Later On

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

Archive for October 23rd, 2007

Good to know: first steps in going organic

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Useful information from the NY Times:

Switching to organic is tough for many families who don’t want to pay higher prices or give up their favorite foods. But by choosing organic versions of just a few foods that you eat often, you can increase the percentage of organic food in your diet without big changes to your shopping cart or your spending.

The key is to be strategic in your organic purchases. Opting for organic produce, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have a big impact, depending on what you eat. According to the Environmental Working Group, commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue. Some vegetables, like broccoli, asparagus and onions, as well as foods with peels, such as avocados, bananas and oranges, have relatively low levels compared to other fruits and vegetables.

So how do you make your organic choices count? Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, whose new book “Raising Baby Green” explains how to raise a child in an environmentally-friendly way, has identified a few “strategic” organic foods that he says can make the biggest impact on the family diet.

1. Milk: “When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,’’ says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry. One recent United States Department of Agriculture survey found certain pesticides in about 30 percent of conventional milk samples and low levels in only one organic sample. The level is relatively low compared to some other foods, but many kids consume milk in large quantities.

2. Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet — one survey found they account for 30 percent of our overall vegetable consumption. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.

3. Peanut butter: More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the U.S.D.A. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops. Given that some kids eat peanut butter almost every day, this seems like a simple and practical switch. Commercial food firms now offer organic brands in the regular grocery store, but my daughter loves to go to the health food store and grind her own peanut butter.

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup. Notably, recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.

5. Apples: Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The good news is that organic apples are easy to find in regular grocery stores.

For a complete list of Dr. Greene’s strategic organic choices, visit Organic Rx on his website.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 7:39 pm

Posted in Daily life, Environment, Food, Health

Tagged with

Man, this can’t be true, can it?

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Government control:

The Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security are quietly pushing for a set of crazy new rules. All travellers in the U.S. will be required to get government-issued credentials and official clearance before every flight, both within the United States as well as internationally.

And Monday we received a new political action alert from Edward Hasbrouk, The Practical Nomad blogger who’s been fighting the plan (and who testified about it at a TSA hearing). “The international Advance Passenger Information System rules were published, as ‘final’ effective February 19,2008, with no further opportunity for public comment even on the changes from the original proposal.”

Hasbrouck sees this as a very ominous development. “The Department of Homeland Security can now evade debate on the similar elements of their Secure Flight proposal by claiming that it’s needed to ‘harmonize’ the domestic and international travel restrictions — as though travel within America was tantamount to and subject to the same government restrictions and controls as crossing international borders.”

The stakes are high — and air travel may never be the same. “The Secure Flight proposal also includes new and odious requirements that travelers display their government-issued credentials — not to government agents, but to airline personnel (staff or contractors), whenever the Department of Homeland Security orders the airline to demand them… ” That alone will create a huge potential for abuse. “The proposed Secure Flight rules would leave travelers hopelessly at the mercy of any identity thief who claims to be an airline contractor (subcontractor, sub-subcontractor, etc.) demanding ‘Your papers, please!’ anywhere in an airport.”

But your personal information faces an even bigger risk. “In addition, the proposed rules would leave the airlines free to keep all the information obtained from travelers under government coercion, even after they’ve passed it on to the government. Your personal data would continue to be considered, at least in America, solely their property. Not yours…”

According to Hasbrouk, the Identity Project — an organization defending our right to travel freely in our own country — has made requests under the Privacy Act and they “have uncovered many more details (and many more problems) with the U.S. government’s dossiers of travel records, which include everything from what books travelers were carrying to phone numbers of friends and associates to whether they asked for one bed or two in their hotel room.”

Unfortunately, Monday, October 22 was the deadline for posting public comments on the proposed rules.

But it’s never too late to express your outrage… against another act in the continuing project to turn the United States into North Korea.

See Also:
Homeland Security Follies
Is It Fascism Yet?
Art of Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf
Venezuela: Dispatch from a Surrealist Autocracy

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 4:58 pm

Wired tests of cool stuff

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Wired magazine gets lots of fun techy stuff and tests it. Here are the test results.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 4:27 pm

Kitty morning

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Things we learn from the big fires down south

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Get a regular corded phone. They’re quite inexpensive, and when the power fails and your cordless phones won’t work, you can plug the corded phone into the phone jack and it will work fine: it gets its power from the phone line.

