Later On

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

Archive for February 20th, 2008

Book and CD storage: great idea

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Take a look at the photos: wonderful idea. The only problem is that I live in a flat.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Interesting letter on cannabis re-legalization

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Suppose another country had almost no drug problem. Suppose that country had less than a small fraction of one percent of our drug arrests. And suppose that country had almost no “drug-related crime” and suppose that their robbery rate was a tiny fraction of our robbery rate.

Do you think is might be wise to carefully observe that other country’s drug policy and that we should model their drug policy?

Well, there is such a country: The Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic is the only country in the world where adult citizens can legally use, possess and grow small quantities of marijuana. (In the Netherlands, marijuana is quasi-legal — not officially legal.)

The Czech overall drug arrest rate is 1 per 100,000 population. The United States’ overall drug arrest rate is 585 per 100,000 population.

The Czech robbery rate is 2 per 100,000 population. The United States’ robbery rate is 160.2 per 100,000 population, according to our FBI.

According to our drug war cheerleaders, tolerant marijuana laws cause people to use other, much more dangerous drugs, like methamphetamine and heroin. Obviously, this doesn’t happen in the Czech Republic.

Why not?

Could it be that when people can legally obtain marijuana at an affordable price, they tend not to use or desire any other recreational drugs?

Could it be that marijuana legalization actually creates a roadblock to hard drug use – not a gateway?

Could it be that the vast majority our so-called “drug-related crime” is caused by our marijuana prohibition policies?

Could it be that if we keep doing what we have been doing, we will probably get the same results? Should we throw another trillion dollars down the drug war rat hole? Or should we do something different — dramatically different?

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Drug laws


with 6 comments

Two disgusting things: the lemon wedges, and a newscaster who translates “77%” as “2 out of 3” instead of “3 out of 4”. Which is worse?

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Medical

Useful tip regarding free books on the Internet

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Good to know:

The Freakonomics blog has a post about free books available online. The recent free release of a Suze Orman book was an example along with a few other ones.

The blog post in itself is interesting but the other resources pointed to in the comments make it even better — several other free book opportunities are noted including links to other lists.

If you’d like to explore how the world of the university press world is gettin’ free, try this search on Google or Yahoo along with your favorite keywords: “university press” free download site:edu . (I found doing a more general search like free book downloads or free ebooks brought a lot of junk.) You’ll get some irrelevant stuff, but you’ll also get pointers to small university presses which are making their books available online for free.

To get other general overviews of what’s available, try site:edu free book downloads “university press” oxford yale harvard. Though that search will give you a lot of table-of-contents downloads and portions of books. And too keep up with new options, try free books download “university press” inurl:2008 (The inurl: portion is because many blogs archive by date, and inurl:2008 is an easy way to find recent entries.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Books, Software, Technology

Guanciale: maybe

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I gave the guanciale another go today, and I changed my mental model. I was thinking of it as a bacon sort of thing, and thus slicing it rather thick (since I like thick-sliced bacon). That wasn’t working so well, and the taste was strong.

So today I cooked lunch—a little pasta and tomato thing—and I used extremely thin slices—more along the lines of prosciutto. I sautéed the thin slices—the slivers, as it were—and poured off the excess fat, and then made the dish. This approach worked much better, so I’ll try a few more things that way.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

Bare butts on TV: $700,000 per cheek

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Pretty steep, it seems to me:

The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision “paternalism at its worst,” but the Federal Communications Commission today denied the ABC television network’s appeal of a proposed $1.4 million dollar fine for an NYPD Blue program that briefly showed a woman’s naked behind. And the agency went further in categorically defining the derrière as a sexual/excretory part of the human anatomy, rejecting ABC’s argument that it has no sexual or excretory function.

“If we interpreted these terms in the narrow physiological sense advocated by ABC and the ABC Affiliates, the airwaves could be filled with naked buttocks and breasts during daytime and prime time hours because they would be outside the scope of indecency regulation,” the FCC declared.

