Archive for December 2010
I was closing Chrome at the exact instant we had a power failure, and all my installed extensions simply vanished. Worse, I never saved the list of what I had… :sigh:
And that’s how we learn valuable lessons. I now clip the list of extensions and save that page in Evernote.
I’ve now lost just a little more than 45 lbs. More important, I’m back under the line. "The line" is the well known line drawn on a graph in which the x-axis is calendar days and the y-axis is one’s weight: you draw a line from the point that represents your weight on the day that you begin to the point that represents the goal weight on the goal day (which for me is the end of February). So long as your weight stays under that line, you’re fine: you’ll reach goal weight on or before the goal day. But if your weight goes above that line, that means you have lost insufficient weight by the date shown to meet your goal: you’re falling behind.
Apparently somewhere along the way I fell behind, but I am now back under the line. And now I know not to celebrate the success of my plateau buster (morning weight 204.4 lbs) with a big dinner. So I skipped the lamb chop.
Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water is the original US version of Cologne water (aka simply as “cologne”). A citrus-y fragrance, it’s quite pleasant. I used Giovanni’s Florida Water shaving soap with the Grosvenor mixed badger/boar brush and got a fine lather and plenty for three passes. The redoubtable bulldog iKon open-comb with a Swedish Gillette blade did its usual superb job, and a splash of Murray & Lanman at the end finished the job. (The label is gone, but that is indeed Murray & Lanman Florida Water.)
I’m watching Collapse. Well worth viewing: seeing so many well-known uncomfortable truths gathered together and related is eye-opening. Great for New Year’s Eve viewing since it specifically focuses on the near-term future.
James Fallows quite rightly praises this column by Garrett Epps:
If a public figure walks on water at noon, by 3 p.m. a dozen talking heads will be explaining that he can’t swim.
That’s politics. But we can hope that federal judges won’t think in sound bites.
The current lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act raise this question insistently. I return to this lawsuit in yet another column because I believe this case will dominate both constitutional law and political discourse over at least the next 12 months–and because I believe its stakes far transcend its immediate consequences, important though they will be. I think that if our federal courts are willing to sign on to the challengers’ jejune theory of this case, not only we but our children will spend years dealing the malign consequences of the mistake. Nothing less than the ability of the United States to function as a modern nation may be at stake.
(Okay, I also return because I enjoy the comments that will shortly appear below accusing me of being Kim Jong Il, but that’s a secondary reason.)
So far, in two of the pending lawsuits, opponents of the law have succeeded in spinning the judges, framing the lawsuits as posing the question whether (as Virginia argued) the federal government can "impose a penalty for what amounts to passive inactivity."
We know the talk-radio answer to this question: Tyranny! Death panels! Black helicopters! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
But the judicial answer, it seems to me, should be two-fold.
The first, and most important, answer a judge should give is, "I dunno. Find a case where the government does that and get back to me." Because that description of the Affordable Care Act is simply inaccurate.
The second answer, which a judge shouldn’t give but a Con Law jock like me can, is, "Why ever not?"
I will get to that one later; but first, let’s deal with the canard that the Act somehow "penalizes inactivity."
Here’s how Judge Henry Hudson put it in his decision in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius: . . .
Our Pilates classes are going well. The Wife wanted to know some mat exercises, so she could do those while she’s away in Paris, so our instructor particularly recommended two books:
The Everything Pilates Book: The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Body Stronger, Leaner, and Healthier, by Amy Taylor Alpers, Rachel Taylor Sege, and Lorna Gentry
A Pilates Primer: The Millennium Edition, by Joseph Pilates
Obviously, nothing replaces a good instructor, who can catch and correct subtle errors of which the client is completely unaware. But in combination with an instructor, these books can be quite helpful. The first is out of print, but you can read Amazon’s reader reviews here.
For centuries, humanity has been utterly transfixed by the cosmos, with generations of astronomers, philosophers and everyday ponderers striving to better understand the grand capsule of our existence. And yet to this day, some of the most basic, fundamental qualities of the universe remain a mystery. How Large is the Universe? is a fascinating 20-minute documentary by Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody exploring the universe’s immense scale of distance and time.
“Recent precision measurements gathered by the Hubble space telescope and other instruments have brought a consensus that the universe dates back 13.7 billion years. Its radius, then, is the distance a beam of light would have traveled in that time – 13.7 billion light years. That works out to about 1.3 quadrillion kilometers. In fact, it’s even bigger – much bigger. How it got so large, so fast, was until recently a deep mystery.”
