Later On

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

Archive for November 25th, 2009

Dubner decides that his credibility is unimportant

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Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress:

Thousands of emails from the webserver of the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU) — a top climate research center in the United Kingdom — “were hacked recently” and dumped on a Russian web server. Global warming deniers are sifting through the illegally obtained letters of private correspondence for “proof” that the scientific consensus on climate change is actually a global conspiracy to suppress “skeptics.”

This week, Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of SuperFreakonomics, embraced the fevered “Climategate” ravings of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and other global warming deniers in an interview with Fox Business Network host David Asman. Dubner purports that the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (CRU) emails reveal that the supposed consensus on global warming is because “everybody’s scared to be an outlier, everybody’s scared to be a skeptic.” After Asman compared climate scientists to Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler — Dubner did his own Glenn Beck impression, accusing “potent” scientists of “colluding” to “tell Al Gore what to say,” and “distorting evidence” to “make their findings be right for their position”:

You can’t read these e-mails and feel that the IPCC’s or the major climate scientists’ findings and predictions about global warming are kosher. You can’t. They may be, but if you read these you have to have a whole lot of skepticism about that. And of course, coming into Copenhagen these are going to have a big effect how the world looks at you. They’re going to say, “Wait a minute. You say these climate scientists have been telling us we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow?”

Watch it:

The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio,Washington Times, and other news outlets are participating in this Swiftboat-style smear campaign, following the lead of actual Swiftboat smearer and former Limbaugh and Inhofe employee Marc Morano — instead of bothering to understand what the scientists were actually talking about in the hacked emails.

However, as climate scientist Richard Somerville explained yesterday, “The ice has no agenda.” Arctic sea ice is at historically low levels, Australia is on fire, the northern United Kingdom is underwater, the world’s glaciers are disappearing, and half of the United States has been declared an agricultural disaster area. And it’s the the hottest decade in recorded history.

By asking whether “we have to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow,” Dubner — a top blogger for the New York Times — gets to the heart of why this bizarre theory of a cabal of all-powerful climatologists is getting support from conservative media and politicians. The incontrovertible science — based not on manipulated data but on decades of basic research — is that the burning of fossil fuels is drastically reshaping our planet’s climate and acidifying the oceans. And the only known way to restore conditions to those safe for human civilization is to dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels. Doing so, however, would affect the incredible profits and power of the oil and coal industries, and of their ideological allies.

In fact, if we stop treating our atmosphere like a sewer, the climate system will heal itself over time, potentially more rapidly than we expect. That our past inaction will continue to bear consequences into the future is a reason to act with greater swiftness, not to dither further. The longer we delay, the more difficult and expensive the challenge to reduce pollution while adapting to a hostile world becomes.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 4:45 pm

Veggie burgers

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I just made this recipe for a late lunch. Man, those little guys are tasty! More info in the update at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Final words by James Fallows on Obama and China

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One more post, it seems:

Yes, there are more!

1) We All Know that Obama was humiliated and stonewalled by the haughty Chinese leaders, in contrast to the titanic American presidents of yore who spoke sternly to Mao and his successors and therefore always got just what they wanted in Beijing. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post has reminded us of his fecklessness again.

And yet…  my favorite newspaper of all, the (state-controlled) China Daily, has just indicated in its November 25 edition that China’s recent year-long freeze on the value of the RMB may be about to end. (Thanks to my friend Jeremy Goldkorn, of Danwei.org in Beijing, for the tip.) If Obama had “demanded” this in public, or insisted that it be announced while he was standing next to Hu Jintao in Beijing, his “toughness” might have received better one-day coverage in the U.S. press or on SNL.  But the chances of his getting what he was after would be nil. Of course, the chances are still uncertain. But this was the major item on the economic-rebalancing agenda; and the Administration’s argument all along was that influencing China’s behavior was a long game. This news story is not conclusive but does support rather than weaken the long-game approach.

2) We All Know that the Shanghai town hall was an embarrassment, because the audience was packed with young Communist Party stalwarts who could be depended on to ask anodyne questions. (“What’s the best step toward a Nobel Prize?” etc.)

