Later On

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

Archive for January 6th, 2008


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Who says he doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of foreign affairs?

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Astonishing: a business that gets it

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From the NY Times (photo at the link):

“Hackers, welcome! Here are detailed circuit diagrams of our products — modify them as you wish.”

That’s not an announcement you’ll find on the Web sites of most consumer electronics manufacturers, who tend to keep information on the innards of their machines as private as possible.

But Neuros Technology International, creator of a new video recorder, has decided to go in a different direction. The company, based in Chicago, is providing full documentation of the hardware platform for its recorder, the Neuros OSD (for open source device), so that skilled users can customize or “hack” the device — and then pass along the improvements to others.

The OSD is a versatile recorder. Using a memory card or a U.S.B. storage device, it saves copies of DVDs, VHS tapes and television programs from satellite receivers, cable boxes, TVs and any other device with standard video output.

Because the OSD saves the recordings in the popular compressed video format MPEG-4 (pronounced EM-peg), the programs can be watched on a host of devices, including iPods and smartphones. The OSD is for sale at Fry’s, Micro Center, J&R Electronics and other locations for about $230.

The OSD’s capabilities will grow to suit changing times, said Joe Born, founder and chief executive of the company. “Digital video is a fast-moving space,” he said, and many consumers don’t want to buy a new piece of hardware every time a media company comes out with a new way to watch its shows. “The best way to address this problem was to make the product open source, allowing our smartest developers and users to modify it.”

The OSD has not only open hardware, but also open software: it is based on the Linux operating system. Neuros Technology encourages hacking of the device; it has contests with cash rewards for new applications for the OSD. One winner, for instance, designed a program that lets people use it to watch YouTube on their televisions.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Why and how McClatchy gets it right

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Worth reading in its entirety. It begins:

When it comes to covering the war in Iraq, McClatchy Newspapers has always done things a bit differently. The third-largest newspaper company in the US, it owns thirty-one daily papers, including The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee, The Kansas City Star, and The Charlotte Observer. (It became the owner of some of these papers after buying Knight Ridder newspapers in 2006.) McClatchy has a large bureau in Washington, but without a paper either in the capital or in New York, it operates outside the glare of the nation’s political and media elite, and this has freed it to follow its own path.

In the months leading up to the Iraq war, when most news organizations were dutifully relaying the Bush administration’s claims about the threat posed by Iraq, Knight Ridder/McClatchy ran several stories questioning their accuracy. Since the invasion, the company has run a lean but resourceful operation in Baghdad. All three of its bureau chiefs have been young Arab-American women with some fluency in Arabic. At home in the cultures of both the West and the Middle East, they have been adept at interpreting each to the other.

From the start, the McClatchy bureau has made a special point of reporting on the lives of ordinary Iraqis and on the impact the war has had on them. To help it do so, it has relied heavily on its Iraqi staff. It currently has five Iraqi members—former teachers, doctors, and office managers who, joining the staff as translators and “fixers,” have received on-the-job training as reporters. In this, McClatchy is not unique. As the danger to Western reporters in Iraq has mounted, US news organizations have turned to local reporters and stringers to help gather the news. (The work is even more dangerous for them than it is for Westerners; according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, of the 124 journalists who have been killed since the start of the Iraq war, 102 have been Iraqis.)

McClatchy, though, has gone a step further.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Iraq War, Media

Very interesting book and interview

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This is worth clicking through to read:

The Patriot: Dahr Jamail’s Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Reporter in Occupied Iraq

Book review by Leslie Thatcher

We were a minority, but still, there were many of us to whom it was as plain as the nose on our own face, in the fall of 2002 when the great “marketing campaign” for the Iraq war was rolled out, that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and no connection whatsoever to 9/11, that the war was an illegal act of aggression that could only hearten enemies of the United States. Some of us turned out for the great global “focus group” of February 15, 2003; some of us wrote to the editor, argued with family members and neighbors, were horrified by the mainstream media’s pornographic endorsement of “Shock and Awe,” but Dahr Jamail came down from his job as a Park Service rescue ranger on Mt. Denali in Alaska, and, armed with $2,000, a laptop, digital camera, and some indie media listserve advice about how to get there, set off for Baghdad. What he has described as “an act of desperation” provoked by his sense of complicity as an American is also, in a very real sense, an ultimate act of patriotism, an assertion that Americans are better than what we have done in Iraq, a faith he still champions that:

