Later On

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

Archive for June 3rd, 2013

What Ben Bernanke (in effect) said

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Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

Ben Bernanke Endorses A 73 Percent Tax Rate

OK, he didn’t actually say that in so many words. But if you follow through on the logic of his excellent speech at Princeton yesterday, that’s where you end up.

Actually, there were several things Bernanke said that were politically controversial. When he declared that

physical beauty is evolution’s way of assuring us that the other person doesn’t have too many intestinal parasites

he was endorsing the theory of evolution — which puts him at odds with a large majority of Republicans, 58 percent of whom believe that man was created in his present form within the last 10,000 years.

But the big thing in Bernanke’s remarks was his discussion of the obligations of the successful, even within a supposedly meritocratic society:

We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair. Putting aside the reality that no system, including our own, is really entirely meritocratic, meritocracies may be fairer and more efficient than some alternatives. But fair in an absolute sense? Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate–these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others.

OK, this is, whether BB realizes it or not (he probably does) basically a Rawlsian view of the world, in which you think of life as a kind of lottery in which you draw a ticket that includes things like your genetic endowment as well as the wealth of your parents. And what you’re supposed to do, ethically, is support the economic and social system you would choose if you had to enter that lottery not knowing what ticket you were going to draw — if you were making political choices behind the “veil of ignorance”.

As soon as you portray the choice that way, you’ve introduced a strong presumption in favor of redistribution. After all, if you should happen to end up as a member of the top 1 percent, an extra dollar at the margin won’t mean a lot to you; but if you should happen to end up as a member of, say, the bottom quintile, an extra dollar could make a lot of difference. So you should, other things equal, favor a system of progressive taxation and generous aid to the poor and unlucky.

So why not favor complete leveling, America as Cuba? Because for many reasons, both economic and political, we favor a market economy in which people make decentralized decisions about working, saving, and so on. And this means that incentive effects become important; you can’t levy 100 percent taxation on the rich, or completely insulate the poor from any consequences of low income, without destroying the incentives you need to make the economy work.

The question then becomes one of numbers. In particular, how high should we set the top tax rate? From a Rawlsian perspective, the key thing about very high incomes is that making them a bit higher or lower basically doesn’t matter — if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the top 0.1 percent (say), the marginal value of a dollar to your welfare is trivial compared with the value of that dollar to almost anyone else. So the top tax rate should be set solely with regard to the amount of money it raises for other purposes; essentially, you should soak the rich up to the point where any further rise in the tax rate would actually reduce revenue.

And we have a pretty good idea, based on careful statistical studies, of where that optimal top rate lies; 73 percent, say Diamond and Saez, maybe 80 percent, say Romer and Romer.

Does this sound wildly radical to you? Well, it’s just where the logic and evidence take you once you adopt a more or less Rawlsian view of social justice — which is exactly what Ben Bernanke did at Princeton.

Some people have suggested that BB’s speech had a touch of radicalism to it. Little did they know!

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2013 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

True love explained

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Just to be clear, the title is in jest. But still… Kate Yandell reports in The Scientist:

The mechanism behind prairie voles’ lifelong social monogamy is partly epigenetic, according to a paper published today (June 2) in Nature Neuroscience. Female prairie voles become bonded to their mates for life following the acetylation of histones in a brain region called the nucleus accumbens. The acetylation takes place near the promoter regions of genes encoding oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, molecules that have previously been associated with prairie vole pair-bonding.

“It’s the first time anyone’s shown any epigenetic basis for partner preference,” said Jeremy Day, a neuroepigeneticist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who was not involved in the study.

Mohamed Kabbaj, a neuroscientist at Florida State University and an author of the paper, said that work in other species gave him clues that epigenetics could be important for social behavior. For instance, previous work suggests that modifications are involved in bonds between mothers and offspring in rats.

To test whether acetylation was involved in pair bonding in prairie voles, Kabbaj and colleagues injected . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2013 at 11:45 am

Posted in Science

Moral Imperative of Bradley Manning

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Ray McGovern reports at

Although we had to swelter in the Maryland sun on Saturday, I found the pre-trial rally at Ft. Meade to support Bradley Manning particularly spirit-filled. It seemed there was an unspoken but widely shared consciousness that Manning is as much Biblical prophet as Army private.

I think Manning can be seen as a classic prophet in the Abrahamic tradition. Such prophets take risks to expose injustice and challenge the rest of us to do the same. They also are a very large pain to those who oppress – and a pain, as well, to those of us who would prefer not to have to bother about such things.

