Later On

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

Archive for April 10th, 2008

Why isn’t McCain supporting Jim Webb’s bill

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Jim Webb has a bill to update and upgrade the GI Bill. McCain talks strong, but fades away when action is required.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 5:45 pm

Yet another transitional fossil

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The Creationists (or Intelligent Designers) always call for fossil evidence of developing species—i.e, transitional forms. Of course, many such forms have been found, but Creationists are pretty much Johnny One Note when attempting arguments. The latest fossil discovering a snake with two legs, a transitional form from lizard to snake:

A fossil animal locked in Lebanese limestone has been shown to be an extremely precious discovery – a snake with two legs.

Scientists have only a handful of specimens that illustrate the evolutionary narrative that goes from ancient lizard to limbless modern serpent.

Researchers at the European Light Source (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, used intense X-rays to confirm that a creature imprinted on a rock, and with one visible leg, had another appendage buried just under the surface of the slab.

“We were sure he had two legs but it was great to see it, and we hope to find other characteristics that we couldn’t see on the other limb,” said Alexandra Houssaye from the National Museum of Natural History, Paris.

The 85cm-long (33in) creature, known as Eupodophis descouensi, comes from the Late Cretaceous, about 92 million years ago.

More at the link, including photos and a video.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Science

The perennially bad farm bill

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A bill constructed by agribusiness, with everyone else locked out. Via Kevin Drum, here’s what’s coming. Daniel Imhoff writes:

If you’ve ever driven through the southern end of California’s Central Valley in September, you’re familiar with the grids of lint-strewn cotton fields that blur by for nearly 2 1/2 hours. You might even have pondered the wisdom of planting such a thirsty crop as cotton on a million acres — an area larger than Yosemite National Park — in a state facing a water crisis. Then again, you might ask a similar question about the half a million acres of rice, a grain adapted to the monsoons of Asia, on the valley’s northern end.

Cheap irrigation water is part of the equation, but there is another common denominator. It’s a massive federal legislation package passed every five years known as the farm bill, which House and Senate members are scrambling to reauthorize by an April 18 deadline. Over the last decade, the farm bill has allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to shower tens of billions of dollars in subsidies on the nation’s cotton and rice farmers (along with corn, soybean, wheat, sugar and milk producers). These subsidies flow whether growers need them or not. They flow even as they damage the environment and our nutritional well-being. They flow, all the while enabling the biggest farms to consolidate into mega-farms.

It wasn’t always this way. The farm bill emerged during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression as a temporary financial safety net for family farmers. It included programs to promote soil conservation and distribute food surpluses to the needy. In the seven decades since that genie was let out of the bottle, however, the farm bill has become a high-stakes game of political horse-trading that has changed how we farm and what we eat. Today, more than a third of the budget goes to an elite group of commodity farms that grow grains and oilseed crops, mainly for feeding livestock and making processed foods (and now, fuels).

When current farm bill negotiations started in 2006, a proverbial food fight erupted. An array of nonprofit organizations, including Oxfam, Bread for the World and the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, pushed for a bill that would emphasize farming livelihoods, more effective environmental protection and better nutrition. Prices on nearly all commodities, except cotton, have been soaring. Average 2008 farm household income is anticipated to reach $90,000 — nearly 20% above the national average. Meantime, commodity farmers were set to receive $13 billion in direct and indirect payments, disaster bailouts, crop insurance and (some worthy) conservation incentives in 2008 alone. Surely, reformers argued, this was the right time to stop throwing money at giant farming operations already making hay in current markets.

They lobbied for a $250,000-per-farm subsidy cap, but that got struck down by a status-quo Senate. They pushed for more locally grown produce in public school cafeterias, a noble effort but minimally successful. The efforts to cut cotton farming subsidies — which distort global trade — fell short. They fought for full funding for the Conservation Security Program, which rewards farmers for good land stewardship — reducing use of chemicals, diversifying crops, saving water, etc. Here, reformers won a large increase, but the fund remains vulnerable; year-to-year, it often gets robbed to fund commodity programs.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 5:23 pm

Dip and a drink

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The collection of bitters arrived, so I made a Martini with Fee Brothers Orange Bitters. Not bad at all. And I made a little dip:

Lima beans
Cream cheese
Anchovies (with a little of the olive oil they were packed in)
Squeeze of lemon and some lemon zest
Dab of mustard
Dash of Tabasco
Dash of Worcestershire
Salt, pepper

Quite good. I was going to include a clove of garlic and/or a little bit of onion, but forgot. I cooked the Lima beans because of their high potassium content, of course. (Same reason I’m snack on raisins, prunes, and dried apricots, and a banana with the breakfast cereal.)

