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

“Code of Silence” revisited: An update on the Watts investigation

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Although criminal police officers are a minority, the majority protects them with the “code of silence” and retaliation against investigators attempting to catch and convict criminal officers. Jamie Kalven reports in The Intercept on efforts in Chicago to catch a criminal gang of police officers.

ON OCTOBER 6, The Intercept published “Code of Silence,” a four-part investigation of a far-reaching criminal enterprise within the Chicago Police Department. For more than a decade, a team of gang tactical officers led by Sgt. Ronald Watts were major players in the drug trade radiating out from public housing developments on Chicago’s South Side. In exchange for a “tax,” Watts and his gang protected drug dealers from interference by law enforcement, targeted their competition, and fed the drugs they seized to dealers aligned with them. In pursuit of their criminal ends, they routinely framed those who did not cooperate by planting drugs on them and are rumored to have had a hand in the murders of two drug dealers who defied them.

Over the course of Watts’s career, he and his team were investigated by multiple agencies — CPD’s Internal Affairs, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the States Attorney’s Office. For several years, two Chicago police officers, Shannon Spalding and Danny Echeverria, participated in a joint FBI-Internal Affairs investigation, which they claim was ultimately derailed by senior CPD officials. Among other things, they allege that deputy superintendent Ernest Brown, long rumored to be an ally and protector of Watts, made it known within the department that they were engaged in an internal investigation, prompting other CPD brass to order officers under their commands to retaliate against them as “Internal Affairs rats.”

In the end, Watts and his partner Kallatt Mohammed were caught in an FBI-IAD sting and charged with a single count of stealing government property (the bait used in the sting). They pleaded guilty and received sentences — 18 months and 22 months respectively — that represented a small fraction of the time served by some of those they falsely arrested.

At the end of the article, I posed a series of open questions about the scope of the criminal activities of Watts and his co-conspirators, the fate of their many victims, and the operation of the code of silence at the highest levels of the CPD. Several recent developments since the publication of “Code of Silence” give reason to hope some of those questions will receive definitive answers.

Settlement of Spalding-Echeverria Suit

On October 31, the Finance Committee of the Chicago City Council approved settlement of a whistleblower suit brought by Spalding and Echeverria. The $2 million settlement was presented by First Deputy Corporation Counsel Jenny Notz. When it was first announced on May 31 that the parties had agreed to settle, there was widespread speculation that the city was seeking to head off the possibility Mayor Rahm Emanuel would be compelled to testify about his statement, in the wake of the Laquan McDonald implosion, that a code of silence exists with the CPD. In her presentation to the committee, however, Notz did not mention the mayor. Rather, she said the city had decided to settle the case because recent developments had damaged the credibility of two high-ranking police officials, one of them a defendant and the other “a key CPD witness.”

The defendant, Notz told the aldermen, had “resigned in December of 2015 before the police department initiated disciplinary proceedings against him” for falsifying evidence in another case. Although she did not name him, this was a reference to Joseph Salemme, formerly commander of the fugitive apprehension unit, who at the time of his retirement had been promoted to chief of detectives by former superintendent Garry McCarthy.

Salemme resigned after the inspector general of Chicago recommended he be disciplined for his role in investigating a homicide committed by a nephew of Mayor Richard M. Daley. He had been among the authors of a report recommending the case be closed without any charges that relied heavily on a fabricated witness statement.

Notz then turned to the witness, “who would have rebutted some of the plaintiffs’ most serious allegations relating to their experiences in the narcotics unit,” had he not been indicted on perjury charges in one case and “falsified another officer’s CPD records in another.” The officer’s name is James Padar. According to Spalding and Echeverria, it was Padar who first informed them that commander O’Grady had instructed officers under his command, “You are not to work with those IAD rats.” In March, interim superintendent John Escalante recommended that Padar be terminated. (On December 7, a judge found Padar not guilty on the perjury charge.)

A settlement is not an admission of liability. Yet it can provide a window on the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments the parties would have presented, had the case gone to trial. In this instance, the city would have been in the unenviable position of seeking to counter claims regarding the operation of the code of silence in the Spalding-Echeverria case with testimony by officers found to have falsified official reports in other cases.

After listening to Notz describe the vulnerabilities in the city’s case, Alderman Edward Burke, chairman of the committee and a staunch political ally of the CPD, had a question. “Why are they settling for only $2 million,” he asked, “if they had the potential to hit it out of the park?”

A Plan to Review Wrongful Convictions

On November 29, represented by Joshua Tepfer of the Exoneration Project, I filed a petition requesting that the chief of the Cook County criminal court appoint a special master to identify valid claims of wrongful conviction arising from false arrests by Watts and his team.  On December 6, we reached agreement in principle with the States Attorney’s Office about this strategy. We will meet in early January to work out the details and will present our plan to the court on January 18. The city has said it will not oppose the petition.

Appointment of a special master is a rarely used legal mechanism. A notable instance of its use in Cook County was the appointment of a special master to identify valid claims of police torture by commander Jon Burge and officers under his command. Unlike a special prosecutor, the argument for a special master does not hinge on showing the prosecutor has a conflict of interest. (In this case, both the outgoing and incoming states attorneys have been responsive to concerns about wrongful convictions due to Watts and his team.) Rather, it is a means of increasing the capacity of prosecutors to review the hundreds of cases in which individuals may have been framed by Watts and members of his team.

The need for such a systematic review was dramatized on December 14 when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 6:37 pm

What a great movie: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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I just rewatched it, and what a very great movie it is. And it’s on Netflix.

Interesting how the story mode of fable and myth enables certain things. The three sirens for the three men: you couldn’t use that in regular fiction because too coincidental, whereas in fable and myth it is not coincidental, it’s inevitable. And also efficient: no backstory required.

