Later On

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

Archive for January 8th, 2009

Closing tax loopholes

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Via Kevin Drum, a very interesting article in Mother Jones by David Cay Johnston. It begins:

For years now, whenever I’ve been invited to lecture students on how our tax system works, I have asked a simple question: What is the purpose of the United States of America? The most common answer, be it at prestigious universities, elite prep schools, rural community colleges, or crowded urban high schools, is this: To make people rich.

This should come as no great surprise. For anyone born after, say, 1970, the world has been shaped by Ronald Reagan’s remaking of government’s relationship with private interests—a vision of lower taxes, less regulation, and maximum economic leeway for those at the top. In this view, the pursuit of wealth is the warp and weft of America; everything else will follow.

By contrast, the preamble to the Constitution tells us the nation’s reason for being in 52 words that can be reduced to six principles: society, justice, peace, security, commonwealth, and freedom. Individual riches don’t make the list. They are a product of American society, not its guiding purpose. Progress, then, must begin with a return to the best of the values that created this Second American Republic—one born, it’s worth remembering, from the failure of the Articles of Confederation, whose principles (weak government, unfettered capitalism) found their resurrection in the economic policies of the past three decades.

Even judged by its own yardstick, the trickle-down approach has failed to deliver:

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Reading the appointments: DoD

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Extremely interesting analysis of the picks within DoD by Spencer Ackerman:

Thursday’s announcement of the new senior subcabinet leadership at the Dept. of Defense was conspicuous for a name it didn’t include: Richard Danzig.

Danzig, a former secretary of the Navy, has been one of President-elect Barack Obama’s chief defense advisers for over a year. His absence hints at a development with great significance for Obama’s first term: the implicit recognition that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Pentagon chief under President Bush and tapped by Obama to continue in the job, will not be a placeholder for a Democratic appointee waiting in the wings, as many in the defense community and Democratic politics have presumed.

Instead of Danzig, Clinton-era Pentagon comptroller and former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) staffer, William Lynn, currently a vice president of the Raytheon Co. defense corporation, will be nominated for the deputy secretary position. Michele Flournoy, a co-founder of the new Center for a New American Security think tank — which has distinguished itself as a home for theorists and advocates of counterinsurgency, stability operations and irregular warfare — was tapped to become undersecretary of defense for policy, a pick that indicates Gates wanted in a partner for his recent efforts at reconfiguring the Pentagon to focus on complex and untraditional methods of warfare.

Conversations with Pentagon officials and those close to the Obama transition suggest that Danzig — once thought a likely prospect for deputy secretary — possessed a different set of skills than those Gates wanted in a deputy, indicating Gates’ influence over the Pentagon transition. “He sees it as [a] management” job, a Pentagon official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, noting that Danzig is a defense theorist in his own right. The outgoing deputy secretary, Gordon England, was also primarily tasked with managing the complex day-to-day tasks at the Pentagon while the secretaries he served, Gates and Donald Rumsfeld, set policy. Management and not vision is the traditional role of the deputy secretary, with the neoconservative defense theorist Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary from 2001 to 2005, as the only recent exception.

The official noted that Gates does not see himself as a …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 3:41 pm

The Army War College in trouble

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First, read this post by Tom Ricks:

Did faculty members at the Army War College curtail their criticism of the Iraq war for fear of institutional retaliation?

That seems to be the bottom line in a situation I stumbled across just a few days ago. A friend passed along a 2005 e-mail note in which Steven Metz, chairman of a department at the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, urged several of his colleagues to blackball me because of my coverage of the Iraq war. “We all need to avoid Tom like the plague,” Professor Metz advised.

I was surprised by this in particular because the last time I heard from Metz last year, he was asking me to blurb his new book on the Iraq war, which I did, as you can see here. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but it is more than a little disappointing for him to denounce me privately and then turn around and ask me for help selling his book publicly.

But more important is what Metz’s note may say about the state of academic freedom at the Army War College.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 2:16 pm

Posted in Government, Military

Henry Waxman gets to work

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Great story by Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

It was no mystery that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Cal.) was intent on making environment-friendly changes when he swept the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee from beneath auto-friendly Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) in November. And this week, that house-cleaning began in earnest.

