Later On

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

Archive for January 15th, 2008

Thoughts on cities

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Payoffs

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ThinkProgress:

Last fall, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie awarded his former boss, John Ashcroft, a lucrative no-bid contract to “monitor a large corporation willing to settle criminal charges out of court.” Ashcroft’s consulting company is set “to receive payments of $28 million to $52 million” in the deal, one of the biggest payouts ever reported for a federal monitor.

In an interview today, former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach said the case is suspicious because no-bid contracts are generally awarded only if there’s a strong “reason why there isn’t” a competitive process:

“When you give people government contracts, there’s usually a bidding on the contract, or if there isn’t a bidding on it, you’ve got a reason why there isn’t,” Katzenbach told PolitickerNJ.com. “…If Interior wants to go give a former Interior Secretary some big job, people can say that’s just politics and maybe it’s not that serious. But when the Department of Justice starts doing it, it suggests other political things, and that seems to me to be as wrong as it can be.

Christie maintains that he granted the contract because of Ashcroft’s “impeccable legal credentials” and “unique” qualifications. But Ashcroft’s group isn’t even a law firm. And according to Katzenbach, Ashcroft’s resume doesn’t meet the “standards” for a $58 million monitoring contract:

“He’s a pleasant enough man. I doubt that he was an editor of the law review or a Supreme Court clerk or something of that kind — those are the kinds of standards I have.”

Both Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) are now pressing the Justice Department for details on the contracts awarded to Ashcroft and other outside lawyers since 2001, and plan to hold hearings on the Bush administration’s federal monitoring process. The Justice Department has also opened an investigation.

Katzenbach said that as a former Attorney General, he would not have accepted the contract. “I suppose like any human being, I would be tempted, but I would think it was inappropriate,” he concluded.

UPDATE: New Jersey isn’t alone. The Washington Post reports today that in the past few years, U.S. attorneys in Alabama, New York and Virginia have hired “various former prosecutors and SEC officials with ties to President Bush, his father and other Republican luminaries” as corporate monitors. (via Blue Jersey)

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 7:44 pm

What helps, what doesn’t

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From Paul Krugman’s blog:
Tax history

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 3:10 pm

Arabs: all-purpose villains

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From The American Prospect:

Among the many offensive images and representations in the program, the clip from Back to the Future is particularly ridiculous. The year was 1985, Muammar Khaddafi was being sold to us as the new Hitler, (this was several new Hitlers ago; since then we’ve had Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein again, with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad acting as the current new Hitler) and thus “Libyans” was offered as perfunctory shorthand for “villains.” So as not to draw attention to themselves, the “Libyans” drive around wearing army fatigues and kaffiyehs. (You’ll notice, or maybe you won’t, that one of the clever “Libyans” is wearing a red-checked Jordanian kaffiyeh; is this intended as a disguise?) And then, of course, the “Libyans” are driving a VW bus, well known as preferred conveyance of your flag-burning, apple pie abjuring, third world liberation sympathizing hippie. And thus we have the marriage of two of the iconic signifiers of the betes noires of Reaganite Middle America. Unfortunately, the scene where the terrorists are reading Pravda had to be cut.

While it’s tempting to dismiss this sort of thing as “just a movie,” it’s important to understand how this sort of casual slander, the use of cultural signifiers to indicate “bad guy,” can prepare a population to believe the worst about another people or culture, and to support disastrous and destructive policies towards them.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Can he clean up Louisiana?

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Louisiana has long been a strong contender for the most corrupt state and most corrupt government in the nation. But now? Things might change:

Little is ordinary about Louisiana’s new governor, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal. He’s the nation’s youngest governor, the first whose parents are from India, and his state’s first nonwhite chief executive since Reconstruction. A convert from Hinduism to Catholicism, he likes fast food and rises early – like 3 a.m. – to lift weights.

But all that pales in comparison to the extraordinary task he’s promised to undertake: cleaning up a state government widely considered one of the most corruption-prone in America. Perhaps equally extraordinary: Some political observers say he can do it. Governor Jindal was inaugurated here in Baton Rouge Monday amid the booms of a 19-cannon salute and a children’s choir singing “The Crawdad Song.”

“We’ve had this sort of political revolution before,” says Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University here in Baton Rouge. “Louisiana is wellknown for dramatically throwing someone out and dramatically throwing other people in, but there’s something different in Jindal – not in the person, but the situation.” In a word, the aftermath of hurricane Katrina has shaken Louisiana politics to its core.

With government flaws exposed by the 2005 storm, “the stars are now aligning” for deep reforms in a state infamous for having more imprisoned politicians per capita than any other, Jindal says.

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Government

What unions can do

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Excellent article:

In the middle of his life, Sylvester Garcia decided he’d had enough of the cold and the heat. He’d been a welder in the copper-mining towns of New Mexico for almost a quarter of a century, but, he says, “I got tired of welding, of the mud, of the rain, of too much hard work. So I told my wife, ‘I’ll try the casinos.'” In short order, he became a dishwasher at the Dunes Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, then moved to the Luxor when the Dunes was leveled to make way for the Bellagio.