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Books, Iraq War

Why the GOP tolerates evil

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The GOP, on the whole, is a party of people who lack empathy, compassion, and a sense of social justice. This, indeed, is why the phrase “compassionate conservatism” was so effective: the possibility that it was not an oxymoron excited people. Alas, it was stated by a moron and a person who has no sense of compassion, as has become all too clear over the years.

But how can so many people lack what one normally would see as a basic human sense of morality and fair play? My Mind on Books has a new post that suggests an answer:

The Emotional Construction of Morals, by Jesse Prinz (Oxford University Press, Dec. 28, 2007).

From the book description: “Jesse Prinz argues that recent work in philosophy, neuroscience, and anthropology supports two radical hypotheses about the nature of morality: moral values are based on emotional responses, and these emotional responses are inculcated by culture, not hard-wired through natural selection.” [Thus members of the GOP belong to a subculture that teaches emotional responses that prevent empathy, compassion, social justice, and a sense of fair play. And in fact that is exactly what one observes. – LG]

Author’s website, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Excerpts (24 p pdf draft)

Article “The Emotional Basis of Moral Judgments,” Philosophical Explorations, March 2006 (16 p pdf)

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

See no evil

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Our modern Department of Coverup Justice sees no evil:

Last month, ABC News reported that a former Halliburton/KBR employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, had been gang-raped by her co-workers while working in Baghdad. She was then left by the company in a “shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water.”

Shortly after the news broke, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “requesting details on how many Americans in Iraq had reported being sexually assaulted or abused, how they were investigated, and if any had been recommended for prosecution.” He gave the State Department a deadline of Dec. 21 to respond. Yet according to Nelson’s office, the senator has not yet received any response:

He has not received a reply, a spokesman confirmed. … Nor has Nelson received replies from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or Attorney General Michael Mukasey, to whom he also wrote asking for information and assistance, according to the lawmaker’s spokesman. […]

Asked about missing that deadline, a State Department spokesman told ABC News, “If the senator has asked questions, I’m quite sure we will provide answers. But it’s not something I could discuss with you.”

Former Halliburton/KBR employees have described an atmosphere of “rampant sexual harassment.” Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) has also confirmed that his office has heard from multiple other women who were victims of sexual assault while working for KBR in Iraq.

The refusal of the Bush administration to respond to Nelson’s request mirrors its foot-dragging on Jones’s case over the past two years. Despite Poe’s involvement in the case, the Justice Department has refused to bring criminal charges against anyone, and it appears that no “federal agency [is] investigating the case.”

Last month, the Justice Department also refused to send a representative to answer questions on the case before the House Judiciary Committee. “This is an absolute disgrace,” remarked chairman John Conyers (D-MI).

Video here.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 2:56 pm

TV’s courage

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The courage of TV consists of the courage to support the conventional narrative, whatever it may be. For example:

The most memorable reporting I’ve encountered on the conflict in Iraq was delivered in the form of confetti exploding out of a cardboard tube. I had just begun working at the MIT Media Lab in March 2006 when Alyssa Wright, a lab student, got me to participate in a project called “Cherry Blossoms.” I strapped on a backpack with a pair of vertical tubes sticking out of the top; they were connected to a detonation device linked to a Global Positioning System receiver. A microprocessor in the backpack contained a program that mapped the coördinates of the city of Baghdad onto those for the city of Cambridge; it also held a database of the locations of all the civilian deaths of 2005. If I went into a part of Cambridge that corresponded to a place in Iraq where civilians had died in a bombing, the detonator was triggered.

