Later On

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

Archive for September 23rd, 2008

Another transitional form: early fingers

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The Creationists will be pleased to see more transitional forms:

Tetrapods, the first four-legged land animals, are regarded as the first organisms that had fingers and toes. Now researchers at Uppsala University can show that this is wrong. Using medical x-rays, they found rudiments of fingers in the fins in fossil Panderichthys, the “transitional animal,” which indicates that rudimentary fingers developed considerably earlier than was previously thought. Our fish ancestors evolved into the first four-legged animals, tetrapods, 380 million years ago. They are the forerunners of all birds, mammals, crustaceans, and batrachians. Since limbs and their fingers are so important to evolution, researchers have long wondered whether they appeared for the first time in tetrapods, or whether they had evolved from elements that already existed in their fish ancestors.

When they examined genes that are necessary for the evolution of fins in zebrafish (a ray-finned fish that is a distant relative of coelacanth fishes) and compared them with the gene that regulates the development of limbs in mice, researchers found that zebrafish lacked the genetic mechanisms that are necessary for the development of fingers. It was therefore concluded that fingers appeared for the first time in tetrapods. This reading was supported by the circumstance that the fossil Panderichthys, a “transitional animal” between fish and tetrapod, appeared to lack finger rudiments in their fins.

In the present study, to be published in Nature, medical x-rays (CT scans) were used to reconstruct a three-dimensional image of Panderichthys fins. The results show hitherto undiscovered elements that constitute rudiments of fingers in the fins. Similar rudiments have been demonstrated once in the past, two years ago in Tiktaaliks, which is a more tetrapod-like group. Together with information about fin development in sharks, paddlefish, and Australian lungfish, the scientists can now definitively conclude that fingers were not something new in tetrapods.

“This was the key piece of the puzzle that confirms that rudimentary fingers were already present in ancestors of tetrapods,” says Catherine Boisvert.

Source: Uppsala University

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Paulson designed plan to benefit his buddies

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David Sirota:

You can’t make this stuff up:

Paulson Debt Plan May Benefit Mostly Goldman, MorganSept. 22 (Bloomberg) — Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley may be among the biggest beneficiaries of the $700 billion U.S. plan to buy assets from financial companies while many banks see limited aid, according to Bank of America Corp.

Paulson, you might remember, came to the Treasury Department right from a top job at Goldman Sachs. Oh, and remember the part about my In These Times article yesterday about the Paulson proposal giving him carte blance to overpay for worthless mortgages? Check this out:

Bank lobbying groups today asked Congress and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to suspend a rule that forces companies to put a price on difficult-to-value assets such as subprime mortgages.

In other words, they want a rule so that they don’t have to publicly price the worthless mortgages – so that when the bailout comes, the taxpayers can be forced to overpay for them. As Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) said, this is a clear instance of Congress  being “rolled by a Wall Street executive who is masquerading as the secretary of the Treasury.”

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 9:45 am

Seattle Times endorses Obama

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This is early—before the debates—but I imagine that the editorial board thought they had enough information to make the call. Read it here.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 9:42 am

Posted in Democrats, Election, Media

Good point by Matthew Yglesias

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From his typewriter to the ears of Congress:

I just heard Ben Bernanke saying that there should be no “punitive measures” for companies that participate in a bailout because that might discourage firms from participating. But that would be the point, right? That if some measure of bailing out is truly necessary then the money will be provided, but it shouldn’t just become handouts for bankers. Punitive measures mean that only firms that genuinely have no alternative will enter into the program, and their corrupt or inept managers will be duly punished. Firms that would merely prefer free money to no free money will, by contrast, stay out of the program and avoid punishment but suffer some financial loss. What’s the problem with that?

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 9:37 am

Useful list of Palin lies

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Collected by Andrew Sullivan:

Just for the record, I asked an intern to go back and double fact-check the twelve documented lies that Sarah Palin has told on the public record. These are not hyperbolic claims or rhetorical excess. They are assertions of fact that are demonstrably untrue and remain uncorrected. Every single one of the lies I documented holds up after several news cycles have had a chance to vet them even further.

I know the MSM demands that we move on from the fact that someone who could be president next January has a list of public lies so extensive and indisputable that the McCain campaign has still not been able to rebut or even address any one of them, while fencing her off from the press and refusing to hold a press conference to clear the air on so many murky questions of fact that get to the core of whether this person is fit to be vice-president or president.

So for the record, let it be known that the candidate for vice-president for the GOP is a compulsive, repetitive, demonstrable liar. If you follow the links, here is the proof. I repeat: proof:

– She has lied about the Bridge To Nowhere. She ran for office favoring it, wore a sweatshirt defending it, and only gave it up when the federal congress, Senator McCain in particular, went ballistic. She kept the money anyway and favors funding Don Young’s Way, at twice the cost of the original bridge.

