Later On

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

Archive for March 17th, 2008

Scientific vandalism

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Unbelievable destruction—for no reason.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 12:50 pm

Goodbye, salmon

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It’s starting:

This is very depressing:

The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations — and coming up dry.Whatever the cause, there was widespread agreement among those attending a five-day meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council here last week that the regional $150 million fishery, which usually opens for the four-month season on May 1, is almost certain to remain closed this year from northern Oregon to the Mexican border. A final decision on salmon fishing in the area is expected next month.

As a result, Chinook, or king salmon, the most prized species of Pacific wild salmon, will be hard to come by until the Alaskan season opens in July. Even then, wild Chinook are likely to be very expensive in markets and restaurants nationwide.

One of my favorite Stanley Kunitz poems is about the heroic migration of wild Salmon:

If the water were clear enough,
if the water were still,
but the water is not clear,
the water is not still,
you would see yourself,
slipped out of your skin,
nosing upstream,
slapping, thrashing,
over the rocks
till you paint them
with your belly’s blood:
Finned Ego,
yard of muscle that coils,
If the knowledge were given you,
but it is not given,
for the membrane is clouded
with self-deceptions
and the iridescent image swims
through a mirror that flows,
you would surprise yourself
in that other flesh
heavy with milt,
bruised, battering toward the dam
that lips the orgiastic pool.

Come. Bathe in these waters.
Increase and die.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Daily life

Paul Bremer’s decision

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Mark Kleiman:

The New York Times account of how the fateful decision to disband the Iraqi army was made is enough to make you laugh, cry, retch or just get too plastered to care, depending partly on your temperament and partly on how many people you know personally died as a result.

Some quick amateur observations, in no particular order.

1. Process? We don’t need no stinkin’ process. The President approved a plan to rebuild the Iraqi army. Ten weeks later, without any further consultation among the Washington players, Bremer announced in a phone call that he had decided to disband it instead, effective the next day. The President decided to back him up, for no particular reason. That’s not a CEO; that’s a figurehead. It’s now clear that GWB’s famous “resolve” is nothing but a whim of steel.

2. Bremer’s motivation was largely personal and PR oriented.

“It is desirable that my arrival in Iraq be marked by clear, public and decisive steps,” Mr. Bremer wrote in the memo. “These should reinforce our overall policy messages and reassure Iraqis that we are determined to extirpate Saddamism.”

3. Condoleezza Rice does not come out of this looking good. Yes, I’m happy that in her new role Rice seems to have worked well with Gates to restore a certain degree of adult supervision to American foreign policy, but a lifetime of brilliance wouldn’t really redeem her fecklessness as National Security Adviser.

Mr. Powell, who views the decree as a major blunder, later asked Condoleezza Rice, who was serving as Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, for an explanation.“I talked to Rice and said, ‘Condi, what happened?’ ” he recalled. “And her reaction was: ‘I was surprised too, but it is a decision that has been made and the president is standing behind Jerry’s decision. Jerry is the guy on the ground.’ And there was no further debate about it.”

4. No wonder the ex-Iraqi soldiers joined the insurgency with such enthusiasm. For months before the invasion, we’d been doing psy-ops urging Iraqi soldiers to desert and promising them that, if they did, they’d be brought back to join a reconstituted army. They did in fact desert in droves, which helps account for the cake-walk. And then Bremer decided that, since they’d deserted, the army was no longer in being and therefore the commitment was no longer operative. Can you say “double-cross”? I was sure that you could.

5. The article does not reflect on how it was that this arrogant buffoon came to be in a position to screw up the most important overseas operation of the post-Cold War era. I recall seeing reports that Garner wanted to spend reconstruction money in Iraq, rather than allowing it to enrich U.S. contractors, and that he was pushed aside for someone who would be more generous to — just to pull a name at random — Halliburton. And of course when the switch was made, Dick Cheney (not even mentioned in the Times account) was the Grand Wazir of Bushistan.

6. Someone might want to ask the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and especially those of them who are running for President based on “national security” credentials burnished by that membership, whether they asked any questions at the time, and why not.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 12:42 pm

More on the bail-out

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Kevin Drum:

Over at CAP, David Abromowitz wonders why Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is unwilling to consider serious help for ordinary homeowners caught in the subprime debacle, while at the same time he’s apparently eager to rescue the Wall Street firms who created the mess in the first place:

“We know that speculation increased in recent years; a resulting increase in foreclosures is to be expected and does not warrant any relief,” he said [on March 3]. “People who speculated and bought investment properties in hot markets should take their losses just like day traders who speculated and bought soaring tech stocks in 2000.”….Asked about help for homeowners [on Sunday], the Treasury Secretary was clear: “I’m looking very carefully at any proposal. But all the ones I’ve seen, which call for much more government intervention, raise more problems and do more harm than they would do good.”

