Later On

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

Archive for April 11th, 2010

I’m going to have a hamburger meltdown

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This baby is called “Silence of the Lambs.” Take a look at what goes into one (and then, I wish, into me).

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Greek Baked Beans With Honey and Dill

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I just made this recipe, and it’s really tasty.

I used Lima beans, but I did soak them—perhaps a mistake, since the beans ended up with more liquid than I expected. I did NOT add the 2 cups of water called for after draining the beans, and I believe that would be a mistake.

In caramelizing the onions, I set the timer for 15 minutes and kept them sautéing over medium to medium-high heat, stirring often. The caramelized onions are a big part of the flavor, so don’t rush that step.

Worth making.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Standing cat

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Via Boing Boing:

Explanation here.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 10:45 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Don Blankenship warned West Virginia that he believes in “survival of the fittest”

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Brad Johnson at Climate Progress:

Coal baron Don Blankenship is complaining about the “indignity” of the press for investigating his role as the CEO of Massey Energy, whose Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, WV, is the site of the deadliest mining disaster since 1984, with at least 25 miners killed. Blankenship has a long record of putting coal profits over safety. At the time of the accident, Massey was contesting dozens of major safety violations at the Montcoal mine, even as Blankenship increased production.

Blankenship has a “dark, soulless, and destructive social-Darwinist” view of the United States, as Brad Johnson explains in this repost.

Blankenship — whose $23.7 million annual compensation includes the use of the company jet and helicopter and a mansion with several servants — has made no effort to hide his “radical” philosophy of unfettered capitalism. He explained this philosophy most clearly in a 1986 documentary by Anne Lewis on his role crushing the union miners at Massey’s Blackberry Creek mine, saying that “everybody’s going to have to learn to accept” that the United States is ruled by the law of “survival of the fittest”:

What you have to accept in a capitalist society, generally, is that I always make the comparison it’s like a jungle, where a jungle is survival of the fittest. Unions, communities, people, everybody’s going to have to learn to accept that in the United States you have a capitalist society. And that capitalism from a business viewpoint is survival of the most productive. And you may have a year, two years, five year periods where lesser productive companies or people have benefit. But in the long term, it’s going to be the most productive people who benefit.

Blankenship’s social-Darwinist view of the United States is dark, soulless, and destructive. Unlike the mythical uber-capitalists of Ayn Rand novels, Blankenship has no interest in free-market competition within the bounds of the law. Instead, he subverts the political system, busts unions, illegally destroys Appalachia’s unique ecosystem, flouts labor laws, ignores safety rules, and intimidates employees to serve his black obsession with running coal.

Blankenship has successfully delivered his twisted vision of society to West Virginia — flattened mountains, toxic waters, crushing poverty, political corruption, broken communities, and the needless, preventable deaths of the state’s hard-working miners.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 10:35 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project

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Fascinating Web site. One entry:

Sorry about being a bit later with this recap than usual, Friday was pretty hectic and today will be too. I’m still working on our Q1 statistical report but it’s taking a while because of my schedule at my day job.

(We use the police misconduct reports captured by our news feed to generate statistical data, see here if you don’t know what I’m talking about)

So far the numbers seem to suggest that over $50 million was spent on police misconduct lawsuit settlements and judgments over the first three months of 2010 and there were over 1,500 law enforcement officers and over 80 law enforcement leaders involved in those reports we captured.

In any case, here are the 21 reports of police misconduct that our National Police Misconduct News Feed captured for Friday, April 09, 2010:

