Later On

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

Archive for February 5th, 2016

Barry Eisler’s new novel is fascinating: “ripped from the headlines,” more or less

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But it also has a good thriller plot: intel plus DC bureaucratic infighting plus the usual assassination machinations. Plus it’s interesting to see the names of real people and read references to actual stories, though the detailed plot is fiction. The God’s Eye View, $5.99 on Kindle.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2016 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Books, NSA

Check the quality of the Amazon reviews

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The site claims to spot fake Amazon reviews. You enter the URL of the Amazon product, and it gives you its evaluation of the authenticity of the reviews. I checked Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving the Double-Edge Way, and I was reassured:

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They included a summary of the reviews:

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And even a word cloud of the reviews:

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It might be worth trying on products you’re undecided on.

I picked a product at random, the Cold Steel Espada with Polished G10 Handle (using this URL: and ran it, with this result:

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2016 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Technology

How Morality Shapes the Presidential Contest

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post in Mother Jones. Here’s the first part of the post; at the link you can read the rest and see a chart.

A few years ago Jonathan Haidt wrote The Righteous Mind, an attempt to understand the way different people view morality. I won’t say that I bought his premise completely, but I did find it interesting and useful. In a nutshell, Haidt suggests that we all view morality through the lens of six different “foundations”—and the amount we value each foundation is crucial to understanding our political differences. Conservatives, for example, tend to view “proportionality”—an eye for an eye—as a key moral concern, while liberals tend to view “care/harm”—showing kindness to other people—as a key moral attribute. You can read more about it here.

So which presidential candidates appeal to which kinds of people? Over at Vox, Haidt and Emily Ekins write about some recent research Ekins did on supporters of various presidential candidates. I’ve condensed and excerpted the results in the chart on the right. As you can see, Democrats tend to value care but not proportionality. Republicans are just the opposite. No surprise there. But were there any moral values that were unusually strong for different candidates even after controlling for ideology and demographics?

Yes. Sanders supporters scored extremely low on the authority axis while Trump supporters scored high on authority and low on the care axis. Outside of the usual finding for proportionality, that’s it. Hillary Clinton supporters, in particular, were entirely middle-of-the-road: “Moral Foundations do not significantly predict a vote for Hillary Clinton; demographic variables seem to be all you need to predict her support (being female, nonwhite, and higher-income are all good predictors).”

So there you have it. Generally speaking, if you value proportionality but not care, you’re a Republican. If you value care but not proportionality, you’re a Democrat. Beyond that, if your world view values authority—even compared to others who are similar to you—you’re probably attracted to Donald Trump. If you’re unusually resistant to authority, you’re probably attracted to Bernie Sanders. The authors summarize the presidential race this way: . . .

At the end of the post, Drum notes:

So which moral foundations define you? If you’re curious, click here and take the test.

I did do that (you have to register—no cost—to take the test and they collect some demographic information and obviously use the results to further their research, which is doubtless better than having all research results derived from undergraduate college students, a common target of research surveys: inexpensive and right at hand.

It’s an interesting test, although some of the questions cannot be reliably answered without further definition—e.g., “If I were a soldier and disagreed with my commanding officer’s orders, I would obey anyway because that is my duty.” — to answer that question one must know whether the order is a legal order. One has a duty to disobey illegal orders, the way I see it. Another tricky question: “Justice is the most important requirement for a society.” Obviously, it depends on what is meant by “justice.” One idea of justice is a kind of revenge: an eye for an eye. Another definition of justice is based on fairness and equal treatment.

At any rate, I—surprise!—turn out to be fairly liberal:

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The site has many surveys on offer—lots of research going on, apparently. This one is called “Moral Foundations Questionnaire.”

My low loyalty score stems from my observation that quite often “loyalty” means covering up crimes or misconduct committed by other members of the group to which one belongs: if you report a member of the group for committing a crime or immoral act, you’re not “loyal.” This leads to things like the large-scale cover-up of the pedophile scandal in the Catholic church: the bishops who concealed the crimes and protected the criminals were being “loyal.”

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2016 at 1:56 pm

The limits of police body cameras

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Radley Balko has a very interesting column on the implementation of police body cameras, including some knotty privacy considerations. Oddly, he doesn’t mention the missing-video presumption, presumably because none of the pilot projects or implementations include such a presumption, but I think the missing-video presumption is essential, given the rate at which police sabotage the recording devices.

