Later On

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

Archive for December 15th, 2016

John Podesta points out that the FBI is badly broken

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Read his column in the Washington Post. From the column:

The more we learn about the Russian plot to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and elect Donald Trump, and the failure of the FBI to adequately respond, the more shocking it gets. The former acting director of the CIA has called the Russian cyberattack “the political equivalent of 9/11.” Just as after the real 9/11, we need a robust, independent investigation into what went wrong inside the government and how to better protect our country in the future.

As the former chair of the Clinton campaign and a direct target of Russian hacking, I understand just how serious this is. So I was surprised to read in the New York Times that when the FBI discovered the Russian attack in September 2015, it failed to send even a single agent to warn senior Democratic National Committee officials. Instead, messages were left with the DNC IT “help desk.” As a former head of the FBI cyber division told the Times, this is a baffling decision: “We are not talking about an office that is in the middle of the woods of Montana.”

What takes this from baffling to downright infuriating is that at nearly the exact same time that no one at the FBI could be bothered to drive 10 minutes to raise the alarm at DNC headquarters, two agents accompanied by attorneys from the Justice Department were in Denver visiting a tech firm that had helped maintain Clinton’s email server.

This trip was part of what FBI Director James B. Comey described as a “painstaking” investigation of Clinton’s emails, “requiring thousands of hours of effort” from dozens of agents who conducted at least 80 interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. Of course, as Comey himself concluded, in the end, there was no case; it was not even a close call.

Comparing the FBI’s massive response to the overblown email scandal with the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election shows that something is deeply broken at the FBI.

Comey justified his handling of the email case by citing “intense public interest.” He felt so strongly that he broke long-established precedent and disregarded strong guidance from the Justice Department with his infamous letter just 11 days before the election. Yet he refused to join the rest of the intelligence community in a statement about the Russian cyberattack because he reportedly didn’t want to appear “political.” And both before and after the election, the FBI has refused to say whether it is investigating Trump’s ties to Russia.

There are now reports that Vladimir Putin personally directed the covert campaign to elect Trump. So are teams of FBI agents busy looking into the reported meeting in Moscow this summer between Carter Page, a Trump foreign policy adviser, and the Putin aide in charge of Russian intelligence on the U.S. election? What about evidence that Roger Stone was in contact with WikiLeaks and knew in advance that my hacked emails were about to be leaked? Are thousands of FBI person-hours being devoted to uncovering Trump’s tangled web of debts and business deals with foreign entities in Russia and elsewhere?

Meanwhile, House Republicans who had an insatiable appetite for investigating Clinton have been resistant to probing deeply into Russia’s efforts to swing the election to Trump. The media, by gleefully publishing the gossipy fruits of Russian hacks, became what the Times itself calls “a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.”

But the FBI’s role is particularly troubling because . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2016 at 8:13 pm

Winter recipe recommendation

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This pot roast recipe by Brett Anderson. Changes I made/will make:

Rutabaga: I omitted it this time, but think I’ll try it the next.

Carrots/parsnips: I followed the recipe ratio: 4/2 (carrots/parsnips). Next time I will go with 3/3.

I used avocado oil rather than canola oil, and the boneless pot roast was 4 lbs, not 3 lbs.

Otherwise I followed recipe faithfully, including the cooking times for the various steps—they were a bit longer than I would have naturally done, but a bit better as well, so I highly recommend you use your kitchen timer and give full measure to the various steps. If the recipe said “4 to 7 minutes,” for example, I went with 7 minutes.

I did use 7 oz tomato paste instead of 6 oz because the paste I buy comes in a 7 oz jar.

Really quite exceptional. Think of it as a stew in which you cut up the beef afterwards rather than before. After I removed the meat, I cut it into small bite-size pieces and returned it to the liquid, which becomes a (rich) stew.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2016 at 6:46 pm

Memes driving behavior

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I’m still poking along in Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine, and I came across this passage:

This difference forms the basis of a memetic theory of altruism. The essential memetic point is this – if people are altruistic they become popular, because they are popular they are copied, and because they are copied their memes spread more widely than the memes of not–so-altruistic people, including the altruism memes themselves. This provides a mechanism for spreading altruistic behaviour.