On Friday, January 25, the Commission proposed the penalty against 51 ABC-owned or -affiliated stations for airing a February 2003 NYPD Blue scene—broadcast at 9 PM in the Central and Mountain Time zones—in which a pre-adolescent boy accidentally walks in on an older woman undressing in the bathroom. Viewers get a glance at the woman’s naked behind before he backs out and apologizes.

The FCC declared the scene indecent “because it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs in a lewd and titillating way—specifically an adult woman’s buttocks.” ABC attorneys defended the show, arguing that buttocks do not constitute a sexual organ. But the FCC declared that this defense “runs counter to both case law and common sense,” citing the agency’s “two-pronged indecency analysis” defining “sexual or excretory organs or activities” as offensive.

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 1:48 pm

Artificial coloring of farmed salmon

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The Bush Administration—and, to be honest, the US government as a whole—has in recent years gone to great lengths to favor Big Business over the consumer. Often the favor Big Business wants, especially in the food industries, is not being required to provide consumers information about the foods they eat: the additives in them, the country of origin, the nature of processing (e.g., whether genetically modified foods are used), and so on. Big Business prefers customers NOT have information on which to base their purchasing decisions, and each step toward informative labeling is fought tooth and nail.

But sometimes things work. For example, this article by Donna M. Byrne, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, MN, where she edits the Food Law Prof Blog and teaches a Food Law & Policy Seminar.

Recently, the California Supreme Court issued a significant ruling in the Farm Raised Salmon Cases. The plaintiffs had sued several grocery stores under California consumer-protection laws for selling farm-raised salmon without labeling the salmon to disclose that color had been added. The California Court of Appeal had previously held that federal law preempted private causes of action to enforce state food labeling requirements, and therefore dismissed the suit. However, the California Supreme Court reversed, holding that the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) does not preempt state food labeling laws that have requirements that are identical to the FDCA requirements.

Accordingly, the suit will go forward, and may potentially lead to the mandatory disclosure of the artificial colorants that make salmon pink. In this column, I’ll discuss both why it is a good idea to mandate a label disclosing the colorants, and why the Court ruled as it did.

Color-Added Labeling for Salmon

The SalmoFan – mentioned in the Court’s opinion — is like a color wheel or set of paint chips. It allows the salmon farmer to add the right amount of colorant to get the desired pinkness in the finished salmon. Currently, it is my favorite office toy. However, the SalmoFan also has a chilling significance, as it is a tangible invitation to fish farmers to add to the fish a certain amount of a potentially dangerous chemical.

Wild salmon, as everyone knows, are orangish pink on the inside. What most people do not know, however, is that salmon are pink because of what they eat. Salmon are carnivorous fish that dine on krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that contain carotenoids, naturally-occurring orange pigments.

Farm-raised salmon, on the other hand, eat feed that is made of other fish. Consequently, unless color is added to their food, farmed salmon do not turn out orange, but rather a less appetizing light grayish color. Studies have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for darker-colored salmon. Thus, although adding color to salmon feed is expensive, salmon farmers find it worthwhile.

One of the artificial colorants added to fish feed, cantaxanthin, has been linked to retinal damage when taken orally to simulate a suntan color in people’s skin. Nevertheless, the FDA has approved both cantaxanthin and the more expensive astaxanthin for use in fish feed, and has approved cantaxanthin for use in human foods as well. However, the federal FDCA requires that food labels show that color has been added, and this rule applies specifically to salmon that has been fed artificial colorants.

When consumers know that color has been added to farmed salmon, they are less willing to pay for the darkest fish, although most consumers still prefer medium pink rather than paler colors. But most consumers do not know that farmed salmon eat food that contains artificial colors. Indeed, even the self-selected “foodies” in my Food Law and Policy Seminar were surprised to learn that farm-raised salmon need to eat artificial color to be orangish pink.

