Later On

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

Archive for April 2013

Some of a purchased government’s rough edges, to be smoothed down

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This sort of thing happens as you work out the details of just how command will be shifted. But interesting, none the less. I would say that in three years this will be done in such a way that no one will bat an eye: the same thing, just done without the rough edges. And then, of course, the envelope must be pushed further…

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 3:04 pm

Good point by Kevin Drum: Obama knows what he’s doing

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As Kevin Drum points out in this post, Obama is not an idiot: he is saying the only thing he can say. Read the post: good insight.

I think the GOP has decided just to run out the clock: block everything, destroy what they can (e.g., Obamacare’s implementation, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (don’t confirm, defund, etc.)), and wait for the next president. I suppose it’s a show of strength, that anything that is to be done requires bending to their will. It’s not a long-term strategy, but it sure seems to be working for now.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 1:57 pm

Q: Is it possible to hold Congress in any greater contempt?

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A: This article in Bloomberg Businessweek by Joshua Green:

On Friday, the Internet erupted in fury over Congress’s vote to reverse the automatic cuts that were causing air-traffic controllers to be furloughed, delaying hundreds of flights—see, for instance, Josh Barro at Bloomberg Viewor Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo. Critics pointed out that it was appalling for Congress to undo the sequester cuts that inconvenienced travelers while leaving in place the cuts to such programs as Head Start and Meals on Wheels that affect tens of thousands of poor people, many of them children and seniors. The obvious conclusion is that Congress cares much more about the problems of rich air travelers (who are regular voters) and will act quickly to solve them.

This criticism is entirely valid and correct—but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The group that Congress is helping the most by lifting the FAA sequester isn’t business flyers. No, lawmakers are helping themselves. There is no more pampered class of air traveler than members of Congress.

At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, they have their own special parking spaces—right up close to the terminal—that they don’t even have to pay for. As Bloomberg Television’s Hans Nichols reports, this perk costs the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority $738,760 in foregone revenue. (The best part of this clip, though, is seeing Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky haul ass to get away from Bloomberg’s cameraman.) . . .

Continue reading to see the clip. At what point does contempt tip over into hatred? I guess we’ll find out.

It’s only fair to point out that some few stood against this.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Congress

Time Crystals and a theory of time

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Fascinating article in Wired Science by Natalie Wolchover:

In February 2012, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek decided to go public with a strange and, he worried, somewhat embarrassing idea. Impossible as it seemed, Wilczek had developed an apparent proof of “time crystals” — physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down. Unlike clocks or any other known objects, time crystals derive their movement not from stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time, enabling a special form of perpetual motion.

“Most research in physics is continuations of things that have gone before,” said Wilczek, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This, he said, was “kind of outside the box.”

Wilczek’s idea met with a muted response from physicists. Here was a brilliant professor known for developing exotic theories that later entered the mainstream, including the existence of particles called axions and anyons, and discovering a property of nuclear forces known as asymptotic freedom (for which he shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2004). But perpetual motion, deemed impossible by the fundamental laws of physics, was hard to swallow. Did the work constitute a major breakthrough or faulty logic? Jakub Zakrzewski, a professor of physics and head of atomic optics at Jagiellonian University in Poland who wrote a perspective on the research that accompanied Wilczek’s publication, says: “I simply don’t know.”

Now, a technological advance has made it possible for physicists to test the idea. They plan to build a time crystal, not in the hope that this perpetuum mobile will generate an endless supply of energy (as inventors have striven in vain to do for more than a thousand years) but that it will yield a better theory of time itself.

A Crazy Concept

The idea came to Wilczek while he was preparing a class lecture in 2010. “I was thinking about the classification of crystals, and then it just occurred to me that it’s natural to think about space and time together,” he said. “So if you think about crystals in space, it’s very natural also to think about the classification of crystalline behavior in time.”

When matter crystallizes, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 11:24 am

Posted in Science

Congressman’s enthusiastic participation in corruption

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Justin Elliott reports:

In January, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, ascended to the powerful chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee. Six weeks later, campaign finance filings and interviews show, Hensarling was joined by representatives of the banking industry for a ski vacation fundraiser at a posh Park City, Utah, resort.

The congressman’s political action committee held the fundraiser at the St. Regis Deer Valley, the “Ritz-Carlton of ski resorts” known for its “white-glove service” and for its restaurant by superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

There’s no evidence the fundraiser broke any campaign finance rules. But a ski getaway with Hensarling, whose committee oversees both Wall Street and its regulators, is an invaluable opportunity for industry lobbyists.

Among those attending the weekend getaway was an official from the American Securitization Forum, a Wall Street industry group, a spokesman confirmed. It gave $2,500 in February to Hensarling’s political action committee, the Jobs, Economy, and Budget (JEB) Fund.

