Later On

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

Archive for July 19th, 2012

Hal Kemp: Swampfire

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An email from gives the story (and I should note that the content of the email doesn’t appear on the site, so it’s worthwhile to subscribe—and also note that at the site itself, there’s a link to additional Hal Kemp performances).

Having organized and toured Europe with his first band the “Carolina Club Orchestra” in 1924, while still a student at the University of North Carolina, Hal Kemp was already a seasoned bandleader by the age of 30. His intricate horn and saxophone arrangements placed his among the all-time great dance bands. Sadly, his life was cut short as the result of injuries he received in an automobile accident in 1940. Here’s a performance from his Orchestra, filmed a year prior to this tragedy.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2012 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

Bad time for homeowners: Abandoned by the government, banks (fore)closing in

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Dean Baker has an interesting column in TruthOut:

Ever since the housing bubble collapsed, the federal government has refused to take major initiatives to help underwater homeowners. As a result, we are likely to see close to 1 million foreclosures both this year and next, with the numbers only gradually slipping back to normal levels by the end of the decade.

The inaction cannot be attributed to a lack of opportunity. At the time the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout was being debated in the fall of 2008, many progressive members of Congress wanted to have a provision that would at least temporarily alter bankruptcy law to allow judges to rewrite the terms of a mortgage.

Under current law, home mortgages are treated differently than any other type of debt. Bankruptcy judges are prohibited from altering the terms of a mortgage in anyway. If a homeowner cannot meet the terms of the mortgage, they lose the house. Congress could have allowed bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages that were written during the housing bubble frenzy, but it backed away from this opportunity.

Similarly, Congress could have temporarily changed the rules on foreclosure to allow foreclosed homeowners to stay in their homes for a substantial period of time (for example, five years) as renters paying the market rent. This would have assured underwater homeowners substantial housing security.

Either of these measures would have radically altered the relationship between investors and homeowners. They would have given homeowners a serious weapon that they could have used to threaten lenders and hopefully persuade them to agree to modify underwater mortgages. However, since Congress did not take any action to shore up the position of homeowners, we are still sitting here with more than 11 million homeowners underwater, five years after house prices began their plunge.

This failure at the national level provides the backdrop for a plan by a group of investors, Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP), to try to get through some of the morass in the housing market. MRP has been working with public officials in San Bernardino, California, to arrange to use the government’s power of eminent domain to condemn underwater mortgages.

As background, San Bernardino is ground zero in the housing bubble. Prices doubled or even tripled in the bubble years. They plunged when the bubble burst, with prices now often less than half of their 2006 peaks. Half of the mortgages in the county are underwater.

This collapse has not only . . .

Continue reading. This initiative is hopeful, but it’s bad that Congress does not act (save to protect banks). And, of course, banks—Bank of America, for example—have foreclosed on many properties that were already paid off. That is working through the courts. I’m sure the worst that will happen to BofA is that they’ll have to pay some sort of trivial fine.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2012 at 10:20 am

Federal Election Commission purges files to protect big-ticket political donors

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This report by Thomas Ferguson and Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen at AlterNet is sort of breathtaking: the FEC is tasked with ensuring that elections are run legally and fairly. To have the Commission purge its own files to protect big-ticket donors makes it the creature of the wealthy.

The Federal Election Commission has long been the go-to source for tracking political money. So when it starts cleansing politically hot contributions from its files, it matters. Big time.

We have discovered that sometime after January of this year, the FEC deleted a whole set of contributions totaling millions of dollars made during the 2007-2008 election cycle. The most important of these files concern what is now called “dark money” – funds donated to ostensible charities or public interest groups rather parties, candidates or conventional political action committees (PACs). These non-profit groups – which Washington insiders often refer to generically as 501(c)s, after the section of the federal tax code regulating them – use the money to pay for allegedly educational “independent” ads that run outside conventional campaign channels. Such funding has now developed into a gigantic channel for evading disclosure of the donors’ identities and is acutely controversial.

In 2008, however, a substantial number of contributions to such 501(c)s made it into the FEC database. For the agency quietly to remove them almost four years later with no public comment is scandalous. It flouts the agency’s legal mandate to track political money and mocks the whole spirit of what the FEC was set up to do. No less seriously, as legal challenges and public criticism of similar contributions in the 2012 election cycle rise to fever pitch, the FEC’s action wipes out one of the few sources of real evidence about how dark money works. Obviously, the unheralded purge also raises unsettling questions about what else might be going on with the database that scholars and journalists of every persuasion have always relied upon.

