Later On

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

Archive for November 6th, 2007

Book to avoid

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I blogged earlier about reading great literature, and mentioned the book The Well Educated Mind. Avoid this book at all costs. I got it from the library, opened it, and was startled to see brief synopses of any number of great works of literature—and when I say “brief”, I mean like a page, consisting of a plot summary that contains all possible spoilers. What a rotten thing to do to someone who might read with enjoyment a great novel or other work: just skim over the plot and tell how every twist ends. A terrible book. Don’t look at it.

Why would someone do that? Just for the enjoyment of spoiling people’s pleasure?

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Books

Long walk, oddly enjoyable

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Last week I walked 4 days, and it looks like 4 days again this week. (Didn’t walk yesterday.) Today I took quite a long walk and found myself enjoying it. Some reasons: good to get out; new route; quieter streets; new singer to listen to. (Well, not totally new: Lee Morse, from the 20’s and 30’s.)

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Daily life

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The problem with torturing suspects

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I’ve blogged this before, but here goes again: the problem with imprisoning and torturing suspects is that anyone can be a suspect. Being (or not being) a “suspect” is not within your power: it’s in the hands of “authorities”. If they suspect you, then bang! you’re a suspect. Automatically. It has nothing to do with your actions, it is based on their suspicions. They have the power, not you. And, of course, once you’ve been kept in solitary confinement for months and tortured almost to the point of organ failure or death (that’s apparently the only thing disallowed), then by golly you’re going to admit pretty much anything you’re asked to admit.

And it’s starting to happen. You know, of course, about the guy kidnapped in Macedonia, transported to Afghanistan, tortured, then returned to Macedonia and released. And the Canadian guy spirited out of the country to be tortured in Egypt. And now this:

A man in Sweden who was angry with his daughter’s husband has been charged with libel for telling the FBI that the son-in-law had links to al-Qaeda, Swedish media reported on Friday.

The man, who admitted sending the email, said he did not think the US authorities would stupid enough to believe him.

The 40-year-old son-in-law and his wife were in the process of divorcing when the husband had to travel to the United States for business.

The wife didn’t want him to travel since she was sick and wanted him to help care for their children, regional daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet said without disclosing the couple’s names.

When the husband refused to stay home, his father-in-law wrote an email to the FBI saying the son-in-law had links to al-Qaeda in Sweden and that he was travelling to the US to meet his contacts. He provided information on the flight number and date of arrival in the US.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 12:29 pm

Astounding video of a solar flare

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Watch the whole thing—twice. (No sound, so safe for work.)

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Good point on political conversions

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From Tim F at Balloon Juice:

Kevin Drum:

….So I just get through speculating that the bursting of the housing bubble might be responsible for the growing number of people who trust Democrats more than Republicans to manage the economy, and what pops up on the front page of the LA Times? A story about the housing bubble turning Republicans into Independents and Democrats

To recap, these people were Republicans when they had a steady job, health insurance, a suburban house and a SUV, but switched to the social welfare party as soon as times went bad. I’m sorry if this sounds insensitive, but that’s pathetic. If you spend your life voting to force people in hard times to get off their ass and take some responsibility for their lives then suck it up and practice what you preach when the bottle stops on you. Alexander Bain provides context (emphasis mine):

For our present purpose it is sufficient to say that the inferential process involves the formation of a habit. For it produces a belief, or opinion; and a genuine belief, or opinion, is something on which a man is prepared to act, and is therefore, in a general sense, a habit.

Bain helped found the psychological/philosophical school of thought called pragmatism. Another prominent member, the SCOTUS Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, famously argued that judicial reasoning is the process by which judges justify decisions that they have already made. While one could argue over whether pragmatism is an lens for viewing the world, I think the perspective is helpful here. If a Republican’s core beliefs cannot survive their first test then it seems safe to say that, except in he most superficial sense, he or she never believed them at all. It turns out that deep inside most people believe in social fairness, even if a significant number mostly feels that society should be fair to them.

To put it another way, the difference between losing the house and someone else losing theirs is the difference between a tragedy and a statistic. I don’t make a distinction between the two in terms of the policies I support, and I guess it strikes me as weird that so many people do.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Ron Paul is raising big bucks

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Ron Paul is really raising money! Glenn Greenwald has an excellent column on this phenomenon. Read it, please.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Election

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Amazing: biodegradable motor oil

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Don’t you wish that the Exxon oil spill had been biodegradable? Now a company has formulated a biodegradable motor oil:

Green Earth Technologies [has] introduced G-OIL, a revolutionary, totally green biodegradable motor oil guaranteed to protect engines as well as the leading brands, but without the environmental hazards or dependence on foreign oil. … Available for the estimated $7 billion US Market in a full range of performance levels and viscosities, G-OIL is safe to use in any gasoline, diesel, or hybrid engine. It’s the first bio-based, high-endurance motor oil to provide superior performance during the maximum oil change interval recommended by vehicle manufacturers.

