Later On

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

Archive for November 2012

Plain language to the GOP from David Firestone

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David Firestone writes in the NY Times:

Republicans reportedly laughed when they saw the Obama administration’s initial offer in the fiscal negotiations yesterday. The idea that President Obama might actually want to enact his campaign promises – tax hikes on the rich, modest Medicare cuts, investments in infrastructure – is apparently considered a joke to the party that has shown virtually no flexibility in the last four years.

But some of that laughter may contain nervousness, because there is more going on here than just a pathway to splitting the difference. The White House made clear yesterday that it is approaching these talks from a position of responsibility, and that it actually takes seriously the notion of old-fashioned bargaining. That’s something Republicans have refused to do — and now they realize they’ve been called out.

It was never responsible for Republicans to spend years adamantly declaring total opposition to higher taxes as a back-door way of starving government. That’s precisely the intransigence that created the fiscal cliff in the first place. Now a few Republicans are saying they’ll agree to higher revenues, as if that obvious need is an enormous concession, but they’re still refusing to support increased tax rates.

It was never responsible to spend years on talk shows demanding “cuts in entitlements,” while running a presidential campaign that attacked Mr. Obama for cutting Medicare. The president has put $400 billion in cuts to Medicare and other social insurance programs on the table. The Republicans, out of political fear, have proposed exactly nothing.

It was, above all, profoundly irresponsible for Republicans to govern by threatening to send the Treasury into default if they did not get their way on spending, a wholly new and ugly phenomenon in American politics. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spoke for the financial markets and anyone who cares about good government when he proposed yesterday a way to permanently defuse that threat by requiring a two-thirds vote of Congress to block an increase in the debt ceiling.

That was considered particularly uproarious in the offices of House and Senate Republican leaders. But once the laughter dies down, they will have to come to the table with a responsible offer of their own, rather than simply declaring a stalemate, as Speaker John Boehner did today, because he didn’t like the president’s opening bid. If they continue to refuse to do so, the public won’t find it very funny.

The GOP has become completely irresponsible. They are simply a destructive, irrational force now.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 8:41 pm

Posted in GOP

Wonderful movie by Errol Morris

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The Wife and I just watched Tabloid, a documentary by Errol Morris—his second appearance in one of my blog posts today. (See earlier post on Jeffrey MacDonald.) Tabloid is a move that may not have everything, but it does have plenty: Mormons, sex, bondage, tabloids, and more—many unexpected twists. And it does show the complete lack of empathy of the UK tabloid press: one can readily understand why tabloid executives will doubtless be going to jail, and well-deserved it is. One wants a free press, but not a duplicitous, licentious press. The UK tabloids seem to lack any sense of responsibility at all.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Why hospitals should be non-profit

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Because profit-oriented hospitals must constantly increase profits, cutting costs and services, increasing fees, and pushing doctors to bill more. Judy Creswell and Reed Abelson report in the NY Times:

or decades, doctors in picturesque Boise, Idaho, were part of a tight-knit community, freely referring patients to the specialists or hospitals of their choice and exchanging information about the latest medical treatments.

But that began to change a few years ago, when the city’s largest hospital, St. Luke’s Health System, began rapidly buying physician practices all over town, from general practitioners to cardiologists to orthopedic surgeons.

Today, Boise is a medical battleground.

A little over half of the 1,400 doctors in southwestern Idaho are employed by St. Luke’s or its smaller competitor, St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.

Many of the independent doctors complain that both hospitals, but especially St. Luke’s, have too much power over every aspect of the medical pipeline, dictating which tests and procedures to perform, how much to charge and which patients to admit.

In interviews, they said their referrals from doctors now employed by St. Luke’s had dropped sharply, while patients, in many cases, were paying more there for the same level of treatment.

Boise’s experience reflects a growing national trend toward consolidation. Across the country, doctors who sold their practices and signed on as employees have similar criticisms. In lawsuits and interviews, they describe growing pressure to meet the financial goals of their new employers — often by performing unnecessary tests and procedures or by admitting patients who do not need a hospital stay.

In Boise, just a few weeks ago, even the hospitals were at war. St. Alphonsus went to court seeking an injunction to stop St. Luke’s from buying another physician practice group, arguing that the hospital’s dominance in the market was enabling it to drive up prices and to demand exclusive or preferential agreements with insurers. The price of a colonoscopy has quadrupled in some instances, and in other cases St. Luke’s charges nearly three times as much for laboratory work as nearby facilities, according to the St. Alphonsus complaint.

Federal and state officials have also joined the fray. In one of a handful of similar cases, the Federal Trade Commission and the Idaho attorney general are investigating whether St. Luke’s has become too powerful in Boise, using its newfound leverage to stifle competition.

Dr. David C. Pate, chief executive of St. Luke’s, denied the assertions by St. Alphonsus that the hospital’s acquisitions had limited patient choice or always resulted in higher prices. In some cases, Dr. Pate said, services that had been underpriced were raised to reflect market value. St. Luke’s, he argued, is simply embracing the new model of health care, which he predicted would lead over the long term to lower overall costs as fewer unnecessary tests and procedures were performed.

