Later On

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

Archive for June 2nd, 2013

My God! Well said, sir! Well said!

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The Right of Publicity

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I guess we shelve it next to the Right to Privacy, as part of an extended Contitutionalish Bill of Rights. Adam Liptak writes in the NY Times:

WASHINGTON — RYAN HART played quarterback for the Rutgers football team from 2002 to 2005. These days, he works in the financial services industry.

But a version of Mr. Hart on the playing field lives on, along with those of thousands of other athletes, in a video game called “NCAA Football.” The game allows players to manipulate the actions of more than 100 college teams in fantasy matchups. An unnamed avatar in the game shares Mr. Hart’s number, height, weight, biography and playing statistics.

Mr. Hart sued the game’s manufacturer, Electronic Arts, saying it should have gotten his permission and paid him a fee. Last month, in a decision that tried to reconcile free speech and commerce, a divided three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Philadelphia said the company had violated Mr. Hart’s right to control the commercial use of his image — his “right of publicity.”

“There’s a lot at stake here, and a lot in play,” said Mr. Hart’s lawyer, Timothy J. McIlwain, who is asking that the case be treated as a class action. Mr. McIlwain said economists have told him that his clients may be entitled to billions of dollars in damages.

Jake Schatz, a lawyer with Electronic Arts, agreed that the case is exceptionally important, but for a different reason. “The reach of this decision extends far beyond video games,” he said in a statement. “If it stands, all creators of expressive works that depict real individuals, including filmmakers, biographers and journalists, would face a stark choice: liability or self-censorship.”

Mr. Schatz said the company will ask the full appeals court to reconsider the panel’s decision.

The Screen Actors Guild and several players’ unions have filed briefs supporting Mr. Hart, saying . . .

Continue reading.

Modern times, modern mores.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 4:32 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Government surveillance of environmental groups

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Adam Federman reports in Salon:

In February 2010 Tom Jiunta and a small group of residents in northeastern Pennsylvania formed the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC), an environmental organization opposed to hydraulic fracturing in the region. The group sought to appeal to the widest possible audience, and was careful about striking a moderate tone. All members were asked to sign a code of conduct in which they pledged to carry themselves with “professionalism, dignity, and kindness” as they worked to protect the environment and their communities. GDAC’s founders acknowledged that gas drilling had become a divisive issue misrepresented by individuals on both sides and agreed to “seek out the truth.”

The group of about 10 professionals – engineers, nurses, and teachers – began meeting in the basement of a member’s home. As their numbers grew, they moved to a local church. In an effort to raise public awareness about the risks of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) they attended township meetings, zoning and ordinance hearings, and gas-drilling forums. They invited speakers from other states affected by gas drilling to talk with Pennsylvania residents. They held house-party style screenings of documentary films.

Since the group had never engaged in any kind of illegal activity or particularly radical forms of protest, it came as a shock when GDAC members learned that their organization had been featured in intelligence bulletins compiled by a private security firm, The Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR). Equally shocking was the revelation that the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security had distributed those bulletins to local police chiefs, state, federal, and private intelligence agencies, and the security directors of the natural gas companies, as well as industry groups and PR firms. News of the surveillance broke in September 2010 when the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security, James Powers, mistakenly sent an email to an anti-drilling activist he believed was sympathetic to the industry, warning her not to post the bulletins online. The activist was Virginia Cody, a retired Air Force officer. In his email to Cody, Powers wrote: “We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies.”

The tri-weekly bulletins featured a wide range of supposed threats to the state’s infrastructure. It included warnings about Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, pro-life activists, and Tea Party protesters. The bulletins also included information about when and where groups like GDAC would be meeting, upcoming protests, and anti-fracking activists’ internal strategy. The raw data was followed by a threat assessment – low, moderate, severe, or critical – and a brief analysis.

For example, bulletin no. 118, dated July 30, 2010 gave a low to moderate threat rating in reference to public meetings that anti-drilling activists planned to attend, and suggested that an “attack is likely… and might well be executed.” The threat assessment was accompanied by this note: “The escalating conflict over natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania may define local fault lines and potentially increase area environmentalist activity or eco-terrorism. GDAC communications have cited Northeastern Pennsylvania counties, specifically Wyoming, Lackawanna and Luzerne, as being in real ‘need of our help’ and as facing a ‘drastic situation.’” Another bulletin referenced an August 2010 FBI assessment of the growing threat of environmental activism to the energy industry. Because of Pennsylvania’s importance in the production of natural gas, ITRR concluded, an uptick in vandalism, criminal activity, and extremism was likely.

