Later On

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

Archive for March 2011

Sarah Palin’s capacity to astonish knows no bounds

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Just read this one.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2011 at 3:33 pm

Posted in GOP

Personal finance education in schools

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Not very good, it seems. Trent Hamm has an interesting post at The Simple Dollar:

When I was in high school, I took a consumer education proficiency test and passed it with flying colors, demonstrating that I had the knowledge needed to manage my own money and be a savvy shopper. Within ten years, I was buried in debt.

This isn’t an experience that’s unique to me. On The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page (feel free to become a fan), I recently asked “Did you take a personal finance or consumer ed class in school? Was it useful to you? Did it keep you from making financial mistakes later on?”

Quite a few people publicly stated the uselessness of their personal finance education, while still others emailed me or sent me direct messages about it. A sampling of the comments:

Ryan B.: “i had to take consumers ed with drivers ed and […] no….i had to learn from mistakes…”
Kelly K.: “My consumer ed class in high school was a waste of time.”
Charlie R.: “Yes, I did, and no, it didn’t.”
Baley W.: “Senior year in high school we took FPU. I remembered the principles, but I still got into debt. I don’t think it helped one bit, even though I’d like to think so.”
Shiela F.: “In high school & college along with accounting classes and no, it did not help. ”
Annie J.: “We had a small personal finance chapter in Home Ec./Family Relations class and no, it wasn’t helpful.”

Even some who got value from their classes saw that it didn’t impact their peers. Amanda H. stated: “I took a college personal finance course at the behest of my father. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave me a whole new awareness on things like investing and how interest works. And how important it is to get started young. Which I think was rare and put me miles ahead of my college-age peers.”

Many others didn’t recall any sort of education, which either means there literally wasn’t a class or the class had so little impact on them that they did not recall it at a later date.

Simply put, personal finance education as it currently exists is not reaching people when they need it. Quite often, they learn about it later on through their own difficult experiences.

In fact, I think “experience” is the key word here.

Consumer education and personal finance education is often lumped in with many other classes at the high school level. They’re taught in a classroom environment with minimal examples that actually impact the lives of students in any way. Sometimes it’s a class all its own, but other times it’s just a small piece of another class and at yet other times it’s not dealt with at all.

Just like any other ordinary class, one or two will “click,” a handful of others will approach it like any other academic subject and succeed on the surface without deeply understanding it, and many others will let the info go in one ear and out the other, retaining as little as possible.

Simply put, treating personal finance as just another thing that students need to be “educated” in doesn’t really work.

How can we possibly make personal finance education relevant (beyond the simple step of making sure that it’s at least presented)? Over the past few years, I’ve been collecting ideas from the mountains of personal finance books I’ve read, and I’ve got some suggestions for how to turn personal finance education into something much more valuable than the experiences described above.

First, homework (and classwork) should focus on . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2011 at 1:18 pm

How our current Supreme Court views “justice”

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I think their view of justice can best be summarized as “Might makes right.” Ed Brayton reports:

In an appalling 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed and even strengthened prosecutorial immunity, extending it from personal immunity to a stronger form of agency immunity as well. The case is Connick v Thompson, where Connick is the former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick, Sr. (yes, father of the crooner) and Thompson is John Thompson, a man falsely convicted of murder because Connick’s office hid a report that ultimately exonerated him.

The prosecutors admit to that, by the way. There is no controversy over whether they violated the law and their ethical obligations and railroaded an innocent man, who was only weeks away from being executed for that crime he did not commit when the report that proved his innocence was discovered and used to overturn his conviction. The prosecutors admit withholding the evidence.

Thompson then filed suit against the DA’s office, showing that Connick had failed to provide training for his prosecutors on the illegalities of withholding evidence. A jury found the office liable for that negligence and awarded Thompson $14 million in damages for the 14 years of his life spent behind bars and facing the death penalty. The appeals court affirmed that verdict. And the Supreme Court has now overturned it. The reason?

A district attorney’s office may not be held liable under §1983 for failure to train its prosecutors based on a single Brady violation.

It was only one guy!

