Later On

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Archive for December 29th, 2007

Stupidest legal arguments from Bush Administration

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Dahlia Lithwick from Slate:

This time last year, I offered up a top 10 list of the most appalling civil-liberties violations by the Bush administration in 2006. The grim truth is, not much has changed. The Bush administration continues to limit our basic freedoms, conceal its own worst behavior, and insist that it does all this in order to make us more free. In that spirit, it seemed an opportune moment to commemorate the administration’s worst legal justifications and arguments of the year. And so I humbly offer this new year’s roundup: The Bush Administration’s Top 10 Stupidest Legal Arguments of 2007.

10. The NSA’s eavesdropping was limited in scope.

Not at all. Recent revelations suggest the program was launched earlier than we’d been led to believe, scooped up more information than we were led to believe, and was not at all narrowly tailored, as we’d been led to believe. Surprised? Me neither.

9. Scooter Libby’s sentence was commuted because it was excessive.

Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was found guilty of perjury and obstructing justice in connection with the outing of Valerie Plame. In July, before Libby had served out a day of his prison sentence, President Bush commuted his sentence, insisting the 30-month prison sentence was “excessive.” In fact, under the federal sentencing guidelines, Libby’s sentence was perfectly appropriate and consistent with positions advocated by Bush’s own Justice Department earlier this year.

8. The vice president’s office is not a part of the executive branch.

We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004, Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of the Vice President is not an “entity within the executive branch” and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders. When, in January 2007, the Information Security Oversight Office asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the dispute, Cheney recommended the executive order be amended to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office altogether. In a new interview with Mike Isikoff at Newsweek, the director of the ISOO stated that his fight with Cheney’s office was a “contributing” factor in his decision to quit after 34 years.

7. The Guantanamo Bay detainees enjoy more legal rights than any prisoners of war in history.

This has been one of the catchiest refrains of the war on terror, right up there with the claim that the prisoners there are well-fed and cared for. The government brief in the December Supreme Court appeal on the rights of these detainees to contest their detentions proudly proclaimed that the “detainees now enjoy greater procedural protections and statutory rights to challenge their wartime detentions than any other captured enemy combatants in the history of war.” That certainly sounds plausible. But as my colleague Emily Bazelon detailed here in Slate, a vast gaggle of historians, constitutional scholars, and retired military officers vehemently dispute that characterization of the legal processes afforded the detainees. The argument that Guantanamo prisoners have greater rights than they would otherwise be afforded relies on deep distortions of both fact and law.

6. Water-boarding may not be torture.

Water-boarding is torture. It’s torture under the Geneva Conventions and has been treated as a war crime in the United States for decades. The answer to the question of its legality should be as simple as the answer to whether boiling prisoners in oil is legal. But in his confirmation hearings to become U.S. attorney general, Michael Mukasey could not bring himself to agree. He claimed not to have been “read into” the interrogation program and to be incapable of speculating about hypothetical techniques. He added that he did not want to place U.S. officials “in personal legal jeopardy” and that such remarks might “provide our enemies with a window into the limits or contours of any interrogation program.” Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seems to be catching on to what it means when senior legal advisers find themselves incapable of calling water-boarding torture.

5. Everyone who has ever spoken to the president about anything is barred from congressional testimony by executive privilege.

This little gem of an argument was cooked up by the White House last July when the Senate judiciary committee sought the testimony of former White House political director Sara Taylor, as well as that of former White House counsel Harriet Miers, in connection with the firing of nine U.S. attorneys for partisan ideological reasons. Taylor was subpoenaed in June and, according to her lawyers, she wanted to testify but was barred by White House counsel Fred Fielding’s judgment that the president could compel her to assert executive privilege and forbid her testimony. As Bruce Fein argued in Slate, that dramatic over-reading of the privilege would both preclude congressional oversight of any sort and muzzle anyone who’d ever communicated with the president, regardless of their wish to talk.

