Later On

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

Archive for December 2nd, 2006

Why it’s important for the VA to be prepared

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This story is not unique:

Her name doesn’t show on any official list of American military deaths in the Iraq war, by hostile or non-hostile fire, who died in that country or in hospitals in Europe or back home in the USA. But Iraq killed her just as certainly.

She is Jeanne “Linda” Michel, a Navy medic. She came home last month to her husband and three kids, delighted to be back in her suburban home of Clifton Park in upstate New York. Michel, 33, would be discharged from the Navy in a few weeks, finishing her five years of duty.

Two weeks after she got home, she shot and killed herself.

“She had come through a lot and she had always risen to challenges,” her husband, Frantz Michel, who has also served in Iraq, lamented last week. Now he asks why the Navy didn’t do more to help her.

All deaths are tragic, especially when young lives are lost in an unnecessary war after all hope for a meaningful victory has passed. Those of us of a certain age — boomers-verging-on-geezers — may recall the early 1970s when stories of suicides and crippling mental trauma associated with Vietnam veterans belatedly emerged in the press. No doubt some of that was triggered by the growing realization that countless soldiers had died, and were still dying, in vain — wasted, in every sense of the word.

We are witnessing the same phenomenon today in regard to Iraq, with newspapers only now, at last, starting to look behind the routine (and seemingly endless) reporting of American fatalities — and finding that many are not what they seem to be.

Earlier this month at E&P Online, I examined the deaths of a soldier reported by the military (and the press) as being killed by insurgents, who was actually murdered by our allies, the Iraqi police; and another who killed herself in Iraq (officially listed as death by “non-hostile gunshot”) shortly after she protested the torture of prisoners.

But I also

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 8:29 pm

The GOP: irresponsible and unable to govern

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Let’s all be sure to remember this when it comes time to vote for candidates for Congress:

“Use it or lose it” might seem to be the obvious game plan for the Republicans who are about to give up control of Congress.

But rather than using the final days of their lame-duck session next week to ram through all the legislation they can, Republican leaders are taking a counterintuitive approach: Do a minimum and leave the rest to the Democrats to deal with next year.

That includes political hot potatoes such as domestic terrorism surveillance and an immigration overhaul. It also includes one of Congress’ most basic responsibilities: passing the annual appropriations bills, which determine how the federal government spends some $873 billion to cover everything from making nuclear weapons to running the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only two of this year’s 11 appropriations bills – those dealing with defense and homeland security – have passed. The rest are now two months overdue, comprise about $400 billion and cover everything from national parks and veterans’ care to the federal judiciary.

One explanation for the inaction is that fiscally conservative Republicans, who want to rein in government spending, are making it too tough for their party to finish the work by year’s end. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and his allies have threatened to offer dozens of amendments to strip pork-barrel projects from the spending bills, a tactic that could drag the session on for weeks as lawmakers fight to protect projects for their constituents.

There’s a more cynical element to the Republican Party’s wait-it-out approach, too: It throws a wrench into the plans of the new party in power.

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 8:23 pm

VA not able to keep up with its workload

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And it’s going to get worse. That’s not what they’re saying, that’s my prediction: as troops return from Iraq, the incidence of PTSD will, I believe, increase because of the particular stresses of urban warfare and being caught in the middle of a civil war. Here’s the story:

The Department of Veterans Affairs is falling behind in its efforts to provide prompt disability benefits for veterans nationwide, as its backlog of cases continues to grow, new reports show.

In fact, the department’s performance slipped in the past year even though its workload was lower than anticipated.

For its part, the VA said that its productivity did drop last year but that things should improve next year, as a new batch of employees gets fully trained and up to speed.

“We’ve made an investment in 2006 in terms of hiring a lot of new employees,” said Michael Walcoff, one of the department’s top benefits officials. “We feel very confident that when they are trained, they will be very productive.”

The performance measures are contained in the VA’s annual accountability report sent to Congress and the president in November. The VA said it was able to meet many of its performance “targets” for the year, even though several of them are far from the VA’s long-term goals.

Earlier this year, top VA officials, including Secretary James Nicholson, told Congress they were anticipating a huge increase in claims for disability compensation and pensions, due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, continuing claims from older veterans and a special outreach program.

In testifying to Congress in February that the VA was “focused on delivering timely and accurate benefits,” Secretary Nicholson and other VA officials said the department expected to receive 910,126 new claims and complete a decision on 838,566.

Instead, the VA received far fewer claims – 806,382 – and it produced a decision on 774,378, or 8 percent fewer than expected, VA data show.

As productivity dropped, the VA’s closely watched backlog of claims went up, and has continued to rise since the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. It now tops 400,000.

For years, the VA has tried to get this backlog of pending cases to 250,000; the figure topped 400,000 in 2002, and after driving the number down to 253,000 the VA boasted about its success. Now, most of those gains have been erased.

“They haven’t made a lot of progress in the last year,” said Randy Reese, national service director for Disabled American Veterans. “I know it’s on their plate, and I know they are worried about it.”

Another closely watched measure is the time taken to decide each claim, and in the past year that average processing time rose to 177 days, 10 days longer than in the previous year. It was the second straight year performance dropped.

