Later On

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

Archive for December 2012

Serious thoughts on the Constitution

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The Constitution seems to be the sort rules, common in many games, which work well so long as the players exhibit good faith and cooperate with the spirit of the rules but fail when one or both sides look (in effect) for loopholes in the rules that allow wins outside the spirit of the game—for example, the chess matches in the 19th century in which one player simply sat without moving until his opponent abandoned the game, thus securing a win in accordance with the rules of the time.

The Constitution, as Newt Gingrich was the first to demonstrate, depends on a common understanding of, and cooperation, with the spirit of representative democracy, but its rules turn out to be riddled with loopholes that are open to politicians (and parties) of bad faith. Perhaps it’s time to rethink a political instrument that is now failing so spectacularly, with minorities able to destroy the functioning of Congress. Louis Michael Seidman writes in the NY Times today:

AS the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.

Consider, for example, the assertion by the Senate minority leader last week that the House could not take up a plan by Senate Democrats to extend tax cuts on households making $250,000 or less because the Constitution requires that revenue measures originate in the lower chamber. Why should anyone care? Why should a lame-duck House, 27 members of which were defeated for re-election, have a stranglehold on our economy? Why does a grotesquely malapportioned Senate get to decide the nation’s fate?

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination?

Constitutional disobedience may seem radical, but it is as old as the Republic. In fact, the Constitution itself was born of constitutional disobedience. When George Washington and the other framers went to Philadelphia in 1787, they were instructed to suggest amendments to the Articles of Confederation, which would have had to be ratified by the legislatures of all 13 states. Instead, in violation of their mandate, they abandoned the Articles, wrote a new Constitution and provided that it would take effect after ratification by only nine states, and by conventions in those states rather than the state legislatures.

No sooner was the Constitution in place than our leaders began ignoring it. John Adams supported the Alien and Sedition Acts, which violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. Thomas Jefferson thought every constitution should expire after a single generation. He believed the most consequential act of his presidency — the purchase of the Louisiana Territory — exceeded his constitutional powers.

Before the Civil War, abolitionists like Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison conceded that the Constitution protected slavery, but denounced it as a pact with the devil that should be ignored. When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — 150 years ago tomorrow — he justified it as a military necessity under his power as commander in chief. Eventually, though, he embraced the freeing of slaves as a central war aim, though nearly everyone conceded that the federal government lacked the constitutional power to disrupt slavery where it already existed. Moreover, when the law finally caught up with the facts on the ground through passage of the 13th Amendment, ratification was achieved in a manner at odds with constitutional requirements. (The Southern states were denied representation in Congress on the theory that they had left the Union, yet their reconstructed legislatures later provided the crucial votes to ratify the amendment.)

In his Constitution Day speech in 1937, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2012 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Government

On the way to the cafe

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We stopped by Toasties for breakfast (The Wife) and lunch (me), and as we approached, saw this little mushroom cluster growing beside the sidewalk. The Wife pointed and exclaimed, “Breakfast!” 🙂

Mushroom cluster

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2012 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Daily life

Venezuelan Poodle Moth

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From this collection, a wonderful moth:

Venezuelan Poodle Moth

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2012 at 9:19 am

Posted in Daily life

Closing out the year with a perfect shave

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SOTD 31 Dec 2012

An absolutely terrific shave. The shave soap is Lavender & Rose from The Shave Den, and this is the first use. My Vie-Long horsehair worked up a fine lather, and I enjoyed loading the brush so much that the handle got covered in lather—and surprise, a smooth surface that’s wet and soapy is quite slippery! A quick rinse, though, and as soon as the soap was gone, the handle was grippy again: water alone doesn’t make it slippery.

I like the fragrance and took my time lathering, then picked up the Micron. It is actually set on 3, not on 7: this model has a red dot on both sides of the base  so you don’t have to worry about cap orientation, as you do with the similarly designed Progress—just tighten the cap and see which of the two dots is above the 1, and that’s the dot to use. That dot is the one on the other side. The blade is a newish Gillette Rubie.

It was an interesting shave. When I first got this razor, I nicked myself in every shave, but I liked the look of it so much that I persisted in shaving, and somehow I unconsciously learned how to wield it. This morning I shaved with abandon and felt as though I couldn’t cut myself if I tried—and I indeed got no cuts, no nicks, and a BBS shave.

It reminded me of the time I played golf. A guy with whom I worked, an avid golfer, took me out to show me the game. I could putt pretty well (lots of previous croquet playing on good greens), but when I tried to drive the ball, it would go straight for about 10-20 yards, then turn at right angles. Very weird. He told me that it was due not so much to holding the club face, but to the swing. He held the face at a slight angle, swung, and the ball hurled straight down the fairway. According to him, if your swing was right, it was hard to hook or slice no matter the head position.

