Later On

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

Archive for January 2008

Good words (and insights) about John Edwards

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Paul Krugman:

So John Edwards has dropped out of the race for the presidency. By normal political standards, his campaign fell short.But Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.

To understand the extent of the Edwards effect, you have to think about what might have been.

At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.

Before the Edwards plan was unveiled, advocates of universal health care had difficulty getting traction, in part because they were divided over how to get there. Some advocated a single-payer system — a k a Medicare for all — but this was dismissed as politically infeasible. Some advocated reform based on private insurers, but single-payer advocates, aware of the vast inefficiency of the private insurance system, recoiled at the prospect.

With no consensus about how to pursue health reform, and vivid memories of the failure of 1993-1994, Democratic politicians avoided the subject, treating universal care as a vague dream for the distant future.

But the Edwards plan squared the circle, giving people the choice of staying with private insurers, while also giving everyone the option of buying into government-offered, Medicare-type plans — a form of public-private competition that Mr. Edwards made clear might lead to a single-payer system over time. And he also broke the taboo against calling for tax increases to pay for reform.

Suddenly, universal health care became a possible dream for the next administration. In the months that followed, the rival campaigns moved to assure the party’s base that it was a dream they shared, by emulating the Edwards plan. And there’s little question that if the next president really does achieve major health reform, it will transform the political landscape.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 9:21 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

What a sensible government can accomplish

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Would that it were the US:

STAVANGER, NORWAY — To stroll along the harbour of this pretty town on Norway’s North Sea Coast is to follow the history of an economic explosion. To the south, the old wooden canneries are still processing herring and cod, the commodities that until a few decades ago were the mainstays of Norway’s poor, austere economy.

Across the harbour, the constant movement of enormous cranes and construction ships is evidence of the great North Sea oil boom that has turned Stavanger into a high-rent boomtown and Norway into one of the world’s wealthiest nations. The streets of this fishing town are now lined with luxury-goods shops and packed with highly paid foreign workers.

But further from shore, you will find a third economy, a more surprising one that has nothing to do with oil or fish. In one big building just outside of town, a local firm called HighComp is turning out 10-metre-wide housings for huge wind-turbine generators.

“We’re doing our best business in parts of the economy that have nothing to do with oil or fish being pulled from the sea,” said owner Helge Rasmussen, 34. His plastics firm’s wind-power division built $4-million worth of housings last year and has completed deals across Scandinavia and northern Europe.

Closer to the harbour is Laerdal Medical, which makes life-saving devices such as defibrillators and medical simulators for export to 22 countries. Its profits grew by 10 per cent last year, even though Norway’s currency has a high exchange rate. “We had our best year ever last year, and it was 97-per-cent exports, including difficult markets like China,” said Tor Morten Osmundsen, the company’s chief executive.

These companies are no exception. Across Norway, the oil boom is being paralleled by record growth in the non-petroleum, export-driven economy. In November, Norway’s non-oil private-sector economy reported quarterly growth of 1.9 per cent, the equivalent of a 7.6-per-cent annual growth – an astonishing economic performance, beating even the growth of oil and gas exports.

And that is the real surprise here. While it isn’t hard for nations and provinces to get rich from oil, it is exceptionally hard – almost impossible, by conventional economic reasoning – for them to make money off anything else while the oil boom is taking place.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Must all companies be evil?

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Interesting question—and the Scientific American has an article on it:

  • People compete against one another to come out on top—and they also collaborate with others to succeed. This yin and yang of our natures expresses itself in the working world today just as it did in our ancestors as they struggled to survive and thrive.
  • Studies of how corporations work give us insights into the evolutionary underpinnings of our morality, including concepts such as reciprocity, altruism and fairness.
  • Examining the history of two companies, Enron and Google, illuminates the interplay of personal relationships and social institutions in the modern world.

