Later On

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

Archive for March 15th, 2010

Israel is uninterested in peace

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Not only that, it’s clear that the relationship with the US is much less important than Israel’s continuing illegal land grabs. I suppose they believe they can rely on AIPAC to keep Congress in line. Sheera Frenkel for McClatchy:

From the window of her home in East Jerusalem, Chana-Rivka Leviv can see the valley where the Israeli government says it will soon begin to build 1,600 new apartment units — one of which is destined for her family.

"We all just need to build. The rest of the world can scream and threaten as much as they want. Jerusalem is our home and we will continue to build here for our children’s children," said Leviv, an ultra-orthodox Jew who’s expecting her seventh child this summer.

Bunk beds fill the three bedrooms of her terraced apartment in this hilly settlement. To one side, the neighborhood abuts the Shuafat Refugee Camp, home to 35,000 Palestinians who complain of severe overcrowding and lack of basic facilities and planning.

Ramat Shlomo has become the most contentious building project in Jerusalem, and it’s at the center of what Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren calls the "most severe crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations" in decades.

Israel’s announcement of the project as Vice President Joe Biden began an official visit last week embarrassed the Obama administration, and the fallout could block U.S.-led efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Backed by the Arab League, Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt settlement projects such as Ramat Shlomo before talks begin.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from his largely conservative coalition to press on with the project, told his Likud Party Monday that settlement building would continue on land that Israel won from its Arab neighbors in the 1967 Six-Day War.

"Construction will continue in Jerusalem as this has been the case over the past 42 years," Netanyahu said. Israel Interior Minister Eli Yishai — whose ministry decided to announce the plan during Biden’s visit — echoed Netanyahu, stating that "there is no construction freeze in Jerusalem, nor will there be one."

"We’re sorry the Americans found the timing offending, but there is no freeze in Jerusalem," he said.

In the face of harsh U.S. criticism and demands that the project be scrapped, Netanyahu has tried to lower the visibility of the issue.

Neither the Jerusalem Municipality nor the prime minister’s office would give a schedule for when building in Ramat Shlomo could begin. The municipality has quietly removed all planning meetings for east Jerusalem projects from its schedule and hasn’t publicized any further movement on Ramat Shlomo…

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Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 7:26 pm

Nice plant

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I went for a walk today—the weather’s nice at long last—and saw this attractive plant with lots of new growth:

And the other night I set up another box so Megs could have a house. She likes these.

She prefers this orientation (“townhouse”) rather than having the box on its side (“ranch style”).

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Fitness, Megs

It’s confirmed: The Pope (when archbishop) facilitated a pedophile’s continued preying

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Nicholas Kulish in the NY Times:

The priest at the center of a German sex-abuse scandal that has embroiled Pope Benedict XVI was suspended Monday, more than 30 years after the church first heard allegations that he had molested children. [My emphasis – LG]

The priest, Peter Hullermann, was suspended after church officials acknowledged in a statement on Friday that he had continued working with children even after being forbidden in 2008. His supervisor, Prelate Josef Obermaier, resigned, according to the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

In 1980, Benedict, then archbishop there, approved Father Hullermann’s move to Munich after he was accused of sexually abusing boys in the Diocese of Essen [rather than informing the police and the congregation – LG], though on Friday a deputy took full responsibility for allowing the priest to return to full pastoral duties shortly thereafter. Father Hullermann was convicted of sexually abusing children in the Bavarian town of Grafing in June 1986 by a district court in nearby Ebersberg, church officials said Friday.

Hundreds of victims have come forward in recent months in Germany with accounts of sexual and other physical abuse from decades past. But no case has captured the attention of the nation like that of Father Hullermann, because of the involvement of the future pope, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, but also because of the impunity that allowed a child molester to continue to work with altar boys and girls for decades after his conviction.

