Later On

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

Archive for September 20th, 2016

Defining reality

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Very interesting review by Thomas Nagel in the NY Review of Books:

The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy
by Anthony Gottlieb
Liveright, 293 pp., $28.95

It is fascinating to learn about the concrete historical circumstances under which great philosophical works—works that have become timeless classics—were produced, and about the relation to their own times of the extraordinary individuals who produced them. For those with limited firsthand knowledge of the works this biographical approach can serve as an accessible introduction or reintroduction to the thought of some of the most important creators of our intellectual world. Anthony Gottlieb, a former executive editor of The Economist who is not a philosopher but a philosophical fellow traveler, is writing just such a history of the entire course of Western philosophy. The first volume, The Dream of Reason (2000),* took the story from ancient Greece to the Renaissance. The second volume, The Dream of Enlightenment, ends in the eighteenth century; a third volume will take us from Kant to the present day.

Gottlieb concentrates most of his discussion on six philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries whose stature and influence are especially great—Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, and Hume—along with shorter treatments of Bayle, Voltaire, and Rousseau, and brief comments on many other figures. Here is what he says at the outset:

It is because they still have something to say to us that we can easily get these philosophers wrong. It is tempting to think that they speak our language and live in our world. But to understand them properly, we must step back into their shoes. That is what this book tries to do.

Gottlieb exaggerates the intellectual distance of these figures from us: it isn’t that they speak our language, but that we speak their language, because our world has been significantly formed by them. And he does not always succeed in stepping back into their shoes, which in the case of a great philosopher means understanding his thoughts from the inside, as well as in relation to his historical milieu. Nevertheless Gottlieb’s biographical narrative is vivid and often illuminating. Most important, he emphasizes throughout that these men lived in a historical period dominated by dramatic developments and conflicts in three areas—science, religion, and politics—and that their thoughts and writings were dominated by the need to respond to those developments, and to understand the relations among them.

First, there was the scientific revolution, which introduced a new way of understanding the physical world through universal laws, mathematically formulated, that govern everything that happens in space and time. Although knowledge of those laws is based on observation and experiment, the reality they describe is not directly available to human perception, but can be known only by theoretical inference. Two of Gottlieb’s thinkers, Descartes and Leibniz, were major contributors to the mathematical sciences—Descartes through the creation of analytic geometry (hence the term “Cartesian coordinates”) and Leibniz through the invention of the calculus (which was created independently by Newton). Descartes also produced theories of mechanics, optics, and physiology, Leibniz made significant contributions to dynamics, and Spinoza worked in optics and conducted experiments in hydrodynamics and metallurgy. But all six grappled with the question of how the austere physical reality revealed by the new science is related to the familiar world that we perceive—and to our minds, in which both perception and scientific reasoning take place.

Second, after the Reformation and the terrible wars of religion it had become clear that the plurality of religious beliefs in Christendom was not going to disappear. This posed questions both about the grounds for religious belief and about how governments should choose between imposing a single orthodoxy and tolerating diversity. In addition, each of these philosophers had to be concerned about the relation of his own work to the religious orthodoxy of his community, and about the dangers of ostracism, repression, or persecution. Descartes was deterred by the condemnation of Galileo from publishing his cosmological theories, and Spinoza was excommunicated by the Jewish community of Amsterdam.

Third, the basis of legitimate political authority was coming seriously into question, with skepticism about the divine right of kings and support for the right of subjects to overthrow a ruler who abused his power. This was not just theoretical: it took concrete form in the English civil war that culminated with the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the Glorious Revolution that replaced James II with William of Orange in 1688. Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, and Rousseau all produced theories of political authority starting from the subject’s rather than the ruler’s point of view.

The metaphysical and epistemological problems that arose out of the scientific revolution are particularly difficult and abstract, and the responses of these thinkers are among the most formidable structures that philosophy has produced. They were concerned, as philosophers have always been, to understand the nature of reality in the broadest sense: what kinds of things and facts ultimately constitute everything there is. They were also concerned with whether we humans have the capacity to discover the answers to those questions, and if not, what limits to our knowledge are imposed by our finite human faculties. The advances of the scientific revolution gave these problems a new form.

Given how much he has to cover, Gottlieb does a pretty good job of summarizing the complex speculative responses of his philosophers. They are contributions to a collective intellectual inquiry that has continued ever since, and their value lies in working out some of the main alternative possibilities for making the most general sense of reality. Others can then explore, refine, and elaborate those proposals, and attempt to refute or defend them, or at least to evaluate their relative plausibility. I will confine myself—with apologies for the capsule presentation—to one metaphysical example, the mind–body problem, which grew directly out of the scientific revolution and is very much still with us.

The problem arose because the new mathematical conception of physical reality dehumanized it. Among other things, that conception left out all the rich qualitative aspects, such as color, smell, taste, and sound, with which the world appears to our senses. These so-called “secondary” qualities were interpreted as effects on our minds, as opposed to the geometrically describable so-called “primary” qualities like shape, size, and motion, which are features of the physical world as it is in itself, independent of our minds.

The question was: How complete an account of the nature of reality could the new physical science in principle provide? Do our minds necessarily escape its reach, even if our bodies are part of the physical world? Hobbes gave the most radically materialist answer to this question, holding not only that we, with all our thoughts and perceptions, are nothing but matter in motion, but that even God is a physical being. A scientifically updated version of this view—with mechanics replaced by quantum theory, molecular biology, and neuroscience, and God eliminated from the picture—is the dominant form of contemporary naturalism. It holds that physics can aspire to be the theory of everything. . .

Continue reading.

Note the sentence “Although knowledge of those laws is based on observation and experiment, the reality they describe is not directly available to human perception, but can be known only by theoretical inference.” Isn’t that actually saying that the reality being described is known only through memes?

