Later On

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

Archive for June 23rd, 2009

Suspected US air strike kills 60 in Pakistan

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This is grim. Pir Zubair Shah and Salman Masood report in the NY Times:

An airstrike believed to have been carried out by a United States drone killed at least 60 people at a funeral for a Taliban fighter in South Waziristan on Tuesday, residents of the area and local news reports said.

Details of the attack, which occurred in Makeen, remained unclear, but the reported death toll was exceptionally high. If the reports are indeed accurate and if the attack was carried out by a drone, the strike could be the deadliest since the United States began using the aircraft to fire remotely guided missiles at members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The United States carried out 22 previous drone strikes this year, as the Obama administration has intensified a policy inherited from the Bush administration.

Before the attack on Tuesday, the Pakistani Army and Air Force had begun operations in South Waziristan against the forces of the Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud. The group’s suicide bombings in major cities have terrorized Pakistanis for years.

In a serious blow to Pakistan’s effort, on Tuesday an assassin loyal to Mr. Mehsud shot and killed a rival tribal leader, Qari Zainuddin, whom the government had hoped to use as an ally in its campaign to corner the Taliban leader.

The killing called into question the government’s strategy of exploiting tribal fissures in order to defeat Mr. Mehsud and was apparently intended to serve as a reminder that there were serious consequences for crossing him, analysts said.

“It tells people, if you side with the government, this is what will happen to you,” said Talat Masood, a retired general and a military analyst. “It says the government can’t give you protection, but the other side can.”

… While the strike on the funeral may have been conducted by the Pakistani Air Force, residents and local news reports uniformly attributed it to a United States drone…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 7:27 pm

Quick and easy interactive side-by-side health plan comparisons

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Quite useful. Take a look.

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23 June 2009 at 4:11 pm

Will the GOP ever, ever get it? Iran edition

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Joe Klein in the Swampland blog:

I’ve been receiving a steady stream of favorable emails from Iranian-Americans regarding my appearance on Larry King last night. They’re delighted that I made it clear that Iran is different from the other countries in the region–better educated, more sophisticated, with far greater rights for women (although not nearly enough). And they also appreciated the fact that when King asked me what John McCain should do right now, I said, "Be quiet."

The Washington Post has a piece today about the efforts of some Republicans to make hay out of the situation in Iran. McCain, who spent the entire 2008 election making misleading statements about the nature of the Iranian government (I wonder if he still thinks Ahmadinejad is more powerful than the Supreme Leader), has been at the forefront of this. It is very unseemly. I have yet to hear what possible good it would do for the President of the United States to encourage the protesters, except to give the Iranian regime a better excuse for killing more of them. McCain’s bleatings are either for domestic political consumption or self-satisfaction, a form of hip-shooting onanism that demonstrates why he would have been a foreign policy disaster had he been elected.

To put it as simply as possible, McCain–and his cohorts–are trying to score political points against the President in the midst of an international crisis. It is the sort of behavior that Republicans routinely call "unpatriotic" when Democrats are doing it. I would never question John McCain’s patriotism, no matter how misguided his sense of the country’s best interests sometimes seems. His behavior has nothing to do with love of country; it has everything to do with love of self.

Again, the crucial fact about the protesters is this: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iran, Politics

Stalkers and assassins

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Interesting post from Mind Hacks:

I’ve just found this fascinating 2006 article by a consultant psychiatrist to the US Secret Service that classifies the types of stalkers and assassins that have troubled the President of the United States.

The piece, by psychiatry professor Robert Phillips, reviews past classifications of presidential harassers and cases from the literature to produce a list of main types.

In my work as consultant to the U.S. Secret Service on protective intelligence cases, it is my clinical assessment that aids in their ultimate determination of who poses a potential risk to a protectee.

In performing evaluations of persons who have either threatened or attacked presidents, pursued them without nefarious intent, or appeared at the White House without invitation, I have searched for a framework that would allow me to integrate my diagnostic opinion of an individual subject with a conceptualization of what is known about others who have acted similarly.