Father Hullermann’s identity was revealed on Sunday, when a man whose marriage he was scheduled to perform in the spa town of Bad Tölz stood up in the pews and began shouting as the head of the congregation was speaking in vague terms about the scandal.

But even after the revelations, parishioners there, where Father Hullermann had been working, described him glowingly, calling him friendly, down to earth and popular with churchgoers — especially children and teenagers [I bet – LG].

Father Hullermann’s story is one of a beloved priest with a damaging secret church officials helped him to hide.

School records in the town of Grafing show that he taught religion six hours a week at a public high school starting on Sept. 18, 1984 — less than five years after he was moved from Essen for abusing boys, including forcing an 11-year-old to perform oral sex.

Rupert Frania, the head of the congregation in Bad Tölz, said in an interview on Sunday that his superiors did not tell them about the priest’s history of sexual abuse.

“They should have told me before,” said Father Frania, who said he first heard about Father Hullermann’s conviction last week as the story was about to become public. Repeated attempts to contact Father Hullermann at his home in Bad Tölz were unsuccessful…

Continue reading. The Catholic church seems to need a reboot.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 4:21 pm

Great sci-fi novel

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I highly recommend Sean McMullen’s The Centurion’s Empire, which I am now reading for the second time. I decided to reread it after watching Rome: Engineering an Empire.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 4:10 pm

Getting your veggies via juice

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Very interesting post at Strongrrl: Life, with Muscles. The juicer used there is the Kitchenaid Food Mixer with appropriate attachment. In looking around (e.g., these reviews), I found that the Breville line seems to be the best of the pure juicers:

1000-watt version ($250)

900-watt version ($160)

700-watt version ($90)

Obviously, you should also eat vegetables in addition to drinking the juice: the juice is very low in fiber, compared to the cooked vegetable. But juices can be a very nice supplement.

And I love the idea of zucchini/squash "pasta."

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Technology

Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?

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Howell Raines, a former executive editor of the New York Times and the author of The One That Got Away: A Memoir, in the Washington Post:

One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?

Through clever use of the Fox News Channel and its cadre of raucous commentators, Ailes has overturned standards of fairness and objectivity that have guided American print and broadcast journalists since World War II. Yet, many members of my profession seem to stand by in silence as Ailes tears up the rulebook that served this country well as we covered the major stories of the past three generations, from the civil rights revolution to Watergate to the Wall Street scandals. This is not a liberal-versus-conservative issue. It is a matter of Fox turning reality on its head with, among other tactics, its endless repetition of its uber-lie: "The American people do not want health-care reform."

Fox repeats this as gospel. But as a matter of historical context, usually in short supply on Fox News, this assertion ranks somewhere between debatable and untrue.

The American people and many of our great modern presidents have been demanding major reforms to the health-care system since the administration of Teddy Roosevelt. The elections of 1948, 1960, 1964, 2000 and 2008 confirm the point, with majorities voting for candidates supporting such change. Yet congressional Republicans have managed effective campaigns against health-care changes favored variously by Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton. Now Fox News has given the party of Lincoln a free ride with its repetition of the unexamined claim that today’s Republican leadership really does want to overhaul health care — if only the effort could conform to Mitch McConnell’s ideas on portability and tort reform.

It is true that, after 14 months of Fox’s relentless pounding of President Obama’s idea of sweeping reform, the latest Gallup poll shows opinion running 48 to 45 percent against the current legislation. Fox invariably stresses such recent dips in support for the legislation, disregarding the majorities in favor of various individual aspects of the reform effort. Along the way, the network has sold a falsified image of the professional standards that developed in American newsrooms and university journalism departments in the last half of the 20th century.

Whatever its shortcomings, journalism under those standards aspired to produce an honest account of social, economic and political events. It bore witness to a world of dynamic change, as opposed to the world of Foxian reality, whose actors are brought on camera to illustrate a preconceived universe as rigid as that of medieval morality. Now, it is precisely our long-held norms that cripple our ability to confront Fox’s journalism of perpetual assault. I’m confident that many old-schoolers are too principled to appear on the network, choosing silence over being used; when Fox does trot out a house liberal as a punching bag, the result is a parody of reasoned news formats.

