Later On

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

Archive for February 24th, 2009

Shallot salt report

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I just opened my latest order from Penzey’s, and you’re never gonna guess what they packed as a sample: shallot salt! It’s superfine and super tasty and struck me as an ideal popcorn salt. I’ll give it a try tomorrow.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Wow! $900 million is close to serious money

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From the NY Times today:

The Obama administration intends to provide some $900 million to help rebuild Gaza after the Israeli incursion that ended last month, administration officials said Monday.

In an early sign of how the administration plans to deal with Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, an official said that the aid would not go to Hamas but that it would be funneled through nongovernmental organizations.

By seeking to aid Gazans but not Hamas, the administration is following the lead of the Bush administration, which sent money to Gaza through nongovernmental organizations. In December, it said it would give $85 million to the United Nations agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization, and the Bush administration refused to have any formal dealings with the group.

The aid will include new spending as well as money already set aside for the Palestinian Authority, and it will be formally announced next week when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton travels to a Palestinian donors’ conference in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, the officials said. …

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24 February 2009 at 1:39 pm

Jerk Sauce

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The Eldest just sent me this recipe, saying it sounded interesting:

  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 3 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 bunch scallions (white and green parts), roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Scotch bonnet chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
  • 2 tablespoons Pickapeppa sauce
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated peeled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Pulse the vinegar, rum, brown sugar, scallions, garlic, chile, Pickapeppa sauce, ginger, allspice, and pumpkin pie spice in a food processor to make a slightly chunky sauce. Heat the oil in a medium skillet, add the sauce, and cook, stirring, until the oil is absorbed and the sauce thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Cool.

It does, doesn’t it? I’m just finishing up a new batch of pepper sauce for the Canadian family and had thought about adding some ground cloves (before I read the above). Here’s what I did use:

  • 1/2 cup lime juice, with lime zest in it as well
  • 1/2 cup dark rum (Meyers)
  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 1 handful raisins
  • 14 red Fresno peppers, stems cut off (SCO)
  • 2 dried chipotle peppers SCO
  • 2 dried ancho peppers SCO
  • sherry vinegar and white wine vinegar to make a quart, about half and half
  • dash of soy sauce

Blend, simmer 20 minutes, cool 30 minutes, blend again, and bottle.

It came out a little too thin, so next time I’ll use 20 red Fresno peppers. I also need to make a total volume of about 4.5 cups since I fill the 8 oz bottles very full, so probably getting 9 oz or more into the bottle.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 12:42 pm

AIPAC Prosecution has a setback

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bmaz at Emptywheel:

Most of you know about the AIPAC criminal case that has been simmering below the main media radar since it was filed in May, 2005. In a nutshell, the indictment alleges that Lawrence Franklin, a DOD/Pentagon official working in Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s office (with everyone’s favorite public servants Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz), passed top-secret information relating to Iran and Iraq to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s then-policy director, and Keith Weissman, a senior Iran analyst with AIPAC. Franklin pled guilty and was sentenced in January, 2006.

In the three, count ’em three, years since Franklin’s plea, the government has pressed on with the prosecution of Franklin’s co-defendants Rosen and Weissman. That may be nearing an end though with a critical decision issued by the trial judge in the case, Judge Thomas Ellis of the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) on February 17. The opinion is not only important for the AIPAC case, but for many, if not all, of the secrecy cases that are currently in play in Federal courts across the country.

A little background is in order. The defendants, Rosen and Weissman, sought to introduce the expert testimony of Bill Leonard, a retired United States government official with substantial experience and expertise in the field of information classification, as part of their defense at trial. Leonard, who retired last year, was formerly the director of the government’s Information Security Office responsible for oversight of the entire U.S. classification system.