The point is that the meme is driving host behavior to benefit the meme. It may, as in this case, benefit the host as well, but that’s lagniappe.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2016 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Memes

Lies, Damned Lies, and Certain Charts—as Kevin Drum Clearly Explains

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Very interesting. His conclusion (but more charts at the link):

Now put all this together and you get the unemployment rate:

blog_unemployment_rate_race_2007_2016_0

All three groups are at nearly the exact same level as they were in 2007, which means that all the new jobs have been shared out equally by population. Whites have done about as well as anyone else, and since whites started out ahead, it means they’re still ahead. Here’s the unemployment rate today, which is nearly identical to the rate in 2007:

  • Whites: 4.2 percent
  • Hispanics: 5.7 percent
  • Blacks: 8.1 percent

If you take a look at this stuff without accounting for population growth you’ll be badly misled. When it comes to jobs, whites had it better than blacks and Hispanics in 2007 and they still do today. They haven’t been screwed by job market any more than anyone else.

It occurs to me that sometimes reality is difficult to discover and turns out to be not at all what you expect. That requires quite a bit of mental rearrangement of furniture, and I fear that many are not up to it and just continue with their previous beliefs, thus getting a little farther from reality.

I’m suddenly reminded of the opening of Dante’s Divine Comedy:

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

Once you depart from the path of reality you are on your way into the forest savage, rough, and stern. It can get extremely ugly.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2016 at 4:38 pm

Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy

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Moira Weigel writes in the Guardian:

Three weeks ago, around a quarter of the American population elected a demagogue with no prior experience in public service to the presidency. In the eyes of many of his supporters, this lack of preparation was not a liability, but a strength. Donald Trump had run as a candidate whose primary qualification was that he was not “a politician”. Depicting yourself as a “maverick” or an “outsider” crusading against a corrupt Washington establishment is the oldest trick in American politics – but Trump took things further. He broke countless unspoken rules regarding what public figures can or cannot do and say.

Every demagogue needs an enemy. Trump’s was the ruling elite, and his charge was that they were not only failing to solve the greatest problems facing Americans, they were trying to stop anyone from even talking about those problems. “The special interests, the arrogant media, and the political insiders, don’t want me to talk about the crime that is happening in our country,” Trump said in one late September speech. “They want me to just go along with the same failed policies that have caused so much needless suffering.”Trump claimed that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were willing to let ordinary Americans suffer because their first priority was political correctness. “They have put political correctness above common sense, above your safety, and above all else,” Trump declared after a Muslim gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. “I refuse to be politically correct.” What liberals might have seen as language changing to reflect an increasingly diverse society – in which citizens attempt to avoid giving needless offence to one another – Trump saw a conspiracy.

Throughout an erratic campaign, Trump consistently blasted political correctness, blaming it for an extraordinary range of ills and using the phrase to deflect any and every criticism. During the first debate of the Republican primaries, Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked Trump how he would answer the charge that he was “part of the war on women”.

“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals’,” Kelly pointed out. “You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees …”

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump answered, to audience applause. “I’ve been challenged by so many people, I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.”

Trump used the same defence when critics raised questions about his statements on immigration. In June 2015, after Trump referred to Mexicans as “rapists”, NBC, the network that aired his reality show The Apprentice, announced that it was ending its relationship with him. Trump’s team retorted that, “NBC is weak, and like everybody else is trying to be politically correct.”

In August 2016, after saying that the US district judge Gonzalo Curiel of San Diego was unfit to preside over the lawsuit against Trump Universities because he was Mexican American and therefore likely to be biased against him, Trump told CBS News that this was “common sense”. He continued: “We have to stop being so politically correct in this country.” During the second presidential debate, Trump answered a question about his proposed “ban on Muslims” by stating: “We could be very politically correct, but whether we like it or not, there is a problem.”

Every time Trump said something “outrageous” commentators suggested he had finally crossed a line and that his campaign was now doomed. But time and again, Trump supporters made it clear that they liked him because he wasn’t afraid to say what he thought. Fans praised the way Trump talked much more often than they mentioned his policy proposals. He tells it like it is, they said. He speaks his mind. He is not politically correct.

Trump and his followers never defined “political correctness”, or specified who was enforcing it. They did not have to. The phrase conjured powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by policing language.

There is an obvious contradiction involved in complaining at length, to an audience of hundreds of millions of people, that you are being silenced. But this idea – that there is a set of powerful, unnamed actors, who are trying to control everything you do, right down to the words you use – is trending globally right now. Britain’s rightwing tabloids issue frequent denunciations of “political correctness gone mad” and rail against the smug hypocrisy of the “metropolitan elite”. In Germany, conservative journalists and politicians are making similar complaints: after the assaults on women in Cologne last New Year’s Eve, for instance, the chief of police Rainer Wendt said that leftists pressuring officers to be politisch korrekt had prevented them from doing their jobs. In France, Marine Le Pen of the Front National has condemned more traditional conservatives as “paralysed by their fear of confronting political correctness”.

