Later On

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

Archive for October 2013

More information on health insurance cancellations

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Sarah Kliff explains in the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog:

So these insurance cancellation notices. I hear a lot about them. What’s the deal?

Let’s start with the very basics here. About 15 million people purchase health insurance policies on the individual market. That’s about 5 percent of the population. When they do so, they typically purchase a 12-month contract with an insurance company. And when that contract runs out, both the individual and the insurance plan have an escape hatch. The individual can decide to no longer purchase the plan — and the insurance company can decide to no longer offer the plan.

Most individuals don’t stay in the individual market very long: One study, published in the journal Health Affairsfound that 17 percent of individual market subscribers purchased the same plan for two straight years or longer.

There are some restrictions on how insurance companies can terminate products. HIPAA, a health law passed in the 1990s, does require that insurance companies offer subscribers the opportunity to renew their policy, so long as they continue to pay monthly premiums. If they want to discontinue a subscriber’s policy, the insurance plan must provide 90 days notice and “the option to purchase any other individual health insurance coverage currently being offered by the issuer for individuals in that market.”

And these are the notices that insurance plans are sending out right now, to hundreds of thousands of subscribers: notices saying that they do not plan to offer the policy anymore, and information about what policies will be available.

So why is this happening right now? 

Some — or maybe even most — of the plans offered on the individual insurance market right now don’t meet certain requirements in the health-care law. They may not offer preventive care without co-payment, for example, or leave out coverage of maternity care, one of the health-care law’s 10 essential benefits.

Some of these plans have stuck around for a little bit. The health law allowed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2013 at 10:59 am

Open-platform smartphone: the anti-iPhone

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More info in this article.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2013 at 10:54 am

Posted in Technology

Replacing bad insurance plans (subject to cancellation without notice) with good plans

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Sometimes the new plan will cost more. Steve Bene posts at MSNBC:

We’ve known for several years that once the Affordable Care Act is implemented, substandard insurance plans would be replaced with better, stronger coverage. Nevertheless, as lots of folks learn that their old plans are being replaced, this has led to a variety ofoverheated reports featuring shocked consumers. (That insurers routinely dropped Americans’ coverage under the old system is often overlooked.)

Leading much of the coverage is a woman named Dianne Barrette, a 56-year-old resident of Winter Haven, Fla., who’s made a flurry of television appearances after Blue Cross/Blue Shield informed her that her old plan is being replaced with a new one, and her new coverage will be more expensive. “What I have right now is what I’m happy with, and I just want to know why I can’t keep what I have,” she said on CBS. “Why do I have to be forced into something else?”

To his credit, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple took a closer look at the anecdotal evidence.

More coverage may provide a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of Barrette’s situation: Her current health insurance plan, she says, doesn’t cover “extended hospital stays; it’s not designed for that,” says Barrette. Well, does it cover any hospitalization? “Outpatient only,” responds Barrette. Nor does it cover ambulance service and some prenatal care. On the other hand, says Barrette, it does cover “most of my generic drugs that I need” and there’s a $50 co-pay for doctors’ appointments. “It’s all I could afford right now,” says Barrette.

In sum, it’s a pray-that-you-don’t-really-get-sick “plan.”

If this woman had a serious ailment and was forced to stay in the hospital for a while, her old plan would have likely destroyed her financial life permanently, leaving her bankrupt. Now, thanks to “Obamacare,” in the event of a disaster, she’ll be protected with coverage her insurer can’t take away – with no annual or lifetime caps.

In other words, the new horror story for critics of the health care law features a middle-aged woman trading a bad plan for a good plan, and health care insecurity for health care security.

What’s more, while much of the coverage of Barrette’s situation has focused on the higher monthly cost of her new, better insurance plan, there’s another detail that’s been overlooked by some: she’ll be eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The cost of the coverage isn’t what she’ll actually have to pay out of her own pocket.

If it seems like this keeps coming up, with Republicans and news outlets latching onto anecdotes that seem to cast the health care law in a negative light, only to look much better upon closer scrutiny, that’s because this keeps happening. If the law were as awful as detractors claim, shouldn’t it be easier to find legitimate victims?