In the 1987 film Wall Street, Michael Douglas’s character, the high-rolling corporate raider Gordon Gekko, explains why America has lost its standing atop the industrial world: “The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated.” He elaborates:

The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed—for lack of a better word—is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed—you mark my words—will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

In the now famous “greed” speech, we find several myths that I hope to bust in this article: that capitalism is grounded in and depends on cutthroat com­petition; that businesspeople must be self-centered and egotistical to achieve success; that evolution is selfish and only winnows and never creates; and, of course, that greed is good.

Humans are by nature tribal and xenophobic, and thus evolution has enabled in all of us the capacity for evil. Fortunately, we are also by nature prosocial and cooperative. By studying how modern companies work, we can gain insights into the evolutionary underpinnings of our morality, including concepts such as reciprocity, altruism and fairness. When we apply these evolutionary findings to economic life, we learn that Enron and the Gordon Gekko “Greed Is Good” ethic are the exception and that Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto is the rule. Two conditions must be present to accentuate the latter: first, internal trust reinforced by personal relationships, and, second, external rules supported by social institutions. The contrast between Enron and Google here serves to demonstrate what in corporate environments creates trust or distrust.

When President George W. Bush made a public statement about the Enron disaster, he attributed the company’s downfall to a “few bad apples,” as he would later also explain the Iraqi prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. The theory about a few bad apples, however, does not explain what happened at Enron, nor does it give us any deeper insight into the psychology of corporate malfeasance. In a comprehensive study of the evolution of Enron’s corporate culture, management analysts Clinton Free and Norman Macintosh of the Queen’s University School of Business in Ontario found that something happened between the time of Richard D. Kinder’s term as president from 1986 to 1996, when Enron operated with a highly effective managerial system that included transparent governance practices, and Jeffrey Skilling’s era, from 1996 to 2001, in which openness and the opportunity for checks and balances were neutralized. What was it?

Enron began in 1985, when Kenneth Lay orchestrated the merger of the Houston Gas Company with Internorth, Inc., becoming CEO of the new energy corporation. Lay then hired Kinder to run it for him while he brokered deals and curried political favors in Washington. During part of the Kinder era, from 1990 to 1996, Enron’s reported earnings increased from $202 million to $584 million, while its revenues skyrocketed from $5.3 billion to $13.4 billion.

The keys to Kinder’s management style were transparency, accountability and his own personal involvement at every level of the company. At regular meetings with managers and department heads, Kinder expected everyone to come prepared to be grilled in great detail about every aspect of their job, and with a near photographic memory Kinder was not easily fooled. As one manager later remembered, “You could give him a budget number and explain where it came from and he’d say, ‘That’s not what you told me last year.’ And then he’d go to his desk and retrieve the year-earlier budget and prove you wrong. It was amazing.” Another unit leader said that Kinder “was impossible to bullshit,” and if managers “lied to him about their numbers, Rich would eat them for lunch.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 1:58 pm

Why I don’t like Hillary

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There’s the vote to invade Iraq. And there are things like this:

In six years as a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, between 1986 and 1992, Hillary Clinton remained silent as the world’s largest retailer waged a major campaign against labor unions seeking to represent store workers.

Clinton has been endorsed for president by more than a dozen unions, according to her campaign Web site, which omits any reference to her role at Wal-Mart in its detailed biography of her.

Wal-Mart’s anti-union efforts were headed by one of Clinton’s fellow board members, John Tate, a Wal-Mart executive vice president who also served on the board with Clinton for four of her six years.

Tate was fond of repeating, as he did at a managers meeting in 2004 after his retirement, what he said was his favorite phrase, “Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living.”

Wal-Mart says Tate’s comments “were his own and do not reflect Wal-Mart’s views.”

But Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and other company officials often recounted how they relied on Tate to lead the company’s successful anti-union efforts.

An ABC News analysis of the videotapes of at least four stockholder meetings where Clinton appeared shows she never once rose to defend the role of American labor unions.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 1:31 pm

Moving toward a police state

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This is grim:

When a Seattle cop kicked the legs out from under a woman, fracturing her cheekbone as she fell face-first onto the pavement, the captain in charge of internal investigations recommended discipline.

