Later On

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

Archive for December 29th, 2006

Distressing discovery: fleas on Megs

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So I borrowed a flea comb from The Wife and checked Megs for fleas. She has them. (With a British Shorthair it seems pretty much impossible to part the fur to look at the skin: the fur’s too thick.) I feel like a very bad person. I drove at once to Petco to get some Bayer Advantage for cats (under 9 lbs). Just gave the first dose to Megs, who doesn’t like it at all—and right now doesn’t like me all that much. But it acts quickly, and the fleas should all be dead by morning.

The question is: how did she get fleas? She’s an indoor kitty, and sees no other cats. It occurs to me that the cleaning lady might be a Flea Mary: she uses her vacuum cleaner, which she uses in other houses. If one of those houses has fleas, I bet the little flea eggs are carried along with the dust and blown out into my house. So from now on, she’ll use my vacuum.

Three more doses—only with the next ones, The Wife will help.

Another discovery: Petco on-line price for four doses is $38.99 (plus shipping and tax). In the store, $53.61 including tax. Via, $37.48 including shipping and tax. Next time, from Amazon. But I wanted to get it started tonight, so it was worth it this time.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Cats, Megs

Secularism in politics

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Susan Jacoby has an interesting column:

In nearly every interview about my book, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, I am asked whether I am an atheist or an agnostic. The bias—a profoundly American bias—implicit in this question is that only an “unbeliever” would want to write a historical work about the secular influences on the founding and development of our nation.

This question reflects the 25-year ascendancy of right-wing religiosity, which has fostered a general ignorance about and lack of respect for the Enlightenment rationalist side of the nation’s heritage.

Although I do not believe that atheism is in vogue at the moment, there is indeed more open discussion of the subject than there was when Freethinkers was published three years ago. This debate has been stimulated by three books—Sam Harris’s The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Both Harris and Dawkins have made the invaluable point—one that has yet to be absorbed by most Americans—that religion does not deserve any special exemption from criticism. Moreover, speaking openly about atheism works to dispel the notion that atheists have horns.

However, both atheism and secularism are still largely excluded from public dialogue about the proper role of religion in American politics—an omission that I consider much more important than pointless debates between believers and nonbelievers about the existence of God.

I have written NBC’s Tim Russert several times about the lack of secular representation on his many Meet the Press panels concerning the relationship between religion and politics. Mr. Russert has never responded to my letters. This subject was discussed once again on the show on Christmas Eve and, once again, there was no secular voice to be heard.

When the influence of religion on politics is analyzed in the press, the dialogue usually ranges from religious conservatism to religious liberalism. No secularists or atheists need apply.

Much of what has gone disastrously wrong in American policy, especially foreign policy, in recent years can be attributed to a reliance on blind faith rather than evidence. When The Washington Post‘s Bob Woodward asked President Bush whether he had consulted his father before going to war in Iraq, Bush famously replied that he had consulted a “Higher Father.”

Isn’t it fascinating that the voice of God always sounds suspiciously like one’s own voice? When politicians start citing God as the authority for whatever they want to do, they are usually promoting some policy that defies human reason.

There is still a deep prejudice against atheists in this country, and this prejudice is expressed in the ridiculous notion that belief in God is some sort of qualification for public office.

What we ought to be talking about are decent human values that can be subscribed to by Americans of any faith or no faith. I could not care less whether any elected official believes in God: I care about what he or she does on earth. As an atheist, I believe precisely what the Bible says on this subject: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 3:52 pm

Thank God for Glenn Greenwald (Lieberman would disagree)

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Glenn Greenwald provides a perceptive and caustic analysis by the lying, two-faced son of a bitch Joe “Sanctimonious” Lieberman. I think you would enjoy reading it (unless you’re Joe S. Lieberman).

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 2:54 pm

Self-(dis)assembling chair

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Would drive the kitties crazy.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Help for hangover headaches

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From WebMD.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Money and Depression

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The Simple Dollar has a very good post with this title. And not only are money problems depressing, a Spanish proverb says, “When poverty comes in the door, love goes out the window.” It’s quite a hopeful post, though. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life interesting venture

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Via Boing Boing, this story in the San Jose Mercury News:

Two years ago, the inspiration for creating a Web site for news junkies hit two men with vastly different ambitions. One hoped to make boat-loads of money. The other dreamed of enriching American democracy by identifying trusted news sources hidden in the deluge of information available online.

