Later On

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

Archive for November 17th, 2007

How the bean saved civilization

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From an article by Umberto Eco that appeared in the NY Times on 18 April 1998. The entire article is worth reading. Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel also comments on the importance of pulses (beans and peas) as one of the necessary foundations for the development of a civiliaztion.

… In this sense, the Middle Ages before 1000 A.D. were a period of indigence, hunger, insecurity. In his splendid ”La civilisation de l’Occident medievale,” rich in observations of everyday life in the Middle Ages, Jacques Le Goff illustrated how impoverished this time was by recounting popular tales. In one such story, a saint appears magically to retrieve a sickle that a peasant had accidentally dropped down a well. In an era when iron had become rare, the loss of a sickle would have been a terrible thing, making it impossible for the peasant to continue harvesting: the sickle’s blade was irreplaceable.

As the population became smaller and less strong physically, people were mowed down by endemic diseases (tuberculosis, leprosy, ulcers, eczema, tumors) and by dread epidemics like the plague. It is always risky to venture demographic calculations for past millennia, but according to some scholars, Europe in the seventh century had shrunk to roughly 14 million inhabitants; others posit 17 million for the eighth century. Underpopulation combined with undercultivated land left nearly everyone undernourished.

As the second millennium approached, however, the figures changed — the population grew. Some experts calculate a total of 22 million Europeans in 950; others speak of 42 million in 1000. In the 14th century, Europe’s population hovered between 60 million and 70 million. Though the figures differ, on one point there is agreement: in the five centuries after the year 1000, Europe’s population doubled, maybe even tripled.

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Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2007 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Technology

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More complete explanation of Social Security

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And why its finances are in good shape. Paul Krugman:

Some commenters have asked for more about Social Security’s role in the long-run budget problem, and in particular an explanation of my assertion that the Beltway obsession with Social Security reflects ignorance. So here’s a quick, informal explanation.

Start with the current position. Last year, federal spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid was 8.5 percent of GDP, equally divided between Social Security and the health care programs. Dismal long-run projections, like those of the GAO, have this total rising by 10 percentage points of GDP by mid-century.

So, how much of this is a Social Security problem? Pundits like Tim Russert love to point out that in its early days Social Security had 16 workers paying in for every retiree receiving benefits. But this is irrelevant; looking forward, we’ll see the worker-beneficiary ratio fall from about 3 to 2 as the baby boomers retire. This will raise the percentage of GDP spent on Social Security from about 4 to 6 — that is, a rise of about 2 percentage points of GDP, which is a small fraction of the entitlements problem. See, for example, this chart from my NY Review of Books piece on the subject.

What’s more, Social Security has already been strengthened to deal with this rise. In 1983 the payroll tax was increased and adjustments made to the retirement age, so as to build up a trust fund. According to the “intermediate” projection of the Social Security trustees, this trust fund will be exhausted in 2041 — but they also present a more optimistic scenario, based on economic assumptions that don’t seem at all outlandish, in which the trust fund goes on forever.

This brings us to the claim that the trust fund doesn’t exist, because it’s invested in government bonds. The full explanation of why this is sophistry is here.

The bottom line is that Social Security is just not the major problem.

Now, part of the projected rise in Medicare and Medicaid costs represents the effects of an aging population. But as a new report from the CBO explains, demography is only a minor factor — mainly it’s rising health care costs. What’s more, the proposed “solutions” for the Social Security problem have no relevance to the issue of rising Medicare costs — even if privatization were a good idea, which it isn’t, it would do nothing to solve the problem of rising medical bills.

The Beltway obsession with Social Security is a classic case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. People have picked up a few facts about demography, and think they understand the long run budget problem. They don’t.

PS: OK, from some communications I see that 2017 — the projected date at which payroll taxes no longer cover benefit payments — has raised its ugly head. But there is no interpretation under which 2017 matters. Social Security legally has its own dedicated funding; if you believe the government will honor the law, the surpluses the system is now running are building up a trust fund, which will finance the system for decades after 2017, and maybe forever. If you think the law will be ignored, then Social Security doesn’t really have its own budget — the payroll tax is just one of many taxes, and SS benefits are just one of many government costs. In that case the relationship between payroll taxes and benefits is irrelevant.

