Later On

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

Archive for June 2008

War on Drugs isn’t working out

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Of course, conservatives will still support it—they really don’t care whether something works or not, so long as it matches their ideology (cf. abstinence education, Intelligent Design, etc.). But given the amount of money the WoD sucks up, rational people should be suggesting that, after 80 years, perhaps we should try a different approach. Here’s recent research:

Despite [Because of? – LG] tough anti-drug laws, a new survey shows the U.S. has the highest level of illegal drug use in the world.

The World Health Organization’s survey of legal and illegal drug use in 17 countries, including the Netherlands and other countries with less stringent drug laws, shows Americans report the highest level of cocaine and marijuana use.

For example, Americans were four times more likely to report using cocaine in their lifetime than the next closest country, New Zealand (16% vs. 4%),

Marijuana use was more widely reported worldwide, and the U.S. also had the highest rate of use at 42.4% compared with 41.9% of New Zealanders.

In contrast, in the Netherlands, which has more liberal drug policies than the U.S., only 1.9% of people reported cocaine use and 19.8% reported marijuana use.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 6:39 pm

“The 11 best foods you’re not eating”

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The list is, however, familiar to those who have read Leisureguy’s Cooking Compendium—only that lists additional foods omitted from the list at the first link. The Compendium includes many clickable links that provide additional information—and the detailed Table of Contents is also hyperlinked to the text. A bargain, if I say so myself.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Examples of parkour

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The first movie in which I saw parkour and recognized it as the sport was District B13 (Banlieue 13), produced by Luc Besson, a gratifyingly entertaining film. The next was the first Daniel Craig James Bond film, Casino Royale. Here’s a nice selection of video snippets from various movies. I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more in American films.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Shiso update

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Just planted my first crop of shiso. Takes me a while to get around to things. But it’s good to start growing my own food.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Ready for war with Iran?

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Andrew Cheetham explains:

A US House of Representatives Resolution effectively requiring a naval blockade on Iran seems fast tracked for passage, gaining co-sponsors at a remarkable speed, but experts say the measures called for in the resolutions amount to an act of war.

H.CON.RES 362 calls on the president to stop all shipments of refined petroleum products from reaching Iran. It also “demands” that the President impose “stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains and cargo entering or departing Iran.”

Analysts say that this would require a US naval blockade in the Strait of Hormuz.

Since its introduction three weeks ago, the resolution has attracted 146 cosponsors. Forty-three members added their names to the bill in the past two days.

In the Senate, a sister resolution S.RES 580 has gained co-sponsors with similar speed. The Senate measure was introduced by Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh on June 2. In little more than a week’s time, it has accrued 19 co-sponsors.

Congressional insiders credit America’s powerful pro-Israel lobby for the rapid endorsement of the bills. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual policy conference June 2-4, in which it sent thousands of members to Capitol Hill to push for tougher measures against Iran. On its website, AIPAC endorses the resolutions as a way to ”Stop Irans Nuclear Proliferation” and tells readers to lobby Congress to pass the bill.

AIPAC has been ramping up the rhetoric against Iran over the last 3 years delivering 9 issue memos to Congress in 2006, 17 in 2007 and in the first five months of 2008 has delivered no less than 11 issue memos to the Congress and Senate predominantly warning of Irans nuclear weapons involvement and support for terrorism.

The Resolutions put forward in the House and the Senate bear a resounding similarity to AIPAC analysis and Issue Memos in both its analysis and proposals even down to its individual components.

Proponents say the resolutions advocate constructive steps toward reducing the threat posed by Iran. “It is my hope that…this Congress will urge this and future administrations to lead the world in economically isolating Iran in real and substantial ways,” said Congressman Mike Pence(R-IN), who is the original cosponsor of the House resolution along with Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Chairman of the sub committee on Middle East and South Asia of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Foreign policy analysts worry that such unilateral sanctions make it harder for the US to win the cooperation of the international community on a more effective multilateral effort. In his online blog, Senior Fellow in the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Ethan Chorin points out that some US allies seek the economic ties to Iran that these resolutions ban. “The Swiss have recently signed an MOU with Iran on gas imports; the Omanis are close to a firm deal (also) on gas imports from Iran; a limited-services joint Iranian-European bank just opened a branch on Kish Island,” he writes.

