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Muck Reads

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Via email from ProPublica:

If everybody’s getting hooked up, nobody’s going to say anything.” Federal air marshals may have skipped some “high risk” flights that would not fit into their busy schedule of romantic affairs.  The alleged transgressions aren’t the first for this service that expanded from a few dozen prior to 9/11 to a few thousand. “The male-dominated agency long has suffered from  allegations of sexism, cronyism and other  misconduct,” writes Reveal. — Reveal via @mtfarnsworth [Yet another example of law enforcement personnel acting above the law with no accountability. – LG]

Data-driven sentencing may punish the poor. In an effort to cut prison populations and save billions of dollars, prisons across the U.S. are using lengthy questionnaires to determine inmates’ sentencing and the risk of releasing. But while the questionnaires asks about the criminals’ history, it also explores issues beyond it. Questions like: Do you have a phone? How many times have you moved? Was one of your parents in jail? Some experts feel that the questions put the poor in an outsized risk of longer sentences. “It’s basically an explicit embrace of the state saying we should sentence people differently based on poverty,” one law professor says. — The AP via @mattapuzzo

These kids are virtually hog-tied.” At least 100,000 children are handcuffed, belly chained and put in leg irons for their day in court each year in the U.S., MotherJones reports. Prosecutors and law enforcement say shackling can help maintains courtroom order. The American Bar Association disagrees and is pushing to end the practice. — MotherJones via @mintymin

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2015 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Daily life

A magazine about the quest for excellence: Craftsmanship

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We all admire good craftsmanship and prize those things we own that exhibit good craftsmanship. And excellence in craftsmanship is found in all areas: tools, clothing, razors, furniture, knives, guns, shoes, jigsaw puzzles, and so on. The idea of craftsmanship can be generalize from that to apply analogously to any endeavor in which thoughtful, careful, and disciplined work is done by experienced people to achieve something excellent.

Todd Oppenheimer has launched an on-line magazine, Craftsmanship, to explore and celebrate examples of craftsmanship.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2015 at 11:46 am

Posted in Daily life

Always record your encounters with police

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At the list, it may show you never “reached for your waistband,” as videos of the mentally ill unarmed man in LA, shot to death by two police officers who fired 21 shots. And take a look at this report from the Washington Post:

The latest example of cellphone video vindicating someone from false charges is a doozy. It comes from Washington Parish, La., and WWL TV.

One of the worst days of Douglas Dendinger’s life began with him handing an envelope to a police officer.

In order to help out his family and earn a quick $50, Dendinger agreed to act as a process server, giving a brutality lawsuit filed by his nephew to Chad Cassard as the former Bogalusa police officer exited the Washington Parish Courthouse.

The handoff went smoothly, but Dendinger said the reaction from Cassard, and a group of officers and attorneys clustered around him, turned his life upside down.

“It was like sticking a stick in a bee’s nest.” Dendinger, 47, recalled. “They started cursing me. They threw the summons at me. Right at my face, but it fell short. Vulgarities. I just didn’t know what to think. I was a little shocked.”

Not knowing what to make of the blow-up, a puzzled Dendinger drove home. That’s where things went from bad to worse.

“Within about 20 minutes, there were these bright lights shining through my windows. It was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I mean I knew immediately, a police car.”

“And that’s when the nightmare started,” he said. “I was arrested.”

He was not only arrested, he was also charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor. A prior drug charge on his record meant he was potentially looking at decades in prison. Seven witnesses backed up the police account that Dendinger had assaulted Cassard.

But Dendinger had asked his wife and nephew to record him serving the papers. It was a last minute decision, but one that may have saved him his freedom.

From what can be seen on the clips, Dendinger never touches Cassard, who calmly takes the envelope and walks back into the courthouse, handing [prosecutor Leigh Anne] Wall the envelope.

“He’d still be in a world of trouble if he didn’t have that film,” said David Cressy, a friend of Dendinger who once served as a prosecutor under [former St. Tammany District Attorney Walter] Reed. “It was him against all of them. They took advantage of that and said all sorts of fictitious things happened. And it didn’t happen. It would still be going like that had they not had the film.”

Dendinger spent nearly a year waiting for trial, racking up attorney’s fees. As a disabled Army veteran on a fixed income, Dendinger said the case stretched him financially, but in his eyes, he was fighting for his life. . .

Continue reading.

And check out these links.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 7:16 pm

Fighting recidivism hand to hand

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Extremely interesting and heartening report by Jesse Katz in Aeon:

Every Saturday morning Scott Budnick leaves his 1920s Mediterranean villa on a Hollywood Hills cul-de-sac, with its pool and waterfall and wooded trails, and drives his Tesla north, across the San Fernando Valley, to where the 5 and 210 freeways converge in Sylmar. The first time he made this trek, to a corner of Los Angeles synonymous with the fortress of a juvenile hall it encompasses, he was all jitters, wondering what he was getting himself into as he neared the brick walls and coiled razor wire.

