Later On

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

Archive for July 15th, 2012

Terrific comedy from 1940: I Love You Again

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I’ve been watching a bunch of comedies from the 1930s, and unfortunately many have not aged well: too slow-paced, gags not funny, timing off. But now I’m watching one as crisp as a new dollar bill: I Love You Again, with William Powell and Myrna Loy. Absolutely terrific. Recommended. It even cheered me up.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2012 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Humor, Movies & TV

Congress inaction

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Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2012 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

Johnny Hodges solo: All of Me, Duke Ellington Orchestra

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Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2012 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

Speaking of attacks on the environment, look at this episode in the War on Drugs

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Tessie Castillo reports at AlterNet:

Imagine for a moment that China, in an effort to reduce cigarette smoking and associated health costs among its population, declared war on U.S. tobacco production. Imagine Chinese planes flying over American tobacco fields, spraying crop-killing poison that destroys not just tobacco, but all vegetation, wiping out farmers’ livelihoods, displacing millions of families, and contaminating the environment. Such an act of hostility and disregard for national sovereignty would provoke, at the very least, military aggression from the United States. Yet, unbeknownst to most Americans, for the past 20 years the U.S. has conducted just such a campaign against Colombian coca farmers.

I visited Colombia for the first time in January 2012 on a delegation with Witness for Peace, an organization focused on changing U.S. policy in Latin America. A public health worker, I’d signed up for the trip to understand the origins and motives of a drug trade that contributes to a violent illicit market and shatters countless lives through addiction. By the time I left Colombia, I realized that while people who suffer from drug dependence are clear casualties of the trade, the millions of Colombian small farmers poisoned and displaced by U.S. drug policy are perhaps its greatest victims.

With appalling addiction rates in the U.S., particularly during the crack epidemic that swept the country during the 1980s, it’s hard to blame the United States for taking an aggressive stance against drug suppliers. The problem is that most of the “suppliers” in Colombia are not swaggering kingpins who lord over drug plantations, but poor farmers who grow coca, itself a harmless plant, but which happens to be the main ingredient in cocaine, to sustain meager livelihoods and feed their families. During my trip to Colombia I not only saw the coca plant, a short, unremarkable bush, but tasted it in the form of aromatic coca tea and cookies made with coca flour. Coca is a medicinal plant often used to create flour and healing balms. The dried leaves are also chewed during some indigenous spiritual ceremonies. But when filtered through other ingredients, typically cement, gasoline and battery acid, coca leaves produce cocaine, an addictive stimulant drug.  For the past two decades, U.S. drug policy in Colombia had centered around reducing the cocaine supply by eradicating its leafy ingredient, the coca plant.

The United States’ War on Drugs, launched under former President Nixon in the 1970s, seeped into Colombia during the 1980s. A full-scale military strategy, Plan Colombia, was drafted under President Clinton and implemented in 2001 by President Bush. Plan Colombia was an aggressive campaign against drug suppliers that called for the eradication of the coca plant through aerial fumigation (spraying herbicide from planes) and manual eradication (pulling the plant up by the roots). Since the Plan was initiated, the United States (working with Colombian anti-trafficking police) has sent planes laden with glysophate herbicide to spray on small farms, indigenous reserves, and national parks where coca is grown. Colombian farmers report that when the concentrated substance rains down, it kills not only coca, but everything else it touches. Subsistence crops such as rice, corn and potatoes wither, rivers are laced with poison, wild animals and livestock die, children sicken, and chemical rashes spread over the skin of anyone in the path of the planes. The farmers, stripped of their homes and livelihood, burdened with sickness and chemical burns, flee to the cities where slums spring up as people fight over scarce resources amidst 12-20% unemployment.

After witnessing the devastating effects of fumigation in Colombia, I asked several small farmers why they grow coca and risk losing the crop to fumigation. Their answer was clear: . . .

Continue reading. Doesn’t it seem that we’re not getting our money’s worth from the War on Drugs? Isn’t it time we experimented with different approaches? Portugal has enjoyed great success with decriminalization. Our War on Drugs seems mostly to be a war on people.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2012 at 3:33 pm

The effects of compassion and how to teach compassion

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Extremely interesting article by David DeSteno in the NY Times:

ALL the major religions place great importance on compassion. Whether it’s the parable of the good Samaritan in Christianity, Judaism’s “13 attributes of compassion” or the Buddha’s statement that “loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice,” empathy with the suffering of others is seen as a special virtue that has the power to change the world. This idea is often articulated by the Dalai Lama, who argues that individual experiences of compassion radiate outward and increase harmony for all.

As a social psychologist interested in the emotions, I long wondered whether this spiritual understanding of compassion was also scientifically accurate. Empirically speaking, does the experience of compassion toward one person measurably affect our actions and attitudes toward other people? If so, are there practical steps we can take to further cultivate this feeling? Recently, my colleagues and I conducted experiments that answered yes to both questions.

In one experiment, designed with the psychologist Paul Condon and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we recruited people to take part in a study that was ostensibly about the relation of mathematical ability to taste perception — but that in actuality was a study of how the experience of compassion affects your behavior.

