Later On

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

Archive for May 20th, 2010

Better late than never: Ruining the environment edition

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EPA orders BP to use less-toxic dispersant on spill. People who trust businesses and want the government to stop regulating them so closely: Explain, please, why BP did not make the switch on its own, without being forced to.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 5:41 pm

Yet another lesson on whether you can trust businesses

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 5:39 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Good sign, I think

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Top U.S. intelligence official Dennis Blair says he’ll resign. But only if Obama will finally appoint someone both competent and ethical to clean house.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 5:37 pm

Aha! The reason BP won’t release the videos

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Or let the scientists look at the high-res feed and all the data. Marisa Taylor, Renee Schoof, and Erika Bolstad for McClatchy:

The disputed official estimate that only 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking daily from a runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico could save BP millions of dollars in damages when the financial impact of the spill is resolved in court, legal experts say.

One month after a surge of gas from the undersea well engulfed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in flames and triggered the massive leak that now threatens sea life, fisheries and tourist centers in five Gulf coast states, neither BP nor the federal government has yet to measure at the source the amount of crude pouring into the water.

BP and the Obama administration have said they did not want to take the measurements for fear of interfering with efforts to stanch the leaks.

That decision, however, runs counter to BP’s own regional plan for dealing with offshore leaks. "In the event of a significant release of oil," the 583-page plan says on Page 2, "an accurate estimation of the spill’s total volume . . . is essential in providing preliminary data to plan and initiate cleanup operations."

Legal experts say there’s another benefit for BP of not having a credible official estimate of the leak’s size: the amount of oil spilled is certain to be key evidence in the court battles likely to result from the disaster. The size of the Exxon Valdez spill, for example, was a significant factor that the jury considered when it assessed damages against Exxon.

“If they put off measuring, then it’s going to be a battle of dueling experts after the fact trying to extrapolate how much spilled after it has all sunk or has been carried away,” said Lloyd Benton Miller, one of the lead plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Exxon Valdez spill litigation. ”The ability to measure how much oil was released will be impossible.”

“It’s always a bottom-line issue,” said Marilyn Heiman, a former Clinton administration Interior Department official who now heads the Arctic Program for the Pew Environment Group. “Any company wouldn’t have an interest in having this kind of measurement if they can help it.”

The question of the size of the spill has become a high stakes political controversy that’s put the Obama administration and the oil company on the defensive. In congressional testimony Wednesday, an engineering professor from Perdue University said that based on videos released Tuesday he believed the wells was spewing at 95,000 barrels of a day into the Gulf.

On Thursday, the Obama administration demanded that BP publicly release all information related to the disaster.

BP officials had pledged in congressional testimony to keep the public and government officials informed, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a letter to BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward.

“Those efforts, to date, have fallen short in both their scope and effectiveness,” they wrote.

That letter came after members of Congress made similar demands of BP, leading to the release Tuesday of the new videos. One showed oil still billowing from one underwater pipe, despite an insertion tube BP now says is capturing 5,000 barrels of crude a day. The other showed a previously unseen leak spewing clouds of crude from just above the well’s dysfunctional blowout preventer.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday ordered BP to switch to a less toxic version of the chemical mix it’s using to disperse the oil. The EPA also for the first time posted on its Web site BP’s test data of the dispersant’s use in deep water. Those orders came days after members of Congress made a similar demand.

Scientists and environmentalists praised the government for demanding that more information be made public.

“This is exactly the role the government needs to be playing — they need to be overseeing BP’s actions to assure that health and natural resources are protected, as much as possible, and that information is available to the public,” said Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

John Curry, a BP spokesman, said he hadn’t seen the letter from Napolitano and Jackson and couldn’t comment specifically, but added: “We’re just trying to provide the information people are asking for at the same time we are trying to position a lot more resources to stop the flow of oil.” …

Continue reading, really. The sleaze/dishonest index for BP is off the charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 5:34 pm

Some kvetching

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The last couple of days have had more event than I’m used to. Among the events:

