Later On

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

Archive for May 2013

Unexpected side-benefit of the clean-kitchen routine

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I blogged earlier about my kitchen game of exercising constant surveillance of any sign of dirt or disorder and fixing it immediately. It turns out its fun because you start to rarely find a problem and, when you do, fixing it is trivial (by which I mean ca. 15 seconds).

But tonight I realized another benefit: When I get an idea of something to cook (red beans and rice in a jumbalaya direction, based on this recipe but with added shrimp and Andouille sausage and doubling the green pepper), I can simply cook it: the kitchen is ready—all pots and pans clean, utensils clean and ready, and so on.

It strikes me that this is another instance of “If you want a horse to jump a fence, make the fence as low as possible.” That is, if you some course to be taken, some action performed, make it as easy as possible. By removing the “clean up the kitchen first” barrier, I am doing more cooking because it’s easier.

Hmm. I need to look at other things I need to do and see whether I can do a similar barrier-lowering exercise. Part of being your own Tom Sawyer: step 1, I suppose, with step 2 finding a way to make it so enjoyable you seek the opportunity.

Here’s some I made recently that I like—made-up recipe, so adjust as you want:

Pour some extra-virgin olive oil in the large (4-qt) sauté pan. Chop one enormous yellow onion and sauté it over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to caramelize.

Add 10-12 cloves minced garlic, sauté a moment, then add:

1 small-medium Italian eggplant, diced
2-4 medium zucchini, diced
3-5 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup pitted ripe olives (Saracena or Kalamata—the latter I halve)
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 preserved Meyer lemon, diced (they sell these at Whole Foods here with the bulk olives: whole preserved lemons—I presume that they’re Meyer lemons)
2 Tbsp sherry or red wine vinegar
good pinch of salt
several grindings black pepper

Cover and simmer 30-40 minutes. Very tasty over rice.

UPDATE: I just realized I was moving ratatouille in the direction of caponata.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Recipes

Arrested Development vis-à-vis Housing crisis

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Dylan Matthews finds some interesting cross-references and comment in this essay (WITH SPOILERS) in the Washington Post:

As surely as Guns N’ Roses’s “Chinese Democracy” is in the iTunes store and Duke Nukem Forever is on Steam, the fourth season of “Arrested Development” is, after seven years of hints and speculation, finally on Netflix.

The show’s always had a political bent and the latest iteration is no exception. But while the first three seasons deal with the Iraq War, what with George Sr. making “lightly treasonous” deals with Saddam Hussein and Lucille forcing Buster into the Army because of taunts from a Michael Moore-like documentary maker, the fourth focuses on what the housing crash did to this family of real estate developers.

Here are a few of the more blatant political notes – and the real-life events that inspired them. Spoilers abound, so proceed with caution.

Tobias and Lindsay’s NINJA loan

In the third episode, “Indian Takers,” Lindsay and Tobias Funkë decide to make a new start (or, to use the spelling from Tobias’ license plate, “ANUSTART”) by buying a home together. They inform their realtor James Carr (Ed Helms) that they have no income coming in, no assets, no credit, no jobs, and no work ethic. No matter — Carr offers them a “NINJA” loan, available to borrowers in exactly that position (“No Income No Job and no Assets”). They end up with guest gatehouses and a mansion that looks like this: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

US vs. other rich nations re: Vacation benefits

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Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 1:42 pm

Apparently the IRS was doing its job, which is what the GOP hates

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Interesting story about the “scandal” the GOP is trying to create. Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo report in the NY Times:

When CVFC, a conservative veterans’ group in California, applied for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, its biggest expenditure that year was several thousand dollars in radio ads backing a Republican candidate for Congress.

The Wetumpka Tea Party, from Alabama, sponsored training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the “defeat of President Barack Obama” while the I.R.S. was weighing its application.

And the head of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, whose application languished with the I.R.S. for more than two years, sent out e-mails to members about Mitt Romney campaign events and organized members to distribute Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign literature.

Representatives of these organizations have cried foul in recent weeks about their treatment by the I.R.S., saying they were among dozens of conservative groups unfairly targeted by the agency, harassed with inappropriate questionnaires and put off for months or years as the agency delayed decisions on their applications.

But a close examination of these groups and others reveals an array of election activities that tax experts and former I.R.S. officials said would provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review.

