Later On

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

Archive for August 11th, 2008

Why the trial?

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Michael Dorf,the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University, asks the question. Dorf is the author of No Litmus Test: Law Versus Politics in the Twenty-First Century and he blogs at

Last week, a military jury convicted Salim Hamdan on charges of providing material support to terrorism, while acquitting him of the more serious charge of conspiracy to commit terrorism. Although the prosecution sought a sentence of thirty years to life, Hamdan was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison. With credit for time served, that means that Hamdan will complete his sentence before the end of the Bush Administration.

There is a catch, however. The Pentagon has stated that Hamdan will not necessarily be eligible for release upon the completion of his sentence. Prior to his trial, Hamdan was being held as an enemy combatant, and according to the Administration, he can be detained with that status indefinitely. Indeed, even if Hamdan had been acquitted on all charges, under the Administration’s theory he could still be held indefinitely.

What, then, was the point of putting Hamdan on trial in the first place? The answer is not entirely clear. In this column, I will offer a number of possible explanations, before concluding that the Hamdan case and the broader experience of military custody since 2001 demonstrate the need to re-think the relationship between military detention and criminal punishment.Last week, a military jury convicted Salim Hamdan on charges of providing material support to terrorism, while acquitting him of the more serious charge of conspiracy to commit terrorism. Although the prosecution sought a sentence of thirty years to life, Hamdan was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison. With credit for time served, that means that Hamdan will complete his sentence before the end of the Bush Administration.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 7:43 pm

Ancient classics being found

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The unique library of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, buried beneath lava by Vesuvius’s eruption in AD79, is slowly revealing its long-held secrets

STORED in a sky-lit reading room on the top floor of the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples are the charred remains of the only library to survive from classical antiquity. The ancient world’s other great book collections — at Athens, Alexandria and Rome — all perished in the chaos of the centuries. But the library of the Villa of the Papyri was conserved, paradoxically, by an act of destruction.

Lying to the northwest of ancient Herculaneum, this sumptuous seaside mansion was buried beneath 30m of petrified volcanic mud during the catastrophic eruption of Mt Vesuvius on August 24, AD79. Antiquities hunters in the mid-18th century sunk shafts and dug tunnels around Herculaneum and found the villa, surfacing with a magnificent booty of bronzes and marbles. Most of these, including a svelte seated Hermes modelled in the manner of Lyssipus, now grace the National Archeological Museum in Naples.

The excavators also found what they took to be chunks of coal deep inside the villa, and set them alight to illuminate their passage underground. Only when they noticed how many torches had solidified around an umbilicus — a core of wood or bone to which the roll was attached — did the true nature of the find become apparent. Here was a trove of ancient texts, carbonised by the heat surge of the eruption. About 1800 were eventually retrieved.

A cluster of the villa’s papyrus scrolls, in much the same state as they were found 250 years ago, lies in a display case in the Biblioteca Nazionale’s Herculaneum reading room. The individual scrolls, which extend in some cases to 9m unrolled, look not unlike charcoaled arboreal limbs left at the bottom of a campfire. A group of six rolls, compacted by the weight of volcanic debris, has emulsified into one unsightly pile.

In a corner of the room stands a device invented in 1756 by the abbot Antonio Piaggio, a conservator of ancient manuscripts in the Vatican Library, to unroll the papyri by suspending them from silk threads attached to their surface with a paste of fish oil. These were fixed in place by a slice of pig’s bladder. Piaggio’s machine, though painstakingly slow, was used successfully until the beginning of the 20th century. The room also contains a 3m length of scroll unrolled by Piaggio’s machine, with 40 columns of Greek text in a rhythmic procession.

Scholars today, using multi-spectral imaging technology, are able to decipher the otherwise inscrutable surface of black ink on black fabric of the papyrus scrolls. A multinational team has assembled to transcribe the collection. But work has stalled as they await refinement of a new technique, an application of the CT scan, which will allow some of the untouched texts to be deciphered without exposing them to the risk of further damage.

When I ask to view a papyrus fragment from the vaults, …

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Chilling video

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 5:26 pm

Bush’s war on the environment: EPA library division

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New development (and thank God for unions):

Beginning in 2006, EPA management began a stealth campaign of closing its regional and technical libraries, ultimately eliminating library service in 23 states and scattering invaluable scientific collections. In December 2007, Congress ordered EPA to re-open the libraries, but by this spring it became apparent that EPA would only grudgingly comply, restoring only minimal holdings in small spaces, in some cases no larger than the lavatories in the buildings they occupied.

