Later On

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

Archive for March 2012

Quick-and-simple grub

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This is grub that had to be quick, easy, and use what’s on hand, specifically including one large bunch of really gorgeous red kale, which I wanted to cook while it was fresh. So:

1/2 cup coverted rice — cook for 20 minutes, which is why this rather than black rice (30 minutes). This time I included 1 pinch of salt.

1 bunch kale, washed and chopped small, stalks minced, which I put into a 3-qt saucepan (it just barely fit), added the rest of the beef broth (about 1/4 cup—yay! all gone!) and then about 3/4 c water and 1 tsp Penzey’s chicken soup base. Brought liquid to boil, stirred pot a bit, then covered it and reduced heat to simmer and let it simmer 30 minutes. No salt save what’s in the soup base.

While that was going on, I prepared:

3-oz teriyaki tofu, cubed small
1/2 large Spanish onion, chopped small
1 jalapeño, minced (including seeds—just cut off the cap)
8 cloves garlic, minced

When the kale was done, I moved the saucepan to the back burner, set my 9″ nonstick French skillet on the hot burner, and added to it:

2 tsp EVOO
the chopped onion
1/2 tsp paprika
pinch of salt
1 grinding of pepper

I let that sweat over medium heat until onions were well-softened, stirring occasionally—5-10 minutes, I guess. Then I added:

the minced garlic
the cubed tofu
the minced jalapeño

Sautéd those for 3-4 minutes, then added:

1-1 1/2 c of the cooked kale
1/2 c cooked rice
1-2 Tbsp Amontillado sherry

I cooked that over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it was well heated and boiling. Then I turned heat to low, put a lid on the skillet, and let it simmer 10 minutes. Then I removed the lid and squeezed a lemon over the grub to finish it. (Lemon zest would not have gone amiss.)

Quite good, actually. And plenty of kale and rice left for another meal. Indeed, this is so easy and quick, I might repeat.

And the variations practically type themselves—your choice of: various sauces and toppings (yogurt, sour cream, chopped avocado, Parmesan cheese, feta, Sriracha, ketchup, soy, tamari, garlic black bean, hoisin, oyster, Bac’Uns, whatever); different kinds of protein (tempeh, fish, chicken, pork, beans (if starch is a grain: completes the protein; or add cheese), etc.); different kinds of starch (cous cous, pasta, cooked black rice, cooked wheat or rye berries, cooked barley (hulled or pearled), etc.); different kinds of allium (leeks, shallots, spring onions, sweet onions, red onions, etc.—and always garlic (I’m trying black garlic now)); different kinds of greens (collards, chard, dandelion, mustard, spinach, cabbage (green, red, Savoy, Napa,etc.), etc.); different oils (butter, sesame, chili sesame, grapeseed, coconut, chicken fat, duck fat, etc.); and so on. Add nuts (pecans, pine nuts, peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, etc., and/or add olives, or raisins or currants. Many choices of vegetables: squash (summer or winter), green beans, corn, zucchini, bell peppers of various colors, fresh fennel, Roma tomatoes, Meyer lemons, celery (damn!, I always forget!), eggplant, carrots, turnips, mushrooms, beets (and their greens), broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, and so on: try new things.

PS: For newcomers: A meal must have: 2 tsp added oil (or less); 3-4 oz protein; 2/3 – 1 serving starch; leafy greens; and vegetables galore (allium always included, and peppers are good, too), along with appropriate herbs, spices, and always some acid.

UPDATE: I did indeed do a repeat for dinner, though with some variation:

no paprika
no jalapeño; sprinkling of crushed red pepper instead
3 large shallots, thinly sliced, instead of onion
regular firm tofu instead teriyaki tofu
1/2 Meyer lemon, diced
12 Kalamata olives, halved
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar added during cooking; no lemon juice at end

It was quite tasty, and I ate only about 2/3. To the 1/3 remaining, I’m adding some more kale and rice and tomorrow will heat it in the 9″ skillet and, when it’s hot, make a two-egg fritata (whipping the eggs together with some Parmesan). Nice grub.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Grub, Recipes

Rebuttal to Scott Turow on the future of publishing… (fight! fight!)

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This is quite interesting: the rebuttal by Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler (of the John Rain series of thrillers, which get better every time) to Scott Turow:

Scott Turow, President of the Big Publishers Club (aka the Authors Guild) just blogged about the Department of Justice lawsuit against legacy publishing’s agency pricing model. I talked about how unfair agency pricing was to Amazon and to authors two years ago. I think I was pretty prescient about the future of ebooks, and of publishing, even if my numbers weren’t nearly as optimistic as they could have been.

So now President Turow has written a call to arms, warning writers of the dangers of Amazon and the DoJ. I asked my buddy, bestselling novelist Barry Eisler, if he wanted to join me in commenting on the piece. Barry’s got a good bullshit detector and from time to time we’ve had fun dissecting and exposing obfuscation like Scott’s (see our thoughts on Hachette’s “We are Still Relevant” memo).

Scott’s original words are in italics; my and Barry’s reaction follow in plain text.

Here we go…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Government, Law

TSA admits their procedures cannot withstand scrutiny and criticism

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At least that’s the message I get from TSA preventing a knowledgeable critic of their procedures from testifying before Congress. (And am I weird to think that Congress knuckles under to a Federal agency? Doesn’t Congress realize that Congress is supposed to be in charge?)

This reveals some very bad things about TSA, and by implication about the Obama Administration. But of course this kind of silencing of critics is an important stage in the development of authoritarian government—and is not too far removed from police intolerance of being photographed, posted earlier today. As the government becomes more authoritarian, agencies get more power to keep secrets (by punishing whistleblowers severely, for example) and to silence critics (by preventing them from testifying to Congress, for example). This is part and parcel of the new trend for the US.