“Money is not the only thing that matters,” said Donald B. Tobin, a former lawyer with the Justice Department’s tax division who is a law professor at Ohio State University. “While some of the I.R.S. questions may have been overbroad, you can look at some of these groups and understand why these questions were being asked.” . . .

Continue reading.

The IRS was targeting groups—those most likely to be breaking the law. Good target.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 12:00 pm

Archdiocese Pays for Health Plan That Covers Birth Control

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It looks as though the Catholic church simply doesn’t like Obama and are using the contraception provisions of Obamacare to attack him, when the Church has been paying for contraception for years. Sharon Otterman writes in the NY Times:

As the nation’s leading Roman Catholic bishop, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York has been spearheading the fight against a provision of the new health care law that requires employers, including some that are religiously affiliated, to cover birth control in employee health plans.

But even as Cardinal Dolan insists that requiring some religiously affiliated employers to pay for contraception services would be an unprecedented, and intolerable, government intrusion on religious liberty, the archdiocese he heads has quietly been paying for such coverage, albeit reluctantly and indirectly, for thousands of its unionized employees for over a decade.

The Archdiocese of New York has previously acknowledged that some local Catholic institutions offer health insurance plans that include contraceptive drugs to comply with state law; now, it is also acknowledging that the archdiocese’s own money is used to pay for a union health plan that covers contraception and even abortion for workers at its affiliated nursing homes and clinics.

“We provide the services under protest,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York.

As president of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Dolan has consistently rejected similar arm’s-length compromises offered by the Obama administration, which has agreed to exempt many religious institutions from the provision, but not religiously affiliated employers like schools and hospitals that employ people of many faiths and do not exist primarily to inculcate religious values.

In February, the bishops opposed a proposal that would have allowed employees of those nonexempt religious institutions to receive contraceptive coverage through policies paid for directly by insurance companies. The New York Archdiocese is also suing the federal government to stop the mandate.

“There remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities,” Cardinal Dolan said at the time. . .

Continue reading. I truly detest how the Catholic church has always tried to force non-believers to follow the same church teachings that believers obey. It’s arrogant beyond belief. Especially since the Catholic church does not itself follow its teachings, unless the rape of children is considered good form. (I realize that the pedophiles were outliers—but those who protected and enabled the pedophiles were not: they were following Church beliefs and policies.)

The Catholic church is not an organization that should be involved in making decisions for others. Their track record is abysmal.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 11:57 am

Why Democrats Can’t be Trusted to Control Wall Street

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Interesting post by Robert Reich:

Who needs Republicans when Wall Street has the Democrats? With the help of congressional Democrats, the Street is rolling back financial reforms enacted after its near meltdown.

According to the New York Times, a bill that’s already moved through the House Financial Services Committee, allowing more of the very kind of derivatives trading (bets on bets) that got the Street into trouble, was drafted by Citigroup — whose recommended language was copied nearly word for word in 70 lines of the 85-line bill.

Where were House Democrats? Right behind it. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, a major recipient of the Street’s political largesse, co-sponsored it. Most of the Democrats on the Committee, also receiving generous donations from the big banks, voted for it. Rep. Jim Himes, another proponent of the bill and a former banker at Goldman Sachs, now leads the Democrat’s fund-raising effort in the House.

Bob Rubin – co-chair of Goldman before he joined the Clinton White House, and chair of Citigroup’s management committee after he left it – is still influential in the Party, and his protégés are all over the Obama administration. I like Bob personally but I battled his Street-centric views the whole time I served, and soon after I left the administration he persuaded Clinton to support a repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.

Jack Lew, Obama’s current Treasury Secretary, was . . .

Continue reading.

I think it’s quite obvious that Obama turned the Executive Branch over to financial industry to use as they will. And of course a comfortable majority of Congress is bought and paid for.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 11:43 am

Americans and Their Military, Drifting Apart

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I well remember that Democratic precinct caucus in Iowa City in which I argued strongly—perhaps even a little heatedly—against ending the draft. As I said, I want the military to have a large majority of would-be civilians—people who recently were civilians and will soon be civiians again—to keep the military aligned with the feeling of the country. George Starbuck happened to be there, and he agreed with me as well. We carried the day, and the draft did not end that year—but later it did.

Karl Eikenberry and David Kennedy describe the outcome that I had feared:

AFTER fighting two wars in nearly 12 years, the United States military is at a turning point. So are the American people. The armed forces must rethink their mission. Though the nation has entered an era of fiscal constraint, and though President Obama last week effectively declared an end to the “global war on terror” that began on Sept. 11, 2001, the military remains determined to increase the gap between its war-fighting capabilities and those of any potential enemies. But the greatest challenge to our military is not from a foreign enemy — it’s the widening gap between the American people and their armed forces.

