Later On

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

Archive for March 29th, 2008

The culture of the super-rich

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They’re not like you and me:

For decades, social scientists, policy wonks, and politicians have studied and debated what’s come to be known as the “culture of poverty.” The consensus: A group of Americans is set apart from the mainstream by geography, class, and income. Its members adhere to norms that don’t apply to the rest of society and engage in self-destructive behavior that imposes significant costs on the nation at large. The culture of poverty has made for potent politics (remember Ronald Reagan’s fictitious welfare queen?) and spawned best-selling polemics from the right (Charles Murray) to the left (Jonathan Kozol).

We don’t hear as much about the culture of poverty these days. Perhaps it’s because the market turmoil is making us all feel a little poorer. Or perhaps it’s because a highly visible group is now exhibiting all the outward appearances of the underclass: the overclass. Forget welfare queens and the culture of poverty. Think Wall Street kings and the culture of affluence.

Wall Street types don’t live in ghettos, barrios, or the hollows of Appalachia, but they do inhabit environments that are sealed off socially from the rest of the world—the Hamptons on Long Island; Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue; Greenwich, Conn. Because they rarely interact with people of middle-class means (save the odd doctor, lawyer, or interior designer), they have become woefully out of touch with the solid bourgeois values that made America great.

In the underclass, unmarried, young fathers don’t take responsibility for their children. In the overclass, twice-married, middle-aged Wall Street daddies don’t own up to the consequences of their insane financial miscues. Wall Street titans are almost incapable of seeing the problem with taking nine-figure payouts in years in which their stocks plummet. “There’s just a total disconnect between the compensation and the responsibility for their actions,” says William Cohan, a former Lazard banker turned author.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

If Rupert Murdoch had never been born…

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Video

Science of religion

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Should be an interesting study:

By the standards of European scientific collaboration, €2m ($3.1m) is not a huge sum. But it might be the start of something that will challenge human perceptions of reality at least as much as the billions being spent by the European particle-physics laboratory (CERN) at Geneva. The first task of CERN‘s new machine, the Large Hadron Collider, which is due to open later this year, will be to search for the Higgs boson—an object that has been dubbed, with a certain amount of hyperbole, the God particle. The €2m, by contrast, will be spent on the search for God Himself—or, rather, for the biological reasons why so many people believe in God, gods and religion in general.

“Explaining Religion”, as the project is known, is the largest-ever scientific study of the subject. It began last September, will run for three years, and involves scholars from 14 universities and a range of disciplines from psychology to economics. And it is merely the latest manifestation of a growing tendency for science to poke its nose into the God business.

Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Religion, Science

The Web and politics

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Interesting:

Senator Barack Obama’s videotaped response to President Bush’s final State of the Union address — almost five minutes of Mr. Obama’s talking directly to the camera — elicited little attention from newspaper and television reporters in January.

But on the medium it was made for, the Internet, the video caught fire. Quickly after it was posted on YouTube, it appeared on the video-sharing site’s most popular list and Google’s most blogged list. It has been viewed more than 1.3 million times, been linked by more than 500 blogs and distributed widely on social networking sites like Facebook.

It is not news that young politically minded viewers are turning to alternative sources like YouTube, Facebook and late-night comedy shows like “The Daily Show.” But that is only the beginning of how they process information.

According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 3:30 pm

The Democratic nomination

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Interesting article:

In the days after John Edwards’s withdrawal from the Democratic race, the political world expected his endorsement of Barack Obama would be forthcoming tout de suite. The neo-populist and the hopemonger had spent months tag-teaming Hillary Clinton, pillorying her as a creature of the status quo, not a champion of the kind of “big change” they both deem essential. So appalled was Edwards at Clinton’s gaudy corporatism—her defense of the role of lobbyists, her suckling at the teats of the pharmaceutical and defense industries—that he’d essentially called her corrupt. And then, not least, there were the sentiments of his wife. “Elizabeth hasn’t always been crazy about Mrs. Clinton” is how an Edwards insider puts it; a less delicate member of HRC’s circle says, “Elizabeth hates her guts.”

