Later On

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

Archive for June 2007

“No Americans need apply”

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From Business Week:

The video looks as if it were shot at a sleepy corporate seminar. But the dialogue is riveting: a group of lawyers telling potential clients how to pretend to look hard for American employees while hiring cheaper foreign workers instead under the H-1B visa program.

Trying to fill jobs with Americans is a requirement for employers seeking to turn foreign workers into long-term hires. But here’s Lawrence Lebowitz, marketing director for the Pittsburgh law firm Cohen & Grigsby, at its annual Immigration Law Update Seminar in May: “Our goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker,” he says in the five-minute video clip posted on YouTube on June 16 by the Programmers Guild, an advocacy group for U.S. tech workers. The trick, according to Cohen & Grigsby attorneys, is just to go through the motions of hiring Americans.

The video, which the law firm originally posted on its own Web site (and has since removed), has sparked a strong reaction in Congress, which is sharply divided over a controversial immigration reform bill. On June 21, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) fired off a letter to the law firm demanding an explanation. The two also called on Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to monitor more closely com- pliance with the rules. Cohen & Grigsby directed requests for comment to their public relations firm, which did not return calls.

Yeah, I bet they don’t return calls.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Business

Harvesting water from the night air

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Even in arid climates, the night air is more humid. This device can collect 12 gallons of pure water a night from an inexpensive and easily transportable collector.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

French healthcare system

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From Business Week:

In Sicko, Moore lumps France in with the socialized systems of Britain, Canada, and Cuba. In fact, the French system is similar enough to the U.S. model that reforms based on France’s experience might work in America. The French can choose their doctors and see any specialist they want. Doctors in France, many of whom are self- employed, are free to prescribe any care they deem medically necessary. “The French approach suggests it is possible to solve the problem of financing universal coverage…[without] reorganizing the entire system,” says Victor G. Rodwin, professor of health policy and management at New York University.

France also demonstrates that you can deliver stellar results with this mix of public and private financing. In a recent World Health Organization health-care ranking, France came in first, while the U.S. scored 37th, slightly better than Cuba and one notch above Slovenia. France’s infant death rate is 3.9 per 1,000 live births, compared with 7 in the U.S., and average life expectancy is 79.4 years, two years more than in the U.S. The country has far more hospital beds and doctors per capita than America, and far lower rates of death from diabetes and heart disease. The difference in deaths from respiratory disease, an often preventable form of mortality, is particularly striking: 31.2 per 100,000 people in France, vs. 61.5 per 100,000 in the U.S.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 12:54 pm

“With US healthcare, at least you don’t have to wait”

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Hah. Haha. What a joke. Look at this:

The health-care reform debate is in full roar with the arrival of Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko, which compares the U.S. system unfavorably with single-payer systems around the world. Critics of the film are quick to trot out a common defense of the American way: For all its problems, they say, U.S. patients at least don’t have to endure the endless waits for medical care endemic to government-run systems. The lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans spells it out in a rebuttal to Sicko: “The American people do not support a government takeover of the entire health-care system because they know that means long waits for rationed care.”

In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems. Take Susan M., a 54-year-old human resources executive in New York City. She faithfully makes an appointment for a mammogram every April, knowing the wait will be at least six weeks. She went in for her routine screening at the end of May, then had another because the first wasn’t clear. That second X-ray showed an abnormality, and the doctor wanted to perform a needle biopsy, an outpatient procedure. His first available date: mid-August. “I completely freaked out,” Susan says. “I couldn’t imagine spending the summer with this hanging over my head.” After many calls to five different facilities, she found a clinic that agreed to read her existing mammograms on June 25 and promised to schedule a follow-up MRI and biopsy if needed within 10 days. A full month had passed since the first suspicious X-rays. Ultimately, she was told the abnormality was nothing to worry about, but she should have another mammogram in six months. Taking no chances, she made an appointment on the spot. “The system is clearly broken,” she laments.

