Later On

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

Archive for April 23rd, 2008

Tree thoughts

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Daily life


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Walk duration: 1 hr 5 min 52 sec. Tomorrow we’ll see how many steps the day saw. I’ll tell you true, the walk would not have been made were I not blogging this effort. So thank you.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

The punditocracy & lack of accountability

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Glenn Greenwald has a good article in The National Interest on how the Establishment pundits are so often wrong and yet never called to task for it. The article begins:

A look at the absurd pronouncements of the political class from Salon’s Glenn Greenwald. Why do pundits get to be wrong all the time?From the May/June 2008 issue of The National Interest.

THE RECORD of the American pundit class with regard to the 2008 presidential election can be summarized in one word: wrong. For the last twelve months, political journalists in unison have created and then imposed countless predictive narratives onto their “news” coverage of the campaign, narratives which have repeatedly turned out to be completely inaccurate. Yet they never learn their lesson, are never held accountable and virtually never acknowledge their errors. Political punditry is the ultimate accountability-free profession.

It is not merely opinionists who have spun these predictive tales, but so-called straight reporters as well. Indeed, dominating the media’s news coverage of presidential campaigns are claims about what is likely to happen in the future. Rather than focusing on the candidates’ records, the validity of their positions or the truth of their factual assertions, political election coverage instead is obsessed primarily with the question of who is likely to win and lose. Like most fortune-tellers, reporters’ fixation on predictive narratives has left a virtually unbroken string of humiliating errors.

Throughout all of 2007, without a single vote having been cast, two themes dominated the media’s coverage of the race. First, Hillary Clinton’s nomination was essentially inevitable; her lead in the polls was insurmountable, and her organizational strength rendered her invulnerable to any challenges. Second, John McCain’s candidacy was over, killed by campaign mismanagement, conservative anger over his immigration stance, independent resentment over his support for the “surge,” a lack of funds and Rudy Giuliani’s bulging popular lead.

Yet suddenly, by the end of January 2008, after just a few weeks of voting in a handful of small states, Barack Obama and John McCain were declared to be the all-but-certain nominees. Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were but failed afterthoughts. Within a matter of a few short weeks, the yearlong pundit script was instantaneously rewritten—just scrapped—with barely any acknowledgment that it ever existed.

Continue reading—it’s good.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

The Two-Cultures Problem

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Only this time it’s not Humanists and Scientists (though that’s still a problem), but Civilians and Military. Phil Carter has some cogent observations on how the two cultures arise and are perpetuated. From the column (but read the whole thing):

… After thinking about this story [the Pentagon puppets: military analysts that sold the party line] for a few days, however, the more interesting questions seem to be about the relationship between American society and its military — questions that cut to the core of our democracy and how we choose to wage war and peace.

Politicization of the Officer Corps. Over the past 30-40 years, a civil-military divide has emerged in this country. The divide results from a number of factors. One is the way the all-volunteer force self-selects, and in many ways, perpetuates itself — children of veterans are significantly more likely to join the military. A second is the gradual geographic isolation of the military. Its bases sit away from major cities and are concentrated in Southern and rural areas. This reduces contact between the military and broader society. It also shapes the cultural character of the military. Socially, culturally and politically, the career servicemembers have become more conservative relative to society. And they’re more likely to be affiliated with the Republican Party. As my colleague Rosa Brooks writes: “In 1976, 25% of civilians characterized themselves as Republicans, while 33% of military officers were Republicans — a military-civilian ‘gap’ of only 8%. By 1996, the military-civilian gap on party affiliation had grown to 33%; while 34% of civilians self-identified as Republicans, so did a whopping 70% of military officers.” This provides a partial explanation for the unusually cozy relationships between some retired military officers and Republican political appointees at the Pentagon.

A Failure of Generalship. …

Read the entire column—good information about a bad situation.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Military

The FBI and the Guantánamo torture

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Congressman Robert Wexler sent an email with this transcript of a hearing in which Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, was questioned:

Robert Wexler: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Director, in January of 2006, the New York Times reported that the NSA wireless wiretapping program had produced thousands of leads each month that the FBI had to track down, but that no Al-Qaeda networks were discovered. During a July 17, 2007 briefing, FBI deputy director John Pistole indicated that the FBI was not aware of any Al-Qaeda sleeper cells operating in the United States. In August of 2007 Congress passed the Protect America Act, giving the intelligence community greater access to electronic communications coming into and out of the United States. I have two questions in this regard.

RW: Has the FBI found any sleeper cells yet? One…

RW: Two. Has the NSA’s wireless wiretapping programs either before the Protect America Act or after led to the prosecution and conviction of any terrorists in the United States?