The VA wants to process claims in 125 days, a target that had been relaxed from prior goals that aimed to bring the average to 100 or fewer days.

To explain the processing slowdown from 2005 to 2006, the VA in its recent report to Congress gave three reasons:

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 8:17 pm

Five books every programmer should read

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The list is not mine, though the books certainly look worthwhile.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Books, Software, Technology

Wonder if this was why Rummy was fired

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Two days before he was fired, he sent Bush a memo that the strategy in Iraq wasn’t working. Then he’s immediately fired. Coincidence?

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 3:32 pm

Signs of SCAD

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Shaving shelf

SCAD: shaving cream acquisition disorder, although about half the pictured items are in fact shaving soaps. So I probably don’t have it.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

If politicians were mathematicians, we’d have an 18¢ coin

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The most efficient way to make change —using the fewest possible coins—would be if, instead of the 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, and 25¢ coins we now have, the government issued coins with values 1¢, 5¢, 18¢, and 25¢.

It would be a little more difficult to do the math in your head, but change is now routinely computed by cash registers so, really, no problemo. With the four new coins, the number of coins returned in change would average 3.9 coins, instead of the average 4.7 coins now required.

When will this come about? (Hint: never)

Of course, if politicians were mathematicians, we wouldn’t have the entertaining spectacle of the Indiana legislature considering a bill to make pi equal to 3.2. That in itself isn’t so bad, but one side-effect would be that 1 would become a transcendental number. :)

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

$1 a day for food

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Here’s a blog of an interesting experiment: go one month spending, on average, $1/day for food. Since it’s a blog, go to the bottom of the page to read it in chronological order.

I wonder whether I could do this. One thing: he doesn’t seem to know much about cooking (IMHO). For example, he talks about cooking beans for two hours. That’s about right if you haven’t soaked the beans overnight, but you normally cook a pound or so of beans, so that you get several meals. And you can add a lot of taste by a judicious selection of veggies and spices.

He also went way overboard on the starch—to the extent that I doubt that a diabetic could follow his particular menu plan. But there are other choices, with beans being right up there.

At any rate, it’s a good read. Let us know if you give it a go.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 11:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Free Software magazine

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And the magazine is free, too, if you download it as a .PDF or read it on-line. Most of the articles are over my head or not of interest to me, but I did find the article on GIMP to be interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 11:39 am

Posted in Software

Megs in a basket

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Megs in a basket

Kitties like to be in things. For Sophie, last night that was the closet. She’s in so much trouble today after breaking into the closet, pulling down some shirts, and in general acting as if everything there was hers—as, of course, she believes. And how do you punish her? You can’t have her sit in the corner, staring at the wall, since kitties rather enjoy that and will, from time to time, talk to the wall. Especially corners, which are fascinating.

No, punishment doesn’t work. But Sophie’s pouting, since she knows that something went wrong and she figures it must be The Wife’s fault.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 11:16 am

Posted in Cats, Megs, Sophie

Condi: longing to get out?

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I’ve written before about how Bush must feel: that desperate, flop-sweat feeling of being in well over your head with no easy out. But I think I’ve underestimated his narcissism (particularly evident here) and his stupidity. He really is special. I think he may actually relish his power and, with his frat-boy sadism, enjoy thumbing his nose at and punishing those who oppose him, with never a thought about the damage he’s done to the country and the lives he’s destroyed.

Condi Rice, for all that she’s a lightweight, is aware enough to realize that she doesn’t measure up to her responsibilities and that she’s been a failure. The thing I noticed in this post at ThinkProgress is this remark:

SECRETARY RICE: …As to whether the United States has made mistakes, of course, I’m sure, we have. You can’t be involved in something as big as the liberation of a country like Iraq and all that has happened since, and I’m sure there are things that we could have done differently; but frankly, we are looking ahead. And when I’m back at Stanford University, I can look back and write books about what we might have done differently.

That little bit about being back at Stanford, writing a book: that comes out of nowhere—except that it’s obviously on her mind, probably a lot. I suspect she is longing for the day when she can walk away from the mess she made and return to a less-stressed life and work on justifications and excuses.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 10:58 am

WordPress is great

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I have had such a positive experience with WordPress that I need to share it. WordPress.com offers free blogging (though you can also buy the software to customize and install on your own server), with great flexibility and excellent support. And they keep working on the software—polishing, extending, improving. I couldn’t be happier.

And I just found this page of excellent documentation. (One measure of how easy it is: to date I’ve done everything without reading any of the documentation, but now that I want to tinker with the blog a bit, this page will come in handy.)

If you already have a blog, you may be able to import the blog into WordPress—for example, importing from Blogger.com blogs is easy. I didn’t do that, since I thought I’d start fresh, but the capability is there.

