Later On

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

Archive for January 2012

Rereading Elmore Leonard

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Some authors one enjoys almost as much in the rereading as in the reading—not even counting those that demand an instant rereading in the light of later discovery (e.g., Bernard Malamud’s A New Life). I got to thinking about this as I picked up my copy of Pronto, the novel in which Elmore Leonard introduces Raylan Givens. I had read reviews of the recently published sequel, Raylan, and so I wanted to get ready for it by reading the kick-off novel. And little time to wait: I’m number 7 of 8 in the hold queue, and Elmore Leonard novels tend to move briskly along: can’t put ’em down, you see?

So I read half the first page and remember it—I’ve read it at least two times before. But I plunged ahead, reading with enjoyment, though in some cases I could almost recite the words. And I wondered at this: rereading with enjoyment, knowing what is to come in the story, but still enjoying it. Obviously, it’s not plot that draws us so, it is style matched with content.

Think of a familiar piano concerto—some Beethoven Sonata or Chopin Prelude or some such. When it is well performed, one’s enjoyment seems even more intense than on first hearing, though by now one knows every note to come. But it doesn’t make any difference: what we enjoy is not knowledge, but music.

And in Elmore Leonard’s novels—and in the novels you yourself can reread again and again (Scaramouche, by Sabatini; the Patrick O’Brian series of Aubrey/Maturin novels are on my list, along with many others)—what we enjoy is the music, the artful, honest, fitting arrangement of words to convey the ideas and images that carry the story forward—and, of course, the story itself is one we must enjoy in the retelling. Obviously, many of the “great books” novels are survivors of this kind of natural selection of memes, starting (in our tradition) with Homer.

So I read with enjoyment the well-told recitation of a good story, exactly as I would listen to music I already know and have heard many times before.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2012 at 7:54 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Music

Nissan Thermal Cooker: Not sous vide but related

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Sounds intriguing.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2012 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Technology

How the Stimulus revived the electric car

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Adapted from Michael Grabell’s new book, to be published next week. Details at the link:

A common criticism of President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package has been that it failed to produce anything – that while the New Deal built bridges and dams, all the stimulus did was fill some potholes and create temporary jobs.

Don’t tell that to Annette Herrera. She was 50 when the auto supplier she worked for in Westland, Mich., closed its factory and moved the work to Mexico. Then, after being unemployed for 2½ years, she got a job in October 2010 with A123 Systems, which had received $250 million in stimulus money to help open a new lithium-ion battery plant in nearby Romulus, Mich.

“The first thing I did was call my husband and tell him, ‘You’re never going to guess! I got a job!'” Herrera recalled. “And then it was like celebration time.”

One success the Obama administration can duly claim is the rebirth of the electric-car industry in the United States. Automakers have unveiled a number of mass-market electric cars, which have seen small but rising sales. Battery and parts manufacturers are building 30 factories, creating thousands of new jobs. A123 has hired 700 workers at Herrera’s plant and a second one in nearby Livonia, and plans to hire a couple thousand more people over the next few years.

If it wasn’t for the stimulus, the companies say, they would have built these plants overseas.

It was all part of an effort to promote “green” manufacturing and put a million electric cars on the road by 2015.

The question is: Will it last? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2012 at 10:15 am

Self-control and finite willpower reserves

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Fascinating article in New Scientist by Roy Baumeister, unfortunately locked behind a subscription paywall (but this is a magazine to which it’s well worth your while to subscribe). From the article, some snippets:

After decades of research, psychologists now reckon two traits are most likely to make us successful. The first is intelligence, with smart people doing better at all jobs. Unluckily, there is little evidence that you can make lasting improvements to intelligence.

The other trait is self-control, the ability to change thoughts, emotions, actions and level of performance on duties and tasks. Of course, goals, moral rules, laws, social expectations, personal commitments and other forces play a role, but the more you can change yourself, the more successful you tend to be.

Studies on self-control have their roots in the “marshmallow test” devised by Walter Mischel at Stanford University, California, in 1972. . .

