Later On

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

Archive for August 2009

Cheney and the torture investigation

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If Cheney doesn’t calm down and shut up about the torture investigation, people will start to think he’s fighting the investigation for a very personal reason—that is, even the Right might grow suspicious. And in the US, suspicion alone has been enough to have people imprisoned and tortured and keep without any due process whatsoever. At least, that’s the way Cheney likes it. I wonder if he can stand the heat himself.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 7:46 pm

Blog round-up on Jenna’s new job and what it means

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Lots of blogs covered in this column. Worth reading.

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31 August 2009 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Daily life

The White House garden

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31 August 2009 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Excel’s Fill handle

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I didn’t know about this. Very handy information.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Joe Klein is not coming out of this looking good

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31 August 2009 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Media

Top 7 things to do online when you’re bored

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Might be helpful. Not on the list: checking this blog for new posts.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

New computer to arrive tomorrow

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Am I excited? Yes. My plan for tomorrow afternoon (FedEx usually comes just before noon): spend a few hours uninstalling the crapware that comes on a new computer—at least on a new Windows computer—and then installing programs I use a lot (Firefox, Windows Live Writer, and so on).

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 1:38 pm

America: Far from a meritocracy

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Conservatives like to twitter on about how egalitarian the US is, and how everyone has an equal chance to succeed. That, of course, is why they oppose any sort of affirmative action programs. Glenn Greenwald takes a close look at the meritocracy we have here:

We’re obviously hungry to live with royal and aristocratic families so we should really just go ahead and formally declare it:

Bush daughter Jenna Hager becomes ‘Today’ reporter

NBC’s "Today" show has hired someone with White House experience as a new correspondent — former first daughter Jenna Hager, the daughter of former President George W. Bush. . . . She "just sort of popped to us as a natural presence, comfortable" on the air, [Executive Producer Jim] Bell said.  Hager will work out of NBC’s Washington bureau.

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it.  They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it’s really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment.  They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency.  Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from.  There’s a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

About this latest hiring by NBC, Atrios observed:  "if only the Villager values of nepotism and torture could be combined somehow."  The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer quickly noted that they already have been:  "Liz Cheney."  Liz Cheney is really the perfect face of Washington’s political culture, a perfect manifestation of all the rotting diseases that define it and a pure expression of what our country has become and the reasons for its virtual ruin.  She should really be on every political TV show all day every day.  It’s almost as though things can’t really be expressed thoroughly without including her.  Jenna Bush as a new NBC "reporter" on The Today Show — at a time when every media outlet is firing and laying off real reporters — is a very nice addition though.

UPDATE: …

Continue reading. The updates are very good.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Daily life

Trustful parenting

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Very interesting post by Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College and a specialist in developmental and evolutionary psychology and author of an introductory textbook.

My last several posts (before I went on vacation for two weeks) were about trustful parenting, the forces that work against it today, and ways of overcoming those forces. As I pointed out in the July 29 post, I think that the most powerful social force interfering with trustful parenting in our time is the school system. The power of schools over children and families has increased steadily over the decades, to the point where it is almost impossible now to be a trustful parent of a child in a typical public or private school.

As I write this essay, children and adolescents all over America are frantically completing their assigned summer reading, so they can turn in their book reports, due on the first day of class. Either that, or they are blowing off the assignments while their parents  are frantically trying to get them to complete them. If your child fails to turn in those reports, the school will quite likely see that as your failing as well as your child’s. You may well, at some point, be called in for a teacher’s conference and reminded–as you sit, humiliated, in one of those little chairs in front of the teacher’s desk–of the importance of parental enforcement of school assignments.

The school system operates on the assumption that children, including teenagers, are incompetent to make their own decisions. They are not competent to pick their own reading (even their own summer reading!); they are not competent to learn on their own initiative. The assumption is that children need constant supervision in order to learn what they need to know to become, eventually, effective adults. Children left to their own devices will just waste their time, or worse, get into serious trouble. And you, the parent, may be seen as negligent if you do trust your child.

If your child blows off a homework assignment because she sees it as a waste of time–which it usually is, and which it almost always is when done from a sense of coercion rather than choice–you may be as much to "blame" as your child. You are supposed to …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

US ignored evidence when it deported US citizen to Mexico

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Something really must be done about the Dept. of Homeland Security—they seem to be out of control. The latest, reported in the News-Observer by Kristin Collins:

The U.S. government admitted in April that it had wrongly deported a North Carolina native, but newly released documents show that federal investigators ignored FBI records and other evidence showing that the man was a United States citizen.

At the time of Mark Lyttle’s deportation, immigration officials had criminal record checks that said he was a U.S. citizen. They had his Social Security number and the names of his parents. They had Lyttle’s own sworn statement that he had been born in Rowan County, N.C.

None of this stopped them from leaving Lyttle, a mentally ill American who speaks no Spanish, alone and penniless in a country to which he has no ties.

Lyttle’s 350-page federal Department of Homeland Security file, released to The News & Observer, shows that the government deported him entirely on the basis of some of his own conflicting statements, even though agents knew that Lyttle is bipolar and has a learning disability.