In February 2008, a Federal Labor Relations Board arbitrator sustained grievances filed by the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 on behalf of all affected agency employees, finding that EPA acted “unilaterally without the benefit of” employee input in reducing access to seven of its ten regional libraries. The arbitrator ordered EPA to bargain with AFGE Council 238 on library conditions.

The two parties reached a Memorandum of Agreement on July 10, 2008 which became final today. That agreement stipulates that EPA will reopen closed libraries by October 1st and in so doing provide –

  • Adequate space, trained librarians and equipment to handle staff requirements and to accommodate usage by the general public;
  • An “on-site collection of materials developed and tailored to meet local/regional needs”; and
  • A union-management Advisory Board to monitor library operations and the agreement’s implementation.

“The public and the current and future public servants within EPA owe AFGE Council 238 a big thank you for a job well done,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “This agreement means that EPA will not be able to put a computer terminal and a bookshelf in a cubicle and call it a library.”

EPA will not, however, re-open its specialized library for research on the properties and effects of new chemicals which held one of the world’s most comprehensive technical collections on pesticides and other compounds. EPA did pledge to reopen a Chemical Library as part of its re-opened Headquarters Library in Washington, D.C. with a “professional librarian with knowledge of chemical information” and access to an unspecified “specialized chemical collection.”

“These libraries should never have been closed nor should it have taken months of bargaining to get EPA to agree to put them back in order,” Goldberg added. “The architects of these library closures cannot leave public service soon enough.”

See the Memorandum of Agreement

Look at severe space and other limits EPA had proposed for re-opened libraries

Read the AFGE Council 238 call for continuing Congressional involvement

Examine the ongoing Chemical Library concerns

Revisit the labor arbitrator’s decision against EPA

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 4:04 pm

Wooden cars

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Plus one wooden motorcycle. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Daily life

Bush eager to kill off endangered species

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Today, the AP reports on new draft rules being proposed by the Bush administration to gut the Endangered Species Act. This would be the biggest change to the groundbreaking legislation since 1988, and would not require the approval of Congress.

Currently, federal agencies are required to consult with an independent agency — the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service — to determine whether a project would harm an endangered species. The AP reports that under the new rules, agencies would simply be able to “decide for themselves”:

The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants. New regulations, which don’t require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press.

The draft rules also would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.

This measure mirrors legislation proposed in 2005, by then-Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), a close ally of Jack Abramoff. Pombo proposed weakening the Endangered Species Act. Among other measures, Pombo’s bill would have eliminated review by the FWS or the Fisheries Service, allowing agencies to pursue unspecified “alternative procedures.” Pombo’s GOP-majority House cleared his bill, but it failed to go anywhere in the Senate. Bush is now bypassing Congress to push the legislation forward before he leaves office.

The Bush administration has been attempting to bypass or kill the Endangered Species Act for years. Recently, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used his power to waive federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, in order to expedite building the U.S.-Mexico border fence. Unclear if the new rules are the doing of Vice President Cheney, who has been maneuvering increased control over environmental policies.

Update:  Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is backing the rule changes, “saying they will ensure the statute is not used as a ‘back door‘ to regulate the gases blamed for global warming.”

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 3:39 pm

Global warming has killed thousands of trees

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That is, global warming has killed the trees directly, rather than (as in Canada) by extending northward the range of beetles that kill the trees. Wonder how the deniers will deny this? Take a look:

Warmer temperatures and longer dry spells have killed thousands of trees and shrubs in a Southern California mountain range, pushing the plants’ habitat an average of 213 feet up the mountain over the past 30 years, a UC Irvine study has determined. White fir and Jeffrey pine trees died at the lower altitudes of their growth range in the Santa Rosa Mountains, from 6,400 feet to as high as 7,200 feet in elevation, while California lilacs died between 4,000-4,800 feet. Almost all of the studied plants crept up the mountain a similar distance, countering the belief that slower-growing trees would move slower than faster-growing grasses and wildflowers.

This study is the first to show directly the impact of climate change on a mountainous ecosystem by physically studying the location of plants, and it shows what could occur globally if the Earth’s temperature continues to rise. The finding also has implications for forest management, as it rules out air pollution and fire suppression as main causes of plant death.