Three developments in recent decades have widened this chasm. First and most basic was the decision in 1973, at the end of combat operations in Vietnam, to depart from the tradition of the citizen-soldier by ending conscription and establishing a large, professional, all-volunteer force to maintain the global commitments we have assumed since World War II. In 1776, Samuel Adams warned of the dangers inherent in such an arrangement: “A standing Army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the Liberties of the People. Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a Body distinct from the rest of the Citizens.”

For nearly two generations, no American has been obligated to join up, and few do. Less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II. Even fewer of the privileged and powerful shoulder arms. In 1975, 70 percent of members of Congress had some military service; today, just 20 percent do, and only a handful of their children are in uniform.

In sharp contrast, so many officers have sons and daughters serving that they speak, with pride and anxiety, about war as a “family business.” Here are the makings of a self-perpetuating military caste, sharply segregated from the larger society and with its enlisted ranks disproportionately recruited from the disadvantaged. History suggests that such scenarios don’t end well. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 11:37 am

Is Silicon Valley only interested in the problems of twentysomethings?

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Ezra Klein has an interesting insight at Wonkblog in the Washington Post:

In his fascinating New Yorker piece on the political culture of Silicon Valley, George Packer relays an irksome conversation with Dave Morin, founder of Path, that underscores the yawning distance between the concerns of the tech elite and the concerns of pretty much everyone else on earth.

[Morin] described San Francisco as a place where people already live in the future. They can hang out with their friends even when they’re alone. They inhabit a “sharing economy”: they can book a weeklong stay in a cool apartment through Airbnb, which has disrupted the hotel industry, or hire a luxury car anywhere in the city through the mobile app Uber, which has disrupted the taxi industry. “SanFrancisco is a place where we can go downstairs and get in an Uber and go to dinner at a place that I got a restaurant reservation for halfway there,” Morin said. “And, if not, we could go to my place, and on the way there I could order takeout food from my favorite restaurants on Postmates, and a bike messenger will go and pick it up for me. We’ll watch it happen on the phone. These things are crazy ideas.”

It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.

Airbnb and Uber certainly get a lot of press. But are they really representative of the problems Silicon Valley is most interested in solving? Or are they just companies that get an inordinate amount of press — in part because they’re solving the problems of journalists who live in cities and travel a lot, and those are the people who decide which companies get a lot of press?

In January, publishedits list of 2013′s “top 17 IPO candidates.” It’s as good a place as any to get a sense of where Silicon Valley thinks Silicon Valley is headed. The answer isn’t necessarily towards “saving the world.” But it’s not limos and lofts for twentysomethings, either. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 11:22 am

Molly practicing being a lap cat

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Molly on lap

Molly has never been a lap cat, but since her haircut she’s been experimenting with the idea. She doesn’t yet have the comfort that Meg shows with laps—Megs falls asleep quickly and remain enlapped for hours—but Molly is definitely making progress. Here she paractices with The Wife’s lap.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 11:19 am

Posted in Cats, Molly

The Slant route to BBS

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SOTD 27 May 2013

Totally wonderful shave once more. A great shave is pleasing no matter how many you’ve had previously—like sex in that regard, I suppose.

Ogallala shaving sticks produce a very good lather—slick and thick—and the Ecotools brush delivered as usual. I use the shave stick like a shave stick, rubbing it against the grain of my wet beard and then brushing to bring up the lather. It’s a process I enjoy and I’ve learned to take my time so that the lather can do its work.

Then three easy passes with a newish Trig blade in my vintage slant-bar—one I purchased from a WEdger (and many thanks once more). Smooth perfection, then enhanced with a splash of K.C. Atwood aftershave.

Wunderbar. And today I’m making red beans and rice; the two smoked ham shanks slow-cooked in the over last night.

Written by Leisureguy

27 May 2013 at 11:16 am

Posted in Shaving

George Packer looks at America’s decline

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An interview by Dan Oppenheimer in Salon:

Of all the compliments I’m inclined to pay to George Packer’s new book“The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America,” the one worth paying first is that it’s a pleasure to read, though not in the way I anticipated.

