Later On

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Archive for March 2012

One of the many stories from Prison Nation

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The United States is the Prison Nation: we imprison a far higher proportion of our citizens than any other country. From Wikipedia:

The United States’ incarceration rate is, according to official reports, the highest in the world, at 737 persons imprisoned per 100,000 (as of 2005).[7] A report released in 2008 indicates that in the United States more than 1 in 100 adults is now confined in an American jail or prison.[8] The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.[9]

Unfortunately the chart does not include China, which the article states has an incarceration rate of 111 per 100,000, or about 10% of the US rate of incarceration. And unfortunately the graph is out of date on the US incarcertaion rate: it shows 700 per 100,000 and it’s now just over 1,000 per 100,000: adjust that first bar upwards. And note the heavy-handed irony of the US referring to itself as “the land of the free”: lots of countries have freedom, but none lock up their citizens to the degree that the US does. A more accurate tagline would be “the land of the imprisoned.”

So the US is Number One in locking up its citizens, with no other nation even a close second. We’re head and shoulders above the rest (as we are, say, with military spending). But you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, so we get things like this story reported in the NY Times by Michael Hall of the Texas Monthly:

A couple of Fridays ago, Kerry Max Cook, who was released from Texas’ death row in 1997 after two decades, went to pick up his 11-year-old son, Kerry Justice, from his North Dallas school. Class was just letting out. As Mr. Cook approached a group of children and their parents, a little girl squirmed out of her mother’s arms and ran toward him. “Mr. Kerry!” she called. He laughed as she jumped into his arms. “Haleigh!” he shouted, and began tickling her. “She adores Mr. Kerry,” her mother said.

The same jolly scene followed Mr. Cook as he walked around the small campus — children calling out to him, laughing, jumping into his arms. Vicki Johnston, the school’s director, looked on, smiling. “Kerry’s such a big part of the school,” she said. “He’s like a pied piper to the kids.” Asked about his past, Ms. Johnston simply said: “We know him. We know what kind of man he is.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Cook, 15 years after his release, the State of Texas still does not share Ms. Johnston’s view. Though he is widely recognized as one of the country’s most famous exonerated prisoners, Mr. Cook is not legally exonerated. In fact, in the eyes of the state, he is still a killer — convicted of the 1977 rape and murder of Linda Jo Edwards.

Mr. Cook’s situation is complex. His death sentence was twice overturned by higher courts, and DNA taken from the victim’s underwear did not match his own, and the evidence used to convict him has been shown to be entirely fallacious — but because Mr. Cook pleaded no-contest to the murder on the eve of what would have been his fourth trial, he cannot be declared actually not guilty.

Nevertheless, Mr. Cook has become a high-profile spokesman for the wrongfully imprisoned. He has published a book about his experience and has been one of the subjects of a popular Off Broadway play, “The Exonerated,” which was later made into a film. He has given speeches all over the United States and Europe. His Facebook page contains pictures of Mr. Cook with actors like Robin Williams, Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stiller, who have been drawn to his story.

Yet Mr. Cook lives in the shadows with his wife and their son, knowing that whenever he applies for a job or gets on an international flight, he will be identified as a convicted murderer. Now he hopes to change that, with two motions filed recently in Smith County, where the case was originally heard, that could finally clear his name. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 1:23 pm

Grüb of pork, cabbage, apples, walnuts, and more

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The Wife really doesn’t like the term “grub” very much. I adopted the word to signify a meal made purely on nutritional principles—to combine nutritionally desirable foods to hit my standard meal template—without regard to what foods they are, other than they’re foods I like. I do often try to find some sort of theme, which indeed helps: the two flops were themeless meals.

So I decided to drop the down-home “grub” and go to the more uptown “grüb” (pronounced “groob“, accent on the “oo“). That’s a made-up word (can you tell?), derived from the phrase “GReens ÜBer alles,” denoting the importance of greens, the center of the meal in this style of cooking.

(The meal template is as follows: not more than 2 tsp oil, 3-4 oz protein, 1/3-1/2 c cooked starch (1/2 c is typically one serving), at least one serving of leafy greens, and vegetables, spices, and herbs to suit, always with allium well represented.)

Today’s grüb was made in the 4-qt sauté pan and has an obvious theme: the pork-cabbage-apple-walnut nexis.

1.5 Tbsp EVOO
1 c. thinly sliced shallots (I just happened to have a lot of already-peeled shallots—you could just as well use a whole large Spanish onion thinly sliced, or (as I originally planned) a sweet onion and a leek or two: but no leeks)

As that sautés, add:

good sprinkling crushed red pepper
big pinch salt
a couple of grindings of black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4-1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4-1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Cook over low heat until shallots fully limp and starting to brown. Add:

2-4 Tbsp minced garlic
8 oz boneless pork chop, cut into chunks
3 oz extra firm tofu, small cubes (once I was assembling, I clearly needed more protein)

Sauté while stirring for a few minutes, then add:

1/2 c chicken stock
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp Amontillado

And deglaze pan, scraping with spatula. Add:

cooked Minnesota wild rice (I cooked 1/2 cup in 1 c water, and used all that rice in this dish)
1/2 head red cabbage, chopped
1 bulb fennel, quartered, cored, and sliced thinly
2 apples, diced small (I used Gala. I throw away the stem, but use all the rest of the apple.)
1/2-3/4 c English walnuts
1/2 c raisins
1/3-1/2 c black garlic (see update below)
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard (suggested by The Eldest—and it seems now essential)
zest and juice of 1 lemon

Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until heated, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. I forgot celery again, but there’s little room. I think it’ll be good anyway. I’m going to try it topped with Greek yogurt.

UPDATE: Man, this is good! And I just added black garlic. I got this package.

UPDATE 2: The black garlic and raisins do that little trick I learned from The Son: little surprises. Another: chunks of green olives and coarsely chopped jalapeños (and, of course, jalapeños and green pepper); and so on. And they’re both sort of chewy and sweet, so the difference is more interesting.

The crushed red pepper works extremely well with the spices, which play well with the cabbage and apples and raisins and walnuts—altogether a very nice dish. Next time, understanding the volume better, I’ll get two 8-oz boneless pork chops: this thing is four meals easy. And the Minnesota wild rice was an excellent choice.

The Eldest suggested including Dijon mustard, and so I did and it works perfectly in the dish: essential. Maybe next time the zest and juice of two lemons, though.

UPDATE 3: Comment on the spices:

I thought about cinnamon, decided against it: wise, I think. This dish has a lot of sweetness (apples, raisins, cabbage, black garlic, and—if you use them—sweet onions), and cinnamon combined with sweetness produces a cinnamon-roll tendency unless chocolate is present, whereupon you are directed toward Mexican chocolate. Good idea to avoid cinnamon here.

As it is, the spices used are more ambiguous than cinnamon, often showing up in savory dishes, and the Dijon mustard helps a lot in pushing this more toward savory.

