Later On

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

Archive for March 10th, 2007

Good mystery/thriller: Deceit

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Obviously the germ of the plot came from the Jayson Blair episode, but James Siegel (himself a journalist) has built an absorbing mystery on that seed by exploring both a backstory and possible after-effects. Deceit is well worth getting from the library. Sometimes it seems as though it will turn into a Dennis Potter story, but doesn’t, quite.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Books

Why Bush must pardon Libby

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Frank Rich:

Even by Washington’s standards, few debates have been more fatuous or wasted more energy than the frenzied speculation over whether President Bush will or will not pardon Scooter Libby. Of course he will.

A president who tries to void laws he doesn’t like by encumbering them with “signing statements” and who regards the Geneva Conventions as a nonbinding technicality isn’t going to start playing by the rules now. His assertion last week that he is “pretty much going to stay out of” the Libby case is as credible as his pre-election vote of confidence in Donald Rumsfeld. The only real question about the pardon is whether Mr. Bush cares enough about his fellow Republicans’ political fortunes to delay it until after Election Day 2008.

Either way, the pardon is a must for Mr. Bush. He needs Mr. Libby to keep his mouth shut. Cheney’s Cheney knows too much about covert administration schemes far darker than the smearing of Joseph Wilson. Though Mr. Libby wrote a novel that sank without a trace a decade ago, he now has the makings of an explosive Washington tell-all that could be stranger than most fiction and far more salable.

Mr. Libby’s novel was called “The Apprentice.” His memoir could be titled “The Accomplice.” Its first chapter would open in August 2002, when he and a small cadre of administration officials including Karl Rove formed the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a secret task force to sell the Iraq war to the American people. The climactic chapter of the Libby saga unfolded last week when the guilty verdict in his trial coincided, all too fittingly, with the Congressional appearance of two Iraq veterans, one without an ear and one without an eye, to recount their subhuman treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

It was WHIG’s secret machinations more than four years ago that led directly to those shredded lives. WHIG had been tasked, as The Washington Post would later uncover, to portray Iraq’s supposedly imminent threat to America with “gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence.” In other words, WHIG was to cook up the sexiest recipe for promoting the war, facts be damned. So it did, by hyping the scariest possible scenario: nuclear apocalypse. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn report in “Hubris,” it was WHIG (equipped with the slick phrase-making of the White House speechwriter Michael Gerson) that gave the administration its Orwellian bumper sticker, the constantly reiterated warning that Saddam’s “smoking gun” could be “a mushroom cloud.”

Ever since all the W.M.D. claims proved false, the administration has pleaded that it was duped by the same bad intelligence everyone else saw. But the nuclear card, the most persistent and gripping weapon in the prewar propaganda arsenal, was this White House’s own special contrivance. Mr. Libby was present at its creation. He knows what Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney knew about the manufacture of this fiction and when they knew it.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 6:59 pm

Wow. Rove did it.

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So much for the Department of Justice’s claim that “politics had nothing to do with the Purge.” Hah:

Presidential advisor Karl Rove and at least one other member of the White House political team were urged by the New Mexico Republican party chairman to fire the state’s U.S. attorney because of dissatisfaction in part with his failure to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation in the battleground election state.

In an interview Saturday with McClatchy Newspapers, Allen Weh, the party chairman, said he complained in 2005 about then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to a White House liaison who worked for Rove and asked that he be removed. Weh said he followed up with Rove personally in late 2006 during a visit to the White House.

“Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?” Weh said he asked Rove at a White House holiday event that month.

“He’s gone,” Rove said, according to Weh.

“I probably said something close to ‘Hallelujah,'” said Weh.

Weh’s account calls into question the Justice Department’s stance that the recent decision to fire Iglesias and seven U.S. attorneys in other states was a personnel matter – made without White House intervention. Justice Department officials have said the White House’s involvement was limited to approving a list of the U.S. attorneys after the Justice Department made the decision to fire them.

Rove could not be reached Saturday, and the White House and the Justice Department had no immediate response.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 6:49 pm

Away for a while

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I leave for Baltimore tomorrow morning, so next week’s posts will be light—though I do plan to post some. Back in full strength on 22 March: first day of Spring.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Daily life

What if you become a “domestic terrorist”?

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That is, if you fit the new definition, which is quite broad? Ans: You’re screwed, thanks to the Patriot Act:

Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Pub. L. No. 107-52) expanded the definition of terrorism to cover “domestic,” as opposed to international, terrorism. A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act “dangerous to human life” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States and if they do not, may be regarded as international terrorism.

Section 802 does not create a new crime of domestic terrorism. However, it does expand the type of conduct that the government can investigate when it is investigating “terrorism.” The USA PATRIOT Act expanded governmental powers to investigate terrorism, and some of these powers are applicable to domestic terrorism.