Twelve years later, after some 300 to 400 Saturdays, Budnick pulls into the Compound like he owns the place, which is not far off; at least four superintendents in that time have come and gone. Strolling through the smoked-glass doors, he sips coffee, chews gum, and thumbs at his phone, pausing just long enough to navigate the metal detector and slip his driver’s license through a slot in the window.

“What’s up, bro,” he says to the guard.

After being buzzed in, Budnick walks down a caged corridor, through several more gated doors, across a field hemmed in by tall fences, and finally into a drab, chilled, cinder-block bunker. He has a dimpled chin, a few days’ stubble, and the hint of a Jewfro. At 38, he dresses like someone half his age: faded jeans, rvca hoodie, blue Nikes with orange swooshes today. The clothes vary little, only the sneakers; he owns 80 pairs.

“Let’s see who we can pull,” Budnick says. In Unit W, where he volunteers as a writing teacher, a few teenage boys filter out of their cells. Most are tatted, from necks to knuckles to earlobes, with neighborhood insignia: a map of L.A. poverty. Each is an “unfit,” the juvenile system’s term for a minor so irredeemable, or accused of a crime so grievous, he must stand trial as an adult. Every one of them is black or brown.

Budnick spots Jorge. He is pallid and compact, swallowed by a gray sweatshirt and grayer Dickies. “You’re such a good kid,” says Budnick, wrapping him in a bear hug, then throwing him into a headlock. “I’d be lucky to have you as my own kid.”

“He doesn’t care what we did or why we’re here, and that’s what brought me to him, you know, like to be cool with him, ’cause he don’t judge, and I like that, ’cause I always feel judged,” says Jorge, who has been locked up since last summer, when he was 17. He is the youngest of five defendants facing charges that stem from a gang-related home invasion; if Jorge loses his case, he could be sentenced to life. “Some people don’t even have faith in me,” Jorge says. “And he does.”

Who doesn’t?” asks Budnick. “I don’t believe that. Who cannot have faith in you?” He does not wait for an answer. “Maybe,” says Budnick, “the old version of you.”

If Budnick were a priest or a lawyer, even a counselor or a coach, these jailhouse pilgrimages would be easier to explain — his declarations not so incongruous. But until a bit more than a year ago, Budnick had a day job as a Hollywood producer, and not one devoted to bringing socially conscious, inspirational tales to the screen. As the number two at Green Hat Films, Budnick executive-produced the raunchy, uproarious Hangover movies, the top-grossing R-rated comedy franchise in history. For years it meant living a kind of double life, racing from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, interrupting conference calls to accept collect calls, burning through girlfriends once they realized he would rather be, as his official bio says, “walking the tiers of California jails and prisons on his nights and weekends” than a red carpet.

“These kids,” Budnick says, “are what give me life.”

At once earnest and hyperbolic, loyal and schmoozy, Budnick can come across as a character in one of his own films. When people first meet him, whether it be an inmate or a warden, a politician or a philanthropist, the initial reaction is almost always the same: “Who the fuck are you and what are you about?” his longtime mentor, Javier Stauring, who oversees the L.A. Archdiocese’s youth-detention ministry, says with a laugh. Budnick is not the likeliest crusader, in other words, to be redefining how California punishes and redeems. . .

Continue reading. It’s fascinating. Later in the report:

During the school year, Budnick worked as her assistant. Summers he began visiting L.A., interning first on Baywatch, then at United Talent Agency. He gave up medicine. “I never would have lasted,” Budnick says. Instead he became social chair of Emory’s Chi Phi fraternity, which entailed throwing big-budget bashes with security and sound equipment — mtv’s DJ Skribble once headlined. “Producing a movie,” he told The Chi Phi Chakettmagazine, “is very much like producing a college fraternity party.”

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 4:07 pm

Silk Road: libertarian beginnings, ending as a fiefdom run by pirate kings

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It’s like businesses in an environment without any government regulation: pure free enterprise and unfetter competition, which quickly leads to monopolies that crush competitors, rake in profits, and ruin the environment. Henry Farrell writes at Aeon:

The Hidden Wiki holds the keys to a secret internet. To reach it, you need a special browser that can access ‘Tor Hidden Services’ – websites that have chosen to obscure their physical location. But even this browser isn’t enough. Like the Isla de Muerta in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, the landmarks of this hidden internet can be discovered only by those who already know where they are.

Sites such as the Hidden Wiki provide unreliable treasure maps. They publish lists of the special addresses for sites where you can use Bitcoin to buy drugs or stolen credit card numbers, play strange games, or simply talk, perhaps on subjects too delicate for the open web. The lists are often untrustworthy. Sometimes the addresses are out-of-date. Sometimes they are actively deceptive. One link might lead to a thriving marketplace for buying and selling stolen data; another, to a wrecker’s display of false lights, a cloned site designed to relieve you of your coin and give you nothing in return.

