Later On

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

Archive for October 7th, 2007

Israel: not an ally

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I just finished reading Chapter Seven of Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, by James Bamford, recommended in a comment to this post. It is sickening, but worth reading. Israel lied repeatedly about its role in the war and deliberately tried to sink the USS Liberty and kill everyone on board to cover up their war crimes as they massacred civilians and prisoners on shore. It’s not a good picture. And, of course, there are the Israeli spies working against the US—Jonathan Pollard is but one.

Excuse me for asking, but in realpolitik terms, just what does Israel bring to the party except for a constant sinkhole of US aid? This country committed an act of war against the US, and for that I for one would be reluctant to supply them further with arms or with money.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

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The Prius now ready for winter

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It’s not, The Wife tells me, how they prepared the car for winter in northern BC, but still: new wiper blades, car washed, and then Clarity Defender applied. Also new Michelin HydroEdge tires, as it happens.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 4:14 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Telling the kids about sex

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Very interesting column on the “birds and bees” discussion as your kids near puberty.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Myths about “sick old Europe”

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This op-ed lists 5 myths, but I found myth 4 especially interesting:

4. The European “welfare state” hamstrings businesses and hurts the economy.

Beware of stereotypes based on ideological assumptions. As Europe’s economy has surged, it has maintained fairness and equality. Unlike in the United States, with its rampant inequality and lack of universal access to affordable health care and higher education, Europeans have harnessed their economic engine to create wealth that is broadly distributed.

Europeans still enjoy universal cradle-to-grave social benefits in many areas. They get quality health care, paid parental leave, affordable childcare, paid sick leave, free or nearly free higher education, generous retirement pensions and quality mass transit. They have an average of five weeks of paid vacation (compared with two for Americans) and a shorter work week. In some European countries, workers put in one full day less per week than Americans do, yet enjoy the same standard of living.

Europe is more of a “workfare state” than a welfare state. As one British political analyst said to me recently: “Europe doesn’t so much have a welfare society as a comprehensive system of institutions geared toward keeping everyone healthy and working.” Properly understood, Europe’s economy and social system are two halves of a well-designed “social capitalism” — an ingenious framework in which the economy finances the social system to support families and employees in an age of globalized capitalism that threatens to turn us all into internationally disposable workers. Europeans’ social system contributes to their prosperity, rather than detracting from it, and even the continent’s conservative political leaders agree that it is the best way.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

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15 useful websites

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From WebUpon.com

  1. Crossfit
    A free fitness website that posts a new “Workout of the Day” every day. The workouts focus on total body fitness. The workouts are used by military personnel, athletes, and normal people. The site also contains an index of the exercises used in the workouts complete with videos and slideshows. They offer a newsletter for those willing to pay. It is an outstanding site for both fitness gurus and average Joes.
  2. Lonely Planet
    This site offers, among other things, an outstanding resource for anyone researching travel destinations.
  3. Retail Me Not
    A catalog of online coupons posted and reviewed by users. The coupons vary from sites like Polo to Amazon to Papajohns.
  4. Web MD
    Provides a reference for anyone looking to diagnose his or her symptoms or research medical issues. It is a good place to visit before making that, oh so expensive, trip to the doctor.
  5. Epicurious
    A source of cooking information ranging from recipes to techniques to restaurant reviews.
  6. E-How
    A reference site for just about everything else. Want to k now how to wax snow skis? Make pizza dough? Install a bathtub? This is the place.
  7. Kayak
    Combines search results from several different travel websites and presents them in a very user-friendly interactive format.
  8. Bartleby
    One of the better academic research websites I’ve come across.
  9. Monster Jobs
    Looking for a job? Need a resume?
  10. How Stuff Works
    A very cool website that contains explanations of those mysteries in life that you just can’t figure out. A few examples are Murphy’s Law, Pickpockets, and Light Sabers (Yes, light sabers).
  11. Product Wiki
    A wikipedia-type product review website. All reviews and articles are written and updated by the site’s users.
  12. What Should I Read Next
    Can’t decide what to read next? Simply enter a book title and/or author that you like and the site will recommend a number of books for you.
  13. The Universal Packing List
    This is a unique website I found that creates a packing list for you based on information you provide regarding your trip and intentions/plans.
  14. Happy Median
    Enter your location and a friend’s location and this site will tell you where you should meet (Halfway).
  15. Musicovery
    Seriously, the coolest music-related site I’ve seen. You choose the mood, intensity, and genres of the music you would like to hear and the site will provide you with a virtual web of music to explore. The web evolves with each choice you make. You can click on any song in the web at anytime.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Good Greenwald column today

