Later On

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

Archive for July 6th, 2015

And, speaking of sherry, take a look

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Read this post. I am moved to write it after attempting to buy sherry at Rite-Aid. They don’t carry it, and the guy working in the wine/spirits department asked, “Sherry? I haven’t heard of that. Is it red? or white?”

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Drinks

Good thoughts for soon-to-be-mothers and for Mother’s Day.

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Good thoughts.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Mushroom soup

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I made this one tonight. Comparing and contrasting my version with the recipe:

I did use the Parmesan rinds and also the soy sauce (the last of a very good soy sauce I got some time back). No bouquet garni, but added 1 tsp dried thyme. I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry instead of a dry sherry—more robust in flavor. I used 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream, not 1/2 c. milk. (What on earth were they thinking?) Two pounds of domestic white mushrooms, not 1.5 lbs. I slice them with an egg slicer. And 1 oz. dried procini, not 1/2 oz. And I used an immersion blender (of course) rather than trying to pour boiling hot liquid into a regular blender in batches. (What on earth were they thinking?) The model I use is no more, and they seem now to be called “hand blenders.”

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

The GOP’s sleazy, cowardly, sneaky plot foiled—but no one did it!

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post at Mother Jones:

Last week Wisconsin Republicans tried to sneak language into a budget bill that would have gutted the state’s open records law. Sadly for them, they got caught and had to withdraw the proposal—which, Gov. Scott Walker hastily assured us, “was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.” Uh huh.

This kind of sleazy behavior is hardly uncommon, but there’s one bit of it that’sequally common and even sleazier:

State Republicans have refused to disclose who inserted the language into the budget legislation, which was approved late Thursday evening. Before dropping the provisions entirely, the governor’s office said Friday it was considering changes to the proposals concerning public records law, but would not comment as to whether Walker was involved in the proposals in the first place.

Here’s my proposal for transparency in legislating: every change in every law has to be attributed to someone. There’s no virgin birth here. Someone wrote this language. Someone asked that it be inserted. Someone agreed to insert it. You have to be pretty contemptuous of your constituents to clam up and pretend that no one knows where it came from. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 5:04 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

The challenge of the nanoverse

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A very interesting review by Tim Flannery in the NY Review of Books:

Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable
by Paul G. Falkowski
Princeton University Press, 205 pp., $24.95

A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries About the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth
by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink
Bloomsbury, 391 pp., $30.00

In 1609 Galileo Galilei turned his gaze, magnified twentyfold by lenses of Dutch design, toward the heavens, touching off a revolution in human thought. A decade later those same lenses delivered the possibility of a second revolution, when Galileo discovered that by inverting their order he could magnify the very small. For the first time in human history, it lay in our power to see the building blocks of bodies, the causes of diseases, and the mechanism of reproduction. Yet according to Paul Falkowski’s Life’s Engines:

Galileo did not seem to have much interest in what he saw with his inverted telescope. He appears to have made little attempt to understand, let alone interpret, the smallest objects he could observe.

Bewitched by the moons of Saturn and their challenge to the heliocentric model of the universe, Galileo ignored the possibility that the magnified fleas he drew might have anything to do with the plague then ravaging Italy. And so for three centuries more, one of the cruellest of human afflictions would rage on, misunderstood and thus unpreventable, taking the lives of countless millions.

Perhaps it’s fundamentally human both to be awed by the things we look up to and to pass over those we look down on. If so, it’s a tendency that has repeatedly frustrated human progress. Half a century after Galileo looked into his “inverted telescope,” the pioneers of microscopy Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke revealed that a Lilliputian universe existed all around and even inside us. But neither of them had students, and their researches ended in another false dawn for microscopy. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century, when German manufacturers began producing superior instruments, that the discovery of the very small began to alter science in fundamental ways.

Today, driven by ongoing technological innovations, the exploration of the “nanoverse,” as the realm of the minuscule is often termed, continues to gather pace. One of the field’s greatest pioneers is Paul Falkowski, a biological oceanographer who has spent much of his scientific career working at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and biology. His book Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable focuses on one of the most astonishing discoveries of the twentieth century—that our cells are comprised of a series of highly sophisticated “little engines” or nanomachines that carry out life’s vital functions. It is a work full of surprises, arguing for example that all of life’s most important innovations were in existence by around 3.5 billion years ago—less than a billion years after Earth formed, and a period at which our planet was largely hostile to living things. How such mind-bending complexity could have evolved at such an early stage, and in such a hostile environment, has forced a fundamental reconsideration of the origins of life itself.

