Later On

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

Archive for January 6th, 2009

FBI: “Can you crack this cipher?”

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Give it a go.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Daily life

Infoplease 2008 year in review

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Go see the “year in review” collection at Infoplease and collect some factoids to kill the conversation at the next party.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Daily life

Two excellent posts from Tom Hicks

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The first is short:

The Sri Lankan army is the first this decade to defeat an insurgency, downing the Tamil Tigers decisively when they captured the guerrillas’ home base in the last quarter, reports John McCreary in NightWatch. He gives a shout out to Sri Lankan Army Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Fonseca and to the Indian government for its quiet support. Fonseca also gets style points: McCreary says his “achievement took only two days longer than he predicted half a year ago, which is impressive, if not astonishing.”

The second, titled The good war?, is longer:

Two things that need to be said about this. The Afghan war isn’t either. That is:

  • It isn’t a good war
  • It isn’t an Afghan war

What do I mean by that? First, I find the “good war” term offensive. I find it hard to use that word to describe anything that maims and kills innocent men, women and children. All wars have an element of evil in them. That said, this one was better than most. I thought that invading Afghanistan in late 2001 was the right thing to do, and I still do.

But I wonder what the hell we’ve been doing since then. The conflict in Afghanistan has kind of unfairly had the reputation of “the little war that could,” in comparison to the fiasco in Iraq, seen as doing more with less. Yet the record doesn’t support that. An Army War College review concluded that Gen. Tommy R. Franks’ command of the initial invasion was sloppy, as was his handling of the battle of Tora Bora, from which Osama bin Laden apparently escaped.

The next big battle of the war, the “Anaconda” fight in the spring of 2002, was a haywire operation, …

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Afghanistan War

The importance of rules

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Ezra Klein has an important post, which begins:

Also from Tim Fernholz — the kid is good! — comes some analysis of a quietly important change in the House Rules.

The most interesting adjustment is a modification of the motion to recommit, one of the few ways that the minority party in the House can kill a piece of legislation. A motion to recommit sends the bill back to its originating committee with instructions to amend it; this in effect ends consideration of the legislation. The change that has been made, like all fun legal changes, revolves around a single word: In the past, the minority party could recommit the bill “promptly,” which returned it to committee. Now they will be unable to do that, instead recommitting the bill “forthwith,” which forces an immediate floor vote (after a short debate) on whatever amendment the minority would like to have attached to the bill, preventing the parliamentary maneuver from holding up the final legislation for long.

Now that’s a lot of Robert’s Rules mumbo-jumbo, what’s the real world effect? The procedure has been used to kill bills on issues like D.C. voting rights, public housing improvements, and various appropriations and authorization bills that included provisions opposed by Republicans…The motion to recommit has been around for a while, but like the filibuster, it has seen increasing use in the last decade or so — Newt Gingrich deployed it with great effect while in the minority during the early nineties. If the rules change eases legislative obstruction and is politically uncontroversial, one wonders if the burgeoning support for removing the filibuster from the Senate, or amending filibuster rules to make it harder to enact, will grow large enough to see action from Democratic Leadership. The change is also a sign of the confidence of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her team, reflecting her desire to put a real stamp on the institution and her own legacy.

Ending the filibuster wouldn’t be a quiet change to the rules. It would be a brutal war. That bit of obstruction has a political and cultural salience that no other minority maneuver can touch.

But there are precedents for this sort of thing. …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Interesting support for Panetta

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Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review Online interviews a former CIA operative on the Panetta pick. Very interesting and unexpected stuff. It begins:

Ishmael Jones is a former deep-cover officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. He is author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published last year by Encounter Books. I asked him this morning what he thought of the Panetta pick and what Obama should be thinking about the CIA.

Q: Would Leon Panetta have been your CIA chief choice?

A: He’s an excellent choice because he will be loyal to the president first, not to the CIA. Mr. Obama needs someone who can be trusted, a person who will support him when the going gets tough.

A “safe” choice, viewed as inoffensive by the CIA’s top bureaucrats, would have been dangerous. Directors Tenet and Hayden were placid Washington civil servants of neutral loyalties, quickly coopted by the CIA’s bureaucracy. A military officer might have had good leadership experience but would have lacked sound partisan political connections.

The choice is a brave one because it can open Mr. Obama to charges of appointing a loyalist to a crucial post. But that is exactly what is needed at this time.

Q: What can he bring to the job?

A: Panetta has no espionage experience, but he has the only qualification he needs: the ability to bring the power of the presidency to bear.

Americans want President Obama to succeed, and for that he’ll need a CIA that can provide the intelligence necessary to protect Americans and our allies. If Mr. Obama relies less upon military strength, he will necessarily rely more upon intelligence.