My great fear, however, is that some journalists of my generation who once prided themselves on blowing whistles and afflicting the comfortable have also been intimidated by Fox’s financial power and expanding audience, as well as Ailes’s proven willingness to dismantle the reputation of anyone who crosses him. (Remember his ridiculing of one early anchor, Paula Zahn, as inferior to a "dead raccoon" in ratings potential when she dared defect to CNN?) It’s as if we have surrendered the sword of verifiable reportage and bought the idea that only "elites" are interested in information free of partisan poppycock.

Why has our profession, through its general silence — or only spasmodic protest — helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt? The standard answer is …

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Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 12:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Media

How The Texas Textbook Revision Came To Be

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Interesting post by Jeremy Binckes at Huffington Post:

In Texas, Thomas Jefferson is set to be removed from the textbook standards explaining how Enlightenment thinkers have influenced revolutions since 1750. Replacing him will be the French theologian John Calvin.

After a long and emotionally-charged debate, the Texas Board of Education — dominated by a group of conservatives — voted last week to make this and a host of other changes to the state curriculum, a move that has wide-ranging implications for students across the country.

How did this happen?

A Conservative Clique On The Board

The Board of Education consists of 15 elected officeholders. The split is 10-5 in favor of Republicans. Of those 10, seven are highly conservative.

"This is a board controlled by extremists who have determined to turn Social Studies classrooms into a tool to promote their ideology," said Dan Quinn, spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network. "They’ve been successful in turning what should be a curriculum document into a political manifesto."

(TFN is a nonpartisan group which "advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right," according to its Web site.)

"We’re not [partisan]," said former chairman and current board member Don McLeroy, a Republican and a dentist with an engineering degree.

The Board members "are not being guided by any sort of rigorous academic standards. This is a purely political fight for them," said Ed Brayton, editor of the Michigan Messenger. Brayton is also the President of Michigan Citizens for Science, and has written extensively about the Texas school board on his blog.

Seven of the most conservative board members tend to vote en bloc. Brayton calls the group the "Wingnut Brigade."

"They’re very cliquish," fellow board member Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat from Corpus Christi, Tex. said of the seven. "They come in together, and they go out together, and they leave in cars together. They already have their agenda by the time they’re here. Whether they’re talking on the phone, emailing each other, I don’t know. "

The group of Republicans on the board includes David Bradley, a Republican from Beaumont and an insurance and real estate executive whose children were home-schooled. (Two other board members have also chosen to either home-school or send their children to private schools.)

Last Thursday, a discussion arose over how to describe the United States’ economy:

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Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 12:49 pm

Pounding Andrew McCarthy into the floor

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Poor Andrew McCarthy, so incompetent at legal analysis, which presumably is the thing he’s best at. Via Balloon Juice, this double-barreled rebuttal of McCarthy’s "arguments" by Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy:

Over at the New York Times Room for Debate Blog, Andrew McCarthy comes close to accusing pro bono lawyers for Guantanamo detainees of treason. In his words, such lawyers, “assist[ed] the enemy . . . against the American people during wartime.” McCarthy writes:

Here is the legal profession’s message for the American people: “We’re just more important than you are.” Members of any other profession or institution would be indicted for coming to the enemy’s aid during wartime. Lawyers not only demand immunity from the ordinary duties of citizenship, but they insist that you admire them, or, at the very least, regard them as above criticism for volunteering their services to those trying to kill Americans.

This is a ludicrous concept, so the profession has to engage in serial deceptions to sell it. Most prominent among these is the assertion that every one, no matter how unpopular, is entitled to counsel. Nonsense.

