Later On

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

Archive for May 19th, 2009

We need a new Senate majority leader

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Reid is hopeless. Look at this story by Satyam Khanna in ThinkProgress:

Today, Senate Democrats announced that the Senate will strip $80 million in funding for closing Guantanamo until the Obama administration devises a specific plan for transferring detainees. The move comes as conservatives are pushing the claim that Guantanamo “terrorists” could escape into Americans’ backyard if the facility is closed.

Accepting the right wing’s baseless premise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) declared in a press conference today, “We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.” In several tense back and forths with reporters, Reid said he opposes imprisoning detainees on U.S. soil, saying flatly, “We don’t want them around the United States”:

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? …

REID: I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.

Later, Reid repeated that he would not support Guantanamo detainees being transferred to U.S prisons:

QUESTION: But Senator, Senator, it’s not that you’re not being clear when you say you don’t want them released. But could you say — would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?

REID: Not in the United States.

A reporter then asked, “[I]f a detainee is adjudicated not to be a terrorist, could that detainee then enter the United States?” Reid refused to answer directly, saying, “Why don’t we wait for a plan from the president? All we’re doing now is nitpicking on language that I have given you. I’ve been as clear as I can.” After being peppered by questions, Reid joked, “I think I’ve had about enough of this.”

Reid said he wants Guantanamo closed, but his claim that he would not support transferring detainees to the U.S. clashes with this goal. Currently, dozens of convicted terrorists are being held securely in federal prisons, and the U.S. has already prosecuted 145 terrorism cases in federal court. Reid’s position aligns him with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who also opposes “the transfer of the detainees to US soil.”

If not American prisons, where is Reid planning to send detainees after Guantanamo is closed?

Update: After the press conference today, Reid’s office released the following statement:

“President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, Secretary Colin Powell, President Obama and I all agree – Guantanamo must be closed. President Obama’s approach is a responsible one. […]

“The amendment Chairman Inouye has offered today recognizes that it would be premature for Congress to act before the Administration proposes its plan. I support his amendment. On two important points, however, we do not need to wait for any instruction – and there should be no misunderstanding. Let me be clear: Democrats will not move to close Guantanamo without a responsible plan in place to ensure Americans’ safety. And we will never allow a terrorist to be released into the United States.

“This amendment is as clear as day. It explicitly bars using the funds in this bill to ‘transfer, release or incarcerate’ any of the Guantanamo detainees in the United States. When the Administration closes Guantanamo, we will ensure it does so the right way.”

This is insane. We have long kept extremely vicious killers safely in prison for decades (cf. Charles Manson and Richard Speck, for example). Why would we not be able to keep terrorists in prison. And those who are judged to have been imprisoned though they were innocent bystanders, they should be freed and the US should pay reparations or allow them to sue in Federal Court.

And the Democrats in the Senate fighting the Democratic president. They are idiots.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 3:08 pm

Horror stories from education

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Christina Jewett writes for ProPublica:

Members of Congress expressed outrage at a hearing this afternoon, and it had nothing to do with freewheeling finance titans or fairy-tale financial devices.

The Government Accountability Office presented [1] them with horror stories of another kind: One teacher duct-taped children to a chair. Another put kids as young as 6 years old in strangleholds. Another killed a student by sitting on him, and then continued teaching in another state.

The stories were straight from a report [2] released by the GAO today and discussed with the House Committee on Education and Labor. It examines the issue of children, many with disabilities, being restrained or put in isolation in schools and institutions.

We noted [3] a report [4] on the topic released in January, which described the problem in chilling detail — and put it in historical context. Laws passed in 1978 led to the full inclusion of disabled children in public schools. But in the 31 years since then, few teachers have been trained to handle the difficult behavior issues some of the children present.

At today’s hearing, Toni Price testified [5] about the death of her foster son, Cedric, who had been emotionally traumatized in his birth home.