Other studies support this. People with stronger self-control do better at school, earn more and are more respected by co-workers. They are also less likely to be arrested, have fewer personal problems, less stress and live longer.

So what is this amazing thing called self-control? The common sense view is it depends on using willpower to resist temptation and to enable the right action. Our research suggests this notion is not entirely fanciful but that it lacks a key dimension. Research has shown repeatedly that after people exert self-control, they tend to perform relatively poorly on a subsequent, seemingly irrelevant test of self-control. The most plausible explanation is that “energy” was consumed and depleted during the first test, leaving less for more challenges.

Evidence for this depletion of willpower comes from studies like ours in 1998 . . .

Hofmann found that people spend a staggering three to four hours a day on average just resisting temptations and desires.

Not surprisingly, as the day wears on, the more often the person exercises self-control to try to resist what they desire, the more likely they are to give in to whatever temptation comes along: it’s not the time of day that matters, but the cumulative exertion that saps your willpower. If you do not have many temptations to resist, your willpower stays relatively strong, and you may well be able to resist new temptations.

So rather than seeing willpower as a moral quality, the scientific view is that it is like a muscle that tires. After you exert self-control, you have less willpower so you are less able to resist a new demand. Self-control is only temporarily weakened and can recharge after a rest. Willpower resembles a muscle also in that it can be strengthened by exercise.

Two clear facts about willpower have emerged so far. Willpower is what researchers call “domain-general”: controlling thoughts, emotions and feelings, restraining impulses, and performing tasks and duties will draw on one pool of willpower, not, as people tend to imagine, multiple pools with different quantities for, say, dieting or exercise.

The second fact is that the resource is limited. Even a few minutes of exerting self-control is enough to cause a decline in performance on a subsequent, seemingly unrelated test. That might suggest human willpower is scarce, but, again, no: willpower is like a muscle, and when a muscle gets tired, an athlete may cut back effort to conserve what remains. In fact, willpower looks as if it is indeed a kind of energy, tied to levels of the chemical glucose used to carry energy from the digestive system and fat stores to muscles and other organs. Neurotransmitters, that enable brain cells to fire, are made of glucose.

The standard willpower depletion effect, confirmed by a 2010 meta-analysis of 83 studies, shows that after exerting self-control, people perform worse on the next self-control task without being given glucose between tasks. Researchers use lemonade these days: one batch sweetened with sugar (plenty of glucose), the other with diet sweetener (no glucose). After allowing up to 15 minutes for the lemonade to reach the bloodstream, subjects drinking sugared lemonade perform quite well at the next test, while those on diet lemonade fare less well.

This glucose research also suggests why dieting is so fiendishly difficult. In order to resist tempting foods, we need willpower but to have willpower, we must eat. The essence of dieting (restricting food intake) robs us of the psychological strength needed to succeed. Perhaps dieters should concentrate on filling up with healthy food so they have the willpower to resist fattening stuff.

If research continues to implicate glucose in willpower, it could be a powerful key to understanding the human mind since self-control is such a vital part of daily life. But willpower is also used in making choices and decisions, so here’s a startling thought: could daily decision-making impair self-control?

Last year, Jonathan Levav at Stanford University and Shai Danziger at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, came up with important clues when they studied parole judges in Israel. The safe and easy decision is to refuse parole since it carries the risk of the convict committing further crimes – and making the judge look bad. The researchers found judges often granted parole in the early morning, but as the day wore on and they made more decisions, they were less willing to take a chance and sent most people back to prison. After a snack, or after lunch, the likelihood of parole went up. In other words, the food seemed to restock the willpower depleted by making many choices, leaving the judge more willing to take a riskier step and grant parole to the next applicant. . .

When I first started planning my weight-loss book, a year or so ago, I gave it the title Weight Loss Without Willpower, because I specifically designed an approach that made as light a demand as possible on my willpower. I did it just because I wanted to avoid the effort of resisting, but it seems to have been a wise decision (as evidenced by my current weight—172.0 lbs this morning—and the research described above).

