Later On

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

Archive for November 6th, 2009


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I’m currently re-reading with great enjoyment the novel Kim, by Rudyard Kipling. What a wonderful book it is.

And I’m also reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which looks to be an excellent fantasy.

I’m also wanting to re-read some classics, specifically War and Peace and Don Quixote, both in new translations.

I tried The Brothers Karamazov, but on this reading I find it overwrought. Maybe I’ll try again later.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 5:41 pm

Posted in Books

Former spokesman for BCBS comes out for healthcare reform

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Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 4:23 pm

Good news re: exercise

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Even a little helps. Bill Henrick at WebMD:

While frequent exercise is known to fight obesity and improve mental health, as little as 30 minutes of physical activity one or two days a week can have benefits, according to the 2009 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The Well-Being Index is based on nearly 288,000 phone interviews of people 18 and older. It shows the number of days a person exercises for at least 30 minutes is strongly connected with the likelihood of obesity:

  • Not exercising in a given week was associated with a 35% incidence of obesity. 
  • Exercising for 30 minutes, 1-2 days a week, was associated with a 28% incidence of obesity

However, the survey also showed that those who exercised every day were slightly more likely to be obese (20%) than those who say they exercised five or six days (19%).

Gallup-Healthways analyst Brett W. Pelham, author of the 2009 report, tells WebMD in an email that "exercising several days a week seems about as good, and arguably is better, than exercising every day, especially when you consider return on investment."

The survey also looked at the connection between the number of days of exercise and quality of life; it included questions to determine if people felt they were struggling, suffering, or thriving in life. As little as a half-hour daily of exercise for one or two days seemed to help their self-perceptions.

People who exercised more frequently had …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Daily life

I’m tired of Ben Nelson and I wish he’d go away

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Steve Benen:

Matt Yglesias flags this item, which is a reminder as to why conservative Democrats so often stand in the way of effective policymaking.

Democrat Ben Nelson, a Senator from Nebraska, said the slumping economy and rising joblessness will be factors as Congress considers climate change and health care legislation. They are also driving concerns about the budget deficit, which widened to a record $1.42 trillion in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, he said.

"When the economy’s not strong there’s a lot of interest in controlling spending," Nelson said.

Everything about this is ridiculous. Nelson isn’t some rookie; he’s been a senator long enough to understand public policy basics, and his remarks are substantively gibberish.

Cutting back on federal spending in a weak economy is crazy. When there’s a hole in the economy, it makes sense to fill it — not make it bigger by taking capital out of the system.

Even conservatives should be able to understand this. As Matt explained, "With the economy weak Nelson wants to do … what? Lay off teachers? Halt infrastructure projects? Make sure that kids whose parents are unemployed end up malnourished? The economy is suffering from a catastrophic collapse in overall spending with households, businesses, states, and municipalities all pulling back. If the federal government pulls back too we’re going to go down the drain."

It’s a reminder that Ben Nelson, like too many conservatives, simply doesn’t approach public policy in a serious way. Indeed, back in February, when policymakers needed to make the recovery efforts bigger and more ambitious, they couldn’t — Nelson wouldn’t let them. He said at the time that an $800 billion stimulus, regardless of whether it would help or not, shouldn’t pass. "At some point it’s just too big," Nelson argued, with the intellectual seriousness of a house plant.

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6 November 2009 at 12:48 pm

Neeps and tatties

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UPDATE: The recipe is not in fact for Neeps & Tatties—in that dish the neeps and tatties are mashed separately and served separately. The recipe is for Clapshot. See this article, which suggests also that the correct name is Tatties & Neeps.

Kathryn Hill has a good recipe at the Kitchn [sic]:

Mashed Potatoes with Rutabaga, or Neeps & Tatties

1 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 to 3 tbsp. butter
Salt & pepper to taste
Cream or milk (optional)

Rutabagas take longer to cook, so put them in a pot with some boiling water or broth and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the potatoes, and simmer for 20 minutes. Both vegetables should be fork-tender. Drain, and add salt & pepper to taste, then the butter, and mash. You can add a little milk or cream too, if you like. Traditionally served with haggis, but can be served as a side with any meat dish or as a topping for shepherd’s pie.