The definition of domestic terrorism is broad enough to encompass the activities of several prominent activist campaigns and organizations. Greenpeace, Operation Rescue, Vieques Island and WTO protesters and the Environmental Liberation Front have all recently engaged in activities that could subject them to being investigated as engaging in domestic terrorism.

One recent example is the Vieques Island protests, when many people, including several prominent Americans, participated in civil disobedience on a military installation where the United States government has been engaging in regular military exercises, which these protesters oppose. The protesters illegally entered the military base and tried to obstruct the bombing exercises. This conduct would fall within the definition of domestic terrorism because the protesters broke federal law by unlawfully entering the airbase and their acts were for the purpose of influencing a government policy by intimidation or coercion. The act of trying to disrupt bombing exercises arguably created a danger to human life – their own and those of military personnel. Using this hypothetical as a starting point, we will go through the USA PATRIOT Act and explore the new governmental powers that could be brought to bear on Vieques Island protesters whose conduct falls within the overbroad definition of domestic terrorism.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 12:50 pm

Psychological problems in the GOP

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What’s the psychological term for people who say, “You should do X. You’re not doing X. X is what you should be doing.” And then, when you do X, immediately say, “Why are you doing X? You shouldn’t be doing X. It’s wrong/bad to do X.” I know the everyday term (“GOP”), but what’s the psychological term.  Example:

Nearly two months ago — as Congress began debate over a non-binding resolution that sought to put lawmakers on the record as to whether they supported escalation — conservatives complained that it was a “debate without any real consequence.” They derided the debate over the non-binding resolution as “a meaningless political stunt” and pure “political theater.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) called on the majority to produce a substantive proposal:

BOEHNER: “Why don’t we have the real debate and have the real vote and do it now? Let’s get out of the shadow boxing. Let’s get away from the non- binding resolution. Let’s get away from the slow bleed. Let’s just have the real debate that the American people want us to have and bring it to an end.” [CNN, 2/16/07]

PUTNAM: “If you’re not cutting off the funds for the troops in the field, then you are supporting the commander in chief’s policy. This gamesmanship sends the wrong message to our troops, and it is trying to have it both ways.” [SF Chronicle, 2/7/07]

This week, House Democrats did what the conservatives had been asking for. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced a legislative plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by August 2008 at the latest, tying the proposal to the authorization of funding for the war.

So how did Boehner and Putnam react to the news that Congress could now engage in a “real debate”? By shifting their attacks and blaming Congress for taking the action that they had been encouraging just weeks earlier:

BOEHNER: “The Democrats are using the critical troop funding bill to micromanage the war on terror, undermining our generals on the ground and slowly choking off resources for our troops. [Press Conference, 3/8/07]

PUTNAM: “Democrats have put forward a haphazardly created proposal that micromanages the war now in order to slowly bleed off funds for our troops later.” [Statement, 3/8/07]

Because he House conservatives’ are desperate to avoid an Iraq debate, their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 10:39 am

Posted in Congress, GOP

Interesting point: the questions define the debate

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Good post on how the questions addressed can frame the debate:

In public conversation, marijuana users are regularly guilty of allowing the wrong questions to be asked about marijuana. Questions that allow false assumptions about marijuana or marijuana users should be challenged, but usually aren’t. Today, we’ll touch on a few of these.

Questions like “Why should someone be allowed to smoke marijuana?” assume that some people have the right to determine what everyone else can do in private. Unless they are hurting someone else, we should not assume this.

In a free society, the question should be, “What overwhelming public good is achieved by depriving people of their freedom in this area?” In this case, the war on marijuana has answered back, “nothing.”

Is marijuana safe?” assumes that dangerousness should be sufficient to make something illegal. This same assumption is the basis of many of the exaggerated claims made by marijuana prohibitionists. True, some drugs are more dangerous than others. But some utensils are more dangerous than others also. It is much easier to maim oneself using a steak knife than a soup spoon, but we shouldn’t prohibit sane adults from using them responsibly.

Just about everyone is capable of hurting him or herself. It is impossible to be free without this capability. We may safeguard children and crazy people when we remove sharp objects and cover electrical outlets, but to allow “because I said so” reasoning into public policy is to tolerate paternalism.

Today’s question comes from Morgan Hill, California.

This week, the Morgan Hill City Council debated whether or not it would allow residents of its city to choose marijuana as an herbal medicine if recommended by a doctor. After some debate, the Council decided not to decide because it had a question:

Does Morgan Hill have the police resources to handle a medical marijuana facility?

On its face, this seems like a fair question. However, it assumes too much. It assumes that medical marijuana facilities bring more problems to the community than any “mainstream” business. There is no data to suggest this is true.

In fact, medical marijuana facilities have a number of safeguards that mainstream businesses lack. Many (if not most) of them have armed guards. Do pharmacies? Do dental offices? (Do bars?)

