Later On

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

Archive for September 22nd, 2008

A dermatologist has serious questions about McCain

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Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 1:43 pm

Barbie: designed by evolution

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Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Interesting—but probably not a coincidence

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Josh Marshall:

The New York Times reports this evening that “foreign banks, which were initially excluded from the [Wall Street bailout] plan, lobbied successfully over the weekend to be able to sell the toxic American mortgage debt owned by their American units to the Treasury, getting the same treatment as United States banks.”

The Times further reports that two of the biggest foreign banks in need of such relief are Barclays and UBS. In fact, my understanding is that UBS is more on the line here than any other foreign bank.

Let’s add this up.

John McCain’s top economics advisor, who is widely believed to be his choice for Treasury Secretary, should he win in November, is former Sen. Phil Gramm. (Indeed, just last night his spokesman refused to say Gramm wouldn’t be McCain’s choice for Treasury Secretary.)

Gramm is both vice chairman of UBS’s US division and a lobbyist for UBS.

If UBS successfully lobbied over the weekend to get in on the bailout, what was Gramm’s role in the lobbying?

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 1:07 pm

Small silver lining

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News story (from January) passed along by The Wife:

A would-be suicide bomber fell down a flight of stairs and blew himself up as he headed out for an attack in Afghanistan, police say.

It was the second such incident in two days, with another man killing himself and three others on Tuesday when his bomb-filled waistcoat exploded as he was putting it on in the southern town of Lashkar Gah.

More at the link. I’m reminded of a story Stephen Dobyns told me—he wrote a mystery set in the Boston Fire Department, and in the course of his conversations with the firemen, he was told of the bad ending suffered by an arsonists. Firemen hate arsonists in general: if you risk your life (and have had friends killed) in fighting a fire, you don’t much like people who deliberately set the fires. This arsonist, like many people, didn’t understand that gasoline (the liquid) doesn’t burn, but gasoline (the vapor) is highly flammable. The arsonist splashed gasoline all through a room in the house soaking things good, as he left the room, he turned off the light—and the small spark from the lightswitch ignited an explosion that, as the fireman said laughing, blew his body right out of his shoes.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Daily life

Right-wing opposition to Paulson plan

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Very good column by Greenwald summarizing the general opposition from the Right to the Paulson plan.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 12:54 pm

McCain’s campaign manager a lobbyist who fought regulation

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Interesting story in the NY Times by David Kirkpatrick and Charles Duhigg. It begins:

Senator John McCain’s campaign manager was paid more than $30,000 a month for five years as president of an advocacy group set up by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations, current and former officials say.

Mr. McCain, the Republican candidate for president, has recently begun campaigning as a critic of the two companies and the lobbying army that helped them evade greater regulation as they began buying riskier mortgages with implicit federal backing. He and his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama, have donors and advisers who are tied to the companies.

But last week the McCain campaign stepped up a running battle of guilt by association when it began broadcasting commercials trying to link Mr. Obama directly to the government bailout of the mortgage giants this month by charging that he takes advice from Fannie Mae’s former chief executive, Franklin Raines, an assertion both Mr. Raines and the Obama campaign dispute.

Incensed by the advertisements, several current and former executives of the companies came forward to discuss the role that Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager and longtime adviser, played in helping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac beat back regulatory challenges when he served as president of their advocacy group, the Homeownership Alliance, formed in the summer of 2000. Some who came forward were Democrats, but Republicans, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed their descriptions.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 12:51 pm

The Troopergate stall worked

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The GOP really understands how to obstruct, how to keep things secret, how to hide malfeasance. Zachary Roth in TPMMuckraker writes:

The McCain-Palin camp appears to have been successful in its all-out effort to stifle the probe at any cost.

By preventing Steve Branchflower, the independent investigator in the case, from speaking with many of the key witnesses — including Sarah and Todd Palin, and several of the governor’s top aides — the McCain campaign has severely limited the amount of information the investigation will have access to.

In the view of the Associated Press: “Although the Legislature’s investigator still plans to issue a report in October, the probe is effectively killed until January, when Sarah Palin will either be vice president or return to the governor’s mansion in Juneau.”

That assessment may turn out to go too far. Branchflower has succeeded in questioning several of the witnesses, including Walt Monegan, the former public safety commissioner whose firing is at the center of the case, and John Bitney, formerly a top Palin aide. Branchflower also has access to the cell phone records of Frank Bailey, the Palin aide who earlier this year was recorded pressuring a trooper official about Mike Wooten. So it’s possible that his report, even lacking input from crucial players, may yet prove damaging.

