Later On

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

Archive for April 29th, 2010

Charisma’s effect on others

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Andy Coghlan reports an interesting phenomenon in New Scientist:

When we fall under the spell of a charismatic figure, areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active. That’s the finding of a study which looked at people’s response to prayers spoken by someone purportedly possessing divine healing powers.

To identify the brain processes underlying the influence of charismatic individuals, Uffe Schjødt of Aarhus University in Denmark and colleagues turned to Pentecostal Christians, who believe that some people have divinely inspired powers of healing, wisdom and prophecy.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Schjødt and his colleagues scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostalists and 20 non-believers while playing them recorded prayers. The volunteers were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian and six by a healer. In fact, all were read by ordinary Christians.

Only in the devout volunteers did the brain activity monitored by the researchers change in response to the prayers. Parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, which play key roles in vigilance and scepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say, were deactivated when the subjects listened to a supposed healer. Activity diminished to a lesser extent when the speaker was supposedly a normal Christian (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq023).

Schjødt says that this explains why certain individuals can gain influence over others, and concludes that their ability to do so depends heavily on preconceived notions of their authority and trustworthiness.

It’s not clear whether the results extend beyond religious leaders, but Schjødt speculates that brain regions may be deactivated in a similar way in response to doctors, parents and politicians.

I thought about this and realized that I actually have been associated with people generally thought to be charismatic (teachers, psychologists, et al.), and I can recall a specific reaction from me: unease and a definite feeling of keeping my distance. Indeed, if anything, I felt a heightened skepticism. As a result I never became much of a follower.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Watch European air traffic get back to normal

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And what a LOT of air traffic there is! Thanks to TYD for the pointer. Video here.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

How suspects are treated in the Obama Administration

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This is disgusting. Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

Welcome to the first courtroom logjam of what officials here call military commissions 4.2.

Omar Khadr’s pre-trial hearing this morning experienced an unexplained hour-long delay. Court officers filtered in at 10 a.m., without a certain important individual: Omar Khadr.

Prosecution promptly called a Marine Corps captain, Laura Bruzzese, to testify that she informed Khadr at 5:15 a.m. that there was a hearing scheduled for this morning. Khadr had a blanket over his head and complained of pain in his left eye, which has been sightless after an injury sustained during his 2002 capture in Afghanistan. She had him escorted to the infirmary, where he received an eyedrop for the pain, and in Camp Delta security officers attempted to load Khadr into a van to transport him to court. Part of that transfer involved putting what Bruzzese called “Eyes and Ears” on Khadr: blackout ski goggles and earmuffs to block out his senses while in transit.

Only Khadr refused. When Bruzzese asked him why he wouldn’t wear the Eyes and Ears — standard operating procedure for transiting a detainee, she testified — Khadr responded, “The only purpose is to humiliate me.” Under cross-examination, she testified that the van used for transport has no windows. Khadr wouldn’t, in other words, be able to understand where he was going even without the Eyes and Ears. [I think Khadr is clearly right: humiliation is the purpose. – LG]

Khadr’s aggressive defense lawyer, Barry Coburn, contended that Khadr was not voluntarily absent from the hearing. “My understanding is that this has never been done before,” Coburn told Col. Patrick Parrish, the military judge, referring to the placement of the Eyes and Ears on a detainee in the van.

Parrish didn’t appear sympathetic. “This court is not going to second-guess the security requirements” placed by military officials here for detainee transfer, he said. Parrish denied Coburn’s requests to call witnesses to testify as to the involuntary nature of Khadr’s refusal to attend.

But then Parrish returned from a brief recess arising from an unrelated issue with new facts. Court reporters verified that the prior judge in Khadr’s case, Col. Peter Brownback, did not inform Khadr during his 2007 arraignment that a defendant has the right to attend every hearing in his case and that the proceedings will not stop if he declines to attend.

“I don’t feel comfortable proceeding until it is clear on the record that he has been so advised,” Parrish said, preparing to bang his gavel down for a recess. “The Manual says it is so fundamental.”

