Later On

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

Archive for November 2nd, 2013

3 guys have developed a HealthCare.gov equivalent, only theirs works

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It’s actually operational—not sign-up, I think, but health-plan comparisons. Read about it here.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 5:35 pm

Bibimbap for everyone: Five great recipes

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And the nice thing the recipes are easy to modify to suit local availability and personal taste. These are from Martha Rose Shulman, who has been totally reliable, and appear in the NY Times. She writes:

These hearty vegetarian meals in a bowl (or on a plate) are inspired by the Korean dish bibimbap. I call them “Big Bowls” because they are also inspired by a popular food truck I’ve eaten at, in Portland, Ore., whose only offering is called Big Bowl, and is a comforting bowl of brown rice, with black beans, salsa, avocado and queso blanco. The long line of people I observed at this truck confirmed for me the fact that a simple, satisfying meal with grain, protein and terrific vegetables can be worth standing in line for.

Each dish this week consists of a combination of a whole grain and vegetable preparation, with protein in the form of tofu, beans or cheese. Sometimes the vegetables are as simple as cabbage kimchi, which I buy at Korean markets or at Trader Joe’s, accompanied by roasted red peppers and a delicious marinated, miso-glazed oven-baked tofu. I’d be happy to accompany any vegetable with that tofu if the dish has Asian overtones. I used bean and vegetable combos to accommodate Mediterranean grains (farro, bulgur) in one of my Mediterranean bowls. And I made a delicious millet polenta, which I also accompanied with Mediterranean-style vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes, and chick peas in one dish, mushrooms in another). Feel free to mix and match, add a poached egg if you wish, or a salsa, or even some meat. But keep the focus on the grains and vegetables.

Brown Rice Bowl With Oven-Baked Miso-Glazed Tofu, Red Peppers and Kimchi: One marinade can be used for a variety of vegetable toppings in this dish.

Farro or Bulgur With Black-Eyed Peas, Chard and Feta: A spiced up version of a classic Greek preparation: black-eyed peas cooked with greens. [This is a thick soup, which I didn’t expect. And luscious. – LG]

Red Rice or Farro With Miso-Roasted Squash, Leeks, Red Pepper and Tofu: One sweet-and-salty marinade works for the tofu and the vegetables in this dish. [Extremely tasty. I used Gen Ji Mai 12-grain instead of brown rice. The leeks were so tasty I later bought 3 leeks, marinated briefly in the marinade from this recipe, and roasted them by themselves. Luscious. – LG]

Millet Polenta With Tomato Sauce, Eggplant and Chickpeas: A comforting dish that works equally well with canned or fresh tomatoes. [My notes. – LG]

Millet Polenta With Mushrooms and Broccoli or Broccoli Raab: A savory mix of mushrooms that would pair well with a variety of grains.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 11:39 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Moms for Marijuana: Time to End the War on Families

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Mercedys McNight writes at Ladybud.com:

When Billy Fisher asked the state of Washington for help in removing his infant daughter from a dangerous living situation while in the care of her mother, he never imagined that CPS would place his child into foster care because of his use of medical marijuana.

Washington State has had a medical marijuana law for 15 years that includes protection of parental rights, not to mention that Washington voters passed an initiative to legalize adult recreational use last year.

But despite these laws, the state has demanded that Billy quit using his medicine, attend 30 days of inpatient cannabis dependency treatment, and complete a two-year outpatient treatment program for his marijuana use before they will even consider giving him custody of his one-year-old daughter, Lilly.

Any parent would be tempted to concede to the state’s demands in hopes their child would be allowed to go home.  This would seem especially tempting for Billy, since the state has already begun talking about putting Lilly up for permanent adoption.

Billy, however, is refusing to back down because he believes that the Fight for Lilly Fisher is about more than a parent’s right to choose a nontoxic medication. It’s about more than the state’s responsibility to uphold state law. It’s about the fact that medical marijuana usage does not harm our kids and that patients are not inherently bad parents. It’s about protecting the rights that all parents should have: to enjoy having a family without governmental interference unless there is evidence of risk, abuse, neglect, or harm. These facts must be acknowledged for justice to reign supreme.

There are many more heartbreaking stories of children being torn from their families, their lives dragged through the hell of the family law court system, and some even lost to their families forever through forced adoption, all because family protection agencies, court systems, and specialists refuse to realize that marijuana is not dangerous and does not present the immediate harm required by law to remove a child from their family.

