Later On

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

Archive for August 19th, 2010

Muslim community center in shut-down clothing store

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More accurate than "Ground Zero mosque," though it does omit the fact that the former store is two blocks from ground zero, which cannot be seen from that point. Benen:

Under the circumstances, how one chooses to label the Park51 project matters in shaping public attitudes. With that in mind, the AP is clearly doing the right thing, making up for some misleading headlines.

The Associated Press, one of world’s most powerful news organizations, issued a memo today advising staff to avoid the phrase "Ground Zero mosque."

The Upshot reported Tuesday that the AP started using the phrase "Ground Zero mosque" in some headlines in late May. The New York Times, for one, has consciously avoided that phrasing.

The AP began using the phrase as the controversy over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque in Lower Manhattan started bubbling up to the national level…. Now the news organization is taking steps to make sure that no longer occurs.

This would have been even more helpful, say, a few weeks ago, before so many Americans became enraged by a proposal that doesn’t exist, but I suppose it’s better late than never.

I do sympathize with headline writers. "Muslim community center in shut-down clothing store" isn’t exactly punchy. Hell, the accurate description immediately invalidates the basis for the entire controversy, making the argument rather pointless.

But as long as the matter remains a subject of intense national security, and developers are calling the proposed building "Park51," that should make it easier for editors looking for something easy to call it.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Daily life

The wrong enemy

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Steve Benen:

It’s still incredible to me that the right hopes to make Faisal Abdul Rauf a villain. Jeffrey Goldberg shares this anecdote today.

In 2003, Imam Rauf was invited to speak at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan. The service was held at B’nai Jeshurun, a prominent synagogue in Manhattan, and in the audience was Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father. In his remarks, Rauf identified absolutely with Pearl, and identified himself absolutely with the ethical tradition of Judaism. “I am a Jew,” he said.

There are those who would argue that these represent mere words, chosen carefully to appease a potentially suspicious audience. I would argue something different: That any Muslim imam who stands before a Jewish congregation and says, “I am a Jew,” is placing his life in danger.

Remember, Islamists hate the people they consider apostates even more than they hate Christians and Jews. In other words, the man many commentators on the right assert is a terrorist-sympathizer placed himself in mortal peril in order to identify himself with Christians and Jews, and specifically with the most famous Jewish victim of Islamism.

In context, Rauf told attendees, “We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul Shma’ Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one, Mr. Pearl.”

This is, of course, also the same imam who partnered with the Bush/Cheney State Department on international diplomacy, the Bush/Cheney Justice Department on counter-terrorism, and has devoted his career to combating extremism.

He’s also the imam Fox News personalities have labeled a “radical,” and who Sean Hannity has suggested might need to be expelled from the United States.

I know August has become a time for nonsense, but the right-wing campaign against this Muslim American is really pushing the envelope.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Daily life

TV viewing

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As you may know, I view TV only on DVD, so I have to wait a while to enjoy the shows.

I loved The Wire, and I will probably watch the whole thing again sometime.

I had heard a lot of good things about Law and Order and at this point there’s a huge backlog, so I got Season 1 DVD. Alas, I couldn’t make it through the second episode. I noticed immediately the sort of squeaky clean and organized look: very square shots, no distractions. And as the scenes played, there was also no nuance. Of course, the target audience for a show named Law and Order is probably uninterested in nuance, but I am.

I thought the acting was more or less reciting lines—like cardboard cutouts, and in the second episode I started to think that actually using cardboard cutouts would be interesting. I think the actors might be able to do much more if the scripts and director were better, but I’m not interested in sticking around to find out if they ever pulled it together. Basically, for me it was terrible and it’s gone.