I have no idea whether that is true—as it turned out, that was also my last golf outing—but today I felt as though no matter how I handled this razor the shave would be good—probably a combination of good razor design and a thoroughly skilled adaptive unconscious.

At any rate, it was a truly enjoyable shave, in which I more or less stood back and watched myself shave. A final rinse, a splash of 4711, and the year draws to a close.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2012 at 9:16 am

Posted in Shaving

Strong and important column by Krugman

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The most recent column by Paul Krugman is very much to the point:

Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks, has a reputation as a good guy, a man who supports worthy causes. And he presumably thought he would add to that reputation when he posted an open letter urging his employees to promote fiscal bipartisanship by writing “Come together” on coffee cups.

In reality, however, all he did was make himself part of the problem. And his letter was actually a very good illustration of the forces that created the current mess.

In the letter, Mr. Schultz warned that elected officials “have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt,” and suggested that readers further inform themselves at the Web site of the organization Fix the Debt. Let’s parse that, shall we?

First of all, . . .

Continue reading. Read the whole thing, by all means.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Heating buildings with body heat

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Very interesting column.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Environment, Technology

Corporations trying to end tinkering

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Why let you repair something when it possible to force you buy a complete new unit? “Profits must grow”: the prime imperative of the corporation. Alec Foege has an interesting book excerpt in Salon:

A few years ago I engaged my then two-month-old smartphone, a BlackBerry of some sort or another, in a very nontechnical road test: I sat on it. I only noticed the damage when one afternoon I reached to check my email. The small screen, usually jittering and scrolling with plenty of new messages, was suddenly a disconcerting Technicolor swirl with a huge black spot in the middle.

I drove in a mild panic to the nearest Verizon Wireless store and met with a sales representative. After asking for my vitals, he typed for a few seconds and waited. Then he typed, then he waited. Then he sighed.

“You can get a new phone,” he said. “At retail price.”

“How much is that?” I asked.

“Four hundred fifty dollars.”

Could I get my current BlackBerry fixed? The rep shook his head sadly. “They don’t let us repair the phones in the store anymore,” he said.

I felt his pain. Having grown up tinkering with Radio Shack electronic kits, I used to love taking things apart—radios, tape players, anything I could get my hands on.

But in the last twenty-five years or so, the number of household devices we can easily tinker with has dwindled.

I Googled my model number to see if I could find a more affordable replacement. What I stumbled onto instead was a short video on YouTube. The video showed a pair of hands disassembling a BlackBerry and replacing the screen in a matter of minutes.

I was hooked.

Through another Google search, I found an online retailer selling replacement screens for around $45, as well as a small smartphone-specific toolkit, including a tiny torque screwdriver and a little plastic tool for prying apart the BlackBerry’s flimsy case. One FedEx delivery later, I had my phone disassembled and its parts neatly laid out on my desk.

Just ten minutes after starting the process, I powered it up. Good as new.

My tinkering journey ended at the point when I had a working phone again. But it certainly didn’t have to. Having discovered through my own persistence that this modern-age bit of machinery wasn’t quite as complicated as I had first thought, I might have been emboldened to make my own alterations to it.

Perhaps the best example of the smartphone-tinkering phenomenon is the remarkable case of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 1:51 pm

The push to legalize silencers

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Interesting article in Salon by Alexander Zaitchik:

A gruesome holiday season exercise: Think of some firearms and accessories that might have added to the body counts of Aurora and Newtown. More starkly, imagine the means by which coming Auroras and Newtowns will be made more deadly.

The exercise starts with a militarized baseline, as both shooters unloaded designed-for-damage rounds from high-capacity magazines loaded into assault rifles. Improving their killing efficiency would require one of two things: the ability to shoot more bullets faster, or more time. A fully automatic machine gun would provide the first. More minutes to hunt, meanwhile, might be gained by employing a noise suppressor, those metallic tubes better known as silencers. By muffling the noise generated with every shot by sonic booms and gas release, a silencer would provide a new degree of intimacy for public mass murder, delaying by crucial seconds or minutes the moment when someone calls the police after overhearing strange bangs coming from Theater 4 or Classroom D. The same qualities that make silencers the accessory of choice for targeted assassination offer advantages to the armed psychopath set on indiscriminate mass murder.

