Later On

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

Archive for March 21st, 2011

Who regulates the regulators?

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This will have a big impact, I would think:

Just a month before a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi plant at the center of Japan’s nuclear crisis, government regulators approved a 10-year extension for the oldest of the six reactors at the power station despite warnings about its safety.The committee reviewing extensions pointed to stress cracks in the backup diesel-powered engines at Reactor No. 1 at the Daiichi plant, according to a summary of its deliberations that was posted on the Web site of Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency after each meeting. The cracks made the engines vulnerable to corrosion from seawater and rainwater. The engines are thought to have been knocked out by the tsunami, shutting down the reactor’s vital cooling system.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, has since struggled to keep the reactor and spent fuel pool from overheating and emitting radioactive materials.

Several weeks after the extension was granted, the company admitted that it had failed to inspect 33 pieces of equipment related to the cooling systems, including water pumps and diesel generators, at the power station’s six reactors, according to findings published on the agency’s Web site shortly before the earthquake.

Regulators said that “maintenance management was inadequate” and that the “quality of inspection was insufficient.”

Less than two weeks later, the earthquake and tsunami set off the crisis at the power station. . .

Continue reading. The answer to the question posed by the post title is, I believe, a vigorous and independent press.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2011 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Wow: Court allows constitutional challenge to new FISA law

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This is big. The column begins with a little snark, but in this case it is, I think, well deserved. It begins:

In October, 2007, candidate Barack Obama — in response to the Bush administration’s demand for a new FISA law — emphatically vowed that he would filibuster any such bill that contained retroactive amnesty for telecoms which participated in Bush’s illegal spying program.  At the time, that vow was politically beneficial to Obama because he was seeking the Democratic nomination and wanted to show how resolute he was about standing up against Bush’s expansions of surveillance powers and in defense of the rule of law.  But in a move that shocked many people at the time — though which turned out to be completely consistent with his character — Obama, once he had the nomination secured in July, 2008, turned around and did exactly that which he swore he would not do:  he not only voted against the filibuster of the bill containing telecom amnesty, but also voted in favor of enactment of the underlying bill.  That bill, known as the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, was then signed into law by George W. Bush at a giddy bipartisan signing ceremony in the Rose Garden, which — by immunizing telecoms and legalizing most of the Bush program — put a harmless, harmonious end to what had been the NSA scandal.

Beyond telecom amnesty, the FISA Amendments Act also wildly expanded the Government’s power to conduct warrantless surveillance of telephone calls and emails.  In large part, the bill was intended to legalize the illegal Bush NSA program that had caused so much faux controversy among Democrats.  As Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin put it:  “Through the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Congress has legitimated many of the same things people are now complaining about”; separately, Balkin contended that Obama voted for the bill because, as President, he himself would want the same powers Bush had to intercept people’s communications without bothering with court approval.

When trying to placate his numerous supporters furious over his reversal, Obama insisted he voted for the bill with “the firm intention — once I’m sworn in as president — to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future” (that promise caused his then-large band of faithful followers to evangelize that Obama only voted for the bill to make sure he won the election, so that he could then use his majestic power to fix civil liberties abuses of the type he had just voted for; that was when people were still willing with a straight face to invoke the 11-dimensional chess justification for everything he did).  Needless to say, it would have been unhealthy in the extreme holding one’s breath for that “we’ll-fix-it-when-I’m-President” promise to be fulfilled, as — more than 2 years into his presidency — nothing like it has remotely happened.

Immediately upon enactment of the Bush/Obama-supported FISA Amendments Act, the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin its enforcement on the ground that the law’s expanded warrantless eavesdropping powers violated the Fourth Amendment.  Aside from its warped and radically enlarged “state secret” doctrine, the Bush administration’s standard tactic for avoiding judicial review of their illegal eavesdropping programs was a two-step “standing” exercise grounded in extreme cynicism:  (1) they shrouded their eavesdropping actions in total secrecy so that nobody knew who was targeted for this eavesdropping, and they then (2) exploited that secrecy to insist that since nobody could prove they were actually subjected to this eavesdropping, nobody had “standing” to contest its legality in courts (that’s how the Bush DOJ got an appeals court to dismiss on procedural grounds a lower court ruling that their NSA program broke the law and violated the Constitution).

In the case brought by the ACLU, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2011 at 5:52 pm

The world’s biggest encyclopedia, beside my chair

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The Wife told me that she knew that I would love a laptop, which is why she so strongly recommended that I get one. And get one I did: first an HP enormous laptop that I immediately returned because I started having problems from the get-go and the on-line adviser said that the OS was somehow munged.

Then I tried a netbook that I got with reward points. It was simply too small: could not read the screen.

Then I got a regular Dell, and again with the reading problems plus the touchpad was hypersensitive and I was constantly sending the cursor into outer space by brushing it accidentally.

