Later On

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

Archive for May 2016

The best Apollo Mikron I ever had is on the block

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I really hate to part with this razor, but the time has come. In the eBay listing, I note that it has two red dots to mark the adjustment, one on either side of the handle. This means you don’t have to place the cap in a specific orientation (as you must on the Merkur Progress and on another, less Mikron that I had). You just slap on the cap, tighten all the way, and use the dot that’s above the “1” to mark your setting.

The razor has many excellent features and is in excellent condition, but I am paring down the collection.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Shaving

Donald Trump shows enormous self-pity in an epic whinefest

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Kevin Drum has a good column, contrasting the facts with Trump’s complaints. One example from the column:

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 5.55.40 PM

Also read James Fallows’s excellent dissection of Trump’s ignorance of how things work.

It’s pretty clear that Trump is accustomed to getting his own way without question, and when questions are raised he’s confused and offended. He must live in a bubble.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 5:59 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Media

Beyond PTSD to “Moral Injury”

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Jonathan Shay wrote two books that I treasure having read: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. Both books recognize Homer’s direct knowledge of warfare and its effects and use his two long poems to investigate issues affecting soldiers today. Both books are fascinating and illuminating, and I highly recommend them. The links take you to inexpensive secondhand copies.

Jeff Guntzel has an interesting article on how Jonathan Shay has continued to explore these ideas and his concerns:

“I really don’t like the term ‘PTSD,’” Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Shay told PBS’ “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly” in 2010. “He says the diagnostic definition of “post-traumatic stress disorder” is a fine description of certain instinctual survival skills that persist into everyday life after a person has been in mortal danger — but the definition doesn’t address the entirety of a person’s injury after the trauma of war. “I view the persistence into civilian life after battle,” he says, “… as the simple or primary injury.”

Dr. Shay has his own name for the thing the clinical definition of PTSD leaves out. He calls it “moral injury” — and the term is catching on with both the VA and the Department of Defense.

We’re turning our attention to this idea of moral injury and the limits of the PTSD diagnosis to explore what happens to a person who has experienced combat.

There are no clean lines separating PTSD from moral injury (which is not a diagnosis) — there is no Venn Diagram, as with PTSD and traumatic brain injurybut Dr. Shay explains a fundamental difference by using a shrapnel wound as an analogy.

“Whether it breaks the bone or not,” he says, “that wound is the uncomplicated — or primary — injury. That doesn’t kill the soldier; what kills him are the complications — infection or hemorrhage.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder, Dr. Shay explains, is the primary injury, the “uncomplicated injury.” Moral injury is the infection; it’s the hemorrhaging.

PTSD in service members is often tied to being the target of an attack — or being close in relationship or proximity to that target.

Moral injury, Dr. Shay says, can happen when “there is a betrayal of what’s right by someone who holds legitimate authority in a high-stakes situation.”

That person who’s betraying “what’s right” could be a superior — or that person could be you. Maybe it’s that you killed somebody or were ordered to kill. Or maybe it was something tragic that you could have stopped, but didn’t. Guilt and shame are at the center of moral injury. And, as Dr. Shay describes it, so is a shrinking of what he calls “the moral and social horizon.” When a person’s moral horizon shrinks, he says, so do a person’s ideals and attachments and ambitions.

I first came across Dr. Shay’s name — and his concept of moral injury in combat veterans — in a heart-smashing profile of Noah Pierce published by the formidable Virginia Quarterly Review.

The Life and Lonely Death of Noah Pierce” tells the story of an Iraq War veteran from Sparta, Minnesota, who shot himself in the head in 2007 at the age of 23.

From Ashley Gilbertson’s profile of Pierce: . . .

Continue reading.

He’s Dr. Shay discussing these topics:

 

The total time for these two is less than 20 minutes, each being about 9 minutes long.

More Jonathan Shay videos are on YouTube. If you click either of the above to “watch on YouTube,” you see related videos at the right.

This is an important issue. The US is not doing right by its armed services in terms of the care we give them.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 3:21 pm

A strong editorial opposing Trump

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Here’s the conclusion of an editorial that appears in the Guardian:

. . . Warren’s impassioned call for America’s voters to stand up for what they believe, or in the case of Trump’s supporters, come to their senses, was long overdue. And it badly needed saying. Trump and his pernicious brand of divisive, bombastic and racialist politics will not be defeated by wishful thinking. It is going to be a long, hard fight. The next weeks and months will see a concerted, well-funded effort to render Trump respectable. Already, for example, his spokespeople claim his call to ban Muslims from the US was merely a “talking point”. Already, the ever pragmatical Foreign Office is advising that the special relationship must come first. Already, David Cameron is mending fences, congratulating Trump on his success and inviting him to Downing Street.

A line must be drawn. Illusions must be discarded. The truth must be told. Trump, with his innate, rich man’s hostility to social justice and equal rights, with his greedy love of big business and corporate tax cuts, with his scornful disdain for green policies and climate change science, with his alarming ignorance of strategic realities in the Middle East and east Asia, with his cruel and ruthless contempt for the weak, the less privileged and the vulnerable of this world, with his foolhardy isolationism and protectionism, with his loathsome self-adoration, and with his hateful fear-peddling is a menacing problem, not a passing phenomenon.

Something not dissimilar to the rise of Trump is happening across Europe, where xenophobic and racist parties of the right are advancing, most recently in Austria last week. Trump-ism, for want of a better word, is not something with which tidy, reasonable compromises can be made. It must not be appeased, bought off or left to fester. The only thing to do with Trump-ism, wherever it appears, is to oppose it, fight it, and defeat it. As Elizabeth Warren says, that critical fight must start now.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

The South Carolina police files: Gunslinging raids, coverups and magical dog sniffs

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Radley Balko continues his series on South Carolina’s approach to law enforcement:

Jonny McCoy didn’t intend to practice criminal law. “I wanted to be like Tom Cruise in ‘The Firm,’ ” says the Myrtle Beach, S.C.,-based attorney. “I was chasing all that company money.”

That all changed in October 2009 when he spotted three Columbia, S.C., police officers roughing up his friend Keith McAllister outside a bar in the trendy Five Points area. McCoy attempted to ask the officers why they were apprehending his friend, but barely got the words out before he was shoved, apprehended and arrested himself on charges of interfering with a police officer and resisting arrest. McCoy and McAllister were jailed overnight. When they woke, they discovered that one of their cellmates had hanged himself.

Video of the arrest later revealed major discrepancies in the police’s account of their interactions with both men. After the video was released, the officers pleaded the Fifth Amendment rather than testify at McCoy’s trial. The charges were later dropped, and McCoy settled his lawsuit with the city. (See the previous installment of this series for more on the case.)

Today, criminal law occupies a lot of McCoy’s time. “That really opened my eyes,” McCoy says of his arrest. “I was sheltered, I guess. I had no idea how bad it was. But to be falsely arrested and accused like that spurred something inside me. It made me want to take criminal cases. And what happened to me was pretty minor. It’s nothing like what happens to people like Julian.”

That would be Julian Betton, a 31-year-old Myrtle Beach man left paralyzed after a drug raid on his home in April 2015. McCoy represents him. After an investigation by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), special prosecutor Kevin Brackett announced in July 2015 that the officers would not face criminal charges in the shooting.

