Later On

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

Archive for January 7th, 2009

Read Friedman today

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AmericaBlog is right: today’s Tom Friedman column is one of the rare ones worth reading. From the column:

… All I could think to myself was: If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than us? What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? Back home, I was greeted by the news that General Motors was being bailed out — that’s the G.M. that Fortune magazine just noted “lost more than $72 billion in the past four years, and yet you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their job.”

My fellow Americans, we can’t continue in this mode of “Dumb as we wanna be.” We’ve indulged ourselves for too long with tax cuts that we can’t afford, bailouts of auto companies that have become giant wealth-destruction machines, energy prices that do not encourage investment in 21st-century renewable power systems or efficient cars, public schools with no national standards to prevent illiterates from graduating and immigration policies that have our colleges educating the world’s best scientists and engineers and then, when these foreigners graduate, instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours.

To top it off, we’ve fallen into a trend of diverting and rewarding the best of our collective I.Q. to people doing financial engineering rather than real engineering. These rocket scientists and engineers were designing complex financial instruments to make money out of money — rather than designing cars, phones, computers, teaching tools, Internet programs and medical equipment that could improve the lives and productivity of millions.

For all these reasons, our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely…

But read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Daily life

Tom Ricks and Xenophon

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Good post by Ricks:

Among the many things I like about the U.S. military, it is one of the few places you can find a good argument nowadays about Xenophon and other ancient notables. I recall, for example, Lt. Col. Paul Yingling giving me a new perspective on Thucydides during a driving cold winter rain in the high desert outside Tal Afar one night during the winter of 2005-06.

The January-February issue of the Army’s official Military Review has an appreciative but rambling review of a new translation of Xenophon’s Anabasis that was published last year by Cornell. Lt. Col. Prisco Hernandez’s essay is most interesting for its closing sentence: “Reading Xenophon’s Anabasis as the tale of how a tactically superior, but numerically small, western force withdraws with their lives and  honor intact from a dubious entanglement of an ancient Middle Eastern civilization is a profitable modern use of Xenophon’s text.” 

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7 January 2009 at 1:27 pm

Josh Marshall asks about our money

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Josh Marshall’s column begins:

This is in the background. But it’s important.

As we told you last week, the Fed has initiated a program to purchase half a trillion dollars worth of mortgage debt that is purportedly clogging up the credit markets. This is essentially what the TARP program was initially supposed to do — buy back mortgage securities. But they decided not to. And now the Fed is doing something similar, though there are important differences.

They’ve contracted with four financial services firms to manage the money. Under normal circumstances the fees generated by managing that much money could be huge.

Equally important, having these firms manage this money creates huge potential conflicts of interest and opportunities for self-dealing. Just to explain this in the most general terms, the companies holding these securities are sitting on assets worth only a fraction of their presumed value as recently as six months ago. The companies now managing the buy-back are in many cases the same outfits that helped saddle these companies up with these crappy investments in the first place. And they’re the companies likely to be doing business with these companies again once this TARP thing is over. So the managers have all sorts of incentive to make these companies whole as opposed to driving a good bargain for taxpayers.

All of which makes it really important that we know how these four companies were chosen, how they’re being paid and just how the decision-making is taking place.

So with all that in mind, last week, we went to the Fed and started asking questions. A Fed representative insisted that there’d been a formal and open bidding process. He refused to divulge any information about the value of the contracts of the successful bids. But he did tentatively agree to release the original RFP (Request for Proposals). But now they seem to have changed their minds and have stopped returning our calls.

Now, here’s the key. This isn’t some remote issue of good government transparency. This is about gargantuan sums of money used in a way that makes possible all sorts of rotten insider deals. And the Fed won’t release even the most cursory information on how this is being done. That’s a big deal.

I can’t tell which is a bigger scandal — that fact that the Fed is shifting gears and stonewalling us or that we seem to be the only ones even asking the question.

Zack Roth has more at TPMMuckraker.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Fed program is the same as the original plan for the TARP program which was designed to buy up toxic mortgage assets.

From TPM reader M.A.: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 1:18 pm

“Prosecute the weak, protect the powerful”

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Glenn Greenwald’s column deserves reading. Here’s the conclusion:

… What those Democratic leaders did was, at the very best, a total abdication of their responsibilities.  More accurately, they actively and culpably enabled the illegal spying.  None of them — for obvious reasons — has called for any investigation or prosecution of Bush officials for having broken the law.  All three of them — for equally obvious reasons — voted for the FISA bill last August which immunized lawbreaking telecoms and all but ensured a total end to any real public disclosure of what happened here.  Harman and Rockefellerboth attended the giddy White House signing party where they joined Bush, Cheney, Orrin Hatch, John Boehner, Joe Lieberman and other luminaries in celebrating the harmless end to the NSA scandal in which they both played such an important role.  

