Later On

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

Archive for September 2013

For the paranoid

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 1:13 pm

Posted in NSA, Video

Possible template for a talk about shaving

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Assuming that you’re asked to talk about traditional wet-shaving to a bunch of cartridge-and-canned-foam guys…  Someone asked for thoughts on a talk, and here are mine:

Title and opening question: “Why do so many shavers have sensitive skin?—right where they shave, oddly enough.”

Then the damage of bearing down with blades (set at an angle you cannot control) to stretch out the cartridge life—because cartridges are expensive.

That’s on the one hand. On the other:

a light touch with a single blades shaves more easily—and more closely. I’m saying the ads are lying, and the simplest test is to try DE shaving for a month—the blades alone will run you maybe 50¢, you can get a razor for less than $3—so the total there is less than the cost of one cartridge.

Go over prep and explain that canned foam is poor prep, but again: do the experiment for yourself. Get a brush and a shaving soap or cream, learn to make a good lather (time required depends on how many practice lathers you make), and then do a week of shaves with a good lather, a week of shaves with canned foam, and another week of shaves with true lather. Decide for yourself, and don’t be swayed by the fact that shaving soap and shaving cream can run WAY less than canned foam.

And making lather is enjoyable, and the whole shaving routine is transformed into something you enjoy and look forward to. It’s the sort of thing you’d pay more to get, and yet it costs so much less than what cartridge shavers are paying now. Paying more for a worse experience. Now that‘s something worth investigating: how can a person prefer to pay a premium for an inferior experience? Finding the answer left as an exercise for the audience. (Might prompt some self-examination.)

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 11:54 am

Posted in Shaving

Excellent example of “twisting the truth”

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I’ve always wondered about the phrase “to twist the truth.” How do you do that? What does a twisted truth look like?

David Weigel shows us.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 11:46 am

Why Republicans get blamed with the government shutdown

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Kevin Drum explains:

ust another quick reminder, because sometimes this stuff gets lost in the fog.

Q: Why do we need a 6-week Continuing Resolution to keep the government running?

A: Because Congress hasn’t passed a budget for the new year, which begins October 1st.

Q: And why is that?

A: There’s no mystery. Both the House and Senate passed budget resolutions months ago, but Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP have refused to open talks with the Senate to negotiate a final budget number.

Q: Why is that?

A: They’ve been crystal clear about this. They wanted more leverage for their demands, and they figured the only way to get it was to threaten a government shutdown. Here’s the Washington Post last May:

Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate.

….“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington. “I’d like to go through regular order and get something done sooner rather than later. But we need to get a down payment on the debt. We need entitlement reform. We’re very serious about tax reform because we think that’s critical to economic growth and job creation. Those are the things we want to talk about.”

This is why the public is likely to blame Republicans for a government shutdown: because Republicans have been very clear all along that they were deliberately stringing out the budget process so they could use a shutdown as leverage for their demands. At the time Ryan made the statement above, it looked like we were going to hit the debt ceiling before we hit the end of the budget year, so that was the “backstop.” Now it’s turned out that the end of the budget year will come first, so that’s become the backstop instead. Either way, though, Republicans have been quite open for months about their desire to delay negotiations until they had a government shutdown of some kind to use as a threat. Now they have it, and they’re using it.

So that’s that. They’re the ones who said they wanted a shutdown as leverage. They can’t really pretend otherwise at this point.

It’s also worth noting, just for the sake of nostalgia, Ryan’s claim that he was doing this because he really, really wanted to talk about entitlement reform and tax reform. That was always laughable—nobody thinks you can negotiate stuff like that in a couple of weeks with a gun to your head—and we haven’t heard much about it since. Still, it’s worth preserving for the memory vaults.

And Kevin Drum is on a roll. Read this one.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 11:38 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

What’s wrong will the way Wall Street thinks about banking

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The little video clip in this story by Neal Irwin in the Washington Post shows it all. As Irwin comments:

In their own words, here is Pareene: “I think that any time you’re looking at the greatest fine in the history of Wall Street regulation, it’s really worth asking should this guy stay in his job. In any other industry — I can’t think of another industry. If you managed a restaurant, and it got the biggest health department fine in the history of restaurants, no one would say ‘Yeah, but the restaurant’s making a lot of money. There’s only a little bit of poison in the food.’ ”

And Bartiromo: “The company continues to churn out tens of billions of dollars in earnings and hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. How do you criticize that?”

This is Mars vs. Venus stuff, in the sense that Pareene is coming from a different planet than Bartiromo and others who are creatures of the Wall Street world. The latter group sees Dimon as the most successful of the masters of the universe, as evidenced by the fact that he steered his bank around the calamities of 2008 and has kept it roaring ahead since. In this telling, some of the unpleasantness the bank has faced, like the $6 billion “London Whale” trading loss and potential $11 billion settlement being negotiated with the Justice Department as a fine for its involvement in shady deals for mortgage securities before the crisis, are just a cost of doing business.

On the planet inhabited Pareene (and some of his supporters among the commentariat, like Felix Salmon and Kevin Roose), the fact that JPMorgan has made gobs of money under Dimon, even after accounting for those losses, is almost irrelevant. JPMorgan had been one of the (allegedly) culpable parties in all sorts of chicanery (Tim Fernholz lists the investigations here), and the CEO must take responsibility for such broad problems.

The basic divide here isn’t about the merits of these individual cases, or any personal culpability that Dimon might have in bad behavior by the bank (some of which even took place in Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, companies that JPMorgan acquired as they were on the brink of collapse during the crisis).

The question is what obligation a mega-bank like JPMorgan, and its CEO, have to society as a whole as opposed to just the shareholders who own it.