When the backpack exploded on a clear, crisp afternoon at the Media Lab, handfuls of confetti shot out of the cardboard tubes into the air, then fell slowly to earth. On each streamer of paper was written the name of an Iraqi civilian casualty. I had reported on the war (although not from Baghdad) since 2003 and was aware of persistent controversy over the numbers of Iraqi civilian dead as reported by the U.S. government and by other sources. But it wasn’t until the moment of this fake explosion that the scale and horrible suddenness of the slaughter in Baghdad became vivid and tangible to me. Alyssa described her project as an upgrade to traditional journalism. “The upgrade is empathy,” she said, with the severe humility that comes when you suspect you are on to something but are still uncertain you aren’t being ridiculous in some way.

The falling confetti transported me back three years to the early days of the war in Iraq, when the bombs intended to evoke “shock and awe” were descending on Baghdad. Most of the Western press had evacuated, but a small contingent remained to report on the crumbling Iraqi regime. In the New York offices of NBC News, one of my video stories was being screened. If it made it through the screening, it would be available for broadcast later that evening. Producer Geoff Stephens and I had done a phone interview with a reporter in Baghdad who was experiencing the bombing firsthand. We also had a series of still photos of life in the city. The only communication with Baghdad in those early days was by satellite phone. Still pictures were sent back over the few operating data links.

Our story arranged pictures of people coping with the bombing into a slide show, accompanied by the voice of Melinda Liu, a Newsweek reporter describing, over the phone, the harrowing experience of remaining in Baghdad. The outcome of the invasion was still in doubt. There was fear in the reporter’s voice and on the faces of the people in the pictures. The four-minute piece was meant to be the kind of package that would run at the end of an hour of war coverage. Such montages were often used as “enders,” to break up the segments of anchors talking live to field reporters at the White House or the Pentagon, or retired generals who were paid to stand on in-studio maps and provide analysis of what was happening. It was also understood that without commercials there would need to be taped pieces on standby in case an anchor needed to use the bathroom. Four minutes was just about right.

At the conclusion of the screening, there were a few suggestions for tightening here and clarification there. Finally, an NBC/GE executive responsible for “standards” shook his head and wondered about the tone in the reporter’s voice. “Doesn’t it seem like she has a point of view here?” he asked.

There was silence in the screening room. It made me want to twitch, until I spoke up. I was on to something but uncertain I wasn’t about to be handed my own head. “Point of view? What exactly do you mean by point of view?” I asked. “That war is bad? Is that the point of view that you are detecting here?”

The story never aired. Maybe it was overtaken by breaking news, or maybe some pundit-general went long, or maybe an anchor was able to control his or her bladder. On the other hand, perhaps it was never aired because it contradicted the story NBC was telling. At NBC that night, war was, in fact, not bad. My remark actually seemed to have made the point for the “standards” person. Empathy for the civilians did not fit into the narrative of shock and awe. The lesson stayed with me, exploding in memory along with the confetti of Alyssa Wright’s “Cherry Blossoms.” Alyssa was right. Empathy was the upgrade. But in the early days of the war, NBC wasn’t looking for any upgrades.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Media

Creationism: still evolving

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Whenever Creationism is ousted from the science curriculum, it mutates and return—most recently as “Intelligent” Design. Now it’s going after state agencies. Laui Lebo reports:

 In 2004, in a rural elementary-school cafeteria decorated with murals of dancing milk cartons, members of Pennsylvania’s Dover Area School Board shocked local constituents and the national scientific community with a small but significant change in its biology curriculum, requiring students to be made aware of “intelligent design.”

At the time, I was a reporter working at the local newspaper. Seeking comment on the curriculum change, I faxed a copy of the Dover news article to the Oakland, California, offices of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), an organization that defends the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools. Eugenie Scott, the center’s unflappable executive director, read the story I’d faxed her and called me with her astounded response.

“You’re it, kiddo,” she said.

What Scott was saying was that this was the first time an American public school district had required the teaching, in science class, of so-called intelligent design—the unscientific concept that the creation of life required a guiding hand from the Almighty.

The details of what followed have been recounted many times. The board’s decision triggered a series of events that led to the first constitutional test of intelligent design. At the end of a six-week trial in 2005, Judge John E. Jones III handed down his decision. In a 139-page opinion, Jones concluded that not only was intelligent design not science, it was a religious proposition. Jones wrote that when its supporters spoke of “the designer,” they were speaking of a specific deity: “The writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity.” Intelligent design proponents derided Jones as “an activist judge” and insisted that they weren’t dead yet.