Before he did, Parrish urged defense counsel to visit Khadr at Camp Delta and “advise him of his fundamental rights.” If Khadr affirms to his lawyers that he understands and still doesn’t want to attend, Parrish said he’d accept that outcome. Alternatively, Parrish said he would “have him forcibly brought” to court to inform Khadr of his rights. (One of the most knowledgeable reporters here, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, said that judges don’t necessarily have the authority to order a detainee movement, as it’s been challenged in prior cases.)

So thanks to an obscure procedural snafu from 2007, Coburn and his partner, Kobie Flowers, are racing to Camp Echo, where detainees meet with their lawyers, to talk to Khadr. Neither would tell me in the confusion of the courtroom which option they’d choose. But they brought along Steve Xenakis, a mental health expert, to evaluate Khadr — most likely so that if Khadr declines to attend, they could proffer an expert statement about how voluntary he considers his absence.

“How quick can we get on the road, guys?” was the last thing I heard Coburn say before his team raced out the door.

The court reconvenes at 1 p.m. One potential problem: Camp Echo is outside the wire of Camp 4, the facility for “compliance” detainees, where Khadr resides. Conceivably, security officers could force Khadr to put on the Eyes and Ears, even to talk to his lawyers at Echo.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 12:35 pm

Major difference between the two parties

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And a difference that seems invisible to mainstream media. Steve Benen:

Ron Fournier, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, had a couple of items this morning on Twitter that fit into a larger, depressing pattern.

The topic was Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s apparent decision to leave the Republican primary and run for the Senate as an independent. It prompted Fournier to write:

What does Crist’s decision say, if anything, about state of the political middle in US?

It’s a fair question, certainly worth of consideration. But it was soon followed by another question.

In other words, is there room for moderate candidates and moderate voters in either party?

On the day yet another very high profile Republican moderate is driven from the party ranks for being insufficiently conservative, the head of the AP’s Washington bureau wonders whether "either party" is willing to make room for moderates.


This gets awfully tiresome. In the House, there are more than 50 "Blue Dogs" in the House Democratic caucus. Is there a comparable group of centrist or left-leaning Republicans in the House GOP caucus?

In the Senate, Democratic moderates are more than a little plentiful. Ben Nelson is obviously no liberal, and if Fournier is looking for centrists in the Democratic ranks, I’d also recommend taking a look at Baucus, Landrieu, Bayh, Conrad, Lieberman, Lincoln, and Pryor, among others. For goodness sakes, the party elected Harry Reid the Senate Majority Leader, and he’s not even pro-choice.

Granted, Senate Republicans have Snowe and Collins, but two isn’t an especially big number, and neither of the Maine moderates have been willing to break party ranks on major issues lately.

At the same time, in a more general sense, Democrats continue to recruit moderate candidates and reach out to the American mainstream, while Republicans continue to run hard to the right.

"Is there room for moderate candidates and moderate voters in either party?" Seriously?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 11:09 am

Mississippi School Erases Lesbian Student

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Ed Brayton:

If you thought the Constance McMillen story was bad, another Mississippi school has simply scrubbed the very existence of a lesbian student out of the school yearbook.

When Veronica Rodriguez opened Wesson Attendance Center’s Yearbook on Friday, she didn’t find a trace of her lesbian daughter Ceara Sturgis after a long battle with school officials to include a photo of her daughter wearing a tuxedo in the school’s 2010 yearbook.

"They didn’t even put her name in it," Sturgis’ mother Veronica Rodriguez said. "I was so furious when she told me about it. Ceara started crying and I told her to suck it up. Is that not pathetic for them to do that? Yet again, they have crapped on her and made her feel alienated."

They didn’t just refuse to post the picture, they didn’t even list her name as one of the graduating seniors. And the school is refusing to budge:

The ACLU wrote an October letter demanding officials use Sturgis’ submitted photo in the yearbook, but Copiah County School District officials refused. Rodriguez said she expected the yearbook to at least contain a reference to her daughter on the senior page. What she discovered on Friday, when the yearbook came in, was that the school had refused to acknowledge her entirely.