The most heartbreaking consequence of these situations is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 11:32 am

Posted in Drug laws

Spying on allies: Looking at the costs

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Scott Shane has an interesting article on the NSA that makes the agency seem like an alcoholic with regard to intercepting communications: even when it’s not a good idea, the NSA (or alcoholic) cannot resist.

When Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, sat down with President Obama at the White House in April to discuss Syrian chemical weapons, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and climate change, it was a cordial, routine exchange.

The National Security Agency nonetheless went to work in advance and intercepted Mr. Ban’s talking points for the meeting, a feat the agency later reported as an “operational highlight” in a weekly internal brag sheet. It is hard to imagine what edge this could have given Mr. Obama in a friendly chat, if he even saw the N.S.A.’s modest scoop. (The White House won’t say.)

But it was emblematic of an agency that for decades has operated on the principle that any eavesdropping that can be done on a foreign target of any conceivable interest — now or in the future — should be done. After all, American intelligence officials reasoned, who’s going to find out?

From thousands of classified documents, the National Security Agency emerges as an electronic omnivore of staggering capabilities, eavesdropping and hacking its way around the world to strip governments and other targets of their secrets, all the while enforcing the utmost secrecy about its own operations. It spies routinely on friends as well as foes, as has become obvious in recent weeks; the agency’s official mission list includes using its surveillance powers to achieve “diplomatic advantage” over such allies as France and Germany and “economic advantage” over Japan and Brazil, among other countries.

Mr. Obama found himself in September standing uncomfortably beside the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who was furious at being named as a target of N.S.A. eavesdropping. Since then, there has been a parade of such protests, from the European Union, Mexico, France, Germany and Spain. Chagrined American officials joke that soon there will be complaints from foreign leaders feeling slighted because the agency had not targeted them.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has repeatedly dismissed such objections as brazen hypocrisy from countries that do their own share of spying. But in a recent interview, he acknowledged that the scale of eavesdropping by the N.S.A., with 35,000 workers and $10.8 billion a year, sets it apart. “There’s no question that from a capability standpoint we probably dwarf everybody on the planet, just about, with perhaps the exception of Russia and China,” he said. . .

Continue reading. James R. Clapper Jr. also dismissed Sen. Ron Wyden’s question on whether the NSA collected records on the communications by Americans. James R. Clapper is someone not to be trusted.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 10:43 am

The recent drone strike in Pakistan and its likely effects

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Juan Cole has a thoughtful piece at Informed Comment with a two-minute video. He writes:

The CIA drone strike in North Waziristan yesterday killed 25 persons and targeted a high-level meeting of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan or TTP). It finally killed TTP leader Hakimu’llah Mahsoud of the large and important Mahsoud tribe in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of northern Pakistan. Mahsoud’s death by drone has been repeatedly announced in the past but it was confirmed by the TTP this time. FATA is roughly analogous to US Native American reservations, and is not firmly under the control of the central government.

The deadly attack comes only weeks after Mahsoud said in an interview that he was ready for peace talks with newly elected Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, over the objections of TTP hard liners. It also came after Sharif met in Washington with President Barack Obama, asking for an end to drone strikes and receiving from Obama a pledge to review the policy.

This context for the drone strike has to raise the question of whether John Brennan, head of the CIA, is deliberately attempting to forestall Pakistan-TTP peace talks and is determined to prevent Nawaz Sharif and Obama from cementing a strong relationship. Pakistani officials are talking about a ‘sabotaging’ of the talks. But they are resisting calls in the press for Pakistan to punish the US by halting NATO shipments of military equipment and other supplies from Karachi up to the Khyber Pass and thence into Afghanistan.

ITN reports: . . .

Continue reading.

Also, note this Bill Moyers program on our use of drone warfare:

This week, members of Congress heard testimony for the first time from victims of drone attacks, including that of 13-year-old Zubair Rehman, from Pakistan, who spoke of a strike last year that killed his grandmother and wounded him and his little sister. “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey… When the sky brightens, drones return and we live in fear,” Rehman told the five members of Congress who showed up for the testimony.

