Later On

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

Archive for January 28th, 2013

Timely 18th-century legal issues

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I’ve been watching the TV series Garrow’s Law, with stories based upon actual trials in which William Garrow (later Sir William Garrow) acted as barrister for the defense. It was Garrow who coined the phrase (and perhaps the concept) of “innocent until proven guilty” and who instituted many aspects of defense pleading that we now take for granted—until we can’t take them for granted.

The 4th (and final) episode of the first season seemed particularly timely. It was about whether the government could arrest and imprison a person with no charges filed and keep him locked up indefinitely. The principle established was that it could not be done, that citizens have a right to lead their lives and speak their minds and to meet as they want. The US, of course, has now abandoned that principle and its citizens can be arrested and imprisoned indefinitely merely on suspicion, with no charges filed. England was able to settle the issue because the person eventually went to trial (charge: high treason, similar in some respects to terrorism), whereas in the United States trials are generally denied on the grounds of “state secrets”, which sometimes includes the charges/evidence upon which the person was imprisoned.

Of course, the US is also happy to keep imprisoned some whom it admits have done nothing wrong, but, hey! they’re in prison, so we’ll just keep them there. I refer, of course, to those prisoners in Guantánamo whom the US now admits were not terrorists but totally innocent people. But still they are kept in prison.

I don’t like that. Watch that 4th episode some time. There are very good arguments against this sort of practice.

BTW, you notice that Obama has completely abandoned his promise that he would close Guantánamo? Probably good to keep it so people can clearly see what the US has become. (Charlie Savage has a good story about the ugly side of that.)

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2013 at 8:51 pm

Timothy Geitner protected his pals

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Yet more evidence of Obama’s protective attitude toward the finance industry. I imagine he’s expecting an enormous payoff once he’s out of office. Timothy Geithner has been a disaster nearly as bad as Eric Holder. Danielle Douglas reports for the Washington Post:

The Treasury Department ignored its own guidelines on executive pay at firms that received taxpayer bailouts and last year approved compensation packages of more than $3 million for the senior ranks at General Motors, Ally Financial and American International Group, according to a watchdog report released Monday.

The report from the special inspector general for the Troubled Assets Relief Program said the government’s pay czar signed off on $6.2 million in raises for 18 employees at the three companies. The chief executive of a division of AIG received a $1 million raise, while an executive at GM’s troubled European unit was given a $100,000 raise. In one instance, an employee of Ally’s Residential Capital was awarded a $200,000 pay increase weeks before the subsidiary filed for bankruptcy.

“We expect Treasury to look out for taxpayers who funded the bailout of these companies by holding the line on excessive pay,” said Christy Romero, special inspector general for TARP. “Treasury cannot look out for taxpayers’ interests if it continues to rely to a great extent on the pay proposed by companies that have historically pushed back on pay limits.”

The inspector general’s report accuses Patricia Geoghegan, Treasury’s acting special master for compensation, of sidestepping protocol that kept pay packages at the midpoint of comparable firms. Geoghegan, however, said the audit is riddled with inaccuracies and mischaracterizes the data provided to the inspector general.

She said her office has “limited excessive compensation while at the same time keeping compensation at levels that enable the recipients to remain competitive and repay TARP assistance.”

Compensation at bailed-out firms became a lightning rod during the financial crisis. A public outcry erupted in 2009, when AIG paid $168 million in retention bonuses to employees at Financial Products, the unit whose complex deals had crippled the insurance giant. The nation’s biggest banks, including Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, also came under fire for doling out six-figure salaries and bonuses from taxpayer funds.

Treasury’s compensation chief at the time, Kenneth Feinberg, scolded companies for what he called “ill-advised” payouts to executives, and vowed to curb lavish pay. Nonetheless, Treasury allowed seven firms to bypass pay restrictions from 2009 to 2011, according to a report issued by the special inspector general in January 2012.

Monday’s report evaluates Treasury’s actions since then, with stinging allegations of lax oversight and supervision. Romero said Geoghegan deferred to the pay proposals provided by the companies, approving raises above pay limits and failing to link compensation to performance.