Elinor Mills reports for CNET:

Bruce Schneier, a vocal critic of security measures used by the Transportation Security Administration, was asked to testify before Congress about TSA’s security screening initiatives but then was “formally uninvited” after the agency complained.

“On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list,” Schneier wrote on his blog. “The excuse was that I am involved in alawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner program. But it’s pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it’s easier for them to do that if I’m not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them.”

A TSA spokeswoman told CNET she would look into the matter but did not immediately have comment this afternoon.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Report, which had invited Schneier a few weeks ago to testify at today’s hearing, told Schneier that committee staffers would try to invite him back for another hearing, he said. But Schneier said he was not sure that his busy schedule would permit him to appear and said it would have been much more effective for him to be able to ask the TSA questions directly during a hearing. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 11:29 am

More vitamin D studies underway

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I’ve been taking vitamin D supplements for a decade or more—ever since the initial findings on the various ways in which vitamin D benefits us, along with the low levels of vitamin D found in typical patients. Research continues to verify the benefits of the vitamin: Amy Maxmen has an article in The Scientist that’s worth reading:

Once a month for the next 5 years, 20,000 people across the United States will find a package containing 62 pills in their mailboxes.  As participants in a clinical trial, the recipients agreed to swallow two of the pills daily. But inevitably as the years pass, some pill packets will become buried under a stack of letters, or forgotten in a drawer.  After all, these pills contain only vitamin D, fish oil, or an inert placebo—a person doesn’t need them to make it through the day.  Plus, no one monitors who takes the pills daily and who does not.

In another study, 871 pregnant women swallow a vitamin D or a placebo pill every day for the duration of their pregnancy. Then every year for 3 years after they’ve given birth, clinicians will evaluate their children for signs of asthma, in search of clues about the relationship between the essential vitamin and the respiratory disorder. But the study is scheduled to last only 3 years, so it won’t include children who begin to wheeze at age 6, when childhood asthma most often strikes.

A better vitamin D trial might send health-care professionals out to personally deliver pills to each of the first trial’s 20,000 participants. It might also test various doses of supplements, because no one knows how much is best. The asthma trial might include more women, run for a longer period of time, and test childhood supplementation, too. But then they’d also cost millions more, and in contrast to many drug trials, Pharma isn’t footing the bill. Profits from vitamin sales pale in comparison to those of most drugs, and therefore a company would struggle to recoup the money it spent testing supplements. Unfortunately, prevention trials require large sample sizes and long-term follow-up, making them incredibly expensive. Indeed, the National Institutes of Health has granted about $32 million for these two trials alone.

But researchers aren’t giving up. With limited budgets, vitamin D investigators are working hard to keep costs down, while still giving the vitamin a fighting chance to prove itself. Deficiencies of vitamin D have been linked to cancer, diabetes, strokes, and other maladies, and at least 12 imperfect clinical trials on its preventive powers have been set in motion since 2008. And while some scientists worry their cost-trimming shortcuts will render the results useless, others remain optimistic. Perhaps this smorgasbord of trials will reveal unpredictable benefits of taking one’s vitamins. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 11:16 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Encouraging instant gratification

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Tony Shin pointed out this graphic provided by OnlineGraduatePrograms.com, which speaks to how our expectations have been shaped:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 10:43 am

Posted in Daily life

Diagramming sentences

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I don’t think schools teach diagramming sentences in any more—hell, they don’t even teach cursive handwriting. But diagramming sentences is a good way to grasp the structure of a sentence—more or less as outlining reveals the structure of a paper, article, or book. Outlining, however, we generally do as an aid to writing, whereas diagramming is done after the fact, as an aid to understanding.

I had no idea of the origin and history of diagramming so I was intrigued by Kitty Florey’s article in the NY Times. Now I want to buy Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Curious History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences.

In my Sophomore language tutorial in college, we did do a bit more of diagramming, and one assignment (from Mr. Darkey, a favorite tutor) was to diagram the sentence this sonnet comprises:

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

– by Robert Frost

Go ahead, give it a go. Diagramming that is better than Sudoku.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 10:36 am

What part of “It’s a free country” do the police not understand?

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The “free” part, obviously. TYD passes along a pointer to an all-too-common tactic of the more thuggish sort of police, written for Philly.com by Wendy Ruderman:

Ian Van Kuyk, a Temple University junior studying photojournalism, emerged from class earlier this month with a straightforward assignment: Take pictures at night.

Van Kuyk’s professor had armed him with a Nikon D40 digital camera and the knowledge that he had the legal right to snap photos anywhere within the public domain.

Van Kuyk, 24, ended up getting a crash course on what happens when police don’t want to be photographed, he said.

He and two of his Point Breeze neighbors say a police officer forced Van Kuyk to the ground, jamming his face into the sidewalk, and handcuffed and arrested him after he began photographing a March 14 traffic stop on his block.

“I was within my rights. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. The officer began pushing and shoving me,” Van Kuyk told the Daily News. “I told him, ‘I’m just taking a photo. I’m a photojournalism student.’ He got angry. And he just grabbed me and took me to the ground. He kept saying, ‘Shut up. Stop resisting.’ ”

Police say Van Kuyk’s arrest had nothing to do with his picture-taking. “The officers are fully aware of the First Amendment right to take photographs,” Lt. Ray Evers said Monday. [This is obviously complete bullshit. – LG]

The incident has incited the 7,000-member National Press Photographers Association and raised questions about whether all Philly cops are adhering to a memorandum, issued by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, saying that civilians have a right to record or photograph cops in a public space.

His memo followed a Daily News story in September about incidents in which cops wrongly arrested bystanders for using cellphones to record arrests.

“The only intent Ian [Van Kuyk] had was to take a picture,” said former photojournalist Mickey Osterreicher, an attorney representing the photographers’ association. “Did this officer miss the memo or something?”