This hidden internet is a product of debates among technology-obsessed libertarians in the 1990s. These radicals hoped to combine cryptography and the internet into a universal solvent that would corrupt the bonds of government tyranny. New currencies, based on recent cryptographic advances, would undermine traditional fiat money, seizing the cash nexus from the grasp of the state. ‘Mix networks’, where everyone’s identity was hidden by multiple layers of encryption, would allow people to talk and engage in economic exchange without the government being able to see.

Plans for cryptographic currencies led to the invention of Bitcoin, while mix networks culminated in Tor. The two technologies manifest different aspects of a common dream – the utopian aspiration to a world where one could talk and do business without worrying about state intervention – and indeed they grew up together. For a long time, the easiest way to spend Bitcoin was at Tor’s archipelago of obfuscated websites.

Like the pirate republics of the 18th century, this virtual underworld mingles liberty and vice. Law enforcement and copyright-protection groups such as the Digital Citizens’ Alliance in Washington, DC, prefer to emphasise the most sordid aspects of Tor’s hidden services – the sellers of drugs, weapons and child pornography. And yet the effort to create a hidden internet was driven by ideology as much as avarice. The network is used by dissidents as well as dope-peddlers. If you live under an authoritarian regime, Tor provides you with a ready-made technology for evading government controls on the internet. Even some of the seedier services trade on a certain idealism. Many libertarians believe that people should be able to buy and sell drugs without government interference, and hoped to build marketplaces to do just that, without violence and gang warfare.

Tor’s anonymity helps criminals by making it harder for the state to identify and detain them. Yet this has an ironic side-effect: it also makes it harder for them to trust each other, because they typically can’t be sure who their interlocutors are. To make money in hidden markets, you need people to trust you, so that they will buy from you and sell to you. Having accomplished this first manoeuvre, the truly successful entrepreneurs go one step further. They become middlemen of trust, guaranteeing relations between others and taking a cut from the proceeds.

To this end, entrepreneurs have found it necessary to create and maintain communities, making rules, enforcing them, punishing rule-breakers, and turning towards violence when all else fails. They have, in effect, built petty versions of the very governments they are fleeing. As the US sociologist Charles Tilly argued, the modern state began as a protection racket, offering its subjects protection against outsiders and each other. The same logic is playing out today on the hidden internet, as would-be petty barons and pirate kings fight to tax and police their subjects while defending themselves against hostile incursions.

No entrepreneur of trust was more successful than the Texan Ross Ulbricht, who, under his ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ pseudonym, founded and ran the notorious Silk Road marketplace for drugs and other contraband. And no-one better exemplifies how the libertarian dream of freedom from the state turned sour.

Ulbricht built the Silk Road marketplace from nothing, pursuing both a political dream and his own self-interest. However, in making a market he found himself building a micro-state, with increasing levels of bureaucracy and rule‑enforcement and, eventually, the threat of violence against the most dangerous rule‑breakers. Trying to build Galt’s Gulch, he ended up reconstructing Hobbes’s Leviathan; he became the very thing he was trying to escape. But this should not have been a surprise. . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

The libertarian hope that markets could sustain themselves through free association and choice is a chimera with a toxic sting in its tail. Without state enforcement, the secret drug markets of Tor hidden services are coming to resemble an anarchic state of nature in which self-help dominates.

Libertarianism is a fantasy that does poorly in the real world.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 3:36 pm

Good news for Greece, and how to argue with unreasonable people

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Paul Krugman has a couple of good things today. For one, he explains why the 4-month extension is good news for Greece. And for another, he explains how to engage with people who are not open to reason:

When I was a young economist trying to build a career, I lived — or thought I lived — in a world in which ideas and those who championed them met in relatively open intellectual combat. Of course there were people who clung to their prejudices, of course style sometimes trumped substance. But I believed that by and large better ideas tended to prevail: if your model of trade flows or exchange rate fluctuations tracked the data better than someone else’s, or resolved puzzles that other models couldn’t, you could expect it to be taken up by many if not most researchers in the field.

This is still true in much of economics, I believe. But in the areas that matter most given the state of the world, it’s not true at all. People who declared back in 2009 that Keynesianism was nonsense and that monetary expansion would inevitably cause runaway inflation are still saying exactly the same thing after six years of quiescent inflation and overwhelming evidence that austerity affects economies exactly the way Keynesians said it would.

And we’re not just talking about cranks without credentials; we’re talking about founders of the Shadow Open Market Committee and Nobel laureates.

Obviously this isn’t just a story about economics; it covers everything from climate science and evolution to Bill O’Reilly’s personal history. But that in itself is telling: academic economics, which still has pretenses of being an arena of open intellectual inquiry, appears to be deeply infected with politicization.

