Later On

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

Archive for February 16th, 2007

Things I like about California

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This seems to be a series, but California does in fact do a lot of good, sensible stuff that other states can’t seem to manage:

At the height of the 1973 energy crisis, Arthur H. Rosenfeld had a revelation.

Disturbed about having to spend half an hour in line at a gas station one Friday night, the particle physicist calculated that keeping his floor of offices brightly lit all weekend as usual would consume the equivalent of five gallons of gasoline. So Rosenfeld took what then seemed like a bold step: He turned off the lights.

For 30 years, Rosenfeld has been one of the forces guiding California on a mission of conservation. And today the state uses less energy per capita than any other state in the country, defying the international image of American energy gluttony. Since 1974, California has held its per capita energy consumption essentially constant, while energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent.

California has managed that feat through a mixture of mandates, regulations and high prices. The state has been able to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, keep utility companies happy, and maintain economic growth. And in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global warming, California serves as a model for other states seeking a similar path to energy reduction. Now California is pushing further in its effort to cut automobile pollution, spur use of solar energy and cap greenhouse gases.

“California really represents what the rest of the country could do if it paid a bit more attention to energy efficiency,” says Greg Kats, managing principal at Capital E, an energy and clean-technology advisory firm. “California is the best argument we have about how to very cost-effectively both reduce energy consumption and cut greenhouse gases. And they’ve made money doing it.” Kats estimates that the average Californian family spends about $800 a year less on energy than it would have without efficiency improvements over the past 20 years.

Today, as an energy consumer, California is more like thrifty Denmark than the rest of the energy-guzzling United States. While the average American burns 12,000 kilowatt-hours a year of electricity, the average Californian burns less than 7,000 — and that’s counting renewable energy sources.

California has managed to cut its contributions to global warming, too. Carbon dioxide emissions per capita in California have fallen by 30 percent since 1975, while U.S. per capita carbon dioxide emissions have remained essentially level.

“If we’re going to delay global warming, what we can do in a big hurry is energy efficiency: better cars, better buildings, better industry,” says Rosenfeld, who is now a member of the California Energy Commission and who last year won the Energy Department’s $375,000 Enrico Fermi Award for his contributions to national energy efficiency. “It’s not the whole story. But I think it’s at least half the story.”

California does have natural advantages. The climate is mild in much of the state, and its high-tech and service sectors are less energy-intensive than older, heavy industry in some other states. However, even accounting for those differences, California has vastly improved its energy efficiency. The growing population and economy are still driving up electricity demand about 1 percent a year, enough to require a new power-generating station every couple of years. But if the state had not changed its pre-1974 trend of electricity consumption, by today it would have needed the equivalent of one nuclear plant every eight miles between San Diego and San Francisco, Rosenfeld says.

The reason for California’s success is no secret: Electricity there is expensive, so people use less of it. Thanks to its use of pricey renewables and natural gas and its spurning of cheap coal, California’s rates are almost 13 cents a kilowatt hour, according to the Energy Information Administration. The other most-energy-frugal states, such as New Jersey and New Hampshire, charge about 12 cents and 14 cents a kilowatt hour, respectively. Hawaii, which relies on oil-fired plants, tops EIA’s list at about 21 cents.

“If the history of energy consumption in the U.S. has taught us anything, it is that cost drives conservation,” says Chris Cooper, executive director of the Network for New Energy Choices.

Three of the nation’s most profligate users of energy — Wyoming, Kentucky and Alabama — have one thing in common: low prices. Their electricity prices range from 5.25 cents a kilowatt hour to 7.06 cents, according to the EIA.

“What’s dirt cheap tends to get treated like dirt,” Rosenfeld says.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 8:15 pm

How the blogosphere is changing the game

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In the earlier post on isolated practitioners, I touched on how the game is changing for the pundits of the press and commented on some of the reasons.

I got to thinking about it a bit more. Back in the day, you sat in your chair and read the paper, and if you disagreed with the pundit, you shook the paper fiercely and perhaps barked a phrase or two at whoever was in the room with you. If you were extremely angry, you might write a letter, but that involves finding paper, an envelope, a stamp, the address, and taking the time to write and mail the letter, so such events were rare and the pundit was left isolated.

And even if you did write the letter, it arrived after some days and was read by one other person. Almost always, the letter was read and trashed. A reply, if any, was likely to be stereotyped. (H.L. Mencken, who specialized in ruffling feathers, had preprinted postcards that said: “Dear Sir/Madam: You may be right. Yours truly,” etc.)

In the 1-in-1000 chance that you did touch the heart and mind of the pundit, a small note might appear at the end of his next column, a week or two later, when the original column was probably forgotten.