– She has lied about her firing of the town librarian and police chief of Wasilla, Alaska.

– She has lied about pressure on Alaska’s public safety commissioner to fire her ex-brother-in-law.

– She has lied about her previous statements on climate change.

– She has lied about Alaska’s contribution to America’s oil and gas production.

– She has lied about when she asked her daughters for their permission for her to run for vice-president.

– She has lied about the actual progress in constructing a natural gas pipeline from Alaska.

– She has lied about Obama’s position on habeas corpus.

– She has lied about her alleged tolerance of homosexuality.

– She has lied about the use or non-use of a TelePrompter at the St Paul convention.

– She has lied about her alleged pay-cut as mayor of Wasilla.

– She has lied about what Alaska’s state scientists concluded about the health of the polar bear population in Alaska.

You cannot trust a word she says. On anything.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 9:35 am

Posted in Election, GOP

Interesting fit for job

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I’m suspicious:

The Louisiana Senate has appointed former veteran Hill & Knowlton (H&K) lobbyist and Democratic congressional aide Gary Hymel to the Louisiana Board of Ethics. The board’s role is to “interpret and enforce” ethical standards for the state’s government employees and electoral campaign finance and lobbyist disclosure laws. “I have seen the government from a lot of different angles,” Hymel said. What wasn’t reported in coverage of his appointment was that in 1990, Hymel was a lobbyist for Turkey and Indonesia, as both countries sought to cover up notorious human rights abuses. In 1990, Hymel also worked on H&K’s account for Citizens for a Free Kuwait, a front group bankrolled by the Kuwaiti royal family. After the first Gulf War was over, H&K was identified as having promoted the false accusations that Iraqi soldiers had taken Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and left them to die. In 2002, O’Dwyer’s PR Daily reported (sub req’d) that Hymel was one of seven H&K consultants “trying to salvage Enron” after its collapse.

Source: The Advocate (Louisiana), September 20, 2008

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 9:33 am

Ezra Klein gets a most interesting email

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This is reallly most interesting. The email he received:

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 8:49 am

Bailout update

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From the Center for American Progress via email:

The Bush administration’s initial plan to bail out Wall Street’s ailing financial markets was just three pages long. It called for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to be given unprecedented and unilateral authority to buy up $700 billion in souring mortgage assets from the very financial institutions that “engineered the current crisis.” Section 8 of the proposed legislation ensured that none of Paulson’s actions could be challenged by any court or federal agency. The section read: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.” Across the political spectrum, economic and financial analysts immediately questioned the fairness and effectiveness of the plan. Indeed, economist Paul Krugman wrote yesterday in the New York Times, “If this plan goes through in anything like its current form, we’ll all be very sorry in the not-too-distant future.” In a rare moment of agreement, New York Times columnist Bill Kristol wrote similarly that he is “not convinced” that the Bush administration “has even the basics right.” In addition to offering nothing in the way of oversight, the Paulson plan provided no relief for struggling homeowners and gave tax payers nothing in return for taking on the bad debts of Wall Street. While congressional negotiators made significant headway yesterday toward a progressive version of the Paulson plan, it is not there yet.

BUSINESS AS USUAL: The Bush administration’s initial attempt to railroad anyone skeptical of the Paulson plan is reminiscent of some of its previous legislative initiatives. The Bush administration has a long track record of using times of crisis to demand — and then mismanage — unprecedented amounts of power and money. Just as troubling, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that lobbyists for Wall Street firms have launched an aggressive campaign to ensure that the terms of the Treasury’s proposed bailout are as favorable to the finance industry as possible. A major player in this effort is the Financial Services Roundtable, a “lobbying group representing the nation’s banks.” Over the weekend, the Roundtable successfully lobbied the Treasury to make the proposed bailout “broad enough to include different types of assets” — possibly including assets held by foreign banks. Further, the Roundtable said yesterday that including relief for struggling homeowners in the bill would be a “deal breaker.” The Los Angeles Times notes that finance sector is well-positioned to shape the legislation because it has “given lavishly to both parties in Congress.”

