Later On

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

Archive for November 10th, 2010

Fat struggle

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This morning I awoke and found that the pounds I lost with the plateau buster are back. I was very bummed out, but the Healthy Ways counselor helped.

First, the gain is totally explicable in looking at the food journal. I tend to celebrate with food (bad idea), and to celebrate the weight loss I cooked the Braised Chard with Chicken and Steel-Cut Oats—chicken thighs, skin on, browned in olive oil, with the oil used as well to cook the onions and garlic and be there in the oats and kale. Plus I had two portions over the course of the evening. Plus, since I had to use 1/2 cup white wine in the dish, I had an open bottle of wine, so two glasses of wine were consumed (one glass with each portion). Huh. Maybe all that has something to do with it.

Second, the key is obviously to control portion size—and that includes the number of portions. So I got out my kid’s plate again and will be using that for meals.

Third, I need low-calorie ways to celebrate. For starters, I bought three liters of sparkling mineral water at Whole Foods along with a bunch of limes and Meyer lemons. That will be a pleasant change.

Finally, even with portion control I will need to keep up aerobic exercise. I’m at 25 minutes nonstop on the Nordic Track cross-country ski machine. I’ll keep that up and on Sunday go to 30 minutes for a week. Ultimate goal is 45 minutes a day, something I’ve done before and isn’t bad at all if you have something to listen to. (After Robinson Crusoe, I have Dombey and Son queued up: the novels written to be read aloud seem to work best—no surprise.)

Again, it was tremendously helpful to be able to talk to a counselor instead of settling down into a blue funk.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

That helpless feeling

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How on earth do we stop this sort of thing?

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 11:03 am

Posted in Business, Government

Corruption of the courts

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We’ve seen corruption become overt in our Courts: Scalia socializing with Cheney when Cheney was part of a case Scalia was judging, Clarence Thomas’s wife’s fundraising activities, and now this by Sam Alito, reported at ThinkProgress by Lee Fang:

Last night, the American Spectator — a right-wing magazine known for its role in the “Arkansas Project,” a well-funded effort to invent stories with the goal of eventually impeaching President Clinton — held its annual gala fundraising event. The Spectator is more than merely an ideological outlet. Spectator publisher Al Regnery helps lead a secretive group of conservatives called the “Conservative Action Project,” formed after President Obama’s election, to help lobby for conservative legislative priorities, elect Republicans (the Conservative Action Project helped campaign against Democrat Bill Owens in NY-23), and block President Obama’s judicial appointments. The Spectator’s gala last night, with ticket prices/sponsorship levels ranging from $250 to $25,000, featured prominent Republicans like RNC chairman Michael Steele, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer (a major donor to Republican campaign committees and attack ad groups), and U.S. Chamber of Commerce board member and former Allied Capital CEO William Walton. Among the attendees toasting Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the keynote speaker for the event, was Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito.

It’s not the first time Alito has attended the Spectator dinner. In 2008, Alito headlined the Spectator’s annual gala, helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the political magazine. According to Jay Homnick, a conservative who attended the 2008 Spectator gala, Alito spent much of his speech ripping then Vice President-elect Joe Biden as a serial plagiarizer.

As Alito entered the event last night, I approached the Justice and asked him why he thought it appropriate to attend a highly political fundraiser with the chairman of the Republican Party, given Alito’s position on the court. Alito appeared baffled, and replied, “it’s not important that I’m here.” “But,” I said, “you also helped headline this same event two years ago, obviously helping to raise political money as the keynote.” Alito replied curtly, “it’s not important,” before walking away from me.

After the gala, I again tried to approach Justice Alito — this time, with a video camera in hand — to ask him about the ethical issues raised by his right-wing political fundraising. Before I could come close to him, his security guards threatened me with arrest. Watch it:

Apparently, Alito is a regular benefactor for highly political conservative fundraisers. Last year, he headlined the fundraising dinner for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) — the same corporate front that funded the rise of Republican dirty trickster James O’Keefe and anti-masturbation activist Christine O’Donnell. According to the sponsorship levels for the event, Alito helped ISI raise $70,000 or more.