It should surprise no one that the NRA has recently thrown its weight behind an industry campaign to deregulate and promote the use of silencers. Under the trade banner of the American Silencer Association, manufacturers have come together with the support of the NRA to rebrand the silencer as a safety device belonging in every all-American gun closet. To nurture this potentially large and untapped market, the ASA last April sponsored the first annual all-silencer gun shoot and trade show in Dallas. America’s silencer makers are each doing their part. SWR Suppressors is asking survivalists to send a picture of their “bugout bag” for a chance to win an assault rifle silencer. The firm Silencero — “We Dig Suppressors and What They Do” — has put together a helpful “Silencers Are Legal” website and produced a series of would-be viral videos featuring this asshole.

This Silencer Awareness Campaign is today’s gun lobby in a bottle. The coordinated effort brings together the whole family: manufacturers, dealers, the gun press, rightwing lawmakers at every level of government, and the NRA. Each are doing their part to chip away at federal gun regulation in the name of profits and ideology. Together, they plan to strip the longstanding regulatory regime around silencers, and reintroduce them to the gun-buying public as wholesome, children-friendly accessories, as harmless as car mufflers.

In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, the gun lobby’s grand strategy rests grotesquely on fake concern for child hearing health. Among the opening shots in the campaign was a feature in the February 2011 issue of Gun World, “Silence is Golden,” penned by the veteran gun writer Jim Dickson. “One only has to look at children in the rest of the world learning to shoot with silencers, protecting their tender young ears, to see what an innocent safety device we are talking about here,” writes Dickson. “To use an overworked propaganda phrase, legalize silencers ‘for the sake of the children.’” [Emphasis mine.]

Proponents of healthy hearing will be heartened to know the NRA shares Gun World’s concern for America’s tender young ears. The organization officially entered the silencer-awareness fray in November of 2011, around the time the Utah-based American Silencer Association was founded. It’s opening statement took the form of an article posted to its lobbying division website: “Suppressors: Good for our hearing… And for the shooting sports.” With this piece, the NRA finally acknowledged the relationship between health care costs and guns.

“Billions of dollars are spent every year in our healthcare system for hearing loss conditions, such as shooting-related tinnitus,” explained the NRA. It was a very important point that had long been overlooked in the gun control debate; because if there is a single pressing gun safety issue in America today, it is the hearing, comfort and convenience of recreational shooters who find orange earplugs unsightly. The NRA is also extremely concerned about the fright children may receive from shooting or standing near the reports of high-caliber weapons. These jolts could have a lasting and detrimental developmental impact, possibly imbuing America’s impressionable and tender young brains with the notion that guns are loud, dangerous things. The NRA firmly believes that American freedom is best served by giving 9mm gunfire the feel and sound of a toy cap gun. As the NRA’s Lacey Biles put it during last April’s Dallas Silencer Shoot, silencers are good for “getting younger folks involved [in guns]. They’re less afraid of the loud bang.”

For these reasons, the NRA believes America must “move to eliminate the laws, regulations and policies that discourage or prohibit suppressor use.”

And move we have. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Garlic soup with spinach

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Martha Rose Schulman has a set of spinach recipes in a recent NY Times. I really like her recipes in general, and two of these—the Garlic Soup with Spinach and the Spinach, Sardine, and Rice Gratin—caught my eye.

Spinach and Millet Timbale With Tomato Sauce
A timbale is a molded custard, somewhat similar to a quiche without a crust.

Garlic Soup With Spinach
A quick and easy soup that is a great way to use any leftover turkey stock from Thanksgiving.

Penne With Mushroom Ragout and Spinach
This is a delicious meal no matter what variety of mushrooms you have on hand.

Spinach Gnocchi
A considerably lighter version of the classic gnocchi made with spinach and ricotta.

Spinach, Sardine and Rice Gratin
This classic Provençal gratin is a good way to work fish that is high in omega-3s into your diet

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

2012 in review

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The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 700,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 13 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 11:50 am

Posted in WordPress

Anonymous, Karl Rove and 2012 Election Fix?

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Very intriguing article by Thom Hartman and Sam Sacks at TruthOut:

At around 11:25 pm EST on election night, Karl Rove knew something had gone terribly wrong.
Minutes earlier, Fox News called the key battleground state of Ohio for President Obama, sealing his re-election. But as the network took live shots of jubilant Obama supporters celebrating their victory camped outside the Obama re-election headquarters in Chicago, Karl Rove began building a case against the call his employer network had just made.

Rove explained that when Fox called Ohio, only 74% of the vote was in showing President Obama with a lead of roughly 30,000 votes. But, as Rove contended, with 77% reporting according to the Ohio Secretary of State office, the President’s lead had been slashed to just 991 votes.

“We gotta be careful about calling the thing,” Rove said, “I’d be very cautious about intruding in on this process.”

