also consider how virtual-reality technology has meant huge changes in the way lethal strike decisions are made. . .

Continue reading. Well worth it.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2015 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Military

Democratic Debate Spawns Fantasy Talk on Encryption

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Jenna McLaughlin in The Intercept:

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton during Saturday’s debate said the U.S. should commission a “Manhattan-like project,” a reference to the secret World War II-era atomic bomb endeavor, to address the alleged threat encryption poses to law enforcement. She also admitted she doesn’t actually understand the technology.

Clinton was largely parroting a popular FBI talking point that’s been highly publicized following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino—that encryption is law enforcement’s Achilles heel in preventing crime—though there’s no evidence encryption enabled the plots to go undetected.

Encryption is basically math—in some cases installed by default—that protects online communications and sensitive information from being intercepted and exploited—both in transit and at rest on devices. “End-to-end” encryption garbles messages into random characters and makes it so that the message is only decipherable by the receiver— who has the key to decrypt it. In this case, even companies can’t hand over plain text of their customers’ messages.

And because of that, law enforcement argues, the government need some sort of a way in—a “backdoor,” “front door,” or “golden key”—to stop the bad guys in their tracks. For months, FBI director James Comey has been proclaiming his wish for some sort of magical solution to allow law enforcement access to encrypted communications. Comey has repeatedly insisted that smart people working on technology simply need to try harder, or be incentivized properly.

But technologists and cryptographers have been saying for years it’s impossible—without severely handicapping the protection it affords its users. Clinton gave no details on what an encryption Manhattan Project would involve, except to unite the techies in Silicon Valley with government spooks.

Clinton’s statements about encrpytion echoed Comey’s earlier statements. “I would hope that, given the extraordinary capacities that the tech community has and the legitimate needs and questions from law enforcement, that there could be a Manhattan-like project, something that would bring the government and the tech communities together to see they’re not adversaries, they’ve got to be partners,” Clinton said during Saturday’s Democratic debate.

“It doesn’t do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after. There must be some way,” she insisted.

Clinton acknowledged the concern that installing “backdoors” would create a hole in encryption that could be exploited for malicious purposes. But she added, “I don’t know enough about the technology…to be able to say what [the solution] is.”

Clinton continued to say that “law enforcement is blind—blind before, blind during, and unfortunately, in many instances, blind after” a crime because of encryption.

Yet the government has never presented a clear case where . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2015 at 2:19 pm

Great read on the vast cultural wasteland, take 2

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Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

I hate to pick on TV critic Todd VanDerWerff, but today he really encapsulates a pet peeve of mine:

There’s so much out there! This year, there were more than 400 scripted dramas and comedies just in primetime….So when you see that the list below starts at 35, and then see that I’ve thrown in an additional 25 runners-up, know that I’m choosing only a small fraction of a fraction of the shows I wanted to include. (My initial list of programs to either consider or catch up on ran nearly 175 titles in total)….While the number 10 is largely an arbitrary one, there is some value to conciseness, so I’ve also ranked everything. If you just want to know my top 10, you can scroll down to that point. And if your favorite show isn’t on this list, I probably just didn’t watch it.

I am absolutely drowned in stories these days about the best show on TV. Or the best show nobody watches. Or the best show on cable. Or the best show not on cable. Or the most criminally underrated show. Or the best show ever about prison. Or the best show ever about the military. Or the best show ever about the transgendered. Or the funniest show. Or the most heartbreaking show. Or the funniest show you’ve ever watched about a trangendered Marine Corps officer who ends up in prison. . .

Continue reading. He quotes Theodore Sturgeon, of course.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2015 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Some examples of police work in the US

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Radley Balko provides a list of links:

  • Video shows California police officer shooting a man as the man crawled from the wreckage of an accident. He then only admitted he shot the man when forced to do so. No culpability.
  • Here’s a chart listing the rate of killings by police officers at 60 select cities around the United States.
  • Eighty percent of the dashboard cameras used by the Chicago Police Department don’t properly record audio. Sorry, but you don’t get an 80 percent failure rate by accident.
  • Video shows one L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy shot the other while apprehending a homeless man, then both blamed the homeless man, shooting him once in the stomach, then several times in the back. The incident began when the deputies chased the man down . . . for wearing headphones while riding a bicycle.
  • The parents of 14-year-old who killed himself while detained in an Atlanta jail cell have filed a lawsuit.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2015 at 11:08 am

