Later On

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

Archive for April 2nd, 2008

Interesting

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Very detailed MRI of a cat’s brain.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Cats

That good old stride piano

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Thanks to Jack from the Netherlands for suggesting this:

For more like that, do a YouTube search on Olivier Lancelot. And here’s Stephanie Trick playing James P. Johnson’s Carolina Shout:

The Netherlands, of course, is the great biking nation—and Steve of Kafeneio has a good post about how he found a Dutch bicycle that’s made in the California. And why not? If there are the Pennsylvania Dutch, why not the California Dutch. (PS: I know that the Pennsylvania “Dutch” are in fact “Deutsch”—I’m in the process of reading Page Smith’s fascinating two-volume book A New Age Now Begins: A People’s History of the American Revolution.)

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Jazz, Music, Video

It’s okay if you’re a Republican: flag-pin division

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ThinkProgress notes:

In a recent interview with GQ, former Bush adviser Karl Rove criticized Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for “not wearing a flag lapel pin,” saying that “to a lot of ordinary people, putting that flag lapel pin on is true patriotism.” As Rove made this comment, however, interviewer Lisa Depaulo noticed that he wasn’t wearing a pin:

DEPAULO: You’re not wearing a flag pin, Karl.

ROVE: Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. But I respect those who consciously get up in the morning and put a flag lapel pin on.

Rove’s ironic moment of criticism echoes a similar gaffe by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA). In February, MSNBC’s Dan Abrams caught Kingston attacking Obama over the pins while not wearing one himself.

Update: In another bit of irony, Ben Smith points out that Rove’s favored candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), didn’t wear a flag pin during his speech today.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

OMG. Passports with RFID outsourced.

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Via Schneier on Security, this story in the Washington Times:

The United States has outsourced the manufacturing of its electronic passports to overseas companies — including one in Thailand that was victimized by Chinese espionage — raising concerns that cost savings are being put ahead of national security, an investigation by The Washington Times has found.

The Government Printing Office’s decision to export the work has proved lucrative, allowing the agency to book more than $100 million in recent profits by charging the State Department more money for blank passports than it actually costs to make them, according to interviews with federal officials and documents obtained by The Times.

The profits have raised questions both inside the agency and in Congress because the law that created GPO as the federal government’s official printer explicitly requires the agency to break even by charging only enough to recover its costs.

Lawmakers said they were alarmed by The Times’ findings and plan to investigate why U.S. companies weren’t used to produce the state-of-the-art passports, one of the crown jewels of American border security

“I am not only troubled that there may be serious security concerns with the new passport production system, but also that GPO officials may have been profiting from producing them,” said Rep. John D. Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Of course, much of the military is outsourced. Maybe next the GOP will want to outsource the FBI, CIA, and NSA. Think of all the money they’ll save.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 3:28 pm

Military uses FBI as cat’s paw

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Working around the rules, gaming the system, changing the rules if the rules get in the way—it’s the Bush way. From USA Today:

The military is using the FBI to skirt legal restrictions on domestic surveillance to obtain private records of Americans’ Internet service providers, financial institutions and telephone companies, the ACLU said Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union based its conclusion on a review of more than 1,000 documents turned over by the Defense Department after it sued the agency last year for documents related to national security letters. The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court.

The letters are investigative tools used to compel businesses to turn over customer information without a judge’s order or grand jury subpoena.

ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman said the documents the civil rights group studied “make us incredibly concerned that the FBI and DOD might be collaborating to evade limits put on the DOD’s use of NSLs.”

It would be understandable if the military relied on help from the FBI on joint investigations, but not when the FBI was not involved in a probe, she said.

The FBI referred requests for comment Tuesday to the Defense Department. A request for comment from Justice Department lawyers for that agency was not immediately returned.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 3:05 pm

Practice does not make perfect

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Perfect practice makes perfect. That’s why piano students play a new piece very slowly and, as much as possible, making no mistakes: because making the mistake results in learning the mistake. (This has obvious applications to wet shaving, of course.) From Science Daily:

If you are struggling to retrieve a word that you are certain is on the tip of your tongue, or trying to perfect a slapshot that will send your puck flying into a hockey net, or if you keep stumbling over the same sequence of notes on the piano, be warned: you might be unconsciously creating a pattern of failure, a new study reveals.

Karin Humphreys, assistant professor in McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, and Amy Beth Warriner, an undergraduate student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, suggest that most errors are repeated because the very act of making a mistake, despite receiving correction, constitutes the learning of that mistake.

