Thursday, June 30, 2005

Announcing The Gym at Rhosgobel

I've decided to create a separate blog, The Gym at Rhosgobel, to use as an exercise log for my SO and myself. As I say in my initial post over there, the blog is not intended to be exciting or interesting to most folks. However, if you're curious about our exercise habits, you're welcome to take a look.

Oh yes, and if you see that we haven't exercised in a while, please nag us until we do exercise.

Automail in real life?

The Chicago Tribune has a story on a prosthetic limb that allows its wearer to actually feel what the limb is touching or holding; it sounds similar to automail in Full Metal Alchemist.

(Via /.)


The 31st meeting of the Tangled Bank Society has been posted at Science and sensibility, and The Carnival Of Education: Week 21 has been posted at Education Wonk.

In other news, the Tangled Bank now has an RSS feed for announcements.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Support the Boxer-Snow-Clinton-Collins Pesticide Testing Amendment

Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced an amendment to stop testing of pesticides on humans until the EPA develops strict ethical guidelines for said testing, and she is asking for people to urge their senators to support the amendment. The vote in the Senate occurs at noon EDT today, so get your feedback in soon; Senator Boxer even has a form letter you can use. Here's her statement on the need for the amendment:
In violation of routine ethical standards, the Bush Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is using studies that deliberately expose humans to dangerous pesticides to decide whether those pesticides should be legal.

This decision flies in the face of scientific practice and the sound policies of past Republican and Democratic EPA administrators including Carol Browner and Christie Todd Whitman.

A recent Congressional report commissioned by Rep. Henry Waxman and me found "serious and widespread deficiencies" in these studies. Moreover, it concluded that the "experiments appear to have inflicted harm on human subjects, failed to obtain informed consent, dismissed adverse outcomes, and lacked scientific validity."
[via Democratic Underground]

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The spirit of science

Yesterday was one of those days that make me realize why I love science.

First, a bit of background. I'm teaching a field course this summer, wherein the students will be identifying and collecting samples of all the non-vertebrate macroorganisms at a field site. Most of the students have been preparing for this course for the past few months by coming to voluntary meetings to help plan the trip. Just last week one of my students left me a note saying that she had arranged a tour of a local herbarium. I hadn't asked her to do that; she just went out and did it on her own, and as a result, yesterday I spent all day working with the curator of the herbarium.

Before going to the herbarium, we knew basically nothing about collecting plants (my campus no longer has a plant-collecting botanist on staff), and the student I was with hadn't even had an official botany class. In other words, we were complete novices, and it showed.

The museum curator didn't care about our lack of knowledge; he sat down with us and walked through how to collect and press plants, gave us advice on building our own presses, demonstrated their custom-built database system for logging plant specimens, and showed us a number of specimens. But his help didn't end there; after he and his staff took us out to lunch, he dug through his library to find some references that would be useful to us on our trip, and he loaned them to us for the next few months.

Keep in mind, this was the first time we'd ever met, our campuses have no official ties, and he'd only talked to my students a time or two before today. But he didn't care; he just wanted to help us prepare for our field work and learn how to collect plants, sharing his copious enthusiasm along the way. He's a great example of a true scientist: selfless, and so excited about what he does that he'll take a day sharing it with people he doesn't even know.

Monday, June 27, 2005


Today was one of those great days: I spent most of it working with some excellent field biologists, and then came back to my office and discovered that the college foundation had funded my equipment request. And they didn't just fund part of the request; they funded the whole thing, and then gave me a bit more money.

Woohoo! I'm so happy!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Key lime pie

Key lime pie

Key lime pie is surprisingly easy to make from scratch. Making the crust is as simple as grinding up some graham crackers (or buying graham cracker crumbs), mixing them with butter and sugar, and then pressing the mixture into a pan. The filling is only slightly more difficult: zest and squeeze a few limes, add some sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks, and you're ready to pour it into the crust and bake. Then all you have to do is chill the pie and top with whipped cream. That's it. Really.

Since Key lime pie is one of our favorite pies, and we baked one this past week, it's this week's second end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

Crumb crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup sugar

Pie filling:
1 can (15 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3-4 teaspoons grated lime zest

Sweetened whipped cream - canned (e.g., Reddi-wip) or homemade (3/4 cup heavy cream and 1/4 cup powdered sugar)

For this recipe you first make the pie crust, then make the filling while the crust is baking. After the crust has baked, pour the filling into the still-hot crust, and then bake.

Making the crust:
0) Preheat the oven to 350F.
1) To make the graham cracker crumbs, we break graham crackers into quarters and process them in our food processor until they are a coarse powder. If you don't have a food processor, you can put graham crackers into a large plastic bag (e.g., large Ziploc bags) and crush the graham crackers with a rolling pin, or just buy premade graham cracker crumbs.
2) Mix the graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar in a medium bowl with a fork (or in the food processor) until combined.
3) Spread evenly into a 9-inch pie pan (~9-inch diameter at the top, ~7-inch diameter at the bottom) to cover the bottom and sides. Press firmly with the back of a spoon (or your fingers) until the crust sticks together; I use my thumb and forefinger to compress the crust at the very top of the pan. It is very easy to accidentally have more crust in the corner where the sides meet the bottom than elsewhere in the pan, so try to scoop out extra material from there (this is a purely aesthetic problem, so don't panic if your crust is thicker there). I often end up with some extra crust mix left over; it's tasty to snack on.
4) Bake the pie crust until it is lightly brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Making the pie:
0) When the pie crust is baked, reduce the oven's temperature to 325F.
1) Mix the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, lime juice, and lime zest in a bowl.
2) Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake at 325F for 15 to 17 minutes, or until the "center looks set but still quivery, like gelatin, when the pan is nudged".
3) Let the pie cool to room temperature.
4) Refrigerate the pie, covered, until cold (we leave it overnight).

Serving the pie:
1) Cover the pie with whipped cream, and cut into slices. We use canned whipped cream (e.g. Reddi-wip) if we're feeling lazy, or make our own by whipping 3/4 cup cold heavy cream with 1/4 cup powdered sugar until the cream forms stiff peaks. If we're just baking a pie for the two of us, and thus don't plan to finish the pie in one sitting, we don't cover the whole pie with whipped cream, instead only applying whipped cream to each slice.

To get 1/2 cup lime juice you will likely need about 3-4 regular limes or possibly 15 or more Key limes (which are smaller); the pie is tasty with either variety of lime. That number of limes should be more than enough to provide the lime zest. To zest citrus we use a fine Microplane grater. If you run out of limes (or want a tasty variation), you can substitute lemon juice for some of the lime juice; we've made the pie with a 50:50 mixture, and it tasted great.

We'll frequently bring this pie to potlucks; we bake the pie the night before, leave it in the fridge overnight, and then bring along a can of Reddi-wip so people can add whipped cream themselves.

And for goodness's sake, please don't use Cool-whip or green food coloring.

