Later On

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

Archive for April 8th, 2008

Mandatory arbitration: bad, bad deal for consumers

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I’ve blogged about this previously (search on “arbitration”. You’ll recall that the women who were gang-raped in Iraq by Halliburton employees are out of luck so far as going to court for a civil case: their employment agreements specify that they must use arbitration. But let me draw your attention to some other aspects.

First, Mark Kleiman makes some very good points:

Of course, it’s perfectly fair for an arbitration company chosen by credit card companies to resolve disputes with cardholders to rule for the companies 99.8% of the time. The two-tenths of one percent win rate for consumers should be enough to convince any fair-minded person that the National Arbitration Forum is leaning over backwards to do the right thing.

The demand that consumers and workers waive their statutory rights and submit to the arbitration racket, and the courts’ decisions to enforce those agreements, are among the sleaziest victories of the “tort reform” movement.

There’s no mystery about how the racket works: since each victim is only in arbitration once, and the company is in arbitration constantly, and since either side can reject any given arbitrator, all the company has to do is maintain a blacklist of arbitrators who make unfavorable rulings and systematically exclude them. That eliminates the stubbornly honest ones and puts intolerable economic pressure on the rest. The National Arbitration Forum seems to have gone unusually far, for example by making awards without even allowing the victims to appear, and that could turn out to have been a mistake. But a company doesn’t need anything nearly so gross to make the system work in its favor.

This is the sort of “little guy screwed over by the big guys” story that voters will respond to. And it wouldn’t be hard to craft reform legislation: forbidding mandatory arbitration of civil rights claims, for example, and requiring that each arbitrator’s record of rulings (percentage for the customer or the employee) be made available to both sides.

And in addition to that, the Watchdog Blog has two highly informative posts on the efforts by businesses to kill the Arbitration Fairness Act now being considered by Congress.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 4:49 pm

Keep muscles strong

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Eat potassium-rich foods, such as those listed below the fold. Why? Science News explains:

A new study by researchers at the federal Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, at Tufts University in Boston, finds that diets rich in potassium appear to protect muscle. And fruits and veggies are a primo source of dietary potassium.

Bess Dawson-Hughes and her colleagues recruited nearly 400 men and women for a 3-year dietary trial on calcium and vitamin D. The researchers wanted to keep bones strong, so the participants—all 65 or older—would suffer fewer falls and disabling fractures. However, strong muscles also help prevent falls, and those muscles usually begin a seemingly inexorable wasting by age 40 (SN: 8/10/96, p. 90).

So the researchers correlated the amount of muscle with other components of the participants’ diets—and found a strong link to potassium. The more of it individuals consumed, the more muscle they had, all other things being equal, report the researchers in the March American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Seen in people eating the most potassium, the protective effect appears to “be enough to offset a good chunk of, if not all of, the age-related decline in muscle that normally occurs,” notes Dawson-Hughes.

It boils down to pH (level of acidity). The body converts protein and cereal grains, major parts of the U.S. diet, to acid residues. Excess acid triggers breakdown of muscle into components that ultimately make ammonia, which removes the acids. Potassium-heavy diets, being alkaline, can buffer those acids without sacrificing muscle.

References and links for further reading at the link. And the foods highest in potassium:

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

The Telegraph‘s list of 110 best books

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Of course, one immediately starts looking for the titles inexplicably missing from the list—and wondering about other titles inexplicably included. But, still, a good effort. Here it is. Please finish reading the books by the end of the year. Thank you.

110 best books: The perfect library

CLASSICS

The Illiad and The Odyssey
Homer
Set during the Trojan War, The Iliad combines battle scenes with a debate about heroism; Odysseus’ thwarted attempts to return to Ithaca when the war ends form The Odyssey. Its symbolic evocation of human life as an epic journey homewards has inspired everything from James Joyce’s Ulysses to the Coen brothers’ film, O Brother Where Art Thou?.

The Barchester Chronicles
Anthony Trollope
A story set in a fictional cathedral town about the squabbles and power struggles of the clergy? It doesn’t sound promising, but Trollope’s sparklingly satirical novels are among the best-loved books of all time.