Phillips’ classification includes:

* The Resentful Presidential Stalker or Assassin
* The Pathologically Obsessed Presidential Stalker or Assassin
* The Presidential Infamy Seeker
* The Presidential Nuisance or Presidential Attention Seeker

But perhaps most interesting is the part where he illustrates each type with examples from past cases.

These include famous cases, such as John Hinckley – the man who shot President Reagan but was apparently also a stalker of Carter, to less well known cases such as one woman referred to only as ‘Ms Doe’ who "possessed a delusional love interest" in Clinton.

It’s interesting to compare this classification with the independently created typology of stalkers of the British royal family drawn from the Metropolitan Police’s Royalty Protection Unit files.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Supreme Court ruling allows gold mine to dump waste in lake

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This is what you get with people like Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas on the court: business-friendly, public-hostile decisions. Elizabeth Bluemink in McClatchy:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday decision allowing a gold mine near Juneau to discharge its waste into a fish-bearing lake could be the final word in the long-running dispute.

But environmentalists hope that it is not.

Their lawsuit over the Kensington mine, 45 miles northwest of Juneau, fueled a bitter war between industry boosters and environmentalists in the state’s capital.

Statewide, the suit cast a shadow over Alaska’s mining industry, and in particular, the massive Pebble copper and gold prospect in Southwest Alaska.

On Monday, Kensington’s supporters – including the entire Alaska congressional delegation and Gov. Sarah Palin – hailed the Supreme Court decision as a positive step for Juneau and the state.

Coeur Alaska Inc., operator of the Kensington mine, announced plans to begin producing gold in the last half of 2010.

But environmentalists say their fight is not over…

Continue reading. And Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent has a good story on this:

In a bow to the mining industry, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Clean Water Act permits an Alaskan gold mining company to dump tons of waste into a 23-acre lake nearby — never mind that the dumping will kill off every bit of aquatic life there.

The ruling extends from a 2002 rule change, under which the Bush administration redefined mining debris — even toxic mining debris — as “fill” rather than “waste.” That seemingly subtle change had the wide-sweeping consequence of shifting mine-waste disposal decisions from the Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — a switch that also helped fuel the popularity of mountaintop mining operations in the Appalachian states in the last decade.

The Obama administration has taken steps in recent weeks to reassert the powers of the EPA to protect waterways surrounding mountaintop sites, but those changes, up to now, are limited to Appalachian projects. Alaskan mines just aren’t subject to the new scrutiny.

That spells bad news for Tongass National Forest’s Lower Slate Lake. In 2005, the Corps had approved permits for the Alaskan gold mine company, Coeur Alaska Inc., to dump 210,00 gallons of waste per day into Lower Slate — waste containing aluminum, copper, lead, and mercury. It was those permits that the Supreme Court upheld 6-3 Monday, overturning an earlier ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The reasoning from the court’s majority goes something like this: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:20 pm

Insurance companies whingeing about the public option

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They get no sympathy from me—they are all to ready to cancel policies when people need them. Congressional Quarterly reports:

Lobbies representing the insurance industry said in a letter to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy , D-Mass., that a “government plan” option in any form would have “devastating consequences” for current health insurance coverage as well as for the budget deficit and “existing provider systems.”

Friday’s letter from America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association of America also expresses concern about insurance exchanges proposed in a plan developed by Kennedy that is being marked up by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The “gateways,” as they are known in the proposal, could be overly regulatory and should not be the only place where people can get subsidies to help buy coverage under a system in which everyone is required to have health insurance, the letter says.

The letter follows growing efforts in the Senate to fashion a compromise on the controversial issue of creating a new government-run insurance plan as part of overhauling health care. Sen. Kent Conrad , D-N.D., for example, has suggested creating member-run health insurance co-operatives as a form of public plan instead of creating a government-run insurance alternative to private health insurance. But the insurers appeared to reject that attempt at compromise.

“A government-run plan — no matter how it is initially structured — would dismantle employer-based coverage, significantly increase costs for those who remain in private coverage, and add additional liabilities to the federal budget,” the letter says.

