Later On

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

Archive for July 17th, 2008

Privatizing not working

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The trouble with getting work done by private companies is that private companies just can’t do a good job. Better to have it done by the government, with Army personnel. At least, that’s in fact what has happened so far. James Risen writes in the NY Times:

Shoddy electrical work by private contractors on United States military bases in Iraq is widespread and dangerous, causing more deaths and injuries from fires and shocks than the Pentagon has acknowledged, according to internal Army documents.

During just one six-month period — August 2006 through January 2007 — at least 283 electrical fires destroyed or damaged American military facilities in Iraq, including the military’s largest dining hall in the country, documents obtained by The New York Times show. Two soldiers died in an electrical fire at their base near Tikrit in 2006, the records note, while another was injured while jumping from a burning guard tower in May 2007.

And while the Pentagon has previously reported that 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq, many more have been injured, some seriously, by shocks, according to the documents. A log compiled earlier this year at one building complex in Baghdad disclosed that soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters on an almost daily basis.

Electrical problems were the most urgent noncombat safety hazard for soldiers in Iraq, according to an Army survey issued in February 2007. It noted “a safety threat theaterwide created by the poor-quality electrical fixtures procured and installed, sometimes incorrectly, thus resulting in a significant number of fires.”

The Army report said KBR, the Houston-based company that is responsible for providing basic services for American troops in Iraq, including housing, did its own study and found a “systemic problem” with electrical work.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 8:43 pm

What George has wrought

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 5:32 pm

Watchmen

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Great book—and the movie looks good, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

A money-free weekend

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The Simple Dollar has a long list of things to do that fill a weekend with no money spent. He explains:

About a year ago, I offered up the idea of the money-free weekend:

For the last few months, my wife and I have been doing something every other weekend or so that we call a “money free” weekend, in an effort to live more frugally. It’s actually quite fun – here’s how we do it.

We are not allowed to spend any money on anything, no matter what. In other words, we can’t make a run to the store to buy food, we can’t spend money on any sort of entertainment, and so on. Since we often do our grocery shopping on Saturdays, on a “money free” weekend, we delay it to Monday or Tuesday.

We can use our utilities, but no extra expenses on these utilities. No renting movies on cable, no text messages that aren’t already covered by our cell phone plan, and so on.

I followed this up with fifteen things to do during such a weekend, fifteen more things to do, and fifteen deeply fulfilling things to do during such a weekend.

Since then, lots of people have sent me ideas for activities for money-free weekends, plus we’ve uncovered a bunch of our own. At the same time, many readers have asked for a master list of all of these ideas.

So, here we go – one hundred fun ways to spend a money free weekend. The list below includes the first forty-five (with duplicates removed), plus about sixty new ones. Print this off and use it as a checklist or a thumbnail guide for your own money-free weekend. Please note that everyone’s interests are different – you probably won’t find everything on this list fun and neither will someone else, but the two lists won’t overlap (I can think of countless things other people find fun that I find utterly dreadful). Anyway, here goes!

Take a look and give it a go.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Big corporations care nothing for your well-being

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It’s quite clear that large corporations operate only for financial profit and care nothing for the effects of their actions beyond the money involved. This is one reason why regulations and close monitoring are necessary. And even when evidence of wrong-doing is found, corporations will deny and stall to continue to reap more profits. For example:

We have written so much about phthalates, the gender-bender endocrine disruptor that is a plasticizer for vinyl. While there is some dispute about its danger when used in products like vinyl siding or windows, it appeared that there was a consensus that sticking vinyl toys in the mouths of babes might not be a good idea. And while I am an architect and not a doctor or chemist …, I don’t think you have to be to come to the conclusion that sucking on a chemical that is linked to hormonal changes, genital abnormalities, early puberty and even claims of reduced penis size is unwise.

