Later On

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

Mending the broken world in which we live

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Today’s posts following my shaving post have focus on how badly broken is the world in which we live. The question then is: How do we respond. In looking at the levels of corruption, cruelty, and cynicism that seems to pervade the business world and the government, one can feel why the Old Testament God destroyed the world with the Flood, and then found Himself destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. One wants to smash evildoers, but it is impractical on a large scale (one becomes an evildoer in the process).

I recently saw a good movie Leaves of Grass, and the Ed Norton character talks to a rabbi about what amounts to this very issue. The answer she gave him was to talk about tikkun olam, a concept from Judaism that acknowledges that the world is broken and that our best response is to do what we can in daily life to repair it. This is better than Voltaire’s answer in Candide: Dr. Pangloss retreating to tending his garden and ignoring the world. And it’s better than simply giving up. Whether it can work—do many small repairs really help with the major structure—is an open question, but the key is this: It is all that we can do. So it’s that, or abandon all hope.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 9:58 am

Posted in Daily life

Tax-software businesses fight tax-return simplification

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An incredibly cynical and mean-spirited—but very vigorous—effort is underway to prevent the government from simplifying filing tax returns. The power behind the effort: companies that sell tax-preparation software. I know that many will think, “So what? Business as usual.” Our expectation nowadays is that business decisions are made without any regard for morality, that morality does not belong in the business world, and any moral concern must immediately defer to profit.

This is an enormously bad idea and trend. It means, for example, that businesses are free to poison our drinking water if that is profitable for them. So they do it. Repeatedly, while we simply watch, get sick, and die.

Liz Day writes in ProPublica of the current effort to screw the public:

Over the last year, a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on a remarkably obscure topic.

Each railed against a long-standing proposal that would give taxpayers the option to use pre-filled tax returns. They warned that the program would be a conflict of interest for the IRS and would especially hurt low-income people, who wouldn’t have the resources to fight inaccurate returns. Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote in a Jewish Journal op-ed that he “shudder[s] at the impact this program will have on the most vulnerable people in American society.”

“It’s alarming and offensive” that the IRS would target the “the most vulnerable Americans,” two other letters said. The concept, known as return-free filing, is a government “experiment” that would mean higher taxes for the poor, two op-eds argued.

The letters and op-eds don’t mention that, as ProPublica laid out last year, return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Or that, under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. Or that the concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe.

So, where did the letters and op-eds come from? Here’s one clue:

Rabbi Dorff says he was approached by a former student, Emily Pflaster, who sent him details and asked him to write an op-ed alerting the Jewish community to the threat.

What Pflaster did not tell him is that she works for a PR and lobbying firm with connections to Intuit, the maker of best-selling tax software TurboTax.

“I wish she would have told me that,” Dorff told ProPublica.

The website of Pflaster’s firm, JCI Worldwide, had listed Intuit among its clients, but removed it after ProPublica contacted them. Pflaster said Intuit had been listed by mistake, but added that the firm does work for the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade group of which Intuit is a member. Pflaster also said her firm has reached out to multiple groups and encouraged them to share information about the “flaws” of return-free filing.

The only CCIA member that’s involved with tax preparation software is Intuit, and it’s also the only member of the group that has taken a public position on return-free tax filing.

Intuit has long worked against return-free filing. (See How the Maker of TurboTax Fought Free, Simple Tax Filing.) The company has said in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it views free government tax preparation as a risk to its business.

Last year, the company spent more than $2.6 million on lobbying, some of it to lobby on four bills related to the issue, federal lobbying records show.

Both Intuit and CCIA declined to answer questions about their connections to the letters and op-eds. . .

Continue reading. There’s a good graphic at the link.

To my mind, this is close enough to evil as to make no difference.

Here’s a ProPublic podcast on the subject.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business, Government

It’s official: NSA is free to use (and keep secret) Internet security flaws it finds

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Thus, I imagine, the Heartbleed Bug, which for two years has left an open door for hackers to get data, including passwords, encryption keys, and the link, was discovered and used by NSA for two years before someone else found it and blew the whistle. Our government seems to have no serious interest in protecting consumers and businesses—well, we knew that from the slipshod and even criminal performance of the SEC, NHTSA (which refused to investigated the ignition-switch problem for 8 years), the FDA, and so on. Our Federal government is breaking down rapidly.

