Later On

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

Archive for January 25th, 2013

Another good Krugman column: Maybe the deficit hawks have had their day.

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Corporations closing down American freedoms

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The US becomes ever more Soviet-like. At Global Possibilities, Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummings write:

How do you keep consumers in the dark about the horrors of factory farms? By making it an “act of terrorism” for anyone to investigate animal cruelty, food safety or environmental violations on the corporate-controlled farms that produce the bulk of our meat, eggs and dairy products.

And who better to write the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, designed to protect Big Ag and Big Energy, than the lawyers on the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force at the corporate-funded and infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

New Hampshire, Wyoming and Nebraska are the latest states to introduce Ag-Gag laws aimed at preventing employees, journalists or activists from exposing illegal or unethical practices on factory farms. Lawmakers in 10 other states introduced similar bills in 2011-2012.  The laws passed in three of those states: Missouri, Iowa and Utah.  But consumer and animal-welfare activists prevented the laws from passing in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York and Tennessee.

In all, six states now have Ag-Gag laws, including North Dakota, Montana and Kansas, all of which passed the laws in 1990-1991, before the term “Ag-Gag” was coined.

Ag-Gag laws passed 20 years ago were focused more on deterring people from destroying property, or from either stealing animals or setting them free. Today’s ALEC-inspired bills take direct aim at anyone who tries to expose horrific acts of animal cruelty, dangerous animal-handling practices that might lead to food safety issues, or blatant disregard for environmental laws designed to protect waterways from animal waste runoff. In the past, most of those exposes have resulted from undercover investigations of exactly the type Big Ag wants to make illegal.

Wyoming’s HB 0126 is the perfect example of a direct link between an undercover investigation of a factory farm and the introduction of an Ag-Gag law. The bill was introduced mere weeks after nine factory workers at Wheatland, WY-based Wyoming Premium Farms, a supplier to Tyson Foods, were charged with animal cruelty following an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSUS activists videotaped workers kicking live piglets, swinging them by their hind legs and beating and kicking mother pigs. Charges were filed in late December. In January, State Rep. Sue Wallis and Senator Ogden Driskill introduced Wyoming’s Ag-Gag bill which would make it a criminal act to carry out investigations such as the one that exposed the cruelty at Wyoming Premium Farms.

Wallis and Driskill both have ties to Big Ag. Wallis was the subject of a conflict-of-interest complaint filed in 2010 by animal welfare groups. The groups accused her of improper and fraudulent abuse of her position as a legislator after she introduced a bill allowing the Wyoming Livestock Board to send stray horses to slaughter. At the time she introduced the bill, Wallis also was planning to develop a family-owned horse slaughter plant in the state. Both Wallis and Driskill are members of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association. Driskill has accepted political contributions from the livestock industry and Exxon Mobil, a member of ALEC.

Most of the Ag-Gag laws introduced since 2011 borrow the premise, if not the exact language, from model legislation designed by ALEC. ALEC’s sole purpose is to write model legislation that protects corporate profits. Industry then pushes state legislators to adapt the bills for their states and push them through. The idea behind . . .

Continue reading.

The “act of terrorism” language is chilling: as you know, the Patriot Act allows the government to “disappear” people who are suspected of terrorism (no charges and no due process, no chance to defend yourself in open court): to take the people and imprison them (possibly in secret prisons) with no charges filed, possibly subject to torture, and with no limit on how long they can be imprisoned (“detained”). In some cases, as we know, the President can simply order them to be killed.

That’s pretty heavy penalty for pointing out cruelty to farm animals.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Government, Law

Excellent piece on filibuster reform

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David Waldman has an excellent and thoughtful analysis of the recent filibuster reform:

Okay, before we decide once and for all whether this is a win or a loss, there are a few things I want out on the table. And the first point, appropriately enough, is that whenever you’re talking about the Senate, since the answer to any question about it is either “well, yes and no,” or, “it depends,” the answer to whether this is a win or a loss will be the same. Yes and no. And, it depends.

There’s little sense in trying to tell filibuster reform activists that this was a win. We here at Daily Kos were pushing for some specific reforms, aimed at increasing the burden of conducting a filibuster and placing it where it belongs: on the shoulders of those seeking to thwart the will of the majority. To be sure, there were those of us who questioned and still do question why that should be allowed at all, but accepting for the moment the idea that our bicameral legislature can allow for (and indeed, was designed for) experimentation with different processes and procedural rules, we still thought there was no good reason to allow thwarting the will of the majority to be an easy thing to do.

We didn’t get those reforms. Conducting a filibuster is still going to be easy.

