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Archive for October 2012

A failure of American journalists

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Wen Stephenson has an excellent article in The Phoenix:

On October 2, I led a climate protest inside the offices of the Boston Globe.

OK, it was really a meeting in a small conference room with editorial page editor Peter Canellos and members of his staff. But it was, in essence, a protest.

I used to be a card-carrying member of the mainstream media; just a few years ago, I was the editor of the Globe‘s Ideas section. Peter is a former colleague.

With me was Craig Altemose, founder and executive director of Better Future Project, a Cambridge-based non-profit dedicated to climate action, on whose working board I serve as a volunteer. We were joined by two members of BFP’s advisory board: MIT’s Kerry Emanuel, one of the country’s leading climate scientists (and, until recently, a Republican); and Boston College’s Juliet Schor, a sociologist and economist who is a respected thinker on climate and the economy. Last year, Altemose was arrested protesting the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House along with another advisory board member, Bill McKibben of 350.org, and 1251 other concerned citizens.

After a quick round of introductions, I explained to my former Globe colleagues that I wasn’t there to “save the planet” or to protect some abstraction called “the environment.” I’m really not an environmentalist, and never have been. No, I said, I was there for my kids: my son, who’s 12, and my daughter, who’s 8. And not only my kids — all of our kids, everywhere. Because on our current trajectory, it’s entirely possible that we’ll no longer have a livable climate — one that allows for stable, secure societies to survive — within the lifetimes of today’s children.

And I told them that I was there, in that room, because the national conversation we’re having about this situation, this emergency, is utterly inadequate —or, really, nonexistent. And I looked Peter in the eye, and told him that I’m sorry, but that’s completely unacceptable to me. If we can’t speak honestly about this crisis — if we can’t lay it on the line — then how can we look at ourselves in the mirror?

Since I had requested the meeting, I told Peter that I hoped to frame the discussion around two points:

First: We need to see a much greater sense of urgency in the media’s coverage of climate change, including in the Globe‘s editorial and opinion pages. This is more than an environmental crisis: it’s an existential threat, and it should be treated like one, without fear of sounding alarmist, rather than covered as just another special interest, something only environmentalists care about. And it should be treated as a central issue in this election, regardless of whether the candidates or the political media are talking about it.

Second: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2012 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Global warming, Media

Making Mitt Romney’s tax plan work

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Dylan Matthews and Ezra Klein in the Washington Post have a cool interactive column that you can use to see how Romney’s budget will (or will not) balance the budget without adding new taxes. They write:

The two parties may not agree on much, but they do agree on this: It’s time to reform the tax code.

The last time the tax code got a deep clean was 1986. Since then, it has been clogged up with deductions, credits and loopholes that have made tax time a burden for individuals and tax decisions distortive for businesses. Eliminating many of these special carve-outs would pay for a reduction in tax rates, deficit reduction or perhaps even both.

But the minute one moves from that vague goal of making the tax code simpler into the knotty questions of what provisions of the tax code ought to be eliminated, the broad consensus breaks down. Should the next president limit the mortgage-interest deduction, and if so, by how much? Should he end the charitable deduction? What about the tax-free status of employer-provided health benefits?

These are the real questions of tax reform, and they’re often hidden by politicians who prefer to talk vaguely of “tax breaks and loopholes.” But if either President Obama or Mitt Romney attempts to “broaden the base and lower the rates,” those questions will be the only ones that matter.

To help make them clearer, we’ve worked with the analysts at Citizens for Tax Justice, and its sister organization the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, to create the Wonkblog Tax Reform Calculator. We in particular thank Matt Gardner at ITEP for running the numbers necessary for the simulation to work. Today’s version allows you to try and pay for Romney’s tax cuts by choosing which deductions and exemptions to eliminate. Tomorrow we’ll release a simulation based on Obama’s specifications and goals.

