Later On

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

Archive for December 27th, 2007

Cheney impeachment

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Sign up:

The number of Americans who, as of 1:00 PM today, have signed on to Rep. Robert Wexler’s (D-FL) online petition demanding congressional impeachment hearings for Vice President Dick Cheney. Last week, Wexler told Ed Schultz that he launched his website after traditional media outlets rejected an op-ed he had written with his colleagues Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Today, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran Wexler’s op-ed outlining why he believes impeachment hearings are necessary.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 1:56 pm

More freedoms going

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We’re slipping further and further into a authoritarian state with totalitarian overtones. Thanks to Liz for pointing out this:

The Pope had his Index of Forbidden Books. Japan had its Thought Police against subversive or dangerous ideologies. And the United States Congress and President Bush have learned nothing from those examples.

Congress is perched to enact the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 20007 (Act),” probably the greatest assault on free speech and association in the United States since the 1938 creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, the bill passed the House of Representatives on Oct. 23 by a 404-6 vote under a rule suspension that curtailed debate. To borrow from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, the First Amendment should not distract Congress from doing important business. The Senate companion bill (S. 1959), sponsored by Susan Collins, Maine Republican, has encountered little opposition. Especially in an election year, senators crave every opportunity to appear tough on terrorism. Few if any care about or understand either freedom of expression or the Thought Police dangers of S. 1959. Former President John Quincy Adams presciently lamented: “Democracy has no forefathers, it looks to no posterity, it is swallowed up in the present and thinks of nothing but itself.”

Denuded of euphemisms and code words, the Act aims to identify and stigmatize persons and groups who hold thoughts the government decrees correlate with homegrown terrorism, for example, opposition to the Patriot Act or the suspension of the Great Writ of habeas corpus.

The Act will inexorably culminate in a government listing of homegrown terrorists or terrorist organizations without due process; a complementary listing of books, videos, or ideas that ostensibly further “violent radicalization;” and a blacklisting of persons who have intersected with either list.

Political discourse will be chilled and needed challenges to conventional wisdom will flag. There are no better examples of sinister congressional folly.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 1:31 pm

Message from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

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An email I just received:

On November 25, 2007, at a Presidential Campaign stop at Franklin Pierce College in Ringe, New Hampshire, LEAP speaker Bradley Jardis, a working police officer from New Hampshire confronted Senator John McCain about the Senator’s support for the US policy of a war on drugs. McCain, like all but three of the presidential campaigners* usually brushes off questions about drug policy with a curt answer but he did not dare treat a working police officer in that manner. The result was a 5 minute 49 second discussion. [Video at the link, transcript below – LG]

If you agree that LEAP gets more action from the presidential campaigners when questions are directed at them from cops, judges, prosecutors, or prison wardens, then please send us an end of the year donation so we can continue this important work.


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Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 11:25 am

Posted in Drug laws, Election

Tea note

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Just had a cup of White Peony tea, brewed using my new utiliTEA tea kettle in the IngenuiTEA brewer. The tea kettle brings the water to a pre-set temperature and then cuts off, so it’s very good for the lower (non-boiling) water temperatures required by, for example, white, green, and oolong teas. You can google “tea brewing temperatures” and find information such as this:

These steeping times are only approximate, and you should adjust them depending on your own personal tea taste.

Black tea – Black is the most robust of the tea varieties and can be brewed in truly boiling water, usually steeped for 4-6 minutes. [I’ve also read that Black tea should be brewed with water just under boiling, with Pu-erh teas brewed with water at the full boil. – LG]

Oolong tea – As to be expected, oolong tea falls between green and black. The best temperature is around 190F. But oolong should be steeped longer than black tea, for around 5-8 minutes.

Green tea – You will need to be more gentle with your green teas. The water temperature should be around 150-160F and only steeped for 2-4 minutes.

White tea – Another delicate tea that should be treated gently. Water can be a bit warmer than for green tea, at 180F. You should let it steep longer though. At least 4-6 minutes.

Rooibos tea – This red herbal tea from South Africa is very hardy stuff and should be prepared with fully boiling water, just like black tea.

