Later On

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

Archive for November 2010

Data visualization – pretty cool!

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Via PZ Myers:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 9:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

The response to Wikileaks is even more revealing than the leaks themselves

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Very interesting what has been said. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent column in which he summarizes some of the responses to the leaks. You really should read the entire column. Here are a few snippets from it:

The WikiLeaks disclosure has revealed not only numerous government secrets, but also the driving mentality of major factions in our political and media class.  Simply put, there are few countries in the world with citizenries and especially media outlets more devoted to serving, protecting and venerating government authorities than the U.S.  Indeed, I don’t quite recall any entity producing as much bipartisan contempt across the American political spectrum as WikiLeaks has:  as usual, for authoritarian minds, those who expose secrets are far more hated than those in power who commit heinous acts using secrecy as their principal weapon.

First we have the group demanding that Julian Assange be murdered without any charges, trial or due process.  There was Sarah Palin on on Twitter illiterately accusing WikiLeaks — a stateless group run by an Australian citizen — of "treason"; she thereafter took to her Facebook page to object that Julian Assange was "not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders" (she also lied by stating that he has "blood on his hands":  a claim which even the Pentagon admits is untrue).  Townhall’s John Hawkins has a column this morning entitled "5 Reasons The CIA Should Have Already Killed Julian Assange."  That Assange should be treated as a "traitor" and murdered with no due process has been strongly suggested if not outright urged by the likes of Marc Theissen, Seth Lipsky (with Jeffrey Goldberg posting Lipsky’s column and also illiterately accusing Assange of "treason"), Jonah Goldberg, Rep. Pete King, and, today, The Wall Street Journal.

The way in which so many political commentators so routinely and casually call for the eradication of human beings without a shred of due process is nothing short of demented.  Recall Palin/McCain adviser Michael Goldfarb’s recent complaint that the CIA failed to kill Ahmed Ghailani when he was in custody, or Glenn Reynolds’ morning demand — in between sips of coffee — that North Korea be destroyed with nuclear weapons ("I say nuke ‘em. And not with just a few bombs").  Without exception, all of these people cheered on the attack on Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 innocent human beings, yet their thirst for slaughter is literally insatiable.  After a decade’s worth of American invasions, bombings, occupations, checkpoint shootings, drone attacks, assassinations and civilian slaughter, the notion that the U.S. Government can and should murder whomever it wants is more frequent and unrestrained than ever. . . 

And this:

. . . Then, with some exceptions, we have the group which — so very revealingly — is the angriest and most offended about the WikiLeaks disclosures:  the American media, Our Watchdogs over the Powerful and Crusaders for Transparency.  On CNN last night, Wolf Blitzer was beside himself with rage over the fact that the U.S. Government had failed to keep all these things secret from him:

Are they doing anything at all to make sure if some 23-year-old guy, allegedly, starts downloading hundreds of thousands of cables, hundreds of thousands of copies of sensitive information, that no one pays attention to that, no one in the security system of the United States government bothers to see someone is downloading all these millions — literally millions of documents? . . . at this point, you know, it — it’s amazing to me that the U.S. government security system is so lax that someone could allegedly do this kind of damage just by simply pretending to be listening to a Lady Gaga C.D. and at the same time downloading all these kinds of documents.

Then — like the Good Journalist he is — Blitzer demanded assurances that the Government has taken the necessary steps to prevent him, the media generally and the citizenry from finding out any more secrets:  "Do we know yet if they’ve [done] that fix? In other words, somebody right now who has top secret or secret security clerics can no longer download information onto a C.D. or a thumb drive? Has that been fixed already?"  The central concern of Blitzer — one of our nation’s most  honored "journalists" — is making sure that nobody learns what the U.S. Government is up to.

Then there’s the somewhat controversial claim that our major media stars are nothing more than Government spokespeople and major news outlets little more than glorified state-run media.  Blitzer’s CNN reporting provided the best illustration I’ve seen in awhile demonstrating how true that is.  Shortly before bringing on David Gergen to rail against WikiLeaks’ "contemptible behavior" (while, needless to say, not giving voice to any defenders of WikiLeaks), this is what was heard in the first several minutes of the CNN broadcast (video below): . . .

And this:

. . . Then we have The New York Times, which was denied access to the documents by WikiLeaks this time but received them from The Guardian.  That paper’s Executive Editor, Bill Keller, appeared in a rather amazing BBC segment yesterday with Carne Ross, former British Ambassador to the U.N., who mocked and derided Keller for being guided by the U.S. Government’s directions on what should and should not be published:

KELLER:  The charge the administration has made is directed at WikiLeaks: they’ve very carefully refrained from criticizing the press for the way we’ve handled this material . . . . We’ve redacted them to remove the names of confidential informants . . . and remove other material at the recommendation of the U.S. Government we were convinced could harm National Security . . .