This recipe is from:

Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

Mushroomless hot and sour soup

Motivated largely by Profgrrrl's recent hot and sour soup recipe, my SO and I cooked up a batch of hot and sour soup this week. However, my SO greatly dislikes mushrooms, and thus we combined and modified a few recipes (primarily the one posted by Profgrrrl and one by Joy of Cooking) to make a mushroomless hot and sour soup recipe. It was a very bracing soup (as the Joy of Cooking recipe promised), and was savory and filling, thanks to the tofu, pork, and eggs. It's this week's first end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

6 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound pork
5 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons cornstarch
4 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
6 ounces tofu
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon sesame oil
enough sliced scallion greens to garnish the soup (we had ~2/3 cup)
Chili paste or chili oil, and extra rice vinegar, both optional

1. Slice the pork thinly (we cut it into ~1/4" thick slices).
2. Mix the rice vinegar, soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add the sliced pork and let marinate for at least 5 minutes.
3. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a medium or large pot. Add the garlic as the stock is heating.
4. When the stock is simmering, add the pork and simmer until the pork is nearly cooked through, approximately 2 minutes.
5. Mix the 3 remaining tablespoons cornstarch into 3 tablespoons of water, and then whisk (or stir) this mixture into the soup.
6. Once the soup has started to thicken a little, add the tofu and pepper, and simmer for another minute.
7. Pour the eggs gradually into the soup while stirring the soup gently.
8. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sesame oil.
9. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with scallions, and serve with chili paste (or chili oil) and rice vinegar on the table.

Radagast's SO enjoyed this soup without any additional flavorings, while Radagast preferred it with a bit of chili paste added. The ingredients in the soup are flexible, so customize your soup to your heart's content. Profgrrrl reports that adding some chopped cilantro to the soup adds a nice touch, and keep in mind that the classic hot and sour soup is filled with mushrooms (e.g., wood or cloud ear, shiitake), so if you like mushrooms, by all means add them.

Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

Site feeds

I've added links on the sidebar to some new site feeds. Here's the full list:

Full-text post feed (Atom)
Comments feed (RSS)
Flickr feed (RSS)

Saturday, June 25, 2005


Athos, the mouse formerly known as Ace, died today. We discovered him early this afternoon, lying on the floor of the boys' cage.

Athos - 1 month old
Athos when he was one month old

As with Rem, Athos appeared perfectly healthy before his death, and we can find no explanation for why he died. Like all of our boys, Athos had turned into a rather plump adult, but other than that he was a fully active and happy little guy.

Athos is the first of our baby mice to die; he was a little more than eight months old.

A handful of 10 day old mouse babies
All of our baby mice at 10 days old; Athos is in the center on the right, attempting to burrow under Tomoyo.

Athos was a good mouse; we will miss him.

Thoughts on exercise and blogging

My SO and I are trying to start exercising more regularly (see this post). We know that for us to keep this up we're going to need to apply liberal amounts of pressure to ourselves; thus, we're currently planning on trying to exercise together, which should mean that we can nag each other to exercise. However, I'm not sure that intra-couple nagging will be enough to motivate us. So, I thought of my blog.

What if I were to make a short blog post every time I exercised? That way I'd a) have a running record of all my exercise, b) have a public record of when I didn't exercise, and c) I could be nagged by extra-couple people to make sure I do exercise.

Of course, one problem with this is that reading posts about my exercising would be dreadfully dull. Maybe I could create a separate blog (Rhosgobel's Gym?), and just write about the exercise there? Of course, if that blog ever got a single hit that wasn't from me I'd be shocked, but it still might be motivation enough. My SO suggested using little icons (e.g., a picture of a dumbbell or a videotape) to represent exercising on any given day; that has a certain appeal as well. Maybe I could just post a picture of the type of exercise I did on a given day, along with the duration of the exercise?

We'll see where this goes (if anywhere). Ideas and thoughts are welcome, as always.

Democratic Underground shirts

Democratic Underground has some new shirts for sale.

Warning: they're unabashedly liberal and anti-Bush, so if you're offended by that sort of thing, don't look at them.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rape trial halted because therapist won't turn over notes

Covington links to an AP story today reporting that the rape trial of 1st Lt. Joseph Harding has been stopped because the accuser's therapist is refusing to turn over notes from therapy:
"A military judge on Friday halted the rape trial of an officer accused of assaulting his Air Force Academy classmate after the accuser's civilian rape counselor refused to hand over records of their conversations.


Bier [the civilian counselor] has been threatened with arrest for refusing to hand over the records. Her attorneys said she will not give up the records, which she considers confidential, and that they will file an emergency appeal if she is arrested.
Need I mention that this is wrong, wrong, wrong?

There's always some carnivals

If you're low on good bloggy reading today, take a look at the Carnival of Education #20 at Jenny D., Skeptics's Circle #11 at Anne's Anti-Quackery & Science Blog, or the Carnival of the Vanities #144. The Carnival of the Vanities is even hosted by a cat this week (and, unlike Orac, I'm very happy it was a cat that broke the species barrier, though I will admit that a rodent or an invertebrate would have been cooler).

Halliburton waste

OK, overspending by government contractors is nothing new, but CorpWatch has an article detailing wasteful practices by Halliburton in Iraq and Kuwait. Considering that Iraq is currently a war zone, some of the wasteful procedures seem as though they might be criminal if true; here's a snippet:
One statement came from David Wilson, a Halliburton employee charged with delivering supplies by from Camp Cedar II in southern Iraq to Camp Anaconda just north of Baghdad between November 2003 and March 2004. He explained that his supervisors didn't care what was being transported, so long as the trucks drove as many times as possible from one end of the country to the other.

"The paperwork I carried had no details about the contents of our cargo - basically all they were looking for was the number of trucks with freight on them (but) a related problem was that KBR would run trucks empty quite often," Wilson said. "Sometimes they would have five empty trucks, sometimes they would have a dozen. One time we ran 28 trucks and only one had anything on it. There were several times when we had empty trucks both on the way to Anaconda and then on the way back to Cedar II. I don't understand why KBR would have placed our lives in danger that way for no reason."

He also described what appeared to be a complete lack of cost controls and systems to maintain equipment properly. "When I arrived at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait last November, I noticed 50 to 100 brand new trucks sitting there unused," Wilson remembered. "Five months later, when I came home. A large number of trucks were still there, not being used. These are $85,000 (or more) Mercedes and Volvo trucks.

"As every other trucker working on those convoys will tell you, KBR had virtually no facilities in place to do maintenance on these trucks. There were absolutely no oil filters or fuel filters for months on end. I begged for filters but never got any. I was told that oil changes were out of the question. KBR removed all the spare tires in Kuwait. So when one of our trucks got a flat tire on the highway, we just had to leave it there for the Iraqis to loot, which is just crazy. I remember saying to myself when it happened, 'You just lost yourself an $85,000 truck because of a spare tire. We lost a truck because we didn't have $25 hydraulic line to assist the clutch.'"

Thursday, June 23, 2005

That's odd: text below

The text of new posts is not starting until just below the end of my side bar. This seems to only affect posts that I've made this afternoon, and it even happens on the permalink page (e.g. compare this post and this post).

I don't think I did anything to cause this, as I haven't changed my template in weeks, and I don't see anything obviously wrong with it. Any ideas?

[Update: I just found a possible cause; new posts have a <div style="clear: both;"> tag, followed by a </div> tag, just before the text of the new posts, whereas old posts don't have these tags. Unfortunately, I don't see anything in my template to remove that.]

[Update 2: I'm going to keep this post at the top for now; it was originally posted June 23 @ 7:59pm.]

[Update 3: Fixed! Josh pointed me to a workaround: all I had to do was add the line "div { clear: none !important; }" (no quotes) to the style section of my template. Blogger is apparently working on a permanent fix.]

Equipment requests

I'm going to be teaching an advanced field research course for a few weeks this summer. The goal of the course is to introduce the students to collecting and identifying all the fungi, plants, and animals we find at a field site in Canada; we'll be spending a full week up there come August. The course should be a blast, largely because all of the students currently registered are former students of mine, and they're all very excited about the trip; many of them have even been meeting for the last few months (without getting any credit) planning for the trip.