They’re not. Last month, Christine Castillo Comer, the science education director of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was forced to resign. Normally the resignation of a state bureaucrat isn’t reported in the New York Times, which editorialized on the issue on December 4. Comer’s forced resignation appears to be part of something bigger that could affect the education of children across the country.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Education, Religion, Science

Weeding the library: hard to do

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I am having to recognize that it would be impossible for me to read all the books I own. So I must start making hard decisions—all the harder because I like the books I own: that’s why I bought them.

So now I’m trying to be systematic, but it’s hard when you pick up a copy (unread, alas) of The New Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, by Lewis Turco (who also wrote The Book of Forms, now in its third edition) and realize that (a) you won’t read it it, and (b) the time for me to have read it was 50 years ago (difficult, since it had not then been published). It’s a book for the young, who can do things with what they learn from the reading.

So today it will go to the library, to be sold or cataloged as they see fit. This post is just a way of saying goodbye to the book, and expressing my regrets for not having read it—an apology of sorts.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 11:34 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Wow: is this not treason?

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A whistleblower has made a series of extraordinary claims about how corrupt government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to steal nuclear weapons secrets.

Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language translator for the FBI, listened into hundreds of sensitive intercepted conversations while based at the agency’s Washington field office.

She approached The Sunday Times last month after reading about an Al-Qaeda terrorist who had revealed his role in training some of the 9/11 hijackers while he was in Turkey.

Edmonds described how foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions.

Among the hours of covert tape recordings, she says she heard evidence that one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan.

The name of the official – who has held a series of top government posts – is known to The Sunday Times. He strongly denies the claims.

However, Edmonds said: “He was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.”

She claims that the FBI was also gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials – including household names – who were aiding foreign agents.

“If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials,” she said.

Her story shows just how much the West was infiltrated by foreign states seeking nuclear secrets. It illustrates how western government officials turned a blind eye to, or were even helping, countries such as Pakistan acquire bomb technology.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 11:28 am

How to Design Programs (Computer programs, that is)

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Free on-line book. Looks frighteningly complete, although the index fails to include Forth. Full title (including subtitle): How to Design Programs: An Introduction to Computing and Programming.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 9:53 am

Posted in Books, Education

I, Samurai

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That really is a good site. For example:

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 9:47 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Learn about female sexuality

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A BBC documentary (4 hours total) on female sexuality. I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m in the process. Hard to imagine this being shown in the US, but maybe I don’t realize what TV is in these days of cable. (It’s a great site, BTW.)

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 9:35 am

Posted in Daily life

Auctioning a $20 bill

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One of my favorite classroom tricks is to auction off a $20 bill. I explain in advance that the $20 goes to the top bidder, but the top two bidders have to pay whtatever they bid. That way, if at least two students bid at least $10, I come out ahead.

In fact, it’s far better than that. As soon as two students are rash enough to enter the bidding, I’m almost guaranteed an astronomical profit. Once Mickey bids a nickel and Minnie bids a dime, both are trapped: There’s never a right time to drop out of the auction. If Mickey quits now, he loses his nickel, but by staying in he can quite reasonably bid a quarter for a $20 bill. Minnie, of course, raises her bid to half a dollar. After a few rounds, Mickey has bid $9 and Minnie goes to $10. Mickey can’t quit without throwing away $9; instead he takes the far more sensible route of bidding $11 to get $20. Now my profit is in the bag.

But that’s only the beginning.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 9:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Election

Shrimp quesadillas

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These look terrific—and easy to make.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 9:13 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Learning Linux

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 9:07 am

Posted in Books, Software

Words and deeds

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James Fallows has an excellent post:

The essential exchange of the New Hampshire Democrats’ debate

It involved Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, on the power of words in presidential leadership.

Each made his or her respective point clearly, calmly, and appealingly. This was not an ambush or a gotcha or a gaffe or an unintentionally revealing quicksilver exchange. It was the expression of thought-through and well expressed views. And on the merits I think it left the Clinton camp at a terrible disadvantage.