Now that the Democrats are in charge, their focus shifts from winning power to holding it. A nuclear attack on America or an ally that could have been prevented through intelligence reform will severely harm the new president and his party.

Q: More generally speaking: Whomever the nominee, what’s the opportunity Obama has to seize when it comes to the CIA? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 11:36 am

Why the WSJ editorial page is worthless

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Nate Silver explains:

The Wall Street Journal is bar none one of the best newspapers in the country — except when its Editorial Board is having a bad day. And today the Board is having a very bad day, having published an editorial that declares Al Franken’s provisional win in Minnesota, which the state just certified moments ago, to be illegitimate, while accusing Minnesota’s Canvassing Board of being inconsistent and biased in favor of Franken.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with taking such a position. The Journal’s editorial, however, has several basic facts wrong, makes several other assertions based on flimsy or nonexistent evidence, and generally has little understanding of the process that has taken place to date.

Let’s go through the editorial paragraph by paragraph.

Strange things keep happening in Minnesota, where the disputed recount in the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken may be nearing a dubious outcome. Thanks to the machinations of Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and a meek state Canvassing Board, Mr. Franken may emerge as an illegitimate victory

“Machinations”: there’s a ten-dollar word. Ritchie may be a Democrat, but he was also democratically elected — lower case ‘D’ — by the people of Minnesota. And as for the Canvassing Board, it arguably leans to the right, consisting of two members appointed by Tim Pawlenty, one appointed by Jesse Ventura, one elected member, and Ritchie.

Mr. Franken started the recount 215 votes behind Senator Coleman, but he now claims a 225-vote lead and suddenly the man who was insisting on “counting every vote” wants to shut the process down. He’s getting help from Mr. Ritchie and his four fellow Canvassing Board members, who have delivered inconsistent rulings and are ignoring glaring problems with the tallies.

Actually, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 11:22 am

Posted in Election, GOP

The EPA: a ruined agency

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Kirk Murphy, MD, continues to follow the gigantic “clean-coal” disaster. His latest report begins:

The Carbon Lords’ subjects at TVA, together with the usual PR ghouls, began their usual Big Lie campaign to cover up the danger from the TVA’s catastrophic storage and discharge of toxic coal ash waste before the ash was even dry. Predictably, the Carbon Lords’ eager servants at EPA fell in line. On December 24, 2008, the EPA gave the TVA a belated Christmas present — a banquet of toxic lies for public consumption.

Current environmental data from surface water sampling indicates that several heavy metals are present in the surface water slightly above drinking water standards in the area of the spill, but not in the area of the Kingston water supply intake. Drinking water standards are designed to be conservative, and results to date are below concentrations EPA knows to be harmful to humans.

Guess we weren’t supposed to notice the EPA was reasurring us about the “safety” of water they collected upstream from the toxic catastrophe. Knowing that fact, and knowing the EPA not only chose to continue exposing all Americans to lead on our roads but also lied to the entire planet about the toxic dust from the Twin Towers, why should anyone trust anything the Bushie EPA says about the deadly coal ash poisons the TVA stored and spilled in Tennessee?

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 11:18 am

A career intel professional on Panetta

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Very interesting post at TalkingPointsMemo. It includes this quotation from a reader of TPM:

I have 29 years of experience in the intel business both in government and as a consultant / contractor to the government. I recently retired after those 29 years as a Navy Captain (Intel). I have served with many in the “national intel community” and served on the WMD commission in 2004-05. This is my cred, now for my comment.

I think there is a lot more here than is being said. I believe that Feinstein did not want someone like Panetta who has a large and independent power base and network. If you get a career guy they are a lot easier to isolate and move around. Panetta has been around for a long time and has his own network. I actually think that it is a good choice. He knows how intelligence needs to be presented to the President – that is the critical issue here.

I do not discount the notion that many in the CIA feel slighted by the creation of the DNI and not being the “premier” agency anymore, at least when one looks at the totem pole. But if you look at the PDB more than 80% of the product still originates from the DI. It is the gold standard of intelligence agencies, both here and abroad. As a old colleague once said to me: there are a lot of jewels in the crown of the United States government but there are only a few large critical ones: CIA DI, NASA, NIH, State; that is where the intellectual might of the government is.

The issue is not intell guy or non-intell guy. The big issue for Blair and Panetta is strategic or tactical orientation. We are fighting two wars and the warfighter always screams they don’t have enough intel or enough of anything for that matter. The dice are so loaded for support to the warfighter that critical strategic intelligence for the President and other senior leaders goes wanting due to time constraints on collection assets.