  • American Express mailed me a notice because some charges looked inappropriate—$30 to iTunes and another $100 to iTunes. I’ve never bought anything from iTunes. I called them, and we resolved the charges. They also found a $1 purchase from “Budshack,” from which I have purchased nothing. The AmEx guy said that credit-card criminals will often try a very small purchase just to see if the card works. Then they get serious. We went over all recent charges, and those were the only bad ones. That card has been canceled and today I should receive a new card and account number—sent out overnight mail, very nice. I appreciate the way AmEx protects me (and them). I’ve even had the experience of placing an on-line order (from a site in Portugal), have it declined, and have my phone ring immediately with AmEx on the line, asking, “Was that you?” Very heads-up protection. Still, I now have to notify all services that bill the card automatically—well, what I do is not notify any of them, and they will contact me asking for the correct number. Still, a bunch of folderol must follow.
  • My library card stopped working when I tried to put a hold on things on-line. Finally made it in today to see why: renewal time (every 5 years). No biggie.
  • The “Wings of Freedom” tour is stopping in Monterey and I drove out to do a walkthrough of a B-24 Liberator and a B-17 Flying Fortress and look at a P-51 Mustang. (I would love also to see a B-29 Superfortress.) I drove out to the Monterey Peninsula Airport to see them, based on the ad. Not in sight. Returned home, and found online that they are actually at the Monterey Jet Center (different entrance). I’ll go again tomorrow. I’m particularly interested in the B-17, the bomber used in Operation Tidal Wave. I read James Dugan & Carroll Stewart’s fascinating book [link is to the actual content of the book on Project Gutenberg] on the raid, and I’m eager to see the bomber itself. Then I’ll probably read the book again.
  • Finally walked a block downhill to check out the Prime center I just noticed. Turns out it’s a fitness center for individual (or VERY small group) instruction. Actually, exactly what I need, plus the equipment looks quite interesting. I’m particularly intrigued by the kettlebells, which I’ve never used. The links following the Wikipedia article include some videos of kettlebell routines. My first appointment is next Tuesday morning. I’ve filled out the questionnaire, and I took the medical releases to my PCP and endocrinologist, who’ll doubtless be thrilled that I’m taking some action.
  • The Wife and I decided that we need to take care of the end-of-life planning that’s so easy to postpone, so I called our tax accountant and got a couple of recommendations of estate lawyers with whom they’ve had a good working experience, then called one of them to set up an appointment in early June. The woman I talked to said that she would mail me a list of what to bring and have ready.

All that was going around in my head at the same time I was trying to figure out how to do fewer political posts and still post the stuff that most interests me. Despite lists, things kept running into each other in my mind, making it difficult to concentrate.

But now I’ve taken care of just about everything. The new AmEx card arrives tonight, and that will go smoothly—it’s not the first time I’ve gone through this. Library card is good for another 5 years, and while I was there I checked out 4 good books on botany, including one specifically on the plants of the Monterey Peninsula. I’ll see the planes tomorrow morning, and I’m looking forward to the fitness program. The questionnaire I filled out for them was very interesting—a fair amount of focus on diet, which I aced, of course. And getting that death stuff out of the way so that it’s not nagging at me in the back of my mind will be a great relief—and, I’m sure, contribute to a peaceful passing.

Glad to trim the list, feeling much better just looking at the things coming under control again. Plus I got the Avatar DVD from Netflix today. :)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Daily life

Faces of Israel

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Andrew Sullivan:

A Palestinian woman whose house has been occupied by Jewish settlers argues with Israelis who came to celebrate Jerusalem Day on May 12, 2010 in front of her disputed house in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Israel recently celebrating the anniversary of the ‘unification’ of Jerusalem, marking 43 years since it captured mainly Arab east Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war. By Ahmad Gharabli/Getty. [click photo to enlarge - LG]

That’s modern Israel for you: Thugs can simply steal your entire house if you happen to be Palestinian—and the government backs them up! No property rights for Palestinians. What a despicable country Israel has become!

UPDATE: It suddenly struck me what this picture reminds me of. Turn the clock back to around 1933-34. Instead of Palestine territory, place the situation somewhere in Austria or Germany. Which person(s) in the photo seem likely to be Jewish?

UPDATE 2: Mark Kleiman has a good comment.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 3:45 pm

Wonder what will become of Rand Paul?

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Steve Benen:

After multiple interviews in which Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul explained his opposition to the Civil Rights Act infringing on private enterprise, his campaign aides have decided to try a new tack. As of this afternoon, the new strategy is to simply pretend that the positions the candidate has already articulated are not actually the positions the candidate believes.

In other words, afraid of how explosive this may be, the Rand Paul Senate campaign is giving lying a shot.

This afternoon, a spokesman for the Paul campaign told Greg Sargent, "Civil Rights legislation that has been affirmed by our courts gives the Federal government the right to insure that private businesses don’t discriminate based on race. Dr. Paul supports those powers."

Except, of course, he doesn’t. We know Paul doesn’t support this policy because he’s told us he doesn’t support this policy. Indeed, just last night, Rachel Maddow asked the Republican candidate, "Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don’t serve black people?" Paul replied, "Yes."

