Later On

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

Archive for May 13th, 2013

TV as contraceptive

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Fascinating and indeed convincing report by Brad Plummer in the Washington Post, referring to an essay by Martin Lewis. Just one chart:

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 11.08.15 AM

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 11:09 am

For Brian Eno fans

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Again, via Open Culture:

Colin Marshall of Open Culture notes:

Four years ago, I experienced musical polymath, rock producer, “drifting clarifier,” and high-tech painter Brian Eno‘s generative-art installation 77 Million Paintings in Long Beach. I also saw him give an entertaining talk there on his observations of and ideas about sound, images, and culture. This year, he brought the show to New York City, giving it the largest staging yet, and then sat down for an equally entertaining 80-minute Q&Afor the Red Bull Music Academy. Perhaps it sounds a little odd that a creator who has based the past few decades of recent solo work on quietude, reflection, and mental receptiveness would appear at such length in a forum sponsored by an energy drink, but hey, we live in interesting times, and Eno has interesting thoughts, no matter where he voices them.

Sitting back on a sofa (whose side table comes stocked with cans of Red Bull), Eno discusses composing music for hospitals after meeting a great many children born to his 1975 album Discreet Music; the amateur chorus he runs and with whom he sometimes invites famous singer friends to sit in; “scenius,” or the special kind of genius that emerges when large numbers of enthusiasts cohere into a scene; the DJ as cultural “lubricant”; his love of early 20th-century Russian painting; what makes popular music, from Abba to Beyoncé, sound popular; the importance of deadlines; and his new iPad app Scape, which, to his mind, should soon displace the tiresome conventions of Hollywood film scoring entirely. While this provides a stimulating introduction to Eno the intellectual, longtime fans will want to catch up with his latest thoughts on several favorite subjects, such as the value of surrender in not just experiencing but creating art, and the counterintuitive bursts of creativity that come when working with fewer options, not more.

Related Content:

Brian Eno Once Composed Music for Windows 95; Now He Lets You Create Music with an iPad App

Brian Eno on Creating Music and Art As Imaginary Landscapes (1989)

Watch Brian Eno’s “Video Paintings,” Where 1980s TV Technology Meets Visual Art

Day of Light: A Crowdsourced Film by Multimedia Genius Brian Eno

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 10:44 am

Posted in Art, Business, Music, Technology

Carl Jung explains his theories in 1957 filmed interview

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Via Open Culture, where Mike Springer notes:

Here’s an extraordinary film of the great Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung speaking at length about some of his key contributions to psychology. Jung on Film (above) is a 77-minute collection of highlights from four one-hour interviews Jung gave to psychologist Richard I. Evans of the University of Houston in August of 1957. In “Sitting Across From Carl Jung,” an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Evans explains how the interviews came about:

I was teaching a graduate seminar called Approaches to Personality when it seemed like an interesting idea to have the graduate students in the seminar role-play in front of the class and pretend to interview the various personality theorists that I was presenting. Carl Jung was one of those theorists, and during the seminar, I learned that he had never agreed to an extensive recorded interview except for a brief exchange on the BBC. I wrote a letter to Dr. Jung to request an interview because I believed that filmed interviews of eminent psychologists would encourage students to read their work.

Jung, who was 82 years old at the time, agreed to the interview and set aside an hour a day over a four-day period. Evans met with Jung at the Federal Institute of Technology, or ETH, in Zurich. In the excerpts above, Jung talks about his early association with Sigmund Freud and how he came to disagree with Freud’s fixation on the sex drive as the primary influence in mental life. He talks about his theory of personality types and about universal archetypes, including the anima and animus. He talks about the interplay between instinct and environment, and about dreams as a manifestation of the unconscious. At one point he stresses the urgency of understanding psychology in a world where man-made threats, like the threat of the hydrogen bomb, are greater than those posed by natural disasters. “The world hangs on a thin thread,” says Jung, “and that is the psyche of man.”

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 10:41 am

Posted in Science, Video

Help Sen. Warren help students

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I just received this email:

On July 1st, the interest rate on new federal student loans is set to double from 3.4% to 6.8%. That rate is nine times higher than the rate at which the government loans money to the big banks.

That just doesn’t make sense. The federal government is profiting off loans to our young people while giving a far better deal to the same Wall Street banks that crashed our economy and destroyed millions of jobs.

That’s why I’ve introduced the Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act as my first bill in the Senate: To allow students to borrow money at the same rate as the biggest banks.

Please join me by signing onto the bill as a citizen co-sponsor.

College students carry more than $1 trillion in student loan debt, more than all the credit card debt in the country.

That’s a crushing burden on our kids and a crushing burden on our economy. Today’s graduates aren’t just delaying buying a home and starting a family — they’re moving back home with mom and dad and struggling to create some economic security.

The big banks that crashed our economy receive loans from the federal government at a rate of only 0.75% — that’s right, three-quarters of ONE percent. If Congress doesn’t act by July 1, our students will pay nine times more than big banks. Our students are the engine of our economic future, and they deserve at least the same deal as Wall Street.

