Later On

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

Archive for November 20th, 2012

Miss Molly takes the morning sun

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Today:

Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Molly

Cowardly critics of Susan Rice

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Joan Walsh makes a good point in Salon:

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice isn’t just facing down right-wing GOP attacks these days, she’s taking incoming fire from pundits widely perceived as liberal. Maureen Dowd went all in on Rice in a nasty column Sunday, while the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank termed Rice “ill-equipped to be the nation’s top diplomat for reasons that have little to do with Libya.”

Dowd paints Rice as looking to close an alleged “stature gap” with her Benghazi Sunday show statements, quoting a colleague blaming her troubles on being “focused on the performance, not the content.” Milbank says she’s made “an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad.” Both Milbank and Dowd seem to rely entirely on the anonymous testimony of such enemies; there isn’t a single named source in either piece.

I wasn’t going to write about either column until I heard Milbank on Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show today, promoting his piece.  Before Milbank’s segment, Lehrer asked his prior guest, New York Times correspondent David Sanger, about Milbank’s claim that Rice wasn’t much of a diplomat, and Sanger pointed to her role in negotiating tough sanctions on Iran supported by both China and Russia as evidence of her skills.

When he had the floor, after Sanger departed, Milbank dismissed Sanger’s Rice defense as insincere. “You’re asking him on the record, on the radio — what else is he going to say? That’s exactly the same answer I’d give in his position.” Off the record, he insisted, is the way people unload on Rice.  Stunningly, Milbank was implying Sanger would do the same thing, given the chance. I hope Sanger was listening.

I realized that the columns by Dowd and particularly Milbank reminded me of Jeffrey Rosen’s hit piece on Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor back in May 2009, a similarly anonymously sourced mélange of complaints about Sotomayor, whom Rosen called “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench.”

Milbank didn’t quite call Rice a dumb bully. “Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults,” he merely confides.

He quotes a Russian newspaper quoting a Russian foreign affairs official who called her “too ambitious and aggressive,” and said her appointment would make it “more difficult for Moscow to work with Washington.” (Ooooh, imagine if Obama snubbed Rice because of that: He’d be taking his marching orders from Moscow!) Milbank also shares . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 2:49 pm

Insurance scheme leads to prison sentence

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I blogged earlier about what seemed like an intriguing scheme, but apparently he went too far in getting signatures, as reported in ProPublica by Jake Bernstein:

In a trial closely watched by the insurance industry, Rhode Island attorney Joseph Caramadre and his former employee Raymour Radhakrishnan pleaded guilty today to charges that they conspired to steal the identities of the terminally ill.

ProPublica wrote about Caramadre’s scheme last August in “Death Takes a Policy.” He recruited the terminally ill to sign up for products such as variable annuities and bonds that, upon the death of participants, could pay out handsome benefits to Caramadre, his family members and outside investors. Acting on Caramadre’s behalf, Radhakrishnan signed up the people whose deaths would trigger the benefits.

In interviews with ProPublica before the trial, Caramadre described the scheme as a win-win. Caramadre or his investors put up the money and reaped the reward, but he paid the terminally ill several thousand dollars or more to participate. They themselves usually could not afford the annuities and bonds he purchased. In Caramadre’s view, he was offering money to the needy that they had not expected to receive. Some family members of the terminally ill agreed, while others felt exploited.

The two men pleaded guilty to identity theft and wire fraud, two counts in a 66-count indictment a grand jury returned against them last year. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors will not ask for more than 10-year sentences for each man. Ultimately, it will be up to the judge’s discretion how much prison time they receive. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 8.

As part of the plea agreement, Caramadre and Radhakrishnan agreed that the object of the scheme was to defraud the insurance companies and bond issuers. The two men did so by obtaining the identity information of terminally ill individuals through false explanations as to why their signatures were required. They also took steps to prevent the terminally ill from understanding the documents they were signing. In some cases, the signers never even saw the full documents to which Caramadre attached their signatures.