I’ll add that, in reading criticisms of Obamacare, many people seem not to understand the whole idea of insurance, which they view as some kind of Marxian redistribution subterfuge: “Those who don’t use their insurance and subsidizing those who do!!!!” Well, yeah. That’s the idea. I’m reminded of the Duke and the Dauphin in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2013 at 10:41 am

Posted in Healthcare

More treasures from Paris

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SOTD 29 Oct 2013

Rupert Bizzell has long recommended the use of powdered alum as a styptic. Unlike alum blocks, he has commented (as on this post) that powdered alum is extremely effective on nicks and cuts. And one of the things The Wife found in Paris was this very nice container of alum powder. The lid rotates but is not removed, and as you rotate it over the opening punched into the top of the container, beneath the rotating lid, you can select a fine shaker, coarse shaker, and open hole, with the user selecting the best approach for the task at hand. Unfortunately, not nicks today, but I will test.

Rupert comments that styptic pencils are made of alum, and the Pinaud Clubman styptic pencil, for example, uses aluminum sulfate, or rather than potassium alum (the sort one wants in alum blocks). Liquid styptics are a little more complex. Here are two examples:

MNIS: Aluminum Chloride, Benzocaine USP, SD Alcohol 38 B, Methylcellulose, Phenyl Salicylate, Bergamot (Citrus Aurantium Bergamia) Oil, Vitamin A & E, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Juice

Pacific Shaving’s Nick Stick: SD Alcohol (Ethyl Alcohol), Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice, Water (Aqua), Aluminum Chloride Hexahydrate, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Hydroxypropylcellulose

I don’t know the difference between the action of aluminum chloride and aluminum sulfate, but for some reason these two liquid styptics use the latter.

At any rate, I’m delighted to have the powder and I’m interested to try it when I again nick myself.

Also she brought the tiny travel puck of Tardé shaving soap. I used a matching tiny travel brush, the Wee Scot. I got a good lather, and set to work with the Eros slant holding a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge. Three passes to perfect smoothness, though in the third pass the lather seemed less robust, so I used that as an excuse to reload the brush with Asses’ Milk shaving soap—really terrific stuff.

A good splash of Saint Charles Shave’s Very V, and things are settling down again.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2013 at 9:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

US citizens pay too much for Internet connectivity

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Take a look:. The article by Brian Fung reads:

There’s been a lot of debate about whether the United States is falling behind the rest of the world on broadband speeds. Upgrading to the latest networking technology is essential for a faster Internet in the long run. But a country’s average speed is also affected by another factor: affordability. A high-speed plan will do nothing for you if its price is out of reach for ordinary consumers. And as new research shows, Americans are still paying through the nose for what residents in some cities overseas get at a substantially lower rate.

In American cities like New York, you can buy a 500 Mbps connection that’s 58 times faster than the U.S. average. Here’s the catch: It’ll cost you $300 a month, according to the New America Foundation’s Cost of Connectivity report. In Amsterdam, however, the same connection can be had for around $86.

The same discrepancies hold when you move down the speed ladder, said New America’s Nick Russo.

“People may be opting for similar speeds [compared to foreigners] — and that may be what the average speed is — but they’re often paying more for it in the United States,” he said.

In Seoul, a triple-play package for phone, TV and Internet at speeds of 100 Mbps for both uploads and downloads will run you $35 a month. By contrast, Verizon will charge New Yorkers $70 a month for a triple-play package with Internet at 15 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up on its FiOS service. Verizon’s Internet is both more expensive and slower at the same time. . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2013 at 11:55 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Can we blame Eric Holder for DoJ misbehavior and dishonesty?

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I would think so: either he authorizes it or he’s not really running the place. In either case, he’s accountable—and so is Obama, to the extent that he continues to support holder. Andrea Peterson reports in the Washington Post:

The New York Times reported that the Department of Justice recently changed policies, and will be notifying a criminal defendant that the evidence being used against them came from a warrantless wiretap. Just one problem: Justice told the Supreme Court that was standard policy already earlier this year.

According to the Times, prosecutors filed such a notice for the first time late on Friday. It was in the case of Jamshid Muhtorov, who is accused of providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, a designated terrorist organization. The government alleges he was planning to travel abroad to join the group, but he has pleaded not guilty. According to the criminal complaint, much of the government’s case was based on intercepted calls and e-mails. By giving him notice that some of that evidence was derived from warrantless surveillance, prosecutors have set him up to be able to challenge the constitutionality of those programs.

In February, the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to FISA Amendments Act (FAA) surveillance programs brought by Amnesty International on standing grounds — agreeing with the government that since Amnesty International could not prove that it was the victim surveillance at the time, it had no right to sue. That 5-4 decision at least partially relied on an argument made by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. that while Amnesty International did not have grounds to sue, others might because “the government must provide advance notice of its intent to use information obtained or derived” from the laws. In fact, the Supreme Court mirrors that language fairly explicitly in its ruling, saying that “if the government intends to use or disclose information obtained or derived from” surveillance authorized by FAA “in judicial or administrative proceedings, it must provide advance notice of its intent, and the affected person may challenge the lawfulness of the acquisition.”

