Later On

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

Archive for April 4th, 2012

Trompe-l’œil grüb

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UPDATE: Just made it and have revised original recipe to learn from experience. I have been adding things as I eat it down, though, and the avocado is terrific.

I just thought of this tonight, thinking about the The Son’s notion of using twin ingredients in a dish:

Combine in large stainless bowl:

2/3 c black rice, when is then cooked
2/3 black beluga lentils, cooked for about 10 minutes (just until tender) and drained and rinsed in cold water.

3/4 c chopped celery
1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped (same size)

3/4 c cubed firm tofu
3/4 c cubed sheep feta

2-3 coarsely chopped jalapeños
1 green bell pepper, chopped (same approx size)

1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 c cubed jicama (about the same size)

1/2 c black garlic cloves, halved
1/2 c pitted Kalamata olives, halved.

1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half or, if large, quartered
2 bunches Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 c pine nuts (along with 1/4 c cooked brown or Minnesota wild rice would be good)
2 Tbsp EVOO
2 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp horseradish
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp smoked paprika
juice and zest of 2 lemons

Mix well, season with salt and pepper, and chill.

Sounds tasty to me. Maybe add 1 avocado, cubed, as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Grub, Recipes

TSA more or less admits that it has no idea what it’s doing

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Matt Richtel discovers, step by step, that the TSA has no f–g idea what they’re doing. He explains in the NY Times:

STANDING in line at security at San Francisco International Airport not long ago, family in tow, I dutifully pulled the laptop out of my bag and placed it in a separate bin for its solo trip through the X-ray machine. I also had an iPad in my backpack, so I caught the eye of a security agent. “Excuse me, does the iPad come out too?” I asked.

“Not here,” she said. “Other airports might be different.”

This was not the moment for a follow-up question, but I was curious: What’s the distinction between the devices? Similar shapes, many similar functions, the tablet is thinner but not by much. Is the iPad a lower security risk? What about the punier laptop-like gadgets, the netbooks and ultrabooks? What about my smartphone?

Safely back at my desk, where a follow-up question wouldn’t risk triggering delays that could spread throughout the nation’s air traffic system, I began investigating what seems like an existential question for the digital age: When is a laptop a laptop?

There must be a reason the laptop is singled out as the bad boy of electronics at the airport. Or has the world of gadgets moved so quickly since 2001 when the laptop rule went into effect — and back when the tablet and smartphone were still in the incubator — that federal regulators have not kept up?

I called Bruce Schneier, the security chief for British Telecom and a long-time security expert with hundreds of thousands of miles of airline travel under his belt (a belt that, he noted with pride, never beeps in security because he’s chosen it carefully). If the laptop question confused me, it had him sounding baffled.

“Is it thicker than an inch, wider than a piece of paper, bluer than the sky? Who cares? It’s all nonsense,” said Mr. Schneier, who is also the author of a new book on the psychology of security, “Liars and Outliers.”

Next stop: T.S.A. They ought to know, right? It’s their rule. . .

Continue reading. Bureaucratic stupidity: nothing like it!

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 2:10 pm

Obama starts second campaign by crying, “Wolf!” again

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I have to say that Obama says great things when he’s running for office—things like saying he would never vote in favor of telecom immunity (which he later did). And then when he was elected president, he simply gave in—repeatedly—in the face of Republican obstructionism and… well, temper tantrums, holding their breath until they turned blue, crying (a John Boehner specialty), threats, and so on. He was a president lacking spine and engagement, and we have pretty much a trainwreck from a progressive/liberal point of view.

So it’s time for another election, and Obama is beating the old drum once more. But just as the boy who cried, “Wolf!” found that he had created a credibility gap, Obama has betrayed our trust so many times—immunity for torturers, ignoring the Convention Against Torture, persecuting whistleblowers, attacking medical marijuana even when there is no violation of state or federal law (the raid against Oaksterdam), and so on—that he simply has thrown away his credibility. I do not trust this man to do what he says.

OTOH, he is undoubtedly better than Mitt Romney, so he will get my (unenthusiastic) vote. Choosing which candidate will get one’s vote now resembles the same sort of exercise as a starving person picking out the least offensive food possibilities from a pile of garbage.