The background info is also interesting. Click the link.

We’ll certainly have this the next time we have haggis.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 12:47 pm

Dissimilar reactions from the Right

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Blue Texan at Firedoglake:

It’s worth revisiting what the right-wing was saying after a Christianist terrorist assassinated Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. They…

…admonished us not to “politicize” the killing, and that doing so would “collectivize” the shooter’s guilt and “smear the entire conservative movement.” After all, Dr. Tiller’s murder was just an “isolated incident” — “kooks happen” — so it’s deeply unfair, they argued, to point fingers at anyone but the killer himself. Most importantly, they noted, jumping to score political points while the Tiller’s family was still grieving is crass, uncivil, beyond the pale.

Needless to say, they have done exactly the opposite in the face of the Ft. Hood tragedy.

They are, in fact, collectivizing the shooter’s guilt, smearing the entire Muslim religion, they did not respect the families of the dead by leaping to conclusions, there are no mentions of “kooks” or “isolated incidents” and they are quite happily jumping to score political points — most notably, by blaming the tragedy on “political correctness.”

The Anchor Baby:

Political correctness is the handmaiden of terror.

Atlas Juggs:

They knew this guy was a jihadi. They knew. But they sacrificed American lives at the alter political correctness.

Jihad Watch:

Yet there was, and what’s more, Major Hasan’s motive was perfectly clear — but it was one that the forces of political correctness and the Islamic advocacy groups in the United States have been working for years to obscure.

The Corner:

This is not the first time American soldiers have been victims of politically correct policies.

It takes a particularly demented type of crazy to blame the US military for a tragedy like this. Because that’s exactly what they’re doing here.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Could it be that we SHOULDN’T simply trust businesses?

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Walter Hamilton writes in the LA Times:

As an eavesdropping-detection specialist, Kevin D. Murray normally works for companies concerned about possible spying by competitors.

But since a blockbuster insider-trading prosecution built on wiretaps and microphone-wearing informants became public last month, frantic hedge fund managers have raced to hire him.

"The nature of the question is ‘Can you tell me if the government’s bugging me?’ " Murray said, adding that he turned down the three firms that approached him.

Two years ago, hedge fund managers were acclaimed as financial whizzes, envied and even grudgingly respected for raking in gobs of money with daredevil investment strategies.

Now the hedge fund industry, facing public scorn in the wake of the financial crisis and still reeling from steep investment losses last year, is at the center of the biggest insider-trading scandal in a generation, pitted against prosecutors who are moving aggressively to stamp out what they fear is widespread abuse of confidential information on Wall Street.

The scandal expanded Thursday as federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against 14 people, bringing the number charged in the continuing probe to 20.

The criminal complaint and a companion civil lawsuit filed Thursday depict an insider-trading network brazenly swapping information about planned corporate mergers and taking such elaborate steps to avoid detection that authorities likened the methods to those used by narcotics traffickers. To build their case, authorities used informants, wiretaps and a stakeout on a Manhattan street corner, the court filings show.

A key figure in the charges is Zvi Goffer, a former employee of New York hedge fund firm Galleon Group. Other defendants allegedly referred to him as "Octopussy" — a reference to a 1983 James Bond film — because, according to the complaints, he got confidential information from numerous sources.

Goffer used disposable cellphones to hide his actions and after finishing with one of them, broke it in half, bit its memory card, threw away half of the phone and instructed another defendant to dispose of the other half elsewhere, the complaints allege.

"If you find yourself chewing the memory card in your cellphone to destroy any record of your misconduct, something has gone terribly wrong with your character," Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement chief Robert Khuzami said at a news conference…

Continue reading.

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6 November 2009 at 12:36 pm

Maybe Republicans simply cannot reason?

