Later On

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

Archive for March 2014

Kitten cuteness and a nice story

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Apparently the dog is very timid and shy, too afraid of other dogs to have companionship.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 8:58 pm

Posted in Cats, Video

Very cool food-exercise-weight log for OS X

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Diet Controller, $5 from the Apple Store, is really quite good. I just got it yesterday. The weight has crept up, and it’s time to Take Steps. I have had such excellent luck with tracking grocery costs (that is, it painlessly reduced the amount I spent on groceries, just from seeing what I was spending) and tracking charge card expenses as I made them (which makes you conscious of which expenses are—not to put too fine a point on  it—foolish and thus painlessly reduces charging), that I decided that keeping a food log would be the most effective route—plus that’s common knowledge anyway.

So I bought the program and started using it. It’s quite similar to FitDay, which I used in Windows, and much easier to use: better layout, more obvious choices, and so on.

So today is my first full day, and I made an excellent dinner:

4 chicken thighs

Cut out the bone and strip off the skin and put that into a pot with:

2 c water
pinch of salt
a dozen grindings of black pepper
juice of two lemons
1 onion, cut into chunks
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 stalk of celery, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp Bristol Cream Sherry

Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes. Add:

fresh tarragon leaves, chopped — about 1-2 Tbsp

Simmer 5 minutes, strain into pot. I gnaw on the bones, and discard bones and vegetables.

Add 1 cup Cal-Rose medium grain rice, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes until all liquid absorbed.

That’s the rice part. Here’s the chicken part, and I actually started this first, got it simmering, and then started the rice:

Trim, peel, and chop about 1 dozen shallots, but do it in parallel rather than in series—that is trim them all as a first step, peel them all as a second, and then chop.

Heat 1/4 c olive oil in large sauté pan, add the shallots, a pinch of salt, and a dozen grindings of black pepper, and sauté over medium-high heat for around 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Continue cooking until the shallots are beginning to brown slightly.

Add:

12 cloves garlic, minced coarsely
the meat from the chicken thighs, cut into chunks

Sauté over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is somewhat browned. Then add

1 26-oz can Italian plum tomatoes (I had whole tomatoes, so cut them up with scissors)
1 16-oz diced plum tomatoes
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Tarragon leaves
1/2 c (or more) pitted Kalamata olives, chopped coarsely
6 oz paneer cheese, cubed in 1/2″ cubes

Cover the pan and simmer for around 30 minutes or more.

I initially was going to use just the 26 oz can of tomatoes, but it didn’t seem enough. I didn’t have another can, so I used the 16-oz can of diced tomatoes. That total amount seemed about right. As you can see, I was using up the tarragon I had on hand.

The paneer cheese was an experiment. It wasn’t bad at all.

So that’s what we had for dinner. It turned out to be very tasty indeed, especially the rice. Well, and the tomato stuff, too.

After I finished it, I was thinking about getting a little more rice and tomato chicken, when I remembered that then I would have to enter the food, and then I suddenly recalled I was back on the “no bites” rule: no food to enter my mouth except at mealtimes. Somehow that had already slipped my mind.

Well, that’s easy enough. No more food tonight. Already a benefit from using the food log. But then I became aware that I was thinking about the additional bowl of rice and tomato chicken—obsessively so. And I think of it from various angles. something is going on in my unconscious, because I continue to be driven toward having another bowl, and it’s certainly not conscious. Sometimes I think of the taste and the texture as I eat it, sometimes I sort of rehearse getting up and going into the kitchen and dishing it up, and so on. And I catch myself, think of something else, and then suddenly I’m thinking of having more. It’s as though I’m driven toward it.

Something is definitely afoot in my unconscious, because I feel pushed toward having another bowl, and the obsessive thinking and the impulse to eat is certainly not something I’m consciously doing. That is, I’m conscious of it, but it’s like an earworm. A mouthworm.

It’s interesting to me to experience it. And already I can see the Diet Controller being helpful.

I need to get out the measuring cups.