Why the FEC Was Created

Federal regulatory agencies are often the offspring of epic scandals. The Federal Election Commission is no exception. It was created in the aftermath of Watergate to do for political money what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) did for securities markets in the New Deal: End an anything-goes saturnalia of corruption through a mix of tough new regulations and “sunlight” – in this case, open, transparent publication of who is trying to buy whom with campaign contributions.

The FEC was supposed to inform the public and curb abuse in our democracy. But like the SEC in the post-Reagan era, the FEC’s reach soon exceeded its grasp. Virtually from the beginning, dark forces of law and politics combined to render the agency almost impotent as a regulator. Today a generation of legal loopholes, court decisions and bipartisan foot-dragging has wrecked spending limits, destroyed the promise of public funding and spawned a new Gilded Age of money in politics.

As the actual situation of money and politics slid from bad to worse, the FEC adjusted by . . .

Continue reading. It’s a lengthy and detailed article and quite specific about what’s been done. Our government continues to be responsive, but no longer to the public.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2012 at 8:51 am

Fight against contraceptive services renewed

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The opposition to contraceptive services is still active. Sahil Kapur reports in TPMDC:

This spring’s political contretemps over access to contraception are returning to Capitol Hill — and this time Republicans are trying to tie the issue to must-pass legislation, foreshadowing a possible government shutdown standoff unless conservatives back down and temporarily agree to set aside earlier grievances.

House Republicans renewed their effort Wednesday by advancing a measure through the Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee with a rider to roll back President Obama’s contraception mandate. Authorized by the Affordable Care Act, the rule requires employer-provided health insurance plans to cover contraception without co-pays, with carve-outs for churches and religious non-profits. Republicans on the panel defeated a Democratic amendment to strip the provision, suggesting they’re willing to pick the fight.

“The Affordable Care Act guaranteed that all insurance plans cover preventive services without cost sharing, including basic services such as HPV screening, vaccines, HIV/AIDS screening, and contraceptives,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), who tried to have the provision removed. “It is unacceptable that House Republicans continue to go out of their way to deny women basic healthcare.”

The measure appears before the full appropriations committee next week and would give necessary funding to some of the largest government departments beyond Sept. 30. It would additionally slash health programs, family planning, and boost abstinence-only education. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2012 at 8:45 am

A counterattack on atmospheric CO2

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An idea that might buy us a little more time, though so far I’ve not seen any real movement toward reducing carbon release—e.g., no carbon tax. Still, any good news is welcome. Hayley Dunning writes a feature article in The Scientist that begins:

Great blooms of oceanic algae, called phytoplankton, take carbon out of the atmosphere during photosynthesis, much of which is then taken deep into ocean with them when they die. Scientists have theorized that this mechanism helped cool the earth during historic ice ages by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it at the ocean floor, where it cannot be recycled back into the atmosphere. Inducing algal blooms on a large scale could do the same today, reducing the impact of carbon dioxide on the greenhouse effect and slowing the impact of global climate change.

Indeed, as reported today (July 18) in Nature, scientists have seeded the ocean with iron and watched as the resulting bloom flourished, then died, sinking down to the deep ocean with a significant amount of carbon in tow.

“[The authors] were focused and quite successful at seeing if you added iron, what would be the biological response of the phytoplankton? What was the fate of the carbon and nutrients they sucked up?” said marine geochemist Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who was not involved in the study. “This is probably the best example of a group that stayed out long enough and looked deep enough to see if there were any effects below the surface.”

During glacial periods, more dust rich in iron, an essential nutrient for algae, reaches the oceans. Iron is particularly limiting in the Southern Ocean, and previous studies have shown that adding iron to the surface waters does induce large blooms of algae. In 2004, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2012 at 8:40 am

Interesting take on a “public trial”

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Basic to the idea of the US legal system is that trials should be public—the Founding Fathers well knew the dangers of Star Chambers and secret proceedings.

But now every statement made by the defendants in the Guantánamo military commissions is classified, automatically. This is an enormous leap, and fortunately it is being challenged—but given the direction things have been going, how it will be resolved is unclear. Cora Currier reports for ProPublica:

Can the government declare anything a Guantanamo detainee does or says automatically classified?

