Later On

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

Archive for November 7th, 2007

Why we are not good psychologists

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Or, why one must be trained and experimentally inclined to be a good psychologist. Here’s why:

Many people quite naturally believe they are good ‘intuitive psychologists’, thinking it is relatively easy to predict other people’s attitudes and behaviours. We each have information built up from countless previous experiences involving both ourselves and others so surely we should have solid insights?

No such luck.

In reality people show a number of predictable biases when estimating other people’s behaviour and its causes. And these biases help to show exactly why we need psychology experiments and why we can’t rely on our intuitions about the behaviour of others.

One of these biases is called the false consensus bias.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Science

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US finds itself alone again: life sentences for juveniles

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The US believes that children and adolescents can deserve life sentences, with no parole:

Last year the United Nations voted on a resolution to abolish life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young adolescent offenders. The vote was 185 to 1 in favor of abolition, and the United States was the lone dissenter. Until 2005, moreover, when the Supreme Court outlawed the juvenile death penalty under the Eighth Amendment in the case of Roper v. Simmons, twenty states had allowed the execution of murderers who committed their crimes before the age of 18.

In this column, I will explore ways of thinking about crime in the U.S. that might help explain this punitive approach to juvenile offenders.

The Law Treats Juveniles as Presumptively Impaired

Many critics of the juvenile death penalty, prior to Roper v. Simmons, argued that such harsh penalties for juvenile offenders are radically at odds with the way the law ordinarily treats adolescents. With a drinking age of 21 and a voting age of 18, our law otherwise appears to embody the view that minors are not capable of making choices and governing their actions in the way that adults are.

In addition, most states have “parental involvement” statutes that require a minor who wishes to obtain an abortion to notify, or obtain consent from, at least one of her parents first (with exceptions for various circumstances). If we believe that adolescents are impaired enough to justify an across-the-board ban on drinking and voting and a requirement for consultation with parents before an abortion, then why would we choose to visit draconian penalties upon them when they violate the criminal law against homicide?

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Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Tagged with , ,

Questions Mukasey should be asked

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Good FindLaw article, though the Committee did not, in fact, ask the suggested questions:

… Committee members should ask a number of questions regarding Mukasey before voting.

The Overarching Issue: Executive Power

The overarching issue that has seemed to concern Senators the most is how much the Bush Administration has concentrated authority in the Executive Branch. For example, the Administration unilaterally established procedures for interrogating suspected terrorists and a domestic surveillance program without warrants issued by federal judges, in ostensible violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

When senators asked Mukasey at the hearings whether the chief executive must obey federal laws, he responded: “That would have to depend on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country.” Senators must decide whether Mukasey believes this authority trumps the president’s duty to obey a law, particularly in light of the fact that the Constitution empowers Congress to “provide for the common defense.” Senators also ought to consult the Supreme Court’s Youngstown decision, which found unconstitutional President Harry Truman’s seizure of U.S. steel mills to defend the nation in the Korean War precisely because the chief executive had disobeyed federal laws. In the end, Senators must ascertain whether, in their view, Mukasey perceives authority’s concentration in the Executive as an impediment to constitutional governance and to legislative prerogatives or fully supports the Administration’s stunningly broad claim of authority.

Another Crucial Issue: Interrogation Techniques

The questions raised by certain interrogation techniques appear most salient for numerous Senators. The Bush Administration has advocated and seemingly employed harsh interrogation procedures with suspected terrorists since September 11. A number of Committee members find that these measures constitute, or resemble, torture and are morally suspect, ineffective and counter-productive, as their use may encourage America’s enemies to deploy analogous practices.

When Senators questioned Judge Mukasey about waterboarding, he responded: “I don’t know what’s involved in the technique. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.” When responding to written questions, the nominee said he found the procedure “repugnant,” but Mukasey refused to state whether he believed that it was illegal. The nominee’s major reason for being unresponsive was that he lacked relevant information to decide about legality. Some observers, including Administration officials, have expressed concern about Mukasey’s stating that waterboarding is illegal because that statement could be used in subsequent litigation against U.S. interrogators.

Senators must determine whether this concern reflects a true threat, whether Congress has already outlawed waterboarding, and whether Mukasey’s unresponsiveness suggests that he would be overly solicitous of Executive Branch perspectives and interrogation techniques in general, and the claimed power to use waterboarding specifically.

