Later On

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

Archive for March 25th, 2019

A video that appealingly presents 31 one-pot meals

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Works with the sound off, but the sound is not obtrusive. Mesmerizing. And fantastic food cinematography.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2019 at 6:32 pm

How Robert Mueller Failed Us

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Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., writes in Slate:

I have from the very beginning been skeptical of special counsel Robert Mueller’s approach of not directly providing accurate, real-time information to the American people about his investigatory progress and conclusions. Sunday’s events strongly confirm my views. Mueller’s nearly two-year news blackout, while inexplicably praised and admired by the news media, has severely harmed justice and democracy. It prevented all of us from knowing and deliberating and making judgments about the facts and circumstances as we considered vital matters that go to the very essence of our government, and invited both Republicans and Democrats to spin their own stories in the information vacuum.

Mueller has been lauded as a disciplined, monklike Sphynx of a prosecutor, staying quiet as he and his team diligently investigated Russian interference and the president’s possible role in it. All the while, his investigation has been trashed relentlessly by the ostensible target of its probe, President Donald J. Trump, who repeatedly called the Mueller probe a “Witch Hunt” and a “hoax” and labeled Mueller’s team as 13 (and then 17) “angry Democrats.” Trump’s legal and political teams amplified this message. And yet the Mueller team never fought back, instead letting its work in court and behind the scenes speak for itself. This was a big mistake.

Mueller and his team never held a single press conference to explain what they were doing or their thinking and strategy, let alone the basis of their convictions, guilty pleas, and indictments, respectively, against Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, Roger Stone, and others. They let Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, announce and supposedly explain indictments and other actions by their office, but he seemed to go out of his way to downplay any broader significance and to avoid providing context, which diluted the value of the information for public understanding.

You might say those indictments spoke for themselves, but if you were surprised to read the conclusions in Attorney General William Barr’s letter on Sunday, or have many follow-up questions, then maybe they did not. Mueller kept us all in suspense and in the dark as voters and citizens, whatever our political views, about major issues of public concern and importance—including whether the president of the United States and his campaign and compatriots conspired with a foreign adversary to corrupt a presidential election and obstruct investigations aimed at that possible crime.

The spokesman for the Mueller investigation, Peter Carr, has been a no-comment machine.

He has basically spoken only once—to dispute a story from BuzzFeed that was largely correct, giving a nice boost to Trump. Other than that, Mueller let Trump and his legal team and surrogates set the terms—either collusion or “no collusion”—and attack the Office of Special Counsel with impunity, undermining public confidence in our justice system.

On Friday, Mueller ceded ultimate authority and at the same time left us in the dark. Rather than holding a press conference to explain what he has been doing, what he has concluded and why, Mueller simply sent his report to Barr, who once wrote a memo explaining why Trump had not obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. Then Mueller checked out.

On Sunday, Barr delivered to Congress a four-page letter characterizing Mueller’s report but leaving much to the imagination. Mueller went to church across the street from the White House and said nothing. Based on Barr’s letter, Trump and his team gleefully claimed, without any apparent fear of response from Mueller, “total and complete exoneration,” even though Mueller’s report, according to Barr’s own terse summary, explicitly said that the finding “does not exonerate” Trump.

It didn’t have to go down like this. Instead of remaining silent and secretive for almost two years, Mueller and his prosecutorial team could have acted more like the Justice Department itself does in ordinary times, holding press conferences and briefing reporters on background, explaining their decisions to indict and not indict and helping us all understand what was going on in this tense, intense investigation that goes to the very heart of how we govern ourselves and protect our electoral system. Mueller could have, and should have, stood before reporters and the American people to announce and explain his conclusions so we could all consider and debate their validity . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2019 at 2:05 pm

If Trump’s Border Wall Becomes Reality, Here’s How He Could Easily Get Private Land for It

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T. Christian Miller reports in ProPublica:

A law is supposed to protect property owners from lowball offers by the government when it takes land through eminent domain. But a letter shows how simple it is for officials to eviscerate what is already a pretty toothless law.

On March 15, President Donald Trump vetoed Congress’ attempt to stop him from declaring a national emergency to build a wall along the United States’ border with Mexico.

His construction plans still face court challenges. But if the effort survives, you can expect this to happen in the near future: The federal government will begin seizing private land to build the wall, a process known as eminent domain.

