Later On

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

Archive for February 6th, 2008

I like this one

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Video

Regular old mushrooms as nutritious as any

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This I didn’t know:

The humble white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) has as much, and in some cases, more anti-oxidant properties than more expensive varieties.

Although the button mushroom is the foremost cultivated edible mushroom in the world with thousands of tonnes being eaten every year, it is often thought of as a poor relation to its more exotic and expensive cousins and to have lesser value nutritionally.

But according to new research in SCI’s Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, the white button mushroom has as much anti-oxidant properties as its more expensive rivals, the maitake and the matsutake mushrooms – both of which are highly prized in Japanese cuisine for their reputed health properties including lowering blood pressure and their alleged ability to fight cancer.

Anti-oxidants are believed to help ward off illness and boost the body’s immune system by acting as free radical scavengers, helping to mop up cell damage caused by free radicals.

Dr Jean-Michel Savoie and his team from the Institut National de la Recherche Agrinomique, a Governmental research institute in France, found that anti-radical activity was equivalent to, if not more, than the better known mushrooms when they measured the respective mushrooms’ free radical scavenging ability.

The French team also found that the body of the mushroom had a higher concentration of anti-oxidants than the stalk.

Dr Jean-Michel said: “It can be reasonably assumed that white button mushrooms have as much, if not more, radical scavenging power as mushrooms currently touted for their health benefit. The good thing is button mushrooms are available all year round, are cheap and may be an excellent source of nutrition as part of a healthy diet.”

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Food, Health

Media on healthcare: they don’t get it

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And they don’t seem to want to get it:

At the end of an unusually long editorial headlined “The High Cost of Healthcare,” the November 25 New York Times dismissed the idea of publicly funded universal healthcare, which all other industrialized countries use to provide medical treatment to all of their citizens while spending much less per capita than the U.S.Framing a public health insurance system as a sentimental lefty dream, the paper’s editorialists wrote that “deep in their hearts, many liberals yearn for a single-payer system.” But single-payer, the paper assures us, is “no panacea for the cost problem” and has “limited political support.”

Knocking down the straw man that single-payer would solve all healthcare problems isn’t much of an achievement; while advocates point out that single-payer systems in other countries cost far less than the U.S.’s profit-dominated healthcare industry, the main benefit they point to of universal health coverage is that it would provide everyone with healthcare.

But the idea of “limited political support” is worth examining, because readers might be misled into thinking that means that single-payer is unpopular. To the contrary. On the rare occasions when they’re questioned about it, the public seems to like it; asked in a September 2007 CBS poll, 55 percent of Americans preferred a single-payer system that would be administered by the government, with taxpayers footing the bill. Just 29 percent would keep things the way they are. So when the Times says single-payer lacks “political support,” they actually mean it lacks “elite support”—too bad they don’t say what they mean.

Actually, on healthcare, corporate media often say what they don’t mean. When Massachusetts announced a plan to mandate health insurance for its citizens, this was widely described as a “universal” program (Washington Post, 5/7/06; Houston Chronicle, 4/13/06; Baltimore Sun, 4/20/07). But the Massachusetts plan enacted by then-Gov. Mitt Romney was a requirement that all citizens (with some exemptions) obtain health insurance or face penalties, based on “the false assumption that uninsured people will be able to find affordable health plans,” as critics Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmel-stein noted (Atlanta Journal & Constitution, 4/7/06). “A typical group policy in Massachusetts costs about $4,500 annually for an individual and more than $11,000 for family coverage. A wealthy uninsured person could afford that—but few of the uninsured are wealthy.”

That requiring coverage is not the same as providing it ought to be obvious. But media have so muddied the conversation with indiscriminate use of the term “universal” that such basic facts are obscured. Thus a December 5 New York Times article, which commendably explained that “mandates rarely achieve 100 percent compliance,” could still refer to Massachusetts having “enacted universal coverage,” before noting, in the next sentence, that a substantial portion of the public remains uninsured. If a plan that leaves many without healthcare can be described as “universal,” perhaps the Times believes the country already has one?