But remember the moment when Obama turned to Ambassador Jon Huntsman and said more or less, “Jon, did any questions come in via the internet?” I now have heard from enough different informed sources to be comfortable saying that the Chinese government did not know this was coming, and that the ensuing discussion about the Great FireWall was not at all according to their script. Jeremy Goldkorn adds a note about that question — whose answer, as I mentioned earlier, has the potential to resonate within China. Goldkorn says:

“The Great FireWall question at the Shanghai town hall came directly from the blogger briefing arranged by the Embassy and consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

“I attended the briefing and live tweeted it. The bloggers included Anti and Bei Feng, two of the loudest voices calling for open media in China at the moment, but also Rao Jin from AntiCNN.com. The most common question, asked several times by different bloggers, was if Obama knew about the Great FireWall and if he would do something about it.”

3) Most Americans don’t know about the Southern Weekend interview — the one interview Obama gave to a Chinese publication, and not to the People’s Daily or CCTV but to …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 2:24 pm

Obama’s DoJ making some very weird arguments

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

I’ve been following the small but growing number of lawsuits brought on behalf of torture victims against U.S. government officials for more than a year now, but the opening statement in a brief filed with the Supreme Court on Monday on behalf of four British former Guantanamo prisoners may be the most eloquent statement on the issue I’ve seen yet.

While conceding that “Torture is illegal under federal law, and the United States government repudiates it”, even now the Solicitor General stops short of acknowledging that torture directed, approved and implemented by officials of the United States is so repugnant that it also violates fundamental rights; no less so when hidden from public view at Guantánamo Bay. Respondents appear willing to let the final word on torture and religious abuse at Guantánamo be that government officials can torture and abuse with impunity and will be immune from liability for doing so. Yet whether United States officials are free to engage in despicable acts in a place wholly controlled by the United States is the pre-eminent constitutional issue of our time, and it is squarely presented to this Court for decision in this case.

Rasul v. Rumsfeld, as I’ve explained before, is one of the first lawsuits brought by victims of the Bush administration’s torture and abuse policies. The plaintiffs claim they were in Afghanistan to do humanitarian relief work when they were captured by the Northern Alliance and turned over (or sold for bounty) to U.S. authorities. They were eventually shipped to Guantanamo Bay, where they were imprisoned in cages and, they claim, tortured and humiliated, forced to shave their beards and watch their Korans desecrated. All of these claims are backed up by the legal memos that have since been produced from the Department of Justice that authorized such techniques as part of “enhanced” interrogations. The men were returned home to the UK without charge in 2004.

Many other victims of the Bush administration’s abuse policies have been precluded from suing because …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 2:17 pm

House tries to cap credit card interest rates

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Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

Equating today’s rising credit card rates to usury, several House Democrats today announced plans to introduce legislation capping credit card rates at 16 percent.

“Things were a lot better for the average person in this country when we had usury caps,” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), head of the House Rules Committee, said in a statement announcing her bill. “Watching how credit card companies have exploited people by increasing rates up to 30 percent and more is criminal and this bill will allow us to put an end to this practice.”

Massachusetts Democratic Reps. John Tierney  and Michael Capuano will co-sponsor the bill.

They have a tough road ahead, for several reasons. (1) Even though it was the finance industry that was primarily responsible for the recent global economic meltdown, there’s a growing reluctance on Capitol Hill to apply strict new regulations just as the banks are re-stabilizing — a circumstance the banks are already celebrating. (2) Although Congress was successful in passing sweeping credit card reforms in May, an amendment to cap interest rates at 15 percent was killed in the Senate. And (3) the banks aren’t going to allow Congress to squeeze a profit source without coming up with creative ways to make up the difference elsewhere. This, The New York Times reported yesterday, is what’s happening in Australia, where card issuers have responded to new regulations by attaching new fees to airline tickets, among other purchases.

“[I]f regulators limit one fee or rate, banks are likely to find another way to keep revenue flowing,” The Times wrote.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 2:15 pm

Those irrepressible tobacco companies

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Businesses: you have to watch them like a hawk. For example:

Source: New York Times, November 21, 2009

Last spring, President Obama signed a bill into law that raised the tax on roll-your-own cigarette tobacco from $1.10 per pound to a whopping $24.78 per pound. The revenue from the tax was to be put towards expanding children’s health insurance programs. But tobacco companies have found a way to sidestep the new tax: they have started re-labeling the same product as pipe tobacco, which is taxed at only $2.83 a pound. As a result, the market for roll-your-own tobacco has exploded, quintupling in just five months. Exploiting the tax loophole this way also lets tobacco companies thumb their nose at the new U.S. Food and Drug Administration‘s tobacco regulations by continuing to sell sweet and fruity-flavored tobaccos, which are banned under the new rules because they are attractive to youngsters. Tobacco companies are saying they’ve merely found a way to save themselves from a prohibitively high tax that would force them out of business.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 2:12 pm

The banks’ case against new regulation

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Mike Lillis at Washington Independent:

The finance industry, seeming to forget that it was responsible for the economic turmoil that’s pushed unemployment above 10 percent, is lobbying furiously (and successfully) against Democratic legislation designed to protect consumers and prevent a similar episode in the future.

