Later On

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

Archive for January 5th, 2023

The US may be at a turning point, and it certainly *needs* a turning point

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson had a particularly good column last night, and if you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. It begins:

The Republicans won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in 2022—aided by gerrymandering and new laws that made it harder to vote—but they remain unable to come together to elect a speaker. In three ballots yesterday, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) could not muster a majority of the House to back him, as a group of 20 far-right Republicans are backing their own choices. The saga continued today with three more ballots; McCarthy still came up short.

In contrast, the Democrats have consistently given minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York 212 votes, more votes than McCarthy received but not a majority of the body. When former Speaker Nancy Pelosi nominated Jeffries yesterday, she blew him a kiss and the caucus rose up in a standing ovation.

Because it is still unorganized, the House technically has no members. No one is sworn in, and so they cannot perform their official duties or hire staff. About 70 new members brought their families to Washington, D.C., to watch their swearing in, and the extra days as the speakership contest drags on are becoming hard to manage.

The chaos suggests that Republican leadership does not have the skills it needs to govern. Leaders often have to negotiate in order to take power—Nancy Pelosi had to bring together a number of factions to win the speakership in 2019—but since 1923 those negotiations have been completed before the start of voting.

Just weeks ago, McCarthy and his supporters were furious at Senate Republicans for negotiating with their Democratic colleagues to pass the omnibus bill to fund the government, insisting they could do a better job. Now they can’t even agree on a speaker. “Thank God they weren’t in the majority on January 6,” Pelosi told reporters, “because that was the day you had to be organized to stave off what was happening, to save our democracy, to certify the election of the president.”

One story here is about competence. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo points out that Pelosi ran the House with virtually the same margin the Republicans have now and yet managed to hold her caucus together tightly enough to pass a slate of legislation that rivaled those of the Great Society and the New Deal. McCarthy can’t even organize the House, leaving the United States without a functioning Congress for the first time in a hundred years.

But there is a larger story here about the destruction of the traditional Republican Party over the past forty years. In those years, a party that believed the government had a role to play in leveling the country’s economic and racial playing fields was captured by a reactionary right wing determined to uproot any such government action. When voters—including Republicans—continued to support business regulation, a basic social safety net, and civil rights laws, the logical outcome of opposition to such measures was war on the government itself.

That war is not limited to the 20 far-right Republicans refusing to elect McCarthy speaker. Pundits note that those 20 have supported former president Trump’s positions, particularly the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. They also worked to overturn the 2020 election, challenging the electors from a number of states. But 139 Republicans, including McCarthy himself, voted in 2021 to challenge electors from a number of states and went on to embrace the Big Lie, and McCarthy’s staunchest supporter is extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

And today, more than 60 prominent right-wing figures, from President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese III to Trump lawyers Cleta Mitchell and John Eastman, who were both instrumental in the effort to overturn Biden’s election in 2020, and Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas, who also participated in that effort, declared themselves “disgusted with the business-as-usual, self-interested governance in Washington.” They declared their support for the 20.

The roots of today’s Republican worldview lie in the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

Reagan and his allies sought to dismantle the regulation of business and the social welfare state that cost tax dollars, but they recognized those policies were popular. So they fell back on  . . .

Continue reading the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 8:42 pm

What We Know About U.S.-Backed Zero Units in Afghanistan

leave a comment »

The events reported by Lynzy Billing in ProPublica sound an awful lot like war crimes — the sort of thing the US so strongly condemns Russia for doing. Her report begins:

In 2019, reporter Lynzy Billing returned to Afghanistan to research the murders of her mother and sister nearly 30 years earlier. Instead, in the country’s remote reaches, she stumbled upon the CIA-backed Zero Units, who conducted night raids — quick, brutal operations designed to have resounding psychological impacts while ostensibly removing high-priority enemy targets.