Trump’s incessant repetition of the phrase has led many writers since the election to argue that the secret to his victory was a backlash against excessive “political correctness”. Some have argued that Hillary Clinton failed because she was too invested in that close relative of political correctness, “identity politics”. But upon closer examination, “political correctness” becomes an impossibly slippery concept. The term is what Ancient Greek rhetoricians would have called an “exonym”: a term for another group, which signals that the speaker does not belong to it. Nobody ever describes themselves as “politically correct”. The phrase is only ever an accusation.

If you say that something is technically correct, you are suggesting that it is wrong – the adverb before “correct” implies a “but”. However, to say that a statement is politically correct hints at something more insidious. Namely, that the speaker is acting in bad faith. He or she has ulterior motives, and is hiding the truth in order to advance an agenda or to signal moral superiority. To say that someone is being “politically correct” discredits them twice. First, they are wrong. Second, and more damningly, they know it.

If you go looking for the origins of the phrase, it becomes clear that there is no neat history of political correctness. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2016 at 3:42 pm

Did Medieval Muslims Invent Modern Secularism?

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Juan Cole has a very interesting article in The Nation:

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, in Edward FitzGerald’s innovative and witty 1859 translation, went viral in the West for the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. It created an alternative to Orientalist images of the Middle East as roiled by religious fanaticism, puritanism, and obscurantism. It seems to me to have been adopted by many writers and intellectuals as an aid to their own secularization. A century and more ago, it came as a revelation to Mark Twain, Ezra Pound, and Robert Frost that a medieval Muslim Iranian astronomer, Omar Khayyam (d. c. 1126), could have attained secular insights into life of such profundity. Clarence Darrow, who argued for Darwin in the famed Scopes Monkey Trial, lauded and quoted the Rubaiyat. It went on to inspire generations of poets, including Woody Guthrie, Jack Kerouac, and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

FitzGerald’s translation is fine poetry, but its Romantic style and Victorian vocabulary make it hard going today. It also was not always very loyal to the letter of the original, though I would argue it generally conveyed the spirit. The poetry is Iranian and Indo-Persian folk verse, and not actually by Khayyam, the great astronomer and mathematician of the Seljuq Empire. Still, it was widely thought to be the work of a prominent scientist, and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was cherished in much of the civilized Old World for a millennium by open-minded Muslims, Hindus, Christian Armenians, and India-based British and other Persian speakers, who clearly enjoyed its assault on petty-minded orthodoxies.

In these days of ISIL and terrorism, when what I have called “Islam Anxiety” has reached a fever pitch, we have never needed alternative images of Middle Eastern civilization more. I think we need the Rubaiyat back. I am involved in translating it anew, into contemporary idiomatic American English. I am basing my renderings on the same 1460 manuscript that provided much of the text for FitzGerald, who was criticized by Robert Graves for keeping the original Persian rhyme scheme, which forced him to depart from the original for merely formalistic reasons. I therefore prefer free verse or blank verse for this purpose. While “Rubaiyat” literally means “quatrains,” some of the original lines are dense in their meaning and imagery and cannot usefully be brought into English.

Here, I’d like to present a few stanzas in support of my argument that this poetry invented a form of secularism that modern British and American thinkers recognized as such when they saw the FitzGerald translation. I mean by this that the poetry is skeptical of religious verities and of idiocies like astrology; questions the notions of transcendence and heaven and hell; values the human over abstract doctrines; and locates the meaning of life in its simple pleasures. It helps to know that wine was forbidden in clerical Islam. The verses do not, however, encourage narcissism, urging a principle of not harming others.

 

In monasteries, temples and retreats

they fear hellfire and look for paradise.

But those who know the mysteries of God

don’t let those seeds be planted in their hearts.

*  *  *

For how long will I waste my time,

then, laying bricks atop the sea?

I’m done with the idolaters

who throng to temples and to shrines.

Who says Khayyam is doomed to hell?

Which one has dropped in down below;

who’s gone to paradise and back?

*  *  *

Why were you so kind

and generous at first?

What were all the flirting

and good times about?

Now you just seem to want

to break my heart;

What sin did

I commit?

What was all that?

*  *  *

At first I sought the pen of fate, and the

eternal tablet it wrote on, and hell

and heaven in the sky. But then my guide

instructed me: “All four lie within you!”

*  *  *

Deep in my dream, I heard a sage cry out:

“What joy has slumber ever caused to bloom?

Why do a thing that looks so much like death?

Go drinking! Lifetimes soon will pass in sleep!”

*  *  *

You cannot pierce the veil of mystery,

or grasp this strange arrangement of the world:

You do not have a home save in black earth!