Yesterday, industry representatives held a conference call with reporters boasting about just how effective they’re fight against the proposed reforms has been. Washington Post columnist Dan Milbank today captures the essence of the industry’s reasoning:

[T]he argument most likely to prevail for the financial firms on Capitol Hill was offered by Chris Stinebert, [head of the American Financial Services Association]. “Especially now, when we’re in a very, very sensitive time, when the capital markets are just starting to recover,” he said, “introducing a high level of uncertainty in the marketplace could be very detrimental.”

Most of America, though, will have a tough time sympathizing with the alleged misfortunes of Wall Street firms, some of which are posting record profits at the same time that unemployment continues to leap.

With that in mind, Milbank offers his translation of Stinebert’s argument:

[T]o put it another way: Don’t regulate us now because the economy is still suffering from the mess we made because we weren’t regulated the last time. Chutzpah, it appears, is recession-proof.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 2:08 pm

The Right wants to charge the cost of the war

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Those fiscally responsible, deficit-hawk Republicans—where are they? Where were they for the 8 years of George W. Bush? Still missing. Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

Here’s an interesting response from Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), senior Republican on the Finance Committee, when asked by a reporter this morning whether Congress intends to pay for the wars its launched, or continue to borrow the money and pile onto federal deficits.

Defending America is a number one responsibility and money’s not the first consideration. The first consideration is winning….

But we have always, one way or the other, raised the money to defend America, and in this case to defend America from a different kind of war, the war on terrorism. And it will be done.

He’s right on one account. You fight a war because you must, and the budget concerns should be immaterial. But the original question was, effectively, “Why aren’t lawmakers willing to ask Americans to pay for the costs of protecting the homeland, either through tax hikes or spending cuts elsewhere in the government?”

Grassley ducked it, and his argument that Congress has “always … raised the money to defend America” ignores the truth that, since 2001, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been funded primarily by borrowing from abroad — a particularly curious whitewash in the context of Republican criticisms that health care reform will break the federal budget.

The costs of that failure to ask for shared sacrifice have been tangible. When George W. Bush was elected to the White House in 2000, the nation’s debt was $5.7 trillion. Eight years later — after several rounds of tax cuts and two unfunded wars — the number had jumped to $10.0 trillion.

It’s worth noting that most of the Republicans now criticizing the costs of health care reform, Grassley included, also supported those mid-war tax cuts.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 1:07 pm

The Right wants to charge the cost of the war

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Those fiscally responsible, deficit-hawk Republicans—where are they? Where were they for the 8 years of George W. Bush? Still missing. Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

Here’s an interesting response from Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), senior Republican on the Finance Committee, when asked by a reporter this morning whether Congress intends to pay for the wars its launched, or continue to borrow the money and pile onto federal deficits.

Defending America is a number one responsibility and money’s not the first consideration. The first consideration is winning….

But we have always, one way or the other, raised the money to defend America, and in this case to defend America from a different kind of war, the war on terrorism. And it will be done.

He’s right on one account. You fight a war because you must, and the budget concerns should be immaterial. But the original question was, effectively, “Why aren’t lawmakers willing to ask Americans to pay for the costs of protecting the homeland, either through tax hikes or spending cuts elsewhere in the government?”

Grassley ducked it, and his argument that Congress has “always … raised the money to defend America” ignores the truth that, since 2001, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been funded primarily by borrowing from abroad — a particularly curious whitewash in the context of Republican criticisms that health care reform will break the federal budget.

The costs of that failure to ask for shared sacrifice have been tangible. When George W. Bush was elected to the White House in 2000, the nation’s debt was $5.7 trillion. Eight years later — after several rounds of tax cuts and two unfunded wars — the number had jumped to $10.0 trillion.