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 6:04 pm

For nine years, DEA withholds names of masked agents who violently raided two innocent women. Federal court shrugs.

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The game is rigged and the government no longer feels accountable to the people. Radley Balko reports:

A few years ago, I wrote about the raid on Geraldine and Caroline Burleyfor the Huffington Post:

When Caroline Burley, now 51, first heard the boom around 5:30 on the evening of June 13, [2007] it sounded like it had come from outside her bedroom window. She rushed to investigate, and as she came out of the room, a man with a gun confronted her, threw her into a wall and then hurled her to the floor. A SWAT team had burst through her front door. Wearing only her nightgown, she asked for mercy. She recently had back surgery, she explained. Instead, one officer, then another kept her close to the floor by putting a boot in her back, according to court filings.

Caroline’s mother, Geraldine Burley, was sitting at her computer in the basement when she heard a loud thud overhead, followed by a scream from her daughter and a man’s voice ordering Caroline Burley to the floor. When she ascended the stairs, she too found a gun pointed at her head, and a man ordered her to get on the floor as well. She thought at first that she was being robbed.

Geraldine, now 70, pleaded with the man to let her move to the floor slowly, explaining to him that she’d had both of her knees replaced. Instead, another officer approached, grabbed her by the face, demanded that she “get the [f–––] on the floor,” then threw her into a table. She tumbled to the ground. At that point, she said later in a deposition, everything turned to “a fire, white and ringing in my ear.” Another officer came up from the basement with her grandson, stepping on her knees in the process. She cried out again in pain.

This was part of Operation Eight Mile, a three-day period in 2007 in which drug cops from 21 federal, state and local police agencies conducted hundreds of raids on the famously crime-ridden road. (For all that manpower, the raids didn’t turn up much: 50 ounces of marijuana, 6.5 ounces of cocaine and 19 guns.) The Burleys tried to get the officers’ names and badge numbers to file a complaint. This presented a problem:

According to the Burleys’ accounts, the officers who raided their home were clad in black. Some wore balaclava masks or face shields that hid all but their eyes. Others pulled their hats down low to shield their identities. They had also obscured their names and badge numbers. Once the Burleys’ house had been thoroughly searched, both women asked the officers for their names. After holding an impromptu meeting, the officers told the Burleys that they wouldn’t divulge any information that could identify them individually. Instead, they told the women that they had just been raided by “Team 11.” The women weren’t given a search warrant.

“Team 11″ didn’t actually exist. It was part of a Drug Enforcement Administration squad called “Team 6.” But for the Eight Mile operation, the team was partially split up and reorganized with members of state and local police agencies, then renamed just for that particular operation.

The whole affair was coordinated by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. When the Burleys asked the office for the names of the officers who raided their home, the office said it had no record of that raid, directing them instead to the DEA. The DEA told the Burleys that the agency was transitioning to a new administration and couldn’t respond, but that it would eventually get back to them. It never did. The Burleys finally filed a lawsuit in state court, which forced the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department to give them the records of the raid that the office previously said didn’t exist. Included in those records was a DEA report with the names of the agents who participated in the raid.

For their lawsuit, the Burleys sent the named agents questionnaires. The agents filled them out, denying that they ever violated the women’s civil rights. But notably, none of the agents denied that they had participated in the raid.

That all changed during depositions for the lawsuit. In what came as a complete surprise to the Burleys’ attorneys, every agent named in the report denied participating in the raid. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 4:11 pm

Another hard look at Trumpkins by Jennifer Rubin

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

A cottage industry of apologists for Donald Trump and his supporters has sprung up to excuse, justify, infantilize and pity his core group of white, non-college-educated males who lash out at immigrants and globalism more generally. Victims ignored by elites! The Emmy winners mock them! There are more than a few problems with this.

First, conservatives used to stand up for “creative destruction,” the rise and fall of businesses and entire industries, which is an intrinsic part of a dynamic free market. If you’re not a hard-core Libertarian, the average conservative has considered the solution to this problem to be a safety net and tax, education and other policies that allow workers to rebound; it has never been to halt the marketplace or shift to a government-planned economy. The latter has been tried and has failed, as conservatives are quick to point out when ridiculing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or other anti-capitalist wags. It also exempts these voters from responsibility for their lives. The coal town is depopulated? Yes, that’s sad, but why are they not moving — as immigrants do — to where the jobs are?

Second, the ills about which Trump and his apologists complain have little to do with the plight of many of their supporters (whose average salary is $72,000, much higher than that of the average Sanders or Hillary Clinton supporter). The things Trump demonizes — free trade and immigration — did not cause the decline of low-skilled manufacturing (automation did that); they have, however, contributed to the resurgence of high-skill manufacturing in the United States to such an extent that we have record numbers of unfilled manufacturing jobs. If Trump were railing about the lack of job training programs, that would be one thing, but he is not, of course. Constructive measures that do not involve attacks on others are of no concern to him. He’s simply casting about for targets for white, lower-class rage.

Third, Trump’s defenders seem to demand that we treat members of his base delicately for fear of ruffling their feathers and damaging their self-esteem. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more and she doesn’t let up.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Sculpture left by widow at Vietnam Wall shows the tragic effects of war

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Michael Ruane has quite a report in the Washington Post:

The sculpture was packed in bubble wrap inside a taped-up box and was wheeled on a dolly to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial one day last month by three people who looked to be in their 60s.

They asked Al Gallant, a volunteer guide, if it was okay to leave a memento. Sure, he said. They pushed the cart down the path to the Wall, took the sculpture from the box, and walked away. One of them paused to snap a picture as they departed.

What they had left was an unusual piece — “macabre,” Gallant called it. And, like many of the 400,000 items left at the Wall since 1982, it had a story.

The object was the painted bust of an American soldier, one side of the face depicting a smooth-skinned young serviceman, the other an aged, long-haired veteran with pocked features and a tearful, staring eye.