The latter turned out to be the tougher task.

Fabrice Florin, a successful technologist and a veteran of Apple Computer, launched the beta version of last month after turning 50 and deciding it was time to give something back to society.

Florin had founded three for-profit companies, but feared that if he focused on profits with NewsTrust “the public interest would get cheated.” So he raised a small amount of money from donors and funded the rest himself.

Meanwhile, Kevin Rose, 27-year-old host of an obscure cable TV tech show, lost no time in launching in October 2004. Rose’s site lets people give a thumb’s-up or a thumb’s-down to stories other users had found on the Web and submitted to Digg.

Stories with the most “diggs” were listed first. “We find unique stories that no sane editor of a traditional Web site would put together,” Rose told Newsweek in October.

Digg didn’t screen for accuracy. Fake stories, like a recent one about Sony recalling the PlayStation 3, can stay at the top of the site for hours.

Still, Digg was listed this week among the top 20 U.S. sites, according to Alexa, which provides information on Web traffic. NewsTrust’s Alexa ranking is 106,502.

The two sites “are completely different,” said Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media and a NewsTrust adviser. While Digg strictly measures popularity, NewsTrust asks users to rate a story on the basis of 10 factors, including accuracy, balance, context and evidence. It also asks users to write a short summary.

“It’s adding judgment about quality,” Gillmor said.

“The initial mission was, `How do we get people to become more tolerant of each other’s viewpoints, to listen better?’ ” Florin said of the comprehensive rating system. By critically analyzing a news story in detail, Florin said, he hopes people will overcome preconceived notions about a topic in the news and end up less polarized in their political beliefs.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

Close-up of Orion’s belt

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Take a look. And memorize the names of the three stars—useful conversational gambit. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 11:21 am

Posted in Science

Common misstatements

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Via Steve Gilliard:

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 11:14 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Video

Winners of 2006

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I earlier mentioned Steve Gilliard’s list of the losers of 2006. Now he has the list of winners of 2006—and it’s well worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 11:09 am

Addressing poverty

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With the Democrats returning to power, we can once again work on programs that will help the poor. The GOP hates such programs—indeed, based on their actions and legislation, the GOP hates the poor—but now Democrats can lead the way. Read this powerful posting by Christy Hardin Smith and think about what she says.

UPDATE: Christy has just posted part 2 of the poverty post.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 10:27 am

Tomorrow is weigh-in

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I peek a little on Friday to see whether the news will be good or bad. Since I enjoyed a rather generous feast of roast beef on Christmas, along with a cheese course, I was wondering… It looks as though it will be okay, but it will take another week or two to reach 227 lbs—that’s a major goal since at 227, my BMI will be 29.9, and so I will technically no longer be obese, but rather simply overweight. My goal by year-end is 185 lbs, which puts me comfortably under a BMI of 25. The BMI boundary points:

  • Underweight = <18.5
  • Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight = 25-29.9
  • Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

Troops and Iraqis being killed daily

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The Iraq war is going strong, with troops being killed and Iraqis tortured and murdered. But Bush is dealing with it: he’s coming up with a new plan—basically, to escalate, with the only difficulty trying to find a mission which the escalation is to accomplish. But he definitely feels a sense of urgency:

President Bush worked nearly three hours at his Texas ranch on Thursday to design a new U.S. policy in Iraq, then emerged to say that he and his advisers need more time to craft the plan he’ll announce in the new year.

Wow! He worked for (almost) three hours! And it sounds as though that may have been solid, with no breaks. Here’s a guy who knows how to step up to the plate and feels keenly the deaths his invasion has caused—the deaths that continue daily as he “consults” (ignoring all advice, though, except that which he gives himself) and works (almost) three hours daily to find a solution.

