Later On

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

Archive for April 22nd, 2008

Flags as graphs

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Vernon Duke

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Just happened across a nice profile of Vernon Duke. It begins:

THERE is something so improbably consoling about the sadness at the heart of the best Vernon Duke melodies. This redemptive afterglow could be a consequence of sheer melodic sophistication. Duke knew how to construct a song, elegantly, with surpassing craft and harmonic flair. Yet the earned wisdom behind the sadness in his music transcends flair and craft and goes beyond sophistication.

It’s not that the songs are even inherently unhappy. ”Autumn in New York,” ”April in Paris” and ”I Can’t Get Started” — to name Duke’s most identifiable trio — inhabit an emotional realm uncommon in the American popular song canon, that of dry-eyed ballads of unusual poignancy. The melancholy induced by these songs, while hauntingly seductive, is never glum.

Nor was Duke remotely a sad kind of guy. An aristocratic White Russian emigre turned Broadway songwriter, he seems to have had a rather good time of it all, dressing with notorious dash and, in a polyglot of languages, charming chorus girls and theatrical producers alike. Duke knew everybody, from his dearest friend, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, to Picasso and Chanel, Balanchine and Jean Cocteau, and even an antic young serviceman whom Duke discovered during World War II, Sid Caesar.

Moreover, alongside his prodigious Broadway output, from the 1920’s into the 1960’s, Duke enjoyed a parallel career as a classical composer. Under his given Russian name, Vladimir Dukelsky, he turned out ballet scores, concertos, sonatas, art-song cycles and at least three symphonies for the world’s most celebrated orchestras and conductors.

Continue reading.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Music

Very cool video

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No embedding, but you can see it here. I love songs that use names as the lyrics—for a wonderful example, “Tschaikowsky”, sung by Danny Kaye in the 1941 Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin musical “Lady in the Dark,” the book of which was by Moss Hart and based on his experience in psychoanalysis.

The video at the link is a campaign video by a friend of TYD.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Music

Republican falsely accused in sex scandal

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Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Bike boxes—so you can take your bike along

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This is very cool: a company that makes boxes specifically for transporting bicycles when you fly to some destination. The corrugated boxes last for 10 trips, the plastic boxes indefinitely. Good idea. Note that they even have boxes intended for tandems or recumbents (see the menu at the right when you click the link).

UPDATE: Josh sends a note to add:

First: Ship ahead with UPS if you can. Cheaper, safer. Hands down.

Second—Go Green: The boxes you showed are very nice pieces, but I’m no great fan of disposable *anything.* A couple of arguably greener options:

–Go to a bike shop and recycle a shipping box. If the bike is packed properly, it’s not a bad way to go, if you’re shipping UPS. That’s how the bike got to the shop in the first place.

–Get a proper hard case, like a Trico Iron Case.  Reusable, indestructible, and it’s got wheels. This is much more significant when you’re running through O’Hare with your $6,000 Carbon Fiber WonderVelo.

–Rent a hard case at a local bike shop.

–Join a club or advocacy organization. In DC, membership in Washington Area Bicyclist’s Association gets you discounts in shops, and they have loaner hard cases. And they fight the good fight…

And, later:

I would underscore—Hard case is really the way to go for max security. And insure the living daylights out of the bike—if you’re using the airlines, your homeowner’s/renter’s insurance may cover it. Airlines baggage handlers are notoriously hard on bikes, and the airline may only cover it to a set amount—$500 is typical. Nightmare stories are legion…

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Daily life

Sunday ship

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I looked out my balcony window on Sunday, and saw this visitor (photo taken from balcony). Click photo twice for detail.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Daily life

One damn big artichoke

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The Wife brought this artichoke yesterday. It (the large guy) is an Eurochoke. The small fellow next to it is a baby artichoke. She brought two Eurochokes, one of which is cooking as I type. Click photo twice for full magnificence. Notice: no sharp pointy things on the leaves.

UPDATE: Very tasty. A bit milder than regular artichokes. I made a dipping sauce for the leaves: mayonnaise, juice of a lemon, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, dried basil. Very nice.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 1:03 pm

Why is the US unique in pedophile priests?