Although the Pennsylvania scandal caused a brief public outcry, it was quickly brushed aside as an unfortunate mistake. In fact, the episode represents a larger pattern of corporate and police spying on environmental activists fueled in part by the expansion of private intelligence gathering since 9/11.

By 2007, 70 percent of the US intelligence budget – or about $38 billion annually – was spent on private contractors. . .

Continue reading. Read it all. It’s a lengthy article and details how the government and big corporations are uniting against the public interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 1:22 pm

Stateless! The Core of the Palestinian Crisis (Juan Cole Video)

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Interesting post, with a video (at the link) and includes this transcript:

Well thank you very much Yousef for that warm introduction. Thank you to the Jerusalem Fund for this prestigious invitation. It’s a great honor and pleasure for me to be here and to address you.

I want to make an argument about the character of the Palestine issue. I’m not going to argue that it’s a unique problem but I am going to argue that it’s almost unique in contemporary affairs, and that there are some aspects of it that explain why it is so seemingly intractable. I’m going to start with an increasingly important field of study, citizenship studies. There are journals now devoted to it; it’s become a big thing in academia. My colleague at the University of Michigan, Margaret Somers, wrote an important book on citizenship not so long ago. And as she points out, Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958 wrote: “Citizenship is man’s basic right, for it is nothing less than the right to have rights. Remove this priceless possession and there remains a stateless person disgraced and degraded in the eyes of his countrymen.” So Warren is drawing here implicitly on the work of Hannah Arendt but this is the key point that I want to make today. Citizenship is the right to have rights. People who lack citizenship in a state ipso facto have no right to have rights.

Now citizen-ness, the quality of being a citizen, is of course not one data point, not one thing. And it exists as with all social phenomena on a spectrum. You know, it’s like coolness. It can be more or less cool. There are attributes that contribute to one’s coolness. And speaking as an expert, so citizen-ness likewise is on a spectrum. Summers brings in a number of things that make for citizenship the intersection with the state: how strong is the state, how much recognition by the state is there of a particular group as citizens, the relationship to the market. So I come from the Detroit area where there is a very large number of young people in Detroit who have no access to the market. They don’t live where there are jobs; they’re not suited to the jobs that are in their neighborhoods, if there are any. They’re disconnected to the market and Summers argues that that’s also, you know, a problem of citizenship, of full citizenship. And then civil society: non-governmental organizations of various sorts, how thick are they are the ground, how interactive are they with local people. So Summers argues that what we discovered after the Katrina Hurricane was the very large numbers of people in New Orleans [were] not actually citizens very much. They had low levels of citizenship in American terms, the state didn’t really do much for them, they weren’t connected to the market, etcetera, etcetera. So as I said, she wants to put this on a scale of low to high.

Now if we took the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Jordanians as a test case and looked at their relationship to these three factors, I’m just, this is notional, I don’t have weak numbers behind these charts but if we just thought about it, the Israelis have a relatively strong state, and the Israeli citizens have a strong relationship to that state. Obviously the Palestinian Israelis don’t have as much citizenship as Jewish Israelis but they do have rights of citizenship. For instance, the Israelis set things up so that they only recognize municipalities if they have been incorporated in a certain way and they don’t give permission to a lot of the Palestinian Israeli villages to incorporate and without that permission then they can’t repair and get permits and so forth. In fact, there are some of them that the Likud party in the 1970s came to and said we’ll recognize you as proper Israelis municipalities only if you’ll vote for us. So there’s a reliable Likud vote to this day in some of places. But on the whole and by and large, the Israelis have citizenship and they have a strong state. Obviously it is a country with a vigorous market and a strong relationship of people to that market, very active non-governmental organization sector and I think across the board in this regard. So the Israelis, they have one-third, one-third, one-third, that’s a normal distribution for citizenship according to Summers.

