Later On

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

Archive for October 2013

Poached pears

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The Bosc pears looked really good the other day—very firm and flawless—so I bought and poached a pair. Based on that effort, today:

4 Bosc pears, quarter and cored
1 qt water
1/2 c white cane sugar
1/4 c maple syrup
1 vanilla bean, split
1 shot cognac
juice of 1 Meyer lemon

I simmered that briskly with the pot covered for 45 minutes, removed pears with slotted spoon, and reduced the poaching liquid a little too far, as it turned out: I took it to candy stage. Here’s the clue: if you get large glassy bubbles, you’ve gone too far. Stop back at the finer bubbles. It may take a batch or two to find exactly the right point, but it’s all edible.

I’m watching what looks to be an excellent movie (I’m only about 10 minutes in, but it had a knock-out opening scene, and intriguing plot. It’s a Written and Directed by. Oh, title: Dot the I.

As I stopped to move pears from freezer (brief quick cool) to fridge (for rest of afternoon), I started this post and I got to thinking: How much more contented could I be? Are there disparate levels of contentment? I suppose there are, but I don’t see that having much more than what I have would bring about any great increase in contentment. I remember a Guindon cartoon that showed two slovenly dressed characters, each holding a beer, sitting in broken-down lawn furniture beside a trailer with a broken door, an enormous carp cooking on an improvised grill, with one saying, “It just don’t’ get any better than this,” and I realize he had the same feeling as I: a profound conentment that, thank God, is not an uncommon experience.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 4:06 pm

Comcast is donating heavily to defeat the mayor who is bringing gigabit fiber to Seattle

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This is high-handed and heavy-handed to boot. I suppose we have Citizens United and the Roberts Supreme Court to thank for this.

Read it and weep.

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31 October 2013 at 2:38 pm

When judges don’t know everything

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Extremely interesting column by Linda Greenhouse in the NY Times:

A name familiar from a 2008 Supreme Court death penalty case was back in the news the other day. A federal district judge in New Orleans granted a new trial to Patrick Kennedy, convicted in 2003 of brutally raping an 8-year-old girl. He has been serving a life sentence in a Louisiana prison, spared the death penalty by a Supreme Court ruling that capital punishment for the rape of a child, unaccompanied by murder, violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion placed the emphasis on “unusual.” Only five states in addition to Louisiana made the rape of a child a capital offense, he noted, adding that when Congress last revisited the federal death penalty, in the mid-1990s, it failed to add child rape to the list of federal capital crimes. Capital punishment for the rape of a child was contrary to society’s “evolving standards of decency,” the majority concluded.

It was a high-profile case that divided the justices 5 to 4. But the ink was barely dry on the decision, Kennedy v. Louisiana, when it emerged that the court’s factual premise for taking the defendant off death row was, to put it charitably, incomplete. Standards weren’t evolving in only one direction, it turned out. Less than two years earlier, Congress had in fact added child rape to the list of capital offenses in the military justice system.

How could the justices not have known this? Simple: no one told them — not Louisiana, which vigorously defended its law; not the other states that supported Louisiana’s argument; and not the federal government, which didn’t even file a brief in the case. The court and all the parties to the case were embarrassed. Would the knowledge have made a difference to any of the five justices in the majority, changing the outcome? Probably not, but who knows? Louisiana asked the court to reconsider its decision, but the justices turned the state down, acknowledging the late-discovered fact in a new footnote while dismissing it as irrelevant. The defendant subsequently filed a new federal court appeal, renewing an earlier challenge to the makeup of the original grand jury that indicted him in 2001. Two weeks ago, federal District Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan gave the state 180 days to either re-indict Mr. Kennedy or release him.

I can’t help thinking about the Louisiana case, with its missing fact, in conjunction with the current contretemps over a single sentence in Judge Richard A. Posner’s latest book, “Reflections on Judging.” In what Judge Posner now says he considered little more than an “entirely innocuous” throwaway line, he wrote that “I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion” for his appeals court rejecting a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s voter-identification law. Since the text of the opinion itself identified Judge Posner as the author when the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued it in 2007, a confession to authorship six years later would appear rather more unnecessary than newsworthy.

Of course, what made it newsworthy and even controversial was the context in which the line appeared, amid the political debate over the new barriers to voting that are sweeping the country, propelled by Republican governors and state legislatures.

Judge Posner’s opinion was the first to uphold the new generation of voter-ID laws, and it was promptly affirmed by the Supreme Court. If Richard Posner, a leading public intellectual with conservative credentials (tarnished as they may be by his persistent criticism of Roberts court decisions) as well as one of the country’s most influential federal judges, now regrets his decision, doesn’t that delegitimize the Republicans’ entire vote-suppression project?