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2012 at 9:20 am

Using drones for good

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Very interesting op-ed in today’s NY Times by Andrew Sniderman and Mark Hanis:

DRONES are not just for firing missiles in Pakistan. In Iraq, the State Department is using them to watch for threats to Americans. It’s time we used the revolution in military affairs to serve human rights advocacy.

With drones, we could take clear pictures and videos of human rights abuses, and we could start with Syria.

The need there is even more urgent now, because the Arab League’s observers suspended operations last week.

They fled the very violence they were trying to monitor. Drones could replace them, and could even go to some places the observers, who were escorted and restricted by the government, could not see. This we know: the Syrian government isn’t just fighting rebels, as it claims; it is shooting unarmed protesters, and has been doing so for months. Despite a ban on news media, much of the violence is being caught on camera by ubiquitous cellphones. The footage is shaky and the images grainy, but still they make us YouTube witnesses.

Imagine if we could watch in high definition with a bird’s-eye view. A drone would let us count demonstrators, gun barrels and pools of blood. And the evidence could be broadcast for a global audience, including diplomats at the United Nations and prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.

Drones are increasingly small, affordable and available to nonmilitary buyers. For hundreds of thousands of dollars — no longer many millions — a surveillance drone could be flying over protests and clashes in Syria.

An environmental group, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has reported that it is using drones to monitor illegal Japanese whaling in the waters of the Southern Hemisphere. In the past few years, human-rights groups and the actor and activist George Clooney, among others, have purchased satellite imagery of conflict zones. Drones can see even more clearly, and broadcast in real time.

We could record the repression in Syria with unprecedented precision and scope. The better the evidence, the clearer the crimes, the higher the likelihood that the world would become as outraged as it should be.

This sounds a lot like surveillance, and it would be. It would violate Syrian airspace, and perhaps a number of Syrian and international laws. It isn’t the kind of thing nongovernmental organizations usually do. But it is very different from what governments and armies do. Yes, we (like them) have an agenda, but ours is transparent: human rights. We have a duty, recognized internationally, to monitor governments that massacre their own people in large numbers. Human rights organizations have always done this. Why not get drones to assist the good work? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2012 at 9:04 am

kyoku, a birthday shaving cream, sake-infused

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The kyoku 901 (normal skin) is a birthday gift from The Wife, who can inspect my shaving collection and thus avoid duplicates. So I did not have a jar of this, and indeed I had not heard of it, but it is intriguing.

You’ll not my Emilion brush is communicating something with its body language—standing a bit distant, turned away. That’s probably because it knew, which I did not, that this is not a lathering shaving cream, though in fact the brush is a good way to apply: dip tips, brush (wet, washed) face.

As soon as I finished the shave, I of course immediately read the instructions, whereupon I learned that I was to have let the shaving cream sit on my beard for 2 minutes at the start. So I need to try again. I got a very smooth, very nice shave indeed, and the shaving cream has a noticeable cooling effect, which we attribute to the sake. I did discover, after trying both ways, that using the brush works better than using the fingers.

Three passes of the Weber with its Swedish Gillette blade, a splash of Alt-Innsbruck, and this afternoon I see my ophthalmologist. Vision is slowly, steadily improving, much as it did for my right eye.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2012 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

Interesting: Krugman points out Broder’s error

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High-level columnist usually hew to a doctrine of “publish and forget” and extend to colleagues the courtesy in the (generally realized) hope of having the favor returned: howlers go unnoted, ludicrously wrong predictions are passed over in silence, and so on.

But sometimes a columnist will point out a glaring idiocy in the ignorant ramblings of a colleague. David Broder wrote political commentary for 40 years, but the last ten years saw a downward drift in quality as he gradually seemed to lose touch.