Packer is intelligent, explicitly analytical and happy to give himself plenty of word count to interrogate his subject from every angle. It’s a style he brings to his reporting in the New Yorker and to books like “The Assassin’s Gate: America in Iraq.”

“The Unwinding” is complex and intelligent, but these qualities are coalescent rather than explicit. And the narrative space of the book is highly pressurized. The chapters are short. The sentences shoot forward. The descriptors come quick and sharp and loaded for bear. The perspective jumps from one protagonist to the next rapidly, with nothing connecting the many characters — knowns like Newt Gingrich, unknowns like struggling biofuels entrepreneur Dean Price — except for Packer’s masterful location of them within the larger drama of the “unwinding.”

“If you were born around 1960 or afterwards, you spent your adult life in the vertigo of that unwinding,” writes Packer in his prologue. “You watched structures that had been in place before your birth collapse like pillars of salt across the vast visible landscape — the farms of the Carolina Piedmont, the factories of the Mahoning Valley, Florida subdivisions, California schools. And other things, harder to see but no less vital in supporting the order of everyday life, changed beyond recognition — ways and means in Washington caucus rooms, taboos on New York trading desks, manners and morals everywhere. When the norms that made the old institutions useful began to unwind, and the leaders abandoned their posts, the Roosevelt Republic that had reigned for almost half a century came undone. The void was filled by the default force in American life, organized money.”

I spoke to Packer by phone for about an hour, primarily about two things. One was the challenge of finding a way to tell this huge story in a way that felt intimate and narratively compelling. The other was about what I sensed was a fierce moral indignation at the core of the book. Packer wasn’t just acting the reporter, telling all these stories about how America had changed. He was saying that something has gone very wrong in this country. People are suffering. And there are people to blame.

Describe the genesis of the book for me.

It began from the events of the financial crisis and the recession. I had the sense that America was going through a wrenching transformation and then the transformation didn’t really happen. A lot of the same problems persisted after 2008, and a lot of the same ways of thinking about the problems. So I began to think that we were in a longer period of decline. Not necessarily permanent decline, but decline over a longer period than we normally think.

Many books have been written about this, and many of them are good books. I didn’t feel that I had much to add to the policy debates about problems like inequality, polarization, the hollowing out of the middle class, institutional decay. Instead what I wanted to do was describe what it’s been like to live in America over the past generation, from the late 1970s to the present, which has basically been the period of my adult life. And how to do that? I wanted to do it in a way that was both panoramic and intimate. It would look at many different parts of the country, many different sectors of society, at people who had made it, people who had not made it, people who were struggling, celebrities, obscure people. I wanted to do it with a bias toward the human voice and the human face rather than the big historical trends and events.

So how did you arrive at this structure?

I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do when I started. I began to just go out and do a lot of looking and reporting, starting with Dean Price, the entrepreneur down in North Carolina who is one of the central characters in the book. I just kept traveling and reporting and absorbing people’s stories. Toward the end of this process, as I realized I was ending the gathering of stories, and the book was coming due, I began to panic because I honestly didn’t know how it all fit together. That was when my wife reminded me that I had actually come up with an idea at the very start of the process. That was to model the structure, loosely, on the trilogy USA by John Dos Passos, and to cut between all these characters, moving back and forth, from one to another, as they all passed through the same historical timeline.

I’ve been reading your stuff in the New Yorker for a long time, and have read “The Assassins’ Gate,” and it felt to me like this was very different not just in terms of the overall structure of it, but in the flow as well. You sounded like a different writer.

“The Assassins’ Gate” is a very tightly controlled story of the ideas that led to the war and the consequences of those ideas in Iraq, and there is no doubt about where it is going and what kind of groundwork is being laid. Whereas if you start reading “The Unwinding,” the first thing you encounter is a two-page prologue that’s more an overture than an analytical introduction. It doesn’t lay out a set of arguments, but evokes a set of concerns and a feeling. Then you encounter a kind of news crawl from 1978 that is a mashup of a bunch of different sources from that year — Jimmy Carter, the Ramones, “Animal House” — in order to give you a sense of what the collective mind of a year felt like. Then you meet Dean Price, this guy down in North Carolina, and you hear about his early years. Then in comes Newt Gingrich, and his story, which actually is very relevant to the late ’70s and early ’80s. Then you meet Jeff Connaughton, this guy who goes to Washington and works there for the rest of his career. It demands a certain amount of patience, and it puts a lot of pressure on each of these individual chapters to hold your attention.