But the department rejected the investigator’s recommendation, calling for “supervisory intervention,” a kind of retraining that is not considered disciplinary action by the department.

The “intervention” that the officer received included an admonition to keep using force when necessary on the street.

Six months after the woman was hurt, witnesses said the same cop kicked a suspect in the face as the man was trying to surrender. And once again, he was given retraining.

A Seattle P-I investigation found that the officer, Aaron Parker, has plenty of company. The Seattle Police Department hasn’t disciplined any officers for unnecessary force in the past 18 months, during a time when it ruled on at least 161 force cases. During that same period, 12 other excessive-force complaints resulted in supervisory intervention with officers.

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

War on Drugs claims two more lives, senselessly

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Why on earth do courts allow no-knock searches: they are hazardous for the police and the risks are not worth the potential benefits. Take a look:

Ryan Frederick was arraigned today. He was charged with first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and . . . simple possession of marijuana.

That’s right. Though police still haven’t told us how much marijuana they found, it wasn’t enough to charge Frederick with anything more than a misdemeanor. For a misdemeanor, they broke down his door, a cop is dead, and a 28-year-old guy’s life is ruined. Looks like the informant mistook Frederick’s gardening hobby for an elaborate marijuana growing operation, and those Japanese maple trees for marijuana plants.

The parallels to Cory Maye are pretty striking. You’ve got a young guy minding his own business, with no criminal record, whose worst transgression is that he smokes a little pot from time to time. A bad informant and bad police procedures then converge, resulting in police breaking down his door while he’s sleeping. He fires a gun to defend himself, unwittingly kills a cop, and now faces murder charges.

Here’s hoping Frederick escapes Cory Maye’s fate. This guy shouldn’t be in jail. He should be compensated by the City of Chesapeake. As should the family of Detective Shivers. And these raids need to stop.

You wonder how large the pile of bodies will need to grow before the cops stop breaking down doors and invading homes to enforce consensual crimes.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 1:24 pm

Shopping fun

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Just back from Whole Foods with a haul.

For shaving: to continue the oil-based polish-pass experiment, I got some jojoba oil and a small vial of Pacific Shave Oil (the US answer to Total Shaving Solution), along with a puck of Herban Cowboy shaving soap.

And for food: ground bison, ginger, and scallions to make this; and rainbow carrots and baked tofu to make this. I have the other ingredients. The carrots came with greens, so I’ll sauté the carrot greens along with the hijiki.

Also got a “not-had-before” food: a watermelon radish, which is delicious:

Watermelon radish

The Watermelon Radish is GORGEOUS and when sliced looks just like a watermelon with a green rind and rosy interior. The color intensifies with a splash of vinegar! Just gorgeous in a salad raw, this radish can also be roasted, added to stir fries, sautéed, added to stews, or even boiled and mashed! Milder than most radishes, it is actually slightly sweet with a nice crisp bite when raw, the watermelon radish is an heirloom variety of the Daikon.

Life is good.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Daily life

Note: must read this later

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And how do you mark that when you’re on the Web? Like this:

If you’re anything like us, you probably run across dozens of web pages, news articles, and blog posts every day that look interesting, but which you don’t have time to read right away. There are hundreds of ways to bookmark pages for reviewing later. But we find that whether we’re using browser bookmarking tools, online services like del.icio.us, or a combination like the Read it Later bookmarklet, we wind up getting buried in a pile of unread links after just a few days.

The problem is that most bookmarking methods either make it hard to organize your pages or include a rather cumbersome tagging scheme. Instapaper avoids these problems by offering simple one-click bookmarking. There’s no real organization to speak of other than read and unread items. But if your goal is to save a handful of pages to read later today or over the weekend and don’t need to save them for all eternity, Intapaper can be incredibly useful.

