Later On

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

Archive for July 18th, 2012

Interesting graph of record highs vs. record lows in the US in recent years

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I wonder what this graph (from Climate Central) could possibly mean. (The comments at the link are interesting.)

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 5:49 pm

Coghlan’s 12-in-1 Scissors

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A Cool Tool indeed—for $5. Read the description—and take a look:

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Daily life

Still liking the Mac

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I’ve been transferring some music files—well, a lot of music files—from my PC to the Mac using a USB stick, and I somehow screwed it up: though it showed no files, it also had no space available. I think the problem may have been that on the Mac I deleted files from the stick, moving them to the trash, and perhaps removed the stick before emptying the trash. Or some such.

At any rate, the stick, though empty, was deemed full by both the Mac and the PC. I shook my head at the Mac’s unreliability, and took the stick to the PC to reformat it. I have Windows 7 and I could NOT find a reformat command: not on the control panel, not in the (newly designed for Win 7) Windows Explorer, not anywhere. And the Windows help files were no help whatsoever. I was feeling desperate, so I went back to the Mac and did a Google search and found instantly how to reformat the stick on the Mac: the App Folder has in it a Utilities Folder and in that is a program called Disk Utility. Its procedures were obvious and straightforward, and I reformatted the stick in a trice, added a few folders, and took it back to the PC to load it again with music.

I’m liking the Mac, and it was definitely much easier for this mildly nitty-gritty task than the supposedly more nitty-gritty Windows.

My next computer, when it’s time to replace, will definitely be another MacBook Pro. Not the widescreen, which I find cumbersome. The 13″ screen is fine with me.

I also did not know how to select multiple files and folders on the Mac, so while I was looking up the reformat, I looked that up as well: totally trivially easy (once you know how).

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Ominous portents in takeover of government and society by the wealthy

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This article by Elizabeth Lopatto was referenced in passing a few posts back, but as we learn more about Mitt Romney and see more misdeeds by bankers (plus Goldman Sachs’s position that their $5 million fee was well-earned by the excellent advice they gave the owners of Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, despite that advice resulting in the owners losing everything, to the tune of $580 million), the findings of article become worth more attention:

Are society’s most noble actors found within society’s nobility?

That question spurred Paul Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, to explore whether higher social class is linked to higher ideals, he said in a telephone interview.

The answer Piff found after conducting seven different experiments is: no. The pursuit of self-interest is a “fundamental motive among society’s elite, and the increased want associated with greater wealth and status can promote wrongdoing,” Piff and his colleagues wrote yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The “upper class,” as defined by the study, were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to raise their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work, the research found. The solution, Piff said, is to find a way to increase empathy among wealthier people.

“It’s not that the rich are innately bad, but as you rise in the ranks — whether as a person or a nonhuman primate — you become more self-focused,” Piff said. “You can change that by reminding upper-class people of the needs of others. That may not be their default, but have them do it is sufficient to increase their patterns of altruistic behavior.”

That theory will be the basis of his next study. Piff is curious to know how to change patterns of greed and selfishness when they emerge.

Ethics Courses

Previous research has shown that students who take economics classes are more likely to describe greed as good. Pairing ethics courses with economics may be beneficial, Piff said.

“It might be as simple as not only stressing individual performance, but the value of cooperation and improving the welfare of others,” he said. “That goes a long way.”

In the research reported yesterday, the experiments suggest at least some wealthier people “perceive greed as positive and beneficial,” probably as a result of education, personal independence and the resources they have to deal with potentially negative consequences, the authors wrote.

While the tests measured only “minor infractions,” that factor made the results “even more surprising,” Piff said.

One experiment invited 195 adults recruited using Craigslist to play a game in which a computer “rolled dice” for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate. The numbers each participant rolled were the same; anyone self-reporting a total higher than 12 was lying about their score. Those in wealthier groups were found to be more likely to fib, Piff said.

Risks of Cheating

“A $50 prize is a measly sum to people who make $250,000 a year,” he said in a telephone interview. “So why are they more inclined to cheat? For a person with lower socioeconomic status, that $50 would get you more, and the risks are small.”

Poorer participants may be less likely to cheat because they must rely more on their community to get by, and thus are more likely adhere to community standards, Piff said. By comparison, “upper-class individuals are more self-focused, they privilege themselves over others, and they engage in self-interested patterns of behavior,” he said.