The use of drones has intensified under President Obama’s leadership as the number of troops on the ground in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas has been scaled back. But the drones often kill innocent civilians, including children. That is the subject of Robert Greenwald’s new documentary, Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars. Here, we look at clips from the film, which shares testimony, stories and alarming news on the fatal impact of our drone strategy.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 10:26 am

Seattle Mayor: I have Comcast, and I would like better service

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As would we all. Andrea Peterson has a good interview with the mayor in The Switch at the Washington Post. The mayor wants good and affordable broadband in his city, and Comcast is determined to see defeated, however much it costs. The reason is simple: Comcast is motivated by increasing their profits and the role of government is primarily to maintain and improve the general welfare with the idea that this benefits us all.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 10:17 am

Looking back: The first big Internet worm and Rober Morris

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Twenty-five years ago — Nov 3, 1988 — the Internet suddenly discovered why security is important. Tim Lee has an excellent article looking back at that first big crash and what happened afterwards. A good read.

On November 3, 1988, 25 years ago this Sunday, people woke up to find the Internet had changed forever. The night before, someone had released a malevolent computer program on the fledgling computer network. By morning, thousands of computers had become clogged with numerous copies of a computer “worm,” a program that spread from computer to computer much like a biological infection.

It took days of effort by hundreds of systems administrators to clean up the mess, and the Internet community spent weeks analyzing what had happened and how to make sure it didn’t happen again. A graduate student named Robert Morris was unmasked as the culprit behind the worm. A brilliant loner, he seemed to be motivated more by intellectual curiosity than malice. That didn’t save him from becoming one of the first people prosecuted and convicted under an anti-hacking statute that Congress had passed a few years earlier.

But the most significant effect of the worm was how it permanently changed the culture of the Internet. Before Morris unleashed his worm, the Internet was like a small town where people thought little of leaving their doors unlocked. Internet security was seen as a mostly theoretical problem, and software vendors treated security flaws as a low priority.

The Morris Worm destroyed that complacency. It forced software vendors to take security flaws in their products seriously. It invigorated the field of computer security, creating a demand for such experts in both academia and industry. Today, the Internet is infested with malware that works a lot like the software Morris set out to build a quarter-century ago. And the community of Internet security professionals who fight these infections can trace the roots of their profession back to the events of November 1988.

Morris has gone on to a brilliant career as an entrepreneur, computer scientist, and investor. And the man who prosecuted him, Mark Rasch, now says that he would support pardoning him.

Wednesday: A late night phone call

Andrew Sudduth was best known as a world-class rower. In 1984, he was part of an American team that won a silver medal in that summer’s Olympic games. But he was also a talented computer hacker. In the fall of 1988, he worked on the technical staff of Harvard University’s Aiken Computational Laboratory.

Sudduth had gotten to know Robert Morris while Morris was an undergraduate at Harvard. Morris had graduated from Harvard and began graduate studies at Cornell University in fall 1988. Around 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 2, Sudduth was talking with Paul Graham, another Aiken Lab staffer and a friend of Morris, when Morris called. (The account that follows is drawn from Sudduth’s testimony to a Cornell commission. Sudduth died in 2006, and Graham declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Graham answered the phone. After the call, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 10:13 am

Posted in Software, Technology

What frequent flyer miles teach about central banking

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Thinking of frequent-flyer miles as a kind of currency, Neil Irwin has an interesting little essay in Wonkblog at the Washington Post.

The Palm restaurant chain has a loyalty program. You sign up to join a club, or at least the sort of club that will happily take anyone as a member. When you eat there, you give the waiter your membership card, and points accrue that you can use to buy stuff. The more you spend, the more points you earn.

It is, of course, the same sort of loyalty program that any number of businesses, particularly in travel-related fields, offer. Airline frequent flyer miles, hotel loyalty points, and such all offer the same basic proposition. The companies offering them are hoping that your ability to earn points will make you more loyal to them, sending more of your business their way.

But there is a dirty little secret about these programs, across companies industries. There is regular and persistent effort by the companies to devalue the points their customers have earned. And the reasons why offer a surprisingly useful parable for why the world monetary system works the way it does, and in particular why central banks are structured the way they are.

Before we get to that, back to the Palm. For years, the restaurant chain has offered members of its “837 Club” payouts roughly equal to 10 percent of the value or spending. That is, if you spent $1,500 at the restaurant, before tax and tip, you would accumulate 1,500 Palm Points, which were enough to get, for example, a $150 gift certificate to the restaurant.