 

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 7:40 pm

Prison is not the place for him

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I’m astonished by the sentence of 25 years in prison. The guy is obviously having some sort of schizophrenic break (hearing voices, 23 years old), and he should be in a (secure) mental-health facility. Oh, wait… we’re not that kind of country. We’re the kind that puts mentally ill people in prisons—and clearly not with an eye to helping some incapacitated.

At any rate, read the story.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 5:59 pm

Sen. Patrick Leahy loves Senatorial privileges more than he loves the country

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It’s pretty evident that Sen. Leahy puts the country’s welfare very much second to Senatorial privilege. The NY Times editorial:

The job of federal judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for more than eight years, one of the longest vacancies of 83 on the federal bench around the country. Last June, President Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker, a federal prosecutor, for the position, but she hasn’t even received a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee because Richard Burr, the state’s Republican senator, is blocking her.

The strange part is that Mr. Burr himself recommended her for the seat in 2009. But now he’s changed his mind and won’t say why, exploiting an archaic Senate tradition to make sure Mr. Obama can’t fill that vacancy.

That tradition, known as the blue slip, gives senators the ability to block any judicial nomination in their state, no explanation necessary, before it even reaches the stage of a committee hearing — never mind the Senate floor. There’s no formal rule enshrining this tradition, and the committee’s chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, could end it tomorrow. But he has inexplicably clung to the practice, preventing worthy nominees from being confirmed and allowing petty Republican politics to reduce Mr. Obama’s influence on the bench.

If a home-state senator won’t return a blue piece of paper agreeing to a judicial nomination, Mr. Leahy won’t give the nominee a committee hearing or a vote. It’s a form of senatorial courtesy that goes back to 1917 or so, giving senators an anti-democratic power never contemplated in the Constitution.

As with the filibuster, members of both parties have abused the privilege, but only when it suits them. When Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah, was the chairman of the committee during the presidency of George W. Bush, he would allow nominations to proceed over the objections of both home-state senators, as long as the president “consulted” with them first.

Senator Leahy has not the done the same for President Obama and his nominees, thus undercutting the important Senate rules change in November that prevented a minority of senators from blocking any executive nomination. Blue slips, or the lack thereof, have held up 11 judicial nominees; there are also 30 vacancies with no nominees because it is clear that a Republican senator would object.

The administration has been reduced to nominating a few unpalatable judges in the hopes of cutting deals. Texas has nine court vacancies, but its two senators won’t work with the White House on any nominees.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Mr. Leahy claims that the Senate will always defer to home-state senators. But, if he were to eliminate the practice, he would force senators to raise their objections publicly.

Now they hide behind a procedure that allows them to block able nominees because they want one of their cronies to get the job, or don’t want liberals or minorities on the bench or are afraid that any appearance of collaboration would rile the Tea Party.

Senators with real complaints should state them on the floor and hope to persuade a majority. At the moment, unfortunately, Republicans believe they have a serious chance of regaining the Senate in November, and they seem to have no interest in approving any of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominations through the end of his term. That’s an abuse of the system, and Mr. Leahy is running out of time to stop it.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Jobs and skills and zombies

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Paul Krugman has a good blog post:

A few months ago, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, and Marlene Seltzer, the chief executive of Jobs for the Future, published an article in Politico titled “Closing the Skills Gap.” They began portentously: “Today, nearly 11 million Americans are unemployed. Yet, at the same time, 4 million jobs sit unfilled” — supposedly demonstrating “the gulf between the skills job seekers currently have and the skills employers need.”

Actually, in an ever-changing economy there are always some positions unfilled even while some workers are unemployed, and the current ratio of vacancies to unemployed workers is far below normal. Meanwhile, multiple careful studies have found no support for claims that inadequate worker skills explain high unemployment.

But the belief that America suffers from a severe “skills gap” is one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it’s true. It’s a prime example of a zombie idea — an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die.

And it does a lot of harm. Before we get there, however, what do we actually know about skills and jobs?