Worse, this has always been Paul’s position. This afternoon, Dave Weigel notes remarks the right-wing ophthalmologist made several years ago.

In a May 30, 2002, letter to the Bowling Green Daily News, Paul’s hometown newspaper, he criticized the paper for endorsing the Fair Housing Act, and explained that "a free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination, even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin." (Hat tip: Page One Kentucky.)

"The Daily News ignores," wrote Paul, "as does the Fair Housing Act, the distinction between private and public property. Should it be prohibited for public, taxpayer-financed institutions such as schools to reject someone based on an individual’s beliefs or attributes? Most certainly. Should it be prohibited for private entities such as a church, bed and breakfast or retirement neighborhood that doesn’t want noisy children? Absolutely not."

In language similar to the language he’s used talking about the Civil Rights Act, Paul criticized racism while defending the right of businesses to discriminate.

"A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination," wrote Paul, "even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin. It is unenlightened and ill-informed to promote discrimination against individuals based on the color of their skin. It is likewise unwise to forget the distinction between public (taxpayer-financed) and private entities."

So, when the campaign spokesperson argues that Rand Paul "supports" government restrictions on private enterprise regarding discrimination, that’s plainly false. That, or Paul woke up this morning with a policy position entirely at odds with everything he’s said and/or thought on the subject for years.

Indeed, this new report drives the point home nicely — Paul not only thinks the Civil Rights Act was excessive, but he doesn’t even support the Fair Housing Act, for the same reason.

Far be it for me to give the Paul campaign advice, but lying about this is the wrong way to go. Paul’s only legitimate avenue is to make the philosophical argument — he finds racism offensive, but doesn’t want government to interfere with business’ choices — and hope voters buy it.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 3:24 pm

Before He Hired an Escort, Rekers Tried to Spank the Gay Away

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Rekers clearly did a lot of human damage with his inability to face his own homosexuality. Penn Bullock and Brandon Thorp in the Miami New Times:

What do you do with a little boy who likes cross-dressing and playing with dolls? If you’re George Alan Rekers, you "extinguish" the boy’s feminine behavior with a sometimes violent Pavlovian regimen while your scientific team observes through a one-way mirror.

That’s what the Baptist minister — who made international headlines when he was exposed by Miami New Times this month for hiring a gay escort — did in the early 1970s at a clinic he opened at UCLA called the Feminine Boy Project.

In 1974, Rekers, a leading thinker in the so-called ex-gay movement, was presented with a 4-year-old "effeminate boy" named Kraig, whose parents had enrolled him in the program. Rekers put Kraig in a "play-observation room" with his mother, who was equipped with a listening device. When the boy played with girly toys, the doctors instructed her to avert her eyes from the child.

According to a 2001 account in Brain, Child Magazine, "On one such occasion, his distress was such that he began to scream, but his mother just looked away. His anxiety increased, and he did whatever he could to get her to respond to him… Kraig became so hysterical, and his mother so uncomfortable, that one of the clinicians had to enter and take Kraig, screaming, from the room."

Rekers’s research team continued the experiment in the family’s home. Kraig received red chips for feminine behavior and blue chips for masculine behavior. The blue chips could be cashed in for candy or television time. The red chips earned him a "swat" or spanking from his father. Researchers periodically entered the family’s home to ensure proper implementation of the reward-punishment system.

After two years, the boy supposedly manned up. Over the decades, Rekers, who ran countless similar experiments, held Kraig up as "the poster boy for behavioral treatment of boyhood effeminacy."

At age 18, shamed by his childhood diagnosis and treatment, Rekers’s poster boy attempted suicide, according to Gender Shock, a book by journalist Phyllis Burke. Rekers, whose early experiments were the first to ostensibly demonstrate a "gay cure," resigned from the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) last week, after it was revealed the gay escort had given him nude sexual massages. NARTH, however, stands by his science.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life

Thinklinkr is officially released

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Thinklinkr is a truly terrific Web 2.0 outliner that can import and export outlines. This one, though Web-based, has more capability than most standalone outliners—and it has a very handy menu (which you can hide) of the various commands and capabilities.

Well worth bookmarking for anyone who writes.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 11:36 am

Mexico’s Absymal Immigration Record

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Suzy Khimm at Mother Jones:

President Obama has placed Arizona’s immigration law at the forefront of his talks with visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon, with both leaders sharpening their criticism of the harsh enforcement policy. But missing from the entire discussion is Mexico’s own terrible record on immigration, with human rights violations of a different order altogether.