According to Van Kuyk and two neighbors, here’s what happened about 7:45 p.m. March 14: . . .

Continue reading. So far as one can tell from the story, this is simply abuse of power and being a thug. The policeman in question should be fired and his supervisor be given a written warning, a copy of which is placed in his personnel file.

Do read the description of the incident. If this is not police overreach and overreaction, then I don’t know what is. I hope the two sue the police department—the misdemeanor charge for simply accepting the camera from the guy (so the camera would not be damaged) is revealing. Probably if you simply said, “Hello” to the officers at this time you would have been arrested: they were on a rampage, near as I can tell.

Bet: No disciplinary action will be taken against any of the police. The only hope is for Van Kuyk to initiate a lawsuit against the department.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 9:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Two excellent movies

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I just watched two movies, both excellent and recommended.

I’ve had Frost/Nixon in my queue forever. It got good reviews, but somehow I couldn’t really get interested in watching it—the title might as well have been Vulgarity/Obscenity. But it was in the queue and I’ve been flipping through movies pretty quickly—if they don’t grab me by the end of the first reel (as we used to say), then they are returned.

Finally Frost/Nixon showed up, and it sat around until I had watched and returned all the other movies and it was the only one here. So I started watching.

My God!, this is a good movie. It’s simply fascinating, and it’s a very human story: it’s not about events, it is about the people involved, and the depiction of those people and how each is driven by his or her own agenda, and how those interactions play out—I couldn’t put it down, as it were. Highly recommended. It’s not at all what you think.

Of course, the movie’s been out for a long time, so most of you have probably seen it. Once more I have a “duh” moment: taken by surprise that a highly praised movie with excellent reviews is quite good.

Although Frost/Nixon‘s been out for a long time, The Naked City has been out even longer, but I highly recommend it. Very interesting movie, which I viewed with Watch Instantly. It was released in March of 1948, thus written and shot in 1947 or before: very recently after WWII. Directed by Jules Dassin (of Never on Sunday fame, and that movie also is available on Watch Instantly), it’s shot in a semi-documentary mode and strikes me as remarkably innovative. The semi-documentary format with voice-over, for starters—and it functions almost as a portrait of New York, which (in 1948) was a city that fascinated people, and the movie goes to some lengths to do a profile of the city and those living there—lots of outdoor shots of daily activities, almost like a (good) travelogue, but always carry along the story, which is a straightforward police procedural: you can see that Dragnet is a direct offshoot of this movie.

It was shot entirely on location in New York, and one thing that I’ve never seen elsewhere: the initial screen credits are oral, not written. Ireallyliked that, and I’m surprised more movies haven’t done it. But of course it fit the format—the voiceover is used throughout—and nowadays screen credits have grown into monstrously long lists.

While I don’t care much for Barry Fitzgerald, I did like this movie a lot, and in any event it’s a movie of interest that anyone who likes movies should see.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 9:40 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Damn near perfect shave

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What a terrific shave! And this one is no surprise: I could tell as I went that it was exceptional.

First I washed my beard with the sink with Confiança Exfoliating Veleiro pre-shave soap, which uses coconut and algae. I’m not sure that this as a factor, but I will certainly use it tomorrow.

Then Speick shaving cream, worked into a fine lather with the Heritage Emilion butterscotch brush. I took my time, and Speick is an exceptional shaving cream. Tomorrow I’ll use a different shaving cream (and brush).

Finally, the Weber ARC-coated razor, holding an Astra Superior Platinum blade for the second shave. (Some blades show a second-shave phenomenon: the second shave is smoother and easier than the first, presumably because the first abraded off the coating covering the cutting edge—just a guess.) Three extremely smooth passes, and I could tell from the first that I was onto something with this shave. I’m suspecting it’s the Speick that made the difference, but I’ll be testing that.

Finally, a tiny dab of Primalan, which is all it takes.

The book that provides the background is fascinating and highly recommended. It’s about you, more or less.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2012 at 9:27 am

Posted in Books, Shaving

The Righteous Mind: Why “they” won’t listen

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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt, is reviewed in the NY Times by William Saletan:

You’re smart. You’re liberal. You’re well informed. You think conservatives are narrow-minded. You can’t understand why working-class Americans vote Republican. You figure they’re being duped. You’re wrong.

This isn’t an accusation from the right. It’s a friendly warning from Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who, until 2009, considered himself a partisan liberal. In “The ­Righteous Mind,” Haidt seeks to enrich liberalism, and political discourse generally, with a deeper awareness of human nature. Like other psychologists who have ventured into political coaching, such as George Lakoff and Drew Westen, Haidt argues that people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments. But Haidt is looking for more than victory. He’s looking for wisdom. That’s what makes “The Righteous Mind” well worth reading. Politics isn’t just about ­manipulating people who disagree with you. It’s about learning from them.

Haidt seems to delight in mischief. Drawing on ethnography, evolutionary theory and experimental psychology, he sets out to trash the modern faith in reason. In Haidt’s retelling, all the fools, foils and villains of intellectual history are recast as heroes. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher who notoriously said reason was fit only to be “the slave of the passions,” was largely correct. E. O. Wilson, the ecologist who was branded a fascist for stressing the biological origins of human behavior, has been vindicated by the study of moral emotions. Even Glaucon, the cynic in Plato’s “Republic” who told Socrates that people would behave ethically only if they thought they were being watched, was “the guy who got it right.”

To the question many people ask about politics — Why doesn’t the other side listen to reason? — Haidt replies: We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided. The funniest and most painful illustrations are Haidt’s transcripts of interviews about bizarre scenarios. Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? How about with your sister? Is it O.K. to defecate in a urinal? If your dog dies, why not eat it? Under interrogation, most subjects in psychology experiments agree these things are wrong. But none can explain why.

