Later On

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

Archive for February 26th, 2008

Best put-downs

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Full disclosure: I am an enormous fan of the Blackadder series and in fact own a copy on DVD. Also “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister.” And AbFab. At any rate, The Younger Daughter sent me this wonderful list of put-downs, which alas does not include Blackadder’s response to Baldrick’s saying, “I have a cunning plan”: “Baldrick, you wouldn’t know a cunning plan if it stripped naked, painted itself purple, and stood on the piano singing, ‘Cunning Plans Are Here Again.'”

The list of put-downs covers the last 40 years from British and American TV.

  • Basil Fawlty – Fawlty Towers. To Sybil: “Oh dear, what happened? Did you get entangled in the eiderdown again? Not enough cream in your eclair? Hmm? Or did you have to talk to all your friends for so long that you didn’t have time to perm your ears?”
  • Mrs Merton – The Mrs Merton Show. To Debbie McGee: “So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”
  • Edmund Blackadder – Blackadder II. To Lord Percy: “The eyes are open, the mouth moves, but Mr Brain has long since departed, hasn’t he, Percy?”
  • Roseanne Conner – Roseanne. To husband Dan: “Your idea of romance is popping the can away from my face.”
  • Father Jack Hackett – Father Ted. “Drink! Feck! Arse! Girls!”
  • Carla – Cheers. Cliff: “I’m ashamed God made me a man.” Carla: “I don’t think God’s doing a lot of bragging about it either.”
  • Patsy Stone – Absolutely Fabulous. “One more facelift on this one and she’ll have a beard.”
  • Jim Royle – The Royle Family. Nana: “Is this hat too far forward?” Jim: “No. We can still see your face.”
  • Malcolm Tucker – The Thick Of It. To a junior minister: “All these hands all over the place! You were like a sweaty octopus trying to unhook a bra! It was like watching John Leslie at work!”
  • Statler and Waldorf – The Muppet Show. Statler: “Wake up, you old fool, you slept through the show.” Waldorf: “Who’s a fool? You watched it.”
  • Inspector Monkfish – The Fast Show. To a bereaved woman: “I realise this must be a very difficult time for you, so put your knickers on and go and make me a cup of tea.”
  • No Offence – The Fast Show. “I notice you’re not wearing a wedding ring which, given your age, means you’re divorced or a lesbian.”
  • Rupert Rigsby – Rising Damp. To lodger Alan, who complains his room is too cold to study in: “The only thing you study is your navel. You even shave lying down.”
  • Nan – The Catherine Tate Show. Describing an encounter with an overweight hospital volunteer: “She said to me last time, ‘You look bored, Mrs Taylor. I’ve got three words for you: Barbara Taylor Bradford.’ So I said, ‘Yeah? I’ve got three words for you too: calorie controlled diet.”‘
  • The Professor – The Mary Whitehouse Experience. “I have here a copy of your book, Origins of the Crimean War. It smells of poo.” “That’s because it’s been inside your mum’s bra.”
  • Alf Garnett – Till Death Us Do Part. “You Scouse git!”
  • Alexis Carrington – Dynasty. “I’m glad to see your father had your teeth fixed – if not your mouth.”
  • JR Ewing – Dallas. “Ray never was comfortable eating with the family – we do use knives and forks.”
  • Dr Perry Cox – Scrubs. Dr Elliot Reid: “I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation here. I am dangerously close to giving up men altogether.” Dr Cox: “Then on behalf of men everywhere – and I do mean everywhere, including the ones in little mud huts – let me be the first to say thanks and hallelujah.”
  • Dr Gregory House – House. “You can think I’m wrong, but that’s no reason to stop thinking.”
  • Gary Strang – Men Behaving Badly. “Let’s face it, Tony, the only way you’re gonna be in there is if you’re both marooned on a desert island and she eats a poisonous berry or a nut which makes her temporarily deaf, dumb, stupid, forgetful and desperate for sex.”
  • Arnold Rimmer – Red Dwarf. “Look, we all have something to bring to this discussion. But I think from now on the thing you should bring is silence.”
  • Larry David – Curb Your Enthusiasm. “Switzerland is a place where they don’t like to fight, so they get people to do their fighting for them while they ski and eat chocolate.”
  • Sam Tyler – Life On Mars. To Gene Hunt: “I think you’ve forgotten who you’re talking to.” Sam: “An overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding?”
  • Captain Mainwaring – Dad’s Army. “You stupid boy!”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

Interested in politics? Know the classics.

