Later On

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

Archive for March 14th, 2010

Grim thought from Kevin Drum

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Kevin Drum:

Doyle McManus writes today about a town hall meeting between Blue Dog Democratic congressman Jason Altmire and a group of tea partiers. The Senate healthcare bill, he told them, doesn’t have a public option and doesn’t raise income taxes:

But the conversation ran aground when he asked a fundamental question: Shouldn’t the government help low-income people afford basic health insurance?

"No!" most of the visitors shouted.

"Some of you are never going to agree with me," Altmire said.

It’s true! Some people are just never going to agree.

And that’s OK, what with this being a democracy and all. But I’ll say this: at least the tea partiers are being honest. Most elite conservatives — the ones who write for magazines or get elected to national office — like to tap dance around the question of the poor, pretending that things like tort reform or "more skin in the game" will make everything OK. They know perfectly well it isn’t true, but it’s politically incorrect to say that they don’t consider this a big deal, so they don’t.

But not the tea partiers. It’s not that they don’t understand that the poor often have to go without health insurance, it’s that they just don’t care. Not if fixing it requires the use of tax dollars, anyway. In a way, this is bracing. It’s also, I fear, an attitude that going to become more openly acceptable among mainstream conservatives in the near future as they discover that a big part of their base applauds the idea of dispensing with the tap dancing. Fasten your seat belts.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Politics

Engineering an Empire

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I am rewatching the Rome part of Engineering an Empire. This is such a great series—I just ordered three copies of the complete series: one for me, two for gifts (not to anyone reading this, I’m sorry to say).

At any rate, the film focuses on various emperors, and in seeing the segment on Nero, I was forcibly reminded of Dick Cheney. Not that Cheney has plumbed the depths so deeply as Nero (but then, how do you measure?), but that the personality of the one strongly resembles the personality of the other. Take a look, see if you agree.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies

Tax reform coming?

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See this column by Ezra Klein.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Lehman scandal breaks wide open

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Clearly illegal acts were done. Ryun Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review has a great article, including a fascinating video clip of reporters talking about the story. The article begins:

Will Repo 105 be the Chewco and JEDI of this crisis, and are we finally about to see some people on Wall Street go to jail?

Yesterday’s blockbuster 2,200 page report on Lehman Brothers by a court-appointed examiner shows Lehman Brothers executives moving $50 billion in toxic assets off-balance-sheet to deceive investors about its financial health. Finally it seems it’s taken Anton Valukas and $38 million to put the scandal in the scandal. Shades of Enron, as Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Lattman said on the paper’s “News Hub” webcast this morning.

[Click link to see the video – LG]

Expect to be reading about the repercussions of this report for a good long while. Already there’s lots of thread to pull on here. Take your pick, from Dick Fuld and Erin Callan of Lehman (no wonder Callan wouldn’t talk to Fortune) to accounting firm Ernst & Young to British law firm Linklaters all the way up to JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup to its counterparties. The FT’s James Mackintosh has a good rundown of the “Lehman perp walk” here.

Essentially what Lehman did was make its balance sheet look much better than it actually was by taking those $50 billion in assets and arranging short-term transactions just before the end of each quarter—all so it wouldn’t have to report that it held these assets.

The Journal is good to put this up high in its front-pager:

In one instance from May 2008, a Lehman senior vice president alerted management to potential accounting irregularities, a warning the report says was ignored by Lehman auditors Ernst & Young and never raised with the firm’s board.

That’s pretty damning.

All this makes it worthwhile to visit Jonathan Weil’s excellent column on Lehman’s fraud from last month—one that looks quite prescient now.

It is so widely accepted that Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s balance sheet was bogus that even former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson can say it in his new memoir. And still, the government hasn’t found anyone who did anything wrong at the failed investment bank.

How could that be, 17 months after Lehman collapsed and sent the global credit crisis into overdrive? While Congress and the White House dither about reforming the U.S. financial system, the wheels of justice are grinding so slowly, if at all, that it seems there’s no appetite in Washington for holding Wall Street executives accountable for anything.

