Later On

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

Archive for September 27th, 2007

Blackwater continued firing…

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NY Times:

Participants in a contentious Baghdad security operation this month have told American investigators that during the operation at least one guard continued firing on civilians while colleagues urgently called for a cease-fire. At least one guard apparently also drew a weapon on a fellow guard who did not stop shooting, an American official said.

The operation, by the private firm Blackwater USA, began as a mission to evacuate senior American officials after an explosion near where they were meeting, several officials said. Some officials have questioned the wisdom of evacuating the Americans from a secure compound, saying the area should instead have been locked down.

These new details of the episode on Sept. 16, in which at least eight Iraqis were killed, including a woman and an infant, were provided by an American official who was briefed on the American investigation by someone who helped conduct it, and by Americans who had spoken directly with two guards involved in the episode. Their accounts were broadly consistent.

A spokeswoman for Blackwater, Anne E. Tyrrell, said she could not confirm any of the details provided by the Americans.

The accounts provided the first glimpse into the official American investigation of the shooting, which has angered Iraqi officials and prompted calls by the Iraqi government to ban Blackwater from working in Iraq, and brought new scrutiny of the widespread use of private security contractors here.

The American official said that by Wednesday morning, American investigators still had not responded to multiple requests for information by Iraqi officials investigating the episode. The official also said that Blackwater had been conducting its own investigation but had been ordered by the United States to stop that work. Ms. Tyrrell confirmed that the company had done an investigation of its own, but said, “No government entity has discouraged us from doing so.”

An Iraqi investigation had concluded that the guards shot without provocation. But the official said that the guards told American investigators that they believed that they fired in response to enemy gunfire.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 8:59 pm

Paul Krugman on Blackwater

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Interesting point, re: Machiavelli’s assessment:

Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming — giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take — went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as “useless and dangerous” more than four centuries ago.

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 8:57 pm


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McClatchy Washington Bureau:

The firm’s contractors have killed or wounded at least 43 people in eight days in Baghdad. Its snipers also killed three guards at an Iraqi TV station earlier this year. The most recent spate of killings comes as a U.S. congressional report slams Blackwater for sending guards to Fallujah unprepared, resulting in the March 2004 massacre of four contractors. » read more

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 5:56 pm

Article on Republicans by a Republican

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John Dean has a three-part article that will be of interest to those who believe politics is important: “Understanding the Contemporary Republican Party: Authoritarians Have Taken Control.” John Dean is, of course, a lifelong Republican who served in the Nixon Administration.

If you believe that the government has any effect on your life, you would do well to read his analysis.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 4:55 pm

Posted in GOP

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Skip violent crime, focus on marijuana

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An email from the Drug Policy Alliance:

According to recently released statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), marijuana arrests reached an all-time high last year. This news comes despite a rise in violent crime for the second consecutive year. Yet, last year alone, 829,625 Americans were charged with marijuana offenses according to the recently released FBI Uniform Crime Statistics. Eighty-nine percent of those charges were merely for simple possession.

This poses the question: shouldn’t law enforcement focus on the rising violent crime rate instead of wasting precious resources and manpower going after people for marijuana?

Close to 100 million Americans—including more than half of those between the ages of 18 and 50—have tried marijuana at least once. Military and police recruiters often have no choice but to ignore past marijuana use by job seekers. In fact, the FBI recently announced it is changing its policy of not hiring people with a history of marijuana or other illegal drug use because the policy disqualifies so many people the agency cannot fill needed positions.

Marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No other law is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace. Millions of Americans have never been arrested or convicted of any criminal offense except this. Enforcing marijuana laws costs an estimated $10-15 billion in direct costs alone.

Punishments range widely across the country, from modest fines to a few days in jail to many years in prison. Prosecutors often contend that no one goes to prison for simple possession—but tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people on probation and parole are locked up each year because their urine tested positive for marijuana or because they were picked up in possession of a joint. Alabama currently locks up people convicted three times of marijuana possession for 15 years to life. There are probably— no firm estimates exist—100,000 Americans behind bars tonight for one marijuana offense or another. And even for those who don’t lose their freedom, simply being arrested can be traumatic and costly. A parent’s marijuana use can be the basis for taking away her children and putting them in foster care. Foreign-born residents of the U.S. can be deported for a marijuana offense no matter how long they have lived in this country, no matter if their children are U.S. citizens, and no matter how long they have been legally employed. More than half the states revoke or suspend driver’s licenses of people arrested for marijuana possession even though they were not driving at the time of arrest.