In the traffic tests, about one-third of drivers in higher-status cars . . .

Continue reading. As is well-known, Jesus (who in Christian belief is God Himself) strongly warned against wealth. With results such as these, once can see why, given that Jesus was primarily concerned with a person’s moral standing, and clearly wealth undermines that—to an extreme degree, as we see. You’d think that people would pay close attention to direct warnings from God in Person. Ask Mitt what he thinks.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 4:55 pm

A very good 8″ chef’s knife for $30

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The 8″ chef’s knife is a basic kitchen knife, and Wirecutter has high praise for the Victorinox Fibrox. I don’t have that knife myself, but I do have a Victorinox Fibrox boning knife that I like a lot: the handle is comfortable and nonslip, which is good when you’re working with raw meat, which tends to make one’s hands greasy. Read the review. Anyone who does much cooking at all should have a good chef’s knife, and to get one for $30 is an amazing bargain.

As you can tell, I tend to trust Wirecutter reviews. They seem to do a thorough job.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 4:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Interesting: A return to glass for storage—and water bottles

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I guess people don’t want BPA with their food. Stephanie Strom writes of the trend and a new non-shatterable glass water bottle in the NY Times:

Glass water bottles, so yesterday. Plastic, so convenient; metal, so hip.

But now, in back to the future fashion, glass is making a bit of a comeback. And it is being helped in a small way by an entrepreneur who is developing a reusable glass bottle that is hard to break and will not shatter if broken.

The shift to reusable glass water bottles from plastic and metal, which began taking off a couple of years ago, is becoming big business, retailers said.

“I’d say glass bottles account for 20 percent, 30 percent of water bottle sales on our site now,” said Vincent Cobb, founder of reuseit.com, which sells a variety of reusable products. “More and more people are looking for glass.”

The interest does not stop at water bottles.

Consumer concerns that chemicals used in packaging can leach into the products they eat and drink are driving more and more beverage makers and food producers to use glass containers, said Lynn Bragg, president of the Glass Packaging Institute, an industry association. “They’re also looking for sustainable products to be ecologically responsible.”

Coca-Cola is expanding the distribution of products — Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Sprite — that it sells in eight-ounce glass bottles, and S. C. Johnson now sells a line of reusable Ziploc containers called VersaGlass that can be used in a microwave, a freezer and, without their lids, even in an oven up to 400 degrees.

“It’s part of our overall effort to increase packaging diversity so that people have more choices of packaging and portion size,” said Susan Stribling, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman.

No one expects glass to replace plastic anytime soon. After all, billions of plastic bottles are used every year. But in a survey of more than 4,000 consumers this year by EcoFocus Worldwide, a research and consulting group, 37 percent said they were extremely or very concerned about the health and safety of plastics used in food and water packaging, compared to 33 percent in 2010.

EcoFocus also found that 59 percent of the consumers it surveyed used reusable water bottles always or often, up from 56 percent in 2010.

In a smaller survey of about 2,600 people, 42 percent said they had stopped drinking water from plastic bottles or were drinking it less often. Only 8 percent were using glass.

The biggest consumer concern has been bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-mimicking industrial chemical used in some plastics and in the protective coatings that line the inside of some metallic food and beverage containers. Concerns about the chemical have prompted some metal container companies to stop using it. BPA cannot be removed from plastic. . .

Continue reading. My reusable water bottles for the car are stainless steel—this model. I thought of it as “Thermos” but I see it’s “Thermos-Nissan.” The brand’s gone under Japanese ownership.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Health

American healthcare — and Bain Capital

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Are people still saying that American healthcare is the best in the world? I doubt it. Here’s a familiar story that’s interesting because of the Bain Capital ownership. The report by Art Levine in Salon on residential drug and teen treatment facilities run by CRC Health Group, owned by Bain Capital, is lengthy and worth reading—especially since at some point you may well be in a privately-owned hospital that’s organized and operated along the lines described in the article—namely, cutting costs ruthlessly to maximize profits. Forewarned is forearmed.

Here are just a few paragraphs from the early part of the article:

. . . Court documents and ex-staffers also allege that such incidents reflect, in part, a broader corporate culture at Aspen’s owner, CRC Health Group, a leading national chain of treatment centers. Lawsuits and critics have claimed that CRC prizes profits, and the avoidance of outside scrutiny, over the health and safety of its clients. (We sent specific questions on these basic allegations to CRC and owner Bain Capital. CRC would answer only general questions; Bain did not reply.)