Spin these questions forward for the press with what we know now: Why did it take a court-appointed examiner to uncover this rather than the Justice Department—or even the press itself? …

Continue reading.

The problem, of course, is that all this occurred in the past, and Obama and Holder strongly believe that crimes committed in the past should be ignored so we can look to the future. So don’t hold your breath waiting for prosecutions. Obama doesn’t believe in prosecuting criminals who had the foresight to commit their crimes in the past.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 2:25 pm

Google Bike Maps? Fuhgeddaboudit

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Bad news about Google’s bike maps. Paul McDougall at Information Week:

Google’s new mapping service for bike riders is drawing guffaws and worse from New Yorkers who liken the California-based search giant to a clueless tourist who thinks the Battery’s up and The Bronx is down.

"A helmet may not be enough to protect cyclists from Google Maps’ latest feature," declared the New York Post, in a story published Thursday.

Google’s bike maps are "filled with potentially fatal flaws, including routes that cut across Central Park’s treacherous transverse roads and steer cyclists through truck-riddled thoroughfares," the Post said.

Post reporters who tried out the service noted several instances where Google either sent them on the wrong route or put them in harm’s way from careening yellow cabs or multi-ton delivery vehicles even though safer routes were available.

Among the problems uncovered by the Post were directions that put cyclists onto stretches of Central Park off limits to two-wheelers, across the wrong side of the George Washington Bridge, and also onto a number of streets and avenues filled with dangerous traffic.

A Google spokesperson acknowledged to the newspaper that the maps are imperfect and said the company, which operates from a leafy campus in Mountain View, Calif., is working to improve its knowledge of Gotham.

Google introduced the new service, an add-on to Google Maps, with a blog post Wednesday from product manager Shannon Guymon. Without a hint of irony, Guymon said Google didn’t want to roll out the service until it was perfect…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Kitten on the keys

with 4 comments

No, not Zez Confrey‘s number:

And here’s the original Kitten on the Keys:

Hey, this guy’s good! Check this out:

And I should include my father’s favorite: Nola, by Fritz Arndt:

And here’s Les Paul, playing it on three tracks:

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Music, Video

Interesting: Police provide guns to criminals

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I had no idea of the police outreach program to get guns into the hands of criminals. Devlin Barrett reporting for AP:

Two guns used in high-profile shootings this year at the Pentagon and a Las Vegas courthouse both came from the same unlikely place: the police and court system of Memphis, Tenn.

Law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that both guns were once seized in criminal cases in Memphis. The officials described how the weapons made their separate ways from an evidence vault to gun dealers and to the shooters.

The use of guns that once were in police custody and were later involved in attacks on police officers highlights a little-known divide in gun policy in the United States: Many cities and states destroy guns gathered in criminal probes, but others sell or trade the weapons in order to get other guns or buy equipment such as bulletproof vests.

In fact, on the day of the Pentagon shooting, March 4, the Tennessee governor signed legislation revising state law on confiscated guns. Before, law enforcement agencies in the state had the option of destroying a gun. Under the new version, agencies can only destroy a gun if it’s inoperable or unsafe.

Kentucky has a similar law, but it’s not clear how many other states have laws specifically designed to promote the police sale or trade of confiscated weapons.

A nationwide review by The Associated Press in December found that over the previous two years, 24 states — mostly in the South and West, where gun-rights advocates are particularly strong — have passed 47 new laws loosening gun restrictions. Gun rights groups are making a greater effort to pass favorable legislation in state capitals.

John Timoney, who led the Philadelphia and Miami police departments and served as New York’s No. 2 police official, said he doesn’t believe police departments should be putting more guns into the market.

"I just think it’s unseemly for police departments to be selling guns that later turn up," he said, recalling that he had once been offered the chance to sell guns to raise money for the police budget.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

How to define "terrorism"

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Very interesting interview by Glenn Greenwald:

To read about and listen to this podcast discussion, go here.

