Later On

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Archive for December 2016

Obama’s terrible record on journalists and whistleblowers sets the stage for Trump to go further

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Obama did many good things and also some terrible things, and his vindictive persecution of whistleblowers (after saying he would protect them) and his lack of transparency (how many press conferences has he had?) are a gift to the incoming president.

James Risen, a NY Times journalist who was threatened with a prison sentence by Obama’s Attorney General, has a column on the fallout from Obama’s disregard for press freedom:

If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistle-blower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist, he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump made his animus toward the news media clear during the presidential campaign, often expressing his disgust with coverage through Twitter or in diatribes at rallies. So if his campaign is any guide, Mr. Trump seems likely to enthusiastically embrace the aggressive crackdown on journalists and whistle-blowers that is an important yet little understood component of Mr. Obama’s presidential legacy.

Criticism of Mr. Obama’s stance on press freedom, government transparency and secrecy is hotly disputed by the White House, but many journalism groups say the record is clear. Over the past eight years, the administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.

Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.

I experienced this pressure firsthand when the administration tried to compel me to testify to reveal my confidential sources in a criminal leak investigation. The Justice Department finally relented — even though it had already won a seven-year court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court to force me to testify — most likely because they feared the negative publicity that would come from sending a New York Times reporter to jail.

In an interview last May, President Obama pushed back on the criticism that his administration had been engaged in a war on the press. He argued that the number of leak prosecutions his administration had brought had been small and that some of those cases were inherited from the George W. Bush administration.

“I am a strong believer in the First Amendment and the need for journalists to pursue every lead and every angle,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Rutgers University student newspaper. “I think that when you hear stories about us cracking down on whistle-blowers or whatnot, we’re talking about a really small sample.

“Some of them are serious,” he continued, “where you had purposeful leaks of information that could harm or threaten operations or individuals who were in the field involved with really sensitive national security issues.”

But critics say the crackdown has had a much greater chilling effect on press freedom than Mr. Obama acknowledges. In a scathing 2013 report for the Committee to Protect Journalists, Leonard Downie, a former executive editor of The Washington Post who now teaches at Arizona State University, said the war on leaks and other efforts to control information was “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate.”

When Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, press freedom groups had high expectations for the former constitutional law professor, particularly after the press had suffered through eight years of bitter confrontation with the Bush administration. But today, many of those same groups say Mr. Obama’s record of going after both journalists and their sources has set a dangerous precedent that Mr. Trump can easily exploit. “Obama has laid all the groundwork Trump needs for an unprecedented crackdown on the press,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Dana Priest, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, added: “Obama’s attorney general repeatedly allowed the F.B.I. to use intrusive measures against reporters more often than any time in recent memory. The moral obstacles have been cleared for Trump’s attorney general to go even further, to forget that it’s a free press that has distinguished us from other countries, and to try to silence dissent by silencing an institution whose job is to give voice to dissent.”

The administration’s heavy-handed approach represents a sharp break with tradition. For decades, official Washington did next to nothing to stop leaks. Occasionally the C.I.A. or some other agency, nettled by an article or broadcast, would loudly proclaim that it was going to investigate a leak, but then would merely go through the motions and abandon the case.

Of course, reporters and sources still had to be careful to avoid detection by the government. But leak investigations were a low priority for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. In fact, before the George W. Bush administration, only one person was ever convicted under the Espionage Act for leaking — Samuel Morison, a Navy analyst arrested in 1984 for giving spy satellite photos of a Soviet aircraft carrier to Jane’s Defense Weekly. He was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

Things began to change in the Bush era, particularly after the Valerie Plame case. The 2003 outing of Ms. Plame as a covert C.I.A. operative led to a criminal leak investigation, which in turn led to a series of high-profile Washington journalists being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and name the officials who had told them about her identity. Judith Miller, then a New York Times reporter, went to jail for nearly three months before finally testifying in the case.

The Plame case began to break down the informal understanding between the government and the news media that leaks would not be taken seriously.

The Obama administration quickly ratcheted up the pressure, and made combating leaks a top priority for federal law enforcement. Large-scale leaks, by Chelsea Manning and later by Edward J. Snowden, prompted the administration to adopt a zealous, prosecutorial approach toward all leaking. Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, recalls that, during a private 2011 meeting intended to air differences between media representatives and administration officials, “You got the impression from the tone of the government officials that they wanted to take a zero-tolerance approach to leaks.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 6:47 pm

How a shy Ph.D. in English literature revolutionized the science of cooking

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Daniel Duane has an interesting article in the LA Times.

