Archive for August 18th, 2011
Age-dependent food adaptation—plus very interesting findings on how the aging process stops after a certain age (and why). It’s behind a paywall, but this is an issue you might want to buy because of other interesting articles. It’s this one:
Full disclosure: I’ve been a New Scientist subscriber for decades. Well worth getting.
UPDATE: Part of the article is that, as we age, we should shift to a hunter-gatherer style of diet—that is, drop grains and dairy. This post has some ideas for such a diet.
In this blog, the serial comma is used for the simple reason that not using it leads to ambiguity: the famous example is “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” Presuming for the sake of argument that the writer intended a series and is not actually claiming to refer to Ayn as “Mum” and God as “Dad”, then we can see that this writer has eschewed the serial comma and given the reader a hearty chuckle.
And I just encountered a proper use and the value of using the serial comma: from The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, “a much shorter narrative mythological poem about the marriage of the parents of Achilles, Peleus and Thetis.” Even if the reader does not know the names of the parents of Achilles before reading this phrase, he knows them after, for clearly the omission of the serial comma shouts that the three are not children of the same parents, for it is not a series; rather, “Peleus and Thetis” is appositive to [in apposition to? for?] “the parents of Achilles.”
The previous post described how the financial industry has, in effect, taken over the SEC. They are also taking over the legislative branch as well as the executive. Lee Fang reports at ThinkProgress:
Has Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) turned the House Oversight Committee into a bank lobbying firm with the power to subpoena and pressure government regulators? ThinkProgress has found that a Goldman Sachs vice president changed his name, then quietly went to work for Issa to coordinate his effort to thwart regulations that affect Goldman Sachs’ bottom line.
In July, Issa sent a letter to top government regulators demanding that they back off and provide more justification for new margin requirements for financial firms dealing in derivatives. A standard practice on Capitol Hill is to end a letter to a government agency with contact information for the congressional staffer responsible for working on the issue for the committee. In most cases, the contact staffer is the one who actually writes such letters. With this in mind, it is important to note that the Issa letter ended with contact information for Peter Haller, a staffer hired this year to work for Issa on the Oversight Committee.
Issa’s demand to regulators is exactly what banks have been wishing for. Indeed, Goldman Sachs has spent millions this year trying to slow down the implementation of the new rules. In the letter, Issa explicitly mentions that the new derivative regulations might hurt brokers “such as Goldman Sachs.”
Haller, as he is now known, went by the name Peter Simonyi until three years ago. Simonyiadopted his mother’s maiden name Haller in 2008 just as he was leaving Goldman Sachs as a vice president of the bank’s commodity compliance group. In a few short years, Haller went from being in charge of dealing with regulators for Goldman Sachs to working for Congress in a position where he made official demands from regulators overseeing his old firm.
It’s not the first time Haller has worked the revolving door to help out Goldman Sachs. According to a report by the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, Haller — then known as Peter Simonyi — left the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2005 to work for Goldman Sachs, then quickly began lobbying his colleagues at the SEC on behalf of his new firm. At one point, Haller was compelled to issue a letter to the SEC claiming he did not violate ethics rules. A brief timeline of Haller’s work history underscores the ethical issues raised with Issa’s latest letter to bank regulators:
– After completing his law degree in 2000, Haller was employed by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as an economist, and later with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the Office of Enforcement.
– In April of 2005, Haller resigned from the SEC to take a job with Goldman Sachs. He soon began lobbying the SEC on behalf of Goldman Sachs.
– On September 2, 2009, Haller left Goldman Sachs to take a job with the law/lobbying firm Brickfield Burchette Ritts & Stone.
– In January of 2011, Haller was hired to work for Issa on the Oversight Committee. Under the supervision of Haller, Issa sent a letter dated July 22, 2011 to bank regulators (including the heads of the Federal Reserve, FDIC, FCA, CFTC, FHFA, and Office of Comptroller) demanding documents to justify new Dodd-Frank mandated rules on margin requirements for banks dealing in the multi-trillion dollar OTC derivatives market, like Goldman Sachs.
When he took over the chairmanship of the Oversight Committee this year, Issa dramatically shifted the committee’s focus away from its traditional role of investigating major corporate scandals. Instead, Issa has used the committee to merge the responsibilities of Congress with the interests of K Street and Issa’s own fortune.
In June of this year, ThinkProgress broke the story about Issa’s own complicated relationship with Goldman Sachs. We revealed that Issa purchased a large amount of Goldman Sachs high yield bonds at the same time as he used the Oversight Committee to attack an investigation into allegations that Goldman Sachs had systematically defrauded investors leading up to the financial crisis. This conflict of interests, along with our exclusive story about Issa’s earmarks benefitting his own real estate empire, received coverage in a recent piece by the New York Times.
We also broke a story last month revealing other revolving door conflicts within Issa’s staff. Peter Warren, Issa’s new policy director, maintains some type of financial contract with a student loan lobbying group he led last year, and received a bonus from the lobbying group before leaving to work for Issa. Since joining Issa’s staff, Warren and his colleagues have fought to weaken the recently created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency charged with overseeing student loans.
The new revelations about Peter Haller, however, raise even more significant ethical concerns than Peter Warren and other ex-lobbyists working for Issa. Why did Issa hire a high-level Goldman Sachs executive to work on stopping regulations on banks like Goldman Sachs? Haller’s direct involvement in the July letter brings Issa’s ability to lead the Oversight Committee — charged with conducting investigations on behalf of the public interest — into serious doubt.
