Later On

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

Archive for February 13th, 2009

Movies: The Chase and A Matter of Life and Death

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I enjoyed The Chase, with Marlon Brando, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Angie Dickinson, Robert Duvall, all of them incredibly young—Robert Redford looks about 19 (he was 30) and has a very different voice, Robert Duvall still had most of his hair. Directed by Arthur Penn with a screenplay by Lillian Hellman, it was easy to watch but didn’t (for me) really have the impact one would be expect from the talent. The cinematography was wonderful, and the story tried for power, but the intensity was frittered away in crowd scenes and too many villains. One thing was clear: movie fight choreography has come a LONG way from what it was in 1966. Perhaps mainstreaming martial arts films has helped in that regard.

The pièce de résistance was A Matter of Life and Death, a 1946 Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger film starring David Niven. This is an amazing film, in a lurid Technicolor, with the scenes set in Heaven/hallucination in black & white. As I was watching it, amazed, I realized I was seeing a larval version of Dennis Potter. If you’re a Dennis Potter fan, when you see this you’ll see where Potter came from. This movie is proto-Potter: you just have to tweak a couple of things, and you have Dennis Potter. I have a biography of him somewhere here, which I’ve not yet read, and I must find it and see whether it has an index. The movie’s well worth seeing.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

The relevance of the Trojan War

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From The Atlantic by Brian Mockenhaupt:

Spit flies from the wounded soldier’s mouth and his face pulses, red. “Death! Where are you?” roars Philoctetes, played by the actor Paul Giamatti. “Why, after all these years of calling, have you not appeared?” About 200 military mental-health experts watched him spiral into despair as they worked their way through box lunches, squeezed into a suburban-D.C. hotel conference room. “Earth, swallow this body whole, receive me just as I am, for I can’t stand it any longer,” he moans, breathless. “I am wretched, afflicted, and alone.”

Sophocles wrote these words 2,400 years ago when he inventoried the maladies of combat veterans in his plays Philoctetes and Ajax, which recount two Greek soldiers’ anguish during the Trojan War. Now the Theater of War project has revived these ancient stories, with a plain message for today’s veterans: your experiences are timeless. For as long as men have fought one another, they surely have been psychologically damaged by it. The diagnosis has changed over the years—shell shock, battle fatigue, combat stress, and now post-traumatic stress disorder—but the consequences have remained constant: anger, isolation, guilt, grief, helplessness, and, at the most extreme, wrecked families and suicide.

Most of the many recent plays and films about Iraq and Afghanistan have failed commercially. But the Sophocles readings target a much narrower audience. Director Bryan Doerries has shown his production to five military audiences since August and hopes to expand its reach and perform regularly for returning troops. “I would like to see these plays used to destigmatize psychological injury,” he said.

Indeed, overcoming stigma has been the Pentagon’s trickiest problem in treating PTSD in recent combat veterans, who are trained to suppress discomfort and focus on the mission, and who have difficulty acknowledging mental damage and asking for assistance. The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury invited Doerries to its November conference, a brainstorming session on ways to make soldiers more resilient in the face of combat and encourage them to seek help. Ajax and Philoctetes have much to say about both.

“War is war is war is war, and hasn’t changed in 3,000 years,” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Mental Health, Military

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Another benefit of the greens-centered diet

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I find that I keep the dishes washed up better because I need a clean sink in order to rinse the greens before cooking them. I run the sink full of cold water, swish around the greens, then dry and chop. Today it’s kale, and I cut out the stems and chopped those finely. The stems will go into the skillet along with the chopped onion, minced ginger, and kumquats cut in half.

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13 February 2009 at 12:16 pm

Lucky accidents in science

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We know about penicillin and the vulcanization of rubber. Here’s another:

Kishor Wasan, a pharmacologist at the University of British Columbia, needed a negative control. It was 2000, and he was investigating a new way to deliver anti-fungal drugs in pill form, generally cheaper and easier to administer than intravenous injections. "I said, ‘Let’s take a drug I know doesn’t work’," Wasan recalls. He turned to amphotericin B, an antifungal membrane disruptor that Wasan had studied a decade earlier for his PhD, and is not normally absorbed by the body when administered orally. He embedded amphotericin B and a batch of other drugs into his newly devised lipid-based delivery vehicle, and fed them to rats. This turned out to be perhaps one of the worst negative control experiments ever – but a lucky break for Wasan.

Compared to the other drug treatments, the rats on amphotericin B had the highest blood levels and lowest kidney levels of the drug, indicating that the body more readily absorbed amphotericin B than any other drug. What’s more, oral amphotericin B seemed to bypass the renal toxicity normally associated with intravenous forms of the drug (Antimicrob Agents Chemother, 47:3339-42, 2003).