That may or may not be reading too much into Judge Posner’s “confession” and subsequent elaborations. His basic point (and a hardly surprising one, given abundant evidence of its validity) was that Supreme Court justices and other federal judges have too often plunged headlong into election-law cases like Citizens United (of which he is critical) without fully grasping the consequences of their decisions. This is what he pleads guilty to.

One could argue, as some have, that there was plenty of evidence from which Judge Posner might well have inferred back then what he seems to have concluded since: that voter-ID laws are part of a cynical political strategy that comes cloaked in the mantle of good government. My point here isn’t to debate the merits of either voter-ID or capital punishment for child rape, but rather to ponder the intriguing questions common to both cases: what are the sources of judicial knowledge? How do judges — especially appellate judges, who don’t hear witnesses or take testimony but must rely on the record compiled in the courts below — learn what they need to know? And, of course, how do they — or any of us — choose what to make of the knowledge they have?

In the debate over voter-ID requirements, no one disputes that there is almost no evidence — emphasis on evidence — of in-person voter fraud in this country. People just aren’t showing up at the polls claiming to be someone else. Rather, the dispute is over what conclusion to draw from the absence of evidence. A phony solution in search of a nonexistent problem? That’s how it looks to me, but I recognize that there’s another end to the telescope. During the Supreme Court argument in the Indiana case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. maintained that the very lack of evidence demonstrated the seriousness of the problem. “It’s a type of fraud that, because it’s fraud, it’s hard to detect,” he said.

When the court went on to affirm Judge Posner’s decision, it was Justice John Paul Stevens who surprised many people by writing the majority opinion. As a lawyer, Justice Stevens had made an early reputation in his hometown of Chicago — ground zero for election fraud — by investigating political corruption. Could that personal history have had anything to do with how he struck the balance in the Indiana case? (Justice Stevens told The Wall Street Journal that he still thinks his opinion was correct based on the information available to the court at the time, but that “as a matter of history,” Justice David H. Souter’s dissenting opinion “was dead right.”)

My Yale Law School colleague Dan Kahan, through his Cultural Cognition Project, uses the lens of psychology to study how people’s group identification and social networks influence their receptivity to scientific information, for example, evidence of climate change. It’s hardly far-fetched to assume that the same dynamic applies to judges across the spectrum of evidentiary questions, even those judges who try to put partisanship aside and think they have succeeded.

Isn’t there such a thing as a good old-fashioned fact that a judge can hang his or her hat on — or is that an outmoded premise in this postmodern world? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 10:33 am

Posted in Government, Law

Gravity Determines Cell Size

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That’s a surprise—at least to me. Abby Olena reports at The Scientist:

It has long been believed that cells with diameters much bigger than 10 microns—the typical size of most eukaryotic cells—are rare because it is difficult for larger cells to acquire nutrients or expel waste. The oocytes of most animals are much bigger, and they likewise have larger nuclei, which often contain high concentrations of the protein actin. Cell biologists Marina Feric and Clifford Brangwynne of Princeton University in New Jersey have shown that cells are likely small because of gravitational forces and that the extra actin in oocyte nuclei stabilizes the responses of larger cells to gravity. Their work, published in the October issue of Nature Cell Biology, was surprising because cell biologists “really have never, in my experience, worried about gravity—or thought about it,” Brangwynne told The Atlantic.

Brangwynne and Feric injected tiny plastic beads into the germinal vesicles—nuclei—of 1 millimeter oocytes from African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). Beads of different radii moved differently within the nuclei—larger particles got stuck more often than smaller ones—which suggested that they were traveling through a network of actin. When the researchers treated the eggs with drugs that disrupt actin or injected them with a factor that decreased actin concentration in the nuclei, plastic beads of all sizes moved similarly. When they disrupted actin and injected metallic beads, these beads and endogenous organelles eventually settled to the bottom of the nucleus. Brangwynne and Feric applied forces to the germinal vesicles and showed that actin polymerized in response. “Gravity becomes really important at a smaller scale than you might have guessed,” Brangwynne said in a press release.

The paper illustrates a previously unknown function for actin in the nucleus, molecular biologist Dyche Mullins of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, said in the press release. “The results suggest a large cell becomes fragile and needs a scaffold inside to support and separate the large number of particles it contains.”