The rise of “shareholder value” as the foremost goal of corporate leaders has been one of the biggest shifts in American business of the last generation. The measure of a CEO, in our times, is not so much whether he or she builds a company that makes great products, has a large and well-compensated base of employees and contributes to the betterment of society. It is whether he or she has generated positive return on equity higher than that produced by competitors or the stock market as a whole.

By this latter accounting, Dimon has been a wild success. By the former, his record is mixed at best.

The argument over whether shareholder value ought to reign supreme is interesting enough in the context of most businesses; read Steven Pearlstein’s case for why the cult of shareholder value has gone too far. With banks, and especially the biggest banks, the case that shareholder value is the wrong thing to measure is even stronger.

If a paper clip manufacturer goes out of business, it affects the employees and customers and shareholders of that particular company, but has no broader ripples. If the last five years have taught us anything, it is how different big banks are from a paper clip company.

It was only five years ago that the demise of the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank spurred a global freeze-up in credit that caused the worst recession of modern times, a $700 billion bailout, trillions in emergency lending by the Federal Reserve and other central banks and the defining economic catastrophe of our times.

It is true that JPMorgan was one of the ports in the storm during this period, with a “fortress” balance sheet that meant it was only a reluctant acceptor of bailout money. But the experience is the clearest reminder one could imagine that giant banks play a fundamental role in making sure capital flows freely through the economy, and that when they take excessive risk or bilk customers or otherwise behave badly, the consequences are broad.

Read the whole thing. And watch the video. It’s inconceivable to Bartolomo and the other guest that anyone should be held accountable for anything (unethical behavior, illegal behavior, whatever) if he is making money. I think that this is what Jesus was talking about when He argued against wealth. These people literally have no measure of success and no purpose or goal other than making money. It’s scary.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 9:49 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

The FBI and the budget cuts

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Often one hears complaints about the “tax and spend” philosophy of Democrats. (The complaints tend to come from the Right.) The problem is: what are the alternatives? “Tax and don’t spend” means the government is run for profit, in a way: tax revenues are taken to the bank and are not spent. This is (not to put too fine a point on it) idiocy, though it is consistent with the view on the Right that the government should be considered as a family, so that when times are tough, you cut spending and try to save money (and, of course, when the government does this it depresses the economy even further, as we have repeatedly seen—Europe has been a wonderful example of the folly of that approach).

The other option, one that the GOP generally embraces, is “don’t tax and don’t spend,” so that the government is unable to do its job for the general welfare: the FDA cannot guarantee the safety of our drugs and (as we repeatedly see) our food—110 American lives are lost to contaminated food for every 1 lost to terrorism, but compare the relative budgets for fighting terrorism and fighting food contamination. We can’t fund adequately fund education, we lack funds to assist the poor, and so on. The government is (in my view) established to help the country as a whole, and it cannot do that without spending money, and it cannot have money to spend with taxing people—and it should tax people progressively: those better able to afford to pay taxes pay more, so the load on one’s daily life is equitable.

At any rate, Neal Irwin reports on the impact of cutting way back on spending (so that we don’t have to raise taxes on the wealthy) on the FBI:

We now look to be hurtling toward a shutdown of the U.S. government. While you can’t completely rule out a last-ditch deal, the real questions now revolve around “How long will it last?” and “Will the resolution also raise the debt ceiling?” and “How vicious will the circular firing squad and bigger recriminations be among House and Senate Republicans be after a deal is struck?”

But while the drama plays out on Capitol Hill, a separate report over the weekend shows what is really at stake. As our colleague Sari Horwitz reports, the new FBI director, James Comey, had an unpleasant surprise as he traveled the country to meet with agents.

In the first week of his new job as FBI director, James B. Comey had already heard about how training had stopped for recruits at Quantico and that the bureau wasn’t planning on bringing in any new agents next year, all because of budget cuts.

 

But Comey was stunned when he began visiting FBI field offices this month and heard directly from his special agents. New intelligence investigations were not being opened. Criminal cases were being closed. Informants couldn’t be paid. And there was not enough funding for agents to put gas in their cars.

 

“My reaction to that . . . ” Comey said about the gas. “I don’t even want to tell you what my reaction to that was.”

The reason for the hard times at the FBI is the federal budget cuts that began with the 2011 debt ceiling deal, including the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.

Remember the sequester? When it went into effect March 1, it appeared to be something of a bust in terms of the damage it caused, at least in terms of how that damage has played out in the public debate. The White House had been claiming that the cuts would be devastating. Then they went into effect, and, well, not much of anything happened.

As it turns out, slashing discretionary spending 5.6 percent doesn’t cause massive, immediate, camera-ready dislocations in how government works. When such effects did arise — namely in the form of long delays at airports — Congress tweaked the law to fix it. While economists attribute sluggish economic growth this year in significant part to the sequester cuts, that impact has hardly occupied the public’s attention.

The new report from the FBI Agents Association is a reminder of the smaller, less visible effects that the cuts have had across the country. Any large organization can endure budget cuts like that in the short run. People work a little harder, less urgent projects are shifted to the back burner, empty positions go unfilled, and so on. But the longer the scrimping goes on, the less those tricks can fill the gap. After seven months of sequestration cuts, here are some of the things the FBI is having to scrimp on, according to anonymous comments by agents:

Restrictions in surveillance technology means the necessary facilities used for terrorist  communications won’t be monitored.

 

No gas means cases don’t get worked – period. Nothing is close to anything on the reservation. Witnesses and victims don’t have phones. We have to drive to them. They are too poor to drive to us. … Fewer guys – fewer cases get worked. That is the cruel truth. Real people won’t get justice. The face of the sequester is a molested Navajo kid or a beaten Apache woman, neither of whom will see justice.