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Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

The Hill reports that Allen West, a former Army lieutenant colonel promoted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as one of its “young guns,” has come to some conclusions about the meaning of Maj. Hasan’s murders at Ft. Hood:

“This enemy preys on downtrodden soldiers and teaches them extremism will lift them up,” West said in a statement. “Our soldiers are being brainwashed.”

The release added that West claims “the horrible tragedy at Fort Hood is proof the enemy is infiltrating our military.”

This is further out there than even Fox host Brian Kilmeade’s slanders on Muslim U.S. soldiers. We don’t know what Hasan’s motivations actually were, let alone that he’s a symptom of “the enemy” “infiltrating” the military. Hasan, it’s worth remembering, joined the Army in 1995, even before Osama bin Laden had declared war on America.

But this is perhaps typical of West’s reasoning, as he was disciplined in the Army in Iraq for actually firing his weapon near a detainee’s head during an interrogation, which is typically a crime. CNN:

In testimony at an Article 32 hearing — the military’s version of a grand jury or preliminary hearing — West said the policeman, Yahya Jhrodi Hamoody, was not cooperating with interrogators, so he watched four of his soldiers from the 220th Field Artillery Battalion beat the detainee on the head and body.

West said he also threatened to kill Hamoody. Military prosecutors say West followed up on that threat by taking the suspect outside, put him on the ground near a weapons clearing barrel and fired his 9 mm pistol into the barrel.

To make a point no one should have to make: earlier this year, a deranged Army sergeant named John Russell opened fire near a combat stress clinic — sound familiar? — at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty and killed five of his fellow soldiers. No one speculated about any religious motivations. No one suggested he was part of an enemy “infiltration,” or suggested that U.S. troops have been “brainwashed.” Everyone understood that Russell was a deranged lunatic, not an advance scout for a conspiracy to subvert the military internally. It’s funny how double standards work.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 12:31 pm

648-megapixel image of our galaxy

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Take a look. It’s impressive.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Cool screenwriting software

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Take a look if you have a screenplay in mind.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 12:20 pm

Having patience is part of being smart

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Sean at Discover:

Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

A) Yes.

B) No.

C) Cannot be determined.

This is from this month’s Scientific American — article unfortunately costs money. It’s about “dysrationalia,” which is what happens when people with nominally high IQ’s end up thinking irrationally. A phenomenon I’m sure we’ve all encountered, especially in certain corners of the blogosphere.

And the answer is the first option. But over 80 percent of people choose the third option. Here’s the solution: the puzzle doesn’t say whether Anne is married or not, but she either is or she isn’t. If Anne is married, she’s looking at George, so the answer is “yes”; if she’s unmarried, Jack is looking at her, so the answer is still “yes.” The underlying reason why smart people get the wrong answer is (according to the article) that they simply don’t take the time to go carefully through all of the possibilities, instead taking the easiest inference. The patience required to go through all the possibilities doesn’t correlate very well with intelligence.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Daily life

Other photos from walk

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There’s a bug in Chrome or WordPress that makes them not work together—at least for now. More photos from the walk.


These purple guys are still much in bloom, as you see.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Daily life

Walk with photos

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Last night I fell to thinking about mortality (mine) and the unscheduled but inevitable appointment with death. I was considering how carefully I selected foods that were good for me, avoided those that weren’t, and did things like drinking white tea daily for the cancer-preventing action. And yet I was ignoring the two elephants: exercise and fat.

I have not really been putting up a good fight. Picking the right foods is fine—and easy: just learn about nutrition and avoid processed foods. But exercise and fat loss are not so easy, and I was ignoring those at my peril. The last thing I wanted was to die in my easy chair years too early.

So today I went for a modest walk—25 minutes, roughly. I did stop and take a few photos along the way. I do love having a pocket camera. Here’s some of the things I noted:

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Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

From the Director of the Congressional Budget Office

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One question receiving much attention in the discussion of the pending health care legislation is: How would it affect unauthorized immigrants? In a recent letter (dated October 29), we noted that unauthorized immigrants would constitute “about one-third” of the 18 million nonelderly residents who we estimate would remain uninsured under H.R. 3962, the bill currently being considered in the House. In our preliminary analysis of an earlier version of the legislation, H.R. 3200 as introduced, we said that “nearly half” of the 17 million residents who we estimated would remain uninsured would be unauthorized immigrants.