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He takes two perfect examples of the Beltway-pundit disease—one column by David Ignatius and one by David Broder—and shows clearly how they could have been written by Dana Perino. Please read.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 11:16 am

Posted in Media, Washington Post

More on DDT and malaria

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The latest issue of New Scientist has, as an opinion piece, a “history” of the use of DDT. You get the thrust of the piece from the title: “How the world let malaria off the hook.” The author, one Fred Pearce, implies without saying so that “the world” stopped the use of DDT for fighting malaria through killing mosquitoes. This is simply and utterly false. From Wikipedia, for example:

The Stockholm Convention, ratified in 2001 and effective as of 17 May 2004, outlawed several persistent organic pollutants, and restricted the use of DDT to vector control. The Convention was signed by 98 countries and is endorsed by most environmental groups. Recognizing that a total elimination of DDT use in many malaria-prone countries is currently unfeasible because there are few affordable or effective alternatives for controlling malaria, the public health use of DDT was exempted from the ban until such alternatives are developed. Regular updates on the continued need to use DDT and on global DDT production and use is available from the Stockholm Convention. [4] Malaria Foundation International states:

The outcome of the treaty is arguably better than the status quo going into the negotiations over two years ago. For the first time, there is now an insecticide which is restricted to vector control only, meaning that the selection of resistant mosquitoes will be slower than before.[14]

As of 2006, DDT continues to be used in other (primarily tropical) countries where mosquito-borne malaria and typhus are serious health problems. Use of DDT in public health to control mosquitoes is primarily done inside buildings and through inclusion in household products and selective spraying; this greatly reduces environmental damage compared to the earlier widespread use of DDT in agriculture. It also reduces the risk of resistance to DDT.[15] This use only requires a small fraction of that previously used in agriculture; for the whole country of Guyana, covering an area of 215,000 km², the required amount is roughly equal to the amount of DDT that might previously have been used to spray 4 km² of cotton during a single growing season.[16]

Agricultural use of DDT was banned, and a good thing, too: it was devastating to wildlife and the continued promiscuous use would have quickly led to resistance in insects. I fear that Pearce’s article is yet another in a disinformation campaign. Too bad New Scientist fell for it, but at least they categorized it as “opinion.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 11:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Cotton: definitely not a “green” fabric

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This is a surprise. I thought cotton was environmentally good, but it’s actually bad. For an enviromentally good material, consider polyester:

The famously fickle fashion industry wastes resources like there’s no tomorrow, a point that is not lost on fashion designer Rebecca Earley, who has embraced the green movement by creating clothes that are less wasteful. She told Lucy Middleton that it’s high time other designers developed a more responsible attitude to the world’s resources

What’s wrong with “normal” clothing?

The vast amounts of water, energy and toxic chemicals that are used in their production. Take cotton. Everyone thinks it’s the good guy. Yet cotton cultivation accounts for around 10 per cent of all pesticides and 20 per cent of all insecticides used in agriculture. And it’s not just the manufacture of clothing that’s environmentally unfriendly; it’s the upkeep and disposal of clothes too.

What’s the problem with pesticides?

There’s an incident that sticks in my mind in which a farmer in Nallou, Benin, went home to his family one evening in August 2000 having treated his cotton field with the pesticide endosulfan. Before going in, he put his clothes on the roof of his tin house, out of reach of his young children. During the night it rained and the chemicals in his clothes were washed into the family water butt. The next morning all four children drank from the butt and died.

Cotton farmers experience everything from rashes and blindness to death. The pesticides they use are believed to cause between 20,000 and 40,000 deaths each year, mostly as a result of accidental poisoning and mostly in rural communities in developing countries. The Pesticides Action Network UK has documented 67 deaths in one cotton-growing region of Benin in a single growing season. Many farmers can’t read the precautions and don’t wear protective clothing. They get completely covered in these chemicals. That’s why we campaign for organic cotton that is grown without pesticides.