The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. Haidt shows, for example, how subjects relentlessly marshal arguments for the incest taboo, no matter how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments.

To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: . . .

Continue reading. I’m skeptical. If reasoning from evidence doesn’t work, then how does he explain the success of science?

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2012 at 10:05 am

Regulate airlines again

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When airlines were regulated, they could not compete on price, so they competed on service: not only fighting to have more comfortable seating, better meals, better service, etc. on each flight, but also tried to have more flights and more frequent direct flights. Once airlines were deregulated, they started competing on price instead of service, and since service costs money, there went service and in came the cattle-car treatment of passengers.

Basically, I think the experiment did not work. And James Fallows has an interesting column in which he discusses the guy (Alfred Kahn, whom Fallows knew) who pushed the idea and who went to his grave thinking that it worked out fine. Fallows points out “Terminal Sickness” by Phillip Longman and Lina Kahn in the Washington Monthly. They write about “How a thirty-year-old policy of deregulation is slowly killing America’s airline system—and taking down Cincinnati, Memphis, and St. Louis with it.” Their article begins:

It was certainly one of the hardest choices that I’ve ever made,” explained Fernando Aguirre. He’d raised his family and built his career in Cincinnati, Ohio, rising through the ranks of the city’s business elite, first as an executive at Procter & Gamble’s headquarters and later as CEO and chairman of Chiquita Brands International. Along the way, he became a fanatical fan and part owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, as well as a proud sponsor of the Chiquita Classic golf tournament, the proceeds from which he poured into local philanthropies.

But last fall, Aguirre confirmed Cincinnati’s worst fears by announcing that he and his company were—very reluctantly—skipping town, and for a reason that cast an even deeper shadow over the city’s economic future. Cincinnati has long been (and for now remains) a major business center, the headquarters of six Fortune 500 companies and fifteen Fortune 1000 companies, including not just household-name producers like Procter & Gamble and Chiquita but also retail giants like Macy’s and the Kroger grocery chain. With a population of 2.1 million, it’s the twenty-seventh-largest metro area in the United States. But running a national, much less international, business out of Cincinnati is becoming more and more problematic for a simple reason: inadequate air service.

As recently as 2004, the Cincinnati/North Kentucky Airport (CVG) was a major hub for Delta, and offered nonstop flights to 129 major cities, including Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London, and Paris. Today, the number of flights through CVG has fallen by two-thirds, and an entire concourse stands eerily empty. At the same time, flights out of the airport have the highest fares in the country. This means that if you live or do business in Cincinnati, it’s hard to fly anywhere without paying a fortune and having to cool your heels for hours while waiting to change planes in a city like Atlanta or Charlotte. And if you’re a global business like Chiquita, which operates in seventy countries and needs to be able to attract global talent, the situation is untenable.

So Aguirre is moving Chiquita’s headquarters to the NASCAR Plaza in uptown Charlotte, just a thirteen-minute drive from that city’s busy international airport. The move will be a boon to Charlotte, creating more than 400 jobs with an average wage of over $100,000. But it will be gut-wrenching for existing employees, as well as for Aguirre personally. He recently had to explain to Charlotte’s local press that he is no fan of NASCAR (“I have never gone to a NASCAR race. I’m sure I will end up going to a few from now on”), and that he still pines for his beloved Reds. But at least he and his employees have had time to prepare themselves mentally. “We’ve been dealing with the logistics of our business and the airport for so long now,” says Aguirre, “that everyone knew that the likelihood of moving was very high. It was just a matter of where and when.”

A generation ago, Aguirre and his employees at Chiquita would not have had to face such a difficult choice. Until 1978, the United States viewed airline service as a “public convenience and necessity,” and used a government agency—the Civil Aeronautics Board, or CAB—to assign routes and set fares. This regulation was designed to ensure that citizens in cities like Cincinnati received service roughly equal, in quality and price, to that provided to other comparably sized communities like Charlotte. The government also made sure that smaller cities maintained vital links to the national air network.

In 1978, however, a group of liberals including Ralph Nader, Ted Kennedy, Kennedy’s then Senate aide Stephen Breyer, and an economist named Alfred Kahn, whom President Jimmy Carter chose to run the CAB, conjured up a plan to drive down the cost of airline fares by fostering more price competition among airlines. Though they called it “deregulation,” the practical effect of eliminating the CAB, especially after subsequent administrations abandoned antitrust enforcement as well, was to shift control of the airline industry from experts answerable to the public to corporate boardrooms and Wall Street.

Over the years, most Americans have adopted a pretty standard line about the results. On the one hand, complaining about the indignities of flying—overbooked, late, or canceled flights; surly flight attendants; and, more recently, terrible in-flight food service and high fees for checked baggage— has become a staple of American life, much like complaining about Internet providers or health insurance companies. On the other hand, we’ve told ourselves, at least the increased competition has made air travel cheaper. And at least most of us can still get where we need to go by air.

But now we find ourselves at a moment when nearly all the promises of the airline deregulators have clearly proved false. If you’re a member of the creative class who rarely does business in the nation’s industrial heartland or visits relatives there, you might not notice the magnitude of economic disruption being caused by lost airline service and skyrocketing fares. But if you are in the business of making and trading stuff beyond derivatives and concepts, you probably have to go to places like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Memphis, St. Louis, or Minneapolis, and you know firsthand how hard it has become to do business these days in such major heartland cities, which are increasingly cut off from each other and from the global economy.

And it’s about to get worse. . .

