Archive for March 25th, 2008
Remember the nuclear weapons that were shipped across the country (perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, but certainly without proper procedures and controls. And now this:
The U.S. Air Force mistakenly shipped fuses that are used in nuclear weapons to Taiwan in 2006, believing the crates contained helicopter batteries, officials at the Pentagon announced this morning.
The error — undetected by the United States until last week, despite repeated inquiries by Taiwan — raises questions about how carefully the Pentagon safeguards its weapons systems. It also exposes the United States to criticism from China, a staunch opponent of a militarized Taiwan.
Pentagon officials said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has launched a full investigation. The devices — which, when attached to a missile, help launch the detonating process — have been returned to the United States, and President Bush has been briefed.
“There are multiple players; there are multiple parties involved,” said Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense policy. “We’ll do a thorough investigation, and those who are found responsible will be held accountable.”
Among other things, officials will try to determine why no one noticed that the four boxes of components were missing, even though Pentagon policy requires inventory reconciliation every three months. The probe will also focus on whether any other material has been wrongly shipped or cannot be located. An initial evaluation suggests the devices were not tampered with while they were in Taiwan, officials said.
Henry, who called the error “disconcerting,” said the government of Taiwan acted “very responsibly,” quickly notifying the United States that the four boxes it received in fall 2006 did not appear to contain what had been ordered. However, both he and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne added, more than a year passed before the United States realized what had been shipped and moved to get the fuses back.
“It wasn’t until this week that we became aware that they had something akin to a nose-cone assembly,” Ryan said. “There were early communications, but we thought we were hearing one thing, and in reality they were saying something different.”
More at the link.
The latest report of the Social Security Trustees is out. I think the key message is what has happened to the estimate of actuarial balance — the difference between projected outlays and projected revenues over the next 75 years. This is the thing that’s supposed to get steadily worse as time goes by, as the 75-year window contains ever fewer years in which the baby boomers are in the work force, paying payroll taxes, and ever more years when the boomers are out of the work force and collecting benefits.In fact, however, the actuarial balance has been improving rather than worsening. It’s now better than it’s been since 1993. What this tells us is that projections made in the mid-to-late 1990s were, in the light of subsequent revisions, way too pessimistic.
Moral: Social Security’s financial problem is relatively minor. It doesn’t deserve the emphasis it receives from most pundits.
Speaking of asparagus…Most often, asparagus makes its springtime appearance in The Delicious household simply steamed with a little bit of salt and occasionally, in an omelet or frittata.
However, I will never go back to simple steaming of asparagus, nor to hiding them inside a mask of eggs after having them wrapped in slices of prosciutto and roasted. I realize, of course, that this is not a wildly innovative technique, but it is the first time I’ve done it and tasted it.
Now different recipes call for slightly different methods — blanching the asparagus first, tossing them with olive oil, etc. — but there is no need. Just trim the woody ends, wrap 3-4 stems in prosciutto, and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes. There’s no need for oil since the prosciutto’s fat will render onto the baking tray, and the salty meat is enough with the asparagus.
NY Times Editorial:
How can one feel sorry for James Cayne? The potential losses of the chairman and former chief executive of Bear Stearns must rank up there with the biggest in modern history. The value of his stake in Bear Stearns collapsed from about $1 billion a year ago to as little as $14 million at the price JPMorgan Chase offered for the teetering bank on Sunday.
Still, Mr. Cayne was paid some $40 million in cash between 2004 and 2006, the last year on record, as well as stocks and options. In the past few years, he has sold shares worth millions more. There should be financial accountability for the man who led Bear Stearns as it gorged on dubious subprime securities to boost its profits and share price, helping to set up one of the biggest financial collapses since the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1980s. Some might argue that he should have lost it all.
But that’s not how it works. The ongoing bailout of the financial system by the Federal Reserve underscores the extent to which financial barons socialize the costs of private bets gone bad. Not a week goes by that the Fed doesn’t inaugurate a new way to provide liquidity — meaning money — to the financial system. Bear Stearns isn’t enormous. It doesn’t take deposits from the public. Yet the Fed believed that letting it implode could unleash a domino effect among other banks, and the Fed provided a $30 billion guarantee for JPMorgan to snap it up.
Compared to the cold shoulder given to struggling homeowners, the cash and attention lavished by the government on the nation’s financial titans provides telling insight into the priorities of the Bush administration. It’s not simply a matter of fairness, though. The Fed is probably right to be doing all it can think of to avoid worse damage than the economy is already suffering. But if the objective is to encourage prudent banking and keep Wall Street’s wizards from periodically driving financial markets over the cliff, it is imperative to devise a remuneration system for bankers that puts more of their skin in the game.