I wanted to start using more spices because of the health benefits. To that end, I’m thinking the next batch will include 1 tsp turmeric, a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 12:49 pm

In some countries, at least, irresponsible bankers face accountability

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Fascinating article at FT.com (Financial Times), free registration required. The article is by Michael Stothard in Reykjavik and begins:

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8a0390dc-78c7-11e1-9f49-00144feab49a.html#ixzz1qiiMQDz8

visitor seeking a sense of how Iceland’s clique of powerful financiers saw themselves before their empire came tumbling down need look no further than Reykjavik’s Harpa concert hall. The extravagant steel and glass structure, which has more seats than London’s Royal Opera House, looks like a futuristic beehive glowing above the grey buildings that make up most of the capital.

It was commissioned by Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, one of the “Icelandic oligarchs” who exploited cheap credit following the aggressive financial deregulation of the early 2000s to create a billion-dollar empire. He set out in 2007 to build a cultural venue to match the country’s new found wealth – but when the global financial crisis hit the next year, and Iceland’s overleveraged banks collapsed, he went bankrupt, leaving the state to complete the project.

The Harpa finally opened last May amid grumbling about the cost to overburdened taxpayers. But nearly a year on, like Iceland itself, it is proving surprisingly successful. A source of growing national pride, it has played host to musicians including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Bjork and Yoko Ono, as well as half a million visitors.

Now, in a month where the country has put on trial Geir Haarde, the former prime minister, begun legal proceedings against its once almighty bankers, and received a steady stream of good economic news, many in government and beyond argue that the Harpa should serve not as a symbol of hubris but as a monument to a nation putting the past behind it.

Iceland’s recovery from the shock of the crisis matters more than its small size and 320,000 strong population would suggest. Formerly one of the richest nations in the world in terms of income per head, it won the dubious honour of being the first and among the most calamitous victims of the crisis, a prime example of the risks of financial deregulation. Today Iceland is not only the first country to put its political leader on trial for the crisis but it also offers a test of the advantages of indebted nations simply letting their banks collapse and default on their loans.

Steingrimur Sigfusson, minister for economic affairs and one of those who sings the praises of the Harpa, points to the significance of the trial of Mr Haarde, who ran the country from 2006 to 2009. It “is one of the big things that needs to be dealt with . . . before the country can return to normal”, he says.

It is the first of a series of legal procedures designed to salve national anger at the cost of the crisis, which led to a 10 per cent decline in gross domestic product and a sevenfold increase in unemployment. Mr Haarde is, in effect, charged with failing to do everything in his power to prevent the demise in 2008 of the three biggest banks by assets – Kaupthing, Landsbanki and Glitnir. Their downfall and default on $85bn of debt led directly to the collapse of the currency, the government and much of the economy.

The proceedings have so far disappointed those expecting substantial revelations of wrongdoing, but people on the streets of Reykjavik say there was satisfaction at seeing a politician face his accusers in court. The former prime minister faces two years in jail if found guilty next month. He denies the charges.

Some say it is the trial of the bankers, which began a few weeks ago, that will help Iceland shake off the demons of its financial crisis. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 11:25 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Why is the Wee Scot the only brush to which Alexander Simpson affixed his signature?

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ShoeboxShaveshop.com has a compelling disquisition on the Wee Scot, pointed out to me by flaheadle on Wicked_Edge. (I’d been linking to the brush as a recommendation for face latherers, but I hadn’t noticed that the description had been revised and extended.) Here it is:

Like all Simpsons, the Wee Scot is hand turned on a lathe. Then it is buffed and smoothed and polished to a lustrous perfection.

Like all Simpsons, the loft is hand filled, in this case with Simpsons justifiably famed Best Badger.

Like all Simpsons, the hand filled knot is very densely packed and deeply seated in the handle.

Like all Simpsons, the Wee Scot is truly a bargain for a high end, high class, hand crafted luxury product.

Unlike all Simpsons, the Wee Scot is the only work that its maker, the master craftsman Alexander Simpson, put his signature to…

While this fact is usually, ahem, noted by Simpsons sellers. It is, well, noted, and that is that.

Think about it for a minute. Nobody else seems to think about it except in passing, but this SIGNATURE fact needs to be seriously thought about by the prospective brush buyer.

What does it mean when a master craftsman SIGNS his work? Particularly, what does it mean when a master craftsman selects one and only one work from a large body of work to sign?

Well, to me it means the master craftsman considered that work to be a triumph—a personal triumph of his craft, his years and years of experience. A signed work is a work of which the craftsman is particularly proud.

For the master craftsman shave brush maker Mr Alexander Simpson, a man who built brushes for royals, nobles and the most wealthy of a Gilded Age, the work he affixed his signature to, the full honor of his whole name was the WEE SCOT and only the WEE SCOT.

Why is the master craftsman’s Master Work so unappreciated, indeed even deprecated by the modern cadre of shaving cognoscenti ???

In today’s culture, size matters and big is culturally GOOD, without any examination or grounds.

I constantly read posts by wet-shavers searching for the nearly perfect brush: lots of backbone, silvertip but scritchy, a monster latherer of the hardest soaps and the softest luxury creams.

The brush they are describing is right there under their nose and has been all the time. It is Mr Simpsons signature brush, the WEE SCOT. And, LOL, it is not even expensive.

The only shaver who got the WEE SCOT right was Corey Greenberg in some of the later entries of his outstanding SHAVE BLOG.

Corey had made the journey from BIG HONKING brushes through smaller knot brushes until arriving at the WEE SCOT.

More and more savvy shavers are recognizing the merits of small bore knots and they are many: parsimonious use of expensive soaps and creams, pin point precise lather targeting, better exfoliation and whisker softening.

The Wee Scot Best Badger loft and Loft-to-Knot ratio give it the most backbone of any brush except maybe the Chubby. In addition to back-bone, the Wee Scot also has HEART. The Wee Scot is an extraordinary exfoliator and face latherer.

As proprietor of a shave shop, I could have pretty much any brush I want, but I use the Wee Scot. It is the brush I want.

I really think that Mr Alexander Simpson knew what he was doing when he signed his Wee Scots. It is a magnificent work, a work worthy of his pride, worthy of his personal signature.

Ht: 67 mm Loft: 36 mm Base: 31 Knot: 14 mm

Dimensions approximate. In plain English the Wee Scot is about as tall as the average pinkie finger.

Hand crafted on the Isle Of Man, England.