Glenn Greenwald: My guest today on Salon Radio is Rémi Brulin, who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses at NYU, and is currently working on and close to finishing his Ph.D. dissertation, entitled The US Discourse on Terrorism Since 1945, and how The New York Times has Covered the Issue of Terrorism, and he is to receive his Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris.  This topic is very close to a lot of our most prominent political disputes and much of what I’ve been writing about, so I’m really excited to be able to talk to you about this and I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me today.

Remi Brulin: Yes, thanks for having me, Glenn.

GG: Let me just begin by asking you to summarize what the focal point of your research has been; you’ve been researching this topic for several years now. What has been the scope of your research, what kinds of things have you been looking at, and what is the general scope of what you’re writing about?

RB: As you said, I’ve been researching this for a while now, about eight years, and what I’m looking at specifically is the American political discourse on terrorism, basically since ’45 but what I show is that the discourse, the term ‘terrorism’ started being used in the discourse only in ’81, beginning with the Reagan years. What I also look at is how the media, particularly in the case of my dissertation The New York Times, has used the term over the years.

And the big question, of course, is the question of the definition of terrorism, meaning who do we call terrorists, and who do we not call terrorists, and whether there is questions of double standards and everything. And this is relevant because at the international level, there is no agreed-upon definition of terrorism, and at the US level, meaning for example the Executive Branch, there also is no one single definition of terrorism, and yet the term is used over and over again in our political discourse, and as you’ve shown in many of your articles, it has consequences, very serious consequences.

GG: If you go back to – and the title of your dissertation indicates that your beginning year that you’re looking at is 1945 – over the next several decades after World War II, you can find generalized instances of presidents declaring whoever happened to be the enemy of the day to be terrorists, in kind of like a name-calling, demonizing way.

But when did the term really start to take on international prominence, meaning when did we start struggling to come up with definitions of the term as though there was some kind of hardened scientific meaning that we could ascribe to it?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Terrorism

Vatican gets knickers in twist about Pope

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Strange, the Catholic Church didn’t seem all that disturbed when it was sexually abusing thousands of young children. But the Pope!

Rachel Donadio and Nicholas Kulish continue their coverage in the NY Times, from which I extract this:

… In a note read on Vatican Radio on Saturday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said it was “evident that in recent days there are those who have tried, with a certain aggressive tenacity, in Regensburg and in Munich, to find elements to involve the Holy Father personally in issues of abuse.” He added, “It is clear that those efforts have failed.”

In Germany, a man whose case has raised questions about the actions of the Munich Archdiocese when Benedict was the archbishop there said Saturday that church officials had told him that the priest who abused him in 1979 would not be allowed to work with children again. Instead, the priest was allowed to resume full duties almost immediately, and went on to abuse more children…

Given Benedict’s micromanagement style, the idea that he didn’t know about and approve of the reassigning of the priest so he could continue to abuse children requires some proof, not a simple statement. The logical presumption is that he knew and approved of the cover-up and protection of the priest.

… The Vatican also sought to defend the pope against criticism that a Vatican rule requiring secrecy in abuse cases was tantamount to obstruction of justice in civil courts.

Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the director of a tribunal inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal arm, dismissed as “false and calumnious” accusations that Benedict covered up abuse cases when he oversaw investigations for four years as prefect of that congregation before becoming pope…

The Vatican rule requiring secrecy in abuse cases (i.e., hiding them from the authorities) is quite obviously obstruction of justice. Saying that it’s not makes absolutely no sense.

If Benedict was overseeing abuse cases for four years, and not reporting them to the authorities, that is the very definition of a cover-up.

If the arguments offered in the article is all that they can come up with—simply denying actual facts reported—then they are in a heap of trouble.

… In the German case, a man who said he was sexually abused by a priest in Essen in 1979 said that when the abuse was reported, the church handled the accusation as an internal matter without notifying the police or prosecutors [i.e., they covered it up. – LG]. In a telephone interview on Saturday, the victim, who asked to be identified as Wilfried F. to protect his anonymity, said the pastor forced him to perform oral sex…

… Although the matter was not reported to the police, he said church officials in Essen told him the priest had been transferred to Munich “and that he would no longer be allowed to work with children.”