Only criminal defendants are entitled to counsel, and those who represent them do indeed perform a constitutionally valuable function. It has never been the law, however, that war prisoners are entitled to counsel to challenge their detention as enemy combatants.
. . .
The lawyers chose to offer themselves, gratis, to our enemies for litigation the Constitution does not require. They did so knowing that this litigation would be harmful to the war effort — a fact the Supreme Court emphasized when it denied war prisoners the right to file habeas claims in 1950. The fact that we don’t forbid lawyers from doing this hardly means Americans have to approve of it.

Perhaps the most unworthy deception is the comparison of those who volunteer to represent Guantánamo detainees to John Adams’s representation of British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. The United States was not at war at that time, the British soldiers Adams agreed to represent were not non-uniformed terrorists, and those soldiers were defendants in a criminal trial. The proud American legal tradition involves defending the unpopular who are accused of crimes but presumed innocent.

It has nothing to do with assisting the enemy in lawsuits against the American people during wartime.

I find McCarthy’s arguments ridiculous, and I want to explain why.

Consider McCarthy’s basic argument that lawyers who represented detainees “aided the enemy in wartime,” and should normally be guilty of treason. If that’s true, isn’t the federal judiciary, and aren’t the Justices of the Supreme Court, also guilty of treason? In fact, aren’t the judges the kingpins of this treasonous plot to “hurt the war effort”? After all, lawyers only make arguments to judges. It doesn’t actually help detainees to make argument courts reject. It’s up to the judges to rule one way or the other. If the lawyers are aiding the enemy, they’re only minor players: It’s the judges, and especially the Justices, who are the real guilty parties, as they’re the ones that actually help the detainees by ruling in their favor. Does McCarthy think the Justices of the Supreme Court are guilty of aiding the enemy, and that (if we treat them like everybody else) they should be “indicted for coming to the enemy’s aid during wartime”?

Second, McCarthy’s claims about the right to counsel strike me as just wrong. The Bush Administration had initially taken the view that Yaser Hamdi, detained as an enemy combatant, did not have a right to counsel. The Administration caved when the case got to the Supreme Court, though, and the Supreme Court had this to say about Hamdi’s right to counsel: …

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Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 12:45 pm

US-Israel rift

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Have you noticed that Israel keeps apologizing for the time, not the content, of the announcement? Israel really doesn’t seem interested in peace. I think we should move them to arm’s length. Greenwald:

The rather extraordinary dust-up between the U.S. and Israel has, among other benefits, shined a light on two of the most taboo yet self-evidently true propositions:   (1)our joined-at-the-hip relationship with Israel is a significant cause of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, fuels attacks on Americans, and entails a very high price for the U.S. on multiple levels; and (2) many American neoconservatives have their political beliefs shaped by allegiance to Israel.

As for the first:  not only did Joe Biden tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel’s actions are endangering U.S. troops in the region, but — more important — as Foreign Policy‘s Mark Perry reports, both Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen. David Petraeus within the last couple of months stressed the same causal connection to Obama officials:  "Israel’s intransigence could cost American lives."  It’s rather difficult to maintain the fiction that only fringe Israel-haters see the connection between our support for Israel and Muslim hatred toward the U.S. when two of America’s most respected military officials (responsible for U.S. troops in the region) are making that case explicitly.  Moreover, the Mullen/Petraeus alarm is almost certainly what accounts for the Obama administration’s sudden (and commendable) willingness to so publicly oppose Israel.  As Perry says:  "There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers — and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the U.S. military." 