The first time I had dinner with Harold McGee, he didn’t touch the food. McGee is the bookish 65-year-old author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, first published in 1984, last revised in 2004, and so dense with gripping material like the denaturing effect of heat on meat proteins that it cannot possibly have been read cover to cover by more than two or three people, McGee included. On Food and Cooking is also a perennial bestseller with hundreds of thousands of copies in print — a bible for home cooks and chefs all over the world and the primary reason that McGee has become the great secret celebrity of the contemporary food scene.

I knew for years that McGee lived in my San Francisco neighborhood, and I had been fantasizing about dinner with him ever since the night I tried to make mayonnaise by putting an egg yolk and a teaspoon of water in a bowl and whisking in half a cup of extra-virgin olive oil. This mixture deteriorated into such a disgusting pool of grease that I threw it out. I cracked a second egg, separated the yolk, added more water, and tried whisking in another half cup of olive oil. Heartbreak again, this time coupled with self-doubt.

I repeated this process five times, ever more certain that something was wrong with me, until I had gone through ten dollars’ worth of oil and all but one of my eggs with only minutes before my dinner guests were due. I owned On Food and Cooking, having bought it long before in the hope of making myself into a superior cook, but I had given up on reading it after repeated runs at Chapter 1: “Milk and Dairy Products.”

The mayo mess broke my OFAC impasse. Frantic, I scanned the index, found my subject between matzo and mead, and read McGee’s primer on emulsified sauces, of which mayonnaise is one. I felt calmed by McGee’s explanation that the essence of an emulsion is the dispersal of oil into a zillion tiny droplets suspended in water, aided by an emulsifier in egg yolks known as lecithin. I felt reassured by the news that fancy olive oil is notoriously temperamental in mayonnaise,  and I nearly wept with relief at the sight of a section titled, “Rescuing a Separated Sauce.” Following McGee’s directions, I put a few tablespoons of water in a cup and then, whisking vigorously, slowly drizzled in my final batch of yolk-speckled oil. Moments later, I emerged as the man I am today, capable of making mayonnaise with confidence.

I promptly bought McGee’s second and third books, The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore (1990) and Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes (2010). I soon experienced similar triumphs — like making french fries that did not fall limp within minutes of leaving my deep-fryer.  I came to think of McGee as an imaginary friend who lived in my kitchen, knew everything, and was happy to share.

I offer this story because it is the quintessential McGee story: OFAC purchase with intent to self-educate; failure of will; years of ignoring book on shelf; culinary crisis leading to Hail Mary reference; success; love. The story is also quintessentially modern, speaking to the widespread belief that data and the scientific method can make us all happier, slimmer, fitter, and better in bed. Results are decidedly mixed — if not terrible — in most of these areas, but cooking’s variables are more knowable and controllable. Cooking involves near-daily experimentation with chemistry (baking soda), physics (heat), and biology (kombucha). Its methods are mostly traditional, too, resulting from a thousand years of unscientific trial and error and therefore rife with easy targets of the kind identified and shot down by McGee in a 1985 article for The New York Times about the time-worn notion that searing meat seals in juices, which turns out to be nonsense.

The language of science, meanwhile, has replaced French classicism as the lingua franca of the culinary world. Major culinary schools offer a food-science major with OFAC on their reading lists, TV shows like Alton Brown’s Good Eats have enshrined the scientific method as the secret to kitchen success, and bestselling books like J. Kenji López-Alt’s The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science describe elaborate experiments proving that burger patties smashed flat on a griddle do not, in fact, turn into hockey pucks. We are living, in other words, through a period of what you might call Peak McGee.

BACK TO THAT first dinner. McGee is working on a new book that he describes somewhat cryptically as “a guide to the smells of the world,” and he fiercely guards his writing time. So I didn’t actually ask him to dinner. I asked if he might consider meeting me for conversation, maybe at a restaurant. The chefs of every fine-dining eatery in San Francisco would have recognized and welcomed him, but he insisted on a modest French bistro called Le Zinc near his home in the Noe Valley neighborhood. McGee apparently likes to take a walk after his writing day. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Books, Food, Recipes

Made-up recipe: Pork Paprikash

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Thea idea for this dish somehow came to mind this morning when I saw the pork shoulder at the supermarket, and so I made it. It’s not exactly original, but I didn’t follow any recipe. Measures tend to be approximate—adjust to suit your own taste. Mark Bittman notes, “Shoulder is a more forgiving cut than loin (even master hybridizers have not been able to breed the fat out of pork shoulder, making it the most reliable cut you can buy in a supermarket).”

