Later On

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

Archive for July 30th, 2013

Doctors ignore evidence in treating low-back pain

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Not surprising: they ignored evidence for antiseptic procedures, they ignore evidence on the effectiveness of checklists, and so on. Here’s the story on low-back pain.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

A movie not to miss, on Netflix Watch Instantly: Lagaan

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Some I find this movie enormously satisfying.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Manning found guilty—now ask Obama to stop his vindictive persecution of whistleblowers

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Of course, Obama running for election said that whistleblowers should be protected and honored. Boy, did that ever change once he was in office. But at least speak up.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 6:12 pm

How to tell if a toy is for boys or girls

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Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Weird and wonderful Beethoven performance

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Explanation here.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 4:49 pm

Posted in Music, Technology

Stanley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films (The First and Only List He Ever Created)

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Interesting. Here’s the post, and here are the films:

The first and only (as far as we know) Top 10 list Kubrick submitted to anyone was in 1963 to a fledgling American magazine named Cinema (which had been founded the previous year and ceased publication in 1976),” writes the BFI’s Nick Wrigley. It runs as follows:

1. I Vitelloni (Fellini, 1953)
2. Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)
3. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Huston, 1948)
5. City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)
6. Henry V (Olivier, 1944)
7. La notte (Antonioni, 1961)
8. The Bank Dick (Fields, 1940—above)
9. Roxie Hart (Wellman, 1942)
10. Hell’s Angels (Hughes, 1930)

But seeing as Kubrick still had 36 years to live and watch movies after making the list, it naturally provides something less than the final word on his preferences. Wrigley quotes Kubrick confidant Jan Harlan as saying that “Stanley would have seriously revised this 1963 list in later years, though Wild StrawberriesCitizen Kane and City Lights would remain, but he liked Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V much better than the old and old-fashioned Olivier version.” He also quotes Kubrick himself as calling Max Ophuls the “highest of all” and “possessed of every possible quality,” calling Elia Kazan “without question the best director we have in America,” and praising heartily David Lean, Vittorio de Sica, and François Truffaut. This all comes in handy for true cinephiles, who can never find satisfaction watching only the filmmakers they admire; they must also watch the filmmakers the filmmakers they admire admire.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Obama won’t do it because Obama lacks courage

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But an excellent proposal nonetheless.

Too bad Manning didn’t torture US prisoners, because in Obama’s eyes that’s perfectly forgivable. No investigation, no prosecution. Look forward, not back. But to embarrass the US: unforgivable: go for the death penalty.

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30 July 2013 at 4:41 pm

Good editorial in the NY Times supporting Yellen

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Now if only Obama can break his Wall Street apron strings. The editorial:

Despite a campaign from allies both inside and outside the White House, the recent drive to install Lawrence Summers as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve seems to be faltering — and with good reason: He is not the best person for the job, as a group of Democratic senators made clear in a letter to President Obama last week calling for the nomination of Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Fed’s board of governors.

But the group behind Mr. Summers does not give up easily. Composed of protégés of Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary who was a leader at Citigroup as that institution careened toward its serial bailouts, some of Mr. Summers’s supporters are now pushing the notion that neither Mr. Summers nor Ms. Yellen should get the top Fed job. The idea is that the supposed rivalry between them — fanned by Mr. Summers’s supporters — has consumed both of them, requiring a third candidate.

That is nonsense. Nothing that has occurred in the past week changes the fact that no one else can match Janet Yellen’s combination of academic credentials and policy-making experience. And no one ever confirmed to the job has come to it with as deep a grounding in both the theory and practice of monetary and regulatory policy as Ms. Yellen would bring.

A Yale educated economist and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, she was first nominated and confirmed to the Fed board in the 1990s; from 2004 to 2010, she served as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. She has been vice chairwoman since 2010, a trying time in which the Fed’s largely successful efforts to steer the economy have been made all the more difficult by poor fiscal policy decisions, including the White House’s premature pivot from stimulus to deficit reduction, which happened while Mr. Summers was a top adviser to Mr. Obama.