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31 October 2013 at 10:18 am

Posted in Science

The NY Times doesn’t think much of Obama’s excuses

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It really is starting to see as though Obama simply doesn’t know what is going on in his administration. The Affordable Care Act is his legacy achievement, but apparently he could not be arsed to check up on its implementation and was taken totally surprise by the fact that simply did not work—although the contractors gave ample warning and presumably the CMS knew quite well what was going on. And now Obama says that he had no idea that the NSA were spying on foreign leaders—though I think that is probably simply a face-saving lie. However, it doesn’t save much face: it is a statement that he simply is in the dark about what the government is doing.

The NY Times editorial board has some strong words:

 The White House response on Monday to the expanding disclosures of American spying on foreign leaders, their governments and millions of their citizens was a pathetic mix of unsatisfying assurances about reviews under way, platitudes about the need for security in an insecure age, and the odd defense that the president didn’t know that American spies had tapped the German chancellor’s cellphone for 10 years.

Is it really better for us to think that things have gone so far with the post-9/11 idea that any spying that can be done should be done and that nobody thought to inform President Obama about tapping the phone of one of the most important American allies?

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, kept repeating that Mr. Obama ordered a review of surveillance policy a few months ago, but he would not confirm whether that includes the tapping of the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, or the collection of data on tens of millions of calls in France, Spain and elsewhere. It’s unlikely that Mr. Obama would have ordered any review if Edward Snowden’s leaks had not revealed the vacuum-cleaner approach to electronic spying. Mr. Carney left no expectation that the internal reviews will produce any significant public accounting — only that the White House might have “a little more detail” when they are completed. . .

Continue reading.

FWIW, the Germans think that US spying on its allies  is due to a paranoid mindset.

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31 October 2013 at 10:13 am

Democracy Now! interviews Glenn Greenwald

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Well worth reading/viewing (both transcript and video at the link). The blurb:

The spat over U.S. spying on Germany grew over the weekend following reports the National Security Agency has monitored the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel since as early as 2002, before she even came to office. The NSA also spied on Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, after he refused to support the Iraq War. NSA staffers working out of the U.S. embassy in Berlin reportedly sent their findings directly to the White House. The German tabloid Bild also reports President Obama was made aware of Merkel’s phone tap in 2010, contradicting his apparent claim to her last week that he would have stopped the spying had he known. In another new disclosure, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports today the NSA tracked some 60 million calls in Spain over the course of a month last year. A delegation of German and French lawmakers are now in Washington to press for answers on the allegations of U.S. spying in their home countries. We discuss the latest revelations with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported Edward Snowden’s leaks.

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31 October 2013 at 10:03 am

PayPal to Govement, like Holmes to Watson: “You know my methods. Use them.”

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Interesting column at The Switch by Lydia DePillis.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 10:01 am

Posted in Business, Government

Another reason to eschew meat

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In a word:  ractopamine. Martha Rosenberg reports at AlterNet:

Have you ever heard of ractopamine? Neither have most US food consumers though it is  used in 80 percent of US pig [3] and cattle[4] operations. The asthma drug-like growth additive, called a beta-agonist, has enjoyed stealth use in the US food supply for a decade despite being widely banned overseas. It is marketed as Paylean for pigs, Optaflexx for cattle and Topmax for turkeys.

This month, the Center for Food Safety  (CFS) and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) have sued the FDA [5] for withholding records pertaining to ractopamine’s safety. According to the lawsuit, in response to the groups’ requests for information “documenting, analyzing, or otherwise discussing the physiological, psychological, and/or behavioral effects” of ractopamine, the FDA has only produced 464 pages out of 100,000 pages that exist. Worse, all 464 pages have already been released as part of a reporter’s FOIA. Thanks for nothing.

CFS and ALDF have spent over 18 months meeting with the FDA and seeking information about the effects of ractopamine on “target animal or human liver form and function, kidney form and function, thyroid form and function” as well as urethral and prostate effects and “tumor development.” The lawsuit says the CFS has “exhausted administrative remedies” and that the FDA has “unlawfully withheld” the materials.

Ractopamine’s effects on animals are documented, say the groups, but effects on humans remain a mystery. Codex, the UN food standards body, established ractopamine safety residues on the basis of only one human study  [6]of six people and one subject dropped out because of adverse effects! “Data from the European Food Safety Authority indicates that ractopamine causes elevated heart rates and heart-pounding sensations in humans,” says CFS. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 9:58 am

FBI refuses to answer questions from Sen. Grassley

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The FBI must still be investigating that incident in which an FBI agent shot to death an unarmed man during a routine interrogation. The FBI seized all the evidence and said that they would be doing the investigation of that incident (a homicide in Florida) themselves, thank you very much, but so far they seem to be unable to learn anything, at least so far as they have informed the public.

