Later On

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

Archive for February 12th, 2011

Good column by Frank Rich

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Frank Rich in the NY Times gives another view of the present state of the US:

When Bernie Madoff was arrested in December 2008, America feasted vicariously on a cautionary tale of greed run amok. But like Rod Blagojevich, the stunt governor of Illinois who had been arrested days earlier, Madoff was something of a sideshow to that dark month’s main events. For a nation reeling from an often incomprehensible economic tsunami and unable to identify the culprits, he was, for the moment, the right made-to-order villain at the right time.

But Madoff was a second-tier player. Some in the upper echelons of New York’s financial world, including in the business press, had never heard of him. His firm’s accountant operated out of a strip mall and didn’t bother with electronic statements. The billions that vaporized in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme amounted to a rounding error next to the eye-popping federal bailouts, including those pouring into too-big-to-fail banks wrecked by their own Ponzi schemes of securitization. The suffering he inflicted on his mostly well-heeled dupes was piddling next to the national devastation of an economy in free fall. In a December when a half-million Americans lost their jobs — a calamitous rate not seen since 1974 — the video of a voiceless, combative Madoff in a baseball cap, skirmishing with photographers outside his Upper East Side apartment house, soon lost its punch.

A month later Barack Obama would be inaugurated and declare “a new era of responsibility.” Now, another two years have passed, and while the economy is no longer in free fall, we’re still waiting for that era to arrive. What’s extraordinary is that Madoff, unlike such tarnished titans of the bubble as Rubin or Fuld or Prince, is very much at center stage, even as he rots in prison. Perhaps that’s because he’s the only headline figure of the crash who did go to prison.

His evil deeds, in their afterlife, are now serving as a recurring wave of financial body scans. Each new Madoff revelation sheds light on an entire culture that allowed far loftier flimflams than his to succeed — though the loftier culprits, unlike him, usually escaped with the proceeds. That financial culture largely remains in place today.

The prime mover in connecting Madoff’s low-tech, relatively low-yield scam to the big Wall Street picture is Irving H. Picard, the bankruptcy trustee pursuing loss claims for Madoff’s victims. Most Americans haven’t heard of Picard. But each day that he accelerates his pursuit of Madoff’s collaborators, he steps further into the vacuum of leadership left by others, including the Obama administration’s Department of Justice. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 8:41 pm

Apple, Big

with 6 comments

The Wife and I got to talking about how much I like having a notebook computer—e.g., for posts like this, written without leaving my chair—and she said that she knew I would like it, and she had been surprised I hadn’t liked the Windows netbook and notebook previously tried. The problem was that I couldn’t read the screen on either and the hypersensitive touchpad drove me crazy.

So with the MacBook I can read the screen perfectly, plus it’s cute. What’s not to like? Even the program icons bounce with joy when you click them. It’s pretty evident that the computer grew up in California. Think what the interface would have been like if Steve Jobs had been born and raised in New York, and established Apple there. With dress code, and all men in suits. Formal meetings: “Who will take minutes?” I bet no cutesy icon action then.

And then I realized I had just described IBM—though, I admit, Boca Raton rather than New York. And IBM did come out with an OS (too early, though, before object-oriented programming—hell, before structured programming): OS/2 (or, as Phillipe Kahn of Borman called it, “Half an operating system”).

I never used OS/2, but I get the idea it was really pretty nifty, with a graphical interface with a lot of drag-and-drop action. A solid product, but the zeitgeist was blowing another direction, plus IBM had required Microsoft to write the code in assembly—presumably for speed, but also ensuring gruesome porting jobs should the microcomputer industry ever come out with a new processor (and here IBM must have been thinking of timelines scaled to mainframes). And of course a new processor quickly did appear (with others to follow in rapid succession, each generation faster, better, and cheaper), and Microsoft was there first because they wrote in C. And Microsoft had learned a lot from IBM, I think.

At any rate: Apple in the Big Apple: it was IBM.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 8:06 pm

Posted in Business, Technology

Worcestershire sauce: Malt vinegar next time

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I just read the Wikipedia article on Worcestershire sauce. The article states that the original recipe seems to have used malt vinegar, so now I want to make another batch. But first I’ll use up this one.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

Fine shave, two soaps

with 5 comments

Another two-lather shave, this one inadvertant. The Omega Pro 49 has been doing so well, I thought today I would try it with a shave stick—tricky, since I can’t very well rerub the stick on my beard after two passes—which is when the brush ran out of foam. I picked this particular shave stick (Kell’s Original Energy stick) because I like the fragrance, but perhaps a tallow-based stick (Valobra, say, or D.R. Harris) would work better. We’ll see.

At any rate, I got two good passes with the Energy lather, and the Rapira blade (recommended by a commenter to a n earlier post) seemed pretty good as well, though I need to use it more to be sure. For the third pass, I worked up a lather from a handy tub of soap: Durance L’òme was the choice since it was there and has no lid. Plenty of lather for final pass.