But now I’m watching the first season of Murder One and I’m much more impressed. They used well-known (and highly skilled) actors, and they gave them a good script and good direction. I’m liking it.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Food notes

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Menu today:

Oat groats cooked with turmeric
Soft-boiled egg with the groats

Green salad with 8 oz bay scallops (raw) and croutons
A pony of champagne

Chilled gazpacho
Loin lamb chop from a local lamb
Red wine

I guess I’m sort of celebrating.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Another pointless "acupuncture" study misinterpreted

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Interesting post by Orac:

At the risk of once again irritating long time readers who’ve hear me say this before, I can’t resist pointing out that, of all the various forms of "alternative medicine" other than herbal medicines (many of which are drugs, just adulterated, impure drugs), acupuncture was the one treatment that, or so I thought, might actually have a real therapeutic effect. Don’t get me wrong; I never bought magical mystical mumbo-jumbo about "meridians" and "unblocking the flow of qi" (that magical mystical life energy that can’t be detected by scientists but that practitioners of woo claim to be able to manipulate for therapeutic intent). The point is (sorry, couldn’t resist) that acupuncture actually involves doing something physical to the body, namely inserting thin needles into it. Shorn of its trappings of prescientific Eastern mysticism, acupuncture struck me as something that might have something to it.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 11:23 am

Why oil billionaire David Koch is secretly funding Astroturf to repeal CA clean energy laws

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Because he opposes clean energy, of course: he wants you to buy oil. Climate Progress:

This Wonk Room cross-post is part of a Progressive Media blogging series on the fossil fuel-funded Prop 23 effort to repeal California’s clean energy climate law. Read Rebecca Lefton’s posts on Prop 23’s economic impact, national repercussions, and funding from Texas oil companies.

Much has been reported about how Texan oil companies Valero and Tesoro have been fighting to repeal the landmark clean energy climate change law, AB 32. The Wonk Room recently obtained a PowerPoint from Tesoro showing that the company made a pitch to oil companies, including BP, to join their effort known as Proposition 23.

But there is another powerful out-of-state fossil fuel interest trying to eviscerate California’s pioneering climate change law: Koch Industries. The Wonk Room has learned that Koch Industries is funding the lead “grassroots” group organizing support for Proposition 23, and is also funding the Pacific Research Institute, the main think-tank producing junk studies smearing AB 32.

As ThinkProgress and the Wonk Room have detailed, Koch Industries is the largest funder of climate change denying and anti-environmental regulation fronts worldwide and its Americans for Prosperity Foundation is responsible for helping to create the so-called Tea Party movement. While the Koch brothers at the helm of Koch Industries are committed right-wing ideologues, their financing of front groups helps boost the profits of their conglomerate. Koch Industries contributes heavily to carbon pollution through their asphalt, timber, and oil refinery subsidiaries, and the University of Massachusetts lists Koch as the the 10th worst air polluter in America.

In its corporate newsletter, Koch Industries explicitly states that the low carbon fuel standard California is set to adopt to comply with AB 32 carbon emissions regulations would harm its bottom line because Koch imports mostly high-carbon crude oil from Canada. Another Koch newsletter warns that its Pine Bend Refinery in Minnesota specializing in high-carbon Canadian crude would become much less profitable for Koch if low fuel standards mirroring AB 32 are adopted around the country.

In an attempt to kill AB 32 and squash the likelihood that similar laws spread nationwide, Americans for Prosperity California — a front group founded and funded by Koch Industries executive David Koch — has been organizing Tea Party rallies with Prop 23 proponent Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Linda), bringing Tea Party support to AB 32 repeal hearings, and producing videos calling on Californians to pass Prop 23. The Wonk Room, with help from CAPAF intern Tara Kutz, has produced a video detailing Koch’s secret role in repealing Californian clean energy:

WR: Moreover, here is a rare clip of Americans for Prosperity operative Meredith Turney bragging to Koch Industries executive David Koch that her front group will help take over the Golden State. Koch Industries fears that laws like California’s revolutionary AB32 will hurt their bottom line, that’s why, like the tobacco industry, they are funding front groups. Here, in a Koch Industries corporate document, they say clean energy laws like AB32 will quote “be very bad news for our industry.”

Watch it:

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 11:18 am

A flip in perspective

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Conor Friedersdorf has an interesting post:

Is Imam Rauf of Park 51 "with us or against us" in the War on Terrorism? That’s the stark formulation used by many of his critics, who complain about his various shortcomings. Stephen Schwarz rounds up his most controversial statements in The Weekly Standard:

— On March 21, 2004, he told the Sydney Morning Herald that the U.S. and the West would have to recognize the damage they have done to Muslims before terrorism can end. The Australian daily reported “Imam Feisal said the West had to understand the terrorists’ point of view.” The paper also cited Rauf’s arguments that “the Islamic method of waging war is not to kill innocent civilians . . . it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima.”