The use of the terms “about one-third” and “nearly half” was meant to convey the uncertainty and imprecision surrounding our estimates of the characteristics of the remaining uninsured population. Because of that uncertainty and imprecision, we cannot provide a specific figure for coverage of unauthorized immigrants under any of the proposals. Despite the difference in wording, we would not expect any significant differences between the two bills in the number of uninsured who are unauthorized immigrants, because the relevant features of the two proposals are similar. (Our analysis of H.R. 3200 was preliminary and based on specifications rather than a reading of the legislative language.) Further, we have not changed our methodology for estimating the relevant factors in the intervening period.

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6 November 2009 at 11:13 am

The state secrets bill’s progress

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Marcy Wheeler:

The House Judiciary just passed Jerry Nadler’s bill reining in state secrets abuse by a vote of 18-12, with Adam Schiff as the sole Democrat voting against the bill. One thing Nadler has added to his bill since it was first introduced are measures to prevent the government from refusing to give plaintiff lawyers clearance to litigate the case (if the govt refuses the first and second choice lawyers for plaintiffs, the govt must give a list of possible lawyers to litigate the case). This would prevent a tactic the government tried to use in both the Horn and the al-Haramain suits.

In addition, the House Judiciary passed its version of PATRIOT Reauthorization. It’s a better bill than the Senate bill.

While both of these bills have a long way to go before they get signed into law (and at some point, I would expect the Obama Administration to reveal their opposition–and their support for unfettered executive power). But on the state secrets bill, especially, we have taken a very small step toward reining in the abuse of power of both Bush and Obama.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 10:59 am

CIA agent: "We broke the law"

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David Usborne in The Independent:

One of the Americans convicted in absentia by an Italian court for her part in the 2003 abduction of a Muslim cleric by CIA operatives has acknowledged they "broke the law" and complained she was given insufficient protection by her superiors in Washington.

Sabrina deSousa, employed in the US consulate offices in Milan at the time of the abduction, made clear in an interview with ABC News that she was disgruntled that she and the other 22 Americans who were convicted by a Milan court on Wednesday had been left to fend for themselves by their country.

Ms deSousa, who has not explicitly said she was working for the CIA, was sentenced to five years by the judge in the case. Indeed on the day that the cleric, known as Abu Omar, was taken from the street and whisked first to Germany and thereafter to Egypt, she was out of the city on a skiing break.

The longest sentence, of eight years, was given to the former Milan CIA station chief, Robert Seldon Lady. There seems little likelihood that the convicted Americans will serve their terms, not least because Italy has declined to seek their extradition from the US, partly in the interest of US-Italian relations. It is probably true, however, that the 22 will always run the risk of arrest if they leave the US territory.

Saying she felt "abandoned and betrayed" as the trial unfolded over three years, Ms deSousa said "everything I did was approved by Washington… and we are paying for the mistakes right now, whoever authorised this."

That so many former and current CIA operatives should have been dragged through a foreign court has begun to rankle Capitol Hill. "I think these people have been hung out to dry," complained Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra of the House Intelligence Committee. "They’re taking the fall for a decision that was made by their superiors." The CIA will not comment on the case, which is seen as a rebuke to the administration of George W Bush.

In an interview earlier this year with an Italian newspaper, Mr Lady was candid about the seizure of the cleric. "Of course it was an illegal operation," the newspaper quoted him. "But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism".

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 10:39 am

Letter from Fort Hood

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6 November 2009 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

The GOP healthcare plan

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Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

Republicans are learning an unpleasant lesson this morning: The only thing worse than having no health-care reform plan is releasing a bad one, getting thrashed by CBO and making the House Democrats look good in comparison.

