Later On

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

Archive for April 20th, 2009

Can fractals make sense of the quantum world

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Very interesting article in New Scientist, which points out that quantum physics was established and worked out before we knew about black holes and about fractals. Use of those might reconcile quantum physics with common sense. The article, by Mark Buchanan, begins:

QUANTUM theory just seems too weird to believe. Particles can be in more than one place at a time. They don’t exist until you measure them. Spookier still, they can even stay in touch when they are separated by great distances.

Einstein thought this was all a bit much, believing it to be evidence of major problems with the theory, as many critics still suspect today. Quantum enthusiasts point to the theory’s extraordinary success in explaining the behaviour of atoms, electrons and other quantum systems. They insist we have to accept the theory as it is, however strange it may seem.

But what if there were a way to reconcile these two opposing views, by showing how quantum theory might emerge from a deeper level of non-weird physics?

If you listen to physicist Tim Palmer, it begins to sound plausible. What has been missing, he argues, are some key ideas from an area of science that most quantum physicists have ignored: the science of fractals, those intricate patterns found in everything from fractured surfaces to oceanic flows (see What is a fractal?).

Take the mathematics of fractals into account, says Palmer, and the long-standing puzzles of quantum theory may be much easier to understand. They might even dissolve away.

It is an argument that is drawing attention from physicists around the world. "His approach is very interesting and refreshingly different," says physicist Robert Spekkens of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. "He’s not just trying to reinterpret the usual quantum formalism, but actually to derive it from something deeper."

That Palmer is making this argument may seem a little odd, given that he is a climate scientist working at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting in Reading, UK. It makes more sense when you learn that Palmer studied general relativity at the University of Oxford, working under the same PhD adviser as Stephen Hawking.

So while Palmer has spent the last 20 years establishing a reputation as a leading mathematical climatologist, he has also continued to explore the mysteries of his first interest, quantum theory (see "Quantum ambitions").

"It has taken 20 years of thinking," says Palmer, "but I do think that most of the paradoxes of quantum theory may well have a simple and comprehensible resolution."

Arguments over quantum theory have raged since the 1920s, starting with a series of famous exchanges between Einstein and the Danish physicist Niels Bohr.

Bohr and his supporters believed that …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2009 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Email from Jane Hamsher

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Just received and acted upon:

If you saw the front page of the New York Times today, you saw them pick up an important story that Marcy Wheeler broke on FDL on Saturday — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month.

She reported how the interrogators went far outside of anything they were legally allowed to do, even under the expansive laws written by the Bush Administration.

Marcy’s work shows just how important it is that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate the torture of detainees.

You can sign the petition here:

The ACLU will be delivering the signatures to Secretary Holder later this week.  The deadline for signatures is 9am ET, Thursday, April 23.

Thanks for taking the time to stand up for the rule of law.

Jane Hamsher

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2009 at 2:00 pm


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From a story in the NY Times by Scott Shane:

The Obama administration, eager to avoid the political distraction of full-scale investigations of Bush administration programs, has offered a two-part message: waterboarding is illegal torture, but there will be no investigation of who ordered the torture or carried it out.

That is incredible. They admit that a crime has been committed, they acknowledge that our law and treaty obligates us to investigate and prosecute the crime, but they just don’t want to do it because it would be a lot of trouble.

This, of course, applies only to well-connected criminals.

I’m so disgusted that I’m going to stop blogging before I come over all cranky again.

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20 April 2009 at 1:57 pm

Progress note

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Dishes all done, chicken almost done. Extremely hot here today. I’m drinking a glass of water with some pomegranate juice in it, along with ice and a dash of lemon bitters. Very refreshing.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2009 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Daily life

Beltway pundits against justice

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Glenn Greenwald has a new post on how much the beltway media elite are against any prosecution for past crimes (Bush Administration only, but I imagine they would agree that Jane Harman should also not have to answer charges). This, despite the fact that most people WANT justice served.

He also points out that this is a decision that Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel don’t get to make. It’s up to the Attorney General. Their comments are just a way of putting pressure on Eric Holder.

I just don’t understand this.

