Later On

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

Archive for June 30th, 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.

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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

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