Later On

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

Archive for January 20th, 2009

Why people talk about the Inauguration

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Interesting point by Art Markman, a Cognitive Scientist at the University of Texas whose research spans a range of topics in the way people think. It begins:

Unless you crawl into a dark room, unplug the TV, the radio, and the phone, and avoid every living person on the planet, you will probably end up hearing about, and talking about the inauguration of Barack Obama. In fact, whether you are excited or concerned about his presidency, whether you are a US citizen or not, you have probably been engaged in a lot of conversations about him since he was elected in November. Why is he such a big topic of conversation?

The obvious answer is that this is a big deal along a number of dimensions. Many people are dissatisfied with George W. Bush, and are excited about a new administration. Obviously, the election of the first African American as President has huge social and historic implications.

But what is it that makes people want-and need-to talk about this? There are lots of events in the world that are enjoyable and widely known, but they do not engage this level of conversation for this long.

The way that human beings make sense of our world is by creating knowledge structures called schemas. A schema is a bundle of knowledge that tells you what to expect in a situation and why it is happening. For example, going to a party at a friend’s house could be a buzzing confusion of people if you did not have knowledge about what to expect and how to act. Because of your knowledge about parties, though, you may expect loud conversation, music, dancing, or drinks. You know that you should find the hosts and let them know you are there. You might not ordinarily throw a coat on someone’s bed, but if they are having a big party, that is an acceptable place to pile coats. All of this knowledge helps you get around the world.

An important way that we form these schemas is by …

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Detecting domestic abuse from pattern of facial injury

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Interesting:

Women who are victims of intimate partner violence tend to have different patterns of facial injury than women who experience facial trauma from other causes, according to a report in the January/February issue of Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. This information, and other key characteristics such as a delay before visiting a health care facility, could help surgeons and other physicians recognize patients who are victims of this type of abuse. Intimate partner violence—abuse by a spouse or significant other—affects approximately 25 percent to 33 percent of women in the United States, according to background information in the article. Between 88 percent and 94 percent of intimate partner violence victims seek medical attention for injuries to the head and neck, and 56 percent of those have facial fractures. “Because intimate partner violence accounts for 34 percent to 73 percent of facial injuries in women, facial plastic surgeons and other health care providers who treat patients with maxillofacial injuries are in a unique position to identify these victims and refer them to local domestic violence service programs for safety planning, information and referrals, support services and advocacy, depending on the victims’ needs and choices,” the authors write.

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Feeling the joy

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Kevin Drum notes:

Even though Barack Obama is a liberal, Jonah Goldberg says today that conservatives ought to celebrate the election of our first African-American president. “Any political movement that is joyless about what this represents risks succumbing to bitter political crankery,” he warns. Then he gets down to cases:

For instance, you will not soon see a German chancellor of Turkish descent. Nor will a child of North African immigrants soon take the reins of power in France. It will be a long time before a Pakistani or Indian last name appears on the mailbox at 10 Downing St. And yet these countries bubble over with haughty finger-waggers eager to lecture backward and provincial America about race and tolerance. Why not enjoy rubbing Barack Obama in their faces?

Can you feel the joy?

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 12:51 pm

Subwoofer Cat

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 9:44 am

Posted in Cats, Video

Online learning tools

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This post should be useful for students: an annotated list of online learning tools.

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20 January 2009 at 9:31 am

Posted in Education, Technology

A new drug policy now!

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From the Drug Policy Alliance:

Today marks an historic turning point for all Americans.

Less than a generation ago, African Americans were denied the right to vote in some states. Now the White House, built by slave labor in the 18th century, will be home to America’s first Black president.

With hard work, struggle and organizing, it seems anything is possible. We have more opportunites today than could have ever before been imagined.

You and I now have an opportunity more important than ever before to push Congress to reform our nation’s drug laws and reduce the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and the war on drugs.

In 16 years, America has gone from a president who said he smoked marijuana but “didn’t inhale” to a president who “inhaled; that was the point.” President Obama has even admitted to using cocaine when he was younger, and the American people don’t seem to be holding it against him. He is open about his struggle, like that of millions of Americans, with addiction to one of the world’s most powerful drugs: nicotine.

Obama agrees with many of us in the drug policy reform movement about treating drug use as a health issue and not a criminal justice one. He continues to talk about reforming mandatory minimum sentencing and repealing the federal syringe ban that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis and other infectious diseases.

Whether you voted for Obama, McCain, Barr, Nader or some other presidential candidate, one thing is clear. It is time for citizens and policymakers alike to stand up and be counted. The walls of drug prohibition are beginning to crumble. You can join me in seizing this historic moment to remove more bricks.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 9:10 am

A new day dawns

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Barack Hussein Obama is our 44th president. What a great day!!