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 1:42 pm

Unconstitutional laptop/pda/celllphone searches

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The arguments it are weighty. For one thing, there’s the 4th Amendment. (At the link you’ll find detailed annotations of the amendment.) It reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

And there’s this article, written by Anita Ramasastry, a visiting professor at the National University of Ireland – Galway and an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and a Director of the Shidler Center for Law, Commerce & Technology.

This month, the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), two civil liberties groups based in Northern California, filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to force the government to disclose its policies on border searches, including its rules governing the seizure and copying of the contents of electronic devices. The two groups also want to find out the criteria the government uses to determine when border agents will ask travelers about their political beliefs, religious practices, and other First-Amendment-related activities.

Though the groups’ initial FOIA request for relevant documents was made on October 31, 2007, they have yet to receive any documents – even though FOIA stipulates that a request for public information should receive a response within 20 days. Accordingly, they have filed suit to compel a response.

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) also filed a similar FOIA request last July, and received a highly redacted document from DHS in response. ACTE is concerned about government laptop searches because executives often travel with sensitive corporate information stored on their laptops.

In this column, I will examine the basis for the lawsuit, and explain the current state of the law with respect to government searches of laptops and other electronic devices at the border and in airports.

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 1:35 pm

Business still working to buy government

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Kansas, this time:

Ever since the Kansas Department of Health and Environment denied air quality permits for two 700-megawatt coal-burning power generators near Holcomb, KS, in October, the coal industry has fought back with everything it can muster.

In November, it published newspaper ads comparing Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Vladimir Putin, and Hugo Chavez.

The coal industry has sponsored nearly all of CNN’s presidential debates, and has launched a website and TV ads using children to spout its propaganda.

Now Big Coal is trying bribery. Sunflower Electric, a leading Kansas power company, has offered millions to Kansas State University for energy research — that is, if the legislature approves its bid for new coal plants first. Speaker Melvin Neufeld (R) emphasized the large cash gift yesterday as he urged his colleagues to approve the plants:

Neufeld, R-Ingalls, noted the plant’s developers, Sunflower Electric Power Corp., have entered into a memorandum of understanding to pay $2.5 million to Kansas State University over 10 years for energy research if the plants get built.

If Sunflower Electric doesn’t get state permits to build by June 1, there’s no deal with KSU, according to the memorandum of understanding, which was distributed to all House members for their perusal.

State Rep. Paul Davis (D) said such a bribery scheme was “in poor taste.”

Apparently, the coal industry is willing to pull out all the stops to ensure a victory in a year that has, so far, brought nothing but bad news for the industry. Big Coal has been forced to pay massively expensive settlements for polluting rivers, has suffered the loss of government funding for a new carbon-capturing plant, and has faced a skeptical Wall Street, as big banks indicate that coal is no longer a healthy or wise investment.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 1:21 pm

Free eBooks on personal finance

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The Mint site has collected 30 titles (with links) of eBooks to get you going in personal finance. Take a look. (It does not, however, include the free Excel workbook that helps you build a budget for yourself based on your takehome pay.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 11:44 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Differences between goals of government and business

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Good post, suggested by Liz (and thanks!):

… Democratic governments are structured and function not as corporations, where profit is the bottom line, but as nonprofit organizations, where the providing of services is their sole function.

This is an important difference, and given our last few Administration’s mania for privatization and for submitting the wealth of our nation to the whims of the Stock Market, it is important we understand profit and democratic Government are not only incompatible, they are antithetical.

Let’s go!

A: Corporations are legally bound to provide the greatest financial dividend to their stockholders. That’s it, that’s all they have to do. Really. Look it up. (Oh, they’re also not supposed to break the law — however, let’s stay with reality.)

But: Democratic Government is not structured to make a profit. It’s job is to spend the pooled contributions of the citizens (taxes) to provide services to those citizens – health, education, defense, infrastructure. There is no profit, as we, the People, are supposed to run this country, and are not selling these services to ourselves. That would be silly. Representative Government is simply a mechanism created by citizens to provide themselves with the necessities of a life unaffordable to the individual. For example I can’t afford to build a road, dispense Justice, or make sure my food supply isn’t handled by filthy nitwits. But by pooling my money with that of other citizens big things become affordable, and by voting in the No Filthy Nitwits Handling Our Food Party, we won’t have greasy fingerprints in our tapioca. That’s all taxes and Government are. There is no financial profit. It’s sole purpose is to provide services.

