Later On

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

Archive for November 21st, 2012

America’s (rapid) decline

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Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times:

In upper-middle-class suburbs on the East Coast, the newest must-have isn’t a $7,500 Sub-Zero refrigerator. It’s a standby generator that automatically flips on backup power to an entire house when the electrical grid goes out.

In part, that’s a legacy of Hurricane Sandy. Such a system can cost well over $10,000, but many families are fed up with losing power again and again.

(A month ago, I would have written more snarkily about residential generators. But then we lost power for 12 days after Sandy — and that was our third extended power outage in four years. Now I’m feeling less snarky than jealous!)

More broadly, the lust for generators is a reflection of our antiquated electrical grid and failure to address climate change. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our grid, prone to bottlenecks and blackouts, a grade of D+ in 2009.

So Generac, a Wisconsin company that dominates the generator market, says it is running three shifts to meet surging demand. About 3 percent of stand-alone homes worth more than $100,000 in the country now have standby generators installed.

“Demand for generators has been overwhelming, and we are increasing our production levels,” Art Aiello, a spokesman for Generac, told me.

That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

It’s manifestly silly (and highly polluting) for every fine home to have a generator. It would make more sense to invest those resources in the electrical grid so that it wouldn’t fail in the first place.

But our political system is dysfunctional: in addressing income inequality, in confronting climate change and in maintaining national infrastructure.

The National Climatic Data Center has just reported that October was the 332nd month in a row of above-average global temperatures. As the environmental Web site Grist reported, that means that nobody younger than 27 has lived for a single month with colder-than-average global temperatures, yet climate change wasn’t even much of an issue in the 2012 campaign. Likewise, the World Economic Forum ranks American infrastructure 25th in the world, down from 8th in 2003-4, yet infrastructure is barely mentioned by politicians.

So time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.

Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!

Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.

Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!

Are public parks — even our awesome national parks, dubbed “America’s best idea” and the quintessential “public good” — suffering from budget cuts? Don’t whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!

Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind — just join a private tennis club!

I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney’s call to end financing of public broadcasting.

A wealthy friend of mine notes that . . .

Continue reading. What’s weird is that the wealthy seem perfectly willing to spend large sums for generators, private security forces, private schools, and on and on, but not willing to spend the money in taxes to improve the overall infrastructure for the common welfare.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 7:27 pm

Sometimes Megs lets The Wife use the chair

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When Megs is otherwise occupied, like right now:

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life

Maybe it’s time to reconsider the DHS

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Theodoric Meyer reports in ProPublica:

Getting the agencies responsible for national security to communicate better was one of the main reasons the Department of Homeland Security was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But according to a recent report from the department’s inspector general, one aspect of this mission remains far from accomplished.

DHS has spent $430 million over the past nine years to provide radios tuned to a common, secure channel to 123,000 employees across the country. Problem is, no one seems to know how to use them.

Only one of 479 DHS employees surveyed by the inspector general’s office was actually able to use the common channel, according to the report. Most of those surveyed — 72 percent — didn’t even know the common channel existed. Another 25 percent knew the channel existed but weren’t able to find it; 3 percent were able to find an older common channel, but not the current one.

The investigators also found that more than half of the radios did not have the settings for the common channel programmed into them. Only 20 percent of radios tested had all the correct settings.

The radios are supposed to help employees of Customs and Border Patrol, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service, and other agencies with DHS communicate during crises, as well as normal operations.

DHS officials did not immediately respond to questions from ProPublica about what effect the radio problems could have on how the agency handles an emergency. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 1:00 pm

For folks who sew

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition writes to Eric Holder

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Interesting article by Phillip Smith in the Drug War Chronicle:

Tuesday morning, former Baltimore narcotics officer Neill Franklin delivered a letter signed by 73 current and former police officers, judges, prosecutors, and federal agents to Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department in downtown Washington , DC, urging him not to ignore the wishes of voters in Colorado and Washington state who voted to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana.

Franklin is the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which supported Amendment 64 in Colorado and Initiative 502 in Washington. Both measures won with 55% of the vote in this month’s elections.

“As fellow law enforcement and criminal justice professionals we respectfully call upon you to respect and abide by the democratically enacted laws to regulate marijuana in Colorado and Washington,” the letter said. “This is not a challenge to you, but an invitation — an invitation to help return our profession to the principles that made us enter law enforcement in the first place.”

The Obama administration’s response to the legalization votes could help define its place in the history books, LEAP warned.