Documents exposed by ThinkProgress last month revealed that Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have also attended secret political fundraisers. We published a memo detailing fundraising events, organized by oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, to fund Republican campaigns, judicial elections, and groups running ads in the 2010 midterm election. The fundraisers, attended by some of the nation’s wealthiest bankers, industrialists, and other executives, help fund much of the conservative infrastructure. The memo stated the Thomas and Alito were past participants of the Koch fundraisers. Ian Millhiser, ThinkProgress’ resident legal expert, noted:

A Supreme Court justice lending a hand to a political fundraising event would be a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, if it wasn’t for the fact that the nine justices have exempted themselves from much of the ethical rules governing all other federal judges. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court tells ThinkProgress that “[t]he Justices look to the Code of Conduct for guidance” in determining when they may participate in fundraising activities.

That Code provides that in almost all circumstances, “a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose. A judge should not personally participate in membership solicitation if the solicitation might reasonably be perceived as coercive or is essentially a fund-raising mechanism.”

While justices like Alito, Thomas, and Scalia have actively participated in highly political pro-Republican fundraisers, their rulings are increasingly in favor of the corporate right. Last month, a new study found that the Supreme Court has lurched to the far, corporate right in recent years. It found that a “cohesive” conservative majority of Justices Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Scalia and Kennedy favored the position of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest big business lobby, over 80% of the time.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 11:00 am

Posted in Government, Law

Another example of America’s descent

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Ed Brayton:

Here’s an appalling truth revealed by the latest Gallup poll on capital punishment:

The use of the death penalty has been declining worldwide, with most of the known executions now carried out in five countries — China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Anti-death penalty groups in the U.S. continue to fight the use of the death penalty, particularly when there are high-profile instances of its use, such as this year’s execution in Virginia of Teresa Lewis, the first woman to be executed in that state in almost 100 years. Despite this, Gallup’s latest update in October shows no diminution in the strong majority level of support for the death penalty in cases of murder within the U.S.

Iran, Iraq, China and Saudi Arabia — good partners to have when it comes to justice and due process, aren’t they? Here’s something even crazier to add to that data. Another new poll shows that 83 percent of Americans believe that innocent people have been wrongly put to death in this country and only 6 percent believe it hasn’t happened — and they still support the death penalty.

I don’t have a moral problem with the death penalty. I do have a moral problem with using the death penalty given the innumerable ways that our criminal justice system is, in fact, unjust and unfair and unequal in the justice it metes out. In a system where even 25% of the confessions turn out to be false, there is no way in hell we should be putting anyone to death.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 10:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Foreclosures and the Rule of Law

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Frank Pasquale has an interesting post at Balkinization:

Is the US becoming a third world nation? Arianna Huffington’s recent book makes the case, arguing that crumbling infrastructure and vast inequality herald a new era of unaccountable elites. She argues that “our financial system [has] become a bad carnival game where the rich always get the grand prize and the average American walks away empty-handed.”

Matt Taibbi directly connects financialization with the decline of common infrastructure in his new book, Griftopia. He describes a litany of roads and bridges “already leased or set to be leased for fifty or seventy-five years or more in exchange for one-off lump sum payments of a few billion bucks at best, usually just to help patch a hole or two in a single budget year.” Taibbi says the process is “stripping wealth out of the heart of the country,” reminiscent of the extractive industries of Nigeria or Equatorial Guinea. Even the New York Times‘s moderates are finding the US uncomfortably close to a “banana republic,” with Nicholas Kristof concluding that “You no longer need to travel to distant and dangerous countries to observe . . . rapacious inequality. We now have it right here at home.”

Attorneys have a difficult time coming to grips with this new political economy. Many wholeheartedly believe that today’s chief executives deserve to make four or five hundred times the average worker’s wages (rather than the roughly fifty-fold multiple prevalent in 1980 America, and elsewhere in the world today). Perhaps the nation’s richest 1 percent in some sense deserves to have captured 80% of the increase in income from 1980 to 2005. These are moral claims that cannot be conclusively proven or disproven.