So, Billing attempted to catalog the scale of civilian deaths left behind by just one of four Zero Units, known as the 02, over a four year period. The resulting report represents an effort no one else has done or will ever be able to do again. Here is what she found:

  • At least 452 civilians were killed in 107 raids. This number is almost certainly an undercount. While some raids did result in the capture or death of known militants, others killed bystanders or appeared to target people for no clear reason.
  • A troubling number of raids appear to have relied on faulty intelligence by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence-gathering services. Two Afghan Zero Unit soldiers described raids they were sent on in which they said their targets were chosen by the United States.
  • The former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency acknowledged that the units were getting it wrong at times and killing civilians. He oversaw the Zero Units during a crucial period and agreed that no one paid a consequence for those botched raids. He went on to describe an operation that went wrong: “I went to the family myself and said: ‘We are sorry. … We want to be different from the Taliban.’ And I mean we did, we wanted to be different from the Taliban.”
  • The Afghan soldiers weren’t alone on the raids; U.S. special operations forces soldiers working with the CIA often joined them. The Afghan soldiers Billing spoke to said they were typically accompanied on raids by at least 10 U.S. special operations forces soldiers. “These deaths happened at our hands. I have participated in many raids,” one of the Afghans said, “and there have been hundreds of raids where someone is killed and they are not Taliban or ISIS, and where no militants are present at all.”
  • Military planners baked potential “collateral damage” into the pre-raid calculus — how many women/children/noncombatants were at risk if the raid went awry, according to one U.S. Army Ranger Billing spoke to. Those forecasts were often wildly off, he said, yet no one seemed to really care. He told Billing that night raids were a better option than airstrikes but acknowledged that the raids risked creating new insurgent recruits. “You go on night raids, make more enemies, then you gotta go on more night raids for the more enemies you now have to kill.”
  • Because the Zero Units operated under a CIA program, their actions were part of a “classified” war, with the lines of accountability so obscured that no one had to answer for operations that went wrong. And U.S. responsibility for the raids was quietly muddied by a legal loophole that allows the CIA — and any U.S. soldiers lent to the agency for their operations — to act without the same level of oversight as the American military.
  • Congressional aides and former intelligence committee staffers said they don’t believe Congress was getting a complete picture of the CIA’s overseas operations. Lawyers representing whistleblowers said there is ample motivation to downplay to Congress the number of civilians killed or injured in such operations. By the time reports get to congressional oversight committees, one lawyer said, they’re “undercounting deaths and overstating accuracy.”
  • U.S. military and intelligence agencies have long relied on night raids by forces like the 02 unit to fight insurgencies around the globe. The strategy has, again and again, drawn outrage for its reliance on sometimes flawed intelligence and civilian death count. In 1967, the CIA’s Phoenix Program famously used kill-capture raids against the Viet Cong insurgency in south Vietnam, creating an intense public blowback. Despite the program’s ignominious reputation — a 1971 Pentagon study found only 3% of those killed or captured were full or probationary Viet Cong members above the district level — it appears to have served as a blueprint for future night raid operations.
  • Eyewitnesses, survivors and family members described how Zero Unit soldiers had stormed into their homes at night, killing loved ones** at more than 30 raid sites Billing visited. No Afghan or U.S officials returned to investigate. In one instance, a 22-year-old named Batour witnessed a raid that killed his two brothers. One was a teacher and the other a university student. He told Billing the Zero Unit strategy had actually made enemies of families like his. He and his brothers, he said, had supported the government and vowed never to join the Taliban. Now, he said, he’s not so sure.
  • Little in the way of explanation was ever provided to the relatives of the dead — or to their neighbors and friends — as to why these particular individuals were targeted and what crimes they were accused of. Families who sought answers from provincial officials about the raids were told nothing could be done because they were Zero Unit operations. “They have their own intelligence and they do their own operation,” one grieving family member remembered being told after his three grandchildren were killed in an airstrike and night raid. “The provincial governor gave us a parcel of rice, a can of oil and some sugar” as compensation for the killings. At medical facilities, doctors told Billing they’d never been contacted by Afghan or U.S. investigators or human rights groups about the fate of those injured in the raids. Some of the injured later died, quietly boosting the casualty count.