Krugman rightly points out that, had the President actually listened to Broder’s prescription, the US would be in even worse shape than it is now.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2012 at 10:54 am

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona: Pathological liar

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I’m not sure whether the term is “pathological liar” or “compulsive liar”: what do you call someone who lies even when the lie is evident and sure to be exposed? Whatever the term, that’s Gov. Brewer. This amazing account is by Nick Martin at TPM Muckraker:

Back in 2010 as she defended her state’s harsh immigration law, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) told a newspaper reporter that she was deeply hurt by the terrible names people were calling her. The worst, she said, were the comparisons to the Nazis.

“They are awful,” she said. “Knowing that my father died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany, that I lost him when I was 11 because of that…and then to have them call me Hitler’s daughter. It hurts. It’s ugliness beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”

The problem, as many discovered after the quote went viral, was that it wasn’t true. Brewer’s father had in fact died of lung disease in California in 1955, a decade after WWII ended.

As Brewer now faces the fact that another one of her stories is coming under question, this one involving an encounter she had with President Obama, a pattern appears to emerging in her career: The popular conservative bomb thrower often has trouble with the truth.

The governor made the rounds on the cable news networks last week, talking about her run-in with the president on an airport tarmac near Phoenix.

Brewer called it a “tense” encounter in which Obama criticized her book and then walked away from her while she was in mid-sentence. But two other officials who witnessed the encounter said Obama was nothing but calm and described the event as little more than an“awkward moment.”

Still, the governor has used her version of the encounter to get plenty of air time, seeing an increase in sales of her book which she has called a “truth telling” tome. Amazon ranked “Scorpions for Breakfast” at No. 7 on its best sellers list on Friday. The day of the event, the book had been at No. 343,222.

On Friday, her spokesman told TPM the governor is standing by her version of events. But that spokesman, Matthew Benson, also acknowledged the governor has stumbled on certain facts in the past.

“She’s also been in political life for nearly three decades,” Benson said. “Has she ever said things that she wish she’d said more precisely? Of course.”

“I imagine President Obama would say the same thing,” he added.

In the past, when Brewer has been confronted about inaccurate statements, her first move has been to maintain she was right no matter how clear the matter was.

When a journalist for the Arizona Guardian first pointed out the discrepancy between how Brewer’s father actually died and what she had told another news organization, the governor got angry.

“There is no way I have ever misled anybody,” she said. “You’re trying to make a liar out of me.”

Later that same year, the governor went on Fox News to decry the effect illegal immigration was having on her state. Among the problems, she said, were that people were getting their heads cut off.

“We cannot afford all this illegal immigration and everything that comes with it, everything from the crime and to the drugs and the kidnappings and the extortion and the beheadings,” she told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren.

When quizzed about the fact that no beheadings had been reported in Arizona at that point, Brewer doubled down on the statement.

“Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that have been beheaded,” she said.

Neither she nor her office could point to an example of when anything like that had taken place. However, she continued to maintain for the next four months that she had not misspoken. Then in November of 2010, just days before her election, she relented.

“That was an error,” she said, then added: “if I said that.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2012 at 10:40 am

Posted in GOP, Government

Going down singing

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This post contains an absolutely marvelous song, the post providing the essential background. Do click through, watch, listen, and think: the last graph is particularly impressive. In a sense.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2012 at 10:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Entire state turns its back on science

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It’s truly amazing what religious fundamentalist zealots can do. The Taliban was one example, certain Indiana state senators are another: refusing to countenance the findings of science because of a strange misunderstanding of the role of religion, they are now demanding that the Genesis creation myth be taught as though it were fact. I would guess this is a combination of ignorance and ill-will; it does show the effects religion can have on an untrained mind. Bob Grant reports in The Scientist:

By a margin of 8-2, the Indiana State Senate’s Education Committee passed a bill designed to insert the teaching of “creation science” alongside evolutionary theory in public school science classrooms. Senate Bill 89, which the Republican-dominated committee passed last week, would give schools the freedom to decide if they wanted to allow “the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life,” one of which is creationism.