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 4:58 pm

A disease that unleashes creativity

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Ravel, for one, had it. So did Anne Adams:

Trained in mathematics, chemistry and biology, Dr. Adams left her career as a teacher and bench scientist in 1986 to take care of a son who had been seriously injured in a car accident and was not expected to live. But the young man made a miraculous recovery. After seven weeks, he threw away his crutches and went back to school.

According her husband, Robert, Dr. Adams then decided to abandon science and take up art. She had dabbled with drawing when young, he said in a recent telephone interview, but now she had an intense all-or-nothing drive to paint.

“Anne spent every day from 9 to 5 in her art studio,” said Robert Adams, a retired mathematician. Early on, she painted architectural portraits of houses in the West Vancouver, British Columbia, neighborhood where they lived.

In 1994, Dr. Adams became fascinated with the music of the composer Maurice Ravel, her husband recalled. At age 53, she painted “Unravelling Bolero” a work that translated the famous musical score into visual form.

Unbeknown to her, Ravel also suffered from a brain disease whose symptoms were identical to those observed in Dr. Adams, said Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist and the director of the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Ravel composed “Bolero” in 1928, when he was 53 and began showing signs of his illness with spelling errors in musical scores and letters.

“Bolero” alternates between two main melodic themes, repeating the pair eight times over 340 bars with increasing volume and layers of instruments. At the same time, the score holds methodically to two simple, alternating staccato bass lines.

“ ‘Bolero’ is an exercise in compulsivity, structure and perseveration,” Dr. Miller said. It builds without a key change until the 326th bar. Then it accelerates into a collapsing finale.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Medical

Technology and the airlines (and the FAA)

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Interesting article by David Pogue:

Over the weekend, CBS News “Sunday Morning” broadcast my report about the Federal Aviation Administration’s technology for relieving the nightmarish congestion our air-traffic system faces right now. (You can watch it here.)

It’s called A.D.S.-B (it stands for automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast, if that helps anyone), and it’s essentially G.P.S. for airplanes. It’s really, really cool; I got to ride in a couple of planes that have it installed.

Today, air traffic controllers get their plane-location information the same way they have for 50 years: from a ground-based network of 450 radar dishes.

The radar system is very safe at this point. Last year, there were no fatalities in commercial aviation. But it has all kinds of problems. It’s expensive to maintain. The signal varies with distance and weather. You can’t even put radar dishes in the ocean or in mountainous areas like Colorado or Alaska.

And above all, the long-range radar dishes take 12 seconds to rotate, so the air-traffic controllers get an updated plane positions only once every 12 seconds. (Near airports, the updates are every 5 seconds.) As a result, air-traffic controllers have to keep airplanes 3 miles apart near airports, 5 miles over land, and in places like the Gulf of Mexico where there’s no radar, as far apart as 75 miles.

But A.D.S.-B changes all that. You, the pilot, see an icon for your plane in the center of the screen, and the other planes appear around you, with altitude numbers (“-20” means the guy is 2,000 feet below you). You can zoom in and out, call up the weather map, search your aircraft user manuals, and so on.

At the moment, only the controllers–not the pilots–see where all the planes are. (A 747 pilot told me: “I get in my plane, I take off, I put a paper bag over my head. That’s how much I know what’s going on around me.”)

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Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 3:55 pm

Another view

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Thanks to TYD for pointing this out:

By Lawrence Korb and Ian Moss
April 3, 2008

In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” gave up his student deferment, left college in Virginia and voluntarily joined the Marines.

In 1963, this man, having completed his two years of service in the Marines, volunteered again to become a Navy corpsman. (They provide medical assistance to the Marines as well as to Navy personnel.)

The man did so well in corpsman school that he was the valedictorian and became a cardiopulmonary technician. Not surprisingly, he was assigned to the Navy’s premier medical facility, Bethesda Naval Hospital, as a member of the commander in chief’s medical team, and helped care for President Lyndon B. Johnson after his 1966 surgery. For his service on the team, which he left in 1967, the White House awarded him three letters of commendation.

