Later On

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

Archive for May 17th, 2009

Is the tide starting to turn?

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More voices are being heard calling for investigations into the possible war crimes that were committed and prosecution in those cases where evidence warrants. For example, both Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd had strong columns in the Sunday NY Times on the necessity of such a process, Rich emphasizing that as facts dribble out and stay in the news, Obama will eventually have to address the issue just to get on with other things; and Dowd ending her column by pointing out:

The more telling news last week was the suggestion about Cheney’s reverse-engineering the Iraq war. Robert Windrem, a former NBC News investigative producer, reported on The Daily Beast that in April 2003, after the invasion of Baghdad, the U.S. arrested a top officer in Saddam’s security force. Even though this man was an old-fashioned P.O.W., someone in Vice’s orbit reportedly suggested that the interrogations were too gentle and that waterboarding might elicit information about the fantasized connection between Osama and Saddam.

In The Washington Note, a foreign policy blog, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff at State, wrote that the “harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 … was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and Al Qaeda.”

Josh Marshall said in his blog: “More and more the timeline is raising the question of why, if the torture was to prevent terrorist attacks, it seemed to happen mainly during the period when we were looking for what was essentially political information to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

I used to agree with President Obama, that it was better to keep moving and focus on our myriad problems than wallow in the darkness of the past. But now I want a full accounting. I want to know every awful act committed in the name of self-defense and patriotism. Even if it only makes one ambitious congresswoman pay more attention in some future briefing about some future secret technique that is “uniquely” designed to protect us, it will be worth it.

And on Friday on CNN David Waldman made a cogent case for such a process—so it’s not just in the print media that the idea is being spoken. Watch the video and see how powerfully the case comes across.

We’ll see if the beat picks up. If the families and friends of those killed or maimed in Iraq start to understand that the war was totally bogus and that the most urgent reason for the torture was to get a false confession of a link between Al Qaida and Iraq—well, in that case things will happen: an angry citizenry catches Congress’s eye pretty quickly.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 8:33 pm

New (to me) shaving vendor: Details for Men

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Thanks to Tom, who wrote to point out a vendor I have overlooked: Details for Men, located in New York. They have a good line of products. They also currently offer six sampler packs. Substitutions may be made on some blades depending on availability.

Sample Pack 1: Bic, Derby, Dorco ST300, Merkur, Personna Red Pack “Israeli”, Sharp
6 brands, 40 blades total, $14.00, 35¢ per blade

Sample Pack 2: 7 AM Platinum, Astra Superior Platinum, Derby, Dorco ST301, Feather, Personna Red Pack “Israeli”
6 brands, 40 blades total, $14.00, 35¢  per blade

Sample Pack 3: Feather, Merkur, Personna Red Pack Israeli, Wilkinson Sword
4 brands, 30 blades total, $14.00, 47¢ per blade

Sample Pack 4: 7 AM Platinum, Astra Superior Platinum, Bic, Derby, Dorco ST300, Dorco ST301, Personna Red Pack “Israeli”, Sharp, Wilkinson Sword
9 brands, 55 blades total, $14.00, 25¢ per blade

Sample Pack 5: 7 am Platinum, Astra Superior Platinum, Bic, Derby, Dorco ST300, Dorco ST301, Feather, Merkur, Personna Red Pack “Israeli”, Sharp, Wilkinson Sword
11 brands, 75 blades, $35.00, 47¢ per blade

Treet Variety Pack: Treet Platinum, Treet Classic, Treet Dura Sharp, Trig
4 brands, 30 blades, $8.00, 27¢ per blade

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 3:16 pm

Extremely weird CAP spokesperson

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Glenn Greenwald wonders what on earth the Center for American Progress is thinking when it prepped Erica Williams):

Last Friday, CNN hosted a panel debate on torture and investigations with two conservatives and two liberals (Daily Kos’ David Waldman and Center for American Progress’ Erica Williams).  Waldman did a genuinely masterful job of arguing the case against torture and for investigations — you can watch the five-minute segment here — but, bizarrely, the representative for CAP joined in with the two conservatives against Waldman to insist that there be no investigations.  This is what she said:

The American people right now are actually not interested in this sideshow and this discussion.  The American people are interested in looking forward — nobody is concerned anymore with what the Bush administration was doing and did.  We decided it was torture.  Conservatives may or may not disagree.  None of that matters at this point and time.