According to The Times of Northwest Indiana, scientists and religious leaders in the state oppose the bill. “Creation science is not science,” Purdue University professor of science education John Staver told the committee. “It is unquestionably a statement of a specific religion.” Reverend Charles Allen, head of Grace Unlimited, an Indianapolis campus ministry, concurred, telling the committee that he would prefer students to be taught religion in a comparative manner rather than trying to “smuggle it in” to a science course.

Staver added that passage of the bill would likely stir up lengthy and expensive legal challenges in the state. “All that the citizens of Indiana are going to get from this bill are wasted legal efforts, lawyer fees, and penalties,” he told the Senate committee, according to the Columbus, Indiana, newspaper The Republic.

And Staver’s prediction may already be coming true. Indiana’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement arguing that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional. “The idea that somehow our state legislature can trump the Constitution just doesn’t make sense,” the ACLU of Indiana’s head lawyer Ken Falk said in the statement. “When lawmakers propose legislation they clearly know will end up in the courts, it wastes valuable time and resources, disrespects the legislative process, and confuses an already complicated issue.”

The bill will now be considered by the full Indiana Senate, which, according to the Chicago Tribune, has until this Wednesday to win approval.

“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2012 at 9:04 am

Digital textbooks: The dam shows leaks

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Publishers do NOT want digital textbooks—my God! students and teachers will next be creating open-source textbooks, and then what will poor publishers do? It’s hard enough for them to keep up the rat race of making this year’s editions obsolete to destroy their resale value before bringing out next year’s $100 textbook—or am I pricing it low?

Now, with easy-to-use apps and modern technology all networked together, students and teachers are taking matters into their own hands. Sabrina Richards writes for The Scientist:

Students and scientists at Duke University have collaborated to produce a free, open-source textbook devoted to marine science,  called Cachalotreported Wired Science. Although Cachalot (sperm whale in French) was designed for a specific class, Marine Megafauna, it’s currently available as an app for anyone with an iPad. Its digital platform, FLOW, was built by Duke University computer science students, and enables Cachalot users to take notes, connect to Twitter, and watch National Geographic videos. Users will also be connected to up-to-date science, with peer-reviewed text, images, and open access studies contributed by marine science experts.

Though FLOW, which was designed in one semester with less than $5,000, may not be as flashy or comprehensive as commercial digital textbooks, it’s intended for a specialized audience, said David Johnston, the Duke professor who spearheaded the project.

“We’ve created a simple tool for specialized subjects where there isn’t a textbook, and knowledge advances quickly. Being an open source effort gives academics the flexibility they need,” Johnston told Wired. His goal is to make FLOW a “cross-platform tool,” Johnston said; it should be available to Android tablets sometime this autumn. The Marine Ventures Foundation plans to support the commercialization of FLOW, which Johnston hopes to expand into a venture that enables other institutions and NGOs to design their own digital textbooks.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2012 at 8:56 am

Posted in Books, Education, Technology

Soaked horsehair brush and Figaro

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This morning I tried soaking a horsehair brush. As with the badger, the soaking did make it softer somewhat. With badger and horse, the contrast between soaked and not is not so dramatic as with boar, which truly does require soaking, but the soaking does produce a softer brush. On the whole, though, the return is not quite enough to warrant the effort for me, but YMMV, so you should give it a go sometime and see what you think.

Figaro is a fine, firm shaving cream, and the lather was excellent. Three passes of my Mühle with the new head (same as the Edwin Jagger DE8x series head) holding a Personna 74, a splash of Geo. F. Trumper West Indian Extract of Limes aftershave, and I’m ready for the week—which I trust will be much less eventful than the week just past.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2012 at 8:27 am

Posted in Shaving

‘With you, it’s all ’bout the benjamins, never ’bout the suffering’

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That line, read exactly as a line of movie dialogue, popped into my head as I was reading “Charlie Rose talks to the SEC’s Robert Khuzami” in the Jan 30-Feb 5 issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, page 51.