The archdiocese said in a statement on Friday that the priest was moved to Munich in 1980 for therapy with the approval of Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, the man who later became Pope Benedict. But the priest was soon reassigned to pastoral work by Archbishop Ratzinger’s deputy, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, and was later convicted of sexually abusing minors. “You see how they just kept moving him around,” Wilfried F. said. “He could keep doing it like before.” …

I do not believe that Gruber did not report his action to Ratzinger (Benedict), especially since Ratzinger had been involved in the first transfer.

This Pope is unclean.

… In the interview on Saturday, Monsignor Scicluna also addressed accusations that the Vatican was obstructing justice by imposing secrecy on reports of abuse.

In 2001, Benedict, who was then in charge of Vatican investigations of abuse allegations, sent a letter to bishops counseling them to forward all such cases to his Doctrine of the Faith office, where they would be subject to secrecy…

So they didn’t impose secrecy on reports of abuse, but rather the reports would be sent to Benedict, where they would be subject to secrecy.

They don’t make sense. The cover-up has failed. The Pope is a bad man.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 11:39 am

Ten ideas for the next 10 years

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 11:26 am

Posted in Daily life

Interesting thought on Congressional reform

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

A story came up the other day that got a little lost in the shuffle, but which may have some important consequences for Senate Democrats.

When there’s talk of "reforming" the way the Senate operates, we tend to think of problems like scandalous filibusters and holds. But one problem is party specific — Democrats lack structural incentives to encourage party discipline.

When a Senate Republican disappoints his/her caucus, he/she knows in advance that enticements like committee positions are very much on the line. Among Dems, that incentive doesn’t exist — when Democrats break party ranks on key bills, there are no consequences. It’s one reason party unity and discipline is far more of a problem for Democrats than the GOP.

But some Dems seem to realize that their current system needs an update.

Senate Democrats intend to elect the chairs of committees when the next Congress convenes, which could upend a tradition that prioritizes seniority over party loyalty, legislative effectiveness or any other merit-based criteria.

During a question-and-answer session with progressive media, video blogger Mike Stark asked lawmakers why the Democratic caucus hasn’t yanked Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, considering her opposition to Democratic legislative efforts. In Arkansas, her gavel is a top selling point as she battles a progressive primary challenge.

"We’re going to elect committee chairs next year," said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). "The current chairs that are sitting there now understand that we’ll be electing chairs next year," he added, saying the idea had been cleared with Senate leadership.

It’s apparently not a done deal, but Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the Steering and Outreach Committee, which oversees the organization of the caucus, called this a "serious proposal" that the leadership is considering.

When seniority rules, members have few incentives to care what their party thinks. As such, Dems end up with far-less progressive members in key posts — Blanche Lincoln at Agriculture, Kent Conrad at Budget, Max Baucus at Finance, Tim Johnson at Banking — whether the caucus’ rank and file like it or not. They can vote against party priorities, and even side with Republicans on filibusters, and face no real consequences. Shifting away from seniority would help the party function more like … a political party.

Brown added, "I’m not predicting who or [that] anyone will be defeated, but they’re certainly going to get a message. And one or two might [be defeated]. There’s going to simply be a yes or no. Should Tom Harkin stay as chairman of health? Yes or no? And it will be yes for him, of course. But for some others, it may not be."

It would mean some of these senators would finally feel a need to impress their fellow Democrats, and show some fealty to the party’s agenda. In other words, it would represent a fairly significant departure from the status quo.

Of course, if Senate Dems lose their majority, it would quickly become a moot point.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 11:07 am

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Goodbye Couch!

with 19 comments

I’ve been tracking the gradual development of a modern redo of the old Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise plan (the 5BX plan for men and the XBX plan for women). Now the site is up and soon (I hope) we can get the new version. From the site:

In 1956, the Royal Canadian Air Force through Wing Commander J.K. Tett asked a civilian, William Orban to join their R.C.A.F. Recreation Branch as a civilian consultant to help them to develop an exercise plan for them. After two years William Orban and his team finalised the fitness program. They considered calling it 5 Basic Exercises Physical Fitness Programme but that was too long so it was shortened to 5BX – a ladies program followed this called XBX. Originally designed for the forces it quickly ‘spilled over’ to the world. Over 24,000,000 copies were reportedly sold.