3 1/2 lb bone-in pork shoulder (3-4 lbs is probably right; mine was 3.3 lbs)
1 large white onion, chopped
3/4 pound Crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced and allowed to rest 15 minutes
3 tablespoons butter (1.5 ounces)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon dried savory leaves
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1/3 cup heavy cream
8 oz crème fraîche (or substitute sour cream)

Cut pork shoulder into 1″-2″ chunks, discarding bone.

Dice onion and put in large sauté pan with butter and olive oil. Add salt, pepper, and savory.

Sauté for about 8-10 minutes, until soft. Add mushrooms and continue to sauté over medium heat until mushrooms soften and release their liquid. Cook until liquid evaporates.

Add garlic and paprika. Stir and sauté a minute or two, then add the pork.

Cook pork until it is well warmed. (It won’t actually brown, and that’s fine.)

Pour in heavy cream.

Cover and put in 200º oven for four hours.

Stir in crème fraîche and serve.

UPDATE: Soupier than I expected. I was looking for a thick, creamy sauce. Perhaps I should shake the cut-up pork pieces in a bag of seasoned flour. And The Eldest suggests sautéing the mushrooms longer to cook off all the liquid they contain.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

As expected: Judge halts North Carolina law stripping incoming Dem governor’s power

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The power grab by the North Carolina GOP was simply too overt. It was also patently unethical, but the North Carolina GOP doesn’t seem all that concerned about ethics (or morality or justice or even common decency).

Paulina Firozi reports in The Hill:

A North Carolina judge has temporarily blocked a law passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature that limits the incoming governor’s powers over election boards.

A superior court judge ruled Friday that the law restricting the governor’s control over statewide and county election boards was a risk to free and fair elections, The Associated Press reported.

The law would split state and county election boards evenly between the two parties instead of allowing the governor’s party to have a majority.

Gov.-elect Roy Cooper (D) sued Friday to block the law, which passed earlier this month, claiming the law passed by Republican legislators is unconstitutional as it violates separation of powers.

The judge plans to review the law next week, the report said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 2:10 pm

Posted in GOP, Government, Law

The Amateur Cloud Society That (Sort Of) Rattled the Scientific Community

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Jon Mooallem reports in the NY Times:

Gavin Pretor-Pinney decided to take a sabbatical. It was the summer of 2003, and for the last 10 years, as a sideline to his graphic-design business in London, he and a friend had been running a magazine called The Idler. The Idler was devoted to the “literature for loafers.” It argued against busyness and careerism and for the ineffable value of aimlessness, of letting the imagination quietly coast. Pretor-Pinney anticipated all the jokes: that he’d burned out running a magazine devoted to doing nothing, and so on. But it was true. Getting the magazine out was taxing, and after a decade, it seemed appropriate to stop for a while and live without a plan — to be an idler himself and shake free space for fresh ideas. So he swapped his flat in London for one in Rome, where everything would be new and anything could happen.

Pretor-Pinney is 47, towering and warm, with a sandy beard and pale blue eyes. His face is often totally lit up, as if he’s being told a story and can feel some terrific surprise coming. He stayed in Rome for seven months and loved it, especially all the religious art. One thing he noticed: The paintings and frescoes he encountered were crowded with clouds. They were everywhere, he told me recently, “these voluptuous clouds, like the sofas of the saints.” But outside, when Pretor-Pinney looked up, the real Roman sky was usually devoid of clouds. He wasn’t accustomed to such endless, blue emptiness. He was an Englishman; he was accustomed to clouds. He remembered, as a child, being enchanted by them and deciding that people must climb long ladders to harvest cotton from them. Now, in Rome, he couldn’t stop thinking about clouds. “I found myself missing them,” he told me.

