Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Do you have "Real ID" for when you might actually need it?

When I got my new passport in 2016, I got a passport card too for an extra $30. It didn't seem necessary, but after reading this, I'm now glad I did:



Why You Want a Passport Card
Why You Want a Passport Card
My wife and I recently renewed our passports and we opted to get passport cards while we were at it. The Passport Card was originally intended as a convenient form of your passport to use when crossing land borders and ports-of-entry. But we don’t do that much. As in, pretty much never.

So why would we get a passport cards?

As identification for local flights
While a passport card can’t be used as identification for international flights, it can be used for local flights instead of your driver’s license. So why use the passport card instead of your drivers license?

First off, some state licenses are not Real ID compliant, but a passport card is. At some point the TSA will require Real ID compliant IDs. While most states will eventually comply, having a passport card removes any question concerning having a valid ID.

Secondly, when checking in at the airport you usually need to show an ID twice: first at the counter when you check your bags, then at security. That means two times digging into your wallet to get out your driver’s license. That means two opportunities to loose your license and two times you have to remember to put it back in your wallet. With a passport card you can leave it easily accessible in your carry-on (like you do with passports) and it can stay with your travel papers instead of your wallet.

Also, if you loose your license and want to rent a car — you’re pretty screwed. If you loose your passport card you’re just out $30. You still have your license for identification and driving.

To use for employment verification
A passport card is considered a “List A” document for I-9 employment verification just like a passport is. So you can leave your passport safe at home when doing employment verification.

To use as an international ID {...]

Read the whole thing, for embedded links, and several other useful purposes the Real ID compliant card can be useful for.
     

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

"It’s always dangerous to poke an angry bear", or Why Russia Sanctions are not likely to work

This article doesn't have a date on it, I think it may have been written before the current sanctions by Congress, but the reasoning seems just a valid now:

Why Sanctions Against Russia Might Backfire
[...] Is the hope that his friends will threaten to boot him out of office if he doesn’t shape up? One analyst recently claimed that Putin could be ousted easily, arguing that his replacement might be someone like Kudrin. But this neglects an important element of what holds Putin’s networks together: the pact of KGB loyalty. Many of the targeted individuals have past employment in, or suspected connections with, the KGB or its follow-on organization, the FSB (Federal Security Service). Putin, a career KGB officer and former head of the FSB, has repeatedly shown he can use FSB methods and tradecraft to harass his opponents, for example by releasing compromising materials (kompromat) that lead to their prosecution and imprisonment. He would certainly use those skills and connections to punish anyone who defects from his own team. Since many of his associates are reputed billionaires, they can afford to lose quite a bit of money before taking the enormous personal risk of betraying Putin and his KGB friends.

And the sanctions seem almost designed to enrage Putin personally, since they hit his personal networks so closely. The hope can’t have been that this would put him in a compromising mood. Is it instead that they will provoke him toward more aggression, leading him to miscalculate and increase his ultimate losses? Russia has already backed off some of its Western food-import counter-sanctions, because Putin’s original policy underestimated Russian dependence on specialty items like lactose-free milk, seed stock and salmon produced in Europe.

But it’s always dangerous to poke an angry bear. In recent months Putin has begun to encourage a conspiracy-mongering form of anti-Western nationalism. It’s impossible to know whether he and his cronies actually believe this neo-Eurasianist ideology. But neo-Eurasian arguments fill state-sponsored Russian media, and variations of it are seeping into the writings of even mainstream diplomatic analysts in Moscow. The West is blamed for denigrating Russia throughout history as backwards and wrong-headed, denying Russia its rightful place simply because its culture is different from Europe’s. In the 1990s, the story goes, the West tried to transform Russia in its own image, denying Russia’s separate identity and stealing its resources. Neo-Eurasianism rejects Western values of democracy, liberal tolerance, and individual rights. It argues instead for the superiority of a uniquely Russian communal and statist culture.

Ukraine matters, from this point of view, because Kiev was the medieval birthplace of Russia’s unique civilization, and now Ukraine’s eastern regions form a cultural buffer against the encroaching and degenerate West. Of course the West wants to stop Putin—his actions are rolling back Western influence. The sanctions bolster Eurasianist claims that the West has always persecuted Russia. They can be portrayed as another feeble attempt to demonstrate Western superiority.

Rather than pushing Putin toward accommodation, his cronies might push him toward nationalist extremism, to ensure their own continuing relevance in this new environment that Putin himself unleashed. The tilt toward extremism is already underway. [...]
Read the whole thing, for links and more. Also, there is the energy angle:

How U.S. Sanctions Against Russia Could Backfire
[...] France and Germany—the de facto, if often irreconcilable, leaders of the European Union—illustrate how Russian energy can shape foreign policy. France may rely heavily on foreign energy, but most of its oil and natural gas comes from Algeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Libya—not Russia. France can therefore afford to be more aggressive and supportive of sanctions against Russia.

