Later On

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

Archive for March 22nd, 2007

Closing Guantánamo at last?

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From the NY Times:

In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials. He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible.

Mr. Gates’s appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush’s publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates’s arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said.

As Mr. Gates was making his case, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined him in urging that the detention facility be shut down, administration officials said. But the high-level discussions about closing Guantánamo came to a halt after Mr. Bush rejected the approach, although officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department continue to analyze options for the detention of terrorism suspects.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 7:32 pm

Our troops betrayed by the Bush Administration

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Apparently those little yellow-ribbon magnetic things don’t get the job done—and neither does Bush (or, as he likes to refer to himself, “the Commander-in-Chief”):

Wounded soldiers at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state say the Army is trying to push them into the Veterans Affairs medical system; they’re being denied medical treatments; and they face retaliation if they complain, Washington state lawmakers said in a letter to the Army secretary.

The letter to acting Army Secretary Pete Geren came after the lawmakers or their staff members visited Madigan 13 days ago and met privately with wounded soldiers and their families.

The lawmakers said the soldiers they met with felt “unanimously” that Army officials were trying to force them out of the Defense Department system and into the Department of Veterans Affairs system.

They also said the soldiers and their families thought that the Army’s Medical Evaluation Board and Physical Evaluation Board processes are “too cumbersome and generally unresponsive” to their needs.

“Some soldiers had been in the disability assessment process for three years,” said the letter, signed by Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks and Adam Smith, Republican Rep. Dave Reichert and Washington state’s two Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

In addition, the lawmakers said they were told that the Army does an inadequate job of diagnosing and treating mental health diseases such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and often dismisses PTSD as “anxiety.”

Though the lawmakers said improvements were already being made, they were concerned that what they heard at Madigan and Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, could reflect similar problems throughout the Army medical system.

The lawmakers said they were told that:

  • Necessary medical procedures and treatments were being denied.
  • Case managers were primarily interested in protecting the Army’s interests and not the soldiers’ health.
  • High turnover of doctors and medical staff led to “negative” medical care and interfered with the “consistent and efficient application” of Army disability standards.
  • Soldiers face retribution, including loss of promotions, reductions in benefits and other “thinly-veiled threats,” if they complain or help fellow soldiers.

The legislators also heard complaints that the medical staff and caseworkers were overworked, that the Medical Evaluation Board process doesn’t provide time for adequate appeals and that the Army won’t allow prior medical records and outside diagnoses to be considered when determining disability levels.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 4:31 pm

Learning a language with Rosetta Stone

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I finally took a look at Rosetta Stone, a language-instruction series that actually looks quite good. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the Berlitz method—a kind of total immersion with visual aids, talking with a native speaker as you learn the language. They have an impressive list of languages, and you can buy the course on CD-ROM (a 10% discount is available here) or through an on-line subscription ($81 for 3 months (with the 10% discount), so relatively inexpensive if you can spend enough time to get through the two levels).

And an impressive list of languages available, although Esperanto is, unfortunately, not yet included.

So, my question: have any of my readers tried this? Did it work? Is it worth the time, effort, and money?

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 8:32 am

Useful idea: your cellphone as a pop-up calendar

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From Daytipper:

When you’re busy, it’s easy to forget things until the last moment, such as bringing your son to his soccer practice, or taking your daughter to her orthodontist appointment. Carrying a calendar around with you everywhere is inconvenient. Luckily, most people have cell phones, and most cell phones have a simple calendar function in the “Tools” menu. When you make an appointment, enter it immediately into your phone calendar, and set an alarm for 10 minutes to an hour beforehand.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 8:20 am

Posted in Daily life

Fascinating story

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Full disclosure: I am an alumnus of St. John’s College, but the Annapolis campus, not the Santa Fe campus. Thanks to a reader in the Netherlands (also a Johnnie) who passed along the link. The article is by John Conroy, who has been covering police torture and related issues since 1990 and is the author of Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture.

TONY LAGOURANIS DOESN’T fit the profile of a person likely to go wrong by following orders. He’s lived a footloose life unconstrained by a desire for professional advancement, for the approval of superiors, even for a comfortable home. A freethinker, he read the great works of Western civilization in college and mastered classical languages. It was his desire to learn Arabic as well that took him to Iraq.

And there, as an army interrogator, he tortured detainees for information he admits they rarely had. Since leaving Iraq he’s taken this story public, doing battle on national television against the war’s architects for giving him the orders he regrets he obeyed.