What has changed in the past week is that the power dynamics around economic policy-making have become more public than normal. Mr. Rubin and his circle — including Mr. Summers; Timothy Geithner, Mr. Obama’s first Treasury secretary; and Gene Sperling, currently a top economic adviser to the president — have dominated economic decisions in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Most of them were also prominent in Wall Street circles in the George W. Bush years. In the wake of the financial crisis and the Dodd-Frank reform law, the Fed chairmanship has only become more central to the fate of the banks and economy; as a result, they want someone who shares their background and can be counted on to further their views.

Ms. Yellen is not that person, not only, or even mainly, because of policy differences but because she is not part of the fraternity. Indeed, she is reminiscent of other accomplished women with whom Mr. Summers, or his supporters, or both have tangled in the past.

In 1998, Mr. Rubin and Mr. Summers opposed Brooksley Born, then the chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, for correctly calling for the regulation of derivatives; in 2009, Mr. Summers squelched the sound recommendation of Christina Romer, then an economic adviser to Mr. Obama, for a larger stimulus. In the first Obama term, Mr. Geithner clashed unhelpfully with Sheila Bair, then the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and with Elizabeth Warren, then the chairwoman of the Congressional panel overseeing the bailouts.

In the end, the choice rests with Mr. Obama. The facts are entirely on Ms. Yellen’s side. Is the president?

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 4:33 pm

Your Big Mac Would Only Cost $.68 More If McDonalds Doubled Its Pay

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Interesting post at ThinkProgress by Annie-Rose Strasser:

If McDonalds were to double the salaries and benefits of all of its employees, from the CEO down to the minimum wage cashiers, it would still only cost an extra 68 cents for a Big Mac, according to a new report by the University of Kansas.

As fast food workers across the country are going on strike to demand a livable wage, University of Kansas research assistant Arnobio Morelix tells the Huffington Post that it would cost the average consumer mere cents to give them just that.

Currently, a minimum wage McDonalds employee makes $7.25 per hour. The CEO makes $8.75 million. But if the former were raised to $15 and the latter to $17.5 million, the dollar menu would only have to become the $1.17 menu and the Big Mac would go from $3.99 to $4.67, Morelix found.

If the CEO’s pay remained the same but low-wage workers earned more, the price difference for customers would be negligible.

These numbers underscore what low-wage workers already know: It would take very little for McDonalds to vastly improve the lives of those who make the company run. In fact, minimum wage raises have proven beneficial to a company’s bottom line. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

An interesting comparison made by Juan Cole

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Well worth reading and thinking about:

Breaking news: Firedog Lake reports that Bradley Manning has been found not guilty of aiding the enemy, a blow against the Obama administration’s repeated attempts to smear whistleblowers as traitors. The other charges against him could put him behind bars for 100 years.

But just so it isn’t forgotten, Manning’s journey to sentencing has been literally a tortured one. Below is a reprint of my column, written when Manning was still in the brig at Quantico, comparing him to Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi, whose act of self-sacrifice touched off the Arab world’s search for bread, dignity and social justice. Obama’s then spokesman, P. J. Crowley, lost his job because he dared complain about this sordid episode:

Bradley Manning and Mohamed Bouazizi:

Activists David House and Jane Hamsher tried to visit Pfc. Bradley Manning, who stands accused of leaking classified US government documents, at Quantico on Sunday. They allege that while still outside the base, they were given a run-around, threatened with having their car towed, and then essentially detained for two hours, until the 3:00 pm end to visiting hours arrived. They were not on the base, and House is on an approved visitor list. They were trying to see Manning, whose health they say has deteriorated because of the harsh terms of his detainment, and to deliver to the base commander a petition with 40,000 signatories asking that the terms be eased.

The suspicious behavior of the authorities at Quantico raises the question of why they were trying to keep House from seeing Manning on Sunday. What had been done to their prisoner that they didn’t want coming out?

Manning’s treatment as though he were a terrorist contrasts to the lionization of other kinds of dissident. If it is true that Manning turned State Department documents over to Wikileaks, then he played a small role in the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution, which overthrew the brutal and grasping dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, whom the US government had been coddling and the French government actively supporting. Ben Ali’s cruelty to political prisoners is now emerging, as they are being released and telling their story.

