Later On

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

Archive for September 2011

America’s secular revival

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Religion

The GOP’s weird war on Planned Parenthood

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The GOP periodically gets a bee in its collective bonnet that won’t go away and seems immune to facts. An example: “voter fraud”, which every serious study has found is essentially nonexistent, is a big GOP warcry. (The reason, of course, is to put in place procedures and requires that impact potential Democratic voters—the poor, the elderly, the marginalized—and keep them from voting. In the GOP, a sign of good citizenship is making sure that only voters from your party gets to vote. Seriously. The whole party’s like that now.)

Planned Parenthood—which offers a broad range of women’s health services aimed at empowering women—has long been in the GOP’s cross-hairs: one thing the GOP does NOT like is empowering women. Jillian Rayfield reports for TPMMuckraker:

House Republicans have announced an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s funding, in the latest move in the seemingly endless effort to cripple the women’s health service provider.

Last week, the Oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), sent a letter to Planned Parenthood requesting around twelve years of financial documents as part of an investigation into whether the women’s health organization is misusing its federal funds.

“The committee has questions about the policies in place and actions undertaken by PPFA and its affiliates relating to its use of federal funding and its compliance with federal restrictions on the funding of abortions,” Stearns said in the letter.

Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used for abortions, and the organization submits to yearly audits to that end. But the committee’s requests are still aimed at making sure Planned Parenthood isn’t violating this law, asking for internal audits of how the organization spent its federal funds between 1998-2010, and how “segregation between family planning and abortion services is accomplished.”

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the investigation “politically motivated” that “is a continuation of the efforts of earlier this year to undermine Planned Parenthood, and more disturbingly, women’s access to the primary and preventive care they need.”

On Wednesday, Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Diana DeGette (D-CO), ranking member of the Oversight subcommittee, sent a letter to Stearns decrying the investigation and questioning ” whether Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of a Republican vendetta against an organization that provides family planning and other medical care to low-income women and men.” . . .

Continue reading.

And here’s another article on the GOP’s war on women by Sarah Seltzer in Salon (from AlterNet):

Every day, it becomes a little bit harder for women to get the healthcare they need in America, particularly if that healthcare has anything to do with sexual and reproductive health.

The “war on women” began almost the moment that 2011′s new class of legislators took their oaths of office, and it’s still going on as we speak. Anti-choice groups have successfully created blueprint legislation for waiting periods, parental consent laws, mandatory ultrasounds and targeted regulations of clinics. These kinds of laws have been passed in statehouse after statehouse.

With such a steady attrition of rights, it’s hard to keep up the momentum, anger and outrage that we felt this winter and spring. But people should still be outraged, because a number of states are avidly participating in a race to the bottom, determined to outdo each other in restricting access to abortion, chipping away at the fundamental promise of Roe v. Wade, and belittling women and their healthcare providers in the process.

Leading the way are Ohio, Virginia, Kansas and South Dakota. Other states, like Indiana and Missouri, already have so many restrictions of various types in place that they’re going to be hard to catch up with.

Here’s a rundown of what’s happening state by state, and which states are really making it worse for woman.

Ohio: A fetal heartbeat law that would outlaw abortion before most women know they’re pregnant

Ms. Magazine’s Holly L. Derr reports from Ohio on a new law that has dire implications: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

As businesses take over governments, citizens object

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The previous post described how businesses are making inroads into taking over law enforcement, and we’ve already seen private companies waging war. The fact is that private companies have realized how much money lies in national treasuries, and they aim to get it. The US has already seen hundreds of billions of dollars flow from government coffers directly into the waiting hands of big businesses in the finance industry, who helped write the laws that created the crisis and then the laws that gave them the money, helped all along by their deputies in the Executive branch.

Oddly, people don’t much like their governments being taken over by businesses. Nicholas Kulish reports in the NY Times:

Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strikeIsrael reels before the largest street demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and Greece take over public squares across their countries.

Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.

They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.

“Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless.”

Economics have been one driving force, with growing income inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social spending breeding widespread malaise. Alienation runs especially deep in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens, erupted into violence.

But even in India and Israel, where growth remains robust, protesters say they so distrust their country’s political class and its pandering to established interest groups that they feel only an assault on the system itself can bring about real change.

