Later On

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

Archive for May 22nd, 2007

Sounds like kickbacks to me (to the GSA!)

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This is very bad. At the very least, if the GSA gets a percentage of what a contractor charges the government, there’s an obvious financial incentive for the GSA to drive the charges up, not down. What moron thought of this?

In February 2005, an auditor at the General Services Administration presented evidence to agency leaders that one of the government’s top technology contractors was overcharging taxpayers.

GSA auditor James M. Corcoran reported that Sun Microsystems had billed the government millions more for computer software and technical support than it charged its commercial customers.

If true, the allegation was grounds to terminate the contract and launch a fraud investigation. Instead, senior GSA officials pressed last summer to renew the contract.

That decision meant the government’s leading contracting agency would be able to continue collecting millions of dollars in what are called industrial funding fees from Sun under rules that permit the GSA to take a percentage of every sale made to the government. It also meant that taxpayers would pay millions more than necessary, according to congressional investigators.

“We thought of ourselves as being, not a part of the government, but as being a business, and we looked to profit on our customers,” said GSA contracting officer Herman S. Caldwell Jr., who warned his superiors against renewing the Sun contract. “When a government buying office becomes a profit center, then bad things are likely to happen.”

The circumstances surrounding the Sun contract are now being scrutinized by the GSA’s inspector general, the Justice Department and members of Congress.

“Why did GSA agree to do business with Sun despite warnings of possible fraud?” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement to The Washington Post.

GSA officials declined to comment for this article. In testimony before Congress in March, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan said the agency made a good decision on behalf of taxpayers by renewing the contract. She also said a top aide had looked into the auditor’s allegation and told her “nothing was there.”

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Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 7:24 pm

Bad action by Julie MacDonald

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The GOP can always surprise you at how low they will go:

Two senior House Democrats launched an inquiry today into reports that a Bush political appointee may have improperly removed a California fish from a list of threatened species in order to protect her own financial interests.

Julie MacDonald, who resigned this month as Interior Department deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, was actively involved in removing the Sacramento splittail fish from the federal threatened and endangered species list at the same time that she was profiting from her ownership of a farm that lies within the habitat area of the threatened fish, according to an investigative report published Sunday by the “Contra Costa Times” newspaper.

MacDonald’s financial disclosure statement shows that she earns as much as $1 million per year from her ownership of the 80 acre active farm in Dixon, California.

Federal law bars federal employees from participating in decisions on matters in which they have a personal financial interest.

…Today, Representatives George Miller of California and Nick Rahall of West Virginia, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, wrote to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne requesting a full accounting of MacDonald’s role in the Sacramento splittail decision.

Miller and Rahall asked for an explanation of her apparent conflict of interest, and a thorough review of the science underlying the decision to remove the Sacramento splittail from the threatened species list.

“It looks like another Bush administration official was protecting her own bottom line instead of protecting the public interest,” said Miller, a senior member and former chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and a long-time proponent of the Endangered Species Act and Bay-Delta fish and wildlife issues.

“This news raises serious questions about the integrity of the Interior Department and its policy decisions,” Miller said.

Rahall, who has served on the Natural Resources Committee since 1976 and became its chairman in January, said, “Time and again, this administration has demonstrated a complete disregard for scientists and their work.”

“Political appointees at the Interior Department have been allowed to overrule biologists and to work more closely with special interests than with their own staff. The Interior Department must explain its deputy assistant secretary’s actions in this very troubling case, which is apparently the latest in a long line of efforts to undercut species recovery.”

