Later On

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

Archive for April 19th, 2008

How the Administration manages the news

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Those talking heads are carefully coached by the Administration. Read this article, which begins:

In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 8:59 pm

Bicycle life

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Reality Based Community has an interesting post on the lousy bicycles used in the Netherlands—a country where the bicycle is a major mode of transportation.

I sent the link to a friend who lives in Amsterdam, and here’s his response:

Amsterdam has an official population figure of 750,000, but I would guess that there are maybe 50,000 illegals living here, people who are not registered. (We have civil registration, & everyone is supposed to be recorded in the computer system.) Every year, at least 50,000 bicycles are stolen in this city. Late one night I actually saw a bike thief in action. He got through the locks (you never have fewer than 2 when you park) in maybe 30 seconds.

The answer the fellow got when he asked why the Dutch ride such junky bikes was the right one: good ones are prime targets for theft. People do have good bikes; there are more bikes than people in this city. We have 3 for the 2 of us. People use their good bikes when they know that they are not going to be leaving them anywhere for any length of time, even though one is foolish not to lock one’s bike, even if one is just getting off to buy a newspaper.

There are places in A’dam where you can go & expect to find one or more people selling a bike for very little money. You know, of course, that it was stolen. True, the Dutch tend to be law-abiding citizens, but there are always kids who will take a bike if they can, & there are junkies who feed their habit with the money they get from selling stolen bikes. A few years ago I saw a couple of barges on one of the city canals. One had a crane on it. It was fishing near a bridge, picking up what was left of bikes out of the canal & depositing them on the other barge. They were the remains of stolen, then cast-off, bikes.

The fellow who wrote the article relied more on what he thought should be so than what  actually is. That happens a lot, I suppose.

What would help is a large underground automated bicycle parking lot: your bike goes in and is protected until you return to withdraw it. Like this:

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 8:53 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Dragon’s Egg

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I just finished reading Robert L. Forward‘s Dragon’s Egg, an absorbing science-fiction novel about life on a neutron star. The style is rather clunky, but the ideas keep pulling you along. The different pace of the cheela on the neutron star and the humans observing them makes for interesting developments. I realized somewhere along the way that I read this years ago (it was first published in 1980), and some scenes I vividly recalled. Very satisfying to revisit.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Books, Science fiction

Wall Street did it

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From a book review in Business Week:

Are you confused about how so much American debt could vaporize so fast, threatening to take down the global financial system? Are you wondering what should be done to prevent another systemic crisis in the markets? Are you puzzled over what it all means? Two recent books offer answers to these vital questions. Both place the credit crash in historical context. Each author believes Wall Street and the financial community have far too much power. More controversially, both argue the fallout will result in a dramatic transformation of the U.S. economy.

The Trillion Dollar Meltdown by Charles R. Morris deserves a spot on any bedside reading table. Morris, a former banker and sometime writer for The Atlantic Monthly, more than accomplishes his stated goal of telling his story “briefly and crisply.” For instance, he manages to make clear both the mechanics of slicing and dicing collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and why these and similar securitized credits and derivative securities went spectacularly bust. …

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Medicare costs: it’s NOT the Boomers

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Our exploding Medicare costs have nothing to do with the Boomers, and everything to do with the sorry state of the US healthcare “system”. Take a look at this chart for example:

As you can see, countries with a much higher percentage of 65 and older population do not have anything like the per-capita medical costs for that group that the US suffers. This chart is from a fascinating (and chart-filled) article on the realities of the program. That article begins:

You probably know that the Social Security “crisis” is a myth.  You probably also know that the Boston Red Sox finally broke the curse of The Bambino.  But what about the “fact” that Baby Boomers are going to break the bank on Medicare?

Turns out, not so much.  The real problem is not aging Boomers.  It’s a crazy incentive system that drives “innovation” and costs much faster and higher than it drives health results.  So resports Maggie Mahar, who blogs at Health Beat, a Century Foundation project, in an Alternet article, “The Mythology of Boomers Bankrupting Our Healthcare System”.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 10:43 am

Torture and the law

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Spencer Ackerman has a good article where experts weigh in on how top officials, with Bush’s approval, discussed using torture. It begins:

With nine months remaining in President George W. Bush’s term, virtually no legal analyst expects that anyone in his administration will face indictment and prosecution in connection with the torture of terrorism detainees. However, a new admission from Bush last week has some legal analysts contending that the case for such prosecution has gotten significantly stronger.

