Later On

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

Archive for July 10th, 2010

Interesting, albeit ominous, note

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James Fallows:

Just now at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Bharat Balasubramanian — generally addressed as “Dr. Bharat,” left — an engineering executive from Daimler AG in Germany, made an off-hand observation of what globalization and tech innovation will mean for the US economy:

I will state that there will be a polarization of society here in the United States. People who are using their brains are moving up. Then you have another part of society that is doing services. These services will not be paid well. But you would need services. You would need restaurants, you would need cooks, you would need drivers et cetera. You will be losing your middle class.

This I would not see in the same fashion in Europe, because the manufacturing base there today can compete anywhere, anytime with China or India. Because their productivity and skill sets more than offset their higher costs. You don’t see this everywhere, but it’s Germany, it’s France, it’s Sweden, it’s Austria, it’s Switzerland…. So I feel Europe still will have a middle level of people. They also have people who are very rich, they also have people doing services. But there is a balance. I don’t see the balance here in the US.

Dr. Bharat was here mainly here to talk about engineering developments at Mercedes, notably a car designed to respond to collisions just before they occur (via radar and other sensors to detect imminent crashes) and apply a variety of pre-protective, hunkering-down measures. Details on the “Pre-Safe” system here. But his matter-of-fact observation of why companies in the United States might match any firms anywhere in raw innovativeness and profitability, while American society as a whole becomes more polarized and caste-like, was sobering to put it mildly. Not a new theme, obviously, but presented quite starkly. Andy Grove of Intel to the same effect here;  background from the Atlantic here and here.
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Bonus “it’s a big world” note: Dr. Bharat is originally from Madras/Chennai and is an alum of the storied Indian Institute of Technology/Bombay. But he went to work for Daimler as a very young man and (as he jokingly pointed out himself) now speaks English with a rich Jawohl!-style German accent rather than Indian English. This is a more charming combination than you might think.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Five years and counting

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My first blog post ever was on 7/10/2005, three years after I retired.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 10:24 am

Posted in Daily life

Five-minute fix for rice

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This sounds delicious—plus fantastically easy.

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10 July 2010 at 10:09 am

Taking cheating seriously

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It’s getting to be quite high-tech—both cheating and the fight against it. Trip Gabriel reports in the NY Times:

The frontier in the battle to defeat student cheating may be here at the testing center of the University of Central Florida.

No gum is allowed during an exam: chewing could disguise a student’s speaking into a hands-free cellphone to an accomplice outside.

The 228 computers that students use are recessed into desk tops so that anyone trying to photograph the screen — using, say, a pen with a hidden camera, in order to help a friend who will take the test later — is easy to spot.

Scratch paper is allowed — but it is stamped with the date and must be turned in later.

When a proctor sees something suspicious, he records the student’s real-time work at the computer and directs an overhead camera to zoom in, and both sets of images are burned onto a CD for evidence.

Taylor Ellis, the associate dean who runs the testing center within the business school at Central Florida, the nation’s third-largest campus by enrollment, said that cheating had dropped significantly, to 14 suspected incidents out of 64,000 exams administered during the spring semester.

“I will never stop it completely, but I’ll find out about it,” Mr. Ellis said.

As the eternal temptation of students to cheat has gone high-tech — not just on exams, but also by cutting and pasting from the Internet and sharing of homework online like music files — educators have responded with their own efforts to crack down…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 10:08 am

10 Sites That Will Teach You How To Draw

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Everyone should learn how to draw, a highly useful skill. Unfortunately, it is not taught as part of the regular elementary school curriculum, a mistake in my view. Indeed, they no longer seem to teach penmanship, when italic handwriting should also (in my opinion) be a part of the regular elementary school curriculum. If you’re interested in making up for this lack by teaching yourself to draw, take a look at this post.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 10:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

How reporters get delusions of grandeur

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And you see it a lot. Tom Ricks:

When I was reporting in Iraq, the Washington Post‘s bureau chief had a list of emergency numbers printed up and put on a laminated card you could keep in your wallet. Like who to call if you are kidnapped.