In the meantime Sen Grassley is getting irked by the FBI’s refusal to answer questions (here’s a letter he sent recently), and the FBI seems to be making a major effort, though more oriented toward hiding information rather than disclosing it.  Take a look at this story by Dave Lindorff, Russ Baker and Milicent Cranor:

In the six months since the Boston Marathon bombing, the FBI has by all appearances been relentlessly intimidating, punishing, deporting and, in one case, shooting to death, persons connected, sometimes only tangentially, with the alleged bombers.

All of these individuals have something in common: If afforded constitutional protections and treated as witnesses instead of perpetrators, they could potentially help clear up questions about the violence of April 15.  And they might also be able to help clarify the methods and extent of the FBI’s recruitment of immigrants and others for undercover work, and how that could relate to the Bureau’s prior relationship with the bombing suspects—a relationship the Bureau has variously hidden or downplayed.

Who Cares? We Do

The Boston tragedy may seem like a remote, distant memory, yet the bombing warrants continued scrutiny as a seminal event of our times. It was, after all, the only major terror attack in the United States since 9/11. With its grisly scenes of severed limbs and dead bodies, including that of a child, it shook Americans profoundly.

As importantly, in its aftermath we’ve seen public acquiescence in an ongoing erosion of civil liberties and privacy rights that began with 9/11—and to an unprecedented expansion of federal authority in the form of a unique military/law enforcement “lockdown” of a major metropolitan area.

Nonetheless, at the time, most news organizations simply accepted at face value the shifting and thin official accounts of the strange events. Today few give the still-unfolding saga even the most minimal attention. And it is most certainly still unfolding, as we shall see.

The Little-Noticed Post-Marathon Hunt

The FBI’s strange obsession with marginal figures loosely connected to the bombing story began last May, with the daily questioning of a Chechen immigrant, Ibragim Todashev, and of his girlfriend and fellow immigrant, Tatiana Gruzdeva. Todashev had been a friend of the alleged lead Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a hail of police gunfire four days after the bombing. Tsarnaev’s younger brother Dzhokhar barely survived a massive police strafing of a trailered boat in which he was hiding, trapped and unarmed.

During one interrogation in Orlando, Florida, where Todashev was living, something went awry and he ended up dead from gunshots. Although to date the FBI has provided only hazy and inconsistent accounts of that incident, the killing of a suspect and potential witness in custody was clearly a highly irregular and problematical occurrence, replete with apparent violations of Bureau and standard law-enforcement procedure.

On the heels of those two deaths and the one near-death has followed what appears to be a concerted effort directed against a larger circle of people connected, if not to the Tsarnaevs, then to Todashev.

The purpose of this campaign is not clear, but it has raised some eyebrows. . . .

Continue reading

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 9:55 am

Glenn Greenwald on leaving The Guardian

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A good valedictory by Greenwald. From the column:

As I leave, I really urge everyone to take note of, and stand against, what I and others have written about for years, but which is becoming increasingly more threatening: namely, a sustained and unprecedented
attack on press freedoms 
and the news gathering process in the US. That same menacing climate is now manifest in the UK as well, as evidenced by the truly stunning warnings issued this week by British Prime Minister David Cameron:

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday his government was likely to act to stop newspapers publishing what he called damaging leaks from former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden unless they began to behave more responsibly.

“If they (newspapers) don’t demonstrate some social responsibility it will be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act,” Cameron told parliament, saying Britain’s Guardian newspaper had “gone on” to print damaging material after initially agreeing to destroy other sensitive data.

There are extremist though influential factions in both countries which want to criminalize not only whistleblowing but the act of journalism itself (pdf). I’m not leaving because of those threats – if anything, they make me want to stay and continue to publish here – but I do believe it’s urgent that everyone who believes in basic press freedoms unite against this.

Allowing journalism to be criminalized is in nobody’s interest other than the states which are trying to achieve that. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in an 1804 letter to John Tyler:

Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.

I hope everyone who believes in basic press freedoms will defend those journalistic outlets when they are under attack – all of them – regardless of how much one likes or does not like them.

UPDATE: And here’s an interesting column by the editor of The Guardian on the Snowden affair.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 9:24 am

Class warfare writ large

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Juan Cole points out how Dianne Feinstein was perfectly okay with NSA spying on millions—hundreds of millions—of Americans (or Germans, for that matter), but when they tapped the phone of Angela Merkel, that was a step too far. Angela Merkel is a member of the ruling class, and they are different and must not be subject to the same treatment as ordinary citizens.