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
Heroine meets hero and hates him. Is charmed by a cad. A family crisis – caused by the cad – is resolved by the hero. The heroine sees him for what he really is and realises (after visiting his enormous house) that she loves him. The plot has been endlessly borrowed, but few authors have written anything as witty or profound as Pride and Prejudice.

Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift
Swift’s scathing satire shows humans at their worst: whether diminished (in Lilliput) or grossly magnified (in Brobdingnag). Our capacity for self-delusion – personified by the absurdly pompous Gulliver – makes this darkest of novels very funny.

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Brontë
Cruelty, hypocrisy, dashed hopes: Jane Eyre faces them all, yet her individuality triumphs. Her relationship with Rochester has such emotional power that it’s hard to believe these characters never lived.

War and Peace
Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s masterpiece is so enormous even the author said it couldn’t be described as a novel. But the characters of Andrei, Pierre and Natasha – and the tragic and unexpected way their lives intersect – grip you for all 1,400 pages.

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens
David’s journey to adulthood is filled with difficult choices – and a huge cast of characters, from the treacherous Steerforth to the comical Mr Micawber.

Vanity Fair
William Makepeace Thackeray
‘”I’m no Angel,” answered Miss Rebecca. And to tell the truth, she was not.’ Whether we should judge the cunning, amoral Becky Sharp – or the hypocritical society she inhabits – is the question.

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert
Flaubert’s finely crafted novel tells the story of Emma, a bored provincial wife who comforts herself with shopping and affairs. It doesn’t end well.

Middlemarch
George Eliot
Dorothea wastes her youth on a creepy, elderly scholar. Lydgate marries the beautiful but self-absorbed Rosamund. George Eliot’s characters make terrible mistakes, but we never lose empathy with them.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Mukasey is a sleazy weasel

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Glenn Greenwald today notes:

I just received the following statement from the Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Rep. Lee Hamilton, in response to my inquiries last week (and numerous follow-up inquiries from readers here) about Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s claims about the 9/11 attack and, specifically, about Mukasey’s story that there was a pre-9/11 telephone call from an “Afghan safe house” into the U.S. that the Bush administration failed to intercept or investigate:

I am unfamiliar with the telephone call that Attorney General Mukasey cited in his appearance in San Francisco on March 27. The 9/11 Commission did not receive any information pertaining to its occurrence.

It’s an important story. Keep reading.

One odd thing: I keep getting emails from Sen. Chuck Schumer doing fundraising for the DSCC. I always reply that, since he pushed Mukasey through confirmation, I don’t trust a thing Schumer says or does, and to please not write to me any more.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 3:13 pm

Video of CO2 emissions over the US

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We’re not making much—probably not any—progress so far. Thanks to The Eldest for passing this along. The video is accompanied by a useful article.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 12:06 pm

Security cameras worthless, except…

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they make people feel a little better. Via Schneier on Security, this article:

San Francisco’s 68 controversial anti-crime cameras haven’t deterred criminals from committing assaults, sex offenses or robberies – and they’ve only moved homicides down the block, according to a new report from UC Berkeley.

Researchers found that nonviolent thefts dropped by 22 percent within 100 feet of the cameras, but the devices had no effect on burglaries or car theft. And they’ve had no effect on violent crime.

Mayor Gavin Newsom called the report “conclusively inconclusive” on Thursday but said he still wants to install more cameras around the city because they make residents feel safer.

“When I put the first cameras in, I said, ‘This may only move people around the corner,’ ” he said. “But the community there said, ‘We don’t care, we want our alleyway back.’ No one’s actually had a camera up that they wanted torn down in the community.”

But not all city officials think it’s wise to spend money on public safety measures if the best thing that can be said about them is they have a placebo effect for worried residents.

“In their current configuration they are not useful, and they give people a false sense of security, which I think is bad,” said Police Commissioner Joe Alioto-Veronese. He added that previous studies of security cameras in other parts of the country have also shown that they do not deter violent crime.

The article continues with the findings—such as the effect of the cameras was to move homicides 250 feet away. The homicides still happened, just not so close the cameras.

Here’s a good discussion of the issue (via Schneier) and Schneier has an excellent lengthy comment on the feeling of security vs. the reality of security. That comment begins:

Security is both a feeling and a reality, and they’re different. You can feel secure even though you’re not, and you can be secure even though you don’t feel it. There are two different concepts mapped onto the same word — the English language isn’t working very well for us here — and it can be hard to know which one we’re talking about when we use the word.