Desperation at the policies of the Tunisian government had driven college graduate turned vegetable peddler Mohammad Bouazizi to set himself on fire in protest. The government had supplied him no job, then had confiscated his vegetable cart, then slapped and humiliated him when he protested. Bouazizi was driven to desperation, knowing that the Tunisian system was closed so tight that it offered him no recourse, no hope for reform. His only means of protest was to start a fire and sacrifice his own life. His protest set off public disturbances throughout the country. In the midst of this “Jasmine Revolution,” a leaked US embassy cable about the corruption of President Ben Ali came to the attention of the Tunisian public, lending legitimacy and urgency to their efforts to unseat him. It may have been leaked by Manning.

Manning, like Bouazizi, is young. He also faced, with all his youth and inexperience and impatience, a political situation that was the result of criminality. Dick Cheney and John Yoo and Karl Rove and George W. Bush were responsible for creating a public image of government lawlessness that encouraged whistle blowing. They went to war against Iraq on false pretenses and in contravention of international law. They themselves tried to leak the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative, to the press. They set up Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and Bagram as black torture facilities. They lied repeatedly to the American people (there was no looting in Iraq, no guerrilla war in Iraq, no civil war in Iraq, no torture practiced by the US in Iraq, no more than 30,000 civilian dead in Iraq, no need for more armored vehicles for our troops in Iraq).

The political situation Manning faced was also unyielding. Long after the American public turned against Washington’s Forever Wars, they are still being pursued, and are killing thousands of innocent civilians for war goals that range from the highly unlikely to the utterly phantasmagoric. Manning’s leak was an act of desperation no different in intent from Bouazizi’s self-immolation. He intended to protest, by putting himself on the line. He wrote in chat room, “god knows what happens now — hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms — if not & we’re doomed.” He did not intend to get caught, but he must have known the risks. His was a cyberspace form of self-immolation, a career-ending, decisively life-changing act that, however foolhardy or possibly illegal, was certainly courageous.

President Obama belatedly praised “the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people” and said, . . .

Continue reading.

In the meantime, total news blackout on the war crimes shown in the videotape Manning released. Apparently, we are not to think about that.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 4:06 pm

America’s growing inequality

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The wealthy move further and further from the rest of us. Juan Cole has some useful charts at Informed Comment:

Presdident Obama’s speech last week on the threat of growing income inequality in the US was generally blown off by the corporate media. The problem is not generally recognized or understood because Americans have a poor grasp of the actual situation (see video below) or of how much worse things have gotten over the past 20 years.

G. William Domhoff keeps one of the best sites for America’s increasingly skewed income distribution. It is a continuation of his classic, Who Rules America?. I remember when that book came out, some reviewers said that the top 10% of Americans were over 2 million people, and they could never coordinate ruling class policy because the group was just too big. But now that 400 people have more wealth than the bottom 50%, surely you could have a small conference to decide things. Or you could organize ALEC to shape legislation to favor the interests of the 400.


Here is the classic video

What you don’t know about the real scale of inequality in America:

You may wonder why this is important, other than than that a few people have a lot more money than the vast, overwhelming majority—and the discrepancy is much more extreme than ever before. Here’s why, and I urge you to watch this video from that post, which I’ve blogged before. (The post provides a bit more background, but the video stands on its own.)

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 3:51 pm

Things that don’t seem elicit follow-up from our news media

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1. The shooting of Ibragim Todashev (unarmed) during an interrogation by the FBI, which apparently has no smartphones or other means to record an interrogation—a major oversight. Or maybe not:

Ibragim Todashev, who was killed by the FBI during a questioning, was shot six times, once in the crown of his head, photos shown at a press conference in Moscow reveal. His father suspects it could have been a kill shot.

“I can show you the photos taken after the killing of my son. I have 16 photographs. I just would like to say that looking at these photos is like being in a movie. I only saw things like that in movies: shooting a person, and then the kill shot. Six shots in the body, one of them in the head,” Abdulbaki Todashev said at the press conference at RIA Novosti news agency in the Russian capital.

He explained that the photos were taken by friends of his son in the US, to whom the FBI handed the body.

“I want justice and I want an investigation to be carried out, I want these people [the FBI agents] to be put on trial in accordance with US law. They are not FBI officers, they are bandits. I cannot call them otherwise, they must be put on trial,” he said.

The FBI promised an investigation, but so far as news reports go, this episode has been blanked from the public memory.