Next: The greater the Stockholder in a Corporation the greater his or her influence in that Corporation.


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Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 11:36 am

Posted in Business, Government

Trials with acquittals not allowed

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Would you call them “fair” trials?

Secret evidence. Denial of habeas corpus. Evidence obtained by waterboarding. Indefinite detention. The litany of complaints about the legal treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is long, disturbing and by now familiar. Nonetheless, a new wave of shock and criticism greeted the Pentagon’s announcement on February 11 that it was charging six Guantánamo detainees, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, with war crimes–and seeking the death penalty for all of them.

Now, as the murky, quasi-legal staging of the Bush Administration’s military commissions unfolds, a key official has told The Nation that the trials are rigged from the start. According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo’s military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees in an attempt to foreclose the possibility of acquittal.

Colonel Davis’s criticism of the commissions has been escalating since he resigned this past October, telling the Washington Post that he had been pressured by politically appointed senior defense officials to pursue cases deemed “sexy” and of “high-interest” (such as the 9/11 cases now being pursued) in the run-up to the 2008 elections. Davis, once a staunch defender of the commissions process, elaborated on his reasons in a December 10, 2007, Los Angeles Times op-ed. “I concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system,” he wrote. “I felt that the system had become deeply politicized and that I could no longer do my job effectively.”

Then, in an interview with The Nation in February after the six Guantánamo detainees were charged, Davis offered the most damning evidence of the military commissions’ bias–a revelation that speaks to fundamental flaws in the Bush Administration’s conduct of statecraft: its contempt for the rule of law and its pursuit of political objectives above all else.

When asked if he thought the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes–the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department. “[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time,” recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, something that had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

“I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process,” Davis continued. “At which point, [Haynes’s] eyes got wide and he said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals, we’ve got to have convictions.'”

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 11:19 am

Stanford University removes financial barriers

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In a radical change to its financial aid program, Stanford University will announce today that it will no longer charge tuition to students whose families earn less than $100,000 a year.

In addition, the university will waive room and board fees for students whose families earn less than $60,000 a year.

University President John Hennessy will make the announcement today on campus, university Provost John Etchemendy confirmed late Tuesday.

The university is making the change in the wake of published reports last month that its endowment had grown almost 22 percent last year, to $17.1 billion. That sum had begun to attract attention from lawmakers who want wealthy institutions to do more to reduce tuition costs.

Financial aid also will increase to families that make more than $100,000 a year.

“Thanks to our increasingly generous financial aid program … attending Stanford will cost less than most private and many public universities,” Etchemendy said.

To pay for the new tuition assistance, the university said it will increase its annual endowment payout to 5.5 percent. The new plan, which begins in the 2008-09 academic year, eliminates the need for student loans for qualifying students.

“We are committed to ensuring that Stanford asks parents and students to contribute only what they can afford,” Hennessy said. “No high school senior should rule out applying to Stanford because of cost.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Mary Lou Jepsen on One Laptop Per Child

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 Excellent report on the OLPC. The Younger Grandson will be getting one soon.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 10:32 am

Richard Clarke’s new book

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Spencer Ackerman:

Richard Clarke, the Cassandra of counterterrorism, the man behind the unheeded Delenda plan to destroy al-Qaeda before 9/11, has a new book coming out. It’s called Your Government Failed You, after his famous apology to the families of 9/11 victims before the 9/11 Commission. I was in the press box at the hearing when Clarke said those words, and it was like an emotional dam bursting. The families—so angry, so traumatized, and feeling so disrespected—stood up and applauded him. Clarke remains the only U.S. official ever to apologize for 9/11.