….So it would be unthinkable, wouldn’t it, for the Treasury Department to throw taxpayer dollars into the breach while riding to the rescue of one of the central players on Wall Street responsible for originating, promoting, and selling billions of dollars of speculative overvalued mortgages? And surely the disciplinarian-minded Bush administration would never agree to open the Treasury to benefit other Wall Street firms holding mortgage-backed securities on which they already made record profits? Think again.

….An awful lot of normal finger wagging about the hazards of bailing out those who make bad decisions from their consequences melted away in the face of Paulson’s primary concern — the health of Wall Street investment banks amid the greatest credit crisis since the Great Depression.

….Or consider that big oil company tax breaks are too integral to our energy plan, but relief for millions of drivers squeezed by rising gasoline prices would be bad economic policy. Or that eliminating the estate tax is promoted as tax fairness, but vetoing the expansion of health care to millions of children through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program as too expensive is prudent budgetary management. The list goes on and on.

I realize, of course, that this is no time for finger pointing. Or so I’m told over and over and over again. But I can’t help but wonder: when will it be time?

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 12:34 pm

TIME and lies

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Extremely good Greenwald column. Please read it.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 12:30 pm

Outlook calendar on the desktop

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This is pretty cool.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Software

Eating artichokes raw?!

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Apparently it works:

A couple of people, most recently Aaron, have asked how one eats a raw artichoke.

First, I don’t think variety matters (the ones in Onzo were long, tapered, very thistly, but medium-sized; far from babies) but I’m sure freshness does: these had been picked less than an hour earlier.

They were squeaky, if you know what I mean, as fresh artichokes often are. The leaves break where the useless part meets the meat; you just scrape with your teeth, as you would cooked. And when you get near the heart, you eat the whole thing. We ate the stems, too.

It would be great to hear from ex-pats or Californians, who are in or near artichoke season, about any experiences they have in these matters.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Cool game

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Ayiti has been called the most depressing game ever… it’s a surprisingly addictive “serious game” (i.e., socially relevant) in which the player tries to improve the life of a Haitian family of five. The best I’ve done so far is the keep the family relatively healthy and to get them slight improvements in education, material goods, and jobs.

The concept was developed in a workshop with Brooklyn high school students.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

Kitty break

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Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 7:24 am

Posted in Cats

7,000 mpg

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Now we’re talking fuel economy:


Every year, Shell (yes, the giant evil oil company) puts on a little PR banquet in the name of vehicle efficiency called the Eco-Marathon. It’s part of the long-standing tradition of oil companies blaming car companies for the excesses of the fossil fuel economy while car companies just as joyfully blame oil companies.

Nonetheless, it’s a fun little event where teams get together and figure out how efficient vehicles really can be. And they can indeed be very efficient. By bringing the weight of the vehicles way down, putting them on high-pressure bike tires, and making the vehicles as obscenely aerodynamic as possible, these cars easily get thousands of miles per gallon.

The team from the French technical school St. Joseph La Joliverie went 7,148 miles on a single gallon of fuel…the Shell website is quick to point out that that’s “almost ten miles per teaspoon”. Maybe the body isn’t the most efficient vehicle after all.

In any case…it gives you a sense for just how much power is contained in a gallon of gasoline. It’s too bad we’ve been pretty much pouring it down the drain for the last few decades.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 7:21 am

Lying 101

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Additional details have surfaced about the story we mentioned last month regarding a corporate-sponsored hoax at Hunter College. The college receives donations from the Coach Corporation, a manufacturer of handbags, shoes and other women’s accessories. In particular, Coach funded a “guerrilla marketing” class that “educated” students about the dangers of knockoff products by creating a fictional student named “Heidi Cee” who claimed that she had been conned by a counterfeit Coach handbag. “The professor who taught it says that he was pressured to do so even though he has no expertise in advertising or public relations (he teaches computer graphics) and had ethical qualms about the course,” reports Scott Jaschik. “Further, the professor — and other professors who have investigated the circumstances of the course — maintain that the professor was required to teach only one side of the issue, had to accept industry officials watching him teach, and had little clout to fight back since he didn’t (and still doesn’t) have tenure.” According to Hunter professor Stuart Ewen, the lessons in deception were designed by Paul Werth Associates, an Ohio-based PR firm working for the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, a Coach-funded organization.
Source: Inside Higher Ed, March 3, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 7:17 am

Posted in Business, Education

The DoJ restructuring

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And, speaking of Scott Horton, here’s an interesting report from him:

I don’t in the ordinary course review and recommend law review articles, but I’ve just come across one that is close to indispensable for public affairs junkies. On December 7, 2006—the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor—at least eight U.S. attorneys received phone calls from Michael Battle, the executive director of the Office of U.S. Attorneys at the Justice Department. Each was essentially ordered to submit his or her resignation.The Administration attempted to sell the event as a routine personnel turn-over. But Congress and the public weren’t buying. After a series of hearings at which senior members of the Administration committed acts of perjury, there was a public uproar. In its wake the entire senior echelon of political appointees at the Justice Department were forced to leave office under a cloud and subject to an investigation into potentially criminal misconduct, as were a number of senior White House figures, most prominently including Bush’s senior political advisor, Karl Rove.

