Later On

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

Archive for February 7th, 2011

Why Obama has such a bad human-rights record

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Barack Obama, for all his Democratic credentials and Constitutional scholar background, has taken quite a regressive stance toward civil liberties, supporting the Presidential Assassination Program (PAP), which operates with no judicial review or due process and allows him to order the murder of American citizens as he wishes, imprisoning people indefinitely (and, in some cases, for life) with no charges, trial, or appeal, refusing to allow recourse to innocents that the US kidnapped and either tortured directly or turned over to our dictator allies for torture, refusing any investigation in wrong-doing by the US government even though such investigation is required by law), and so on. Really, a sorry spectacle and not that different from other authoritarians one could name.

So: why? Why on earth would a person who seems to have good will and who seems to hold decent principles, embrace such totalitarian stances.

A possible reason just occurred to me: What if, when he became President, he was brought into a room and presented with a detailed picture and schedule of what the world is headed for as climate change really takes hold and catastrophic crop failures become common? Certainly all the data are available: we can see and measure what’s happening, we know the cause and we know that nothing will be done, and we see crop failures already happening.

The world is going to become a very ugly place, and surviving governments are likely to have to use strong measures to keep order. So Obama has to take a bitter pill and recognize that these tactics are going to be needed and soon—certainly within a decade, based on what we see happening already.

The question naturally arises: If the nation is truly headed for this sort of catastrophe, why are we not being told? I can think of several possibilities:

First, the powerful seem to have considerable contempt for the powerless, viewing them as some sort of lesser species whose suffering and death doesn’t mean much. If the powerless were really worth anything, the reasoning goes, they would be powerful. And as the income gap between the wealthy and the rest increases—for in the US, money is power—the distance between the powerful and the people increases, and the powerful see no reason to involve the people in decisions that will affect their lives.

Second, many companies are still making big money from industries that are exacerbating the problem, and they want to continue making money. So we see them fighting in public to destroy any efforts to combat global warming, and you can be sure that they are fighting even harder in back rooms with our (seemingly) easily-purchased legislators.

Finally, if people were told what’s coming, they would grow angry and demand changes. Changes!!! The very word strikes terror in the heart of the powerful. They owe their position and power to the status quo, and you can bet that they will fight to retain those. So the first thing is to keep people uninformed, or at the very least ill-informed. And that’s going quite well in the US.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2011 at 2:34 pm

On Learning

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I am learning a lot of things lately: the Mac, Scrivener, Pilates, Spanish, and how to manage my food intake. The Wife pointed out that between the weight loss and the Pilates I seemed to have internalized that I can learn things well if I simply keep at it, working at it over time. Musicians certainly know this, but many adults forget.

The fact is that most adults—particularly those that succeed in getting control of the timing and content of what they do—focus on those things that they do well. And by working at those things daily, they become extremely good at them—good enough that in the world of business they are often rewarded and become specialists of one sort or another.

Then, in later life, they have totally forgotten what it’s like to learn something: the period of confusion and poor performance as you learn new skills and new knowledge, and the gradual slope of improvement.

The result: they start to think that they can’t learn new things, because the experience of learning strikes them as unpleasant (compared to the secure knowledge and expertise and respect they enjoy in their specialty). So arises the notion that elders can’t learn. They can, but they’re not used to it (yet: I’m actually sort of getting accustomed to the feeling that I am confused but working at it).

Of course, some adults do not have the luxury of choosing what they will be working on. For example, when new technology arrives in the office (a new phone system, for example, or new photocopying equipment, or whatever), the clerical staff is told that they will learn it. Training is offered, attendance is mandatory, and the clerical staff works through it and learns. And, in fact, because that staff is often made to learn new things, they are even accustomed to learning.

The executives can avoid this awkwardness. I still remember the president of a company for which I worked, who got a phone call he wanted to transfer, calling out sort of pitifully for his secretary to come in and please transfer the call for him because he didn’t know how to do it. And he didn’t know how to operate a computer, either—not really. He could hunt and peck at a keyboard (he had no keyboarding skills whatsoever) within a program, but to switch to another program would probably require asking his secretary to help him again. He no longer really knew how to learn.