But we as attorneys can at least insist on a common rule of law for all. And that’s what our legal system has grievously failed to provide during the foreclosure crisis. As the indisputably pro-market Jonathan Macey notes, “the banks have created significant legal exposure for themselves ‘by committing fraud upon the courts.'” And yet the first thing our Congress could think to do was to endorse legal cover for them, as eagerly as it retroactively immunized warrantless wiretapping.

Was that merely a case where the grandeur of “democracy” deserved to trump punctilious formalism? Had it occurred in isolation, perhaps. But coming after a long line of bailouts, megabonuses, and the refusal of big banks to play even their basic utility role in our economy, it is inexcusable. As Joseph Stiglitz explains, . . .

Continue reading. See also this post. And also this post on cultures of impunity.

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10 November 2010 at 10:55 am

Chronic pain: A disease in its own right

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Harriet Hall has an interesting post at Science-Based Medicine:

Melanie Thernstrom has written a superb book based on a historical, philosophical, and scientific review of pain: The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering. Herself a victim of chronic pain, she brings a personal perspective to the subject and also includes informative vignettes of doctors and patients she encountered at the many pain clinics she visited in her investigations. She shows that medical treatment of pain is suboptimal because most doctors have not yet incorporated recent scientific discoveries into their thinking, discoveries indicating that chronic pain is a disease in its own right, a state of pathological pain sensitivity.

Chronic pain often outlives its original causes, worsens over time, and takes on a puzzling life of its own… there is increasing evidence that over time, untreated pain eventually rewrites the central nervous system, causing pathological changes to the brain and spinal cord, and that these in turn cause greater pain. Even more disturbingly, recent evidence suggests that prolonged pain actually damages parts of the brain, including those involved in cognition.

Sometimes the original problem creates new ones as the patient distorts posture and avoids exercise in an attempt to reduce the pain.  In chronic pain, the protective mechanism of avoidance becomes maladaptive. Muscles atrophy from disuse and new sources of pain develop. Jerome Groopman, MD, in The Anatomy of Hope, told how he conquered years of chronic back pain by realizing that his pain was not a warning to avoid further damage but a false message that he could refuse to listen to; with exercise and physical therapy he rebuilt his muscles and became pain-free.

Dr. John Sarno believes that chronic musculoskeletal pain is a manifestation of “tension myositis syndrome” due to repressed negative emotions. He recommends renouncing all treatments, accepting that pain is only in the mind, and resuming normal activities. I don’t accept his psychosomatic premise, but there is a grain of truth in his method. If patients can re-frame their thinking and resume normal activities despite the pain, they are more likely to improve than if they maintain the self-image of a sick, disabled victim. [I just watched The Secret Garden, which has that as its theme. – LG]

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 10:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Royal Society: “There are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record.”

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We as a species are working hard to destroy our habitat—and we are succeeding. (But, of course, John Shimkus, the Republican who is aiming for chairmanship of the Energy Committee in the House believes that God has promised everything will be okay (see this video and this post by Juan Cole). Somehow, I do not find that reassuring—quite the contrary, in fact.)

Joe Romm blogs:

A special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Biological Science) — “Biological diversity in a changing world” — paints a bleak picture of what Homo ’sapiens’ sapiens is doing to the other species on the planet.

Prior to this year, I wrote about extinction only occasionally — since the direct impact of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions on humanity seemed to me more than reason enough to act.  But the mass extinctions we are causing will directly harm our children and grandchildren as much as sea level rise.  In particular, I believe scientists have not been talking enough about the devastation we are causing to marine life (see “Geological Society: Acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century”).

In 2007, the IPCC warned that “as global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5°C [relative to 1980 to 1999], model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.”  That is a temperature rise over pre-industrial levels of a bit more than 4.0°C.  So the 5°C rise we are facing on our current emissions path would likely put extinctions beyond the high end of that range.

Given the irreversibility of mass extinction, and the multiple unintended consequences it engenders, it must be considered one of the most serious of the many catastrophic impacts we face if we don’t act soon.

