Later On

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

Archive for February 4th, 2010

The cheap knives

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Remember those inexpensive Thai knives I bought a while back? All 4 knives for less than $15 total?

The Cool Tools review said that the knives kept a very sharp edge indefinitely with only an occasional use of a steel.

Well, I just went to cut a lemon with one of the knives, and it definitely felt dull. I gave it a brisk steeling, quite short, and the edge is quite restored.

So far, so good.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 7:14 pm

Posted in Daily life

More on the Obama Administration’s program to assassinate (murder) American citizens (based on suspicion)

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Glenn Greenwald has more on this astonishing development. I never thought I’d see the American government in the business of assassinating its own citizens, completely ignoring the US Constitution (a document that previously was of considerable importance in this country). He begins:

Last week, I wrote about a revelation buried in a Washington Post article by Dana Priest which described how the Obama administration has adopted the Bush policy of targeting selected American citizens for assassination if they are deemed (by the Executive Branch) to be Terrorists.  As The Washington Times‘ Eli Lake reports, Adm. Dennis Blair was asked about this program at a Congressional hearing yesterday and he acknowledged its existence:

The U.S. intelligence community policy on killing American citizens who have joined al Qaeda requires first obtaining high-level government approval, a senior official disclosed to Congress on Wednesday.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said in each case a decision to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen must get special permission. . . .

He also said there are criteria that must be met to authorize the killing of a U.S. citizen that include "whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American is a threat to other Americans. Those are the factors involved."

Although Blair emphasized that it requires "special permission" before an American citizen can be placed on the assassination list, consider from whom that "permission" is obtained:  the President, or someone else under his authority within the Executive Branch.  There are no outside checks or limits at all on how these "factors" are weighed.  In last week’s post, I wrote about all the reasons why it’s so dangerous — as well as both legally and Constitutionally dubious — to allow the President to kill American citizens not on an active battlefield during combat, but while they are sleeping, sitting with their families in their home, walking on the street, etc.  That’s basically giving the President the power to impose death sentences on his own citizens without any charges or trial.  Who could possibly support that?

But even if you’re someone who does want the President to have the power to order American citizens killed without a trial by decreeing that they are Terrorists (and it’s worth remembering that if you advocate that power, it’s going to be vested in all Presidents, not just the ones who are as Nice, Good, Kind-Hearted and Trustworthy as Barack Obama), shouldn’t there at least be some judicial approval required?  Do we really want the President to be able to make this decision unilaterally and without outside checks?  Remember when many Democrats were horrified (or at least when they purported to be) at the idea that Bush was merely eavesdropping on American citizens without judicial approval?  Shouldn’t we be at least as concerned about the President’s being able to assassinate Americans without judicial oversight?  That seems much more Draconian to me.

It would be perverse in the extreme, but wouldn’t it be preferable to at least require the President to …

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:39 pm

Hacking the Amazon Kindle DX

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:33 pm

Movie notes

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First, I really like Luc Besson movies in general. Specifically, I liked the 2004 movie District B 13 (which was the first time I became aware of parkour, which is featured in the movie). And now I’ve seen the trailer for the sequel, District 13: Ultimatum, and I’ve already put it in the queue. District B 13, BTW, is available on Watch Instantly.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Movies

Barry Eisler’s take on the Amazon-Macmillan feud

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Well worth reading, both for itself and the comments. Check it out.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:18 pm

Conservatives hate gays

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I guess that’s not news, but it’s astonishing how overt their hatred and discrimination is. Steve Benen at Political Animal:

It was quite a sight yesterday when Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it’s time to let gay servicemen and women serve openly in the U.S. military.

What I didn’t realize was the extent of the pushback they received from conservative Republican senators. Dana Milbank had a good report on this.

On the dais, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential standard-bearer, accused Mullen and the other witness, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, of trying to repeal the "don’t ask, don’t tell" law "by fiat." Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) accused the admiral of obeying "directives" from President Obama. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) accused Mullen of "undue command influence."