On one side, the top of the head was protected by an Army helmet. On the other, the helmet and skull were cut away to reveal the gray folds of the brain, etched with the names of battles and slogans from the war.

The dog tag on the sculpture bore the name, blood type and religion of Army Pvt. Leo C. Buckley Jr., a Vietnam veteran who died of cancer in 2009 at the age of 60 in Walterboro, S.C.

But the face was that of Samuel J. Elliott, 73, a church deacon who lives in Hendersonville, N.C. He is the artist who created the sculpture.

Both men served in the war. Both saw combat. Both suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Neither knew the other during the war.

It was Buckley’s widow who, with two friends, left the sculpture at the Wall, which bears the names of more than 58,000 men and women claimed by the war. She snapped the photo as she walked away.

“Clay” Buckley had been a paratrooper with the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade during the war, and . . .

Continue reading. Photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Military

A Shocking Amount of E-Waste Recycling Is a Complete Sham

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Jason Koebler reports in Motherboard:

Until recently, I had never really thought about what happens to my old electronics. I took them to a community e-waste recycling drive, or dropped my old phone in a box somewhere, and I assumed my stuff was recycled.

An alarming portion of the time this is not actually the case, according to the results of a project that used GPS trackers to follow e-waste over the course of two years. Forty percent of all US electronics recyclers testers included in the study proved to be complete shams, with our e-waste getting shipped wholesale to landfills in Hong Kong, China, and developing nations in Africa and Asia.

The most important thing to know about the e-waste recycling industry is that it is not free to recycle an old computer or an old CRT television. The value of the raw materials in the vast majority of old electronics is worth less than it costs to actually recycle them. While consumers rarely have to pay e-waste recycling companies to take their old electronics (costs are offset by local tax money or manufacturers fronting the bill as part of a legally mandated obligated recycling quota), companies, governments, and organizations do.

Or at least, in a rational market, your office would have to pay an e-waste recycler to take their old stuff. But an astounding amount of US electronics recyclers will take old machines at no cost or for pennies per pound, then sell them wholesale to scrapyards in developing nations that often employ low-salary laborers to dig out the several components that are worth anything.

Based on the results of a new study from industry watchdog Basel Action Network and MIT, industry documents obtained by Motherboard, and interviews with industry insiders, it’s clear that the e-waste recycling industry is filled with sham operations profiting off of shipping toxic waste to developing nations. Here are the major findings of the study and of my interviews and reporting: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 2:39 pm

Mühle open-comb razor (not the R41) to auction

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Mühle sid

This antedates the R41, I think. Very comfortable and efficient. And the handle would look good with an X3 head, tooo. Here it is on eBay. (I checked the link and this time it’s not a recipe.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Shaving

Gut Bacteria Could Be Making Kids Fat

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Very interesting finding, reported by Kaleigh Rogers in Motherboard. That would explain why obesity seems to be an infectious disease.  The article begins:

When it comes to childhood obesity, we tend to focus a lot on processed food and lack of physical activity. But those aren’t the only factors contributing to the epidemic, which affects close to 1 in 5 American kids.

A study published Tuesday shows how the trillions of bacteria that already live in children’s guts also impact their risk of obesity. And this understanding may pave the way to new, and better, treatments for obesity.

By studying the gut flora of 84 children and teens—from normal weight to severely obese—researchers were able to determine that the composition of microbes in the gut flora of obese children and adolescents share a lot of similarities. Eight distinct group of microbes were associated with higher body weight, and these groups were less often found in the gut flora of leaner kids, according to the study published in theJournal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

These differences in microbiome populations—the term for the unique blend of bacteria that live in and on every human body—mean that obese kids and teens more often have bacteria that are better at fermenting carbohydrates in the stomach, which produces higher levels of short-chain fatty acids (the term for a number of acids produced in the colon when food breaks down).

“Once short-chain fatty acids are produced, either they get expelled through feces, or most of them get absorbed,” said Dr. Nicola Santoro, a Yale endocrinology research scientist and co-author of the paper.

Santoro said the researchers believe the short chain fatty acids are being absorbed in the liver and converted to fat, which would explain part of the reason why obese kids might be predisposed to put on weight.

Read More: Scientists Are Now Trying Fecal Transplants on Kids

These findings are similar to those of studies looking at the gut flora of obese adults. It’s part of a slow piecing together of a puzzle that explains what role the microbiome plays in our body fat composition, and how we might be able to influence changes.

“Studies have consistently reported an association between antibiotics and gut flora and we know the microbiome plays a role in the development of metabolism and immunity,” Annemarie Hirsch, a researcher at the Geisinger Center for Health Research who has authored studies on the impact of antibiotics on the development of the microbiome. “It’s the connection between antibiotics to microbiome to obesity that’s somewhat still a black box.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 2:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Interesting review: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

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Jason DeParle has an interesting review in the NY Times:

STRANGERS IN THEIR OWN LAND
Anger and Mourning on the American Right
By Arlie Russell Hochschild
351 pp. The New Press. $27.95.

Arlie Hochschild’s generous but disconcerting look at the Tea Party presents a likable fellow named Lee Sherman, who once worked for a Louisiana chemical plant where his duties included illegally dumping toxic waste into the bayou.

Sherman did the dirty work; then the company did him dirty. After 15 years on the job, he was doused with chemicals that “burned my clothes clean off me” and left him ill. But rather than pay his disability costs, his bosses accused him of absenteeism and fired him.

Sherman became a fledgling environmentalist and got his revenge after a giant fish kill threatened the livelihood of nearby fishermen. Company officials feigned innocence, but Sherman barged into a public meeting with an incriminating sign: I’M THE ONE WHO DUMPED IT IN THE BAYOU. Fast-forward a couple of decades and Sherman, still an environmentalist, is campaigning for a Tea Party congressman who wants to gut the Environmental Protection Agency. Sherman still distrusts chemical companies, but he distrusts the federal government more, because it spends his tax money on people who “lazed around days and partied at night.”