Advocates of publicly funded healthcare, despite their numbers, have always faced an uphill fight in elite media where obeisance to the for-profit insurance industry is an unspoken given. (See “Healthcare Reform: Not Journalistically Viable?” Extra!, 7–8/93.) The resulting “debate” resembles the old joke about the man who looks for his keys under the lamppost—not because he dropped them there, but because that’s where the light’s better. Pundits and editorialists bemoan healthcare’s “high costs” (economic and human), but the most direct route to bringing costs down is studiously ignored, while media (and politicians) discuss more or less minor tweaks to the current system.

On at least one occasion, the New York Times did acknowledge the elephant in the living room. An April 12, 2006 article by David Leonhardt began promisingly:

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 1:40 pm

Knowing history

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You know the quotation: “Those who do not know history are doomed…” There’s more, but that’s the essence. So I hope that you’re reading at least one book of history (not historical fiction: doesn’t count) a month. And perhaps also occasionally take a course or joining a historical organization—here’s a list.

Historical provincialism—knowing only the history of your own times and locale—is as crippling as any other kind of provincialism. Don’t be a victim.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 1:29 pm

All the Superbowl ads

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Collected in one place for your viewing.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 11:01 am

Posted in Video

Field guides

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Field guides are indispensable for those eager to learn about the world around them, and they also make very nice gifts for curious kids. And here’s a great collection:

This site merges the book A Guide to Field Guides: Identifying the Natural History of North America by Diane Schmidt, Biology Librarian at the University of Illinois, and its companion Web site International Field Guides. After the publisher returned copyright to the book, the author decided to combine the two products and create a searchable database of field guides for plants, animals, and other objects in North America and around the world. Except where noted, all guides listed here were personally examined by the author.

What is a Field Guide?

As used in this site, a field guide is a small, lightweight book used to identify plants, animals, or other objects. It is designed to be used outdoors and usually contains many illustrations, whether drawings or photographs, and limited text. Generally speaking, field guides are used by amateurs, hence the emphasis on visual identification. There are a number of different technical manuals, atlases, floras and faunas, handbooks, and keys for the use of professionals which are not listed here.

Many field guides include a key. A key is an organized list of characteristics of a species or other taxon designed to assist in identification; computer scientists might call them decision trees. Most formal taxonomic keys are dichotomous keys, in which the user must select one or the other of two opposing choices (leaves opposite or leaves alternate, for instance), which then leads to another set of choices until the plant or animal is finally identified. There are many other varieties of keys, including tables and visual keys with illustrations of the species to be identified. Although keys generally require some practice to be able to use well they can be very helpful. Trees in winter, for instance, are more easily identified using a key than the usual field guide descriptions.

Other common features found in field guides include range maps and checklists. Checklists, as used in this database, include both comprehensive species lists in taxonomic order as well as life lists with check boxes so users can record which species they’ve seen. The presence of all of these features in each field guide is included in its description, along with its arrangement (by taxonomic order or by color, for instance) and the amount of general information on the natural history of the plants or animals.

More at the link—much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 10:52 am

Cutting off the Internet

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This is getting to be very weird. Bruce Schneier:

Fourth Undersea Cable Failure in Middle East

The first two affected India, Pakistan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain. The third one is between the UAE and Oman. The fourth one connected Qatar and the UAE. This one may not have been cut, but taken offline due to power issues.

The first three have been blamed on ships’ anchors, but there is some dispute about that. And that’s two in the Mediterranean and two in the Persian Gulf.

There have been no official reports of malice to me, but it’s an awfully big coincidence. The fact that Iran has lost Internet connectivity only makes this weirder.

EDITED TO ADD (2/5): The International Herald Tribune has more. And a comment below questions whether Iran being offline has anything to do with this.

EDITED TO ADD (2/5): A fifth cut? What the hell is going on out there?

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 10:46 am

Posted in Daily life

Rescuing the FDA

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We need to save our government—especially the agencies created to protect consumers:

An obscure, bureaucratic report last November concluded that the Food and Drug Administration is on the brink of collapse.  The findings improbably led to Congressional hearings, additional audit and then a New York Times editorial Sunday that, “The near unanimity about the agency’s weaknesses — among Congressional Democrats and Republicans, industry and consumer groups, and authoritative independent analysts — is striking.” So now House Democrats are saying that the report’s authors, a three-member advisory panel of the F.D.A. Science Board’s Subcommittee on Science and Technology, and not George Bush should determine the agency’s budget.

