Later On

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

Archive for April 4th, 2012

Trompe-l’œil grüb

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UPDATE: Just made it and have revised original recipe to learn from experience. I have been adding things as I eat it down, though, and the avocado is terrific.

I just thought of this tonight, thinking about the The Son’s notion of using twin ingredients in a dish:

Combine in large stainless bowl:

2/3 c black rice, when is then cooked
2/3 black beluga lentils, cooked for about 10 minutes (just until tender) and drained and rinsed in cold water.

3/4 c chopped celery
1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped (same size)

3/4 c cubed firm tofu
3/4 c cubed sheep feta

2-3 coarsely chopped jalapeños
1 green bell pepper, chopped (same approx size)

1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 c cubed jicama (about the same size)

1/2 c black garlic cloves, halved
1/2 c pitted Kalamata olives, halved.

1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half or, if large, quartered
2 bunches Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 c pine nuts (along with 1/4 c cooked brown or Minnesota wild rice would be good)
2 Tbsp EVOO
2 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp horseradish
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp smoked paprika
juice and zest of 2 lemons

Mix well, season with salt and pepper, and chill.

Sounds tasty to me. Maybe add 1 avocado, cubed, as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Grub, Recipes

TSA more or less admits that it has no idea what it’s doing

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Matt Richtel discovers, step by step, that the TSA has no f–g idea what they’re doing. He explains in the NY Times:

STANDING in line at security at San Francisco International Airport not long ago, family in tow, I dutifully pulled the laptop out of my bag and placed it in a separate bin for its solo trip through the X-ray machine. I also had an iPad in my backpack, so I caught the eye of a security agent. “Excuse me, does the iPad come out too?” I asked.

“Not here,” she said. “Other airports might be different.”

This was not the moment for a follow-up question, but I was curious: What’s the distinction between the devices? Similar shapes, many similar functions, the tablet is thinner but not by much. Is the iPad a lower security risk? What about the punier laptop-like gadgets, the netbooks and ultrabooks? What about my smartphone?

Safely back at my desk, where a follow-up question wouldn’t risk triggering delays that could spread throughout the nation’s air traffic system, I began investigating what seems like an existential question for the digital age: When is a laptop a laptop?

There must be a reason the laptop is singled out as the bad boy of electronics at the airport. Or has the world of gadgets moved so quickly since 2001 when the laptop rule went into effect — and back when the tablet and smartphone were still in the incubator — that federal regulators have not kept up?

I called Bruce Schneier, the security chief for British Telecom and a long-time security expert with hundreds of thousands of miles of airline travel under his belt (a belt that, he noted with pride, never beeps in security because he’s chosen it carefully). If the laptop question confused me, it had him sounding baffled.

“Is it thicker than an inch, wider than a piece of paper, bluer than the sky? Who cares? It’s all nonsense,” said Mr. Schneier, who is also the author of a new book on the psychology of security, “Liars and Outliers.”

Next stop: T.S.A. They ought to know, right? It’s their rule. . .

Continue reading. Bureaucratic stupidity: nothing like it!

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 2:10 pm

Obama starts second campaign by crying, “Wolf!” again

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I have to say that Obama says great things when he’s running for office—things like saying he would never vote in favor of telecom immunity (which he later did). And then when he was elected president, he simply gave in—repeatedly—in the face of Republican obstructionism and… well, temper tantrums, holding their breath until they turned blue, crying (a John Boehner specialty), threats, and so on. He was a president lacking spine and engagement, and we have pretty much a trainwreck from a progressive/liberal point of view.

So it’s time for another election, and Obama is beating the old drum once more. But just as the boy who cried, “Wolf!” found that he had created a credibility gap, Obama has betrayed our trust so many times—immunity for torturers, ignoring the Convention Against Torture, persecuting whistleblowers, attacking medical marijuana even when there is no violation of state or federal law (the raid against Oaksterdam), and so on—that he simply has thrown away his credibility. I do not trust this man to do what he says.

OTOH, he is undoubtedly better than Mitt Romney, so he will get my (unenthusiastic) vote. Choosing which candidate will get one’s vote now resembles the same sort of exercise as a starving person picking out the least offensive food possibilities from a pile of garbage.

The NY Times editors seem to think Obama’s turned over a new leaf. I don’t.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 10:20 am

How American Corporations Transformed from Producers to Predators

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This article, part of a 5-part series, is by William Lazonick and appears in AlterNet; more info at the link.

Corporations are not working for the 99 percent. But this wasn’t always the case. In a special five-part series, William Lazonick, professor at UMass, president of the Academic-Industry Research Network, and a leading expert on the business corporation, along with journalist Ken Jacobson and AlterNet’s Lynn Parramore, will examine the foundations, history and purpose of the corporation to answer this vital question: How can the public take control of the business corporation and make it work for the real economy?

In 2010, the top 500 U.S. corporations – the Fortune 500 – generated $10.7 trillion in sales, reaped a whopping $702 billion in profits, and employed 24.9 million people around the globe. Historically, when these corporations have invested in the productive capabilities of their American employees, we’ve had lots of well-paid and stable jobs.

