Archive for November 2011
For some reason Dr. Selby shaving soap is referred to as a “shaving cream,” but it seems quite soap-like to me. It has a wonderful thick lather, like Fitjar Såpekokeri and Martin de Candre and IMO is well worth adding to your soap collection.
The Wee Scot quickly evoked a thick and creamy lather, and I loaded the brush well. The result was a spectacularly thick and lubricious lather. Three passes with the Apollo Mikron holding a Swedish Gillette blade, a swipe of the alum block, a final rinse, dry, and splash of Alt-Innsbruck: what a great way to start the day!
The soap is seriously recommended.
I am writing this with a clear vision of the keyboard wearing no glasses (though of course I am seeing with the right eye only, the blur from my left eye suppressed in whatever preprocessor in the brain takes care of that stuff. Quite amazing to just look at things and see them (more or less) clearly.
The focus works a little differently than with a natural lens, not so supple a response to eye movement and vision shifts—but definitely workable.
The other wonderful thing is the movie Gunless, building on the comic juxtaposition of the Code of the Old West and regular daily life as it’s lived. Simply charming movie, played (on the whole) perfectly straight. It’s a “written and directed by” if you like that sort of thing.
Four years ago—26 Nov 2007—I blogged the introduction to the invaluable—and once again highly relevant—book by Jeremy Brecher, Strike!. Let me urge you to click the link and read again that introduction, which begins:
This book is the story of repeated, massive, and sometimes violent revolts by ordinary working people in America. The story includes virtually nationwide general strikes, the seizure of vast industrial establishments, non-violent direct action on a massive scale, and armed battles with artillery and tanks. It encompasses the repeated repression of workers’ rebellions by company-sponsored violence, local police, state militias, and the U.S. Army and National Guard. It reveals a dimension of American history rarely found in the usual high school or college history course, let alone in the way that history is presented in the media.
The United States is often presumed to be a land of individual freedom. That view often leads people to try to meet their needs by individual effort. But from time to time people come up against another reality. Most of our society’s resources have long been controlled by a few. The rest have no way to make a living but to sell their ability to work. Most Americans are—by no choice of their own—workers. The basic experience of being a worker—of not having sufficient economic resources to live except by going to work for someone else—shapes most people’s daily lives, as well as the life of our society.
As workers, people experience a denial of freedom that is very different from the touted liberty of American life. “Opportunity” is reduced to the opportunity to sell your time and creative capacities to one employer or another—or to fall into poverty if you don’t. The “freedom to choose” is replaced by the freedom to do what you are told.
Meanwhile, the wealth created by the labor of the many is owned by a tiny minority, primarily in the form of giant corporations that dominate the national and now increasingly global economy. They control the labor of millions of people in the United States and worldwide. The wealth and power of corporations and those who own them is further parlayed into power over the media, the political process, the institutions that shape knowledge and opinion, and ultimately over the government. Workers are thereby rendered relatively powerless, as individuals, even in supposedly democratic societies. . .
In the first couple of decades of the 20th century, worker productivity started to rise noticeably as assembly-line techniques were developed and refined and time-and-motion studies improved efficiency. The result was that sufficient product could be created in a shorter work week. This would allow more people more leisure time, but that was not what the captains of industry wanted, so the doctrine of consumerism was deliberately developed to encourage people to consume more and more so that more and more could produced without giving workers free time. This article provides a fascinating look at the history of that development.
It looks as though we are back there again. Here’s the conclusion of an interesting op-ed by Herbert Gans in the NY Times:
. . . In fact, if modern capitalism continues to eliminate as many jobs as it creates — or more jobs than it creates — future recoveries will not only add to the amount of surplus labor but will turn a growing proportion of workers into superfluous ones.
What could be done to prevent such a future? America will have to finally get serious about preserving and creating jobs — and on a larger, and more lasting, scale than Roosevelt’s New Deal. Private enterprise and government will have to think in terms of industrial policy, and one that emphasizes labor-intensive economic growth and innovation. Reducing class sizes in all public schools to 15 or fewer would require a great many new teachers even as it would raise the quality of education.
In the long run, reducing working time — perhaps to as low as 30 hours a week, with the lost income made up by unemployment compensation — would lead to a modest increase in jobs, through work sharing. New taxes on income and wealth are unavoidable, as are special taxes on the capital-intensive part of the economy. Policies that are now seemingly utopian will have to be tried as well, and today’s polarized and increasingly corporate-run democracy will have to be turned into a truly representative one.
