Later On

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

Archive for December 2nd, 2008

The Vatican against the UN

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The Vatican is drawing criticism from gay rights groups and newspapers editorials after Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, told a French Catholic news service that the Vatican opposes “a proposed U.N. resolution calling on governments worldwide to de-criminalise homosexuality.” Migliore claimed that the resolution “would create new and implacable discriminations” against opponents of same-sex marriage. Critics call that position “grotesque“:

A strongly worded editorial in Italy’s mainstream La Stampa newspaper said the Vatican’s reasoning was “grotesque”.

Pointing out that homosexuality was still punishable by death in some Islamic countries, the editorial said what the Vatican really feared was a “chain reaction in favour of legally recognised homosexual unions in countries, like Italy, where there is currently no legislation”.

Franco Grillini, founder and honorary president of Arcigay, Italy’s leading gay rights group, said the Vatican’s reasoning smacked of “total idiocy and madness”.

Every single country in the European Union has signed the resolution, which was written by France. France is due to submit the draft declaration at the UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, the sixtieth anniversary of the UN declaration of human rights.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

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Club of Rome study may be correct in the long haul

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Grim thought:

We are on track for serious economic collapse that will dwarf our current troubles. That’s the conclusion of the real-world analysis of a controversial prediction made 30 years ago that economic growth cannot be sustained.

In 1972, the book Limits to Growth by a group called the Club of Rome predicted that exponential growth would eventually lead to economic and environmental collapse. The group used models that assessed the interaction of rising populations, pollution, industrial production, resource consumption and food production. Most economists rubbished the book, and governments have ignored its recommendations, but a growing band of experts is once again arguing that we need to reshape our economy to make it more sustainable (New Scientist, 16 October 2008, p 40).

Now Graham Turner at the research organisation CSIRO in Australia has compared Limits to Growth‘s forecast with data from the intervening years. He says changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with the Club of Rome’s predictions, which foresee decreasing resource availability and an escalating cost of extraction that eventually triggers a slowdown of industry – leading to economic collapse some time after 2020 (Global Environmental Change, vol 10, p 397).

“For the first 30 years of the model, …”

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Daily life

The biological origin of minerals

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Interesting observation in New Scientist:

As life evolved in all its abundance and diversity, so too did the minerals that make up Earth’s rocks. Two-thirds of the kingdom of minerals bear the traces of the presence of life – a view that could shake up our picture of Earth’s geological history and even help find life on other planets.

“Rocks and life evolved in parallel,” says Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory in Washington DC. “It’s so obvious – you wonder why we geologists didn’t think of it before.”

All rocks are made up of constituent minerals. For example, granite contains quartz, mica and feldspar. Geologists tend to classify such minerals in a methodical way, using characteristics such as colour and composition. Hazen and his colleagues instead explored how the diversity, abundance and associations of minerals have evolved over time. “What we have done differently is recognise that each mineral has its own story.”

According to Hazen, the story begins with a mere 12 minerals that existed in the dust grains of the pre-solar nebula – minerals such as diamond, created in the fury of supernova explosions. When the sun ignited, heat boosted the number to around 60. The formation of Earth and subsequent geochemical processes upped that to around 500, and the switching on of the conveyor belt of plate tectonics led to the creation of another 1000. “But it was life, which made its first appearance about 4 billion years ago, that made the biggest difference,” says Hazen. “It boosted the number of minerals to around 5000.”

Life brought profound changes to …

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Science

The greener shave

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Ken A. points me to this post on why you should consider straight-razor shaving. There’s a fair amount of overlap with shaving with a safety razor and double-edged blade: the feeling of luxury, the quality of shave, and so on. A straight razor means not replacing blades, which saves money, but good straight razors are somewhat dear. Moreover, one would want a matched set so that the same razor is not used every day—sets of seven straight razors are made so that each razor gets a week’s rest after use. Among other things, this means you very rarely hone the blades.

Still, using a straight razor requires more skill than using a safety razor, and keeping a straight razor sharp (through stropping and occasional honing) also requires knowledge, experience, and skill. But guys who use straight razors really like them.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Ralphie’s Mom’s Braised Red Cabbage

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This is the dish featured in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story:

Ralphie’s Mom’s Braised Red Cabbage

1 medium-size red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 bacon slices, diced
1 large onion, thinly sliced [a red onion seems appropriate – LG]
2 apples, peeled and diced [I don’t peel – LG]
3/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic [not enough garlic – LG]

Toss together cabbage, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium high flame for 10 minutes or until just crisp.

Add onion to bacon and sauté another 5 minutes or until tender.

Stir in cabbage mixture, apples, red wine, sugar, and garlic to onion and bacon mixture in the pot. Cover and reduce heat to medium and simmer 30 to 35 minutes, adding a splash of water, if necessary.