And CRC’s corporate culture, in turn, reflects the attitudes and financial imperatives of Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney. (The Romney campaign also did not reply to written questions.) Bain is known for its relentless obsession with maximizing shareholder value and revenues. Indeed, this has become a talking point of late on the Romney campaign trail; he bragged to Fox in late May that “80 percent of them [Bain investments] grew their revenues.” CRC, a fast-growing company then in the lucrative field of drug treatment, was perhaps a natural fit when Bain acquired it for $720 million in 2006. In conversations with staff and patients who spent time at CRC facilities since the takeover, there are suggestions that the Bain approach has had its effects. “If you look at their daily profit numbers compared to what they charge,” Dana Blum said of CRC’s Aspen division in 2009, “it’s obscene.” That point, ironically enough, was underscored by the glowing reports in the trade press about its profitability.

The purchase of CRC came seven years after Romney publicly announced his retirement as CEO of Bain Capital, where he had been in charge since its founding in 1984. But at the time of his departure, Romney worked out an arrangement to continue to share in Bain’s profits as a limited partner in the firm. Today, he is still an investor in 48 Bain accounts. Though he has refused to disclose their underlying assets, some information about them can be gleaned. For example, he has reported at least  $300,000 to $1.2 million, if not more, in fluctuating annual earnings from Bain Capital VIII, the convoluted $3.5 billion array of related funds that owns both name-brand companies such as Dunkin’ Donuts and the lesser-known CRC Health Group. Most of these funds were made more attractive to privileged investors by being registered in the Cayman Islands tax haven. And Romney’s connections to CRC run even deeper: Of the three Bain managing partners who sit on CRC’s board, two, John Connaughton and Steven Barnes (with his wife), gave a total of half a million dollars to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Romney. They also each donated the $2,500 maximum directly to his campaign. . .

Read the entire article, and note that the only metric that matters to the hospital owners and operators is profitability (and the bigger the better): everything else is secondary. The effects of this approach are described in the article.

Perhaps “Bain Capital” is a play on “Bane Capital”? It certainly seems to be the bane of good care.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 12:27 pm

Another good thing

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I’m listening to Maurizio Pollini play Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53 – Polonaise héroïque. Some memes are quite good.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 10:09 am

Posted in Music

A hopeful sign

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Good things do still happen. Sasha Senderovich takes note of a new sentiment in Russia:

SOMETHING surprising is beginning to stir in the outlook of young Russians. A pervasive cynicism about communal action that took hold after the Soviet state and its professed collective ethos collapsed may be making way for a new sensibility — the idea that citizens can organize, be responsible for one another, and ultimately have an effect on how Russia governs itself.

The evidence can be found in the number of young volunteers helping the flood-devastated town of Krymsk, and in the skittishness of some Russian officials about such volunteers.

Soon after an overnight flood destroyed the town of nearly 60,000 people in southern Russia on July 7, killing 172 by official count, perhaps many more, President Vladimir V. Putin predictably sought to play it down: “One should not exaggerate the dimensions of the tragedy,” he decreed. It was not the first time he had shown indifference to human suffering. But the response from many Russians — particularly young people — was different. From many corners of the country, groups organized humanitarian aid and descended on Krymsk to help, rather than wait for incompetent government functionaries to fail. (Local officials were already being blamed for not notifying residents about the impending consequences of an extraordinary rainstorm.)

The volunteerism in Krymsk is one signal that anti-government street protests that began last winter have helped inspire in many young Russians a consciousness of their responsibilities toward society and a desire for the government to uphold its obligations to its citizens. Buoyed by social networks and new communities, they are creating what could become a blueprint for a new form of civil society. . .

Continue reading.

May the new meme flourish and spread.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 9:57 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Flocks of chickens heading home

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Is it just me, or does it seem to others that the preponderance of news these days is heavily negative? It’s as if the chickens have all decided to return home to roost, and we are being bombarded with stories of the consequences of our actions: in the environment, in politics, in community, in…  well, everywhere I look. I want to free myself of this outlook, but it seems to press in on every side.