Rove was supremely confident that the numbers coming in from Ohio throughout the night that favored President Obama weren’t indicative of who would win Ohio when all the votes were ultimately tabulated by the state’s computers. With a quarter of the vote still out there, Rove was anticipating a shift to the Right just after 11 pm, which, coincidentally, is exactly what happened in 2004.

That year, John Kerry and the entire nation were watching Ohio just after the 11pm hour. Florida had just been called for George W. Bush and according to the Electoral College math whoever won Ohio would win the election. And considering that exit polls from the state showed John Kerry with a substantial lead, there were a lot of tense moments for Karl Rove and the Republicans that night.
Then the clock struck 11:14pm, and the servers counting the votes in Ohio crashed. Election officials had planned for this sort of thing to happen and already contracted with a company in Chattanooga, Tennessee called SMARTech to be the failsafe should the servers in Ohio go down.

As journalist Craig Unger lays bare in his book, Boss Rove, SMARTech was drenched in Republican politics. One of the early founders of the company was Mercer Reynolds who used to the finance chairman of the Republican Party. SMARTech’s top client was none other than the Bush-Cheney campaign itself and SMARTech also did work for Jeb Bush and the Republican National Committee. And it was Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, who ensured that SMARTech received the contract to count votes on election night should the servers go down, which they did at exactly 11:14pm.

Sixty long seconds later the servers came back up in Ohio, but now with vote rerouted through SMARTech in Chattanooga. And, coincidentally, Bush’s prospects for re-election were suddenly a lot brighter. The vote totals that poured into the system from SmartTECH’s computer in Chattanooga were flipping the exit polls on their head. The lead Kerry had in the exit polls had magically reversed by more than 6%, something unheard of in any other nation in the developed world, giving Bush the win in Ohio and the presidency for another four years.

Unger further explains in his book that the only independent analysis of what happened in Ohio was done by Richard Hayes Phillips and published in the book, Witness to a Crime. Phillips and his team analyzed more than 120,000 ballots, 127 polls books, and 141 signature books from Ohio’s 2004 election.

Phillips found zero irregularities in vote totals from all the counties that reported results before the servers crashed at 11:14pm. But of the fourteen counties that came in after the crash connected Ohio’s election computers to SmartTECH’s computers in Chattanooga, every single one of them showed voter irregularities – that all favored George W. Bush.

For example, consider Cleveland’s Fourth Ward. In 2000, Al Gore won 95% of that ward’s vote. But in 2004, the county reported its results after the 11:14 pm crash, and it showed that Kerry had only won 59% of the vote – a 35% drop without any explanation. There were several other abnormalities across Ohio’s post-server crash that delivered the state to Bush.

John Kerry never protested the election and to this day, these 2004 voter abnormalities have never been addressed.

So the question is: on election night this year, when Karl Rove was protesting the call his network had just made in Ohio, was Rove anticipating a wave of unpredicted vote totals to swing the election back to Mitt Romney after a statewide server crash, just as had happened in 2004?

Perhaps. He did make the point that the race was about to drastically narrow according to the Secretary of State’s office. And as The Free Press reports, a number of odd similarities with 2004 began occurring in Ohio this year just after the 11pm hour once again:

“Curiously, the Ohio Secretary of State’s vote tabulation website went down at 11:13pm, as reported by Free Press election protection website monitors, and mentioned by Rove on the news. This was one minute earlier than the time on election night 2004 — when Ohio votes were outsourced to Chattanooga, Tennessee — and then the vote flipped for Bush…This time, the Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) vote tabulation site went down as on election night as well. In his rant on Fox, Rove argued that Fox News should not confirm Ohio for Obama until votes came in from the southwest Ohio GOP strongholds of Delaware, Butler and Warren counties and suburban Cincinnati. It was after the crash of the secretary of state’s site in 2004 that improbable vote totals came in from Republican counties in southwest Ohio – particularly Butler, Clermont, and Warren counties. These three counties provided more than Bush’s entire Ohio victory margin of 119,000.”

Only this time, when the servers came back up, the votes never flipped. President Obama’s lead held and he went on to win, while Karl Rove – and Mitt Romney – watched in slack-jawed amazement.

We know there was a parade of Conservative talking heads in the days before the election predicting a landslide victory for Mitt Romney. Is it because they lived in a bubble, lacking pollster Nate Silver’s facts and arithmetic that actually showed the President winning in a landslide? Could it be that Rove’s election night freak-out was just a result of this same Election Day ignorance held by all Republicans? Or was Rove genuinely shocked by what he was seeing because he knew the fix was in, just like in 2004, and there was no way President Obama was going to win re-election?

And if that’s the case, why did the plan to steal the election not work?

Here’s where the story gets really interesting. . .

Continue reading.

Of course, this entire speculation hinges on whether the GOP would deliberately attempt to subvert the election process by working to block votes from Democratic voters. Would a national party stoop so low?