And then the Jordanians, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Colonoscopies Explain Why U.S. Leads the World in Health Expenditures

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Very interesting article by Elisabeth Rosenthal in the NY Times:

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 1.41.33 PM

MERRICK, N.Y. — Deirdre Yapalater’s recent colonoscopy at a surgical center near her home here on Long Island went smoothly: she was whisked from pre-op to an operating room where a gastroenterologist, assisted by an anesthesiologist and a nurse, performed the routine cancer screening procedure in less than an hour. The test, which found nothing worrisome, racked up what is likely her most expensive medical bill of the year: $6,385.

That is fairly typical: in Keene, N.H., Matt Meyer’s colonoscopy was billed at $7,563.56. Maggie Christ of Chappaqua, N.Y., received $9,142.84 in bills for the procedure. In Durham, N.C., the charges for Curtiss Devereux came to $19,438, which included a polyp removal. While their insurers negotiated down the price, the final tab for each test was more than $3,500.

“Could that be right?” said Ms. Yapalater, stunned by charges on the statement on her dining room table. Although her insurer covered the procedure and she paid nothing, her health care costs still bite: Her premium payments jumped 10 percent last year, and rising co-payments and deductibles are straining the finances of her middle-class family, with its mission-style house in the suburbs and two S.U.V.’s parked outside. “You keep thinking it’s free,” she said. “We call it free, but of course it’s not.”

In many other developed countries, a basic colonoscopy costs just a few hundred dollars and certainly well under $1,000. That chasm in price helps explain why the United States is far and away the world leader in medical spending, even though numerous studies have concluded that Americans do not get better care.

Whether directly from their wallets or through insurance policies, Americans pay more for almost every interaction with the medical system. They are typically prescribed more expensive procedures and tests than people in other countries, no matter if those nations operate a private or national health system. A list of drug, scan and procedure prices compiled by the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurers, found that the United States came out the most costly in all 21 categories — and often by a huge margin.

Americans pay, on average, about four times as much for a hip replacement as patients in Switzerland or France and more than three times as much for a Caesarean section as those in New Zealand or Britain. The average price for Nasonex, a common nasal spray for allergies, is $108 in the United States compared with $21 in Spain. The costs of hospital stays here are about triple those in other developed countries, even though they last no longer, according to a recent report by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that studies health policy.

While the United States medical system is famous for drugs costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and heroic care at the end of life, it turns out that a more significant factor in the nation’s $2.7 trillion annual health care bill may not be the use of extraordinary services, but the high price tag of ordinary ones. “The U.S. just pays providers of health care much more for everything,” said Tom Sackville, chief executive of the health plans federation and a former British health minister.

Colonoscopies offer a compelling case study. They are the most expensive screening test that healthy Americans routinely undergo — and often cost more than childbirth or an appendectomy in most other developed countries. Their numbers have increased manyfold over the last 15 years, with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting that more than 10 million people get them each year, adding up to more than $10 billion in annual costs. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 12:46 pm

The Source of Anti-Government Extremism

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Robert Parry has an interesting post at ConsortiumNews.com:

One reasonable way of looking at democratic governance is that it carries out the collective will of a society, especially in areas where the private sector can’t do the job or needs regulation to prevent it from doing harm. Of course, there are always many variables and points of disagreement, from the need to protect individual rights to the wisdom of each decision.

But something extreme has surfaced in modern American politics: an ideological hatred of government. From the Tea Party to libertarianism, there is a “principled” rejection – at least rhetorically – of almost everything that government does (outside of national security), and those views are no longer simply “fringe.” By and large, they have been embraced by the national Republican Party.

There has also been an effort to anchor these angry anti-government positions in the traditions of U.S. history. The Tea Party consciously adopted imagery and symbols from the Revolutionary War era to create an illusion that this contempt of government fits with the First Principles.

However, this right-wing revision of U.S. history is wildly askew if not upside-down. The Framers of the U.S. Constitution – and even many of their “anti-federalist” critics – were not hostile to an American government. They understood the difference between an English monarchy that denied them representation in Parliament and their own Republic.

Indeed, the key Framers – James Madison, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton – might be called pragmatic nationalists, eager to use the new Constitution, which centralized power at the national level, to build the young country and protect its fragile independence.

While these Framers later split over precise applications of the Constitution – Madison opposed Hamilton’s national bank, for instance – they accepted the need for a strong and effective federal government, unlike the weak, states’-rights-oriented Articles of Confederation.