 

We have approximately 10 very important [counter-intelligence] cases that we would open … but we can’t open them because we don’t have the [Special Agents] to work the investigations and the other agents on the squad already have full case loads.

 

The hiring freeze has prohibited our team from adding new agents to combat the significant surge in investment fraud and mortgage loan modification fraud. Resources are stretched and not able to completely address the financial losses experienced in our area of responsibility . . . just this past week, four known fraudsters were advertising in the classifieds for employees to expand their current fraudulent schemes, however, with our lack of resources and now the additional cuts and furloughs, we are not able to address the progressing schemes.

 

I … investigate street gangs. Recently … we have been facing funding shortages on the criminal side for the last couple of years. There are certain gangsters I can’t go after with a Confidential Human Source (CHS) or any other way as ‘drug buy’ money is not sufficient.

Here’s what these stories of the on-the-ground impact of sequestration on the FBI has to do with a likely government shutdown.

The effects of government on our lives are, much of the time, invisible. Things work in the background, making our lives better in ways that we don’t even notice. Government-funded weather satellites provide the raw information that allows your local forecaster to tell you whether it will rain today. NIH researchers are developing insights that might cure cancer a generation from now. And the FBI is constantly building cases that put bad guys behind bars and lead would-be bad guys to think twice before bilking the elderly in a mortgage scam or running a street gang.

That’s not to say there is no waste in government. Of course there is, as there is in any large organization. There are plenty of agencies whose missions seem outdated or unnecessary in the modern age.

But simply slashing funding for all agencies across the board, or shutting down nearly the whole  government, doesn’t do anything to make government more efficient or shutter unneeded agencies. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 9:06 am

Interesting chart, interpreted and explained

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 8:55 am

Posted in Daily life

Beef up your brain with ballet

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The title reminds me of when LP records first came out, and people were trying to figure out what to do with all the recording time. Language lessons appeared, and various odd collections of sounds. Someone suggested that an immediate best-seller, exploiting several trends, would be an LP titled “Bowl Your Way To Better French Through Civil-War Bird Calls.” (The LP equivalent of the proposed best-selling book title, Lincoln’s Mother’s Doctor’s Dog.).

But the ballet brain is real, as reported in The Scientist by Abby Olena:

Ballet dancers must turn, spin, and leap through the air, all without disrupting their vestibular systems, which contribute to balance and cause dizziness when disturbed.

In a study published in Cerebral Cortex on September 26, scientists from Imperial College London showed that, during a test of vestibular function, trained ballerinas’ perception and physical symptoms of dizziness ended sooner than for members of a non-dancer control group. The researchers then used MRI to assess the brains of both dancers and controls. They found that being a dancer correlated with reduced gray matter density in the area of the cerebellum associated with vestibular processing. Senior author Barry Seemungal attributed this difference to the limited helpfulness of the vestibular system for ballet dancers.

“It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance,” he said in a statement. “Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input.”

Additionally, the researchers showed that being a dancer is correlated with increased gray matter density in an area of the prefrontal cortex that has been implicated in balance training.

Beyond giving insight into the brains of dancers, the study could help patients that have problems with chronic dizziness. “The signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy. If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better,” explained Seemungal in the statement.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 8:50 am

Posted in Science

Pre-Shutdown shave: Two passes

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SOTD 30 Sept 2013

Excellent result, but shave was only so-so in terms of enjoyment. I worked up a very nice lather from my Ogallala shave stick and Brent Brush, and then—lost in thought—I started with an XTG pass. After the first stroke, I realized my mistake, but I decided to persevere to check out what it would be like.

I’m here to say that the WTG does a lot more than I realized. The XTG, without the prior WTG, was some tough cutting, though I had the benefit of the iKon open-comb and a Swedish Gillette blade. Perhaps the blade is aging, but I think the WTG is there for a reason—as indeed is the XTG:  buys who go directly from a WTG pass to a pass ATG are moving too quickly. If they have sort of beard at all, that two-pass shave will be harsher and less pleasant than if the stubble is first reduced as much as possible before shaving ATG. Indeed, the smoothest, easiest ATG pass I ever had was in the famous four-pass shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2013 at 8:37 am

Posted in Shaving

Why Christians oppose feeding the poor and providing them with healthcare

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I actually had been wondering that, but Amanda Marcotte explains at AlterNet:

In an age where your average Republican politician is thumping the Bible with one hand and trying to strip food from the mouths of the poor with the other, it’s become a sad cliché to point out how little the most outspoken Christians have in common with their charity-preaching, forgiveness-loving messiah. It’s only gotten worse in recent years, with the followers of the man who cured lepers threatening to shut down the government if Obama insists on giving more people access to healthcare.

But while a nudge and a laugh at the silly Christian hypocrites is a good time, it’s worth looking deeper at what’s really going on with the parsimonious haters of the poor who claim to speak for Jesus. The fact of the matter is that right-wing Christians refuse to see their differences with Jesus as hypocrisy. To really understand how religion works in the world of politics, it helps to understand that it’s usually more about  rationalizing what you already want to believe than it is about actually studying your religious texts and drawing intelligent conclusions from it.

So what’s going on when Ken Blackwell [3], the former Ohio Secretary of State and current conservative activist says things like there is “nothing more Christian” than cutting needy people off food stamps? It may seem like the rational thing for Blackwell to have done was simply admit that there’s nothing in the Bible that even comes close to suggesting that it’s good for people to be forced into starvation simply because they had the misfortune of living in a time of high unemployment. After all, Jesus just simply gave people the loaves and the fishes. He didn’t withhold the food, and like Blackwell did, say that being able to eat food would “breed dependency” and that starving the poor was a good way of “empowering others and creating self-sufficiency.”