Meanwhile, the only person to pay any price from this rampant lawbreaking — Tom Tamm — is the one with infinitely less power than all of them, the one who risked his job security and even freedom to bring to the nation’s attention the fact that our highest government officials were deliberately committing felonies in how they spied on us.  Those who broke the law and those who actively enabled it — the Cheneys and Haydens and Rockefellers and Pelosis and Harmans — all protect one another, and have virtually every political and media elite righteously demand that nothing be done to them.  

But there is not a peep of protest over the ongoing, life-destroying persecution of the former DOJ lawyer whose conscience compelled him to do what those cowardly Democratic leaders would not do:  take action to uncover rampant criminality at the highest levels of our government.  Harry Reid is a real tough guy when it comes to the momentous goal of preventing Roland Burris from entering the Senate. Dianne Feinstein is enraged over the grave injustice that she was not told in advance about the new CIA Director.  Is it even possible to envision a Democratic Congressional leader — many of whom eagerly enabled most of the abuses of the last eight years undertaken by the Bush administration — objecting to the ongoing persecution of this whistle-blower, someone who did the job they were all either afraid or unwilling to do?

That’s America’s justice system in a nutshell:  the President who deliberately and knowingly violated our 30-year-old law making it a felony offense to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants has the entire political and media class eagerly defend him against prosecution.  Those who enabled him — in both parties — block investigations into what was done.  Ruth Marcus and Cass Sunstein and friends offer one excuse after the next to justify this immunity.  But the powerless and defenseless — though definitively courageous — public servant who blew the whistle on this lawbreaking is harassed, investigated, and pursued by the DOJ’s Criminal Division to the point of bankruptcy and depression, while the lawbreakers and their enablers stand by mute and satisfied.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 1:06 pm

Panetta’s looking good for CIA Director

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OTOH, I’m starting to have serious doubts about Dianne Feinstein’s qualifications to be a Democratic Senator. Fred Kaplan of Slate has a good article on Panetta’s new role, from which this is taken:

… This has been Obama’s persistent dilemma on the matter of picking a CIA chief (and the reason it has taken him so long to do so): finding someone who is a) up on the issues and the workings of the intelligence bureaucracy but b) not tainted by the Bush administration’s record of renditions, torture, or extralegal surveillance.

Panetta’s pick suggests that no such person exists—and that, if forced to make priorities, Obama values b) over a). Panetta has written articles denouncing the use of torture under any circumstances. In that respect, he is clean.

It is worth emphasizing, however, that Panetta is not as green to the spook world as some of his appointment’s critics have maintained. In the 1990s, as President Bill Clinton’s budget director and White House chief of staff, he was not just passively exposed to intelligence issues.

Richard Clarke, who was the White House counterterrorism director under Clinton (and, briefly, under Bush before resigning and then emerging as a celebrated critic), wrote in an e-mail today:

Leon was in all of the important national security meetings for years, both as [Office of Management and Budget] director and as chief of staff. He made substantive contributions well outside of his job description. And as OMB director, he was one of a very few people who knew about all of the covert and special-access programs.

Clarke’s first point is crucial—Panetta knows, from experience, what a president wants and needs from intelligence reports, so he could represent the agency’s views more cogently than many insiders might.

But the final point is important, too. These “special-access programs”—satellites, sensors, and other intelligence-gathering devices whose very existence is known only to those with compartmentalized security clearances—form a welter of costly, overlapping, ill-coordinated, and largely unsupervised projects that are run by private contractors to a greater extent than most people might imagine.

One former CIA official who is familiar with these programs (and who asked not to be identified) speculates that Panetta’s main task might be to clean up not only the agency’s high-profile mess—the “black ops” that have tarnished America’s reputation around the world—but this budgetary-bureaucratic mess as well. Certainly, he knows where the line items are buried to a degree that few insiders can match…

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 12:45 pm

Knife has arrived

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The Hiromoto Tenmi-Jyuraku Aogami Super Series knife that I ordered has arrived. It’s the TJ-25AS  Gyuto 210mm (8.25″) blade on the page at the link.