It’s a fundamental power, laid out in the Fifth Amendment. The government can take your land to build public works, but it has to pay you “just compensation” — the amount that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller to purchase the property.

But the federal power to seize land contains none of the landholder protections commonly found in state and local jurisdictions. The federal government rarely loses its bid to take land. Under a special procedure, federal officials can file a Declaration of Taking that results in a court granting immediate title to the land. Bulldozers can roll the next day. The only fight, essentially, is over how much money the property owner will receive.

Fifteen months ago, ProPublica examined the Department of Homeland Security’s use of eminent domain to construct the first border barrier, then called a fence. The Secure Fence Act, passed in 2006 with bipartisan support, resulted in 654 miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile border.

What we found was troubling. Wealthier property owners who could afford lawyers saw their compensation offers triple on average, while poorer landholders took what the government offered or bargained on their own for slightly more.

We were puzzled, however, to find that Homeland Security appeared to have ignored the one federal law designed to protect the rights of property owners from lowball offers by the government.

The obscure Uniform Act requires the government to conduct formal appraisals to establish the worth of any property valued at more than $10,000. Those appraisals are supposed to be done in concordance with the exacting guidelines spelled out in a 262-page federal manual. And the government is supposed to negotiate fairly and without coercion.

We knew Homeland Security had the ability to waive those protections, but we never found concrete proof that the agency had done so.

Until now.

Almost two years after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, Homeland Security released a copy of the formal document that allows the government to ignore many safeguards built into the act.

The document underscores just how easy it is for the federal government to eviscerate what is already a pretty toothless law. As it turned out, all it took was a two-page letter signed by a midlevel bureaucrat in U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency of Homeland Security.

Here’s a look at the letter and at the protections that it stripped away. Nothing would stop the Trump administration from doing the exact same thing today. Congress has taken no action to reform the Uniform Act or the Declaration of Taking, despite the laws’ controversial past. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2019 at 12:50 pm

Still playing with food: Aspargus + Crab Cake Delight

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My Field No. 10 is in the oven, getting filled with heat to 350ºF. While waiting, I did some prep:

1/2 medium red onion, sliced (left from yesterday’s asparagus dish
1 bunch scallions, chopped including leaves
6 cloves garlic minced
1 ginormous bunch asparagus, chopped
1 big clump oyster mushrooms, caps and stems, chopped
2 frozen crab cakes, cut into sections.

The crab cakes are quite good and are now selling for $1 each, an introductory price. The knife is The Wife’s 6″ David Boye chef’s knife, a treasure since he no longer makes them. The Son has an 8″ David Boye chef’s knife with a turquoise ring in the handle: very handsome. Boye used cast dendritic steel, and casting rather than forging the blade turns out to make a very nice knife indeed.

I heard the oven beep, so the skillet is hot. Now to do the cooking.

I should have used the No. 12 since the food was a little crowded, but I made do. I took the skillet from the oven, put it on a hot burner, added 1.5 tablespoons olive oil (which was plenty—6 WW points), and cooked: first the onions, then the garlic, then the asparagus, mushrooms, and crab cakes. The crab-cake sections broke up as I cooked, but I anticipated that—I just wanted some crab flavor in the dish, not necessarily big chunks of crab cake. I cooked it for 10 minutes.

As you can see, it made quite a bit. I generally try for “cook once, eat twice (or more),” and this is enough for dinner as well. I used my good soy sauce, though I think for this dish I’ll switch to ponzu sauce tonight. (I put the sauce on the food in my bowl, not the skillet.)

I do enjoy cooking.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2019 at 11:50 am

A Secret Database of Child Abuse

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Conservative organizations are prone to cover-ups because conservatives (unlike liberals) place very high value on respect for authority and on in-group loyalty. (Liberals place high value on fairness/equity and on care from harm—cf. Jonathan Haidt’s books and studies.)

The result is that a member of a conservative organization who is guilty of misconduct is often protected. Exposing the conduct seems “disloyal” (and you’ll note that conservative organizations treat whistle-blowers harshly and view whistle-blowing as dishonorable—more specifically, as disloyal) and it is also likely that those in positions of authority see such conduct as reflecting badly on them (as the leaders), which encourages a decision to cover up the misconduct, and since respect for authority is valued, the members readily agree (particularly since they feel loyal to members of the group, including the miscreant).

