Later On

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

Archive for February 3rd, 2010

The Internet is a scary place

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I just finished reading Fatal System Error, and I have to say that the police and government still seem not to have grasped the problem, which is frightening. And things are getting worse.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who uses the Internet (which I imagine would include those reading this blog) and in particular to those who work in IT.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 5:25 pm

Ugly discovery

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I keep thinking about the Italians in Lion of the Desert. Anand Gopal in The Nation :

One quiet, wintry night last year in the eastern Afghan town of Khost, a young government employee named Ismatullah simply vanished. He had last been seen in the town’s bazaar with a group of friends. Family members scoured Khost’s dusty streets for days. Village elders contacted Taliban commanders in the area who were wont to kidnap government workers, but they had never heard of the young man. Even the governor got involved, ordering his police to round up nettlesome criminal gangs that sometimes preyed on young bazaargoers for ransom.

But the hunt turned up nothing. Spring and summer came and went with no sign of Ismatullah. Then one day, long after the police and village elders had abandoned their search, a courier delivered a neat handwritten note on Red Cross stationery to the family. In it, Ismatullah informed them that he was in Bagram, an American prison more than 200 miles away. US forces had picked him up while he was on his way home from the bazaar, the terse letter stated, and he didn’t know when he would be freed.

In the past few years Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan’s rugged heartland have begun to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In its attempt to stamp out the growing Taliban insurgency and Al Qaeda, the US military has been arresting suspects and sending them to one of a number of secret detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families. These night raids have become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The raids and detentions, little known or understood outside the Pashtun villages, have been turning Afghans against the very forces many of them greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

One Dark Night in November

November 19, 2009, 3:15 am. A loud blast woke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni, a city of ancient provenance in the country’s south. A team of US soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s agriculture minister. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of them sleeping in the family’s one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran toward the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted toward his injured cousin. He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives—both of them children—remaining in the room. But they refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.

The foreign soldiers, most of them tattooed and bearded, then went on to the main compound. They threw clothes on the floor, smashed dinner plates and forced open closets. Finally they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee. Rahman was responsible for converting Microsoft Windows from English to the local Pashto language so that government offices could use the software. The Afghan translator accompanying the soldiers said they were acting on a tip that Rahman was a member of Al Qaeda.

They took the barefoot Rahman and a cousin to …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 4:13 pm

Bad news for deniers: Dr. Mann totally cleared

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John Broder reporting in the NY Times:

An academic board of inquiry has largely cleared a noted Pennsylvania State University climatologist of scientific misconduct, but a second panel will convene to determine whether his behavior undermined public faith in the science of climate change, the university said Wednesday.

The scientist, Dr. Michael E. Mann, has been at the center of a roiling dispute arising from the unauthorized release of more than 1,000 e-mail messages from the servers of the University of East Anglia in England, home to one of the world’s premier climate research units.

While the Penn State inquiry, conducted by three senior faculty members and administrators, absolved Dr. Mann of the most serious charges against him, it is not likely to silence the continuing controversy over climate science. New questions about the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which Dr. Mann was a significant contributor, have arisen since the hacked e-mail messages surfaced last November.

That faculty board did not look into the science of climate change itself, the university said in announcing its results. That, it said, is “a matter more appropriately left to the profession.”

Dr. Mann was named in 377 of the e-mail messages, including several that critics took to suggest that he manipulated or destroyed data to strengthen his case that human activity is changing the global climate.

In the best-known of the messages, he refers to a “trick” in a graph he produced a decade ago showing 1,000 years of essentially steady global surface temperatures followed by a sharp upward spike in the 20th century, seemingly corresponding to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The so-called hockey stick graph has become an icon for environmentalists. It was prominently displayed in a 2001 United Nations report concluding that greenhouse gases from human activities had probably caused most of the warming measured since 1950. A version of it appears in the Al Gore documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

In some of the e-mail messages, Dr. Mann refers to his assembly of data from a number of different sources, including ancient tree rings and earth core samples, as a “trick.” Critics pounced on the term and said it was evidence that Dr. Mann and other scientists had manipulated temperature data to support their conclusions.

But the Penn State inquiry board said the term “trick” is used by scientists and mathematicians to refer to an insight that solves a problem. “The so-called ‘trick’ was nothing more than a statistical method used to bring two or more different kinds of data sets together in a legitimate fashion by a technique that has been reviewed by a broad array of peers in the field,” the panel said.