  • An Assumption Parish Louisiana sheriff’s lieutenant has been placed on paid administrative leave after officers preparing for a drug trial discovered that evidence in that case appeared to have been mishandled. The sheriff called for an external investigation by state police.  When we see something like this it tends to indicate that someone stole some drugs or money from evidence, but not always… something to keep an eye on.
  • Two Springfield Michigan police officers have been accused of beating & tasering a domestic violence suspect and then shooting his dog while the suspect attempted to hold the dog back and protect it. This one is a case of he said vs cops said as there weren’t any independent witnesses and no video, so it’s not likely to result in anything.
  • An unknown number of NYPD police officers have been accused of brutality in an incident that injured four men and left one of them with a broken leg that was untended for hours because cops allegedly denied him medical care. However, in this case, the victims claim to have video.
  • An Altamonte Springs Florida police officer and his wife were arrested on federal drug and firearms charges. According to officials the couple were accused of running a grow operation and dealt oxycontin and marijuana. Authorities also allege that the couple had been threatening informants and, in the original report which has since been redacted, planned to kill a narcotics officer.
  • A Scranton Pennsylvania police detective has plead guilty to stealing over $8,400 from evidence. The evidence came from a drug bust in 2001 but police didn’t discover the missing evidence until last year when they opened an envelope that was supposed to contain cash but only discovered some rolled-up wads of paper.
  • A Chicago Illinois police officer who was working with a security detail at a White Sox game has been named as part of suit filed against the White Sox by jail guard who claims he was beaten and falsely arrested at White Sox game. Apparently security was called to address a rowdy fan but were pointed to the wrong person, when the guard tried to tell the officer they had the wrong fan the cop allegedly attacked and detained the guard. Charges were dismissed when video of the incident came out.
  • A Beeville Texas police sergeant has been placed on paid leave after he was arrested on possession with intent to distribute prescription drugs charges. The chief is defending the officer at the moment and says “He is a good officer, not a troublemaker…”  Funny how police never say nice things like that about other suspects.
  • A Pensacola Florida police officer who made headlines last year when ran over and killed a 17-year-old boy on a bicycle after trying to taser him while chasing him in a police cruiser has been given an 80 hour suspension as a result of that incident. No charges came about in the case that began because the officer thought the teen looked suspicious.
  • A Longmont Colorado police officer was sentenced to probation in a plea deal that reduced felony charges to a misdemeanor drug possession charge. He was accused of stealing prescription pain killers from his own wife in order to apparently pay off an informant.
  • Two Decherd Tennessee police officers have resigned after they were suspended without pay while investigated for leaving a police K9 in a crate on the back of a police pickup truck for over 24 hours. The dog was found dead of apparent dehydration from being left in the heat… no word on whether they will face charges for assault on an officer.
  • A Grand County Colorado deputy has been fired in a strange case that also involved former jail guard and a firefighter. Apparently the group was in a bar after hours when the owner brought out a gun and they had a little game of target practice inside the bar that resulted in a number of rounds going through the walls and into an adjacent business. Apparently discharging firearms within town limits where they were at is illegal.
  • A US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agent has been arrested for his role in a faked drug buy operation that also involved a Tulsa Oklahoma police officer that resulted in the conviction of a father and his daughter. Both had served about a year of their sentences in the case when the conviction was overturned when the fake sting was uncovered. Authorities are now reviewing about 100 other cases for potential problems and the Tulsa officer is on paid vacation leave.
  • An unspecified number of Maryland State Police officers have threaten to arrest a man for recording and posting video of an incident where a plain-clothes police officer pulled a gun on him during traffic stop. I missed this one but the ever-vigilant Carlos Miller at the PINAC blog didn’t.
  • The now-former Van Meter Iowa police chief is the subject of a criminal investigation for allegedly overcharging for car inspections and failing to inspect cars properly when he performed the inspections. Apparently the state licenses people to inspect salvaged cars for stolen parts at a fixed rate before they can be sold and the chief did these inspections as a side job. Weird.
  • The Lynbrook New York police chief has been suspended for 10 days for interfering with an investigation into a dispute he had with his girlfriend. Unfortunately the only link to this story is to a pay site, nobody else covered it. This actually happens a lot in the New York city area, not sure why this pay-per-view news site has a lock on the news there.
  • A Los Angeles County California police officer was arrested on suspicion of an on-duty sexual assault that occurred earlier this month on an undocumented immigrant who was groped by the officer during a traffic stop. The officer isn’t a deputy since he works for a department that is responsible for law enforcement in county parks and other areas.
  • A Fulton County Georgia deputy was arrested on federal corruption, firearms, & drug charges for allegedly offering protection to drug traffickers while they engaged in drug buys in exchange for thousands of dollars.
  • An Oneida County New York deputy is facing face disciplinary action for violating policy when he accidentally shot a judge with his taser in the judge’s court chambers while he was adjusting it. Apparently only one barb hit the judge so he didn’t get hit with a full shock, but it’s apparently against policy to pull a taser unless you intend to fire it.
  • A Jackson County Missouri deputy has been sentenced to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl while he was in uniform and on-duty.
  • A Spring Lake North Carolina police officer was sentenced to 19 months in jail in a plea deal after a corruption sting caught him stealing money during a staged drug bust. The Spring Lake police department was only just recently reactivated after it was actually disbanded when that agency’s arrest powers were suspended on allegations of corruption and malfeasance last year.
  • The Escondido California police department is the subject of a lawsuit alleging that officers fatally shot a woman who was a passenger in a stolen car. Apparently the police had asked the woman to be in the car in an effort to bust her boyfriend after she reported him for stealing a car. The police opened fire on the car after it rammed a police car that had boxed him into a parking lot, even though both the suspect and the innocent woman were unarmed.

