Later On

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

Archive for January 5th, 2009

King Corn

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Another documentary that I highly recommend: King Corn. It’s interesting and illuminating. Did you know, for example, that 70% of the antibiotics used in the this country go into food animals?

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 4:13 pm

Situation map of Gaza Strip

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Might be helpful. PDF files at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

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Leon Panetta named CIA Director

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You can see his views on torture in this article, which begins:

According to the latest polls, two-thirds of the American public believes that torturing suspected terrorists to gain important information is justified in some circumstances. How did we transform from champions of human dignity and individual rights into a nation of armchair torturers? One word: fear.

Fear is blinding, hateful, and vengeful. It makes the end justify the means. And why not? If torture can stop the next terrorist attack, the next suicide bomber, then what’s wrong with a little waterboarding or electric shock?

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The simple answer is the rule of law. Our Constitution defines the rules that guide our nation. It was drafted by those who looked around the world of the eighteenth century and saw persecution, torture, and other crimes against humanity and believed that America could be better than that. This new nation would recognize that every individual has an inherent right to personal dignity, to justice, to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

We have preached these values to the world. We have made clear that there are certain lines Americans will not cross because we respect the dignity of every human being. That pledge was written into the oath of office given to every president, “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” It’s what is supposed to make our leaders different from every tyrant, dictator, or despot. We are sworn to govern by the rule of law, not by brute force.

We cannot simply suspend these beliefs in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 2:36 pm

The US Army on Hamas

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Thomas Ricks (who knows what the writes about):

The Army War College chose this week to release a report that has some surprisingly kind words for Israel’s foes in the Gaza Strip: “HAMAS’ political and strategic development has been both ignored and misreported in Israeli and Western sources which villainize the group, much as the PLO was once characterized as an anti-Semitic terrorist group,” writes Sherifa Zuhur, a research professor at the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. “Negotiating solely with the weaker Palestinian party-Fatah-cannot deliver the security Israel requires. . . . The underlying strategies of Israel and HAMAS appear mutually exclusive . . . . Yet each side is still capable of revising its desired endstate and of necessary concessions to establish and preserve a long-term truce, or even a longer-term peace.”

Among her timely if impolitic recommendations: “Israel and the United States need to abandon their policies of non-negotiation and non-communication with HAMAS.”

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 1:01 pm

The Ascent of Money

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Sounds like an interesting bo0k. Here’s a review by Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at Warwick University, England. It begins:

The historian Alan Taylor used to say, mischievously, that the only point of history is history. The idea that one could use it to predict the future, still more to avoid past mistakes, was pure illusion. Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money, a history of financial innovation written as a television documentary as well as a book, offers a neat test of Taylor’s theory. Ferguson can claim some powers of anticipation. History convinced him in 2006 that the good times could not last “indefinitely.” This was an insight to which the Nobel Prize–winning mathematical economists who devised the Black-Scholes formula — the complicated model for pricing share options used by the highly leveraged firm Long-Term Capital Management, which famously crashed in 1998 — were oblivious. Their formula persuaded them that a massive sell-off could occur only once in four million years.

History has alerted Ferguson to the perils of the state relying on the bond market for its financing. On Lou Dobbs Tonight on November 13, 2008, he said:

How much can the international bond market absorb of new ten-year treasuries?… And if yields go up, the cost of government borrowing goes up, and the thing begins to spiral out of control….That’s why you need the historical perspective….

Between the two opposed views that history can teach us nothing and that the future is simply a reflection of the past lies the sensible middle position that history, like any other way of experiencing the past, can give us “vague” knowledge of what may lie in store for humanity. Only history-free economists could have bought the “efficient market hypothesis,” which claims that the market will price shares correctly, with deviations from accurate prediction occurring only at random. But knowledge of history would not have enabled anyone to predict the timing and extent of the present meltdown. Above all, history cannot settle the question of what our attitude should be toward money, which is at root a moral question.

The Ascent of Money is a superb book, which illustrates both the strengths and the weaknesses of history for understanding what is happening now. It is written with the narrative flair, eye for detail, range of reference, and playfulness of language that we have come to expect from this exceptionally versatile historian. Ferguson is clearly fascinated by the subject of finance, knows a huge amount about it, and communicates his enthusiasm to the reader. Many parts of the story will be familiar enough to specialists, but Ferguson has a special ability to color even the familiar with strange and unusual examples, and he weaves together the separate strands of the financial tapestry with great skill. Some of the financial material is quite technical, but there is no attempt to “dumb down.” The book is an all too rare example of good, even dense, scholarship finding a way to engage the larger public.