Young Israeli organizers repeatedly turned out gigantic crowds insisting that their political leaders, regardless of party, had been so thoroughly captured by security concerns, ultra-Orthodox groups and other special interests that they could no longer respond to the country’s middle class.

In the world’s largest democracy, Anna Hazare, an activist, starved himself publicly for 12 days until the Indian Parliament capitulated to some of his central demands on a proposed anticorruption measure to hold public officials accountable. “We elect the people’s representatives so they can solve our problems,” said Sarita Singh, 25, among the thousands who gathered each day at Ramlila Maidan, where monsoon rains turned the grounds to mud but protesters waved Indian flags and sang patriotic songs.

“But that is not actually happening. Corruption is ruling our country.”

Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.

The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.

“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Interesting development in the private-prison industry

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Having private businesses run our prisons, fight our wars, and in general take over government services to run them for a profit is an interesting development. When you’re a business, profits must of course increase, and at a steady clip. This often involves creating legislation and situations that allow the companies to lock up more people. Of course, they also cut prison costs to the bone: any sort of treatment or counseling or effort to help the prisoners make it as citizens once they’re released—well, in the first place, having those programs costs more than not having them; and in the second place, if the prisoner is released and is unable to function in mainstream society, it’s good news for the company, because they get hm back again as a prisoner.

It’s not a good dynamic, but it’s in full swing and more and more governments turn their functions over to private industry—or, equivalently, as more and more countries are de facto government by big corporations.

Nina Bernstein reports in the NY Times on this transition:

The men showed up in a small town in Australia’s outback early last year, offering top dollar for all available lodgings. Within days, their company, Serco, was flying in recruits from as far away as London, and busing them from trailers to work 12-hour shifts as guards in a remote camp where immigrants seeking asylum are indefinitely detained.

It was just a small part of a pattern on three continents where a handful of multinational security companies have been turning crackdowns onimmigration into a growing global industry.

Especially in Britain, the United States and Australia, governments of different stripes have increasingly looked to such companies to expand detention and show voters they are enforcing tougher immigration laws.

Some of the companies are huge — one is among the largest private employers in the world — and they say they are meeting demand faster and less expensively than the public sector could.

But the ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.

“They’re very good at the glossy brochure,” said Kaye Bernard, general secretary of the union of detention workers on the Australian territory of Christmas Island, where riots erupted this year between asylum seekers and guards. “On the ground, it’s almost laughable, the chaos and the inability to function.”

Private prisons in the United States have long stirred controversy. But while there have been conflicting studies about their costs and benefits, no systematic comparisons exist for immigration detention, say scholars like Matthew J. Gibney, a political scientist at the University of Oxford who tracks immigration systems.

Still, Mr. Gibney and others say the pitfalls of outsourcing immigration enforcement have become evident in the past 15 years. “When something goes wrong — a death, an escape — the government can blame it on a kind of market failure instead of an accountability failure,” he said.

In the United States — with almost 400,000 annual detentions in 2010, up from 280,000 in 2005 — private companies now control nearly half of all detention beds, compared with only 8 percent in state and federal prisons, according to government figures. In Britain, 7 of 11 detention centers and most short-term holding places for immigrants are run by for-profit contractors.

No country has more completely outsourced immigration enforcement, with more troubled results, than Australia. Under unusually severe mandatory detention laws, the system has been run by a succession of three publicly traded companies since 1998. All three are now major players in the international business of locking up and transporting unwanted foreigners. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Did the terrorists win?

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The US government has made rapid progress toward destruction of the Bill of Rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Given the degree to which we no longer respect the rule of law (protect torturers, assassinate citizens without due process, seize computers at the borders, and so on), one would have to think that the terrorists have succeeded in quite a few of their aims, including draining the US Treasury with pointless foreign wars.

Take a look at these articles:

Nick Baumann writes in Mother Jones about how the FBI gets foreign governments to do its interrogations since those governments operate without restrictions of the US Constitution.

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting column summarizing the number of terrorist plots the FBI has concocted, recruited young men for, and then pounced, arresting all and pumping out press releases about how great the FBI is (according to the FBI) for foiling yet another terrorist plot. But these plots are the FBI’s own creations. He’s quite specific and has links that support his assertions.