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Full disclosure: I am the product of a Great Books education.  And it’s a good education to have, as Mark Kleiman explains:

The larger significance of the Obama campaign may be the replacement of the old ways both of fundraising and of field organizing with a largely web-based, open-textured, viral campaign structure.

Time has an account of the two competing “ground games” in Ohio which illustrates the difference. Instead of relying on the local political machines — our own version of the village elders — Obama has built his own machine from the ground up: or, rather, has allowed a machine to build itself up on his behalf.

In this context, reading of the disarray in the Clinton camp — the sheer bewilderment about how this could have happened to the inevitable candidacy — makes me think of A.J. Liebling’s The Earl of Louisiana (a nonfiction account of Earl Long’s last campaign for Governor of Louisiana) or Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah (a fictionalized account of James Michael Curley’s clast campaign for Mayor of Boston). It’s the pathos of a tired campaign relying on a tired way of campaigning as the world changes around it.

Machiavelli wrote:

He will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful… But a man is not often found sufficiently circumspect to know how to accommodate himself to the change, both because he cannot deviate from what nature inclines him to, and also because, having always prospered by acting in one way, he cannot be persuaded that it is well to leave it; … hence he is ruined; but had he changed his conduct with the times fortune would not have changed.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Election

Sexual predators on the Internet

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Not a big problem:

Does this really come as a surprise?

“There’s been some overreaction to the new technology, especially when it comes to the danger that strangers represent,” said Janis Wolak, a sociologist at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.”Actually, Internet-related sex crimes are a pretty small proportion of sex crimes that adolescents suffer,” Wolak added, based on three nationwide surveys conducted by the center.

[…]

In an article titled “Online ‘Predators’ and Their Victims,” which appears Tuesday in American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association, Wolak and co-researchers examined several fears that they concluded are myths:

  • Internet predators are driving up child sex crime rates.Finding: Sex assaults on teens fell 52 percent from 1993 to 2005, according to the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, the best measure of U.S. crime trends. “The Internet may not be as risky as a lot of other things that parents do without concern, such as driving kids to the mall and leaving them there for two hours,” Wolak said.
  • Internet predators are pedophiles.Finding: Internet predators don’t hit on the prepubescent children whom pedophiles target. They target adolescents, who have more access to computers, more privacy and more interest in sex and romance, Wolak’s team determined from interviews with investigators.
  • Internet predators represent a new dimension of child sexual abuse.Finding: The means of communication is new, according to Wolak, but most Internet-linked offenses are essentially statutory rape: nonforcible sex crimes against minors too young to consent to sexual relationships with adults.
  • Internet predators trick or abduct their victims.Finding: Most victims meet online offenders face-to-face and go to those meetings expecting to engage in sex. Nearly three-quarters have sex with partners they met on the Internet more than once.
  • Internet predators meet their victims by posing online as other teens.Finding: Only 5 percent of predators did that, according to the survey of investigators.
  • Online interactions with strangers are risky.Finding: Many teens interact online all the time with people they don’t know. What’s risky, according to Wolak, is giving out names, phone numbers and pictures to strangers and talking online with them about sex.
  • Internet predators go after any child.Finding: Usually their targets are adolescent girls or adolescent boys of uncertain sexual orientation, according to Wolak. Youths with histories of sexual abuse, sexual orientation concerns and patterns of off- and online risk-taking are especially at risk.

In January, I said this:

…there isn’t really any problem with child predators — just a tiny handful of highly publicized stories — on MySpace. It’s just security theater against a movie-plot threat. But we humans have a well-established cognitive bias that overestimates threats against our children, so it all makes sense.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

States mentioned in country music, circa 1977

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Interesting, eh?