Len Wolfson, a lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, which gave the JEB Fund $5,000 that month, posted a picture on Instagram from the weekend of the fundraiser of the funicular at the St. Regis. (It was labeled, “Putting the #fun in #funicular. #stregis #deervalley #utah.”) Wolfson did not respond to requests for comment. (UPDATE 1 p.m.Wolfson has now set his account to private.)

Visa, which gave the JEB Fund $5,000, also sent an official. A Visa spokesman told ProPublica that in attendance were not just finance companies, but also big retailers and others.Hensarling, a protégé of former Texas senator and famed deregulator Phil Gramm, has a mixed record regarding Wall Street. While he has been critical of “too big to fail” banks and voted against the 2008 bailout, Hensarling recently said he opposed downsizing big banks, according to Bloomberg. That stance matters now more than ever as a bipartisan duo in the Senate, David Vitter, R-La., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced a bill last week seeking to constrain the too-big-to-fail institutions. While the bill is considered a longshot, it has provoked intenseopposition from the industry.

Meanwhile, Hensarling recently barred the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from appearing before the House Financial Services Committee, citing a legal cloud over recess appointments made by President Obama. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 11:16 am

What the failure of gun legislation means

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David Graeber writes a guest post at Informed Comment:

The recent defeat of gun buyers’ background check legislation in the Senate—legislation backed by an almost unimaginable 90% of the American public—has been taken as a somber day in the history of American democracy. We’ve been having a lot of such somber days of late. In fact, one can well argue we’ve not only reached the point where not only does the will of the American people has almost no bearing on governance, but most of our opinion-makers see little reason why it should have.

No one can deny there is an increasing disparity between what the American public says it wants, and what the political class feel they should even have to talk about. At the height of the health reform debate in 2009, polls suggested that as many as two thirds of Americans would have preferred a Canadian style single-payer health plan, which could have been achieved fairly simply by expanding existing programs like Medicare. In Washington, and in the national media, it was not even seen as worthy of debate. On the other side, overwhelming majorities even of Republicans, let alone Democrats, make clear the last thing we should be talking about is cutting social security benefits, yet we have a President and political class that—despite the lack of any immediate crisis —seem almost obsessively determined to figure out an excuse to do so.

On one level we all know why this happens. Lobbyists for powerful moneyed interests control the terms of debate. Any proposal would be strongly opposed by, say, the Gun Lobby, or the Health Insurance Lobby, is simply not considered serious, no matter how much popular support it has. But what’s really startling is the indifference with which this situation is greeted by America’s talking classes, even those who represent themselves as (and in many cases at least, actually do sincerely see themselves to be) the guardians of America’s democratic traditions. Each new outrage is greeted with at best a minor flurry of concern, usually followed by some wistful complaints about the “dysfunctional culture” in Washington—complaints which, if they lead to anything, lead only to pleas for politicians to stop fighting and build a “pragmatic,” “centrist” consensus—that is, to effectively do away with any remaining difference between the two parties and eliminate popular input into politics entirely.

Even fundamental structural issues are shrugged away. Politicians and journalists who regularly hold out American democracy as a beacon to the world never seem to reflect on what the world is supposed to make of the fact that, say, 2/3 of the American public who don’t happen to live in swing states effectively have no say in who gets to be the President, or that we can have House elections, as we did in 2012, where a majority of voters can choose candidates from one party and watch the other party win the election anyway.

One can only conclude that for most of our official opinion-makers, the word “democracy” no longer has anything, really, to do with popular will. It refers to a structure of authority. “Democracy” for them means that elaborate architecture of checks and balances created by the Framers of the Constitution, the fact that elections, appointments, congressional votes and judicial and executive decisions take place according to established laws, bylaws, traditions, and procedures. It means following the rules laid down by the Founding Fathers and their later, duly authorized, interpreters. Hence in the event of a crisis, the press feels that it’s first loyalty is not to what the public wants, or even really to the facts, but above all, to maintaining public faith in the legitimacy of what they consider “democratic institutions.” This came out very clearly during the dispute over the Bush-Gore election of 2000. No one contested that Gore was the choice of the majority of American voters. It was not at all clear that Bush was the choice of the majority of Florida voters (and as it later turned out, he was not.) But after a Supreme Court decision in which a majority of justices barely disguised the fact that they were intervening to stop the ballot-counting on the basis of their own personal political preferences, the media instantly declared the issue over—many openly admitting that they felt pointing out that the Court had effectively engaged in a judicial coup would be irresponsible, since it would undermine popular faith in the integrity of “democratic institutions.”

II:

DEMOCRACY WAS NEVER A GIFT: WE TOOK IT

All nations, all societies, have their founding myths. Back in the 18th century, Enlightenment thinkers tended to assume that nations were originally created by great lawgivers, men like Solon or Lycurgus, who created their constitutions, and thus, that the “spirit of the laws” shaped what kind of people their inhabitants were ultimately to become. John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson were raised on such ideas. It seems unlikely that there’s anywhere this really happened. But here in the United States, they tried to put theory into practice; and so we still insist that “democracy” was something given us by great lawgivers, that we are “a nation of laws and not of men,” and that this institutional structure has been the basis of our democratic spirit, and our rights and freedoms, ever since.

