Later On

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

Archive for July 5th, 2010

For people planning trips to Paris, France and other locations

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Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Daily life

Soda taxes: Lobbyists vs. Public health

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And the politicians went with the lobbyists, of course. Public Health is all very nice, but Public Health does NOT give large sums of money to legislators, who are much more interested in getting money than in Public Health. Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

By analogy with cigarettes, taxes on sodas might discourage people—especially young people—from consuming sugary drinks.  This might help with weight issues.

According to a new analysis by USDA economists,

A tax-induced 20-percent price increase on caloric sweetened beverages could cause an average reduction of 37 calories per day, or 3.8 pounds of body weight over a year, for adults and an average of 43 calories per day, or 4.5 pounds over a year, for children. Given these reductions in calorie consumption, results show an estimated decline in adult overweight prevalence (66.9 to 62.4 percent) and obesity prevalence (33.4 to 30.4 percent), as well as the child at-risk-for-overweight prevalence (32.3 to 27.0 percent) and the overweight prevalence (16.6 to 13.7 percent).

Soft drink companies know this all too well.  Hence, intense industry lobbying.  In the case of New York State, the lobbying succeeded.  Soda taxes are history (for now).

As the New York Times explains:

Final lobbyist filings are not yet in, but estimates of the amount spent…range from $2.5 million, by Mr. Finnegan’s count, to $5 million, by the beverage industry’s count. The American Beverage Association spent $9.4 million in the first four months of the year to oppose New York’s soda tax, according to a search of public lobbying records by the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance. Most of the money was spent on advertising, media and strategy.

This is a setback, but probably temporary.  Sooner or later, soda taxes will come.  Bring on the research!

Addition, July 5: Harvard researchers have just published a paper in the American Journal of Public Health showing that raising the price of sodas in a hospital cafeteria does indeed discourage sales.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 1:23 pm

NAACP endorses California’s marijuana legalization bill

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Andrew Sullivan:

The NAACP endorsed California’s marijuana legalization bill last week. A report on marijuana arrests among minorities explains their rationale:

Young blacks and Latinos use marijuana at lower rates than young whites. So why are police in California arresting young blacks and Latinos at higher rates than young whites, and at greater numbers than their percentages of the population? Based on our studies of policing in New York and other cities, we do not think the arrests are mostly a result of personal bias or racism on the part of individual patrol officers and their immediate supervisors. Rather, this is a system-wide phenomenon, occurring in every county and nearly every police department in California and elsewhere.

Police departments deploy most patrol and narcotics police to certain neighborhoods, usually designated "high crime." These are disproportionately low-income, and disproportionately African-American and Latino neighborhoods.

It is in these neighborhoods where the police make most patrols, and where they stop and search the most vehicles and individuals, looking for "contraband" of any type in order to make an arrest. The item that young people in any neighborhood are most likely to possess, which can get them arrested, is a small amount of marijuana. In short, the arrests are racially biased mainly because the police are systematically "fishing" for arrests in only some neighborhoods, and methodically searching only some "fish." This produces what has been termed "racism without racists."

Scott Morgan opines:

Our marijuana laws have never, and will never, be enforced fairly. The brutality of modern drug enforcement reaches every community, but if young white men were given criminal records and subjected to profiling and police harassment at the same rates as people of color, the criminal justice system would quickly come to a crashing halt. The drug war was built on a foundation of fundamental unfairness, and mitigating its catastrophic impact on communities of color requires measures far more drastic than telling police for the millionth time that there’s more to their job than searching young black men all day and night.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 12:29 pm

Sounds like a terrific pie

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Doesn’t that look scrumptious: a buttermilk pie (a type of custard pie), topped with whipped cream to hold the berries in place. Here’s the recipe.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 12:02 pm

If you’re praying for someone to get well, don’t TELL them, for the love of God

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Very interesting study. Conclusion bold-faced in this abstract:

Intercessory prayer is widely believed to influence recovery from illness, but claims of benefits are not supported by well-controlled clinical trials. Prior studies have not addressed whether prayer itself or knowledge/certainty that prayer is being provided may influence outcome. We evaluated whether (1) receiving intercessory prayer or (2) being certain of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with uncomplicated recovery after coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. METHODS: Patients at 6 US hospitals were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: 604 received intercessory prayer after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; 597 did not receive intercessory prayer also after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; and 601 received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive prayer. Intercessory prayer was provided for 14 days, starting the night before CABG. The primary outcome was presence of any complication within 30 days of CABG. Secondary outcomes were any major event and mortality. RESULTS: In the 2 groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not (relative risk 1.02, 95% CI 0.92-1.15). Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer (relative risk 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.