Country states

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Music

Cool: protecting and ehancing solar cells

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This is very clever:

While no one is exactly sure what the lifespan of a solar cell is, we do know that they degrade over time due to the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. As a result, you lose efficiency in the panels. Generally, manufacturers will cover a panel against defects for 20-25 years — but after that, it’s a guessing game into how much juice will continue to flow.

Those estimates, however, may soon get a bump higher. Scientists have found a way to increase the lifespan of solar cells by coating them with a material that converts ultraviolet photons into ones of visible light. Essentially, this takes UV rays and stretches them into longer wavelengths, resulting in greater efficiency for the panel and reducing damage to the cells. From the article,

“The researchers have demonstrated through some experiments that the PCM could be made of a liquid, a gel, nanoparticles or a solid. In experiments, the research team added the polymer blue polyfluorene to solar cells and found that it did indeed reduce the damage caused by UV light.”

This is good news — especially for applications like planetary exploration where the use of solar energy to power spacecraft can be exclusive. Of course, back home, it also means your investment will last that much longer.

Check out the full article here.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 1:26 pm

Funny were it not so pitiful

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The GOP: the party that promotes and praises incompetence:

When it comes to the nation’s finances, Republicans in Washington have shown, shall we say, a certain lackadaisical attitude. Deficits, debts, expensive tax giveaways, lax regulations on the financial industry, Enron-omics — when it comes to looking after our money, GOP officials don’t exactly inspire confidence.

But what about when they’re tasked with looking after their own money? Well, it’s a funny story, actually.

It’s a story that probably hasn’t generated the attention it deserves, but the National Republican Congressional Committee really has been rocked by a fairly dramatic scandal. We learned a few weeks ago, “Top House Republicans were told in recent days that a former employee of their campaign committee may have forged an official audit during the contentious 2006 election cycle and that they should brace for the possibility that an unfolding investigation could uncover financial improprieties stretching back several years.” Shortly thereafter, we learned that Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a CPA, had pushed for months for an internal NRCC audit, until the committee’s treasurer apparently fabricated an entire audit out of whole cloth. (Even the letterhead of the audit was a forgery.)

As of now, the FBI is in the midst of a criminal investigation of the NRCC’s finances, but the obvious question is, how could this have happened? We’re starting to get a better sense of this, too.

The accounting scandal now haunting the National Republican Congressional Committee was preceded by a series of decisions over the past decade to relax internal financial controls at the committee, according to numerous Republican sources familiar with the NRCC’s operations during those years.

Under Virginia Rep. Tom Davis and New York Rep. Thomas Reynolds, who chaired the committee from 1999 until the end of 2006, the NRCC waived rules requiring the executive committee — made up of elected leaders and rank-and-file Republican lawmakers — to sign off on expenditures exceeding $10,000, merged the various department budgets into a single account and rolled back a prohibition on committee staff earning an income from outside companies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 1:24 pm

Posted in GOP

Low crime rate among immigrants

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Many believe that immigrants have a high crime rate compared to native-born Americans. I’ve blogged on this in the past, and now a new report again debunks that idea. Some who hold the idea will not be persuaded by facts, though (cf. global warming, intelligent design, dangers of secondhand smoke). They will continue to base their beliefs on ignorance and perhaps some limited personal experience (they or someone they know was robbed by an immigrant). At any rate, the new report:

One of the right wing’s favorite anti-immigrant claims is that immigrants are dangerous and commit high levels of crime. A new report by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, however, finds that these claims are baseless:

“In California, as in the rest of the nation, immigrants … have extremely low rates of criminal activity,” said Kristin Butcher, a co-author of the report, “Crime, Corrections and California: What Does Immigration Have to Do With It?”

Available data, the report’s authors said, “suggest that long-standing fears of immigration as a threat to public safety are unjustified.”

Starting with the fact that immigrants make up 35 percent of the state’s adult population but only 17 percent of its prisoners, researchers said they discovered several “striking” findings.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Daily life

EPA: headed by an incompetent toady

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When you put an ignorant, lickspittle, partisan hack at the head of a vital regulatory agency, it turns out that things don’t go so well:

Last month, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson denied California a waiver that would have allowed 16 states to implement landmark automobile greenhouse emissions reductions — against the advice of EPA staffers, who told Johnson that “California met every criteria” for the waiver request.