A splash of Stetson Sierra and I’m off to the Apple store to solve a problem.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 10:51 am

Posted in Shaving

Time-of-day request

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I have had a request that each post include the time as well as the date of the post. That’s a good idea: I like to know when I read a post if it was posted at, say, 2:30 a.m. One uses a bit of Kentucky windage to adjust one’s view of the post in that case.

So I’ve asked The Wife to cast her eyes on the custom CSS for this theme to see if the time stamp can be added. If not, I shall look for another theme.

UPDATE: Had to go with another theme. The time stamp is becoming rare in WordPress themes. This current theme is Journalist v 1.9. Others with time stamp listed here.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 10:17 am

Posted in WordPress

Buddhism through the eyes of American women

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Sounds like an intriguing book. I know I have some Buddhist readers. Here’s the review:

Buddhism through American Women’s Eyes
by Karma Lekshe Tsomo

A review by Chris Faatz

There are a lot of good books on Buddhism out there. In fact, there are some real hum-dingers: Stephen Batchelor‘s Buddhism without Beliefs, Thich Nhat Hanh‘s Being Peace, Charlotte Joko Beck‘s Everyday Zen, and Rick Fields‘s How the Swans Came to the Lake, among others. Well, let’s add another to the list: Buddhism through American Women’s Eyes, edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, originally published in 1995 and recently reprinted by Snow Lion Publications.

Buddhism through American Women’s Eyes gathers essays from several Buddhist women representing traditions ranging from Tibetan to Zen to Shingon in a full-on attempt to show how Buddhism is applicable right now, in the present moment, to everything we do, to all the choices we make, and in all the relationships into which we enter.

With essays that include “Forging a Kind Heart in an Age of Alienation,” “Everyday Dharma,” “Mothering and Meditation,” and “Dealing with Stress” (the latter by Ayya Khema, who was born in Germany but later became a U.S. resident), the book has many high points and is calibrated to have something that will speak to most readers. And, it doesn’t draw back from difficult issues: there are excellent pieces both on abortion and on alcoholism and the 12 steps. To cap it all off, there’s a fascinating round-table discussion of monasticism, which includes women from many traditions.

As the title may suggest, women are the intended audience. Take, for instance, this passage from “Mothering and Meditation”:

The Dharma needs to be adaptable and inclusive. If it is only for monasteries, childless women, women with grown children, women who can afford child care, or women with supportive husbands, we are in trouble. We have a fringe religion. No matter how many women have become enlightened before us, no matter how many enlightened women are mentioned in the scriptures, no matter how many enlightened women are revered, unless it translates into society, it is useless.

However, the essays speak with equal eloquence to any reader, male and female alike. It’s a treasure chest of inspiration and experience offered up as a gift by practitioners who really know their stuff. The following quote, from “Karma: Creative Responsibility,” captures, in many ways, the whole vision out of which Buddhism through American Women’s Eyes arises.

In the Buddhist system there is no one sitting in judgment, no punishing God, and no one dictating right and wrong. Instead, there is the Noble Eightfold Path of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration based upon an understanding of the impersonal law of cause and effect, known as karma. Just as mango seeds give rise to mango trees and chili seeds give rise to chili plants, wholesome deeds lead to happiness while unwholesome deeds lead to suffering. Since everyone wants to be happy and no one wants to suffer, it stands to reason that we should strive to avoid unwholesome actions and create wholesome ones. Buddhism does not decree absolute right or wrong, but leaves individuals free to determine for themselves the appropriate course of action in the particular circumstances. Thus Buddhism presents an ethic of personal choice and responsibility, based on an understanding of cause and effect, and informed by compassion and wisdom.

An emphasis on practicality is one of the book’s consistent themes. If the Dharma doesn’t have the potential to impact your life right now, it’s useless. And that’s what makes Buddhism through American Women’s Eyes so powerful and relevant. It presents teachings, insights, and stories that are immediately applicable in the mixed-up, filth- and beauty- and noise- and confusion- and hope-filled whirlwinds that make up our lives. Take it from me: this is a great book, for all of us.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 10:06 am

Posted in Books, Religion

Nordic track and the like

with 4 comments

I had a little bounce in my weight—I had a tough day, and followed dinner with some snacks (string cheese and hard-boiled eggs) and a glass of wine. But I immediately got back to business, and now I’m back to regular weight before the bounce—having lost 5 days, of course—and hope to see myself below 190 lbs by the end of la semana que vienes viene [see comment] (i.e., “next week”: I use every opportunity to practice my Spanish).

UPDATE: Sunday 13 Feb 6:07 a.m., 21 hours after posting the goal: I just weighed in at 189.0 lbs. Now that’s how I like to achieve goals.

I had no problem doing the Nordic Track before breakfast (indeed, as breakfast cooked) and it was nice to get it out of the way.

And I’m so happy with my Mac, though I do have another trip to the store coming up: I installed the little Go game widget (9×9, using GnuGo engine), and it said it needed Rosetta. I downloaded Rosetta and tried to install, but got nowhere and now I can’t even find the download. So back to the store for help—and getting help locally by talking to someone and showing them the computer: that’s nice. [Later: Problem solved itself as I waited.]