"It’s like she’s nobody there, even though she’s gone to school there for 12 years," Rodriguez said. "They mentioned none of her accolades, even though she’s one of the smartest students there with wonderful grades. They’ve got kids in the book that have been busted for drugs. There’s even a picture of one of the seniors who dropped out of school.

"I don’t get it. Ceara is a top student. Why would they do this to her?"

Copiah County School District spokeswoman Martha Traxler refused to comment on the school’s reason for excluding Sturgis from the senior page, and referred all questions to Copiah County attorney Olen Bryant, Jr. Bryant did not immediately return calls.

Last year, the school gave no indication that it would withhold Sturgis’ information, but said it had legal justification to not rub Sturgis’ photo.

"We have had our legal counsel research the validity of the position of the School District on this matter," Copiah County Superintendent Ricky Clopton said in the statement. "We are informed by counsel that this exact issue has been litigated in federal court. The decisions of the federal courts completely support the policy of the district in this regard. It is the desire of the Copiah County School District to inform, first, the patrons of the district, and second, all other interested parties, that its position is not arbitrary, capricious or unlawful, but is based upon sound educational policy and legal precedent."

The school district’s attorney is a moron. The case they referred to is one in which the school actually settled the case and agreed to change their policy.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:58 am

Inconvenient facts about Arizona immigration

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Ed Brayton:

Steve Chapman has a compelling piece at about Arizona’s draconian new anti-immigration law and the emptiness of the excuses being made for it. Here’s the excuse:

Arizona legislators are fed up with being terrorized by illegal immigrants, and they have passed a law to get tough. Under the measure, passed this week and sent to the governor, police would have to stop and question anyone they suspect of being in this country without legal authorization.

The bill passed after the fatal shooting of Robert Krentz, a 58-year-old rancher whose killer apparently entered illegally from Mexico. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says police are also under siege: "We’ve had numerous officers that have been killed by illegal immigrants in Arizona."

Even Sen. John McCain, once a supporter of immigration reform, has called for the immediate placement of 3,000 National Guard soldiers along the border.

And here’s the reality:

The state has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants. But contrary to myth, they have not brought an epidemic of murder and mayhem with them. Surprise of surprises, the state has gotten safer.

Over the last decade, the violent crime rate has dropped by 19 percent, while property crime is down by 20 percent. Crime has also declined in the rest of the country, but not as fast as in Arizona.

Babeu’s claim about police killings came as news to me. When I called his office to get a list of victims, I learned there has been only one since the beginning of 2008–deeply regrettable, but not exactly a trend.

Truth is, illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native Americans. Most come here to work, and in their desire to stay, they are generally afraid to do anything that might draw the attention of armed people wearing badges.

El Paso, Texas, is next door to the exceptionally violent Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and easily accessible to illegal entry. Yet it is one of the safest cities in the United States.

In 2007, scholars Ruben Rumbaut and Walter Ewing investigated the issue for the Immigration Policy Center and concluded that "if immigrants suddenly disappeared and the country became immigrant-free (and illegal-immigrant free), crime rates would likely increase."

So much for that excuse. The people of Arizona have far more to fear from proto-fascist law enforcement officers like Joe Arpaio than they do from illegal immigrants.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:55 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Interesting comment about the Arizona immigration law

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First, this post from Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s something the Christianist right won’t bring up in the immigration debate (although they often refer to it when it comes to marriage equality). Leviticus:

Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.

A reader adds:

Also see:

Leviticus 19:33

Exodus 22:21

Exodus 23:9

Deuteronomy 24:17-18

Leviticus 19:9-10

Deuteronomy 24:19-22

Deuteronomy 10:18-19

Hebrews 13:2

I have to say I am very proud of my church in this instance. Human dignity matters.