Drink up, since stories like this aren’t shor

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2016 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life

Law enforcement practices in the US today

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Back in 2001, Ray Rosas testified against a gang member. According to his attorneys, in the years after, there were several drive-by shootings directed at his home. In February 2015, police in Corpus Christi, Tex,, were looking for Rosas’s nephew, whom they suspected of dealing marijuana. They believed the nephew lived at Rosas’s house, so they raided the place. It was a full-on, no-knock raid, conducted at night, complete with the detonation of a flash-bang grenade.

Let’s stipulate — again — that the entire reason for a no-knock raid, as stipulated by police themselves, is to catch suspects off-guard. The aim is to overwhelm and subdue everyone inside before anyone can really process what’s going on and react to it. That’s also the reason for the use of flash-bang grenades, which are designed to temporarily stun, blind and deafen everyone in the immediate vicinity of their detonation. The commando-style tactics are supposed to secure a building before the bad guys have a chance to reach for their guns, or to dispose of evidence.

The problem, of course, is that those same tactics elicit a very primal response in most people. Imagine you wake up to the sounds of armed men invading your home, screaming at you, pointing guns at you, blowing stuff up in your house. If you’re a bona-fide drug dealer, you’re likely to think you’re being robbed by a rival drug dealer. If you aren’t a criminal, you have even less reason to think the armed men in your home are police serving a warrant, and all the more reason to think you’re under attack — and to react accordingly. If you not only aren’t a criminal but also have testified against criminals, and criminals have shot at your home in retaliation for that testimony, you have every reason to fear for your life should you find yourself in the midst of such a raid.

And that’s the position in which Ray Rosas found himself in February 2015. So he reached for his gun, which he owned legally, and fired at the intruders. He shot and wounded three raiding police officers. He immediately surrendered after firing the shots. He told the police at the time that he didn’t know they were cops. He told them again at the police station. This has been his story from the start. Nevertheless, he was arrested, jailed and charged with multiple counts of attempted capital murder and aggravated assault on a public servant. The good news is that this week, a jury acquitted Rosas on all charges.

The bad news is that he was ever charged in the first place. And that police departments across the country continue to put themselves and the public at risk by conducting such volatile, high-stakes raids not just on people suspected of nonviolent, consensual crimes but also on people like Rosas, who aren’t even suspected of such crimes but merely happen to be related or connected to someone who is.

The state’s case against Rosas was weak. The cops did no surveillance on the house before the raid. They didn’t verify that Rosas’s nephew was in the home at the time of the raid. They subjected not only Rosas to the violent tactics but also his elderly, disabled mother, who could also have been injured or killed in the gunfire. The officers gave conflicting testimony about his demeanor after the raid. Some said he was uncooperative and profane (both of which would have been perfectly understandable, given the circumstances). Others said he was cooperative and apologetic. Before deliberations, the judge in the case instructed jurors to factor in the fact that the state had failed to produce some critical evidence and that they should consider that evidence unfavorable to the state. Prosecutors eventually dropped the attempted capital murder charges but pressed on with the multiple charges of aggravated assault.

Note the lack of introspection here. An innocent man and his mother were subjected to unimaginable terror. Both of their lives were put at risk. Rosas — who again had committed no crime and wasn’t suspected of any crime — was subjected to violent tactics deliberately designed to confuse and disorient him. When the police failed to secure the home in time to prevent Rosas from reaching for his gun, the state didn’t punish the officers for their lack of corroborating investigation, for their subjecting innocent people to unspeakable violence, for their incompetence in carrying out the raid or for their wildly disproportionate use of force. They punished Rosas for being disoriented and confused — for behaving in precisely the manner these raids are designed to make people behave.

One detail about this case really underscores the outrage. During the commotion and confusion of the raid, one of the police officers inadvertently shot one of his fellow officers in the leg. Like Rosas, that officer made a mistake that caused a police officer to get shot. But unlike Rosas, he wasn’t charged with a crime. Instead, prosecutors charged Rosas for the wounded officer’s injuries.

The police are allowed to make mistakes during these raids. They’re given enormous latitude, owing to the incredible volatility and high stakes of the situation — conditions that they created themselves. Yet regular people don’t get to make mistakes. They’re expected to react to unimaginable fright with wholly unrealistic restraint and impeccable judgment. The discrepancy is all the more confounding when you consider that a) the police are (allegedly) trained for precisely these types of situations; regular people aren’t, and b) the police have the advantage of being the surprisers here, while the people in the house are the surprised. This case took the outrage a step farther — not only was Rosas held accountable for his own, very understandable mistakes, prosecutors also tried to make him culpable for the mistakes of the cops who raided him.

This case bears a strong resemblance to that of Jason Westcott, a Florida man killed in a drug raid in 2014. . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2016 at 3:24 pm

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