As for the second point:  I’ve previously noted the glaring contradiction among neoconservatives, whereby they simultaneously (a) tell American Jewish voters to vote Republican because the GOP is better for Israel and (b) insist that it’s anti-Semitic to point out that some are guided by their allegiance to Israel when forming their political beliefs about U.S. policy.  Obviously, anyone who does (a) is, by logical necessity, endorsing the very premise in (b) which they want (when it suits them) to label anti-Semitic.  Neoconservatives constantly make political appeals to Jewish voters expressly grounded in the premise that American Jews are guided by allegiance to Israel (vote Republican because it’s better for Israel), yet then scream "anti-Semite" at anyone who points this out.  When faced with this glaring contradiction, their typical response — as illustratively voiced by Commentary‘s Jennifer Rubin, after she argued in a 2008 Jerusalem Post column that American Jews should vote against Obama because he’d be bad for Israel — is to deny that "that the interests of the U.S. and Israel are antithetical" and insist that "support for Israel in no way requires sacrificing one’s concerns for America’s interests."  In other words:  to advocate for Israel is to advocate for the U.S. because their interests are wholly indistinguishable, even synonymous.

Yet here we have a major split between the U.S. and Israel, with key American military and political leaders explaining that the opposite is true:  that Israeli actions are directly harming U.S. interests and jeopardizing American lives.  And what is the reflexive, unambiguous response of virtually every American Israel-centric neocon?  To side with Israel over the U.S.  AIPAC, the ADL, Elliott Abrams, AIPAC-loyal Democrats in the House, Marty Peretz, Commentary, etc. etc. all quickly castigated the U.S. Government and defended Israel, notwithstanding the dangers to Americans posed by Israeli conduct and the massive price paid by the U.S. in so many ways for this relationship (by contrast, J Street called the administration’s anger towards Israel both "understandable and appropriate").  There’s nothing wrong with taking Israel’s side per se — one is and should be free to criticize one’s own government in its foreign policy — but incidents like this make it increasingly futile to try to suppress what is glaringly visible:  that (as is true for numerous groups in the U.S.) a significant segment of the neoconservative Right (which includes some evangelical Christians and some American Jews) are guided in their political advocacy by their emotional, religious, and cultural attachment to another country, and want U.S. policy shaped in order to advance that devotion.

On a related note:  there has been a long-standing effort to equate those who make this observation with anti-Israeli hatred or even anti-Semitism.  Two widely-cited reports did exactly that with regard to me recently:  this pseudo-scholarly report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and this post on the blog of the American Jewish Committee, both of which hurl all sorts of ugly though trite accusations at me for daring to suggest that some American Jews are guided in their political advocacy by allegiance to Israel.  I’ll just note that the author of both "reports" is someone named Adam Levick, who — with extreme, unintended irony — lists this as his biography on his Twitter account:

I’m an American who just made Aliyah (moved to Israel), and love America and my new country.

If you’re going to try to render unspeakable the observation that some American neocons are devoted to Israel, it’s probably best to have the crusade led by someone with a different biography (The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, who went to serve in the IDF as a prison guard incarcerating Palestinians, is probably also not a good candidate to lead that crusade).  As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing wrong per se with harboring cultural affections for other countries — many individuals in the culturally diverse U.S. do — but stridently denying what is so obviously true, and smearing those who point it out, does more than anything else to make something innocuous seem nefarious.

Finally, the reason Israel engages in this intransigent, arrogant conduct is because …

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Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 12:13 pm

There will be a slight pause

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I just discovered Three Towers Solitaire.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 11:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Games

The Lomberg Deception

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Bjørn Lomberg knows damn-all about climate change, but that doesn’t prevent him from ceaselessly spouting off—and making totally wrong assertions. And, like many conservative "thinkers," he simply repeats his arguments even after they have been totally rebutted by facts and evidence. This type of mindset is unaffected by rebuttals, which they do not read or understand—instead, they simply repeat their same (discredited) arguments over and over.

Joe Romm takes on another Lomberg deception in this post, which begins:

Another op-ed by Bjørn Lomborg, another Gish Gallup of non-stop disinformation.  The good news is that the task of debunking the Septical Environmentalist (sic), has been made easier by the publication of whole book dedicated to that tedious task, The Lomborg Deception.