If you addressed the letter to the editor, and you were lucky, your letter might actually be published after a few days, so that some other people could read it, but generally it would be balanced by other letters that adored the column, so the impact was muted (and late).

Contrast that to, say, David Broder’s obtuse and ill-conceived column of suppositions and innuendos that appeared in this morning’s Washington Post. Within an hour or so, Glenn Greenwald had a column up in (I have to use IE Tab to get to this column—regular Firefox doesn’t work with Salon), dissecting Broder’s (continuing) folly and poorly reasoned statements. And then, an hour so after that, in the on-line edition of the same publication, another columnist, Dan Froomkin, comments on the Broder column, quotes some earlier inanity of Broder’s, draws attention to Greenwald’s column with a direct link to it (so that readers can see and read it with just a click of the mouse), and puts Broder’s column in the context of the national mood, with more links:

Say what you will about Washington Post reporter and columnist David S. Broder, but he is the dean of the Washington press corps and his columns are often an accurate reflection of the temperament of Washington’s top political reporters.

For instance, Broder’s September 7, 2006 column— in which he wrote off the whole Valerie Plame story as a “tempest in a teapot” and said that journalists owed Karl Rove an apology — may have been abject nonsense, but it accurately telegraphed how little appetite Washington’s top journalists had for that story.

In his column today, Broder writes: “It may seem perverse to suggest that, at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback. But don’t be astonished if that is the case.”

Broder writes that “just as Clinton did in the winter of 1995, Bush now shows signs of renewed energy and is regaining the initiative on several fronts.”

Broder praises Bush’s strategy to knock the wind out of the congressional opposition to his war policies.

And Broder lauds Bush for having become “far more accessible — and responsive — to the media and public, holding any number of one-on-one interviews, both on and off the record, leading up to Wednesday’s televised news conference. And he has been more candid in his responses than in the past.”

The White House press office was so delighted with Broder’s column that it sent it out to the entire White House press corps this morning at 6:44 a.m., under the heading: “In Case You Missed It.”

Commenters on are not being so kind.

Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon: “Beltway pundits have long been petrified of the reality that most Americans have turned against the President permanently and with deep conviction. Because the David Broders of the world propped up the Bush presidency for so long, they are deeply invested in finding a way to salvage it.”

Either Broder is in the vanguard — or he’s in an incredible minority.

More typical of the view of Bush these days is a Seattle Times editorial from this morning: “Watching President Bush’s press conference earlier this week, our minds wandered. More words. We had heard them before. What drew our attention was the face. It was the face of a man with no confidence in what he was saying.

“By sending more soldiers, the U.S. government could ‘help the Iraqis secure the capital.’ This, in turn, could provide ‘political breathing space’ for Iraqi politicians to do the work of ‘reconciliation.’

“Those were the words. The quivering lip, the just-woke-up manner, the movement of the eyes, were saying something different. Here was a man who knew that the great gamble of his life had not paid off. He knew the people watching him knew it. He was proposing another roll of the dice at odds none too good, but that postponed admitting a major mistake.”

And then Al Neuharth had this admission in his USA Today column: “A year ago I criticized Hillary Clinton for saying ‘this (Bush) administration will go down in history as one of the worst.’

“‘She’s wrong,’ I wrote. Then I rated these five presidents, in this order, as the worst: Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Hoover and Richard Nixon. ‘It’s very unlikely Bush can crack that list,’ I added.

“I was wrong. This is my mea culpa. Not only has Bush cracked that list, but he is planted firmly at the top.”

And in addition to all that, the column is now followed by comments that appear in real time, taking issue with the column and its presentation. Scores of comments, available immediately. Below the fold I’ve copied the first page of comments. As of this writing, 18 more pages of comments followed.

Broder is no longer insulated by barriers of time and incovenience—now the response is immediate, pointed, and public for all to read. The game has changed—and I would bet that Broder really, really doesn’t like the new game..
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Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 2:30 pm

Tony Snow will say anything

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What a despicable human being. From Froomkin today:

More evidence yesterday that the White House will admit to almost nothing, and that press secretary Tony Snow will say just about anything.

From yesterday’s press briefing:

“Q Slides from a pre-war briefing show that by this point, the U.S. expected that the Iraqi army would be able to stabilize the country and there would be as few as 5,000 U.S. troops there. What went wrong?

“MR. SNOW: I’m not sure anything went wrong. . . .

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 2:14 pm

Kitten on the Keys

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Not Zez Confrey in this case:

More info here.

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Cats, Video

Could the Bush Administration be lying?

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Surely not. And yet
(Update: and see this article for more evidence. Via Political Animal.)