The only problem is that our field site has absolutely no field equipment, and my official budget for the course at the present time is functionally $0. While I can bring up some equipment from our main campus, my campus hasn't run a field biology course like this in so long that we don't have a lot of required equipment (insect collecting supplies, flagging, plant presses, etc.) So, for the past few weeks I've been working on creating an equipment list (with the help of some of my students), and this afternoon I presented the list to the head of our college foundation, with the hopes that they'll fund at least some of the equipment.

The foundation director said I should hear from them within a few days; here's hoping!

Software patents

The Guardian has posted an article by Richard Stallman discussing why software patents can sometimes be absurd; the article draws parallels with what might have happened to Victor Hugo if story ideas could have been patented in the 1800s.

(via BoingBoing)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Photosynthesis without the sun

A group of researchers (Beatty et al. 2005) have isolated an "obligately photosynthetic bacterial anaerobe" from the waters near a deep-sea hydrothermal vent. In other words, the researchers have found a bacterium that lives solely on energy gathered through photosynthesis living in an environment (the bottom of the ocean) where it has been believed that no photosynthetic organisms could survive, primarily because it's rather dark down there. The newly isolated bacterium is a species of green sulfur bacteria; all known green sulfur bacteria are phototrophs, and they're typically adept at surviving in very low-light environments, at least partially because they have light-harvesting structures called chlorosomes.

Apparently, the radiation emitting from the (very hot) thermal vents extends into the visible range (albeit dimly), and thus the authors hypothesize that the bacteria are using this radiation as an energy source for their photosynthetic reactions, though it's possible the bacteria are also using light from chemiluminescence. Data quoted in a The Scientist summary of the article compares the amount of light coming from the hydrothermal vents to other natural environments:
Photon flux [near hydrothermal vents] at 750 nm, which is what GSB1's [the newly isolated bacterium's] bacteriochlorophylls absorb, is about the same as the solar photon flux available for a green sulfur bacterium found in the Black Sea, Van Dover told The Scientist. That bacterium has been estimated to take two to three years to divide, Beatty said.
Unfortunately I don't have access to PNAS online, and thus haven't been able to read the full article, but The Scientist has an (apparently) thorough discussion of the article, and the abstract is publicly available.

(via Covington)

Beatty, JT, J Overmann, MT Lince, AK Manske, AS Lang, RE Blankenship, CL Van Dover, TA Martinson, and FG Plumley. 2005. An obligately photosynthetic bacterial anaerobe from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0503674102 (abstract).

[Update: I just discovered that Carl Zimmer has also written a short summary of this paper; he even links this discovery with a proposed mechanism for the evolution of photosynthetic processes in all life. Neat stuff.]

Iraq parliament members request US troop withdrawal

Eighty-two members of the Iraqi parliament have written a letter (reported here) asking for US troops to withdraw from Iraq.
"We have asked in several sessions for occupation troops to withdraw," the letter said. "Our request was ignored."

"It is dangerous that the Iraqi government has asked the U.N. Security Council to prolong the stay of occupation forces without consulting representatives of the people who have the mandate for such a decision.

"Therefore we must reject the occupation?s legitimacy and renew our demand for these forces to withdraw," the letter added.
What a coincidence that this letter comes out as four US Representatives (Abercrombie, Kucinich, Jones, and Paul) introduce a bill that would require Bush to create a plan for withdrawal from Iraq.

(via American Street)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bombing raids before the Iraq war

More attention is being given to the increase in the frequency of bombing raids in Iraq in the summer of 2002, before the war started and before Bush asked for US Congressional authorization for the war. Paul Rogat Loeb wrote an editorial (More Damning Than Downing Street) discussing the bombing raids, and the Sunday Times has an article reporting that the British Foreign Office determined these bombing raids were likely illegal:
A sharp increase in British and American bombing raids on Iraq in the run-up to war "to put pressure on the regime" was illegal under international law, according to leaked Foreign Office legal advice.

The advice was first provided to senior ministers in March 2002. Two months later RAF and USAF jets began "spikes of activity" designed to goad Saddam Hussein into retaliating and giving the allies a pretext for war.

The Foreign Office advice shows military action to pressurise the regime was "not consistent with" UN law, despite American claims that it was.


Further intensification of the bombing, known in the Pentagon as the Blue Plan, began at the end of August, 2002, following a meeting of the US National Security Council at the White House that month.

General Tommy Franks, the allied commander, recalled in his autobiography, American Soldier, that during this meeting he rejected a call from Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, to cut the bombing patrols because he wanted to use them to make Iraq's defences "as weak as possible".

Does laughing count as exercise?

My SO and I bought some used 80's aerobics tapes a while ago, and like most exercise-facilitating items, they sat completely unused for years. However, inspiration struck us tonight, and we decided to give one of the tapes a try.

I'm very glad no one was watching us.

The tape was Kathy Smith's "Body Basics", and it is supposedly "for beginning to intermediate" exercisers; it left us wondering if there are any tapes designed for the "barely mobile" to "fully capable of walking 10 minutes to the grocery store" group of exercisers. While the tape certainly got our pulse rates up, I think half of the exercise came from us laughing hysterically as we tried (and more often than not failed) to keep up with the moves of Ms. Smith. I have rarely felt so uncoordinated.

However, I will say that the tape seemed to offer a very good workout, and I plan to continue using it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Guardian article: "WMD claims were 'totally implausible'"

A newly published article in The Guardian adds more support to the claim (bolstered by the Downing Street Minutes) that officials in the British and American governments knew that the WMD claims about Iraq were wrong, and just used those claims to justify a war that was already decided on.
A key Foreign Office diplomat responsible for liaising with UN inspectors says today that claims the government made about Iraq's weapons programme were "totally implausible".

He tells the Guardian: "I'd read the intelligence on WMD for four and a half years, and there's no way that it could sustain the case that the government was presenting. All of my colleagues knew that, too".

Carne Ross, who was a member of the British mission to the UN in New York during the run-up to the invasion, resigned from the FO last year, after giving evidence to the Butler inquiry.

He thought about publishing his testimony because he felt so angry. But he was warned that if he did he might be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act
(Via and a comment by Covington on Pharyngula)

Downing Street Minutes are authentic

There has been very little doubt that the Downing Street Minutes and other memos obtained by the Sunday Times are authentic. Even when directly asked about the memos, neither President Bush nor Tony Blair claimed that the memos were forgeries or otherwise inauthentic; instead, both leaders flatly contradicted the information in the memos, without explaining why the information in the memos conflicts with their current (and historical) public statements. In fact, a portion of Blair's statement on June 7th ("And let me remind you that that memorandum was written before we then went to the United Nations.") implies that the Downing Street Minutes are indeed authentic.

Newsweek, in a recent five page article on the Downing Street Minutes and related memos, has found independent confirmation of the memos' authenticity,
"[T]wo senior British officials, who asked not to be further identified because of the sensitivity of the material, told NEWSWEEK in separate interviews that they had no reason to question the authenticity of either the documents published by the Sunday Times or the related documents - including the March 2002 options paper."
The article also has a good summary of the statements in the memos, along with why the memos are relevant (though it doesn't include any information on Conyers's hearing, since the article was written before that occurred).

Via American Street and Pharyngula.