Blackwell is stretching; it’s obvious he’s stretching. So why go there at all? Well, as stupid as he sounds, it’s the rational choice. Being considered a Christian means you get a lot of unearned esteem from the public, and you’re given a lot more benefit of the doubt than if you claimed to be, say, an atheist. Indeed, for many audiences, it’s better to sound like an idiot while claiming to be Christian than to sound intelligent without mentioning religion at all. It makes sense that a politician or activist would want to be perceived as a Christian even if they have to bend themselves into pretzels to explain away the obnoxious clash between what they believe and what even the most strained but intellectually honest interpretation of their Bible would have you believe.

But it’s more than that. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2013 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Politics, Religion

Interesting dynamic: Israel wants conflict between US and Iran

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The fact that we may be making major progress diplomatically—which to me seems a good thing and a step on the road to nations getting along, which is the goal, right?—-Israel becomes agitated that the US and Iran may find a way to make peace and co-exist harmoniously. Which I thought was the ideal goal toward which we were working/hoping.

At any rate, Juan Cole at Informed Comment notes:

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made no secret of his dismay that the Obama administration is entering into what look like serious negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear enrichment program.

Israeli hawks such as Netanyahu want the US to bomb the Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities in Natanz near Isfahan and in Fordow near Qom. Sometimes they threaten to carry out the bombing raid themselves if the US won’t act. They regularly issue dire prediction that Iran will have a nuclear weapon in six months (Netanyahu has been making such predictions since the early 1990s).

But former Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak admitted that Iran has not decided to use its civilian enrichment program, which makes fuel for nuclear reactors, to also produce a bomb. Making a bomb is far, far more difficult than enriching uranium to 5% for fuel or 19.75% for medical isotopes. A bomb would require enrichment to 95% or so. Nor is the case that just running the centrifuges longer would be sufficient to enrich to bomb grade. Technical problems have to be solved that the Iranians give no sign of having solved.

The danger of the Netanyahu bombing run is great. Such a bombing raid from 30,000 feet is highly unlikely to destroy the enrichment facilities. US generalshave pointed out to Congress that in any case, Iran could fairly quickly recover from a loss of centrifuges to bombing, and just make or import more. Only by occupying Iran militarily, as was done to Iraq could the US be sure of mothballing Iran’s nuclear program.

Since the program won’t be destroyed but only somewhat damaged, such a raid will merely push Iran to rebuild the enrichment facilities. In the aftermath, the Iranian authorities could well decide to reverse their public stance and go for a bomb, since their airspace would have been violated and their sovereignty violated.

That is the real lesson of the 1981 Israeli bombing of the Osirak reactor in Iraq. The Osirak reactor was built by the French and was a light water reactor.Light water reactors either can’t be used to make a bomb at all or it would take 100 years to collect enough fissionable material from them.

So Osirak simply was not a threat to Israel. But in bombing Osirak, the Israelis threw a scare into the regime of Saddam Hussein, which tried to use magnets (a magnetatron) to enrich uranium to bomb grade in the period from the early 1980s through 1991. The UN inspectors rolled up this nuclear program after the Gulf War of 1990.

It is not practicable to invade and occupy Iran, which is three times as populous as Iraq (and we all remember how well that went).

Therefore, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2013 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Iran, Mideast Conflict

Interesting take on the debate about “Redskins” as a team name

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The driving energy of the defenders of the name is not racism but rather an anxiety about the loss of white privilege and dominance as our culture becomes increasingly diverse—both in fact and in people’s perception of it and their place in it. And since it looks like the white place will simply be one of several, this arouses a growing consciousness of white privilege—it becomes easier to detect as your career toward losing it. It turns out that race seems not that important—we come in different races, so what? What’s important is the privilege and the power. That’s the issue. Or so I understand the article to say.

Steve Salita writes in Salon:

Redskin. The word relegates complex humanity to a lifeless specimen, a stagnant and specious simulation of a physiognomy invented during a time of conquest. It reduces cultural identity to the wholly unreliable tableau of melanin and nose structure. It is of a specific historical moment, but exists outside of time, like the immutable figure it purports to represent.

The mascot accompanying the word is a brand, a commodity, selling not merely image or design but also the thoroughgoing cant of colonial fantasy. It also sells identity. The identity it peddles has nothing to do with being Native.

The Redskins mascot is a powerful symbol and progenitor of majoritarian angst in today’s United States.

Much has been said about the deleterious effects of the Redskins mascot on Native communities; supporters of the mascot demand that its opponents quit being so uptight or politically correct (the stupidest and most insidious red herring in the American lexicon). I am uninterested in rehashing this debate. I instead would like to argue that the redskin has little to do with actual Indians and almost everything to do with the peculiar disquiet of a whiteness perceived to be in decline.

Whiteness has always been defined in contradistinction to the invented authenticity of the Indian, who is typecast as barbaric but romanticized as the shamanistic guide to North America’s indigenous spaces, those mystical geographies of the settler’s overactive imagination. (We see the same phenomenon in the Zionist appropriation of ostensibly Oriental culture, as when an Israel Day celebration on my campus featured traditional Arabic food and a live camel.) The historical Indian, then, was dispossessed and has been retrofitted to Hollywood specifications, repatriated only to the extent that he can serve as a passive emblem of American identity.

Humane assimilationists of the past set out to save the man but kill the Indian. These days the goal is to save the fake Indian so we don’t kill the white man.

*

In the machinery of the highly profitable NFL, the redskin has another function: he scowls at those who would challenge the commodification of ethnic imagery in the pervasive and eternal quest of corporations to become captains of everybody’s destiny. People scream for the preservation of the logo, citing tradition and identity and honor and other existential factors, but in reality they’re merely expressing loyalty to a brand, the capital accomplishment of any business.