Regulators expressed some skepticism about the results, for patients, of rapid consolidation, although the trend is still too new to know for sure. “We’re seeing a lot more consolidation than we did 10 years ago,” said Jeffrey Perry, an assistant director in the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Competition. “Historically, what we’ve seen with the consolidation in the health care industry is that prices go up, but quality does not improve.” . . .

Continue reading. A capitalistic, free-market, profit-making approach does not always produce the best result, as you see.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 5:42 pm

Slow-cooked Boston baked beans: The Eldest recommends

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The Eldest just called to say that this recipe was terrific. Ingredients:

1 pound (2 to 2 1/4 cups) dry white beans such as Navy beans or Great Northern beans (can also use kidney beans)
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup brown sugar
3-4 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups hot water
1/2 pound salt pork (can substitute bacon), cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, (1 1/2 cups) chopped

She went with the bacon, since some said (in comments) that the salt pork was too salty. We had a good laugh at the idea of using a medium onion.

She soaked beans overnight, and then they had to soak through the day while she was at work, so they were well-soaked. She put it together in the slow-cooker overnight and said she awoke the next morning drooling at the fragrances wafting through the house.

I’ll make it soon, but I just got a smoked ham shank that I’m going to cook overnight in a 200F oven, with just a little water (or not: still deciding), and then tomorrow add onion, carrots, celery, two cans of beans, drained and rinsed (one can pinto, one can black), and shredded cabbage, water, and perhaps Penzeys Ham Soup Base to make a rainy-day soup. Maybe some rice?

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Ten key factors that led to marijuana legalization in Colorado

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Very interesting article by Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project:

In the wake of our victory in Colorado — where 54.8 percent of the voters passed Amendment 64, a constitutional amendment to regulate marijuana like alcohol — good people are understandably clamoring to pass similar measures in their states.

Here is a listing of the ingredients of the recipe that led to the historic victory in Colorado on November 6.

1. Presidential Election: Given that no one had ever previously legalized marijuana in the history of the world, we assumed that the election in Colorado would be close — win or lose. So we intentionally chose to place our initiative on the ballot during a presidential election, which always attracts a larger proportion of young voters, who are more supportive.

2. Inclusive Drafting Process: The team that drafted the initiative went out of its way to solicit feedback from key lawyers, medical-marijuana industry players, other organizational leaders, and unaffiliated activists. As a result, there was almost no infighting, which allowed us to build a strong coalition of support across the state.

3. Years of Groundwork: Officially, the Colorado campaign was two years long; unofficially, it was eight years long. In 2004, MPP’s grants program helped launch two non-profit advocacy organizations in Colorado, SAFER and Sensible Colorado. The executive directors of these two organizations eventually became the co-proponents of Amendment 64. SAFER focused on educating the public about the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol; it did so through citywide, marijuana-related ballot initiatives in Denver in 2005 and 2007, which each garnered support from a majority of Denver voters. In 2006, SAFER coordinated a statewide ballot initiative to legalize marijuana and generated substantial debate in Colorado (while garnering 41 percent of the vote). Meanwhile, Sensible Colorado helped expand access to medical marijuana for patients. Most significantly, in 2008, Sensible Colorado spearheaded a court challenge to expand the state’s medical marijuana “caregiver” provision to allow for retail sales. All of this took planning and money.

4. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Election

A father learns about his son’s Asperger’s syndrome

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Very interesting article by Ron Fournier in the National Journal:

Our noses were practically touching the wall. Tall, white, and seamless, it was the only thing standing between us and the president of the United States. “Stay right there,” a White House aide told me, my wife, and three children. “The president will be with you in a minute.” Suddenly, the wall opened; it was a hidden door to the Oval Office. “Come on in, Fournier!” shouted George W. Bush. “Who ya’ dragging in?”

It was my last day covering the White House for the Associated Press, and this 2003 visit was a courtesy that presidents traditionally afford departing correspondents. I introduced my wife, Lori, and two daughters, Holly and Abby, before turning to their 5-year-old brother. “Where’s Barney?” Tyler asked.

“He’s coming!” Bush replied as his Scottish terrier scampered into the room. “Let’s do a photo!”

As the most powerful man on Earth prepared to pose for a picture, my son launched into a one-sided conversation, firing off one choppy phrase after another with machine-gun delivery. “Scottish terriers are called Scotties, they originated from Scotland, they can be traced back to a single female named Splinter II, President Roosevelt had one, he called it Fala, Dad says he kept him in the office down there when he was swimming, there’s one in Monopoly, my favorite is the car …”

I cringed. Tyler is loving, charming, and brilliant—he has a photographic memory—but he lacks basic social skills. He doesn’t know when he’s being too loud or when he’s talking too much. He can’t read facial expressions to tell when somebody is sad, curious, or bored. He has a difficult time seeing how others view him. Tyler is what polite company calls awkward. I’ve watched adults respond to him with annoyed looks or pity. Bullies call him goofy, or worse.