In “Strangers in Their Own Land,” which has been nominated for a National Book Award, Hochschild calls this the “Great Paradox” — opposition to federal help from people and places that need it — and sets off across Louisiana on an energetic, open-minded quest to understand it.

A distinguished Berkeley sociologist, Hochschild is a woman of the left, but her mission is empathy, not polemics. She takes seriously the Tea Partiers’ complaints that they have become the “strangers” of the title — triply marginalized by flat or falling wages, rapid demographic change, and liberal culture that mocks their faith and patriotism. Her affection for her characters is palpable.

But the resentments she finds are as toxic as the pollutants in the marsh and metastasizing throughout politics. What unites her subjects is the powerful feeling that others are “cutting in line” and that the federal government is supporting people on the dole — “taking money from the workers and giving it to the idle.” Income is flowing up, but the anger points down.

The people who feel this are white. The usurpers they picture are blacks and immigrants. Hochschild takes care not to call anyone racist but concludes that “race is an essential part of this story.” When she asks a small-town mayor to describe his politics, his first two issues — or is it one in his mind? — are welfare and race: “I don’t like the government paying unwed mothers to have a lot of kids, and I don’t go for affirmative action.”

In welfare politics, this is déjà vu all over again. It’s been two decades since Bill Clinton signed a tough welfare law aimed in part to end the politics of blame. “Ending welfare as we know it” would recast the needy as workers, he said, and build support for a new safety net. The rolls of the main federal cash program have fallen by 80 percent from their 1990s highs — in Louisiana, by 95 percent. But reverse class anger is more potent than ever.

Liberals have long wondered why ­working-class voters support policies that (the liberals think) hurt the working class. Why would victims of pollution side with the polluters? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 1:08 pm

The Real Clinton Foundation

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Joe Conason is interviewed by Salon regarding his reporting on the Clinton Foundation:

No one has been able to produce real evidence of corruption at the Clinton Foundation, but the relentless media chatter falsely implying otherwise has had its effect: Few voters know about the good work that the foundation does. Americans are instead more likely to believe false stories about corruption than know about the foundation’s work.

Journalist Joe Conason wants to change that. In his new book, “Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton,” Conason profiled Bill Clinton’s post-presidency career in philanthropy. Through his work for the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and other activities, former president Clinton has devoted himself to fighting against poverty and for greater access to education, nutrition and health care around the world. I recently spoke with Conason over the phone. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You’ve written a lot about the Clintons for how long now?

Well, I mean since he first ran for president. So that’s — what is it? Almost 25 years? Something like that.

So what motivated you to write this book about Bill Clinton’s post-presidency?

Esquire magazine asked me to write a profile about him in 2005 when he was just about to launch Clinton Global Initiative. That summer before [he and his associates] launched it, I went to Africa with him on his annual Africa trip, and we visited several countries.

And when I came back and went to the first CGI and wrote the piece for Esquire, it got a huge reception. I realized sometime after that that what they were doing was really interesting and different from what other presidents had done when they left office and that there might be a book in it.

It took a couple of years, but I persuaded [the Clintons] to cooperate with a book that they would have no control over. President Clinton didn’t see the book until August, when it was all ready to hit the printer.

But they nevertheless were very cooperative, and I went on a couple of more trips to Africa with him and other places, traveled with him a lot and interviewed him, you know, more than a dozen times — sort of sit-down, taped interviews. And it turned out that I was right, there was really a lot to write.

How would you say President Clinton’s vision of a post-presidency differs from other presidents before him? And, well, after him, as well?

Well, we’ll see what comes after. In spite of their sometimes tense relationship, President Obama has displayed a lot of interest in what Clinton has done since he left the White House since he knows he’s leaving soon, and they’ve talked quite a bit about it. So we’ll see what Obama does.

Clinton studied the post-presidencies of earlier presidents very carefully, and especially Jimmy Carter, who[m] he hosted at Camp David just before his own presidency ended to talk about what Carter had done. That again was a very tense relationship, one that had big ups and downs, but I think Clinton really respected what Carter had done.

But [Clinton is] a bigger personality in a lot of ways and more ambitious and wants to do more things. He never sort of set a boundary around what he was doing.

He started out realizing that something really needed to be done about AIDS treatment in the developing world, because there were likely to be 100 million AIDS victims if nothing was done.

He never decided, Well, it’s only going to be about these things or it’s only going to be about these themes or I’m only going to do health or I’m only going to do education. He really allowed himself to cast a very wide net. And I don’t any other president had done that yet after leaving the White House.

How do you see the Clinton Foundation and [its] work? And how does that differ from the way it’s being portrayed in the media?

I’d say it’s night and day, Amanda.

The media is focused on false stories about conflicts of interest, or true stories about potential conflicts of interests that don’t seem to me to matter very much. They want to know about every email that was ever sent on behalf of any donor or anybody that might’ve been a donor or attended CGI.

I’m looking at things like they’ve had 11 and a half million AIDS victims on treatment who otherwise would have died, for instance. That’s just one thing. Or, rebuilt the entire health system of the country of Rwanda. Or, you know, they’ve eliminated malaria from most of Tanzania and saved thousands and thousands of people’s lives that way.

It would take a long time to enumerate all the accomplishments of the foundation. This is not just Clinton himself. This is a lot of people who are either volunteers or employees there — doctors, volunteer business executives, all kinds of people who decided they wanted to address these problems. It’s why I wanted to write the book in the first place.