For more on the subject, see these five fascinating ways to grasp the size and scale of the universe.
Maria Popova is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and DesignObserver, and spends a great deal of time on Twitter.
Walt Bogdanich and Kristina Rebelo report in the NY Times:
The initial accident report offered few details, except to say that an unidentified hospital had administered radiation overdoses to three patients during identical medical procedures.
It was not until many months later that the full import of what had happened in the hospital last year began to surface in urgent nationwide warnings, which advised doctors to be extra vigilant when using a particular device that delivers high-intensity, pinpoint radiation to vulnerable parts of the body.
Marci Faber was one of the three patients. She had gone to Evanston Hospital in Illinois seeking treatment for pain emanating from a nerve deep inside her head. Today, she is in a nursing home, nearly comatose, unable to speak, eat or walk, leaving her husband to care for their three young daughters.
Two other patients were overdosed before the hospital realized that the device, a linear accelerator, had inexplicably allowed radiation to spill outside a heavy metal cone attachment that was supposed to channel the beam to a specific spot in the brain. One month later, the same accident happened at another hospital.
The treatment Ms. Faber received, stereotactic radiosurgery, or SRS, is one of the fastest-growing radiation therapies, a technological innovation designed to target tiny tumors and other anomalies affecting the brain or spinal cord, while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue.
Because the radiation is so concentrated and intense, accuracy is especially important. Yet, according to records and interviews, the SRS unit at Evanston lacked certain safety features, including those that might have prevented radiation from leaking outside the cone.
The mistakes in Evanston involve linear accelerators — commonly used for standard radiation therapy — that were redesigned by the manufacturer, Varian Medical Systems, so they could also perform SRS. As the devices became more versatile and complex, problems arose when vital electronic components could not communicate with one another.
In the last five years, SRS systems made by Varian and its frequent German partner, Brainlab, have figured in scores of errors and overdoses, The New York Times has found. Some mistakes were caused by operator error. In Missouri, for example, 76 patients were overradiated because a medical physicist did not realize that the smaller radiation beam used in radiosurgery had to be calibrated differently than the larger beam used for more traditional radiation therapy.
Peter Keepnews reports in the NY Times:
Billy Taylor, a pianist and composer who was also an eloquent spokesman and advocate for jazz as well as a familiar presence for many years on television and radio, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 89 and lived in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
The cause was heart failure, said his daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson.
Dr. Taylor, as he preferred to be called (he earned a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1975), was a living refutation of the stereotype of jazz musicians as unschooled, unsophisticated and inarticulate, an image that was prevalent when he began his career in the 1940s, and that he did as much as any other musician to erase.
Dr. Taylor probably had a higher profile on television than any other jazz musician of his generation. He had a long run as a cultural correspondent on the CBS News program “Sunday Morning” and was the musical director of David Frost’s syndicated nighttime talk show from 1969 to 1972.
Well educated and well spoken, he came across, Ben Ratliff wrote in The New York Times in a review of a 1996 nightclub performance, as “a genial professor,” which he was: he taught jazz courses at Long Island University, the Manhattan School of Music and elsewhere. But he was also a compelling performer and a master of the difficult art of making jazz accessible without watering it down.
His “greatest asset,” Mr. Ratliff wrote, “is a sense of jazz as entertainment, and he’s not going to be obscure about it.”
The notion that a majority of Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act is more nuanced than you might think. Robert Schlesinger writes in US News & World Report:
You may have noticed the CNN/Opinion Research poll released earlier this week, which had this all too familiar top-line: 54 percent of voters oppose President Obama’s healthcare reform law. But drill down a bit and you’ll find another number familiar to those who have paid attention–but one generally lost amid the noise of the conservative healthcare narrative of backlash against government overreach. Only a relatively small minority of Americans dislike the new law because it’s too liberal.
"Do you oppose that legislation because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think it is not liberal enough?"
Oppose, too liberal 37%
Oppose, not liberal enough 13%
No opinion 7%
Or to put it another way, 56 percent of Americans either like the law or would prefer that it was more robust.
So, when you see the top-line results and see that 54% oppose the law, this is not to say that 54% have bought into the right-wing demagoguery and think Republican criticisms have merit. On the contrary, one could look at the same results and say that a 56% majority either support the law or want it to be even more ambitious in a liberal direction.