At first glance this wasn’t a great career move. Dishwashing in America, as everybody knows, is almost always a minimum wage job devoid of benefits or security. Nonetheless, Garcia insists, “I love my job.” And he’s not kidding.

Among his fellow dishwashers, however, he has to be in a distinct minority. According to “The Coffee Pot Wars,” an essay by Annette Bernhardt, Laura Dresser and Eric Hatton in the new Russell Sage Foundation study of low-wage work, the median hourly wage of the American hotel dishwasher in 2000 was $7.45 — a little better than the housekeeper’s $7.09. Even luxury hotels seldom pay their low-end employees much more than the minimum wage. And while wages have stagnated, hours have declined, from 40 a week for low-end hotel workers in 1960 to 31 in 2000. At one hotel they studied, the authors concluded that 60 percent of the kitchen staff held down two jobs.

Garcia holds just one, but his hourly wage at the Luxor is $11.86 — $4 higher than the industry average. He is paid for 40 hours every week, even if the company actually needs him for fewer. He has family health insurance paid for entirely by his employer. He has a defined-benefit pension. He has three weeks of vacation every year, which he likes to spend hunting in Canada.

Far from a life of quiet desperation, Garcia’s seems full of noisy exaltation. On the evening I visit him, three grandchildren are careening around his house, a six-bedroom home built in 1988. Garcia’s next-door neighbors are an attorney, a minister and, over the back fence, an air-conditioning mechanic. A legion of his fellow hotel workers inhabits the surrounding blocks.

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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DVD upgrade

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Now that it’s pretty clear that Blu-ray will be the dominant format and that HD DVD will wither away, it’s time to look for an upgrade. So I looked. The Blu-ray capable DVDs are still above $300. I will wait a year for them to drop to $120 and for more titles to appear on Blu-ray.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 11:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Best healthcare system in the world

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ThinkProgress:

Patients are waiting longer for care in the nation’s emergency rooms, a potentially deadly result of the shrinking number of emergency departments and rising demand for emergency services, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School.” Between 1997 and 2004, median waiting times increased by 36 percent.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 11:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Reality vs. illusion

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Interesting post from Frontal Cortex:

So I’m reading about the latest cosmological absurdity and feeling pretty smug. It turns out that, according to the equations, your existence is simply “some momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space…Your memories and the world you think you see around you are illusions.”

Aren’t those physicists funny? Once upon a time, we thought quantum mechanics was weird. Then came string theory and all those extra unfolded dimensions. And now comes the latest hypothesis, which is so surreal it’s almost nihilistic. Apparently, I’m just an elaborate illusion, a fictional figment of the universe. Only the equations are real.

But then I started thinking about neuroscience, my own specialty. According to the facts of neuroscience, your head contains 100 billion electrical cells, but not one of them is you, or knows you or cares about you. In fact, you don’t even exist. You are simply an fancy kind of cognitive fakery, an “epiphenomenon” of the cortex. The self is a fiction.

This idea is hardly newsworthy – the ghost was expelled from the machine a long time ago – and yet we often forget just how crazy the concept really is. Think about it: the facts of modern science contradict the most basic facts of our experience. If we know anything, it’s that we are real, that our first-person experience is lucid, vivid and tangible. We feel like more than just a loom of electrical synapses. And yet, what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland is also true of self-consciousness: “there is no there there.”

My worry is that the experiments of modern science, both in physics and neuroscience, are becoming increasingly detached from the empirical actuality of everyday life. Our sciences are turning themselves into immaculate abstractions, unable to reduce or solve or even investigate the only reality we will ever know. Instead, that reality is disregarded as an “illusion”. That hardly strikes me as a satisfying answer.

My comment at his blog:

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 11:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Acai berry healthful

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Latest report:

A Brazilian berry popular in health food contains antioxidants that destroyed cultured human cancer cells in a recent University of Florida study, one of the first to investigate the fruit’s purported benefits.

Published today in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the study showed extracts from acai (ah-SAH’-ee) berries triggered a self-destruct response in up to 86 percent of leukemia cells tested, said Stephen Talcott, an assistant professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“Acai berries are already considered one of the richest fruit sources of antioxidants,” Talcott said. “This study was an important step toward learning what people may gain from using beverages, dietary supplements or other products made with the berries.”

He cautioned that the study, funded by UF sources, was not intended to show whether compounds found in acai berries could prevent leukemia in people.

“This was only a cell-culture model and we don’t want to give anyone false hope,” Talcott said. “We are encouraged by the findings, however. Compounds that show good activity against cancer cells in a model system are most likely to have beneficial effects in our bodies.”

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 10:43 am

Posted in Food, Health

Depths of stupidity

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Those depths are very deep indeed. Glenn Greenwald takes a sounding:

MSNBC is televising a debate tonight between the Democratic presidential candidates in Nevada. It originally invited Dennis Kucinich to participate because Kucinich met the objective criteria the network created for inclusion. After Kucinich received less than 1% of the vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire, MSNBC rescinded its invitation. Kucinich brought suit yesterday in a Nevada state court seeking an injunction compelling his inclusion in the debate, and the state court judge sided with Kucinich.