A Third Key Issue: Domestic Surveillance

Another issue which has troubled numerous Senators is President Bush’s 2005 revelation that the NSA had been undertaking domestic surveillance absent court-issued warrants required by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Senators have been concerned that this action invades privacy, while Congress recently approved surveillance, with some limitations, for a half year. Senators must ask themselves how Mukasey would advise the Chief Executive and Congress to balance concerns for national security and civil liberties, as well as executive and legislative power, in this context.

Senators have also been concerned about DOJ’s politicization, which was, under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, exemplified by many U.S. Attorneys’ dismissal for seemingly political reasons. DOJ and the 93 U.S. Attorney Offices have long operated with insufficient leadership, while the considerations above have undermined professionalism and morale. Senators must ask themselves whether, and if so, exactly how, Mukasey will restore professionalism and depoliticize DOJ.

Mukasey is a well-qualified nominee. Yet Senators must carefully consider whether, on these crucial issues, his views sufficiently reflect our Constitutional order.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 2:54 pm

Big protest

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Breaking news:

Furious about what they see as negative media stereotypes about waterboarding, a group representing the nation’s waterboarders marched on Washington today.

The group, which calls itself the National Association of Waterboarders and Controlled Drowners, is the largest organization of its kind, representing over 20,000 of the nation’s waterboarders.

Waterboarders across the country have silently seethed for the past week as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey about his views on the controversial interrogation technique.

But after several days of hearing senators repeatedly denigrate the practice on national television, waterboarders “have had enough,” said Carol Foyler, executive director of the waterboarders’ group.

“When senators use the words ‘controlled drowning,’ people ignore the ‘controlled’ part and focus on the ‘drowning’ part,” Ms. Foyler said. “As someone who spent years of training to become a licensed waterboarder, I’m deeply offended by this.”

Braving chilly November temperatures to make their point about the media’s negative stereotyping of them, the angry torturers got some moral support when one of their most prominent advocates, Vice President Dick Cheney, emerged from his secure undisclosed location to address them.

The vice president received a thunderous ovation from the crowd when he proposed that the government earmark $1.6 billion to improve the media image of waterboarding and waterboarders.

“There’s nothing wrong with waterboarding that a little public relations makeover wouldn’t fix,” the vice president told the crowd. “For starters, why not call it dunking?”

Elsewhere, faced with a Writers Guild strike, Paramount Pictures said it would produce the second “Transformers” film without a script, “just like the first one.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 2:46 pm

Why the writers went on strike

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I think they have a strong case, myself.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Business, Video, Writing

You book-readers

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You’re out there, right? Like to read books, usually have two or three going, first thought on taking a trip is, “What books should I take?”? The Eldest points out for such as you and I (and her). It’s yet another community site (cf. Facebook), but centered on books: sharing reading lists, discussing, etc. Free. I just joined.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 2:33 pm

Robert Samuelson: go away

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What a jerk. From his column today:

 Recessions also have often-overlooked benefits. They dampen inflation. In weak markets, companies can’t easily raise prices or workers’ wages.

Ah, yes: that great benefit, stagnant wages. How happy will be the hearts of the workers and their families as this benefit comes home—and in fact, they must be happy already, since real wages have been stagnant over the past several years, at least for the middle and lower classes. Those hedge fund managers, now, that’s another story.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 2:17 pm

Social Security propaganda

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The propaganda seems to be working: Tim Russert and Chris Matthews have been brainwashed (though for them, a light rinse would probably be enough—line stolen from Eugene McCarthy, who used it after Mitt Romney’s father said he had been brainwashed). Look:

Tim “Pumpkin Head” Russert said this Monday on the Hardball show:

“Everyone knows Social Security as it’s constructed is not going to be in the same place it’s gonna be for the next generation.”

He means that Social Security will have to be somehow restructured. Chris “Tweety” Matthews piped in to say:

“It’s a bad Ponzi scheme at this point, yeah.”

They went on to talk about politicians needing to make “tough choices.” “Tough choices” in this context usually means cutting promised retirement benefits instead of restoring the money that was taken from the Social Security Trust Fund and used for tax cuts. Never mind that Social Security has sufficient funds invested in its Trust Fund to cover almost any projected shortfall — tax cuts and corporate welfare mean government is going to have trouble finding the money it owes to its citizens. So to head off the idea of getting the money from where the money went, the moneyed interests have launched a campaign to make people think this is somehow Social Security’s problem — the ones owed the money — instead of the problem of the ones who got the money.