In a statement, CIA spokesperson Tammy Thorp said, “As a rule, the U.S. takes extraordinary measures — beyond those mandated by law — to reduce civilian casualties in armed conflict, and treats any claim of human rights abuses with the utmost seriousness.” She said any allegations of human rights abuses by a “foreign partner” are reviewed and, if valid, the CIA and “other elements of the U.S. government take concrete steps, including providing training on applicable law and best practices, or if necessary terminating assistance or the relationship.” Thorp said the Zero Units had been the target of a systematic propaganda campaign designed to discredit them because “of the threat they posed to Taliban rule.”

The Department of Defense did not respond to questions about Zero Unit operations.

With a forensic pathologist, Billing drove hundreds of miles across some of the country’s most volatile areas — visiting the sites of more than 30 raids, interviewing witnesses, survivors, family members, doctors and village elders. To understand the program, she met secretly with two Zero Unit soldiers over the course of years, wrangled with Afghanistan’s former spy master in his heavily fortified home and traveled to a diner in the middle of America to meet with an Army Ranger who’d joined the units on operations.

She also conducted more than 350 interviews with . . .

Continue reading. They sound like double-zero units, or in real life and in violation of law.

I wonder whether any of those involved in the planning and execution of these raids and murders ever asked themselves, “Are we the baddies?”

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 4:42 pm

Best diet to prevent or treat atrial fibrillation (Afib)

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 4:07 pm

Celery Kale

leave a comment »

Vegetables on a cutting board along with a jar of dried marjoram, a tin of Spanish smoked hot paprika, and a tube of tomato paste. Vegetables include Tuscan kale, celery, 3 BBQ onions, a lemon a small pile of crimini mushrooms, a turmeric root, several large cloves of garlic, a piece of ginger root, two jalapeños, and a couple of springs of tarragon.

I learned recently that celery is more nutritious cooked than raw, so I’m including a few stalks (chopped) in today’s kale dish. I used my 6-qt pot, expecting the pre-cooked volume would be fairly large. (My expectations were fulfilled.) 

Celery Kale

I began by drizzling about 2 Tbsp EVOO over the bottom of the pot, then added the following as I prepared them. I went more or less left to right, beginning with the bottom row:

• 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, chopped small (first to allow rest time)
• 3″ piece of ginger root, minced
• 1 bulbous turmeric root, mince (unusual shape for a turmeric root)
• 6-7 medium cremini mushrooms, halved vertically and sliced
• leaves from a couple of springs of tarragon, chopped
• 2 small jalapeños, quartered vertically and chopped
• 3 BBQ/spring onions, chopped
• 4 stalks celery, halved lengthwise then chopped
• 1 bunch Tuscan kale (aka lacinato kale, black kale, dino kal, et al.)
• 1 Tbsp Spanish smoked hot paperika
• 2 Tbsp dried marjoram
• about 2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper (for the tumeric)
• 1/2 teaspoon MSG (it’s okay)

I turned the burner to “4” and started cooking the veggies, stirring frequently to mix. Once they had wilted and collapsed somewhat, I added:

• 2 Tbsp tomato paste
• 6 dried tomatoes (dry, not in oil — not in photo)
• about 1/2 cup vegetable broth
• about 1/4 cup rice vinegar 

I stirred to mix, cooked a few minutes more, then covered the pot, turned burner to 225ºF and the timer to 20 minutes. I stirred once halfway through as it simmered.

Pot of cooked chopped vegetables, a mix of dark green and light green

I have cooked brown lentils on hand, and I cooked some amaranth earlier today, so that will be my meal — beans/lentils, (pseudo)grain, and cooked vegetables that include greens, cruciferous vegetable, other vegetables, turmeric, herb (tarragon) and spice (black pepper, paprika). I’ve already have berries, fruit, and flaxseed (plus chia seed), so overall I’m doing well on the Daily Dozen today.

At right is the finished result. I should have included some chopped red and/or yellow bell pepper for color, or a yellow summer squash. Still, it’s very tasty and definitely healthy — see next post on treating/preventing atrial fibrillation (afib).

It’s extremely tasty and the celery adds some pleasant crunch. I sprinkled some nutritional yeast on top.