The special issue contains 16 articles by leading scientists.  The abstracts are all online as is the lead piece, also titled, “Biological diversity in a changing world,” by the two biologists who organized the Royal Society’s scientific “Discussion Meeting” and edited the issue.

The authors, Magurran and Dornelas, note that “there are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record,” and conclude that while extinctions are inevitable:

It is the mass extinction currently underway, caused by overexploitation of natural resources, that needs to worry us. Similarly, environmental change has always been prevalent, and has helped shape biodiversity patterns of today. In contrast, never before has a single species driven such profound changes to the habitats, composition and climate of the planet….

As for the oceans, famed oceanographer and ecologist Jeremy Jackson, concludes in his article, “The future of the oceans past“:

Major macroevolutionary events in the history of t he oceans are linked to changes in oceanographic conditions and environments on regional to global scales.  Even small changes in climate and productivity, such as those that occurred after the rise of the Isthmus of Panama, caused major changes in Caribbean coastal ecosystems and mass extinctions of major taxa. In contrast, massive influxes of carbon at the end of the Palaeocene caused intense global warming, ocean acidification, mass extinction throughout the deep sea and the worldwide disappearance of coral reefs. Today, overfishing, pollution and increases in greenhouse gases are causing comparably great changes to ocean environments and ecosystems. Some of these changes are potentially reversible on very short time scales, but warming and ocean acidification will intensify before they decline even with immediate reduction in emissions. There is an urgent need for immediate and decisive conservation action. Otherwise, another great mass extinctio1n affecting all ocean ecosystems and comparable to the upheavals of the geological past appears inevitable.

Jackson is the director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Our ongoing efforts to wipe out sea life may lack the media-grabbing pizzazz of a Titanic oil spill, but it does not lack the punch (see Nature Geoscience study concludes ocean dead zones “devoid of fish and seafood” are poised to expand and “remain for thousands of years”).

As Jackson explains in his 18-minute TED talk,”How we wrecked the ocean”: . . .

Continue reading. In the meantime, the GOP is amassing lies to prevent any action being taken. The truth will overwhelm them in time, but by then it will be too late.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 10:44 am

New category in American justice: Too rich to go to jail

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Paul Rosenberg blogs at OpenLeft:

If liberals were ever looking for a good subject over which to call for their smelling salts and fainting couches, holy crap here it is.  Martin Joel Erzinger, an "ultra-wealth" fund manager hit-and-runs a cyclist leaving him seriously injured.  The local Republican DA, Mark Hurlbert has declined to press felony charges opting for misdemeanor counts instead.  His reasoning reads quite literally like something out of the medieval times’ treatment of nobility:

"The money has never been a priority for them [DD note: the victim is a medical doctor]. It is for us," Hurlbert said. "Justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it."

Hurlbert said Erzinger is willing to take responsibility and pay restitution.

"Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession, and that entered into it," Hurlbert said. "When you’re talking about restitution, you don’t want to take away his ability to pay."

See, as long as the esteemed and noble lord pays the peasant for the damage, no harm should befall his excellency.  Problem solved.

This blog has more including the Colorado Attorney General’s response to a Facebook campaign to have him intervene:

UPDATE: Rather than address legitimate concerns of his constituents, Attorney General John Suthers has removed his Facebook page.

Daniel De Groot :: Too rich to jail (updated)

My own thoughts tend toward Hurlbert’s humiliating defeat to a teabagger in seeking the Republican nomination for State senate.  Did he think (or know) this would ensure support of the establishment for his next attempt at higher office?  

Anyway, I can’t think of a worse precedent to let stand than overtly excusing serious personal crimes by the rich solely due to the implied loss of income in prosecuting them.  I know prosecutorial discretion is an important part of the Justice system, but I don’t think too rich to jail was what any defenders of that principle have in mind.  I also know some cynics will inevitably point out that the rich have usually received much better treatment by the system for their misdeeds, but there is an important threshold being crossed here in doing it so nakedly and brazenly. 

Bonus irony from Hurlbert’s profile:

As an experienced prosecutor, Mark knows it is important not to simply secure convictions, but to seek justice. He makes victims a priority and is dedicated to providing victims a strong voice in the justice system.

