Later On

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Archive for May 10th, 2007

Wolfowitz, done in by himself

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I expect we’ll see his resignation late tomorrow (Friday). He pretty clearly seems to have done the damage to himself by his choices, actions, temperament, and allies—those he brought with him and installed as a protective (and isolating) wall around him. The LA Times has a good analysis:

When he arrived almost two years ago, Wolfowitz vigorously embraced a campaign to eliminate corruption in World Bank projects, a mission started by the previous president. But some on the staff began to take issue with how Wolfowitz ran the effort. Staff and aid groups criticized Wolfowitz for ignoring the advice of longtime experts and for pursuing a political agenda — targeting some countries for corruption, but overlooking U.S. allies in the war on terror.

“India was corrupt, but Pakistan could do no wrong,” said the retired employee.

Bank staff interviewed for this article had little praise for Wolfowitz’s management style. They described him as a remote and indecisive leader with a hard edge. One staffer, who waited 18 months for Wolfowitz to weigh in on a high-priority matter, said employees were put off by “how opaquely Wolfowitz’s office made a decision” and the lack of response to their overtures. “I must have sent papers up with options … 10 times, but heard nothing,” the staffer said. This staffer said Wolfowitz came across as self-deprecating, but also said that “there were signs that that was not the core of him.” The staffer recalled an early meeting at which “he barked at someone because he didn’t like the way they were rattling the coffee cups.” Bank critics also said the president seemed disinclined to delve into most policy details. One senior employee recounted a meeting about improving national diversity among the staff, a priority request from the board. The group worked for 18 months and presented Wolfowitz with two options. But at the meeting, the employee said Wolfowitz told the group he had not read their briefing book, or their one-page summary, and he seemed unable to make a choice. “We saw dithering, speculating, as if he was at a graduate seminar,” said the employee. When the group prepared its final report, Wolfowitz’s aides directed them to leave out the section on national diversity. “It was a phenomenally inept assessment of the board’s needs, totally tone deaf,” said the senior employee.

Some employees said that Wolfowitz favored his hand-picked aides so much that he would blame their mistakes on the professional staff.

One staffer recounted Wolfowitz shouting at colleagues for failing to provide information on the bank’s Middle East strategy. The group had given it to his staff days earlier, but his staff had failed to pass it along.

Some of the employees interviewed for this article said their anger is rooted in concern that Wolfowitz is damaging the bank’s credibility and its mission. But some also spoke of a certain inevitability to the situation — not based on the initial reception when Wolfowitz came to the bank, but on the way he dealt with it after that.

“You could see him as a guy who knows he’s walked into a hostile organization that hasn’t embraced his nomination. I can understand that in the beginning,” said the recently retired employee. “But people came to him and said, ‘We’re international civil servants, not politicians, let’s make things work.’ That hand was extended, and it was not extended back.”

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 8:13 pm

Forcing confessions

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This story exemplifies why information obtained through torture cannot be trusted—and these people were not even waterboarded:

The suspects in a vote-buying case in this small town in western Japan were subjected to repeated interrogations and, in several instances, months of pretrial detention. The police ordered one woman to shout her confession out a window and forced one man to stomp on the names of his loved ones.

In all, 13 men and women, ranging in age from their early 50s to mid-70s, were arrested and indicted. Six buckled and confessed to an elaborate scheme of buying votes with liquor, cash and catered parties. One man died during the trial — from the stress, the others said — and another tried to kill himself.

But all were acquitted this year in a local district court, which found that their confessions had been entirely fabricated. The presiding judge said the defendants had “made confessions in despair while going through marathon questioning.”

The Japanese authorities have long relied on confessions to take suspects to court, instead of building cases based on solid evidence. Human rights groups have criticized the practice for leading to abuses of due process and convictions of innocent people.

But in recent months developments in this case and two others have shown just how far the authorities will go in securing confessions. Calls for reforms in the criminal justice system have increased, even as Japan is to adopt a jury-style system in 2009 and is considering allowing victims and their relatives to question defendants in court.