Related posts on how our government is passing into industry hands:
- Exclusive: Top Staffer for Rep. Issa’s Committee Maintains Financial Relationship With Lobbying Group
- Tea Party Senators Marco Rubio And Ron Johnson Selected Their Chiefs Of Staff From Same K Street Lobbying Firm
- Lobbyist In Charge Of ‘Trying To Kill’ Financial Reform Hired By GOP Chair To Oversee Financial Regulations
- At Least 13 New Republican Members Of Congress Hire Corporate Lobbyists To Manage Their Office
Matt Taibbi asks the question in an interesting article in Rolling Stone. It seems not unlikely: regulators get very close to regulated industries and can exhibit Stockholm syndrome augmented by lucrative job offers once they leave their regulatory job (provided, of course, that they played ball with the industry when they were regulating it). His article begins:
Imagine a world in which a man who is repeatedly investigated for a string of serious crimes, but never prosecuted, has his slate wiped clean every time the cops fail to make a case. No more Lifetime channel specials where the murderer is unveiled after police stumble upon past intrigues in some old file – “Hey, chief, didja know this guy had two wives die falling down the stairs?” No more burglary sprees cracked when some sharp cop sees the same name pop up in one too many witness statements. This is a different world, one far friendlier to lawbreakers, where even the suspicion of wrongdoing gets wiped from the record.
That, it now appears, is exactly how the Securities and Exchange Commission has been treating the Wall Street criminals who cratered the global economy a few years back. For the past two decades, according to a whistle-blower at the SEC who recently came forward to Congress, the agency has been systematically destroying records of its preliminary investigations once they are closed. By whitewashing the files of some of the nation’s worst financial criminals, the SEC has kept an entire generation of federal investigators in the dark about past inquiries into insider trading, fraud and market manipulation against companies like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and AIG. With a few strokes of the keyboard, the evidence gathered during thousands of investigations – “18,000 … including Madoff,” as one high-ranking SEC official put it during a panicked meeting about the destruction – has apparently disappeared forever into the wormhole of history.
Under a deal the SEC worked out with the National Archives and Records Administration, all of the agency’s records – “including case files relating to preliminary investigations” – are supposed to be maintained for at least 25 years. But the SEC, using history-altering practices that for once actually deserve the overused and usually hysterical term “Orwellian,” devised an elaborate and possibly illegal system under which staffers were directed to dispose of the documents from any preliminary inquiry that did not receive approval from senior staff to become a full-blown, formal investigation. Amazingly, the wholesale destruction of the cases – known as MUIs, or “Matters Under Inquiry” – was not something done on the sly, in secret. The enforcement division of the SEC even spelled out the procedure in writing, on the commission’s internal website. “After you have closed a MUI that has not become an investigation,” the site advised staffers, “you should dispose of any documents obtained in connection with the MUI.”
Many of the destroyed files involved companies and individuals who would later play prominent roles in the economic meltdown of 2008. Two MUIs involving con artist Bernie Madoff vanished. So did a 2002 inquiry into financial fraud at Lehman Brothers, as well as a 2005 case of insider trading at the same soon-to-be-bankrupt bank. A 2009 preliminary investigation of insider trading by Goldman Sachs was deleted, along with records for at least three cases involving the infamous hedge fund SAC Capital.
The widespread destruction of records was brought to the attention of Congress in July, when an SEC attorney named Darcy Flynn decided to blow the whistle. According to Flynn, who was responsible for helping to manage the commission’s records, the SEC has been destroying records of preliminary investigations since at least 1993. After he alerted NARA to the problem, Flynn reports, senior staff at the SEC scrambled to hide the commission’s improprieties.
As a federally protected whistle-blower, Flynn is not permitted to speak to the press. But in evidence he presented to the SEC’s inspector general and three congressional committees earlier this summer, the 13-year veteran of the agency paints a startling picture of a federal police force that has effectively been conquered by the financial criminals it is charged with investigating. In at least one case, according to Flynn, investigators at the SEC found . . .
Cool little app that makes the Mac red button work like the PC red rectangle with the x: to actually quit the program.
Interesting story by John Tierney (notoriously unreliable on scientific matters, so check his links) in the NY Times. It begins:
Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board consisting of a judge, a criminologist and a social worker. The three prisoners had completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them. Guess which one:
Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.
Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
There was a pattern to the parole board’s decisions, but it wasn’t related to the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. It was all about timing, as researchers discovered by analyzing more than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year. Judges, who would hear the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.
The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.
There was nothing malicious or even unusual about the judges’ behavior, which was reported earlier this year by Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University. The judges’ erratic judgment was due to the occupational hazard of being, as George W. Bush once put it, “the decider.” The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.
Decision fatigue helps explain why . . .
Continue reading. It’s quite interesting that “willpower” does have validity as a concept in some situations. The column (after many interesting examples) concludes:
. . . The cumulative effect of these temptations and decisions isn’t intuitively obvious. Virtually no one has a gut-level sense of just how tiring it is to decide. Big decisions, small decisions, they all add up. Choosing what to have for breakfast, where to go on vacation, whom to hire, how much to spend — these all deplete willpower, and there’s no telltale symptom of when that willpower is low. It’s not like getting winded or hitting the wall during a marathon. Ego depletion manifests itself not as one feeling but rather as a propensity to experience everything more intensely. When the brain’s regulatory powers weaken, frustrations seem more irritating than usual. Impulses to eat, drink, spend and say stupid things feel more powerful (and alcohol causes self-control to decline further). Like those dogs in the experiment, ego-depleted humans become more likely to get into needless fights over turf. In making decisions, they take illogical shortcuts and tend to favor short-term gains and delayed costs. Like the depleted parole judges, they become inclined to take the safer, easier option even when that option hurts someone else.
“Good decision making is not a trait of the person, in the sense that it’s always there,” Baumeister says. “It’s a state that fluctuates.” His studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.
“Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low,” Baumeister points out. That’s why the truly wise don’t restructure the company at 4 p.m. They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach. “The best decision makers,” Baumeister says, “are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”