At a personal level, Falkowski’s work is also challenging. We are used to thinking of ourselves as composed of billions of cells, but Falkowski points out that we also consist of trillions of electrochemical machines that somehow coordinate their intricate activities in ways that allow our bodies and minds to function with the required reliability and precision. As we contemplate the evolution and maintenance of this complexity, wonder grows to near incredulity.

One of the most ancient of Falkowski’s biological machines is the ribosome, a combination of proteins and nucleic acids that causes protein synthesis. It is an entity so tiny that even with an electron microscope, it is hard to see it. As many as 400 million ribosomes could fit in a single period at the end of a sentence printed in The New York Review. Only with the advent of synchrotrons—machines that accelerate the movements of particles, and can be used to create very powerful X-rays—have its workings been revealed. Ribosomes use the instructions embedded in our genetic code to make complex proteins such as those found in our muscles and other organs. The manufacture of these proteins is not a straightforward process. The ribosomes have no direct contact with our DNA, so must act by reading messenger RNA, molecules that convey genetic information from the DNA. Ribosomes consist of two major complexes that work like a pair of gears: they move over the RNA, and attach amino acids to the emerging protein.

All ribosomes—whether in the most humble bacteria or in human bodies—operate at the same rate, adding just ten to twenty amino acids per second to the growing protein string. And so are our bodies built up by tiny mechanistic operations, one protein at a time, until that stupendous entity we call a human being is complete. All living things possess ribosomes, so these complex micromachines must have existed in the common ancestor of all life. Perhaps their development marks the spark of life itself. But just when they first evolved, and how they came into being, remain two of the great mysteries of science.

All machines require a source of energy to operate, and the energy to run not only ribosomes but all cellular functions comes from the same source—a universal “energy currency” molecule known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). In animals and plantsATP is manufactured in special cellular structures known as mitochondria. The nanomachines that operate within the mitochondria are minute biological electrical motors that, in a striking parallel with their mechanical counterparts, possess rotors, stators, and rotating catalytic heads.

The ATP nanomachine is the means by which life uses electrical gradients, or the difference in ion concentration and electrical potential from one point to another, to create energy. The nanomachine is located in a membrane that separates a region of the cell with a high density of protons (hydrogen ions) from an area with a lower density. Just as in a battery, the protons pass from the area of high density into the area of lower density. But in order to do so in the cell, they must pass through the ATP nanomachine, and their flow through the minute electric motor turns its rotor counterclockwise. For every 360-degree turn the rotor makes, three molecules of ATP are created.

Living things use a great many primary energy sources to create ATP. The most primitive living entities are known as archaea. Though bacteria-like, they are a distinct group whose various members seem to have exploited almost every energy source available on the early Earth. Some, known as methanogens, cause carbon dioxide to react with hydrogen to create the electrochemical gradient required to make ATP, producing methane as a by-product. Others use ammonia, metal ions, or hydrogen gas to create the electrochemical gradient. Bacteria also use a variety of energy sources, but at some point a group of bacteria started to use sunlight to power photosynthesis. This process yielded vastly more energy than other sources, giving its possessors a huge evolutionary advantage. Falkowski has spent most of his career unraveling the deep mystery of photosynthesis and how it changed the world. . .

Continue reading.

And somehow the illusion that we have free will comes out of all those tiny machines…

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Science

Transparency Program Obscures Pharma Payments to Nurses, Physician Assistants

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Businesses cannot be trusted, it repeatedly turns out. Charles Ornstein reports in ProPublica:

A nurse practitioner in Connecticut pleaded guilty in June to taking $83,000 in kickbacks from a drug company in exchange for prescribing its high-priced drug to treat cancer pain. In some cases, she delivered promotional talks attended only by herself and a company sales representative.

But when the federal government released data Tuesday on payments by drug and device companies to doctors and teaching hospitals, the payments to nurse practitioner Heather Alfonso, 42, were nowhere to be found.

That’s because the federal Physician Payment Sunshine Act doesn’t require companies to publicly report payments to nurse practitioners or physician assistants, even though they are allowed to write prescriptions in most states.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are playing an ever-larger role in the health care system. While registered and licensed practice nurses are not authorized to write prescriptions, those with additional training and advanced degrees often can.

