Later On

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

Archive for December 11th, 2008

“Secretary of Food”

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Nicholas Kristof makes an excellent point in his column today. He begins:

As Barack Obama ponders whom to pick as agriculture secretary, he should reframe the question. What he needs is actually a bold reformer in a position renamed “secretary of food.”

A Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming. But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers. In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.

Renaming the department would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

“We’re subsidizing the least healthy calories in the supermarket — high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soy oil, and we’re doing very little for farmers trying to grow real food,” notes Michael Pollan, author of such books as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food.”

The Agriculture Department — and the agriculture committees in Congress — have traditionally been handed over to industrial farming interests by Democrats and Republicans alike. The farm lobby uses that perch to inflict unhealthy food on American children in school-lunch programs, exacerbating our national crisis with diabetes and obesity.

But let’s be clear. The problem isn’t farmers. It’s the farm lobby — hijacked by industrial operators — and a bipartisan tradition of kowtowing to it.

I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Ore., where my family grew cherries and timber and raised sheep and, at times, small numbers of cattle, hogs and geese. One of my regrets is that my kids don’t have the chance to grow up on a farm as well.

Yet the Agriculture Department doesn’t support rural towns like Yamhill; it bolsters industrial operations that have lobbying clout. The result is that family farms have to sell out to larger operators, undermining small towns.

One measure of the absurdity of the system: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 11:27 am

Discovering DNA, circa 1869

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Doesn’t look like much of a lab, does it? But read further:

In the winter of 1869, the young Swiss doctor, Friedrich Miescher, was attempting nothing less than to uncover the biochemical nature of life using leukocytes he isolated from the pus on surgical bandages. His laboratory was located in the kitchen of a medieval castle owned by the University of Tübingen in Germany.

The photograph shows a large distillation apparatus in the far corner of the room which produced distilled water and several smaller utensils, such as glass alembics and a glass distillation column on the side board. The adjacent laboratory of his mentor, the renowned biochemist, Felix Hoppe-Seyler, was more amply equipped.

As part of his protocol, Miescher rinsed the pus-soaked bandages with a dilute solution of sodium sulphate to wash out the white blood cells, then washed the samples with warm alcohol and ether to extract the lipids and other lipophilic molecules. He also digested the cells with solutions of the protease pepsin, which Miescher obtained by rinsing pig stomachs, to break down the proteins. This left him with a powdery sediment. When he added sodium carbonate, an alkaline solution, the sediment dissolved; when he then added acid, he obtained a precipitate again (Human Genet, 122:565-81, 2005).

He was puzzled. …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 11:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

“Bush kept us safe” — not

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There’s an odd talking point that the Bush Administration “kept us safe from terrorist attacks after 9/11”. Well, yes, if you ignore the anthrax attacks, which did happen after 9/11. And, of course, 9/11 is one hell of a big exception. “Bush kept us safe, except for the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax attacks and starting an unnecessary war that resulted in over 4000 US troops killed and tens of thousands maimed and incapacitated (along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed or injured or fleeing from their country). So other than that, he protected the country—except the environmental protections, of course, which he undermined as much as he could. And he kept the US from taking any action on climate change. And the economy: he did nothing at all to protect the economy. And he pretty much destroyed the country’s reputation as a beacon of civil rights and individual liberty with his program of imprisonment without due process and with no recourse and his program of torture.”

O. Henry wrote a story that included a funeral for a man much like Bush—a total failure all his life, a drunk, a man whose death left the world a better place. The townsfolk were standing around the grave, desperately trying to think of something good to say about the deceased. Finally, one old man cleared his throat and said, “In the fourth grade, old Cass was one of the best spellers in his class.”

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 11:06 am

Bush still fighting progress

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Like here:

The Bush administration opposes a Federal Communications Commission plan for free, nationwide wireless Internet access, according to a report Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal.

The FCC has been considering auctioning 25 megahertz of spectrum in the 2155MHz to 2180MHz band. As part of the rules for using the spectrum, the FCC plans to require license holders to offer some free wireless broadband service.

The FCC sees the idea, which is based on a proposal submitted to the FCC by M2Z Networks in 2006, as a way to provide broadband Internet service to millions of Americans who either can’t afford or don’t want to pay for high-speed Internet access.

However, in a letter sent to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed the administration’s opposition to the idea, which could be voted on as early as next week, according to the report.

“The administration believes that the (airwaves) should be auctioned without price or product mandate,” Gutierrez wrote, according to the Journal‘s report. “The history of FCC spectrum auctions has shown that the potential for problems increases in instances where licensing is overly prescriptive or designed around unproven business models.”

An FCC representative told the newspaper that it had received Gutierrez’s letter and was reviewing it.