4. Nine U.S. attorneys were fired by nobody, but for good reason.

Of course, the great legal story of 2007 was the unprecedented firing of nine U.S. attorneys who either declined to prosecute Democrats or were too successful in prosecuting Republicans. After months of congressional hearings, subpoenas, and investigations, the mastermind behind the plan to replace these prosecutors with “loyal Bushies” has yet to be determined. The decision is instead blamed on a “process” wherein unnamed senior department officials came to a “consensus” decision. No one is willing to name names, even though the firings were ostensibly legal, because, in the words of the president himself, these prosecutors all “serve at the pleasure of the president” and can be fired for any reason. Nevertheless, the firing of the nine U.S. attorneys—many of whom had stellar records and job reviews—remains shrouded in secrecy, although at least according to everyone who’s testified, they were all fired for good reasons (which also cannot be articulated).

3. Alberto Gonzales.

I am forced to put the former attorney general into his own category only because were I to attempt to round up his best legal whoppers of the calendar year, it would overwhelm the rest of the list. As Paul Kiel over at Talking Points Memo so aptly put it earlier this year, Gonzales was and is clearly “the lying-est attorney general in recent history.” Kiel went on to catalog Gonzales’ six most egregious legal lies of the year, but I’ll focus here on just two. First, his claim at a March press conference that he “was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on” with respect to the U.S. attorney firings. This was debunked shortly thereafter when Kyle Sampson testified that Gonzales was frequently updated throughout the process. Second, his April testimony that he had not “talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven’t wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations,” which was promptly contradicted by Monica Goodling’s testimony about his efforts to coordinate his version of the story with hers.

2. State secrets.

Again, it’s virtually impossible to cite the single most egregious assertion by the Bush administration of the state-secrets privilege, because there are so many to choose from. This doctrine once barred the introduction into court of specific evidence that might compromise national security, but in the hands of the Bush administration, it has ballooned into a doctrine of blanket immunity for any conduct the administration wishes to hide. The privilege was invoked in 2007 to block testimony about its torture and extraordinary rendition program, its warrantless surveillance program, and to defend the notion of telecom immunity for colluding in government eavesdropping, among other things. No longer an evidentiary rule, the state-secrets privilege has become one of the administration’s surest mechanisms for shielding its most egregious activities.

1. The United States does not torture.

First there was the 2002 torture memo. That was withdrawn. Then there was the December 2004 statement that declared torture “abhorrent.” But then there was the new secret 2005 torture memo. But members of Congress were fully briefed about that. Except that they were not. There was Abu Ghraib. There were the destroyed CIA tapes. So you see, the United States does not torture. Except for when it does.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 4:58 pm

Food notes

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I have several more types of miso. At some point I’ll do a summary, but I need to learn more and taste more. Great stuff, though. Latest is Kyoto Red, which is a low-sodium miso. I might make this recipe (link includes a whole handful of recipes):

Makes 1 cup
(33 calories/2 tablespoon servings)

4-6 teaspoons Cold Mountain Kyoto Red Miso
8 oz Tofu
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Garnish with chopped green onions.

I also cooked a serving of udon noodles this morning, then chilled them in cold water, drained, added some sesame oil, freshly grated ginger, salt, and pepper, and put it in the fridge in one of the silicone prep bowls I got for Christmas. I’m thinking of a chilled salad for lunch: the noodles, some tofu cubes, sliced scallion, a little wakame, a crushed clove of garlic, dressing of red miso and mirin (a tablespoon of each whisked together)…

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 10:29 am

How to wake up early (painlessly)

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A whole blog devoted to how to wake up early. And it has quite a few good tips. For example, this one:

This smart simple tip was found in the list of 52 Proven Stress Reducers. What this tip means is that first of all you need at least two alarm clocks (or get a dual alarm clock). You will be using one alarm clock in a usual way – for waking up in the morning. But you will set another alarm clock for the time when you have to go to bed. This alarm clock will act as a reminder to stop your activities for today and go to sleep. If you don’t know at what time you have to go bed, it’s safe enough to count back 8 hours from the time you have to wake up at. Start going to bed at this time, and adjust over next days.