If I had the power I’d print up this comment by Fred Reed, the Hunter S. Thompson of the right, laminate it, and give one card to every member of the Pentagon press corps:

Reporters don’t meet Important People because we news weasels are meritorious, but because the press enjoys power all out of proportion to its worth. If people knew reporters as well as I do, they would emigrate. You could take a blind cocker spaniel with a low IQ and give him, her, or it a press card from the Washington Post, and in three weeks every pol in the city would kiss up to the beast, who would develop delusions of grandeur.

It’s the reporter’s disease: You come to believe that the Secretary of the Air Force wants a press breakfast with you because he respects the depth of your thought. No. He thinks you are an idiot, and in all likelihood loathes you, but he knows that what you write will show up in the White House clips.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 10:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

Chez Sludge: How the Sewage Sludge Industry Bedded Alice Waters

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John Stauber at the Center for Media and Democracy:

The celebrity chef Alice Waters is probably the world’s most famous advocate of growing and eating local, Organic food. In February 2010 her Chez Panisse Foundation chose as its new Executive Director the wealthy "green socialite" and liberal political activist Francesca Vietor. Vietor’s hiring created a serious conflict of interest that has married Waters and her Foundation to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and its scam of disposing of toxic sewage sludge waste as free "organic Biosolids compost" for gardens.

For the first time, thanks to an ongoing "open records" investigation by the Food Rights Network, the public and the press have easy online access to dozens of internal SFPUC files, documenting the strange tale of Chez Sludge, or how the sewage industry bedded Alice Waters.

How It All Started

San Francisco’s Mayor, Gavin Newsom, appointed Francesca Vietor as one of the five Commissioners who run the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in 2008, just a year after the SFPUC began giving away toxic sewage sludge as "organic Biosolids compost." San Francisco, often dubbed the green city with a green mayor, was seemingly providing free "Organic compost" to urban gardens. It sounded too good to be true, and it was. While San Francisco does have an admirable program to collect vegetable waste and turn it into valuable garden compost, the city sells that stuff, the good stuff, Organic with a capital "O." What the city gives away for free as "organic Biosolids compost" is actually hazardous waste, sewage sludge, from San Francisco and eight other counties.

But don’t call it sewage sludge! Under a PR program first exposed in a book I co-wrote in 1995, Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!, the sewage sludge lobby — the Water Environment Federation — has renamed the massive mountains of constantly-produced and hazardous sewage sludge. It’s now called "Biosolids." This Orwellian term was chosen to simply fool the public into applying toxic sewage sludge to farms, ranches, yards and gardens as "organic fertilizer," a waste disposal program endorsed by the EPA.

San Francisco’s SFPUC is in the forefront of the latest maneuver in this toxic scam, "composting" its toxic sludge and marketing it as "organic Biosolids compost," thus co-opting a venerable terms used in Organic agriculture. This greenwashing scam slipped rather unnoticed by the public from 2007 until the fall of 2009. That is when the San Francisco Chronicle reported on an effort by two public interest groups who petitioned the [SFPUC to halt the program. In December 2009, the The Atlantic reported that the city had rejected the petition and that the SFPUC was preparing to increase its toxic sludge to gardens giveaway ten-fold in 2010.

In early 2010 the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) picked up the baton in the San Francisco sludge fight. Their Bay Area researcher and organizer, John Mayer, now with the Food Rights Network, began organizing environmental, gardening, and food safety groups to endorse a letter to Mayor Newsom opposing the sludge giveaway. The OCA planned and executed a theatrical protest, a "sludge dump" on the steps of City Hall, on March 4th.

