Archive for August 2011
Interesting new book from economist Dean Baker:
In his new book, The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive, Dean Baker argues that progressives hurt their cause whenever they accept the conventional wisdom that conservatives are for the “free” market while progressives are for government intervention in the market economy. In a much-needed counter-narrative, Baker stresses that this is both bad policy and bad politics. He takes apart this fundamental misframing of economics and details how conservatives actually use the government to twist markets to their advantage and points out that they are just smart enough not to own up to it.
Using real-world examples and plain language, Baker, economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explains that markets are an incredibly valuable tool and asserts that progressives should look to structure them in ways that lead to more equality, just as conservatives have structured them to help the wealthy get wealthier. He asserts that by accepting conservative-influenced market outcomes largely as a given, then restricting their battles to redistribution after the fact, liberals have condemned themselves to a losing position.
Baker also demonstrates how the government’s key economic policy levers — for example, the Federal Reserve’s control over inflation and unemployment rates as well as the value of the dollar — have enormous impact on how the economy affects regular people. He shines light on many other ways that the government has massive influence on markets, but which rarely appear on political radar screens — such as patents on prescription drugs that multiply their prices, trade barriers that maintain high incomes for highly paid professionals at the expense of those who pay for their services, and the implicit government subsidies enjoyed by “too-big-to-fail” banks.
Baker points out that amount of income and wealth shifted towards the rich by such government policies swamps the sums at stake in most other economic policy debates. He urges progressives to go to where the money is — by exposing how conservatives depend on the government to intervene in markets in their favor — and not condemn themselves to fighting what will mostly be losing battles over the crumbs.
By releasing The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive under a Creative Commons license and as a free electronic download, Baker walks the walk of one of his key arguments — that copyrights are a form of government intervention in markets that leads to enormous inefficiency, in addition to redistributing income upward. (Hard copies will be available for purchase, at cost, in the near future.) Distributing the book for free not only enables it to reach a wider audience, but Baker hopes to drive home one of the book’s main points via his own example.
I got to thinking about the strange way ignorant people use “theory” in a scientific context, as discussed in this post where Ed Brayton writes about Glenn Beck’s view. Brayton quotes this exchange:
BECK: Darwin’s what is it called again -
GRAY: The theory -
BECK: Oh, the theory of evolution.
GRAY: It’s not called Darwin’s proof of evolution.
BECK: It’s Darwin’s theory of evolution. That’s weird Ron [Reagan] that there might be some dissent on a theory. You see the difference here Ron is as a theory we didn’t theoretically go to the moon, we went to the moon. Darwin only in theory can show you that monkeys come out of you or vice versa. But in your case, it may be reverse engineering but that’s a theory of mine that you could disagree with.
Brayton then discusses the exchange, and I encourage you to read his post. But I got to thinking about it from a slightly different direction.
Let’s start with gravitational theory. There is a theory of gravitation, as you know, but the fact that there’s a “theory” doesn’t mean that gravitation doesn’t exist. Indeed, gravitation—the tendency of bodies to fall—is a well-known fact. The “theory” part is to explain that observed fact. One early theory was that bodies on earth have a “nature” that causes them to fall, while bodies in the heavens (the moon and sun and planets, for example) have a “nature” that causes them to stay up and move around the earth.
That’s a theory, but when Newton provided a new theory: that all masses attract each other, with an attraction that varies as the inverse square of the distance between them, and came up with a gravitational constant G (sometimes called “Big G” to distinguish it from “g”, the local gravitational field on Earth), it seemed much better: one theory could account for behavior on earth and the motions of the moon, sun, and planets. So we have a new theory of gravitation: not that gravitation changed—it’s still the same factual phenomenon it always was—but the theoretical explanation changed.
Then Einstein came up with even more broader theories that explained even more phenomena: first the Special Theory of Relativity, which did away with simultaneity as an absolute, and then the General Theory of Relativity, which is currently our best “theory” (i.e., explanation) of the fact of gravity, though of course even better explanations are likely to be found/created.
Now let’s turn to evolution. Once more we have facts that must be explained: the great similarities of families of plants and animals, as if branching from common ancestors; the fossil and geological record; DNA relationships. What theoretical explanation can account for the facts of evolution?
The “theory” part involves: reproduction and inheritance with variation, limited resources, and natural selection: those variations best able to exploit available resources will reproduce more plentifully, displacing those less able. That’s the theory part: the logical explanation. Then one looks for evidence that will disconfirm the theory. So far, everything we find has strengthened the theory—and the DNA evidence is starting to show us how it works.