SLED investigates officer-involved shootings in all but one county in South Carolina. It’s commonly seen as the most elite law enforcement agency in the state. Defenders point to its independence as an outside agency as a boon to its integrity when looking into police shootings. McCoy says the case is yet another example of how SLED falls well short of its reputation.

“Independence?” McCoy asks, incredulously. “There’s no independence. These cops lied — and that’s the right word. They lied. They nearly killed a man over $100 worth of pot, and then they lied about it. And the SLED investigators and the solicitors do everything they can to defend them. SLED’s primary role in these cases is to protect other cops.”

The raid on Betton’s home came after a confidential informant made two $50 purchases of marijuana from Betton in his apartment. The ensuing raid was conducted by 12 officers from the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit, a multi-jurisdictional task force consisting of officers pulled from several local police agencies.

Every officer who participated in the raid later claimed that someone on the raid team clearly knocked and announced the police presence before one officer took a battering ram to Betton’s door. That’s an important claim, because the investigating officer didn’t request a no-knock warrant. “The statements, the verbiage, it’s almost identical. Twelve different officers, and it’s nearly identical,” McCoy says. Ideally, officer statements should be in their own words. Police watchdog groups say boilerplate language smacks of coaching, particularly when it includes legalese drawn from court opinions.

Several officers claimed to be wearing clothing that clearly indicated they were law enforcement. Four claimed that upon entering the home, Betton fired a handgun at them. Within a couple of seconds of entering, three officers then unleashed a barrage of bullets in Betton’s direction.

“They sprayed the walls, the floor, the ceiling,” McCoy says. “They filled that place with bullets.” In the end, agents David Belue, Frank Waddell and Chris Dennis together fired at least 57 shots, according to WPDE. Julian Betton fell to the ground when the first bullets hit him. They kept firing. A bullet struck his left arm. Another entered his back; another, his rectum. He was shot in each thigh. One bullet went through a wall, traversed a basketball court and stuck in the wall of a house nearby.

Betton was hit nine times in all. He ended up losing his gallbladder and parts of his bowel, colon and rectum. The bullets also damaged his liver, small intestine and pancreas. His lung partially collapsed. His left leg was broken. One of his vertebrae was partially destroyed; two others were fractured. He’ll never walk again or be able to have kids of his own. He’ll also need to use a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.

The Sun News’s Charles Perry reported that when the shooting finally stopped, one officer ordered Betton to roll over and put his hands on his head. He replied, “I can’t, I’m paralyzed.” He spent the next six weeks in a coma.

Over the next several months, Betton was portrayed in the local media as a dangerous drug dealer and would-be cop killer. The police announced that they’d found about eight ounces of marijuana, $970 in cash, a handgun and an “assault rifle” in his apartment. They noted a security camera outside the apartment door that he had installed. In announcing his decision not to press charges three months later, Brackett said, “This was an armed dealer — holed up in his apartment — with heavy duty firearms and surveillance equipment. This wasn’t a regular drug pad — it was sophisticated.”

But then the officers’ narrative began to fray. The first problem for the officers was the gun they claimed Betton had shot at them. Ballistics testing showed it hadn’t been recently fired. . .

Continue reading.

There’s quite a bit more. SC police seem to be little more than armed thugs.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 12:21 pm

A Severed Head, Two Cops, and the Radical Future of Interrogation

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Robert Kolker has an extremely interesting article in Wired. From the article:

. . . To the department’s detectives, something bigger than Campos-Martinez was under close scrutiny in this case: the American way of interrogation.

The modern style of questioning criminal suspects—the set of techniques practiced fruitlessly by those first detectives in the Medellin case, and familiar to all of us from a thousand police procedurals—is a rusty, stalwart invention that’s been around since the days of JFK. It has a proud history: Born during a period of reform, it started out as an enlightened alternative to the bad old ways of policing that preceded it.

Until the mid-1930s, police still widely used the “third degree”—that is, torture—to get suspects to talk. Officers across the country hung suspects out of windows, dunked their heads underwater, and hit them.  [The use of torture continued in Chicago, particularly at their black site, until very recently. – LG] In 1931 a presidential panel known as the Wickersham Commission called atten­tion to the brutality of the third degree. Then, in 1936, the US Supreme Court effectively outlawed the practice with its ruling in Brown v. Mississippi, a case involving three black men who were beaten and whipped until they confessed.

Police closed ranks at first, but they eventually came around to new approaches. J. Edgar Hoover, for one, was especially keen to rebrand his agents as advanced practitioners of law enforcement science. “Third-degree methods, an ill-trained officer might think, perhaps a severe beating, will force a confession,” Hoover said at the time. “But the trained officer, schooled in the latest techniques of crime detection, will think otherwise.” Crime labs were developing new methods of solving cases—ballistics, fingerprinting, document examination—and with them came a new, more psychological approach to interrogation.

The most influential nonviolent method of questioning suspects debuted in 1962 with the first edition of Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, by Fred Inbau, a Northwestern University law professor who ran one of the country’s first crime labs, and John E. Reid, a former police officer turned polygraphy expert. Now in its fifth printing, the book set the mold for police interrogations in America. Through the 1940s and ’50s, Reid had built a reputation as a master interrogator, extracting confessions in over 300 murder cases. He and Inbau likened the interrogator’s task to “a hunter stalking his game.” An interrogation, they explained, should be designed to persuade a suspect that confessing is the only sensible option; to get confessions, they wrote, police must sweep up suspects in a wave of momentum that they’ll find impossible to reverse.

All the major tropes of a traditional police interrogation can be traced back to Reid and Inbau’s manual: the claustro­phobic room, the interrogators’ outward projection of cer­tainty, the insistence on a theory of the case that assumes the suspect’s guilt. (The manual calls this a “theme.”) The interrogators bolster that theme with what they charac­terize as incontrovertible evidence, which can include facts drawn from real detective work (“We know you got off work at 5 pm”) or details that are completely fabricated (“The polygraph says you did it”). Toward the end, interrogators are encouraged to “minimize” the crime in a consoling sort of way (“He had it coming, didn’t he?”). All the while, they cut off all denials until the suspect cracks. Detectives are allowed to use deceit and trickery because, as Inbau and Reid explained, none of these techniques are “apt to induce an innocent person to confess a crime he did not commit.”

The manual gave rise to a new archetype: the silver-tongued interrogator—someone who, through intimidation and seduction, can get anyone to admit to anything. No less an authority than the US Supreme Court acknowledged the sway that the method held over suspects; in its 1966 Miranda decision, the court cited the Inbau-Reid training manual as an example of why all suspects should be read their rights.

Over the years, the Reid technique, as it came to be known, became a kind of powerful folk wisdom, internalized by generations of police officers. Even among those who received little formal training, it was passed down from cop to cop. “You would think that at a large organization like the LAPD, a large emphasis would be put on developing interrogation skills for their detectives,” says Tim Marcia, reflecting on his own haphazard indoctrination into modern interrogation technique. “To be quite honest, we go to an 80-hour detective school, and probably about four hours is devoted to interrogation.”

Earlier in his career, Marcia spent 10 years as one of the original members of the LAPD’s cold-case unit. Researching old unsolved cases gave him a flyover view of interrogation tactics through the decades. While styles fluctuated somewhat, the basic outline of the Reid technique remained intact. And the most consistent thing over the years? No matter what detectives did with a suspect in the interro­gation room, they were convinced they were doing it right.