The column begins:

Outfitting police officers with body cameras seems to be the one police reform that just about everyone can support. The idea has been endorsed by police chiefs, activist groups, and local, state and federal politicians across the ideological spectrum. (The only holdout appears to be the police unions.) The problem is how to implement the cameras — determining the policies that govern how they’re used. For example, some civil libertarian groups have raised concerns about the privacy of people caught in body camera footage. There are also important questions about public access, review, storage, tampering and disciplinary action for officers who don’t use the devices properly.

In Albuquerque, a city with a long history of police brutality and corruption, police officer Jeremy Dear was fired in December 2014 after repeated incidents in which he failed to activate his body camera just before using force, including just before shooting and killing a teenaged girl. Dear also has a history of allegations of excessive force. Even after Dear was explicitly told to record all of his interactions with citizens, he sent an emailasking to use his camera in “offline” mode, which would have allowed him to delete videos before they were uploaded to a cloud server. Last November, the city’s Personnel Board voted 3-2 to reinstate Dear on the police force.

In San Diego, police officials have said they (and only they) will determine which videos are released to the public and when, a policy that does little to increase transparency and public trust. A Washington Post investigation last fall found similar problems across the country. Cops accused of misconduct or excessive force were given access to footage of controversial incidents, but that footage was rarely made public.

In a hearing before a committee of the state legislature late last year, law enforcement leaders in Tennessee raised another potential barrier to the widespread use of body cameras: the cost of complying with open records requests. They raised the possibility of activist or watchdog groups requesting huge caches of video that they claimed would require weeks of labor to fulfill.

But body cameras are coming. A recent survey of the nation’s largest police departments found that 95 percent planned to implement a body camera program sometime in the near future. Body cameras are a piece of technology. And like any technology, the policies that control how they’re used will go a long way toward determining if they’re a tool for transparency and accountability, or if they’re ineffective or even counterproductive to those goals.

To that end, the Brennan Center has just completed a study of the body camera policies in the 24 police departments around the country that have so far implemented them. Of the 24, 9 programs are still in the pilot stage. For comparison, the Brennan Center also included three model programs from the ACLU, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Police Executive Research Forum. The authors of the study then broke the policies down into several charts, “Recording Circumstances,” “Privacy and First Amendment Protections,” “Accountability,” “Retention and Release,” and“Security.”

So what did the Brennan Center find?  . . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. It’s quite interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2016 at 1:40 pm

The Guantánamo in New York You’re Not Allowed to Know About

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I think it’s a very bad sign when a government starts to have secret prisons (and secret laws, like those that “control” the NSA). Arun Kundnani’s report in The Intercept gives a picture of the sort of nation the US has become:

Before every phone call that Fatuma Hashi has with her brother Mahdi, FBI agents come on the line to tell her what she is not permitted to talk about. “You’re not allowed to speak about political issues. Or whatever’s happening in the outside world. Or his case,” she told The Intercept.

Mahdi Hashi, a young man of Somali origin who grew up in London, had never been to the United States before he was imprisoned in the 10-South wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan in November 2012, when he was 23. For over three years, he has been confined to a small cell 23 hours a day without natural light, with an hour alone in a slightly larger indoor cage. He has had no physical contact with anyone. Apart from occasional visits by his lawyer, his human interaction has been limited to brief, transactional exchanges with guards and a monthly 30-minute phone call with his family.

Yet most of Hashi’s time in solitary confinement occurred before he had been deemed guilty by the justice system. Prolonged isolation prior to or in the absence of trial, sensory deprivation, and a lack of independent monitoring are normally associated with the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and CIA black sites overseas. But the MCC’s 10-South wing, which houses terrorism suspects, is no different in these respects. A former MCC prisoner and a psychologist specializing in trauma told The Intercept that the kind of extreme isolation imposed on defendants there can pressure them to accept a guilty plea, irrespective of actual guilt.

For Hashi, who worked at a community youth organization in London, everything changed when he was approached by MI5, the U.K.’s domestic intelligence agency. He was pressured to become an informant, according to accounts he gave to rights groups and local authorities, but refused, despite being warned that doing so would make his life difficult.

In 2012, while Hashi was visiting Somalia, the British government used special powers to strip him of his citizenship, leaving him stateless. He crossed into neighboring Djibouti to visit the British consulate there, he claims, and appeal the decision. U.S. prosecutors allege he was traveling to Yemen to join al Qaeda.

Upon entering Djibouti, Hashi was arrested by agents of the secret police and forced to watch other prisoners gagged, blindfolded, and beaten for hours, he alleges in case filings, with the complicity of FBI agents and other unidentified Americans. According to defense attorneys, Hashi was threatened with physical abuse and rape if he did not cooperate.