Thus we see serious cover-ups in (to mention a few conservative organizations) police departments, the military, big corporations, and religious organizations such as the Southern Baptists, the Catholic church, and now Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Douglas Quenqua writes in the Atlantic:

In March 1997, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses, sent a letter to each of its 10,883 U.S. congregations, and to many more congregations worldwide. The organization was concerned about the legal risk posed by possible child molesters within its ranks. The letter laid out instructions on how to deal with a known predator: Write a detailed report answering 12 questions—Was this a onetime occurrence, or did the accused have a history of child molestation? How is the accused viewed within the community? Does anyone else know about the abuse?—and mail it to Watchtower’s headquarters in a special blue envelope. Keep a copy of the report in your congregation’s confidential file, the instructions continued, and do not share it with anyone.

Thus did the Jehovah’s Witnesses build what might be the world’s largest database of undocumented child molesters: at least two decades’ worth of names and addresses—likely numbering in the tens of thousands—and detailed acts of alleged abuse, most of which have never been shared with law enforcement, all scanned and searchable in a Microsoft SharePoint file. In recent decades, much of the world’s attention to allegations of abuse has focused on the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Less notice has been paid to the abuse among the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian sect with more than 8.5 million members. Yet all this time, rather than comply with multiple court orders to release the information contained in its database, Watchtower has paid millions of dollars to keep it secret, even from the survivors whose stories are contained within.

That effort has been remarkably successful—until recently.

A white Priority Mail box filled with manila envelopes sits on the floor of Mark O’Donnell’s wood-paneled home office, on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland. Mark, 51, is the owner of an exercise-equipment repair business and a longtime Jehovah’s Witness who quietly left the religion in late 2013. Soon after, he became known to ex–Jehovah’s Witnesses as John Redwood, an activist and a blogger who reports on the various controversies, including cases of child abuse, surrounding Watchtower. (Recently, he has begun using his own name.)

When I first met Mark, in May of last year, he appeared at the front door of his modest home in the same outfit he nearly always wears: khaki cargo shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, white sneakers, and sweat socks pulled up over his calves. He invited me into his densely furnished office, where a fan barely dispelled the wafting smell of cat food. He pulled an envelope from the Priority Mail box and passed me its contents, a mixture of typed and handwritten letters discussing various sins allegedly committed by members of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Massachusetts. All the letters in the box had been stolen by an anonymous source inside the religion and shared with Mark. The sins described in the letters ranged from the mundane—smoking pot, marital infidelity, drunkenness—to the horrifying. Slowly, over the past couple of years, Mark has been leaking the most damning contents of the box, much of which is still secret.

Mark’s eyebrows are permanently arched, and when he makes an important point, he peers out above his rimless glasses, eyes widened, which lends him a conspiratorial air.

“Start with these,” he said.

Among the papers Mark showed me that day was a series of letters about a man from Springfield, Massachusetts, who had been disfellowshipped—a form of excommunication—three times. When the man was once again reinstated, in 2008, someone working in a division of Watchtower wrote to his congregation, noting that in 1989 he was said to have “allowed his 11-year-old stepdaughter to touch his penis … on at least two occasions.”

I was struck by the oddness of the language. It insinuated that the man had agreed to, rather than initiated, the sexual contact with his stepdaughter.

After I left Mark’s house, I tracked down the stepdaughter, now 40. In fact, she told me, she had been only 8 when her stepfather had molested her. “He was the adult and I was the kid, so I thought I didn’t have any choice,” she said. She was terrified, she told me. “It took me two years to go to my mom about it.”

Her mother immediately went to the congregation’s elders, who later called the girl and her stepfather in to pray with them. She remembers it as a humiliating experience.

Her stepfather was eventually disfellowshipped for instances that involved “fornication,” “drunkenness,” and “lying,” according to the letters. But according to the stepdaughter, his alleged molestation of her resulted only in his being “privately reproved,” a closed-door reprimand that is usually accompanied by a temporary loss of privileges, such as not being allowed to offer comments during Bible study or lead a prayer. The letters make no reference to police being notified; the stepdaughter said her mother was encouraged to keep the matter private, and no attempt was made to keep the stepfather away from other children. (Calls to the congregation’s Kingdom Hall—the Witness version of a church—for comment went unanswered.)