I was thinking about the SEC and its laid-back attitude toward Wall Street investigations, much less prosecutions (Bernie Madoff could have sent them a certified letter spelling out the scam, and they would have refused delivery—more or less what they did), and how, when they do prosecute and it looks as though they will win, or when the company feels it’s wasted enough time, the company will pay a fine of some tens of millions, neither admit nor deny wrongdoing, and the show hits the road again.

And that’s when the line went through my head, out of nowhere. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized what was missing from the tidy SEC/Wall Street universe: suffering. In our world, on our end, there’s plenty of suffering: people losing their homes, not being able to feed their family, not being able to find work because corporations make more money putting the jobs overseas, and there they also can drive the workers harder—see the earlier post on how Apple is artfully dressing up what is happening to make it not be happening, sort of, only it. keeps. on. happening. And how our social support system and government services are going away—and watchdog agencies like the FDA are defunded so they can’t protect us from rapacious businesses (cf. Extra Virginity)—all so that the wealthy can cut their taxes even further, for the wealthy—and those they control—believe that only the poor and the middle class should pay taxes. Taxes, they believe, are the sort of thing you can buy your way out of.

And the companies and those who head them and make the decisions—and the SEC-lytes who carefully do not rock the boat—they never get suffering. Show me someone who thinks paying a big fine is suffering and I’ll show you someone who has never suffered. Paying money is not suffering, not even close—certainly not when what is paid is above a million dollars. Choosing how to spend one’s last $20, probably. Paying a $75 million fine, no. The things I described above, even they are nnot suffering. Not the first day, or the first week. But when it goes on and on and you can’t see the end: that’s suffering.

So rather than taking checks from these guys, let’s take some of their time: say, 3-5 years. That’s a reasonable sentence. 3 year minimum, no matter how good and how influential the person once was (and of course s/he’s going to have to find a new line of work, since returning to the field of finance will be verboten: tried that, didn’t work. “Fool me once, shame on you,” and the rest most of us know by heart). 5 year maximum, to keep the old Hope engine turning over.

And the time spent in prison must involve some suffering. So 10 hours every day but one day a week (prisoner’s choice: Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, etc.), the prisoner will work at hard labor, breaking big rocks into smaller rocks. If prisoner refuses, prisoner will be lashed until enthusiastic compliance is shown or the lasher tires. 4-lash minimum. (Harsh, perhaps, but we are talking suffering—and I would guess that in most cases, one or more deaths can be attributed to the fallout of the prisoner’s reckless greed.) Prisoners who, in civilian life, saw that their outdoor workers were provided with sunscreen will be provided with sunscreen. To those who turned a blind eye to such things, we shall turn a blind eye.

Come to think of it, I’ve seen this same idea: The Mikado.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2012 at 5:43 pm

Carrots and cumin

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Alaina Sullivan points out how wonderfully the flavors of carrot and cumin do blend:

Carrot and cumin is a flavor pairing worth tattooing into your brain. Here, dressed simply in olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper, the carrots are roasted at high heat until they become tender, caramelized, and smoky. You can eat them straight from the baking sheet, or turn them into soup as I did (see below.) Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

Roasted Carrots with Cumin

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 35 minutes

1 to 1 ½ pounds baby carrots, or full-sized carrots, cut into sticks
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (you can also use ground cumin)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper [kosher salt or Cyprus sea salt, I think – LG]

Heat the oven to 425ºF. Put the carrots on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil; sprinkle with the cumin and salt and pepper. Roast until the carrots are tender and browning, about 25 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

*How to turn Roasted Carrots with Cumin into Soup

Prepare a double batch of Roasted Carrots with Cumin. Sauté 1 cup chopped onions and 2 teaspoons ground coriander in olive oil until the onions begin to soften. Add 2 – 2 ½ cups chicken stock, and the roasted carrots. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and use a blender or food processor to purée the soup. Thin with more chicken stock if the soup is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and/or chopped walnuts. [I’ll probably use pine-nuts.]

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2012 at 4:06 pm

How seriously companies regard the welfare of employees

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Not seriously at all. Talk about “bending the needle,” big corporations invented and perfected the practice. Corporations are legally persons, and any reasonable diagnosis shows that they are sociopaths. Read this article. And Apple is probably one of the better companies, at least in the arena of creating needle-bending window dressing.