Plaintiffs seeking to impose §1983 liability on local governments must prove that their injury was caused by “action pursuant to official municipal policy,” which includes the decisions of a government’s lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law. A local government’s decision not to train certain employees about their legal duty to avoid violating citizens’ rights may rise to the level of an official government policy for §1983 purposes, but the failure to train must amount to “deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the [untrained employees] come into contact.” Deliberate indifference in this context requires proof that city policymakers disregarded the “known or obvious consequence” that a particular omission in their training program would cause city employees to violate citizens’ constitutional rights.

Okay, so it has to be an official policy. And it can only be an official policy if they knew that the obvious consequence of their actions would be to violate the rights of citizens. So is the argument here that the prosecutors didn’t know that withholding evidence of Thompson’s innocence would violate his rights? The whole point of doing so was to lock him up and eventually put him to death, for crying out loud.

The 5-4 ruling was predictable — Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Kennedy in the majority, the court’s four liberals in dissent. You can read the full ruling here.

Remember when Clarence Thomas, during his confirmation hearings, talked about those buses full of convicts that he saw go by his office in DC and how, because of his background as a poor young black man, he would show more compassion to their situation because, but for the grace of God, there went he? Neither does he.

His message to John Thompson: Sure, the government ruined your life and violated your rights. Tough. You’ll get nothing. And like it.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2011 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Government, Law

5 tips for beginning organic farmers/gardeners

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Teresa Ponikvar offers these tips:

After years of dreaming about having an organic farm—or at least a huge garden—I finally have some land to plant, and feel daunted by all that empty space.

When it occurred to me that a disproportionate number of my friends and acquaintances are organic farmers, I decided to round them up and ask for advice. Here’s what they told me:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you know where you’ll be farming, contact other farmers in the area. Offer to pitch in on their farms, or at least invite them for a cup of coffee: they’ll likely be able to pass along invaluable tips on climate, soil conditions, crop varieties, and more.

Staci Short grows vegetables for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) on Gull Harbor Farm in Olympia,Washington. Though she’d farmed for years in other places, Staci says, “I wish I’d worked at a farm in this very different growing environment (it’s much wetter here in Washington than in Montana!) before jumping head first into my own operation and learning so many lessons the hard way.”

2. Leave your ego at the door.

You’ve picked all the local farmers’ brains, and you’ve read all the books—but it will still take time to become a master farmer. Farming has an unusually long learning curve.

Mike Nolan, who grows winter storage vegetables at Fort Lewis College Field Station in Hesperus, Colorado, points out, “Unlike other professions, farmers can usually only do anything once in a given season. Say you’ve been farming for twenty years, you’ve only done it twenty times.” And that’s barring the occasional drought, or record rainy season, or grasshopper plague, that you might deal with only once in a decade, or a lifetime.

So hang onto your patience and humility, and get ready to be a permanent beginner.

3. Start now. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2011 at 9:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Editors not always the answer

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Usually, but not always. Julie Schwietert points out some common errors:

A few weeks back, I was reading the latest issue of Oxford American, which excerpted this badass letter writer Eudora Welty sent to the editors of The New Yorker.

Welty wanted a job at The New Yorker and she didn’t seem the least bit reluctant to pull out all the stops to get the editors’ attention.

There aren’t a whole lot of writers–then or now–who could pull off that type of letter, much less use it to develop a long and satisfying personal and professional relationship with an editor.

If you’re as much of a self-possessed badass as Welty, then you won’t need these tips. But if you’re confused by some of the dynamics of the writer-editor relationship (especially those dynamics characterized by the editor dropping the ball), then this one’s for you.

1. They don’t respond to your pitch or query.

How to respond

Don’t take an editor’s lack of response personally, and don’t take it as an indication that your idea has been rejected. Email gets stuck in spam folders. Messages read quickly don’t get revisited and fall to the bottom of the inbox. A busy editor is vaguely–or even very– interested in your query, but gets distracted by events and pitches that are more timely.

Follow up with a polite email asking the editor if he/she had a chance to read your query. Include the date you sent the original message and paste in the query again so the editor doesn’t have to look for it. Don’t do any of this, though, until you’ve given the editor sufficient time to reply to your original message. Most publications specify typical response times in their contributor guidelines; when they don’t, anywhere from four to eight weeks is a standard time frame.