But not everyone agrees, notably ExxonMobil, which is trying to block passage of a Toy Safety bill in Congress that would ban phthalates in toys. Why? because it is the one of the biggest manufacturers of the stuff. According to toy safety activist Peggy Lo:

“After 45 million children’s products were pulled from store shelves in 2007, I can hardly believe that we’re still waiting for Congress to act.

Earlier this year, both the House and Senate passed a version of a bill to improve toy safety. But now, as the final bill is being hammered out, ExxonMobil has joined forces with the toy industry and the chemical industry in an all out attempt to weaken this bill.”

She is asking us to sign an open letter to Congress to “stand up to ExxonMobil and deliver a toy safety bill that really protects our kids:” ::Sign the letter here.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 3:50 pm

Beach and lake houses

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Note that the post is the first of 8 parts. Some terrific houses. Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 11:39 am

Posted in Daily life

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To cheer us up

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 11:34 am

Posted in Daily life

More than 17,000 downloads of WYM

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Within Your Means has now been downloaded 17,346 times. It’s free, and I’m hoping that it’s being helpful. If you’ve tried it, please leave a review aat the site at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 11:32 am

Posted in Daily life

The shaping of children’s literature

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Fascinating article by Jill Lepore, which begins:

Anne Carroll Moore was born long ago but not so far away, in Limerick, Maine, in 1871. She had a horse named Pocahontas, a father who read to her from Aesop’s Fables, and a grandmother with no small fondness for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Annie, whose taste ran to “Little Women,” was a reader and a runt. Her seven older brothers called her Shrimp. In 1895, when she was twenty-four, she moved to New York, where she more or less invented the children’s library.

At the time, you had to be fourteen, and a boy, to get into the Astor Library, which opened in 1854, the same year as the Boston Public Library, the country’s first publicly funded city library, where you had to be sixteen. Even if you got inside, the librarians would shush you, carping about how the “young fry” read nothing but “the trashy”: Scott, Cooper, and Dickens (one century’s garbage being, as ever, another century’s Great Books). Samuel Tilden, who left $2.4 million to establish a free library in New York, nearly changed his mind when he found out that ninety per cent of the books checked out of the Boston Public Library were fiction. Meanwhile, libraries were popping up in American cities and towns like crocuses at first melt. Between 1881 and 1917, Andrew Carnegie underwrote the construction of more than sixteen hundred public libraries in the United States, buildings from which children were routinely turned away, because they needed to be protected from morally corrupting books, especially novels. In 1894, at the annual meeting of the American Library Association, the Milwaukee Public Library’s Lutie Stearns read a “Report on the Reading of the Young.” What if libraries were to set aside special books for children, Stearns wondered, shelved in separate rooms for children, staffed by librarians who actually liked children?

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 11:12 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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The anti-lawn movement: more power to it!

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Very interesting article (and book review) by Elizabeth Colbert on the rise of lawns and the problems that ensue. When I was a small child, during WWII, every lawn had lots of clover and a favorite summertime activity was going through the clover carefully, looking for stems with four leaves. Finding one was a thrill. But that was before the -cides (herbi- and pesti-) moved in, not only killing interesting plants but also making lawns hazardous. The article begins:

In 1841, Andrew Jackson Downing published the first landscape-gardening book aimed at an American audience. At the time, Downing was twenty-five years old and living in Newburgh, New York. He owned a nursery, which he had inherited from his father, and for several years had been publishing loftily titled articles, such as “Remarks on the Duration of the Improved Varieties of New York Fruit Trees,” in horticultural magazines. Downing was dismayed by what he saw as the general slovenliness of rural America, where pigs and poultry were allowed to roam free, “bare and bald” houses were thrown up, and trees were planted haphazardly, if at all. (The first practice, he complained, contributed to the generally “brutal aspect of the streets.”) His “Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening” urged readers to improve themselves by improving their front yards. “In the landscape garden we appeal to that sense of the Beautiful and the Perfect, which is one of the highest attributes of our nature,” it declared.