Students don’t get the same Too Big to Fail guarantee as the big banks. But even though some students can’t pay their loans, overall the government is making 36 cents on every dollar we put into the student loan program. Next year, student loans are expected to bring in $34 billion.

Why should the big banks get a nearly-free ride while people trying to get an education pay nine times more? It isn’t right.

Help me pass the Bank on Students Act, Michael — sign on as a citizen co-sponsor today.

Thank you,

Elizabeth

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 10:33 am

Explorers v. Settlers

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In shaving, I quickly learned of two mindsets: explorers, who look for any excuse to try a new product or technique, and settlers, who look for any excuse to stick with what they have. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the slogan of the settler, and many in this mindset are completely unwilling to try (say) a new shaving soap: “The one I have now works fine, so why should I try something different?” The answer, “Because it could be a whole lot better” doesn’t seem to have much impact—as evidenced by the many millions who continue to use cartridge razors and canned foam in preference to trying DE shaving, which offers better shaves at (substantially) lower cost. Settlers tend to settle—thus the name.

But explorers and settlers—also termed “bold” and “shy” respectively—are found throughout the animal kingdom: some minnows will hide back in the reeds while others dart out in search of food. Have both mindsets in a species aids survival: the bold can find new grazing grounds, new foods, and so on, while the shy can preserve the species when an innovative locale or food proves deadly.

Don Cossins in The Scientist has an interesting finding on the two modes:

When a group of genetically identical mice lived in the same complex enclosure for 3 months, individuals that explored the environment more broadly grew more new neurons than less adventurous mice, according to a study published today (May 9) in Science. This link between exploratory behavior and adult neurogenesis shows that brain plasticity can be shaped by experience and suggests that the process may promote individuality, even among genetically identical organisms.

“This is a clear and quantitative demonstration that individual differences in behavior can be reflected in individual differences in brain plasticity,” said Fred Gage of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, who was not involved the study. “I don’t know of another clear example of that . . . and it tells me that there is a tighter relationship between [individual] experiences and neurogenesis than we had previously thought.”

Scientists have often tried to tackle the question of how individual differences in behavior and personality develop in terms of the interactions between genes and environment. “But there is next to nothing [known] about the neurobiological mechanisms underlying individuality,” said Gerd Kempermann of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Dresden.

One logical way to study this phenomenon is to look at brain plasticity, or how the brain’s structure and function change over time. Plasticity is hard to study, however, because it mostly takes place at the synaptic level, so Kempermann and his colleagues decided to look at the growth of new neurons in the adult hippocampus, which can easily be quantified. Earlier studies have demonstrated that activity—both physical and cognitive—increases adult neurogenesis in groups of genetically identical mice, but there were differences between individuals in the amount of neuron growth.

To understand why, Kempermann and his colleagues housed 40 genetically identical female inbred mice in a complex 5-square-meter, 5-level enclosure filled with all kinds of objects designed to encourage activity and exploration. The mice were tagged with radio-frequency infer-red (RFIR) transponders, and 20 antennas placed around the enclosure tracked their every movement. After 3 months, the researchers assessed adult neurogenesis in the mice by counting proliferating precursor cells, which had been labeled before the study began.

The researchers found that . . .

Continue reading.

Full disclosure: In terms of ideas and foods and the like, I am an explorer; in terms of sports and travel, I am a settler. Most people are a mix.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 10:22 am

Who Can Take Republicans Seriously?

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The editorial board of the NY Times asks the question in an editorial today:

It is time for President Obama to abandon his hopes of reaching a grand budget bargain with Republicans.

At every opportunity since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have made it clear that they have no interest in reaching a compromise with the White House. For two years, they held sham negotiations with Democrats that only dragged down the economy with cuts; this year, they are refusing even to sit down at the table.

Mr. Obama hasn’t given up inviting the Republicans to join him in making the hard choices of governing, but he has been rebuffed each time. This year, in hopes of getting some support for modest tax increases on the rich, he even proposed a reduction in the cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients. The events of the last few weeks should make it clear to him why that offer should be pulled from the table immediately. Consider:

  • Shortly after Mr. Obama presented this idea to Republicans, more than a half-dozen of them began trashing it as too “draconian” and a “shocking attack on seniors.” For years, the party has demanded entitlement cuts, but the moment the president actually offered one, he was attacked. Then last Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, said that no grand bargain is possible because Democrats aren’t willing to make significant cuts to spending and entitlement programs. The Social Security cost-of-living change, he said, did not go far enough.
  • Senate and House Republicans are refusing to meet with Democrats to negotiate over the budgets passed by each chamber. Four times in the last two weeks, Senate leaders have proposed beginning a conference committee to hash out a federal budget; four times they have been blocked by Republicans. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said they were afraid the committee might reach an agreement to raise both taxes on the rich and the debt ceiling, which are, of course, the Democrats’ stated goals. Knowing that their positions would be deeply unpopular among the public if their stubbornness were exposed in an open committee, Republicans would simply prefer not to talk at all.
  • Instead of negotiation, Republicans cling to their strategy of extorting budget demands by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling. On Thursday, the House passed a stunningly dangerous bill that would allow foreign and domestic bondholders to be paid if Republicans forced a government default, while cutting off all other government payments except Social Security benefits. The bill has no possibility of becoming law, but its passage was a deliberate thumb in the eye to Mr. Obama, business leaders and those who say the debt ceiling should not be used for political leverage.

