Later On

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

Archive for July 2007

US: a global credit risk?

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Warning from Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch:

Subprimes downgraded. Will Moody’s downgrade America’s debt next? Actually, that’s already happening; our credit rating is collapsing with the dollar.

Foreign banks are dumping dollar reserves, while we gorge on cheap toys and bad pet food. Actually, our biggest “terrorist” threat is internal: Distorted values are downgrading our nation’s “creditworthiness.” We’re like out-of-control kids with stolen credit cards, spending our future with no plans to repay.

Recently Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International), appeared before the U.S. House Budget Committee to “discuss an issue of great economic, financial and national security importance to our country — the growing dependence of the United States on foreign capital.” Currently we import $1 trillion new debt annually, with no repayment plans. That’s a historic break from over two centuries of American policy.

Hormats was in Washington with warnings from his brilliant new book, “The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars.” He traces the history of American wartime financing from the Revolution through the War of 1812, the Civil War, the two World Wars and the Cold War to the present.

Conclusion: “One central, constant theme emerges: sound national finances have proved to be indispensable to the country’s military strength” and long-term national security.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 7:57 pm

BP gets OK to dump mercury into Lake Michigan

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Ugly:

 A BP (BP) refinery in Indiana will be allowed to continue to dump mercury into Lake Michigan under a permit issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The permit exempts the BP plant at Whiting, Ind., 3 miles southeast of Chicago, from a 1995 federal regulation limiting mercury discharges into the Great Lakes to 1.3 ounces per year.

The BP plant reported releasing 3 pounds of mercury through surface water discharges each year from 2002 to 2005, according to the Toxics Release Inventory, a database on pollution emissions kept by the Environmental Protection Agency that is based on information reported by companies.

The permit was issued July 21 in connection with the plant’s $3.8 billion expansion, but only late last week began to generate public controversy. It gives the company until at least 2012 to meet the federal standard.

The action was denounced by environmental groups and members of Congress.

“With one permit, this company and this state are undoing years of work to keep pollution out of our Great Lakes,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., co-sponsor of a resolution overwhelmingly approved by the House last week that condemned BP’s plans.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

Politics: the seamy side

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From CBS News:

The supersonic F-35 Lightning II is the military’s next-generation strike fighter. It flies so fast that the speed is classified.

Pratt & Whitney has the government contract to make the jet’s high-performance engine. But your tax dollars are also paying for GE to develop a spare engine — and it has cost you $1.6 billion so far.

The idea is that if GE and Pratt & Whitney compete, they’ll build better engines that cost less and end up saving money. But here’s where it really gets interesting: The military doesn’t want the alternate engine. The Air Force and two independent panels have concluded it’s “not necessary and not affordable” and that the supposed savings from competition “will never be achieved.”

So why did Sen. Ted Kennedy personally earmark $100 million tax dollars for the project this year alone? He wouldn’t agree to an interview, but part of the answer has to do with where it could be built: at GE’s Massachusetts plant in Kennedy’s home state — where it would bring jobs.

Kennedy is not the only one who wants to spend your tax money on the project. So does Congresswoman Jean Schmidt.

“The military says we don’t want it. It’s not going to save money in the long run. Why should taxpayers fund it?,” asks CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 5:40 pm

Fox News = bad reporting

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Global warming, GOP, Media

Still doing well

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Just came from endocrinologist: HbA1c at 5.9%, just at the top of the “normal” range. Liver enzymes, blood pressure, cholesterol all good. Need to lose weight and exercise more. I think a lot of the good control is my avoidance of high-sugar, high-refined starch foods. I also avoid potatoes, which send my blood glucose up. (Not true for everyone, of course.) Lots of whole grains, veggies, etc.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Daily life

The UK approach to corporate manslaughter

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Interesting article from FindLaw by Anthony J. Sebok, a FindLaw columnist and a Professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City:

Last week, the British government agreed to introduce a new law titled the “Corporate Manslaughter Statute.” This law is remarkable because it attempts to make companies–not persons–criminally responsible for deaths caused by a firm’s gross negligence. In this column, I will examine the law’s structure, its history, and finally, I will ask how American law approaches the same problems the Corporate Manslaughter Act is designed to solve.

The Corporate Manslaughter Act

The British law allows the state to prosecute a corporation or partnership (an “organization” for short) for the crime of manslaughter if the organization causes the death of a person as the result of its “gross” breach of a duty owed under the law of negligence. However, in order for the state to prove its case, it must prove that a substantial element of the gross breach of duty resulted from the way in which the organization’s activities were “managed or organised by its senior management.”