PS. I just realized that I had some roasted purple potatoes in the fridge. I could have chopped up one of those and included it. Still, I can (and have) added some potato to the Celery Kale when I serve it, along with lentils and amaranth and a dab of this.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 3:40 pm

Modern-day fog-catcher

leave a comment »

Fog-catchers have traditionally been made of rocks, but this modern-day version takes the technology to a new level.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 1:34 pm

The third magic: A meditation on history, science, and AI

leave a comment »

Noah Smith writes at Noahpinion:

This post is essentially a rewrite of a big and half-formed idea that I wrote on my old blog eight years ago. I was deeply dissatisfied with that post, but I thought it contained a few interesting seeds. So now I’m trying again, and will undoubtedly fail again. But hopefully something else interesting will come out of the attempt.

Humanity’s living standards are vastly greater than those of the other animals. Many people attribute this difference to our greater intelligence or our greater linguistic communication ability. But without minimizing the importance of those underlying advantages, I’d like to offer the idea that our material success is due, in large part, to two great innovations. Usually we think of innovations as specific technologies — agriculture, writing, the wheel, the steam engine, the computer. The most important of these are the things we call “general purpose technologies”. But I think that at a deeper level, there are more profound and fundamental meta-innovations that underlie even those things, and these are ways of learning about the world.

The first magic

Humans’ first big meta-innovation, roughly speaking — the first thing that lifted us above an animal existence — was history. By this, I don’t just mean the chronicling of political events and social trends that we now call “history”, but basically any knowledge that’s recorded in language — instructions on how to farm, family genealogies, techniques for building a house or making bronze, etc. Originally these were recorded in oral traditions, but these are a very lossy medium; eventually, we started writing knowledge down, and then we got agricultural manuals, almanacs, math books, and so on. That’s when we really got going.

Animals make tools, but they don’t collectively remember how to make those tools. History, especially written history, is what allows tinkering to stick — it means that when one human finds an ingenious new way of doing something, there’s a good chance that many other humans, and eventually all humans, will know how to do it. And of course those techniques can then build on each other over time. In the modern day we think of history as primarily a social science, but fundamentally it’s the foundation of technology as well; it’s the thing that lifted us from an almost animal existence into the agricultural age. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 1:27 pm

Aphrodite and the Final Cut

with one comment

Shaving set up with a shaving brush that has a long white handle with a silvertip badger knot. Next is a tub of shaving soap whose label shows a robed maiden in the background and three red roses in the foreground, with the name Aphrodite on the label. To the right of that is a bottle of aftershave with the same label design. In front is an adjustable double-edge razor lying on its side.

The Rooney did a fine job with Van Yulay’s Aphrodite shaving soap, whose fragrance is chocolate and roses. The fragrance is pleasing, but not so pleasing as that of Achilles. I did notice I kept having to add more water while loading the soap, and I just took a look at the ingredients:

Made with Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera, Coconut Fatty Acid, Castor, Glycerin, Potassium & Sodium Hydroxide, Coconut-Babassu-Argan-Abyssinian-Oils, Cocoa Butter, Calendula, Extracts, Ground Rose Petals, Hersery’s Cocoa, Poly Quats, Sodium Lactate, Allantoin, Silica, Amino Liquid Silk, Rose Clay, Essential Oils, and Fragrance.

Clay is late in the list of ingredients, but the soap did indeed require a lot of water. More details on the soap at the link.

Well-lathered, I picked up my Yaqi Final Cut adjustable and easily stripped off the stubble in three passes. After a drop of Grooming Dept Rejuvenating Serum and a splash of Aphrodite aftershave, the (windy) morning is launched. I used the Rejuvenating Serum even though this aftershave does have good ingredients:

Aloe Vera, Witch Hazel, Abyssinian Seed-Emu-Red Castor-Evening Primrose-Rosehip Seed-Oils, Comfrey, Calendula, Tepezcohuite, Oat, Marsh Mallow, Green Tea Extracts, Liquid Silk, and Fragrance

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Library Blend: “This blend of Ceylon, Jasmine, Keemun, and Gunpowder teas has a rich, full base with the sparkle of aromatic Jasmine.”

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 11:40 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

%d bloggers like this: