Later On

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

Archive for October 6th, 2007

Trying another add-on: ScribeFire

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ScribeFire is a Firefox add-on for bloggers: you can compose and post directly from Firefox instead of opening the blog’s editor. One nice thing is that you can open it while looking at a Web page. Just getting started, but looks as though it might work out.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Firefox, Software

Frank Rich on Clarence Thomas

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Good point:

WHAT’S the difference between a low-tech lynching and a high-tech lynching? A high-tech lynching brings a tenured job on the Supreme Court and a $1.5 million book deal. A low-tech lynching, not so much.

Pity Clarence Thomas. Done in by what he calls “left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony” — as he describes anyone who challenged his elevation to the court — he still claims to have suffered as much as African-Americans once victimized by “bigots in white robes.” Since kicking off his book tour on “60 Minutes” last Sunday, he has been whining all the way to the bank, often abetted by a press claque as fawning as his No. 1 fan, Rush Limbaugh.

We are always at a crossroads with race in America, and so here we are again. The rollout of Justice Thomas’s memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” is not happening in a vacuum. It follows a Supreme Court decision (which he abetted) outlawing voluntary school desegregation plans in two American cities. It follows yet another vote by the Senate to deny true Congressional representation to the majority black District of Columbia. It follows the decision by the leading Republican presidential candidates to snub a debate at a historically black college as well as the re-emergence of a low-tech lynching noose in Jena, La.

Perhaps most significant of all, Mr. Thomas’s woe-is-me tour unfolds against the backdrop of the presidential campaign of an African-American whose political lexicon does not include martyrdom or rage. “My Grandfather’s Son” may consciously or not echo the title of Barack Obama’s memoir of genealogy and race, “Dreams From My Father,” but it might as well be written in another tongue.

It’s useful to watch Mr. Thomas at this moment, 16 years after his riveting confirmation circus. He is a barometer of what has and has not changed since then because he hasn’t changed at all. He still preaches against black self-pity even as he hyperbolically tries to cast his Senate cross-examination by Joe Biden as tantamount to the Ku Klux Klan assassination of Medgar Evers. He still denies that he is the beneficiary of the very race-based preferences he deplores. He still has a dubious relationship with the whole truth and nothing but, and not merely in the matter of Anita Hill.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Books, GOP, Government

Tagged with , ,

Private health insurance simply doesn’t work

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Overrun by fraud, illegal activity, violation of rights, and the like. Let’s get a government plan going:

Tens of thousands of Medicare recipients have been victims of deceptive sales tactics and had claims improperly denied by private insurers that run the system’s huge new drug benefit program and offer other private insurance options encouraged by the Bush administration, a review of scores of federal audits has found.

The problems, described in 91 audit reports reviewed by The New York Times, include the improper termination of coverage for people with H.I.V. and AIDS, huge backlogs of claims and complaints, and a failure to answer telephone calls from consumers, doctors and drugstores.

Medicare officials have required insurance companies of all sizes to fix the violations by adopting “corrective action plans.” Since March, Medicare has imposed fines of more than $770,000 on 11 companies for marketing violations and failure to provide timely notice to beneficiaries about changes in costs and benefits.

The companies include three of the largest participants in the Medicare market, UnitedHealth, Humana and WellPoint.

The audits document widespread violations of patients’ rights and consumer protection standards. Some violations could directly affect the health of patients — for example, by delaying access to urgently needed medications.

In July, Medicare terminated its contract with a private plan in Florida after finding that it posed an “imminent and serious threat” to its 11,000 members.

In other cases, where auditors criticized a company’s “policies and procedures,” the effects on patients were not clear.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 6:28 pm

Novak on Senator “Wide Stance” Craig

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

More on Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty

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That attack has been a bête noire of mine for some time. And now more info on it:

Bryce Lockwood, Marine staff sergeant, Russian-language expert, recipient of the Silver Star for heroism, ordained Baptist minister, is shouting into the phone.

“I’m angry! I’m seething with anger! Forty years, and I’m seething with anger!”

Lockwood was aboard the USS Liberty, a super-secret spy ship on station in the eastern Mediterranean, when four Israeli fighter jets flew out of the afternoon sun to strafe and bomb the virtually defenseless vessel on June 8, 1967, the fourth day of what would become known as the Six-Day War.

For Lockwood and many other survivors, the anger is mixed with incredulity: that Israel would attack an important ally, then attribute the attack to a case of mistaken identity by Israeli pilots who had confused the U.S. Navy’s most distinctive ship with an Egyptian horse-cavalry transport that was half its size and had a dissimilar profile. And they’re also incredulous that, for years, their own government would reject their calls for a thorough investigation.

“They tried to lie their way out of it!” Lockwood shouts. “I don’t believe that for a minute! You just don’t shoot at a ship at sea without identifying it, making sure of your target!”