Leonard, from all appearances, was willing to testify, however, fearing prosecution himself, he insisted on a subpoena and then personally moved to quash the subpoena on the ground that his testimony might be barred by 18 USC 207, which restricts the activities of former executive branch officers and employees. The government, not wanting to be crucified by their own former guy, through the Department of Justice joined in Leonard’s motion to quash. Defendants Rosen and Weissman’s attorneys, obviously, opposed the motion to quash and argued that section 207 did not preclude Leonard’s testimony, and asserted that the court should enter an order directing Leonard to give said testimony at trial. Effectively, Leonard was seeking cover from the court so he could not get jerked around by the government for being wiling to testify. Very smart move by a very smart man, especially since the Bush/Cheney DOJ prosecutors were threatening that he might be liable for up to a year in jail if he testified.

Judge Ellis roundly slapped down the government and gave Leonard the court’s blessing and order to testify as requested by the defense. But the more interesting, by far, portion of Ellis’s opinion is contained in the discussion portion. From the February 17 memorandum opinion: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 11:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Why the secrecy about Guantánamo?

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Daphne Eviatar asks the question in the Washington Independent:

The Pentagon’s report yesterday that the conditions at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp meet all the requirements of the Geneva Conventions, was, not surprisingly, met with a mixture of skepticism and downright hostility.

Adm. Patrick Walsh reported that based on more than 100 interviews over 13 days, inspections of all the camps at the prison and observation of daily operations, “it was apparent that the chain of command responsible for the detention mission at Guantanamo consistently seeks to go beyond the minimum standard in complying with Common Article 3,” he said. “We found that the chain of command endeavors to enhance conditions in a manner as humane as possible, consistent with security concerns.”

Advocates for the detainees such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, however, were not convinced.

“The men at Guantanamo are deteriorating at a rapid rate due to the harsh conditions that continue to this day, despite a few cosmetic changes to their routines,” said CCR staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei in a statement released yesterday. “They are caught in a vicious cycle where their isolation causes psychological damage, which causes them to act out, which brings more abuse and keeps them in isolation. If they are going to be there another year or even another day, this has to end.” The advocates have released their own report on conditions at the prison.

Of course, both things could be true. Men who are abducted, beaten, hooded, flown across the world and thrown in a rudimentary cage-like prison, subjected to “extreme” interrogations and held for up to seven years without charge aren’t likely to be all that cooperative after a while. Their captors may well believe that isolating the men will ensure security, even if it contributes to destroying the prisoners’ mental health. And whether isolation, force-feeding someone who’s trying to starve himself to death, or not letting a prisoner out in the sunshine violates the Geneva Conventions’ ban on “humiliating and degrading treatment” is arguable.

But that seems to be missing the point. The controversy over conditions at Guantanamo really raises two key questions.

First, …

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24 February 2009 at 11:30 am

There is NO Social Security Crisis

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Over and over it’s necessary to demonstrate that Social Security is not in crisis. It’s good as it is until 2040, and after that it can continue to work with minor adjustments. Paul Waldman in the American Prospect:

There’s a time-tested way to curry favor with the permanent Washington establishment. That is, having David Broder praise you for being "responsible" and being considered a Very Serious Person by the Sunday shows. All you need to do is proclaim ominously that entitlements are a ticking time bomb, a looming storm on the horizon, a hungry beast ready to devour our nation’s finances, or whatever metaphor you find most frightening. The more unpleasant the solution you propose — tax increases are good, but benefit cuts are even better — the more the Beltway Brahmins will approve.

So yesterday’s White House entitlement’s summit, which appeared, when announced, to repeat the conventional doomsday wisdom, wasn’t too much of a surprise. And indeed, at various times over the past couple of years, President Obama has seemed to suggest that he will be addressing this thorny long-term problem, leading to no end of heartburn among progressives who view Social Security as one of the cornerstones of the American social contract.

But as he has made clear, Obama is not unsheathing his blade to begin hacking away at our government pensions. Nonetheless, because conservatives will continue to conflate issues that should be separate and to further the assault on Social Security launched at the program’s enactment in 1935, it’s an opportune time to get a few things straight. The most important is this: There is no Social Security crisis.