If as a reader you ran into two in a row that were slow, you might be done.

You might be done, absolutely, and it’s a risk I’m taking. I’m just hoping the stories themselves, and the sense they are going to tell a larger story, are strong enough to hold readers’ attention. The book lives or dies by whether it gathers speed, intensity and meaning as it goes along.

How did you find the people who were lesser known but are really at the heart of the book, like Dean Price? . . .

Continue reading.

And by all means, read this review of his previous book. Let’s face it, he has been horribly wrong in his positions: his support for going to war in Iraq, which I remember as quite strong: he was a booster, and when he talks about the neocons having their way with the government’s direction, he doesn’t mention that they were able to do this because of strong media support (like George Packer) and the mainstream media’s failures—not only a failure to look for disconfirming evidence for the biggest decision imaginable, but even an active effort to minimize or suppress disconfirming information—and certainly no hard follow-up questions. Mostly it was support, and George Packer was among those cheering.

Second: his position that everything’s going to be okay in Iraq was horribly wrong almost immediately. He gives a lot of rationalizations and justifications for taking a completely wrong position, but here’s the fact: two big calls, two wrong calls. I think he should stick to straight reportage, which seems to be his strength.

In a word, I don’t cut him any slack. He muffed it, and that means he will most likely continue in that vein. Report the facts, Packer; let us decide what they portend.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2013 at 2:18 pm

Who’s the danger: Muslims? or Christians?

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Interesting post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment contains this information:

Christians as aggressors

Muslim countries invaded and occupied by Westerners since 1798: what is now Bangladesh (Britain); Egypt (France), much of Indonesia (Dutch); Algeria (France); Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad (France); Moroccan Sahara, Ceuta (Spain); what is now Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan (Russia); Tunisia (France); Egypt, Sudan (Britain); Morocco (France); Libya (Italy); Palestine and Iraq (Britain); Syria and what is now Lebanon (France); Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain (Britain); Iran (Britain, US, Soviet Union during WW II); Iraq (US 2003-2011)

Number of Muslims killed by Western Powers since 1798: tens of millions

Muslims as aggressors

Western countries invaded, occupied by Muslims, since 1798: Turkey in Cyprus since 1974?

Number of Westerners killed by Muslim powers since 1798: a few tens of thousands, most in the Ottoman wars in the Balkans and WW I


Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2013 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Religion

Good signs regarding the new Pope

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Pope Francis must be driving the conservative wing of the Vatican (which seems to be 80% of the Vatican at least) crazy. I am very pleased to see that he derives some of his outlook from liberation theology, which is vital to Catholic countries, particularly those in Latin and South America where it first was voiced. Rachel Donadio has a good article in the NY Times:

VATICAN CITY — He has criticized the “cult of money” and greed he sees driving the world financial system, reflecting his affinity for liberation theology. He has left Vatican officials struggling to keep up with his off-the-cuff remarks and impromptu forays into the crowds of tens of thousands that fill St. Peter’s Square during his audiences. He has delighted souvenir vendors near the Vatican by increasing tourist traffic.

Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, has been in office for only two months, but already he has changed the tone of the papacy, lifting morale and bringing a new sense of enthusiasm to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Vatican itself, Vatican officials and the faithful say.

“It’s very positive. There’s a change of air, a sense of energy,” said one Vatican official, speaking with traditional anonymity. “Some people would use the term honeymoon, but there’s no indication that it will let up.”

Beyond appointing eight cardinals as outside advisers, Francis has not yet begun making concrete changes or set forth an ambitious policy agenda in a Vatican hierarchy that was gripped by scandal during the papacy of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict, who resigned on Feb. 28, is now living in a monastery inside the Vatican.

But Francis’ emphasis on attention to the poor, and a style that is more akin to that of a parish priest, albeit one with one billion parishioners, is already transforming perceptions. He has chosen to live not in the papal apartments but rather in the Casa Santa Marta residence inside the Vatican, where he eats dinner in the company of lower-ranking priests and visitors. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2013 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Religion

Nutritional Weaklings in the Supermarket

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Very interesting graphic. I never buy white corn—if I can’t get yellow, what’s the point? But I see I should go for blue. In general, I do buy the darkest variants of any plant food: red cabbage rather than green, red kale rather than green, brown flax seed rather than white, and so on. The following graphic is by Bill Marsh of the New York Times with illustrations by Matt Curtius and accompanies an article by Jo Robinson, “Breeding the nutrition out of food“, which begins:

WE like the idea that food can be the answer to our ills, that if we eat nutritious foods we won’t need medicine or supplements. We have valued this notion for a long, long time. The Greek physician Hippocrates proclaimed nearly 2,500 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Today, medical experts concur. If we heap our plates with fresh fruits and vegetables, they tell us, we will come closer to optimum health.