All you need to do is register for a free account (no password necessary, just enter a name or email address) and drag a bookmarklet to your browser toolbar. When you visit a site you want to read later, just click the bookmarklet and it will be added to your Instapaper page. When you want to see the list, just visit Instapaper.com. Every time you click on a link it will be marked as read. Or you can delete links you no longer need. That’s it.

Instapaper probably won’t win any awards for the largest number of features packed into a web site. But it does one thing and does it well.

UPDATE: Also see Corey’s tip in comments.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 10:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Reality vs. Bush

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Mark Kleiman makes a good point:

George W. Bush asserts that when Congress appropriates funds but then forbids their expenditure for a specific purpose, he may and will spend them for that purpose if he thinks that obeying the law

could inhibit the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, to protect national security, to supervise the executive branch, and to execute his authority as commander in chief.

To which I can only say, “Huh”? The Constitution specifies (Art. 1, Sec. 9) that

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.

The Constitution does not, of course, give the President any authority to “protect national security.” That phrase does not occur in the text, although the Preamble says that one of the purposes of the government is to “Provide for the Common Defense.” Nor does it give him any authority to “supervise the Executive Branch,” as opposed to specific powers to appoint officials and require written opinions from them and a general duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

If the President can spend funds to do something for which the Congress explicitly didn’t appropriate them, why does he need an appropriation in the first place? As Commander in Chief, why can’t he simply appropriate as much money as he sees fit for whatever “national security” purpose he sees fit?

I speak subject to the correction of experts in Constitutional law, but this, even more than the rest of Mr. Bush’s signing statements, strikes me as truly revolutionary, a raw grab for power that anyone who calls himself a conservative or a friend of limited government should reject with horror.

But I fear that the wells of horror have been drained dry by the past seven years, and that no faction of the Republican Party remains truly conservative. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 10:40 am

So corrupt they don’t even see it

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Corruption is bad when it becomes so common it’s just part of the day-to-day scenery. Glenn Greenwald:

Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, featuring day-long testimony from Attorney General Michael Mukasey, was extraordinary for only one reason: for our country, what happened in the hearing is now completely ordinary. While Mukasey may be marginally more straightforward than Alberto Gonzales was — more willing to conform to the procedural formalities of independence — he is, ideologically, a clone of John Yoo and David Addington and is as much of a loyal adherent to the Bush/Cheney extremist worldview as Gonzales ever was.Mukasey explicitly embraces the most extreme theories of presidential omnipotence and lawlessness and displays as much Cheney-ite contempt for the notion of Congressional oversight as the Vice President himself. He repeatedly endorsed patently illegal behavior — including torture — and refused even to pretend that he cared what the Senate thought about any of it. He even told Republican Senators that they have no right to pass a whistleblower law allowing federal employees who learn of lawbreaking to inform Congress about it, because such a law would infringe on the President’s constitutional powers. In Mukasey’s worldview, the President has unlimited power and Congress has none.

And none of this is particularly surprising, given that — as I emphasized after his nomination was announced — Mukasey is the federal judge who, when presiding over the Padilla case in 2002, endorsed the most tyrannical and un-American power there is, when he ruled that the President even has the power to imprison U.S. citizens indefinitely, even when detained on U.S. soil, with no process of any kind — a position he refused to repudiate during his confirmation hearing.

None of what he said yesterday is extraordinary, despite how radical and jarring it is. Mukasey repeatedly insisted that even his most lawlessness-endorsing views are within our political mainstream, and he’s right about that. It’s now been seven years that our country has functioned under the radical executive power theories of the Bush administration, which include the right of the President to break the law. Congress long ago decided it would do nothing about any of it, would acquiesce to it, and thus — as was predictable and predicted — it has all become normalized.

