Later On

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

Archive for July 23rd, 2007

More on Bush on torture

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From Dan Froomkin’s column today:

Here is Bush’s executive order on torture, the official White House statement, and the transcript of a tragi-comically unforthcoming press briefing by anonymous senior administration officials.

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: “President Bush set broad legal boundaries for the CIA’s harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects yesterday, allowing the intelligence agency to resume a program that was suspended last year after criticism that it violated U.S. and international law.

“In an executive order lacking any details about actual interrogation techniques, Bush said the CIA program will now comply with a Geneva Conventions prohibition against ‘outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.’ His order, required by legislation signed in October, was delayed for months amid tense debate inside the administration. . . .

“Two administration officials said that suspects now in U.S. custody could be moved immediately into the ‘enhanced interrogation’ program and subjected to techniques that go beyond those allowed by the U.S. military.

“Rights activists criticized Bush’s order for failing to spell out which techniques are now approved or prohibited. . . .

“‘All the order really does is to have the president say, “Everything in that other document that I’m not showing you is legal — trust me,” ‘ said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch.”

William Douglas and Jonathan S. Landay write for McClatchy Newspapers: “Some experts in human-rights law said Bush’s order contains ‘loopholes’ that would allow the CIA to continue using aggressive interrogation techniques that others would consider torture.

The order “‘prohibits willful and outrageous acts of abuse, but only does so where the purpose is to humiliate and degrade an individual. But if an interrogator says these techniques, whether it’s water-boarding or stress techniques, are done to elicit information, but not humiliate a detainee, they could argue that that would not run afoul of the executive order,’ said Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer with New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, which has represented detainees held by the United States.

“‘The same thing goes for acts to denigrate someone’s religion. If you took away someone’s Quran not to denigrate, but as an interrogation technique to gain information — which they’ve done in the past — they could argue it was allowed under the order,’ he said. . . .

“‘Let’s not forget that the administration’s theory of executive authority is very broad. They reserve the right to interpret laws in ways no one agrees with in emergency situations,’ said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit activist group.”

And Sifton said that the CIA program under Bush’s order remains in violation of international law. “‘Put torture to the side for a second. The CIA detention program, even if no mistreatment is occurring, is still illegal under international law because it allows incommunicado, indefinite detention. That is enforced disappearance. That exists entirely outside the rule of law,’ he said.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 1:25 pm

Better, even, than CliffsNotes

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Limerick versions of famous poems:

Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening

There once was a horse-riding chap
Who took a trip in a cold snap
He stopped in the snow
But he soon had to go:
He was miles away from a nap.

The Raven

There once was a girl named Lenore
And a bird and a bust and a door
And a guy with depression
And a whole lot of questions
And the bird always says “Nevermore.”

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

There was an old father of Dylan
Who was seriously, mortally illin’
“I want,” Dylan said
“You to bitch till you’re dead.
“I’ll be cheesed if you kick it while chillin’.”

I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud

There once was a poet named Will
Who tramped his way over a hill
And was speechless for hours
Over some stupid flowers
This was years before TV, but still.

Footprints in the Sand

There was a man who, at low tide
Would walk with the Lord by his side
Jesus said “Now look back;
You’ll see one set of tracks.
That’s when you got a piggy-back ride.”

As exercises for you St. Johnnies:

There once was a young man, Achilles,

And

A curious fellow named Meno

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 11:17 am

Posted in Books

Why arbitration is bad for consumers

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It’s likely that your credit card agreement specifies that arbitration will be used to settle disputes. This is not so good for you:

Despite advocates’ concerns, it’s unclear whether consumers who go through arbitration are any more likely to get a judgment against them than those who go to court. The National Arbitration Forum (NAF), one of the nation’s largest private arbitration firms, is commonly used by creditors and secondary debt buyers. A Monitor analysis of the last year of available data from NAF found that arbitrators awarded in favor of creditors and debt buyers in more than 96 percent of the cases. … It also found that the 10 most frequently used arbitrators – who decided almost 60 percent of the cases heard – decided in favor of the consumer only 1.6 percent of the time, while arbitrators who decided three or fewer cases decided for the consumer 38 percent of the time.

NAF would not comment on the findings because it had not participated in the analysis, but maintains that its arbitrators are neutral. Edward Anderson, managing director of NAF, says that caseloads of arbitrators probably reflect types of cases. “Undoubtedly, the more complex the disputes, the more arbitrator time would be involved and the fewer cases an arbitrator would be able to handle,” he writes in an e-mail, noting that cases where one party does not respond are less complex than those where there is a controversy. Indeed, arbitrators who heard few cases were far more likely to hear contested cases than other arbitrators.

But consumer advocates say arbitrators have strong incentives to rule in favor of business. One commonly applied rule allows either party to reject an arbitrator for any reason. Businesses can use this “one strike” rule to their advantage, say consumer advocates, since they may have more information on an arbitrators’ prior rulings than consumers do. And the knowledge that rulings bring repeat business may create financial pressures for arbitrators.