Evolution is a fact. The “theory” part is the explanation of how it happens.
I thought you might be interested in seeing the bowl I use as a lathering bowl, when I do use one. This is made of soapstone and holds heat well, though it obviously is too large to serve as a brush bowl to keep the brush warm.
This is horsehair-brush week, and I begin with the brush shown and Taylor of Old Bond Street Lavender shaving soap. Once again I get a very distinctive lather using a horsehair brush and Creamy-Lather technique: extremely fine-grained and dense and fully satisfying.
Three passes of the Slant holding a Swedish Gillette blade, a quick pass with the alum bar, a final rinse, dry, and splash of Alpa 378.
The final upload of the book file has been approved and I’ve ordered a final proof copy, which I’ll have Wednesday. So the 5th edition will be published on 31 August.
Oofta! Am I glad to upload that. Next steps: CreateSpace will let me know (probably tomorrow) the results of their review of the files (which will be fine: the files have been approved multiple times and correcting typos won’t change anything). Then I order final proof copies, and I expect I’ll receive those by Thursday or Friday. If they look good—and I just went through the PDF and everything looks fine—then the book is published: before Labor Day! Yay!
Interesting article. I didn’t realize that shaving the armpits dates back to 1915 but shaving the legs only to the 1940s. Removing hair from the pudendum, however, dates back centuries and is from a Muslim tradition.
Interesting report by Melissa Healy in the LA Times. I take two 1g capsules of wild salmon oil with breakfast and again with dinner, avoid vegetable oils other than olive, sesame, and grapeseed (overwhelmingly I use olive oil). When I eat beef (rarely now), I eat grass-fed beef and I avoid catfish and tilapia (farmed and fed cereal and soy, with the result that omega-3/omega-6 levels are completely out of whack). I had fresh sardines yesterday and do eat sardines regularly. My breakfast cereal is 1/4 c oat bran, 1/8 c chia seed (high omega-3), and 1/8 c hulled hemp seed (high omega-3), which I have with one egg. All because some years back I read an article in the New Scientist.
Healy’s report begins:
In a finding suggesting powerful psychiatric benefits for a component of fish oil, a study published Wednesday has linked military suicides to low levels of docosahexaenoic acid and found that service personnel with higher levels of DHA in their blood were less likely to take their own lives.
The study, published this week in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, looked back at the medical records of 800 U.S. servicemen and women who took their own lives between 2002 and 2008, and compared them with the records of 800 service personnel — matched for age, gender and rank — who had no history of suicide attempts.
Men whose records showed they had low levels of DHA in their blood were 62% more likely to have been suicide victims than those with the highest levels.
The study suggests that low DHA levels were an even stronger predictor of suicide than a far-better-recognized risk factor among military personnel: whether the service member reported having had direct exposure to allied troops that had been killed or wounded.
Suicides among U.S. military personnel, particularly Army soldiers and Marines who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, have risen steadily since 2001 and reached a crisis point in 2008, when more than 20 of every 100,000 servicemen and women –roughly twice the national average — took their own lives. Between 2005 and 2009, 1,100 U.S. servicemen and women took their own lives, and in 2010, the Defense Department said 295 active-duty military personnel committed suicide.
The spate of suicides — in a population that traditionally has had lower suicide rates than their civilian counterparts — has stirred deep concern within the military. Last year, a Defense Department task force called for better suicide-prevention programs, wider use of community expertise in suicide prevention and efforts to destigmatize help-seeking behaviors by U.S. service personnel. The task force also called for more research that could help identify those at greatest risk of attempting suicide and determine how best to help them.
This study, conducted by researchers from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse, may help identify a simple fix for service members going into harm’s way: supplementation with . . .
Fortunately, the FDA says that it’s perfectly safe because the plastics industry that uses it so heavily says that more studies are needed. From Science News:
Plastics ingredient causes genetic response
A new study shows for the first time that bisphenol A — a building block of some plastics and food-packaging materials — can trigger hormone-responsive gene changes in people. An international research team collected blood and urine from 96 male recruits. As urinary markers of BPA exposure rose, the likelihood that estrogen-responsive genes were activated in the blood also increased, an international team of scientists report online August 10 in Environmental Health Perspectives. Concentrations eliciting the changes were representative of those found in the general population. The authors conclude that BPA is active in humans “and that associations with hormone signaling and related disorders are biologically plausible.” —Janet Raloff
Glenn Greenwald discusses the fight the CIA is waging to defend its mistakes:
Ali Soufan is a long-time FBI agent and interrogator who was at the center of the U.S. government’s counter-terrorism activities from 1997 through 2005, and became an outspoken critic of the government’s torture program. He has written a book exposing the abuses of the CIA’s interrogation program as well as pervasive ineptitude and corruption in the War on Terror. He is, however, encountering a significant problem: the CIA is barring the publication of vast amounts of information in his book including, as Scott Shane details in The New York Times today, many facts that are not remotely secret and others that have been publicly available for years, including ones featured in the 9/11 Report and even in Soufan’s own public Congressional testimony.