Wasan was bewildered: "I thought, what the heck is going on?" Further experiments showed …

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13 February 2009 at 11:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

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Getting it wrong

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Interesting:

Source: Media Matters for America, February 10, 2009

"What happens when media monitors mangle journalism in ways far more severe than the work they’re supposed to be appraising?" asks Eric Boehlert, analyzing a supposed critique of liberal media bias by conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg. Boehlert catches Goldberg in numerous distortions and outright falsehoods. In one example, Goldberg falsely claims that Barack Obama walked into a window in the Oval Office, and then criticizes the media for failing to report it. "Poorly sourced and constructed around lazy, clichéd writing — and in a couple of cases, outright falsehoods — Goldberg’s piece simply illustrated how, rather than illuminating shortfalls of the press, conservatives often just create more work for the rest of us," Boehlert writes.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 11:22 am

Posted in GOP, Media

Out of a macro-economic dark age

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Interesting post by Stirling Newberry. It begins:

Paul Krugman has said we are living in a "Macroëconomic dark ages" where knowledge of the past is "being lost." Specifically he points out how long exploded fallacies are being offered up as deep scholarly truths. To be a classicist for a moment, there was, in fact, a Dark Ages during the Bronze Age when the Greeks lost their knowledge of writing. It was during this post-literate era that Homeric poetry came into being. It was part of a larger transition to the iron age. The fall of Rome hasn’t been the only fall from light.

He repeated those points at the Thinking Big conference yesterday. Which featured a double barreled blast of the case for economic sanity. Highlights included Robert Borosage making a persuasive case that there is no going back to the "old economy" and Larry Mishel laying out how insecurity and broken labor markets have left us at the edge of the precipice. The idea that public good led to higher incomes was something known to "The New Liberalism" of the late 19th century, let alone to the 20th century.

There is empirical evidence from politics of how badly confused the American public is. While as much as 80% of the American public wants some kind of stimulus bill passed, the support for the stimulus bill being placed before them hovers in the mid-fifties. What makes this a sign of an economic dark age is the internals of that number. Only 51% of people in the Gallup poll thought a stimulus bill was "critically" important, and Rasmussen’s tracking poll has support improving but at 44%, still below half of the American public. What’s interesting is that 55% of Americans fear the bill is "too large." The reality is that the stimulus bill, as written right now, is almost certainly too small.

What is going on here is the "family budget fallacy." This is when …

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Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 11:19 am

Has Andrea Mitchell actually learned something?

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I will always remember how Andrea Mitchell said on TV that “most people” wanted Scooter Libby to be pardoned, when the same day a poll had found that 69% of the people did NOT want Libby pardoned and only 18% did. Andrea was, technically, talking out her ass and making things up, based on her own opinion and the people she has lunch with. But note in this latest incident how she actually pays attention to the polls and keeps her own opinion silent. From ThinkProgress:

A new USA Today/Gallup poll released today shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans support investigations into Bush era crimes like torture. Asked about the findings on MSNBC this afternoon, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) added his name to a growing list of congressmen endorsing either congressional or Justice Department investigations into Bush administration wrongdoings:

I think we have to seriously investigate allegations of torture. … I think our political system as well as our judicial system is strong enough to conduct these investigations fairly and then to bring those people the law to justice. I don’t think we should be afraid of that.

Watch it:

After Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called for an independent commission to investigate Bush crimes earlier this week, Rachel Maddow noted that Leahy joins party leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in calling for investigations. “I think that what we have stumbled into here is an unexpected but rather blatant emerging consensus among powerful Democrats in Washington that alleged Bush-era crimes should be investigated and if need be, prosecuted.”

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 10:25 am

Stimulus will fail?

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It has been pointed out that, as the nation strives to understand what’s necessary to right the economy, TV talk shows in general are avoiding having any expert voices—economists—to explain the situation to us. They much prefer to have the situation discussed by the anchor and a beat reporter, neither of whom understands an iota of economics. Paul Krugman has been on a talk show a couple of times, but you would expect, in a situation this dire and costing this much money, that the talk shows would be filled with economists. Not so. I haven’t blogged much on this because I don’t watch TV. (Some of the reasons are found in this very paragraph.)

Kevin Hall of McClatchy Newspapers has a good article on the stimulus:

The compromise economic stimulus plan agreed to by negotiators from the House of Representatives and the Senate is short on incentives to get consumers spending again and long on social goals that won’t stimulate economic activity, according to a range of respected economists.