If you have put up with me this far, I ask that you compare our prices on the Wee Scot and all the other Simpsons in stock to our competitors. We have really good deals on this Legendary Name in Shave Brushes.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 10:10 am

Posted in Shaving

Getting Americans to spy on each other

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One of the characteristics of the dystopian society in the novel 1984 as well as in the real-life Soviet Union and in the Eastern European countries behind the Iron Curtain was the degree to which citizens would spy on each other report each other to the authorities—in the Soviet Union, dissenters were shipped off to the gulag archipelago, a string of prison camps in eastern Russia and Siberia (though millions were imprisoned there, the U.S. already has more of its own citizens in prison than the Soviet Union had in its gulags, not even counting those we have hidden away in “black” prisons, where we know suspects were routinely tortured and murdered). Note how domestic police are encouraging us to spy on each other and report, well, things we don’t like (under the heading “suspicious activities”—note that “suspicious” in fact is not a characteristic of the activity but of the observer). Uzma Kolsy has an article on the topic in Salon:

Crime in Los Angeles is a gritty enterprise, and donning an LAPD badge has historically involved getting your hands dirty. Long before the New York Police Department was spying on Muslim students, the LAPD was running a large-scale domestic spy operation in the 1970s and ’80s, snooping on and infiltrating more than 200 political, labor and civic organizations including the office of then Mayor Tom Bradley. Today, the LAPD isn’t quite so aggressive, but it still employs a directive titled Special Order 1, which permits police officers to deem what is “suspicious” and then act on it.

SO 1 enables LAPD officers to file Suspicious Activity Reports on observed behaviors or activities. Where things get murky, however, is how SAR guidelines categorize constitutionally protected, non-criminal and commonplace activities such as using binoculars, snapping photographs and taking notes as indicators of terrorism-related activity. The SARs are coupled with the LAPD’s iWatch program, a campaign the police pioneered to encourage regular citizens to report “suspicious” activity, including “a person wearing clothes that are too big or too hot for the weather,” or things that just plain old don’t “look right.”

Far from being merely a local phenomenon, the standardized program that the LAPD developed in 2008 served as the lead model for a National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. “Success” stories from the LAPD’s program are used in national training material, and the LAPD touts it as “the first program in the U.S. to create a national standard” for terrorism-related procedures.

According to the Information Sharing Environment, the nationwide SAR initiative “establishes a standardized process whereby SAR information can be shared among agencies to help detect and prevent terrorism-related criminal activity.” Personal data that is collected on these individuals is treated as criminal intelligence. The rapidly expanding and dangerously intrusive network houses personal data on thousands of Americans. “The level and the rate at which local law enforcement is expanding its intelligence-gathering activity is very alarming,” said Ameena Mirza Qazi, deputy executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations-LA. “We as community advocacy groups hope to continue to work with law enforcement and encourage them to maintain their community policing models working with communities to identify criminal behavior.”

The SAR program’s broad reach extends into every level of the security hierarchy, from citizen policing to federal intelligence agencies. The Minnesota Joint Analysis Center, one of the nation’s 72 “fusion” centers — information-sharing centers created by the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security — is where the SAR report on Najam Qureshi, as well as thousands of others, found its final destination. Qureshi was a kiosk owner at the Mall of America, where security guards stop and question, on average, up to 1,200 people each year.  He was questioned by guards and later visited by the FBI at home after his 70-year-old father negligently left his cellphone at a table in the mall’s food court in 2007. The FBI prodded Qureshi and his family, asking “how many people they knew in Afghanistan” and if “they knew anyone who might want to hurt the United States.”

“The problem with this program is that the behavior range of what can be reported is so broad that it just lends itself to discriminatory application,” said Jumana Musa, deputy director of Rights Working Group, an advocacy group based in Washington. “When it comes to these innocuous activities, what people are reporting on is not necessarily the activity, but who is doing the activity.”

As a counter-terrorism initiative, the SAR program is already in place in major cities like Boston, Miami and Seattle, and is in the process of being rolled out across the nation by September of this year. The Los Angeles model gives citizens in other places an idea of what they can expect. Between 2008 and 2010, the LAPD shared 2,668 SARs with the local fusion center, which only uploaded 2 percent of them to the database — meaning that the majority of the reports did not have a reasonable indication of criminal activity. Though only a fraction were used by the fusion center, the LAPD retained the remaining 98 percent of its SARs in intelligence files, even though they did not serve as evidence of crime.

This is in stark contrast to former LAPD policy, which mandated that any intel amassed to follow a lead had to be destroyed if reasonable suspicion of criminal activity hadn’t been established. “This is such a drain of resources when there are real crime threats out there where these resources could much better be utilized,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent and currently the policy counsel on national security, immigration and privacy at ACLU National. “The real problem with these systems is that they encourage and cause waste and drive resources away from legitimate investigations.”

According to an independent analysis conducted by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions in April 2011, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 9:45 am

More veggieburger recipes

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Tara Parker-Pope quotes Martha Rose Shulman in the NY Times and links to several veggieburger recipes:

For burger lovers who want to cut back on meat, vegetarian burgers can be a tasty and healthful way to recreate the burger experience. In this week’s Recipes for Health, Martha Rose Shulman offers five ways to create vegetarian burgers at home. She writes:

I wanted to work on veggie burgers because I have never had a commercial one that I liked. They all taste overprocessed to me, with no fresh flavors. I’ve had much better luck making burgers from Luke Volger’s excellent cookbook “Veggie Burgers Every Which Way.” I especially like his bean and vegetable combos.

Puréed beans make a great binder for grain and vegetable burgers, and an egg added to the mixture will help to hold it together. (If you want to keep them vegan you can, though you have to be careful when you flip the burgers over because they tend to fall apart.) I found that all of these burgers somehow tasted better a day after they were assembled ― the flavors had gelled, the burgers held together better, and a burger that seemed a bit dry to me right after cooking did not seem so dry the next day when reheated. I can’t tell you why.

Like Mr. Volger, I found the best way to cook these vegetarian burgers was to brown them on one side in an ovenproof frying pan, then turn them and stick the pan in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes. Turning can be tricky, but if the burgers do crumble, just patch them back together with your spatula, apply a little pressure and put the pan into the oven.

Here are five new recipes for homemade veggie burgers.

Beet, Rice and Goat Cheese Burgers: Make these ahead for quick meals through the week and reheat in a medium oven or a frying pan.

Curried Lentil, Rice and Carrot Burgers: Indian spices liven up these burgers. The turmeric offers bonus antioxidant health benefits, but even without it, they’re in abundance in this recipe, with all the carrots and ginger.

Quinoa and Greens Burger: Rainbow quinoa is a great choice for this recipe — because it’s pretty, and because the red, black and golden quinoa grains all have slightly different textures.

Quinoa and Vegetable Burgers With Asian Flavors: This vibrant burger is made with both cooked and uncooked vegetables.

