Later On

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

Archive for August 4th, 2008

Eat more fish

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Here’s why:

Eating tuna and other types of fish may help lower the risk of cognitive decline and stroke in healthy older adults, according to a study published in the August 5, 2008, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. For the study, 3,660 people age 65 and older underwent brain scans to detect silent brain infarcts, or small lesions in the brain that can cause loss of thinking skills, stroke or dementia. Scans were performed again five years later on 2,313 of the participants. The people involved in the study were also given questionnaires about fish in their diets.

The study found that people who ate broiled or baked tuna and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (called DHA and EPA) three times or more per week had a nearly 26 percent lower risk of having the silent brain lesions that can cause dementia and stroke compared to people who did not eat fish regularly. Eating just one serving of this type of fish per week led to a 13 percent lower risk. The study also found people who regularly ate these types of fish had fewer changes in the white matter in their brains.

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Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Fred Kaplan finds some good Army news

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Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Army

Criticism of fanatical Zionism

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Excellent post by Michael Balter. It begins:

In an opinion piece in today’s issue of the Washington Times, Asaf Romirowsky, manager of Israel and Mideast affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, laments that too many “anti-Zionist” Israeli scholars are being allowed to teach in American universities.

Romirowsky says:

The international standing of such scholars received a boost in the mid-1980s with the rise of the so-called “new historians” in Israeli universities. These scholars sought to debunk what they claim is a distorted “Zionist narrative” in Israeli historiography. In practice, they twisted the history of Israel’s rebirth by dismissing the efforts of Arab states to destroy the newborn Jewish state as a Zionist myth, and claiming that Israel is built on ethnic cleansing and brutality toward the Palestinians.

Actually, this is a distortion of the views of the “new historians,” who don’t deny that the Arab states sought to annul Israeli’s declaration of a Jewish state on territory where many residents were not Jewish, but who have also concluded that the Arab invasion did not take place until after the widespread attempts at ethnic cleansing had begun. Among the historians Romirowsky singles out is Ilan Pappe: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Daily life

Trusting Big Business: Rape edition

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This weekend, defense contracting giant KBR announced it would ban the use of personal cell phones by its employees in Iraq, citing no specific reason. Though KBR has not indicated the ban is related to the numerous allegations of rape by female KBR employees by their male coworkers, the ban could endanger future victims. Jamie Leigh Jones, the first victim to come forward publicly, explained that after she was gang-raped by coworkers and held in a shipping container for days, “she convinced a sympathetic guard to loan her a cell phone so she could call her father in Texas.”

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Trusting Big Business: Pensions edition

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Via Balloon Juice, this story by Ellen Schultz and Theo Francis in the Wall Street Journal:

At a time when scores of companies are freezing pensions for their workers, some are quietly converting their pension plans into resources to finance their executives’ retirement benefits and pay.

In recent years, companies from Intel Corp. to CenturyTel Inc. collectively have moved hundreds of millions of dollars of obligations for executive benefits into rank-and-file pension plans. This lets companies capture tax breaks intended for pensions of regular workers and use them to pay for executives’ supplemental benefits and compensation.

The practice has drawn scant notice. A close examination by The Wall Street Journal shows how it works and reveals that the maneuver, besides being a dubious use of tax law, risks harming regular workers. It can drain assets from pension plans and make them more likely to fail. Now, with the current bear market in stocks weakening many pension plans, this practice could put more in jeopardy.

How many is impossible to tell. Neither the Internal Revenue Service nor other agencies track this maneuver. Employers generally reveal little about it. Some benefits consultants have warned them not to, in order to forestall a backlash by regulators and lower-level workers.

The background: Federal law encourages employers to offer pensions by giving companies a tax deduction when they contribute cash to a pension plan, and by letting the money in the plan grow tax free. Executives, like anyone else, can participate in these plans.

But their benefits can’t be disproportionately large. IRS rules say pension plans must not “discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.” If a company wants to give its executives larger pensions — as most do — it must provide “supplemental” executive pensions, which don’t carry any tax advantages.

The trick is to find a way to move some of the obligations for supplemental pensions into the plan that qualifies for tax breaks. Benefits consultants market sophisticated techniques to help companies do just that, without running afoul of IRS rules against favoring the highly paid.