So it’s a loss, right? Well, things did change for the better, and I’ll explain how some of those changes might end up being bigger than we think. And, of course, because this is the Senate we’re talking about, we’ll talk about the down side of getting changes that might be bigger than we think.

But in addition to the small changes inside the Senate, we need to talk about the big changes we created outside. And we’ll do that below the fold.

First of all, the results of the deal must be understood as having many moving parts. And when it comes to the elements of the deal, there are three different levels of change offered, and each one comes with a different level of commitment to those changes. As you might expect, the bigger the potential change, the less willing Senators were to committing to them.

At the highest level of permanence, and therefore the lowest level of impact, there are actual changes being made to the standing rules of the Senate. These are the most minor pieces of the deal, which stands to reason because they’ll be put in place permanently. So they’re exactly the ones you would think would have to be smallest in order to get the Republicans to agree to them. Next, there are temporary changes in the operation of the rules that will be adopted as a standing order, good only for the balance of the 113th Congress, which is to say for the next two years. These are somewhat broader in scope, and represent the changes Republicans were more skeptical of, but were willing to try out on a temporary basis. And lastly, there are changes on which Republicans would only commit to a handshake deal. (We know how well those tend to work out from the last round of the reform fight.) But these include versions of proposed reforms we liked a little better, but watered-down to the point where Republicans were willing to say, well, we’ll experiment with them and see if they’re really as horrible as we said they were, but we won’t commit to allowing them to continue if we really hate them.

And what are those changes? The standing rules will adopt a new short cut on the motion to proceed, bringing it to an immediate vote if a cloture petition garners the signatures of the majority and minority leaders, plus those of 7 senators not affiliated with the majority and 7 more not affiliated with the minority, and cloture is then invoked. What does that save? Well, not much. Thirty hours of post-cloture debate, potentially. Though in reality that time is often waived under the current rules. In addition, the rules will now reflect that the three motions necessary to go to conference with the House to settle differences in bill text will be collapsed into one non-divisible motion. That cuts out two opportunities to filibuster right there.

The standing order will, for the next two years, limit debate on motions to proceed to four hours, meaning they can’t be filibustered. But in exchange for that, each side is guaranteed the right to offer two amendments apiece, rotating in order and beginning with the minority. In practice, this will likely mean that those amendments will frequently come to the floor under unanimous consent agreements requiring 60 votes to pass. That’s the old “painless filibuster,” and in that respect, not much will have changed from current practice, except that the chief complaint of Republicans will have been removed. It was always their contention that they filibustered motions to proceed because they objected to being shut out from the opportunity to offer amendments by Harry Reid’s parliamentary maneuvering. Now we’ll see if that was just an excuse, I guess.

Finally, there’s an informal agreement, described this way by HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Sam Stein:

First, senators who wish to object or threaten a filibuster must actually come to the floor to do so. And second, the two leaders will make sure that debate time post-cloture is actually used in debate. If senators seeking to slow down business simply put in quorum calls to delay action, the Senate will go live, force votes to produce a quorum, and otherwise work to make sure senators actually show up and debate.

That’s at least reminiscent of some of the proposals to “flip the burden,” like the “talking filibuster,” or even the “listening filibuster” I proposed the other day. It’s a far cry from the force of the original ideas, but it’s at least a nod in the direction of some of the problems associated with filibuster abuse that we’ve highlighted in our campaign.

On top of these many layers regarding the substance of the deal (such as it is), there are likewise multiple moving parts regarding the procedure we used to get here. And on that level, there are two main branches: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Congress

Encouraging careful behavior by increasing risk

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The Wife’s work has brought her into contact with people involved in digitizing ancient (and precious) unique manuscripts. They were handling the manuscripts only while wearing cotton gloves, but the gloves have been ditched. The problem with the gloves is that people felt that wearing the gloves automatically protected the manuscripts, so they became careless—and moreover, with the gloves on they lost tactile sensitivity and could not readily tell how gently/roughly they were handling the manuscript.

That reminded me immediately of a German traffic control discovery: in urban areas and city centers, if you make the separation of automobile and pedestrian traffic unclear—e.g., by having a large open space open to both cars and people—it makes both  drivers and pedestrians much more careful, with the result that the frequency of accidents drops sharply.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

Obama Adminstration dismisses calls for reform of polygraph practices

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The Federal government’s use of polygraphs recalls the practices of the Soviet Union—see, for example, this earlier post and this one and this one. Those three show an ugly picture of authoritarianism run amuck and unbridled bureaucratic bullying. Marisa Taylor reports now in McClatchy:

The Obama administration is drawing up a new national polygraph policy in the wake of allegations that federal agencies are pushing legal and ethical limits during screenings of job applicants and employees.