Well, that’s it for now folks, stay safe out there!

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 9:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

The bizarre world of medical costs

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The primary reason for weird fluctuations in medical costs seems to be the way that leverage shifts between hospitals and insurance companies. Take a look at this interesting post by Kevin Drum on a Massachusetts study. Graphs included, of course.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 9:47 am

Neo-Confederate History Month

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Matt Yglesias:

Ed Kilgore proposes a “Neo-Confederate History Month” that would seek to inform people about the slightly odd and quite ugly history of Confederate remembrance in the post-1865 period since it would be “immensely useful for Virginians and southerners generally to spend some time reflecting on the century or so of grinding poverty and cultural isolation that fidelity to the Romance in Gray earned for the entire region, regardless of race.”

A Neo-Confederate History Month could be thoroughly bipartisan.Republicans could enjoy greater exposure to the virulent racism of such progressive icons as William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson, not to mention Democratic New Deal crusaders in the South like Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo. The capture of the political machinery of Republican and Democratic parties in a number of states, inside and beyond the South, by the revived Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, would be an interesting subject for further study as well.

Most of all, a Neo-Confederate History Month could remind us of the last great effusion of enthusiasm for Davis and Lee and Jackson and all the other avatars of the Confederacy: the white southern fight to maintain racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. That’s when “Dixie” was played as often as the national anthem at most white high school football games in the South; when Confederate regalia were attached to state flags across the region; and when the vast constitutional and political edifice of pre-secession agitprop was brought back to life in the last-ditch effort to make the Second Reconstruction fail like the first.

I get the sense that most white southern conservatives nowadays genuinely don’t understand this, but it’s well-illustrated by the history of Georgia flags:

Georgiaflags

Totally irrespective of the issue of what the Confederacy and/or the Civil War were “really” about, the chronology there makes it perfectly clear what the Confederate Flag Revival was about—backlash against the civil rights movement.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 9:41 am

Posted in Daily life

Mine safety has not been much of a priority

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Michael Cooper, Gardiner Harris and Eric Lipton report in the NY Times:

The Mine Safety and Health Administration was created almost 35 years ago, after deadly explosions at a Kentucky mine, with a mission to conduct more inspections of the nation’s mines and enforce safety standards more strictly. It was strengthened four years ago, after more disasters.

But it remains fundamentally weak in several areas, and it does not always use the powers it has.

The agency can seek to close mines that it deems unsafe and to close repeat offenders, but it rarely does so.

The fines it levies are relatively small, and many go uncollected for years. It lacks subpoena power, a basic investigatory tool. Its investigators are not technically law enforcement officers, like those at other agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

And its criminal sanctions are weak, a result of compromises over the 1977 Mine Act that created the agency. Falsifying records is a felony, for example, while deliberate violations of safety standards that lead to deaths are misdemeanors.

After an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., killed 29 miners last Monday — including four whose bodies were discovered late Friday — in the nation’s worst mining disaster in four decades, evidence quickly surfaced that the mine had been cited for hundreds of violations over the last year, including many serious ones.

Federal mining officials said Friday that they believed the mine’s safety record was poor enough to declare that it had a “pattern of violations,” which would have allowed them to increase oversight and to shut the mine down every time a significant violation was found.

But their hands were tied, they said, because Upper Big Branch, like many mines, had contested many of its violations — a tactic that helps mine owners fend off fines and delay additional scrutiny.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 9:39 am

Worlds without women

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Maureen Dowd has an uncharacteristically good column today:

When I was in Saudi Arabia, I had tea and sweets with a group of educated and sophisticated young professional women.

I asked why they were not more upset about living in a country where women’s rights were strangled, an inbred and autocratic state more like an archaic men’s club than a modern nation. They told me, somewhat defensively, that the kingdom was moving at its own pace, glacial as that seemed to outsiders.