2. They make decisions based on emotions or without sufficient facts.

How to respond

Accept that editors make decisions based on a variety of subjective factors, many of which have nothing at all to do with you. Rather than fight this fact, the best way to handle this situation is usually to just move on. If an editorial relationship is contentious from the beginning, it’s not likely to improve.

3. They change words in your story- or even reshape it entirely.

How to respond . . .


Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2011 at 9:29 am

Posted in Writing

A beginner’s guide to steampunk scifi

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Interesting introduction by Scott Laming—and includes a list of titles with second editions readily available:

We have a confession. Here at AbeBooks, we know very little about steampunk even though it has been widely acclaimed as an inventive and original genre of fiction. Steampunk appears to be speculative fiction with a lot of dirigibles, old fashioned flight goggles and corsets thrown in for good measure.

All that Victorian clothing and steam-powered robots suggests science fiction with a dash of fantasy. I decided to investigate.

The creation of the ‘steampunk’ term is usually attributed to the science fiction author K.W. Jeter, who used it in a letter to Locus Magazine. He was trying to find a way to describe Victorian fantasy novels like those written by himself (Morlock Night and Infernal Devices), Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates) and James Blaylock (Homunculus).

He believed more people would be interested in this kind of writing if only there was a general term that described it as a genre. “Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steampunks,’” Jeter wrote. The label stuck and those early works helped define the genre.

It’s still inadequate to explain away this genre as ‘Victorian Fantasy.’ The most common steampunk theme is to show a world where humanity, usually set in the Victorian era, has adopted a line of technology from the future.

A good example would be . . .

Continue reading. That last sentence: Why the subjunctive? Why is the example he offered not a good example (but “would be” only if… what?)?

Send in the editors.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2011 at 9:22 am

Posted in Books, Science fiction

Replicating yesterday’s shave, only with soap

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Same shaving implements as yesterday, and again Geo. F. Trumper Coconut Oil, but today his shaving soap rather than his shaving cream. Today’s shave is at least equally good, if not better. I find that I prefer shaving soap to shaving cream, though certainly shaving cream has many fans.

Three passes, smooth face, and a nice splash of Paul Sebastian aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2011 at 9:18 am

Posted in Shaving

Aha! GOPM and weight loss

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I just had an insight: the past weeks of stubborn refusal to lose weight are—I bet—because of the GOPM/IFC meals. I’m careful to measure starch and protein and fat, but I’ve just piled on the vegetables. They are low-calorie, sure, but I’ve been eating a LOT of them.

So I think the GOPM meal is great for maintenance, but I’m still trying to get to target. So I’m cooking smaller meals in a different way until I get to goal.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Food, GOPM

Medical marijuana going mainstream

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Interesting article in McClatchy by Tony Pugh:

The medical marijuana industry is beginning to show its age.After humble California beginnings in 1996, 15 states and the District of Columbia now have legalized marijuana use for ill patients who have a doctor’s recommendation.

Medical marijuana has been found to help with chronic pain, nausea and other symptoms of diseases including cancer, muscular dystrophy and AIDS. Nearly 25 million Americans are medically eligible to buy marijuana.

Sales are expected to hit $1.7 billion this year. Just last week, a San Francisco-based outfit, the ArcView Group, formed the industry’s first investment network to link cannabis entrepreneurs to qualified investors with “seed” money.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this industry is growing and that there are untold riches to be made here,” said Troy Dayton, the chief executive of the ArcView Group.

In coming months, Arizona, New Jersey, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia will launch programs, joining eight states where medical marijuana is sold legally. Those states are California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico.

But around the country, some law enforcement officials have expressed concern that medical marijuana could be obtained by relatively healthy people who could get a recommendation from a physician by lying or overstating their pain and suffering. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 8:19 pm

Browning not required

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My niece and I were discussing the Indoor Firepit Cooking meals (aka GOPM), and she said that the thing she didn’t like is that the meat was not browned. I suggested then that she try the method with fish. But then I happened across this article in the NY Times by John Willoughby:

LORD knows I’ve written the words often enough myself: “Brown meat over high heat, in batches if necessary, until well seared on all sides.” But I have to admit that whenever I see this instruction at the beginning of a braise or stew, my first reaction is to turn the page.

It’s kind of a problem.