THE TROUBLE WITH modern interrogation technique, as Marcia would learn, is that, despite its scientific pose, it has almost no science to back it up. Reid and Inbau claimed, for instance, that a well-trained investigator could catch suspects lying with 85 percent accuracy; their manual instructs detectives to conduct an initial, nonaccusatory “behavioral analysis interview,” in which they should look for physical tells like fidgeting and broken eye contact. But when German forensic psychologist Günter Köhnken actually studied the matter in 1987, he found that trained police officers were no better than the average person at detecting lies. Several subsequent studies have cast doubt on the notion that there are any clear-cut behavioral tells. (Truth tellers often fidget more than liars.) In fact, the more confident police officers are about their judgments, the more likely they are to be wrong.

But the scientific case against police interrogations really began to mount in the early 1990s, when the first DNA-based exonerations started rolling in. According to the Innocence Project, a group dedicated to freeing the wrongfully imprisoned, about a third of the 337 people who’ve had their convictions overturned by DNA evidence confessed or incriminated themselves falsely. These and other exonera­tions furnished scientists with dozens of known false-confession cases to study, giving rise to a veritable subfield of social psychology and the behavioral sciences. (At least one confession elicited by John Reid himself—in a 1955 murder case—turned out to be inaccurate; the real killer confessed 23 years later.)

Researchers have even broken down these false confession cases into categories. There are “voluntary” false confessions, like the many presumably unstable people who claimed credit for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in order to get attention. Then there are “compliant,” or “coerced,” false confessions, in which people are so ground down by an intense interrogation that, out of desperation and naïveté, they think that confessing will be better for them in the long run. The third category, “persuaded,” or “internalized,” false confessions, may be the most poignant. Here, the interrogator’s Reid-style theming is so relentless, the deployment of lies so persuasive, that suspects—often young and impressionable or mentally impaired—end up believing they did it, however fleetingly.

And yet, even in the face of these documented cases, police and prosecutors have resisted admitting that false confessions are even possible. In court, they routinely move to reject expert testimony on the phenomenon by saying it goes against common sense that an innocent person would ever confess to a criminal act. But a wealth of research since the 1990s has shown that false memories are remarkably easy to implant. And in 2015, Julia Shaw, then a psychology PhD candidate in British Columbia, conducted a study that took direct aim at the idea that ordinary, innocent people would never confess to a crime they didn’t commit. In fact, she found that people can be made to do it quite reliably.

In just three one-hour sessions, Shaw was able to convince 21 of her 30 college-age subjects that they’d committed a crime when they were around 12 years old—assaulted another child with a weapon, for instance—and had a run-in with the police as a result. She supplied details that were recognizable to the subjects—the location where the assault supposedly happened, who the other child was—drawn from information their parents provided in a questionnaire. Shaw tells me she designed her study to mimic the techniques used in some false-confession cases. “I’m essentially marrying poor interrogation tactics with poor therapeutic tactics,” she says. The results were so strong, in fact, that she stopped administering the experiment before she had run through her full sample. . .

Later still:

. . . A SECOND REFORMATION of American interrogations is quietly under way right now. And it stole into the country via an unexpected route: the war on terror. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 10:44 am

Posted in Daily life

Congress Boosts Rehab, But Gives Opioid Pushers a Pass

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One problem with having a Congress that is effectively controlled by corporate interests is that it finds great difficulty in taking any action against corporate interests. The interests of the public, though, are fair game, so when actions are taken, it is often the public interest that is sacrificed. (In the book Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and Willliam Ury point out that it is a bad idea to negotiate with anyone who lacks the power to make concessions: if only one side can make concessions, it’s clear that all concessions will be made by one side.) Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are proudly touting recently passed measures to address the nation’s growing heroin and opioid crisis, but the legislation may have handed the drug companies at the center of the epidemic a major victory.

The legislation focuses on treating addiction and does nothing to limit the role of pharmaceutical companies in fueling the opioid crisis. In fact, it instructs the federal government to review and potentially undo sweeping new guidelines that recommend less prescribing of highly addictive opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.

The review panel would be made up of a range of stakeholders including pain management groups, many of whom are financially tied to the drug industry.

Four out of five people addicted to heroin began using it after trying prescription opioid painkillers, which provide a similar high. Investigations have found that drug companies orchestrated much of the epidemic by promoting claims that opioids are not addictive and by financing third party groups that promote opioid painkillers for minor pains, such as toothaches.

Now the boldest effort to curb the flow of legal opioids may face a setback.

The Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines in March to encourage doctors to prescribe opioids with low dosages, and only after other pain relief treatments, such as ibuprofen, have been tried. Since the voluntary guidelines were first leaked online last year, the drug industry has reacted furiously, even convening regularly in Washington to discuss how to derail the proposal. A legal group funded by the makers of OxyContin threatened the CDC with a lawsuit.

The legislation, which passed the House and Senate and is currently in conference committee, calls for the prescribing guidelines to be reviewed and potentially changed by a new panel made up of representatives from a range of stakeholders, and for the revisions to incorporate “pain management” expertise from the “private sector.” The legislation calls for the task force to be convened by the end 2018, and for it to issue a report within 270 days.

“We must make sure that these guidelines are updated and reviewed regularly,” said Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., who co-sponsored one of theHouse bills now being merged with the Senate version, which contains similar language instructing a new panel to review the guidelines.

The demand for pain advocacy and pain specialists to review the CDC guidelines comes as recent reports show that the leading societies for pain management have been funded and controlled by painkiller companies for years.

One leading pain advocacy group, the Pain Care Forum, is funded and largely controlled by Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin. According to areport from the Associated Press, the Pain Care Forum organized a lobbying campaign last year to defeat the CDC guidelines.

A complaint filed by the City of Chicago found that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 10:11 am

Eric Holder Now Says Edward Snowden Performed A “Public Service”

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See article. As Snowden wrote in a tweet:

2013: It’s treason! 2014: Maybe not, but it was reckless 2015: Still, technically it was unlawful 2016: It was a public service but 2017:

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden)

Eric Holder is being naïve or disingenuous in saying Snowden should return and face a trial: the US government has made it a regular practice to use trials as a way to punish and persecute whistleblowers, and in any event the trial would not be fair because any supporting evidence can easily be barred by “state secrets,” a tactic the government uses routinely to protect itself (against suits for unlawfully kidnapping and torturing innocent people, for example).

See also this excellent article that provides some details on how the government persecutes whistlelbowers

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 8:52 am

Posted in Government, NSA

Milestones (Or What Passes for Them in Washington): A Multi-Trillion-Dollar Bridge to Nowhere in the Greater Middle East

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Andrew Bacevich has an interesting column at TomDispatch.com, introduced by Tom Englehardt:

Here’s last week’s good news on America’s war fronts: finally, there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

From one end of the Greater Middle East to the other, things are looking up for Washington. A U.S. Air Force drone struck for the first time in Baluchistan province and took out the leader of the Taliban with two Hellfire missiles (whereupon the Pakistani government denounced Washington for violating the country’s sovereignty). The action was taken, President Obama later announced, as part of “our longstanding effort to bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.” (Admittedly, you may not have heard much about such peace and prosperity recently with fierce fighting raging on Afghan battlefields, the Taliban gainingground, the government in its usual pit of corruption, and the country maintaining its proud position as the uncontested global leader in the production and sale of opium.)

