Later On

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

Archive for May 22nd, 2009

Cigarette companies found guilty

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Interesting:

Source: Reuters, May 22, 2009

The major American cigarette manufacturers, including Altria and Reynolds American, have lost their appeal of a 2006 Federal court ruling that convicted them of fraud and racketeering. A three-judge panel of the Washington, D.C. U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court’s 2006 decision that the cigarette companies had systematically lied to the public in a 50-year conspiracy to defraud the public about the health hazards of smoking cigarettes. The Court also agreed that tobacco companies must publish "corrective statements" on the adverse health effects and addictiveness of smoking and nicotine, and stop using misleading labels like "low tar," "light," "ultra light" or "mild," since such cigarettes are now known to be no safer than others because of the way people smoke them. The court said that tobacco companies "knew about the negative health consequences of smoking, the addictiveness and manipulation of nicotine, the harmfulness of secondhand smoke, and the concept of smoker compensation, which makes light cigarettes no less harmful than regular cigarettes and possibly more."

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Business, Law

Mao’s secret famine

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Here’s a review of Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine:

Near the end of 1959, with China in the midst of Chairman Mao Zedong’s crazily utopian Great Leap Forward, the official Communist Party newspaper issued some dietary instruction for the masses of the country’s newly collectivized agricultural workers. ”The peasants must practice strict economy,” The People’s Daily intoned. ”Live with the utmost frugality and eat only two meals a day, one of which should be soft and liquid.”

Life and history are in the details, and one of the many virtues of this disturbing and important book by the British journalist Jasper Becker is its attention to the small, concrete matters that display larger, more abstract ones in the fullness of their horror and absurdity. ”Hungry Ghosts” is Mr. Becker’s powerful, sober, lucid and sometimes lurid account of what was probably the worst famine in history, the one that resulted from Mao’s blindly misguided and ruthlessly enforced attempt to achieve Communism overnight.

For the party newspaper to tell people that it was good for them to eat less at a time when it was also spinning fantasies about the bounty being engendered by the Great Leap was a relatively small, if telling, irony. At the larger, horrific center of Mr. Becker’s account is the widespread resort among the Chinese people to that most sickening form of desperation: cannibalism, the selling of human flesh on the market, the swapping of children so people could use them for food without committing the additional sin of eating their own.

It has of course been known for many years that the Great Leap produced a terrible calamity in China lasting from roughly 1959 to 1962. But Mr. Becker, who is the Beijing bureau chief of The South China Morning Post, has written the most compelling and complete account of that calamity, describing it systematically as it affected the countryside, the cities and the immense network of camps for ”rightists” and other political prisoners that China maintained at the time.

As his account unfolds, Mr. Becker puts to rest once and for all whatever illusions about the Great Leap may have survived less exhaustive studies. The most extreme of those illusions …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Waterboarding test

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It’s interesting that those who have been waterboarded (by someone else) say that it is torture, and those who say it’s not have NOT been waterboarded. Here’s a guy who maintained that waterboarding was not torture but decided to try it. You will note, however, that they did not strap him down and immobilize his arms, and they didn’t continue for 40 seconds.

Say, when is Sean Hannity going to go on the table? He promised.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Torture

From Albania, a freed prisoner watches the Gitmo debate

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Basar Likmeta in the Christian Science Monitor:

Tirana, Albania – While President Barack Obama made his case Thursday for the transfer of Guantánamo Bay detainees, one of the terror camp’s former prisoners was studying recipes in a restaurant kitchen here, doing his best to learn the chef skills that will support his new life in this new land.

Abu Bakker Qassim is one of five Chinese Uighurs released to Albania in 2005, after US authorities feared that repatriating them to China would expose them to persecution and human rights violations.

Seventeen of Mr. Qassim’s Uighur compatriots remain in Guantánamo, even though they have been found innocent of wrongdoing and have been cleared for release.

Although an increasingly heated debate in the US focuses on how to handle dozens of remaining suspected terrorists held at Guantánamo, the Obama administration faces an equally sticky dilemma over releasing the innocent Uighurs.

The president has gotten resistance from Congress, with some arguing that the Uighurs – guilty or not – could pose a security threat. Other countries are skittish of taking the men, worried of angering China, which wants them returned for trial.

When Qassim left his home in China’s Xingjian Province in 2000, his dream was to reach Turkey, or, preferably, Western Europe.

After setting up a shop in Kyrgyzstan for a year with little success, he joined a larger group of 17 would-be migrants as they set off through the neighboring Central Asian republics.

In 2001, just days before the start of a US bombing campaign aimed at overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Uighurs arrived in the Afghan city of Jalalabad.

Four days after their arrival, Jalalabad was bombed. The Uighurs left to seek sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. They could not know that, after an arduous march through the mountains of Tora Bora, the villagers who would greet them warmly on the other side of the border had, only a few days earlier, been blanketed by fliers from US aircraft, promising that whoever "hunts an Arab becomes a rich man."