Continue reading. Ed Kilgore, in the Political Animal blog, blogs  about that very article.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2012 at 9:06 am

Psychopaths in action at a Brooklyn hospital

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Given the immediately preceding posts, this story reported by Anemona Hartocollis in the NY Times makes more sense:

In recent years, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn has often gone hat in hand to the city and state, lamenting cuts in government assistance and questioning whether officials truly understood the burden of running a nonprofit hospital in Bushwick, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

For much of that time, Wyckoff’s chief executive was driving to work in a Bentley Continental GT, a $160,000 automobile, and at one point, the hospital paid thousands of dollars to insure the vehicle, according to hospital records and interviews. When the chief executive lost his license after an accident, hospital security guards chauffeured him and his wife around the clock in a Cadillac Escalade or a Lincoln Town Car.

The chief executive, Rajiv Garg, was not the only one who benefited from his ties with Wyckoff. One member of the hospital’s board obtained for the pharmacy that he owned the exclusive right to market prescription drugs to hospital patients. Another board member lent $2.4 million to the ailing Wyckoff at 12 percent interest, with the hospital required to put up several of its buildings as security.

Local politicians also joined in. Allies of United States Representative Edolphus Towns, Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez and Councilman Erik Martin Dilan have landed high-level positions at the hospital, despite questionable qualifications, further weakening its management. Mr. Dilan’s wife became the hospital’s director of public relations.

Many hospitals in downtrodden areas of New York City and across the state are faltering, raising concerns that a wave of closings will deprive poor people of badly needed care.

A three-month investigation by The New York Times into Wyckoff, based on dozens of interviews and an examination of internal documents, offers a sobering portrait of how one such hospital has been undermined by the very people entrusted to run it.

The hospital all but defaulted on its $109 million in state-secured bonds, forcing the taxpayers to cover $10 million due to bondholders before the state agreed in May to defer the hospital’s overdue payments.

Wyckoff no longer even carries malpractice insurance. Consumer Reports recently ranked Wyckoff among the worst hospitals in the New York region.

After years of decline, the hospital is also attracting the notice of the authorities. The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, has begun examining its management and has presented evidence to a grand jury, according to legal documents.

Under pressure, the hospital’s board recently ousted the president, Mr. Garg, who was being paid $700,000 a year. But some entrenched members of the hospital’s board remain, and the hospital’s doctors recently mounted an insurrection against Mr. Garg’s replacement, Ramon Rodriguez. They circulated a letter saying that Mr. Rodriguez was not capable of running Wyckoff because of his “battles with depression.”

Mr. Rodriguez called the letter “character assassination,” saying that the doctors felt threatened by his reforms.

Wyckoff has been so troubled for so long that even the most accomplished leadership might have been unable to turn it around. But its recent difficulties have clearly been deepened by the management turmoil. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2012 at 8:51 am

Lobbyists, Guns, and Money

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Paul Krugman has a very good column today in NY Times:

Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

And in case you were wondering, no, the kind of privatization ALEC promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting is a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.

But where does the encouragement of vigilante (in)justice fit into this picture? In part it’s the same old story — the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. It’s neither an accident nor a surprise that the National Rifle Association and ALEC have been close allies all along.

And ALEC, even more than other movement-conservative organizations, is clearly playing a long game. Its legislative templates aren’t just about generating immediate benefits to the organization’s corporate sponsors; they’re about creating a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.

Did I mention that ALEC has played a key role in promoting bills that make it hard for the poor and ethnic minorities to vote?

Yet that’s not all; . . .

Continue reading. I highly recommend that after you finish the column you spend some time reading comments. Some quite good ones.

This of course follows directly from the previous post.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2012 at 8:45 am

Corporations are psychopaths because they’re run by psychopaths

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Though I think the term nowadays is sociopath: someone who lacks all empathy and is self-aggrandizing, charming, and shallow. Here’s a review of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson, that appeared inBloomberg BusinessWeek.The review is accompanied by this test:

If corporations are in fact psychopaths (in terms of their social functioning), then the country’s decline as corporations gain more power over the country is easier to understand.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2012 at 8:40 am

Income gap in US increases

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Take a look at this graphic from Steve Rattner’s op-ed in today NY Times:

The op-ed:

NEW statistics show an ever-more-startling divergence between the fortunes of the wealthy and everybody else — and the desperate need to address this wrenching problem. Even in a country that sometimes seems inured to income inequality, these takeaways are truly stunning.

In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households.

Still more astonishing was the extent to which the super rich got rich faster than the merely rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to just the top 0.01 percent, a teaspoon-size collection of about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent.

The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.

This new data, derived by the French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez from American tax returns, also suggests that those at the top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches. That’s not completely surprising: the rapid growth of new American industries — from technology to financial services — has increased the need for highly educated and skilled workers. At the same time, old industries like manufacturing are employing fewer blue-collar workers.

The result? Pay for college graduates has risen by 15.7 percent over the past 32 years (after adjustment for inflation) while the income of a worker without a high school diploma has plummeted by 25.7 percent over the same period.

Government has also played a role, particularly the George W. Bush tax cuts, which, among other things, gave the wealthy a 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends. That’s the provision that caused Warren E. Buffett’s secretary to have a higher tax rate than he does. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Dean Baker of CEPR has a very interesting critique of this column, which I received via email:

Steve Rattner seems to have found a new career in getting things wrong in the NYT. He was last seen ranting against those who say that “debt doesn’t matter.” Today the topic is inequality.

While Rattner is right to call attention to the growth of inequality, he is way off on the facts. Starting with a small one, he tells readers that:

“Pay for college graduates has risen by 15.7 percent over the past 32 years (after adjustment for inflation) while the income of a worker without a high school diploma has plummeted by 25.7 percent over the same period.”

A source on that one would have been great. The data sources I know generally have wages for workers without high school degrees as being roughly stagnant over this period. A decline of 5 percent or even 10 percent would be plausible, but 25.7 percent?

However the more important issue is a substantive one. He tells readers:

“Government has also played a role, particularly the George W. Bush tax cuts, which, among other things, gave the wealthy a 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends. That’s the provision that caused Warren E. Buffett’s secretary to have a higher tax rate than he does.