Palin may also pay a political price for her abrupt shift from pledging co-operation to out-and-out stonewalling. Over the weekend, the LA Times reported that Palin’s “political capital at home is eroding,” as a result of the hardball tactics used to stop the probe — a subject we got into on Friday. If nothing else, her stonewalling — along with the slew of reports about Palin’s checkered record on seeking federal earmarks — has significantly complicated the McCain-Palin campaign’s effort to present her as a reformer who will help bring a more accountable form of government to Washington.

Still, it’s hard not to conclude, at least for now, that the McCain camp has used its muscle to significantly limit the damage that Trooper-Gate could do to Palin. Which doesn’t exactly bode well when it comes to the approach a McCain White House might take on issues of openness and transparency.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Always read Froomkin

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From his column today:

The plan concocted by two Bush appointees features some distinctive characteristics of major Bush initiatives past: It would be spectacularly expensive, primarily benefit the very rich, and grant the executive branch unlimited power with no transparency or accountability.

This link will always give you the most recent column:

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 12:37 pm

Consumerist suggests: “Brush up on these skills.”

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Interesting post at the Consumerist: 10 skills for the post-financial apolypse. The first few:

10. Food Preservation. Learn to preserve fruits and vegetables for the long winter. Make beef jerky! It’s healthy and fun.

9. Risk Management. Wikipedia says, “Financial risk management is the practice of creating economic value in a firm by using financial instruments to manage exposure to risk, particularly Credit risk and market risk.” Apparently, there is a need for people to learn how to do this.

8. Learn A Second Language. It’s a global economy, boys and girls. Time to learn to communicate!

7. Cooking. The days of getting take out every single night are over. You must learn to cook, and by cook, we mean “Prepare nutritious meals at a reasonable price.” You will probably not need to own any saffron.

More at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

COOL labeling is cool

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The concept of labeling foodstuffs by their country of origin has been around for a while now — in fact, it became federal law in 2002. But it’s taken the feds another six years to actually make it happen. Beginning September 30, all meats, fish, poultry, and produce sold in retail stores in the United States must bear country-of-origin labels (COOL). Consumers Union, the nonprofit behind Consumer Reports, even has a downloadable PDF for folks trying to figure out the labels.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 12:32 pm

Online literacy

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Very interesting article by Mark Bauerlein. It begins:

When Jakob Nielsen, a Web researcher, tested 232 people for how they read pages on screens, a curious disposition emerged. Dubbed by The New York Times “the guru of Web page ‘usability,'” Nielsen has gauged user habits and screen experiences for years, charting people’s online navigations and aims, using eye-tracking tools to map how vision moves and rests. In this study, he found that people took in hundreds of pages “in a pattern that’s very different from what you learned in school.” It looks like a capital letter F. At the top, users read all the way across, but as they proceed their descent quickens and horizontal sight contracts, with a slowdown around the middle of the page. Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored. It happens quickly, too. “F for fast,” Nielsen wrote in a column. “That’s how users read your precious content.”

The F-pattern isn’t the only odd feature of online reading that Nielsen has uncovered in studies conducted through the consulting business Nielsen Norman Group (Donald A. Norman is a cognitive scientist who came from Apple; Nielsen was at Sun Microsystems). A decade ago, he issued an “alert” entitled “How Users Read on the Web.” It opened bluntly: “They don’t.”

In the eye-tracking test, only one in six subjects read Web pages linearly, sentence by sentence. The rest jumped around chasing keywords, bullet points, visuals, and color and typeface variations. In another experiment on how people read e-newsletters, informational e-mail messages, and news feeds, Nielsen exclaimed, “‘Reading’ is not even the right word.” The subjects usually read only the first two words in headlines, and they ignored the introductory sections. They wanted the “nut” and nothing else. A 2003 Nielsen warning asserted that a PDF file strikes users as a “content blob,” and they won’t read it unless they print it out. A “booklike” page on screen, it seems, turns them off and sends them away. Another Nielsen test found that teenagers skip through the Web even faster than adults do, but with a lower success rate for completing tasks online (55 percent compared to 66 percent). Nielsen writes: “Teens have a short attention span and want to be stimulated. That’s also why they leave sites that are difficult to figure out.” For them, the Web isn’t a place for reading and study and knowledge. It spells the opposite. “Teenagers don’t like to read a lot on the Web. They get enough of that at school.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 11:28 am

Understandable cynicism

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Kevin Drum:

Congress seems likely to pass some version of Henry Paulson’s Wall Street bailout bill. Maybe not precisely his version, but something close, maybe with some oversight added and a few restrictions on exactly how the money can be used. We will, of course, be promised that although the bailout has to be passed this instant and there’s no time to add regulatory reform into the enabling legislation, reform will be taken up just as soon as we’ve all caught our breath. I figure there are three ways this could turn out:

  • Option A: Republicans will filibuster, Democrats will wither, and basically nothing much will get passed at all. In other words, suckered again.
  • Options B: There will be some kind of panic and we’ll end up with a gigantic snarl of regulation that sounds tough but doesn’t really do anyone any good, sort of like Sarbanes-Oxley.
  • Option C: Everyone will take a deep breath, Democrats will stand up to the financial industry, and some reasonable set of new regulations will be hammered into place.