Financiers, of course, dispute that they are being insufficiently penalized. “I received no bonus for 2007, no severance pay, no golden parachute,” E. Stanley O’Neal, the former chief executive of Merrill Lynch, told a House committee recently. That doesn’t seem like much of a blow to Mr. O’Neal, who was removed earlier this year following gargantuan subprime-related losses.
A proposal before the Massachusetts state Senate to ban drug company gifts to doctors is generating controversy. “To imply that doctors who have invested years and tens of thousands of dollars in their profession can be bought with a dinner or a package of Post-its is beneath contempt,” wrote the husband of one doctor. Dr. Daniel J. Carlat, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, wrote that the proposed ban “may be one of the most important pieces of healthcare legislation in years.” Carlat cited former drug sales representative Sharam Ahari, who explained that “It’s my job to figure out what a physician’s price is. For some it’s dinner at the finest restaurants, for others it’s enough convincing data to let them prescribe confidently and for others it’s my attention and friendship.”
Source: Boston Globe, March 19, 2008
I found the post below, from Mark Bittman, of interest—mainly because I’m a non-peeler, big time: I do not peel carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, radishes, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, broccoli, apples, pears, grapes, squash (winter or summer), ginger, … (I do peel bananas, oranges, horseradish, celery root, onions, and foods of that ilk.)
Sometimes peeling vegetables is therapeutic, especially when I use my little ceramic peeler. Mostly, however, it’s a pain. Which is probably why I find myself doing less of it as time goes by.
Sometimes it’s just plain unnecessary. If you start to cut an onion, the peel falls off more or less on its own; same with garlic. And you wouldn’t want to eat the skin of a celery root or a beet.
But a lot of peeling is just habit. We were brought up peeling potatoes and carrots so we peel potatoes and carrots.
There’s some remaining logic in this: when fruits and vegetables are grown with heavy doses of pesticides, that’s not stuff you want to have hanging around on your food, and maybe it’s safer to peel the outside than wash it. But with more produce being grown organically, maybe it’s less of an issue. And you can’t be thinking about this all the time anyway or you’ll go nuts.
A few vegetables I no longer peel unless I’m being fussy: carrots, sunchokes (never), eggplant (never. Never. Ten times better unpeeled anyway for most uses), asparagus (depends on the thickness), and often potatoes. Besides the obvious simplicity that not peeling brings to my life, there are also health benefits. Stuff called phenolic compounds are supposedly found in the skin of many vegetables, including eggplants and potatoes. And these compounds are thought to give olive oil its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Who knows?
On the other hand, I find myself increasingly peeling broccoli, which I find improves it greatly.
But for most vegetables, most days, a good scrub and I’m happy.
This, from the Wednesday Chef, sounds great:
Serves 8-10 as an hors d’oeuvre
Note: Gemma, my friend and upstairs neighbor, is the source of this recipe. She’s a nutritionist and thinks the tapenade might be worth attempting without the butter, if anyone is into that kind of experimentation.
8 oil-packed anchovies, drained
1 can (6 ounces) chunk light tuna
7 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces unsalted butter, cubed
Juice of 1 lemon
12 pitted black olives, halved
1 tablespoon snipped chives, plus more for garnish
Black pepper to taste
1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Spoon into a serving dish and cover with plastic wrap.
2. Chill the tapenade in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Serve, garnished with snipped chives.
A cease-fire critical to the improved security situation in Iraq appeared to unravel Monday when a militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr began shutting down neighborhoods in west Baghdad and issuing demands of the central government.
Simultaneously, in the strategic southern port city of Basra, where Sadr’s Mahdi militia is in control, the Iraqi government launched a crackdown in the face of warnings by Sadr’s followers that they’ll fight government forces if any Sadrists are detained. By 1 a.m. Arab satellite news channels reported clashes between the Mahdi Army and police in Basra.
The freeze on offensive activity by Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been a major factor behind the recent drop in violence in Iraq, and there were fears that the confrontation that’s erupted in Baghdad and Basra could end the lull in attacks, assassinations, kidnappings and bombings.
As the U.S. military recorded its 4,000th death in Iraq, U.S. officials in Baghdad warned again Monday that drawing down troops too quickly could collapse Iraq’s fragile security situation.
Pentagon officials said that military leaders are watching for any signs of backsliding as they consider whether to keep drawing down troops below pre-surge levels.
