Later On

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

Archive for January 2009

Off to Santa Cruz for the afternoon

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Have fun yourself.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Daily life

John Yoo getting onto thin ice

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And I can’t wait for him to fall through. Scott Horton:

John Yoo is at it again. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the indefatigable advocate of crushing the testicles of small children to extract actionable intelligence launches a full frontal attack on President Obama. What’s Obama’s offense? He banned torture. Of course, every U.S. president has banned torture, with one solitary exception: George W. Bush, acting on the advice of John Yoo. Obama, Yoo says, has put the safety of Americans on the line: his torture ban will “seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Never mind, of course, that no evidence has been advanced of a single instance in which the use of torture produced intelligence that prevented a future terrorist attack, while detailed and specific evidence has now been put forward that torture produced bad intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Those are irritating details that detract from a nice narrative.

So what’s all this about? Is Yoo suffering from withdrawal pangs coming off an addiction to torture? Or is he a “sadist” as MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann argues? I’ve followed John Yoo and his writings with some care for a while now, and I think I finally understand what this is about. Namely, a pending probe by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is looking at serious ethical issues surrounding the issuance of Yoo’s legal opinions.

But the OPR probe is far from Yoo’s only or even most pressing worry. The likelihood that he will face a criminal probe and then possibly prosecution is growing…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 11:10 am

Life with a baby

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Time-lapse video of a 9-month-old boy playing…

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 11:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

"Off the record"

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A post by Kevin Drum:

David Cay Johnston is unhappy with the Obama press operation. It took a week for anyone at the White House press office to pick up the phone when he called, and when someone finally did things didn’t get much better:

After a full week of such calls, a human being answers. But Ben LaBolt immediately bristles when asked to spell his name,  refuses to give his job title, and says he is going “off the record” until I stop him to explain that the reporter grants that privilege, not the other way around — a basic journalistic standard that LaBolt seems unaware of. He soon hangs up without even hearing what I called to ask about.

A return call is answered by Priya Singh, who spells her name when asked, but does not know (or will not say) what her job title is and several times describes requests for information about how the Obama administration press office is operating as a “complaint” which she would pass on. She says she is not authorized to comment, though she at one point tells me she is a spokesperson.

….My questions to LaBolt and Singh prompted a return phone call the next day from Nick Shapiro, who spelled his name, but had to be prodded several times to give his job title: assistant press secretary.

During our brief conversation, Shapiro, like LaBolt (whose name Shapiro did not recognize), started one sentence with “off the record.” Told that the journalist grants the privilege, and that none would be granted here, Shapiro expressed surprise. His surprise was double-barreled, at both the idea that the reporter issues any privilege and that any reporter would decline to talk “off the record.”

"Off the record" has become a cancer. It’s now practically a default presumption, rather than a rare exception granted for specific and justifiable reasons. Unfortunately, no one is willing to do anything about it. A few years ago the big newspapers all instituted policies that banned blind quotes unless there was a good case for them, but as near as I can tell the only result was to force their reporters to concoct ever more inventive ways of saying "because he wouldn’t talk otherwise." Beyond that, life went on as usual.

Reporters are as much to blame for this as politicos, and Johnston concedes that some of what happened here may just be birthing pains. Everyone is new, policies haven’t been set, equipment isn’t all working, etc. etc. Let’s hope so. Obama didn’t have much of a reputation for openness with the press during his campaign, though, so it’s worth holding his feet to the fire over this. Let’s not have another Bush administration, please.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 10:55 am

The new guy at Center for Disease Control

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Very good post by Ezra Klein begins:

Richard Besser has the conventional good looks of a TV anchorman. That’s a useful qualification for public office. Fortunately, that is not what got him appointed Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I’m pretty happy about this pick, which hasn’t gotten the attention or visibility it deserves.

As I have written before, our nation’s flagship public health agency is troubled. Besser takes the reins of an agency that has endured severe administrative and morale difficulties. CDC was traumatized by the ideological battles of the Bush years, by management reorganizations and budget difficulties, and by new challenges posed by 9/11, anthrax, and (later) Katrina….

