Later On

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

Archive for July 27th, 2008

Lifehacker’s favorite hardware and software

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

TV’s baleful influence

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Thanks to Liz for pointing out Dahlia Lithwick’s article in Slate, which begins:

The most influential legal thinker in the development of modern American interrogation policy is not a behavioral psychologist, international lawyer, or counterinsurgency expert. Reading both Jane Mayer’s stunning The Dark Side and Philippe Sands’ The Torture Team, I quickly realized that the prime mover of American interrogation doctrine is none other than the star of Fox television’s 24: Jack Bauer.

This fictional counterterrorism agent—a man never at a loss for something to do with an electrode—has his fingerprints all over U.S. interrogation policy. As Sands and Mayer tell it, the lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited Bauer more frequently than the Constitution.

According to British lawyer and writer Philippe Sands, Jack Bauer—played by Kiefer Sutherland—was an inspiration at early “brainstorming meetings” of military officials at Guantanamo in September of 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial new interrogation techniques including water-boarding, sexual humiliation, and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer “gave people lots of ideas.” Michael Chertoff, the homeland-security chief, once gushed in a panel discussion on 24 organized by the Heritage Foundation that the show “reflects real life.”

John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who produced the so-called torture memos—simultaneously redefining both the laws of torture and logic—cites Bauer in his book War by Other Means. “What if, as the popular Fox television program ’24’ recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?” Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Canada last summer, shows a gift for this casual toggling between television and the Constitution. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Scalia said. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?”

There are many reasons that matriculation from the Jack Bauer School of Law would have encouraged even the most cautious legal thinkers to bend and eventually break the longstanding rules against torture. U.S. interrogators rarely if ever encounter a “ticking time bomb,” someone with detailed information about an imminent terror plot. But according to the Parents’ Television Council (one of several advocacy groups to have declared war on 24), Jack Bauer encounters a “ticking time-bomb” an average of 12 times per season. Given that each season allegedly represents a 24-hour period, Bauer encounters someone who needs torturing 12 times each day! Experienced interrogators know that information extracted through torture is rarely reliable. But Jack Bauer’s torture not only elicits the truth, it does so before commercial. He is a human polygraph who has a way with flesh-eating chemicals.

It’s no wonder high-ranking lawyers in the Bush administration erected an entire torture policy around the fictional edifice of Jack Bauer. He’s a hero. Men want to be him, and women want to be there to hand him the electrical cord. John Yoo wanted to change American torture law to accommodate him, and Justice Scalia wants to immunize him from prosecution. The problem is not just that they all saw themselves in Jack Bauer. The problem was their failure to see …

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

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Where the Wild Things Were

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An intriguing cautionary book:

It wasn’t so long ago that wolves and great cats, monstrous fish and flying raptors ruled the peak of nature’s food pyramid. Not so anymore. All but exterminated, these predators of the not-too-distant past have been reduced to minor players of the modern era.

‘So what?’ asks wildlife journalist Will Stolzenburg, who follows in the wake of nature’s topmost carnivores, and finds in their absence a world of chaos. As the great predators go missing, an emerging cadre of concerned scientists is uncovering trouble in the biosphere at large.

From obscure jungles of Venezuela to stormy North Pacific coasts, hallowed vistas of Yellowstone to the back yards of suburban America, Stolzenburg traverses aberrant empires of pest and plague, a new world order of murderous deer and rogue raccoons, pathological monkeys and exploding urchins. Here is a startling tour through dying forests and barren seascapes, through nightmarish landscapes starving for those missing masters of the hunt. For anyone who has seldom given thought to the meat-eating beasts so recently lacking from the web of life, here is a world of reason to think again.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 11:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Environment, Science

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Harriet Miers’s Contempt of Congress

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Liz passes along an interesting post by John Dean. Before becoming Counsel to the President of the United States in July 1970 at age thirty-one, John Dean was Chief Minority Counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives, the Associate Director of a law reform commission, and Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States. He served as Richard Nixon’s White House lawyer for a thousand days. The post begins:

President George Bush has issued an instruction to his former White House counsel Harriet Miers to defy the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena. The Committee had sought to ask her about her role – and that of others in the White House – in firing a covey of United States Attorneys who were apparently not toeing the political line. Bush’s instruction sent a very clear signal: As I wrote earlier, and as has been clear from the outset, he is looking for a fight.