Romney’s tax plan

Romney’s tax plan is less a plan than a set of promises: A 20 percent cut to individual tax rates. A 30 percent cut to the corporate tax rate. No change to overall tax revenues. No cut in the tax burden of the rich. No increase in the tax burden of the middle class. No increase in taxes on savings and investment.

But if those promises are simple to explain, they’re almost impossible to keep simultaneously. And so the scrutiny of Romney’s tax reform plan has been of an odd sort. Rather than asking what policy choices Romney would make to achieve his goals, the debate has focused on whether, as a question of abstract math, his goals are achievable. (The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s analysis suggests they’re not.)

This simulator can’t answer that question. In order to keep the calculations manageable, we’ve had to sacrifice so-called distributional analysis, which estimates how much different income groups will pay. So this won’t tell you whether you’ve raised taxes on the middle class or cut them on the rich, though hopefully the descriptions and numbers we’ve included for each tax policy choice will give you a rough idea.

What the calculator does do is let you try and raise the $480 billion that the Tax Policy Center estimates Romney’s plan will cost in 2015 by doing exactly what Romney says he’s going to do if elected: Capping or ending deductions and closing loopholes. The simulation doesn’t include literally every deduction or exemption in the code. But it includes all of the major ones — including some Romney has taken off the table, like the preferential rate for capital gains income.

It will also let you do what Romney has said he won’t do: Raise taxes. After all, pledges get broken, and if Romney’s plan is going to balance out, he’s going to have to break at least a few of his previous promises. So we’re including a few possible new taxes and tax increases. Some of these are dramatic, like implementing a carbon tax or a European-style value-added tax (VAT). Others are more modest, such as a slight increase in the taxes on alcohol and gas. All the data are courtesy of ITEP, the Congressional Budget Office’s budget options or the Office on Management and Budget’s summary tables.

Remember that all the policies below serve purposes besides raising revenue. Gas and carbon taxes reduce the threat of global warming, and gas taxes reduce congestion, smog and other irritants as well. Alcohol taxes deter alcoholism and deaths from drunken driving. The charitable deduction is a crucial lifeline for artistic and philanthropic groups such as soup kitchens, regional theaters and churches, and the mortgage-interest deduction is a key subsidy for homeowners. So keep in mind while playing that you’re not just making Romney’s math balance out. You’re making policy. . .

Work the plan!

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2012 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Pork & sausage GOPM

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For new readers: Glorious One-Pot Meals (GOPMs), so named by Elizabeth Yarnell in her cookbook of that title, are cooked in a 2-qt cast-iron dutch oven. I use a 2.25-qt Staub round cocotte, which I think is terrific and clearly much better than the corresponding Le Creuset pot despite Le Creuset’s higher price. For example, the Le Creuset plastic knob can’t take high oven temperatures; the Staub pot has a metal knob with a slightly extended shaft that makes it easy to grasp while wearing oven mitts.

GOPMs are easy to make—you normally can ready the pot in the time it takes the oven to heat—and afterwards there is only one pot to clean. In addition, the meals are healthful: heavy on vegetables, light on fats, and using measured amounts of starches and proteins.

Spray or wipe the interior of the pot with olive oil, layer the ingredients, then cover and cook in a 450ºF oven for 45 minutes. They seem to be always delicious, but of course I layer foods I like, so I have a head start. Yarnell’s recipes tend toward blandness (a sprinkling of crushed red pepper helps), and for some reason she always specifies 4 servings of rice even though the 2-qt pot is intended to make two meals. (1/2 c uncooked rice is two servings; she always uses 1 cup uncooked rice. Go figure.) But after you’ve made one or two GOPMs, you’ll find it easy to create your own recipes: two servings starch, 8 oz protein, and the rest of the pot is filled with vegetables, with the pour-over adding some oil (the vinaigrette in this case). For myself, I often use 1/3 c uncooked rice instead of 1/2 c: slightly less than two servings.