Think about what we would expect to find if there really were a skills shortage. Above all, we should see workers with the right skills doing well, while only those without those skills are doing badly. We don’t.

Yes, workers with a lot of formal education have lower unemployment than those with less, but that’s always true, in good times and bad. The crucial point is that unemployment remains much higher among workers at all education levels than it was before the financial crisis. The same is true across occupations: workers in every major category are doing worse than they were in 2007.

Some employers do complain that they’re finding it hard to find workers with the skills they need. But show us the money: If employers are really crying out for certain skills, they should be willing to offer higher wages to attract workers with those skills. In reality, however, it’s very hard to find groups of workers getting big wage increases, and the cases you can find don’t fit the conventional wisdom at all. It’s good, for example, that workers who know how to operate a sewing machine are seeing significant raises in wages, but I very much doubt that these are the skills people who make a lot of noise about the alleged gap have in mind.

And it’s not just the evidence on unemployment and wages that refutes the skills-gap story. Careful surveys of employers — like those recently conducted by researchers at both M.I.T. and the Boston Consulting Group — similarly find, as the consulting group declared, that “worries of a skills gap crisis are overblown.”

The one piece of evidence you might cite in favor of the skills-gap story is the sharp rise in long-term unemployment, which could be evidence that many workers don’t have what employers want. But it isn’t. At this point, we know a lot about the long-term unemployed, and they’re pretty much indistinguishable in skills from laid-off workers who quickly find new jobs. So what’s their problem? It’s the very fact of being out of work, which makes employers unwilling even to look at their qualifications.

So how does the myth of a skills shortage not only persist, but remain part of what “everyone knows”? Well, there was a nice illustration of the process last fall, when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

The NSA divulges top-secret information when it serves to promote the NSA

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Glenn Greenwald points out in The Intercept a peculiar inconsistency in the NSA’s position:

Over the last 40 years, the U.S. government has relied on extreme fear-mongering to demonize transparency. In sum, every time an unwanted whistleblower steps forward, we are treated to the same messaging: You’re all going to die because of these leakers and the journalists who publish their disclosures! Lest you think that’s hyperbole, consider this headline from last week based on an interview with outgoing NSA chief Keith Alexander:

keith1

The NSA engages in this fear-mongering not only publicly but also privately. As part of its efforts to persuade news organizations not to publish newsworthy stories from Snowden materials, its representatives constantly say the same thing: If you publish what we’re doing, it will endanger lives, including NSA personnel, by making people angry about what we’re doing in their countries and want to attack us.

But whenever it suits the agency to do so–meaning when it wants to propagandize on its own behalf–the NSA casually discloses even its most top secret activities in the very countries where such retaliation is most likely. Anonymous ex-officials boasted to the Washington Post last July in detail about the role the agency plays in helping kill people by drones. The Post dutifully headlined its story: “NSA Growth Fueled by Need to Target Terrorists.”

And now, Keith Alexander’s long-time deputy just fed one of the most pro-NSA reporters in the country, the Los Angeles Times‘ Ken Dilanian, some extraordinarily sensitive, top secret information about NSA activities in Iraq, which the Times published in an article that reads exactly like an NSA commercial:

FT. MEADE, Md. — In nearly nine years as head of the nation’s largest intelligence agency, Gen. Keith Alexander presided over a vast expansion of digital spying, acquiring information in a volume his predecessors would have found unimaginable.

In Iraq, for example, the National Security Agency went from intercepting only about half of enemy signals and taking hours to process them to being able to collect, sort and make available every Iraqi email, text message and phone-location signal in real time, said John “Chris” Inglis, who recently retired as the NSA’s top civilian.

The overhaul, which Alexander ordered shortly after taking leadership of the agency in August 2005, enabled U.S. ground commanders to find out when an insurgent leader had turned on his cellphone, where he was and whom he was calling.

“Absolutely invaluable,” retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview as he described the NSA’s efforts, which led to the dismantling of networks devoted to burying roadside bombs.