Steve Rosenfeld on Alternet does point out a few Republican tactics along those lines:

Creating barriers to voting, demonizing communities of color, attacking voting rights laws and their defenders, unleashing billionaires who financed candidates like an extreme sport, and hiding corporate donors behind opaque front groups—these were the chapters in the Republican Party’s electoral playbook in the 2012 election cycle.

While Democrats copied [3] but did not quite match [4] the GOP on the campaign finance abuse side of this depressing ledger, the 2012 campaign cycle arguably was the worst for democracy issues in years. And the GOP’s prospects for changing course are dim.

The nation’s most comprehensive [5] 2012 Election Day survey of voter attitudes found [6] that upwards of one-fifth of Republicans believed the GOP’s voter fraud propagandists. That cadre claimed that non-citizens voting, people impersonating others, voting more than once, and tampering with ballots and results occurred in their counties.

Meanwhile, top GOP officials in Pennsylvania [7] and Wisconsin [8] are hoping to change the way their states allocate Electoral College votes to dilute future Democratic victories.

To be fair, the Democrats are no angels when it comes to using [9] the same campaign finance tactics as the GOP—although the GOP was first to pioneer and exploit 2012’s newest and biggest loopholes. But on voting rights, the GOP clearly is a party that does not want [10] everyone to vote, whereas Democrats believe in expanding the franchise.

1. Voting Barriers     

The bad news was that between January 2011 and October 2012, 19 states (all but one with GOP majorities) adopted [11] 25 new laws and two executive actions that created barriers at varying stages of the voting process, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. These new laws weren’t just newly restrictive voter ID requirements, but also curbs on registration drives and early voting options.

The good news was liberal voting rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice (after doing little in 2011) reversed or weakened new laws in 14 states, according to Brennan’s count [11]. But in some of the most contested fights, such as Pennsylvania’s new photo ID law, the Court only postponed [12] the law from taking effect until after 2012.

2. Voter Intimidation

The GOP’s propoganda machine went into overdrive in 2012, with a handful of Tea Party governors and secretaries of state—led by Florida Gov. Rick Scott—falsely claiming [13] that hundreds of thousands of non-citizens were on voter rolls. Scott’s claims of 180,000-plus illegals led to hundreds of legal voters, including World War II vets, being incorrectly purged. He retracted [14] that figure, but the initial publicity did its dirty work: intimidating new voters from communities of color, according to Florida election officials like Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho [14]. And as Election Day neared, Republican activists paid for billboards in several swing state cities with big minority populations that cited penalties for illegal voting, another voter suppression tactic.

The good news was that in Florida, election supervisors from both parties rebelled against Scott’s false claims. But rightwing media trumpeted these and other fabrications. On Election Day, a nationwide survey [6] by CalTech/MIT of 10,200 voters found that 35 percent of Republicans believed non-citizen voting was a problem in their county. (This is the nation’s largest survey of voter attitudes and experiences.)

Twenty-two percent of Republicans said there was voting by people pretending to be someone else in their county, CalTech/MIT found. The same number said there was voting by people more than once; 17 percent said people tampered with ballots; and another 16 percent said election officials tampered with the count. In contrast, only 9 percent or less of Democrats believed these issues were real problems.

Taken together, roughly one-third of the 2012 electorate believe some version [6] of GOP-defined voter fraud was widespead—even though innumerable academic studies have shown that these kinds of infractions are singular events, on par with getting hit by lightning. (In fact, 2012’s most notable examples of election fraud were by Republicans, such as the Indiana secretary of state’s resignation [15] after falsified candidate filing papers surfaced, or GOP consultant Nathan Sproul was caught dumping [16] voter registration forms submitted by Democrats, or Ohio counties barring the new GOP voter vigilante group True the Vote from polling places after lying [17] about members’ credentials.)

There is plenty of evidence that the GOP’s accusations and tactics—on top of Obama being a mixed-race candidate—backfired and increased minority turnout. On Friday, Pew Research Center reported [18] that blacks voted at a higher rate than whites in 2012, a first. But when partisan beliefs carry more weight than facts, it is all but impossible to reach consensus solutions in the political world. That takes us to the next big trend that will continue to unfold in 2013—the GOP’s assault on federal voting rights laws.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 10:41 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Something for The Wife to note: Expiration dates are not meaningful

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Certainly not as meaningful as the smell and appearance of the food. The Wife is a demon at discarding foods that are past the expiry date, whereas I often feel I’m just getting to know the food by that point. (That’s why I regularly check the sale bin of meats at the point of their sell-by dates (not the same as the expiry date): 50% off just because today is the sell-by date? If it’s a meat I want, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat.) Consider how you judge leftovers: you check smell and appearance, right?