But there’s a basic problem here. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 11:12 am

Posted in Books, Congress, Government

A calendar of human history

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TomDispatch seems to deliver good stuff daily. Today’s post:

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: First, a confession. Whenever I read a new Eduardo Galeano book, I drive my wife crazy. I can’t help myself. I wander out every five minutes, saying, “You’ve got to hear this.” And then I read her some moving, dazzling passage, and disappear, only to reappear five minutes later, saying, “You’ve got to hear this.” The arrival of a new book by one of our great writers is always an event. This is publication day for his latest work, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History. It follows Mirrors, his history of humanity in 366 well-chosen episodes.  You might think of his latest volume as a prayer book for our time: a page a day for 365 days focused on what’s most human and beautiful, as well as what’s most grasping and exploitative, on this small, crowded planet of ours. I would be urging all of you to celebrate the event and buy copies under any circumstances. (Confession: once, long ago in another life, I was Galeano’s U.S. editor and when his Memory of Fire trilogy burrowed into our North American landscape and refused to leave, it was among the best moments of my book publishing life.) Today, however, is a double celebration for me, because Galeano, the single most charismatic (and modest) man I’ve ever met, appears at TomDispatch for the first time. I’ve chosen six “days” from his new book, just a taste of the year’s worth of pleasures between its covers. What follows is a little introduction in imitation of his distinctive style. Tom]

As a teenager, you dreamed of being a writer and I imagine you dream of it still.  When young, you were a cartoonist and, ever since, you’ve noted the exaggeration in our world. You were the editor-in-chief of a newspaper and, with the skills you honed, you’ve never stopped editing our history — from our first myths to late last night. You were imprisoned and it left you with an understanding of how we’ve imprisoned this planet and its inhabitants. You went into exile and so grasp the way many in this uprooted world of ours never feel, or are allowed to feel, at home.

You’ve traveled this planet so widely that, as a friend of yours once told you, “If it’s true what they say about the road being made by walking, you must be the commissioner of public works.” And on those travels, you’ve discovered that boundaries between states (and states of mind) are not to be trusted, so as a writer you’ve never felt cowed by categories or hesitated to merge journalism, history, scholarship, and the thrilling feel of fiction, of recreating other worlds so intensely that we seem to inhabit them ourselves.

And none of this would have happened if your youthful dream — to be a soccer player — had come true. Instead, you’ve played “the beautiful game” on the page. You’ve even explained our unjust, unequal world by noting the only place where North and South meet on “an equal footing” — a soccer field at the mouth of the Amazon River that the Equator cuts right through, “so each team plays one half in the South and the other half in the North.”

You’re so well known in Latin America that, when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met President Barack Obama, the only gift he chose to give him was a copy your early book Open Veins of Latin America, whose subtitle explains why it remains so relevant 42 years after its publication: “five centuries of the pillage of a continent.”

Your work has been translated into 28 languages, which is undoubtedly part of the reason you mourn the loss of words on this planet. You have a way of finding people. Your first English translator, Cedric Belfrage, was a former British journalist who covered the silent movies in Hollywood for the Beaverbrook press, helped found the left-wing National Guardian in the U.S., was deported in the McCarthy period, and ended up in Mexico. You seem to have known everyone who was anyone, for better and sometimes worse, over the last several thousand years, and many who could have been someone if their circumstances and the powers-that-be hadn’t made that impossible. You’ve taken us with you to visit Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz as she first enters a convent in “New Spain,” studies “the things God created” that were forbidden to women, is set upon by the Inquisition, forced to renounce literature, and “chooses silence, or accepts it, and so America loses its best poet.”

You’ve been with Ben Franklin as he sends up a kite and discovers “that heavenly fires and thunders express not the wrath of God but electricity in the atmosphere,” while his sister Jane “resembling him in talent and strength of will,” has a child every two years and toils raising those that live, forgotten by history, but not by you. You’ve been with Joseph Stalin’s son Yakov, after his suicide attempt, when his father standing at his hospital bedside tells him, “You can’t even get that right.”

You somehow take our embattled world and tell its many stories in ways no one else can.  And perhaps because people sense the storyteller in you, they regularly — I’ve seen this myself — come up to you and spill their guts. So one more volume from you, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, a daily prayer book for our moment, is cause for elation.  We should celebrate you for stealing the fire of the gods, like the Cakchiquels, descended from the Mayas, who reputedly hid it “in their mountain caves,” or in your case, in your books which, from Open Veins to Children of the Days, burn ever bright. Tom

The Life and Death of Words, People, and Even Nature 
From Walking Libraries and a God Named “Word” to What Sherlock Holmes Never Said 
By Eduardo Galeano

[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s new book, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (Nation Books).]

Memory on Legs
(January 3)

On the third day of the year 47 BC, the most renowned library of antiquity burned to the ground.