The NY Times editors seem to think Obama’s turned over a new leaf. I don’t.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 10:20 am

How American Corporations Transformed from Producers to Predators

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This article, part of a 5-part series, is by William Lazonick and appears in AlterNet; more info at the link.

Corporations are not working for the 99 percent. But this wasn’t always the case. In a special five-part series, William Lazonick, professor at UMass, president of the Academic-Industry Research Network, and a leading expert on the business corporation, along with journalist Ken Jacobson and AlterNet’s Lynn Parramore, will examine the foundations, history and purpose of the corporation to answer this vital question: How can the public take control of the business corporation and make it work for the real economy?

In 2010, the top 500 U.S. corporations – the Fortune 500 – generated $10.7 trillion in sales, reaped a whopping $702 billion in profits, and employed 24.9 million people around the globe. Historically, when these corporations have invested in the productive capabilities of their American employees, we’ve had lots of well-paid and stable jobs.

That was the case a half century ago.

Unfortunately, it’s not the case today. For the past three decades, top executives have been rewarding themselves with mega-million dollar compensation packages while American workers have suffered an unrelenting disappearance of middle-class jobs. Since the 1990s, this hollowing out of the middle-class has even affected people with lots of education and work experience. As the Occupy Wall Street movement has recognized, concentration of income and wealth of the top “1 percent” leaves the rest of us high and dry.

What went wrong? A fundamental transformation in the investment strategies of major U.S. corporations is a big part of the story.

A Look Back

A generation or two ago, corporate leaders considered the interests of their companies to be aligned with those of the broader society. In 1953, at his congressional confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Defense, General Motors CEO Charles E. Wilson was asked whether he would be able to make a decision that conflicted with the interests of his company. His famous reply: “For years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”

Wilson had good reason to think so. In 1956, under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the U.S. government committed to pay for 90 percent of the cost of building 41,000 miles of interstate highways. The Eisenhower administration argued that we needed them in case of a military attack (the same justification that would be used in the 1960s for government funding of what would become the Internet). Of course, the interstate highway system also gave businesses and households a fundamental physical infrastructure for civilian purposes– from zipping products around the country to family road trips in the station wagon.

And it was also good for GM. Sales shot up and employment soared. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 10:00 am

Why workers should belong to unions

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A union is the only way for employees to balance the enormous power the employer wields—Thomas Geoghegan writes about this in his wonderful book Which Side Are You On?: Trying to be for Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back: a white-collar worker who had been unfairly fired took his employer to court but only one of his colleagues would testify on his behalf: the shop foreman, who belonged to a union and could testify in court without fear of reprisals from the employer. The guy’s other colleagues, also white-collar workers, did not belong to a union and thus were afraid that if they told the truth in court they would have been fired.

Jake Blumgart has an interesting column on this at AlterNet:

On March 16, at least 14 employees of the Elizabeth R. Wellborn law firm, located in Deerfield Beach, Florida, wore orange shirts to work. For this style choice, they were marched into a conference room and summarily fired. Wellborn’s husband declared that the shirts were a protest against working conditions at the 275-worker law firm, and that management would not stand for such behavior. (Early reporting claimed the workers’ dress merely signified a way to easily organize a happy hour outing, although it later came out that while that was true for some, others were dressed in the color of prison uniforms to protest draconian new work rules.)

Aren’t such tyrannical, arbitrary and callous acts illegal? Can management just throw you out on your ear, upending your life and endangering your ability to support yourself, for wearing the wrong shirt? Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, right?


The First Amendment and many of the Constitution’s other protections only extend to the government, not to private employers. Freedom of speech and expression are not protected in the private-sector, nonunion workplace. You could be fired for, say, wearing a pin advocating a particular political party. You could also be fired for sporting a smiley face pin.

“People assume they have a lot more protection at work than they actually do,” says Judith M. Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Center (NELP). “People also assume they have some right to be treated decently, and fairly, and respectfully at the workplace. They have the right to freedom from discrimination based on certain immutable characteristics like sex, race and age, but as long as treatment at work isn’t related to one of those characteristics you can be treated badly with no legal recourse. It’s kind of a free-for-all.”