A ProPublica analysis of prescribing patterns in Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D, shows that these two groups of providers wrote about 10 percent of the nearly 1.4 billion prescriptions in the program in 2013. They wrote 15 percent of all prescriptions nationwide (not only Medicare) in the first five months of the year, according to IMS Health, a health information company.

For some drugs, including narcotic controlled substances, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are among the top prescribers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 12:30 pm

Another significant achievement of Obamacare, praised by Republicans: Community health clinics

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Again we see the paradox of GOP condemnation of Obamacare: they love what it does, but they hate the name. (And, of course, they have NEVER proposed any alternative: it’s not their way to develop solutions; their only interest is in destruction.)

Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

The conventional wisdom on Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is that he’s a charming if impractical dreamer, a pie-in-the-sky socialist who’s good at inspiring young people and aging hippies, but hopeless at the knife fighting that real-life politics requires.

Despite the inherent limitations of a self-described democratic socialist who eschews the norms of Beltway fundraising, the Democratic presidential candidate from Vermont has won legislative victory after victory on an issue that has been dear to him since his days as Burlington’s mayor.

That issue is the simultaneously benign and revolutionary expansion of federally qualified community health clinics.

Over the years, Sanders has tucked away funding for health centers in appropriation bills signed by George W. Bush, into Barack Obama’s stimulus program, and through the earmarking process. But his biggest achievement came in 2010 through the Affordable Care Act. In a series of high-stakes legislative maneuvers, Sanders struck a deal to include $11 billion for health clinics in the law.

The result has made an indelible mark on American health care, extending the number of people served by clinics from 18 million before the ACA to an expected 28 million next year.

As one would expect, the program was largely met with plaudits from patients and public health experts, but it has also won praise from even the biggest Obamacare critics on Capitol Hill. In letters I obtained through multiple record requests, dozens of Republican lawmakers, including members of the House and Senate leadership, have privately praised the ACA clinic funding, calling health centers a vital provider in both rural and urban communities.

To Sanders, the clinics have served as an alternative to his preferred single-payer system. Community health centers accept anyone regardless of health, insurance status or ability to pay. They are founded and managed by a board composed of patients and local residents, so each center is customized to fit the needs of a community. No two health centers are alike.

In rural North Carolina, ACA-backed health centers now provide dental and nutrition services, while in San Francisco, the clinics provide translation services and outreach for immigrant families. In other areas, they provide mental health counseling, low-cost prescription drugs, and serve as the primary care doctors for entire counties. They have also served as a platform for innovation, introducing electronic medical record systems and paving the way with new methods for tracking those most susceptible for heart disease and diabetes.

Author John Dittmer, in The Good Doctors, traces the history of the modern health center to the civil rights activists who ventured into the South during the early 1960s. The activists were seen as outside agitators, and local doctors refused to treat them. As a solution, volunteer bands of physicians were organized by a group called the Medical Committee for Human Rights.

Beyond treating the civil rights workers, the MCHR physicians were struck by the stark disparity in health services, encountering many African-Americans who had never seen a doctor before in their lives. The activist physicians returned to the South after the “Freedom Rides” to found a small clinic in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, and by doing so, began a movement to launch health clinics across the country in underserved areas. Winning support from President Lyndon Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity, the clinics became part of Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

Over the years, health centers have gained support on a bipartisan basis. Health centers secured critical funding from the efforts of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and both George W. Bush and John McCain campaigned on pledges to expand them. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more to the article.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 11:37 am

Eric Holder now receiving his payoff for protecting Wall Street

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Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

After failing to criminally prosecute any of the financial firms responsible for the market collapse in 2008, former Attorney General Eric Holder is returning to Covington & Burling, a corporate law firm known for serving Wall Street clients.

The move completes one of the more troubling trips through the revolving door for a cabinet secretary. Holder worked at Covington from 2001 right up to being sworn in as attorney general in Feburary 2009. And Covington literally kept an office empty for him, awaiting his return.

The Covington & Burling client list has included four of the largest banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Lobbying records show that Wells Fargo is still a client of Covington. Covington recently represented Citigroup over a civil lawsuit relating to the bank’s role in Libor manipulation.