And customers don’t just stroll in off the street and pick up medicine the way they do when they buy over-the-counter methamphetamines (Thank heaven for pseudoephedrine). First they are diagnosed by a doctor, and counseled about their options. Then they must go through an intake procedure at a caregiver facility. This is not a quick process.

Because of this, marijuana facilities are very quiet, low-key places – much like dental or chiropractic offices. The assumption that they will be like nightclubs is completely unfounded.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 10:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

GOP Hearts Authoritarianism

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Glenn Greenwald shows clearly how the authoritarian mindset is progressing in the GOP and in the country:

Now that even Alberto Gonzales’ DOJ has acknowledged that the FBI has been violating the law with regard to its NSL powers, there are some important lessons that one can learn, if one is so inclined, about how our country has operated for the last six years. Let us begin with the fact that the Inspector General’s Office which issued this report is merely a mid-level subordinate DOJ office that reports to the Attorney General, and its conclusions (particularly its exculpatory ones) are hardly dispositive. The oversight here is not the Report itself. That is just the start. The oversight is the Congressional investigation which must follow to determine the scope of the wrongdoing and what actually motivated it.

But the good little authoritarians who always reflexively embrace every unchecked pronouncement by the Bush administration as though it is the Gospel Truth — the attribute which is, at its core, the defining one of a mindless authoritarian — are (consistent with that mindset) now running around shrilly insisting that the Leader did no real wrong, because the DOJ Report said that nothing was really done with malicious intent here. The DOJ has spoken, and that settles that. With this mentality, these reflexive Bush defenders are exhibiting precisely the profound character flaw that has led to all of these abuses in the first place: namely, blind, gullible, cult-like and distinctly un-American trust in the assurances of the Leader without any demands of scrutiny, accountability, corroboration or oversight.

As is so often the case, Arlen Specter enables excellent insight into how this mindset functions. With these revelations of the FBI’s lawbreaking yesterday, Specter was strutting around making all sorts of dramatic protest noises, acting as though he is some sort of guardian of checks and balances and civil liberties. In fact, as Judiciary Committee Chairman from 2002 until 2006, Specter eagerly enabled a virtually complete dismantling of the system of checks and balances on presidential power, and did so by blindly and timidly relying upon administration assurances that they were acting properly.

The same Specter who now professes such grave concern over the abuse of the NSLs is the very same one who led the fight on behalf of the administration to re-authorize the Patriot Act by stampeding over concerns about, among other things, the potential for abuse of NSLs. On December 12, 2005, Specter wrote this letter (.pdf) to six Senators (including 3 Republicans) who were resisting renewal of the Patriot Act due to concerns about the potential for abuse by the Bush administration of NSLs.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 10:26 am

Is the Pentagon destroying evidence?

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It seems as though it is—and certainly it’s believable, given the Pentagon’s track record of lies and cover-ups. Destroying evidence is just part of another cover-up. Glenn Greenwald tackles this issue. His post begins:

This is an infinitely bigger story than the media, thus far, seems to realize. In the Jose Padilla criminal trial, the judge — Bush-appointee and former federal prosecutor Marcia Cooke, who has a reputation for extreme objectivity — has ordered the Bush administration to turn over all tapes made of its interrogations of Padilla, as part of Padilla’s motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground that he was, in essence, tortured while being held incommunicado for 3 1/2 years. In particular, Padilla’s lawyers are most interested in the last interrogation session to which he was subjected — in March, 2004 — while still held as an “enemy combatant.”

Ten days ago, Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball reported that the administration had produced all of the DVDs it claimed it possessed, but the March, 2004 interrogation video was not among them. The government began claiming that the video “mysteriously disappeared.” Bush administration lawyers simply insist that they are “no longer able to locate the DVD.”

Associated Press now furthers the story by reporting that Bush lawyers seem to have committed themselves to the position that the video will not be found: “‘I don’t know what happened to it,’ Pentagon attorney James Schmidli said during a recent court hearing.” Judge Cooke is reacting exactly how she should — with utter disbelief in the veracity of this claim:

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke was incredulous that anything connected to such a high-profile defendant could be lost. “Do you understand how it might be difficult for me to understand that a tape related to this particular individual just got mislaid?” Cooke told prosecutors at a hearing last month.

It is difficult to put into words how extraordinary this is. As the Newsweek article reported:

The disclosure that the Pentagon had lost a potentially important piece of evidence in one of the U.S. government’s highest-profile terrorism cases was met with claims of incredulity by some defense lawyers and human-rights groups monitoring the case. “This is the kind of thing you hear when you’re litigating cases in Egypt or Morocco or Karachi,” said John Sifton, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, one of a number of groups that has criticized the U.S. government’s treatment of Padilla. “It is simply not credible that they would have lost this tape. The administration has shown repeatedly they are more interested in covering up abuses than getting to the bottom of whether people were abused.”