According to Donna Ballman, the labor lawyer six of the Wellborn employees have retained, the workers had no idea their jobs could be imperiled by their choice of clothing color. “Who would?” Ballman responded in an email message. “Most Americans think your employer must have a good reason to fire you.”

But for the most part, American workers labor under the auspices of employment-at-will, a doctrine that allows employers near total control to hire, fire and promote, for good reasons, bad reasons or no reason at all. Employment-at-will is a principle that dates back to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:54 am

BPA in your food: “No problem,” says FDA.

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And speaking of what you’re eating these days, how’s the BPA? Tom Philpott of Mother Jones discusses how the US increasingly stands along in having its citizens eat this stuff:

Bisphenol A, a controversial chemical used in the lining of nearly all cans used by the food and beverage industry, got a reprieve from the government last week. Responding to a court order to decide on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s petition to ban the stuff on the grounds that it causes harm even in tiny doses, the Food and Drug Administration rejected the petition and upheld its approval of BPA.

That’s good news for some of the globe’s biggest chemical companies. According to Bloomberg News, the global BPA market is worth about $8 billion, with about a quarter of total production going into cans. (The rest goes into polycarbonate plastics, which end up in everything from water bottles to DVDs.) Bloomberg adds that the three biggest suppliers of BPA to the American market are the chemical/steel giant Saudi Basic Industries Corp.—which is 70 percent owned by the Saudi government—the German chemical giant Bayer, and Dow, its US rival. Globally, reports the US Department of Agriculture, Bayer and Dow produce “the bulk” of BPA.

While their executives had reason to cheer the FDA’s decision, consumers have reason to groan. The FDA’s own research shows that BPA leaches from can linings into food, and a 2011 Harvard study found BPA at heightened levels in people who regularly consume canned soup.

BPA is what is known as an endocrine disrupter, meaning that it has a range of effects on human development at minute doses. And Friday’s decision comes less than a month after the release of a major study of endocrine disruptors by a range of scientists, including some from the US Department of Health and Human Services, who found “strong evidence” that BPA negatively affects the prostate at low doses and “undisputed evidence” that it does so for mammary glands.

And that’s not all. A 2008 study published in the Journal of American Medicine looked at urinary BPA levels in 1,455 US adults and examined health outcomes controlling for “age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, smoking, body mass index, [and] waist circumference.” The result: the higher the BPA concentration in people’s urine, the higher their incidence of cardiovascular trouble and diabetes. Of course, correlation is not causation—something besides BPA could have caused the increase in health troubles. But given that the scientists controlled for a range of obvious factors, and that that BPA has proven hazardous in the laboratory, those results give plenty of reason for alarm.

Now, it’s true that there remains a good amount of uncertainty in the science of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which is relatively new. The FDA seized upon that uncertainty to justify its decision. “While evidence from some studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans,” the agency wrote in a statement following the decision. But as Time‘s Bryan Walsh put it, “For most public-health advocates, chemicals like BPA should be guilty until proved innocent—and they feel there’s more than enough data out there to cast doubt on BPA’s innocence.”

It’s worth noting that alternatives to BPA are already out there and working, as my colleague Kiera Butler showed back in 2010: . . .

Continue reading. The FDA in this case is more interested in protecting industry than the public, something that happens to regulatory agencies, which probably should be reconstituted and refocused every 20 years to combat shifting focus and loyalty.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:52 am

Killing people at a great distance, by pressing a button

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The Wife will undoubtedly have some critical thoughts about the user interface, but I think that’s the least of the problems in our new way of killing people. Jefferson Morley reports in Salon:

So you want to be a drone pilot? Have a seat in the operator’s control station that guides the remotely piloted aircraft. You could be sitting in a trailer on Creech Air Force Base in Nevada or doing your duty at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. From this perch, you can see a battle space on the other side of the world. You are virtually on the front lines of war.