What is even more remarkable is that this man entered the Marines and Navy not many years after the two branches began to become integrated.

While this young man was serving six years on active duty, Vice President Dick Cheney, who was born the same year as the Marine/sailor, received five deferments, four for being an undergraduate and graduate student and one for being a prospective father. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both five years younger than the African-American youth, used their student deferments to stay in college until 1968. Both then avoided going on active duty through family connections.

Who is the real patriot? The young man who interrupted his studies to serve his country for six years or our three political leaders who beat the system? Are the patriots the people who actually sacrifice something or those who merely talk about their love of the country?

After leaving the service of his country, the young African-American finished his final year of college, entered the seminary, was ordained as a minister, and eventually became pastor of a large church in one of America’s biggest cities.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 3:49 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

Back from walk

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I checked the times, and my regular walk is almost exactly 1.5 hours. Kent Stacey out, Shorty Rogers back. I did the ibuprofen trick, and I think it helped.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

Two novels of interest

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I mentioned bringing home four Dan Fesperman books, of which I’ve now read two, which I recommend.

The Prisoner of Guantánamo is set, for the most part, inside the wire—i.e., on the Guantánamo base. It includes a fairly detailed map of Guantánamo (developed from public sources) and a good look at the cross purposes of the various interrogating agencies and the undercurrents of conflicting agendas.

The Amateur Spy gives a look at the details of non-governmental relief organizations and also at the various sorts of conflict among neighbors in the Middle East.

Both are fascinating in their detail and gripping in plot, and both have a kind of flat affect in the ending, reflecting the way real life episodes often end, rather than the way movies end. Worth reading, and your local library probably has them.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Books

Some excellent articles

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The current issue of the New Yorker has some excellent articles, all of them worth reading and (thankfully) all but one available online:

Camp Justice
by Jeffrey Toobin
The next stage at Guantánamo.

Somebody Has to Be in Control
by Ian Parker
George Clooney and the art of fame.

The Petition
by Jane Kramer
Israel, Palestine, and a tenure battle. Not available on-line but definitely worth seeking out and reading.

The Founders’ attitude toward religion.
by Jill Lepore

Ornette Coleman at Town Hall.
by Gary Giddins

“Dancing with the Stars.”
by Joan Acocella

“South Pacific” back on Broadway.
by John Lahr

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Excellent point from Harry Reid

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Via Dan Froomkin:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor yesterday: “President Bush clings to his talking points that the surge has worked. But he called his plan a ‘return on success’ — meaning that if the surge worked, our troops could return home. If we have the success he claims, where is the return? We are stuck in a twilight zone in Iraq.

“When violence is up, the President says we cannot bring our troops home. When violence dips, the President says we cannot bring our troops home.

“It’s long past time for the President to be honest with the American people: Under what circumstances could our troops come home? Under what scenario could this war end?

“Based on everything we have heard, we can reach only one conclusion: With 160,000 courageous American troops serving in Iraq, President Bush has an exit strategy for just one man — himself — on January 20th, 2009.”

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 1:05 pm

Water wars a-comin’

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They will hit the Southwest hard—and in just a few years. Global warming will parch the land and force hard choices. And look at what’s happening in Florida:

Nestle came into Florida and managed to pull off quite the coup.

The company got a permit to take water belonging to Floridians — hundreds of millions of gallons a year from a spring in a state park — at no cost to Nestle.

No taxes. No fees. Just a $230 permit to pump water until 2018.

Nestle bottles that water, ships it throughout the Southeast — much of it to Georgia and the Carolinas — and makes millions upon millions of dollars in profits on it.

The state granted Nestle permission to draw so much water against the strong recommendation of the local water management district staff. Because drought conditions were stressing the Madison Blue Spring, the staff said the amount of water drawn on the permit should be cut by more than two-thirds.

So while Florida is in a bitter dispute with its state neighbors over water use, it’s giving its water away to a private company that bottles and ships it to those very same states.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 10:38 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Summertime drink

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From Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen:

1 (3-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, grated on microplane grater
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
6 cups sparking water or club soda
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

In a blender, blend together all the ingredients, except ice. Strain and serve over lots of ice. You can also add gin or vodka too!

I’ll probably cut the sugar way back on this—or use agave syrup instead (low glycemic index).

