Later On

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

Archive for May 19th, 2010

A cool tool for learners

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If you’re learning a language, flash cards are the norm, but they’re useful for learning almost anything. Take a look at this Cool Tool.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 3:46 pm

More on Israel’s problematic approach to its problems

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Andrew Sullivan:

Goldblog interviews Peter Beinart in two parts (one, two). Peter:

I’m not asking Israel to be Utopian. I’m not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state. What I am asking is that Israel not do things that foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, because if it is does that it will become—and I’m quoting Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak here—an "apartheid state."

And foreclosing the possibility of a Palestinian state is exactly what the current Israeli coalition wants to do.

You ask what has changed. First, year after year of settlement growth at triple the rate of the Israeli population (including this year, since in practice, Netanyahu’s "partial freeze" has led to no slowdown of building, and in any case he has said it will not be renewed after September).

The more the settlements expand, the more settlers–including fanatical settlers–take over parts of the Israeli bureaucracy and become integral to the Israeli army and rabbinate, all of which makes the prospect of removing them without outright civil war more remote. These people have already murdered an Israeli Prime Minister, and they routinely use violence against Israeli troops and Israeli leftists, not to mention Palestinians.

Their young "hilltop youth" are so extreme that they actually scare the settler old guard. "When will the state of Israel wake up and realize that it is facing a real threat from an enemy within," those words are not from a dove, they are Ben Dror Yemeni, the hawkish editor of Maariv last year. And it’s not just the growth and increased radicalization of the settlers, it’s the emergence of a political coalition determined to protect them and make a Palestinian state impossible.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Didn’t Sen. Grassley (R-IA) used to be honest?

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I definitely have memories of his being honest, but that’s from many years ago. I guess people change. From the Center for American Progress in an email:

President Bush’s massive tax cuts for the rich included a provision that that repealed the estate tax in 2010.

Though the tax is slated to spring back to the 2001 rate in 2011, the House passed a bill late last year to re-establish the tax at the reduced 2009 level.

Under this rate, estates worth less than $3.5 million pay no taxes at all, while larger estates pay 45 percent of anything above that threshold.

As a bill to reinstate the tax is negotiated in the Senate, some senators have been pushing to cut this tax on multi-millionaires even lower to 35 percent, while raising the exemption to $5 million.

Iowa’s Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) has signed onto the plan, thus coming out in support of what could be an enormous tax break for his own family.

Grassley’s net worth is between $2.1 and $5.2 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, so his entire estate could be exempted under a $5 million exemption.

Moreover, Grassley’s proposed tax cut would affect few families other than his own.

If the 2009 rate were made permanent, 99.8 percent of estates would owe no tax at all.

If these levels were made permanent, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out that "[o]nly three percent of taxes owed" would be from estates that are, like Grassley’s, worth less than $5 million.

The vast majority of current estate tax revenue comes from the "extremely wealthy," with 62.5 percent of revenue coming from estates worth more than $20 million.

Beyond this, the cut would cost $60 to $80 billion in lost revenue, which would have to be offset with spending cuts or other tax increases.

As the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo has noted, it’s a huge waste to spend $60-80 billion in order to help the wealthiest 0.2 percent of households while we have soaring deficits and high unemployment.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:43 am

More on the Peter Beinart piece in the NY Review of Books

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Andrew Sullivan:

The prime minister of Israel has repeatedly compared the establishment of a Palestinian state to the Holocaust. His foreign minister, and protégé, has flirted with advocating the physical expulsion of Israeli Arabs. The spiritual leader of his government’s fourth-largest party has called for politicians who advocate ceding territory to the Palestinians to be struck dead. West Bank settlements are growing at triple the rate of the Israeli population, and according to a recent Tel Aviv University poll, 80 percent of religious Jewish Israeli high schoolers would refuse orders to dismantle them. One-third of Jewish Israelis favor pardoning Yigal Amir, the man who murdered Yitzhak Rabin.

I was raised to love Israel, and I will teach my children to love it. But we don’t get to choose what is true. And if you love Israel not only because it is a Jewish state but also because it is a liberal democratic Jewish state, a state that strives to embody the best in the Jewish ethical tradition, there is only one decent response to these truths: fury. If you’re not angry, you’re either not paying attention or you don’t care.  — Peter Beinart.