Dan Charles explains at NPR:

Now that the Christmas feast is over, you may be looking at all the extra food you made, or the food that you brought home from the store that never even got opened.

And you may be wondering: How long can I keep this? What if it’s past its expiration date? Who even comes up with those dates on food, anyway, and what do they mean?

Here’s the short answer: Those “sell by” dates are there to protect the reputation of the food. They have very little to do with food safety. If you’re worried whether food is still OK to eat, just smell it.

One of the places that knows most about the shelf life of food is a scientific establishment in Livermore, Calif., called the National Food Lab. At the NFL, they put food on shelves for days, or weeks, or even years, to see how it holds up.

Sometimes, they’ll try to accelerate the process with 90-degree heat and high humidity.

And then, from time to time, they’ll take some of the food — whether it’s bagged salad greens, breakfast cereal, or fruit juice — off the shelf and place it in front of a highly trained panel of experts who check the taste and smell and texture.

“You would think that everybody can taste and smell food, but some of us are much better at it than others,” says Jena Roberts, vice president for business development at the NFL. The lab has 40 of these food tasters on staff. “They are the most fit people in the group,” says Roberts. “Because they don’t eat the food. They expectorate it. Which is a fancy college word for spit it in a cup.”

The experts give the food grades, in numbers. The numbers go down as the food gets older. Bread gets stale. Salad dressings can start to taste rancid. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business, Food, Health, Science

Oops! Wrong Bethlehem.

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Interesting discovery: the focus for centuries has been on the wrong Bethlehem as the locus of the birth of Jesus. Sheera Frenkel reports for NPR:

Thousands of Christian pilgrims streamed into Bethlehem Monday night to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s the major event of the year in that West Bank town. But Israeli archaeologists now say there is strong evidence that Christ was born in a different Bethlehem, a small village in the Galilee.

About 100 miles north of where the pilgrims gathered, shepherds still guide their flocks through green unspoiled hills, and few give notice to the tucked-away village with the odd sounding name: Bethlehem of the Galilee. But archaeologists who have excavated there say there is ample evidence that this Bethlehem is the Bethlehem of Christ’s birth.

“I think the genuine site of the nativity is here rather than in the other Bethlehem near Jerusalem,” says Aviram Oshri, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority which has excavated here extensively. He stands on the side of a road that now cuts through the entrance to the village. It was the construction of this road that led to the discovery of the first evidence that Bethlehem of the Galilee may have had a special place in history.

“It was inhabited by Jews. I know it was Jews because we found here remnants of an industry of stone vessels, and it was used only by Jews and only in the period of Jesus,” Oshri says.

He also found artifacts which showed that a few centuries later the community had become Christians and had built a large and ornate church. He says there is significant evidence that in early Christianity this Bethlehem was celebrated as the birthplace of Christ. The emperor Justinian boasted of building a fortification wall around the village to protect it. The ruins of that wall, says Oshri, still circle parts of the Galilee village today.

He thinks many early scholars would have concluded that this Bethlehem was the birthplace of Christ.

“It makes much more sense that Mary rode on a donkey, while she was at the end of the pregnancy, from Nazareth to Bethlehem of Galilee which is only 7 kilometers rather then the other Bethlehem which is 150 kilometers,” Oshri says.

He adds there is evidence the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 9:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Step 3 of comparison: Mystic Waters Sensitive Skin

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SOTD 30 Dec 2012

Mystic Waters shaving soaps are, like Creed’s and Strop Shoppe soaps, first-rate soaps. They are similar to Strop Shoppe (previously compared) in being a relatively soft soap, unlike the triple-milled Creed’s. These are tallow-based, and the Sensitive Skin formula (like Strop Shoppe’s Unscented) has no added fragrance, though it does mell pleasantly from the ingredients (listed on label above).

Once again the doughty Wee Scot worked up an instant lather, thick, luxurious, and lubricious. Really, so far as lather is concerned, the three soaps—Creed’s, Strop Shoppe’s, and Mystic Water’s—are at the same level. Price, of course, is a very different story. The tub of Mystic Waters is 4 oz for $11.80; Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition with Tallow comes in an 8.5 oz tub for $16 (the best bargain); Creed’s comes in a 5.2 oz tub for $80. (Note that Creed’s is triple-milled so is going to be more long-lasting than the softer soaps; but still…)

For fragrance, I have to hand it to Creed’s. The fragrances of Mystic Waters and Strop Shoppe soaps is quite good, but very light—probably wise, given that skin sensitivity to fragrances seems not all that rare—and little fragrance lies in the lather once formed. But I have no complaints, simply that the Creed’s fragrance seems somewhat more definite.