This is particularly important if the authorities are using reverse-911 calling to call all phones in a designated area to warn people to evacuate: you obviously have to have a working phone to get the warning, and if the power’s out you’re not going to know by a radio or TV announcement.

Until now, I hadn’t thought about a corded phone as part of the emergency kit.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Daily life

Dread of dying

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Woody Allen has often talked about the puzzle of how we face mortality. We know that we shall die, yet people carry on and make plans and in general live life with a focus on quotidian concerns. How does that work?

Philosophers and scientists have long been interested in how the mind processes the inevitability of death, both cognitively and emotionally. One would expect, for example, that reminders of our mortality–say the sudden death of a loved one–would throw us into a state of disabling fear of the unknown. But that doesn’t happen. If the prospect of death is so incomprehensible, why are we not trembling in a constant state of terror over this fact?

Psychologists have some ideas about how we cope with existential dread. One emerging idea–“terror management theory” –holds that the brain is hard-wired to keep us from being paralyzed by fear. According to this theory the brain allows us to think about dying, even to change the way we live our lives, but not cower in the corner, paralyzed by fear. The automatic, unconscious part of our brain in effect protects the conscious mind.

But how does this work? Psychologists Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky and Roy Baumeister of Florida State University ran three experiments to study existential dread in the laboratory. They prompted volunteers to think about what happens physically as they die and to imagine what it is like to be dead. It’s the experimental equivalent of losing a loved one and ruminating about dying as a result.

Once the volunteers were preoccupied with thoughts of death and dying, they completed a series of word tests, which have been designed to tap into unconscious emotions. For example, volunteers might be asked to complete the word stem “jo_” to make a word. They could make a neutral word like job or jog, or they might instead opt for the emotional word joy. Or, in a similar test, they might see the word puppy flashed on a screen, and they would instantaneously have to choose either beetle or parade as the best match. Beetle is closer to puppy in meaning, but parade is closer to puppy in emotional content. The idea is that the results represent the unconscious mind at work.

The results, as reported in the November issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, are intriguing. The volunteers who were preoccupied with thoughts of death were not at all morose if you tapped into their emotional brains. Indeed, the opposite: they were much more likely than control subjects to summon up positive emotional associations rather than neutral or negative ones. What this suggests, the psychologists say, is that the brain is involuntarily searching out and activating pleasant, positive information from the memory banks in order to help the brain cope with an incomprehensible threat.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 2:35 pm

Tones Barber Shop

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Another vendor in the UK, Tones Barber Shop offers a complete set of shaving equipment and supplies: brushes, shaving soaps and creams, razors, blades (only the Merkur brand, so far as I could tell), aftershaves, and various accessories.

Brushes offered include Omega, London Shaving Company, Cyril R. Salter, and Dovo, in many formats, including travel brushes. The soaps and shaving creams: Cyril R. Salter, Taylor of Old Bond Street, Omega, and Col. Conk.

The full line of Merkur safety razors can be found on the site, along with straight razors by Cyril R. Slater, Dovo, and Focus.

It’s a site worth browsing, especially if you live in the UK. I’ve ordered very little from them, but the two orders I made were filled promptly and with no problems.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Shaving

Tagged with ,

Supply-side economics: the big lie

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From the New Yorker:

In American politics, supply-side economics is the monster that will not die. The supply-side argument that, in the United States, tax-rate cuts pay for themselves—that, after cutting taxes, the government actually ends up with more revenue—has little or no support within the mainstream economic profession, and no hard empirical data to back it up. Myriad studies have demonstrated that both the Reagan tax cuts of the nineteen-eighties and the tax cuts put through under the current Administration shrank government revenues and led to bigger budget deficits.

Yet the absence of proof for supply-side theory has not dimmed Republicans’ devotion to it. Last month, President Bush told Fox News that his tax cuts had “yielded more tax revenues, which allows us to shrink the deficit.” Dick Cheney insists that “sensible tax cuts increase economic growth and add to the federal treasury.” Every major Republican Presidential candidate—including John McCain, who actually voted against Bush’s 2001 tax bill—is on the record as saying that tax cuts pay for themselves. And, just last week, a New York Sun editorial published a list of what “the Republican Party stands for.” First on the list? “Reductions in top marginal tax rates . . . lead to greater government revenues in the long run.”