The reason for browning is clear. When you introduce meat to high heat, the proteins and carbohydrates interact, in a process called the Maillard reaction, to produce literally hundreds of new, distinct flavor compounds. When you then add liquid to the pot, these tasty compounds are diffused throughout the dish.

Though cooks might not all know the science, they know the result: a dish with richer, deeper flavor.

And yet … cooks also know there will be splattering grease and at least 15 minutes of hassle. Sometimes you’re just not up for it.

Recently I began to wonder whether it would really be that terrible to just skip this “essential” first step. It’s culinary heresy, I know, but aren’t there other ways to add deep flavor to the pot? Surely in the great sweep of the world’s cuisines there must be other options.

As this apostasy took hold, instances began coming to mind.

Traveling in Morocco 30-some years ago, I had eaten tagines — stews distinguished by being cooked in the pot of the same name — that I did not recall as involving any browning. Or did they?

To sort this out, I went to the source: Paula Wolfert, the woman who almost singlehandedly introduced Americans to the cooking of Morocco.

She agreed that in times past, tagines often started out with no browning.

“Forty years ago, when I lived in the north of Morocco, the lamb was ever so lightly browned or not at all at the beginning of the braise,” she said. “This method was described as ‘starting the tagine cold.’ And it was magical.”

The technique, Ms. Wolfert said, involved heating the lamb gently along with spices and other aromatics, allowing the flavors to fully penetrate the meat. At that point it was covered and cooked until tender…

Continue reading. He includes some no-browning-required recipes:

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 4:28 pm

Sounds like an interesting biography

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Lee Krasner: A Biography
by Gail Levin

A review by Jonathan Lopez

Shortly before World War I, Marie-Hortense Cezanne, widow of the painter Paul, spent a weekend in Monaco as the guest of an art dealer. He granted her unlimited credit at the casino, and after losing at the gaming tables, she had to cede him a cache of her husband’s best watercolors to settle accounts. The heirs of a great artist must learn to swim with sharks.

Not such easy prey, however, was Jackson Pollock’s widow, the tough-minded painter Lee Krasner. Aware that Pollock’s legacy was potentially worth millions, she patiently cultivated the market for his work, sold nothing on the cheap and flatly rebuffed the art-world grandees who hoped to profit by “advising” the estate. Krasner even conducted business for a time through London dealers, cutting New York’s culture vultures completely out of the picture. In 1967, the critic Harold Rosenberg noted that Krasner “almost single-handedly forced up prices for contemporary American abstract art after the death of her husband.”

Money was important to Krasner, but so was the judgment of posterity. She carefully steered Pollock’s best paintings to major public collections, where they could be seen by a wide audience; lent work freely to overseas exhibitions to advance his international reputation; and encouraged serious, wide-ranging scholarship. Although Pollock may not have been easy to live with — he had been killed in an auto accident in 1956, driving drunk with his mistress near East Hampton, New York — Krasner truly loved him, and her faithful tending of the flame was, in large part, a tribute to that sincere and lasting affection. She ensured that the man once mocked as “Jack the Dripper” had an eminent place in art history.

Yet as Baruch College professor Gail Levin shows in the first full-length biography of Krasner, there was a world of spite behind Rosenberg’s “single-handedly” comment. Critics like Rosenberg and his archrival Clement Greenberg tended to dismiss women artists, and with their interest in Pollock thwarted by the widow, they made it difficult for her to gain recognition as an artist in her own right. “People treated me as Pollock’s wife, not as a painter,” she said in a 1981 interview. “Someone like Greenberg, because I didn’t hand over to him the Pollock estate, did his job well to make sure I didn’t come through as a painter. He had power.” Although Greenberg was closely acquainted with Krasner for decades — he met Pollock through her — he never wrote a word in support of her art.

Ms. Levin’s perceptive, judicious book reveals Krasner as a fine, important painter but steers clear of inflated praise. The formal richness of Krasner’s work may never have approached that of Abstract Expressionism’s greatest practitioners — Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning. But she more than holds her own in the movement’s second tier with such artists as Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still and Robert Motherwell.