It’s not just broken for breast exams.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 12:49 pm

Sophie in the window

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Sophie in window

Sophie likes to sit in the window and check on what’s happening in the greater world, especially if what’s happening involves birds.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 10:05 am

Posted in Cats, Sophie

Griswold No. 8 Cast-iron Dutch oven

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Griswold dutch oven

I just listed a very nice Griswold Dutch oven on eBay. If you like this sort of thing, take a look. It’s in very good shape.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 10:03 am

“Reporting” of military press releases

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Glenn Greenwald:

On June 22, the BBC — under the headline: “‘Al-Qaeda gunmen’ killed in Iraq” — reported, along with virtually every major American media outlet, the following claim, without any challenge or questioning:

US helicopters have killed 17 gunmen with suspected al-Qaeda links in Iraq’s Diyala province north of Baghdad, the US military says.

But unlike the American media outlets which mindlessly reported these “Al Qaeda kills,” the BBC at least followed up on this story and found that there are substantial grounds, to put it mildly, for believing those claims were false. In a follow-up article — prompted by protests from residents of the village where the “Al Qaeda kills” occurred — the BBC reported:

A group of villagers in Iraq is bitterly disputing the US account of a deadly air attack on 22 June, in the latest example of the confusion surrounding the reporting of combat incidents there. . . On 22 June the US military announced that its attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen who had been trying to infiltrate the village of al-Khalis, north of Baquba, where operation “Arrowhead Ripper” had been under way for the previous three days.

The item was duly carried by international news agencies and received widespread coverage, including on the BBC News website.

But villagers in largely-Shia al-Khalis say that those who died had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They say they were local village guards trying to protect the township from exactly the kind of attack by insurgents the US military says it foiled.

Minutes before the attack, they had been co-operating with an Iraqi police unit raiding a suspected insurgent hideout, the villagers said.

They added that the guards, lightly armed with the AK47 assault rifles that are a feature of practically every home in Iraq, were essentially a local neighbourhood watch paid by the village to monitor the dangerous insurgent-ridden area to the immediate south-west at Arab Shawkeh and Hibhib, where the al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed a year ago.

According to local witnesses, then — none of whom were interviewed by the media outlets obediently reciting the U.S. military’s dramatic narrative about “17 Al Qaeda fighters killed” — those who were killed by the U.S. strikes had absolutely nothing to do with “Al Qaeda,” but instead were guarding their own villages against the very Sunni insurgents whom we now call “Al Qaeda.” The entirety of the screaming headlines on June 22 about the Glorious Military Victory which Killed Al Qaeda was based exclusively on this Press Release issued by the U.S. military (specifically, the Public Affairs Office of “Camp Victory”) — entitled “Coalition Forces kill 17 al-Qaeda gunmen near Khalis” — and read as follows:

“Coalition Forces attack helicopters engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen southwest of Khalis, Friday. “Iraqi police were conducting security operations in and around the village when Coalition attack helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and ground forces from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, observed more than 15 armed men attempting to circumvent the IPs and infiltrate the village.

“The attack helicopters, armed with missiles, engaged and killed 17 al-Qaeda gunmen and destroyed the vehicle they were using.”

That Press Release, with no investigation or modification, immediately became the headlines and lead paragraphs of every major American media outlet. Our news organizations, which claim to have learned so many valuable lessons from their profound failures in the run-up to the Iraq war, “reported” on this incident by doing one thing and one thing only: reading the Press Release and then copying it down and reporting it as Truth. Just look at a small sampling of what was produced as a result of this mindless media recitation:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 7:27 am

Is a conscious AI even necessary?

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Good (lenthy) article by David Gelernter:

 Artificial intelligence has been obsessed with several questions from the start: Can we build a mind out of software? If not, why not? If so, what kind of mind are we talking about? A conscious mind? Or an unconscious intelligence that seems to think but experiences nothing and has no inner mental life? These questions are central to our view of computers and how far they can go, of computation and its ultimate meaning–and of the mind and how it works.

