Later On

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

Archive for January 18th, 2017

I have to say this was pretty damn tasty: Shakshuka from what I had

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Here’s the underlying recipe by Melissa Clark, whom I find to be reliable.

I made a half recipe, more or less: I did use 2 (jumbo) eggs rather than three. I did have a 14-oz can (the standard size) of diced San Marzano tomatoes.

I used more garlic—probably 6-8 large cloves—and used 1/2 a large red onion.

I took their (implicit) advice and skipped the oregano that I would normally add, and used ground cumin and smoked paprika.

No red bell pepper on hand, so I used a large jalapeño, seeds and all.

2 Tblsp good olive oil (Enzo’s Bold), and sautéed onions and spices, then added pepper and garlic. The the tomatoes and simmered for 10 minutes covered. I did halve the pitted Kalamata olives I used: it’s always a good idea in case a pit remains: you detect the pit. And as a benefit, you double your changes of getting a ripe olive taste in each spoonful.

Two jumbo eggs and 2 oz shredded mild cheddar and Monterey jack on top, then I covered the pan and just simmered on top of the stove for 9 minutes.

Very tasty, very filling.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 5:01 pm

Design and content considerations for fake news: What makes a meme succeed?

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Quite an interesting article by Scott Shane in the NY Times, giving the nuts and bolts of constructing a fake news story to make it succeed as a meme.

It was early fall, and Donald J. Trump, behind in the polls, seemed to be preparing a rationale in case a winner like him somehow managed to lose. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a riled-up crowd in Columbus, Ohio. He was hearing “more and more” about evidence of rigging, he added, leaving the details to his supporters’ imagination.

A few weeks later, Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash, sat down at the kitchen table in his apartment to fill in the details Mr. Trump had left out. In a dubious cyberart just coming into its prime, this bogus story would be his masterpiece.

Mr. Harris started by crafting the headline: “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.” It made sense, he figured, to locate this shocking discovery in the very city and state where Mr. Trump had highlighted his “rigged” meme.

“I had a theory when I sat down to write it,” recalled Mr. Harris, a 23-year-old former college quarterback and fraternity leader. “Given the severe distrust of the media among Trump supporters, anything that parroted Trump’s talking points people would click. Trump was saying ‘rigged election, rigged election.’ People were predisposed to believe Hillary Clinton could not win except by cheating.”

In a raucous election year defined by made-up stories, Mr. Harris was a home-grown, self-taught practitioner, a boutique operator with no ties to Russian spy agencies or Macedonian fabrication factories. As Mr. Trump takes office this week, the beneficiary of at least a modest electoral boost from a flood of fakery, Mr. Harris and his ersatz-news website, ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, make for an illuminating tale.

Contacted by a reporter who had discovered an electronic clue that revealed his secret authorship of ChristianTimesNewspaper.com, he was wary at first, chagrined to be unmasked.

“This topic is rather sensitive,” Mr. Harris said, noting that he was trying to build a political consulting business and needed to protect his reputation. But eventually he agreed to tell the story of his foray into fake news, a very part-time gig that he calculated paid him about $1,000 an hour in web advertising revenue. He seemed to regard his experience with a combination of guilt about having spread falsehoods and pride at doing it so skillfully. . .

Continue reading, and there’s lots more—I didn’t even get to the good part.

You may recall a previous post, in which a fake-news publisher observed:

When did you notice that fake news does best with Trump supporters?

Well, this isn’t just a Trump-supporter problem. This is a right-wing issue. Sarah Palin’s famous blasting of the lamestream media is kind of record and testament to the rise of these kinds of people. The post-fact era is what I would refer to it as. This isn’t something that started with Trump. This is something that’s been in the works for a while. His whole campaign was this thing of discrediting mainstream media sources, which is one of those dog whistles to his supporters. When we were coming up with headlines it’s always kind of about the red meat. Trump really got into the red meat. He knew who his base was. He knew how to feed them a constant diet of this red meat.