If there is an "entitlement crisis," it’s a crisis in Medicare. But as Ezra Klein explains so well, there really isn’t a Medicare crisis, either. Medicare’s funding problem is a problem of the ballooning cost of health care in general; fix that, and you’ve fixed the Medicare problem.

The myth of the "Social Security crisis" is so pervasive and so pernicious that it’s necessary for those of us who actually believe in the program to respond to the crisis-mongers whenever we can. And they’ve got muscle — witness the recent round of full-page newspaper ads featuring a looming iceberg and screaming headlines about the $56 TRILLION!!! we’re supposedly in the red (these are funded by hedge-fund billionaire Pete Peterson, the Daddy Warbucks of the entitlement fear factory). So let’s examine what the crisis-mongers say, and what the truth is.

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24 February 2009 at 11:27 am

Social influence on reactions to drugs

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In this case, drugs such as alcohol, cannabis, Ecstasy, and the like. From Mind Hacks:

BBC Radio 4’s eclectic sociology programme Thinking Allowed recently had a fascinating discussion on how drug users learn to experience the effects of a substance and how society has an influence on the personal drug experience.

We tend to assume that drugs have fairly fixed effects but sociology has a long history of studying how users learn to manage and steer the effects of particular drugs.

The programme touches on Becker’s classic study [pdf] ‘Becoming a Marihuana User’ where he charted the informal social initiation into dope smoking in 1960s America.

Importantly, it wasn’t just the rituals that accompanied the smoking that were socially acquired, but also knowledge about what ‘counted’ as the enjoyable aspects of the drug, how to steer the effects and so on.

This is known to be particularly important for psychedelic drugs, with the so-called set and setting having a big influence over the likelihood of having an enjoyable trip.

However, the same applies to drugs such as alcohol, where the effects of having a drink varies between cultures, largely ascribed to the beliefs each culture instills about what are the likely and permissible effects of drunkenness.

This was tackled in another sociological classic, David Mandelbaum’s 1965 paper ‘Alcohol and culture’ where he described the different effects of alcohol in cultures around the world.

However, if you’re looking for a punchy overview of the field, the Social Issues Research Centre has a great page on the social and cultural aspects of drinking which I highly recommend.

These situation or culture specific effects have been tackled on the cognitive and neural level, but unfortunately I can’t access one of the key papers in the field [update: pdf], although the abstract has the main punchline:

In situations involving inter-neuronal events, these processes of adjustment may take the form of learned modifications that can be re-evoked on future occasions by events that co-occurred at the time of the original modifications.

Sensitization, defined as the enhancement of a directly elicited drug effect, though adaptive, appears to represent facilitation within a system, making the effect easier to elicit on future occasions.

Like tolerance, sensitization of a drug effect can become linked to the events that co-occurred when the effect was originally elicited, making it possible for sensitization to come under selective event control.

In other words, the article argues that learned associations have an effect on the overall experience of repeat drug taking. Of course culture can create learned associations, but changing the context can also mean certain associations are no longer triggered, leaving a great deal of room for situation specific effects.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter dangermusic for finding a copy of the ‘key paper’ noted above. I’ve added a link into the text above or you can just grab it here as a pdf.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 11:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

George Lakoff on the Obama Code

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Very interesting long piece by Lakoff, which begins:

As President Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress, what can we expect to hear?

The pundits will stress the nuts-and-bolts policy issues: the banking system, education, energy, health care. But beyond policy, there will be a vision of America—a moral vision and a view of unity that the pundits often miss.

What they miss is the Obama Code. For the sake of unity, the President tends to express his moral vision indirectly. Like other self-aware and highly articulate speakers, he connects with his audience using what cognitive scientists call the “cognitive unconscious.” Speaking naturally, he lets his deepest ideas simply structure what he is saying. If you follow him, the deep ideas are communicated unconsciously and automatically. The Code is his most effective way to bring the country together around fundamental American values.

For supporters of the President, it is crucial to understand the Code in order to talk overtly about the old values our new president is communicating. It is necessary because tens of millions of Americans—both conservatives and progressives—don’t yet perceive the vital sea change that Obama is bringing about.