As the challenges to his integrity continued, Mullen pursed his lips, then put his forearms on the table, displaying the admiral stripes on his sleeves. After Sessions’s provocation, the Joint Chiefs chairman glared at the diminutive Alabamian. "This is not about command influence," Mullen said. "This is about leadership, and I take that very seriously."

It gets back to something we talked about the other day — the growing divisions between the Republican establishment and the military establishment. There was a point not too long ago when GOP senators on the Armed Services Committee would be far more respectful and deferential towards the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. It was simply assumed — Republicans revered the judgment of the nation’s military leaders.

But now that the military establishment agrees with President Obama — on everything from civilian trials to Gitmo to torture to service qualifications — the GOP has no qualms about questioning not only the brass’ judgment, but also its honesty.

The entire dynamic seems unusual, and it is. But the political world should acknowledge what is plainly true — the days when Republicans and military leaders marched to the same beat are over.

Of course, John McCain had previously stated that he would vote to repeal DADT when the heads of the services recommended it. Now that they have, McCain once again demonstrates his inability to honor his commitments.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:16 pm

Snail has an iron-plated shell

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Pretty cool. Clive Thompson at Collision Detection:

iron_snail

Life isn’t easy for the “scaly-foot gastropod”. This humble snail lives in hydrothermal vent fields two miles deep in the Indian ocean, and is surrounded by vicious predators. For example, there’s the “cone snail”, which stabs at its victims with a harpoon-style tooth as a precursor to injecting them with paralyzing venom. Then there’s the Brachyuran crab, which has been known to squeeze its prey for three days in an attempt to kill it. Yowsa.

Ah, but the scaly-foot gastropod has its own tricks. To fight back, it long ago evolved a particularly cool defense structure: It takes the grains of iron sulfide floating in the water around it and incorporates it into the outer layer of its shell. It it thus an “iron-plated snail”.

Oh yes way. Scientists discovered Crysomallon squamiferum in 1999, but they didn’t know a whole lot about the properties of its shell until this month, when a team led by MIT scientists decided to study it carefully. The team did a pile of spectroscopic and microscopic measurements of the shell, poked at it with a nanoindentor, and built a computer model of its properties to simulate how well it would hold up under various predator attacks.

The upshot, as they write in their paper (PDF here), is that the shell is “unlike any other known natural or synthetic engineered armor.” Part of its ability to resist damage seems to be the way the shell deforms when it’s struck: It produces cracks that dissipate the force of the blow, and nanoparticles that injure whatever is attacking it: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Susan Collins, always a disappointment

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She talks a good show, but when it comes time to vote, she’s right in there with the most conservative GOPers. And now this, with Steve Benen blogging at Political Animal:

We’re supposed to be able to expect a certain degree of rationality from "moderates" like Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine. When truly unhinged senators like DeMint and Inhofe make incoherent, blatantly false remarks, no one bats an eye. When Collins does it, reasonable people start wondering if Republicans will ever be able to recover from their current condition.

On Saturday, Collins delivered the official GOP weekly address, and blasted the Obama administration’s handling of the Abdulmutallab case. She claimed, in prepared text, that officials only questioned the attempted terrorist for 50 minutes before he was read his rights and "he stopped talking." She proceeded to use some absurd, Giuliani-like rhetoric, as if she were just another Republican hack.

We’ve since learned that Collins was completely, demonstrably, unambiguously wrong. The administration handled the matter exactly as Bush/Cheney did, but unlike Bush/Cheney, Obama’s team actually got results. Thanks to this administration’s strategy, the attempted terrorist didn’t "stop talking," but rather has been "cooperating for days" with U.S. officials. Abdulmutallab has in fact produced valuable, actionable intelligence.

OK, so Collins was wrong. We all make mistakes. She can show some contrition, express her relief that Obama’s approach is helping improve our national security, and we can all move on. Collins’s reputation would be a little worse for wear, but it can recover.