Four decades later, many of the more than two dozen Liberty survivors located and interviewed by the Tribune cannot talk about the attack without shouting or weeping.

Their anger has been stoked by the declassification of government documents and the recollections of former military personnel, including some quoted in this article for the first time, which strengthen doubts about the U.S. National Security Agency’s position that it never intercepted the communications of the attacking Israeli pilots — communications, according to those who remember seeing them, that showed the Israelis knew they were attacking an American naval vessel.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Government, Military

Tagged with ,

Bush’s EPA continues its course

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From the Associated Press:

The Environmental Protection Agency gave the go-ahead for one-year use of a new agricultural pesticide Friday, saying its own scientific review overrides health concerns expressed by more than 50 chemists and other scientists.

Methyl iodide, also known as iodomethane, will be allowed to control soil pests “under highly restrictive provisions governing its use,” the EPA said in a statement.

“When used according to EPA’s strict procedures, iodomethane is not only an effective pesticide, but also meets the health and safety standards for registering pesticides,” the agency said.

Methyl iodide was developed by Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience Corp. as an alternative to the widely used fumigant methyl bromide, which has been banned under an international treaty because it depletes the ozone layer. Like methyl bromide, the new product, to be sold under the name MIDAS, kills off weeds and soil pests before planting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

The EPA said its decision was based on four years of risk assessment studies, constituting “one of the most thorough analyses ever completed by the agency for a pesticide registration action.”

“The agency concluded that there are adequate safety margins and the registration of iodomethane does not pose unreasonable risks,” the agency said. Last week, however, a group of 54 scientists, including six Nobel Prize winners, sent a letter to EPA urging that the pesticide not be registered for use because of the potential danger to pregnant women and children, the elderly and farmworkers.

California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation lists the chemical as a carcinogen and also had expressed objections. Officials have said that whatever EPA’s action, use of the new product in California would not be possible before the state concludes its own review in a year or so.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 1:17 pm

At one time the US didn’t torture

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From the Washington Post:

For six decades, they held their silence.

The group of World War II veterans kept a military code and the decorum of their generation, telling virtually no one of their top-secret work interrogating Nazi prisoners of war at Fort Hunt.

When about two dozen veterans got together yesterday for the first time since the 1940s, many of the proud men lamented the chasm between the way they conducted interrogations during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects.

Back then, they and their commanders wrestled with the morality of bugging prisoners’ cells with listening devices. They felt bad about censoring letters. They took prisoners out for steak dinners to soften them up. They played games with them.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess.

Blunt criticism of modern enemy interrogations was a common refrain at the ceremonies held beside the Potomac River near Alexandria. Across the river, President Bush defended his administration’s methods of detaining and questioning terrorism suspects during an Oval Office appearance.

Several of the veterans, all men in their 80s and 90s, denounced the controversial techniques. And when the time came for them to accept honors from the Army’s Freedom Team Salute, one veteran refused, citing his opposition to the war in Iraq and procedures that have been used at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

“I feel like the military is using us to say, ‘We did spooky stuff then, so it’s okay to do it now,’ ” said Arno Mayer, 81, a professor of European history at Princeton University.

When Peter Weiss, 82, went up to receive his award, he commandeered the microphone and gave his piece.

“I am deeply honored to be here, but I want to make it clear that my presence here is not in support of the current war,” said Weiss, chairman of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy and a human rights and trademark lawyer in New York City.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 12:04 pm

Bait-and-switch lotteries

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I’ve always despised state-run lotteries. They seem to be a highly inefficient way for the state to raise money, and now it turns out that they don’t even raise money:

Last year, North Carolina’s governor, Mike Easley, finally delivered on his promise to start a lottery, making his state the most recent of the 42 states and the District of Columbia to cash in on legalized gambling.

If some voters in this Bible Belt state frowned on Mr. Easley’s push to bring gambling here, others were persuaded by his argument that North Carolina’s students were missing out on as much as $500 million in aid annually as residents crossed the border to buy lottery tickets elsewhere.

“Our people are playing the lottery,” the governor said in an address two years ago that was a prelude to the creation of the North Carolina Education Lottery. “We just need to decide which schools we should fund, other states’ or ours.”

Pitches like this have become popular among lawmakers who, since states began legalizing lotteries more than 40 years ago, have sold gambling as a savior for cash-starved public schools and other government programs. Lotteries have raised billions of dollars, and of the 42 states that have them, 23 earmark all or some of the money for education.

For years, those states have heard complaints that not enough of their lottery revenue is used for education. Now, a New York Times examination of lottery documents, as well as interviews with lottery administrators and analysts, finds that lotteries accounted for less than 1 percent to 5 percent of the total revenue for K-12 education last year in the states that use this money for schools.