That was the case a half century ago.

Unfortunately, it’s not the case today. For the past three decades, top executives have been rewarding themselves with mega-million dollar compensation packages while American workers have suffered an unrelenting disappearance of middle-class jobs. Since the 1990s, this hollowing out of the middle-class has even affected people with lots of education and work experience. As the Occupy Wall Street movement has recognized, concentration of income and wealth of the top “1 percent” leaves the rest of us high and dry.

What went wrong? A fundamental transformation in the investment strategies of major U.S. corporations is a big part of the story.

A Look Back

A generation or two ago, corporate leaders considered the interests of their companies to be aligned with those of the broader society. In 1953, at his congressional confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Defense, General Motors CEO Charles E. Wilson was asked whether he would be able to make a decision that conflicted with the interests of his company. His famous reply: “For years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”

Wilson had good reason to think so. In 1956, under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the U.S. government committed to pay for 90 percent of the cost of building 41,000 miles of interstate highways. The Eisenhower administration argued that we needed them in case of a military attack (the same justification that would be used in the 1960s for government funding of what would become the Internet). Of course, the interstate highway system also gave businesses and households a fundamental physical infrastructure for civilian purposes– from zipping products around the country to family road trips in the station wagon.

And it was also good for GM. Sales shot up and employment soared. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 10:00 am

Why workers should belong to unions

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A union is the only way for employees to balance the enormous power the employer wields—Thomas Geoghegan writes about this in his wonderful book Which Side Are You On?: Trying to be for Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back: a white-collar worker who had been unfairly fired took his employer to court but only one of his colleagues would testify on his behalf: the shop foreman, who belonged to a union and could testify in court without fear of reprisals from the employer. The guy’s other colleagues, also white-collar workers, did not belong to a union and thus were afraid that if they told the truth in court they would have been fired.

Jake Blumgart has an interesting column on this at AlterNet:

On March 16, at least 14 employees of the Elizabeth R. Wellborn law firm, located in Deerfield Beach, Florida, wore orange shirts to work. For this style choice, they were marched into a conference room and summarily fired. Wellborn’s husband declared that the shirts were a protest against working conditions at the 275-worker law firm, and that management would not stand for such behavior. (Early reporting claimed the workers’ dress merely signified a way to easily organize a happy hour outing, although it later came out that while that was true for some, others were dressed in the color of prison uniforms to protest draconian new work rules.)

Aren’t such tyrannical, arbitrary and callous acts illegal? Can management just throw you out on your ear, upending your life and endangering your ability to support yourself, for wearing the wrong shirt? Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, right?


The First Amendment and many of the Constitution’s other protections only extend to the government, not to private employers. Freedom of speech and expression are not protected in the private-sector, nonunion workplace. You could be fired for, say, wearing a pin advocating a particular political party. You could also be fired for sporting a smiley face pin.

“People assume they have a lot more protection at work than they actually do,” says Judith M. Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Center (NELP). “People also assume they have some right to be treated decently, and fairly, and respectfully at the workplace. They have the right to freedom from discrimination based on certain immutable characteristics like sex, race and age, but as long as treatment at work isn’t related to one of those characteristics you can be treated badly with no legal recourse. It’s kind of a free-for-all.”

According to Donna Ballman, the labor lawyer six of the Wellborn employees have retained, the workers had no idea their jobs could be imperiled by their choice of clothing color. “Who would?” Ballman responded in an email message. “Most Americans think your employer must have a good reason to fire you.”

But for the most part, American workers labor under the auspices of employment-at-will, a doctrine that allows employers near total control to hire, fire and promote, for good reasons, bad reasons or no reason at all. Employment-at-will is a principle that dates back to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:54 am

BPA in your food: “No problem,” says FDA.

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And speaking of what you’re eating these days, how’s the BPA? Tom Philpott of Mother Jones discusses how the US increasingly stands along in having its citizens eat this stuff:

Bisphenol A, a controversial chemical used in the lining of nearly all cans used by the food and beverage industry, got a reprieve from the government last week. Responding to a court order to decide on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s petition to ban the stuff on the grounds that it causes harm even in tiny doses, the Food and Drug Administration rejected the petition and upheld its approval of BPA.

That’s good news for some of the globe’s biggest chemical companies. According to Bloomberg News, the global BPA market is worth about $8 billion, with about a quarter of total production going into cans. (The rest goes into polycarbonate plastics, which end up in everything from water bottles to DVDs.) Bloomberg adds that the three biggest suppliers of BPA to the American market are the chemical/steel giant Saudi Basic Industries Corp.—which is 70 percent owned by the Saudi government—the German chemical giant Bayer, and Dow, its US rival. Globally, reports the US Department of Agriculture, Bayer and Dow produce “the bulk” of BPA.

While their executives had reason to cheer the FDA’s decision, consumers have reason to groan. The FDA’s own research shows that BPA leaches from can linings into food, and a 2011 Harvard study found BPA at heightened levels in people who regularly consume canned soup.