How could such spirited women, smart and successful on every other level, acquiesce in their own subordination?

I was puzzling over that one when it hit me: As a Catholic woman, I was doing the same thing.

I, too, belonged to an inbred and wealthy men’s club cloistered behind walls and disdaining modernity.

I, too, remained part of an autocratic society that repressed women and ignored their progress in the secular world.

I, too, rationalized as men in dresses allowed our religious kingdom to decay and to cling to outdated misogynistic rituals, blind to the benefits of welcoming women’s brains, talents and hearts into their ancient fraternity.

To circumscribe women, Saudi Arabia took Islam’s moral codes and orthodoxy to extremes not outlined by Muhammad; the Catholic Church took its moral codes and orthodoxy to extremes not outlined by Jesus. In the New Testament, Jesus is surrounded by strong women and never advocates that any woman — whether she’s his mother or a prostitute — be treated as a second-class citizen.

Negating women is at the heart of the church’s hideous — and criminal — indifference to the welfare of boys and girls in its priests’ care. Lisa Miller writes …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 9:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Frank Rich: "No one is to blame for anything"

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Frank Rich takes a look at the accountability-free atmosphere of the country today, helped along of course by President Obama’s determination that regardless of what crimes were committed in the previous administration, he will not allow any investigations. Rich’s column begins:

“I was right 70 percent of the time, but I was wrong 30 percent of the time,” said Alan Greenspan as he testified last week on Capitol Hill. Greenspan — a k a the Oracle during his 18-year-plus tenure as Fed chairman — could not have more vividly illustrated how and why geniuses of his stature were out to lunch while Wall Street imploded. No doubt he applied his full brain power to that 70-30 calculation. But the big picture eludes him. If the captain of the Titanic followed the Greenspan model, he could claim he was on course at least 70 percent of the time too.

Greenspan was testifying to the commission trying to pry loose the still incomplete story of how the American economy was driven at full speed into its iceberg. He was eager to portray himself as an innocent bystander to forces beyond his control. In his rewriting of history, his clout in Washington was so slight that he was ineffectual at “influencing the Congress.” The “roots” of the crisis, he lectured, dated back to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In other words: Wherever the buck stops, you had better believe it’s not within several thousand miles of the Oracle. As he has previously said in defending his inability to spot the colossal bubble, “Everybody missed it — academia, the Federal Reserve, all regulators.”

That, of course, is not true. In last Sunday’s Times, one of those who predicted the bubble’s burst — Michael Burry, an investor chronicled in “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis —told in detail of how Greenspan and others in power “either willfully or ignorantly aided and abetted” the reckless boom and the ensuing bust. But Greenspan is nothing if not a representative leader of his time. We live in a culture where accountability and responsibility are forgotten values. When “mistakes are made” they are always made by someone else.

This syndrome is hardly limited to the financial sector. The Vatican hierarchy and its American apologists blame the press, anti-Catholic bigots and “petty gossip” for a decades-long failure to police the church’s widespread criminal culture of child molestation. Michael Steele, the G.O.P. chairman, has tried to duck criticism for his blunders by talking about his “slimmer margin” of error as a black man. New York’s dynamic Democratic duo of political scandal, David Paterson and Charles Rangel, have both attributed their woes to newspapers like The Times, not their own misbehavior.

Such is our current state of national fecklessness that the gold medal for prompt contrition by anyone on the public stage belongs, by default, to David Letterman. He wasted little time in telling a national audience point blank that he had done “something stupid,” hurt those he loved and had a “responsibility” to “try to fix it.” In the land of Rod Blagojevich and Tiger Woods, the candid late-night talk show star is king.

Woods’s apologetic Masters press conference last week came only after months of stalling, sponsor defections and well-publicized “rehab.” Along the way he briefly hired Ari Fleischer, the former Bush press secretary, to help manage his mess. Fleischer is not the only Bush spin artist to re-emerge as a hired damage-control hand in the post-Bush era. Dan Bartlett, a former presidential counselor, is a honcho at Public Strategies, the company recently enlisted by Goldman Sachs to help erase the indelible tattoo of “a great vampire squid” imprinted on its image by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone.

Former Bush propagandists will never lack for work in this climate…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 9:32 am

The Fed’s blindness to the approaching crisis

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Michael Burry in the NY Times:

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, proclaimed last month that no one could have predicted the housing bubble. “Everybody missed it,” he said, “academia, the Federal Reserve, all regulators.”