Covington was also deeply involved with a company known as MERS, which was later responsible for falsifying mortgage documents on an industrial scale. “Court records show that Covington, in the late 1990s, provided legal opinion letters needed to create MERS on behalf of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and several other large banks,” according to an investigation by Reuters.

The Department of Justice under Holder not only failed to pursue criminal prosecutions of the banks responsible for the mortage meltdown, but in fact de-prioritized investigations of mortgage fraud, making it the “lowest-ranked criminal threat,” according to an inspector general report.

For insiders, the Holder decision to return to Covington was never a mystery. Timothy Hess, the chairman of Covington, told the National Law Journal that Holder’s return to the firm had been “a project” of his ever since Holder left to the join the administration in 2009. When the firm moved to a new building last year, it kept an 11th-story corner office reserved for Holder.

James Garland, Holder’s former deputy chief of staff, who rejoined Covington in 2010, told the Law Journal that when Covington’s partners gathered to welcome Holder back four weeks ago, “He was so busy giving people hugs and shaking hands.”

As Covington prepared for Holder’s return, the firm continued to represent clients before the Department of Justice. For instance, Covington negotiatedwith the department on behalf of GlaxoSmithKline for a plea agreement in 2010.

Holder’s critics charge that he made a career out of institutionalizing “Too Big to Prosecute” rules within the department. . .

Continue reading.

This strikes me as outright corruption of the Department of Justice—and since President Obama supported that (as well as the TPP), I imagine he’s also in line for a big payoff when he leaves office. We’ll see.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 11:32 am

Today’s Civilian Victims in Yemen Will Be Ignored Because U.S. and Its Allies Are Responsible

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It’s now acceptable for the US to kill civilians (outside of combat zones, note—just civilians going about their routine daily loves, shopping at the market), and moreover such killings do not even merit a mention in the mainline news. “Sure, we killed a bunch of civilians. So what? They weren’t Americans.” That seems to be the attitude. (Recall the profuse apologies and headlines when one of our drone attacks did kill an American—that was awful. Other nationalities, no biggie.) Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

In Fayoush, Yemen this morning, just outside of Aden, “a massive airstrike”hit a marketplace and killed at least 45 civilians, wounding another 50. Officials told the AP that “bodies were strewn about following the strike.” The bombing was carried out by what is typically referred to as a “Saudi-led coalition”; it is rarely mentioned in Western media reports that the U.S. is providing very substantial support to this “Saudi-led” war in Yemen, now in its fifth month, which has repeatedly, recklessly killed Yemeni civilians.

Because these deaths of innocents are at the hands of the U.S. government and its despotic allies, it is very predictable how they will be covered in the U.S. None of the victims will be profiled in American media; it’ll be very surprising if any of their names are even mentioned. No major American television outlet will interview their grieving families. Americans will never learn about their extinguished life aspirations, or the children turned into orphans, or the parents who will now bury their infants. There will be no #FayoushStrong Twitter hashtags trending in the U.S. It’ll be like it never happened: blissful ignorance.

This is the pattern that repeats itself over and over. Just see the stone-cold media silence when President Obama, weeks after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, ordered a cruise missile strike in Yemen, complete with cluster bombs, which ended the lives of 35 women and children, none of whose humanity was acknowledged in virtually any Western media reports.

All of that stands in the starkest contrast to the intense victim focus whenever anAmerican or Westerner is killed by an individual Muslim. Indeed, Americans just spent the last week inundated withmelodramatic “warnings” from the U.S. government — mindlessly amplified as always by their media — that they faced serious terror on their most sacred day from ISIS monsters: a “threat” that, as usual, proved to be nonexistent.

This media imbalance is a vital propaganda tool. . .

Continue reading.

From the point of view of the civilians shopping in the market, the attack was outright terrorism. It would not be unlikely that surviving family members might want revenge.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 11:28 am

Driverless Taxis Could Already Be Cheaper Than Cabs, Department of Energy Says

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Another occupation bites the dust due to changing technology. Jason Koebler reports at Motherboard:

Drivers, who needs ‘em? It looks like some US government scientists are completely onboard with Uber and Google’s plan to do away with drivers altogether. Fleets of autonomous taxis should vastly reduce the amount of overall emissions released in cities, and the economics of a driverless taxi already make sense today, according to a new Department of Energy study.

The study, published by Jeffery Greenblatt and Samveg Saxena of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Nature Climate Change, posits that taxis are likely to be among the first industries to go fully autonomous.