The e-mail messages also contained suggestions that Dr. Mann had purposely hidden or destroyed e-mail messages and other information relating to a United Nations climate change report to prevent other scientists from reviewing them. Dr. Mann produced the material in question, and the Penn State board cleared him of the charge.

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 1:52 pm

Focus and work on one thing at a time

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The Wife points me to this paper (PDF), the summary of which is:

Multitasking

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 11:43 am

Just as I suspected: TV watching and educational level inversely correlated

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Clive Thompson on his blog:

How much TV do you watch? What’s the highest level of educational level you’ve attained?

According to data gathered by the web site hunch, these two aspects of your life are “almost perfectly inversely correlated”: The more advanced your degree, the less time you spend staring at the tube.

Here’s the background: Hunch is web site that gives you customized recommendations based on you answering questions about what you do and don’t like. (After parsing my replies to several questions, it advised me against buying an Apple tablet, for example.) In theory, the more people use Hunch, the more Hunch knows about our preferences and the smarter its recommendations get. So to gather even more information about people’s preferences more quickly yet, the site has a section called “Tell Hunch About You”, where you can answer oodles of survey-like questions about your demographics, your likes, dislikes, habits, patterns of consumption, beliefs, etc.

Over 66,000 people have answered questions about both their educational level and the amount of TV they watch. When the Hunch folks assembled the numbers, here’s what it looked like, according to their blog:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 11:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Media

E.M. Forster

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I have a great fondness for E.M. Forster’s novels and his book Aspects of the Novel. In The New Criterion, Brooke Adams reviews Frank Kermode’s Concerning E.M. Forster:

E. M. Forster delivered the Clark lectures at Cambridge University in 1927; these were published that same year under the title Aspects of the Novel, and still enjoy influence even in our postmodern era. Eighty years later, in 2007, the same lecture series was delivered by Frank Kermode, who at ninety years of age continues to be the best literary critic in England. In honor of this eightieth anniversary, Kermode chose Forster as his subject for the Clark lectures, and his thoughts can now be read in Concerning E. M. Forster, the published version of the talks.

Both Forster and Kermode held fellowships at King’s College, Cambridge, but, as Kermode points out, the routes by which they made their way there were very different, the contrast being illustrative of the growing professionalization of academia, and particularly of literary studies, after the Second World War. The upper-middle-class Forster was admitted to King’s as an undergraduate at the end of the Victorian era; he went on, as everyone knows, to a distinguished literary career and, in 1946, was offered an Honorary Fellowship and a home at the college, where he resided from 1953 until his death in 1970. Kermode, born exactly forty years after Forster, went the red brick route, graduating from Liverpool University in 1940. He went on to teach at Newcastle, Reading, Manchester, and Bristol Universities and University College, London, before accepting a chair at Cambridge and his own fellowship at King’s—“a grammar school boy,” as he says, “making a belated appearance on this very different scene at the possibly inflexible age of fifty-four.”

Dissimilar backgrounds, yes; but Kermode clearly feels a profound affinity with Forster and a sympathy with his view of life. Not that these lectures exactly constitute a paean; Forster, Kermode remarks,

irritates readers [himself included] who nevertheless feel obliged in the end, to do him honor. I think that’s right, and will pay the debt of honor without ceding my right to some bouts of irritation… . There are reasons for dissentient judgments and some of these I shall try to express. To do so may, in the end, be a way of paying more tribute, for the causes of irritation may well be closely related to the causes of admiration…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 10:30 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Obama’s quiet revolution

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Interesting article in The New Republic by John Judis:

These days, liberals don’t know whether to feel betrayed by or merely disappointed with Barack Obama. They have gone from decrying his willingness to remove the public option from his health care plan to worrying that, in the wake of Democrat Martha Coakley’s defeat in Massachusetts, he won’t get any plan through Congress. On other subjects, too, from Afghanistan to Wall Street, Obama has thoroughly let down his party’s left flank.

Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for—but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.