In a reshuffling that will remove several Dingell allies from key environmentally sensitive posts, Waxman melded two E&C subcommittees — the Energy & Air Quality panel and the Environment & Hazardous Materials panel — to form the Energy and Environment subcommittee, of which Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) will be the chairman, the Boston Globe reported today.

Markey, who also heads the House committee on energy independence and global warming, has long been among the most fervent congressional environmentalists, pushing for increased fuel efficiency standards and protection of the Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, among a long list of pet causes.

Displaced in Waxman’s reorganization will be Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat who has long protected the interests of Big Coal. Boucher, who heads the soon-to-be-disbanded Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, will instead take control of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, a post currently held by Markey. Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.), another Dingell ally who now heads the soon-to-be-extinct Environment & Hazardous Materials panel, is apparently out of a chairmanship.

Grist writer David Roberts has a nice wrap-up today of the implications of all this reshuffling: …

Continue reading.  Please.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 2:11 pm

The secondhand smoke coverup

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Ann Landman has a good post on how the tobacco industry has covered up the dangers of secondhand smoke. It begins:

Many of the of the tobacco industry‘s underhanded strategies and tactics have been exposed, thanks to landmark legal cases and the hard work of public health advocates. But we are still uncovering the shocking lengths to which the industry has gone to protect itself from public health measures like smoking bans. Now we can thank the city of Pueblo, Colorado for an opportunity to look a little bit deeper into how the industry managed the deadly deceptions around secondhand smoke.

A new study, now the ninth of its type and the most comprehensive one yet, has shown a major reduction in hospital admissions for heart attacks after a smoke-free law was put into effect.

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8 January 2009 at 2:00 pm

Jimmy Carter on the Gaza invasion

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Jimmy Carter in the Washington Post today:

I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided.

After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. Mayor Eli Moyal assembled a group of citizens in his office to meet us and complained that the government of Israel was not stopping the rockets, either through diplomacy or military action.

Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire. From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 1:54 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Uh-oh! Antibiotics in vegetables, too

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The Scientific American reports:

For half a century, meat producers have fed antibiotics to farm animals to increase their growth and stave off infections. Now scientists have discovered that those drugs are sprouting up in unexpected places: Vegetables such as corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when grown in soil fertilized with livestock manure, according to tests conducted at the University of Minnesota.

Today, close to 70 percent of all antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States are routinely fed to cattle, pigs and poultry, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Although this practice sustains a growing demand for meat, it also generates public health fears associated with the expanding presence of antibiotics in the food chain.

People have long been exposed to antibiotics in meat and milk. Now, the new research shows that they also may be ingesting them from vegetables, perhaps even ones grown on organic farms.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 1:49 pm

Myths about healthcare reform

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Very useful page. Go look. They expose myths about healthcare reform and explain the truthh:

As the 111th Congress considers health care reform, conservatives and their industry allies — so-called opponents of health care reform — will likely embark on a misinformation campaign about the consequences and implications of expanding access to affordable health care coverage. The Wonk Room has compiled and debunked the right-wing’s most widely circulated myths about reform.

Myth 1: Health care reform will limit patient choice.
Myth 2: Americans will lose their existing coverage.
Myth 3: The government will ration care.
Myth 4: Affordable health care reform will create a government monopoly.
Myth 5: A new public program will only drive-up health care costs.
Myth 6: Health care reform in Massachusetts is “an unfolding disaster.”
Myth 7: Being uninsured is not a problem; it’s people’s own fault.
Myth 8: Illegal immigrants are driving the nation’s uninsured problem.
Myth 9: Health care reform won’t save money.
Myth 10: Deregulating the health care industry will solve the health crisis.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 1:43 pm

It’s official

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Daily life, Election

Richard Clarke on Bush

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An op-ed by Richard Clarke begins:

George Bush, still President, is engaging in a legacy tour of media outlets. This comes despite his earlier having said he did not know how history would judge the Iraq war “because we’ll all be dead.”

Actually, many people are already dead because of Bush, and that is the point to keep in mind when he talks about his legacy.