But the president was enchanted. Waiting for Tyler to take a breath, he quickly changed the subject with a joke. “Look at your shoes,” Bush told Tyler while putting a hand on his shoulder and steering him toward the photographer. “They’re ugly. Just like your dad’s.” Tyler laughed.

Ten minutes later, we were walking out of the Oval Office when Bush grabbed me by the elbow. “Love that boy,” he said, holding my eye.

Fathers and sons don’t always know how to talk to each other, which is why we have sports. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Daily life

The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like

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Coffee drinkers rejoice.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Caffeine

The war of the wealthy on the middle class and poor

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Paul Krugman has an excellent column, but read it in the light of this column in Salon by Joan Walsh:

On Wednesday I finished my piece on Mitt Romney strategist Stuart Stevens boasting that President Obama “only” won the votes of Americans who earn less than $50,000 – that’s most people, by the way – and rushed to MSNBC’s “Hardball” to discuss the GOP’s diversity problems with supposedly moderate former Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia.

It was a calm, respectful conversation, until Davis volunteered that Romney lost because of Obama’s voter turnout operation – specifically, his ability to turnout “underclass minorities” and “particularly those who orient toward the city” who were “pulled out of the apartments.” Since we had been talking about the GOP’s problems with women and people of color, I respectfully offered Davis some “free advice” – that it might be time to retire the term “underclass.” It got worse.

Davis mumbled about the term not being “politically correct,” and when I referenced Stevens’s slur against people who make less than $50,000 a year, many of whom are actually middle class, Davis jumped in: “That’s not where the voter turnout came, if you know your voter stats, it was really people who were making even less than that, pulled out of the apartments…groups that traditionally haven’t voted.” (Yes, I caught the condescending “if you know your voter stats.”)

Davis’s “underclass minorities” remark has gotten a lot of attention – Salon flagged it and posted the video here – but I want to spend a moment on his concern about “groups that traditionally haven’t voted.” To be fair, Davis wasn’t accusing Democrats of voter fraud, the way other Republicans have. But he still seemed unsettled by the fact that the president turned out people who “traditionally haven’t voted” – who were “pulled out of the apartments” even! Yes, there are all sorts of hoary racial stereotypes jumbled up in those words, and class stereotypes as well.

Republicans don’t know what to do when “groups that traditionally haven’t voted” turn up at the polls. . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot to think about in that column. For example, Davis sounds very much as if he’s actually opposed to people voting—or, at the very least, to people voting for Democrats. It’s as if he thinks people have a right to vote only if they have previously voted, or only if they vote for conservative candidates. It’s hard to understand his complaint otherwise.

Perhaps he thinks people are wrong to vote for candidates whose positions promise to improve their well-being, but certainly the wealthy supporters of Romney thought his positions would benefit them. That seems to be okay, so why wouldn’t it be okay on the other end of the economic spectrum?

Now to Krugman’s column in the NY Times:

On Election Day, The Boston Globe reported, Logan International Airport in Boston was running short of parking spaces. Not for cars — for private jets. Big donors were flooding into the city to attend Mitt Romney’s victory party.

They were, it turned out, misinformed about political reality. But the disappointed plutocrats weren’t wrong about who was on their side. This was very much an election pitting the interests of the very rich against those of the middle class and the poor.

And the Obama campaign won largely by disregarding the warnings of squeamish “centrists” and embracing that reality, stressing the class-war aspect of the confrontation. This ensured not only that President Obama won by huge margins among lower-income voters, but that those voters turned out in large numbers, sealing his victory.

The important thing to understand now is that while the election is over, the class war isn’t. The same people who bet big on Mr. Romney, and lost, are now trying to win by stealth — in the name of fiscal responsibility — the ground they failed to gain in an open election.

Before I get there, a word about the actual vote. Obviously, narrow economic self-interest doesn’t explain everything about how individuals, or even broad demographic groups, cast their ballots. Asian-Americans are a relatively affluent group, yet they went for President Obama by 3 to 1. Whites in Mississippi, on the other hand, aren’t especially well off, yet Mr. Obama received only 10 percent of their votes.

These anomalies, however, weren’t enough to change the overall pattern. Meanwhile, Democrats seem to have neutralized the traditional G.O.P. advantage on social issues, so that the election really was a referendum on economic policy. And what voters said, clearly, was no to tax cuts for the rich, no to benefit cuts for the middle class and the poor. So what’s a top-down class warrior to do?

The answer, as I have already suggested, is to rely on stealth — to smuggle in plutocrat-friendly policies under the pretense that they’re just sensible responses to the budget deficit.

Consider, as a prime example, the push to raise the retirement age, the age of eligibility for Medicare, or both. This is only reasonable, we’re told — after all, life expectancy has risen, so shouldn’t we all retire later? In reality, however, it would be a hugely regressive policy change, imposing severe burdens on lower- and middle-income Americans while barely affecting the wealthy. Why? First of all, the increase in life expectancy is concentrated among the affluent; why should janitors have to retire later because lawyers are living longer? Second, both Social Security and Medicare are much more important, relative to income, to less-affluent Americans, so delaying their availability would be a far more severe hit to ordinary families than to the top 1 percent.