We have seen this movie before:

Harman defended the Bush administration‘s use of international (cross-border) warrantless wiretapping through the National Security Agency, saying: “I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities”.[22]Harman suggested that both the original “despicable”[23] whistleblowers and the New York Times, which broke the story, should be investigated, and in the case of The Times, “limits on press immunity” should be looked into.[24] Harman repeatedly pressured the Times not to publish the warrantless wiretap story. In late 2004, Harman called Phillip Taubman, the Washington bureau chief of the Times, to discourage him from running the story. In December 2005, Harman was among a group of lawmakers who visited Taubman in an attempt to convince him not to run the story.[25] Following reports in April 2009 of her conversations being recorded without her knowledge, she appeared to take a different stance regarding wholly domestic wiretaps. In an interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC:

That’s what I’ve asked Attorney General Holder to do—to release any tapes, I don’t know whether they were legally made or not, of my conservations about this matter… and to hope that he will investigate whether other members of Congress or other innocent Americans might have been subject to this same kind of treatment. I call it an abuse of power in the letter I wrote him this morning…I’m just very disappointed that my country—I’m an American citizen just like you are—could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years. I’m one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, but I have a bully pulpit and I can fight back. I’m thinking about others who have no bully pulpit, and may not be aware, as I was not, that right now, somewhere, someone is listening in on their conversations, and they’re innocent Americans.
=—Jane Harman, [26]

The concept of fairness seems be close to one of the animal imperatives I mentioned: even primates respond angrily to unfair treatment—e.g., one getting much more or better food than another. Fairness is basic—indeed, John Rawls put it as the foundation of law—and the best test of fairness is to see whether satisfaction is equal when positions are reversed. Rawls suggested a veil of ignorance: e.g., suppose an estate is to be divided among 3 beneficiaries. A fair procedure would be for the three to agree on a specific division of the estate into three parts BEFORE it’s decided who gets which part  (and perhaps using a random assignment). A simple example in dividing a piece of cake between two people: one cuts the piece in two, the other gets first choice: a fair settlement.

Jane Harman shows that the warrantless wiretapping fails the test of fairness: she was highly supportive of the program so long as she believed that the wiretaps were of other people, but once she learned that she also was subject to the wiretapping, her opinion reversed. This suggests that her earlier opinion was wrong.

The same with Dianne Feinstein: tapping the phones of hoi polloi is fine, but tapping the the phone of a member of the elite is infra dig.

I recommend this post by Juan Cole, where he discusses the current version of this “It’s okay to do it to others, but don’t you dare do it to me” drama.

UPDATE: And this Jon Stewart segment is pretty good.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 8:29 am

Why countries are productive, and why it’s difficult to replicate

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Very interesting article by Ricardo Hausmann at Project Syndicate:

Almost all rich countries are rich because they exploit technological progress. They have moved the bulk of their labor force out of agriculture and into cities, where knowhow can be shared more easily. Their families have fewer children and educate them more intensively, thereby facilitating further technological progress.

entsView/Create comment on this paragraphPoor countries need to go through a similar change in order to become rich: reduce farm employment, become more urban, have fewer children, and keep those children that they have in school longer. If they do, the doors to prosperity will open. And isn’t that already happening?

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphLet us compare, for example, Brazil in 2010 with the United Kingdom in 1960. Brazil in 2010 was 84.3% urban; its fertility rate was 1.8 births per woman; its labor force had an average of 7.2 years of schooling; and its university graduates accounted for 5.2% of potential workers. These are better social indicators than the United Kingdom had in 1960. At that time, the UK was 78.4% urban; its fertility rate was 2.7; its labor force had six years of schooling on average, and its university graduates accounted for less than 2% of potential workers.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphBrazil is not a unique case: Colombia, Tunisia, Turkey, and Indonesia in 2010 compare favorably to Japan, France, the Netherlands, and Italy, respectively, in 1960. Not only did these countries achieve better social indicators in these dimensions; they also could benefit from the technological innovations of the past half-century: computers, cellphones, the Internet, Teflon, and so on. This should allow higher productivity than was feasible in 1960.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphSo today’s emerging-market economies should be richer than today’s advanced economies were back then, right?

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphWrong – and by a substantial margin. Per capita GDP at constant prices was 140% higher in Britain in 1960 than in Brazil in 2010. It was 80% higher in Japan back then than in Colombia today, 42% higher in old France than in current Tunisia, 250% higher in the old Netherlands than in current Turkey, and 470% higher in old Italy than in current Indonesia.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphWhy is it that today’s smaller and more educated urbanized families in emerging-market economies are so much less productive than their counterparts were a half-century ago in today’s rich countries? Why can’t today’s emerging markets replicate levels of productivity that were achieved in countries with worse social indicators and much older technologies?

