Later On

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

Archive for February 20th, 2009

Extremely good issue of the New Yorker

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The New Yorker occasionally has an issue in which every article is excellent, which is why I keep subscribing. The current issue (with the cartoon Al Rodriguez on the cover autographing baseballs for oddly buff boys) includes:

And there’s more. If you don’t subscribe, this is an issue good to buy.

I’ll blog tomorrow on the future technology of warfare issue, after I’ve finished the article and thought about it.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 3:01 pm

The US position on war crimes

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This is worth reading. It begins:

It cannot be emphasized enough that those who are arguing against criminal investigations for Bush officials are — whether consciously or implicitly — arguing that the U.S., alone in the world, is exempt from the laws and principles which we’ve been advocating and imposing on other countries for decades.  There is simply no way to argue that our leaders should be immunized from criminal investigations for torture and other war crimes without believing that (a) the U.S. is and should be immune from the principles we’ve long demanded other nations obey and (b) we are free to ignore our treaty obligations any time it suits us.

It’s just as simple as that:  one must embrace both of those premises in order to argue for a bar against criminal investigations.  And that’s particularly true for those who argue that Bush officials should not be held liable for what they did either because (a) DOJ lawyers said it was legal and/or (b) Congress provided retroactive immunity to the torturers.  As documented below, those are two of the most common and most universally discredited excuses in Western justice.

That fact may not lead anyone to change their minds about investigations and prosecutions, but those who are arguing for immunity for Bush officials ought to at least be honest and admit that they don’t care about our treaty obligations and the principles we spent decades advocating for others because those rules — for whatever reasons (e.g., we’re special; we have too many other important things to do; we’re the strongest and so nobody can make us do anything) — don’t apply to us.  Those who oppose criminal investigations and prosecutions should acknowledge that this is what they believe (or at least are willing implicitly to embrace).  Why pretend otherwise?

* * * * *

Few episodes illustrate those facts as compellingly as the truly amazing case of Binyam Mohamed, one that is creating great political controversy in Britain (though virtually none in the U.S.).  Standing alone, the summary of facts behind this controversy is quite striking:

Mohamed is an Ethiopian citizen and British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and then "rendered" by the U.S. to multiple countries (such as Morocco); held incommunicado (no access to lawyers, the International Red Cross or anyone else) and interrogated by U.S. agents until 2004; and then shipped off to Guantanamo, where he has remained ever since.  Mohamed alleges — and (as British courts have ruled) there is substantial evidence to confirm — that he was brutally tortured during this time period, including having his genitals sliced, being severely beaten, and having guns aimed at his head and threatened with death if he did not confess.

In May, 2008, Mohamed was accused in a Guantanamo military commission with various acts of Terrorism that carry the death penalty if he’s convicted.  The key evidence against him are …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 1:09 pm

More on the F-22, this time from James Fallows

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Definitely worth reading. It begins:

My Atlantic colleague Mark Bowden has produced another of his riveting narratives in the new issue of the magazine. His article is about the former US Air Force fighter pilot who is among the last to have encountered — and beaten — enemy airplanes in action. As Bowden points out, American pilots rarely have a chance to demonstrate their prowess any more, because no one is crazy enough to challenge them.

As a narrative and portrait of fascinating characters, this story is great. But for the record, I disagree with its implication that if the US doesn’t build more F-22 fighter planes, it will pay the price in pilots’ blood. Mark’s case for the plane is more sophisticated than what the Air Force has typically claimed. His story doesn’t say that we don’t build the F-22 we can’t defend the nation. He says it’s a choice between paying the price for defense in money — or in pilots’ lives.

Perhaps. I’m glad Mark wrote the story, because what to do about the F-22 is one of the next big defense decisions the Obama Administration must make. But as you consider his argument, you might also consider some of the material below, which offers other ways to think about the trade-offs this airplane represents…

Continue reading. Many good links and much good information.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 1:02 pm

Using Evernote

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I do like Evernote, as do many people, and now MakeUseOf has a good post on getting the most out of it. It’s free, you know.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Nice Canadian lunch for Obama

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Here’s the menu:

Appetizer:

Pacific Coast tuna with a Chilli and Citrus Vinaigrette

Entree:

Maple and Miso Cured Nunavut Arctic Char

Sides:

Lightly Pickled Vegetables and an Organic Beet Relish
Applewood Smoked Plains Bison
Winter Root Veg and Local Mushrooms
Cauliflower and Rosemary Purée, Juniper and Niagara Red Wine Jus

Desserts:

Saugeen Yogurt Pot de Crème with a Lemon and Lavender Syrup
Wild Blueberry and Partridgeberry Compote
Acadian Buckwheat Honey and Sumac Tuile

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 12:10 pm

If you love movies—and especially new movies…

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Then /film is for you: a blog of all that’s going on with movies. And apparently Watchmen is moving ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 11:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

What a chess set!

