Later On

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

Archive for February 2011

More on Pilates

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The Wife and I were talking about our Pilates experience tonight. She had mentioned that at the outset my rib cage had been quite prominent—surprisingly so—and she figured that I was just built that way. But now, that’s almost entirely gone, and my ribs have a normal stance and configuration.

I was trying to get my head around how that could happen, and The Wife suggested that I had strengthened certain muscles and learned certain movements and that the muscles were just pulling the ribs into a new configuration.

That sort of baffled me, until I realized I was associating my (living) skeleton, made up of (living) bones held in a tensegrity-like structure, with my previous experience with skeletons, which was quite different: all the (dead) skeletons I had observed, all of those stripped of the muscle and ligaments that once held them in the tensegrity structure that the living embody. So of course systematic and knowledgeable work strengthening specific muscles and muscle groups in the right sequence, aided by apparatus designed for this sort of thing—in fact, for exactly this thing—would, in (a relatively short) time, result in changes such as that made by my ribs.

A more dramatic (and beneficial) change has been observed by The Wife, who has suffered leg problems in her right leg due to an ankle injury she suffered as a child. She has observed that she no longer is having the problems so much, and in fact her leg has straightened quite a bit: she caught sight of herself in a mirror as she walked into a building, and was astonished.

I of course had read about Pilates and his ideas and apparatus, and how the dancers in New York flocked to him for help with strengthening and flexibility and with injuries. Why did they do that? Because Pilates’s methods work.

It’s another example of the phenomenon exemplified by my reading some best seller and being astonished that it’s good. Duh: that’s why it’s a best-seller. Worse yet, I’ve done this repeatedly (with different best sellers, I emphasize). Big double-duh. But I keep making the mistake, and being astonished at the successes of the Pilates method after specifically reading about how the method was sucessful: how thick can one get?

I should note that we have the great benefit of having a truly knowledgeable and capable trainer/instructor—and perhaps that is why the studio (Lighthouse Pilates) is expanding.

Good times on the fitness front.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 6:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

More good things about the MacBook

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I continue to be quite happy with the acquisition, and now certainly it is rapidly becoming my “main” computer (though I have quite a bit to transfer—must look into Outlook Exports and Address Book Imports), and today I moved over a file.

On my Windows PC I mailed to myself (since mail is picked up by both computers) the Excel spreadsheet that serves as my check register. Then on the Mac, I opened the delivered message, double-clicked the attached spreadsheet, and OpenOffice opened first itself and then the file, as pretty as you please. Everything was perfectly formatted and usable (though I cannot imagine a simpler or more vanilla spreadsheet—I don’t think it even includes multiplication or division, just straight add and subtract). It felt very cool to have it work so well and be so simple.

Life is good.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 3:55 pm

Texsport is the one

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Despite trying more expensive cast-iron Dutch ovens, which do indeed have their charms and are of high quality, I find that my favorite (at least for now) is the Texsport 2-quart cast-iron Dutch oven, which you can find for less than $20. It’s not enameled, but that has not been a problem. It’s actually slightly larger than 2 quarts, which I like because it better accommodates cooking leafy greens in a GOPM. And since I carefully measure the starch and the protein, the extra room is devoted solely to vegetables. Also, the shape of the Texsport—a taller, narrower cylinder than most—works quite well for this kind of cooking.

So if you going to get into GOPM cooking, and the 2-meal size of pot works in your situation, this is the one I would recommend.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 2:33 pm

NY Times: “All the news (and false information) the government wants us to print”

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The NY Times, once the pre-eminent paper of record, is rapidly becoming a government-run paper, with Times editors running whatever stories the government wants them to, true or false, no questions asked. They have to protect their access to government officials, see, and that means they must do the bidding of government officials, including cover-ups as requested.

Amy Davidson, a senior editor at the New Yorker, has a good piece on this, which begins:

The column by the Timess Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, on the case of Raymond Davis—the man who reportedly had some connection to the C.I.A. and is now in Pakistani custody after killing two policemen who, he has said, he thought were thieves—is genuinely puzzling. The Times reported last week that it had kept silent about Davis’s C.I.A. connection. Brisbane attempted to explain why. Here are the key passages:

The Times jumped on the story, but on Feb. 8, the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, contacted the executive editor, Bill Keller, with a request. “He was asking us not to speculate, or to recycle charges in the Pakistani press,” Mr. Keller said. “His concern was that the letters C-I-A in an article in the NYT, even as speculation, would be taken as authoritative and would be a red flag in Pakistan.”Mr. Crowley told me the United States was concerned about Mr. Davis’s safety while in Pakistani custody. The American government hoped to avoid inflaming Pakistani opinion and to create “as constructive an atmosphere as possible” while working to resolve the diplomatic crisis.