Four prominent legislators- John Dingell, Mich. chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee Henry A. Waxman, Calif., chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Bart Stupak, Mich., energy’s investigations subcommittee chair, and Frank Pallone Jr., energy’s health subcommittee chair- wrote a letter today requesting the advisory panel submit their own fiscal-year 2009 budget. The budget should “provide the resources needed to allow the agency to avert the kind of catastrophe described in the Science Board’s report.” The President’s budget does include a 5.7 percent funding increase for the FDA, which the letter complains, “barely covers the cost of inflation.”

So what is this looming catastrophe? The report concluded that, “F.D.A.’s inability to keep up with scientific advances means that American lives are at risks.” The President and Congress have exponentially increased the agency’s responsibilities in approving drugs and investigating contaminants without providing the money and scientists to get the work done. In fact, the F.D.A. computer system is so unreliable that the agency produces handwritten reports on possible dangerous products.

Democratic charges of executive branch incompetence are not unique. What is unique is that leading Democrats are handing government agency advisory panelists the chance of their careers to defy the White House.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 9:47 am

Norman Rush and two of his novels

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I read Norman Rush’s Mating a few years ago—a novel that I couldn’t put down, and a novel unlike other novels (review here). Highly recommended, and undoubtedly in your library. And then I came across this comment on his later novel Mortals:

Most books are fun to read for money. No matter how dry the season, reviewers can be depended on to churn out cheerful–grateful–appraisals of doorstoppers that no one in his right mind will ever read for free. Reviewers like long books. They pay more, they take longer and you can summarise without feeling bad.

That’s why it’s curious that “Mortals” (Knopf, 2003) should have got mostly bad or tepid reviews. Rush won the National Book Award for his previous novel, “Mating” (Knopf, 1991), another long book and a commercial success. “Mortals” is every bit as exciting as “Mating.” It is one of the few authentically great novels of our new century. And yet if you go to Amazon, as of this morning, you’ll find first printings going for $5.95.

“Mortals” is one of those rare long books that’s fun to read but no fun to review. The characters–expatriates in Botswana, as in “Mating”–are full of ideas (about marriage, Christianity, race, economic development, etc) and you can’t tell which ones the author shares. Ordinarily the plot would sort these things out in a hurry. Most novels are justice machines. But Rush keeps you in suspense. Real, uncomfortable suspense–ideological suspense. The kind that reviewers tend to find “messy”. (“Rush’s attempts to meld political reality with domestic tragicomedy occasionally make the narrative unwieldy,” Publishers Weekly)

In fact, “Mortals” is one of the best-plotted novels I’ve read, partly because Rush’s hero, Ray Finch, keeps making excellent guesses about what’s going to happen to him next. He thinks like a reader–the way characters in novels used to think. Nowadays, if you want a character to introspect, to think in complex sentences, you have to give him a professional excuse: Ray’s a Milton scholar by training. By occupation, he’s CIA.

Ray is also a writer born too late. When the novel begins, his controller has just told him to stop writing reports. He must deliver his impressions into a tape-recorder instead–the 1980s equivalent of blogging. Ray’s immediate response is to quit the Agency. He doesn’t believe in transcripts.

More at the link. And there’s also this review.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 9:14 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

A post for everyone

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This post from The Simple Dollar is well worth pondering:

About two years ago, I had almost $17,000 in credit card debt. That added up to about a third of my salary at the time, and the minimum payments were more than my rent. Most months, my paycheck was gone before I would even see it, swallowed up by credit card payments, a rent payment, utilities, insurance, a bundle of student loans, and two outstanding car loans.

My wife and my infant son and I lived in a little apartment together and we had every luxury item we could afford. We liked buying neat stuff – I owned two iPods and had multiple computer systems, we had an enormous DVD collection that practically filled our living room (with a lot of them still in the shrink-wrap, bought but never opened), and my wife had a taste for books. Lots of books.

When we first found out we were going to have a child, we decided that he would have the best of everything. We spent several hundred dollars on an amazing crib for him and bought almost everything one could possibly think of that a baby would want. We turned the tiny second bedroom in our apartment into a nursery and just poured out the money. We bought a top-of-the-line breast pumping machine, dozens of educational toys, and a mountain of clothes for the boy.