Soon after, the president paid a historic visit to Vietnam and finally put to bed memories of a disastrous American war there in the only way conceivable — by ensuring that American arms and munitions would once again be allowed to flow freely into that country. And while he was at it, he sternly rebuked China (without mentioning it by name) for its actions in the waters off Vietnam.  “Nations are sovereign,” he said, “and no matter how large or small a nation may be, its territory should be respected.”

On the other side of the Greater Middle East, U.S. Green Berets were photographed in northern Syria engaged with Kurdish rebels in fighting aimed at someday retaking Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State. Several of those soldiers were wearing the insignia of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Forces, or YPG (which the Turkish government considers a terrorist outfit), even as the Pentagon continued to insist that theirs was a non-combat role. In other words — in the good news category — those boots, whatever the photos might seem to indicate, were not actually on the ground. Meanwhile, some genuinely upbeat news arrived in the midst of a little distinctly out-of-date bad news. Members of the U.S. team now conducting the air war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq told New York Timesreporter Eric Schmitt that, despite thousands of air strikes, their predecessors had essentially botched the job, thanks to “poor intelligence collection and clumsy process for identifying targets.” Fortunately, they were now in charge and the results were stunning. The Islamic State was finally being hit in its pocketbook, where it truly hurts, damaging its “ability to pay its fighters, govern, and attract new recruits.”

“Every bomb now has a greater impact,” reported U.S. air war commander Lieutenant General Charles Brown Jr. Yes, after 15 years of American air war across the Greater Middle East, it seems that, from Pakistan to Syria, the Obama administration has finally found the winning formula. If, as Schmitt’s piece indicated, you want confirmation of that, who better to turn to than the very people who have gotten the formula right?  Having no access to similar in-the-know figures capable of throwing light on the subject of Washington’s ongoing conflicts, TomDispatch instead turned to outsider Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of a groundbreaking book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, to assess the recent spate of upbeat news from America’s war zones. We sent him directly into that infamous Vietnam-era tunnel of darkness to see what might be glimpsed so many decades later when it comes to the American way of war, and here’s his report. Tom

Milestones (Or What Passes for Them in Washington)
A Multi-Trillion-Dollar Bridge to Nowhere in the Greater Middle East
By Andrew J. Bacevich

We have it on highest authority: the recent killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan marks “an important milestone.” So the president of the United States has declared, with that claim duly echoed and implicitly endorsed by media commentary — theNew York Times reporting, for example, that Mansour’s death leaves the Taliban leadership “shocked” and “shaken.”

But a question remains: A milestone toward what exactly?

Toward victory? Peace? Reconciliation? At the very least, toward the prospect of the violence abating? Merely posing the question is to imply that U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world serve some larger purpose.

Yet for years now that has not been the case. The assassination of Mansour instead joins a long list of previous milestones, turning points, and landmarks briefly heralded as significant achievements only to prove much less than advertised.

One imagines that Obama himself understands this perfectly well. Just shy of five years ago, he was urging Americans to “take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.” In Iraq and Afghanistan, the president insisted, “the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.”

“These long wars,” he promised, were finally coming to a “responsible end.” We were, that is, finding a way out of Washington’s dead-end conflicts in the Greater Middle East.

Who can doubt Obama’s sincerity, or question his oft-expressed wish to turn away from war and focus instead on unattended needs here at home? But wishing is the easy part. Reality has remained defiant. Even today, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that George W. Bush bequeathed to Obama show no sign of ending.

Like Bush, Obama will bequeath to his successor wars he failed to finish. Less remarked upon, he will also pass along to President Clinton or President Trump new wars that are his own handiwork. In Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and several other violence-wracked African nations, the Obama legacy is one ofever-deepening U.S. military involvement.  The almost certain prospect of a further accumulation of briefly celebrated and quickly forgotten “milestones” beckons.

During the Obama era, the tide of war has not receded. Instead, Washington finds itself drawn ever deeper into conflicts that, once begun, become interminable — wars for which the vaunted U.S. military has yet to devise a plausible solution.

The Oldest (Also Latest) Solution: Bombs Away

Once upon a time, during the brief, if heady, interval between the end of the Cold War and 9/11 when the United States ostensibly reigned supreme as the world’s “sole superpower,” Pentagon field manuals credited U.S. forces with the ability to achieve “quick, decisive victory — on and off the battlefield — anywhere in the world and under virtually any conditions.” Bold indeed (if not utterly delusional) would be the staff officer willing to pen such words today. . .

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. Later in the article:

. . .  Petraeus and O’Hanlon characterize Afghanistan as “the eastern bulwark in our broader Middle East fight.” Eastern sinkhole might be a more apt description. Note, by the way, that they have nothing useful to say about the “broader fight” to which they allude. Yet that broader fight — undertaken out of the conviction, still firmly in place today, that American military assertiveness can somehow repair the Greater Middle East — is far more deserving of attention than how to employ very expensive airplanes against insurgents armed with inexpensive Kalashnikovs.

To be fair, in silently passing over the broader fight, Petraeus and O’Hanlon are hardly alone. On this subject no one has much to say — not other stalwarts of the onward-to-victory school, nor officials presently charged with formulating U.S. national security policy, nor members of the Washington commentariat eager to pontificate about almost anything. Worst of all, the subject is one on which each of the prospective candidates for the presidency is mum.

From Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford on down to the lowliest blogger, opinions about how best to wage a particular campaign in that broader fight are readily available. Need a plan for rolling back the Islamic State? Glad you asked. Concerned about that new ISIS franchise in Libya? Got you covered. Boko Haram? Here’s what you need to know. Losing sleep over Al-Shabab? Take heart — big thinkers are on the case.

As to the broader fight itself, however, no one has a clue. Indeed, it seems fair to say that merely defining our aims in that broader fight, much less specifying the means to achieve them, heads the list of issues that people in Washington studiously avoid. Instead, they prattle endlessly about the Taliban and ISIS and Boko Haram and al-Shabab.

Here’s the one thing you need to know about the broader fight: there is no strategy. None. Zilch. We’re on a multi-trillion-dollar bridge to nowhere, with members of the national security establishment more or less content to see where it leads.

May I suggest that we find ourselves today in what might be called a Khe Sanh moment? Older readers will recall that back in late 1967 and early 1968 in the midst of the Vietnam War, one particular question gripped the national security establishment and those paid to attend to its doings: Can Khe Sanh hold?

Now almost totally forgotten, Khe Sanh was then a battlefield as well known to Americans as Fallujah was to become in our own day. Located in the northern part of South Vietnam, it was the site of a besieged and outnumbered Marine garrison, surrounded by two full enemy divisions. In the eyes of some observers, the outcome of the Vietnam War appeared to hinge on the ability of the Marines there to hold out — to avoid the fate that had befallen the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu slightly more than a decade earlier. For France, the fall of Dien Bien Phu had indeed spelled final defeat in Indochina.

Was history about to repeat itself at Khe Sanh? As it turned out, no… and yes.

The Marines did hold — a milestone! — and the United States lost the war anyway. In retrospect, it seems pretty clear that those responsible for formulating U.S. policy back then fundamentally misconstrued the problem at hand. Rather than worrying about the fate of Khe Sanh, they ought to have been asking questions like these: Is the Vietnam War winnable? Does it even make sense? If not, why are we there? And above all, does no alternative exist to simply pressing on with a policy that shows no signs of success?