When Republicans try to gut the Affordable Care Act next year, insisting that the country is with them, it’s worth remembering a pesky detail: they’re wrong.
That said while Democrats can take comfort in poking that hole in the right-wing view of healthcare—and the fact that approval for the law has inched better overall—they should look with concern on the fact that public disapproval is growing against the individual mandate.
That Omega 10049 boar brush works noticeably better than the 10048—probably because this one is more broken in. But now the temptation is to make it my exclusive boar brush, which isn’t fair. But today, for example, I easily whipped up an abundant lather from the Floris JF, easily enough for three passes. That’s hard to ignore.
The passes were smooth and pleasant, shave 2 of the Personna 74 Tunsten Plus blade (in my rhodium-plated Gillette President razor). A splash of JF aftershave, and I’m running around getting the apartment ready for the cleaning ladies.
In the late 1960s, George Bush Jr was at Yale, branding the asses of pledges to the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity with a hot coathanger. Michel Foucault was at the Societé française de philosophie, considering the question, ‘What is an author?’
The two, needless to say, never met. Foucault may have visited Texas on one of his lecture tours, but Junior, as far as it is known, never took his S&M revelry beyond the Ivy League – novelists will have to invent a chance encounter in a basement club in Austin. Moreover, Junior’s general ignorance of all things, except for professional sports, naturally extended to the nation known as France. On his first trip to Paris in 2002, Junior, now president of the United States, stood beside Jacques Chirac at a press conference and said: ‘He’s always saying that the food here is fantastic and I’m going to give him a chance to show me tonight.’
Foucault found his theories embodied, sometimes unconvincingly, in writers such as Proust or Flaubert. He died in 1984, while Junior was still an ageing frat boy, and didn’t live to see this far more applicable text. For the questions that he, even then, declared hopelessly obsolete are the very ones that should not be asked about Decision Points‘by’ George W. Bush (or by ‘George W. Bush’): ‘Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality? And what part of his deepest self did he express in his discourse?’
Decision Points holds the same relation to George W. Bush as a line of fashion accessories or a perfume does to the movie star that bears its name; he no doubt served in some advisory capacity. The words themselves have been assembled by Chris Michel (the young speechwriter and devoted acolyte who went to Yale with Bush’s daughter Barbara); a freelance editor, Sean Desmond; the staff at Crown Publishing (who reportedly paid $7 million for the book); a team of a dozen researchers; and scores of ‘trusted friends’. Foucault: ‘What difference does it make who is speaking?’ ‘The mark of the writer is … nothing more than the singularity of his absence.’
As a postmodern text, many passages in the book are pastiches of moments from other books, including scenes that Bush himself did not witness. These are taken from the memoirs of members of the Bush administration and journalistic accounts such as Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack and Bush at War. To complete the cycle of postmodernity, there are bits of dialogue lifted from Woodward, who is notorious for inventing dialogue.
Occasionally, someone on Team DP will insert a lyrical phrase – the tears on the begrimed faces of the 9/11 relief workers ‘cutting a path through the soot like rivulets through a desert’ – but most of the prose sounds like this:
I told Margaret and Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Bolten that I considered this a far-reaching decision. I laid out a process for making it. I would clarify my guiding principles, listen to experts on all sides of the debate, reach a tentative conclusion, and run it past knowledgeable people. After finalising a decision, I would explain it to the American people. Finally, I would set up a process to ensure that my policy was implemented.
There are nearly 500 pages of this, reminiscent of the current po-mo poster boys, Tao Lin, with his anaesthetised declarative sentences, and Kenneth Goldsmith with his ‘uncreative writing’, such as a transcription of a year’s worth of daily radio weather reports. Foucault notes: ‘Today’s writing has freed itself from the theme of expression.’
Even the title of the book unchains the signifier from the signified. ‘Decision points’ is business-speak for a list of factors, usually marked by a bullet in PowerPoint presentations, that should be considered before making a decision. There are no decision points in Decision Points. Despite what is claimed above, Bush never . . .
Earlier this month, audio tapes from the Nixon White House were revealed to the public that captured a shocking exchange between Nixon and then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In the tapes, Kissinger responds to an appeal made by Israeli leader Golda Meir to Soviet leaders to allow the emigration of Russian Jews to her country. He tells Nixon that the “emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
Since these comments were revealed to the public, there has been an uproar in the media, with the New York Times writing that the tapes showed that Kissinger was “brutally dismissive” of human rights concerns related to Soviet Jews.