The only way to make 2017 matter is to change the rules midway: when SS runs surpluses they don’t count, but when it runs deficits they do.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2007 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Government

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Cute idea: Meeting Miser

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Measure the cost of your next meeting in real-time—and, in fact, project it so everyone can see the dollars add up as the seconds tick by.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2007 at 11:48 am

Posted in Business, Software

Looking for a few good readers

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As noted previously, I’m looking for a few readers for the semi-final draft of my cooking compendium. I now have one category 2 reader, but still hope to get four more readers:

  1. 1 person who has never even tried cooking
  2. 1 more person who cooks a little but not a lot and is still a novice, more or less
  3. 2 persons who cook routinely—not chefs, but comfortable in the kitchen preparing a meal.

I would let you know where to download a PDF of the book (probably sometime this weekend) and would ask that you send your critique to me by Sunday Nov 25. I realize that this is a very busy time of the year, so if you don’t think you can undertake it, that’s quite understandable. But I’m hoping that five will be able to.

If you’re interested, email me (leisureguy.wordpress{at}gmail.com) and let me know whether you are in category 1, 2, or 3 (above). Thanks.

In the meantime, light blogging today as I wrap up this version.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2007 at 10:54 am

Jammin’ the Blues – 1944

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This week is a feast of great jazz names. The first one you see is  on tenor sax, with  on drums and  on bass — and the muscians keep coming.

Here’s the video, and here are the credits:

Lester “Prez” Young – on tenor sax
Red Callender – on bass
Harry “Sweets” Edison – on trumpet
Marlowe Morris  – on piano
Sidney Catlett  – on drums
Barney Kessel  – on guitar
Jo Jones  – on drums (see also this video)
John Simmons  – on bass
Illinois Jacquet – on tenor sax
Marie Bryant – singer

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2007 at 10:14 am

Posted in Jazz, Music, Video

What would happen if the US withdrew from Iraq?

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Nothing?

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2007 at 9:38 am

Wonder how long the Right can fight reality

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Take a look at this story. Think they will continue their pig-headed resistance?

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called climate change “the defining challenge of our age” today and called on the United States and China, the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases, to be play “a more constructive role” in coming negotiations for a new global climate treaty.

The world’s energy ministers meet in Indonesia in just two weeks to begin what are expected to be protracted talks over a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Neither the United States nor China is a signatory to Kyoto, which seeks to limit the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Today the world’s scientists have spoken, clearly and in one voice,” Mr. Ban said as he released the final report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “In Bali I expect the world’s policymakers to do the same.

“The breakthrough needed in Bali is for a comprehensive climate change deal that all nations can embrace.”

Far more powerfully then ever before, members of the United Nations panel said today that their review of the data had led them to conclude that reductions in greenhouse gases had to start immediately to avert a global climate disaster that could leave island states submerged and abandoned, decrease African crop yields by 50 percent and lower global economic output by 5 percent or more. [Although noted climatologist Dana Perino stated that she personally saw many benefits from global warming—for one, she said, people wouldn’t be as cold. – LG]

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Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2007 at 8:45 am

9.8

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I thought I’d nip the suspense in the bud: it was a 9.8 shave, and here’s how I got it:

First MR GLO, which usually goes without saying. Then the Rooney Style 2 Finest and Taylor of Old Bond Street St. James shaving cream, along with the Edwin Jagger lined Chatsworth and a Treet Black Beauty two or three shaves old. The new pattern: double down, across, and up, rinse, and apply TOBS St. James aftershave splash.

Extremely smooth, with no nick or burn. Lovely shave for a weekend. Tomorrow I’m going to do a Method shave again to test out the Rooney Style 1 Size 1 Super.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2007 at 8:41 am

Posted in Shaving

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