The countryside is like the sea: long stretches with no people, then separated encounters and adventures.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Does Information Have a Smell?

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In the NY Review of Books Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks continue their conversation about consciousness:

In our first two dialogues, we presented the standard, or “internalist” version of how our conscious experience of the world comes about: very bluntly, it assumes that the brain receives “inputs” from the sense organs—eyes, ears, nose, etc.—and transforms them into the physical phenomenon we know as consciousness, perhaps the single most important phenomenon of our lives. We also pointed out, particularly with reference to color perception, how difficult it has been for scientists to demonstrate how, or even whether, this really happens. Neuro­scientists can correlate activity in the brain with specific kinds of experience, but they cannot say this activity is the experience. In fact, the neural activity relating to one experience often seems nearly indistinguishable from the neural activity relating to another quite different experience. So we remain unsure where or how consciousness happens. All the same, the internalist model remains dominant and continues to be taught in textbooks and broadcast to a wider public in TV documentaries and popular non-fiction books. So our questions today are: Why this apparent consensus in the absence of convincing evidence? And what new ideas are internalists exploring to advance the science?

—Tim Parks


Tim Parks: Riccardo, I know I should be asking the questions, not answering them. But I’m going to suggest that one reason for this consensus is that we are in thrall to the analogy of the brain as computer. For example, a recent paper I was reading about the neural activity that correlates with the sense of smell begins, “The lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC) computes and transfers olfactory information from the olfactory bulb to the hippocampus.” Words like “input,” “output,” “code,” “encoding,” and “decoding” abound. It all sounds so familiar, as if we knew exactly what was going on.

Riccardo Manzotti: We must distinguish between internalism as an approach to the problem of consciousness (the idea that it is entirely produced in the head) and neuroscience as a discipline. The neuroscientists have made huge progress in mapping out the brain and analyzing the nitty-gritty of what goes on there, which neurons are firing impulses in which rhythms to which others, what chemical exchanges are involved, and so on. But you are right, the way they describe their experiments by way of a computer analogy—in particular of information processing and memory storage—can give the mistaken impression that they’re getting nearer to understanding what consciousness is.

When physiologists address other parts of the body—the immune system, the kidneys, our blood circulation—they don’t feel the need to use anything but the language of biology. Read a paper on, say, the liver, and it will be talking about biochemical mechanisms—metabolites, ion homeo­stasis, acetaminophen poisoning, sepsis, infection, fibrosis, and the like, all terms that refer to actual physical circumstances. Yet, when dealing with the brain, we suddenly find that neurons are processing “information,” rather than chemicals.

Parks: Is this because while we know what other organs are doing—I mean, which physical processes in the body each is responsible for—we’re not sure what all this neural activity is for?

Manzotti: On the contrary. We know very well that neural activity controls behavior, the nervous system having evolved to meet complex external circumstances with appropriate reactions. The question is, did it also evolve to orchestrate an internal mental theater for us—David Chalmers’s “movie-in-the-head”? Or to “process information”? Stanislas Dehaene and Jean Pierre Changeux, two leading neuroscientists, recently claimed that to explain consciousness we must show “how an external or internal piece of information goes beyond nonconscious processing and gains access to conscious processing, a transition characterized by the existence of a reportable subjective experience.” There’s barely a word here that refers to anything physical.

Parks: But is it really not possible to connect the notion of information with chemical exchanges occurring in the brain? Surely when we use a computer the information input is moved along toward the output through electrical signals. Can’t this also be the case with the brain? Hasn’t the philosopher Luciano Floridi claimed that “information is a physical phenomenon, subject to the laws of thermodynamics”?

Manzotti: Listen, when something physically exists and obeys the laws of thermodynamics, then you can find it, concretely. Electrons were predicted to exist and then found. Likewise the planet Neptune and a host of other things. But information, or data, is not a thing. It’s an idea we stipulated because it served a certain purpose, but it doesn’t exist physically, as an entity in its own right in the causal chain. Brutally, when we look inside a computer, or a brain, we don’t see or even detect information. Or data. We see physical stuff: voltage levels in a computer, chemicals in the brain.

Parks: So what you’re saying is that everything that goes on in a computer or in a brain could be fully and properly described without resorting to words like information or data?

Manzotti: Absolutely. Imagine you’re describing a battery; you will have to refer to electricity. It is an indispensable part of the thing. But, when you describe what the brain or even a calculator does, everything can be exhaustively described in terms of causal processes, chemical releases, and voltage changes without ever using the word information.

Parks: But then what is information? How can Floridi make the claims he does? What part can information have in the consciousness debate?

Manzotti: Obviously there is the definition of the word in common use: “facts, data, communicated about something.” The bus leaves at six. Yesterday it rained. The cash machine is out of order. That meaning has been around in English since the fifteenth century.

Parks: And? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The mysterious virus that can cause obesity

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Obesity doubtless has multiple causes, but some scientists are now focused on the possibility in some cases a virus could be at fault. The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You is a book by Sylvia Tara that discusses this. Wired magazine has an excerpt from that book:

RANDY IS 62 years old and stands tall at six foot one. He grew up on a farm in Glasford, Illinois, in the 1950s. Randy was raised with the strong discipline of a farming family. From the time he was five, he would get out of bed at dawn, and before breakfast he’d put on his boots and jeans to milk cows, lift hay, and clean the chicken coops. Day in and out, no matter the weather or how he felt, Randy did his physically demanding chores. Only when his work was complete would he come into the kitchen for breakfast.

Tending to the chickens was hard work—it involved getting into the pen, clearing birds out of their dirty cages, and shooing them into a holding enclosure. This process was always a little scary because the animals could be quite aggressive after being cooped up all night. On one of these occasions, when Randy was 11, a particularly large and perturbed rooster swung its claw and gave him a good spurring on his leg. Randy felt the piercing of his skin and squealed in pain. He said it felt like being gored by a thick fishhook. The rooster left a long gash, and blood streamed down Randy’s leg to his ankle. He ran back to the house to clean the wound, as chickens are filthy after a night in their cages.