Among the themes Bush is striking are that through action at home and fighting “them” over there, not over here, his administration stopped terrorist attacks and prevented another 9/11. There is a surface plausibility to those claims, as there has often been with the messaging served up by the Karl Rove spin machine. But let’s look beneath the surface of the assertions.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 12:44 pm

Mustard greens for lunch

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Still seeking to maximize veg:meat ratios, I got a large mess of mustard greens. Cooking is simple: heat large sauté pan and start cooking 3 strips thick bacon, chopped. As they start to get done, add 1 chopped onion. As that turns transparent, add the mustard greens after washing (lots of fine dirt on them), drying (in a spin dryer), and chopping.

I also added a splash of vinegar, of soy sauce, and of red wine so there would be some liquid. Cover it, simmer it half an hour, stirring occasionally. That will be lunch.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 12:37 pm

Good news: courts showing interest in “evidence”

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Daphne Eviatar for the Washington Independent:

After hearing arguments on whether prisoners held indefinitely without charge at the U.S.-controlled prison at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan have the right to challenge their detention in American courts, Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia late Wednesday ordered the government to provide certain basic information about the approximately 600 people held there.

As I explained in my story yesterday, key to the government’s case that it’s entitled to keep holding the men indefinitely is that they were “captured on the battlefield” and are therefore “enemy combatants” whom the U.S. government may hold until it has declared hostilities are over. The petitioners in the habeas corpus cases heard yesterday, however, were all captured in different countries and sent to the Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where they have remained without charge or access to lawyers for years. Many prisoners at Bagram claim they’ve been beaten, tortured and humiliated by U.S. authorities. At least two prisoners at Bagram were beaten to death during interrogations.

Bates yesterday ordered the government to provide the following information:
The number of detainees currently being held in Bagram Prison;
The number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan citizens; and
The number of Bagram detainees who were not captured in Afghanistan.

This suggests he’s at least taking a hard look at the government’s claim that the suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers imprisoned at Bagram are all battlefield captures. If they’re not, that supports the prisoners’ claims that they’re entitled to the same habeas corpus rights as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Last June, the Supreme Court affirmed that, contrary to the government’s arguments, prisoners at Gitmo are entitled to challenge the legitimacy of their detention in U.S. courts.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 11:10 am

Interesting article on design and designers

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Via DesignVerb, this interesting article on the state of design today. It begins:

“So, you design factory machines? Is that what you mean?” Many of us have switched from calling ourselves “industrial designers” to saying that we are “product designers.” But the difficulty grows if your design work does not fall squarely inside the commercial realm—the experimental stuff, the artsy stuff, or not-for-profit stuff.

The confusions are understandable. Not only has the profession never had its own television series with a catchy abbreviated title to predicate popular understanding (E.R., CSI: NY, L.A. Law, Dr. 90201), but the discipline is relatively young, immensely broad, and ever expanding. What is hard to reckon with, however, is the confusion that exists even within the profession of industrial design: What activities do product designers recognize, champion, or even legitimize? What are the frameworks around our practice, and how are those communicated to the outside world?

The problem is that design is pretty much a mess. Just try to make sense of the range of the terms floating around out there: user-centered design, eco-design, design for the other 90%, universal design, sustainable design, interrogative design, task-centered design, reflective design, design for well-being, critical design, speculative design, speculative re-design, emotional design, socially-responsible design, green design, conceptual design, concept design, slow design, dissident design, inclusive design, radical design, design for need, environmental design, contextual design, and transformative design.

Without a compelling, indeed, taxonomic, way of organizing design activity, we are selling ourselves short; we not only have difficulty understanding the profession ourselves, but also in communicating to the world our potency, range, and potential impact. In the end, we seem scattered and “designy”—in a less-than-flattering sense of the word.

As academics responsible for making sense of this jumble for our students then,  …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 11:08 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

Bush and Marijuana policy

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 10:37 am

Cabbage salad

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Mark Bittman this morning has a recipe for cabbage salad. As it happens, I made a couple of cabbage salads yesterday, utilizing my new knife and the Swissmar Borner V-Slicer, which I am still liking a lot. Here was what I did:

1/4 head of cabbage, stem removed
3-4 carrots
1 onion
3-4 stalks celery

I used the thin julienne blade to chop the above (and definitely wore my cutproof glove when I use not using the little safety holder—as when I chopped cabbage, carrots, and celery). The julienne blades double as chopping blades, depending on how you hold the veg: use the blades along the carrot, and you get julienne strips; use across the carrot and you get finely chopped carrot.