Robert Mueller: Well, as to your first question as to whether we have found affiliates or, as you would call them, cells of Al-Qaeda in the United States, yes we have. Again, I cannot get into it in public session, but I would say yes we have. With regard to the relationship of a particular case or individual to the terrorist surveillance program, again that is something that would have to be covered in a closed session.

RW: Alright, Mr. Director. An LA Times article from October, 2007 quotes one senior federal enforcement official as saying quote “the CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved” end quote. The article goes on to say that some FBI officials went to you and that you quote “pulled many of the agents back from playing even a supporting role in the investigations to avoid exposing them to legal jeopardy” end quote.

RW: My question Mr. Director, I congratulate you for pulling the FBI agents back, but why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own FBI agents were telling you were illegal? Why did you not initiate criminal investigations when your agents told you the CIA and the Department of Defense were engaging in illegal interrogation techniques, and rather than simply pulling your agents out, shouldn’t you have directed them to prevent any illegal interrogations from taking place?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 2:18 pm

Good talk on slot machines in Maryland

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Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

PCS (pretty cool site)

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Daily life

First energy-independent town in the US

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For electricity, that is. I imagine they still burn gasoline and natural gas. But it’s progress. From Ecogeek:

Following the opening of a new four-turbine wind farm last week, Rock Port in North West Missouri has become the first U.S. town to get all its electricity from wind power.

The $90 million Loess Hills Wind Farm, built on bluffs west of the town, generates five megawatts each day, more than enough for the settlement of 1,300 people. In fact, the farm generates enough electricity to power another similar-sized town. This has led Missouri Joint Municipal Utilities to buy excess power from the site. The farm is eventually expected to generate 16 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

The farm was built in a partnership between St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group and John Deere, who has been helping fund rural wind projects all over America. Speaking at the grand opening last Friday, project manager, Eric Chamberlain said, “Rock Port is making the burning of fossil fuels today’s alternative energy supply.”

It’ll be really interesting to see whether the success of this community-supported initiative will inspire similar projects elsewhere in the country.

Via Columbia Daily Tribune

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 12:11 pm

Where news happens

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Strange Maps has a very interesting map today that shows where news happens—and read the explanation.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

EPA scientists are “under siege”

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Suemedha Sood has an excellent article in the Washington Indpendent on how the Bush EPA is treating its scientists. The article begins:

Environmental activists have been sharply critical of President George W. Bush’s record on the environment. Unions, advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers have expressed strong concerns about the White House obstructing science at the Environmental Protection Agency in order to promote industrial interests. They point to several cases in which influence from industry lobbyists, political appointees or the White House created weaker regulations.

According to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists, environmental activists aren’t the only ones frustrated with this. In fact, the group’s survey of more than 1,500 EPA scientists reveals a consensus that political interference in agency science has increased under the Bush administration.

The report describes the EPA as “an agency under siege from political pressures.” Many of the 1,586 EPA scientists surveyed expressed concerns that political appointees, senior EPA officials and other federal agencies inappropriately influence scientific work. Many also expressed frustration about not being able to freely discuss scientific findings — either within the agency, outside of the agency or with the news media. The EPA says that political interference has not increased under the Bush administration. But research and advocacy groups say their findings support those of the UCS, and warn that interference could mean long-term harm for the environment and public health.

More than half of those scientists surveyed — 889 — said they had personally experienced at least one incident of political interference in the last five years. Among scientists who have more more than 10 years experience at EPA, 43 percent, or 409 respondents, said interference has increased over the last five years, as compared with the previous five years.

The highest number of scientists who reporting interference worked in program offices with regulatory duties and at EPA headquarters. In the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, responses varied widely. For example, scientists at the ORD’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, which regulates air pollution from motor vehicles, reported more interference than respondents from any other division at the agency. Scientists from the ORD’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, which evaluates the risk of pollutants to humans and ecosystems, reported the least amount of interference.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 12:07 pm

Update to bicycle boxes

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A reader sent me an excellent email that I’ve used to update this post.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Daily life

Why domestic surveillance is a bad idea

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It starts out to capture terrorists, but then, since the capability is there and in the hands of people inclined to be authoritarian, it becomes a way to capture everyone for any offense. For example, in Britain:

A British county has been using an anti-terrorism law enacted in 2000 to spy on minors for petty crimes like using cigarettes and alcohol. The Staffordshire County Council in Britain’s Midlands region has been using Britain’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) for a host of non-terrorism-related applications, like monitoring underage liquor and tobacco sales, recording the movements of farm animals and tracking counterfeit DVD sales. Brandon Cooke, Staffordshire County Council’s Fraud and Community Safety Manager, defended the Council’s use of surveillance under the RIPA Act by saying the operations were crucial for “combatting antisocial behavior.”

