Later On

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

Archive for December 21st, 2007

Aztec bark delicious

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I used Scharffen Berger 99% cacao dark baking chocolate (9.7 oz, unsweetened) together with one 3 oz Scharffen Berger 70% cacao bittersweet dark chocolate bar (3 oz). I more or less followed the recipe, but doubled the amount of cayenne and added 1/2 tsp chipotle powder, along with a couple of Tbsp of goji berries and a couple of Tbsp of walnut baking pieces. It’s quite yummy.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Policymakers don’t understand defense

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An article by Richard K. Betts in the journal Foreign Affairs:

Summary:  The United States now spends almost as much on defense in real dollars as it ever has before — even though it has no plausible rationale for using most of its impressive military forces. Why? Because without political incentives for restraint, policymakers have lost the ability to think clearly about defense policy. Washington’s new mantra should be “Half a trillion dollars is more than enough.”

RICHARD K. BETTS is Director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University and an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. His most recent book is Enemies of Intelligence.

If Rip Van Winkle had fallen asleep in the Pentagon’s budgeting office 20 years ago and awoke today, his first reaction would be that nothing had changed. President George W. Bush has asked for $505 billion for the peacetime U.S. military establishment in 2008 — almost exactly the amount, in real dollars, that President Ronald Reagan sought in 1988. Rip would start scratching his head, however, when he discovered that the Soviet empire and the Soviet Union itself had imploded more than 15 years ago and that Washington now spends almost as much on its military power as the rest of the world combined and five times more than all its potential enemies together. Told that Pentagon planners were nonetheless worried about overstretch and presidential candidates were vying to pledge even higher budgets and even larger forces, Rip’s head might just explode.

The current strains on resources and forces are due, of course, to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the costs of those wars are not included in the half-trillion-dollar “baseline” figure noted above. A supplemental request for an extra $142 billion covers them, bringing the total 2008 military budget request to a whopping $647 billion — a budget more than 25 percent larger, in real terms, than the one for 1968, at the height of combat in Vietnam, a bigger and bloodier conflict than any the United States has seen since. And even that total figure does not include the $46 billion budget of the Department of Homeland Security, whose functions would be handled by the Defense Ministry in many other countries.

How would one answer Rip’s inevitable questions about what is going on? One might note that everything costs more these days. And one might argue that even so, military spending takes up less of GDP today than it did during the Cold War — 4.2 percent today compared with 5.8 percent in 1988 and 9.4 percent in 1968. But when pressed, one would have to concede that Washington spends so much and yet feels so insecure because U.S. policymakers have lost the ability to think clearly about defense policy.

In recent years, U.S. national security policy has responded to a visceral sense of threat spawned by the frightening intentions of the country’s enemies rather than to a sober estimate of those enemies’ capabilities and what it would take to counter them effectively. The United States faces very real dangers today and potentially bigger ones in the future, but these are not threats that can be tamed by current spending on the most expensive components of military power.

U.S. political leaders, meanwhile, have forgotten the craft of balancing commitments and resources responsibly. Nobody younger than 80 can remember a peacetime United States without vast standing armed forces, even though that was the norm for the first 150 years of the republic. So the post-Cold War situation does not seem as odd as it should. Contractors who live off the defense budget have also become more adept at engineering political support by spreading subcontracts around the maximum number of congressional districts. And the traditional constituencies for restrained spending in both major political parties have evaporated, leaving the field free for advocates of excess.

The last two U.S. presidents, finally, have embraced ambitious goals of reshaping the world according to American values but without considering the full costs and consequences of their grandiose visions. The result has been a defense budget caught between two stools: higher than needed for basic national security but far lower than required to eliminate all villainous governments and groups everywhere. The time has come to face the problem squarely. The sole coherent rationale for increasing military spending — to try and run a benign American empire — is dangerously misguided. But a more modest and sensible national security strategy can and should be purchased at a lower price.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 2:36 pm

The stolen 2004 election

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One election taken:

Ohio’s Secretary of State announced this morning that a $1.9 million official study shows that “critical security failures” are embedded throughout the voting systems in the state that decided the 2004 election. Those failures, she says, “could impact the integrity of elections in the Buckeye State.” They have rendered Ohio’s vote counts “vulnerable” to manipulation and theft by “fairly simple techniques.”

Indeed, she says, “the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote count could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet and a personal digital assistant.”

In other words, Ohio’s top election official has finally confirmed that the 2004 election could have been easily stolen.

Brunner’s stunning findings apply to electronic voting machines used in 58 of Ohio’s 88 counties, in addition to scanning devices and central tabulators used on paper ballots in much of the rest of the state.

