Later On

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

Archive for November 25th, 2008

Ocelot kittens

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Posted because The Wife was once bitten by an ocelot kitten.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2008 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Learning to play bridge

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Maybe with the recession families will again find that playing games at home is fun and inexpensive. Will Smith recently began to learn bridge, and he provides some tips from the experience:

I Am, Apparently, a Natural Player I was told this by Andrew Robson, bridge correspondent and former world champion. It is a milestone in my life to be declared a natural at a sport. Any sport. Which bridge is, having been recognised as such in 1997 by the International Olympic Committee.

It’s More Complicated Than It Seems Like cricket, the basic rules are easy to grasp. Bridge: win tricks with suit’s highest card. Cricket: stop ball hitting sticks. Also like cricket, bridge has myriad rules and obfuscating terms. Such as “undertricking”, which sounds like a magician cutting short his act at a children’s party.

Don’t Try to Explain the Rules to Your Wife When You’ve Had Only One Lesson There is nothing more humiliating for an apparently natural player than having your statements questioned, and being forced to check the facts on Wikipedia. Actually, there is. Discovering she was right.

Telepaths Only Need Apply The element of mind-reading involved in silently agreeing a trump during the bidding stage makes picking your partner a delicate process. In one beginners’ game I played, it might have helped if mine had known the difference between clubs and spades. They also suggested it would be easier if more colours were introduced to the pack. This is the sort of person you should follow to see how they manage to open doors.

At Some Point Someone Will Make a Very Bad British Film About Bridge I predict it will tell the tale of a working-class British player who shakes up the bridge establishment with his uncouth, rock’n’roll ways. The story will climax at the World Championships, where some crusty old traditionalist will try to sabotage our hero’s chance of winning because he doesn’t want to see the game popularised and full of riff-raff. But our hero wins the game, the audience and the heart of a random girl. There’ll be an excruciating cameo from David Beckham and an unfunny scene with the Queen and Prince Philip watching the TV in bed.

Bill Gates Plays Bridge Online, of course. He may play it in person as well, but he definitely part-owns bridgebase.com and regularly uses it. I tried to join in, but, typically, Bill required me to run Windows on my Mac, something I am not prepared to do. If I wanted my Mac to run like a PC I would leave it out in the rain and whack it with a hammer before turning it on. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2008 at 11:53 am

Posted in Bridge, Daily life, Games

Oddity: technology drives education costs down, college tuition goes up

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Odd indeed. Kevin Carey investigates:

On August 6, 2008, the Washington Post reported that tuition and fees at public colleges in Virginia will increase by an average of 7.3 percent this year. The article was four sentences long and ran in the Metro section, below the fold, in space reserved for unremarkable news. The drumbeat of higher education price increases has become so steady in recent years that it barely merits attention. But the cumulative effect is enormous: the average price of attending a public university more than doubled over the last two decades, even after adjusting for inflation. The steepest increases came in the last five years.

And there’s nothing routine about the way college costs are weighing down lower- and middle-income families. Students are still going to college—in this day and age, what choice do they have? But some are getting priced out of the four-year sector into two-year colleges, while others are trying unsuccessfully to simultaneously hold down a full-time job and earn a degree. More students are going deeply into debt, narrowing their career options and risking catastrophic default. The lightly regulated private student loan market, which barely existed ten years ago, now controls about 20 percent of loan volume, burdening financially vulnerable undergraduates with high interest rates and few legal protections. State and federal governments have poured tens of billions of new taxpayer dollars into student aid programs, only to see them swallowed up by institutions with a seemingly unlimited appetite for funds.

For years colleges have insisted that rapidly rising prices are unavoidable because higher education is a labor-intensive business that cannot become more efficient. A forty-minute lecture takes just as long to deliver today as it did a hundred years ago, they say; a ten-page paper takes just as long to grade. Because efficiencies in other industries are driving up the overall cost of skilled labor, colleges have to offer salaries to match, which pushes productivity down. (Economists call this “Baumol’s cost disease,” after the New York University economist who first made the diagnosis.) Regrettable for students, of course, but what can be done?

In fact, this premise is false.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2008 at 11:29 am

James Fallows suggests some reading

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From this recent post:

… I can’t say this often enough: seriously, anybody who presumes to hold an opinion on America’s defense needs, defense spending, and long term military strategy really has to read “America’s Defense Meltdown,” available in free 2MB pdf download here.  (More words than the NCI report above; fewer graphics.)

This report has facts; it has figures; it has history; it has to-do lists for the next administration; it has things you might expect and things you don’t.

