Later On

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

Archive for April 29th, 2007

Open letter to George Tenet

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Via ThinkProgress, from some of the people who worked with Tenet at the CIA. The letter begins:

Dear Mr. Tenet:

We write to you on the occasion of the release of your book, At the Center of the Storm. You are on the record complaining about the “damage to your reputation”. In our view the damage to your reputation is inconsequential compared to the harm your actions have caused for the U.S. soldiers engaged in combat in Iraq and the national security of the United States. We believe you have a moral obligation to return the Medal of Freedom you received from President George Bush. We also call for you to dedicate a significant percentage of the royalties from your book to the U.S. soldiers and their families who have been killed and wounded in Iraq.

We agree with you that Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials took the United States to war for flimsy reasons. We agree that the war of choice in Iraq was ill-advised and wrong headed. But your lament that you are a victim in a process you helped direct is self-serving, misleading and, as head of the intelligence community, an admission of failed leadership. You were not a victim. You were a willing participant in a poorly considered policy to start an unnecessary war and you share culpability with Dick Cheney and George Bush for the debacle in Iraq.

You are not alone in failing to speak up and protest the twisting and shading of intelligence.  Those who remained silent when they could have made a difference also share the blame for not protesting the abuse and misuse of intelligence that occurred under your watch.  But ultimately you were in charge and you signed off on the CIA products and you briefed the President.This is not a case of Monday morning quarterbacking.  You helped send very mixed signals to the American people and their legislators in the fall of 2002.  CIA field operatives produced solid intelligence in September 2002 that stated clearly there was no stockpile of any kind of WMD in Iraq. This intelligence was ignored and later misused.  On October 1 you signed and gave to President Bush and senior policy makers a fraudulent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)—which dovetailed with unsupported threats presented by Vice President Dick Cheney in an alarmist speech on August 26, 2002.

You were well aware that the White House tried to present as fact intelligence you knew was unreliable.  And yet you tried to have it both ways.  On October 7, just hours before the president gave a major speech in Cincinnati, you were successful in preventing him from using the fable about Iraq purchasing uranium in Africa, although that same claim appeared in the NIE you signed only six days before.

Although CIA officers learned in late September 2002 from a high-level member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle that Iraq had no past or present contact with Osama bin Laden and that the Iraqi leader considered bin Laden an enemy of the Baghdad regime, you still went before Congress in February 2003 and testified that Iraq did indeed have links to Al Qaeda.

You showed a lack of leadership and courage in January of 2003 as the Bush Administration pushed and cajoled analysts and managers to let them make the bogus claim that Iraq was on the verge of getting its hands on uranium.   You signed off on Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations.  And, at his insistence, you sat behind him and visibly squandered CIA’s most precious asset—credibility.”

You may now feel you were bullied and victimized but you were also one of the bullies.  In the end you allowed suspect sources, like Curveball, to be used based on very limited reporting and evidence.  Yet you were informed in no uncertain terms that Curveball was not reliable.  You broke with CIA standard practice and insisted on voluminous evidence to refute this reporting rather than treat the information as suspect.  You helped set the bar very low for reporting that supported favored White House positions, while raising the bar astronomically high when it came to raw intelligence that did not support the case for war being hawked by the president and vice president.

It now turns out that you were the Alberto Gonzales of the intelligence community–a grotesque mixture of incompetence and sycophancy shielded by a genial personality.  Decisions were made, you were in charge, but you have no idea how decisions were made even though you were in charge.  Curiously, you focus your anger on the likes of Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Condi Rice, but you decline to criticize the President.

Mr. Tenet, as head of the intelligence community, you failed to use your position of power and influence to protect the intelligence process and, more importantly, the country.  What should you have done?  What could you have done?

More at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2007 at 7:17 pm

ING Direct checking

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I use ING Direct as a savings account, but this looks pretty good, too. From The Simple Dollar:

About a month ago, I switched my primary checking account from my local brick and mortar bank to ING Direct’s Electric Orange online checking.