We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

I think that is in effect saying that the liberal arts work.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 3:06 pm

Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse but the rest of the world isn’t listening

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It is amazing how often something that is scientifically known and demonstrated to work will be ignored in favor of approaches that in fact make the problem worse. (I blogged one interesting example a few days ago.) Iceland took some findings of behavioral science and applied them. Emma Young reports in Mosaic what happened:

Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.

The way the country has achieved this turnaround has been both radical and evidence-based, but it has relied a lot on what might be termed enforced common sense. “This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Milkman. “I’m just so impressed by how well it is working.”

Read the article for what they did and why. It really is a matter of asking basic questions: Why do teens get high? For the feelings. What causes the feelings? Brain chemistry. Can the same brain chemistry be triggered by other, more benign causes?

Well, there are sports, and learning things, and so on…

It’s quite a fascinating article, and note the many benefits of Iceland’s approach as compared to the approach the US uses (break into people’s houses, steal their possessions through asset forfeiture, lock people up, create cause for cop corruption, and so on). That is, not just lower use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, but also the development of more skills and knowledge in teens (who soon will be adults, and probably more successful as a result of a more productive adolescence).

In the context of the article, watch again this video—but read the article first:

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 2:54 pm

Texas Panel on Wrongful Convictions Calls for Ending Use of Unverified Drug Field Tests

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Such recommendations are often ignored, of course. The original panel in the war on drugs initiated by President Nixon recommended that marijuana be legalized, but of course Nixon ignored that recommendation, leading to the damage if not destruction of many lives.

Ryan Gabrielson reports in ProPublica:

Drug field tests are too unreliable to trust in criminal cases, according to a Texas courts panel, which has called on crime laboratories across the state to confirm drug evidence actually contains illegal drugs for every prosecution.

State lawmakers created the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission in 2015 to research wrongful convictions in Texas and suggest ways to prevent future injustices. The commission named field tests as a significant concern in its final report, released last month, due to their “questionable reliability.”

In Houston over the past decade, the crime lab found that the alleged drugs in more than 300 convictions were not drugs at all. Police had used inexpensive test kits to identify the substances as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, MDMA, or marijuana, and prosecutors had used those allegedly positive tests to gain guilty pleas.

The commission initially excluded drug cases from its review, but reversed its decision following a ProPublica story, published with The New York Times Magazine, that detailed the central role field tests played in Houston’s wrongful convictions.

Texas criminal courts process roughly 10,000 drug possession convictions a year. Having crime labs check the evidence in each would likely prove expensive, the commission acknowledged. “Despite potential additional costs in implementing this practice, requiring laboratory testing of all drug field tests will reduce the risk of wrongfully arresting and convicting an individual of being in possession of a controlled substance,” the report states.

The 11-member exoneration commission was made up of state lawmakers, a criminal appellate judge, representatives from the state’s defense bar, prosecutors, police, judiciary, and the forensic sciences.

In addition to restricting drug field tests, the commission called for audio recording of police interrogations in all felony cases, tighter rules on testimony from jailhouse informants, and mandatory training for officers in eyewitness identification. It formally submitted the report to the state legislature, where lawmakers can consider turning its proposals into law.

ProPublica spent 2016 examining the widespread use of field tests by police departments and prosecutors across the country. No government agency regulates their use. The patrol officers who perform the tests to make arrests on the street often have little or no training in the use of the tool. Most of the nation’s crime laboratories do not check officers’ field tests when defendants plead guilty. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 2:25 pm

Scott Pruitt doesn’t know the power of the EPA

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It’s important to remember that the EPA is a Republican creation. Madeline Ostrander reports in the New Yorker:

the early nineteen-sixties, a young lawyer named William Ruckelshaus was assigned to Indiana’s state board of health to prosecute cases of toxic dumping. At the time, it was commonplace for manufacturers to discard untreated industrial swill—ammonia, cyanide, pesticides, petroleum waste, slag from steel plants, “pickle liquor” (sulfuric acid)—into the nearest sewer, river, or lake. Sometimes, it formed piles of noxious froth nearly as tall as a house. “Those rivers were cesspools,” Ruckelshaus told me recently. He and his colleague Gerald Hansler, an environmental engineer, began touring the state in a white panel truck. They collected water samples and snapped photographs of fish corpses—bluegills, sunfish, and perch, poisoned by the effluent that gushed from industrial outfalls. Then they wrote up the evidence and brought charges against those responsible. Yet, however diligently they worked, their efforts were often regarded with suspicion by Indiana’s governor, who wanted to keep businesses from moving to states with even laxer environmental standards. “I just saw how powerless the states were to act,” Ruckelshaus recalled.