Unlike Newman, with his vertical “zips” of brightly colored paint, Krasner never had a signature image, repeated year after year. Her approach, like that of the European Modernists she revered, was unceasingly experimental and analytic, although the object of her investigations was art itself rather than nature. Her finest works, like “Celebration” (1960) and “Uncial” (1967), combine the all-over compositional structures of Pollock with the formal rhythms of Picasso and the subtle color harmonies of Matisse. They are technically accomplished and emotionally powerful; redolent of tradition, yet distinctly innovative.

Krasner also laid down the gauntlet to art historians, referring to her mostly nonrepresentational body of work as “autobiographical if anyone can take the trouble to read it.” Ms. Levin takes up this daunting interpretive challenge with great subtlety and skill, relating the nuances of Krasner’s artistic and personal development to the larger narratives of art history and societal change.

Setting Krasner’s student years against the background of the Roaring ’20s, Ms. Levin lets us see the young artist’s career choice in the context of independent-minded “flappers,” who challenged many established ideas about the proper role of women. A serious, somewhat shy child from a Jewish-immigrant household in Brooklyn, Krasner threw herself into the whirl of New York’s downtown art scene. Waitressing and modeling to earn her keep, she engaged in a passionate affair with one of her fellow students at the National Academy of Design, the dashing Russian aristocrat Igor Pantuhoff, who later became a successful society portraitist.

Krasner showed promise as a painter of the human form. A fine self-portrait from 1928 depicts her working at her easel, confidently stepping into the role of the professional artist. But traditional portraiture interested Krasner far less than the groundbreaking exhibitions she saw at the newly opened Museum of Modern Art. Soon enough, she was irritating her instructors by introducing elements of Cezanne or Picasso into increasingly avant-garde pictures.

Depression-era relief programs funded by the Works Progress Administration allowed Krasner to devote herself full-time to painting — partly by working on the decoration of public buildings. From that point forward, she immersed herself in the emerging trends of the New York School of abstract art, whose development was enhanced by the presence of an ever-growing number of European artists on the run from Hitler. One of the most amusing scenes in the book involves a star-struck Krasner going out dancing with Piet Mondrian, the Dutch master of geometric abstraction, whose famed painting “Broadway Boogie Woogie” was inspired by a genuine affection for cutting a rug.

Ms. Levin is a singularly able guide to Krasner’s life: As a young art historian in the late 1970s, she came to know the artist personally while co-curating a major show at the Whitney Museum of American Art on the origins of Abstract Expressionism — the first to make clear that Krasner had been working in an abstract mode long before meeting Pollock. The Krasner-Levin friendship lasted until the artist’s death in 1984, and an ardent sense of loyalty and admiration shines through in the book. Ms. Levin forcefully takes Krasner’s side against all detractors. In certain passages involving Robert Motherwell, who loathed Krasner, one senses that Ms. Levin might gladly exhume his body and do violence to his bones.

Rejecting the ideological cant that mars so much writing on modern art, Ms. Levin strives to sweep away “distorting agendas and theoretical fantasies.” Occasionally this corrective impulse prompts her to rehash her own grievances by quoting from sources that diminish the standing of rivals or that sing her own praises. We learn, for instance, that art historian Ellen Landau had a fraught relationship with Krasner and once asked the artist to “stop holding Gail Levin up to me.” Ms. Levin then mocks Ms. Landau for thinking “my work on Krasner was insignificant” and quotes a letter from Krasner describing Ms. Landau as “arrogant.” There are further self-referential digressions in the book’s later chapters, a petty trend that intrudes on the story of Krasner’s life.

But Ms. Levin still tells that central story quite well. Overall, this is an insightful, sharply drawn portrait of 20th-century America from the vantage point of a creative woman swept up in a realm of remarkable artistic productivity.

Mr. Lopez is editor-at-large of Art and Antiques.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Art, Books

Doing the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce

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The Supreme Court needs some serious reform. I like the idea of staggered 20-year terms in lieu of the life appointments now granted to Justices. From The Center for American Progress in an email:

Ever since Chief Justice Roberts joined the Supreme Court, corporate America has treated his Court as its personal genie, and Roberts has been eager to  grant even many of their most outlandish wishes. As soon as Roberts and his fellow conservative Justice Alito joined the high Court, the Chamber of Commerce’s win rate before the justices spiked eight percentage points above its already very high levels under his conservative predecessor William Rehnquist.