In Missouri, Fewer Gun Restrictions and More Gun Killings

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Missouri offers an interesting example of a possible connection between gun control and gun deaths—a connection that is on its face intuitively obvious: lessened control -> more guns in more situations -> more gun deaths; tighter controls -> fewer guns in fewer situations -> fewer gun deaths. Missouri chose the first of these, as reported by Sabrina Tavernise in the NY Times:

Jean Peters Baker, the county prosecutor here, stood at her desk poring over Facebook photographs of young men posing with guns. One wore a grinning mask and pointed his gun at the camera. Another clasped guns in each hand. A third was laughing uproariously, his finger on the trigger of an assault rifle.

“This is our reality,” Ms. Peters Baker said, gesturing toward the pictures from recent investigations. “I’m not talking about my uncle who still lives on a farm in central Missouri and uses a gun for hunting.”

In the past decade, Missouri has been a natural experiment in what happens when a state relaxes its gun control laws. For decades, it had one of the nation’s strongest measures to keep guns from dangerous people: a requirement that all handgun buyers get a gun permit by undergoing a background check in person at a sheriff’s office.

But the legislature repealed that in 2007 and approved a flurry of other changes, including, last year, lowering the legal age to carry a concealed gun to 19. What has followed may help answer a central question of the gun control debate: Does allowing people to more easily obtain guns make society safer or more dangerous?

The mass shooting in San Bernardino this month has reignited that debate in America, and Missouri’s experience offers one perspective. It is difficult to isolate the impact of gun laws in a single state, given the pervasiveness of interstate trafficking and illegal markets, but a variety of measures, including a marked increase in police seizures of guns bought in-state, suggest the changes in Missouri’s laws have had some effect.

Research by Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found that in the first six years after the state repealed the requirement for comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, the gun homicide rate rose by 16 percent, compared with the six years before. In contrast, the national rate declined by 11 percent over the same period. After Professor Webster controlled for poverty and other factors that could influence the homicide rate, and took into account homicide rates in other states, the result was slightly higher, rising by 18 percent in Missouri.

New federal death data released this month for 2014 showed a continuation of the trend, he said. Before the repeal, from 1999 to 2006, Missouri’s gun homicide rate was 13.8 percent higher than the national rate. After, from 2008 to 2014, it was 47 percent higher. (The new data also showed that the national death rate from guns is now equal to that of motor vehicle crashes for the first time since the government began systematically tracking it.)

Other measures suggested that criminals had easier access to guns after the permit law was repealed. Professor Webster analyzed data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and found that the share of guns that were linked to crimes soon after they were bought doubled in the state from 2006 to 2010. The portion of guns confiscated by the police in Missouri that had been originally bought in the state — ordinarily a very stable statistic — rose to 74 percent last year, from 56 percent before the law changed. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing: there’s a lot more, and opponents of gun controls do get a voice.

Later in the article:

Rigorous scientific research on universal background checks is sparse, in part because federal funding for it is practically nonexistent. A number of states toughened their laws after the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., but the changes were too recent to evaluate the effects. Missouri was the only state in recent history to repeal a law requiring background checks and permits for all handgun sales, and Professor Webster said he was drawn to study the aftermath because many have considered that type of law to be the most effective at keeping guns from people who should not have them. In 1995 Connecticut enacted a law similar to the one Missouri repealed, and gun homicides declined by 40 percent in the 10 years that followed, he found.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2015 at 9:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Guns, Law

Balkline billiards

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For me, the next step after carom billiards (aka “straight-rail billiards”), in which the goal is to hit both other balls with your cue ball, was three-cushion billiards, in which the cue ball must strike a cushion at least 3 times before the second object ball is hit. But there’s another approach: balkline billiards, in which the table “is divided by balklines on the cloth into marked regions called balk spaces. Such balk spaces define areas of the table surface in which a player may only score up to a threshold number of points while the object balls are within that region.” (Quotation is from the Wikipedia link.)