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThe key to this puzzle is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 7:57 am

Hallows with Horse

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SOTD 31 Oct 2013

Another fine shave, eventually. But the lather was great. Today I used a Vie=Long horsehair shaving brush with the Barrister & Mann Hallows, and again I love this fragrance—but note that fragrances are very much YMMV.

Michael Napier in comments asked about the razor shown. It was listed on eBay, and he was wondering whether it was the Eros Slant, and we jointly decided that it was not, but I decided to try the razor anyway: research. Bad news: it’s not only not a slant, it’s not even a very good razor. I tried it this morning with an Astra Superior Platinum blade, and it just doesn’t do a good job. After the third pass, ATG, I lathered up and did another ATG pass, this time with the bakelite slant, which did clean up the remaining stubble. This one is not recommended. In addition to the poor shaving quality, the handle is very small diameter and super slippery. I normally have no problem with a smooth-handled razor, but somehow this one is extra slippery. The razor (sans blade, which I’ll use in another razor later) now lies in the bathroom trash.

And, speaking of fragrances being YMMV, I just received my Ogallala Bay Rum + Sandalwood aftershave and I love the fragrance, which was highly praised on WE. The Wife, OTOH, hates it, so I expect I’ll wear it only on days that she commutes to her job. (She works mostly from home.)

Ultimately a BBS shave, and the Hallows soap performed well. You see it above in its new home.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2013 at 7:53 am

Posted in Shaving

Idle ruminations on conflict

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I do not by “conflict” mean “violence.” In the world of animals, for example, a predator’s taking down a prey may be violent, but it is not conflict. OTOH, Megs and Molly occasionally do conflict: much hissing all of a sudden. (And sometimes, I confess, Megs seems to court conflict, as last night when she jumped up into Molly’s chair while Molly was in it was clearly transgressive. Megs knows the rules, as evidenced by her outrage when they are broken.)

I got to thinking about that little kitty conflict and had the sudden thought that their conflict could not be culture-based—and human conflict so often is: religious wars (Protestant/Catholic, Sunni/Shiite) or, on a mundane level the ad exec who wanders into a biker bar when the home team has lost: culture clash often leads to conflict.

But these kitties don’t have culture, so what is the basis for their conflict? I asked The Wife and she hazarded that it could be territorial triggers, for example.

That intrigued me: what you have, in a sense, is “hard-wired” culture: the behavioral imperatives ingrained through evolution. Some of these would not lead to conflict—jerking one’s hand back from hot object, or balancing on a log or, indeed, on your feet and learning to walk show behavioral imperatives—that is, I think all humans everywhere exhibit those behaviors. Those are culture-independent and thus animal in origin. Roughly speaking.

But, since we’re animals, all of the above applies to to us. So, what conflicts arise from our animal nature rather than our cultural being?  Looking at primal drives, jealousy/mate-possessiveness has certainly led to conflicts, and it does occur across all cultures. A purely animal conflict.

Probably also tribal warfare in competition for food sources.

It occurs to me—probably again—that it is those conflicts, being culture-independent, that drive great literature (by which I mean works that appeal to many cultures). All cultures would, I think, grasp Macbeth, and Othello as well.

It also probably indicates that we’re not going to rid ourselves of such conflicts; they spring directly from what sort of animal we are.

And it occurred to me that these basic animal imperatives are what drive culture: a way must be worked out for handling the mate-possessiveness/jealousy thing. The details will vary—those are culturally dependent (significance of color of dress, for an obvious example)—but the same basic drives must be handled so that they are compatible with another great animal imperative: that we are a social animal—and that drives all sorts of conventions and constructs and so on. Any solutions found must work in a social-animal context.

Just thinking aloud.

UPDATE: Given the basic nature of these animal imperatives, strong enough always to demand cultural expression and controlling conventions, it seems evident that a social order and structure whose rules contravene our animal imperatives will never grow large and may well have trouble surviving at all. One immediately thinks of the Shakers, but less extreme contraventions of animal imperatives can be found—small in scale, I would think—and they fail equally. The idyllic commune of the ’60s, for example.

And I suspect Libertarianism may be a belief system doomed to small influence and failure because it contravenes a basic part of our nature: that we are a social animal. I don’t think “social” means what Libertarians seem to think it means.

