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Archive for October 10th, 2013

Not a good move, PR-wise: NY Fed Fired Examiner Who Took on Goldman

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Jake Bernstein reports at ProPublica:

In the spring of 2012, a senior examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York determined that Goldman Sachs had a problem.

Under a Fed mandate, the investment banking behemoth was expected to have a company-wide policy to address conflicts of interest in how its phalanxes of dealmakers handled clients. Although Goldman had a patchwork of policies, the examiner concluded that they fell short of the Fed’s requirements.

That finding by the examiner, Carmen Segarra, potentially had serious implications for Goldman, which was already under fire for advising clients on both sides of several multibillion-dollar deals and allegedly putting the bank’s own interests above those of its customers. It could have led to closer scrutiny of Goldman by regulators or changes to its business practices.

Before she could formalize her findings, Segarra said, the senior New York Fed official who oversees Goldman pressured her to change them. When she refused, Segarra said she was called to a meeting where her bosses told her they no longer trusted her judgment. Her phone was confiscated, and security officers marched her out of the Fed’s fortress-like building in lower Manhattan, just 7 months after being hired.

“They wanted me to falsify my findings,” Segarra said in a recent interview, “and when I wouldn’t, they fired me.”

Today, Segarra filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the New York Fed in federal court in Manhattan seeking reinstatement and damages. The case provides a detailed look at a key aspect of the post-2008 financial reforms: The work of Fed bank examiners sent to scrutinize the nation’s “Too Big to Fail” institutions.

In hours of interviews with ProPublica, the 41-year-old lawyer gave a detailed account of the events that preceded her dismissal and provided numerous documents, meeting minutes and contemporaneous notes that support her claims. Rarely do outsiders get such a candid view of the Fed’s internal operations.

Segarra is an expert in legal and regulatory compliance whose previous work included jobs at Citigroup and the French bank Société Générale. She was part of a wave of new examiners hired by the New York Fed to monitor systemically important banks after passage in July 2010 of the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul, which gave the Fed new oversight responsibilities.

Goldman is known for having close ties with the New York Fed, its primary regulator. The current president of the New York Fed, William Dudley, is a former Goldman partner. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2013 at 12:29 pm

Kabocha squash: Very tasty

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I made the little kabocha squash using this recipe. The only changes were that I used a combination of olive oil and toasted sesame oil instead of coconut oil, about 30% toasted sesame oil (less than a third, more than a quarter: that’s my estimate). Otherwise timings and temperature as in the recipe. Two observations:

a. She’s absolutely right: no reason at all to try to peel the thing. Once cooked, the skin is tender and tasty: think zucchini skin.

b. This is one tough squash. I cut it in half, cut off the stems and scooped out the seeds, and then stood each half on what was the base and used a heavy sharp knife to cut off small half-moons. Watch your fingers.

But very tasty indeed.

UPDATE: Link fixed. Apologies.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2013 at 10:24 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Pheromones in new reports

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Pheromones for the young: An article in The Scientist by Jef Akst:

The tears of two- to three-week-old mice contain a pheromone that deters adult males from sexual contact, according to a study published today (October 2) in Nature. In young mice lacking exocrine-gland secreting peptide 22 (ESP22), males made unwanted sexual advances, but painting the compound on the fur of juveniles inhibited this behavior.

“In the past, people actually thought that the lack of [sexual] reaction to young was due to the lack of pheromones. No pheromones, no behavioral responses—that was the common thinking,” said neuroscientist Roberto Tirindelli of the University of Parma in Italy, who did not participate in the study. “Now, for the first time, they show that there is a specific pheromone which is actually active, preventing sexual contact. The inhibition of sexual contact is due to the presence of this pheromone and not to the absence of other pheromones.”

In the last several years, researchers have begun to identify more and more putative pheromones in mice. Specifically, three large gene families, including ESPs, have been recognized to activate the vomeronasal organ (VNO), an olfactory structure located just above the roof of the mouth. But identifying the functions of these dozens of compounds has proven much harder. The first study to link an ESP to function, for example, was published in 2010, when the University of Tokyo’s Kazushige Touhara, an author on the present study, and colleagues found that ESP1 induces lordosis, a sexually receptive posture in females.

Interested in better characterizing the growing number of compounds that may be mouse pheromones,Stephen Liberles’s lab at Harvard Medical School developed a screen to look for differential expression of pheromone homologs across mice, already identifying a predator odor found in carnivores that causes an avoidance response, and an attractive mouse odor. But when the researchers identified a compound that was expressed almost exclusively in juvenile mice, they were intrigued.

Without any preconceived notion of what a juvenile compound might be doing, Liberles’s group “took a Jane Goodall-inspired approach, where we just observed the behavior” of adult males with young mice. . .

Continue reading.

And pheromones in general: Another article in The Scientist, this one by Ron Yu:

Following a trail of smell, a male fruit fly zeroes in on a banana peel. For the fly, the banana is not only a fantastic food source, but also fertile ground for finding mates. Sure enough, a virgin female is already feasting on the banana peel. He approaches her, taps her with his forelegs, and flutters his wings to sound a staccato love song, all in the hopes of securing her as a mate. But there is more to this scene than meets the eye or ear. The success of this courtship ritual critically depends on a single substance: an organic ester, 11-cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA). CVA is found on the male’s cuticle, or exoskeleton, and in his ejaculatory bulb, a structure similar in anatomy and function to the human prostate. To mature female fruit flies, cVA is an aphrodisiac that induces their receptivity to an approaching male. To males, however, cVA is an antiaphrodisiac, even capable of inducing aggression. Although females do not produce the compound, residual cVA transferred from previous mating partners during copulation remains on their bodies. If a female reeks of the compound, new suitors are repelled.

CVA is a pheromone, classically defined as a substance secreted by an animal that elicits a specific reaction in other members of the species. Although best understood in insects, pheromones are also known to play important roles in mammalian behavior and physiology, from territorial marking in mice to the induction of mating in elephants.

The powerful effect a pheromone can exert on an animal captures the popular imagination. The idea of irresistibility is so ingrained in our psyche that the mention of pheromones immediately conjures up images of love potions, whiffs of which instantly make the wearer more sexually attractive. Indeed, Googling “human pheromone” will lead you to companies trying to sell you one of these “scientifically proven” attractants. (See “Something Smells Funny.”) While such marketing has deepened the sensual mystique surrounding pheromones, so far there is no substantial evidence that such perfumes can induce mate-seeking behavior in men or women. However, decades of research have revealed a fascinatingly wide range of pheromones across the animal kingdom that are not limited to affecting reproductive behaviors. And in the last 10 years or so, scientists have unveiled some of the neural mechanisms of pheromone processing in the brains of both fruit flies and mice, identifying clues to how these compounds work at the molecular, neural, and behavioral levels.

Lessons from the fly

Thanks in part to the fantastic genetic tools developed in the last decade, research on the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, has uncovered many details of pheromone pathways, from the antennae to the brain. CVA, the only volatile fly pheromone so far identified, is detected in the antennae by olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) that express a G protein-coupled receptor called OR67d. These neurons project their axons into bulb-shape structures called glomeruli in the antennal lobe of the brain, where olfactory information is initially processed. Each glomerulus is innervated by a distinct set of projection neurons (PNs) that then transmit the information into deeper brain regions. (See “Odor Encoder.”)

How does cVA, a single compound emitted by male flies, trigger behaviors that differ so widely between males and females?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2013 at 8:58 am

Posted in Science

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