Ferguson’s strategically themed structure starts with…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 10:46 am

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Steve Benen notes

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Steven Benen writes:

When I first saw Glenn Greenwald’s piece yesterday on Michael Goldfarb’s latest missive, I thought there had to be some kind of mistake. Glenn made it sound like Goldfarb, the Weekly Standard writer and former John McCain aide, had endorsed deliberate military attacks against innocent civilians.

But it wasn’t a mistake; that’s exactly what Goldfarb argued. Under a headline that read, “Ruthless,” Goldfarb commented on an Israeli airstrike that killed a Hamas leader, his wives, and his 12 children.

The fight against Islamic radicals always seems to come around to whether or not they can, in fact, be deterred, because it’s not clear that they are rational, at least not like us. But to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause. Perhaps it will make the leadership of Hamas rethink the wisdom of sparking an open confrontation with Israel under the current conditions.

Noting how odd it is to see “the ethics of Osama bin Laden being explicitly adopted by the organs of mainstream conservatism,” Matt Yglesias explained, “To be clear, [Goldfarb’s] not saying that it’s sometimes okay to kill a bad guy’s innocent children as part of a military operation directed against the guy. He’s saying it’s better to kill his children than it would be to avoid killing them.”

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 10:36 am

Posted in GOP, Mideast Conflict

Good review of Mark Bittman’s new book

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Be sure to check out this review of Mark Bittman’s Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating With More Than 75 Recipes. For 2009 I’m determined that the proportion of animal protein to vegetables will be 1:5 or less.

Think of a meal as a Martini, with the vegetables as the gin, the meat as the vermouth. And the simple carbs as the tiny dots of lemon oil floating on top. Those would be the right proportions for me.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 10:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

High praise for Obama’s pick for Office of Legal Counsel

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And from Glenn Greenwald, no less. As liberal and progressive bloggers often do, he provides the reasons for his judgment.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 10:08 am

High-precision desktop calculator

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And free, of course. Their description:

  • history and results on a scrollable display
  • up to 50 decimal precisions
  • unlimited variable storage
  • intelligent automatic completion
  • fully usable from the keyboard
  • more than 50 built-in math functions
  • optional virtual keypad to be used with a mouse
  • on-the-fly and selection calculation
  • customizable appearance
  • syntax highlighting and parentheses matching

Read a review here, and download it here.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 9:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

“The End of the Financial World As We Know It”

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In the NY Times today is a very interesting op-ed by Michael Lewis (of Liar’s Poker fame) and David Einhorn. I recommend you read it. From the op-ed:

… The S.E.C. now promises modest new measures to contain the damage that the rating agencies can do — measures that fail to address the central problem: that the raters are paid by the issuers.

But this should come as no surprise, for the S.E.C. itself is plagued by similarly wacky incentives. Indeed, one of the great social benefits of the Madoff scandal may be to finally reveal the S.E.C. for what it has become.

Created to protect investors from financial predators, the commission has somehow evolved into a mechanism for protecting financial predators with political clout from investors. (The task it has performed most diligently during this crisis has been to question, intimidate and impose rules on short-sellers — the only market players who have a financial incentive to expose fraud and abuse.) …

It seems obvious that the rating agencies should be government agencies, not reliant on making money from the bonds and securities they rate, and thus insulated from the pressure of those they are rating. Moreover, those who work in the rating agency should be prevented by law from taking a job in the financial sector once they leave the agency (to avoid payoffs via that route). This would help secure independence of the rating agencies and perhaps lead to more trustworthy ratings.

In addition, of course, the SEC should be staffed with and led by people who believe in the SEC’s mission, not people who oppose it.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 9:14 am

What is Israel aiming at?

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Jack from Amsterdam sends a link to an article that suggests a grim goal. The article begins:

The aerial bombings and the ongoing ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli ground forces must be analysed in a historical context. Operation “Cast Lead” is a carefully planned undertaking, which is part of a broader military-intelligence agenda first formulated by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001:

“Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas.”(Barak Ravid, Operation “Cast Lead”: Israeli Air Force strike followed months of planning, Haaretz, December 27, 2008)

It was Israel which broke the truce on the day of the US presidential elections, November 4:

“Israel used this distraction to break the ceasefire between itself and Hamas by bombing the Gaza strip.  Israel claimed this violation of the ceasefire was to prevent Hamas from digging tunnels into Israeli territory.