There is considerable value in separating out the two concepts: in explaining how the two are different, and understanding when we’re referring to one and when the other. There is value as well in recognizing when the two converge, understanding why they diverge, and knowing how they can be made to converge again.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Tagged with ,

Obama is a thoughtful guy

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Via The Reality-Based Community. This clip is from three years ago.

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8 April 2008 at 11:46 am

Alan Greenspan’s apologia

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Pointed out by Paul Krugman, this little analysis of Alan Greenspan’s self-justifications is worth reading. The conclusion:

When Richard Nixon tried to rehabilitate his reputation, he didn’t dispute the horrific errors of judgment he made while in office. He instead made useful, substantive intellectual contributions on other fronts. But Greenspan is an ideologue and intellectually bankrupt, so this option may not be open to him.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 11:36 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Matthew Diaz, a true hero

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Please read this post. It begins:

On Thursday in the National Press Club in Washington, a crowd gathered to witness the presentation of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling to Lieutenant Commander Matthew Diaz. The story of Matthew Diaz was chronicled in this space repeatedly (also here and here). It is a story of courage, fortitude, conviction and suffering. Joe Margulies introduced the honoree with clarity:

no one can think it is fun when you sit in a courtroom as an accused, and a United States prosecutor points an accusatory finger at your chest and calls you a criminal and tells you that you have betrayed your oath and you have betrayed your country, and you have endangered the safety of the men and women that you swore to share your burdens with. And no one can think it is fun when you have to sit with your heart pounding in your chest as the jury files back into the room with a piece of paper folded in its hands, and that piece of paper holds your fate. And no one can think it is fun when that jury, your peers, pronounces you guilty. And no one can think it is fun when you have to face that same jury that will sentence you for what may be many years; many years that you will be away from your family, your life in tatters, your career ruined.

Matthew Diaz served his country as a staff judge advocate at Guantánamo. He watched a shameless assault on America’s Constitution and commitment to the rule of law carried out by the Bush Administration. He watched the introduction of a system of cruel torture and abuse. He watched the shaming of the nation’s uniformed services, with their proud traditions that formed the very basis of the standards of humanitarian law, now torn asunder through the lawless acts of the Executive. Matthew Diaz found himself in a precarious position—as a uniformed officer, he was bound to follow his command. As a licensed and qualified attorney, he was bound to uphold the law. And these things were indubitably at odds.

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 10:51 am

The FDA, not doing its job

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Mark Bittman this morning:

A U.K. study declared that some artificial food colorings — specifically those with the prefix “E” — could be as damaging to children’s health as leaded gasoline. According to the FDA’s site, these chemicals are “generally” approved for use in human food in the United States.

The first link you should definitely click and read. That article begins:

Artificial food colours are set to be removed from hundreds of products after a team of university researchers warned they were doing as much damage to children’s brains as lead in petrol.

Academics at Southampton University, who carried out an official study into seven additives for the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said children’s intelligence was being significantly damaged by E-numbers. After receiving the advice last month, officials at the FSA have advised their directors to call for the food industry to remove six additives named in the study by the end of next year.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 10:06 am

Butter ratings

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Via Slashfood, Miss Ginsu rates premium butters.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 9:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Body of War

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Here’s a video of an interview about the new movie Body of War, being released now. The comment at the link:

With Iraq documentaries having fared poorly at the box office, a new film, “Body of War,” could mark a turning point because it brings to the big screen a subject that has yet to be broached by a major movie. “It’s the voice of a soldier,” said Ellen Spiro, co-director of the film. Spiro co-directs with long-time TV talk show host Phil Donahue, who said, “We are not saying we are better, but we are different,” when asked about comparing “Body of War” with other Iraq documentaries.

The film’s subject is paralyzed Iraq war veteran Tomas Young, who was shot through the spine in Iraq on April 4, 2004. Young’s transformation from war veteran to antiwar hero (as the movie poster boasts) is mixed well with the speech of Senator Byrd (D-West Virginia) against the resolution giving President Bush the power to invade Iraq. Also tallied throughout, are the names of the aye votes on this resolution, of which there were 77.