— On June 23, 2004, Rauf told Chris Hedges, then a writer for the New York Times, that, in Hedges’s words, “Islamic terrorists do not come from another moral universe–that they arise from oppressive societies that he feels Washington had a hand in creating.”

— On February 7, 2010, Rauf told the Egyptian daily Almasri Alyaum, “I have been saying since the 1967 war that if there is peace between Israel and Palestine, in time the Palestinians will prevail.”

Excluded from the article, but ubiquitous in public discourse, is his remark about US foreign policy being an accessory to the 9/11 attacks. These statements aren’t exhaustive, but I think it’s fair to say they’re a representative sampling of the utterances his detractors find objectionable. I have mixed feelings about Imam Rauf. In a debate, I’m certain he and I would forcefully disagree on some matters, and I’m sure I’d find some of his opinions wrongheaded and offensive. It is nevertheless noteworthy that these are the most damning things he’s said in public life, that his views about the complicity of US foreign policy in the 9/11 attacks are held by many Americans, including Ron Paul, and that he’s never said anything nearly so radical or violent as Ann Coulter’s post 9/11 remark that America should invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.

Thus far I haven’t succeeded in convincing Imam Rauf’s detractors that they’re holding him to a higher standard than other Americans because he is Muslim, or that based on the evidence currently available, after intense public scrutiny, he is "on our side" in the War on Terrorism (if we must use the binary formulation).

Perhaps it’ll help my case to offer a flip in perspective. Take a look at an imagined conversation between two radical Islamists in Saudi Arabia who are having their own argument about whether Imam Rauf is with them or against them.

Jihadi 1: Maybe he is on our side. He does seem to sympathize with the Palestinians.

Jihadi 2: No more than lots of American liberals. Being pro-Palestine hardly makes him a soldier of Allah.

J1: He is also building a monument to Islam at Ground Zero.

J2: It’s two blocks away. And he has publicly promised that he is going to let Jews in.

J1: Really?

J2: Yes, he even reached out to two rabbis before announcing the project.

J1: Even so, he seems critical of America.

J2: Yes, he is mildly critical once every few years, when he’s not busy doing the bidding of their State Department, or helping to train their FBI agents.

J1: He cooperates with their FBI?

J2: He is very friendly with them. And he lets his wife go on television too. Without a burka or even a headscarf.

J1: I heard he attended a Hizb ut-Tahrir conference.

J2: It turns out that story is false. In fact, when radicals from the group confronted him, he defended the United States Constitution!

J1: Andy McCarthy thinks that he is a radical.

J2: You fool. Andy McCarthy also thinks that President Obama is allied with radical Islamists in a grand jihad against America.

J1: Seriously? That bastard Obama just killed an Al Qaeda cousin of mine with one of his drone strikes. At first I thought maybe he’s just trying to shore up his domestic political support, but then I realized that his administration is taking pains to keep most of them secret. Still, I hear than the mosque being built will signify the beginning of the United States of Arabia, and that it marks their surrender to us.

J2: That makes no sense. Their voters can’t even manage to pass gay marriage bans without them getting struck down and you believe people who say that they’re about to submit to sharia law? And how would the construction of a mosque even be a factor in transforming their legal system. I think you’re listening to too much of their talk radio.

Insofar as this conversation is unrealistic, it’s because every actual radical Islamist would know perfectly well that an imam who works with the FBI, tours on behalf of the State Department, denounces terrorism, defends the US constitution in an Arabic exchange with radicals from Hizb ut-Tahrir, has a good relationship with New York City rabbis, and preaches on behalf of women’s rights isn’t on their side. In fact, he is exactly the kind of imam that Islamist radicals target and kill when they dare to do these sorts of things in other countries.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 11:13 am

Where to get the best free education on-line

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Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 11:08 am

Posted in Education, Technology

The Community Center Controversy Continues: How a Texas Case Regarding a Sikh Temple Illuminates the Issues

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Marci Hamilton at FindLaw:

With the Republican Party, the Tea Party, and even Sarah Palin now conceding — as they must — that it is unconstitutional to stop plans for the proposed Islamic Center project two blocks from Ground Zero, they have had to move their battle against the mosque and Muslims in general toward invoking "sensitivities."