The Times acceded to the Obama Administration’s wishes, as did the Washington Post and the A.P. Brisbane concludes that “the Times did the only thing it could do,” even though “in practice, this meant its stories contained material that, in the cold light of retrospect, seems very misleading.” So the “only thing” the Times could do was be “misleading”? That question contains a lot of sub-questions. Here are some:

1. What was the risk to Davis, exactly? He is in the custody of Pakistan, one of our allies. It is not like he’s being held hostage in a cave somewhere, or on the run. One suggestion, laid out in the Post, is that a prison guard might have killed him out of anger; the Post mentions that other prisoners had, in fact, been killed by guards in the facility he was held in. Were those prisoners also working for the C.I.A.? (Or whatever agency Davis was affiliated with, as an “operative” or a contractor—his exact status is still not clear.) There was rage, maybe even life-threatening rage, at Davis in Pakistan even when the U.S. was pretending he was an ordinary diplomat—pulling out a Glock on the streets of Lahore and shooting two people, then claiming immunity, will do that. He was burned in effigy before the Times used “the letters C-I-A.” One could just as easily argue that news that the American media covered up for Davis would make the Pakistani public even madder, and less willing to trust American justice and intentions, encouraging vigilantes.

(In any event, after the Guardian went with the story, the Administration told the Times that it needed twenty-four hours to get the Pakistanis to put him in a safer facility; if it took the Guardian story to persuade the Pakistanis, could one in the Times have facilitated a move weeks earlier?)

Or is the idea that the attacker wouldn’t be a rogue guard, but an Pakistani government operative sent to take him out, or maybe torture him for intelligence? There are a couple of problems with that: (a) the Pakistani government, if not the public, seems to have known who Davis was without American newspapers telling it; and (b) if we think that Pakistani security services torture or kill people because they are C.I.A. operatives, then why are we giving them so much taxpayer money?

Or would the story endanger his safety because it would undermine a claim to diplomatic immunity, exposing him to years in a Pakistani prison (not so good for one’s health) or even capital punishment? If so, does that count as a good reason? I am not sure of the points of international law here, and have read conflicting assertions about what Davis’s standing was, and exactly what sort of immunity he might have been eligible for. I also am not sure of the penalty for double murder in Pakistan. But if Davis isn’t entitled to diplomatic immunity then he isn’t entitled to diplomatic immunity. Do we believe that it’s the role of newspapers to pretend that he is, if he isn’t—to help the government make legally and factually false claims? (Is the press asked to suppress damaging details in cases of Americans charged with murders abroad who aren’t C.I.A. operatives?) And wouldn’t doing so endanger actual diplomats whose claims would, in the future, be treated with greater skepticism?

Maybe the danger was not to Davis but to the C.I.A.’s ability to operate with impunity within Pakistan. But that’s not the argument Brisbane presents, and has its own problems. (Is it the job of newspapers to create “as constructive an atmosphere as possible” for anything the government wants to do?) Anyway, the damage had been done by the incident itself; it was really a matter of making sense of the wreckage. And Davis was not arrested for spying but for killing people recklessly; the widow of one, an eighteen-year old, killed herself. Do journalists need, at the cost of their credibility, to deny these people’s survivors a day in court?

Maybe the Administration had good answers, and a better explanation of the danger to Davis; but those answers weren’t in the Times.

2. Who was the intended audience, or, rather, non-audience, for the silence? Put differently, who was this supposed to be kidding? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 2:25 pm

Busy-morning report

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Had a very 30 minutes on the Nordic Track, and I’m at the very end of the first part. Eager to re-read (as it were) the encounter Don Quixote has with the Count and Countess. As I recall, the focus was the renowned Helmet of Mambrino.

To Healthy Way for my final visit under the reducing plan, and to get my materials for the maintenance phase. I actually have a bit more to lose, but now I know how to do that.

Then to Whole Foods, then I joined the CSA and mailed them a check, and then to Pilates for yet another good session—and learned that Lighthouse Pilates is expanding into a larger space (at the same location: opening up and taking over the rooms next to it). Pretty exciting.

And now I have an afternoon to review and study Spanish! 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Daily life

A fine shave

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The tools that produced a superlative shave this morning. (I directed.) A fine lather as always from the Irisch Moos, this time ably assisted by the terrific little Gerson brush. Three passes with the Merkur Slant Bar holding a Swedish Gillette blade, a splash of Irisch Moos, and I’m off to my last visit under the reducing contract: I now go on maintenance. (In fact, I still have a few pounds to lose, so I’ll take care of that on my own.)