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Take a look (and more photos at the link):

chess_set_alexander_rs_7profile_800

chess_set_alexander_boxwood_7profile_800

alexander_3_crosses_600

Beautiful, exquisite pure Staunton design. The option of different finials for the King is common in expensive sets. Muslims, for example, prefer that the finial not be a cross, for obvious reasons. I think if you really want to buy and call them, you could get a 20% discount.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 10:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Games

The declining nutritive value of vegetables

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Michael Pollan wrote in In Defense of Food (highly recommended) about how modern vegetables, products of industrialized farming, lack the micronutrients that vegetables had in the old days, when we didn’t depend on anhydrous ammonia as our chief fertilizer (which is why people are buying organic vegetables.) And now a review of a paper on the topic (h/t to The Eldest):

Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence?”
By Donald R. Davis
Journal of HortScience; February 2009, 5 pp.

The Gist:

If the economy isn’t grim enough for you, just check out the February issue of the Journal of HortScience, which contains a report on the sorry state of American fruits and veggies. Apparently produce in the U.S. not only tastes worse than it did in your grandparents’ days, it also contains fewer nutrients – at least according to Donald R. Davis, a former research associate with the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin. Davis claims the average vegetable found in today’s supermarket is anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in minerals (including magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc) than those harvested just 50 years ago. (Read about Americans’ Incredible, Edible Front Lawns.)

Highlight Reel:

1. On the Difficulty of Comparing “Then” and “Now:” Davis is quick to note that historical data can sometimes be misleading, if not altogether inaccurate. Take early measurements of iron in foods: because scientists failed to sufficiently remove clinging soil, iron levels appeared unusually high in certain vegetables like spinach, (which gave rise to the myth that it contained exorbitant amounts of the mineral – a myth further propagated by the popular cartoon character, Popeye). Then again, good historical data provides the only real-world evidence of changes in foods over time, and such data does exist – one farm in Hertfordshire, England, for example, has archived its wheat samples since 1843.

2. On the So-Called “Dilution Effect:” Today’s vegetables might be larger, but if you think that means they contain more nutrients, you’d be wrong. Davis writes that jumbo-sized produce contains more “dry matter” than anything else, which dilutes mineral concentrations. In other words, when it comes to growing food, less is more. Scientific papers have cited one of the first reports of this effect, a 1981 study by W.M. Jarrell and R.B. Beverly in Advances in Agronomy, more than 180 times since its publication, “suggesting that the effect is widely regarded as common knowledge.” (See pictures of fruit.)

Less studied, though, is the “genetic dilution effect,” in which selective breeding to increase crop yield has led to declines in protein, amino acids, and as many as six minerals in one study of commercial broccoli grown in 1996 and ’97 in South Carolina. Because nearly 90% of dry matter is carbohydrates, “when breeders select for high yield, they are, in effect, selecting mostly for high carbohydrate with no assurance that dozens of other nutrients and thousands of phytochemicals will all increase in proportion to yield.”

2. On the “Industrialization” of Agriculture: …

Continue reading. And while we’re on the topic, check out this article in The Scientist:

In Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine, noted ethnobiologist and writer Gary Nabhan sets out to determine what, if anything, persists of traditional seeds and farmer knowledge; …

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 10:25 am

Murtha on the way out?

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If so, good: Murtha is massively corrupt—and a Democrat, but corruption is corruption. CQ Politics reports:

More than 100 House members secured earmarks in a major spending bill for clients of a single lobbying firm — The PMA Group — known for its close ties to John P. Murtha , the congressman in charge of Pentagon appropriations.

“It shows you how good they were,” said Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. “The sheer coordination of that would take an army to finish.”

PMA’s offices have been raided, and the firm closed its political action committee last week amid reports that the FBI is investigating possibly illegal campaign contributions to Murtha and other lawmakers.

No matter what the outcome of the federal investigation, PMA’s earmark success illustrates how a well-connected lobbying firm operates on Capitol Hill. And earmark accountability rules imposed by the Democrats in 2007 make it possible to see how extensively PMA worked the Hill for its clients.

In the spending bill managed by Murtha, the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriation, 104 House members got earmarks for projects sought by PMA clients, according to Congressional Quarterly’s analysis of a database constructed by Ashdown’s group.

See CQ’s list of House members who secured earmarks for clients of The PMA Group in the fiscal 2008 defense appropriations law.

Those House members, plus a handful of senators, combined to route nearly $300 million in public money to clients of PMA through that one law (PL 110-116).