The history of the term “redskin” remains ambiguous. Anti-mascot activists claim that its origin lies in the practice of scalping: American soldiers were paid for each scalp, or redskin, they could produce as proof of a dead Indian. Linguist Ives Goddard, however, contends that various Native nations used the word to distinguish themselves from Euro-American settlers. James Fenimore Cooper brought the word into wider use in his 1823 novel, “The Pioneers.”

The word’s origin is important, but no matter where historians and linguists manage to finally trace it, there’s no doubt that for the larger part of American history it has been viewed and used as an insult. Goddard points out that one can accept his theory of the term and still oppose the Redskins mascot without any contradiction. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2013 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Daily life

Very interesting insights from a Fortune 100 CEO on how part of this is the fault of business

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Thoughtful, deliberate, and—dare I say?—pragmatic. Quite an interesting read and how everyone is trying in his/her own way. Lydia DePillis writes in Wonkblog:

On Friday, we noted that CEOs of major American companies are not a little exasperated at what’s going on in Washington. Some of them, though, recognize that they were part of the problem to begin with. World Fuel Services chairman Paul Stebbins — a Georgetown government major who now runs a company ranked 74 on the Fortune 100 — didn’t need much prompting to describe how things went wrong, how corporate guys are withholding money from PACs that aren’t part of the solution, and why they’d rather pay more taxes to make the uncertainty go away.

Lydia DePillis: So you were involved with Fix the Debt from the very early stages. Did anything come out of the first round of alarm-raising?Paul Stebbins: Let’s start with the basic fact that business was part of the problem. In August of 2011, I was meeting with the Business Roundtable in D.C., and most business guys were running around the world being busy running their corporations and not paying a lot of attention in a general way. The idea was, much as you may not like Washington, eventually they’ll get in a room and make a decision, and you may or may not like it, but things will function. That was the case up until the August of 2011. And when 2011 hit and the President and the Speaker of the House were not able to come to an agreement, and we basically threatened the full faith and credit of the United States, the business community freaked out. Because the enormity of that crisis was so profound, we just could not believe that things could possibly be that bad.

I’ll tell you, I just showed up to a dinner in Washington and I was sitting next to Saxby Chambliss, Mark Warner, Mark Udall, Alice Rivlin, Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, Kay Hagan, Jeanne Shaheen, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and they’re all saying, ‘we’re in real trouble. This thing is really, really bad and we don’t have a way out of the box.’ So we engage, we raise a lot of money, and the most interesting thing that came out of it — the business world, it’s not unlike Congress, getting 150 senior business people to coalesce around anything is quite extraordinary in its own right. So it elevated out of the realm of the provincial business interests into a larger sense of citizenship.

We have a higher duty of care to engage this issue. It is grossly reckless to watch the long term business trajectory of the U.S. to be at such risk. And we are part of the pathology that got us here. We’ve all had our K Street lobbyists who are part of the problem. You’ve got the classic narrative: Progressives say, ‘fat cat CEOs want to throw grandma into the snow, and all their special tax interests.’ And then you’ve got the Club for Growth that thinks we sold them out.

The business community is fundamentally pragmatic. There’s a sense of, ‘can’t we get in a room and just fix this thing.’ Now, the problem with that is that CEOs are kind of naive. You come to Washington, you think you’ve got all this great data — debt to GDP ratio, and what the interests rates will be, $12 trillion in net debt, Medicare’s bankrupt in 13 years, Social Security’s gone in 20, okay, we get all that, so why can’t we fix it?

The reality is, you go over to Capitol Hill and you say to some guy, ‘why can’t you guys get in a rom and fix this thing?’ And they nod at you very politely and say ‘that was very nice of you to come, thank you for your input, you can go home now.’ Because their reality is, the Club for Growth is telling every single Republican member of Congress ‘we’re going to raise $5 million to beat you in a primary if you even mention the word revenue.’ And AARP is telling every Democratic member of Congress, ‘if you even mention the word entitlement reforms, which is all that throw grandma into the snow stuff, we’re going to raise $5 million and beat you in a primary.’ And what makes a politician’s life worth living? Reelection. So the CEOs had a bit of naiveté about the political realities of what makes it so hard for a lot of well-intentioned people to actually get to yes.

The thing that got the business community catalyzed is you cannot have this reckless, nihilistic, fundamentalist, ideologically driven governance. That ultimately, advocacy can’t trump governance.

So we did a lot of work to bring to bear pressure, and to also provide political cover for those who were really trying to do the right thing. And I could name a lot of people on the Hill who are trying to do the right thing. But then you get into a political cycle which was very difficult during the presidential campaign, because it’s all about what side you’re on, and don’t you dare mention this, don’t you dare mention that.

And by the way, immigration, education, energy, infrastructure, frozen. Nothing’s happening. So when the US has the opportunity to be growing at 3 percent-plus GDP, we’re dithering around at 1.8 percent, an I’ll tell you what, at 2 percent GDP, large corporations aren’t going to hire, because you’re just treading water. And what a shame, because you’ve got Europe is a basket case, they’ve got 10 years of disaster ahead of them. China’s a mess, financially. And and the US could be blowing the doors off it, but the worst enemy is us. This is self-imposed. So shame on us.

I’m an entrepreneur, I started my company in my 20s, and it’s now a Fortune 74 company with $40 billion in sales. I’m not just a Harvard MBA guy. I’m the American dream, and it never occurred to me that my board of directors would be talking about risk analysis, and the U.S. government would be one of those risks.