What is Electric Orange?

Electric Orange is an online-only checking account offered by ING Direct. In short, that means you do all of your checking account business either online or with a debit card. For some people, this sounds like complete craziness, but bear me out.

What’s Good?

A 4.0% APY interest rate This checking account earns an interest rate higher than inflation. My average checking account balance over 2006 was just north of $4,000. In this account, that’s an earnings of $160, just for having Electric Orange.

A strong fee-free ATM network My ATM card has no fees if I use an ATM in the AllPoint network, which has several locations nearby and apparently has one in all Target stores. My previous bank had an extremely limited fee-free ATM card network.

An overdraft line of credit Instead of incurring a big fee if you overdraft, the account instead offers a line of credit and they just begin charging you interest on that credit line. The credit line seems to be set differently for different people depending on their initial deposit and any balances they might have in other ING Direct accounts, but the interest rate on the line is 12.25%. Thus, if you accidentally overdraft your checking, instead of charging you a big fee (my old bank charged $40), you just start owing interest on the amount that you overdrafted. If you deal with it quickly, it’s just a few pennies.

Extremely user friendly online banking ING Direct has very good customer service and the best overall online banking interface I’ve used. Online bill pay with them was incredibly easy – I was paying my bills online very quickly and it all worked smooth as silk, even to rather local institutions like the local telecommunications cooperative.

What’s Bad?

No paper checks This is probably the worst drawback, but so far it hasn’t been as bad as I feared. I left my old account open with about $100 in it for small incidental checks (the nearest grocery store to my residence only accepts cash and checks from local banks as payment). For other checks, the online interface allows you to fill out a form that looks like a check and then they will mail you a check first class the following day. For me, I receive the check about four postal days after filling out the form online. This works for some larger check situations, but it’s not the most flexible system in the world. So far, it has worked fine for me, but I can envision a situation or two that might cause me trouble.

No branches The biggest reason for this for me was that my local bank allowed me to deposit pocket change directly into the account using their counting machine. Thus, I would save up pocket change in a jar for several months, then deposit it all at once. By keeping the old account, I retain this service. Other than this service, I never used a branch, so for me, this issue with Electric Orange is basically nonexistent.

Am I Going To Stick With It?

I have been very happy with ING Direct’s online savings in the past in terms of customer service and their nice interest rate, so it was a no-brainer for me to give this a try. So far, I love the account. I haven’t been hit with a single fee of any kind as of yet (and they used to come in all the time with my old bank) and I’ve earned a pretty nice little piece of interest. If you figure the losses on the fees at my old bank (and the lack of interest) versus the lack of fees at this bank and the solid interest rate, it is a very good deal.

What about a recommendation? If you’re comfortable with online bill pay, then this is the type of checking account you should be moving to. If you prefer to write checks for your bills, then this account will cause you much frustration and isn’t worth it. The online bill pay factor is really the deciding factor here.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2007 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Spanish chicken noodle soup

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Very tasty and easy:

Spanish Chicken Noodle soup
Makes 6 servings.

Cilantro gives this soup a Spanish flavor and is important to the recipe. Parsley will do, but the recipe won’t taste the same.

1.5 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced chick breast (about ½ pound)
1/8 tsp saffron powder
one 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped, or 5 plum tomatoes
6 cups reduced-sodium defatted chicken broth
1.5 tsp paprika
0.5 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp kosher salt
0.25 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cup fettuccine, broken into 2-inch pieces
0.25 c chopped fresh cilantro.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onions and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken pieces. Cook until white on all sides.

Put the saffron in a small heatproof bowl. Pour the tomatoes and broth into the soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of liquid and pour over the saffron, then return it to the pot.

Add the remaining ingredients except for the cilantro. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve.