And that’s why the canard that elders cannot learn arose. Elders can learn fine, if they will study regularly.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2011 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

A note on Glorious One-Pot Meals

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I just recommended the GOPM approach to someone, and the response I got was positive: the person said that they did indeed like slow-cooker meals, especially in the winter.

Slow-cooker meals are great, but totally different from GOPM cooking. A slow-cooker cooks for hours at a temperature of 200º F (“low” setting) or 300º F (“high” setting). GOPM cooking uses a 2-quart cast-iron Dutch oven and cooks for only 45 minutes at 450º F. Cooking foods for a short time at a high temperature produces very different results from cooking a long, long time at low temperatures. For example, you would not cook a steak in a crockpot.

The GOPM cooking method uses the steam generated by the high temperature to cook the foods enclosed in the pot. (You use very little liquid in this method.) The slow cooker uses hot liquid in which the food is simmered for hours and hours. You can see how that would change the result. [UPDATE: TYD reminded me that slow-cooker recipes quite often do NOT use a lot of liquid: they can cook more like a slow oven. For example, tough cuts such as oxtail and beef, veal, or lamb shank do quite well in a slow cooker, but would be inedible in a GOPM meal, which cooks at a high temperature for a relatively short cooking time.]

So veggies cooked by GOPM come out (to my taste) very nice indeed. The green beans or the broccoli that I use in the top layer are cooked perfectly, and not overdone to softness.

I highly recommend trying a meal using GOPM. You’ll be able to tell the difference. The only way the two could be confused is through the “one-pot” idea, but most of my slow-cooker meals do demand a separate pot for the rice or noodles or whatever—in the GOPM method, those are cooked in with everything else. It truly is a one-pot meal.

Hope this clears that up.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2011 at 2:05 pm

Getting to goal, weight-wise

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This morning I went for one of the periodic ELG reports that the diet counseling place does, usually after every 10 pounds of weight loss. I have, according to their scale, now lost 60 lbs (though according to mine I’ve lost but 58—but generally they weight me after breakfast and I don’t eat breakfast before the test (and if you’re wondering whether I really eat 2 pounds of breakfast, let me note that I usually drink two one-pint mugs of tea before and during breakfast and "a pint’s a pound the world around").

At any rate, the statistics interest me, and this is my blog, so… I have lost about 6.5 feet of measurement, but this is slightly bogus because that’s the sum of ALL measurements they take, and those measurements are doubled for the arms and legs. So, more realistically, my neck (for example) has gone from 17.5 inches in circumference to 15.5, the size it was when I was in my 20’s.

So, though I still have love handles and clearly have a band of fat around my waist, I’ll probably go to their maintenance program starting 1 March, per my original contract. And if I need to lose a few more pounds, I know now how to do that.

Based on my experience, I highly recommend working with a good diet counselor—one that does not used canned formulas or require the purchase of specific products. I think the plan should be based on the food one gets in the supermarket, since that’s what one will eat after the plan—so he had better know how to manage that.

I have to admit that the money helped, too: I paid $2000 for a 9-month contract. It took my breath away when I was told the fee, but after a moment’s thought I decided that, if the program worked, it was well worth the money. I am still paying the $2400 required out of my pocket, beyond insurance coverage, for the angiogram I had last year. (Fortunately, Stanford Hospitals allows one to pay it off over six months with no additional fees.) $2000 to get my weight into a healthy range and to learn how to keep it there: a bargain.

I know that some view getting help as somehow "cheating" or "using a crutch" (though apparently this applies only to certain kinds of help: it doesn’t apply to, for example, accountants, doctors, dentists and dental hygienists, lawyers, auto mechanics, hairdressers, or any of the other professionals that we call upon to assist us—just to weight loss). OTOH, I had tried it on my own and failed, and in this current program I was fully aware of those points at which I would have said "to hell with it—it’s not working and I want a steak." But then I would think of "my" $2000 and continue.

Then, as I have said, the scales fell from my eyes and I got it. Since then, it’s been easy sailing. And I would never have "gotten it" if I had not continued in the program.