Mushroom and Grain Cheeseburgers: Barley is a traditional hearty partner for mushrooms, but brown rice is just as tasty in this burger.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 9:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Government helping those who do not need help

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Our Congress is loath to help those who actually need help—the poor and powerless, who can offer little in the way of campaign contributions. The wealthy and the powerful—well, that’s another story: they have plenty to give members of Congress, so members of Congress make sure they get plenty. The NY Times editors take note of one such action by Senate Republicans:

President Obama and the Senate Democrats have again fallen short in their quest to eliminate billions of dollars in unnecessary tax breaks for an oil industry that is rolling in enormous profits. A big reason for that failure is that some of those profits are being continuously recycled to win the support of pliable legislators, underwrite misleading advertising campaigns and advance an energy policy defined solely by more oil and gas production.

Despite pleading by Mr. Obama, the Senate on Thursday could not produce the 60 votes necessary to pass a bill eliminating $2.5 billion a year of these subsidies. [This is an egregious error by the NY Times: it requires only 51 votes to pass a bill. It requires 60 votes to end a filibuster, which the GOP uses so frequently that many---like the uninformed writer of the editorial---come to believe that 60 votes are required to pass a bill. Not so: just to end a filibuster. James Fallows has been beating this drum for a long time. - LG] This is a minuscule amount for an industry whose top three companies in the United States alone earned more than $80 billion in profits last year. Nevertheless, in the days leading up to the vote, the American Petroleum Institute spent several million dollars on an ad campaigncalling the bill “another bad idea from Washington — higher taxes that could lead to higher prices.”

Studies by the Congressional Research Service, among others, say that ending these tax breaks would increase prices by a penny or two a gallon. Yet all but two Senate Republicans have been conditioned by years of industry largess to accept its propaganda. In the last year, the industry spent more than $146 million lobbying Congress. In Thursday’s vote, senators who voted to preserve the tax breaks received more than four times as much as those who voted against.

Money has always talked in Congress. Now industry allies are aiming at voters. The American Energy Alliance, a Washington-based group that does not disclose its financial sources, on Thursday began an ad campaign in eight states with competitive Congressional races.

Voters in Michigan, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado will hear a 30-second spot peddling the industry’s misleading arguments against the Obama administration’s energy policies — including the fiction that those policies have led to higher gas prices: “Since Obama became president,” it says in part, “gas prices have nearly doubled. Obama opposed exploring for energy in Alaska. He gave millions of dollars to Solyndra, which then went bankrupt. And he blocked the Keystone pipeline, so we will all pay more at the pump.”

Four sentences, four misrepresentations. Gas prices, tied to the world market, would have gone up no matter who was president. Mr. Obama has not ruled out further leasing in Alaskan waters. Solyndra, a solar panel maker, is the only big failure in a broader program aimed at encouraging nascent energy technologies. The Keystone XL oil pipeline has nothing to do with gas prices now and, even if built, would have only a marginal effect.

The message war has really just begun. The oil industry has the money, but Mr. Obama has a formidable megaphone. He must continue to use it.

See also this story by Helene Cooper and Jennifer Steinhauer on Obama’s call to end (wasteful, pointless, unnecessary, corrupt) oil subsidies:

 President Obama called on Congress to end $4 billion in tax subsidies for oil and natural gas companies on Thursday, casting the issue as a choice between plumbing scarce resources versus investing in clean energy research.

“That’s the choice facing Congress today,” Mr. Obama said, before the Senate voted on repealing the tax breaks. “They can either vote to spend billions of dollars on oil subsidies that keep us trapped in the past. Or they can vote to end these taxpayer subsidies so that we can invest in the future. It’s that simple.”

The president made his remarks in the Rose Garden as gas prices across the country have soared, becoming an issue that could hamper his re-election bid. Administration officials said in an e-mail to reporters that the three largest oil companies in the United States have made a combined profit of more than $80 billion last year, or $200 million a day.

“Exxon pocketed nearly $4.7 million every hour,” Mr. Obama said.

“The biggest oil companies are raking in record profits — profits that go up every time folks like these pull into a gas station,” Mr. Obama said, flanked by a cast of ordinary Americans who administration officials said have been hurt by rising gas prices.

“But on top of these record profits,” Mr. Obama said, “oil companies are also getting billions a year in taxpayer subsidies — a subsidy they’ve enjoyed year after year for the last century.”

“It’s like hitting the American people twice,” Mr. Obama said.

He said the money saved should be used on clean energy projects, including wind power, solar powerbiofuels and fuel-efficient cars, trucks, homes and buildings. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 9:25 am

Too Smart to Fail: Notes on an Age of Folly

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Fascinating article in The Baffler by Thomas Frank, recommended by James Fallows:

The “sound” banker, alas! is not one who sees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with his fellows so that no one can really blame him.

–John Maynard Keynes

In the twelve hapless years of the present millennium, we have looked on as three great bubbles of consensus vanity have inflated and burst, each with consequences more dire than the last.

First there was the “New Economy,” a millennial fever dream predicated on the twin ideas of a people’s stock market and an eternal silicon prosperity; it collapsed eventually under the weight of its own fatuousness.

Second was the war in Iraq, an endeavor whose launch depended for its success on the turpitude of virtually every class of elite in Washington, particularly the tough-minded men of the media; an enterprise that destroyed the country it aimed to save and that helped to bankrupt our nation as well.

And then, Wall Street blew up the global economy. Empowered by bank deregulation and regulatory capture, Wall Street enlisted those tough-minded men of the media again to sell the world on the idea that financial innovations were making the global economy more stable by the minute. Central banks puffed an asset bubble like the world had never seen before, even if every journalist worth his byline was obliged to deny its existence until it was too late.

These episodes were costly and even disastrous, and after each one had run its course and duly exploded, I expected some sort of day of reckoning for their promoters. And, indeed, the last two disasters combined to force the Republican Party from its stranglehold on American government—for a time.

But what rankles now is our failure, after each of these disasters, to come to terms with how we were played. Each separate catastrophe should have been followed by a wave of apologies and resignations; taken together—and given that a good percentage of the pundit corps signed on to two or even three of these idiotic storylines—themy mandated mass firings in the newsrooms and op-ed pages of the nation. Quicker than you could say “Ahmed Chalabi,” an entire generation of newsroom fools should have lost their jobs.

But that’s not what happened. Plenty of journalists have been pushed out of late, but the ones responsible for deluding the public are not among them. Neocon extraordinaire Bill Kristol won a berth at the New York Times (before losing it again), Charles Krauthammer is still the thinking conservative’s favorite, George Will drones crankily on, Thomas Friedman remains our leading dispenser of nonsense neologisms, and Niall Ferguson wipes his feet on a welcome mat that will never wear out. The day Larry Kudlow apologizes for slagging bubble-doubters as part of a sinister left-wing trick is the day the world will start spinning in reverse. Standard & Poor’s first leads the parade of folly (triple-A’s for everyone!), then decides to downgrade U.S. government debt, and is taken seriously in both endeavors. And the prospect of Fox News or CNBC apologizing for their role in puffing war bubbles and financial bubbles is no better than a punch line: what they do is the opposite, launching new movements that stamp their crumbled fables “true” by popular demand.