One of the screens in front of you has a live full-motion video feed from the aircraft (perhaps showing the home of an anti-American sheik and his family in Pakistan or Afghanistan). A second screen has mission data like the altitude of the drone and its fuel level. A third screen displays multilayered menus of more data. You can steer the drone with the joystick in your right hand; the pedals beneath your feet control its rudder. But if you want to turn on the autopilot, it will require 22 keystrokes on one of several available keyboards.

Your partner, the “sensor operator” seated next to you, controls the camera. He or she can zoom in on the face of the man you are hunting. Is this target a danger to the United States? The keyboard in front of you enables you to communicate with a JAG (or a CIA lawyer) to make sure that your target qualifies under the Rules of Engagement. You have audio contact with the Combat Air Command Center in Qatar, which must authorize the firing of missiles. When it does, you push the button on the joystick and send the missile on its way. Then, an explosion. If you want, the sensor operator can train the camera on the wreckage.

If you don’t feel comfortable in this seat, you’re not alone. When the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board studied the drone operator control stations last year, it found no less than 17 flaws in the “poorly designed” system, including “poor ergonomics” and ill-conceived input systems, like the autopilot activation. While much of the drone war remains shrouded in official secrecy, the Air Force’s ongoing campaign to improve the ground control station provides a window into America’s newest way of war. (I found details in a couple of reports at Public Intelligence, a WikiLeaks-type site that publishes closely held government reports.)

The story of the ergonomically correct drone war has two threads: the White House imperative to reduce civilian casualties and the Pentagon’s duty to find pilots willing to live with inflicting them. As long as civilian authorities want to mount drone attacks (and the Obama administration has ordered four times as many as the Bush administration), the military must respond. For active-duty military people, the ethical questions are necessarily subordinated to a human engineering challenge. How do you get enlisted people to kill long distance?

“A more human-friendly control station”

The problems with the current operator system is that it was designed for engineers, not pilots, say drone specialists. The original drone was just an aerial surveillance vehicle; missiles were not added until 2001. Then with American forces at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, many commanding officers in difficult situations demanded this efficient new weapon for tracking and eliminating perceived enemies.

“There was a lot of time pressure to get them on the theater,” says George B. Harrison,  a retired general and consultant to the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. Harrison said the current operating system is “usable” and its deficiencies correctable. “Considerable research and a lot of effort is going into designing a more human-friendly control station.”

“It can be very confusing for the operators,” admits Missy Cummings, a professor at MIT who also serves on the AFSAB. “Things haven’t been optimized.  It’s a system problem across all operating stations.”

Finding people to pilot the drones has proved unexpectedly difficult. The ground control station had many flaws that required work-arounds, such as accessing fuel gauge information and creating more work space. Accidents were common. One pilot mistook the “kill engine” button for the adjacent landing gear switch, resulting in the crash of a $4.5 million Predator drone.  The pilots of traditional manned vehicles who moved in remotely piloted aircraft did not always make the best drone operators. A lot of people dropped out of the program and retention was low.

There are reports of post-traumatic stress disorder and many more of sheer boredom. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:43 am

Pink Slime is just the tip of a very gross iceberg of food-industry tricks

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You don’t like the idea of eating “pink slime” (or having it fed to your kids, as will continue to be done)? Mark Bitman explains what it is:

Lean Finely Textured Beef [commonly called "pink slime" in the food industry - LG] was born about 10 years ago, as an attempt to eliminate E. coli from ground beef. Using fatty beef trimmings, which are especially susceptible to E. coli and salmonella contamination, B.P.I. created a product that could be sprayed with ammonia (yes, that stuff, referred to by B.P.I.’s former quality assurance manager as “Mr. Clean,” in this dramatic piece by Michele Simon) to kill the bacteria. It was then mixed with “normal” ground beef. Voilà: safe hamburgers.

Except that despite B.P.I.’s claim that the ammonia treatment killed E. coli and salmonella, and despite the U.S.D.A.’s support for this process, those pathogens have been found in B.P.I. meat.[1] Oops.