Clinton, after pointing out that Obama voted for an energy bill that was full of the special-interest tax breaks he now criticizes in speeches:

So you know, words are not actions.

And as beautifully presented and passionately felt as they are, they are not action. You know, what we’ve got to do is translate talk into action and feeling into reality. I have a long record of doing that, of taking on the very interests that you have just rightly excoriated because of the overdue influence that they have in our government. And you know, probably nobody up here has been the subject of more incoming fire from the Republicans and the special interests, so I think I know exactly what I’m walking into and I am prepared to take them on.

Then, after an appeal by John Edwards to the Teddy Roosevelt tradition of head-on trust-busting, this response from Obama:

Look, I think it’s easier to be cynical and just say, “You know what, it can’t be done because Washington’s designed to resist change.” But in fact there have been periods of time in our history where a president inspired the American people to do better, and I think we’re in one of those moments right now. I think the American people are hungry for something different and can be mobilized around big changes — not incremental changes, not small changes….

[T]he truth is actually words do inspire. Words do help people get involved. Words do help members of Congress get into power so that they can be part of a coalition to deliver health care reform, to deliver a bold energy policy. Don’t discount that power, because when the American people are determined that something is going to happen, then it happens. And if they are disaffected and cynical and fearful and told that it can’t be done, then it doesn’t. I’m running for president because I want to tell them, yes, we can. And that’s why I think they’re responding in such large numbers.

Of course each of them was right. Each expressed part of the job of a president, or any leader. Words and deeds. Talk and action. Poetry and prose. Presidents obviously do best when they can do both.

But only Obama captured what is unique about a president’s role. A President’s actions matter — Lyndon Johnson with his legislation, Richard Nixon with his opening to China — but lots of other people can help shape policies. A President’s words often matter more, and only he — or she — can express them. Grant led the Union Army, but Abraham Lincoln, in addition to selecting Grant, wrote and delivered his inaugural and Gettysburg addresses. Long before Franklin Roosevelt actually did anything about the Great Depression, his first inaugural address (“the only thing we have to fear…”) was important in itself. The same was true of Winston Churchill just after he succeeded Neville Chamberlain. It would be years before the Nazi advance would be contained, but Churchill’s words and bearing mattered were indispensable to Britain’s recovery.

Certainly Hillary Clinton knows this. And she knows the political record of poetry-vs-prose matchups in the past. Kennedy vs. Nixon. Carter vs. Ford (yes, Carter was a man of healing-America poetry in those days). Mondale vs. Reagan. And of course the first Candidate Clinton against his Democratic rival Paul Tsongas and then against the first President Bush. She is playing the hand she holds, but it’s worse than the other hand.

One extra thought on this point, from Jimmy Carter himself. This is the way he described the words-vs-action tension in the major speech that laid out his human rights policy, the commencement address at Notre Dame in 1977. I am partial to this formulation, because I was involved in putting it together. But I think it, like Obama’s comment, is closer to what Americans expect of their president than what Hillary Clinton has been left with, the “let me handle the details” appeal. Especially what they’ll expect of the next president:

We live in a world that is imperfect and which will always be imperfect–a world that is complex and confused and which will always be complex and confused.I understand fully the limits of moral suasion. We have no illusion that changes will come easily or soon. But I also believe that it is a mistake to undervalue the power of words and of the ideas that words embody. In our own history, that power has ranged from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.”

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 9:05 am

Posted in Election, Government

A dab hand at the waterstone

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I have this knife, which arrived with a beautiful sharp edge. I was worried about what I would do when the edge lost its keenness—it didn’t seem the sort of knife (or edge) that would be compatible with my Chef’s Choice knife sharpener, or any other sharpener that I had. Fortunately, I had bought this Chinese knife, which arrived with a rather dull edge, which I managed to sharpen. That somewhat lengthy effort honed my skills as well as the edge, and so when I decided yesterday that the Tosagata Hocho 6″ Santoku Hocho was  not cutting quite so well as it had been, it took very little time at the waterstone to restore its edge to perfection. It was satisfying beyond merely getting a good edge again.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in Daily life

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