I read of the legacy of the Rocky Mountain Flats nuclear weapons plant, which continues to poison soil, air, and water near Denver. (Plutonium loses half its radioactivity in 24,000 years, so we still have a ways to go. Human civilization dates back about 10,000 years.) In the interview with the author of the recent book on that topic, the opening question speaks to what I’m thinking about:

A constant tension in the book is the internal battle that local residents and Rocky Flats workers feel between being concerned about what goes on at the nuclear weapons facility and willfully avoiding this knowledge to protect their peace of mind. You yourself struggled with this for years, even after you started to work as a secretary for Rocky Flats. What do you think is at the heart of this struggle?

That same sense of denial is everywhere: ignoring the costs of our actions, individually and collectively, until reality breaks through, as it ultimately will. And the walls of denial seem to be crumbling everywhere about us, though we are in the grip of a certain set of memes—cultural constructs through which we live our lives—that are self-perpetuating and quite controlling. I’m thinking primarily of corporations: artificial constructs that, even if all personnel are replaced (as they are in the course of a generation), bang on doing the same thing: maximize profits no matter what, with no regard for externalized costs—and, BTW, externalize every cost that can be externalized. (Cf. the environmental costs of the Rocky Mountain Flats plant: Dow Chemical surely is not going to pay that: they took the profits and left the costs for “others”: namely, the public, future generations, and the environment. It’s very like slash-and-burn agriculture (such as ripping down the Amazon rainforests for a few years of crops and cattle before the land gives up without the environment that protected it), which is in fact another example of the mindset.

This actually came to mind as I read that Dow AgroSciences is coming out with a new GMO soybean:

The product is designed to produce soy plants that withstand 2,4-D, a highly toxic herbicide (and, famously, the less toxic component in the notorious Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange).

Readers may remember that during an even-sleepier period—the week between Christmas and the New Year—the USDA made a similar move on Dow’s 2,4-D-ready corn.

If the USDA deregulates the two products—as it has telegraphed its intention to do—Dow will enjoy a massive profit opportunity. Every year, about half of all US farmland is planted in corn and soy. Currently, Dow’s rival Monsanto has a tight grip on weed management in corn-and-soy country. Upwards of 90 percent of soy and 70 percent of corn is engineered to withstand another herbicide called glyphosate through highly profitable Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seed lines. And after so many years of lashing so much land with the same herbicide,glyphosate-resistant superweeds are now vexing farmers and “alarming” weed-control experts throughout the Midwest.

And that’s where Dow’s 2,4-D-ready corn and soy seeds come in. Dow’s novel products will be engineered to withstand glyphosate and 2,4-D, so farmers can douse their fields with both herbicides; the 2,4-D will kill the weeds that glyphosate no longer can. That’s the marketing pitch, anyway.

Note that Dow is still going strong (and not paying for the Rocky Mountain Flats costs), generating more profits as the engine of the corporation mindlessly does—not without intelligence, but that intelligence in effect in thrall to the drive for profits, which plays a role much as the unconscious does in the body of an obese person: that person is not consciously trying to be obese, but is driven by a complex of unconscious impulses, which in effect drive the conscious self. Dow is not deliberately (consciously) choosing the destroy the environment by manufacturing and releasing into the envrionment more millions of tons of highly toxic chemicals—that’s just a side-effect, easily ignored with the (always ready) psychological mechanism of denial. The deliberate choices are to think how profits can be increased, and if a way is found, that choice is made automatically.

Massive amounts of toxins released into the environment, year after year, toxins that cause physical damage and in particular nerve damage. Also, perhaps coincidentally, a more or less constant rise in the number of cases of autism reported—and analysis has shown that the increase in numbers is not simply the result of more recognition of a more or less constant condition: the condition itself is becoming more common.

Is there a link? I don’t even know whether it’s being studied. But I think that eventually chickens do come home to roost.

More cheerful posts to come. I hope.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 9:38 am

A Klar-Seifen shave

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A belated response to a reader request, today’s Klar Seifen shave shows again that this is a fine shaving soap. I used the Rooney Style 1 Size 1 shaving brush, and the lather was rich and creamy. This soap is easy to lather (assuming your tap water is reasonably soft): hold the tin in one hand and brush the soap’s surface briskly and at length and the brush is quickly loaded with soap and a creamy lather.

I used the ARC Weber and an Astra Superior Platinum blade to do three smooth passes, then a splash of Klar Seifen Sandalwood to send me on my way. I continue to find this morning ritual restorative and centering, every day. It’s good to begin the day with something like this.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2012 at 8:04 am

Posted in Shaving

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