It’s worth noting that most of the Republicans now criticizing the costs of health care reform, Grassley included, also supported those mid-war tax cuts.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 1:00 pm

Yet another bombastic, belligerent Right-wing coward

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John Bolton is a complete coward—it’s pitiful to watch, and at the same time the contrast between his war-loving rhetoric and his abject personal cowardice is morbidly fascinating. Was he always so fearful? Glenn Greenwald:

John Bolton is the prototypical right-wing pseudo-tough-guy:  cheering on every war he can find without ever getting near any of them.  And as usual for this strain of play-acting, chest-beating warrior, all of the belligerence and craving of vicarious power masks a deep and pitiful cowardice.  That is often the principal purpose of warmongering from a distance.  Yesterday, Bolton — on "Washington Times Radio" — revealed that he is so petrified of Terrorists that he would not feel safe in New York City during the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and would not even allow his family there (audio here):

Host Melanie Morgan: Given the nature and danger of bringing these terrorists to American soil, where do you think is the most safe place to be when they get here and this trial begins? Where would you put your family?

John Bolton: Well, not New York City, I’m afraid to say. This is part of the callousness and the really, lack of professionalism and judgment to put them on trial anywhere in the United States in civilian courts.

The cowardice on display here is difficult to overstate — and to behold without being ill.  I lived in Manhattan on 9/11 and for many years thereafter.  For weeks — even months and years after that attack — it was widely assumed that New York would be a likely target for another attack, but I never heard a single New Yorker — not one — talk about fleeing the city or hiding their family in some faraway place.  [Well, Hugh Hewitt did talk about how he was on the "front lines" by broadcasting from New York City at the height of the Iraq War. – LG] During the 2004 election, New Yorkers voted for the candidate who wanted to treat Terrorism like a law enforcement problem over the pseudo-tough-guy "war president" by a margin of 80-20.  The fears engulfing Bolton and which he’s attempting to infect the country with are found almost exclusively among this species of war-mongers obsessed with flamboyant — and very public — rituals where they proclaim their own "strength" and "courage."

John Bolton and his comrades love to run around accusing anyone who doesn’t want to wage more wars of being an "appeaser" and "surrendering" to Terrorists, but Bolton’s cry here is the ultimate, definitive surrender:  I’m too scared of the Terrorists to go about my normal life.  I’m too petrified even to have my family in the same city as a terrorist trial.  We can’t adhere to our normal political system because the Terrorists will kill us all.  Given Bolton’s comments, this might be the most ironic and desperate book title in the history of publishing: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Terrorism

Walk: 40′ 19", up hill and down

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I crossed 10th Street in Pacific Grove and the Clock Tower was in easy sight, but I was suddenly overcome by common sense and walked back. I have to say that two days with no walk left me feeling much more antsy than I would have anticipated—or maybe it was the new shoes? At any rate, I fully enjoyed the walk and am pleased to have done it early rather than letting it get usurped by other activities.

Using this map application, I see that I walked just a little over 2 miles. A 20-minute mile is a pretty slow pace, but it will gradually improve. And I do enjoy the walk: critical.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Health

The physical realities of global warming

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Basically, all the latest measurements show that we’re doing worse than the most pessimistic projections. This latest post at Skeptical Science is well worth reading—and ponder the graphs. The post begins:

Global warming is happening before our very eyes. All over the world, from the Arctic to Antarctica, scientists are observing the impacts of climate change. In the three years since the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) was drafted, hundreds of peer reviewed papers studying climate change have been published. A summary of the latest research has been compiled in The Copenhagen Diagnosis, released by the University of NSW and authored by 26 climate scientists. It’s a resource heavy report, referencing hundreds of papers. Here are some of the highlights:

At a time when we need to be lowering our carbon footprint, global CO2 emissions have been sharply rising. In fact, the acceleration in fossil fuel CO2 emissions is tracking the worst case scenarios used by the IPCC AR4. Consequently, atmospheric CO2 is increasing ten times faster than any rate detected in ice core data over the last 22,000 years.

CO2_Emissions_Model_Obs
Figure 1: Observed global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production compared with IPCC emissions scenarios. The coloured area covers all scenarios used to project climate change by the IPCC.