And read this post for a variety of reader reactions to the law.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

The GOP still determined to repeal healthcare reform?

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I think they will shut up about that as more and more benefits of reform become obvious. Steve Benen:

Marc Thiessen recently urged Republicans to fight as hard as they can to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The GOP need not fear political repercussions, the Bush speechwriter turned Washington Post columnist said, because Americans won’t see the law’s benefits kick in for several years. "The charge that Republicans are ‘taking away your benefits’ will hardly ring true for Americans who don’t yet enjoy those benefits," he said.

It’s worth appreciating, then, that new benefits are already kicking in, in some cases, well ahead of schedule.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen many major insurers begin implementing a provision of the law that allows young adults to stay on their family health care plan through their 26th birthday. What’s more, the industry agreed to stop denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions (after initially intending to exploit an alleged loophole in the law).

And this week, consumers and families received more good news — the industry will scrap its "rescission" practices, four months before the new federal ban was scheduled to go into effect.

The health insurance industry has decided to end its practice of cancelling claims once a patient gets sick next month, well before the new health care law would have required it, the industry’s chief spokesman said Wednesday.

"While many health plans already abide by the standards outlined in the new law, our community is committed to implementing the new standards in May 2010 to ensure that individuals and families will have greater peace of mind when purchasing coverage on their own," AHIP president and chief executive Karen Ignagni said in a letter to top House Democrats.

The decision to end rescission, as the practice is known, was made during a Tuesday afternoon conference call of chief executives organized by their trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and represents the industry’s latest attempt to build political good will after the bruising health care fight.

The heartening announcement on rescissions came on the heels of a Reuters report on WellPoint routinely dropping coverage for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Yesterday, the company said it would end the practice by this weekend.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer described all of this as "a clear sign of momentum for changing the health care status quo."

Go ahead, Republicans. Promise to undo all of this progress, turn back the clock, and eliminate these needed, popular advances. I dare you.


And remember: Every single Republican voted against healthcare reform. Every one. The reform we have is totally due to the Democratic Party.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:46 am

Confederates: Prone to violence

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Certainly studies have been done to show that the South is more prone to violence and much more testy about "honor" than other regions of the country. Dennis G. continues his study of Confederate History Month at Balloon Juice:

An effort to help the Republican Confederate Party celebrate Confederate History Month would be incomplete without noting how these folks tend to embrace violence as the preferred way to solve problems—especially when they feel that they are losing at the ballot box.

The Civil War started because the Confederates embraced violence as the best way to resolve a political dispute that they were losing.

Years before the traitors attacked Fort Sumter they had resorted to violence and domestic terrorism as a way to expand slavery to new US Territories. When settlers in Kansas were inclined to ban slavery, the pro-Slavery forces launched a campaign of terrorism and violence to try and win a victory they were losing at the ballot box.

In 1856, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner gave a “Crime against Kansas” speech on the Senate floor attacking the violence and calling for a repeal of laws like the Fugitive Slave Act. He named names in ways that would make David Broder faint if a elected official was so bold today in calling out political cowards and charlatans, but I digress.

It was an effective speech and so a pair of South Carolinian Congressmen reacted with violence as a first resort. Two days after the speech, Cong. Preston Brooks entered the Senate chamber with another Wingnut South Carolinian Member and beat the shit out Senator Sumner with a cane. Of course Brooks became a Confederate hero as did Laurence Keitt, his back-up in that attack. While Brooks beat Sumner, Keitt pulled out a pistol and threaten anybody who tried to stop it. The beating continued until Brooks broke his cane. Just a couple years later in 1858, Keitt was losing a discussion on the floor of the House and of course he resorted to violence. Lacking the votes, he started a brawl on the House floor that involved two dozen members.

In 1860 Keitt made clear what the coming Civil War was all about:

“The anti-slavery party contends that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States.”

This is what one ‘celebrates’ when one honors the fucking Confederacy, but again, I digress.