And note this comment by Greenwald on Obama’s citizen-assassination program:

It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki.  No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him).  Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even has any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt.  When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts.  He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner.  When Awlaki’s inclusion on President Obama’s hit list was confirmed, The New York Times noted that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”

After several unsuccessful efforts to assassinate its own citizen, the U.S. succeeded today (and it was the U.S.).  It almost certainly was able to find and kill Awlaki with the help of its long-time close friend President Saleh, who took a little time off from murdering his own citizens to help the U.S. murder its.  The U.S. thus transformed someone who was, at best, a marginal figure into a martyr, and again showed its true face to the world.  The government and media search for The Next bin Laden has undoubtedly already commenced.

What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.  Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists — criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture.  It not only finds way to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process).  It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 3:37 pm

Redistricting tricks: How to undermine democracy

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Interesting report by Olga Pierce, Jeff Larson, and Lois Beckett at Pro Publica:

Their names suggest selfless dedication to democracy. Fair Districts Mass. Protect Your Vote. The Center for a Better New Jersey. And their stated goals are unarguable: In the partisan fight to redraw congressional districts, states should stick to the principle of one person, one vote.

But a ProPublica investigation has found that these groups and others are being quietly bankrolled by corporations, unions and other special interests. Their main interest in the once-a-decade political fight over redistricting is not to help voters in the communities they claim to represent but mainly to improve the prospects of their political allies or to harm their enemies.

The number of these purportedly independent redistricting groups is rising, but their ties remain murky. Contributions to such groups are not limited by campaign finance laws, and most states allow them to take unlimited amounts of money without disclosing the source.

Today’s story is the first chapter in an in-depth examination of how powerful players are turning to increasingly sophisticated tools and techniques to game the redistricting process, with voters ultimately losing.

For special interests, there’s a huge potential payoff from investing in such efforts.

“Reshaping a map is very powerful” for donors, said Spencer Kimball, a political consultant who is executive director of Boston-based Fair Districts Mass. “It’s a big opportunity to have influence at the state level and the congressional level not one race at a time but for 10 years.”

Skillful redistricting can, of course, help create Republican or Democratic districts, but it can also grace incumbents with virtually guaranteed re-election or leave them with nearly no chance at all. In the process, it can also create seats almost certain to be held by minorities or break those same groups apart, ensuring that they have almost no voice.

But it’s not cheap, and that’s where corporations and other outside interests come in. They can provide the cash for voter data, mapping consultants and lobbyists to influence state legislators, who are in charge of redistricting in most states. Outside interests can also fund the inevitable lawsuits that contest nearly every state’s redistricting plan after it is unveiled.

In Minnesota, for instance, the Republicans’ legal efforts to influence redistricting arebeing financed through a group called Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting.

Fair Redistricting describes itself as independent, but it has much of its leadership in common with the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a group with ties to the political empire of the Koch brothers, industrialists from Kansas who’ve spent millions funding conservative causes. The head of the Freedom Foundation, Annette Meeks, told ProPublica she has “no involvement” with Fair Redistricting. But both organizations’ tax filings list the same address: Meeks’ home address.

Fair Redistricting is registered under the name of her husband, Jack Meeks, who is also on the board of the Freedom Foundation. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Who is actually paying for Fair Redistricting’s lawsuit and lawyers? And what district lines are they pushing for? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 3:20 pm

Subsidy comparison: Fossil fuels vs. Solar

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The government is offering subsidies for energy—both fossil fuels and solar. But the amounts are quite different:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 3:10 pm

Queen Charlotte Soap & the Frank Shaving brush

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Extremely nice shave today, beginning with the lather. Queen Charlotte Soaps are quite nice: tallow-based, with shea butter, glycerin, and other goodies—take a look:

Saponified tallow, water, saponified castor oil and shea butter, glycerin, saponified stearic acid, cocoa butter, and coconut oil, essential oil(s), saponified avocado oil, palm oil, and olive oil, aloe vera extract, kaolin clay, lanolin, vitamin E. Green Irish Tweed Type contains fragrance, not essential oil. Vostok contains menthol crystals.