Today’s shave, with the Tradere bearing the Gillette Rubie blade, was excellent. This razor works exceptionally well for me, with another BBS shaving as the result after three passes.

A good splash of Saint Charles Shave Savory Rose, and all is well.


Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2012 at 9:08 am

Posted in Shaving

Keeping an eye on consequences

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This NY Times story is joyful and appropriate to a season of love and good will and new beginnings: the first same-sex marriages in Maine, the law allowing such marriages having passed by popular vote.

Now a number of people who feel they have great authority and knowledge of human behavior and culture have told us (repeatedly) that allowing same-sex marriage will undermine “traditional” marriage (one man and one woman, though that was certainly not the tradition in the Holy Bible, Old Testament part) and cause people to lose their Christian foundations. Of course, the highest divorce rates in the country are in the most fervently Christian states: the Bible belt. And divorce has a more obvious destructive effect on a traditional marriage than some other couple (of the same sex) getting married: divorce ends the marriage on the spot. So apparently evangelical Christianity undermines traditional marriage—but that is not the point they’re trying to make. These authorities say (frequently) that same-sex marriages will “damage” or “destroy” traditional marriages, presumably ending them through divorce.

So let’s watch the Maine statistics. If those authorities are right, we should see a significant spike in divorce rates in traditional marriages in Maine—within a year or two, I would think. And if we don’t, I’m sure those authorities will acknowledge that they were wrong and shut the fuck up.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2012 at 7:52 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Interesting: Many people, on reading of the slaughter of school children, rush to buy guns

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I truly do not understand the public “mind”: we have a terrible slaughter, and people stampede to buy as many of the weapons as they can. I simply cannot understand what they are thinking. Are they planning slaughters of their own? I understand that they fear the guns, which have killed many, may be restricted, but what exactly are they planning to do with all those weapons that they are in such a hurry to buy? That is, beyond the upcoming restriction, why are they buying these guns? They are not hunting weapons.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2012 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Beef meals

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We rarely eat beef—expensive, for one thing—but we’ve hit a beef patch, as it were.

Beef short ribs: When I went to Safeway to pick up some prescriptions, they were not ready, so during the 20-minute wait I wandered around the store with a shopping cart. The first thing I checked was the sale shelf in the meat department, and there I found two packages of beef short ribs at 50% off. Okay, that’s worth thinking about, particularly in winter weather. I do have a good recipe for boneless beef short ribs that I have used several times. But I wanted to use what I had on hand, so:

Salt the bottom of the 4-qt sauté pan, then heat it well over medium-high heat.

Brown the short ribs well on most sides. (I skipped the bone side.)

Deglaze pan with 1/4 c red wine, then add:

2 of the big stubby carrots cut into chunks
1.5 Spanish onions cut into chunks
3-4 stalks celery cut into chunks
1 package thick-sliced cremini mushrooms
a small handful of garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp horseradish
2 Tbsp brown rice vinegar (I would have used lemon juice if I’d had it)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2-3 tsp dried thyme
good grinding of black pepper

I covered it and left it in a 200F oven overnight. Very nice looking this morning. I’ll use the fat-skimmer to get the fat off the liquid and serve it with black rice and steamed broccoli.

Then for New Year’s, we’re going to splurge on a prime rib roast, following this interesting guide—for example, from the link:


Does it really matter when I salt my meat?


Absolutely. Take a look at the picture above, which shows the same piece of salted meat with photos taken about 13 minutes apart. In the top row, the salt is still in large crystals, just beginning to dissolve. Because of a phenomenon known as osmosis, the salt will initially draw liquid out of the meat and onto the surface. By the 25 minute mark (bottom left corner), those juices form distinct droplets on the meat’s surface. Meat cooked at this stage will lose moisture fast, giving you a leathery crust.

Eventually, as we hit the 40-minute mark, the salty meat juices have begun to react with the muscle fibers themselves, dissolving some of their proteins, and causing the structure of the meat to open up, like a sponge. The extracted meat juices soon get reabsorbed, and the salt goes along for the ride. The result is better, more deeply-seasoned beef.

Given a few days, unlike a marinade, salt can actually slowly work its way deeper into the meat. I like to heavily salt my prime rib at least four days before roasting before covering it with plastic wrap and placing it in the fridge.

And don’t forget to put salt on the table as well—after you slice that beef, there’s a huge expanse of pink meat in the center that needs to be seasoned too!

The roasting method I’ll use is described/derived in this post, and the final recipe is here (but without the salt secret).

