Later On

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

Archive for November 15th, 2014

“I nearly died. So what?”: Sometimes one doesn’t feel up to manufacturing a redemption narrative.

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I found this column pretty cool, though I suspect it’s not going to be popular. E.g.,

Spoiler alert: I didn’t die. Nor did I have brain damage. I do have tinnitus and some very minor hearing loss. When I complained about this to my neurologist, he told me that I shouldn’t be complaining about anything, given the “miracle” of my survival.

Miracle is not a word you necessarily want to hear from your neurologist. With others I let it slide, especially with an evangelical Christian friend who’d enlisted her entire family, Bible study group and church congregation to pray for me. When I visited this friend a few months after I’d been sick, her husband asked me if surviving such a close call had made me think any differently about life or re-examine my agnostic ways. I stammered a nonsensical response and excused myself to use the bathroom.

I think I read that correctly: “We prayed for you. You got well. You owe us.” And what is owed is an anecdote about how one’s life is totally changed. I think it stems from the idea that adverse events somehow enable us to see life and fate more clearly: “Through suffering comes wisdom” sort of thing, now cough up the wisdom. It’s probably not in the playbook that one gets sick, gets well, and life goes on as before. 🙂

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Daily life

Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism?

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In the NY Review of Books Elizabeth Kolbert reviews Naomi Klein’s new book:

Every fall, an international team of scientists announces how much carbon dioxide humanity has dumped into the atmosphere the previous year. This fall, the news wasn’t good. It almost never is. The only time the group reported a drop in emissions was 2009, when the global economy seemed on the verge of collapse. The following year, emissions jumped again, by almost 6 percent.

According to the team’s latest report, in 2013 global emissions rose by 2.3 percent. Contributing to this increase were countries like the United States, which has some of the world’s highest per capita emissions, and also countries like India, which has some of the lowest. “There is no more time,” one of the scientists who worked on the analysis, Glen P. Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, told The New York Times. “It needs to be all hands on deck now.”

A few days after the figures were released, world leaders met in New York to discuss how to deal with the results of this enormous carbon dump. Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, had convened the summit to “catalyze climate action” and had asked the leaders to “bring bold announcements.” Once again, the news wasn’t good. It almost never is.

“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela’s widow, told the summit in the final speech of the gathering. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.” This mismatch, which grows ever more disproportionate year after year, summit after summit, raises questions both about our future and about our character. What explains our collective failure on climate change? Why is it that instead of dealing with the problem, all we seem to do is make it worse?

These questions lie at the center of Naomi Klein’s ambitious new polemic, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. “What is wrong with us?” Klein asks near the start of the book. Her answer turns upside-down the narrative that the country’s largest environmental groups have been telling.

According to these groups, climate change is a problem that can be tackled without major disruption to the status quo. All that’s needed are some smart policy changes. These will create new job opportunities; the economy will continue to grow; and Americans will be, both ecologically and financially, better off. Standing in the way of progress, so this account continues, is a vociferous minority of Tea Party–backed, Koch brothers–financed climate change deniers. Former president Jimmy Carter recently summed up this line of thinking when he told an audience in Aspen: “I would say the biggest handicap we have right now is some nutcases in our country who don’t believe in global warming.”

Klein doesn’t just disagree with Carter; she sees this line of thinking as a big part of the problem. Climate change can’t be solved within the confines of the status quo, because it’s a product of the status quo. “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” she writes. The only hope of avoiding catastrophic warming lies in radical economic and political change. And this—again, according to Klein—is the good news. Properly understood, the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere represents an enormous opportunity—one that, well, changes everything. “The massive global investments required to respond to the climate change threat” could, she writes,

deliver the equitable redistribution of agricultural lands that was supposed to follow independence from colonial rule and dictatorship; it could bring the jobs and homes that Martin Luther King dreamed of; it could bring jobs and clean water to Native communities; it could at last turn on the lights and running water in every South African township…. Climate change is our chance to right those festering wrongs at last—the unfinished business of liberation.