“As a result, the top 1 percent has done progressively better in each economic recovery of the past two decades.”

Yes, government has played a role, but the tax cuts for the wealthy has been the less important part of the story. Most of the increase in inequality has been in before-tax income. The government has affected income distribution by changing the rules of the game in ways that allowed the wealthy to benefit at the expense of everyone else.

For example, maintaining government guarantees for the banking system (remember the bailouts?) while relaxing Glass-Steagall and other restrictions amounted to a massive subsidy to the financial sector. Many of the top 1 percent get their money here.

There has also been a tightening and extending of patent monopolies. One result of this has been to hugely increase the amount of money being paid in patent rents, much of which goes to the 1 percent. We currently spend close to $300 billion a year for prescription drugs. We would spend close to $30 billion a year if drugs were sold in a free market without patent protection.

The difference of $270 billion annually is roughly 5 times as much money as is at stake with the Bush tax cuts. We would need alternative methods of financing drug research, but the 1 percent so completely dominate debate that alternatives to patent monopolies are not even considered in policy circles even though they would almost certainly be far more efficient and lead to better health outcomes.

The government has also taken steps to directly drive down the wages of less educated workers. Trade policy has deliberately placed U.S. manufacturing workers in direct competition with low paid workers in the developing world. By contrast, the barriers that make it difficult for foreign professionals, like doctors and lawyers, from working in the United States have largely been maintained or even increased.

The predicted and actual result of this policy is to depress the wages of less educated workers relative to the most highly educated workers. This effect is amplified by the high dollar policy that the United States began pursuing under Robert Rubin and used the muscle of the IMF to advance following the East Asian financial crisis.

There are many other ways in which government policy has redistributed income upward over the last three decades. Rattner misdirects attention when he focuses on tax policy as a major cause of inequality.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2012 at 8:30 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Sophie Tucker belts one out

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This is from 1930: “Sophie Tucker accompanied by Ted Shapiro on piano with “No One But The Right Man Can Do Me Wrong”; filmed in London.” (from the YouTube caption)

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2012 at 8:25 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

Palermo and Floris

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Extremely nice shave today. The Vie-Long horse+badger brush made a fine lather, and I really like the fragrance of Palermo. The iKon, using a Personna 74 Tungsten Plus blade, delivered a fine shave with three very smooth passes, and then a good splash of Floris No. 89 was a good way to set me up for the day.

Background is a book on the Korean style of playing Baduk (the Korean name for the game commonly called Go). Korean style is quite aggressive: the fights start at once. (I encourage everyone to learn and play Go, as you know.)

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2012 at 8:21 am

Posted in Shaving

Intriguing theory: GOP destroyed by outsourcing

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Interesting thought from Kevin Baker in the NY Times:

Who speaks for the Republican party? The answer is that everyone does — and therefore, no one does.

Much air time and many trees have been wasted trying to explain the division, rancor and lethargy that have beset the Republican nominating campaign, now into its second year and threatening to run all the way to the party’s national convention in late August. But it’s no great mystery. Republicans have fallen prey to one of the favorite tactics of just the sort of heedless, improvident, twenty-first century capitalism they revere. Their party has been outsourced.

For decades, Republicans have recruited outside groups and individuals to amplify their party’s message and its influence. This is a legitimate democratic tactic that they have carried off brilliantly, helping to shift the political spectrum in the United States significantly to the right.

When Republicans came to believe in the 1960s that they were up against a “liberal biased” media that would never give them a fair shake, they began the long march to build their own, alternative information establishment. As chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Mark Fowler, led the fight to abolish the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987, further empowering what was already a legion of right-wing talk radio programs.

In 1949, drawing on a long history of court decisions; on public hearings; and on legislation mandating “equal time” for political candidates, the F.C.C. ruled that holders of radio and television broadcast licenses must “devote a reasonable percentage of their broadcast time to the presentation of news and programs devoted to the consideration and discussion of public issues of interest in the community,” and that this must include “different attitudes and viewpoints concerning these vital and often controversial issues.”

The Supreme Court repeatedly upheld the F.C.C.’s power to make such a rule — but never gave it the power of law. In 1986, a pair of Ronald Reagan’s judicial appointees on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, ruled that the Fairness Doctrine was not “a binding statutory obligation.”

Armed with this verdict, Fowler, who insisted on viewing television, in particular, as not a finite and supremely influential broadcast medium but “just another appliance — it’s a toaster with pictures,” persuaded his fellow commissioners to abolish the Fairness Doctrine. Furious Democrats in Congress passed legislation to codify the doctrine into law in 1987 and 1991, but these attempts were vetoed by Reagan and George Bush, respectively; Democrats have gone on trying to make the Fairness Doctrine law to this day, but have always been stymied by adamant Republican opposition.

Right-wing radio was dominant on the airwaves before the Fairness Doctrine was abolished. But now it had the field of public discourse virtually all to itself. It provided conservatives with a direct outreach to the public, free of any intercession by the “elites” Newt Gingrich is still denouncing in this season’s debates. Right-leaning media networks such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network and especially Clear Channel Communications soon became major media conglomerates, with no obligation to broadcast any conflicting views.

The biggest media coup of all for the Republican party, though, was the advent of nakedly partisan Fox News, created by Roger Ailes, former media advisor to the Nixon, Reagan and George Bush administrations. It was Ailes who thereby managed to throw the entire weight of Rupert Murdoch’s worldwide media empire behind the party — and it was Ailes, reportedly, who kept it on the conservative straight-and-narrow when Mr. Murdoch toyed with the idea of putting the empire behind Barack Obama, the new Democrat, in 2008, much as it had backed Tony Blair’s New Labour for a time in Great Britain. Instead, thanks to Ailes, conservative politicians and advocates saw both their ideas amplified and their wallets fattened by a dizzying array of Murdoch television shows, books and newspapers.