They are deep questions with practical implications. AI researchers have long maintained that the mind provides good guidance as we approach subtle, tricky, or deep computing problems. Software today can cope with only a smattering of the information-processing problems that our minds handle routinely–when we recognize faces or pick elements out of large groups based on visual cues, use common sense, understand the nuances of natural language, or recognize what makes a musical cadence final or a joke funny or one movie better than another. AI offers to figure out how thought works and to make that knowledge available to software designers.

It even offers to deepen our understanding of the mind itself. Questions about software and the mind are central to cognitive science and philosophy. Few problems are more far-reaching or have more implications for our fundamental view of ourselves.

The current debate centers on what I’ll call a “simulated conscious mind” versus a “simulated unconscious intelligence.” We hope to learn whether computers make it possible to achieve one, both, or neither.

I believe it is hugely unlikely, though not impossible, that a conscious mind will ever be built out of software. Even if it could be, the result (I will argue) would be fairly useless in itself. But an unconscious simulated intelligence certainly could be built out of software–and might be useful. Unfortunately, AI, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind are nowhere near knowing how to build one. They are missing the most important fact about thought: the “cognitive continuum” that connects the seemingly unconnected puzzle pieces of thinking (for example analytical thought, common sense, analogical thought, free association, creativity, hallucination). The cognitive continuum explains how all these reflect different values of one quantity or parameter that I will call “mental focus” or “concentration”–which changes over the course of a day and a lifetime.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 7:23 am

Posted in Science, Software

Apple through the years

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Via DesignVerb:

Apple evolution

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 6:45 am

Altruism evolutionarily essential

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In any series of philosophical discussions, one sooner or later hits the altruism question: is altruism even possible. Despite many obvious examples, a certain cadre will always maintain that there’s no such thing as altruism. They can maintain this position (it seems to me) by redefining altruism in their own peculiar way—e.g., an altruistic act often provides some pleasure to the actor, thus s/he gets something in return, thus it’s not altruism.

Such sophistry aside, the question remains whether altruism can be taught, or is acquired by practice, not teaching? Or if neither by practice nor by learning, whether it comes to mankind by nature or in some other way?

The answer, it seems, is that altruism comes by nature:

Many researchers have asserted that only people will assist strangers without receiving anything in return, sometimes at great personal cost. However, a new study suggests that chimpanzees also belong to the Good Samaritan club, as do children as young as 18 months of age.


MAY I HELP YOU? New experiments indicate that chimpanzees aid strangers, regardless of personal gain, much as people, including very young children, do.
Max Planck Inst. for Evolutionary Anthropology

Without any prospect of immediate benefit, chimps helped both people and other chimps that they didn’t know, and the 18-month-olds spontaneously assisted adults they’d never seen before, say psychologist Felix Warneken of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues.

The roots of human altruism reach back roughly 6 million years to a common ancestor of people and chimps, the researchers propose in the July PLoS Biology.

“Learning and experience are involved in altruistic helping, but our claim is that there is a predisposition [in chimps and people] to develop such behavior without explicit training,” Warneken says.

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Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 5:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Lily of the Valley

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Shaving soap, that is. The last of my current Mama Bear series, a soap with a nice fragrance. I used the Rooney Style 3 Size 2 (medium) Super—and it was very nice indeed. I had forgotten the pleasures of larger brush. Now I want the G.B. Kent BK8 back again. 🙂

The razor was a Gillette red-tipped Super Speed made in England. I don’t know why, but the English models of Gillette varieties seem always to be more substantial, sturdier, and of better manufacture than the American equivalents. This was no exception, and it did a fine job.

I tried the Geo. F. Trumper Skyy cologne as an aftershave—why not? It worked well.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2007 at 5:30 am

Posted in Shaving

A cruise ship filled with Right-wingers

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Via The Liberal Avenger, this article from The New Republic:

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. “Is he your only child?” I ask. “Yes,” she answers. “Do you have a child back in England?” she asks me. No, I say. Her face darkens. “You’d better start,” she says. “The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they’ll have the whole of Europe.”