PMID: 16569567 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 11:46 am

BP has taken over the Louisiana government

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Apparently BP is now in charge of the government, with police now reporting directly to BP. Mac McClelland reports in Mother Jones:

Everyone knows by now that BP is still blocking press access to oil-spill sites even though they’re not supposed to anymore. I’ve been blathering about it for weeks, and it’s been all of three days since four contractors wouldn’t let me through the Pointe Aux Chenes marina outside Montegut, Louisiana. And though as of June 16 the federal government was saying helicopters could fly reporters as low as 1,500 feet around spill sites, on June 17 I was on a helicopter that was prohibited from flying below 3,000 feet (and whose pilot flipped silent birds at the “military guys” coming over the radio and hassling him about being in the area at all). But a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy* pulling over a video camera-wielding private citizen because the head of BP security wanted to ask him some questions is a whole other level of alarming.

Last week, Drew Wheelan, the conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association, was filming himself across the street from the BP building/Deepwater Horizon response command in Houma, Louisiana. As he explained to me, he was standing in a field that did not belong to the oil company when a police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggest[ed]” that he get lost since “BP doesn’t want people filming”:

Here’s the key exchange:

Wheelan: “Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”

Officer: “Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”

Wheelan: “Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”

Officer: “Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

Not really! Shortly thereafter, Wheelan got in his car and drove away but was soon pulled over.

It was the same cop, but this time he had company: Kenneth Thomas, whose badge, Wheelan told me, read “Chief BP Security.” The cop stood by as Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes, asking him who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana. He phoned Wheelan’s information in to someone. Wheelan says Thomas confiscated his Audubon volunteer badge (he’d recently attended an official Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training) and then wouldn’t give it back, which sounds like something only a bully in a bad movie would do. Eventually, Thomas let Wheelan go.

“Then two unmarked security cars followed me,” Wheelan told me. “Maybe I’m paranoid, but I was specifically trying to figure out if they were following me, and every time I pulled over, they pulled over.” This went on for 20 miles. Which does little to mitigate my own developing paranoia about reporting from what can feel like a corporate-police state.

The media liaison for the government-run Deepwater Horizon Response Joint Information Center told me BP would get back to me for comment on the incident. I’m still waiting.

* Correction/Update: This story originally stated that a Louisiana state police officer pulled Wheelan over, per Wheelan’s recounting of the incident. My apologies to the state police for misreporting their involvement. After many calls made and messages left, I’ve finally confirmed that the cop in question was actually a sheriff’s deputy for Terrebonne Parish. The deputy was off official duty at the time, and working in the private employ of BP. Though the deputy failed to include the traffic stop in his incident report, Major Malcolm Wolfe of the sheriff’s office says the deputy’s pulling someone over in his official vehicle while working for a private company is standard and acceptable practice, because Wheelan was acting suspicious and could have been a terrorist.

I, for one, do not welcome our new corporate overlords, though I do recognize their determination to take over our government. They’ve made a good start by muzzling the press.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 8:56 am

Increasing refusal to hire returning troops

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The casual breaking of the law seems to be increasing. Kathryn Watson reports in the Washington Times:

As the Iraq and Afghanistan wars persist, some employers are becoming increasingly resistant to rehire service members who return from active duty as federal law requires, legal analysts say.

Washington lawyer Matthew Tully, who specializes in these cases, said that as the war on terrorism — which relies heavily on National Guard and Reserve units — stretches into its second decade, companies have become more familiar with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

But Mr. Tully, a founding partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, said some employers have objections with the law and have been upfront with his firm about their failure to re-employ and sometimes even to hire citizen-soldiers. One prime reason is financial. He said, without specifying names, that airline companies have told the law firm that hiring military personnel has resulted in higher labor costs.

"We’ve seen the number of intentional violations skyrocket in the past three years," he said.

The 1994 law requires employers to rehire workers who return from active military duty and, in the hiring process, prohibits discrimination against those who might become deployed.

A 2008 Labor Department report states that the employment law is entirely "complaint driven" and the government does not bring criminal charges against companies that violate the law. [Well, I think the government should—don’t you? The GOP in particular is incensed by lawbreaking and will support aggressive enforcement of this law that protects American workers just as they support aggressive enforcement of immigration laws. Right? – LG]

Eric Montavo, a partner with the law firm Puckett & Faraj PC, said he also has noticed an increasing number of willful violations by employers. Mr. Montavo said the economic downturn has aggravated the situation because fewer jobs are available.