With violent crime on the rise, arresting marijuana users at such alarming rates does nothing to make Americans feel safer.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Tagged with , ,

Good news for college students

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Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Congress, Education

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If at first you don’t succeed,

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maybe try something else. Clive Thompson blogs:

“Never give in!” Winston Churchill famous intoned. “Never give in! Never, never, never, never — in nothing great or small, large or petty.”

Good advice for winning a world war, clearly! But apparently it’s unhealthy to behave this way in everyday life. According to a new study out of the University of British Columbia, sometimes it’s psychologically healthier to just give up.

The scientists who did the study ran three experiments where they gathered physiological data about a bunch of teenagers with various attitudes towards achieving hard goals. As a press release notes …

… The psychologists followed teenagers for a full year. Over that time, individuals who did not persist obtaining hard to reach goals had much lower levels of a protein called CRP, an indicator of bodily inflammation. Inflammation has recently been linked to several serious diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, suggesting that healthy but overly tenacious teens may already be on the road toward chronic illness later in life.Accordingly, Miller and Wrosch suggest it may be more prudent to cut one’s losses in the face of an insurmountable obstacle. “When people are faced with situations in which they cannot realize a key life goal, the most adaptive response for physical and mental health may be to disengage from this goal,” write the authors.

Apparently the healthiest teens of all were the ones who quickly figured out when a goal was going to be overly hard to achieve, quit — but then immediately honed in on a new, more achievable goal. (A PDF of the study is here.)

In a sense, this is another case of “science confirms the obvious”, but it’s nice to actually have some hard data in defense of the fine art of throwing in the towel. There are way too many managers in this country who deploy Successories posters unironically, and they desperately need someone to hand them a copy of this research.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 1:41 pm

How to close a project

leave a comment » has a good post on how to close a project. It begins:

The emphasis on getting things done (GTD) through technologies, tools, and psychological tweaks has helped us become able to achieve new heights in productivity. This is great since the more things that we can finish, the sooner we can get on to other (often bigger and better) things. That could mean picking up more money, vacation time or opportunities to try new things – whatever is important at the time. But don’t be in too much of a rush to close a file or finish grinding out the last 10% of a task. There are some great ways to finish things that can yield important benefits for you and those around you who are involved. These benefits can often extend to those who may later come onto the scene.

Closing a project should include the following elements:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Business

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Day 4, so four blocks out and four blocks back: 12 minutes, which is more than 1/4th of the way to the goal. I must say that having a “trigger” for the walk (in my case, eating lunch) makes it easier and more natural to swing into the exercise: eat lunch, take walk. Even I can learn that. I dug out my NL-2000 pedometer and do you know what? Every day this week I’ve logged more steps than the previous day! Odd, how that works.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

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Useful site for the fashion-blind

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I don’t have much clothes sense, so this site would have been quite helpful back when. Nowadays, being retired, I can dress without worrying what I’m communicating by what I wear.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 11:39 am

Posted in Daily life

Daniel Kahnman & decision-making

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If you read good books on decision-making, you’ll often see references to Kahneman and Tversky and summaries of their research. Now you have a chance to learn more. From Mind Hacks:

Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman recently gave a two day masterclass on his work. It’s now been made available on Edge as transcripts and video clips.

Kahneman has done a huge amount of work on cognitive biases – the quirks of mind that make us deviate from rationality, sometimes in quite surprising and interesting ways.

For example, with his colleague Amos Tversky, he discovered the availability heuristic, which is the process by which we tend to judge an event as more likely to happen in the future the more easily it can be brought to mind.

This is why we vastly overestimate the chances of vividly spectacular but unlikely things like terrorism, but underestimate the mundane but consistently lethal things like driving.

Kahneman has been involved in identifying many of these sorts of biases, and cleverly, applying them to economic decision making to inform economic models of financial behaviour.

As a result, experimental psychology is now a key part of economics to understand how people actually behave as opposed to earlier models which assumed that people will always act more-or-less rationally to maximise their profits.