And yes, “Septical Environmentalist” is not a typo.  Sure, it may seem like a mistake to use the word “environmentalist” to describe Lomborg.  But it’s the very fact that he calls himself an environmentalist while dedicating his life to spreading disinformation and delaying serious action on the seminal environmental issue of our time that makes him septical.  What else would you call the Typhoid Mary of anti-science syndrome (ASS)?

Lomborg’s op-ed,”Cars, bombs and climate change” repeats many of his favorite howlers, and adds some new ones.  Let’s start with one of his favorite targets, one I’ve covered many times (see “Debunking Bjørn Lomborg — Part II, Misrepresenting Sea Level Rise“), but here with a new bizarre twist:

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Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 11:06 am

By all means, read Ed Brayton’s blog daily

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A commenter pointed out this blog, and I’m still grateful. Brayton is a treasure. Here’s an example post, which begins:

After a couple weeks of silence, Ellis Washington finally replied — in a manner of speaking — to my challenge to him about endogenous retroviruses and evolution. Which is to say that he ignored the challenge, admitted he doesn’t know a damn thing about evolution, and tried to change the subject — just as I predicted he would. And along the way, he makes some truly funny arguments. The subject line of his email really sets the stage perfectly for what was to follow:

I don’t know much about ERVs, but I know a lot about Reason and Veritas

This perhaps requires some translation. By "veritas" he means "the Bible, as literally interpreted by me." And by "reason" he means "simplemindedly declaring that anything that conflicts with the Bible must be false, so I don’t have to actually make a substantive argument about any subject I just have to refer to the Bible." This is Kirk Cameron-level idiocy. He begins:

Thank you for your response which didn’t really get to the heart of the matter:

Believing in a "theory" that the creator (Darwin) of such a theory knew before and after he wrote, "The Origin of Species" was full of holes, unbelievable and unsustainable, for you to follow such a man is like following a cult leader. Your position ipso facto (inherently) indefensible.

Here he shows his complete lack of reading comprehension skills. Like most fundamentalists, he thinks that everyone must think like him — meaning everyone must base their beliefs on appeals to authority and infallibility. Rational people, of course, do not base their beliefs on such things and therein lies Washington’s problem — he simply doesn’t understand how one makes a rational argument.

In my original reply to him, I had already explained to him that his misattributed and out of context quote of Darwin, upon which he is basing so much, has precisely nothing to do with the validity of evolution. Here is what I wrote, which is as valid and unanswered now as it was when I wrote it: …

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Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 10:59 am

Great find by Kafeneio

with 4 comments

Kafeneio points out this terrific site—that is, terrific if you like cheeseburgers. Steve (of Kafeneio) says that he plans to work through the list this summer. Here’s one example:

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 10:43 am

Using your internet fame to get what you want

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From a blog new to me, Basic Instructions, via Balloon Juice:

use-fame

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 10:38 am

Posted in Daily life

DoD using network of hired killers

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This is a very bad development. Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti in the NY Times:

Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States.

The official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former C.I.A. and Special Forces operatives. The contractors, in turn, gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said.

While it has been widely reported that the C.I.A. and the military are attacking operatives of Al Qaeda and others through unmanned, remote-controlled drone strikes, some American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.

It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong’s secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.

Moreover, in Pakistan, where Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding, the secret use of private contractors may be seen as an attempt to get around the Pakistani government’s prohibition of American military personnel’s operating in the country.

Officials say Mr. Furlong’s operation seems to have been shut down, and he is now is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Defense Department for a number of possible offenses, including contract fraud.

Even in a region of the world known for intrigue, Mr. Furlong’s story stands out. At times, his operation featured a mysterious American company run by retired Special Operations officers and an iconic C.I.A. figure who had a role in some of the agency’s most famous episodes, including the Iran-Contra affair.

The allegations that he ran this network come as the American intelligence community confronts other instances in which private contractors may have been improperly used on delicate and questionable operations, including secret raids in Iraq and an assassinations program that was halted before it got off the ground.

