Later On

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

Archive for November 27th, 2009

Walk to the Clock Tower

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There and back, 2.61 miles, 51 min 02 sec: 3.07 mph. Of course, if I keep it up, the time will improve.

UPDATE: Here’s a view of the clock tower:

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Food, Health

Does "counting your blessings" really help?

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Interesting post at Cognitive Daily:

ow often do you take time to reflect on the things you’re grateful for? Once a month? Once a week, at church, perhaps? Maybe you say "grace" at mealtime every day. But even prayers that do express gratefulness, such as a traditional mealtime prayer, are often expressed by rote. Growing up, my family wasn’t very religious, but when we had dinner with family or friends, we’d usually say grace. I was probably well into my teens before I understood what "blessusolordforthesethygiftswhichweareabouttoreceivefromthybounty" actually meant.

While many would agree that "counting your blessings" is a worthwhile practice, there hasn’t been much experimental research on whether gratitude really has a positive impact on our lives. Several studies have found that gratitude correlates with positive emotions such as happiness, pride, and hope, but experimental work — showing that gratitude causes these things — is scarcer.

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough figured it would be worthwhile to explore this notion. Their method of study was both ingenious and simple: they would ask 201 students in a health psychology class to respond to a weekly questionnaire. Everyone rated their well-being, was tested on a measure of gratefulness, and reported on their physical health and level of exercise. The key to the study was a division into three groups. The first group listed five things they were grateful for each week. The second group listed five hassles or irritants from the past week. The final group simply wrote down five "events or circumstances" from the past week. This continued for ten weeks.

What sort of things did they write? …

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Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 10:30 am

Torture Tape Destruction, the OGC Review, and the IG Report

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Marcy Wheeler has done a superb job of bringing together a detailed chronology of the torture tapes and their destruction. Her post is lengthy, but well-organized and very damning of the Bush Administration. I strong recommend that you click the link to read it all. It begins:

One of the most fascinating aspects to the torture tape Vaughn Index is the way it hints at a tension between the torturers in the field growing increasingly panicked about the torture tapes and the CIA’s Office of General Counsel’s decision to review the tapes and, subsequently, not to destroy them (yet). The tension grew worse as the Inspector General decided to review the torture program (and ultimately, the tapes) and as Jane Harman challenged the CIA’s careful excuse allowing them to destroy the tapes. This post will trace what we can see of that tension.

Early in the Abu Zubaydah interrogation, there were two communications pertaining to how to retain the torture tapes. (Note, I’ve indicated: the classification of the documents as question, whether John Durham asserted they were protected under his investigation, and some indication of attorney involvement, though the latter deserves closer attention, as there is significant variation in the way CIA claimed exemption under attorney work product.)

April 17, 2002: Someone (the Vaughn provides no sender or recipient information) sends cable providing guidance on the retention of the video tapes (TS; atty doc)

April 27, 2002: One CIA officer sends another CIA officer cable, copied to several additional officers and attorneys, regarding the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah (S;Durham document)

From the period of August (around the time the waterboarding occurred) until November, 2002 the Index shows recurrent and (as far as we can tell from a Vaughn Index) increasingly urgent communications from the Field, asking to change the protocol regarding interrogation tapes and ultimately, asking to destroy them.

August 20, 2002: Field write to HQ discussing “policy for the security risks of videotape retention and suggests new procedures for videotape retention and disposal” (S)

September 6, 2002: Email between CIA attorneys, titled, “Destruction proposal on disposition of videotapes at field” (S; atty doc)

September 6, 2002: Email between CIA attorneys on revisions of a draft cable regarding the disposition of the video tapes (S; atty doc)

October 25, 2002: Field writes to HQ “discussing the security risks if videotapes are retained” (S; Durham document; atty doc)

November 6, 2002: CIA officer sends CIA officers and attorneys email, titled, “Tapes issue,” following up with the proper procedures for destruction of the interrogation video tapes (S; atty doc)