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 10:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Spring is coming: Join a local CSA

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Community-supported agriculture is a great way to help family farms and also get terrific, fresh, local produce. Here’s an article on taking the step—and it’s time to do it, as we head into spring. More efficient than going to a farmer’s market, you get your own box of veggies weekly (usually). The article begins:

So you’re thinking of joining a CSA?

Or maybe you’re just scratching your head right now, wondering: “A CSA? What’s that?” The answer, community-supported agriculture, is an arrangement in which customers pay up front for a share in a local farmer’s harvest, which is then distributed over the growing season.

The farms are generally smaller ones, often using organic or sustainable growing practices. Personally, because they’re a motivating factor in my cooking, I can’t get enough of CSAs and belong to–count ‘em–five: veggies, fruits, eggs, frozen produce in winter, and a “quarter hog” share.

How it works
The farmer sends whatever is ready and ripe, perhaps picked that morning, so you have little to no control over what you get (though a few CSAs now work on more of a “market” model). A meat share includes a variety of cuts, sometimes with specialty items such as charcuterie. Some areas even offer seafood shares.

Some CSAs deliver a box to your door, while others use a central pick-up point; ours drops at a neighborhood church and displays the produce to be collected via an honor system. The simplest, most direct arrangement might be if you live in a rural area and fetch your share from the farm. The farmer organizes the details, whereas in urban programs a volunteer team usually handles logistics and distribution.

What are the benefits?
You support local farmers by investing in a portion of the crop in advance and guaranteeing them a customer base. In return, you receive a basket of sparkling produce, fresher than what’s offered in most stores. You probably end up eating more veggies, too. The connection between farmer and consumer becomes closer, and you get to know the person growing your food. This is a great lesson if you have kids.

We receive a regular newsletter from our farmers, including recipe suggestions and invitations to visit the farms. At the season’s end, members may be encouraged to provide feedback: helping to shape, over the long term, what will be grown.

And there’s the matter of savings: by essentially buying in bulk, you save over buying comparable quality produce at the farmers’ market.

What do I have to lose?
The lack of choice may be a deal-breaker if you like your options (or, say, detest zucchini). And, since you reap the harvest along with the farmer, you also assume the risks. Last summer, for example, our region was hit with late blight, which all but wiped out tomato crops in the northeast. As a result, the usual plump, sweet tomatoes were no-shows. Loyal customers who had pre-paid for an extra “pantry share” of tomatoes opted to forfeit the money in solidarity with the farmer, instead of getting reimbursed.

How do I find my local CSA? . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: After thinking about it a few minutes, I googled “CSA monterey organic” and found a local CSA here and have now joined. Thanks, Janet!

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 9:07 am

Medical malpractice

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According to many doctors, medical malpractice is a phony problem pushed onto the public by trial lawyers and liberals, and in fact if the medical profession could only stop lawsuits by putting ridiculously low caps on awards, there would be no more medical malpractice—because, you see, it could not possibly be the case that doctors are at fault. No, it’s the lawyers!! (Look over there, where I’m pointing, and stop looking at me, say the doctors.)

A counter-example reported in the NY Times by Walt Bogdanich and Kristina Rebelo:

It was well after midnight when Dr. Salvatore J. A. Sclafani finally hit the “send” button.

Soon, colleagues would awake to his e-mail, expressing his anguish and shame over the discovery that the tiniest, most vulnerable of all patients — premature babies — had been over-radiated in the department he ran at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.

A day earlier, Dr. Sclafani noticed that a newborn had been irradiated from head to toe — with no gonadal shielding — even though only a simple chest X-ray had been ordered.

“I was mortified,” he wrote on July 27, 2007. Worse, technologists had given the same baby about 10 of these whole-body X-rays. “Full, unabashed, total irradiation of a neonate,” Dr. Sclafani said, adding, “This poor, defenseless baby.”

And the problems did not end there. Dr. John Amodio, the hospital’s new pediatric radiologist, found that full-body X-rays of premature babies had occurred often, that radiation levels on powerful CT scanners had been set too high for infants, and that babies had been poorly positioned, making it hard for doctors to interpret the images.

The hospital had done the full-body X-rays, known as “babygrams,” even though they had been largely discredited because of concerns about the potential harm of radiation on the young. Dr. Sclafani and Dr. Amodio quickly stopped the babygrams and instituted tight controls on how and when radiation was used on babies, according to doctors who work there. But the hospital never reported the problems in the unit to state health officials as required.

A little over a week ago, after The New York Times asked about the situation at Downstate, the state health commissioner, Dr. Nirav R. Shah, ordered two offices of the department to investigate.