This supply-side orthodoxy is striking in a couple of ways. First, it requires Republican politicians to commit themselves publicly to a position that is wrong—and wrong not as a matter of ideology or faith but as a matter of fact. Saying today that tax cuts will increase tax revenues is not like saying that bombing Iran constitutes a sensible foreign policy, or that education vouchers will wreck the public schools. It’s more like saying that the best way to treat sick people is to bleed them to let out the evil spirits. Second, despite the fact that the supply-side faith has no grounding in reality, within the Republican Party there is little room for dissent on the subject, as Jonathan Chait details in his new book, “The Big Con.” Last week, the blogger Megan McArdle wrote that she had a book review for an unnamed right-wing publication spiked because in it she dared suggest that, in the U.S., tax cuts decreased government revenues.

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 1:46 pm

Posted in GOP

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California prisons soon cost more than California universities

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The silly war on drugs, with incarceration with mandatory minimum sentences are the only tool (think: brain surgery with a hammer), is costing more than people know:

Halfway between Sacramento and San Francisco is Solano Correctional Facility, nestled against a series of rolling hills, on the outskirts of the small city of Vacaville.

From the prison’s guard towers, the view is fairly beautiful: a Mediterranean-type vista of sun-browned grass and squat trees covering green hills, underneath the endlessly deep California sky. But from the windows of the dorms and cellblocks where the inmates live, all they can see is a slender patch of sky.

Inside some of the housing units at Solano, inmates take showers in rooms open to the entire dorm — including guards, both male and female. As naked men soap themselves off, other inmates go about their business in front of them. Hundreds of men share a handful of toilets, as well as the mildew-and-mold-infested open shower area. “There’s maybe 10 operable toilets for 200 guys. You come back from chow in the morning, you stand in line 10-to-20 minutes to use the toilet,” says 47-year-old Michael Donoho, a heavily tattooed repeat offender (drugs, robbery, spousal abuse).

Meanwhile, two one-time gyms — that in better days hosted boxing rings for prisoners — have served as “temporary” dorms since the mid-’90s. Today they house more than 200 inmates apiece. Prisoners are stacked on row after row of triple bunks, with three feet of floor space separating one bunk frame from another. Nobody expects the gyms to return to their intended function anytime soon.

Safety is also an issue. The top bunks in the gyms are well over five feet off the ground and have no railings around them. It is, according to prisoners, fairly common for slumbering third-tier inmates to roll off their narrow metal beds onto the hard floor during the night.

But the sounds of sleeping men falling aren’t the only noises heard after dark. During the long hours of the night, two correctional officers walk the floor and one more stands watch on a raised tier with a gun at the ready. Prisoner representatives from every race sit awake, perched atop their bunks, grimly scanning the walkways in case a rival from another race-based gang decides to launch a small-hours attack.

In the summer, large industrial-scale fans never stop whirring, and when the voices cease in the hours between lights-out at 10 p.m. and the 3 a.m. wake-up for inmate culinary workers, their whir eats its way into the mind. Add in all of the other sounds of a large, security-based institution, and you have the ingredients for mental chaos.

“The whole time I’ve been locked up, I’ve never gotten more than three hours of good, solid sleep,” says a 46-year-old inmate who is serving a six-year sentence on methamphetamine charges. “Alarms going off, guys running around, cops yelling. It’s been a real eye-opening experience.”

When Solano opened in 1984, it was intended to hold 2,610 inmates. Twelve years later, five dormitory buildings were added to the original structure, boosting the prison’s capacity by a thousand inmates. No additional buildings have been added in the past 11 years, yet the sprawling, gray concrete and razor-wire institution now holds 6,111 prisoners.

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Government

Tagged with ,

Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative

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From the Marijuana Policy Project:

The Marijuana Policy Project needs your help to place a landmark medical marijuana initiative on the Michigan ballot.

Landmark? Yes, because if Michigan voters are given the opportunity to pass the initiative in November of next year, Michigan will become the first state in the Midwest where patients will be able to use, possess, and grow marijuana legally for medical purposes.

And we can pass the initiative, because the only two public opinion polls that have been conducted in recent years show that between 59% and 61% of Michigan voters support the initiative. And this polling is accurate, because five out of five Michigan cities have passed local medical marijuana initiatives with an average of 64% of the vote since 2004.

I want to thank the 44 generous supporters who made a financial donation after my last message about this campaign. But now I need your help, too.