But now two months have passed since Edwards dropped out—tempus fugit!—and still no endorsement. Why? According to a Democratic strategist unaligned with any campaign but with knowledge of the situation gleaned from all three camps, the answer is simple: Obama blew it. Speaking to Edwards on the day he exited the race, Obama came across as glib and aloof. His response to Edwards’s imprecations that he make poverty a central part of his agenda was shallow, perfunctory, pat. Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion. Her affect was solicitous and respectful. When Clinton met Edwards face-to-face in North Carolina ten days later, her approach continued to impress; she even made headway with Elizabeth. Whereas in his Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight with Elizabeth about health care, insisting that his plan is universal (a position she considers a crock), high-handedly criticizing Clinton’s plan (and by extension Edwards’s) for its insurance mandate.

The implications of this story are several and not insignificant.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

Marking the toll

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 3:20 pm

A “good-news” story

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Very nice to read this:

Returning to Africa after a 10 year absence, Chris Reij could barely believe his eyes. On the arid margins of the Sahara in Niger, all he could see were trees. It was no mirage: after studying land use in Africa for three decades, he was witnessing the untold story of the re-greening of the Sahel. He tells Fred Pearce about the African farmers who are defying the experts

Describe what you have seen on your recent trips to rural Africa.

You might call me an old Africa hand. I have been working there on and off for 30 years, looking at how people manage their natural resources. I was in Niger regularly between 1984 and 1994. Back then, a lot of the land was treeless. There had been frequent droughts. Farmers had chopped down their trees for firewood and the desert was spreading. When I went back in 2004, I drove 800 kilometres east from the capital, Niamey, and I thought, bloody hell, there are trees everywhere.

I went to a village called Dan Saga, which I knew when it had virtually no trees. Now it had 80 to 100 trees per hectare. On the way back to the capital we drove north into the Tahoua region. In 1994, most of this area was bare plateau. Now you couldn’t see the villages because they were hidden behind trees. I saw the same thing everywhere. What was emerging was nothing short of a miracle. I reckon Niger has gained 200 million trees in two decades.

What is fueling all this tree planting?

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Daily life

That Macintosh!

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What a wacky computer:

Owners of Apple Mac computers are often quick to explain why Macs are superior to Windows PCs, and in particular how less prone they are to bugs and viruses. What they often fail to mention is that when Macs do have bugs they can be weird indeed.

An anonymous reader of the website Macintouch.com describes a “known” problem with AppleWorks version 6 for the Mac: “When typing long documents, when you get somewhere into page 42 all the text disappears. No one knows why (or is not telling).”

Feedback would find this quirk pretty exasperating, but the writer is reassuring: “Do not panic. The text has only changed to the colour white. Simply ‘Select All’ (Command-A), then change the text colour to black. Save immediately, then immediately paste in enough text to get beyond page 42. Save again.”

We shall pass over the fact that having to do this could well bring on an attack of computer rage, and ask instead: could there be a reason why this problem only occurs on page 42?

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Foreign information by country

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A useful site: a compilation of links by country to get information about the country.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Education

Unconventional job searches for Web work

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Take a look. Obviously, these techniques can be adapted for other job searches.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 11:51 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Pizza pasta salad

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Intriguing:

3 cups penne pasta (cooked according to box directions, drained and rinsed)
4 chopped tomatoes
1/4lb. pepperoni slices (cut in half)
12 slices hard salami (cut into bite sized pieces)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
oregano (sprinkled to your taste)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 to 3/4 cup Italian salad dressing

Cook and drain pasta according to box directions–rinse under cold water and drain. Add drained pasta, hard salami pieces, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and 1/2 cup Italian dressing–stir and toss to coat. Add oregano–stir and toss to coat. Add chopped tomatoes–stir and toss. If it seems too dry add more Italian dressing. Refrigerate.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 11:48 am

US no. 1 in healthcare costs!