In a recent report, Amnesty International details some of the worst abuses that Central American migrants endure in Mexico en route to the US. According to Amnesty, as many as six in 10 women are raped as they pass through Mexico—the victims of both criminal gang members and local authorities. Other violations abound:

[M]any Central American migrants to Mexico accuse Mexican officials of demanding bribes or flat-out stealing their cash.

"Migrants in Mexico are facing a major human rights crisis leaving them with virtually no access to justice, fearing reprisals and deportation if they complain of abuses," Rupert Knox, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International, said. "Persistent failure by the authorities to tackle abuses carried out against irregular migrants has made their journey through Mexico one of the most dangerous in the world."

Lately, as drug violence has soared, migrants have also been increasingly the victims of kidnapping.

To point out such abuses isn’t to say that the concerns about Arizona’s new law are illegitimate. But if Mexico is going to criticize Arizona’s law—the country has even issued a travel warning for residents headed to the state–it must be willing to look in the mirror. The systemic corruption that feeds the drug violence at the border is also victimizing the migrants who are headed there. And having prioritized immigration and border security issues in his talks with Calderon, Obama needs to press these human rights issues directly with the Mexican president.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 11:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Asking a public figure whether he or she is gay

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Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, Kevin Drum and others have been having quite a discussion about whether it’s legitimate to ask whether a public official—Elena Kagan in this case—is gay. Generally speaking, the gay people think it’s legit, the straight think it’s not.

As has been pointed out several times, though the straights don’t seem to get it, is that sexual orientation is not the same as sexual activity. Kevin Drum, for example, listed a bunch of questions about sexual activity ("Have you had an affair?", "Do you masturbate?", etc.) and compared those to asking whether a person is gay.

But asking whether a person is gay is (to my mind) like asking whether the person is heterosexual. What’s the problem? It’s who you are. Indeed, one often does not need to ask: when someone shows up with their spouse, you can tell pretty quickly whether the person is gay or heterosexual.

And Sullivan has this today, quoting Greenwald (who, like Sullivan, is gay):

Glenn Greenwald makes the point a lot of out gay people have recently been screaming at the television:

The very notion that it is "outrageous" or "despicable" to inquire into a public figure’s sexual orientation — adjectives I heard repeatedly applied to those raising questions about Kagan — is completely inconsistent with the belief that sexual orientation is value-neutral.   If being straight and gay are precise moral equivalents, then what possible harm can come from asking someone, especially one who seeks high political office:  "are you gay?"  If one really believes that they are equivalent, then that question would be no different than asking someone where they grew up, whether they are married, or how many children they have.  That’s what made the White House’s response to the initial claims that Kagan was gay so revealing and infuriating:   by angrily rejecting those claims as "false charges," they were — as Alex Pareene put it — "treating lesbian rumors like allegations of vampiric necrophilia."

The double standards are pretty staggering:

It’s ironic indeed that so many progressives — who spent months during Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation process insisting that one’s life experiences (growing up as a poor Puerto Rican in the South Bronx) play a crucial role in how one understands the claims of litigants — are now demanding that sexual orientation be permitted to be kept hidden as though it’s completely irrelevant to one’s perspective.  If there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with being gay, why the double standard?  Just as Sotomayor’s background would undoubtedly affect her ability to understand (or "empathize" with) claims of discrimination or other forms of oppression, wouldn’t the same be true of a judge’s growing up gay — or choosing to remain closeted?

Kevin Drum still holds by the old standard (which hearkens back to the days when homosexuality was considered shameful—and I hope we’re moving beyond that):

Responding to my post last night about what kinds of things we have a right to know about public figures, Andrew Sullivan says:

Drum objects to asking public figures about their sex lives. So do I. I have zero interest — less than zero, actually — in Elena Kagan’s sex life or lack of it. I do have an interest in someone’s public identity. And how many times can I say this before my straight friends get it? Being gay is not about your sex life. It’s about a core element of your identity, one that no gay person can bypass or ignore.

This is right. I made up a list of questions about sexual activity and compared them to the question of whether someone is gay. That was a screwup. But

(You knew there was a but coming, didn’t you?)