Makes 6 servings.

My changes, Dec 2015:

1/4 c sherry wine vinegar instead of red wine vinegar
6 thick slices bacon or 8 regular slices bacon (and dip out excess bacon fat)
use a (lage) red onion for the onion
for the 2 apple, remove stem and dice (don’t peel and don’t core)
1/2 c Amontillado sherry instead of 3/4 c red wine (and if you use red wine, 1/2 c is plenty)
Skip sugar altogether: totally unnecessary
4-8 cloves garlic, minced, instead of 1/4 tsp (!), depending on how much you like garlic

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 11:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Buffalo-chicken dip

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The recipe is below, but be sure to read the backstory.

Buffalo-Chicken Dip As Made by The Bitten Word
Adapted from Frank’s RedHot

8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup ranch salad dressing
1/4 cup blue cheese salad dressing
1/2 cup Buffalo sauce or Buffalo-style barbecue sauce
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (or substitute shredded mozzarella)
2 cups shredded meat from a fully cooked rotisserie chicken

Pre-heat oven to 350º F.  In a deep baking dish, mix cream cheese, salad dressing, Buffalo sauce, and cheese.  Stir until combined.  Stir in chicken.

Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes, until the dish is heated through.  Serve with crackers, pita chips, sliced bread, or vegetables.

NOTE:  Depending on your tastes and the ingredients on hand, you can use 1/2 cup ranch or blue cheese salad rather than 1/4 cup of each.  Similarly, you can mix blue cheese and mozzarella, or use portions of each.

The original didn’t capitalize “Buffalo,” apparently thinking the word refers to the animal. It doesn’t; it refers to Buffalo, NY, where the dish originated.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 10:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Two distinct forms of alcoholism

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My own paternal grandfather was an alcoholic, so I’ve always been aware of my drinking and sort of tracking alcoholism and its treatment. So far, I have not experienced alcoholism myself and these days seldom drink anything other than a glass of wine with a meal—rarely a cocktail, and only then if there’s something to eat with it. (Diabetics must avoid alcohol on an empty stomach.)

Now it turns out that there are at least two kinds of alcoholism. Markus Heilig reports in Science:

Alcohol abuse is the third leading preventable cause of death (defined as death due to lifestyle choice or modifiable behavior). In the United States alone it accounts for more than 75,000 deaths annually. To put it another way, if all cancers were miraculously cured tomorrow, those lives and the life years saved would be a drop in the bucket compared to what would be achieved by eliminating alcohol-related death and morbidity. In contrast to many other common conditions, alcohol abuse affects people whose life expectancy would otherwise be considerable, robbing them of an average 30 potential life years. The unmet medical needs are enormous.

And yet, as striking as these numbers are, they don’t begin to capture the despair and sorrow of alcohol problems. I had been teaching students about the pharmacology of addictive drugs for several years before I met my first patient as a clinician. Knowing alcoholic patients, and understanding their day to day struggle has shaped my thinking about the problem and informed the questions I have asked in the laboratory.

Beyond the tragedy of this disease, there is also a fascination. What makes people set aside their most obvious needs and continue to abuse alcohol? Why do they do this despite knowing that it will kill them, harm them, or destroy the lives of those they love? This puzzle offers a window on what makes us humans tick, whether addicted or not.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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Marijuana Policy Project

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 10:05 am

Know the players: Henry Waxman

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Matthew Blake has a good profile of Henry Waxman in the Washington Independent. It begins:

Rep. Henry A. Waxman’s (D-Calif.) successful bid to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee closes the door on his brief but eventful tenure as Congress’ No. 1 watchdog over the executive branch.

After the Democrats took over Congress in 2006, Waxman, a member of the House since 1974, became chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. As head of the one congressional committee whose chairman can subpoena anyone, Waxman did what the committee under Republican leadership mostly hadn’t done — investigate waste, fraud and abuse in the Bush administration.

The committee found plenty of corruption and incompetence in military contracting, Iraq war reconstruction, veterans’ health care, the implementation of clean-air and clean-water laws, executive branch politicization and financial deregulation, among other areas.

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 10:00 am

Good commentary by Paul Krugman

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George Will seems to think that he’s an economist. He’s not, as Krugman makes clear:

The greatness of Keynes …

… is illustrated by the trouble people who consider themselves well informed have, to this day, in understanding the basic principles of how a depressed economy works.

The key to Keynes’s contribution was his realization that liquidity preference — the desire of individuals to hold liquid monetary assets — can lead to situations in which effective demand isn’t enough to employ all the economy’s resources. When you don’t understand that principle, you end up writing stuff like this:

Obama’s “rescue plan for the middle class” includes a tax credit for businesses “for each new employee they hire” in America over the next two years. The assumption is that businesses will create jobs that would not have been created without the subsidy. If so, the subsidy will suffuse the economy with inefficiencies — labor costs not justified by value added.