According to documents released by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today, EPA staff members believed Johnson “might have to consider resigning” if he turned down the waiver. A staff memo prepared for the head of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality to present to Johnson urged:

The eyes of the world are on you. … You have to find a way to get this done. If you cannot, you will face a pretty big personal decision about whether you are able to stay in the job under those circumstances. This is a choice only you can make, but I ask you to think about the history and the future of the agency in making it. If you are asked to deny this waiver, I fear the credibility of the agency that we both love will be irreparably damaged.

In a press conference today, Boxer displayed a document from May 1, 2007, when Johnson was to meet with White House staff to discuss the waiver. Johnson carried papers “in his pocket” urging him to grant the waiver, but he buckled to the White House, Boxer remarked:

A funny thing happened on the way to the White House. … Mr. Johnson goes into the White House with a briefing that tells him to fight for the waiver. And then, the waiver’s not granted.

Staff even thought they made headway with Johnson. “I think Johnson now better appreciates that there are additional conditions in CA that make them vulnerable to climate change,” said a Climate Change division staff on October 31, 2007. Nevertheless, Johnson overrode their advice in the end.

Johnson’s injection of President Bush’s politics into science is notorious. Earlier this year, he censored documents with white duct tape on the EPA’s decision-making process on the California waiver. Asked whether global warming was “a major crisis” facing the world, Johnson replied, “I don’t know what you mean by major crisis.”

Ironically, Boxer said today that the documents revealed an EPA “in crisis.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 1:11 pm

Big-time conflict of interest

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Glenn Greenwald, in part of his column today, points out how compromised a spokesman Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is—and the entire column is well worth reading for a clear depiction of how our major media are becoming mere outlets for government propaganda.

The reality about McConnell is the exact opposite. He has proven himself to be one of the most politicized and fact-free officials in the entire administration. In his short time as DNI, he was caught lying to Congress on an extremely serious matter — claiming (with Joe Lieberman’s prodding) that the administration broke up a Terrorist plot using the new warrantless surveillance authorities under the PAA only to have to admit thereafter that his claims were false. He’s been an unfailingly loyal foot soldier to every prong of the Bush/Cheney political agenda.

Moreover, McConnell infuriated the entire top levels of the Democratic leadership in both the Senate and House last August by negotiating the PAA in patent bad faith — agreeing to a deal only to renege on it the next day. And he secured passage of the PAA last August by rushing to Congress and, in the shrillest and most hysterical tones possible, insisting that there would be an imminent attack and that the blood would be on the hands of the Congress if they failed to pass the PAA, with all the details demanded by the President, within a matter of days.

Most significantly of all, McConnell is burdened by one of the most glaring conflicts of interest that we’ve seen in any significant political debate over the last seven years. His career before becoming DNI was devoted to the very private telecom sector on whose behalf he’s now demanding immunity. When he claims that the Fate of the Nation rests on granting retroactive immunity to the telecom industry, he’s advocating for his long-time partners, colleagues, and business associates. In the job he held prior to becoming DNI — director of defense programs at Booz Allen — he was directly involved with the very people, and possibly the very programs, for which he is now demanding amnesty:

With revenues of $3.7 billion in 2005, Booz Allen is one of the nation’s biggest defense and intelligence contractors. Under McConnell’s watch, Booz Allen has been deeply involved in some of the most controversial counterterrorism programs the Bush administration has run, including the infamous Total Information Awareness data-mining scheme. As a key contractor and advisor to the NSA, Booz Allen is almost certainly participating in the agency’s warrantless surveillance of the telephone calls and e-mails of American citizens. . . . .Booz Allen, along with Science Applications International Corp., General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, CACI International and a few other corporations, is one of the dominant players in intelligence contracting. Among its largest customers are the NSA, which monitors foreign and domestic communications, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, an amalgamation of the imagery divisions of the CIA and the Pentagon that was established in 2003. . . .