Today the United States finds itself in a comparable situation. What to do about the Taliban or ISIS is not a trivial question. Much the same can be said regarding the various other militant organizations with which U.S. forces are engaged in a variety of countries — many now failing states — across the Greater Middle East. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 8:15 am

Mühle Silverfiber, Organic Asses’ Milk Soap, and the Wolfman

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SOTD 2016-05-31

The Mühle silverfiber brush shown is unlike the Plisson-style synthetics, aiming (I think) to emulate a badger shaving brush. It is a good brush, but I find I use the Plisson-style more.

The soap shown is still totally wonderful. This soap seems to required replacing the lid after each use—Quebec Steve found his tub lost its mojo when stored without the lid. As you can see, the tub is filled to the brim, so novices might experience difficulty in loading the brush.

The lather from this soap is really excellent. Quite clearly the soap contains no clay: loading is easy and immediate. I enjoy this soap, so I took my time lathering, which probably contributed to the excellence of the shave.

With the Wolfman bar-guard razor, three passes produced a BBS result with no problems. It’s a superb razor.

A splash of Alpa 378, and the (short) work week begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 8:10 am

Posted in Shaving

Memorial Day reflections

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James Fallows has a column worth reading in the Atlantic. From the column:

The first is a story my wife Deb wrote in our American Futures series two years ago, from Columbus, Mississippi. It is about the origin, or at least one origin, of Memorial Day observances in the United States just after the Civil War, and it directly involves the then-fledgling Atlantic Monthly magazine. You can read it here.

The second is a long and powerful essay called “The Citizen Soldier: Moral Risk and the Modern Military,” by Phil Klay, author of the justly celebrated novel of the Iraq war Redeployment. It is published as a “Brookings Essay” but has no resemblance to the standard Brookings paper. It deals with an aspect of the question I was trying to explore last year in my story “The Tragedy of the American Military.”

I was writing mainly about the destructive moral effect on the entire society of its separation from the military that is open-endedly at war in its name. Klay deals with that but, even more, with the effects on people doing the fighting, killing, and dying. I recommend it very highly.

Third is a speech given by Ronald Kim, dean of faculty of Phillips Exeter Academy, on Memorial Day two years ago. It is a remembrance of someone who, as it happens, is the person I knew best who died in his country’s service, Christopher Warren Morgens. . .

. . .Please read the eloquent essay on “Boots on the Ground” that has just gone up on our site, by historian and former president of Dartmouth James Wright.

But read the whole thing.

The piece at the final link, by James Wright, begins:

This election year, Memorial Day comes amid debates about how to respond to those who threaten the United States and its allies. A military response or preventive action is a common suggestion to deal with threats. The rhetoric from candidates, from political leaders, from cheering sections, and from pundits has been aggressive. Recent months have brought proposals for increased air strikes, carpet bombing, establishing and enforcing no-fly zones, congressional declarations of war, authorizing torture of suspects, and arming and aiding those whose weapons now seem aimed in what America currently considers the right direction.

Some of these plans include the introduction of combat troops to combat ISIS—calling for “boots on the ground. ” This is unambiguously a muscular assertion. Foes beware and friends take comfort—the American troops have landed.

But “boots on the ground” is about more than a figure of speech, a synonym for combat deployment. The metaphor obscures and abstracts the humanity of the young Americans dispatched on open-ended assignments. Calling them “boots” substitutes leather for flesh and blood—flesh that will be torn and blood that will be spilled. To advocate sending boots onto hostile ground is easier than proposing to send young men and women into a dangerous situation.

Calls for “boots on the ground” also evoke images of what is commonly called the “battlefield cross.” It is part of the unofficial military ceremony that men and women often hold, either in the field or back at their home base, to memorialize a deceased comrade.

This “cross” is not a cross but a field weapon, a rifle, with fixed bayonet thrust into the ground. A helmet sits on the top of the butt of the rifle. This inverted-rifle icon is at the center of a ceremony that enables comrades to pause, to bend a knee, to remember, to grieve, to say farewell. There is often a final roll call, understanding that one—or more—of the names shouted out will elicit no response.

At least as far back as the Vietnam War, this memorial has been further enriched and humanized by a pair of field boots sitting next to the weapon, helmet, and bayonet. Many have seen this image or even just the empty combat boots placed in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and other sites to remember friends who served and died.

These boots are a forceful and personal reminder. . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 7:11 am

Posted in Military

Gillette Gold-Plated Fat Boy (Executive) D-3 date code (1958 3rd quarter) up on eBay

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Fat Boy top

Still winnowing the collection. This one’s been cleaned in the ultrasonic cleaner. (So was the EJ Chatsworth, but it’s more important for the adjustables, which have an internal mechanism.)

Here it is on eBay.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 May 2016 at 6:45 am

Posted in Shaving

Goldman Sachs Financed Hillary Clinton’s Son-in-Law to Make Bullish Greek Bets After It Structured Unseemly Greek Debt Deals that Hobbled that Country

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Pam Martens & Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Goldman Sachs will interminably,thanks to Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone, conjure up images of “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” The vampire squid has now popped up in the middle of a potential new scandal involving the Clintons, while uproar over its payment of $675,000 to Hillary Clinton personally for three speeches is still simmering. Clinton, a presidential candidate, has thus far refused to release the transcripts of those speeches, despite numerous editorials calling on her to do so.

On May 10, the New York Times gently dropped a bombshell on the hedge fund investing world of New York’s one-percenters. Hillary and Bill Clinton’s son-in-law, Marc Mezvinsky, who married their only child, Chelsea, in an opulent 2010 wedding, was shuttering the Eaglevale Hellenic Opportunity Fund after it had lost 90 percent of its value. That is a staggering loss for a hedge fund, which is, as its name implies, supposed to have hedges in place to prevent that kind of loss.

The fund with the steep losses is part of a larger hedge fund firm run by Mezvinsky and two former colleagues at Goldman Sachs, Bennett Grau and Mark Mallon. The idea that a hedge fund should wait until it had only 10 percent of its clients’ assets remaining before shutting down is causing angst in billionaire circles, as are many other details surrounding this hedge fund. According to a 2015 article in the Wall Street Journal, the same fund had already lost 48 percent in 2014 – raising the question as to why it wasn’t shuttered then, when clients could have gotten a sizeable amount of their principal returned.

Mezvinsky is not the top dog at the hedge fund, Eaglevale Partners LP, according toonline data. That spot goes to Bennett Grau, who is listed as the Founding Partner, Chief Investment Officer, and Chief Risk Officer. Those designations make a lot of sense to veterans on Wall Street, since Grau is clearly the senior member of the team.

Grau’s former tenure at Goldman Sachs spans 30 years, from 1981 to 2011 – a period during which he worked with Goldman’s now Chairman and CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, who started his career in the same trading area as Grau, the J. Aron & Co. subsidiary that Goldman bought in 1981.  Both Blankfein and Grau were considered experts in foreign exchange and currency trading, with Grau heading up the J. Aron Foreign Exchange Trading Group beginning in 1977.