HOST (incredulously):  Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the Government in advance and say:  "What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that, and you get clearance, then?

KELLER:  We are serially taking all of the cables we intend to post on our website to the administration, asking for their advice.  We haven’t agreed with everything they suggested to us, but some of their recommendations we have agreed to:  they convinced us that redacting certain information would be wise.

ROSS:  One thing that Bill Keller just said makes me think that one shouldn’t go to The New York Times for these telegrams — one should go straight to the WikiLeaks site.  It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the U.S. Government, but that says a lot about the politics here, where Left and Right have lined up to attack WikiLeaks – some have called it a "terrorist organization."

It’s one thing for the Government to shield its conduct from public disclosure, but it’s another thing entirely for the U.S. media to be active participants in that concealment effort.  As The Guardian‘s Simon Jenkins put it in a superb column that I can’t recommend highly enough:  "The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. . . . Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets."  But that’s just it:  the media does exactly what Jenkins says is not their job, which — along with envy over WikiLeaks’ superior access to confidential information — is what accounts for so much media hostility toward that group.  As the headline of John Kampfner’s column in The Independent put it:  "Wikileaks shows up our media for their docility at the feet of authority." . . .

And this:

. . . The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog has an equally excellent analysis:

The careerists scattered about the world in America’s intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America’s unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it.

As Scott Shane, the New York Times‘ national security reporter, puts it: "American taxpayers, American citizens pay for all these diplomatic operations overseas and you know, it is not a bad thing when Americans actually have a better understanding of those negotiations".  Mr Shane goes on to suggest that "Perhaps if we had had more information on these secret internal deliberations of governments prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, we would have had a better understanding of the quality of the evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

I’d say providing that information certainly would have been a socially worthy activity, even if it came as part of a more-or-less indiscriminate dump of illegally obtained documents. I’m glad to see that the quality of discussion over possible US efforts to stymie Iran’s nuclear ambitions has already become more sophisticated and, well, better-informed due to the information provided by WikiLeaks.

If secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy, it is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents. I suspect that there is no scheme of government oversight that will not eventually come under the indirect control of the generals, spies, and foreign-service officers it is meant to oversee. Organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy.

The central goal of WikiLeaks is to prevent the world’s most powerful factions — including the sprawling, imperial U.S. Government — from continuing to operate in the dark and without restraints.  Most of the institutions which are supposed to perform that function — beginning with the U.S. Congress and the American media — not only fail to do so, but are active participants in maintaining the veil of secrecy.  WikiLeaks, for whatever its flaws, is one of the very few entities shining a vitally needed light on all of this.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that those factions — and their hordes of spokespeople, followers and enablers — see WikiLeaks as a force for evil.  That’s evidence of how much good they are doing. . .

There’s much more—it’s a long column that makes a strong case (in my mind) for what Wikileaks is doing. (He does include some specific criticisms of what he views as mistakes Wikileaks has made.)

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 9:35 am

A Darwinian theory of Beauty

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Via Open Culture, which has more info.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Excellent point: "Israel" does not equal "Jews"

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Andrew Sullivan:

Jeffrey replies to my inference that he wants a war with Iran:

I am opposed to a military strike on Iran for the foreseeable future. Last week, I wrote, of the Stuxnet virus that has apparently slowed down Iran’s centrifuges: "It is too early, obviously, to assess how much long-term damage the virus has done to the Iranian enrichment program, but I think it is possible to say that Stuxnet might be the best thing to happen to the Jewish people since the discovery that Scarlett Johansson is an M.O.T."… I believe, with some relief, that we are farther now from a military confrontation with Iran than we were six months ago, when I wrote my cover story on this subject, in part because of the subterfuge program, and in part because of the sanctions regime put in place by President Obama.

I take him at his word, and he has a right to veer back and forth on this as events and circumstances change. That’s called exercising practical judgment, even if it can be confusing for some readers over time. But in addressing his ugly claim that I believe

it is a group of warmongering Jews — alone — who seek to ignite World War III.

he now merely writes:

What is pleasing about the Wikileaks dump to me is that it disproves the narrative perpetrated by Andrew, and others, that it is only Israel advocating for war against Iran. This is an argument he has been making obsessively for more than a year. These documents seem to prove that, all the while, the most strident lobbyists for war against Iran have been Arab leaders, not Jews. I can understand why Andrew is so upset.