Or take a subtler example, the insistence that . . .

Continue reading. It should be noted that the increase in life expectancy for people aged 65 (the time at which Social Security used to kick in) is extremely small. The fact that newborns have longer life expectancy is irrelevant to Social Security payouts: those occur only for people age 65 and older, that that life expectancy has increased very little—and certainly less than the proposed increases in retirement age. Moreover, many of lesser income work at physically demanding jobs, and an extended work life is harmful if not impossible.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 12:28 pm

Jeffrey MacDonald: Innocent, after all?

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UPDATE: I blogged too quickly: based on the evidence, Jeffrey MacDonald is guilty as charged. See this post for details. I’m totally convinced now, despite Errol Morris’s attempts to rewrite the facts.

A good review by Lynn Stuart Parramore of the unraveling case against Jeffrey MacDonald, who has been in prison for decades:

Remember the perceptual illusion [3] where you look at a picture and you’re certain that you see the bust of a young woman? Then, if someone draws your attention to certain details, suddenly the picture transforms into the profile of an old woman. It’s a disorienting trick. You think you know what you’re seeing, but then you aren’t so sure.

The Jeffrey MacDonald murder case is one of the most disturbing in living memory. There are only two possible pictures, both nightmares.

Picture #1. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Princeton-educated Green Beret doctor with no history of violence and a sterling record, butchered his pregnant wife and two young daughters using a knife, ice pick and club. Then he injured himself and set up the scene to make the crimes appear to be the work of intruders. He claimed they chanted, “Kill the pigs!…Acid is groovy!” and scrawled the word “PIG” on the wall in his wife’s blood.

Picture #2. Jeffrey MacDonald, a bright young man with everything in life to look forward to, lost his wife and children to senseless, horrific violence. A military hearing found charges against him “untrue,” but he was convicted nine years later in a civilian trial. He has been imprisoned for three decades for a crime he did not commit.

Two possibilities: MacDonald is a monster, or he is a victim of terrible injustice. Young woman; old woman.

Until recently, most people saw Picture #1. So did I. I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, about an hour from the Fort Bragg army base in Fayetteville where the murders occurred on Feb. 17, 1970, in the middle of the night. I was born in May of that year, and would thus be the same age as the child Colette MacDonald was carrying when her life was snuffed out. In the early ’80s, I whipped through a dog-eared copy of Fatal Vision, Joe McGinnis’ sensational true-crime novel about the killings. It was almost as scary as Helter Skelter – the story of the Charles Manson murders in Californa that are said to have inspired Jeffrey MacDonald in the coverup for his homicidal rampage.

In 1984 I was glued to the TV, like millions of other Americans, watching the popular miniseries based on McGinnis’ book. McGinnis made the murders sound like the work of a diabolical genius, a man who could transform in a moment from a loving father to a homicidal maniac, and again, in the blink of an eye, to a calculating conman. I thought of devils that lurked in human flesh, like in The Exorcist, another popular based-on-a true-story-book-turned-movie of the period that floated around our house. When the show was over, I retired to the safety of my bed, safe from unpredictable evils.

A Shifting Picture

McGinnis’ stark rendering of Picture #1 stuck in my mind until recently when a friend from North Carolina told me that Errol Morris had published a book suggesting MacDonald was innocent. That got my attention: the Oscar-winning Morris, whose film The Thin Blue Line exonerated a Texas man wrongfully convicted for murder, is one of the world’s great documentary filmmakers. He is both a careful researcher and a profound investigator of the human condition.

My friend and I sat around in her backyard, tossing up what facts about the case we could recall. I even laughed at the idea of hippie murderers in North Carolina. Of all places! But then I felt uneasy. “You sure Errol Morris wrote the book?” She was sure.

Soon I was reading Morris’ A Wilderness of Error [4], feeling skeptical and wondering why this reputable man would involve himself in a case that everyone and their mother (including mine) knew the truth about.

But it didn’t take long to realize that something was wrong. Enough somethings to fill the long, solitary chapters of a man’s life unfolding behind prison walls.

Morris researched the MacDonald case for 20 years and knows each labyrinthine turn of its progress through the criminal justice system. Even before bureaucratic stalling and federal machinery overtook the search for truth, things were working against Jeffrey MacDonald. A crime scene was left open to bystander traffic. Inexperienced military police failed to pick up a woman near the house who fit MacDonald’s description. Many think this woman could have been Helena Stoeckley, a drug abuser and professed member of a witchcraft cult who repeatedly confessed to having been at the MacDonald house the night of the murders, but recanted her story whenever she seemed to fear prosecution. Now deceased, she remains a pivotal figure in the case.