The penalties for violating the act are quite interesting. First, a court can impose unlimited financial penalties on the organization, once it is convicted. Second, a court may issue a “publicity order,” which requires the organization to publicly announce (through advertisements, it seems) that it has been successfully prosecuted for corporate manslaughter and is subject to any other penalties the court may have ordered.

The third and final potential penalty is that the court can order the organization to publicly take remedial steps to correct the conditions that led to the breach of duty. This penalty could have potentially far-reaching consequences, depending on how the courts choose to interpret it. For example, under this remedy, suppose a court decides that a design defect was the result of conscious indifference to the safety of others (such as in the famous Ford Pinto case). The court could simply order a manufacturer to change the design of their product–a power that no American court currently possesses.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 10:41 am

Posted in Business, Government

Page numbering in MS Word

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I’m writing another book—this one will be available as a free download—and I’m going crazy with MS Word page numbering. But I did find this useful document, so I thought I’d share the knowledge.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Emergency fund strategies

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A useful post on 21 strategies to create an emergency fund.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 8:56 am

Posted in Daily life

Yum! Make your own Kua Txob Tuav Xyaw Dos

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 8:19 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Credit card usury

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The NY Times has a good editorial today:

The federal agencies that are supposed to regulate the banking and credit card industries have failed utterly to keep pace with deceptive and unfair practices that have become shamefully standard in the business. As a consequence many hard-working Americans who pay their bills are mired in debt — and in danger of losing whatever savings they have, and perhaps their homes. Congress, which sat on its hands while the problem got worse and worse, needs to rein in this sometimes predatory industry.

The scope of the problem was laid out in Congressional hearings this spring held by Senator Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan. According to testimony, one witness exceeded his charge card’s $3,000 limit by $200 — triggering what eventually amounted to $7,500 in penalties and interest. After paying an average of $1,000 a year for six years, the man still owed $4,400.

That experience has become all too common as the credit card industry has stealthily adopted methods designed to maximize burdensome penalties and fees, while ratcheting up interest rates as high as 30 percent. Companies bombard unwary consumers with teaser packages that promise very low interest rates to start, while reserving for themselves the right to raise rates whenever they choose. The details are buried in deliberately arcane contracts that run 30 pages long and that even lawyers have trouble understanding.

Congressional investigations and studies by consumer advocates have exposed other unsavory practices. Some card companies apply penalty rates retroactively — to purchases that were made before the penalty was incurred or in some cases to debts that were even paid off. As one Congressional witness pointed out, the credit card industry is the only one allowed to increase the price of a product after it has been sold.

Under a provision known as “universal default,” a cardholder who pays a credit card company faithfully can still be hit with a high penalty interest rate for missing payments with another creditor. In another despicable tactic known as “double cycle billing,” a cardholder who pays $450 of a $500 balance is charged interest on the entire amount as opposed to the unpaid balance.

State usury laws would once have precluded many of these practices, but those have been preempted by federal regulations that are increasingly designed to make banks and credit card companies happy — rather than protect consumers.

A bill introduced by Senator Levin would limit “penalty” interest rates to an additional 7 percent above the previous rate. It would also prohibit retroactive penalties and double cycle billing, and it would limit the amount of fees companies could charge customers who exceed their credit limit.

Passing the Levin bill would be a good start. But Congress needs a comprehensive approach to this problem. Lawmakers need to ban deceptive card offers outright, strengthen federal oversight and toughen truth-in-lending laws.

Meanwhile, American consumers should think long and hard before they accept credit card offers that are too good to be true.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 8:10 am

Nelly on the hunt

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Nelly on the hunt

Here’s Nelly in her New York apartment. If that stupid pigeon was on this side of the window, he’d be a goner.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 7:55 am

Posted in Cats, Nelly

Mango oil shaving soap

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I used the J&E Atkinson Mango Oil shaving soap this morning. Very good lather, worked up with the Simpsons Emperor 1 Super, a fine little brush. Three passes of the Treet Blue Special in the Edwin Jagger Ivory Chatsworth. This is the fifth shave for this blade—and still no sign of rust. I got an excellent shave, but I had to do a bit more work. Probably four is the magic number. I think, though, I’ll try for a sixth shave, just to bring the cost per shave for the blade below 2¢, thus saving ever so much money.

Aftershave was Taylor of Old Bond Street No. 74 Victorian Lime.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2007 at 7:21 am

Posted in Shaving

If your tap water is hard

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Very hard water makes shaving difficult—the soap won’t lather, the razor scums up, etc. One solution is to get a household water softener—ideally one that regenerates by volume of water used, not by time—and have all taps except the kitchen cold go through the water softener.