An estimated four gallons of foreign oil can be saved with each G-Oil five quart oil change. In the manufacture of traditional petroleum-based motor oil, it takes nearly three barrels of oil to make one barrel of product; whereas Green Earth scientists have developed a way to yield one barrel of product from one barrel of animal fat. G-OIL is manufactured from tallow acquired from American farmers. Tallow is culled from beef and has been used to make animal feed, soap, and no longer used for cooking. G-OIL is made utilizing a proprietary process that converts tallow from a solid raw material into completely biodegradable motor oil for gasoline and diesel engines as well as hybrid cars…

ABOUT GREEN EARTH TECHNOLOGIES: Green Earth Technologies (GET) produces “G” branded, superior performing, totally green products made entirely from America-grown base oils, and utilizes the power of nanotechnology to deliver environmentally friendly products with no compromise. GET’s family of products are offered in a range of categories, including automotive performance and appearance chemicals, marine performance and appearance chemicals, household cleaning solutions, and lawn & garden chemicals. Please visit www.getg.com for the latest news and in-depth information about GET and its brands.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 11:34 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Environment, Science

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The governor who expected a movie ending

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Schwarzenegger spent too many years playing in movies whose outcomes were wired to be good, and it seems to have shaped his ideas of governing: “Do whatever you want, because in the final reel it’ll come together and be good.” Not so. Kevin Drum:

A couple of months ago Ezra Klein wrote a piece for us explaining why universal healthcare is a problem that can’t be effectively addressed at the state level. California is now demonstrating just how right he was:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday ordered all state departments to draft plans for deep spending cuts after receiving word that California’s budget is plunging deeply into the red — largely because of the troubled housing market.

….The news is a major setback for the governor’s other policy initiatives. His proposals — to pass legislation this year that would bring healthcare to all Californians and address the state’s water problems — were already faltering in the Legislature. News of a massive looming deficit will make the proposals, both of which would require billions of dollars of new spending, politically less palatable to lawmakers.

Why are we in trouble now? It’s not just because of the housing crisis: “When the economy improved nationwide several years ago, most states erased chronic deficits and began building rainy day funds. California did not. It continued to spend more money than it brought in.”

Four years ago Arnold Schwarzenegger took office in the midst of a massive budget crisis after promising voters that he would end our “crazy deficit spending.” In true Republican fashion, he did this by immediately reducing the state auto licensing fee by $4 billion a year and then insisting that we all approve $15 billion in bonds to paper over a shortfall that was now even more desperate than the one he inherited. The hope, apparently, was that nothing bad would even happen to the economy and eventually we’d squeeze out from under the rock we were under.

I opposed the bonds at the time, and I’ve never regretted that vote since. Defeating the bonds would have caused immense fiscal pain, but it would also have forced Schwarzenegger and the legislature to actually fix our underlying problem by increasing taxes and reducing spending. Our nonpartisan legislative analyst made it clear from the beginning that Arnold’s plan had no long-term chance of success, but he just flashed that million-dollar smile and went ahead with it anyway.

But gravity still pulls downward and reducing taxes still creates bigger deficits, not smaller ones. Now California has a massive deficit and tens of billions of dollars worth of bonds for our kids to pay off. And $16 billion of it — and counting — is due to the demagogic tax decrease that Arnold used to win office. Nice work, governor.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

The mystery: selling tap water in bottles

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How does that work? Now that I refill (not landfill) my water bottles at my tap (filtered, I admit, with a Brita filter), I can’t understand the folly of my fellows. How quickly we forget!

So the emperor really isn’t wearing any clothes. Last week PepsiCo announced that the label on its Aquafina brand of bottled water will soon carry the words “public water source”, instead of simply the innocent looking “P.W.S.”. That’s right: Aquafina is to all intents and purposes tap water. Coca-Cola is under pressure to follow suit with its Dasani brand, though so far it is refusing to do so. “We don’t believe that consumers are confused about the source of Dasani water,” Diana Garza Ciarlante, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, said. “The label clearly states that it is purified water.”