But in June, the Times reports Verrilli discovered that Justice’s National Security Division had actually not been notifying criminal defendants when evidence used against them was derived from warrantless snooping early in the investigative chain. This set off a months-long internal policy debate over whether or not Justice should be doing what they told the Supreme Court they were already doing.

It’s obviously problematic that Justice misled the Supreme Court about how the agency was handling the law in practice. But the implications of that practice are even more troubling. Patrick Toomey, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented plaintiffs in Amnesty International case, said in a statement to the Times “by withholding notice, the government has avoided judicial review of its dragnet warrantless wiretapping program for five years.”

Powerful figures in the Federal government no longer seem to be held accountable for their actions (cf. James Clapper’s recent outright lying to Congress—on video), but I really hope some action is taken on this beyond President Obama saying that we must look forward, not backward, and then sweeping it under the rug (as he’s done before).

UPDATE: Also see this article in the Washington Post: “Three congressmen asked the government to disclose more about NSA spying in 2009. It said no.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2013 at 11:17 am

Interesting aspect of the Affordable Care Act

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Generally speaking, the red states are “takers” rather than “makers”: they rely on Federal aid heavily, and receive much more in aid from the Federal government than they pay in taxes. This is somewhat puzzling, given their rancorous condemnation of “moochers” who “suck the Federal tit” and all that, but it’s a fact. (Dana Milbank had an entertaining column on this phenomenon in the Washington Post last year.)

At any rate, the red states seem to have decided that they should stop accepting Federal money—and stop accepting a lot of it:

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 10.17.33 AM

Note: Total is for all states in foregoing and gaining groups.

I saw that in this interesting post by Don Taylor, which begins:

At present, 24 States (and DC) have decided to move ahead with the Medicaid expansion provided for in Obamacare, and 21 have rejected expansion, while 6 are still considering their options. If the current decisions hold, it will result in a self-imposed redistribution of money from poorer (and typically Red states), to richer (and typically Blue ones).

According to an analysis I have done using Kaiser Family Foundation data–in 2016 alone–the 24 expanding states will receive $30.3 Billion additional federal dollars, while those not expanding will forego an additional $35.0 Billion they could have had (the fence sitters have an aggregate $15.2 Billion at stake in 2016). . .

Continue reading.

The article at the link contains some useful links.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2013 at 10:24 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Healthcare

Absolutely perfect shave—could the asses’ milk have helped?

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SOTD 28 Oct 2013

One of those totally amazing shaves—and the fact that it was a two-day stubble and I used one of my slants probably helps, but certainly the asses’ milk shaving soap contributed. I read of it in a post at Kafeneio and immediately tried to order it, but got no response. So when The Wife planned a long trip, including a stay in Paris, I had but one request: some of this shaving soap.

She returned this morning at around 2:30 a.m. (flight from LAX very late and then diverted to San Jose because of rain, much floundering by American Airlines, to whom the situation seemed to be so novel that they did not begin to start working on a solution until passengers disembarked at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night, when—surprise!—it turned out to be difficult to find transportation. The Wife ultimately shared a taxi with four other people.

At any rate, the soap arrived and I had to try it this morning. The lather is superb and easily formed, the fragrance is of a clean “soap” smell—nothing exotic, but very nice. I used a silvertip badger brush made by Sabini himself, with an ebony handle. (The handle does have a small crack: it was there when I got the brush 6 or so years ago, and it hasn’t changed since.)

The Fasan is my only slant that triggers caution as I use it. I’ve never had a nick or a cut (or even razor burn), but it feels like a nick is about to happen if I’m not careful. But this time I decided simply to relax and shave. I do find that I use a shallower angle with this slant, but it did a very fine job indeed with its Astra Superior Platinum blade, previously used.