As I read Morris’ meticulous examination the evidence, the picture in my mind became less clear. I began to see that Joe McGinnis’ creation of Picture #1 might be just that: a creation. Some of the “facts” I thought I knew began to look more like ideas conjured by eager prosecutors and a journalist who had dealt so disingenuously with Jeffrey MacDonald in writing Fatal Vision that he was sued after publication. McGinnis’ publisher settled with MacDonald out of court, after the judge called the author a “conman.”  (This story, in its own right, became a famous book about journalistic ethics [5] by Janet Malcolm.)

The story many of us think we know tells that MacDonald’s wounds were superficial. But he had multiple bruises and puncture wounds, and two stab wounds, including one that collapsed his lung — a serious injury that left him falling in and out of consciouness. The popular story says there was no evidence of intruders. But there was, including wax drippings (MacDonald insisted that one of the intruders carried a candle), fibers, and hairs that did not belong to the household or family members. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Books, Government, Law, Military

The science of scent

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Let me begin by recommending (again) Chandler Burr’s fascinating, enjoyable, and informative book, The Emperor of Scent(At the link, inexpensive secondhand copies.) And now I point out Alla Katsnelson’s review in The Scientist of a new show at New York’s Museum of Art and Design :

How do you create an exhibit for a completely invisible art form? A new show at New York’s Museum of Art and Design struggles admirably with this question.

The Art of Scent guides visitors through the historical arc made by 12 fine fragrances representing major aesthetic schools of olfactory art over the past 130 years. In the late 1800s, perfume-making underwent a revolution. Scents had always been made from natural substances—oils and essences as well as fixatives made from animal products such as ambergris (a waxy material from the intestine of a sperm whale) and castoreum (a secretion from the anal gland of beavers). But as commercial chemists got better at synthesizing molecules for all sorts of purposes, perfume-makers couldn’t help but notice that some of those molecules tickled the nostrils.

French scent artist Paul Parquet was the first to use synthetics in his famed 1882 creation . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 11:48 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Science

Consequences and evolutionary direction

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A writer reviews her own book, but it does sound interesting: Susan Schneider in The Scientist:

Nature versus nurture died a long time ago, for those who were paying attention. In its place has risen an enormous hodgepodge of nature-and-nurture variables at all levels, from subcellular to societal, interacting in nonlinear, go-figure-this-one-out fashion. Especially exciting is the discovery of the degree of plasticity that this nature-nurture interplay involves and enables. The role played by consequences is a big part of that story.

Consequences result from behaviors—and in turn drive those behaviors. Long ago, primitive invertebrates developed the capacity to learn from their successes and failures. It’s been suggested that this game-changing ability may have helped bring about the rapid expansion in the biodiversity of multicellular organisms known as the Cambrian explosion. If that indeed happened, what a dramatic illustration of the power of learning from consequences to reshape biology. As it is, the evolved ability to learn from consequences routinely initiates evolutionary change. Picture Darwin’s finches foraging in different niches (with rewarding consequences), beaks gradually changing accordingly. In addition, learning from consequences activates and deactivates genes and modifies brains. I elucidate these phenomena and more in my new book, The Science of Consequences.

Consequences abound in our own industrialized lives as well as in the lives of wild birds and bears. Whenever we weigh a decision, we’re vetting different consequences. Small-scale or large, immediate or delayed, positive or negative, it’s hard to overestimate their influence.

Some of the science that makes sense of the workings of consequences has been hidden in plain sight for generations. Different “schedules of consequences” turn out to produce orderly behavioral patterns across many different species and behaviors, for example. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 11:41 am

Posted in Books, Evolution, Science

Social psychology: Not ready for prime time

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Dan Cossins has a note in The Scientist:

In a detailed final report about the fraud committed by Dutch researcher Diederik Stapel, three separate investigative panels have heaped further criticism onto the field of social psychology in general. The investigators found that “from the bottom to the top there was a general neglect of fundamental scientific standards and methodological requirements”—a situation that allowed Stapel’s fraud to continue for years.

Several other social psychologists have also come under scrutiny in the past year, and this latest report comes just 2 months after Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote an open letter urging researchers who work on social priming studies to clean up their act. “Your field is now the poster child for doubts about the integrity of psychological research,” he wrote.

With regard to Stapel, who was fired from his position at Tilburg University in September 2011, the report found that he was responsible for data fraud in 55 published papers and 10 PhD theses written by students under his supervision. There were also doubts about another 10 papers, although fraud could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The investigators argued that such misconduct remained undetected for so long because colleagues in the field had not been sufficiently critical of Stapel’s work. And even in papers that were not overtly fraudulent, the panel found serious flaws that led them to conclude that social psychology is a field with a culture of “sloppy” science in which researchers lack a basic understanding of statistics, journal reviewers encourage scientists to leave out unwelcome data, and journals print results that are clearly too good to be true.

“I feel deep, deep remorse for the pain I have caused others. I feel a great deal of sadness, shame, and self-blame,” said Stapel in a statement. “The truth would have been better off without me.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 11:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

A rainy-morning shave

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SOTD 30 Nov 2012

It’s been pouring down all night and continues. We’ve not had a rain this steady for some years. Good day to be indoors.