“Our investigators will pull films, they will examine the medical records and they will interview relevant staff,” said Claudia Hutton, the department’s director of public affairs. “Our authority to investigate goes basically as far as we need it to go.”

The errors at Downstate raise broader questions about the competence, training and oversight of technologists who operate radiological equipment that is becoming increasingly complex and powerful. If technologists could not properly take a simple chest X-ray, how can they be expected to safely operate CT scanners or linear accelerators?

With technologists in many states lightly regulated, or not at all, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 8:59 am

Punish the children—they can’t fight back

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Politicians must love it that children can’t vote and have no lobby, because that gives the politicians a group they can starve and hear few complaints. Politicians love the poor and powerless for the same reason: smash them down, and they won’t fight.

Texas, for example, is carefully protecting its plutocrats by throwing the children to the wolves. Paul Krugman:

Will 2011 be the year of fiscal austerity? At the federal level, it’s still not clear: Republicans are demanding draconian spending cuts, but we don’t yet know how far they’re willing to go in a showdown with President Obama. At the state and local level, however, there’s no doubt about it: big spending cuts are coming.

And who will bear the brunt of these cuts? America’s children.

Now, politicians — and especially, in my experience, conservative politicians — always claim to be deeply concerned about the nation’s children. Back during the 2000 campaign, then-candidate George W. Bush, touting the “Texas miracle” of dramatically lower dropout rates, declared that he wanted to be the “education president.” Today, advocates of big spending cuts often claim that their greatest concern is the burden of debt our children will face.

In practice, however, when advocates of lower spending get a chance to put their ideas into practice, the burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear.

Consider, as a case in point, what’s happening in Texas, which more and more seems to be where America’s political future happens first.

Texas likes to portray itself as a model of small government, and indeed it is. Taxes are low, at least if you’re in the upper part of the income distribution (taxes on the bottom 40 percent of the population are actually above the national average). Government spending is also low. And to be fair, low taxes may be one reason for the state’s rapid population growth, although low housing prices are surely much more important.

But here’s the thing: While low spending may sound good in the abstract, what it amounts to in practice is low spending on children, who account directly or indirectly for a large part of government outlays at the state and local level.

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

But wait — how can graduation rates be so low when Texas had that education miracle back when former President Bush was governor? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 8:49 am

Viewing retirement options in a new light

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More and more I’m convinced that making a change requires first a change in how you view the situation at hand: the situation with respect to which a change is needed.

For example, in losing weight the most effective approach (short- and long-term) is to change your view of food and eating (and, probably, exercise as well). Obviously, making changes in how you view the world seems somewhat scary, though anyone with any experience in what is euphemistically called “the world of work” has done such a thing. In that context it’s called an attitude adjustment and it may be demanded by your boss or self-assigned. It occurs when you are handed a task or a work situation that you don’t like. You can quit your job (though often this is not a realistic option), you can make yourselves and others miserable by being more or less constantly unhappy with the job, or you can do an attitude adjustment: pull up your socks and set your mind to focusing on the challenges in the task and doing them well, making the very best possible out of a bad situation.

This is a change in your worldview with respect to that situation, and it’s exactly the kind of change required to lose weight effectively. People don’t like to face that necessity, so they focus on making peripheral changes: counting calories, or not eating starches, or joining a weight-loss club. These are changes that one can easily make with no effect on his worldview. They are changes without deep roots that will drift away because we have not made internal changes. They are the kinds of changes made by people who want to change without making a change.

But consider: if you’re obese and you don’t like the obesity and want a different sort of outcome, changes have to be made upstream. Food is part of the problem, but food is not going to change: it will continue to be food, and available. Let’s see, what else is involved? Why, we are—and that’s the very part of the picture that is under our direct control and that we can change when we want.

Once you change your view of food, you change your habits with respect to food, and the process itself takes care of the problem.

Trent Hamm, over at The Simple Dollar, reviews a book that takes a similar approach to preparing for retirement effectively: change how you view the situation. His post begins:

It was the subtitle of Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme that convinced me to pick it up. “A philosophical and practical guide to financial independence.” Intriguing enough for my eyeballs, particularly since the subject matter of the book seemed to be in line with my own experiences on what it takes to be financially independent, as revealed from the text on the back cover (which explains the book so well, I’ll just quote it here):

This book provides a robust strategy that makes it possible to stop working for money in less than a decade. It provides a shift in economic perspective from consuming to producting. Your value to society is not how much you earn or buy, but what you create and produce. Consumers are often forced to buy expensive solutions, but producers have the flexibility to create their own solutions at a quarter of the cost. The resulting savings are invested to cover the remaining expenses, resulting in financial independence.