What say you, cyclist victim?

"Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway," Milo wrote. "Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case."

Brief perusal of the limited major news coverage of this seems to be gravitating toward the "drivers versus cyclists" angle.  That’s stupid and it’s our fault if we leave cycling safety advocates alone on the field fighting this.  This is completely about the fundamental principle of equality before the law regardless of wealth.

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 10:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Law

More on systematic lies from the Right

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Andrew Sullivan has a thoughtful post on how the Right is basing its worldview on a foundation of lies:

It seems to me that the last year or so in America’s political culture has represented the triumph of untruth. And the untruth was propagated by a deliberate, simple and systemic campaign to kill Obama’s presidency in its crib. Emergency measures in a near-unprecedented economic collapse – the bank bailout, the auto-bailout, the stimulus – were described by the right as ideological moves of choice, when they were, in fact, pragmatic moves of necessity. The increasingly effective isolation of Iran’s regime – and destruction of its legitimacy from within – was portrayed as a function of Obama’s weakness, rather than his strength. The health insurance reform – almost identical to Romney’s, to the right of the Clintons in 1993, costed to reduce the deficit, without a public option, and with millions more customers for the insurance and drug companies – was turned into a socialist government take-over.

Every one of these moves could be criticized in many ways. What cannot be done honestly, in my view, is to create a narrative from all of them to describe Obama as an anti-American hyper-leftist, spending the US into oblivion. But since this seems to be the only shred of thinking left on the right (exacerbated by the justified flight of the educated classes from a party that is now openly contemptuous of learning), it became a familiar refrain – pummeled into our heads day and night by talk radio and Fox. If you think I’m exaggerating, try the following thought experiment.

If a black Republican president had come in, helped turn around the banking and auto industries (at a small profit!), insured millions through the private sector while cutting Medicare, overseen a sharp decline in illegal immigration, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, reinstituted pay-as-you go in the Congress, set up a debt commission to offer hard choices for future debt reduction, and seen private sector job growth outstrip the public sector’s in a slow but dogged recovery, somehow I don’t think that Republican would be regarded as a socialist.

This is the era of the Big Lie, in other words, and it translates into a lot of little lies – "death panels," "out-of-control" spending, "apologies for America" etc. – designed to concoct a false narrative so simple and so familiar it actually succeeded in getting into people’s minds in the midst of a brutal recession. And integral to this process have been conservative "intellectuals" who should and do know better, but have long since sacrificed intellectual honesty for the cheap thrills of enabling power-grabs. And few lies represent this intellectual cooptation of talk radio/FNC propaganda better than the lie that Obama has publicly rebutted the idea of American exceptionalism.

Where does one start? Where one always starts with these things – Jonah Goldberg:

Last year, when asked if he believed in American exceptionalism, President Obama responded, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

This reminded me of the wonderful scene in Pixar‘s "The Incredibles," in which the mom says "everyone’s special" and her son replies, "Which is another way of saying no one is." But at least the president made room for the sentiment that America is a special place, even if he chalked it up to a kind of benign provincialism.

Oh really?

Here is the full Obama quote:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.

And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.

Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.

And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.

In other words, Obama emphatically doesn’t reduce the idea of American exceptionalism to "benign provincialism." Quite the contrary: he explicitly asserts that the values enshrined in the Constitution are exceptional, and defends them and the US’s history in front of a foreign audience. It’s worth pointing out this factual error at such length because everyone in the conservative movement has already made it.

And that’s hardly an exaggeration. Here are Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry:

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 10:32 am

“Atheists don’t have no songs”

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 10:31 am

Posted in Music, Video

Afghanistan is now officially a forever war

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We’re not leaving, and we’re not succeeding. Vietnam reprised. Kevin Drum:

Last May, after reading about Gen. David Petraeus’s ironclad promise that we could begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by next year, I said, "Promise or not, I’ll bet that next year, when the drawdown is supposed to start, Petraeus tells us we need to stay." A month later, after reading Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s comments on problems with the Kandahar offensive, I said, "It sure sounds to me as if McChrystal is starting the PR campaign for this now."