La fée verte (the green fairy) is the traditional name for absinthe, whose aroma was mainly from the anise in it. And indeed Mystic Waters The Green Fairy has the fragrance of anise. It also makes a wonderful lather, as all the Mystic Waters shaving soaps do. This morning I use Wet Shaving Products Monarch 3-band shaving brush: quite soft and luxurious, with a nice loft (like the Rooney Style 2 I have), a long loft contributing to both softness and lather capacity.

I had plenty of lather for the shave, which turned out so-so, so I replaced the Astra Superior Platinum blade, undoubtedly the cause. It was a very nice shave experience—the Weber DLC is extremely comfortable and has a nice feel on the face due to the DLC coating—but the result was not so good as I like. I loaded a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge for the next shave.

A splash of Saint Charles Shave Bulgarian Rose, and I’m ready for a comfortable day indoors.

At the suggestion of Eddie of Australia, I’ll try using the Weber handle shown above with an EJ head: he likes that combination quite a bit.

Written by Leisureguy

30 November 2012 at 10:23 am

Posted in Shaving

GOPM, planned and actual

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I just finished a GOPM. The plan:

1/2 c pearled barley
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
chopped shallots
minced garlic
boneless skinless chicken thighs
linguiça slices
Kalamata olives
Brussels spourts
thin slices Meyer lemon

I generally make a list of layers to guide my shopping. But when I got to market, I found that they had no boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts), not even for ready money, but they did have turkey breast slices. I got two of those: 0.45 lb, or 7.2 oz—close enough, since I was going to use linguiça slices as well. (That had proved to be quite a hit.) But then I found that I had 3 domestic white mushrooms left over from something, so I chopped those for the aromatic layer and skipped (okay, forgot) the carrot. And when I came to it, there was simply no room for Brussels sprouts. So the actual recipe:

1/2 c pearled barley
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
4 shallots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 domestic mushrooms, chopped
7 oz turkey breast slices, cut into chunks
dried thyme sprinkled over turkey
layer of linguiça slices
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 small bunch parsley, chopped fine
the other half of the Japanese eggplant, sliced
good grinding of black pepper
3 large Roma tomatoes, diced (probably could have gone with 2)
1/2 c Kalamata olives, maybe more, halved
1 Meyer lemon, thinly sliced


2 Tbsp Penzeys French Vinaigrette
2 tsp (approx) Ponzu sauce
2 tsp (approx) Gochujang sauce
1 Tbsp (approx) Amontillado sherry
1 Tbsp (approx) horseradish
1 Tbsp (approx) Worcestershire sauce

I shook that furiously, then poured it over. The only thing I measured was the vinaigrette. Horseradish is a good ingredient: it often contributes an interesting but elusive flavor—the kind of thing that makes people say, “What is that?”

I tried for a small volume of pour-over because I thought the tomatoes would contribute a lot of liquid, as well as liquid from the lemon.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2012 at 5:21 pm

Sometimes the American public and its elected representatives seem breathtakingly stupid

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It’s almost as if elementary arithmetic were far, far beyond their ability to comprehend, and logical thought an impossibility. James Surowiecki writes in the New Yorker:

On February 1, 1953, a fierce, sustained storm created a huge surge in the North Sea off the coast of Holland. Floodwaters overtopped the dikes, swallowing half a million acres of land and killing nearly two thousand people. Within weeks of the storm, a government commission issued what came to be known as the Delta Plan, a set of recommendations for flood-control measures. Over the next four decades, the Dutch invested billions of guilders in a vast set of dams and barriers, culminating in the construction of the Maeslant Barrier, an enormous movable seawall to protect the port of Rotterdam. Since the Delta Plan went into effect, the Netherlands has not been flooded by the sea again.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which brought havoc to the Northeast and inflicted tens of billions of dollars in damage, it’s overwhelmingly clear that parts of the U.S. need a Delta Plan of their own. Sandy was not an isolated incident: only last year, Hurricane Irene caused nearly sixteen billion dollars in damage, and there is a growing consensus that extreme weather events are becoming more common and more damaging. The annual cost of natural disasters in the U.S. has doubled over the past two decades. Instead of just cleaning up after disasters hit, we would be wise to follow the Dutch, and take steps to make them less destructive in the first place.

There is no dearth of promising ideas out there, such as building a seawall beyond the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (the Dutch engineering firm Arcadis has proposed a movable barrier, like the Rotterdam one), burying power lines in vulnerable areas, and elevating buildings and subway entrances. The question is whether we can find the political will to invest in such ideas. Although New York politicians like the City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, and Governor Andrew Cuomo have called for major new investment in disaster prevention, reports from Washington suggest that Congress will be more willing to spend money on relief than on preparedness. That’s what history would lead you to expect: for the most part, the U.S. has shown a marked bias toward relieving victims of disaster, while underinvesting in prevention. A study by the economist Andrew Healy and the political scientist Neil Malhotra showed that, between 1985 and 2004, the government spent annually, on average, fifteen times as much on disaster relief as on preparedness.

