Later On

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

Archive for March 7th, 2008

The governor of Montana tells the truth on “Real ID”

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Excellent, common-sense comment from Brian Schweitzer, elected governor of Montana in 2004. Listen to it. (4 minutes)

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 8:27 pm

All-electric 700HP sports car

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This is one cool-looking car—and the specs sound good, too.

Lightning

Here’s a sweet little new electric number from the UK for you automotive fans. It’s the Lightning GT — which has motors in the wheels and makes use of regenerative braking — and you’ll need to be over in the United Kingdom for now if you’d like to get yourself one.

The Lightning GT reportedly does 0-60 in four seconds and has 700+ rated bhp. This car, to get where it needs to go, uses “electronically controlled traction control which negates wheel spin and unbalance in the power being applied.” The vehicle has no engine, instead offering drivers a “maintenance-free” engine with a few parts, control electronics, and special batteries.

The batteries are obviously the heart of the Lightning GT. The company says these batteries use “nano titanate materials instead of graphite which makes them far more thermally stable” and have a life expectancy of over 12 years. Charging time is said to be 10 minutes and the power delivered per unit weight and unit volume is “several times that of conventional Lithium-Ion batteries.”

Also a factor in the design of these vehicle is “Hi-Pa Drive.” It is described as “compact, energy-efficient, electric wheel motors” that “produce unrivalled levels of torque with internal heavy-duty tapered roller bearings that can withstand heavy radial loads for robust use.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 8:20 pm

For the pastry chef

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A great site.

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7 March 2008 at 6:37 pm

A positive-energy building

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A building that generates more power than it consumes. While this is typical for, say, buildings that house power plants, it’s unusual for an office building. Note that is being built in the United Arab Emirates, which also is putting a lot of money into green development. Maybe they have some idea of when Peak Oil will happen? The building:

Positive energy building

While most green buildings strive to reduce or supplement their power consumption, there has yet to be a building that actually produces more energy than it consumes. Enter the The Masdar Headquarters building outside of Abu Dhabi — the world’s first positive energy building. Even the construction will be eco-friendly, as the first thing to be built will be a solar pier that will provide power for the rest of the assembly. The $300 million, 1.4 million square foot architectural wonder will be the centerpiece of the sustainable, car-free Norman Foster-designed Masdar City, a $22 billion development just outside Abu Dhabi. Absolutely incredible. Inhabitat shares some additional details:

“The building’s aggressive approach to sustainability enables it to offer the lowest energy consumption per square meter for its class, one of the world’s largest integrated photovoltaic systems and the world’s largest solar thermal driven cooling and dehumidification system. The complex will utilize sustainable materials and feature integrated wind turbines, outdoor air quality monitors. Compared with typical mixed-use buildings of the same size, the Headquarters will consume 70 percent less water.”

The United Arab Emirates have been heating things up lately with their green projects. In January, they announced the most ambitious sustainability initiative ever undertaken by a government, with up to $15 billion over five years going to green projects. The way it’s shaping up, the Middle East may become the green capital of the world. Meanwhile, the U.S. is still trying to figure out if it’s a good idea or not.

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7 March 2008 at 6:35 pm

9/11, Richard Clarke, Condi Rice, and Zelikow

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Amazing:

New York Times reporter Philip Shenon’s new book — The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation — paints a damning portrait of Condoleezza Rice. Shenon argues that Rice was “uninterested in actually advising the President,” but was instead more concerned with being his “closest confidante — specifically on foreign policy — and to simply translate his words into action.”

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald prints an extract from Shenon’s book which provides further details about Rice’s incompetence. “Emails from the National Security Council’s counter-terrorism director, Richard Clarke, showed that he had bombarded Rice with messages about terrorist threats” before 9/11, Shenon writes. Some examples:

“Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack” (May 3)

“Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot” (May 23)

“Bin Ladin’s Networks’ Plans Advancing” (May 26)

“Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent” (June 23)

“Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats” (June 25)

“Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile Attacks” (June 30)

“Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” (July 2)

But 9/11 Commission staff director Philip Zelikow was not interested in pursuing criticisms against Rice. Zelikow — who had worked closely with Rice on the Bush transition team in 2000 and 2001 — “made it clear to the team’s investigators that Clarke should not be believed, that his testimony would be suspect.”

When 9/11 Commission historian Warren Bass uncovered a smoking gun email from Clarke to Rice written on September 4, 2001, which asked, “Are we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?,” Zelikow reverted to defending Condi. Bass then threatened to resign:

“I cannot do this,” Bass declared… “Zelikow is making me crazy.”

He was outraged by Zelikow and the White House; Bass felt the White House was trying to sabotage his work by its efforts to limit his ability to see certain documents from the NSC files and take useful notes from them. … Bass made it clear to colleagues that he believed Zelikow was interfering in his work for reasons that were overtly political – intended to shield the White House, and Rice in particular, from the commission’s criticism.