Yesterday’s hearing was the most potent illustration we’ve seen of that normalization. But it was potent not because anything happened yesterday, but precisely because nothing did happen — and nothing will.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 10:08 am

Basic meat soboro

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This seems like an excellent thing to have on hand for lunches and quick snacks/dinners. And as a bento box lunch, all the better.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 9:43 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Why we’ll miss John Edwards

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John Edwards was my choice, for reasons like the following (from an email sent by the Center for American Progress):

Returning to where he began, former North Carolina senator John Edwards ended his presidential campaign yesterday in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, imploring his supporters to “not give up on the causes that we have fought for” in the effort “to make the two Americas one.” During his campaign, Edwards laid out policy areas that will continue to animate the national debate in 2008, calling “for the United States to reduce its troop presence in Iraq” and issuing “a plea for citizen action to combat poverty, global warming and America’s reliance on foreign oil.” As CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric said last night, “John Edwards may have ended his presidential campaign. But what he started isn’t over. He and his message have left a lasting impression.”

PUTTING POVERTY FIRST: No issue was more important to Edwards than poverty and the plight of economic inequality in America, which he sought to cut by a third in a decade and end within 30 years. In his farewell speech, Edwards said that he had obtained pledges from the remaining Democratic candidates, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), to “make ending poverty and economic inequality central to their presidency.” Edwards’s efforts to guarantee that “his quest for economic justice would be carried forward” is emblematic of the role he played throughout the campaign, boldly challenging his fellow candidates to take on big issues with progressive policy prescriptions. The Center for American Progress shares Edwards’s goals, having offered a plan to cut poverty in half in ten years. Last week, the House of Representatives, without objection, approved a resolution by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), declaring that the House supported the goal of cutting poverty in half in ten years.

GUARANTEEING HEALTH CARE: When Edwards unveiled his health care plan “in early 2007, it won widespread acclaim for proposing” to “cover everybody and make health care, once and for all, a right of citizenship.” As The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn notes, it was “something no mainstream…presidential contender had proposed since the early 1990s.” Soon after he rolled out his proposal, other candidates followed suit, embracing his ambitious goal. The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein writes that “the mixture of a progressive, transformative health care plan and a credible candidate instantly reshaped the politics of health care.” By proposing a universal health care plan “long before that of any other major candidate,” Edwards changed the debate so that “any politician who proposed an overly cautious or incremental plan would lose voters.” As The New York Times’s Paul Krugman wrote in Feb. 2007, Edwards’s plan addressed “both the problem of the uninsured and the waste and inefficiency of our fragmented insurance system,” which forced other candidates to “come up with something comparable.”

COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE: Declaring that “our generation must be the one that says, ‘we must halt global warming,’” Edwards was “the first presidential candidate to call for reducing U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050” and the first to make his “campaign carbon neutral.” Following Edwards’s lead, both Clinton and Obama made similar commitments to reduce carbon emissions. As he did with health care, Edwards was the first candidate to introduce a detailed energy plan. After Edwards laid out his plan, the League of Conservation Voters applauded it as “the most comprehensive global warming plan of any presidential candidate to date” and encouraged other candidates to follow suit. As The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias wrote yesterday of Edwards, “his climate change proposal is sweeping enough to meet the standard that scientists tell us is necessary to avert catastrophe,” which might sound “bizarre to hail” as an achievement, “but the truth is that” other candidates “weren’t on board until Edwards was.”

BRINGING TROOPS HOME: In 2002, Edwards voted in the Senate to authorize the use of force against Iraq, a vote that he did not repudiate as both a presidential and vice-presidential candidate in 2004, even though he was a critic of the war. But on Nov. 13, 2005, Edwards penned an op-ed in the Washington Post definitively declaring that “it was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002,” saying, “I was wrong.” As a presidential candidate, Edwards insisted that “there is no military solution to the chaos in Iraq” and called for “an immediate withdrawal of 40,000-50,000 troops and a complete withdrawal within nine to ten months.” Unlike New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Edwards never committed to removing all residual troops from Iraq, but he did take the lead in committing to “withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police.” As the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis and Lawrence Korb have argued, “[T]raining and equipping Iraqi security forces risks making Iraq’s civil war even bloodier and more vicious than it already is today.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 9:03 am