“We agree that market forces should help drive competition, but we also believe that providing free basic broadband to consumers is a good thing,” the representative told the Journal.

The FCC essentially threw its support behind the idea in October with the release of an engineering report that dismissed concerns about interference for existing providers. …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 10:01 am

Can’t wait for the Bushies to go back to the bush leagues where they belong

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The Bushies are contemptible: incompetent, ignorant, and uncooperative. What a pack of jerks. This story set me off, but many stories could. It begins:

NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is “not qualified” to judge his rocket program, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program, sources said.

Griffin’s resistance is part of a no-holds-barred effort to preserve the Constellation program, the delayed and over-budget moon rocket that is his signature project.

Chris Shank, NASA’s Chief of Strategic Communications, denied that Griffin is trying to keep information from the team, or that he is seeking a meeting with Obama. He also insisted that Griffin never argued with Garver.

“We are working extremely well with the transition team,” he said.

However, Shank acknowledged Griffin was concerned that the six-member team – all with space policy backgrounds – lack the engineering expertise to properly assess some of the information they have been given.

Garver refused comment about her conversation with Griffin — and his remark that she is “not qualified” — during a book-publication party at NASA headquarters last week. Obama’s Chicago office – which has sent similar transition teams to every federal agency – also had no comment.

People close to Garver, however, say that she has confirmed “unpleasant” exchanges with Griffin and other NASA officials. “Don’t worry, they have not beaten me down yet,” she e-mailed a colleague. …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 9:53 am

We can’t afford tax loopholes now

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Josh Marshall’s Daily Muck today includes two items of interest:

Part of the proposed auto bailout plan would reinstate a tax loophole, Silo, which allows companies to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes. The I.R.S. outlawed the shelter in 2004. A version of the bill passed the House Wednesday, though its fate in the Senate remained uncertain.


U.S. automaker Chrysler and its majority owner Cerberus Capital Management LP are refusing to make public the company’s recent financial statements, writes Bloomberg News columnist Jonathan Weil, despite their demand for bailout funds.

That second article is worth reading in its entirety. It shows how very much American corporations today resemble in attitude the French aristocracy just before the French Revolution. That second article begins:

Chrysler LLC says it’s almost broke and needs federal aid to survive. Perhaps that’s true. Yet taxpayers should be asking: How do we know?

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 9:43 am

Posted in Business, Government

Obama brings science back into government

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Very good news, from the Center for American Progress:

According to the annual Climate Change Performance Index published yesterday, the United States has third-worst record on tackling greenhouse gas emissions, just beating Saudi Arabia. Annual greenhouse emissions are now 17 percent higher than they were in 1990. The Bush environmental record will be remembered as one that placed politics over science, neutered international efforts, and allowed big industry to shape policy. President-elect Obama has shown that he intends to fill the void created by Bush and will allow science to dictate policy. Today, reports indicate that Obama will select Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, Carol Browner as head of the new National Energy Council, and Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator. Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles’s deputy mayor for energy and environment, will chair Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality. Although Chu “is likely to focus his attention on the Energy Department’s core missions: basic science, nuclear weapons and cleaning up a nuclear-weapons manufacturing complex contaminated since the Cold War,” his selection is a strong signal of Obama’s progressive intentions for science-based climate policy.  If confirmed, the new team will be working closely with leaders in Congress such as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the new chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to forge a new path in solving the climate crisis. Commenting on Obama’s personnel selections, CAP’s Director of Climate Strategy Daniel J. Weiss said, “After the anti-science Bush administration, this is like going to a Mensa meeting after eight years of being trapped in the Flat Earth Society.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 9:06 am

Bush still active, alas

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Bad news, via email from the Center for American Progress:

In its final days in office, the Bush administration is looking to push through about “about 20 highly contentious rules,” that weaken health care and workers’ rights and degrade the environment. The administration is also making sure to wreck the tax system on its way out the door. Time Magazine’s Stephen Gandel reported that in the past year, the Internal Revenue Service has been “unusually aggressive in doing what it can to lower corporate taxes, going above and beyond what has been allowed in the past.” In 2008, the IRS has issued 113 notices, “many of which will lower the taxes companies will pay this year and in the future.” Gandel noted that this number breaks the record of 111 notices, set in 2006, “and is nearly double the 65 issued in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency.” These changes “drain billions of dollars of badly needed tax revenue at a time when the federal deficit is mushrooming,” and many of the changes “may lower corporate tax revenue for years to come.” One proposed change would enable companies to significantly reduce their taxes for as long as 20 years.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 9:02 am

Question for you readers

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This blog now seems to have a reasonable number of readers—hits per day during the work week run around 2300-2500 on average—and I’m curious about my readership. What thing(s) about this blog are of interest to you? If you respond in the comments, I would much appreciate your thoughts. Also I would be interested if you feel I go overboard on anything.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 8:55 am

Posted in Daily life

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Obama’s military

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Very interesting article by Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent. It begins:

Just as President-elect Barack Obama’s key defense aides conduct a policy review at the Pentagon, a new report from the Center for American Progress lays out a progressive agenda for both military policy and defense budgeting for the next several years.