Most people go to sleep later than they initially planned and that’s why you need a reminder. Few more pages of the book to read, few more episodes on TV to watch, few more blogs to browse… 90% of these activities can be safely postponed to the next day, or even simply cut off your life. Quite often people simply forget what time is it now. Oh my, it’s 1am, I need to be sleeping already! Sounds familiar? Put another alarm clock nearby. Remember to use snooze if still aren’t ready to go to bed, just like you snooze it (I know you don’t, but just in case 🙂 in the morning. Going to bed after alarm does require some discipline, but I’m sure you can handle it. After all, it’s much easier thing to do than waking up with morning alarm!

Additional tips are:

  • Do not use the same alarm sound for morning and evening alarms
  • Do not use any loud or irritating sounds for evening alarm

Hope these tips are self-explanatory. Good luck with your experiments!

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 10:07 am

Angry at FedEx

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From the Consumerist:

Frank told FedEx to require a signature before delivering his skis, instructions FedEx found vague and confusing. When Frank complained, FedEx said that in order to deliver the increased volume of goods over the holidays, they reserve the right to essentially chuck your delicate gifts from a speeding truck.

He writes:

I love dealing with UPS. The package comes when they say it will, and the regular deliveryman knows when, and when not, to leave a package when nobody’s home. I hate dealing with FedEx. They claim they came when they didn’t and leave packages at the door without even knocking when we are home. For Christmas, I ordered a pair of skis for my wife and told the shipper to insist on a signature. sent me a shipment notification that clearly said “Must Obtain Signature DO NOT LEAVE AT DOOR.”The tracking page said that the delivery would be on 12/26. No problem, since I ordered too late to get it in time for Christmas. We changed our plans to stay up in the Adirondacks for the long Christmas weekend only because of the heavy Sunday rain that wiped out the great skiing conditions that existed just a day before. I went to work Monday, Christmas Eve, checked the tracking page, and found out that they were now delivering the skis that day. I called my wife and told her to hustle home to be there for the package.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 10:02 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Don Ellis, 1934-1978

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I have liked Don Ellis since I saw him and his band when they appeared at the U of Iowa Ballroom: fantastic concert. I started getting his records, and now (2007) there’s a documentary film: Electric Heart: Don Ellis. You’ve probably heard him, too: he wrote the original score for The French Connection.

He was not exactly your traditional old-school jazz musician (though his first job was with the Glenn Miller band, then led by Ray McKinley). He played a 4-valve 1/4-tone trumpet, he liked odd time signatures (15/8, for example), and electronic add-ons—a device he used in the concert repeated after a delay and a tonal shift what he played on his trumpet, so he played a kind of duet with himself. But his music definitely swings.

Here’s his Child of Ecstasy, though not played by him:

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Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life

LASIK works well says long-term study

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A great relief to me, you may be sure. Here’s the report (and more articles on LASIK at the link):

Laser surgery to correct vision problems has been in use since the early 1990s. Photorefractive Keratotomy (PRK) is typically used to correct low to moderate myopia, while laser in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is preferred for high myopia corrections. Although over 18 million LASIK procedures have been performed worldwide, there is still some controversy regarding the maximum correction possible and efficacy with this technique.

Researchers from Miguel Hernandez University, Medical School, Alicante, Spain; and Ankara University School of Medicine, Ankara, Turkey report on a study* of high myopia patients ten years after LASIK surgery. The findings show that LASIK for myopia over -10 D is a safe and effective procedure in the long-term.

196 high myopic eyes of 118 patients, preoperatively needing at least 10 diopter (10 D) corrections to achieve 20/20 vision, were evaluated ten years following surgery. Uncorrected vision was 77% of best-corrected vision (BSCVA) before surgery. BSCVA improved 1 line. Only 5% of eyes lost more than 2 lines of BSCVA and 40% avoided the use of glasses. 119 (61 %) of eyes were within ± 2.00 Diopters at 10 years. Only 2 eyes (1%) developed corneal ectasia. The retreatment rate was 27%.

