Later On

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

Archive for February 10th, 2008

Get rid of your credit card debt NOW!!!

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This is an emergency. And note a couple of preliminary developments: the GOP Congress passed legislation (with some Democrats supporting it) to make it more difficult for individuals and families to file for bankruptcy. And you also, by terms of the agreement you accept in order to get a credit card, must go to binding arbitration if there’s a dispute between you and the credit card company. The credit card company will pay for the arbitrator. Oddly, the arbitrators virtually always make decisions that favor the company that pays them.

Borrowing money has become cheaper for banks after a series of aggressive rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. So why are many people’s credit cards growing more expensive?

Hundreds of thousands of Capital One and Bank of America cardholders have been notified in recent months that their interest rates are going up — in some cases to as much as 28% — even though they haven’t been missing payments.

Cardholders are being told they can “opt out” from the higher rates by paying off their balances and taking their business elsewhere. But that’s not really an option for people who may not have thousands of dollars in spare cash sitting in a drawer.

If anything, people’s credit card rates should be heading south following repeated cuts in interest rates at the federal level. So far this year, the federal funds rate has been reduced by 1.25 percentage points and now stands at 3%. Further cuts are expected as the economy slides toward recession.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2008 at 8:35 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Circling wagons and burying evidence

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Things like this make me love the US Freedom of Information Act and hate the UK Official Secrets Act. The US Army motto: “Duty, Honor, and Cover-up.”

The Army is accustomed to protecting classified information. But when it comes to the planning for the Iraq war, even an unclassified assessment can acquire the status of a state secret.

That is what happened to a detailed study of the planning for postwar Iraq prepared for the Army by the RAND Corporation, a federally financed center that conducts research for the military.

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.” RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

But the study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key.

A review of the lengthy report — a draft of which was obtained by The New York Times — shows that it identified problems with nearly every organization that had a role in planning the war. That assessment parallels the verdicts of numerous former officials and independent analysts.

The study chided President Bush — and by implication Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as national security adviser when the war was planned — as having failed to resolve differences among rival agencies. “Throughout the planning process, tensions between the Defense Department and the State Department were never mediated by the president or his staff,” it said.

The Defense Department led by Donald H. Rumsfeld was given the lead in overseeing the postwar period in Iraq despite its “lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution.”

The State Department led by Colin L. Powell produced a voluminous study on the future of Iraq that identified important issues but was of “uneven quality” and “did not constitute an actionable plan.”

Gen. Tommy R. Franks, whose Central Command oversaw the military operation in Iraq, had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what the military needed to do to secure postwar Iraq, the study said.

The regulations that govern the Army’s relations with the Arroyo Center, the division of RAND that does research for the Army, stipulate that Army officials are to review reports in a timely fashion to ensure that classified information is not released. But the rules also note that the officials are not to “censor” analysis or prevent the dissemination of material critical of the Army.

The report on rebuilding Iraq was part of a seven-volume series by RAND on the lessons learned from the war. Asked why the report has not been published, Timothy Muchmore, a civilian Army official, said it had ventured too far from issues that directly involve the Army.

“After carefully reviewing the findings and recommendations of the thorough RAND assessment, the Army determined that the analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army,” Mr. Muchmore said in a statement. “Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the Army and therefore of limited value in informing Army policies, programs and priorities.”

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Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2008 at 8:11 pm

Ubernote: another Web 2 list/note keeper

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Still, it can be useful. Lifehacker reports:

Store notes about anything with productivity webapp UberNote. Keep a journal, manage to-do lists, store recipes, or sort your contacts within a handy rich-text editor that can be accessed from within any web browser. Easily add tags to your notes to easily find an item when you need it, and the search feature also works quite well. Notes are private, though the service aims to offer collaboration tools in the future. UberNote is free to use, requires an email address to set up an account. Ubernote

Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2008 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Teatime at Leisureguy’s

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For my birthday I got (among other things) a Zarafina tea suite (there’s a video at the link that explains it. It’s also sold at Amazon.

I have to say that I like it a lot and it greatly simplifies the tea process: no watching, no timing. You set the tea type (black, oolong, green, white, or herbal), tea format (bag or loose), and tea strength (mild, average, strong). Fill the reservoir with 2 cups of water, fill the tea basket with a scoop or two of the tea. The tea basket floats until the reservoir reaches the right temperature, then the basket sinks, the tea brews, and the brewed tea flows into the teapot.