ABC News reported on Apr. 9 that then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice chaired an informal panel of top administration officials that approved specific brutal interrogation tactics for use on three suspected Al Qaeda detainees. The panel consisted of Vice President Dick Cheney, and former administration officials — Donald H. Rumsfeld, then defense secretary, Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, George Tenet, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and John Ashcroft, then attorney general. This group debated for use on detainees — and eventually approved — methods of abuse like being “slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding,” ABC reported.

On Apr. 11, Bush told ABC that he was personally aware of the panel’s discussions. “Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people.” Bush said. “And yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.”

This disclosure presents a nested series of legal implications.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 10:35 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

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Bill: no Federal penalties for marijuana use

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The idea is to make it a state matter, much as liquor is. This bill probably deserves an email to your Representative. Here’s the press release:

Congressman Barney Frank today introduced bi-partisan legislation aimed at removing federal restrictions on the individual use of marijuana (HR 5843). One bill would remove federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana, and the other (HR 5842) – versions of which Frank has filed in several preceding sessions of Congress – would allow the medical use of marijuana in states that have chosen to make its use for medical purposes legal with a doctor’s recommendation. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) joined Frank as a cosponsor of the federal penalties bill. The cosponsors of the medical marijuana bill are Rep. Paul, along with Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Sam Farr (D-CA).

Congressman Frank released the following statement explaining the legislation.

“I think it is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime something which in fact society does not seriously wish to prosecute. In my view, having federal law enforcement agents engaged in the prosecution of people who are personally using marijuana is a waste of scarce resources better used for serious crimes. In fact, this type of prosecution often meets with public disapproval. The most frequent recent examples have been federal prosecutions of individuals using marijuana for medical purposes in states that have voted – usually by public referenda – to allow such use. Because current federal law has been interpreted as superseding state law in this area, most states that have made medical use of marijuana legal have been unable to actually implement their laws.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 10:29 am

Michael Ham, a famous name

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Or at least widely used. The Son sent me this map (click to read):

There are more Michael Hams than I realized. You can check your own name by using it in this URL:

Replace “Michael.Ham” with and see what you get. I think, though, that you have to have published your name at some point.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life

Friday steps: no walk

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Stayed home Friday. Sort of waiting for my car to be done, sort of not wanting to walk. My plan, though is to walk today, so that I still have 4 days of walking in the week. Car is not done, BTW: still awaiting the CV boots, which are on order.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 10:19 am

Posted in Daily life

Durance L’òme this morning

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I do like the Durance L’òme shaving soap, and this morning used it and the Simpsons Harvard 3 Best to get a very nice lather. The Gillette Milord with a once-used Astra Superior Platinum blade did a fine job: three smooth passes and then Pacific Shaving Company’s All Natural Shaving Oil for the oil pass. Exceptionally smooth finish, and the Booster Aquarius aftershave was a good finish.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 10:17 am

Posted in Shaving

Lennie Tristano, 1919-1978

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Lennie Tristano was known both for his playing and his teaching. The first paragraph of the Wikipedia article says a lot:

He performed in the Cool jazz, bebop, post bop and Avant-garde jazz genres. He remains a somewhat overlooked figure in jazz history, but his enormous originality and dazzling work as an improviser have long been appreciated by knowledgeable jazz fans; in addition, his work as a jazz educator meant that he has exerted a substantial indirect influence on jazz, through figures such as Lee Konitz and Bill Evans.

Here he is playing “Tangerine” in Copenhagen in 1965:

Another note from Wikipedia:

Among Tristano’s most important earlier recordings was a 1949 sextet session with his students, saxophone players Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. After recording a number of conventionally structured compositions, Tristano had the group record “Intuition” and “Digression.” Both pieces were completely improvised, with no prearranged melody, harmony or rhythm. These two songs are often cited among the first examples of free jazz or free improvisation.

I highly recommend the CD Intuition, which includes the above. They’re stunning.

There are more performances on YouTube, but embedding has been disallowed, so click the link to watch and listen.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2008 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life

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