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20 January 2009 at 9:05 am

Paul Krugman explains to Gary Becker

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It’s very hard for people to understand things they really don’t want to understand. Gary Becker seems to be one of those. Paul Krugman tries:

Via Lane Kenworthy, Gary Becker asks a question:

There appears to have been a huge conversion of economists toward Keynesian deficit spenders, but the evidence that produced such a “conversion” is not apparent (although maybe most economists were closet Keynesians all along). This is a serious recession, but Romer and Bernstein project a peak unemployment rate without the stimulus of about 9%. The 1981-82 recession had a peak unemployment rate of about 10.5%, but there was no apparent major “conversion” of economists at that time. What is so different about the present recession compared to that one, and to other recessions since then, that would greatly raise the estimated stimulating effects of government spending on various types of goods and services?

Urp. Gack. Glug. If even Nobel laureates misunderstand the issue this badly, what hope is there for the general public? It’s not about the size of the multiplier; it’s about the zero lower bound.

In 1982, interest rates — elevated in part thanks to high expected inflation, in part because a tight-money policy was what caused the recession — were high. This meant that conventional monetary policy had plenty of room for action, and thus offered an adequate response to the slump.

Today, however, with expected inflation roughly zero and a recession that is the fruit of past irrational exuberance, conventional monetary policy has run out of room. That’s the point of the Goldman Sachs exercise, shown below, which asks what the familiar Taylor rule would prescribe for monetary policy over the next few years; the answer is a Fed funds rate of -6, which isn’t possible.

And the reason we’re all turning to fiscal policy is that the standard rule, which is that monetary policy plus automatic stabilizers should do the work of smoothing the business cycle, can’t be applied when we’re hard up against the zero lower bound.

I really don’t know why this is so hard to understand.

Continue reading to see explanatory graph.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 9:01 am

Posted in Business, Government

Good insights from Booman Tribune

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The Booman Tribune has a post with some excellent insights into how some criticism of Obama from the Left has missed the point of what he’s doing. The post begins:

With all due respect to my dear friend Chris Bowers (may your broken arm heal quickly), I do not believe he understands the true nature of the criticism OpenLeft receives for their negativism towards Barack Obama. Bowers keeps writing posts about that criticism and continues to use the same defenses against that criticism. But it is all wildly off the mark.

The critique of OpenLeft isn’t that they are negative, but that they are using the wrong analytical frameworks and, thus, are coming to the wrong conclusions. It’s hard to generalize about a blog that has several different front-pagers with different worldviews, but if there is a commonality to OpenLeft it is a tendency to focus like a laser on the spoken or written word. I don’t want to characterize or reduce their analysis to liberal orthodoxy, but that is the lens thru which almost all OpenLeft’s analysis is done. Articles and transcripts are parsed, and wherever something is found that clashes with liberal orthodoxy, the result is an angry, concerned, or panicky post that seeks to explain why the deviation is a major threat or huge warning sign.

This is the wrong analytical framework for the times, although that might seem counterintuitive considering Barack Obama’s unique oratorical skills. But Obama’s unique genius is precisely his ability to …

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 8:19 am

What James Fallows wants Obama to read

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Yesterday I posted a link to reading suggestions for Obama, but I thought the suggestion from Fallows deserves special mention:

We all know the areas in which Barack Obama’s experience, instincts, and long-stated positions make him his own policy expert. Rule-of-law questions, plus management of racial frictions, are the two most obvious illustrations. I assume he is getting a crash education on economic and energy policy from a very strong team, and I bet he quickly shows a good natural feel for dealing with foreign leaders.

The place to worry is about defense policy. Obama said next to nothing about it during the campaign. Of course, he emphasized getting out of Iraq and focusing more on Afghanistan and about the limits of military-firepower answers to complex economic and ethnic questions. But about the cost and nature of America’s defense establishment, the training and nature of the officer corps, the relative roles of the services, and a hundred similar issues Obama has been hazy at best. This is a problem not just because the issues are so important but also because Democratic leaders can so easily be mau-maued into thinking that they must be resolutely “pro-military”—which in practice means never questioning budgets—to hold off attacks from the right. Clearest recent case study: Hillary Clinton’s eight-year role on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

What would make me feel best about Obama on this front? News that he had actually, himself, read America’s Defense Meltdown, by an all-star array of truly expert authors. There is no better, terser, more comprehensive or authoritative introduction to an independent, realistic perspective on the Pentagon—complete with the facts, details, and nuance to give Obama confidence in these views. Plus, it’s free—as a PDF.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 7:59 am

Roast Yorkshire pork

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roast-pork

Doesn’t that look luscious? Read the entire memorable post.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 7:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

The government making sure the wealthy stay rich

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Dean Baker on Huffington Post:

For some reason most of the discussion in Washington and the media of the bank bailouts is overlooking their central feature: taxpayer dollars are being used to sustain the income of incredibly rich bankers. The public should be furious over this upward redistribution of income.