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20 April 2009 at 1:23 pm

Joanne Mariner on the torture memos

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Joanne Mariner has this column in FindLaw:

The Obama administration’s release last week of four Bush-era memos on the abusive interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody has raised a host of questions. The memos, written by Justice Department attorneys, purport to authorize CIA interrogators to use a range of coercive techniques against detained terrorism suspects, even techniques that constitute torture under U.S. and international law.
The first and perhaps most compelling question is whether U.S. officials should be prosecuted for carrying out acts of torture, authorizing the use of torture, or ordering that torture be used. The administration was quick to suggest that it would not initiate such prosecutions, a move criticized by human rights groups and others.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents a number of detainees at Guantanamo, emphasized the deterrent effect of prosecutions. By prosecuting these abusive techniques as crimes, the government would ensure that they would not be used in the future. Conversely, "[f]or there to be no consequences not only calls our system of justice into question, it leaves the gate open for this to happen again."

Another important question raised by the memos is what happened to the information that was obtained using torture. Was it used only preventively—to provide leads about possible future plots? Or was this tainted—and likely quite unreliable—information used in legal proceedings that affected people’s rights?

Court and Other Legal Proceedings

The rules on admissibility of evidence vary dramatically from forum to forum. While the U.S. federal courts bar evidence obtained under torture or other coercion, not all legal proceedings have such strict protections.

Of greatest concern are proceedings in which the evidence is kept secret. Secret evidence is often synonymous with tainted evidence, since without the safeguards imposed by the adversarial system, it is easier for the government to throw in whatever evidentiary garbage it wants.

It is no secret that the administrative decisions regarding the continued confinement of individual detainees at Guantanamo were, in many cases, based on unreliable evidence obtained via torture. For example, statements coerced from Mohammed al-Qahtani, a detainee whose prolonged physical and psychological abuse is documented in a government interrogation log, were used in the administrative proceedings of at least 30 other prisoners.

We also know that the U.S. government provided information obtained from Abu Zubayda, the detainee whose planned abuse by the CIA was described in one of the recently-released memos, to the Canadian government for use in at least two deportation cases. (To their credit, the Canadian courts barred the information from being admitted as evidence.)

Terrorist Blacklists

In addition, this abusively-obtained information was almost certainly used in the blacklisting of individuals and groups allegedly linked to terrorism…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2009 at 12:11 pm

Sites for cooks

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MakeUseOf reviews interesting recipe sites.

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20 April 2009 at 11:48 am


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I grow increasingly uneasy at the spectacle of high-placed criminals being given a pass because of their position: Jane Harman, the unnamed torturers in the CIA, the six high-placed people in the Bush Administration who clearly specified and authorized torture. Granted that these people all have significant positions, and several of them (including Harman) are wealthy. But, really, do we want to continue along the path that high-placed people can commit crimes and be immune from investigation and prosecution? As noted in the Jeff Stein column, Jane Harman did a “completed crime,” yet seemingly it will be ignored.

Surely the law should apply to people regardless of their position and wealth. And to say that “we don’t want to look back, that’s in the past” is beneath contempt: all crimes that are prosecuted are in the past. Just because a crime occurred in the past is no reason to ignore it. What if Bernard Madoff made the case that he should not be prosecuted because his Ponzi scheme occurred in the past?

I fear the US is moving toward increasing lawlessness at the top, since those crimes carry no penalty.

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20 April 2009 at 11:38 am

Judge rejects DoJ arguments

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Daphne Eviatar at the Washington Independent:

While most of us were still reading or recovering from the latest batch of gruesome torture memos released by the Justice Department last week, bmaz at Emptywheel learned and reported that U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker issued his ruling in the al-Haramain warrantless wiretapping case.  In his order, Judge Walker rejects the government’s latest attempt to defy the court, hide the evidence of warrantless wiretapping, and begin an interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

As I first reported in February, the case — al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama — challenges the federal government’s warrantless wiretapping program.  The now-defunct Islamic charity is suing the government for wiretapping the group and its lawyers in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, asserted the “state secrets” privilege, saying that the entire subject matter of the case — the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program — was a state secret, and disclosing any details about it to the the lawyers representing the Islamic charity would pose a national security threat. The judge rejected that argument, as did the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the Obama administration wasn’t going to let some federal judge tell it what to do. In March, it argued that Walker lacked the authority to reveal the secret document that supposedly proves al-Haramain was wiretapped. The Justice Department even went so far as to threaten to remove the document from the judge’s files.