I brewed the White Peony for 6 minutes, then had the cup: fantastically delicious, with a definite peach flavor. Great stuff. Later, I heated up more water, poured it over the leaves from the first cup, and brewed a second cup from the same leaves—6 minutes again, and equally delicious. The “cup” in this case was actually a pint.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 11:10 am

Posted in Caffeine, Daily life

Marijuana slows cancer

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Interesting finding:

THC and another marijuana-derived compound slow the spread of cervical and lung cancers, test-tube studies suggest.

The new findings add to the fast-growing number of animal and cell-culture studies showing different anticancer effects for cannabinoids, chemical compounds derived from marijuana.

Cannabinoids, and sometimes marijuana itself, are currently used to lessen the nausea and pain experienced by many cancer patients. The new findings — yet to be proven in human studies — suggest that cannabinoids may have a direct anticancer effect.

“Cannabinoids’ … potential therapeutic benefit in the treatment of highly invasive cancers should be addressed in clinical trials,” conclude Robert Ramer, PhD, and Burkhard Hinz, PhD, of the University of Rostock, Germany.

Might cannabinoids keep dangerous tumors from spreading throughout the body? Ramer and Hinz set up an experiment in which invasive cervical and lung cancer cells had make their way through a tissue-like gel. Even at very low concentrations, the marijuana compounds THC and methanandamide (MA) significantly slowed the invading cancer cells.

Doses of THC that reduce pain in cancer patients yield blood concentrations much higher than the concentrations needed to inhibit cancer invasion.

“Thus the effects of THC on cell invasion occurred at therapeutically relevant concentrations,” Ramer and Hinz note.

The researchers are quick to point out that much more study is needed to find out whether these test-tube results apply to tumor growth in animals and in humans.

Ramer and Hinz report the findings in the Jan. 2, 2008 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 10:01 am

The best of open-source software

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Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 9:50 am

Posted in Software

US war on drugs has failed

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Failed, that is, at everything except wasting staggering sums of money and ruining thousands of lives. Note the differences between the US and the Netherlands:

War on drugs: US vs Netherlands

Common Sense for Drug Policy has released the 6th edition of Drug War Facts in PDF. Here’s an excerpt from the fact book:
Social Indicator USA Netherlands
Lifetime prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+) 36.9%
Past month prevalence of marijuana use (ages 12+) 5.4%
Lifetime prevalence of heroin use (ages 12+) 1.4%
Incarceration Rate per 100,000 population 701
Per capita spending on criminal justice system (in Euros) €379
Homicide rate per 100,000 population 5.56

Source 1: US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Washington, DC: HHS, August 2002), p. 109, Table H.1.
Source 2: Trimbos Institute, “Report to the EMCDDA by the Reitox National Focal Point, The Netherlands Drug Situation 2002″ (Lisboa, Portugal: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Nov. 2002), p. 28, Table 2.1.
Source 3: Walmsley, Roy, “World Prison Population List (fifth edition) (London, England: Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office), Dec. 2003, p. 3, Table 2.
Source 4: Walmsley, Roy, “World Prison Population List (fifth edition) (London, England: Research, Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office), Dec. 2003, p. 5, Table 4.
Source 5: van Dijk, Frans & Jaap de Waard, “Legal infrastructure of the Netherlands in international perspective: Crime control” (Netherlands: Ministry of Justice, June 2000), p. 9, Table S.13.
Source 6: Barclay, Gordon, Cynthia Tavares, Sally Kenny, Arsalaan Siddique & Emma Wilby, “International comparisons of criminal justice statistics 2001,” Issue 12/03 (London, England: Home Office Research, Development & Statistics Directorate, October 2003), p. 10, Table 1.1.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 9:28 am

New products at Razor and Brush

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I was just going to try the Zorrik blades, but on going to Razor and Brush, I find that they have lots of new blades and new aftershaves. So I’m getting a little collection, including these blades, all new to me:

Tiger Superior Stainless
Iridium Super Extra Stainless
Polsilver Stainless
Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge
Zorrik Super Stainless

