Later On

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

Archive for November 30th, 2008

Interesting interface for on-line banking

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Pretty cool:

As banks lure depositors with higher interest rates, PNC Financial Services (PNC) says it is attracting 130 new customers a day to an account that pays only mediocre returns. And look who’s signing up: the finicky members of Generation Y.

The online product is called “Virtual Wallet.” What it lacks in generous terms it makes up for in user-friendliness. Virtual Wallet is three accounts—trendily dubbed “Spend,” “Reserve,” and “Growth”—linked together with a slick personal finance tool. The offering is part of Pittsburgh-based PNC’s strategy to grab the next generation of banking customers as they start to shop for home loans and brokerage accounts. But Virtual Wallet is helping in the short term, too. PNC President Joseph C. Guyaux says customers carry above-average balances.

In early 2007, PNC hired IDEO, the Palo Alto (Calif.) design consultancy, to study Gen Y (which PNC defined as people aged 18-34) and help formulate a plan. The research turned up two things: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 3:02 pm

How we’re treating our veterans

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Aaron Glantz, who covered the U.S. occupation of Iraq in his 2006 book, How America Lost Iraq, has written a new book that focuses on the government’s neglect of returning soldiers. Titled The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle against America’s Veterans, it has been praised by Publisher’s Weekly as “a breathtaking rebuke to government hypocrisy and an overdue contribution to gaining critical public awareness of this official neglect. Glantz … offers a thorough account of the plight U.S. vets face back home — from the understaffed Veterans Administration perversely geared to saving money at the expense of vets in dire need of help, to concomitant medical and social ills, including undiagnosed brain injuries and the too frequent perils of homelessness, crime and suicide. There is also grassroots resistance and mutual aid, including the eventual passage of the post 9/11 GI Bill of Rights in May 2008, fiercely opposed by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress (including John McCain). Glantz fleshes out his narrative with the voices and powerful stories of vets, their families and advocates, while helpfully including a host of resources and services for veterans.” Glantz also edited another recent book that focuses on soldiers’ experiences in their own words, titled Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 2:09 pm

Torture works—but not at getting information

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In a Washington Post op-ed today, a former Special Operations interrogator who worked in Iraq in 2006 sharply criticizes American torture techniques as ineffective and dangerous. “Torture and abuse cost American lives,” he writes:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. … It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.

The writer, who used a pseudonym for the article, adds that when he switched his team’s techniques to a rapport-building method, they found enormous success. One detainee told the author, “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”

Update: The author, who is writing a book on his experiences as an interrogator, notes that the Pentagon tried to redact non-classified information and block parts of his book. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them,” he writes.

Conservative Andrew Sullivan has a strong article against torture. Written three years ago, it begins:

Why is torture wrong? It may seem like an obvious question, or even one beneath discussion. But it is now inescapably before us, with the introduction of the McCain Amendment banning all “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of detainees by American soldiers and CIA operatives anywhere in the world. The amendment lies in legislative limbo. It passed the Senate in October by a vote of 90 to nine, but President Bush has vowed to veto any such blanket ban on torture or abuse; Vice President Cheney has prevailed upon enough senators and congressmen to prevent the amendment–and the defense appropriations bill to which it is attached–from moving out of conference; and my friend Charles Krauthammer, one of the most respected conservative intellectuals in Washington (and a New Republic contributing editor) has written a widely praised cover essay for The Weekly Standard endorsing the legalization of full-fledged torture by the United States under strictly curtailed conditions. We stand on the brink of an enormously important choice–one that is critical, morally as well as strategically, to get right.

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 2:02 pm

Bush breaking his own rules

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The Labor Department is attempting to complete a rule which “would add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers’ health” and would thus make it more difficult to regulate toxic substances and chemicals that affect workers on the job. The New York Times notes that this proposal may violate the White House’s own memorandum:

The timing of the proposal appears to violate a memorandum issued in early May by Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff. “Except in extraordinary circumstances,” Mr. Bolten wrote, “regulations to be finalized in this administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008, and final regulations should be issued no later than Nov. 1, 2008.”

The proposal is “one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks,” the Times notes. For more on Bush’s last-minute regulations and proposals, read ThinkProgress’s report, “Bush’s Backward Sprint To The Finish.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 1:58 pm

Father of the modern GOP: Joe McCarthy, not Barry Goldwater

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Interesting thesis propounded by Neal Gabler. He begins:

Ever since the election, partisans within the Republican Party and observers outside it have been speculating wildly about what direction the GOP will take to revive itself from its disaster. Or, more specifically, which wing of the party will prevail in setting the new Republican course — whether it will be what conservative writer Kathleen Parker has called the “evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy” branch or the more pragmatic, intellectual, centrist branch. To determine the answer, it helps to understand exactly how Republicans arrived at this spot in the first place.