That’s the most innocuous part of his column. He continues:

But there’s an irony: the stuff is gross, for sure, but it’s far from the most disgusting meat product out there, and at least its origins reflect an attempt to make meat safer. Some argue, correctly, that other processed meats are much worse, and that ammonia isn’t nearly the most egregious chemical that’s approved for use on meat without your knowing it.[2]

Besides, pink slime could conceivably even be helping: According to the Centers for Disease Control, E. coli O157:H7 illnesses are down 48 percent over the last decade. (And, as my colleague Andy Revkin points out, some 1.5 million additional cattle will need to be raised and slaughtered to fill the “pink slime gap.”)

Yet the public outcry over pink slime is justified, encouraging and impressively effective. (The response by some food safety officials that it’s misguided, and that only “experts” should be determining how food is processed, is shameful.[3]) And this is how it’s going to be from now on; public pressure will increasingly determine policy, and not only in food: “Before the Internet,” says Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer, “companies and governments simply made decisions, assuming the public didn’t need to know or even care what was in their food. That is no longer the case. . . .

Assuming that you eat food you purchase in stores (as opposed to growing and hunting all your own food), I think you’d better read his column. It’s about the stuff the food industry is having you eat.

Probably best not to read it while you’re eating.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:35 am

Smart pebbles: First step toward smart sand

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3-D copying by the substrate of which the copy is made: TYD passes along an article that describes the future of this:

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:27 am

Posted in Science, Technology

For fans of The Game of Thrones

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Read the real-life version. I just ordered Weir’s book from for $1.73 (in hardback, good condition).

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:22 am

Posted in Books

The risk of forgoing vaccines

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Although some movie stars have, through their own research, established to their satisfaction that vaccines are dangerous, actual scientists also have looked at the risks inherent in not getting vaccines. Juliette K. Tinker, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Boise State University, posts at The Scientist:

In his book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins devises a population of birds to explain reciprocal altruism. In this population, there is a deadly disease that is spread by ticks. The birds can groom themselves to remove ticks, and thus protect themselves from disease, in all but one spot—the top of the head. On that spot, they must rely on other birds to remove their ticks. Thus, for the birds in this population to survive, they must work together. If they don’t, and some birds decide to “cheat” by having their ticks removed by “suckers,” but not reciprocating, the population will suffer.  As fewer and fewer birds help their peers remove ticks, the population will become overrun with disease.

Given the direct benefit to the individual of immunity against disease, vaccination, is not completely altruistic.  However, immunization provides a significant benefit to society. One can liken a human newborn, or a person who cannot get vaccinated, to a vulnerable bird with ticks on the top of its head.  As individuals, we cannot fully protect these people from infectious disease, and instead we rely on herd immunity. If society is made up mostly of “suckers” that have expended the energy and cost to get vaccinated, then the vulnerable will be protected due to the absence or reduction of disease transmission. But if a significant percentage of individuals decides against vaccination, for one reason or another, we may lose herd immunity, and infectious disease will spread.

Unfortunately, we are beginning to see signs of this phenomenon, due in part to parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of the fear that it could cause autism—the now completely debunked message delivered by Andrew Wakefield in 1998.

In 2010, Idaho was ranked last in the country for routine childhood vaccination rates. Low rates have been a trend in this state for the last several years, and are likely due to limited access to vaccines as well as vaccine refusal.  According to the National Immunization Survey, Idaho has only a 63.7 percent vaccination rate for the early childhood vaccination schedule (aged 19-35 months). These rates of vaccination are nowhere near the 85-95 percent levels required for herd immunity protection against most diseases. Unfortunately this means many children in Idaho are running the risk of diseases like pertussis, measles, and meningitis.  And Idaho is not alone; other states, such as Montana, New Jersey, and Utah, also report low rates for early routine vaccinations. These rates are lower than some developing countries, and while overall childhood vaccination in the United States remains reassuringly high (levels at 90 percent or higher on average), these pockets of vulnerability are very concerning to public health officials.

