Later On

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

Archive for December 13th, 2007

Good point

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Yesterday, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) attacked the nine “liberal Democrat” “naysayers” who voted against his resolution on the “importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.” Today, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) responded, explaining his vote:

While the Republicans are passing a resolution celebrating Christmas, the president was vetoing health care for children. There’s a little bit of irony going on around here.

King was one of the lawmakers who voted against expanding SCHIP.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 5:33 pm

Excellent! On-line database of Federal spending

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This is a great development (held up, in a bipartisan fashion, by Byrd and Stevens until their anonymous holds were unmasked, whereupon they both dropped the hold like a hot potato): Here’s the backstory, in detail.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Congress, Government

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10 great astronomy photos of 2007

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With explanations. Go see and read.

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13 December 2007 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Science

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Interesting looking movie: The Man from Earth

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It looks to be one of the “talking” movies, which (when well done) are fascinating. Trailer here. Netflix has it, and it’s toward the top of my queue now.

I have a weakness for movies that rely on talk and conversation. My Dinner With Andre, for example, is a favorite. I just recently saw another movie written by Wallace Shawn, The Designated Mourner, and I was similarly impressed and delighted. The movie, which is presented as the stage play, has some awkward cuts—some looking as if moments were taken from another performance—and really it would do as well (if not better) as an audio book. But still, quite absorbing. Another recent movie of this genre is Melvin Goes to Dinner, and again I liked the conversation’s emotional currents and surprising revelations. Perhaps this is why I liked Tom Noonan’s The Wife: the same sort of movie.

More of this sort: Mindwalk, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Swimming to Cambodia, Waking Life, … any others?

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Neat: chill and trap

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This is (literally) cool:

Physicists at the University of Rochester have combined an atom-chiller with a molecule trap, creating for the first time a device that can generate and trap huge numbers of elusive-yet-valuable ultracold polar molecules.

Scientists believe ultracold polar molecules will allow them to create exotic artificial crystals and stable quantum computers.

“The neat thing about this technology is that it’s a very simple, but highly efficient method,” says Jan Kleinert, a doctoral physics student at the University of Rochester and designer of the new device. “It lets us produce huge quantities of these ultracold polar molecules, which opens so many doors for us.”

The Thin WIre electroStatic Trap, or TWIST, is the first electrostatic polar molecule trap that works simultaneously with a magneto-optical atom trap. This means Kleinert can use the lasers of the magneto-optical trap, or MOT, to chill atoms to just a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero, then force the atoms to group into molecules, and instantaneously hold them in place with the electrostatic TWIST trap.

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Science

Why do they do it? Scammers and their mindset

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Very interesting article:

 You wonder whether they were just broke or thought they were a bit smarter than everybody else. Wonder if you got close enough, could you detect small stains of guilt on their white collars? Wonder, had the buttons to their consciences come undone?

When he reached for ice cubes, did it bother him that money was in the freezer? Did it shame her that she had to turn an extra bedroom into a closet for all those clothes she bought with money intended for children? Was she ever struck by pangs of remorse as she allegedly stole millions while masterminding the largest theft from a local government ever uncovered in the Washington area? Did they purse their lips with a bit of disgrace as they drank from the Versace tea set? Did the tea go down easily? Did their houses stand straight? The ones they bought from crooked deeds?

With so many scams recently against the public trust, one wonders: What goes through the minds of workers who scam and steal and defraud the government of money that is not theirs?

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Tagged with ,

Note details of denial

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Health insurance cancellations are devastating to the families involved, so this story is important:

California’s top insurance regulator has accused Blue Shield, one of the state’s largest health plans, of 1,262 violations of claims-handling laws and regulations that resulted in more than 200 people losing their medical coverage.

Calling the allegations “serious violations that completely undermine the public’s trust in our healthcare delivery system and are potentially devastating to patients,” Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said he would announce today that he would seek a $12.6-million fine.

Blue Shield called the charges “grossly unfair” and vowed to vigorously contest them and the proposed fine.

In a statement issued to The Times on Wednesday, Duncan Ross, president of Blue Shield of California Life & Health Insurance Co., said “we are outraged by the excessive penalties for nonsubstantive issues,” and called the actions “a radical departure from the [Department of Insurance’s] widely accepted and long-standing interpretation of the law.”