According to lead investigator Jorge L. Alió, “These results are extremely encouraging considering that this refractive correction implies the maximum limit of application of this technique. This study has allowed us to demonstrate that, in spite of the prejudices about the limits of LASIK technique, the results regarding predictability, efficacy and safety for high myopic patients are very good in the long term. The optimum limit of predictability for this technique is around 10 D of myopia. This reference study, with a long time perspective, allows us to know the safety, precision and limits of LASIK in highly myopic eyes.”

*The article is “Ten-year Follow-up of Laser In Situ Keratomileusis for High Myopia” by Jorge l. Alió, Orkun Muftuoglu, Dolores Ortiz, Juan Jose Pérez-Santonja, Alberto Artola, Maria-Jose Ayala, Maria Jose Garcia, and Gracia Castro De Luna. It appears in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, Volume 145, Issue 1, (January 2008), and is published by Elsevier.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 9:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Pug vs. Peacock

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Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 9:24 am

Posted in Daily life

Making nitrocellulose at home

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But be careful.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 9:15 am

Posted in Science

Navy JAG officer resigns over torture

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Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Williams, a JAG officer with the U.S. Naval Reserve, recently resigned his commission over the alleged use of torture by the United States and the destruction of video tapes said to contain instances of that torture.

As ThinkProgress reported in December, Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal adviser at Guantanamo Bay, repeatedly refused to call the hypothetical waterboarding of an American pilot by the Iranian military torture.

Explaining his resignation in a letter to his Gig Harbor, WA, newspaper — the Peninsula Gateway — Williams said Hartmann’s testimony was “the final straw”:

The final straw for me was listening to General Hartmann, the highest-ranking military lawyer in charge of the military commissions, testify that he refused to say that waterboarding captured U.S. soldiers by Iranian operatives would be torture.

His testimony had just sold all the soldiers and sailors at risk of capture and subsequent torture down the river. Indeed, he would not rule out waterboarding as torture when done by the United States and indeed felt evidence obtained by such methods could be used in future trials.

Thank you, General Hartmann, for finally admitting the United States is now part of a long tradition of torturers going back to the Inquisition.

In the middle ages, the Inquisition called waterboarding “toca” and used it with great success. In colonial times, it was used by the Dutch East India Company during the Amboyna Massacre of 1623.

Waterboarding was used by the Nazi Gestapo and the feared Japanese Kempeitai. In World War II, our grandfathers had the wisdom to convict Japanese Officer Yukio Asano of waterboarding and other torture practices in 1947, giving him 15 years hard labor.

Waterboarding was practiced by the Khmer Rouge at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison. Most recently, the U.S. Army court martialed a soldier for the practice in 1968 during the Vietnam conflict.

General Hartmann, following orders was not an excuse for anyone put on trial in Nuremberg, and it will not be an excuse for you or your superiors, either.

Despite the CIA and the administration attempting to cover up the practice by destroying interrogation tapes, in direct violation of a court order, and congressional requests, the truth about torture, illegal spying on Americans and secret renditions is coming out.

Williams’ resignation follows on the heels of several high profile issues relating to the JAG corps. In 2006, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift was passed over for promotion and forced out of the Navy after he vigorously defended Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver. And just this month, the Bush administration planned to take control of the promotion system for military lawyers, a plan which was dropped due to the uproar it caused in the military and in Congress.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 8:55 am

Can you pass 8th-grade science

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Try it and see.

Full disclosure: I passed with 92% (A-). It doesn’t have a back-up so be careful.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 8:52 am

Posted in Education, Science

One Laptop Per Child in the field

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Looking good:

 Doubts about whether poor, rural children really can benefit from quirky little computers evaporate as quickly as the morning dew in this hilltop Andean village, where 50 primary school children got machines from the One Laptop Per Child project six months ago.

These offspring of peasant families whose monthly earnings rarely exceed the cost of one of the $188 laptops — people who can ill afford pencil and paper much less books — can’t get enough of their XO devices.

