Later On

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

Archive for December 24th, 2008

Making 2009 more interesting

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The Eldest forwarded the following email, and I contacted the writer for permission to post it. Here it is:

Dear Friends,

These sure are extraordinary times, aren’t they?  Or are they?  We get up, get our kids ready for school, go to work, get home, get dinner, make our kids do homework, put them to bed, sit down and watch the tube, update our Facebook pages, fail to beat Jason at Scramble, catch a few minutes of Jon Stewart, go to bed …. and get up and do it again.  Weekends?  Maybe a party, a nice dinner, maybe some yardwork, maybe a getaway every now and then.  Some sex squeezed in there somewhere if we’re lucky … A decent vacation a few times a year….

Extraordinary?  Sometimes it feels like it’s anything but.  Not that our lives aren’t wonderful, and the envy of roughly 99.99% of the world’s population.  They are.  But how many more years do we have left to do something to make our days extraordinary?  I’m not talking about some insane midlife crisis stunt (though, more power to you if that’s what you need).  But I’m also not talking about your typical New Year’s resolution (though by all means, do get more exercise and spend more time with your family next year … and change the smoke alarm batteries twice a year.)

What I’m looking for is a pledge to do something extraordinary next year – literally, out of the ordinary – but achievable.  Somewhere between losing that extra five pounds, and winning a Best Director Oscar.  It could be ….

* Hike part of the Appalachian trail;
* Get conversationally fluent in a foreign language;
* Learn how to ride a motorcycle;
* Sing at a karaoke bar;
* Write a short story and get it published somewhere;
* Appear in a play at a local theater company;
* Bungee jump;
* Start a nonprofit to help people in need;
* Train for and run a marathon (a half-marathon?);
* Go on a retreat at a monastery (or convent);
* Make a sculpture of your kids ….

Something different … something to help you mark 2009 as unusual, above average, extraordinary.

Here’s the challenge:  Decide on your thing (thingy?) by the end of January 2, 2009, and email it to me.  You can send up to three extraordinary aspirations.  I’ll post all the results. Maybe I’ll set up a website where we can track everyone’s efforts.  Then, vote for the one item that you think is the single COOLEST thing AND that is likely to actually get done – but you can’t vote for yourself.  The winner gets a bottle of whatever they like (up to $50 in value), and the envy and accolades of your friends (priceless).  You receive it when you finish your accomplishment.

Good luck.   Waddya have to lose?  Maybe 2009 will be memorable … in a good way.

This reminds me of something The Son did: each year, on his birthday, he would identify something to learn in the coming year: a language, stonecutting, how to cook some regional cuisine, …  Then he would indeed tackle the new subject and learn it. He picked up quite a bit of knowledge that way, as well as a new career.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Daily life

What is thread count, and when is it silly?

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I like high-thread-count sheets. Mine are 350 or 400 threads/inch. But some thread counts are ludicrous: 1000?? Read this article to know more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Daily life

Is it bad to commit war crimes?

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Apparently not if it’s Americans who commit them—in that case, war crimes are fine and should not be punished. Glenn Greenwald examines this increasingly common mindset in a good column, which begins:

Behold the now-solidified Smart, Reasonable American Consensus on torture:  the agreed-upon method for dismissing away — mitigating and even justifying — the fact that our leaders, more or less out in the open, instituted a systematic torture regime with the consent of our key elite institutions and a huge bulk of the American citizenry, engaging in behaviors which, for decades, we insisted were inexcusable war crimes when engaged in by others:

Sure, it was wrong.  OK, we “crossed some lines.”  Yeah, we probably shouldn’t have done it, etc. etc. etc. (yawn).  But . . . .  when American leaders did it, it was different — fundamentally different — than when those evil/foreign/dictator actual-war-criminals did it.  Our leaders had good reasons for doing it.  They were kind and magnanimous torturers.  They committed war crimes with a pure heart.  They tortured because they were scared, because they felt guilty that they failed to protect their citizens on 9/11, because they were eager — granted:  perhaps too eager — to keep us, their loyal subjects, safe from The Murderous Terrorists.