When the Confederates lost the Civil War they responded with violence. They assassinated the President. They started the KKK and began a campaign of organized terror and violence that is still active just below the surface.

Lynchings were common and so were riots—traditional American race riots—where gangs of white people killed people of color and destroyed everything they owned. These common forms of Confederate violence only came to an end in the Sixties (perhaps this is why they hate the DFH so much).

In the last forty years the Confederate Party has had to try and keep their propensity for violence in check. Of course it helped that they took over the Republican Party and did not have to be on the losing end of many political battles.

But there were some times when they were on the losing end or felt like power was slipping away. And when that happens they gin up the “Angry White Man” meme and let it rip.

This is what they did when Bill Clinton won. There was a lot of violence in that era and a rise in hate groups. It was just the Confederate Party letting loose their lunatic fringe. One can add the Oklahoma City bombing as just another tragic part of Confederate history. I guess it is fitting that we celebrate CHM in April.

During the Bush years the Republican Confederate Party kept their street violence in check as they had control of Government and could openly embrace torture and State sanction race bating, xenophobia and hippie punching. And of course in the Bush years resorting to violence as a first resort became our foreign policy.

In 2008 the party ended for these fuckers. And not only that, a black man became President. Once again these Confederate bastards are losing at the ballot box and once again the embrace of violence is coming front and center. As the SPLC has pointed out the number and coordination between hate groups is rising. Worst, the ideas of hate are cross pollinating between these groups and being pushed into the mainstream by Republican Confederate Party politicians, pundits and media celebrities.

It was not a surprise that the response to passing HCR was violence from bricks to spit, to verbal venom and death threats. This pattern will escalate as climate/energy legislation and immigration reform legislation is taken up. This will escalate as the 2010 election heats ups. As they face more defeats they will react with more violence of word and deed. It is all they know.

Many small attacks have been reported. Some people have been murdered. Mostly it is an escalation of the rhetoric of violence to justify, rationalize and excuse future violence that needs to be watched and called out. This has and will lead to more attacks.

Look at Joe Wilson face from last summer as he yelled at the President:

Joe Wilson

His anger, his rage was there for all to see. One can imagine the spirits of his fellow South Carolinian Congressmen Brooks and Keitt standing proudly at his side and Wilson wishing he could borrow a cane.

As always with these weasels it is the rhetoric of violence that comes first. The more a wingnut feels trapped the more violent the threats become. And soon ‘random’ attacks begins. These outbursts are rationalized away by Republican Confederate Party pundits and politicians as they try to surf the anger to political victories. More often that not they are unable to control the forces they unleash.

The best way to deal with these pricks is to beat them at the ballot box, to ridicule them and to call out the pundits and politicians who would justify the continued use of violence as a political tool. Silence in the face of these fuckers is not an option.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:42 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Law

Race and the Tea Party

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Steve Benen:

Part of what makes the Tea Party crowd interesting is the effort to understand what motivates the so-called "movement."

The issues activists usually point to as driving their cause don’t make sense. It can’t be fiscal responsibility, because they said nothing when Bush and the GOP added $5 trillion to the debt. It can’t be taxes, since rates are low and Obama just gave them a tax cut. It can’t be concerns over the size of government since they applauded the Patriot Act and endorsed the ridiculous new immigration measure in Arizona.

So, what makes these activists feel unhinged? It’s not unreasonable to wonder if maybe race has something to do with it.

Anecdotally, Tea Partiers have repeatedly bolstered these concerns with their rhetoric, placards, emails, and threats. But what about more quantifiable measures? Newsweek has this report.

A new survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality offers fresh insight into the racial attitudes of Tea Party sympathizers. "The data suggests that people who are Tea Party supporters have a higher probability" — 25 percent, to be exact — "of being racially resentful than those who are not Tea Party supporters," says Christopher Parker, who directed the study. "The Tea Party is not just about politics and size of government. The data suggests it may also be about race."