Republican lawmakers have become reflexive in rejecting every extended hand from the administration, even if the ideas were ones that they themselves once welcomed. Under the circumstances, Mr. Obama would be best advised to stop making peace offerings. Only when the Republican Party feels public pressure to become a serious partner can the real work of governing begin.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 10:13 am

EPA Allows Untested Pesticides on the Market

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And where is the FDA in this? Laura Fraser reports at OnEarth.org:

You probably wouldn’t expect to find pesticides in your toothpaste or your gym socks, but they might be in there all the same. And the vast majority of those pesticides have made it into everyday products without adequate oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because they’ve been approved through a bureaucratic loophole known as “conditional registration,” which means they haven’t been fully tested to ensure that they pose no threat to human health or the environment, as required by U.S. law.

Most of us think of pesticides as the chemicals that get sprayed on weeds or used to kill rodents and bugs, but they’re actually found in everything from cosmetics to food containers, as well as antimicrobial textiles (such as the exercise shirt you might have worn to the gym this morning). By killing bacteria and other microorganisms, pesticides can help clothes resist stains or help containers keep food fresh longer. But some have also proven to cause health concerns in humanskill treesbirds, bees, and fish, or do other unintended harm to the environment.

The EPA has been responsible for registering pesticides since 1972, and during that time, 90,000 have been allowed on the market. A significant number of those — just over 25,000, according to the EPA — were initially approved through the conditional registration process. An internal report by the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs shows that of the more than 16,000 pesticides allowed on the market as of 2010, about 11,000 of them were conditionally registered. Because of the agency’s poor record-keeping and flawed procedures, it remains unclear how many of these conditionally registered pesticides have ever gone through the full gamut of safety testing required by law.

“The dirty little secret of the EPA is that almost every pesticide gets put on the market while the agency is looking the other way,” says Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. “That’s not good for consumers, and it’s not the intent of the regulations.”

By law, in order to register and sell a pesticide, companies are supposed to go through a process than can last several years; it includes public comment, reviews of scientific studies, and evaluations by the agency’s in-house science experts. The fast-track conditional registration process was intended to be used only under rare circumstances — when a product is nearly identical to one already on the market, for instance, or when the EPA needs to approve a new pesticide immediately to prevent a disease outbreak or other public health emergency (a new treatment for bedbugs, for example).

No one knew the extent to which the EPA had been abusing the conditional registration rules until 2008, when the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) began asking questions about why nanosilver, an antimicrobial made of extremely tiny bits of silver and used to kill bacteria in products such as athletic gear and baby blankets, had been granted conditional registration.

That year, Swiss manufacturer HeiQ had applied to the EPA for permission to use nanosilver in textiles, including clothing and bedsheets. NRDC scientists were concerned that nanosilver might be more toxic than regular silver — which is not very harmful to humans, but toxic and persistent in aquatic environments — because its tiny size allows it to travel into cells, organs, and blood, with potentially dangerous, but poorly understood, health effects. A 2010 internal EPA report on nanosilver notes: “the same property that makes it lethal to bacteria may render it toxic to human cells.”

“Until we understand the risks of nanosilver, we really shouldn’t be wearing it in our clothing and bedding,” says NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass. Chemist Martin Mulvihill, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Brain Chemistry, agrees that more studies are needed, especially because nanosilver is widely used in consumer products. The effects of nanosilver on human health are not well understood, “which is not to say there are no concerns,” says Mulvihill, who adds, “It’s very clear silver is bad for the environment.” Silver bioaccumulates and is toxic to single-celled organisms and aquatic invertebrates; a 2010 study found that runoff containing silver particles dramatically reduced the reproductive capabilities of mollusks in San Francisco Bay. Products like nanosilver washing machines, which kill bacteria with nanosilver ions embedded in the machinery, could also damage water organisms with their runoff.

“Do I really need nanosilver in my jeans or Tupperware?” Mulvihill asks. “I don’t think so. I can just wash them.”

In response to HeiQ’s 2008 request to use nanosilver, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel recognized that the effects of nanosilver are different from regular silver. The panel said its regulations would require the company to produce numerous studies on the specific health effects of nanosilver before it could be registered for use as a pesticide.

Then the agency went ahead and allowed the company to use nanosilver in its products anyway. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 10:09 am

US-supported war criminal gets 80-year sentence

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The US doesn’t seem to see a problem in backing vicious dictators, but I feel certain that such actions have an impact on how people view this country. Now one of the men that that the US helped in his genocide is on his way to prison, with others to follow. The US has gone badly off the rails, it strikes me. Amy Goodman has a good interview at DemocracyNow!—video at the link, followed by a transcript, which begins:

In a historic verdict, former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt has been sentenced to 80 years in prison after being found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. Ríos Montt was convicted of overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region after seizing power in 1982. The ruling marks the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide in his own country. The judge in the case has instructed prosecutors to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was among those implicated during the trial’s testimony after having served as a regional commander under Ríos Montt’s regime. We’re joined by investigative reporter Allan Nairn, who returned to Guatemala to cover the trial after reporting on the massacres extensively in the early 1980s. During a CNN interview in which he denied that a genocide took place, Pérez Molina was confronted with statements he gave to Nairn confirming his role in the Ixil killings three decades ago. “This was a breakthrough for indigenous people against racism and a breakthrough for human civilization,” Nairn says of the verdict, which he adds could have major implications for Washington. “The judge’s order to further investigate everyone involved in Ríos Montt’s crimes could encompass U.S. officials [who] were direct accessories to and accomplices to the Guatemalan military. They were supplying money, weapons, political support, intelligence. Under international and Guatemalan law, they could be charged.”

