Later On

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

Archive for April 16th, 2008


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Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 7:40 pm

Posted in Daily life

Militarize our foreign policy?

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Seems like a bad idea on the face of it—going all military on Iraq wasn’t exactly a howling success. Phillip Carter writes an excellent blog for the Washington Post, called “Intel Dump,” and he had a good post on the question, along with a recommendation for a book that looks quite interesting:

According to the New York Times: “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged Congress on Tuesday to grant the Pentagon permanent authority to train and equip foreign militaries, a task previously administered by the State Department, and to raise the annual budget for the effort to $750 million, a 250 percent increase.” Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, expressed concern over the migration of missions from the State Department to the Pentagon.

Ike’s right. We should be wary of attempts to over-militarize American foreign policy. There are good reasons why we currently run foreign assistance programs out of the State Department. It’s important to subordinate these missions — particularly the “train and equip” military assistance programs — to political considerations, and the best way to do that is to keep the diplomats in charge. If the Defense Department swallows more of the responsibility for American foreign policy, then American foreign policy will take on an increasingly military character. In the long run, that may be prove counterproductive.

As the old proverb goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems begin to look like nails. But in today’s world, not all problems are nails — some require a defter, less muscular, less kinetic approach than the Pentagon can provide.

(Sidebar: for an excellent discussion of how this dynamic has played out, and how the U.S. military has squeezed out other agencies in the execution of U.S. foreign policy, read Dana Priest’s The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military.)

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 5:17 pm

Healthcare again

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And again via Kevin Drum:

As Drum points out:

If you’re interested in more, the main page for Wyden’s plan is here. Ezra Klein has additional commentary here.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 4:49 pm

The Torture Regime

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Vodpod videos no longer available. from posted with vodpod

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 4:14 pm

“Jihadi Cool”

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Very interesting article in Newsweek by Christopher Dickey, and well worth reading. It begins:

Scott Atran is an anthropologist who studies the kids who keep Al Qaeda and its spinoffs going. They’re young people like the ones who grew up to blow up trains in Madrid in 2004, carried out the slaughter on the London underground in 2005 and hoped to blast airliners out of the sky en route to the United States in 2006.

Atran has looked at whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them and what drives them. And he’s reached an unconventional but, to me, convincing conclusion: what has inspired the “new wave” terrorists since 2001 is not so much the Qur’an as what Atran calls “jihadi cool.” If you can discredit these kids’ idols (most notably Osama bin Laden), give them new ones and reframe the way their families and friends see the United States and its allies, then you’ve got a good shot at killing the fad for terror and stopping the jihad altogether.

For Atran, a senior fellow at the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, this is pretty much Public Diplomacy 101. But he’s found that the battle of ideas is not just hard to win in the field, it’s a very tough slog at home. In Washington last year he was briefing White House staffers on his findings when a young woman who worked for Vice President Dick Cheney said in the sternest tough-guy voice she could muster, “Don’t these young people realize that the decisions they make are their responsibility, and that if they choose violence against us, we’re going to bomb them?”

Atran was dumbfounded. “Bomb them?” he asked. “In Madrid? In London?”

So when Atran went back to Washington to brief National Security Council and Homeland Security staff in January this year, he went armed—with comic books. He wanted to show that nothing cooked up by the Bush administration’s warmongers and spinmeisters comes close to delivering the kind of positive messages you can find in a commercial action adventure series called “The 99.”

The comics are the creation of Kuwaiti psychologist and entrepreneur Naif Al-Mutawa, and—let me make a confession here—I’ve been reading them since my colleague Florence Villeminot first wrote about them early last year. My reasons for following the series are probably as atavistic as analytic. I grew up with Marvel and DC comics, spending my impressionable pubescence getting deep into the gothic drama of Batman, delighting in the athletic insolence of Spider-Man, savoring the unsublimated sexuality of the women in X-Men. And, yes, there’s something of all of that in “The 99,” with its hulking fighters and sultry enforcers.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 2:15 pm

Bush & Climate change

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Froomkin pretty much nails it:

Taking a brief break from all the papal pomp, President Bush today rolls out yet another wave of climate-change flim-flam.