After Roman legions invaded Egypt, during one of the battles waged by Julius Caesar against the brother of Cleopatra, fire devoured most of the thousands upon thousands of papyrus scrolls in the Library of Alexandria.

A pair of millennia later, after American legions invaded Iraq, during George W. Bush’s crusade against an imaginary enemy, most of the thousands upon thousands of books in the Library of Baghdad were reduced to ashes.

Throughout the history of humanity, only one refuge kept books safe from war and conflagration: the walking library, an idea that occurred to the grand vizier of Persia, Abdul Kassem Ismael, at the end of the tenth century.

This prudent and tireless traveler kept his library with him. One hundred and seventeen thousand books aboard four hundred camels formed a caravan a mile long. The camels were also the catalogue: they were arranged according to the titles of the books they carried, a flock for each of the thirty-two letters of the Persian alphabet.

Civilizing Mother
(January 23)

In 1901, the day after Queen Victoria breathed her last, a solemn funeral ceremony began in London.

Organizing it was no easy task. A grand farewell was due the queen who gave her name to an epoch and set the standard for female abnegation by wearing black for forty years in memory of her dead husband.

Victoria, symbol of the British Empire, lady and mistress of the nineteenth century, imposed opium on China and virtue on her own country.

In the seat of her empire, works that taught good manners were required reading. Lady Gough’s Book of Etiquette, published in 1863, established some of the social commandments of the times: one must avoid, for example, the intolerable proximity of male and female authors on library shelves.

Books could only stand together if the authors were married, such as in the case of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The World Shrinks
(February 21)

Today is International Mother Language Day.

Every two weeks, a language dies.

The world is diminished when it loses its human sayings, just as when it loses its diversity of plants and beasts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 10:41 am

Posted in Books

Europe to Ban Neonicotinoids

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Europe takes the threat to bees seriously—as it should—and seems less under the control of big business. Dan Cossins reports in The Scientist:

The European Commission (EC) will severely restrict the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed by some researchers for the widespread collapse of bee populations. A fierce debate over the role the chemicals continues among researchers, lawmakers, and industry, but for the next 2 years, the EC will take a precautionary approach, it announced yesterday (April 29).

Bees pollinate roughly a third of the world’s food crops, so mass die-offs of bee colonies around the globe are a matter for grave concern. A growing body of research suggests that neonicotinoids, used since the 1990s to protect crops from insect pests, might be harming bees exposed to nectar and pollen in flowers that have absorbed the chemicals from the soil.

But pesticide manufacturers, farmers, and other scientists argue that most of the studies have been conducted in the lab and do not reflect field conditions, and that the evidence that neonicotinoids are killing bees is far from conclusive.

In January this year, the EC proposed a 2-year ban on the pesticides in areas where they might affect bees. In March, the proposal did not receive enough votes from European member states to be put into practice, and this week an appeals committee also fell short of achieving the required majority. Nevertheless, under European Union rules, the impasse allowed the EC to go ahead with the plans, reported Nature.

“I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion [$28.7 billion] annually to European agriculture, are protected,” said EC Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, announcing the implementation of the plans, which will come into force this December.

Environmental groups welcomed the decision as a victory for the precautionary principle, reported Nature—although some researchers pointed out that a 2-year ban may not be long enough to show whether the pesticides are the culprit.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 10:30 am

Wall Street Can Eat Up Two-Thirds of Your 401(k) With Fees, AND It Formed a Coalition to Block Disclosure of That Fact

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Pam Martens at Wall Street on Parade:

Last week we reported on a PBS Frontline program showing that a 2 percent mutual fund management fee can gobble up two-thirds of your nest egg for retirement over a span of 50 years of saving. Now comes an equally ugly truth. 

Since at least 1998 the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees the nation’s 401(k) plans, has known that fee gouging was eroding the ability of workers to adequately build wealth for retirement in 401(k) plans. It took more than a decade for the Federal agency to pass a regulation mandating that 401(k) recipients receive fee disclosure in an annual mailing. Leading the charge against full disclosure was a coalition of trade associations dominated by Wall Street. 

On April 13, 1998, the U.S. Department of Labor published a “Study of 401(k) Plan Fees and Expenses,” noting the following: 

“Expenses of operating and maintaining an investment portfolio that are debited against the participant’s account constitute an opportunity cost in the form of foregone investments in every contribution period. The laws of compound interest dictate that these small reductions in investment are magnified greatly over the decades in which many employees will be 401(k) plan participants. Observers have concluded that some plan providers are charging as much as 100 basis points in fees and expenses over the prevailing average rates (Benna; Butler, November 12, 1997). The effect of such higher levels of expenses would be to reduce the value of potential future account balances for these participants…

“A second issue of concern to many observers is that sponsors (and participants) lack adequate information on the structure and extent of fees and expenses to make informed choices about service providers and investment options. Thus, the inadequate disclosure of information may be a factor in the existence of the large variance in fees and expenses of 401(k) plans…”

Today, the U.S. Department of Labor web site carries a candid statement of what is happening to the unsophisticated in their efforts to save for retirement in 401(k)s: “Do you or your loved ones know how much you are paying for your retirement accounts? You could be losing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars because of excessive and hidden fees.”