But those were just guesses. Today, McClatchy’s Nancy Youssef says it’s a done deal:

The Obama administration has decided to begin publicly walking away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the war in Afghanistan in an effort to de-emphasize President Barack Obama’s pledge that he’d begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011, administration and military officials have told McClatchy.

….What a year ago had been touted as an extensive December review of the strategy now also will be less expansive and will offer no major changes in strategy, the officials told McClatchy. So far, the U.S. Central Command, the military division that oversees Afghanistan operations, hasn’t submitted any kind of withdrawal order for forces for the July deadline, two of those officials told McClatchy.

….Last week’s midterm elections also have eased pressure on the Obama administration to begin an early withdrawal. Earlier this year, some Democrats in Congress pressed to cut off funding for Afghanistan operations. With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives beginning in January, however, there’ll be less push for a drawdown. The incoming House Armed Services chairman, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., told Reuters last week that he opposed setting the date.

Roger that. Apparently Pentagon officials now consider 2014 to be the new 2011. I’m sure that will change sometime around 2013 though.

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10 November 2010 at 10:19 am

Review of Bush’s memoir

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Matthew Norman writes in The Independent:

May the Lord the former president so ostentatiously worships have mercy on my soul, and those in Iraq without water, electricity and medicine forgive me, but I just cannot suppress a twinge of sympathy for George W Bush.

The source of this pity pang isn’t the usual one with those struggling bemusedly with the loss of power (Mrs Thatcher literally unable, for example, to dial a phone number). So far as the practicalities, Mr Bush has adapted well. Apparently he concludes his memoir Decision Points with the familiar anecdote of how, within days of leaving Washington, he was picking up his dog’s mess with a plastic bag in a Texas park. Evidently he regards this as a cute vignette of the transience of power, as well as his own endearing lack of pomp. Yet what causes the stab of pity is the stupidity at which it hints.

How could anyone in possession of a three-figure IQ (still a moot point with Bush) fail to see what a golden gift that image is to satirists? There he is, in the cartoon in my head, scooping up a couple of Cumberland sausages while following him, shovelling up the Augean Stable-sized steaming pile he left behind in the Oval Office, is Barack Obama at the wheel of an industrial digger.

This blindness to visual imagery is quite a motif, judging by Times extracts and an interview with its editor. Apart from being attacked for indifference to black people by Kanye West, the rapper Obama dismissed as a jackass, all his greatest regrets are pictorial public relations disasters.

His sadness over Hurricane Katrina is not for the victims in New Orleans, as Mr West understood, but for the damage done to his reputation by that snap of him staring blankly and aloofly down on the catastrophe from the window of Air Force One. His paramount distress over Iraq is not over the loss of life, civilian and military, but how that banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” on the aircraft carrier came to make him look naive and vainglorious. He reveals his shallowness and vapidity with these reflections in the most crystalline of clarity, and hasn’t a notion he is doing so.

It takes a certain minimal intelligence for the truly dim to have a notion of their own dimness, but this is denied him. Unlike Mr Tony Blair, who emerges from his well-calibrated if often chilling memoir as a man of colossal cleverness (though not intellect), W has the self-awareness of a bison. There seems even less to him than met the eye, and there was precious little of that. Astounding as it appears, we misoverestimated him.

And so the Wagner Question poses itself yet again. Every Saturday when the Brazilian sea monster murders his X-Factor song, 14 million people ask themselves how and why he is there. Reading these ghost-written titbits, you ask yourself the same. How in the name of all the saints did George W Bush, wastrel drunkard son of an East Coast patrician family, find his way to Pennsylvania Avenue by playing the genial good ol’ boy from the South, and why in heaven’s name did he want it anyway? And answers come there none.

The reduction of Bush’s two terms to a satirical sequel to one of those US prep school movies in which the smirking, idiot boy breaks the honour code but is rescued by his Brahmin dad had come to seem shamefully hackneyed. But the one cliché worth trotting out here is that clichés are clichés because they are true. Somehow this half-witted frat boy journeyed, via some jovially preposterous sequence of events involving failed oil deals and baseball team franchises, from japes with Alpha Sigma Phi to possession of the nuclear codes.