Ruckelshaus brought this lesson with him to Washington, D.C., in 1970, when President Richard Nixon appointed him to set up and run the newly created U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From a modest cluster of rooms on L Street, Ruckelshaus led the agency in its first swift actions. After less than two weeks, he announced that the E.P.A. planned to sue the cities of Atlanta, Cleveland, and Detroit unless they made a serious effort to stop polluting their rivers with sewage. Later, he refused to give automakers an extension on their mandate to install catalytic converters in all new vehicles—a requirement that eventually resulted in large cuts to toxic, smog-forming emissions. And, in 1972, Ruckelshaus’s E.P.A. banned most uses of the pesticide DDT, a move that helped save a national icon, the American bald eagle, from extinction. More than four decades on, the E.P.A.’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act has averted millions of cases of respiratory disease and continues to save hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, according to a series of agency analyses. For the most part, urban rivers are no longer cesspools, and beaches once fouled with sewage are swimmable. Lake Erie is troubled but no longer deemed dead, as it was in the sixties. Lead levels in the coastal waters off Southern California have dropped a hundredfold.
Ruckelshaus, who is now eighty-four, has watched the ascent of Donald Trump with some trepidation. In August, he and William Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under President George H. W. Bush, endorsed Hillary Clinton, lambasting Trump as ignorant of the G.O.P.’s “historic contributions to science-driven environmental policy.” The President-elect’s pick to head the E.P.A., the Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has argued before Congress that the agency “was never intended to be our nation’s frontline environmental regulator,” and that the states should have primary authority. That argument is now a favorite among conservatives. But according to Philip Angell, who became an E.P.A. special assistant in 1970 and has worked with Ruckelshaus on and off for the past four and a half decades, Pruitt’s interpretation ignores the history and intent of the laws that define the agency’s mission. The statutes give the E.P.A. “the primary authority to set standards and enforce them if the states won’t do it,” he told me. “The whole point was to set a federal baseline.” One of those statutes, the Clean Air Act, is also “famously capacious,” as Ruckelshaus and Reilly wrote in a legal brief they filed last year in support of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. The act, they point out, obliges the E.P.A. to tackle even those environmental problems that no one knew about or understood in 1970, including climate change.
Pruitt not only denies the scientific consensus on global warming but also disputes the E.P.A.’s authority to act on it. He has called the Clean Power Plan an “executive fiat,” as if it were produced at Obama’s whim rather than through the interpretation of the law. Both his LinkedIn profile and his biography on the Oklahoma Attorney General office’s Web site boast that he is a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” He has a hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday morning, and if he makes it through the confirmation process, he’s likely to try to weaken the E.P.A.’s authority. The Republican Party platform envisions shrinking the agency into “an independent bipartisan commission,” and Trump and his adviser Myron Ebell, who is leading the E.P.A. transition, have talked about abolishing it altogether.
But doing away with the E.P.A. would be no easy task, according to Ruckelshaus and other legal experts. “You have all the statutes the E.P.A. administers,” he said. “You’d have to have a debate on each of those laws.” In the early nineteen-eighties, when President Ronald Reagan’s first E.P.A. appointee, Anne Gorsuch Burford, tried to pick the agency apart, she ultimately resigned amid scandal and corruption investigations. Reagan summoned Ruckelshaus to Washington to put the E.P.A. back together. In the past three decades, the agency has had a mixed record, but no administrator has successfully sabotaged its mission. President George W. Bush’s first two E.P.A. appointments were moderates, though his third, Stephen Johnson, stymied efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. And even under Obama’s progressive environmental policies, budget cuts have made it harder for regulators to police pollution violations.
Today, there is ample evidence of what happens when environmental regulation fails—notably the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. But although there is a growing citizen movement in the United States clamoring for more aggressive action on climate change, the E.P.A. itself “has no constituency,” Ruckelshaus said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 12:44 pm

Was Snowden a Russian Agent?