Under these circumstances, it is wise to appoint a seasoned person who is actually a public health professional. There is a craft to this stuff that is often denigrated or ignored.

A Wall Street Journal story headlines: …

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Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 10:44 am

State of politics

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Via Kevin Drum, a very interesting report from Gallup, which includes this graph:

GOP death spiral

The article begins:

This is the first in a four-part series on the "State of the States" to be released this week on The series examines state-by-state differences in party affiliation, religiosity, consumer confidence, and employer hiring and letting go, based on Gallup Poll Daily tracking data collected throughout 2008.

PRINCETON, NJ — An analysis of Gallup Poll Daily tracking data from 2008 finds Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Hawaii to be the most Democratic states in the nation, along with the District of Columbia. Utah and Wyoming are the most Republican states…

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Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 10:41 am

Posted in Democrats, Election, GOP

USDA Food Safety Inspection Service

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Here’s one candidate for head of the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI’s Food Safety Director.

And for another note on food policy, check out this post by Tom Laskawy. It begins:

If I’ve hammered home any point this week, I hope it’s that addressing climate change and reforming food production are pretty much the same thing. You can’t do one without the other. And – as Yogi Berra might say – vice versa. The food and agriculture industries, aided and abetted by governments worldwide (not to mention by consumers), have succeeded in offloading just about all external costs involved with feeding us. Environmental issues, public health issues, natural resource utilization issues, even most economic issues related to food have all been socialized to the extent that the industry is almost totally isolated from the societal consequences of its actions. To this point few have complained as it has led to ever lower food prices in the developed world and thriving export markets in the developing world. But the costs, which for 60 years or so seemed to have been pushed back beyond the horizon, are now beginning to loom.

Many of us have high hopes that the new administration can make serious progress on reform, but it’s important to focus on how serious the challenge before us actually is. In this way, it’s like the global warming debate was back in the 90s. The science was pretty clear even then. There were visionaries like NASA’s James Hansen and, yes, Al Gore, who understood that we needed to act. But for most Americans, hearing about climate change in the 90s was like being reminded to carry an umbrella on a sunny day. Where exactly were the portents of doom?

We’re in the same position with food. The portents perhaps are a bit more present, but doom is not yet upon us. On the one hand, …

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Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 10:32 am

A story in two photos

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One of Bush, one of Obama, both signing bills. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 10:26 am

Lead pipes vs. crack pipes

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On January 26, the New York Times examined "The Epidemic That Wasn’t" — breathless news reporting from the 1980s that predicted an epidemic of irreparable damage to inner-city children whose mothers used crack cocaine. Actually, it turns out, the so-called "crack babies" are doing fine. On the same day, notes the Columbia Journalism Review, the Washington Post published a story on an epidemic that washundreds of children who have unsafe amounts of lead in their blood due to contamination of the water supply in Washington, DC. "The sad irony about these stories appearing on the same day is that lead poisoning in young children actually produces some of the irreparable cognitive and developmental damage that was once believed to be caused by exposing infants to cocaine," writes Lester Feder. "Lead poisoning also disproportionately affects the low income and African-American populations menaced by the crack epidemic. But while crack babies became a symbol of America’s deteriorating inner city during the Reagan administration, President Reagan cut funding for lead screening and ordered the Centers for Disease Control to stop keeping lead poisoning statistics." Feder also notes a difference in reporting standards for the two epidemics. When writing about crack babies, he notes, "they often treated speculation as fact and used language as alarmist as possible." When writing about lead poisoning, however, they were careful to seek comments from lead industry representatives to flag "the possibility that the science could be questioned, a caution missing from the crack baby stories."

Source: Columbia Journalism Review, January 28, 2009

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 10:12 am

Interesting graphs by Nate Silver

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Two graphs (and commentary) worth reading:

1. The Republican death spiral in graphic form

2. The Republican Senators and votes for Obama bills

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 10:10 am

Posted in Congress, GOP

Good movie: Vatel

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Vatel is a wonderful costume drama. Although I could not imagine how the title character could create some of his entertainments, the movie itself is terrific. Recommended.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 9:52 am

Posted in Movies & TV

The changing relationship: US and Israel

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Very good column by Glenn Greenwald, with a call to action from J Street. Column begins:

It’s now rather clear that the debate in the U.S. over Israel and the Middle East is becoming increasingly more balanced and open, and there are even some very preliminary though encouraging signs that the Obama administration will take a more even-handed approach.  As I wrote about the other day, the truly excellent report by 60 Minutes‘ Bob Simon, focusing on the destructive impact of expanding West Bank settlements, was a startling departure from the rules governing what normally would be aired in such venues with regard to Israel.