UPDATE 2: It occurs to me (watching a movie) that a lot of interpersonal conflict dis driven by the twin animal imperatives of freedom and control. Certainly every land animal seems to want freedom: the legendary fury of the trapped animal, the way animals don’t like to be pressed—the personal space of a black bear is probably larger than that of an adult human, but both react to invasions of personal space. How this was selected for evolutionarily is easy to see: animals that were wary of being trapped and a bit skittish more frequently lived to have progeny than those who were gregarious with other species. So it’s a very basic drive indeed, and it pops up in all sorts of negative feelings at any analogue of being physically trapped—e.g., not liking either of two feasible choices makes one feel “trapped.”

So the imperative for freedom seems clear enough. How about for control? I think this is not much of an issue with solitary animals: for them, the question does not arise. It’s in the social animals, such as (say) humans that the imperative for control plays a role: while we may have to go along to get along and play the game, etc., we do want to see ourselves as in control of our lives, though as social animals we are n many ways constrained by social currents: the balance between being free and being social. We probably see more easily how a person operating in response to social currents might feel that s/he is making a lot of indpendent choices that to an observer appear to be simple responses to social currents—and probably driven by a constant imperative to maintain as much freedom as possible, and using that as a selection principle for choices as they appear—you know, I think I could write a program to do that. Where’s the free will?

On a more specific level, we want to be in control in any situation and, if control is lost, to regain it as quickly as possible. Control (obviously) can be inward and/or outward directed, and probably more conflicts arise because of the conflict of each wanting to control the situation and each other’s imperative of freedom. And, of course, since it is a social animal, there’s all the social-connection ramifications. Maybe that’s why that sort of conflict is ubiquitously displayed: because it is the ubiquitous conflict.

The key—totally NOT a secret—is to find the balance, where each need is reasonably satisfied. It’s a skill, so it requires practice—i.e., it is practical knowledge, not theoretical knowledge. Descriptions are of little help. “Thataway” is as good as any.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Sorting the nation by personality type

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Kevin Drum has an extremely interesting post on the results of a recent study. From his post (but read the whole thing, which includes charts and graphs):

The key personality test used to construct the maps above, after all, was a study of the“Big Five” personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. This is a widely accepted model of studying personality (and no, it is not the same thing as Myers-Briggs). For many years, scientists have known that some of the Big Five dimensions are highly political. In particular, liberals tend to score much higher on Openness (interest in novel experiences and ideas), while conservatives score much higher on Conscientiousness (preference for order, stability, and structure in your life).

The study, and the resulting maps, put an exclamation point on this finding. After all, the “friendly and conventional” part of the US scores quite low on Openness in the study—much lower than either of the other two regions—even as it outscores both of the other two regions in Conscientiousness. The “friendly and conventional” region was also the only Republican-voting region of the three, and the most Protestant.

Granted, not every state with a “friendly and conventional” personality voted Republican in the last election, and there are some oddballs and outliers in other regions, too. But the overall trend is clear. The residents of more liberal and more conservative states differ in personality: In how open their residents are to new experiences, and in how much they prize order and stability in their lives.

How do these personality dimensions drive ideology? Well, put simply, people who are Open embrace change. Fixing healthcare with a big new system and way of doing things? Bring it on. By contrast, people who are low on Openness and high on Conscientiousness are interested in stability and just not messing with it. Yes, that’s right: The core of the left-right divide, which turns on one’s relative embrace of change versus the status quo, is rooted in an individual’s psychological makeup. And personality traits, in turn, aresubstantially heritable and run in families.

So how did we end up so divided? On the individual level, psychological differences between people have always been present, but geography seems to be becoming ever more important as a factor. In particular, the study by Rentfrow and colleagues suggest that people who are high on Openness are naturally more daring and experimental, and often all too eager to leave traditional parts of the country, where they know they just don’t belong, and relocate. Indeed, the version of the map, which lets you take a personality test and then figure out what state you belong in, in effect encourages precisely this sort of psychological mobility.

In other words, there’s a huge ideological sort going on, probably much of it driven by Open people leaving to be closer to other Open people—so they can all hang out at coffeehouses and complain about the Tea Party—and more traditional people staying behind where they prize family and community. And this, in turn, likely explains a substantial part of the US’s growing political polarization. Or as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt just put it on our newly launched Inquiring Minds podcast, . . .

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 12:55 pm

A transaction tax on financial transactions seems like a good idea

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Note that 11 EU nations already impose the tax. Kevin Drum writes:

Congress resolved the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis (for now) by agreeing to hash out a budget agreement by mid-December. Already, hopes are dim. Budget experts say that if any deal at all is worked out to replace the deep budget cuts that went into effect in March, the most likely outcome will be a short-term plan involving slightly less severe spending cuts—but with no new revenue, a big Democratic priority. Now, several prominent economists, along with a coalition of labor, health, and community groups arepushing progressive lawmakers to aim higher, calling for what they term a “Robin Hood tax” on the rich.