The word “code” can refer to a system of either communication or morality. President Obama has integrated the two. The Obama Code is both moral and linguistic at once. The President is using his enormous skills as a communicator to express a moral system. As he has said, budgets are moral documents. His economic program is tied to his moral system and is discussed in the Code, as are just about all of his other policies.

Behind the Obama Code are seven crucial intellectual moves that I believe are historically, practically, and cognitively appropriate, as well as politically astute. They are not all obvious, and jointly they may seem mysterious. That is why it is worth sorting them out one-by-one.

1. Values Over Programs …

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24 February 2009 at 11:02 am

The GOP fight to kill Social Security

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David Sirota has an excellent post, which begins:

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle about the disturbing rise of czarism during this economic crisis – that is, the rise of people pushing to trample basic democracy in the name of dealing with the ongoing economic emergency. Little did I know that once the scent of Social Security cuts wafted into the air in Washington, czarism would be replaced by a full-fledged push for something that goes way beyond czarism or authoritarian capitalism, and approaches a new form of dictatorship.

If you hadn’t seen, Blue Dog Democrats claiming they care about the deficit – i.e., the same Democrats who voted for the deficit exploding Iraq War and Bush tax cuts and corporate welfare bills and bloated defense budgets – are pushing the Obama administration to endorse legislation creating a commission that would propose cuts to Social Security. If that’s not bad enough, the Wall Street Journal reports that that commission’s edicts wouldn’t be subject to any congressional debate. It would simply “present plans to Congress for an up-or-down vote” (h/t FDL).

At today’s “entitlements summit” at the White House, this “we must kill democracy to save the nation” ideology reared its ugly head in the form of George W. Bush appointee David Walker’s coded comments to President Obama:

WALKER: You mentioned in January about the need to achieve a Grand Bargain involving budget process, social security, taxes, health care reform. You’re 110% right to do that. Question is, how do we do it? Candidly, I think it takes an extraordinary process that engages the American people, provides for fast track consideration and with your leadership that can happen. But that’s what it’s going to take.

That term – “fast track” – is the very same term used to describe the process by which trade deals are brought to Congress only for an up or down vote with no democratic debate, no amendments, nothing.

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Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

Comparing US debt to US GDP

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Very interesting post by Matthew Yglesias, which includes this graph:


As you might guess from the graph, his post is definitely worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 10:48 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life

Does bipartisanship even make sense?

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Certainly not to the majority of people in this country: if a Democratic president and Congress are elected, the people in general want Democrat policies, not Republican policies. This article quotes figures:

As part of that New York Times online discussion in which I participated yesterday regarding whether Obama should continue to pursue "bipartisanship," I wrote:

In 2006, the Democrats ran on a platform of opposing — not embracing — the Republican agenda, and American voters handed them a resounding, even crushing, victory. In 2008, much the same thing happened: Democrats ran on platform of “change” from the Republican approach to governance — not replicating it — and resoundingly won again.

What possible reason is there, then, to argue that Democrats ought to adopt Republican ideas — regardless of what those ideas are — simply for the sake of “bipartisanship”? Americans elected Democrats to implement Democratic ideas and will hold Democrats responsible for the success or failure of their policies. Democrats should therefore use their majority power to carry out the polices that they think are the best ones for the country, not dilute those ideas and incorporate discredited Republican approaches in order to fulfill some vague bipartisan ideal.

Shortly thereafter, the NYT released a new poll (.pdf) which included findings showing what Americans think about "bipartisanship" — and it is the exact opposite of what harmony fetishists continuously claim about Americans’ supposed desire for "bipartisanship."  Consider, first, this question:

Which do you think should be a higher priority right now for Barack Obama — working in a bipartisan way with the Republicans in Congress or sticking to the policies he promised he would during the campaign?