As we by now surely know, each shaver must find the blades that work for him: my reactions to the various blades tells him nothing about what he will experience. Treet Blue Special blades, for example, are simply wonderful for me (and others), but some find them absolutely horrible. So you have to experiment. That said, I’ve heard very good things about the Zorrik blades, so I’m especially eager to try those.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 9:17 am

Posted in Shaving

Worth pondering as you look back at 2007

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One good way to reflect, I believe, is using four facets of prosperity:

  1. Material prosperity
  2. Spiritual prosperity
  3. Physical prosperity
  4. Social prosperity

These four facets give us a complete and balanced view of prosperity. By reflecting on them, you will get a complete view of how your life as a whole progressed in the past year.

To help you reflect, I’d share some questions you can ask yourself for each facet. By giving honest answers to them, you will be able to see whether or not you have progressed the way you wanted in each facet. For the questions to which your answer is no, you can also ask why to find out the reason behind it. For example, take this question:

Did you achieve the desired net worth?

If your answer is no, you can then ask:


The answer might be because you didn’t save enough, or there were unexpected expenses you weren’t prepared for. You can use such answers to better prepare yourself for the coming year.

So, here are 20 questions to help you reflect the past year:

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Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 8:48 am

Posted in Daily life

Retirees 65 or older: no health benefits from company

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More problems in the best medical system in the world:

 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Wednesday that employers could reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare.

The policy, set forth in a new regulation, allows employers to establish two classes of retirees, with more comprehensive benefits for those under 65 and more limited benefits — or none at all — for those older.

More than 10 million retirees rely on employer-sponsored health plans as a primary source of coverage or as a supplement to Medicare, and Naomi C. Earp, the commission’s chairwoman, said, “This rule will help employers continue to voluntarily provide and maintain these critically important health benefits.”

Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose an average of 6.1 percent this year and have increased 78 percent since 2001, according to surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Because of the rising cost of health care and the increased life expectancy of workers, the commission said, many employers refuse to provide retiree health benefits or even to negotiate on the issue.

In general, the commission observed, employers are not required by federal law to provide health benefits to either active or retired workers.

Dianna B. Johnston, a lawyer for the commission, said many employers and labor unions had told it that “if they had to provide identical benefits for retirees under 65 and over 65, they would just drop retiree health benefits altogether for both groups.”

In a preamble to the new regulation, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, the commission said, “The final rule is not intended to encourage employers to eliminate any retiree health benefits they may currently provide.” [wink, wink, nudge, nudge – LG]

But AARP and other advocates for older Americans attacked the rule. “This rule gives employers free rein to use age as a basis for reducing or eliminating health care benefits for retirees 65 and older,” said Christopher G. Mackaronis, a lawyer for AARP, which represents millions of people age 50 or above and which had sued in an effort to block issuance of the final regulation. “Ten million people could be affected — adversely affected — by the rule.”

The new policy creates an explicit exemption from age-discrimination laws for employers that scale back benefits of retirees 65 and over. Mr. Mackaronis asserted that the exemption was “in direct conflict” with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 8:35 am

Stem-cell research is pro-life

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Good column:

A few weeks ago, a young woman from Livonia named Laura Jackson testified before the Michigan’s House Judiciary Committee in Lansing. Four years ago, when she was 14, she broke her neck in a cheerleading accident and is now paralyzed, “much like Christopher Reeve.” She could not move her limbs, or even breathe on her own. Many people would have said, “Well, that’s it. My life is over.”

But not Laura, and not her parents, Daryl and Melody Jackson. They were determined to give her hope. Two years ago, they flew her to China for a revolutionary and radical form of surgery using stem cells. The trip was terrifically uncomfortable, the hospital primitive, and she was just plain scared, as anyone would be.

Then, a week later, she found she was able to breathe on her own for short periods. “I also noticed much more movement in my neck and shoulders. It improved my quality of life.”

She came home; started physical therapy; “gained muscles in my arms and neck that I hadn’t had since before my accident.”

No, she still can’t walk, or use her arms. But she isn’t giving up. “I have prayed that some kind of research will be allowed in Michigan but still nothing has happened,” she told the Legislature.