Notice something about these two passages. Jeffrey interchangeably uses "Israel" and "Jews" in the paragraph above, when it suits him, which makes anyone’s commentary on Israel at any particular time indistinguishable from some grand ethnic or racial statement about "Jews". For me and most people, there is, of course, a distinction. There is also a distinction between Israel and any particular Israeli government. And that is why strongly resisting the arguments and actions of any one Israeli government is not about Israel as such or "Jews" or "the Jews." It is about my good faith belief about US interests. By conflating these things so casually, Jeffrey keeps the anti-Semite card fully on the table, chilling criticism of Israel as if it were indistinguishable from bigotry. This rhetorical game really does have to stop.

As for the substantive issue, I am not upset, just amazed at how shamelessly many neocons dance from one position to another – now seeking to destabilize the Arab autocracies, now citing them as allies in their campaign for World War III.

And it is simply a fact that I have not argued that Israel alone wants war, although Israel has obviously been the main public champion. I have long fully understood and acknowledged that the Arab Sunni dictators are deeply hostile to Iran’s nuclear weapon development, and would love to crush the "Shiite trash" they despise and fear, especially if someone else can take the blame. Since Jeffrey actually witnessed my taking on the King of Jordan in this respect, and since it is integral to my most detailed argument about Israel and Palestine here and here, it is particularly disingenuous of him to maintain the canard that I have denied this in some fashion. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:52 am

DOJ does something right: DNA testing

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Jerry Markon reports in the Washington Post:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is reversing a controversial Bush administration policy under which numerous defendants have waived their right to DNA testing even though that right is guaranteed under federal law, Justice Department officials said Wednesday.

Holder will issue a memo on Thursday to the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, which overturns the practice of seeking "DNA waivers,” said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the policy shift had not been publicly announced.

The waivers have been in widespread use in federal cases for about five years and run counter to the national movement toward allowing prisoners to seek post-conviction DNA testing to prove their innocence. More than 260 wrongly convicted people have been exonerated by such tests, though virtually all have been state prisoners.

The waivers are filed only in guilty pleas and bar defendants from ever requesting DNA testing, even if evidence emerges that could exonerate them. Statistics show that innocent people sometimes plead guilty, often for a reduced sentence. One quarter of the 261 people who have been exonerated by DNA testing had falsely confessed to crimes they didn’t commit, and 19 of them pleaded guilty, according to the New York-based Innocence Project.

Holder last year ordered a review of the little-known policy, under which the Bush Justice Department had told prosecutors to seek DNA waivers whenever possible. The review came after inquiries about DNA waivers by The Washington Post.

The waivers have been part of the standard plea agreement filed by some of the nation’s most prominent U.S. attorneys, including those in the District, Alexandria and Manhattan. Defense lawyers say their clients are essentially forced to sign the waivers or lose the benefits of a plea agreement, such as a lighter sentence.

Holder’s memo, according to sources who have seen it, says the DNA waiver policy is rigid and inconsistently applied. As of last year, . . .

Continue reading.

Ed Brayton points out an interesting aspect of story:

. . .  We know now that people often plead guilty to crimes they did not commit for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they actually become convinced that they committed the crime. Other times they are coerced into doing so because the police lie to them during interrogations and tell them that they have their fingerprints or their DNA so they’d better plead guilty to get a lesser sentence. In most cases, they do so because their court-appointed attorney gives them little choice because they’re too busy to actually put on a defense and lack the resources to put on a competent one even if they had the time.

This is a very good thing the Obama administration is doing. But it makes their position in Osborne last term all the more bizarre. In that case, Obama’s Solicitor General — that would be Justice Kagan now — took the appalling position that there is no constitutional right to access DNA evidence for testing that could prove one’s innocence even if they pay for the testing themselves. The inconsistency is obvious.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:41 am

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Wants To Spill Your Corporate Secrets

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Interesting story by Andy Greenberg in Forbes:

In a rare interview, Assange tells Forbes that the release of Pentagon and State Department documents are just the beginning. His next target: big business.

Early next year, Julian Assange says, a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out. Tens of thousands of its internal documents will be exposed on Wikileaks.org with no polite requests for executives’ response or other forewarnings. The data dump will lay bare the finance firm’s secrets on the Web for every customer, every competitor, every regulator to examine and pass judgment on.

(For the full transcript of Forbes’ interview with Assange click here.)

When? Which bank? What documents? Cagey as always, Assange won’t say, so his claim is impossible to verify. But he has always followed through on his threats. Sitting for a rare interview in a London garden flat on a rainy November day, he compares what he is ready to unleash to the damning e-mails that poured out of the Enron trial: a comprehensive vivisection of corporate bad behavior. “You could call it the ecosystem of corruption,” he says, refusing to characterize the coming release in more detail. “But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest.”