Today’s taxis are driven between three and six times as far annually as a standard passenger car, meaning that most of the cost of operating a taxi is in paying the driver, buying gas, and doing maintenance on the car—the initial cost of the car itself is much less important.

Here’s the math used by Greenblatt and Saxena to argue that even today’s expensive autonomous vehicle technology makes sense today.

“In New York City in 2005, only 24 percent of taxi fares went toward vehicle costs, with 57 percent going to drivers … driver income constitutes $97,600 per year, which could more than cover the incremental cost of autonomous vehicle technology [estimated at $150,000]. Even using current costs, if financed using identical model assumptions for vehicle capital, this would amount to $36,500 per year, 37 percent of New York City taxi driver income and 21 percent of total taxi fares. Therefore, autonomous taxis could replace current taxis at current autonomous vehicle costs and possibly even lower fares, providing an important early market niche.” [emphasis mine]

Greenblatt and Saxena suggest that, given those potential cost savings, if the technology matures to a point where it’s reliable, today’s taxi drivers don’t stand a chance. That is, of course, what taxi companies have been very much worried about as Uber makes inroads throughout the world. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 10:35 am

Bailing out Texas v. Bailing out Greece

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Paul Krugman offers an interesting comment.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 10:19 am

Posted in Business, Government

Two Parents Weren’t Sure How Their Little Girl Fractured Her Leg, So CPS Took the Kids

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Lenore Skenazy reports at Reason:

Here’s another horrifying case from the Family Defense Center in Chicago. A baby’s fractured leg convinced the Department of Child and Family Services that she had been abused, despite the fact that fractures like hers are common in kids, and there was absolutely no other evidence against the parents.

The state fought tooth and nail to keep the kids. I’m not sure what would’ve happened if the family hadn’t gotten expert legal help:

In the early afternoon of February 3, “Cassie” S., mother of 13 month-old “Hannah” and 8-year-old “Maya,” first noticed after Hannah got down from her high chair that the toddler wasn’t putting weight on her left leg. Thinking at first that perhaps Hannah’s leg had just fallen asleep, Cassie’s mother put Hannah down for her nap while Cassie left for her nursing school class, calling her husband “Nate” to let him know that she was watching to see if something was wrong with Hannah’s leg. When Hannah continued not to use the leg after waking up, Cassie and Nate called their pediatrician, who advised them to give her Tylenol, keep an eye on her, and bring her to an appointment the next day.

Cassie and Nate decided not to wait: Cassie brought Hannah to the emergency room at Central DuPage Hospital at about 6:15 p.m. while Nate stayed home with Maya, who was recovering from the flu.

X-rays soon showed Hannah had a fractured tibia and fibula (two lower leg bones that commonly break together). Because Cassie couldn’t say for sure how Hannah got the fracture, the hospital staff called the DCFS. Only later did the family learn from two pediatric orthopedics and medical literature that the sort of injury Hannah had is considered to have “low” suspicion for abuse and it is hardly uncommon for parents to witness the incident that caused the fracture(s) to occur.

Unfortunately the x-ray findings, which naturally concerned the parents, marked just the beginning of the family’s nightmare. Without even interviewing Nate, or talking to the hospital’s own child abuse pediatrician, and without Hannah being seen by a single orthopedist (for whom injuries like Hannah’s are fairly routine), DCFS decided to take both children into State protective custody. The investigator went to the S.’s home and made Nate wake Maya, only to remove her from the home and place her and Hannah with a relative as their temporary foster parent. It was the first time either child had slept away from their parents.

The next day — still without talking to the hospital’s child abuse pediatrician, the family pediatrician, other the family members or friends, or Maya’s teachers — DCFS filed a petition to take custody of both children from the S.’s in the Juvenile Court of Kane County. Based on hearsay representations concerning the emergency room doctor’s opinion, the judge ratified the rushed decision that DCFS had made without talking to any doctors who had relevant expertise in toddler tibia/fibula fractures.

 The Family Defense Center stepped into the case six weeks later, with a trial date then set for June 2. Aggressively fighting for the family, Center Executive Director Diane Redleaf argued for dismissal of the petition against the family. It was the first time, according to Kane County Judge Parkhurst, that such a motion had been filed in that courtroom for parents. The Judge granted the motion to dismiss, but kept the children away from their parents while the State had to re-file an amended petition that set out facts supporting the conclusion that Hannah was abused.