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The problem is only partly the pedophile priests, of course. The Pope so far seems to be ignoring the complicity of the bishops (accessories after the fact) who covered up for the priests, transferred them to new parishes, and kept them free to continue their activities. I wonder why none of the bishops have been arrested as accomplices? (Of course, one such bishop, Cardinal Law, fled the country and now resides at the Vatican.)

Michael O’Hare at the Reality Based Community describes the puzzle:

Sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the US, and the church’s decades of serving the perpetrators parish after parish of unwarned victims, has bankrupted dioceses, driven bishops from office, and devastated thousands of the faithful. Remarkably, there has been almost no such history in Italy. Obviously, the Catholic hierarchy in that country comprises nothing but righteous and upright men, not a pedophile nor a predator among them, ever.

I guess…though if an Italian priest were to be charged with abuse, and a few have, the entire episode (victims, witnesses, accusee, and all) would immediately be covered by the most absolute internal secrecy under pain of excommunication, precluding any possibility of criminal prosecution or public notice, so we would know nothing about it. The same secrecy rules obtained in the US, but broke eventually under the weight of the secular criminal and civil law, and an independent press in a country only about a quarter Catholic and not party to a Lateran Treaty.

The Italian press has been completely supine on this issue (as here, for example), and when the occasional light is shone from outside, especially on the explicit policy of secrecy the church has imposed wherever it can get away with it, the result is an avalanche of namecalling and abuse, but as far as I can tell, no substantive refutation of the basic facts and policy. The Italian church’s view, in summary, is that attention to the possibility of priestly misconduct is hurtful to the accused priests (false accusations of this kind are in fact very rare).

The pope was in charge of this mess in his previous job, and it’s remarkable that in his current US visit, he kept bringing up the pedophilia scandal and wringing his hands about it. But a new high in what I can only read as the oiliest, cynical, chutzpah was surely achieved when he asked the faithful to reach out to the victims, something completely impossible in Italy because there are no victims to be found.

I’m astonished at the free pass he got from the US media, who seem to have never, in this entire visit, raised the linked questions (if not to his flacks, in analysis):

“If the church has completely protected Italian youth from abuse by priests, why were these wonderful methods not provided to the American bishops, and American children left at risk? And if it hasn’t, how big is the problem there? And why should we believe the answer, as long as Cardinal Law, the apostle of coverup, wilful ignorance, and mendacity, has been swept into the comforting embrace of the Vatican with about a dozen important jobs? And since you bring it up, how is anyone supposed to reach out as you ask, if the church’s policy continues to be that they remain unknown, invisible, and silent?”

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 12:35 pm

A pyrrhic victory for those sentenced for crack

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They won parity with cocaine sentences, but now judges are balking and throwing up obstacles. As pointed out in comments at the link, the issue is really one of the well-off (light sentences) vs. the poor (heavy sentences), rather than (or in addition to) simple racism. Here’s the story:

As federal courts begin the unprecedented task of deciding whether thousands of prisoners should receive lower sentences for crimes involving crack cocaine, some judges are telling poor convicts that they won’t get lawyers to help them argue for leniency.

As a result, some prisoners are being left to argue on their own behalf against skilled prosecutors in cases that have already been labeled unjust.

Defense advocates have argued for more than 20 years that the more severe sentences given for crack cocaine offenses, compared to those handed down for crimes involving powder cocaine, were unfair to African-American defendants. A majority of crack cocaine defendants are African-American, while most powder cocaine defendants are white.

Last year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recognized the disparity and recommended lighter penalties in crack cocaine cases.

Now the 20,000 prisoners who’re eligible for the lower sentences must ask a court to reconsider their cases. Many have said they’re too poor to hire lawyers to ask for the lower sentences, and judges have appointed federal defenders to represent them at taxpayers’ expense.

But other judges have declined to appoint attorneys, saying they aren’t needed for what should be a straightforward sentencing matter nor are they required under the Constitution. Judges have the sole authority to appoint such attorneys.