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 2:53 pm

Ask philosophers

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Always good to get a philosopher’s take on things. AskPhilosophers.org presents answers to questions that people have submitted. And they’re still taking questions.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Daily life

Clothesline with automatic clips

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Very cool. Via Ecogeek.org, the Cordoclip clothesline makes line drying outside significantly easier (to load and especially to unload). Video at the link. (It required IE Tab for me.) Just in time for summer.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 2:44 pm

Bush Administration still ignoring scientists

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I can’t understand why the Bush Administration is so pig-headed in ignoring scientists—as well as trying to shut them up and get rid of them. Is it just more examples of the GOP denial of reality? Here’s a recent example in a story by Suemedha Sood:

 Senior management at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the toxins arm of the CDC, got slammed today at a congressional hearing examining the agency’s response when the government trailers housing Hurricane Katrina victims were found to be toxic.

The House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight today held hearings into how and why the agency failed to protect public health when those trailers were found to be emitting dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

“In almost every respect ATSDR failed to fulfill its mission to protect the public from exposure to formaldehyde at levels known to cause ill-health effects,” said Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC), who blamed a “collapse of senior management and leadership.”

At the hearing, it became clear that a leading government expert on formaldehyde had tried to alert his superiors about the toxicity levels of the government trailers in New Orleans, but was repeatedly ignored. Ultimately, he was demoted. Today his superiors said they should have followed his advice, but they did not address why they “reassigned” him to a new position.

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 1:39 pm

How newspapers work these days

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Tom Tomorrow—well worth clicking.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 12:06 pm

Jim Beam Black

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According to the NY Times, the best bourbon value. Here’s the tasting report (click to read):

Bourbons

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks

Another common GOP excuse

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I suspect that in the coming election campaigns we’re going to hear a lot of, “Let’s not look back: let’s look forward. Don’t spend time in the ‘blame game’ [i.e., looking for the causes of the problem], let’s find solutions.” Or, to get right to the point, “Let’s avoid accountability.”

Those who have made horrendous decisions and acted badly never want to look back, because what they did would then be in full view. They want to draw a curtain over the past to keep their misdeeds hidden from view.

Take, for example, the Social Security and Medicare crisis that the Bush Administration and the GOP in general wrings its rhetorical hands about. First, as you know, there’s no crisis in Social Security, the crisis is Medicare. And what caused that crisis. Let’s take a look at one of Kevin Drum’s posts, this one from 26 October 2006:

Ah, the Medicare bill. The three-hour vote in the wee hours of the morning. The attempted bribery of congressman Nick Smith. The Bush administration’s deliberate lies about the bill’s ultimate cost. The budgetary chicanery that resulted in the infamous donut hole. The millions of dollars funneled to the cause by the pharmaceutical industry, which was desperate to make sure that the bill prevented the government from negotiating drug prices.

Hmmm. The pharmaceutical industry. Who did they funnel all their dough through? You’ll be unsurprised to learn that a considerable part of it, at least, was funneled through none other than Jack Abramoff and friends. Barbara Dreyfuss tells the story this month in “Poison Pill”:

It’s well known that in his crusade to pass the bill, [Tom] DeLay drew on more than 800 pharmaceutical-industry lobbyists, millions of dollars in campaign contributions, and the efforts of numerous business and healthcare groups. But this grossly flawed legislation could never have passed without the help of the same players who were central to Abramoff’s lobbying operation: Tony Rudy and Ed Buckham. Using a nest of nonprofits flush with corporate cash, the discredited lobbyists played a vital, albeit hidden, role in whittling down congressional opposition to the bill for more than a year before the final vote.

Read the whole thing for all the grim details.

And read it to refresh your memory so that in the coming elections we’ll actually see some “accountability”—the GOP loves the word if not the act. And we need some accountability for some Democrats as well: there are quite a few who should not be returned to office, for siding with the Bush Administration on critical issues. (Jay Rockefeller, Dianne Feinstein, and others.)

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 11:32 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Incompetence? No: policy

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This is from just a year ago, but it’s still resoundingly true and worth keeping in mind. It’s a comment posted on TalkingPointsMem.com about the Walter Reed story at the time:

 What’s really at issue here is the extent to which problems with the military, specifically, and the government, generally, are a result of policy. The common explanation for the catastrophic results of many of the Bush administration’s initiatives (from Iraq to New Orleans and back again) is that they are the result of “incompetence.”

Incompetence, the lack of capacity or skill, is ultimately an exculpating trope. It insinuates that the plan, or effort, was sound and could have succeeded had it been competently carried out. Moreover, the incompetent are in way less liable: their lack of ability lets them off the hook. Thus, “incompetence” insulates the actors from accountability and leaves the policy itself unscathed.