The Edge ‘masterclass’ is quite a comprehensive guide to his work and covers work which has been influential in many areas of psychology.

Link to Edge Daniel Kahneman ‘masterclass’.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 10:56 am

Iraqi refugees and the US

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The US, by pre-emptively invading Iraq—that is, declaring war on a nation that was not harming us in any way—has created a terrible refugee problem for which, I’m said to say, the US is taking no responsibility at all. Via Obsidian Wings, Roger Cohen in the NYT:

Between January and August this year, Sweden took in 12,259 Iraqis fleeing their decomposing country. It expects 20,000 for all of 2007. By contrast, in the same January-August period, the United States admitted 685 refugees, according to State Department figures.The numbers bear closer scrutiny. In January, Sweden admitted 1,500 Iraqis, compared to 15 that entered the United States. In April, the respective numbers were 1,421 and 1; in May, 1,367 and 1; and in August 1,469 and 529. (…)

When Tobias Billstrom, the migration minister, says, “Yes, of course the United States should do more,” you can feel his indignation about to erupt like milk boiling over. He notes that given the huge population difference, Sweden’s intake of Iraqis “is the equivalent of the U.S. taking in about 500,000 refugees.”

Of all the Iraq war scandals, America’s failure to do more for refugees, including thousands who put their lives at risk for the U.S., stands out for its moral bankruptcy. Last time I checked, Sweden did not invade Iraq. Its generosity shames President Bush’s fear-infused nation. (…)

A commitment has been made to process 7,000 refugees in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Visas for 500 Iraqis a year who worked for the U.S. have been promised. But these are velleities. Concern has been unmatched by results. Bush has never addressed the issue, an example of his Green Zone politics: shut out ugly reality and with luck it will vanish.

An aggressive American intake of refugees would suggest that their quick return to Iraq is improbable: that smacks too much of failure for Bush. Moreover, you have to scrutinize refugees from countries “infiltrated by large numbers of terrorists,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff opined recently.

The result has been “major bottlenecks,” in the words of a leaked cable from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. Instead of the 7,000 Iraqi refugees supposed to get here this fiscal year, perhaps 1,600 will.

“The numbers are totally embarrassing,” says Kirk Johnson, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development in Iraq. “We can’t recognize a moral imperative any more.”

Imperative is right. People who risked their lives for America are dying or being terrorized because of craven U.S. lethargy. Others are in limbo. Bush now says “Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.” That’s too glib; one may be waiting to be saved.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 10:52 am

Posted in Bush Administration, Iraq War

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Rank continues to improve!

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Today the sales rank of the Guide to Gourmet Shaving is 1,022. My heartfelt thanks to all who have purchased a copy.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 10:09 am

Posted in Books, Shaving

Getting Things Done & David Allen

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I first discovered David Allen via James Fallows—who, it seems, always gives good advice. Although “Getting Things Done” is the title of several books, it is really David Allen who established the term and the acronym “GTD” by providing a systemic approach that works. You’ll note how valued is the book by the prices it commands in the used-book market: not many people are selling their copies.

Now Wired has a profile of Allen and a synopsis of his method. It begins:

The invention of the minute hand is often attributed to the great Swiss clock maker Joost Bürgi, whose work in the late 16th century coincided with a burst of technical innovation in clock making that would eventually bring whole new opportunities for guilt and shame. Along with all your other problems, you could now be late.

“There’s a big owie out there,” says David Allen, who specializes in curing the psychic pain caused by the pressure of time. Allen’s work has become the touchstone of the life-hacking movement, a loosely knit network of psychological self-experimenters who share tips about how small changes in human behavior can bring big rewards in happiness. Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity has steadily climbed the best-seller lists since its release in 2001, but the best evidence of its influence is not the 600,000 copies in print but rather the endless network of spinoffs, how-to guides, software versions, and online commentaries by readers who interpret, criticize, and extend his theories.

Allen’s approach is not inspirational. Instead, it is detailed and dry. But within his advice about how to label a file folder or how many minutes to allot to an incoming email there is a spiritual promise. He says there is a state of blessed calm available to those who have taken careful measure of their habits and made all the changes suggested by reason. Nirvana comes by routine steps, as an algorithm drives a machine.