So what should those of us who really wanted to be part of what we thought this enterprise was about do? That’s the question Brad DeLong has been asking.

I see three choices: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 3:03 pm

Interesting and credible theory on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

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Jeff Wise writes in New York magazine:

The unsettling oddness was there from the first moment, on March 8, when Malaysia Airlines announced that a plane from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, Flight 370, had disappeared over the South China Sea in the middle of the night. There had been no bad weather, no distress call, no wreckage, no eyewitness accounts of a fireball in the sky—just a plane that said good-bye to one air-traffic controller and, two minutes later, failed to say hello to the next. And the crash, if it was a crash, got stranger from there.

My yearlong detour to Planet MH370 began two days later, when I got an email from an editor at Slate asking if I’d write about the incident. I’m a private pilot and science writer, and I wrote about the last big mysterious crash, of Air France 447 in 2009. My story ran on the 12th. The following morning, I was invited to go on CNN. Soon, I was on-air up to six times a day as part of its nonstop MH370 coverage.

There was no intro course on how to be a cable-news expert. The Town Car would show up to take me to the studio, I’d sign in with reception, a guest-greeter would take me to makeup, I’d hang out in the greenroom, the sound guy would rig me with a mike and an earpiece, a producer would lead me onto the set, I’d plug in and sit in the seat, a producer would tell me what camera to look at during the introduction, we’d come back from break, the anchor would read the introduction to the story and then ask me a question or maybe two, I’d answer, then we’d go to break, I would unplug, wipe off my makeup, and take the car 43 blocks back uptown. Then a couple of hours later, I’d do it again. I was spending 18 hours a day doing six minutes of talking.

As time went by, CNN winnowed its expert pool down to a dozen or so regulars who earned the on-air title “CNN aviation analysts”: airline pilots, ex-government honchos, aviation lawyers, and me. We were paid by the week, with the length of our contracts dependent on how long the story seemed likely to play out. The first couple were seven-day, the next few were 14-day, and the last one was a month. We’d appear solo, or in pairs, or in larger groups for panel discussions—whatever it took to vary the rhythm of perpetual chatter.1

I soon realized the germ of every TV-news segment is: “Officials say X.” The validity of the story derives from the authority of the source. The expert, such as myself, is on hand to add dimension or clarity. Truth flowed one way: from the official source, through the anchor, past the expert, and onward into the great sea of viewerdom.

What made MH370 challenging to cover was, first, that the event was unprecedented and technically complex and, second, that the officials  were remarkably untrustworthy. For instance, the search started over the South China Sea, naturally enough, but soon after, Malaysia opened up a new search area in the Andaman Sea, 400 miles away. Why? Rumors swirled that military radar had seen the plane pull a 180. The Malaysian government explicitly denied it, but after a week of letting other countries search the South China Sea, the officials admitted that they’d known about the U-turn from day one.

Of course, nothing turned up in the Andaman Sea, either. But in London, scientists for a British company called Inmarsat that provides telecommunications between ships and aircraft realized its database contained records of transmissions between MH370 and one of its satellites for the seven hours after the plane’s main communication system shut down. Seven hours! Maybe it wasn’t a crash after all—if it were, it would have been the slowest in history.

These electronic “handshakes” or “pings” contained no actual information, but by analyzing the delay between the transmission and reception of the signal— called the burst timing offset, or BTO—Inmarsat could tell how far the plane had been from the satellite and thereby plot an arc along which the plane must have been at the moment of the final ping. That arc stretched some 6,000 miles, but if the plane was traveling at normal airliner speeds, it would most likely have wound up around the ends of the arc—either in Kazakhstan and China in the north or the Indian Ocean in the south. My money was on Central Asia. But CNN quoted unnamed U.S.-government sources saying that the plane had probably gone south, so that became the dominant view.Other views were circulating, too, however.Fig. 5 A Canadian pilot named Chris Goodfellow went viral withhis theory that MH370 suffered a fire that knocked out its communications gear and diverted from its planned route in order to attempt an emergency landing. Keith Ledgerwood, another pilot, proposed that hijackers had taken the plane and avoided detection by ducking into the radar shadow of another airliner. Amateur investigators pored over satellite images, insisting that wisps of cloud or patches of shrubbery were the lost plane.

Then: breaking news! . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. Good photos. Plus he really does have an interesting argument. Later in the article:

It’s not possible to spoof the BFO data on just any plane. The plane must be of a certain make and model, equipped with a certain make and model of satellite-communications equipment, and flying a certainkind of route in a region covered by a certain kind of Inmarsat satellite. If you put all the conditions together, it seemed unlikely that any aircraft would satisfy them. Yet MH370 did.

(He provides the specifics for each criterion.)

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2015 at 10:54 am


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