Later On

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

Archive for February 28th, 2012

Prefab housing grows up

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Very intriguing.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2012 at 5:25 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Excellent question for Obama

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Very well stated by David Carr in the NY Times:

Last Wednesday in the White House briefing room, the administration’s press secretary, Jay Carney, opened on a somber note, citing the deaths of Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid, two reporters who had died “in order to bring truth” while reporting in Syria.

Jake Tapper, the White House correspondent for ABC News, pointed out that the administration had lauded brave reporting in distant lands more than once and then asked, “How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?”

He then suggested that the administration seemed to believe that “the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here.”

Fair point. The Obama administration, which promised during its transition to power that it would enhance “whistle-blower laws to protect federal workers,” has been more prone than any administration in history in trying to silence and prosecute federal workers.

The Espionage Act, enacted back in 1917 to punish those who gave aid to our enemies, was used three times in all the prior administrations to bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media. It has been used six times since the current president took office.

Setting aside the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is accused of stealing thousands of secret documents, the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.

In case after case, the Espionage Act has been . . .

Continue reading. Just to be clear: I believe what the Obama Administration is doing is very, very bad and is in fact a key precursor to establishing an authoritarian government regime: things must be kept secret because the intention is to do some very bad things, and if secrets are not well kept, then people will find out and become angry and some may lose their jobs, go to prison, or face the death penalty. So when the stakes are that high—as they are already with acknowledged homicides and torture by CIA agents acting under orders—secrecy becomes The Most Important Thing—very similar, in fact, to what families of alcoholics learn quickly by osmosis: First, that their family is like everyone else’s, and second, never tell anyone. That’s where our government is today: a vigorous defender of our freedom and rights, and don’t tell anyone or you’ll suffer badly.

The direction our government is going does not augur well.

UPDATE: As I thought about it, I realized that this is progressing almost with the inevitability of a chemical reaction: the government does some extremely bad things (torture and murder) that implicates powerful officials. To protect those officials, because they are wealthy and powerful, secrecy is increased, reinforced, and the internal workings are blocked from public view: more things are classified, and actions against those who inform the public of the truth become increasingly vicious, verging on a vendetta. Once the inner workings are secure and the secrecy mechanism is well in place, well… why not make use of it, eh? So more bad things are done, with the secrecy extended, and soon the entire barrel has gone bad from just a few rotten apples, when sunshine would have stopped the rot.

This is what happened in Argentina and Chile and other countries. But those countries have extreme income inequality with an powerful, wealthy elite that feels no connection to the common people other than to exploit them… much the direction the US is headed.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2012 at 4:12 pm

What is your greatest weakness?

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I just flashed past (without reading) a Lifehacker post on how to answer “What is your greatest weakness?” As I read the title, an answer just popped into my head: “I am totally impatient with vacuous, unimaginative, unproductive, pointless time-wasting endeavors in which everyone goes through the motions without thinking, virtual automatons.”

UPDATE: Another answer that just popped into my head: “Excessive candor, you stupid twit.”

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2012 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Daily life

Grub extension: Grain and lentil salad

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I made this grub and after a few meals decided it needed more zing. For one thing it had too much grain and was too dry. So today I added to what was left:

8 oz sheep feta, cut into cubes – matches tofu cubes (note below)
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup organic blueberries
1/2 English (hothouse) cucumber diced small
1/2 orange bell pepper, diced
1/2 c grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 Belgian endive, sliced

So the idea was to bulk it up with more veg that will add some moisture (cucumber, tomatoes). I added the feta because some of the dryness was not enough fat and I didn’t want to add more oil: oil just gets smeared through the whole salad, so you have to add a lot to get oil/fat mouthfeel. The feta seemed a good choice—remains in chunks so when you get a taste, you get a distinct fat mouthfeel—and as a bonus I matched the dice size to the tofu: they’re both white, so you don’t know exactly what’s on the spoon as you take a bite. The Son introduced me to this trick many years ago. Jalapeños and green bell pepper diced is another good one. Keep your eyes open and you can spot others.

I just had a bowl of the augmented salad, topped with some goat yogurt. Quite tasty. The additions did the trick.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2012 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Food, Grub, Recipes

AIDS punishment for European colonialism—in a sense

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Fascinating article by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin in today’s Washington Post:

We are unlikely to ever know all the details of the birth of the AIDS epidemic. But a series of recent genetic discoveries have shed new light on it, starting with the moment when a connection from chimp to human changed the course of history.We now know where the epidemic began: a small patch of dense forest in southeastern Cameroon. We know when: within a couple of decades on either side of 1900. We have a good idea of how: A hunter caught an infected chimpanzee for food, allowing the virus to pass from the chimp’s blood into the hunter’s body, probably through a cut during butchering.