Notes: I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I also use saffron threads, crushing them between my fingers to make the saffron powder. A large can of chicken broth is 49 ounces, close enough to the 48 ounces called for in the recipe. I used canned diced tomatoes and don’t drain them—it’s soup, after all. Cilantro loses its flavor if it’s cooked, so add it at the last minute.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2007 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Recipes

Late to the party again

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This time for Rudy Rucker, who (unbeknownst to me) has been writing well-regarded science fiction for a long, long time. I happened across a highly favorable review of Mathematicians in Love, so got it from the library, and it’s fully wonderful, especially if you are a math groupie of sorts.

I was so enamored of it that I of course decided to read everything. The Wikipedia article on Rudy Rucker has a handy list of the oeuvre:

  • The Ware Tetralogy
  • Transrealist novels
    • White Light (1980)
    • Spacetime Donuts (1981)
    • The Sex Sphere (1983)
    • The Secret of Life (1985)
    • The Hacker and the Ants (1994)
    • Hacker and the Ants, Version 2.0 (2003)
  • Other Novels
  • Story collections
    • The Fifty-Seventh Franz Kafka (1983)
    • Transreal!, also includes some non-fiction essays (1991)
    • Gnarl! (2000), complete short stories
    • Mad Professor (2006)
  • Non-fiction
    • Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension (1977)
    • Infinity and the Mind (1982)
    • The Fourth Dimension (1984)
    • Mind Tools (1987)
    • All the Visions (1991), memoir
    • Saucer Wisdom (1999)
    • Seek! (1999), collected essays
    • Software Engineering and Computer Games (2002), textbook
    • The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul (2005)

List on Rucker’s SJSU web page. With links to each book’s web page.

Also, for more info, his Web site.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2007 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Books, Science fiction

Open-Source Document Format—here comes Microsoft!

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They don’t like the whole idea:

Ed Homan, an orthopedic surgeon representing a central Florida district in the state legislature, thought an amendment touting open-source document formats he tucked into a 38-page bill wouldn’t draw much attention.

But within an hour of the proposed bill’s reading in late March, Homan said, he was greeted in his office by three lobbyists representing Microsoft Corp.

“They were here lickety-split,” Homan said. “I had no idea it was going to get that kind of reaction.”

State-by-state skirmishes over open-source document formats represent the latest showdown in a long-running, and so far unsuccessful, campaign to topple Microsoft’s sheer dominance of the desktop software application market. Outside of Florida, four other states since January have seen language similar to Homan’s included in proposed bills.
Document formats serve as an underlying digital container, controlling access to files like spreadsheets and the ability to share them. Efforts like Homan’s could lead to broader use by states of OpenDocument Format, or ODF, an open-source technology promoted by Microsoft’s competitors. ODF, analysts say, could undercut one of Microsoft’s most essential businesses, by opening the door to alternatives to Excel and Word and other popular productivity applications owned by the world’s biggest software company.
Characteristically, as lawmakers like Homan have learned, Microsoft’s hardly taking a passive position.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company has mounted an intensive campaign for Open XML, an open format designed to counter ODF. Microsoft argues ODF is a limited technology that can’t read Microsoft files very well, and says that Open XML ensures compatibility with Microsoft’s full Office suite of products.

According to Homan, his open-source amendment has been pulled from the Florida bill, because other legislators “didn’t want to go to the mat on one paragraph.” But if similar bills are passed elsewhere, a spreading ODF format could prove a gateway to its compatible open-source applications — whereas bureaucracies, and most computer users, have relied to date on Microsoft Office suite products such as Word.

More at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2007 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

A jaundiced view of George Tenet

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From someone who worked with him.

George Tenet has a story to tell. With his appearance tonight on “60 Minutes” and the publication of his new memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” the former director of central intelligence is out to absolve himself of the failings of 9/11 and Iraq. He’ll sell a lot of books, of course, but we shouldn’t buy his attempts to let himself off the hook.