Though they had no knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, the men were handed over to the Pakistan authorities for the promised reward of $5,000. They would spend the next four months in jail in Kandahar, Afghanistan, before being sent to Guantánamo Bay.

"In Kandahar, the Americans realized we had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, but they still shipped us to Guantánamo," Qassim contends. "At that point, we understood that we were flying into hell."

Qassim spent the next five years behind steel bars…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

McCain on waterboarding

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Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Daily life, Torture

What about our own future?

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Tim F. at Balloon Juice:

Here’s a fun thought: imagine that you run a quasi-legal dictatorship, say, Burma or Uzbekistan. Naturally you’d love to jail and torture* those pesky dissidents, foreign spies, people who might be foreign spies, nose whistlers and hotel clerks who slighted your cousin. Hang ‘em from the ceiling for a few days and they’ll confess to making the weather cloudy.

How awesome is it if America says that first world countries do that too? If you are one of those regimes it’s like a whole new day.

(*) Obama says that he won’t let Americans torture. That’s nice. Bush said that too. Obama could, of course, change his mind without any apparent consequences. Maybe he really needs to torture just this one guy. Maybe the next President will decide that yeah, he kind of would like to torture people. Better lawyers than me can explain what will compel Jeb or Bobby Jindal to respect a law that has no criminal consequences.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 1:19 pm

Preventive detention = thoughtcrime

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As you may recall from Orwell’s 1984, thoughtcrime (in Newspeak, “crimethink”) is quite serious and consists of having illegal thoughts. The US is now ready to embrace this new feature, only we are calling it “preventive detention,” “detention” being Newspeak for “imprisonment.” Of course, since no actual (physical) crime is necessary to trigger this sort of imprisonment, it has the advantage of being applicable to anyone the government decides not to like. I don’t yet know whether the plan is to allow the selected person a trial, with a lawyer representing him or her, in which the accuser(s) can be questioned. It’s quite a change for the US, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. UPDATE: No pesky trial, no opportunity for the victim to protest or defend him/herself in a court of law before an impartial judge. Just slam the cell door and check back on the victim from time to time until … what? We return to democracy and the Constitution.

At this point, I would like to state that all my own thoughts are quite innocuous, and mostly focus on kittens, bunny rabbits, and what I might have for dinner. Nothing to get excited about, Mr. President.

Some interesting comments on our new plan:

OLC’s Marty Lederman: An Opponent Of Preventive Detention?, by Spencer Ackerman

Yesterday President Obama announced his intent to establish a system of preventive detention to stop would-be terrorists from “carrying out an act of war” — even when they “cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted.” One of the most senior officials in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, though, has expressed reservations to such a system in the past.

Before Marty Lederman became deputy assistant attorney general for the OLC, he was a prolific blogger and Bush-administration critic (and before that, an OLC attorney during the late Clinton and early Bush years). Here, for instance, is an Opinio Juris colloquy with the Brookings Institution’s Benjamin Wittes about various detention issues. Wittes argued that Congress should “treat these detentions openly and candidly for what they are: preventive incarcerations designed to keep extremely dangerous individuals from acting on their deeply held murderous beliefs and instincts,” calling preventive detentions “a psychological Rubicon we simply need to cross.”

Lederman objected: …

Facts and myths about Obama’s preventive detention proposal, by Glenn Greenwald

In the wake of Obama’s speech yesterday, there are vast numbers of new converts who now support indefinite “preventive detention.”  It thus seems constructive to have as dispassionate and fact-based discussion as possible of the implications of “preventive detention” and Obama’s related detention proposals (military commissions).  I’ll have a podcast discussion on this topic a little bit later today with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, which I’ll add below, but until then, here are a some facts and other points worth noting:

(1) What does “preventive detention” allow?

It’s important to be clear about what “preventive detention” authorizes.  It does not merely allow the U.S. Government to imprison people alleged to have committed Terrorist acts yet who are unable to be convicted in a civilian court proceeding.  That class is merely a subset, perhaps a small subset, of who the Government can detain.  Far more significant, “preventive detention” allows indefinite imprisonment not based on proven crimes or past violations of law, but of those deemed generally “dangerous” by the Government for various reasons (such as, as Obama put it yesterday, they “expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden” or “otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans”).  That’s what “preventive” means:  imprisoning people because the Government claims they are likely to engage in violent acts in the future because they are alleged to be “combatants.”

