Later On

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

Archive for January 12th, 2008

EPA is changing its story

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From NY Times:

My colleague covering the nation’s environment, Felicity Barringer, sent this note from California, where it seems some clarity is emerging in arguments over who gets to limit greenhouse gases from vehicles — the states or the United States.

Felicity writes:

Ever since the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Stephen G. Johnson, denied California’s request for a waiver allowing it to put new controls on greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and light trucks, the agency has repeatedly claimed that its new federal standard is more aggressive than California’s plan.

Now California has shot back and appears to have set the record straight.

Here’s how this fuel economy spat played out.

In a Dec. 19 letter to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Johnson wrote, “I strongly support this national approach to this national challenge which establishes an aggressive standard of 35 miles per gallon for all 50 states, as opposed to 33.8 miles per gallon in California and a patchwork of other states.”

Last week, when California and other states went to court to overturn the decision, an E.P.A. spokesman, Jonathan Shradar, said in a statement, “We now have a more beneficial national approach to a national problem which establishes an aggressive standard for all 50 states, as opposed to a lower standard in California and a patchwork of other states.”

The agency appears to have flunked this math test.

Comparing the California standard’s impact in 2016 with the federal standard’s impact in 2020 is like pitting two runners against each other, then letting one runner go four more minutes than his rival. If the runner with more time goes farther, that doesn’t mean he’s faster.

The agency had two ways to make a clean comparison. California has laid out a blueprint for its new mileage standards through 2020. The E.P.A. could compare the 35 miles-per-gallon standard with California’s 40.4 miles-per-gallon standard for that year. It hasn’t.

Or the E.P.A. could estimate how the new federal corporate average fuel economy standards will be phased in. Past practice indicates that the fuel-efficiency rules will be phased in slowly, with the most stringent requirements postponed until later years. Or they could be phased in evenly. Using such assumptions, the E.P.A. could compare the federal standard for the year 2016 against California’s. It hasn’t.

California regulators have. They spent the holidays figuring that, if the new CAFÉ standards are adopted at a steady rate, the emissions produced every year from 2011 to 2016 under the federal law would be higher than those allowed by the California law. By 2020, the projected California standards would cut 75 percent more emissions than the federal ones. Their findings are in a downloadable file here (pdf alert).

David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, asked a sensible question in a blog item on the conflicting arithmetic: “If California’s standards are weaker, then why are the car companies so opposed to them?”

On Tuesday Mr. Shradar conceded, “it doesn’t appear as if we have that apples-to-apples comparison.” [That is, the EPA lied, out-and-out lied. – LG]

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Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 6:04 pm


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Shortly after Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians on Sept. 16, the firm “repaired and repainted its trucks immediately,” essentially “destroy[ing] evidence that Justice Department investigators hoped to examine.” Blackwater responded that any repairs “would have been done at the government’s direction.” The State Department refused to comment.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 3:25 pm

Important BBC Documentaries

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From Daily Kos:

Adam Curtis exposes the public manipulation we sense but usually don’t understand. His BBC documentaries are legendary in Britain but practically unknown in the US. An American network executive who wouldn’t even let his name be used said “we would be crucified if we showed that here”. These documentaries are like a graduate course in how the American and British public has been herded like cattle since the end of World War I.

Each episode is about an hour and all are jaw dropping-ly insightful. Adam Curtis’s other BBC Documentaries, The Trap, The Mayfair Set, and Pandoras Box build on The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares.

The Century of the Self episode 1 begins with, Sigmund  Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. He went from Enrico Caruso’s publicist to WW1 propagandist and repackaged propaganda as “public relations”. Herbert Hoover applied his ideas to turn Americans into the consumers industry needed. Joseph Goebbels, is shown explaining how Bernays’ same ideas were used to turn the Germans into Nazi’s.

The Century of the Self episode 2  begins with Sigmund  Freud’s daughter, Anna. Studies of traumatized soldiers in WW2 showed their upbringing made them psychologically vulnerable. Anna Freud popularized the idea that imposing conformity strengthened the ego. Thus leading to the conformity of the 50’s.

