Later On

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

Archive for December 5th, 2012

Perhaps why Germany has a jaundiced view of providing economic help to Greece

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See this report in the NY Times by Rachel Donadio and Liz Alderman:

A dynamic entrepreneur, Lavrentis Lavrentiadis seemed to represent a promising new era for Greece. He dazzled the country’s traditionally insular business world by spinning together a multibillion-dollar empire just a few years after inheriting a small family firm at 18. Seeking acceptance in elite circles, he gave lavishly to charities and cultivated ties to the leading political parties.

But as Greece’s economy soured in recent years, his fortunes sagged and he began embezzling money from a bank he controlled, prosecutors say. With charges looming, it looked like his rapid rise would be followed by an equally precipitous fall. Thanks to a law passed quietly by the Greek Parliament, however, he avoided prosecution, at least for a time, simply by paying the money back.

Now 40, Mr. Lavrentiadis is back in the spotlight as one of the names on the so-called Lagarde list of more than 2,000 Greeks said to have accounts in a Geneva branch of the bank HSBC and who are suspected of tax evasion. Given to Greek officials two years ago by Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister and now head of the International Monetary Fund, the list was expected to cast a damning light on the shady practices of the rich.

Instead, it was swept under the rug, and now two former finance ministers and Greece’s top tax officials are under investigation for having failed to act.

Greece’s economic troubles are often blamed on a public sector packed full of redundant workers, a lavish pension system and uncompetitive industries hampered by overpaid workers with lifetime employment guarantees. Often overlooked, however, is the role played by a handful of wealthy families, politicians and the news media — often owned by the magnates — that make up the Greek power structure.

In a country crushed by years of austerity and 25 percent unemployment, average Greeks are growing increasingly resentful of an oligarchy that, critics say, presides over an opaque, closed economy that is at the root of many of the country’s problems and operates with virtual impunity. Several dozen powerful families control critical sectors, including banking, shipping and construction, and can usually count on the political class to look out for their interests, sometimes by passing legislation tailored to their specific needs.

The result, analysts say, is a lack of competition that undermines the economy by allowing the magnates to run cartels and enrich themselves through crony capitalism. “That makes it rational for them to form a close, incestuous relationship with politicians and the media, which is then highly vulnerable to corruption,” said Kevin Featherstone, a professor of European Politics at the London School of Economics.

This week the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Greece as the most corrupt nation in Europe, behind former Soviet states like Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. Under the pressure of the financial crisis, Greece is being pressed by Germany and its international lenders to make fundamental changes to its economic system in exchange for the money it needs to avoid bankruptcy.

But it remains an open question whether Greece’s leaders will be able to engineer such a transformation. In the past year, despite numerous promises to increase transparency, the country actually dropped 14 places from the previous corruption survey.

Mr. Lavrentiadis is still facing a host of accusations stemming from hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made by his Proton bank to dormant companies — sometimes, investigators say, ordering an employee to withdraw the money in bags of cash. But with Greece scrambling to complete a critical bank recapitalization and restructuring, his case is emblematic of a larger battle between Greece’s famously weak institutions and fledgling regulatory structures against these entrenched interests.

Many say that the system has to change in order for Greece to . . .

Continue reading.

I’m told that the Greeks have some hard feelings about Germany because after WWII Greece received no war reparations from Germany. That was 67 years ago and still fuels resentment; OTOH, the problems discussed in the article are current—today—and don’t seem to be open to solution.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 6:29 pm

Exceptionally good melange

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I made a particularly good melange (aka grub) today:

In 6-qt pot, put:

2 Tbsp olive oil
1.5 large Spanish onions, chopped
good pinch of salt

Sauté until onions are soft and transparent and about to brown. Add:

1 small can tomato paste

Continue to sauté a minute or two to brown the tomato paste a bit. This beefs up the taste a lot. Then add:

1.5 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 jewel yam, diced
1 c chopped celery
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 Japanese eggplant, diced
1 large carrot diced

Sauté a few moments, stirring, then add:

1 c red wine
1 c water
1 package frozen yellow corn kernels
1 package frozen chopped spinach
1-2 Tbsp gochujang sauce (I just dipped it out of the tub with the spatula; probably 3 Tbsp, now that I think about it.)
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 good-sized bunch of red kale, rinsed well, stems minced, leaves chopped
1 Meyer lemon, unpeeled and diced
12 kumquats, cut into thirds
good grinding of black pepper

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add:

12 oz sockeye salmon, skin on, cut into chunks (I used frozen that I thawed)
12 oz swordfish, ditto all the way
1/4 c chia seed (to thicken it somewhat)

Stir in the fish and chia, cover, and simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off heat: it’s done.

Man, is it tasty! Excellent bitterness from the citrus peel.