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Charlie Savage has an interesting review in the NY Review of Books:

One evening in the fall of 2015, the writer Edward Jay Epstein arranged to have dinner at an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side with the director Oliver Stone. At the time, Stone was completing Snowden, an admiring biopic about the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden, who disclosed a vast trove of classified documents about National Security Agency surveillance programs to journalists in June 2013 and had since been living as a fugitive in Russia. Epstein was working on a book about the same topic, which has now been published under the title How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft. As the writer recounts in that book, their conversation took a testy turn:

Toward the end of our dinner, Stone told me that he did not know I was writing a book about Snowden until a few weeks earlier. He learned of my book from Snowden himself. He said Snowden had expressed concern to him about the direction of the book I was writing. “What is it about?” Stone asked me.

I was taken aback. I had no idea that Snowden was aware of my book. (I had not tried to contact him.) I told Stone that I considered Snowden an extraordinary man who had changed history and was intentionally vague in my description of my book’s contents. Stone seemed to be reassured….

Epstein and Stone had a history of rivalry when it came to interpreting another important historical event: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Early in his career, Epstein wrote three books about that topic. The first, Inquest (1966), poked holes in the rigor of the Warren Commission’s official investigation. The second, Counterplot (1969), brought a skeptical eye to the investigation by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who pursued the theory that the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated the president’s murder. And the third, Legend (1978), pointed readers to the conclusion that Oswald’s image as a mixed-up loner with half-baked Marxist ideas was an operational cover story—a “legend”—and that he had been a Soviet intelligence agent. (After the Soviet Union collapsed, the opening of the KGB’s archives did not corroborate the theory that Oswald had actually been a trained intelligence agent.)

Stone waded into those same murky waters with his 1991 movie JFK, which used a fictionalized version of Garrison’s investigation as a means to explore the theory that a right-wing conspiracy, spanning the CIA and the military-industrial complex, had been responsible for Kennedy’s death. The following year, Stone and Epstein were invited to be part of a panel discussion at New York’s Town Hall about the Kennedy assassination and the film’s controversial blending of fact and fiction. In preparation, according to a diary entry on Epstein’s website, he brought a 3×5 card on which he wrote:

Although they may aim at the same purpose of finding truth, non-fiction and fiction are two distinct forms of knowledge. The writer of non-fiction is limited by the universe of discoverable fact. He cannot make up what he does not know—no matter how strong his intuition or suspicion. The writer of fiction knows no such boundary: He can fill in whatever gaps exist with his imagination.

Now, years later, the two men once again found themselves eying each other as they circled the Snowden saga.

The conventional understanding of Snowden is that he was what he appeared to be: a computer worker in the intelligence world who became alarmed about the hidden growth of the American surveillance state and decided to reveal its operations to the world, copied archives of documents, and handed them to journalists whom he had summoned to Hong Kong and whom he entrusted to decide what to publish. Within the mainstream spectrum of interpretations of his actions, at one end are civil libertarians who consider him simply to be a heroic whistle-blower. At the other extreme are members of the national security establishment who consider him nothing more than a destructive traitor. In between are a range of those who think some of his disclosures met the high standard for “whistle-blowing”; that other disclosures brought to light important things that should not have been kept secret in a democracy—but that were also not necessarily, in and of themselves, abuses or overreaches; and that still other disclosures went too far and were not a public service.