I’d put the odds at about 60% for Option A, 35% for Option B, and 5% for Option C. My only reservation is that maybe I’m being a little too optimistic about all this.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 11:26 am

Posted in Daily life

Is Sarah Palin qualified to be VP?

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Here’s a poll. Currently 52% say yes, 47% say no. Who are those people who think she’s qualified?

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 11:00 am

Posted in GOP

Does McCain know anything?

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ThinkProgress comments:

McCain’s statement that Fiorina did a “good job” as CEO of Hewlett-Packard is not quite accurate. The board of HP fired Fiorina in 2005, concluding “that she was spending too much time on the road, neglecting the nuts-and-bolts execution of her own strategic ideas,” according to the New York Times. “[H]er superstar status was also her undoing.”

As CEO, Fiorina parked profits overseas using tax shelters, even though it negatively impacted the economy. The company held more than $14 billion overseas in 2004, according to the Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal noted that her tenure was “marked by a drop in morale at a company with a legendary history of a collegial culture.”

Fiorina’s golden parachute and her rocky tenure at HP, however, don’t seem to matter to McCain, who does “not know the details of what happened.”

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 10:14 am

Posted in Business, Election, GOP

More insight into Big Business and how it thinks

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Today, the White House released a statement criticizing Congress’s potential plan to limit CEO compensation at the companies the federal government is bailing out, firmly standing against any “punitive measures”:

We certainly understand and are sympathetic to the sentiment regarding the pay of CEOs and senior management of these firms, but we have to focus on the problem, and the problem is that we need these firms to participate in the program and sell us this debt. Having punitive measures would provide a disincentive for firms to participate, and that would make the program much less likely to succeed.

CEO compensation and corporate governance in public companies are very important issues — especially when receiving taxpayer support — but we need to be focused on fixing this problem in our markets right now. We can and should return to those issues once we get this legislation passed.

President Bush also released another statement earlier today warning Congress against inserting any “unrelated provisions” — such as help for struggling homeowners — in the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

The Bush administration’s position is unjustifiable. As ABC News reported:

In 2007, Wall Street’s five biggest firms — Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley — paid a record $39 billion in bonuses to themselves.

That’s $10 billion more than the $29 billion loan taxpayers are making to J.P. Morgan to save Bear Stearns.

Those 2007 bonuses were paid even though the shareholders in those firms last year collectively lost about $74 billion in stock declines — their worst year since 2002.

In short, the Bush administration wants zero punishment for these wreckless CEOs who lost shareholder money and are now costing each person in the United States $2,000. In return for $700 billion, the White House has yet to name any ways that it will hold these corporations accountable or institute safeguards to ensure that this irresponsible lending and borrowing won’t happen again.

Furthermore, the White House is demanding that Congress give up its oversight powers for this deal and “place no restrictions on the administration other than requiring semiannual reports to Congress, granting the Treasury secretary unprecedented power to buy and resell mortgage debt.”

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 10:04 am

The Democrats’ developing bailout plan

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The Democrats are building a good bailout plan, rather than the Paulson-Bush plan. Damian Paletta reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Senate Democrats want to add tough new measures to the Treasury Department’s proposal to bail out financial firms, including strict limits on executive compensation and a provision that would allow the government to take shares of any financial institution that participates in the program.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd of Connecticut began circulating his 44-page draft Sunday night. The draft is likely to prove problematic for the Bush administration, which has tried to prevent lawmakers from making big changes to a much simpler proposal it unveiled over the weekend. Treasury’s plan would allow the government to buy up to $700 billion in mortgage-related assets from banks and others to prevent a worsening of the financial market turmoil.

Lawmakers hope to finalize a plan by the end of the week, but multiple obstacles remain.

Sen. Dodd’s plan would not allow the Treasury Department to purchase any assets “unless the Secretary receives contingent shares in the financial institution from which such assets are to be purchased equal in value to the purchase price of the assets to be purchased.”

Treasury officials have not suggested that the government would receive any shares of companies that sell distressed assets into the huge government fund.