A public plan would pay providers less and therefore charge lower premiums, attracting growing numbers of enrollees, the letter says. Providers would charge private plans more to make up for the lower payments, “causing further declines in private coverage and leaving hundreds of billions of dollars to be covered by the federal budget.”

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 1:18 pm

Language as a looking glass

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Interesting bit from Mind Hacks, and if you like this, you’ll love Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes.

Edge has a fantastic essay on how the language we speak can affect how we experience and think about the world.

The piece is by psychologist Lera Boroditsky whose work has shown that the not only are there differences across people with different mother tongues, but that asking people to use different words can affect their perceptions.

Boroditsky’s article is full of fascinating snippets about how language structure enforces a different mental set on the speaker.

For example, she notes that in Russian you need to change verbs to indicate whether the action was completed or not (when someone read a book, did they finish the book or just manage part of it). In Turkish verbs indicate whether you saw the thing yourself or whether you’re describing what someone else has told you.

But one of the most vivid examples is from the language of a small Aboriginal community in Australia:

Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.

This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There’s an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly…

The result is a profound difference in navigational ability and spatial knowledge between speakers of languages that rely primarily on absolute reference frames (like Kuuk Thaayorre) and languages that rely on relative reference frames (like English).

Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings. What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language. Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities.

This research is interesting because it relates to the much maligned Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that claims that language shapes how we experience the world.

When I was a student this theory wheeled out in psycholinguistics classes to show how naive we used to be. I’m no expert on psycholinguistics, but I suspect that this was due to the dominance of Noam Chomsky’s idea that all languages are based on an underlying universal grammar, implying that, fundamentally, we all think about things in broadly similar ways. Jerry Fodor’s language of thought hypothesis might also have been a culprit.

What ever the cause, the effect of language on perception and understanding was neglected for many years and only recently have some of these interesting effects come to light through the work of people like Boroditsky.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Tools = temporary body parts

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Interesting post at Mind Hacks:

Not Exactly Rocket Science covers an intriguing study that provides further evidence for the theory that the brain treats tools as temporary body parts.

Using tools has lots of interesting effects on our perception. In one of my favourite studies, psychologist Dennis Proffitt found that we perceive distances as shorter when we have a tool in our hand, but only when we intend to use it.

This latest study found that using a tool for only a few minutes modified the body’s action settings. In the experiment, participants were asked to repeatedly pick up a block that had been placed in the middle of the table.

Then, they had to repeat the same actions with a grabber – a long, mechanical lever tipped with a two-fingered "hand" – and then a third time, with their own hand again.

Small LEDs on the volunteers’ hands allowed Cardinali to track their movements and calculate the speed and acceleration of their arms. She found that they reached for the block differently after they had been accustomed to the grabber, taking longer to accelerate their hands more slowly and to seize the block (although once they actually touched the blocks, they grasped them in just the same way as before). The delays even affected the speed at which they pointed at the block, a behaviour that wasn’t "trained" by the grabber.

To Cardinali, these results suggested that after using the grabber, the volunteers’ had included it into their mental representation of their own arms. Because of that, they felt that their arms were longer than they actually were and reached for the block more slowly.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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A strange view of journalism

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Generally speaking, (good) journalism is seen as a critical partner to making democracy work by exposing situations in which it’s not working. Some, though, don’t much like a free press. For example:

Source: Alternet, May 25, 2009

Retired U.S. Col. Ralph Peters has written an essay calling for military attacks on journalists. Writing for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), Peters calls the media "a hostile third party in the fight … killers without guns," and writes, "future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. … The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters."

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Media, Military

Forward movement in the FOIA office

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Some good news:

Source: Columbia Journalism Review, June 10, 2009

According to the The National Archives and Records Administration, Miriam Nisbet will be the first director of the Office of Government Information Services. She was previously legislative counsel for the American Librarian Association. Additionally, "she served as Deputy Director of the Justice Department‘s Office of Information Privacy, which plays a major role in overseeing government wide FOIA policy, and as a special counsel for information policy at the National Archives. Most recently, she was director of UNESCO’s Information For All Program." While OGIS was created in 2007 by Congress as "monitor and mediator" of FOIA requests, the Bush administration left the office unfunded. "We’ve been waiting a long time to see this thing get off the ground,” says Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a media coalition that worked closely with congress to push for the office’s creation, “She’s a long-time advocate for open government, and this is a promising start for those who want the FOIA to work better."