This is Assange: a moral ideologue, a champion of openness, a control freak. He pauses to think—a process that occasionally puts our conversation on hold for awkwardly long interludes. The slim 39-year-old Wiki­Leaks founder wears a navy suit over his 6-foot-2 frame, and his once shaggy white hair, recently dyed brown, has been cropped to a sandy patchwork of blonde and tan. He says he colors it when he’s “being tracked.”

“These big-package releases. There should be a cute name for them,” he says, then pauses again.

“Megaleaks?” I suggest, trying to move things along.

“Yes, that’s good—megaleaks.” His voice is a hoarse, Aussie-tinged baritone. As a teenage hacker in Melbourne its pitch helped him impersonate IT staff to trick companies’ employees into revealing their passwords over the phone, and today it’s deeper still after a recent bout of flu. “These megaleaks . . . they’re an important phenomenon. And they’re only going to increase.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:32 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The Passport in America: The History of a Document

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Interesting:

The Passport in America: The History of a Document

by Craig Robertson

A review by Sarah E. Igo

Craig Robertson opens his history of the passport with a seemingly trivial anecdote: In 1923, a Danish man traveling in Germany reportedly had to regrow his mustache before border officials would permit him to return home. When clean-shaven, he did not resemble the photograph in his passport, a document that had only recently become essential for travel across national boundaries.

The Dane’s experience seems benign compared to those of Arizona’s immigrants and other undocumented individuals in our post-9/11 world. But the beauty of Robertson’s The Passport in America is that it shows how a modern "documentary regime of verification" created new rules of movement for the well-heeled and marginal alike. The United States was slower than Europe to require identity papers, devising a universal passport system only after World War I hardened borders abroad and internal clamor resulted in immigration restriction in the 1920s. Yet America was perhaps more vigorous in its effort to track individuals and make them visible to the state.

Robertson, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, asks how "a piece of paper" came to be thought of as official identification, and why that document "was considered reliable and accurate enough to secure the border of a nation-state." The emergence of nation-states themselves, the new value placed on experts’ claims to objective knowledge, and increasing bureaucratic centralization are all part of his answer. Tracing the career of the American passport from "a letter of introduction to a certificate of citizenship to an identification document" between the 1840s and the 1920s, when it assumed its modern form, Robertson takes fascinating excursions into the history of currency, voting, immigration, tourism, and even filing methods.

Robertson probes the technologies of identification that gradually became part of the U.S. passport, such as the bearer’s name, signature, physical description, and photograph, as well as the ever-more-standardized bureaucracy that produced it. The result, he argues, was official, state-produced identities that became truer, in a sense, than individuals’ own testimony about who they were. Yet, Robertson regularly reminds us, public (and even official) acceptance of the passport was contested.

One hurdle was the persistent association of official documentation with suspect populations such as criminals and the insane, so that "respectable" travelers took offense at the idea that their word could not substantiate their identity. The flip side was the fact that official-looking papers were not enough to enable particular sorts of individuals — Mexican workers crossing the border, merchants exempted from the draconian Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — to prove that they were who they said they were. In these instances, bodies were scrutinized more carefully than papers, inspectors’ personal judgment trumping bureaucratic procedure.

One might imagine a history of bureaucracy to be dreary, but apart from a few moments of excessive technical detail,The Passport in America is compelling reading. We learn, for instance, about the difficulty that newly enforced borders posed for …

Continue reading:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:16 am

More diet thoughts

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Over the past week, I’ve been steadily losing weight, and I have mentioned some things that seem to have helped:

a. Eating the fruit snack (1/2 apple or 1 cup berries) faithfully at mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

b. Not putting ANY food into my mouth except for the two fruit snacks and at meals.

c. Eating the balanced meal (protein, starch, and vegetables) as recommended—without (for example) omitting the starch.

d. Managing portion size.

The last is obviously critical, and I found that it’s almost impossible to do at first if you do not measure portions. Fat guys, like me, can’t accurately judge portion sizes by looking at them—that’s one of the reasons we’re fat.

But over the last six months, I’ve (a) become better at judging portion size (currently I estimate, then measure (weight or volume), training my eye); and (b) I’ve finally internalized the realization that a larger portion means that I will have to lose that weight again—i.e., a bigger portion adds weight, when I then have to lose even though I already lost that weight once.

With that realization in my gut, as it were, rather than merely being a rule that I can recite, I’m finding it increasingly easy to avoid bites between meals and large portions at meals.