Read the rest of the story here. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 8:55 am

Ex-prisoner invited to White House to discuss problems ex-prisoners face was initially barred entry—because he’s an ex-prisoner

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Paying one’s debt to society turns out not to clear one’s debut. Graham Kates reports at CBS News:

Two weeks after criminal justice advocate Glenn Martin was nearly denied access to a White House event he was invited to, he’s still waiting for an explanation.

In a widely distributed “open letter” to President Barack Obama last week, Martin revealed that he was required to have a special escort in order to enter the White House complex for a discussion with senior officials on breaking down barriers facing ex-prisoners.

Martin, who is one of the country’s leading advocates for ending those barriers, is an ex-inmate himself. Now head of JustLeadershipUSA, he served time for a robbery conviction 20 years ago-and has since achieved national prominence for his work with former prisoners.

Although he was invited to the meeting, along with a select group of advocates, scholars, elected officials and law enforcement authorities, he was treated as a security risk.

“The staggering symbolism of the ordeal was not lost on me, Mr. President,” Martin wrote in the June 25 letter to Obama and Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy.

“In a country where 65 million people have a criminal record on file, being selectively barred from entering the White House for a discussion about those very same people was as insulting as it was indicative of the broader problem.”

The White House declined to comment on Martin’s treatment, but a spokesperson pointed to the creation of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council – a Department of Justice initiative focused on prisoner reentry policy established in 2011 – and other reform efforts, such as inviting formerly incarcerated individuals like Martin to the White House. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 8:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

An Investment Banker’s Solution to Factory Farming

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Kaleigh Rogers reports at Motherboard:

I’ve been vegetarian for four years and I still miss meat. I eat meat as often as possible, but since I don’t like the way 99 percent of meat is produced, I pass on it unless I can be totally sure it came from a farm that raises meat in a way that lets me sleep at night.

That wasn’t an easy choice. I’d known about factory farming practices for a long time. I watched Food Inc and then had chicken wings the very next day. It was easier to convince myself not all meat came from farms like that. “Maybe if I buy the organic stuff, it’s better.” Eventually I forced myself to do a modicum of research and realized the majority of meat I had access to came from farms that treated animals in deplorable, inhumane ways. So I stopped giving those farms my money.

But I do miss meat. I miss the days when I could pick up a pack of chicken breasts at the grocery store without thinking twice. I miss being able to order a steak at a restaurant without having to ask an obnoxious array of questions (and ultimately deciding it’s not worth the risk). So I was intrigued when I read Project Animal Farm—anew book that explores the realities of farming and the future of our food chain—and the author actually offered a possible solution. A possible future where ethical, sustainable farming could be the norm, rather than the exception.

After visiting a dairy farm for an ill-advised vacation, Sonia Faruqi quit her Wall Street investment banking job and spent the next two years investigating dozens of farms around the world. Faruqi was on a mission to find out the truth about industrial agriculture and to see if she could find a solution to our current practices of producing massive quantities of cheap meat quickly, at the expense of the environment and the welfare of the animals we eat.

Faruqi documents this research in Project Animal Farm, which comes out July 15. In her characteristic Type A fashion, she doesn’t just visit one or two farms, but more than 60 farms in eight countries across three continents. Faruqi lied when necessary (claiming she wanted to work in slaughter or start her own farm) to gain access to factory farms that raised pigs, chickens, and cows, as well as a slaughter house—all of which she describes in full, graphic detail. But she also found farms that were raising animals in a way that gave her hope for the future: using practices that were sustainable, ethical, and environmentally-friendly.

I caught up with Faruqi to find out her thoughts on the impacts technology has had on farming, the dangers of antibiotic resistance, and whether she thinks there’s actually a cure for our addiction to factory farming:

MB: As a relative outsider, were you surprised when you discovered certain labels, like organic, didn’t ensure the picture of farming you had in your head?
SF: I was surprised. I was surprised so often not just by the labels but also when I would visit a company website, the pictures and descriptions would be completely different from the reality. I was naive going in, I think that’s obvious, and I came to know a lot more, like learning that farms use labels such as “free range” and “organic” as scams. They’re used as a way to make more money off of the public.