Shane notes that the government’s censorship effort “amounts to a fight over who gets to write the history of the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath,” particularly given the imminent publication of a book by CIA agent Jose Rodriguez — who destroyed the videotapes of CIA interrogations in violation of multiple court orders and subpoenas only to be protected by the Obama DOJ — that touts the benefits of the CIA’s “tough” actions, propagandistically entitled: “Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives.” Most striking about this event is the CIA’s defense of its censorship of information from Soufan’s book even though it has long been publicly reported and documented:
A spokeswoman for the C.I.A., Jennifer Youngblood, said . . . .”Just because something is in the public domain doesn’t mean it’s been officially released or declassified by the U.S. government.”
Just marvel at the Kafkaesque, authoritarian mentality that produces responses like that: someone can be censored, or even prosecuted and imprisoned, for discussing “classified” information that has long been documented in the public domain. But as absurd as it is, this deceitful scheme — suppressing embarrassing information or evidence of illegality by claiming that even public information is “classified” — is standard government practice for punishing whistleblowers and other critics and shielding high-level lawbreakers.
The Obama DOJ has continuously claimed that victims of the U.S. rendition, torture and eavesdropping programs cannot have their claims litigated in court because what was done to them are “state secrets” — even when what was done to them has long been publicly known and even formally, publicly investigated and litigated in open court in other countries. Identically, the Obama DOJ just tried (and failed) to prosecute NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake for “espionage” for “leaking,” among other things, documents that do not even remotely contain properly classified information, leading to a formal complaint by a long-time NSA official demanding that the officials who improperly classified those documents themselves be punished. In a Washington Post Op-Ed today,Drake himself explains: . . .
This is an example of why it’s difficult to be optimistic.
When you watch things like the video posted earlier today—the one where a young man apparently decided that life is not worth living in a country that lacks basic freedoms and the rule of law—one can get pretty glum about humanity and the way it acts as its own scourge. And yet, as Morihei Ueshiba remarked, the universe is ready, all creation is open, and all that remains is for humanity to become enlightened. So close, yet our failures are so dismal.
It is important, however, not to overlook the successes of humanity, and what human life could be like should people find it in themselves to cooperate. I want to thank Jack of Amsterdam who passed along a video that greatly improved my mood. Watch at least until the middle. Best watched fullscreen.
Hurricane Irene is going to hit the United States’ east coast this weekend, as you have likely heard. It looks to be a pretty nasty storm, capable of causing billions of dollars of damage. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been carefully tracking Irene, forecasting its path up the coast and its intensity. Of course, America’s Republican-demanded White House-encouraged austerity budget includes cuts to the NOAA. Cuts that will delay — by years — the construction and launch of an extreme weather forecasting satellite. So let’s hope there aren’t any serious hurricanes in 2016, I guess?
Speaking at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on a day when the weather forecast warned of possible tornadoes and golf-ball-size hail east of the city, Dr. Lubchenco said there would be a gap of at least a year and a half, and possibly much longer, during which NOAA has no operational satellite circling the planet on a north-south orbit.
The polar-orbiting satellite enables scientists to predict severe storms five to 10 days before they hit.
“Whether the gap is longer than that depends on whether we get the money”— $1 billion — “in the next budget,” warned Dr. Lubchenco, an environmental scientist. “I would argue that these satellites are critically important to saving lives and property and to enabling homeland security.”
This is an old story: Before or after a natural disaster, you can usually find a Republican who wanted to cut funding for departments and organizations that predicted and protected people from said disaster.
Remember when Louisiana governor and poor public speaker mocked the concept of funding for “volcano monitoring” and then a volcano promptlyerupted in Alaska? And remember how after Eric Cantor pushed for across-the-board budget cuts for the United States Geological Survey, his district was hit with an earthquake? And remember how the House Republican budget cut funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and then there was an earthquake and tsunami in Japan?