“I tried to tell them I was a U.S. citizen born right here in Rowan County,” Lyttle says now. “But no one believed me.”

Lyttle is one of a growing number of people who have been swept up in the federal immigration detention system since 2001, when terrorist attacks prompted an unprecedented effort to find and deport illegal immigrants. The U.S. government deported 350,000 people in the fiscal year that ended in October 2008, more than 18,000 of them from a three-state region that includes North Carolina.

As the number of deportations swells each year, it is straining the nation’s immigration investigators and courts — and raising questions about the rights afforded to immigration detainees, many of whom have no lawyers…

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 12:41 pm

State Department employee blasts government for not defending her

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Interesting column in Congressional Quarterly by Jeff Stein. It begins:

Sabrina DeSousa, an alleged CIA agent charged with kidnapping in Italy, says that a Justice Department decision to pay her legal costs is much too little, much too late.

"Unbelievable!  The United States Department of Justice just ‘approved’ an attorney to defend me, a month after the trial ended, knowing full well that an attorney at this stage will make little or no difference to the outcome or verdict," DeSousa said via e-mail Friday.

In a sudden reversal this week, the Justice Department informed DeSousa, one of more than two dozen CIA officers charged with kidnapping in connection with the "rendition" of an al Qaeda suspect from Milan in 2003, that it would pay her legal costs.

DeSousa had sued the government in May after years of unsuccessfully pressing her case in private.
Justice Department spokeswoman Beverley Lumpkin declined to say whether the U.S. would pay the legal expenses of other defendants in the controversial case.

"The decision to authorize payment of fees to Ms. De Sousa is public," Lumpkin said by e-mail. "If we approve payment of fees, that becomes public.  But we cannot comment about other parties who may or may not have sought the same."

The decision on DeSousa came nearly simultaneously with a report in The Washington Post that CIA Director Leon Panetta had told employees that the spy agency would pay the legal fees of those caught up in investigations of interrogation abuses at secret sites overseas.

De Sousa, 53, was listed as an American diplomat in Italy on Feb. 17, 2003, when U.S. agents snatched an al Qaeda suspect, known as Abu Omar, off a Milan street and secretly flew him out of the country for interrogation.

Following an investigation by Italian police, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 12:32 pm

More threats that Texas will secede

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You’ll recall that Gov. Rick Perry talked about Texas seceding from the US, and now there are more. My only comment: Get it in writing.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Joe Barton promises the GOP will repeal healthcare reform

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Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is an influential House member because of seniority and the barrels of money he gets from the energy industry (some of which  he passes along to equally retarded Representatives). He fervently opposes any improvements in the US healthcare system and now is promising that the GOP will roll back any improvements that are made. Via ThinkProgress:

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31 August 2009 at 12:21 pm

Evolution a "religious issue" in Missouri

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Evolution in Missouri is thought (by some) to be a religious issue, though why is unclear. Evolution is no more religious than gravitation, say. But that doesn’t slow the truly ignorant. Jonathan Turley:

Evolution in Sedalia, Missouri appears to be moving in reverse. The band leaders of the Smith-Cotton High School Tiger Pride Marching Band thought that they had a cute idea in showing the images of monkeys evolving into band members under the words “Brass Evolutions 2009.” Parents and teachers objected that evolution (a scientific theory) was advancing a “religious” viewpoint. Amazingly, the school agreed and ordered the t-shirts turned in by the students.

The Darwinistas who undermined the science-phobic parents were Assistant Band Director Brian Kloppenburg and Band Director Jordan Summers. They were probably laboring under the odd idea that the a scientific theory was a perfectly appropriate image for a school, particularly given the new programs based on “Brass Evolutions.”

When the band marched in the Missouri State Fair, the complaints began from parents who believe that evolution is a myth and contradicts the teachings of the Bible.

Yielding to such extreme views, Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt ordered the t-shirts returned. It was a remarkably dim-witted decision that caved to religious objections on a matter of a scientific reference. It accomplished the very thing that these parents complained about: allowing religious values to shape a school decision.

Pollitt insisted that he had to take the action because the school was required to stay neutral on religious issues. However, evolution is not a religious issue. Extremists want to make evolution into a religious question, but it is not. If the parents started to object to pictures of Freud from an anti-psychiatry view of Scientology, would Pollitt order their removal? How about if Evangelical Christians object (as they did in Texas) to pictures showing the Moon as illuminated by reflective light, would he take down the posters? How about pictures showing the Earth aging more than 6000 years, another fact disputed recently by religious politicians and parents (here).

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 12:15 pm

Black garlic

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Black-garlic-front

Black-garlic-back

I came across this item at Whole Foods. The garlic is aged for a month, during which it turns black and loses almost all its garlic taste and fragrance—it becomes a black, soft, sweet condiment. I think the peeled cloves (which I’ve just been eating directly) would go well on pizza and in salads. Great stuff.