How does cotton farming affect water resources?

Cotton farming is incredibly water intensive. It’s needed not only for growing but for processing and dyeing. So much water is needed that it’s often diverted away from communities. There’s a photograph that is part of the Earth from the Air series by Yann Arthus Bertrand of a ship stranded in what used to be the Aral Sea between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The Aral Sea has lost three-quarters of its water as a result of the Soviet Union diverting rivers to help irrigate cotton farms in central Asia. Nearly 60,000 fishermen are thought to have lost their livelihoods when the fish disappeared along with the water.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 10:28 am

Black holes

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The latest New Scientist has a cover article on black holes, and I find that there’s much less that’s certain about black holes than I thought. Indeed, there’s not certainty that the “event horizon” even exists: because the concentrated mass of a black hole distorts space-time so greatly, the slowing of time could mean that, as particles approach the black hole, they never get to the event horizon:

According to relativity, time slows down for an object, from the point of view of an outside observer, as it accelerates close to the speed of light. Anything falling into a black hole approaches that velocity as it crosses the event horizon. So while someone riding a spaceship across the horizon would feel that he or she was moving at a terrific speed, someone watching from outside would see the ship slow and eventually stop at the horizon, never quite falling in.

If that’s true, the same argument should apply to gas, stars or whatever was collapsing to form the black hole in the first place. To an external observer, it would take infinitely long for the black hole to come into being. This is actually a long-standing problem that has never been fully addressed. “People have just assumed it’s one of those weird general relativity things and don’t discuss it very much,” says Krauss. When you add in quantum mechanics, which says that black holes actually radiate particles, the problem becomes even more acute. “If quantum theory says black holes must evaporate in finite time,” says Krauss, “and general relativity says they take an infinite time to form, you’ve got something disappearing before it exists.”

Krauss’s work, which will appear in the journal Physical Review D, began as an exercise in particle physics (www.arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0609024). Researchers had suggested that experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European particle physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland, scheduled to go online next year, could produce energy densities great enough to create a quantum black hole, much tinier than the tiniest subatomic particle. The smaller a black hole, the more quickly it should radiate away its mass, and Krauss and his colleagues were trying to figure out what that radiation might look like.

According to their model, quantum black holes should emit light, X-rays and other electromagnetic radiation at a rate so high that they never fully form in the first place. This piqued the researchers’ interest, so they tried the same calculations for cosmic black holes. They found that as a spherical shell of mass collapses inward, its gravity disrupts the quantum vacuum, giving rise to radiation similar to the quantum black hole’s. It, too, leaks so much energy that the mass never gets dense enough to form a black hole with an event horizon. Instead it forms what the researchers call a “black star”, which never completely swallows any surrounding matter from an external observer’s point of view.

That doesn’t mean the model is right, of course. “We’ve discussed it at lots of colloquia and seminars, and there has been lots of interest. The first reaction is incredulity; people are sceptical, but nobody’s poked a hole in it yet,” says Krauss. “For now I’m happy just that it’s spurring debate.”

The astrophysical community has been receptive but lukewarm. “When people ask me if I think black holes exist,” says Broderick, “it really depends on what you mean by the term. A black hole is not just this thing inside an event horizon, it’s an entire region of curved space-time. So I prefer to talk about ‘black hole space-time’ rather than black holes.” Still, Broderick thinks it’s going to be very difficult for one of these objects not to have an event horizon. “The only way to know for sure is to drop an undergraduate in and see whether his cellphone signal cuts off,” he says.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 10:24 am

Posted in Science

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“Fully briefed”? No, not really

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And, from ThinkProgress:

Pelosi is not the first member of Congress to say that they were never briefed about the secret memos. On Friday, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the administration “can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed” because they have withheld “key documents“:

They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.

The reality is, the Administration refused to disclose the program to the full Committee for five years, and they have refused to turn over key legal documents since day one.