Some days later, Randy noticed a change in his appetite. He was constantly hungry. He felt drawn to food and thought about it all the time. He started eating in between meals and overeating when he finally sat down to dinner. Randy had always been a skinny kid, but in the course of the next year, he gained about 10 pounds. His parents thought it might be puberty, though it seemed a little early. His pudginess was also unusual given that everyone else in the family was thin. Randy was no stranger to discipline. He forced himself to eat less, switched to lower-calorie foods and exercised more. But by the time he was a teenager, he was bouncing between 30 and 40 pounds overweight. He says, “I gained all of this weight even though these were some of my most active years on the farm.”

Randy’s family supported his efforts to control his weight. They made lower-calorie foods, gave him time to exercise, and didn’t pressure him to eat things he didn’t want. However, he continued to struggle with his weight through college. Randy kept thinking back to the moment everything changed. He had been the skinniest kid among his friends. And then he got cut by that chicken.

The Curious Case of Indian Chickens

In Mumbai, India, Nikhil Dhurandhar followed his father Vinod’s footsteps in treating obesity. But Nikhil ran into the same obstacle that had bedeviled obesity doctors everywhere. “The problem was that I was not able to produce something for patients that could have meaningful weight loss that was sustainable for a long time,” he says. “Patients kept coming back.”

Fate intervened in Dhurandhar’s life one day was when he was meeting his father and a family friend, S. M. Ajinkya, a veterinary pathologist, for tea. Ajinkya described an epidemic then blazing through the Indian poultry industry killing thousands of chickens. He had identified the virus and named it using, in part, his own initials—SMAM-1. Upon necropsy, Ajinkya explained, the chickens were found to have shrunken thymuses, enlarged kidneys and livers, and fat deposited in the abdomen. Dhurandhar thought this was unusual because typically viruses cause weight loss, not gain. Ajinkya was about to go on, but Dhurandhar stopped him: “You just said something that doesn’t sound right to me. You said that the chickens had a lot of fat in their abdomen. Is it possible that the virus was making them fat?”

Ajinkya answered honestly, “I don’t know,” and urged Dhurandhar to study the question. That fateful conversation set Dhurandhar on a path to investigate as part of his PhD project whether a virus could cause fat.

Dhurandhar pushed ahead and arranged an experiment using 20 healthy chickens. He infected half of them with SMAM-1 and left the other half uninfected. During the experiment, both groups of chickens consumed the same amount of food. By the end of the experiment, only the chickens infected with the SMAM-1 virus had become fat. However, even though the infected chickens were fatter, they had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in their blood than the uninfected birds. “It was quite paradoxical,” Dhurandhar remembers, “because if you have a fatter chicken, you would expect them to have greater cholesterol and circulating triglycerides, but instead those levels went in the wrong direction.”

To confirm the results, he set up a repeat experiment, this time using 100 chickens. Again, only the chickens with the SMAM-1 virus in their blood became fat. Dhurandhar was intrigued. A virus, it seemed, was causing obesity. Dhurandhar thought of a way to test this. He arranged three groups of chickens in separate cages: one group that was not infected, a second group that was infected with the virus, and a third group that caged infected and uninfected chickens together. Within three weeks, the uninfected chickens that shared a cage with infected ones had caught the virus and gained a significant amount of body fat compared to the isolated uninfected birds.

Fat, it seemed, could indeed be contagious.

Now, Dhurandhar is a man of science. He is rational and calm. But even he had to admit that the idea was startling. Does this mean that sneezing on somebody can transmit obesity? This now seemed possible in animals, but what about humans? Injecting the virus into people would be unethical, but Dhurandhar did have a way to test patients to see if they had contracted the virus in the past.

Dhurandhar says, “At that time I had my obesity clinic, and I was doing blood tests for patients for their treatment. I thought I might just as well take a little bit of blood and test for antibodies to SMAM-1. Antibodies would indicate whether the patient was infected in the past with SMAM-1. The conventional wisdom is that an adenovirus for chickens does not infect humans, but I decided to check anyway. It turned out that 20 percent of the people we tested were positive for antibodies for SMAM-1. And those 20 percent were heavier, had greater body mass index and lower cholesterol and lower triglycerides compared to the antibody-negative individuals, just as the chickens had.” Dhurandhar observed that people who had been infected with SMAM-1 were on average 33 pounds heavier than those who weren’t infected.

The Pounds Keep Coming

While Nikhil Dhurandhar was in India pursuing his curiosity about fat, Randy was looking for solutions of his own. After a brief stint as a teacher he moved back to the family land in 1977 because he loved farming.

Randy married and had four children. At family dinners and holiday gatherings, he ate alongside everyone else, but tried eating less than the others. Still, his weight ballooned; by his late 30s he had topped 300 pounds. He remembers feeling hungry all the time, though even when he abstained it didn’t help him lose weight. “I could have several good weeks of eating stringently, much less than others around me, but if I went off my diet for just one meal—boom, the weight would come back.”

The effort to control his eating, even when it was successful, made Randy miserable: “I can’t tell you what it is like to be hungry all the time. It is an ongoing stress. Try it. Most people who give advice don’t have to feel it.”

In the fall of 1989, Randy applied for a commercial driver’s license. The application required a medical exam. After his urine test, the nurse asked Randy if he felt all right. “Normal for the day,” he replied. But the nurse told Randy he would have to give a blood sample because she thought the lab had spilled glucose solution into his urine sample. The blood work showed that Randy’s glucose level was near 500 mg/dL (a normal reading is 100). The lab hadn’t made a mistake with the urine sample after all; Randy’s numbers were just off the charts. Alarmed, the nurse notified Randy’s doctor, who then tested him for fasting blood sugar levels. The results showed that Randy had insulin resistance and severe diabetes.