Clouds. It was a bizarre preoccupation, perhaps even a frivolous one, but he didn’t resist it. He went with it, as he often does, despite not having a specific goal or even a general direction in mind; he likes to see where things go. When Pretor-Pinney returned to London, he talked about clouds constantly. He walked around admiring them, learned their scientific names and the meteorological conditions that shape them and argued with friends who complained they were oppressive or drab. He was realizing, as he later put it, that “clouds are not something to moan about. They are, in fact, the most dynamic, evocative and poetic aspect of nature.”

Slowing down to appreciate clouds enriched his life and sharpened his ability to appreciate other pockets of beauty hiding in plain sight. At the same time, Pretor-Pinney couldn’t help noting, we were entering an era in which miraculousness was losing its meaning. Novel, purportedly amazing things ricocheted around the Internet so quickly that, as he put it, we can now all walk around with an attitude like, “Well, I’ve just seen a panda doing something unusual online, what’s going to amaze me now?” His fascination with clouds was teaching him that “it’s much better for our souls to realize we can be amazed and delighted by what’s around us.”

At the end of 2004, a friend invited Pretor-Pinney to give a talk about clouds at a small literary festival in Cornwall. The previous year, there were more speakers than attendees, so Pretor-Pinney wanted an alluring title for his talk, to draw a crowd. “Wouldn’t it be funny,” he thought, “to have a society that defends clouds against the bad rap they get — that stands up for clouds?” So he called it “The Inaugural Lecture of the Cloud Appreciation Society.” And it worked. Standing room only! Afterward, people came up to him and asked for more information about the Cloud Appreciation Society. They wanted to join the society. “And I had to tell them, well, I haven’t really got a society,” Pretor-Pinney said.

He set up a website. It was simple. There was a gallery for posting photographs of clouds, a membership form and a florid manifesto. (“We believe that clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them,” it began.) Pretor-Pinney wasn’t offering members of his new Cloud Appreciation Society any perks or activities, but to keep it all from feeling ephemeral or imaginary, as many things on the Internet do, he eventually decided that membership should cost $15 and that members would receive a badge and certificate in the mail. He recognized that joining an online Cloud Appreciation Society that only nominally existed might appear ridiculous, but it was important to him that it not feel meaningless.

Within a couple of months, the society had 2,000 paying members. Pretor-Pinney was surprised and ecstatic. Then, Yahoo placed the Cloud Appreciation Society first on its 2005 list of Britain’s “Weird and Wonderful websites.” People kept clicking on that clickbait, which wasn’t necessarily surprising, but thousands of them also clicked through to Pretor-Pinney’s own website, then paid for memberships. Other news sites noticed. They did their own articles about the Cloud Appreciation Society, and people followed the links in those articles too. Previously, Pretor-Pinney proposed writing a book about clouds and was rejected by 28 editors. Now he was a viral sensation with a vibrant online constituency; he got a deal to write a book about clouds.

The writing process was agonizing. On top of not actually being a writer, he was a brutal perfectionist. But “The Cloudspotter’s Guide,” published in 2006, was full of glee and wonder. Pretor-Pinney relays, for example, the story of the United States Marine pilot who, in 1959, ejected from his fighter jet over Virginia and during the 40 minutes it took him to reach the ground was blown up and down through a cumulonimbus cloud about as high as Mount Everest. He surveys clouds in art history and Romantic poetry and compares one exceptionally majestic formation in Australia to “Cher in the brass armor bikini and gold Viking helmet outfit she wore on the sleeve of her 1979 album ‘Take Me Home.’ ” In the middle of the book, there’s a cloud quiz. Question No. 5 asks of a particular photograph, “What is it that’s so pleasing about this layer of stratocumulus?” The answer Pretor-Pinney supplies is “It is pleasing for whatever reason you find it to be.”

The book became a best seller. There were more write-ups, more clicks, more Cloud Appreciation Society members. And that cycle would keep repeating, sporadically, for years, whenever an editor or blogger happened to discover the society and set it off again. (There are now more than 40,000 paid members.) The media tended to present it as one more amusing curiosity, worth delighting over and sharing before moving on. That is, Pretor-Pinney’s organization was being tossed like a pebble, again and again, into the same bottomless pool of interchangeable online content that he was trying to coax people away from by lifting their gaze skyward. But that was O.K. with him; he understood that it’s just how the Internet works. He wasn’t cynical about it, and he didn’t feel his message was being cheapened either. It felt as if he were observing the whole thing from afar, and he tried to appreciate it.