Back in 2007, when the Department of Labor put out for public comment its proposed rules on making fuller and clearer disclosures on 401(k) fees, a swat team of Wall Street related trade associations organized together to beat back too much disclosure. Noteworthy among the members was the infamous U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA).

In a letter dated July 24, 2007, the group argued the following points: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 10:28 am

Posted in Business, Law

Wonderful shave today

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SOTD 30 Apr 2013

Nothing special except the wonderful result. My Omega Pro 48 gets better and better—I’m really liking it just as a brush. Green Mountain Soap seems quite good, and I enjoy the puck shape. My Weber polished head is a terrific razor, and the handle from UFO works great. Three smooth and efficient passes with the Astra Superior Platinum blade, a splash of Speick, and I greet the day with a BBS shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2013 at 10:25 am

Posted in Shaving

Nuclear-power enthusiasts ask, “What could possibly go wrong?”

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Latest answer in a NY Times article by Martin Fackler:

Two years after a triple meltdown that grew into the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is faced with a new crisis: a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain.

Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools.

But even they are not enough to handle the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant — a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster and, in critics’ view, ad hoc decision making by the company that runs the plant and the regulators who oversee it. In a sign of the sheer size of the problem, the operator of the plant,Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, plans to chop down a small forest on its southern edge to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task that became more urgent when underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.

“The water keeps increasing every minute, no matter whether we eat, sleep or work,” said Masayuki Ono, a general manager with Tepco who acts as a company spokesman. “It feels like we are constantly being chased, but we are doing our best to stay a step in front.”

While the company has managed to stay ahead, the constant threat of running out of storage space has turned into what Tepco itself called an emergency, with the sheer volume of water raising fears of future leaks at the seaside plant that could reach the Pacific Ocean.

That quandary along with an embarrassing string of mishaps — including a 29-hour power failure affecting another, less vital cooling system — have underscored an alarming reality: two years after the meltdowns, the plant remains vulnerable to the same sort of large earthquake and tsunami that set the original calamity in motion. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 7:36 pm

Camel, sans manners

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Watch it all….

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Video

Posters of Angry Eyes Reduce Bike Thefts 62%

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cycle thieves

The above poster, placed above bike racks, cut bicycle thefts by 62%. John Metcalfe writes in the Atlantic:

In England, researchers studying the psychology of surveillance recently discovered that putting posters of glaring eyes above bike racks seemed to ward off thieves. It was no small effect, either: In the three racks they monitored, the number of stolen cycles went down by an incredible 62 percent. There is a big caveat to their findings, though, which we’ll get to in a minute.

Daniel Nettle, lead author of the new study in PLOS ONE, “Cycle Thieves, We Are Watching You,” has been investigating the curiously potent effect of eyes for a while. In 2010, he found that posters of eyes reduced littering inside a university cafeteria. More recently, he helped uncover a link between eye images and charity. Confronted with a pair of peepers staring in their general direction, people dumped nearly twice as many donations into a supermarket alms box than with control images.

Nettle attributes these effects to . . .

Continue reading to learn about the trade-off.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Can we record our inner monologues?

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Fascinating article by Ferris Jabr from Scientific American reprinted in Salon:

On any given day, millions of conversations reverberate through New York City. Poke your head out a window overlooking a busy street and you will hear them: all those overlapping sentences, only half-intelligible, forming a dense acoustic mesh through which escapes an exclamation, a buoyant laugh, a child’s shrill cry now and then. Every spoken consonant and vowel begins as an internal impulse. Electrical signals crackle along branching neurons in brain regions specialized for language and movement; further pulses spread across facial nerves, surge toward the throat and chest and zip down the spine. The diaphragm contracts—pulling air into the lungs—and relaxes, pushing air into that birdcage of calcium and cartilage—the larynx—within which wings of tissue draw near one another and hum. As this vibrating air enters the mouth, the tongue guides its flow and the lips give each breath a final shape and sound. Liberated syllables travel between one person and another in waves of colliding air molecules.

All these conversations are matched in number and complexity by much more elusive discourses. The human brain loves soliloquy. Even when speaking with others—and especially when alone—we continually talk to ourselves in our heads. Such speech does not require the bellows in the chest, quivering flaps of tissue in the throat or a nimble tongue; it does not need to disturb even one hair cell in our ears, nor a single particle of air. We can speak to ourselves without making a sound. Stick your head out that same window above the crowded street and you will hear nothing of what people are saying to themselves privately. All that inner dialogue remains submerged beneath the ocean of human speech, like a novel written in invisible ink behind the text of another book.