On Wednesday, economist Jeffrey Sachs briefed members of Congress on the Robin Hood tax, also known as a financial transaction tax, which would charge Wall Street investors a fraction of a penny on the dollar value of each trade they make. Given the mind-boggling number of trades that occur each day, the tax could rake in as much as $700 billion a year. That would increase federal revenues by about 24 percent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Business, Government

I would say this is a “good thing”

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Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 10:39 am

Posted in Video

Hallows soap from Barrister & Mann

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SOTD 30 Oct 2013

The Scent-Off continues with a soap that seems appropriate for Hallowe’en: Hallows, by Barrister & Mann. I do like the mustachioed skull and the fragrance of the soap is, to my nose, wonderful: good strength and a great smell. Barrister & Mann does offer the option of getting their pucks in a tin rather than in tissue paper, and I would recommend that unless you already have a bowl or mug you can use. I purchased from Mama Bear a supply of the plastic tubs like the one in the photo, and the Hallows puck fit it very well.

Today is the boar-brush lather, and the Omega 10029 Baby Pro did a fine job, and I easily got an abundance of very fragrant lather. (Did I mention that I like this fragrance a lot?)

I have also been experimenting with the Omega boar brushes with the dyed stripe, so after the shave I made another lather with this banded boar, and I do think that the banded boar brushes are somewhat softer and easier to break in. You do get the slight lather discoloration from the dye, but only for the first shave or two. Thereafter, the banded boar works quite well.

Once again a suprisingly comfortable and efficient shave with the Gillette Fat Boy (the one above has been replated with rhodium). I checked the blade—this brand is great for me in the Fat Boy—and it’s an Astra Keramik Platinum—alas, no longer made. I’m going to rummage through my stash and see whether I have more.

In summary, a very nice shaving soap indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2013 at 8:12 am

Posted in Shaving

Time to end the Global War on Terror

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James fallows has an excellent post at the Atlantic:

Six months ago, President Obama said that the fearfulness and over-reaction of the ‘GWOT’ were doing far more harm than good. He was right then, and still is. So why hasn’t he matched his — our — policies to his words?

OCT 27 2013, 2:22 PM ET<

Seven-plus years ago, I argued in a cover story that the open-ended “war on terror” was damaging American interests and American values more than the (still-real) threat of terrorist attack had or ever could.

This wasn’t some big leap of insight or imagination on my part. I was mainly citing military strategists and historians who had demonstrated, over time, that the reaction provoked by terrorist attacks was always more damaging than the original assault itself. Extreme illustration: the nationalist-anarchist assassination of two people in Sarajevo in 1914 leading to the deaths of tens of millions in The Great War. (Hyper-vivid death-car recreation below, via Smithsonian.) The damage done by an over-reactive response to terrorism seems almost a ho-hum point now, but it wasn’t prevailing opinion at the time, and I will always be grateful to James Bennet, then just installed as our editor, for sticking with it as his first cover story.

Thus I was glad when, earlier this year, President Obama announced that it was time to “define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”

But as with various other aspects of the Administration and of this era, we’ve learned that it’s one thing to announce “change!” and something else to bring it about. The drone war goes on, the NSA programs go on, surveillance increases and detentions continue — and the damage mounts up faster than we reckon. There’s immediate damage to the objects of these programs, of course — but broader and longer-lasting damage to American institutions, interests, and ideals. (As you’ve read from Conor FriedersdorfAndrew Cohen, and otherAtlantic writers over the years.)

This is all by way of directing you to David Rohde’s latest installment in this vein, “Our Fear of Al-Qaeda Hurts Us More Than Al-Qaeda Does.” Exactly so. And he speaks with the credibility of someone who knows about the direct damage terrorists can do, having been kidnapped and held hostage by the Taliban for nine months in Afghanistan.

Read it, and let us see whether our government can change a policy that the president himself has stated is damaging the world in general and us as well.

Update: For the corresponding effects on European politics, and US-European relations, please see this item by Michael Brenner, on Chuck Spinney’s The Blaster.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2013 at 4:31 pm

Healthcare insurance premiums for individual buyers

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This does not apply to those who have health insurance through their employer or Medicare or Medicaid, which is the bulk of the population. It applies on to the individual market, currently about 5% of the population, but with the Affordable Care Act, it’s likely that 10% of the population will now have health insurance on the individual market: the number of people with healthcare insurance will double. (Some conservatives, particularly in the South, really hate this.)

Two diagrams





See this post for an explanation.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2013 at 12:40 pm

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