MacDonald resigned earlier the month following a scathing Inspector General report charging her with leaking sensitive documents to industry lobbyists, browbeating U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists, and illegally overturning scientific recommendations in order to squelch protections for endangered species.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 5:22 pm

Good set of links on climate change

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Very good reference post. PARTIAL contents:

For complete beginners:

NCAR: Weather and climate basics
Oxford University: The basics of climate prediction
Pew Center: Global Warming basics
Wikipedia: Global Warming
NASA: Global Warming update

Those with some knowledge:

The IPCC AR4 Frequently Asked Questions (pdf) is an excellent start. That covers:

  • What Factors Determine Earth’s Climate?
  • What is the Relationship between Climate Change and Weather?
  • What is the Greenhouse Effect?
  • How do Human Activities Contribute to Climate Change and How do They Compare with Natural Influences?
  • How are Temperatures on Earth Changing?
  • How is Precipitation Changing?
  • Has there been a Change in Extreme Events like Heat Waves, Droughts, Floods and Hurricanes?
  • Is the Amount of Snow and Ice on the Earth Decreasing?
  • Is Sea Level Rising?
  • What Caused the Ice Ages and Other Important Climate Changes Before the Industrial Era?
  • Is the Current Climate Change Unusual Compared to Earlier Changes in Earth’s History?
  • Are the Increases in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Other Greenhouse Gases During the Industrial Era Caused by Human Activities?
  • How Reliable Are the Models Used to Make Projections of Future Climate Change?
  • Can Individual Extreme Events be Explained by Greenhouse Warming?
  • Can the Warming of the 20th Century be Explained by Natural Variability?
  • Are Extreme Events, Like Heat Waves, Droughts or Floods, Expected to Change as the Earth’s Climate Changes?
  • How Likely are Major or Abrupt Climate Changes, such as Loss of Ice Sheets or Changes in Global Ocean Circulation?
  • If Emissions of Greenhouse Gases are Reduced, How Quickly do Their Concentrations in the Atmosphere Decrease?
  • Do Projected Changes in Climate Vary from Region to Region?

We’ll link to the individual pages once the report is available in html.

Also:

Informed, but in need of serious discussion of common contrarian talking points:

All of the below links have indexed debunks of most of the common points of confusion:

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Environment, Science

Disregarding evidence that you don’t like

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Very good comment in the New Yorker:

At key agencies, a disregard for inconvenient evidence seems today to be a prerequisite. A memo prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in mid-March, for example, revealed that officials of the White House Council on Environmental Quality had made more than a hundred and eighty changes to a status report on global warming, virtually all of which had the effect of exaggerating scientific uncertainties and minimizing certainties. (The official responsible for most of the changes, Philip Cooney, had come to the White House from the American Petroleum Institute and now works for Exxon Mobil.) A second report issued in March—this one by the Inspector General for the Department of the Interior—chronicled numerous instances in which a high-ranking department official, Julie MacDonald, had pressured government scientists to alter findings on threatened species. MacDonald, the report pointedly noted, had “no formal educational background in natural sciences, such as biology.” (MacDonald has since resigned.) As it happened, the report on MacDonald was released the same day that the former second-in-command at the Interior Department, J. Steven Griles, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

Meanwhile, the Administration has done its best to gut the safeguards put in place after “Silent Spring.” When, for instance, the E.P.A. proposed new rules on mercury emissions from power plants, the proposal turned out to contain several paragraphs lifted, virtually verbatim, from an industry lobbyist’s memos. (With minor changes, those regulations are now in effect.) Just last month, the Administration proposed new rules on the retrofitting of old power plants. The more or less explicit purpose of the rules is to accommodate a power company, Duke Energy, that the E.P.A. had itself sued for violating the Clean Air Act. Also last month, the E.P.A. announced that it would once again delay taking action on two drinking-water contaminants, perchlorate, an ingredient of rocket fuel, and M.T.B.E., a fuel additive.

Read it all.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 12:11 pm

Not Megs, not Sophie

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But cute. Via Political Animal:

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 11:26 am

Posted in Cats

New York taxis go hybrid

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Good news:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced today a plan to replace the city’s entire yellow cab fleet with environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles in the next five years.

The mayor announced the new plan this morning on the NBC News program “Today,” saying it would entail gradually phasing out the roughly 1,200 Crown Victoria taxis that make up about 90 percent of the city’s fleet. As the old Crown Victorias are retired, they will be replaced with hybrid vehicles that run on a combination of gasoline and electricity and provide nearly double the fuel efficiency.

“There’s an awful lot of taxicabs on the streets of New York City obviously, so it makes a real big difference,” Mayor Bloomberg said on the news program. “These cars just sit there in traffic sometimes, belching fumes; this does a lot less. It’s a lot better for all of us.”