“The department’s position penalizes practices that have previously been approved by the department and have been followed for years by all health insurers,” Ross said.

The company has long maintained that its cancellation practices follow the law and are an important guard against insurance fraud. In any event, the company has said, only a small portion of its policies are affected. [There it is: admission of wrong-doing, it seems to me. They are more or less admitting that they wrongly canceled the policies. For those 200 families, the cancellation was a major blow. Blue Shield wants exoneration because “it was only a few.” – LG]

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 11:58 am

Not Huckabee’s finest hour

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Via digby, this column by Gene Lyons:

 Pundits and TV anchorcreatures love pronouncing about politicians’ “character,” when all they’re really talking about is personality. Hence glib, superficially charming candidates invariably win plaudits in the reality-TV epics we call presidential elections. This year’s GOP Prince Charming is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. When it comes to ingratiating himself, few surpass the one-time Baptist preacher. He’s witty, he’s warm, and doggone it, people like him. Character consists of something deeper. That’s why it’s important to know the truth about Wayne DuMond, the serial rapist and murderer Huckabee freed from the Arkansas penitentiary to kill again. Unfortunately, that’s the last thing you’ll hear from the candidate himself.

DuMond was a cunning con-man, a predatory psychopath adept at playing victim. A naïve and inexperienced Huckabee went for it, hook, line and sinker. So did others for whom professional skepticism is supposed to be a job requirement. In springing DuMond, the Arkansas Republican courted praise from the Clintonhating right-wing press, whose responsibility for the murder the ex-con committed after his release shouldn’t be overlooked.

Here’s the backstory:

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 11:52 am

Posted in Election, GOP

Escape from Diab

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Interesting approach to combating childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes: a cool video game. (The king of Diab is Etes.) Here’s info and here’s a look at the game.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 11:29 am

Want more toxins? Just wait.

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ThinkProgress notes:

According to an upcoming GAO report, the White House “pressured the Environmental Protection Agency to weaken requirements that companies annually disclose releases of toxic chemicals,” meaning that “industry will have to file 22,000 fewer reports each year, reducing an important public monitoring tool on industrial emissions.”

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13 December 2007 at 11:19 am

Senate blocks energy bill

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From the same email as the previous post:

SENATE CONSERVATIVES BLOCK ENERGY BILL: This morning, the Senate failed to invoke cloture by one vote on a groundbreaking energy bill that has already passed the House. The bill would have raised corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and create significant incentives towards renewable energy for the first time in 30 years. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the Senate would take up the bill again today after taking out the provision shutting off tax loopholes to oil companies, which faced objections by Senate Republicans and President Bush. After the vote, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), said, “The future just failed by one vote. … The oil companies now are celebrating in their boardrooms. … They continue to have a deathgrip on this Senate.” “The bill represents a historic opportunity to ease America’s dependence on foreign oil and to take steps in the battle against global warming, and its passage would send a message to the worlds’ negotiators in Bali that Washington is at last getting serious about climate change,” The New York Times noted. The Senate’s vote today will likely add to others’ frustration with the U.S delegation in Bali, as European nations at the conference on climate change have “threatened to boycott U.S.-led climate talks next month unless Washington” agrees to specific targets for reducing greenhouse gases. Former vice president Al Gore said today that the United States “is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali.”

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 10:57 am

Bush: “Let the little children suffer.”

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Bush has vetoed SCHIP for second time, even though the bill was rewritten to overcome his previous objections. The story, from an email from the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

For the second time in three months, President Bush yesterday vetoed bipartisan legislation that “would have expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance (SCHIP) program “by $35 billion over five years and would have boosted its enrollment to about 10 million children.” It was the seventh veto of Bush’s presidency and the second veto of a children’s health bill. In an October press conference, Bush explained that he will continue vetoing bills simply to “ensure that I am relevant. That’s one way to ensure that I’m in the process.” Similar to his last rejection of SCHIP two months ago, Bush vetoed the bill yesterday “in private.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded, “This is indeed a sad action for him to take, because so many children in our country need access to quality health care.” “In case there was any doubt that President Bush’s priorities could not be farther from those of the American people, he has vetoed yet another bipartisan bill to renew the successful [State] Children’s Health Insurance Program,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said yesterday, adding, “We will not rest until the President joins us.”