Some people have tried to eavesdrop on the silent conversations in other people’s minds. Psychologists have attempted to capture what they call self-talk or inner speech in the moment, asking people to stop what they are doing and write down their thoughts at random points in time. Others have relied on surveys or diaries. Andrew Irving, an anthropologist at the University of Manchester, decided to try something a little different: a peripatetic transcription of consciousness. . .

Continue reading.

I love the detailed description of the chain of mechanisms that produce spoken communication. You could never figure out what was going on by looking at the atoms involved, much less the quarks. At any level, the context of the given level seems to provide NO information about the context of the next level. I.e., you can’t know from looking at the atoms or even the molecules and cells that someone is reciting a Shakespearean sonnet and mispronouncing a lot of works but with an earnestness that transcends the delivery.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The Peak-Oil crunch will hit in this decade

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Just take a look at the chart in Kevin Drum’s post.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 10:34 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

For those who enjoy statistical investigations of Facebook

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Take a look at this chart-rich post.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 10:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The digital truths traditional publishers don’t want to hear

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Barry Eisler writes in The Guardian:

Until November 2007, when Amazon introduced the Kindle, the only viable means of book distribution was paper. Accordingly, a writer who wanted to reach a mass audience needed a paper distribution partner. A writer could hire her own editor and her own cover design artist; she could even hire a printing press to create the actual books. The one service she couldn’t hire out was distribution. And publishers didn’t offer distribution as an à la carte service. If a writer wanted distribution, she had to pay a publisher 85% of her revenues for the entire publishing package: editorial, copyediting, proofreading, jacket design, printing, and marketing, all bundled with distribution.

Was a price of 85% of revenues a good deal for this packaged publishing service? For some writers, it clearly was. JK Rowling became a cash billionaire via the traditional packaged publishing service, and obviously there are hundreds of other examples of authors for whom the packaged service has represented a good value.

But for every author who wanted and benefited from the packaged service, there were countless others who took it – if they could get it at all – only because they had no alternative.

Digital distribution has provided that alternative. And increasing numbers of authors are choosing it.

Digital book distribution is available to anyone who wants it. What in the paper world requires trucks, warehouses, a sales force, and longstanding relationships with buyers at dozens of retail operations, in digital is a push-button à la carte service offered by companies like Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, Kobo, and Smashwords. An author so inclined can buy digital distribution for 30% of the list price of the book she’s publishing – the same digital distribution a legacy publisher offers – and outsource all other publishing functions, all for significantly less than legacy publishers charge for their packaged service.

Tens of thousands of writers newly presented with the lower-priced, à la carte choice of self-publishing are taking it. Many others prefer the traditional route. Some are embracing a hybrid approach, doing one book with a legacy publisher, another with Amazon Publishing, and yet another by self-publishing.

Now, there’s nothing unnatural about this, you might think. Or undesirable. I myself have published books with legacy publishers, with Amazon Publishing, and via self-publishing. The various possibilities all have their advantages and disadvantages, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and different routes will make sense for different authors. What matters is that authors make informed choices – because, for the first time, we authors are fortunate enough to have choices to make.

And yet, when I offered these fairly axiomatic observations during a recent keynote at the 21st annual Pike’s Peak Writers Conference, the reaction among some editors and agents in the audience (and elsewhere) was extremely negative, with some walking out; others taking to Twitter to urge others to leave, to boycott my talks, and to boycott conferences where I’m talking; and a fair amount of name-calling.

The hostility is surprising in one sense (we’re just talking business, after all, not politics or religion), but in another sense it’s readily understandable. Because in essence, what I was describing in my talk was how digital distribution has changed the legacy publishing industry from something a writer needed, into something a writer might merely want. Because of digital, legacy publishing, which used to be a necessity, is now only potentially useful. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 9:08 am

Paul Krugman explains carefully

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Paul Krugman’s column today briefly summarizes key points to understand about a nation’s economy:

Those of us who have spent years arguing against premature fiscal austerity have just had a good two weeks. Academic studies that supposedly justified austerity have lost credibility; hard-liners in the European Commission and elsewhere have softened their rhetoric. The tone of the conversation has definitely changed.

My sense, however, is that many people still don’t understand what this is all about. So this seems like a good time to offer a sort of refresher on the nature of our economic woes, and why this remains a very bad time for spending cuts.

Let’s start with what may be the most crucial thing to understand: the economy is not like an individual family.

Families earn what they can, and spend as much as they think prudent; spending and earning opportunities are two different things. In the economy as a whole, however, income and spending are interdependent: my spending is your income, and your spending is my income. If both of us slash spending at the same time, both of our incomes will fall too.

And that’s what happened after the financial crisis of 2008. Many people suddenly cut spending, either because they chose to or because their creditors forced them to; meanwhile, not many people were able or willing to spend more. The result was a plunge in incomes that also caused a plunge in employment, creating the depression that persists to this day.

