Later On

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

Archive for July 12th, 2008

No longer able to summon surprise

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It’s George, all the way. From the Daily Telegraph:

George Bush surprised world leaders with a joke about his poor record on the environment as he left the G8 summit in Japan.

The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.”

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

To call him “scum” is to insult scum. He glories in his ignorance, stupidity, and other failings.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 5:32 pm

Relationships: two- and three-part

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This post is worth reading—and I particularly like this quotation:

The chains of marriage are so heavy that it takes two to bear them, and sometimes three. (Alexandre Dumas)

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Daily life

A pleasant afternoon outing

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The Wife and I did a little circle of errands: to Target for her, to Costco for both of use, to Whole Foods, to Sur La Table so she could get her own Veggichop, and then to Safeway for an Rx for me. I’m now sipping a Hendricks Martini (see this post for instructions) and about to watch The Company. At Costco I was able to score a large package of dried mushrooms—a mix, rather than the shiitakes I was hoping for, but still… I picked up a nice piece fish for dinner at Whole Foods and the making of a ratatouille and also the edamame salad/dip. And I discovered two good new blogs: Don’stuff and Airtight Noodle. I particularly like the title of the latter—it immediately made me wonder whether the noodles I have are airtight. They’re pretty good, I know, but airtight?

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Daily life

Interesting book list from Don’stuff

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Let me simply quote the post:

I came across this list. It was interesting, so I thought I’d go through and follow the rules below:

These are the top 106 books most often marked “unread” (or the equivalent) by LibraryThing’s users. The rules are: BOLD the books you have read, italicize the books you started but did not finish (DNF), *STAR* the books you’ve read more than once, underline books that are on your TBR pile, and cross out books that you hated.

Here are my (Leisureguy’s) annotations. You can see the Don’stuff annotations at the link above. UPDATED: Josh suggests I read In Cold Blood soon. (I did see Infamous, a great movie about the writing of the book.) And I underlined a few that are on my to-be-read pile.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
Catch-22
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion [I think I would hate it]
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Ulysses
*Madame Bovary
*The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
*War and Peace

Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
*The Iliad
Emma

The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlesex
Quicksilver
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead

Foucault’s Pendulum
Middlemarch
Frankenstein
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
*The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible: a novel
*1984
Angels & Demons
The Inferno

The Satanic Verses [can’t stand Salman Rushdie]
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
*Oliver Twist
*Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Dune
*The Prince

The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
Cryptonomicon [Got very close to the end, but finally gave up]
Neverwhere
*A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Dubliners
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Beloved
Slaughterhouse-five
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
*Lolita
Persuasion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
*The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Daily life

Ten books to read

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Don’stuff is a blog that likes book lists, and recent lists include a couple of versions of “ten books to read” (actually, ten to read “before you die,” but since post-death reading is rare, just asking people to read them is sufficient, I believe). You’ll see my list in the comment at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

“Null Physics”

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Popular science magazines have been carrying four-color two-page ads (very expensive) for a book on “null physics.” See this thread.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Daily life

Computer beats human experts at poker

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Amazing. Robert Boyd from McClatchy writes:

Human pride took a hit 11 years ago when IBM’s Big Blue computer beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov. Now it’s poker players’ turn to be humiliated by a machine.

A computer system called Polaris outperformed some of the world’s top players last weekend at a human-vs.-machine competition in Las Vegas.

The score was computer 3, humans 2, with one draw.

If you think it should be easier for a computer to win at poker than at the highly intellectual game of chess, think again. The human element makes poker a much more complex challenge.

“Poker is a completely different game,” said computer scientist Michael Bowling, the leader of a Computer Poker Research Group at the University of Alberta, Canada.

“In chess or checkers, you have perfect information. There are no secrets on the board,” Bowling said. “But in poker you don’t know the other person’s cards. The basic computer techniques used in chess can’t help you in poker.”

The poker computer project may have practical applications beyond the card room. For example, Bowling said poker-like skills might be useful in bidding auctions where multiple companies are competing for government contracts or buyers are hunting deals on eBay.

“There is a lot of uncertainty there,” he said. “Should you wait or bid? The same things apply in poker.”