Clarke’s latest book is another well-informed and scathing attack on the conduct of the so-called Global War On Terrorism. An essay based on its thesis is found in one of the best sources for terrorism information around, the CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. In a nutshell: make counterterrorism a full-spectrum fight against al-Qaeda across both civilian and military agencies of the U.S. government; get out of Iraq right now; break up the Department of Homeland Security. A taste:

To defeat the al-Qa’ida movement, it must be recognized as a cancer infecting only a small percentage of the greater body of peace-loving Muslims worldwide. While eliminating the cancer is our end objective, our more immediate goal is to keep it from spreading. Yet many of our actions aimed at capturing and killing terrorists have alienated wide swathes of the Muslim world. In short, what we have done to eliminate the cancer has served to spread it. The most important counterterrorism tools are law enforcement, intelligence and ideology. When military action is called for, we must act swiftly and decisively, but in the context of defeating al-Qa’ida, smart bombs, cruise missiles and SEAL teams must be applied like a surgeon’s scalpel to prevent a counterproductive reaction among people affected by the collateral damage.

But that’s no fun. Let’s go waterboarding!

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 10:14 am

Summary of the Cuba situation

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Excellent background:

As late as last year, Bush administration officials were saying that the U.S. had no idea what was going on in Cuba, asserting that it was an “opaque” society.

Still, the U.S. has the equivalent of an embassy in Havana, and contacts with all of the dissidents publicized abroad, as well as the benefit of electronic intercepts, satellite imagery and other intelligence.  Most Western news agencies maintain correspondents in Havana and publish regular reports as well as interviews with the man or woman on the street.  Cuba now has a number of Web sites that reflect official views and current events, including criticisms of the government.  It is not impossible to form an idea of the conditions and trends in Cuba today, as well as of external circumstances.

Some background:

The implosion of the USSR in 1991 meant for Cuba a cessation of oil imports and the loss of a preferred market.  The economy nosedived, with GDP dropping 35% almost overnight.  By 1994, and in part as a result of the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act (the “Torricelli law”), the situation for Cubans was desperate.

As the economy began to recover in the following year, two things happened at about the same time: Congress passed the 1996 Helms-Burton law, further tightening the screws on the Cuban economy, and Cuba saw the start of a record drought that would last for ten years, ending only with the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005.

The Special Period, and the drought, dragged on.  In 2004, the electrical grid collapsed due to the lack of maintenance and of spare parts.  Life became very difficult once again, especially as the Bush rules of that year cut off many family contacts and limited the remaining ones.  Already, however, Hugo Chavez had been elected president in Venezuela, and Cuba could again count on a regular supply of oil.

By 2006 the electrical grid had been reconstituted. The drought ended and reservoirs were full again. The economy was growing, more than in most countries of Latin America. Popular expectations cautiously rose.

Things had changed in the world, too, and continued to change.  Having formed strategic alliances with China as well as Venezuela, Cuba began to import Chinese locomotives, buses, trucks, household appliances, and other badly-needed goods.  Cuba took over the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement for a period of three years.  The Venezuelan-Cuban trade block, ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), which had started with only those two countries as a counterpart to the US-sponsored FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas, ALCA in Spanish) added Bolivia and, soon after, Nicaragua.  (This year, a Caribbean island nation, Dominica, joined the group.)  Ecuador elected a socialist president, and Brazil and Argentina kept left-of-center governments in new elections.  Daniel Ortega returned to the presidency of Nicaragua.

Cuba developed positive relations with the U.S.’s close ally, Colombia, and now Mexico is reestablishing its former close relations with Cuba.  Recently, the presidents of former opponents Honduras and Guatemala visited Cuba bringing warm words of praise for Cuban assistance and proposals for closer ties.

In brief, Cuba’s economy began to emerge from the Special Period.  Many inefficiencies and bad habits from that era remain, however, and, as Acting President, Raul Castro last year called for a thorough discussion of these with an eye to initiating reforms.  Some minor reforms have already been put into place, but broader reforms can be expected now that Fidel Castro has resigned his position and called for a new generation to take over.