He goes on to counter Chait’s criticisms of his NYRB piece one by one. Read it all. It’s a devastating expose of Chait’s own indifference to the changing realities in Israel, and of his anti-anti-Israel position. What I found particularly depressing about Chait’s response was the failure to respond to the specific facts Peter has laid out. Instead we have a condescending psychoanalysis of Peter that is built on a previous piece and that seeks to explain Beinart’s evolution is being about Beinart, not Israel or reality. Why does that non-argument sound familiar? It’s about as relevant as where Peter’s essay was published (although it is interesting that a former editor of TNR could never have such an essay printed in its pages).

I await Chait’s future engagement with the facts on the ground. If only he were as tough on Israel’s right as he is on America’s.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:32 am

The Bart Simpsons of Congress

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Steve Benen:

The House was all set last week to approve the America COMPETES Act, a jobs bill with a specific focus on boosting investing in science, research, and training programs. It was scuttled by a deliberately absurd Republican motion related to pornography, which Dems were afraid to vote against because they knew it’d be used in attack ads.

The little stunt — eerily reminiscent of a farcical scene from "The Simpsons" 15 years ago — delayed consideration of the bipartisan bill, which is due to come back to the House floor today. (Under a suspension of the rules, the GOP won’t be able to use a motion to recommit, but the bill will need a two-thirds majority to pass.)

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein explains in his latest column that last week’s antics, orchestrated by the House Republican leadership, were a sad display. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) were "visibly exultant" when the America COMPETES Act was needlessly delayed, which only reinforces our worst fears about their abilities as lawmakers.

John Boehner used to be a serious legislator. Eric Cantor is smart and a justifiably rising star in the GOP firmament. But they are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious. Instead of encouraging a constructive relationship with the serious and fair-minded legislators on the Democratic side, they are adding to the traction of their take-no-prisoners counterparts. What a shame.

Ornstein has a higher opinion of Boehner’s and Cantor’s abilities than I do — I simply cannot recall a time when Boehner was a "serious legislator" — but the larger point is an important one. The leaders of the House Republican caucus, including a man who may be Speaker of the House in January, are at their most comfortable acting like children. They’ve grown to love gimmicks and stunts, and approach the substance of policymaking with all the seriousness of a kid who enjoys the popping sound of bubble-wrap a little too much.

And if Republicans excel in the midterms, Boehner and Cantor will perceive it as a reward for their antics, which only encourage them to be more ridiculous.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:27 am

Beauty-contest qualifications

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I’ve been mulling over this peculiar comment that I got on this post on how Rima Fakih won Miss USA and promptly sent the Right into hysterics. Here’s the comment in its entirety:

If that bomb in Times Square didn’t fizzle last week, do you think she would have won the pageant?
If hundreds were killed, would you use the word ‘paranoia’?
If mommies and daddies didn’t come home from work, would you still laugh at anything using the word ‘Terrorist’ in its title?

I want to focus on the "thinking" that goes into believing that a terrorist attack by a Pakistani immigrant would disqualify a Lebanese immigrant woman from a beauty contest.

Since Lebanon is distant from Pakistan—and since Miss Fakih has resided in the US since she was 7 years old—it’s VERY unclear to me why the two are connected in any way. I suppose it’s because she’s a Muslim, but al Qaeda is Sunni and she’s Shi’a and the two sects are at daggers drawn.

Still, assuming that the religion is the reason, I’m wondering about contests held when the IRA was actively into terrorism, setting off bombs not only in Belfast but across England. Suppose that the Miss USA winner was Irish—and Catholic, like the IRA. Would she be thought an inappropriate winner?

Somehow I don’t think so. Like ignoring the terrorist attack on the mosque, the situation reveals a huge ugly amount of religious bigotry in our country. And bigots are bigots because their thought processes don’t work very well.

And I still HIGHLY recommend the hilarious comedy Terrorists, available as Netflix Watch Instantly. One thing I particularly like about the movie is the progression of security-theater as the police chief gradually realizes his opportunity to enhance his position and privileges.