In November 2012, he was transported to New York by the U.S. government to face charges of supporting al Shabaab, the Somali terrorist organization. Prosecutors say he traveled to Somalia to attend a training camp and fight with al Shabaab in Somalia’s civil war. They accept that Hashi poses no specific threat to any Americans and that he received “harsh treatment” in Djibouti.

In May 2015, after two-and-a-half years of isolation, Hashi entered a guilty plea of conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab. Last week, on January 29, he was sentenced to nine years in prison. He will likely be incarcerated at a Supermax facility in Colorado or a high-security “communications management unit” in Illinois or Indiana, all of which mean ongoing solitary confinement.

Government prosecutors were seeking 15 years, but Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York said the case was “complicated,” and accepted, in part, Hashi’s position that he joined al Shabaab not to engage in violent attacks but because he thought the group could restore peace to war-torn Somalia. “I believe you believe this organization you joined was dramatically different than what you thought or hoped it would be,” Judge Gleeson said.

For Fatuma Hashi, the U.S. government’s approach is hard to understand. “He was in his own country,” she said. “It had nothing to do with the United States. Why does this country that has nothing to do with us have a say in his life?”

Fatuma cannot fully share with journalists what she knows about her brother’s treatment in the MCC, a gray slab of a building that goes largely unnoticed by the office workers and tourists walking the streets near the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn bridge. Government restrictions — known as “special administrative measures,” or SAMs — prevent prisoners, their attorneys, and family members from describing the conditions inside the high-security unit to the wider public, shrouding New York’s little Guantánamo in secrecy.

Psychological damage

In an account to be published in a new book on solitary confinement — titled Hell Is a Very Small Place — a Pakistani prisoner, Uzair Paracha, gives one of the most detailed illustrations yet of incarceration at the MCC. He was held in isolation there for two-and-a-half years after he was arrested in 2003 at age 23.

“The windows were huge but the glass was frosted so we had a lot of light but couldn’t see a thing,” he said. “It was a shade of white during the day, blue in the evening and early morning, black at night, and yellow when it snowed, as the snow reflected the streetlights. This was one way to estimate the time since they didn’t allow any watches.”

Video cameras constantly monitored the inside of Paracha’s cell, including the shower and toilet areas. Lighting was completely controlled from the outside, so that guards could deliberately leave the lights on at night to make sleeping harder. With their metallic walls, the cells were like ovens in the summer and freezing in the winter.

The medical effects of Paracha’s imprisonment at the MCC were severe: a weakening of his eyesight, brought about by having his entire world just a few feet away; a deterioration of physical coordination that made walking on stairs harder; and breathing problems, especially while trying to sleep.

Dr. Kate Porterfield is a clinical psychologist at the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture. She has evaluated prisoners held at various sites in America’s war on terror, including at Guantánamo. “With isolation, there’s a severing of the orienting data of our lives — the stuff that makes us feel like we are on our feet,” she told The Intercept. “This can result in paranoia, disorientation, feeling confused about whether your perceptions match reality, and not being sure who to trust.”

“That’s very dangerous to someone’s psyche,” she added. “It’s not just about feeling depressed because you’re in prison. The defendant ought to be oriented enough in the realities of their life and world that they can contribute to their own defense. A sense of paranoia and suspicion hampers the defendant in trying to connect with his or her legal team so that they can discuss and investigate the case.”

If a person has experienced torture or coercive interrogation before being put in isolation, they are even more vulnerable, Dr. Porterfield said. “There is then a greater likelihood of psychological damage and even less chance for recovery in any real sense.”

Indeed, virtually every academic study has concluded that solitary confinement has serious mental health consequences. These begin after 60 days and resemble the acute reactions suffered by torture and trauma victims.

The average length of time that defendants in federal terrorism prosecutions spend in solitary confinement prior to trial is 22 months, according to a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute. Amnesty International has stated that pre-trial solitary confinement at the MCC amounts to “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”

At least one prisoner who has been held at both the MCC and Guantánamo has described the Manhattan jail as harsher. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, who was convicted of involvement in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, told his psychiatrist that Guantánamo is “more pleasant” and “more relaxed” than the isolation section at the MCC. At Guantánamo, he said, prisoners were not strip-searched and could associate together for recreational activities.

Joshua Dratel, an attorney who has represented clients at Guantánamo as well as the MCC, has also said the New York jail is worse.

A tool for prosecutors

The one advantage that prisoners at the MCC are supposed to have over their counterparts in Guantánamo is that they are subject to trial in a criminal court rather than a military tribunal. However, the use of pre-trial solitary confinement has become, in effect if not intent, a tool for prosecutors to skew the judicial process in their favor.