The basic story here is very simple. If we got the government out and left things to the market, virtually the entire banking sector would be bankrupt. Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and almost all the other big banks, and thousands of smaller ones, would be out of business. (My bet is that even “healthy” banks like Wells Fargo would be in bankruptcy before too long. They hold plenty of bad debts, too.)

Most of the top executives of these banks would likely be sent packing, while those remaining would have their compensation (including “golden parachutes” and bonuses) set by bankruptcy judges who would be running the companies in the interest of the creditors, not the shareholders. The shareholders themselves would be out of luck for the most part. Many bank stocks have already lost 80-90 percent of their value over the last 18 months. Bankruptcy would likely eliminate what little remains.

However the banks are not in bankruptcy because the confused state of affairs and potential lost of creditors’ wealth created by large-scale bankruptcies in the financial sector would be a devastating hit to the economy. This is the rationale for the TARP, the various special lending facilities created by the Fed, and other measures to ensure the survival of the banking system.

The government has intervened in a huge way to keep the market from taking its course. But the key issue that has been buried in the debate in the media and political circles is the separation of the interest of the public in a functional financial system and the interests of bank executives in high salaries and shareholders in getting returns on their capital.

At this point, the banks are desperate — they would be dead without government handouts. This means that the government can set whatever terms it wants. And, for both economic and moral reasons, it has an obligation to set terms that do not reward the bank executives and shareholders.

The bank executives and shareholders took big risks that went bad. If they are rewarded with taxpayer handouts, then the message this sends to the financial sector is to keep taking irresponsible risks. The game becomes heads they win, tails we lose. If the bets pay off, then they are incredibly rich. When the bets go bad, the taxpayer gets the tab.

The moral reason for not rewarding executives and shareholders is that these rewards require the taxation of middle income people, like truck drivers and nurses, to transfer money to some of the richest people in country.

This sort of upward redistribution is difficult to justify. Usually people in the United States like to believe that the market determines the distribution of income. Many get outraged over the idea that a mother on TANF can get a check for a few hundred dollars a month from the government. In this case, the government is effectively handing checks of millions of dollars to bank executives who would be out of work if the market was left to run its course…

Continue reading, and read the comments at the link as well.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 7:48 am

Posted in Business, Government

Learning is fun

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Mind Hacks explains why:

When you learn a new thing, or get a surprise, there is a shot of a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine is famous among neuroscientists for its involvement in the reward and motivation systems of the brain.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the reason addictive drugs are addictive is that they hack the reward circuitry that dopamine is intimately involved in. Perhaps the most addictive drug, cocaine, directly increases the amount of dopamine at work in your brain.

Learning something new triggers a chemical release of the same kind as cocaine, albeit in a much more subtle manner. As methods of getting your kicks you can perhaps compare it to the difference between walking up a hill yourself or being strapped to a rocket and blasted up — slower, harder work, but a lot more sustainable and you’re in a better state to enjoy the view when you get there!

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20 January 2009 at 7:39 am

Why are men more intelligent than women?

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They’re not. It’s that tall people are more intelligent than shorter people. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 7:16 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Obama may be required to prosecute war crimes

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Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent:

The consensus seems to be growing that, despite his oft-repeated desire to “look forward rather than backward” when it comes to the Bush administration’s authorization of the use of torture on detainees in American custody, President-elect Barack Obama is going to have to open some sort of official investigation of Bush-era war crimes once he takes office.

Ever since Pentagon official Susan Crawford said she had to suspend the military commission prosecution of Mohammad al-Qahtani because he was tortured by U.S. officials, and Attorney General-nominee  Eric Holder said unequivocally last week that waterboarding is indeed torture –- something legal experts have been saying for a long time — legal scholars, advocates and bloggers have been buzzing that it may now be impossible for Obama, and Holder, to simply ignore the evidence of war crimes.

As Jennifer Daskal, a senior lawyer at Human Rights Watch told the New York Times: “It would be contrary to the principles of the criminal justice system for the attorney general to say he believes a very serious crime has been committed and then to do nothing about it.”

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald laid out the case in his blog on Sunday, arguing that it’s no longer optional. Given that the United States is a party to the United Nations Convention on Torture – a treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan –- and that the U.S. Constitution holds that international treaties are the highest law of the land, the United States really doesn’t have a choice: “U.S. law requires prosecutions for those who authorize torture,” writes Greenwald.

Even Charles Stimson, the top official on detainee affairs at the Defense Department from 2004 to 2007 and now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told The Times that last week’s statements from Holder and Crawford “certainly will increase the pressure on Holder to mount some kind of investigation.” …

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Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 7:14 am

Inauguration Day shave

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In honor of the inauguration of our first African American president, I picked the Sabini ebony-handled brush and Gentlemens Refinery Black Ice shaving cream, with its hint of anise. The Futur seemed the right razor, and of course a new Black Beauty blade. Finally a finish with Draggon Noir aftershave. I hope that Obama’s presidency is as smooth as the shave I got today.

Written by Leisureguy

20 January 2009 at 6:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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