President Bush spoke about the death toll, saying, “One day, people will look back at this moment in history and say, ‘Thank God there were courageous people willing to serve, because they laid the foundations for peace for generations to come.’ “
Even as he spoke, the situation on the ground was rapidly worsening.
Our memory is malleable, and over time stories acquire details and highlights that were not part of the event being “remembered” (or, more properly, reconstructed). That’s what hit Hillary Clinton in all likelihood. Read this explanation in full, but here’s the germ on which her memory latched and built:
if you’ve been following politics at all, you’ve no doubt heard about Hillary Clinton’s latest gaffe. In a speech last week, she said this about a trip to Bosnia in 1996:
I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia… we came in in an evasive maneuver… I remember landing under sniper fire… there was no greeting ceremony… we ran with our heads down, we basically were told to run to our cars… there was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, we basically were told to run to our cars, that is what happened.
Sounds harrowing, right? Well, it turns out that it didn’t really happen that way, and there’s video to prove it. It seems there weren’t any snipers, or evasive maneuvers, and instead of running to the cars with their heads down, they had a little ceremony on the tarmac. Oops.
Since it became clear that Clinton’s story wasn’t accurate, bloggers and the mainstream media have been taking her to task, and understandably so. If you’re telling a story that’s supposed to demonstrate your experience with dangerous foreign policy situations, and it turns out the story isn’t really true, you’re going to hear about it. But I think it’s unfair to accuse Clinton of lying. Don’t get me wrong, I think all politicians lie, and I’m no fan of Clinton (I voted for her opponent in my state’s primary), but this appears to be a pretty straightforward failure of memory to me, and I’d bet a lot of money that source monitoring has its dirty little hand in it.
To see why I think this is a memory rather than honesty issue, read the following recollection of the trip by Lissa Muscatine, who was on the plane with Clinton (from here):
I don’t spend much time on McCain because he’s a walking contradiction and ignorant to boot. But this from Kevin Drum is worth noting:
Even if he gets dinged on the experience stuff, “Oh, he says he’s Mr. Experience. Doesn’t he know the difference between this stuff?” He’s got enough of that in the bank, at least with the media, that he can get away with it. I mean, the irony to this is had either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama misspoke like that, it’d have been on a running loop, and it would become a, a big problem for a couple of days for them.
Italics mine. Let’s recap. Foreign policy cred lets him get away with wild howlers on foreign policy. Fiscal integrity cred lets him get away with outlandishly irresponsible economic plans. Anti-lobbyist cred lets him get away with pandering to lobbyists. Campaign finance reform cred lets him get away with gaming the campaign finance system. Straight talking cred lets him get away with brutally slandering Mitt Romney in the closing days of the Republican primary. Maverick uprightness cred allows him to get away with begging for endorsements from extremist religious leaders like John Hagee. “Man of conviction” cred allows him to get away with transparent flip-flopping so egregious it would make any other politician a laughingstock. Anti-torture cred allows him to get away with supporting torture as long as only the CIA does it.
Remind me again: where does all this cred come from? And what window do Democrats go to to get the same treatment the press gives McCain?
Deadly, in fact. Snopes.com has the details. From an email:
I bought a single jumbo can of Dust Off [compressed air for cleaning computer keyboards and the like - LG]. I went home and set it down beside my computer. On March 1st, I left for work at 10 PM. Just before midnight my wife went down and kissed Kyle goodnight. At 5:30 am the next morning Kathy went downstairs to wake Kyle up for school, before she left for work. He was propped up in bed with his legs crossed and his head leaning over. She called to him a few times to get up. He didn’t move. He would sometimes tease her like this and pretend he fell back asleep. He was never easy to get up. She went in and shook his arm. He fell over. He was pale white and had the straw from the Dust Off can coming out of his mouth. He had the new can of Dust Off in his hands. Kyle was dead.
I am a police officer and I had never heard of this. My wife is a nurse and she had never heard of this. We later found out from the coroner, after the autopsy, that only the propellant from the can of Dust off was in his system. No other drugs. Kyle had died between midnight and 1 AM. I found out that using Dust Off is being done mostly by kids ages 9 through 15. They even have a name for it. It’s called dusting. A take off from the Dust Off name. It gives them a slight high for about 10 seconds. It makes them dizzy. A boy who lives down the street from us showed Kyle how to do this about a month before. Kyle showed his best friend. Told him it was cool and it couldn’t hurt you. It’s just compressed air. It can’t hurt you. His best friend said no.