In reality, most of the money raised by lotteries is used simply to sustain the games themselves, including marketing, prizes and vendor commissions. And as lotteries compete for a small number of core players and try to persuade occasional customers to play more, nearly every state has increased, or is considering increasing, the size of its prizes — further shrinking the percentage of each dollar going to education and other programs.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 11:39 am

Posted in Education, Government

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Acupuncture, even fake, works for back pain

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From the Associated Press:

Fake acupuncture works nearly as well as the real thing for low back pain, and either kind performs much better than usual care, German researchers have found. Almost half the patients treated with acupuncture needles felt relief that lasted months. In contrast, only about a quarter of the patients receiving medications and other Western medical treatments felt better.

Even fake acupuncture worked better than conventional care, leading researchers to wonder whether pain relief came from the body’s reactions to any thin needle pricks or, possibly, the placebo effect.

“Acupuncture represents a highly promising and effective treatment option for chronic back pain,” study co-author Dr. Heinz Endres of Ruhr University Bochum in Bochum, Germany, said in an e-mail. “Patients experienced not only reduced pain intensity, but also reported improvements in the disability that often results from back pain and therefore in their quality of life.”

Although the study was not designed to determine how acupuncture works, Endres said, its findings are in line with a theory that pain messages to the brain can be blocked by competing stimuli.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 11:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

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Bicycling grows

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From Business Week:

Would more of us pedal to work or a local event if we could stash our bikes safely when we got there?

Bikestation, a Long Beach (Calif.) not-for-profit, is teaming up with 30 U.S. cities to create parking garages for bikes. The municipalities build the space (with advice from the group), and Bikestation sometimes manages the facility. The cost for bikers? At Bikestation-run garages, designed to be accessible 24/7 with a smart card key, it’s about $1 a day, $12 a month, or $96 a year.

For cities, the price tag varies. An add-on to a car parking garage, like the one in Santa Barbara, costs about $150,000. That buys room for 70 bikes, showers, and a parts-dispensing vending machine. Bikestation is also helping to plan a $2 million bike-only garage to open next year near Washington’s Union Station. It will have 160 slots and a rental shop.

Investing in such secure parking sites “shows a city’s level of commitment to bicycling,” says Andréa White, executive director of Bikestation, whose goal is to have a bike garage within a half-mile of 90% of urban commuters by 2015. Will that cut down on auto congestion? The group says an average 30% of those using its six completed garages (most in California) used to drive cars–aloneto their destinations.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 11:24 am

Free will vs. genetics

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From Science News:

Two gene variations appear frequently in depressed patients who contemplate killing themselves during treatment with a common antidepressant medication, a new study finds.

In the study, reports of suicidal thoughts occurred from 2 to 15 times as often in antidepressant-treated patients with the key gene variations as in patients without them, say psychiatrist Gonzalo Laje of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., and his colleagues. Participants received citalopram, a widely prescribed antidepressant related to medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac).

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 11:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Grocery List Generator

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The Grocery List Generator great little Firefox add-on that I’ve lately started to use. The button to bring up the list is right on the Firefox toolbar, and it’s easy to add food items to the database (and to remove them). The comments field (which you can include in the printed list) lets you be specific (e.g., database item is “onions” and today I added the comment “large Spanish”). You can categorize the items by your own categories (e.g., to match the store layout).

It’s particularly nice in that you can enter a recipe and it will generate a grocery list from the recipe. But I usually look at the recipe and add the items I need by hand, since I already typically have most of what I need.

Grocery List Generator is free, of course, and the current version is 1.6 so it’s been around the block a few times. Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 10:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Firefox, Food, Software

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Psychological experiments not yet done

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The British Psychology Society is collecting a list of the greatest psychological experiments that have never been done. The list is growing. As of today:

1. Watching death, by Susan Blackmore
2. Reducing prejudice and discriminatory behaviour, by Pam Maras
3. Caring for psychotic patients with maximum kindness and minimum medication, by Richard Bentall
4. Personal psychology experiments, by Will Meek
5. Can psychology save the world? by Scott O Lilienfeld
6. Why is learning slow? by Richard L Gregory
7. Switching the parents around, by Judith Rich Harris
8. Expanding the frontiers of human cognition, by Chris Chatham
9. Testing foetal cognition, by Annette Karmiloff-Smith
10. Hiring private detectives to investigate paranoid delusions, by Vaughan Bell
11. Challenging the conclusions drawn from Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, by Alex Haslam
12. The Truman Show experiment, by Jeremy Dean
13. Changing the focus of psychotherapy to what is good in your life, by Martin Seligman

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 9:40 am

Posted in Mental Health, Science

Tagged with

American employers don’t like your personal life

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Interesting factoid:

Is your cube festooned with photos of your dog, sports paraphernalia, and/or Star Wars action figures? If the answer is yes, be warned: your manager may be thinking of you as less than professional. New research from the University of Michigan reveals that people who over-personalize their workspace are often considered less serious about their jobs than employees who toil in a more sterile environment.