"The circumstances are driving [service members] to be very aggressive in pursuing their rights," he said…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 8:45 am

Dan Gillmor on America’s technically good, subservient press

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A column worth reading. It begins:

GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa — Journalists tend to take themselves too seriously, and their craft not seriously enough. So it is apt that some famous and obscure quotations and aphorisms about the value and function of a free press adorn the tiled walls of the restrooms at Rhodes University’s African Media Matrix — the building that houses what is widely considered the continent’s top journalism school.

One of those quotes is from Nelson Mandela, spoken in 2002, and it feels dismayingly correct today:

“A bad free press is preferable to a technically good subservient press."

In the wake of a major journalistic scandal in the United States, broken open in the last week, I have to say that America’s establishment press has never been technically better, but never more pathetically subservient. My hopes increasingly ride on an often bad free press that is getting better all the time.

Let me also say, upfront, that there are honorable exceptions in the top ranks of America’s major media organizations. But in what may well be seen someday as a seminal event in U.S. media history, senior people at the two newspapers widely considered to offer the most comprehensive political coverage have admitted — and, God help us, defended — their technically good subservience to the American government.

Salon colleague Glenn Greenwald has discussed in detail the truly disheartening response to a Harvard study showing that the Washington Post and New York Times skewed their coverage of America’s post-9/11 torture policy, using the Bush administration’s newspeak language — "harsh interrogation techniques" was a favorite — instead of plain old "torture," the word they’d previously used to describe the same acts.

And then, when asked why, top editors and spokespeople at both papers effectively said that once the Bush administration and Republican allies had pushed for the new language, the news organizations were duty-bound to use it, too, or else be seen as slanting the news.

That the news organizations had changed their language was itself disgraceful. That they then compounded the damage, with a defense that was almost the definition of a subservient press, was heartbreaking…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 8:41 am

Trying to explain basic economics

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It seems hopeless, but then the fact that people cannot grasp that when all demand has dried up and interest rates are zero, the only source of demand to get the economy moving again is the Federal government. If, in the middle of a recession—no demand, no jobs—the Federal government attacks the deficit (cutting spending even further, thus reducing demand even more and throwing more jobless into the unemployment pile, and even raising taxes), then things will most definitely get worse.

But then people cannot even grasp evolution or global warming, in which the evidence—the physical evidence, that you can see, such as the increasing loss of Arctic ice—is obvious, so the fact that they cannot understand economics is probably no surprise. Ignorance will destroy the world. And, of course, there’s the delicate issue of stupidity: "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" – Schiller.

In any event Paul Krugman tries again to explain:

There was a time when everyone took it for granted that unemployment insurance, which normally terminates after 26 weeks, would be extended in times of persistent joblessness. It was, most people agreed, the decent thing to do.

But that was then. Today, American workers face the worst job market since the Great Depression, with five job seekers for every job opening, with the average spell of unemployment now at 35 weeks. Yet the Senate went home for the holiday weekend without extending benefits. How was that possible?

The answer is that we’re facing a coalition of the heartless, the clueless and the confused. Nothing can be done about the first group, and probably not much about the second. But maybe it’s possible to clear up some of the confusion.

By the heartless, I mean Republicans who have made the cynical calculation that blocking anything President Obama tries to do — including, or perhaps especially, anything that might alleviate the nation’s economic pain — improves their chances in the midterm elections. Don’t pretend to be shocked: you know they’re out there, and make up a large share of the G.O.P. caucus.

By the clueless I mean people like Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for senator from Nevada, who has repeatedly insisted that the unemployed are deliberately choosing to stay jobless, so that they can keep collecting benefits. A sample remark: “You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job but it doesn’t pay as much. We’ve put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry.”

Now, I don’t have the impression that unemployed Americans are spoiled; desperate seems more like it. One doubts, however, that any amount of evidence could change Ms. Angle’s view of the world — and there are, unfortunately, a lot of people in our political class just like her.

But there are also, one hopes, at least a few political players who are honestly misinformed about what unemployment benefits do — who believe, for example, that Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, was making sense when he declared that extending benefits would make unemployment worse, because “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.” So let’s talk about why that belief is dead wrong.