David Sanger reports in the NY Times:

Stepping into a heated debate within the nation’s intelligence agencies, President Obama has decided that when the National Security Agency discovers major flaws in Internet security, it should — in most [some? - LG] circumstances — reveal them to assure that they will be fixed, rather than keep mum so that the flaws can be used in espionage or cyberattacks, senior administration officials said Saturday. [But they surely didn't reveal the Heartbleed Bug, did they? - LG]

But Mr. Obama carved a broad exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the N.S.A. to continue to exploit security flaws both to crack encryption on the Internet and to design cyberweapons.

The White House has never publicly detailed Mr. Obama’s decision, which he made in January as he began a three-month review of recommendations by a presidential advisory committee on what to do in response to recent disclosures about the National Security Agency.

But elements of the decision became evident on Friday, when the White House denied that it had any prior knowledge of the Heartbleed bug, a newly known hole in Internet security that sent Americans scrambling last week to change their online passwords. The White House statement said that when such flaws are discovered, there is now a “bias” in the government to share that knowledge with computer and software manufacturers so a remedy can be created and distributed to industry and consumers.

Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the review of the recommendations was now complete, and it had resulted in a “reinvigorated” process to weigh the value of disclosure when a security flaw is discovered, against the value of keeping the discovery secret for later use by the intelligence community.

“This process is biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities,” she said.

Until now, the White House has declined to say what action Mr. Obama had taken on this recommendation of the president’s advisory committee, whose report is better known for its determination that the government get out of the business of collecting bulk telephone data about the calls made by every American. Mr. Obama announced last month that he would end the bulk collection, and leave the data in the hands of telecommunications companies, with a procedure for the government to obtain it with court orders when needed.

But while the surveillance recommendations were noteworthy, inside the intelligence agencies other recommendations, concerning encryption and cyber operations, set off a roaring debate with echoes of the Cold War battles that dominated Washington a half-century ago.

One recommendation urged the N.S.A. to get out of the business of weakening commercial encryption systems or trying to build in “back doors” that would make it far easier for the agency to crack the communications of America’s adversaries. Tempting as it was to create easy ways to break codes — the reason the N.S.A. was established by Harry S. Truman 62 years ago — the committee concluded that the practice would undercut trust in American software and hardware products. In recent months, Silicon Valley companies have urged the United States to abandon such practices, while Germany and Brazil, among other nations, have said they were considering shunning American-made equipment and software. Their motives were hardly pure: Foreign companies see the N.S.A. disclosures as a way to bar American competitors.

Another recommendation urged the government to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 9:31 am

SEC Prosecutor Says SEC Top Brass Are Corrupt

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The SEC pretty clearly currently sees it job as running interference for Wall Street against the Federal government, becoming an agency that protects rather than regulates Wall Street. The degree to which the SEC studiously avoided investigating Bernie Madoff is one prime example, but the trend continues.

Eric Zuesse has an article in Counterpunch that the SEC is simply corrupt. He spells out the evidence in detail.

Robert Schmidt’s article in Bloomberg News spells out the case an SEC prosecutor made in his retirement speech against SEC leadership. That article begins:

A trial attorney from the Securities and Exchange Commission said his bosses were too “tentative and fearful” to bring many Wall Street leaders to heel after the 2008 credit crisis, echoing the regulator’s outside critics.

James Kidney, who joined the SEC in 1986 and retired this month, offered the critique in a speech at his goodbye party. His remarks hit home with many in the crowd of SEC lawyers and alumni thanks to a part of his resume not publicly known: He had campaigned internally to bring charges against more executives in the agency’s 2010 case against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)

The SEC has become “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney said, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by Bloomberg News. “On the rare occasions when enforcement does go to the penthouse, good manners are paramount. Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening.” . . .

And Pam Martens at Wall Street on Parade reviews the corruption of Wall Street and the SEC in a good summary article. From that article:

On June 28, 2006, Gary Aguirre, a former SEC attorney, testified before the U.S. Senate on the Judiciary. During his final days at the SEC, Aguirre had pushed to serve a subpoena on John Mack, the powerful former official of Morgan Stanley, to take testimony about his potential involvement in insider trading. Mack was protected; Aguirre was fired via a phone call while on vacation — just three days after contacting the Office of Special Counsel to discuss the filing of a complaint about the SEC’s protection of Mack.

Aguirre told the Senate hearing that the SEC had thrown a “roadblock” in his investigation because the suspected insider trader had “powerful political connections.” Aguirre returned on December 5, 2006 to testify further before the Senate Judiciary Committee, providing the following additional insights: . . .

