Later On

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

Archive for October 19th, 2007

Support Dodd

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The importance of the support is not only to help and reward Senator Dodd, it’s to draw the attention of other Democratic Senators and Representatives that we Democrats crave action and not spineless caving in. Perhaps seeing courage rewarded will produce more courage. So far:

Senator Dodd’s campaign communications director Hari Sevugan tells me that $150,000 in small contributions have poured into Dodd’s campaign in the past 24 hours, since his announcement that he will put a hold on–and may even filibuster–a foreign intelligence surveillance bill approved yesterday by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Dodd objects to a provision that would grant immunity to the telecommunications companies that turned over their customers’ phone and e-mail records to the government’s warrantless surveillance program. The companies have been hit with 40 pending lawsuits charging them with privacy violation.

Dodd has raised more small-dollar contributions in the last 24 hours than he did in the previous month. Sevugan also says the number of visits to his website is up tenfold, as is the number of people registering their e-mail addresses there.

Thank Senator Dodd and thereby send a message to the other Democrats in Congress.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 8:40 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

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Waterboarding: is it torture?

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Attorney General nominee Mukasey doesn’t know. Maybe he should take a look at this post by David Corn:

As Congress has debated legislation that would set up military tribunals and govern the questioning of suspected terrorists (whom the Bush administration would like to be able to detain indefinitely), at issue has been what interrogation techniques can be employed and whether information obtained during torture can be used against those deemed unlawful enemy combatants. One interrogation practice central to this debate is waterboarding. It’s usually described in the media in a matter-of-fact manner. The Washington Post simply referred to waterboarding a few days ago as an interrogation measure that “simulates drowning.” But what does waterboarding look like?

Below are photographs taken by Jonah Blank last month at Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The prison is now a museum that documents Khymer Rouge atrocities. Blank, an anthropologist and former Senior Editor of US News & World Report, is author of the books Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God and Mullahs on the Mainframe. He is a professorial lecturer at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and has taught at Harvard and Georgetown. He currently is a foreign policy adviser to the Democratic staff in the Senate, but the views expressed here are his own observations.

His photos show one of the actual waterboards used by the Khymer Rouge. Here’s the first:

Waterboard 1

Here’s another view:

Waterboard 2

How were they used? Here’s a painting by a former prisoner that shows the waterboard in action:

Waterboard 3

In an email to me, Blank explained the significance of the photos. He wrote:

The crux of the issue before Congress can be boiled down to a simple question: Is waterboarding torture? Anybody who considers this practice to be “torture lite” or merely a “tough technique” might want to take a trip to Phnom Penh. The Khymer Rouge were adept at torture, and there was nothing “lite” about their methods. Incidentally, the waterboard in these photo wasn’t merely one among many torture devices highlighted at the prison museum. It was one of only two devices singled out for highlighting (the other was another form of water-torture–a tank that could be filled with water or other liquids; I have photos of that too.) There was an outdoor device as well, one the Khymer Rouge didn’t have to construct: chin-up bars. (The prison where the museum is located had been a school before the Khymer Rouge took over). These bars were used for “stress positions”– another practice employed under current US guidelines. At the Khymer Rouge prison, there is a tank of water next to the bars. It was used to revive prisoners for more torture when they passed out after being placed in stress positions.

The similarity between practices used by the Khymer Rouge and those currently being debated by Congress isn’t a coincidence. As has been amply documented (“The New Yorker” had an excellent piece, and there have been others), many of the “enhanced techniques” came to the CIA and military interrogators via the SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape] schools, where US military personnel are trained to resist torture if they are captured by the enemy. The specific types of abuse they’re taught to withstand are those that were used by our Cold War adversaries. Why is this relevant to the current debate? Because the torture techniques of North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and its proxies–the states where US military personnel might have faced torture–were NOT designed to elicit truthful information. These techniques were designed to elicit CONFESSIONS. That’s what the Khymer Rouge et al were after with their waterboarding, not truthful information.