The strategy can also be used to pay off debt, travel the world, volunteer, go back to school, or simply work without worrying about the next paycheck. It offers a compelling alternative to the default choice of getting a college degree, buying a house, filling the closets with stuff, and then spending the next 40 years paying it off.

In other words, if you focus every action – or as many actions as possible – in your life on producing rather than consuming, you’re going to set yourself up for lasting financial success.

It’s a very interesting perspective to have on personal finance as a whole, one that goes hand in hand with voluntary simplicity and frugality. Let’s dig in to see what else Fisker has to say. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2011 at 8:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Odd decision by BATF: Allow illegal gun purchases

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Amazing story by Sharyl Attkisson for CBS:

The date: December 14, 2010. The place: a dangerous smuggling route in Arizona not far from the border. A special tactical border squad was on patrol when gunfire broke out and agent Brian Terry was killed.

Kent, Brian’s brother, said “he was my only brother. That was the only brother I had. I’m lost.”

The assault rifles found at the murder were traced back to a U.S. gun shop. Where they came from and how they got there is a scandal so large, some insiders say it surpasses the shoot-out at Ruby Ridge and the deadly siege at Waco.

To understand why, it helps to know something about “Project Gunrunner” an operation run by the ATF the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Read the indictment

“Project Gunrunner” deployed new teams of agents to the southwest border. The idea: to stop the flow of weapons from the US to Mexico’s drug cartels. But in practice, sources tell CBS News, ATF’s actions had the opposite result: they allegedly facilitated the delivery of thousands of guns into criminal hands.

CBS News wanted to ask ATF officials about the case, but they wouldn’t agree to an interview. We were able to speak to six veteran ATF agents and executives involved. They don’t want to be quoted by name for fear of retaliation. These are their allegations.

In late 2009, ATF was alerted to suspicious buys at seven gun shops in the Phoenix area. Suspicious because the buyers paid cash, sometimes brought in paper bags. And they purchased classic “weapons of choice” used by Mexican drug traffickers – semi-automatic versions of military type rifles and pistols.

Sources tell CBS News several gun shops wanted to stop the questionable sales, but ATF encouraged them to continue.

Jaime Avila was one of the suspicious buyers. ATF put him in its suspect database in January of 2010. For the next year, ATF watched as Avila and other suspects bought huge quantities of weapons supposedly for “personal use.” They included 575 AK-47 type semi-automatic rifles.

ATF managers allegedly made a controversial decision: allow most of the weapons on the streets. The idea, they said, was to gather intelligence and see where the guns ended up. Insiders say it’s a dangerous tactic called letting the guns, “walk.”

One agent called the strategy “insane.” Another said: “We were fully aware the guns would probably be moved across the border to drug cartels where they could be used to kill.”

On the phone, one Project Gunrunner source (who didn’t want to be identified) told us just how many guns flooded the black market under ATF’s watchful eye. “The numbers are over 2,500 on that case by the way. That’s how many guns were sold – including some 50-calibers they let walk.”

50-caliber weapons are fearsome. For months, ATF agents followed 50-caliber Barrett rifles and other guns believed headed for the Mexican border, but were ordered to let them go. One distraught agent was often overheard on ATF radios begging and pleading to be allowed to intercept transports. The answer: “Negative. Stand down.”

CBS News has been told at least 11 ATF agents and senior managers voiced fierce opposition to the strategy. “It got ugly…” said one. There was “screaming and yelling” says another. A third warned: “this is crazy, somebody is gonna to get killed.”

Sure enough, the weapons soon began surfacing at crime scenes in Mexico – dozens of them sources say – including shootouts with government officials.

One agent argued with a superior asking, “are you prepared to go to the funeral of a federal officer killed with one of these guns?” Another said every time there was a shooting near the border, “we would all hold our breath hoping it wasn’t one of ‘our’ guns.”

Then, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered. The serial numbers on the two assault rifles found at the scene matched two rifles ATF watched Jaime Avila buy in Phoenix nearly a year before. Officials won’t answer whether the bullet that killed Terry came from one of those rifles. But the nightmare had come true: “walked” guns turned up at a federal agent’s murder.

“You feel like s***. You feel for the parents,” one ATF veteran told us.

Hours after Agent Terry was gunned down, ATF finally arrested Avila. They’ve since indicted 34 suspected gunrunners in the same group. But the indictment makes no mention of Terry’s murder, and no one is charged in his death.

Kent Terry said of his brother, “He’d want them to tell the truth. That’s one thing my brother didn’t like was a liar. And that’s what he’d want. He’d want the truth.