She knew the 14-year-old was having trouble with his eighth-grade teacher. But that didn’t prepare her for a call that her son was being rushed to the hospital, not breathing. She later learned that when her son had refused to stay in his seat, his 230-pound teacher sat on the 129-pound boy’s back as he lay prone on the floor. The death was eventually ruled a homicide, but no criminal charges were filed.

The teacher was put on a Texas registry of people found to have abused children, but she turned up teaching in Virginia…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The story behind the pension fund’s new strategy

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Jake Bernstein reporting for ProPublica:

Before there was a much-maligned investment strategy [1] for the agency charged with safeguarding the pensions of 44 million American workers, there was a consultant who devised that strategy. New information obtained by ProPublica reveals how the consultant, Rocaton Investment Advisors [2], reached conclusions that have now been criticized by two federal agencies and one inspector general.

Back in September 2007, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation [3] paid Connecticut-based Rocaton $395,000 to study the agency’s finances and suggest how best to allocate its money, according to its contract [4] (PDF). What the PBGC ultimately approved — reducing its investment in bonds to increase the money it holds in stocks — differed little from the recommendation made by Rocaton.

Fortunately, the PBGC never took its planned plunge into the stock market, avoiding catastrophic losses from buying stocks when they were near an all-time high. The agency announced [5] last Thursday that while it had engaged Wall Street firms in November 2008, it had not made any investments based on the new strategy. Given the congressional investigation [6] into former PBGC Director Charles Millard’s handling of the investment contracting, it appears likely that the new policy will be severely modified, if not scrapped.

Nonetheless, Rocaton’s work for the PBGC holds interest. Just as Millard shaped who would receive the contracts to implement the new strategy, he also served as the senior PBGC official on a three-member evaluation panel that selected Rocaton, according to a report by the PBGC inspector general [7] (PDF). The speed and zeal with which Millard, a former Lehman Brothers executive, proceeded from hiring a consultant to signing contracts with investment banks created the appearance that he was not surprised by the findings of his handpicked consultant. One question that senators on the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging [8] might want to ask when Millard testifies under subpoena this Wednesday: Did he give any instructions to Rocaton beyond the bland "statement of work" in the contract?

Millard and Rocaton did not return calls seeking comment.

Prior to February 2008, the PBGC had about 75 percent of its investment portfolio in bonds, with the rest in equities, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The new strategy would have reduced the allocation in fixed-income assets to 45 percent, raised the amount dedicated to equities to 45 percent, and devoted 10 percent to alternative asset classes like real estate…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:54 pm

The psychology of the scam

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Mind Hacks posts:

I’m just reading a fascinating report on the psychology of why people fall for scams, commissioned by the UK government’s Office of Fair Trading and created by Exeter University’s psychology department.

It’s a 260 page monster, so is not exactly bed time reading, but was drawn from in-depth interviews from scam victims, examination of scam material, two questionnaire studies and a behavioural experiment.

Here’s some of the punchlines grabbed from the executive summary. The report concluded that the most successful scams involve:

Appeals to trust and authority: people tend to obey authorities so scammers use, and victims fall for, cues that make the offer look like a legitimate one being made by a reliable official institution or established reputable business.

Visceral triggers: scams exploit basic human desires and needs – such as greed, fear, avoidance of physical pain, or the desire to be liked – in order to provoke intuitive reactions and reduce the motivation of people to process the content of the scam message deeply.

Scarcity cues. Scams are often personalised to create the impression that the offer is unique to the recipient.

Induction of behavioural commitment. Scammers ask their potential victims to make small steps of compliance to draw them in, and thereby cause victims to feel committed to continue sending money.

The disproportionate relation between the size of the alleged reward and the cost of trying to obtain it. Scam victims are led to focus on the alleged big prize or reward in comparison to the relatively small amount of money they have to send in order to obtain their windfall.

Lack of emotional control. Compared to non-victims, scam victims report being less able to regulate and resist emotions associated with scam offers. They seem to be unduly open to persuasion, or perhaps unduly undiscriminating about who they allow to persuade them.