"I think (doing) nothing would have been better," said Ed Yardeni, an investment analyst who’s usually an optimist, in an interview with McClatchy. He argued that the plan fails to provide the right incentives to spur spending.

"It’s unfocused. That is my problem. It is a lot of money for a lot of nickel-and- dime programs. I would have rather had a lot of money for (promoting purchase of) housing and autos . . . . Most of this plan is really, I think, aimed at stabilizing the situation and helping people get through the recession, rather than getting us out of the recession. They are actually providing less short-term stimulus by cutting back, from what I understand, some of the tax credits."

House and Senate negotiators this week narrowed the differences between their competing stimulus plans. In so doing, they scrapped a large tax credit for buying automobiles that would’ve caused positive ripple effects across the manufacturing sector. They settled instead on letting purchasers of new vehicles deduct from their federal taxes the state and local sales taxes on the cars they bought.

The exception to this is for buyers of plug-in hybrids, cars that run off a battery that can be charged at home or in the office. Buyers of these vehicles, available in very limited supply, could get a tax credit of up to $9,100.

A Republican-backed proposal that would’ve provided a $15,000 tax credit to first-time homebuyers …

Continue reading. And see this graph from the article:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 10:17 am

Tobacco fades in North Carolina

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At last the political power of tobacco may be diminishing:

Just a few years ago, a legislator in Raleigh would have been wasting time trying to raise the cigarette tax or to ban smoking in places such as the White Swan Barbecue, a roadside motel-turned-diner on U.S. 301 in Johnston County where customers are free to puff away.

This year, the legislature may do both.

Linwood Parker, owner of the White Swan, knows about commerce and politics, and he has watched tobacco’s influence on both collapse. Parker used to rake in $3,000 a week as workers from the now-defunct Smithfield tobacco auction market streamed into his restaurant. Many of those customers — and the money they spent — are now gone.

The next shot may come this year from the state legislature. The possibility of lawmakers passing another cigarette tax increase and a ban on smoking in restaurants and workplaces illustrates just how far the golden leaf industry has fallen within North Carolina.

"It’s really a collapse of the political support," said Peter Daniel, assistant to the president of the N.C. Farm Bureau.

North Carolina still produces more tobacco than any other state, and its legacy is evident throughout the state. The Durham Bulls minor league baseball team drew its name from a brand of tobacco. Duke and Wake Forest universities were built on millions of packs of cigarettes. Two popular cigarette brands, Winston and Salem, got their names from one of North Carolina’s largest cities, Winston-Salem.

"You can’t drive by a school or hospital in eastern North Carolina," said Parker, "that wasn’t built with tobacco money."

That legacy is fading.

Just after Christmas, …

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Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 10:09 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Tagged with ,

Too bad Daschle didn’t pay his taxes

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Perhaps. At any rate, Madison Powers has an interesting article on the HHS challenge Congressional Quarterly:

When President’s Obama’s nomination of former Sen. Tom Daschle for secretary of Health and Human Services fell apart, most observers were at a loss to think of who might fill the void. Some obvious names came to mind because of their knowledge of the health care system, but many were dismissed from the realm of serious speculation because they were seen as inadequate for the daunting political task at hand.

The Daschle nomination seemed a truly inspired choice. He is the consummate Washington insider with a Rolodex (Blackberry, actually) as well-stocked as any in town. He has unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of the legislative process. He’s even co-authored a book on health care overhaul.

A lesser known fact about Daschle is that he was one of the very few members of Congress who managed to get a major staffer a place at the table within the Clinton administration’s health care task force. He has first-hand understanding of what went wrong in the process that involved almost 500 people but lacked serious consultation with the key members of the legislative branch.

Ultimately, it was Daschle’s choice to follow the trend of insiders cashing in on their years of public service that did him in. The tax issue was the wedge — but the final blow to his nomination was the emerging portrait of his participation in the shadowy world of consultants and advisers whose activities are ill-defined and unregulated either by the professional norms of lawyers or the legal transparency requirements of lobbyists.

Initially, the idea of someone from beyond Washington, a governor perhaps, seemed attractive to outside observers, and if reports are accurate, appealing to the administration as well. Nonetheless, Daschle’s fall from grace was a stark reminder of how much is lost by not selecting someone skilled in the legislative sausage-making process.