Do unemployment benefits reduce the incentive to seek work? Yes: workers receiving unemployment benefits aren’t quite as desperate as workers without benefits, and are likely to be slightly more choosy about accepting new jobs. The operative word here is “slightly”: recent economic research suggests that the effect of unemployment benefits on worker behavior is much weaker than was previously believed. Still, it’s a real effect when the economy is doing well.

But it’s an effect that is completely irrelevant to our current situation. When the economy is booming, and lack of sufficient willing workers is limiting growth, generous unemployment benefits may keep employment lower than it would have been otherwise. But as you may have noticed, right now the economy isn’t booming — again, there are five unemployed workers for every job opening. Cutting off benefits to the unemployed will make them even more desperate for work — but they can’t take jobs that aren’t there…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 8:37 am

Interesting ice cream

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Flavors like Secret Breakfast, Salt & Pepper, Hibiscus Beet, Chocolate Smoked Sea Salt, Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke), and Boccalone Prosciutto. The Wife and I will obviously have to go there. One disturbing note in the NY Times report by Elizabeth Weil:

When I first took my kids, they ordered Salted Licorice, took three licks and then threw their cones on the sidewalk.

I was stunned by the ill-breeding the children showed and shocked that their mother seemed to think nothing of it. Jerks.

UPDATE: I did write to Ms. Weil:

Your article on the odd ice creams in San Francisco was quite interesting, and I’ll definitely try that place on my next trip to San Francisco.

I do want to offer a parenting comment. In your article you note: “When I first took my kids, they ordered Salted Licorice, took three licks and then threw their cones on the sidewalk. This is a familiar San Francisco parents’ tale.”

It may be a familiar tale in your circle of friends, but it seems staggeringly ill-bred of your children to toss ice cream cones onto the sidewalk, and I’m astonished that you (1) permitted it, (2) included the incident in your article, and (3) apparently see nothing wrong with it.

Let me explain:

First is the litter issue, particularly if the cones are wrapped in a paper napkin, which I presume also went onto the sidewalk. And food litter—a sandwich tossed on the sidewalk, an ice cream cone, whatever—tends to be slippery, so it’s also hazardous.

Second is the sanitation issue. You probably don’t care because you don’t live near the store, but think about people tossing ice cream cones onto the sidewalk in front of your house. I don’t think you’d like that. Would you?

Third is the education issue: You’re teaching your children that it’s perfectly okay to trash public places. I realize that you’re not doing that deliberately, and it seems clear that you yourself were never taught to respect public spaces and public property, but the lesson the children are learning is not one that will redound to their (or your) credit.

I’m somewhat sorry to start your Monday with an email like this, but reading that passage was totally shocking to me. I had hoped that people, particularly in California, had learned a modicum of respect for their environment and their surroundings, but apparently there is much work still to do.

And she did reply:

Thanks for your note. OF COURSE my children cleaned up the mess they made. They did not learn that trashing public places is okay, nor did they litter or create a sanitation issue.

So that’s good news. I still am shocked that her children had not been taught to dispose of food items properly (rather than simply throwing them onto the sidewalk), but perhaps their having to clean up the mess and wash away the ice cream taught them better.

Just curious: Were any other reader’s shocked at the children’s behavior?

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 8:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Kettlebell update

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I did the trainer’s routine for me again today, trying to pay attention to form. I’ll go see her this Friday, so I want to be good at this. 🙂

No obvious changes—nothing is a lot easier, for example—but it’s clearly a workout. I am also working on my stretches, which I still have trouble with. But Relax Into Stretch, the book and DVD together, is helping.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 8:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Em’s Shaving Cream

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Since it’s Monday and I have a 2-day stubble, I decided to try the pre-shave gel again. It’s not unpleasant, I just can’t tell that it does anything. And the same again today.

Em’s Place makes very nice shaving creams (scroll down at link). They’re now packaged in a pump bottle and seem to me ideal for shaving in the shower. The later they produce, today with the men-ü synthetic-bristle brush, is luxurious and effective.

I put a new Swedish Gillette blade in the Gillette—I think this model in nickel-plate is called the President and in gold plate the Ambassador, but I’m not sure. Whatever the name, it produced an excellent 3-pass shave: totally smooth. Maybe the pre-shave gel does help?

TOBS A Gentlemen’s Aftershave balm is a true gel, unlike the liquid Mr. Taylor’s aftershave balm. And it also seems nicer on the skin. Very pleasant, in fact.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2010 at 8:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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