Surveyers asked respondents in California and a half dozen battleground states (like Michigan and Ohio) a series of questions that political scientists typically use to measure racial hostility. On each one, Tea Party backers expressed more resentment than the rest of the population, even when controlling for partisanship and ideology. When read the statement that "if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites," 73 percent of the movement’s supporters agreed, while only 33 percent of people who disapproved of the Tea Party agreed. Asked if blacks should work their way up "without special favors," as the Irish, Italians, and other groups did, 88 percent of supporters agreed, compared to 56 percent of opponents. The study revealed that Tea Party enthusiasts were also more likely to have negative opinions of Latinos and immigrants.

This comes on the heels of a New York Times/CBS News poll that found Tea Party supporters tend to believe that "too much has been made of the problems facing black people."

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:36 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

The fallout in Arizona

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From the Center for American Progress in an email:

On Friday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed overreaching and radical anti-immigration legislation into law, attracting national media attention and fierce opposition. At a ceremony honoring active duty members of the military who were being naturalized as American citizens, President Obama condemned the "irresponsible" new law, saying it "threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans." Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned the Senate Judiciary Committee that the law "will detract from and siphon resources that we need to focus on those…who are committing the most serious crimes." Mexico President Felipe Calderon said the law will open the door to "intolerance, hate, discrimination and abuse," and his country issued a travel warning to its citizens visiting Arizona. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and independent legal scholars have pointed out that the law is likely unconstitutional, and some Obama administration officials are even urging the "extraordinary step" of suing Arizona over the law. The ACLU and many others have warned it will "exacerbate racial profiling," and even some conservatives have spoken out against the law. MSNBC host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough called it "un-American," while former Bush adviser Karl Rove said, "I wished they hadn’t passed it." Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio, who is running for U.S. Senate in Florida, said he has "concerns." Before Brewer signed the bill, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police said the measure was "problematic and will negatively affect the ability of law enforcement agencies across the state to fulfill their many responsibilities in a timely manner." Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik called the law "racist," "disgusting," and "unnecessary," and said he will refuse to enforce it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

The Periodic Table: site, app, book, etc.

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Here’s the site—wonderful to explore. (Note to The Eldest: Show to the Older Grandson.) And here’s the story by Alex Pham in the LA Times:

Chocked with interactive photos, animations, song and text, “The Elements: A Visual Exploration” for the iPad has been hailed as the future of digital books.

But to understand the future, sometimes it helps to look at the past. Though the app itself took six weeks to develop, its genesis began eight years ago. This is the story of how a wooden conference table in Champaign, Ill., turned into a iPad phenomenon.

As with many great ideas, this one was purely accidental, according to Theodore Gray, the co-writer of “The Elements.” Three unrelated things happened to Gray in 2002.

One, he was momentarily confused while reading “Uncle Tungsten” by Oliver Sacks. In the book, Sacks said he liked to visit the periodic table in the Kensington Science Museum. Gray thought it was an actual table, but soon realized it wasn’t. Two, his start-up company needed a conference table, and he was loathe to spend thousands on “one of those expensive ugly ones from the office supply catalogs.” Three, he had just purchased for $50 a used industrial engraving machine.

Gray proceeded to spend countless hours creating a conference table that would be a physical embodiment of the periodic table. It’s actually a collection of more than 100 carved wooden boxes, each representing an element. Over the years, he collected samples of the elements to tuck inside the boxes. You can read an extensive account here.

Then came the photos. Gray started snapping pictures of the samples and posting them online. BBC documentary filmmaker Max Whitby joined him in the project, and, later Nick Mann. Together, they took about a million photos — so many that they wore out several professional cameras in the process. The images are posted on a website,

This website turned into a coffee table book in October, The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Atom Known in the Universe, published by Black Dog & Leventhal.

In January, when Apple announced its iPad, it took Gray all of “30 seconds” to think about whether he should drop everything he was doing to turn his table-cum-book into an iPad book…

Continue reading.