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In an historic verdict, former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty Friday of genocide and crimes against humanity and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Judge Yassmin Barrios announced the verdict on Friday.

JUDGE YASSMIN BARRIOS: [translated] By unanimous decision, the court declares that the accused, José Efraín Ríos Montt, is responsible as the author of the crime of genocide. He is responsible as the author of the crimes against humanity committed against the life and integrity of the civilian residents of the villages and hamlets located in Santa Maria Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and San Gaspar Chajul. Immediate detention is ordered in order to assure the result of this court process and because of the nature of the crimes committed for which he has been condemned. I hereby order he enter prison directly.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region after he seized power in 1982. Over the past two months, nearly a hundred witnesses testified during the trial, describing massacres, torture and rape by state forces.

Also on trial was General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, Ríos Montt’s head of intelligence. He was found not guilty of the same charges.

Ríos Montt becomes the first former head of state to be found guilty of genocide in his or her own country. Ríos Montt was a close ally of the United States. Former President Ronald Reagan once called him, quote, “a man of great personal integrity.”

After the verdict, Judge Barrios ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.

JUDGE YASSMIN BARRIOS: [translated] In continuation of the investigation on the part of the public ministry, the tribunal orders the public ministry to continue the investigation against more people who could have participated in the acts which are being judged.

AMY GOODMAN: The Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú, who attended the trial, said there are others who should be tried for war crimes.

RIGOBERTA MENCHÚ: [translated] We are using the universal law. In other words, each person has inherent rights, and therefore it is a farce to say that if one is judged, all will be judged. We are not all. We are not things. If someone else is guilty of a crime, he is welcome to come and sit among the accused.

AMY GOODMAN: One former general implicated in abuses during the trial was Guatemala’s current president, Otto Pérez Molina. In the early 1980s, Pérez Molina was a military field commander in the northwest highlands, the Ixil region where the genocide occurred. At the time, he was operating under the alias “Major Tito Arias.” During the trial, one former army officer accused him of participating in executions.

To talk more about the historic trial and the significance of the verdict and sentence, we go to Guatemala City, where we’re joined by investigative reporter Allan Nairn, who covered the trial and attended it in Guatemala and has covered Guatemala extensively in the 1980s.

Allan Nairn, welcome back to Democracy Now! The significance of the verdict and the 80-year sentence? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 10:06 am

Posted in Government, Law

Ayn Rand policies in action

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The subtitle to Paul Buchheit’s article points out: “In 20 Years Corporate Profits Are Up 4X and Their Taxes Have Fallen by 50% — Meanwhile the Workers’ Payroll Tax Has Doubled.” His article at AlterNet begins:

Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” fantasizes a world in which anti-government citizens reject taxes and regulations, and “stop the motor” by withdrawing themselves from the system of production. In a perverse twist on the writer’s theme the prediction is coming true. But instead of productive people rejecting taxes, rejected taxes are shutting down productive people.

Perhaps Ayn Rand never anticipated the impact of unregulated greed on a productive middle class. Perhaps she never understood the fairness of tax money for public research and infrastructure and security, all of which have contributed to the success of big business. She must have known about the inequality of the pre-Depression years. But she couldn’t have foreseen the concurrent rise in technology and globalization that allowed inequality to surge again, more quickly, in a manner that threatens to put the greediest offenders out of our reach.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy suggests that average working people are ‘takers.’ In reality, those in the best position to make money take all they can get, with no scruples about their working class victims, because taking, in the minds of the rich, serves as a model for success. The strategy involves tax avoidance, in numerous forms.

Corporations Stopped Paying

In the past twenty years [3], corporate profits have quadrupled while the corporate tax percent has dropped by half. The payroll tax, paid by workers, has doubled.

In effect, corporations have decided to let middle-class workers pay for national investments that have largely benefited businesses over the years. The greater part of basic research, especially for technology and health care, has been conducted with government money [4]. Even today 60% of university research [5] is government-supported. Corporations use [6] highways and shipping lanes and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, and communications towers and satellites to conduct online business.

Yet as corporate profits surge and taxes plummet, our infrastructure is deteriorating. The American Society of Civil Engineers [7] estimates that $3.63 trillion is needed over the next seven years to make the necessary repairs.

Turning Taxes Into Thin Air

Corporations have used numerous and creative means to avoid their tax responsibilities. They have about a year’s worth of profits stashed [8] untaxed overseas. According to the Wall Street Journal [9], about 60% of their cash is offshore. Yet these corporate ‘persons’ enjoy a foreign earned income exclusion [10] that real U.S. persons don’t get.