As part of the bond purchasing part of the scheme, the two men . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 2:44 pm

Posted in Business, Law

Washington Post Op-Ed: Time to end the War on Drugs

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Katrina vanden Heuvel writes:

With his final election behind him, and the final attack ads safely off the air, President Obama now returns to his regularly scheduled programming — governing. Yet, the chatter about his second term agenda, from deficit reduction to immigration reform, ignores one critical issue: ending our nation’s inhumane, irrational — and ineffective — war on drugs.

Since its launch in 1971, when President Nixon successfully branded drug addicts as criminals, the war on drugs has resulted in 45 million arrests and destroyed countless families. The result of this trillion dollar crusade? Americans aren’t drug free — we’re just the world’s most incarcerated population. We make China look like Woodstock. We’re also, according to the old definition, insane; despite overwhelming evidence of its failure, our elected officials steadfastly refuse to change course.

But on November 6, citizens in Colorado and Washington became the first to approve ballot initiatives legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Their success illustrates growing tolerance and, indeed, support for a smarter approach that could change, and even save, countless lives.

Now, the question is how the federal government will respond to these new state laws, since they directly conflict with existing federal restrictions on drugs. Recreational use might be legal in the eyes of Colorado and Washington, but Uncle Sam can still put the boot down.

President Obama has a choice. He could direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to crack down and prevent the two states from moving forward. Or he could finally, fully embrace sensible drug laws.

There are reasons to be encouraged. During the 2008 campaign, Obama pledged to leave state medical marijuana laws alone. He seemed to sympathize with the African American and Latino communities, disproportionate casualties of the drug war. Surely, Obama knew that one chance run-in between his youthful “choom gang” and the police years ago would have deprived him of the office he holds today.

In October 2009, the DOJ declared that the federal government would not prosecute individuals, including distributors and cultivators, found in possession of marijuana, as long as they were complying with state medical marijuana laws.

The following year, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which dropped the five-year mandatory minimum sentencing for simple possession of crack cocaine. The law also reduced the unjust disparity in federal sentencing for crack and powder cocaine.

But in October 2011, the DOJ began large-scale raids on medical marijuana cultivators and distributors, state law be damned. Federal authorities have since raided and shut down 600 dispensaries in California alone. A fine use of law enforcement resources in these austere times.

Enough is enough. The president should instruct the DOJ to de-prioritize marijuana-related cases in states that allow for medical marijuana, and to allow Colorado and Washington to move ahead with implementation of their new laws. He should ensure that federal appointees dealing with the issue, including U.S. Attorneys, are fair-minded.

And he should take the fight to Congress, where . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 2:10 pm

The Fall of the American Empire (Writ Small): History, Farce, and David Petraeus

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Interesting post by Tom Engelhardt:

History, it is said, arrives first as tragedy, then as farce. First as Karl Marx, then as the Marx Brothers. In the case of twenty-first century America, history arrived first as George W. Bush (and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and the Project for a New America — a shadow government masquerading as a think tank — and an assorted crew of ambitious neocons and neo-pundits); only later did David Petraeus make it onto the scene.

It couldn’t be clearer now that, from the shirtless FBI agent to the “embedded” biographer and the “other other woman,” the “fall” of David Petraeus is playing out as farce of the first order. What’s less obvious is that Petraeus, America’s military golden boy and Caesar of celebrity, was always smoke and mirrors, always the farce, even if the denizens of Washington didn’t know it.

Until recently, here was the open secret of Petraeus’s life: he may not have understood Iraqis or Afghans, but no military man in generations more intuitively grasped how to flatter and charm American reporters, pundits, and politicians into praising him. This was, after all, the general who got his first Newsweek cover (“Can This Man Save Iraq?”) in 2004 while he was making a mess of a training program for Iraqi security forces, and two more before that magazine, too, took the fall. In 2007, he was a runner-up to Vladimir Putin for TIME’s “Person of the Year.” And long before Paula Broadwell’s aptly named biography, All In, was published to hosannas from the usual elite crew, that was par for the course.