“Plants are dying out at the bottom of their ranges, and at the tops of their ranges they seem to be growing in and doing much better,” said Anne Kelly, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Department of Earth System Science at UCI. “The only thing that could explain this happening across the entire face of the mountain would be a change in the local climate.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 3:37 pm

Reason for the heat in chiles

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Interesting (and more here):

If you’re a fan of habanero salsa or like to order Thai food spiced to five stars, you owe a lot to bugs, both the crawling kind and ones you can see only with a microscope. New research shows they are the ones responsible for the heat in chili peppers. The spiciness is a defense mechanism that some peppers develop to suppress a microbial fungus that invades through punctures made in the outer skin by insects. The fungus, from a large genus called Fusarium, destroys the plant’s seeds before they can be eaten by birds and widely distributed.

“For these wild chilies the biggest danger to the seed comes before dispersal, when a large number are killed by this fungus,” said Joshua Tewksbury, a University of Washington assistant professor of biology. “Both the fungus and the birds eat chilies, but the fungus never disperses seeds – it just kills them.”

Fruits use sugars and lipids to attract consumers such as birds that will scatter the seeds. But insects and fungi enjoy sugars and lipids too, and in tandem they can be fatal to a pepper’s progeny.

However, the researchers found that the pungency, or heat, in hot chilies acts as a unique defense mechanism. The pungency comes from capsaicinoids, the same chemicals that protect them from fungal attack by dramatically slowing microbial growth.

“Capsaicin doesn’t stop the dispersal of seeds because birds don’t sense the pain and so they continue to eat peppers, but the fungus that kills pepper seeds is quite sensitive to this chemical,” said Tewksbury, lead author of a paper documenting the research.

“Having such a specific defense, one that doesn’t harm reproduction or dispersal, is what makes chemistry so valuable to the plant, and I think it is a great example of the power of natural selection.”

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

New video by Mantic 59

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Mantic59 has quite a series of YouTube videos on traditional shaving—and not just Youtube, either: check YouTube, metacafe, revver, veoh, blip, howvids, and Sclipo. Here’s his newest:

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 1:53 pm

Posted in Shaving

Rankings of universities

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Ranking colleges and universities is a big deal, it seems. US News & World Report, for example, has a big issue every year to rank universities, and other magazines have followed suit.

Here’s a site that ranks universities—worldwide. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

GOP vote suppression

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The GOP works hard at suppressing votes. Here’s the latest:

This past May, the Veterans Affairs Department, led by Secretary James Peake, issued a directive prohibiting nonpartisan voter registration drives “at federally financed nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and shelters for homeless veterans.” In today’s New York Times, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz writes, “What is the secretary of Veterans Affairs thinking?“:

The department has placed an illegitimate obstacle in the way of election officials across the country and, more important, in the way of veterans who want to vote. A group of 21 secretaries of state — Republicans and Democrats throughout the country, led by me and my counterpart in Washington State, Sam Reed — has asked Secretary Peake to lift his department’s ridiculous ban on voter registration drives. […]

But federal legislation shouldn’t be needed for the Department of Veterans Affairs to lift the ban on voter registration drives by state and local election officials and nonpartisan groups.

The federal government should be doing everything it can to support our nation’s veterans who have served us so courageously. There can be no justification for any barrier that impedes the ability of veterans to participate in democracy’s most fundamental act, the vote.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 1:18 pm

OMG: McCain won’t back his own bill

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This is getting quite disgusting. Some maverick! ThinkProgress:

Last month, the House passed legislation — sparking the ire of conservatives — that would grant the FDA stronger regulation power over the tobacco industry, mirroring a 1998 proposal authored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). At the time, McCain said he would “never” give up on his anti-tobacco efforts:

As the Wonk Room noted, however, McCain recently signaled that he had doubts with the House legislation, stating he wouldn’t “commit to voting for it until he sees the final legislation.” Roll Call reports today that McCain is “declining to embrace” his own legislation:

The campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) is declining to embrace McCain’s own 1998 tobacco bill, legislation that would have raised taxes to the tune of $516 billion over 25 years. … Asked repeatedly last week whether McCain still backs the bill and if he thought it was a good idea, senior adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin declined to answer directly.

But he noted that some of the aims of the legislation did not pan out as hoped for after the tobacco industry and the states settled on their own. … And McCain today does not support raising taxes on cigarettes, his adviser said.

In 1998, however, McCain supported a $1.10-per-pack tax hike. “I still regret we did not succeed,” he said last October. Throughout his campaign, he has been touting his support for the 1998 legislation, even running an advertisement on the matter:

Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties.

Continue reading (and there’s a video at the link).