At 40 years old and 350 pounds, Randy was in trouble. If he didn’t fix this problem soon, he would start to develop serious complications of diabetes, including cardiovascular disease and nerve damage.

Having tried and failed multiple diets, Randy and his doctor decided the best hope was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 11:55 am

Rethinking The Cost of War

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The blurb: “What if casualties don’t end on the battlefield, but extend to future generations? Our reporting this year suggests the government may not want to know the answer.” The ProPublica article is by Mike Hixenbaugh and Charles Ornstein:

There are many ways to measure the cost of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War: In bombs (7 million tons), in dollars ($760 billion in today’s dollars) and in bodies (58,220).

Then there’s the price of caring for those who survived: Each year, the Department of Veterans Affairs spends more than $23 billion compensating Vietnam-era veterans for disabilities linked to their military service — a repayment of a debt that’s supported by most Americans.

But what if the casualties don’t end there?

The question has been at the heart of reporting by The Virginian-Pilot and ProPublicaover the past 18 months as we’ve sought to reexamine the lingering consequences of Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide sprayed by the millions of gallons over Vietnam.

We’ve written about ailing Navy veterans fighting to prove they were exposed to the chemicals off Vietnam’s coast. About widows left to battle the VA for benefits after their husbands died of brain cancer. About scores of children who struggle with strange, debilitating health problems and wonder if the herbicide that sickened their fathers has also affected them.

Along the way, we noticed some themes: For decades, the federal government has resisted addressing these issues, which could ultimately cost billions of dollars in new disability claims. When science does suggest a connection, the VA has hesitated to take action, instead weighing political and financial costs. And in some cases, officials have turned to a known skeptic of Agent Orange’s deadly effects to guide the VA’s decisions.

Frustrated vets summarize the VA’s position this way: “Delay, deny, wait till I die.”

This month, after repeated recommendations by federal scientific advisory panels, Congress passed a bill directing the VA to pursue research into toxic exposures and their potential effects across generations. But even that will take years to produce results, years some ailing vets don’t have.

The questions we’ve posed have no easy answers. But science — and our own analysis of internal VA data — increasingly points to the possibility that Agent Orange exposure might have led to health problems in the children of veterans. And we can’t help but think of the words displayed at the entrance to the VA headquarters in Washington: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

We noticed the phrase, a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, during an evening stroll through D.C. in June, a day before hosting a forum on Agent Orange’s generational effects and policy implications. With us that night was Stephen M. Katz, the Virginian-Pilot photographer who initiated our reporting project when he shared the story of his estranged father, a Vietnam vet who’d gotten back in touch to warn that he’d sprayed Agent Orange.

Does the VA’s motto apply to Katz? His brother born before the war is healthy. At 46, Katz suffers from myriad health problems, including a heart defect, type-2 diabetes, an underactive thyroid, immune and endocrine deficiencies, and a nerve disorder that severely limits the use of his right hand.

What about the thousands of other children of Vietnam veterans who shared their stories with us over the past year? What about the children of Gulf War veterans exposed to depleted uranium? The children of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans exposed to toxic burn pits? The children of future service members exposed to yet unknown toxins on the modern battlefield?

What responsibility — if any — does a nation have to those who weren’t drafted into service, but who may have been harmed nonetheless?

We posed the question to Dr. Ralph Erickson, the VA’s chief consultant of post-deployment health services, who’s involved with the agency’s research efforts. Erickson, who’s had the job since last year, wouldn’t comment on the VA’s past reluctance to study these issues, saying only that his team is committed to it.

And if research someday proves a wartime exposure has harmed veterans’ children or grandchildren? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 11:47 am

15 tips to strengthen your willpower, just in time to shore up your resolutions

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Dan Colman has a good post in Open Culture, and it includes a video. Worth the click. From the post (though there’s more at the link):

For those of you who don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can find McGonigal’s ideas presented in a recent book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Below, we have highlighted 15 of Dr. McGonigal’s strategies for increasing your willpower reserves and making your New Year’s resolution endure.

  1. Will power is like a muscle. The more you work on developing it, the more you can incorporate it into your life. It helps, McGonigal says in this podcast, to start with small feats of willpower before trying to tackle more difficult feats. Ideally, find the smallest change that’s consistent with your larger goal, and start there.

  2. Choose a goal or resolution that you really want, not a goal that someone else desires for you, or a goal that you think you should want. Choose a positive goal that truly comes from within and that contributes to something important in life.

  3. Willpower is contagious. Find a willpower role model — someone who has accomplished what you want to do. Also try to surround yourself with family members, friends or groups who can support you. Change is often not made alone.

  4. Know that people have more willpower when they wake up, and then willpower steadily declines throughout the day as people fatigue. So try to accomplish what you need to — for example, exercise — earlier in the day. Then watch out for the evenings, when bad habits can return.

  5. Understand that stress and willpower are incompatible. Any time we’re under stress it’s harder to find our willpower. According to McGonigal, “the fight-or-flight response floods the body with energy to act instinctively and steals it from the areas of the brain needed for wise decision-making. Stress also encourages you to focus on immediate, short-term goals and outcomes, but self-control requires keeping the big picture in mind.” The upshot? “Learning how to better manage your stress is one of the most important things you can do to improve your willpower.” When you get stressed out, go for a walk. Even a five minute walk outside can reduce your stress levels, boost your mood, and help you replenish your willpower reserves.

  6. Sleep deprivation (less than six hours a night) makes it so that the prefrontal cortex loses control over the regions of the brain that create cravings. Science shows that getting just one more hour of sleep each night (eight hours is ideal) helps recovering drug addicts avoid a relapse. So it can certainly help you resist a doughnut or a cigarette.