By not responding to the subpoena, the President and Ms. Miers all but invited the House Judiciary Committee and, in turn, the House of Representatives to vote to deem her in contempt of Congress. It was a defiant, in-your-face insult to Congress. No president would do this unless he was quite confident of the outcome. Clearly, Bush’s White House and Justice Department lawyers believe that the solidly conservative federal judiciary will grant them a favorable ruling, and that, in the process, they will greatly weaken congressional oversight powers, to the advantage of the White House.

In short, the Bush White House is not bluffing with this act of defiance. Rather, the White House truly wants to test, and attempt to expand, presidential power. Bush’s White House is ready, willing, and able to play hardball. Indeed, the White House may actually be trying to bait the House Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives into voting to deem Ms. Miers in contempt of congress.

The Initial Consequences of Harriet Miers’s “No Show”

It was on Thursday, July 12, that Miers was asked to testify before the subcommittee investigating the removal of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Administration, and did not show. That same day, the subcommittee’s Chair, Linda Sanchez (D.CA), undertook the preliminary steps necessary to declare Miers in contempt. By a party line vote of seven Democrats to five Republicans, the subcommittee ruled that there was no legal justification for Miers’s failing to appear pursuant to the subpoena.

Notwithstanding this blatant affront to the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans members played their familiar role — allowing party affiliation to trump institutional responsibility, just as it had when they controlled Congress. Republicans made lame (if not ridiculous) excuses for the Bush Administration’s defiance, and proved themselves more than willing to let the President insult the subcommittee by instructing Miers to not show up. (The transcript of the proceeding is not available as I write but the information available from Firedoglake and Talking Points Memo indicates that Republicans embarrassed themselves as badly as did former White House aide Sara Taylor — who kept telling the Senate Judiciary Committee, when she did honor a similar subpoena, that she had taken an oath to uphold the President, rather than the Constitution. House Republicans appear to have taken the same oath.)

As a result of Miers’s “no show,” the full House Judiciary Committee will no doubt support the subcommittee, and vote to deem Miers in contempt. One can only hope – but probably this hope is in vain — that Republicans may realize this is not a partisan issue, but an institutional matter, and thus will either abstain or vote to support the dignity of the committee on which they serve. Republicans should remember that they will one day be back in control, and may then be confronted by a Democratic president defying their subpoenas – and relying on this very precedent to do so. Realistically, however, there is zero chance that Republicans will place their constitutional interest ahead of their partisan interests.

The House Judiciary Committee itself cannot hold Miers in contempt; rather, the Committee can only report its request that this be done to the full House, which must then vote to deem her in contempt. Before the full House turns to this question, however, its members should not only carefully consider what they are doing, but also consider what they are not doing. At this stage, it is unclear how far this conflict will progress. The White House appears to have given this matter much more thought than Congressional leaders have thus far.

Long ago, Congress should have oiled up its most powerful tool to require Executive cooperation. No one who follows these matters is surprised that Bush is again pushing the envelope of presidential powers. But it continues to mystify me why Congress does not get its act together, and remind the White House that they are constitutional co-equals.

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 11:51 am

Protesting Wal-Mart

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A cool protest, which begins:

So I generally choose not to patronize walmart for several moral reasons…but today I was in desperate need of some CD-Rs so I could mail a file to my university and the only place anywhere near me that sells them is Wally world. So I grudgingly got on my bike and made the 4 mile ride on some pretty dangerous roads only to find that they have no form of bike rack whatsoever. That’s typical for this area so I’ve become used to just taking my bike into stores…in fact I usually use the basket on the back as a shopping cart.