These resolutions could severely escalate US-Iran tensions, experts say. Recalling the perception of the naval blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the international norms classifying a naval blockade an act of war, critics argue endorsement of these bills would signal US intentions of war with Iran. …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 12:17 pm

The evolution of bacteria

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And the fight against the idea: an entertaining post by John Timmer that begins:

This is a story that starts in triumph, takes a detour through farce, and inadvertently ends raising some profound questions. The triumph is one of scientific progress in the study of evolution; the farce comes courtesy of those who run Conservapedia, who apparently can’t believe that any scientific evidence can possibly support evolution. The questions, however, focus on what access the US public should have to the research that their tax dollars support.

Ars covered the research earlier this month, when a paper reporting it was first published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Richard Lenski and his colleagues have been conducting a long-term experiment in bacterial evolution, one that has encompassed over 30,000 generations of bacteria going back over 20 years. Many of the bacteria have evolved the ability to better utilize the sugar available in their cultures, but one strain underwent at least three distinct changes (at generation 27,000, 31,000 and 33,000) that enabled them to access citrate present in the medium—something their parents were incapable of. Lenski saved samples of every culture at intervals of 500 generations, and his paper suggested his lab was going back and sequencing the genomes of the intermediaries to try to find out the genetic basis for the evolution of this new trait.

Conservapedia meets cognitive dissonance

The denizens of Conservapedia were not amused. They apparently subscribe to the belief that acceptance of some scientific data goes against conservative values.…

Continue reading. I wonder how much overlap one finds in considering evolution deniers and climate-change deniers.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Stingrays migrating

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Check out the amazing photo in this story (and be sure to enlarge it), which begins:

Like autumn leaves floating in a sunlit pond, this vast expanse of magnificent stingrays animates the bright blue seas of the Gulf of Mexico.

Taken off the coast of Mexico’s Holbox Island by amateur photographer Sandra Critelli, this breathtaking picture captures the migration of thousands of rays as they follow the clockwise current from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula to western Florida.

Measuring up to 6ft 6in across, poisonous golden cow-nose rays migrate in groups  –  or ‘fevers’  –  of up to 10,000 as they glide their way silently towards their summer feeding grounds.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 11:19 am

Posted in Daily life

ASUS adding new Eee PC models

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From Gearlog (and photos at the link):

Nothing too official here, but DigiTimes reports that ASUS is readying two more additions to its ever-expanding line of low-cost Eee PC notebooks. The proposed 904 and 905 models will be something of a hybrid of older editions, combining an 8.9-inch screen with the chassis and keyboard from 10.2-inch models.

According to ASUS vendors quoted by the site, the 904 and 905 will use Atom processors and will be priced similarly to the Eee 900 and 901. ASUS has yet to decide whether or not prices will come down on those models after the 904 and 905 are introduced.

We asked out lead laptop analyst, Cisco Cheng, to weigh in on these proposed new models. …

“An 8.9-inch screen is the ideal form factor for these UMPCs,” says Cisco. “If you take a look at the MSI Wind, the HP 2133 Mini-Note PC, and Dell’s forthcoming Mini Inspiron, they all have close-to-full-size keyboards.

“The eeePC 900 has already moved to an 8.9-inch screen (from 7-inches) and the eeePC 901 has moved to the Intel Atom platform (from the previous Celeron Ms). The missing ingredient is that bigger keyboard. Doing this, however, will piss off many who have already bought eeePCs, but Asus has to do this to stay atop of the competition.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 11:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Electric scooters

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Tree Hugger has a round-up of what, they say, are the best electric scooters (including some that are prototypes). Take a look. Oil will be at $170/barrel (at least) before the end of the summer.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 11:09 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Protect yourself from pencil germs!

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You all know how germ-infested pencils are. Protect yourself and your family now!! (This post is especially for Steve, who understands the dangers of germs from common objects.) 🙂 Via Pencil Talk.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 10:54 am

Posted in Daily life

White House blocks EPA

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As noted in the previous post, the White House hates the EPA—and, by extension, the environment it’s pledged to protect. Ian Talley and Siobhan Hughes report in the Wall Street Journal:

The White House is trying to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from publishing a document that could become the legal roadmap for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S., said people close to the matter.

The fight over the document is the latest development in a long-running conflict between the EPA and the White House over climate-change policy. It will likely intensify ongoing Congressional investigations into the Bush administration’s involvement in the agency’s policymaking.

The draft document, which has been viewed by The Wall Street Journal, outlines how the government, under the Clean Air Act, could regulate greenhouse-gas emissions …

Remainder of article is behind a subscription wall, but the complete article can be read here. It continues:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 10:46 am

The military and the EPA

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The Pentagon is refusing to clean up the sites they polluted. They are (they think) above the law. The report, by Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post, begins:

The Defense Department, the nation’s biggest polluter, is resisting orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up Fort Meade and two other military bases where the EPA says dumped chemicals pose “imminent and substantial” dangers to public health and the environment.