The decision by National Intelligence Director James Clapper to draft a new policy comes after his office conducted a review of federal polygraph programs and after McClatchy detailed allegations of polygraph abuses. Clapper’s review found “inconsistencies” across the government that led him to order a new policy, but it also found that “all programs were operating appropriately,” Clapper’s public affairs office said in a statement to McClatchy.

But a congressman who’d asked Clapper to look into alleged polygraph abuses said the director was being “dismissive” of a more serious problem with the way the federal government conducts its screenings. In its statement, Clapper’s public affairs office said the inconsistencies “related to administrative practices, rather than the substance of the polygraphs.” The review was completed between July and August.

“This is a non-response,” said Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat. “I’m really concerned that throughout the intelligence community there has been an unwillingness to ask critical questions about polygraph.”

Independent national-security experts agreed that Clapper appeared to be downplaying legitimate concerns about the federal government’s use of polygraph. Several of them who read a draft of the policy obtained by McClatchy said it would do little to crack down on overly aggressive polygraph interrogations. In fact, it appears to allow agencies to continue current practices with few new requirements and may even grant agencies more latitude in some instances.

“It does not address polygraph abuses at all,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “Given that polygraph testing is not going away, a new policy should grapple directly with the problems it poses.”

In a series of articles on polygraph screening published last year, McClatchy found that 15 federal agencies polygraph more than 70,000 job applicants and employees across the country each year to determine whether they’re trustworthy enough to get security clearances or jobs.

Private thoughts and secret behaviors are written down, tape-recorded, permanently filed in vast databases and shared across multiple agencies. Depending on the agency, polygraphers could ask about a wide range of information, including relationships with foreigners, sexual conduct and whether someone has leaked government information to the news media.

McClatchy also reported how some polygraphers . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 3:56 pm

What The 2012 Election Would Look Like Under The Republicans’ Vote-Rigging Plan

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Fascinating graphics. The detailed ones are worth the click. The final story:

This is what the 2012 electoral map would have looked like had each state apportioned its electors using [the GOP’s new] rules.


The GOP controls enough statehouses that I imagine their plan will succeed. And they’ve gerrymandered the districts so that they will continue to control the House of Representatives (again, by controlling statehouses, which do the gerrymandering draw Congressional district lines.)

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Absolutely fascinating article on music

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Totally fascinating article in the current (28 Jan) issue of the New Yorker, but you’ll have to go to the library to read it unless you’re a subscriber. Worth it, though. Here’s the abstract:

ABSTRACT:ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH THE ARTS about Edgar Choueiri and three-dimensional recording. Of all the amazing things the mind does, the most amazing may be that it can take sound and turn it into music, and then take music and turn it into meaning. Edgar Choueiri, a rocket scientist at Princeton, has a laboratory the size of a small airplane hangar, and it is filled with plasma rocket engines that run on electricity. In his smaller lab, adjacent to the rocket one, Choueiri, the president of the Electric Rocket Propulsion Society, works on his musical projects, trying to force three-dimensional sound from ordinary stereo speakers. By three-dimensional sound he does not mean wraparound sound. In Choueiri’s system, when you listen to choral music by his hero, Bach, you will hear it coming not from speakers but as if from performers in the room itself. Outside his smaller lab is an office whose shelves are filled with those strange white dummy heads which sound scientists love. Choueiri plugged in his box, which runs what he calls his BACCH filter—the acronym also stands for “Band-Assembled Crosstalk Cancellation Hierarchy—and Bluetoothed it to the writer’s iPhone. The writer chose the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden,” and there they were. Keith Richards was limping over to his left, licking at chords, and Ronnie Wood to the right. Choueiri belongs to a distinctly modern type: the engineer-aesthete. The creation of three-dimensional sound depends on each ear’s hearing only what it’s supposed to hear. The catch with previous attempts at crosstalk cancellation, or “XTC,” is that the sound coloration is extremely sensitive to small changes in position. Choueiri has discovered a way to feed more error into the designs of the XTC than anyone had previously imagined possible, so that the signal will never discolor. The sound of all stereo-era recordings can easily become three-dimensional, because they were all recorded with at least two microphones. Perhaps the densest concentration of sound scholars in the world can be found in Montreal, at McGill University, where the writer went to school. Albert Bregman, a former professor of the writer’s, spent almost fifty years at McGill studying the psychology of sound, and his masterwork, “Auditory Sense Analysis: The Perceptual Organization of Sound,” remains a basic text in the field. Discusses Bregman’s suggestion that music is essentially a form of what he dubbed “chimerical perception.” Mentions Robert Zatorre, Daniel Levitin, and Jonathan Sterne.