As to the why, here is where the story gets even more fascinating, and terrible. We typically think of diseases in terms of how they threaten us personally. But they have their own stories. Diseases are born. They grow. They falter, and sometimes they die. In every case these changes happen for reasons.

For decades nobody knew the reasons behind the birth of the AIDS epidemic. But it is now clear that the epidemic’s birth and crucial early growth happened during Africa’s colonial era, amid massive intrusion of new people and technology into a land where ancient ways still prevailed. European powers engaged in a feverish race for wealth and glory blazed routes up muddy rivers and into dense forests that had been traveled only sporadically by humans before.The most disruptive of these intruders were thousands of African porters. Forced into service by European colonial powers, they cut paths through the exact area that researchers have now identified as the birthplace of the AIDS epidemic. It was here, in a single moment of transmission from chimp to human, that a strain of virus called HIV-1 group M first appeared.In the century since, it has been responsible for 99 percent of all of the world’s deaths from AIDS — not just in Africa but in Moscow, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, New York, Washington. All that began when the West forced its will on an unfamiliar land, causing the essential ingredients of the AIDS epidemic to combine.It was here, by accident but with motives by no means pure, that the world built a tinderbox and tossed in a spark.

The chimps of Cameroon

Many simians, such as gorillas and monkeys, can carry a virus that resembles HIV. But scientists now know that HIV-1 group M was born from a virus circulating among a community of chimpanzees concentrated in Cameroon, a sprawling country with bustling Atlantic Ocean ports, populous highlands, and a lightly developed southern region where relatively few people live even today. This was home to the chimps.

Finding a more exact location took a remarkable degree of scientific ingenuity. .  .

Continue reading.

The article is excerpted from “Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome it,” to be published in March by The Penguin Press.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2012 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Helping children achieve independence

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Very interesting article by a college professor and parent on how to manage the transition from adolescence (the child still under parental care and direction) to adulthood (the child now responsible for his/her own decisions and actions). Basically, when should the apron strings be cut? The writer opts for around 18: when the former child enters college. This seems sensible: the child at that point is old enough in general, the law recognizes the child as an adult, and in any event once the child leaves home for college, s/he is de facto on his/her own, ready or not.

The parent (in the article’s view) has until that time to impart the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and strategies that the former child will use to make his or her way through college and life. Once college is entered, control passes from parent to offspring.

On the whole, I expect this sort of thing is best done explicitly—as an expected, well-defined, and frequently-discussed step for which parent and child have been preparing together. The parent is aware from the child’s birth of the Big Step, but I imagine the child will be brought explicitly into the plan during high school, learning all the essential survival skills of modern living: creating and following a budget, money management, selecting clothes, cooking and laundry skills, study skills, planning skills, and so on: the full checklist is lengthy, but of course 18 years provides plenty of time assuming one pays attention to the task.

I doubt this sort of preparation for adulthood is done explicitly within the family all that much, though I think a systematic approach would avoid some of the weird gaps that I sometimes see: for example, adults with no food skills—that is, adults who know nothing of nutrition, how to select good produce and meats, how to plan meals for a balanced diet, how to prepare and cook foods in a variety of ways (frying, poaching, roasting, steaming, and so on), etc. It’s not unusual for people in their late teens and early 20’s to be completely lacking in some critical areas (those that they left totally up to their parents to do).

Life skills are practical, so the only way they can be learned is through practice, and that requires much parental patience since beginners are normally awkward and inefficient at practical skills. It takes strong parental will to stay out of the picture, keeping one’s hands in his/her pockets to avoid taking over and getting it done: the objective is not to get the meal planned, cooked, and on the table (for example) but to help the child learn to plan, cook, and present a meal, which means accepting with good grace all the missteps that a learner. Missteps are milestones on the road of progress.

I realize that I’m writing this, rather after the fact, for myself. My own parents did not do a good job of cutting the apron strings—in my case, the apron strings were finally cut when I was 24, rather late in the game. And I don’t recall that I was particularly well prepared in life skills, either, but that to a great degree was my own fault for failing to take advantage of opportunities offered. OTOH, we didn’t talk much about why Ishouldtake advantage of such opportunities: if my parents thought about it at all, they probably thought it should be obvious (which, to me, it wasn’t), and I doubt that they viewed those years quite in this light in which I see them now: things notoriously are clear in retrospect.