Nothing, not even W himself, is ever quite that simple, and palpably there was an edge of madness in the family. In his teens, when his mother Barbara had a miscarriage, he relates, he drove her to the hospital. “I never expected to see the remains of the foetus,” he recalls, “which she had saved in a jar to bring to the hospital. I remember thinking there was a human life, a little brother or sister.” Enough in that alone, to drive any adolescent to drink, you’d have guessed, yet the tale is told as a homily to his mother’s wisdom, and in some impenetrable way to justify his pro-life, anti-stem cell research hard line.

Continue reading. The blurb:

It takes a certain minimal intelligence for the truly dim to have a notion of their own dimness, but this is denied George Bush. He has the self-awareness of a bison.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 10:17 am

Some things Obama has done

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Interesting list (you have to read the items one by one) of accomplishments in the first two years of the Obama Administration.

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10 November 2010 at 10:13 am

Obama’s program to assassinate citizens continues to progress

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From a very good Greenwald column:

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates yesterday held a three-hour hearing over the request by the ACLU and CCR for an injunction ordering President Obama not to assassinate Anwar Awlaki without due process.  The fact that the Bush-43-appointed Bates spent so much time on this hearing, demonstrates — along with comments he made during the hearing — how seriously he takes this case, as well he should.  He several times pointed out how extraordinary and unprecedented is the Obama administration’s position that it not only has the power to assassinate Americans with no due process, but that courts have no role whatsoever to play in reviewing how those powers are exercised.  David Addington and Dick Cheney would have been very proud.  My guess is that the court will refuse injunctive relief on some procedural ground — such as ruling that Awlaki’s father has no standing to bring this suit on behalf of his son — but it is quite apparent that there are very serious legal and Constitutional issues raised by the Obama administration’s attempted seizure of this power.

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10 November 2010 at 10:05 am

Can liberalism save capitalism from conservatism?

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Very interesting article in Salon by Michael Lind. It begins:

Conservatives have long succeeded in persuading business that they are its friends and liberals are its enemies. In reality, the reverse is true. Liberalism saved American capitalism during the depression, and if American capitalism is to be saved from the Great Recession, liberals will have to rescue it.

Modern conservatives claim to be pro-business. But economic conservatism is not based on any empirical study of the actual economic requirements of successful modern industrial and service corporations in a modern mixed economy. The economic right combines an anachronistic tradition with a crackpot ideology.

The anachronistic tradition is Jeffersonian small-producer populism. Defending the rights of small farmers and small businesses was progressive in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the enemies of freedom were aristocratic landlords who owned slaves and serfs and monopolies with royal charters. Although the industrial revolution rendered small-government Jeffersonianism obsolete by the mid-19th century, American conservatives continue successfully to appeal to Jeffersonian sentiments a century and a half later.

The crackpot ideology of the economic right is libertarianism. Libertarianism and communism are equally crazy in opposite ways. Libertarians believe that it is possible to privatize everything without anarchy, while communists believe that it is possible to socialize everything without tyranny.

Neither Jeffersonian populists nor libertarian ideologues have the slightest clue about how to run a complex technological society in the 21st century. Why should they? Jeffersonianism is a program for a primitive society of small farmers of a kind that no longer exists anywhere. At least, once upon a time, there were genuine Jeffersonian agrarian societies in the real world. There has never been a libertarian country and there never will be, because the maximum of government authority allowed by libertarian theory is well below the minimum required by a functioning community.

The true friends of business in America and the world have long been liberals, not conservatives. The propaganda of the right to the contrary, liberal thinkers like John Maynard Keynes and liberal politicians like Franklin Delano Roosevelt have never been socialists or collectivists. With the kindred classical liberals of the 19th century they have shared a commitment to individual rights, private property and limited government. However, they have believed that it was necessary to sacrifice some aspects of classical liberalism, in order to save as much as possible of the rest. Liberals have believed that limited doses of socialism would inoculate liberal society against totalitarian socialism as well as fascism and other illiberal systems. Indeed, Marxist radicals have often denounced American liberals and European social democrats for seeking to rescue and reform market society rather than replace it.