2. Extradition of Edward Snowden. Obama is very big on getting Edward Snowden extradited to stand trial, but there never seems to be any mention of the US refusing to extradite the CIA officers guilty of kidnapping and torture. (See the recent post on Robert Seldon Lady, one of miscreants who was convicted.) They were tried in Italy, found guilty, and remain at large in the US. I suppose it’s like Luis Posada Carriles: a terrorist, sure, but he’s our terrorist, so protection instead of extradition. When Obama talks about extraditing Snowden, I sure wish reporters would ask him about the CIA guys. If it’s okay for the US to refuse extradition for them, why isn’t it okay for Russia (or any other nation) to refuse to extradite Snowden? I suppose the answer is because the US doesn’t care that much about the law.

3. The TWA Flight 800 crash investigation. It seems highly suspicious that US Navy vessels in the area (conducting exercises) fled the scene. This is a violation of the Law of the Sea: they are required to render aid. Why no follow-up on why they fled, why they failed to help? Was no one held accountable? It vanished from the news quickly. I would love to see some questions raised in the White House press conferences. Not going to happen. I truly believe this is a cover-up: it’s the only explanation for the Navy vessels fleeing the scene rather than helping. But even if there’s no cover-up, some explanation (and accountability) is needed for their refusal to help.

4.  James Clapper and his videotaped outright lie to Congress: Why is his felony ignored? And why is no journalist other than Glenn Greenwald asking about it?

5. In contrast, the Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye was imprisoned (no charges) at US request for the crime of reporting (in Yemen) what happened: a drone strike that killed civilians. Remember that line by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men? “You cannot handle the truth.” Apparently the US government cannot handle the truth and cannot stand having the truth emerge. It exposes too many bad actions and (worse) bad actors. From the link:

Prominent Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye has been released from prison after being held for three years on terrorism-related charges at the request of President Obama. Shaye helped expose the U.S. cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children in December 2009. Then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced his intention to pardon Shaye in 2011, but apparently changed his mind after a phone call from Obama. In a statement, the White House now says it is “concerned and disappointed” by Shaye’s release. “We should let that statement set in: The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison,” says Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation, who covers Shaye’s case in “Dirty Wars,” his new book and film by the same name. “This is a man who was put in prison because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children.”

Three years in prison for reporting the truth. Our nation has changed a lot, and not for the better.

The list can be extended. I think the reasons the US has lost its moral center are covered well in the video in this post: the US is under control of and run by the wealthy, and the moral failings that wealth brings are reflected in US behavior.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 2:14 pm

Cooking up a storm

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So first I made this cucumber with tahini dressing recipe. Very tasting and sitting in fridge.

Then I’ve had some bags of red lentils for quite a while, and I decided that I have to move them along. So I’m trying this recipe. Lentils are done with cooked onion and garlic stirred in, and the brown jasmine rice is cooking. (That’s the brown rice I had on hand—and it will be about 5 c cooked, not 6: used it up, always a pleasure.) I am probably going to mix rice and lentils and stir in some crumbled feta and a little olive oil and sherry vinegar and make it a salad as well. Black olives, too, I imagine, along with chopped parsley and diced tomatoes. (Stuff on hand.)

I have to say that vegetarian meals tend to be more interesting. And, although I’m eating well, I’m losing weight. Only a little so far, but definite.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 1:20 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Fear of a Female Fed Chief

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Yellen would be a great head of the Federal Reserve board except that she has a vagina and the position requires a penis—at least that seems to be what quite a few seem to think. Indeed, the overt sexism in the discussions of this appointment are staggering, particularly as Yellen turned out to be better than anyone else at predicting where the economy was going. But of course some see appointing a woman as “gender politics,” whereas appointing a man is not (because men don’t have a gender: they just are.) Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

The hard-money cranks of the right have spent the Obama years nurturing fears of incipient inflation that never seems to arrive, yet whose non-arrival never dents their airtight worldview. The current jostling between Larry Summers and Janet Yellen to become the next head of the Federal Reserve has introduced a new and even more primal fear into the minds of the hard-money cranks: the trepidation that their monetary essence will be drained by a woman.