Born in Chicago to restless parents (his father worked for a chain of hotels), Lagouranis guesses he attended 10 or 11 schools before graduating from high school in 1987 in New York City. After a year of college he took off, picking up construction and short-order cook jobs as he traveled the country. He kept coming back to Santa Fe, however, and in 1994 he enrolled in its St. John’s College, whose curriculum is based entirely on the Great Books, read in roughly chronological order. Lagouranis discovered he had a facility for languages: he enjoyed ancient Greek and found Hebrew easy. He tried to learn Arabic on his own, but without a class and a regular teacher he found it more difficult.

In early 2001, four years after graduating from St. John’s, he decided he’d tackle Arabic again, in part because he thought the Arab world was misunderstood in the West. Burdened by “massive student loans,” he met a former army interrogator who’d learned Russian and German in the army while getting his own student loans repaid. “It just sounded like a good idea,” Lagouranis says. “I realized I could put Arabic in my contract and join the army for five years.”

The United States was at peace then. Lagouranis was rebounding from a frustrating experience in Tunisia, where he’d worked on an archaeological dig and taught English but couldn’t conquer the bureaucratic requirements for residency and therefore was never paid. On his return to the United States he’d landed a job near O’Hare airport helping corporations claim refunds on import duties, a job he describes as “mind-numbing.”

“I went in [to the army recruiting office] saying, ‘I want Arabic,’ and there aren’t many choices if you want a language. You can go in as simply a linguist, which will mean that later you’ll be assigned to another job—it’s sort of a vague category. Or you can go in as a signals intercept person, where you sit with headphones and listen to phone conversations. Or you can be an interrogator.” The linguist and signals intercept jobs required top-secret security clearance, and Lagouranis’s student loans and credit rating stood in the way. “Apparently the idea is that if you owe money then you are susceptible to foreign agents. So they wouldn’t let me apply for secret security clearance. So I said, ‘Fine.’ I didn’t really think about that decision at all. We weren’t at war. The idea that I would actually ever interrogate somebody seemed so remote.”

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 8:02 am

Posted in Iraq War, Military

How to relieve depression

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Depression is a fairly common problem—and too often depressed people don’t recognize that they’re depressed. Here’s a tip from the Harvard Medical School newsletter:

Emily is having a conflict with a coworker and decides to stay home for several days. By withdrawing from a possible confrontation, she spares herself immediate distress. But at the same time, she is also depriving herself of the satisfaction she gets from work — the pleasure of completing tasks and earning money. She gets nothing in exchange for sacrificing these daily pleasures, because the original problem remains. As a consequence of avoiding a temporarily difficult and unpleasant situation, Emily only sinks deeper into depression. She eventually finds that getting out of bed in the morning has become as difficult as going to work had been a week ago.

In many cases, if Emily went to a therapist, the therapist might use cognitive therapy, which targets persistent self-defeating thoughts, or a variation called cognitive behavioral therapy, a version that includes behavioral training and homework. Cognitive behavioral therapy has become one of the most widely used treatments for depression. But some researchers have questioned whether cognitive behavioral therapy achieves a good-enough outcome. In a recent study comparing standard cognitive behavioral therapy with a new version of behavioral therapy called behavioral activation therapy, behavioral activation therapy showed promising results.

Behavioral activation therapy, the alternative used in the study, is based on the idea that depressed people experience the kind of vicious cycle that Emily does. They withdraw from the routine activities and demands of daily life to avoid emotional pain. As a result, they receive fewer rewards and become more depressed.

In behavioral activation therapy, the therapist is interested in the function of negative thinking — the way it promotes withdrawal — rather than its rightness or wrongness, as in conventional cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients are shown how to:

  • find out and record what gives them a feeling of accomplishment, then do it more
  • maintain regular routines and schedules — for example, keeping commitments even if they’re anxiety-provoking — while exploring alternative behaviors by role-playing in the safer setting of the therapist’s office
  • avoid pessimism and gloomy rumination by directing their attention to the immediate experience of their senses — to observe the experiences rather than reacting to them or becoming self-critical.

In this respect, the authors point out, behavioral activation therapy resembles newer forms of cognitive therapies that encourage patients to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings as they arise, without judgment, and then let them go.

In a study at the University of Washington, nearly 250 people with major depression were divided into four groups that received either behavioral activation therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, an antidepressant medication, or a sugar pill (placebo). Treatment continued for 24 sessions over four months while standard questionnaires measured changes in the symptoms. Results were tracked separately for mildly depressed and severely depressed patients.