But a simpler solution is to buy (inexpensive) distilled water at the drugstore (sold in gallons for use with steam irons, for example) and a hot-water dispenser:

Instant Hot Water: Prepare foods and beverages faster with instant hot water from a Zojirushi electric dispensing water pot. Water is dispensed electrically — no hand pumping required. New wide-angle visual water level gauge, sturdy handle, easy to clean nonstick interior. Micro computerized control maintains temperature at your choice of 175°, 195° or 208° F, with constant display of actual water temperature via extra large LCD display. Features dechlorinate mode, reboil mode, descaling mode, auto shutoff for boil-dry protection, and swivel base. Program function allows you to select delayed start time. The 40″ power cord is securely held onto the unit by a powerful magnet, yet detaches extremely easily for refilling. (Lid also detaches for filling.) Smart touches like this abound on Zojirushi’s products.

Safe: There’s no safer way to use hot water than with a Zojirushi instant hot water dispenser. “Unlock” button prevents accidental activation, and water is dispensed straight downward into your cup or other container in a gentle, steady stream. The risk of sloshing scalding hot water from open containers is eliminated.

Efficient: Set at 175°, Zojirushi rates the 12 hour power consumption of the LCC50 at under 500 cumulative watts. Compared to the energy-wasteful method of stovetop heating, Zojirushi instant hot water dispensers save not only time, but energy and money too.

The Younger Daughter uses something like this to have instant hot water available for making a cup of tea at her office. (She doesn’t use distilled water for that, of course.)

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2007 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Dept of Justice still in decline

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From FindLaw, by Carl Tobias, the Williams Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

2007 has not exactly been a great year for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. DOJ’s problems include the ongoing controversy over nine U.S. Attorneys’ dismissal and the departure of many upper-echelon DOJ officials partly because of that dispute. But they don’t stop here: There is also the continuing controversy over the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program and related initiatives, such as the misuse of national security letters. Moreover, there have been longstanding fights with Congress that involve many DOJ programs’ overpoliticization, and implicate the Attorney General’s candor. These developments have conspired to erode professionalism, morale and effectiveness at the DOJ.

If remedial actions are not instituted soon, the Department’s downward spiral will continue and adversely affect DOJ, the justice system, and national law enforcement.

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2007 at 3:15 pm

Police like to harass photographers

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The list of police harassment of photographers is long. Police especially don’t like photographs being taken when they are arresting someone, but in general the police rule is “No photographs.” But note this:

A few months ago, my improv troupe was filming a guerrilla improv mission. Something odd happened to our camera man on his way back to the studio:

I stopped at the corner of 11th and walnut (right in front of City Center Square) and started shooting some additional construction work to weave in our piece. As I was shooting on the public sidewalk, a blue blazered security officer from City Center Square walked across the street to where I was and said I couldn’t shoot anymore. I explained my rights as a photographer shooting in public domain and he said it didn’t matter because there were federal offices in City Center Square and that was a no-no. Gotta’ love the Patriot Act.

If only he had Bert Krages’ flier, The Photographer’s Right, handy.

Most attempts at restricting photography are done by lower-level security and law enforcement officials acting way beyond their authority. Note that neither the Patriot Act nor the Homeland Security Act have any provisions that restrict photography. Similarly, some businesses have a history of abusing the rights of photographers under the guise of protecting their trade secrets. These claims are almost always meritless because entities are required to keep trade secrets from public view if they want to protect them.

If you are a photographer or videographer, you need to print off and carry this flier. Stop letting fear keep you from doing your craft.

And also note this:

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2007 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Expertise demonstrated by errors

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Greenwald:

What is the most vivid and compelling evidence of how broken our political system is? It is that the exact same people who urged us into the war in Iraq, were wrong in everything they said, and issued one false assurance after the next as the war failed, continue to be the same people held up as our Serious Iraq Experts. The exact “experts” to whom we listened in 2002 and 2003 are the same exact establishment “experts” now.

Hence, today we have yet another Op-Ed declaring that We Really Are Winning in Iraq This Time — this one in the NYT from “liberal” Brookings Institution “scholars” Ken Pollack and Mike O’Hanlon. They accuse war critics of being “unaware of the significant changes taking place,” proclaim that “we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” and the piece is entitled “A War we Might Just Win.”

The Op-Ed is an exercise in rank deceit from the start. To lavish themselves with credibility — as though they are war skeptics whom you can trust — they identify themselves at the beginning “as two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” In reality, they were not only among the biggest cheerleaders for the war, but repeatedly praised the Pentagon’s strategy in Iraq and continuously assured Americans things were going well. They are among the primary authors and principal deceivers responsible for this disaster.