Then I got to try out a couple of MacBooks on the trip East and found them quite workable.

So here we are: I’m sitting in my chair, wonder what fungus it is that makes tempeh—and is tempeh originally from Thailand? (I know it’s from SE Asia.)

Yep, the mold is a fungus, and that mold produces no significant amounts of B12. However, in Indonesia (where tempeh originated) a bacterium also is part of the fermentation, and that bacterium seems to produce B12. In the West, however, the bacterium is not used—great care is taken to use only pure strains of the mold—so a tempeh-oriented eater should make sure to get adequate B12 (which most of us get from meat protein).

I was interested to see in the Wikipedia article that Swedish scientists made tempeh with barley and oats in 2008. I swear I’ve seen multigrain tempehs on the shelf in Whole Foods for some years—but of course 2008 is indeed some years ago. Still, that doesn’t sound likely (and it is in Wikipedia), but it raised an interesting question: why barley and oats? Was that to get a complete protein? But barley and oats are both grains, so they would be deficient in the same way, wouldn’t they?

So a Google search on “barley and oats complete protein” produced this useful note by bethany646 on eHow:

Vegan or vegetarian and not getting enough protein? Learn how to combine monocots and dicots to make a complete protein. These complete proteins can be converted by your liver into all the essential amino acids your body needs for cellular metabolism.

1. First you need to chose a monocot, or a seed that can’t be split. For example, a corn kernel can’t be split, at least not without destroying it. Choose from rice, corn, wheat, barley, or oats. These are just some common monocots when actually there are thousands to choose from.

2. Next, decide what kind of delicious dicot, or seed that splits to accompany your monocot. Some dicots include rice, lentils, peas, peanuts, and almonds.

3. Now that you’ve chosen your monocot and dicot, eat them together to make a yummy complete protein. For example, a whole wheat peanut butter sandwich, barley and lentil salad, or peas and corn. My favorite is rice with black beans. Add a little olive oil and cilantro and you’ve got yourself a very delicious complete protein. Enjoy!

So barley and oats are not a complete protein. They should have used barley and rice, for example.

Great to have such easy access to information. If I’d had this as a kid, you would never have gotten me outside.

UPDATE 1: Then I got to wondering about best sources for B12. I’m pleased to see sardines high on the list.

UPDATE 2: Lots of tempeh info at this link, including how to make your own: http://www.tempeh.info/

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2011 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Technology

Good Pilates session

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Very good Pilates session today. Although my form continues to require lots of correction, at least now I have an idea of what to do when a correction is offered instead of being totally confused.

When I gave a brief talk at Healthy Way the other evening on my 65-lb weight loss (or, more impressively, my 1040-ounce lost—and much of it was lost a few ounces at a time, though occasionally two or three pounds would mysteriously vanish between weighings), they had “before” and “after” photos, and I was stunned when I looked at the “before” photo and saw that my shoulders were up around my ears. My Pilates instructor used to say that, but I didn’t realize how obvious it was to an impartial observer until I saw that photo. Thank heavens for Pilates.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2011 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

The war on Elizabeth Warren

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She’s competent, fair-minded, and knows well the industry she will regulate: that’s why the Right and the bankers hate and fear her and are doing everything they can to destroy her. Bad news: Her chief protector is Barack Obama, not a guy you can depend on. Paul Krugman writes in today’s NY Times:

Last week, at a House hearing on financial institutions and consumer credit, Republicans lined up to grill and attack Elizabeth Warren, the law professor and bankruptcy expert who is in charge of setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ostensibly, they believed that Ms. Warren had overstepped her legal authority by helping state attorneys general put together a proposed settlement with mortgage servicers, which are charged with a number of abuses.

But the accusations made no sense. Since when is it illegal for a federal official to talk with state officials, giving them the benefit of her expertise? Anyway, everyone knew that the real purpose of the attack on Ms. Warren was to ensure that neither she nor anyone with similar views ends up actually protecting consumers.

And Republicans were clearly also hoping that if they threw enough mud, some of it would stick. For people like Ms. Warren — people who warned that we were heading for a debt crisis before it happened — threaten, by their very existence, attempts by conservatives to sustain their antiregulation dogma. Such people must therefore be demonized, using whatever tools are at hand.

Let me expand on that for a moment. When the 2008 financial crisis struck, many observers — myself included — thought that it would force opponents of financial regulation to rethink their position. After all, conservatives hailed the debt boom of the Bush years as a triumph of free-market finance right up to the moment it turned into a disastrous bust.

But we underestimated the speed and determination with which opponents of regulation would rewrite history. Almost instantly, that free-market boom was retroactively reinterpreted; it became a disaster brought on by, you guessed it, excessive government intervention.

There remained, however, the inconvenient fact that some of those calling for stronger regulation have a track record that gives them a lot of credibility. And few have as much credibility as Ms. Warren.