Bottom line: Not only do waterboarding and the other types of torture currently being debated put us in company with the most vile regimes of the past half-century; they’re also designed specifically to generate a (usually false) confession, not to obtain genuinely actionable intel. This isn’t a matter of sacrificing moral values to keep us safe; it’s sacrificing moral values for no purpose whatsoever.

These photos are important because most of us have never seen an actual, real-life waterboard. The press typically describes it in the most anodyne ways: a device meant to “simulate drowning” or to “make the prisoner believe he might drown.” But the Khymer Rouge were no jokesters, and they didn’t tailor their abuse to the dictates of the Geneva Convention. They– like so many brutal regimes–made waterboarding one of their primary tools for a simple reason: it is one of the most viciously effective forms of torture ever devised.

The legislation backed by Bush and congressional Republicans would explicitly permit the use of evidence obtained through waterboarding and other forms of torture. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and other top al Qaeda leaders have reportedly been subjected to this technique. They would certainly note–or try to note–that at any trial. But with this legislation, the White House is seeking to declare the use of waterboarding (at least in the past) as a legitimate practice of the US government.

The House of Representatives voted for Bush’s bill on Thursday, 253 to 168 (with 34 Democrats siding with the president and only seven Republicans breaking with their party’s leader). The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today. Its members should consider Blank’s photos and arguments before they, too, go off the deep end.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 3:19 pm

Is Reid really going to ignore Senator Dodd’s hold?

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I can’t believe this. Reid—well, AT&T is one of the top 20 contributors to Read, so maybe he’s for sale after all. But Reid apparently is simply going to ignore Dodd’s hold on the terrible FISA bill (which, I admit, was supported by one of my own Senators, Dianne Feinstein, the Lieberman of the Democratic Party) and push the bill through. Obviously, the telecoms have spent a lot of money to get immunity for their crimes. This is not what I expected from the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party needs a thorough housecleaning.

Glenn Greenwald has more.

And this also is good:

Every now and then, a right-wing pundit says something that illustrates the underlying mentality of their movement so vividly that it is worth pausing and briefly examining. In responding to one of my posts on telecom amnesty, The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb explains the obligations of patriotic corporate citizens in America:

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Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 1:00 pm

Preventing colds and the flu

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Here’s a good collection of tips to reduce your chances of catching a cold or flu. Some are familiar (“Wash your hands”), but some are new to me (“Twice” — i.e., wash your hands again: two washings in a row makes a significant difference). And how about this one: “Use your knuckles, not your fingertips, to rub your eyes”?

The complete list.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

Tagged with ,

The Gentleman’s Shop

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The Gentleman’s Shop in the UK is an excellent source of shaving supplies, though with the dollar’s decline the prices have, in effect, increased for us here in the US. Note, however, that the VAT is not charged for purchases sent abroad.

As is the case for some of the other vendors, the range of products offered extends beyond shaving-related items. For example, TGS offers skincare, bath & body products, haircare, and even leather goods and accessories for business and travel. But let’s focus on the shaving.

TGS has a broad range of brushes for sale: Rooney, G.B. Kent, Edwin Jagger, their own brand, and also a good selection of Simpsons brushes. I’ve ordered several brushes from TGS and have gotten excellent service (and, may I say it, excellent brushes).

They carry Merkur (German) and Parker (Indian) safety razors and also Dovo open (i.e., straight) razors, along with the appropriate hones and strops.

TGS carries an exceptional range of both shaving soaps and shaving creams: Acca Kappa, Art of Shaving, Castle Forbes, Cyril R. Salter, D.R. Harris, Edwin Jagger, Geo. F. Trumper, The Gentleman’s Refinery, Musgo Real, Proraso, Taylor of Old Bond Street, Truefitt & Hill, Vulfix, and others.

It’s a site worth exploring. Note that the site includes some useful shaving tips. Those of you who live in the UK might even want to stop by their store, which includes a barber shop.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 12:40 pm

A little Mozart break for Friday afternoon

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Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Music, Video

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Fascinating technology

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Just when you think some technology is totally stable and all problems resolved, some innovation crops up that presents measurable improvements. Like this:

Heliswirl

This odd-looking swirly-shaped pipe (pictured) is a green technology from a new British company called HeliSwirl. It’s a swirly-shaped pipe. It’s also a low-carbon technology – not because it is made with low-carbon materials or through some new energy-stingy manufacturing process, but because, well, because it’s swirly shape helps fluids flow through it more easily, requiring less power to run the pumps that pump the fluid. It exists in part because U.K.-based incubator Carbon Trust helped fund it with a research grant.

