Later On

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

Archive for February 4th, 2010

The cheap knives

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Remember those inexpensive Thai knives I bought a while back? All 4 knives for less than $15 total?

The Cool Tools review said that the knives kept a very sharp edge indefinitely with only an occasional use of a steel.

Well, I just went to cut a lemon with one of the knives, and it definitely felt dull. I gave it a brisk steeling, quite short, and the edge is quite restored.

So far, so good.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 7:14 pm

Posted in Daily life

More on the Obama Administration’s program to assassinate (murder) American citizens (based on suspicion)

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Glenn Greenwald has more on this astonishing development. I never thought I’d see the American government in the business of assassinating its own citizens, completely ignoring the US Constitution (a document that previously was of considerable importance in this country). He begins:

Last week, I wrote about a revelation buried in a Washington Post article by Dana Priest which described how the Obama administration has adopted the Bush policy of targeting selected American citizens for assassination if they are deemed (by the Executive Branch) to be Terrorists.  As The Washington Times‘ Eli Lake reports, Adm. Dennis Blair was asked about this program at a Congressional hearing yesterday and he acknowledged its existence:

The U.S. intelligence community policy on killing American citizens who have joined al Qaeda requires first obtaining high-level government approval, a senior official disclosed to Congress on Wednesday.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said in each case a decision to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen must get special permission. . . .

He also said there are criteria that must be met to authorize the killing of a U.S. citizen that include "whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American is a threat to other Americans. Those are the factors involved."

Although Blair emphasized that it requires "special permission" before an American citizen can be placed on the assassination list, consider from whom that "permission" is obtained:  the President, or someone else under his authority within the Executive Branch.  There are no outside checks or limits at all on how these "factors" are weighed.  In last week’s post, I wrote about all the reasons why it’s so dangerous — as well as both legally and Constitutionally dubious — to allow the President to kill American citizens not on an active battlefield during combat, but while they are sleeping, sitting with their families in their home, walking on the street, etc.  That’s basically giving the President the power to impose death sentences on his own citizens without any charges or trial.  Who could possibly support that?

But even if you’re someone who does want the President to have the power to order American citizens killed without a trial by decreeing that they are Terrorists (and it’s worth remembering that if you advocate that power, it’s going to be vested in all Presidents, not just the ones who are as Nice, Good, Kind-Hearted and Trustworthy as Barack Obama), shouldn’t there at least be some judicial approval required?  Do we really want the President to be able to make this decision unilaterally and without outside checks?  Remember when many Democrats were horrified (or at least when they purported to be) at the idea that Bush was merely eavesdropping on American citizens without judicial approval?  Shouldn’t we be at least as concerned about the President’s being able to assassinate Americans without judicial oversight?  That seems much more Draconian to me.

It would be perverse in the extreme, but wouldn’t it be preferable to at least require the President to …

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:39 pm

Hacking the Amazon Kindle DX

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:33 pm

Movie notes

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First, I really like Luc Besson movies in general. Specifically, I liked the 2004 movie District B 13 (which was the first time I became aware of parkour, which is featured in the movie). And now I’ve seen the trailer for the sequel, District 13: Ultimatum, and I’ve already put it in the queue. District B 13, BTW, is available on Watch Instantly.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Barry Eisler’s take on the Amazon-Macmillan feud

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Well worth reading, both for itself and the comments. Check it out.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:18 pm

Conservatives hate gays

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I guess that’s not news, but it’s astonishing how overt their hatred and discrimination is. Steve Benen at Political Animal:

It was quite a sight yesterday when Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it’s time to let gay servicemen and women serve openly in the U.S. military.

What I didn’t realize was the extent of the pushback they received from conservative Republican senators. Dana Milbank had a good report on this.

On the dais, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential standard-bearer, accused Mullen and the other witness, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, of trying to repeal the "don’t ask, don’t tell" law "by fiat." Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) accused the admiral of obeying "directives" from President Obama. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) accused Mullen of "undue command influence."

As the challenges to his integrity continued, Mullen pursed his lips, then put his forearms on the table, displaying the admiral stripes on his sleeves. After Sessions’s provocation, the Joint Chiefs chairman glared at the diminutive Alabamian. "This is not about command influence," Mullen said. "This is about leadership, and I take that very seriously."

It gets back to something we talked about the other day — the growing divisions between the Republican establishment and the military establishment. There was a point not too long ago when GOP senators on the Armed Services Committee would be far more respectful and deferential towards the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. It was simply assumed — Republicans revered the judgment of the nation’s military leaders.

But now that the military establishment agrees with President Obama — on everything from civilian trials to Gitmo to torture to service qualifications — the GOP has no qualms about questioning not only the brass’ judgment, but also its honesty.

The entire dynamic seems unusual, and it is. But the political world should acknowledge what is plainly true — the days when Republicans and military leaders marched to the same beat are over.

Of course, John McCain had previously stated that he would vote to repeal DADT when the heads of the services recommended it. Now that they have, McCain once again demonstrates his inability to honor his commitments.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:16 pm

Snail has an iron-plated shell

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Pretty cool. Clive Thompson at Collision Detection:


Life isn’t easy for the “scaly-foot gastropod”. This humble snail lives in hydrothermal vent fields two miles deep in the Indian ocean, and is surrounded by vicious predators. For example, there’s the “cone snail”, which stabs at its victims with a harpoon-style tooth as a precursor to injecting them with paralyzing venom. Then there’s the Brachyuran crab, which has been known to squeeze its prey for three days in an attempt to kill it. Yowsa.

Ah, but the scaly-foot gastropod has its own tricks. To fight back, it long ago evolved a particularly cool defense structure: It takes the grains of iron sulfide floating in the water around it and incorporates it into the outer layer of its shell. It it thus an “iron-plated snail”.

Oh yes way. Scientists discovered Crysomallon squamiferum in 1999, but they didn’t know a whole lot about the properties of its shell until this month, when a team led by MIT scientists decided to study it carefully. The team did a pile of spectroscopic and microscopic measurements of the shell, poked at it with a nanoindentor, and built a computer model of its properties to simulate how well it would hold up under various predator attacks.

The upshot, as they write in their paper (PDF here), is that the shell is “unlike any other known natural or synthetic engineered armor.” Part of its ability to resist damage seems to be the way the shell deforms when it’s struck: It produces cracks that dissipate the force of the blow, and nanoparticles that injure whatever is attacking it: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2010 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

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