The constitutional right to an attorney after criminal indictment and during trial and sentencing is undisputed. But several federal appeals and district courts have concluded that judges generally don’t have to appoint attorneys for convicted criminals who’re seeking corrected sentences.

Without lawyers, some defendants with legitimate requests will be overlooked, say federal defenders who’re screening many of the crack cocaine cases.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Oil and terrorism

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Big Oil moves to protect terrorists from having to pay restitution. (On a side note, Exxon-Mobil reported $40.6 billion in profits for 2007—naturally, though, they still need those tax credits that Bush gave them.) I wish that the US Congress was not so transparently for sale. Here’s the story:

One by one, top executives of American oil companies met privately over the last year with Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, often in his signature Bedouin tent, as they lined up contracts allowing them to tap into the country’s oil reserves.

But now, the new allies are working Capitol Hill, trying to weaken a law that threatens those deals. The Libyan government, once a pariah, and the American oil industry have hired high-profile lobbyists, buttonholed lawmakers and enlisted help from the Bush administration, all in an effort to win an exemption from a law that Congress passed in January that is intended to ensure that victims of terrorist attacks are compensated.

The law allows victims of state-sponsored terrorism to collect court judgments by seizing foreign assets in the United States or money from those governments held by American companies doing business with them. If Libya loses a half-dozen court cases still pending, $3 billion to $6 billion could be at stake, according to lawyers’ estimates. [Peanuts compared to oil industry profits—why doesn’t the oil industry simply give Libya the money to pay the restitution? Rather than spending money on lobbyists and members of Congress. – LG]

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Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 12:25 pm

A few good men… and also some felons

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Bad news, reported by Matthew Blake for the Washington Independent:

The need for boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan has apparently resulted in a significant jump in the number of soldiers serving with felony records. In the past two years, the military has exponentially increased the number of “personnel waivers” it normally approves, allowing those who normally couldn’t enlist because of criminal backgrounds to join up.

The house oversight committee obtained documents today showing that between 2006 and 2007 Army-issued personnel waivers went from 249 to 511. Marine-issued waivers jumped from 208 to 350. These include 87 enlistees who have been convicted of aggravated assault, of which nine were also convicted of a sexual assault.

The trend is almost certainly due to the 170,000 troops the U.S. committed to Iraq during the surge, along with 31,000 troops in Afghanistan. Both numbers are record-high troop levels. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the number of troops in Iraq has put on an unsustainable strain on the U.S. military. President Bush and General Petreaus aren’t following Gate’s orders for a quicker drawdown. But the stats would seem to boost the argument that the army is making unreasonable compromises.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 12:13 pm

US Missile Defense System: costly but worthless

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A very good review of the prospects of success—and the prospects of utility—of the enormously expensive missile defense system. Bottom line: it’s worthless. The story begins:

In the House Rayburn Building Wednesday afternoon, three physicists were patiently explaining to members of Congress that the U.S. missile defense system has little practical worth.

“If Iran were reckless enough to attack Europe or the United States,” said Phillip E. Coyle, senior adviser at the World Security Institute, a national-security study center, “current U.S. missile defense would not be effective.”

The hearing, held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, came a month after national security experts told the panel that missile defense draws resources away from the more pressing threat posed by Al Qaeda. The subcommittee chairman, John Tierney (D-Mass.), now plans a third hearing, on a date to be announced, where Pentagon officials will have the opportunity to defend the anti-ballistic missile program.

Congress’s oversight is perhaps the first serious challenge to a remarkably enduring defense program. As much as $150 billion has been spent since President Ronald Reagan first launched the strategic defense initiative, or “Star Wars,” in 1983. Since then, the quest to develop radar so sophisticated that it could detect and shoot down a nuclear warhead in outer space has taken on a life of its own. But the scrutiny indicates that Congress may break an old habit and finally stop funding the nation’s pursuit of missile defense. That could mean challenging the Bush administration’s latest plan to expand the program, which includes the president’s seemingly relentless push for an anti-missile shield just outside the Russian border.

“We are not on the same page with this administration,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), co-chair of the Task Force on Terrorism and Proliferation Financing, which is seeking to re-direct Pentagon money to counterterrorism programs. “It’s alarming they want to go full speed ahead with another program.”