Source: The Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, United Kingdom), April 21, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 11:57 am

Nutrition labels on alcohol

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Good idea—more information is always good.

Health and consumer groups Tuesday called on the government to require alcoholic beverages to carry nutrition labeling similar to what foods and other drinks must carry. The call comes as federal regulators are mulling a 30-year-old request to require beer, wine, and liquor labels to inform consumers about alcohol content, calories, and carbohydrate content.

Many alcoholic beverages carry government warnings concerning the dangers of drinking while pregnant. Some list calories on packaging on a voluntary basis.

“It’s not standardized; it’s something consumers have to look for,” said Christopher Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute. “The only consumer product which lacks a label is alcoholic beverages.”

Last July, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) proposed listing calories and nutrients on drink labels. But the agency avoided requiring companies to list the amount of alcohol in the container.

U.S. dietary guidelines urge men not to exceed two “standard drinks” per day and women not to exceed one. But health groups said regulators’ proposed label doesn’t display a “standard drink” size to help consumers meet recommended daily alcohol intake.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 11:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Drinks

Mom’s diet influences sex of offspring

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In addition to being the most important meal of the day, breakfast may help determine your unborn baby’s sex. In a newly reported study, women who ate breakfast cereal gave birth to more boys, while those who skipped breakfast had more girls.

Women who ate more total calories also delivered more boys, even though the overall male-to-female birth ratio among the study participants was close to 50/50.

The early findings in no way prove that what a woman does or doesn’t eat prior to conception influences her baby’s sex. But they do hint at a sex-selection bias among humans similar to that seen in other animals, favoring male births among well-fed mothers and female births among mothers who are less well nourished.

They may also help explain a subtle decline in the proportion of male births in industrialized countries like the U.S., researcher Fiona Mathews, PhD, tells WebMD. “It is true that there is an obesity epidemic, but there is also an increase in dieting and very unstable dietary habits among young women,” she says. “And more people are skipping breakfast. Our data suggest that these things may play a role in the small but noticeable decline in male births.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 11:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Older people are happier

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Certainly true for me. Here’s the story from WebMD:

Age and happiness may increase together, according to new research that suggests many older adults are very happy as well as socially active.

The effects of older age on happiness are strong. Over a person’s life span an increase in happiness — with some ups and downs along the way — is the rule, according to Yang Yang, PhD. Yang is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and the author of the study evaluating happiness among various age groups over a three-decade period.

Social connections are also common among older adults, found Benjamin Cornwell, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center on Demography and Economics of Aging at the University of Chicago and a researcher of a second study. “Seniors are not isolated,” he says. Rather, they are plugged in and sociable; the 80-somethings in his study were more “plugged in” socially than those in their late 50s.

Both studies are published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 11:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

More on forced arbitration—as with credit cards

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Watchdog Blog warns:

Over at — a website that helps people pick (you guessed it) credit cards — there is an article warning consumers about binding mandatory arbitration.  They highlight the dangers of forced arbitration and its differences from the civil justice system.

One of the most alarming is that unlike court judges, arbitrators do not have to obey the rule of law.  They can ignore key evidence and flout the law because their decisions are usually secret (unless both parties agree to make them public) and are rarely appealable to a real court.  It’s no surprise then that Public Citizen’s report, The Arbitration Trap, uncovered that consumers lose 94 percent of the time in arbitrations in California.

Want to avoid forced arbitration?  Your only choices are to get an AARP card (if you happen to be a senior citizen) or join one of the credit unions that doesn’t require it.

If you get trapped in arbitration, read their tips to help keep things fair.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 11:27 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

More on HR 5843

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I blogged earlier about this bill, and just now received this email from Drug Policy Alliance:

The first federal marijuana decriminalization bill in 25 years was just introduced in Congress. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced H.R. 5843, the “Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008,” which would decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use. Please urge your representative to support this important legislation.

A deluge of messages from constituents will help members of Congress feel more confident in declaring their support for the bill. We don’t expect the bill to become law just yet, but it will help us find out which members of Congress support marijuana decriminalization and which do not. The more representatives who co-sponsor it, the more support we can show for marijuana law reform.

Take action now.

Last year alone the police made almost 830,000 arrests for marijuana law offenses in the United States. 89 percent of those arrests were for posssession for personal use. Those arrested were seperated from their families, branded criminals, and in many cases fired from their jobs and denied school loans and other public assistance. The arrests cost taxpayers billions of dollars and consumed an estimated 4.5 million law enforcment hours (that’s the equivalent of taking 112,500 law enforcement officers off the streets).