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:27 am

The House healthcare plan

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Karen Tumulty follows the healthcare debate closely. Here’s one of her posts:

The key committee chairmen put out an outline today of their approach to health care reform (more in-depth info here), and there’s one thing they want you to know about it: "Uniquely American," said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller. Added Energy and Commerce’s Henry Waxman: "Uniquely American." And what does former Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell like so much about it? "An American solution," he said.

But the insurance industry has a few reservations. Like this one: “We need a uniquely American approach to health care reform," warns Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the trade lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Anyone who has followed this debate for more than 20 seconds will immediately recognize all this talk of unique Americanism as another way of saying not single payer, which is the government-financed system that just about every other industrialized country uses in one form or another. And all this skittishness about single payer explains the delicacy with which the House drafters have tried to finesse the question of whether their system will have a public plan, something like Medicare, but for people under 65.

The answer is, it will have a public plan, and a strong one–at first.

In the early stage, the public plan would reimburse health care providers at rates that are "similar to those used in Medicare"–that is, significantly lower than most private insurers pay them. This is something that the insurance industry, doctors and hospitals will all hate. “A government-run plan that pays based on Medicare rates – for any period of time – is a recipe for disaster," Scott P. Serota, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, said in a statement issued by the association. "Already in some parts of the country nearly 30 percent of Medicare enrollees report that they cannot find doctors willing to accept new patients, due to below market rates. Rural hospitals, in particular, are struggling to keep their doors open. These low payment rates would threaten the quality of healthcare and undermine the improvements that we believe reform can bring to communities across the country."

Advocates would argue, on the other hand, that those lower rates could be a powerful engine to bring down health costs. Which is why they won’t be happy with what happens next. According to the summary, this tie to Medicare rates would be "severed over time as more flexible payment systems are developed." In other words, this public plan would eventually evolve into something that looks–and competes–more like a private insurance company, albeit one that happens to be run by the government. At the news conference, I asked the committee chairmen precisely what that means–When would that happen? And under what circumstances? They couldn’t tell me, and demurred that this is the kind of thing that still needs to be worked out. Waxman said it would take "a period of time" for the public plan to get started, but that "they will at some point compete." …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:24 am

The politics of drug laws

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Mind Hacks:

The BBC World Service broadcast an interesting programme on the effect of Portugal’s 2001 policy to decriminalise all illicit drugs, from cannabis to heroin. Far from what you might expect from your local politician, the effect was rather positive. As also recounted in a recent article for Time magazine, drug use has actually dropped.

Recreational drugs are a fascinating area precisely because the political view and the health view are so completely out of whack in most countries.

As we have reported several times in the past, the UK has a regular public ritual where the government commissions a panel of scientists to report on the health dangers of drugs, and then completely ignores them when they point out that the current policies make no sense and don’t reflect the actual impact of the substances.

This week’s Bad Science column has another example, where a now leaked 1991 World Health Organisation report [pdf] on the impact of cocaine was suppressed by the US government because it pointed out that it’s not as intrinsically poisonous to health or society as it’s made out by drug war propaganda.

This political double book-keeping is probably why the severity of drug laws around the world have virtually no relation to the drug use of the population.

I’m morbidly curious about how we’ve arrived at this odd situation where one of the culturally universal human activities, modifying our consciousness with drugs, must be looked down on publicly to the point where our politicians are free to ignore evidence when it suits them.

It’s a conspiracy of ignorance that would be unthinkable if it was applied to swine flu but perfectly acceptable for something that already kills thousands upon thousands of people every year.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

The holy grail of military psychiatry

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From Mind Hacks:

Neuron Culture covers a new study on predictors of PTSD in deployed American combat troops. Predicting whether a soldier will break down through combat has been one of the Holy Grails of military psychiatry and the impressive results of this study suggest that this may be getting closer.