Household debt doubled as a share of personal income over the 30 years preceding the crisis, and these days high levels of debt are widely seen as a major barrier to recovery. But only a handful of people appreciated the dangers posed by rising debt as the rise was happening. And Ms. Warren was among the foresighted few. More than a decade ago, when politicians of both parties were celebrating the wonders of modern banking and widening access to consumer credit, she was already warning that high debt levels could bring widespread financial disaster in the face of an economic downturn.

Later, she took the lead in pushing for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2011 at 10:45 am

The government’s war on its citizens: The body count continues to rise

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No, I’m not talking about Qaddafi and his war on his citizens. I’m talking about the US government and its “War on Drugs”—which is in fact a war on drug users. Radley Balko takes a look at what our government is doing to its citizens:

At 12:30 a.m. on January 5, just three days before Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a Tucson gathering hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), a SWAT team in Framingham, Massachusetts, conducted a drug raid on the home of 68-year-old Eurie Stamps. Stamps wasn’t the target of the raid. Nor was he armed when the police shot him. In fact, police had found their suspects, Joseph Bushfan—the 20-year-old son of Stamps’ girlfriend—and Devon Talbert, also 20. The two were arrested outside the home. They still went ahead with the raid, which ended with Stamps’ death.

On January 12, four days after the Tucson massacre, Sal and Anita Culosi settled a lawsuit against Fairfax County, Virginia, police Detective Deval Bullock. Five years earlier, Bullock shot and killed their son, 38-year-old optometrist Sal Culosi, during a SWAT raid on his home. The reason for the raid: Culosi was suspected of wagering on college football games with friends.

Later the same month, Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Mayor Cheye Calvo settled his civil rights lawsuit against Prince George’s County, Maryland, and its police department. In 2008 a SWAT team from that department raided Calvo’s home after intercepting a package of marijuana that had been sent there. Police broke down Calvo’s door, immediately shot and killed his two Labrador retrievers, and held him and his mother-in-law handcuffed and at gunpoint for hours before realizing they were innocent. The package had been randomly sent to Calvo’s address as part of a drug smuggling scheme; a plant at the delivery service was supposed to intercept it before it was delivered. To this day, officials in Prince George’s County say that if they could do it all again, they would conduct the raid the same way.

Within hours of the Tucson massacre, pundits and politicians were denouncing anti-government rhetoric, falsely suggesting that the use of targets, crosshairs, and other gun imagery in political campaigning, along with strong denunciations of public officials, mostly from the Tea Party right, was responsible for the tragedy. But before, during, and after the massacre, they remained oblivious to an actual, measurable, and significant increase in the government’s use of violent tactics against its own citizens. Indeed, the policies that led to the violence that claimed the lives of Stamps, Culosi, and scores of other innocents in recent years are supported by nearly all of the pundits and politicians who took to blogs, op-ed pages, and the airwaves to condemn those who condemn the government.

Who Is More Violent?

What happened in Tucson was an atrocity. But such actual, as opposed to rhetorical, attacks on public officials are rare. The last sitting congressman to be assassinated was Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D-Calif.), killed in 1978 by members of Jim Jones’ cult in Guyana. Despite a flurry of unsourced media reports about a dramatic increase in threats against members of Congress, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer told Politico shortly after the Tucson shootings that the  number of threats against members is “very low.” Gainer added, “I think we have to keep this in some perspective.”

Official government violence against nonviolent Americans and residents, by contrast, occurs daily. And for the last 30 years it has been increasing at an alarming rate. From the early 1980s to the mid-2000s, University of Eastern Kentucky criminologist Peter Kraska conducted an annual survey on the use of SWAT teams in the United States. Until the late 1970s, SWAT teams were generally used in emergency situations to defuse conflicts with people who presented an immediate threat to others, such as hostage takers, bank robbers, or mass shooters. But beginning in the early 1980s, police departments across the country began using SWAT teams to serve drug warrants.

Kraska found that the number of SWAT deployments in America increased from 3,000 per year in the early 1980s to around 50,000 by the mid-2000s. That’s about 135 SWAT raids per day. The vast majority of those are for drug warrants.

In May 2010, after an open records request from local newspapers, . . .

Continue reading. The government’s violence against its own citizens should stop.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2011 at 10:37 am

First shave since Thursday

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A four-day stubble calls for horsepower, so I brought out the big guns: J.M Fraser shaving cream, curiously effective at softening the beard and a long-time favorite—and it’s inexpensive, to boot. The Simpson Persian Jar 2 Super worked up a good lather, and I took my time working it into my beard. Then the Hoffritz Slant Bar, with a still newish Swedish Gillette blade, went to work. The stubble never had a chance. A splash of New York on my exceptionally smooth face, and I’m ready to hit the books some more—though I do have Pilates today. (I did 25 minutes on the Nordic, to boot.)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2011 at 10:31 am

Posted in Shaving

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