I wonder how Williams reconciles her claims about what “the American people” are and are not interested in with this: …

Continue reading. And read this powerful post by Jane Hamsher, which includes a video of David Waldman pointing out how the story has been misreported—and what the story actually is.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 1:27 pm

Death from above, outrage down below

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I have commented several times about the deaths of civilians, including women and children, as turning the populace against the US and ultimately strengthening those who are fighting the US. "Collateral damage" is a dismissive phrase that fails to recognize the horror and grief of innocent family members killed by US airstrikes. And $2000 for each dead family member doesn’t quite cut it, does it? Especially if the military continues to kill civilians. It looks as though we’re paying to kill innocents—one expects that the military will eventually ask for a bulk rate: "Instead of $2000 apiece, how about $1500 apiece if we kill 50?"

A good op-ed in today’s NY Times by David Kilcullen and Andrew McDonald Exum:

IN recent days, the Pentagon has made two major changes in its strategy to defeat the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. First came the announcement that Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal would take over as the top United States commander in Afghanistan. Next, Pentagon officials said that the United States was giving Pakistan more information on its drone attacks on terrorist targets, while news reports indicated that Pakistani officers would have significant future control over drone routes, targets and decisions to fire weapons (though the military has denied that).

While we agree with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that “fresh eyes were needed” to review our military strategy in the region, we feel that expanding or even just continuing the drone war is a mistake. In fact, it would be in our best interests, and those of the Pakistani people, to declare a moratorium on drone strikes into Pakistan.

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, and following much internal debate, President George W. Bush authorized a broad expansion of drone strikes against a wide array of targets within Pakistan: Qaeda operatives, Pakistan-based members of the Afghan Taliban insurgency and — in some cases — other militants bent on destabilizing Pakistan.

The use of drones in military operations has steadily grown — we know from public documents that from last September to this March alone, C.I.A. operatives launched more than three dozen strikes.

The appeal of drone attacks for policy makers is clear. For one thing, their effects are measurable. Military commanders and intelligence officials point out that drone attacks have disrupted terrorist networks in Pakistan, killing key leaders and hampering operations. Drone attacks create a sense of insecurity among militants and constrain their interactions with suspected informers. And, because they kill remotely, drone strikes avoid American casualties.

But on balance, the costs outweigh these benefits for three reasons.

First, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 1:18 pm

Walkies

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I decided that if I could do 22 minutes, 30 minutes would fine. I ended up doing 32, since at the end of the formal walk I kept walking to bring up the recycling from the back of the apartment building to the curb. Quite a bit hotter today, which indicates I should start the walk earlier.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

The War on Drugs is over

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The editorial in the LA Times:

The Obama administration is saying all the right things about the jumble of ineffective and vindictive laws, policies and practices that have made up this nation’s so-called war on drugs. Shortly after he was confirmed, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he would halt Drug Enforcement Administration raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. Then the Justice Department urged Congress to eliminate the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity in convictions for dealing crack and powder cocaine, which imposed long prison terms on predominantly black defendants.

The most recent reassurance comes from the new drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week, Kerlikowske said it’s time to retire the phrase "war on drugs." Good. It’s as misguided as the policies it frames. "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ … people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We’re not at war with people in this country." These sensible pronouncements inspire hope that the administration is moving toward a more rational approach to drugs. There is much to do.

For example, the DEA apparently did not get the memo about raids; it carried out one the day after Holder’s announcement. And although Holder’s refusal to deploy federal resources against the clinics is a welcome respite, we’re still left with the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws. Also, as a candidate, Barack Obama said he supported lifting the federal ban on needle exchange programs, which study after study concludes slows transmission of HIV/AIDS. President Obama’s budget, however, leaves it in place. Administration officials say he now believes the public needs persuading.

It’s in that context that Kerlikowske’s comments matter: By thinking of drug users as combatants in a war, the nation militarized a health problem. The phrase itself shaped flawed thinking and yielded disastrous policies. When he campaigned for the presidency, Obama promised bold change on drugs. The old paradigm should follow the now-discarded phrase into history.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 11:51 am

Donald Rumsfeld re-examined

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Excellent article in GQ by Robert Draper. It begins:

On the morning of Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”

This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine. On March 31, a U.S. tank roared through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” On April 7, Saddam Hussein struck a dictatorial pose, under this passage from the First Epistle of Peter: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” (To see these and more Bush-administration intelligence cover sheets, visit GQ.com’s exclusive slideshow).

These cover sheets were the brainchild of …

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 11:26 am

Better Bircher Muesli

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Monica Shaw provides the background and also gives a very easy recipe for a healthful Bircher Muesli, following his original recipe, not the concoction available today. Take a look.