We just kept sinking and sinking and sinking into debt, but I just couldn’t bring myself to really think about it. It was so much easier to not think about it, to just keep doing the same things I was always doing. I’d go buy DVDs and books and such after work, eat out for lunch at expensive places, and just keep sinking slowly further and further into debt. I assumed that “future me” would just take care of it.

One day, I woke up and there was no money. I had less than a hundred dollars to my name, a mountain of unpaid bills in front of me, and no forthcoming paychecks. I knew in the back of my mind that such a day would come, but I didn’t know when it came that it would punch me in the gut quite so hard.

I was scared. I held my son for a long time. I cried. I talked to my wife about everything and we went carefully through the bills. I went to the library – not the bookstore, for once – and checked out a pile of books on money management, trying to figure out how I could get myself out of this mess this time. Two of them really stuck with me – Your Money or Your Life and The Total Money Makeover.

The one thing I realized above everything else? Fixing it wasn’t that hard. Sure, the problem can’t be solved in a day, but the solution is really, really easy. Want some tips to get started?

Enjoy the stuff you have instead of buying new stuff. If you’re tempted to buy something, look around the stuff you already have and try out one of those instead. If you’re going to go buy a new DVD, watch one on your shelf instead. Lusting for a flat panel? Go for that upgrade – but wait until the TV you already have doesn’t work. Want to buy clothes? How about doing a big closet cleaning and seeing if there’s anything you’ve forgotten about in there? Look at what you’ve got before you spend some more.

Lock up all of your credit cards. Don’t carry them with you for a while, but continue to live your normal life. You’ll find your habits being subtly changed by this – and better yet, you won’t be building up a balance on those cards. Try it for just a couple of weeks and see what happens.

Pick your debt that has the lowest principal left and make extra payments on it. If you do the two things above, you’ll notice some extra breathing room in your monthly spending. Take some of that and make extra payments on the debt you have with the lowest balance. Hopefully, you can pay it off fairly quickly – and you can feel the rush of a debt burden being lifted from your shoulders. If you like that feeling, move on to the next debt.

Eat at home more. Even if you just go home and prepare a prepackaged meal, it’s substantially cheaper than constantly eating out. Try to incorporate making some of your own food as well – see if you can come up with a used crock pot and then start using it by just dumping in some ingredients in the morning, turning it to simmer all day, and coming home to a delicious and frugal meal. I make roasts in mine all the time – just put in a roast, a seasoning packet, and some vegetables and my wife and I have three or four delicious meals waiting for us.

It’s not rocket science, just a bunch of small steps you can take. The hardest part is just having the courage to take that first step.

Why I Wrote This Post

A reader named “Jon” sent me an email earlier today that’s worth quoting:

I’ve also passed the Simple Dollar along to some co-workers who are struggling financially. What I find, however, is most who are struggling don’t want to look in the mirror, because they don’t want to see the changes that need to be made and then make them.

This email hit a real nerve with me. The people that Jon talks about in this email are the very people I want to reach the most. They’re sitting in the very situation I was in three years ago – slowly sinking, getting myself more and more in debt, and, most of all, not wanting to face it at all. It’s much easier to not face it, after all.

If this sounds like someone you know, please send them this post. Thank you.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 9:08 am

Posted in Daily life

More on Sibel Edmonds

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This story, previously blogged several times, continues to boil under the mainstream media’s radar. Here’s the latest report, which begins:

Sibel Edmonds is the FBI translator turned whistleblower who decided to go public late in 2002 and has been seeking to tell her story about high level corruption in the United States government involving Turkey and Israel. What makes her story particularly compelling is that the corruption relates to the theft and sale of United States defense secrets, most particularly nuclear technology. Sibel obtained her information while translating Turkish language telephone intercepts directed against several Turkish lobbying groups who had contact with senior officials in the Bush Administration, both at the Pentagon and in the State Department. Many of the officials involved are apparently the same neoconservatives who cooked the books to enable the rush to war against Iraq and who are continuing to urge more wars in the Middle East, most notably against Iran and Syria. Several of them are close allies of leading Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