Why does “everyone know” that Social Security will need to be restructured? Because it has been repeated so often that people believe it is true. Something that “everyone knows” is also called “conventional wisdom.” Once something becomes “conventional wisdom” it is extraordinarily difficult to shake people from believing it, true or not.

This is done because on Election Day it doesn’t matter if something is actually true, it only matters what people think is true. This is the basis of the divide between the “reality-based community” and those who believe “we can create our own reality.” (It is instructive to follow the link and learn where those terms originated. )

Such is the power of propaganda.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Media

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Climate change and fresh water

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Although noted climatologist Dana Perino believes that global warming will have many benefits (for example, stress from cold weather could drop), there do seem to be some drawbacks. For example:

As sea levels rise, coastal communities could lose up to 50 percent more of their fresh water supplies than previously thought, according to a new study from Ohio State University.

Hydrologists here have simulated how saltwater will intrude into fresh water aquifers, given the sea level rise predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC has concluded that within the next 100 years, sea level could rise as much as 23 inches, flooding coasts worldwide.

Scientists previously assumed that, as saltwater moved inland, it would penetrate underground only as far as it did above ground.

But this new research shows that when saltwater and fresh water meet, they mix in complex ways, depending on the texture of the sand along the coastline. In some cases, a zone of mixed, or brackish, water can extend 50 percent further inland underground than it does above ground.

Like saltwater, brackish water is not safe to drink because it causes dehydration. Water that contains less than 250 milligrams of salt per liter is considered fresh water and safe to drink.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 12:11 pm

Focus on food, not on nutrients

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Very interesting study:

In a recent academic review, a University of Minnesota professor in the School of Public Health has concluded that food, as opposed to specific nutrients, may be key to having a healthy diet.

This notion is contrary to popular practice in food industry and government, where marketers and regulators tend to focus on total fat, carbohydrate and protein and on specific vitamins and added supplements in food products, not the food items as a whole. The research is published in last month’s Journal of Nutrition Reviews.

“We are confusing ourselves and the public by talking so much about nutrients when we should be talking about foods,” said David Jacobs, Ph.D., the principal investigator and Mayo Professor of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. “Consumers get the idea that diet and health can be understood in terms of isolated nutrients. It’s not the best approach, and it might be wrong.”

Jacobs, with coauthor Professor Linda Tapsell of the University of Wollongong in Australia, argues that people should shift the focus toward the benefits of entire food products and food patterns in order to better understand nutrition in regard to a healthy human body.

They focus on the concept of food synergy – the idea that more information about the impact of human health can be obtained by looking at whole foods than a single food component (such as vitamin C, or calcium added to a container of orange juice).

Jacobs and Tapsell provide several examples in which the single nutrient approach to nutrition has not proved to benefit health:

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Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Fat disrupts your internal clock

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Another bad thing:

Diets that are high in fat can shift the timing of the body’s internal clock, researchers report in the November issue of Cell Metabolism, a publication of Cell Press.

The researchers found that mice fed a fatty diet quickly develop changes in their normal activity patterns. The animals begin eating more during the day, when mice—being nocturnal—are supposed to be asleep. They also exhibit changes in the molecular components of the circadian clock and in important aspects of metabolic chemistry.

“We found that, as an animal on a high-fat diet gains weight, it eats at the inappropriate time for its sleep/wake cycle. All of the excess calories are consumed when the animal should be resting,” said Joe Bass of Northwestern University. “For a human, that would be like raiding the refrigerator in the middle of the night and binging on junk food.”

“You can begin to see changes in the animals’ daily habits very rapidly—within a matter of days,” he added.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Science

To feel better, I emailed Sen. Boxer

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Emailing your Senators is easy and helps, I find. Here’s today’s email:

Dear Senator Boxer:

I was surprised to see that Chuck Schumer rather blatantly sold his vote and will now keep the 15% tax rate for hedge fund managers whose annual salaries are as high as $1.6 BILLION dollars, and will pay for it by maintaining taxes on millions of middle-class citizens. Of course, those millions of citizens failed to send Schumer money, and Schumer clearly votes for those who give him money.

Isn’t this illegal? And if not illegal, whatever happened to ethics, morals, and the Democratic Party. It’s hard to express is printable language the level of disgust I feel.

Of course, Schumer also backs Judge “I Don’t Know From Torture” Mukasey, so he’s a sleazeball from the start. Still, I find myself repulsed by the depravity of the leaders of the Democratic Party.