John “Chris” Inglis just revealed to the world that the NSA was–is?–intercepting every single email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time for the entire country of Iraq. Obviously, the fact that the NSA has this capability, and used it, is Top Secret. What authority did Chris Inglis have to disclose this? Should a Department of Justice leak investigation be commenced? The Post, last July, described Alexander’s “collect-it-all” mission in Iraq which then morphed into his approach on U.S. soil (“For NSA chief, terrorist threat drives passion to ‘collect it all,’ observers say”), but did not confirm the full-scale collection capabilities the NSA had actually developed.

What makes this morning’s disclosure most remarkable is what happened with last week’s Washington Post report on the MYSTIC program . . .

Continue reading. Read the whole article. The NSA simply cannot be trusted: its statements and positions are inconsistent and self-contradictory. Later in the article:

. . . This demonstrates how brazenly the NSA manipulates and exploits the consultation process in which media outlets are forced (mostly by legal considerations) to engage prior to publication of Top Secret documents: They’ll claim with no evidence that a story they don’t want published will “endanger lives,” but then go and disclose something even more sensitive if they think doing so scores them a propaganda coup. It also highlights how cynical and frivolous are their claims that whistleblowers and journalists Endanger National Security™ by reporting incriminating information about their activities which they have hidden, given how casuallyand frequently they disclose Top Secret information for no reason other than to advance their own PR interests. It’s the dynamic whereby the same administration that has prosecuted more leakers than all prior administrations combined freely leaks classified information to make Obama look tough or to help produce a pre-election hagiography film. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 1:00 pm

Reforming high-frequency trading

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The NY Times has a long extract from a new book by Michael Lewis on high-frequency trading and the technology behind it. I don’t fully follow all the explanations (in part, I suspect, because Michael Lewis doesn’t fully understand what he’s writing about), but it is interesting about how untrustworthy the financial service industry is. They often simply lie about what they’re doing.

Here’s a review of the book.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 9:52 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Perfect shave: The blade’s the key

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SOTD 31 Mar 2014

A totally wonderful shave today. The tiny Vie-Long horsehair brush did a fine job and held plenty of lather for 3 passes, and the lather, from the VintageBladesLLC.com private label soap was excellent. I like that soap a lot: as good as premium English soaps but less expensive.

The iKon Slant with the same Personna Lab Blue blade as previous shaves was supremely comfortable, removed the two-day stubble easily and efficiently, and left my face BBS. A splash of Krampert’s Finest Bay Rum—pleasantly moisturizing—finished the job and started the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2014 at 9:27 am

Posted in Shaving

The fruits of denial

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Timothy Eagan writes in the NY Times:

DON’T tell me, please, that nobody saw one of the deadliest landslides in American history coming. Say a prayer or send a donation for a community buried under a mountain of mud along a great river in Washington State, the Stillaguamish. Praise the emergency workers still trying to find a pulse of life in a disaster that left 25 people dead and 90 missing.

But enough with the denial, the willful ignorance of cause and effect, the shock that one of the prettiest valleys on the planet could turn in a flash from quiet respite in the foothills of the North Cascades to a gravelly graveyard.

“This was a completely unforeseen slide,” said John Pennington, the emergency manager of Snohomish County. “It was considered very safe.” He said this on Monday, two days after the equivalent of three million dump truck loads of wet earth heaved down on the river near the tiny town of Oso. Unforeseen — except for 60 years’ worth of warnings, most notably a report in 1999 that outlined “the potential for a large catastrophic failure” on the very hillside that just suffered a large catastrophic failure.

It is human nature, if not the American way, to look potential disaster in the face and prefer to see a bright and shining lie. The “taming” of this continent, in five centuries and change, required a mighty mustering of cognitive dissonance. As a result, most of us live with the danger of wildfire, earthquake, tornado, flooding, drought, hurricane or yet-to-be-defined and climate-change-influenced superstorm. A legacy of settlement is the delusion that large-scale manipulation of the natural world can be done without consequence.