The study found that for the 95 managers surveyed, “the image of someone who is professional versus unprofessional reflects the proportion of objects that reference their personal, nonwork life.”

So how many trinkets are too many? Researchers say the professional vs. unprofessional line is drawn at one in five, meaning, if *more* than one in five of the items in your office is “personal in nature” your commitment to the job may be in question.

Interestingly, the research asserts that this anti-tchotchke bias is largely an American phenomenon. From the report:

A general aversion for blurring the work/personal boundary in the context of work is more reflective of American business practices than of those found in many other industrialized societies…. Americans are expected to put aside personal matters and focus almost exclusively on work-specific concerns upon entering the office.

I guess you can read this as either a mandate to pare down your personality… or a call to seek employment overseas.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 8:58 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Gay marriage

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When political candidates are asked about gay marriage, I think it would behoove them to point out the bivalent meaning of “marriage” in our country. “Marriage” refers both to a religious ceremony—the ceremony of wedding—and to a civil state, registered with the county. This is unlike other religious ceremonies: there is no state analogue to baptism, for example, though I suppose the death certificate issued by the state might be a form of last rites. Christening, maybe: the state’s birth certificate usually wants a name for the infant, but it wants the name independent of whether the baby is christened (or even Christian).

A political candidate has no business speaking about the religious side of marriage. On the government side—the civil marriage—there seems to be no reason at all not to allow gay marriage. Civil marriages can be made outside any religious ceremony at all, and indeed the person officiating need not be even a government official: when the Wife and I were married, it was a friend who officiated, though she did have to fill out appropriate forms with the state, before and following the marriage.

Since this sort of marriage occurs completely outside a religious context, the state can recognize it free of religious control and doctrine—and, IMHO, it should. The state, OTOH, has no business or role in telling religions what they can or must do.

So let religions forbid (if they want) gay marriage ceremonies within their churches, but let the state do its business as well.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 8:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Religion

Tagged with

Problems in the educational system?

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Could it be?

It’s no surprise to me that Colorado’s public school system is not good. I mean, I’m a product of the Boulder Valley School District and I can tell you first hand that it’s not great at preparing one for college, or anything for that matter.

So, it shouldn’t come as a big shock to me that I need to pick up the slack for what my sons are NOT learning about science in school.

My first experience with just how bad things were occurred back in the early 1990’s. I was giving a presentation to some 5th graders when I asked the question: “When did the United States first land a man on the moon?”

No one raised their hand. In fact, most didn’t know we had ever been to the moon, and of those that did know, a substantial fraction doubted that we were there at all (parents were probably moon-landing-hoaxers).

And I have a TON of stories like that.

Fast forward to this last school year. My 7th grade son is a very good student, gets A’s in just about everything. He LOVES science, especially astronomy (imagine that) and he and I have great conversations about what the universe is like and what it’s like to be a scientist. He eats that stuff up so I know he does his best in his science class.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 7:45 am

Posted in Education, Science

The appendix may be useful after all

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The appendix these days gets little notice except when it becomes inflamed and must be removed. But apparently it does still have a job:

Some scientists think they have figured out the real job of the troublesome and seemingly useless appendix: It produces and protects good germs for your gut. That’s the theory from surgeons and immunologists at Duke University Medical School, published online in a scientific journal this week.

For generations the appendix has been dismissed as superfluous. Doctors figured it had no function. Surgeons removed them routinely. People live fine without them. And when infected the appendix can turn deadly. It gets inflamed quickly and some people die if it isn’t removed in time. Two years ago, 321,000 Americans were hospitalized with appendicitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The function of the appendix seems related to the massive amount of bacteria populating the human digestive system, according to the study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. There are more bacteria than human cells in the typical body. Most of it is good and helps digest food.

But sometimes the flora of bacteria in the intestines die or are purged. Diseases such as cholera or amoebic dysentery would clear the gut of useful bacteria. The appendix’s job is to reboot the digestive system in that case.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 7:42 am

Posted in Health, Medical, Science

Another great shave at last

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This morning I picked J.M. Fraser shaving cream, a Canadian import that some say has exceptional beard-softening power. With the Simpsons Duke 3 Best brush, I immediately had a fine, thick, and wet lather. I considered using the hot-towel technique, but settled for simply lathering away and giving the lather a chance to work.

And work it did: the English open-comb Aristocrat with the 3-shave-old Treet Blue Special glided across my face, more or less wiping off the stubble. Three fine passes, and then (another Canadian import) Booster’s Oriental Spice aftershave.

Nice to be back to daily shaves. And you can be sure I’ll be shaving tomorrow as well. I already missed too many shaves this week.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2007 at 7:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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