I am getting used to such moments, when holiday geniality bleeds into—well, I’m not sure exactly what. I am traveling on a bright-white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, and 500 readers of National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been “an amazing success.” Global warming is not happening. Europe is becoming a new Caliphate. And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review—the bible of American conservatism—organizes a cruise for its readers. Last November, I paid $1,200 to join them. The rules I imposed on myself were simple: If any of the conservative cruisers asked who I was, I answered honestly, telling them I was a journalist. But, mostly, I just tried to blend in—and find out what conservatives say when they think the rest of us aren’t listening.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2007 at 7:36 pm

Posted in GOP

Thermocule report

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Last night I slept with both the Thermocule blanket and the Thermocule mattress pad. Wonderful comfort. Last night was warm at times, but I never once woke up feeling sweaty, which is a new thing (post-Thermocule). Bedding can be found here.

If you try this, I’ll be interested to hear about your experience. I love it, myself.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2007 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Iced coffee

with 2 comments

I made this last night and just had a glass. It’s wonderful.

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

Time: 5 minutes, plus 12 hours’ resting

1/3 cup ground coffee (medium-coarse grind is best)
Milk (optional).

1. In a jar, stir together coffee and 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight or 12 hours.  [If you want to make a larger batch, use 2 1/4 cups of water to 1/2 cup ground coffee. – LG]

2. Strain twice through a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth. In a tall glass filled with ice, mix equal parts coffee concentrate and water, or to taste. If desired, add milk.

Yield: Two drinks.

NOTE: To make hot coffee, dilute concentrate one-to-one with water and heat in the microwave. [The hot version tastes like instant, IMHO – LG]

The background article includes this information:

Cold-brewed coffee is actually dirt simple to make at home. Online, you’ll find a wealth of forums arguing for this bean or that, bottled water over tap, the 24-hour versus the 12-hour soak. You can even buy the Toddy cold-brew coffee system for about $30.

But you can also bang it out with a Mason jar and a sieve. You just add water to coffee, stir, cover it and leave it out on the counter overnight. A quick two-step filtering the next day (strain the grounds through a sieve, and use a coffee filter to pick up silt), a dilution of the brew one-to-one with water, and you’re done. Except for the time it sits on the kitchen counter, the whole process takes about five minutes.

I was curious to see how it would taste without all the trappings. The answer is, Fantastic. My friend Carter, something of a cold-brewing savant, turned me onto another homegrown trick: freeze some of the concentrate into cubes. Matched with regular ice cubes, they melt into the same ratio as the final blend.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2007 at 11:58 am

The Authoritarian Mindset

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Glenn Greenwald has a good post today in which he explores how eagerly the Right embraces the Authoritarian Mindset. Just one extract:

… One specific exchange between Tucker and Jonah as they explored the Greatness of Dick Cheney:

[Tucker] CARLSON: But I’m bothered by Cheney’s — but does — Cheney’s secrecy, his penchant for secrecy. I mean, this is a cliche, a stereotype, but it’s rooted, apparently, in truth. The guy really is secretive to a degree we haven’t seen in a while. That is — I mean, we do have a right to know what our government is doing, don’t we?[Jonah] GOLDBERG: Yes, sure, although I think you would concede, even though you and I disagree about some foreign policy stuff, you and I would agree that there are some things that should be kept secret. We might disagree about what they are.


GOLDBERG: And you know, but I do think that what Cheney has learned after a lifetime in Washington as a power player, is that the person who holds the secrets has power. And he is using that for what I would say, or probably what he believes to be certainly good ends. A lot of people disagree on that, but he’s trying to do best as he can and he sees holding onto power as a tool to do that.

That, of course, is the defining mentality of the Authoritarian Mind, captured in its purest essence by Jonah. Our Leaders are Good and want to protect us. Therefore, we must accept — and even be grateful — when they prevent us from knowing what they are doing. The less we know, the more powerful our Leaders are. And that is something we accept and celebrate, for our Leaders are Good and we trust that the more powerful they are, the better we all shall be. No inferences or interpretations are required to describe Jonah’s mentality this way. That is precisely — expressly — what he said. And though it is rarely expressed in such explicit form, this is the mindset which, more than anything else, has enabled the rampant lawbreaking and unprecedented secrecy of the last six years.