A good splash of Hâttric aftershave, and I’m feeling exceptionally sharp to start the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2013 at 10:02 am

Posted in Shaving

Helping Russ Douthat explain the ACA

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Russ Douthat has a cautionary column in the NY Times today in which he discusses whether the Affordable Care Act, once HealthCare.gov is up and running, will turn out to be popular and a good deal. He does show that some very inexpensive plans have some huge gaping loopholes that make the plans not such a good deal, but he also omits some relevant information. Andrew Sprung has a good post at Xpostfactoid that adds more information. From Sprung’s post:

  • Those cheap 2013 plans have already been improved by the ACA. The law bans lifetime coverage caps and has already severely constrained annual coverage caps, which are completely banned as of Jan. 1, 2014. In 2013, they could not be lower than $2 million for the year.  Pre-ACA, many plans on the individual market did not even offer real catastrophic coverage, which Douthat suggests might be a preferable alternative for many.  Also, the ACA has banned the wanton use of policy rescissions imposed on the flimsiest of pretexts, a notorious industry practice pre-ACA.
    .
  • The ACA does offer bare-bones catastrophic plans to adults under 30 and others exempt from the individual mandate, e.g., those who can show that buying plans on the exchanges would impose financial hardship. Such plans are not eligible for coverage subsidies, however. Conservatives could plausibly argue that that’s a mistake and, in a sane political environment, attempt to fix it.
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  • Granting in full that prices for medical treatment are “opaque, arbitrary and inflated,” Douthat, like most conservatives, would happily delegate the burden of imposing consumer discipline to less wealthy Americans, who are likely to “reduce healthcare costs” by denying themselves essential or preventive care.  Nor does he address the impossibility of individuals doing effective comparison shopping or cost-benefit analyses in the current insanely opaque market, where you can’t get price estimates if you try. It’s true that insurers can in some instances create conditions in which plan members have the information they need to comparison shop, and reasonable incentives to choose reasonably priced providers. But the kind of unregulated insurance market that conservatives favor won’t encourage such arrangements.  Moreover, the ACA lowest-level “bronze” plans only cover an estimated 60% of members’ likely medical costs and can have deductibles as high as $6350 for an individual. Coverage at that level (or the silver plans’ 70% coverage, for that matter) hardly encourages frivolous use of medical services.
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  • With regard to public sector priorities “undercut by rising health care costs”: the ACA pays for itself, with an array of taxes on industry providers and the wealthiest Americans and Medicare payment cuts and reforms. The CBO projects that it will reducethe federal budget deficit, modestly in the first ten years, far more dramatically in the next ten.  The package of pilot payment reforms, including performance incentives for hospitals and accountable care organizations, represents the most serious government attempt to date to contain healthcare inflation. If enough of those pilot programs prove successful, or if any are successful enough, they will do more to secure the nation’s long-term fiscal health and free up money for other priorities than all the Republicans’ favored entitlement cuts combined.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2013 at 10:27 am

People shifting from cars to bikes…

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Very interesting report by Krishnadev Calamur. Here’s a chart from the article:

new-passenger-car-and-bicycle-sales-2012-_chartbuilder_custom-52ce0e51cc669b1c7267930f2f65dda1c5ceb3ba-s2-c85

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2013 at 8:08 am

Marijuana turns out to be an exit drug, not a gateway drug

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Drug warriors have many untested beliefs about various drugs—untested because it’s difficult to do large-scale studies of illegal drugs, particularly of a Schedule I drug like marijuana. A Schedule I drug is one that satisfies the following criteria:

  1. The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  2. The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Of course, marijuana fails all three criteria:

  1. Marijuana is much less addictive than alcohol or tobacco—less addictive than coffee, in fact—and has caused zero deaths from overdose. So far as experience shows, it has low potential for abuse.
  2. Obviously, marijuana provides medical benefits for many, thus the use of medical marijuana: to ease nausea for cancer patients, to ease pain for various ailments such as arthritis, to prevent seizures in epileptics, and so on.
  3. Marijuana is an extremely safe drug, with no reported deaths from overdose. It is safer than aspirin.

Still, the facts often are irrelevant to the law, and so it is here: Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug (though the DEA’s own administrative judge long since called for reclassification).

With years of experience now with medical marijuana, so facts are becoming clear.

As noted in this NY Times article by Adam Nagourney and Rick Lyman, people use marijuana as a substitute for alcohol—a good choice, since marijuana is not so harmful as alcohol and is also less addictive than alcohol. Instead of being a “gateway drug” that leads to greater drug use, marijuana turns out to be an exit drug that leads people away from alcohol—and so far as statistics show, the true “gateway drug” is alcohol.

As the article states, many expectations regarding legalization of marijuana have turned out not to be the case:

California’s 17-year experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.

Warnings voiced against partial legalization — of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use — have proved unfounded.*

Instead, research suggests both that marijuana has become an alcohol substitute for younger people here and in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol.