So I think in the category of “do-overs”, I would spend more of my own childhood learning life skills and not quite so much time in books, and with my own children would probably have spent more time and thought in making sure they were well prepared for adult life. (They have all done extremely well, though much of that I think is due to their mother’s guidance and their own intelligence, industriousness, and self-directed learning.)

UPDATE: It occurs to me that the merit-badge strategy of Boy and Girl Scouts is aimed at kids learning and demonstrating skills, and quite a few of those are in the area of what I discussed as “life skills” above, though some are aimed at specific camping skills, for example. Still: those are life skills as well.

UPDATE 2: The Eldest (mother of two boys) offered this:

50 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do

Top 10 Practical Skills Every Adult Should Have

… and many more lists can be found.

It strikes me that developmentally disabled adults and foster children aging out of the foster care system are both explicitly taught life skills – it would be interesting to know what those skills are!

Here are some of the things I have taught the kids:

Locking and unlocking the house
Making telephone calls and taking phone messages
Grocery shopping, including how to choose produce
Making a doctor’s appointment
Doing laundry (still working on folding!!)
Using a pattern and cutting and sewing a simple garment
Threading a sewing machine
(Observation only) pumping gas
Checking tire pressure
Reading a map
Talking to a doctor about problems
Knowing height, weight, clothing and shoe sizes
Checking food expiration dates
Sorting waste and taking out the trash, recycling, and compost
Using a computer
Doing research online
Doing research in a library and getting a librarian to help you find something when you can’t find it yourself
How to watch out for computer viruses
Ordering food in a restaurant
Tipping in restaurants and at barbershops
Ordering food on the phone
Talking to the barber about the haircut you want
Making a big purchase (Gus only: MacBook Pro)
Making a list for a trip and packing a suitcase
Looking up directions online
Cooking: breakfast and snacks only for Charlie (no stove use, though some microwave), all meals for Gus including different proteins, starches, and veggie for mix-and-match dinner menus
Riding a bike
Always wearing a helmet
Playing tennis
Beach and pool safety
Saving up for something
Paying for something and making change if someone pays you for something
Making philanthropic gifts and helping other people
Cleaning up the house
Writing a letter (still mostly theoretical, as you know!)
Apologizing to someone

Next up for The Older Grandson is driver’s ed and getting a bank account.

More things occur to me: checking out library books, setting an alarm clock and getting up, getting dressed and undressed, tying shoelaces, taking bath, taking shower, washing self, hair stuff (braiding for longer hair, blow-drying, etc.), brushing teeth and flossing…  lots of stuff, but as you said, there are many years in which to teach it!!

It would be interesting to see various “master” skills checklists—it would be encyclopedic in scope, but could be grouped into categories:

Camping, hiking, hunting, fishing
Domestic skills by category: food-related, clothing, hygiene/fitness, grooming, organization…
Business skills: negotiating, meeting skills, report preparation…

It quickly gets overwhelming, I find. But still, a checklist of the most critical skills, and then grow outward from that.

It occurs to me that probably the most important skill is knowing how to learn something new, whether the knowledge to be gained is theoretical (abstract algebra, say) or practical (making a souffle, for example). This—how to learn something new—strikes me as a practical skill, so easily practiced: just pick something new, have the child learn it and then discuss the methods used and figure out (with the child) how to improve them. Then pick another new thing for the child to master unaided, with another debriefing. After a dozen of these, the child should have a good grasp of how to learn something new and how to approach different kinds of learning (theoretical vs. practical, for example).

It occurs to me that Carol Dweck’s excellent book Mindset (described in detail on this site) has this as its focus. If you do a search of this blog on “Dweck” you’ll find multiple posts based on insights from the book. Highly recommended.


I just learned of a thorough description at and wanted to point that out.

Also Dweck has instituted an online program based on the book: And they are now beta-testing Brainology Español.

I’m devoting a post to it because I think it’s an important book for everyone, but especially for those shaping the minds of children.

And, regarding life skills, Lifehacker has come up with this list.

Also, Bruce Bower has a somewhat related article in Science News: Kids Flex Cultural Muscles.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2012 at 9:51 am

Posted in Daily life

Beautiful cars

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Brief LA Times article on beautiful cars, with a photo slide show.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2012 at 9:42 am

Posted in Daily life

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