Whatever the costs, they would be a small price to preserve America as a healthy society. A society that has permanently expelled a significant proportion of its members from the work force would soon deteriorate into an unbelievably angry country, with intense and continuing conflict between the have-jobs and have-nones. America could become a very sick society, just when it needed to be stronger than ever to flourish in the global economy.
William H. McNeill in The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since AD 1000 points out how the Napoleonic wars took care of the French surplus of young men. All societies seem to encounter serious problems when they have great numbers of young men who cannot find work. (Fascinating and highly recommended book, BTW: the link is to inexpensive secondhand copies in hardback, which I recommend for this book.)
My god, most politicians should simply have a price tag. Well, in fact “Duke” Cunningham, a Representative from California, did in fact distribute a price list, which is part of the evidence that led to his conviction. Most avoid such obvious steps—but the money is quite out in the open. In the US today, this has become normal behavior. Thomas Kaplan reports for the NY Times:
Energy companies have been pouring millions of dollars into television advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions as the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo enters the final phase of deciding when and where to allow a controversial form of natural gas extraction that is hotly opposed by environmental groups.
Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor. And national energy companies are heavily advertising in an effort to persuade the public that the extraction method, commonly known as hydrofracking, is safe and economically beneficial. . .
The Eldest met Oscar Peterson backstage at Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa. His flight into Cedar Rapids was late, so he arrived after a 25-mile ride from the airport, walked on-stage, and gave a dynamite performance. I was in the audience. But none of us have met Andre Previn.
An interesting two-part post via James Fallows’s blog, by Michael Jones, one of the 1% (or, as he says, of the 0.1%).
His professional and creative life involves understanding the ways in which networked communication and “big data” allow us to see the world in new ways. That is the background for this dispatch, which he stresses is his personal view and not that of any company or organization.
Part I encouraged you to experience the lives of some of the thousands who’ve bared their souls at the WeAreThe99Percent website. It asked you to review your judgement of Occupy Wall Street in the light of your new understanding of the greatness of the people and the severity of their despair. That request followed Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man.” Jefferson’s light is the light of knowledge, a power that I revere. I suggested that WeAreThe99Percent Americans and Occupy Wall Street Americans want to be heard and are looking for leadership; in essence, that they seek a Churchill for deliverance from their dark night of the soul.
Today’s Part II considers what that leadership would look like by imagining that the White House’s Office of Public Engagement read James Fallows’s blog, circulated it to the President in his 5am morning clip reports, that an epiphany on his part would happen as he invested the time to read the linked stories, and that his awareness, prayers and tears would move him to bold and constructive action. That leadership would begin with a holiday address to the American people, delivered today. Here is that speech, as imagined and written by William Carleton of Seattle, Washington.
Apparently, they don’t. Not much. Not even with data showing the importance to patient health. So hospitals are getting creative (thank God). Here’s the story of one advance, reported by Tina Rosenberg in the NY Times:
Beeps and blinking lights are the constant chatter of a hospital intensive care unit, but at the I.C.U.’s in North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., the conversation has some unusual contributors. Two L.E.D. displays adorn the wall across from each nurses’ station. They show the hand hygiene rate achieved: last Friday in the surgical I.C.U., the weekly rate was 85 percent and the current shift had a rate of 91 percent. “Great Shift!!” the sign said. At the medical I.C.U. next door, the weekly rate was 81 percent, and the current shift 82 percent.
That’s too low for a “Great Shift!!” message. But by most standards, both I.C.U.’s are doing well. Those L.E.D. displays are very demanding — health care workers must clean their hands within 10 seconds of entering and exiting a patient’s room, or it doesn’t count. Three years ago, using the same criteria, the medical I.C.U.’s hand hygiene rate was appalling — it averaged 6.5 percent. But a video monitoring system that provides instant feedback on success has raised rates of hand-washing or use of alcohol rubs to over 80 percent, and kept them there.
Hospitals do impossible things like heart surgery on a fetus, but they are apparently stymied by the task of getting health care workers to wash their hands. Most hospitals report compliance of around 40 percent — and that’s using a far more lax measure than North Shore uses. I.C.U.’s, where health care workers are the most harried, usually have the lowest rates — between 30 and 40 percent. But these are the places where patients are the sickest and most endangered by infection.