Why did spending plunge? Mainly because of a burst housing bubble and an overhang of private-sector debt — but if you ask me, people talk too much about what went wrong during the boom years and not enough about what we should be doing now. For no matter how lurid the excesses of the past, there’s no good reason that we should pay for them with year after year of mass unemployment.

So what could we do to reduce unemployment? The answer is . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 8:08 am

Statin Nation: The great cholesterol coverup

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Worth watching, though it’s an hour:

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 8:04 am

Your Body Is a Corporate Test Tube

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David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz have an interesting column at TomDispatch. It begins with an introduction, and then continues:

Just over three years ago, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP killed 11 people, injured 17, and — according to government estimates — polluted the Gulf of Mexico with 210 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude.  It turns out, however, that the casualty toll didn’t end with those 28 workers.  The real number may reach into the thousands.

Last year, BP pled guilty to 14 felonies stemming from the disaster, including misleading Congress about the amount of oil that gushed into the gulf.  But that wasn’t the only way BP attempted to cover up the extent of the spill.  The main method was using 1.84 million gallons of a substance known as Corexit that acts to “attach itself to leaked oil, break it into droplets, and disperse them into the vast reaches of the gulf, thereby keeping the oil from reaching Gulf Coast shorelines.”

Writing for Newsweek and with the support of the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund, Mark Hertsgaard recently laid bare how Corexit was utilized and the dire effects it apparently had on the men and women who worked to “clean” the gulf in the wake of BP’s historically unprecedented spill. People like Jamie Griffin. A BP representative reportedly assured Griffin that the smelly sludge cleanup workers were tracking into the “floating hotel” where she was a cook would be “as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid” — so she scrubbed and scrubbed to clean it up. “Within days,” Hertsgaard writes, “the 32-year-old single mother was coughing up blood and suffering constant headaches.” She soon “fell ill with a cluster of excruciating, bizarre, grotesque ailments… unstoppable muscle spasms were twisting her hands into immovable claws… she began losing her short-term memory… The right side, but only the right side, of her body ‘started acting crazy. It felt like the nerves were coming out of my skin. It was so painful. My right leg swelled — my ankle would get as wide as my calf — and my skin got incredibly itchy.’”

Hundreds, perhaps, thousands of other workers were exposed to the same chemicals, including those who were coated in a mist of Corexit, since almost 60% of it was sprayed out of airplanes.  Hertsgaard reveals that not only “did BP fail to inform workers of the potential hazards of Corexit and to provide them with safety training and protective gear, according to interviews with dozens of cleanup workers, the company also allegedly threatened to fire workers who complained about the lack of respirators and protective clothing.”

So, add Corexit to the list of toxic substances brought to us by industries that promised better and include BP in a long catalog of companies which, over the last century, have tried to hush-up the truth about the types of chemical assaults for which the Department of Homeland Security issues no fact sheets.  It’s a story as old as industrial America and one that public health historians David Rosner and Jerry Markowitz know all too well.  For years, they have earned the ire of the lead and petrochemical industries for historical exposés that demonstrate how American companies regularly sacrificed workers’ health and children’s lives for the sake of big profits.

In their latest historical tour de force, Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, Markowitz and Rosner chronicle the battles that have taken place over lead poisoning for the last half-century, with special emphasis on a study in which researchers from Johns Hopkins University conducted what the Maryland Court of Appeals deemed unethical research on African-American children.  Knowing that some of the children in their study could be exposed to lead from old paint in the apartments they were moved into and so at greater risk for learning disorders and behavioral problems, they went ahead anyway.  If it sounds to you like some dark corollary to the notorious Tuskegee experiment, in which hundreds of black men with syphilis were denied treatment with penicillin so that U.S. government researchers could study the course of the disease, you’re not alone in thinking it.  The Maryland Appeals Court thought so, too.  But while the Tuskegee study began in the 1930s, when protocols for protecting people from medical experimentation were lax, the Johns Hopkins research started in the 1990s, when regulations supposedly provided ample protection from harm at the hands of public health professionals.  The story of how and why this came to pass is riveting and revelatory. (The co-authors will soon be discussing it with Bill Moyers on “Moyers & Company.”)

Today, Markowitz and Rosner — the first guest author ever to pen a TomDispatch piece back in December 2002 — lead a toxic tour, not through Superfund sites and nuclear no-go zones, but average American homes.  And no wonder, we live our lives immersed in a chemical soup never before encountered in human history.  We’re the lab rats in a make-it-up-as-they-go-along nationwide corporate experiment, which is also a sure-fire recipe for disaster.  Nick Turse

You Are a Guinea Pig 
How Americans Became Exposed to Biohazards in the Greatest Uncontrolled Experiment Ever Launched 
By David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz

A hidden epidemic is poisoning America.  The toxins are in the air we breathe and the water we drink, in the walls of our homes and the furniture within them.  We can’t escape it in our cars.  It’s in cities and suburbs.  It afflicts rich and poor, young and old.  And there’s a reason why you’ve never read about it in the newspaper or seen a report on the nightly news: it has no name — and no antidote.