No doubt Coca-Cola still remembers what happened in Britain in 2004, when the press made a stink over the fact that Dasani was simply filtered tap water. The company became a laughing stock, as readers were reminded of an episode of a popular TV comedy, “Only Fools and Horses”. In it Del Boy, a decidedly dodgy businessman, decides to bottle tap water, selling it as “Peckham Spring”, named after the unprepossessing inner-London borough. No sooner had the initial furore died down than Coca-Cola discovered that some of the water had been contaminated betwixt tap and bottle, and decided to admit defeat. Dasani was axed in Britain a mere five weeks after it was launched.

Will Pepsi’s new label have a similarly disastrous impact on sales of Aquafina, which is now the market leader in bottled waters in America? It is by no means inevitable.

The success of bottled water is in many ways one of capitalism’s greatest mysteries. Studies show consistently that tap water is purer than many bottled waters—not including those that contain only tap water, which by some estimates is 40% of the total by volume. The health benefits that are claimed for some bottled waters are unproven, at best. By volume, bottled water often costs 1,000 times the price of tap water. Indeed, even with oil prices sky high, a litre of bottled water can cost more than a litre of petrol. And on top of that, there are the environmental costs of transporting bottled water and of manufacturing and disposing of the bottles.

Yet sales of bottled water have been booming. In 2006 Americans spent nearly $11 billion buying 8.25 billion gallons (31.2 billion litres) of the stuff, an increase in volume of 9.5% on a year earlier. The average American drank 27.6 gallons of bottled water last year, up from 16.7 gallons in 2000.

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Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 9:53 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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Floating treats pain, stress, depression

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This is fascinating—can you rent time in floating emporia?

Relaxation in large, sound- and light-proof tanks with high-salt water ­floating ­is an effective way to alleviate long-term stress-related pain. This has been shown by Sven-Åke Bood, who recently completed his doctorate in psychology, with a dissertation from Karlstad University in Sweden.

The dissertation confirms what earlier studies have indicated: sleep was improved, patients felt more optimistic, and the content of the vitalizing hormone prolactin increased. Anxiety, stress, depression, and perception of pain declined. Those who took part in the research project all had some form of stress-related pain, and after only twelve treatments in the floating tank, their condition improved.

“Through relaxing in floating tanks, people with long-term fibromyalgia, for instance, or depression and anxiety felt substantially better after only twelve treatments. Relaxing in a weightless state in the silent, warm floating tank activates the body’s own system for recuperation and healing. The stress hormone decreases, as does blood pressure. The findings confirm and reinforce our earlier studies on the effects of relaxing in a floating tank,” says Sven-Åke Bood.

His dissertation comprises four studies that all involve the treatment of pain and stress-related disorders with the aid of a floating tank. A control group that was not treated in a floating tank experienced no improvement in their health. After a period of treatment lasting a total of seven weeks, 22 percent of the participants in the floating group were entirely free of pain, and 56 experienced a clear improvement. Nineteen percent felt no change and 3 percent felt worse. And the effect persists after the treatment is completed. The research project has been under way for four years and has included 140 individuals, all with some form of diagnosis involving stress-related long-term pain.

“The treatment method can be used for several groups, such as people with whiplash injuries, fibromyalgia, depression, and long-term stress-related pain. We can also see that a combination of treatment in a floating tank and traditional therapy can be effective. We are now moving on in our research and will be monitoring blood circulation in the capillaries, the oxygen uptake of the blood, and how the body’s reflexes are affected,” says Sven-Åke Bood.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 9:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Medical, Science

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Being fat seems to be unhealthy

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Not exactly news, but we continue to learn how bad it is. Recently it was found that obesity can cause cancer. And now this:

When lean healthy young adults gained about 9 pounds, the functioning of their blood vessel lining became impaired — but shedding the weight restored proper functioning, according to a Mayo Clinic research report. The finding is important because this vessel disorder, known as endothelial dysfunction, is a predictor of heart attacks and stroke, and the effects of modest weight gain on the disorder were not previously known.

The Mayo Clinic team presented the findings today at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2007.

The study is the first randomized, blinded, controlled trial to assess the effects of weight gain — and subsequent weight loss — on endothelial function. Endothelial cells line the blood vessels. When not functioning correctly, they impede blood flow, which can predispose a person to heart attack or stroke. Determining how modest weight gain affects the condition was important due to the growing number of overweight adults worldwide.

“The effects of obesity on heart health receives a lot of attention, but less scrutiny has been given to the impact on the endothelium of modest weight gain in otherwise healthy people,” says Virend Somers, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic cardiologist and senior author. “In fact, many adults accept this kind of weight gain — 9 or 10 pounds — as just part of aging. The assumption has generally been that a modest rise in body fat was more an issue of going up a clothing size, not a health issue. This study suggests otherwise, providing evidence that may help change our cultural attitude to the implications of modest weight gain as we age — and perhaps strengthen the argument for diet and exercise to control weight as a means of protecting against cardiovascular disease.”