The regulatory agencies, most of which date from one of the three great reform periods (1901–1914, 1932–1938, and 1961–1972) of the last century, were intended to smooth out the rough edges (the “externalities,” in economic jargon) of modern capitalism—from dirty air to dangerous workplaces to defective merchandise to financial corruption. With wide latitude in writing and enforcing regulations, they have been described as a “fourth branch of government.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 10:07 am

Regulating tobacco use: Personal freedom vs. public health

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Interesting post by Emily C at Transform:

The UK’s Department of Health (DoH) has announced an ambitious new strategy for reducing smoking in the population from 21% currently, to 10% by 2020.

In 2007 the Government brought in a ban on smoking in virtually all enclosed public and work places. This move added to earlier regulatory controls including the restrictions on displaying tobacco products, prominent graphic health warnings on packaging, raising the age access limit, and progressive increases in tax. These came on top of bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, and historic increases in investment in public education of smoking health risks. Combined, these measures are widely seen as having contributed to a substantial reduction in smoking across the population since the 1970s.

smoking prevalence UK

Transform has supported these policies, including the ban on smoking in public places, that have demonstrably delivered positive health outcomes without the need to resort to criminalisation of users or abdication of market control to criminal profiteers, quite the opposite in fact. For more discussion see our recent submission to the DoH 2009 consultation on tobacco policy.

Along with a raft of new public health measures (such as extending tobacco cessation treatment provision) The DoH is now considering extending tobacco regulation further. Policies that are being consulted upon include:

  • Plain packaging – removal of all logos/branding
  • Ending the sale of tobacco from vending machines (a significant source of tobacco for young people)
  • Promoting smoke-free homes and cars
  • Reviewing whether to extend legislation from enclosed public places and workplaces to areas like entrances to buildings

Some countries are going even further. Finland, which outlawed tobacco advertising as far back 1976, aims to make smoking in a car carrying anyone under the age of 18 illegal by this summer. [That is already the case in California. – LG]

Other countries, such as the US, are lagging behind in many of these moves, at least at Federal level (some states such as California have introduced very restrictive controls on smoking in public places). Last year Barack Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. This legislation, which was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 307 to 97 and the Senate 79 to 17, granted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extensive new authority to regulate tobacco products. It means that the FDA would regulate the content of tobacco products, prohibits the use of the terms “light,” “mild,” and “low” on packaging and in advertising and mandate dramatic changes in the nature and strength of cigarette warnings, which by 2012 would have to cover the top 50% of both front and rear panels of cigarette packages. And it also stipulates that the FDA must reissue its 1996 regulations, which, among other things, would prohibit outdoor advertising of tobacco products within 1000 ft (305 m) of a school or playground, limit advertising in publications with a “significant youth readership” and ban brand-name sponsorship of sporting and cultural events…

Continue reading to learn about the ACLU’s opposition.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 9:57 am

Salt: We use too much

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I’m going to sequester my salt supplies in a cupboard and try cooking without it. Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

Since Mayor Bloomberg started going after salt, my inbox is overflowing with commentary on all sides of the salt debates.

First a review of the research: FoodNavigator.com has published a series of pieces on the importance of salt reduction to health and the implications of doing so for the food industry:

  • January 15: a summary of a Japanese study linking high salt diets to cancer.
  • January 26: a review of studies on several conditions affected by salt intake.
  • January 27: a discussion of the economic effects of reducing salt intake.
  • January 28: an overview of how the salt issues are viewed in Europe.
  • January 29: a discussion of the purported benefits of sea salt.
  • Also on January 29: a report on Kellogg’s salt-reduction initiative in Europe.
  • February 1: a review of the arguments over the science.
  • February 2: an account of how Ireland is dealing with the salt issue.

Jane Brody of the New York Times weighed in on the benefits of salt reduction.

Salt in restaurant meals: On January 31, an intrepid New York Times reporter had the bright idea of sending some restaurant meals off to a lab to test for sodium.  Ouch.  Large clam chowder 3100 mg, two slices of pizza 2240 mg, steak with creamed spinach 2660 mg, Katz’s corned beef with pickles 4490 mg.  Stroke anyone?  No wonder it’s so hard to avoid sodium.

The “leave salt alone” crowd: JAMA has just run an editorial from Michael Alderman arguing that salt reduction does no good, might do harm, and should be tested in clinical trials before moving forward.  And Greg Miller of the National Dairy Council sent me this piece from Dr. Judith Stern of U.C. Davis, a member of the advisory board of the Salt Institute, saying much the same thing.