In a letter, the Justice Department which oversees ATF says the agency has never knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to suspected gunrunners.

Obama’s DoJ is going to be all over this, tracking down and prosecuting those who leaked the information. Obama’s motto: No More Whistleblowers: Reveal Government Misdeeds, Go To Jail.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2011 at 1:40 pm

Good thing I’m learning Spanish

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Bilingualism is good for the brain, according to this story by Amina Kahn in the LA Times:

Does being bilingual give young children a mental edge, or does it delay their learning?

It depends on whom you ask.

Bilingual education is regarded by some in education policy circles as little more than a half-baked technique of teaching students whose native language is not English. Though it takes many forms, bilingual education programs usually involve teaching students in both their native languages and in English. How much each language is used, and in which academic contexts, varies by program.

But neuroscience researchers are increasingly coming to a consensus that bilingualism has many positive consequences for the brain. Several such researchers traveled to this month’s annual meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., to present their findings. Among them:

• Bilingual children are more effective at multi-tasking.

• Adults who speak more than one language do a better job prioritizing information in potentially confusing situations.

• Being bilingual helps ward off early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.

These benefits come from having a brain that’s constantly juggling two — or even more — languages, said Ellen Bialystok, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto, who spoke at the AAAS annual meeting. For instance, a person who speaks both Hindi and Tamil can’t turn Tamil off even if he’s speaking to only Hindi users, because the brain is constantly deciding which language is most appropriate for a given situation.

This constant back-and-forth between two linguistic systems means frequent exercise for the brain’s so-called executive control functions, located . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2011 at 9:48 am

Relating to doctors, US vs. others

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Fascinating post at The Incidental Economist by Aaron Carroll:

It constantly amazes me how entrenched many people get in opposing health care reform. I’ve been getting a strange number of emails defending the health care spending seen in my post yesterday. Please understand, that spending is what’s bankrupting us. You can hate the PPACA, you can hate single payer, you can hate any form of government regulation at all, and stil recognize that we spend too much on health care.

But forget that for a second. Many of you are defending the high costs of our health care with the usual “wait times” meme. You defend our very, very high level of spending by accusing other systems of having long wait times. You believe that we are buying “no wait times” with our spending.


First of all, what do you mean by wait times? Perhaps it’s “do you have to wait to see a doctor when you’re sick”?

Let’s own something right up front. We beat Canada. Let me say that again: WE BEAT CANADA. There’s a reason people always cherry pick Canada to talk about wait times. But many, many other countries do better in terms of getting people in to see the doctor when they are sick.  We also do better in terms of getting people in to see specialists (although we’re not #1), and we do better in how long people need to wait to get elective surgery (which is ELECTIVE), but that’s not the same.

Here’s another telling metric, however: . . .

Continue reading, even better charts at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2011 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Healthcare, Medical

China and droughts

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Very interesting post by Jeremiah Jenne, a PhD candidate in Chinese history, living and working in Beijing:

BEIJING — It didn’t rain today. Now, usually that wouldn’t be much of a lead, but here in North China this counts as news.  Since last September, we’ve had almost no precipitation other than a few days of snow last month, and that came courtesy of China’s weather modification teams.

Other areas haven’t even been that lucky. Winter wheat crops are failing throughout the region and farmers are now worried that if conditions don’t improve soon, the drought will seriously jeopardize the all-important spring planting season.

There are serious environmental ramifications from the lack of water beyond farming. Beijing is one of the few major world cities not located on a significant river or body of water. It sits instead on a large brackish aquifer and relies on a series of man-made reservoirs and canals for its water supply. Despite the best efforts of China’s engineers, Beijing’s demand for water is rapidly depleting already limited supplies and the continuing drought only accelerates this dangerous trend.

There’s also an important social dynamic. With world food prices at their highest level in almost three years, the possibility of a massive failure of the winter wheat crop has the government on alert. Earlier this week I wrote a post in which I downplayed the chances of a North African-style “Jasmine Revolution” breaking out in China, and I still doubt that messages posted on overseas websites will have the reach or the audience sufficient to spark mass demonstrations, but this continuing drought coupled with rising food prices presents a very real threat.

On their best days, the Chinese state security apparatus is run by hopped-up officials whose baseline level of paranoia is enough to make Charlie Sheen seem like a Zen Master, but as I wrote on Monday, the government usually cares less about isolated “mass incidents” than they do about the possibility of different groups linking their grievances together.  Anonymous letters on overseas websites accessible only with an expensive VPN are not going to do that, but a drought is a different story, and a drought coupled with crop failures resulting in a spike in food prices means the hardship of farmers will start to be shared by those in the cities.