Carbon Trust is a private company, set up by the British government in response to the threat of climate change and given the mission to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by working with business and the public sector to develop commercial low carbon technologies and help organizations reduce their carbon emissions and – this is key – to help the U.K. capture the commercial opportunities of low carbon technologies.

Instead of flowing in straight lines, our blood swirls through our arteries in a helical motion. This inspired new technology that replicated the swirling flow in specially designed pipes – significantly improving fluid flow and enabling pumps to run at lower power. HeliSwirl, with research and development, incubator and investment support from the Carbon Trust, is now busy developing its low carbon technology to appeal to a wide range of industries, including oil and gas production, petrochemical processing, and water and wastewater processing.

The Carbon Trust incubator has helped HeliSwirl to successfully establish themselves in the market, with support that included mentoring them through their business planning, company formation and staffing. As well as providing a £100,000 research and development grant to HeliSwirl, the Carbon Trust has also made a substantial equity investment in the promising new company.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 11:52 am

Friday cat-blogging: Megs in thought

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Megs thinking Megs looking
Megs, lost in thought. Then I take a photo and get her attention, such as it is.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 10:21 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Trying to be happier: counter-productive?

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Interesting post:

Are you happy? Well don’t try to be happier; you might become less happy. That is the gist of a multi-cultural study published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The study by University of Virginia psychology professor Shigehiro Oishi and colleagues at three other institutions found that, on average, European-Americans claim to be happy in general – more happy than Asian-Americans or Koreans or Japanese – but are more easily made less happy by negative events, and recover at a slower rate from negative events, than their counterparts in Asia or with an Asian ancestry. On the other hand, Koreans, Japanese, and to a lesser extent, Asian-Americans, are less happy in general, but recover their emotional equilibrium more readily after a setback than European-Americans.

“We found that the more positive events a person has, the more they feel the effects of a negative event,” Oishi said. “People seem to dwell on the negative thing when they have a large number of good events in their life.

“It is like the person who is used to flying first class and becomes very annoyed if there is a half-hour delay. But the person who flies economy class accepts the delay in stride.”

… The researchers found that the European-Americans needed nearly two positive events (such as getting complimented or getting an A) to return to their normal level of happiness after each negative event, such as getting a parking ticket or a lower grade than expected. The Koreans, Japanese and Asian-Americans generally needed only one positive event to make up for each negative event.

Oishi said that people who become accustomed to numerous positive or happy events in their life are more likely to take a harder fall than people who have learned to accept the bad with the good. And because negative events have such a strong effect when occurring in the midst of numerous positive events, people find it difficult to be extremely happy. They reach a point of diminishing returns.

This is why the extreme happiness people may feel after buying a new car or a house, or getting married, can be rapidly diminished when the payments come due or the daily spats begin. It becomes a problem of ratio, or perspective.

“In general, it’s good to have a positive perspective,” Oishi said, “But unless you can switch your mindset to accept the negative facts of everyday life — that these things happen and must be accepted — it becomes very hard to maintain a comfortable level of satisfaction.”

His advice: “Don’t try to be happier.”

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 10:05 am

Posted in Mental Health, Science

Tagged with

Why the FISA fight is important

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John Dean explains it clearly in this post at FindLaw:

“I’ve got nothing to hide, so electronic surveillance doesn’t bother me. To the contrary, I’m delighted that the Bush Administration is monitoring calls and electronic traffic on a massive scale, because catching terrorists is far more important that worrying about the government’s listening to my phone calls, or reading my emails.” So the argument goes. It is a powerful one that has seduced too many people.

Millions of Americans buy this logic, and in accepting it, believe they are doing the right thing for themselves, their family, and their friends, neighbors, community and country. They are sadly wrong. If you accept this argument, you have been badly fooled.

