Later On

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

Archive for July 26th, 2008

Big Oil doesn’t like to pay for its messes

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Exxon/Mobil was successful in getting its Valdez oil spill costs greatly reduced, all part of the Great Game of businesses externalizing their costs, so that the cost is borne by consumers and taxpayers and not by the business, thus increasing profits. And now Chevron is working to avoid paying for its costs. ThinkProgress:

In 1993, a class action lawsuit on behalf of an estimated 30,000 Amazon residents was filed against oil giant Chevron, who had at the time had recently purchased Texaco. The lawsuit alleged that Chevron was responsible for Texaco intentionally dumping “more than 19 billion gallons of toxic wastewaters” and “16.8 million gallons of crude oil” into Ecuador’s environment.

This past spring, a court-appointed expert recommended that “Chevron be required to pay between $8 billion and $16 billion to clean up the rain forest.” Finally having “to disclose the issue to its shareholders,” Chevron has launched “an unusually high-powered battle” to convince the Bush administration to pressure Ecuador to “quash the case.”

Chevron’s lobbying offensive is being led by former senators Trent Lott and John Breaux, along with Wayne Berman, a top fund-raiser for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ):

Chevron is pushing the Bush administration to take the extraordinary step of yanking special trade preferences for Ecuador if the country’s leftist government doesn’t quash the case. A spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab confirmed that her office is considering the request. Attorney Steven Donziger, who is coordinating the D.C. opposition to Chevron, says the firm is “trying to get the country to cry uncle.” He adds: “It’s the crudest form of power politics.”

Chevron’s powerhouse team includes former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, former Democratic senator John Breaux and Wayne Berman, a top fund-raiser for John McCain—all with access to Washington’s top decision makers.

So far, Chevron’s power push has resulted in “a senior Chevron exec” meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte “on the matter.” “One Chevron lobbyist” told Newsweek that the company’s argument to the Bush administration is: “We can’t let little countries screw around with big companies like this—companies that have made big investments around the world.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 4:16 pm

Torture memos sound like mob attorney

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Andrew Tilghman has an excellent post on TPMMuckraker, which begins:

The more we see of the back-and-forth between the Department of Justice and the CIA regarding the torture program a few years ago, the more it becomes clear that everyone knew it was a little shady.

The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday released three previously undisclosed memos about the torture program from 2002 to 2004, which it obtained as part of its ongoing FOIA lawsuit with the DOJ seeking records on the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas.

One memo in particular appears to instruct the CIA in what agents should say if anyone raised the specter of criminal charges. For example: “To violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering. …absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.”

“It read like an attorney preparing a mob client for a confrontation with the police,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “Why on earth would you instruct interrogators on the meaning of ‘specific intent’ unless you wanted to coach them as to what to say when confronted?”

The very existence of this extensive, documented legal exchange between the DOJ and the CIA underscores the intelligence officials’ concern about the legality of their own program, said Herman Schwartz, a former civil rights attorney and law professor at American University.

“The CIA people knew this was shaky stuff — that’s why they kept asking for memos from the Justice Department saying this was OK. They were very scared they would have to face up to this in some way later on,” Schwartz said in a telephone interview.

An August 2002 memo from DOJ came about the same time the attorney general had laid out a definition of torture so narrow as to only involved things like “organ failure.” Specifically, the CIA wanted to know, how does that apply in practice?

Then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee wrote to the CIA: “You have asked for this office’s views on whether certain proposed conduct would violate the prohibition against torture found …[in] United States Code.”

Virtually all of the “proposed conduct” was redacted with large black marks covering whole pages. In fact, more than 80 percent of the 23 pages released to the ACLU were blacked out, apparently concealing the names of agents involved in the program and the specific techniques in question.

The memo spells out a legal logic that rests not on the facts of what may occur during interrogation, but the “defendant’s” state of mind (the defendant being anyone who may actually get charged with torture).

…If a defendant acts with good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent. A defendant acts in good faith when he has an honest belief that his actions will not result in severe pain or suffering.

So, hypothetically, an interrogator gets up in front of a grand jury and tells them he had the “good faith” belief that a few hours of waterboarding was not going to cause “severe pain or suffering.”

What if a jury doesn’t buy it? The memo goes on to say: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

Tagged with ,

Cool living-room furniture.

