Later On

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

Quite an interesting series on Amazon Prime: “Humans”

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“Humans” is an interesting series because it deals with important (albeit familiar) questions on things such as identity, consciousness, nature of being human, and so on: chestnuts that fueled many a late-night talk session in college.

But in the series they are provided a new context in which they naturally arise, along with interesting characters and plot. Worth watching, I find. William Hurt is a star, and though he’s weird, the series itself is somewhat weird and thus it’s not jarring.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2016 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Non-negotiable demands vs. pure politics

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“Non-negotiable demands” are a peculiar sort of animal: if they are non-negotiable, then it really is just a waste of time to do any talking or discussion whatsoever—they are non-negotiable demands, which totally short-circuits negotiation.

Such demands typically come from a group whose primary interest is in taking a stand, not in getting things done and making a little progress. Those who desire the latter may be attracted to the group’s goals and priorities, but on discovering the nature of the group will bow out: “I’m more interested in getting things done than taking a stand.”

The group sees this attitude a sell-out and immediately envision the extreme on the negotiating, getting-things-done side: the person lacking any principles, will enter into any agreement, and basically do anything so long as something is gained in return: i.e., will do anything for money.

Of course, the negotiating, getting-things-done crowd tend to view having principles as being so hidebound you can’t budge, whereas (as noted) a complete lack of principles is as bad as too much inflexibility in too many principles: the taking-a-stand crowd.

Politics, it seems is the find the right middle ground between negotiating agreement on everything on the one hand and on the other not budging on anything that you deem important. My friend Mr. Spaeth would quote a politician making fun of the statement “I may have compromised, but I never compromised my principles.” The politician said, “If you haven’t compromised your principles, then you haven’t compromised: to get everything important to you and give up only things that are unimportant is NOT a compromise. It’s getting everything you want. A compromise is when you have to give up something important for the overall benefit. That is the middle ground where politics occurs and which is often hard to find.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2016 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Politics

The Pentagon’s War on Accountability in Spending

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William Hartung’s story on Pentagon spending is introduced by Tom Englehardt:

Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), recently made a startling disclosure to Voice of America (VOA)AFRICOM, he said, is currently mulling over 11 possible locations for its second base on the continent.  If, however, there was a frontrunner among them Cheadle wasn’t about to disclose it.  All he would say was that Nigeria isn’t one of the countries in contention.

Writing for VOA, Carla Babb filled in the rest of the picture in terms of U.S. military activities in Africa.  “The United States currently has one military base in the east African nation of Djibouti,” she observed. “U.S. forces are also on the ground in Somalia to assist the regional fight against al-Shabab and in Cameroon to help with the multinational effort against Nigeria-based Boko Haram.”

A day later, Babb’s story disappeared.  Instead, there was a new article in which she noted that “Cheadle had initially said the U.S. was looking at 11 locations for a second base, but later told VOA he misunderstood the question.”  Babb reiterated that the U.S. had only the lone military base in Djibouti and stated that “[o]ne of the possible new cooperative security locations is in Cameroon, but Cheadle did not identify other locations due to ‘host nation sensitivities.’”

U.S. troops have, indeed, been based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti since 2002.  In that time, the base has grown from 88 acres to about 600 acres and has seen more than $600 million in construction and upgrades already awarded or allocated.  It’s also true that U.S. troops, as Babb notes, are operating in Somalia — from at least two bases — and the U.S. has indeed set up a base in Cameroon.  As such, the “second” U.S. base in Africa, wherever it’s eventually located, will actually be more like the fifth U.S. base on the continent.  That is, of course, if you don’t count Chabelley Airfield, a hush-hush drone base the U.S. operates elsewhere in Djibouti, or the U.S. staging areas, cooperative security locations, forward operating locations, and other outposts in Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad,Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda, among other locales.  When I counted late last year, in fact, I came up with 60 such sites in 34 countries.  And just recently, Missy Ryan of the Washington Post added to that number when she disclosed that “American Special Operations troops have been stationed at two outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015.”

To be fair, the U.S. doesn’t call any of these bases “bases” — except when officials forget to keep up the fiction.  For example, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a $50 million request for the construction of an “airfield and base camp at Agadez, Niger.”  But give Cheadle credit for pushing a fiction that persists despite ample evidence to the contrary.