How do hospitals even know their rates? Some hospitals track how much soap and alcohol gel gets used — a very rough measure. The current standard of care is to send around the hospital equivalent of secret shoppers — staff members who secretly observe their colleagues and record whether they wash their hands. This has serious drawbacks: it is expensive and the results are distorted if health care workers figure out they’re being observed. One reason the North Shore staff was so shocked by the 6.5 percent hand-washing rate the video cameras found was that measured by the secret shoppers, the rate was 60 percent.
In the past few years, several new technologies have emerged that can help hospitals to measure and improve hand hygiene rates. I’ve written in Fixes about some hospitals that have tried them and found good results. But medicine pays attention only when there are studies in a peer-reviewed journal, and there hasn’t been one — until now. The North Shore study, published this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, is the first use of video in promoting hospital hand-washing, and the first controlled study in a peer-reviewed journal of a high-tech effort to increase hand hygiene rates.Dr. Bruce Farber, the head of infectious diseases at North Shore, says that hospitals are now willing to take extraordinary and expensive measures to prevent infection — but this attitude is new. . .
Continue reading. The story of this particular approach is interesting. One interesting factoid from the article:
Hospital-acquired infections are the fourth leading cause of death in America.
Very nice public-service spot from Australia: a “courtship précis” of a couple from meeting to popping the question. I like it because it shows closeness, not just happy times.
The earbud headphones sound like a good idea given that the headphones that ship with most consumer electronics are of indifferent quality.
And the best thing for playing music from your own device through the car stereo is this little guy. Specs:
Input:Bluetooth v2.1 A2DP, HSP, HFP, AVRCP wireless music and 1/8th inch mini jack (headphone-type plug)
USB Charging:Yes (cable not included)
FM Frequency:88.1-107.9MHz with automatic seek
Speakerphone:Yes, over Bluetooth
Price: $45 from Amazon.
Another lovely shave. I worked up the usual astonishingly good lather that a horsehair brush produces with vigorous brushing of the puck and soft water: thick, creamy, dense. I find that I enjoy lathering now in the sense of taking my time and doing a thorough job, and the additional time-on-face of the lather results in very nice shave. No hot towel this morning, but that adds even more.
Three passes with a previously used Swedish Gillette blade in the English open-comb Aristocrat, then the tiniest drop of Alt-Innsbruck emulsion as a balm: extremely nice in its effect.
The GOP just hates social welfare programs, which is why the endless attack on Social Security, which works fine, thank you. Medicare has been a problem, but difficult to address: the problem is the cost of healthcare with private insurers as middlemen getting their cut and their diagnostic demands, with fees ever-increasing. So something has to be done, and the GOP is drooling with delight: they can cut the program and privatize what’s left: yes, save money by turning a non-profit operation to a company that will do the same work and also add in their profits. Great. (Cf. privatization of military, with KBR, Halliburton, Blackwater, etc.) The companies that will run Medicare will be the insurance companies.
The Eldest reports an interesting new development: UPS refusing to deliver a package unless someone over 21 is there to sign for it. They do give you an 8-hour window: “Be at home between 9:00 a.m. and 5 p.m. the next day”, but of course people have to work. And they offer the option of driving to their central office out in the country to pick it up, but… people have to work.
The odd thing is, when The Eldest called, is that that though Amazon required the signature (according to UPS), the item was just a small kitchen appliance. So she called Amazon to ask why they were requiring signature.
Interesting finding: They don’t. Amazon.com does not reuire the signature unless the item is over $700. UPS simply made up the requirement. Why?
A possible clue: UPS offered The Eldest the option of accepting delivery at work for a modest $6 charge.
Hmmm. It could be a rogue UPS office, or it could be a new UPS scam. Amazon did say that they have received multiple calls about this.
Interesting column that traces using military tactics (beatings, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and the like) on non-violent protests—that is, the origin of the use of those tactics in the US. They are commonly used in other countries, in which case the US has been quick to condemn the attacks on peaceful protesters.
Many in the US seem offended by the lack of gratitude from those other countries whose children we kill at a great rate—the feeling (expressed by many) is indignation that “those people” would object to the US presence and routine killings of unarmed civilians. Somehow “those people” are supposed to accept their lot, which is to receive missiles, bombs, and bullets from US troops as we will.