The game has a very different feel from three-cushion billiards, which encourages wide-ranging shots (to hit the required minimum of three cushions. Balkline billiards uses precise control and soft shots. Take a look at this game, with a useful commentary, with one of the commentators clearly a three-cushion player:

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2015 at 9:19 am

Posted in Games

How the GOP conditioned its base to dismiss facts and go for bluster

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Paul Krugman has an interesting column in today’s NY Times:

Almost six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush inpolls of Republican voters. At the time, most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to more conventional candidates. Instead, however, his lead just kept widening. Even more striking, the triumvirate of trash-talk — Mr. Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz — now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

But how can this be happening? After all, the antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?

Well, part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand. So how are voters supposed to know where to draw the line?

Let’s talk first about the legacy of He Who Must Not Be Named.

I don’t know how many readers remember the 2000 election, but during the campaign Republicans tried — largely successfully — to make the election about likability, not policy. George W. Bush was supposed to get your vote because he was someone you’d enjoy having a beer with, unlike that stiff, boring guy Al Gore with all his facts and figures.

And when Mr. Gore tried to talk about policy differences, Mr. Bush responded not on the substance but by mocking his opponent’s “fuzzy math” — a phrase gleefully picked up by his supporters. The press corps played right along with this deliberate dumbing-down: Mr. Gore was deemed to have lost debates, not because he was wrong, but because he was, reporters declared, snooty and superior, unlike the affably dishonest W.

Then came 9/11, and the affable guy was repackaged as a war leader. But the repackaging was never framed in terms of substantive arguments over foreign policy. Instead, Mr. Bush and his handlers sold swagger. He was the man you could trust to keep us safe because he talked tough and dressed up as a fighter pilot. He proudly declared that he was the “decider” — and that he made his decisions based on his “gut.”

The subtext was that real leaders don’t waste time on hard thinking, that listening to experts is a sign of weakness, that attitude is all you need. And while Mr. Bush’s debacles in Iraq and New Orleans eventually ended America’s faith in his personal gut, the elevation of attitude over analysis only tightened its grip on his party, an evolution highlighted when John McCain, who once upon a time had a reputation for policy independence, chose the eminently unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate.

So Donald Trump as a political phenomenon is very much in a line of succession that runs from W. through Mrs. Palin, and in many ways he’s entirely representative of the Republican mainstream. For example, were you shocked when Mr. Trump revealed his admiration for Vladimir Putin? He was only articulating a feeling that was already widespread in his party.

Meanwhile, what do the establishment candidates have to offer as an alternative? On policy substance, not much. Remember, back when he was the presumed front-runner, Jeb Bush assembled a team of foreign-policy “experts,” people who had academic credentials and chairs at right-wing think tanks. But the team was dominated by neoconservative hard-liners, people committed, despite past failures, to the belief that shock and awe solve all problems.

In other words, Mr. Bush wasn’t articulating a notably different policy than what we’re now hearing from Trump et al; all he offered was belligerence with a thin veneer of respectability. Marco Rubio, who has succeeded him as the establishment favorite, is much the same, with a few added evasions. Why should anyone be surprised to see this posturing, er, trumped by the unapologetic belligerence offered by nonestablishment candidates? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2015 at 9:09 am

Posted in GOP, Government

Chiseled Face brush, Wet Shaving Products soap, and the #102

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SOTD 21 Dec 2015

A very fine shave today, doubtless helped by the two-day stubble. Wet Shaving Products, makers of fine brushes, also now offer shaving soaps, and I tried one this morning: their “Formula T” Tobacco, which uses shea butter and tallow. I had assumed that the “T” was for tallow, but on their site they say that the “T” is in honor of the Ford iconic Model T. The ingredients are “ stearic acid, water, tallow, coconut oil, potassium hydroxide, glycerin, shea butter, fragrance, & sodium hydroxide,” and they use a long curing time.

You’ll notice that the tub is filled to the brim, which I like. The soap was quite easy to load, and I now have gained sufficient skill that it was not at all messy. This soap doesn’t require so much water as soaps containing clay seem to—that is, it’s not a thirsty soap. I loaded the Chisel Face brush shown easily, then worked in more water as I built the lather on my beard.

The iKon Shavecraft #102 again provided a totally pleasing shave with zero problems. Most of my face was BBS when I rinsed after the second pass, and following the third pass I had a perfect result.

A good splash of Cavendish aftershave, which seemed to smell particularly good this morning, to the point where I wondered whether my nose had been primed by the tobacco fragrance of the soap.

A great way to start the week.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2015 at 9:03 am

Posted in Shaving

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