What happened when the earth moved on a quiet Saturday morning in the Stillaguamish Valley was foretold, in some ways, by the relationship that people have with that sylvan slice of the Pacific Northwest.

Almost 25 years ago, I went into one of the headwater streams of the Stillaguamish with Pat Stevenson, a biologist with the American Indian tribe that bears the same name as the river and claims an ancient link to that land. The rain was Noah-level that day — just as it’s been for most of this March.

We drove upriver, winding along the drainage of Deer Creek, one of the main tributaries of the Stillaguamish. We couldn’t see Whitehorse Mountain, the dreamy peak that towers over the valley, that day. We could barely see beyond our windshield wipers. At last, we arrived at an open wound near road’s end. I’d never witnessed anything like it: an active slide, sloughing mud and clay down into the formerly pristine creek. We watched huge sections of land peel and puddle — an ugly and terrifying new landscape under creation before our eyes.

Stevenson pointed uphill, to bare, saturated earth that was melting, like candle wax, into the main mudslide. Not long ago, this had been a thick forest of old growth timber. But after it was excessively logged, every standing tree removed, there was nothing to hold the land in place during heavy rains. A federal survey determined that nearly 50 percent of the entire basin above Deer Creek had been logged over a 30-year period. It didn’t take a degree in forestry to see how one event led to the other.

The Stilly, as locals call the river, is well known to those who chase fish with a fly rod, and to native people who have been living off its bounty for centuries. Zane Grey, the Western novelist, called it the finest fishing river in the world for steelhead, the big seagoing trout that can grow to 40 pounds. What Stevenson showed me that day in a November storm was how one human activity, logging, was destroying the source of joy and sustenance for others. When the crack and groan of an entire hillside in collapse happened a week ago Saturday, I thought instantly of Stevenson and that gloomy day at Deer Creek.

And, sure enough, logging above the area of the current landslide appears to have gone beyond the legal limits, into the area that slid, according to a report in The Seattle Times.

Yes, but who wants to listen to warnings by pesky scientists, to pay heed to predictions by environmental nags, or allow an intrusive government to limit private property rights? That’s how these issues get cast. And that’s why reports like the ones done on the Stillaguamish get shelved. The people living near Oso say nobody ever informed them of the past predictions. . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 6:37 pm

Trying an offline blog editor

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And this is the first post. Someone the native WordPress visual editor has developed a problem in how it filters out extraneous HTML, so I thought I’d go for something a little different.

We’re having a quiet day, semi-rainy, sleepy kitties, and good books. Things could be worse.

UPDATE: It worked. The one I’m trying: Ecto, which has a 21-day free-trial period.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Software

Project to Improve Poor Children’s Intellect Led to Better Health, Data Show

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The governmental policy implications are obvious, I think. Sabrina Tavernise writes in the NY Times:

In 1972, researchers in North Carolina started following two groups of babies from poor families. In the first group, the children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities. The other group, aside from baby formula, got nothing. The scientists were testing whether the special treatment would lead to better cognitive abilities in the long run.

Forty-two years later, the researchers found something that they had not expected to see: The group that got care was far healthier, with sharply lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, and higher levels of so-called good cholesterol.

The study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that hardship in early childhood has lifelong health implications. But it goes further than outlining the problem, offering evidence that a particular policy might prevent it.

“This tells us that adversity matters and it does affect adult health,” said James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who led the data analysis. “But it also shows us that we can do something about it, that poverty is not just a hopeless condition.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 4:12 pm

Why the environmental fight is lost

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The outcome of the war on the environment is now obvious, and the environment loses. The reason is simple: you can go time after time after time defending the environment, and yet if just one time you lose—as in this article—and you have lost forever. Eventually, they’ll get a win, and when they do, a bit more environment is destroyed. And the natural environment is limited—and growing smaller annually through the process described: the occasional yet inevitable failure on some issue.

That, of course, is quite apart from the major devastation of climate change—but some in Congress, in a spectacular example of burying-head-in-sand, are determined to put an end to any discussion of that issue.

