Later On

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

Archive for July 1st, 2008

The 10 most awesomely bad moments of the Bush presidency

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Go read.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 2:50 pm

“Tobacco bill is a scam”

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As you expected:

The American Association of Public Health Physicians (AAPHP) has published an updated analysis of H.R. 1108, the massive bill currently under consideration by Congress that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products. AAPHP concludes that “This bill is a scam. It gives the image, but not the substance of effective federal regulation of the tobacco industry. If passed in anything close to its current form … it will assure continuing high levels of cigarette-related illness and death for years to come. The principle benefactor will be the Altria/Philip Morris Company (PM). This bill will assure their continuing dominance of the domestic cigarette market and continuing high levels of sales and profits.” The bill would make it illegal to add flavors to cigarettes like fruit and spice, but specifically exempts menthol, a flavoring used disproportionately by African-Americans, who also suffer higher rates of tobacco-related illness. A coalition of health groups, including the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, reiterated their support for the bill without changes to the menthol provisions. AAPHP denounced the menthol exemption in the bill as “institutional racism.”

Source: American Association of Public Health Physicians, Updated Analysis of S.625/HR1108, June 19, 2008

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 12:38 pm

Important article on oil and the global economy

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As you know, I believe that we have passed Hubbert’s Peak and will soon see oil production begin its irreversible decline as demand continues to increase. (The peak refers to production, not to total reserves—the peak is typically hit when as much oil is in reserves as has been taken out, but the oil left in the ground becomes progressively more difficult to extract and to refine.) New Scientist has a compelling article on the likely effects of oil scarcity. I’ll give the beginning, but to read the whole thing, you need to subscribe, which I recommend ($39 for online only, $69 for print and online both). The article, “Oil: The Final Warning,” is by Ian Sample and begins:

Howls of protest have been echoing round the globe as the price of oil punches through record highs with every passing week. In the UK, last month, hundreds of truckers descended on London to demand that planned fuel tax rises be scrapped. In continental Europe, where police clashed violently with truckers, two people died during the protests. Fishermen and farmers blockaded ports and depots in protest against the rocketing cost of diesel. Similar scenes played out across South America and Asia.

In the US, the world’s thirstiest oil consumer, gasoline reached an all-time high of $4 per gallon, forcing the administration to lean on domestic producers and consider suing foreign oil exporters for allegedly rigging the market. When President Bush implored Saudi Arabia, which controls the lion’s share of the world’s proven reserves, to pump more from its wells, the Saudis came up with only a token increase.

The situation is not about to improve. Bankers Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have both suggested that the crude oil price could rise from the high of $139 a barrel (as New Scientist went to press) to $200 or more, while the financial speculator George Soros predicts that rising oil prices could send the US economy into recession.

Expensive fuel at the pumps is just the start. These battles over the price of oil could be the harbinger of something even scarier. There is a growing realisation that we are teetering on the edge of an economic catastrophe which could be triggered next time there is a glitch in the world’s oil supply.

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 12:30 pm

Fructose and obesity

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Linda Geddes writes in New Scientist:

… Overweight adults who consume large amounts of fructose have been found to experience alarming changes in body fat and insulin sensitivity that do not occur after eating glucose.

Pure fructose is found in fresh fruit, fruit juice and preserves. But much of it sneaks into our diets though high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in soft drinks – which gets broken down into 55 per cent fructose and 45 per cent glucose in the body – or via sucrose (ordinary sugar), which is broken down into the same two sugars.

Fears that fructose and HFCS are fuelling the obesity epidemic and triggering insulin resistance and diabetes have been circulating for years (New Scientist, 1 September 2001, p 26), but there have been few direct investigations in humans.

So Peter Havel at the University of California, Davis, persuaded 33 overweight and obese adults to go on a diet that was 30 per cent fat, 55 per cent complex carbohydrates and 15 per cent protein for two weeks. For a further 10 weeks, they switched to a diet in which 25 per cent of their energy came from either fructose or glucose.