Klein begins by presenting the grim math of climate change. The world is, at this point, supposedly committed to holding warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal enshrined in a document known as the Copenhagen Accord, which President Barack Obama helped negotiate in 2009. This goal, as Klein points out, “has always been a highly political choice,” chosen more because it is—in theory at least—still attainable than because it actually represents a “safe” level of climate change. (“We feel compelled to note,” a group of prominent climate scientists has observed, “that even a ‘moderate’ warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society.”)

What’s going to determine how much the planet on average warms is how much CO2 gets added to the atmosphere in total. To have a reasonable shot at limiting warming to two degrees, the general consensus among scientists is that aggregate emissions since industrialization began in the mid-eighteenth century must be held to a trillion metric tons. . .

Continue reading. (Minor correction in last paragraph: “consensus” is by nature “general” (consensus = general agreement), so “general consensus” is redundant. I’m surprised Kolbert didn’t know that.)

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 10:34 am

Homebrewing becomes easier with more supporting products

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Full disclosure: I brewed my own beer, back in the ’60s when it was still illegal in the US (though making your own wine was perfectly legal). I believe the statute of limitations has long since passed. It was quite good: I ordered actual beer yeast (from Canada) and bottled it in returnable quart beer bottles.

Here’s a Washington Post article that describes current home-brewing technology.

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 10:21 am

Two important notes for anyone renewing Obamacare coverage

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Actually important information, from Kevin Drum. Bottom line: don’t just hit “Renew”; shop around again: things may have changed. More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 10:14 am

Posted in Government, Healthcare

The awkward thing about history…

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It brings up things that people in power want to hide, gloss over, forget, or re-interpret—but mainly hide. (It’s interesting how deeply ashamed the Japanese are of what they did in their war in Asia: their total refusal to face their actions reveals their own recognition that the actions are loathsome.)

And it forces people to re-evaluate comfortable positions.

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 9:49 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

5 Billion Smartphones To Change The Internet

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Michael Learmonth has a good article in the International Herald Tribune, via Crooks & Liars:

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 9.37.53 AM

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 9:39 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Computer-aided gardening

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Fascinating story by Brian Merchant in Motherboard:

Between lab burgers, Soylent, and iPhone-controlled hydroponic greenhouses, it’s an interesting moment for what its evangelists call foodtech (of course).

Most of the innovations are focused on concocting new kinds of food, though; nutrient blends, synthetic meats, and so forth. Innovative consumer technology actually designed to improve the growing of foods we’ve already got access too is still relatively scarce, which is why the Seedsheet caught my attention.

As per its name, it’s essentially a seed-loaded sheet that prospective growers can fully customize online in a ‘virtual garden’ before ordering. Seedsheet HQ then prints the sheet to spec, and sends it to your doorstep. All you have to do then is prep the soil, lay the sheet in the dirt, and water away. The company claims the product eliminates the need for seed selection, planting—and for weeding.

Seedsheet the brainchild of a new Vermont-based company called Cloudfarm, and its Kickstarter crowdfunding effort launches today.

According to the company, users will access a “software program that provides users the ability to build their own virtual garden, based on a comprehensive algorithm that takes the guesswork out of gardening. Users input their existing garden dimensions, identify their plant hardiness zone via zip code, and then using a simple drag-drop interface, select which vegetables, fruits, and herbs they wish to grow and arrange them on their virtual garden.”

Cameron MacKugler, Cloudfarm’s founder and CEO, calls it “an agricultural paint-by-numbers.”