Politically speaking, it’s always easier to shell out money for a disaster that has already happened, with clearly identifiable victims, than to invest money in protecting against something that may or may not happen in the future. Healy and Malhotra found that voters reward politicians for spending money on post-disaster cleanup, but not for investing in disaster prevention, and it’s only natural that politicians respond to this incentive. The federal system complicates matters, too: local governments want decision-making authority, but major disaster-prevention projects are bound to require federal money. And much crucial infrastructure in the U.S. is owned by the private sector, not the government, which makes it harder to do something like bury power lines.

Continue reading to feel even deeper despair: for example, he points out that working on our infrastructure would be extremely beneficial to the economy.

But we won’t do it, will we? Just as we will not take steps to fight global warming.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2012 at 3:19 pm

Our dysfunctional justice system: 80 years in prison for obeying the law

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This story by Phillip Smith in Drug War Chronicle is truly an outrage:

Chris Williams is sitting in a private federal prison on the Montana prairie these days awaiting sentencing. If the federal government has its way, he won’t be a free man again for three-quarters of a century, an effective life sentence for a middle-aged man like Williams.

So, what did he do that merits such a harsh sentence? Did he murder someone? Did he rape, pillage, and plunder? No. He grew medical marijuana. And, as is not uncommon in Montana, he had guns around as he did so. Standing on firm conviction, he steadfastly refused repeated plea bargain offers from federal prosecutors, which could have seen him serving “only” 10 years or so.

Williams is one of the more than two dozen Montana medical marijuana providers caught up in the federal dragnet after mass raids in March 2011 savaged the state’s medical marijuana community, including Montana Cannabis, one of the state’s largest providers, where he was a partner. A true believer in the cause, Williams is the only one of those indicted after the federal raids to not cop a plea, and he was convicted on eight federal marijuana and weapons charges in September after being blocked from mentioning the state’s medical marijuana laws during his trial. [Emphasis added. Whatever happened to “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing bu the truth”?- LG]

It is the gun charges that are adding decades to his sentences. As is the case in drug raids where police come up against armed homeowners, or as was the case of Salt Lake City rap record label owner and pot dealer Weldon Angelos ended up with a 55-year sentence because he sometimes packed a pistol, the Williams case is one where the rights granted under the 2nd Amendment clash with the imperatives of the drug war.

Williams was not convicted of using his firearms or even of brandishing them, but merely of having legal shotguns present at the medical marijuana grow, which was legal under Montana law. Still, that’s enough for the gun sentencing enhancements to kick in, and that’s enough to cause a rising clamor of support for Williams as he faces a January sentencing date.

“The sentence shocks the conscience,” said Chris Lindsey, a former business partner of Williams who is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a federal marijuana conspiracy charge. “Look at (former Penn State assistant football coach) Jerry Sandusky. For 45 counts of child sexual abuse, he gets 30 years. Chris Williams is going to get three times that for being a medical marijuana provider. It doesn’t make any logical sense,” he told theMissoulian.

Williams supporters have created a Free Chris Williams Facebook page and are petitioning the White House through its We the People online petition program for a full pardon for him. The White House responds to petitions that achieve over 25,000 signatures; the Williams petition has managed to generate slightly more than 20,000 signatures in less than two weeks. Other petitions seeking clemency for Williams are at and

Williams and his supporters are not just relying on the kindness of the White House. He is appealing his criminal conviction to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, and he is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that claims he and other medical marijuana providers were in compliance with Montana state law and the federal raid and subsequent prosecutions were an unconstitutional usurpation of state and local powers under the 10th Amendment. That amendment says powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution and not prohibited by the states are reserved to the states or the people.

But legal experts said his chances for victory in the civil lawsuit were small, and he would still be saddled with the federal criminal conviction.

“The war on drugs is too sacrosanct a sacred cow for the courts to weigh in favor,” said California marijuana attorney Robert Raich, who has argued and lost two marijuana cases at the Supreme Court. “I think we can make better progress by doing something other than filing lawsuits,” he said in an interview with the Helena Independent Record.

Still, Raich said he sympathized with Williams’ plight and added that the federal attack on Montana providers was among its harshest. . .

Continue reading.

A presidential pardon is in order here—“Scooter” Libby walked, and he actually broke laws—but Obama doesn’t tend to pardon prisoners: extremely low rate of pardons, perhaps reflecting his attitude toward human and civil rights.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2012 at 12:52 pm

Bad choice for the SEC

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Pam Martens hits the nail on the head:

It took the New York Times 12 years to admit it was dead wrong to run editorials urging the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the depression-era investor protection legislation that prevented Wall Street from collapsing the financial system for 75 years. (It took just 9 years from the date of repeal in 1999 for Wall Street to thoroughly corrupt the system, wreck the economy and collapse century old Wall Street firms.)

One would have expected the New York Times to have acquired a little humility from its prior ill-informed meddling with Wall Street regulation. Nothing doing. The Times, together with Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal have all magically decided to push Sallie Krawcheck out in front as the leading contender to become the permanent new Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, despite Krawcheck’s lack of a securities law degree (or any other kind of law degree), zero experience as a prosecutor, and the stench of Citigroup indelibly attached to her otherwise well-coiffed persona.