Here are Tufts University Political Science Professor Dan Drezner and Stanford Philosophy Professor Joshua Cohen demonstrating how good-hearted, profoundly reasonable, oh-so-intellectually sophisticated Americans diligently struggle with — torture themselves over — what they have convinced themselves is the vexing question of whether our leaders should be considered “war criminals” by virtue of . . . . having committed unambiguous war crimes:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government, Media

Tagged with

Activism and the drilling lease sale

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Associated Press:

An environmental activist tainted an auction of oil and gas drilling leases Friday by bidding up parcels of land by hundreds of thousands of dollars without any intention of paying for them, a federal official said.

The process was thrown into chaos and the bidding halted for a time before the auction was closed, with 116 parcels totaling 148,598 acres having sold for $7.2 million plus fees.

“He’s tainted the entire auction,” said Kent Hoffman, deputy state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Utah.

Hoffman said buyers will have 10 days to reconsider and withdraw their bids if they think they paid too much.

Tim DeChristopher, a 27-year-old University of Utah economics student, said his plan was to disrupt the auction and he feels he accomplished his goal.

DeChristopher won the bidding on 13 parcels, auction records show, and drove up the price of several other pieces of land.

“I thought I could be effective by making bids, driving up prices for others and winning some bids myself,” the Salt Lake City man said.

Some bidders said they were forced to bid thousands of dollars more for their parcels, while others fumed that they lost their bids.

“We were hosed,” said Jason Blake of Park City, a consulting geologist who was outbid on a 320-acre parcel. “It’s very frustrating. I hope the guy is prosecuted.”

Several bidders said they hadn’t decided whether they would withdraw their bids. Some said they may reluctantly hold on to their leases — despite the higher cost — out of concern that the parcels might not go up for auction again under President-elect Barack Obama’s administration.

Continue reading.

Josh Marshall comments:
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

Warren, Obama, and the LGTB community

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This is the video that drove me to fix the video problem. Quite interesting. Via Crooks & Liars:

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 11:50 am

Bush Pushes Midnight Regulations, Many To Last

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Another “gift” from the Bush Administration, to which rules and laws apparently do not apply. Video below the fold will start when you click “Read the rest of this entry”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 11:45 am

Posted in Daily life

YouTube videos pausing in Firefox

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I have had a problem with YouTube videos pausing. I’m using latest version of Firefox (3.0.5), and after a little research found this, which fixed my problem:

Go to your about:config page (type that in the Firefox URL address bar and press Enter) and turn network.http.pipelining to “true” (just click on it); no need to change any other values. (You’ll have to scroll down, but the entries are in alphabetic order, so it’s easy to find.)

That’s working so far.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 11:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Useful site regarding EFCA

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Via Publius on Obsidian Wings, this site provides good information on the Employee Free Choice Act, which will (I hope) provide unions with the support they need. Under GOP influence, our government has gradually turned anti-union in terms of the NLRB, the court system, and laws. The EFCA will help correct the balance. This video (also via Publius) will give you an idea of why unions are still needed:

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Tagged with

KBR continues to let down the troops

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KBR has to be one of the least ethical and most injurious companies around. ThinkProgress:

Controversial military contractor KBR has racked up quite a record of endangering the lives of U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq. Over the years, the former Halliburton subsidiary has been accused of everything from giving troops ice tainted with “traces of body fluids and putrefied remains” to ignoring warnings of unsafe wiring that led to troop deaths.

Earlier this month, attorneys for 16 members of the Indiana National Guard filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that they “knowingly exposed the soldiers to a cancer-causing toxic chemical.” In a special report last night, CBS News revealed that KBR knew of the toxic exposure to hexavalent chromium long before it informed the guardsmen:

Now CBS News has obtained information that indicates KBR knew about the danger months before the soldiers were ever informed.