Good stuff and with my new Frank Shaving brush (selected by a commenter who favors these brushes) did a fine job—I even got a creamy lather, thanks no doubt in part to the soap. I did it the usual way: when loading the wet brush, brush the soap vigorously and at length. Presto! Creamy lather.

The lather showed no signs of dying on the brush. I am now officially a Frank Shaving enthusiast.

The razor is the Lady Gillette, but I got it in blue, not pink, so it’s okay. With a previously used Swedish Gillette blade I did four very smooth and pleasant passes—the lather was a treat—and after the shave, a hot-water rinse, a cold-water rinse, the alum bar, and a final rinse, dry, and good splash of Saint Charles Shave Refined aftershave: cedar, oak moss, and orange, extremely pleasant.

Man, a good shave is a great way to start the day!

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 7:51 am

Posted in Shaving

Good write-up on the faster-than-light neutrinos

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You’ve undoubtedly heard about it. Here’s an excellent explanation. It begins:

Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos?

Probably not. But maybe! Or in other words: science as usual.

For the three of you reading this who haven’t yet heard about it, the OPERA experiment in Italy recently announced a genuinely surprising result. They create a beam of muon neutrinos at CERN in Geneva, point them under the Alps (through which they zip largely unimpeded, because that’s what neutrinos do), and then detect a few of them in the Gran Sasso underground laboratory 732 kilometers away. The whole thing is timed by stopwatch (or the modern high-tech version thereof, using GPS-synchronized clocks), and you solve for the velocity by dividing distance by time. And the answer they get is: just a teensy bit faster than the speed of light, by about a factor of 10-5. Here’s the technical paper, which already lists 20 links to blogs and news reports.

The things you need to know about this result are:

  • It’s enormously interesting if it’s right.
  • It’s probably not right.

By the latter point I don’t mean to impugn the abilities or honesty of the experimenters, who are by all accounts top-notch people trying to do something very difficult. It’s just . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Science

Interesting idea from BATF: Restricted gun rights

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has decided that patients using certain drugs that might impair judgment cannot legally possess a firearm or ammunition.

On the whole, this is an interesting approach, but clearly must be extended once we accept the principle. For, based on that same principle and on the observed fact that drunkenness plays a strong role in shootings and killings and other improper use of firearms, clearly those persons using alcohol or who have alcohol in the home should not be allowed to possess firearms or ammunition. It follows as night the day, does it not?

I personally see the wisdom of this—who wants a drunken person to have access to a loaded firearm (or an unloaded firearm with ammunition available)? [Update: Meant as rhetorical question but badly phrased: the answer is, obviously, the drunken person groping in the nightstand drawer for a gun. Better: "Who in his right mind wants a drunken, etc.?"]

I will write to the BATF and recommend this. And, on thinking about the alcohol thing, and looking at the agency title, is there any reason a person with such a death wish that s/he smokes tobacco be allowed access to deadly weapons? I think not.

Here’s the article.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 6:53 pm

A hard truth for the “self-made” person to accept

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 5:50 pm

The Class War in the US: Notes from the front

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Interesting article by Joshua Holland:

There hasn’t been any organized, explicitly class-based violence in this country for generations, so what, exactly, does “class warfare” really mean? Is it just an empty political catch-phrase?

The American Right has decided that returning the tax rate paid by the wealthiest Americans from what it was during the Bush years (which, incidentally, featured the slowest job growth under any president in our history, at 0.45 percent per year) to what they forked over during the Clinton years (when job growth happened to average 1.6 percent per year) is the epitome of class warfare. Sure, it would leave top earners with a tax rate 10 percentage points below what they were paying after Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, but that’s the conservative definition of “eating the rich” these days.

I recently offered a less Orwellian definition, arguing that real class warfare is when those who have already achieved a good deal of prosperity pull the ladder up behind them by attacking the very things that once allowed working people to move up and join the ranks of the middle class.

But there’s another way of looking at “class war”: habitually vilifying the unfortunate; claiming that their plight is a manifestation of some personal flaw or cultural deficiency. Conservatives wage this form of class warfare virtually every day, consigning millions of people who are down on their luck to some subhuman underclass.