We need a significant re-orientation away from tactical support by CIA and other National agencies and back to their primary mission – direct intelligence support to the President. The last 15 years have seen an explosion of tactical intelligence capability with the advent of UAVs (which DoD fought against for so long due to the fighter pilot mentality). National systems need to be re-oriented to national priorities and away from tactical or operational desires of the warfighter.

I think the Panetta selection is another indication of the change coming. I was concerned that the selection of Jones as National Security Advisor and Blair as DNI underscored the great concern that I have about the militarization of intelligence. The selection of Panetta, with a much wider and deeper power base than either of them, makes me hopeful in this regard. Panetta is a skilled operator, he knows how to get things done. He knows how to get a budget approved and to make the wheels of government work. He will be a force – both in the Administration and on the Hill — much larger than any career guy could be. This is good. It gives the CIA the opportunity to re-create itself within the current structure.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 10:54 am

Windows Live Writer

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So far I’m unimpressed. BlogDesk seems to be better. I can’t even enter the title of a post (there’s a place to enter it, but clicking or double clicking that place doesn’t let you enter text there) and the text is very strangely formatted: tremendously wide left and right margins. I guess I need to wait for version 3.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 10:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Thoughtful post on Gaza

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I want to draw your attention to this post by Daniel Levy. It begins:

On day 10 of the Gaza crisis I would like to weigh in with some thoughts on (1) what needs to happen next and what a more rational, more thoughtful pro-Israel position might look like, (2) on this human tragedy that is unfolding and how to create incentives to sustain a future ceasefire (3) on the bigger picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and some of the nonsense propaganda on “what would you expect America to do under these circumstances,” (4) how this is an American problem too in an already dangerously destabilized region that so impacts American security and finally (5) how congress needs to give political space to the incoming Obama administration to get to work on a very challenging Middle East, and not to box Obama in.


Continue reading.

And note this, at the end:

And one final thought at the end of a long post – this is so terrible for Israel, the anger it is generating in Palestinians and beyond for future generations, the immorality of this humanitarian crisis, the disaster of potentially getting stuck in Gaza and the fact that this will deliver neither peace nor security for a country that I adopted as my home and that I would dearly love to see enjoy better, much better days.

Want to do something? Sign the J Street petition and join J Street.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 9:28 am

Windows Live Writer?

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This post makes a case for using Windows Live Writer for blogging. I think I may give it a go. Read it and see what you think. Note the additional tips linked to at the end of the post. The post begins:

I rarely find myself recommending a Microsoft product to people, but Windows Live Writer certainly bucks the trend here.  As a desktop application for blogging, it’s powerful, simple to use and set up.

If you’re a blogger and you’re not convinced, here are 7 reasons why you should try out Windows Live Writer 2009…

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 9:03 am

Leon Panetta: great pick

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I heartily endorse the pick of Leon Panetta to head the CIA for reasons shown below. Dianne Feinstein, who is very often on the wrong side of issues (Mukasey, telecom immunity, etc.), has said she prefers an intelligence professional—an argument that would be more persuasive if Tenet, Goss, and Hayden had done a good job. They didn’t and they had intelligence backgrounds. Porter Goss was particularly bad at the job, so bad that even Bush got rid of him.

The Center for American Progress, in an email:

Yesterday, press reports indicated that President-elect Obama had decided on his choices to lead the intelligence community, choosing President Clinton’s former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta as CIA Director and retired admiral Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence. Obama is also expected to choose Indiana law professor Dawn Johnsen as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). After eight years of lawlessness and ever-expanding executive power that have tarnished the intelligence community, these picks are indicative of Obama’s intent to work within the rule of law in fighting terrorism, sending “an unequivocal message that controversial administration policies approving harsh interrogations, waterboarding and extraordinary renditions…and warrantless wiretapping are over.” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald remarked that Johnsen is a “true expert on executive power and, specifically, the role and obligation of the OLC in restricting presidential decisions to their lawful scope.” Similarly, neither Panetta nor Blair is “tainted by associations with Bush administration policies, in large part because they both come from outside the intelligence world,” noted the Associated Press.

THE BUSH TOUCH: Initially, reports indicated that Obama would pick former CIA official John Brennan to head the agency. But Brennan withdrew his name from consideration after several progressive bloggers raised concerns that he had supported Bush’s interrogation policies while at the CIA. Brennan had also supported immunity for telecommunications companies involved in Bush’s illegal spying program. After the progressive backlash over Brennan, the Wall Street Journal reported that Obama was “moving more slowly on his intelligence picks in an attempt to find experienced officials who aren’t associated with the Bush administration’s controversial interrogation policies.” Then, last month, the press hinted that Obama “might ask CIA Director Mike Hayden to stay on for a while.” Keeping with Bush administration policy, Hayden has refused to condemn waterboarding as torture and has dismissed “torture” as a “legal term.” “We cloud the debate when, when we throw the word torture out there, I think, in a far too casual way,” he said in March 2008. In 2007, after CIA Inspector General John Helgerson warned that some C.I.A.-approved interrogations seemed to “constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” Hayden ordered an inquiry into Helgerson’s office, focusing on complaints that Helgerson was on “a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.”