“Treasury made no meaningful reform to its processes,” the special inspector said in the latest report. “Lacking criteria and an effective decision-making process, Treasury risks continuing to award executives of bailed-out companies excessive cash compensation without good cause.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2013 at 5:07 pm

For iPhone fans

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Take a look.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2013 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Life is good: Sushi lunch edition

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The Wife and I went out for a sushi lunch at OceanSushi.com, always a delight. I have my favorites, of course, but attempt to try new things. A wonderful meal, a beautiful day, and some new shaving soaps. Who could ask for anything more?

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2013 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

Robert Samuelson: Ignorant, Stupid, or Malevolent? (or all three?)

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Dean Baker patiently dissects yet another Robert Samuelson Washington Post column:

It’s always entertaining to read Robert Samuelson’s columns on Monday mornings. They are so deliciously orthogonal to reality. Today’s column, asking whether America is in decline, is another gem.

He starts with a set of “good news” items from a paper issued by Goldman Sachs:

“For starters, the U.S. economy is still the world’s largest by a long shot. Gross domestic product (GDP) is almost $16 trillion, “nearly double the second largest (China), 2.5 times the third largest (Japan).” Per capita GDP is about $50,000; although 10 other countries have higher figures, most of the countries are small — say, Luxembourg.”

That sounds good, except that having double the GDP of China depends on looking at exchange rate measures of GDP. This figure is inflated by the over-valued dollar and under-valued yuan. Using the purchasing power parity measure of GDP, the gap is much smaller, with the IMF projecting it will go the other way by 2017. According tosome estimates China’s GDP is already larger than ours, so it’s probably best to keep this celebration short.

It is true that the U.S. has a higher per capita income than Germany, France, and most other wealthy countries. But by far the main reason for this gap is that we work about 25 percent more on average than workers in Western Europe who all get 4-6 weeks a year vacation, paid parental leave, and paid sick days. This is far more an issue of a different trade-off between work and leisure than a question of people in the United States being richer.

Next we get the good news about our massive energy resources:

“In turn, the oil and gas boom bolsters employment. A study by IHS , a consulting firm, estimates that it has already created 1.7 million direct and indirect jobs. By 2020, there should be 1.3 million more, reckons IHS.”

Ignoring the issue of pollution from drilling out this windfall, it is important to put these jobs numbers in perspective. These are gross jobs, not net jobs. In other words, the vast majority of the 3 million jobs that IHS is promising us in oil and gas by 2020 are not additional jobs to those that would otherwise exist in the absence of these resources. These are jobs that displace jobs in education, medical research, health care, and other sectors. Samuelson may be excited that more people will be employed digging gas wells in 2020 and fewer educating the young, but the economic and social benefits of this reallocation of workers are not obvious.

Then we have the fact that we will be younger than other countries:

“American workers will remain younger and more energetic than their rapidly aging rivals. By 2050, workers’ median age in China and Japan will be about 50, a decade higher than in America.”

Yeah, you probably jumped ahead on this one. A main reason that we will be younger is that we have shorter life expectancies. The good news just keeps coming.

Then we have the U.S. as the prime destination for highly educated emigrants: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2013 at 11:32 am

Posted in Washington Post

Financial Markets Agree With President Obama and Disagree with Paul Ryan

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Dean Baker notes the difficulty Paul Ryan has in dealing with facts:

It probably would have been useful to remind readers that Representative Paul Ryan’s claim that country is facing a fiscal crisis is sharply at odds with the views of market participants in a NYT article reporting on his latest interview. The article quotes Ryan:

“I don’t think that the president thinks that we actually have a fiscal crisis, … He’s been reportedly saying to our leaders that we don’t have a spending problem, we have a health care problem. That just leads me to conclude that he actually thinks we just need more government-run health care.”

Of course the fact that investors are willing to lend the U.S. government trillions of dollars for long periods of time for interest rates of less than 2.0 percent indicates that the markets do not believe the United States has a fiscal crisis. Also, it is a fact that if the United States had per person health care costs that were at all comparable to those in other wealthy countries that it would be looking at long-term budget surpluses, not deficits.