Now, they are furiously waving the American flag; posturing as supporters of the troops, by being the public enemies of everything associated with Islam; and arguing that if the imam had any sensitivity to the feelings of Manhattanites or Americans generally, he would voluntarily move the project elsewhere. In other words, it’s the imam who is at fault.

This is all deplorable, base politics, but it is worthwhile to examine where these arguments will take the Americans whom these groups would like to lead.

Those Who Oppose the Mosque Based on "Sensitivities" Are Making an Argument Similar to That of Opponents of Cartoons Depicting Mohammed

Remember the fierce opposition, by Muslim imams and adherents in Denmark and Sweden, to the cartoons of Allah that first appeared in Dutch papers? The images of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban and as a dog were highly offensive to many Muslims. The imams demanded that the media respect their faith by honoring their sensitivities toward such images.

While the imams had every right to engage in public discourse against images that they found offensive, they had no right to force the media to remove the images they did not like based on their "sensitivities." That is just basic First Amendment law, as I discussed in a prior FindLaw column. No free society can accede to such demands and expect to remain free.

When the anti-mosque provocateurs talk about "sensitivities," they have the same motive the Muslims did with respect to the cartoons: They want the mosque to go away, just as the cartoons’ opponents wanted the cartoons to go away. "Don’t make us look," is the theme. But that is not how free societies can, or should, work. The idea of a "viewer’s veto" is antithetical to the First Amendment.

The more sophisticated among the mosque opponents have argued that they are not really opposed to Muslims or the mosque. Rather, they are just protecting the sensibilities of the families of those who died on 9/11. But they are protecting no one by sacrificing the Constitution’s best values. They are facing an either/or choice, and they have made the wrong one.

Thus, unless the anti-mosque contingent wants to endorse the Muslim imams’ position on cartoons about Allah, they are going to have to reverse their position or be branded as hypocrites.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 11:02 am

About riptides

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I had not realized that riptides are so clearly visible. Take a look at this post, which is mostly about how to survive being caught in one.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 10:46 am

Posted in Daily life

Nordic report

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One brief pause after 6 minutes, but did 12 min 15 sec with no other stops. I wouldn’t say that it has yet started to be easier, but getting going is certainly easier: I seem to have made the decision to resume at a deeper level.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 10:43 am

Posted in Fitness

Genes and culture: OXTR gene influences social behaviour differently in Americans and Koreans

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Interesting article at Discover:

There are great plays and bad ones, but the playwright’s actual text is only one aspect of a production. The very same words can take on radically different meanings depending on the whims of the director, the abilities of the actors and the setting of the stage. The same is true of our genes and our environments. In cases where genes affect our behaviour, the same stretch of DNA can lead to very different deeds, depending on individual circumstances. Just as a production defines a play, environments and cultures alter the effects of certain genes.

Heejung Kim from the University of California has discovered a great example of this effect by studying a gene called OXTR (or the ‘oxytocin receptor’, in full). The gene creates a docking station for a hormone called oxytocin, which is involved in all sorts of emotions and social behaviours, from trust to sexual arousal to empathy.

Kim looked at a specific version of the OXTR gene, whose carriers are allegedly more social and sensitive. But this link between gene and behaviour depends on culture; it exists among American people, who tend to look for support in troubled times, but not in Korean cultures, where such support is less socially acceptable. Culture sets the stage on which the OXTR gene expresses itself.

OXTR varies from person to person, and the DNA ‘letters’ at particular spots can affect the way we behave. According to previous studies, people with a ‘G’ at one specific site tend to be more sensitive parents, more empathetic and less lonely than those with an ‘A’. But most of these studies have been done with white, Western people who are hardly representative of the world at large – in fact, they’re positively W.E.I.R.D.

To looked outside this “thin and rather unusual slice of humanity”, Kim compared 134 Korean students with 140 American ones, all with comparable splits of age, gender and background. Using a questionnaire, she measured how stressed each volunteer was feeling at that point in their lives, and how they cope with stress. As with previous studies, Kim found that …

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Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 10:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The Government’s License To Steal

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Radley Balko at Reason:

In the February issue of Reason, I wrote a feature story on civil asset forfeiture, the process by which law enforcement groups can seize property, usually in drug cases, sometimes without ever charging anyone with a crime. In particular, the article looked at the case of Anthony Smelley, who had $17,500 in cash taken from him during a traffic stop in Putnam County, Indiana. Smelley was never charged with a crime, but it took well over a year and several court proceedings for him to get his money back.