In short, the Obama administration seemed to be setting up a direct standoff between the executive branch and the federal judiciary.

On Friday, the court rejected the Obama administration’s arguments and ordering the Justice Department to work out a procedure with al-Haramain’s lawyers by May 8 to allow them to view the secret document in a way that won’t compromise national security.

Let’s see what the Justice Department does now.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2009 at 10:39 am

Good sites for science-oriented kids

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The Older Grandson is such a kid. Take a look at this annotated list of good sites.

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20 April 2009 at 10:34 am

Greenwald interviewed on Portugal’s drug decriminalization

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20 April 2009 at 10:29 am

Posted in Drug laws

More on Jane Harman

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Glenn Greenwald has a column on the AIPAC-Jane Harman story. From that column:

Jane Harman, in the wake of the NSA scandal, became probably the most crucial defender of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, using her status as “the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee” to repeatedly praise the NSA program as “essential to U.S. national security” and “both necessary and legal.”  She even went on Meet the Press to defend the program along with GOP Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and she even strongly suggested that the whistleblowers who exposed the lawbreaking and perhaps even the New York Times (but not Bush officials) should be criminally investigated, saying she “deplored the leak,” that “it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers,” and that the whistleblowers were “despicable.”  And Eric Lichtblau himself described how Harman, in 2004, attempted very aggressively to convince him not to write about the NSA program.

And apparently there was no need to apply pressure on Harman to support warrantless wiretapping. Greenwald notes later:

Atrios reads the CQ story as containing “the suggestion that in exchange for dropping the investigation, Harman became a cheerleader for Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.”  I’m not sure that’s what the CQ story suggests.  It was always clear that Harman would be a defender of the illegal NSA spying program; she was, as she herself acknowledged, repeatedly briefed on the program since 2003 and was such a vigorous proponent of it that she tried to bully Eric Lichtblau out of writing about it in 2004 — a full year before it became public.  She didn’t need to be bribed or cajoled to support it.  Instead, Gonzales’ motive in quashing the investigation seems to be that he did not want her credibility impaired — because, as a Democrat and a gushing defender of the NSA program, she would be of great value once the scandal broke.

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20 April 2009 at 10:25 am

Wiretap catches Rep Jane Harman

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Interesting column at Congressional Quarterly:

Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

Harman declined to discuss the wiretap allegations, instead issuing an angry denial through a spokesman.

“These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” Harman said in a prepared statement. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.”

It’s true that allegations of pro-Israel lobbyists trying to help Harman get the chairmanship of the intelligence panel by lobbying and raising money for Pelosi aren’t new.

They were widely reported in 2006, along with allegations that the FBI launched an investigation of Harman that was eventually dropped for a “lack of evidence.”

What is new is that Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington.

And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House…

Continue reading. It’s particularly interesting that the Bush Administration used its illegal wiretaps to collect information to blackmail pressure Congressional foes into cooperation. So, though they said the surveillance was to detect terrorist activities, they turn out to have found other uses for the information they uncovered.

By all means, read the entire column: it has lots more. For example, later in the column:

Harman responded that Gonzales would be a difficult task, because he “just follows White House orders,” but that she might be able to influence lesser officials, according to an official who read the transcript.

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20 April 2009 at 9:33 am

Prosecution required

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From TPMmuckraker:

A U.N. torture expert said Saturday that the United States has an obligation to prosecute CIA officers who used harsh interrogation tactics to question detainees in the War on Terror. Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special rapporteur in Geneva, told the AP that the U.S. had to abide by the U.N. Convention against Torture to make torture illegal and seek justice against those who used it. Nowak criticized President Obama’s logic in the decision announced Thursday not to prosecute CIA officers who used the tactics — including waterboarding. "The fact that you carried out an order doesn’t relieve you of your responsibility," Nowak said. (AP)

I can’t help but feel that, were this another country and the tortured prisoners Americans, people here would have no problem at all in understanding (a) that it was torture and (b) that investigation and prosecution was absolutely necessary.