It would have been worth reminding readers that Mr. Ryan has no evidence to support his assertions that the United States somehow has a fiscal crisis or that fixing our health care system would not address its projected long-term deficit problem. Readers might be mistakenly led to believe that Ryan’s position has a basis in reality.

Some interesting comments at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2013 at 11:29 am

The Making of a Bully

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Interesting article in The Scientist by Bhavana Weidmann:

Like neonates, adolescent rats are also vulnerable to childhood trauma, becoming aggressive and pathologically violent later in life, according to a study published earlier this month (January 15) inTranslational Psychiatry.

The team of researchers at the Brain Mind Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland, observed adult rats that had undergone traumatic experiences as adolescents, and found evidence of altered brain activity and epigenetic changes in the pre-frontal cortex that may explain the animals’ aggressive behavior. Because the findings match those from previous studies in humans, the study offers a robust rat model to further investigate the underlying neuro-biological causes and potential treatment avenues for increased aggression resulting from childhood trauma.

“This work represents a critical advancement in our understanding of how our environment influences our behaviors and shapes our brains,” Fiona Hollis, a neuroscientist at the Brain Mind Institute, who did not participate in the study, wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. “By demonstrating a link between early-life trauma and adult pathological aggression, we can better understand, and perhaps even reverse, the mechanisms underlying the cycle of violence, that is too often observed in society.”

Previous studies in rats, have clearly demonstrated the negative effects of stress, incurred soon after birth. Young pups, when separated from their mother, for example, develop into more aggressive adults. But whether stress incurred through adolescence had similar effects was unclear.

To investigate this question, the Brain Mind Institute’s Carmen Sandi and colleagues exposed 28- to 42-day-old adolescent rats to a fox odor or placed them in a vulnerable position on an elevated platform under bright light for a few minutes every day for 7 days. Rats exposed to such fearful stimuli grew up to become “bullies,” displaying pathological violence against any new rat introduced to their cage. Control rats that were not exposed to fearful stimuli as adolescents, one the other hand, were significantly less aggressive toward intruders, as adults.

Rats stressed in adolescence also presented anxiety and depression-like behaviors as adults; exhibited increased activity in the amygdala, the part of brain associated with fear responses; and showed lowered activity in the orbito-frontal cortex, a part of the pre-frontal cortex. These specific brain activity patterns have been linked to aggression and violence in humans. Additionally, the stress-exposed adolescent rats, as adults, displayed hormonal irregularities, namely high testosterone and low corticosterone levels—another pattern associated with increased aggression and violence in humans.

The effects of early-life adversity percolated right down to the level of the rats’ DNA. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2013 at 11:25 am

Posted in Mental Health, Science

Perfect BBS—and an intriguing fragrance

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SOTD 28 Jan 2013

What a shave! Totally perfect BBS throughout, with not a trace of irritation. But to begin at the beginning.

I’ve decided that Monday will be boar day—I tend to overlook my boar brushes, though they are in general good, so I decided that I would use a boar brush at least once a week. Today’s is the Omega shown, and though I got an excellent lather, by the third pass I had to refresh it. The problem for me with boar is a lack of capacity, though to some degree that can be blamed on the newness of the brush: it has not had time to break in. And of course a larger brush (e.g., the Omega Pro 48—model 10048) helps. Still, it’s not a serious problem: a quick swirl or two on the soap, and I had lather to finish.

The soap has an interesting fragrance: honey, a familiar fragrance that’s novel in the context. Quite nice, fact. And the lather was quite good—just the brush’s lack of capacity, I believe. I’ll try another Haslinger tomorrow with a badger brush and we’ll see how it goes.

The bakelite slant, with a new Astra Keramik Platinum blade, performed superbly. The previous blade really had overstayed its welcome, I now realize. The shave was easy, smooth, and comfortable throughout. The head design on this razor really is marvelous. I was practically BBS after two passes, but the ATG pass supplied the final polish. Having a two-day stubble doubtless helped, in some mysterious fashion.

A good splash from my sample bottle of Bulgarian Rose with Lemon aftershave from Saint Charles Shave, and I feel ready for the entire week.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2013 at 9:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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