Last October, after vetoing the first version of SCHIP legislation, Bush complained that the White House had been left out of negotiations and was not “dialed in in the beginning.” “I’m surprised I hadn’t been asked about SCHIP,” Bush said. But “telephone logs and e-mail messages show that Republican senators and their aides had frequently consulted White House officials as the bill took shape.” After checking their calendars, lawmakers said that they and their aides had “more than 35 meetings and telephone conversations” on the issue with the White House. While the SCHIP bill “has changed substantially,” Bush’s criticism “has not, and this frustrates lawmakers like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who said the president had been ‘given some pretty bad advice‘ by his staff.” After the House sustained Bush’s veto two months ago, Press Secretary Dana Perino celebrated it as a victory, proclaiming, “We won this round on SCHIP.”

PLAYING POLITICS: After Bush vetoed the SCHIP legislation in early October, he argued, “When it comes to SCHIP, we should be guided by a clear principle: Put poor children first.” By all accounts, SCHIP has been successful in accomplishing this mission. Since 2000, while 6.8 million people lost health coverage, “SCHIP and Medicaid ensured that the proportion of low-income children without health insurance actually declined during this period, from 20 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2005.” The second version of SCHIP that Congress passed sought to address Bush’s major concern about the bill “by capping eligibility at 300 percent of the federal poverty line — slightly more than $60,000 for a family of four.” Yet Bush trotted out the same excuse yesterday for vetoing the popular and successful health insurance program. “This bill does not put poor children first,” he said, “and it moves our country’s health care system in the wrong direction.” The administration apparently views the confrontation over SCHIP as “making for good politics.” The New York Times reported, “The White House, convinced that Republicans lost Congressional seats last year because the public was fed up with government spending, calculates that Mr. Bush will please fiscal conservatives by drawing the line against a big expansion of the program.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Authorization for SCHIP expired on Sept. 30 and has twice been extended by continuing resolutions passed by Congress to keep the federal government operating.But the second extension is due to expire on Dec. 14, and no one is sure what will happen next.” The fate of this critical program “remains undecided,” as lawmakers negotiate a new five-year funding package that can win Bush’s approval or draw a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate. If Congress cannot win over Bush’s support, leaders from both parties are expected to “pass a one-year extension of the program” with the aim of including “enough money in the measure to maintain current levels of enrollment, estimated at 6.6 million children.” While campaigning in 2004, Bush pledged, “In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the government’s health insurance programs.” Now, Bush has become the one man standing between 10 million low-income children and their health insurance.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 10:55 am

Extremely cool compact rolling desk

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Pretty cool, eh? You can see more views of it (including closed) here. It’s made in Austria, it’s in production, and you can order it starting February 2008. They’re happy to ship to the US. Very nice.

Oh, the price: € 1600 (which is $2337 today, but Bush will still be president throughout 2008, so by February, who knows? Maybe $3000?).

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life

10 Weird psychology studies

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Take a look. The 10 studies are briefly described below. At the link, you can find a link for each study that provides a fuller account.

1. Don’t Stand So Close to Me
Here’s a weird study that sometimes gets a mention in ethical discussions about psychology, and it’s not hard to see why. Middlemist, Knowles and Matter (1976) designed an experiment to test how the speed and flow of men’s urination in a public lavatory was affected by invasions of personal space.

2. Empathy Causes Facial Similarity Between Couples to Increase Over Time
Would you believe that people who live with each other for 25 years actually develop similar facial features? I don’t just mean that people tend to choose partners who resemble them, rather that over time together couple’s features actually converge. It’s weird, but there’s evidence for it from a singular study carried out by the noted psychologist Robert Zajonc and colleagues.

3. Neuroscientist Studies His Own Stroke
On February 2, 2001 distinguished sleep and dream researcher Professor J. Allan Hobson had a stroke in his brain stem. For 10 days Hobson could neither sleep nor dream. Then he realised the stroke was localised to the exact part of the brain he had been studying experimentally in his sleep research with cats. Call it poetic justice, or just sheer bad luck, either way Hobson approached the experience like a scientist and decided to document it, just as he had with the cats, but this time from the inside.

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 10:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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What happens when a country loses hope

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Interesting article on Italy in the NY Times. It shows what happens when a political system becomes corrupt and insulated from accountability and how hope is gradually lost so that solving the problems starts to seem impossible. The US is taking a few steps down that road, though Italy is clearly much farther away than we are.