For some reason, very few of our colleagues have the slightest interest in that. I’ll hear, as I have already a few times while I’m going around talking about this book, Well, no one would deny the good work, but …

That’s fine, don’t deny the good work because you don’t know anything about it. But what if you looked at the good work for 15 minutes? What if you sent somebody overseas to look at the good work? Almost nobody ever does.

That’s the difference between my outlook on it and what I would call the conventional media narrative now, which is all about this idea that somehow something corrupt had to have happened.

Keep in mind, these were people who, up until the election cycle started, would go to Clinton Global Initiative every year and suck up shamelessly to Clinton trying to get an interview. [The] same people now only want to talk about why nobody trusts the Clintons and ask, Don’t you think that they should shut down the foundation?

Sure, they should shut down the foundation and if those 11 million people die, nobody in our media world would care. I think says a lot more about them than it does about Clinton.

In the book, I talk a lot about The New York Times, which influences all media coverage basically, especially in politics. And The New York Times has been very focused on the foundation and problems that [Times journalists] allege in the foundation, such making up this whole story about Russian uranium, which was a completely fabricated, phony story taken from “Clinton Cash” that they put on the front page.

You know what, they know better. Celia Dugger, who is a very good reporter for the Times, went to Africa with Clinton and saw what he did — and saw what the foundation had done. So they know, and they ran a very good story about it years ago but this is years ago. And that was one time in 15 years basically that they paid attention the real work. Meanwhile, they are constantly on this, and it’s all part of the political cycle.

The popularity of the Clintons goes up and down. You can see it in Gallup polls that are taken every year, it goes up and down whether one of them is running for office — especially her. And I think you know the basis for all of that.

How would you characterize Bill Clinton’s philosophy of philanthropy? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 11:36 am

Banking Has Become a Criminal Enterprise in the U.S.

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

Tomorrow the U.S. Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing to take testimony from Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and Federal regulators to understand how this mega bank was able to get away with opening more than two million fake customer accounts over a span of years. The accounts and/or credit cards were never authorized by the customer and were opened solely by employees to meet sales quotas, get bonuses or to avoid getting fired for failing to meet sales targets.

The only reason the Republican-controlled Senate is holding this hearing is because the Wells Fargo fake-account story got a lot of coverage in the media when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)announced a $185 million settlement over the charges on September 8. The reason the story got a lot of media coverage is because it’s a simple story to tell: widely respected bank opens two million accounts for its customers without their knowledge or permission, sometimes illegally funneling money to the new account from the old account to generate fees.

In July of last year, when Citibank, the deposit-taking retail bank settled charges with the CFPB for $700 million for deceptively selling add-on products to credit card customers, the Senate Banking Committee yawned and did nothing.  The story didn’t get major press attention because it was a complicated story to tell. Among a long list of fraudulent practices, the CFPB found that Citibank led 2.2 million customers to believe they were paying to have their credit card monitored for fraud and identity theft, “when, in fact, these services were either not being performed at all, or were only partially performed,” according to the CFPB.

The CFPB charges against Citibank came exactly two months after Citbank’s parent, Citicorp, pleaded guilty to a felony with the Justice Department in connection with the rigging of foreign currency. On the same day, another U.S. mega bank, JPMorgan Chase, also pleaded guilty to a felony related to the same crime. Both banks are more than a century old and both banks, on May 20 of last year, pleaded guilty to a felony for the first time in their history.

The public first got its peek into the corrupt culture at Citigroup, the bank holding company of Citibank, on December 4, 2011 when Richard Bowen, a former Citigroup Vice President and whistleblower, appeared on 60 Minutes. Bowen explained how he had found that Citigroup was buying fraudulent mortgages and selling them to investors as sound investments. When his superiors ignored his warnings, in November 2007 he wrote to top management, including the CFO, chief risk officer and Robert Rubin, the Chairman of Citigroup’s executive committee who, as a former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, had pushed to deregulate Wall Street banks – allowing them to hold FDIC insured products and cross-sell their carnival barker wares to the public.

Bowen explained on 60 Minutes what happens when an honest employee speaks out in one of the Wall Street banking behemoths: “I was relieved of most of my responsibility and I no longer was physically with the organization.” He was told not to show up at the bank.

Bowen’s treatment at Citigroup was replicated against a different whistleblower at JPMorgan Chase, now the largest U.S. bank by assets, according to a report by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 11:23 am

Obama should pardon all leakers and whistleblowers

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Their crime: letting the public know what the government is doing. That seems more like fulfilling a government responsibility than a crime, though of course those who are revealed as wasting money and being competent do not want that to be known. But making it a crime seems excessive.

Peter Maass reports in The Intercept:

Of course President Obama should pardon Edward Snowden — and Chelsea Manning, too.

But this story is not about the excellent reasons for thanking rather than locking up the two most famous whistleblowers of the post-9/11 era. Plenty of people are already calling for that in powerful ways. A new petition on Snowden’s behalf has been signed by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey as well as Steve Wozniak, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Aragorn (also known as Viggo Mortensen). Organizations coming out in support of a pardon for Snowden, who is currently a political refugee in Moscow, include the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. And Oliver Stone has just released “Snowden,” a movie that emphasizes his good and patriotic intentions.

But the unfortunate truth of our times is that Obama is not going to pardon Snowden and Manning. His administration has invested too much capital in demonizing them to turn back now. However, there are other leakers and whistleblowers for whom the arguments in favor of pardons are not only compelling but politically palatable, too. Their names are Stephen Kim, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, and Thomas Drake. All of them were government officials who talked with journalists and were charged under the Espionage Act for disclosures of information that were far less consequential than the classified emails that Hillary Clinton stored on her server at home or the top-secret war diaries that David Petraeus shared with his biographer and girlfriend. Petraeus, a former general and CIA director, got a fine for his transgressions. Clinton got a presidential nomination.

