Later On

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

Archive for August 20th, 2012

Considering why blackmail is illegal

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Very interesting discussion by John Danaher—and I look forward to Part 2. It begins:

Consider the following the scenario:

Madeline’s Memoirs: Madeline is an infamous courtesan operating in Victorian London. She counts among her clients some of the most powerful establishment men in Britain. With her career on the wane, she decides to write her memoirs, which will reveal all the sordid details of her many dalliances. This will no doubt cause great scandal and (given the social mores of the time) will be the downfall of her indecorous clientele. Spotting an opportunity to make more money, Madeline offers her former clients a deal: if they pay her a large sum of money, she will keep their name out of the published version of her memoirs.

This thought experiment — which is based on the real-life case of Harriette Wilson — is an example of blackmail: Madeline threatens to do something that would upset or destabilise her clients, unless they pay her a sum of money.

Blackmail is recognised as a crime in most countries. For example, in England and Wales, blackmail is criminalised under s. 21 of the Theft Act of 1968 and carries a potential maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. But the fact that blackmail is criminalised is thought to be troubling by many theorists of criminal law. As they see it, there is a paradox underlying the criminalisation of blackmail. And many of them have written at length about this paradox and its possible resolution. Indeed, the volume of literature available on this one topic is frankly overwhelming.

In this series of posts, I want to consider the so-called paradox of blackmail and its possible resolutions. As I said above, the volume of literature is overwhelming, so my discussion is limited to a few idiosyncratic pieces that happened to capture my attention. This may result in some arguments and theories not getting a fair shake in this series. I apologise for that in advance. I’m still reading and learning more about the topic as I write this, and so this series can really only be counted as a preliminary stage in my own education on this topic.

Anyway, in this first post I want to do three things. First, I want to set out the alleged paradox of blackmail in as clear a fashion as I can. Second, I want to introduce the reader to a famous (but not particularly good) article by Richard Epstein, which attempts to explain why blackmail ought to be criminalised. And third, I want to formalise the argument at the heart of Epstein’s paper so to facilitate its critical appraisal in part two. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2012 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

When you hate to sell something

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Although I don’t play chess nowadays, I only reluctantly listed my pocket magnetic chess set. I’ve never found one as good as it. Of course, that’s exactly how the disease starts: keeping things you don’t use simply because they once were so pleasing. Letting go is not easy.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2012 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games

Israel and Palestinians

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Beyond the illegal settlements that Israel continues to build, we have things like this incident. Such events do not happen in a cultural vacuum: the Israeli youths involved were primed by Israeli culture and attitudes.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2012 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Krugman on Ryan

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Krugman takes a look at what Paul Ryan specifically proposes—that is, at Ryan’s own words and plans:

. . . Let’s talk about what’s actually in the Ryan plan, and let’s distinguish in particular between actual, specific policy proposals and unsupported assertions. To focus things a bit more, let’s talk — as most budget discussions do — about what’s supposed to happen over the next 10 years.

On the tax side, Mr. Ryan proposes big cuts in tax rates on top income brackets and corporations. He has tried to dodge the normal process in which tax proposals are “scored” by independent auditors, but the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math, and the revenue loss from these cuts comes to $4.3 trillion over the next decade.

On the spending side, Mr. Ryan proposes huge cuts in Medicaid, turning it over to the states while sharply reducing funding relative to projections under current policy. That saves around $800 billion. He proposes similar harsh cuts in food stamps, saving a further $130 billion or so, plus a grab-bag of other cuts, such as reduced aid to college students. Let’s be generous and say that all these cuts would save $1 trillion.

On top of this, Mr. Ryan includes the $716 billion in Medicare savings that are part of Obamacare, even though he wants to scrap everything else in that act. Despite this, Mr. Ryan has now joined Mr. Romney in denouncing President Obama for “cutting Medicare”; more on that in a minute.

So if we add up Mr. Ryan’s specific proposals, we have $4.3 trillion in tax cuts, partially offset by around $1.7 trillion in spending cuts — with the tax cuts, surprise, disproportionately benefiting the top 1 percent, while the spending cuts would primarily come at the expense of low-income families. Over all, the effect would be to increase the deficit by around two and a half trillion dollars.

Yet Mr. Ryan claims to be a deficit hawk. What’s the basis for that claim?

Well, he says that he would offset his tax cuts by “base broadening,” eliminating enough tax deductions to make up the lost revenue. Which deductions would he eliminate? He refuses to say — and realistically, revenue gain on the scale he claims would be virtually impossible.