In Saga Prefecture in March, a high court upheld the acquittal of a man who said he had been coerced into confessing to killing three women in the late 1980s. The court found that there was no evidence against the man other than the confession, which had been extracted from him after 17 days of interrogations that went on more than 10 hours a day.

In Toyama Prefecture the police acknowledged early this year that a taxi driver who had served almost three years in prison for rape and attempted rape in 2002 was innocent, after they found the real culprit. The driver said he had been browbeaten into affixing his fingerprint to a confession drawn up by the police after three days of interrogation.

“I Just Didn’t Do It,” a new documentary by Masayuki Suo, the director of “Shall We Dance?” has also raised popular awareness of coerced confessions. The documentary is based on the real-life story of a young man who was falsely accused of groping a teenage girl on the Tokyo subway and imprisoned for 14 months. It portrays how the authorities extract confessions, whether the accused are guilty or not.

“Traditionally in Japan, confessions have been known as the king of evidence,” said Kenzo Akiyama, a lawyer who is a former judge. “Especially if it’s a big case, even if the accused hasn’t done anything, the authorities will seek a confession through psychological torture.”

The law allows the police to detain suspects for up to 23 days without an indictment. Suspects have almost no contact with the outside world and are subject to constant interrogation, a practice that has long drawn criticism from organizations like the United Nations Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International.

Suspects are strongly pressed to plead guilty, on the premise that confession is the first step toward rehabilitation.

The conviction rate in Japanese criminal cases — 99.8 percent — cannot be compared directly with that of the United States, because there is no plea bargaining in Japan and prosecutors bring only those cases they are confident of winning. But experts say that in court, where acquittals are considered harmful to the careers of prosecutors and judges alike, there is a presumption of guilt.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Government

Good news: a sensible funding bill for the Iraq War

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Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

That Giuliani—all heart

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This is amazing:

Did Rudy Giuliani’s campaign snub an Iowa farmer couple because they weren’t millionaires and hence wouldn’t be a suitable prop for Rudy’s anti-“death tax” campaigning? And will the haircut-obsessed political media cover it?

Check out this unbelievable story from the Anamosa Journal-Eureka in Jones County, Iowa, the accuracy of which I’ve just confirmed by phone with one of the people in it:

OLIN–Last weekend Deb and Jerry VonSprecken of Olin received a call from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign office asking them if they would be interested in holding a campaign rally on May 4, after she had donated to his campaign.“We thought it would be an honor and agreed,” said Jerry.

After agreeing to host Rudy’s rally, Deb and Jerry Von Sprecken then set about doing a bunch of work to organize the event. They underwent a security check and called a bunch of local friends and acquaintances — and even the local sheriff and fire department — and proudly put the pieces in place for their rally.

But then…

On Tuesday Deb received a call from Giuliani’s Des Moines office and was asked to call New York.“They wanted to know our assets,” she revealed, and added that she and Jerry have a modest 80 acre farm and raise cattle.

Later she received a call from Tony Delgado at the Des Monies location.

“Tony said, ‘I’m sorry, you aren’t worth a million dollars and he is campaigning on the Death Tax right now.’ then he said they weren’t going to be able to come,” Deb continued.

The Death Tax is a federal version of the Iowa Inheritance Tax.

The VonSpreckens then called Delgado back and told him how upset they were that the event had been cancelled, how much work they had done and that they had been expecting 75-100 people at their farm.

“I invited him into my home,” Deb said of Giuliani, fighting back tears.

And it doesn’t even end there, by the way. Turns out the campaign called them back after all that, according to the paper, and offered them a consolation prize: The opportunity to get their picture taken with Rudy. The couple dismissed this as an effort to “cover their butts” — presumably meaning that the campaign was hoping they wouldn’t go to the media, or something.

A Giuliani campaign spokesperson declined to comment to the paper on the canceled event. In other words, no denial. The Rudy campaign just confirmed to me that its non-denial to the paper is real.