And when the lawmakers were in need — as they all are to finance their campaigns — PMA came through for them…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 10:17 am

Posted in Business, Congress, Democrats

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California: a great state that seriously needs some legislative work

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Probably a new state constitution as well. Rachel Maddow talks about our latest problem, now temporarily solved:

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

YAPS

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Yet Another Ponzi Scheme: Besides Bernard Madoff ($50,000,000,000) and the Allen Stanford thing ($8,000,000,000), we now have this, via TPMMuckraker:

The SEC yesterday froze the assets of a $4.4 million Ponzi scheme that targeted deaf investors. The Hawaii-based Billion Coupons and its chief executive Marvin Cooper had raised money from personal contacts and visits to deaf community centers since September 2007. Investors were told that their money would be invested in foreign exchange markets and they would receive returns of up to 25 percent. (Reuters)

I think we should enact legislation requiring that Ponzi schemes be specifically labeled as such, maybe with a little Ponzi logo.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 9:46 am

Bank scam

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From TPMMuckraker:

A report by the Associated Press reveals that jobless workers have to pay fees on the benefits they collect. 30 states have made deals with large banks, many of which are taking bailout funds, like Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and US Bancorp that require the unemployed to pay bank fees just to get access to their money. In some cases, those collecting benefits have no choice but to use bank issued debit cards, which run the risk of incurring overdraft fees. "It’s a racket. It’s a scam," said one unemployed woman.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 9:38 am

Posted in Business, Government

Afghanistan summary from the Center for American Progress

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Useful to know:

For far too long, the war in Afghanistan has been dubbed "the forgotten war." After U.S. forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, the Bush administration quickly shifted critical resources to the less critical war in Iraq. The Pentagon repeatedly begged President Bush for additional troops for Afghanistan, which never seemed to materialize. The Center for American Progress’s Lawrence Korb and Caroline Wadhams warned that this "forgotten front" could become "a terrorist haven for Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks." In the meantime, security around the region dramatically deteriorated, heroin production spiked, and government corruption ran rampant. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen has said of the current situation, "In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must." In the past year, attention has shifted back to Afghanistan as coalition troop deaths there began surpassing those in Iraq. On Tuesday, President Obama announced that had approved the deployment of 17,000 U.S. soldiers to be sent to Afghanistan. This move is a fulfillment of a campaign promise made by Obama and marks the beginning of the drawdown in Iraq, where these troops were originally headed. "This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," explained Obama. To put together a comprehensive strategy to accompany this troop increase, Obama has authorized a strategic reviewled by former CIA official Bruce Riedel, who was a member of the CAP’s 2008 working group on Pakistan — of U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CHANGING THE DYNAMICS: There are already 38,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, compared to 146,000 in Iraq. To meet Obama’s request, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered the deployment of 8,000 Marines — who are expected to arrive by late spring — and a 4,000-strong Army brigade that will follow in the summer. Another 5,000 support troops will be sent at a "later date." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) welcomed Obama’s announcement this week; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that more troops were long overdue, but added that "the president must spell out for the American people what he believes victory in Afghanistan will look like and articulate a coherent strategy for achieving it." It’s important to keep in mind the mission in Afghanistan. As Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) recently wrote in the Washington Post, "The United States is not in Afghanistan to make it our 51st state — but to make sure it does not become an al-Qaeda narco-state and terrorist beachhead capable of destabilizing neighboring Pakistan." Indeed, the bulk of these new troops will be going to southern Afghanistan, where the poppy trade has exploded under the Taliban, which uses the profits to fund its forces. "What this [additional troop deployment] allows us to do is change the dynamics of the security situation, predominantly in southern Afghanistan, where we are at best stalemated," said commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. David McKiernan.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 9:35 am

Good news: Budget tricks to be abandoned

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I’ve noticed that many executives try to tinker with how things are measured if the measurements are unsatisfactory—much easier to bend the needle so that it’s not in the red than to actually fix the boiler. Easier and dangerous. But the Center for American Progress notes:

For the budget he will present next week, President Obama "has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller." The move away from budget gimmicks, one of which used to be failing to note the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will create "a budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear."

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 9:30 am

Good news: Obama Administration accepts human diversity

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From the Center on American Progress:

In December, the United States joined China, Russia, the Vatican, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in refusing to support an unprecedented U.N. declaration calling for a worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality. While the declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests, or detention" was signed by 66 countries, the Bush administration "couched its objection to the measure in legal technicalities." At the time, human rights advocates slammed Bush for "trying to come up with Christmas presents for the religious right so it will be remembered." But yesterday, continuing the Obama administration’s rejection of Bush-era policies and attitudes, the U.S. offered support for a proposal to condemn "all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation" at the U.N.’s "Durban Review Conference" on racism and xenophobia in Geneva. While the measure failed because of resistance from non-western countries, U.N. Dispatch’s Mark Leon Goldberg noted that "it’s relieving to see that the United States is now back on the side of the enlightened on this issue of basic human rights."