  7. Also remember that nutrition plays a key role. “Eating a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to the brain and can improve every aspect of willpower from overcoming procrastination to sticking to a New Year’s resolution,” McGonigal says.

  8. Don’t think it will be different tomorrow. McGonigal notes that we have a tendency to think that we will have more willpower, energy, time, and motivation tomorrow. The problem is that “if we think we have the opportunity to make a different choice tomorrow, we almost always ‘give in’ to temptation or habit today.”

  9. Acknowledge and understand your cravings rather than denying them. That will take you further in the end. The video above has more on that.

  10. Imagine the things that could get in the way of achieving your goal. Understand the tendencies you have that could lead you to break your resolution. Don’t be overly optimistic and assume the road will be easy.

  11. Know your limits, and plan for them. Says McGonigal, “People who think they have the most self-control are the most likely to fail at their resolutions; they put themselves in tempting situations, don’t get help, give up at setbacks. You need to know how you fail; how you are tempted; how you procrastinate.”

  12. Pay attention to small choices that add up. “One study found that the average person thinks they make 14 food choices a day; they actually make over 200. When you aren’t aware that you’re making a choice, you’ll almost always default to habit/temptation.” It’s important to figure out when you have opportunities to make a choice consistent with your goals.

  13. Be specific but flexible. It’s good to know your goal and how you’ll get there. But, she cautions, “you should leave room to revise these steps if they turn out to be unsustainable or don’t lead to the benefits you expected.”

  14. Give yourself small, healthy rewards along the way. Research shows that the mind responds well to it. (If you’re trying to quite smoking, the reward shouldn’t be a cigarette, by the way.)

  15. Finally, if you experience a setback, don’t be hard on yourself. Although it seems counter-intuitive, studies show that people who experience shame/guilt are much more likely to break their resolutions than ones who cut themselves some slack. In a nutshell, you should “Give up guilt.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 11:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Law-enforcement links from Radley Balko

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Radley Balko posts links in the Washington Post. Here arethose posted this morning:

  • Pennsylvania prosecutors drop murder charges against two former death-row inmates who have protested their innocence for decades.
  • From the “watching the watchers” files: New crowdsourced project aims to track how police collect and use data from social media sites.
  • Video appears to show off-duty Texas police officers shooting a man as he was walking away. They were apparently looking for robbery suspects. The man wasn’t implicated in the robbery.
  • Incredible Justice Department report finds brazen and systemic police abuse in Louisiana. Officers in two departments made hundreds of “secret” arrests without probable cause. The arrests typically included strip-searches, and arrestees could be held for days without access to a lawyer. Most were based on little more than an officer’s hunch, after which the arrestee would be pressured to confess.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 10:53 am

A great site for chessplayers

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It even helps you learn from your own mistakes (as well as the mistakes of others) through computer analysis of the play of the game. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 9:59 am

Posted in Games

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Wet Shaving Products Monarch, pre-reformulation Trumper Sandalwood, and the esteemed Dorco PL602

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SOTD 2016-12-30

Sandalwood is one of the fragrances that produces a skin reaction—skin turns red and hot for a few minutes—for some men, but thankfully does not affect me. This WSP Monarch did a fine job, and the lather was quite good.

The Dorco PL602 is well worth a try, and it’s not at all expensive. The user Fed_up_with_reddit remarked recently:

The PL-602 shaves like a Gillette adjustable on 4 or 5, but feels like a 1.

Three passes to a perfectly smooth finish, with no problems at all. The PL602 applies extreme curvature to the blade, just as does the RazoRock Baby Smooth, and since the two shave much alike, I suspect that curvature is the secret.

A good splash of TOBS Sandalwood finished the shave and left me feeling good about the day already.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2016 at 8:40 am

Posted in Shaving

David Fahrenthold tells the behind-the-scenes story of his year covering Trump

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And a fascinating story it is. He reports in the Washington Post:

“Arnold and Tim, if you’d come up, we’re going to give you a nice, beautiful check,” Donald Trump said. He held up an oversize check, the kind they give to people who win golf tournaments. It was for $100,000. In the top-left corner the check said: “The Donald J. Trump Foundation.”

Along the bottom, it had the slogan of Trump’s presidential campaign: “Make America Great Again.”

This was in February.

The beginning of it.

Trump was in Waterloo, Iowa, for a caucus-day rally at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center — named for five local siblings who had been assigned to the same Navy cruiser in World War II. They all died when the ship went down at Guadalcanal.

Trump had stopped his rally to do something presidential candidates don’t normally do. He was giving away money.

Arnold and Tim, whom he had called to the stage, were from a local veterans group. Although their big check had Trump’s name on it, it wasn’t actually Trump’s money. Instead, the cash had been raised from other donors a few days earlier, at a televised fundraiser that Trump had held while he skipped a GOP debate because of a feud with Fox News.

Trump said he had raised $6 million that night, including a $1 million gift from his own pocket. Now Trump was giving it, a little at a time, to charities in the towns where he held campaign events.

“See you in the White House,” one of the men said to Trump, leaving the stage with this check that married a nonprofit’s name and a campaign’s slogan.

“He said, ‘We’ll see you in the White House,’ ” Trump repeated to the crowd. “That’s nice.”

After that, Trump lost Iowa.

He won New Hampshire.

Then he stopped giving away money.

But as far as I could tell, just over $1.1 million had been given away. Far less than what Trump said he raised. And there was no sign of the $1 million Trump had promised from his own pocket.

So what happened to the rest of the money?

It sounded like an easy question that the Trump campaign could answer quickly. I thought I’d be through with the story in a day or two.

I was wrong.