The Pentagon has also declined to sign agreements required by law that cover 12 other military sites on the Superfund list of the most polluted places in the country. The contracts would spell out a remediation plan, set schedules, and allow the EPA to oversee the work and assess penalties if milestones are missed.

The actions are part of a standoff between the Pentagon and environmental regulators that has been building during the Bush administration, leaving the EPA in a legal limbo as it addresses growing concerns about contaminants on military bases that are seeping into drinking water aquifers and soil.

Under executive branch policy, the EPA will not sue the Pentagon, as it would a private polluter. Although the law gives final say to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson in cleanup disputes with other federal agencies, the Pentagon refuses to recognize that provision. Military officials wrote to the Justice Department last month to challenge EPA’s authority to issue the orders and asked the Office of Management and Budget to intervene.

Experts in environmental law said the Pentagon’s stand is unprecedented. …

Continue reading. Some in the Pentagon need to go to jail. It is, of course, obvious that Bush could stop this nonsense with an order. But Bush won’t do it: he hates the EPA as well, and won’t even open emails from them.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 10:41 am

Oops—religious right and auto-replace

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Very funny story at the Carpetbagger Report. Search-and-replace betrayed the religious right.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 10:14 am

Posted in Daily life

Bush administration forced oil deals

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Why would a poor country, racked by war and needing to rebuild, NOT rely on competitive bids to get the most from its one valuable resource, oil? Answer: the State Department made sure that the country awarded no-bid contracts to the big American oil companies. This makes me want to know all the more what went on in those secret energy sessions the oil companies had with Cheney. Were the oil companies pushing for an Iraq takeover? Were they offered the Iraqi oil fields after the US took over Iraq? We won’t know for a while, but it seems likely, especially since Cheney makes his money from Halliburton.

Here’s the story, by Andrew Kramer in the NY Times. It begins:

A group of American advisers led by a small State Department team played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq, American officials say.

The disclosure, coming on the eve of the contracts’ announcement, is the first confirmation of direct involvement by the Bush administration in deals to open Iraq’s oil to commercial development and is likely to stoke criticism.

In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts, advisers and a senior State Department official said.

It is unclear how much influence their work had on the ministry’s decisions.

The advisers — who, along with the diplomatic official, spoke on condition of anonymity — say that their involvement was only to help an understaffed Iraqi ministry with technical and legal details of the contracts and that they in no way helped choose which companies got the deals.

Repeated calls to the Oil Ministry’s press office for comment were not returned.

At a time of spiraling oil prices, the no-bid contracts, in a country with some of the world’s largest untapped fields and potential for vast profits, are a rare prize to the industry. The contracts are expected to be awarded Monday to Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Total and Chevron, as well as to several smaller oil companies.

The deals have been criticized by opponents of the Iraq war, who accuse the Bush administration of working behind the scenes to ensure Western access to Iraqi oil fields even as most other oil-exporting countries have been sharply limiting the roles of international oil companies in development. …

Continue reading.

UPDATE: From Andrew Tilghman’s report on this story in TPMMuckraker:

Near the end of the story, the Times reports:

Advisers from the State, Commerce, Energy and Interior Departments are assigned to work with the Iraqi Oil Ministry, according to the senior diplomat. In addition, the United States Agency for International Development has a contract for Management Systems International, a Washington consulting firm, to advise the oil and other ministries. The agency’s program is called Tatweer, the Arabic word for development.

A Washington consulting firm? Actually, Management Systems International is a subsidiary of a massive Australian company, Coffey International Ltd. focusing on mining, oil and gas infrastructure projects.And guess who some of their clients are? Global oil companies including Cheveron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP.

So the company that touts big oil as clients is helping the Iraqi government negotiate with those companies — and getting paid by the U.S. government to do so.

But USAID and the consulting firm they hired don’t call that a conflict of interest, the call it “mentoring.”

“The legal department of the Ministry of Oil passed us a draft of the contract,” Samir Abid, a Canadian of Iraqi origin who is an employee of the Tatweer program, said in a telephone interview. “They passed it to us and asked for our comments because we were mentoring them.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 10:12 am

Bush’s incompetence knows no bounds

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The man would mess up a free lunch. Latest painful example in a NY Times story by Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde, which begins:

Late last year, top Bush administration officials decided to take a step they had long resisted. They drafted a secret plan to make it easer for the Pentagon’s Special Operations forces to launch missions into the snow-capped mountains of Pakistan to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda.