I’m now at the last hole in my belt—last week it was iffy: some days, I seemed to find the next-to-last hole comfortable, others the last hole. But now it’s definitely the last hole, so I guess in a week or so I’ll be looking for a new belt.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 8:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Rethinking vitamin D

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I’ve been following the Vitamin D story since it first began to emerge a decade or so ago, and I’ve routinely taken Vitamin D supplements. My doctor tested my Vitamin D levels and pronounced himself pleased. But then I see this story by Gina Kolata in the NY Times:

The very high levels of vitamin D that are often recommended by doctors and testing laboratories — and can be achieved only by taking supplements — are unnecessary and could be harmful, an expert committee says. It also concludes that calcium supplements are not needed.

The group said most people have adequate amounts of vitamin D in their blood supplied by their diets and natural sources like sunshine, the committee says in a report that is to be released on Tuesday.

“For most people, taking extra calcium and vitamin D supplements is not indicated,” said Dr. Clifford J. Rosen, a member of the panel and an osteoporosis expert at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute.

Dr. J. Christopher Gallagher, director of the bone metabolism unit at the Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb., agreed, adding, “The onus is on the people who propose extra calcium and vitamin D to show it is safe before they push it on people.”

Over the past few years, the idea that nearly everyone needs extra calcium and vitamin D — especially vitamin D — has swept the nation.

With calcium, adolescent girls may be the only group that is getting too little, the panel found. Older women, on the other hand, may take too much, putting themselves at risk for kidney stones. And there is evidence that excess calcium can increase the risk of heart disease, the group wrote.

As for vitamin D, some prominent doctors have said that most people need supplements or they will be at increased risk for a wide variety of illnesses, including heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

And these days more and more people know their vitamin D levels because they are being tested for it as part of routine physical exams.

“The number of vitamin D tests has exploded,” said Dennis Black, a reviewer of the report who is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

At the same time, vitamin D sales have soared, growing faster than those of any supplement, according to The Nutrition Business Journal. Sales rose 82 percent from 2008 to 2009, reaching $430 million. “Everyone was hoping vitamin D would be kind of a panacea,” Dr. Black said. The report, he added, might quell the craze.

“I think this will have an impact on a lot of primary care providers,” he said.

The 14-member expert committee was convened by the Institute of Medicine, an independent nonprofit scientific body, at the request of the United States and Canadian governments. It was asked to examine the available data — nearly 1,000 publications — to determine how much vitamin D and calcium people were getting, how much was needed for optimal health and how much was too much.

The two nutrients work together for bone health…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 7:55 am

Spice is the variety of life

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A spice theme today: Kell’s Original Arabian Spice Hemp & Aloe shaving soap, which produced a fine lather with the Omega artificial badger brush. Three passes with the Eclipse holding its Swedish Gillette blade, a splash of Lustray Spice, and I’m ready for the day, which in this case involves packing and mailing holiday gifts that The Wife has wrapped.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2010 at 7:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Nice lunch

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As I thought about iron-rich foods, I of course thought of steak and, even better, beef liver, but oysters and spinach are good, too, and those reminded me of Oysters Rockefeller, indeed quite tasty, and I’ve had it at Antoine’s, at a dinner in a private dining room—a story I should sometime relate. But when I googled Oysters Rockefeller recipes, I saw why it had been created in a restaurant: way too fussy for me. So I made this:

2 tsp olive oil

Heat oil in large sauté pan. Add:

1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 Tbsp minced garlic

Sauté those for a while, then add:

1 Meyer lemon, sliced thinly (don’t peel it)
salt
pepper
cayenne pepper
nutmeg (always good with spinach)

Sauté that a bit, then add:

1 lb fresh spinach, roots cut away, rinsed thoroughly, and chopped

Cover and cook over medium heat until spinach cooked—about 8-10 minutes

Drain 10 oz shelled oysters, add those, cover, and cook another 8-10 minutes.

Quite tasty, and I have some left for afternoon snack.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2010 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Time for an Impact Assessment of Drug Policy

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Interesting post at Transform with much information. From the post:

All stakeholders in the debate on drug policy share the goal of maximising social, environmental, physical and psychological wellbeing. At a time of economic crisis, it is particularly important that drug policy expenditure is cost-effective. Yet despite the many billions of dollars in drug-related spending each year, there are significant concerns about the effectiveness of current approaches at the domestic and international level. The time has come to provide an objective mechanism for assessing the relative merits of different policy approaches, by developing a genuinely evidence-based Impact Assessment (IA) of Drug Policy that compares the impact of alternative policies on human development, human security and human rights.

For too long, the debate around improving drug policy has been emotive, polarised and deadlocked. A useful way to determine the best mix of evidence-based drug policies is through an independent, neutral process that all stakeholders can support, because it does not commit anyone to a particular position in advance. One way to achieve this is through IAs of Drug Policy, at the national and international levels, that compare the economic, environmental and social costs and benefits of existing policies with a range of alternatives. To ensure all stakeholders can support the process, the alternatives assessed should range from more intensive/punitive enforcement approaches, through options for decriminalisation of personal use, to models for legal regulation of drug production and supply. . .