These are old arguments. What I find remarkable about them is that despite such individual opinions, every committee that has ever reviewed the research over the years has consistently come to the same conclusion: salt reduction is a good idea.  Are the committees delusional?  I don’t see how.  As for clinical trials, how could anyone do one?  There is already so much salt in the American diet that it will be hard to find a population of people able (even if willing) to reduce salt intake to a level where differences in health will be measurable.  The research disputes are difficult to sort out I don’t see how they can be easily resolved.

Under these circumstances, you could take your pick of whose research interpretation to believe – if you actually had a choice.  But you don’t.  If you eat processed food or in restaurants, you are eating a lot more salt than you need.

I’d like the default to  be a lower salt environment.  Drs. Alderman and Stern can always add more salt to their food.  I have no way of removing it from mine.

Stay tuned.  We will be hearing a lot more about this one.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

The Quadrennial Defense Review

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From the Center for American Progress in an email:

On Monday, the Obama administration released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) which, despite deferring some hard choices, signaled a stark break with the approach pursued by the Bush administration four years earlier. The QDR is released every four years and is intended to be an over-arching strategy document for the Department of Defense. As Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution explained, the QDR "provides a look at how the Pentagon sees the world and how it intends to move forward." Importantly, this new QDR recognizes the complexity of 21st century challenges and abandons simplistic Cold War-style monikers to describe the threats and challenges confronting the United States. The QDR also broke new ground by finally acknowledging the potential dangers posed to the United States by climate change. However, like past QDRs, it failed to adequately answer many of the hard strategic and budgetary questions. By neither weighting competing priorities nor recommending any difficult trade-offs necessary to rebalance the force, the document loses strategic focus and fails to set a course for fiscal discipline after a decade of runaway spending.

A 21st CENTURY APPROACH: The QDR wisely abandons outdated strategic constructs and simplistic organizing monikers and instead recognizes and accepts the complexity of the modern strategic environment. The Washington Post reports that the QDR "predicts a future dominated by ‘hybrid’ wars, in which traditional states will fight more like guerrillas and insurgents will arm themselves with increasingly sophisticated technology, such as antitank weapons and missiles." This reflects the experience gained from Iraq and Afghanistan and corrects earlier assumptions that engaging in forcible regime change would be relatively easy. As a result, the QDR abandons the "two-war doctrine," in place since just after the Cold War, that held the U.S. had to be prepared to fight two conventional wars became unrealistic and outdated. Furthermore, the document drops the favored "long war" concept of the Bush-Rumsfeld 2006 QDR. Assistant professor at the University of Kentucky Rob Farley explains, "the 2006 QDR was explicitly structured around the concept of the ‘Long War,’ which is essentially another name for the War on Terror," adding that it was "striking the degree to which the Cold War could easily be substituted for the Long War, with communists playing the role of terrorists. In the 2010 QDR, not so much. The United States is fighting ‘wars’ rather than a ‘Long War’ which is a crucial distinction."

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 9:47 am

Cooperation without torture

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

Over the weekend, in the official Republican weekly address, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who really ought to know better, blasted the Obama administration’s handling of the Abdulmutallab case. She was particularly incensed by "the irresponsible, indeed dangerous, decision on Abdulmutallab’s interrogation."

Now, I can appreciate political opportunism as much as the next blogger. I can even understand trying to take advantage of a perceived weakness.

But these criticisms are just absurd. The Obama administration has not only dealt with the Abdulmutallab case by the book, but it’s also had considerable success that even Republicans should be satisfied with.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit on Dec. 25, started talking to investigators after two of his family members arrived in the United States and helped earn his cooperation, a senior administration official said Tuesday evening.

Mr. Abdulmutallab, 23, began speaking to F.B.I. agents last week in Detroit and has not stopped, two government officials said. The officials declined to disclose what information was obtained from him, but said it was aiding in the investigation of the attempted terrorist attack.

"With the family, the F.B.I. approached the suspect," the senior administration official said, speaking to reporters at the White House on the condition of anonymity because of the pending legal case. "He has been cooperating for days."

For weeks, conservative lawmakers, activists, and media personalities have insisted that the administration had made a terrible mistake — making Abdulmutallab aware of his rights, failing to interrogate the suspect, and neglecting to gain potentially valuable intelligence.

The talking points may make for spirited Fox News broadcasts, but they’re also at odds with reality.