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Both as a percentage of GDP and in terms of growth (plus more comments at the link). Paul Krugman:

The latest Trustees’ reports from Social Security and Medicare show, once again, that there is no such thing as Socialsecuritymedicareandmedicaid. Social Security, the subject of thousands of demands that we get “serious” and cut benefits, is doing relatively well. The real problem lies in health care costs.I am, of course, a big proponent of health care reform. But is there any reason to think that reform would curb the growth of costs?Well, I was browsing some of the charts at CMS, and thought I’d share some information from Chart 2.1. This table shows health care spending as a percentage of GDP in some major countries, 35 years ago and recently:

Healthcare costs
We’re #1!

Everybody knows that the US spends much more on health care than anyone else, without getting better results. Everyone also knows that health spending has outpaced GDP growth everywhere, thanks to medical progress. What I didn’t realize was just how clearly the evidence shows that the rising trend is steepest in the US. We have the biggest increase as well as the highest level. What this suggests is that a more integrated system wouldn’t just achieve a one-time saving, but also flatten the upward trend. Among other things, this would help the long-run fiscal picture. Moral: stop bashing Social Security, start demanding health care reform.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 11:33 am

More on the Social Security Trust Fund

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From Paul Krugman:

I see from comments on an earlier post, plus some of the incoming links, that the whole “there is no trust fund, so the system will be in crisis in 2017″ thing is still out there. So I’m just going to reprint what I wrote about this three years ago:

Social Security is a government program supported by a dedicated tax, like highway maintenance. Now you can say that assigning a particular tax to a particular program is merely a fiction, but in fact such assignments have both legal and political force. If Ronald Reagan had said, back in the 1980s, “Let’s increase a regressive tax that falls mainly on the working class, while cutting taxes that fall mainly on much richer people,” he would have faced a political firestorm. But because the increase in the regressive payroll tax was recommended by the Greenspan Commission to support Social Security, it was politically in a different box – you might even call it a lockbox – from Reagan’s tax cuts.

The purpose of that tax increase was to maintain the dedicated tax system into the future, by having Social Security’s assigned tax take in more money than the system paid out while the baby boomers were still working, then use the trust fund built up by those surpluses to pay future bills. Viewed in its own terms, that strategy was highly successful.

The date at which the trust fund will run out, according to Social Security Administration projections, has receded steadily into the future: 10 years ago it was 2029, now it’s 2042. As Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong, and others have pointed out, the SSA estimates are very conservative, and quite moderate projections of economic growth push the exhaustion date into the indefinite future.

But the privatizers won’t take yes for an answer when it comes to the sustainability of Social Security. Their answer to the pretty good numbers is to say that the trust fund is meaningless, because it’s invested in U.S. government bonds. They aren’t really saying that government bonds are worthless; their point is that the whole notion of a separate budget for Social Security is a fiction. And if that’s true, the idea that one part of the government can have a positive trust fund while the government as a whole is in debt does become strange.

But there are two problems with their position.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 11:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

FloDesign Wind Turbine

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I blogged about this design earlier. Now here’s a video that explains exactly how it works.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 10:36 am

“Can Meat and Fish Consumption Be Sustainable?”

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Interesting; references at the link:

“Can Meat and Fish Consumption Be Sustainable?” That’s the provocative title of a press release just sent to us by the Worldwatch Institute, a small but venerable think tank that focuses on natural resource issues.

It’s also the theme of a chapter in Worldwatch’s 2008 State of the World report, its 25th annual book-length analysis of resource trends and economics. Here, its analysts take on the substantial—and often hidden—costs of producing animal protein to satisfy human hunger.

In 2006, “farmers produced an estimated 276 million tons of chicken, pork, beef, and other meat—four times as much as in 1961,” Worldwatch has just reported. As for fish, some 140 million tons were hauled in globally during 2005, the most recent year for which data are available. “That was eight times as much as in 1950,” note Brian Halweil and Danielle Nierenberg, the chapter’s authors.