The blades are made of Hitachi Aogami Super (AS Carbon steel), an ultimate Hagane refined from Yasugi sand-rons. High carbon steel (1.40 – 1.50) with Chromium (0.30 – 0.50) and Tungsten (2.00 – 2.50) added for extra durability and longer edge retention. This core carbon steel is clad with 405 stainless steel to prevent from rusting. Full tang black Staminawood handle securely fastened with three stainless steel rivets and bolster.

Unlike German knives, which use a multi-bevel (strong edge), the Japanese knife uses a flat bevel (sharp edge). A multi-bevel will have the primary bevel at (say) 18º, then a 20º bevel on that, and finally a 22º bevel. The Japanese flat bevel seems to be 15º. That’s a very thin edge—delicate but also extremely sharp. I am warned not to try cutting bone or hard objects like a butternut squash, for example, or a pineapple. For those, I’ll have to use another knife, but I love the sharpness of the Japanese knife.

I got also Bottorff’s book Sharpening Made Easy, which looks very useful.

BTW, take a look at the Chinese knives (cleaver shaped, but not cleavers) on this page. Lovely, eh?

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 12:13 pm

More on Geoghegan for Congress

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David Sirota at OpenLeft—and do donate to Geoghegan’s campaign:

Look, if you’ve read my work at all, you know I don’t have a lot of good things to say about lots of politicians, and I don’t spend my time shilling for anyone simply because they have a D behind their name. So I hope you take that into consideration when you read what I’m about to write:

You need to make a contribution to Tom Geoghegan for CongressRight here. Right now.

As the Washington Post reports today, Tom is running in the March 3rd special election primary in Illinois’ 5th district to replace Rahm Emanuel – one of the worst influences on Democratic politics in a generation. The idea that a lawmaker as soulless as Emanuel could be replaced with a progressive – any progressive – is an amazing thought. The idea that he could be replaced with one of the greatest living progressives in America is beyond amazing – it should make youcontribute whatever you can right now.

As I said to start, I don’t use phrases like “one of the greatest living progressives in America” often – if ever. But I mean it when I say it about Tom. I’ve written two columns about him in the last year (here and here), and if you’ve read any of his work, you know why I use superlatives to describe him.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 11:38 am

Praise for Panetta from those who know

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Very interesting story in the Washington Post, which begins:

As a top official at the White House in 1996, Richard A. Clarke was looking for an ally after concluding that the CIA and FBI needed an additional $1 billion for counterterrorism programs. Officials at the Office of Management of Budget were dismissive of the request, so Clarke sought an audience with Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta.

Clarke said he made his case to Panetta, who queried him closely about the need for the funds and whether the agencies were prepared to spend them. As Clarke recalled yesterday, Panetta then gave the go-ahead for the initiative, disappointing a large retinue of hostile budget officials who had gathered in the chief’s spacious West Wing office expecting the onetime budget director to skewer Clarke.

“He was in the small handful of people who knew there was a terrorism problem long before anybody else had heard of al-Qaeda,” Clarke said of Panetta.

As questions continued to swirl on Capitol Hill about President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Panetta to be his CIA director, several of his former White House colleagues rebutted criticism that he lacked the necessary experience and qualifications for the post. They said Panetta worked closely with President Bill Clinton and his most senior lieutenants on every national security issue that came through the White House between 1994 and 1997 while becoming a sophisticated consumer of intelligence during the daily briefings the CIA provided for Clinton and senior advisers.

“I would seek out his opinion all the time because it was very useful and it was not political,” Tony Lake, the national security adviser during Clinton’s first term, said in an interview. “He was a very good ally when I needed to go the president.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 11:21 am

George Bush, still a jerk

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ThinkProgress:

In December, President-elect Obama asked the White House if he and his family could move into Blair House — the White House’s guest house — a week early, so that his daughters Malia and Sasha could start school. The White House rebuffed them, saying the house was already booked for another guest. A White House source added that “Blair House was appalled” by the request.

After weeks of speculation, the mystery guest that trumps the President-elect and his family has finally been revealed. The White House offered the house to John Howard, the former Prime Minister of Australia who is set to receive a Medal of Freedom. Instead of arranging other accommodations for Howard’s one-night stay, the Bush administration told the Obama family to stay in a hotel for two weeks. (Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who are also receiving the Medal of Freedom, opted to find other accommodations.)

Last night on MSNBC’s “Countdown,” Bloomberg journalist Margaret Carlson revealed that when the White House turned down Obama’s request in early December, it had not yet even invited Howard to stay at the Blair House:

I reported…on December 11 and 12 that there were no foreign dignitaries booked into Blair House during that period of time. … I have the feeling they asked him [Howard] to come and stay so that there might be some plausible reason for not letting the Obamas stay there.