Bowling’s team launched Polaris five years ago as a project in artificial intelligence. At first it did well against amateur players but couldn’t beat professionals. Last year, it narrowly lost a match against two poker pros in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This year, a stronger version of Polaris — one that learns how to adapt to an opponent’s strategy in midgame — triumphed over seven top-ranked humans drawn from the online poker-training site www.stoxpoker.com.

Continue reading. Computers now win at chess, poker, backgammon, …  But not yet at bridge or Go.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 11:29 am

Back to the 55mph speed limit?

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When the “double-nickel” was last mandated, the truckers were loud in their protests. Some truckers created rolling road-blockers, driving side-by-side at 55 mph so no one could pass. But this time the truckers are requesting lower speed limits. The story from McClatchy Washington Bureau by Dave Montgomery begins:

Is the double-nickel speed limit ready for a comeback?

Congress thus far has shown no movement toward resurrecting the 55-mph speed limit, but one of the Senate’s senior members — Republican John Warner of Virginia — says it’s time to start the conversation about an energy-saving national speed limit to help spare Americans from usurious fuel costs.

The 55-mph limit was imposed by federal law during the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, remained in effect for 20 years and ultimately was booted off the roadways by Congress in 1995 amid near-universal contempt among motorists.

Warner hasn’t specified what a new limit should be, but he points out that Americans saved 167,000 barrels of petroleum a day when the 55-mph speed limit was in effect. He told fellow senators this week that he’ll probably proceed with legislation after the Energy Department determines the most fuel-efficient speed limit for the nation’s highways.

“We have to take the lead in Congress, and hopefully the president will join,” Warner said on the Senate floor. “We have that duty.”

Among those joining the call for a national speed limit are truckers, who’ve been hammered by diesel fuel costs expected to reach $135 billion this year, $22 billion more than last year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 11:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

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The phrase “war crimes” hits TV news

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 11:07 am

The McCain adultery

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A tawdry story and an insight into the hero’s character—but resolutely ignored by the protective press, presumably fearing that they won’t get invitations to the next McCain barbecue. Remember what a big deal the press made of Clinton’s indiscretions? Total silence about McCain. (Clinton obviously should have been inviting the press to barbecues.) The Carpetbagger Report on the story begins:

The Los Angeles Times did some solid investigative reporting and published a very damaging item yesterday on John McCain’s personal background, which is of course a key part of his campaign. We learned that McCain turned his back on his wife after she was seriously injured in a car accident, committed adultery, and left the mother of his children when he found a younger, wealthier woman.

Worse, we also learned that McCain didn’t tell the truth about this in his own memoir. McCain insisted that he was separated from his first wife before he began dating his second wife. That’s not true. McCain also insisted he’d been divorced for months before remarrying. That wasn’t true, either. (In fact, the LAT reported, “McCain obtained an Arizona marriage license on March 6, 1980, while still legally married to his first wife.”)

Clearly, this is the kind of salacious story reporters just love. A presidential candidate, running on his personal background, is found to have a messy past. The story has sex, drama, and fairly obvious lies — everything a news outlet needs for wall-to-wall coverage. What does this tell us about McCain’s character? Will voters care about a conservative Republican’s adultery? What will the “family-values” crowd say? How do we reconcile McCain’s untruths with his alleged proclivity for “straight talk”? Will the revelations hurt McCain in the polls? It’s the kind of story the media can obsess over for months.

So, let’s take a moment to step back, and analyze the media frenzy we’ve seen over the last 24 hours, as the political world comes to grips with McCain’s controversial personal life and his willingness to be less than truthful about it:

(picture tumble weeds rolling by)

Nada. Mark Halperin quickly featured the LAT story yesterday morning, but removed it soon after. Campaign reporters didn’t ask McCain about it at all yesterday (ironically, McCain was emphasizing his concern for women yesterday, so it might have been apropos).

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 11:00 am

Posted in Election, GOP

A baseball statistician does political predictions

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Interesting article by Julie Rehmeyer in Science News on how the baseball guy is doing much better than the pollsters—and an amusing account of Mickey Kaus caught yet again shooting himself in the foot.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 10:57 am

Posted in Election

Tagged with

The Statue of Liberty is weeping

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Julia Preston reports in the NY Times:

In 23 years as a certified Spanish interpreter for federal courts, Erik Camayd-Freixas has spoken up in criminal trials many times, but the words he uttered were rarely his own.