"The intelligence gained has been disseminated throughout the intelligence community," the official said, adding, "The best way to get him to talk was working with his family."

Another federal official said Mr. Abdulmutallab had provided information about people he met in Yemen, where he is believed to have receiving training and explosives from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a branch of the terrorist network.

"He’s retracing his activities over there," said the official, who would discuss the case only on the condition of anonymity. "You run to ground what he tells you, validate it and follow up. You build a relationship. It’s a pretty standard process."

Imagine that. The right’s bed-wetting notwithstanding, the Obama administration handing the matter exactly as it should, and the current approach has "been very successful."

Conservatives have been on the offensive, but they’ve been attacking from a position of weakness and ignorance. This isn’t the way to improve already-suspect credibility on national security matters.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 9:38 am

Israel now admits to shelling UN Gaza compound with white phosphorus

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Israel is rapidly moving toward “rogue nation” status. From Susie Madrak at Crooks & Liars:

Israel now admits reprimanding two top army officers for ordering the Jan. 15 attack on the UN compound in Gaza last year that used white phosphorus shells. (Apparently their strategy is, if they admit to one use, we can all pretend they weren’t using it everywhere else in Gaza.)

Last year, the official explanation was that the shells were merely meant to provide cover for ground operation:

The admission is contained in the Israeli response to the UN’s Goldstone report, which concluded both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes.

Both officers have retained their ranks, according to reports.

The Israeli army denies breaking the rules of engagement over the use of white phosphorus.

During the 22-day conflict last year, media pictures showed incendiary shells raining down on a UN compound.

The officers were named in Israeli media reports as Gaza Division Commander Brig Gen Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col Ilan Malka.

“Several artillery shells were fired in violation of the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery near populated areas,” the Israeli response to the Goldstone report says.

The officers were charged with “exceeding their authority” in ordering the use of the weapons in the attack.

An Israeli Defence Force spokesman said that the reprimand would be noted on their records and would be considered if they apply for promotion in future.

Brig Gen Eisenberg is still in command of Israel’s Gaza division, and Col Malka has been moved to the West Bank under the same rank, according to the Reuters news agency.

In March 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report calling their use of white phosphorus “indiscriminate” and “evidence of war crimes”:

The 71-page report, “Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza,” provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that white phosphorus munitions had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza. Human Rights Watch researchers in Gaza immediately after hostilities ended found spent shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school. The report also presents ballistics evidence, photographs, and satellite imagery, as well as documents from the Israeli military and government.

Militaries use white phosphorus primarily to obscure their operations on the ground by creating thick smoke. It can also be used as an incendiary weapon.

“In Gaza, the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops,” said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died.”

The report documents a pattern or policy of white phosphorus use that Human Rights Watch says must have required the approval of senior military officers.

“For the needless civilian deaths caused by white phosphorus, senior commanders should be held to account,” Abrahams said.

And by God, senior commanders are being held to account! Why, it’s going into their personnel file! You don’t get much more serious than that.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 9:33 am

John Cole on John McCain

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Good post by John Cole at Balloon Juice:

Just woke up from a nap and saw DougJ’s thread about Ambinder and McCain. They just never are going to get it, are they?

McCain is a shallow hothead who personalizes everything, but politics most of all. The stories about this are legion, especially by local Arizona reporters who have pointing this out for years. The simple fact is that McCain does not like Obama for a number of reasons, including his belief that Obama slighted him as a Senator over lobbying reform (which was McCain’s personal fiefdom for tv grandstanding face time, whereas Obama wanted to do something about it), showed such disdain for him during the 2008 campaign that it was echoed openly by his staff, all amplified by the fact that Obama handed him his ass in the election. McCain is a bitter old man who is going to simply oppose everything Obama tries to do.

Period. There is no deeper reason. This is why McCain feels no remorse for thrusting Lady Starburst on a vulnerable America he claims to love. It was justified, because he had to beat Obama, who was the “enemy.” It is also why he always eagerly latches on to every neocon war scheme, because he is especially susceptible to Manichean depictions of the world.

He’s a pathetic, disgusting shell of a man.