President Bush has now definitively stated that bombs known as explosively formed penetrators — EFPs, which have proved especially deadly for U.S. troops in Iraq — are made in Iran and exported to Iraq. But in November, U.S. troops raiding a Baghdad machine shop came across a pile of copper disks, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order. This ominous discovery, unreported until now, makes it clear that Iraqi insurgents have no need to rely on Iran as the source of EFPs.

The truth is that EFPs are simple to make for anyone who knows how to do it. Far from a sophisticated assembly operation that might require state supervision, all that is required is one of those disks, some high-powered explosive (which is easy to procure in Iraq) and a container, such as a piece of pipe. I asked a Pentagon analyst specializing in such devices how much each one would cost to make. “Twenty bucks,” he answered after a brief calculation. “Thirty at most.”

EFPs work by using explosives to compress, melt and shoot a metal projectile — formed from those disks, molded in a concave shape — in a particular direction. They are feared above all else by troops in Iraq because not only can they punch a hole through the armor of an M-1 tank, they are small and light, and thus far easier to carry and plant undetected than the traditional Iraqi improvised explosive device, which is often made from hefty artillery shells.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 11:33 am

Patrick Murphy’s speech

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Pretty powerful. Wonder whether a GOP Representative with a similar background will respond. Indeed, I wonder whether there is a GOP Representative with a similar background?

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 11:22 am

Bush Administration does not support the troops

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Now the Pentagon red tape is keeping medical records from doctors treating troops:

Department of Veterans Affairs doctors are furious over a recent decision by the Pentagon to block their access to medical information needed to treat severely injured troops arriving at VA hospitals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VA physicians handle troops with serious brain injuries and other major health problems. They, rely on digital medical records that track the care given wounded troops from the moment of their arrival at a field hospital through their evacuation to the United States.

About 30 VA doctors in four trauma centers around the country have treated about 200 severely wounded soldiers and Marines. The docs had been receiving the complete digital records from the Pentagon until the end of January, using the Pentagon’s Joint Patient Tracking Application.

But on Jan. 25, when Shane McNamee, a physician in the Richmond VA Medical Center, tried to get the full records, he couldn’t. He sent an urgent e-mail to VA chief liaison officer Edward Huycke.

“My JPTA account has been disabled within last few days,” McNamee wrote. “I called the hotline and was told that all VA accounts have been locked. Could not get a good answer why. Anyhow — I have 4 [Iraq/Afghanistan] service members to arrive within the next 2 days. This information is terribly important,” the doctor wrote.

Thirty-four minutes later Huycke e-mailed back: “Ok, Shane. Will get on it. Not sure what’s up.”

An hour or so later, a senior VA official forwarded McNamee’s e-mail to Lt. Col. David Parramore at the Pentagon, saying that McNamee “needs his access back to JPTA to provide the best possible treatment for soldiers injured in [Iraq/Afghanistan] arriving there in a few days. Can you help?”

Tommy Morris, director of Deployment Health Systems, responded the next morning to Parramore’s inquiry, after contacting Ellen Embry, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection. “I spoke with Embry and no agreements, no data sharing via access to JPTA.”

The access cutoff came after Morris, in a Jan. 23 e-mail, instructed a colleague: “If the VA currently has access I need a list of persons and I need their accounts shut off ASAP. It is illegal for them to have access without data use agreements and access controls in place by federal regulations and public law.”

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Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 11:18 am

Recipe help

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The Wife bought us a very nice rack of heritage pork, which I’m going to roast Saturday using the recipe below. Here’s the help I need: in the early 70’s, near as I can recall, an article in the New Yorker mentioned a British accompaniment for cold leftover roast pork. It had a reduplicative name—like “Huffy Duffy” or “Harvey Scarvey”: that sort of name. The recipe was quite simple: a cup each of minced apple, minced celery, and minced onion, mixed with a little oil and vinegar, probably with some salt and pepper. So I can make the dish, but I would dearly love to know the name again. Can you help?

Herb-Crusted Rack of Pork
Prep Time: 20 min
Total Time: 2 hr 35 min
Makes: 10 servings

1 bone-in pork loin (5 lb.)
1/3 cup Maille Honey Mustard
1 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 lb. baby carrots, cleaned
1 medium Spanish onion, cut into 8 wedges

PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Trim excess fat from meat; spread evenly with mustard.

MIX bread crumbs, parsley, chives, rosemary, 3 Tbsp. of the oil, the salt and pepper; press evenly onto meat. Place on rack in roasting pan. Mix carrots and onion; toss with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil. Add to pan with meat.

BAKE 1 hour 30 min. to 2 hours or until meat thermometer registers 160°F. Let stand 10 to 15 min. before slicing. Serve with carrots and onions.

UPDATE: It was extremely tasty, and this recipe is easy. We had it with a local Pinot Noir, and thought it a fine meal.