One of he scientists with whom he talked, a guy who has high respect for how MP3 has changed our music-listening experience, had some interesting comments about the artificiality of the concert-hall experience common to classical music: attentive listeners, isolated in their experience, paying hushed attention to a musical performance. He points out that in almost every other human cultural context, people are dancing and talking as music is played. I assume he’s correct, but of course one feels an enormous “So what?” forming. Different cultures are different? A striking observation indeed. The culture that gave rise to the concert hall and the extended musical compositions of the classical period resulted in amazingly complex and satisfying musical constructions, and the experience of listening to those is, however, unique to a particular culture and time, a wonderful experience. I don’t know that the Bach Masses, or the Mozart opus, or Beethoven’s symphonies, or indeed complex chamber music is to be denigrated because people listen attentively rather than talking and dancing. Perhaps things are possible in that context that don’t work so well in other cultural experiences of music. Value the uniqueness, for God’s sake.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Music

Mathematics and reasoning

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I went to a liberal arts college as an undergraduate. The goal of the “liberal arts” is to “free” (liberate) a person from the bonds and traps of current circumstances and provide a broader and more informed vision of human possibilities and the essentials of a good life—in a word, to free a person to participate in a free society. (The liberal arts are thus a primary target in an authoritarian or totalitarian society: the last thing such societies want is a citizenry that thinks for itself and asks probing questions and can readily spot fallacious reasoning. Cf. the dismantling of liberal arts programs in this country and the push to train people only on narrow commercial and technical skills: much more suited to the kind of government we are building with the corporate takeover and dismantling of civil and human rights.)

Having a liberal arts curriculum meant, among other things, four years of study of mathematics and four years of laboratory science: essential liberal arts, and exercises in asking and answering particular sorts of questions.

This morning as I shaved I got to reflecting on this, and I realized that, as Steve of Kareneio has pointed out to me, we all are prone to “motivated reasoning”: reasoning distorted by a determination (conscious or unconscious) to arrive at a certain result. It’s a natural weakness that one can see most plainly in children and certain politicians. Their focus is on achieving the goal (the result/outcome they desire) and little attention is paid to the process by which the goal is achieved—and processes that do not arrive at the goal they want are dismissed out of hand, rather than dealt with thoughtfully.

It’s a natural tendency, like (say) chewing with your mouth open or scratching vigorously at an itch. And just as we can learn to modify those behaviors, we can also learn to detach ourselves from motivated reasoning and learn how to reason rightly.

This morning I was reflecting on the freshman mathematics program at my college: reading Euclid’s Elements: going through the definitions, axioms, postulates, and theorems, retracing the building of that magnificent logical edifice. I realized that what we were learning was how to reason correctly, not in a motivated way. Because the results were not something to which we had a pre-existing emotional attachment, we could reason without distortion, and quickly spot errors in reasoning in ourselves or (more often) in others, errors form which we could learn: developing habits of correct reasoning and a sensitivity to error.

That is, no one really has an emotional attachment to whether the squares on the sides of a right triangle are equal to the square on the hypotenuse or not. We have no emotional investment in a particular outcome, so we can more easily focus on the reasoning process itself. In contrast, on the issue of the ownership of high-capacity magazines or a woman’s right to an abortion, attachment to a particular outcome is strong and it’s harder to pay attention to the reasoning process. If the result is not what one wants, the reasoning is often dismissed without examination; if the result comes out “right” (in the eyes of the person witnessing the argument) the reasoning is accepted as sound without investigating it. Almost all the focus is on the outcome to be achieved, so little attention is paid to the arguments that achieve it. To reason well on that sort of topic requires good experience with the skills of sound reasoning and a developed sensitivity to errors in reason: i.e., education in liberal arts.

This doesn’t work well. Better that citizens—free citizens—have learned the arts of freedom and thus understand how to argue soundly and how to see through bad argument. Thus the liberal arts.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 9:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Tabac and Ecotools

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SOTD 25 Jan 2013

This is another test shave: Seeing how the Ecotools Kabuki (a very soft brush) performs on Tabac, a hard (and tallow-based) shaving soap. Once again the Ecotools took a little longer to load—not significantly, but noticeably: 15 seconds instead of 10 seconds. But then, fully loaded, it produced a wonderful lather on my beard and held loads of lather—enough for 8 passes at least, though I stopped at 3. Brushing the lather up on my beard is a real pleasure: not only the wonderful lather, but the brush feels extremely nice.

My trust Edwin Jagger DE86bl (less than $30 from Amazon) showed again why it’s a first-class razor. Really, a novice who buys this razor would need only to buy a slant bar a year later to have a complete razor chest of wonderful razors.

Three passes, great shave, splash of Tabac, and I’m read for Friday.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 January 2013 at 9:11 am

Posted in Shaving

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