But — Andrew says he’s interested in people’s "public identity." And this gets to the core of my disagreement with him. Maybe I’m just mired in a different era, but I believe pretty passionately that people should be allowed a wide latitude to display themselves to the public however they want. There are limits, of course, because lots of aspects of our identities are inherently public — Barack Obama is black, Hillary Clinton is a woman — but this doesn’t inescapably mean that we should also be required, as a prerequisite to public service, to make even the less visible parts of our identity visible whether we want to or not. Some of these less visible aspects, it’s true, might well affect the way a Supreme Court justice views the law. But that’s just logic chopping. Every aspect of identity potentially affects the way a Supreme Court justice views the law. It’s the nature of the job. But that doesn’t automatically mean that we the public have the right to know every last trace of their personal identities. At some point, you just have to accept that other people are always enigmatic in certain ways and that enigma is part of the human condition. You can never be absolutely sure of what’s on their mind or how it will ultimately affect their future conduct.

This is true of more than just sexual identity. Suppose, for example, that Jane Jones grew up in an abusive household. Suppose her father came home drunk every night, beat up her mother, and terrorized the family. And this went on for years. Do you think that would inform her identity as much as growing up gay? If you’re not sure, you should probably talk to someone who’s been through this before you make up your mind.

Now, does the public have a right to know this if Jane is nominated to the Supreme Court? I don’t think so. If Jane chooses to talk about this, perhaps because she’s become an advocate for domestic violence causes, that’s her right. But if she chooses not to, perhaps because her mother is still alive and she knows that public discussion of this would cause her considerable pain, that’s her right too. And this is her right even if domestic violence groups believe their cause would be advanced if more victims told their stories publicly. It’s still her right.

Ditto for sexual identity. Like Andrew, I wish there were no such thing as a closeted gay person. When every single one of them lives their lives openly we’ll be that much closer to being a decent society. And like Andrew, I’m happy to advocate this in public argument.

But that’s a very different thing than badgering a specific person to talk about an aspect of their identity whether they want to or not. That’s just not our decision to make. It’s theirs. And even if we happily chatter about this stuff endlessly with our friends — because we are, after all, a gossipy species — nothing changes. It’s still not right to make this into a public campaign.

I don’t get it. One’s sexual orientation—whether homosexual or heterosexual—is not a big deal (or at least not anymore, with laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination). More important, obviously, is how a person handles their sexual orientation. Some do well, some not so well. Charlie Sheen is an example of a heterosexual who seems to handle his sexuality poorly; Ellen DeGeneres, an example of a homosexual who seems to handle her sexuality well.

I really can’t see why it’s such a big deal: as soon as a person shows up at an event with his or her spouse, you know immediately whether the person is heterosexual or homosexual (at least in their public persona). Should we say that spouses must remain secret lest one’s sexual orientation be (gasp!) revealed?

Why on earth should one’s sexual orientation be any more secret than one’s sex? Indeed, in the old days, one used the sex as a way of knowing the person’s sexual orientation, but then we found the world was more complex.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 11:29 am

Posted in Daily life

Wonderful video on the vanishing art of billboard painting

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 10:58 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Video

The DC press corps

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John Cole:

Today’s NYT headline on a Sestak story might as well be “Sestak Ignores Specter’s Request to Get Off His Lawn”:

White House Embraces Upstart Who Beat Specter

A 58-year-old former Admiral who’s spent two terms in Congress is an “upstart” only in a world where age and senility are taboo topics. Reporters who would cringe at the notion of an 80 year-old performing a bypass, or a 76 year-old prosecuting a murder trial, routinely ignore the fact that Specter and Bennett are elderly men whose prime was well in the past.

The men who beat Bennett in Utah were 30-40 years younger than Bennett. Utah has the lowest median age of any state in the country. But I haven’t seen a single mention of the relevance of Bennett’s age in any of his political eulogies.

A big part of the reason that age is off limits is that the Village also venerates incipient senility within its ranks. If they started pointing out that 70 and 80 year-olds might be better off retired, people would start wondering why we’re still watching Sam Donaldson and reading David Broder.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 9:47 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, Media

A River Runs Through Him

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Very nice article on the Mississippi River’s influence on Mark Twain, by Laura Barton in Intelligent Life:

“NOTICE—Neither the Mark Twain Museum nor the City of Hannibal employs Mark Twain impersonators or look-a-likes.” This poster, hanging in the window of a justice of the peace, tells a cautionary tale about the Missouri town where Mark Twain grew up: half a million people now flock here each year, drawn by the legend of the man himself and his immortal creations Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Hannibal is a city of some 17,750 people which labels itself “America’s Home Town”. On the outskirts there is industry—food-processing and cement and agricultural chemicals—but at its heart there is tourism. The main drag is a run of fudge shops and ice-cream parlors, art galleries and antiques stores, and Twain is everywhere: there’s a Tom Sawyer Diorama Museum, a Mark Twain Hotel, Dinette, Motor Inn and River Boat, the Mark Twain Caves and a Mark Twain Museum.