Patients in all four groups improved, and all treatments were equally effective for the mildly depressed patients. For the severely depressed, behavioral activation and the antidepressant drug were equal, and both were superior to cognitive behavioral therapy and the placebo. But patients taking the medication or placebo were much more likely to drop out of treatment than those receiving psychotherapy. So, over all, behavioral activation therapy was the most successful treatment. In this study at least, when depressed people were prodded into action, they needed little more to experience improvement.

For more information on depression, order our special health report, Understanding Depression.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 7:51 am

The Coulterization of the Right

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This came out in Salon while I was away, but it’s worth reprising here. Gary Kamiya makes some excellent points:

So Ann Coulter has done it again. She called John Edwards a “faggot” at a major conservative conference and everyone is outraged. But do we have to go through this ridiculous charade again? Nothing’s going to happen. This is old and profitable hat for the shameless buffoon who once compared Hillary Clinton to a prostitute (when Clinton was first lady, no less) and displayed her keen grasp of geopolitical strategy after 9/11 by declaiming, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” (Following her sage advice, George W. Bush acted on the first two recommendations, with splendid results, but the third, despite the best efforts of some of his holy pals, is proving difficult.) We all know that Coulter will emerge from this episode selling even more books, appearing on even more right-wing talk shows and being even more fanatically worshipped by her legions of fans. A few newspapers have dropped her column, and some GOP presidential candidates condemned her statement — who cares? As should be amply clear by now, there is virtually nothing that Ann Coulter can do that will cause her to be cast out of the bosom of the American right. And even if she was to lose her head and cross a line that even she can’t cross — calling Obama a “nigger” is about the only thing that would do the trick — a thousand hissing Coulters would spring up to take her place.

For this isn’t really about Coulter at all. This is about a pact the American right made with the devil, a pact the devil is now coming to collect on. American conservatism sold its soul to the Coulters and Limbaughs of the world to gain power, and now that its ideology has been exposed as empty and its leadership incompetent and corrupt, free-floating hatred is the only thing it has to offer. The problem, for the GOP, is that this isn’t a winning political strategy anymore — but they’re stuck with it. They’re trapped. They need the bigoted and reactionary base they helped create, but the very fanaticism that made the True Believers such potent shock troops will prevent the Republicans from achieving Karl Rove’s dream of long-term GOP domination.

It is a truism that American politics is won in the middle. For a magic moment, helped immeasurably by 9/11, the GOP was able to convince just enough centrist Americans that extremists like Coulter and Limbaugh did in fact share their values. But the spell has worn off, and they have been exposed as the vacuous bottom-feeders that they are.

It will be objected that Coulter, Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage and their ilk are just the lunatic fringe of a respectable movement. But in what passes for conservatism today, the lunatic fringe is respectable. In the surreal parade of Bush administration follies and sins, one singularly telling one has gone almost entirely unremarked: Vice President Dick Cheney has appeared several times on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Think about this: The holder of the second-highest office in the land has repeatedly chummed it up with a factually challenged right-wing hack, a pathetic figure only marginally less creepy than Coulter. Imagine the reaction if Al Gore, when he was vice president, had routinely appeared on a radio show hosted by, say, Ward Churchill. (The comparison is feeble: There really is no left-wing equivalent of Limbaugh, just as there is no left-wing equivalent of Father Coughlin or Joe McCarthy.) The entire American political system would melt down. Beltway wise men would trip on their penny loafers in their haste to demand Gore’s head. Robert Bork would come out of retirement to call for a coup to restore the caliphate, I mean the Judeo-Christian moral law in America. Yet the grotesque Cheney-Limbaugh love-in doesn’t raise an eyebrow. We’re so inured to the complete convergence of “respectable” conservatism and reactionary talk-radio ravings that we don’t even deem it worthy of comment.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 7:45 am

When will the US get over its pot phobia?

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Letter (dated 3/12) from the Marijuana Policy Project with an example of pot phobia from school officials:

Friday was a busy and fantastic day — for three reasons.

First, Tyrone Brown, who has been serving life in prison for a petty marijuana crime, is finally being set free by the governor of Texas after serving an outrageously long 17 years in prison.

Second, I was interviewed on the national Fox News Channel, where I discussed the appropriateness of teen use of medical marijuana if they have the approval of their physicians and parents.