The former secretary of state has gone on a media offensive, attempting to save his public image among the media furor. In an op-ed piece published Sunday, Kissinger wrote that he was sorry he “made that remark 37 years ago,” and argued that it was taken out of context. Curiously, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman, while condemning the comments, also rose to Kissinger’s defense, saying, “I think what Kissinger said is horrendous, offensive, painful, but also I’m not willing to judge him. The atmosphere in the Nixon White House was one of bigotry, prejudice, anti-Semitism, the intimidation of the anti-Semitism, the stories, the bigotry.” David Harris of the American Jewish Committee offered a similar defense: “Perhaps Kissinger felt that, as a Jew, he had to go the extra mile to prove to the president that there was no question of where his loyalties lay.”
But what both the press that is reporting about Kissinger’s comments and what his most passionate defenders are omitting is that these revealed remarks only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the former secretary of state’s complicity in human rights violations. The mentality revealed in his remarks about Soviet Jews are not an aberration but a major feature of his approach to foreign policy: disregarding human rights in pursuit of other strategic goals. Kissinger has a long history of complicity in major human rights abuses in every corner of the globe, one that is rarely reported on in the press in its reports on the former secretary of state. Here are just a few of these abuses:
- Bangladesh: In 1971, Bangladesh, which was at the time East Pakistan, declared its independence from Pakistan. The Pakistani military responded with a brutal military campaign that included massive killings and the estimated systematic raping of nearly 200,000 Bangladeshi women. When Daka Consul General Archer Blood and other American diplomatic staff began to protest the Pakistani army’s behavior to Washington, Nixon and Kissinger had him dismissed. During the height of the atrocities, Kissinger sent a message to Pakistan General Yahya Khan, congratulating him on his “delicacy and tact” in his military campaigns in Bangladesh. When Kissinger received word that massive famines were going to spring up in the country in 1971, he warned USAID to try to avoid helping, saying that Bangladesh was “not necessarily our basket case.” Soon after becoming secretary of state, Kissinger downgraded the American diplomatic staff who had signed onto a protest of Pakistani atrocities in 1971.
- Cambodia: Kissinger was one of the chief masterminds of the Nixon administration’s secret and illegal bombing campaign of Cambodia — he wanted the bombing of “anything that flies, on anything that moves” and warned that it must be secretly done to avoid congressional scrutiny — the extent of which was not discovered until President Bill Clinton declassified related documents in 2000. By the end of the American bombing campaign of Cambodia, the country was perhaps the “most heavily bombed country in history.” The bombings killed more than a half a million people, and were a major factor in the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge.
- Chile: In 1973, Kissinger aided and abetted a right-wing military faction that deposed the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. The faction then installed the dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who went on to torture and/or murder tens of thousands of peaceful dissidents in the country. “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people,” Kissinger said in rationalizing his actions, falsely accusing Allende of being a communist and essentially declaring that the United States should have the power to decide Chile’s government. Due to his complicity in bringing Pinochet to power, Kissinger was summoned for questioning and has arrest warrants out in his name in Chile, Argentina, and France. Since the warrants were issued he has not returned to any of those three countries.
- Indonesia and East Timor: In 1975, President Gerald Ford and Kissinger met with Indonesian’s leader, General Suharto. During the meeting, Ford and Kissinger essentially gave “full approval” to Suharto to invade neighboring East Timor. In the resulting invasion, hundreds of thousands of Timorese civilians were massacred. Kissinger repeatedly denied that he had such conversations with Suharto, but these denials were found to be false after the declassification of government documents in 2001.
- Iraq: In 1975 Kissinger both encouraged a Kurdish revolt against Saddam Hussein and then abandoned the rebels to be killed following invocations from the Shah of Iran. Bob Woodward’s book State of Denial revealed that Kissinger was a major Iraq policy advisor to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He warned Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson of the same analogy he used during the Vietnam years, that troop withdrawals would be like “salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded.” Woodward writes that when Gerson asked Kissinger why he supported the war, he replied, “Because Afghanistan wasn’t enough,’ … In the conflict with radical Islam, he said, they want to humiliate us. ‘And we need to humiliate them’ … In Manhattan, this position got him into trouble, particularly at cocktail parties, he noted with a smile.”
- Vietnam: Kissinger, in a possible violation of the Logan Act, helped scuttle peace talks in 1968, prolonging the Vietnam War to advantage Richard Nixon in the presidential election. This extension of the war cost thousands of American lives and those of more than a million people in Indochina.