Similarly, many in the US absolutely reject the idea that the 9/11 attacks and hostility towards the US in much of the world has anything at all to do with US actions. Instead, these believe, the hostility toward the US is because in the US we are “free” and that somehow annoys people.
At any rate, we’re still doing it. Taimoor Shah and Rod Nordlund report in the NY Times:
Six children were among seven civilians killed in a NATO airstrike in southern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said Thursday.
The deaths occurred on Wednesday in Zhare District of Kandahar Province, an area described by coalition forces as largely pacified in recent months, and two insurgents were also killed, the Afghan officials said.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, said the authorities were aware of the episode and had sent a team to the district to investigate. He said ISAF had not previously issued a news release on the deaths.
Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said that a NATO reconnaissance aircraft spotted five militants planting mines in the village of Siacha, in Zhare District on Wednesday. The plane targeted the insurgents, killing two and wounding a third, and then pursued the other two suspects as they carried their injured comrade away.
“The plane chased them, the insurgents entered a street where children were playing and as a result of its shooting, seven people have been killed, including six children, and two girls also have been injured,” Mr. Ayoubi said. The victims were members of two families.
American troops have destroyed numerous dwellings in Zhare to deny insurgents hiding places, and they have also built new roads across farmland because existing ones were so heavily mined. Residents were quickly compensated by the military, however, and in recent months the area, one of several districts near Kandahar city that were once Taliban strongholds, has been relatively quiet.
In very few cases, so far as I can tell, are troops punished for civilian casualties. The atitude seems to be, “We can accept this—why can’t they?”
Maybe if we kill enough civilians, we won’t have to worry about terrorists anymore…
UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has an excellent column on how journalists and pundits today support very bad behavior: they have become apparatchiks. From the column (but read the whole thing):
. . . (1) The overarching rule of “journalistic objectivity” is that a journalist must never resolve any part of a dispute between the Democratic and the Republican Parties, even when one side is blatantly lying. They must instead confine themselves only to mindlessly describing what each side claims and leave it at that. Their refusal to label Mitt Romney’s first campaign ad to be dishonest — even though it wildly misquoted Obama — is a perfect example; so, too, was their refusal to call torture “torture” on the ground that Bush officials called it something else. This is also what The Washington Post‘s Congress reporter Paul Kane meant in his widely disparaged attack this week on those who condemn the media’s “cult of balance”; when Kane defended the political media’s trite, reflexive both-parties-are-at-fault coverage of the Super Committee’s failure by saying “news coverage should always strive to present both sides of the story,” what he means is: whenever Democratic and GOP leaders say different things, it’s the job of opinion writers — but not us objective reporters — to say what the truth is; our job is simply to faithfully write down what each side says and go home.
To these types of journalists, “objectivity” compels that lies and truths be treated equally and never resolved — that is, when the dispute is between the two parties (they allow themselves exceptions to this mandate — their overt swooning for George Bush and contempt for Al Gore in 2000 was probably the most blatant example, and they also eagerly seize every opportunity presented by sex scandals to self-righteously rail against a political figure because sex is apolitical and thus entails no danger of being accused of political bias — but, in general, mindless neutrality in disputes among the two parties is the prime commandment of their objectivity religion).
(2) When it comes to views not shared by the leadership of the two parties, as in the above excerpt from the Paul interview, everything changes. Views that reside outside of the dogma of the leadership of either party are inherently illegitimate. Such views are generally ignored, but in those rare instances where they find their way into the discourse — such as this Paul interview — it is the duty of “objective” reporters like Schieffer to mock, scorn and attack them. Indeed, many journalists — such as Tim Russert and David Ignatius — excused their failures in the run-up to the Iraq War by pointing to the fact that the leadership of both parties were generally in favor of the war: in other words, since war opposition was rarely found among the parties’ leadership, it did not exist and/or was inherently illegitimate (in a March, 2003 interview, Schieffer explained what a great job the American media did in the run-up to the war). Relatedly, only members in good standing of the political establishment command deference; those who are situated outside that establishment — and only them — are to be treated with mockery and contempt (that is what explains the overt scorn by “objective journalists” toward, for instance, the Occupy movement).