Intel’s case shows how lucrative such a move can be. It involves Intel’s obligation to pay deferred compensation to executives when they retire or leave. In 2005, the chip maker moved more than $200 million of its deferred-comp IOUs into its pension plan. Then it contributed at least $187 million of cash to the plan.

Now, when the executives get ready to collect their deferred salaries, Intel won’t have to pay them out of cash; the pension plan will pay them.

Much more at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Cool cars

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Mileage is not a criterion for these cars.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 11:47 am

Posted in Daily life

Torture doesn’t work

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In the article mentioned in the previous post, Jane Mayer refers to a report “Educing Information,” which found—not to put too fine a point on it—that while torture may immediately produce results in fictional TV dramas, in real life it doesn’t work. The report is a PDF, and it is comprehensive (and 372 pages long). But at least read the few (less than 10) pages of prefatory matter that precedes Chapter 1. The forward  A partial table of contents:

Partial table of contents

Partial table of contents

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 11:03 am

Must-read article by Jane Mayer

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Jane Mayer is the author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. She now has an article in The New York Review of Books, which begins:

A lady asked Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
“A republic,” replied the Doctor, “if you can keep it.”

—Papers of Dr. James McHenry, describing the scene as they left the Federal Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia

Seven years after al-Qaeda’s attacks on America, as the Bush administration slips into history, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America’s security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country’s soul.

In looking back, one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start, and at almost every turn along the way, the Bush administration was warned that whatever the short-term benefits of its extralegal approach to fighting terrorism, it would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America’s interests in the world. These warnings came not just from political opponents, but also from experienced allies, including the British Intelligence Service, the experts in the traditionally conservative military and the FBI, and, perhaps most surprisingly, from a series of loyal Republican lawyers inside the administration itself. The number of patriotic critics inside the administration and out who threw themselves into trying to head off what they saw as a terrible departure from America’s ideals, often at an enormous price to their own careers, is both humbling and reassuring.

Instead of heeding this well-intentioned dissent, however, the Bush administration invoked the fear flowing from the attacks on September 11 to institute a policy of deliberate cruelty that would have been unthinkable on September 10. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and a small handful of trusted advisers sought and obtained dubious legal opinions enabling them to circumvent American laws and traditions. In the name of protecting national security, the executive branch sanctioned coerced confessions, extrajudicial detention, and other violations of individuals’ liberties that had been prohibited since the country’s founding. They turned the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel into a political instrument, which they used to expand their own executive power at the expense of long-standing checks and balances.

When warned that these policies were unlawful and counterproductive, they ignored the experts and made decisions outside of ordinary bureaucratic channels, and often outside of the public’s view. Rather than risking the possibility of congressional opposition, they classified vital interpretations of law as top secret. No one knows to this day how many more secret opinions the Bush Justice Department has produced. Far from tempering these policies over time, they marginalized and penalized those who challenged their idées fixes. Because the subject matter was shrouded in claims of national security, however, much of the internal dissent remained hidden.

Throughout this period, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have continued to insist that they never authorized or condoned “torture,” which they acknowledge is criminal under US law. But their semantic parsing of the term began to seem increasingly disingenuous as details from the secret detention and interrogation program surfaced, piece by piece. By the last year of the Bush presidency, many of the administration’s own top authorities, including Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, as well as John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer involved in the capture of the high-ranking al-Qaeda member Abu Zubayda, acknowledged that as far as they were concerned, waterboarding was torture.

Such extreme measures were perhaps understandable in the panic-filled days and weeks immediately after September 11, falling into place among other historic infringements of civil liberties during times of dire national security crisis. Yet seven years later, the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies remained largely unchanged. There had been some alterations and improvements. But the legal framework survives despite nearly universal bipartisan acceptance outside of the Bush administration that Guantánamo should be shut down, that the military commission process was hopelessly flawed, and that the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were not the work of a few “rotten apples” on the bottom, but rather the result of irresponsible leadership at the top. In fact torture, which was reviled as a depraved vestige of primitive cultures before September 11, seemed in danger of becoming normalized.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 10:48 am

Did Ivins do it?