Once known, the details of the proposal could — and likely will — make this even more extreme by extending the “preventive detention” power beyond a handful of Guantanamo detainees to anyone, anywhere in the world, alleged to be a “combatant.”  After all, once you accept the rationale on which this proposal is based — namely, that the U.S. Government must, in order to keep us safe, preventively detain “dangerous” people even when they can’t prove they violated any laws — there’s no coherent reason whatsoever to limit that power to people already at Guantanamo, as opposed to indefinitely imprisoning with no trials all allegedly “dangerous” combatants, whether located in Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, Western countries and even the U.S. …

Also, this from Rachel Maddow:

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 1:11 pm

Great graduation gift for men

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So you know some guy who’s being graduated from high school or college? Why not give the gift of an enjoyable morning shave by sending them a copy of Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving? In years to come, he’ll thank you repeatedly (and silently) each morning as he saves. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 11:56 am

Posted in Shaving

Stanford Online Writing Courses – The Summer Lineup

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From the site, important information on the short timeline to sign up:

A quick fyi: On Monday morning, Stanford Continuing Studies opens up registration for its summer lineup of online writing courses. Offered in partnership with the Stanford Creative Writing Program (one of the most distinguished writing programs in the country), these online courses give beginning and advanced writers, no matter where they live, the chance to refine their craft with gifted writing instructors. As you will see, there are a couple of courses offered in conjunction with The New York Times. The idea here is that you’ll learn writing from a Stanford  writing instructor and then get your work reviewed by a New York Times book critic. Quite a perk. And the courses sell out quickly. For more information, click here, or separately check out the FAQ and the testimonials.

Caveat emptor: These classes are not free, and I helped set them up. So while I wholeheartedly believe in these courses, you can take my views with a grain of salt.

The list of courses is at the site, along with these links:

Audio & Podcasts

Video

Essentials

Categories

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 11:43 am

"They laughed when I sat down at the piano"

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That was an effective ad headline for many years. If they’re still laughing after you start to play, check out these sites for learning piano on-line.

The problem with adult beginners is that their mind gets ahead of their skills: they hear what they’re playing and it doesn’t sound good so they give up. What they lack is a "growth mindset," as described by Carol Dweck in her excellent book Mindset, a book I highly recommend. If they can focus on the process of learning and listen to their progress from week to week, it will go much better for them.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Music

Packing tips

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It must be that time of year: lots of packing info available. This post has 17 very good tips on packing.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 11:34 am

Posted in Daily life

Firefox add-ons to enhance Google search

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Good list with reviews.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 10:18 am

Excellent reference post on Cheney errors

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Spencer Ackerman does a Cheney-error round-up with lots of links. Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 10:16 am

Do-It-Yourselfers: 5 good sites

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 9:49 am

Posted in Daily life

Data.gov

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Interesting site:

The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Although the initial launch of Data.gov provides a limited portion of the rich variety of Federal datasets presently available, we invite you to actively participate in shaping the future of Data.gov by suggesting additional datasets and site enhancements to provide seamless access and use of your Federal data. Visit today with us, but come back often. With your help, Data.gov will continue to grow and change in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Data.gov includes a searchable data catalog that includes access to data in two ways: through the "raw" data catalog and using tools. Please note that by accessing datasets or tools offered on Data.gov, you agree to the Data Policy, which you should read before accessing any dataset or tool. If there are additional datasets that you would like to see included on this site, please suggest more datasets here. For more information on how to use Data.gov, view our tutorial.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 8:53 am

Cheney ignores inconvenient truths

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Good summary by Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s defense Thursday of the Bush administration’s policies for interrogating suspected terrorists contained omissions, exaggerations and misstatements.

In his address to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy organization in Washington, Cheney said that the techniques the Bush administration approved, including waterboarding — simulated drowning that’s considered a form of torture — forced nakedness and sleep deprivation, were "legal" and produced information that "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people."

He quoted the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, as saying that the information gave U.S. officials a "deeper understanding of the al Qaida organization that was attacking this country."

In a statement April 21, however, Blair said the information "was valuable in some instances" but that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is that these techniques hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

A top-secret 2004 CIA inspector general’s investigation found no conclusive proof that information gained from aggressive interrogations helped thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to one of four top-secret Bush-era memos that the Justice Department released last month.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair magazine in December that he didn’t think that the techniques disrupted any attacks.

— Cheney said that President Barack Obama’s decision to release the four top-secret Bush administration memos on the interrogation techniques was "flatly contrary" to U.S. national security, and would help al Qaida train terrorists in how to resist U.S. interrogations.

However, Blair, who oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, said in his statement that he recommended the release of the memos, "strongly supported" Obama’s decision to prohibit using the controversial methods and that "we do not need these techniques to keep America safe."

— Cheney said …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 8:52 am

Healthcare industry exhibits its usual integrity

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Paul Krugman:

That didn’t take long. Less than two weeks have passed since much of the medical-industrial complex made a big show of working with President Obama on health care reform — and the double-crossing is already well under way. Indeed, it’s now clear that even as they met with the president, pretending to be cooperative, insurers were gearing up to play the same destructive role they did the last time health reform was on the agenda.