World War One was the crucible of military psychiatry as it became clear that even the bravest and best soldiers could break down due to combat stress.

When World War Two arrived, the British and American militaries invested a great deal in psychological screening to attempt to distinguish which soldiers would break down more quickly.

The project was widely regarded as a failure as the only reliably predictor seemed to be the duration and ferocity of the combat the soldier was exposed to.

However, as Dobbs notes, this new study finds that a simple measure of physical health could be a powerful way of preventing half of all PTSD cases in combat deployed troops.

The study found that the least healthy 15% of the troops in the study who saw combat accounted for well over half — 58% — of the post-combat PTSD cases, as indicated by either the study’s own criteria or by self-report of a PTSD diagnosis from the soldiers during follow-up.

This is a pretty stunning result. And it certainly suggests that, as the study put it, "more vulnerable members of the population could be identified and benefit from interventions targeted to prevent new onset PTSD." The beauty of this finding is that fairly general measures of health are the indicators, so you can predict a lot from fairly simple and easy-to-collect data.

Obviously not all of the 15% who scored lowest on PTSD; but that bottom 15% accounted for more cases than do the entire remaining 85%. So at a time when we are much concerned with reducing PTSD in combat troops, it seems fairly plain that we could cut the PTSD rate by more than 50% simply by keeping the least healthy 15% — as measured by fairly simple health questionnaires we already have in any and — out of combat zones.

He also notes a curiosity that while the study was on US troops, the paper was published in the British Medical Journal, and wonders whether there were some PTSD politicking that meant it was rejected from American journals.

As we’ve discussed before, PTSD is perhaps the most politicised psychiatric diagnosis. It was originally called post-Vietnam syndrome and was created to allow the US healthcare system treat Vietnam veterans.

The direct effects of trauma where never previously thought to be a mental illness in itself, although it was known to be a risk factor for a number of conditions.

Psychologist Dave Grossman, author of On Killing, convincingly argues that Vietnam was particularly conducive to combat trauma for US troops, owing to the fact that US forces had no front line and hence no ‘safe’ areas to relax in, and that they often found themselves fighting a irregular army of civilians including women and children.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:18 am

Tips for freelancers and others self-employed

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Very good list of tips for those who are striking out on their own.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:15 am

Posted in Daily life

The finance industry prizes your ignorance

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From the Center for American Progress:

In response to the Obama administration’s ambitious "plan to modernize financial regulation and supervision," different sectors of the financial industry have begun a fierce effort to lobby against increased regulations. According to the New York Times, hedge funds have banded together to "fend off tougher oversight, higher taxes and much greater transparency." Over the last two years, hedge fund managers have spent nearly $15 million on lobbyists, four times the amount they spent in previous years. The Hill reports that "nine major financial and real estate lobbying associations" have joined forces in lobbying against changes in accounting rules for banks, including a rule that will require firms to move off-balance sheet assets onto their own balance sheets. The "financial lobby will push hard on regulators and Congress to delay the change," which would ban encouraging risky lending by banks, the practice that led to the financial crisis. Banks have also signaled their opposition to President Obama’s latest proposal for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which Obama claims will prevent "mortgage, credit card and other abuses that contributed to the current crisis." Despite opposition from the financial industry, President Obama remains firm in his call for "sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system…on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression."

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 10:14 am

Clean energy for 48¢ a day

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From the Center for American Progress:

Since Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), conservatives have grown increasingly hysterical in their opposition to clean energy and green jobs. Rep. "Smokey" Joe Barton (R-TX) — a prominent global warming denier and top recipient of dirty coal funding — renamed the bill. "They like to call it ACES but I call it C.R.A.P. — continue ruining America’s prosperity," he snickered. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) declared that a cap-and-trade system like the one proposed by Waxman and Markey "promises to cap our incomes, our livelihoods, and our standard of living" and will therefore "hurt American agriculture." Though Republicans have long falsely claimed that a cap-and-trade program will cost every American family $3,000, a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found "that the net annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion — or about $175 per household." This amounts to 48 cents per day — a little more than the cost of a postage stamp. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and former Secretary of State Richard Armitage have argued recently that climate change is also "the biggest long term threat" to America’s national security. Unwilling to wait any longer for much-needed action, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced Monday that she plans to bring ACES for a House vote on Friday. Center for American Progress (CAP) CEO John Podesta acknowledged that ACES is "imperfect in its means" but ultimately "deserves the support of progressives." Though the bill may not be everything environmentalists and progressives want, Podesta, alluding to the Rolling Stones’s Mick Jagger, said, "They must try this time to pass it through the House so that we can ultimately get what we need: a clean energy law that creates jobs, reduces oil use, and cuts global warming pollution."