The hard-money cranks don’t frame it this way. In their own minds, they are the upholders not only of firm currency standards but also firm intellectual standards. They insist Federal Reserve appointments be dictated solely by merit and are beset by liberal gender police insisting on compromising their standards in the name of diversity. “Are we entering the era of the gender-backed dollar?” asks the right-wing New York Sun. The Sun cares only about the soundness of the currency, which it defines as its value relative to gold, not of gender. But the whiff of masculine gender panic is not hard to detect. Here is how the editorial begins:

James Thurber once drew some cartoons of a woman playing poker. In one, she is seated at a table clutching her cards to her breast, eying the capacious pot, and inquiring, “What do four ones beat?” In another she is glaring across the table, demanding to know, “Why do you keep raising me when you know I’m bluffing?”

It’s funny because women are bad with numbers.

What this has to do with Yellen, the Sun doesn’t exactly say. The editors inform us “we were put in mind of the cartoons” by the debate over Yellen as potentially the first Federal Reserve chair, a mental association that tells you a lot about where the Sun is coming from.

The Sun’s point — captured in its headline, “The Female Dollar?” — struck theWall Street Journal’s editors as so clever as to bear repeating in their own editorial today. Yellen, the Journal concedes, “doesn’t lack for professional credentials. But her cause has been taken up by the liberal diversity police as a gender issue because she’d be the first female Fed chairman.”

That is a pretty remarkable passage, especially the “but.” The “gender police” would argue that they support Yellen because she is so highly credentialed, not despite her qualifications. Indeed, the basic breakdown of the debate is that Yellen supporters argue she’s better qualified than Summers, and Summers supporters argue they’re equally qualified. Even if you accept the pro-Summers view, using gender as a tie-breaker in the case of two equally qualified candidates for a job that has never gone to a woman seems like the sort of ultra-modest application of affirmative action that even conservatives tend to endorse, at least rhetorically.

And of course the pro-Yellen argument is that the two candidates are not equally qualified, but that Yellen is more qualified, and only her gender is causing some critics not to see that. The Journal processes this argument as the slow destruction of our standards. The Journal frets that “Nancy Pelosi has bellowed her support.” Here is Pelosi bellowing her support. I warn you to turn down the volume on your speakers before you play this clip: . . .

Continue reading.

I doubt that Obama will appoint her, however qualified she is. He is too much controlled by what Wall Street wants. But if you want to speak up on her behalf, sign the petition.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 10:36 am

Why US Media will focus on Pope’s ‘Gay’ Remarks but Ignore those on the Poor, Amazon Environment

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The Internet, by providing access to more sources of information than those controlled by corporations, has revealed just what a shoddy job our news organizations often do—not always, to be sure, but depressingly often. I’m not just talking Lauren Green—that level of incompetent stupidity is relatively infrequent—but simply how our mainstream press will keep the focus away from things that might displease their corporate owners or their friends. Juan Cole provides a good example at Informed Comment:

Pope Francis comes across in the media as a person who cares for others, and his genial personality, it seems to me, allows him to restate conservative principles in ways that inspire hope in or do not alienate liberals. But liberals need to listen to him carefully to hear the unyielding steel in his voice. There won’t be any women priests, he says, and the Church isn’t doing a good enough job explaining the theological reasons for that. Feminist nuns, he is implying, are just theologically illiterate.

He made some off the cuff remarks on the plane back from Rio to Rome, among them that gays could be priests as long as they weren’t part of a “gay lobby” and that it wasn’t up to him to judge [celibate] gays in the priesthood:

Aljazeera English reports:

Pope Francis had earlier complained about a “gay lobby” among priests in the Vatican, and here he refers to the “lobby” again, saying all lobbies are bad.

So it seems to me that Pope Francis is just saying what many evangelicals say– hate the sin, love the sinner, celibate gays are welcome in the congregation, etc. And he’s putting a further precondition on acceptance, that gays not band together as a pressure group. So they have to be celibate and seen but not heard, sort of like children.

This sentiment is more charitable than that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who said that gays of any sort weren’t fit for the priesthood. But only by neglecting to attend to nuance and context could what the Pope said be seen as a win for gays (and lets face it, it is only gay men that are even being talked about because their presence in the priesthood is what is at stake).