In mid-November (note, the dates on these emails may be confusing if sent from different sides of the date line), an officer in the Field expresses “personnel concerns” with the disposition of the videotapes. In what appears to be a response, HQ asks to have a “random independent review of the video tapes, before they are destroyed.” This seems to be the genesis of what became the OGC review of the tapes: …

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Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 10:27 am

The anthrax attack

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Dana Perino, who so far as I can tell is dumber than Sarah Palin, was on TV recently saying that, during George W. Bush’s presidency, the US had no terrorist attacks. I guess she has forgotten the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks. Or maybe she’s just lying, hoping that the public is stupid—and some are, God knows.

But Greenwald reminds us that the anthrax attacks were in fact important:

Britain is currently engulfed by a probing, controversial investigation into how their Government came to support the invasion of Iraq, replete with evidence that much of what was said at the time by both British and American officials was knowingly false, particularly regarding the unequivocal intention of the Bush administration to attack Iraq for months when they were pretending otherwise.  Yesterday, the British Ambassador to the U.S. in 2002 and 2003, Sir Christopher Meyer (who favored the war), testified before the investigative tribunal and said this:

Meyer said attitudes towards Iraq were influenced to an extent not appreciated by him at the time by the anthrax scare in the US soon after 9/11. US senators and others were sent anthrax spores in the post, a crime that led to the death of five people, prompting policymakers to claim links to Saddam Hussein. . . .

On 9/11 Condoleezza Rice, then the US national security adviser, told Meyer she was in "no doubt: it was an al-Qaida operation" . . . It seemed that Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy, argued for retaliation to include Iraq, Meyer said. . . .

But the anthrax scare had "steamed up" policy makers in Bush’s administration and helped swing attitudes against Saddam, who the administration believed had been the last person to use anthrax.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 10:22 am

Touchfreeze: Excellent utility for netbooks, notebooks

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When I type on my notebook computer, my thumb seems to occasionally graze the touchpad, which repositions my cursor as I type, much to my dismay. But now there’s a little utility that freezes the touchpad when you’re typing. Pretty cool.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 10:14 am

What we now know about the torture tapes

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Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:

There’s a certain beauty to the Freedom of Information Act. Even when the government won’t give you something under it, they still have to give you a list of what it is they’re not giving you. So when the government decided that it would not release the documents the ACLU has been seeking regarding the CIA’s destruction, it still had to provide a description—including a date—of each document it was withholding and what its rationale was for doing so.

A date and the description of a document can tell you a lot. That’s why the ACLU was able to announce today that it now knows "the precise date the tapes were destroyed" and has "evidence that the [Bush] White House was involved in early discussions about the proposed destruction."

Marcy Wheeler has the highlights of the chronology that the new list provides. I’ve added some comments for context.

November 1, 2005: Bill Frist [then the Republican Senate majority leader] briefed on torture.

November 1, 2005: [Washington Post reporter] Dana Priest reveals the use of black sites in Europe. In response, CIA starts moving detainees from the countries in question.

November 3, 2005: [Judge] Leonie Brinkema inquires whether govt has video or audio tapes of interrogations. CIA IG Report on Manadel al-Janabi’s death completed.

November 4, 2005: Member of Congress writes four page letter to CIA IG.

November 8, 2005: CIA requests permission to destroy torture tapes. CIA reaffirms March 2005 statement that all interrogation methods are lawful. Duncan Hunter [R-Calif.] briefed on torture. Pete Hoekstra [R-Mich.] briefed on torture.

November 9, 2005: CIA confirms destruction of torture tapes.  Doug Jehl article on spring 2004 CIA IG report on interrogation methods appears.

November 14, 2005: Govt tells Brinkema it has no audio or video tapes.