I would have no problem with Schieffer’s adversarial behavior here if this were also how he treated claims made by David Petraeus, Joe Lieberman, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton. But one would never, ever see that. Part of this is what Jay Rosen calls “the Church of the Savvy”: journalists revere power and political success and thus revere those who wield it in their world (Washington) while scorning those who do not (like Paul). But part of it is also that their function is to defend the political establishment of which they are a part and glorify its orthodoxies — defined as: the approved views of the leadership of the two parties, which in turn reflect the interests of the private factions that control both parties — and, conversely, to try to delegitimize any views and/or persons posing a challenge to it.
This is why one sees truly adversarial conduct from establishment journalists applied only to those who are relatively powerless and marginalized (i,e., OWS), or to those views that have no currency within the political establishment (Paul’s foreign policy/civil liberties arguments) . These journalists are, first and foremost, advocates, defenders, and spokespeople for prevailing establishment wisdom and institutions. They have every right to advocate for those views, but it is anything but “objective.” The problem with the Bob Schieffers of the world isn’t that they ooze political bias and subjectivity; most human beings do. The problem is that they’re fraudulently presented as journalists who don’t.
(3) There is another standard media bias at play in this Schieffer interview which . . .
Interesting post with lots of links for good reading on why the US has become unable to act legislatively.
Interesting article by Katharine Bagley in The Scientist:
Starving neurons of the hypothalamus appear to take a two-pronged approach to nutrient shortages: eat themselves in a process called autophagy as a short-term fix, and set off a cascade to make the organism crave more food, according to new research. The findings, published today (August 2) in Cell Metabolism, may explain why intense dieting can be so hard to stick with, and help scientists develop novel therapies to fight obesity, according to the study authors.
“The present study identifies the missing link [between the brain and weight control] as autophagy,” said Vojo Deretic, chair of the University of New Mexico’s department of molecular genetics and microbiology, who was not involved in the research. “It is definitely an interesting paper that may lead to bigger things in the future.”
Many people who try to diet simply can’t stick with the program, often driven by strong cravings for junk foods high in fat. Previous studies have demonstrated that increased levels of fatty acids floating extracellularly in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that monitors nutritional status, triggers cravings. But the mechanisms that controlled the levels of these fatty molecules inside brain cells were unknown.
Molecular biologist Susmita Kaushik and her colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, decided to investigate one variety of hypothalamic neuron, the . . .
I decided to go for an extra-nice holiday shave. An interchange on Wicked_Edge reminded me that it’s been a while since I used a moist hot towel, so today, after my shower and washing my beard at the sink with MR GLO, I worked up a splendid lather (quite easy with Martin de Candre shaving soap, and the Frank Shaving brush is a little gem as well—thanks to psywiped at Wicked_Edge for pushing me to give those another go. A good layer of Creamy Lather, then a hand towel soaked under the hot-water faucet, wrong “dry” and applied atop the lather and held in place for 3 minutes while I thought about the day.
Remove towel, relather, and a superb three-pass shave with the iKon OSS holding a Shark Chrome blade. A splash of Saint Charles Shave Savory Rose, and I’m ready to get set for the holiday. I’m going to use this recipe for the duck breast (one each apiece, all round), more or less. No cayenne, though: The Wife is not tolerating capsaicin well recently. I’ll sauté some wild rice with garlic and onions, and cook a mess of red chard with diced lemon.
This particular story worked out well (save for the alleged criminal), but then one realizes that some Nameless Security Agency doubtless strips off much the same stuff and more on you whenever you are anywhere on the Internet—only it already has all that because it now slurps up everything that is communicated via telecom links anywhere in the US, thanks to George W. Bush and the subsequent Patriot Act.
One assumes that they’re drowning in data until he recalls the incredible advances in pattern-finding software and data-mining technologies and AI in general—doubtless funded by Not Saying Anyhow.
The world is becoming an odd place. Perhaps the Facebook and self-documenting approach (already a few create digital records of their every waking action and words is right: all that is, in effect, known anyway, and the best approach is to make it known yourself, by your decision and under your control, because doing that is oddly liberating and has the practical benefit of keeping one conscious that all that information is in fact available to the government already. It reminds us that we now have no privacy from government eyes—at least in our telecommunications, CCTV not having caught on here. Yet. But aren’t those satellite imaging capabilities something?