Viewed with the context of Kissinger’s actions while he was a senior official in multiple American administrations, his comments about Soviet Jews are hardly surprising. Unfortunately, most of the major media’s reporting about Kissinger’s comments does not include this history of complicity in human rights abuses.
In fact, despite his complicity in these abuses, the former secretary of state continues to be a lauded public figure in the United States. He is regularly uncritically featured on major news programs, was recently honored at the State Department, and was even cast as a cartoon character’s voice on a children’s TV show. If history is any judge, this latest revelation about Kissinger will soon be forgotten by major media and elites in the public sphere. But that does not change the actual facts and Kissinger’s long, sordid history of human rights abuses.
Both I found quite interesting:
I think what happens is that people who think of themselves as managers and corporate employees get put into positions where their responsibilities includes those of a journalist, and the unfortunate dupe has no idea of the history, ethics, or principles of professional journalism. As a result, their immediate response is to hide the story and attack messengers. Wired’s editor seems to be one of these unfortunates and is mainly interested in hanging onto his job with no concerns at all for any journalistic responsibilities that have come his way.
This morning I was 207.8 lbs—exactly the same weight as two weeks ago. So today and tomorrow I’m hauling out the plateau buster. I don’t think it’s really required: if I continue to restrict my intake and do my Nordic and Pilates I’m pretty sure I will continue to lose weight. OTOH, it’s satisfying to take action, even if the action is somewhat optional.
In the meantime I did my 24 minutes on the Nordic Track, and I’m well into Don Quixote’s first sally.
This morning just a plain traditional wet shave—and it was great. Wonderful warm and fragrant lather from Vintage Blades LLC shaving soap, thanks in part to the Plisson Chinese Grey brush, then three smooth passes with the Pils holding a Swedish Gillette blade. Finally, a splash of Alt Innsbruck and I’m off for my weigh in.
I’ll be getting these more often. I had one scrambled yesterday, a hard-boiled one tonight in my salad:
1/4 head Napa cabbage, chopped
1/4 large sweet onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 c cooked wheat berries
1 hard-boiled duck egg, sliced
1 slice cold roast beef, cut into strips then crosswise into chunks
1 string cheese, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1/4 c salmon tartare
Toss well with dressing and freshly ground pepper.
This is strange: Americans feel called upon to lie to pollsters, claiming to be more observant of religion than they in fact are. Why is that? Shankar Vedantam reports at Slate:
Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters report, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.
There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.
Except they are not.
Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are.
Religion in America seems tied up with questions of identity in ways that are not the case in other industrialized countries. When you ask Americans about their religious beliefs, it’s like asking them whether they are good people, or asking whether they are patriots. They’ll say yes, even if they cheated on their taxes, bilked Medicare for unnecessary services, and evaded the draft. Asking people how often they attend church elicits answers about their identity—who people think they are or feel they ought to be, rather than what they actually believe and do.
The better studies ascertain whether people attend church, not . . .
I suppose every state has its own idiot politicians, but Oklahoma seems especially blest: James Inhofe stands on a veritable peak of dim-wits. But now he has serious competition. Check out this post by PZ Myers that responds to an op-ed in a Durant OK paper:
Shaved apes would be an upgrade from Josh Brecheen, who is more like a shaved and bipedal member of the subgenus Asinus. He’s a new legislator who has announced his intention to introduce creationism into Oklahoma schools (or, as perhaps I should refer to them, "skools") for a set of reasons he laid out in a notably ignorant column in the Durant Daily Democrat.
His column is amazing. The faculty of Southeastern Oklahoma State University are covering their eyes in shame right now, since apparently this creationist-cliché-spewing plagiarist and professional goober managed to successfully graduate from their institution. My students ought to be worried, too, because now I feel like I’ve got to tighten up my standards and start flunking more students out lest they come back and haunt me from positions of power. Seriously, it’s a remarkable work he’s posted: it’s largely cribbed from the creationist Lee Strobel, but at the same time, he’s managed to make standard creationist arguments worse. Here’s his whole column, with a little helpful annotation from me…
Full disclosure: In high school I competed in the various events in a regional track/field/music/marching band/academic contest held in Durant each year. In my senior year of high school, I picked up 7 gold medals, in fact. One was for some poetry I wrote and one was for a science exam. I can’t recall the others. Wonder where those medals got to?