LD: But wait, was there ever really a happy time when everything worked smoothly in Washington? 

PS: When I worked in Congress, for a guy named Tim Wirth, back then, if you were a young freshman Congressman, and you picked up the sword and argued with the Speaker of the House, your parking space would be in Anacostia, you’ll be on the dog catcher committee, you’d you would get no money from the party, so you better sit down, shut up, and listen, because you don’t know anything, you’re low on the totem pole. Now today, John Boehner, if he tries to punish one of these firebrands coming out of the conservative wing of his caucus, they wear it as a badge of honor. Look, I had the chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee, Fred Upton, tell me that he got into an argument with one of these young guys on his committee about the defunding of Affordable Care Act. Well the argument was ‘look, Energy and Commerce had 50 hearings on that bill. Like it or not, it passed. The president signed it. The Supreme Court upheld it. So you don’t get to pick a bill you don’t like and link it to the entire financial well being of the United States.; Well the response is, ‘I didn’t come here to govern.’ Well what did you come here for? What did you come here for? To burn it to the ground?

So when you talk about getting back to the fife and drum and getting back to American roots, are you kidding me? This is so antithetical to everything that America has been about.

So there’s a sense in the business community that this is just appalling. You don’t get to default on the United States. I’ve got 70 offices in 26 countries. I’ve got CEOs and government leaders around the world who take me aside privately and say ‘what on earth are you doing over there? If you can’t get this right, how the hell are we going to get this right?’

And all this stuff about China and India and Brazil? Baloney. We are still 24 percent of the world’s GDP and we are the flywheel that drives all those other economies. And we are out to lunch.D: So now having realized your naivete, are you going to play the same game as the Club for Growth and AARP and fund candidates who agree with you?. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2013 at 1:40 pm

Soup impromptu

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I made a pinto bean soup yesterday: 1 lb pinto beans and 1 cup Gen-Ji-Mai 12- grain, which completes the protein. (I know I don’t have to complete the protein in the same meal, much less the same dish, but I like to get it taken care of.) Plus we put some shredded mozzarella cheese in the bowl as well.

It was a pretty typical soup: an onion, garlic, celery, carrot, all chopped, and a can of diced tomatoes. I also added some fish sauce for depth. The innovation was a Korean radish I had bought at the Asian market (where I first discovered the Gen-Ji-Mai 12 grain). I diced it relatively small and added that, too. It was not only yummy, it lightened up the soup remarkably. It was more like a summer soup, though served hot.

I would also have added parsley if I had had some. Hmm. Maybe today.

The guy at the Asian Market told me that many people mix the Gen-Ji-Mai half and half with white rice when they cook it: the 12-grain mix is somewhat chewy (which I like) and the white rice is softer, plus the 12-grain is relatively expensive, so this stretches it: white rice as a 12-grain helper.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2013 at 9:05 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Recalling the movie anecdote

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I think I have the names for the earlier anecdote. In chatting with David Selznick in the 1940s, two executives chided him about The Four Feathers, a British film that had been enormously popular, and asked him why he hadn’t bought that story. “Because I already own it,” he said. “I have Gunga Din.” And after thinking about it, they realized that it was indeed the same story.

I cannot find where I read the anecdote, and it’s been so long since I’ve seen the two movies that I can’t be sure the story even makes sense. But it gives me a good exccuse to watch them again, back to back.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2013 at 8:59 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Great shave, good lather

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SOTD 29 Sept 2013

Very fine shave today. The lather worked, but it certainly was thinner by the third pass. I decided not to go with a soft brush, but instead used the Mühle silvertip, which is a reasonably dense and firm silvertip. I loaded at great length, and I had a good lather, but by the last pass, though I had plenty of lather to shave with, it was thin enough to see through. I have yet to achieve a creamy lather with this soap, nor do I find the lather especially thick. So far, it’s okay, though, and certainly one can shave with it.

The shave with my Feather AS-D1 holding a relatively fresh Feather blade, was typical of the Feather: smooth, comfortable, trouble-free, and a close to BBS result. A good splash of Paul Sebastian, and I’m set.

I generally haven’t shaved on Sunday, but today I’m going to meet with some Friends, so I thought I should be reasonably spruced up. If I continue, I’ll make Saturday my no-shave day, which probably makes more sense anyway.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2013 at 8:50 am

Posted in Shaving

America’s creeping police state

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I have to admit that the trend worries me. Not only do we have complete surveillance of all our digital and electronic communications, but more and more police forces are being remade along military lines: the SWAT teams. These do not do ordinary police work but serve as shock troops. And every city is getting them. Fred Branfman writes in Salon:

For those alarmed by the steady growth of lawless, violent and authoritarian U.S. Executive power for the last 50 years, the events of the past few months have been exciting. The emergence of a de facto coalition of progressives and conservatives opposing the National Defense Authorization Act law giving the Executive the right to unilaterally detain or execute American citizens without a trial, and NSA mass surveillance of phone and Internet data, has been unprecedented, and offers the first hope in 70 years that Executive power can be curbed

The most important development has been the public and congressional reaction to President Obama’s proposal to strike Syria. A huge majority of the American people opposed even a limited military action by the Executive Branch. Reading the polls, the President decided to seek congressional authorization for a limited military action. For the first time in living memory, Congress clearly opposed him. It is too soon to say what this will mean for the future, but the implications clearly extend beyond just this particular strike or President.

The main arena besides the Middle East where the issue of the Executive Branch vs. Congress and the American people will play out in coming months will concern attempts to limit not only Executive surveillance of innocent Americans, but its other assaults on the very foundation of democracy itself.