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Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 9:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Medical, Science

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Just so you know: I wrote my Senators

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I sent an email to both my Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. The first paragraph of the message went only to Boxer and was omitted in the email to Feinstein:

This probably is not a necessary message: you seem to vote exactly in line with my own views. But just so you have visible support:

PLEASE SUPPORT THE LUGAR-LAUTENBERG FARM BILL! We as a nation and as an OBESE nation cannot afford, financially or nutritionally, to continue to waste taxpayer money subsidizing the production of bad and unneeded foods.

Please help stop the madness. The Lugar-Lautenberg Bill is a step toward a rational policy.

Thank you.

Now it’s your turn: one email to each of your Senators. Click the link above and you’ll find the Senators’ names, and they each will have a little email form to fill out. Topic is “Agriculture.”  If you have Roboform (Windows only, I think), all the standard stuff is filled with one click.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 9:16 am

Posted in Business, Congress, Food

Two farm bills: one bad, one good

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Which one do you think Congress will pass? Here’s the story by Frank Pollan. And here’s what you can do: email your Senators and ask them to support the Lugar-Lautenberg bill (see end of story below).

… A new politics has sprouted up around the farm bill, traditionally a parochial piece of legislation thrashed out in private between the various agricultural interests (wheat growers versus corn growers; meatpackers versus ranchers) without a whole lot of input or attention from mere eaters.

Not this year. The eaters have spoken, much to the consternation of farm-state legislators who have fought hard — and at least so far with success — to preserve the status quo.

Americans have begun to ask why the farm bill is subsidizing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils at a time when rates of diabetes and obesity among children are soaring, or why the farm bill is underwriting factory farming (with subsidized grain) when feedlot wastes are polluting the countryside and, all too often, the meat supply. For the first time, the public health community has raised its voice in support of overturning farm policies that subsidize precisely the wrong kind of calories (added fat and added sugar), helping to make Twinkies cheaper than carrots and Coca-Cola competitive with water. Also for the first time, the international development community has weighed in on the debate, arguing that subsidized American exports are hobbling cotton farmers in Nigeria and corn farmers in Mexico.

On Capitol Hill, hearings on the farm bill have been packed, and newspapers like The San Francisco Chronicle are covering the legislation as closely as The Des Moines Register, bringing an unprecedented level of attention to what has long been one of the most obscure and least sexy pieces of legislation in Congress. Sensing the winds of reform at his back, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told a reporter in July: “This is not just a farm bill. It’s a food bill, and Americans who eat want a stake in it.”

Right now, that stake is looking more like a toothpick. Americans who eat have little to celebrate in the bill that Mr. Harkin is expected to bring to the floor this week. Like the House bill passed in July, the Senate product is very much a farm bill in the traditional let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup mold.

For starters, the Old Guard on both agriculture committees has managed to preserve the entire hoary contraption of direct payments, countercyclical payments and loan deficiency payments that subsidize the five big commodity crops — corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton — to the tune of $42 billion over five years.

The Old Guard has also managed to add a $5 billion “permanent disaster” program (excuse me, but isn’t a permanent disaster a contradiction in terms?) to help farmers in the High Plains struggling to grow crops in a drought-prone region that, as the chronic need for disaster aid suggests, might not be the best place to grow crops.

When you consider that farm income is at record levels (thanks to the ethanol boom, itself fueled by another set of federal subsidies); that the World Trade Organization has ruled that several of these subsidies are illegal; that the federal government is broke and the president is threatening a veto, bringing forth a $288 billion farm bill that guarantees billions in payments to commodity farmers seems impressively defiant.

How could this have happened?

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Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 8:59 am

Big brushes appeal again

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Yesterday’s shave with the Emperor 3 was so great that this morning I took the Rooney Style 3 Size 2 (Medium) Super and worked up a very fine lather from D.R. Harris Arlington soap in a tub. I really enjoyed the size of the brush—variety is good, I see. Big, soft but resilient, holding great gobs of hot lather: what a pleasure.

Yesterday’s shave with the Feather did produce a nick for no reason. I’m beginning to think that, were the Feather a motorbike, it would be extremely fast and powerful but terribly unstable. This morning I returned to the lined Chatsworth, which holds a 3-times used Treet Black Beauty. Beautiful smooth shave, no nicks, no need for extra caution. Just what the doctor ordered. 9.4 easily.

The aftershave was Floid, with its extra-cooling sensation. Nice.

Written by Leisureguy

6 November 2007 at 7:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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