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20 April 2009 at 9:28 am

Illinois town knowingly poisoned its residents

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From TPMmuckraker:

For more than twenty years, officials of Crestwood, a small suburban town in Illinois, pumped water contaminated by carcinogenic toxins to the town’s 11,000 residents to cut costs, a Chicago Tribune investigation found. Even after state environmental officials warned town officials that the water was contaminated by dry-cleaning chemicals and twice cited the town for violating environmental laws, officials continued to use the poisoned source. The officials said in 1986 that they would get all of their tap water from Lake Michigan but continued using the poisoned well for as much as twenty percent of the town’s drinking water, until state environmental officials shut down the well in 2007 after testing it for the first time in twenty years. The state’s environmental protection agency and Attorney General are investigating the matter. (Chicago Tribune)

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20 April 2009 at 9:24 am

Chili thoughts

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When I make chili, I (of course) never use ground beef. If I’m using beef (which I don’t seem to do anymore) or pork or chicken, I buy an appropriate piece (cross-rib chuck roast, or pork shoulder roast, or boneless chicken thighs or breasts) and cut it into small pieces for the chili. Other ingredients are canned diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, dash liquid smoke, dash of Worcestershire, and these herbs and spices: Mexican oregano, ground cumin, ground ancho chili, ground chipotle. No chili powder. But The Younger Daughter brought my attention to Penzey’s 9000 chili powder. Penzey’s has an interesting line-up of chili powders:

Regular chili powder: ancho chili pepper, cumin, garlic, and Mexican oregano

Medium hot chili powder: ancho chili pepper, red pepper, cumin, garlic, and Mexican oregano

Hot chili powder: ancho chili pepper, red pepper, cumin, crushed red pepper, garlic, and Mexican oregano

Chili con carne seasoning: ancho chili pepper, tomato powder, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, garlic, coriander, minced onions, red and green bell peppers, Tellicherry black pepper, allspice, cilantro, and cloves

Chili 3000: ancho chili powder, garlic, cumin, onion, cilantro, paprika, cayenne red pepper, lemon peel, Mexican oregano, black pepper, citric acid, natural smoke flavor, and jalapeño pepper

Chili 9000: ancho chili pepper, cumin, garlic, cilantro, onion, paprika, cayenne pepper, lemon peel, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cocoa powder, citric acid, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, natural smoke flavoring, fenugreek, cloves, fennel, nutmeg, white pepper, anise seed, jalapeño pepper, star anise, and cardamom

I have to try that Chili 9000.

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2009 at 9:20 am

Booze vs. Pot

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A very interesting column by Norm Stamper, of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). One snippet:

Over the past four years I’ve asked police officers throughout the U.S. (and in Canada) two questions. When’s the last time you had to fight someone under the influence of marijuana? (I’m talking marijuana only, not pot plus a six-pack or a fifth of tequila.) My colleagues pause, they reflect. Their eyes widen as they realize that in their five or fifteen or thirty years on the job they have never had to fight a marijuana user. I then ask: When’s the last time you had to fight a drunk? They look at their watches.

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20 April 2009 at 9:07 am

Morning report

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I never got to the dishes over the weekend, so you’ll probably get light blogging today: the cleaning ladies are coming, and I have to get the kitchen in order.

I also need to do a food run. My last couple of extemporized dishes have failed miserably, so a fresh start is needed. I’ll roast a chicken with a lemon (this recipe, which always works). That’s for The Wife, so that she can mine it for lunches to take with her on her days in Palo Alto this week. For myself, I’m making a chicken stroganoff, working a variation on this recipe at Slashfood. But no tomatoes, of course, and 3 Tbs of sour cream for 3 pounds of chicken? They’ve got to be kidding. Also, the onions (in my experience) should be sliced, not chopped. And too much sherry—well, as I said, I’m making a variation.

I have been giving the Swissmar Borner V-Slicer a great workout, which will continue when I slice the onions. It’s quite a device (once you know to wear a cut-resistant glove when you use it).

Written by Leisureguy

20 April 2009 at 9:04 am

Posted in Daily life

The Slant & D.R. Harris

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The Slant Bar is best for the Monday shave, without a doubt, and of course I’m using the gold one as part of the gold series. D.R. Harris shave sticks make superb lather, this morning with the Plisson Chinese Grey. A very fine 3-pass shave that left my face totally smooth and refreshed, the last helped by a good splash of Booster Aquarius, a very fine aftershave.

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20 April 2009 at 8:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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