Then again, credible claims by a citizen that he was tortured while held for years without charges by his own government also used to be the kind of thing “you hear when you’re litigating cases in Egypt or Morocco or Karachi,” but is now what characterizes the United States.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 10:16 am

Started the Xmas gift list

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It’s a table in MS Word: three columns (person, gift, stocking stuffer). So far we have 7 stocking stuffers on hand and recipients identified, three gifts likewise, and one gift identified but not yet purchased.

Really, this is the way to go: start early, review the list monthly, pick up presents as you see something that’s just right for a person, and when mid-October rolls around, you have a month to finish buying and then pack and mail the Wednesday before US Thanksgiving. Works for us.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 10:09 am

Posted in Daily life

A glimpse of the hive mind

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The top 100 articles viewed on Wikipedia (dynamic). They include a caveat: “This tool is still being tested. Some of the results may be false or misleading!” And indeed the entry on “Shaving” is not listed. Still, it’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 9:47 am

Posted in Daily life

Humanity distilled to 100 people

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Cute idea: If the world were a community of 100 people, what would it be like:

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life

Badminton: best of the racquet sports?

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Not played outside in the wind on uneven ground, as it’s often played here, but in a proper gym with a high ceiling. I loved badminton in college. Here’s an example of good badminton being played:

What racquet sports can compete with that? Tennis? (as opposed to “lawn tennis”) Squash? Deck tennis?

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 9:30 am

Posted in Games

Rice + tube sock = microwave heating pad

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Fill up the tube sock with (uncooked) rice, sew it shut, pop it into the microwave, and apply it where you need the heat. Here’s the full story. Cute idea.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 9:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

A true believer finds out he was tricked and betrayed

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Grim story in the Texas Observer, which begins:

Ted Westhusing was a true believer. And that was his fatal flaw.

A colonel in the U.S. Army, Westhusing had a good job teaching English at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was a devout Catholic who went to church nearly every Sunday. He had a wife and three young children.

He didn’t have to go to Iraq. But Westhusing was such a believer that he volunteered for what he thought was a noble cause. At West Point, Westhusing sought out people who opposed the war in an effort to change their minds. “He absolutely believed that this was a just war,” said one officer who was close to him. “He was wholly enthusiastic about this mission.” His tour of duty in Iraq was to last six months.

About a month before he was to return to his family—on June 5, 2005—Westhusing was found dead in his trailer at Camp Dublin in Baghdad. At the time, he was the highest-ranking American soldier to die in Iraq. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command report on Westhusing’s death explained it as a “perforating gunshot wound of the head and Manner of Death was suicide.”

He was 44.

In the ever-expanding tragedy of the second Iraq war, the tragedy of Ted Westhusing is just one among tens of thousands. Four years of warfare have decimated Iraq. Its economy and infrastructure are in ruins. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis are dead. Hundreds of thousands more have fled the country. More than 20,000 American soldiers have been wounded, and more than 3,000 killed. Yet among all of those tragedies, amid all the suffering and heartache, Westhusing’s story stands out. It shows how one man’s life, and the fervent beliefs that defined it, were crushed by the corruption and deceit that he saw around him.

The disillusion that killed Ted Westhusing is part of the invoice that America will be paying long after the United States pulls its last troops out of Iraq.

Some 846 American soldiers died in Iraq in 2005. Of those, 22 were suicides. Westhusing’s suicide, like nearly every other, leaves the survivors asking the same questions: Why? And what was it that drove the deceased to such despair? In Westhusing’s case, the answers go far beyond his personal struggles and straight to the heart of America’s goals in Iraq.

When he was in Iraq, Westhusing worked for one of the most famous generals in the U.S. military, David Petraeus. In January, Petraeus was appointed by President Bush to lead all U.S. forces in Iraq. As the head of counterterrorism and special operations under Petraeus, Westhusing oversaw the single most important task facing the U.S. military in Iraq then and now: training the Iraqi security forces.

The story includes Westhusing’s suicide note, a harsh indictment of his commanders and the war.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 9:12 am

Megs in the morning

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Megs looks grumpy

Miss Megs looks rather grumpy in this photo, but I think that it’s just the sun in her eyes. See:

Megs at rest

This was taken just before the photo above, and then I had her look at me (and the sun). So she’s really a sweet kitty, not at all grumpy. Except sometimes. In the morning, for example.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 8:45 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Good start with Turkish Mocha

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This morning I used Mama Bear’s wonderful Turkish Mocha shaving soap, applied with Rooney Style 3 Small Super. Yesterday’s shave was so good that I again used the Vision, and was rewarded with another perfect shave. Alum bar and Pinaud’s Classic Vanilla Aftershave, and I’m good to go.

Today will focus on packing. I leave tomorrow morning, and must get all in readiness.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2007 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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