Depositions from KBR employees detailed concerns about the toxin in one part of the plant as early as May of 2003. And KBR minutes, from a later meeting state “that 60 percent of the people … exhibit symptoms of exposure,” including bloody noses and rashes.

Gentry says it wasn’t until the last day of August in 2003 – after four long months at the facility – that he was told the plant was contaminated.

Watch it:

After receiving a briefing on the case on Monday, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) told CBS that “KBR has a lot to answer for“:

“Look, I think the burden of proof at this point is on the company,” Bayh said. “To come forward and very forthrightly explain what happened, why we should trust them, and why the health and well-being of our soldiers should continue to be in their hands.”

In a statement to CBS, the company denied all charges, saying, “We deny the assertion that KBR harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition.” According to CNN, “an estimated 275 American soldiers may have been exposed to the chemical” at the KBR water plant, “over a period of months through mid- to late-2003.”

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 10:24 am

Is this Henry Paulson’s idea of a joke?

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Look at this:

American Express Co., the credit-card company that’s converting into a bank, will get $3.39 billion of fresh capital from the U.S. rescue fund to ensure its survival as the recession heads into a second year.

American Express joins more than 190 regional banks, commercial lenders, insurers and card issuers seeking at least $75 billion from the second phase of the Treasury’s bailout plan for financial firms. Faced with rising defaults by cardholders, the New York-based firm won Federal Reserve approval to become a commercial bank last month and announced in a statement today it gained access to the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“The ability to avail themselves of government funding takes the dire scenarios off the table,” said Richard Shane, an analyst at Jefferies & Co. in San Francisco. Shane, who initiated the shares with an “underperform” rating in November, said today he expects “significant losses” in the loan portfolio.

The Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program will buy preferred shares that pay annual dividends of 5 percent for the first five years and 9 percent in following years, American Express said. The company will also sell warrants that entitle the Treasury to buy common stock of up to 15 percent of the preferred purchase.

American Express rival Capital One Financial Corp. has preliminary approval for $3.6 billion from the U.S. and Discover Financial Services asked for $1.2 billion. Discover, based in Riverwoods, Illinois, was awarded bank holding company status last week.

Card issuers, along with securities firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., insurers like Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and commercial lender CIT Group Inc., sought status as bank holding companies to tap the government’s rescue fund. CIT said today its request for $2.33 billion won preliminary approval…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 10:18 am

Sample packs of shaving cream

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A good way to try a variety of shaving creams at a relatively low price ($1.50 per sample, plus shipping). Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 10:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Getting going

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Still working my way back to normal after computer work and thumb injury. For one thing, I have to wash quite a few pots, pans, and dishes—yesterday I bought a pair of rubber gloves, so no more excuses.

And this morning I had to run out to buy more mascarpone cheese. We’re going to grate fresh horseradish into it for a condiment for our roast beef. I had a little container, but I opened it to taste a spoonful, not realizing that once it’s opened it will vanish, spoonful by spoonful. I’m not opening the new package until I have a little pile of grated horseradish ready to mix into it immediately.

Plus I’m still working to get my computer back to normal. The shop, as part of their overall cleanup, removed quite a few icons from the desk tray and also changed some settings. Gradually I’m getting those back the way I like them. (Latest change: return the OneNote SideNote icon to the system tray.)

I did find a nice little timer to use on the computer: Dinner Timer Lite. It’s free, simple, and does the job. One minor point: in the upper right corner is a dropdown list from which you pick the alarm time. I didn’t get that at first. At the bottom, click the right box to see the clock, the left box to start the timer (with the time from that box in the upper right). It comes with a set of timer times, but you can add others—I added a 20-minute timer time.

So that’s why posts are going up slowly this morning.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 9:58 am

Posted in Daily life

Wal-Mart pays up

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From the NY Times:

Wal-Mart said on Tuesday that it would pay at least $352 million, and possibly far more, to settle lawsuits across the country claiming that it forced employees to work off the clock. Several lawyers described it as the largest settlement ever for lawsuits over wage violations.