Each experimental session consisted of three individuals: a real participant and two confederates (i.e., people who secretly worked for us). First, the participants were told that they had four minutes to solve as many of 20 difficult math problems as they could and that they would receive 50 cents for each one they solved correctly. Twenty was far more than the typical person could do; the average number solved was 4. After time expired, the experimenter approached each person to ask how many problems he or she had solved, paid the person accordingly, and then had the person place his or her work in the shredder.

The situation was rigged so that the experimenter would run out of money just before paying the last person, Dan, who was a confederate. While the experimenter left to get more money, Dan dumped his work into the shredder in full view of everyone. When the experimenter returned, Dan reported that he had completed all 20 problems and had already shredded his work to save time. The experimenter paid him the full $10. But it was obvious to all that Dan had cheated. (There was also a “control” variation in which Dan did not cheat.)

Everyone then moved on to the “taste perception” phase. Here, participants prepared taste samples for one another, and the real participants were assigned to prepare the taste sample for Dan. The sample they had to prepare required them to pour extra-hot hot sauce into a small cup. They were led to believe that whatever they poured into the cup would be placed in Dan’s mouth in its entirety. What did they do? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2012 at 3:13 pm

Governors waving arms to prevent chickens coming home to roost

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The schedule starts to kick in due to the inability of Congress to tackle any problems at all: Defense “sequestration” – the formal term for the bipartisan cuts called for by last year’s debt-ceiling deal – is $500 billion in cuts in military spending that our Congress voted to approve. As Felicia Sonmez reports in the Washington Post,

The first $50 billion of cuts is set to take effect in January 2013. Some defense contractors have said that in compliance with federal law, they will be forced to issue layoff notices to workers 60 days before the cuts are enacted – a date that works out to several days before the Nov. 6 election.

The governors are starting to call for large-scale illegal behavior: stall the notices, regardless of legal requirements, until after the election. They are careful to note that the reason to stall notices until after the election is not political—left unsaid is the clear implication that they believe the public are idiots who’d believe such a stupid statement. It’s quite clearly political, and the failure of Congress to find a budget solution—the obvious solution is to return the marginal tax rates to what they were under, say, President Ronald Reagan—sure the GOP would not have a problem with that?  Haha. The GOP now has embraced a suicidal policy, in terms of government and the public welfare, of not approving any taxes and wanting only to cut spending (domestic programs, primarily). The US is committing suicide, but politicians are eager to escape the folly of their choices.

Thus the call by governors to break the law on a massive scale. “Not for political reasons,” indeed.

I fear that the country really is doomed. We’ve lost control of the government—that has shifted to corporations, thus the lack of legal action on the various financial frauds, along with the ability of companies to wreck the environment:

item: The Ecology of Disease — the first 3 paragraphs:

THERE’S a term biologists and economists use these days — ecosystem services — which refers to the many ways nature supports the human endeavor. Forests filter the water we drink, for example, and birds and bees pollinate crops, both of which have substantial economic as well as biological value.

If we fail to understand and take care of the natural world, it can cause a breakdown of these systems and come back to haunt us in ways we know little about. A critical example is a developing model of infectious disease that shows that most epidemics — AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and hundreds more that have occurred over the last several decades — don’t just happen. They are a result of things people do to nature.

Disease, it turns out, is largely an environmental issue. Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic — they originate in animals. And more than two-thirds of those originate in wildlife. . . .

item: Studies Tie Human Bladder Infections To Antibiotics In Chicken — the first 3 paragraphs:

What do some persistent human bladder infections and some innocent-looking chicken cutlets have in common? Drug-resistant E. coli, scientists say.

How the same bad bug got in both places is the focus of a recentinvestigation by Maryn McKenna, a journalist with the Food and Environment Reporting Network who, in her own words, “finds emerging diseases strangely exciting.” She’s the author of thebookSUPERBUG, which is all about drug-resistant staph infections, and she blogs about antibiotic resistance over atWired.

The results of her investigation were just published in theAtlantic and reported in collaboration with ABC News. We asked her to sit down with The Salt to tell us more about it: . . .

item: Exposing the Grave Dangers of Life in an Oil Refinery Zone — the first 3 paragraphs:

For three generations the Foster family has worked for the petrochemical refineries of Corpus Christi, Texas. They’ve lived there, too, smack in the middle of Refinery Row – a 15-mile stretch of industrial development that is one of the thickest concentrations of refineries in the nation. Citgo, Valero, and Flint Hills Resources (formerly known as Koch) run two sites apiece, with a gas processing unit, tank farms, and a slew of chemical manufacturers shuffled in between. For three-quarters of a century, this futuristic forest of pipe and steel has not only been the landscape of the Fosters’ lives but the source of their livelihood as well, paying off their houses, feeding and clothing their children, financing vacations now and then.

But Jeannine Foster, the family matriarch, worries about the pitfalls of this seemingly symbiotic relationship. Her father and brother were badly injured during the Coastal States explosion in the early sixties, when her father lost much of his hearing and her brother suffered burns on a third of his body, including his face. All three of her children had birth defects, including Hirschsprung disease (a congenital disorder of the colon) and kidney reflux. The family must also contend with their industrial neighbors’ noxious odors, blinding lights, and warning whistles that rattle the dishes in their cupboards. “When the whistle blows, you look to see which direction the sock is blowing, and run in the opposite direction,” Foster says.