UPDATE: See also this article in Salon.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 1:15 pm

Permanently Temporary: The Truth About Temp Work in America

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Things in the US are not good, and yet the government cannot take effective (Keynesian) action. The government is blocked from acting in the general welfare—I’m speaking of the dynamics of the current Congress and the one immediately preceding—and the amount of economic suffering and hardship continues to increase. In the past, this combination has not worked out well in the long run.

Take a look at this article by Michael Grabell in the Pacific Standard.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:59 pm

Is the conviction of bin Laden’s son-in-law a triumph?

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Amy Davidsen has yet another thought-provoking article in the New Yorker. She’s worth following.

Eric Holder, the Attorney General, sounded very proud on Wednesday, after a jury in a lower Manhattan courtroom convicted Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, on three charges of terrorism and conspiracy. “This verdict is a major milestone in the government’s unrelenting efforts to pursue justice against those involved with the September 11 attacks,” Holder said in a statement. He said he could imagine “no more fitting outcome,” and was especially glad to have “proven that proceedings such as these can safely occur in the city I am proud to call home.”

In principle, this is all quite right. Abu Ghaith was arrested a year ago, indicted, and put on trial in open court. The public got to see the evidence against him, including images of him sitting next to bin Laden the day after 9/11, and of a speech from October 9, 2001, in which he said, “The Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, God willing, and there are thousands of young people who are as keen about death as Americans are about life.” Abu Ghaith took the stand in his own defense, describing the moment, in a cave in Afghanistan, when bin Laden told him that the World Trade Center had been leveled. He says he did not know about that particular plan beforehand, and prosecutors did not allege that he did. But they also persuaded a jury that he was not, as he argued, merely standing around, talking religion—that he had, as Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, put it, a “position in Al Qaeda’s homicidal hierarchy”—and was involved enough in Al Qaeda’s plans for the future to merit a conspiracy conviction. The jurors reached their verdict on the second day of deliberations. This is how terrorism trials work; this is what the Southern District of New York has accomplished dozens of times.

There was, though, one witness the defense wanted to testify but couldn’t bring to Manhattan: Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who says he masterminded the attack. The problem wasn’t that he’s in a cave somewhere; K.S.M., as he’s known, was captured in September, 2002. He has been detained at Guantánamo since 2006, and before that was held in various secret prisons. Unlike Abu Ghaith, on whom he now has an extra decade in American detention, he has not yet been convicted.

And that is the reality from which Holder’s statement is strangely detached. He went on to say: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:53 pm

Useful background reading regarding the Hobby Lobby lawsuit

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Nina Martin of ProPubica has compiled an excellent set of annotated links. Check out the article at Pacific Standard. Interesting how a corporation believes that it has the right to decide medical questions between a woman and her doctor, overriding the doctor’s authority (and mission). And it’s the corporation, not the owners, who would pay for contraception: a distinction whose utility is more appreciated in the other direction, in which it is the corporation, not the owners, who is held liable, fined, and otherwise punished for breaking the law. In that case, the owners are quick to draw a sharp distinction between owner and corporation. Well, that sharp distinction cuts both ways.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:44 pm

Cloud-based flashcard system

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Quizlet looks very cool. Check out this Cool Tools write-up. You can use decks that have been already made, though Anki (another excellent flashcard system) strongly suggests that it’s better to build your own decks from materials that you are studying.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Education, Software

US takes a break from condemning tyranny to celebrate Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia

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Just as the US condemns other nations for cyberspying, so the US condemns harsh dictatorships except for those it likes. Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:

Selecting the year’s single most brazen example of political self-delusion is never easy, but if forced to choose for 2013, I’d pick British Prime Minister David Cameron’s public condemnation of George Galloway. The Scottish MP had stood to question Cameron about the UK’s military support for Syrian rebels. As is typical for Western discourse, criticizing western government militarism was immediately equated with support for whatever tyrants those governments happened to be opposing at the time: “Some things come and go,” proclaimed the Prime Minister, “but there is one thing that is certain: wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have the support of [Galloway].”