Nor is Roberts alone in his willingness to go the extra mile for wealthy corporations. A recent study found that every single justice is more likely to side with the Chamber than the justice who held the seat 25 years ago. As one of the Chamber’s top Supreme Court litigators bragged, “except for the solicitor general representing the United States,  no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center.” This week, corporate America made three especially large wishes to the justices, and the Court’s conservatives once again appear eager to grant them.

ELECTIONS FOR SALE: The best way for big business to push its agenda is to ensure that elected officials throughout the country owe wealthy corporations their jobs — and the Supreme Court took a big step towards making this vision a reality with its infamous  Citizens United decision. In the wake of Citizens United, the Chamber pledged to spend a massive $75 million to elect corporate-aligned conservatives, and the Chamber’s right-wing allies kicked in hundreds of millions of dollars more.

Yet Citizens United is merely one part of a much larger campaign to cement big money’s control over American elections. On Monday, the justices moved on to the next stage of this effort. Public financing laws provide one of the strongest defenses against the corrupting influence of big money in politics, but public financing schemes only work if they allow candidates who opt into them to remain competitive. To defend against this problem, Arizona developed a two-tiered public financing system. Candidates receive additional funds if their opponent or corporate interest groups overwhelm them with attack ads, and thus candidates who are determined not to be tainted by the corrupting influence of major donors are not left defenseless . Yet, in a case called McComish v. Bennett, the Court’s five conservatives appear poised to strike down this two-tiered system. If they do, it could be the death knell for public financing, since no candidate is safe from massive infusions of corporate money after Citizens United.

SLAMMING COURTHOUSE DOORS: Many of the Court’s most corporate-friendly decisions create complicated and arcane procedural barriers to Americans seeking justice. The Court’s discredited Ledbetter decision didn’t literally take away women’s right to equal work for equal pay. It just created a procedural rule that made it impossible for women to vindicate their rights if they didn’t learn that they were paid less than their male colleagues until a short time after the discrimination began.

In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court will decide whether to shut off another opportunity for women in the workplace to seek relief — class actions. Class action lawsuits are brought by groups of plaintiffs who share a common injury with each other. These suits are essential to allow ordinary Americans, who often lack the resources to hire lawyers capable of taking on a major corporation on their own, to pool their resources in order to hire counsel that are capable of facing off against someone like Wal-Mart. There is substantial evidence that women who work for Wal-Mart stores shared the same experience of  systematic pay and promotion discrimination and thus should be able to bring a class action. If the Supreme Court denies them this right — which it seems likely to do — many of them will be left powerless before Wal-Mart’s legal team.

IMMUNITY TO THE LAW: Procedural victories are all well and good, but there’s nothing corporate America loves more than actual immunity from the law. Past Supreme Court decisions gave sweeping legal immunity to medical device manufacturers and health insurers, and even gave the thumbs up to a biased system of corporate-owned courts that overwhelmingly rule against consumers and employees.

In a case called PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, the justices will now decide whether to give sweeping im munity to the makers of generic prescription drugs. If the Court sides with the drug makers in this case, two women could be left with no recourse after a prescription drug caused them to develop a  horrific neurological disorder resulting in “grotesque involuntary movements of the mouth, tongue, lips, and extremities, involuntary chewing movements, and a general sense of agitation.” And thousands of other Americans could be left similarly defenseless against the powerful pharmaceutical industry.

Here is a good example of the headlong pursuit of short-term gains while ignoring the obvious long-term disaster that will result from continuing in that direction.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Coconut carrot soup

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Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Grover Norquist has excellent idea

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He’s a smart guy, and he’s certainly right about this, reported here by Ed Brayton:

Conservative anti-tax legend Grover Norquist is swimming against the tide of conservative opinion in advocating for the kind of dramatic overhaul of America’s criminal justice system that I’ve thought necessary for a long time.

Conservative icon Grover Norquist is in Tallahassee pitching the national “Smart on Crime” agenda, a prison reform movement that’s got the support of other “center right” politicos including Newt Gingrich and William Bennett.Hosted by business-backed Florida TaxWatch, Norquist spoke for more than half an hour at the tony Governor’s Club to a crowd of lobbyists, criminal justice providers and policy makers.

TaxWatch is pushing the reform agenda aimed at cutting back on prison spending.