She also pointed out that Blair House has “119 rooms with 35 bathrooms. Howard wouldn’t even have to share a sink with the Obamas.” Watch it:

That the White House choose to prioritize the former prime minister of Australia over the incoming President of the United States emphasizes Bush’s sense of loyalty. Howard, a darling of the right wing, was one of Bush’s biggest cheerleaders whom Bush has called his “mate of steel” for standing with him on Iraq and being the only leader of an industrialized nation — besides Bush, of course — to refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Still, supplanting the incoming President with Howard seems like a final, petty kick in the teeth from Bush.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 11:12 am

Free Windows software from Microsoft

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Via Lifehacker, this page shows lots of free software provided by Microsoft. The first few entries:

Agent components provide animated characters (GenieMerlinPeedyRobby & “Custom”) to appear during specific help or instruction. (Support FAQ)

Alt-Tab Replacement in addition to the icon of the application window you are switching to, you see a preview of the page.  

Calculator Plus also performs many types of conversions. 

ConferenceXP enables you to see & hear others in a virtual collaborative space, called a venue. You collaborate on an electronic whiteboard or PowerPoint presentation, send messages and more.

Feeds Plus is an Internet Explorer 7 add-on for RSS  pop-up notifications

FolderShare keeps important files at your fingertips – anywhere. All file changes are automatically synchronized between linked computers, so you always access the latest files.

Lots more at the page.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 11:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Fascinating: the yellow first-down line

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I don’t watch TV (or football), so I didn’t know about the technical innovation of the yellow line that shows where the offensive team will get a first down. Mantic has a video on his site that explains how they do that and, if you’re a geek, it’s quite interesting. It takes two people to control the line, BTW, so there’s another new occupational specialty. (And no, it’s not one person on each end of the line to pull it straight. 🙂 )

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

McCormick’s Flavor Forecast for 2009

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Just as with colors, fragrances, and God knows what else, spices and herbs go through fasions. McCormick—a fine old Baltimore company—has now released their 2009 Flavor Forecast. Check it out for ideas. I don’t think you’ll be criticized for using out-of-fashion flavors, but new flavors are always interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 10:46 am

FileHippo update checker

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Check out this post reviewing FileHippo. I already have an update checker, but I don’t really like it, so I think I’ll uninstall it and try FileHippo.

Later on: Pretty nice package: downloads and updates much easier. Lots o’ ads, of course, and some care is needed not to inadvertantly click on some “free offer.” But I’ll stick with FileHippo as my update checker for now.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 10:02 am

Posted in Software

Include potato-salad balls with your lunch

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If you pack your lunch (and you can eat potatoes), consider potato-salad balls:

Jyagatama — potato salad balls. I had never in my life imagined making mashed potatoes mixed with cooked peas, corn, and carrots, seasoning it like a potato salad (Vegenaise, lemon juice, etc.) then rolling it into little balls. Could this possibly be good?

… Verdict: Potato salad balls? Phenomenally brilliant. Seriously, they were sooo good, all creamy and tangy and you can just pick them up and pop them in your mouth. Who knew?

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 9:58 am

Bad news on stimulus plan

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It’s big enough to take your breath away, but too small to work: the worst possible combination. Paul Krugman explains that Obama had better stop low-balling in hopes (probably futile) of attracting GOP support:

Bit by bit we’re getting information on the Obama stimulus plan, enough to start making back-of-the-envelope estimates of impact. The bottom line is this: we’re probably looking at a plan that will shave less than 2 percentage points off the average unemployment rate for the next two years, and possibly quite a lot less. This raises real concerns about whether the incoming administration is lowballing its plans in an attempt to get bipartisan consensus.

In the extended entry, a look at my calculations.

 

The starting point for this discussion is Okun’s Law, the relationship between changes in real GDP and changes in the unemployment rate…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 9:41 am

The Dawn Johnson of a new day

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A new day is definitely dawning with Obama’s selection of Dawn Johnson for Office of Legal Counsel. From Froomkin yesterday:

Johnsen has been outspoken not only in her opposition to torture, but in her assertion of the public’s right to know what’s been done in its name.

Here’s Johnsen writing for Slate on March 18, 2008: “The question how we restore our nation’s honor takes on new urgency and promise as we approach the end of this administration. We must resist Bush administration efforts to hide evidence of its wrongdoing through demands for retroactive immunity, assertions of state privilege, and implausible claims that openness will empower terrorists. . . .