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20 February 2009 at 9:27 am

The Obama scorecard to date

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Obameter scorecard

Not doing too badly. Too bad we didn’t have one of these for George W. Bush. Details here.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 9:23 am

Good news: Obama taking a closer look at coal-fired power plants

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Another environmental victory:

Anti-coal activists scored a win on Tuesday as the U.S. EPA signaled that it is reconsidering the Bush administration’s late decree that greenhouse-gas emissions shouldn’t be taken into account when determining whether to approve the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said in a letter [PDF] to the Sierra Club that the agency will revisit the Bush-era memo and publish a proposed rulemaking on emissions from coal-fired plants in the Federal Register sometime in the near future, seeking public comment on the decision. The move reopens the possibility of regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act, and essentially puts a freeze on the construction of as many as 100 new coal-fired power plants around the country.

In November of last year, the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board ruled that the Bush administration had failed to offer a good reason for not regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from the proposed Bonanza coal-fired power plant in Utah, but a month later EPA administrator Stephen Johnson issued a memo essentially overruling that decision.

The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the EPA on Jan. 6 challenging the legality of the Johnson memo. Briefs in that case were due the second week of February, but Obama’s EPA agreed to reconsider the decision rather than let the lawsuit proceed…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 9:19 am

Good news: Obama’s going to do something about mercury pollution

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Mercury pollution is, to my mind, a very serious problem. Mercury is highly toxic, and the amount released into the environment is coming back to us via the foods we eat. And the half-life of mercury (an element) is infinity: it doesn’t just go away. Something must be done other than the course taken by the Bush Administration (advice to cut back on foods contaminated by mercury). This story from AP:

The new U.S. government abruptly reversed years of Bush administration policy Monday by calling for a legally binding international treaty to reduce mercury pollution, which a senior American diplomat called the most important chemical problem in the world today.

Some 6,000 tons of mercury enter the environment each year, about a third generated by power stations and coal fires. Much settles into the oceans where it enters the food chain and is concentrated in predatory fish like tuna.

Children and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to poisoning by the toxic metal, which can cause birth defects, brain damage and peeling skin.

Daniel Reifsnyder, the deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and sustainable development, told a gathering of global gathering of environmental ministers in Nairobi, Kenya, that the U.S. wants negotiations on limiting mercury to begin this year and conclude within three.

"We’re prepared to help lead in developing a globally legally binding instrument," he said. "It is clear mercury is the most important global chemical issue facing us today that calls for immediate action."

The statement represented a "a 180-degree turnaround" from policy under the Bush administration, said Michael Bender, co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group, a global coalition of 75 environmental organizations working to reduce mercury exposure.

"The change is like night and day. The Bush administration opposed any international legal agreements on mercury and President (Barack) Obama is in office less than one month and is already supporting a global agreement," he said.

Bender said his group has had more discussions over mercury control in the past two weeks than they have in the last eight years and that the U.S. government included many of their ideas in the proposal they are presented in Nairobi…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 9:04 am

New products

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Full disclosure: Rasage Poulin sent me the two new products gratis for me to try. Normally, I buy the products I use, but recently some shaving stores have wanted me to try things, and I’m not buying any more shaving products (for the most part), so my policy of only trying things I buy would lock them out. So I decided that the upfront way of handling you is to tell you when I’ve received a complimentary product, but then review it as I would normally.

I’ve not used the little Simpsons Classic shaving brush before—it’s rather small—but yesterday’s experience with the Nancy Boy shaving cream (a nonlathering shave cream) showed me that a damp brush is a great tool for applying nonlathering shave creams, much nicer than trying to use your fingers. You don’t want to add much, if any, water: these shaving creams are meant to be complete in themselves.

So the brush worked great at spreading a thin coating of the Salt Spring Soapworks shaving cream (another full disclosure: The Wife’s Brother and Sister-in-Law live on Salt Spring) over my morning stubble. Then I went to work with the Futur. Very nice shave, all told. The amount of shaving cream in the brush worked fine for three passes, and the Futur did its usual great job. Overall, I would say that this shaving cream is not in the same league as Nancy Boy, but it’s quite doable.

The aftershave spritz was nice, except that since I wear glasses, misting stuff onto my face is somewhat problematic. Nonetheless, this mode of application is quite frugal and it’s also what Charles Roberts uses for his Method Shaving aftershaves. The All Things Jill aftershave contains: witch hazel, lavender, peppermint, glycerin, bergamot oil, frankincense oil, and pepperment oil. This was quite pleasant, though I think next time I’ll unscrew the cap and splash it on in my usual style. Still, if you don’t wear glasses, the mist is quite pleasant and refreshing—and feels nice and cool.

Overall, quite a nice shave, and my thanks to Rasage Poulin for letting me try these products.

Written by Leisureguy

20 February 2009 at 8:59 am

Posted in Shaving

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