After years of being embarrassed by lawsuits over its wage practices, the company agreed to settle 63 cases pending in federal and state courts in 42 states.

The workers and their lawyers will receive at least $352 million, and the payments could reach $640 million, depending on how many claims affected workers submit.

Union critics of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, saw the settlement as proof of their view that the company achieves its low prices in part by cheating workers. But the company rejected that characterization, saying it had already corrected wage practices that it has long attributed to local managers acting without authority.

“Many of these lawsuits were filed years ago, and the allegations are not representative of the company we are today,” Tom Mars, general counsel and executive vice president at Wal-Mart Stores, said.

The newly settled cases involved hundreds of thousands of current and former hourly employees. It is unclear how much the average employee will receive, but the sum could be several hundred dollars.

Several lawyers said that Wal-Mart had reached the settlement to help end an embarrassing chapter as its chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., turns his position over to Michael T. Duke in February.

The dozens of wage-and-hour suits against Wal-Mart accused the company and its managers of various illegal tactics. Those included forcing employees to work unpaid off the clock, erasing hours from time cards and preventing workers from taking lunch and other breaks that were promised by the company or guaranteed by state laws…

Continue reading.  Has the company learned its lesson and will now reform its ways? Certainly not. They continue to driven by a need to reduce costs (including employee pay and benefits) and increase profits. They’ll pay off this time, but nothing has really changed. That company should be unionized.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 8:27 am

Chris Cox: “Don’t blame me for anything”

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UPDATE: Chris Cox is definitely the one to blame.

How the Bush Administration loves to duck responsibility. They are never to be held accountable or responsible for anything, regardless of their assigned responsibilities. If something goes awry, “It’s not my fault!” is the immediate defense. Latest example: Chris Cox, whose SEC (for example) ignored repeated warnings on the Bernard Madoff’s scam. ThinkProgress:

In a new interview with the Washington Post, embattled Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox stridently “defend[ed] his restrained approach to the financial crisis.” He refused to accept any blame for the Wall Street crisis or the Madoff Ponzi scheme, saying that regulating Wall Street and protecting investors “wasn’t the SEC’s job“:

Cox argued that the agency has carefully defined responsibilities and that it was unfair to blame it for every problem on Wall Street.

The public might not understand that that wasn’t the SEC’s job,” he said, adding that the agency was not responsible for preventing investment banks from collapsing but rather for sheltering their securities trading units from problems in the broader corporation. “The SEC is not a safety and soundness regulator,” he said. [..]

In fact, the SEC’s mission statement clearly suggests that “safety” is — or should be — a primary concern of the commission:

The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.

A review by the SEC inspector general “determined the agency’s monitoring of the five biggest Wall Street firms, which included Bear Stearns, was lacking.” (Just a few days before Bear Stearns collapsed, Cox said he had “a good deal of comfort” in the bank’s capital levels.) Another analysis showed that the SEC dramatically cut its oversight of financial trades. “In one of its core areas — regulation of Wall Street firms — its case load was down significantly,” said Ben A. Indek, a securities lawyer at the law firm that performed the analysis.

Cox also denied any culpability in the Madoff scandal: “When Cox was asked whether he should be blamed for a culture of lax enforcement that allowed multiple warnings about the fraud to go undetected, he said: ‘Absolutely not.’” However, a former SEC official slammed Cox for failing to prevent the Ponzi scheme: “I can’t comprehend how a well-run investigation would have missed a fraud of this magnitude,” said Lynn Turner, a former SEC chief accountant.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 7:36 am

Christmas eve shave

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A commercial shaving soap sent to me by Jack, my friend in Amsterdam, produced quite a good lather with the Edwin Jagger medium silverti brush. The Merkur 1904 Classic was a good choice and did a fine job—don’t know what blade it has. And Floïd is always a good aftershave.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 December 2008 at 7:19 am

Posted in Shaving

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