At the same time, he asserts that he would make huge further cuts in spending. What would he cut? He refuses to say.

What Mr. Ryan actually offers, then, are specific proposals that would sharply increase the deficit, plus an assertion that he has secret tax and spending plans that he refuses to share with us, but which will turn his overall plan into deficit reduction.

If this sounds like a joke, that’s because it is. Yet Mr. Ryan’s “plan” has been treated with great respect in Washington. He even received an award for fiscal responsibility from three of the leading deficit-scold pressure groups. What’s going on?

The answer, basically, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2012 at 8:19 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Wash your organic produce

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Interesting point: even organic produce should be washed/rinsed, as Kiera Butler explains in Mother Jones:

This summer I’ve been on a blueberry tear. I buy a little container from the farmers market or supermarket and open it up as soon as I get home, popping the sweet little orbs into my mouth as I’m putting away my groceries. Only occasionally do I give rinsing them more than a passing thought. After all, I usually splurge for the organic kind. How bad could a little chemical-free dirt really be? Do I really have to wash my innocent-looking blueberries?

According to Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, the answer is an unequivocal yes, for several reasons. One is what the produce industry refers to as “pesticide drift”: The wind can—and frequently does—blow chemicals from nearby conventional fields onto organic crops. Pesticide contamination can also happen in the warehouse, since many produce companies use the same facilities to process organic and conventional products. In that case, companies are supposed to use the label “organically grown” instead of “organic,” which can mislead consumers. “The labels are really confusing,” says Lunder. “When people say they’re transitional organic, there might be traces left in the soil. If you see no-spray, they still might be using synthetic fertilizer, for example.”

But the main reason to wash organic produce is to get rid of germs. “Bacterial contamination is huge,” says Lunder. You might remember, for example, that one of the culprits in the giant e. coli spinach outbreak of 2006 was bagged organic spinach. . .

Continue reading.

Of course, even washing or rinsing the dirty dozen is not really sufficient: the pesticide measurements were taken after washing or peeling. At the link is a good discussion that includes information like:

This year we have expanded the Dirty Dozen with a Plus category to highlight two crops — green beans and leafy greens, meaning, kale and collard greens – that did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen criteria but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides. These insecticides are toxic to the nervous system and have been largely removed from agriculture over the past decade. But they are not banned and still show up on some food crops.

And note these highlights:

  • The most contaminated fruits, in alphabetical order, are apples, domestic blueberries, grapes, imported nectarines, peaches and strawberries.
  • The most contaminated vegetables are bell peppers, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes and spinach.
  • Every sample of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticides, followed by apples (98 percent) and imported plums (96 percent).
  • The average imported nectarine had much higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop.
  • Grapes had 15 pesticides detected on a single sample. Blueberries and strawberries both had 13 different pesticides detected on a single sample
  • As a category, grapes have more types of pesticides than any other produce, with 64 different pesticides.
  • Some 96 percent of celery samples tested positive for pesticides, followed by potatoes (91 percent).
  • A single bell pepper sample was contaminated with 15 different pesticides, followed by a single sample of celery with 13.
  • Bell peppers had 88 different pesticide residues, followed by cucumbers (81) and lettuce (78).

I’ve seen studies published by chemical companies that the nutritional value of organic produce is not significantly different from conventional produce, but that is asking the wrong question. The question relevant to organic vs. conventional is the quantity and kind of toxins present in and on the produce. On that, the chemical companies prefer not to speak.

It’s worth your while to explore the full EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, including the FAQs, the full list, and so on.


Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2012 at 8:07 am

White Slant and Mocha Java

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QED’s Mocha Java is indeed a fine morning fragrance for lather to have—and the lather itself is quite good as well. I rubbed the shave stick over my beard, wet the Morris & Forndran brush, and quickly had a wonderful lather. I took my time with it, enjoying fragrance and feel, and then the white bakelite brother of the Slant now on eBay went to work with a Swedish Gillette blade that is getting a little long in the tooth. Nonetheless, much of my face was smooth after the first pass, and after the second only a few rough spots were left. Still, I did the full three-pass shave. And I noticed that I do indeed like the pressure-control I enjoy with a light razor—it seems more responsive, just as a light sword is more agile and easier to wield than a heavy one. I did replace the blade at the end of the shave, using a Kai for the next outing of this razor. And I think I’ll use it daily this week—the Slant is not just for multi-day stubble but can be a daily shaver.

A splash of TOBS No. 74, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2012 at 7:46 am

Posted in Shaving

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