Consider this: Kiriakou, a CIA agent who criticized the agency’s use of torture, was thrown into prison because he provided a journalist with the name of one covert officer, although the name was never published. Kim, a State Department official, pleaded guilty to talking to Fox News reporter James Rosen about a single classified report on North Korea that an official later described as a “nothing burger.” Sterling, a CIA officer, talked to New York Times reporter James Risen about a botched operation against Iran that went wrong because of bungling by the agency. Drake, who worked at the NSA, faced multiple felony charges after he talked to a Baltimore Sun reporter about fraud and abuse in a bloated surveillance program. All of them went to prison except Drake, who was able, in the end, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, though he lost his job and security clearance and now works at an Apple store.

There is an imperative to apologize to Kim, Sterling, Kiriakou, and Drake that has nothing to do with justice (though justice should be sufficient incentive). It is possible that a crackpot grifter will be elected president of the United States in seven weeks time. Obama needs to start dramatically disavowing the excesses of his presidency, so that Donald Trump, if he wins in November, will not be able to use the continuity card to do even worse things with the excessive powers that Obama was able to arrogate for the Oval Office. (Trump would still do terrible things, of course, but he would at least have a harder time citing Obama as precedent.) One of the most insidious domestic legacies of Obama’s presidency is his unprecedented crackdown on officials who talked to journalists about embarrassing issues or policies the government wanted to keep secret — and this needs to be forsaken, now.

It wouldn’t be that out of character. The Obama administration has been admirable in the use of its powers to reverse or stop wrongful actions by state and municipal authorities. Earlier this month, the administrationsuspended construction on the North Dakota Access Pipeline because it violated the rights of Native Americans. In recent years, the Department of Justice has conducted scathing investigations into civil rights abuses by a number of police departments, and has extracted meaningful changes from many of them. Fairness for all has been a hallmark of these laudable moves, and the same standard should be applied to leakers and whistleblowers. If Petraeus and Clinton are allowed to get away with unauthorized sharing of classified information, it should be OK for lesser officials too, especially when their actions involved the exposure of government wrongdoing. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 11:17 am

Trump Foundation Involved in Yet More Corruption—But Let’s Investigate the Clinton Foundation Instead

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Newspaper reporters apparently like a challenge, thus they ignore the continuing sleazy practices of the Trump Foundation and spend all their time writing innuendos about the Clinton Foundation, but finding nothing of any significance and ignoring the valuable work the Foundation has done. Journalism in the US is in a shocking state.

Kevin Drum notes:

Donald Trump’s foundation is in the news again:

Donald Trump spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents.

In one case, from 2007, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club faced $120,000 in unpaid fines from the town of Palm Beach, Fla., resulting from a dispute over the size of a flagpole. In a settlement, Palm Beach agreed to waive those fines — if Trump’s club made a $100,000 donation to a specific charity for veterans. Instead, Trump sent a check from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a charity funded almost entirely by other people’s money, according to tax records.

Sorry Donald. You’re not allowed to use your charity to pay off your business obligations:

“I represent 700 nonprofits a year, and I’ve never encountered anything so brazen,” said Jeffrey Tenenbaum, who advises charities at the Venable law firm in Washington. After The Post described the details of these Trump Foundation gifts, Tenenbaum described them as “really shocking.”

“If he’s using other people’s money — run through his foundation — to satisfy his personal obligations, then that’s about as blatant an example of self-dealing [as] I’ve seen in a while,” Tenenbaum said.

I don’t think I can count the number of reporters who have investigated the Clinton Foundation or the number of pieces they’ve written. The net result has been (a) no actual serious misconduct uncovered, but (b) a steady drumbeat of stories implying that something improper was going on.

Now then: how many reporters have been investigating the Trump Foundation? I might be missing someone, but basically the answer is one: David Fahrenthold of theWashington Post. The net result has been (a) plenty of actual misconduct uncovered, but (b) very little in the way of public attention to it.

This is why so many people can somehow believe that Hillary Clinton is less trustworthy than Donald Trump. In truth, it’s not even close. Trump is probably the world champion in the sport of lying; he cares about nothing but enriching himself and getting even with his enemies; and his political positions change with the wind. He’s just about the least trustworthy person on the planet.

But he’s entertaining. Gotta give him that. And really, isn’t that what matters?

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 11:07 am

Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t.

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Julia Angwin and Surya Mattu report in ProPublica:

One day recently, we visited Amazon’s website in search of the best deal on Loctite super glue, the essential home repair tool for fixing everything from broken eyeglass frames to shattered ceramics.

In an instant, Amazon’s software sifted through dozens of combinations of price and shipping, some of which were cheaper than what one might find at a local store. TheHardwareCity.com, an online retailer from Farmers Branch, Texas, with a 95 percent customer satisfaction rating, was selling Loctite for $6.75 with free shipping. Fat Boy Tools of Massillon, Ohio, a competitor with a similar customer rating was nearly as cheap: $7.27with free shipping.

The computer program brushed aside those offers, instead selecting the vial of glue sold by Amazon itself for slightly more, $7.80. This seemed like a plausible choice until another click of the mouse revealed shipping costs of $6.51. That brought the total cost, before taxes, to $14.31, or nearly double the price Amazon had listed on the initial page.

What kind of sophisticated shopping algorithm steers customers to a product that costs so much more than seemingly comparable alternatives?

One that substantially favors Amazon and sellers it charges for services, an examination by ProPublica found.

Amazon often says it seeks to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” Jeffrey P. Bezos, its founder and CEO, has been known to put an empty chair in meetings to remind employees of the need to focus on the customer. But in fact, the company appears to be using its market power and proprietary algorithm to advantage itself at the expense of sellers and many customers.

Unseen and almost wholly unregulated, algorithms play an increasingly important role in broad swaths of American life. They figure in decisions large and small, from whether a person qualifies for a mortgage to the sentence someone convicted of a crime might serve. The weightings and variables that underlie these equations are often closely guarded secrets known only to people at the companies that design and use them.