Downing’s practical ideas about how to achieve the Beautiful included grouping trees in clusters, importing shrubbery of “the finest foreign sorts,” and mixing forms and colors with enough variety to “keep alive the interest of a spectator, and awaken further curiosity.” Essential to any Perfect garden, he held, was an expanse of “grass mown into a softness like velvet.” As an example of what he had in mind, Downing pointed to the Livingston estate, near Hudson, New York. (Privately, in a letter to a friend, he noted that maintaining the grounds of the Livingston estate required the labors of ten men.) “No expenditure in ornamental gardening is, to our mind, productive of so much beauty as that incurred in producing a well kept lawn,” he wrote.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 11:08 am

Posted in Daily life

Slimming tips from the skinniest state

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Mirandi Hitti of WebMD offers some suggestions:

The latest star spouting a lean lifestyle isn’t a Hollywood celebrity with a wacky diet, extreme workout routine, or big-bucks trainer. It’s a state — Colorado.

Ever since 1990, Colorado has had the nation’s lowest percentage of obese adults. And on the CDC’s latest map of adult obesity prevalence, Colorado is the only state shaded in dark blue, because of its low percentage — 18.7% — of obese adults.

What’s up with that? What does Colorado know that the rest of the country doesn’t? And short of packing up the wagon and heading west, what can heftier states learn from Colorado?

Here are seven nuggets of Colorado’s weight wisdom, from James O. Hill, PhD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Denver and co-founder of America on the Move, a nonprofit group focused on healthy lifestyles.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 10:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

A bad firing by the EPA

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Suemedha Sood of the Washington Independent:

In a surprising move last year, the Environmental Protection Agency fired the chairwoman of a chemical review panel six months after the panel took place. When Dr. Deborah Rice, a toxicologist for the Maine state health department, was thrown off a peer review panel at the request of the chemical industry, the EPA’s ethics were called into question.

The unusual circumstances have sparked a Congressional investigation by the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. After Congress began its investigation, the EPA decided to run its own — an internal study by the agency’s inspector general.

House Democrats, including the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), have blasted the chemical industry lobby for wielding undue influence over EPA science. Yet, the chemical industry and the EPA stand by their joint decision to remove Rice from the panel.

The fired chairwoman sat down with The Washington Independent for her first extensive interview since her dismissal almost a year ago. In a series of telephone conversations, Rice told TWI that the circumstances surrounding her removal were unprecedented. She talked about how stunned she was to be dismissed, why the EPA’s actions were unexpected and what consequences this could have for children’s health.

Rice, 61, had worked for the EPA for four years before joining the Maine Dept. of Health and Human Services. In 2004, she had been awarded one of the EPA’s most prestigious scientific awards — the Scientific and Technological Achievement Award — for her “exceptionally high-quality research” on the toxicity of lead. Regarded as an expert in environmental toxicology, Rice was asked by the EPA to chair a February 2007 review panel on the fire retardant deca (or decabromodiphenyl ether). The five-member panel carried out a standard review of the chemical’s safety.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 10:48 am

Best healthcare system in the world: it’s not the US

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UPDATE: More info here.

Maggie Fox reports for Reuters:

The United States fails on most measures of health care quality, with Americans waiting longer to see doctors and more likely to die of preventable or treatable illnesses than people in other industrialized countries, a report released on Thursday said.

Americans squander money on wasteful administrative costs, illnesses caused by medical error and inefficient use of time, the report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund concluded.

“We lead the world in spending. We should be expecting much more in return,” Commonwealth Fund senior vice president Cathy Schoen told reporters.

The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation, created a 100-point scorecard using 37 indicators such as health outcomes, quality, access and efficiency.

They compare the U.S. average on these to the best performing states, counties or hospitals, and to other countries. The United States scored 65 — two points lower than in 2006.

One key measure is prevention of premature deaths from easily treated conditions such as asthma and heart attacks.