But that is not how I remember it. Back in 2005 and 2006, I argued as forcefully as I could, in letters to clients of my investment firm, Scion Capital, that the mortgage market would melt down in the second half of 2007, causing substantial damage to the economy. My prediction was based on my research into the residential mortgage market and mortgage-backed securities. After studying the regulatory filings related to those securities, I waited for the lenders to offer the most risky mortgages conceivable to the least qualified buyers. I knew that would mark the beginning of the end of the housing bubble; it would mean that prices had risen — with the expansion of easy mortgage lending — as high as they could go.

I had begun to worry about the housing market back in 2003, when lenders first resurrected interest-only mortgages, loosening their credit standards to generate a greater volume of loans. Throughout 2004, I had watched as these mortgages were offered to more and more subprime borrowers — those with the weakest credit. The lenders generally then sold these risky loans to Wall Street to be packaged into mortgage-backed securities, thus passing along most of the risk. Increasingly, lenders concerned themselves more with the quantity of mortgages they sold than with their quality.

Meanwhile, home buyers, convinced by recent history that real estate prices would always rise, readily signed onto whatever mortgage would get them the biggest house. The incentive for fraud was great: the F.B.I. reported that its mortgage fraud caseload increased fivefold from 2001 to 2004.

At the same time, I also watched how ratings agencies vouched for subprime mortgage-backed securities. To me, these agencies seemed not to be paying much attention.

By mid-2005, I had so much confidence in my analysis that I staked my reputation on it. That is, I purchased credit default swaps — a type of insurance — on billions of dollars worth of both subprime mortgage-backed securities and the bonds of many of the financial companies that would be devastated when the real estate bubble burst. As the value of the bonds fell, the value of the credit default swaps would rise. Our swaps covered many of the firms that failed or nearly failed, including the insurer American International Group and the mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

I entered these trades carefully. Suspecting that my Wall Street counterparties might not be able or willing to pay up when the time came, I used six counterparties to minimize my exposure to any one of them. I also specifically avoided using Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns as counterparties, as I viewed both to be mortally exposed to the crisis I foresaw.

What’s more, I demanded daily collateral settlement — if positions moved in our favor, I wanted cash posted to our account the next day. This was something I knew that Goldman Sachs and other derivatives dealers did not demand of AAA-rated A.I.G.

I believed that the collapse of the subprime mortgage market would ultimately lead to huge failures among the largest financial institutions. But at the time almost no one else thought these trades would work out in my favor…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 9:27 am

Random matrices and reality

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A fascinating article in New Scientist by Mark Buchanan:

Suppose we had a theory that could explain everything. Not just atoms and quarks but aspects of our everyday lives too. Sound impossible? Perhaps not.

It’s all part of the recent explosion of work in an area of physics known as random matrix theory. Originally developed more than 50 years ago to describe the energy levels of atomic nuclei, the theory is turning up in everything from inflation rates to the behaviour of solids. So much so that many researchers believe that it points to some kind of deep pattern in nature that we don’t yet understand. "It really does feel like the ideas of random matrix theory are somehow buried deep in the heart of nature," says electrical engineer Raj Nadakuditi of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

All of this, oddly enough, emerged from an effort to turn physicists’ ignorance into an advantage. In 1956, when we knew very little about the internal workings of large, complex atomic nuclei, such as uranium, the German physicist Eugene Wigner suggested simply guessing.

Quantum theory tells us that atomic nuclei have many discrete energy levels, like unevenly spaced rungs on a ladder. To calculate the spacing between each of the rungs, you would need to know the myriad possible ways the nucleus can hop from one to another, and the probabilities for those events to happen. Wigner didn’t know, so instead he picked numbers at random for the probabilities and arranged them in a square array called a matrix.

The matrix was a neat way to express the many connections between the different rungs. It also allowed Wigner to exploit the powerful mathematics of matrices in order to make predictions about the energy levels.

Bizarrely, he found this simple approach enabled him to work out the likelihood that any one level would have others nearby, in the absence of any real knowledge. Wigner’s results, worked out in a few lines of algebra, were far more useful than anyone could have expected, and experiments over the next few years showed a remarkably close fit to his predictions. Why they work, though, remains a mystery even today.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 9:23 am

Posted in Science

Molly, ready for her close-up

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2010 at 8:14 am

Posted in Cats, Molly

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