So here’s the question: Will Mr. Obama gloss over the reality of what’s happening, and try to preserve the appearance of cooperation? Or will he honor his own pledge, made back during the campaign, to go on the offensive against special interests if they stand in the way of reform?

The story so far: on May 11 the White House called a news conference to announce that major players in health care, including the American Hospital Association and the lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans, had come together to support a national effort to control health care costs.

The fact sheet on the meeting, one has to say, was classic Obama in its message of post-partisanship and, um, hope. “For too long, politics and point-scoring have prevented our country from tackling this growing crisis,” it said, adding, “The American people are eager to put the old Washington ways behind them.”

But just three days later the hospital association insisted that it had not, in fact, promised what the president said it had promised — that it had made no commitment to the administration’s goal of reducing the rate at which health care costs are rising by 1.5 percentage points a year. And the head of the insurance lobby said that the idea was merely to “ramp up” savings, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry is busily lobbying Congress to block one crucial element of health care reform, the public option — that is, offering Americans the right to buy insurance directly from the government as well as from private insurance companies. And at least some insurers are gearing up for a major smear campaign…

Continue reading. From later in the column:

… “We can do a lot better than a government-run health care system,” says a voice-over in one of the ads. To which the obvious response is, if that’s true, why don’t you? Why deny Americans the chance to reject government insurance if it’s really that bad?

For none of the reform proposals currently on the table would force people into a government-run insurance plan. At most they would offer Americans the choice of buying into such a plan.

And the goal of the insurers is to deny Americans that choice. They fear that many people would prefer a government plan to dealing with private insurance companies that, in the real world as opposed to the world of their ads, are more bureaucratic than any government agency, routinely deny clients their choice of doctor, and often refuse to pay for care…

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 8:42 am

Greenwald catches a heavy irony

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It’s astonishing that the mainstream media can be so tone-deaf. Greenwald:

Yesterday, President Obama approved a proposed civilian nuclear technology-sharing agreement between the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates and requested its execution, but CNN — in one of the all-time most unintentionally hilarious articles ever written — reports that its ratification is in doubt:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Obama on Thursday sent a civil nuclear agreement with the United Arab Emirates to the Senate for ratification, but its passage remains uncertain, thanks to a recently disclosed video.

Senior U.S. officials said lawmakers critical of the deal could use the video, which shows a member of the UAE government’s royal family torturing a man, to argue the United States should not have such nuclear cooperation with a country where the rule of law is not respected and human rights violations are tolerated.

How anyone could write or even read that last sentence without succumbing to painful, prolonged cackling is genuinely mystifying. 

The videos in questions involve torture by a single individual citizen of the UAE, not an entire government. The individual torturer isn’t even part of the UAE’s government:  he never worked in its Justice Department, doesn’t currently sit as a judge on a high-level court, doesn’t teach law in a prestigious university, doesn’t have his torture-defending speeches broadcast on national television by UAE news networks, isn’t constantly defended by admiring journalists any time he’s criticized, and doesn’t have hordes of TV pundits demanding that nothing be done to him.  Also, the UAE legislature never passed any laws on a bipartisan basis retroactively immunizing him from the consequences of his torture.

And one other thing:  the torturer in question — in the UAE — has been arrested while a criminal investigation takes place.  More here.  Nonetheless, entering into an agreement with a country like that — one that is so tolerant of "human rights violations" and "where the rule of law is not respected" — would degrade our lofty moral standing and betray our steadfast commitment to the rule of law.

Our mainstream media have become pathetic.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 8:39 am

Trip shaving

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We’re all aflutter about the trip. This time next week we’ll be in Tarrytown. The wedding shirt I ordered just arrived, so my ensemble is complete. I mailed ahead a 5-pack of blades, and I will take with me: a D.R. Harris shave stick, the Simpsons Key Hole 3 Best brush, and the Edwin Jagger Ivory Chatsworth razor (with no blade, of course). For the aftershave, I have a 1-oz sample of Booster Mosswood, which will do fine. Wonder whether I should take any spare razors as little prezzies…

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 8:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Edwin Jagger Day—except the soap

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IMG_0975

Edwin Jagger brush, Edwin Jagger soap bowl, and Edwin Jagger Lined Chatsworth (holding a fairly fresh Swedish Gillette blade). The soap, however, is Himalaya shaving soap from The Soap Opera. A reader tipped me off about this soap in a comment, and I like it a lot. Very nice on the skin, presumably because of the shea butter it contains.

I got a very nice lather, and the blade in the Chatsworth was plenty sharp: three smooth passes to perfection, and then a splash of the Musgo Real. Extremely good shave today.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2009 at 8:17 am

Posted in Shaving

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