Read the whole thing. Useful materials at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2010 at 7:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

New Wikileaks release

with 4 comments

The new documents are out and seem mostly just to be embarrassing, though Peter King of NY is, of course, calling for a military strike on Wikileaks, more or less. But Greenwald makes a good point:

. . . McClatchy‘s Nancy A. Youssef documents how prior claims by the U.S. government that WikiLeaks disclosures would endanger lives turned out to be pure fiction:

American officials in recent days have warned repeatedly that the release of documents by WikiLeaks could put people’s lives in danger.

But despite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death. . . .

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell has said previously that there was no evidence that anyone had been killed because of the leaks. Sunday, another Pentagon official told McClatchy that the military still has no evidence that the leaks have led to any deaths.

Will that prevent media figures and many other people from running around this week mindlessly parroting the Government’s claim — without pointing to any specifics or other evidence — that WikiLeaks has endangered lives with this latest release?  No, it will not.   Beyond specific disclosures, WikiLeaks’ true crime here is to strike a major blow against the U.S. Government’s authority generally and secrecy powers in particular; how one views the American Government’s behavior in the world is likely to determine one’s reaction to WikiLeaks (i.e., is it a good thing or a bad thing when America’s attempted power projection in the world is subverted and its ability to act in the dark undermined?).  Ultimately, WikiLeaks’ real goal appears to me to be anti-authoritarian at its core:  to prevent the world’s most powerful factions from operating in the dark.  There may be reasonable objections to this latest release — such as the fact that war becomes more likely if diplomacy is undermined — but I’d argue that one’s views in general of WikiLeaks is shaped primarily by one’s views of the legitimacy and justness of those authorities.

John Cole notes an added irony of the furor over this latest disclosure:  "I have a hard time getting worked up about it – a government that views none of my personal correspondence as confidential really can’t bitch when this sort of thing happens."  Note how quickly the "if-you’ve-done-nothing-wrong-then-you-have-nothing-to-hide" mentality disappears when it’s their privacy and communications being invaded rather than yours.

I’d note an added irony:  many of the same people who supported the invasion of Iraq and/or who support the war in Afghanistan, drone strikes and assassination programs — on the ground that the massive civilians deaths which result are justifiable "collateral damage" — are those objecting most vehemently to WikiLeaks’ disclosure on the ground that it may lead to the death of innocent people.  For them, the moral framework suddenly becomes that if an act causes the deaths of any innocent person, that is proof that it is not only unjustifiable but morally repellent regardless of what it achieves.  How glaringly selective is their alleged belief in that moral framework. 

Either way, McClatchy describes how WikiLeaks took great pains to redact information harmful to innocents.  Claims that WikiLeaks has endangered lives should be accompanied by specific disclosures and evidence of that harm before being considered credible. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2010 at 7:53 am

Halfway to goal

with 3 comments

My goal was to lose 75 lbs. This morning I noted that I have now lost 37.7 lbs—just over halfway to goal. OTOH, it has take me six months to do that, so I doubt I’ll lose the other half in the next three months. Still, all loss is good, and there is no reason I cannot continue to remain on this weight-loss diet for six months more if need be.

I think that the mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks (1/2 apple, a cup of berries, etc.—generally fruit) have proven to be important, and I’ll not be skipping that any more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2010 at 7:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Energy and Arlington

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Not sure whether you can make out the writing on the shave stick label. It’s a Kell’s Original Energy shave stick, whose fragrance I love:

A stimulating blend of Citrus, including Grapefruit, Lemon and Lime, with hints of fresh Cucumber and Jasmine, and a touch of Pineapple, Blackberry and Champagne. Energy is an exciting mix that’s perfect for spring and summer.

You can find his other fragrances here.

I generally don’t use a razor-per-pass shave simply because of the photos: bringing out three razors to photograph is enough trouble that I generally just use one razor. But so far as actually using a razor-per-pass: no problem at all. The razors are all lying there on the shelf in front of me, loaded with a blade and ready to go, and picking up a different one for each pass is absolutely no problem: Rinse razor; replace it on shelf; rinse face; relather; pick up a different razor from the shelf; etc.

But for Monday’s two-day stubble it seems worthwhile: the Hoffritz Slant Bar for the first pass, the Edwin Jagger lined Chatsworth for the second, and the redoubtable Gillette Rocket for the third. Most of those carry a Swedish Gillette blade but there’s probably a Schick Platinum Plus in there somewhere, most likely in the Rocket.