Hard-boiled eggs in spicy tomato sauce (Ande ki kari)

This dish, which consists of halved hard-boiled eggs in a thick, spicy tomato sauce, may seem strange to the typical American palate. However, this recipe caught my eye when I was first flipping through Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking, so we tried it, and loved it. The sauce has a wide array of spices in it (garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne, black pepper, garam masala, cilantro), all of which meld together into a near perfect complement to the hard boiled eggs. This dish does take some time to make, but the end result is well worth the effort, and your kitchen will smell heavenly while the dish is cooking. I'd been craving this dish for quite a while recently, and we finally made it again this past week; thus it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

1 dozen eggs, hard-boiled
10 tablespoons (5/8 cup) vegetable oil
3 cups finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
12 green cardamom pods
4 1/2 inch stick cinnamon, or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
heaping 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups finely chopped tomatoes (we chop whole canned tomatoes after draining the juice)
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
3 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
Rice, or Indian bread, to serve with it

0. Hard-boil the eggs. To do this we cover the raw eggs with warm tapwater (by at least 1") in a large pot, and then cover the pot and put it over high heat. Once the water boils, we reduce the heat and simmer the eggs for 15 minutes (for large or extra large eggs). Then we drain the hot water from the pot, fill the pot once or twice with cold tap water to stop the eggs from cooking, and then leave the eggs in a bowl of cold tap water until needed. You can hard-boil the eggs in parallel with the rest of the steps (they aren't needed until step 10).
1. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick pot, over medium-high or high heat; when the oil is hot, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they are caramel brown (~20 minutes).
2. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring frequently, for another two minutes.
3. Add the cardamom pods and the stick of cinnamon (but not ground cinnamon, if you're using that), and cook until the spices start to puff, ~1 minute.
4. Add the powdered coriander, turmeric, cayenne, black pepper, and ground cinnamon (if using), and cook, stirring, for a few seconds.
5. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick and pulpy and the fat starts to separate (~8 minutes).
6. Add the boiling water and salt, and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
7. Uncover the sauce and continue simmering until the sauce is moderately thick (something akin to a typical tomato pasta sauce); the sauce may not require any additional simmering.
8. Remove the pot from the heat, and let the dish rest, covered, for at least half an hour.
9. If you're serving the dish with rice, start the rice cooking.
10. Peel the eggs and slice them in half, lengthwise.
11. Return the pot to medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the garam masala and cilantro, and then gently add the eggs. Simmer for ~5 minutes (to warm the eggs).
12. Serve over rice or with Indian bread.

This recipe is slightly modified from Sahni (1980); the recipe has been scaled up, and the amount of oil and cilantro reduced. The recipe easily makes enough to serve four to six people as a main course, and the flavors only improve with time in the fridge, so leftovers are eminently edible. I guarantee that your coworkers will be envious when you heat this up for lunch.

As with all Indian food, the whole cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks are not intended to be eaten.

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 233-235

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Delays delays delays ...

My SO and I have been trying to get our remodeling restarted. Our first goal was to fix the mess that Custom Building Product's LevelQuik Rapid Set self-leveling compound made of our floor by purchasing some extended set self-leveling compound (since the rapid set hardened too quickly). However, nobody carries the stuff.

First, we checked Home Depot. Then Lowes. Then we called around to a bunch of other hardware stores in the area. None of them had it. Then we e-mailed the manufacturer (Custom Building Products), and asked them where we could get it. Their website says they'll respond within one business day; we waited two weeks and never heard from them. We e-mailed them again. They again failed to respond. Finally we called them, and they gave us a list of stores in the area to call, as well as telling us that we could special-order what we needed from Home Depot. We called every one of the stores, and none of the stores had the extended set compound in stock (half didn't even know what we were asking for). We finally went to Home Depot and special-ordered the stuff we need; it won't be in for two weeks, which completely stalls our tiling work.

Since we have no shortage of other projects, we decided to get started on some molding work. We bought most of the supplies we need this week (including spending hours picking out moldings), but then discovered that nobody carries the Collins miter clamps one of our books highly recommends for making 90-degree glue joints. The only places we could find that sells the clamps are a few online stores; we ended up ordering them from Collins's online store, but they won't be in until at least late next week.

I wonder what roadblock we'll run into next.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Whitewashing the impact of grazing

I was going to try to make it a politics-light weekend here at Rhosgobel, but all it took was reading this article in the LA Times to change that. In the article, two scientists who wrote an environmental impact report for a new Bush administration grazing policy state that their conclusions about possible negative environmental consequences were removed from the final report.

The report in question is the Environmental Impact Study on Changes to Grazing Regulations, which is available as a PDF on the Bureau of Land Management site (the report is dated October 2004, but was published June 2005).
A government biologist and a hydrologist, who both retired this year from the Bureau of Land Management, said their conclusions that the proposed new rules might adversely affect water quality and wildlife, including endangered species, were excised and replaced with language justifying less stringent regulations favored by cattle ranchers.


The original draft of the environmental analysis warned that the new rules would have a "significant adverse impact" on wildlife, but that phrase was removed. The bureau now concludes that the grazing regulations are "beneficial to animals."

Eliminated from the final draft was another conclusion that read: "The Proposed Action will have a slow, long-term adverse impact on wildlife and biological diversity in general."

Also removed was language saying how a number of the rule changes could adversely affect endangered species.

"This is a whitewash. They took all of our science and reversed it 180 degrees," said Erick Campbell, a former BLM state biologist in Nevada and a 30-year bureau employee who retired this year. He was the author of sections of the report pertaining to the effect on wildlife and threatened and endangered species.


Bill Brookes, a former hydrologist with the bureau who assessed the regulations' effect on water resources, said in the original draft the proposed rule change was "an abrogation of [the agency's] responsibility under the Clean Water Act."

"Everything I wrote was totally rewritten and watered down," Brookes said in an interview Thursday.

"Everything in the report that was purported to be negative was watered down. Instead of saying, in the long term, this will create problems, it now says, in the long term, grazing is the best thing since sliced bread."

Brookes said work that the bureau's original specialists required more than a year and a half to finish was changed in a matter of weeks. He and Campbell said officials in Washington said the document did not support the new rules so they called in a new team to redo it.
(from the LA Times)
This is extremely corrupt. If other researchers had valid scientific concerns about the statements made by Brookes and Campbell, those researchers should have provided references backing up the altered viewpoints and discussed their concerns with Brookes and Campbell. If the Bush administration wanted to relax grazing regulations because they felt it was economically necessary, the least they could do is honestly admit that their policy changes will adversely affect the environment.

This reminds me of the edits made by Philip Cooney to Bush administration climate change reports.

As a side note, the Bureau of Land Management site has what appears to be a link to the draft version of the report, but the link is currently broken.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Good and bad reporting on the Downing Street Minutes meeting

The New York Times has a good article describing the meeting yesterday (I've posted on the meeting here, here, and here), and while the article is light on the details of all the statements made at the meeting, it fairly summarizes the issues. The Guardian has another good article (by David Paul Kuhn, from Salon), that describes in detail the troubles Democrats had in holding the meeting.

In contrast, the Washington Post has a truly awful article by Dana Milbank. Milbank's article is filled with quote mining, irrelevant points, misinformation, and outright lies; Rep. Conyers has already written a letter (on DailyKos) debunking Milbank's article thoroughly. Here's just a snippet:
"To administer his coup-de-grace, Milbank literally makes up another cheap shot that I "was having so much fun that [I] ignored aides' entreaties to end the session." This did not occur. None of my aides offered entreaties to end the session and I have no idea where Milbank gets that information. The hearing certainly ran longer than expected, but that was because so many Members of Congress persevered under very difficult circumstances to attend, and I thought - given that - the least I could do was allow them to say their piece. That is called courtesy, not "fun."