Brunner is calling for widespread changes to the way Ohio casts and counts its ballots. Her announcement follows moves by California Secretary of State Deborah Bowen to disqualify electronic voting machines in the nation’s biggest state.

In tandem, these two reports add a critical state-based dimension to the growing mountain of evidence that the US electoral system is rife with insecurities. Reports from the Brennan Center, the Carter-Baker Commission, the Government Accountability Office, the Conyers Committee Task Force Report, Princeton University and others have offered differing perspectives that add up to the same conclusion.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Election

Building an army of religious fundamentalists

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Not the Taliban one, the US one:

For US Army soldiers entering basic training at Fort Jackson Army base in Columbia, South Carolina, accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior appears to be as much a part of the nine-week regimen as the vigorous physical and mental exercises the troops must endure.

That’s the message directed at Fort Jackson soldiers, some of whom appear in photographs in government issued fatigues, holding rifles in one hand, and Bibles in their other hand.

Frank Bussey, director of Military Ministry at Fort Jackson, has been telling soldiers at Fort Jackson that “government authorities, police and the military = God’s Ministers.”

Bussey’s teachings from the “God’s Basic Training” Bible study guide he authored says US troops have “two primary responsibilities”: “to praise those who do right” and “to punish those who do evil – “God’s servant, an angel of wrath.” Bussey’s teachings directed at Fort Jackson soldiers were housed on the Military Ministry at Fort Jackson web site. Late Wednesday, the web site was taken down without explanation. Bussey did not return calls for comment. The web site text, however, can still be viewed in an archived format.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 2:26 pm

Cute: TIME gets basic facts wrong

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Is Time magazine’s “full” and “complete” transcript of its “Person of the Year” interview with Vladimir Putin a fraudulent cover up? It appears so. A glaring factual error was apparently edited out of the transcript in an attempt to spare top executives embarrassment over an exchange at the beginning of the recent chat between the Russian leader and Time.Inc editor in chief John Huey, Time managing editor Richard Stengel and deputy managing editor Adi Ignatius.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Media

Good news for honest elections

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Looks like the next election will be honest:

A series of court decisions this week supporting voting rights advocates in Florida and Arizona may bode well for more open and accountable elections in 2008.

That is because the cases involve major trend-setting aspects of elections: whether you can block new laws that disenfranchise thousands of new voters because of errors in state databases, and whether you can catch partisans who alter electronic vote counts. In both instances, courts sided with voting rights advocates against state and local officials.

The decisions are part of a pattern of recent rulings where draconian state election laws passed immediately after the 2004 election are being overturned. Those laws, passed by Republican-controlled legislatures to stop “voter fraud,” or people impersonating other voters, affected voter registration drives and voter ID requirements. The other piece of this pattern is many states, and now a court in Arizona, are demanding new levels of accountability in paperless electronic voting systems.

“I’m optimistic,” said Michael Slater of Project Vote, a national, nonpartisan voter registration and voting rights organization. “If you look at what’s happening across the country, I see gains … It’s a story that’s not being told.”

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Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Election, Government

Let’s all get fearful—that’ll help

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Bruce Schneier:

Refuse to be Terrorized

I know nothing about the politics of this organization, but their “I am not afraid” campaign is something I can certainly get behind. I think we should all send a letter like this to our elected officials, whatever country we’re in:

I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.

Refuse to be terrorized, and you deny the terrorists their most potent weapon — your fear.

EDITED TO ADD (12/21): There’s also this video:

And Chicago opens a new front on the war on the unexpected, trying to scare everybody:

Each year, the Winter Holiday Season tends to spur larger crowds and increased traffic throughout the City. As it pertains to shopping districts, public transportation routes, and all other places of public assembly, the increased crowds become a matter of Homeland Security concern. During this holiday period, as a matter of public safety, we ask that all members of the general public heighten their awareness regarding any and all suspicious activity that may be an indicator of a threat to public safety. It is important to immediately report any or all of the below suspect activities.

  • Physical Surveillance (note taking, binocular use, cameras, video, maps)
  • Attempts to gain sensitive information regarding key facilities
  • Attempts to penetrate or test physical security / response procedures
  • Attempts to improperly acquire explosives, weapons, ammunition, dangerous chemicals, etc.
  • Suspicious or improper attempts to acquire official vehicles, uniforms, badges or access devices
  • Presence of individuals who do not appear to belong in workplaces, business establishments, or near key facilities
  • Mapping out routes, playing out scenarios, monitoring key facilities, timing traffic lights
  • Stockpiling suspicious materials or abandoning potential containers for explosives (e.g., vehicles, suitcases, etc)
  • Suspicious reporting of lost or stolen identification

This may be real or it may be a hoax; I don’t know.