The previous evening, March 3rd, the CBS TV affiliate KPIX in San Francisco ran a devastating investigative report by journalist Anna Werner, noting that testing and analysis of San Francisco’s "organic biosolids compost" confirmed toxic contaminants, including dioxins. The morning of March 4, even before the OCA sludge protest, San Francisco media reported that the toxic sludge giveaway had been placed on temporary hold, and that’s where it is today.

The one-two punch of the CBS news reporting and the OCA protest, which itself received much national media attention, won the day. Or so it seemed. Actually, March 4th turned out to be the day when the entire issue took a new and somewhat bizarre turn, revealing the ongoing conflict of interest that has dragged Alice Waters into Chez Sludge…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 10:00 am

Ezra Klein has sensible post on raising the retirement age

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Most columnists (given the level of physical exertion their work requires and the fact that they work indoors) seem to be in favor of raising the retirement age—which, in my mind, is a terrible idea. Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

Larry Mishel writes in with another argument for why raising the Social Security age makes much more sense for affluent individuals who work in knowledge-oriented industries than for lower-income people whose jobs require more physical labor. If the argument is that life expectancy is rocketing upwards, and that retirement shouldn’t grow along with it, it’s important to point out that the increases in life expectancy aren’t being shared equally:

lifexepectancyss

Something to think about. I’d add a few other points. First, at what age do you want to retire? I’d imagine most affluent workers would pick a number higher than 62. A lot of us like what we’re doing, and sitting in an office chair isn’t much harder on our bodies than sitting in a chair at home. But that makes us abnormal. The average retirement age is 62 — which is the earliest you can qualify for Social Security, and means your monthly payments are reduced. So most people are choosing smaller Social Security checks if it means they can retire earlier. We should think hard about what that means.

Second, you often hear that if we raise the FICA cap so that wealthier individuals have to pay more for Social Security, they’ll start putting a lot of time and energy into tax avoidance. But it’s similarly predictable that an increase in the retirement age will lead to more people going on disability. I don’t know if that will be more or less expensive than tax avoidance, but it’s worth considering.

Finally, a fair number of elderly leave the labor force because their job disappears, and hiring discrimination against older workers is rampant. If we’re going to increase the age at which these folks can get full Social Security benefits, we’d better figure out some solutions to make it easier for them to keep working.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 9:55 am

Kitties Rescued By US Marines In Afghanistan

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Very cute kitties. The original blog title has the solecism "Marine soldiers"—they’re either Marines or they are soldiers (in the Army).

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life

Restoring the rule of law on Wall Street

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James K. Galbraith in The New Republic:

The financial crisis in America isn’t over. It’s ongoing, it remains unresolved, and it stands in the way of full economic recovery. The cause, at the deepest level, was a breakdown in the rule of law. And it follows that the first step toward prosperity is to restore the rule of law in the financial sector.

First, there was a stand-down of the financial police. The legal framework for this was laid with the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 and the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Meanwhile the Basel II process relaxed international bank supervision, especially permitting the use of proprietary models to value complex assets—an open invitation to biased valuations and accounting frauds.

Key acts of de-supervision came under Bush. After 9/11 500 FBI agents assigned to financial fraud were reassigned to counter–terrorism and (what is not understandable) they were never replaced. The Director of the Office of Thrift Supervision appeared at a press conference with a stack of copies of the Code of Federal Regulations and a chainsaw—the message was not subtle. The SEC relaxed limits on leverage for investment banks and abolished the uptick rule limiting short sales to moments following a rise in price. The new order was clear: anything goes.

Second, the response to desupervision was a criminal takeover of the home mortgage industry. Millions of subprime mortgages were made to borrowers with undocumented incomes and bad or non-existent credit records. Appraisers were selected who were willing to inflate the value of the home being sold. This last element was not incidental: surveys showed that practically all appraisers came under pressure to inflate valuations in order to make deals happen. There is no honest reason why a lender would deliberately seek to make an inflated loan.