As one would expect, there were angry reactions and recriminations aimed at Simon and 60 Minutes from the same groups that, for years, have been stigmatizing even-handed discussions of Israel as illegitimate, or worse.  But now, there is an important counter-weight to those efforts:  J Street, which is well on its way to ending the monopoly that right-wing groups have long wielded in the U.S. when it comes to purporting to speak for Americans Jews and defining the allegedly "pro-Israel" position.  J Street has launched a project praising the Simon/60 Minutes report, and has organized a letter-writing campaign to CBS in support of that segment, to balance the campaigns of criticisms from the right-wing "pro-Israel" groups.  You can read about J Street’s position here, and participate in their letter-writing campaign to CBS here (the full, lengthier and more detailed statement sent by J Street via email is here).

Obama’s decision to name George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy (as opposed to, say, the hopelessly biased Dennis Ross) may turn out to be one of the most significant steps he will take.  Consider the reaction that decision has generated. 

On PBS’s News Hour this week, Jimmy Carter (who, with his success at forging an Israel-Egypt peace agreement, probably did more for Israel’s security than any foreign leader in the last century) said that Obama’s "choice of an envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is absolutely superb, and it shows that he’s going to take a more balanced position between the Israelis and their neighbors."  J Street’s Executive Director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, "enthusiastically" praised the selection of Mitchell, saying that it "signals the President’s serious intention to inject new thinking and fresh perspectives into America’s efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."  Even Noam Chomsky, while questioning Obama’s commitment to changing American policy in the region, said that "George Mitchell is, of the various appointments that have been made, the most decent, let’s say. He has a pretty decent record."

Meanwhile, …

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Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 9:39 am

Booman on Dashle

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I have to agree with Booman’s comment:

Not a few people think it’s time to draw a line in the sand about politicians that play by their own set of rules and don’t pay their taxes while writing the laws that prescribe punishment for us if we don’t pay ours. Tom Daschle’s tax issues are an embarrassment that we don’t need or deserve. I applauded his nomination to be Secretary of Health & Human Services because I thought (and still do) that his good relations on the Hill would make it much easier to usher through Obama’s health care package. But, in these difficult economic times, it’s impossible to defend someone that piles up hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes while he is tooled around in limousines. Daschle has no excuse, and none of us should be put in the position of trying to defend his actions. Howard Dean might not have equivalent connections and political savvy, but he does understand health care and he does deserve a job in the Obama administration. I say that the Obama administration should withdraw Daschle’s nomination and replace him with Howard Dean.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 9:22 am

Good article on John Maynard Keynes

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Well worth reading (or listening to). Thanks to TYD for pointing it out. It begins:

Keynes, a British economist who died more than 60 years ago, inspired President Barack Obama’s plan to save the U.S. economy with a massive round of government spending. The British economist published his big theory, the one underpinning most of what Obama intends to do, in 1936.

By the 1980s, many believed Keynes’ ideas were utterly discredited. But he is the man who came up with the then-radical notion that a government can pull a country out of a deep recession by spending a lot.

Many would argue that Keynes’ 73-year-old theory is being tested, right now, for the very first time. One Keynes biographer, Lord Robert Skidelsky, portrays Keynes as a fascinating figure, equal parts genius and jerk. Keynes ran with the Bloomsbury Group, which included painters and writers such as Virginia Woolf. The Bloomsbury crowd was known for free love and raunchy language, but even they complained in letters to each other that Keynes was too dirty for them.

Keynes could be just as shocking when it came to academic theory, sounding like a socialist one moment and fanatically defending free markets the next…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 8:18 am

Do searches really have to be "reasonable"?