For months, congressional Republicans have claimed that addressing climate change and transitioning to a clean energy economy would cost every American household thousands of dollars. As the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson argued in March, the claim "is a deliberate lie." "Conservatives that cite horrendous dollar figures are engaging in statistical demagoguery in an attempt scare enough representatives to defeat the American Clean Energy and Security Act," wrote CAP Director of Climate Strategy Daniel J. Weiss. The latest CBO analysis should end this once and for all. Indeed, the CBO found that, for "households in the lowest income quintile would see an average net benefit of about $40 in 2020." As Weiss points out, the analysis did not even include other aspects of the bill, like energy efficiency promotion, that would further mitigate costs. In fact, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy "estimates that the efficiency provisions alone could save businesses and consumers $22 billion annually by 2020. The savings would be $170 per household in 2020 — roughly equal to CBO’s cost per household estimate for ACES in 2020," Weiss writes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 9:07 am

Authoritarian view of law-breaking

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I continue to enjoy The Authoritarians. One interesting insight: although the Authoritarian personality strongly believes in obeying the law and the authorities, an exception is made for those seen as authorities. Those at the top can (the authoritarian personality believes) decide which laws to enforce and which to ignore and can break with impunity any laws: the authority itself is not bound by law. Interesting idea, eh?

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 8:57 am

Bob Herbert speaks truth to power

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Bob Herbert has an excellent column in today’s NY Times:

Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the early months of the Obama administration has been its unwillingness to end many of the mind-numbing abuses linked to the so-called war on terror and to establish a legal and moral framework designed to prevent those abuses from ever occurring again.

The president deserves credit for unequivocally banning torture and some of the other brutal interrogation techniques that spread like a plague in the Bush administration’s lawless response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But other policies that offend the conscience continue.

Americans should recoil as one against the idea of preventive detention, imprisoning people indefinitely, for years and perhaps for life, without charge and without giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their innocence.

And yet we’ve embraced it, asserting that there are people who are far too dangerous to even think about releasing but who cannot be put on trial because we have no real evidence that they have committed any crime, or because we’ve tortured them and therefore the evidence would not be admissible, or whatever. President Obama is O.K. with this (he calls it “prolonged detention”), but he wants to make sure it is carried out — here comes the oxymoron — fairly and nonabusively.

Proof of guilt? In 21st-century America, there is no longer any need for such annoyances.

Human rights? Ha-ha. That’s a good one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 8:53 am

More on Mindset

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I read a fair amount of Mindset last night and continue to find it both fascinating and informative. Anyone responsible for children (teachers, parents, camp counselors, and the like) should read the book. I find that the book not only explains some things about me, but also provides an interesting insight into other people. The simple "fixed mindset" and "growth mindset" idea seems to have a lot of explanatory power.

I did buy a Kindle edition (delivery time around 1 minute) of the book so that I could clip passages, annotate, and the like—things you can’t do in a library book.

Highly recommended.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 8:50 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Tiny travel razors

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I have a whole box of travel razors similar to the following, some with leather cases, most with metal.



Though they’re  quite compact when packed, they assemble into a full-size razor:


This morning I used the one in the middle:


Honeybee Spa Amber shaving soap, a Simpsons Chubby 1 Best, and an excellent lather. I put a Treet Black Beauty blade into the travel razor and gave it a go. With this one, I got an okay shave, though nothing to write home about. I wonder whether the Feather travel razor (the one on the right) might have done better. At any rate, this shave will get me through the day, and the finish with Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet was quite nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2009 at 8:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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