Please tell Schumer to go… oh, never mind. The US Senate: Jay Rockefeller sells out to the telecoms and gives them the immunity they, Schumer sells out to the hedge fund managers and protects them from being taxed at an appropriate rate.

This country needs better leaders, and we’re not getting them.

Yours truly,

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

More on the big Democratic sell-out

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The sell-out led by Schumer:

… The public wants change. “If Americans have ever been angrier with the state of the country,” begins a new strategy memo from the polling organization Democracy Corps, “we have not witnessed it.”

Nor is the demand for change solely about Iraq: there has been a strong revival of economic populism. Democracy Corps asked those who believe America is on the wrong track to choose phrases that best described their views of what’s gone wrong. The most commonly chosen were “Big businesses get whatever they want in Washington” and “Leaders have forgotten the middle class.”

So much, by the way, for pundits who claim that Americans don’t care about economic inequality.

Longer-term studies of public opinion suggest a substantial leftward shift. James Stimson, a political scientist who uses data from many polls to construct an index of the overall liberalism or conservatism of the electorate, finds that America is now more liberal than it has been since the early 1960s. And the tactics the right has historically used to distract voters from economic issues, above all the exploitation of racial tensions, have been losing their effectiveness.

But the Democracy Corps memo warns that “Democrats have not yet found their voice as agents of change.” Indeed. What the memo doesn’t say, but is all too obvious, is that one big reason the Democrats are having trouble finding their voice is the influence of big money.

The most conspicuous example of this influence right now is the way Senate Democrats are dithering over whether to close the hedge fund tax loophole — which allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a tax rate of only 15 percent on most of their income.

Only a handful of very wealthy people benefit from this loophole, while closing the loophole would yield billions of dollars each year in revenue. Retrieving this revenue is a key ingredient in legislation approved by the House Ways and Means Committee to reform the alternative minimum tax, something that must be done to avoid a de facto tax increase for millions of middle-class Americans.

A handful of superwealthy hedge fund managers versus millions of middle-class Americans — it sounds like a no-brainer.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 11:41 am

More votes for sale by Democrats

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Someone disputed whether Jay Rockefeller’s vote could be purchased for a $40,000 campaign contribution for telecoms (which wanted immunity for their lawbreaking): he took the money, then he pushed for immunity. Just a coincidence, surely.

Now there’s this. (Schumer, BTW, was the other Democrat (besides Feinstein) who voted to confirm Judge “I Don’t Know From Torture” Mukasey, saying that if the Senate passed a law against waterboarding, that Judge Mukasey would support it!!! Amazing: an Attorney General who will support the law! What a recommendation! OTOH, waterboarding is already against the law. Schumer is a putz.)

In early June, as the Senate Finance Committee began examining how a new breed of Wall Street titan could be paying a special low tax rate [15% – LG] on executives’ salaries [what would you say to an annual take-home pay of $1.5 billion? – LG], one of the richest of them, hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors, cut the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee a check for $28,500.

Just days later, with DSCC Chairman Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) equivocating on legislation to raise taxes on publicly traded equity firms, hedge fund giant James H. Simons, who earned $1.7 billion last year at his Renaissance Technologies LLC, donated another $28,500 to the DSCC.

By late July, Schumer was off the fence — and on the side of the hedge funds and private-equity firms in opposing the Democratic legislation. [Another coincidence, I guess. – LG]

Later this week, Democrats will face more scrutiny over that choice. The House is to vote on a bill to stave off growth of the alternative minimum tax for a year, offer new tax breaks to middle-class homeowners and expand tax rebates for low-income parents — paid for largely by nearly $50 billion in tax increases on the burgeoning hedge fund and private-equity industries.

The measure has deeply divided Democrats, pitting a rank and file that has railed for years against inequities in the tax code against the party’s money men, who are reluctant to bite the hand that has generously fed them. Hanging in the balance is the AMT, enacted in 1969 to ensure that the wealthiest Americans pay at least some taxes. Instead, it has increasingly affected middle-class taxpayers.

“If you’re a Democrat and you have to choose between the alternative minimum tax and the hedge fund industry, that’s one tough ideological choice,” said Viva Hammer, who recently left the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy and is now a tax partner at the law firm Crowell & Moring. “It’s a choice between your votes and your wallet.” [And we know how easy it is to buy a Senator or Congressman — LG]

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Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 11:38 am

Tyler’s first shave

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Tyler’s first shave

Tyler is 2 1/2 and is shaving for the first time. More photos here.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 11:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Extremely cool staircases

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Take a look (and, in one case, a listen).