The belief that there exists a large pool of “undeserving poor” who suck the lifeblood out of the rest of society lies at the heart of the Right’s demonstrably false “culture of poverty” narrative. It’s a narrative that runs through Ayn Rand’s works. It comes to us in bizarre spin that holds up the rich as “wealth producers” and “job creators.”

And it affects our public policies. In his classic book, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 5:47 pm

Posted in GOP, Government, Politics

Best global Google doodles

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 5:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Techie toys

Cool solar-powered keyboard

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I like this one. And the Logitech products I’ve had have been excellent.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Techie toys, Technology

What a day, with recipe

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I had to go up to Santa Cruz pretty early. I hadn’t planned, though, on getting up at 4:00 a.m. — but I awoke then and couldn’t get back to sleep. So this afternoon, on returning home, I took a long nap after lunch, which was this B12 special:

20-24 cherrystone clams steamed in 1/2 cup white wine and 1/2 cut water in large covered sauté pan for 5 minutes.

Reserve liquid. Remove meat from clams that opened (about 3.5-4 oz total) and save, discarding shells and clams that failed to open.

In empty skillet (liquid poured off and reserved):

2 tsp fiery chili olive oil (Lucini is the brand I use)
1/2 red onion, chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
1 chili pepper—I used a large red one with mild heat; 1 serrano or 1 jalapeño would be plenty
1/3 c chopped celery

Sauté that for a while, then add:

1 zucchini, chopped small
12-16 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup cooked black rice
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
2 leaves red chard, with stalks, chopped
grinding of black pepper
reserved liquid
dash homemade Worcestershire sauce (and it *is* better than store-bought: we tried it)

Simmer covered for 20 minutes. Add clams, stir, and heat. Then serve.

You can try adding a squeeze of lemon juice. The protein and starch is for 1 meal, but with all the veg, this may go for two. Very tasty and quite rich in B12. You could make essentially the same recipe with mussels, which would be less costly and still quite high in B12.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Grub, Recipes

Why to stay out of the hospital

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One statistic from the big graphic below the fold:

Number of hospital-acquired infections that lead to death:
Europe: 1 in 122
United States: 1 in 7

I continue to be amazed by people who say that US healthcare is the best in the world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 9:03 am

Otoko and a horsehair brush

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Otoko again today—how I love that soap! It doesn’t make the usual lather, but it makes a fine lather and seems to impress my skin. I don’t know of any US vendors who carry it, but you can order from TheRazorShop.com. Here’s why you might want to:

Ingredients of our natural organic shaving soap:

Our natural organic shaving soap is alcohol and petroleum free.

I used a good horsehair brush—I find that some of my brushes do a better job than others, and the brush shown is quite good. Indeed, this is the first brush that produced a Creamy Lather for me—quite unintentionally. You don’t get quite the same kind of Creamy Lather from Otoko—it’s not a tallow-based soap, to say the least—but you do get a very good lather, fine-grained and dense and (as I note) very nice to your skin.

Three passes with the Eclipse Red Ring holding a previously used Swedish Gillette blade, a splash of The Shave Den Signature Scent aftershave—a variant of bay rum, so far as I could tell, and quite pleasant, and I’m ready to enjoy False Friday (which is how I think of Thursday).

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2011 at 8:52 am

Posted in Shaving

What I do on my days off

with 3 comments

A commenter asked how I structure my day. It varies, of course, but in general:

Arise early (around 5:00 a.m. usually) and spend some time browsing the Web. First thing I do now is check Wicked_Edge, then review mail, look at newspapers. I play Go on DragonGoServer.net, so I usually have moves to make.

After a while, I set up and photograph the morning shave, weigh (177.0 lbs this morning), shower, shave, and dress.

I then eat breakfast and blog a bit, then set the computer aside and write a letter. I try to write a letter each day to friends or family: using up stationery, staying in touch, and enjoying my pens and paper and writing.

That, with perhaps some reading, gets me to lunch, which is leftovers or I make a new pot of grub. (I’m still astonished that I drifted into vegetarianism: not a conscious decision, but I like to give my unconscious free rein when it’s going in the right direction.)