The real mistake was my own. I believed that our public intelligentsia had succumbed to an amazing series of cognitive failures; that time after time they had gotten the facts wrong, ignored the clanging bullshit detector, made the sort of mistakes that would disqualify them from publishing in The Baffler, let alone the Washington Post.

What I didn’t understand was that these were moral failures, mistakes that were hardwired into the belief systems of the organizations and professions and social classes in question. As such they were mistakes that—from the point of view of those organizations or professions or classes—shed no discredit on the individual chowderheads who made them. Holding them accountable was out of the question, and it remains off the table today. These people ignored every flashing red signal, refused to listen to the whistleblowers, blew off the obvious screaming indicators that something was going wrong in the boardrooms of the nation, even talked us into an unnecessary war, for chrissake, and the bailout apparatus still stands ready should they fuck things up again.

Keep on Dancing Till the World Ends

My aim here isn’t to take some kind of victory lap or to get in the granite faces of our eternal pundit corps one more time—honestly, who really wants to read a twenty-part takedown of the social philosophy of, say, Jim Cramer?

Nor is it to blame Republicans for our problems. It is true that, from the scandal of CEO pay to the scandal of lobotomized regulators, each of the really monumental mistakes of our time arose from the trademark doctrines of the political right. And, yes, it was the Bush administration that installed as National Archivist a scholar much criticized for his questionable research methods, that muzzled government scientists, and that declared war on organized intelligence in a hundred other ways.

But the problem goes far beyond politics. We have become a society that can’t self-correct, that can’t address its obvious problems, that can’t pull out of its nosedive. And so to our list of disasters let us add this fourth entry: we have entered an age of folly that—for all our Facebooking and the twittling tweedle-dee-tweets of the twitterati—we can’t wake up from.

Besides, the reign of corruption has taken plenty of right-wing scalps, too. In fact, one of the most interesting comments on the machinery that is making us stupid came from the libertarian Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, after he had temporarily lost his job (he got it back a little while later, don’t worry) for puffing clients of Jack Abramoff in exchange for the lobbyist’s largesse. But what was the big deal? fumed Bandow in a 2006 cri de coeur called “The Lesson Jack Abramoff Taught Me.” Living in Washington was expensive; and besides, everyone was basically on the take: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 9:18 am

Driving with ADHD

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Now that we know more about ADD and ADHD, including treatments that help and things to guard against, it’s good to look at normally hazardous activities (e.g., driving) and how those with ADD/ADHD should approach that. John O’Neil reports in the NY Times:

The first time Jillian Serpa tried to learn to drive, the family car wound up straddling a creek next to her home in Ringwood, N.J.

Ms. Serpa, then 16, had gotten flustered trying to sort out a rapid string of directions from her father while preparing to back out of their driveway. “There was a lack of communication,” she said. “I stepped on the gas instead of the brake.”

On her second attempt to learn, Ms. Serpa recalled, she “totally freaked out” at a busy intersection. It was four years before she tried driving again. She has made great progress, but so far has still fallen short of her goal: Two weeks ago she knocked over a cone while parallel parking and failed the road test for the fourth time.

Learning to drive is hard and scary for many teenagers, and driving is far and away the most dangerous thing teenagers do. But the challenges are significantly greater for young people who, like Ms. Serpa, have attention problems.

A number of cognitive conditions can affect driving, and instructors report a recent increase in the number of teenagers with Asperger syndromeseeking licenses. But the largest group of challenged teenage drivers — and the mostly closely studied — appears to be those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A 2007 study, by Russell A. Barkley of the Medical University of South Carolina and Daniel J. Cox of the University of Virginia Health System, concluded that young drivers with A.D.H.D. are two to four times as likely as those without the condition to have an accident — meaning that they are at a higher risk of wrecking the car than an adult who is legally drunk.

Researchers say that many teenagers with attention or other learning problems can become good drivers, but not easily or quickly, and that some will be better off not driving till they are older — or not at all.

The most obvious difficulty they face is inattention, the single leading cause of crashes among all drivers, said Bruce Simons-Morton, senior investigator at the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md.

“When a driver takes his eyes off the road for two seconds or more, he’s doubled the risk of a crash,” he said.

Inexperienced drivers usually are distractible drivers. Dr. Simons-Morton cited a study on a closed course in which teenagers proved much more adept than adults at using cellphones while driving — and missed more stop signs.

The situation isn’t helped by how “noisy” cars have become, with cellphones, iPods and Bluetooth devices, said Lissa Robins Kapust, a social worker and coordinator of a driving program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “Driving is so busy on the inside and the outside of the car — it’s the most complex thing we do.”

But A.D.H.D. involves more than distractibility. Its other major trait is impulsiveness, which is often linked to high levels of risk-taking, said Dr. Barkley.

“It’s a bad combination” for young drivers, he said. “They’re more prone to crashes because of inattention, but the reason their crashes are so much worse is because they’re so often speeding.” Many drivers with A.D.H.D. overestimate their skills behind the wheel, Dr. Barkley noted.

Far better, researchers say, to have the attitude that Ms. Serpa does — not minimizing the difficulties or being daunted by them. “I am persistent,” said Ms. Serpa, now 21. “I don’t quit. And if there are people who think I am struggling with driving, I will tell them the truth.”

Ms. Serpa heads back to the road test on Thursday, with “a whole new level of confidence” after more intensive practice — plus a new string of kabbalah beads and a lucky pendant.

Fortunately, researchers and special instructors are discovering more tangible ways to help teenagers like her. The first step: deciding whether a 16-year-old is ready to learn, or really needs to drive at all.

Dr. Simons-Morton thinks that almost any reason to put off starting lessons is a good one. “If I were the parent of an A.D.H.D. or other special-needs kid, my goal would be to delay licensing,” he said. “They mature, they accommodate to their deficits and they’re more likely to take medication.”

Some instructors believe that there’s no way to judge readiness until the child gets behind the wheel. “You can’t tell from a diagnosis or first impression — you have to drive with them a while,” said Thomas Kalina, a driving rehabilitation instructor at Bryn Mawr Rehab in Malvern, Pa.

Maturity also has to be considered. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 9:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Farm Workers Get Beat Up in Florida Fields and the US Senate

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Tom Philpott has a somewhat depressing story in Mother Jones:

In the heart of Florida’s industrial-scale fruit and vegetable fields, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has achieved the most tangible gains for US farm workers since the glory days of the California-based United Farm Workers in the 1970s. CIW has methodically taken on large tomato growers and the giant corporations that buy their product, winning for themselves an extra penny for every pound of tomatoes they harvest, which amounts to a substantial raise; as well as code-of-conduct agreements between buyers and growers that set up a grievance process for alleged abuses and other protections.