This is yeoman’s work (par for the course from Marcy). If you can’t tell, it shows that the tapes were destroyed right after Judge Brinkema and Congress asked about them. That looks pretty damning. Here’s Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, explaining the White House involvement:

[T]he tapes were destroyed immediately after the Washington Post reported the existence of the CIA black sites and the New York Times reported that the CIA Inspector General had questioned the legality of the agency’s torture program.

The index also lists the earliest known record of White House participation in discussions about destroying the tapes—an e-mail dated February 22, 2003 revealing that CIA officials met with Bush administration officials to discuss how the agency should respond to a letter from Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) advising the agency not to destroy the tapes. While it was known previously that the White House participated in discussions about the disposition of the tapes, this is the earliest record to date of any such discussions.

I’ll say the same thing I said about the Obama administration’s suppression of perhaps thousands of torture photos two weeks ago: this smells like a cover-up.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 10:11 am

A financial transactions tax: Do it now

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Paul Krugman in the NY Times:

Should we use taxes to deter financial speculation? Yes, say top British officials, who oversee the City of London, one of the world’s two great banking centers. Other European governments agree — and they’re right.

Unfortunately, United States officials — especially Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — are dead set against the proposal. Let’s hope they reconsider: a financial transactions tax is an idea whose time has come.

The dispute began back in August, when Adair Turner, Britain’s top financial regulator, called for a tax on financial transactions as a way to discourage “socially useless” activities. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, picked up on his proposal, which he presented at the Group of 20 meeting of leading economies this month.

Why is this a good idea? The Turner-Brown proposal is a modern version of an idea originally floated in 1972 by the late James Tobin, the Nobel-winning Yale economist. Tobin argued that currency speculation — money moving internationally to bet on fluctuations in exchange rates — was having a disruptive effect on the world economy. To reduce these disruptions, he called for a small tax on every exchange of currencies.

Such a tax would be a trivial expense for people engaged in foreign trade or long-term investment; but it would be a major disincentive for people trying to make a fast buck (or euro, or yen) by outguessing the markets over the course of a few days or weeks. It would, as Tobin said, “throw some sand in the well-greased wheels” of speculation.

Tobin’s idea went nowhere at the time. Later, much to his dismay, it became a favorite hobbyhorse of the anti-globalization left. But the Turner-Brown proposal, which would apply a “Tobin tax” to all financial transactions — not just those involving foreign currency — is very much in Tobin’s spirit. It would be a trivial expense for long-term investors, but it would deter much of the churning that now takes place in our hyperactive financial markets.

This would be a bad thing if financial hyperactivity were productive. But after the debacle of the past two years, there’s broad agreement — I’m tempted to say, agreement on the part of almost everyone not on the financial industry’s payroll — with Mr. Turner’s assertion that a lot of what Wall Street and the City do is “socially useless.” And a transactions tax could generate substantial revenue, helping alleviate fears about government deficits. What’s not to like?

The main argument made by opponents of a financial transactions tax is …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 10:08 am

The True Power of the Wolfram Alpha Knowledge Engine

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I’ve looked at Wolfram Alpha, but I didn’t get it. Now Simon Slangen has a lengthy post at MakeUseOf.com going deeper into what it can do. Well worth reading/bookmarking.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 10:05 am

Quiet day planned

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A little blogging, cleaning up the kitchen, a walk if the sun comes out (I’m going for the Tower today), and some movies and books. The Wife is wrapping the holiday gifts, which I’ll mail next week: a little late this year, but not bad.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 9:43 am

Posted in Daily life

Koh-I-Noor and the Vision

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The Koh-I-Noor boar brush is coming along. Probably a dozen more shaves will have it well broken in. It still is just at the two-pass stage: back to the soap for the third pass. The soap today is a gift from Jack in the Netherlands, and it made a very nice lather. This container, like De Vergulde Hand container, has the puck of soap in the bottom with lots of room above for lathering: quite nice for boar brushes.

The Vision did a fine job with a Swedish Gillette blade of several uses: three passes to a smooth face, upon which I then splashed some Booster June Clover, a favorite.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2009 at 9:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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