In those given fructose there was an increase in the amount of intra-abdominal fat, which wraps around internal organs, causes a pot belly and has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This did not happen with the group who consumed glucose instead, even though both gained an average 1.5 kilograms in weight.

Those who consumed fructose also had raised levels of fatty triglycerides, which get deposited as intra-abdominal fat, and cholesterol. Their insulin sensitivity also fell by 20 per cent. Glucose appeared to have no effect on these measures. Havel presented the results at a meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Francisco last week.

Because Havel’s test looked only at pure fructose, not HFCS or sucrose, it is not yet clear whether these substances are to blame for obesity and diabetes. “The question is, what is the amount of HFCS or normal sugar you need to consume to get these effects?” says Havel, who is planning a long-term study to find out. But he says it’s not too soon for people with metabolic syndrome – the blend of conditions including belly fat and insulin resistance that raise the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease – to avoid drinking too many fructose-containing beverages…

Full article at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Omega-3 even more important for girls than boys

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From New Scientist, a report by Nora Schultz:

Parents of daughters, listen up. Eating enough omega-3 fatty acids is twice as important for boosting the brainpower of girls as it is for boys.

Several studies have upheld the link between intelligence and higher consumption of omega-3 fats, especially those found in fatty fishes such as salmon. William Lassek at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and Steve Gaulin at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wondered whether this effect might be even stronger in girls because women not only use omega-3 fats to build their brains, they also store them on their hips and thighs in preparation for nurturing the brains of their future babies. “The lower body fat is like a bank into which deposits are made during childhood and only withdrawn during pregnancy and nursing,” says Lassek.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the US, the pair compared consumption of the …

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Futureme.org

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Just wrote my monthly letter to the future me—looking back on June 2008, to be mailed to me 1 July 2009. Soon I’ll start receiving the letters and then can delete the reminder: the letter itself will be a reminder to write the next.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

Webb’s GI Bill

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From Froomkin again:

When Keith Olbermann asked Webb on MSNBC last night if he was bothered by how Bush took and gave credit, Webb replied: “I think it’s safe to say there was a good deal of cooperation among Republicans and Democrats — it just didn’t include the administration.”

Olbermann: “Did either the president or Sen. McCain ever really get on board with this? . . . ”

Webb: “No, neither of them really did get on board.”

Steve Benen blogs: “Bush praised five senators this morning for their leadership. One (McCain) fought against the bill and then didn’t bother to vote on it. Two (Graham and Burr) fought against the bill and voted against it. Chuck Hagel was an original sponsor of the bill, the president ignored him altogether.

Bush still doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 11:46 am

Condi Rice’s failure as National Security Advisor

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It’s pretty clear. From Dan Froomkin today:

Michael R. Gordon writes in the New York Times: “The RAND Corporation issued a long-delayed report on Monday on problems in planning for postwar Iraq.

“The 273-page study, which was prepared for the United States Army, chronicles a wide range of factors that hampered the American effort to stabilize Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.”

In February, Gordon reported that the study had been completed in 2005, but that its “wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key. . . .

“The study chided President Bush — and by implication Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as national security adviser when the war was planned — as having failed to resolve differences among rival agencies. ‘Throughout the planning process, tensions between the Defense Department and the State Department were never mediated by the president or his staff,’ it said.”

I read that section of the report — and interestingly enough, I couldn’t find that particular phrase in the released version. Instead, here’s what the report has to say:

“The dominance of a single set of assumptions about postwar Iraq suggests the absence of a robust interagency coordination process. Several U.S. government organizations . . . conducted separate studies of postwar possibilities. Looking back, some of these studies appear to have been reasonably prescient. The problem, therefore, was not that the U.S. government failed to plan for the postwar period. Instead, it was the failure to effectively coordinate and integrate these various planning efforts.

“Those functions normally fall to the National Security Council staff, which has overall responsibility for coordinating U.S. foreign and defense policies. . . .