Posted in Democrats, Election

A dark side of France

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Whistleblowers prosecuted:

The case of Pierre Meneton is fueling demands for legal protections for whistleblowers in France. Meneton is a researcher for the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research. He is going to court on January 31, 2008, to face charges of defamation. Several industrial salt producers are suing Meneton for a comment he made during an interview in March 2006. “The lobbying of salt producers and agribusiness is very active. It misinforms health professionals and the media.” While the negative effects of salt on health are no secret, it was not until Meneton went public with claims of unethical practices in the research analysis of the French Authority for Food Safety and of the consistent meddling of the salt industry that it was widely publicized. Environmental health researcher Andre Cicolella says that while Meneton may not be a whistleblower by all definitions, his case would benefit from the same types of protections that are lacking for those that do qualify. For instance, Veronique Lapides is a resident of the Paris suburb of Vincennes. She raised the alert about a high rate of childhood cancer in the area and pushed for environmental clean up. Now she is being sued for defamation by the mayor of Vincennes. Cicolella said that this case shows “absent laws to protect whistleblowers, this type of pressure can be exerted not only on scientists, but on citizens as well.” In the U.S., the Senate just passed a bill to reinforce whistleblower protections for U.S. government workers, but it needs to be reconciled with a stronger bill passed by the House in March 2007.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 9:00 am

Sick: kill off the polar bears

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The Bush Administration’s goal for its waning hours: do as much damage as possible in the time left. This one is sickening:

Source: The Independent (UK), January 22, 2008

Scientists in eight Arctic nations prepared “a landmark assessment of oil and gas activity” in the region over six years, including “a clear set of recommendations on how to extract safely what are thought to be up to one quarter of the world’s energy reserves.” But the United States government blocked the report’s release, as it prepares “to sell off exploration licenses for the frozen Chukchi Sea off Alaska, one of the last intact habitats of the polar bear.” One of the authors of the report said the U.S. move “could be linked to activities in the Chukchi Sea … where more research and assessment is needed.” Another author said a “key message” of the stalled report is “to check more before you drill for oil and gas in the Arctic.” The U.S. Center for Biological Diversity’s climate director called the U.S. action “part of the Bush-Cheney strategy of handing out as many fossil fuel entitlements as quickly as they can in their final months in office.” The Bush administration rushed the Chukchi sales, scheduled for February 6, “before Congress can complete efforts to protect the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act,” which would also complicate oil exploration in the area.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 8:57 am

80% efficient solar panel!

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This is a BIG advance. Now just to figure out how to tap the energy:

The most expensive, carefully designed, and complicated solar panels in the world operate at about 40% efficiency. That means that, for every bit of sunlight that hits the panel, only 40% of it is turned into electricity.

Scientists think that this is just about as good as silicon panels can do and are now looking at ways to make it cheaper, instead of making them more efficient. But suddenly, from nowhere, comes Steven Novack of the Idaho National Laboratories with an inexpensive, foldable solar panel that may turn out to be up to 80% efficient.

The trick is nanotechnology. The surface of the material is printed with minuscule nano-antennae that capture infra-red radiation, the kind that the sun puts out in abundance, and is even available at night. Television antennas absorb large wavelength energy, so in order to absorb ultra-small wavelength energy (photons) they had to create ultra-small antennas.

The material is fairly simple to create, and scientists are confident that it would scale easily out of the laboratory. But there is a bit of a hitch: There’s currently no way to capture the energy being created.