Not so with Germany, which receives 57 percent of its natural gas and 35 percent of its crude oil from Russia. Berlin must therefore tread lightly between its primary security benefactor, the U.S., and its primary source of energy, Russia.

This is one reason Germany has been such an outspoken critic of the recent U.S. sanctions, which penalize businesses in any country that collaborate or participate in joint ventures with Russian energy firms. Germany supports the construction of Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that would run through the Baltic Sea, circumventing Ukraine—the transit state through which Germany currently receives much of its energy imports. The pipeline would help to safeguard German energy procurement, since it would allow Russia to punish Ukraine by withholding shipments of natural gas without punishing countries such as Germany further downstream. [...]
The Russia hysteria has to stop. Time for the Dems to face facts about losing the election; they ran a weak candidate. It was hers to lose, and she lost it. Deal with it.

These new sanctions are being seen as the U.S. using the Russia excuse to snatch market share in European Oil and Gas markets. It's going too far, we should back off.

     

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Cocktail ingredient substitutions

Cocktails From a Low-Stocked Bar: A Guide to Substitutions
[...] So you walk into your house and suddenly remember. You're out of gin. Your spouse finished the bottle last night. After all, a screaming toddler and a broken dishwasher and a leaking ceiling is also grounds for an intense Negroni craving.

Now what do you do? Comb the house for replacement ingredients.

That's the purpose of today's piece. If you don't have X, maybe you have Y, and if you have Y, what can you make with it?

For example, if you have everything for your Negroni except gin, but you have rum, are you good to go? If you want a Sidecar, but you don't have triple sec, will the maraschino work, or do you need to schlep back out to the liquor store?

The Substitution Principle
The first thing to think about here is, "Like replaces like." Swap one fortified wine (vermouth) for another (sherry, for example), when making a Martini or Manhattan. Brown liquors stand in well for each other, in drinks such as Manhattans or Juleps. Various liqueurs can tag in for others, within reason. For example, bitter amari sub in well for each other, as I'll talk about shortly, but an amaro might not be a great swap for triple sec in a Sidecar.

Think about the flavor of a given ingredient, and the role it plays in the drink, before attempting substitutes. You'd never try to build a Manhattan out of three vermouths and bitters. Why? Because the main ingredient needs to be a strong spirit for the drink to be anything close to Manhattan-like. Similarly, don't take the triple sec from a Sidecar and replace it with gin. You need a sweetening agent to balance the cognac and citrus. So try another liqueur, even one that's not fruity. [...]
It goes on to talk about the different "families" of drinks, and ingredient substitutions and the logic of how they work. It ends with a cheat sheet of suggestions that follow the logic. Very useful, especially if you don't want to spend a fortune on bar ingredients, and like to experiment with drink recipes.


Also see:       An A to Z List of Popular Liqueurs and Cordials
     

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Russia Gate: no "golden ticket" for clueless Democrat Leaders?

I think even most Democrats see it for what it is, even if their party leadership is clueless. A case in point:

Russia-gate Flops as Democrats’ Golden Ticket
The national Democratic Party and many liberals have bet heavily on the Russia-gate investigation as a way to oust President Trump from office and to catapult Democrats to victories this year and in 2018, but the gamble appears not to be paying off.

[...]

Indeed, the Democrats may be digging a deeper hole for themselves in terms of reaching out to white working-class voters who abandoned the party in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to put Trump over the top in the Electoral College even though Clinton’s landslide win in California gave her almost three million more votes nationwide.

Clinton’s popular-vote plurality and the #Resistance, which manifested itself in massive protests against Trump’s presidency, gave hope to the Democrats that they didn’t need to undertake a serious self-examination into why the party is in decline across the nation’s heartland. Instead, they decided to stoke the hysteria over alleged Russian “meddling” in the election as the short-cut to bring down Trump and his populist movement.

A Party of Snobs?

From conversations that I’ve had with some Trump voters in recent weeks, I was struck by how they viewed the Democratic Party as snobbish, elitist and looking down its nose at “average Americans.” And in conversations with some Clinton voters, I found confirmation for that view in the open disdain that the Clinton backers expressed toward the stupidity of anyone who voted for Trump. In other words, the Trump voters were not wrong to feel “dissed.”