“The idea came to me while I was ‘house’ sitting a couple of summers ago for a co-worker,” MacKugler told me in an email. “Since this was Vermont, the house was an 80-acre dairy farm, and had a stable full of animals and a prolific garden. I was paid in access to the garden, and I got my monies worth. One day while harvesting I had a sort of ‘AHA moment’, when the realization hit me that I loved having access to such an abundance of produce, but being a recent college grad with no money, small apartment, and a busy schedule, I had no ability to grow my own. I wondered how I could simplify the process of gardening, so that anybody could grow their own delicious food.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 9:31 am

Posted in Food, Technology

The Slim Fast Billionaire and the Scandal-Plagued Former Israeli Prime Minister

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Fascinating look at how money travels along the corridors of power. Uri Blau writes in Pacific Standard:

An American foundation paid a firm owned by Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, $1.25 million for “consulting” services, U.S. tax records show. The money was transferred to Olmert’s company in 2012 and 2013, years in which Israeli authorities were prosecuting Olmert for bribery, tax evasion, and fraud.

The private foundation is funded by S. Daniel Abraham, the 90-year-old billionaire and founder of the company that created the Slim Fast diet products. It sponsors the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, a Washington-based institute. Under U.S. tax law, Abraham is entitled to take a deduction from his personal returns of the $5 million he gave the foundation over those years.

That means U.S. taxpayers subsidized Abraham’s payments to the former prime minister’s company.

The foundation’s tax returns did not describe the scope and purpose of the consulting, but a spokesman for the center said it had “engaged Olmert to promote its mission of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict by speaking before influential audiences at distinguished institutions throughout the United States.”

It is not clear how many lectures Olmert delivered. The spokesman named 10 institutions and organizations, which would work out to $125,000 per speech.

They were: Stanford University; Columbia University Law School; the 92nd Street Y, The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Council on Foreign Relations (all in New York City); The United States Institute of Peace; The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; The McCain Institute for International Leadership; the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (all in Washington, D.C.); and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Amir Dan, a spokesman for Olmert, declined to elaborate or say whether the consulting services went beyond the speeches. “Mr. Olmert is a citizen and an owner of a consulting firm. He files the reports on the company businesses to the authorities.”

Olmert became Israel’s prime minister in May of 2006 after Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke and was incapacitated. Olmert resigned from office in 2009 to defend himself against a spate of corruption charges arising from both his years as mayor of Jerusalem and his tenure in the Israeli cabinet. He was acquitted of some charges but was sentenced to six years in prison earlier this year after he was found guilty of accepting bribes while mayor.

Prosecutors appealed his conviction and the Israeli Supreme Court ordered Olmert to return to court to face additional corruption charges.

That trial opened at the beginning of September. On Monday, November 3, the court heard testimony from Shula Zaken, a former aide to Olmert who had not previously cooperated with prosecutors.

Earlier this year, Olmert was interrogated by Israeli police about whether he had arranged for Abraham to pay $50,000 to Zaken for her legal fees. Olmert denied organizing that payment but confirmed he was aware of it, saying, “I knew about it and gave my blessing to it. I am not trying to distance myself from this.”

Abraham is best known for introducing the world to Slim Fast diet products almost 40 years ago. Forbes valued his fortune at $2 billion. He is a philanthropist who supports educational programs both in the U.S. and in Israel. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 9:28 am

Perfectly smooth with Fatip and I Coloniali

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15 Nov 2014

A really superb shave. My excellent H.L. Thäter brush has hooked bristles, thus the spiky appearance. (Had I brushed the dry brush across my hand, the knot would again look smooth.) Hooked bristles are benign and in fact have a pleasant feel when wet—sort of tacky until the lather’s in place.

And what a lather it was. I do love I Coloniali shaving cream—a wonderful fragrance and a fine lather.

Three passes with the Fatip, which was more comfortable than I recalled, though not really a stand-out in the “comfort” department: I do feel I have to pay careful attention, a feeling absent with a truly comfortable razor. But it did a flawless job with no nicks a good job, but with two nicks I discovered later*, leaving a BBS result, thanks in part to the previously used SuperMax Titanium blade.

I got out the Dominica Bay Rum because it seems to have gone off the market (the plain version). Maybe it’s just a temporary out-of-stock thing. But a pleasant end to a fine shave.

*And of course this tendency to nick is exactly what makes this razor uncomfortable. A razor is comfortable when it has little tendency to nick.

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2014 at 9:12 am

Posted in Shaving

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