It is evening, midweek and out of season, and the streets of Hannibal are quiet except for the workmen restoring Becky Thatcher’s house and the chirping of crickets. A handful of teenagers cluster near the Twain Museum, where a sign advises: “America’s Official Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher appear here every Friday and Saturday at 11:30am, Sunday 1pm”. The air is still warm, but the light casts cool, sharp shadows on the path down to the riverbank and splays itself in great burnished ripples across the river.

Here, 700 miles from the headwaters, the Mississippi stretches three-fifths of a mile wide, far across to the dark, wooded banks of Illinois. It runs north into Iowa and south to Kentucky, but right on this particular curve the river lies deep and silty, its banks rich with black walnut, maple and hickory trees, and the water itself, dappling blue and gold and olive-green. Standing here, I agree with Twain, who called this view “one of the most beautiful on the Mississippi”.

Mark Twain died 100 years ago this April. He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 40 miles from this spot, in Florida, Missouri, in 1835. He seemed to steal into writing, first as a composer of humorous verse, then as a travel writer, before he wrote “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, which drew heavily on his youth here in Hannibal. For me as for millions of schoolchildren around the world, “Tom Sawyer” was a first encounter with Twain. Not yet in my teens, I was swept up by tales of playing pirates on river islands, murders in graveyards, hidden treasure and getting lost in underground caves. But even at that stage, it was his tone as much as his material that made an impression: he tugged at your sleeve and wheedled his way past your reservations with a naive, bobbing enthusiasm. Like Sawyer himself, he was the best kind of bad influence.

In later years, studying American Literature with a capital L, I returned to Twain— to Sawyer and his partner-in-crime Huck Finn, as well as to the political satire “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, to his journalism, commentary and his travel writing—“Innocents Abroad”, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and “Life on the Mississippi”. He could be verbose, and a grouch, and at times he was all elbows and sharp teeth, but he was also piercingly funny, and few could turn a phrase quite so neatly: “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds,” for example, or “Sometimes I wonder, whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.” He was a great social commentator too, an opponent of imperialism and racism, a supporter of women’s rights and labour unions. But more than anything it was his voice that caught me; like that of Walt Whitman, it rang out as something new, something uniquely and compellingly American.

To know Twain fully, you first have to know the river…

Continue reading. I fully agree with the sentiment, and Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi is still a wonderful read. I wrote my senior essay in college on Twain, a paper titled The Education of Huckleberry Finn, and over the years I realized how I was going in the right direction but barely scratched the surface. Occasionally I think of returning to the essay, expanding the part on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a book that set the stage for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Unprecedented Warming in Lake Tanganyika and its impact on humanity

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John Cook at Skeptical Science:

Lake Tanganyika, in East Africa, is the second largest lake in the world (by volume). The lake supports a prodigious sardine fishery which provides a major source of animal protein for the region as well as employment for around 1 million people. Direct observations over past 90 years find that Lake Tanganyika has warmed significantly. At the same time, there’s been a drop in primary productivity in the lake impacting sardine populations. To further explore this matter, geologists took lake cores to determine the lake’s surface temperature back to 500 AD (Tierney 2010). They found that warming in the last century is unprecedented over the last 1500 years.

Figure 1: Lake Surface Temperature from Lake Tanganyika palaeorecord for the past 1,500 years, measured in core KH1 (red line) and MC1 (dark red line). Orange shading is 95% error bars.

What effect does temperature have on the lake’s sardine population? To answer this question, a proxy for primary productivity was also reconstructed from the lake cores. Primary productivity was determined from the percentage of biogenic silica in the sediment. They found that over the last 1500 years, when temperature rose, primary productivity fell. In the last 150 years, productivity plummeted from relatively high levels during the early 1800s to some of the lowest sustained values during the past 1,500 years.

How does temperature affect primary productivity? When the surface of the lake warms, the waters become more stratified. This makes it harder for cold currents to rise from the bottom. These currents carry nutrients from the depths toward the surface as food for algae. Sardine then feed off the algae. A less productive lake means fewer fish and therefore less food and income for those living in the region.

The stratification is confirmed by deep-water instrumental measurements which find less warming at deeper layers, revealing an increased temperature gradient. Nevertheless, another possible cause in changing rainfall is explored. Higher rates of precipitation may increase primary productivity. Charcoal levels in the lake cores were used as a proxy for humidity (e.g. – low humidity leads to drought which corresponds with more bushfires). However, they found a weak correlation between charcoal levels and productivity. The stronger relationship between temperature and productivity led the authors to conclude that it’s temperature, not rainfall, that is largely controlling primary productivity.