I think I might add some diced spicy linguiça, since I have some on hand—1/2 c or so.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 2:44 pm

Prometheus: Great special effects, lousy screenplay

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Last night I watched Ridley Scott’s movie Prometheus. Really fantastic special effects in aid of a nonsensical and stupid plot with lousy characterizations. Really much ado about nothing. But the special effects were terrific. Still: skip it. All dressed up and no place to go.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Interesting human-based evolutionary pressure on bass

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Susan Milius reports in Science News:

The same qualities that make a largemouth bass an easy mark for anglers make him a successful dad. So recreational fishers, a new study suggests, may be accidental forces of evolution, selecting against the best in male fish parenting.

“Does that mean that bass populations are imminently in danger of becoming too hard to catch and at the same time totally inefficient at reproducing? Not really,” says study coauthor David Philipp of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Does it mean that we are impacting populations of bass in ways that we never envisioned and don’t understand well at all? Most certainly.”

Among the prized sports fish Micropterus salmoides, it’s the dads that do the child care. They go for weeks without food to guard their nests from predators or to swim protectively nearby as tiny fry start exploring the big wet world.

In a study of fish dads in experimental ponds, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 11:59 am

Birds put cigarettes to good use

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Cigarettes are for the birds, as one has long suspected. Beth Marie Mole reports in The Scientist:

Scientists have discovered what many ex-smokers already realized: that cigarettes are for the birds. And some birds are happy to take them. According to a study published today (December 5) in Biology Letters, two songbirds species—the house finch and house sparrow—regularly line their nests with the innards of discarded cigarette butts. Some birds collected upwards of 40 butts for a single nest. And the result of their ashtray-style abode: fewer mites and lice to pester their chicks.

“It’s not a big surprise,” said Mark Hauber, who studies the evolution of avian behaviors at Hunter College in New York, and was not involved in the study. “We always knew that some birds put pungent herbs in their nests to keep insects and mites at bay, so why not use cigarettes?” They are readily available in any urban environment and tobacco provides a natural insect repellent.

For the study, undergraduates at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, led by animal behavior researcher Constantino Macías Garcia monitored 27 house sparrow nests and 28 house finch nests on the university’s campus over several months. “The students had seen the birds dismembering discarded butts, leaving behind the paper,” Garcia says. “The birds found them out of rubbish bins and, I’m sorry to say, also on walkways around campus.”

The cottony guts of cigarette butts may provide the birds downy insulation for their nests, the researchers hypothesized, and the plethora of chemicals and traces of tobacco that the filters contain might also be useful for repelling parasites, which can stymie chick development and health. To test whether cigarettes repel insects, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 11:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

A strong editorial against GOP brinksmanship on the national debt

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The NY Times editorial today is strong and sensible:

Republicans clearly sense that they are being outmaneuvered in the fiscal talks by the Obama administration, unable to stop the inevitable rise in tax rates for the rich. But they have one last card to play and they intend to use it, knowing it will endanger economic progress: They are threatening once again to default on the credit of the United States if President Obama doesn’t do their bidding.

Party officials say that if they do not reach an acceptable deal with the White House this month, they will wait until the country reaches the debt ceiling early next year, then refuse to lift it until they get their way on cuts to spending and taxes, The Times reported on Wednesday.

Apparently, they learned nothing from the debacle of 2011, when they first tried this extortionate tactic. The nation lost its AAA credit rating, stock values plunged, and the approval rating of Congress sank to historically low levels. Republicans portray themselves as spending hawks, but that episode cost the Treasury $1.3 billion in higher borrowing costs in 2011, according to the Government Accountability Office. Last week, the Bipartisan Policy Center estimated that the 10-year cost of higher interest rates was $18.9 billion.

Republicans savor that potential catastrophe, caring only that the threat won them $2 trillion in spending cuts over a decade from Mr. Obama. Now they want to do it again, and this time they want something the last agreement missed: big cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs that primarily benefit middle- and low-income people. Grover Norquist, who leads the party’s anti-tax cult, even suggested that the debt limit be raised only enough to get through a month at a time, so that Republicans can maximize their blackmail power.

This is one of the worst imaginable ways to run a government, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is desperate to prevent it from recurring. As part of the administration’s initial fiscal offer last week, Mr. Geithner proposed a way to eliminate this threat, allowing the president to raise the debt ceiling unless two-thirds of Congress overruled him. This idea provoked immediate laughter in Republican offices in the Capitol.

“Congress is not going to give up this power,” House Speaker John Boehner said, as if the debt ceiling was enshrined in the Constitution. It’s not, of course; the limit is an unnecessary World War I era measure providing the illusion that Congress is carefully overseeing borrowing. What most people don’t know is that the limit does not affect future borrowing, but instead allows the Treasury to borrow to cover money Congress has already voted to spend. Republicans oversaw the tax cuts, war spending and recession that are the biggest components of the debt, but don’t want to take responsibility. Ending the ceiling would not in any way diminish the Congressional power of the purse.

