Later On

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

Archive for August 15th, 2011

Warren Buffett: Very convincing

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You probably have already seen Buffett’s op-ed in today’s NY Times, the one that begins:

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2011 at 5:54 pm

Cilantro haters: It’s not your fault

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The Wife and I love cilantro, but to The Eldest it tastes like soap—a common complaint from those who don’t like the taste of soap. From an article by Harold McGee in the NY Times:

. . . Some people may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro, according to often-cited studies by Charles J. Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. But cilantrophobe genetics remain little known and aren’t under systematic investigation. Meanwhile, history, chemistry, and neurology have been adding some valuable pieces to the puzzle.

The coriander plant is native to the eastern Mediterranean, and European cooks used both seeds and leaves well into medieval times.

Helen Leach, an anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has traced unflattering remarks about cilantro flavor and the bug etymology — not endorsed by modern dictionaries — back to English garden books and French farming books from around 1600, when medieval dishes had fallen out of fashion. She suggests that cilantro was disparaged as part of a general effort to define the new European table against the flavors of the old.

Modern cilantrophobes tend to describe the offending flavor as soapy rather than buggy. I don’t hate cilantro, but it does sometimes remind me of hand lotion. Each of these associations turns out to make good chemical sense.

Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects.

Soaps are made by fragmenting fat molecules with strongly alkaline lye or its equivalent, and aldehydes are a byproduct of this process, as they are when oxygen in the air attacks the fats and oils in cosmetics. And many bugs make strong-smelling, aldehyde-rich body fluids to attract or repel other creatures.

The published studies of cilantro aroma describe individual aldehydes as having both cilantrolike and soapy qualities. Several flavor chemists told me in e-mail messages that they smell a soapy note in the whole herb as well, but still find its aroma fresh and pleasant.

So the cilantro aldehydes are olfactory Jekyll-and-Hydes. Why is it only the evil, soapy side that shows up for cilantrophobes, and not the charming one?

I posed this question to Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University who studies how the brain perceives smells.

Dr. Gottfried turned out to be a former cilantrophobe who could speak from personal experience. He said that the great cilantro split probably reflects the primal importance of smell and taste to survival, and the brain’s constant updating of its database of experiences.

The senses of smell and taste evolved to evoke strong emotions, he explained, because they were critical to finding food and mates and avoiding poisons and predators. When we taste a food, the brain searches its memory to find a pattern from past experience that the flavor belongs to. Then it uses that pattern to create a perception of flavor, including an evaluation of its desirability.

If the flavor doesn’t fit a familiar food experience, and instead fits into a pattern that involves chemical cleaning agents and dirt, or crawly insects, then the brain highlights the mismatch and the potential threat to our safety. We react strongly and throw the offending ingredient on the floor where it belongs.

“When your brain detects a potential threat, it narrows your attention,” Dr. Gottfried told me in a telephone conversation. “You don’t need to know that a dangerous food has a hint of asparagus and sorrel to it. You just get it away from your mouth.”

But he explained that every new experience causes the brain to update and enlarge its set of patterns, and this can lead to a shift in how we perceive a food.

“I didn’t like cilantro to begin with,” he said. “But I love food, and I ate all kinds of things, and I kept encountering it. My brain must have developed new patterns for cilantro flavor from those experiences, which included pleasure from the other flavors and the sharing with friends and family. That’s how people in cilantro-eating countries experience it every day.”

“So I began to like cilantro,” he said. “It can still remind me of soap, but it’s not threatening anymore, so that association fades into the background, and I enjoy its other qualities. On the other hand, if I ate cilantro once and never willingly let it pass my lips again, there wouldn’t have been a chance to reshape that perception.”

Cilantro itself can be reshaped to make it easier to take. A Japanese study published in January suggested that crushing the leaves will give leaf enzymes the chance to gradually convert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma.

Sure enough, I’ve found cilantro pestos to be lotion-free and surprisingly mild. They actually have deeper roots in the Mediterranean than the basil version, and can be delicious on pasta and breads and meats. If you’re looking to work on your cilantro patterns, pesto might be the place to start.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2011 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

Catholic church continues pedophile protection program, even after promises to contrary

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I think the Catholic church, as an organization and institution, has indeed lost its way. Laurie Goodstein has this report in the NY Times:

In the annals of the sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, most of the cases that have come to light happened years before to children and teenagers who have long since grown into adults.