So I walk into the walmart and the most evil grandmother I’ve ever met grabs my arm with her claws and says I can’t bring it into the store. I explained to here there was nowhere outside to lock it up and that I had brought it into that particular store with no problem. She insisted that I had to leave it in the foyer and I calmly said that I wasn’t going to leave a 600 dollar bike just sitting in the foyer and that I’d like to speak to her manager.

So the manager comes out and says I can’t bring the bike into the store, so I explain to her that there are safe places for people who drive to lock their cars but there is no safe place for me to lock my mode of transportation. She says that I should have driven there I told her that I didn’t own a car and that my bike was my only form of transportation and I couldn’t risk having it stolen. She said I couldn’t bring it in because they sell bikes in the store. So I said but those bikes don’t look anything like this and this is clearly not a brand new bike, so why is that a problem. She insisted that for the safety of the other customers I couldn’t bring it inside, so I asked her why she thought a bike controlled by an adult was more dangerous than a shopping cart being pushed around by someone’s bratty kids. So she switched back to the excuse that they sell bikes in the store so I couldn’t bring another bicycle in. I was starting to get really frustrated since I had ridden all the way there seemingly for no reason, so I asked her if they also sold shirts in the store. She said yes so I took off my jersey and said well then I’d better not bring this in either. …

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 11:05 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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Cat facts and trivia

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Amaze your friends.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 11:00 am

Posted in Cats

Your car runs on water? Hah! Mine runs on air.

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Probably we’ll soon see lots of oneupmanship in how clean one’s car runs. A car running on air is going to be hard to beat. Maybe a car that runs on dust bunnies (aka house moss, etc.)…

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 10:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Global warming

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Frugal living

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With the economy tanking and oil prices likely to increase due to increasing demand and flat supply, frugal living is willy nilly a matter of interest for many. This site may be helpful, and of course I highly recommend Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin—and $1 is a frugal price for it (at the link).

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 10:41 am

Posted in Daily life

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A list of writing software

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Are you working to ready yourself for NaNoMo? This collection of writing software might include some items that would be helpful to you.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 10:35 am

Posted in Software, Writing

Hysteria of the world

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A two-part post by Ilan Shrira, a visiting professor of social psychology at the University of Florida. The first part begins:

Which famous person said this:

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”

a) Ben Franklin
b) Plato
c) Bill Cosby
d) Winston Churchill
e) Richard Nixon

Would it surprise you to learn that this quote is attributed to the second person? Okay, we threw in some decoys in order to make a point, which is this:

“Virtually every culture past or present has believed that men and women are not up to the standards of their parents and forebears” (~Arthur Herman). Adults have always considered the younger generations to be inferior, spoiled, disrespectful, and out of control. As we grow older, we become convinced that society itself is deteriorating. We get nostalgic for the good old days, when young people were responsible and had real values, when the world was simple and made sense.

So now a question for you (especially those of you over 25): Do you find yourself having these kinds of thoughts with greater and greater frequency? If so, then how do you explain them?

And why do these negative perceptions increase as we get older? After all, if these assessments were accurate, society would have crumbled to pieces a long time ago. Fortunately for us, psychologists Richard Eibach, Lisa Libby, and Tom Gilovich came up with an elegant theory to address these questions.

For the moment, though, let’s assume that your goal is to convince a non-believer that civilization is really in its last throes. There are many compelling issues you could bring up to make your case: worldwide food shortages, global warming, uncontrollable oil prices, rising income inequalities, the state of public education, violence in schools, children exposed to excessive sex and violence, the hypersexualization of young teenagers, [insert pet issue here], etc. Your listener would be converted within minutes and then you would both have time to go warn someone else!

If the perception of societal decline exists in every generation, however, then surely it is independent of social conditions, which can be invoked to rationalize almost any argument. The perception of societal decline also flies in the face of research showing that people tend to get slightly happier as they get older. If happiness rises over the course of our lives, how is it that our judgments of the world become increasingly negative?

Continue reading Part I.