And boy, do we need that! The cost of locking people up is one of the primary causes (as opposed to public unions, the favored fake cause of most conservatives) of the budget crisis going on in most states. But the Smart on Crime agenda goes way beyond just reducing costs; it is a wholesale restructuring of the criminal justice system to make it more equitable and just for all involved.

It includes the kind of forensic science reforms that Balko has been advocating for years. It includes grand jury reform and mandatory sentence reform, asset forfeiture reform and much more. And it isn’t all about saving money; it calls for more spending on critical issues like DNA testing (advocating total availability and testing of DNA, something opposed by both the Bush and Obama administrations), including compensation for those wrongly convicted.

It also advocates spending a lot more money on indigent defense with the goal of “creating parity between defense and prosecution resources.” That section also calls for objective standards for the quality of public defenders and for limits on how many cases they can handle, which will require a serious increase in spending to fix.

The agenda also calls for serious reform of the death penalty, falling just short of calling for outlawing it completely. It calls for a stay on all executions “pending a thorough data collection and analysis of racial disparities, the adequacy of legal representation, and other inequities in the death penalty system” and for the passage of a law allowing habeas corpus challenges in federal court for all state defendants in death penalty cases.

This is a very important set of reforms, similar to those being advocated by Sen. James Webb (and being ignored by the leadership of both parties), and the fact that a prominent conservative is pushing for them could end up being key to getting a fair hearing for those reforms.

It also should remind us of two tendencies that can often lead to error. Too often we apply a political label to someone — conservative, liberal, libertarian, etc. — and presume that they must therefore believe every other thing we put under that label. And too often we presume that if we think someone is wrong about one issue, they must be wrong about every issue. It’s all part of that sports fan politics that I mention frequently.

But sometimes — many times — people surprise us and hold opinions on some issues that defy our labels and our presumptions. And we should be open to that. And we should recognize that being right or wrong on one issue doesn’t necessarily mean that one is right or wrong on every issue.

I very much like being surprised by that, as I was when I found out Norquist is an advocate of the kind of reforms in criminal justice usually advocated by liberals and libertarians, because it shows that they’re not thinking in purely tribal terms, that there is some independence to them. And that is always a good thing.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Government, Law, Politics

Two-day plateau buster

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I’ve been bouncing around between 185 and 189 for weeks. So today I pulled out the two-day plateau buster. I think part of the problem is that I have slacked up a bit on the Nordic Track, so for the past two days I’ve done 25 minutes each day, and starting tomorrow I’ll go for 30. This plateau will not defeat me.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 11:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Food

Plisson, Trumper Coconut, and Floïd

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Here you see the basics for a good shave. The Trumper’s Coconut Oil Shaving Cream created a fine lather with the Plisson Chinese Grey from Paris, and the Futur with a still newish Swedish Gillette blade provided a close, smooth, efficient shave. A splash of Floïd, and I’m ready for a fine Tuesday.


Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2011 at 11:27 am

Posted in Shaving

Is this how we got into this fix?

with 4 comments

By “this fix,” I’m referring to the current cultural values and structures of the world: we’re clearly careering toward climate catastrophe, just for starters, never mind Peak Oil (may be self-correcting over the very long term, but rather hard on humanity and its coevals). At any rate, the issue came up in the comments threaded to this post, and I wrote there:

Where it started down the road to unsustainability—a one-way street once you enter it, given how one thing leads to another—may have been the invention of agriculture and the resulting class system, or the invention of money, or whatever: cultural evolution has steered us off the cliff, a path we apparently have freely chosen.And how can people so regularly make short-term choices with obvious disastrous long-term consequences? The reason, I think, is that people self-circumscribe their thinking to consider only the short term. And the reason for this is that, once people look at the long term and think of how (ideally) they would like to see it—what losses to curb, what innovations to encourage, and the like—they must inevitably face the fact that this “ideal” future is lacking in one important aspect: they won’t be there for they must one day die.

The evolved survival instinct is both strong and basic: there’s no escaping that instinct, and the pressure to live inevitably must produce a resistance to death-related issues, up to and including death itself: absolutely certain, terrible to contemplate.