The very next day, Israel launched a terrorizing siege of Gaza, cutting off food, fuel, medical supplies and other necessities in an attempt to “subdue” the Palestinians while at the same time engaging in armed incursions.

In response, Hamas and others in Gaza again resorted to firing crude, homemade, and mainly inaccurate rockets into Israel.  During the past seven years, these rockets have been responsible for the deaths of 17 Israelis.  Over the same time span, Israeli Blitzkrieg assaults have killed thousands of Palestinians, drawing worldwide protest but falling on deaf ears at the UN.” (Shamus Cooke, The Massacre in Palestine and the Threat of a Wider War, Global Research, December 2008)

Planned Humanitarian Disaster

On December 8, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was in Tel Aviv for discussions with his Israeli counterparts including the director of Mossad, Meir Dagan.

“Operation Cast Lead” was initiated two days day after Christmas. It was coupled with a carefully designed international Public Relations campaign under the auspices of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Hamas’ military targets are not the main objective. Operation “Cast Lead” is intended, quite deliberately, to trigger civilian casualities.

What we are dealing with is a “planned humanitarian disaster” in Gaza in a densly populated urban area. (See map below [map at link – LG])

The longer term objective of this plan, as formulated by Israeli policy makers, is the expulsion of Palestinians from Palestinian lands:

“Terrorize the civilian population, assuring maximal destruction of property and cultural resources… The daily life of the Palestinians must be rendered unbearable: They should be locked up in cities and towns, prevented from exercising normal economic life, cut off from workplaces, schools and hospitals, This will encourage emigration and weaken the resistance to future expulsions” Ur Shlonsky, quoted by Ghali Hassan, Gaza: The World’s Largest Prison, Global Research, 2005)

Continue reading. I see in the news the possibility that Israel may be using cluster bombs on Gaza (fired by artillery), which in itself is an atrocity: there are too many civilians there for this type of weaponry, which leaves unexploded bomblets lying about for children to discover and accidentally trigger. From the Wikipedia article:

Because cluster bombs release many small bomblets over a wide area, unexploded bomblets can kill or maim civilians long after a conflict has ended. Unexploded submunitions are very costly to locate and remove.

Cluster bombs are prohibited under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in Dublin in May 2008 and signed by 94 nations on 3-4 December 2008 in Oslo. The general rules of international humanitarian law aimed at protecting civilians also apply to cluster bombs as they do to all weapons.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 8:48 am

A cave for Megs

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Megs has been enjoying sleeping on the bed and my pyjamas, so this morning when I got up I made a little cave for her to find this afternoon, when she generally retires for a nap. The floor, as you see, consists of my pyjamas patted flat, and I pulled up the covers (sheet, blanket, and duvet) to make the cave. The mattress pad, blanket, and duvet are packed with Thermocules, so she’s going to be very comfortable. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 8:31 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Strong movie recommendation

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This weekend I watched Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, and I highly recommend that you watch it, too—though of course many of you may have already seen it. I found it fascinating and it gave new impetus to my reading his great work A People’s History of the United States, in which he carefully includes those incidents air-brushed from the standard history of the US that we are all taught. The missing incidents generally are of common people standing firm against the government or big business or (commonly) both working together. For obvious reasons, the government and big business do not want such incidents recorded or talked about or even known—it might give people ideas, and people are much more docile if they don’t have ideas. And yet if we were all taught a history that showed how people can stand firm against forces trying to control them, it would be better for everyone.

At any rate, do see this documentary. It’s fascinating, I promise.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 8:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Exceptional shave

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Quite a fine shave today. The D.R. Harris shave stick, together with the Omega brush, produced the usual exceptional D.R. Harris lather. The Vision 2000, with a scarcely used Swedish Gillette blade, flawlessly removed the stubble with not a nick or any sign of irritation. And the Booster Mosswood was a fine aftershave to finish with.

I should say that it’s been a long, long time since I had any skin irritation: doing good prep, using blades that work for me, using light pressure, and maintaining a good blade angle eliminates that problem. And while I occasionally have a nick (about once or twice a week), My Nik Is Sealed is the most that’s required and often not even that. Practice—almost daily practice—does a make a big difference in one’s skill.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2009 at 7:52 am

Posted in Shaving

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