Stone’s movie, which premiered in September, presents a comic-book version of the pro-Snowden narrative in which a wunderkind super-hacker takes on Big Brother. In telling that story, Stone mixes accurate material with fiction, while simplifying away complexities. His movie steps on the genuine privacy issues raised by Snowden’s disclosures with melodramatic embellishments, such as a scene in which an invented senior NSA official, his Orwellian face filling a floor-to-ceiling screen, casually reveals that he knows whether the Snowden character’s girlfriend is sleeping with another man. It omits actual Snowden disclosures whose individual privacy rationale was debatable, such as when he showed the South China Morning Post documents about the NSA’s hacking into certain institutional computers in China. And its discussion of the volume of Internet metadata the NSA collects from equipment inside the United States ignores any distinction between truly domestic e-mails and foreign-to-foreign messages that are merely traveling across domestic network switches.

Epstein’s book, by contrast, presents a negative view of Snowden. But the two works are not equivalent: Epstein does not merely oversimplify with the purpose of downplaying the benefits of Snowden’s leaks and emphasizing the harms. Rather he contends that the conventional narrative of what happened may have been a deceptive cover story. Epstein lays out the case that behind his image as a whistle-blower Snowden was instead an “espionage source” for Russia—perhaps its dupe at first, or perhaps its willing spy all along:

The counterintelligence issue was not if this US intelligence defector in Moscow was under Russian control but when he came under it. There were three possible time periods when Snowden might have been brought under control by the Russian intelligence service: while he was still working for the NSA; after he arrived in Hong Kong on May 20, 2013; or after he arrived in Russia on June 23, 2013.

2.

The reader should know that Laura Poitras, one of the journalists to whom Snowden leaked documents in Hong Kong, later shared some of them with me, and we developed several articles from them for The New York Times. In addition, as part of a book on national security, I wrote a history of how surveillance technology, law, and policy secretly evolved in the decades following Congress’s enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.1

It explained how the rise of fiber-optic networks in the late 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s placed mounting pressure on legal constraints written for the analog telephone era; how the Bush administration bypassed those rules after September 11 and then enlisted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and Congress to legalize what it had created lawlessly; and how the Obama administration decided to keep and entrench what it inherited.

I could not have written that history without the files disclosed by Snowden and information the government declassified because of his leaks. While there had been stray glimpses for years suggesting that the NSA was becoming far more powerful, facts were scarce and speculation and conspiracy theories had filled the void. Snowden’s disclosures enabled us to understand what was real about the NSA’s activities so we could engage in an informed public debate about the rules for twenty-first-century surveillance. This is why I regret Stone’s reintroduction of distortions into discussion of surveillance, and it may also color my reaction to Epstein’s book.

Snowden’s disclosures indeed prompted robust debate and policy changes. An appeals court ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of domestic calling records was illegal, rejecting a dubious legal theory that the intelligence court had been secretly relying on for years. Congress ended that bulk collection program and required the intelligence court to tell the public when it issued novel and significant interpretations of surveillance laws. President Obama imposed unprecedented privacy protections for information about non-Americans that the NSA collects abroad. Technology giants like Google and many ordinary people began taking steps to more firmly secure their private information from hackers. Still, this enlightenment came at an undeniable, if difficult to measure, cost. Some terrorists, criminals, and unsavory regimes learned from Snowden, too, becoming harder to monitor and thereby making the world more dangerous.

Assessing whether Snowden’s disclosures served the public interest—whether they did more good than harm—turns in part on who counts as “the public.” Snowden’s critics, including Epstein, tend to define the public in nationalist terms, focusing their criticism on his disclosures about NSA operations abroad, where few domestic legal rules apply and the agency can indiscriminately vacuum up private messages in bulk. Snowden’s supporters point out that domestic data are also found abroad in the Internet era and they argue that consideration of the NSA’s work should take account of its effects on human rights: non-Americans have privacy rights, too.

Another complication for judging Snowden’s actions is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 12:40 pm

Betty DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, flat-out lied to the Senate

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Trump clearly doesn’t put much stock in telling the truth, and he is nominating people whose attitude reflects his own. Do read Jeremy Scahill’s report at The Intercept.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 11:34 am

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