Unlike many radicals and populists on the left, liberals in the New Deal tradition do not believe that business elites are wicked or stupid as individuals. The problem is at the level of collective action…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 10:00 am

Philosophy as a guide to happiness

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Here’s a collection of several short (24-minute) documentaries, discussing various philosophers and their ideas:

We tend to accept that people in authority must be right. It’s this assumption that Socrates wanted us to challenge by urging us to think logically about the nonsense they often come out with, rather than being struck dumb by their aura of importance and air of suave certainty. This six-part series on philosophy is presented by popular British philosopher Alain de Botton, featuring six thinkers who have influenced history, and their ideas about the pursuit of the happy life.

The six short parts:

  1. Socrates on Self-Confidence (Part 1)
  2. Epicurus on Happiness (Part 2)
  3. Seneca on Anger (Part 3)
  4. Montaigne on Self-Esteem (Part 4)
  5. Schopenhauer on Love (Part 5)
  6. Nietzsche on Hardship (Part 6)

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 9:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Strange bedfellows: Dems and Tea Partiers

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From the Center for American Progress in an email:

"Republicans should resist pressure to take all defense spending off the table. … Taking defense spending off the table is indefensible. We need to protect our nation, not the Pentagon’s sacred cows." Those words come not from a progressive Democrat or antiwar activist, but from famed ultra-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who wrote a bold op-ed last week chiding his fellow Republicans for their resistance to reducing the defense budget. Coburn is the latest in a string of Senate Republicans to come out in favor of scaling back the Pentagon’s treasure chest, which makes up the largest chunk of discretionary spending in the federal budget. With the U.S. debt now exceeding $13 trillion, sensible efforts to cut wasteful spending while minimizing cuts to job-enhancing measures for average Americans are more welcome than ever. In early December, President Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission will release its plan to Congress, likely setting off a furious debate about the proper measures to take to rein in U.S. debt. Slowly, Tea Party-backed conservatives interested in downsizing the government and progressives who have long sought to lower U.S. defense spending are coming together to ensure that reducing the military budget to a more appropriate size for the 21st century will be prominent part of the debate. As John Norris, the executive director at CAP’s Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative, writes, "Progressives and Tea Partiers may find that cutting defense spending would both reduce the deficit and allow for sensible investments in infrastructure and job creation that could produce greater growth and competitiveness over the long haul."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 9:53 am

Glenn Beck and his truth problem

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A good post taking aim at some fat fish in the barrel: Beck’s lies. From the post:

Just a couple of months ago, Beck started talking about “anchor babies” and how something needed to be changed to keep babies who are born in this country from being granted automatic citizenship.  On June 10, he said the following on his Fox TV show:

“Why do we have automatic citizenship upon birth?  Do you know? We’re the only country in the world that has it. Why?”

Uh, Glenn, did you think no one would check the facts?  By the way, it is called “jus soli”, which is Latin for “law of ground”.  Below is a list of other countries that offer automatic citizenship upon birth.

  • American Samoa (birth in American Samoa renders American Samoan and U.S. nationalities, but no birthright to U.S. citizenship)
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Argentina
  • Azerbaijan
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Chile (children of transient foreigners or of foreign diplomats on assignment in Chile only upon request)
  • Colombia
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Fiji
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Honduras
  • Jamaica
  • Lesotho
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Pakistan
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic
  • Saint Christopher and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

So Glenn, that’s 36 additional countries that offer jus soli.

The post includes other examples of outright lies. The problem with having so many lies clogging public discourse is that decisions get made on their basis, and when your decisions rest on lies, you’re well on the way to collapse.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

Another great shave

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Another fine shave, repeating the essentials of yesterday’s shave: an artificial badger brush (today the Tartini), a Prairie Creations tallow & lanolin shaving soap (Spiced Rum today), and the Feather premium with a  Feather blade. Three smooth passes, a splash of Lustry Spice, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2010 at 9:47 am

Posted in Shaving


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