You touched on antibiotic resistance a bit in the book. How big of a factor was that in some of the concerns you had with factory farming?
I also wrote an article about antibiotic resistance a month ago. It’s definitely a problem. Antibiotics are very commonly used. I describe it in the chapter about Charlie’s pig factory farm, but in chicken farms they’re also mixed into the feed and the chickens are constantly eating antibiotics. It’s definitely a serious problem with long-term consequences that are quite likely seeing as how much they’re used.

Right now, the attitude in the industry that I often saw is they don’t want any regulation even though the fact is if antibiotic resistance grows, that’s going to impact the welfare of farm animals and the livelihood of these farmers themselves.

You also point out some of the negative sides to agricultural technology: how it’s enabled an even greater division between the farmer and the animals. Are there any upsides to new technology? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 8:37 am

Posted in Business, Food, Government

he 3 big questions about what happens next in Greece’s debt crisis

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Matt O’Brien has a good article in the Washington Post:

The Greek people have voted no to their bailout, no to austerity, and, quite possibly, no to the euro itself. That last part, though, depends on what the European Central Bank does in the coming days.

Now, in the end, the Noes won a landslide 61 percent in Greece’s referendum over whether or not to accept Europe’s bailout. But given the stakes, there was a little bit of farce about it. Greece went to the polls over an offer that Europe had technically pulled, and there was only a vote in the first place because Europe had rejected Greece’s offer to cut their budget as much as was being demanded but in a different way than was being demanded. In other words, Greece and Europe might divorce each other not because Athens refused to do a certain amount of austerity, but because it refused to do a certain kind of austerity. Specifically, Greece wanted to cut its pensions at a little bit slower pace and exempt its island hotels from a higher sales tax. That’s it.

It seems like a bad joke, but Europe really might let 60 years of integration go into reverse over what sales tax Greece’s hotels should use. It’d be as if the U.S. Constitutional Convention had broken down over whether to call it the Senate or the Upper House. And make no mistake, that’s what Europe is trying to do here: build a United States of Europe. Ever since World War II ended, the continent’s countries have tried to make further bloodshed impossible by not only tying their economies closer and closer together, but also hoping that this would force them to forge a political future together.

But now, for the first time, there’s a chance that this process of an ever closer, if imperfect, union might begin to unravel. Greece’s No vote leaves both its government and its banks without the financial lifelines they need to stay afloat, perhaps pushing them out of the euro. Not even the surprise resignation of Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who had become Europe’s bête noire, might be enough to bridge the differences between the two sides. After all, he’d already been sidelined for months. No, the real problem is that, no matter who’s negotiating, neither side trusts the other. It’s hard to see that changing in a few days, either.

So where does that leave Greece? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 8:34 am

A surprise from the Fine synthetic brush

with 4 comments

SOTD 6 July 2015

In the past I have often made a few practice lathers with a new brush, too eager to try them out to wait for the next shave. I didn’t do that with the Fine synthetic, and now I wish I had. In my first use of the brush, it felt a little too resilient in comparison with, say, the Plisson, which uses the same bristles. But today, when I compared it to the Omega S-Brush shown, the Fine felt very different indeed: just like the Plisson (though I’ll do a comparison shave later with the Plisson to check).

The soap is Wickham’s Garden Mint, a spearmint rather than peppermint shaving soap, and a very nice soap indeed. With both brushes fully loaded, I lathered my face, and was surprised by the softness of the Fine brush, a softness that had not been there in the first shave. I did not expect a synthetic brush to have a break-in, but maybe in the manufacturing process the bristles get some coating that imparts stiffness (I’m thinking of sizing or something of the sort), and the first use washed that away.

In any event, the different between the S-Brush (a very nice brush indeed) and the Fine seem identical to me to the difference between the S-Brush and the Plisson: they’re both excellent, but the Fine and the Plisson are softer and more luxurious feeling than the Omega.

I did three very smooth and easy passes with the iKon DLC slant on the SE handle. No nicks at all: I have indeed learned to use very light pressure with this razor. The blade was a Personna Lab Blue, which works well in this razor for me—though now I’m wondering whether the slight problems (nicks on XTG on upper lip) I encountered in using other blades were not simply the result of too much pressure and not the blade’s fault at all. Next time I’ll use an Astra Superior Platinum in this razor and see.

A small splash of Mickey Lee Soapworks Italian Stallion aftershave milk, and the week is underway.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2015 at 8:10 am

Posted in Shaving

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