The premise for 5BX came to Mr. Orban in Illinois, when he noticed his son’s maximum oxygen intake did not improve significantly, even as he became more skilled on the treadmill. He also noticed that certain elite athletes — Jesse Owens was tested in the energetics lab at the University of Illinois — did not show improvements in their fitness levels after lengthy bouts of exercise.Perhaps length of time wasn’t as important as previously thought. Perhaps the intensity of the exercise was more important.

5BX Plan for Physical Fitness’ and ‘XBX Plan for Physical Fitness’ is no longer being published. The Department of National Defence (DND) has researched and concluded the possible dangerous nature of the 5BX and XBX Plan for Physical Fitness. As such the 5BX and XBX programs have been discontinued by the Canadian Air Force because several of the exercises in these programs are contra-indicated and could result in physical injury. The EXPRES program is the current exercise program of the Canadian Forces.

What Goodbye Couch! is doing is revising the exercises in the RCAF 5BX and XBX plans so that the exercises are safe. I’m eager to give them a go.

I’m particularly eager because I read this article on how the meds don’t really protect us type 2 diabetics from heart attacks.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 10:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Happy Pi Day!

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3/14 is Pi Day, and I suppose 3/14/15 will be super-Pi Day—and 3/14/16 will be Rounded Pi Day. In the spirit of the day, I offer this New Scientist article by Jacob Aron. It begins:

Mathematics enthusiasts will this weekend be celebrating Pi day, which falls on 14 March in honour of the famous ratio’s first few digits, 3.14. You probably know that pi is the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter, but here are some less familiar facts about the mathematical constant. We did consider giving you 3.14 facts but alas we had five…

Pi really is in the sky…

The stars overhead inspired the ancient Greeks, but they probably never used them to calculate pi. Robert Matthews of the University of Aston in Birmingham, UK, combined astronomical data with number theory to do just that.

Matthews used the fact that for any large collection of random numbers, the probability that any two have no common factor is 6/pi2. Numbers have a common factor if they are divisible by the same number, not including 1. For example, 4 and 15 have no common factors, but 12 and 15 have the common factor 3.

Matthews calculated the angular distance between the 100 brightest stars in the sky and turned them into 1 million pairs of random numbers, around 61 per cent of which had no common factors. He got a value for pi of 3.12772, which is about 99.6 per cent correct.

… as well as the rivers back on Earth

Back on Earth, pi controls the path of winding rivers from the Amazon to the Thames…

Continue reading. When I was programming in Forth, I regularly used the pi approximation 113 divided by 355 (easy to remember: 113355): 3.14159292035398230088495575221… (pi itself being 3.14159265358979323846264338327…). With the commands */ and */MOD, you use single-precision (16-bit) numbers but in the computations with those commands double-precision (32-bit) intermediate numbers. */ multiplies two single-precision numbers and then divides the double-precision result with another single precision number, so that the final answer is more accurate than doing the whole thing in single-precision. The result is that you get quite a good answer for pi times, say, 16 by writing 16 133 355 */ (which produces (16 x 133) / 355). Too much information, I know, but I was trying to remember… Those were the days. :)

BTW: Obviously one will define a new Forth word, say *PI, like this:

: *PI ( n – n*π ) 113 355 */ ;

Then one can write things like:

16 *PI

and get the result you want. The “( n – n*π )” in the definition is a comment: the word expects a number on the stack and will leave on the stack the product of the number and pi.

Getting good names for commands is part of the fun of Forth. Charles Moore, for example, did not like the command “LOGIN”, used like

LOGIN MOORE

so he redefined it as “I’M” and then could write

I’M MOORE

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2010 at 9:48 am

Posted in Daily life

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