Part of the growth in production reflects a growing demand, fueled by world population and increasing wealth that allows increased consumption of animal protein, even within formerly impoverished nations. For meat, it has doubled over the past 45 years; fish consumption quadrupled over a 55-year span.

Bottom line: “Meat and seafood are the two most rapidly growing ingredients in the global diet,” Halweil and Nierenberg find, and “two of the most costly.” Demand for both are slated to go the way of oil—up, up, up, with prices following—as incomes in China, India, and hosts of developing countries rise.

Industrial meat production and fish harvests have dropped the economic cost of animal proteins in recent decades. But much of that fiscal savings has come at the expense of the environment. Wastes are not captured and destroyed or recycled. They’re allowed to run into the ground or waterways, degrading ecosystems all along the way. These are costs that are not captured in traditional accounting.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 10:07 am

Chick Webb, 1905-1939

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Chick Webb was born and raised in Baltimore, but moved to New York when he was 17. He is the father of swing drummers—Buddy Rich says that Webb was the “daddy of them all” and claimed Webb as a major influence.

His band did “band battles” at the Savoy ballroom, against such bands as the Benny Goodman Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra. In 1935 Chick Webb hired a teenage singer who showed considerable talent and promise: Ella Fitzgerald.

You can read a brief bio of Chick Webb, along with the lyrics of a song he wrote with Lester Young, “Stomping at the Savoy.”

The story of Webb and Fitzgerald:

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 10:00 am

Posted in Jazz, Music

Clutter vs. your mind and spirit

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Interesting:

One of the changes I noticed in my life when I decided to become an unclutterer was that I stopped worrying so much about the past and the future. I cleared clutter from my life, which immediately eliminated distractions. I had properly archived my photographs and other valuable mementos, so I no longer stewed on these memories. I set up functional systems for things like online bill payments, next action lists, and Google Calendar, so I stopped having anxieties about the future. My home became a sanctuary and a place of relaxation, and my office transformed into a place conducive to work and productivity. Ultimately, my uncluttering efforts left me able to focus more on the present and be mindful in the moment.

Being mindful in the present means to be aware of this specific moment in time. You can fully see, hear, touch, understand, and experience your surroundings and your life. You can appreciate the people and things you come into contact with in every moment. Being mindful in the present is something that seems so obvious and ideal, but isn’t as simple of a task as one might imagine.

Take the next 30 seconds and give it a try. Don’t think about errands or things you need to do, clear your thoughts of memories of past times, and just focus on this moment. What surrounds you? What can you hear? Are the muscles in your jaw tense? Are your ideas focused? How is your breathing — is it short and shallow or long and robust?

Now that your 30-second experiment is finished, how did you do? Was it easier or harder than you expected? Were you able to keep your thoughts focused on the present or was your mind swirling? Could you even sit still for 30 seconds?

Are you wondering what all of this has to do with finances? It actually speaks volumes on this subject.

If you can be mindful in the present, you will stop making impulse purchases because you can consciously evaluate a product and ask yourself if you really need it. You don’t operate on automatic pilot. You can easily foil retail marketing efforts. You don’t approach shopping with a “some day I might need this” attitude. You can better evaluate products because you’re aware of their components and inspect their quality. You are a mindful consumer, which is beneficial to your wallet and your commitment to simple living.

Since you are mindful in the present, you have exactly the amount of time you need to make decisions. You can evaluate things, objects, and stuff by asking yourself: Do I need this? What will I get rid of to bring this into my home? How many hours will I have to work to pay for this? Where will this object live in my house? Does this item help me to develop the remarkable life that I want to lead? Can I fully consume this item before it expires? What will I do with this item if I don’t value it or consume it? Is this the best item to meet my needs?

Mindful consumption doesn’t mean that you completely stop consuming — you do need to eat, after all. Mindful consumption means that you stop buying clutter and things that don’t match your life. You are aware that your things don’t own you, but that you own your things.