But despite CIW’s burgeoning power, conditions remain rough in the area’s farm fields—especially on farms that haven’t signed the code of conduct. The group’s agreements so far only cover tomatoes; workers toiling in other crops remain underpaid and largely unprotected. And last week, the group reported Sunday, a worker from a nearby eggplant field walked into its office wearing a bloodied t-shirt. Here’s what happened:

He had been working at a vegetable packing house, packing eggplants, about 10 miles from Immokalee when a supervisor approached him. According to the worker, the supervisor criticized his work, and he, thinking the criticism unjustified, answered back. A discussion ensued when, according to the worker and a witness, the supervisor hauled off and punched him in the face. Staggered, he swung back, but was knocked to the ground by the supervisor before others in the area stepped in to pull them apart. The worker was told to go home, clean up, and return the next day. Instead, he went to the CIW’s office, and filed a police report. He then went to the hospital, where he learned that the supervisor’s punch had broken his nose.

For CIW, the incident was a haunting reminder of how things were in tomato fields in the mid-1990s, before the penny-per-pound campaign, when another young man walked into the offices wearing a bloody shirt:

He had been picking tomatoes in a field near Immokalee when he stopped to take a drink of water. A field supervisor accosted him, shouted “Are you here to work, or to drink water?”, and launched into him, leaving him badly bruised and bloodied—and determined to find justice. The young worker walked back to Immokalee, headed straight to the CIW office, and sparked a nighttime march of nearly 500 workers on the crew leader’s house. The marchers brandished his shirt as a banner, declaring “If you beat one of us, you beat us all!”, and helped launch a movement that changed Immokalee forever.

While I read CIW’s report, I thought about another place farm workers are getting beat up: in the halls of the US Senate. Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) have introduced what they call “common sense” legislation designed to squash new rules proposed by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis that impose new restrictions on employing children on farms. The  proposed rules would prevent kids under 16 from handling pesticides, working in animal feedlots, among other things that most people wouldn’t want their kids doing.

The lawmakers claim that they are merely defending the right rights of family farmers to raise their kids as they please. “This is another example of the Obama administration initiating unsolicited regulations that would prohibit normal practices that have been carried out in rural areas for generations—not to mention limiting a desperately needed workforce to replace the current generation of farmers whose average age is nearing 60 years old,” Thune said in a press release.

That’s hogwash. The new rules would preserve the so-called “parental exception” that allows farm owners to put their kids to work at any age, in any job, “even hazardous work,” the Labor Department web site states. Rather than an attack on family farms, “The proposed rules represent long-overdue protections for children working for hire in farm communities,” Reid Maki of the Child Labor Coalition told Human Rights Watch. Hundreds of thousands of kids nationwide work with their families as migrant farm workers, Human Rights Watch reports. The kids who pick our crops are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides, their fatality rate is four times that of other working youth, and they are four times more likely to drop out than the average American kid—overall, HRW reports, just a third of farmworker kids finish high school.

But farm worker kids need . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 9:07 am

Smoking gun found in bee-colony collapse disaster

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Reported by Brandon Keim at Wired:

A controversial type of pesticide linked to declining global bee populations appears to scramble bees’ sense of direction, making it hard for them to find home. Starved of foragers and the pollen they carry, colonies produce fewer queens, and eventually collapse.

The phenomenon is described in two new studies published March 29 in Science. While they don’t conclusively explain global bee declines, which almost certainly involve a combination of factors, they establish neonicotinoids as a prime suspect.

“It’s pretty damning,” said David Goulson, a bee biologist at Scotland’s University of Stirling. “It’s clear evidence that they’re likely to be having an effect on both honeybees and bumblebees.”

Neonicotinoids emerged in the mid-1990s as a relatively less-toxic alternative to human-damaging pesticides. They soon became wildly popular, and were the fastest-growing class of pesticides in modern history. Their effects on non-pest insects, however, were unknown.

In the mid-2000s, beekeepers in the United States and elsewhere started to report sharp and inexplicable declines in honeybee populations. Researchers called the phenomenon colony collapse disorder. It was also found in bumblebees, and in some regions now threatens to extirpate bees altogether.

Many possible causes were suggested, from viruses and mites to industrial beekeeping practices and climate change. Pesticides, in particular neonicotinoids, also came under scrutiny.

Leaked internal reports by the Environmental Protection Agency showed that industry-run studies used to demonstrate some neonicotinoids’ environmental safety were shoddy and unreliable. Other researchers found signs that neonicotinoids, while they didn’t kill bees outright, affected their ability to learn and navigate. . .

Continue reading.

In related news, the FDA decides to allow the food industry to continue using BPA. Apparently, it’s up to the public to prove the additive unsafe, the FDA operating on the presumption that such things are perfectly safe until proved otherwise. The FDA’s mission seems to have been switched from “Protect the Public” to “Protect Big Business.” And while studies showing that BPA fosters diabetes-promoting changes and triggers false signals to the heart in females may worry consumers, they apparently don’t bother the FDA or Big Business. (In this situation, we are the bees, BPA the pesticide.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 9:04 am

Exciting brush discovery

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In yesterday’s shave, I was commenting on how my H.L. Thäter brushes seemed very like the Rooney Heritage Victorian that Todd O recommended: soft tips, resilient bristles, and a shape that somehow makes the brush work better—presenting instead of hoarding the lather, a shape that facilitates working the lather up and into the beard. I also noticed, but didn’t especially note, that when I rinsed the brush the tips had that “tacky” feeling that the Victorian has, which on that brush I attributed to the hooked tips of those bristles.

Lo! The H.L. Thäter brushes when dried presented the same “porcupine” appearance as the Victorian:

Take a look at Los Tres Amigos in the photo: all porcupine, all hooked tips, all exceptionally good-feeling (and good-lathering) brushes. Todd O awakened me to these brush properties, and we got to wondering why this quality of brush—and hooked tips—are relatively rare. Could it be that many brush makers trim the hooked tips, either to make the brush look better in the case, or as part of final shaping of the brush? No idea, but it does seem clear at this point that (a) hooked tips are a good thing for brush feel (if not appearance, though taking the dry brush and brushing the palm of your hand will unhook the tips, leaving the brush looking perfectly fine); and (b) hooked tips are relatively rare.

If you’re seriously interested in brushes, you should definitely think about getting a Thäter brush. At the link, Bullgoose Shaving has a selection of Thäter brushes on sale. I don’t know whether this is a close-out, but I suggest picking one up soon.

I used one in today’s shave:

The soap in the bowl is Geo. F. Trumper Eucris, which I’ve used previously. The lather this morning wanted to die toward the end of the shave, though it lasted, and some have reported Eucris lather problems. I’ll give it another go. I didn’t notice any lather problems previously, but (as you can see in the brush report) some things sort of sneak up on me and it takes me a while to recognize them.