One name among the list of governors to surface a week ago was greeted with instantaneous grass-roots opposition. …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 10:04 am

Ethicurean is a good site

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You might want to check it regularly. For example, here’s today’s news digest:

Yeah OK, we’re listening: The WashPo’s Jane Black interviews new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who says that being an overweight kid has given him insight into childhood nutrition problems, that in an ideal world all food would be purchased locally, and that the USDA needs to help build the infrastructure to make that possible. (Washington Post) He also dared to use the “O-word in front of a bunch of large-scale industrial farmers.” (Gristmill)

Groundbreaking USDA move: Vilsack broke up some concrete at the USDA’s washington, DC headquarters to plant the inaugural USDA “People’s Garden.” Some of us may have swooned, before more cynical heads pointed out that the press release rather curiously omitted any mention that this garden would grow food, instead, it will “be designed to promote ‘going green’ concepts, including landscaping and building design to retain water and reduce runoff; roof gardens for energy efficiency; utilizing native plantings and using sound conservation practices.” So, can we have some kale with our photo op, please? (USDA press release)

Goodbye, nest eggs: In the wake of last year’s bankruptcy filing by poultry giant Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., hundreds of farmers suddenly find themselves unable to make mortgage payments on their pricey chicken coops. Horrifying fact: Pilgrim’s growers say they earn about 5 cents per pound per bird. (Wall Street Journal; thanks Holly!)

Peanut pleas: The owner of Peanut Corporation of America, the company behind what is now a record-breaking recall of products for Salmonella contamination ( a second plant, in Texas, was shut down yesterday), takes the fifth when asked on the stand of a Senate hearing whether he knowingly shipped contaminated products from his Georgia plant. The Senate investigation turned up a slew of incriminating e-mails between the owner and employees, including one exchange in which an employee warned, “This lot is presumptive SALMONELLA!!!!” and the owner replied “I go thru this about once a week…I will hold my breath…again.” Outrageous. (LA Times; links to e-mails from the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee)

Reason #4,773 not to support industrial meat: Since the late 1970s, Henry’s Turkey Service has been shipping mentally retarded men from Texas to Iowa to work in its West Liberty processing plant, paying the men a reduced wage and deducting room, board and care. Payroll records indicate the men, some of whom have worked there for decades, are left with as little as $65 per month in salary. (Des Moines Register; hat tip La Vida Locavore)

They don’t shoot horses, do they: Equine slaughterhouses may be in the works in North Dakota and Montana. At present, the United States does not have a slaughterhouse in operation where horses are processed. (Meatpoultry.com) This lack has led to increased animal abandonment and export of horses to inhumane processing plants in Mexico where horses are stabbed to death.

Banned class: Maryland may be the first state to ban school food that contains certain food dyes that have been linked to attention problems and hyperactivity in kids. A second legislative proposal would require that all foods containing the colorings bear a warning label. (Food Navigator) And just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy releases its “Brain Food Selector,” a guide to foods that contain dyes that impact child brain function. After you scan the list, you may just want to dump processed foods entirely. (IATP)

Monopolitics: Quite obviously inspired by the Ethicurean’s USDA Milestones list, Senators Grassley and Kohl introduce legislation to fight anti-competitive practices by agribusinesses. Among the reforms proposed in the bill is a requirement that companies wishing to merge must prove to the Department of Justice that consolidation won’t harm market competition. Currently, that burden of proof lies on the folks opposing the merger. (Senate Press Release) …

Continue reading. And note this item:

The time it never rained: The worst drought in nearly 100 years is devastating most of Texas. Winter wheat crops have failed, ponds are dry, cattle are hungry, and farmers are considering not planting. (New York Times)

The GOP of course continues to deny global warming.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 9:59 am

Drought as global-warming practice

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Interesting article:

California’s unfolding drought – now three years running – may prove to be the worst in recorded history. Farms have begun to fail, communities to crumble, food prices to rise and more people are going hungry. How we respond to the drought will offer us a template of how to respond to global climate change.

The drought is a national crisis because California produces 50 percent of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables, and a majority of the nation’s salad, strawberries and premium wine grapes. State and federal agencies that deliver water to farms up and down the Great Central Valley are preparing to cut deliveries by 85 percent to 100 percent. Coastal communities may begin rationing programs within weeks. Even with 50 percent increases in ground-water pumping, which is clearly not sustainable, the Central Valley alone will lose up to 40,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in income, according to a UC Davis agricultural economist Richard Howitt.

Even more disturbing is that rising emotion over water is sparking hostility. Last Thursday in Fresno, a representative of the California Water Impact Network told a television reporter during a debate that saving farmworkers’ jobs is a mistake because they are the “least educated people in America … they turn to lives of crime, they go on welfare, go into drug trafficking ….” This is this blatantly racist, and evokes images of Europe in the 1930s and ’40s.