UPDATE: This looks like an excellent horseradish sauce for the rib roast.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2012 at 11:02 am

Step 2 of comparison: Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition Teakwood

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SOTD 29 Dec 2012

Yesterday was Creed’s Green Irish Tweed, today is Strop Shoppe Teakwood Special Edition with Tallow, and tomorrow Mystic Water Sensitive Skin—as I shaved this morning, I was thinking that I should include Mystic Water, and then I read a comment that also suggested it. To me, this amounts to a mandate.

Turning to today’s shave, I once again used the Wee Scot to eliminate the brush as a variable. The Special Edition soaps are much softer than Creed’s GIT, a triple-milled soap. Thus the Creed puck, ounce for ounce, will probably have a longer life, but of course you get more ounces in the Strop Shoppe package: more than half a pound of shaving soap.

The lather worked up quickly, and again the Wee Scot held an ample quantity for more passes than I would ever do. The lather is certainly as good as GIT, and I have the feeling that it leaves my skin feeling better: softer and more moisturized. This is something I would have to recheck with another comparison shave, perhaps using both soaps in the same shave (left side vs. right side).

Both provided excellent prep for shaving and supported the shave wonderfully. It’s perfectly obvious that, in terms of bang for the buck, Strop Shoppe is clearly superior, but in absolute terms, just in quality of shave, price be damned, it’s not clear at all. They are in fact very close. I’m going to have to do left side vs. right side to decide. And it may be that it is simply too close to call.

They both have good backstory: GIT made for Cary Grant, Strop Shoppe the creation of a biochemist turned soapmaker in central Oklahoma. I like Strop Shoppe’s ingredients—even the plain first formula, also completely excellent, used Rice Bran Oil, of all things. You pay your money, you take your choice, though of course when you do pay your money, you pay a lot more of it for GIT.

The iKon S3S—which, like the Pils, requires loading the blade on the baseplate (where the alignment studs reside) rather than on the cap—did a fine job with a Swedish Gillette blade. As James Cameron remarked, “Size does matter,” at least sometimes, and the mass of the S3S really makes for a nice shave with a straight-bar/open-comb cutting action.

Given the Teakwood of the shaving soap (not an overwhelming fragrance—GIT wins the fragrance sweepstakes), I went for Saint Charles Shave’s Woods aftershave, and I could take a good splash of that instead of a tiny dab as from the GIT sample vial.

Altogether a great start to the weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2012 at 9:45 am

Posted in Shaving

That’s some good kicking

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Story here.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2012 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Step 1 of comparison: Creed’s Green Irish Tweed

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SOTD 28 Dec 2012

A couple of things are going on in this shave. First is that I wanted to do a head-to-head comparison of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed shaving soap (currently $80/tub, though I paid $62 but a couple of years ago) and Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition Teakwood with Tallow shaving soap ($16/tub, exactly 1/5 the price—though the Creed soap is available as a standalone puck for $38, just over twice as much. However, the Creed puck is 5.2 oz, whereas the Strop Shoppe packages 8.5 oz of soap in their tub: $1.88/oz vs. $7.31/oz, or 1/4 the price of the Creed soap. And let me add, $42 for an unfinished wooden tub is mighty steep. NOPE: As Tony the Blade points out in comments, the standalone puck is just a regular soap, not a shaving soap.

UPDATE updated: For those who wish to buy the puck alone, the Creed Boutique is currently out of stock, but you can buy it here. Nope: Creed sells their shaving soap only in the bowl: the standalone puck is plain soap, not shaving soap. Thanks to Tony the Blade for the catch. The shaving soap (in a tub) is indeed available currently from Niemann-Marcus.

That said, Creed’s Green Irish Tweed is an absolutely terrific shaving soap, that makes a thick, luxurious lather quickly, and the puck will last a good while.

Another aspect of today’s shave is brush choice. I want to use the same brush on both soaps, and I was about to go with a horsehair brush when a Wicked Edge comment about the Wee Scot made me decide to use that. The Wee Scot is a superb brush, though obviously intended for building the lather on the beard, not in a bowl, and though the commenter had a somewhat jaundiced view of the brush, I was reminded of its excellence by the discussion and went with it. And that was a good idea, based on the lather I immediately worked up.

After three passes the Wee Scot still held plenty of lather should I have wanted a fourth pass, or even a fifth. I continue to prize this brush for daily use.

The razor is a Gillette Slim Handle, though yclept “Aristocrat” because plated in gold—one of several different models awarded the name. Today it carried an Astra Keramik Platinum blade, and it provided an excellent shave.

After three passes, I used a tiny bit of my sample bottle of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed cologne as the aftershave, and it is wonderful: one can see why the fragrance is so highly prized.

A fine shave, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2012 at 9:07 am

Posted in Shaving

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