It took so long for Bush to even acknowledge the human role in global warming that whenever he even mentions the topic, some people act like it’s big news.

But in an era where a consensus has emerged that forceful action is required to save the planet, Bush’s essentially empty words are not very different from silence. And to the extent that their intent is to subvert sincere attempts to find solutions, they’re actually worse.

Bush’s trick on climate change is to wait until others are about to embrace mandatory limits on greenhouse gases, then make a major speech about goals and process, without any specifics on measures or penalties.

His planned speech this afternoon recalls his two earlier attempts to muddy the debate and buy time.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 2:08 pm

USA: land of mass imprisonment

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Good column by Marie Gottschalk in the Washington Post—and, indeed, why are the presidential candidates not being asked about this?

Forty years ago, the Kerner Commission concluded in its landmark study of the causes of racial disturbances in the United States in the 1960s: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” Today we are still moving toward two societies: one incarcerated and one not. The Pew Center on the States released a study in February showing that for the first time in this country’s history, more than one in every 100 adults is in jail or prison. According to the Justice Department, 7 million people — or one in every 32 adults — are either incarcerated, on parole or probation or under some other form of state or local supervision.

These figures understate the disproportionate impact that this bold and unprecedented social experiment has had on certain groups in U.S. society. Today one in nine young black men is behind bars. African Americans now comprise more than half of all prisoners, up from a third three decades ago.

Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) held a remarkable set of hearings last October on mass incarceration in the United States. In his opening statement, Webb noted that “the United States has embarked on one of the largest public policy experiments in our history, yet this experiment remains shockingly absent from public debate.”

The leading presidential candidates have not identified mass imprisonment as a central issue, even though it is arguably the country’s top civil rights concern. Many of today’s crime control policies fundamentally impede the economic, political and social advancement of the most disadvantaged blacks and members of other minority groups. Prison leaves them less likely to find gainful employment, vote, participate in other civic activities and maintain ties with their families and communities.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 1:58 pm

More on health risks of plastics

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But the industry sees no problem—unsurprising, eh? Here’s the LA Times report:

A controversial, estrogen-like chemical in plastic could be harming the development of children’s brains and reproductive organs, a federal health agency concluded in a report released Tuesday.

The National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, concluded that there was “some concern” that fetuses, babies and children were in danger because bisphenol A, or BPA, harmed animals at low levels found in nearly all human bodies.

An ingredient of polycarbonate plastic, BPA is one of the most widely used synthetic chemicals in industry today. It can seep from hard plastic beverage containers such as baby bottles, as well as from liners in cans containing food and infant formula.

The federal institute is the first government agency in the U.S. to conclude that low levels of BPA could be harming humans. Its findings will be used to help regulators at federal and state environmental agencies to develop policies governing its use.

The draft report followed an 18-month review that was fraught with allegations of bias, heated disputes among scientists and the firing of a consulting company with financial ties to the chemical industry.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 1:53 pm

Wall Street Socialism

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Kevin Phillips has a good column at Huffington Post:

Socialism, we are told, is the naïveté of youth, and a fallacious economics the United States has luckily spurned. The late Seymour Lipset, an well-known academician, penned a book in 2001 entitled It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States.

Alas, nobody ever told the leaders of American finance. Whereas the old style of socialism elected no more than a handful of mayors and congressmen, Washington has now embraced a new variety that could not be more different in its class consciousness and privileged sponsorship.

I am talking, of course, about the collectivization of financial risk being promulgated by the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Treasury Department and applauded in pin-striped precincts from Park Avenue to Pacific Heights. Described as Wall Street Socialism by the gauche and more precisely identified as the “socialization of risk” by sophisticates, the new fashion leaves the profits of finance in private hands as of yore. It is only the “risk” — of collapsed currencies, flawed speculation, busted hedge funds or the greedy misjudgments of large banks or brokerage firms — that is quietly taken up by government entities and all too often shifted to taxpayers who do not understand the pompous phraseology but know full well that Washington will never bail out their hardware store or the widget plant where their son works.