I just got in touch with Deb VonSprecken, who told me the story’s accurate “word for word.” To top this all off, she also told me that she’s got Fibromyalgia.

Here’s what she told me:

“I told [Rudy’s aide] from day one that we were poor folks, just trying to scrape by…When they [asked us to host the event], I was just ecstatic. We were honored. It was an honor and a privilege. We worked so hard…Why would Rudy Giuliani not come speak to the average Americans that live in eastern Iowa, instead of qualifying you as a millionaire before he will show up to your place?”

Oh, incidentally, Deb also told me that she’d be willing to speak to the media about this, too.

So will anyone from the media contact Deb? Does anyone doubt that if John Edwards or any other Dem did this it would be covered by all the major networks and chewed over endlessly by cable chat-show hosts for days and days and days?

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Media

Condi, the shameless

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I blogged earlier about this, but the Carpetbagger Report has a good summary:

For many conservatives, the U.N.’s oil-for-food scandal was an assault on all that is good and holy. In a nutshell, Saddam Hussein took advantage of a U.N. program in which Iraq would sell oil and use the revenue for food, medicine, and humanitarian goods, as exceptions to a trade embargo imposed after the first Gulf War. Saddam, however, received illegal kickbacks on the oil sales, which he transferred to private accounts.

And who was giving Saddam the illegal kickbacks? Well, it’s a funny story, actually.

Chevron, the second-largest American oil company, is preparing to acknowledge that it should have known kickbacks were being paid to Saddam Hussein on oil it bought from Iraq as part of a defunct United Nations program, according to investigators.

The admission is part of a settlement being negotiated with United States prosecutors and includes fines totaling $25 million to $30 million, according to the investigators, who declined to be identified because the settlement was not yet public.

The penalty, which is still being negotiated, would be the largest so far in the United States in connection with investigations of companies involved in the oil-for-food scandal.

As part of the deal under negotiation, Chevron probably won’t admit that it was violating U.N. sanctions, but would instead acknowledge that the company should have been aware of the illegal kickbacks to Saddam.

If only Chevron had some kind of internal policy committee, as part of the company’s board of directors, with a knowledgeable expert responsible for looking out for these kinds of problems. Oh wait, it did — and it was led by Condoleezza Rice.

According to the Volcker report, surcharges on Iraqi oil exports were introduced in August 2000 by the Iraqi state oil company, the State Oil Marketing Organization. At the time, Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state, was a member of Chevron’s board and led its public policy committee, which oversaw areas of potential political concerns for the company.

Ms. Rice resigned from Chevron’s board on Jan. 16, 2001, after being named national security advisor by President Bush.

Sean McCormack, a State Department spokesman, referred inquires to Chevron.

Hmm. Rice wasn’t just on Chevron’s board when the company was paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, she was in charge of the company’s policy committee, which existed to look for potential political problems.

It doesn’t take too big a stretch to narrow the options down a bit: Rice either knew about the kickbacks or she wasn’t particularly on the ball when it came to leading Chevron’s public policy committee.

I found Digby’s take to be spot on.

Hullabaloo is proud to present another episode of “Imagine If This Were A Democrat” this week starring Condoleezza Rice….

Our show will take you back in time to a world where the entire political and media establishment rose up in horror at the merest rumor of impropriety among the president’s advisors and cabinet — to a time when editorial writers would have thundered about the unacceptability of a former National Security Advisor and current Secretary of State having even been remotely associated with such illegality and malfeasance. Indeed, in that era, it would have been considered inconceivable that someone under such a cloud could possibly be allowed to continue to represent the nation abroad in times of such great peril. Calls for resignation would be loud and boisterous.

Indeed, they would. But as of this morning, the story has barely registered a blip. The NYT reported on this yesterday, and the Times article got picked up by a handful of smaller dailies, but that’s about it.