But it wasn’t just in the media where the Republican party proved ingenious in outsourcing its rhetoric and shifting the national dialogue. In 1971, during Richard M. Nixon’s first term in office, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2012 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, GOP

James Cameron dive is underway

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Wow. William Broad reports in the NY Times:

James Cameron, the filmmaker whose credits include “Avatar” and “Titanic,” plunged on Sunday in a minisubmarine of his own design to the bottom of the planet’s deepest recess, sinking through the dark waters of the western Pacific to a depth of nearly seven miles.

The National Geographic Society, which is helping sponsor the expedition, said he reached the bottom at 5:52 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and promised updates on the risky endeavor, the first in 52 years to descend so deep.

After seven years of planning — done with a team in Australia and largely in secret — Mr. Cameron strode up to his sleek 24-foot-long craft, folded his frame into a steel personal capsule just 43 inches wide and plummeted through miles of icy darkness into a trough known as the Challenger Deep. Rough seas had delayed his dive about two weeks.

“He’s just made it to the bottom,” Ellen Stanley, a National Geographic spokeswoman, said late Sunday in an interview. “This is awesome. He said: ‘All systems are O.K.’ That’s it.” She added that Mr. Cameron’s descent took more than two hours.

“Just arrived at the ocean’s deepest pt,” Mr. Cameron said in a Twitter message, according to National Geographic’s Web site. “Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can’t wait to share what I’m seeing w/ you.”

Mr. Cameron’s vehicle is unique among submersibles, its vertical axis meant to speed its descent and maximize time on the bottom. His goal is to explore the dark seabed for six hours, taking pictures and extracting samples of the fauna, before returning to sunny realms. Mr. Cameron, 57, practiced yoga to train for what is likely to be about nine hours of keeping his knees bent and body largely immobile.

Five people have died in submersible accidents over the decades, and Mr. Cameron said the risks he faced were acceptable given the testing that his craft’s parts have undergone and its backup gear for such critical systems as electrical power and life support. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2012 at 6:52 pm

Dangerous side-effects of wealth

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I’ve blogged about this someplace, but just saw it in a new light. First note this column about a series of experiments:

Wealthy individuals may be more unethical than those lower on the socioeconomic order, according to a new study by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Toronto.  A series of experiments by a University of California psychologist indicates the rich are more prone to lie and cheat compared to the less well-off.  The study contradicts the belief that poor people are more likely to behave in an unethical manner out of financial necessity.

The findings were drawn from several experiments that included more than 1,000 people from all rungs of society.

“Elevated wealth status seems to make you want even more, and that increased want leads you to bend the rules or break the rules to serve your self-interest,”  said Paul Piff, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Berkeley and lead author of the report.

In one experiment, . . .

Continue article…

I think when people of wealth act corruptly a sense of “I deserve this” comes often to mind, which again shows the danger of relying only internal cues (the sense of deserving it) and ignoring the actual behavior — the objective action (embezzling funds or whatever). The focus on the reason they’re doing some immoral or unethical act (the reason being generally some combination of “I deserve this” and “they leave me no choice”) blinds their conscious judgment about what they’re doing.

Before doing the actual act, it’s good if you’ve made a practice of observing your behavior objectively, as others might view it. It’s helpful in developing this skill to keep a journal written from the point of view of an on-looker, a journal that ignores entirely your internal monologue of reasons and judgments. Record in the journal only the behavior and words that a person at your shoulder would witness. This works best if you write the journal in third person, referring to yourself as “he” or “she,” which maintains some psychic distance and makes it easier to enter the mindset of being an outside observer. Such a journal can act as a moral mirror. Just as a wall mirror lets you see your appearance as others will see it, the journal of your actions (without including your internal rationalizations and justifications) enables you to view your behavior as others will view it.

[In reading over this, I wondered whether an ideological blindness to inconsistent facts (the attitude that what’s “right” is more important than what’s true, when for a pragmatist, what’s true is always primary—cf. conservative opinion about climate change, anti-vaxxer opinion about vaccinations) is related to the way our beliefs about our motivations blind us to what we’re actually doing — that is, what an on-looker not distracted by our (internal) motivations would see us doing. For example, the crooked businessman’s initial response to discovery/arrest seems to be surprise—like he had no idea that what he was doing was wrong—and then he commonly says, “I know this looks bad…”, sort of waking up to how it looks/what it is, and thumbing through his internal motivations for reassurance that what he did was not actually wrong, it only looks wrong (to everyone in the world). – LG]

At any rate, my immediate thought was that wealth is like physical exertion or vitamin A or food itself: if you get too little, you’re badly damaged or can even die, but if you get too much, you also are badly damaged and can even die. The middle ground is the safe space—even with wealth.

A second thought stemmed from an earlier post about what the Christian God said when He came to town, and how strongly He (Jesus) spoke out against wealth. He explicitly stated that it was to be avoided, and I wonder whether the findings mentioned above show why. (It’s worth noting that Jesus spent almost all His time among the poor and marginalized, not among the wealthy and powerful. I think that fact is worth pondering.)

I can’t help but note that our track record when God Himself commands us NOT, under ANY circumstances, to do something, is not good. We pretty much hop to it and do whatever it is at the first opportunity. … Hmm. Just flashed on the quotation “By their fruits you shall know them,” not even recalling context but linking that to the “fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” — having eaten it, the fact cannot be hidden: we cannot help making statements that show that we have moral knowledge and a moral sense. The effects of eating the fruit reveal the fact of its consumption. “By their fruits you shall know them.” And that brought me back to wealth: those fruits are quite obvious: the wealthy consume more, and better, than anyone. But the study suggests that a serious side-effect seems to be (on average) a marked decline in moral and ethical standards — the very sort of thing Jesus would be concerned about. And by their fruits you shall know them. By their actions their moral values are revealed.