Experts like Dr. Porterfield emphasize how extreme isolation can induce a desire to accept a plea.  . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. In summary,

Mahdi Hashi’s prosecution provides one model of how the U.S. government deals with Western citizens accused of fighting with jihadi organizations overseas: coercive interrogation outside of U.S. jurisdiction, transportation to the isolation unit of a federal jail in New York, solitary confinement and restricted communication in conditions of secrecy until a guilty plea is made, then a lengthy incarceration at a high-security prison.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2016 at 11:45 am

Cod soup

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Just noted my “recipe” for a soup I’ll make Sunday:

Butter—probably 1/4 lb (1 stick) Update: I’m thinking now about using 4-6 slices thick bacon, cooking until browned, remove excess fat and also the bacon: add the bacon back at the end.

Leeks (2 large)
Carrots (2 large)
Fennel (1 bulb and fronds, chopped)
Garlic (8 cloves or so)
Celery (1-2 cups chopped)
Oregano (2 Tbsp)
Marjoram (1 Tbsp)
Dillweed (2 tsp)
Freshly ground pepper

Kale (1 bunch red and 1 bunch green)

Penzeys seafood soup base (1 Tbsp)
Lemon juice (2 lemons)
1 can tomatoes—I’m thinking a 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, but we’ll see

I’ll simmer that for about 30 minutes, then add:

Heavy cream (1/2-3/4 c)
2.3 lbs Pacific cod cut into chunks

I’ll simmer that about 10 minutes.

The double spaces are where I’ll cook it for a while. Measurements are by eye and how it’s coming along, but I’ve indicated my guess right now. Now I’m wishing I had gotten the jar of small shucked oysters to add.

I might add 1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence and perhaps a little dried tarragon.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2016 at 11:15 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Will the VA Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans?

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Philip Smith reports in Drug War Chronicles:

On Wednesday, a group of 21 US senators and representatives sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs calling on it to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana as medicine in states where it is legal.

The bipartisan effort was led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dina Titus (D-NY), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). All represent medical marijuana states.

Under current VA policy, embodied in VHA Directive 2011-004, which expires Sunday, VA doctors are prohibited recommending marijuana as a treatment option even in legal states. This discourages patients and doctors from being honest with each other.

“According to the current directive, VA providers are prohibited from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran’s participation in a state-sanctioned marijuana program. This policy disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other,” the solons wrote. “Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal. However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month. We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans’ access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options.”

If patients can’t get a recommendation from their VA docs and thus can’t access dispensaries, they would be tempted to go elsewhere for recommendations, to doctors “likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history,” the solons wrote.

Noting that there has been a “sea change” in the legal framework around marijuana since the directive was issued in 2011, they asked that “upon the directive’s expiration, any new directive remove barriers that would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in states that have chosen to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.”

But without a new directive, even though the old one is expiring, it will be the status quo at the VA, said Michael Krawitz, a US Air Force veteran and executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Krawitz participated in the process that led to the production and distribution of the directive.

“VA Directives remain in effect with full force even after expiration unless they are officially replaced or rescinded,” he said. “Although I can understand that patients might not know that and might get uneasy about the expiring directive, but in practicality there should be no change in clinical practices caused by the expiration.”

While VA patients could be spooked by the expiration, the status quo is unacceptable, said Dr. Sue Sisley, MD, in clinical psychiatry and internal medicine, who has two decades of experience treating veterans and who is set to do apilot study on medical marijuana and PTSD for veterans.

“I’ve worked with veterans all over the country who are dealing with severe and chronic, debilitating medical problems,” she said. “They just want the treatment that is going to help them the most, with the least side effects. I have seen firsthand the dramatic improvement so many veterans have had while taking cannabis. Not only have they experienced relief from problems such as PTSD, chronic pain, and migraines, but many of them have also been able to break their addiction to more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines.”

VA staff physician Deborah Gilman, MD, said current VA policy forces physicians to ignore the science if it conflicts with policy.

“Unlike private practice physicians, VA physicians are under a gag order regarding discussing marijuana with patients,” she said. “In other settings, doctors can be honest about their medical opinions regarding treatment options, based on science. In the VA, an administrator can write policy that you can’t disagree with without losing your job. Veterans are fearful of losing either their medical benefits or their access to health care if they acknowledge using marijuana. This causes a VA doctor to give you a medical opinion based on the VA regulation, not on the science. I knew many VA doctors whose professional opinion was that cannabis might help some of their patients, but they could never say so in their office or in public.” . . .

Continue reading.

President Obama is in charge. Isn’t he? Doesn’t the buck stop there?

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2016 at 11:03 am

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