So, utilizing a psychological mechanism well-described in Daniel Goleman’s excellent Vital Lies, Simple Truths, the result is a huge blind spot on one’s own death, and that blind spot makes it hard to view the future… so people look only at the short-term, to the extent possible. We have great difficulty, at the genetic level, to consider the future in any detail: we focus on the short term to resolve that problem.

And, of course, short-term thinking is also evolutionarily reinforced: those animals that best take care of short-term needs (like getting enough to eat, avoiding danger, and getting laid) pass along that focus on the short term.

So, stymied both ways (forced to be strong on short term, and forced as well to avoid looking at long term), we (as a species) are rapidly blundering our way—ever more efficiently—to our own deaths.

Steve explained why and the discussion continues. Interesting, at least to me.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2011 at 1:40 pm

Posted in Daily life

Perfect tech support—so why isn’t the customer happier?

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This is a must-read, particularly by The Wife, who once worked in tech support.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2011 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Giving up snark

with 16 comments

Maybe snark is as bad for a person as is junk food—snark does seem to be “junk emotion.” Here’s an article by a woman who foreswore snark and found herself feeling much better, much as if she had stopped eating junk food:

Last week, if you’d asked me what I thought of Gadhafi, I’d have said something like, “I appreciate his whimsical taste in uniforms.” That’s because I’d vowed for one month to live up to the gold standard we all internalized to some degree as children: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

It started when my husband, baby and I drove away from a visit with my aunt, who has Stage 4 breast cancer. I thought back on the 30-some years I’ve known her. I have never once in all that time heard her say anything unkind. Not even in the subtext of her words. That’s one hell — or, in this case, heaven — of a legacy.

While I’m not known for being unkind, I’m not above the occasional barbed joke. Looking at my dad’s “Refudiate Obama” bumper sticker a while back, I remarked to my right-wing brother, “That’s a pretty big word.” Sure, it’s a mild quip, but it feeds into a current of savage speech that underlies much of our public discourse. Personal invectives dominate everything from political commentary to You Tube comments. Snark, it seems, is something to which people aspire.

I began to wonder, how would holding my tongue — or at least changing what came off it — alter my relationships? Would I be forced into becoming a pushover or would I find more direct ways to deal with disagreement? Would I be less interesting? Would I still feel like myself, even? And in a bigger, moral way: Is it actually better?

There was one way to find out. I began my month-long campaign of kind with the following rules: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2011 at 11:32 am

Beneath contempt

with 3 comments

GOP politicians seem to be in a race to the bottom, jostling each other in their efforts to be the most mean-spirited, dishonest, and venal and thus achieve “leadership” in their party. The NY Times has an editorial on one odorous example:

As Republican governors vie to become the most anti-union executive in the land, Gov. Paul LePage of Maine has stooped to behavior worthy of the pharaohs’ chiseling historic truth from Egyptian monuments. Mr. LePage has ordered that a 36-foot-wide mural depicting workers’ history in Maine be removed from the lobby of the state’s Labor Department.

The reason? His office cited some complaints from offended business leaders and an anonymous fax declaring that the mural smacked of official brainwashing by North Korea’s dictator.

This is what’s passing for democratic governance in a state with a noble workers’ history. The mural honors such groups as the state’s shoemakers and the women riveters who kept the ironworks going in World War II. Key workplace moments depicted include a paper mill strike against harsh working conditions and a tribute to pioneer lumberjacks.

All too “one-sided,” decreed the governor, who also ordered that the agency’s seven meeting rooms no longer be named after figures from workers’ history. The nation’s first woman cabinet member — Labor Secretary Frances Perkins — is buried in her beloved Maine, but her room name won’t survive. Nor will state residents be reminded of William Looney, a 19th-century Republican legislator who fought for state child labor reforms.

Mr. LePage’s acting labor commissioner suggests replacing the mural with neutral paint and naming the conference rooms after Maine mountains.

To be fair, Mr. LePage does retain a sense of workplace opportunity. After his election last November, he named Lauren, his 22-year-old, fresh-from-college daughter, to what was termed an entry-level job as assistant to the governor’s chief of staff.

At $41,000 a year, the post offers $10,000 more than the pay for workers who pass the teacher and police tests. That’s on top of Ms. LePage’s free room and board at the governor’s mansion.

Thanks to TYD for pointing it out.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2011 at 10:50 am

Posted in GOP, Government

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