Then Pretor-Pinney noticed something odd. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 10:06 am

Posted in Daily life

Our journalists are failing us: Washington Post has a false and hysterical story about Russians hacking into a Vermont power grid

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Here’s the report, by Juliet Eilperin and Adam Entous, the Chicken Little reporters who went from a hacked laptop not connected to any grid to a sky-is-falling report about Russia hacking our entire energy grid. In the fourth paragraph that do note that it was just some laptop that was hacked, but that fact barely seems to register in their fear-stoking report written in a hysterical register.

Glenn Greenwald does a good takedown of the report. As he notes, malware is passed around and purchased, and he notes:

. . . There was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid.” The truth was undramatic and banal. Burlington Electric, after receiving a Homeland Security notice sent to all U.S. utility companies about the malware code found in the DNC system, searched all their computers and found the code in a single laptop that was not connected to the electric grid.

Apparently, the Post did not even bother to contact the company before running its wildly sensationalistic claims, so they had to issue their own statement to the Burlington Free Press which debunked the Post’s central claim (emphasis in original): “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop NOT connected to our organization’s grid systems.”

So the key scary claim of the Post story – that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid – was false. All the alarmist tough-guy statements issued by political officials who believed the Post’s claim were based on fiction.

Even worse, there is zero evidence that Russian hackers were responsible even for the implanting of this malware on this single laptop. The fact that malware is “Russian-made” does not mean that only Russians can use it; indeed, like a lot of malware, it can purchased (as Jeffrey Carr has pointed out in the DNC hacking context, assuming that Russian-made malware must have been used by Russians is as irrational as finding a Russian-made Kalishnikov AKM rifle at a crime scene and assuming the killer must be Russian).

As the actual truth emerged once the utility company issued its statement, the Post rushed to fix its embarrassment, beginning by dramatically changing its headline. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 9:57 am

Posted in Media, Washington Post

Wrapping the year with a great shave: Van Yulay Puros de Habana, the 102, and Phoenix Artisan Sun Down balm

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Van Yulay’s Puros de Habana shaving soap has the fragrance of a fine Cuban cigar, and with the Maggard 24mm synthetic brush shown, it made a fine lather. Its ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera, Coconut Fatty Acid, Castor, Glycerin, Potassium Hydroxide, Babassu-Manteca-Argan-Abyssinian-Coconut Oils, Kokum & Cocoa Butters, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Sodium Lactate, Allantoin, Silica, Liquid Silk, Bentonite Clay, Tobacco Absolute, and Fragrance.

I have no idea what Manteca oil is. Manteca is the Spanish word for butter, and if butter is what it is, then this is not a vegan soap. (I have emailed the vendor and asked for clarification.) UPDATE: She uses “manteca” for lard (in effect, more or less the same as “tallow”—just from a pig and not a cow). I did note that “manteca de cerdo” is Spanish for “lard.” So not a vegan soap. /update

I have been enjoying the iKon 102 a lot of late, and I got another wonderful shave from it. I asked on Wicked_Edge about the clogging that some people mention. Some who responded have never experienced the problem, but some have. The possible causes are (a) the use shave oil (at least one person found that the 102 consistently clogged when he used shave oil, never clogged when he didn’t), (b) using hard water to make lather (it’s possible to lather in hard water, but the chemical process that produces a sticky scum when soap and hard water are mixed cannot be avoided, and this stickiness might cause the clogging), (c) lather is simply too dry.

The fact is that I have no idea of the real cause, but it’s interesting how it is a problem for some and never happens for others.

It didn’t happen for me again today, and the shave was perfect. I used a tiny bit of my sample of Phoenix Artisan’s Sun Down aftershave balm, his take on the vintage Sun Up aftershave fragrance. The upside-down rooster on the label tricked me in my still sleepy state, and I took the photo with the rooster in a more comfortable posture.

These aftershave balms from Phoenix Artisan dry off remarkably well and quite quickly. Within a few minutes the initial slick feel is gone, and when you feel your face you find your skin is dry and very soft and pleasant to the touch. I’m not a balm guy, but I do like these.

BTW, just to be clear: I’m just a customer of these artisans, and there’s no sort of kickback from recommendations. I recommend products I like, and I include links to make it easy for the reader, but I get no sort of compensation in the form of money, discounts, or the like. I do get the occasional free sample, but in that I am no different from other customers.

Here’s hoping the new year goes well.


Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 9:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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