After lunch two days a week I have a Pilates session. Right now I’m going out on my bicycle at some point every day. But in general the afternoons are devoted to reading and writing. Dinner is more grub, and in the evenings I read or watch movies.

Not an onerous schedule. And it’s not one that requires a lot of willpower. First, I try to structure things to place as little demand on my willpower as possible (for example, you will search my apartment in vain for things like chocolate, croutons, cheese, and other foods that are too tempting for me to keep. Ice cream, too—I’ve been off that so long that I didn’t even think of it; and I try to convert things that I must do into things that are so enjoyable I am drawn to them: cf. shaving, meal planning (the template made an enormous positive difference in quality of meals and ease of preparation), etc.).

Also, you’ll notice that I spend my time doing things in which I’m interested. That helps a lot.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2011 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Daily life

B12 shortage linked to cognitive problems

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Interesting article in Science News by Janet Raloff:

Not getting enough vitamin B12 may take a serious toll on the brain. Two new studies of the elderly link impairments of memory and reasoning with an indirect measure of vitamin B12 deficiency. Worse, brain scans reveal that those with signs of insufficient B12 are more likely to have shrinkage of brain tissue, vascular damage and patches of dead brain cells than are people with higher levels of the vitamin.

A third, ongoing study is recording neural changes — a slowing in the electrical signals conveying visual information — among people with B12 deficiency.

Conducted in seniors, mostly in their mid-70s to upper 80s (including a large group in Chicago), all three studies observed adverse changes even in people whose B12 levels in blood fall within the ostensibly normal, healthy range. While blood levels of B12 might have been normal, however, two biochemical markers of B12 deficiency often were not: Except in the visual study, brain problems largely correlated with rising blood concentrations of homocysteine and methylmalonic acid, or MMA, which accumulate in blood when cells of the body receive too little B12.

“The message of this Chicago study is watch your B12. It’s important for the brain,” says David Smith of the University of Oxford in England, whose team has begun investigating whether vitamin supplementation can slow cognitive decline in the elderly.

The new findings point to the apparent importance of brain changes in the absence of overt disease, says hematologist Ralph Carmel of New York Methodist Hospital, who was not involved in any of the new studies. The new data also argue against the common practice of relying exclusively on blood B12 levels to identify deficiency, he says.

In 2009, scientists at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reported results from 516 randomly selected seniors showing that cognitive performance declined faster over a six-year period among those with elevated MMA. All had been taking part in an ongoing study of more than 6,100 men and women begun in 1993. One-third of the seniors, who were tested and surveyed about nutrition every three years, fell into this high MMA category, says Rush nutritionist Christine Tangney.

Now, in the September 27 Neurology, the same researchers report that . . .

Continue reading. Top 10 foods for B12 (and lots more info at the link—this is one link you should click; for example, it notes, “Metformin – often used for type II diabetes, may interfere with vitmain B12 absorption in certain people.”):

#1: Clams, Oysters, and Mussels
#2: Liver
#3: Caviar (Fish Eggs)
#4: Octopus
#5: Fish
#6: Crab and Lobster
#7: Beef
#8: Lamb (Mutton)
#9: Cheese
#10: Eggs

UPDATE: Just had a couple of ounces of whitefish caviar and cooked and ate a pound of mussels (the weight mostly shell, of course). I also got some clams. So far the mussels are the best bet: not that expensive and easy to cook. That’ll be a weekly dish, and of course I already eat an egg a day. Next time I have sushi, I’ll have the tako (octopus) sashimi. Maybe tomorrow. Want to pump up the B12…

UPDATE 2: The clams were quite tasty. They say not to eat one that doesn’t open when steamed—well, duh! What do they think, you’ll chomp down on a crunchy treat? Or swallow it like a bolus? One in fact did not open, and I discarded it. The rest were quite tasty and way more flavorful than the mussels, which were cheaper… but the clams are higher in B12.

Decisions, decisions. But this offers some excellent variety and, being past 50, I suspect it does no harm to make a weekly treat of a lobster tail or oyster stew or the like. Why not?