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Glenn Greenwald points out that the case against Ivins is still unclear. One hopes that more information will be forthcoming. Greenwald’s column on the issue is well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 10:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Trusting Big Business: Army contractors edition

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Daphne Eviatar has a good article in the Washington Independent on how KBR and other Army contractors are addressing their responsibilities. It begins:

In January of 2008, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, was electrocuted while showering in his Baghdad barracks. His death prompted last week’s congressional report concluding that defense contractor KBR, (until a year ago a subsidiary of the oil services giant Halliburton) was well aware that the electrical system in Maseth’s complex was faulty. An accident like this, the report found, was bound to happen. But this report also now raises a larger and thornier question about military defense contractors: can they be held legally liable for their actions – or inactions? Will anyone be held responsible for Maseth’s death?

This is an increasingly important question as the U.S. government hires ever more military contractors to do work that used to be done by U.S. soldiers. The war in Iraq has already involved more outsourcing of military functions than any previous war in American history.

An estimated 180,000 civilian contractors now work in Iraq and Afghanistan to support the U.S. government there. They do everything from guard U.S. officials and dignitaries to truck fuel, food and other supplies to military bases — all jobs that used to be done by soldiers.

Private contractors operating in Iraq are not subject to U.S. military authority, or to U.S. or Iraqi law. Their employees are not subject to the rigors of Army basic training; and their superiors are not held to the strict rules and ethics that apply to the U.S. military. As a result, notes Peter W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in his book, “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry,” “When the means of security are privatized, certain mechanisms of moral hazard and adverse selection might lead firms astray. Just as in the rest of commerce, war is business where nice firms do not always finish first.”

Indeed, whistle-blowers at these companies run the risk of being fired. In 2007, shortly after one KBR electrician reported to a defense contracting agency official that logs were being created to make it appear that nonexistent electrical safety systems at the base were working properly, he lost his job, according to The New York Times. Another employee “said his KBR bosses mocked him for raising safety issues.”

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Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 10:15 am

Trusting Big Business: Climate change edition

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Stalling creates more years of record profits:

Reviewing the continued campaign by climate change skeptics, David McKnight, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, notes that there several reasons why companies such as Exxon have had some success playing the global warming denial card. “First, the implications of the science are frightening. Shifting to renewable energy will be costly and disruptive. Second, doubt is an easy product to sell. Climate denial tells us what we all secretly want to hear. Third, science is portrayed as political orthodoxy rather than objective knowledge, a curiously postmodern argument,” he writes. While the tobacco industry is often referred to as the template for the fossil fuel industry’s campaign, McKnight argues that there is an important distinction. “There are no ‘smoke-free areas’ on the planet. Climate denial may turn out to be the world’s most deadly PR campaign,” he concludes.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, August 2, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 10:08 am

Trusting Big Business: Eli Lilly edition

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Should we trust large corporations to by and large do the right thing? Does a chicken have lips? Recent item:

Internal documents from the global drug company Eli Lilly reveal that it trained its sales force to avoid discussing the diabetes risk from Zyprexa, a drug used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. After research revealed that some patients gained weight and had high blood sugar levels that presented an increased risk of diabetes, an internal company sales document stated that “we believe it is essential to weaken this link to neutralize the diabetes/hyperglycemia issue. … Neutralizing any concern from our customers will be essential to the future growth of Zyprexa in the marketplace,” reports Bloomberg. The document came to light during court proceedings in Alaska. In 2002, the drug’s sales force was advised, “We will NOT proactively address the diabetes concern. … The competition wins if we are distracted into talking about diabetes.”

Source: Bloomberg, July 31, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 10:06 am

Shaving with the Slant

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The Merkur Slant Bar is in my opinion a superb razor: the slanted presentation of the blade produces an exceptionally easy, smooth, and close shave—at least for me. I have read some comments from shavers who find that the Slant is no  different from the HD for them. But for me, the difference is significant and highly noticeable. The shave today—a Merkur Slant Bar holding a new Iridium Super blade—was effortless, and by the second pass I felt almost no stubble.

The lather was from the Arko shave stick—a really good lather, with a fragrance that I like, for $2. The brush that brought forth this excellent lather from the shreds of soap scraped from the stick by my two-day stubble was the G.B. Kent BK4. And the aftershave was Floïd Suave, very refreshing.

A word on blades: Morrie, in a thread on the Razor and Brush message board, suggested a four-point rating for blades: Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor. Or, as one might say, Amazing, Good, Meh, and Ugh! Those that are Good are, of course, good, so many shavers stop there. But if you continue to explore and try new brands of blades, you will, I believe, find some that are Amazing. The Iridium Super is one of those, at least for me.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2008 at 7:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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