These three articles are worth reading to understand how utterly our institutions (and the Obama Administration) have failed us in reining in Wall Street. Of course, Obama got a substantial amount of campaign money contributed from Wall Street. I assume letting Wall Street do as it wants was the quid pro quo.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 8:55 am

A pleasant surprise: Later On in a list of good shaving sites

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I just learned that Later On has been included in a list of good shaving sites. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 8:37 am

Posted in Shaving

Super-smooth Monday shave: Fluffy brush, good soap, iKon slant

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SOTD 14 Apr 2014

Really terrific shave today: easy and BBS outcome.

I was talking about brush characteristics on Wicked_Edge, and I am pushing for “fluffy” as descriptors for very soft brushes like the Omega silvertip in the photo. “Floppy” is commonly used, but (so far as I can tell) virtually always by someone who doesn’t like such brushes, so that the word has acquired (to my ear) a pejorative connotation. I can quite understand someone preferring a “scrubby” to a “fluffy” brush—personal preferences vary widely, as you’ve doubtless noted—but since some prefer such brushes, I thought a neutral term was best. And in fact they do not flop in use: they’re simply very soft. (I did hear from one person who said that lather lies everywhere when he uses such brushes, and I’ve since been trying to picture his lathering technique. The only thing I can come up with is slapping one’s face with the lathered brush. That’s not the technique I use, and the lather, though abundant, thick, and creamy, is well behaved.)

The Omega silvertip brush shown is one of my fluffiest and a real pleasure to feel as it caresses my face while filed with a thick, luxurious, abundant lather, this morning fragrant of coconut. Honeybee Soaps are excellent, and the pack of samples is well worth trying.

Face lathered, the iKon Slant with a Personna Lab Blue blade easily wiped off the stubble, and a good splash of Paul Sebastian aftershave—a favorite, as you see from the level in the bottle—finished the job. Like Stetson, PS includes tonka, which gives a very nice vanilla note to the fragrance.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 8:35 am

Posted in Shaving

Interesting psychological effect used by weight loss software

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I blogged earlier about the $5 OS X program Diet Controller, which I bought from the App Store. Most people nowadays have diet programs for their smartphones, but I still use dumb phones, so I wanted something on my computer.

The backstory: I lost a lot of weight, kept it off for a while but when I discontinued Pilates—which I liked a lot but finally realized I could not really afford—my weight gradually started creeping up over the months. Finally, I realized I had to Take Steps.

My main weakness is eating between meals—little snacks plus a bite here and a bit there—so my initial thought in getting the software was twofold: first, I would get a better idea of my caloric intake, and second, that writing down snacks and bites (and I’m very good at recording this: skipping entries distorts the data, and I’m the only one looking at it, so why not enter all food?) would make me conscious of what I was doing, and if I ate the snack anyway, at least I would know the caloric impact.

But Diet controller turned out to be a much better program than I expected. First, the user interface is very nice. Second, it has an interesting psychological aspect. Looking at the calories has helped it itself, but the program also has graphs of the “calorie balance” (which I tend to call the calorie deficit). The calorie deficit is the difference between the number of calories required in a day and the number of calories consumed that day.

The number of calories required per day is computer from a basic metabolism rate computer from weight, age, and general activity level (sedentary, for me) and the number of calories expended in exercise, which is entered in the exercise log. (No entries yet for me.)

Obviously, a positive calorie deficit is good—you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, so body fat is burned to make up the deficit—and a negative calorie deficit is bad. When you see the deficit chart day to day, somehow one becomes motivated to increase the deficit, and increasing something is more psychologically satisfying than decreasing something. So although the only way to increase the calorie deficit is to cut back on calories consumed, by focusing on increasing something (or at least maintaining what has been achieved) is psychologically more appealing than trying to make something smaller (calories consumed). Here’s one such graph (the program has several ways of viewing the deficit). It’s for 20 days (you can select number of days), and I started using the program on 30 March. You’ll notice the deficit went negative (i.e., I consumed more calories than I burned) at first, but then I start to figure it out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.34.46 PM

It really is an excellent little program, and very nicely done. $5. Amazing.

That blowout on 3 April was because I made myself a big batch of oyster stew, which included 12 oz shucked oysters (555 calories) along with butter, flour, and whole milk. Delicious, but… But you will notice I’m catching on.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2014 at 7:37 pm


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