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 9:28 am

Posted in Election, GOP

Miss Megs believe in hygiene

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Miss Megs takes nice bath

Miss Megs takes nice bath

Miss Megs has been a kibble kitty for quite a while (Innova Evo), but after reading a recent comment on the importance of wet food, I’ve been giving her Innova Evo canned food. And she really seems to like it, unlike most canned foods I’ve tried. Very gratifying, though of course it now means that in the morning she’s in a hurry to get me to the kitchen and get her morning treat. Click photo to inspect her tongue.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 8:58 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Megs

Is Obama an Eisenhower Republican?

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Very interesting story by Sridhar Pappu in the Washington Independent, which begins:

“You’ll have to forgive me for being an Eisenhower Republican,” joked Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the former five-star general and two-term Republican president. The man who had helped lead America to victory over the forces of Axis darkness during World War II, then oversaw a period of unprecedented prosperity and suburban satisfaction during the 1950s.

Speaking on the telephone on Aug. 7 from her Washington office at The Eisenhower Institute, a think tank where she serves as president emeritus, the journalist-turned-foreign policy wonk explained her decision to publicly support Barack Obama after a lifetime in the Republican Party.

“I don’t know how much you know about my grandfather’s administration,” Eisenhower said. “But that administration stood for multilateral engagement, balancing the budget. They were the party of civil rights, they were the party of environmental progress. That was the Republican Party of the 1950s. I think you can make the case that doesn’t sound like the Republican Party we know today. If you look at the way Obama’s run his campaign, to how Hillary Clinton ran her campaign, or even how John McCain’s campaign is shaping up — you can definitely say that Obama’s running his campaign in a way an Eisenhower Republican would have run his campaign.

“He raises a lot of money,” Eisenhower, 56, said, by way of explaining the similarities she sees between her grandfather and the likely Democratic nominee. “He has very little debt. I just love it. Anybody who wants to make him out as this wide-eyed liberal — I just don’t see any evidence for that, not in the way he runs his campaign. And this tells you a lot about how he can administer things, how he manages things, how he deals with situations.

“This race is very similar to the 1952 campaign that brought my grandfather to power,” Eisenhower said, continuing the comparison. “He was an outsider who was nominated by the Republican Party — but it was not an easy process at all. He was an outsider who threatened to shake up the party itself.”

As a surrogate for the Obama campaign since her declaration of support in February, Eisenhower can be seen in the most simple terms as merely another moderate Republican backing Obama. But she could also be on the frontlines of something bigger. As we approach the Democratic and Republican National Conventions of 2008, we do so as the coalitions of both parties appear ever more fractured. And it is the GOP coalition that could be in greater disarray. …

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 8:42 am

Posted in Election

Should psychologists assist with torture?

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The American Psychological Association, unlike (for example) the American Medical Association, has been careful to take no position regarding the professional ethics of psychologists who assist in torture—and it’s known that psychologists have indeed been actively assisting the US program of torture. But the tide may be turning. Stephen Soldz, a psychologist and psychoanalyst and professor and director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis has written a column on the topic for the op-ed page of the Boston Globe. It begins:

When most people think of psychologists, they think of a professional helping them with life’s emotional difficulties, or of a researcher studying human or animal behavior. Since the Bush administration and the war on terrorism have transformed our country, however, a new, more ominous image of psychologists has slowly seeped into public consciousness.

Psychologists have been identified as key figures in the design and conduct of abuses against detainees in US custody at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA’s secret “black sites,” and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychologists should not be taking part in such practices.

Yet a steady stream of revelations from government documents, journalistic reports, and congressional hearings has revealed that psychologists designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which included locking prisoners in tiny cages in the fetal position, throwing them against the wall head first, prolonged nakedness, sexual humiliation, and waterboarding.

Jane Mayer, in her new book, “The Dark Side,” reports that the central idea was the psychological concept of “learned helplessness.” Individuals are denied all control over their world, lose their will, and become totally dependent upon their captors.

At Guantanamo, the Red Cross described a system of psychological abuse as “tantamount to torture.” Psychologists, and some psychiatrists, helped interrogators “break down” detainees by exploiting information in their medical records. Thus, someone with an intense fear of dogs would be threatened with snarling dogs, while a person with a fear of being buried alive might be threatened with being sealed in a coffin.

When reports of these abuses surfaced, we psychologists looked to our largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, to take the lead in condemning them and taking measures to ensure that they would not recur. After all, these actions by psychologists violate the central principle of the APA’s ethics code: “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.”

The APA, however, failed to take clear action. While the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association quickly and unequivocally condemned any involvement by its membership in such activities, APA leaders quibbled over whether psychologists had been present at the interrogations and questioned the motives of internal critics.