Allen is not a dramatic presenter. A fit, sandy-haired, soft- spoken man who only recently traded his glasses for contacts, he can be funny and wry, but his normal mode is discursive. “Our inspirational factor is a wink,” he explains one night over dinner in a small restaurant in Chicago. “We say, ‘Buy a labeler for your files and you will transform your life,’ wink.”

Allen is in Chicago to give one of his daylong seminars, for which several hundred people will pay nearly $600 each for help putting GTD, as his method is known, into practice. Many readers of Getting Things Done apply one or two of the book’s tricks, like the process Allen recommends for emptying an overstuffed email inbox, and then they stall. Some of them come to seminars like this. Allen himself is unsure if it helps. He realizes that his system can be difficult and that he’s often accused of going overboard with elaborate schemes. He responds with a shrug. “Look, the workings of an automatic transmission are more complicated than a manual transmission,” he says. “To simplify a complex event, you need a complex system.”

While the instructions in Getting Things Done are baroque, the underlying ideas can be summarized in an axiom and three rules:

Continue reading

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 10:06 am

More on the Marseilles Cube

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Marseilles soap cube

A reader tried the Marseilles Cube today:

Tried The Cube this morning and I just have to let you know how it turned out.  🙂  As I walked to the kitchen to shave carrying only my Futur, I felt a twinge of guilt/sacrilege — no soap mug or brush.  Yesterday afternoon’s shave left me with stubble this morning.

Lathered by hand in sections and shaved  with a mid-life Feather.  First pass on cheeks at 1.5 was almost perfect (WTG).  Second pass ATG removed everything.   1.5 on jawline, neck, and throat was not perfect so dialed up to 3, relathered and tried again.  Result was almost perfect and certainly good enough to stop there.  Shave was smooth, comfortable, very close, no irritation.  With one or two day’s growth I would be hesitant to try this, but with only stubble the soap works fine.  Finished up with Thayers Rose, T&H West Indian Limes Balm, and Dominican Bay Rum.

I missed the brush and my usual methods.  But it was a great feeling to achieve an excellent shave with such a classic soap — a soap that can be used for just about everything it seems.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 9:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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Make your own fruit leather roll-ups

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Seems pretty simple. Although the recipe is for Apricot leather roll-ups, I imagine you can use any dried fruit you want.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 8:36 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Food note

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As I cleaned up the kitchen, I looked at the pot of dark-red (and highly capsaicinic) water in which the dried peppers had soaked. I decided that I should try drinking a glass of that—no, just joking. But I did ladle up a little Rubbermaid container of it and put that in the refrigerator to be added to various things. And my fingers are stinging now for the brief contact with the liquid. It’s strong stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 8:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

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Molly the Undead

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Creepy Molly

The Wife says that this is how Molly sleeps sometimes. (She labeled the photo “creepy Molly”). So perhaps one can see why her eyes occasionally bother her.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 8:22 am

Posted in Cats, Molly

Reply from Senator Feinstein

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I have less and less respect for Dianne Feinstein, based in part on her voting. But today I received a response from her with regard to my complaint regarding medical marijuana. It included this:

I understand the concerns you raise about the current legal classification of marijuana and the conflicts between state and federal laws. While I do not support the legalization of any narcotic drug for recreational use, please know that I do recognize that marijuana may have medicinal properties that could alleviate conditions such as AIDS-related wasting and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

The only problem: marijuana is not a narcotic (narcotic = opium or opium-derived), nor is it classified as a narcotic (coca and coca-derived drugs (e.g., cocaine) are not narcotics, but are classified as narcotics in the Controlled Substances Act).

Her ignorance is somewhat surprising, given the California actions taken to support medical marijuana. So it goes.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 8:10 am

Dentyl ph not sold in the US

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I just received a reply from Blistex regarding my inquiry about Dentyl ph mouthwash:

Thank you for your interest in the Dentyl pH mouthwash that you read about in the New Scientist magazine.  In response to your inquiry, Blistex Inc. does manufacture the product; however, it is only sold in the International Markets.  At the present time, we have no plans to distribute the product in the U.S.

We thank your for contacting us regarding this product and if we can be of further assistance, please feel free to contact me directly.

I would think that the US would be considered to be among international markets, but I guess not. Strange. So you have to find a friend to send you some.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2007 at 8:03 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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