And in a relationship that has been completely missed in media coverage of his appointment, McConnell is the chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the primary business association of NSA and CIA contractors. As INSA chairman, I’ve been told, McConnell is presiding over an initiative to enhance ties between the intelligence agencies and their contractors and domestic law enforcement agencies.

When it comes to claims about the need for telecom amnesty, you can’t get more conflicted than Mike McConnell. How can McConnell ever go into an interview, demand telecom amnesty on behalf of his industry, and not be asked about this? What’s the answer, John King? “To a guy like me who’s spent most of his time, in the past several months, out covering a presidential campaign, this is highly detailed stuff that’s pretty hard to follow.” Not only is McConnell never asked about this — I’ve literally never once heard any journalist question him about this — but worse, our journalists go out of their way to depict him as the opposite: the supremely objective, dispassionate straight-shooter whose only goal is Keeping Us Safe.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 1:03 pm

Sleep mask

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The Wife and I use sleep masks, her for the nighttime, me for the occasional afternoon nap. So far, the best we’ve found has been the Tempur-Pedic sleep mask, but this one from Cool Tools looks interesting—and much less expensive than the Tempur-Pedic:

Sleep mask

This mask has indispensable for daytime naps or when sleeping in barracks or tents with other people who like to stay up late. I was stationed for a couple months in Qatar and am currently stationed in Kuwait (that’s as much as I am able to tell you without breaking OPSEC). The mask is more effective and comfortable than the other ones I’ve worn. You can open your eyes no matter the time of day and think it’s the darkest time of night. It blocks the light most effectively due to the contour over the nose. With normal masks you get gaps on the sides of your nose, no matter how you try to position it or if it has a nose cut-out. When I got back from basic training five years ago I discovered I liked to take mid-afternoon naps. I found a silly sleep mask, pink with fake daisies on it. I was able to sleep, but I would wake up with my eyes all dried out. I eventually lost it and went through a basic satin sleep mask and also a silk eye mask that had little pillows attached to the bottom edge so it wouldn’t smash your eyes. Once again, though, both of them dried my eyes out something fierce. Since this mask does not press against your eyes, it allows for moisture to draw out out along your eyelashes.

Sleep mask 2

I have been using the mask almost non-stop for the last nine months. I don’t use it nightly anymore, mainly because lately my roommate goes to sleep before me. I use it during the day when I have to work an overnight shift. I have a tendency to lose things so when it’s something affordable I buy two. When I had a different roommate, we worked different shifts. She would borrow one of my masks, and we were able to each leave a light on for the other person so we wouldn’t walk into a pitch black room. On one occasion, there was a horrific downpour that flooded our tent. Unfortunately one mask was drenched and when it dried out it the fabric started to come away from the foam. I continued to use it and the second mask I brought with me. The second mask’s foam started to separate from the fabric when I had to fold it up to stick in my pocket and take it out and fold it back several times on my journey from Qatar to Kuwait. Even though the fabric is coming away on both masks, they are still comfortable and wonderful to wear.

In a few months I am going home because my deployment will be over. Even though I’ll be back to being a “citizen/soldier” in the National Guard, I plan to keep sleeping with this mask. I don’t have to adjust it five times to fall asleep or use eye drops after I wake up. And I love the sensory deprivation aspect. I have traveled a lot. On a plane I use the mask in conjunction with my iPod and an inflatable neck pillow. I love thinking that when I open my eyes it might be in a different place than when I closed them. With this mask I can pretend, until I take it off, that I am going to wake up at home in my own bed. — PFC Erica H Sandberg

Lights Out Sleep Mask; $10; Available from Amazon

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Daily life

Re-run: pasta with shrimp ragù

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I notice that Mark Bittman is rerunning this recipe—and I fully understand why. It’s not only very tasty, it’s also very easy.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

More on Haynes—jaw-dropping stuff

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From Dan Froomkin today:

Blogger Hilzoy writes that “Haynes led the working group that wrote one of the most appalling torture memos. This memo argues that the President ‘enjoys complete discretion in the exercise of his Commander-in-Chief authority’, and that ‘In light of the President’s complete authority over the conduct of war, without a clear statement otherwise, criminal statutes are not read as infringing on the President’s ultimate authority in these areas.’ Also: ‘Any attempt by Congress to regulate the interrogation of unlawful combatants would violate the Constitution’s sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the President.’ (p. 23) Or, in other words: when we’re at war, the President does not have to obey the law.”