Working bipartisan way — 39%; Sticking to policies – 56%

By a 17 point-margin, Americans think it’s more important that Obama "stick to his policies" than try to dilute them in order to attract Republican support in pursuit of "bipartisanship."  It’s not surprising that 39% want Obama to pursue bipartisanship.  There are still many people who prefer Republican policies and naturally want Obama to embrace those policies in the name of "bipartisanship" — but the group that wants that is in the clear minority.  That’s why Republicans lost so decisively in the last two elections.  But even more revealing is this next question: …

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24 February 2009 at 10:35 am

Mukasey and immigrants

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

On Jan. 7, just two weeks before the inauguration of President Obama, Attorney General Michael Mukasey ruled that immigrants have no right to be represented by a lawyer, and no right to appeal an adverse ruling based on a lawyer’s mistakes.

“Neither the Constitution nor any statutory or regulatory provision,” the Attorney General wrote, “entitles an alien to a do-over if his initial removal proceeding is prejudiced by the mistakes of a privately retained lawyer.”

This last-minute decision has gotten little media attention, but it has dismayed immigration lawyers, who say clients frequently come to them with legitimate asylum or other claims that should allow them to remain in the United States, but that their previous lawyers either didn’t know the law, missed a critical deadline or just didn’t bother to communicate with their client. For the last 20 years, immigrants have had the right to re-open a case if they could show that they were denied a fair hearing due to their lawyer’s mistakes.

Immigration attorney Ann Buwalda, for example, has a client, a man in his mid-20s who fled Egypt after he was attacked by Islamic extremists there. The client, whose name Buwalda could not release, filed a petition for asylum in the United States, claiming that as a Christian, he would be persecuted if he returned to Egypt. An immigration judge ruled that wasn’t sufficient to merit asylum, and the Board of Immigration appeals affirmed that decision. His lawyer never told him the decision had been issued, however. In the meantime, the young man married a U.S. citizen. When he and his wife entered an immigration office in Norfolk, Va. to fill out the necessary paperwork to register their marriage, he was arrested.

“He was handcuffed and taken away because the [Board of Immigration] decision triggers 30 days to leave the country, or a deportation order takes effect,” said Buwalda. “They took him to jail, and his wife was left behind, wailing in distress.”

When Buwalda took over the case, she said the previous attorney initially refused to cooperate or even to turn over the case files. “Obviously there was a problem with prior counsel. Had my client received appropriate communication from his lawyer, he would not be in detention and he would be happily enjoying marital bliss.”

Buwalda says she sees about three or four clients a month whose cases were similarly mishandled by a previous attorney.

Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by unethical attorneys. “They have language barriers, and often they don’t read or can’t understand what they read,” said Buwalda. “So a lot is based on trust.”…

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24 February 2009 at 10:32 am

Human Rights and Bagram

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Hilzoy has an exceptionally good post, which begins:

From last Friday’s NYT:

"The Obama administration has told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team.

In a two-sentence filing late Friday, the Justice Department said that the new administration had reviewed its position in a case brought by prisoners at the United States Air Force base at Bagram, just north of the Afghan capital. The Obama team determined that the Bush policy was correct: such prisoners cannot sue for their release. (…)

The closely watched case is a habeas corpus lawsuit on behalf of several prisoners who have been indefinitely detained for years without trial. The detainees argue that they are not enemy combatants, and they want a judge to review the evidence against them and order the military to release them.

The Bush administration had argued that federal courts have no jurisdiction to hear such a case because the prisoners are noncitizens being held in the course of military operations outside the United States. The Obama team was required to take a stand on whether those arguments were correct because a federal district judge, John D. Bates, asked the new government whether it wanted to alter that position.

The Obama administration’s decision was generally expected among legal specialists. But it was a blow to human rights lawyers who have challenged the Bush administration’s policy of indefinitely detaining "enemy combatants" without trials."

I am very much of two minds about this.

On the one hand, had anyone asked me in, say, 1991 whether Iraqi prisoners whom we were holding in Kuwait were entitled to file habeas petitions in US court, I would have said: of course not. They are entitled to lots of things, many of them detailed in the Geneva Conventions. But it would have seemed bizarre to me to suggest that they were entitled to habeas rights.