Kyle was wrong. It’s not just compressed air. It also contains a propellant called R2. It’s a refrigerant like what is used in your refrigerator. It is a heavy gas, heavier than air. When you inhale it, it fills your lungs and keeps the good air, with oxygen out, that’s why you feel dizzy, buzzed. It decreases the oxygen to your brain, to your heart. Kyle was right. It can’t hurt you. IT KILLS YOU!
The horrible part about this is there is no warning. There is no level that kills you. It’s not cumulative or an overdose; it can just go randomly, terribly wrong. Roll the dice and if your number comes up you die. IT’S NOT AN OVERDOSE. It’s Russian Roulette. You don’t die later. Or not feel good and say I’ve had too much. You usually die as you’re breathing it in, if not you die within 2 seconds of finishing ‘the hit.’ That’s why the straw was still in Kyle’s mouth when he died. Why his eyes were still open.
The experts want to call this huffing. The kids don’t believe its huffing. As adults we tend to lump many things together. But it doesn’t fit here. And that’s why it’s more accepted. There is no chemical reaction, no strong odor. It doesn’t follow the huffing signals. Kyle complained a few days before he died of his tongue hurting. It probably did. The propellant causes frostbite. If I had only known. It’s easy to say, “Hey, it’s my life and I’ll do what I want.” But it isn’t. Others are always affected. This has forever changed our family’s life. I have a hole in my heart and soul that can never be fixed. The pain is so immense I can’t describe it. There’s nowhere to run from it. I cry all the time and I don’t ever cry. I do what I’m supposed to do but I don’t really care. My kids are messed up. One won’t talk about it. The other will only sleep in our room at night. And my wife, I can’t even describe how bad she is taking this. I thought we were safe because of Thor. I thought we were safe because we knew about drugs and talked to our kids about them.
Very, very bad—and long-term bad, at that. The US will be hated for many years to come. But Cheney says, “So?” When one talks about an axis of evil, how does one identify the evil—by intentions? or actions? Can the US say, “The results don’t count because we had good intentions”?
The U.S., Great Britain and Israel are turning portions of the Middle East into a slice of radioactive hell. They are achieving this by firing what they call “depleted uranium” (DU) ammunition but which is, in fact, radioactive ammunition and it is perhaps the deadliest kind of tactical ammo ever devised in the warped mind of man.
There’s a ton of data about this on the Internet for the skeptics: from sources such as the 1999 report of the International Atomic Energy Commission to oncologist members of England’s Royal Society of Physicians to U.S. Veterans Administration hospital nuclear medicine doctors to officials at the Basra maternity and pediatric hospital to reporter Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor. Peterson used a Geiger counter in August, 2003 to find radiation readings between 1,000 and 1,900 times normal where bunker buster bombs and munitions had exploded near Baghdad. After all, a typical bunker bomb is said to contain more than a ton of depleted uranium.
For a concise overview on radioactive warfare, read “DU And The Liberation of Iraq” by Christian Scherrer, a researcher at the Hiroshima Peace Institute, published on Znet on April 13, 2003. Scherrer states: “Based on the report of the 48th meeting issued by the UN Committee dealing with effects of Atomic radiation on 20th April 1999, noting the rapid increase in mortality caused by DU between 1991 and 1997, the IAEA document predicted the death of half a million Iraqis, noting that…’some 700-800 tons of depleted uranium was used in bombing the military zones south of Iraq. Such a quantity has a radiation effect, sufficient to cause 500,000 cases which may lead to death.”
Scherrer writes, “In 1991 the DU ammunition was mainly used against Iraqi tanks in the desert near Basra, while in the present war DU is being used all over Iraq, even in densely populated areas including the heart of Baghdad, Mosul, Tikrit and other cities.” He adds that, based on IAEA estimates and his previous research, “the death toll may surpass a million deaths over the next few years, with more to follow!”
Scherrer notes, incidentally, the UN’s Human Rights Commission back in 1996 declared DU a weapon of mass destruction(WMD) and that those who use it are guilty of a crime against humanity. Among its users: the first President Bush, President Bill Clinton, who irradiated the Balkans, and the current occupant of the White House.
Let me know if you try this one:
I was talking with Sean about low country cooking, oysters, hot sauce and Saltine crackers. My mind jumped and I found myself pondering a Saltine puree with oysters. I felt it might be too heavy. What about Saltine pudding pearls? I set about testing the process and failed miserably in front of an audience. I ended up with noodles, extremely dense noodles, of Saltines.
Still, I was not going to let this one get away. I made a much lighter Saltine base. The flavor was still intense, although it tasted more focused than my original version. That is the beauty of failure. We get a chance to rethink and correct our mistakes.