Three smooth passes, a splash of Arlington, and I’m ready for the day if not the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2010 at 7:42 am

Posted in Shaving

A skeptical look at the Portland terror plot

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Greenwald (justifiably) counsels caution tempered with skepticism in reading the FBI’s account of the Portland terror plot:

The FBI is obviously quite pleased with itself over its arrest of a 19-year-old Somali-American, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who — with months of encouragement, support and money from the FBI’s own undercover agents — allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas event in Portland, Oregon.  Media accounts are almost uniformly trumpeting this event exactly as the FBI describes it.  Loyalists of both parties are doing the same, with Democratic Party commentators proclaiming that this proves how great and effective Democrats are at stopping The Evil Terrorists, while right-wing polemicists point to this arrest as yet more proof that those menacing Muslims sure are violent and dangerous.

What’s missing from all of these celebrations is an iota of questioning or skepticism.  All of the information about this episode — all of it — comes exclusively from an FBI affidavit filed in connection with a Criminal Complaint against Mohamud.  As shocking and upsetting as this may be to some, FBI claims are sometimes one-sided, unreliable and even untrue, especially when such claims — as here — are uncorroborated and unexamined.  That’s why we have what we call "trials" before assuming guilt or even before believing that we know what happened:  because the government doesn’t always tell the complete truth, because they often skew reality, because things often look much different once the accused is permitted to present his own facts and subject the government’s claims to scrutiny.  The FBI affidavit — as well as whatever its agents are whispering into the ears of reporters — contains only those facts the FBI chose to include, but omits the ones it chose to exclude.  And even the "facts" that are included are merely assertions at this point and thus may not be facts at all.

It may very well be that the FBI successfully and within legal limits arrested a dangerous criminal intent on carrying out a serious Terrorist plot that would have killed many innocent people, in which case they deserve praise.  Court-approved surveillance and use of undercover agents to infiltrate terrorist plots are legitimate tactics when used in accordance with the law.

But it may also just as easily be the case that the FBI — as they’ve done many times in the past — found some very young, impressionable, disaffected, hapless, aimless, inept loner; created a plot it then persuaded/manipulated/entrapped him to join, essentially turning him into a Terrorist; and then patted itself on the back once it arrested him for having thwarted a "Terrorist plot" which, from start to finish, was entirely the FBI’s own concoction.  Having stopped a plot which it itself manufactured, the FBI then publicly touts — and an uncritical media amplifies — its "success" to the world, thus proving both that domestic Terrorism from Muslims is a serious threat and the Government’s vast surveillance powers — current and future new ones — are necessary.

There are numerous claims here that merit further scrutiny and questioning.  First, the FBI was monitoring the email communications of this American citizen on U.S. soil for months (at least) with what appears to be the flimsiest basis: namely, that he was in email communication with someone in Northwest Pakistan, "an area known to harbor terrorists" (para. 5 of the FBI Affidavit).  Is that enough to obtain court approval to eavesdrop on someone’s calls and emails?  I’m glad the FBI is only eavesdropping with court approval, if that’s true, but certainly more should be required for judicial authorization than that.  Communicating with someone in Northwest Pakistan is hardly reasonable grounds for suspicion.

Second, in order not to be found to have entrapped someone into committing a crime, law enforcement agents want to be able to prove that, in the 1992 words of the Supreme Court, the accused was "was independently predisposed to commit the crime for which he was arrested."  To prove that, undercover agents are often careful to stress that the accused has multiple choices, and they then induce him into choosing with his own volition to commit the crime.  In this case, that was achieved by the undercover FBI agent’s allegedly advising Mohamud that there were at least five ways he could serve the cause of Islam (including by praying, studying engineering, raising funds to send overseas, or becoming "operational"), and Mohamud replied he wanted to "be operational" by using exploding a bomb (para. 35-37).

But strangely, while all other conversations with Mohamud which the FBI summarizes were (according to the affidavit) recorded by numerous recording devices, this conversation — the crucial one for negating Mohamud’s entrapment defense — was not.  That’s because, according to the FBI, the undercover agent "was equipped with audio equipment to record the meeting.  However, due to technical problems, the meeting was not recorded" (para. 37).

Thus, we have only the FBI’s word, and only its version, for what was said during this crucial — potentially dispositive — conversation.  Also strangely:  the original New York Times article on this story described this conversation at some length and reported the fact that "that meeting was not recorded due to a technical difficulty," but the final version omitted that, instead simply repeating the FBI’s story as though it were fact:  "undercover agents in Mr. Mohamud’s case offered him several nonfatal ways to serve his cause, including mere prayer. But he told the agents he wanted to be ‘operational,’ and perhaps execute a car bombing."