At the United Nations, a ceremony takes place every year at which the General Assembly votes overwhelmingly to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba.  Last year, the assembly voted 184 to 4 with 1 abstention against the US.   The four votes in favor of the US position were, as usual, the US and Israel, and, this time, Palau and Marshall Islands, whose foreign relations by law are conducted by the US.

What had a chance to work in the 1990s, when the Cuban system was at its lowest point ever and neo-liberalism ruled Latin America, no longer looks like a good bet.  Cuba is in the position to continue its project especially if reforms bring some material prosperity and comfort to the population. Right now the government is focusing resources and management efforts on key areas including food, housing and transportation,.

Both Cuba and the U.S. want the hostilities to be over, but each on its own terms. The Cuban side promises a new Cuban economic model, but still socialist even if reformed. The U.S. side continues to pursue an induced economic collapse and essentially a surrender by Cuba, neither of which is in the offing.

It looks like the standoff will continue.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 10:13 am

Wikileaks is scary to the powerful

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I blogged about Wikileaks earlier and even provided an example of their work. Now the powerful are scared:

A federal judge in San Francisco ordered Web-hosting company Dynadot to pull the plug on Wikileaks today, a site created for government and corporate whistleblowers with documents “that the world needs to see.” The judge handed down the permanent injunction after a Cayman Islands bank  sued when company documents appeared on the site. The federal judge’s move, of course, doesn’t actually delete Wikileaks, which was designed to withstand court-ordered shutdowns. The site—reportedly started by a group of international political dissidents, mathematicians and journalists—is still accessible via its IP address and mirror sites.

What Judge Jeffrey S. White’s decision does do is raise an important legal question. As NY Times’ Adam Liptak points out right off the bat, this case is a “major test of First Amendment rights in the Internet era.”  Liptak reports that court orders restricting the dissemination of specific pieces of information “are disfavored under the First Amendment and almost never survive appellate scrutiny.” Never mind shutting down an ENTIRE site. Way to err on the side of caution, Judge White.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 10:09 am

Posted in Business, Government

McCain: vacuous foreign policy

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Spencer Ackerman:

Juan Cole unpacks McCain’s Pakistan comments from last night over at Informed Comment. As the kids say, read the whole thing.  [Yes: really do that—it’s a VERY informative piece. – LG] But, really, let’s get into this:

McCain: “[W]ill we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan, and sitting down without pre-conditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?”

Obama said that if he had actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, who are in the tribal areas of Pakistan, he’s wiping them off the face of the earth. So let’s play by McCain’s rules. Good to know that John McCain, who allegedly knows something about defending America in the course of advocating a war that has made America drastically less secure, would do absolutely nothing. Good to know that John McCain doesn’t care that those people murdered 3,000 Americans. Good to know that John McCain doesn’t think those souls demand justice. Good to know that John McCain would read an intelligence report about al-Qaeda in Pakistan planning to murder more Americans and say LOL HAI LOOK IRAN KTHXBAI.Good to know that John McCain thinks Pervez Musharraf is a valuable ally. Good to know John McCain believes that the Pakistani security apparatus is best used when it neglects al-Qaeda, when it neglects to protect opposition candidates, and when it serves as the personal guard of Pervez Musharraf. Good to know that John McCain doesn’t believe in results, he believes in satisfying a conventional wisdom that would run America into the abyss and lose the war against al-Qaeda. Good to know that the media won’t treat what John McCain said for what it is: a statement of purest surrender against the people that killed 3,000 Americans and will kill many, many more if John McCain is president.