Would you please donate $10 or more today, so that we can afford to pay our hard-working petitioners who are working furiously to collect the remaining signatures that are needed to place the initiative on the November 2008 ballot?

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Election

Tagged with ,

Worst mayor in the US: Jackson, MS

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If you want to feel the sensation of having your jaw drop, read this.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Government

Bush ordered the torture

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From Raw Story:

More than 100,000 pages of newly released government documents demonstrate how US military interrogators “abused, tortured or killed” scores of prisoners rounded up since Sept. 11, 2001, including some who were not even expected of having terrorist ties, according to a just-published book.

In Administration of Torture, two American Civil Liberties Union attorneys detail the findings of a years-long investigation and court battle with the administration that resulted in the release of massive amounts of data on prisoner treatment and the deaths of US-held prisoners.

“[T]he documents show unambiguously that the administration has adopted some of the methods of the most tyrannical regimes,” write Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh. “Documents from Guantanamo describe prisoners shackled in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months.”

Most of the documents on which Administration of Torture is based were obtained as a result of ongoing legal fights over a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October 2003 by the ACLU and other human rights and anti-war groups, the ACLU said in a news release.

The documents show that prisoner abuse like that found at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was hardly the isolated incident that the Bush administration or US military claimed it was. By the time the prisoner abuse story broke in mid-2004 the Army knew of at least 62 other allegations of abuse at different prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, the authors report.

Drawing almost exclusively from the documents, the authors say there is a stark contrast between the public statements of President Bush and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the policies those and others in the administration were advocating behind the scenes.

President Bush gave “marching orders” to Gen. Michael Dunlavey, who asked the Pentagon to approve harsher interrogation methods at Guantanamo, the general claims in documents reported in the book.

The ACLU also found that an Army investigator reported Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in overseeing the interrogation of a Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al Qahtani. The prisoner was forced to parade naked in front of female interrogators wearing women’s underwear on his head and was led around on a leash while being forced to perform dog tricks.

“It is imperative that senior officials who authorized, endorsed, or tolerated the abuse and torture of prisoners be held accountable,” Jaffer and Singh write, “not only as a matter of elemental justice, but to ensure that the same crimes are not perpetrated again.”

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 12:58 pm

Blackwater story from one who was there

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It’s a depressing story:

I know something about Blackwater USA. This opinion is both intellectually driven as well as moderately emotional. You see, during my own yearlong tour in Iraq, the bad boys of Blackwater twice came closer to killing me than did any of the insurgents or Al Qaeda types. That sort of thing sticks with you. One story will suffice to make my point.

The first time it happened was in the spring of 2005. For various reasons, none of which bear repeating, I was moving through downtown Baghdad in an unmarked civilian sedan. I was with two other men, but they had the native look, while I was in my uniform, hunched in the back seat and partially covered by a blanket, hoping that the curtains on the window were enough to conceal my incongruous presence, not to mention my weapons. It was not the normal manner in which an Army infantry major moved around the city, but it was what the situation called for, so there I was. We were in normal Baghdad traffic, with the flow such as it was, in the hubbub of confusion that is generated when you suddenly introduce more than 1 million extra vehicles in the course of two years into a city that previously had only a few hundred thousand vehicles, and no real licensing authority.

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 12:56 pm

How the telecoms got immunity

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They bought it:

Executives at the two biggest phone companies contributed more than $42,000 in political donations to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV this year while seeking his support for legal immunity for businesses participating in National Security Agency eavesdropping.

The surge in contributions came from a Who’s Who of executives at the companies, AT&T and Verizon, starting with the chief executives and including at least 50 executives and lawyers at the two utilities, according to campaign finance reports.

The money came primarily from a fund-raiser that Verizon held for Mr. Rockefeller in March in New York and another that AT&T sponsored for him in May in San Antonio.

Mr. Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, emerged last week as the most important supporter of immunity in devising a compromise plan with Senate Republicans and the Bush administration.

A measure approved by the intelligence panel on Thursday would add restrictions on the eavesdropping and extend retroactive immunity to carriers that participated in it. President Bush secretly approved the program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Rockefeller’s office said Monday that the sharp increases in contributions from the telecommunications executives had no influence on his support for the immunity provision. [They think that we’re stupid. – LG]

“Any suggestion that Senator Rockefeller would make policy decisions based on campaign contributions is patently false,” Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for him, said. “He made his decision to support limited immunity based on the Intelligence Committee’s careful review of the situation and our national security interests.” [She managed not to laugh while making this statement. – LG]

AT&T and Verizon have been lobbying hard to insulate themselves from suits over their reported roles in the security agency program by gaining legal immunity from Congress. The effort included meetings with Mr. Rockefeller and other members of the intelligence panels, officials said.