UPDATE: So long as we’re talking about the elements, check out this post as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:29 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

Gitmo Abuse ‘Contaminated’ Government’s Case, Attorneys Say

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It’s very difficult to cover up torture and other war crimes, as Obama and Holder are discovering. Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

Making the most of their first court appearance since President Obama halted and then resumed the military commissions, attorneys for Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen held here since he was 15 years old and charged with murder and support for terrorism, launched a forceful case Wednesday afternoon that a military judge should bar from court all statements Khadr made to his interrogators for the last eight years.

“We will show this case was tainted by these statements from the very beginning,” Kobie Flowers, one of Khadr’s lawyers, told a packed courtroom, with Khadr himself seated just a few feet away. The physical and mental abuse that Khadr claims in an affidavit to have suffered at the hands of U.S. law enforcement, intelligence and detention personnel “contaminated” the heart of the government’s case against Khadr, he said: “The well, as it were, was poisoned.”

A team of four prosecutors led by Jeffrey Groharing, a retired Marine major, responded that Khadr’s lawyers hadn’t met their burden for demonstrating that Khadr was abused, as Khadr — looking healthy in a white shirt and thick beard — looked on stoically. Dismissing a central aspect of the defense, Groharing bluntly stated that “no secret evidence” would be used in the government’s case against Khadr, and called to the stand an FBI special agent who testified to “non-confrontation[ally]” interrogating Khadr in October 2002 in Afghanistan. The prosecution additionally contended that Khadr’s own affidavit about his abuse should be excluded from court, since prosecutors couldn’t cross-examine the defendant — a motion that the judge in the proceeding, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, quickly rejected in the only question settled during the three-hour hearing.

But in the hearing’s most dramatic moment, Flowers said at least one interrogator would testify to having personally taken part in Khadr’s abuse. As detailed in a motion filed by the defense in 2008, Khadr claims in his affidavit that his interrogators threatened him with rape, denied him medical treatment for gunshot and shrapnel wounds he suffered in his July 2002 capture in Afghanistan, and used him as a “human mop” to clean up his own excrement. The interrogator, referred to in the hearing only as “Interrogator #1,” will testify on behalf of the defense that he personally threatened Khadr “with rape” by threatening to render Khadr to an undisclosed Arab country where he would face the abuse.

Asked for clarification after the hearing why the interrogator would risk incriminating himself, Flowers’ co-counsel Barry Coburn replied, “I don’t know the answer to that.” He said he expected the interrogator to testify either late this week or early next week.

Flowers and Coburn further alleged that the government has impaired its ability to investigate Khadr’s case and accordingly hindered their ability to defend their client. They said that at least 31 different law enforcement and intelligence agents had interrogated Khadr, but that the government had only provided them access to three — and that one of them, known only to the court as “Interrogator #3,” may have falsified a report of Khadr’s interrogation — something they learned only after reviewing an extensive report from the Justice Department into FBI knowledge of abuse at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

In response, the hearing’s only witness thus far, FBI Special Agent Robert Fuller, testified to interrogating Khadr six times in Bagram during a two-week period in October 2002, shortly before Khadr’s arrival in Guantanamo Bay. Fuller, a ten-year FBI veteran with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City and before that a New York police officer, called Khadr’s treatment “comfortable, reasonable” and “conversational, non-confrontational,” leading Khadr to confess to throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, Christopher Speer.

The FBI agent further said …

Continue reading.

History will not have kind words for Obama and Holder for their efforts to cover up war crimes and to avoid use of civilian courts in a clear repudiation of the rule of law.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:16 am

U.S. Subpoenas Times Reporter Over Book on C.I.A.

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This is weird, reported by Charlie Savage in the NY Times:

The Obama administration is seeking to compel a writer to testify about his confidential sources for a 2006 book about the Central Intelligence Agency, a rare step that was authorized by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

The author, James Risen, who is a reporter for The New York Times, received a subpoena on Monday requiring him to provide documents and to testify May 4 before a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., about his sources for a chapter of his book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration.” The chapter largely focuses on problems with a covert C.I.A. effort to disrupt alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research.