This health directive needs to be revised. If we want to get maximum health benefits from fruits and vegetables, we must choose the right varieties. Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.

These insights have been made possible by new technology that has allowed researchers to compare the phytonutrient content of wild plants with the produce in our supermarkets. The results are startling.

Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.” A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common russet potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious displayed in our supermarkets. . .

Continue reading. I think it’s quite obvious that businesses do not make these alterations to our foods in ignorance: they simply don’t give a damn about the nutritional value of the food, since their total focus in the bottom line and increasing profits.


Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2013 at 12:20 pm

Interesting phenomenon

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For an explanation, and a run with quite a few more metronomes, see this article.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2013 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Reflections while (re)watching Green Zone

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It’s quite obvious that our current Congress is unable to function—next, I expect to see fist-fights on the floor of the Senate, and it wouldn’t be the first time: recall the terrible beating that Preston Brooks gave to Charles Sumner in the Senate, using a cane topped with a metal knob, with which he struck Sumner repeatedly. Sumner never really recovered, but—and this is the tie to today—each man was a hero in his own region. If John Boehner struck Nancy Pelosi in the face on the floor of the House, I would bet a large proportion of the GOP would applaud his action: that’s how far we’ve come.

And how did it get this way? How did our elected representatives become so cynical that, as Gail Collins points out in the NY Times:

“When I travel across the state of Texas, men and women stop me all the time, and say: ‘Enough of the games. Go up there, roll up your sleeves, work with each other and fix the problem,’ ” Cruz lectured his colleagues this week, while he was engaged in stopping the budget process dead in its tracks for the ninth straight time.

Paul Krugman has one answer, but I’m pondering also the real hatred of “the government” expressed by the Tea Party, and the GOP’s fervent efforts to slash Federal budgets and jobs (except for the military). It’s almost as if a substantial part of the American public felt that it had been somehow betrayed by the government.

And then I’m watching the opening of Green Zone: 4 weeks after the first night of bombings—the “shock and awe” that immediately started the killing of Iraqi civilians, with no real regard for their safety. Our war was (ostensibly) with Saddam Hussein, but the people we were killing were the very people we were later to claim that we had come to save and provide a nice democracy.

But that was only yet another effort at revisionism in an administration famed for it—remember all the various after-the-fact explanations what “Mission Accomplished” really meant, and who really was responsible, and so on? The reason given at the time for the war was quite straightforward and simple: Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) (that term today refers to anything like a hand grenade or bigger, but a hand grenade is definitely defined now as a Weapon of Mass Destruction), and we had to go to war right now to stop him before he… did something with them—shot them at Israel or the US.

So here we are, 4 weeks from Day 1 of the war, and a unit is in a frantic hurry to get to a WMD site before looters carry everything away because the US simply let looters go—ransacking the national museums, libraries, laboratories, whatever. Because, as our Secretary of Defense explained, “Shit happens.” (As I write this I feel we’re living in a book by Terry Southern.) (He also said that you go to war with the army you have—and that army did not have appropriate armor to resist IEDs, so apparently DoD determined that, given the Secretary’s statement, there was no particular hurry to get armor to them…

And they break into the warehouse, and: nothing. Empty. This was hard intel, and it was totally wrong. How could that happen? And that’s the question the movie explores, as I recall.

But consider: soldiers were being killed, they were killing people—people they didn’t know, and a lot of civilians—in a part of the country they didn’t understand—and watching their buddies being horribly maimed or killed. And all the time, they now realize, they had been lied to: there were no WMDs and the whole war was based on a lie. And they were the ones suffering, all to see if a little neocon idea would actually work. It should, so telling a lie to bring it about was a worthy and virtuous lie.

But maybe the people being killed, and their families, and their friends would not see it that way. At first, I imagine, there’s a fair amount of denial due to cognitive dissonance: the war must have been worthwhile because look at how many of our young men and women died there, or came home maimed, in body or mind. But inevitably, they cannot deny what they lived through—and they know that there never were any WMDs—well, grenades and RPGs, of course, but I’m talking about the ones that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet and Jerry Bremer and Karl Rove and that whole sorry lot told us were there: nuclear weapons, nerve gas, biological warfare agents, and so on—the real WMDs, not the grenades-and-firecracker sort we have nowadays.