Over the past 25 years, global temperature has warmed at a rate of ~0.2°C per decade. Superimposed over this long term trend is short term variability. Most of these short-term variations are due to internal oscillations like El Niño Southern Oscillation, the 11-year solar cycle and volcanic eruptions. Over periods less than a decade, such short-term variations can outweigh the anthropogenic global warming trend. For example, El Niño events can change global temperature by up to 0.2°C over a few years. The solar cycle imposes warming or cooling of 0.1°C over five years. However, neither El Niño, solar activity or volcanic eruptions make a significant contribution to long-term climate trends. Consequently, over the past decade (1999-2008), the warming trend is 0.19°C per decade. consistent with the long term trend.

Global_Temp_Change
Figure 2: Global temperature according to NASA GISS data since 1980. The red line shows annual data, the red square shows the preliminary value for 2009, based on January-August. The green line shows the 25-year linear trend (0.19 °C per decade). The blue lines show the two most recent ten-year trends (0.18 °C per decade for 1998-2007, 0.19 per decade for 1999-2008).

Satellite and tide-gauge measurements show that sea level rise is accelerating faster than expected. The average rate of rise for 1993-2008 as measured from satellite is 3.4 millimeters per year while the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) projected a best estimate of 1.9 millimeters per year for the same period. Actual sea level rise is 80% faster than projected by models. Sea level is likely to rise much more by 2100 than the often-cited range of 18-59 centimeters from the IPCC AR4…

Read it all—there are more graphs. And note that sea level has risen 6 cm just since 1990. After more graphs and a list of findings, he concludes:

… There is a common theme emerging from the most recent peer-reviewed research. When uncertainties expressed in the IPCC AR4 report are subsequently resolved, they point to a more rapidly changing and more sensitive climate than previously believed. Skeptics tend to characterise the IPCC as imposing an alarmist bias in their conclusions. The latest empirical data indicates the opposite is the case.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:55 am

Quantum gravity abandons General Relativity

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At least, at high energies, as I understand this article by Zeeya Merali in Scientific American:

Was Newton right and Einstein wrong? It seems that unzipping the fabric of spacetime and harking back to 19th-century notions of time could lead to a theory of quantum gravity.

Physicists have struggled to marry quantum mechanics with gravity for decades. In contrast, the other forces of nature have obediently fallen into line. For instance, the electromagnetic force can be described quantum-mechanically by the motion of photons. Try and work out the gravitational force between two objects in terms of a quantum graviton, however, and you quickly run into trouble—the answer to every calculation is infinity. But now Petr Hořava, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks he understands the problem. It’s all, he says, a matter of time.

More specifically, the problem is the way that time is tied up with space in Einstein’s theory of gravity: general relativity. Einstein famously overturned the Newtonian notion that time is absolute—steadily ticking away in the background. Instead he argued that time is another dimension, woven together with space to form a malleable fabric that is distorted by matter. The snag is that in quantum mechanics, time retains its Newtonian aloofness, providing the stage against which matter dances but never being affected by its presence. These two conceptions of time don’t gel.

The solution, Hořava says, is to snip threads that bind time to space at very high energies, such as those found in the early universe where quantum gravity rules. “I’m going back to Newton’s idea that time and space are not equivalent,” Hořava says. At low energies, general relativity emerges from this underlying framework, and the fabric of spacetime restitches, he explains.

Hořava likens this emergence to the way some exotic substances change phase. For instance, at low temperatures liquid helium’s properties change dramatically, becoming a “superfluid” that can overcome friction. In fact, he has co-opted the mathematics of exotic phase transitions to build his theory of gravity. So far it seems to be working: the infinities that plague other theories of quantum gravity have been tamed, and the theory spits out a well-behaved graviton. It also seems to match with computer simulations of quantum gravity.

Hořava’s theory has been generating excitement since he proposed it in January, and physicists met to discuss it at a meeting in November at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. In particular, physicists have been checking if the model correctly describes the universe we see today. General relativity scored a knockout blow when Einstein predicted the motion of Mercury with greater accuracy than Newton’s theory of gravity could.

Can Hořava gravity claim the same success? …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

CNN abandons ethics

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Steve Benen at Political Animal:

Trevor Francis, the communications director at the Republican National Committee, was forced out yesterday. A couple of hours later, the party announced that Alex Castellanos, a notorious Republican media consultant and CNN contributor, will take over as a senior communications adviser to RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

The news prompted Atrios to note, "I’m sure CNN will keep his seat warm." I assumed the same thing, but as it turns out, that won’t be necessary — Castellanos will still be sitting in the same seat.