To be fair, the official Chevron announcement has not yet been made. Perhaps the media scrutiny will intensify after Chevron formally acknowledges wrongdoing? A guy can dream….

Brad DeLong puts it well:

The Bush administration, worse than you can imagine even after you take account of the fact that it is worse than you can imagine.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 2:44 pm

Simulations of extreme astronomical events

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Good simulations, though the techno-disco music is a bit distracting. Note how the black hole’s gravitational pull rips apart the neutron star with tidal forces.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Science

VA Hospital System credibility problem

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Uh-oh. Maybe the VA skeptics are right. From McClatchy Washington Bureau (a very reliable organization):

The Department of Veterans Affairs has habitually exaggerated the record of its medical system, inflating its achievements in ways that make it appear more successful than it is, a McClatchy Newspapers study shows.

While the VA’s health system has gotten very good marks for a transformation it’s undertaken over the past decade, the department also has a habit of overselling its progress in ways that assure Congress and others that the agency has enough resources to care for the nation’s soldiers.

The assurances have come at a difficult time for the agency, as a surge in mental health ailments among returning veterans over the last few years has strained the system and a spate of high-profile problems with caring for veterans in the VA and the Department of Defense’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center has provoked heightened public scrutiny.

A review by McClatchy of the quality measures the VA itself commonly cites found that:

-The agency has touted how quickly veterans get in for appointments, but its own inspector general found that scheduling records have been manipulated repeatedly.

-The VA boasted that its customer service ratings are 10 points higher than those of private-sector hospitals, but the survey it cited shows a far smaller gap.

-Top officials repeatedly have said that a pivotal health-quality study ranked the agency’s health care “higher than any other health-care system in this country.” However, the study they cited wasn’t designed to do that.

In general, the VA has highlighted what it says are superior conditions in its health system. Over the last 10 years, the agency has remade itself, boosting outpatient and preventive care in a growing network of outpatient clinics. It’s received glowing news coverage for the transformation.

“Today we’re positioned as an internationally respected force in health-care delivery, leading private and government providers across every measure,” Secretary James Nicholson said in a 2005 speech. “And we can prove it.”

On key issues of access, satisfaction and quality of care, however, other data contradict the agency’s statements.

Much more at the link, including specific examples of health-care failures and problems.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 2:22 pm

Looking for Mr. Gravitational Wave

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First, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, a ground-based gravitational-wave detector.

Next, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna.

The LISA mission will study the mergers of supermassive black holes, test Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, and probe the early Universe. Detecting gravitational waves is a new way to observe the Universe. Through them we will learn more about the mergers of giant black holes and the death spirals of stars that black holes capture and swallow. LISA will look for gravitational waves coming from our Galaxy and other galaxies. LISA will also map the structure of space and time around black holes and determine if Einstein’s theories are correct.

The narration of this video is via text-to-speech, so it sounds weird.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Science

Cultural differences in face reading

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Some use : followed by ) to denote a smile and some use (^_^) and the difference is not simply number of keystrokes. Here’s an explanation:

Culture is a huge factor in determining whether we look someone in the eye or the kisser to interpret facial expressions, according to a new study.

For instance, in Japan, people tend to look to the eyes for emotional cues, whereas Americans tend to look to the mouth, says researcher Masaki Yuki, a behavioral scientist at Hokkaido University in Japan.

This could be because the Japanese, when in the presence of others, try to suppress their emotions more than Americans do, he said.

In any case, the eyes are more difficult to control than the mouth, he said, so they probably provide better clues about a person’s emotional state even if he or she is trying to hide it.

Clues from emoticons

As a child growing up in Japan, Yuki was fascinated by pictures of American celebrities.

“Their smiles looked strange to me,” Yuki told LiveScience. “They opened their mouths too widely, and raised the corners of their mouths in an exaggerated way.”