And here’s a couple of counter-intuitive kickers:

Scam victims often have better than average background knowledge in the area of the scam content. For example, it seems that people with experience of playing legitimate prize draws and lotteries are more likely to fall for a scam in this area than people with less knowledge and experience in this field. This also applies to those with some knowledge of investments. Such knowledge can increase rather than decrease the risk of becoming a victim.

Scam victims report that they put more cognitive effort into analysing scam content than non-victims. This contradicts the intuitive suggestion that people fall victim to scams because they invest too little cognitive energy in investigating their content, and thus overlook potential information that might betray the scam.

Interesting, people who fall for scams often have a feeling that it’s dodgy. The report suggests we trust our get instincts. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

We like to think that only other people fall for scams, but as I’m working my way through the report it’s becoming clear that those things that we think make us resistant to scams (a keen analytical mind) are not what help us avoid being a victim.

A really fascinating read and a great example of applied psychology.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Lose weight by getting enough sleep

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Caroline Wilbert at WebMD reports:

A new study found a link between sleep and weight. Study participants who were so-called short sleepers (meaning they got less than six hours per night) tended to have on average a higher body mass index, or BMI, than long sleepers.

The small study, presented at the American Thoracic Society’s International Conference in San Diego, was conducted with 14 nurses at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Nurses received counseling on nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep improvement through the program.

The participants wore armbands that measured total activity, body temperature, body position, and other indicators of rest and activity.

The average BMI for short sleepers was 28.3. That compares to an average BMI of 24.5 for long sleepers. The BMI range for normal weight is considered to be 18.5-24.9 and for overweight 25.0-29.9. BMI is calculated from a person’s weight and height and is an indicator of body fat.

Surprisingly, the overweight participants were significantly more active than their normal-weight peers. The overweight participants took an average of 13,896 steps per day, compared to 11,292 for normal-weight participants. The overweight participants also burned nearly 1,000 more calories per day on average than their normal-weight peers.

“We found so many interesting links in our data,” lead researcher Arn Eliasson, MD, says in a written statement. “Primarily, we want to know what is driving the weight differences, and why sleep and weight appear to be connected.”

There are several possible reasons, Eliasson says…

Continue reading.

UPDATE: I foresee a trade paperback best-seller: Sleep Your Way to Your Perfect Weight.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Perhaps one reason the GOP is shrinking

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They are bone-headed and batshit insane. For example, from ThinkProgress’s Matt Corley:

Last week, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) named William Smith as the chief counsel for the GOP on the Senate Judiciary Committee. David Ingram of Legal Times reports today that Smith recently compared support for same-sex marriage to support for pedophilia. In a blog post that has now been taken down, Smith responded to former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt’s speech to the Log Cabin Republicans by writing that he wondered “if next week Schmidt will take his close minded stump speech to a NAMBLA meeting. For those unfamiliar with NAMBLA, the acronym is for North American Man Boy Love Association.” Smith also compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. Neither he nor Sessions responded to Legal Times.

The inability to grasp the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia is, so far as I can tell, typical of the GOP and quite repulsive.

And of course they didn’t respond. What can they say?

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 2:02 pm

Good lunch

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Three beets with greens, bought fresh at yesterday’s farmer’s market, together with two daikon radishes (likewise), one bunch of very fresh scallions, one can of water-packed sardines, and a good glug of Trader Joe’s Goddess dressing, the bottle rinsed out with a little olive oil and golden balsamic vinegar—everything organic.

I used the food processor to grate the beets and daikons and to slice the scallions. It’s extremely tasty and I have enough for dinner as well.

UPDATE. For dinner, I did the “avec fromage” trick, adding:

shredded cheddar cheese
pumpkin seed
slivered almonds
slug of my pepper sauce
roasted bacon that I cut into little squares

I tossed that with the leftover salad and, oh my! it was I think the best salad I’ve ever had.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2009 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

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