According to Rob Copeland, writing in the Wall Street Journal in February 2015, Blankfein personally invested in the Eaglevale hedge fund and Goldman Sachs did just about everything but hang its shingle directly on this upstart. Copeland writes: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 5:39 pm

Unfortunately, when government fails, the most vulnerable bear the brunt: The horror of Connecticut’s group homes

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Connecticut seems to underfund its government services. When my friend moved there, he at first was pleased by the low tax load, but then realized roads were crap, sidewalks were crumbling, libraries had short hours and small collections, and so on. And as Joaquin Sapien reports in ProPublica, Connecticut’s group homes are horrible:

The woman was sent to a Connecticut emergency room 19 times in 15 months. Her injuries were ghastly. She swallowed pieces of razor blades. She burned herself. She inserted pins, nails, metal can lids and other objects inside her vagina and rectum.

She was developmentally disabled; living in a group home overseen by Connecticut state authorities. Each of her injuries should have been investigated by the state. None of them were.

The woman’s experience is part of a federal report formally released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General. Hers were among more than 300 emergency room visits examined by federal investigators between January 2012 and June 2014.

The report found that on dozens of occasions, Connecticut group home workers failed to uphold their legal obligations to report incidents of abuse, injury, and neglect to authorities. Even when such reports were made, the state rarely took appropriate steps to find out what happened.

“The results of this investigation are worse than I could have imagined, and clearly the oversight agencies have failed in their responsibility to prevent and investigate incidents of abuse,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who ordered the report following a 2013 investigation of Connecticut homes for the disabled by the Hartford Courant. “The state needs to take action as quickly as possible to address the issues raised in this disturbing report.”

Group home workers are required by law to report all injuries and signs of abuse or neglect to a state social services agency. In Connecticut, the Department of Developmental Services is then supposed to pass on particularly alarming reports— those of severe injury or that might suggest abuse at the hands of staff— to an independent state agency called the Office of Protection and Advocacy, which employs specially trained investigators.

But the federal investigation found that Connecticut’s oversight system failed at almost every level.

The Inspector General reviewed 152 “critical incidents” where residents came to harm. It found that group home workers understated their severity in more than half the cases; that the state failed to appropriately follow up on 99 percent of incidents that should have raised “reasonable suspicions of abuse or neglect,” and that hospital workers, who are also required to report such incidents, failed to do so in all but one of 310 emergency room visits.

As in many other states, Connecticut’s developmentally disabled were once held in large institutions with hundreds, even thousands, of beds. Some of those facilities became notorious for abusive conditions, with patients suffering severe injuries and even death. Many of them were shut down and Connecticut has moved people into smaller group homes meant to resemble a family atmosphere and provide better supervision.

The report looked specifically at people whose care is paid for with federal Medicaid dollars. Currently there are more than 2,000 such beneficiaries living in scores of group homes throughout the state.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 3:06 pm

The consequences of disposable fashion

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Another interesting article in Salon, this one by Sarah Sweeney:

Last January, I met with a friend who volunteered regularly at a clothing donation center. Kari learned the cheap clothing that many people donate – the Forever 21 skirt that cost less than your breakfast, the H&M blouses that never fit quite right, the Zara pants that pilled after one wash – all comes at a devastating cost to the environment. And while you’re clearing out your closet for donation bragging to your friends (and tax accountant) how much you sacrificed for those less fortunate, well, much of that disposable fashion still ends up in a landfill.

“One million tons of clothes are thrown away every year,” says wildculture.com, “with 50% of the total ending up in landfill.” The unsustainable impact of producing such mass quantities of clothing is ravaging the environment. For example, one pair of those cute jeans you only intend to wear a few times requires 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton just to manufacture them. And this trend is all quite recent; disposable fashion as it’s called only began ramping up in the mid-2000s.

Needless to say, learning this did not spark joy. The consequences of disposable fashion now struck me as so obvious, yet societal expectations encourage to buy buy buy! As a bleeding-heart environmentalist, I set out to spend a year without shopping.

The Mission

Spend one full year without purchasing new clothing, shoes, purses, accessories or jewelry.

I’m not much of a clotheshorse, but I’ve met many people who cannot go a single week without buying something new. Seriously, how much closet space do they have? It took all sorts of restraint to withhold my thoughts on how ridiculous I find these people. Biting my tongue in front of their wasteful over-fashioned trying-too-hard faces seemed to be another thing I gave up. Those who say things like “no pain, no gain” as their feet hemorrhage inside of 4-inch heels? No thanks! I set out to prove that retail didn’t own me; that I could spend a year without needing anything. I wanted to discover that quality really is superior to quantity and that I can put together new outfits with my existing wardrobe. That the “basics” are called as such because they go with everything. Oh and money. Saving lots of money.

The Fine Print . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 2:21 pm

Perhaps the real culprit is capitalism itself

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Cody Cain in Salon:

If you ask anyone what caused the devastating 2008 financial crisis, you’ll invariably receive the same answer: Wrongdoing by the Wall Street banks.

This is no wonder because this explanation has been trumpeted everywhere. It’s all over the media, our politicians repeat it endlessly, and the current presidential candidates harp on it incessantly. So this explanation has now seeped into our public consciousness as the conventional truth.

But there is a tiny little nagging problem. There just seems to be some very curious flaws in the case that simply do not seem to add up.

The central charge is that Wall Street banks made risky mortgage loans to people who could not afford to repay these loans. So, for example, a taxi driver who earns an income of $30,000 per year should not be given a loan to buy a $200,000 house. This line of criticism also accuses the banks of wrongdoing by failing to verify the incomes of borrowers and thus enabling borrowers to overstate their incomes, which became known as “liar’s loans.”

The problem with this analysis is that it ignores the fundamental essence of what a mortgage loan is all about. The bank lends not based upon the income of the borrower, but instead, the bank lends upon the value of the house. The collateral for a mortgage loan is not the borrower’s stream of income, it is the house itself. If the borrower fails to repay the loan, the bank’s primary remedy is not to seize the borrower’s income, but instead, the bank forecloses upon the house, sells the house in the market, and applies the sale proceeds to repay the loan. So any analysis of the riskiness of a mortgage loan must be based upon the value of the house, not upon the income of the borrower.

Of course, banks customarily consider income as well, but as a secondary matter and not as the primary source of repayment for the loan. Income serves as a useful indicator of whether the borrower is likely to meet the monthly loan payments. But income does not determine whether a mortgage loan is fundamentally good or bad, only the value of the house does that. So income, no matter how badly misstated, could not possibly have caused the financial crisis.

In addition, incomes became less of a factor as a result of the housing bubble. As the bubble expanded, home values kept increasing. Year after year prices experienced double-digit increases. This attracted a stampede of investors, just like in every bubble. It wasn’t that the banks were negligently failing to consider the borrower’s income and concealing it, but rather, investors were not concerned about the borrower’s income when the value of the house was certain to increase. Thus is the nature of bubbles.

Another common charge is that the Wall Street banks were engaged in a massive fraud by making bad loans and selling them as good loans. Sounds sinister. But the facts simply do not support the charge.

In order for a fraud to exist, there must be some sort of a hidden deception. But there was no deception here because the banks went to great lengths to disclose all sorts of information about these loans. In fact, the entire classification of the riskier types of loans was openly named “subprime” mortgages, meaning “risky loans.” How in the world could there have been a fraud when the entire classification is named “subprime?” Obviously, buyers of these loans knew what they were buying.