More generally, the Founders recognized the need for order if their experiment in self-governance was to work. Even some of the more radical Founders, the likes of Sam Adams, supported the suppression of domestic disorders, such as Shays’ Rebellion in Massachusetts and the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania. The logic of Adams and his cohorts was that an uprising against a distant monarch was one thing, but taking up arms against your own republican government was something else.

But the Tea Partiers are not entirely wrong when they insist that their hatred of “guv-mint” has its roots in the Founding era. There was an American tradition that involved resisting a strong and effective national government. It was, however, not anchored in the principles of “liberty,” but rather in the practice of slavery.

Southern Fears

The battle against the Constitution and later against an energetic federal government — the sort of nation-building especially envisioned by Washington and Hamilton – emanated from the fears of many Southern plantation owners that eventually the national political system would move to outlaw slavery and thus negate their massive investment in human bondage.

Their thinking was that the stronger the federal government became the more likely it would act to impose a national judgment against the South’s brutal institution of slavery. So, while the Southern argument was often couched in the rhetoric of “liberty,” i.e. the rights of states to set their own rules, the underlying point was the maintenance of slavery.

This dollars-and-cents reality was reflected in the debate at Virginia’s 1788 convention to ratify the Constitution. Two of Virginia’s most noted advocates for “liberty” and “rights” – Patrick Henry and George Mason – tried to rally opposition to the proposed Constitution by stoking the fears of white plantation owners.

Historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg recount the debate in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, noting that the chief argument advanced by Henry and Mason was that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected” and that this danger was exacerbated by the Constitution’s granting the President, as commander in chief, the power to “federalize” state militias. . .

Continue reading. As always, the drive for profit undermines morally sound decisions.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 12:27 pm

Another candidate for God’s Eye

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hoagsobject

Or at least The Pupil of God’s Eye. The formation is interesting in many ways. From Wired Science:

Hoag’s Object

A nearly perfect ring of hot, blue stars pinwheels about the yellow nucleus of an unusual galaxy known as Hoag’s Object. This image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captures a face-on view of the galaxy’s ring of stars, revealing more detail than any existing photo of this object. The image may help astronomers unravel clues on how such strange objects form.

The entire galaxy is about 120,000 light-years wide, which is slightly larger than our Milky Way Galaxy. The blue ring, which is dominated by clusters of young, massive stars, contrasts sharply with the yellow nucleus of mostly older stars. What appears to be a “gap” separating the two stellar populations may actually contain some star clusters that are almost too faint to see. Curiously, an object that bears an uncanny resemblance to Hoag’s Object can be seen in the gap at the one o’clock position. The object is probably a background ring galaxy.

Ring-shaped galaxies can form in several different ways. One possible scenario is through a collision with another galaxy. Sometimes the second galaxy speeds through the first, leaving a “splash” of star formation. But in Hoag’s Object there is no sign of the second galaxy, which leads to the suspicion that the blue ring of stars may be the shredded remains of a galaxy that passed nearby. Some astronomers estimate that the encounter occurred about 2 to 3 billion years ago.

This unusual galaxy was discovered in 1950 by astronomer Art Hoag. Hoag thought the smoke-ring-like object resembled a planetary nebula, the glowing remains of a Sun-like star. But he quickly discounted that possibility, suggesting that the mysterious object was most likely a galaxy. Observations in the 1970s confirmed this prediction, though many of the details of Hoag’s galaxy remain a mystery. The galaxy is 600 million light-years away in the constellation Serpens. The Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 took this image on July 9, 2001.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Science

Science is a religion?

with 3 comments

Steve of Kafeneio has strong feelings against “scientism,” the view that all questions have answers discoverable by science. I do, too, because it’s okay to have strong feelings against a group with no members. That is, I cannot imagine that anyone holds such a position. Even the most scientifically oriented understands that science is not a help in understand the intricacies of thought and allusion in, say, a good poem. There is indeed a technical language to describe poetic devices, and examples may be adduced, but there is no way to appeal to nature to resolve disagreements of interpretation—and often, several interpretations are often worth exploring and keeping in mind.

Still, one can see that science is sometimes treated as a competing religion by some. Christian fundamentalists, for example, completely oppose, on religious grounds, certain scientific findings (evolution, climate change, genetic/congenital origins of one’s sexuality, and so on). I got into a brief discussion of this in a comment thread to a Kevin Drum post on how willingness to buy light bulbs labeled as “protecting the environment” drops as conservatism increases.