Indeed, we are already seeing evidence of disease reemergence. In 2000, there was no endemic transmission of measles in United States, and this disease was declared eliminated. However, measles is one of the most transmissible diseases on earth, requiring vaccination rates of higher than 95 percent to achieve herd immunity. And in 2011, the country had more than 200 cases, many of which were imported from Europe, which is currently experiencing large measles outbreaks, with over 26,000 cases in 36 countries, as reported by the World Health Organization. Whooping cough is also on the rise. From January to October 2010, there were 455 infants hospitalized in California and 10 deaths due to Bordetella pertussis, the highest number of cases in over 60 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Parental refusal has contributed to this increase in disease transmission.  It is clear that Andrew Wakefield’s work, though it has been thoroughly debunked and removed from the literature, is far from forgotten.

As a scientist I recognize that we are not always the best communicators. When it comes to vaccines, this is particularly relevant. It is not enough to make safe vaccines that protect people from disease; we must convince the public that they are safe and effective. This may be a tall order given the current cultural climate, but one that is imperative for immunization programs to be effective. Showing data and statistics that refute claims by detractors does not do much to stop the spread of fear about vaccine safety.  However, there are real lives that are saved by vaccines, and information about vaccine-preventable diseases may be the best way to inform. Among the many differences between us and the tick-pickers is that we are capable of seeing the future and the need to protect the population. Even if this means we have to go against individualism and act a little bit like a sucker.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:17 am

The GOP hates your personal privacy

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In an authoritarian state, the only secrets allowed are the secrets of powerful organizations: the US government (cf. Obama’s unrelenting and vicious persecution of whistleblowers) and businesses (see starred David Sirota report below). In particular, private citizens cannot have secrets. NSA is already logging all electronic communications and trolling through them for terms and phrases and looking for patterns of various kinds. And now the GOP wants to allow companies to force you to give them your Facebook password as a condition of employment. (Indeed, companies would love to strip you of all your rights as a condition of employment if they only could, but we’re not there yet. They have, however, insulated themselves from lawsuits in many cases, forcing employees to agree n advance to binding arbitration, the arbitrators selected and paid by the company (so what could possibly be unfair about that?).

Michael McAuliff reports at Huffington Post:

House Republicans blocked a measure Tuesday night that would have let the Federal Communications Commission prevent employers from forcing workers to reveal their Facebook passwords.

Democrats offered the legislation as part of bill to slap new restrictions on FCC rules after a string of reports about employers insisting on access to social media accounts — a practice that some senators already want investigated by the Justice Department.

“It only makes sense because those that are using these kinds of social media have an expectation of privacy,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), offering the Democratic motion on the House floor. “They have an expectation that their right to free speech or their right to free religion will be respected when they use these social media outlets.”

He added that “if an employer wants to pose as or impersonate the individual who had to turn over their confidential password, that employer, I think, will be able to reach into personal, private information of the user… or of the person who’s communicating with them.”

“If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password,” Perlmutter said.

The measure failed, 184 to 236, with one Republican voting for it.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, argued that the Democratic provision did not help.

“You don’t protect the consumer,” Walden said. “And there are many of us who after this debate concludes and moves on, would be happy to work with you on legislation because I think this is a real issue that we all share, and that is protecting privacy. This doesn’t do that.”

Walden also referred to the time-lapse between when the FCC writes a rule and when it is published. “In fact, you could open the door where they (the FCC) could allow employers and licensees to go after your stuff and you wouldn’t know until they published the rule,” he said.


*Here’s how states are helping businesses hide corporate wrong-doing from the public: one hand washes the other. David Sirota reports in Salon:

You can’t be outraged by — or fight back against — what you don’t know. At least that seems to be the theory behind a spate of new government-backed efforts to help corporations prevent inconvenient information from ever reaching the public domain. In states across the country, as in Washington, D.C., lawmakers are helping companies keep secrets in everything from factory farming to fossil fuel exploration to home foreclosures.

In five states, for instance, so-called Ag Gag laws are now on the books. Iowa just passed legislation that “criminalizes investigative journalists and animal protection advocates who take entry-level jobs at factory farms in order to document the rampant food safety and animal welfare abuses within,” according to the Atlantic’s Cody Carlson.

