Later On

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

Archive for January 17th, 2008

Benefits of re-legalization of cannabis

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Convincing:

Are people really afraid of legalizing marijuana? I cannot understand why it is such a crazy idea to let people consume cannabis.  People can get drunk all they want, and humanity keeps moving right along.  Of course, there was a time when the country outlawed alcohol consumption, and that failed miserably.  Sure Al Capone enjoyed the lucrative aspect of alcohol prohibition, but that prohibition failed and cannabis prohibition has failed for the same reasons.

Abuse of cannabis is detrimental, but there is a difference between use and abuse.

Most people who use cannabis are responsible and have a job, just like those who use alcohol.  If cannabis were regulated like alcohol, there would still be cannabis abuse like there is alcohol abuse, but how bad could cannabis abuse really be for society?

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 5:56 pm

Posted in Drug laws

Reagan tax cuts and revenue

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Krugman:

Ah – commenter Tom says, in response to my post on taxes and revenues:

Taxes were cut at the beginning of the Reagan administration.

Federal tax receipts increased by 50% by the end of the Reagan Administration.

Although correlation does not prove causation the tax cut must have accounted for some portion of this increase in federal tax receipts.

I couldn’t have asked for a better example of why it’s important to correct for inflation and population growth, both of which tend to make revenues grow regardless of tax policy.

Actually, federal revenues rose 80 percent in dollar terms from 1980 to 1988. And numbers like that (sometimes they play with the dates) are thrown around by Reagan hagiographers all the time.

But real revenues per capita grew only 19 percent over the same period — better than the likely Bush performance, but still nothing exciting. In fact, it’s less than revenue growth in the period 1972-1980 (24 percent) and much less than the amazing 41 percent gain from 1992 to 2000.

Is it really possible that all the triumphant declarations that the Reagan tax cuts led to a revenue boom — declarations that you see in highly respectable places — are based on nothing but a failure to make the most elementary corrections for inflation and population growth? Yes, it is. I know we’re supposed to pretend that we’re having a serious discussion in this country; but the truth is that we aren’t.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 4:33 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

Big Pharma

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Sigh:

The pharmaceutical industry is using a novel technique to cheer up people who suffer from clinical depression — only publishing favorable studies about the effects of its antidepressant medications. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at 74 studies registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Of the 36 favorable studies, all but one was published. Of the 37 unfavorable studies, all but three were “either not published (22 studies) or published in a way that, in our opinion, conveyed a positive outcome (11 studies).” As Newsweek science writer Sharon Begley observes, “The result of this selective publication is no less than a distortion of science and — since these are studies that drive what doctors advise their patients to do and what patients ask for — a perversion of the biomedical system in which untainted results are supposed to benefit public health.”

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 4:27 pm

If you take Zetia, watch out

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I take Zetia along with Zocor—apparently a bad combination:

 A clinical trial of Zetia, a cholesterol-lowering drug prescribed to about 1 million people a week, failed to show that the drug has any medical benefits, Merck and Schering-Plough said on Monday.

The results will add to the growing concern over Zetia and Vytorin, a drug that combines Zetia with another cholesterol medicine in a single pill. About 60 percent of patients who take Zetia do so in the form of Vytorin, which combines Zetia with the cholesterol drug Zocor.

While Zetia lowers cholesterol by 15 percent to 20 percent in most patients, no trial has ever shown that it can reduce heart attacks and strokes — or even that it reduces the growth of the fatty plaques in arteries that can cause heart problems.

This trial was designed to show that Zetia could reduce the growth of those plaques. Instead, the plaques actually grew almost twice as fast in patients taking Zetia along with Zocor than in those taking Zocor alone.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical

View of the Arab world

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Grim:

It is not easy to be an Arab these days. If you are old, the place where you live is likely to have changed so much that little seems friendly and familiar. If you are young, years of rote learning in dreary state schools did not prepare you well for this new world. In your own country you have few rights. Travel abroad and they take you for a terrorist. Even your leaders don’t count for much in the wider world. Some are big on money, others on bombast, but few are inspiring or visionary.