The United States fell from 15th to last among 19 industrialized nations on this measure from 2006 to 2008. The report estimated the U.S. health care system could save 100,000 lives if it matched Japan or France, the top performers.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 9:52 am

How keeping a journal can change your life

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Probably not enough journal-keeping is being done. My favorite gift for a 13-year-old girl on her birthday consists of a large plain-paper hardbound journal, a pen, and a lockbox (especially if she has siblings).

Besides the traditional daily journal, journals can have a specific purpose: a trip journal, a project journal, a college journal, a course journal, a relationship journal, a dinner journal, an Artist’s Journal (Julia Cameron’s 3 morning-pages idea) and so on.

Here’s a list of ways in which keeping a journal might change your life.

UPDATE: I should also mention the decision journal, strongly recommended by Schoemaker and Russo in their books Decision Traps and Winning Decisions. The idea is to improve your decisionmaking skills by evaluating the outcomes. But because our memories trick us, you have to keep a record: when you make an important decision, enter it into the journal along with the reasons you made that decision, the information and assumptions on which the decision was based, and the outcomes you expected at the time of the decision. Then, in the aftermath and when the outcomes have become evident, return to that decision, read the record and expectations, and note any oversights and mistakes you made in making that decision. In time, your skills will improve. And, undoubtedly, your humility will increase.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 9:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

The Rosenberg Trio

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Jack in the Netherlands writes:

The Rosenberg Trio consists of Stochelo Rosenberg (lead guitar), & his cousins Nous’che (rhythym guitar) & Nonnie (acoustic bass). They are Gypsies who live in the Netherlands. The first YouTube clip shows the Trio playing the Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol tune, “Caravan”; the second shows Stochelo playing the same tune at the same break-neck, breath-taking speed, but with different improvisations. Only Stochelo & the rhythym guitarist are shown; whoever the latter is, it’s not his cousin Nous’che. None of the 3 Rosenbergs can read a note of music. There are several other clips of the Rosenbergs available on YouTube. I have seen them play in person 4 times.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 9:34 am

Posted in Jazz, Music

Why the local hospital wants my blood

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As you know, I donate blood to the local hospital at every opportunity, which is 3 times a year, two units each time. And now I can see why they want it. Stephanie Strom reports in the NY Times:

For 15 years, the American Red Cross has been under a federal court order to improve the way it collects and processes blood. Yet, despite $21 million in fines since 2003 and repeated promises to follow procedures intended to ensure the safety of the nation’s blood supply, it continues to fall short.

The situation has proved so frustrating that in January the commissioner of food and drugs attended a Red Cross board meeting — a first for a commissioner — and warned members that they could face criminal charges for their continued failure to bring about compliance, according to three Red Cross officials who attended the meeting and requested anonymity because Red Cross policy prohibits public discussion of its meetings with regulators.

“If fear is a motivator, we’re happy to help out in that way,” said Eric M. Blumberg, deputy general counsel at the Food and Drug Administration, though he declined to confirm what the commissioner, Andrew C. von Eschenbach, said at the meeting.

Some critics, including former Red Cross executives, have even suggested breaking off the blood services operations from the rest of the organization, as the Canadian Red Cross did a decade ago.

The problems, described in more than a dozen publicly available F.D.A. reports — some of which cite hundreds of lapses — include shortcomings in screening donors for possible exposure to diseases; failures to spend enough time swabbing arms before inserting needles; failures to test for syphilis; and failures to discard deficient blood.

In some cases, the lapses have put the recipients of blood at risk for diseases like hepatitis, malaria and syphilis. But according to the food and drug agency, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed to investigate the results of its mistakes, meaning there is no reliable record of whether recipients were harmed by the blood it collected.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 8:54 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Health

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Using menthol to recruit new smokers

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Tobacco companies rely for their success on continually addicting a new generation of smokers. Menthol is their means, as the article indicates. And note this, from the article’s conclusion:

Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death globally. According to the National Cancer Institute, in the U.S. smoking-related illnesses account for an estimated 438,000 deaths each year. An estimated 25.9 million men (23.9 percent) and 20.7 million women (18.1 percent) in the U.S. are smokers, according to the American Heart Association.