It’s an old story. The Chinese archives are full of natural disasters. Some, like floods or typhoons came upon an area with sudden speed and power and then just as suddenly receded or moved away. In the records these are sometimes referred to as “dragons” – mobile, capricious, taking their fury from one place to another.

But the accounts of drought are different. They happened over time, and as the weeks turned to months and crops withered and died, desperate farmers waited for the emperor to make things right. Part of the gig of being an emperor meant looking toward heaven and asking the gods to please unbottle the skies.

It made for tense times, because in Chinese history, floods and earthquakes came and went…but it was droughts that really brought the crazy.

My own research focuses on an anti-foreign (actually anti-French) riot in the city of Tianjin in 1870.  In the aftermath of the violence, local officials all started their reports to the throne with “We’ve been in a drought since summer, and it has upset the hearts and minds of the people…”

Perhaps the most notorious example of drought and violence was . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2011 at 2:55 pm

Another great shave

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I need to use my little Mühle travel brush more often: it’s a terrific little brush, and it worked up a fine lather from Prairie Creations Spiced Rum shaving soap—and the soap has a fragrance I really like. Three smooth and trouble-free passes with the Hoffritz Slant Bar and its Swedish Gillette blade, then a good splash of Floris No. 89, and I was ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2011 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Shaving

Well, all right! Let’s kick off the weekend!

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Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2011 at 6:02 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

Want bowel cancer? Eat more meat

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Very interesting post at Food Politics by Marion Nestle:

The UK Department of Health issued a warning today to eat less red and processed meat.

  • Red meat means beef, lamb and pork as well as minced meat and offal from these animals.
  • Processed meat means ham, bacon, luncheon meat, corned beef, salami, pâté, sausages and burgers.

The warning is based on a new report from the independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN).  Its report evaluated the effects of iron on health. Because red meat is a primary source of dietary iron, the committee looked at evidence on the links between red meat and processed meats and bowel cancer.

The report concludes that the link “probably” exists and that:

Adults with relatively high intakes of red and processed meat (around 90 g/day or more) should consider reducing their intakes. A reduction to the UK population average for adult consumers (70 g/day cooked weight) would have little impact on the proportion of the adult population with low iron intakes.

How much is 90 grams?  It is only three ounces of cooked meat.

The UK Health Department advises:

  • People who eat a lot of red or processed meat – around 90g or more of cooked weight per day – are at greater risk of getting bowel cancer;
  • Cutting down to the UK average of 70g a day can help reduce the risk; and
  • This can be achieved by eating smaller portions or by eating red and processed meat less often.

The Department points out that cooked meat weighs about 70% of its uncooked weight (it has less water). So 3 ounces of cooked meat is equivalent to about 4 ounces of uncooked meat.

Expect to hear lots of reactions like “red meat can still be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet.”

And where are the US Dietary Guidelines on the subject of red and processed meats?  Buried in euphemisms, alas:

  • Choose lean meats
  • Choose seafood instead of some meat
  • Reduce calories from solid fats

No wonder Americans are confused about diet and health.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2011 at 7:49 pm

Killing off the middle class

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Here’s a thought: maybe Madison, Wis., isn’t Cairo after all. Maybe it’s Baghdad — specifically, Baghdad in 2003, when the Bush administration put Iraq under the rule of officials chosen for loyalty and political reliability rather than experience and competence.

As many readers may recall, the results were spectacular — in a bad way. Instead of focusing on the urgent problems of a shattered economy and society, which would soon descend into a murderous civil war, those Bush appointees were obsessed with imposing a conservative ideological vision. Indeed, with looters still prowling the streets of Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, the American viceroy, told a Washington Post reporter that one of his top priorities was to “corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises” — Mr. Bremer’s words, not the reporter’s — and to “wean people from the idea the state supports everything.”

The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.

Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display.

In recent weeks, Madison has been the scene of large demonstrations against the governor’s budget bill, which would deny collective-bargaining rights to public-sector workers. Gov. Scott Walker claims that he needs to pass his bill to deal with the state’s fiscal problems. But his attack on unions has nothing to do with the budget. In fact, those unions have already indicated their willingness to make substantial financial concessions — an offer the governor has rejected.

What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.

For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.

And then there’s this:  . . .

Continue reading. So it goes.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2011 at 4:58 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

Great wood shims

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I use these under the front legs of my bookcases to tilt them back against the wall and increase stability. They’re terrific. No wonder they’re a Cool Tool.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2011 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Daily life

Cyberwar on us

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Interesting note in this article:

. . .  But I think the real lesson of the hack – and of the revelations that followed it – is that the IT security industry, having finally gotten the attention of law makers, Pentagon generals and public policy establishment wonks in the Beltway, is now in mortal danger of losing its soul. We’ve convinced the world that the threat is real – omnipresent and omnipotent. But in our desire to combat it, we are becoming indistinguishable from the folks with the black hats.