"By the way, the 'Downing Street Memo' is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting. In the meeting, British officials - having just met with their American counterparts - describe their discussions with such counterparts. I mention this because that basic piece of context, a simple description of the memo, is found nowhere in Milbank's article.
[Update: I've found two more good articles on the hearing. One is on CNN, and the other is in the Chicago Tribune; the Chichago Tribune article discusses both the Downing Street Minutes meeting and the recent proposal by Representatives Jones, Paul, Kucinich, and Abercrombie to mandate that President Bush create a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq.]

More on the Conyers hearing

I just finished watching all but the first few minutes of the Conyers hearing (on C-Span); it was more than two hours long, and was well worth watching. The prepared statements by each of the committee members were well thought-out, and provided a diverse array of viewpoints on the implications and context of the Downing Street Minutes. The meeting got even better during the question-and-answer period, when the dozens of Congress members in attendance asked each of the committee members pointed questions; the committee members gave candid answers to all questions asked of them, and clearly elucidated why the Downing Street Minutes warrant further investigation by Congress. I urge you to watch or listen to the entire meeting if you can.

C-Span 2 will re-air the meeting in full today (Friday, June 17) at 8pm EST.

I still haven't found an online transcript or complete video of the meeting, but I have found a few more resources:

Downing Street Memo Video Highlights - post by Crooks and Liars with a few video highlights.

Bush pressed to answer `Downing Street Memo' questions - Knight Ridder story on the hearing.

Bush policies blocked as US mood on Iraq sours - an article in The Independent which discusses the Downing Street Minutes in the context of other events occurring in Washington.

A Democratic Underground thread contains pictures of the hearing (apparently from the AP).

Google News has a bunch of stories related to the hearing, but most of them are short summaries that simply rehash much of what has been said in my prior links.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Conyers posts about today's events

Rep. Conyers, who organized today's hearing on the Downing Street Minutes, has just put up a blog post discussing his experiences.

One of the things he covers is how the Congress members were able to continue the hearings through floor votes:
"At approximately 2:15 PM, the Republicans scheduled 11 consecutive floor votes, lasting until approximately 4 PM. This is unprecedented in my memory, and if we had allowed it to, it could have ruined the hearing. But a hearty group of Democratic Members helped me carry on, and we were able to continue the hearings through the votes by essentially taking turns running back and forth to the House floor."

Conyers's hearing on the Downing Street Minutes

Today has been an exciting day in Washington. Rep. Conyers held his hearing on issues related to the Downing Street Minutes (which he was forced to hold in a ~15' x 30' room in the capitol), and after that meeting he walked over and delivered a letter, signed by more than 500,000 people, asking Bush to respond to the Downing Street Minutes (text of the letter is here).

The hearing focused on testimony from four people (list from here):
Joe Wilson, former ambassador and WMD expert
Ray McGovern, 27-year CIA analyst who prepared regular Presidential briefings during the Reagan administration
Cindy Sheehan, mother of fallen American soldier
John Bonifaz, constitutional lawyer
Unfortunately I wasn't able to watch the hearing live (it was only carried live on C-Span 3; I didn't even know there was a C-Span 3), though there are plans to rebroadcast the hearing on both C-Span 1 and 2 later tonight and tomorrow.

The hearing was covered, and written about, by a number of bloggers; here's some of what I've found so far:

Live blogging the Conyers hearing - written by a blogger (from Democracy Cell Project Blog) who attended the hearings in person; it's very detailed. Included in this post is the following information:
"HC-5, The Big Room for hearings that are held in Congress, is open, and has been open during this entire time."
Historic 'Downing Street' Hearings Adjourn! - on BradBlog, contains their live notes.

The DSM rally in front of the White House - a DailyKos diary by peregrina describing the writer's firsthand experiences at the White House gates when Conyers arrived to deliver the letter.

Conyers is walking over to the White House - a Progressive Democrats of America blog entry reporting on Conyers delivering the letter (the last of many entries live-blogged during the hearings; start here if you want to read them all)

If/when I find an online version of the video and/or transcript of the meeting, I'll post them.

[Update: Found another live blogger who covered the event: The Tattered Coat posted Live Blogging The Downing Street Memo Hearings.]


Yes, I felt it.
Yes, my SO felt it too.
No, the house didn't collapse.
No, we're not floating in the ocean.

[This post is an attempt to stop the flood of e-mails I'm now expecting from out-of-town relatives.]

Conyers delivering Downing Street Minutes letter today

Representative Conyers will be holding a hearing on the Downing Street Minutes today at 2:30 pm EST, and after that hearing will be delivering a letter, signed by more than 540,000 people, urging President Bush to respond to the Downing Street Minutes. I posted about Rep. Conyers's original request for signatures here, and Rep. Conyers has blogged about his plan for the day here.

Here is the full text of the letter Rep. Conyers will be delivering today:
"Dear Mr. President:

"We the undersigned write to you because of our concern regarding recent disclosures of a 'Downing Street Memo' in the London Times, comprising the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers. These minutes indicate that the United States and Great Britain agreed to by the summer of 2002 to attack Iraq, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action, and that U.S. officials were deliberately manipulating intelligence to justify the war.

"Among other things, the British government document quotes a high-ranking British official as stating that by July, 2002, 'Bush had made up his mind to take military action.' Yet, a month later, the you stated you were still willing to 'look at all options' and that there was 'no timetable' for war. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, flatly stated that '[t]he president has made no such determination that we should go to war with Iraq.'

"In addition, the origins of the false contention that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction remains a serious and lingering question about the lead up to the war. There is an ongoing debate about whether this was the result of a 'massive intelligence failure,' in other words a mistake, or the result of intentional and deliberate manipulation of intelligence to justify the case for war. The memo appears to resolve that debate as well, quoting the head of British intelligence as indicating that in the United States 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'

"As a result of these concerns, we would ask that you respond to the following questions:

1) Do you or anyone in your administration dispute the accuracy of the leaked document?

2) Were arrangements being made, including the recruitment of allies, before you sought Congressional authorization to go to war? Did you or anyone in your Administration obtain Britain's commitment to invade prior to this time?

3) Was there an effort to create an ultimatum about weapons inspectors in order to help with the justification for the war as the minutes indicate?

4) At what point in time did you and Prime Minister Blair first agree it was necessary to invade Iraq?

5) Was there a coordinated effort with the U.S. intelligence community and/or British officials to 'fix' the intelligence and facts around the policy as the leaked document states?

"These are the same questions 89 Members of Congress, led by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., submitted to you on May 5, 2005. As citizens and taxpayers, we believe it is imperative that our people be able to trust our government and our commander in chief when you make representations and statements regarding our nation engaging in war. As a result, we would ask that you publicly respond to these questions as promptly as possible.

"Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

How pregnancy happens

PZ Myers linked to a very well-done Flash video that candidly discusses the important details of how pregnancy happens (made by Planned Parenthood). Caution: if you're disturbed by anthropomorphized, talking genitalia, this might not be the video for you.

A smattering of links

New Memos Detail Early Plans for Invading Iraq - a detailed article in the LA Times discussing the Downing Street Minutes and other related memos that have been recently released. The article has links (on a sidebar) to full-text scans of six recently released secret memos, and also makes an important point:
"The documents contain little discussion about whether to mount a military campaign. The focus instead is on how the campaign should be presented to win the widest support and the importance for Britain of working through the United Nations so an invasion could be seen as legal under international law."
Web of cold-blooded lies - an article by Eric Margolis (on which takes a scathing look at the statements made in the Downing Street Memo.