“One day the decision you are about to make about whether or not to respect the people’s will may well come to be the one for which you are known. The war on marijuana has contributed to tens of thousands of deaths both here and south of the border, it has empowered and expanded criminal networks and it has destroyed the mutual feeling of respect once enjoyed between citizens and police. It has not, however, reduced the supply or the demand of the drug and has only served to further alienate — through arrest and imprisonment — those who consume it,” the letter said.

“At every crucial moment in history, there comes a time when those who derive their power from the public trust forge a new path by disavowing their expected function in the name of the greater good. This is your moment. As fellow officers who have seen the destruction the war on marijuana has wrought on our communities, on our police forces, on our lives, we hope that you will join us in seeking a better world,” the letter concluded.

The LEAP letter is only the latest manifestation of efforts by legalization supporters to persuade the federal government to stand back and not interfere with state-level attempts to craft schemes to tax and regulate marijuana commerce. Members of the Colorado congressional delegation have introduced legislation that would give the states freedom to act, while other members of Congress, notably Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), have called on the Obama administration to “respect the wishes of voters in Colorado and Washington.” Frank and Paul are cosponsors of a pending federal legalization bill.

“We have sponsored legislation at the federal level to remove criminal penalties for the use of marijuana because of our belief in individual freedom,” Frank and Paul wrote in a letter to President Obama last week. “We recognize that this has not yet become national policy, but we believe there are many strong reasons for your administration to allow the states of Colorado and Washington to set the policies they believe appropriate in this regard, without the federal government overriding the choices made by the voters of these states.”

“We seem to be at a turning point in how our society deals with marijuana,” said Franklin Tuesday. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 11:21 am

Moral (and possibly) legal failure of a Federal judge

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Outrageous behavior for a Federal judge—for anyone, really, but a judge should know better (especially one who has served on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Paul Campos reports in Salon:

This is a story of what’s happening to the best and the brightest of the echo boomer generation — the children of the baby boomers, many of whom, to echo Bob Dylan, have finished 20 years of schooling, only to find they can’t get put on the day shift.

Traditionally, the most prestigious job a law school graduate can get straight out of school is a federal judicial clerkship. Holders of these one-year positions are usually much sought-after by big law firms and other desirable employers, and the competition among law students for federal clerkships is ferocious.

Even at elite law schools, only students at or near the top of class have a reasonable shot at a federal clerkship. In addition, now many young lawyers with sterling resumes have begun applying for clerkships. The result is that any federal judge will be deluged with hundreds of highly qualified candidates for an open position.

In response, the government has created an online application site for judicial clerks, featuring strict rules about when candidates can apply and when clerkship offers can be made. William Martinez, a federal judge in Denver, is currently using the site to solicit applications for a standard year-long clerkship in his chambers.

While the requirements for the job look quite ordinary – excellent academic credentials required, two or more years of legal practice experience preferred – the position’s salary is not. More precisely, this job features a salary of zero: “This position is a gratuitous service appointment,” the posting announces, while going on to make clear that the successful candidate will waive any claim to salary, benefits or any other compensation, and that he or she can be fired at any time, for any reason, or no reason, during the course of the year-long appointment.

It gets better: Although Judge Martinez isn’t going to pay the successful applicant, and reserves the right to fire this person arbitrarily at any time, the judge is asking whoever takes the job “to morally commit to the position for one year.” (In other words, don’t think for a moment it’s OK to quit this non-paying job just because a paying job comes along.) As an added extra bonus, the posting states unequivocally that “there is no possibility of the position turning into a paid position with Judge Martinez.”

This is the practical endpoint of a social system that has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 10:50 am

Posted in Government, Law

Once this chair was The Wife’s

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Now it belongs to Megs:

At least that corner of the seat belongs to her: she spends a lot of time sleeping there.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 9:37 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Superb shave with antique razor

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A totally wonderful shave, skin very smooth and very soft.

The Ecotools Bamboo Finishing Kabuki (less than $10 for 2 on Amazon Prime) did its usual fine job with the Mystic Water Sensitive Skin shaving soap (scroll down at the link)—a very nice soap indeed, and today you can see the color and read the ingredients:

The Ecotools feels wonderfully soft on the skin, but it also makes a fine lather—just continue loading until the bubbles being formed as you brush the soap are microscopic. It held plenty of lather for three passes.

I’m not sure the Gillette long-toothed NEW razor, introduced 81 years ago, actually qualifies as an “antique” in the technical sense, but it’s pretty old and it did a very fine job with a Wilkinson Sword blade—an interesting brand in that their coating technology on the new stainless steel blades back in the ’50s was what made Gillette throw in the towel on DE shaving and start the cartridge escalator.

Krampfert’s Finest Bay Rum again: very nice aftershave, with spices, rum, moisturizing stuff. Smells good and feels good.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 9:35 am

Posted in Shaving

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