Corporate tax haven ploys are legendary, with almost 19,000 companies claiming home office space in one building [11] in the low-tax Cayman Islands. But they don’t want to give up their U.S. benefits. Tech companies in 19 tax haven jurisdictions received $18.7 billion [12] in 2011 federal contracts. A lot of smaller companies are legally exempt from taxes. As of 2008, according to IRS data, fully 69% of U.S. corporations were organized as nontaxable [13] businesses.

There’s much more. Companies call their CEO bonuses “performance pay” [14] to get a lower rate. Private equity [15] firms call fees “capital gains” to get a lower rate. Fast food [16] companies call their lunch menus “intellectual property” to get a lower rate.

Prisons and casinos have stooped to the level of calling themselves “real estate investment trusts” [17] (REITs) to gain tax exemptions [18]. Stooping lower yet, Disney and others have added cows and sheep to their greenspace to get a farmland exemption [19]. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 9:54 am

Nuclear Terror in the Middle East: Lethality Beyond the Pale

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I’ve noticed that TomDispatch quite regularly runs reports and articles that are well worth reading. Here’s a new post by Nick Turse on something that seems increasingly likely and ominous:

Has a weapon ever been invented, no matter how terrible, and not used?  The crossbow, the dreadnought, poison gas, the tank, the landmine, chemical weapons, napalm, the B-29, the drone: all had their day and for some that day remains now.  Even the most terrible weapon of all, the atomic bomb, that city-buster, that potential civilization-destroyer, was used as soon as it was available.  Depending on your historical interpretation, it was either responsible for ending World War II in the Pacific or rushed into action before that war could end.  In either case, it launched the atomic age.

During the Cold War, the two superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, relied on a strategy that used to be termed, without irony, “mutual assured destruction” or MAD.  Its intent was simple enough: to hold off a planetary holocaust by threatening to commit one.  With their massive nuclear arsenals, those two imperial states held each other and everyone else on the planet hostage.  Each safely secured more than enough nukes to be able to absorb a “first strike” that would devastate its territory, leaving possibly tens of millions of its citizens dead or wounded, and still return the (dis)favor.

After the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, nuclear weapons did, too — without going away. The American and Russian arsenals, and the nuclear geography that underlay them, remained in place, just largely unremarked upon.  In the meantime, the weaponry itself spread.  In those years, the last superpower, which seldom discussed its own arsenal, selectively focused its energies on containing the spread of nuclear weaponry in three nations: the first was Pakistan some part of whose ever-growing nuclear arsenal it feared might fall into the hands of extreme Islamic fundamentalists in a land Washington was in the process of destabilizing via a war in neighboring Afghanistan and a CIA drone campaign in its tribal borderlands; the second was North Korea, a country encouraged in its quest for nuclear weapons by watching the U.S. take down two autocrats, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, who gave up their nuclear programs prior to U.S. interventions; and the third was Iran, which had a nuclear program (started by the U.S. in an era when the country was considered our bulwark in the Persian Gulf), but as far as anyone knows no plans to weaponize it.  In the meantime, Washington (and so the American media) simply ignored the very existence of Israel’s massive nuclear arsenaland actually aided the further development of the Indian nuclear program.  In these years, it also threatened or, in the case of Iraq, a country that no longer had a nuclear program, actually launched what Jonathan Schell has called “disarmament wars.”

That the spread of nuclear weapons, whatever the country, is a danger to us all is obvious.  Who exactly will use such weapons next and where remains unknown.  But there is no reason to believe that, sooner or later, nuclear weapons — which have now spread to nine countries — and are likely to spread further, will not be used again.

Recently, a Texas-based nonprofit got a lot of publicity by announcing that it had fired the first handgun ever made almost totally by a 3-D printer.  This act, modest enough in itself, nonetheless highlights a trend of our time.  Weaponry that once only a large state, mobilizing scientists, industrial power, and resources could produce can now be made by ever-smaller states — say North Korea with limited resources and a malnourished populace.  Similarly, weapons once made by large companies can now be assembled by individuals.  Or put another way, ever more powerful weaponry is increasingly available to ever less powerful states and even non-state actors.  It was, for instance, the Aum Shinrikyo cult that, in 1995, produced sarin nerve gas — “the poor man’s atomic bomb” — in its own laboratory and used it in the Tokyo subways, killing 13, just as in the U.S. anthrax began arriving in the mail a week after 9/11, killing five people.

We don’t know where or why a nuclear weapon will be used.  We don’t know whether it will be a North Korean, South Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Iranian, Israeli, or even American city that will be hit. All we should assume is that, as long as such weapons are developed, amassed, and stored for use, one day they will be used with consequences that, as Nick Turse, author of the bestselling Kill Anything That Moves, reports today, are — even for those who have studied the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — beyond imagining. Tom

Nuclear Terror in the Middle East
Lethality Beyond the Pale
By Nick Turse

In those first minutes, they’ll be stunned. Eyes fixed in a thousand-yard stare, nerve endings numbed. They’ll just stand there. Soon, you’ll notice that they are holding their arms out at a 45-degree angle. Your eyes will be drawn to their hands and you’ll think you mind is playing tricks. But it won’t be. Their fingers will start to resemble stalactites, seeming to melt toward the ground. And it won’t be long until the screaming begins. Shrieking. Moaning. Tens of thousands of victims at once. They’ll be standing amid a sea of shattered concrete and glass, a wasteland punctuated by the shells of buildings, orphaned walls, stairways leading nowhere.

