Later On

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

Archive for October 23rd, 2010

Brief note from John Cole

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John Cole writes at Balloon Juice:

I started to read the Times coverage of the wikileaks dump, and this was just too depressing to continue:

The documents also reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians — at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.

They hate us for our freedoms. How could I have been so foolish?

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 12:38 pm

Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire: "It gets better."

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Will permaculture help?

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Thanks to Joel for pointing this out.
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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 11:43 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Food wars

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In an earlier post I indicated that resource wars (for oil, metals, water, etc.) will get very serious when the scarce resource is food. Kevin Drum sketches how this is likely to come about: mega-drought. His post:

global_warming_drought

Here are a few recent data points for you: (1) The New York Times reports that “skepticism and outright denial of global warming are among the articles of faith of the Tea Party movement.” [They remain in their soma-induced trance. – LG] (2) In the National Journal, Ron Brownstein notes that “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones….Of the 20 serious GOP Senate challengers who have taken a position, 19 have declared that the science of climate change is inconclusive or flat-out incorrect.” (3) It’s not just Senate candidates. ThinkProgress notes that an analysis by Wonk Room “finds that 22 of the 37 Republican candidates for governor this November are deniers of the scientific consensus on global warming pollution.” (4) The Wall Street Journal reports that “extreme drought” has taken hold in parts of nine states stretching from the Southeast to the lower Midwest.

As it happens, this southern U.S. drought is probably not caused by global warming — not mostly, anyway. Like most droughts until now, its primary cause is natural climate oscillations (this year’s La Niña) and bad luck (no hurricanes so far this season). But don’t count on that continuing. In a new paper that reviews the recent literature on drought, Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder concludes that we’re headed for serious and sustained droughts in much of the world. And not in the far future, either. As the maps [above] show, vast swathes of the world are going to be far drier than they are today in a mere 20 years. “A striking feature,” Dai says of his analysis, “is that aridity increases since the late 20th century and becomes severe drought [] by the 2060s over most of Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, most of Americas [], Australia, and Southeast Asia.”

In other words, virtually all of the world except for China and Russia will experience increased drought by 2030 and severe drought by 2060:

This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa….Given the dire predictions for drought, adaptation measures for future climate changes should consider the possibility of increased aridity and widespread drought in coming decades. Lessons learned from dealing with past severe droughts, such as the Sahel drought during the 1970s and 1980s, may be helpful in designing adaptation strategies for future droughts.

The Sahel drought killed upwards of a million people, and since then the steady increase in drought conditions in sub-Saharan Africa has probably contributed to ongoing crises in Darfur, Chad, and elsewhere. Now imagine what the world will be like when droughts are twice as bad, last twice as long, and cover not just sub-Saharan Africa but upwards of half the landmass of the planet. That’s not really something you can adapt to.

And here’s some even worse news: these projections are based on midpoint global warming projections from the last IPCC report. But those projections are looking increasingly understated, and the next IPCC report is almost certain to raise its temperature forecasts. So as bad as Dai’s drought news is, the reality is probably even worse.

This isn’t something that’s a century in the future. If we don’t do anything about it, it’s more like 20 years away. Tea partiers and their Republican enablers can play make believe all they want, but their kids and grandkids are going to pay the price for it. Global climate catastrophe is looking closer and closer all the time.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 11:40 am

What on earth was Judge Arthur Kennedy thinking?

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Joe Conason has an excellent column on the public shaming of Judge Kennedy, who stayed on the Supreme Court just a bit too long. I’m all for staggered 20-year terms, myself, timed so that a new judge is nominated every two years, on average. Conason’s column begins:

Enjoying life tenure and political immunity as they do, the judges on the nation’s highest court are never held accountable for their transgressions in any meaningful way, except by history. Yet rarely if ever has a landmark opinion by a Supreme Court justice been proved wrong as quickly and as decisively — and with such fateful effects — as the historic decision penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy last January in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. Wrong not only as a matter of ideology, partisanship, or constitutionality, although it is arguably all of those, but wrong in its most important assertions.

When Kennedy, along with his four conservative colleagues, overturned the century-old limitations on corporate funding of political campaigns, he justified this enormous gift to his fellow Republicans with what amounted to a false promise. Full and timely disclosure of the sources of the expected flood of corporate money, according to Kennedy, would serve the same essential purpose as the discarded restrictions, keeping voters informed by exposing politicians and their business benefactors.

"The Court has explained that disclosure is a less restrictive alternative to more comprehensive regulations of speech," Kennedy wrote in a tone of condescension, citing earlier cases in which the Supreme Court had upheld federal disclosure requirements even while rejecting limits on expenditures and noting the disclosure requirements imposed on lobbyists. With the zeal of an internet huckster, he claimed that technology would dispel the aura of corruption and secrecy that inspired McCain-Feingold and earlier attempts to restrict corporate money.

If corporate shareholders objected to the political expenditures of a company’s management, wrote Kennedy, their protests "can be more effective today because modern technology makes disclosures rapid and informative." In his mind, indeed, the mere existence of the Internet seems to excuse the shredding of all limits on corporate political activity: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 11:34 am

Andre Previn jams with Oscar Peterson

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The email from my Jazz-on-the-Tube subscription noted:

Andre Previn,German-born American Academy Award and Grammy Award winning pianist, conductor, and composer, jams with The Great Oscar Peterson.