Don't Follow the Money - an opinion piece by Frank Rich in the New York Times, looks at the recent unveiling of Deep Throat, and, unlike some writers, he keeps in mind who the real criminals of Watergate were.

The Foreign Language of Choice - an article by George Lakoff (on AlterNet) discussing the language changes liberals should make in the fight to keep abortion rights.

Two good carnivals today

Tangled Bank #30 is at The Geomblog, and the Carnival of Education #19 has been posted at The Education Wonks; both look like they're filled with good posts, as usual.

It's beggin' time

It's that most joyous time of year - the semester is over, the grades are turned in, and I can finally sleep in and read. However, there's one thing that always happens right about now which puts a damper on my fun: students fill my inbox with requests that I change their grades.

In general, I don't mind these requests. Students have a right to scrutinize their grades, and my grading policies should be open, fair, and defensible to the students. Thus, if a student asks, "Why didn't I get a C?" I have a duty to explain to them exactly why I assigned the grade I did. I've even had students uncover mistakes in the grading (e.g., mis-entered scores), and whenever that occurs I apologize profusely, and promptly fill out a grade change form.

That said, some students take this much farther than they should. They'll e-mail me or stop by my office and beg me to change their grade. This usually comes complete with some story about why they couldn't do X or Y during the semester, and that if they just got Z amount of points, they could have Z' grade, which they need so desperately to get into Z'' school. However, they typically have no specific questions or grading issues on which to base their pleas, and thus I can't do anything for them.

Today I got an e-mail from one of the latter group. I'd already offered this student the opportunity to go over their final exam and check the grading, but they replied with the following (some details altered to maintain privacy):
"But the only reason I missed lecture that day was because I was very sick, and couldn't get out of bed."
I give extra credit points for perfect attendance, and this student had not gotten those points due to an absence; this reply was their attempt to try to get those extra credit points. However, just a few days earlier the same student had sent me the following explanation for why they had been absent that day:
"I missed that one day of lecture because I had to take my brother to the airport, and there was no other way he could get to the airport."
Mmhmm. Yeah.

The most hilarious thing? The earlier explanation was contained, as a quoted reply, in the very same e-mail as the most recent one.

Amazingly, all the requests I've ever gotten have been for grade increases; not a single student has e-mailed me saying they deserve a lower grade. I'm still waiting for the following e-mail from a student:
"Mr. Radagast: I know you gave me a B, but I'm really not sure I did B-caliber work. I mean, I messed up so many of the homework problems, and then I really flubbed the final exam, so I'm just not sure I deserve the B. Can we go over my tests to make sure you didn't miss anything?"

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Cardamom-scented rice pudding

My SO enjoys good homemade rice pudding, and I, well ... yeah; let's just say that I'll eat it if I have to. Last week my SO tried a new rice pudding recipe based on two recipes from Joy of Cooking, and reports that this is the creamiest and most flavorful rice pudding we've ever made. So, if rice pudding is your thing, then this is the dish for you, and thus it's last week's second end-of-the-week recipe blogging post (or this week's middle-of-the-week recipe blogging post, since I seem to be running constantly behind).

This rice pudding is a creamier, less-thick version of rice pudding than the typical solidified rice and sweetened goo, so even if you don't like the typical rice pudding, you may want to give this a shot.

3/4 cup jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups water
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
3 7/8 cup 1% milk
2 tablespoons (1/8 cup) heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 whole cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs

1. Put the rice, water, and salt into a medium non-stick pot, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
2. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed (~15 minutes).
3. Add the milk, cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and cardamom pods, rasie the heat to medium, and simmer uncovered, until the pudding has the consistency of a thick cream soup (~40 minutes). Stir frequently, especially towards the end (my SO stirred every 5 minutes initially, then stirred more often at the end).
4. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and remove the cardamom pods.
5. Beat together the eggs and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.
6. Gradually add 2 cups of the hot pudding to the egg and sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Mix this back into the remaining pudding.
7. Return the pot to low heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the pudding starts to thicken again (~5 minutes).
8. Scoop the pudding into a serving bowl, and chill thoroughly.

Note: To easily measure the 3 7/8 cup milk, add the 2 tablespoons of cream to a 4 cup measurer, and then add enough 1% milk to make 4 cups total. You could reduce, or potentially even eliminate, the cream if you used 2% or whole milk.

Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

The next five months are going to be interesting in California

Governor Schwarzenegger announced yesterday that California will hold a special election this November; both the LA Times and SF Chronicle already have detailed stories on the topic. Not surprisingly, many of the ballot initiatives are based on Schwarzenegger proposals the legislature did not enact this spring. The SF Chronicle article briefly summarizes the expected initiatives:
Schwarzenegger's three initiatives would, if passed:

-- Allow a panel of retired judges to redraw state legislative boundary lines;

-- Limit the growth of state spending and allow the governor under some circumstances to make unilateral mid-year budget cuts; and

-- Extend from two to five years the amount of time public school teachers must wait to achieve tenure.

Other initiatives will appear as well, including a proposition that would force unions to obtain consent from members before using their dues for political purposes and another that would require minors to receive consent from their parents or guardians before having an abortion. Still more -- including rival measures addressing prescription-drug costs and one concerning the re-regulation of the state's energy industry -- are expected.
I haven't seen any of the proposals, so can't comment on them directly. One thing I did notice in another SF Chronicle article is that Schwarzenegger's budget initiative "[w]ould change minimum school funding requirements," which is concerning, primarily because Schwarzenegger has consistently underfunded education, and thus he may be trying to make this underfunding permanent. The proposals are controversial enough that they will almost certainly spark huge campaigns; campaign budgets in excess of $40 million have already been discussed (in the LA Times article).

The next regularly scheduled statewide election in California was to be held in June 2006. The idea of a special election this November doesn't currently seem that popular, as a poll quoted in the SF Chronicle reports that "California voters did not approve of holding a special election by 62 to 37 percent." Part of that reason might be the cost, which according to the LA Times article is expected to be "$45 million, plus $7 million to $10 million for voter pamphlets."

Legal guide for bloggers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has written a legal guide for bloggers. The guide is a collection of FAQs that cover a wide array of topics, including an overview of legal liability, intellectual property, and election law.

(via BoingBoing)

Monday, June 13, 2005

BoingBoing linked to, a site which is (obviously) focused on discussing the Downing Street Memo (aka Downing Street Minutes). The site includes a comparison of public comments by the Bush administration with the statements in the minutes, as well as responses to arguments attempting to claim that the memo is irrelevant.

Chickpeas in ginger sauce (Safaid channe)

Last night, before soaking in our newly refilled spa, my SO and I made a couple of new dishes from Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking (1980), one of which was this very tasty chickpea dish. This recipe uses canned chickpeas, which are cooked with onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and spices (of course). The dish is very easy to make, and the end result is so flavorful that you won't even notice you're eating a vegan dish. This recipe is the first of this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging posts.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 medium raw tomato, finely chopped, or 1/2 cup canned whole tomatoes, chopped
3 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained, reserving the liquid
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt (or to taste)
Some thinly sliced raw onion, for garnish (optional)
Rice or bread to serve with the dish.