This could be Tehran, or what’s left of it, just after an Israeli nuclear strike.

Iranian cities — owing to geography, climate, building construction, and population densities — are particularly vulnerable to nuclear attack, according to a new study, “Nuclear War Between Israel and Iran: Lethality Beyond the Pale,” published in the journal Conflict & Health by researchers from the University of Georgia and Harvard University. It is the first publicly released scientific assessment of what a nuclear attack in the Middle East might actually mean for people in the region.

Its scenarios are staggering.  An Israeli attack on the Iranian capital of Tehran using five 500-kiloton weapons would, the study estimates, kill seven million people — 86% of the population — and leave close to 800,000 wounded.  A strike with five 250-kiloton weapons would kill an estimated 5.6 million and injure 1.6 million, according to predictions made using an advanced software package designed to calculate mass casualties from a nuclear detonation.

Estimates of the civilian toll in other Iranian cities are even more horrendous.  A nuclear assault on the city of Arak, the site of a heavy water plant central to Iran’s nuclear program, would potentially kill 93% of its 424,000 residents.  Three 100-kiloton nuclear weapons hitting the Persian Gulf port of Bandar Abbas would slaughter an estimated 94% of its 468,000 citizens, leaving just 1% of the population uninjured.  A multi-weapon strike on Kermanshah, a Kurdish city with a population of 752,000, would result in an almost unfathomable 99.9% casualty rate.

Cham Dallas, the director of the Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense at the University of Georgia and lead author of the study, says that the projections are the most catastrophic he’s seen in more than 30 years analyzing weapons of mass destruction and their potential effects.  “The fatality rates are the highest of any nuke simulation I’ve ever done,” he told me by phone from the nuclear disaster zone in Fukushima, Japan, where he was doing research.  “It’s the perfect storm for high fatality rates.”

Israel has never confirmed or denied possessing nuclear weapons, but is widely known to have up to several hundred nuclear warheads in its arsenal.  Iran has no nuclear weapons and its leaders claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes only.  Published reports suggestthat American intelligence agencies and Israel’s intelligence service are in agreement: Iran suspended its nuclear weapons development program in 2003. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 9:38 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Coconut Oat and Date Cookies

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These sound delicious. Complete step-by-step instructions, with photos, at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 9:15 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Bad 401(k) news: You can replace exorbitant fees with even higher fees if you want.

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Pam Martens writes at Wall Street on Parade:

Did you just find out your 401(k) is leaking 8 percent in a hodgepodge of Wall Street management fees, transactions costs, sales commissions, and marketing schemes. Maybe you did the math and realized your account value, without your new additions, is still where it was in 2007. Or did you just check BrightScope and find out that your 401(k) is so abysmal that you’ll need 18 additional years of work to make up for the $215,500 in lost retirement savings.

Or maybe you tuned in to the April 23 Frontline documentary on PBS to learn that it is quite possible for Wall Street to gobble up two-thirds of your retirement savings in your 401(k) while keeping you in the dark for the next 50 years.

If so, there’s no reason to seethe in silence. The U.S. Department of Labor wants to hear from you about a potential plan to move you from the clutches of Wall Street to the warm embrace of the insurance industry where companies like AIG – that needed a $182 billion bailout from the U.S. taxpayer to avoid defaulting on its annuity payouts to widows and orphans around the world – would be able to take over the slimmed down assets in your 401(k) in exchange for the promise of a fixed income stream in retirement.

The U.S. Department of Labor is nothing if not persistent. It rolled out this same idea back in 2010 and received a flood of hate mail for its effort. On February 2, 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Treasury published a notice in the Federal Register asking for public comment on a multitude of issues pertaining to 401(k) plans. Three of the requests for comment were posed as follows: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 9:06 am

DC Circuit Court vs. Worker’s rights

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An interesting article by Scott Limieux in The American Prospect:

Last week, a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals provided an excellent example of how both presidential action and inaction can matter. Because of the former, the National Labor Relations Board had issued a rule intending to alleviate the power disparities between workers and employers. But in part because of action by Republican presidents and inaction by Democratic presidents, the rule is no longer in effect. And while the outcome of the case is hardly surprising, the sheer radicalism of the court’s holding is yet another sign of how in the tank much of the powerful D.C. Circuit is for powerful business interests.

The case involved a 2011 regulation issued by the NLRB which required employers to post notices informing workers of their right to join a union and providing basic information about how to contact the NLRB. The regulation was challenged by business groups based on an assortment of legal arguments. The District Courtupheld the authority of the NLRB to issue the regulation, although it did strike down two provisions related to enforcement. “Neither the text of the statute nor any binding precedent,” found Judge Amy Berman Jackson, “supports plaintiffs’ narrow reading of a broad, express grant of rulemaking authority.”