But while the math is hidden from public view, the effects of algorithms can be vast. With more than 300 million active customer accounts and more than $100 billion in annual revenue, Amazon is a shopping giant whose algorithm can make or break other retailers. And so ProPublica set out to see how Amazon’s software was shaping the marketplace.

We looked at 250 frequently purchased products over several weeks to see which ones were selected for the most prominent placement on Amazon’s virtual shelves — the so-called “buy box” that pops up first as a suggested purchase. About three-quarters of the time, Amazon placed its own products and those of companies that pay for its services in that position even when there were substantially cheaper offers available from others.

That turns out to be an important edge. Most Amazon shoppers end up clicking “add to cart” for the offer highlighted in the buy box. “It’s the most valuable small button on the Internet today,” said Shmuli Goldberg, an Israeli technologist who has extensively studied Amazon’s algorithm.

Amazon does give customers a chance to comparison shop, with a listing that ranks all vendors of the same item by “price + shipping.” It appears to be the epitome of Amazon’s customer-centric approach. But there, too, the company gives itself an oft-decisive advantage. Its rankings omit shipping costs only for its own products and those sold by companies that pay Amazon for its services.

We found that the practice earned Amazon-linked products higher rankings in more than 80 percent of cases. Amazon’s offer of the Loctite glue, a respectable No. 5 on the comparison list, dropped to the 39th best deal when shipping was included. (The prices Amazon shows are ranked correctly for those who pay $99 per year for Amazon’s Prime shipping service and for those who are buying $49 or more in eligible items.) . . .

Continue reading.

And read the whole thing for a survey of what the shaving world refers to as “shady business practices.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 10:32 am

Posted in Business, Software

Solving murders turns out to be important. Who knew? Or, more important, who did NOT know?

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Alex Kotlowitz reports in the New Yorker:

On August 26th, at 3:30 in the afternoon, Nykea Aldridge was pushing her month-old daughter in a baby stroller in a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side when two men began shooting at a man getting out of a car. Some of their bullets missed their target and hit Aldridge in the arm and in the head. Aldridge, who was thirty-two years old and a mother of four, had been walking from a school where she had just registered her older children. She died forty-five minutes later in the hospital. Two things made Aldridge’s death different from most of the five hundred and nine fatal shootings that have occurred so far this year in Chicago: it received national attention because Aldridge’s cousin is the basketball star Dwyane Wade, and within forty-eight hours the police announced that they had arrested two suspects—two brothers—for the murder.

It’s the latter difference that may help to make sense of the wave of violence that has overtaken a large swath of the city. While Chicago mourned Aldridge’s death, many also asked: If the police could make an arrest in her murder so quickly, why had so many other murders been left without resolution?

This week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is scheduled to give a major address on the city’s violence. Over the years, the police have tried various tactics to diminish violence and murder, including community policing, targeting high-crime areas called “hot spots,” starting specialized anti-gang units, and, most recently, employing algorithms to predict who is most likely to pick up a gun and shoot someone. Nothing has seemed to work. In the first eight months of this year, murders have been up an unprecedented fifty per cent. The situation has become so severe that, earlier this month, one alderman proposed that all police be required to carry military-quality first-aid gear. But one issue is rarely raised: year after year, the vast majority of murders and non-fatal shootings in Chicago go unsolved. Last year, the police charged individuals in just twenty-six per cent of all murders. Of the nearly three thousand non-fatal shootings, only ten per cent of the assailants were charged, which means that you have a pretty good chance of shooting someone in Chicago and getting away with it.

This failure to find and charge perpetrators could be contributing indirectly to violence. A case is considered cleared when someone has been identified and charged, or if the suspect dies before charges have been filed. Chicago’s homicide-clearance rate is less than half the national average of sixty-four per cent. Thomas Hargrove, a former newspaper reporter who now runs the Murder Accountability Project, an organization that examines murder-clearance rates, said that there is a clear correlation between catching criminals and the murder rate itself. In cities where the clearance rate is better than average, the murder rate is 9.6 per hundred thousand. Among cities where the clearance rate is lower than average, the murder rate is nearly twice that. “If you allow murders to go unsolved, it all goes to hell,” he said. In 2015, Chicago’s murder rate was 17.8 per hundred thousand.

The Chicago Police Department blames the low clearance rate principally on the lack of coöperation from witnesses. At a press conference announcing the arrests in Aldridge’s murder, the police superintendent Eddie Johnson drew attention to this belief when he said, “You know why we captured them right away? Because the community helped us with it.”

While it’s true that many people in the city’s mostly poor African-American neighborhoods are reluctant to coöperate with the police, the reasons are complicated. In reporting a book about the city’s violence, I’ve come to believe the so-called no-snitch culture is misunderstood. Most victims and witnesses stay quiet because they’re afraid of retaliation by friends of the shooter, not because of some unwritten code of the streets. One woman I interviewed has a job supporting victims who have been asked to testify in criminal cases, and yet when her teen-age son was shot five times she urged him not to work with the police. She worried that he’d be shot again if he did. “Sometimes,” she told me, “I go home feeling guilty” for urging victims to testify.

The fear is well founded. I came to know the family of Ramaine Hill, a young man who agreed to identify the assailant who shot him—and to testify in court. His willingness to talk to the police helped resolve the case; the shooter pleaded guilty and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In the course of the next year, however, Ramaine was pressured and threatened so that he would reverse his testimony. On September 1, 2013, as he walked through a public park on his way to work, at a supermarket, someone walked up and shot him in the head. There were witnesses to the murder, but, three years later, no one has been willing to step forward. He was willing to testify, Ramaine’s aunt, Joyce Taybron, who raised him, told me, “and look where he’s at. He got killed.” His murderer has never been charged.