That was the start of nine months of work for me, trying to dig up the truth about a part of Trump’s life that he wanted to keep secret. I didn’t understand — and I don’t think Trump understood, either — where that one check, and that one question, would lead.

I’ve been a reporter for The Washington Post since 2000, covering everything from homicide scenes in the District to Congress to the World Championship Muskrat Skinning Contest. (People race to see who skins a dead muskrat the fastest. There’s also a beauty pageant. Some women compete in both.)

By the time I got to that Trump event in Waterloo, I’d been covering the 2016 presidential election for 13 months, since the last weeks of 2014. But I had the track record of a mummy’s curse: Just about every campaign I had touched was dead.

I had, for instance, covered former New York governor George Pataki’s (failed) attempt to get people to recognize him in a New Hampshire Chipotle. Pataki dropped out. I read the collected works of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and made a list of everything the old Baptist preacher had ever condemned as immoral or untoward. The subjects of his condemnation ranged from college-age women going braless to dogs wearing clothes to Beyoncé. Huckabee condemned me. Then he dropped out, too.

I went to St. Louis to write about a speech given by former Texas governor Rick Perry. In the middle of the speech, Perry dropped out.

So by the time the New Hampshire primaries were over, the candidates I had covered were kaput. I needed a new beat. While I pondered what that would be, I decided to do a short story about the money Trump had raised for veterans.

I wanted to chase down two suspicions I’d brought home with me from that event in Iowa. For one thing, I thought Trump might have broken the law by improperly mixing his foundation with his presidential campaign. I started calling experts.

“I think it’s pretty clear that that’s over the line,” Marc S. Owens, the former longtime head of the Internal Revenue Service’s nonprofit division, told me when I called him.

Then Owens kept talking, and the story started deflating.

In theory, Owens said, nonprofit groups like the Trump Foundation are “absolutely prohibited” from participating or intervening in a political campaign. But, he said, if the IRS did investigate, it wouldn’t likely start until the Trump Foundation filed its paperwork for 2016. Which wouldn’t be until late 2017. Then an agent would open a case. There went 2018. Finally, Owens said, the IRS might take action: It might even take away the Trump Foundation’s tax-exempt status.

In 2019. Or maybe not ever.

Owens doubted that the IRS — already under scrutiny from the GOP-run Congress after allegations it had given undue scrutiny to conservative groups — would ever pick a fight with Trump.

“I don’t think anything’s going to happen” to Trump, Owens said. “But, theoretically, it could.”

My other suspicion was that Trump was still sitting on the bulk of the money he had raised for veterans — including the $1 million he had promised from himself.

I asked Trump’s people to account for all this money. They didn’t.

Then, finally, I got a call.

“The money is fully spent,” Corey Lewandowski, then Trump’s campaign manager, told me in late May. “Mr. Trump’s money is fully spent.”

But, Lewandowski told me, the details of Trump’s $1 million in gifts were secret. He wouldn’t say which groups Trump had donated to. Or when. Or in what amounts.

This was an important assertion — that Trump had delivered on a signature campaign promise — made without proof. I didn’t want to just take Lewandowksi’s word for it.

So I tried to prove him right. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2016 at 5:09 pm

Grasping for truth and dignity in Tunisia

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When a government goes bad, it can go really bad. Azadeh Moaveni reports in the New Yorker:

In 1988, when Hamida Ajengui was a teen-ager, she decided to stop getting her hair blown out and to cover it with a head scarf instead. Her parents, observant Muslims, were as accepting of her head scarf as they had been of her uncovered head. To be religious in Tunisia, after all, was as mainstream as speaking French—and it was often during their teens that girls decided it was time to put on the hijab. But when Ajengui showed up at school, the principal said that she couldn’t attend while covered. Surely, she thought, the country’s new President, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had taken power in 1987, must have been unaware of this injustice: even though the government had historically suppressed religion, Ben Ali had promised more freedoms. Ajengui gathered a group of girlfriends and boarded a tram to visit the Presidential palace, in Carthage, to tell him. They were stopped by the police and turned back. When they tried to make the journey again, they were arrested.

The experience sealed Ajengui’s resolve to wear her veil. She dropped out of school, focussing instead on religious classes and charity work. She often brought grocery money to the wives of political prisoners jailed for their Islamist beliefs. This led to more arrests, and then to torture and years of intermittent imprisonment. In detention, police would hang Ajengui upside down, naked, for hours. During interrogations, they threatened to sodomize her with a baton and once stripped her of her clothing in front of twenty men. Another time, she was locked in a room with a drunk man, who threw her against the wall and groped her. On her wedding day, security agents swarmed the reception hall, filling the space with officers instead of guests. They confiscated the musicians’ instruments, blocked her mother from attending, and ripped the head scarves off her female relatives’ heads. “My wedding was like a funeral,” Ajengui said.

For nearly sixty years, until the 2011 uprising that unseated President Ben Ali, the Tunisian government made torture and intimidation a systematic part of its rule. A police state that was also stridently secular, modelled after the French aversion to religiosity in public life, the dictatorship largely targeted Islamists or religious activists. Ajengui, who is now forty-seven, was one of eleven women and men who two weekends ago described the abuse that they had suffered, during the second hearing of the state’s Truth and Dignity Commission, which is the centerpiece of a transitional-justice law passed by the democratic government that emerged after the revolution. Broadcast live on prime-time television and widely watched, the hearings have been timed to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller whose self-immolation sparked the Jasmine Revolution, which spread to become the Arab Spring. The proceedings, unprecedented in the Arab world for their scope, are tasked with examining a wide variety of crimes, from extrajudicial killings to torture to corruption, and intended as a public reckoning that will help both state institutions and society recover.