These are gross generalisations, of course. Huge differences persist among 300m-odd Arabic speakers and 22 countries of the Arab League. With oil prices touching record highs, some Arab economies are booming. The gulf between a Darfuri refugee and a Porsche-driving financier in Dubai is as great as between any two people on earth. Yet to travel through the Arab world right now is to experience a peculiar sameness of spirit. Particularly among people under 30, who make up the vast majority of Arabs, the mood is one of disgruntlement and doubt.

Factors that contribute to the gloom include the discombobulating impact of one of the world’s fastest population growth rates, failing public-education systems and the resilience of social traditions often ill-suited to the urban lifestyle that is now the Arab norm. But it is politics above all that shapes this generation’s discontent.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

Pentagon disinformation campaign

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So it was deliberate:

Senior Pentagon officials, evidently reflecting a broader administration policy decision, used an off-the-record Pentagon briefing to turn the January 6 US-Iranian incident in the Strait of Hormuz into a sensational story demonstrating Iran’s military aggressiveness, a reconstruction of the events following the incident shows.

The initial press stories on the incident, all of which can be traced to a briefing by deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs in charge of media operations, Bryan Whitman, contained similar information that has since been repudiated by the navy itself.

Then the navy disseminated a short video into which was spliced the audio of a phone call warning that US warships would “explode” in “a few seconds”. Although it was ostensibly a navy production, Inter Press Service (IPS) has learned that the ultimate decision on its content was made by top officials of the Defense Department.

The encounter between five small and apparently unarmed speedboats, each carrying a crew of two to four men, and the three US warships occurred very early on Saturday January 6, Washington time. No information was released to the public about the incident for more than 24 hours, indicating that it was not viewed initially as being very urgent.

The reason for that absence of public information on the incident for more than a full day is that it was not that different from many others in the Gulf over more than a decade. A Pentagon consultant who asked not to be identified told IPS he had spoken with officers who had experienced similar encounters with small Iranian boats throughout the 1990s, and that such incidents are “just not a major threat to the US Navy by any stretch of the imagination”.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 1:51 pm

Free zip tool that handles many formats

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I haven’t tried it—I use WinZip—but it looks good.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

More on One Laptop Per Child

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An interview (first of two parts):

When Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative was first announced, the project was nearly universally lauded by the tech press. OLPC was born with a truly noble intention: to put laptops in the hands of children in developing nations who previously had no access to such technologies, the 21st-century equivalent of the “Give a man a fish…” adage.

OLPC made its flagship notebook, the XO, available via its Give One Get One program. This initiative proved fairly successful, with some 80,000 machines set to be deployed to developing nations.

Now that the program is a reality, however, critics have become more vocal about what they perceive as shortcomings in the program, a matter compounded by recent events such as Intel’s departure from the project, the defection of CTO Mary Lou Jepsen, and the end of the Give One, Get One program.

We caught up with OLPC’s Chief Connectivity Officer, Michail Bletsas, to speak about these issues and the future of One Laptop Per Child.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 10:17 am

More on the crisis in the military

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From Slate:

The early retirement of a lieutenant colonel ordinarily wouldn’t merit the slightest mention. But today’s news that Lt. Col. John Nagl is leaving the Army is a big deal.

It’s another sign, more alarming than most, that the U.S. military is losing its allure for a growing number of its most creative young officers. More than that, it’s a sign that one of the Army’s most farsighted reforms—a program that some senior officials regard as essential—may be on the verge of getting whacked.