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit consisting entirely of Republican appointees (including the notorious arch-reactionary Janice Rogers Brown) reversed Jackson and found that the regulation was illegal. Moreover, as with the recent D.C. Circuit opinion all but eliminating the presidential recess appointment power, they did so with an unreasonably broad opinion creating a transparently unworkable legal doctrine.

Had the Circuit merely held (as a concurring opinion did) that the regulation exceeded the statutory authority of the NLRB, this would be an inferior but not completely unfounded interpretation of admittedly ambiguous statutory text. And a narrow argument would at least allow Congress to revise the law to allow the NLRB to reinstate the reasonable notice requirement. But the Circuit went further than that, remarkably arguing that the provision violated the free speech rights of employers. According to the Court, the regulation violated a provision of the NLRB holding that the non-coercive speech of employers cannot constitute an unfair labor practice. The decision also strongly implies that the regulation violates the First Amendment as well.

This argument is not serious. As Judge Jackson noted, “the Board’s notice posting requirement does not compel employers to say anything.” The required notice contained numerous indications—including a large NLRB logo at the top—that the speech was coming from the government, not the employer. In addition, the notice is neutral, informing workers not only of their right to join a union and engage in various labor activities, but also of their right to choose “not to do any of these activities, including joining or remaining a member of a union.

If taken seriously, the idea that requiring employers to provide information about legal privileges and requirements violated their free speech rights would lead to transparently absurd results. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted in astatement following the ruling, this logic proves too much:

In today’s workplace, employers are required to display posters explaining wage and hour rights, health and safety and discrimination laws, even emergency escape routes. The D.C. Circuit ruling suggests that courts should strike down hundreds of notice requirements, not only those that inform workers about their rights and warn them of hazards, but also those on cigarette packages, in home mortgages and many other areas.

Perhaps next the D.C. Circuit will be able to find an appropriate case to end the tyranny of restaurants being forced to notify their employees that they have to wash their hands after going to the bathroom.

There are additional reasons to believe that this argument is being advanced in bad faith. Consider, for example, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 9:02 am

A new approach by Labor in its efforts to connect with and help workers

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Labor as a movement is vitally important: labor unions, in a word. Labor unions are the only non-governmental organization that has a hope of matching the power of the employer and of corporations in general. The government could do it, but the government is rapidly being controlled and dismantled by corporate interests through lobbyists, placing people in government agencies, hiring/suborning government regulators, and so on. A strong Labor movement can help keep the government an honest broker and back on track to promote and protect the common welfare.

Abby Rapoport has an interesting article on the new tactics Labor is using:

A week ago, labor-rights group Working America launched FixMyJob.com.  The text of the site reads a bit like an infomercial: “Tough day at work? Are you feeling overworked, underpaid, unsafe or disrespected by your boss?” But instead of selling a new set of knives, the writers are hawking organizing skills. “Our tool can help you identify problems in your workplace and give you info about what others have done in similar situations.” The famous raised fist of labor is sideways, holding a wrench. The website is yet another attempt by the country’s once-powerful union movement to connect to workers in an increasingly hostile national workplace.

“We also are trying to find new ways for workers to have representation on the job,” writes Working America spokesperson Aruna Jain in an email. “We want to train and educate people on how to self-organize, and to learn collective action—the single most effective way of improving their working conditions. This is one way we can start that process.”

The site, which is being rolled out slowly and in stages, is meant to give workers the resources they need to organize themselves and demand changes—regardless of whether or not an actual union comes together. It tells visitors how to contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for safety issues in the work place. It gives tips and strategies for how best to present a case to the boss or how to convince coworkers to get involved.

“We’re trying something new here—an experiment,” writes Jain. “It’s never been done before. We don’t know what will work and what won’t, but we are trying to provide information, resources to create a fertile environment where organizing can happen.” The website doesn’t charge dues and while the term “organizing” is used extensively, “collective bargaining”—a staple of the labor movement—is nowhere to be found.

Dues-paying members sustained the labor movement for decades, and in return, the unions helped negotiate better pay and better hours. But that relationship has been deteriorating rapidly.  For the last several decades, unions and the tools they offered seem far removed from the vast majority of workplace experiences. Around one-fourth of American workers are “contingent workers”—freelancers, independent contractors, part-timers, and temp workers—people with more tenuous relationships to their employers. Meanwhile conservatives have found ways to exploit weaknesses in the National Labor Relations Act, meaning the main legislative defense for unions is increasingly toothless. Labor conditions have gotten dramatically worse as unions have lost power—real wages have stagnated, wealth is increasingly concentrated—but no one seems to know how to connect the old-style of collective bargaining with the new economy. Some held out hope that the Obama administration—coupled with the worst economic crisis in decades—would help resuscitate things.