It isn’t hard, of course, to understand why U.S. Africa Command has set up a sprawling network of off-the-books bases or why it peddles misinformation about its gigantic “small” footprint in Africa.  It’s undoubtedly for the same reason that they stonewall me on even basic information about their operations.  The Department of Defense, from tooth to tail, likes to operate in the dark.

Today, TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung reveals another kind of Pentagon effort to obscure and obfuscate involving another kind of highly creative accounting: think slush funds, secret programs, dodgy bookkeeping, and the type of financial malfeasance that could only be carried out by an institution that is, by its very nature, too big to fail (inside the Beltway if not on the battlefield).

Rejecting both accurate accounting and actual accountability — from the halls of the Pentagon to austere camps in Africa — the Defense Department has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to keeping Americans in the dark about the activities being carried out with their dollars and in their name.  Luckily, Hartung is willing to shine a bright light on the Pentagon’s shady practices. Nick Turse

The Pentagon’s War on Accountability
Slush Funds, Smoke and Mirrors, and Funny Money Equal Weapons Systems Galore
By William D. Hartung

Now you see it, now you don’t. Think of it as the Department of Defense’s version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle.  In any case, the Pentagon’s budget is as close to a work of art as you’re likely to find in the U.S. government — if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.  And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total.  As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting.

It’s not just that its books don’t add up, however.  The DoD is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate “war budget” as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.  Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department’s budget and the Pentagon’s poorly documented military aid programs, and it’s clear that the DoD believes it has something to hide.

Don’t for a moment imagine that the Pentagon’s growing list of secret programs and evasive budgetary maneuvers is accidental or simply a matter of sloppy bookkeeping.  Much of it is remarkably purposeful.  By keeping us in the dark about how it spends our money, the Pentagon has made it virtually impossible for anyone to hold it accountable for just about anything.  An entrenched bureaucracy is determined not to provide information that might be used to bring its sprawling budget — and so the institution itself — under control. That’s why budgetary deception has become such a standard operating procedure at the Department of Defense.

The audit problem is a case in point.  The Pentagon along with all other major federal agencies was first required to make its books auditable in the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.  More than 25 years later, there is no evidence to suggest that the Pentagon will ever be able to pass an audit.  In fact, the one limited instance in which success seemed to be within reach — an audit of a portion of the books of a single service, the Marine Corps — turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a case study in bureaucratic resistance.

In April 2014, when it appeared that the Corps had come back with a clean audit, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was so elated that he held a special ceremony in the “Hall of Heroes” at the Pentagon. “It might seem a bit unusual to be in the Hall of Heroes to honor a bookkeeping accomplishment,” he acknowledged, “but damn, this is an accomplishment.”

In March 2015, however, that “accomplishment” vanished into thin air.  The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which had overseen the work of Grant Thornton, the private firm that conducted the audit, denied that it had been successful (allegedly in response to “new information”).  In fact, in late 2013, as Reuters reported, auditors at the OIG had argued for months against green-lighting Grant Thornton’s work, believing that it was full of obvious holes.  They were, however, overruled by the deputy inspector general for auditing, who had what Reuters described as a “longstanding professional relationship” with the Grant Thornton executive supervising the audit.

The Pentagon and the firm deny that there was any conflict of interest, but the bottom line is clear enough: there was far more interest in promoting the idea that the Marine Corps could pass an audit than in seeing it actually do so, even if inconvenient facts had to be swept under the rug. This sort of behavior is hardly surprising once you consider all the benefits from an undisturbed status quo that accrue to Pentagon bureaucrats and cash-hungry contractors.

Without a reliable paper trail, there is no systematic way to track waste, fraud, and abuse in Pentagon contracting, or even to figure out how many contractors the Pentagon employs, though a conservative estimate puts the number at well over 600,000.  The result is easy money with minimal accountability.

How to Arm the Planet

In recent years, keeping tabs on how the Pentagon spends its money has grown even more difficult thanks to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2016 at 6:56 am

Posted in Government, Military

The athleticism of Simone Biles—worth watching

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2016 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Video

Lamb curry today

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I did all chopping, dicing, and mincing before I began:

1/4 c minced garlic (I do this first, so it can sit)
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 large carrots, diced
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2 lb lamb stew meat, which I cut as needed into smaller pieces

And I opened two cans:

14 oz can Muir Glen San Loranzo diced tomatoes
15 oz can coconut milk (not the “lite” stuff)

In my 4–qt sauté pan, I melt:

2-3 Tbsp coconut oil (good quality)