I’m writing a book about the lessons I learned. We got to talking about titles, and I told my diet counselor the old chestnut about the ideal book title developed after looking at titles that sold best: Lincoln’s Mother’s Doctor’s Dog. And that reminded me of when LP records first appeared: suddenly instead of 3 minutes of recorded sound per side, there was 30 or 45 minutes available a side. Businesses frantically tried to fill that time with a wide variety of records—classical works, obviously, and what at the time seemed like large collections of songs. But instructional and documentary records were also very popular, and in that category the proposed best-selling title was Bowl Your Way to Better French Through Civil War Birdcalls.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2011 at 11:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

Food wars now underway

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I have blogged before (here and here) about how global warming and climate change will drastically reduce crop yields, which will inevitably lead to food wars—and since war is terrible destructive, that will likely reduce yields ever more.

Paul Krugman sees the unrest in the Middle East as probably the opening salvo in the food wars:

We’re in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they’re having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.

The consequences of this food crisis go far beyond economics. After all, the big question about uprisings against corrupt and oppressive regimes in the Middle East isn’t so much why they’re happening as why they’re happening now. And there’s little question that sky-high food prices have been an important trigger for popular rage.

So what’s behind the price spike? American right-wingers (and the Chinese) blame easy-money policies at the Federal Reserve, with at least one commentator declaring that there is “blood on Bernanke’s hands.” Meanwhile, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France blames speculators, accusing them of “extortion and pillaging.”

But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.

Now, to some extent soaring food prices are part of a general commodity boom: the prices of many raw materials, running the gamut from aluminum to zinc, have been rising rapidly since early 2009, mainly thanks to rapid industrial growth in emerging markets.

But the link between industrial growth and demand is a lot clearer for, say, copper than it is for food. Except in very poor countries, rising incomes don’t have much effect on how much people eat.

It’s true that growth in emerging nations like China leads to rising meat consumption, and hence rising demand for animal feed. It’s also true that agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, compete for land and other resources with food crops — as does the subsidized production of ethanol, which consumes a lot of corn. So both economic growth and bad energy policy have played some role in the food price surge.

Still, food prices lagged behind the prices of other commodities until last summer. Then the weather struck.

Consider the case of wheat, whose price has almost doubled since the summer. The immediate cause of the wheat price spike is obvious: world production is down sharply. The bulk of that production decline, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, reflects a sharp plunge in the former Soviet Union. And we know what that’s about: a record heat wave and drought, which pushed Moscow temperatures above 100 degrees for the first time ever.

The Russian heat wave was only one of many recent extreme weather events, from dry weather in Brazil to biblical-proportion flooding in Australia, that have damaged world food production.

The question then becomes, what’s behind all this extreme weather? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2011 at 10:43 am

New (to me) shaving vendor:

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Thanks to Zach for pointing out this on-line vendor: – – 732-239-2607 Eastern time – A very broad selection including items hard to find in the US, at good prices. Includes Arko, Astra, Bea, Boots, De Vergulde Hand, Delong, Derby, Edwin Jagger, Erasmic, Feather, Frank, Godrej, James Bronnley, Kappus, G.B. Kent, Lavanda, Lea, Lightfoot’s, Lord, Malizia, Merkur, Mitchell’s Wool Fat, Mühle, Parker, Pitralon, Rapira, Sabi, Shark, Taylor of Old Bond Street, Timor, Treet, Valobra, Wars, Wilkinson

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2011 at 10:33 am

Posted in Business, Shaving

Beautiful shave today

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The Pils travel razor seemed to be somewhat of the same aesthetic as the Joris razor shown, so that’s what I picked to use. It did a fine job, working up a commendable lather from Irisch Moos, which (thanks to a two-day stubble) put plenty of soap on my beard. Then the Joris (palladium plated, no less) went to work: extremely smooth shave—and yet it’s the same head as I used for Friday’s shave, which seemed aggressive enough to be flirting with “harsh”. The difference: Friday I used a new Iridium Super blade, and today I used a new Swedish Gillette blade. The blade does make a difference. The lesson: when you get a new razor, try several different brands of blades to find the one that works best for that razor. (Though, to be truthful, I suspect that the Swedish Gillette blade would outpace the Iridium Super—and most other blades—in any razor. However: YMMV. Different guys respond in strikingly different ways to the same brand of blade—and don’t forget it.)

A splash of Irisch Moos and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

7 February 2011 at 8:24 am

Posted in Shaving

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