By the end of the film, the audience knows the arguments made for and against war from the Senate floor, but much more moving is the personal connection formed with Young. His personal life is opened up from his marriage (and its eventual collapse) to his erectile dysfunction. The audience watches the middle Young brother go off to war as Tomas watches from his wheelchair. The credits reveal Young’s brother comes home safely from that deployment, only to be redeployed in September of 2007. He remains in Iraq, trying to keep the phone conversations with his brother on the light side.

The film ends on a touching moment, with Byrd and Young both admitting they have little control over their respective days. After the initial credits roll, the names of all 23 senators and 133 representatives voting against the resolution are shown on the screen; and at the premier in Washington, DC, a sold-out crowd rose to their feet in roaring applause.

Not appearing in the film is the friendship developed between Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Young, which blossomed out of Vedder writing an original song for the movie and putting together its star-studded soundtrack (all proceeds of which are being donated to Iraq Veterans Against the War, an organization to which Tomas belongs). The soundtrack features artists one may expect on an antiwar CD like Michael Franti and Neil Young, but also some surprises like Bruce Springsteen and Ben Harper. It is also quite musically diverse, with artists ranging from Bright Eyes to Immortal Technique.

“Body of War” opened in Washington, DC, on the four-year anniversary of Young being shot, and is now showing in theaters throughout the country.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 9:33 am

Amazing football feets

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Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 9:16 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Invidious comparisons

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Something I learned from Predictably Irrational: Making comparisons between dissimilar items is difficult, and if we are offered a shortcut, we’ll take it. Specifically, if we are trying to compare A and B to decide which is more appealing, and an A’ is introduced to the mix, A’ being almost the same as A but slightly inferior, we will unconsciously breathe a sigh of relief and make the easy comparison (A and A’), forgetting about B, and choose A.

Example: The Economist offered these subscriptions:

  1. Online only: $59
  2. Print only: $125
  3. Print and online: $125

Well, comparing print vs. online, taking into account the price difference but also the reading difference—not so easy. But comparing options 2 and 3: dead simple. So most people chose 3, which is obviously the better of those two.

But when they were offered this choice:

  1. Online only: $59
  2. Print and online: $125

Most chose option 1.

In the first set, option 2 is just a decoy: something similar to 3 but inferior. So it made it easy to choose 3 and option 1 was forgotten. But without the decoy, the choice was made between the two, and option 1 is favored.

And the use of the decoy can be conscious. For example, a real-estate agent wants to sell you house A. So a smart agent will show you A, and also a different sort of house, B, and then a house quite similar to A but inferior: A’. Most people when shown that set—A, A’, and B—will automatically choose A, since it’s better than A’ and B can be ignored.

Once you’re aware of the tactic, you can often spot decoy options. In fact, I suspect that anytime a marketing-driven company offers you three choices, one will be a decoy to force your choice to the better of a pair.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 9:13 am

Monday steps: 11,461

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I have a good route now that should guarantee more than 10,000 steps a day. On yesterday’s walk I noticed that my legs no longer have odd little aches as I walk uphill. Gradually, I’m getting into shape. I also notice that the afternoon nap need has dwindled remarkably.

Last night’s ratatouille, BTW, was excellent. I followed the recipe I indicated with some changes: an orange bell pepper in addition to a green, a yellow crookneck squash in addition to the zucchini, red wine rather than stock as the liquid, green garbanzos and bengal gram dal added for protein, a squeeze of lemon juice, a good sprinkling of crushed red pepper, and to increase the umami, a dash of Worchestershire sauce, some soy sauce, and a splash of mirin. It tasted fine, and today I think I might add some roasted corn kernels to the mix.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 8:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health

Luxury shave

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Steve of Kafeneio convinced me to try The Gentlemens Refinery shaving creams, and this morning I used their Black Ice shaving cream with an Omega silvertip brush: shaving luxury on two levels. The cream has an unusual, anise-tinted fragrance and produces a sumptuous and thick lather. I picked up my redoubtable Apollo adjustable, which carried a Wilkinson Sword blade, and in three passes plus some polish produced the smooth visage now sitting at my computer. The aftershave was Stetson, and I’m off now for a blood draw.

Written by Leisureguy

8 April 2008 at 7:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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