The Century of the Self episode 3  shows the overthrow of Anna Freud’s ideas and reverses them with the idea that it is society that is sick and individuals need to free themselves of it. Thus the counter culture and the self actualization movement. Industry no longer wanted to make standard products, they married their new products with expressing individuality. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provided a model for this and was used to elect Ronald Reagan.

The Century of the Self episode 4  shows how the public had become consumers of politics in the same way they had earlier become consumers of products. Focus groups determine policy, first for the Right, and then, to survive, for the Left, especially, Bill, Hillary, and Tony Blair.

The Power of Nightmares episode 1  is about the ideological revulsion to the consumer society created by industry and public relations. Simultaneously, Sayyid Qutb resolved to purge the Muslim world of Western consumerism while Leo Strauss resolved to make consuming Americans Crusaders for freedom around the world.  Ayman Zawahiri was a student of Qutb and Paul Wolfowitz was a student of Strauss.

The Power of Nightmares episode 2 shows Bin Laden and the Neo cons fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and how the Soviet collapse left both without an enemy to herd their public with.

The Power of Nightmares episode 3  shows how 911 was used to give those “with the most fear, the most power” and how the Neo cons recreated the terrorist threat.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Video

Open-source Sim City

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Go get it and make up some free games.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Games, Software

Freedom of Information and government transparency

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For more than 40 years, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has been the pillar of the framework for transparent government – the primary advocacy instrument for deterring and exposing unchecked executive power.  However, since 9/11, FOIA has been hobbled by a doctrine of secrecy executed with administrative delays and ploys to keep government records “in the shadows.”

The OPEN Government Act, signed into law on December 31, is the first legislative update to FOIA since 1996 and a reassertion of checks and balances.  Now it will be easier for people to get information from their government.  The law provides for an online tracking system for requesters, a government-wide office to deal with disputes and concerns, penalties for offices that take too long to respond, a limit to agency “search” and “duplication” fees, and reimbursement of attorney fees in some situations where requesters must go to court.

But it wasn’t easy.

The FOIA improvement became law only after months of obstruction, foot-dragging and secret holds.  There is no doubt we had some solid champions in Rep. Waxman (D-CA), Sen. Leahy (D-VT), and Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) who kept the bill alive in shark-infested waters.  However, it might have never passed it at all without good, old-fashioned rabble rousing.

After the bill passed the House in March 2007 by a huge margin, an anonymous senator placed a “secret hold” on it. Proponents decried the stubborn irony of preventing more access to our government records with secret holds and other back-door maneuvering by the White House.  Calls and emails poured into congressional offices, news articles and blog posts demanded the holder be revealed.

We (the rabble) finally outed Senator Kyl as the secret holder.  Once exposed, Kyl surprisingly began to negotiate. Not surprisingly, Kyl was representing the terms of the White House.  Still, the bill began to move, and finally passed the Senate by unanimous consent.

But it was not yet time for champagne.

It turned out that there were some issues with the bill that passed.  Some of us suspected foul play and poison pills . . . more noise and negotiations ensued.  Suddenly an imperfect, but passable fix bill emerged in December.  It was quickly pushed through at congressional warp speed with veto-proof support.  Perhaps everybody needed a win – to quiet the rabble.  In the end, even Bush could not refuse to sign the bill into law.

But this hard-fought battle is only a half-victory.

To be sure, the new law will tear down some of the bureaucratic blockade often used intentionally to prevent government operations from seeing the light of day.  Still, even with this victory, the rule-making authority of the executive branch makes it possible for the “War on Terror” to continue to be used to obviate the “informed consent of the governed.”  The Ashcroft doctrine of withholding documents as long as some argument for a “sound legal basis” exists still stands.  This policy is a reversal of the Clinton-Reno instruction to officials to interpret FOIA in favor of disclosure – unless it was “reasonably foreseeable that disclosure could be harmful.”

We can expect the Bush-Cheney Administration will use every tactic available to keep their deeds under a cloak of secrecy.  Ready the rabble.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 1:17 pm

You can’t see stationary objects

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Make a pinhole in a piece of cardboard. Bring your eye close to it and look through the pinhole as you rotate the card. You will see the network of your retinal capillaries against the background of a cloudy sky. How does this happen?