BPA is what is known as an endocrine disrupter, meaning that it has a range of effects on human development at minute doses. And Friday’s decision comes less than a month after the release of a major study of endocrine disruptors by a range of scientists, including some from the US Department of Health and Human Services, who found “strong evidence” that BPA negatively affects the prostate at low doses and “undisputed evidence” that it does so for mammary glands.

And that’s not all. A 2008 study published in the Journal of American Medicine looked at urinary BPA levels in 1,455 US adults and examined health outcomes controlling for “age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, smoking, body mass index, [and] waist circumference.” The result: the higher the BPA concentration in people’s urine, the higher their incidence of cardiovascular trouble and diabetes. Of course, correlation is not causation—something besides BPA could have caused the increase in health troubles. But given that the scientists controlled for a range of obvious factors, and that that BPA has proven hazardous in the laboratory, those results give plenty of reason for alarm.

Now, it’s true that there remains a good amount of uncertainty in the science of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which is relatively new. The FDA seized upon that uncertainty to justify its decision. “While evidence from some studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans,” the agency wrote in a statement following the decision. But as Time‘s Bryan Walsh put it, “For most public-health advocates, chemicals like BPA should be guilty until proved innocent—and they feel there’s more than enough data out there to cast doubt on BPA’s innocence.”

It’s worth noting that alternatives to BPA are already out there and working, as my colleague Kiera Butler showed back in 2010: . . .

Continue reading. The FDA in this case is more interested in protecting industry than the public, something that happens to regulatory agencies, which probably should be reconstituted and refocused every 20 years to combat shifting focus and loyalty.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:52 am

Killing people at a great distance, by pressing a button

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The Wife will undoubtedly have some critical thoughts about the user interface, but I think that’s the least of the problems in our new way of killing people. Jefferson Morley reports in Salon:

So you want to be a drone pilot? Have a seat in the operator’s control station that guides the remotely piloted aircraft. You could be sitting in a trailer on Creech Air Force Base in Nevada or doing your duty at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. From this perch, you can see a battle space on the other side of the world. You are virtually on the front lines of war.

One of the screens in front of you has a live full-motion video feed from the aircraft (perhaps showing the home of an anti-American sheik and his family in Pakistan or Afghanistan). A second screen has mission data like the altitude of the drone and its fuel level. A third screen displays multilayered menus of more data. You can steer the drone with the joystick in your right hand; the pedals beneath your feet control its rudder. But if you want to turn on the autopilot, it will require 22 keystrokes on one of several available keyboards.

Your partner, the “sensor operator” seated next to you, controls the camera. He or she can zoom in on the face of the man you are hunting. Is this target a danger to the United States? The keyboard in front of you enables you to communicate with a JAG (or a CIA lawyer) to make sure that your target qualifies under the Rules of Engagement. You have audio contact with the Combat Air Command Center in Qatar, which must authorize the firing of missiles. When it does, you push the button on the joystick and send the missile on its way. Then, an explosion. If you want, the sensor operator can train the camera on the wreckage.

If you don’t feel comfortable in this seat, you’re not alone. When the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board studied the drone operator control stations last year, it found no less than 17 flaws in the “poorly designed” system, including “poor ergonomics” and ill-conceived input systems, like the autopilot activation. While much of the drone war remains shrouded in official secrecy, the Air Force’s ongoing campaign to improve the ground control station provides a window into America’s newest way of war. (I found details in a couple of reports at Public Intelligence, a WikiLeaks-type site that publishes closely held government reports.)

The story of the ergonomically correct drone war has two threads: the White House imperative to reduce civilian casualties and the Pentagon’s duty to find pilots willing to live with inflicting them. As long as civilian authorities want to mount drone attacks (and the Obama administration has ordered four times as many as the Bush administration), the military must respond. For active-duty military people, the ethical questions are necessarily subordinated to a human engineering challenge. How do you get enlisted people to kill long distance?

“A more human-friendly control station”

The problems with the current operator system is that it was designed for engineers, not pilots, say drone specialists. The original drone was just an aerial surveillance vehicle; missiles were not added until 2001. Then with American forces at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, many commanding officers in difficult situations demanded this efficient new weapon for tracking and eliminating perceived enemies.

“There was a lot of time pressure to get them on the theater,” says George B. Harrison,  a retired general and consultant to the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. Harrison said the current operating system is “usable” and its deficiencies correctable. “Considerable research and a lot of effort is going into designing a more human-friendly control station.”

“It can be very confusing for the operators,” admits Missy Cummings, a professor at MIT who also serves on the AFSAB. “Things haven’t been optimized.  It’s a system problem across all operating stations.”

Finding people to pilot the drones has proved unexpectedly difficult. The ground control station had many flaws that required work-arounds, such as accessing fuel gauge information and creating more work space. Accidents were common. One pilot mistook the “kill engine” button for the adjacent landing gear switch, resulting in the crash of a $4.5 million Predator drone.  The pilots of traditional manned vehicles who moved in remotely piloted aircraft did not always make the best drone operators. A lot of people dropped out of the program and retention was low.

There are reports of post-traumatic stress disorder and many more of sheer boredom. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2012 at 9:43 am

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