H.R. 5843 would make it legal under federal law for adults to possess up to 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of marijuana for personal use. It would also allow not-for-profit transfers of up to one ounce of marijuana between consenting adults. Please urge your member of Congress to support this bill.

Our executive director, Ethan Nadelmann, made a powerful case for ending marijuana prohibition in a 2004 cover story in National Review (PDF).

Bill Piper
Director of National Affairs
Drug Policy Alliance

More Information

–In 1972 a special commission formed by Congress and President Richard Nixon concluded that punitive marijuana laws do more harm than good. Among other things, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse urged states and the federal government to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Twelve states eventually did, but most states and the federal government ignored the report. You can read the National Commission’s 1972 report here.

–Since 1972 twelve states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Oregon. Decriminalization generally means people caught possessing marijuana for personal use are not subjected to imprisonment for at least their first offense, although they may be subject to a small fine.

–A 2001 Zogby poll found that 61 percent of Americans oppose arresting and jailing nonviolent marijuana smokers. A 2002 Time/CNN poll found that 72 percent of Americans think people arrested for marijuana possession should face fines and not jail time.

–A study that examined arrest statistics for smoking or possessing marijuana in public in New York City from 1980 through 2006 found that blacks were four times as likely as whites to receive jail time for possession of marijuana. Hispanics were three times as likely. In 2002 about 2.4 percent of all marijuana users were arrested for marijuana possession. The arrest rate for blacks was 94 percent higher.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 9:18 am

Senator Coburn (R-OK) blocks cancer research

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What a jerk. From the same email from Center for American Progress:

The Senate is currently considering the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, legislation that would authorize $40 million per year over five years to fund research into the possible links between breast cancer and the environment. The proposal has over two-thirds support in the Senate. But the bill’s passage has been stalled, as an anonymous senator placed a “hold” on it. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) released a statement announcing that a single senator was blocking the bill, calling it “unconscionable” that one person would “singlehandedly block our ability to have a reasonable debate on a bill.” It appears that this lone senator may be Dr. Tom Coburn (R-OK) — “an obstetrician who sees patients one morning a week.” On Monday, when Reid brought the bill to the floor for a vote, Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) “objected” on behalf of Coburn. In 2006, Coburn put a hold on the same bill, claiming it “would take the authority for research out of the hands of scientists and put it into the hands of politicians.” In March, the Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee passed the breast cancer bill, overriding Coburn’s efforts to amend it. Scientists and Engineers For America Action Fund also assert that Coburn is the one placing the hold.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 8:29 am

More about the Don Young scandal

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An email from the Center for American Progress:

Last Thursday, “in a highly unusual move,” the Senate voted to direct the Justice Department to investigate the inclusion of an earmark in a 2005 transportation bill. The reinstatement of the $10 million earmark which had been rejected by the Senate directly benefited a key fundraiser for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), the former chairman of the House Transportation Committee. This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced she would ask the House to accept the call for a DOJ investigation, while also continuing to press for an internal inquiry by the House ethics committee. Young is “perhaps best known as the architect of the ‘bridge to nowhere,’ a project in a massive 2005 transportation bill that he named after his wife, Lu, and ‘stuffed like a turkey,’ as he put it when the $286 billion bill was done.” Young’s ethics troubles — which hardly begin with the mysterious 2005 earmark — have forced him to spend more than $1 million in legal fees, doling out $238,000 on lawyers in 2008 alone. The New York Times editorial board said of Young’s latest earmark battle, “He remains incorrigible.”

A COCONUT ROAD TO NOWHERE: As chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Young visited Florida, where he “received $40,000 in campaign donations from land developers during his visit. He requited by tailoring an earmark in the 2005 transportation bill for their pet project: a cross-wetlands connection to the interstate, known as the Coconut Road Interchange, that would boost development values while abusing the environment.” The interchange was “a low priority” for county officials, but it was vitally important to Young donor Daniel Aronoff because it would have increased the value of his property. In fact, “local officials ultimately refused the money and asked Congress to let them use it for its original purpose.” The 2005 bill approved by Congress included a $10 million earmark for “widening and improvements for I-75 in Collier and Lee County” Florida. However, the bill President Bush signed redirected that $10 million for “Coconut Road interchange I-75/Lee County.” Young’s office “admitted that it may have been a staff member who altered the bill after the vote, but not to finagle it — only to somehow ‘correct’ it.” The congressman defended the earmark last week, saying, “I think it’s the right thing for the state of Florida, and you know, right now, they’re supportive of it.”

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Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 8:26 am

Excellent case for the iPod

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In fact, the case alone makes me want to buy an iPod.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2008 at 8:19 am

Posted in Daily life

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