0. If you are serving the dish with rice (we used jasmine rice yesterday), start cooking the rice.
1. Heat the oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high or high heat.
2. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they turn light brown (~5 minutes).
3. Add the garlic and ginger, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for two minutes.
4. Add the spices (coriander, cardamom, cayenne, and black pepper) and cook for a few seconds.
5. Add the chopped tomato, and cook over medium-high heat until the oil begins to separate from the tomatoes (~5 minutes).
6. Add the lemon juice, salt, and reserved liquid from the canned chickpeas. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has thickened (to approximately egg yolk consistency), approximately 20 minutes, though the time needed may vary substantially.
7. Add the chickpeas and simmer, covered, for another 10 minutes.
8. Serve garnished with thinly sliced raw onions over cooked rice or with Indian bread.

We served this along with a savory yogurt and spinach salad (raita), which was an excellent complement to the flavors of the chickpeas.

Sahni reports that you can also use home-cooked chickpeas for this recipe; if you do, add 4 cups cooked chickpeas and 1 cup of cooking liquid in lieu of the canned chickpeas and reserved liquid, and reduce the simmering time in step 6. Sahni also suggests using 1/2 teaspoon mango powder in place of the lemon juice, adding the mango powder with the rest of the dry spices.

Different brands of canned chickpeas might have varying levels of salt, so check the salt level of the dish before adding the salt. For reference, our canned chickpeas claim to have 640 mg sodium per 1/2 cup serving (3 servings per can).

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 274-275

I've been translated into French!

Abie, who blogs at Ceci est un test, has translated some of my comments on organizing blogs into French. Abie's post appears to focus on discussing the TTLB blog organizing system, and can be found here. I just wish I could read French ...

Merci Abie! I'm honored :)

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Another memo suggesting that Bush was committed to war in early 2002

The Sunday Times, the same newspaper that published the Downing Street Minutes, published another British memo that seems to add more support to the hypothesis that Bush had decided on a course of war with Iraq long before he approached Congress or the UN about the matter. The Times has an article here, as well as the text of the new memo here. Here's a bit from the article:
"Ministers were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.

"The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier.

"The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair's inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was 'necessary to create the conditions' which would make it legal.

"This was required because, even if ministers decided Britain should not take part in an invasion, the American military would be using British bases. This would automatically make Britain complicit in any illegal US action.


"The suggestions that the allies use the UN to justify war contradicts claims by Blair and Bush, repeated during their Washington summit last week, that they turned to the UN in order to avoid having to go to war. The attack on Iraq finally began in March 2003.

"The briefing paper is certain to add to the pressure, particularly on the American president, because of the damaging revelation that Bush and Blair agreed on regime change in April 2002 and then looked for a way to justify it.
The memo itself (dated July 21, 2002) is a worthwhile read. Here are a few excerpts:
"1. The US Government's military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace. But, as yet, it lacks a political framework. In particular, little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it.

"2. When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through the UN weapons inspectors had been exhausted.

"3. We need now to reinforce this message and to encourage the US Government to place its military planning within a political framework, partly to forestall the risk that military action is precipitated in an unplanned way by, for example, an incident in the No Fly Zones. This is particularly important for the UK because it is necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action. Otherwise we face the real danger that the US will commit themselves to a course of action which we would find very difficult to support.


"20. Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein. There would also need to be a substantial effort to secure the support of Parliament. An information campaign will be needed which has to be closely related to an overseas information campaign designed to influence Saddam Hussein, the Islamic World and the wider international community. This will need to give full coverage to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, including his WMD, and the legal justification for action.

Anatomical Atlas of Flies

Pharyngula has found an online Anatomical Atlas of Flies. The site allows you to browse through high-resolution images of flies from different lineages (using Flash); you can even use a magnifying glass to examine tiny anatomical structures.

Fly atlas image
Sample image from the atlas.

The images are extremely high quality; the screenshot above has been reduced by more than 50%. Here's a short description from the site itself:
"[T]he Atlas can be used as a standalone resource to accompany any fly key or as an aid for teaching fly anatomy. The atlas works both ways: users can either click on a part to discover its name, or click on a name to discover the location and shape of a part. Common synonyms for anatomical terms are available from the information button that appears when terms and structures are highlighted."
Unfortunately, the site's authors left out one obvious use: as a very fun toy. Based on personal experience I'm pleased to report that using this site is much more fun than trying to identify fly parts in the field with a magnifying glass and a reference book.

This site is an excellent example of how technology can make learning complex topics easier, and also how technology can reduce the amount of memorization required of students or workers in a field, since the site can be easily used as a reference.

I know my dad will love this site. Happy early Father's Day, dad!


I just spent a good fraction of the last six hours playing foosball at a friend's party. I'd forgotten just how much fun that game is; the last time I played was more than five years ago, when I was working at a software company. Too bad we don't have room for a table at our house (or work) ...

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Languages in music

Via but she's a girl, a music meme that asks, "How many languages in your music collection?"

French (modern and medieval)
German (modern and middle-high)
A few more that we can't recognize on Deep Forest albums.

The primary langauges in our collection are English and Japanese, with multiple CDs each; the only other language we full albums in is Latin.

[Updated to add Sanskrit and Spanish.]

Draining the spa

Me @ 5pm Friday: "Let's drain the spa, so we can refill it and get it ready for the summer. Maybe we'll even be able to soak in it tonight."
My SO: "Sounds good."
[We finally get the draining hose set up at 5:55pm]
My SO @ 6pm: "Hmm, this is going to take a while."
[check at 7pm]
[take a nap]
[check again @ 11pm ]
[wait more]
[check yet again @ midnight]
Finally, at 2am on Saturday morning, it finished draining.

Moral of the story: spas hold a lot more water than you think they do.

Quick news roundup

A few interesting reports in the news recently:

The USDA has found a possible new case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka mad cow disease) in a US cow (LA Times, Reuters UK); they're still waiting for more conclusive tests to be run. Given how political this arena is (e.g., this post), it's sure to get interesting quickly.

House Democrats were cut off (and had their microphones turned off) during a House Judiciary Committee hearing today on the renewal of the Patriot Act. See The Hill and BradBlog for more. John Conyers is on that committee; I wonder if he'll blog about it.

Public Confidence in Newspapers, TV News Falls to All-Time Low - the title of this Editor & Publisher article says it all (and if you don't want to read it, only 28% of people had "a 'great deal' or 'quite a lot' of confidence in newspapers" and television news).

Friday, June 10, 2005

Skeptics' Circle #10

The 10th Skeptics' Circle is online at Skeptico, and it's filled with good skeptical writing, as usual. A few of the highlights of this edition (in my mind) were St. Nate's All That Glitters Isn't Good and Laws Too Strange To Be True, Anne's What is the paranormal in homeopathy?, and Orac's Reply to a 14 year old creationist.

Ever wonder where those $2 billion could have gone?

The LA Unified School District is being forced to make severe budget cuts. According to the LA Times the district is planning on cutting $221 million from their budget this year.
"The Los Angeles Board of Education got its first glimpse Tuesday of additional cuts needed to balance the school district's 2005-06 budget, including scrapping a $14-million attendance incentive program and reducing the special education books and supplies budget by $10 million.


"Also facing a $1-million funding cut is the Education Options program, a dropout prevention effort."
The article, to its benefit, clearly links this budget shortfall to Gov. Schwarzenegger's not fully funding Proposition 98:
"The district is facing a budget shortfall largely because of a proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to withhold the school funding that Proposition 98, approved by voters in 1988, requires. The law set up a funding formula that provides schools with at least 40% of the state's budget each year and increases education spending with revenue.