Drought or hurricanes are beyond human ability to stop. Thus, the human challenge is to offer effective response. Neither the federal nor state government can mitigate the impacts of this drought without …

… Our answers to these questions lead us to recommend four actions: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 9:53 am

Addicted to fake outrage

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David Sirota points out a weird reaction. At one time (I’m ashamed to admit) I would get angry at trivial matters. I would stoke up my own anger for reasons I still don’t fully understand—maybe being angry felt good, maybe it was better than looking at what was really happening in my life. At any rate, I fully regret my attitude in those days and rejoice that I finally found a more mellow mode of existence. Anger is WAY overrated as a "cleansing" emotion. Generally, it seems to me, it’s used in an effort to control other people. I wish I had sought counseling immediately to determine the source of the anger.

Here’s Sirota:

I’m not sure if it’s because we’re strung out on "Lost" episodes, or if it’s because we’re still suffering from a post-9/11 stress disorder that makes us crave "breaking news" alerts, or if it’s because the economy has turned us into distraction junkies. But one thing is painfully obvious after Michael Phelps’ marijuana "scandal" erupted last week: Our society is addicted to fake outrage – and to break our dependence, we’re going to need far more potent medicine than the herb Phelps was smoking.

If you haven’t heard (and I’m guessing you have), the Olympic gold medalist was recently photographed taking a toke of weed. The moment the picture hit the Internet, the media blew the story up, pumping out at least 1,200 dispatches about the "controversy," according to my LexisNexis search. Phelps’ sponsors subsequently threatened to pull their endorsement deals, and USA Swimming suspended him for "disappointing so many people."

America is a place where you can destroy millions of lives as a Wall Street executive and still get invited for photo-ops at the White House; a land where the everyman icon – Joe Sixpack – is named for his love of shotgunning two quarts of beer at holiday gatherings; a "shining city on a hill" where presidential candidates’ previous abuse of alcohol and cocaine is portrayed as positive proof of grittiness and character. And yet, somehow, Phelps is the evildoer of the hour because he went to a party and took a hit off someone’s bong.

As with most explosions of fake outrage, the Phelps affair asks us to feign anger at something we know is commonplace. A nation of tabloid readers is apoplectic that Brad and Jen divorced, even though one out of every two American marriages ends the same way. A country fetishizing "family values" goes ballistic over the immorality of Paris Hilton’s sex tape … and then keeps spending billions on pornography. And now we’re expected to be indignant about a 23-year-old kid smoking weed, even though studies show that roughly half of us have done the same thing; most of us think pot should be legal in some form; and many of us regularly devour far more toxic substances than marijuana (nicotine, alcohol, reality TV, etc.).

So, in the interest of a little taboo candor, I’m just going to throw editorial caution to the wind and write what lots of us thought – but were afraid to say – when we heard about Phelps. Ready? Here goes: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 9:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

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Minor discovery of something everyone knows

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I think everyone knows to fry bacon on low heat. My aged electric range has push-button controls for burner heat: Hi 2 3 Lo Warm Off. I often turn the heat to 2 to get the skillet hot, then drop to 3 to fry the bacon. Yesterday I was doing other things (washing dishes) when I started the bacon, so I just put the heat on Lo so I wouldn’t have to watch it so closely. Man, it cooked a LOT better. First, there was not splattering at all. Second, the sound was wonderful, like the murmur of a small brook. Third, the bacon crisped up more nicely and easily than at the higher temperature. Finally, the whole bacon-cooking experience was better.

Cooking at low heat does, of course, take longer, but the benefits are great. So now I just start the bacon earlier.

Sometimes it takes me a long time to learn what everyone knows.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 9:14 am

Friday cat-blogging: Molly

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A quick look at Molly’s daily life:

Molly trying to sleep

Molly trying to sleep

Molly trying to wake up

Molly trying to wake up

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 8:51 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Molly

Minor footwear secret

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After many years, I discovered that wool was the best material for socks, not cotton (which absorbs moisture and remains damp). I started wearing SmartWool socks all the time, and it’s made a big difference in foot health—important for diabetics. If you’re allergic to wool, this option is not for you, but otherwise I give wool a big thumbs up as a material for socks.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 8:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

A sea buckthorn morning

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Sorry for the green cast—lighting was not enough, and enhancement made things greenish. This morning is bright sunshine after a night of rain, so I’m thinking that’s sea-buckthorn-like. So Durance L’òme shaving soap, made with sea buckthorn, and a fine lather it produced with the Emperor 3 Super. The Gillette NEW did a good job with a somewhat aged Treet Classic blade, and Booster’s Island Bay Rum was a fine finish. Now I’m drinking a mug of white tea with lemon and feeling pretty good.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2009 at 8:31 am

Posted in Shaving

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