I bought it because I’d never had it (or heard of it, for that matter). When I actually started to use it, I was surprised to find the bulb quite soft, but that’s a result of the aging. It’s extremely tasty and worth a try.

Click images (and click the resulting image) to view full size.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

1-ingredient ice cream

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Some vendors are making much of their 5-ingredient ice cream. This recipe goes them 4 better: one ingredient is all it takes.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 11:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Surveillance cameras: worth the cost?

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Probably not, says Bruce Schneier, writing about London’s omnipresent surveillance cameras:

A recent report has concluded that the London’s surveillance cameras have solved one crime per thousand cameras per year.

David Davis MP, the former shadow home secretary, said: "It should provoke a long overdue rethink on where the crime prevention budget is being spent."

He added: "CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness.

"It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.

Also:

Earlier this year separate research commissioned by the Home Office suggested that the cameras had done virtually nothing to cut crime, but were most effective in preventing vehicle crimes in car parks.

A report by a House of Lords committee also said that £500 million was spent on new cameras in the 10 years to 2006, money which could have been spent on street lighting or neighbourhood crime prevention initiatives.

A large proportion of the cash has been In London, where an estimated £200 million so far has been spent on the cameras. This suggests that each crime has cost £20,000 to detect.

I haven’t seen the report, but I know that it’s hard to figure out when a crime has been "solved" by a surveillance camera. To me, the crime has to have been unsolvable without the cameras. Repeatedly I see pro-camera lobbyists pointing to the surveillance-camera images that identified the 7/7 London Transport bombers, but it is obvious that they would have been identified even without the cameras.

And it would really help my understanding of that £20,000 figure (I assume it is calculated from £200 million for the cameras times 1 in 1000 cameras used to solve a crime per year divided by ten years) if I knew what sorts of crimes the cameras "solved." It the £200 million solved 10,000 murders, it might very well be a good security trade-off. But my guess is that most of the crimes were of a much lower level.

Cameras are largely security theater:

A Home Office spokeswoman said CCTVs "help communities feel safer".

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 11:36 am

Two excellent Julia Child videos

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Well worth watching. In one, Ms. Child is played by Dan Ackroyd (a portrayal that she loved and would show to guests); in the other, she shows how to make an omelet.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 11:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes, Video

Trusting business: Foreclosed properties edition

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Once again we see that businesses care little for the law and courts: the goal is business is to increase profits by any means necessary. Mary Kane in the Washington Independent:

As bank-owned foreclosed properties pile up across the country, from abandoned houses in hard-hit neighborhoods to empty big box retail stores in failed strip malls, the fight over holding someone responsible for the brick and mortar mess left behind by the mortgage crisis continues to heat up.

More than two years into the crisis, local authorities still are slapping banks, servicers and speculators with fines ranging from $30,000 to even $90,000 for ignoring orders to take care of foreclosed and vacant properties under their control. The continuing punitive measures come as servicers already find themselves under fire for failing to complete more loan modifications under the Obama administration’s Making Home Affordable program – an effort that includes $75 billion in taxpayer money as incentives for the lending industry to rework loans. And it also comes as some realtors and lenders are mounting challenges to local anti-blight ordinances, and promoting the use of a mortgage database to track down servicers. Some housing advocates fear the industry will go beyond lobbying for the use of its mortgage system to push for getting rid of local vacant property laws altogether.

The end result: Some of the same servicers the Obama administration is urging to complete more loan modifications still are walking away entirely from vandalized homes, or failing to fix broken windows, get rid of junked cars, clear trash, repair damaged roofs and gutters, or even demolish a condemned house, all of which can be violations of local housing codes. And housing courts keep hearing persistent arguments from servicers that they’re merely temporary custodians who can’t alienate investors by spending money to bring properties up to code.

“They may think it’s unfair, but the law provides that if you have ownership of a property, you take care of it,” said Cleveland Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka, who regularly fines lenders $5,000 a day for properties that don’t comply with city codes. “There’s no provision to exempt corporations. I’m not going to treat them any differently than the individual property owners who come into my courtroom in wheelchairs and walkers.”

And while the lending industry contends its working more cooperatively than ever with local authorities, not everyone sees it that way.

“For every one vacant property owner who wants to work with the local government, there are five other property owners who are gaming the system,” said Joseph Schilling, a Virginia Tech urban affairs professor and co-founder of the National Vacant Properties Campaign. “My sense is the industry is also overwhelmed, almost as much as the code departments, and properties still fall through the cracks.”

Controversies over vacant properties are one sign of how the aftermath of the mortgage crisis may be as complicated to address as the initial waves of foreclosures themselves.

As TWI reported recently …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 11:27 am

Executing the innocent

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David Grann has a good article on the execution of a man who was in all probability innocent. The article begins:

The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.

Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.

Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Diane raced down the street to get help he found a stick and broke the children’s bedroom window. Fire lashed through the hole. He broke another window; flames burst through it, too, and he retreated into the yard, kneeling in front of the house. A neighbor later told police that Willingham intermittently cried, “My babies!” then fell silent, as if he had “blocked the fire out of his mind.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2009 at 11:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

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