You didn’t need special insider’s access to know that Broadwell wasn’t the only one with whom the general did calisthenics. The FBI didn’t need to investigate. Even before she came on the scene, scads of columnists, pundits, reporters, and politicians were in bed with him. And weirdly enough, many of them still are. (Typical was NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams mournfully discussing the “painful” resignation of “Dave” — “the most prominent and best known general of the modern era.”) Adoring media people treated him like the next military Messiah, a combination of Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Ulysses S. Grant rolled into one fabulous piñata. It’s a safe bet that no general of our era, perhaps of any American era, has had so many glowing adjectives attached to his name.

Perhaps Petraeus’s single most insightful moment, capturing both the tragedy and the farce to come, occurred during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was commanding the 101st Airborne on its drive to Baghdad, and even then was . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Army, Daily life, Media, Military

Interesting simulation

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Should the minimum wage be raised? Try this game.

Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 12:26 pm

Tiny artificial muscle is strong—very strong

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Rachel Ehrenberg reports in Science News:

Beefing up some muscles doesn’t take steroids or exercise — paraffin wax will do. Incorporating wax into artificial muscles spun from carbon nanotubes gives them superior flexing power, a discovery that could lead to smart materials such as fabrics that respond to environmental changes.

The new artificial muscles, just a tenth the diameter of a human hair, can lift 175,000 times their weight, outperforming mammalian muscles and all previously made artificial muscles (SN: 12/4/10, p. 20), a team reports in the Nov.16 Science.

“This is a new kind of smart material, different from all the rest,” says Mark Schulz, a mechanical engineer at the University of Cincinnati who was not involved in the research.

An international team of scientists grew slender carbon nanotubes — each about 9 nanometers across, or nine billionths of a meter — and drew them out into a sheet, which they slathered with paraffin wax. Then, the researchers spun the material into a yarn. Anchoring the ends of a length of yarn and twisting it into a tight coil made the muscles ready to spring, akin to the twisted rubber band that powers a balsa wood model airplane.

Next the scientists used a battery or a flash of light to apply heat to the muscles, slightly melting the wax, which swells. The yarn expands in diameter while contracting in length, causing a twisting motion. Experiments with an attached paddle found the torque created was better than a good-sized electric motor, says Ray Baughman of the University of Texas at Dallas, who led the research.

The yarns can also be embedded with . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

Acceleration of technological change: Oldest examples of hunting weapon uncovered in South Africa

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From 500,000 years ago until now: the pace of technological change is quite evidently accelerating. Written language and increasing population density doubtless helped a lot. Bruce Bower reports in Science News on the earliest spear tips found (494,000 years before the creation of the universe, according to Christian fundamentalists).

Scientists working in South Africa have unearthed the oldest-known spear tips, apparently made by a common ancestor of people and Neandertals around 500,000 years ago.

More than 200 stone points found at a site called Kathu Pan 1 display modifications and damage consistent with having been attached to spear handles and hurled at animal prey such as springbok, say Jayne Wilkins, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and her colleagues.

“These were close-range weapons, either thrusting spears or spears thrown from fairly short distances,” Wilkins says.

A description of the South African spear points appears in the Nov. 16 Science.

Human ancestors were regularly killing game by 780,000 years ago in the Middle East, as evidenced by remains of butchered deer carcasses. Until now, the earliest stone spear tips came from a Neandertal site in France dating to between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago. Wooden spears from 400,000 years ago have been found among the remains of butchered horses in Germany (SN: 3/1/97, p. 134). . .

Continue reading. Photos at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 12:11 pm

I’m become quite suspicious of those who are stridently anti-gay

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They do protest too much. Look at this story by Scott Wooledge that appeared in Daily Kos, for example:

An attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is facing some very serious charges. ADF is a “Christian” consortium of attorneys dedicated to “transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.” They do this mostly by filing lawsuits to undermine any progress the LGBT community makes in the pursuit of equality.