What a putz.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 10:12 am

Cheese terminology

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When you want to know:

Cheese is usually classified according to the animal whose milk is used to make it — cow, sheep or goat (and occasionally buffalo) — as well as by the age of the cheese, its texture and the type of rind. Classifying cheese can be tricky, because many varieties fit into more than one category. Here is a basic breakdown of cheese categories as defined by the American Cheese Society.

Fresh – Cheeses that have not been aged or ripened. High in moisture, usually mild, with a creamy taste and soft texture. Examples: chevre, cottage cheese, cream cheese, feta, fromage blanc, mascarpone, ricotta.

Soft-Ripened – Cheeses that are ripened from the outside in. Soft, even runny at room temperature. Often coated with an edible white “bloomy” rind that is produced by spraying the cheese with Penicillium candidum mold before a brief aging period. Examples: brie, camembert, triple creme.

Semi-Soft – Cheeses with a smooth, generally creamy interior and little or no rind. High in moisture, ranging in flavor from mild to quite pungent. Examples: colby, fontina, gorgonzola, havarti, Monterey Jack, many washed-rind cheeses (see below).

Firm to Hard – Broad category of cheeses with tastes ranging from very mild to very sharp and pungent. Texture ranges from elastic at room temperature to suitable for grating. Examples: Asiago, cheddar, dry jack, gouda, Gruyere, Swiss, tomme, Parmesan, pecorino.

Blue – Cheeses with characteristic blue-green veining, created when mold added during cheesemaking is exposed to air. Distinct in flavor, with a range from mild to assertive; in texture, ranging from soft-ripened to hard. Examples: Danish blue, gorgonzola, Roquefort.

Pasta Filata – Cheeses of mostly Italian origin that are cooked and pulled, or spun, as the name implies. Texture ranges from fresh to hard. Examples: Armenian string cheese, mozzarella, provolone, scamorza.

Natural-Rind – Cheeses with rinds that are self-formed during the aging process. Most are aged for many weeks to develop their flavor and their rinds. Examples: English Stilton, Lancashire, Mimolette, Tomme de Savoie.

Washed-Rind – Cheeses that are surface-ripened by being washed throughout the aging process with brine, beer, wine, brandy or a mixture of ingredients, which encourages the growth of bacteria. Exterior rind may vary from bright orange to brown, with flavors and aromas that are quite pungent. Interior of the cheese is most often semi-soft and sometimes very creamy. Examples: Epoisses, Grayson, Livarot, Taleggio.

Processed – Cheese byproducts made from a combination of natural cheese and added ingredients, such as stabilizers, emulsifiers and flavor enhancers. Examples: American cheese, processed cheese spreads, “cheese flavored” spreads. [Check these to make sure that the phrase “partially hydrogenated” does not appear–i.e., that they contain no trans fats. – LG]

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 9:54 am

Posted in Food

Sophie’s Christmas

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Sophie checks paper Sophie bites paper Sophie with paper Sophie on her paper Sophie hips

For Sophie, Christmas is all about paper. In the first two photos, she’s checking out the paper for quality—inspecting it, biting it. Then she pulls down paper that passes spec and makes herself comfortable.

In the last photo, Sophie is pondering new year’s resolutions and her hips.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 9:42 am

Posted in Cats, Sophie

The GOP starts to explain away the facts

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For a party that made “accountability” a big issue, the GOP is certainly reluctant to accept that for itself. Krugman notes today:

After first attempting to deny the scale of last month’s defeat, the apologists have settled on a story line that sounds just like Marxist explanations for the failure of the Soviet Union. What happened, you see, was that the noble ideals of the Republican revolution of 1994 were undermined by Washington’s corrupting ways. And the recent defeat was a good thing, because it will force a return to the true conservative path.

But the truth is that the movement that took power in 1994 — a movement that had little to do with true conservatism — was always based on a lie.

The lie is right there in “The Freedom Revolution,” the book that Dick Armey, who had just become the House majority leader, published in 1995. He declares that most government programs don’t do anything “to help American families with the needs of everyday life,” and that “very few American families would notice their disappearance.” He goes on to assert that “there is no reason we cannot, by the time our children come of age, reduce the federal government by half as a percentage of gross domestic product.”