It seems the Republicans – and Trump in particular – have done a better job in presenting themselves to these Middle Americans as respecting their opinions and representing their fears, even though the policies being pushed by Trump and the GOP still favor the rich and will do little good – and significant harm – to the middle and working classes.
This article, I could argue with that last comment or any number of assumptions and assertions that the author makes throughout. But I'm not going to bother. Because far more interesting to me, is the arguments he makes about how the Dems are out of touch and really screwing things up. Read on:

By contrast, many of Hillary Clinton’s domestic proposals might well have benefited average Americans but she alienated many of them by telling a group of her supporters that half of Trump’s backers belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” Although she later reduced the percentage, she had committed a cardinal political sin: she had put the liberal disdain for millions of Americans into words – and easily remembered words at that.

By insisting that Hillary Clinton be the Democratic nominee – after leftist populist Bernie Sanders was pushed aside – the party also ignored the fact that many Americans, including many Democrats, viewed Clinton as the perfectly imperfect candidate for an anti-Establishment year with many Americans still fuming over the Wall Street bailouts and amid the growing sense that the system was rigged for the well-connected and against the average guy or gal.

In the face of those sentiments, the Democrats nominated a candidate who personified how a relatively small number of lucky Americans can play the system and make tons of money while the masses have seen their dreams crushed and their bank accounts drained. And Clinton apparently still hasn’t learned that lesson.

Citing Women’s Rights

Last month, when asked why she accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking to Goldman Sachs, Clinton rationalized her greed as a women’s rights issue, saying: “you know, men got paid for the speeches they made. I got paid for the speeches I made.”

Her excuse captured much of what has gone wrong with the Democratic Party as it moved from its working-class roots and New Deal traditions to becoming a party that places “identity politics” ahead of a duty to fight for the common men and women of America.

Demonstrating her political cluelessness, Clinton used the serious issue of women not getting fair treatment in the workplace to justify taking her turn at the Wall Street money trough, gobbling up in one half-hour speech what it would take many American families a decade to earn.

While it’s a bit unfair to personalize the Democratic Party’s problems, Hillary and Bill Clinton have come to represent how the party is viewed by many Americans. Instead of the FDR Democrats, we have the Davos Democrats, the Wall Street Democrats, the Hollywood Democrats, the Silicon Valley Democrats, and now increasingly the Military-Industrial Complex Democrats.

To many Americans struggling to make ends meet, the national Democrats seem committed to the interests of the worldwide elites: global trade, financialization of the economy, robotization of the workplace, and endless war against endless enemies.

Now, the national Democrats are clambering onto the bandwagon for a costly and dangerous New Cold War with nuclear-armed Russia. Indeed, it is hard to distinguish their foreign policy from that of neoconservatives, although these Democrats view themselves as liberal interventionists citing humanitarian impulses to justify the endless slaughter.

Earlier this year, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found only 28 percent of Americans saying that the Democrats were “in touch with the concerns of most people” – an astounding result given the Democrats’ long tradition as the party of the American working class and the party’s post-Vietnam War reputation as favoring butter over guns.

Yet rather than rethink the recent policies, the Democrats prefer to fantasize about impeaching President Trump and continuing a blame-game about who – other than Hillary Clinton, her campaign and the Democratic National Committee – is responsible for Trump’s election. Of course, it’s the Russians, Russians, Russians! [...]
He's nailed it! Read the whole thing for even more about the deep roots of the problem, and the serious errors the Democrat Party are continuing to make.
     

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Monday, July 03, 2017

What do you drink with your boss?


Having drinks with the boss is not a situation I've often found myself in, especially since I've been self employed. But here is some interesting advice for that scenario, which could also apply to drinking with a client or someone you want to leave with a good impression:

7 Drink Orders Guaranteed to Impress Your Boss
It’s a cardinal rule of corporate life: if the boss asks you for a drink, you say yes. Period. We don’t care if you’re a teetotaler or it’s your 20th wedding anniversary—you’re accepting that invitation. Over a few rounds of cocktails you’ll learn more about the company than you ever will in a boardroom setting, and you’ll put yourself in his or her good graces for the foreseeable future. Blow off the boss? Don’t be surprised if he or she returns the favor one day.

But there are rules for boozing with your corporate leader. No whiskeys neat, and no martinis. And definitely no cruiseliner daiquiris that will (rightfully) make you look like a less-than-serious man. Instead, select drinks that are manly and respectable, but won’t floor you in the process. If you’re not sure what those are, don’t worry. With the help of some top mixologists, we’ve compiled them all right here. And for more great drink recs, try one of these amazing spring cocktails. [...]
I was a bit surprised that the Martini was on the forbidden list. Isn't that a popular one for businessmen? I think the point is not to come across as a lush or a boozer, and the martini might be a bit strong? But they recommend the Manhattan cocktail, and that can be very potent.

This advice also seems to be for men. And perhaps a bit old fashioned. But perhaps that's the best way to behave when drinking with the boss? ;-)

Read the whole thing for the list of drinks, pics, and embedded links.