“If the NSC staff failed to consider alternative scenarios that might pose differing requirements, neither did it provide strategic guidance on various aspects of U.S. policy during the postwar period. Repeated requests for policy guidance . . . went unanswered, leaving each agency to make its own assumptions about key aspects of the postwar period. Key questions, such as whether the U.S. postwar authority would be military or civilian in nature, went unanswered throughout the planning process. When the NSC finally did issue strategic guidance in late March 2003 . . . the war was already under way. . . .

“Above all, the NSC seems not to have mediated the persistent disagreement between the Defense Department and the State Department that existed throughout the planning process. Secretary of State Powell influenced a few key diplomatic decisions . . . but the Defense Department controlled most planning decisions.

“Richard Haass, then the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, later stated that he realized the decision to confront Iraq had already been made in July 2002, despite continuing opposition from State. . . .

“The biggest failure of both military planning and the interagency process was the failure to assign responsibility and resources for providing security in the immediate aftermath of the war. . . .

“The failure is all the more glaring for the presence of countering advice available to planners.”

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 11:43 am

How to break through writer’s block

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Last month I suggested that you start to ready yourself for NaNoMo (National Novel-Writing Month) by getting and learning some useful word processors specifically oriented to novel writing and to begin to develop character profiles and plot notes. (You’re welcome to write all you want about your novel and its characters, scenes, setting, etc., so long as you use NONE of that specific text in the novel itself—all the writing of the novel itself must occur in the time period 1-30 November. Preparation is the key, I believe.)

So you’ve been plugging away. But you might experience some blockage. I thought that these ideas and tactics might come in handy during NaNoMo, and even now as you prepare yourself by developing characters, plot, setting, theme, and so on.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 11:15 am

Posted in Writing

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The CIA and torture

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Milt Bearden, who formerly worked for the CIA, writes a compelling report in the Washington Independent today. It begins:

Over the last several months, there has been a gradual, but unrelenting, outing of the highest level U.S. government involvement in the sordid business of torture. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden admitted, in his February testimony before Congress, that the Central Intelligence Agency used a technique known as waterboarding on three high-profile Al Qaeda detainees. He also said the CIA had not used the technique in five years — though the administration seems to be asserting that the agency can use it, when necessary.

President George W. Bush told ABC News in April, “I’m aware our national-security team met on this issue. And I approved.” The president was referring to reports that the National Security Council’s “principals committee” — the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, the head of the NSC and the CIA director — discussed and approved the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking with Google employees in Mountain View, Calif., in May, said, “after Sept. 11, whatever was legal in the face of not just the attacks of Sept. 11, but the anthrax attacks that happened, we were in an environment in which saving America from the next attack was paramount.” She added, “there has been a long evolution in American policy about detainees and about interrogations…we now have in place a law that was not there in 2002 and 2003.”

In just the last few weeks, a parade of White House, Defense Dept. and CIA lawyers have squirmed before hostile Congressional committees, giving testimony eerie in its clinical treatment of what most of the world thinks is torture. The hearings produced countless stunning quotes, but one attributed to a CIA lawyer stands out: “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:58 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP

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Second Sight

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I just finished the 7th (and, at the time, thought to be the last) book in the Paul Christopher series by Charles McCarry—and it was fully satisfying. The series, in reading order:

  1. The Miernik Dossier (1973)
  2. The Secret Lovers (1977)
  3. The Tears of Autumn (1974)
  4. The Better Angels (1979) (Christopher family)
  5. The Last Supper (1983)
  6. The Bride of the Wilderness (1988 ) (historical novel concerning the Christopher family)
  7. Second Sight (1991)
  8. Shelley’s Heart (1995) (Christopher family)
  9. Old Boys (2004)
  10. Christopher’s Ghosts (2007)

I skipped The Bride of the Wilderness for the time being—I’m more interested in the modern-day accounts that reflect McCarry’s knowledge of the CIA from his work there. Only three left, and it sounds as though Paul Christopher himself may be less of a factor. (He was a Marine in WWII so is getting up in years.)