Japanese people tend to shy away from overt displays of emotion, and rarely smile or frown with their mouths, Yuki explained, because the Japanese culture tends to emphasize conformity, humbleness and emotional suppression, traits that are thought to promote better relationships.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

It’s ok for some, not for others

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From a reader (hi, Matt!), Rice’s reaction to Putin’s power-grab—quite a contrast to her attitude toward Bush’s “unitary executive” power-grab:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s moves to consolidate power are troubling.

Just ahead of her departure for Moscow next week, Rice said the United States and Russia are working well together on a number of issues but that the overall ties remained “complicated” by a rollback in reforms and Russia’s contentious relations with its neighbors.

“On many things we have done very well, but the fact is that on some others it’s been a difficult period,” she said of the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Her comments, in testimony to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, came a day after Putin delivered oblique but pointed criticism at a Victory Day parade in Red Square of perceived U.S. domination in global affairs, warning the world faces threats like those before World War II.

Rice did not directly address Putin’s remarks but said Russia appeared unwilling to accept close U.S. ties with former Soviet states in eastern and central Europe where Moscow has strongly criticized Washington’s plans to deploy a missile defense system.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 1:02 pm

A peek into Wolfowitz’s thinking

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Brad DeLong has a good and even entertaining conjecture of how Wolfowitz worked out his internal self-justification for what he was doing.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 10:43 am

The mainstream media, trying to understand

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As always, Glenn Greenwald is well worth reading. What’s interesting in this column is that some of the punditocracy—Joe Klein in this case—seem to be trying to understand what it is that the blogosphere has against them. It’s very hard for them to see, because they are so encapsulated in the culture and worldview of the social system in which they operate, but some of them do seem to be engaging in an effort to grasp what their system looks like to those not enmeshed in it.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 10:33 am

Posted in Media

The White House connection

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It’s starting to be obvious that Karl Rove picked the US Attorneys to fire:

The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove’s, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin’s appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove’s role in supporting Griffin.

In one of the letters that Sampson drafted, dated February 23, 2007, the Justice Department told four Senate Democrats it was not aware of any role played by senior White House adviser Rove in attempting to name Griffin to the U.S. attorney post. A month later, the Justice Department apologized in writing to the Senate Democrats for the earlier letter, saying it had been inaccurate in denying that Rove had played a role.

Brad Berenson, an attorney for Sampson, said in an interview that his client did not intend to mislead Congress. Sampson, he said, signed off on the February 23 letter based on representations made by the White House that it was accurate.

The withheld e-mails show that Sampson’s draft was forwarded for review to Chris Oprison, an associate White House counsel, who approved the language saying that Justice was not aware of Rove having played any role in supporting Griffin. But an earlier e-mail from Sampson to Oprison that has already been made public indicates that the two men discussed Rove and then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers as being at the forefront of Griffin’s nomination.

Several of the e-mails that the Bush administration is withholding from Congress, as well as papers from the White House counsel’s office describing other withheld documents, were made available to National Journal by a senior executive branch official, who said that the administration has inappropriately kept many of them from Congress.

The senior official said that Gonzales, in preparing for testimony before Congress, has personally reviewed the withheld records and has a responsibility to make public any information he has about efforts by his former chief of staff, other department aides, and White House officials to conceal Rove’s role.

“If [Gonzales] didn’t know everything that was going on when it went down, that is one thing,” this official said. “But he knows and understands chapter and verse. If there was an effort within Justice and the White House to mislead Congress, it is his duty to disclose that to Congress. As the country’s chief law enforcement official, he has a higher duty to disclose than to protect himself or the administration.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto denied that the White House was withholding records in the Justice Department’s possession, and he said that Gonzales could make many of them public at any time. “The White House is neither guiding nor directing the Justice Department’s decisions on privileged documents,” Fratto said. “They make those decisions on their own.”

Two senior administration officials told National Journal they were frustrated with decisions by Gonzales not to release some of the documents held by the Justice Department. One of the officials charged that “Gonzales is doing this to save his own neck,” at the expense of the administration. The same official said that senior aides to Gonzales have been refusing to turn over many relevant documents to Congress, and that the attorney general’s top aides have been selectively leaking portions of them to the media to portray themselves in a favorable light.