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 12:47 pm

How to distort a quotation

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And, in fact, make it mean the exact opposite of what it says. From Brad DeLong:

David Kennedy of Stanford opens his review of Paul Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal with a claim that AEA founding president Francis Amasa Walker defined an economist as a faithful believer in laissez-faire, “not… the test of economic orthodoxy, merely…. [But] used to decide whether a man were an economist at all.”

Why am I not surprised that Francis Amasa Walker actually said something very different?

Francis Walker did not say that belief in laissez-faire determined “whether a man were an economist at all.” What Francis Walker said in “The Recent Progress of Political Economy in the United States” was: (a) the better part of economists had never imposed such a test, (b) the worse part of economists in the United States who posed as “guardians of the true [laissez-faire] faith” had lost their influence, and (c) the subject was much the better for it.

Here is what David Kennedy of Stanford wrote:

The Conscience of a Liberal – Paul Krugman – Books – Review – New York Times: [M]aybe [Paul] Krugman is not really an economist — at least not according to the definition offered more than a century ago by Francis Amasa Walker, the first president of the American Economic Association, who wrote that laissez-faire “was not… the test of economic orthodoxy, merely…. [But] used to decide whether a man were an economist at all.”

Here is the real context in which Kennedy’s quote appears, in Francis Walker (1889), “The Recent Progress of Political Economy in the United States,” Report of the Proceedings of the American Economic Association. Third Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, December 26-29, 1888, pp. 17-40:

Yet, while Laissez-Faire was asserted, in great breadth, in England, the writers for the reviews exaggerating the utterances of the professors in the universities, that doctrine was carefully qualified by some economists, and was by none held with such strictness as was given to it in the United States. Here it was not made the test of economic orthodoxy, merely. It was used to decide whether a man were an economist at all. I don’t think that I exaggerate when I say that, among those who deemed themselves the guardians of the true faith, it was considered far better that a man should know nothing about economic literature, and have no interest whatever in the subject, than that, with any amount of learning and any degree of holiest purpose, he should have adopted views varying from the standard that was set up….

The abandonment of Laissez-Faire, as a principle of universal application, however strongly individuals may still maintain it as a general rule of conduct, at once makes communion and cooperation, not merely possible. but desirable among economists. When it is confessed that exceptions, not few or small, are to be admitted, every thinking man has a part to take in the discussion; every interested and intelligent person becomes a possible contributor; every class of men, whether divided from others by social or by industrial lines, have something to say on this subject, which no other class can say for them, and which no other class can afford not to hear from them. The characteristic institutions of every nation, the experiences of every distinct community not only become pertinent to the subject, but constitute a proper part of the evidence which is to be gathered, sifted and weighed….

That barrier removed, political economy becomes something which never is, but is always to be, done; growing with the growing knowledge of the race, changing, as man, its subject-matter, changes; something which, in the nature of the case, must be the work, not of one mind but of many; something to which every man in his place may contribute, to which all classes and races of men must contribute, if the full truth is to be discovered; something to which every clime and every age bring gifts all their own; something to which the history of institutions, the course of invention, the story of human experience are not pertinent only but essential.

In such a work who would not wish to join? In such a work who would not welcome every faithful and honest helper?…

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Books, Education, GOP

Hiding places

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Seems like a bad thing to do to a book.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Daily life

“Highly capable” Condi

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Couldn’t run a bake sale, I would say. Take this story:

A pair of new reports have delivered sharply critical judgments about the State Department’s performance in overseeing work done by the private companies that the government relies on increasingly in Iraq and Afghanistan to carry out delicate security work and other missions.

A State Department review of its own security practices in Iraq assails the department for poor coordination, communication, oversight and accountability involving armed security companies like Blackwater USA, according to people who have been briefed on the report. In addition to Blackwater, the State Department’s two other security contractors in Iraq are DynCorp International and Triple Canopy.