This is a fascinating phenomenon known as Purkinje shadows, after the Czech physiologist and neuroanatomist Jan Evangelista Purkinje. It also illustrates an excellent argument against intelligent design.

In the human eye, light passes through all the nerve fibres and blood vessels before reaching the photoreceptors. This curious arrangement means that the blood vessels cast shadows, and it explains why the capillaries can be seen if you look through a moving pinhole. Surely a master creator wouldn’t have made a mistake like that. After all, the squid eye is designed the other way around, which raises the possibility that the mythical intelligent designer of life considers cephalopods a higher form of life than humans.

The reason we don’t normally see the shadows of the blood vessel is because the human eye is incapable of registering a stationary image. We can see things that don’t move, such as statues or doors, only because our eyes are continually making tiny movements which ensure that their image jiggles across our retina. Because the blood vessels are part of the eye they move with it and usually remain invisible. Using sophisticated eye-tracking equipment it is possible to completely stabilise a retinal image. When this happens the image disappears, a phenomenon called Troxler’s fading. If our eyes were completely still we’d be almost blind. Intelligent design, huh?

Moving a pinhole across the pupil changes the direction of light reaching the back of the eye, which has the effect of “moving” the capillaries relative to the retina, making them visible. An even better way to see the blood vessels in your own eye is to put a small bright pen torch near the white part of the eye (while being careful not to poke yourself).

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Daily life

It works!

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Good news:

Following the standard advice on healthy living really does add years to your life. A study of death rates in 20,000 people has found that being physically active, eating enough fruit and veg, not smoking, and keeping your alcohol intake below 15 units a week can add 14 years to your life – no matter how fat and unhealthy you are otherwise (PLoS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050012).

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Tasty Brussels sprouts

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About a pound or so of Brussels sprouts, cut in half vertically.

Steam for 8 minutes, then remove from the steamer and let cool.

Mince several cloves of garlic and let sit for 15 minutes. Then in a large sauté pan, put in the duck fat (saved from this recipe), heat over medium-high heat, and add the garlic, one-half a large onion, chopped, and ground pepper. Sauté briefly, then add the Brussels sprouts.

Continue sautéing, stirring from time to time. Salt to taste, then sprinkle with sherry wine vinegar, turn off the heat, and serve.


Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Good gift for the Creationists whom you know

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The National Academies has published a book Science, Evolution, and Creationism, which everyone will probably be interested in. Here’s a PDF of the brochure. At the first link, you can also download a podcast. And you can read it on-line for free. (You can buy a printed copy for $11.65.)

If the book becomes popular, it should help raise the level of discourse. (Only yesterday I saw a comment where someone had posted “All mutations are harmful.” The book can help combat this sort of ignorance.)

How did life evolve on Earth? The answer to this question can help us understand our past and prepare for our future. Although evolution provides credible and reliable answers, polls show that many people turn away from science, seeking other explanations with which they are more comfortable.

In the book Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a group of experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine explain the fundamental methods of science, document the overwhelming evidence in support of biological evolution, and evaluate the alternative perspectives offered by advocates of various kinds of creationism, including “intelligent design.” The book explores the many fascinating inquiries being pursued that put the science of evolution to work in preventing and treating human disease, developing new agricultural products, and fostering industrial innovations. The book also presents the scientific and legal reasons for not teaching creationist ideas in public school science classes.

Mindful of school board battles and recent court decisions, Science, Evolution, and Creationism shows that science and religion should be viewed as different ways of understanding the world rather than as frameworks that are in conflict with each other and that the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. For educators, students, teachers, community leaders, legislators, policy makers, and parents who seek to understand the basis of evolutionary science, this publication will be an essential resource.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

Bob Crosby, 1913-1993

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Bob Crosby was the youngest brother of Harry Lillis (“Bing”). He started as a singer, and sang with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and later formed the Bob Crosby Orchestra, from which he had a small group, the Bob Cats. They were part of the Dixieland jazz revival of the late 30’s. Perhaps one of their best known recordings was “Big Noise from Winnetka,” a bass-and-drum specialty number written by Bob Haggart, the bass player (and later the founder, with Yank Lawson, of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band). Here’s a full orchestral version with the part best known set in the middle:

And here’s a recording showing the Bob Cats with a traditional tune, “Who’s Sorry Now?”:

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Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life

Books report

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Just finished a couple of good books.