The initiative is part of Mr. Bloomberg’s larger sustainability plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in New York by 30 percent in the next two decades.

Last week, in a speech to 250 mayors and other leaders from across the country, Mr. Bloomberg argued that cities, which are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, must take the lead in addressing environmental issues that national governments have not. With the city’s population rapidly expanding, he has pushed lately for a raft of new “green” proposals intended to ease traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, build new housing and develop abandoned industrial land.

The city has already experimented with using hybrids as yellow cabs in the past. In the last two years, it has added about 400 such vehicles to its fleet, including models like the Toyota Prius, Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Ford Escape.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 11:22 am

Posted in Environment, Government

Movie to see: Sicko

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Sicko, Michael Moore’s new film about the healthcare industry/mess, is getting rave reviews even from the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. This seems due in part to Moore’s stepping back in this film and letting the people in the documentary speak for themselves, but in large part it’s because the message he’s bringing resonates strongly with the concerns people have now about the US healthcare situation/mess.

Here’s another positive review:

“Sicko,” the latest documentary from liberal political activist Michael Moore, has won praise from a nursing organization, which claims the movie will re-frame the health care debate.

“Michael Moore has demonstrated compassion and courage in a film that, true to his career, doesn’t bend to political expediency,” Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee, said.

According to Moore, the movie “will expose the health care industry’s greed and control over America’s political processes.” It is scheduled to open June 29.

… DeMoro said the individuals featured in Moore’s film “didn’t just fall through the cracks. They were deliberately thrown overboard.”

They were “cast aside by the same insurance giants that far too many ostensible reformers think we should reward for their greed by funneling them hundreds of millions dollars more,” she said in a statement.

“‘Sicko’ presents an emotional portrait of an array of people, including volunteer rescue heroes of the September 11 attack, who are denied needed care – despite the fact that most are insured,” DeMoro said.

“And it points a finger at the source of the crisis, a profit-driven insurance industry whose biggest accomplishment is buying our U.S. Congress to prevent real reform,” she added.

Moore premiered the film at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday to rave reviews. “My intention was to keep ‘Sicko’ under wraps and show it to virtually no one before its premiere in Cannes,” Moore stated on his website.

“I knew that the health care industry – an industry which makes up more than 15 percent of our GDP – was not going to like much of what they were going to see in this movie and I thought it best not to upset them any sooner than need be,” Moore added.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 9:03 am

Megs in morning sun

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Megs in sun  Megs still in sun

Megs does like a bit of sun in the morning. In these photos, you can see her apron clearly. She’s a happy kitty, at the time of the photo nicely full of canned food.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 8:45 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Watch ads, become unhappy

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It occurred to me that the majority—perhaps even the vast majority—of advertising is designed to make you unhappy and discontent. Consider: if you’re happy and content, why would you want to buy something more? Some ads use social fears (“Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everyone did?” “The heartbreak of halitosis” “Beano”), others rely on envy (the glamorous model in the new car/with the new clothes/smoking the new cigarette/etc. — you can be this person instead of the dolt that you are if you just buy this product), and so on.

So we’re bombarded with ads, mini-dramas, implications, and so on that are designed to undercut our sense of happiness and contentment but offer us a solution: buy the product. Since most of us are not so easily swayed to buy, we move along through life with a vague background discontentment constantly stirred by the ads we see.

Full disclosure: I do not watch television. Hence my unimpaired sense of contentment. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 7:14 am

Posted in Daily life

USB-powered one-can micro-fridge

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USB mini-fridge

Very cute: a tee-tiny refrigerator holds one can of soda pop. $33.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 7:05 am

Orange sun oozing

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Great movie: one hour of sun activity compressed to a few seconds. It takes a while to fully load, but then you can play the whole thing at one take.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 6:35 am

Posted in Science

The secret prison system still is active

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From Salon:

In late April the Pentagon announced with fanfare that Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a former top advisor to Osama bin Laden, was in custody at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Although al-Hadi was “one of al-Qaida’s highest ranking and experienced senior operatives” and may have been planning attacks on Western targets at the time of his capture, he would be treated humanely, the Pentagon said. Military officials had alerted the International Committee of the Red Cross that al-Hadi was in their custody, and said they would grant the Red Cross access to monitor his treatment.