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 8:52 am

One of our victims

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One guy whom we imprisoned for six years and tortured was recently released because, surprise, he had done nothing wrong. No hard feelings, I hope. Bygones. The Washington Post has the story, which begins:

When Muhammad Saad Iqbal arrived home here in August after more than six years in American custody, including five at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he had difficulty walking, his left ear was severely infected, and he was dependent on a cocktail of antibiotics and antidepressants.

In November, a Pakistani surgeon operated on his ear, physical therapists were working on lower back problems and a psychiatrist was trying to wean him off the drugs he carried around in a white, plastic shopping bag.

The maladies, said Mr. Iqbal, 31, a professional reader of the Koran, are the result of a gantlet of torture, imprisonment and interrogation for which his Washington lawyer plans to sue the United States government.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2009 at 8:45 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

Tagged with

Chipotle-lime glazed shrimp

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This recipe looks delicious (click link for mouth-watering photo and a commentary on how to make). The essentials:

Pan-Seared Shrimp with Chipotle-Lime Glaze

Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds 21/25 shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar


    1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced
    2 teaspoons adobo sauce
    4 teaspoons brown sugar
    2 tablespoons lime juice
    2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

      To make the glaze: Stir together chipotle chile, adobo sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, and cilantro in small bowl.

      Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until smoking, Meanwhile, toss shrimp, salt, pepper, and sugar in medium bowl. Add half of shrimp to the pan in single layer and cook until spotty brown and edges turn pink, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; using tongs, flip each shrimp and let stand until all but very center is opaque, about 30 seconds. Transfer shrimp to large plate. Repeat with remaining tablespoon oil and shrimp; after second batch has stood off heat, return first batch to skillet, add chipotle mixture, and toss to combine. Cover skillet and let stand until shrimp are cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

      Written by Leisureguy

      6 January 2009 at 8:40 am

      Good news: Caroline Kennedy’s support collapses

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      If Gov. Paterson pays attention to what voters want, Caroline Kennedy is not a candidate for Clinton’s Senate seat. Since I didn’t want Caroline Kennedy in the Senate unless she ran and was elected, I’m happy. She clearly has little or no interest in politics—she’s a socialite doing good works, and doesn’t even bother to vote in elections. While being a Senator is no doubt an honor, it’s an honor that people should achieve through experience and campaigning.

      Written by Leisureguy

      6 January 2009 at 8:35 am

      Posted in Congress, Democrats

      Israel delivers airstrike on elementary school

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      The school was being used by the UN as a refugee center for those in Gaza trying to escape from the war. The McClatchy report by Shashank Bengali begins:

      An Israeli military strike killed three people at a United Nations-run school in Gaza City where they had sought shelter from an intensifying ground war inside the Gaza Strip, officials said Tuesday.

      U.N. officials said an Israeli strike directly hit an elementary school compound where more than 400 Palestinians had come to escape fighting in northern Gaza, and which was clearly marked as a U.N. installation. The U.N. said it was “strongly protesting” the incident and called on Israel to immediately investigate it.

      The three civilian deaths added to a mounting death toll in Israel’s 11-day-old offensive in Gaza against the militant Islamic group Hamas, and they came as some Israelis say that the operation is entering a critical phase where expanding ground operations could result in greater Israeli military casualties…

      Written by Leisureguy

      6 January 2009 at 8:30 am

      Posted in Mideast Conflict

      Removing Firefox’s cache

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      Setting the browser cache to “false” does seem to have licked the pause problem—though the effect is also that sessions are not saved: when you close down Firefox, you will find no tabs when you re-open it. Since I have often had three rows of tabs open (perhaps why caching took so much time), I have to modify my usage. But it will be worth it if the pause doesn’t return.

      Written by Leisureguy

      6 January 2009 at 8:27 am


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      Yesterday’s shave with the Vision was so nice, I decided to go again with that razor. Prep was first class: MR GLO, then the Rooney Style 2 Finest worked up an excellent lather from the redoubtable Rivivage soap. Extremely smooth and easy three-pass shave, finished with TOBS St. Andrew’s aftershave.

      Written by Leisureguy

      6 January 2009 at 8:15 am

      Posted in Shaving

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