So the mood of that cohort—those in the military, their families, and their friends—turned bitter and angry toward government: thus the desire to slash, cut, and shrink the government—except, oddly, the military. Staunchly loyal to the unit, I suppose.

UPDATE: I just read Maureen Dowd’s column and I see we have some overlap, though looking at different objects.

UPDATE 2: As I think about it, I grow ever more amazed: that president (and his cabinet: I don’t think he could do this on his own, obviously—it was a group effort) took the United States into a war based on a complete fabrication—and it was done knowingly, Cheney demanding the CIA follow his lead, Bush demanding the UN Inspectors leave Iraq, downplaying the “aluminum tubes” that proved Hussein was building nuclear weapons, which, Condoleezza Rice assured us, would soon be making mushroom clouds over the US—because, obviously, the first thing Iraq would do would be to attack the US, right?

I think they knew it was a lie, but thought it a noble lie, and they believed that they would be instantly forgiven as soon as Iraq was a functioning democracy, which was expected to take 10-12 weeks—a “cakewalk.” And then, when that didn’t work out, the rationales started changing and the flop sweat started to build.

But they totally got away with it. Every one of them is wealthy, respected by many, and living in the lap of luxury, sure in his or her own mind that s/he did exactly the right thing, even if it didn’t quite work out. And at least they reduced hell out of taxes, which helps them now.

An entire war, on false premises. 10 years in Iraq. And we don’t get even an “Oops. My bad.”, much less an investigation.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2013 at 4:08 pm

Everyday Life in Palestine

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Via Juan Cole’s Informed Comment:

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2013 at 2:49 pm

How Did Major Hedge Fund Earn 30% Returns for 20 Years Straight? Lots of Cheating.

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Les Leopold reports at Alternet:

How would you like to invest $10,000 and watch it grow over 20 years into $1,461,920? Well that’s what happened at the giant hedge fund, SAC Capital Advisors, which made a 30% return for 20 years in a row.

How is it possible to make such profitable investments again and again and again? The U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara, believes he has the answer: SAC is cheating … again and again and again. In fact, Bharara suggests [3] that hedge funds that engage in insider trading may be rotten to the core:

“Given the scope of the allegations to date, we are not talking simply about the occasional corrupt individual; we are talking about something verging on a corrupt business model, for the defendants seem to have taken the concept of social networking and turned it into a criminal enterprise. ” [refers to a 2011 hedge fund indictment, not the current case against SAC.]

To date, nine current and former SAC employees face insider trading criminal charges stemming from their work at the firm. Four have pled guilty and two are still fighting their indictments. Now the head of SAC, multi-billionaire Stephen A. Cohen (note the initials), will be subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. The federal strategy may be to indict the entire hedge fund and shut it down, according to the New York Times. [4]

We do not know as yet to what degree SAC relied on illegally obtained information (or other illicit activities) to amass its extraordinary profits. But we do know this: hedge funds don’t like to gamble. Rather they want to make their billions by betting on sure things. In researching my book, How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour [5], it became clear that that the hedge fund industry as a whole is up to its eyeballs in a series of unethical maneuvers that sometimes are legal, sometimes are borderline and often are outright criminal.

But aren’t there many (some?) honest and ethical people working in America’s 8,000 hedge funds?

Maybe so, but the overwhelming culture within hedge funds makes cheating a way of life, according to Lynn Stout of UCLA Law School. In her article, “How Hedge Funds Create Criminals [6],” Stout claims that hedge funds flash three critical signals that promote unethical behavior:

Signal 1: Authority Doesn’t Care about Ethics. Since the days of Stanley Milgram’s notorious electric shock experiments, science has shown that people do what they are instructed to do. Hedge-fund traders are routinely instructed by their managers and investors to focus on maximizing portfolio returns. Thus, it should come as no surprise that not all hedge-fund traders put obeying federal securities laws at the top of their to-do lists.

Signal 2: . . .