That’s the question posed by two challenges to a government order declaring “any and all statements” by the five detainees allegedly behind the 9/11 attacks “presumptively classified.” That includes their own accounts of their treatment, and even torture, at the hands of the U.S. government.

The government made that argument this spring at the start of the military commission trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others. The government says the defendants’ accounts, if made public without review by a government authority, could reveal details of the CIA’s detention and interrogation efforts.

Of course, much information about the programs—including torture of detainees—has long been public. The CIA’s so-called black-site prisons were acknowledged nearly six years ago by then-President Bush. More details about the program were released by President Obama in 2009.

The “presumptive classification” order extends to both detainees’ testimony and their discussions with their lawyers. In other words, anything said by a detainee, whether in court or to their counsel, will first need censors’ stamp of approval before it can become public.

The American Civil Liberties Union, news outlets, and one of the 9/11 defendants’ lawyers have all challenged aspects of the order. A Gitmo commission judge may consider their arguments at hearings next month.

Here’s exactly what the government says is still classified, from the order it proposed to the military commission in April: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2012 at 8:30 am

Obesity in lab rats – and measuring obesity

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Interesting point that systematic obesity in lab rats might skew findings—quite a while ago I read that the common use of fluorescent lighting (high on the UV) in labs, uniformly illuminating all experiments, might be introducing systematic errors as well. Hayley Dunning reports in The Scientist on the fat rats:

Rats and mice used in toxicology testing and other studies are commonly give constant access to food, and allowed to eat as much as they want. Compared to larger lab animals that are fed regular meals, rodents on a free-for-all diet tend to have higher blood fat, higher, cholesterol, and greater incidence of heart damage and cancer, which can be problematic when investigating the toxicity of new drugs, among other inquiries. Fluctuating food intake can also promote hyperinsulinemia, a precursor for developing diabetes.

“The enhanced insulin sensitivity of the meal-fed rodent suggests that toxicology researchers using an ad libitum model are unknowingly using a diabetic-type model,” said Gale Carey and Lisa Merrill from the University of New Hampshire in their new study published online May 29 in Chemical Research in Toxicology.

Reviewing more than 50 published studies from the past 40 years, Carey and Merrill say their review supports the idea that meal-feeding is “an important synchronizer of many behaviors and biological rhythms,” and that feeding patterns can affect drug metabolism. Feeding schedule also appears to alter the expression of genes that code for proteins involved in the rate and amplitude of drug interactions in the body. Carey and Merrill conclude that controlling for diet produces less experimental variability, and that researchers should strongly consider diet regime when designing toxicology studies.

And, speaking of obesity, Cristina Luiggi has a note in The Scientist on adding waist measurement to the Body-Mass Index (BMI) to get a better reading of the risk of premature death:

A new measurement that takes into account waist circumference in addition to traditional Body Mass Index (BMI) data provides information about the risk of premature death for an individual. Known as A Body Shape Index (ABSI), the metric was tested on national health and nutrition data from 14,000 adults in the United States and found to show a better correlation with death rate than does the BMI.

“Measuring body dimensions is straightforward compared to other most medical tests, but it’s been challenging to link these with health,” Nir Krakauer, a researcher at City College of New York, who led the study published in PLoS ONE, said in a press release. “Our results give evidence that the power-law scaling of waist circumference, weight, and other body measurements can be used to develop body shape indices that point to added risk.”

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2012 at 8:16 am

Posted in Health, Science

Mama Bear Eucalyptus

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Quite a fine shave this morning. The little Omega boar brush is breaking in nicely and it held plenty of lather for a three-pass shave. And the fragrance of the lather from Mama Bear’s Eucalyptus shaving soap was pleasing: eucalyptus is enjoyable on a summer morning.

The razor is the iKon version 2.0 open-comb, extremely comfortable and with the bulldog handle a pleasure to use. The blade today is a previously used Personna 74 tungsten steel, a very good blade for me: the three passes were smooth and trouble-free.

The photo has an excellent back view of Taylor of Old Bond Street No. 74 aftershave, due to operator error. This is a pleasant and old-timey fragrance, to my nose.

Altogether a good way to start the day.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2012 at 8:11 am

Posted in Shaving

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