But recently club members received a letter. They’re changing the reward structure. Now, to get that $150 gift certificate, you’ll need to acquire 2,000 points. That amounts to a 25 percent devaluation! Points that were worth a dime each are now worth 7.5 cents.

The way Palm is handling the adjustment is admirable: It is quite transparent, and participants in the program can decide as they wish how they want to respond. Hotel chains and airlines typically devalue their points in much sneakier ways, for example by adjusting the redemption categories (for example, one year you might be able to get a free night at a hotel for 10,000 points; the next year the same hotel room may cost 15,000 points). By the reckoning of the online gurus who obsessively analyze these things, HiltonMarriott, and Starwood have all devalued their points this year.

So what does this have to do with monetary policy? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 10:03 am

The US decline in maintaining its infrastructure

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One identifying characteristic of third-world nations is the extremely poor condition of such infrastructure as exists: roadways, railways, sewage treatment plants, water purification plants, and so on: all the backstage activity that makes daily life pleasant and efficient and safe (in terms of accidents, disease, and so on).

Here’s the path the US is taking:

infrachart-11113

The trend is obvious. This is one side-effect of constant reduction of government revenue (by cutting taxes) and government spending (by not spending to maintain the nation).

Note that the chart is somewhat deceptive: the x-axis is position at $200 billion, not zero. But still, it’s a significant drop. Alan Pyke at ThinkProgress comments on the chart:

The austerity fervor that’s seized Washington ever since the 2010 elections has lead to a sudden, steep drop in spending on building things. The collapse in infrastructure spending is illustrated in this chart from investment research firm BCA Research. [see above – LG]

After hovering around $300 billion per year from the middle of President George W. Bush’s tenure through 2010, government spending on building things not related to defense fell by about $60 billion in just a few years. The drop is a result of Republicans blocking President Obama’s efforts to invest in infrastructure that the country needs.

As the Financial Times’ Cardiff Garcia notes, the policy choices represented in the chart above aren’t compatible with a responsible effort to cut the country’s debt. Indeed, they’ll make things worse: “It’s also likely that much of the investment that has been forgone in the name of fiscal consolidation will have to be made eventually anyways — only it will be made when rates are higher, exacerbating the long-term fiscal outlook rather than improving it,” Garcia writes. In order to bring America’s infrastructure up to a reasonable level by 2020, Congress needs to be spending about $450 billion per year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Infrastructure spending levels are tied fairly directly to economic performance. Continued underfunding in this arena over the coming years will cost businesses a trillion dollars in lost sales and cost the economy 3.5 million jobs. Infrastructure spending enjoys overwhelming support from voters. Democrats want to create a national infrastructure bank, something that would require just a $10 billion up-front investment but would provide an ongoing, sustainable funding stream for infrastructure projects.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 9:54 am

Learning iKon slant, with Ogallala

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SOTD 2 Nov 2013

New razors sometimes take a while to learn, and I’m still learning the iKon Slant. Specifically, I’m exploring blades for this razor.

But first, the lather: I was interested to see whether Ogallala’s tub soaps have the special slickness I detect in their shave sticks (and I would think they would), but I got distracted with razor issues and will have to replicate the experiment. I also once again had lather that faded in the third pass. Am I doing something different? Is it the Thäter brush? (Unlikely.) I did again pre-soak the brush. I’ll be doing more experiments to try to figure out what’s happening, once the Scent-Off is finished. (The Scent-Off takes half of my weekly shaves, cutting into experimenting time.)

The razor/blade issues were some totally unnecessary and unjustified nicks on my upper lip and one place on my cheek where the blade just seemed to touch the skin, but at a bad angle. (Note that “touch” includes “ouch”—at least in this case.) At the end of the shave I removed the blade—it was a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge and was surprised to see quite a few traces of rust inside the head. The iKon is stainless and the blade is stainless, so I’m not sure of the origin of the rust. I rubbed it away pretty well, and put in a new Astra Superior Platinum blade to see whether that will work better in this razor. (I still remember my surprise when a Kai blade, a brand very good for me, turned out to be harsh in a Weber razor, which has been extremely comfortable with other brands. Different razors have different blade requirements.)

A little work with My Nik Is Sealed and the nicks were sealed, and then a splash of Ogallala’s Bay Rum + Sandalwood aftershave. I’m intrigued to explore this further. (My initial blade in the razor was the Personna Lab Blue blade—I may return to that, but I want to check around…)

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2013 at 9:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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