Yes, well, as Matt Yglesias points out, when you want to cut funding for everything the government does, sometimes there will be major news events that involve something the government should be doing something about, and people will say, hey, shouldn’t the government be doing something about this?
Cutting money for disaster preparedness programs is a really good method of eventually wasting much more money, in the future, than you saved in the present, but that’s sort of been the entire Republican spending philosophy for years now, actually.
Very interesting interview of Michael Kazin, a Georgetown history prof and author of a new book:
What has the left really accomplished over the past two centuries? FDR’s New Deal remains one of the great American success stories. In the ’60s, leftist politics created a massive countercultural movement — and sexual and feminist revolutions. The civil rights movement transformed both American society and the American soul. But, if you compare the accomplishments of the American left to those of other parts of the world, like Western Europe, its record is remarkably dismal, with a surprising lack of real political and social impact.
At least, that’s the main takeaway from “American Dreamers,” a new book by Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University, which covers nearly 200 years of struggle for civil rights, sexual equality and radical rebellion. His book explores the way the national conversation has been changed by union organizers, gay rights activists and feminists. He also writes about how their techniques have now been adopted by the Tea Party movement. From Michael Moore to “Wall-E,” he argues that, although the left has been successful at transforming American culture, when it comes to practical change, it’s been woefully unsuccessful.
Salon spoke to Kazin over the phone about the difference between Europe and America, the rise of the professional left — and why the Lorax is a progressive icon.
In the book, you argue that the left has been very successful at changing American culture — but not at making real economic or political change. Why? . . .
Social pressure is very powerful—one reason I enjoy being a recluse. Here’s an interesting report in the NY Times by Stephanie Clifford about how how social norms are changing how school lunches are packed:
Many retailers and schools are advocating waste-free options for back-to-school shoppers this year, especially when it comes to lunch. School lists call for Tupperware instead of Ziplocs, neoprene lunch bags instead of brown paper ones, and aluminum water bottles, not the throwaway plastic versions.
Sales of environmentally friendly back-to-school products are up just about everywhere. At the Container Store, the increase is 30 percent over last year for some items, said Mona Williams, the company’s vice president of buying. “We have seen a huge resurgence,” she said.
The trend makes the schools happy (much less garbage). It makes the stores happy (higher back-to-school spending). It even makes the students happy (green feels good).
Who’s not happy? The parents (what to do when the Tupperware runs out?).
“Ziplocs are the biggest misstep,” said Julie Corbett, a mother in Oakland, Calif., whose two girls attend a school with an eco-friendly lunch policy. In school years past, she said, many a morning came unhinged when the girls were sent to school with disposable sandwich bags.
“That’s when the kids have meltdowns, because they don’t want to be shamed at school,” Ms. Corbett said. “It’s a big deal.”
Schools have been adopting environmentally friendly policies for ecological and budget reasons, and retailers have been rushing to fill the newfound demand with store-front promotions and aggressive marketing. Staples has rows of eco-friendly lunch containers, like an Extreme flap lunchbox case with a compartment for plastic food boxes, and a Yak Pak lunch tote that looks like a purse.
Many of the schools are pushing waste-free lunches, where everything must be either compostable or reusable, in an effort to reduce garbage and the cost of hauling it away. Others are requiring that students bring reusable gear because even though the upfront cost is higher, it tends to be cheaper over the course of the year. . .
This is pretty grim. The guy has now disappeared.
On Wicked_Edge a guy from Adelaide in Australia (hardest water in Australia) asked about how one used distilled (or “purified”) water for a shave. I wrote this to add to the book:
Using distilled water
If you’re using heated distilled water, you can pour the heated water (around 116ºF/47ºC) into a 1-quart/liter thermos, though this is probably overkill: a 1-quart/liter bowl of water will stay comfortably warm for a shave. If you use a boar brush, also pour a cupful in which to soak the brush while you shower.
You then use water from the thermos:
• to wash your face with pre-shave soap and roughly rinse (no need for a thorough rinse: residual MR GLO contributes lubricity to the lather);
• to moisten a hot towel if you use that;
• to make the lather;
• to rinse your face after each pass (three rinses for a typical three-pass shave);
• to rinse lather off the razor (pour a little into a basin or bowl for this).
I am able to do this with about a pint (0.5 liter). It helps that only the final rinse needs to be thorough. Depending on how hard your tap water is, you can try using a distilled/tap water mix to stretch the distilled water.