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 10:56 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

The old-fashioned pencil, properly done: A great pleasure

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Last night I got to writing in my journal, and I happened to pick up one of my new Palomino Blackwing pencils (named in honor of Eberhard-Faber’s great Blackwing pencil, now (alas) no more). It takes some courage to name your pencil after such an icon, but, by God, Palomino has done it. I first mentioned the pencil in this post, and you can order them (in boxes of a dozen, or in a carton of 1 gross) here.

I discovered again that special pleasure of an excellent pencil that moves smoothly over the paper, as if greased (and graphite is indeed used as a lock lubricant), leaving a fine dark line as its wake. And when I made a mistake and tried to write over it (as one would do with a ballpoint pen), I suddenly recalled the excellence of the eraser—and the Blackwing eraser is wonderful: it’s a soft white substance that readily removes the marks with no damage whatsoever to the paper, and the eraser is removable and adjustable, so that you can pull up more eraser as you ear it down. And when the point becomes dull, touching it up with the sharpener shaves thin, fragrant shavings of cedarwood from the pencil, a sensory treat in itself.

It’s extremely pleasant when simply writing on paper is such a pleasure. Highly recommended, and you’ll want a good sharpener, too.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 10:23 am

Some terrific-sounding bean dips

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Here’s a collection of five different bean dips:

  1. West African Groundnut Black-Eyed Pea Dip
  2. Italian Cannellini Bean Spread
  3. Thai-Indian Coconut-Sambar Mung Bean Dip
  4. Caribbean Black-Bean Dip
  5. Southwestern Tepary Bean Dip

And here’s a white-bean dip with silky tofu in the mix: a two-bean dip, as it were.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 10:11 am

Where do ideas come from?

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Ideas are memes in their most intangible form. Kevin Kelly and Steve Johnson discuss the source of new ideas/memes:

Say the word “inventor” and most people think of a solitary genius toiling in a basement. But two ambitious new books on the history of innovation—by Steven Johnson and Kevin Kelly, both longtime wired contributors—argue that great discoveries typically spring not from individual minds but from the hive mind. In Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Johnson draws on seven centuries of scientific and technological progress, from Gutenberg to GPS, to show what sorts of environments nurture ingenuity. He finds that great creative milieus, whether MIT or Los Alamos, New York City or the World Wide Web, are like coral reefs—teeming, diverse colonies of creators who interact with and influence one another.

Seven centuries are an eyeblink in the scope of Kelly’s book, What Technology Wants, which looks back over some 50,000 years of history and peers nearly that far into the future. His argument is similarly sweeping: Technology, Kelly believes, can be seen as a sort of autonomous life-form, with intrinsic goals toward which it gropes over the course of its long development. Those goals, he says, are much like the tendencies of biological life, which over time diversifies, specializes, and (eventually) becomes more sentient.

Wired brought these two big brains together in New York, and the result was a conversation that covered everything from technological evolution to retweets to the value of Internet crap.

Steven Johnson: We share a fascination with the long history of simultaneous invention: cases where several people come up with the same idea at almost exactly the same time. Calculus, the electrical battery, the telephone, the steam engine, the radio—all these groundbreaking innovations were hit upon by multiple inventors working in parallel with no knowledge of one another.

Kevin Kelly: Our books are another case in point. We independently came up with not just similar ideas but a lot of the same examples.

Johnson: Actually, I just hacked into your computer. [Laughs]

Kelly: It’s amazing that the myth of the lone genius has persisted for so long, since simultaneous invention has always been the norm, not the exception. Anthropologists have shown that the same inventions tended to crop up in prehistory at roughly similar times, in roughly the same order, among cultures on different continents that couldn’t possibly have contacted one another.

Johnson: Also, there’s a related myth—that innovation comes primarily from the profit motive, from the competitive pressures of a market society. If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.

Kelly: The musician Brian Eno invented a wonderful word to describe this phenomenon: scenius. We normally think of innovators as independent geniuses, but Eno’s point is that innovation comes from social scenes,from passionate and connected groups of people.

Johnson: At the end of my book, I try to look at that phenomenon systematically. I took roughly 200 crucial innovations from the post-Gutenberg era and figured out how many of them came from individual entrepreneurs or private companies and how many from collaborative networks working outside the market. It turns out that the lone genius entrepreneur has always been a rarity—there’s far more innovation coming out of open, nonmarket networks than we tend to assume.

Kelly: Really, we should think of ideas as connections,in our brains and among people. Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters.

Johnson: Exactly. And that, by the way, is also a fantastic example of how ideas work. After you’d read a galley of my book, you emailed me and wrote, “It’s a book about why ideas are networks.” And even though that line is in my book somewhere, I had never really framed it that way in my mind. But ever since then, when people ask me about the book, I’ve been using that concept to explain it. You had come to my work with fresh eyes and pointed out a really lovely way of expressing the main thesis that had completely escaped me. That’s the way breakthrough ideas happen. They don’t come from contemplative geniuses sitting alone in their studies, trying to think new thoughts.

Kelly: In part, that’s because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 9:28 am

Posted in Daily life

Nanny’s Silly Soap

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I learned of Nanny’s Silly Soap Company through a post on BruceOnShaving.com, and I ordered a sampling of their wares. The Exotic soap today had a nice light fragrance:

Exotic – a blend of several essential oils, with Ylang Ylang and Cedarwood predominating.

It’s a soft soap, and it lathered up a treat with the Simpson Emperor 3 Super. Three passes of my newly rhodium-plated Rocket, holding a new Schick Plus Platinum blade, and a perfectly smooth face emerged. A splash of Pashana, and I’m ready for the day’s tasks.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2010 at 9:14 am

Posted in Shaving

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