Continue reading. The Department of Justice, the SEC, and other Federal agencies ignore these crimes. At most, perpetrators will get small fines and be allowed to continue.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2013 at 11:23 am

When cops become rapists

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Steve Yoder reports in The American Prospect:

When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad new—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun. That scared her enough that she immediately reported what he’d done to the police, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Another four years passed before the department arrested Skweres and suspended him without pay, and then only because he tried to rape a woman while on duty. By that time, Smith had moved out of the city for fear of running into him again. Three other women told stories similar to Smith’s, and on March 11 Skewers pled guilty to bribery, indecent assault, and other charges.

Stories of cops propositioning, harassing, and sexually assaulting women turn up every week around the country. February 18 saw the arrest of Houston officer Victor Chris for allegedly telling two women he would tear up their traffic tickets in exchange for sexual favors, according to the Houston Chronicle. On February 25, police charged Sergio Alvarez, an officer from West Sacramento, California with allegedly kidnapping and raping six women while on duty between October 2011 and September 2012. And March 1, Denver cop Hector Paez got eight years in prison for driving a woman he’d arrested to a secluded spot and forcing her to perform oral sex on him. “Police sexual misconduct is common, and anyone who maintains it isn’t doesn’t get it,” says retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, author of the book Breaking Rank.

Since no one is investing resources in learning how many victims are out there, we’re left with estimates and news accounts. As part of a 2008 study, former police officer Tim Maher, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, asked 20 police chiefs whether police sexual misconduct was a problem—18 responded in the affirmative. The 13 chiefs willing to offer estimates thought an average of 19 percent of cops were involved—if correct, that translates to more than 150,000 police officers nationwide. An informal effort by the Cato Institute in 2010 to track the number of police sexual misconduct cases just in news stories counted 618 complaints nationwide that year, 354 of which involved forcible non-consensual sexual activity like sexual assault or sexual battery.

The news steadily filtering in from around the country has forced police leaders nationally to take notice. . .

Continue reading. From later in the article, a possible contributor to the problem: “No one keeps data on the number of police sexual abuse victims.”

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2013 at 11:17 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

As Need for New Flood Maps Rises, Congress and Obama Cut Funding

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Sometimes—often?—organizations (businesses, governments, and the like) seem positively stupid: with facts staring them in the face, they continue sleepwalking in a stupor. Here’s a good/terrible example from ProPublica by Theodoric Meyer:

As the United States grows warmer and extreme weather more common, the federal government’s flood insurance maps are becoming increasingly important.

The maps, drawn by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, dictate the monthly premiums millions of American households pay for flood insurance. They are also designed to give homeowners and buyers the latest understanding of how likely their communities are to flood.

The government’s response to the rising need for accurate maps? It’s slashed funding for them.

Congress has cut funding for updating flood maps by more than half since 2010, from $221 million down to $100 million this year. And the president’s latest budget request would slash funding for mapping even further to $84 million — a drop of 62 percent over the last four years.

Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 10.55.21 AMIn a little-noticed written response to questions from a congressional hearing, FEMA estimated the cuts would delay its map program by three to five years. The program “will continue to make progress, but more homeowners will rely on flood hazard maps that are not current,” FEMA wrote.

The cuts have slowed efforts to update flood maps across the country.

In New England, for instance, FEMA is updating coastal maps but has put off updating many flood maps along the region’s rivers, said Kerry Bogdan, a senior engineer with FEMA’s floodplain mapping program in Boston.

“Unfortunately, without the money to do it, we’re limited and our hands are kind of tied,” she said.

Many of the flood maps in Vermont — including areas near Lake Champlain that have recently flooded — are decades out of date. “There are definitely communities that really need that data,” said Ned Swanberg, the flood hazard mapping coordinator with Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Asked about the cuts, a spokesman for the White House’s Office of Management of Budget directed to us FEMA, which did not respond to our requests for comment.

New maps can guide development toward areas that are less likely to flood. They also tend to be far more accurate. Today’s mapmakers can take advantage of technologies including lidar, or laser radar, and ADCIRC, a computer program that’s used to model hurricane storm surge. They can also incorporate more years of flooding data into their models.

“It is disconcerting to have counties and areas where people still have maps from the 1970s,” said Suzanne Jiwani, a floodplain mapping engineer with Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources. . .

Continue reading.

For comparison: the cost of one (1) F-35 Lightning II fighter plane: $122 million. I think the US could easily get by with one fewer F-35 from our planned acquisition of 2,443. Even dropping two (2) is a reduction in fleet size of but 0.08% — that is, 8/100 of 1%. Especially since we are not currently fighting a war.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2013 at 11:02 am

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