Also, here’s her earlier recipe, slightly different.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 11:15 am

Tofu + chocolate = perfect deliciousness

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I blogged this fantastic recipe (from Science News, no less) quite a while back. Now Mark Bittman has an interesting update (a video at the link). Following is my adaptation and improvement of his recipe (by omitting the enormous quantity of (unneeded) sugar):

Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding

Time: 10 minutes, plus 30 minutes’ chilling

1 pound silken tofu [I found Mori-Nu silken tofu to be the best for this – LG]
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste
Chocolate shavings (optional).

Put all ingredients except for chocolate shavings in a blender [I generally use a food processor, which works as well. update: Nowadays I would probably use my immersion blender in a steep-sided bowl (cylindrical if possible) bowl. – LG] and purée until completely smooth, stopping machine to scrape down its sides if necessary. Divide among 4 to 6 ramekins and chill for at least 30 minutes. If you like, garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 10:38 am

More on mindset

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Though I think I had, on the whole, a fixed mindset up through early adulthood, there were exceptions: Go, for example. I certainly didn’t understand the game at all when I first started playing, but I could in fact see that I was improving, which encouraged me to study, which led to further improvement, and so on. I fairly early understood that my Go ability was something that I could develop by study and effort.

OTOH, I’ve always felt, “I can’t draw.” Not: “I haven’t learned how to draw.” So, since I couldn’t draw (absolute measure of lack of ability), what was the point of studying? Yet I did want to learn to draw, so from time to time I would buy a book on how to draw. But when I started any of the books, I immediately was dissatisfied with my efforts and decided again, “Yep, I can’t draw.” I’m now thinking of digging out one of the books—Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain seems to be a good one—and actually working through it.

Of course, that brings up the point of persistence and not getting distracted by some shinier new jewel of knowledge. I recall that, just at the time that I needed to study for my PhD comps in math, I suddenly found myself fascinated by Esperanto and my efforts to learn it. Come to think of it, Esperanto is another instance where I somehow grasped that study and effort would be rewarded.

I suppose some things kept being interesting long enough for me to begin to learn and see that improvement and advance was possible.

Another: messy apartment. It’s certainly much easier to say to oneself, “I guess I’m just messy” rather than undertake the effort to learn (and practice) organization and neatness. I know some of the principles. For one, everything should have its own special place, so that (1) you know where to find it, and (2) when you use it, you know where to put it back. Few of my things have a special place. Bad. (Of course, having too much stuff—more stuff than you have places—is an automatic perpetual mess.)

At any rate, Dweck’s book is certainly worth reading. Highly recommended.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 10:28 am

Mindset as positive voodoo

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Yesterday I blogged about nocebos: when you mind holds beliefs that lead it to attack the body. Last night I was reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck, PhD, and it struck me that she is in a way exploring the same sort of phenomenon, though on the positive side and in different language. The two approaches are looking at the same general thing, but from different angles and with different vocabularies.

Here’s the opening of her book:

When I was a young researcher, just starting out, something happened that changed my life. I was obsessed with understanding how people cope with failures, and I decided to study it by watching how students grapple with hard problems. So I brought children one at a time to a room in their school, made them comfortable, and then gave them a series of puzzles to solve. The first ones were fairly easy, but the next ones were hard. As the students grunted, perspired, and toiled, I watched their strategies and probed what they were thinking and feeling. I expected differences among children in how they coped with the difficulty, but I saw something I never expected.

Confronted with the hard puzzles, one ten-year-old boy pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out, I love a challenge!" Another, sweating away on these puzzles, looked up with a pleased expression and said with authority, "You know, I was hoping this would be informative."

What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something?

Everyone has a role model, someone who pointed the way at a critical moment in their lives. These children were my role models. They obviously knew something I didn’t and I was determined to figure it out—to understand the kind of mindset that could turn a failure into a gift.

What did they know? They knew that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, could be cultivated through effort. And that’s what they were doing—getting smarter. Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing. They thought they were learning.

I, on the other hand, though human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs), you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, perseverance were just not part of this picture.

Whether human qualities are things that can be cultivated or things that are carved in stone is an old issue. What these beliefs mean for you is a new one: What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait? Let’s first look in on the age-old, fiercely waged debate about human nature and then return to the question of what these beliefs mean for you…

It’s a fascinating book with many implications for child-rearing. For example, you never praise a child for how smart s/he is, but rather for how well they work. Good grades are attributed to good work, not to intelligence. You can find more information in this earlier post.

I have to admit that I was praised for being smart and really didn’t learn how to study and work at things until I was an adult—and study skills are best learned very young, otherwise it’s difficult to embed them deeply enough.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2009 at 8:26 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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