Later On

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

Archive for January 11th, 2008

Good take on TSA’s efforts

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From the NY Times:

Six years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, airport security remains a theater of the absurd. The changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic, and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and pointless.The first variety have taken place almost entirely behind the scenes. Explosives scanning for checked luggage, for instance, was long overdue and is perhaps the most welcome addition. Unfortunately, at concourse checkpoints all across America, the madness of passenger screening continues in plain view. It began with pat-downs and the senseless confiscation of pointy objects. Then came the mandatory shoe removal, followed in the summer of 2006 by the prohibition of liquids and gels. We can only imagine what is next.

To understand what makes these measures so absurd, we first need to revisit the morning of September 11th, and grasp exactly what it was the 19 hijackers so easily took advantage of. Conventional wisdom says the terrorists exploited a weakness in airport security by smuggling aboard box-cutters. What they actually exploited was a weakness in our mindset — a set of presumptions based on the decades-long track record of hijackings.

In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.

For several reasons — particularly the awareness of passengers and crew — just the opposite is true today. Any hijacker would face a planeload of angry and frightened people ready to fight back. Say what you want of terrorists, they cannot afford to waste time and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure. And thus the September 11th template is all but useless to potential hijackers.

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 2:14 pm

Fight, fight, fight to the bitter end

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The day is drawing nigh when the limits of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson’s chutzpah will be tested.

Late last year, Johnson, over the unanimous objection of his staff, arbitrarily denied California’s petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. He was even told that the EPA would lose the case if California sued — which they did, as expected, along with fifteen other states.

But even before that fore-ordained court fight takes place, Johnson will have to face Congress. First up is the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, of which Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) the chair. A hearing is set for January 24th, when Johnson will get to explain his rationale in person. Here’s his two page denial letter as a preview — which Cali Attorney General Jerry Brown called “shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator’s unprecedented action.”

In a committee hearing in California yesterday, Brown urged Boxer to not be subpoena-shy, since Johnson has still not provided the requisite supporting legal and technical documents for the decision (after reviewing California’s petition for more than two years, Johnson only issued that two page denial). From The Los Angeles Times:

“Subpoena these guys,” he urged Boxer. “Send the marshals out. Get them to tell us under oath. They are not going to get away with this. Sooner or later, we are going to uncover real corruption . . . that is dangerous to California and to the whole world.”Brown said that the Bush administration may be able to delay court action a year, until the president’s term is over, but that Congress may be able to speed the process. “What you have is a bunch of scofflaws in the White House,” he said. “This fellow Johnson is becoming a stooge in a really pathetic drama that hopefully will not play out much longer.”

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 1:02 pm

Friday cat-blogging: Miss Megs

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Megs, getting nice for the cleaning ladies.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 10:36 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Science at work: creating better popcorn

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On a long winter’s night, no treat seems simpler than a big bowl of popcorn—until you start to trace the connections between traditional races of popping corns and modern commercial varieties of popcorn.

Plant geneticist Amalio Santacruz Varela—then a graduate student at Iowa State University and currently a professor and researcher at el Colegio de Postgraduados in Mexico—teamed up with Mark Widrlechner to assemble some popcorn pedigrees. Widrlechner is a plant geneticist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), working at the agency’s North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS) in Ames, Iowa.

They focused on 56 maize (Zea mays L.) varieties from the United States and Latin America—emphasizing popcorns—and measured 29 morphological traits based on heritable qualities and popping characteristics. They also obtained genetic data from DNA markers and from variations in proteins called enzymes.

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

For would-be bento makers

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Very good series: Getting started with bento making

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 8:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Condi’s too busy

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Shortly after ABC News reported on the rape of former Halliburton/KBR employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for answers. Her deadline of Dec. 21 passed with no reply. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) has also wrote to Rice on Jan. 3, telling her of the “lack of cooperation from her department.” No response yet.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 8:30 am

Accountability takes a nosedive

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Accountability, it seems, is for enlisted personnel, not for officers:

The US army has thrown out the conviction of the only officer court martialled in the Abu Ghraib scandal, ending the four-year investigation and drawing complaints from human rights activists of a Pentagon whitewash.

Barring any new information, the decision means no officers or civilian leaders will be held criminally responsible for the prisoner abuse — which included the photographing of Iraqi prisoners in painful and sexually humiliating positions — which embarrassed the military and inflamed the Muslim world.

Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by Major General Richard Rowe, the Washington military district chief. He was instead given an administrative reprimand. Jordan, 51, was acquitted at his court martial in August of charges that he failed to supervise the 11 lower-ranking soldiers convicted for their roles in the abuse.

But he was found guilty of disobeying an order not to talk about the investigation, and the jury recommended a criminal reprimand, the lightest possible punishment. Jordan told the Associated Press yesterday that he felt victimised by press coverage that seemed eager for an officer to be blamed for the abuse. He also said he agreed that there were both enlisted soldiers and officers responsible for the abuse who escaped prosecution.