Late last night, the Congressional Budget Office released its initial analysis of the health-care reform plan that Republican Minority Leader John Boehner offered as a substitute to the Democratic legislation. CBO begins with the baseline estimate that 17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won’t have health-care insurance in 2010. In 2019, after 10 years of the Republican plan, CBO estimates that …17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won’t have health-care insurance. The Republican alternative will have helped 3 million people secure coverage, which is barely keeping up with population growth. Compare that to the Democratic bill, which covers 36 million more people and cuts the uninsured population to 4 percent.

But maybe, you say, the Republican bill does a really good job cutting costs. According to CBO, the GOP’s alternative will shave $68 billion off the deficit in the next 10 years. The Democrats, CBO says, will slice $104 billion off the deficit.

The Democratic bill, in other words, covers 12 times as many people and saves $36 billion more than the Republican plan. And amazingly, the Democratic bill has already been through three committees and a merger process. It’s already been shown to interest groups and advocacy organizations and industry stakeholders. It’s already made its compromises with reality. It’s already been through the legislative sausage grinder. And yet it saves more money and covers more people than the blank-slate alternative proposed by John Boehner and the House Republicans. The Democrats, constrained by reality, produced a far better plan than Boehner, who was constrained solely by his political imagination and legislative skill.

This is a major embarrassment for the Republicans. It’s one thing to keep your cards close to your chest. Republicans are in the minority, after all, and their plan stands no chance of passage. It’s another to lay them out on the table and show everyone that you have no hand, and aren’t even totally sure how to play the game. The Democratic plan isn’t perfect, but in comparison, it’s looking astonishingly good.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 9:54 am

Congress ignoring its duties and responsibilities

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Kevin Drum:

Congress passed something today.  Hooray!

Congress gave final approval Thursday for an additional $24 billion to help the jobless and support the housing market as climbing unemployment poses a growing liability for elected officials.

The bill, passed overwhelmingly by the House and headed to President Obama for his signature Friday, extends unemployment insurance benefits that were due to expire and renews an $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers, while also expanding it to cover many other home purchases.

And Democrats only had to break three separate filibusters in the Senate to get this passed!  The first filibuster was broken by a vote of 87-13, the second by a vote of 85-2, and the third by a vote of 97-1.  The fourth and final vote, the one to actually pass the bill, was 98-0.  Elapsed time: five weeks for a bill that everyone ended up voting for.

Why?  Because even though Republicans were allowed to tack on a tax cut to the bill as the price of getting it passed, they decided to filibuster anyway unless they were also allowed to include an anti-ACORN amendment.  Seriously.  A bit of ACORN blustering to satisfy the Palin-Beck crowd is the reason they held up a bill designed to help people who are out of work in the deepest recession since World War II.  Details here and here.  That’s called taking governing seriously, my friends.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 9:49 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life

Right-wing opposition to healthcare reform

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They have nothing to offer, but they’re against any change. Weird. From the Center for American Progress in an email:

In what Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called the "Superbowl of Freedom," several thousand right-wing activists chanting "kill the bill!" descended on the West Lawn of the Capitol yesterday to protest health care reform. The event was organized by Bachmann and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) — the billionaire-funded astroturf machine — and endorsed by GOP lawmakers. With promotional help from Fox News and conservative radio, organizers called the event "an emergency house call on Congress" to stop heath care reform. Bachmann urged her followers to "scare" members of Congress, saying, "Nothing scares members of Congress more than freedom-loving Americans." Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) pandered to the crowd, saying, "Pelosi care is the greatest threat to freedom I’ve seen in my 19 years in Washington." While conservatives touted a crowd size of up to a million protesters, Capitol Police estimated the crowd was more likely around 4,000. As has become the norm at Tea Parties rallies, some of imagery was radical and offensive, with one prominent sign showing a gruesome an image of dead Holocaust victims to warn that the Democratic health care plan will do the same for Americans. The protests came on the same day as two key groups in the health care debate — the American Medical Association and the American Association of Retired Persons — endorsed the House Democrats’ health care bill. The White House "seemed to pay little attention to events happening only blocks away," and House Democratic leadership is confident that the bill will pass this weekend.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2009 at 9:45 am

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