But as the Pentagon also noted in late April, al-Hadi was not a new prisoner; he had been in CIA custody since the fall of 2006. And Salon has discovered that, in contrast to the protocols followed by the Pentagon, the CIA kept al-Hadi’s months-long detention a secret — not only from the public but from the Red Cross as well, raising new questions about the CIA’s treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism. While the U.S. military recently adopted new rules for interrogation in the wake of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, legal and human rights experts say the CIA may be continuing to flout the law — potentially using abusive interrogation tactics at secret prisons known as “black sites” — at the direction of the Bush White House.

Red Cross officials confirmed to Salon that the CIA did not alert them during the months that al-Hadi was a prisoner with the agency. “We have repeatedly asked U.S. authorities to be notified and have access to all detainees, including those held by the CIA,” said Simon Schorno, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Washington. “But we did not have access to Mr. al-Hadi before his transfer [to military custody]. For us, that is problematic.”

The Red Cross’ access to detainees, set forth in the Geneva Conventions, is premised on the idea that anonymous, secret detentions create conditions conducive to torture. During the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib, for example, some “ghost detainees” were kept off the books at the military prison and hidden from the Red Cross. One of those prisoners, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during a CIA interrogation in a shower room at Abu Ghraib on Nov. 4, 2003. The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology later ruled al-Jamadi’s death a homicide, caused by “blunt force injuries to the torso complicated by compromised respiration.”

The CIA’s secret imprisonment and interrogation of suspected terrorists, first exposed by news reports and eventually confirmed by Bush at a press conference last Sept. 6, allegedly involved an array of inhumane tactics. At black sites scattered around the globe, the CIA reportedly subjected high-value detainees like al-Hadi to sleep deprivation, stress positions, slapping, induced hypothermia and “waterboarding,” or simulated drowning. Bush did not discuss any specific techniques on Sept. 6, but said the CIA’s actions had been approved by the Justice Department and were “designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations.” The program, Bush said, “has given us information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 6:30 am

CO2 rising faster than ever

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Grim:

Instead of slowing down, worldwide carbon-dioxide levels have taken a sudden and alarming jump since the year 2000, an international team of scientists reported Monday.

CO2 emissions from fossil fuels – mostly coal, oil and gas – are increasing at three times the rate experienced in the 1990s, they said. The rapid acceleration could make the battle against global warming even more difficult than it already appears.

Instead of rising by 1.1 percent a year, as in the previous decade, emissions grew by an average of 3.1 percent a year from 2000 to 2004, the latest year for which global figures are available, the scientists reported in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Despite the scientific consensus that carbon emissions are affecting the world’s climate, we are not seeing evidence of progress in managing those emissions,” said Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, Calif., a co-author of the report.

“In many parts of the world, we are going backward,” Field said. “The trends relating energy to economy growth are definitely headed in the wrong direction.”

The spurt in the CO2 emission rate is especially worrisome because it marks a reversal of a long-term trend toward greater energy efficiency and away from carbon-based fuels, the report’s authors said.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 6:17 am

YAES (Yet another exceptional shave)

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New stuff to try: Geo. F. Trumper triple-milled Rose shaving soap. Great lather quickly made using the Rooney Style 2 Finest. Then I picked the Merkur Progress, which this morning I realized is a really chunky and solid little razor.

Very smooth shave indeed—that is, the action of shaving: three passes, quickly and easily done, and the result was very smooth as well. After the alum block and rinse, I used Mr. Taylor’s A Gentleman’s Aftershave Lotion, which has a wonderful fragrance:

For generations, discriminating gentlemen have selected this crisp and spicy fragrance in which Tarragon, Lavender and Incense combine with hints of Green Galbanum and Citrus for an elegant manly scent and a warm, woody drydown with traces of Cedar, Sandal, Patchouli and Musk.

It occurs to me that guys who wear beards miss out on a significant pleasure of daily life.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2007 at 5:54 am

Posted in Shaving

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