But that came to me just now as I typed. What I intended to blog in thinking about the effects of wealth on one’s moral character is that wealth corrupts our character. That’s not really a surprise: wealth is power, and power corrupts. And indeed the wealthy do seem to be a major subset if not an outright majority of the powerful — naturally enough, come to think of it, since one of the first signs of being corrupted by power is to start using that power to increase one’s wealth, and that (as we now know) sets off a vicious cycle: increasing wealth results in decreasing moral and ethical standards, which leads to more political and personal corruption, bringing in yet more money/wealth, and that further lowers one’s moral and ethical standards, repeat until it blows up, often fairly quickly.

I can think of governments on every continent that have exemplified this cycle, some very exactly.

So the study findings merely provide experimental verification of a fact long since known — and about which God Himself quite explicitly warned us. The detrimental effects of wealth on a person’s character is observed repeatedly and is evident to any student of history. It’s a sad cycle, but it seems to be inescapable because of the self-reinforcing nature: the further it goes, the faster it goes — thus the short life spans, I imagine (though “short” is relative: both Hitler and Stalin were around far too long).

This process of the positive feedback loop of wealth and moral corruption is so common it needs a name, like (for example) the Carnot cycle in engineering. Certainly this cycle — rags to riches to rags/death — is reliable in that the same sequence is repeated across a wide range of cultures and epochs and on a range of scales: individual, family, tribe/corportation, nation. The wealth/corruption cycle seems to be based on basic human responses and predilections and catches us in a self-reinforcing trap, much as modern manufactured foods exploit our natural predilections for (say) salt, sugar, and fat to make us fast-food addicts.

You know, I bet it would be very easy to construct a finite Markov chain of this process.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that some readers might disagree with the studies’ findings, arguing that the findings are false. They can look upon the above as an attempt to refute the findings by exploring the logical consequences, hoping for a reductio ad absurdum. But so far the thing seems to pan out and be consistent with what we observe. The things we see happening and having happened would follow inexorably upon the truth of the findings, and lo! there they are. No reductio here.

Update 15 Dec 2019: The article “How a Society Dies” sets out in grim terms the endgame. And the news article “Purdue Pharma Payments to Sackler Family Soared Amid Opioid Crisis” provides a good example of the wealth/corruption cycle and serves also as a reminder that it’s not just the wealthy who are thereby damaged: “Suicide, opioids tied to ongoing fall in US life expectancy: Third year of drop.

Update Easter Sunday (4/4) 2021: Michael Mechanic has an excellent article on this topic in the Atlantic. Do read the whole thing. Here’s just a part of it:

Piff’s popular TED Talk, “Does Money Make You Mean?” But his observations were consistent with a large body of social science finding that people of higher socioeconomic status, compared with those lower down the ladder, are more prone to entitlement and narcissistic behavior. Wealthier subjects also tend to be more self-oriented and more willing to behave unethically in their own self-interest (to lie during negotiations, say, or to steal from an employer). In one study, Piff and his colleagues stationed a pedestrian at the edge of a busy crosswalk and watched to see which cars would let the person cross. Suffice it to say that Fords and Subarus were far more likely to stop than Mercedeses and BMWs.

We find such research amusing because it jibes with our stereotypes of rich people. But there’s nothing frivolous about asking how having an abundance of money affects our psychology. After all, the ranks of the rich, and the wealth they command, have exploded in the United States since the end of the Great Recession. Not even a pandemic could stop this avalanche of assets. The ultrawealthy—Americans with $30 million and up—suffered a brief setback, but by September 2020 the markets had rebounded and the rich were very nearly whole again. Even as the poor and middle class reeled from job losses and the threat of evictions and foreclosures, scores of new billionaires were minted.

Early in his career, Piff had observed that people were studying the causes and effects of poverty ad nauseam, but nobody was addressing the questions he wanted to ask. Namely: What are the social and psychological ramifications of being on top of the economic food chain, of occupying positions of privilege? Wealth-related differences in attitudes and behavior are particularly important wherever the rich have an outsize sway over politics and policy. If, for instance, wealth makes people less compassionate, then a government that believes that the rich should behave in the interests of the populace may have to force them to do so.

Political scientists such as Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens have found notable differences in the policy preferences of affluent versus middle-class Americans, not only on purely economic matters like taxation but also on public-education funding, racial equity, and environmental protections, all of which the rich have been significantly less likely to support. This matters because of the influence the rich have over government officials. In one study, Gilens, now a professor at UCLA, combed through thousands of public survey responses and discovered that, on issues where the views of wealthy voters diverged significantly from those of the rest of the populace, the policies ultimately put in place “strongly” reflected the desires of the most affluent respondents—the top-earning 10 percent. Those policies, the study concluded, bore “virtually no relationship to the preferences” of poorer Americans.

Wealthy people are less likely than poor ones, in lab settings at least, to relate to the suffering of others. When people experience compassion, it turns out, our hearts actually slow down. In 2012, Piff’s then-colleagues Michael Kraus and Jennifer Stellar hooked volunteers up to ECG machines and showed them two short videos: a “neutral” video of a woman explaining how to construct a patio wall and a “compassion” video of children receiving chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Relative to the wealthier participants, the poorer ones not only reported feeling greater compassion for the kids but also exhibited a significantly larger slowdown in heart rate from one video to the next.

If affluent people are less moved by the suffering of others, they should be less likely to help those in need, and this too seems to be true both in the lab and outside it. While wealthy families donate significantly more money to charity on average than poor families do, they tend to give away a smaller share of their income. “As wealth goes up, the stinginess seems to increase,” Piff said.

Raymond Fisman, a behavioral economist at Boston University, has found tha

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2012 at 1:43 pm

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