I understand that many believe that a corporation has no social responsibilities, that it’s only function is to maximize return on the shareholder dollar, and if workers are killed or maimed in the process, so much the worse for them. I would guess that, were shareholders penalized by the loss of a finger for a certain number of worker deaths, then shareholder opinion would change drastically. People being killed by company practices is one thing, but for a wealthy shareholder to lose one joint of a finger! My God! The barbarity!!

This must be the sort of thing Jesus had in mind about the difficulty of serving both God and Mammon. I think the modern choice is clear.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2012 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Business

Gadgetry watch

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Best electric toothbrush. That’s good to know but—let’s face it—you are not very excited about it, are you? But now take a look at the gadgets in this post. Steve is undoubtedly already all over the camera, but attaching a camera to your own drone? Man, that is going to drive authorities nuts, especially if you include a directional microphone.

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2012 at 11:06 am

Cola-braised lamb, baby back ribs, etc.

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We’re going to the store. Perhaps some baby back ribs will fall into my cart if I maneuver it smartly. Take a look (and note the link).

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2012 at 10:51 am

Police, once again bending the needle

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I referred in an earlier post to the common practice of higher management to react swiftly to signs of serious problems—not by tackling the problems, but by tackling the signs: much cheaper and much easier. So when the needle moves into the red zone, higher management’s first effort is to bend the needle so it points again to green: problem solved!

The earlier post deal with a policing problem, in which statistics show upticks in crimes. Police have found that by refusing to record reported crimes, the statistics look ever so much better.

And now, Google reports, police have tackled head-on the problem of police brutality and unprofessional conduct, captured on video and posted for the world to see on YouTube, by requesting that the videos be removed from YouTube:

United States

We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove. Separately, we received requests from a different local law enforcement agency for removal of videos allegedly defaming law enforcement officials. We did not comply with those requests, which we have categorized in this Report as defamation requests.

The number of content removal requests we received increased by 70% compared to the previous reporting period.

So do not say that the police are ignoring the problem of brutal and unprofessional conduct on the part of officers. On the contrary, they recognize the problem and they are doing everything in their power to hide it, including (in some states) making it a crime to record (in photographs, video, or audio) policemen who are out of control and abusing their position.

That should make the problem go away—or at least become less visible. Oh, for the days when Big Business and the powerful completely controlled channels of communication, eh? Now just anyone can have a platform. But they’re working to correct that. (SOPA/PIPA and other acts to come.) (Thanks to Nick for the pointer.)

Written by Leisureguy

29 January 2012 at 7:45 am

Chicken-Noodle Soup, my way

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I’m feeling a little queasy from an unwise lunch choice (fried calamari steak sandwich, french fries), and there’s nothing in the house—have to do shopping since none done since prior to surgery.

But in talking to The Wife, I got onto the idea of a soup, using what I have. The ultimate outcome:

3 qt saucepan, holding about 1/2 cup leftover black rice


what’s left of butter, about 2 pats (I’ll add some EVOO at end, when I use the immersion blender)
2 large peeled shallots (that I bought to have on hand)
10 peeled garlic cloves (ditto)
small piece leftover onion, chopped
chopped leftover cruditès (carrot & celery only, jicama gone, just as well)
handful chopped celery from stash

Sauté that for a while, discover a regular plastic vegetable bag of braising greens, which will beef up the soup a lot. Now I’m really looking forward to it. I plan to beat in a couple of eggs for protein. (Three eggs left, so one for breakfast: clearing out fridge perfectly.)

I add about 5 cups water, then a rounded Tbsp of Penzeys Chicken Soup Base. When the water’s hot, I add the braising greens, pushing them into the liquid until they wilt. There’s a great variety, and the leaf shapes are amazingly intricate: extremely fractal and quite different from each other. I suddenly realized that people who subsist on frozen and otherwise prepared foods never see stuff like this.