The former weapons inspector in Iraq — David Kay — passed word to the 9/11 Commission that he believed Rice was the “worst national security adviser” in the history of the job.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 6:05 pm

Blades under the microscope

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Microphotographs of 4 brands of blades—and the Treet Blue Specials look damn good.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Shaving

Home-schooling in California gets a setback

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A big one:

A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.

The homeschooling movement never saw the case coming.

“At first, there was a sense of, ‘No way,’ ” said homeschool parent Loren Mavromati, a resident of Redondo Beach (Los Angeles County) who is active with a homeschool association. “Then there was a little bit of fear. I think it has moved now into indignation.”

The ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, who have been homeschooling their eight children. Mary Long is their teacher, but holds no teaching credential.

The parents said they also enrolled their children in Sunland Christian School, a private religious academy in Sylmar (Los Angeles County), which considers the Long children part of its independent study program and visits the home about four times a year.

The Second District Court of Appeal ruled that California law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 3:46 pm

Interesting bike

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Frame is made from a woven lattice of carbon-fiber composite wrapped with Kevlar string. Interesting to look at, stronger than any other material to date, and extremely light: frame is 2.75 pounds. More here and here.

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7 March 2008 at 3:42 pm

Why is Clinton keeping this secret?

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This looks very bad:

Federal archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are blocking the release of hundreds of pages of White House papers on pardons that the former president approved, including clemency for fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich.

The archivists’ decision, based on guidance provided by Bill Clinton that restricts the disclosure of advice he received from aides, prevents public scrutiny of documents that would shed light on how he decided which pardons to approve from among hundreds of requests.

Clinton’s legal agent declined the option of reviewing and releasing the documents that were withheld, said the archivists, who work for the federal government, not the Clintons.

The decision to withhold the records could provide fodder for critics who say that the former president and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, have been unwilling to fully release documents to public scrutiny.

Officials with the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., criticized Hillary Clinton this week for not doing more to see that records from her husband’s administration are made public. “She’s been reluctant to disclose information,” Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, told reporters in a conference call in which he specifically cited the slow release records from the Clinton library. “If she’s not willing to be open with (voters) on these issues now, why would she be open as president?”

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Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

The results of torture

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The Bush Administration has succeeded in making torture a part of US procedures and policy, with such results as this:

A Spanish judge dropped terror charges against two former Guantanamo Bay inmates who recently returned home to Britain, saying their mental health had deteriorated so badly they were suicidal and it would be cruel to prosecute them.

In a 10-page order, Judge Baltasar Garzon said he was abandoning an extradition request and the original indictment he issued in 2003 against 45-year-old Palestinian-Jordanian Jamil el-Banna and Libyan-born Omar Deghayes, who is 38.

The men spent more than four years at the US camp for terror suspects in Cuba without being charged or tried.

They returned to Britain in December under a deal between the United States and Britain, but were briefly detained under an international arrest warrant issued by Garzon, who accused them of belonging to an al-Qaeda cell in Spain from 1999 to 2001.

They were freed from detention in Britain but since then have been awaiting the results of extradition proceedings.

Garzon said el-Banna spent more than five years in secret prisons in Gambia and Afghanistan and later Guantanamo Bay, and had undergone torture and mistreatment that led to “progressive deterioration of his mental health”.

Deghayes met a similar fate in jails in Islamabad, Pakistan and Bagram, Afghanistan, and then in Guantanamo, the judge wrote.

Those experiences caused “grave deterioration of the mental health of the suspects” and this “makes it impossible, because it would be inhumane,” to proceed with the arrest warrants and the rest of the case, Garzon wrote.

Garzon said he was acting on the basis of medical examinations of the suspects that were carried out by British physicians and made public on February 12.

These doctors concluded that el-Banna suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe depression, diabetes, hypertension, back pain and other physical ailments.

Deghayes also suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe depression, blindness in his right eye and fractures to his nose and right index finger, the judge said, citing the British physicians.

The doctors concluded both suspects showed suicidal tendencies, Garzon said.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 2:57 pm

More on SCHIP

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One always remembers the phrase “Compassionate Conservatism” when reading about this:

Late one Friday evening last August, as the White House and congressional Democrats were embroiled in debate over the expansion of a popular children’s health care initiative, the Bush administration quietly and unilaterally unveiled a dramatic policy change (pdf): States no longer could use federal dollars to expand their State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIPs) until almost all the state’s lowest-income children had coverage. State officials fumed, and Democratic leaders vowed to kill the changes. Yet roughly seven months later, the rules not only remain, but the White House has extended their reach to place even greater restrictions on kids’ coverage. As a result, experts say, thousands of youngsters will be denied access to the program outright, while others must wait a year to enroll.