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Good article:

In this column, I will examine a middle-school drug-search case on which the Supreme Court recently granted review. As I will explain, the case will give the Justices another chance to demonstrate that a so-called "reasonableness" approach to the Fourth Amendment need not be toothless and, indeed, can serve to vigorously safeguard the interests the Fourth Amendment should protect. However, we probably won’t know until the summer whether the Court will seize that opportunity, or instead uphold school authority in the name of the war on drugs.

The Case’s Factual and Legal Background

The case, Redding v. Safford, comes to the Court from southeast Arizona by way of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. According to the Ninth Circuit majority opinion, school officials at Safford Middle School, unnerved by the relatively recent drug-related death of one of its students, learned that someone had brought to school, in violation of clear school policy and also perhaps in violation of criminal law, some 400-milligram tablets of ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is an over-the-counter pain and muscle ache reliever, but the 400-milligram tablets — twice the size of the tablets available for purchase at a grocery store — can be obtained only with a doctor’s prescription. The 400-milligram tablets were found in the possession of a student named Marissa, who then told school authorities that another student, Savana, had given her the pills, along with a black planner. (When the planner was seized from Marissa and searched, officials found other contraband but no drugs.)

School officials then questioned Savana, who admitted having loaned Marissa the planner, but denied having any knowledge about, or involvement with, bringing any 400-milligram ibuprofen pills or other drugs or other contraband to school. Seemingly persuaded by these denials, the school authorities asked for and obtained Savana’s permission to search her backpack, but the search turned up nothing. A female school nurse and a female administrative assistant then took Savana to another room, directed her to take off her outer clothing and — when a search of that outer clothing found no contraband — instructed her to, in the Ninth Circuit’s words, "pull her bra out to the side and shake it." In following this direction, Savana exposed her breasts, according to the Ninth Circuit majority. (The dissenting Ninth Circuit judges may not have agreed that any exposure necessarily took place.) No pills were found. The administrative assistant and the nurse then requested that Savana pull out her panties at the crotch and shake them. Turning her head, Savana complied by pulling out her underwear to shake it, revealing her pelvic area. Once again, no ibuprofen was found.

On her daughter’s behalf, Savana’s mother then sued the school district and various officials in federal court for damages, alleging that a Fourth Amendment violation had occurred, and that school officials should have seen and avoided that violation…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 8:13 am

Companies can’t be sued for releasing your private data

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Many companies have privacy polices in which they promise to keep safe any confidential information they collect – from Social Security numbers, to personal financial information, and even sexual history. Given such promises, is your information safe? The answer is a resounding no. The headlines are full of stories of security breaches, stolen company laptops, and even untrustworthy employees who steal customer data.

Such stories raise an important legal question: Does a company face any legal consequences if it breaks a confidentiality promise? The answer is: Not necessarily.

Indeed, a recent Louisiana case highlights how current law is inadequate to deal with the growing problem of security breaches and the insecurity of confidential customer data.

The Louisiana Case

The facts are as follows: In 2006, Louisiana resident Vicki Pinero hired Crescent City Tax Service — a franchisee of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service — to prepare her tax returns. She provided the company with confidential information, including her Social Security and driver’s license numbers, date of birth, and information about her finances. Pinero alleges that she was shown and duly signed Jackson Hewitt’s privacy policy. The company policy states that it had procedures in place (such as. physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards) to protect customers’ private data. She also alleges that she relied on this statement in her decision to hire the company and to hand over her information.
In early 2008, Pinero alleges, the company disposed of Pinero’s 2005 federal and state tax returns, and those of over 100 other people, in a public dumpster, where a passerby found them. The returns were intact; they had not been shredded, burned or otherwise made illegible as required by federal and state law. The passerby contacted a local television news station and local law enforcement, in order to alert them of the documents, and as a result, the news station returned the tax returns to Pinero. Crescent City later issued a public statement asserting that the documents had been stolen.