Back to food. With all the greens in, along with a couple of leaves of red chard I had, I should get in more starch. I picked pasta. I’m going to blend, so shape isn’t an issue. I got Barilla Plus for the omega-3, and all I had in that was spaghetti. I took out 2 oz. and broke it into small sections into the simmering soup.

At this point, two things occur to me: Maybe blending isn’t needed: just dip it up after stirring in eggs. And it needs umami. I got down one of my reserve jars of anchovies and dug out enough to add umami without adding any anchovy or fish taste.

Given the state of my tummy, I’m not going with any pepper sauce or flakes, but now I will add some olive oil.

UPDATE: At end, also added last of edamame dip, into which I’d stirred some guacamole too spicy for The Wife, so the soup did end up with a definite spicy kick—that was some spicy guacamole. I also realized for the mid-life kicker I can add some sliced almonds to the soup, no need to blend in. And I have some cilantro I could chop and scatter on top.

Soup tastes quite good. And for me it has triple appeal: the aforementioned good taste, the efficient using-up of leftovers, and hitting all the targets of my meal template quite handily. Good meal—or probably three meals.

Written by Leisureguy

28 January 2012 at 5:59 pm

Drive-by Scanning: Officials Expand Use and Dose of Radiation for Security Screening

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This story by Michael Grabell in ProPublica is sort of scary:

U.S. law enforcement agencies are exposing people to radiation in more settings and in increasing doses to screen for explosives, weapons and drugs. In addition to the controversial airport body scanners, which are now deployed for routine screening, various X-ray devices have proliferated at the border, in prisons and on the streets of New York.

Not only have the machines become more widespread, but some of them expose people to higher doses of radiation. And agencies have pushed the boundaries of acceptable use by X-raying people covertly, according to government documents and interviews.

While airport scanners can show objects on the surface of the body, prisons have begun to use X-rays that can see through the body to detect contraband hidden in cavities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is in the process of deploying dozens of drive-through X-ray portals to scan cars and buses at the border with their passengers still inside.

X-ray scanners have been tested at ferry crossings, for visitor entries at the Pentagon and for long-range detection of suicide bombers at special events. And drawing the ire of privacy groups, Customs and the New York Police Department have deployed unmarked X-ray vans that can drive to a location and look inside vehicles for drugs and explosives.

Most federal health regulations for medical X-rays do not apply to security equipment, leaving the decision of when and how to use the scanners almost entirely in the hands of security officials.

Although the 9/11 attacks provided the impetus and prompted the spending to develop such equipment, most of the machines have been deployed only in the last few years. New attacks and ever-tighter security measures have made law enforcement officials more willing to expose the public to X-ray devices that were once taboo.

When the body scanners were introduced in prisons in the late 1990s, the Food and Drug Administration convened an advisory panel. Several of the outside scientists warned that once the longstanding practice of X-raying humans only for health reasons was ended, it was just a matter of time before the machines would become acceptable in airports, courthouses and schools.

“This is exactly what I was afraid was going to happen back when we had the FDA meetings,” said Kathleen Kaufman, who as director of Los Angeles County’s radiation management program served on the advisory panel.

The FDA has little authority to regulate the use of electronic products emitting radiation. Because security scanners are not classified as medical devices, the agency doesn’t approve them for safety before sale. And it can go after only the manufacturers for excessive radiation — not the users of the machines for deploying them too frequently or in other questionable ways.

Handicapping its power even more, the FDA ultimately went against the advisory panel’s recommendation to adopt a federal safety standard for the new security devices. Instead, it followed congressional direction to use industry standards wherever possible and let the scanners fall under voluntary guidelines set by a nonprofit group made up largely of manufacturers and agencies that wanted to use the X-ray machines.

It is difficult to estimate the long-term health risks of low levels of radiation. At higher levels, ionizing radiation — the energy used in the scanners — has been shown to damage DNA and mutate genes, potentially leading to cancer. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 January 2012 at 10:13 am

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