Read the whole thing:

Menthol cigarette brands have been rising in popularity with adolescents, and the highest use has been among younger, newer smokers. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) explored tobacco industry manipulation of menthol levels in specific brands and found a deliberate strategy to recruit and addict young smokers by adjusting menthol to create a milder experience for the first time smoker. Menthol masks the harshness and irritation of cigarettes, allowing delivery of an effective dose of nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes. These milder products were then marketed to the youngest potential consumers. The paper, “Tobacco Industry Control of Menthol in Cigarettes and Targeting of Adolescents and Young Adults,” appears in the online “First Look” section of the American Journal of Public Health in advance of publication in the September 2008 issue.

“For decades, the tobacco industry has carefully manipulated menthol content not only to lure youth but also to lock in lifelong adult customers,” said Howard Koh, Professor and Associate Dean for Public Health Practice at HSPH and a co-author of the paper.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 8:48 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Health

Coal: the dirty and devastating energy source

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“Clean coal” is an oxymoron. Take this finding:

Children born after the closure of a coal-burning plant in China had 60 percent fewer developmental problems, a study released Monday suggests, giving ammunition to those who argue the country should embrace cleaner sources of energy.

Read the whole post.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 8:43 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

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The energy crisis is really a transportation crisis

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Very interesting chart at Treehugger. The post there excerpts this op-ed by Benjamin Turon, which begins:

Those in the “peak oil” camp, who predict that we are about to run out of easily accessible petroleum, warn that the drop in global oil production will bring dire consequences. Writer James Howard Kunstler, and like-minded groups such as the Capital Region Energy Forum, predict the collapse of Western Civilization and the establishment of an “Amish Paradise.” Yet they forget history and underestimate the technology available to sustain our technological civilization.

First, much of technology is based on electricity, not oil! Computers, telecommunications, lights, industrial machinery, household appliances are electric; electricity can also cook our food and heat our homes. While the power grid needs to be expanded and modernized, North America has abundant energy resources — including coal, nuclear, hydro, tidal, wind, solar and geothermal — to keep us in electricity without depending on oil-run power plants.

There are also substitutes for oil in the many synthetic chemicals and materials that contribute to modern life. Glass, ceramics, metal and wood could substitute for plastic in many products, and much of those products can be recycled. Coal and biomass can also be used as feedstocks for plastics, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals.

We are not so much in an energy crisis as a transport crisis, a troika of increasing congestion, environmental degradation and energy shortages.

As global demand for transport and petroleum products grows as a result of population and economic growth, demand is beginning to exceed supply, leading to an inflationary spiral of prices that could cripple the economy.

The goal should be to switch our transportation from being powered by petroleum to electricity, because electric vehicles can utilize a variety of power sources, and use it more efficiently than internal-combustion engines. Electric vehicles won’t compete with the food supply, as do biofuels, and are more practical than using hydrogen fuel cells. Overall pollution would be reduced, including greenhouse gases.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 8:40 am

Cognitive behavior therapy helps chronic fatigue syndrome

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This is surprising — (UPDATE: the surprise is explained: see comment by John below):

Cognitive behaviour therapy is effective in treating the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, according to a recent systematic review carried out by Cochrane Researchers. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a potentially long-lasting illness that can cause considerable distress and disability. Some estimates suggest it may affect as many as 1 in 100 of the population globally. There is no widely accepted explanation for the disease and patients are currently offered a variety of different treatments. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) uses psychological techniques to balance negative thoughts that may impair recovery with more realistic alternatives. In treating CFS, these techniques are combined with a gradual increase in activity levels.

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2008 at 8:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

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