Leisureguy: That seems weirdly perverse. To be honest, I completely fail to understand a mindset that views protecting the environment as something bad. I would love to see some sort of diagram of the “thought” processes that lead to that conclusion. I do observe that it happens, but the reasons are opaque to me.

The Raven: My theory is that the religiously indoctrinated view advocacy of anything they didn’t think of first as a competing ideology. Environmentalism is grounded in science but to a Christian fundamentalist it looks like green Islam. They exist to impose their religion on others but detest any perceived sermons directed back at them.

Leisureguy: That’s a very interesting idea and explains something else I have long wondered about: the contemptuous dismissal of scientific findings (e.g., evolution, climate change). Possibly they view science as a “belief system” (a religion) rather than as a system of procedures for posing and answering questions in an on-going effort to match theories and observable reality. If they view it as a religion, it would explain their hostility to it—but unfortunately also reveals their lack of education and to some degree lack of intelligence (in the sense of being able to assimilate and use new information).  “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

I kept thinking about this, and realized that from a Christian fundamentalist’s point of view, science could indeed look as though it were a competing religion: another belief system that contradicted basic teachings of his religion, just as (for example) Islam contradicts basic tenets of Christian (fundamentalist and beyond) belief—e.g., that Jesus is God.

Now when a disagreement about religious belief arises, how is it settled? Best, of course, would be for God to step in and say, “This way, not that.” Unfortunately, that simply does not work. For example, in Christian belief God did indeed step in (became incarnate) and gave an explicit rule. As stated in the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 12:

28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater

That’s pretty clear, but you can see for yourself the result: disagreements about “neighbor” leading to bloody conflict—take, for example, the endless deaths due to specifically religious disagreements among Christians (e.g., between Catholics and Protestants—and between Catholics and other Catholics, Protestants and other Protestants). And certainly it’s not just Christians who have found no way to resolve their disagreements. In Islam the Sunnis and Shiites have found the only way to decide doctrinal disputes is through force: if you kill all who have the erroneous belief, then the correct belief remains and thus the dispute is resolved.

So I was thinking about whether science as a belief system is like a religion, and I realized that it offers something unavailable to religious belief systems (or poetry criticism, for that matter): a way to decide competing beliefs by appeal to an outside, objective authority unswayed by bribes, pleadings, and prayers: nature. The fact that there is a bridge to an impartial arbitrator—the phenomena of the natural world—breaks the walls of an enclosed belief system (such as religions).

My view: science, as a belief system, is sharply distinguished from religious belief systems because of a way of deciding disagreements that does not require the use of force.

UPDATE: An example might help. Scientists have frequently been divided in their beliefs on some phenomenon or another, but instead of forming rival groups to settle the question through violence and bloodshed  (a common way of settling religious disputes) or breaking away to form two different scientific camps (another common approach to resolving group differences: break apart into groups of homogenous beliefs), they turn to experiments (i.e., to objective, dispassionate, uninvolved natural phenomena outside the group). Example: the existence of the luminiferous ether, the medium through which light propagated, Some believed in it, some did not, but an experiment resolved the issue. Example: the common cause of stomach ulcers. One scientist believed the cause was bacterial, almost everyone else did not, but through experiments the truth was established and now ulcer treatments have become much more effective because we better understand the cause.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 11:26 am

Posted in Religion, Science

Totalitarianism in NYC

with 4 comments

Dorothy Rabinowitz points out how NYC’s bike-share program is totalitarian. I have to observe that this is the weak form of totalitarianism, in which the oppressed (Dorothy Rabinowitz, for example) are free to choose whether to use the bikes or not. (In the strong form of totalitarianism, the state exerts more force on choices.) But it’s good that the WSJ protects us all from serious totalitarianism—though, come to think of it, corporations seem often to be very totalitarian: if you don’t like what you’re forced to do, you can flee the company, but that’s true of all totalitarian regimes. I’ll be interested to read the vigorous WSJ editorials attacking corporations for their totalitarian behavior.

UPDATE: Wait! I get it. In her view she is the oppressed, ground under by the boot heel of oppression, and everyday people are the oppressors. The hardships she must endure! The mind reels. Her mind, anyway.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2013 at 10:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

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