The creation myth of modern conservatism usually begins with Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator who was the party’s presidential standard-bearer in 1964 and who, even though he lost in one of the biggest landslides in American electoral history, nevertheless wrested the party from its Eastern establishment wing. Then, Richard Nixon co-opted conservatism, talking like a conservative while governing like a moderate, and drawing the opprobrium of true believers. But Ronald Reagan embraced it wholeheartedly, becoming the patron saint of conservatism and making it the dominant ideology in the country. George W. Bush picked up Reagan’s fallen standard and “conservatized” government even more thoroughly than Reagan had, cheering conservatives until his presidency came crashing down around him. That’s how the story goes.

But there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn’t begin with Goldwater and doesn’t celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party’s past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn’t run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn’t likely to be expunged any time soon.

The basic problem with the Goldwater tale is that it focuses on ideology and movement building, which few voters have ever really cared about, while the McCarthy tale focuses on electoral strategy, which is where Republicans have excelled.

McCarthy, Wisconsin’s junior senator, was the man who first energized conservatism and made it a force to reckon with. When he burst on the national scene in 1950 waving his list of alleged communists who had supposedly infiltrated Harry Truman’s State Department, conservatism was as bland, temperate and feckless as its primary congressional proponent, Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, known fondly as “Mister Conservative.” Taft was no flamethrower. Though he was an isolationist and a vehement opponent of FDR, he supported America’s involvement in the war after Pearl Harbor and had even grudgingly come to accept the basic institutions of the New Deal. He was also no winner. He had contested and lost the Republican presidential nomination to Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, three men who were regarded as much more moderate than he.

McCarthy was another thing entirely. What he lacked in ideology — and he was no ideologue at all — he made up for in …

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Spelt is not Farro

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I cook spelt and kamut frequently—and I’ve found that it cooks better with overnight soaking. I’ve also had farro, though not lately. But the two—spelt and farro—are not at all the same:

The New Year’s Eve dinner party in question has since gone down in our family annals as the Night of the Great Spelt Screw-Up. We were making, or intending to make, farro, an ancient wheat variety that can be cooked risotto-style with broth, butter and Parmesan. Unfortunately there was no farro to be found at the nearby Whole Foods. Blinded by a flash of substitution brilliance, I bought two pounds of spelt from the dry-goods aisle, recalling that I’d heard somewhere that farro was the fancy Italian word for the far-less-fancy-sounding “spelt.”

Spelt, to my eye, didn’t look like farro, and from a stovetop behavioral standpoint, it quickly distinguished itself. In a panic I called my personal farro expert, Jennifer DeVore, explaining I couldn’t find farro so instead I bought. . . . “Oh, no,” she interrupted. “You didn’t buy spelt.” Farro cooks in about 45 minutes; we cooked our spelt for four hours, and even then the result was extremely al dente. We threw in multiple sticks of butter, gallons of stock and $13 worth of grated Parmesan, but the spelt remained stoically flavor-impervious. We served it anyway. Contrary to the claims of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century spelt enthusiast, our guests did not find that eating it “makes the spirit of man light and cheerful.” …

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 9:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Interesting lecture notes in philosophy

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Worth downloading if philosophy’s your thing. From the link:

These lecture notes have been developed over many years and draw on material presented by Alan Code in his Introduction to Ancient Philosophy course given at UC-Berkeley in the 1980s when I served as his Teaching Assistant. Prof. Code has granted permission for use of the material which is, at this point, integrated throughout the notes.

Here’s one example:

Why Be Moral?  —  Republic I-II (PDF)

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30 November 2008 at 7:49 am

Posted in Daily life

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Best online places to play and learn chess

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I haven’t talked much about chess, though I was an enthusiast (of no great strength) for years. Here’s a good list of chess sites.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 7:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Games

Today is the last day of NaNoWriMo

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And to close off the month, one more interview.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 7:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

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Kevin Drum on climate change

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Kevin Drum has a good post this morning:

Joe Romm passes along the news today that Himalayan glaciers are melting faster than anyone has previously predicted. You can add this to Romm’s list of other climate change impacts that are happening faster than most climate models predict, including the canonical IPCC models:

This is why climate scientists have been running around with their hair on fire for the past couple of years. It would be nice to think that perhaps our current climate models are too pessimistic; or even that they’re right but maybe we’ll end up at the low end of the predicted warming ranges; or at worst that the models are right and we’ll end up right at the center. But that just doesn’t seem to be the case. What it really looks like is that our current models aren’t pessimistic enough and that the growth in greenhouse gas emissions is exceeding even the modelers’ highest estimates. We are fast approaching a point of no return that will likely kill hundreds of millions of people, destroy much of the world’s food supply, and spark resource wars that make Rwanda look like a mild family quarrel. More from Romm here and here on what’s happening and what to do about it.

And yet there still are those (like my commenter) who think that all the data are faked and that the whole thing is a fraud. I don’t think the future looks good. Skimping on science education turns out to have a high cost.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 7:14 am

Good site for global warming skeptics

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I posted recently about global warming and got a comment from a denier. His position was that all the scientists of the world have ganged up to commit fraud, and that in fact the Earth has been cooling since 2000. In looking for a response, I found this very nice site that lists common skeptic arguments and the science that undermines those arguments.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2008 at 6:50 am

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