My personal opinion, which has recently been reinforced by much of what I read in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is that the Bush disasters are a result of the administration’s policies and not of some failure to effectively carry them out.

No one says, retrospectively, that Calvin Coolidge’s failure to help the victims of 1927′s Mississippi River flood was a result of incompetence. No one says that Mellon, with his inaction and insistence that the Great Depression would burn itself out through ‘liquidation,’ was incompetent. Both of these positions were wholly in keeping with the policies of the Coolidge and Hoover presidencies, policies that were not discredited until Roosevelt’s victories and the institution of the New Deal.

The problem, a problem that Waxman seems to be keenly aware of, is that as long as the government retains the same kind of policies, the nation will continue to suffer the same hardships. It is not until the beliefs that inform the ways in which the Bush administration runs the government are firmly linked to their consequences that the nation will stop voting for politicians who promulgate, and enact legislation based on, those creeds.

These policies will not (again) be discredited until they are tied to their reprehensible results. Insisting on the ‘incompetence’ of the Bush administration turns attention away from this linkage between policy and result. In fact, it insulates the policies while discrediting the men who are trying to implement them. It, thus, sets the stage for those policies to be enacted again.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 11:09 am

Some good salad dressings

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Mark Bittman gives recipes for several, saying (and I agree) that the dressings you make are not only cheaper but also much tastier (and have fewer additives).

The simplest dressing, vinaigrette, is this: around three parts oil to one part vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper, and maybe some added flavor. This may be an herb (a pinch of dried tarragon is good, fresh chives better) or a condiment (Dijon mustard is classic, and a splash of soy sauce is amazing). There might be a bit of onion, garlic (easy on this), scallion, or shallot. Combine them with a fork for a “broken” dressing, or with a whisk or a blender for a lovely, creamy emulsion. Presto.

And this:

If you combine blue cheese with yogurt or sour cream, maybe a little garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper, in five minutes you will produce the best blue cheese dressing you’ve ever had. Start with good cheese. The classic choice is Roquefort, a blue made from sheep’s milk, but plenty of others work well, too, like Maytag or another well-made American blue; Stilton; or almost any blue from France, Italy or Spain. It should be strong but not piercingly sharp.

This one is a bit more work, but looks great:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 10:48 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Looking back

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I just downloaded and installed the latest free edition of Evernote, the program all Windows and Mac users should have. (Latest version for Windows is 2.2.1.386), and I’ve been looking back at the old entries, doing a bit of cleanup. Here’s an enjoyable one from October 2006:

I appreciate the service you’re providing. When republicans hold both houses after November, it’ll be great to look back at how amazingly wrong liberals can be. After Iraq becomes a flowering democracy, I’m going to print out all the posts by defeatists such as kos, drum, etc., and mail them to the prime minister. I’m sure they’ll provide a good chuckle.

Posted by: American Hawk on October 9, 2006 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

This was a comment on Kevin Drum’s blog Political Animal, and American Hawk was a troll who posted regularly—maybe he still is posting away, oblivious to evidence, events, and rational argument. I’m sure he continues to brim with inexplicable self-esteem.

And, of course, the premier oblivious-to-evidence-and-events person, George W. Bush, in an old clip from ThinkProgress.org:

During an interview today on ABC’s This Week, President Bush tried to distance himself from what has been his core strategy in Iraq for the last three years. George Stephanopoulos asked about James Baker’s plan to develop a strategy for Iraq that is “between ’stay the course’ and ‘cut and run.’”

Bush responded, ‘We’ve never been stay the course, George!’ Watch it:

Bush is wrong:

BUSH: We will stay the course. [8/30/06]

BUSH: We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. [8/4/05]

BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We’re just going to stay the course. [12/15/03]

BUSH: And my message today to those in Iraq is: We’ll stay the course. [4/13/04]

BUSH: And that’s why we’re going to stay the course in Iraq. And that’s why when we say something in Iraq, we’re going to do it. [4/16/04]

BUSH: And so we’ve got tough action in Iraq. But we will stay the course. [4/5/04]

A much more pleasant clip was a reminder of a favorite movie—whose title I could never remember—That’s the Way I Like It (aka Forever Fever). It’s well worth an evening.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 10:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies

More on Yoo

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Glenn Greenwald, as you might expect, has a very fine column on the Yoo memorandum and how it reflects on the Administration and the country. Read the column in its entirety, please. One very important point he makes:

While Yoo’s specific Torture Memos were ultimately rescinded by subsequent DOJ officials — primarily Jack Goldsmith — the underlying theories of omnipotent executive power remain largely in place. The administration continues to embrace precisely these same theories to assert that it has the power to violate a whole array of laws — from our nation’s spying and surveillance statutes to countless Congressional oversight requirements — and to detain even U.S. citizens, detained on American soil, as “enemy combatants.” So for all of the dramatic outrage that this Yoo memo will generate for a day or so, the general framework on which it rests, despite being weakened by the Supreme Court in Hamdan, is the one under which we continue to live, without much protest or objection.