Nagl, 41, has been one of the Army’s most outspoken officers in recent years. (This is a huge point against him, careerwise; the brass look askance at officers, especially those without stars, who draw attention to themselves.) He played a substantial role in drafting the Army’s recent field manual on counterinsurgency. His 2002 book, Learning To Eat Soup With a Knife, based on his doctoral dissertation at Oxford (another point against him in some circles), is widely hailed as a seminal book on CI warfare. (It was after reading the book that Gen. David Petraeus asked Nagl to join the panel that produced the field manual.) From 2003-2004, he served as the operations officer of a battalion in Iraq’s Anbar province, where he tried to put his ideas into action (and, in the process, became the subject of a 9,200-word New York Times Magazine profile by Peter Maass, titled “Professor Nagl’s War“). And since then, he’s written thoughtful, if provocative, articles for Military Review and the “Small Wars Journal” Web site.

In short, Nagl was precisely the sort of officer whose cultivation and promotion has been encouraged by the likes of Gen. Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—a dedicated warfighter who also thinks strategically.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 9:27 am

Posted in Army, Military

Have a Plan B

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Good post at Lifehack.org:

Your Career

-Always back-up your career. This is something to consider now when the economy seems to be headed into dire straits. I know too many people who have been laid off and have no idea what to do if they don’t find another job in their field. Always find something you can do in lieu of your dream job.

-Update your resume often. Whenever you finish a big project, switch jobs or get a new title, it is important to update your resume right away. Not only will it save you time later when you need it, but it is always good to have it updated for spur of the moment career opportunities. I have seen people lose promotions because their resume was not ready to go and they took too much time to update it.

-Save, Save, Save. Financial planners recommend that you have at the very least two months pay saved up. If you get laid off or worse, fired, there is no guarantee of a severance package. [And, nowadays, there’s also the possibility that the company will simply go bankrupt and out of business. – LG] If a medical condition befalls you and you need to take an extended leave of absence, this is a security blanket that will see you through to your recovery. Even if you cannot seem to save that much, save something or meet with a planner who will help determine the plan best for you based on your current salary that will stick.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 9:08 am

Posted in Daily life

Sometimes I hate most of Congress

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Including the Democrats. Glenn Greenwald:

Over the past several months, Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Harry Reid have been the two most valuable instruments in the Bush administration’s efforts to obtain vastly expanded warrantless eavesdropping powers and immunity for lawbreaking telecoms. As the Senate returns to Washington next week, Reid is apparently now more determined than ever before to ensure that the Bush administration’s FISA demands are complied with in full.

Contrary to the completely erroneous claims by the Wall St. Journal Editorial Page that Senate Democrats intend to enact an 18-month extension of the Protect America Act without telecom immunity (false claims that produced some premature blogospheric declarations of victory last week), Reid has spent the last two weeks making abundantly clear that his intention is to bring to the Senate floor as early as next week the Bush-compliant Senate Intelligence Committee bill, and has further made clear that it’s his expectation that that bill — complete with warrantless eavesdropping powers and telecom immunity — will pass. Because the Protect America Act is scheduled to expire in early February, it will be necessary to extend it by 30 to 60 days, but that is seen by the Senate Democratic leadership only as a tool to enable them to work out a deal with the House to ensure that a bill acceptable to the President is sent to the White House promptly.

From all appearances, Sen. Dodd is as committed as ever to doing what he can to stop telecom immunity (thus giving the lie to the jaded claims from Reid and others that he was doing this only to help his presidential bid) — including full-scale filibusters and other forms of procedural obstructionism. But thanks to Reid’s decision to bring to the floor the immunity-providing SIC bill (rather than the immunity-denying SJC bill), it will be exceedingly difficult for Dodd and his allies to strip immunity out of the bill by amendment (60 votes would be required to overcome a certain filibuster of any such amendment). Thus, Bush and Cheney — with the subservient loyalty of their key allies, Rockefeller and Reid — appear, at least as of right now, highly likely to prevail in their twin goals of warrantless eavesdropping and telecom immunity.

None of this is particularly surprising. As The Washington Post‘s Dan Frookmin aptly put it yesterday in his online chat:

West Union, Iowa: What’s your take on how the upcoming FISA renewal will play out?

Dan Froomkin: I’m betting on Bush beating the Democrats into submission again. So far, that’s been a safe bet.