The end.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 9:23 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

The chess master and the computer

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Extremely interesting book review by Gary Kasparov in The New York Review of Books:

Chess Metaphors: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Mind

by Diego Rasskin-Gutman, translated from the Spanish by Deborah Klosky

MIT Press, 205 pp., $24.95

In 1985, in Hamburg, I played against thirty-two different chess computers at the same time in what is known as a simultaneous exhibition. I walked from one machine to the next, making my moves over a period of more than five hours. The four leading chess computer manufacturers had sent their top models, including eight named after me from the electronics firm Saitek.

It illustrates the state of computer chess at the time that it didn’t come as much of a surprise when I achieved a perfect 32–0 score, winning every game, although there was an uncomfortable moment. At one point I realized that I was drifting into trouble in a game against one of the "Kasparov" brand models. If this machine scored a win or even a draw, people would be quick to say that I had thrown the game to get PR for the company, so I had to intensify my efforts. Eventually I found a way to trick the machine with a sacrifice it should have refused. From the human perspective, or at least from my perspective, those were the good old days of man vs. machine chess.

Eleven years later I narrowly defeated the supercomputer Deep Blue in a match. Then, in 1997, IBM redoubled its efforts—and doubled Deep Blue’s processing power—and I lost the rematch in an event that made headlines around the world. The result was met with astonishment and grief by those who took it as a symbol of mankind’s submission before the almighty computer. ("The Brain’s Last Stand" read the Newsweek headline.) Others shrugged their shoulders, surprised that humans could still compete at all against the enormous calculating power that, by 1997, sat on just about every desk in the first world.

It was the specialists—the chess players and the programmers and the artificial intelligence enthusiasts—who had a more nuanced appreciation of the result. Grandmasters had already begun to see the implications of the existence of machines that could play—if only, at this point, in a select few types of board configurations—with godlike perfection. The computer chess people were delighted with the conquest of one of the earliest and holiest grails of computer science, in many cases matching the mainstream media’s hyperbole. The 2003 book Deep Blue by Monty Newborn was blurbed as follows: "a rare, pivotal watershed beyond all other triumphs: Orville Wright’s first flight, NASA’s landing on the moon…."

The AI crowd, too, was pleased with the result and the attention, but dismayed by the fact that Deep Blue was hardly what their predecessors had imagined decades earlier when they dreamed of creating a machine to defeat the world chess champion. Instead of a computer that thought and played chess like a human, with human creativity and intuition, they got one that played like a machine, systematically evaluating 200 million possible moves on the chess board per second and winning with brute number-crunching force. As Igor Aleksander, a British AI and neural networks pioneer, explained in his 2000 book, How to Build a Mind: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 9:19 am

Posted in Books, Games

No more primordial soup for me, thanks

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Primordial soup has gone off the "origin of life" menu. Take a look:

For 80 years it has been accepted that early life began in a ‘primordial soup’ of organic molecules before evolving out of the oceans millions of years later. Today the ‘soup’ theory has been over turned in a pioneering paper in BioEssays which claims it was the Earth’s chemical energy, from hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, which kick-started early life. "Textbooks have it that life arose from organic soup and that the first cells grew by fermenting these organics to generate energy in the form of ATP. We provide a new perspective on why that old and familiar view won’t work at all," said team leader Dr Nick lane from University College London. "We present the alternative that life arose from gases (H2, CO2, N2, and H2S) and that the energy for first life came from harnessing geochemical gradients created by mother Earth at a special kind of deep-sea hydrothermal vent – one that is riddled with tiny interconnected compartments or pores." [More detailed description in this article, which I blogged some time ago. – LG]

The soup theory was proposed in 1929 when J.B.S Haldane published his influential essay on the origin of life in which he argued that UV radiation provided the energy to convert methane, ammonia and water into the first organic compounds in the oceans of the early earth. However critics of the soup theory point out that there is no sustained driving force to make anything react; and without an energy source, life as we know it can’t exist.

"Despite bioenergetic and thermodynamic failings the 80-year-old concept of primordial soup remains central to mainstream thinking on the origin of life," said senior author, William Martin, an evolutionary biologist from the Institute of Botany III in Düsseldorf. "But soup has no capacity for producing the energy vital for life."

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 9:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Three good passes

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The Omega 48 did indeed provide three passes of lather from the initial loading of the brush. The third pass was a little thin, but then the brush is not yet fully broken in, so I think that will improve. The Mühle open-comb with a newish Keramik blade did a fine job: utter smoothness. And Stetson’s Sierra aftershave is quite nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2010 at 8:59 am

Posted in Shaving

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