But a painfully fresh case is devastating Catholics in Kansas City, Mo., where a priest, who was arrested in May, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of taking indecent photographs of young girls, most recently during an Easter egg hunt just four months ago.

Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has acknowledged that he knew of the existence of photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.

A civil lawsuit filed last week claims that during those five months, the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, attended children’s birthday parties, spent weekends in the homes of parish families, hosted the Easter egg hunt and presided, with the bishop’s permission, at a girl’s First Communion.

“All these parishioners just feel so betrayed, because we knew nothing,” said Thu Meng, whose daughter attended the preschool in Father Ratigan’s last parish. “And we were welcoming this guy into our homes, asking him to come bless this or that. They saw all these signs, and they didn’t do anything.”

The case has generated fury at a bishop who was already a polarizing figure in his diocese, and there are widespread calls for him to resign or even to be prosecuted. Parishioners started a Facebook page called “Bishop Finn Must Go” and are circulating a petition. An editorial in The Kansas City Star in June calling for the bishop to step down concluded that prosecutors must “actively pursue all relevant criminal charges” against everyone involved.

Stoking much of the anger is the fact that only three years ago, Bishop Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million and agreed to a long list of preventive measures, among them to immediately report anyone suspected of being a pedophile to law enforcement authorities.

Michael Hunter, an abuse victim who was part of that settlement and is now the president of the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said: “There were 19 nonmonetary agreements that the diocese signed on to, and they were things like reporting immediately to the police. And they didn’t do it. That’s really what sickens us as much as the abuse.” . . .

Continue reading. Of course, if things start looking bad for the bishop, he will be spirited out of the country and given a cushy job in the Vatican, where they have high regard for this sort of thing. They gave that sort of reward to Cardinal Law of Boston.

The Catholic church doesn’t seem too concerned about pedophilia in its ranks. What really enrages it are things like birth control (even when used by non-Catholics), abortion rights, and homosexual rights (including marriage): those are the sorts of things the Catholic church sees as things to be fought to the death. Pedophilia, so far as one can tell from their actions, is mainly to be concealed and continued. And they damn sure don’t want the police notified or otherwise involved in any way. The church knows how to handle this kind of problem. (Transfer the priest to a new parish.)

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2011 at 2:42 pm

Robert Samuelson: Dishonest? Stupid? Ignorant? All three?

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Dean Baker has a regular routine of pointing out the many errors and what amount to lies in Robert Samuleson’s columns in the Washington Post, as he does here:

It’s always fun to read Robert Samuelson’s column on Monday morning to see what silliness he is pushing to justify cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Today he has his plan for balancing the budget over the next decade (the country’s most important problem for people who never heard about unemployment).

As part of his argument for cutting benefits for the elderly Samuelson tells us that, “in 2008, the median net worth of married elderly couples was $385,000.” (Actually, if we check his source, it looks like the year is 2007.)

Okay boys and girls, can anyone think of anything that might have affected the net worth of the elderly between 2007 and today? Apparently no one at the Post has noticed anything or they might have suggested that Samuelson try to use more recent data in his column.

Naturally, Samuelson doesn’t suggest doing anything about the real cause of his deficit crisis story, exploding private sector health care costs. Nor does he consider any measures that might hurt the Wall Street folks that helped inflate the housing bubble that wrecked the economy. But who would expect more from Samuelson or Fox on 15th Street?

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2011 at 9:28 am

Compact and pleasant: A great shave once more

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Very compact shave. The Palmolive shave stick is terrific, but I’d love a work with their marketing director: that foil really should be imprinted with the logo. There’s nothing to identify the product at this point save my memory, though I do have to recognize that most shavers probably don’t have a dozen or so shave sticks open.

The Wee Scot produced a wonderful lather, and I am still amazed at the little guy’s capacity: no worries at all about not having enough lather for three passes. You guys who travel should consider this mighty mouse.

Three smooth passes with the vintage Merkur Slant using a Schick Plus Platinum blade. Because of a query on Wicked_Edge I kept track of how often I rinsed my blade. I was somewhat surprised to find that I can do the entire first pass without a rinse: the razor can readily hold that much lather. I normally, though, do rinse the razor for the upper lip so I can see better. But this came out to be one rinse per pass with little effort.

But then at the end a good rinse with hot water, then with cold, then the alum bar. After cleaning up the sink area, a final rinse, dry, and splash of TOBS No. 74. It’s good to start the week with a great shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2011 at 7:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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