Since the dawn of the arms race with the Soviet Union, the Pentagon has attempted to create a program to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles. These rocket missiles can be launched into outer space and travel more than 3,500 miles to deliver a warhead to a specific target.

Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Global Security Program, testified before the subcommittee on Wednesday that missile defense relies on hitting the warheads once they are in space. But since a warhead travels at the same speed in space as a balloon, a country would likely decide to enclose the warhead in a balloon. They would then launch thousands of decoy balloons containing trajectory engines that allows the decoys to enter the atmosphere at the same time as the warhead. Gronlund said that anti-missile technology hasn’t been developed to distinguish which balloon would be the one to contain the warhead.

Gronlund told The Washington Independent prior to the hearing that developing such technology was beyond the skills of scientists today. “It’s a fruitless effort,” she said. “Reagan’s vision of a ‘shield that could protect us from nuclear missiles just as a roof protects a family from the rain’ was appealing to many people. But missile defense simply doesn’t work.”

And, later in the article:

Stephen E. Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, said that missile defense should be compared not with other Pentagon spending but the Department of Homeland Security’s budget. At the first missile defense hearing, Flynn testified that $12 billion is more than 10 times what the president’s homeland security budget gives to protect mass transit, ports and national monuments.

Flynn argued that such a disparity was alarming, because threats like Al Qaeda have no incentive to develop costly missile technology. Far more likely is smuggling a missile across the border, which is both cheaper and not instantly traceable. “Smuggling a nuclear weapon into the United States,” Flynn told the committee, “provides an advantage that a ballistic missile does not: the potential for anonymity.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 11:50 am

Pedophilia cure for some

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Interesting. Charles Choi reports in Science News that in at least one case, pedophilia was cured. This suggests the possibility that pedophilia could be due to a physical condition in the brain and thus not cured or curbed by simple punishment.

The sudden and uncontrollable paedophilia exhibited by a 40-year-old man was caused by an egg-sized brain tumour, his doctors have told a scientific conference. And once the tumour had been removed, his sex-obsession disappeared.

The cancer was located in the right lobe of the orbifrontal cortex, which is known to be tied to judgment, impulse control and social behaviour. But neurologists Russell Swerdlow and Jeffrey Burns, of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, believe it is the first reported case linking damage to the region with paedophilia.

“We’re dealing with the neurology of morality here,” says Swerdlow. Since the area does not affect physical health, “it’s one of those areas where you could have a lot of damage and a doctor would never suspect something’s wrong,” he says.

“He wasn’t faking,” says Burns. “But if someone argues that every paedophile needs a MRI, the difference in this case was that the patient had a normal history before he acquired the problem. Most paedophiles develop problems early on in life.”

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Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 11:43 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Tuesday cat-blogging: Molly, posing

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Molly, looking contemplative (or stunned or something).

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 10:06 am

Posted in Cats, Molly

Monday steps: 11,119

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As I mentioned, Monday’s walk was pleasant and easy. I do notice this morning that I seem to be developing a bunion on one foot. Might have to use other shoes.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 9:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

A shaving gel experiment

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This morning I tried King of Shaves AlphaGlide ALS shaving gel. Although it says it is unfragranced, it had a definite smell in the neighborhood of machine oil, not unlike the KOS shaving oil.

It’s bright orange—I don’t think I’ve used an orange shaving product before—and is applied by hand. Once on the beard it’s transparent, which the package says is a benefit since you can see where you’re shaving but I found a hindrance since I couldn’t see where I’d shave. During the first pass, I found that the gel would drip from the razor rather than cling to it. (A good lather will build up on the razor and not drop off as you shave.)

After the first pass, I wondered whether I should apply a new coat for the second, but a light rinse showed that there was still lots of lubrication left, so I did the second pass with no new application. Then I rinsed well and did the final pass using only the Gessato shave oil.

The result was a smooth shave, but I definitely prefer the traditional lather. This will get passed along to some other shaver. But it was worth a shot: I was curious about the technology.

Aftershave was New York, by  Parfums de Nicolaï.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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