They are also a refutation of Tunisia’s reputation as an Arab success story, which owes less to any significant progress than to the country having avoided civil war or a descent into even nastier autocracy and chaos. This bright view, garlanded with a Nobel Peace Prize that went to a coalition of Tunisian civil-society groups, in 2015, has mostly fallen away. As George Packer reported in March, a spate of terror attacks that took place months before the Nobel Prize was announced virtually ended European tourism and weakened the country’s long-ailing economy. Acts of violence by Tunisians abroad have changed the country’s image further. Earlier this December, a twenty-four-year-old Tunisian man named Anis Amri allegedly drove a truck through an outdoor Christmas market in Berlin, killing twelve people. Tunisia has also sent the highest numbers of recruits, both men and women, to fight with the Islamic State, and the prospect of fighters returning home from Syria has left Tunisians vulnerable to the notion that the old regime was better at providing security than the new. Following two political assassinations in 2013, a political party that includes former regime officials won parliamentary elections, putting a number of politicians associated with past abuses back in power.

Outside the conference center where the hearings were being held, an ambulance waited on standby in case any of the participants fainted from the stress of testifying. Inside, young women dressed in soft linen and fluorescent lace hijabs sat with men wearing velvet pinstriped blazers and fake leather jackets. When Ajengui described being threatened with the baton de violeur, or steel baton, a woman broke down and rushed out of the room, the clacking of her heels breaking the room’s silence. Sodomy as a form of torture has featured in other victims’ testimony, as well. Tunisia is unique today for being governed by a sizable number of new politicians who are torture survivors, now members of the Islamist Ennahdha Party, and who find themselves serving alongside colleagues who, by virtue of having served under the old regime, were complicit in their abuse. When secular politicians nod together at an Ennahdha lawmaker across the room and whisper “Fanta bottle,” they are making a joke about sodomy. Last year, artists organised an installation in downtown Tunis called “The National Museum of the State Security System.” The exhibit included a row of glass soda bottles, symbolic of those upon which detainees had been forced to sit.

Sihem Bensedrine, the president of the Truth and Dignity Commission, is a former opposition journalist and human-rights activist who spent time in prison, in 2001. Bensedrine, who is sixty-six, is small-boned and wears demure suits and pearls, but her character is direct and sometimes fiery (in political circles her nickname is the Lioness). She has faced intense criticism, much of it personal, for her leadership, and she has been accused of everything from being overly fond of limousines to being a prostitute. A replica of one of Picasso’s paintings from his surrealist period—a woman with a splintered face—hangs on a wall in her office near a framed verse from the Koran. On the morning of the second day of hearings, she was scrambling to prepare an additional person to give testimony. One of the women who had been scheduled to speak, a mother of two teen-agers, had just dropped out. “I’m sorry I can’t come tonight,” she told Bensedrine over the phone. “I am destroying my children.”

“We told them from the beginning they have the right to change their mind,” Bensedrine said, shrugging. “They’ve pushed the trauma down somewhere so deep, and we can’t force them to pull it out if they are not ready.”

Anyone can submit charges of torture or corruption to the commission. Of the 62,326 charges received so far, the commission has studied around eleven thousand. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2016 at 5:02 pm

The Guardian’s Summary of Julian Assange’s Interview Went Viral and Was Completely False

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UPDATE: Greenwald added this update to the article:

UPDATE [Fri.]: The Guardian, to its credit, has now retracted one of the baseless claims in Jacobs’ article, and corrected and amended several others:

  • This article was amended on 29 December to remove a sentence in which it was asserted that Assange “has long had a close relationship with the Putin regime”. A sentence was also amended which paraphrased the interview, suggesting Assange said “there was no need for Wikileaks to undertake a whistleblowing role in Russia because of the open and competitive debate he claimed exists there”. It has been amended to more directly describe the question Assange was responding to when he spoke of Russia’s “many vibrant publications”.

Unfortunately, those falsehoods were tweeted and re-tweeted and shared tens of thousands of times, consumed by hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions. We’ll see if those who spread those falsehoods now spread these corrections with equal vigor.

It’s not mentioned how the reporter of the falsehoods was held accountable, or whether he was. /update

Interesting development. Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:

JULIAN ASSANGE IS a deeply polarizing figure. Many admire him and many despise him (into which category one falls in any given year typically depends on one’s feelings about the subject of his most recent publication of leaked documents).

But one’s views of Assange are completely irrelevant to this article, which is not about Assange. This article, instead, is about a report published this week by The Guardian that recklessly attributed to Assange comments that he did not make. This article is about how those false claims — fabrications, really — were spread all over the internet by journalists, causing hundreds of thousands of people (if not millions) to consume false news. The purpose of this article is to underscore, yet again, that those who most flamboyantly denounce Fake News, and want Facebook and other tech giants to suppress content in the name of combating it, are often the most aggressive and self-serving perpetrators of it.

One’s views of Assange are completely irrelevant to this article because, presumably, everyone agrees that publication of false claims by a media outlet is very bad, even when it’s designed to malign someone you hate. Journalistic recklessness does not become noble or tolerable if it serves the right agenda or cause. The only way one’s views of Assange are relevant to this article is if one finds journalistic falsehoods and Fake News objectionable only when deployed against figures one likes.

 

THE SHODDY AND misleading Guardian article, written by Ben Jacobs, was published on December 24. It made two primary claims — both of which are demonstrably false. The first false claim was hyped in the article’s headline: “Julian Assange gives guarded praise of Trump and blasts Clinton in interview.” This claim was repeated in the first paragraph of the article: “Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has offered guarded praise of Donald Trump. …”

The second claim was an even worse assault on basic journalism. Jacobs set up this claim by asserting that Assange “long had a close relationship with the Putin regime.” The only “evidence” offered for this extraordinary claim was that Assange, in 2012, conducted eight interviews that were broadcast on RT. With the claimed Assange-Putin alliance implanted, Jacobs then wrote: “In his interview with la Repubblica, [Assange] said there was no need for WikiLeaks to undertake a whistleblowing role in Russia because of the open and competitive debate he claimed exists there.”