For decades, a sprawling ASARCO/Encyle plant was the anchor of this industrial ecosystem. Foster needed only to step out her front door to see the plant, located two blocks away. Its smokestack – 315 feet of brick and mortar, striped red and white like a barber pole – was visible from her kitchen window. The ASARCO plant began as a high-grade zinc smelting facility in 1941 and, in its heyday, employed nearly 800 workers who oversaw the production of some 100,000 tons of zinc a year. The plant closed for 15 months in 1982, briefly reopened, then closed again in 1985 – only to be bought by a subsidiary called Encycle, which turned the 110-acre site into an industrial waste recycling plant that processed cyanide, lead, and cadmium, among other hazardous materials. Due in part to a disastrous whistleblower report accusing Encycle of myriad illegal practices, the site was shuttered for good in 2002. . .

item: the hundreds of millions of tons of toxins released into the environment through agriculture (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides—all specifically designed as poisons) and industrial process (toxic sludge, coal-plant emissions that release mercury and other metals into the atmosphere (to the point that certain fish must now be avoided because the mercury levels are so high) and into holding tanks that rupture and/or poison groundwater, the toxins injected in the fracking process, and so on). These accumulate in the environment, and the environment supports life—our life—or not.

item: the Big Kahuna: global warming continues apace with no real effort to halt the process—not while some corporations stand to make money from processes and products that dump increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. And unfortunately here there is a significant lag: by the time things are really bad, the process (even we stop at that instant) will continue to get worse for 50 years or so.

Not a cheery post, but it seems as though things have been accumulating and now they’re coming home to roost—and legal requirements are not going to be an issue. We sleepwalk to our doom, I fear. Probably this is the inevitable result of  technological advances combined with the tragedy of the commons, which allows individuals (and individual companies) to shirk responsibility for the effects their combined actions. No wonder SETI comes up empty.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2012 at 3:02 pm

Backing up the computer

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I have religiously backed up my MacBook to a My Passport hard drive, which I keep beside the chair—but, of course, there it is, beside my chair, along with the computer: fire, earthquake, or theft that takes out one is likely to take out the other. The Eldest did some research into on-line backups—storing your back-up in the cloud—and called to recommend CrashPlanPlus, a for-fee service that has a free component: CrashPlan, which allows you to back up to (say) a friend’s computer in another location (assuming that something that takes out your computer will not affect the computer in the other location). explains the service well, as does the video below.

The important thing about CrashPlan is that it works well on the Mac. Windows users have a good choice from an array of on-line backup services, but the choices for the Mac are fewer. CrashPlan serves Mac, Windows, and Linux, so I’ll also back up my Windows computer once I get my new monitor tomorrow. (The old Dell monitor just died.)

One minor drawback is that the initial backup takes a lot of time: I started the Mac backup late yesterday afternoon, and right now it tells me that it expects to finish this first backup 2.4 days from now. (The estimate improves when I leave the computer alone: when I’m using the computer, CrashPlan slows down somewhat.) Once the first backup is done, subsequent backups are on-going and unnoticeable, since it always backs up just the changes. Those who have had to recover report that recovery is easy and goes well. Important note: CrashPlan says that if the backup is interrupted (you absentmindedly turn off the computer, or your internet connection goes down, or there’s a power failure), CrashPlan just picks up the backup from the point where it stopped: no harm done. Still, I want to get this first backup over with, so I’ll leave my computer on and running until sometime Tuesday, when it should be done.

Given how much we now rely on the computer for our recordkeeping and vital data, a secure backup seems essential. CrashPlanPlus currently costs $50/year, which is little enough for peace of mind—and a fantastic bargain in the event your computer actually does get lost, stolen, destroyed, or simply stops working due to (say) electrical surge. And the unobtrusive nature of continuous back-ups should ensure that new information is secured as you enter it, more or less.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2012 at 8:14 am

Posted in Software, Technology

Travel tips from techie travelers

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Stephanie Rosenbloom has an interesting report today in the NY Times on how techie frequent travelers organize themselves for travel. Worth reading if you travel much at all. To take just one example from the story:

Oh, the monotony of cutting and pasting details from confirmation e-mails — plane tickets, hotel reservations, car rentals — into your online calendar. So what do the experts do? They turn to TripIt, a Web site and free app that allows users simply to forward those e-mails and — bang! — everything is instantly organized into a digital itinerary that can be synced with calendars and shared with friends and family. (There is also an option to automatically import the e-mails from an in-box.) The itinerary, organized chronologically from flight to hotel and everything in between, includes all the essentials: addresses, reservation numbers, weather forecasts (notes can be added, too). When your flight lands, pull up your itinerary on your smartphone and tap “directions,” and maps, along with step-by-step instructions on how to get from A to B, will appear. No need to test your phone battery and your patience with GPS.

Written by Leisureguy

15 July 2012 at 7:19 am

Posted in Daily life

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