Then he was summoned here by court officials to translate in the hearings for nearly 400 illegal immigrant workers arrested in a raid on May 12 at a meatpacking plant. Since then, Mr. Camayd-Freixas, a professor of Spanish at Florida International University, has taken the unusual step of breaking the code of confidentiality among legal interpreters about their work.

In a 14-page essay he circulated among two dozen other interpreters who worked here, Professor Camayd-Freixas wrote that the immigrant defendants whose words he translated, most of them villagers from Guatemala, did not fully understand the criminal charges they were facing or the rights most of them had waived.

In the essay and an interview, Professor Camayd-Freixas said he was taken aback by the rapid pace of the proceedings and the pressure prosecutors brought to bear on the defendants and their lawyers by pressing criminal charges instead of deporting the workers immediately for immigration violations.

He said defense lawyers had little time or privacy to meet with their court-assigned clients in the first hectic days after the raid. Most of the Guatemalans could not read or write, he said. Most did not understand that they were in criminal court.

“The questions they asked showed they did not understand what was going on,” Professor Camayd-Freixas said in the interview. “The great majority were under the impression they were there because of being illegal in the country, not because of Social Security fraud.”

During fast-paced hearings in May, 262 of the illegal immigrants pleaded guilty in one week and were sentenced to prison — most for five months — for knowingly using false Social Security cards or legal residence documents to gain jobs at the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in nearby Postville. It was the largest criminal enforcement operation ever carried out by immigration authorities at a workplace.

The essay has provoked new questions about the Agriprocessors proceedings, which had been criticized by criminal defense and immigration lawyers as failing to uphold the immigrants’ right to due process. Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, said she would hold a hearing on the prosecutions and call Professor Camayd-Freixas as a witness.

“The essay raises questions about whether the charges brought were supported by the facts,” Ms. Lofgren said.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 10:54 am

What has happened to the US?

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From the BBC:

A US air strike in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday killed 47 civilians, 39 of them women and children, an Afghan government investigating team says. Reports at the time said that 20 people were killed in the airstrike in Nangarhar province. The US military said they were militants.

But local people said the dead were wedding party guests. Correspondents say the issue of civilian casualties is hugely sensitive in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has said that no civilian casualty is acceptable.

Mr Karzai set up a nine-man commission to look into Sunday’s incident. The commission is headed by Senate deputy speaker, Burhanullah Shinwari whose constituency is in Nangarhar province. He told the BBC: ”Our investigation found out that 47 civilians (were killed) by the American bombing and nine others injured.

“There are 39 women and children” among those killed, he said. The eight other people who died were “between the ages of 14 and 18”.

A spokeswoman for the US coalition, Lt Rumi Nielson-Green told the AFP news agency that the force was also investigating the incident and regretted any loss of civilian life. “We never target non-combatants. We do go to great length to avoid civilian casualties,” she said.

At the time the US said that those killed were militants involved in previous mortar attacks on a Nato base.

The incident happened in the remote district of Deh Bala, close to the Afghan border.

Mirwais Yasini, deputy speaker for the lower house of parliament, also has his constituency in Nangarhar. ”We are very sad about the killings in Deh Bala. People should be compensated,” he told the BBC. “These operations widen the gap between the people and the government.”

More at the link. It seems obvious that air strikes are not the way to proceed in this war, unless we’re dead set on losing.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 10:50 am

Posted in Military

Tagged with

Wonderful book titles

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Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire. Review by Jackson Street Books. Well worth the click, folks.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 10:44 am

More consequences of Peak Oil

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Sam Dillon reports in the NY Times:

First, Ryan Gibbons bought a Hyundai so he would not have to drive his gas-guzzling Chevy Blazer to college classes here. When fuel prices kept rising, he cut expenses again, eliminating two campus visits a week by enrolling in an online version of one of his courses.

Like Mr. Gibbons, thousands of students nationwide, including many who were previously reluctant to study online, have suddenly decided to take one or more college classes over the Internet.

“Gas prices have pushed people over the edge,” said Georglyn Davidson, director of online learning at Bucks County Community College, where Mr. Gibbons studies, and where online enrollments are up 35 percent this summer over last year.