“Arbitration work is often very lucrative, and arbitrators know that if they rule against a corporate defendant too frequently or too generously (from the standpoint of that corporation), they will lose the work,” wrote F. Paul Bland, staff attorney at Public Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit legal services group that opposes mandatory binding arbitration agreements in consumer contracts, in comments for the Congressional hearing.

… Two former NAF arbitrators say banks took them off of cases after they issued rulings unfavorable to the institution. Richard Neely, a retired chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, says he received two cases from the NAF in which he wouldn’t charge consumers for the creditor’s litigation-related fees. He never received another case.

After she decided against a credit-card company, awarding a consumer damages, Elizabeth Bartholet, a former NAF arbitrator and Harvard law professor, said in a 2006 deposition that she was repeatedly removed from cases by the credit-card company. Rather than telling alleged debtors that the creditors removed her, she said, at times NAF mailed letters saying she had a scheduling conflict and had withdrawn.

More at the link. There’s a Senate bill to fix this (proposed by Democrats, of course, not by the GOP, which is pro-business, anti-consumer, and thinks the free market will fix the problem).

Complaints have recently caught the attention of Congress. On Thursday, Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin and Rep. Hank Johnson (D) of Georgia unveiled legislation that would prohibit predispute mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer agreements, letting consumers choose whether to go to arbitration or court if a dispute arose.

“Arbitration can be a fair and efficient way to handle disputes, but only when it is entered into knowingly and voluntarily by both parties,” Senator Feingold said in a release. “People from all walks of life … often find themselves strong-armed into mandatory arbitration agreements. We need to make sure that all Americans can still have their day in court.”

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 10:50 am

iPhone vulnerable

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Don’t keep any personal info on your iPhone. From the NY Times:

 A team of computer security consultants say they have found a flaw in Apple’s wildly popular iPhone that allows them to take control of the device.

The researchers, working for Independent Security Evaluators, a company that tests its clients’ computer security by hacking it, said that they could take control of iPhones through a WiFi connection or by tricking users into going to a Web site that contains malicious code. The hack, the first reported, allowed them to tap the wealth of personal information the phones contain.

Although Apple built considerable security measures into its device, said Charles A. Miller, the principal security analyst for the firm, “Once you did manage to find a hole, you were in complete control.” The firm, based in Baltimore, alerted Apple about the vulnerability this week and recommended a software patch that could solve the problem.

A spokeswoman for Apple, Lynn Fox, said, “Apple takes security very seriously and has a great track record of addressing potential vulnerabilities before they can affect users.”

“We’re looking into the report submitted by I.S.E. and always welcome feedback on how to improve our security,” she said.

There is no evidence that this flaw had been exploited or that users had been affected.

Dr. Miller, a former employee of the National Security Agency who has a doctorate in computer science, demonstrated the hack to a reporter by using his iPhone’s Web browser to visit a Web site of his own design.

Once he was there, the site injected a bit of code into the iPhone that then took over the phone. The phone promptly followed instructions to transmit a set of files to the attacking computer that included recent text messages — including one that had been sent to the reporter’s cellphone moments before — as well as telephone contacts and e-mail addresses.

“We can get any file we want,” he said. Potentially, he added, the attack could be used to program the phone to make calls, running up large bills or even turning it into a portable bugging device.

Steven M. Bellovin, a professor of computer science at Columbia University, said, “This looks like a very genuine hack.” Mr. Bellovin, who was for many years a computer security expert at AT&T Labs Research, said the vulnerability of the iPhone was an inevitable result of the long-anticipated convergence of computing and telephony.

“We’ve been hearing for a few years now that viruses and worms were going to be a problem on cellphones as they became a little more powerful, and we’re there,” he said. The iPhone is a full-fledged computer, he noted, “and sure enough, it’s got computer-grade problems.”

He said he suspected that phones based on the Windows mobile operating system would be similarly “attackable,” though he had not yet heard of any attacks.

“It’s not the end of the world; it’s not the end of the iPhone,” he said, any more than the regular revelations of vulnerabilities in computer browser software have killed off computing. “It is a sign that you cannot let down your guard. It is a sign that we need to build software and systems better.”

Details on the vulnerability, but not a step-by-step guide to hacking the phone, can be found at http://www.exploitingiphone.com, which the researchers said would be unveiled today.

More at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 10:40 am

Things good to know soon

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“So soon old, so late smart.” Here are things that one guy wishes he had known sooner:

Most people learn over time, but often learning comes too late to be fully useful. There are certainly many things that I know now that would have been extremely useful to me earlier in my life; things that could have saved me from many of the mistakes and hurts I suffered over the years—and most of those that I inflicted on others too.

I don’t buy the romantic notion that my life has been somehow richer or more interesting because of all the times I screwed up; nor that the mistakes were “put” there to help me learn. I made them myself—through ignorance, fear, and a dumb wish to have everyone like me—and life and work would have been less stressful and more enjoyable (and certainly more successful) without them. So here are some of the things I wish I had learned long ago. I hope they may help a few of you avoid the mistakes that I made back then.