What made Cameron’s statement so notable wasn’t the trite tactic of depicting opposition to western intervention as tantamount to support for dictators. That’s far too common to be noteworthy (if you oppose the war in Iraq, you are pro-Saddam; if you oppose intervention in Libya, you love Ghaddafi, if you oppose US involvement in Ukraine, you’re a shill for Putin, etc. etc.). What was so remarkable is that David Cameron – the person accusing Galloway of supporting every “brutal Arab dictator” he can find – is easily one of the world’s most loyal, constant, and generous supporters of the most brutal Arab despots. He has continuously lavished money, diplomatic support, arms and all sorts of obsequious praise on intensely repressive regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Egypt. That this steadfast supporter of the worst Arab dictators could parade around accusing others of supporting bad Arab regimes was about as stunning a display of western self-delusion as I could have imagined . . .

Until this week. Tommy Vietor was President’s Obama National Security Council spokesman during the first term. He left to form a consulting firm (along with Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau) that trades on his White House connections by forming messaging and communications strategies for corporations that have extensive business with the government, although he still literally adorns the walls of his home with multiple large posters of President Obama (see this remarkable 3-minute video profile of Vietor and his new work, which a friend sent with the title “the care and feeding of a young imperial bureaucrat” (it features a bonus pre-Snowden quote angrily condemning the Chinese for hacking)). Vietor’s function, which he performs quite faithfully, is simple: to express and embody the most conventional, defining views of official imperial Washington about itself. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:15 pm

Talking to infants and the impact of pre-K education

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post on outcomes from pre-K education, along with findings on the effects of talking to babies from the time they’re born.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Education, Science

NSA Put Merkel on List of 122 Targeted Leaders

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The power of the intelligence establishment continues unchecked. The pallid and partial reform suggested by President Obama apparently is apparently the most he was allowed. It seems increasingly likely that the intelligence bureaucracy (combined with the action arms—the CIA, FBI, Border Patrol, and the like—are starting to run the show and call the shots, refusing to be reined in for what doubtless seem good reasons to them. The fiction that they do not spy on commercial interests has already fallen. Ryan Gallagher discusses the latest revelations in The Intercept:

Secret documents newly disclosed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel on Saturday shed more light on how aggressively the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have targeted Germany for surveillance.

A series of classified files from the archive provided to reporters by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also seen by The Intercept, reveal that the NSA appears to have included Merkel in a surveillance database alongside more than 100 others foreign leaders. The documents also confirm for the first time that, in March 2013, the NSA obtained a top-secret court order against Germany as part of U.S. government efforts to monitor communications related to the country. Meanwhile, the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters targeted three German companies in a clandestine operation that involved infiltrating the companies’ computer servers and eavesdropping on the communications of their staff.

Der Spiegel, which has already sketched out over several stories the vast extent of American and British targeting of German people and institutions, broke the news last October that Merkel’s cellphone calls were being tapped by the NSA – sparking a diplomatic backlash that strained US-Germany relations. Now a new document, dated 2009, indicates that Merkel was targeted in a broader NSA surveillance effort. She appears to have been placed in the NSA’s so-called “Target Knowledge Base“ (TKB), which Der Spiegel described as the central agency database of individual targets. An internal NSA description states that employees can use it to analyze “complete profiles“ of targeted people.

A classified file demonstrating an NSA search system named Nymrod shows Merkel listed alongside other heads of state. Only 11 names are shown on the document, including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, and Columbia’s Alvaro Uribe – the list is in alphabetical order by first name – but it indicates that the full list contains 122 names. . .

Continue reading.

Of course, the NSA and President Obama denounce such actions as terribly wrong and totally unacceptable when done by other nations. The US will not judge itself by the standards it uses to judge other nations.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:01 pm

A one-mile walk: City vs. suburb

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Very interesting map/chart. And the title reminds me of the wonderful mystery story by Harry Kemelman that develops from the phrase, “A nine-mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain.”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 11:51 am

Posted in Daily life

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