UPDATE: But we’re gaining on Italy.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 10:21 am

Good sign, in a way

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The bit about the Christian hatred and intolerance is not so nice, but that a Muslim came to the aid of some Jews is good:

A suspected bias attack on four Jewish subway riders in New York City has resulted in a friendship between the Jewish victims and the Muslim college student who came to their aid.

Walter Adler is calling Hassan Askari a hero for intervening when Adler and three friends were assaulted on a subway train in lower Manhattan on Friday night.

The altercation erupted when Adler and his friends said “Happy Chanukah” to a group yelling “Merry Christmas” on the Brooklyn-bound train.

Adler told the New York Post that one of his attackers rolled up his sleeve to display a tattoo of Jesus Christ.

“Happy Chanukah. That’s when the Jews killed Jesus,” the attacker told Adler.

The 20-year-old Askari, who suffered two black eyes, said he tried to fight off the 10 attackers, giving Adler a chance to summon police by pulling an emergency brake.

“I did what I thought was right,” said Askari, a student at Berkeley College in Manhattan, who was allegedly punched and beaten. “I did the best that I could to help.”

Eight men and two women have pleaded not guilty to assault, menacing and other charges in the case. Prosecutors have said the charges could be upgraded to hate crimes.

The Post said two of the suspects had been charged with hate crimes in the past.

“That a random Muslim kid helped some Jewish kids, that’s what’s positive about New York,” said Adler, 23, who suffered a broken nose and a lip wound.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 10:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Good news for the environment

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It’s amazing how American automakers uniformly resist anything good: collapsible steering columns, resisted, said it was impossible until it was legislated, had it the next year; safety glass, resisted, had to be legislated in, window by window; more efficiency and higher mileage, resisted; removing lead from gasoline (and thus the environment), resisted; cleaner emissions, resisted. And the resistance isn’t trivial: they pay off lobbyists and politicians with millions, they go to court and if they lose, they appeal. All to fight something that would be good for the environment, good for the consumers, good for the nation.

And they’re still at it:

In a major defeat for automakers, a federal judge in Fresno ruled today that California could set its own standards on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. But the state still needs permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the rules.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Anthony W. Ishii rejected automakers’ arguments that standards set by the EPA would preempt such regulation by the California Air Resources Board.

“Both EPA and California . . . are equally empowered through the Clean Air Act to promulgate regulations that limit the emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, from motor vehicles,” Ishii said, citing recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and a federal court in Vermont.

This is the fourth recent defeat for automakers that have sought to fight more stringent tailpipe emissions rules.

In April, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the right to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants and that the agency could grant states permission to implement their own standards.

In September, a federal court in Vermont ruled similarly to the Fresno court on the question of federal preemption of state standards. Last month, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a loophole allowing lower emission standards for light trucks.

California has plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% between 2009 and 2016, under a state mandate passed in 2002.

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 10:07 am

Why pygmies evolved to be short

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Pygmies, the most well-known group of diminutive humans, whose men on average grow to a maximum of five feet tall and their women about a half foot shorter, were thought to be endowed with their characteristic small body sizes due to poor nutrition and environmental conditions.

But the theories did not hold up, given that these populations—primarily hunter–gatherers—are found mostly in Africa but also in Southeast Asia and central South America, and thereby are exposed to varying climates and diets. Further, other populations who live under conditions of low sustenance, such as Kenya’s Masai tribes, are among the world’s tallest people.

So what could account for these pockets of people who grow so small?

According to University of Cambridge researchers, the key is the pygmies’ life expectancy. “After going to the Philippines and interviewing the pygmies, I noticed this very distinctive feature of the population: very high mortality rates,” says Andrea Migliano, a research fellow at Cambridge’s Leverhulme Center for Human Evolutionary Studies and co-author of a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. “Then, going back to life history theory, we noticed that their small body size was really linked to high mortality.”

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 10:01 am

Posted in Science

Late start, good shave

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I was up until midnight watching the first 7 episodes of Season 4 of The Wire. “Just one more episode,” I think…

So I slept late, but now am up. The soap was Floris London Elite (a very nice soap), the brush was—what else?—the Simpsons Emperor 3 Super, and the lather was great. The Gillette NEW with the once-used Treet Blue Special did a fine job, and I finished with Acqua di Parma aftershave. Now for a cup of coffee.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2007 at 9:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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