Pope Francis is perhaps just being realistic. There is a severe shortage of priests in the world, since hetero young men are increasingly difficult to attract into that life. Some Catholics feel this lack of priests deeply. By being less judgmental toward gay men in the priesthood, Pope Francis is slightly expanding the recruitment pool. The tendency in the West to accept gays and to allow gay marriage now, though, may mean that priestly celibacy is increasingly no more appealing now to gays than to heteros.

There is a lot to like about Pope Francis. He wants to see the church serve the poor instead of primarily the elite (though again, he is no liberation theologian and isn’t interested in practical steps that would change class relationships– he is just interested in doing charity). It is also true that the evangelicals have poached the poor Catholics in Brazil. I visited a favela or slum in Rio once and asked about people’s religious practices there. My host was taken aback that I didn’t know, saying they were all evangelical Protestants as far as the eye could see. The church in Latin America has traditionally served the Establishment, and Pope Benedict wanted to keep it that way. But then Benedict said he wanted a smaller, more disciplined church. (He got a smaller one, not sure if it is more disciplined).

In my view Pope Francis’s really interesting comments in Brazil were on the issue of the poor and on Amazon conservation (which also has to do with how indigenous people are treated). If the churches would develop a green theology it would help us in the struggle against global climate change.

American culture displaces its severe class struggle away from economic issues onto identity politics. We avoid talking about how the working and middle classes are being screwed over by an increasingly wealthy and aristocratic 1% or about how the business classes are destroying the environment of the planet, by obsessing about race and gender instead. So Pope Francis’s tame remarks about silent, inoffensive, celibate gays being all right in the priesthood will generate a lot of comment.

His more challenging remarks, his focus on the needs of the poor and on preserving the environment– the messages well-off Americans need to hear– will be largely ignored in the corporate US media.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 10:28 am

Why NSA Surveillance Will Be More Damaging Than You Think

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James Fallows points out at the Atlantic the consequences of allowing the NSA to do whatever it wants. What’s sad is that the architects of the surveillance monstrosity will never, ever see their error, though the fact that they had to lie continually might have tipped them off that they were headed in the wrong direction.

This column over the weekend, by the British academic John Naughton in theGuardian, takes us one more step in assessing the damage to American interests in the broadest sense– commercial, strategic, ideological – from the panopticon approach to “security” brought to us by NSA-style monitoring programs.

Naughton’s essay doesn’t technically tell us anything new. For instance, see earlier reports like thisthis, and this. But it does sharpen the focus in a useful way. Whoever wrote the headline and especially the subhead did a great job of capturing the gist:


In short: because of what the U.S. government assumed it could do with information it had the technological ability to intercept, American companies and American interests are sure to suffer in their efforts to shape and benefit from the Internet’s continued growth.

  • American companies, because no foreigners will believe these firms can guarantee security from U.S. government surveillance;
  • American interests, because the United States has gravely compromised its plausibility as world-wide administrator of the Internet’s standards and advocate for its open, above-politics goals.

Why were U.S. authorities in a position to get at so much of the world’s digital data in the first place? Because so many of the world’s customers have trusted* U.S.-based firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc with their data; and because so many of the world’s nations have tolerated an info-infrastructure in which an outsized share of data flows at some point through U.S. systems. Those are the conditions of trust and toleration that likely will change.

The problem for the companies, it’s worth emphasizing, is not that they were so unduly eager to cooperate with U.S. government surveillance. Many seem to have done what they could to resist. The problem is what the U.S. government — first under Bush and Cheney, now under Obama and Biden — asked them to do. As long as they operate in U.S. territory and under U.S. laws, companies like Google or Facebook had no choice but to comply. But people around the world who have a choice about where to store their data, may understandably choose to avoid leaving it with companies subject to the way America now defines its security interests.

Here’s Naughton’s version of the implications: . . .