“We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation’s past transgressions and reject Bush’s corruption of our American ideals. Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation’s honor be restored without full disclosure.”

Here she is again on Slate on April 3, 2008, responding to what I’ve called the Abu Ghraib Memo: “Where is the outrage, the public outcry?! The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged, the fact that it was kept secret for years and that the Bush administration continues to withhold other memos like it–all demand our outrage.

“Yes, we’ve seen much of it before. And yes, we are counting down the remaining months. But we must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly and devises bogus constitutional arguments for outlandishly expansive presidential power. Otherwise, our own deep cynicism, about the possibility for a President and presidential lawyers to respect legal constraints, itself will threaten the rule of law — and not just for the remaining nine months of this administration, but for years and administrations to come.”

Here are a few of her academic papers: What’s a President to Do: Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration’s Abuses? and Faithfully Executing the Laws: Internal Legal Constraints on Executive Power.

Bloggers Glenn Greenwald and Hilzoy do even more digging into her work.

Extremely heartening. Very good news.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 9:31 am

TVA ash disaster only the first of many?

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From TPMMuckraker’s Daily Muck today:

A report by the New York Times finds that a coal ash dump which ruptured in Tennessee in December is only one of 1,300 such dumps in the nation that are not subject to any regulation. Meanwhile, an engineer working with a federal regulator claims that the Tennessee Valley Authority ignored two leaks at the site of last month’s spill, warning signs that could have provided years of notice. Coal ash dumps are well known to contain high levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury.

Want your blood to boil? Read the stories at the links. For example, from the NY Times story:

The coal ash pond that ruptured and sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge across 300 acres of East Tennessee last month was only one of more than 1,300 similar dumps across the United States — most of them unregulated and unmonitored — that contain billions more gallons of fly ash and other byproducts of burning coal.

Like the one in Tennessee, most of these dumps, which reach up to 1,500 acres, contain heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a threat to water supplies and human health. Yet they are not subject to any federal regulation, which experts say could have prevented the spill, and there is little monitoring of their effects on the surrounding environment.

In fact, coal ash is used throughout the country for construction fill, mine reclamation and other “beneficial uses.” In 2007, according to a coal industry estimate, 50 tons of fly ash even went to agricultural uses, like improving soil’s ability to hold water, despite a 1999 E.P.A. warning about high levels of arsenic. The industry has promoted the reuse of coal combustion products because of the growing amount of them being produced each year — 131 million tons in 2007, up from less than 90 million tons in 1990.

The amount of coal ash has ballooned in part because of increased demand for electricity, but more because air pollution controls have improved. Contaminants and waste products that once spewed through the coal plants’ smokestacks are increasingly captured in the form of solid waste, held in huge piles in 46 states, near cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tampa, Fla., and on the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 9:10 am

King Corn filmmaker changes diet

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Interesting item at Slashfood:

curt-ellis-card

King Corn filmmaker Curt Ellis announced on Civil Eats on Monday that his resolution for 2009 is to give up factory raised meats and only consume “animal products from humane, sustainable family farms.” He’s doing this because of the inherent issues of health and humanity having to do with confinement-raised meats. This is a fairly simple, if expensive, goal if he were only eating at home. However, it becomes far more challenging when he adds restaurant eating in the equation. 

In order to handle the protein issue at restaurants, Ellis is printing up cards impressed with the message you see above. He will leave it by his plate, in the hopes that he will be able to inspire some restaurants to consider the quality of the meat they serve. 

Head over to Civil Eats and read his entire resolution post, it lays out the reasoning behind this choice far more eloquently and compellingly than I’ve just done. Then come back over here and tell us what you think!

I have to admit that, after watching King Corn, I have decided to skip beef for the time being—or, if I eat it, stick with strictly grassfed beef. Since I’m cutting back on animal protein anyway, this should not be a problem.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 9:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Megs treat

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Molly and Megs now drink water enhanced with Triple-Pet Plaque-Off Fresh-Breath—mainly to see if it can keep their teeth clean. One capful in three US cups of water (24 oz). We’ll see. Works for dogs as well.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 8:40 am

Posted in Cats

Google Chrome today

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Every time I think I have fixed Firefox’s annoying 2-second pause, it returns. It has improved, no doubt, but I am using Google Chrome as my browser today. It lacks many of the little things I’ve added to Firefox, but it also lacks the 2-second pause—and that 2-second pause, from a spike in CPU usage, affects all programs that are running. Right now it’s my default browser. For the moment.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2009 at 7:45 am

Posted in Firefox, Software

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