Since I have a 2-cup mug, I get exactly one mug of tea each time, which makes it easy to change tea from cup to cup—I don’t have to finish off a pot. I’ve been drinking quite a bit of tea the last few days, mostly white tea (with a squeeze of lemon, since that prolongs the healthful aspects), but also various Mariage Frères teas I have on hand.

Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2008 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Caffeine, Daily life

Good news on food

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Offal is finally gaining some well deserved popularity:

In the 12th and 13th centuries, and surely beyond, when a butcher finished cutting up an animal, the less attractive pieces of meat and organs were left to “fall off” the butcher’s block. Thus, the term offal was born.

Until recently in this country, offal consumption was limited to ethnic venues, like the tongue you find at Jewish delis and the chicken feet in Chinatown. [Check out this great recipe for stock made from chicken feet. – LG] But butchers are finding those unusual parts in demand now. More and more in Boston, once-undesirable animal products are falling on to mainstream restaurant menus.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2008 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Food

$4 generic prescription drugs

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Via The Simple Dollar, I see that Wal-Mart (none near here) and Target (just up the road) now sell generics at $4 per prescription or refill. That’s a big savings, especially for those who suffer chronic conditions. I’m getting new prescriptions immediately for all my generics. From the post:

Last year, WalMart and Target both made a huge number of generic prescription drugs available for $4 each. You can read the full list of drugs made available by Wal-Mart and by Target.

Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2008 at 8:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

How the Democrats subverted the peace movement

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Very bad:

Matt Taibbi analyzes how the best-funded, DC-based anti-war organizations have essentially become “a political tool for the Democrats — one operated from inside the Beltway and devoted primarily to targeting Republicans. … At the forefront of the groups are [former MoveOn lobbyist] Thomas Matzzie and Brad Woodhouse of Americans Against the Escalation in Iraq…. [M]uch of the anti-war group’s leadership hails from a consulting firm called Hildebrand Tewes — whose partners Steve Hildebrand and Paul Tewes served as staffers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. … This is the kind of conflict of interest that would normally be an embarrassment in the activist community. … The really tragic thing about the Democratic surrender on Iraq is that it’s now all but guaranteed that the war will be off the table during the presidential campaign. Once again — it happened in 2002, 2004 and 2006 — the Democrats have essentially decided to rely on the voters to give them credit for being anti-war, despite the fact that, for all the noise they’ve made to the contrary, in the end they’ve done nothing but vote for war and cough up every dime they’ve been asked to give, every step of the way.”

I’m voting for Obama.

Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2008 at 8:18 am

Shopping your blues away: bad idea

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You’ll pay more if you do:

How you are feeling has an impact on your routine economic transactions, whether you’re aware of this effect or not.

In a new study that links contemporary science with the classic philosophy of William James, a research team finds that people feeling sad and self-focused spend more money to acquire the same commodities than those in a neutral emotional state. The team’s paper, “Misery is not Miserly: Sad and Self-Focused Individuals Spend More,” will be published in the June 2008 edition of Psychological Science and will be presented at the Society for Social and Personality Psychology’s Annual Meeting on Feb. 9.

The new study follows up on earlier research that established a connection between sadness and buying. Researchers Cynthia Cryder (Carnegie Mellon University), Jennifer Lerner (Harvard University), James J. Gross (Stanford University), and Ronald E. Dahl (University of Pittsburgh) have now discovered that heightened self-focus drives the connection — a finding that expands understanding of consumer behavior and, more broadly, the impact of emotions on decision-making.

In the experiment, participants viewed either a sad video clip or one devoid of human emotion. Afterward, participants could purchase an ordinary commodity, such as a water bottle, at various prices. Participants randomly assigned to the sad condition offered almost 300% more money to buy the product than “neutral” participants. Notably, participants in the sadness condition typically insist, incorrectly, that the emotional content of the film clip did not carry over to affect their spending.

Self-focus helps to explain the spending differences between the two groups. Among participants “primed” to feel sad, those who were highly self-focused paid more than those low in self-focus. Notably, sadness tends to increase self-focus, making the increased spending prompted by sadness difficult to avoid.

Why might a combination of sadness and self-focus lead people to spend more money?

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Written by Leisureguy

10 February 2008 at 8:16 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Science

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