The ARC Weber with its original Astra Superior Platinum blade once again did a terrific job for me. I don’t know whether the Advanced Razor Coating is contributing, but certainly I’m getting some mighty fine shaves from this razor and blade.

Three smooth passes, and then a bit of l’Occitane’s Cade shea butter aftershave balm, which is a very good balm indeed—I’m right at the end of the tube, so I’ve ordered more. Great stuff for the balm-oriented, particularly (I imagine) when facing cold, dry, windy air.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2012 at 8:53 am

Posted in Shaving

Avocado shaving

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Quite a nice shave today. I experimented by switching out the Wilkinson Sword blade for a new Astra Superior Platinum blade, and indeed today’s shave is marginally better. The ASP blade is one of those that seems better on the second shave, so I’m eager to see how that will affect the shave.

I went all-in on Avocado: TOBS Avocado shaving cream—a regular recommendation to beginners—and another wonderful Thater brush. This brush, though modest in appearance, is an excellent performer. You guys who like badger should have one of these guys in your stable of brushes.

I like the shaving creams available from AlsShaving.com (and note at the bottom of the page the shaving-cream sampler), and now Al himself has written a post on what goes into a shaving cream.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2012 at 7:51 am

Posted in Shaving

Interesting view of issues in the Israeli/Iran confrontation

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Read James Fallows’s latest post. A reader has submitted a very intriguing reading of the issues.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2012 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Iran, Mideast Conflict

Tasty eggplant grub with tomatoes

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This turned out extremely well. Quite different from other recent grubs. Worth a repeat, definitely. In 4-qt sauté pan:

2 Tbsp EVOO
1 large onion, chopped
4-6 large shallots, sliced thin

Sweat shallots until quite limp, adding:

good pinch of salt
sprinkling (generous, if you’re me) of crushed red pepper
grinding of black pepper
1-2 tsp paprika (love it)

When shallots are really cooked, but before they brown, add:

A lot of garlic, minced—basically, an entire head of garlic, cloves peeled, trimmed, and minced

Sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Then add (and thus: have ready):

6 oz firm tofu, cubed small
4 domestic white mushrooms, of a good size, sliced
1/4 c pignolas

Sauté, stirring with spatula and scraping pan, for a few minutes, then add and stir together:

1 large bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 (or 1/2, if you want) head green cabbage, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped small
1 c cooked black rice

Sauté, stirring frequently. Evidence of sticking will soon ensue. Add:

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 c red wine

Stir and scrape with spatula to deglaze pan. Add:

1 Italian eggplant (the black banana-shaped ones), diced fairly small
28-oz can diced organic fire-roasted tomatoes
1/2 c (or a bit more) Kalamata olives, halved
more red wine if it seems desirable

Stir well together. This would be a good place to add oregano, but I didn’t. Should have.

Cover, simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Variations: I think I’ll top this with shredded Parmesan for at least one meal—and, logically, yogurt topping also. Lemon juice (and zest) instead of red wine vinegar would be good, too, and then Amontillado instead of red wine. Worcestershire sauce or anchovies are a possibility—in fact, I’m going to add anchovies now: just the direction I want to go.

Template: Hit four-square, as you see. It’s more black rice than I would normally use, but I was finishing off a pan, and this looks to be at least three meals. (One cup rice = 2 full starch servings or 3 starch servings of my size.) Greens there (and this would be good also with spinach or red chard), protein. And plenty of peppers.

Tomorrow I’m making a pork-cabbage-fennel-apple-sweet onion-garlic-raisin-walnuts-rice grub: the name pretty much says it all. I’m torn between white rice and black. I’m going with wild rice as a compromise.

UPDATE: When I refer to my “spatula”, I mean this spatula except that the width is 4″ (less than shown). The 11″ handle with 4″ spatula turns out to be my most useful tool when cooking at the stove: for stirring (it stirs better than a wooden spoon because it’s wider), for scraping (the flat side scrapes well), and for turning. You can specifically request that model with a 4″ width, and they’ll make it for you. That’s what I recommend. I have three of them: I’m never going to be without one. Well worth the price, in my opinion.

Another option: Order this spootle as a spatula—i.e., no “spoon” dip. (Reason: the spatula format is more agile and not so thick as the spootle.) The 12″ handle is nice, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2012 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Grub, Recipes

Very interesting project: Air-Quality Egg

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Crowdsourcing weather observations. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2012 at 1:05 pm

(Past) Time to End the War on Drugs

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Philip Smith reports:

In a historic meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, Saturday, three Central American heads of state attended a regional summit to discuss alternatives to the current drug prohibition regime, which has left their countries wracked by violence. No consensus was reached and three other regional leaders failed to attend, but for the first time, regional heads of state have met explicitly to discuss ending the war on drugs as we know it.

“We have realized that the strategy in the fight against drug trafficking in the past 40 years has failed. We have to look for new alternatives,” said the host, Guatemalan President Oscar Pérez Molina, a former army general who first called for such a meeting last month, shortly after taking office. “We must end the myths, the taboos, and tell people you have to discuss it, debate it.”

According to the Associated Press, Pérez Molina said that drug use, production, and sales should be legalized and regulated. He suggested that the region jointly regulate the drug trade, perhaps by establishing transit corridors through which regulated drug shipments could pass.

Also in attendance were Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, a harsh critic of US-style drug policies and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy was an invited guest and addressed the summit. Outside of Central America, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Mexican President Felipe Calderon have expressed support for the meeting.

Not attending were Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. While Funes initially expressed support for the summit, he has since backed away. Lobo and Ortega have opposed the idea from the beginning. Funes and Ortega did send lower ranking members of the governments to the meeting, and the Salvadoran delegation called for a future meeting on the subject, saying it remained a topic of great interest and import in the region.

Some leaders are pushing for a discussion on alternatives to the drug war to be on the agenda at next month’s Organization of American States (OAS) summit in Cartagena, Colombia, where President Santos has also been signaling an openness to debate on the issue. US President Barack Obama is expected to attend that summit, setting the stage for a particularly sticky diplomatic dance, given US opposition to changes in regional drug policies.

But US-backed drug policies have in recent years brought a wave of violence to the region, which is used as a springboard for Colombian cocaine headed north to the US and Canada, either direct or via Mexico. Mexican drug cartels have expanded their operations in Central America in the past few year, perhaps in response to the pressures they face at home. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2012 at 11:05 am

Posted in Drug laws, Government

Particle-Wave Duality Shown With Largest Molecules Yet

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This is amazing. I can’t wait until they show interference by using, say, a rabbit. Matthew Francis reports at Ars Technica:

One of the deepest mysteries in quantum physics is the wave-particle duality: every quantum object has properties of both a wave and a particle. Nowhere is this effect more beautifully demonstrated than in the double-slit experiment: streams of particles (photons, electrons, whatever) are directed at a barrier with two narrow openings. While each particle shows up at the detector individually, the population as a whole creates an interference pattern as though they are waves. Neither a pure wave or a pure particle description has proven successful in explaining these experiments.