“While no legitimate intelligence operations got screwed up, it’s generally a bad idea to have freelancers running around a war zone pretending to be James Bond,” one American government official said. But it is still murky whether Mr. Furlong had approval from top commanders or whether he might have been running a rogue operation.

This account of his activities is …

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Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 10:34 am

A conservative judge on the War on Drugs

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Via Ed Brayton, this clip:

 

From the "more info" box:

In 1992, Jim Gray, a conservative judge in conservative Orange County, California, held a press conference during which he recommended that we rethink our drug laws. Back then, it took a great deal of courage to suggest that the war on drugs was a failed policy.

Today, more and more Americans are coming to the realization that prohibition’s costs—whether measured in lives and liberties lost or dollars wasted—far exceed any possible or claimed benefits.

Reason.tv’s Paul Feine interviewed Gray about drug policy and the prospects for reform. The interview was shot by Alex Manning and edited by Hawk Jensen.

Judge Jim Gray is the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 10:31 am

Fascinating exchange on "invented" languages

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TYD sent me a link to this Q&A on “invented” languages. The terminology is not what I would choose—after all, all languages are “invented”, in the sense that languages do not exist in nature. Similarly “artificial” languages is not accurate: again, all languages are created by humanity. The normal terminology is that most languages (English, German, Japanese, Tagalog, etc.) are evolved: they accumulate structure and words over time, with no definite authorship. In contrast, constructed languages (Esperanto, Ido, etc.) were deliberately developed.

It’s an interesting exchange and does recognize Esperanto as the most successful of the constructed languages, and right give credit to Zamenhof for releasing the reins once the language was adopted.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 10:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Esperanto

More on the revitalized FCC

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From the Center for American Progress in an email:

After a year-long effort crafting policy to revamp and expand broadband coverage in the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will release tomorrow its plan to bridge the "long-standing digital divide by bringing broadband into 90 percent of American homes by 2020."

According to a FCC-commissioned Harvard study, American cities’ broadband Internet "trail far behind their counterparts in South Korea, Sweden — even eastern Slovakia" in terms of speed and access.

The new proposal will focus "simultaneously on expanding access and increasing speeds," improving the broadband experience for users who already have access and bringing high-speed connectivity to the "93 million Americans, almost a third of the population, currently lack high-speed Internet at home."

"Americans would find it hard to imagine their country without access to the advanced highway system of the 20th century," wrote Mark Lloyd, former senior fellow at the Center For American Progress, in 2008. Lloyd is now chief diversity officer at the FCC. "[I]n order to meet the demands of catastrophe or defense, all Americans in the 21st century need access to telecommunications services that are continually upgraded, robust, redundant, and able to withstand multiple threats and uses," Lloyd said.

However, telecommunications companies have reacted coolly to the new proposal. Qwest Communications International Inc. called the FCC’s goal of "100 Mbps speeds to be in place at 100 million American homes in 10 years" — above the current average of less than 4 Mbps — a "dream" and AT&T said the FCC should "resist calls for ‘extreme forms of regulation.’"

While many of these telecommunications companies are resisting a policy change on grounds that the FCC could use new regulatory powers implement net neutrality regulations, these companies stand to benefit most from broadband expansion. Increased spectrum availability and planned infrastructure improvements would both increase these companies’ customer base and create jobs building towers and laying new lines.

Companies hate being regulated—or, to phrase it in positive terms, companies strongly believe that they should be allowed to do whatever they want.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 10:11 am

A Portuguese shave

with 7 comments

The Sabini ebony-handled silvertip brought up a very good lather from La Toja shave stick, and the Merkur Slant Bar with somewhat old but still sharp Swedish Gillette blade did a smooth job of harvesting the stubble. A splash of La Toja aftershave, and I’m ready to roll.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2010 at 9:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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