At breakfast, they’re already powering up the combination library/videocamera/audio recorder/musicmaker/drawing kits. At night, they’re dozing off in front of them — if they’ve managed to keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines.

“It’s really the kind of conditions that we designed for,” Walter Bender, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff, said of this agrarian backwater up a precarious dirt road.

Founded in 2005 by former MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte, the One Laptop program has retreated from early boasts that developing-world governments would snap up millions of the pint-size machines at $100 each.

In a backhanded tribute, One Laptop now faces homegrown competitors everywhere from Brazil to India — and a full-court press from Intel’s more power-hungry Classmate.

But no competitor approaches the XO in innovation. It is hard drive-free, runs on the Linux operating system and stretches wireless networks with “mesh” technology that lets each computer in a village relay data to the others.

Mass production began last month and Negroponte, brother of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, said he expects at least 1.5 million machines to be sold by next November. Even that would be far less than Negroponte originally envisioned. The price, higher than initially advertised, and the non-Windows operating system that is still being tested for the XO have dissuaded many potential government buyers.

Peru placed the single biggest order to date — more than 272,000 machines — in its quest to turn around a primary education system that the World Economic Forum recently ranked last among 131 countries surveyed. Uruguay was the No. 2 buyers of the laptops, inking a contract for 100,000.

Negroponte said 150,000 more laptops will be shipped to such countries as Rwanda, Mongolia, Haiti and Afghanistan in early 2008 through “Give One, Get One,” a U.S.-based promotion ending Dec. 31 in which participants buy a pair of laptops for $399 and donate one or both.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 8:44 am

Kitties at work

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A very nice solution: Los Angeles police stations adopt feral felines to put an end to an infestation of rats and mice. Everyone is happy (save the rodents).

They are the homeless of the domestic animal world — colonies of feral cats that roam residential neighborhoods and lurk around office buildings and commercial garages, scavenging for food.

Unlike other strays that might rub up against a leg hoping for a crumb or a head rub, these felines are so unaccustomed to human contact that they dart away when people approach. Feral cats cannot be turned into house pets. When they end up in municipal shelters, they have little hope of coming out alive.

But one animal welfare group has figured out a way to save their lives and put them to work in Los Angeles. The Working Cats program of Voice for the Animals, a Los Angeles-based animal advocacy and rescue group, has placed feral cats in a handful of police stations with rodent problems, just as the group placed cats in the rat-plagued downtown flower district several years ago — to great effect.

Six feral cats were recently installed as ratters in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Southeast Division, and another group will be housed at the Central Division early in the new year.

Their reputation as furtive and successful exterminators grew after feral cats were introduced to the parking lot of the Wilshire Division nearly six years ago. Rats had been burrowing into the equipment bags that bicycle officers stored in outside cages; inside the facility, mice were sometimes scurrying across people’s desks.

“Once we got the cats, problem solved,” said Cmdr. Kirk Albanese, a captain at the Wilshire station at the time. “I was almost an immediate believer.”

After Albanese moved to the Foothill Division in the northern San Fernando Valley, he introduced feral cats to the building’s mice-infested basement in 2004.

“I think it’s a very humane way to deal with a very stubborn problem,” said Albanese, now assistant to the director in the office of operations at Parker Center, which has its own rat problem.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 8:33 am

Posted in Cats

Special 218

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One of my favorites of the QEDusa line of shaving soaps is Special 218—a wonderful fragrance and a fine soap. (You find it under the menu item “Other fabulous toiletry products” at the link.) So this morning I picked up that jar, along with Simpsons Commodore X3 Best and stopped a moment to smell the Special 218s.

The the Edwin Jagger Ivory Georgian with its Sputnik blade of several shaves, and a quick and enjoyable and quite smooth shave: no nicks, no weepers, no irritation—just smooth, smooth skin.

Booster June Clover seemed a fragrance to lift the chill from a winter morning, and so it was. And now with a nice cup of coffee, here I go.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2007 at 8:28 am

Posted in Shaving

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