Great stuff if you like cerebral and stylish espionage thrillers. On the dust jacket of Second Sight one finds encomiums from Richard Condon, John Gardner, Richard Helms, James Webb, and George V. Higgins. Quite a fan club, don’t you agree?

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:52 am

Posted in Books

The US Army’s own assessment of the Iraq War

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An interesting report by Andrew Clark, published in the Guardian. It begins:

The US army has told of errors, poor planning and complacency among its own top commanders in a warts-and-all official history of the steep descent into violence that followed the Iraq war.

In a 696-page account, army historians fault military and political leaders for focusing excessively on toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003 without looking towards a broader transition towards a stable society. Actions by the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the top US commander during the Iraq invasion, Tommy Franks, are singled out in the study, which was delayed for six months to allow senior army figures to review drafts.

“The transition to a new campaign was not well thought out, planned for and prepared for before it began,” says the history, On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign, published by an internal army thinktank called the contemporary operations study team. “The assumptions about the nature of the post-Saddam Iraq on which the transition was planned proved to be largely incorrect.”

It says Franks took senior colleagues by surprise by moving to a slimmed-down, short-staffed headquarters shortly after the invasion of Iraq was complete. He told his officers to be ready to cut back on forces in preparation for “an abbreviated period of stability operations”.

The study describes defence chiefs in Washington as ambivalent from the start about a “ponderous, troop-heavy, logistics intensive and costly” ongoing campaign to restore stability. “The [department of defence] did commit resources to the planning of post-invasion operations,” it says. “In retrospect, however, the overall effort appears to have been disjointed and, at times, poorly coordinated, perhaps reflecting the department’s ambivalence towards nation-building.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:45 am

101 things to do when you’re bored

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:17 am

Posted in Daily life

Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:16 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Russ Feingold on the FISA bill

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Via Glenn Greenwald:

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:15 am

When wishful thinking is not enough

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Good post by Michael O’Hare on how buildings came to be constructed on flood plains. Well worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Enduring spiritual effects of hallucinogens

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Interesting (and see also this comment by Mark Kleiman):

In a follow-up to research showing that psilocybin, a substance contained in “sacred mushrooms,” produces substantial spiritual effects, a Johns Hopkins team reports that those beneficial effects appear to last more than a year.

Writing in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the Johns Hopkins researchers note that most of the 36 volunteer subjects given psilocybin, under controlled conditions in a Hopkins study published in 2006, continued to say 14 months later that the experience increased their sense of well-being or life satisfaction.

“Most of the volunteers looked back on their experience up to 14 months later and rated it as the most, or one of the five most, personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives,” says lead investigator Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., a professor in the Johns Hopkins departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Neuroscience.

In a related paper, also published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers offer recommendations for conducting this type of research.

The guidelines caution against giving hallucinogens to people at risk for psychosis or certain other serious mental disorders. Detailed guidance is also provided for preparing participants and providing psychological support during and after the hallucinogen experience. These “best practices” contribute both to safety and to the standardization called for in human research.

“With appropriately screened and prepared individuals, under supportive conditions and with adequate supervision, hallucinogens can be given with a level of safety that compares favorably with many human research and medical procedures,” says that paper’s lead author, Mathew W. Johnson, Ph.D., a psychopharmacologist and instructor in the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 10:09 am

Indefinite detention

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Marty Lederman has an interesting post at Balkanization under the heading “Can the President Indefinitely Detain Someone Who Has No Connection to Al Qaeda and Who Has Not Engaged in Any Belligerent Acts Against the U.S.?” Definitely worth reading. It begins:

Last week, an ideologically diverse panel (Judges Sentelle, Garland and Griffith) of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Bush Administration had not established a sufficient foundation for its indefinite military detention of Huzaifa Parhat, who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for more than six years. Much of the evidence that the court considered is classified, and therefore the court decided that it would publicly release only a redacted version of its opinion. The court released that redacted version today.