Pinero sued — alleging, among other causes of action, breach of contract and false inducement to enter into a contract…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 8:10 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

US professors call for economic and cultural boycott of Israel

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In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, a group of American university professors has for the first time launched a national campaign calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
While Israeli academics have grown used to such news from Great Britain, where anti-Israel groups several times attempted to establish academic boycotts, the formation of the United States movement marks the first time that a national academic boycott movement has come out of America. Israeli professors are not sure yet how big of an impact the one-week-old movement will have, but started discussing the significance of and possible counteractions against the campaign.
"As educators of conscience, we have been unable to stand by and watch in silence Israel’s indiscriminate assault on the Gaza Strip and its educational institutions," the U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel stated in its inaugural press release last Thursday. Speaking in its mission statement of the "censorship and silencing of the Palestine question in U.S. universities, as well as U.S. society at large," the group follows the usual pattern of such boycotts, calling for "non-violent punitive measures" against Israel, such as the implementation of divestment initiatives, "similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era."

The campaign was founded by a group of 15 academics, mostly from California, but is, "currently expanding to create a network that embraces the United States as a whole," according to David Lloyd, a professor of English at the University of Southern California who responded on behalf of the group to a Haaretz query. "The initiative was in the first place impelled by Israel’s latest brutal assault on Gaza and by our determination to say enough is enough."

"The response has been remarkable given the extraordinary hold that lobbying organizations like AIPAC exert over U.S. politics and over the U.S. media, and in particular given the campaign of intimidation that has been leveled at academics who dare to criticize Israel’s policies," Lloyd wrote in an e-mail to Haaretz Monday. "Within a short weekend since the posting of the press release, more than 80 academics from all over the country have endorsed the action and the numbers continue to grow." …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 8:07 am

The power of the norm

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I don’t know whether it’s people wanting to be close to the norm or it’s competition, but this is an interesting approach:

A frowny face is not what most electric customers expect to see on their utility statements, but Greg Dyer got one.

He earned it, the utility said, by using a lot more energy than his neighbors.

“I have four daughters; none of my neighbors has that many children,” said Mr. Dyer, 49, a lawyer who lives in Sacramento. He wrote back to the utility and gave it his own rating: four frowny faces.

Two other Sacramento residents, however, Paul Geisert and his wife, Mynga Futrell, were feeling good. They got one smiley face on their statement for energy efficiency and saw the promise of getting another.

“Our report card will quickly get better,” Mr. Geisert wrote in an e-mail message to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

The district had been trying for years to prod customers into using less energy with tactics like rebates for energy-saving appliances. But the traditional approaches were not meeting the energy reduction goals set by the nonprofit utility’s board.

So, in a move that has proved surprisingly effective, the district decided to tap into a time-honored American passion: keeping up with the neighbors.

Last April, it began sending out statements to 35,000 randomly selected customers, rating them on their energy use compared with that of neighbors in 100 homes of similar size that used the same heating fuel. The customers were also compared with the 20 neighbors who were especially efficient in saving energy.

Customers who scored high earned two smiley faces on their statements. “Good” conservation got a single smiley face. Customers like Mr. Dyer, whose energy use put him in the “below average” category, got frowns, but the utility stopped using them after a few customers got upset.

When the Sacramento utility conducted its first assessment of the program after six months, it found that customers who received the personalized report reduced energy use by 2 percent more than those who got standard statements — an improvement that Alexandra Crawford, a spokeswoman for the utility, said was very encouraging…

Continue reading. It’s coming soon to your city.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 8:05 am

WordPress problems

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WordPress was having its troubles yesterday, with the result that for most of the day the only way to view new posts was to click the date in the calendar at the right. The posts would not automatically display. Sorry about that. Things are back to normal now.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 8:02 am

Posted in Daily life, WordPress

Blenheim Bouqet

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A little change of pace today: on the suggestion of a commenter I tried Trader Joe’s Oatmeal & Honey soap in place of Musgo Real Glyce Lime Oil soap (MR GLO) for washing my beard before lathering. The Trader Joe’s soap worked fine, though I still prefer MR GLO, partly because of the fragrance. But experimentation is always good in order to find what works for you.

Other than that experiment, the shave went with well-tried options: Simpsons Emperor 3 Super and Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet, with a great lather. The Edwin Jagger Lined Chatsworth wielded a new Gillette blade and left my face perfectly smooth with no nicks or irritation. Great shave.

Now for a cup of hot tea.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2009 at 8:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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