When the leadership appointed a task force on the ethics of psychologist involvement in interrogations, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 8:19 am

Posted in Daily life

Big complex decisions: careful rational process

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Just as we suspected: a big and complex decision can’t be decided by one’s gut—that is, not if you want a good decision with a good outcome. So, for example, making a gut decision to invade another country would not be wise or even smart.

So how do you make a good decisions. Russo and Schoemaker, in their books Decision Traps and Winning Decisions, offer a process, which is a big help: if you know the appropriate activity and goal at each stage of the process, you know what you’re doing and don’t find yourself going in circles, but rather have a definite direction. Decision Traps points out the most common errors at each stage of the (4-stage) process, along with the most common error before the process begins and the most common error after the process ends: 10 traps in all. Really, this book should be the basis for a required course in the tenth grade, before students start with the first big life decision: where (and whether) to go to college. Every student is going to be making big decisions, so every student should take the course and learn how to do it.

I in fact taught a training course based on Decision Traps. Fascinating. Winning Decisions I don’t know as well.

Here’s what brought it to mind:

Neither snap judgements nor sleeping on a problem are any better than conscious thinking for making complex decisions, according to new research. The finding debunks a controversial 2006 research result asserting that unconscious thought is superior for complex decisions, such as buying a house or car. If anything, the new study suggests that conscious thought leads to better choices.

Since its publication two years ago by a Dutch research team in the journal Science, the earlier finding had been used to encourage decision-makers to make “snap” decisions (for example, in the best-selling book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell) or to leave complex choices to the powers of unconscious thought (“Sleep on it”, Dijksterhuis et al., Science, 2006).

But in the new study, to be published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, scientists ran four experiments in which participants were presented with complex decisions and asked to choose the best option immediately (“blink”), after a period of conscious deliberation (“think”), or after a period of distraction (“sleep on it”), which is claimed to encourage “unconscious thought processes”.

In all experiments, there was some evidence that conscious deliberation can lead to better choices and little evidence for superiority of choices made “unconsciously”. Faced with making decisions such as choosing a rental apartment and buying a car, most participants made choices predicted by their subjective preferences for certain attributes (for example, safety, security, colour or price), regardless of the mode of thinking employed.

Unconscious thought is claimed to be an active process during which information is organized, weighted, and integrated in an optimal fashion. Its benefits are argued to be strongest when a decision is complex – one with multiple options and attributes – because unconscious thought does not suffer from the capacity limitations that hobble conscious thought.

“Claims that we can make superior ‘snap’ decisions by trusting intuition or through the ‘power’ of unconscious thought have received a great deal of attention in the media,” says University of New South Wales psychologist, Dr Ben Newell, lead author of the new study.

Among the headlines that followed the 2006 research are these: “Dilemma? Don’t give it a thought,” The Times, 17-02-06; “Trust your gut instinct when those shopping decisions get tough, say scientists,” The Telegraph, UK, 17-02-06; “Big decision time? Best to sleep on it,” Reuters News, 16-02-06.

“At best, these sorts of headlines are misleading,” says Dr Newell. “At worst, they’re outright dangerous. In stark contrast to claims made by the Dutch research team and in the media, we found very little evidence of the superiority of unconscious thought for complex decisions.

“On the contrary, our research suggests that unconscious thought is more susceptible to irrelevant factors, such as how recently information has been seen rather than how important it is. If conscious thinkers are given adequate time to encode material, or are allowed to consult material while they deliberate, their choices are at least as good as those made ‘unconsciously’.”

Source: University of New South Wales

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 8:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Online database of user manuals

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This is a good site to bookmark: download that user manual you can’t find in your otherwise great filing system.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 7:48 am

Posted in Daily life

Bad decisions for bad reasons

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This sort of thing just makes me sigh—it amounts to buying trouble. From ThinkProgress:

The Department of Homeland Security “swept aside evaluations of government experts and named Mississippi…a top location for a new $451 million, national laboratory to study some of the world’s most virulent biological threats.” Experts had ranked the site “14th among 17 sites in the U.S.,” but it is “home to…lawmakers with sway over the agency.”

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 7:15 am

Posted in Congress, Government

Palmolive shave stick

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So I used the Palmolive shave stick this morning—quite good lather, worked up with the Simpisons Persian Jar 2 Super. The Apollo Mikron with the new Treet Classic blade made for a much easier shave than the Wilkinson blade on its last legs: effortless, smooth, and comfortable. Geo. F. Trumper Spanish Leather aftershave provided a fine finish to the experience.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 7:13 am

Posted in Shaving

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