Indeed, as a general matter, betting on Democratic Congressional submission to Bush’s demands is one of the surest bets there is. And with Reid and most of the Senate Democratic leadership specifically committed to delivering yet another victory for Bush and their telecom owners on the FISA bill, “uphill battle” is an understatement for describing the challenge which proponents of the rule of law face. As Froomkin put it on a separate, recent occasion in his column: “Historians looking back on the Bush presidency may well wonder if Congress actually existed.”

Despite all of this, there will be, in the next couple of weeks, several points of focus. Initially, the leading presidential candidates have been all but silent with regard to all of this. That’s particularly striking because this is a real, live issue that implicates their ostensible commitment to “changing how Washington works” — it’s nothing more than telecoms using their power, influence and bipartisan lobbyists in Washington to write extraordinary legislation for themselves that bequeaths them with immunity for having broken the law.

Manifestly, retroactive immunity is something available only to the largest, lobbyist-using corporations, and is not something that ordinary Americans would ever even get a hearing on. It’s as illustrative a case of core Beltway corruption as it gets. Yet as Clinton, Obama and Edwards parade around rhetorically proclaiming their “leadership abilities” and their willingness to fight vested interests in Washington and to defend the rule of law, they abdicate one opportunity after the next to demonstrate their authenticity. Taking a real stance against such a corrupt gift to the telecom industry — through real leadership rather than the obligatory, forced issuance of meaningless statements — seems like a rather compelling way for at least one of those candidates to distinguish their campaign.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 8:58 am

How to talk to your kids about sex

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Good advice:

Talking to your children about sex can be embarrassing, awkward, and uncomfortable. Just the thought of having this talk is enough to make many parents blush. But not having it may be setting your children up for serious problems down the road — including teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases — say leading psychoanalysts at the annual meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in New York City.

“Many people aren’t talking to their kids about sex. Or they feel very conflicted about talking to their kids about sex and they have their own personal conflicts which get into the mix,” explains psychoanalyst Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell School of Medicine.

“Parents still struggle for ways to talk about this all-important material, but they really have no choice because it is so prevalent,” she says. “The current media is very glorifying of sexualized material, and today’s children have Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears as role models,” she says.

To make sure your children get the right message about sex and sexuality, follow these tips:

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 8:47 am

Recession approaching: what to do?

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We need to make some fundamental changes:

In a normal recession, the to-do list is clear. Copies of Keynes are dusted off, the Fed lowers interest rates, the president and Congress cut taxes and hike spending. In time, purchasing, production and loans perk up, and Keynes is placed back on the shelf. No larger alterations to the economy are made, because our economy, but for the occasional bump in the road, is fundamentally sound.

This has been the drill in every recession since World War II.

Republicans and Democrats argue over whose taxes should be cut the most and which projects should be funded, but, under public pressure to do something, they usually find some mutually acceptable midpoint and enact a stimulus package. Even in today’s hyperpartisan Washington, the odds still favor such a deal.

This time, though, don’t expect that to be the end of the story because the coming recession will not be normal, and our economy is not fundamentally sound. This time around, the nation will have to craft new versions of some of the reforms that Franklin Roosevelt created to steer the nation out of the Great Depression not because anything like a major depression looms but because we face an economy that’s been warped by two developments we’ve not seen since FDR’s time.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 8:35 am

Lots of information via the ZIP code

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Enter your ZIP code, enter the ZIP codes of friends…  Lots of information.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 8:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Investigating Morgellons disease

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Good:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in conjunction with Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research launched a study to learn about an unexplained skin condition known as Morgellons. Persons who suffer from this condition report a range of symptoms including non-healing skin lesions associated with the emergence of fibers or solid material from the skin, abnormal skin sensations (such as stinging and biting or pins and needles) and non-cutaneous symptoms such as difficulty concentrating and short-term memory loss. Researchers hope to learn more about who might be affected, what symptoms they experience, and factors that may contribute to their illness. “We earnestly want to learn more about this unexplained illness which impacts the lives of those who suffer from it,” said Dr. Michele Pearson, principal investigator leading the study for CDC. “Those who suffer have questions, and we want to help them.”