Right. Somehow, I think more than a few families would notice the disappearance of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and those three programs alone account for a majority of nondefense, noninterest spending. The truth is that the government delivers services and security that people want. Yes, there’s some waste — just as there is in any large organization. But there are no big programs that are easy to cut.

As long as people like Mr. Armey, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay were out of power, they could run on promises to eliminate vast government waste that existed only in the public’s imagination — all those welfare queens driving Cadillacs. But once in power, they couldn’t deliver.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 9:24 am

Posted in GOP, Government

Sobering up can let brain heal itself

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An interesting and unexpected finding that’s of particular interest to me: my paternal grandfather was an alcoholic. He died when I was a baby, so I never knew him, but the fact always made me careful of my drinking. When I learned to play checkers from my grandmother, I didn’t think to wonder why the checkers were all caps from whisky bottles—the corks broken off so just the top part of the cap was used.

In addition to claiming lives, marriages, homes and careers, alcoholism has a greedy way of robbing its victims of brainpower as well. Over time, alcohol dependence literally shrinks the brain and several of its components. And in so doing, it erodes an alcoholic’s ability to learn new tasks, remember things and organize for action. Even regular, heavy drinking can take a cognitive toll, researchers have found.

But a new study published in the journal Brain details the remarkable ability of the thinking organ to regenerate itself and regain function when its host chooses sobriety. The research also underscores a key warning: quit now, or risk damage that could be harder to reverse.

A team of European researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to assess the brains of 15 alcohol-dependent and 10 healthy subjects and tracked the volume of two key brain chemicals that are indicators of cell health and activity. The subjects were given a battery of tests of cognitive function at the beginning and end of the study. As the 10 male and five female alcoholics embarked on a journey of sobriety, the team of radiologists plotted a remarkable story of comeback.

In less than two months without alcohol consumption, the brain volume of alcoholic subjects increased, on average, 1.85 percent. Cerebellar choline levels — indicators of how well brain cells are able to relay messages — increased 20 percent. Levels of another brain chemical that indicates proper function of the brain cells went up 10 percent. The more marked those changes, the greater the improvement in a subject’s performance on tests of cognitive function.

The study is among the first to show where regeneration occurs most robustly in the early days of an alcoholic’s recovery — in the brain’s ventricles and in the white matter that helps brain cells and brain regions coordinate and communicate more smoothly with one another.

By comparison, the brains of healthy subjects, who also were asked to abstain from alcohol during the study period — did not change.

Dr. Andreas Bartsch of the University of Wurzburg, Germany, said the study, when added to several that have shown similar resilience on the part of the brain under assault by alcohol, holds a hopeful message for drinkers beset by lapses of memory, motivation and judgment.

“Abstinence pays off and enables the brain to regain some substance and perform better,” Bartsch said. “The adult human brain, and particularly its white matter, seems to possess genuine capabilities for regrowth.”

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Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 9:12 am

Good start this morning

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First, awoke to find Megs asleep on top of me—first time in a couple of months. Then a great shave. I used the Simpsons Emperor 2 Super Badger brush, and the soap was the amazing Special 218 from QED, an underappreciated soap in my opinion. The basic formulation is the same for all the QED soaps, but the fragrance for Special 218 is intense and evocative. (By a happy coincidence, I’m reading The Secret of Scent, by Luca Turin, which I got for Christmas.)

If you’re a shaver, you owe it to yourself to start the new year right and get yourself a tub of Special 218. QED’s phone is +1-401-433-4045. (If you have the Skype add-on installed in your Firefox, you can just click that number. 🙂 ) If you don’t have a shaving brush, Charles can help you out with that, too. I like a 22mm knot, but YMMV. He doesn’t carry Simpsons, though. (If you want the Emperor, a great brush, try here.)

And I brought out and used my Gillette Milord, a very early version without the notches in the center bar. (The one in the photo is not mine, but just like mine.) It delivers a great shave with a new Feather. Finished with Thayers Lemon Witch Hazel, “like a tall glass of lemonade for your skin.”

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2006 at 8:53 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Shaving, Skype

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