My experience with Tenet dates to the late 1980s, when he was the sharp, garrulous, cigar-chomping staff director of the Senate intelligence committee and I was a junior CIA officer who briefed him on covert action programs in Afghanistan. Later, I worked directly for Tenet after he took over the CIA and I became the first chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit. We met regularly, often daily. It’s impossible to dislike Tenet, who is smart, polite, hard-working, convivial and detail-oriented. But he’s also a man who never went from cheerleader to leader.

At a time when clear direction and moral courage were needed, Tenet shifted course to follow the prevailing winds, under President Bill Clinton and then President Bush — and he provided distraught officers at Langley a shoulder to cry on when his politically expedient tacking sailed the United States into disaster.

More at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2007 at 12:40 pm

Being management doesn’t mean you’re smart

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Take a look at this article:

In the nineteen-nineties, with U.S. corporations in the midst of what the Times called “the downsizing of America,” a new term appeared: the “seven-per-cent rule.” It was a simple formula: when a company announces major layoffs, its stock price jumps seven per cent. No one worried too much about whether the rule was accurate—it was a catchy way of expressing a basic assumption about corporate layoffs: downsizing is an easy way to make Wall Street happy. So when, recently, two companies with lagging stock prices—Circuit City and Citigroup—announced major job cuts, one might have expected their stock to soar. Instead, Circuit City saw its stock price tumble four per cent the day after it announced it was getting rid of thirty-four hundred of its most experienced sales associates, and Citigroup’s stock barely budged when it said it would be cutting seventeen thousand jobs.

This may have surprised the executives who had planned the cutbacks, but it shouldn’t have. Over the past decade, many academics have looked at how layoffs affect stock prices, and they’ve found that the seven-per-cent rule is bunk. Instead of rising sharply, the stock of companies that trim their workforces is likely to fall. A recent meta-study that surveyed research from several countries, covering thousands of layoff announcements, concluded that, on average, markets had “a significantly negative” reaction to job cuts. Individual companies, of course, sometimes see stock prices jump after layoff news, but there’s no evidence that downsizing is a guaranteed hit with investors.

This isn’t to say that Wall Street has gone soft—it still cares about profits, not people. But investors seem to understand that fewer people doesn’t always mean more profits. Downsizing may make companies temporarily more productive, but the gains quickly erode, in part because of the predictably negative effect on morale. And numerous studies suggest that, despite the lower payroll costs, layoffs do not make firms more profitable; Wayne Cascio, a management professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, looked at more than three hundred firms that downsized in the nineteen-eighties and found that three years after the layoffs the companies’ returns on assets, costs, and profit margins had not improved. It’s possible that these companies would have done even worse had they not downsized, but for the average company the effect of layoffs on the bottom line appears to be negligible.

If the track record of layoffs in improving corporate performance and shareholder returns is so mediocre, why do executives still find them tempting? One reason is that executives’ view of downsizing is shaped by what’s sometimes called the vividness heuristic: the tendency to give undue weight to particularly vivid or newsworthy examples. In discussions of downsizing, you don’t often hear about all the companies that cut payrolls and then continued to struggle. Instead, it’s the stories of companies that have reaped dramatic benefits from downsizing—like G.E. and Procter & Gamble—that become templates for how the process works. Executive overconfidence exacerbates this problem: a C.E.O. is far more likely to see himself as capable of pulling off what Jack Welch did at G.E. than to recognize the probability that layoffs will make only a trivial difference.

There’s more at the link. The article concludes:

There’s nothing wrong with costcutting, and in any dynamic economy layoffs will be necessary. The problem is that too many companies today define workers solely in terms of how much they cost, rather than how much value they create. This is understandable: after downsizing, it’s easier to measure a lower wage bill than it is to see the business the company isn’t getting because it has too few salesmen, or the new products it isn’t inventing because its R. & D. staff is too small. These lost opportunities may be hard to measure, but over time they can have a huge impact on corporate performance. Judging from its reaction to layoff announcements, the stock market understands this. It’s time executives did, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2007 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Business

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