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 8:29 am

The legal “Black Hole” continues

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Center for American Progress:

Six long years ago today, “the first orange-clad, shackled and blindfolded prisoners arrived at Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray.” Worldwide protests are marking today’s anniversary. The ACLU notes, “Since that dark day in recent American history, more than 700 people have been detained without due process and not a single trial has been completed.” For six years, Guantanamo has existed as an island outside the boundaries of law, staining America’s reputation as a nation that respects the rule of law. In April 2006, the Center for American Progress laid out a comprehensive strategy for dealing with suspected terrorists after the closure of Guantanamo. “The best solution to the challenges of Guantanamo lies in working with our allies to create a Special Tribunal for International Terrorist Suspects in order to share the responsibility of detaining, trying, and imprisoning terrorists,” wrote analyst Ken Gude. In June 2006, Bush declared, “I’d like to close Guantanamo.” Two months ago, Condoleezza Rice echoed his point: “The President has said, and I fully agree, we would like nothing better than to close Guantanamo.” But those words have proved to be little more than lip service. The Bush administration appears willing to leave office without addressing Guantanamo, leaving its successor to deal with the legal “black hole” it has created. Sign the ACLU’s petition to close Guantanamo here.

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 8:23 am

Interesting Mac software

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From a James Fallows post on reconsidering the Mac:

All the while I had Macs in the household, and I kept noticing (and writing about) the emergence of “interesting” Mac software of the kind I liked on the PC. For instance: Tinderbox, DevonThink, Scrivener, Aquaminds NoteTaker and NoteShare, OmniOutliner, and several more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 8:20 am

Posted in Software

And it will go beyond games…

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From DesignVerb, which has some other videos by this guy:

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 7:58 am

Posted in Technology, Video

Mushroom ragout

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The Wednesday Chef has a recipe that sounds tasty and easy:

Mushroom Ragout
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms (I used white button, little Crimini, and shiitake mushrooms)
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced (about 1 cup) [or shallots – LG]
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine [or a splash of cognac – LG]
1/2 cup stock (chicken or vegetable) [or mushroom stock—the soaking liquid—if you used some dried mushrooms – LG]
1/4 cup crème fraîche (plus a little more if desired)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Clean the mushrooms and cut them into chunks of roughly even size.

2. Melt the butter in a large shallow saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Add the mushrooms and stir to mix well. Add the thyme, bay leaf and cayenne pepper and mix well. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid is reduced to a glaze.

4. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender, about 15 minutes (cooking time will depend on variety and age of mushrooms).

5. Stir in the crème fraîche and heat through. (Add more if you want more liquid.) Taste and add more salt if needed. Season well with pepper and serve.

[Can also serve on pasta, gnocchi, rice, etc. – LG]

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 7:44 am

A black hole with mass of 18 billion Suns

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The biggest black hole discovered so far has a mass equal to 18 billion copies of the Sun. (This illustration is slightly dated: it shows the mass as 17 billion Suns, but later refinements indicate that the mass is 18 billion Suns.)

Black hole

The most massive known black hole in the universe has been discovered, weighing in with the mass of 18 billion Suns. Observing the orbit of a smaller black hole around this monster has allowed astronomers to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity with stronger gravitational fields than ever before.

The black hole is about six times as massive as the previous record holder and in fact weighs as much as a small galaxy. It lurks 3.5 billion light years away, and forms the heart of a quasar called OJ287. A quasar is an extremely bright object in which matter spiralling into a giant black hole emits copious amounts of radiation.

But rather than hosting just a single colossal black hole, the quasar appears to harbour two – a setup that has allowed astronomers to accurately ‘weigh’ the larger one.

The smaller black hole, which weighs about 100 million Suns, orbits the larger one on an oval-shaped path every 12 years. It comes close enough to punch through the disc of matter surrounding the larger black hole twice each orbit, causing a pair of outbursts that make OJ287 suddenly brighten.

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 7:33 am

Posted in Science

Another take

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Earlier I blogged about a strange article that appeared in Foreign Policy, more or less sounding the deathknell for the EU because they were insufficiently dedicated to the idea of a free-market economy and all the benefits it brings (with no mention of the problems, BTW). Paul Krugman gives another take:

Today I’d like to talk about a much-derided contender making a surprising comeback, a comeback that calls into question much of the conventional wisdom of American politics. No, I’m not talking about a politician. I’m talking about an economy — specifically, the European economy, which many Americans assume is tired and spent but has lately been showing surprising vitality.

Why should Americans care about Europe’s economy? Well, for one thing, it’s big. The G.D.P. of the European Union is roughly comparable to that of the United States; the euro is almost as important a global currency as the dollar; and the governance of the world financial system is, for practical purposes, equally shared by the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve.

But there’s another thing: it’s important to get the facts about Europe’s economy right because the alleged woes of that economy play an important role in American political discourse, usually as an excuse for the insecurities and injustices of our own society.

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 7:28 am

Zorrik! Scourge of evildoers and stubble!

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A second shave with the redoubtable Zorrik blade, and my oh my, what a pleasant shave it was. Again the Edwin Jagger Georgian: once the blade is in the razor, it remains until it’s discarded into my little homemade blade safe.

The soap was Floris London Elite, the brush the Rooney Style 2 Finest, and the lather sublime. Three easy, smooth, passes, and a perfectly shaved visage emerged.

Floid aftershave—the regular, amber-colored Floid–and I’m still enjoying the shave, which lingers on in my memory.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2008 at 7:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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