CONGRESSIONAL PUSH BACK: Yesterday, members of Congress pushed back against the Paulson plan, successfully securing key concessions from the Bush administration. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and the Bush administration agreed on a plan to appoint an “independent board to monitor the bailout and report on its progress to Congress and the public.” The board, however, “wouldn’t have authority to veto Treasury investment decisions, and the bailout’s launch wouldn’t be delayed while a board was being put in place.” In addition, “both sides have also agreed to a measure that would allow — but not require — the Treasury to take an equity stake in a financial institution that sells assets to the government.” Such an equity stake could allow taxpayers to eventually realize some profit in exchange for taking on a given institution’s bad assets. Further, Krugman notes that the equity stake provision allows the government to, if necessary, infuse struggling institutions with capital. Finally, the Treasury agreed to cursory support for struggling homeowners, promising to deploy officials from the FDIC, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac to “help adjust the loans of borrowers who were behind on payments but deemed credit-worthy” and ensure that “renters in homes headed for foreclosure aren’t evicted.” Restructuring the mortgages that Treasury will control is crucial not only for helping the homeowners but for wiping out the risk in the securities that are linked to those mortgages. As David M. Abromowitz and Andrew Jakabovics write for the Center for American Progress, without such a provision, “taxpayers will be saddled with increasingly worthless [assets] as many of the underlying mortgages fail.”

BUT STILL NOT THERE: Early yesterday, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) released his own plan for the proposed bailout. Some of the provisions proposed by Dodd have been accepted by the Bush administration, but several of the most promising aspects of Dodd’s plan have yet to appear in the negotiated agreement between Congress and the Treasury. A significant aspect of the Dodd proposal is to allow bankruptcy judges “to restructure mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure.” The Center for Responsible Lending explains that “current law makes a mortgage on a primary residence the only debt that bankruptcy courts are not permitted to modify in chapter 13 payment plans.” This means that struggling homeowners are excluded from debt relief that is available to “yacht owners,” “subprime lenders,” and even individuals with mortgages on second and third homes. Dodd’s plan would also “give the Treasury secretary the power to prevent payment of bonuses if executives took excessive risk or if they were predicated on earnings targets that weren’t met.” Members of Congress will have an opportunity to push for modifications to the current plan when when Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake testify before Congress today and tomorrow.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 8:45 am

Pot roast thoughts

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Now that I finally know how to cook a good (i.e., like Betty Spaeth made) pot roast—season roast, brown it on both sides, and put it in a slow (200º) oven in a covered pot for 10 hours with no liquid—I wonder that it took me so long to discover the secret.

First, I was misled on two counts: I knew that tough cuts were “braised,” which I took to mean cooked slowly in liquid. And when Betty Spaeth took the roast from the oven, it had lots of liquid, so I assume that was liquid she added. I didn’t realize that the liquid developed as the roast cooked. Indeed, in cooking some tough cuts (shanks (lamb or beef), oxtails, short ribs, and the like) the liquid is important and useful. But pot roasts start cooking in a dry pot.

Second, I was subject to daily distraction so did not focus on the question. I cooked pot roast seldom (because I couldn’t get it to come out the way I wanted), and as I tried repeated (though well-spaced) attempts, I took an insufficiently analytical approach.

Pondering this led me to review the sort of distractions that come our way during a typical day—from the newspapers, work developments, family matters, movies, music, and so on. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how vast and frequently encountered is the sea of distractions that surrounds us. Indeed, most “entertainment” (sports, movies, music, gadgets, games, TV, radio, and so on) can as easily be labeled “distraction”: keeping our minds and spirits occupied by busyness and trivial event.

Thinking about the vastness of what might be called the distraction industry, I wondered: why is it such a big deal to keep us all distracted? What is going on that we are not supposed to focus on? This leads quickly to conspiracy theory, but stop short of that. We volunteer to be distracted, on the whole, and the distraction industry earns huge profits from that desire.

What would daily life be without distraction? Reflecting on the week’s events—the failures and bailouts—it occurred to me that the entire system into which we are born and grow is designed so that everyone works very hard so that the system can channel the benefits of all that labor to a very, very few—those of great wealth who sit atop and control a pyramid of profit, which comes their way due to the design of the system. But for the vast majority—say, 80%, just to use Pareto’s rule—must share in a small portion of the profits and must work daily in some fear of losing their job due to technological change, global outsourcing, company failure, or the like. Working hard, getting little, living in a faint fog of fear of which one is seldom consciously aware—no wonder distraction is so desirable.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 8:15 am

Posted in Daily life

Old American Barbershop

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This morning I used Tryphon Old American Barbershop shaving soap—a wonderfully evocative fragrance, and a fine lather, using the Rooney Style 2. I picked up an early 40’s Milord that had an Astra Keramik blade and got a very smooth shave. TOBS Shave Shop aftershave provided the perfect finish.

The Gillette Milord is a gold Super Speed. I say “early 40’s” because, though it was manufactured after WW II, the one I have is early in the design cycle, before the notch was added to the center bar to make it easier to hook onto the blade and pull it from the dispenser. A very nice razor.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2008 at 8:00 am

Posted in Shaving

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