And third, a second committee of the Minnesota Legislature passed the Marijuana Policy Project’s medical marijuana bill by an 8-6 vote … but not without some disgusting controversy.

Please donate to our lobbying efforts now, and then read on for the full story …

On February 14, medical marijuana patient Shannon Pakonen, who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, testified before the Minnesota Senate’s health committee in favor of MPP’s medical marijuana bill. Later that day, the Senate committee passed our bill by an overwhelming, bipartisan voice vote.

But after Mr. Pakonen’s testimony was featured in the Star Tribune, the largest newspaper in Minnesota, his 15-year-old developmentally disabled son was pulled out of class and interrogated by his teachers about his father’s medical marijuana use. The teachers grilled the boy about whether his dad grows marijuana, whether he keeps it in the house, whether he smokes marijuana in front of his son, and whether his dad uses other illegal drugs. You can read more about the school’s bullying tactics here.

Meanwhile, MPP’s medical marijuana bills are also moving fast in two other states.

The Illinois Senate’s Public Health Committee passed MPP’s medical marijuana bill by a 6-4 vote on Tuesday, after MPP coordinated written and oral testimony from medical professionals, patients, and policy experts. The bill — which would protect medical marijuana patients from arrest — now heads to the Senate floor, where a vote is expected in less than a month.

And on February 28, the Vermont Senate — in an overwhelming voice vote — approved a bill to improve Vermont’s current medical marijuana law. MPP has been coordinating the lobbying campaign for this bill, which would expand the list of qualifying medical conditions to include wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, and seizures. The bill would also increase the number of plants that a patient may possess, and it reduces the medical marijuana program registration fee from $100 to $50. The bill now heads to the House, where a vote is expected in the next month.

Our successful lobbying efforts in Minnesota, Illinois, and Vermont — as well as New York and Rhode Island — are costing quite a bit of money, but it’s all paying off. Please donate today so we can continue pushing hard in these states, while killing bad bills in many other states. As you can see, we’re on the path to victory, but we need your help to keep going.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 7:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Experimental shave

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I don’t use shaving oils, though some shavers like them. But today I tried a technique described in a post on ShaveMyFace.com:

An interesting thing I saw in Nancy Boy’s pre-shave oil description on their website, which says, “NOTE: This product does not perform well if you apply your shave cream with a brush.” I wrote to Eric Roos and asked why they say this, and he sent me a very detailed fact sheet about their pre-shave oil, from which I’ve excerpted the following, relevant passage:

Importantly we do not recommend the use of a brush in conjunction with this (or any) pre-shave oil; rather, you should simply scoop out a small amount of shave cream (if you’re using ours) with your fingers and spread it around your face, again massaging briskly. As you do, the cream will lather up a bit and you’ll find that the little bit you used will expand quite astonishingly. A brush isn’t recommended because when you apply it to your face, its many hairs lift the oil from your skin while also breaking the oil-shave cream barrier through the super-aeration process that is the basis of the shave brush lathering technique.

That thought never occurred to me, but it might explain why many of us feel pre-shave oil is of no benefit. Honestly, I’ve never tried using a pre-shave oil without a using a brush with my cream. So, being the pioneering experimenter that I am (although not nearly so ingenious as those innovative souls who look around the garage to see what commonly found substances can be used to shave with), I will try this with my home-made AOS-type oil (which is similar to Nancy Boy’s) and some Nancy Boy cream to see what I get. I’ll report back when I have something to report.

Here’s how it went for me: Rubbed the Pacific Shave Oil over my wet beard. Hard to tell where it was applied and where not, and if I had used enough.

Then applied the Nancy Boy shaving cream by hand and rubbed it. No real lather. I tried using just a little water on my hand, but still got no lather. But now ready to try it—and realized that my hand was covered with the shaving cream residue.

Okay, rinse off hand and go first pass. Shaves nicely, but hard to rinse razor—the lather/oil mix seemed to stick firmly to the razor. Still, a good first pass.

Ready for next pass—and then realize I must put my hand into the cream again—no handy brush filled with lather. And do I apply more oil?

The hell with it: I did the second pass against the grain with no lather. There was enough oil residue still on my face that it worked, and I ended up with a good shave. But on the whole, I think I’ll stick with traditional lather and brush. I might try the oil one more time, someday.

Razor was the Vision loaded with a Swedish Gillette. Finished with Pashana aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2007 at 7:14 am

Posted in Shaving

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