We do not need open government, do not need to know what our Leaders are doing, must not demand that they act only within the limits of law — because we place our faith in them, trust in them as warriors for the Good who want only what is best for us. Transparency and oversight diminishes their power, makes them weaker. And we want them to be as powerful as possible. Or, as Jonah so succinctly put it: “the person who holds the secrets has power. And [Cheney] is using that for what I would say. . . to be certainly good ends.”

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2007 at 9:50 am

What’s it like to work at Google?

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It has its drawbacks, from this report, especially if you want a life of your own, you have kids, etc. Read about it.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2007 at 9:11 am

Megs at the screen

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Megs at screen

It’s rather warm here today—the living room was 73º F—so I opened the sliding glass door for the first time from necessity. Megs immediately plopped herself in front of it: warm sun, interesting sounds, and fascinating smells—her little nose is going a mile a minute. It doesn’t appear in this photo, but if it did, it would be blurred from the motion.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2007 at 8:11 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Spy Sweeper “upgrade”

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Here’s the ticket I sent in:

I have Spy Sweeper with Antivirus. I use Firefox v.

Since installing the new update of SS a couple of days ago, whenever I exit Firefox, all my cookies and log-ins are removed. When I return, I have to log-in EVERYWHERE. This is, as you can imagine, a great flaming pain. I’ve looked for a SS setting to stop this behavior. Didn’t find it. I reinstalled Firefox, thinking that SS must have overwritten some Firefox settings. No help.

First, this amounts to a damned bug, from the point of view of an inconvenienced and irate user. Second, when can I get a version that will not do this?

No response as yet. If I didn’t have Roboform Pro to do the logins automatically (in most instances—a couple I have to do by hand), I would be even more irate.

UPDATE: Got the fix:

If the cookies are being instantaneously removed, this means that the tracking cookies shield in Spy Sweeper is most likely activated. This shield prevents cookies from ever entering your computer. They are deleted almost the instant they are downloaded. To disable this shield, please open Spy Sweeper and click on the ‘Shields’ button. From here, click on the ‘Web Browser’ tab and uncheck the box labeled ‘Tracking Cookies’.

That did indeed work. Hallelujah.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2007 at 7:35 am

Posted in Software

Violet morning

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The soap: Victorian Violet, by Mama Bear. The brush: Rooney Style 1 Size 1 (small) Super. Lather: good. I need to practice more with the short, stubby brushes to learn how to make a good enough lather.

The razor: the British Aristocrat, but which one I don’t know. Excellent shave in any event, using a Wilkinson. Aftershave: Aqua Lavanda.

The feeling: priceless.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2007 at 7:33 am

Posted in Shaving

Not long until Bush screens reporters

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Bush has long screened the audiences for his public appearances, allowing to attend only those who support him—and in some cases requiring signed statements to that effect. Now he’s taking steps against the press. I think Bush must really wish he had totalitarian control of this country.

WPRI-TV, Channel 12 reporter Jarrod Holbrook had his White House press pass snatched today after he shouted “Mr. President” twice as President Bush greeted Air and Army National Guardsmen gathered on the tarmac at Quonset airport in North Kingstown.

A member of the president’s entourage pointed at Holbrook after he first tried to get Bush’s attention. The man then ripped the pass from Holbrook’s belt after he shouted to the president, who was less then 10 feet away, again.

Holbrook said afterward that he just wanted to ask Bush how he enjoyed his visit to Rhode Island. Members of the media were not told they could not ask the president questions.

If the President is making a public appearance, he can request that no questions be asked, but the press can ask questions anyway. He doesn’t have to answer—indeed, he seldom answers a question he’s been asked—but he doesn’t have the right to suppress free speech. He (and his entourage) apparently think he has, but he’s wrong on this, as on so very many things.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2007 at 2:52 pm

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