The impetus for such laws is obvious: After a series of damning videos of factory farms abusing animals, Big Ag faced a consumer backlash. But rather than make its facilities more humane, it has opted to spend its cash on lobbyists and court cases aimed at preventing the public from ever seeing the atrocities in the first place. Accomplishing that means pioneering new legal theories that threaten to set dangerous new precedents curtailing some of the most basic First Amendment freedoms we take for granted.

Over in the world of energy, it’s much the same thing. Last month in Pennsylvania, the oil and gas industry successfully lobbied state legislators to ban physicians from telling patients what toxic fracking chemicals they may have been exposed to. As Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports, “While companies must disclose the identity and amount of any chemicals used in fracking fluids to any health professional that requests that information … the new bill requires those health professionals to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they will not disclose that information to anyone else — not even the person they’re trying to treat.”

At least doctors in Pennsylvania get to see some basic information about the industry’s toxic brew, which is more than health professionals in other states have been able to say in recent years. Indeed, in 2008, an emergency room nurse nearly died after being exposed to a company’s fracking chemicals and, according to High Country News, the company cited a trade secrets law in “refus(ing) to provide more specific information (about the chemicals) to the hospital once she fell ill.” That left her “intensive-care doctor to guess what to do as he tried to keep her alive.” This possibility still exists in states that still do not fully mandate disclosure of fracking chemicals.

In the housing sector, you probably assume you at least have a right to see relevant documents related to your imminent home foreclosure. After all, with that basic information, you might stand a chance of going to court and preventing a bank from illegally throwing you out of your home. Yet, if you live in Colorado, your assumption about being able to see such information would be wrong.

With details of the financial industry’s document shredding and robo-signing scandals still leaking out, the Denver Post reports that Republicans in the Legislature there voted down a bill simply “requiring that lenders prove their right to foreclose on a home.” That means Colorado remains the only state to “allow for a foreclosure without the lender first proving” it has the legal right to repossess a person’s domicile. With the GOP so successfully defeating the reform proposal in the face of public outrage at bank fraud, look for the financial industry to try to get state governments to set the same “no doc foreclosure” precedent all over the country.

Then there are corporate taxes, perhaps the most egregious area in which the government uses its power to shield politically significant information. As the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports, “neither the SEC nor most state governments require corporations to release detailed information on their state corporate tax payments” — which deliberately makes it “hard to identify which corporations are not paying their fair share at the state level.” At the federal level, after corporate tax disclosure laws made it onto the books in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were removed.Bloomberg News notes that the Financial Accounting Standards Board has the power to “make the income-tax returns of all companies with shares traded on U.S. stock markets available to the public,” but that it has refused — even in the wake of reports proving that many of the most profitable corporations are now paying no tax at all in America’s loophole-ridden tax system. The result is that the government empowers corporate management to prevent both companies’ shareholder-owners and the public at large from ever evaluating a firm’s tax compliance — or lack thereof.

Each of these examples — and the many others like them — are closely related to the concurrent corporate efforts to prevent labeling mandates. And as disparate as such examples may seem, they each prove that 21st-century capitalism and old-school Orwellian control are not polar opposites, as they are often portrayed. On the contrary, those two political forces now often coexist in a symbiotic relationship — one that uses state power to keep politically charged information hidden. The theory beneath the calculation is simple: Public ignorance equals corporate bliss.

With protest movements rising and the possibility of widespread social unrest a real possibility, we should expect that calculation to be more prevalent in our politics than ever.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:01 am

Yet another great shave, again with ARC Weber (and ASP)

with 12 comments

I do like the shaving creams from, and I just received a matching balm, which I had to try immediately.

The fragrance of Palermo is quite nice—a cedar forest is my image—and it works up a fine lather. Above you see the Thäter brush in “smooth” format: I brushed the (hooked) tips of the dry brush across my hand, and the brush looks normal once more. But it does generate a wonderful lather, feels great, and the clean wet bristle tips do indeed feel “tacky” to my finger.

Three passes of the ARC Weber, still with its original Astra Superior Platinum blade, and once again: wonderful shave!

The balm is thick, fragrant, and leaves the skin feeling fine. Another fine product.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 8:43 am

Posted in Shaving


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