Indiana is one of several states that require civil asset forfeiture proceeds to go to a fund for public schools. Many states passed such laws in the late 1990s after media and public backlashes against civil forfeiture abuse. The states saw the funds as a way to remedy the incentive problems that arise when police and prosecutorial offices benefit directly from the money they seize. In Indiana, the requirement is actually written into the state’s constitution.

But there are ways around these requirements. Among them:

  • “Adoption”: Under federal rules, local police departments can simply call the feds when they’re about to close a case in which they think there will be a big forfeiture payoff. The investigation then becomes a federal case, governed by federal law. The feds collect the forfeiture proceeds, then redistribute most of them (as much as 80 percent) back to the local police department in question. The school fund gets nothing, and the perverse incentives remain in place. In 1999, The Kansas City Star wrote a series of reports detailing how local police departments in Missouri were using adoption to get around school-funding requirements.
  • Settlement: If prosecutors can negotiate a settlement with the defendant, perhaps by letting him keep some of his allegedly ill-gotten gains, the settlement isn’t considered a formal forfeiture, and as such isn’t governed by third-party funding laws. That money, too, can then go back to law enforcement.
  • Contracting: In reporting my story last February, I found that many counties in Indiana are contracting out their civil forfeiture cases to private attorneys, who then get to keep a hefty commission (from 25 percent on up) of what they’re able to extract from defendants. If forfeiture money going back to general operating funds for police or D.A. offices creates incentive problems, these private attorneys are choosing and helping prosecute cases in which they stand to be personally enriched by the outcome.
  • Operating costs: Counties are also allowed to deduct the costs police departments and prosecutors spend investigating and prosecuting a case from the forfeiture winnings before sending the remainder back to the school fund. The problem is that judges give little apparent scrutiny to the cost estimates, allowing law enforcement to highball their numbers and reap more gain from forfeitures.

Given all of these ways around the law, how much forfeiture money is actually getting back to the school fund in Indiana?

Almost none. This weekend, the Indianapolis Star ran a front-page article looking at where all the forfeiture money is going. I’d like to link to it, but in an apparent effort to keep the paper as irrelevant as possible, the Star has lately adopted a policy of not putting its most important pieces online. But as it turns out, Indiana attorney Paul Ogden actually beat the paper to the story by several weeks. Last month, Ogden put up a post on his blog that came to many of the same conclusions the Star published this weekend. Here’s what Ogden found:

  • Of Indiana’s 92 counties, just five have paid any forfeiture money into the school fund over the last two years. Three of those made just one payment. One county made a single payment of $84.50. Only one county could arguably be seen as complying with the law: Wayne County made 18 payments totalling $38,835.56.
  • The total amount of forfeiture money paid into the account from all 92 Indiana counties over the two-year period was just $95,509.72.
  • To put that figure into perspective, Ogden notes that attorney Christopher Gambill—the private attorney who, as I noted in my article, handles civil forfeiture cases for three Indiana counties and argued the case for Putnam County to keep Anthony Smelley’s money—made $113,145.67 in contingency fees off just a single forfeiture case.

Forfeiture experts Steven Kessler and David Smith told me that the contracting out of these to private attorneys is unquestionably unconstitutional. You have unelected people making public policy decisions who will reap a direct financial benefit as a result. Mark Rutherford, chairman of the Indiana Public Defender Commission, told me last year, “It’s just sort of accepted here that this is the way things are. There are attorneys who have amassed fortunes off of these cases.” As Ogden notes, one of those attorneys is celebrity lawyer and talk show host Greg Garrison, whose law firm handles forfeiture cases for Marion County, home of Indianapolis. Marion County didn’t pay a penny of forfeiture proceeds into the school fund.

Ogden writes: . . .

Continue reading. There’s an audio (MP3) version at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 10:33 am

New Mexico GOP Governor Gary Johnson Says Legalize Marijuana Now

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The above clip is from this post by Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake. She continues:

Gary Johnson, the Republican former governor of New Mexico, was on MSNBC with Cenk Uygur to talk about the need to end marijuana prohibition.  He knocked it out of the park:

CENK: Governor, should we legalize it?