And if you don’t have a blog and want to try it out, give it a go. You can have a “private” blog—e.g., restricted to family members—or you can make it public. Lots of options.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 10:50 am

Posted in Software

30 essential pieces of free & open Windows software

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And lo! the name of Firefox led the list (full descriptions and links at the link):

01. Firefox
02. Thunderbird
03. Sunbird
04. Abiword
05. OpenOffice
06. ClamWin
07. Gaim
08. BitTorrent
09. GIMPShop
10. Gnucleus
11. VLC Media Player
12. Juice
13. Audacity
14. RSSOwl
15. Filezilla
16. Keynote
17. MusikCube
18. Handbrake
19. X-Chat 2
20. KeePass
21. TrueCrypt
22. PDFCreator
23. Freemind
24. NASA Worldwind
25. Notepad2
26. HealthMonitor
27. Workrave
28. GanttPV
29. GnuCash
30. True Combat: Elite

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 9:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Libraries today

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I’ve commented that this is the golden age of shaving, since the Internet with its vendor Web sites and its forums of shaving enthusiasts mean that someone who’s interested has historically unparalleled access to equipment, supplies, and information.

The same thing is true of libraries: with on-line catalogs offer access through the Internet, I can search from home, place holds, review my checkouts and renew them, request that titles be purchased, and so on.

Today, for example, I happened across the NY Times list of the 10 best books of 2006 (based on the assumption that any book published in December is not all that good), and went through the list, placing holds on the titles of interest to me. My library, typical of libraries everywhere, had already purchased titles garnering excellent reviews in the media, so all the books were there—though currently checked out. But I have books to read in the meantime…

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 9:41 am

Glenn Greenwald takes another bite out of Tom Friedman

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Read Greenwald’ post today.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 9:27 am

Posted in Iraq War, Media, NY Times

The Baker Commission compromises its mission

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From DailyKos:

Does anyone remember the original purpose of the Iraq Study Group? From their mission statement:

In light of the importance of Iraq to United States interests and the future of the region, there is urgent need for a bipartisan, forward-looking assessment of the situation in Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group will conduct a forward-looking, independent assessment of the current and prospective situation on the ground in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests.

But when reading an article in today’s Washington Post, it becomes apparent that the reason for the ISG’s existence has long been forgotten.

The emerging plan by the Iraq Study Group tries to find a middle road between President Bush’s adamant refusal to leave Iraq until the job is done and Democratic demands to pull out U.S. troops.

They’re trying to find the middle road? Why? Their purpose isn’t to appease, it’s to offer an independent assessment of the situation in Iraq. And why is this important? Some might say that a viable exit strategy from Iraq is needed. That our continuing presence in Iraq is helping to fuel the endless sectarian violence. That the cost of 2888 American lives is already too high. What reason does the Washington Post give?

If they choose, leaders in both parties could embrace the plan in the interest of putting aside the polarizing differences of the past three years.

Yes, they could embrace a middle of the road compromise in the interest of comity. Or they could do their job. Report what has long been obvious to any thinking person: That Iraq is engulfed in a civil war with our troops mired in the middle, and that a phased withdrawal needs to begin.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 9:12 am

More on NSTA refusing to distribute free Gore DVD

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Apparently there’s more to the story than Laurie David revealed. (Also see this guest post.) Take a look at this post by Kevin Vranes, and also this one, from which I quote:

A post up on the WSST blog is far nicer to David than she deserves, considering what they uncovered.

One key point is distribution (the item I hit on in yesterday’s post):

The problem with David’s offer is that it was a donation with strings attached. John Whitsett, WSST member and NSTA President elect, explained that NSTA didn’t reject the donation but did reject doing the distribution. (John Whitsett will be on WPR as Joy Cardin’s guest tomorrow at 6 a.m. to discuss NSTA’s decision for the hour.) On yesterday’s Wisconsin Public Radio broadcast, Whitsett called in and stated that distribution would be “approximately a quarter of a million dollar expense for NSTA.” This kind of offer would provide “little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members” because of the extreme cost attached to the ‘donation.’

Which, as I said in yesterday’s post, is a fully reasonable position for NSTA to take. The other key point is the nature of NSTA’s “unnecessary risk” lines that David highlighted in her op-ed. Turns out David didn’t get that line directly written to her by somebody at NSTA, she got it out of an internal NSTA email thread that was accidentally forwarded to her. The line came from a NSTA staffer advising NSTA higher-ups:

In an email, John Whitsett explained that the quote came from “an internal e-mail that was an opinion offered by one of the NSTA staff members” and it was not the official response to Ms. David. NSTA has every right to kick around ideas before making a decision. They made the mistake of letting their internal discussion out in a forwarded email.

Nice work, Laurie. But I guess you couldn’t have made the WaPo op-ed page without some salacious slander, right?

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 8:56 am

Exceptionally good shave today

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I used the Wilkinson Sticky with a Feather blade that’s already seen a few shaves, Art of Shaving Lemon shaving cream, a Rooney Medium Style 3 Super Silvertip. Went very well with not a single nick. The Wilkinson does an exceptional job when blade buffing is needed, and now that I’ve figured out the direction of beard growth on the heel of my right jaw—well, it was quite a pleasant shave. Finished with Thayers Astringent Lemon Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera. A very light fragrance, which quickly fades. Man, my face is smooth and pleasant feeling.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2006 at 8:47 am

Posted in Shaving

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