Third, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 November 2010 at 9:22 am

Progress being made once more

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I have lost a couple of pounds the last few days after being stable for (it seemed) weeks, but probably wasn’t. My total as of this morning: 37 lbs lost.

I think the resumption of weight loss is partly because I have been strict about meals and about not putting any food in my mouth except for meals and snacks, and partly because I resumed the mid-morning and the mid-afternoon snacks (generally half an apple). It does seem to be true that if you can keep your body more or less continuously digesting a bit of food, it doesn’t seem to notice that the calorie total is short and you’re losing weight—but if you make it feel the least bit "starved" or get the idea that there’s a shortage of food, and it clamps down and refuses to lose weight.

Or so it seems.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 November 2010 at 7:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Food

Ultimate sestina

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The sestina is challenging—the challenge being to soften the aural/visual impact of the repeated words so that their impact comes from their meaning in the line’s context. So, naturally, one game is to write a sestina with lines half the length of the standard line. The result is that you hit the repeated words more often, and the challenge (beyond writing a good sestina—that sort of thing normally goes without saying) is to make the reader/listener not notice—somehow keep the repeated words from being hit with a hammer, as it were.

Ciara Shuttleworth takes an extreme form of the sestina challenge, shortening lines to the absolute minimum: one word/line.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2010 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Writing

A nuclear standoff with Libya

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Story recommended by James Fallows. Max Fisher reports in the Atlantic:

In November 2009, six years after the government of Libya first agreed to disarm its nuclear weapons program, Libyan nuclear workers wheeled the last of their country’s highly enriched uranium out in front of the Tajoura nuclear facility, just east of Tripoli. U.S. and Russian officials overseeing Libya’s disarmament began preparations to ship this final batch of weapons-grade nuclear material to Russia, where it would be treated and destroyed.

The plan was to load the uranium onto a massive Russian cargo plane, one of the few in the world specially equipped to fly nuclear materials. On November 20, the day before the plane was to leave for a nuclear facility in Russia, Libyan officials unexpectedly halted the shipment. Without explanation, they declared that the uranium would not be permitted to leave Libya. They left the seven five-ton casks out in the open and under light guard, vulnerable to theft by the al-Qaeda factions that still operate in the region or by any rogue government that learned of their presence.

For one month and one day, U.S. and Russian diplomats negotiated with Libya for the uranium to be released and flown out of the country. At the same time, engineers from both countries worked to secure the nuclear material from theft or leakage, two serious dangers that became more likely the longer the casks sat exposed. On December 21, Libya finally allowed a Russian plane to remove the casks, ending Libya’s nuclear weapons program and with it the low-grade game of nuclear blackmail they had been playing.

The month-long crisis, never revealed by the Obama administration or reported in the press, is recorded in U.S. State Department documents obtained by The Atlantic. Those documents tell the story of frantic diplomatic maneuvering as U.S. and Russian officials pushed Libyan leaders to honor their disarmament pledge. A person with access to the cables provided them to The Atlantic in order to publicize the dangers of loose nuclear materials under the control of unpredictable regimes in unstable countries.

Key details of the episode were confirmed by a U.S. official and an international nuclear monitor. Owing to the sensitive nature of nuclear counterproliferation, a number of technical details have been omitted from this account, as have the names of all U.S. officials in Libya.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on this story, saying only that the United States enjoys a "normalized" relationship with Libya. He stressed that the Libyans "did meet their commitment" to dismantle their nuclear weapons program.

The United States had a troubled relationship with Libya during . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2010 at 12:30 pm

Private blog as a journal

with 6 comments

I haven’t seen this idea discussed anywhere. I got it from The Wife.

Free blog software (WordPress.com, Blogger.com, et al.) can be used as a journal by simply making the blog private. Blog software offers quite a few benefits as a journal:

  • Can access your journal from any computer, smartphone, iPad, etc.
  • Can easily include photos, videos, etc.
  • Can readily search the journal
  • Can tag entries with tags and also put an entry into one or more categories
  • Every entry automatically date- and time-stamped
  • If TSA seizes your computer, your journal’s not on it

Journals can quite useful. Some possibilities:

  • College-years journal
  • Baby journal
  • Project journal – could try a joint journal, just for project team members, but I think it could become a time sink; private journals probably better
  • Work journal – always good to have a timely record kept outside the workplace, not on a work computer but kept where you can always access it from a home computer as well as from a work computer (not to mention iPad, iPhone, etc.)

This strikes me as an extremely useful idea. I personally prefer WordPress.com but The Wife is a big fan of Blogger.com. Give it a go.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2010 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

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