But even further, for every transaction that offered mortgage-backed securities, the banks issued a “prospectus,” which is basically an entire book that can run several hundred pages in length that describes all sorts of facts and details about the underlying loans, including disclosure about the levels of risk. Again, the banks were hardly trying to conceal the nature of the loans, but instead, the banks disclosed extensive information about the loans.

Of course, when the bottom fell out of the market and people lost money, they resorted to the great American tradition of rushing to the courthouse and filing lawsuits against the banks. But these claims are not what you would expect for a “massive fraud.” The claims do not reveal any sort of a diabolical scheme of the banks pretending to sell “prime” loans when in fact they were selling “subprime” loans. No. Nothing like that. The banks clearly disclosed that they were selling riskier loans. Instead, the lawsuits seem more about the details around the edges, like the banks did not double-check things, or the loan files contained errors, or the number of loans in a given category did not exactly match the disclosure in the prospectus. But this hardly exposes any sort of a massive fraud that could have caused the financial crisis.

In fact, this whole claim of a massive fraud just doesn’t seem credible when considered with even a small dose of common sense. It just doesn’t pass the smell test. How could there possibly be a massive fraud in something as wide open as the housing market?

Fraud requires a hidden deception, but the credit standards banks use to make loans are widely known and readily available. Millions of people receive mortgage loans all throughout the nation all around us. Everything is out in the open in plain sight. Yes, it was easier to obtain a loan for a more expensive house, but everyone knew this. It was common knowledge. We all had friends and family who were buying bigger houses or repeatedly refinancing their mortgages for ever greater proceeds. This was hardly a big secret hidden away in order to perpetrate some sort of a massive fraud. That notion is simply absurd.

Then there is the little problem of the rating agencies, such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch. Before a bank issues bonds in a mortgaged-backed securities transaction, the bank presents all of the information to one or more independent rating agency that then analyzes the transaction from scratch and issues a rating on each class of bonds to signify the level of risk. The rating agencies are independent, third-party companies. Their entire business model is predicated upon them making sound financial judgments and their ratings being accurate. This makes it all the more unlikely that the banks could get away with any sort of a fraud scheme of trying to sell bad loans as good loans because the independent rating agencies analyzed every transaction separately.

So how does the conventional wisdom deal with this little problem? Well, as the popular tale goes, the rating agencies were in on the massive fraud along with the banks. So the banks would submit horrible loans, and the rating agencies would nonetheless fraudulently issue top triple-A ratings on this junk.

Really? So all of the various banks had some sort of a grand scheme cooked-up along with all of the independent rating agencies to commit a coordinated massive fraud? C’mon. It’s just not credible.

This is similar to the little problem of why no executives on Wall Street have gone to jail for causing the financial crisis. This is a favorite issue of the prophets of the conventional wisdom of the massive fraud by Wall Street. They love to hammer this point with a mob mentality. They are outraged at the injustice of it all. They want heads to roll. Send some bankers to jail!

But a fair society does not just send people to jail without proof beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed a crime. So, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why no executives on Wall Street went to jail. And that is, simply, because they committed no crimes.

Shocker!

Yes, Wall Street executives lost a lot of money for a lot of people. But that does not mean that they broke the law doing it. Sometimes markets go down. And sometimes markets go down a lot.

This is by far the most rational explanation. It just makes no sense that there was some sort of a massive fraud but now no one can figure out how that fraud was perpetrated. A fraud so enormous like this could not possibly remain completely concealed. The fact that no one can find any evidence of this massive fraud leads us to the obvious conclusion that, in fact, there was no massive fraud.

It also makes no sense to think that prosecutors discovered this massive fraud scheme, they know full well all about the heinous crimes that were committed and who committed them, but the prosecutors secretly decided not to charge anyone. Why in the world would they do that? It’s not that they are afraid to prosecute Wall Street. In fact, prosecutors certainly did not hesitate to aggressivelyprosecute executives on Wall Street only just recently for insider trading.

And just think of the massive conspiracy that this would require. The financial crisis has been endlessly examined by legions of investigators from all sorts of different authorities, such as financial regulatory agencies, the U.S. Department of Justice, federal prosecutors, and numerous state prosecutors. Many of these ambitious crusaders for justice would have loved to make a name for themselves by uncovering the fraud that caused the financial crisis and then jailing the Wall Street executives behind it. That would have been a huge career grand slam. But to think that all of these prosecutors and regulators are secretly conspiring to conceal from the public the massive fraud scheme that they uncovered? It just makes no sense. It is a wild conspiracy theory.

So if there was no underlying fraud on Wall Street, then what caused the horrendous financial crisis?

Well, the answer actually seems quite clear and simple, although it is rather disturbing.

The cause of the financial crisis appears to have been nothing more than . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 11:34 am

Posted in Business

Hot Tamale Louie, an Afghan in Wyoming in the early 20th century

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Kathryn Schulz has an interesting profile in the New Yorker:

The first person in Sheridan, Wyoming, to learn that Hot Tamale Louie had been knifed to death was William Henry Harrison, Jr. The news came by telegram, the day after the murder. Harrison was the son of a member of Congress, the great-grandson of one President, the great-great-great-grandson of another President, and the great-great-great-great-grandson of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hot Tamale Louie was the son of nobody knows who, the grandson of nobody knows who, and the great-great-grandson of nobody knows who. He had been selling tamales in Sheridan since Buffalo Bill rode in the town parade, sold them when President Taft came to visit, was still selling them when the Russians sent Sputnik into space and the British sent the Beatles to America.

By then, Louie was a local legend, and his murder shocked everyone. It was front-page, above-the-fold news in Sheridan, and made headlines throughout Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota. It travelled by word of mouth across the state to Yellowstone, and by post to California, where former Sheridan residents opened their mailboxes to find letters from home-town friends mourning Louie’s death.

That was in 1964. Two years later, the killer was tried, found guilty, hanged, removed from the gallows, then hanged again. Within a few years after that, Louie, his tamales, his murder, and everything else about him had faded from the headlines. A half century passed. Then, late last year, he wound up back in the news.

The events that propelled him there took place in the town of Gillette, ninety minutes southeast of Sheridan. Situated in the stark center of Wyoming’s energy-rich but otherwise empty Powder River Basin, Gillette grew up around wildcat wells and coal mines—dry as a bone except in its saloons, prone to spontaneous combustion from the underground fires burning perpetually beneath it. Because its economy is tied to the energy industry, it is subject to an endless cycle of boom and bust, and to a ballooning population during the good years. The pattern of social problems that attend that kind of rapid population growth—increased crime, higher divorce rates, lower school attendance, more mental-health issues—has been known, since the nineteen-seventies, as Gillette Syndrome. Today, the town consists of three interstate exits’ worth of tract housing and fast food, surrounded by open-pit mines and pinned to the map by oil rigs. Signs on the highway warn about the fifty-mile-per-hour winds.

A couple of hundred Muslims live in northeastern Wyoming, and last fall some of them pooled their money to buy a one-story house at the end of Gillette’s Country Club Road, just outside a development called Country Club Estates, in one of the nicer neighborhoods in town. They placed a sign at the end of the driveway, laid prayer rugs on top of the wall-to-wall carpeting, and began meeting there for Friday worship—making it, in function if not in form, the third mosque in the state.