JOHNSON: We should legalize marijuana.  I think that 90% of the drug problem is prohibition related, not use related. And when I talk about legalizing marijuana, it’s never going to be legal for kids to smoke marijuana, it’s never going to be legal to smoke pot, become impaired and get behind the wheel of a car.  I think we should make the same comparisons to alcohol that exist with marijuana, and regarding all the other drugs I would suggest that we adopt harm reduction strategies, which is looking at the issue first as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.

>Half of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts and the prisons is drug related.  And what are we getting for all of that? Well, we’re arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country on drug related crime.

CENK:  But governor, the issue seems to be that if the Democrats ever proposed this, the Republicans would demagogue it, honestly.  Is that false, or is there any way that might change?

JOHNSON:  No, that’s not my experience. My experience is this is not a party issue.  It’s an issue with everybody who’s in elected office.  Everyone who’s in elected office won’t touch this, it’s the Emperor that has no clothes, and nobody wants to touch it.  But I think the people are way ahead on this.  And of course it’s on the ballot in California to legalize it this fall — control it, regulate it, tax it.

Pew Foundation estimated that the price of marijuana would drop from $380 to $38 an ounce with a 50% tax on that.  So I look at this from a cost benefit analysis.  What are we spending and what are we getting?

And of course there is the human toll involved in this.  The situation with drug abuse is that it’s always made worse because it’s criminal.

CENK:  So how do we get the politicians to flip?  Because you’re right, the whole country’s getting there…California’s there, many other states are beginning that process, but we can’t just move the politicians. Look prohibition didn’t work for alcohol, and we realized that fairly quickly and we changed that. Now we have this mindset that if we’re going down the wrong path, we have to stay there. How do we change that?

JOHNSON:  You know what, I think the issue is at a tipping point.  During the last election, Massachusetts voted to decriminalize pot by a vote of 65% to 35%. I’ve smoked marijuana, I’ve drank alcohol in my life.  I don’t do either today, but I will tell you from experience that marijuana is safer than alcohol.  Citizens of Denver got to vote on decriminalizing marijuana on the basis of marijuana being safer than alcohol.  Six hundred thousand Denver citizens agree with me on that one.

So I think that it is at a tipping point.  People are ahead of the politicians on this one, and it’s still going to happen.  It’s going to happen.  I think statistically  we’re about two and a half years from 50% of Americans actually understanding this. From my own experience, it’s really thin ice.  That with just a little bit of knowledge on this issue, people seem to move on this issue.  People seem to be embracing this notion of “gee it’s not working, we really have to do something different.”

CENK:  It’s really good to see former politicians getting on board for that, Republicans etc.  So thank you for joining us, we really appreciate the conversation.

JOHNSON:  Well I’ll just tell you too — in office I espoused this.  I looked at it hard in 1999 and really came to this conclusion while in office, trying to implement this change then.

Contrast that with:

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Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 10:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws, Video

Morning Joe and Just Say "Now"

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Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 10:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws, Video

Spicy zucchini soup

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This recipe sounds tasty to me—and I do like a chilled soup in the summer.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 9:54 am

Other countries probing Bush-era torture — Why aren’t we?

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A very good question, asked by Shashank Bengali at McClatchy:

In June, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a Canadian man who contends that U.S. authorities mistook him for an al Qaida operative in 2002 and shipped him to a secret prison in Syria, where he was beaten with electrical cables and held in a grave-like cell for 10 months.

Four years earlier, however, the Canadian government had concluded an exhaustive inquiry and found that the former prisoner, Maher Arar, was telling the truth. Canada cleared Arar of all ties to terrorism and paid him $10 million in damages, and his lawyers say he’s cooperating with an investigation into the role of U.S. and Syrian officials in his imprisonment and reported torture.

Arar’s case illustrates what lawyers and human rights groups call a shameful trend: While U.S. courts and the Obama administration have been reluctant or unwilling to pursue the cases, countries that once backed former President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism are carrying out their own investigations of the alleged U.S. torture program and the role that their governments played in it.

Judges in Great Britain, Spain, Australia, Poland and Lithuania are preparing to hear allegations that their governments helped the CIA run secret prisons on their soil or cooperated in illegal U.S. treatment of terrorism suspects. Spanish prosecutors also have filed criminal charges against six senior Bush administration officials who approved the harsh interrogation methods that detainees say were employed at U.S. military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and other sites.