Now researchers have successfully performed a quantum interference experiment with much larger and more massive molecules than ever before. Thomas Juffmann et al. fired molecules composed of over 100 atoms at a barrier with openings designed to minimize molecular interactions, and observed the build-up of an interference pattern. The experiment approaches the regime where macroscopic and quantum physics overlap, offering a possible way to study the transition that has frustrated many scientists for decades.

The interference of waves is determined in part by the wavelength. According to quantum physics, the wavelength of a massive particle is inversely proportional to its momentum: the mass multiplied by the particle’s speed. In other words, the heavier the object, the shorter its wavelength at a given speed.

A kicked football (for example) has a very tiny wavelength compared to the size of the ball because it has a relatively large mass and a speed measured in meters per second (rather than nanometers or such). In contrast, an electron has a relatively large wavelength (though still microscopic) because it has a small mass. Longer wavelengths make it easier to generate interference so, while it isn’t going to be possible to make two footballs interfere with each other (in the quantum sense!), it’s comparatively straightforward to produce electron interference.

The relatively large phthalocyanine (C32H18N8) and derivative molecules (C48H26F24N8O8) have more mass than anything in which quantum interference has previously been observed. To have wavelengths that are relatively large compared to their sizes, the molecules need to move very slowly. Juffmann et al. achieved this by directing a blue diode laser onto a very thin film of molecules in a vacuum chamber, effectively boiling off individual molecules directly under the beam while leaving the rest unaffected.

After separation from the film, the molecules were sent through a collimator to ensure they formed a beam before reaching the barrier, which had a number of parallel slits to produce the actual interference pattern. To prevent excessive interactions (primarily van der Waals forces) between the molecules and the edges of the slits, the researchers used a specially-prepared grating coated in silicon nitride membranes. Without such preparation, the molecules are likely to be deflected by ordinary interactions with the hardware.

After passing through the slits, the molecules’ positions were recorded using fluorescence microscopy, which has both sufficient spatial resolution and fast response to detect when and where the molecules arrive. The positions of individual spots were measured to 10 nanometer accuracy. Additionally, the molecules lodged in the fluorescent screen, meaning their positions could be independently verified in the form of build-up at the experiment’s end.

The researchers observed the particle nature of the molecules in the form of individual light spots appearing singly in the fluorescent detector as they arrived. But, over time, these spots formed an interference pattern due to the molecules’ wavelike character.

As the Juffmann et al. point out, no other . . .

Continue reading. Reality is very weird, at least to our understanding.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2012 at 9:29 am

Posted in Science

The real Foxconn

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Again via Scott Feldstein’s blog, this interesting story by Tim Culpan in the Bloomberg Tech Blog:

So Mike Daisey’s been outed. The things he said he saw, he didn’t. The people he said he spoke to, he didn’t. The discoveries he said he made, he didn’t. He lied.

It matters a lot that Mike Daisey lied, and it matters that he was caught. You really should listen to the episode of This American Life in which Ira Glass takes a deep breath and lets it all out. It’s great storytelling by Rob Schmitz, as fantastic as the story Daisey himself told. Anyone who has become invested in this story of Apple and Foxconn needs to listen to that episode. If you’ve ever tweeted about how bad Apple is, blogged about the evils of Foxconn’s sweatshops, or “Liked” a Facebook post excoriating how iPads are made, then you should listen. Don’t take the word of the dozens of bloggers and news outlets who’ve tried to summarize the whole saga into bite-sized morsels—go listen for yourself. Go on, do it now. I’ll wait. You heard it? Good.

Now let me tell you what I’ve seen at Foxconn. I’ve covered the company as a reporter for more than a decade, since before the iPhone was a twinkle in Steve Jobs’s eye and just after Foxconn landed Dell as a PC customer. Then in 2010, when a series of suicides caught the world’s attention and made sure you now know who makes your iPhone, my colleague Frederik Balfour and I started looking deeper. The result was “Inside Foxconn,” a 6,000-plus-word cover story for Bloomberg Businessweek.

We interviewed Foxconn’s founder Terry Gou for many hours. But before sitting down with Gou (and walking the Shenzhen campus with him), we spoke to dozens of people who worked at, dealt with, supplied to, bought from, or otherwise had firsthand dealings with Foxconn and its founder. Foxconn doesn’t know who most of these people are, and they never asked. We also had a Foxconn-led tour inside dorm rooms, the pool, the cafeterias, and a factory line. We knew very well they were trying to show their best side. We smiled and nodded and did our own research anyway.

Among those we spoke to were about two dozen workers, mostly factory personnel, who spoke without supervisors present and spoke freely. Again, Foxconn doesn’t know who we spoke with, and they never asked.Mike Daisey claimed to have come across 12-year-old workers, armed guards, crippled factory operators. We saw none of that. And we did try to find them. Nothing would have been more compelling for us and our story than to have a chat with a preteen factory operator about how she enjoyed (or not) working 12-hour shifts making iPads. We didn’t get such an anecdote.

In our reporting, as “Inside Foxconn” detailed, we found a group of workers who have complaints, but complaints not starkly different from those of workers in any other company. The biggest gripe, which surprised us somewhat, is that they don’t get enough overtime. They wanted to work more, to get more money.

Less than a year later, I went back again with another colleague. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2012 at 9:25 am

Posted in Business

All kine today descended from a single herd

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It’s sort of surprising that all domesticated cattle in the world today are descended from a single herd of about 80 aurochs, but then all domesticated horses are descendents of a single stallion. (Horses run harems, and a stallion will protect his harem fiercely against other stallions, so a young stallion pretty much is forced from the herd and leads a lonely bachelor existence. Stallions are rambunctious and rebellious, but apparently one stallion decided that the prospect of having his own mares was worth his freedom, and so domestication began. But they never found another compliant stallion. (This is discussed in the fascinating book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, by David Anthony—well worth reading.)

Here’s the story of the origin of kine, by Duncan Geere of Wired UK:

A genetic study of cattle has claimed that all modern domesticated bovines are descended from a single herd of wild ox, which lived 10,500 years ago.

A team of geneticists from the National Museum of Natural History in France, the University of Mainz in Germany, and UCL in the UK excavated the bones of domestic cattle on archaeological sites in Iran, and then compared those to modern cows. They looked at how differences in DNA sequences could have arisen under different population history scenarios, modeled in computer simulations.

The team found that the differences that show up between the two populations could only have arisen if a relatively small number of animals — approximately 80 — had been domesticated from a now-extinct species of wild ox, known as aurochs, which roamed across Europe and Asia. Those cattle were then bred into the 1.4 billion cattle estimated by the UN to exist in mid-2011.

The process of collecting the data was tricky. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2012 at 9:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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