"The governor and education groups agreed last year to withhold about $2.2 billion in state funds due to schools under Proposition 98. The governor promised that he would reinstate Proposition 98's provisions the following year and would not tamper with it again.

"Instead, Schwarzenegger proposed a budget in January that would again withhold the guaranteed funds from schools and announced that he would seek voter permission to amend Proposition 98."
However, there are two things the article fails to mention. Gov. Schwarzenegger had a chance to fully fund schools in his May revised budget (thanks to an unexpected increase in revenue), but he chose not to, and these budget cuts come after years of already slim budgets.

Conyers letter: 300,000 signatures, and growing

In a post on DailyKos, Rep. Conyers reports that he has more than 300,000 signatures on the letter asking Bush to respond to the Downing Street Minutes. Rep. Conyers will be delivering the letter to Bush, and holding hearings on matters related to the Downing Street Minutes, next Thursday (June 16). PAC has picked up the signature drive, and as of this posting reports that there are now more than 400,000 signatures.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Firefox extensions

Firefox is an insanely good web browser; I've fully integrated tabbed browsing into my web surfing, and I love the customizability and easy privacy / security configuration. I even badgered the tech people at work into installing Firefox on my office and lab computers (IE is the only browser they normally install).

However, I only recently started exploring the extensions that are available for Firefox. Extensions are small bits of code that extend the functionality of Firefox; they're completely free (I think they're open source), and are written by users of the browser. Features like extensions are what make open-source software so powerful: any user who thinks, "Hmm, this could be done better," can dive into the code, make it better, and then share the improvement with the entire community.

Here's the extensions I've found to be useful:

Browsing enhancements

Single Window
- Forces links that would otherwise open in a new window to open in a new tab (preventing one of the most annoying trends in web design).

Define Word - When a word is highlighted on a page, this extension provides a link (on the right-click menu) to look up the word using your choice of dictionary pages.

Tabbrowser Preferences - Creates a "tabbed browsing" area in the preferences window, which adds many options to control the behavior of tabbed browsing (including forcing searches started with the search bar to appear in new tabs in the background).

MediaPlayerConnectivity - Redirects streaming media to other media players, so you can play the streaming media in your media player of choice (outside the browser). Very useful for Linux, which lacks good plugins for streaming media.

Security / privacy

CookieCuller - adds more cookie editing abilities; it allows you to "protect" some cookies so that they are not deleted by the "remove all cookies" option (or the "keep cookies until I close Firefox" option), which makes removing unwanted cookies much easier.

View Cookies - lets you view the cookies the current page is setting.

SwitchProxy Tool - Adds a menu to the browser's status bar allowing you easily switch between multiple proxies. Convenient if you have something like Privoxy or Tor installed (both of which I'll be writing about next week).

SecurePassword Generator - Creates randomly generated passwords, but doesn't store them (you have to remember them).


Gmail Notifier - Adds a little notifier to the bottom of the Firefox window that reports how many unread messages you have in your Gmail inbox. An editors pick, and I can see why: after only a few days I'm already relying on it to tell when I have new Gmail. My only gripe is that it doesn't check multiple accounts.

Bookmarks Synchronizer - A utility that allows you to synchronize your bookmarks across multiple computers, by storing them in an FTP account of your choice.

Sage - An Atom and RSS feed aggregator built into Firefox. I'm still waffling between just reading blogs by checking everyone's page (using a bookmark toolbar folder which I "open in tabs" every morning) and using an aggregator; we'll see if Sage tips the balance.

[Update Dec. 2005: I've stopped using Sage, and have switched to Liferea, an open-source feed reader for Linux/Unix. I've also stopped using the Gmail Notifier (I had it set to check for new mail frequently, and gmail got mad at me), and have started using the Session Saver extension.]

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Rep. Conyers responds to Bush

Yesterday Bush talked about the Downing Street Minutes in a press conference with Tony Blair; Rep. Conyers responded to Bush's statements today:
"We have moved from silence to stonewalling on the issue of the Downing Street Minutes. The President's contention that he had not made up his mind to go to war on or before the summer of 2002 is now contradicted by the Downing Street Minutes, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former National Security Adviser Richard Clarke, former Ambassador Joe Wilson and a number of former Blair Administration official.

"When asked about the minutes, Bush delivered a canned response that the memo was written before the US and Britain went to the United Nations, but the memo itself appears to indicate that effort was just for show.

"The President didn't even respond to the central question of the memo, and the question asked, whether this Administration cooked the books to make the case for war, an allegation that has been substantiated by former officials and investigative reporting . High Ranking officials in both the Bush and Blair Administrations have said that military action was predetermined. Are all of these government officials and reports deceiving us or is the President?
(via DemocraticUnderground)

Debian 3.1 is released; a summary of the Debian distributions

On Monday, The Debian Project announced the official release of Debian 3.1, the newest stable version of Debian. This is big news for Debian, as their last major stable release (3.0) occurred back in 2002. This large lag time between major releases is intentional, and it certainly doesn't mean that Debian's code has been languishing; since 2002 thousands of volunteers have worked on, and improved, the Debian Project's code base.

Saying that it's been three years between major releases also makes it sound like users of Debian are all using three-year-old software (which, for Linux, would be horribly out of date), but this is not the case, as Debian has three release categories ("distributions") available simultaneously:
  • Unstable distribution: the newest and most up to date of the Debian distributions. This is the first distribution new packages (and fixes to old packages) enter, and the entry criteria are relatively low; thus, there may be serious bugs in software in this distribution.
  • Testing distribution: contains relatively new packages, but is more robust than the unstable distribution. Packages from the unstable distribution migrate into the testing distribution only if they've been free of major bugs (security flaws, crashes, etc) for a set amount of time (see the full policy here). Security updates occur via the updating of packages in the unstable distribution, which then migrate into testing.
  • Stable distribution: updated very infrequently. Only packages that have been in testing for a significant amount of time and don't have any major bugs reported enter the stable distribution. The stable distribution is regularly updated by a security team that hunts for bugs and releases security fixes, but otherwise the stable distribution remains static (to enhance stability for uses such as webservers).
So, when I say that Debian 3.1 has just been released, what I mean is that the newest release of Debian's stable distribution is now out. However, I (and many other users) have been running the testing distribution of Debian for quite a while now, and thus functionally I've been running Debian 3.1, even though it wasn't officially released.

So, if you want a rock-solid, stable operating system that won't have any major updates to it (other than security fixes), you want Debian's stable distribution. However, if you're just a regular home user who wants an up-to-date, yet not buggy, version of Debian, Debian's testing distribution is probably the best choice for you. Because 3.1 was just released, Debian testing and Debian stable are currently very similar to each other, but testing will accumulate new software over time, while Debian stable will remain static.

One minor annoyance with running the testing distribution (as I do), is that the stability requirements sometimes keep decent packages out of the distribution. For instance, TWiki recently had a "grave" bug (report page) filed for it, and thus is no longer in the testing distribution (though it is still in the unstable distribution, and will be back in the testing distribution when that bug is patched). Thus, if I were reinstalling the testing distribution right now, I couldn't install TWiki with just the push of a button. However, it's possible to run the testing distribution and install unstable distribution software, so it's not a major issue.

As a side note, the unstable distribution is usually run by developers, and comes with the following warning: "[The unstable distribution] is subject to massive changes and in-place library updates. This can result in a very 'unstable' system which contains packages that cannot be installed due to missing libraries, dependencies that cannot be fulfilled etc. Use it at your own risk!"