Hilzoy also brings up Haynes’ brief in Center for Biological Diversity v. Pirie.

“In this amazing brief,” Hilzoy writes, “Haynes argued that bombing a nesting site for migratory birds would benefit birdwatchers, since ‘bird watchers get more enjoyment spotting a rare bird than they do spotting a common one.’ Moreover, he added, the birds would benefit as well, since using their nests as a bombing range would minimize ‘human intrusion’. The judge’s comment on this novel line of argument: ‘there is absolutely no support in the law for the view that environmentalists should get enjoyment out of the destruction of natural resources because that destruction makes the remaining resources more scarce and therefore more valuable. The Court hopes that the federal government will refrain from making or adopting such frivolous arguments in the future.'”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 12:09 pm

Can a replacement for the corporation be found?

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The corporation as we know it today brings certain problems:

  1. It is immortal, barring bankruptcy. At one time, corporations were created for a specific purpose and with a limited lifetime. Once the purpose was achieved and/or the lifetime reached, the corporation dissolved and the stockholders took their gains or losses and that was that. This changed with a momentous Supreme Court decision, which gave corporations status as persons.
  2. It exists purely to make a profit for the shareholders. This narrow goal encourages a number of undesirable behaviors, most of which concern externalizing costs: for example, dumping pollution rather than cleaning it up (so the costs are borne by the public, not the corporation); short-term decisionmaking aimed driven by quarterly results; accounting tricks to hides costs and exaggerate profits; fighting regulations (e.g., for safe workplaces) that would increase costs; exploiting workers whenever possible (e.g., driving wages down, cutting work hours so the company doesn’t have to pay benefits, illegally fighting unions).

OTOH, a corporation is often effective at consolidating the efforts of many individuals and making rapid progress in a specific direction. Part of this is due to the hierarchical structure (which has its own problems, particularly when appropriate feedback from good outcomes measurement is not applied).

I want to think more about this. What sorts of effective alternative structures have been tried? or are possible?

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 11:24 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Businesses creating uncertainty

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Businesses don’t like regulation, and one way they fend it off (other than buying members of the House and Senate and putting their own people in positions of authority in regulatory agencies when the GOP is in power) is to manufacture uncertainty about issues that are, in fact, settled (cf. global warming, smoking tobacco, secondhand smoke, and so on). Here’s one example:

Beryllium, a rare metal that gives glitter to emeralds and aquamarine, became an indispensable component of nuclear bombs during the atomic era, and tens of thousands of Americans went to work shaping and milling the metal. Remarkably light and strong, beryllium is now used in everything from space rocket cones to golf clubs to brake pads for military jets.

When inhaled, beryllium is an astonishingly dangerous substance. It causes a chronic, incurable lung disease that has crippled thousands of workers. The wives of beryllium workers have fallen ill from the exposures they get washing their husband’s clothes; even people living near beryllium factories can get the disease.

Yet during the decades in which thousands of workers were afflicted with crippling and often fatal beryllium disease, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration dithered about lowering the permissible exposure to the metal. The current standard for exposure was adjudicated by two Atomic Energy Commission scientists in the back of a taxicab in 1949.

Doubt has stayed OSHA’s hand—manufactured doubt. The science of beryllium exposure, like most scientific endeavors, hasn’t been able to deliver perfect clarity. Industry officials have discovered that by funding teams of public relations specialists, lobbyists and scientists-for-hire, they can sow enough doubt about the data to fend off regulation.

Beryllium isn’t the first industry where this has happened. The most visible current example is the oil industry, which has used the imprecision of climate science to slow actions to reduce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

In his riveting new book, “Doubt Is Their Product,” George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels details how Big Tobacco originated the cottage industry of doubt in the 1950s. Many of the same scientists and public relations firms worked first to defend tobacco before moving on to chromium, asbestos and other toxic substances. They did so not by denying harm, but by raising questions about its extent.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 11:13 am

Who is it that needs immunity?