Longtime Republican media strategist Alex Castellanos will continue to serve as an on-air personality for CNN despite recently taking on a consulting role for the Republican National Committee, the network confirms.

On Monday, it was reported that Castellanos, who has served as a media consultant for many Republican presidential candidates as well as an advisor for the private health insurance industry, will play an expanded role at the RNC after the committee parted ways with its communications director, Trevor Francis.

Apparently, Castellanos makes enough money doing media work for private health insurance companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that he’ll be unpaid for his work as the RNC’s senior communications adviser. And since Castellanos won’t literally be on the Republican National Committee’s payroll, CNN is entirely comfortable paying him to offer "political analysis" on the air.

And here I thought the ethical/professional lines had already been blurred too much. Now, CNN — you know, the network that has positioned itself as above the fray — will feature regular on-air commentary from the Republican National Committee’s new message/strategy guy.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:43 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Media

Afghanistan and Vietnam

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Constant Reader points out an exception Bill Moyers program. Here’s the transcript:

Our country wonders this weekend what is on President Obama’s mind. He is apparently, about to bring months of deliberation to a close and answer General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. When he finally announces how many, why, and at what cost, he will most likely have defined his presidency, for the consequences will be far-reaching and unpredictable. As I read and listen and wait with all of you for answers, I have been thinking about the mind of another president, Lyndon B. Johnson.

I was 30 years old, a White House Assistant, working on politics and domestic policy. I watched and listened as LBJ made his fateful decisions about Vietnam. He had been thrust into office by the murder of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963– 46 years ago this weekend. And within hours of taking the oath of office was told that the situation in South Vietnam was far worse than he knew.

Less than four weeks before Kennedy’s death, the South Vietnamese president had himself been assassinated in a coup by his generals, a coup the Kennedy Administration had encouraged.

South Vietnam was in chaos, and even as President Johnson tried to calm our own grieving country, in those first weeks in office, he received one briefing after another about the deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia.

Lyndon Johnson secretly recorded many of the phone calls and conversations he had in the White House. In this broadcast, you’re going to hear excerpts that reveal how he wrestled over what to do in Vietnam. There are hours of tapes and the audio quality is not the best, but I’ve chosen a few to give you an insight into the mind of one president facing the choice of whether or not to send more and more American soldiers to fight in a far-away and strange place.

Granted, Barack Obama is not Lyndon Johnson, Afghanistan is not Vietnam and this is now, not then. But listen and you will hear echoes and refrains that resonate today.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:42 am

Sounds like a fascinating film

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I’ve already put it into my Netflix queue. Read what Francis Lam has to say:

I have a new hero. I’ve never met him, never tasted his food, and even still, I am a worshiper at the altar of Michel Bras.

For years, Bras was to me just another name in the long list of French chefs who supposedly changed everything. I regarded him with a vague sense of respect, the kind you affect mainly because you know you’re supposed to. So out of professional obligation, I went to the French Institute/Alliance Française’s Crossing the Line Festival, where Bras gave a rare interview to go with a screening of "Inventing Cuisine: Michel Bras," a 10-year-old documentary on the creation of four of his dishes.

But from the title shot of the movie — Bras spooning sauces onto a plate in tight lines and deliberate smears — I was stunned. I recognized his swoops and dramatic arcs as signature plating styles of some of my favorite chefs today; I had no idea food could have looked like that a decade ago. I sat up.

Bras is known as kind of a vegetable savant, and so the film begins with him at the market before dawn, selecting, and soon we see him preparing them with his team.

Vegetable prep in every kitchen I’ve ever worked in is a chore, shit work, a task where you find satisfaction mainly in getting something done more quickly than you did it yesterday. It’s about powering your way through, leaving trails of carrot peels in your wake. So watching Bras work is stunning…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:36 am

Roku expands offerings, lowers price

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As you know, I’m a big fan of Roku, the simple device that presents streaming video (which it receives from your wireless router) to your TV via any mode of hook-up. (I use HDMI, which is simplest if your TV has that, but it also offers the full range of ways to connect.) I have been primarily watching movies from my Netflix Watch Instantly queue, but I have watched a couple of rentals from Amazon.