There’s also a strong match between Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstructions and the Lake Surface Temperature reconstruction. Temperatures on Lake Tanganyika have largely followed global trends over the past 1500 years as well as the past half-century. From this, the authors infer that surface temperatures in this region vary in concert with the global average and that the recent anomalous warming is a response to anthropogenic greenhouse-gas forcing. As lake temperature and primary productivity are closely related, this is evidence of another impact of man-made global warming on humanity – in this case, the communities and regional economy around Lake Tanganyika.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 9:39 am

Gulf oil spill leak now pegged at 95,000 barrels a day

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Janet Raloff in Science News:

“It’s not rocket science.” That’s how a Purdue University mechanical engineer described his calculations of startling amounts of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from fissures in heavily damaged piping at a BP drill site. During a May 19 science briefing convened by the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, Steve Wereley walked members of Congress through his use of particle image velocimetry to explain how he and other engineers track changes in video images of gases or liquids to estimate the volumes billowing before their eyes.

This technique has been around for a quarter century and has thousands of practitioners. So it’s “well-established,” Wereley said. And when done carefully – with good starting imagery – its accuracy can approach 99 percent, he observed.

Six days earlier, BP for the first time publicly released seafloor video of the oil spewing from pipes at the site of its Deepwater Horizon accident. As soon as engineers saw this video, Wereley and a few of his colleagues started mapping features in the roiling plumes and measuring how quickly those identified features sped downstream. Landmarks of known dimensions helped them calculate cross-sections of the plume and its density.

After probing a 30-second live-action snippet from the well’s damaged riser pipe, a conduit that had essentially served as a huge straw to carry oil from the seafloor to a floating platform 5,000 feet above, Wereley calculated the gusher’s flow rate. Then he projected the daily quantity emerging from the pipe’s wound – a staggering 70,000 barrels per day.

On May 18, BP released a few more video clips, this time showing a 1.2 centimeter diameter hole in another segment of piping. Wereley’s preliminary calculations indicate that the jet of high-pressure oil shooting out of it unleashes somewhere in the neighborhood of another 25,000 barrels of oil each day. With 42 gallons in a barrel, “It seems incomprehensible that so much oil would be coming out of that hole,” he acknowledged. But this tiny breach is upstream of a plume shooting out of the riser pipe, he explained, “so its flow is at a considerably higher pressure.” 

An hour or so earlier, at a hearing before the House Transportation Committee, BP America president Lamar McKay was asked whether his company still subscribed to the view that the damaged well’s maximum release rate hovered around 5,000 barrels a day. “That is the best estimate,” he said. But estimates are hard to make, he noted, since there’s no way to attach a flow meter to the top of the gashes in the damaged pipe.

But when Purdue’s Wereley was asked to hazard a reasonable estimate of the damaged well’s oil-release rate, he concluded that BP’s quantity was a pipedream. A far more likely figure, he offered, was 95,000 barrels a day, plus or minus 20 percent. At least four other independent engineers have pegged the figure at between 25,000 and 100,000 barrels a day, he reported. So all of these estimates from outside the industry “are considerably higher than BP’s,” he pointed out, “and there’s a good overlap between the outsider estimates.”

This would suggest BP’s number is an outlier, said subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (Dem.-Mass.). It is, Wereley assured him.

Is there any chance BP got the number right, Markey asked?

“I don’t see any possibility – any scenario – under which their number is accurate,” Wereley said. He could envision his own estimate dropping, if longer streams of video were made available and they showed large quantities of gas were being emitted, temporally edging out the oil. The big variable, he said is the gas-to-oil ratio emanating from the well. BP has those numbers but hasn’t shared them yet. And the oil giant also has not been sharing much video.

Earlier in the day, Rep. Markey said, he put in a formal request to BP asking that it begin making live streaming video from its wellhead available to the public.

That’s a good start, Wereley said. But the video he’s seen was “compressed” so that much of the fine detail in its data was missing. What proves critical for high-quality flow analyses, he emphasized, is “original unadulterated footage.”

Markey pledged to look into getting it.