In fact, that site has quite a few nice things. These rocks, for example.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Tagged with

Book darts

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I mentioned Book Darts in passing, but Cool Tools talks about them today, and I wanted to chime in. They’re great: fit flush with the page, unerringly marks the place, can be left in the book (they don’t rust or discolor the page), cheap enough to leave in the book (100 for $9.95: less than a dime apiece), and overall: quite nifty. There are certain passages I know I’ll want to return to in various gooks, and the Book Dart is how I mark the place. For example, from Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves’s memoir of his experience in the Great War and afterwards:

Professor Edgeworth, of All Souls’, avoided conversational English, persistently using words and phrases that one expects to meet only in books. One evening, Lawrence returned from a visit to London, and Edgeworth met him at the gate. ‘Was it very caliginous in the metropolis?

‘Somewhat caliginous, but not altogether inspissated,’ Lawrence replied gravely.

Or this, from History of My Life, by Giacomo Casanova:

Stupidity is far more dangerous in a housemaid than malice, and more costly to her master, for he may be justified in punishing one who is malicious but not one who is a fool; he can only discharge her, and learn another lesson in the conduct of life. Mine has just used three notebooks, containing a detailed account of what I am about to set down in outline in this one, because she needed paper for her housekeeping. To excuse herself, she tells me that since the sheets were old and scrawled all over and even blotted in places, she thought them more fit for her to use than the clean white sheets on my table. If I had thought about it I wold not have flown into a rage; but the first effect of rage is precisely to render the mind incapable of thought. I can say to my cred that my anger is always short-lived; irasci celerem tamen ut placabilis essem (“I become angry quickly, even as I am quickly appeased.”) After wasting my time treating her to epithets whose application escaped her entirely and proving to her by the most lucid reasoning that she was a food, she refuted all my arguments by never answering a word. I resigned myself to writing all over again, angrily and consequently badly, what had I been in a good humor I should have written well; but my reader can console himself with the thought that, as in mechanics, he will gain in time what he loses in energy.

If you use Book Darts, you’ll enjoy you reading more, and your re-reading even more than that.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 10:07 am

Posted in Daily life

Good post on time management

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Interesting point: time management is related to clutter. Good post, with useful links.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 9:40 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with ,

Cool design for private plane

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The Avanti P.180 seats up to 7 plus 2-person crew, looks cool, and and has a very green design: low fuel usage, highly efficient. And the company offering fractional ownership is buying carbon offsets for the entire fleet.

 No aircraft today, jet or turboprop, offers the versatility of the P.180.  With the ability to fly non-stop from New York to locations such as Chicago, Atlanta, West Palm Beach or Miami.  The P.180 cruises at jets speeds and still offers the operational flexibility to fly in and out of shorter runways – increasing your travel destination options.

The P.180 defines a new category of luxury, performance and efficiency in jet powered, turboprop aircraft.  Cruising at jet speeds over 450 mph, the P.180 travels faster and quieter than most light class aircraft, yet has a fraction of the fuel consumption and lower overall costs.

With rear-mounted propellers and an acoustic blanket enveloping the cabin, you’ll experience one of the quietest rides in the fractional aircraft industry – even quieter than most jets.  The unique shape of the P.180 lends itself to a spacious, luxurious stand-up cabin – with oversized stuffed leather seats, the cabin-cross section of a super mid-size aircraft and plenty of work space.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 9:39 am

Cutting implements: the mandoline

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I realized that in the section on cutting I left out the mandoline, so I’m writing that now. I have to say that, since I got my first one, mandoline design has advanced a lot. Zylis, for example, has a very nice model. I have the Rösle Adjustable Handheld Slicer, somewhat easier to store because it’s flat and does away with the handguard (but it costs twice as much, so: not recommended). And in fact, the handguard/foodpusher thing is awkward and one does tend to put it aside. But the mandoline blade is sharp as by-golly—it has to be, since you’re just pushing the food against it—so it’s easy to slice fingertips as well as food.

So the thing to do is to get a good cut-resistant glove. You need only one, for the pushing hand. The link has a good description of the category, and here’s an excellent one (made of Spectra) at a reasonable price. The cut-resistant glove is quite useful.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2007 at 9:16 am

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