At the same link, she also has a delicious-sounding recipe for a Sweet Yogurt Sundae with Saffron & Pomegranate.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 10:35 am

Wayward Christian Soldiers

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Sounds like a very good book. I do like to quote one evangelical, who said, “When you mix religion and politics, you get politics.” From the review:

… Charles Marsh’s Wayward Christian Soldiers may lack the gossipy appeal of Kuo’s White House exposé, but it is in every way the better book. A professor of religion at the University of Virginia and a devout evangelical, Marsh believes that the politicization of Christianity in recent years — using the good name and moral commandments of the church to “serve national ambitions, strengthen middle-class values, and justify war” — has been spiritually disastrous for evangelicalism in the United States. Conservative American Christians, he claims, have forgotten the difference between “discipleship and partisanship.” They have “seized the language of the faith and made it captive to our partisan agendas — and done so with contempt for Scripture, tradition, and the global, ecumenical church.” The result has been a collapse into spiritual unseriousness, as Christians have “recast” their faith “according to our cultural preferences and baptized our prejudices, along with our will to power, in the shallow waters of civic piety.” Resisting despair, Marsh hopes that his book might inspire some of his fellow believers to repent of their recent ways — to “take stock of the whole colossal wreck of the evangelical witness” and then try to rebuild a more authentic Christianity in its place.

Unlike most books about the religious right, positive or negative, Wayward Christian Soldiers is addressed primarily to the movement’s most devoted members. Accordingly, much of the book is written in a prophetic register, alternating between rebuke and exhortation, as Marsh tries to persuade his readers of the enormity of their transgressions. He employs a rhetoric of outraged denunciation most effectively in his introduction, where he recounts visiting a Christian bookstore near his home in the spring of 2003, shortly before the start of the Iraq war. The store was stocked with “a full assortment of patriotic accessories — red-white-and-blue ties, bandanas, buttons, handkerchiefs, ‘I support our troops’ ribbons, ‘God Bless America’ gear, and an extraordinary cross and flag bangle with the two images welded together and interlocked.” By the cash registers, he found numerous books about the faith of George W. Bush. In Marsh’s words, “It looked like a store getting ready for the Fourth of July, although Easter was just weeks away.”

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Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 10:04 am

The Big Con

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Thanks to Liz for pointing this out:

Here are two factual statements:

Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed, Richard Viguerie, and Tim LaHaye are among the prominent American Christian right leaders aiding and abetting a conspiracy to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth. And political leaders including George H.W. Bush, Jack Kempt, William Bennett, and Dan Quayle are among those who’ve lent aid and comfort to a conspiracy to end American democracy.

I’ve been writing professionally for thirteen years now, most of those years in the service of the struggle for progressive political change. In all that time, I’ve never read a book I more wished I had the power to will onto the bestseller lists than the one I’m about to publish a series about on this blog. I remember precisely where I was when I started reading John Gorenfeld’s Bad Moon Rising: How the Reverend Moon Created The Washington Times, Seduced the Religious Right, and Built an American Kingdom. I remember what I was eating at the time, and even the temperature of the room. The experience was exactly that riveting.

From time to time I’ve felt a pang of guilt, even embarrassment, at the name my colleagues and I at Campaign for America’s Future chose for our blog on the failures and follies of conservatism: The Big Con. Wasn’t it, I would think, a little bit much? Just how compromised by bad faith, boodling, and malignancy can a historically great political movement, one subscribed to by millions of Americans, truly be?

After reading Bad Moon Rising, I’ll never ask that again.

*****

The story begins with a tale from Japan. It’s so moving I’d like to quote it at length.…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 9:52 am

Posted in Government, Religion

Congress fights progress

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From the Watchdog Blog:

These days almost everything can be done electronically: paying bills, buying music, watching movies . . . the IRS even allows tax returns to be submitted online.

But not in the Senate. There, they prefer to waste taxpayer dollars on paper and keep voters in the dark about campaign dollars.

The current system for senators to submit campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission is a maze of back-and-forth between agencies that requires printing and re-typing the same information repeatedly.  The result is an annual $250,000.00 bill to taxpayers and the delayed release of information to the public.

Right now, it can take months before the public sees campaign disclosures. This means senators can reach out to special interests for extra cash in the final weeks of their campaigns and we won’t know about it until well after the election.