Of course, none of this is intended to excuse the actions of Anonymous, who HBGary President Penny Leavy, in a conversation with Threatpost, rightly labeled “criminals” rather than politically motivated “hacktivists.” The attack on HBGary was an unsubtle, if effective, act of intimidation designed to send a message to Barr and other would be cyber sleuths: ‘stay away.’

We can see their actions for what they are, and sympathize deeply with Aaron Barr, Greg Hoglund and his wife (and HBGary President) Penny Leavy for the harm and embarrassment caused by the hackers from Anonymous, who published some 70,000 confidential company e-mails online for the world to see. Those included confidential company information, as well as personal exchanges between HBGary staff that were never intended for a public airing. Its easy to point the finger and chortle upon reading them, but how many of us (or the Anonymous members, themselves) could stand such scrutiny?

Its harder to explain away the substance of many other e-mail messages which have emerged in reporting by Ars Technica as well as others. They show a company executives like HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr mining social networks for data to “scare the s***” out of potential customers, in theory to win their business. While “scare ’em and snare ’em” may be business as usual in the IT security industry, other HBGary Federal skunk works projects clearly crossed a line: a proposal for a major U.S. bank, allegedly Bank of America, to launch offensive cyber attacks on the servers that host the whistle blower site Wikileaks. HBGary was part of a triumvirate of firms that also included Palantir Inc and Berico Technologies, that was working with the law firm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to develop plans to target progressive groups, labor unions and other left-leaning non profits who the Chamber opposed with a campaign of false information and entrapment. Other leaked e-mail messages reveal work with General Dynamics and a host of other firms to develop custom, stealth malware and collaborations with other firms selling offensive cyber capabilities including knowledge of previously undiscovered (“zero day”) vulnerabilities.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with private firms helping Uncle Sam to develop cyber offensive capabilities. In an age of sophisticated and wholesale cyber espionage by nation states opposed to the U.S., the U.S. government clearly needs to be able to fight fire with fire. Besides, everybody already knew that Greg Hoglund was writing rootkits for the DoD, so is it right to say we’re “shocked! shocked!” to read his e-mail and find out that what we all suspected was true? I don’t think so.

What’s more disturbing is the way that the folks at HBGary – mostly Aaron Barr, but others as well – came to view the infowar tactics they were pitching to the military and its contractors as applicable in the civilian context, as well. How effortlessly and seamlessly the focus on “advanced persistent threats” shifted from government backed hackers in China and Russia to encompass political foes like ThinkProgress or the columnist Glenn Greenwald. Anonymous may have committed crimes that demand punishment – but its up to the FBI to handle that, not “a large U.S. bank” or its attorneys.

The HBGary e-mails, I think, cast the shenanigans on the RSA Expo floor in a new and scarier light. What other companies, facing the kind of short term financial pressure that Barr and HBGary Federal felt might also cross the line – donning the gray hat, or the black one? What threat to all of our liberties does that kind of IT security firepower pose when its put at the behest of corporations, government agencies, stealth political groups or their operatives? Bruce Schneier – our industry’s Obi-Wan Kenobi – has warned about this very phenomena: the way the military’s ever expanding notion of “cyber war,” like the Bush era’s “War on Terror” does little to promote security, but a lot to promote inchoate fear. That inchoate fear then becomes a justification for futher infringement on our liberties.

“We reinforce the notion that we’re helpless — what person or organization can defend itself in a war? — and others need to protect us. We invite the military to take over security, and to ignore the limits on power that often get jettisoned during wartime,” Schneier observed. That kind of conflation is clear reading Barr’s e-mails where the line between sales oriented tactics and offensive actions blur. The security industry veterans I spoke with at this year’s show were as aghast at Barr’s trip far off reservation, but they also expressed a weary recognition that, in the security business, this is where things are headed.

What’s the alternative? Schneier notes that focusing on cyber crime as “crime” rather than “war” tends to avoid the problems with demagoguery. Focus on cyber crime and hacking in the same way as you focus on other types of crimes: as long term problems that must be managed within the “context of normal life,” rather than “wars” that pose an existential threat to those involved and must be won at all costs. The U.S. needs peacetime cyber-security “administered within the myriad structure of public and private security institutions we already have” rather than extra-judicial vigilantism and covert ops of the kind the HBGary e-mails reveal. Here’s hoping HBGary is the wake up call the industry needed to reverse course. . .

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2011 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

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