Mr. Risen referred questions to his lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, a partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel L.L.P., who said that Mr. Risen would not comply with the demand and would ask a judge to quash the subpoena.

“He intends to honor his commitment of confidentiality to his source or sources,” Mr. Kurtzberg said. “We intend to fight this subpoena.”

The subpoena comes two weeks after the indictment of a former National Security Agency official on charges apparently arising from an investigation into a series of Baltimore Sun articles that exposed technical failings and cost overruns of several agency programs that cost billions of dollars.

The lead prosecutor in both investigations is William Welch II. He formerly led the Justice Department’s public integrity unit, but left that position in October after its botched prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.

Matthew A. Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to discuss the subpoena to Mr. Risen or to confirm its existence. “As a general matter, we have consistently said that leaks of classified information are a matter we take extremely seriously,” he said.

Mr. Risen and a colleague won a Pulitzer Prize for a December 2005 New York Times article that exposed the existence of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program. While many critics — including Barack Obama, then a senator — called that program illegal, the Bush administration denounced the article as a damaging leak of classified information and opened an investigation into its sources. No one has been indicted in that matter.

The second chapter in Mr. Risen’s book provides a detailed description of the program. But Mr. Kurtzberg said the Justice Department was seeking information only about Mr. Risen’s sources for the ninth chapter, which centers on the C.I.A.’s effort to disrupt Iranian nuclear research. That material did not appear in The Times.

The book describes how the agency sent a Russian nuclear scientist — who had defected to the United States and was secretly working for the C.I.A. — to Vienna in February 2000 to give plans for a nuclear bomb triggering device to an Iranian official under the pretext that he would provide further assistance in exchange for money. The C.I.A. had hidden a technical flaw in the designs.

The scientist immediately spotted the flaw, Mr. Risen reported. Nevertheless, the agency proceeded with the operation, so the scientist decided on his own to alert the Iranians that there was a problem in the designs, thinking they would not take him seriously otherwise.

Continue reading.

As you know, Obama (on taking office) declared that past crimes—including war crimes—that the previous Administration was responsible for would NOT be investigated. The reason he gave was insultingly simplistic: "Look to the future, not the past." That was all he felt necessary to justify abandoning the rule of law.

But, as it turns out, the promise of non-investigation and non-indictment only applies to really serious crimes. Whistleblowing that embarrasses Federal agencies is not covered—in part because Federal agencies HATE to be embarrassed, and in part because Obama’s promise of non-investigation doesn’t seem to apply to individuals who are not wealthy and powerful.

Obama is seriously wrong on this topic. And if he’s going to give some criminals a pass, why pick and choose? I think in this area Obama is contemptible.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:12 am

Fixing things that already work

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I just spent two hours figuring out why my snapshots no longer show bigger when they are clicked. It seems that one camera setting somehow was changed. Perhaps. Or some software was changed. (Adobe, don’t you know?) Or something. But I think it’s working. Technology sure saves one a lot of time—initially. And then as the technology becomes more complex the amount of time saved starts to be eaten up by having to tinker with the tools until timesaving goes negative. Or so it seems.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 10:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

A German shave and a test series

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I decided to shave alternately with the Pils and then with one of my other razors—this enables a more direct comparison and also has the benefit that I’ll be using the Pils on half my shaves.

To avoid distortions, I’ll put a new Swedish Gillette blade in each razor before using it. I’m starting with the Pils and the Apollo Mikron, shown above with the new blades installed, as you see. I won’t be replacing the blade in the Pils, though: it will continue with the same Swedish Gillette blade—a kind of handicap.

So today, we begin with a German shave:

The Sabini brush isn’t German, but the soap and razor are and the aftershave is Austrian. As usual, the Dovo gave an excellent lather, the Pils/Swedish Gillette shave was absolutely superb, and a splash of Alt Innsbruck was a fine finish.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2010 at 8:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving


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