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Blue Moon Restaurant

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Nice panoramic view of the buffet. (Click and drag your mouse to see it all.) More panoramic views here.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Cass Sunstein

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Paul Rosenberg writes an excellent critical essay on Cass Sunstein, a rotten spot in the Obama  campaign. The essay begins:

On Tuesday, top Obama legal advisor Cass Sunstein appeared on Democracy Now! While it’s not yet certain precisely what position he might occupy in an Obama Administration, he did clear up any doubts about his position in the afterlife, as those familiar with Dante’s Inferno–Canto III, to be precise– immediately realized.  That is where Dante encountered “the melancholy souls of those/Who lived without infamy or praise,” along with the angels who stood neutral between God and Satan.  These are the moral triangulators between Good and Evil, and as Dante found them, they “Were naked, and were stung exceedingly / By gadflies and by hornets that were there.”

Although they are not even within Hell, proper, Virgil tells Dante:

These have no longer any hope of death;
And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envious are of every other fate.

Sunstein is hardly alone, of course.  But, first at Netroots Nation, then in his Democracy Now! debate with Glenn Greenwald, Sunstein has clearly staked out his leadership position in arguing against any sort of moral compass.

In his Democracy Now! appearance, Sunstein revealed three facets of the moral vacuum that lies disturbingly close to the heart of the Obama campaign.  In the segment with Glenn Greenwald, he both defended Obama’s FISA betrayal, and attacked the notion of any accountability for Bush Administration lawlessness.  In a short followup segment on his book, Nudge (discussed by Matt in his diary yesterday here), Sunstein argued for an extreme minimalist approach in dealing with catastrophic market failures such as global warming.

What all three facets share in common is the basic acceptance of the rightwing hegemonic order established under Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Gingrich and Bush II.  Under the rubric of listening to all sides, what is actually happening is that thoroughly discredited rightwing ideas are being accepted as defining the common sense framework inside of which Obama is proposing to make modest gestures in a progressive direction on one or another various issues.  In short, Obama is trying to end the culture wars by surrenduring on the most basic of issues of defining political reality.

Details on each of the three facets …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 11:30 am

Posted in Democrats, Election

Sites for fresh fish

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From The Week:

Trentonbridgelobster.com

Qualityfreshseafood.com

Wildedibles.com

And, from the Left Coast,

Cataline Offshore Products

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 11:24 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Lunatics in the White House

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ThinkProgress:

Last night on PBS, Bill Moyers interviewed investigative journalist Jane Mayer and mentioned that in Mayer’s new book, she notes that FBI agents refused to participate in the CIA’s interrogation of terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay because they determined it to be “borderline torture.” Moyers then asked, “Who were some of the other conservative heroes, as you call them, in your book?”

Mayer remembered one top Justice Department lawyer and “very conservative member of this administration” who said that after participating in White House meetings authorizing torture, he believed that “lunatics had taken over the country.”

Mayer said two other top DOJ lawyers had to develop a system of speaking codes because they feared they were being wiretapped while others described an “atmosphere of intimidation,” mainly from Vice President Dick Cheney:

MAYER: There was such an atmosphere of intimidation. … They felt so endangered in some ways that, at one point, two of the top lawyers from the Justice Department developed this system of talking in codes to each other because they thought they might be being wiretapped…by their own government. They felt like they might be kind of weirdly in physical danger. They were actually scared to stand up to Vice President Cheney.

Watch it:

Mayer later said that “there is a paper trail” documenting U.S. torture policies “that goes right to the top of our govenment” and that Congress “is beginning to” get to the truth and “piece it together.”

Mayer added that the truth to the White House policies is “a humungous jigsaw puzzle” because “there are many, many secrets we still don’t know. There are legal memos that nobody’s ever seen.”

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 10:07 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

Tagged with

Peter Jennings report: How the Food Industry is Deceiving You

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Part 1:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 10:01 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Wordle: Better than most time sinks

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Wordle actually is a lot of fun, and you always have the sense that you’re getting—or going to get—some fine insight. Here’s what I get using this blog (click to enlarge):

Wordle from Later On

Wordle from Later On

And after using the “randomize” function with “horizontal” selected:

Later On randomized horizontally

Later On randomized horizontally

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 9:29 am

Posted in Daily life

ABC News comes out in favor of McCain

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Well, practically. Take a look at this post by Jed Lewison: watch the video and then read his comments. It’s quite clear.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 9:22 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Media

Movie fans: 4 RSS feeds to subscribe to

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 9:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Great jazz series online

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This is really a remarkably good jazz series: NPR’s Jazz Profiles, presented by Nancy Wilson. Definitely one to bookmark.

You can also download the programs as MP3 files, and it occurs to me that the length (just under an hour) make them ideal for an accompanient to a one-hour walk. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 9:03 am

Posted in Jazz, Music

TODAY ONLY: Free utility program WireKeys 3.6.7

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You know the drill: download AND install today to get it free. It looks interesting:

WireKeys is a hotkey-driven system utility that runs in the system tray and provides access to running tasks (with option to kill tasks), favorite programs and more. It also includes additional text clipboards, a BossKey, an automated screen capture tool and an option to quickly minimize all windows.