“I disagree with those who say embryonic stem cell research is not pro-life. This research represents the true pro-life position because it could save human lives and eliminate human suffering.”

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Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 8:18 am

Spinning the fantasy

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Thanks to a reader, here’s a hard look at the way the Bush Administration has worked to create the image of its alternate reality:

A few days before the 2004 presidential election, Ron Suskind, a columnist who had been investigating the White House and its communications for years, wrote in The New York Times about a conversation he had with a presidential adviser in 2002. “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community’, which he defined as people ‘who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality’. I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors.. and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’ ” (1).

Suskind’s article was a sensation, which the paper called an intellectual scoop. Columnists and bloggers seized on the phrase “reality-based community” which spread across the internet. Google had nearly a million hits for it in July 2007. Wikipedia created a page dedicated to it. According to Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University: “Many on the left adopted the term. ‘Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community’, their blogs said. The right then jeered at the left’s self-description. (‘They’re reality-based? Yeah, right…’)” (2).

The remarks, which were probably made by Karl Rove a few months before the Iraq war, are not just cynical and Machiavellian. They sound like they come from the theatre rather than from an office in the White House. Not content with renewing the ancient problems discussed in cabinet offices, pitting idealists against pragmatists, moralists against realists, pacifists against warmongers or, in 2002, defenders of international law against supporters of the use of force, they display a new concept of the relationship between politics and reality. The leaders of the world’s superpower were not just moving away from realpolitik but also from realism to become creators of their own reality, the masters of appearance, demanding a realpolitik of fiction.

The US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 provided a spectacular illustration of the White House’s desire to create its own reality. Pentagon departments, keen not to repeat the mistakes of the first Gulf war in 1991, paid particular attention to their communications strategy. As well as 500 embedded journalists integrated into sections of the armed services, great attention was paid to the design of the press room at US forces headquarters in Qatar: for a million dollars, a storage hangar was transformed into an ultramodern television studio with stage, plasma screens and all the electronic equipment needed to produce videos, geographic maps and diagrams for real time combat.

A scene in which the US army spokesman, General Tommy Franks, addressed journalists cost $200,000 and was produced by a designer who had worked for Disney, Metro Goldwyn Mayer and the television programme Good Morning America. In 2001 the White House had put him in charge of creating background designs for presidential speeches – unsurprising to those aware of the ties between the Pentagon and Hollywood.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 8:05 am

Designing houses for renovation

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Good point in this article: houses should be designed (and build) to make alterations and renovations easy—to extend the life of the house and to ensure that it can fit the current requirements of the inhabitants. Daniel McGinn takes a look:

Wander the floor of the International Builders’ Show in Orlando in February and you’ll see little evidence that the US housing market is experiencing its sharpest downturn since the Great Depression. Inside the hall, vendor booths will be full. A few companies will display the new-and-improved nails and engineered lumber you’d expect. But if previous years are any guide, much of the hardware at the show will seem better suited to Best Buy than to Home Depot: in-wall speakers and video for the whole house (inside and outside), wireless remotes that control lights and the thermostat, rooms wired with everything from coaxial to Cat-5, security setups worthy of Dr. No. The Builders’ Show may not inspire quite as much technolust as, say, the Consumer Electronics Show, but it does offer proof that a home is the most important gadget you’ll ever purchase.

Still, you’d never guess it when shopping for real estate. That charming 1920s three-bedroom craftsman wasn’t built to accommodate all these new devices, much less modernized subsystems like updated electrical, solar power, or flexible plastic plumbing. Which is one reason Americans have come to prefer new homes to pre-owned ones. Check out these numbers: In 1993, just 48 percent said they hoped their next house would be newly built. By 2004, that number had grown to 74 percent.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 7:59 am

More on praising children

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I’ve blogged before about Dweick’s findings. Here’s a new comment:

I’ve just found a fascinating five minute NPR radio report on work by psychologist Carol Dweck that has found that if a child thinks that intelligence is something that can change throughout life, they do better in school.

Dweck has been doing some fascinating work on what affects children’s academic performance.