The vast majority of the nation’s 15 million college students — at least 79 percent — live off campus, and with gas prices above $4 a gallon, many are seeking to cut commuting costs by studying online. Colleges from Massachusetts and Florida to Texas to Oregon have reported significant online enrollment increases for summer sessions, with student numbers in some cases 50 percent or 100 percent higher than last year. Although some four-year institutions with large online programs — like the University of Massachusetts and Villanova — have experienced these increases, the greatest surges have been registered at two-year community colleges, where most students are commuters, many support families and few can absorb large new expenditures for fuel.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 10:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Tagged with

Findings about US torture of suspects

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Glenn Greenwald has a good column today, which begins:

The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer, one of the country’s handful of truly excellent investigative journalists over the last seven years, has written a new book — The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals — which reveals several extraordinary (though unsurprising) facts regarding America’s torture regime. According to the New York Times and Washington Post, both of which received an advanced copy, Mayer’s book reports the following:

  • “Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes.”
  • “A CIA analyst warned the Bush administration in 2002 that up to a third of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay may have been imprisoned by mistake, but White House officials ignored the finding and insisted that all were ‘enemy combatants’ subject to indefinite incarceration.”
  • “[A] top aide to Vice President Cheney shrugged off the report and squashed proposals for a quick review of the detainees’ cases . . .’There will be no review,’ the book quotes Cheney staff director David Addington as saying. ‘The president has determined that they are ALL enemy combatants. We are not going to revisit it.'”
  • “[T]he [CIA] analyst estimated that a full third of the camp’s detainees were there by mistake. When told of those findings, the top military commander at Guantanamo at the time, Major Gen. Michael Dunlavey, not only agreed with the assessment but suggested that an even higher percentage of detentions — up to half — were in error. Later, an academic study by Seton Hall University Law School concluded that 55 percent of detainees had never engaged in hostile acts against the United States, and only 8 percent had any association with al-Qaeda.”
  • [T]he International Committee of the Red Cross declared in the report, given to the C.I.A. last year, that the methods used on Abu Zubaydah, the first major Qaeda figure the United States captured, were ‘categorically’ torture, which is illegal under both American and international law“.
  • “[T]he Red Cross document ‘warned that the abuse constituted war crimes, placing the highest officials in the U.S. government in jeopardy of being prosecuted.'”

This is what a country becomes when it decides that it will not live under the rule of law, when it communicates to its political leaders that they are free to do whatever they want — including breaking our laws — and there will be no consequences. There are two choices and only two choices for every country — live under the rule of law or live under the rule of men. We’ve collectively decided that our most powerful political leaders are not bound by our laws — that when they break the law, there will be no consequences. We’ve thus become a country which lives under the proverbial “rule of men” — that is literally true, with no hyperbole needed — and Mayer’s revelations are nothing more than the inevitable by-product of that choice.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 10:21 am

On-line results of salary surveys

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Very interesting and very useful. The most important way to strengthen your negotiating position, as Roger Fisher and William Ury point out (see this post), is first to know your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (your BATNA)—that is, the best you can get if you walk away from the negotiation—and then to improve that BATNA: the better the BATNA, the more you can comfortably demand. And you won’t be bluffing—bluffing in a truly important situation is unpleasant (and causes that stinky sweat) and risks losing everything.

Knowing the results of salary surveys is thus quite helpful, though a firm offer from another company is even better. Take a look at this list of on-line salary surveys compiled by Matt.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 10:18 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Edamame salad

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The Kitchn brings to my attention recipe 35 in Mark Bittman’s list of 101 20-minute picnic dishes:

35. Steam frozen edamame and chill. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, a pinch of sugar, lots of chopped mint, salt, pepper, and as much shaved pecorino or Parmesan as you like.

The Kitchn used a food processor to turn it into a dip. Check the photos.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 10:03 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Provençal cooking – pissaladière

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This comes via Chris in Paris in Americablog (and there’s more at that link). I bet The Niece will be making this. Also Eldest—or maybe even The Older Grandson.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 9:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

I’m very big in Pakistan

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Remember the Seattle grunge rocker played by Matt Dillon in Singles? Couldn’t make it, but always said, “We’re very big in Belgium.” Well, I’ve now been interviewed (along with a series of other bloggers) by The Pakistani Spectator. Interviews here.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2008 at 9:11 am

Posted in Daily life

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