The reactions to this decision are far more meaningful and interesting than the specific legal issues raised by this dispute. In every case where a court issues a decision on a controversial matter that produces an outcome which right-wing polemicists dislike, they immediately decide — literally overnight — that they are experts in the legal issues which the court had to resolve. Then — without bothering even to learn what those issues are, let alone bothering to read anything about them — they start condemning the court’s decision as some sort of lawless expression of “judicial activism.” In reality, the only ones engaged in “judicial activism” — which means, I suppose, determining the propriety of a court ruling based on outcome preferences rather than legal analysis — are the ill-informed critics of the court’s ruling, who are judging the ruling based exclusively on their objections to the outcome.

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 10:09 am

Posted in GOP

Tagged with

Book reviews

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While I was waiting at the CHOMP lab, I picked up a copy of Book Page, distributed by the local library. It’s a staple-bound newsprint publication consisting of book reviews—a welcome sight as newspapers continue to cut their book-review sections. They also have a Web site worth bookmarking: BookPage.com. You also can subscribe (free) to their email newsletter, sent twice a month, BookPageXTRA.

Very worthwhile, for those who read books.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 9:59 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Lipoic acid study

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Interesting. (Update below.)

A new study done with mice has discovered that supplements of lipoic acid can inhibit formation of arterial lesions, lower triglycerides, and reduce blood vessel inflammation and weight gain – all key issues for addressing cardiovascular disease.

Although the results cannot be directly extrapolated beyond the laboratory, researchers report that “they strongly suggest that lipoic acid supplementation may be useful as an inexpensive but effective intervention strategy . . . reducing known risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis and other inflammatory vascular diseases in humans.”

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 9:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Blood-draw pleasures

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I don’t know whether it’s training or technology or a combination, but phlebotomists today seem to be able to draw blood without causing a noticeable prick of the needle. This morning, I didn’t even feel the puncture at all.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Open wireless router

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Schneier has an interesting take on leaving your wireless router open:

Whenever I talk or write about my own security setup, the one thing that surprises people — and attracts the most criticism — is the fact that I run an open wireless network at home. There’s no password. There’s no encryption. Anyone with wireless capability who can see my network can use it to access the internet.

To me, it’s basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea. But to some observers, it’s both wrong and dangerous.

I’m told that uninvited strangers may sit in their cars in front of my house, and use my network to send spam, eavesdrop on my passwords, and upload and download everything from pirated movies to child pornography. As a result, I risk all sorts of bad things happening to me, from seeing my IP address blacklisted to having the police crash through my door.

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 9:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Chili time

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Simply Recipes has a good collection of links to chili recipes:

And here are some wonderful chili recipes on favorite food blogs from around the web:  

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 9:42 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Businesses hate consumer rights

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And businesses will do anything to stop consumer protection:

Airline passengers going through New York now have something other put-upon travelers around the country don’t have: a bill of rights. The airline industry wants to kill this first-in-the-nation law. It has only itself to blame for being in this position.

The New York law sprang from the horrendous events of last Valentine’s Day. That’s when a freak ice storm wreaked havoc on New York-area airports, and some passengers were trapped on airplanes for up to 10 hours with no water, food or working bathrooms. Airlines canceled flights by the hundreds and stranded thousands of people. What made matters worse was the lack of information from the carriers.

Congress was indignant and promised action that has yet to come. Just before Thanksgiving, the White House called on the airlines “to adopt legally binding contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays.” JetBlue, which failed miserably on that frosty February day, and some other airlines have done so. But not all of them have. Enter the Empire State.

If a flight is delayed three hours or more at John F. Kennedy or LaGuardia airports, the law requires the airlines to make fresh air, lights, functioning restrooms and “adequate food and drinking water” available. The law creates an airline consumer advocate office, which would investigate complaints. The state attorney general can slap the airlines with a penalty of up to $1,000 for every violation verified by the new watchdog. The Air Transport Association, whose membership hauls 90 percent of the passenger and cargo traffic in the country, has sued, arguing — not illogically — that airline regulation is a federal job.

The airlines find themselves facing regulation because they have not lived up to their promises to hold themselves accountable. Flight delays last year were the worst since records started being kept in 1995. The numbers of lost, damaged, stolen or delayed bags were at record levels also. Complaints from the public were up almost 40 percent between November 2006 and November 2007. Government micromanagement of airline operations is far from ideal. But it’s hard to drum up much sympathy for the industry.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 9:38 am

Ingenuity + work = amazing

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 8:23 am

Posted in Video

Zorrik still going strong

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The soap this morning was Durance l’òme and the brush was Rooney Style 2 Finest and the lather superb. The Zorrik in the Edwin Jagger Georgian is still doing a terrific job for me. And the aftershave is Pashana. And I’m off for a fasting blood test.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2008 at 8:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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