Update: Not everyone’s ignoring it. Joe Klein takes McCain to task on Swampland.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 9:35 am

Posted in Election

Unleashing creativity

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Have you heard about InnoCentive? It’s my new favorite website. The premise of the site is simple: “seekers” post their scientific problems and “solvers” try to solve them. If the problem is successfully solved, then the solver gets a specified monetary reward. (The money is the incentive part of InnoCentive.) The questions on the site are astonishingly varied, and include everything from a food company looking for a “Reduced Fat Chocolate-Flavored Compound Coating” (Reward: $40,000) to a research foundation looking for a “Biomarker for measuring disease progression in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis” ($1,000,000) to an electronics firm trying to design a “solar-powered wireless router” ($20,000). More than one hundred thousand solvers have registered on the site, with people coming from every conceivable scientific discipline and more than 170 countries.

But what I find most interesting about InnoCentive is its success rate. A study of InnoCentive led by researchers at Harvard Business School found that nearly 33 percent of the problems posted on the website were solved within the specified time frame. In other words, a disparate network of strangers and amateurs managed to solve problems that companies like Eli Lilly, General Electric and Procter and Gamble — companies with thousands of scientists and huge research budgets — had been unable to solve internally. Sometimes, the problems were solved within days.

By studying which particular problems were solved, and by tracking the efforts of solvers as they worked together in online problem rooms, the Harvard researchers could see what, exactly, made some problems more solvable than others. The key was intellectual diversity. If a molecular biology problem just attracted molecular biologists, then it tended to remain intractable. But if that same problem managed to attract a molecular biologist, a biophysicist, an organic chemist and a statistician then, chances are, the problem tended to get solved. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that problem solvers were most effective at the margins of their fields of expertise. Chemists didn’t solve chemistry problems: they solved molecular biology problems.

Alpheus Bingham, the Eli Lilly executive who started InnoCentive likes to tell a story about the site that demonstrates this intellectual diversity at work. It involves a seeker company that was trying to invent a polymer with a very unique and perplexing set of chemical properties. “Nobody was optimistic that InnoCentive could help the client,” Bingham says. After a few months, however, solvers on the website came up with five different solutions to the problem. “The company paid for all of the solutions,” Bingham says. “They paid awards to a person who studies carbohydrates in Sweden, a small agribusiness leader, a retired aerospace engineer, a veterinarian, and a transdermal drug delivery systems specialist. I guarantee that they would have found none of those people within their own company. They would have found none of those people if they had done a literature search in the field of interest. They would have found none of them by soliciting input from their consultants.” The problem seemed intractable because the people trying to solve it were locked into a particular way of thinking.

I think the success of InnoCentive is yet another reminder that inter-disciplinary teams are a crucial source of scientific creativity. You never know where the breakthrough is going to come from.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 9:26 am

Diseases for which medical marijuana may be indicated

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Healthbolt is running a very useful series on marijuana, and this morning’s post is particularly helpful in collecting diseases for which cannabis might be helpful:

With any drug, it is important to determine whether or not the medical benefits outweigh the side effects.

This is something that really hasn’t happened with marijuana, especially in the United States. So focused is the federal government on highlighting and studying the negative implications of marijuana usage, they all but ignore the fact that marijuana also possess a number of medical uses. These medical uses, documented throughout history, include reducing nausea, pain, and severe discomfort.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the few studies around that did focus on the medicinal benefits of marijuana looked predominantly at its ability to alleviate disease symptoms such as the nausea caused by chemotherapy.

It is only more recently that studies have focused on marijuana as a drug that might have the potential to alter disease progression. As a result, there is an increasing body of published scientific literature looking at the therapeutic use of marijuana to treat the following diseases…

* Alzheimer’s disease
* Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
* Diabetes mellitus
* Dystonia
* Fibromyalgia
* Gastrointestinal disorders
* Gliomas
* Hepatitis C
* Human Immunodeficiency Virus
* Hypertension
* Incontinence
* Multiple sclerosis
* Osteoporosis
* Pruritis
* Rheumatoid arthritis
* Sleep apnea
* Tourette’s syndrome

Further Reading:

Medical Cannabis

Top 10 Pros and Cons on the Medical Marijuana Debate

Marijuana as medicine: Consider the pros and cons

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2008 at 8:52 am

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