And this is probably my last post on the war on the unexpected. There are simply too many examples.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 12:24 pm

Winging it on airport security

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Not looking for evidence, satisfied with appearances:

There is no solid evidence that the huge amounts of money spent on airport security screening measures since September 11th are effective, argue researchers in this week’s Christmas issue of the BMJ.

Most screening programmes around the world are closely evaluated and heavily regulated before implementation. They rely on sound scientific and cost-benefit evidence before they are put into practice. Is airport security screening an exception, ask Eleni Linos and colleagues?

They reviewed evidence for the effectiveness of airport security screening measures, comparing it to the evidence required by the UK National Screening Committee criteria to justify medical screening programmes.

Despite worldwide airport protection costing an estimated $5.6 billion every year, they found no comprehensive studies evaluating the effectiveness of passenger or hand luggage x-ray screening, metal detectors or explosive detection devices. There was also no clear evidence of testing accuracy.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 12:20 pm

Ah! the reason EPA killed the California standard

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Because Big Business objected. That’s what the government is for, in the eyes of the GOP: to do the bidding of Big Business. ThinkProgress:

Before EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson “answered the pleas of industry executives” by announcing his “decision to deny California the right to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles,” auto executives directly appealed to Vice President Cheney. EPA staffers told the LA Times that Johnson “made his decision” only after Cheney met with the executives.

On multiple occasions in October and November, Cheney and White House staff members met with industry executives, including the CEOs of Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler. At the meetings, the executives objected to California’s proposed fuel economy standards:

In meetings in October with Mr. Cheney and sessions with White House staff members, auto executives made clear that they were concerned not just about the fuel economy measures in the bill but also about the California proposal for stricter emissions standards.

Johnson explained his decision to thwart California by saying that the new energy bill, which the auto industry supported and President Bush signed into law on Wednesday, “made the proposed California standards unnecessary.” One EPA staffer says Johnson’s decision was part of Cheney’s deal with the industry execs brokered at the meetings:

“Clearly the White House said, ‘We’re going to get EPA out of the way and get California out of the way. If you give us this energy bill, then we’re done, the deal is done,’” said one staffer.

Since taking office, Cheney has taken “a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business” while undermining any real action to combat climate change. For example, he stacked the Committee on Environmental Quality with industry heavyweights, killing Bush’s 2000 campaign promise to place caps on carbon emissions. In 2001, his infamous energy task force also ordered the EPA to “reconsider” a rule requiring stricter pollution controls on power and oil refinery plants.

More recently, since February, Cheney has also quietly maneuvered to exert increased control over environmental policy by federal agencies — particularly the regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 11:45 am

How the hacks make decisions

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Purely by ideology, ignoring any technical considerations:

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ignored his staff’s written findings in denying California’s request for a waiver to implement its landmark law to slash greenhouse gases from vehicles, sources inside and outside the agency told The Times on Thursday.

“California met every criteria . . . on the merits. The same criteria we have used for the last 40 years on all the other waivers,” said an EPA staffer. “We told him that. All the briefings we have given him laid out the facts.”

EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson announced Wednesday that because President Bush had signed an energy bill raising average fuel economy that there was no need or justification for separate state regulation. He also said that California’s request did not meet the legal standard set out in the Clean Air Act.

But his staff, which had worked for months on the waiver decision, concluded just the opposite, the sources said Thursday. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the media or because they feared reprisals.

California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said she was also told by EPA staff that they were overruled by Johnson.

She said Johnson’s decision showed “that this administration ignores the science and ignores the law to reach the politically convenient conclusion.”

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Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 11:38 am

An interesting reading of the Obama campaign

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Mark Schmitt has a very interesting take on what Obama’s approach might bring:

The phrase “theory of change” is a bit of jargon that I first encountered in the philanthropic and non-profit world, where it refers to a fairly new way of evaluating the effectiveness of projects by drawing out the underlying assumptions about how they lead to social change. It’s a useful innovation, because often differences that seem to be about ideology or effectiveness are really just different ideas about the process that will lead to change, though unspoken and unquestioned. (For example, a foundation dedicated to ending hunger might choose between giving $100,000 to a food bank that feeds 100 people a day, or to a legal group that sues the state over Food Stamp eligibility rules, or to a national group that organizes poor people to push Congress for a total Food Stamp overhaul. At the end of a year, only the food bank would have results to show, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only effective approach — the potential results from the other two approaches to change are much greater, if the legal and political strategies are sound.)

It’s fascinating that this concept has become the key distinction in the Democratic presidential campaign. This is not a primary about ideological differences, or  electability, but rather one about a difference in candidates’ implicit assumptions about the current circumstance and how the levers of power can be used to get the country back on track. It’s the first “theory of change” primary I can think of.