This has been going on for decades — a major reason why finance has grown and prospered so much compared with most other industries. But it’s only been so boldly and shamelessly embraced in the last few weeks. The Federal Reserve insists that “inter-connections” require rescuing large institutions that might knock down other entangled financial dominoes. However, these would not have been so cocky or so inter-connected in their web-spinning if the Fed had not allowed so much greed and gamesmanship for so long. Ex-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan is often singled out as a culprit, but most of what he did was what most of the financial sector wanted. They, too, loved making 4th of July speeches about the glories of free enterprise and free — market profits while counting on the government to collectivize the perils of risk. Big, fat and dumb financial institutions could count on being big, fat and bailed-out.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Extremely cool hotels

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Palaces, forts, and castles, converted to hotels.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Daily life

How other countries do healthcare

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Via Kevin Drum, Frontline has an on-line video “Sick Around the World” that lets you see how healthcare is managed in five other countries: the UK, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland. You’ll notice that all of those are capitalist countries (and all enjoy better healthcare than the US, speaking for the average citizen). Here are details about the countries’ plans. Video link is here.

Kevin notes:

I liked the ending. This is approximate, but after wondering whether Americans will ever accept any of the healthcare ideas he had just presented, correspondent T.R. Reid closed with this:

These ideas aren’t as foreign as they seem. If you’re a U.S. veteran, your healthcare is like Britain. If you’re a senior citizen on Medicare, you’re Taiwan. If you’re a worker who gets insurance from your employer, you’re Germany.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 11:33 am

Hangtown Fry

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This sounds great—and at the link is a video of the dish being made.

Hangtown Fry (Eggs With Bacon and Oysters)
Time: 20 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup diced slab bacon, or sliced bacon cut into pieces about 2 inches long
1/2 cup sliced shiitakes (no stems)
Salt and pepper
6 or more shucked oysters (pre-shucked are fine)
4 or 5 eggs
Chopped fresh parsley leaves.

Put oil in a skillet over medium heat; a minute later, add bacon. Cook for a minute, then add shiitakes and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat so bacon and mushrooms brown without burning. Add oysters, stir, and cook until plump and firm, a minute or so. Turn off heat.

Beat eggs with some salt and pepper; stir in parsley. Pour into pan; turn heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently and scraping the sides of the pan (a heat-proof spatula is good).

As eggs begin to curdle, parts touching pan will begin to dry out; when you see that, remove pan from heat and continue to stir until cooking slows a bit. Return to heat and continue cooking. Eggs are done when creamy, soft and a bit runny; do not overcook. Serve immediately.

Yield: 2 or 3 servings.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 10:49 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Euphemism and American Violence

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David Bromwich has an interesting article in the New York Review of Books. It begins:

In Tacitus’ Agricola, a Caledonian rebel named Calgacus, addressing “a close-packed multitude” preparing to fight, declares that Rome has overrun so much of the world that “there are no more nations beyond us; nothing is there but waves and rocks, and the Romans, more deadly still than these—for in them is an arrogance which no submission or good behavior can escape.” Certain habits of speech, he adds, abet the ferocity and arrogance of the empire by infecting even the enemies of Rome with Roman self-deception:

A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them…. To robbery, butchery, and rapine, they give the lying name of “government”; they create a desolation and call it peace.

The frightening thing about such acts of renaming or euphemism, Tacitus implies, is their power to efface the memory of actual cruelties. Behind the façade of a history falsified by language, the painful particulars of war are lost. Maybe the most disturbing implication of the famous sentence “They create a desolation and call it peace” is that apologists for violence, by means of euphemism, come to believe what they hear themselves say.

On July 21, 2006, the tenth day of the Lebanon war, Condoleezza Rice explained why the US government had not thrown its weight behind a cease-fire:

What we’re seeing here, in a sense, is the growing—the birth pangs of a new Middle East, and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.

Very likely these words were improvised. “Growing pains” seems to have been Rice’s initial thought; but as she went on, she dropped the “pains,” turned them into “pangs,” and brought back the violence with a hint of redemptive design: the pains were only birth pangs. The secretary of state was thinking still with the same metaphor when she spoke of “pushing,” but a literal image of a woman in labor could have proved awkward, and she trailed off in a deliberate anticlimax: “pushing forward” means “not going back.”