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 10:48 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Isolated practitioners

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Isolated practitioners, lacking routine feedback, can easily get a distorted idea of their level of skill. Anyone who’s grown up in a small town, for example, who plays only opponents who learned the game from him (or her), is apt to overestimate his level of skill. (One benefit brought by the Internet is that such isolation is nowadays less common, since games can be played with distant opponents.)

The isolation above is geographic, but other factors can similarly isolate the practitioner. For example, those in positions of relative power become isolated by their position and are apt to think that they can tell a joke better than they in fact can, and that they are better at what they do than they in fact are. Jay Carney, for example, is the Washington Bureau chief for TIME. He recently ventured into writing a blog and promptly fell on his face. The blogosphere is apparently a much more outspoken and democratic (small “d”) arena than TIME‘s Washington Bureau, and people quickly let him know of his (many) errors. He didn’t like this at all: he was accustomed to a certain deference, and he wasn’t getting it, and he became outraged. That made it worse, of course: he came across as arrogant as well as ignorant.

The same thing is happening now to the Washington pundits: they are getting the kind of feedback to which they are not accustomed—and it’s the more powerful because, with the blogosphere, there is more coordination and cooperation among those providing the feedback—a pooling of information and a checking of the record. The pundits feel threatened and respond (in general) quite badly. They are not used to being fact-checked and having their statements today compared to their statements previously, and they don’t like it at all. So they attack the blogosphere as being uncouth, unmannerly, unappreciative of their genius. So it goes. It’s hard to have the game pass you by.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has today a good example of the kind of examination pundits now receive.

UPDATE 2: Further thoughts.

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 10:35 am

Posted in Media

Interesting movie: His Girl Friday

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Last night I watched His Girl Friday, a Howard Hawks movie with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, a minor rewrite of the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur stage play The Front Page, in which the newsman Hildy Johnson becomes a newswoman, played by Rosalind Russell. Ralph Bellamy plays her suitor, Bruce Baldwin, who is described as looking “like that movie fellow, what’s his name?… Ralph Bellamy.”

I watched the film because of recently reading a review of biographies of Cary Grant in which he was described as an exceptionally generous actor, and one thing mentioned was the way he listened to Rosalind Russell and gave her full space to deliver her lines without competing for the audience’s attention. I was curious, and indeed he does, become still with an attentive expression, letting our attention shift to Russell.

Apparently this film (1940) is fairly early in the transition from Archibald Leach to Cary Grant. The accent is still under development—to my ear, his lines are delivered with a trailing drawl quite like W.C. Fields. Perhaps due to direction, he uses sort of odd whole-body gestures, moving his shoulders oddly. And the way he handles a cigarette seems strange—as though the thing were totally unfamiliar, which it could have been. The smoking throughout is “off” — unlike real smoking.

The picture carries some heavy artifacts of its time. Pointless melodrama from the Irish girl, the casual reference to an African-American woman having a “pickaninny,” and several references to the Red Menance. Business at the time was fearful of the American worker and the strength of his unions, and were sensitive to the idea of a Red uprising. Today’s workers seem much more broken in spirit—or perhaps businesses have become better at psychological manipulation of the workforce, with unions lacking strength. The story as a whole doesn’t hold up in my eyes, but Grant and Russell are wonderful to watch, and the Howard Hawks pacing keeps things moving along.

One nice reference you don’t hear much these days was to the governor, who was always away fishing or hunting, as a “Nimrod,” who was a mighty hunter before God. I think calling someone a Nimrod these days would not be interpreted correctly.

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 10:22 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Friday cat-blogging: Miss Megs, close at hand

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Megs at hand

Miss Megs, close by. I got her a new kitty bed, and immediately put her in it—and she immediately jumped out and proceeded to ignore it for a couple of days. So I put some little food treats in it. She got into the bed, ate the treats, and left. This was repeated until I quit, fearing that she would think it was just a weird food bowl. But last night I walked by late at night, going into the kitchen, and there she was in the bed, all curled up. She, of course, looked up at me with the “What?” expression that kitties do so well.

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 9:58 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Penultimate shaving stick

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This morning I used the Valobra shaving stick, made in Genoa, Italy, and lathered up with the Simpsons Persian Jar 2 Super. Perfectly fine lather, removed (along with my whiskers) with a Gillette Fatboy Adjustable set at 4 with a Swedish Gillette blade. Good shave, finished with alum bar and Pinaud’s Bay Rum. Great feeling.

I read that the Martha Stewart TV program has a little feature on wet shaving—badger brush, shave oil (which I’ve never used), and lather, but then shaved with a Fusion and a Mach 3. :sigh:

Written by Leisureguy

16 February 2007 at 9:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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