Mr. Geithner’s proposal is a good one, but it is clear this batch of Republicans will never vote to give up its most powerful leverage.

Mr. Obama said firmly on Wednesday that he had no intention of playing the Republican debt ceiling game again. This time he might want to enlist the help of every American who holds federal, state or municipal bonds, investments that would be under threat in a debt crisis. If nothing else works, he should cite the 14th Amendment’s ban on questioning the public debt, and declare an end to the debt ceiling once and for all. The country can no longer tolerate government by brinkmanship and extortion.

Emphasis added. The GOP does not want to authorize the nation to pay for the program the GOP passed. This is insane.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 11:46 am

Kitty in tree

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Across the courtyard from our apartment:

Kitty atop tree

The cat is let out onto the balcony, from whence it’s a step to the tree. In context:

Kitty in Tree

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 11:43 am

Posted in Cats

Republicans oppose Americans with Disabilities Act

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The US passed the Americans with Disabilities Act 22 years ago, and the result has been to improve the quality of life for millions of Americans who have disabilities. Now other nations have followed the US lead, and finally the United Nations has proposed an international treaty that embodies the protections the US established 22 years ago. The GOP opposes the treaty, despite its being nothing other than an international agreement of laws already long-established in the US. (No one has ever claimed that the GOP makes sense or is capable of rational thought.) They did succeed in killing US participation in the treaty that contains, in effect, the US’s own laws.

Jim Abrams of AP has the story of yet another instance of pigheaded GOP obstructionism:

Led by Republican opposition, the Senate on Tuesday rejected a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled that is modeled after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.

With 38 Republicans casting “no” votes, the 61-38 vote fell five short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify a treaty. The vote took place in an unusually solemn atmosphere, with senators sitting at their desks rather than milling around the podium. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, looking frail and in a wheelchair, was in the chamber to support the treaty.

The treaty, already signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, states that nations should strive to assure that the disabled enjoy the same rights and fundamental freedoms as their fellow citizens. Republicans objected to taking up a treaty during the lame-duck session of the Congress and warned that the treaty could pose a threat to U.S. national sovereignty.

“I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

They were not swayed by support for the treaty from some of the party’s prominent veterans, including the 89-year-old Dole, who was disabled during World War II; Sen. John McCain, who also suffered disabling injuries in Vietnam; Sen. Dick Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee; and former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Eight Republicans voted to approve the treaty.

The treaty also was widely backed by the disabilities community and veterans groups.

Democratic support for the convention was led by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of the key players in writing the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It really isn’t controversial,” Kerry, D-Mass., said. “What this treaty says is very simple. It just says that you can’t discriminate against the disabled. It says that other countries have to do what we did 22 years ago when we set the example for the world and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The ADA put the United States in the forefront of efforts to secure equal rights for the disabled, and it became the blueprint for the U.N. treaty, formally the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration. It was completed in 2006 and President Barack Obama signed it in 2009.

The United Nations estimates that 650 million people around the world are disabled, about 10 percent of world population.

Kerry and other backers stressed that the treaty requires no changes in U.S. law, that a committee created by the treaty to make recommendations has no power to change laws and that the treaty cannot serve as a basis for a lawsuit in U.S. courts.

They said the treaty, by encouraging other countries to emulate the rights and facilities for the disabled already existing in the United States, would be of benefit for disabled Americans, particularly veterans, who want to work, travel or study abroad.

Continue reading. The GOP really has no shame whatsoever.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 11:19 am

Another BatRazor with Energy

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BatRazor II

BatRazor II

Another version of a BatRazor: Weber DLC head on a Edwin Jagger faux-ebony Chatsworth handle.

But first, the lather. I have to say that the Mühle silverfiber synthetic is indeed superior to the HJM black synthetic, which is itself quite nice. But the silverfiber is a little bit better.

The soap is a Kell’s Original Shave Stick from the days when he used a plain paper label—which, as you see, degrades with use. And that one has had some use. It is the Energy shave stick:

Energy – A stimulating blend of Citrus, including Grapefruit, Lemon and Lime, with hints of fresh Cucumber and Jasmine, and a touch of Pineapple, Blackberry and Champagne. Energy is an exciting mix that’s perfect for spring and summer.

Besides spring and summer, it’s a great choice for a dark winter day with the rain pouring down, offering hope of balmy days to come. It’s a totally wonderful fragrance, definitely worth having in your shaving armamentarium.

A very fine lather quickly generated, three smooth passes with a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade, and a BBS result.

Saint Charles Shave Avocado Oil Balm was very pleasant and soothing/moisturizing for a winter day, and away to get a flu shot.

Written by Leisureguy

5 December 2012 at 10:26 am

Posted in Shaving

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