But, no. Collins refuses to back down — even though we know she was completely wrong — and keeps digging herself deeper. Asked to explain the discrepancy between her claims and reality, Collins issued a statement to MSNBC:

"I remain concerned that there was no consultation with intelligence officials before the Department of Justice unilaterally decided to treat Abdulmutallab as if he were an ordinary criminal. If Abdulmutallab is now talking in the context of plea negotiations, that is, of course, welcome, but it implies that the government is willing to grant him a measure of leniency for the information he is willing to provide. We will never know whether the quality and quantity of information might have been superior had he not been given a lawyer who is now guiding him on what to reveal and what not to disclose. The lack of coordination on the front end and the inexplicable, reflexive choice to use a law enforcement approach were dangerous decisions."

Sigh.

Is Abdulmutallab "now talking in the context of plea negotiations" as Collins suggests? No, she just made that up, and the Justice Department has offered him nothing in exchange for information.

Did we lose valuable "information" by reading the attempted terrorist his rights? No. The FBI interrogated Abdulmutallab, then read him his rights, and then got lots of additional information.

Collins is now clinging to the notion that there "was no consultation with intelligence officials," but what she may not realize is that the FBI is actually pretty good at this, and there was no reason for the Justice Department to "consult" with other agencies. [Update: Also note, Collins has her facts wrong on this, too.]

Honestly, Collins is coming across as a rookie, right-wing House member, more interested in getting on Fox News than seeming credible. Josh Marshall concluded today that Collins has ended up looking like "an embarrassment."

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:06 pm

About time: Fraud charges brought against Bank of America

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Rick Rothacker in McClatchy:

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo today announced that his office is filing civil charges against former Bank of America Corp. chief executive Ken Lewis, former chief financial officer Joe Price and the Charlotte bank.

The charges are the latest legal fallout from a long-running investigation of the bank’s Jan. 1 acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co.

In a news conference this morning, Cuomo said his office is charging the bank with securities fraud because it "understated" Merrill fourth-quarter 2008 losses to investors in order to win approval of the deal at a December 5, 2008 shareholder vote. It then turned around and "overstated" its ability to legally escape the deal in order to obtain $20 billion in government bailout funds, Cuomo said. Merrill also paid out $3.6 billion in bonuses to its employees in December of 2008.

Bank of America’s management misled shareholders, the bank’s board and the public, Cuomo said. "The behavior is egregious and reprehensible," he said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission this morning also said it filed a motion seeking court approval of a proposed settlement in which Bank of America would pay $150 million and strengthen corporate governance practices to settle charges that the company did not properly disclose bonuses and losses as part of its Merrill Lynch & Co. acquisition.

"We find it regrettable and are disappointed that the NYAG has chosen to file these charges, which we believe are totally without merit," Bank of America spokesman Bob Stickler said. "The evidence demonstrates that Bank of America and its executives, including Ken Lewis and Joe Price, at all times acted in good faith and consistent with their legal and fiduciary obligations. In fact, the SEC had access to the same evidence as the NYAG and concluded that there was no basis to enter either a charge of fraud or to charge individuals. The company and these executives will vigorously defend ourselves."

Price is now the bank’s head of consumer banking. Stickler said his job status has not changed…

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:03 pm

Cute cygnets getting a ride from Mom

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Daily life

Victorian Rose and Speick

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Oofta! What a morning. Early out for blood draw, then no sooner back (following breakfast out) than I have to go to the dentist. All is well, and at last I can tell you about the morning shave.

Victorian Rose shea-butter shaving soap from Honeybee Spa made a fragrant and sturdy lather using the Simpsons Key Hole Best, then the Mühle porcelain-handled razor with a Bolzano blade did a good job, but the blade seemed to struggle a bit. I replaced it after the shave with a new Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge.

Speick aftershave was a good finish.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Shaving

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