That is, if the private sector wouldn’t have created a job on its own, that job shouldn’t have been created — whereas the real choice is between having workers doing something and being uselessly, destructively unemployed.

From the same article, we have this:

In a forthcoming paper, Ohanian argues that “much of the depth of the Depression” is explained by Hoover’s policy — a precursor of the New Deal mentality — of pressuring businesses to keep nominal wages fixed.

I’ve already pointed out how Keynes disposed of the money-wage argument, way back in 1936.

Why do people still fail to get Keynes, after all these years? Keynes might have said that it’s the inherent difficulty of the concepts:

For—though no one will believe it—economics is a technical and difficult subject.

But there’s also the Upton Sinclair theorem:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 9:27 am

Interesting movie

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Last night I watched Flying Down to Rio, a vehicle for Dolores Del Rio, who in the movie is pursued by two swains, played by Gene Raymond (playing a band leader) and Raul Roulien (playing her fiancée). Also in the movie were two minor roles played by Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, in their first movie.

As you might guess, Rogers and Astaire pwned the movie, which led to a string of Rogers and Astaire movies. Still, I found the movie fascinating. Some fascinations:

At that time, they apparently still had no idea how to do production numbers in musicals. The idea seemed to be that the more people involved, the better the number, so you have squads, platoons, companies of singers and dancers crowding the scene—so many, in fact, that some numbers look almost like a crowded parade. And the production numbers are both long and boring, a bad combination. The problem is that the various pieces of the number don’t relate at all—it seems to be a collection of random dances and costumes. The notion that a production number should have structure—a beginning, middle, and end—wasn’t evident, and while later production numbers more or less told a story, the production numbers in this movie simply filled the screen and took a lot of time. However, they were definitely trying: this is the movie that put chorus girls on the wings of biplanes flying over Rio de Janeiro.

The dancing by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, though, was superb—Astaire in particular has some great solo routines. (When they danced together, they seemed to be constrained by the setting of the big numbers and couldn’t break free.)

Some other things that turned out not to work but probably were worth trying: Using a different pattern for each wipe, for example—distracting in practice, reminiscent of someone who just got their first copy of PowerPoint and uses a different transition every time the slide is changed.

In one scene, Del Rio and Roulien go out onto a balcony, overlooking a garden in the evening, and he sings. As he sings, the background continually changes (using a variety of wipes): swirling flowers, Sugar Loaf mountain, city scenes, country scenes, and so on. What the hell?

Del Rio herself is reduced to a lot of mugging: shots of her, for example, listening to music, running through various facial expressions: expression A, hold, quick transition to expression B, hold, quick transition… etc., through a series of 4 or 5 expressions. The director must have liked that, because it happens more than once. A holdover from silent films? Don’t know.

At any rate, I found the movie fascinating just to see early attempts and precursors of later techniques. And the short, with Ted Healy and what later became the Three Stooges (Moe, Larry, and Curly in this case), was also intriguing.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 9:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Soldiers who kill tend to defend the war

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Interesting, though I guess not surprising: if a soldier has taken a life in a conflict, s/he tends to view the conflict as worth fighting. Cognitive dissonance clearly at work, I would say. Melinda Wenner’s article in Scientific American begins:

How do soldiers come to terms with having taken a life in combat? Research has suggested that when people consider themselves to be “good” but are forced to do something “bad” to others, they adopt negative opinions about their victims to rationalize their actions. But according to a new study, this tendency may not apply to soldiers or at least not to those who have served in the Iraq War. American soldiers who have killed in Iraq do not think more poorly of Iraqis than Iraq War soldiers who have not killed—they do, however, think worse of Americans who speak out against the war.

Wayne Klug, a psychologist at Berkshire Community College, asked 68 Iraq War veterans about their experiences, their thoughts on the war and their opinions about Iraqis and Americans. Compared with soldiers who never saw combat and those who witnessed a death but were not involved, veterans who “were directly involved in an Iraqi fatality” were much more likely to …

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 8:22 am

The triple helix

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Artificial life, including its own version of the DNA trick. Peter Nielsen has an interesting article in Scientific American about what’s being tried. The main points:

  • A synthetic molecule called peptide nucleic acid (PNA) combines the information-storage properties of DNA with the chemical stability of a proteinlike backbone.
  • Drugs based on PNA would achieve therapeutic effects by binding to specific base sequences of DNA or RNA, repressing or promoting the corresponding gene.
  • Some researchers working to construct artificial life-forms out of mixtures of chemicals are also considering PNA as a useful ingredient for their designs.
  • PNA-like molecules may have served as primordial genetic material at the origin of life.