Worse, they announce that “the Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility,” as though they have not. But let us look at Michael O’Hanlon, and review just a fraction of the endless string of false and misleading statements he made about Iraq and ask why anyone would possibly listen to him about anything, let alone consider him an “expert” of any kind:

Read the whole column.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2007 at 11:53 am

Posted in Iraq War, Media

Three Emperors and a Rooney

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(click for full size)

The photo is a little misleading: the two smaller Emperors are roughly as white on the tips of the bristles and the largest. These are the Simpsons Emperor family in Super: Emperor 3 (the largest), Emperor 2, and Emperor 1 (the smallest). The tape measure is for scale, and on the other side of it is the Rooney Style 2 Finest for comparison.

I like all the Emperors. Em’s Place (scroll down) has the Emperor 3, but I don’t think that she carries the Emperor 2 and 1, which I bought from the Gentleman’s Shop. (If the brush is shipped out of the UK, you don’t pay the VAT.)

I like all three of the Emperors and use all three, but if you were to buy just one, I think it probably should be the Emperor 3. And I do like the Super.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2007 at 11:35 am

Posted in Shaving

Gonzales: a pattern of prevarication

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Washington Post:

When Alberto R. Gonzales was asked during his January 2005 confirmation hearing whether the Bush administration would ever allow wiretapping of U.S. citizens without warrants, he initially dismissed the query as a “hypothetical situation.”

But when Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) pressed him further, Gonzales declared: “It is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.”

By then, however, the government had been conducting a secret wiretapping program for more than three years without court oversight, possibly in conflict with federal intelligence laws. Gonzales had personally defended the effort in fierce internal debates. Feingold later called his testimony that day “misleading and deeply troubling.”

The accusation that Gonzales has been deceptive in his public remarks has erupted this summer into a full-blown political crisis for the Bush administration, as the beleaguered attorney general struggles repeatedly to explain to Congress the removal of a batch of U.S. attorneys, the wiretapping program and other actions.

In each case, Gonzales has appeared to lawmakers to be shielding uncomfortable facts about the Bush administration’s conduct on sensitive matters. A series of misstatements and omissions has come to define his tenure at the helm of the Justice Department and is the central reason that lawmakers in both parties have been trying for months to push him out of his job.

Yet controversy over Gonzales’s candor about George W. Bush’s conduct or policies has actually dogged him for more than a decade, since he worked for Bush in Texas.

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2007 at 9:25 am

Number of hurricanes doubled due to global warming

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Reuters:

The number of Atlantic hurricanes in an average season has doubled in the last century due in part to warmer seas and changing wind patterns caused by global warming, according to a study released on Sunday.

Hurricane researchers have debated for years whether climate change caused by greenhouse gases from cars, factories and other human activity is resulting in more, and more intense, tropical storms and hurricanes.

The new study, published online in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, said the increased numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes in the last 100 years is closely related to a 1.3-degree Fahrenheit rise in sea surface temperatures.

The influential U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a report this year warning that humans contribute to global warming, said it was “more likely than not” that people also contribute to a trend of increasingly intense hurricanes.

In the new study, conducted by Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Peter Webster of Georgia Institute of Technology, researchers found three periods since 1900 when the average number of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes increased sharply, and then leveled off and remained steady.

From 1900 to 1930, Atlantic hurricane seasons saw six storms on average, with four hurricanes and two tropical storms. From 1930 to 1940, the annual average rose to ten, including five hurricanes.

From 1995 to 2005, the average rose to 15, with eight hurricanes and seven tropical storms, the researchers said.

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2007 at 9:21 am

More on the Media

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James Fallows was on the case 11 years ago:

My thanks to my Atlantic-blog colleague Matthew Yglesias (plus others) for referring back to my 1996 cover story in the Atlantic, Why Americans Hate the Media. Three pentimenti:

* The related American Prospect piece that M. Yglesias also mentions, which is oddly listed on the Prospect site as having come out in 2002, was in fact published in March, 1999 — while Bill Clinton’s enemies were still smiting him about (his idiocy involving) Monica Lewinsky. I remember so clearly because I wrote it during “personal time” while working on the Word product-design team at Microsoft in the first half of 1999.

* On evergreenness in general: several times I have considered revisiting the whole what’s-wrong-with-the-press question and have instead plugged on with other topics — Iraq policy, China — for reasons that boil down to: what’s the point? The problems with the media are the same as I tried to describe 11 years ago — just worse, and with new technology. But there’s always tomorrow…

* That Atlantic cover story was in fact an excerpt from my book Breaking the News. And anyone who would like to read the pitch in its full glory need only click here.

You can buy Breaking the News here at a good price.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2007 at 9:09 am

Posted in Media

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