Born Standing Up is Steve Martin’s memoir of his early life and career, through his stand-up days. Totally charming and straightforward, it offers excellent insight into the work that produced the “overnight success” when he finally found his audience. It also shows the thought that created his comedy. Short but thoroughly worth reading. Your library undoubtedly has this book. Put a hold on it. (It’s checked out right now.)

Kill Zone: A Sniper Novel, by Gunnery Sgt. Jack Coughlin, USMC, retired, and Donald Davis. Coughlin is the Marine Corps’ top-ranked sniper, who wrote Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper. The setting is today, and the novel is gripping (I read it in a day): just the right amount of military background, political intrigue, action, and characterization. Well worth reading. It also shows some strong feelings that I suspect are common in the military regarding the increasing use of unregulated and legally immune mercenaries.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 8:26 am

Posted in Books

Temporary email addresses

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Possibly useful:

Do you need a temporary email address longer than four hours? If so, then you can create a email address for a certain duration. Whenever an email is sent to this new address, it will be instantly forwarded to your real email address. As a result, your real email address will always remain hidden.

Simply choose a username and select the lifetime of your temporary email.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 7:54 am

Posted in Daily life

Bye bye, RIAA?

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Possible good news for everyone:

Is the RIAA as we know it about to disappear? As rumors continue to swirl that EMI will pull its funding from music trade groups like the RIAA and IFPI, an IFPI spokesman tells Ars that the group is in the middle of a major internal review of its operations.
Related Stories

That review will include a look at the “structure and operation of the organisation and its relationship with the national groups, with a view to finding greater efficiencies and cutting costs,” we’re told. That leaves open the possibility that the review could lead to a merger of the IFPI and RIAA, which is the largest (and most expensive) of the “national groups.” If that happens, the “RIAA” might disappear even as its work continues.

The comments from the IFPI fit with a new story in Variety which claims that EMI will pull funding from the trade groups by March 31 unless major changes are made. Consolidating the two groups appears to be one of the options on the table.

Losing one of its four pillars would come as a huge blow to both the IFPI and the RIAA, and the review now in progress is an attempt to retool the trade groups’ missions to better serve the record labels that fund most of their operations.

Major label music has had a hard time of it the last few years; even as the labels have moved plenty of music (due in large part to the growth of digital downloads), more lucrative CD sales have plummeted. The IFPI admits that its internal review is prompted in large part “by falling industry revenues resulting from the decline in global music sales.”

While EMI’s threat to pull its funding might seem like a cost-cutting measure, Variety’s source claims that isn’t the case at all. Rather, “Functions and structure need to make sense to all major labels. Right now, funding them doesn’t make sense.”

EMI has been unhappy with the trade groups’ work for some time. Back in November, we noted that EMI was considering a major cut to its funding of industry trade groups. EMI, the smallest of the four major labels, was recently purchased by a private equity fund that is looking to reinvigorate the label and cut expenses.

EMI was the first of the majors to drop DRM at iTunes and Amazon, moves that have made its digital music a more attractive option. But if EMI can force a restructuring of the IFPI and RIAA, the impact could be just as significant for the industry.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 7:52 am

Posted in Business, Music


with 3 comments

I should have noticed: it says “Super” right on the package! And, indeed, it delivered another super shave this morning. The soap: Truefitt & Hill, my first triple-milled soap. The brush: Simpsons Chubby 1 Best. The lather: superb.

And the Zorrik in the Edwin Jagger Georgian delivered its usual fine shave: smooth, easy, no irritation or nicks. And a very pleasant aftershave: Swiss Pitralon:

A classic aftershave from the 1960s, Pitralon has a characteristic, unique scent and provides a tingling sensation that soothes and refreshes the skin. Several variants of Pitralon have been developed in Europe, but the Swiss version is the one that has remained faithful to the original.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2008 at 7:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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