Mortgages were made with a two-or three-year grace period, with a low, fixed interest rate called a "teaser." These were not real mortgages; they were counterfeits, whose value would collapse when exposed. As with any counterfeit, the profits came early, when the bad paper was first sold. After the grace period, rates would reset, and the lenders knew that the borrowers, who were already stretched by their initial payments, would either refinance or default. If they refinanced, that would mean another mortgage origination fee. And if they defaulted, well … on to step three.

Third, the counterfeit mortgages were laundered so they would look to investors like the real thing. This was the role of the ratings agencies. The core competence of the raters lay in corporate debt, where they evaluate the record and prospects of large business firms. The value of mortgage bonds depended on the behavior of tens of thousands of individual borrowers, whose individual quality the ratings agencies could never check. So the agencies substituted statistical models for actual inquiry, and turned a blind eye to the fact that the loans were destined to go bad.

Fourth, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 9:43 am

Interesting weather phenomenon

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DC (and the East Coast in general) is having a heat wave. Strange: no Al Gore jokes. I guess those are reserved for each winter.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 9:40 am

Posted in Daily life

Do kids still learn to tie knots?

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Knot-tying is an essential daily skill—plus it’s interesting and sort of fun. One of the few merit badges I got as a cub scout was for knot tying. Here are some of the essential knots:

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Kids—even moose kids—love to play in a sprinkler on a hot sunny day

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Take a look. I enjoyed seeing Mom, watching patiently while the kids play.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 8:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Headless bodies and other immigration tall tales in Arizona

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Dana Milbank takes a look at Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) and her claims of astounding crimes in Arizona. She is, it seems, delusional or an egregious liar:

Jan Brewer has lost her head.

The Arizona governor, seemingly determined to repel every last tourist dollar from her pariah state, has sounded a new alarm about border violence. "Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded," she announced on local television.

Ay, caramba! Those dark-skinned foreigners are now severing the heads of fair-haired Americans? Maybe they’re also scalping them or shrinking them or putting them on a spike.

But those in fear of losing parts north of the neckline can relax. There’s not a follicle of evidence to support Brewer’s claim.

The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona’s border counties, and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer’s press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply.

Brewer’s mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world’s No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they’ve had to step in because federal officials aren’t doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.

Last year gave us death panels and granny killings, but compared with the nonsense justifying the immigration crackdown, the health-care debate was an evening at the Oxford Union Society…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 8:50 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Law

Flexibility/stretching

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My trainer is putting a big emphasis on flexibility, since she says that without that, injuries from kettlebell exercises are apt to happen. She emphasizes a certain number of static stretches, but she also had good things to say about a dynamic method of promoting flow called "intu-flow". Here’s a series of simple beginner exercises, which (as you see) exercise joint mobility:

(In the two parts before this segment, which are also on YouTube, he discusses the rationale behind his system and also offers some credentials (martial artist and coach to US martial arts team). Beginner Parts 4 and 5 are also on YouTube, along with the intermediate series.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 8:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Shave-off: Pils vs. Feather

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A commenter asked recently about how the Feather premium razor shaves against the Pils, so this morning I thought I’d do some side-by-side shaving. I got a good lather with the Vie-Long horsehair shaving brush, but the lather did not last well. I suspect the brush simply needs more breaking in. At any rate, enough lather to go with the shave.

I used the Feather on the right side of my beard, the Pils on the left.

Handle comparison: The Feather wins, no contest. Because the handle is solid (not hollow, as is that of the Pils), the balance is better as well.

Shaving: This comparison is more difficult. They both shave extremely well, but I think the Pils has a slight edge due to its innovative head design, including the rounded drop just before the edge of the blade—this seems to stretch the skin just as the blade passes.

Still: I got an excellent shave on both sides, and I cannot really say that one of these is significantly better than the other.

Price: The Feather wins handily: $160 for the Feather, $234 for the Pils.

Written by Leisureguy

10 July 2010 at 8:34 am

Posted in Shaving

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