   

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Monday, June 26, 2017

What do American Presidents drink?



Here's the favorite drink of every US president
[...] No one knows more about political drinking than author Mark Will-Weber, whose book "Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking" explores the stories behind each president's favorite alcoholic beverage.

"Presidents drink for the same reasons we all drink," Will-Weber recently told Business Insider. "Sometimes because it's part of the job, sometimes it's because they're lonely or depressed — there's a whole gamut of reasons of why people drink."

For Will-Weber, knowing what the former presidents like to drink brings a "human side" to those who we "normally hold on a pedestal."

Ahead, take a look at the president's favorite alcoholic beverages, rounded up from Will-Weber's book and The New York Post. [...]

It looks like the best presidents at least drank some. Read the whole thing, for embedded links and more.

Here is another list, with historical tidbits and some cocktail recipes:

A complete list of every president’s favorite drink
   

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Monday, May 15, 2017

How realistic is the Alien Language Hacking in the movie "Arrival"?



Ask a Linguist. That is what this article does:

How Realistic Is the Way Amy Adams’ Character Hacks the Alien Language In Arrival? We Asked a Linguist.
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival makes being a linguist look pretty cool—its hero Louise (Amy Adams) gets up close and personal with extraterrestrials and manages to save the entire world with her translation skills (and lives in a chic, glass-walled modernist palace all by herself). But how realistic were her methods? We talked to Betty Birner, a professor of linguistics and cognitive science at Northern Illinois University, to find out what she thinks of the movie’s use of language, its linguist heroine, and how we might someday learn to communicate with aliens in real life.

What was it like to watch Arrival as an actual linguist?

I loved the movie. It was a ton of fun to see a movie that’s basically all about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. On the other hand, they took the hypothesis way beyond anything that is plausible.

In the movie they kind of gloss over the hypothesis, explaining it as the idea that the language you speak can affect the way you think. Is that accurate?

There are two ways of thinking about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and scholars have argued over which of these two Sapir and/or Whorf actually intended. The weaker version is linguistic relativity, which is the notion that there’s a correlation between language and worldview. “Different language communities experience reality differently.”

The stronger view is called linguistic determinism, and that’s the view that language actually determines the way you see reality, the way you perceive it. That’s a much stronger claim. At one point in the movie, the character Ian [Jeremy Renner] says, “The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis says that if you immerse yourself in another language, you can rewire your brain.” And that made me laugh out loud, because Whorf never said anything about rewiring your brain. But since this wasn’t the linguist speaking, it’s fine that another character is misunderstanding the Sapir-Whorf.

But the movie accepts that as true! By learning the aliens’ language, Louise completely alters her brain.

Oh yeah, the movie is clearly on board with linguistic determinism, which is funny because most linguists these days would not accept that.

So in real life, learning another language can’t suddenly alter how you perceive time?

No linguist would ever buy into the notion that the minute you understand something about this second language, get sort of a lightbulb going off, and you say, “Oh my gosh, I completely see how the speakers of Swahili view plant life now.” It’s just silly and its false. It makes for a rollicking good story, but I would never want somebody to come away from a movie like this with the notion that that’s actually a power that language can bestow.

Is there anything to the idea at all?

There have been studies about speakers of languages that have classifier markers—suffixes, for example, that go on to every noun to indicate what class they’re in. Some languages mark round things differently than they mark long things, soft things differently than rigid things. If you ask speakers of such a language to sort a big heap of stuff into piles, they will tend to sort them based on what classifier they take.

Whorf argued that because the Hopi [the Native American group he was studying] have verbs for certain concepts that English speakers use nouns for, such as, thunder, lightning, storm, noise, that the speakers view those things as events in a way that we don’t. We view lightning, thunder, and storms as things. He argued that we objectify time, that because we talk about hours and minutes and days as things that you can count or save or spend.

It was funny in this movie to see this notion of the cyclicity of time. That’s really central in Whorf’s writings, that English speakers have a linear view of time, and it’s made up in individually packaged objects, days, hours, and minutes that march along from past to future, while the Hopi have a more cyclical notion that days aren’t separate things but that “day” is something that comes and goes.

So tomorrow isn’t another day. Tomorrow is day returning. You see that concept coming from Whorf into this movie was actually kind of fun. I thought, well they got that right! They took it in a really weird direction, but ...

Someone did their homework.

Exactly. [...]
If you like linguistics, read the whole thing. I found it very interesting, the Linguist professor says mostly positive things about the movie, and discusses how there are some parallels with earth based languages (written languages that don't phonetically represent spoken language) and other linguistic concepts. Lots of interesting observations and food for thought.

Also see: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
   

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