Advanced users can also run selected text as from command string, write JavaScript macros and record mouse and keystrokes. You can assign hotkeys or mouse gestures for any program, define parameters and actions to take after launch, as well as delay the startup time.

Note, however, that there are more thumbs down on this one than thumbs up. You may want to read through the comments. Also note the registration trick:

Awkward registration process- the default “Register!” link takes you to a web page that expects you to pay for a key. Use the other link at the bottom of the list of options. This takes you to an internal page where you can insert the supplied key, though with difficulty. You have to highlight the box and press a key before you can paste the key from the clipboard. Otherwise you get a dialogue with “insert text from document”, and when you try that you are told you need to register before you can use that feature!

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 9:01 am

Posted in Software

Two books on how we misthink

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Doug Brown has a good review of two books on common errors in thinking:

Our brains like to think they are flawless, unbiased masters of precision, but the reality is sadly not so. We form conclusions and beliefs with little or no reason and then seek evidence which supports the conclusions we’ve already reached. Our brains perceive the world in ways that make ourselves look better than others. Most people think they are above average in intelligence (and we think we’re all better drivers than everyone else, too) which logically cannot be true. Thomas Kida and Cordelia Fine take on the brain with different approaches. Don’t Believe Everything You Think is more about flaws in our ability to reason and recall, whereas A Mind of Its Own leans more toward emotional biases. Thus, the two books complement each other nicely.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think is aimed at helping people to be more skeptical. Kida points out that skeptical doesn’t mean cynical; it simply means analyzing the evidence before making up one’s mind. It sounds simple, but as Kida (and Fine) detail, it runs counter to how our brains want to function. Here are Kida’s six basic mistakes our brains make (this isn’t giving anything away — they are on the cover of the book):

  • We prefer stories to statistics
  • We seek to confirm, not to question our ideas
  • We rarely appreciate the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events
  • We sometimes misperceive the world around us
  • We tend to oversimplify our thinking
  • We have faulty memories

Kida cites many studies to support these notions, and provides many examples of how our brains want to take the easy road. Despite the potential for this being a dry pedagogical book, Don’t Believe Everything You Think is well-organized and written in an easy, lucid style.A Mind of Its Own is a breezier book. By the end of it you know quite a bit about Fine’s home life, her relationship with her husband, and how she feels about writing a book while raising two kids. It creates a nice familiar tone, like having coffee with a friend who knows a lot about brain function. If you are a “just the facts, ma’am” person, you might wish for a bit more data and a bit less anecdote, but Fine also cites many studies in addition to her own stories. Each chapter covers a different fault of the brain, and the chapter names say it all: “The Vain Brain,” “The Emotional Brain,” “The Immoral Brain,” “The Deluded Brain,” “The Secretive Brain,” “The Bigoted Brain,” etc. Fine may seem a pessimist, but, as she put it, the evidence indicates that in many ways our brain, “…has a mind of its own. An adroit manipulator of information, it leaves us staring at a mere facade of reality. Vanity shields us from unpalatable truths about ourselves. Craven methods of moral bookkeeping also attentively serve the principle of self-glorification, often at others’ expense.” Still believe in Intelligent Design?

Many of the same studies are referenced in both books, like of course the Milgram shock experiments and Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment. But the flow and aim of each book is different enough that there isn’t a feeling of repetition. I recommend Don’t Believe Everything You Think first, as it offers more tips on how to process information, and I’m an info sort of person. However, A Mind of Its Own is a perfect chaser, just in case you think that Kida’s book covered all the ways our minds trip us up. Fine details lots of foibles to provide readers with the ability to recognize when our brains are getting ready to deceive us.

I’m a firm believer in the vital importance of searching for disconfirming evidence when you’re trying to establish the truth of a proposition.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 8:55 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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TOBS Avocado

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Taylor of Old Bond Street Avocado shaving cream is my recommendation for a first shaving cream for the newbie: very fine lather and doesn’t seem to trigger an allergic reactions (as, say, TOBS Sandalwood occasionally does). Protective, mild and pleasant fragrance, and all in all a great first shaving cream. I used it this morning with the Sabini ebony-handled brush and got the usual superb lather from it. I picked the Merkur Futur with a previously used Treet Blue Special blade that, during the first pass, seemed to be somewhat past its prime. So I replaced it with a new TBS blade and finished the shave—extremely pleasant and smooth. No oil pass, and topped it off with Floïd Blue Aftershave. A true morning pleasure.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2008 at 8:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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