The report largely embraces the tenets about the future of warfare put forth by a rising generation of counterinsurgency theorist-practitioners emerging from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It explicitly mentions the military’s “decisive effort to capture the lessons learned in both theatres,” referring to recent doctrinal publications like the counterinsurgency and stability operations field manuals. “You’ve got to give priority to irregular warfare,” said Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan Pentagon official and leading contributor to the report.

Just as important, the report, “Building a Military for the 21st Century,” singles out obsolete or cost-ineffective weapons platforms for elimination. On its chopping block are the Navy’s DDG-1000 destroyer, the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, the Air Force and Marine Corps’ Osprey helicopter, among other programs. Writing that the defense budget requires precision and prioritization, the report’s authors urge that the military slow the pace of the Army’s sprawling Future Combat Systems modernization program and most missile-defense programs. They estimate a savings of nearly $25 billion over four years from their proposed cuts and reductions — and rejects the idea, embraced by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that the U.S. ought to permanently allocate at least 4 percent of its gross domestic product to defense spending.

The principal recommendation from the Center for American Progress is …

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 8:53 am

Movies, like books

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Now that I have a DVD player that automatically resumes a DVD from where I stopped watching, even if I’ve watched other DVDs in the meantime, I find that I’m watching movies (DVDs) the way I read books: have several going at a time, moving from to another as the mood takes me. Ususally the number of concurrent movies or books is not large: 4-6 is the average, but sometimes only 2. I’m not sure why I don’t simply stick to a book until I finish it.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 8:39 am

Posted in Daily life

Cat-fur handbags

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Interesting idea, eh?

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 8:34 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Compensation for those we tortured?

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Interesting article in the Washington Independent by Daphne Eviatar. It begins:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Tuesday had an opportunity to consider a question that may become more pressing in coming years: Should the U.S. government have to pay damages to a innocent man arrested and secretly sent overseas where he faced certain torture?

That’s the issue at the heart of Arar v. Ashcroft, the case heard by 12 judges in an overflowing courtroom in New York. Over the course of an en banc argument that lasted more than two and half hours, the judges peppered lawyers on both sides with questions on arcane matters of immigration procedure and on the central moral issue of whether a victim of torture overseas at the behest of the U.S. government can seek a remedy from the government.

As I’ve written before, Maher Arar, a 34-year-old Syrian-born Canadian, was arrested on his way home to Canada after a vacation visiting relatives in Tunisia in 2002. While changing planes at JFK airport, he was picked up by FBI agents and taken into custody, denied access to his lawyer and then secretly sent to Syria to be questioned about his alleged ties to Al Qaeda. In Syria, Arar said he was held in a grave-like cell and severely tortured until he confessed to weapons training in Afghanistan, where he’d never been.

Arar was released in 2003 after Syrian authorities said they found no evidence that he’d done anything wrong. A Canadian investigation reached the same conclusion and issued a formal apology and reparations.

Yesterday’s argument centered on whether Arar, assuming that all his claims are true, has any recourse against the U.S. government. The answer could affect many more victims of alleged government abuse in the “war on terror.” (Another case, that of three British men who claim they were illegally detained and tortured at the Guantanamo Bay prison, is the subject of a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.)

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 8:31 am

Golden Shellback waterproof coating

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Not yet available, I think. is the site. Look:

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 7:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Silvestre Reyes

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Representative Silvestre Reyes, as I blogged yesterday, is reluctant to abandon torture as a US practice. As I mentioned, he’s a dim bulb and God knows why he heads the House Intelligence Committee. Take a look at this earlier post in which he convincingly reveals his ignorance.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 7:31 am

Posted in Democrats, Government

Straight-razor shaving

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Thanks to Mr. B for the pointer to this NY Times article on a class in shaving with a straight razor. Included is a slide show, with photos of students practicing and shaving.

I’ve not ventured into the straight-razor shave, but obviously it appeals to some.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 7:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Mandarin orange, Milord

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A very good shave indeed today. The Plisson Grey Badger did its usual excellent job with the Geo. F. Trumper Coconut Oil shaving soap, and the Gillette 1940’s MiLord was quite effective and smooth. Royall Mandarin Orange for the final touch.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2008 at 7:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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