This may help explain why Sen. John Ensign – chairman and fundraiser-in-chief for the National Republican Senatorial Committee – is blocking the “Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act” (S. 223) with a poison-pill amendment.  The bill would finally bring senators into the digital era by providing for more voter-friendly electronic disclosures, like the ones used by presidential and House candidates. Information on donor identities and contribution amounts would be available online immediately.

Help us get your senators on the record in support of the “Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act” without the unconstitutional Ensign Amendment.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in Congress

Car with 4-gallon fuel tank, 600-mile range

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Extremely cool concept car:

Concept car

… The Toyota 1/x concept, which recently appeared at the Chicago Auto Show, is Toyota’s latest attempt at redefining what a green vehicle means. And to them, it is all about making it weigh less.

The name 1/X refers to the reduced amount of weight, emissions and fuel consumption that the vehicle has compared to that of other similar vehicles in its class. It is made from a carbon fiber reinforced plastic frame, that is quite strong but much lighter than conventional framing system. The shape of the vehicle is a result of a desire by Toyota’s designers to create a smaller space, that would have a feeling of openness. It has the same amount of space as a Prius, yet weighs about a third.

The roof is transparent, heat and noise insulating, and made from a bio-plastic derived from kenaf and ramie plants. The seats of the vehicle are extremely light, yet, according to Toyota, quite comfortable. The entire front of the vehicle is clad in an LED lighting system that provides a soft glow, illuminating the entire front surface of the vehicle. And, due to the light weight of the vehicle, the 1/X’s wheels are smaller and thinner than those of a regular vehicle. They have even reduced the amount of water splashed by the tires when traveling on wet surface.

The 1/x is meant to operate at a fuel efficiency that is double that of the Prius. It comes with a plug-in hybrid unit and a small fuel-engine. This design, combined with the lightness of the car means that it can travel for over 600 miles on a four-gallon tank of fuel. Overall, a pretty impressive technology package from Toyota.

Continue to see more photos.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 9:46 am

Aerogel breakthrough: make it from rice husks

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Good news from EcoGeek:

Aerogel has been around for decades. It’s the lightest substance ever created, being 99% air. It’s strong, light, translucent and is excellent for sound-proofing. But the really exciting thing about aerogel is that it insulates 37 times better than fiberglass. Using aerogel as insulation in walls, ceilings, and (as it’s transparent) even between double-pained windows, could drastically reduce the amount of energy used in heating and cooling.

Unfortunately, aerogel isn’t easy to make. In fact, it costs about $1,300 per pound to produce. But a Malaysian researcer at the Universiti Teknologi, Dr Halimaton Hamdan, has led a team of researchers who have created a way to produce aerogel that will be 80% cheaper.

What’s more, the new aerogel is produced from rice husks, a discarded agricultural product. As you might expect, Malaysia has plenty of rice husks, so they’re pretty excited about the possibility of turning them into something valuable. As such, the government has given Hamdan a $65 M grant to help develop a technique for the large-scale production of the new aerogels.

Hamdan’s breakthrough was at first accidental. …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 9:40 am

Financial Management Open CourseWare

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The best free financial management courses—also at the link, much more including articles.

#1 MIT

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers more than just tutorials–the renowned school provides full undergraduate and graduate level courses in financial management at no charge to self-learners around the world. Most courses include lectures, assignments, reading lists, exams and multimedia elements.

#2 The Financial Management Training Center

The Financial Management Training Center, based out of Washington D.C., provides 20 free financial management courses. Short versions of the course can be taken online and longer versions can be downloaded to your computer in a variety of formats. Some of the topics that are covered include financial planning and forecasting, cash flow management, and capital budgeting.

#3 University of Texas at San Antonio

Maintained by the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Institute for Economic Development offers more than one dozen free tutorials and workshops to people who want to learn more about financial management. The free education modules cover a wide range of topics, including balance sheets, budgets, cash flow, contracts, pricing, profits and profitability.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 9:29 am

Make your own laundry detergent

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I suspect that, as the recession really sets in, people are going to embrace frugality like never before. This entertaining post at The Simple Dollar shows, with lots of photos and a video, how to make your own laundry detergent, which costs 2.5¢ per load of laundry.

In fact, I’ll venture to bet that we’ll see more guys moving to traditional shaving for the money savings. These will not be hobbyists and collectors, just guys who prefer to pay a dime for a week’s shaves from a blade rather than $3.50 for a disposal cartridge.

Written by Leisureguy

10 April 2008 at 9:20 am

Posted in Daily life

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