The fundamental issue involved amidst the ongoing cascade of revelations about NSA wrongdoing is this: what must be done to roll back the Executive Branch’s creation of a surveillance state, which is just one more major economic crisis or 9/11—as even centrists like Bob Woodward and Tom Friedman warn—from becoming a police-state.

Most of the focus until now has been on trying to absorb the dimensions of the surveillance state we have suddenly learned we are living in since June 6. But it is now time to focus on the actions needed to end its assaults on democracy.

This is not a simple question, either politically or technically. Politically, it is impossible to envision ending the surveillance state without a broad left-right coalition both in Congress and among the public devoted to doing so. But it will be difficult to maintain a coalition of progressives and Tea Partiers, liberals and conservatives, who neither trust nor respect one another—particularly when fought by an Executive that will hit back against attempts to control it with everything it has.

The technical questions are even trickier. . .

Continue reading. It’s a long article, and the author makes some specific recommendations.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2013 at 12:12 pm

Sen. Ron Wyden: NSA ‘repeatedly deceived the American people’

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Glenn Greenwald has a very good column in the Guardian on the recent NSA hearing. I am SO glad Sen. Feinstein is not running for re-election. The column begins:

The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday held a hearing, ostensibly to investigate various issues raised about the NSA‘s activities. What the hearing primarily achieved instead was to underscore what a farce the notion of Congressional oversight over the NSA is.

In particular, the current chair of the Senate Committee created in the mid-1970s to oversee the intelligence community just so happens to be one of the nation’s most steadfast and blind loyalists of and apologists for the National Security State: Dianne Feinstein. For years she has abused her position to shield and defend the NSA and related agencies rather than provide any meaningful oversight over it, which is a primary reason why it has grown into such an out-of-control and totally unaccountable behemoth.

Underscoring the purpose of yesterday’s hearing (and the purpose of Feinstein’s Committee more broadly): the witnesses the Committee first heard from were all Obama officials – Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander, Deputy Attorney James Cole – who vehemently defended every aspect of the NSA. At the conclusion of their testimony, Feinstein announced that it was very, very important to hear from the two non-governmental witnesses the Committee had invited:virulent NSA defender Ben Wittes of the Brooking Institution and virulent NSA defender Timothy Edgar, a former Obama national security official. Hearing only from dedicated NSA apologists as witnesses: that’s “oversight” for Dianne Feinstein and her oversight Committee.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner stated the obvious to Gen. Alexander: “a lot of Americans have lost trust in what you’re doing.” But of course they all spent the entire afternoon blaming Snowden and “the media” for this development rather than taking any responsibility themselves. The very idea that meaningful reform of the NSA will come out of this annexed, captured, corrupted Committee is ludicrous on its face.

But there are two members of that Committee who actually do take seriously its oversight mandate: Democrats Ron Wyden and Mark Udall. Those twospent years publicly winking and hinting that the NSA under President Obama was engaged in all sorts of radical and abusive domestic surveillance (although – despite the absolute immunity protection they enjoy as Senators under the Constitution – they took no action, and instead waited for Edward Snowden (who had no such immunity) to bravely step up and reveal to the American people specifically what these two Senators kept hinting at).

Wyden spoke yesterday for 6 minutes – part of of it as monologue and part of it questioning Gen. Alexander – and it’s really worth watching the video, embedded below. The Oregon Democrat condemned what he called “the intrusive, constitutionally flawed surveillance system” the NSA built. About Snowden’s whistleblowing, he said that NSA officials should have known from “a quick read of history, in America, the truth always managed to come out.” And his primary point was this: “the leadership of NSA built an intelligence collection system that repeatedly deceived the American people.”

Indeed, if I had to pick the single most revealing aspect of this entire NSA scandal – and there are many revealing ones about many different realms – it would be that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2013 at 11:59 am

Is Iran out of the US War Queue? The Twilight of the Hawks

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My previous post ended with some stuff on Iran, which was included because of the main point of the post: the US press serving as a propaganda arm of the government. Juan Cole has a very interesting post on the Iran situation:

The short telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday may or may not lead to a successful diplomatic resolution of US-Iranian conflicts, especially over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program. But if it does, how will the hawks in Washington survive?

The US is an unusually war-like country. Since 1963 it has launched a military action on average every 40 months. It is to the extent that the US is still at war in Afghanistan after 12 years, and many Americans may not even realize it.

Washington hawks always have a war queue, knowing that their campaign supporters in the war industries expect it of them. Iraq was in the war queue in the 1990s. Since the fall of Baghdad in 2003, Iran has been the number one state in the war queue. This is so even though Iran is not a superpower or even a regional power. It hasn’t invaded another country in at least a century and a half. Its annual military budget is on the order of Singapore and Norway. It has a population slightly larger than France.

The point of having an enemies’ list is only in part in order to curb an enemy. It serves to scare the public and rally them around the politicians and make them willing to give up personal liberties or forget about being upset at being ruled on behalf of a handful of large corporations.

Putting a country in the war queue requires demonizing its leader, twisting his words to make him seem aggressive, and exaggerating his capabilities versus the US. Even Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced Stalin’s crimes, was depicted in the US as a menace who pledged, “We will bury you!” What Khrushchev actually had said was, “We’ll still be here when your capitalist system is dead and buried.” He was wrong but he wasn’t threatening to bury anyone. The Soviet Union’s economy was never more than half that of the US, and its military was no match for the American, but Americans were taught to be mortally afraid of the Soviets, what with their challenge to … gasp … the supremacy of private property.