At the same time, a government audit expected to be released Tuesday says that records documenting the work of DynCorp, the State Department’s largest contractor, are in such disarray that the department cannot say “specifically what it received” for most of the $1.2 billion it has paid the company since 2004 to train the police officers in Iraq.

The review of security practices was ordered last month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [who is in charge and bears ultimate responsibility—but she wasn’t pay attention to her duties, I would say – LG], and it did not address the Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater guards, which Iraqi investigators said killed 17 Iraqis. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading a separate inquiry into that episode.

But in presenting its recommendations to Ms. Rice in a 45-minute briefing on Monday, the four-member panel found serious fault with virtually every aspect of the department’s security practices, especially in and around Baghdad, where Blackwater has responsibility.

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 11:38 am

Some people close their eyes to hear better

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Do they put their hands over their ears to see better?

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 11:31 am

Posted in Daily life

Well stated

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Steven Lee Myers writes in the New York Times

Democrats on Capitol Hill, having failed last week to override Mr. Bush’s veto of an expansion of a children’s health insurance program costing $35 billion, reacted with dismay and anger that reflected a broader frustration over the war in Iraq. They also said they believed that Mr. Bush delayed his formal request to avoid unfavorable comparisons between his veto and the spending on the war. . . .

Representative David R. Obey, Democratic of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, criticized Mr. Bush for pushing the extra financing even as the president attacked Democrats as spendthrifts.

“It’s amazing to me that the president expects to be taken seriously when he says we cannot afford $20 billion in investments in education, health, law enforcement and science, which will make this country stronger over the long term,” Mr. Obey said in a statement.

But he doesn’t blink an eye at asking to borrow $200 billion for a policy in Iraq that leaves us six months from now exactly where we were six months ago.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 11:14 am

How to remember: the ancient technique

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It still works, too. The Wife will like this one.

The main dinner course was just being served in the massive, ancient Greek hall when the expansive ceiling collapsed, crushing every one of the many guests in their seats. Not a single attendee survived, except for the poet Simonides, who had left the room just before the tragedy. In the days that followed, workers who lifted the heavy rubble found that the victims were so horribly disfigured that they were impossible to identify. But Simonides was able to help. By mentally walking alongside the long table, he found he could reconstruct which guest had been sitting in which place. Based on where the bodies lay, he named each one of the deceased.

Four hundred years later Roman rhetorician Cicero (106-43 B.C.) related Simonides’ story in one of his instructional books on learning and memory. Whether the diners’ deaths actually happened is not clear, but according to legend, Cicero wrote, the ceiling collapse motivated Simonides to develop a visual memory technique that still prevailed in Cicero’s day, used widely by the Roman Empire’s politicians and lawyers. These professionals were looked down on if they could not memorize the long speeches they often had to give; it was important for them to recite complex strains of an argument in moving oration.

The memory trick, or mnemonic, that Simonides had discovered was indeed a powerful device. Cicero made the lesson plain in his book: memory is well served when a list of names, objects or ideas is visually arranged in a three-dimensional environment.

Many people who exhibit extraordinary memory capabilities use this technique, including winners of world memory championships. Although the method may seem peculiar at first, any person can use it to improve their recollection of anything, from shopping lists to lecture outlines. Once you find a way to “see” the items you must remember, you can use the trick on different strings of information. Most current self-help books on improving memory or mental acuity also endorse this method, using, of course, modern strategies–and environments–that build on this ancient approach.

The mnemonic device, known as the loci method, involves placing mental pictures of items in specific locations inside a room, in a specific order. A person can then “walk” through the room and see all the objects that must be recalled. Each person must develop his or her own locational system. Teachers in antiquity recommended using public places such as temples or meeting houses as sites for spatial memory training; an individual would stand inside a temple and memorize the position of each column and statue, from the main entrance, along the right wall, across the front, back down the left wall, and so on. Each item from a list would then be assigned to a column, statue or other feature, in a given order. Later, the memorizer would visualize the room to find each item.
Today your apartment or house is often the best choice for such an exercise. To begin, define a specific route through each room and order the objects you come across: first there is the foyer, inside which is a small table, mirror, hook for keys, rug and closet door. Next is the living room, with a sofa, radiator, television and ceiling light. It is important to always follow the same sequence–to imprint a fixed locational system in your mind, which can represent standard items such as individual cards in a deck or be augmented to allow for new contents whenever a new list is needed.

As an example,…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 11:01 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with ,

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