Many people at the time remarked the incongruity of Rice’s speech as applied to the devastation wrought by Israeli attacks in southern Leba-non and Beirut. Every bombed-out Lebanese home and mangled limb would be atoned for, the words seemed to be saying, just as a healthy infant vindicates the mother’s labor pains. Looked at from a longer distance, the statement suggested a degree of mental dissociation. For the self-serving boast was also offered as a fatalistic consolation—and this by an official whose call for a cease-fire might well have stopped the war. “The birth pangs of a new Middle East” will probably outlive most other phrases of our time, because, as a kind of metaphysical “conceit,” it accurately sketches the state of mind of the President and his advisers in 2006.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 10:28 am

Maybe Big Pharma will trigger new laws

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We’ve seen how Johnson & Johnson hid bad news from the understaffed and overwhelmed FDA, and now Merck has raised the ire of a GOP Senator, as Mike Lillis reports in The Washington Indpendent:

First, as Art points out this afternoon, two recent articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association charge that the pharmaceutical giant withheld data on the damaging effects of its painkiller Vioxx. The blockbuster drug was pulled from the shelves in 2004 after it was found to be a cardiovascular risk.

Now, Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is all riled up and pushing for greater transparency from the pharmaceutical industry.

These reports reveal just how far a drug maker might go to market its product and try to bury information that might hurt sales even when that information directly affected the health and safety of the people taking their medicine. Revealing this kind of activity is very important in building pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to regulate, not accommodate drug makers. These new reports also underscore the value of transparency in making industry more accountable to the public.

In a letter to Merck (pdf), the Iowa Republican all but accuses the company of cheating federal health programs out of a billion dollars in Vioxx purchases.

Besides incurring over $1 billion dollars in costs to our federal programs for this drug, it turned out that VIOXX was also causing heart attacks. Merck, with knowledge of the increased risk of heart attacks associated with VIOXX, proceeded to negotiate with FDA for label changes, while at the same time initiating an aggressive campaign to sell as much of the drug as possible. In fact, one FDA safety officer determined that VIOXX negatively affected tens of thousands of patients who took the drug.

Now we are learning that VIOXX not only increased the risk of heart attacks-it seems that it caused the death of certain patients. Had the federal government, namely the FDA known of this risk in 2001, instead of 2003, I am confident that the federal government would not have paid Merck $1billion dollars for the drug.

Grassley is no stranger to the topic. As Finance chairman four years ago, he led the investigative charge into Merck’s deceptive marketing and research practices surrounding Vioxx. Still, it’s no easy task taking on the pharmaceutical industry, even for a powerful guy like Grassley. As the Center for Responsive Politics pointed out last week, drug makers gave more money to Washington’s lawmakers than any other lobby in the country last year.

The latest Vioxx revelation will test just how much influence that cash can buy.

New laws are certainly needed so that pharmaceutical companies will be liable for dangerous products if knowingly sold. Legally enforced transparency is required, clearly.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 10:23 am

Back from errands

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Car is now in for 30K service (a standard service package—actual mileage is 132,404). I note that the last time I had it in for service was 7/26/05, almost three years ago. Mileage then was 127,521, so I’ve put on almost 5,000 miles in 3 years. I use Mobil 1 Synthetic oil, which lasts better than regular oil.

And then to eye doctor. Pressure was 15 in one eye, 14 in the other. Not bad.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 9:45 am

Posted in Daily life

Tuesday steps: 11,034

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Yesterday was again sunny, clear, breezy, and cool, and I enjoyed the walk. I’m thinking that I’ll probably walk again today—my endurance seems to be improving. And I take the car in for service…

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 7:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

Menthol morning

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I used Santa Maria Novelli Crema da Barba—a mentholated shaving cream that’s more like a soap, albeit a soft soap. With the Sabini ebony-handled brush, I got a very good lather for the first and second pass, though it did not last well for the third pass, for some reason. Possibly I over-watered it. The same Elios blade in the Chatsworth, and the three passes left little for the oil pass to do. I did, however, do an oil pass with Total Shaving Solution, another mentholated product. Very fine finish, and then Floïd Original as the aftershave. Feeling menthol and cool.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2008 at 7:34 am

Posted in Shaving

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