The storm has died down a bit now as the Justice Department completes its own internal investigation of what happened. This has been led by Inspector General Glenn Fine and by the Office of Professional Responsibility. I understand that this investigation is approaching its conclusion now, and that a report is likely in the course of the spring. The report will almost certainly be explosive.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 7:04 am

Private capitalism, public socialism

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Kevin Drum (and one of his readers) make an excellent point:

There are several obvious things happening in the financial markets right now. One is that there are enormous amounts of money flowing through non-bank institutions that are fairly lightly regulated. Another is that the people running these institutions can take enormous risks that provide them with enormous payouts, and they can do it with the knowledge that if those risks cause a collapse, they won’t have to give any of that money back. The feds and society at large will eat the loss.

What follows is an email I got from a regular reader that touches on both these subjects. It’s pretty clearly on the apocalyptic side, and I don’t necessarily agree with all of it. But it seemed like it was worth reprinting, if only to spur some reaction. I hope he’s all wet. I fear he probably isn’t.

Kevin,One of the things that shocks me is that the liberal blogosphere has been deadly silent about the massive bailout of bankers that is taking place with taxpayer money, and fueling the collapse of the dollar. Where’s the outrage? What we’re seeing is a classic example of “Privatize the gains during the boom — e.g. hand out $30B+ in Wall Street bonuses each of the last several years — and socialize the losses during the bust.” But for this to be taking place in the context of a financial apocalypse among the American middle class (9m families currently have negative equity in their homes, and prices in all likelihood have much further to fall) strikes me as bordering on criminal. Why aren’t the Democrats demanding the re-regulation of Wall Street and the reining in of compensation in the finance industry as quid pro quo for these bailouts?

For most of this winter, I’ve myself basically been OK with what the Fed has been doing, figuring that a full-scale collapse of the financial system isn’t in anyone’s interests, but I’ve come to the dark suspicion that the threat of moral hazard is not merely some abstraction that we need to worry about over the long term.

Check out the linked article. The comment that jumped out at me is Fannie Mae’s Richard Syron saying his company “won’t raise capital unless it benefits shareholders.” This made me realize that a wide range of financial institutions — with the GSEs [Government Sponsored Entities, like Fannie Mae] at the head of the line — in an odd way may see an incentive in having the current turmoil problem get worse, insofar as doing so facilitates their getting a huge handout from the U.S. government.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 6:57 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The politicizing of the Justice Department

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The March 2008 issue of Harper’s has a lengthy and cogent article by Scott Horton on how systematically the Justice Department has been converted from an independent institution dedicated to upholding the law to a partisan political organization dedicated to ensuring that the GOP maintains power. It works to achieve this goal by suppressing minority voting, focusing department prosecutions on Democrats, and hiring only loyal Republicans into the Department. (Remember Monica Goodling and her frank question to candidates, “Are you a Republican?” and quizzing them if they had ever made a contribution to a Democrat.)

It’s an important article—unfortunately behind a subscription way. I would recommend a trip to the library for this one. I hope Horton is working on a book.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 6:48 am

Travel notes

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It struck me as I was going through security that the entire TSA routine shows, somehow, a lack of respect. I know it’s all to protect us, but I dislike being treated as a suspect.

I brought my own food: two Whole Foods burritos. They were excellent meals. And I got almost completely through Century Rain, the latest Alastair Reynolds novel I’m reading. It’s excellent, though not part of the Revelation Space series.

Arrived late evening, and very glad to be here. It’s cold back East, as it turns out. The Older Grandson and I will be playing Go later today.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 6:39 am

Travel shave

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This morning I used for the first time a travel shave brush I got long ago from QED. It has no maker name: a stainless steel cylinder into which the brush unit slides, with an open cap. Unscrew the cap, slide out the brush, screw the cap back onto the cylinder, and screw the brush unit into the cap.

I used D.R. Harris Almond shave stick, and the brush turns out to be excellent: wonderful action, holds lots of lather. The HD with a Swedish Gillette blade. (It turns out I had a pack of Swedish Gillettes in my shaving kit.) Very nice blade, in fact. (At 90 cents each it should be.) Excellent shave, with Royal Copenhagen aftershave.
A nice cup of coffee, and I’m blogging already. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2008 at 6:08 am

Posted in Shaving

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