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 10:33 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Your next big move

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In terms of changing your domicile, that is. Here are seven tips from The Simple Dollar:

Visit book stores for free packing boxes. Go to the customer service counter on Tuesdays (in the United States, at least) and ask for any spare boxes. The boxes that book stores use for book shipping are fantastic. I’ve found locally that if you’ve made a purchase in a store, you’re likely to get several times more boxes than if you just charge in and head straight for the counter; my tactic was that I would stop at the customer service desk first and ask if they had any and if they did, I’d say that I had some shopping to do and would get some before I left. I’d get an item, buy it, then return to the desk to get boxes, holding my shopping bag so that the people could see it.

Visit convenience stores for free packing material. Newspapers are wonderful packing material for cheap things. We hit up convenience stores on Monday mornings and got many copies of the local Sunday paper. Some clerks will just let you have them; others will make you wait for the paper delivery truck to come around (they take the old newspapers). Almost always, if you’re there when the paper delivery truck is there, you can get a ton of old papers, as it is less for the company to deal with.

Label your boxes – the more detail, the better. We wrote a target room on the top, along with a few words summarizing what was inside. The few seconds it took to do this for each box we packed was well worth the time when we moved in – we just put stuff in the target room and was ready to go.

Unless you have tons of help or are highly organized, get a moving service. Even if you do all the packing yourself, their efficiency can be utterly incredible. We packed all of our own materials, so our moving service just carried the boxes to the new house. It still took seven hours, but I estimated it would have taken me twenty or so by myself (my wife is pregnant and can’t help) and somewhat less with friends, but still not anywhere near that efficient.

Keep a “vital stuff” box. Put items in it that you’ll need to find quickly at the house, like prescription medication and highly important personal materials, and keep track of it yourself. My wife accidentally packed some prescription medication into the bottom of an unexpected box that morning and we wound up burning two hours just searching for the medication.

Invite family and friends over a couple of days after you move. We actually found that an invasion of family and friends after the move helped us a ton. They moved furniture into appropriate places, cleared out tons of empty boxes, put stuff in appropriate rooms, assembled a desk, and so on. We went from feeling like there was a ton left to do to feeling moved in in just a few hours.

Follow that day with a party in the evening. We had a nice little party out on our deck where we drank some champagne and beer, sat around, and shot the breeze for hours. It was a great end to the move and helped two tired people break in their house a little with love and friendship.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 10:26 am

Posted in Daily life

How to cut a watermelon

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I didn’t know this:

Note that if you cut along the dark stripes on the outside of the watermelon, then the watermelon seeds will end up on the outside of the pieces of watermelon, making them easier to remove.

Complete instructions.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 10:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Bluefish on the grill

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I love bluefish, but it’s a fish of the Atlantic coast and we just don’t see it out here. Here’s an article on grilling bluefish, from which I learned a couple of things. First, cook fish with the bones in, and then fillet before serving: the fish tastes richer when cooked with the bones. Second, when you’re sprinkling salt by hand, hold your hand up high for a more even distribution.

With a whole bluefish in his hands, restaurateur Steve Johnson approaches the hot grill in the kitchen at Rendezvous with confidence. Johnson fishes off the coast of Westport, so he’s an old hand at this.

Like many cooks, the chef prefers whole fish to fillets because the bones add so much more flavor to the flesh. Customers who once wouldn’t touch fish on the bone are now conceding that bone-in fish tastes better. In any case, at this restaurant, diners don’t see many bones. The whole fish is filleted before it goes to the table accompanied by a hot and crunchy Vietnamese cucumber salad.

To grill bluefish, Johnson sets the fish on the cold side of the rack and just before he’s ready to cook it, sprinkles the skin with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Without scoring the fish, he sets it over a hot fire that has been built with hardwood charcoal and logs. Unlike anxious grillers, the chef doesn’t prod the fish once it’s on the coals.

About eight minutes later, he uses a long metal spatula to gently release the skin on the bottom from the grill rack, then flips the fish to cook the other side. The skin is lightly charred and the aromas from the grill are enough to make anyone hungry. When the second side is done, Johnson transfers the fish to a moderate oven to finish cooking. Then he cuts around the top of the fish, lifts off the skin and fillet and sets some fish on several plates. He spoons the spicy cuke salad on top and the smoky, meaty, crisp, vinegary duo is passed around.

And watch this video on the process. It’s short but useful.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 8:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Anise-Lavender

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This morning I used the QED Anise-Lavender shaving stick—not a pairing I would expect, but it works well and smells nice. After washing my beard with Mr. Glo, I rubbed the stick against the grain all over the beard, then took the Edwin Jagger medium silvertip and worked up a great, thick lather. I did add one dab of water, but the lather was still nice and thick. Lots of lather for three passes and could have gone to four.

I inspected the Treet blade, which had had a day off. In taking it out of the razor, I saw that it had indeed rusted, so I switched to a new Treet Dura Sharp carbon steel blade (or, as the label says, “Hi-Tech Steel”—but it’s carbon steel). It was sharp and gave an excellent shave, but it was not quite so sharp as the Treet Blue Special, I think.

After the shave, I used the hair dryer to heat the razor and dry the blade (which I left in the razor). I’ll check and see if this works. If not, I guess the carbon steel blades will be one-time use—but at 11¢ a blade, no biggie.

Aftershave was New York from Parfums De Nicolai.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2007 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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