Even in its redacted form, this extraordinarily careful and detailed opinion, authored by Judge Garland and joined in full by both of his more conservative colleagues, offers a stark depiction of the most significant problems with the Bush Administration’s detention policy—namely, that the military has relied upon a breathtakingly broad standard of who can be detained, and then has made particular detention decisions based on very speculative and thin evidence, even under that broad standard. The detention policy in practice, in other words, has been much more indiscriminate than any authority Congress afforded the President in the conflict against al Qaeda.

Within a week after the attacks of September 11th, Congress authorized the President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

The Administration argues that this Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) authorizes the indefinite detention of Parhat, and several similarly situated detainees, at Guantanamo.

Now, it is undisputed that Parhat had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. Indeed, there is no contention that Parhat has ever participated in, or planned, or even supported, any hostile action against the United States or its allies. It is also undisputed that Parhat is not part of any nation or organization that “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” those attacks. In particular, it is undisputed that he is not a member of al Qaeda or of the Taliban. Indeed, the Pentagon’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) did not even find him to be “an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaida forces.” And the CSRT expressly found that he did not engage in hostilities against the United States or the Northern Alliance (an Afghani coalition partner of the United States).

So, who is Parhat, then, and what did he do to warrant indefinite detention at GTMO?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 9:50 am

“Voluntary standards” for industry

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All industries are quick to proffer “voluntary standards” in lieu of actual laws regulating their business and correcting abuses. These voluntary standards do not work, as is well known—the industries observe such standards briefly, and then resume normal operations. Here’s an example:

A BBC investigation has found British American Tobacco (BAT) violating its own voluntary international marketing standards in Nigeria, Malawi and Mauritius, using marketing tactics that appeal to youth and circumvent advertising restrictions. BBC found BAT promotes and sells single cigarettes in these countries, a marketing strategy that appeals to youth, who often can’t afford to buy an entire pack. BAT also sponsored musical events that had no formal age checks at the door. Celebrities at these events wore clothing bearing logos of cigarette brands. In Mauritius, where cigarette advertising was banned in 1999, BAT paid to paint retail stores the same color as their leading brand, Matinee. In Malawi and Nigeria, posters were seen depicting single cigarettes and pricing cigarettes individually. BBC observed children as young as eleven buying single cigarettes. BAT’s Web site says the company’s voluntary marketing standards “embody … our commitment to marketing appropriately and only to adult smokers.” They promise their tobacco advertising will not “be aimed at, or particularly appeal to youth,” will “not feature a celebrity,” and that the company will engage in “no event sponsorship unless the participants and audience are adults.” Previously-secret tobacco industry documents show that BAT adopted voluntary marketing standards as a way to “demonstrate responsibility” while staving off stricter government regulation of their products.

Source: BBC News, Africa, June 28, 2008

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 9:43 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Quashing dissent on torture

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From ThinkProgress:

In 2002, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “was considering the approval of three categories of interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo,” military officials raised “serious concerns regarding the legality” of the techniques in a series of memos. As a result, Rear Adm. Jane Dalton, the legal counsel to then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, “began a fresh evaluation of the legality of the interrogation tactics.” But she was soon ordered by Myers to stop the legal review:

But such an analysis threatened to undermine Rumsfeld’s agenda — and that’s when Myers stepped in. Dalton testified that Myers ordered her to stop that review because of a request from Pentagon general counsel William Haynes. Haynes was spearheading Rumsfeld’s efforts to set up a harsh-interrogation program at the Pentagon. “The best of my recollection as to how this occurred is that the chairman called me aside and indicated to me that Mr. Haynes did not want this broad-based review to take place,” Dalton testified. “When I learned that Mr. Haynes did not want that broad-based legal and policy review to take place, then I stood down from the plans.”

Dalton told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month that Myers was “aware” of the concerns about the techniques’ legality when he quashed the review.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2008 at 9:41 am

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