Part II.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 10:28 am

Posted in Daily life

Loving for its own sake

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An interesting post by Aaron Ben-Zeév, President and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims (with R. Goussinsky); Love Online: Emotions on the Internet; and The Subtlety of Emotions. It begins:

Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly. Mae West
Loving you is easy because you’re beautiful. Minnie Riperton

Aristotle distinguishes between extrinsically and intrinsically valuable activities. An extrinsically valuable activity is a means to an external goal; its value lies in achieving that goal. This goal-oriented activity is always incomplete: As long as the external goal has not been achieved, the activity is incomplete, and the moment the goal has been achieved, the activity is over. The major criterion for evaluating such activities is efficiency—that is, the ratio of benefits to costs. Time is one of the resources we try to save when engaging in extrinsically valuable activities. Examples of such activities are building a house, paying bills, cleaning the house, and attending job interviews. We do not value these activities in themselves—in fact, we may even resent performing them, as they are painful and costly. We still engage in such activities when the external goal is perceived to be beneficial. In an intrinsically valuable activity, our interest is focused upon the activity itself, not its results. Although such an activity entails results, it is not performed in order to achieve them. Accordingly, we do not try to finish this activity as quickly as possible. Listening to music is an example of an intrinsically valuable activity: we listen to music because we value doing so and not because of a certain external goal. Most human activities have both intrinsic and extrinsic value. The factors underlying each type of value often conflict (specifically, with regard to how long activities should continue or how many resources should be invested in them).

In the Nurturing Approach, which emphasizes the lover’s self-worth and autonomy, the lover’s intrinsically valuable activities are crucial. Intrinsically valuable activities involve optimal functioning, using and developing an agent’s essential capacities and potential in a systematic manner; the activities are essential for the agent to flourish—they cannot be done by someone else or for someone else. In the Nurturing Approach, the value of love is not determined by its practical value as a means to achieve ends that are external to the relationship. “Loving,” as a means to satisfy one’s sexual desire or to become rich, is a partial and transient activity: The moment the end is achieved, or a better means is found, this “love” disappears. In the Nurturing Approach, romantic love is an intrinsically valuable activity done for its own sake and not for the sake of external ends. In this sense, loving activities are like a continuous journey within an exciting landscape in which we encounter a never-ending series of pleasant and interesting experiences.

A sexual activity can be …

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 10:16 am

Posted in Daily life

Reflections on reading, et cetera

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How a little coffee doth increase the benignity of one’s outlook! I’ve had a nice pint of coffee and am just beginning the second.

The reading: I am just finishing The Fortunes of War in my rereading of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series, which I’m enjoying all the more this time through. I find that I could not go further in Christopher’s Ghosts, the latest of the Charles McCarry Paul Christopher series, than the very beginning. I think I am for now burnt out on those. The best were early in the series—the first four of them, say.

I’m eager to get back to more substantial fare and will soon pick one to dive into—I’m thinking either War and Peace, an enthralling book, or perhaps Don Quixote, somewhat more difficult.

I just loaded the entire NPR Jazz Profiles series—except for the 4 or so with a bad link—into my little Cowon D2 player, and I’m greatly enjoying my new Sennheiser MX-55 Twist-to-Fit in-ear stereo headphones. My ears are not shaped for the round ear-bud headphones, but the twist-to-fit thing works wonderfully well—the little extension fits under an earfold and holds the ear-buds securely. And for $13, a good buy. And, speaking of the Cowon, I see that now a 16 GB model is available…

I made ceviche yesterday from shrimp and fish, and I found it delicious. I’ll have to make another batch soon—today, perhaps. The recipe I had suggested cooking the shrimp briefly, but that was a mistake. Next batch they go in raw. And I think I might include bay scallops as well. Maybe some calamari rings…

Normally the post about my morning shave serves as a bookmark, but of course I don’t shave on Sunday (because I like the Monday two-day stubble). I was thinking of some general post on shaving might serve as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 10:04 am

Posted in Daily life

Public Service Announcement

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2008 at 7:45 am

Posted in Daily life

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