Another former prisoner whose case the Supreme Court dismissed, Khaled El-Masri of Germany, has sued the government of Macedonia for handing him over to CIA agents, who he charges tortured him in Afghanistan. His case is pending in the European Court of Human Rights, in France.

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Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 9:33 am

Weirdness in outer space

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Thanks to TYD for sending a link to this piece by Alasdair Wilkins:

A star went supernova with more than twice the mass needed to ultimately collapse into a black hole. But something weirder happened – the star became a magnetar, an asteroid-sized star with the most powerful magnetic field in the universe.

The fates of stars are almost entirely determined by their mass. If a star is anything up to five times the mass of our Sun, it will live for several billion years before expanding into a red giant and then contracting into a degenerate white dwarf. Once you get past that five solar mass threshold, stars don’t last nearly long, perhaps just a few hundred thousand years, after which they explode in a supernova.

Now, if the star is less than twenty times the mass of the Sun, the supernova leaves behind a neutron star. Such a star packs in anywhere from 1.5 to 2 times the Sun’s mass into a sphere only 15 miles across. As you might imagine, such a densely packed object has incredibly strong gravitational forces, but that still pales compared to when a star is twenty or more times the Sun’s mass. At that point, the star collapses in on itself after the supernova, creating a black hole.

All of that should be fairly straightforward, which is why a newly discovered neutron star some 16,000 light-years away is such a cosmic oddity. It’s not just any neutron star – it’s a magnetar, the most powerfully magnetic object in the known universe. Essentially, the same process that gave the Earth its magnetic field – known as the dynamo mechanism – can sometimes go into overdrive as the neutron star forms, creating a magnetic field a thousand times stronger than seen in an ordinary neutron star. At least, that’s our best guess – nobody is quite sure why 1 in 10 neutron stars becomes a magnetar.

The newly discovered magnetar designated (deep breath) CXOU J164710.2-455216 is the remnant of a star that, by all rights, should have become a black hole instead. Astronomical measurements indicate the original star had a mass forty times that of the Sun, putting it way over the lower limit for black hole formation. So how did it end up as a magnetar?

The best explanation is that the star picked the wrong neighbors – it’s surrounded by so-called Wolf-Rayet stars, humongous blue stars that are a million times brighter than the Sun. That sort of constant, intense radiation would have been enough to strip the exploding star of its mass way more quickly than normal, taking it from comfortably over to just below the cutoff to become a black hole. And so, with no other options, the star collapsed into a magnetar instead.

Even so, astronomers point out that they may be able to explain this isolated incident, but they still don’t know how a star can lose mass so incredibly quickly. As Boston University astronomer Alan Marscher explains:

"Our understanding of the evolution of the most massive stars is hampered by an incomplete knowledge of the processes by which [they] lose mass. That’s why our estimates of the minimum mass [needed for] an isolated star that eventually becomes a black hole are fuzzy."

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 9:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Drawing cartoons and a community center

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Many people seem greatly concerned about hurting the feelings of New Yorkers who lost friends and family in the World Trade Center attack (unless, of course, those New Yorkers happen to be Muslims who lost Muslim friends and family members—they apparently don’t count). I wonder whether these people were also attacking the "draw-a-Mohammed-cartoon" thing: being concerned about people’s feelings and all, they protested loudly against the offensive nature of the contest to Muslims.

No? Then maybe they don’t really care about the feelings of the New Yorkers (who generally favor the community center), they just are religious bigots.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 9:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Ben Hur blades

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The gents at Razor Emporium sent me some blades to try, and this morning I’m going with the Ben Hur No. 15 blade, shown above. The color is a remarkable dark green, which doesn’t show up all that well in the photo above, but take my word: it’s a strikingly beautiful blade.

I picked this set-up:

I got another fantastic lather from the Kell’s Original shaving soap. This morning it’s the hemp/aloe Almond, whose fragrance I like. As always, the synthetic-bristle brush does a great job.

The Ben Hur is not so sharp as the Swedish Gillette blade, but it’s certainly up to the task. Three passes, then a splash of New York. It will be interesting to see how well it holds up over repeated shaves.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2010 at 9:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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