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Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 11:33 am

Posted in Democrats, Election

The strange dynamics of the current Congress

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Very weird.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 11:26 am

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Funniest guy on earth?

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Eddie Izzard is, IMHO, definitely in the running. His DVD Glorious, for example, is side-splitting. His DVD… well, get all his comic performance DVDs. And here are some Lego versions; for example:

More here.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 9:43 am

Posted in Movies & TV, Video

Blind to reality

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Paul Krugman has a good column today, from which I select this bit:

So where were the regulators as one of the greatest financial disasters since the Great Depression unfolded? They were blinded by ideology.

“Fed shrugged as subprime crisis spread,” was the headline on a New York Times report on the failure of regulators to regulate. This may have been a discreet dig at Mr. Greenspan’s history as a disciple of Ayn Rand, the high priestess of unfettered capitalism known for her novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

It’s no wonder, then, that he brushed off warnings about deceptive lending practices, including those of Edward M. Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve board. In Mr. Greenspan’s world, predatory lending — like attempts to sell consumers poison toys and tainted seafood — just doesn’t happen.

I have run into others who believe that government regulation and inspection and monitoring is not only unnecessary but undesirable, since it interferes with the operation of the free market, which would automatically correct the problems that the government agencies and rules are formed to address.

To me, this sounds like a plea to put an end to fire departments: fires will, after all, eventually burn themselves out.

In point of historical fact, businesses unregulated go to extraordinary lengths to dupe, cheat, and even poison consumers. That’s why the agencies and rules sprang up in the first place. Mr. Greenberg should have spent more time reading history and less time reading Ayn Rand, IMHO.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 9:02 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

Megs and the Magic Banana

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Megs & B 1 img_0181.jpg img_0184.jpg img_0188.jpg

Megs has a catnip banana. She likes it, as you see.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 8:52 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Another potato dish for Christmas

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This one is somewhat salad-like and is designed to serve 10 as a side-dish. The Eldest has made it and says it’s superb.

1 1/4 pounds new red potatoes (about 10 small, scrubbed)
3 tsp salt
1/2 pound bacon, chopped
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup walnut pieces
2 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup walnut oil
One 10-ounce bag fresh spinach, thorough washed and trimmed of tough stems
1/4 pound Maytag blue cheese, crumbled

Put potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover them. Add 1 tsp of the salt and bring to a boil. Let the potatoes boil until they are fork tender, about ten minutes. Drain. Quarter the potatoes and put them in a salad bowl. Set aside.

Cook the bacon in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until slightly crisp, about ten minutes. Add the onions, another teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Cook, stirring, until the onions are wilted and lightly golden, about five minutes. Add the walnuts and cook another five minutes, stirring often.

Remove from the heat. Add the garlic and stir the mixture for about thirty seconds. Add the vinegar and oil and mix well.

Add 1/2 cup of the dressing mixture and 1/2 tsp of the salt to the potatoes and gently toss to coat evenly. Transfer the potatoes to another bowl and set aside. To the salad bowl, add the spinach, the remaining 1 1/2 cups of the dressing, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss to coat the leaves evenly. Divide the spinach into ten equal portions and mound in the center of each plate. Sprinkle each with equal portions of the cheese. Arrange four potato quarters on each mound. Serve immediately.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 8:33 am

Best Web apps of 2007

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Good collection of apps—you might find yourself a treasure among them.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 8:30 am

Posted in Software

Free on-line university courses

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Just in time for New Year’s resolutions: Via Lifehacker, a list of the best free university courses. And here’s a Lifehacker post on the .EDU underground.

I had a workshop once from a guy who suggested picking some area of interest—real estate, investing, history of the Labor movement in the US, American colonial history (though in fact he seems strongly oriented to the money fields)—and read an hour a day on the topic. Within a few weeks, you’ll find you know more about the area than half the people, and within a few months you are, for all practical purposes, an expert. And you just keep reading.

The odd thing about such learning is that at first you can’t remember anything: Teflon brain. Then you remember a few things, and these provide a foothold, as it were: things to which you can link new knowledge so that it sticks better. And after a while, your knowledge is extensive enough so that it becomes a net in which you effortlessly catch the new facts and ideas in a field with which you’ve become familiar.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 8:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Method Friday

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It turns out that the Simpsons Emperor 3 Super is a pretty good Method brush. The Cube, the Shaving Paste, the Emperor 3, and the Aristocrat with yesterday’s Treet blade still in it: a perfectly smooth and easy shave, no sign of irritation or blood. Paul Sebastian aftershave, and I’m off for a good cup of coffee.

Written by Leisureguy

21 December 2007 at 7:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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