It’s also funny how literally no one listens to what the "terrorist" says—instead, they seem to supply from their own internal fears and beliefs what they think he must have said, from the stoner store clerk (who clearly hears the guy say that he wants to party) to the guy running the souvenir shop at the giant stool (who hears the guy say he wants to climb up on top of the stool and have a party), everyone is playing out the drama in their own head.

It’s not a movie that punches you with the jokes—most will slip by if you’re not paying attention. But it’s a very funny movie, and it’s based on the silly aspects of how the US has responded to terrorism: security theater.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:25 am

Strange silence regarding the latest terrorist attack on American soil

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Matt Yglesias notes the strange silence from the mainstream media, including the hysterical Right (aka Fox), who generally wet themselves when a terrorist attack occurs even without an explosion, rushing forward with unsolicited advice about not giving suspects a Miranda warning (because terrorist suspects are ipso facto guilty), etc. Yglesias:

Apparently there was a terrorist attack on American soil earlier this week. What’s more, though fortunately nobody was killed in the attack, unlike in the much-hyped Underpants Bomber or Times Square plots, the perpetrator actually managed to build a working bomb. But somehow this attack, despite its greater technical sophistication, hasn’t obtained nearly the same level of media attention. And I just can’t figure out why:

FBI officials in Jacksonville, Fla., say they have found the remnants of a pipe bomb used in a possible hate crime at a mosque during evening prayers.

Along with local police, the FBI launched an investigation after an explosion shook the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida at 9:35 p.m. Monday, when approximately 60 people were inside praying. No one was injured.

It’s a huge mystery to me what could possibly account for the difference.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 11:08 am

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

What could possibly go wrong?

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Bruce Schneier:

This doesn’t seem like the best idea:

Authorities in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are planning to set up an outsourcing unit in a jail.

The unit will employ 200 educated convicts who will handle back office operations like data entry, and process and transmit information.

It’s not necessarily a bad idea, as long as misuable information isn’t being handled by the criminals.

The unit, which is expected to undertake back-office work for banks, will work round the clock with three shifts of 70 staff each.

Okay, definitely a bad idea.

Working in the unit will also be financially rewarding for the prisoners.

I’ll bet.

For some reason I’m reminded of the Right-wing movement across many states to allow open- and concealed-carry of firearms in bars, with the armed people free to drink. What could go wrong? UPDATE: At least one governor still has common sense.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 10:51 am

Posted in Daily life

Philosophy in the paper

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You may have seen this new feature in the NY Times: a philosophy blog. I didn’t blog it because its first post was the hoary chestnut "What is Philosophy?" But Open Culture has some additional info in a post by Wes Alwan:

This week, The New York Times began a philosophy blog called The Stone, moderated by Simon Critchley. The series will address “issues both timely and timeless – art, war, ethics, gender, popular culture and more.” And it will ask: “What does philosophy look like today? Who are philosophers, what are their concerns and what role do they play in the 21st century?”

Not everyone is happy with the choice of Critchley as moderator, but it looks like there will be participants to suit all temperaments: “Nancy Bauer, Jay Bernstein, Arthur C. Danto, Todd May, Nancy Sherman, Peter Singer and others.”

Critchley begins with a question bound to invite snarky comments: What is a Philosopher? Such comments have a long history … And so the natural starting point for any answer to that question is the popular conception of philosopher as bullshit artist and “absent-minded buffoon”: “Socrates tells the story of Thales, who … was looking so intently at the stars that he fell into a well.” That’s a conception that, I have to admit, troubled me when I was a philosophy graduate student and led me to drop out. And it has troubled philosophers historically: many a sober treatise begins with the unflattering comparison of philosophy to the empirical sciences and the stated goal of remedying this deficiency. And some strains of analytic philosophy argue that the solution to philosophical problems is to realize that there are no such problems, and that philosophy has a relatively modest supporting role in clarifying the foundations of science.

True to my philosophical pedigree, I think that the question is in a way its own answer: philosophical problems naturally elide into the problem of what philosophy is and what it is that philosophers do. One level of reflection tends to lead to the next, and doubt to self-doubt. Philosophers are people who spend their time trying to figure out what they’re doing with their time and why they’re doing it. And so for instance, questions about how we should live (ethics) and what we can know (epistemology) are also questions about whether the life of the mind is worthwhile and whether philosophical pursuits are properly scientific. The unavoidable state of affairs here is that philosophy falls perpetually into one crisis (or well) after another –recent department closures are just one example.