Here’s the beginning of the column:

Yet again, the ACLU has performed the function which Congress and the media are intended to perform but do not. As the result of a FOIA lawsuit the ACLU filed and then prosecuted for several years, numerous documents relating to the Bush administration’s torture regime that have long been baselessly kept secret were released yesterday, including an 81-page memorandum (.pdf) issued in 2003 by then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo (currently a Berkeley Law Professor) which asserted that the President’s war powers entitle him to ignore multiple laws which criminalized the use of torture:

If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.

As Jane Mayer reported two years ago in The New Yorker — in which she quoted former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora as saying that “the memo espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the President’s Commander-in-Chief authority” — it was precisely Yoo’s torture-justifying theories, ultimately endorsed by Donald Rumsfeld, that were communicated to Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib at the time of the most severe detainee abuses (the ones that are known).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 8:49 am

Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World

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I really like Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World, which appears each Monday in Salon.com—always well worth reading. From today, here’s just one panel that made me laugh (riffing on Lieberman’s constantly having to correct McCain’s remarkably obtuse errors on Iraq and other topics):

This Modern World

He also has a blog that’s worth reading: ThisModernWorld.com.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 8:43 am

Posted in Daily life

The Yoo memo is out

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And it’s just as awful as predicted. Read Kevin Drum’s take. Bottom line:

Basically, the president can authorize any action at all as commander-in-chief in wartime. Congress can’t bind him, treaties can’t bind him, and the courts can’t bind him. The scope of power the memos suggest is, almost literally, absolute. And since this is a war without end, the grant of power is also without end.

And a very interesting point:

As we all know, this memo was eventually rescinded. So in a sense it’s moot. But Marty Lederman asks a good question: now that we know what was in the memo, what justification was there for classifying it in the first place? It wouldn’t have been moot in 2003, and there was nothing in it that compromised national security either then or now. The only thing it compromised was the president’s desire not to have to defend his own policies — policies that led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, among others.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 8:25 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

Tagged with

Stainless-steel bento boxes

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Nice article with cute photos—and now I know what tiffin container is.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 8:15 am

Posted in Daily life

Handbag germs

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Via Healthbolt, this report (though one must note that despite the abundance and ubiquity of germs, we are seldom sick, so one should view the finding with equanimity):

You go to the bathroom at the bookstore, wash your hands, then lift your purse off the shelf where you had it resting and continue into the store where you purchase a book. Do you think you’re safe from germs because you washed your hands with soap? Think again, because according to studies, the toilet seat has fewer bacteria than the bottom of the purse you just handled, and it’s cleaner than the money you receive as change from the store clerk.

Although most of us are conscientious about hand washing after using public restrooms (let us hope), we ignore some of the most insidious sources of bacteria. A recent study by Nelson Laboratories in Salt Lake City investigated the cleanliness of women’s purses. Study director and microbiologist Amy Karen found the results shocking, noting that the handbags in the sample tested positive not only for the presence of bacteria, but for bacteria of the worst kind–including pseudomonas, which can cause eye infections; staphylococcus aurous which can cause serious skin infections; and e coli, which causes food poisoning. In one test, four out of five handbags tested positive for salmonella. Perhaps worse, a similar study out of the University of Arizona found that one-third of the hand-bags in the sample had fecal bacteria present. In fact, some of the purses were 100 times dirtier than the average toilet seat. While a bacteria level of 200 is considered safe, most of the purses weighed in at tens of thousands, and a few had bacteria counts in the millions.

Of course, this makes sense if you think about it. Women stash their purses on car floors, on the baby-changing table in the restroom, on the floor at the café or the bar, on the unmade bed at the friend’s house, on the counter at the bank — places they wouldn’t think of eating off of because of the germ factor. And those places are repositories of bacteria, bacteria that attach themselves to the purse and then to the hand that grabs the purse. Plus, after letting the purse scrape the floor, the typical person sets it down on the kitchen table or on the counter, where the germs happily jump off onto the food. Geronimo!!! And the issue is the same for briefcases, backpacks, and lunchboxes.

But the germs we ignore hardly limit themselves to our purses and briefcases.…

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2008 at 8:03 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

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