It can require a lot of practice to stay present in the moment. It’s much simpler for me now that I’ve cleared clutter from my life to be more mindful, but I’m far from perfect. I’ll interrupt others when they’re talking because I’m thinking about where I want the conversation to go instead of what the other person is saying. I’ll walk down a city block but then have to look up at the street sign on the corner because I’ve lost track of where I am. I’ll accidentally drive to the grocery store instead of the post office. I’m finding, however, that these moments of lost focus are becoming more rare than they used to be when I was surrounded by clutter.

Clear the clutter from your life and practice being mindful in the present. Ultimately, you’ll be a more mindful consumer because of it. If you want to learnmore about being mindful in the present, you can read more about it in this well-researched study (thanks to Gretchen at The Happiness Project for bringing it to my attention).

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life

When the campaign gets dirty

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James Fallows:

I mentioned several days ago that I was surprised to see — ok, “disgusted” was the term — that Hillary Clinton’s campaign spokesman had emailed reporters an article from the American Spectator accusing one of Barack Obama’s advisors of being an anti-Semite.

This was surprising because the Spectator had, during Bill Clinton’s term of office, relentlessly accused him and his wife of crimes starting with the death of Vince Foster and moving downward from there.

It also struck me as simple malice, a try-anything attempt to injure someone near Obama with the false but always damaging claim that he was bigoted.

I see now that Joe Conason, in Salon, has had a similar strongly negative reaction to the same episode. This strikes me as a very significant reaction; if I were in the Clinton organization I would take his article very seriously indeed.

Conason is a formidable reporter in general. But in particular, anyone familiar with what The American Spectator’s name implied in the 1990s remembers how redoubtable and relentless Joe Conason was in rebutting its spurious attacks on both Clintons. He and my long-time friend Gene Lyons even wrote a book, The Hunting of the President, about the Spectator-Starr-Scaife crusade to do whatever it took to bring the Clintons down. If this Joe Conason now thinks that the Hillary Clinton campaign is the one doing the disreputable attacking, that means something. His article’s final words:

This incident offers Hillary Clinton an opportunity to consider how she wants this campaign to end. If she beats the odds and wins, this kind of behavior will taint her victory. And if she loses, as seems more likely now, is this how she wants her historic campaign to be remembered?

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 9:55 am

Posted in Democrats, Election

Science in the kitchen

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You’ve perhaps noticed some posts of non-traditional, science-influenced cooking. Here’s an article (from Science News). Go to the link for photos and further information (at the end of the article).

At minibar, a six-seat restaurant within the Café Atlántico in Washington, D.C., many menu items sound familiar: Philly cheese steak, conch fritters, corn on the cob, and mojitos. But the mojito doesn’t come in a glass. It is served as a bite-sized sphere on a spoon. Calcium chloride is mixed with the traditional rum, lime, mint, and sugar. A dollop of this concoction is dropped into a bath of water and sodium alginate, a gum extracted from algae—which encloses the orb of flavor in a membrane. After a minute, it is rinsed with water to stop the gelling, transferred to a canister, then charged with carbon dioxide. A few hours later, the sphere is slightly carbonated, built to flood the taste buds in a fizzing burst of flavor.

Today, it would not be unusual to find alginate, liquid nitrogen, or lecithin in the larders of top-ranked chefs, like José Andrés of Café Atlántico, Ferran Adrià from elBulli in Roses, Spain, or Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in Bray, England.

Cooks are drawing inspiration from the lab, delighting in techniques that once were the province of industry. At the same time, researchers are zealously scrutinizing food. By zeroing in on its creation in the kitchen—and destruction in the body—scientists are joining chefs in cracking the code of delicious.

Some chefs react to this new cuisine by declaring it “not real cooking.” But minibar sous chef Michael Turner disagrees. “Everything is new at first,” says Turner. “I’m sure when the first person sautéed something people were like, ‘What the hell are you doing, you must be a witch.'”

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 9:40 am

Cute lapel pin

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Mark Kleiman spotted this at the California State Democratic Convention:

NO IRAN
UNTIL YOU FINISH
YOUR IRAQ

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2008 at 9:14 am

Posted in Democrats, Election

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