By the time the letters were written, the man was attending a different congregation and had married another woman with children; he is still part of that family today. Near the end of the final letter in Mark’s possession is a question: “Is there any responsibility on the part of either body of elders … to inform his current wife of his past history of child molestation?”

Mark O’Donnell’s childhood was an isolated one. His parents, Jerry and Susan, had started attending Jehovah’s Witness meetings in the mid-1960s. Another couple from Baltimore had told them of Watchtower’s prediction that the world would end in 1975, bringing death to all non-Witnesses and transforming Earth into a paradise for the faithful. In 1968, just after Mark was born, Jerry and Susan were group-baptized in a swimming pool in Washington, D.C. Mark was an only child, and he inherited his father’s peculiar love of record-keeping. Mark would show up to meetings at the Kingdom Hall with a briefcase full of religious texts.

As in any religion, there’s some variation among Jehovah’s Witnesses in how strictly they interpret the teachings that govern their faith; Mark’s upbringing seems to have been especially stringent. As a child, he attended at least five meetings a week, plus several hours of private Bible study. On Saturday mornings, he joined his parents in “field service,” knocking on doors in search of converts. He was taught that most people outside the organization were corrupted by Satan and, given the chance, would try to steal from him, drug him, or rape him. Mainstream books and magazines were considered the work of Satan. If he broke any of the religion’s main rules, he could be disfellowshipped, meaning even his own family would have to shun him.

Throughout Mark’s childhood, he heard elders cite Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever holds back his rod hates his son.” Mark’s parents took the lesson to heart and beat him frequently. The religion forbids celebrating birthdays, voting, serving in the military, and accepting blood transfusions, even in life-and-death situations. Witnesses were encouraged to devote themselves to bringing more converts into the religion before the end of the world arrived. “Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property” to spend their last days proselytizing, said a Watchtower publication in 1974. “Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.” Some Witnesses stopped going to the doctor, quit their jobs, or ran up debt.

But piety, Mark noticed, did not always translate to morality. When he was 12, Mark became suspicious of a local Witness named Louis Ongsingco, a flight attendant who would bring home Toblerone bars for the local Witness kids and invite them to his apartment to act out religious plays. Mark noticed Ongsingco touching young girls in a way that made him uncomfortable. He told an elder about his concerns. But rather than take action against Ongsingco, the elder told him what Mark had said. Days later, Ongsingco pulled Mark aside and scolded him.

Mark’s instincts seem to have been right. In 2001, one of Mark’s childhood friends, Erin Michelle Shifflett, along with four other women, sued Ongsingco for sexual assault. The cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Ongsingco died in 2016.

To Mark, the lesson was that for all the emphasis the elders placed on moral purity, there was no greater sin than speaking out against other Witnesses.

By the time Mark was in high school, in the early 1980s, 1975 had come and gone, but Watchtower had a new prediction for the apocalypse. It said that the world would end before the passing of the generation that was alive in 1914. At the time, the youngest members of that generation were 70, so the new prediction created a sense of urgency.

“My parents basically told me, ‘You’re not even going to live to graduate from college,’” Mark said. At 17, despite having a year of college credit and a guidance counselor imploring him to apply, he decided to settle for a high-school diploma. He was baptized and later started his exercise-equipment repair company. The business provided enough flexibility for him to perform 50 hours of field service for the Witnesses a month, which qualified him for the rank of auxiliary pioneer.

Though many Witnesses left the religion after 1975, membership was on the upswing by the 1990s, and the organization was building new Kingdom Halls. Mark was installing a sound system in a new hall in Baltimore in the fall of 1997 when a young woman named Kimmy Weber asked to borrow his ladder. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

One incident from later in the article:

Candace Conti, now 33, was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness in Fremont, California. When she was 9, the elders in her congregation paired her with a man named Jonathan Kendrick for Saturday-morning field service. Instead of going door-to-door to preach the word of God, Kendrick would take Conti to his house and molest her, she says. She estimates this went on for about two years.

Years later, after Conti had left the Witnesses, she discovered Kendrick’s name on the federal sex-offender registry. When she went back to the elders in her former congregation to tell them about the abuse, she was rebuffed by something called the two-witness rule.