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 9:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Excellent Bob Herbert column

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Bob Herbert has a better platform in the NY Times than I do with Later On (hard truth, but I recognize it), and he is speaking out on the fall of the US democracy much as I am—and despite his fine platform, he also will be ignored, I believe. Once a country starts down the road to oligarchy and secret relationships between the wealthy and the government, even without delivering critical governmental functions to private industry, the government falls under the control of wealthy businessmen, and they will not let go. And, alas, our current crop of politicians seem only too eager to be purchased—many seem to have gone into politics to make money, and make it they do.

Bob Herbert:

As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.

While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.

So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.

The poor, who are suffering from an all-out depression, are never heard from. In terms of their clout, they might as well not exist. The Obama forces reportedly want to raise a billion dollars or more for the president’s re-election bid. Politicians in search of that kind of cash won’t be talking much about the wants and needs of the poor. They’ll be genuflecting before the very rich.

In an Op-Ed article in The Times at the end of January, Senator John Kerry said . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 8:39 am

Obama, the "liberal" Constitutional scholar: No sign of either

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This seems typical of Obama: extending the powers of the Executive regardless of the Constitution, and even attempting to keep secret his decisions: not open, not transparent, and (I think) not even legal. The US continues to move in a very bad direction. From McClatchy:

The Obama administration’s Justice Department has asserted that the FBI can obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process or court oversight, according to a document obtained by McClatchy.

That assertion was revealed — perhaps inadvertently — by the department in its response to a McClatchy request for a copy of a secret Justice Department memo.

Critics say the legal position is flawed and creates a potential loophole that could lead to a repeat of FBI abuses that were supposed to have been stopped in 2006.

The controversy over the telephone records is a legacy of the Bush administration’s war on terror. Critics say the Obama administration appears to be continuing many of the most controversial tactics of that strategy, including the assertion of sweeping executive powers.

For years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI sought and obtained thousands of telephone records for international calls in an attempt to thwart potential terrorists.

The bureau devised an informal system of requesting the records from three telecommunications firms to create what one agent called a "phone database on steroids" that included names, addresses, length of service and billing information.

A federal watchdog later said a "casual" environment developed in which FBI agents and employees of the telecom companies treated Americans’ telephone records so cavalierly that one senior FBI counter-terrorism official said getting access to them was as easy as "having an ATM in your living room."

In January 2010, McClatchy asked for a copy of the Office of Legal Counsel memo under open records laws after a reference to it appeared in a heavily excised section of a report on how the FBI abused its powers when seeking telephone records.

In the report, the Justice Department’s inspector general said "the OLC agreed with the FBI that under certain circumstances (word or words redacted) allows the FBI to ask for and obtain these records on a voluntary basis from the providers, without legal process or a qualifying emergency."

In its cover letter to McClatchy, however, the OLC disclosed more detail about its legal position, specifying a section of a 1978 federal wiretapping law that the Justice Department believes gives the FBI the authority. That section of the law appears to be what was redacted from the inspector general’s report and reveals the type of records the FBI would be seeking, experts said.

"This is the answer to a mystery that has puzzled us for more than a year now," said Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney and expert on electronic surveillance and national security laws for the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"Now, 30 years later, the FBI has looked at this provision again and decided that it is an enormous loophole that allows them to ask for, and the phone companies to hand over, records related to international or foreign communications," he said. "Apparently, they’ve decided that this provision means that your international communications are a privacy-free zone and that they can get records of those communications without any legal process."

That interpretation could be stretched to apply to e-mails as well, he said.

However, Bankston said, even if the law allows the FBI to ask for the records — an assertion he disagrees with — it would prohibit the telecommunication companies from handing them over. [And, as we know, Obama the candidate voted while he was a Senator in favor of giving telecomms blanket immunity for breaking the law—a vote he cast even though he had promised to vote against immunity. From that moment on, I have given Obama all the trust he deserves: zero. – LG]

Meanwhile, the refusal to provide to McClatchy a copy of the memo is noteworthy because the Obama administration — in particular the OLC — has sought to portray itself as more open than the Bush administration. The decision not to release the memo means the details of the Justice Department’s legal arguments in support of the FBI’s controversial and discredited efforts to obtain telephone records will be kept from the public.

The FBI and Justice Department have refused to comment on the matter. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 6:49 am

Change in process

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Formerly I began each day with the shaving post. As my mornings become more crowded and I am up longer before showering and shaving, that habit must fall. I now arise, check email, start breakfast (which I let simmer at low heat for 45 minutes), write letters, and do 30 minutes on the Nordic Track before I shower and shave. That’s a long time. (I don’t have to get to work in the mornings, and my schedule obviously reflects that.)

So now I will blog at whatever time, and the first post of the day will likely be well before the shaving post.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2011 at 6:43 am

Posted in Daily life

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