I wrote a draft, then tried it for this morning’s shave, which is how I found that a pint is probably plenty and that a thermos is probably overkill. It worked quite well and is a good workaround for those whose tap water is hard.
As to the shave: the combination boar bristle/horsehair shaving brush makes a nice segue into next week, which will feature horsehair brushes, and I got a good lather from the Klar Seifen shave soap, though not quite Creamy Lather. I seem to have had my best luck at Creamy Lather with horsehair brushes, so I’m looking forward to next week and will give this soap another go then.
The Pils really is a nice razor. Three passes with its Swedish Gillette blade, one small nick on the upper lip (thank you, My Nik Is Sealed), and a good splash of Klar Seifen aftershave to send me on my way.
I’ve gradually drifted into mostly vegetarian fare. It seems easiest and simplest when I’m building a meal from a template to just take a block of tofu or tempeh and let that be the protein. Like tonight: true grub. Here it is:
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 large sweet onion
6 large cloves garlic
3.5 oz tofu
2 mildly warm red chili peppers (long, wrinkly ones)
good grinding black pepper
I let that sauté a while, then added 1/3 c cooked black rice and sautéed some more. It started to stick with the browning, so I splashed in a good splash of dry Marsala to deglaze the pan, heaped in as much baby spinach as I could fit in the pan, and put on the lid. A few minutes later, I removed the lid; the spinach had of course collapsed completely, so I refilled the pan—the total of both fillings was probably at least 1 qt fresh spinach, more like 1.5 qt. But it cooks down to nothing.
I used the wooden spatula to cut the spinach in the pan, stirred to mix well with the other stuff, and put the lid on and let simmer 20 minutes. A bowl of that, topped with raspberry balsamic vinegar and some Bac’Uns was surprisingly tasty. And you can see how it falls out of the template with tofu for protein and black rice for starch.
I just received this from Constant Reader in an email:
—So if you think you can hide in a crowd, forget it. Big brother will find you.
THIS IS HOW THE POLICE CAN NOW IDENTIFY RIOTERS & TROUBLE MAKERS USING HIGH DEFINITION ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY. DON’T THINK OF HIDING YOURSELF AMONGST THOUSANDS………….
YOU CAN BE VERY EASILY DETECTED & IDENTIFIED.
Using the same technology as Google Earth to track you, be warned it will be most difficult to lose yourself in any crowd.
Put your cursor anywhere in the crowd and double-click a couple of times [or use the magnifying slider at the upper left---I found that easier - LG].
To further help with image, use the scroll button in the centre of your mouse.
Zero in on any one specific single face.. The clarity is incredible..
You can see perfectly the faces of every single individual – and there were thousands.
Just think what the police and the military have at their disposal.
And they can throw you in prison, keep you as long as they like, move you around as they like, all without giving any reason whatsoever: national security.
But I’m sure there’s no reason to worry. Let the CIA work with the NYPD to set up a secret security-police effort. They can be trusted, surely. [Good job we can trust them since many of the laws they'll be enforcing are secret and not known to the public or indeed to Congress. So you can be thrown into prison now in the US for breaking secret laws. Has anyone started office pools on when the first "disappearances" are reported? - LG]
UPDATE: And, of course, if you screen-clip any photo of a face, I bet your photo editor could very quickly sharpen up the image.
UPDATE 2: Well, I gave it a go. I zoomed in on more or less the middle of the crowd and picked out this guy:
Unfortunately, iPhoto doesn’t have anything that I found that can sharpen the focus, as it were.
I recently posted about MakerBot, a consumer-grade 3-D printer now on the market and in use. (I recall one guy ran off a set of shower curtain hooks that he quickly designed.) Here are various videos of 3-D printing in action, including (somewhere) a working crescent wrench, scanned and printed ready to work, with the adjustment screw printed in a different color.
The thing about printing from a digital file is that digital files are readily copied, altered, and emailed. So it would be easy to have an online repository of printable objects, including razors, and with good design the files should be readily amenable to tweaking: a longer or shorter or thicker handle, perhaps with knurling or with fluting instead, etc. You should even be able to adjust blade angle and exposure to customize aggressiveness. And since you are printing them yourself, from cheap plastic powder, you can readily use trial-and-error to tune the razor to your exact preference. You may discard a dozen, but once you have the file exactly as you want it, you can churn out copies till the cows come home.
We already have plastic (DE) safety razors on the market. Printing your own is now possible. Anyone doing it?