To stop Sibel from telling her story, then Attorney General John Ashcroft subjected her to a state secrets privilege gag order after her appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes in October 2002 that not only forbade her providing details of her employment with FBI but also made the ban retroactive so that anything relating to her case would be considered a state secret. Edmonds had been discouraged by her experience with CBS as her most important points wound up on the cutting room floor. Then came the gag order, which she has observed while working assiduously to get bits and pieces of her story out in various ways. In October 2007 she decided to tell all without regard for the consequences, stating that she would provide details of her allegations to any American media outlet that would let her collaborate in the final edit so that her message would not be lost. There were no takers. Last month, The Sunday Times of London decided to pick up her story and has now produced a long feature article called “For Sale: the West’s Deadliest Nuclear Secrets” plus two follow-ups. The story was picked up and replayed all over the world, but not by the mainstream media in the United States.

Why should Sibel be heard? Mostly because her story, if true, involves corruption at the highest levels of government coupled with the sale of secrets vital to the security of the United States. One of her claims is that a senior State Department officer who has been identified as Marc Grossman, recorded by the FBI while arranging to pick up bribes from a Turkish organization, also revealed the identity of the CIA cover company Brewster Jennings to a Turkish contact in late 2001. The Turk then passed on the information to a Pakistani intelligence officer who presumably warned the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network that the CIA was apparently pursuing. Some might call that treason and it should be noted that it occurred two years before Robert Novak’s notorious exposure of Valerie Plame and Brewster Jennings which led to the conviction of Scooter Libby.

Edmonds should also be listened to because she clearly had access to the documents that she describes and because she has proven that she is a credible witness. Two US Senators and the 9/11 Commission found her testimony and recollection of facts to be reliable, as did an FBI Inspector General’s office internal investigation. More to the point, if Edmonds is telling the truth there are documents in FBI files that would confirm her account. What she is claiming, if it is all true, is fact-based, not speculative.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 9:04 am

It’s okay—don’t worry…

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Ominous, especially given the conclusion: “The FBI says it will protect all this personal data and only collect information on criminals and those seeking sensitive jobs. The ACLU’s Steinhardt doesn’t believe it will stop there. ‘This had started out being a program to track or identify criminals,” he said. “Now we’re talking about large swaths of the population — workers, volunteers in youth programs. Eventually, it’s going to be everybody.'”

Here’s how they’re going about it:

The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people’s physical characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better identify criminals and terrorists.

But it’s an issue that raises major privacy concerns — what one civil liberties expert says should concern all Americans.

The bureau is expected to announce in coming days the awarding of a $1 billion, 10-year contract to help create the database that will compile an array of biometric information — from palm prints to eye scans.

Kimberly Del Greco, the FBI’s Biometric Services section chief, said adding to the database is “important to protect the borders to keep the terrorists out, protect our citizens, our neighbors, our children so they can have good jobs, and have a safe country to live in.”

But it’s unnerving to privacy experts.

“It’s the beginning of the surveillance society where you can be tracked anywhere, any time and all your movements, and eventually all your activities will be tracked and noted and correlated,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Project.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 9:00 am

Grapeseed oil

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Today was trying grapeseed oil—and a new blade: the Iridium Super Extra Stainless, made in Russia:

Top quality blades made in Russia by Gillette in their new St. Petersburg plant. Coated, high quality blades. Used by barbers in Europe, these blades are among the sharpest and smoothest blades in our catalog.

First, of course, I washed my beard with MR GLO. Then I made a fine lather from Geo. F. Trumper Violet shaving soap with the Sabini ebony-handled brush, which is very like my Rooney Style 2 Finest.

The blade went into a British Aristocrat and delivered a good shave. It struck me as not being quite so smooth and sharp as the Polsilver, but (for me) it’s definitely a good blade.

Three passes, a rinse, and a few drops of grapeseed oil for the Oil Pass. Very nice: grapeseed is a good oil to use. The Wife tells me that grapeseed oil is the new hot thing in cosmetics and skincare.

The aftershave was Swiss Pitralon:

A classic aftershave from the 1960s, Pitralon has a characteristic, unique scent and provides a tingling sensation that soothes and refreshes the skin. Several variants of Pitralon have been developed in Europe, but the Swiss version is the one that has remained faithful to the original.

Both quotations are from the Razor and Brush on-line catalog (scroll down).

Written by LeisureGuy

6 February 2008 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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