Add onion and sauté for 6-8 minutes, until onion starts to turn translucent. Add:

diced carrots
chopped green pepper
fresh ginger

Sauté for another 6-8 minutes, then add:

2 Tbsp curry powder. I used Penzeys, 1 Tbsp Now and 1 Tbsp sweet, plus a little Maharajah.

Sauté for about 1-2 minuts, then add:

minced garlic
lamb

Sauté 6-8 minutes, then add:

the can of coconut milk
the can of tomatoes with juice
1 Tbsp Red Boat fish sauce (or other: I like Red Boat)
juice of 2-3 limes

Bring to simmer, cover, and simmer 40 minutes. When cooked add:

2 c. steamed (for 9 minutes) cauliflower.

Since that is already cooked, I just add it at the end to heat through.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2016 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Low carb

Brief discussion of mindful living

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A thread that traces through some thoughts on mindful awareness and how to extend it. Though that’s of course pretty much the topic of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and a subsequent book, Finding Flow.

My last comment in the thread:

That’s a very interesting observation [that he derives a lot of enjoyment from the prep], and it points out another similarity between shaving and the tea ceremony. You may recall that in the ceremony, the preparation is part of the ceremony, and is done with the same focused and thoughtful awareness you get when shaving. For example, the sawing of the charcoal for the fire: a very fine-toothed saw, the natural charcoal cut into good lengths and so they look good. Every thing just so, every step executed in a mindful manner. And that’s the prep!

Interesting how one can extend the domain of mindfulness: first of the activity, then of the preparation for the activity, then also for designing, placing, and building the teahouse, and why not to life itself? Daily life, done with the same thoughtful, focused, aware mindfulness of a good shave? Would be an interesting day, eh?

So: lathering = cutting and arranging the charcoal. Sort of.

UPDATE: The Leisureguy Challenge: See how long you can sustain each day the mindset achieved during a good shave: mindful, calm, focused, aware. At first you probably can go only minutes, but then, with practice, an hour, then perhaps an entire morning, and so on. The more you practice, the better you can get. And it’s nice that the only person aware of how you’re progressing is you.

Edit: It occurs to me that this is more or less the topic of two books by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Finding Flow.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2016 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Shaving

A column worth reading on US foreign policy, increasingly a military policy

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Patrick L. Smith has an excellent column in Salon. From it:

. . . What did Obama just do during his week in the region? In Hanoi he announced that he would lift the longstanding ban on American arms sales to Vietnam. And fair enough in one way: Why should we discriminate against the Vietnamese when we sell arms to 180 other nations? Our defense contractors await your business: This is all Obama had to say, apart from the obnoxious correctives on human rights and press freedom American leaders will never stop insisting upon when traveling in nations that do not share our lapsing standards in both spheres.

The Japan visit was far more complex. Obama had re-enlisted the Japanese in our seven-decade military dominance in the Pacific —known in the Japanese case as the “security umbrella”—when Prime Minister Abe visited Washington last year. So that was out of the way; even a nationalist such as Abe—grandson of a war criminal—bows yet before the victors in 1945. But a finer line this president has rarely walked. It only looked like a mission of peace.

Apart from an apparently unremarkable Group of Seven session, the centerpiece of Obama’s visit was a tour of Hiroshima, which Truman leveled in 1945 with the world’s first and only wartime detonation of an atomic bomb. No, there would be no apology, of course: The argument that Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives, while highly questionable and wholly hypothetical in any case, still holds to justify a prima facie war crime. Obama’s hours in Hiroshima were intended to underscore his commitment to nonproliferation, but it would be hard to measure the immensity of this president’s hypocrisy: The defense secretary he named last year has long been a prominent proponent of a sweeping, expensive renovation of America’s nuclear-weapons stockpiles, and this now proceeds apace. Once again, night is supposed to be day.

Obama had a brief sit-down with Abe, but the Japanese premier spent all of it berating the president for a former Marine’s murder (yet another) of a Japanese woman in Okinawa shortly before Obama’s arrival. Highly embarrassing, of course. Abe could not care less about the sentiments of Okinawans, as anyone who understands Japan will know. But the American military installations in Japan’s southernmost islands are 1.) the single largest component of the U.S. presence in the western Pacific and 2.) unambiguously against the will of those who must live with them.

Obama was fully cognizant of the former point. It would be hard to say whether our progressive leader or Abe was more indifferent to the latter. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2016 at 1:26 pm

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