Rooted in Deuteronomy 19:15—“No single witness may convict another for any error or any sin that he may commit”—the two-witness rule states that, barring a confession, no member of the organization can be officially accused of committing a sin without two credible eyewitnesses who are willing to corroborate the accusation. Critics say this rule has helped turn Witness communities into havens for child molesters, who rarely commit crimes in the presence of bystanders.

The elders told Conti that without a second witness to the molestation, there was nothing they could do. (When reached for comment, Watchtower’s Office of Public Information said, “Our policies on child protection comply with the law, including any requirements for elders to report allegations of child abuse to authorities.” Watchtower declined to comment on specific cases out of respect for the privacy of all involved.)

Conti asked the elders to consider a plan she had devised for tracking child molesters within the organization. When they refused, she sued Watchtower, her former congregation, and Kendrick. During depositions, the elders admitted that they’d long known Kendrick had a history of child molestation—they knew before they paired him with Conti for door-to-door ministry, and before they rejected her story about the abuse. In 2012, a jury awarded Conti $28 million, believed to be the largest jury verdict ever for a single victim in a child-abuse case against a religious organization. (On appeal, judges reduced the damages to less than $3 million. Kendrick has always denied Conti’s allegations.)

Others had come forward with accusations against Watchtower before, but Conti refused to take a settlement, and the trial, with its blockbuster monetary award, became a major news story. In the years since, Watchtower has faced dozens of similar lawsuits from victims who say the organization’s policies enabled and protected their abusers. In addition to the 1997 “special blue envelope” letter,these suits have cited a 1989 letter in which Watchtower discouraged elders from reporting wrongdoing to civil authorities. “There is ‘a time to keep quiet,’ when ‘your words should prove to be few’ (Ecclesiastes 3:7; 5:2),” it read. “Improper use of the tongue by an elder can result in serious legal problems for the individual, the congregation, and even the Society.”

It was one such lawsuit that brought attention to the database. . .

And there’s more. Jehovah’s Witnesses is clearly a cult organization.

There’s much much more in the article, and it is compelling reading. Jehovah’s Witnesses should be outlawed, but that tends not to work with religions. A better approach would be for the story of what the organization is and does should be widely publicized. This post is to help in that effort.

Later still in the article:

In the summer of 2015, the ex-Witness community was transfixed by Australia’s royal-commission hearings, live-streamed online, into sexual abuse in religious organizations. The commission had been trying to get testimony from a member of Watchtower’s Governing Body—the organization’s all-male ruling council, which then consisted of eight men. By a strange twist of fate, one member, Geoffrey Jackson, was in Australia at the time, tending to his sick father.Watchtower had managed to avoid a subpoena by claiming that the Governing Body was strictly advisory and played no role in creating policy. Mark—who had obsessively collected Watchtower literature his entire life—had the evidence to prove this wasn’t true. He dug out a copy of the “Branch Organization Manual,” an obscure document explaining all the functions of the Governing Body, and emailed it to Angus Stewart, the lead litigator in the proceedings. Stewart used the manual to subpoena Jackson.

In front of the commission, Jackson became the first active member of Watchtower’s Governing Body to acknowledge that “child abuse is a problem right throughout the community.” He also admitted that in most cases, children who make such charges against Watchtower are telling the truth.

It was an emotional moment for those whose abuse Watchtower had denied. Mark received an email from Stewart saying that the “Branch Organization Manual” had proved to be crucial in securing Jackson’s testimony. Perhaps, Mark thought, his extensive collection of Watchtower ephemera and his encyclopedic knowledge of the religion could be used for something other than recruiting.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2019 at 9:59 am

A great little shave

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My pre-Vulfix-acquisition Simpson Wee Scot is a wonderful little brush, and I used it this morning with this little tub of Klar Seifen shaving soap. (The name is hidden by the razor’s handle, and the name on the aftershave just rubbed off: bad choice of labeling ink.)

The pre-Vulfix-acquisition Wee Scot holds an enormous amount of the lather, and the lather this morning was quite good, though a bit bubbly because I did not shake out the brush enough—one more good shake would have produced a thicker lather.

The Stealth, which like the pre-Vulfix-acquisition Wee Scot is no long available except on eBay or the like, does a really great shave. Three passes, a totally smooth face, and then a splash of Klar Seifen aftershave, and the week is now officially underway.

Written by Leisureguy

25 March 2019 at 8:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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