Much more at the link. And also see TPMmuckraker’s take on this.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 10:04 am

Sleazy, slippery, dishonest weasle

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What a little shit Gonzales is. TPMmuckraker is running a lot of clips of the hearing, and you should check in there often. But this opening exchange shows the tack Gonzales is taking: stalling, deflecting, evading, lying—the usual.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 9:59 am

Sad commentary on a bad change

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Via a reader (hi, Liz) this article:

Fifty years ago, almost all major corporations and wealthy individuals in the United States paid a hefty chunk of their income in local, state and federal taxes. Those tax dollars, in turn, helped build and maintain roads and bridges, sewers and schools, airports and harbors—what economists call our “public infrastructure.”

This tax-and-spend cycle helped keep America both relatively equal and efficient. The taxes on high incomes discouraged grand accumulations of private wealth. The spending on infrastructure encouraged economic growth and opportunity. In today’s United States, unfortunately, this virtuous cycle no longer spins. The wealthy no longer pay hefty taxes. Local, state and federal governments no longer invest in infrastructure. Yesterday’s United States built bridges. Today’s builds fortunes.

And now those private fortunes are taking aim at America’s public infrastructure. Wall Street bankers and investment firms, Business Week reports, are rushing to raise cash for public infrastructure buyouts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 9:14 am

Shaving videos

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Mark points out something I hadn’t realized: Em’s place has a companion site (still under construction) for information about traditional wetshaving. Part of it is working, though, and that part consists of links to shaving videos, including Mark’s great series. Check ’em out. (And, of course, there’s the little “history of shaving” video. Some of the straight-razor shavers were making fun of the stropping you see in the video.)

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 7:32 am

Posted in Shaving

Back to basics: the HD

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After feeling awkward with the Vision yesterday, I thought I’d go back to basics. So today I used the HD, second shave on an Israeli blade. Man, the HD is a good razor. One forgets just how fine it is. A totally wonderful, smooth shave.

The shaving cream was J.M. Fraser’s from Canada—a wonderful lemony fragrance, very reminiscent of a lemon custard from my childhood. The brush was Simpsons PJ 2 Super, and the lather was wonderful.

Finished with the alum bar and Taylor of Old Bond Street No. 74 aftershave. Smooth, smooth face.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 7:10 am

Posted in Shaving

FDA – somehow not reassuring

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Does the following reassure you?

Farmed fish have been fed meal spiked with the same chemical that has been linked to the pet food recall [i.e., the food that killed around 9,000 pets – LG], but the contamination was probably too low to harm anyone who ate the fish, federal officials said Tuesday.

The Canadian-made meal included what was purported to be wheat gluten, a protein source, imported from China. The material was actually wheat flour spiked by the chemical melamine and related, nitrogen-rich compounds to make it appear more protein rich than it was, officials said.

After pigs and chickens, the farmed fish mark the third food animal given contaminated feed. The level of contamination is expected to be too low to pose any danger to human health, said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA’s assistant commissioner for food protection.

Though not included in the story, I imagine that Dr. Acheson went on to say that we’d know for sure in a few weeks if people started dying left and right from eating the food. “We’ll just wait and see,” he added.

It’s like the fire chief who said, “I’ve never seen a fire yet that wouldn’t eventually burn itself out.”

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 6:28 am

My Nik Is Sealed

with 4 comments

For those rare little nicks, the best product I’ve found is My Nik Is Sealed. It’s a liquid styptic in a roll-on applicator, stops the bleeding instantly, and doesn’t leave a visible residue (as a styptic pencil does). Great stuff, and now Em’s Place is stocking it. If you don’t have it, I highly recommend it.

And I learned today that Em actually has a blog. Worth checking since she posts here new products as they become available.

Written by Leisureguy

10 May 2007 at 6:11 am

Posted in Shaving

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