Of course BP is hiding the full extent of the damage. Yesterday, BP got the Coast Guard to help them keep CBS News photographers away from the shore of Louisiana, where the oil is starting to land. BP will hide, stall, distort, lie, and do anything they can to minimize the knowledge of the damage and to avoid paying the full costs of the damage.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 9:34 am

The duty to do the right thing

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Matthew Yglesias:

Reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s debate with Peter Beinart I’m struck by how frequently Goldberg deploys a tactic of topic-switching. He’s really interested in emphasizing the idea that Israel faces incredibly serious national security threats from Hezbollah and Iran. I think he’s overstating it, but the fact of the matter is that it’s simply not relevant to what Beinart is talking about, which is the maltreatment of Israel’s Palestinian subjects and the prospect of increasing maltreatment of Israel’s Arab citizens. The former simply isn’t relevant to the latter. In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s the United States was faced with serious security threats from Germany & Japan and then later the Soviet Union. It was also engaged in serious mistreatment of African-Americans. The mistreatment of African-Americans didn’t invalidate the legitimacy of the security concerns, but by the same token the reality of the security concerns didn’t mitigate the wrongness of Jim Crow.

And I mean not that it didn’t outweigh the wrongness of Jim Crow, it didn’t mitigate it at all. Not even a little. It just wasn’t relevant. The Israeli government shouldn’t be ruling over a population of non-citizens in the Occupied Territories and dispossessing them of their land. The settlements are not a form of defense against Hezbollah. The settlements don’t impede Iran’s nuclear program. On the contrary, elites in Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf tend to broadly share the Israeli government’s outlook on the regional security situation but public outrage at Israeli maltreatment of Palestinians makes it difficult for them to cooperate effectively with Israel. America didn’t have Jim Crow because it was afraid of the Russians, America had Jim Crow because many white Americans liked it that way and many other white Americans didn’t care enough to do anything about it. Israel doesn’t take Palestinian land and build houses on it because it’s afraid of Hezbollah, they take the land because many Israelis want the land and because most of the rest of Israelis don’t care enough to stop them.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 9:25 am

Rand Paul’s tenuous grasp of reality

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Rand Paul, GOP candidate for the Senate in Kentucky, turns out to hold some strange beliefs. From a ThinkProgress post by Ian Millhiser:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the greatest accomplishments of the 20th century, banning whites-only lunch counters and similar discrimination in hiring, promotions, hotels and restaurants. Yet, in a recent editorial board interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul explained why he believes that this landmark law should not apply to private business owners:

INTERVIEWER: Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.


PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.

Read the whole post—it’s worth it. I just wanted to comment on his strange idea that the government shouldn’t tell private business owners what to do.

That idea shows that Dr. Paul lives in a planet far from reality. Any business owner knows that governments regulate businesses carefully: minimum wage laws, laws regarding work hours and overtime, laws that regulate fire exits, ventilation, maximum occupancy—not to mention the Uniform Commercial Code, a mountain of legislation regulating businesses. "Private" in a business refers to the funding and the ownership, but the business itself falls under the rule of law and regulation, and disallowing racial discrimination is only a tiny part of the laws affecting business.

It is interesting, though, that Dr. Paul focused on this one, a law that racists clearly hate. I can only think that he is trying to build support among racists, and he doesn’t believe that government action to disallow effective racism is in the public interest.

I wouldn’t vote for this guy for dog-catcher. And it seems that having an African-American president has aroused the racists among us.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 9:09 am

Morning report

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Back from blood draw, deciding against eating breakfast out. I’m still feeling the effects from yesterday’s wonderful but too-large lunch (see photo), so couldn’t muster interest in breakfast out.

I just took the final 1/4 of a 37.5 mg capsule of Effexor XR, and I am now officially no longer taking an anti-depressant, which sort of makes me sad.

Just joking. Very glad to get shut of it, and we’ll see now how I cope—quite well, I anticipate. Retirement at least avoids all the job-related problems.

Here’s the lunch, but doesn’t show the extremely nice salad melange with crumbled blue cheese that was the first course:

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 8:52 am

Posted in Daily life

Cella, another Italian soft soap/cream

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Cella is an Italian shaving preparations that’s like a very soft soap or a stiffish shaving cream, very like Figaro and Virgilio Valobra. Comparing Cella and Figaro: Figaro is porcelain white, has a strong (and attractive) bitter-almond fragrance, and makes a fine lather. Cella is more almond colored, has the ingredients listed on the bottom of the container (so I know, for example, that it is tallow-based), has a much less noticeable almond fragrance, and makes a fine lather.

The fine lather in this case was created with the Simpson Key Hole 3, and the Gillette Executive (gold-plated Fat Boy) set at 5 and holding a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade did a fine job: excellent smoothness in process and finish. A splash of Geo. F. Trumper and I’m out to get a blood draw.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2010 at 7:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving


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