Once you’ve done the chopping, add oil and vinegar (or lemon juice), salt and pepper, maybe a little nanami togarashi, and you have a nice salad. Once I used olive oil and once roasted pistachio oil. You can also add things that might catch your eye: slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, olives, whatever.

I found I really liked filling a bowl halfway with the slaw/salad, and then putting chili on top of that, a tasty way to increase the veg:meat ratio.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 10:14 am

Browser struggles, cont’d

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So this morning I find that Chrome locks up until it can open the various services for the page (e.g., for Salon the click-tracking or ad-linking or whatever). And if the site depends on services that are slow, the page simply is locked—no way to ignore the service. This happened on Salon and on a NY Times recipe (see next post). So I bring up Opera and start learning it. The first thing was trying to figure out where the tabs were—they don’t look like tabs… I found them, of course, and now I’m continuing up the learning curve. I’m now on Opera.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 10:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Post-Bush stock-taking

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Salon has a good article:

After a couple of presidential terms, mismanagement in every area of policy — foreign, domestic, even extraterrestrial — starts to add up. When George W. Bush entered the White House in January 2001, he inherited peace and prosperity. The military, the Constitution and New Orleans were intact and the country had a budget surplus of $128 billion. Now he’s about to dash out the door, leaving a large, unpaid bill for his successors to pay.

To get a sense of what kind of balance is due, Salon spoke to experts in seven different fields. Wherever possible, we have tried to express the damage done in concrete terms — sometimes in lives lost, but most often just in money spent and dollars owed. What follows is an incomplete inventory of eight years of mis- and malfeasance, but then a fuller accounting would run, um, somewhat longer than three pages…

Continue reading. The 7 areas on which a report is made:

  1. The economy
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Iraq
  4. Human rights
  5. Hurricane Katrina
  6. Healthcare
  7. Climate

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 10:02 am

The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It

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Sounds like an interesting book:

The first time Jonathan Zittrain gave a speech on the future of computing, he greatly surprised his audience. The year was 1985, and Zittrain was a magazine columnist and the “system operator” of an online forum for users of Texas Instruments computers. As a leading figure in the community, Zittrain was invited to speak at a big convention in Chicago. The surprise was that Zittrain had recently turned fifteen. No one had ever met him in person: when he was appointed system operator, sight unseen, he was thirteen.

Now Zittrain is older and more worried, as is evident from the title of his provocative and engaging book. Zittrain tells us that whatever the Internet’s glorious adolescence, its middle age will be sharply shaped by the problem of computer security. “Today’s viruses and spyware,” he writes, “are not merely annoyances to be ignored.” Zittrain has a graph showing the number of security incidents over the last decade, and it resembles the Dow Jones average over the 1990s. He predicts a coming crisis, grave measures, and, as “security problems worsen and fear spreads,” broad acceptance of “some form of lockdown.”

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 9:33 am

Israeli troops kill UN truck driver

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The attack on the school being used as a refugee center by the UN killed 40. And now this, reported by McClatchy:

 Israeli soldiers opened fire Thursday on a truck attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Gaza Strip, killing one United Nations-contracted driver and seriously wounding another, U.N. officials said.

The shooting occurred at the Erez checkpoint, the main entrance used by relief agencies to funnel badly needed food and medical supplies into Gaza, where Israel is waging a devastating, 13-day-long military campaign against the militant Islamic group Hamas. 

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Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 9:23 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Good movie: Superbad

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I found to my surprise that I liked Superbad quite a bit. The first half is the normal raunchy comedy of high schoolers desperate to get laid and, therefore, to buy liquor, using the gnome underpants strategy:

1. Buy liquor
2. ???
3. Virginity lost!

But the last half (or perhaps third—I wasn’t timing) of the movie takes a startingly sweet turn, back to normal high school kids. Worth seeing, I would say.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2009 at 8:47 am

Posted in Movies & TV

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