The reason these two claims are so significant, so certain to attract massive numbers of clicks and shares, is obvious. They play directly into the biases of Clinton supporters and flatter their central narrative about the election: that Clinton lost because the Kremlin used its agents, such as Assange, to boost Trump and sink Clinton. By design, the article makes it seem as though Assange is heralding Russia as such a free, vibrant, and transparent political culture that — in contrast to the repressive West — no whistleblowing is needed, all while praising Trump.

But none of that actually happened. Those claims are made up.

Despite how much online attention it received, Jacobs’s Guardian article contained no original reporting. Indeed, it did nothing but purport to summarize the work of an actually diligent journalist: Stefania Maurizi of the Italian daily la Repubblica, who traveled to London and conducted the interview with Assange. Maurizi’s interview was conducted in English, and la Repubblica published the transcript online. Jacobs’s “work” consisted of nothing other than purporting to re-write the parts of that interview he wanted to highlight, so that he and The Guardian could receive the traffic for her work.

Ever since the Guardian article was published and went viral, Maurizi has repeatedly objected to the false claims being made about what Assange said in their interview. But while Western journalists keep re-tweeting and sharing The Guardian’s second-hand summary of this interview, they completely ignore Maurizi’s protests — for reasons that are both noxious and revealing.

To see how blatantly false The Guardian’s claims are, all one needs to do is compare the claims about what Assange said in the interview to the text of what he actually said.

 

TO BEGIN WITH, . . .

Continue reading.

Do read the entire article. There’s a lot more, and it illustrates just how serious and pervasive fake news has become, in part because most journalists refuse to call it out even if they don’t actually practice it—and the benefits of practicing can be substantial in terms of Twitter followers and the like.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2016 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Media

The Most Powerful Men in the World

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Masha Gessen writes in the NY Review of Books:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mode of public communication is the very opposite of Donald Trump’s: rather than tweet 140-character bursts, he stages elaborate, laboriously choreographed affairs that far outlast anyone’s attention span. He holds one press conference and one televised call-in show a year. Participants are pre-screened, question topics are pre-cleared, and many are pre-scripted. Each event usually lasts more than four hours. Each usually contains a memorable and informative passage that summarizes Putin’s current vision of himself in the world. There have been times when he positioned himself as the savior of a country on the brink of catastrophe, a conqueror, a victor. This year, in his press conference on December 23, he positioned himself as the most powerful man in the world.

Here is Putin’s scripted exchange with a state-media journalist (I am quoting both sides at length precisely because this is pre-written dialogue):

Journalist: Vladimir Vladimirovich, the world is undergoing a global transformation. We are witnessing nations expressing their will, voting against old political concepts, against the old elites. Britain voted to leave the EU, though we still don’t know how it’s going to play out. Many people are saying that Trump won because people were voting against the old elites, against faces that they are tired of seeing, among other reasons. Have you and your colleagues discussed these changes? What will the new global order be like? Remember, at the General Assembly, on the seventieth anniversary [of the United Nations], you said, “Can’t you see what you’ve done?” Where are we going? At this point we are still in the context of confrontation. The back-and-forth yesterday about whose military is stronger. During his last press conference your still-colleague Barack Obama said that 37 percent of Republicans like you and that Ronald Reagan is probably turning over in his grave.

Putin: What was that?

Journalist: 37 percent of Republican voters like you.

Putin: Really?

Journalist: Yes, and if Ronald Reagan knew, he’d be turning over in his grave. By the way, we as your voters are very pleased that you have such power, that you could even reach Ronald Reagan. Our Western colleagues often tell us that you can manipulate the world, pick presidents of your choosing, intervene in elections wherever you want. How does it feel to be the most powerful man in the world? Thank you.

Putin: I have addressed this issue on numerous occasions. But if you think . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

Does this mean that we are entering a new Cold War? No—it’s worse. The Cold War was fought by men who had different visions of the future—the ideologies of the two sides were battling for the right to define societies to come. This made the prospect of mutually assured destruction an effective deterrent. We now know that on several occasions one or the other side took a crucial step back from the brink.

Trump and Putin, on the other hand, lack a concept of the future. In Putin’s version of the clash of civilizations, we have only a threatening Western present versus an imaginary Eurasian past. In Trump’s case, the threatening present is global while the alluring past is American. Both men traffic in appeals to the local and the familiar from the past against the frighteningly strange future. They are also both short-tempered, thin-skinned, not very bright, and disinclined to listen to advisers—all major risk factors for escalation. But it is their shared inability to look ahead that poses the greatest danger to the world.

Putin’s inability to plan has been well documented. European Russia scholar Mark Galeotti has called it the “Putin Paradox”: Putin is great at seizing opportunities but can never think through consequences or next steps. Galeotti was writing about Putin’s wars and his interference in US elections (though he was assuming a Trump loss), but the Putin Paradox can be observed in the Russian president’s personal behavior as well. I once wrote about an extravagant palace Putin was building with a billion dollars’ worth of embezzled and fraudulently appropriated funds. When I was reporting this story back in 2011, what struck me was that the palace—a private residence—was located in Russia. It seemed planned as a retirement residence, but Putin clearly hadn’t considered the impossibility of his retiring in Russia, in peace. Another example is Putin’s obliviousness to the political undercurrents of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Only in late December 2013 did he realize that Western leaders were declining his invitations to the Games—and pardoned political prisoners, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the party. But it was six weeks before the Olympics, and it was too late.

Trump’s short attention span is legendary. He also has a track record of making impulsive lavish investments that fail over and over again. It appears that his ability to plan for the future is as severely limited as Putin’s.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2016 at 4:18 pm

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