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Good point by Mike Lillis:

The debate over how to modernize the nation’s international spying laws in the midst of its so-called war on terror was stepped up a notch last Friday, after intelligence officials warned that some phone companies are refusing now to cooperate fully because Congress has yet to grant them immunity for potentially illegal cooperation in the past.

“We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress’ failure to act,” Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell wrote to House leaders Friday. “Because of this uncertainty, some partners have reduced cooperation.”

But as the Washington Post reported Saturday, all the companies have agreed to participate fully in the program. That development begs the question: If the companies are all cooperating without retroactive immunity, how necessary is retroactive immunity to keeping the nation safe in the future? Some legal experts say the immunity provision was written less to protect the nation and more to protect the telecom industry from expensive litigation—not to mention protecting the White House from embarrassing revelations about the targets of the spying program.

As Bruce Ackerman, a law professor at Yale University, said last week: “The question of retroactive immunity cannot conceivably affect the future actions of the telephone companies. It is simply illogical for Director McConnell to claim otherwise. If we want to maximize the cooperation of telephone companies in the future, the way to do this is to grant them future immunity, not immunity for past actions. The Administration somehow forgets that time moves in only one direction.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 11:07 am

Pentagon torture official quits

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Spencer Ackerman:

One of the principle architects of the Rumsfeld Pentagon’s torture apparatus, Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes, is quitting. From the release:

The Department of Defense announced today that General Counsel of the Department of Defense William J. Haynes II is returning to private life next month.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said of Haynes, “I am sorry to see Jim leave the Pentagon. I have valued his legal advice and enjoyed workjng with him. Jim held this important post longer than anyone in history and he did so during one of America’s most trying periods. He has served the Department of Defense and the nation with distinction.”

Said Haynes, “I thank the President and the Secretary of Defense for their confidence and for the opportunity to serve. I leave the Pentagon humbled and inspired by the selfless sacrifices of the men and women, uniformed and civilian, who defend our country. And, I thank their families.”

Daniel J. Dell’Orto, principal deputy General Counsel of the Department of Defense since June 2000, will serve as acting General Counsel.

A brief recap. Haynes, at the behest of Donald Rumsfeld, convened a working group in late 2002 and early 2003 to expand the boundaries of permissible interrogation techniques for so-called enemy combatants in Defense Department custody. What they approved in April 2003 went far beyond the Geneva Conventions-compliant provisions of the Army Field Manual on interrogation. Those recommendations, used at Guantanamo Bay, eventually “migrated” (in the phrase of the Schlesinger inquiry ) to Abu Ghraib. It’s going too far to say that “No Haynes, No Torture,” but he bears a measure of personal responsibility for what we’d call war crimes if they were committed by, say, Iran.

Then President Bush tried to appoint Haynes to a lifetime federal judgeship. That didn’t turn out so well.

Also, this guy Dell’Orto? He’s not much better. From a no-longer-online piece I wrote for TNR in August 2005:

When GOP Senator Lindsey Graham recently quoted to Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto the inconvenient section of Article I, Section 8, granting Congress the authority to “make rules concerning captures on land and water,” he farcically replied, “I’d have to take a look at that particular constitutional provision.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 11:05 am

Budget math is stupid

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Can’t this country do better than this?

For anyone who’s ever had to decide between renting or buying a home, know well that you’re not alone. Every year, the federal government is also forced to choose whether to lease or purchase its offices, warehouses, schools and other facilities that support its agencies. And according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (pdf) released today, its tendency to lease is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions—perhaps billions—of dollars in unnecessary expenses.

For example, in the case of just four leases held by the General Services Administration (GSA)—which acts as a leasing agent for most federal agencies—the GAO found that the cost to rent over the next 30 years will be roughly $83 million more than the cost to own. For the FBI’s Chicago field office alone, the GSA could save $40 million over that span by purchasing the space rather than leasing it.

But this is not just another tale of government ineptitude. Rather, the rules governing budget scorekeeping bear much of the blame. Why? Because those rules require that all the costs of ownership be applied to the budget in the first year. “In contrast,” the GAO reports, “for operating leases, only the amount needed to cover yearly lease payments plus cancellation costs is required to be recorded in the annual budget, thereby making operating leases ‘look cheaper’ in any given year.”