As ThinkProgress has noted, the White House has little credibility when it says it has “fully briefed” Congress on its counterterrorism activities. Though officials have repeatedly claimed that they briefed key lawmakers on the NSA domestic wiretapping program and other spying programs, those claims have never held up in the past.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 10:05 am

2,000,000 galaxies

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Two million galaxies

From Astronomy Picture of the Day: 2,000,000 galaxies, each galaxy with millions of stars. We live in a very, very large universe. The region above is only 100º across—that is, this is only a small segment of the universe. Bright regions indicate more galaxies, while bluer colors denote larger average galaxies. Dark ellipses have been cut away where bright local stars dominate the sky.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 9:43 am

Posted in Science

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These I must make: slow-roasted tomatoes

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Oh, my. Look at the photo (but before you do, cover your keyboard to prevent drool damage).

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Ripe tomatoes, preferably Roma
Olive oil
Sea salt
Ground coriander

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you’re feeling impatient, preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.)

2. Wash the tomatoes, cut off the stem end, and halve them lengthwise. Pour a bit of olive oil into a small bowl, dip a pastry brush into it, and brush the tomato halves lightly with oil. Place them, skin side down, on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle them with sea salt and ground coriander—about a pinch of each for every four to six tomato halves.

3. Bake the tomatoes until they shrink to about 1/3 of their original size but are still soft and juicy, 4 to 6 hours (at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, these are ready after 2 hours). Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. Place them in an airtight container, and store them in the refrigerator.

I bet these will be good on sandwiches.

UPDATE: I made them and they were great. I’m making another batch today. 13 Roma tomatoes covers my Silpat baking sheet with 5 rows of 5 tomato halves, with one half left for me to eat. I will brush them with olive oil, sprinkle them all with sea salt, and then do rows 1-5 this way:

  1. Sprinkle with ground coriander
  2. Sprinkle with ground pepper
  3. Sprinkle with granulated garlic
  4. Sprinkle with cayenne
  5. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan

That should be interesting.

UPDATE 2: My favorites were the ground pepper, ground coriander, and cayenne, along with the sea salt (and black-olive salt is great if you can find it). I’ve decided that the best way to do these is to cook them overnight: put in 200-degree oven around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m., and take them out the next morning.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 9:24 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

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Los Delirios Organic Nicaragua Direct Trade Coffee

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That’s what I’m drinking this morning, from Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, Inc. As they describe it:

Delightfully creamy, this coffee creates a smooth and attentive cup.  Caramel and wild honey provide sweetness while dark chocolate, baking spice, and a tinge of fresh cranberries compliment the finish. Well-balanced with a buttery mouthfeel.

I notice the chocolate particularly, but that’s because I’m letting a small square of 100% cacao chocolate melt in my mouth while I sip the coffee.

Very good coffee it is, too.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 9:12 am

Posted in Caffeine

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Different razor, different blade, same perfect shave

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It’s been not quite a month, but enough is enough—I was dying to break out of the rut of the same razor and the same brand of blade every single shave. I did find the exercise interesting, and certainly it was helpful in focusing my attention directly on the prep when I had the Bad Shave last Monday, but…

This morning I took a Gillette NEW—the one that was NOS and came in a small cardboard box, the back of which read:

This NEW GILLETTE RAZOR and NEW GILLETTE BLADE are given to you through the courtesy of the manufacturers of

PALMOLIVE SHAVING CREAM
COLGATE’S RAPID SHAVE CREAM
COLGATE’S HANDY GRIP STICK

when you buy any one of the above products at the regular price.

Your Dealer

I loaded it with a new—excuse me, NEW—Astra Superior Platinum blade.

I took my time with the prep: lesson learned. A good soapy wash of my beard with MR GLO, then a rinse, and I lathered up the Penhaligon Blenheim Bouquet shaving soap with the Sabini ebony-handled brush (very like the Rooney Style 2 Finest). I worked the lather on my beard and made sure it was wet enough with judicious additions of water. Lathering can be somewhat hypnotic, I find: the feel, the fragrance, the motion…

Then I picked up the razor and started shaving. No resistance from the stubble whatsoever. Three quick passes and a BBS shave. The aftershave was the Blenheim Bouquet aftershave, with its little mauve ribbon tied in a bow.

Absolute pleasure.

Written by Leisureguy

7 October 2007 at 9:04 am

Posted in Shaving

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