Yesterday the Saltine pearls worked perfectly. While my initial idea was to pair the pearls with oysters, I took another path. I thought about after school snacks, for me there was jam spread on Saltines, a way to curb hunger and pass the time. I really enjoy the combination of salty and sweet. With that in mind we set about creating a raspberry base which we could form into similar pearls. In this case, failure was not an option.
The result was magnificent. We have tiny pebbles of Saltines and raspberry jam which may be eaten individually and together. I opted to take the two flavors and use them to compliment peekytoe crab meat which we flavored with tarragon. At first glance you may think that we perhaps we are stretching. The doubt is whisked away with the first bite. The different bites are salty, sweet, tart, herbal and redolent of the ocean. It brings to mind hot summer afternoons under a clear blue sky. The dish is quite simply delicious.
It’s the little extras that make the difference. Like, for example, this Smoked Salmon and Gruyere Grilled Cheese Sandwich:
Robots of the future may have to learn to make small talk if humans are to accept them.
To find out how quickly domestic robots should respond to their owners’ requests, Toshiyuki Shiwa and colleagues at the ATR laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, asked 38 students to give orders such as “take out the trash” to a robot, which took between zero and 5 seconds to respond.
The students liked delays of no more than 1 second best, with 2 seconds being their limit. However, when the robot took longer, impatient students were assuaged if it filled the time with words such as “well” or “er”. “When the robot used conversational fillers to buy time until it could respond, people didn’t notice the delay,” Shiwa says. He presented the study last week at Human-Robot Interaction 2008 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Touch-screen phones like the iPhone may be cool, but without the tactile feedback provided by a keyboard, they force users to type slowly and lead to typing errors. Now Stephen Brewster and colleagues at the University of Glasgow in the UK say they can banish these problems by using actuators like those that make cellphones vibrate to replicate the feel of a keyboard.
Software called VibeTonz made by Immersion of San Jose, California, can get an actuator to move in different ways, such as smoothly or jerkily. Touch-screen phones made by Samsung and LG use this to provide rudimentary “haptic” feedback when a button is pressed, but Brewster says phones could do much more. “The actuators are there, but people aren’t using them in the most effective way.”
To create more sophisticated sensations, his group strung together combinations of different VibeTonz. A single pulse 30 milliseconds long gives the feeling of a button being clicked, while sliding a finger from one button to another prompts a half-second long buzz, providing a “rough” feeling that tells the user they’ve strayed to another key. Sliding the finger across a button causes the buzz to be ramped up and then down, giving the feel of a round button.
The team found that users’ typing speed and accuracy were significantly closer to results they achieved using a real keyboard, compared with when the haptics were disabled. The team will present its results at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Florence, Italy, next month.
Michael Steger, director of the Laboratory for the Study of Meaning and Quality of Life, University of Louisville, Kentucky, wrote this instructive essay:
Humans have long wondered how to achieve happiness. We have come up with many answers to this question, but unfortunately they often conflict. One ancient dichotomy is particularly important to modern happiness research. Aristotle argued that happiness lay in maximising one’s personal excellence or “virtue”, and in using that virtue in the service of one’s community. In contrast, his predecessor Aristippus argued that happiness is all about maximising pleasure and minimising pain. To these basic traditions we can add a host of religious, philosophical and self-help suggestions that vary from secretly obsessing over one’s desires to acquiring a sexier body.
In a paper published last month in Journal of Research in Personality (vol 42, p 22), my collaborators and I tried to assess whether either Aristotle or Aristippus was right. We asked students to complete daily logs which indicated whether they had engaged in virtue-building activities (like writing down their goals or volunteering) or pleasure-seeking activities (like using drugs or alcohol, or going for a nice long walk). They also filled in daily questionnaires designed to indicate how happy they were. We found that, as Aristotle argued 2400 years ago, the more virtue-building activities people engaged in, the happier they said they were both on the day in question and on the following day. Perhaps surprisingly, there was no relationship between pleasure-seeking and happiness.
A new, exciting feature of the blog: each morning I shall post the number of steps I took the previous day. Ultimate goal: at least 10,000 steps per day. I’m doing this for motivational reasons (pain of humiliation if I fail) and because the family is concerned (validly) that I’m getting insufficient exercise.
Technical specifications: Pedometer is the NL-2000:
The NL-2000 uses a piezoelectric strain gauge to not only accurately count steps—but to also detect the intensity of each step in order to determine the appropriate amount of caloric expenditure.