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2011 at 1:11 pm

Israel and Palestine

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I notice that Israel is charging ahead with its illegal settlements. Nothing will stop them, apparently. Israel knows that it can get its client state, the US government, to support it in all its actions. The US did oppose Palestine’s bid for statehood; presumably that opposition was due to instructions from Israel.

Here’s an intriguing article in The New Republic, pointed out by James Fallows. It’s by John Judis and it begins:

The Obama administration, after failing to head off a Palestinian request to the Security Council for United Nations membership, is prepared to use its veto against it. In an undistinguished address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, President Barack Obama advised the Palestinians to bypass the UN and to confine their campaign for statehood to negotiations with Israel. Obama’s position would have made sense if the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had made generous offers at the negotiating table that the Palestinians have been spurning, but the Netanyahu government has not; and there is little likelihood, in the absence of a dramatic change of heart, that it will do so. By threatening a veto, Obama appeared to contradict his past support for Palestinian self-determination.

Since 1919, the United States has favored in principle, if not always in practice, the national self-determination of peoples. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush applied it to the Palestinians’ demand for a state of their own; and Obama has done so repeatedly. Given the breakdown in negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinians, and the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the U.S. could have reaffirmed its support for Palestinian self-determination by supporting Palestinian membership in the UNor at the least, an orderly and imminent transition toward membershipThat may not have been politically expedient, but it would have been politically just.

Moreover, it would have followed an important historical precedent. Behind Obama’s current stance lurks an unpleasant irony. In 1947, the United States faced a very similar situation in the UN and took exactly the opposite position—to the benefit of Palestine’s Jewish population. After World War I, the British had maneuvered the new League of Nations into granting them a mandate to rule Palestine, but in February 1947, after having failed to get the Jews and the Arabs to agree on a future state, the British threw the question of Palestine into the hands of the newly established United Nations. In May of that year, the General Assembly established a committee to make recommendations on resolving the conflict.

At the UN, the Arabs insisted, as they had in talks with the British, on a unitary Arab majority state, but officials from the Jewish Agency, representing Palestine’s Jews, argued for a partitioned Palestine. They looked to the United States for support, but the Truman administration was initially unwilling to give it. Within the Truman administration, some White House officials backed partition, but influential State Department and Pentagon officials held out the hope of bringing the Jews and Arabs together within a federation. In September of 1947, Truman decided to back the Zionist demand for a state in part of Palestine, and American representatives were able to win support within the committee and the General Assembly for a plan that within three years would have created two states and an internationalized Jerusalem. That didn’t establish at once a Jewish majority state, but was a very important step toward doing so.

The U.S. did, I believe, the right thing. Perhaps in 1919, there was not as strong a moral case for a Jewish-controlled state in a land inhabited primarily—about 90 percent—by Arab Muslims and Christians. (A case could be made for a homeland for the persecuted from Russia’s Pale of Settlement, but not necessarily for a state, and certainly not, as Zionists of the time advocated, a state that encompassed what would be Palestine and Jordan.) But the Nazi-led genocide in Central Europe that began in the 1930s and the restrictions that Western Europe, the United States, and the British Commonwealth nations placed on Jewish immigration made Palestine the only recourse for Europe’s Jews. By the end of World War II, there was a geographical and economic basis for a divided Palestine. Jews made up about 30 percent of the population and were concentrated in Jerusalem and on the coast. The Jews, with the Arabs opposed to negotiations and to Jewish immigration into Palestine, urged the UN to agree to partition, and the United States, after some hesitation, supported them.

Now the situation is reversed. After the 1967 war, Israel annexed Jerusalem, took control over the West Bank and Gaza, and began establishing settlements there in violation of the Geneva rules of war and in defiance of UN resolutions. Whatever their original purpose—and some of the earliest settlements had a rationale coming out of 1967 war—the settlements have evolved into an attempt by the Israelis to colonize land that is not theirs, to create incontrovertible facts on the ground that no treaty can contradict. There are now about 500,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In 1993, the PLO, which the UN acknowledges as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, recognized the existence of Israel, and since then negotiations have taken place fitfully, with both sides stalling, equivocating, and sending mixed signals. Certainly, in retrospect, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2011 at 1:08 pm

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