Central to the controversy is the partisan disagreement over the role of SCHIP in a modern America, where the price of health care is skyrocketing. Enacted in 1997, the program was designed to cover kids from families too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid, but too poor to afford their own insurance. Congress originally set the eligibility ceiling at 200 percent of poverty—or currently $42,400 for a family of four—but in light of rising health care costs and regional cost-of-living discrepancies, a number of states have expanded coverage to include higher-income children. Though the Bush administration had once encouraged those expansions, it now wants to rein them in.

The debate highlights the stark ideological differences between the two parties in their approach to health care, particularly the government’s role in providing it. While most Democrats favor a robust expansion in federal health coverage—even to include the uninsured of modest incomes—the White House and its Republican supporters would transfer greater responsibility to private industry and individual patients. How wide is the chasm? House Democrats last year pushed for a $60 billion SCHIP expansion through 2012, while the administration proposed $5 billion (The issue remains unresolved.) Indeed, the administration’s new SCHIP rules—arriving in the form of a three-page letter to state health officials—were created to prevent the state and federal program from encroaching on private insurance markets. The trouble is, health-care advocates argue, thousands of kids will lose out on coverage in the process.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 2:54 pm

Megs on platform

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Megs on platform

Megs was sitting on her platform in Buddha pose, eyes squinched shut, looking cute. I take photo, but sound of camera made her open her eyes. I got ready for another photo after she settled down again, but she got up, turned around, and settled back down with her butt facing me. She doesn’t really like flash photos, I think. She hates living with a paparazzo.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 11:15 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Bacon! More bacon!!

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Zach very kindly sent me a link to three excellent bacon recipes, after trying the bacon cups. As noted, he had the brilliant inspiration to use the cups to hold a cheese omelet. But the bacon cups are as nothing compared to these bacon dishes.

Many thanks, Zachs. And it’s well-timed: I’m just about to go out for a grocery-shopping run.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 11:08 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Is there a terrorist threat to the US?

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Interesting article in Foreign Affairs. Here’s the blurb:

Despite all the ominous warnings of wily terrorists and imminent attacks, there has been neither a successful strike nor a close call in the United States since 9/11. The reasonable — but rarely heard — explanation is that there are no terrorists within the United States, and few have the means or the inclination to strike from abroad.

John Mueller [author of the article – LG] is Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University and the author of “The Remnants of War.” He is currently writing a book about reactions to terrorism and other perceived international threats that will be published early next year.

The article begins:

For the past five years, Americans have been regularly regaled with dire predictions of another major al Qaeda attack in the United States. In 2003, a group of 200 senior government officials and business executives, many of them specialists in security and terrorism, pronounced it likely that a terrorist strike more devastating than 9/11 — possibly involving weapons of mass destruction — would occur before the end of 2004. In May 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that al Qaeda could “hit hard” in the next few months and said that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack on U.S. soil were complete. That fall, Newsweek reported that it was “practically an article of faith among counterterrorism officials” that al Qaeda would strike in the run-up to the November 2004 election. When that “October surprise” failed to materialize, the focus shifted: a taped encyclical from Osama bin Laden, it was said, demonstrated that he was too weak to attack before the election but was marshalling his resources to do so months after it.

On the first page of its founding manifesto, the massively funded Department of Homeland Security intones, “Today’s terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with virtually any weapon.”

But if it is so easy to pull off an attack and if terrorists are so demonically competent, why have they not done it? Why have they not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams, or exploiting the countless other vulnerabilities that, according to security experts, could so easily be exploited?

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Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 11:04 am

US direction on energy

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Interesting report from the Pew Research Center:

At a time of rising energy prices, the public continues to be conflicted in its overall approach toward energy and the environment. A majority of Americans say that developing new sources of energy, rather than protecting the environment, is the more important priority for the country. However, when asked specifically about energy policy priorities, 55% favor more conservation and regulation of energy, compared with 35% who support expanded energy exploration.

Graph 1

As in recent years, specific policies that address both energy and the environment draw overwhelming support. Nine-in-ten Americans favor requiring better auto fuel efficiency standards, while substantial majorities also support increased federal funding for alternative energy (81%) and mass transportation (72%).

By contrast, there is greater division over other energy policies. A majority (57%) favors increased federal funding on ethanol research, but support has fallen over the past two years (from 67% in February 2006).

The public continues to be almost evenly split over the idea of promoting more nuclear power (48% oppose vs. 44% favor). And a majority (53%) opposes giving tax cuts to energy companies to do more oil exploration.

graph 2

With gas prices already high and expected to increase, the public overwhelmingly rejects boosting gas taxes to encourage carpooling and energy conservation. By greater than three-to-one (75% to 22%), Americans oppose raising gas taxes.