One way of remedying the nagging thought that philosophy is merely a retreat from worldly affairs, practicality, and life in general is to do precisely what The New York Times has done here, and try to initiate more popular and less academic conversations about the subject. (And to get in a plug, it’s what I and two other philosophy grad school dropouts have tried to do with our podcast, The Partially Examined Life; and what I think Open Culture does with its focus on the intersection of education and new media).

For Critchley, the question of time is paramount to answering his opening question: newspapers and blogs are typically focused on timeliness rather than timelessness, and they’re meant for busy people who want to quickly absorb “information.”

But that tension is inherently philosophical.

Wes Alwan lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he works as a writer and researcher and attends the Institute for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture. He also participates in The Partially Examined Life, a podcast consisting of informal discussions about philosophical texts by three philosophy graduate school dropouts.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 10:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

A new source of dioxins: Clean hands

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Janet Raloff at Science News:

Manufacturers have been adding the germ fighter triclosan to soaps, hand washes, and a range of other products for years. But here’s a dirty little secret: Once it washes down the drain, that triclosan can spawn dioxins.

Dioxins come in 75 different flavors, distinguished by how many chlorine atoms dangle from each and where those atoms have attached (their locations indicated by the numbers in the front part of a dioxin’s name). The most toxic is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD. Some related kin bearing four to eight chlorines are also toxic, just less so.

Triclosan’s dioxin progeny belong to this infamous family, but aren’t the ones that have typically tainted the environment. And, before you ask: No one knows how toxic triclosan’s dioxins are. Few investigations have been conducted because chemists considered them arcane and too rare to pose a threat.

Patented in 1964, triclosan quickly found use in medical supplies. By 1987, manufacturers were adding it to liquid hand soaps for the consumer market. Within a little more than a dozen years, three-quarters of all such liquid hand soaps would contain the chemical. And as these soaps were used, triclosan washed down residential drains along with chlorinated tap water, forming super-chlorinated triclosan.

In wastewater treatment plants, the bonus chlorine atom or two that tap water had added to the molecule tends to be stripped off, notes William Arnold, an environmental engineer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. But in the finishing stage at those treatment plants, most water gets one last chlorine-disinfection step, which “will re-chlorinate the triclosan,” he says, before the water is released out into rivers.

Arnold’s group and others have demonstrated in the lab that …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 10:34 am

Making my own red-wine vinegar

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After reading this how-to and finding this source for a red-wine-vinegar mother, I’m very tempted. I just have to find a one-gallon crock. Comments from those who have tried this would be quite welcome.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 10:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Fighting to keep things secrets

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Companies and governments have legitimate reasons to keep some things secret, but once the mechanism is in place, the temptation to high bad errors in judgment by making those secret as well will always be irresistible to those who run the system—and of course it is their own bad errors they wish to hide. So they become extraordinarily sensitive to leaks from whistleblowers—as the NSA did, when a whistleblower violated secrecy to show that NSA had terribly bungled its operational upgrade. That is secrecy designed not to protect the country as to protect incompetent administrators—who, to be fair, need a lot of protection or their incompetence would be exposed, and then where would they be?

Glenn Greenwald:

This is a reminder that one can’t run around exposing the secrets of the most powerful governments, militaries and corporations in the world without consequences (h/t):

The Australian founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks had his passport confiscated by police when he arrived in Melbourne last week.

Julian Assange, who does not have an official home base and travels every six weeks, told the Australian current affairs program Dateline that immigration officials had said his passport was going to be cancelled because it was looking worn.

However he then received a letter from the Australian Communication Minister Steven Conroy’s office stating that the recent disclosure on Wikileaks of a blacklist of websites the Australian government is preparing to ban had been referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Last year Wikileaks published a confidential list of websites that the Australian government is preparing to ban under a proposed internet filter — which in turn caused the whistleblower site to be placed on that list.