I still feel this way about those detainees at Bagram who were captured on or near an actual battlefield. To say that I do not think they are entitled to habeas rights is not to say that I do not think they are entitled to anything. Afghanistan is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. Its soldiers are entitled to the rights of prisoners of war. Any civilians we capture are likewise entitled to those rights until "a competent tribunal" determines that they are not prisoners of war.

However, not everyone at Bagram was captured in or near a battlefield. Consider, for instance, Amin Al Bakri (pdf):

"Almost six years ago, Mr. Al Bakri, a citizen of a friendly nation, Yemen, was abducted by Respondents during a brief business trip to Thailand — thousands of miles from any battlefield. Since their illegal seizure of Mr. Al Bakri, Respondents have secreted him between various locations known only to them in order to evade their legal obligations under domestic and international law. At their sole discretion, Respondents finally rendered Mr. Al Bakri unlawfully to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, where they continue to hold him subject to their complete jurisdiction and control."

I have no idea whether …

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24 February 2009 at 10:28 am

More F-22 discussion

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With one person suggesting the F-35 would be a good substitute. Go read here.

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24 February 2009 at 10:20 am

More on US counter-intelligence strategy

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I blogged about an effort to centralize and coordinate counter-intelligence. Now here’s more:

The CIA didn’t take kindly to such comments. CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano fired back, “If she truly believes that counterintelligence is not vital to the National Clandestine Service, she is woefully misinformed.”

Other than that, no hard feelings.

But Van Cleave had also argued that “there are many reasons for concern, not the least of which is that the FBI, which is critical to effective strategic operational planning for counterintelligence, is not a part of the new service. And that is a serious problem.”

The FBI checked out of the NCIX a long time ago, according to Van Cleave, when after 9/11 it “unilaterally withdrew most of its personnel from the NCIX office.”

If that wasn’t enough, “In addition, the FBI’s counterintelligence division published its own ‘national strategy for counterintelligence’ two months after the NCIX’s presidentially approved strategy was issued.”

That is not nice.

FBI spokesman John Miller suggested Van Cleave wasn’t up to date when she wrote that.

“We continue to have people assigned to NCIX and we are active participants in their mission,” he said.

Moreover, he added, “Our strategy for counterintelligence is very closely aligned with NCIX’s strategy and the strategies of other agencies that we work with in the intelligence community.”

Miller also ticked off various CI programs at the FBI and said the results spoke for themselves, with 85 people — “the highest number ever,” he said — arrested as foreign agents in 2008.

Many more cases never come to light. CI ops are among the spy agencies’ most closely held secrets.

Continue reading.

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24 February 2009 at 9:46 am

Where Google doesn’t go

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One day last summer, Google’s search engine trundled quietly past a milestone. It added the one trillionth address to the list of Web pages it knows about. But as impossibly big as that number may seem, it represents only a fraction of the entire Web.

Beyond those trillion pages lies an even vaster Web of hidden data: financial information, shopping catalogs, flight schedules, medical research and all kinds of other material stored in databases that remain largely invisible to search engines.

The challenges that the major search engines face in penetrating this so-called Deep Web go a long way toward explaining why they still can’t provide satisfying answers to questions like “What’s the best fare from New York to London next Thursday?” The answers are readily available — if only the search engines knew how to find them.

Now a new breed of technologies is taking shape that will extend the reach of search engines into the Web’s hidden corners. When that happens, it will do more than just improve the quality of search results — it may ultimately reshape the way many companies do business online.

Search engines rely on programs known as crawlers (or spiders) that gather information by following the trails of hyperlinks that tie the Web together. While that approach works well for the pages that make up the surface Web, these programs have a harder time penetrating databases that are set up to respond to typed queries.

“The crawlable Web is the tip of the iceberg,” says Anand Rajaraman, co-founder of Kosmix (, a Deep Web search start-up whose investors include Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of Kosmix has developed software that matches searches with the databases most likely to yield relevant information, then returns an overview of the topic drawn from multiple sources.