Yesterday, The Times ran a 990 word article on who it says are three leading contenders for the permanent chair of the SEC, now that Mary Schapiro has announced she will step down on December 14.  (SEC Commissioner Elisse Walter will serve as interim Chair until President Obama selects a permanent replacement.)  Out of the 990 word article, 33 words were devoted to two of the contenders: Robert Khuzami, the S.E.C.’s enforcement director, and Richard Ketchum, the head of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  The Times devoted 11 paragraphs to Krawcheck.

Two days prior, on November 26, Bloomberg News ran the headline, “SEC Needs Krawcheck, Not a Caretaker.” The Wall Street Journal, ostensibly a competitor to Bloomberg News, liked the idea so much that they amplified the idea by repeating iton their own pages, linked to the Bloomberg story, and ran with the headline: “SEC Needs Someone Like Krawcheck.”

On April 8, 1998, The Times urged the removal of the “unnecessary walls” imposed by the  Glass-Steagall Act:

“Congress dithers, so John Reed of Citicorp and Sanford Weill of Travelers Group grandly propose to modernize financial markets on their own. They have announced a $70 billion merger — the biggest in history — that would create the largest financial services company in the world, worth more than $140 billion… In one stroke, Mr. Reed and Mr. Weill will have temporarily demolished the increasingly unnecessary walls built during the Depression to separate commercial banks from investment banks and insurance companies.”

On July 27 of this year, The Times fessed up:

“Having seen the results of this sweeping deregulation, we now think we were wrong to have supported it.”

Now, just four months after its long overdue epiphany, The Times dares to hype for SEC chief a former executive from the behemoth Citigroup that did more than any other firm to wreck the structure of Wall Street, usher in the most corrupt financial era since the 20s, implode the housing market and the economy of the United States.  If there was any doubt as to the role of Citigroup in the collapse, the ultimate insider, Sheila Bair, who headed the FDIC, has solidified the facts in her recent book, Bull by the Horns. . .

Continue reading.

I don’t know which is worse: that Obama is enamored of Big Finance, or that he’s paying off campaign contributions with his appointments. In either case, this one is a Bad Idea.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2012 at 12:38 pm

An American Fukushima

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A sobering article by William Boardman in Alternet:

The likelihood was very low that an earthquake followed by a tsunami would destroy all four nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but in March 2011, that’s what happened, and the accident has yet to be contained [4].

Similarly, the likelihood may be low that an upstream dam will fail, unleashing a flood that will turn any of 34 vulnerable nuclear plants into an American Fukushima [5].  But knowing that unlikely events sometimes happen nevertheless, the nuclear industry continues to answer the question of how much safety is enough by seeking to suppress [6] or minimize what the public knows about the danger.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has known at least since 1996 that flooding danger from upstream dam failure was a more serious threat than the agency would publicly admit. The NRC failed from 1996 until 2011 to assess the threat even internally.  In July 2011, the NRC staff [7] completed a report finding [8] “that external flooding due to upstream dam failure poses a larger than expected risk to plants and public safety” [emphasis added] but the NRC did not make the 41-page report [7] public.

Instead, the agency made much of another report [9], issued July 12, 2011 – “Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century,” sub-titled “The Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Accident.”  Hardly four months since the continuing accident began in Japan, the premature report had little to say about reactor flooding as a result of upstream dam failure, although an NRC news release [8] in March 2012 would try to suggest otherwise.

Censored Report May Be Crime by NRC 

That 2012 news release accompanied a highly redacted version of the July 2011 report that had recommended a more formal investigation of the unexpectedly higher risks of upstream dam failure to nuclear plants and the public.  In its release, the NRC said it had “started a formal evaluation of potential generic safety implications for dam failures upstream” including “the effects of upstream dam failure on independent spent fuel storage installations.”

Six months later, in September 2012, The NRC’s effort at bland public relations went controversial, when the report’s lead author made a criminal complaint to the NRC’s [10] Inspector General, alleging “Concealment of Significant Nuclear Safety Information by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”  In a letter [11] dated September 14 and made public the same day, Richard Perkins, an engineer in the NRC’s Division of Risk Analysis, wrote Inspector [12]General Hubert Bell, describing it as “a violation of law” that the Commission:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2012 at 10:43 am

Great book on negotiating

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The book is one I’ve long recommended (see the Leisureguy Recommends page), and now it’s a Cool Tool.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2012 at 10:32 am

The importance of the mustache is some cultures

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I am continually amazed at the intricacies of culture and how the memes evolve. The other night I happened to be watching a movie that included a formal traditional Thai wedding: the intricate skin decorations: an amazing display of culture-specific evolved memes, as unusual and notable as, say, the bird of paradise flower or the male peacock’s tail feathers. Culture develops in strange ways, but has such a grasp on its carriers (humans). Check on out this article on mustache transplants.

Written by Leisureguy

29 November 2012 at 9:55 am

Posted in Daily life

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