This inanity is analogous to a homeowner being forced to front the full cost of the house in year one, rather than budget for mortgage payments. (Under such a system, one can imagine how quickly renting would become the more attractive option.)

As a result, of course, the federal government rents space more often than it might like, causing long-term budget problems that otherwise might be mitigated. And the trend is getting only worse: The GSA predicts that, for the first time in its history, it will lease more space that it owns in 2008.

“This is a long-standing challenge,” the GAO says, “and overreliance on leasing is one of the major reasons we designated federal real property management as a high-risk area.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 11:03 am

Posted in Government

Anti-depressants

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Full disclosure: I take Effexor XR and it certainly seems to have made a difference for me. But, from Political Animal:

A new meta-study conducted by Irving Kirsch of Hull University and five American and Canadian researchers has concluded that Prozac and other antidepressants in the SSRI family are essentially worthless. Compared to a placebo, they improved patients’ scores on the most widely used depression scale by only 1.8 points:

The review breaks new ground because Kirsch and his colleagues have obtained for the first time what they believe is a full set of trial data for four antidepressants.

They requested the full data under freedom of information rules from the Food and Drug Administration, which licenses medicines in the US and requires all data when it makes a decision.

The pattern they saw from the trial results of fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Seroxat), venlafaxine (Effexor) and nefazodone (Serzone) was consistent. “Using complete data sets (including unpublished data) and a substantially larger data set of this type than has been previously reported, we find the overall effect of new-generation antidepressant medication is below recommended criteria for clinical significance,” they write.

The complete study is here. I have no particular opinion about the quality of this study, and not really any special interest in SSRIs either. In fact, what really drew my attention was the range of news outlets that reported this news. According to Google News, here they are: the Guardian, the Independent, the London Times, the Telegraph, the BBC, Sky News, the Evening Standard, the Herald, the Financial Times, and the Daily Mail. In fact, it’s getting big play from most of these folks, including screaming front page treatment from some.

So what’s the deal? Why is this huge news in Britain, where most of the stories are making great hay out of the amount of taxpayer money the NHS is squandering on these drugs, and completely ignored here in the U.S.? The conspiracy theory version of the answer is obvious, but what’s the real version? Do American newspaper editors universally know something that I (and their British colleagues) don’t?

That improvement of only 1.8 points might be misleading—it would be important to know the standard deviation in addition to the mean. That is, if the scores are very widespread, with a good number reporting improvements in the 20-point range being balanced by those with no improvement or even being made worse, it would mean that the drug could be very helpful to some, not so helpful to others.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 10:59 am

More on haggis

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The Accidental Hedonist has a little haggis poll—with comments from those who have tried haggis. And she includes the great Robert Burns poem “Address to a Haggis”:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An cut you up wi ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like onie ditch;
And then, Oh what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that ower his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
Oh how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 9:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Lilac smooth

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Beautiful shave today. Unplanned: it just happened. I recall a saying from my grad school poker group, when someone playing an obviously bad hand in, say, 5-card stud (going for a flush, say) against a pair showing would make the hand on the last card card in a total fluke. The winner would say, “A simple case of skill and coordination winning over ignorance and superstition.” … Well, maybe you had to be there.

At any rate: Honeybee Spa Lilac shea butter shaving soap, the Plisson HMW 12 brush, and a terrific lather. A 1940s Gillette Aristocrat loaded with a brand-new Trig blade (my first encounter with this brand): extremely nice—smooth (obviously sharper than the Sputnik), easy, and not a nick in sight.

The Oil Pass with Hydrolast Cutting Balm, and then a splash of Booster’s Lilac aftershave (which, unlike Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, actually has the fragrance of lilac). The Booster I get from Shaving Essentials, which also carries (at the link) J.M. Fraser shaving cream, imported from Canada (like Booster’s products). You owe it to yourself to try J.M. Fraser, Canada’s secret weapon in the war against stubble.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2008 at 9:33 am

Posted in Shaving

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