CDC will identify patients in Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Health Plan to enroll in the study. The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research was awarded a $338,000 contract to assist CDC in this investigation because of the organization’s location in a geographic area where self-reported cases are concentrated, the size of the patient population to draw from (Kaiser Permanente covers approximately 30 percent of the Northern California population), and its ability to systematically identify Kaiser Permanente patients who may have this unexplained illness.

“CDC is taking a multifaceted approach to this investigation with other external partners including the Armed Forces Pathology Institute,” Dr. Pearson said. “We have a team of epidemiologists, laboratorians, and pathologists to carry out the study,” Dr. Pearson added. The primary goals of the investigation are to better describe the clinical and epidemiological features of this condition and to generate hypothesis about possible risk factors.

The investigation may take 12 months or longer to complete. Initially investigators will identify and recruit participants and collect detailed information on participants’ symptoms and potential factors that may contribute to the condition. Later eligible participants will undergo detailed clinical evaluations, including a general medical examination, dermatologic examination, mental health examination, skin biopsies, and multiple blood tests.

Results of this investigation will most likely be published in CDC’s weekly bulletin called the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report or a peer-reviewed scientific journal. A designated web site and voice message line with prerecorded messages (404-718-1199) has been established and will provide updates about the investigation and new information as it becomes available. Interested persons are encouraged to visit the CDC’s Unexplained Dermopathy/Morgellons web site to obtain current information about CDC activities related to this condition.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 8:07 am

Posted in Daily life

Translate text in Microsoft Word 2007

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Useful:

The How-To Geek weblog highlights a translation feature new to Microsoft Word 2007 that—obviously enough—translates highlighted text directly in Word. To use it, highlight your to-be-translated text, head your the Review ribbon, and click the Translate button. Word can translate either the entire document or just your selection, and it does it through an online translation service. The number of available languages is impressive, so you should be able to translate virtually anything you need. If browser-based translation is more your speed, check out the best translation services on the net.

Translate Selected Text in Microsoft Word 2007 [the How-To Geek]

The list of languages is fairly good. Does not include Esperanto, though.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 7:45 am

Posted in Software

Crisis in the military

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Extremely interesting article, well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 7:44 am

Crisis of the seas

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From a series:

Seven hours after setting out into the inky 3 a.m. blackness, the Crazy Horse’s two-man crew pulls back into port with the fruits of their morning’s labor: just a few small buckets of fish, worth maybe $60.

“That’s the average now,” sighs Gianni Pisanu, whose boat is docked nearby, as he helps his neighbors tie up. “The sea is impoverished now.”

For more than 50 years, the nearly two dozen countries bordering the Mediterranean have struggled to jointly manage the shared bounty of the sea, whose uniqueness makes managing this crisis both unusually difficult and extremely important.

But their efforts have stalled often amid the conflicting political and economic interests in this diverse region, which contains everything from the heavily subsidized Italian fleet – one of the biggest in the sea with more than 14,000 boats – to thousands of subsistence fishermen in Morocco.

The benefits of preservation are manifold, however, in this marine ecosystem, whose share of global biodiversity is eight times greater than its size.

Now, that diversity is threatened. According to the United Nations, 85 percent of species in the sea are already being fished at or above sustainable levels. Some are near commercial extinction.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 7:38 am

Green Irish Tweed

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This morning I picked the bowl of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed shaving soap—wonderful fragrance and a great lather, due in part to the G.B. Kent BK4 brush. Extremely nice. The razor and blade was the same as yesterday: the Merkur HD with the Treet Blue Special. Three passes and a smooth and comfortable face—though getting a little jowly, I note.

The aftershave today was the Blue Floïd. I would love to have some Creed’s Green Irish Tweed aftershave, but it looks as though it comes only as a balm. And it’s expensive. (As is the soap, which I got at a good price from a shaving forum member.)

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2008 at 7:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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