Here’s the article.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 8:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

How to make bath bombs

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Perhaps a good project for holiday gifts. Via Lifehacker, Instructibles tells exactly how to make bath bombs. The introduction:

Everybody loves bath bombs. It is like taking a bath in champagne, only without the show tunes and chorus boys. They are fairly simple to make, keeping in mind that the strangest things can make a batch go weird: humidity, room temperature, oil viscosity, the moon rising in the seventh house of Aquarius . . . they are a mysterious wonder.

For this recipe, I am using ingredients that are pretty common, or easy to find in most areas. Essential oils can be found in small amounts at places like health food stores and craft stores often carry essentials and fragrances. Just make sure, if you buy fragrance oil, that you are buying “body safe” oils and not stuff for candles or oil warmers.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 8:13 am

Posted in Daily life

Indefinite lifespans?

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Well, they’re already indefinite in a way, but we’re talking longer indefinite. Looks like it may happen, according to this article in the LA Times:

Researchers believe they have identified a fundamental cause of aging, according to a study published this week in the journal Cell. The mechanism was previously found in fungus and has now been discovered in mice. It’s likely that the same process applies to humans, said the authors of the research, from Harvard.

The study found that DNA damage, which accrues as we age, decreases a cell’s ability to regulate which genes are turned on and off in particular settings. Though DNA damage speeds up aging, the actual cause is not the DNA damage but the lack of gene regulation. However, this lack of gene regulation, called epigenetics, may be reversible.

The study focused on a group of genes called sirtuins that are involved in the aging process. Sirtuins respond to DNA damage to repair it but appear to become overwhelmed as DNA damage accumulates during aging. When DNA damage accumulates, the sirtuins became too distracted to properly regulate gene activity. This was found in yeast about 10 years ago. The new study shows it also occurs in mice.

But when stimulated by either the chemical in red wine, resveratrol, or by caloric restriction, sirtuins appear to function better. In the study, researchers administered extra copies of the sirtuin gene, or fed resveratrol to mice that were genetically altered to develop lymphoma. That extended their lifespan by 24% to 46%.

“We see here, through a proof-of-principal demonstration, that elements of aging can be reversed,” said one of the researchers, Philipp Oberdoerffer, in a news release.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Like puzzles? Try FoldIt

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 7:53 am

What’s the problem with gay marriage?

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Really, the whole objection to gay marriage makes little sense—defending “traditional” marriage is all very well, except that “traditional” marriage differs depending on when and where you look at it. Among those parties most opposed to gay marriage in the recent California referendum was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons, who for years and years avocated and practiced polygamy and only gave it up because it was the price of admitting Utah into the Union. And these people defend “traditional” marriage? Please.

Brian Mustanski has a good post for the common-sense case in favor of recognizing same-sex marriages. It begins:

Between the popular vote to take away the marriage rights of same sex couples in California, passing of same-sex marriage bans in several states, and President elect Baraka Obama including full civil unions for LGBT couples as part of this civil rights platform, there has been a lot of recent attention on same sex relationships.  Opponents of marriage rights for same sex couples generally argue that it redefines marriage away from its current and “traditional” form and that children are best raised by two opposite sex parents. Advocates for allowing same sex couples the right to marry argue that marriage confers over a thousand rights that they are currently denied, like the ability to inherit property, visit a sick partner in the hospital, and provide citizenship for non-citizen spouses. See the U.S. General Accounting Office’s report for the full list the 1,049 rights. Advocates also argue that children do just as well when raised by same-sex parents and that marriage provides a number of psychological and health benefits that they are currently denied.

I’m not a historian, but a quick read of the history of marriage makes it clear that it has evolved and changed throughout history and that the current version is a relatively recent phenomenon. That our current version of marriage is not “traditional” invalidates that argument against expanding it to include same sex couples, in my opinion. This leaves the real merits of the debate to center on positive and negative effects of marriage on same sex couples and their children. Fortunately, social scientists have been studying same sex couples and their children and their research provides much relevant information. …

Continue reading. I really like the line “If you’re opposed to same-sex marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex.” That seems the sensible approach to me: stop being a busy body and tend to your own life.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 7:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Religion

Tagged with

Miss Megs under the reading light

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Miss Megs is sitting directly under my reading lamp, perhaps because it’s warm. Or bright. She looks thoughtful, but don’t be fooled: her little mind is a tabula rasa.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 7:43 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Megs

Menthol morning

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I haven’t used Proraso for a while, and I thoroughly enjoyed it metholated coolness this morning. The grey badger brush by Plisson made an excellent lather, and the ivory Chatsworth with a previously used Swedish Gillette blade did a very smooth job. For a little more menthol, I ended with Blue Floïd. Definitely need to get Proraso back into rotation.

You can read the Proraso story here.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2008 at 7:40 am

Posted in Shaving

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