Intelligence reports for more than a year had been streaming in about Osama bin Laden’s terrorism network rebuilding in the Pakistani tribal areas, a problem that had been exacerbated by years of missteps in Washington and the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, sharp policy disagreements, and turf battles between American counterterrorism agencies.

The new plan, outlined in a highly classified Pentagon order, was intended to eliminate some of those battles. And it was meant to pave a smoother path into the tribal areas for American commandos, who for years have bristled at what they see as Washington’s risk-averse attitude toward Special Operations missions inside Pakistan. They also argue that catching Mr. bin Laden will come only by capturing some of his senior lieutenants alive.

But more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light. The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was “mounting frustration” in the Pentagon at the continued delay.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 10:03 am

Israelis assault journalist

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Grim. Read the story here.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 9:58 am

The Trifid Nebula

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A most striking photo. “Trifid” means “divided into three lobes”; it’s not a reference to Triffids, the antagonists of John Wyndham’s 1951 novel Day of the Triffids.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 9:57 am

Posted in Science

The Tunguska Mystery

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What caused that great Siberian blast 100 years ago has been vigorously disputed—candidates range from a tiny black hole to an airburst of a meteor (the latter idea currently favored). Luca Gasperini, Enrico Bonatti, and Giuseppe Longo have an article on the event in the Scientific American. It begins:

June 30, 1908, 7:14 a.m., central Siberia—Semen Semenov, a local farmer, saw “the sky split in two. Fire appeared high and wide over the forest…. From … where the fire was, came strong heat…. Then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few yards…. After that such noise came, as if . . . cannons were firing, the earth shook …”

Such is the harrowing testimony of one of the closest eyewitnesses to what scientists call the Tunguska event, the largest impact of a cosmic body to occur on the earth during modern human history. Semenov experienced a raging conflagration some 65 kilometers (40 miles) from ground zero, but the effects of the blast rippled out far into northern Europe and Central Asia as well. Some people saw massive, silvery clouds and brilliant, colored sunsets on the horizon, whereas others witnessed luminescent skies at night—Londoners, for instance, could plainly read newsprint at midnight without artificial lights. Geophysical observatories placed the source of the anomalous seismic and pressure waves they had recorded in a remote section of Siberia. The epicenter lay close to the river Podkamennaya Tunguska, an uninhabited area of swampy taiga forest that stays frozen for eight or nine months of the year.

Ever since the Tunguska event, scientists and lay enthusiasts alike have wondered what caused it. Although most observers generally accept that some kind of cosmic body, either an asteroid or a comet, exploded in the sky above Siberia, no one has yet found fragments of the object or any impact craters in the affected region. The mystery remains unsolved, but our research team, only the latest of a steady stream of investigators who have scoured the area, may be closing in on a discovery that will change our understanding of what happened that fateful morning.

The study of the Tunguska event is important because past collisions with extraterrestrial bodies have had major effects on the evolution of the earth. Some 4.4 billion years ago, for example, a Mars-size planetoid seems to have struck our young planet, throwing out enough debris to create our moon. And a large impact may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Even today cosmic impacts are evident. In July 1994 several astronomical observatories recorded the spectacular crash of a comet on Jupiter. And only last September, Peruvian villagers watched in awe and fright as a heavenly object streaked across the sky and landed not too far away with a loud boom, leaving a gaping pit 4.5 meters deep and 13 meters wide.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 9:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The wildfires

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The wildfires raging around Monterey, to the south (Big Sur) and the north (up towards San Jose and beyond) haven’t affected us locally except that the light is very peculiar: a kind of golden presence. And there’s haze, so that it’s occasionally difficult to see across the Bay. But the prevailing winds are from the ocean, and this keeps the air relatively clear. The Wife, in driving up to Palo Alto, has found visibility much reduced.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 9:28 am

Posted in Daily life

QED Bergamot shave stick

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Monday, so a shave stick for the two-day stubble. I picked the QED Bergamot for the pleasant lemon fragrance, and got a wonderful lather with the Rooney Style 2 Finest. I now recommend a shave stick for the beginning traditional shaver: it’s the easiest way to get a good lather from a shaving soap.

I picked the Merkur Progress from the rack, with its Black Beauty of a few uses. Still a very nice and smooth shave, removing the thicket of stubble with no drag or problem. Three passes and then a polishing pass with my own mix of oils. A nice finish with St. Johns Bay Rum from the West Indies.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2008 at 8:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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