So when the Employee Free Choice Act failed in 2010, it seemed like a death knell for the American labor movement. The bill, which would have made it easier for workers to collectively bargain and increased the penalties on employers that fired people for trying to organize, was the number one piece in the labor agenda. Unions had poured resources into the 2008 elections, putting in hundreds of millions of dollars and mobilizing thousands of volunteers, and their efforts helped elect a Democratic president, and Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. But despite the concerted effort from labor leaders to push through this key piece of legislation, they simply didn’t have the power. It never got through the Senate.Faced with the very real threat of extinction, unions have largely put collective bargaining on the back burner, and instead must try to remind American workers of the basic concept of worker solidarity. “We start from the point of view that, because so few people are in unions these days, very few people have personal experience with collective power,” explains Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America. The group is the AFL-CIO’s answer to the “labor problem.” Rather than organizing workers into unions, Working America, an AFL-CIO affiliate, focuses on engaging non-union workers on a number of policy issues, from unemployment insurance and banking reform to education funding and campaign finance. The group uses the same door-to-door, grassroots strategies that have long been the hallmarks of labor organizers. But rather than emphasize relations between workers and their employers, the group focuses largely on policy changes. Members don’t have to pay dues, instead, at meetings and on sites like FixMyJob, they just have to sign up.

The group’s been able to create significant policy changes; with millions of members nationwide, Working America has been able to help mobilize activists for some successful local campaigns. In Portland, Oregon, workers won a battle for paid sick days. In both Albuquerque and Bernallilo County, New Mexico, the group helped organize and win a campaign for increase to the minimum wage.  Those are major changes for the people living in those areas. However, emphasis is necessarily on policy changes, rather than helping employees negotiate with their employers. . .

Continue reading. For an intriguing, entertaining, and informative look at the Labor movement in recent years, I highly recommend Thomas Geoghegan’s Which Side Are You On?. (Link is to inexpensive secondhand editions, some with free shipping.)

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 8:59 am

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Who will own our future robot overlords?

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Kevin Drum asks an interesting question at Mother Jones:

Robots! That’s the topic of my latest piece in the current issue of the magazine. I’ve blogged on this subject a fair amount, but this is the first time I’ve tried to put everything together and explain what I really think robotics is likely to mean over the next few decades. Some of you are going to nod right along, some of you are going to think I’m crazy, and any economists in the audience are going to be rolling their eyes at my rather casual use of macroeconomic trend statistics to help make my point. But I’m pretty sure none of you will be bored.

So what is my point? First off, it’s the obvious one that I think computer hardware and software are progressing fast enough that we’re not very far away from true artificial intelligence. Along the way I break exciting new ground in describing Ray Kurzweil’s “back half of the chessboard” analogy, which illustrates how continuous growth can look insignificant for a long time and then suddenly explode. After immense amounts of research, I decided on Lake Michigan as the key to my explanation of the chessboard analogy, but you’ll have to click the link to see what this means. It even comes with a nifty little graphic that our art department created to illustrate how Lake Michigan is just like a digital computer.

Why spend so much time on all of this? Because whenever the subject of AI comes up, everyone wants examples but people like me can’t come up with any. That’s because AI doesn’t exist yet. So we haul out Watson and driverless cars and so forth, and it all seems like pretty weak tea. But Lake Michigan explains why it’s not. All these examples that seem pretty lame and not really very AI-like are exactly what you’d expect as mileposts along the road to AI. They aren’t demonstrations of how far away we are, but exactly the opposite. They’re demonstrations of how close we are. When this all finally happens, it’s going to happen fast.

That’s the first half of the piece. The second half is about what all this means. If AI is coming—and coming quickly—what does it mean for the economy? In the long run, it will be great, an era of both infinite leisure and material progress. But in the medium run I think the consequences will be fairly grim: more and more people will be put out of work, and no, there won’t be new jobs that open up for them along the way. This will very decidedly not be a replay of the Industrial Revolution. What’s worse, it will all happen so slowly that we’re going to spend a long time denying what’s unfolding before our eyes, and a whole lot of people are going to suffer because of it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 8:47 am

BBS with a Slant

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SOTD 13 May 2013

A perfect shave. Guys who are buying Whipped Dog silvertips with the optional deeper setting of the knot (to make the knot more resilient) might want to consider a Vie-Long badger+horse brush:  excellent resilience and body, and a very nice brush overall. You can try soaking it before use: wet it throughly under hot water, then let it stand on the base while you shower. That makes it even nicer.

The soap is the Martin de Candre limited edition Fougère shaving soap. I got a very fine lather very quickly, and I was interested to note (in looking up the link) that the oils used are olive and coconut. Olive oil can obviously be used to make a wonderful shaving soap, but I still treat its presence as a cautionary warning, particularly with small artisanal soapmakers. My attitude is based on my experience in trying to get a good lather from a variety of olive-oil-based shaving soaps. But Martin de Candre has solved whatever problem olive oil presents, and his soap is wonderful. (So is Queen Charlotte Soaps shaving soaps, which also use olive oil—but that is far down in a list of ingredients that includes other oils: tallow; castor oil; shea butter; glycerin;  cocoa butter; coconut oil; avocado oil; palm oil; olive oil; and lanolin.)

Great lather, at any rate, and three very nice passes with my new slant, holding a previously used Trig blade. Smoothness reigns. One very shallow, very small “nick”: a dab of My Nik Is Sealed took care of that. Then a hearty splash of Floris JF and the day and week begin.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2013 at 8:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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