From what you might expect, an introductory passage about what’s happened to our military establishment:

Our equipment is the most sophisticated and effective in the world. We easily whipped one of the largest armies in the Middle East, not once but twice, and we have now clearly mastered a once difficult and ugly situation in Iraq. Success in Afghanistan will not be far away, once we devote the proper resources there. Those who take comfort in the last three sentences are the people who need to read and consider the contents of this book the most. Reflect on the following:

• America’s defense budget is now larger in inflation adjusted dollars than at any point since the end of World War II, and yet our Army has fewer combat brigades than at any point in that period, our Navy has fewer combat ships and the Air Force has fewer combat aircraft. Our major equipment inventories for these major forces are older on average than at any point since 1946; in some cases they are at all-time historical highs in average age. [etc etc]

For a sample of something you might not expect, the following, from probably the most right-wing of all the authors in the book — a man whose cubicle wall, in the Senate office building where he worked, was adorned with a poster of Mussolini when I met him in the early 1980s. He is discussing the overall balance between the US Navy and the Russian and Chinese fleets — especially the looming Chinese “menace” that drives the need for new US ships:

Overwhelming any comparison of fleets is the fact that war with either Russia or China would represent a catastrophic failure of American strategy. Such wars would be disastrous for all parties, regardless of their outcomes. In a world where the most important strategic reality is a non-Marxist “withering away of the state,” the United States needs both Russia and China to be strong, successful states. They need the United States to be the same. Defeat of any of the three global powers by another would likely yield a new, vast, stateless region, which is to say a great victory for the forces of the Fourth Generation. No American armed service should be designed for wars our most vital interest dictates we not fight.

Read these between football games over the weekend. You won’t be sorry. And consider sending copies of #2, especially, to the Obama household for Christmas.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2008 at 11:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

CNN tries union busting

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No matter that it’s illegal: businesses are accustomed to getting away with illegal practices regarding unions. But CNN didn’t get away:

In a decision made public yesterday, a judge has ordered CNN “to rehire 110 workers who were fired because they were union members. CNN also was ordered to recognize the workers’ unions, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA (NABET-CWA) locals 31 and 11.” From the AFL-CIO blog:

Judge Arthur Amchan found that CNN violated the rights of more than 250 employees at the network’s bureaus in Washington, D.C., and New York City when it ended its subcontract with Team Video Services (TVS) [in 2003-2004], whose employees were represented by NABET-CWA. He also ruled that CNN discriminated against TVS employees who wanted to continue working at CNN’s bureaus to avoid having to recognize and bargain with the union.

Ed McEwan, president of Local 11, responded, “Everyone in America should know that the network management we rely on to bring us the news are not above the illegal practices that they headline on a regular basis.”

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2008 at 11:11 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Government

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The GOP struggles along

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You perhaps have noted that the proposed new chairman of the Republican National Committee just recently resigned from a “whites only” country club—presumably to get ready to take the chairmanship. And here’s an interesting post by Steve Benen:

The Washington Post ran an interesting, 2,300-word item today on conservative blogs and their future within (alongside?) the Republican Party. As far as leading conservative activists — online and off — are concerned, the right is far behind the left when it comes to online presence, and there’s apparently a renewed push to do something about it.

As that process begins in earnest, I’d encourage them to consider this fine post from Outside the Beltway’s James Joyner. He argued the other day that, despite his conservative beliefs, he finds “most of the best analytical blogs are on the center-left,” and fleshed out his reasoning yesterday.

Part of the reason I’m drawn to the center-left blogs, including those cited above, Kevin Drum, Steve Benen, and others despite disagreeing with them while finding it increasingly difficult to find center-right blogs worth my time is that the former are much more likely to get beyond the debates of the 1980 election. There’s almost no serious analysis of health care reform, urban planning, education, and many other issues that regularly crop up on the best lefty blogs on their conservative counterparts. If we read about those issues at all, they’re framed as if Ronald Reagan were still aspiring to high office: Say No to socialism! Abolish the Department of Education! Government IS the problem!

While traditionalist grand theory is still valuable and worth discussion, it doesn’t work as a blanket response to micro-level issues. And defining conservatism solely by “What would Reagan do?” is a political non-starter in a world that simply looks much different than in did twenty-eight years ago. It would be as if Reagan constantly droned on about the evils of Harry Truman. Time marches on. Debates must, too, in order to be interesting.

So, where are the right-of-center counterparts to Yglesias, Klein, and company?

I’ve long wondered the same thing. For more than two years, I was the editor for Salon’ “Blog Report,” featuring posts from the left and right. It led me to read dozens of conservative blogs every day, and I quickly realized that when it came to depth and seriousness of thought, the two sides weren’t close. (James Joyner, who is both thoughtful and knowledgeable, is a noticeable exception.)

Indeed, to help drive the point home, earlier this year, Erick Erickson, RedState’s editor, acknowledged that the “netroots” have an advantage over the “rightroots,” but attributed it to an asymmetry in free time, since conservatives “have families because we don’t abort our kids, and we have jobs because we believe in capitalism.”

This is largely the kind of thinking that dominates on conservative blogs. They can’t quite get to policy disputes or serious analysis, because they’re too busy mulling over the implications of liberals joining forces with Islamofascists, the United Nations, and Mexican immigrants to execute some kind of nefarious plot.

Worse, Kevin noted that when these blogs do consider key policies, such as global warming and growing income inequality, they tend to believe the problems don’t exist.

“Global warming and skyrocketing income inequality are problems that didn’t even exist in 1980, which means there is no ‘Reaganite’ solution to appeal to,” Kevin concluded. “There might still be conservative takes on these things, but they won’t do any good until conservatives actually accept that these are real problems that people genuinely care about. That day still seems pretty far off.”

Republican Party leaders are anxious to take advantage of conservative blogs’ dynamism as part of the rehabilitation of the GOP. Maybe these folks should crawl before they walk?

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2008 at 11:07 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Another NaNoWriMo interview

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Take a look, NaNoWriMoers.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2008 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

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