The latest nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Feb. 20-24 among 1,508 adults, finds continued public divisions over drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Currently, 50% oppose drilling in the Alaska refuge while 42% are in favor. As recently as September of 2005, 50% of Americans favored allowing drilling in ANWR, while 42% were opposed.

Much more at the link.

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7 March 2008 at 10:04 am

Sand painting

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Not at all like the slow, painstaking Tibetan Buddhist sandworks. This comes via Ethan Ham’s blog, and the artist is Ferenc Cakó.

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7 March 2008 at 9:30 am

Posted in Art

Meyer lemon marmalade

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Meyer lemons are the best of the lemon family—at least that’s the opinion I share with Alice Waters, whose Chez Panisse restaurant brought the Meyer lemon from obscurity. They are still very seasonal here in California, and I don’t know whether they are widely available—I doubt it, in fact. But they are so much better than the usual Eureka or Lisbon lemon.

Simply Recipes has a detailed step-by-step recipe for Meyer lemon marmalade, the thought of which makes my mouth water. If you can get Meyer lemons, you ought to consider making this.

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7 March 2008 at 9:25 am

Protecting all waters

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Thanks to Bob for pointing out this NY Times editorial:

Half of the waters in the United States are at risk of pollution or destructive development because of a wrongheaded Supreme Court decision in 2006. The decision narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act, weakened the law’s safeguards and thoroughly confused the federal agencies responsible for enforcing it.

Before things get any worse, Congress should approve the Clean Water Restoration Act. The bill would reaffirm the broad federal protections that Congress intended when it passed the law in 1972.

The 2006 ruling involved a Michigan landowner who had been barred from developing wetlands that had no visible connection to other bodies of water. Pouncing on minor ambiguities, four conservative justices ruled that the Clean Water Act protected only navigable, permanent or continuous flowing waters and adjacent wetlands. Four liberal justices, reflecting the traditional view of the law, said it protected all waters, including isolated wetlands and small, intermittent streams.

Splitting the difference, Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that remote wetlands and isolated streams deserved protection only if regulators could show a “significant nexus” — a physical or biological connection — to a navigable body of water somewhere downstream. Justice Kennedy’s test has effectively become the law of the land, with unfortunate results.

In one celebrated case in Alabama, a company that knowingly polluted an otherwise pristine creek was let off the hook because, the court ruled, no “significant nexus” between the stream and a navigable river downstream had been established. Other industries have used the Kennedy opinion as a legal shield, claiming that they are only polluting isolated waters.

Meanwhile, harried regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are mired in laborious and expensive (and in some cases speculative) efforts to determine whether a water body is “significantly” connected to a navigable one downstream and therefore protected by law.

Congress could cut through all this by removing any ambiguities and restoring the law’s original scope to include all the waters of the United States — large or small, permanent or seasonal, navigable or not. That would restore order to an increasingly chaotic and ineffective regulatory system while protecting the physical and biological integrity of America’s waters.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 9:20 am

A Rituals shave

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Yesterday I used Rituals Skincare shave oil for the oil pass and quite liked it: nice fragrance, light oil, good protection. So today I tried more or less the full shave experience—“more or less” because I did not use the shave oil as a pre-shave application, which they recommend.

The Rituals Skincare products emphasize “natural” and “organic” and thus are not in the same niche as the traditional shaving products. The Rituals shaving cream—made with coconut oil—does not look like most shaving creams, which have a white or dyed opacity. Rituals shaving cream is a kind of translucent beige and can be used with or without a brush. I don’t know what it would be like without a brush: I used my ebony-handled Sabini—wet it with hot water, shook it out, and twirled it in the jar to pick up the cream. But the Rituals cream seemed more like a soap: quite firm, it required a vigorous brushing to fully charge the brush. And when I brushed it over my wet beard, it didn’t spread so easily as a cream. Still, when I added more water to the brush and worked it over my beard, I got a very nice lather, which had the same citrusy-orangey fragrance as the Rituals shave oil.

The lather felt good. It did run low by the end of the third pass, but it may well have been that I didn’t charge the brush fully enough. Experience will tell. (It may also be that the forumulation really needs the pre-shave oil already applied, and I guess I will experiment with that as well.) But I did get a good shave, and the oil pass with the Rituals shave oil was as pleasant and effective as yesterday.

The star, however, was the aftershave balm: the Rituals Organic Milk and Honey Lotion. It’s a smooth white cream, with the same fragrance, and it feels very good on the skin. I’m not normally a balm buy, but I did like this stuff. And take a look (and I read this description after I had applied and been impressed by the lotion):

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Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2008 at 9:10 am

Posted in Shaving

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