Continue reading. It’s an important column. The NSA and the Obama Administration have done a lot of damage to US interests. And drone warfare isn’t helping: killing civilians without warning, especially in explosions from out of the blue, is exactly what terrorists do, and we’re doing that a lot now. It’s nice because it’s cheap, it keeps Americans out of harm’s way, and apparently the US doesn’t much care about those foreign civilians, especially when we have a media that has no interest in covering such stories so the American public in general doesn’t know about them. But those who lose family members and friends certainly know, and I wonder how many of those are willing to do anything to strike back at an uncaring United States. I guess we’ll find out.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum pushes back on the above.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 10:17 am

Pelosi is a disappointment

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Jon Mullin describes the fight to rein in the NSA’s insatiable desire for complete surveillance. In the Ars Technica article at the link:

Wednesday’s vote was unusual, especially in today’s highly partisan House, with defunding support from both sides of the aisle. The co-sponsors of the bill to defund the NSA were two Michigan Congressmen with very different backgrounds: 33-year-old Republican Tea Party favoriteJustin Amash and John Conyers, an 84-year-old Democrat from Detroit first elected to Congress in 1964. Amash and Conyers’ amendment to a defense spending bill that would have prevented any NSA “bulk surveillance” program from being funded.

Opponents of the amendment included establishment figures from both parties. Current House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) joined former speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to support the bill.

Reports put Pelosi in particular at the heart of a concerted effort to push for “no” votes among Democrats. Democrats in swing districts or more conservative districts tended to support the NSA funding. “Pelosi had a big effect on more middle-of-the-road hawkish Democrats who didn’t want to be identified with a bunch of lefties,” an unnamed Democratic committee aide told Foreign Policy. David Kravetz at Wired noted that, on average, the “no” voters who supported the NSA received considerably more cash from defense firms. . . .

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 10:08 am

A $99 parallel computing machine

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This game has passed me by, but still: I find this intriguing. Ham radio used to be the high-tech h.s. hobby; perhaps parallel-processing supercomputers is tomorrow’s.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 10:04 am

Posted in Techie toys, Technology

What the GOP means by “accountability”

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This is a fine example of GOP integrity. David Atkins at Hullabaloo writes:

Republicans do seem to be experts at fixing the facts around the policy in so many ways:

Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”

The next quote is my favorite:

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.”

If Republicans don’t cheat to make big-donor charter schools look better than public schools, accountability will be compromised!

My first thought when reading a sentence like that is to wonder whether the person who wrote it was cackling with knowing evil maniacal laughter when he did, or if Mr. Bennett is simply so dedicated to his ideology that he actually meant it with a straight face–that only accountability for public schools matters, and any cheating to make public schools look worse justifies the means. . . .

Continue reading.

So far as the education the children get? Who cares? The idea is to make money. Lots of tax dollars go to education and private business would love to have that.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 10:01 am

Another tiny-brush shave—with an enormous puck

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SOTD 30 July 2013

The Omega Bambino (also available with a white handle) is a terrific little shaving brush, good for home or travel. It easily held enough lather for three passes, and an excellent lather it was. On seeing the kokum butter (not a familiar ingredient) in both Petal Pusher Fancies shaving soap and in the How To Grow A Moustache soap, I wondered whether the two were related. Douglas of HTGAM emailed to say that they are independent: he did consult with PPF on soapmaking, and possibly that influenced his choice of kokum butter, but this is an authentic HTGAM.

The first time I used the soap I was bowled over by the puck size—which turns out to be a wonderful size in use—but this time I was more conscious of the excellent of the soap: fragrant, abundant, creamy, thick lather. First-rate stuff, IMO. Recommended.

The razor you may recognize as a Baili BT131—or may not. I had not heard of this brand, but I got a freebie with a shaving soap order and thought I’d give it a go. It seems to be aiming at the same market as the Sodial, and probably is priced similarly, though I’ve not been able to locate a place to purchase. It’s got a slightly heavier handle, but overall the two are similar. The Baili’s cap is thinner and flatter than the Sodial’s, but both shave equally well, I would say. I used the blade that came with it. (At one time there was a superstition that one should not use the blade that came with the razor because it was probably damaged in shipment. So, naturally enough, I started using the blades to test the assertion and so far have had no problems. Of course, the blade that comes with a razor may or may not be a good blade for the shaver, and perhaps that’s the source of the idea: guys trying the blade and finding that the brand doesn’t work for them.)

Three passes to a BBS result, and then a good splash of 4711.

Here are more views of the Baili BT131 razor. Front of package:

Baili Razor front

And the back of the package:

Baili Razor back

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2013 at 9:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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