Prophets will neither acquiesce in injustice nor hide wrongdoing; they answer to a higher chain of command with very different “rules of engagement.” Take Isaiah, for example, who is described as an eccentric, walking around for three full years “naked and barefoot.” (Hat tip here to Rev. Howard Bess, for his recent reminder in “Rethinking the Genesis Message,” that, whereas Bible stories are largely myth and cannot be read as history, they often witness to truth in a way that mere history cannot.)What was Isaiah trying to say by his nakedness? Biblical scholars conclude that he sought a vivid way to demonstrate to the Israelites that, if their oppressive practices did not stop they too would be “naked and barefoot, their buttocks shamefully exposed.” (Isa. 20:2-4) Or, more simply: It is not my nakedness that is shameful. It is yours – those of you who have stripped yourselves of the vision with which you were blessed, a vision of justice and shalom.

Can we borrow Isaiah’s eyesight to see and acknowledge that the abuse uncovered and revealed by Bradley Manning – including the torture and slaughter of Iraqi civilians – exposes the buttocks of us Americans? (And I refer not simply those in the chain of command, but the rest of us too. Are you starting to feel a draft on your derriere?)

In suggesting we all need to examine our consciences, I take my cue from a more recent prophet in the tradition of Isaiah, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who insisted that wherever injustice takes place, “few are guilty, but all are responsible.” Rabbi Heschel drove home the point, adding that, “indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself.”

Responsible If Unaware

Those of us Americans who have seen and heard the U.S. Army Apache helicopter gun-barrel video showing the killing of a dozen civilians (including two Reuters journalists) in Baghdad on July 12, 2007, (during President George W. Bush’s much-heralded “troop surge”) can appreciate how that video, which has been given the apt title “Collateral Murder,” leaves our buttocks “shamefully exposed.”

The premier German TV program Panorama, unlike its American counterparts, replayed the most salient parts of the gun-barrel footage, but also put context around the incident in a short 60 Minutes-type segment. Those of us who had some role in the German version begged the producers of Panorama to “undub” the program. They acknowledged the need, made an exception to their corporate policy against “undubbing,” and what emerged is a 12-minute English version titled “Shooters Walk Free, Whistleblower Jailed.”

Lacking any real competition, the 12-minute English version is, in my view, the most straightforward depiction of what happened, including the war crime of murdering the “Good Samaritan,” who stopped to help one of the wounded.

War crime? . . .

Continue reading.

I believe he’s right: the panicked response to Bradley Manning and the ferocity of the attack on Julian Assange is because those documents show clear and irrefutable evidence—VIDEOS, for god’s sake—of the US committing war crimes. And the US committed LOTS of war crimes—enough so that higher heads would roll. And if that torture thing breaks loose, the highest head of all would roll.

What’s odd is that this is all out in the open: everyone knows it. The US committed war crimes at a rate unprecedented for this country, and in addition documented those crimes with video footage—though of course the much-honored CIA manager who destroyed all that evidence (for obvious reasons: documentation of torture, a war crime). So we see it, and we see those who are trying to tell us being crushed by the full might of the government—which in fact continues its practice of torture in the way Manning was treated while in captivity before the trial. That got so bad that the world was calling it for what it was—and what we in the US also knew it to be.

Why is everyone so passive while this happens? We watch what’s happening as though we’re hypnotized. But the US did commit war crimes, and we do have evidence, and we are trying to ignore that so much that anyone who reveals more about it must be crushed—else it all come out.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2013 at 11:40 am

CIA = Criminals In Action

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So it looks as though the CIA not only overthrew a democratically elected government in Chile (we’re in favor of democratically elected governments, right?), but also assassinated the Nobel-prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. Truly, the CIA is out of control: thugs with impunity. Of course, the CIA may well have been doing the bidding of Richard Nixon, a man without honor, but the CIA seems perfectly capable of doing whatever it wants. Was its drug-smuggling approved by the president?

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2013 at 11:03 am

Posted in Government, Law

Exxon Knew of Dangerous Contamination from Arkansas Spill, Yet Claimed Area “Oil Free”

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Jesse Coleman at

On March 29 ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.

A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims “Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free.” However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.

When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is “oil-free.” For the record, Exxon maintains that the “cove,” a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally “The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water.” Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.

Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was  “oil-free,” the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2013 at 9:09 am

BBS to begin the week

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SOTD 3 June 2013

Today’s shave was extremely good. I brought out the Fitjar Såpekokeri shaving soap, which I’ve not used in a while, and I was delighted once more by the lather. The Wet Shaving Products Baroness is a terrific shaving brush—and in fact, I think I’ll make this a WSP week.

I put the bakelite slant head (holding the same Astra Keramik Platinum blade I’ve used for a few shaves) on a Mühle Sophist ceramic handle. It looks good, I think—though the whites could be better matched—and it shaved fine, but I discovered that I really preferred the bakelite slant’s own handle: shorter and lighter.

Three passes, a good splash of Specik, and I’m good to go.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2013 at 8:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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