We’ve reported on some of her earlier work, including the fact that praising children for their intelligence actually makes them perform worse in certain situations, whereas praising them for their hard work encourages them to tackle adversity when it occurs.

This NPR radio slot covers some work she published with colleagues in a freely available paper looking at the fact that children who believe that intelligence is flexible seem to do better as they “tend to emphasize ‘learning goals’ and rebound better from occasional failures”.

Dweck and her colleagues then tested the idea that if they taught children that intelligence could grow, their performance would improve. As predicted, it did.

It’s a really great example of carefully targeted cognitive science research. It’s a counter-intuitive finding that has direct practical application to improving children’s academic performance in both the long- and short-term.

It’s also a lovely example of a self-confirming belief. Children who believe intelligence is fixed are more likely to have fixed performance, whereas children who believe intelligence can grow are more likely to show performance growth.

The implications for the psychology of teachers are also interesting, because it would seem to be self-confirming for them as well. Teachers who believe that poorly performing children may have hidden potential might see them improve when they pass this on to the child.

Teachers who believe that poorly performing children are unlikely to change may actually limit a child’s performance if the child picks up on this and begins to believe the same.

So it might be worth testing whether teachers’ beliefs about intelligence affect their students’ performance as well.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 7:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Airport security: doesn’t help

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Surprising nobody, a new study concludes that airport security isn’t helping:

A team at the Harvard School of Public Health could not find any studies showing whether the time-consuming process of X-raying carry-on luggage prevents hijackings or attacks.They also found no evidence to suggest that making passengers take off their shoes and confiscating small items prevented any incidents.


The researchers said it would be interesting to apply medical standards to airport security. Screening programs for illnesses like cancer are usually not broadly instituted unless they have been shown to work.

Note the defense by the TSA:

“Even without clear evidence of the accuracy of testing, the Transportation Security Administration defended its measures by reporting that more than 13 million prohibited items were intercepted in one year,” the researchers added. “Most of these illegal items were lighters.”

This is where the TSA has it completely backwards. The goal isn’t to confiscate prohibited items. The goal is to prevent terrorism on airplanes. When the TSA confiscates millions of lighters from innocent people, that’s a security failure. The TSA is reacting to non-threats. The TSA is reacting to false alarms. Now you can argue that this level of failures is necessary to make people safer, but it’s certainly not evidence that people are safer.

For example, does anyone think that the TSA’s vigilance regarding pies is anything other than a joke?

Here’s here’s the actual paper from the British Medical Journal:

Of course, we are not proposing that money spent on unconfirmed but politically comforting efforts to identify and seize water bottles and skin moisturisers should be diverted to research on cancer or malaria vaccines. But what would the National Screening Committee recommend on airport screening? Like mammography in the 1980s, or prostate specific antigen testing and computer tomography for detecting lung cancer more recently, we would like to open airport security screening to public and academic debate. Rigorously evaluating the current system is just the first step to building a future airport security programme that is more user friendly and cost effective, and that ultimately protects passengers from realistic threats.

I talked about airport security at length with Kip Hawley, the head of the TSA, here.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 7:42 am

New Year’s foods

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Being from the South, I eat blackeyed peas on New Year’s eve and day—not sure which is the tradition, so I cover both bases. The supermarket usually has fresh blackeyed peas for the occasion, which require only brief cooking.

And for New Year’s Day, menudo rojo is hard to beat (recipe at the link).

Do you have special foods to inaugurate the new year?

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 7:40 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Italians like menthol

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That’s my guess, based on the shaving products I have. This morning I used another Christmas shaving cream: Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella: “Crema da barba dal fresco profumo da usarsi con il pennello.” Very nice fragrance, and with the Rooney Style 2 Finest it produced a very fine lather, that I quickly realized was mentholated. The Merkur Futur with the Treet Blue Special produced in turn a very smooth face.

The cold-water rinse was spectacular: nothing wakes up the menthol like that. In keeping with the theme, I picked Floid aftershave. And here I am, wide awake for sure.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2007 at 7:35 am

Posted in Shaving

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