The culprit behind this silent killer is lead.  And vinyl.  And formaldehyde.  And asbestos.  And Bisphenol A.  And polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).  And thousands more innovations brought to us by the industries that once promised “better living through chemistry,” but instead produced a toxic stew that has made every American a guinea pig and has turned the United States into one grand unnatural experiment.

Today, we are all unwitting subjects in the largest set of drug trials ever. Without our knowledge or consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals and compounds, as well as new substances whose safety is largely unproven and whose effects on human beings are all but unknown. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself has begun monitoring our bodies for 151 potentially dangerous chemicals, detailing the variety of pollutants we store in our bones, muscle, blood, and fat.  None of the companies introducing these new chemicals has even bothered to tell us we’re part of their experiment.  None of them has asked us to sign consent forms or explained that they have little idea what the long-term side effects of the chemicals they’ve put in our environment — and so our bodies — could be.  Nor do they have any clue as to what the synergistic effects of combining so many novel chemicals inside a human body in unknown quantities might produce.

How Industrial Toxins Entered the American Home

The story of how Americans became unwitting test subjects began more than a century ago.  The key figure was Alice Hamilton, the “mother” of American occupational medicine, who began documenting the way workers in lead paint pigment factories, battery plants, and lead mines were suffering terrible palsies, tremors, convulsions, and deaths after being exposed to lead dust that floated in the air, coating their workbenches and clothes.

Soon thereafter, children exposed to lead paint and lead dust in their homes were also identified as victims of this deadly neurotoxin.  Many went into convulsions and comas after crawling on floors where lead dust from paint had settled, or from touching lead-painted toys, or teething on lead-painted cribs, windowsills, furniture, and woodwork.

Instead of leveling with the public, the lead industry through its trade group, the Lead Industries Association, began a six-decade-long campaign to cover-up its product’s dire effects.  It challenged doctors who reported lead-poisoned children to health departments, distracted the public through advertisements that claimed lead was “safe” to use, and fought regulation of the industry by local government, all in the service of profiting from putting a poison in paint, gasoline, plumbing fixtures, and even toys, baseballs, and fishing gear.

As Joe Camel would be for tobacco, so the little Dutch Boy of the National Lead Company became an iconic marketing tool for Dutch Boy Lead Paint, priming Americans to invite a dangerous product into their children’s playrooms, nurseries, and lives.  The company also launched a huge advertising campaign that linked lead to health, rather than danger. It even produced coloring books for children, encouraging them to paint their rooms and furniture using lead-based paint.

Only after thousands of children were poisoned and, in the 1960s, activist groups like the Young Lords and the Black Panthersbegan to use lead poisoning as a symbol of racial and class oppression did public health professionals and the federal government begin to rein in companies like the Sherwin-Williams paint company and the Ethyl Corporation, which produced tetraethyl lead, the lead-additive in gasoline. In 1971, Congress passed the Lead Paint Poisoning Prevention Act that limited lead in paint used for public housing.  In 1978, the Consumer Products Safety Commission finally bannedlead in all paints sold for consumer use.  During the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency issued rules that led to the elimination of leaded gasoline by 1995 (though it still remains in aviation fuel).

The CDC estimates that in at least 4 million households in the U.S. today children are still exposed to dangerous amounts of lead from old paint that produces dust every time a nail is driven into a wall to hang a picture, a new electric socket is installed, or a family renovates its kitchen. It estimates that more than 500,000 children ages one to five have “elevated” levels of lead in their blood.  (No level is considered safe for children.)  Studies have linked lost IQ pointsattention deficit disordersbehavioral problems, dyslexia, and even possibly high incarceration rates to tiny amounts of lead in children’s bodies.

Unfortunately, when it came to the creation of America’s chemical soup, the lead industry was hardly alone.  Asbestos is another classic example of an industrial toxin that found its way into people’s homes and bodies.  For decades, insulation workers, brake mechanics, construction workers, and a host of others in hundreds of trades fell victim to the disabling and deadly lung diseases of asbestosis or to lung cancer and the fatal cancer called mesothelioma when they breathed in dust produced during the installation of boilers, the insulation of pipes, the fixing of cars that used asbestos brake linings, or the spraying of asbestos on girders. Once again, the industry knew its product’s dangers early and worked assiduously to cover them up.

Despite growing medical knowledge about its effects (and increasing industry attempts to downplay or suppress that knowledge), asbestos was soon introduced to the American home and incorporated into products ranging from insulation for boilers and piping in basements to floor tiles and joint compounds.  It was used to make sheetrock walls, roof shingles, ironing boards, oven gloves, and hot plates. Soon an occupational hazard was transformed into a threat to all consumers.

Today, however, these devastating industrial-turned-domestic toxins, which destroyed the health and sometimes took the lives of hundreds of thousands, seem almost quaint when compared to the brew of potential or actual toxins we’re regularly ingesting in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

Of special concern are a variety of . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2013 at 7:56 am

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