So while there are electrons pouring out of the nano-antennas when exposed to the sun, there is no way to capture those electrons. But don’t worry, those geniuses in Idaho are working on that already. By putting a tiny capacitor, or AC/DC converter in the center of every tiny tiny antenna, they think they could make this new kind of solar panel export all that energy it’s created without raising the price, or lowering the efficiency too much.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 8:54 am

Superb shave today

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I went all-out. First, the Allison mango-oil shaving soap, lathered with the Rooney Style 1 Size 1 Super Silvertip. Then the Edwin Jagger ivory-handled Chatsworth with an Astra Superior Platinum blade (of a few uses): three good passes, with, across, and against the grain. No nicks, no irritation. Then after rinsing my face and leaving it wet, 5 drops of Total Shaving Solution oil and an against-the-grain polish wherever my left hand felt some roughness.

The TSS is quite mentholated, so I went the full menthol route with Floïd Suave aftershave.

My face feels incredibly smooth—and cool. This is a shave for date night.

UPDATE: A thought: a few drops of olive oil or jojoba oil would work as well as Total Shaving Solution. That’s my prediction. I’ll give it a go.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2008 at 8:49 am

Posted in Shaving

My mouth is on fire! Yum!

with 3 comments

If you like spicy—as who doesn’t?—you probably envy me my little pepper mill (red, naturally) filled with crushed dried habanero peppers. Hah! I thought you would, so I decided to blog it. (I’ve been using it lately: grinding a little habanero over things does pick up the heat level nicely, but also produces some gigantic sneezes from the dust that floats free—a bonus of sorts.)

But when I check, I discover that they now have Bhut Jolokia, the hottest pepper on earth according to the Guiness Book of Records, along with Red Savina Habanero (second hottest pepper), Aji Limon Pepper (not very hot, but tasty), and Indian PC-1 Pepper (middling hot, but enough to get your attention).

Moreover, their MaxiMill has a grinder head that can be put on any of several jars—so you can keep all the dried peppers around, each in its own jar, and grind whichever one appeals to you.

Here’s the catalog.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2008 at 7:10 pm

Posted in Food

Two good books

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I’ve already mentioned The Bush Tragedy, but now I’ve finished it. Fascinating view of the underlying psychological causes of what we see now. Not judgmental, and even showing some degree of empathy, the book explores how the character and character flaws of each of the major players created a perfect storm of ill-used power.

The other book is a brief autobiography, focusing mainly on his work in Iraq, of a Marine scout/sniper, Gunnery Sergeant Jack Coughlin: Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper. It’s technical and interesting and shows how Coughlin found a new role for the sniper in modern urban combat.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2008 at 4:27 pm

The IT infrastructure as Web utility

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Interesting column:

When the founder of Microsoft retires this year, it will not only mark the close of a remarkable business career. It will signal the end of an era in computing.

“The next sea change is upon us.” Those words appeared in an extraordinary memorandum that Bill Gates sent to Microsoft’s top managers and engineers on October 30 2005.

Belying its bloodless title – “Internet Software Services” – the memo was intended to sound an alarm, to warn the company that a new revolution in computing was under way, and that it threatened to upend Microsoft’s traditional business.

What had always been the linchpin of Microsoft’s success – its control over the PC desktop – was fading in importance. Thanks to the proliferation of broadband connections in homes and offices, people no longer had to buy packaged software programs and install them on their computers. Instead, they could use their web browsers to tap into software supplied over the internet from central data-processing plants.

“The broad and rich foundation of the internet will unleash a ‘services wave’ of applications and experiences available instantly,” Mr Gates wrote. This new wave, he said, “will be very disruptive”.

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2008 at 4:21 pm

The ownership society

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Krugman:

The homeownership rate has fallen sharply again. At this point it’s back down to levels of fall 2001.

Two implications.

First, everything you’ve heard about how subprime lending at least made the dream of homeownership available to many Americans who were previously excluded — never mind. We’re back down to homeownership rates before the subprime boom.

Second, it’s now virtually certain that by the end of the Bush administration homeownership will be lower than it was at the beginning. More of that economy other presidents would envy, I guess.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2008 at 4:10 pm

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