The Australian document was so damaging because the Australian government claimed that the to-be-banned websites were all associated with child pornography, but the list of the targeted sites including many which had nothing to do with pornography.  That WikiLeaks was then added to the list underscores the intended abuse.

Forcing Assange to remain in Australia would likely be crippling to WikiLeaks.  One of the ways which WikiLeaks protects the confidentiality of its leakers and evades detection is by having Assange constantly move around, managing WikiLeaks from his laptop, backpack, and numerous countries around the world.  Preventing him from leaving Australia would ensure that authorities around the world know where he is and would impede his ability to maintain the secrecy on which WikiLeaks relies.

Secrecy is the crux of institutional power — the principal weapon for maintaining it — and there are very few entities left which can truly threaten that secrecy.  As the worldwide controversy over the Iraqi Apache helicopter attack compellingly demonstrated, WikiLeaks is one of the very few entitles capable of doing so and fearlessly devoted to that mission.  It’s hardly surprising that those responsible would be harassed and intimidated by governmental agencies — it’d be far more surprising if they weren’t — but it’s a testament to how truly threatening they perceive outlets like WikiLeaks to be.  I hope to speak with Assange later today and will provide more details as I know them.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 9:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

BP tries to ignore spill in hopes that it will go away

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Marisa Taylor and Renee Schoof reporting for McClatchy:

BP, the company in charge of the rig that exploded last month in the Gulf of Mexico, hasn’t publicly divulged the results of tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

Moreover, the company isn’t monitoring the extent of the spill and only reluctantly released videos of the spill site that could give scientists a clue to the amount of the oil in gulf.

BP’s role as the primary source of information has raised questions about whether the government should intervene to gather such data and to publicize it and whether an adequate cleanup can be accomplished without the details of crude oil spreading across the gulf.

Under pressure from senators, BP released four videos Tuesday, but it hasn’t agreed to better monitoring.

The company also hasn’t publicly released air sampling for oil spill workers although Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency in charge of monitoring compliance with worker safety regulations, is relying on the information and has urged it to do so.

"It is not ours to publish," said Dean Wingo, OSHA’s assistant regional administrator who oversees Louisiana. "We are working with (BP) and encouraging them to post the data so that it is publicly available."

Much of the worker exposure data is being collected by contractors hired by BP.

Toby Odone, a BP spokesman, said the company is sharing the data with "legitimate interested parties," which include government agencies and the private companies assisting in the cleanup. When asked whether the information can be released publicly, he responded, "Why would one do it? Any parties with a legitimate interest can have access to it."

Joseph T. Hughes Jr., the director of the worker education training program for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said he didn’t think "anyone has seen much of that data at all."

"The hard part about it is that in a normal response, when the government is doing this, there might be more transparency on the data," Hughes said. "In this case, when you have BP making the decisions and collecting the data it’s harder to have that transparency."

Unlike the response to other past national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina where the government was in charge, BP has been designated as the "responsible party" under federal law and is overseeing much of the response to the spill. The government is acting more as an adviser.

So far, the government has been slow to press BP to release its data and permit others to evaluate the extent of the crisis.

"I think that one of the lessons learned here is whether the federal government should have more of a role in the response and not leave that decision-making in the hands of the responsible parties," said Hughes, whose institute was one of the first to raise questions about air quality at the World Trade Center site in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that many Sept. 11 rescue workers still suffer from impaired lung function…

Continue reading. The Obama Administration should issue some direct orders to BP regarding making data about the spill publicly available, since the public are affected.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 9:32 am

The Emperor 2, compared

with 5 comments

Click to enlarge. From left: Rooney Style 2 Finest, Simpson Emperors (1, 2, and 3) Super, Rooney Style 1, Size 1 Super. I offer the photo as an easy way to compare sizes. And for my shave today, I used the Simpson Emperor 2 Super:

Again, click to enlarge. I thought a shave stick would demonstrate the lather capacity of the Simpson Emperor 2 Super, so I used Irisch Moos, and indeed the brush held enough for 3 passes easily—probably 4 or 5. The Pils with its Swedish Gillette blade did a terrific job, and a splash of Alt Innsbruck finished the job.

UPDATE: A photo taken to show the blade in the Pils—click to enlarge, click again to enlarge even more:

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2010 at 9:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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