This contention is being bantered about once again, so there is no better time than the present to set thinking people straight. Bush and Cheney want to make permanent unchecked Executive powers to electronically eavesdrop on anyone whom any President feels to be of interest. In August, before the summer recess, Congress enacted the Protect America Act, which provided only temporary approval for the expanding Executive powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). These temporary powers expire in February 2008, so Congress is once again addressing the subject.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 9:52 am

When drought hits, environmentalism becomes the norm

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Environmentalists seem to face much skepticism from those who have fully embraced the consumer mentality: buy it, use it, throw it away, buy something new, …

But when hard times hit, environmentalism suddenly starts to make sense, even to diehard skeptics:

It has been made brutally clear to Metro Atlantan’s that Lake Lanier is not bottomless and that, in fact, that bottom is getting uncomfortably close.

Now what once was considered a radically “green” way to supplement our water supply is becoming acceptably “grey”.

Grey water is water that has been used, but is still clean enough to be used again. Previously, using grey water is something only committed environmentalists did. Now, it is something we will all have to look at.

Showers used to be a place to relax, now we’re being asked to cut them to five minutes and re-use the water.

“As my wife says,” offered environmentally aware homeowner Curt Mann, “one thing we’re absolute certain of is that the status quo is not working.”

So Curt Mann and his wife installed what’s called a Brac Grey water Recycling System when they renovated their house.

“Our definition of grey water,” explained Charles Cone of Southern Energy Solutions, “is bath water, shower water, water from your washing machine, it can also be condensate from your air conditioner.”

The system collects the water from the Mann’s shower, and bathroom faucets, and washing machine, and sends it to a fifty three gallon reservoir.

When a toilet is flushed, that greywater is pumped to the toilet tank to replace the water just used.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 9:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

WordPress weirdness

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WordPress’s editor has conked out, dropping most of each post. Fortunately, I have the very handy and pleasant BlogDesk to fall back on. Great little program. Maybe it will become the default for me. One nice thing: I can use Alt-Tab to switch now between editor and the page I’m viewing. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Software, WordPress, Writing

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How green is your state?

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Forbes has ranked the states by their environmental impact, based on a range of criteria. The rankings are here. The backstory:

The Garden State ranked seventh in our first-ever list of America’s Greenest States, a surprise winner amid places synonymous with environmentalism like Vermont, Oregon and Washington. More startling: The congested East Coast is a lot more environmentally friendly than you thought.

Sure the Western U.S., with its big skies and open spaces feels green–but when you look at broader measurements of humans’ impact on the environment, including consumption patterns, air and water quality, and waste, as well as policy, they don’t fare as well.

Despite the acreage and lack of people, as well as mountains of regulation in California, Westerners drive further and use more resources than their cramped Eastern cousins. Still, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada all finished in the top 20.

On top: Vermont, Oregon and Washington. All have low carbon dioxide emissions per capita (or “carbon footprints”), strong policies to promote energy efficiency and high air quality, as indicated by their major metro areas that are low in smog and ozone pollution. They’re also among the states with the most buildings (on a per capita basis) that have received the U.S. Green Building Council’s benchmark certification, known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

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Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 9:27 am

Posted in Environment

Another carbon-steel blade

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I seem to be working my way again through the French shaving soaps: this morning I used Pré de Provence, a shea-butter shaving soap that comes in a nice little tin with a screw-on lid. I used my Plisson HMW 12 horn-handled brush and got a good lather. I loaded one of my Gillette NEW razors with a Balaka blade (scroll down):

bala

Low cost carbon steel blade, made by the same company that manufactures the SHARP blades. Economical and practical everyday blade.

It’s not so sharp as the Treet Blue Special, but I did get a smooth and nick-free shave after some blade-buffing following the third pass.

The aftershave today was Stetson Classic, which, were I to describe it, has “top notes of Lemon, Lime, Bergamot and Lavender, complemented by middle notes of Patchouli, Vetiver and Jasmin and base notes of Amber and Tonka.”

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 9:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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