Most locals reacted to this development with indifference or neighborly interest, if they reacted at all. But a small number formed a group called Stop Islam in Gillette to protest the mosque; to them, the Muslims it served were unwelcome newcomers to Wyoming, at best a menace to the state’s cultural traditions and at worst incipient jihadis. When those protests darkened into threats, the local police got involved, as did the F.B.I.

Whatever their politics, many outsiders, on hearing about Stop Islam in Gillette, shared at least one of its sentiments: a measure of surprise that a Muslim community existed in such a remote corner of the country. Wyoming is geographically huge—you could fit all of New England inside it, then throw in Hawaii and Maryland for good measure—but it is the least populous state in the Union; under six hundred thousand people live there, fewer than in Louisville, Kentucky. Its Muslim population is correspondingly tiny—perhaps seven or eight hundred people.

Contrary to the claims of Stop Islam in Gillette, however, the Muslims who established the mosque are not new to the region. Together with some twenty per cent of all Muslims in Wyoming, they trace their presence back more than a hundred years, to 1909, when a young man named Zarif Khan immigrated to the American frontier. Born around 1887, Khan came from a little village called Bara, not far from the Khyber Pass, in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. His parents were poor, and the region was politically unstable. Khan’s childhood would have been marked by privation and conflict—if he had any childhood to speak of. Family legend has it that he was just twelve when he left.

What he did next nobody knows, but by September 3, 1907, he had got himself a thousand miles south, to Bombay, where he boarded a ship called the Peno. Eight weeks later, on October 28th, he arrived in Seattle. From there, he struck out for the interior, apparently living for a while in Deadwood, South Dakota, and the nearby towns of Lead and Spearfish before crossing the border into Wyoming. Once there, he settled in Sheridan, which is where he made a name for himself, literally: as Hot Tamale Louie—beloved Mexican-food vender, Afghan immigrant, and patriarch of Wyoming’s now besieged Muslim population.

When Khan arrived in Sheridan, he and Wyoming were roughly the same age—the man in his early twenties, the state nineteen. At the time, the idea that anyone at all would move to the region was a novelty. Although Native Americans had lived there for millennia, Europeans didn’t visit until at least 1743, and they didn’t linger. As late as 1870, scarcely nine thousand people lived in the entire territory. The coming of the railroad, which was supposed to solve that population problem, temporarily exacerbated it instead. “Hundreds of thousands of people had seen Wyoming from train windows,” the historian T. A. Larson wrote, “and were spreading the word that the territory looked like a barren wasteland.”

That was particularly true in northeastern Wyoming. The rest of the state could be daunting, with its successive mountain chains rising like crests on a flash-frozen ocean. But at least it had grandeur, and verdure. In the east, by contrast, you could travel five hundred miles and not see a tree. Precipitation was similarly scarce. The Homestead Act offered Western settlers a hundred and sixty acres—not enough, in that landscape, to keep five cows alive. In winter, the mercury could plunge to fifty degrees below zero. People froze to death in blizzards in May. Frontier Texas, the saying goes, was paradise for men and dogs, hell on women and horses. Frontier Wyoming was hell on everyone.

Perhaps because it so desperately needed people, Wyoming was, from the outset, unusually egalitarian. Beginning in 1869, women in the territory could vote, serve on juries, and, in some instances, enjoy a guarantee of equal pay for equal work—making it, Susan B. Anthony said, “the first place on God’s green earth which could consistently claim to be the land of the free.” Despite resistance from the U.S. Congress, Wyoming insisted on retaining those rights when petitioning for statehood; in 1890, when it became the forty-fourth state in the Union, it also became the first where women could vote. On the spot, it acquired its nickname: the Equality State.

At statehood, Sheridan was a tiny settlement, just across the line from Montana, just east of the Big Horns, and otherwise very far from much of anything. But two years later, following rumors of coal (true) and gold (overblown), the population began to boom. By 1909, when Khan arrived, around eight thousand people lived there and, on the evidence of the local business pages, the town had developed a kind of frontier-cosmopolitan chic. It had seventeen Blacksmiths, one Bicycle Dealer, and five purveyors of Buggies and Wagons. It had a Clairvoyant—one Mrs. Ellen Johnston—and a great many Coal Miners. Residents could go Bowling, or to the Opera House, or visit a Health Resort. They could get a Manicure from a Mrs. Rosella Wood, who was also available for Massages. They could read two different newspapers—one Republican, one Democratic. They could buy Grain and Guns and Horses, Books and Stationery and Coffee, Camping Outfits, Driving Gloves, Musical Instruments, and Talking Machines.

But perhaps the most striking entry in the Sheridan business directory was the one tucked in between “Tallow and Grease” and “Taxidermists”: “Tamales.” When Zarif Khan first began selling them, he shouldered a yoke with a bucket swinging from each end and walked to wherever he could find customers: outside the bank at lunch, outside the bars at closing time, down at the railroad depot when the trains came in. Business was good enough that he soon bought a pushcart. By 1914, the Sheridan Enterprise was referring to him, inaccurately but affectionately, as “the well-known Turkish tamale vendor.” (In fairness, nearly all references to Khan’s nationality were inaccurate, including his own. Although he identified as Afghan and official documents pertaining to his life reflect that, his natal village was ceded to British India before his birth, and today belongs to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.)

In 1915, or maybe the year after, Khan opened a restaurant—a hole-in-the-wall on Grinnell Avenue, around the corner from Main Street. The hand-painted lettering on the façade said “Louie’s,” and, forever afterward, that is what both Khan and his restaurant were called. . .

Continue reading.

Do read the whole thing. It becomes increasingly fascinating in its examination of the contradictions in US naturalization policies. And then it comes to today, but now in context.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 10:38 am

Posted in Daily life

Another razor goes to auction: Edwin Jagger gold-plated Lined Chatsworth

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DSCN4237

This is a hefty guy: 109g. Listing is here.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 10:29 am

Posted in Shaving

A perfect shave: Two-day stubble, Coloniali, Brushguy, and X3

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SOTD 2016-05-30

A magnificent shave today. The soap, Asylum Brush Works Coloniali Saponificio Varesino Beta 4.1, is really a terrific soap. No clay content, I would guess from how it requires no added water during loading. The lather is thick and creamy and I worked in additional water as I worked the lather up and into the stubble. My Brushguy brush clearly likes this soap a lot. No ingredients list at the link, but I’m sure no clay is included.

With a well-lathered face, my iKon X3 prototype on a UFO handle did a superb job: my face felt fully BBS after the second pass (XTG), but I proceeded to a third pass (ATG) just because the shave was so enjoyable. After that pass, there was absolutely no trace of roughness, and a splash of Saint Charles Shave Refined aftershave finished the job.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 9:01 am

Posted in Shaving

Declining empire?

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I seem to recall that during the declining, final years of the Roman Empire, the legions were stretched thin, over-burdened in working to stave off the barbarian hordes and hold the frontier. (This undoubtedly reflects a great deal of ignorance about the slow inexorable (vs. the fast, spectacular) decline as recorded iin history. But check out the state of our own legions. And we are so desperate to keep those last defenses going, we throw treasure at the volunteer armed forces.

Doesn’t that have some overtone of an empire in decline? Not to mention on-going cutbacks in government services (cf. the recent USPS cutback in services). The government seems to be winding down, while the military is pumped up.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2016 at 3:26 pm

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