Democrats are also expected to clash with the Treasury Department on a separate provision that could limit executive compensation at firms that participate in the program. Sen. Dodd’s plan would limit the pay “to exclude incentives for executives to take risks that the Secretary deems to be inappropriate or excessive.” It would also allow limitations to senior executives as it is “determined to be appropriate in the public interest in light of the assistance being given to the entity.”

The draft would also create a special inspector general program and a separate emergency oversight board, which would include top officials from the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sen. Dodd met throughout the weekend with other lawmakers in designing his plan. His counterpart in the House of Representatives, Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, is working on a separate plan that also includes limits on executive compensation. Rep. Frank’s bill is expected to move faster than the Senate version and could see a vote in the next few days.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 9:59 am

A different approach to total failure

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Matthew Yglesias finds an interesting difference:

In the People’s Republic of China they have this crazy system where if a huge problem emerges in an area of policy, the person who was supposed to be in charge of that area loses his job, rather than getting $700 billion to spend at his absolute discretion:

The head of China’s top quality watchdog agency resigned Monday in the wake of a growing scandal over the country’s tainted milk supply, which has already sickened more than 50,000 infants and killed at least three children, according to the state-runs Xinhua News Agency.

They sure are inscrutable over there.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 9:44 am

Learning to clone

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Fascinating article in Discover by Pamela Weintraub. It begins:

Whether defying the dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine so he could publish a book on world health or challenging the titans of cosmology, Robert Lanza has never followed the script. It’s no wonder, then, that this renegade doctor would lead the charge into medicine’s most controversial turf: the creation of cloned embryos for therapy and the engineering of spare human parts.

The value of therapeutic cloning has long been clear to Lanza, who did his early work with South African heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard. Starting from those early days, Lanza understood that the barrier to tissue transfer was rejection by the recipient. From an entire organ to a dose of embryonic stem cells, if the tissue’s DNA came from anyone else, the transplant would be rejected without the aid of harsh immunosuppressive drugs. “The treatment could be worse than the problem,” Lanza found. But embryonic clones, the source of an endless supply of stem cells imprinted with one’s personal DNA, could alter the equation in favor of the patient and augur a paradigm shift in medicine on par with the changes brought about by antibiotics and vaccines.

Lanza’s single-minded quest to usher in this new age has paid dividends in scientific insights and groundbreaking discoveries. Today a world force in the field of regenerative medicine, he’s close to delivering cellular therapies that might reseed the immune system, heal damaged hearts, even save limbs. Yet for almost 20 years government policy has kept his innovations literally on ice. He has been called a murderer for tampering with embryos, and personal threats were so common at one point that he believed he would be killed. …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 9:34 am

Big bonus for total failure

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Something is seriously out of whack in the way Big Business works. John Waples and Danny Fortson report in the (London) Times:

Staff at Lehman’s New York office who helped to cause the world’s biggest corporate bankruptcy are to share in a $2.5 billion bonanza.

The bonus, which has been described by London staff as a “scandal” has been pledged by Barclays Capital, the British-based bank that last week acquired Lehman’s American operation and took on 10,000 staff.

The $2.5 billion (£1.4 billion) pot, which has been ring-fenced as part of the acquisition, has caused huge resentment among the 5,000 staff in the firm’s European and Middle Eastern operations who are not guaranteed to be paid after this month. There are, however, hopes that half the jobs in Lehman’s Canary Wharf office could be saved today by either Barclays or Nomura. Bids are being submitted for its UK equities and investment-banking business.

A Chapter 11 bankruptcy document filed by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc says that Barclays has identified eight individuals out of the New York staff of 10,000 who are vital to make the deal succeed and a further 200 who are identified as “key”. It is thought that these eight directors will be locked into two-year contracts worth between $10m and $25m a year.

The $2.5 billion had been accrued as part of the contribution to Lehman’s group profits for the first nine months of the year. Barclays said there is no obligation to pay it out but analysts say the competitive pressure to keep key staff means he will have to. [The same “key staff” that drove Lehman Brothers into ground. Wow. Got to keep them. – LG] Bob Diamond, president of Barclays Capital, said: “You can expect us to manage this with the same discipline and performance terms that we have at BarCap”.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 9:31 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Web and classroom combine

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This is a very exciting development, IMHO—finally we move away from the blackboard. Lori Yount reports for the Wichita [KS] Eagle:

Butler Community College student Steven Lee had never taken an online class before, so he thought a “blended” learning class with half the work in a classroom and half on the computer would be a way to try online learning.

The blended English class saves him almost an hour round-trip drive to campus every other week.

“It’s one extra day I can make money,” Lee said. “And it saves gas.”

Online course offerings are rapidly expanding at several local colleges this year and schools expect to add more e-schooling options in the future as more students demand them for convenience.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2008 at 9:05 am

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