Likewise, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s quotation of an old statement by Ruhollah Khomeini that “The occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” — a hope that Zionism would collapse the way Communism had in 1991, was transformed by American “journalism” into an aggressive threat to wipe Israel off the map. This, despite repeated Iranian assertions that they had a no first strike policy, and that they would never slaughter noncombatants, and despite the laughable character of the proposition that a weak country very distant from Israel could menace it despite Tel Aviv’s stockpile of hundreds of nuclear weapons, and its poison gas and other weapons capabilities. Iran does not have an atomic bomb or chemical weapons.

The significance of Friday’s phone call is that Iran may be removed from the war queue. Current president Hassan Rouhani is harder to demonize than his quirky, populist predecessor. Twenty years of breathless allegations that Iran is 6 months from having an atomic bomb have raised questions about why the Israelis and the American hawks keep being wrong (not to mention, why the kettle is calling the oven black– Israel and the US are nuclear powers but Iran is not).

The Israeli hawks have been promoting Iran as among the top challenges to the West since the early 1990s, aware that the loss of the Soviet Union and then Iraq left them nothing with which to frighten the American public. The Israel lobbies are horrified that they might now lose the Iran bogeyman.Likewise, the US war industries that back right wing senators and congressional representatives are putting their sock puppets such as Lindsey Graham up to seeking authorization for a war on Iran.

The unacknowledged elephant in the room is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2013 at 10:48 am

Posted in Iran

Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media

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Lisa O’Carroll has an interesting post on a Guardian blog:

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

It doesn’t take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist”.

He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.

Don’t even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an “independent” Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. “The Pakistanis put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report,” he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.

The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.

“It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],” he declares in an interview with the Guardian.

“It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn’t happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.

He isn’t even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.

Snowden changed the debate on surveillance

He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “changed the whole nature of the debate” about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government’s policy.

“Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we’ve all written the notion there’s constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it’s real now,” Hersh says.

“Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn’t touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game,” he adds, before qualifying his remarks.

“But I don’t know if it’s going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters ‘al-Qaida, al-Qaida’ and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic,” he says.

Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London’s summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.

Hope of redemption

Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption. . .

Continue reading.

And, speaking of the American media, Glenn Greenwald points out a totally false statement made by Brian Williams on NBC news: a fabrication that is nothing other than propaganda. Truly, when the media starts simply running propaganda, we are in a bad place.

And, speaking of Iran, check out this post by Juan Cole on Informed Comment a couple of days ago. It provides some evidence that in fact Iran has indeed been working toward nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons. And if it is open to UN inspections (something that Israel, for example, has never allowed), then I would say that things are on a very good path indeed. That post begins:

The United States, France, Germany, the UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE form a bloc that are convinced that Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is intended ultimately to produce a bomb. Iran maintains that the program is solely intended to produce fuel for nuclear reactors, which will allow it to avoid using its petroleum for domestic energy and earn the kind of foreign exchange with it that will allow the country to remain independent.

Iran is demonstrating that it wants to reduce tensions with the West over its nuclear enrichment program, which it insists is meant for solely peaceful purposes. President Hassan Rouhani will address the UN today, and John Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the highest-level contact the two countries have had since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

One sticking point was Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material, which it is reducing by turning it into fuel rods that can only be used to power its medical reactor.

Iran has a medical reactor that uses plates enriched to 19.75%, the highest grade of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU). The medical reactor produces isotopes for treating cancer. Iran had purchased fuel for it from Argentina, which has since mothballed its enrichment program, and when Iran ran out, it began enriching to that level itself. It accumulated 240 kilograms (550 pounds) of high grade LEU, which made the West nervous. It is marginally easier to turn uranium enriched to 19.75% into bomb grade, or 90% enriched.

It isn’t an entirely rational nervousness. Iran does not have the capacity to enrich to bomb grade, and anyway couldn’t carry out such an operation while being actively inspected by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency. The Western press often reported that Iran’s stock of uranium enriched to 19.75% could be made into a bomb in only a year. But they neglected to report that there is nada, zilch, zero evidence of Iran being anywhere near able to pull such a thing off technically. Moreover, Iran’s nuclear facilities are under international inspection, and no country being actively inspected has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, has confirmed that Iran has turned 40% of its stock of high-grade LEU into fuel rods for the medical reactor. Once made into fuel rods, the material cannot be weaponized. So Iran only has 140 kilograms left of the 19.75% enriched uranium left. That isn’t enough for a bomb even if Iran knew how to make one and had the facilities to do so, which it doesn’t.

Read the whole thing. It sounds somewhat as though the “axis of evil” bit was mainly propaganda. But read the entire post.

UPDATE: And the comments as well. The comments on Informed Comment generally do seem to be informed. For example, this one to the post last mentioned:

Charley James
09/24/2013 at 6:02 am

Dexter Filkins wrote a brilliant piece in the current New Yorker (www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/09/30/130930fa_fact_filkins?mbid=social_retweet%3Fmbid%3Dsocial_retweet) on how Qassam Suleimani – who Carlie Pierce at Esquire described as “the Zelig of Middle East spookdom” – was quietly working with the Americans before and during the Afghan invasion until David Frum put the useless, meaningless and inflammatory “Axis of Evil” phrase in George Bush’s mouth.

Basically, the Filkins article describes how Iran, through Mr. Suleimani, was helping the US with intelligence and other information about al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11, holding regular meetings with Ryan Crocker at the US Embassy in Kabul until The White House lumped iran, Iraq and North Korea together. Although Mr. Suleimani was no do-gooder, he was Tehran’s vehicle to attempt to begin a normalization process until the neo-con’s cut him off at the knees.

Hopefully, this time around the US will be a bit more subtle – and accurate – in its assessment of the intentions of the Iranians. It’s about time that AIPAC and Jerusalem stop dictating American policy in the region, which I say as both an American and a Jew.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2013 at 10:23 am

Posted in Iran, Media

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