“Most search engines try to help you find a needle in a haystack,” Mr. Rajaraman said, “but what we’re trying to do is help you explore the haystack.”…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 9:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Good idea on government transparency in New Jersey

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But will it be accomplished? The story:

New Jersey residents may soon have an easy way to track state spending.

Lawmakers this week will discuss creating an online database of state contracts, loans and other expenditures. The site would provide a range of detailed information, including contract terms and which account is supplying the funds.

In addition, the site can’t be hidden. A link to it must be "prominently displayed" on the state’s home page, according to a bill sponsored by Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairwoman Barbara Buono.

The bill requires the site to be up and running by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

The measure will be discussed Thursday in the Senate State Government Committee.

"I think people have a right to know how and to whom state grants and contracts are awarded," said Buono, D-Edison.

Buono noted that the federal government has a similar site, and the Obama Administration launched to let users track spending of the $787 billion stimulus plan.

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24 February 2009 at 9:40 am

California initiative to legalize cannabis

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You may recall that Nevada voters recently had a chance to legalize the sale of cannabis (with lots of provisos: state stores, adults only, strict prohibitions against smoking in public, etc.), and now the California Assembly, desperate to raise state revenues, have a measure to consider. From the LA Times:

Reporting from Sacramento — Could Cannabis sativa be a salvation for California’s fiscal misfortunes? Can the state get a better budget grip by taxing what some folks toke?

An assemblyman from San Francisco announced legislation Monday to do just that: make California the first state in the nation to tax and regulate recreational marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.

Buoyed by the widely held belief that cannabis is California’s biggest cash crop, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano contends it is time to reap some state revenue from that harvest while putting a damper on drug use by teens, cutting police costs and even helping Mother Nature.

“I know the jokes are going to be coming, but this is not a frivolous issue,” said Ammiano, a Democrat elected in November after more than a dozen years as a San Francisco supervisor. “California always takes the lead — on gay marriage, the sanctuary movement, medical marijuana.”

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Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 9:36 am

Do you write XML code?

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Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 9:15 am

Posted in Software

Comparing effectiveness of medical treatments

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For some reason, conservatives strongly oppose letting the public know the comparative effectiveness of various medical treatments. I suppose conservatives greatly respect ignorance (cf. Sarah Palin), though business in general seems to prefer uninformed customers. (See this post by Marion Nestle.) Here’s the story in the LA Times, and here are a couple of snippets:

The comparative-effectiveness issue was supposed to help lay the groundwork for the broader reform effort. But it became a lightning rod for conservative commentators who labeled it a step toward socialized medicine, a line of attack that has doomed every health overhaul effort since World War II.

Rush Limbaugh joined the fray. So did an Iowa advocacy group that targeted Capitol Hill with a fierce e-mail campaign. The conservative Washington Times suggested that what Obama wanted to do might lead to Nazi-style euthanasia, and the paper posted a photo of Adolf Hitler next to an editorial denouncing the bill.


Many healthcare authorities and policymakers have agreed for years that a better system for tracking how well drugs, medical devices and surgical procedures work could improve the care Americans receive and ultimately save billions of dollars.

Almost from the start, the initiative proved explosive, although the battle was at first fought largely out of public view.

Pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers, long wary of the implications of comparative effectiveness, pounced on a suggestion in a report accompanying the legislation that the research could help eliminate costly treatments.


Republicans on Capitol Hill, working to discredit the stimulus package, began labeling the comparative-effectiveness research as a step toward "government-run healthcare."

The cause was picked up by conservative commentators, including Betsy McCaughey, who rose to prominence 15 years ago with a controversial — and later discredited — magazine article attacking the Clinton administration’s healthcare proposal.

On Feb. 9, McCaughey published an op-ed commentary for Bloomberg warning that the legislation would allow Washington to "monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost-effective."

Within hours, Limbaugh was attacking.

By the next morning, Fox News touted the discovery of a "secret" in the legislation that could lead to "healthcare rationing for seniors."

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2009 at 9:14 am

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