From the New Hampshire Concord Monitor:

A Manchester lawyer took a teenage girl to Canada, had her engage in sexual activity and convinced her to let it be filmed, according to federal indictments.FBI agents swiftly arrested Lisa Biron yesterday morning as she awaited a hearing on child pornography charges at Manchester’s district court. About 9 a.m. FBI agents entered the courtroom, told Biron to leave her belongings and took her into an adjoining conference room where she remained for several minutes before coming out in handcuffs.

Outside, Biron ducked her head below the backseat window of a white vehicle as it was driven away from the courthouse.

A few hours later in U.S. District Court in Concord, Biron, who is associated with a national coalition of Christian lawyers, was formally told of the federal charges against her: transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, possession of child pornography and five counts of sexual exploitation of children.

Judge Landya McCafferty decided to detain Biron yesterday, largely, she said, because she is believed to have broken most of the bail conditions imposed on the district-level pornography charges.

A judge there ordered Biron last month to use her computer only for work, not possess weapons and have no contact with the teenage girl in the five videos and two pictures found on her computer.

Among the allegations:

  • Two witnesses have testified to seeing Biron in possession of ecstasy, marijuana and cocaine.
  • Biron sent a threatening text message to the person who turned her in to the police, advising him he would have to watch his back “FOR EVER.”
  • Biron sent a text to a friend saying she might flee to Cuba because she had “nothing left.”
  • Biron has asked people to lie to law enforcement about her case.
  • Other juveniles have been subjected to Biron’s sexual activity and drug use.

Biron’s employer, The Alliance Defense Fund, made news this week by distributing a memo to county clerks in Maryland, Maine and Washington encouraging them not to issue same-sex marriage certificates to couples wishing to wed in those states. “Religious freedom is paramount to every American, including those issuing marriage licenses. They can perform their job without violating their conscience,” the Christian Taliban Mullahs advised.

It isn’t known if Biron was among the attorneys that encouraged clerks to stand their ground on their deeply held religious beliefs.

Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 11:55 am

New soap, new brush, and a note on loading the iKon S3S

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Lots of novelty in today’s shave. I just bought two small tubs of Sultans Original Shaving Soap—no price penalty for buying the smaller (travel) size. It’s a soft soap, brilliantly white, and I do like the Signature fragrance but I can’t describe it, so there.

The brush is from Wet Shaving Products, which offers a nice little stable of badger brushes. I received two complimentary brushes, and the one I used today seems to be The Prince Silvertip Badger, a $60 brush. It created an excellent lather, though of course some credit must go to the soap. Still, the brush had a great feel: solid handle, thick, soft knot, excellent capacity—all round, a high-quality brush that shed not a hair.

With the lather and following my pre-shave wash with MR GLO, I did three passes with the iKon S3S using a Swedish Gillette blade. I responded last night to a note I received on how loading this iKon is a bit tricky. My response:

The problem with the S3S is this: in a three-piece razor, a threaded stud projects from the center of the cap, and in assembling the razor the stud goes through the baseplate to be screwed into the handle. Given the presence of the stud, most designs put also in the cap two other studs (or a raised bar) to align the blade. Thus you load the blade onto the cap, put the baseplate over it, and then screw the handle onto the cap’s threaded stud to grip the assembly.

The iKon does indeed have a threaded stud in the cap (as it must), but its design oddly puts the two aligning studs on the baseplate rather than the cap. (The Pils razor does the same thing.) Thus the iKon (and Pils) must be loaded by placing the blade on the baseplate; then you push the cap down over that, the threaded stud going through the central hole in blade and baseplate. Grip the two together and screw the handle onto the threaded stud to complete the assembly.

I think putting the alignment studs on the baseplate rather than the cap is a design error—and it’s certainly a usability error—but loading blade onto the baseplate rather than cap seems to make it work.

After the third pass, I rinsed, dried, and applied a splash of Alt-Innsbruck to a BBS face. Great shave once more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 November 2012 at 10:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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