But now! Look at all the channels they offer, with most of them free. And they cut the price of the unit to $80. If you like movies and you already have wireless in your house, I don’t see any reason not to get a Roku.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:11 am

Read this post

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Christina Bellantoni reports in TPMDC:

When President Obama likes a magazine article, White House staffers had better read it.

Obama’s must-read is Ron Brownstein’s Saturday blog post "A Milestone in the Health Care Journey" at the Atlantic’s political Web site.

Politico noted today that Obama found the article, which lauds Max Baucus’ approach to health care, a good summary of the cost controls in the health care bill.

An administration official tells TPMDC that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel assigned the article as homework during a recent meeting.

According to the official, Emanuel told senior staffers "not to come back to the next day’s meeting if they hadn’t read the article."

Brownstein’s blog post begins:

When I reached Jonathan Gruber on Thursday, he was working his way, page by laborious page, through the mammoth health care bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had unveiled just a few hours earlier. Gruber is a leading health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is consulted by politicians in both parties. He was one of almost two dozen top economists who sent President Obama a letter earlier this month insisting that reform won’t succeed unless it "bends the curve" in the long-term growth of health care costs. And, on that front, Gruber likes what he sees in the Reid proposal. Actually he likes it a lot.

"I’m sort of a known skeptic on this stuff," Gruber told me. "My summary is it’s really hard to figure out how to bend the cost curve, but I can’t think of a thing to try that they didn’t try. They really make the best effort anyone has ever made. Everything is in here….I can’t think of anything I’d do that they are not doing in the bill. You couldn’t have done better than they are doing."

Gruber may be especially effusive. But the Senate blueprint, which faces its first votes tonight, also is winning praise from other leading health reformers like Mark McClellan, the former director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services under George W. Bush and Len Nichols, health policy director at the centrist New America Foundation. "The bottom line," Nichols says, "is the legislation is sending a signal that business as usual [in the medical system] is going to end."

Both the Senate bill’s priority on controlling long-term health care costs, and its strategy for doing so, represents a validation for Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)…

Continue reading. I was particularly interested in the post since I’ve been especially critical of Baucus.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:05 am

Former US prosecutor becomes gangster

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What a story. Zachary Roth at TPM Muckraker:

From federal prosecutor to accused violent gangster, pimp, and drug-dealer…That’s the unusual career trajectory taken, say the Feds, by Paul Bergrin, who was indicted earlier this month in a 39-count racketeering indictment.

In a drama that could have been made for HBO, Bergrin — a white-collar defense lawyer who once represented, pro bono, a solider accused of abusing Abu Ghraib detainees — seems to have allowed his gangster clients to drag him into a world of violent crime. And he may have gone a lot further than Maury Levy ever did for Stringer Bell.

Bergrin, a former AUSA with the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey, is charged with leading a criminal enterprise that used violence, intimidation, and deceit to generate millions of dollars, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Among the most eye-catching allegations against him:

  • That he used a Newark restaurant as a front for a cocaine-distribution network.
  • That he oversaw a $1,000-an-hour call-girl ring in New York City.
  • That he had a witness killed in one drug case, and hired a hitman to kill another.

You can read a key portion of the indictment here.

Bergrin was first arrested in May. His lawyers have argued in court papers that …

Continue reading. The story gets even more amazing.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 10:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Law

My new teapot

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As you can see, the buying moratorium has frayed a bit, but I’m back in “no-buy” mode now. When I saw this teapot at Whole Foods, I was sorely tempted.

The lid is attached, which I like, and inside is a stainless basket for the tea leaves. The first cup you pour brings the water below the level of the basket, I believe, so that the tea doesn’t continue to steep.

My Adagio UtiliTEA teakettle lets you specify with a knob setting how hot to make the water, from barely warm to furious boil. White tea should steep in water between 160º – 170º F. The knob setting isn’t marked, but I have a highly accurate digital thermometer. I didn’t want to have to hot the pot, so I wanted a setting that would make the water hot enough so that, after it was pour over the tea leaves into the teapot and warmed the pot (almost instantly), the resulting temperature would be in range—i.e., the water would be heated enough so that the cooling effect from warming the teapot leaves the water at the correct temperature.

The first pot was too cool—the settled temperature was 141º—so for the second pot I turned the knob up. The settled temperature this time was 164º.

I like the teapot because it makes enough for 2.5 cups. Very nice.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2009 at 9:57 am

Posted in Caffeine, Daily life

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