My next GOPM for The Wife, with layers listed from bottom up (that is, in the order in which you add to the pot):

1/2 c converted rice
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 spicy Italian pork sausage, sliced into rounds
2-3 shallots, chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
1 boneless pork chop, cut into chunks
good sprinkling of Penzey’s “Mural of Flavor” seasoning
1-2 handfuls chopped celery
1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
3 smallish purple carrots, chopped
1 yellow crookneck squash, diced
Chopped red cabbage to fill pot

Pour-over:

2 Tbsp vinaigrette (Penzey’s Country French Vinaigrette seasoning mixed with olive oil and sherry vinegar according to the label instructions)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp Amontillado Sherry
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

UPDATE: Very tasty, as usual. Putting the sausage on the rice worked out well.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2012 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Food, GOPM, Recipes

Emergency kit

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We are now in for many extreme weather events, which will get extremer as we go. This post on emergency gear may be of interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2012 at 11:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Flowchart to choose a board game

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The flowchart is big:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2012 at 10:52 am

Posted in Games

Plastic bulletproofing: How it works

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Interesting analysis of how plastics stop bullets. Rachel Ehrenberg writes in Science News:

You don’t have to be a caped superhero to stop a speeding bullet. Scientists have created a material that demonstrates how common plastics can bring projectiles traveling faster than a kilometer per second to a screeching halt. Similar materials might be used to make supertough lightweight body armor, or coatings to protect jet engine components or spacecraft from flying debris.

“This may provide a way to make new materials that are more durable,” says Catherine Brinson, a specialist in advanced materials at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who was not involved with the work. “There may be applications for anything that is impacted at high speeds — body armor, satellites — anything that you don’t want destroyed.”

Experiments that shoot projectiles into the new material at breakneck speeds suggest that it goes through a weird, liquidlike phase that envelops the miniature bullets without cracking the material. The ballistics tests suggest that the material’s parallel layers of glassy and rubbery ingredients enhance its bullet-stopping power by 30 percent, an international team reports online October 30 in Nature Communications.

Some polymers such as hardened polyurethane are tangles of both hard and soft components at the microscopic level and are known for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2012 at 10:26 am

Posted in Science

Climate change, extreme weather events, farming, and our food supply

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They all tie together, and the connections are obvious and now undeniable. Tom Philpott has a good article in Mother Jones on the topic. From the article:

. . . In 2005, the sixth-most powerful hurricane ever recorded blitzed into the Mississippi River Delta region, flattening $900 million worth of crops. Just two years after Katrina, a “500-year flood” visited the Midwestern corn belt—which, as the US Geological Survey pointed out at the time, marked the second “500-year flood” in 15 years. In 2011, Texas suffered the most severe 12-month drought in its recorded history, resulting in a stunning $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses, eclipsing the state’s previous record high in crop losses set just five years earlier. Then came last August’s Hurricane Irene, which deluged farmlands and destroyed crops from Puerto Rico to Canada, taking a particular toll on farmers in Vermont and New York State. This summer, farmers in the Midwest suffered the worst drought in a generation—which cut into crop yields and sparked yet another global hunger crisis. And now comes unprecedented “superstorm” Sandy. . .

The culprit for routine “extreme weather” is becoming obvious. Cary writes that “scientists used to say, cautiously, that extreme weather events were ‘consistent’ with the predictions of climate change.” There were lingering questions about whether extreme weather events were on the rise—or whether people were just paying increased attention to them. That idea has crumbled under the weight of data. Cary quotes Peter Höppe, head of the European reinsurance giant Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Center, who “has compiled the world’s most comprehensive database of natural disasters, reaching all the way back to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79″:

Our figures indicate a trend towards an increase in extreme weather events that can only be fully explained by climate change… It’s as if the weather machine had changed up a gear.

Even US government scientists acknowledge the connection. “Now we can make the statement that particular events would not have happened the same way without global warming,” Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), tells Carey.

What does the rise of a hyper-volatile climate mean for farms—and our food supply? . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2012 at 10:23 am

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