The inability of the police to solve crimes, coupled with a spate of incidents caught on video in which police are seen shooting unarmed individuals, has hardened what many African-Americans already believed: that justice is hard to come by. For some, distrust has turned to contempt. On the same day that Aldridge was shot to death, police responded to a shooting of a twenty-two-year-old man on a street in Englewood, a neighborhood on the city’s South Side. As they secured the area with yellow police tape, they were confronted by a dozen or so young men. People often get agitated at crime scenes, but these young men became belligerent, taunting and swearing at the police. They seemed defiant, waving cell phones in the faces of seven uniformed officers. “Get the fuck off my block,” one of the young men yelled. Another sneered at a black officer: “You’re a traitor. You’re a traitor. You’re bogus as hell.” Nearby, someone shot a gun three times, and as officers ran in the direction of the gunfire, one young man yelled, “Run, bitch, run.” The scene was described and filmed by the Chicago Tribune. At one point, one of the young men threw a pink cupcake on the ground and dared an officer to “eat it.” In the end, the police arrested the twenty-two-year-old man who had been shot in the ankle, and charged him with attempted first-degree murder. The police allege he’d been in a firefight. The other shooter, whom the police have not yet identified, has not been caught.

The police department has acknowledged the need to repair its relationship with the African-American and Latino communities, but its efforts have felt clumsy at times, and sometimes dismissive of the very people they’re trying to reach. In recent years, the department has tried to . . .

Continue reading. It’s a good article.

The conclusion:

. . . Chicago is presently on pace for four thousand shootings and seven hundred murders this year—numbers that have not been seen in nearly twenty years. And if last year is any indication, in thirty-six hundred of those shootings and five hundred and eighteen of those murders, there will be no consequences. Those crimes will go unsolved. In her book “Ghettoside,” the reporter Jill Leovy suggests that the inability of the police to solve murders and shootings is at the heart of the divide between the police and communities of color. “The result has been a doubling down on distrust,” she writes. “When violent crimes go unpunished while nonviolent ones get hammered, many conclude that the state seeks control, not justice.”

UPDATE:  Highly relevant and very interesting: “A wake-up call on the junk science infesting our courtrooms.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 10:02 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Audio recording captures Connecticut state police conspiring to fabricate criminal charges

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We really need to improve our police forces. When police conspire to fabricate criminal charges, they are no longer police, they are an armed gang that uses its power as it chooses. There are good cops, just as there are good Muslims. But the bad actors, cops or Muslims, besmirch the reputation and standing of their fellows.

Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

The ACLU of Connecticut has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michael Picard, an activist who has protested and investigated DUI checkpoints, which he believes are wasteful and unconstitutional. Picard is also an open carry gun rights activist. In September 2015, Picard protested a DUI checkpoint in West Hartford by holding up a sign just before a checkpoint that read “cops ahead, remain silent.” There was nothing illegal about what he was doing.

ACLU of Connecticut Legal Director Dan Barrett describes what happened next:

Then, the state police officers who were working the checkpoint come over to Michael, and the first thing they do is slap the camera out of his hand so it hits the ground. He thinks it’s broken.

It was really brazen. There’s another video showing that the first thing the state trooper does is walk up and with his open hand slap the camera down to the ground. He doesn’t even say anything like “put that down,” or “please lower your camera.” He just slaps it to the ground. Then he interacts with Michael as if nothing happened …

The cops then searched Picard, and loudly announced that they had found a gun. This was nonsense, since Picard was openly carrying a gun from the start, which was legal under the state’s open carry law. As they ran a check on his permit, Picard picked up his camera. One cop then comes back over and tells Picard “taking my picture is illegal.” This is nonsense, and Picard, who knows his rights, begins debating with the officer. The cop then snatches the camera away and puts it on top of a police cruiser, not realizing that it’s still recording. Here’s the footage of what happens next:

Barrett summarizes:

So we get the three troopers at the cruiser talking about what to do. Michael’s permit comes back as valid, they say “oh crap,” and one of the troopers says “we gotta punch a number on this guy,” which means open an investigation in the police database. And he says “we really gotta cover our asses.” And then they have a very long discussion about what to charge Michael with—none of which appear to have any basis in fact. This plays out over eight minutes. They talk about “we could do this, we could do this, we could do this….”

In Connecticut, police officers have clear requirements under the law to intervene and stop or prevent constitutional violations when they see them. But at no time did any of the three officers pipe up and say, “why don’t we just give him his camera back and let him go.”

In the end they decide on two criminal infractions: “reckless use of a highway by a pedestrian,” and “creating a public disturbance.” They have a chilling discussion on how to support the public disturbance charge, and the top-level supervisor explains to the other two, “what we say is that multiple motorists stopped to complain about a guy waving a gun around, but none of them wanted to stop and make a statement.” In other words, what sounds like a fairy tale.

It took over a year for Picard to finally get the criminal charges dropped. He filed a complaint with the state police. It went nowhere, and in fact led to more harassment. That’s why he’s now suing. . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 9:43 am

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

Barrister & Mann Cologne Russe and RazoRock’s German 37 slant

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SOTD 2019-09-20

I really like that RazoRock Italian Flag shaving brush: the 24mm knot is about as large as I like, but I do like it. It’s a soft, fairly dense brush, and at $13 it’s a bargain. The handle is quite comfortable as well.

Cologne Russe is an excellent fragrance and an excellent soap. No problem at all in getting a fine lather, and the RazoRock German 37 slant, a three-piece razor, did a superb job: very smooth, no problems, BBS result. I have been overlooking this razor, but for $20 for a complete razor, it’s a great bargain. If you’ve not tried a slant, this would be a good place to start. Two words: light pressure.

A final rinse, dry, and a good splash of Cologne Russe to start the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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