Although marijuana is legal here only for medical use, it is widely available. There is no evidence that its use by teenagers has risen since the 1996 legalization, though it is an open question whether outright legalization would make the drug that much easier for young people to get, and thus contribute to increased use.

And though Los Angeles has struggled to regulate marijuana dispensaries, with neighborhoods upset at their sheer number, the threat of unsavory street traffic and the stigma of marijuana shops on the corner, communities that imposed early and strict regulations on their operations have not experienced such disruption.

Imposing a local tax on medical marijuana, as Oakland, San Jose and other communities have done, has not pushed consumers to drug dealers as some analysts expected. Presumably that is because it is so easy to get reliable and high-quality marijuana legally.

* I was raised in a dry state: alcoholic beverages were illegal in Oklahoma. But in 1956, liquor became legal (and regulated and taxed), and I happened to be in my hometown on the summer day that the (sole) liquor store opened for business. There was an uneasy feeling in the town that we would see wild car rides, shootouts, broken windows, fights, people reeling down the street, etc. That was what the “drys” had long prophesized. But it was a totally calm day. Those who actually wanted alcohol had long had access through bootleggers, and indeed the state had been kept dry though a powerful alliance of bootleggers and Baptist preachers, both of whom wanted alcohol to remain illegal.

But it didn’t, and the result was little change except that the bootleggers went out of business.

Alcohol can indeed cause serious problems, but the approach to preventing and solving those problems is not, we learned, to make alcohol illegal: that simply compounds the problems, as we found during Prohibition. It turned out to be better to have alcohol legal, regulated, and taxed and to deal with problems of alcoholism as medical problems.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2013 at 4:42 am

Posted in Drug laws

Third shave with Mystic Water’s Indian Summer: BBS again

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SOTD 26 Oct 2013

Today I used a horsehair shaving brush, and again achieved easily a fine, slick lather. My Sodial with a Personna Lab Blue did a fine job, though again I had to do some blade buffing to achieve BBS, so at the end of the shave I swapped out the Personna Lab Blue that seemed to have reached the end of its life with a new Kai blade.

A good splash of Krampert’s Finest Bay Rum and the weekend begins—a weekend that involves a certain amount of cleaning up, since The Wife returns tomorrow night from her trip.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2013 at 8:32 am

Posted in Shaving

Cool Bobby Fischer trap in the accelerated Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defense

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2013 at 11:02 am

Posted in Games

Your microbiome and your genetic profile

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Interesting article by Jef Akst in The Scientist:

Scouring the genomes and body-wide microbial communities of 93 people, researchers have discovered a link between the composition of the microbiome and genetic variation in innate immunity, phagocyte function, and other immune pathways. The research was presented by University of Minnesota population geneticist Ran Blekhmantoday (October 24) at the American Society of Human Genetics 2013 annual meeting in Boston.

“This is cool stuff,” Lita Proctor from the National Human Genome Research Institute wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. “This study is the one of the first documenting the relationship between microbiome composition and the human genome.”

Other researchers have linked specific gene variants to alterations in the human microbiome, notedGeorge Weinstock of The Genome Institute at Washington University, whose own work has shown that host-microbe interactions are influenced by genes involved in drug metabolism. This study, however, may well be the first genome-wide search for such variants in humans, and “genetic variation in mouse does not represent genetic variation that segregates in human populations,” Blekhman noted.

While working as a postdoc in Andrew Clark’s lab at Cornell University, Blekhman knew that the composition of the microbiome was linked to various diseases, like diabetes, and that such diseases had also been shown to have a genetic component. So he was curious to learn how the microbiome is connected to the genes of the host.

To answer this question, he and his colleagues . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2013 at 10:38 am

Posted in Health, Science

Why the government has problems developing software

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Interesting op-ed by Clay Johnson and Harper Reed in the NY Times, taking another look at the reasons the government has a poor track record of developing software: 94 percent of large federal information technology projects over the past 10 years were unsuccessful. That’s not a very good record. Perhaps Congress should provide some guidance. (Just kidding.)

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2013 at 10:36 am

Non-idyllic small towns

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Small-town life is often presented as an idyllic, mutually supportive community, and doubtless some of those exist. But small towns can also be isolated backwaters of prejudice and mob rule. Michael Schaffer takes a look in the New Republic:

Last Sunday, a New York Times reporter visited Maryville, Missouri to report on the existence of a grave threat to the town’s bucolic, Real-America essence: “Ever since The Kansas City Star ran a long article last Sunday raising new questions about the Nodaway County prosecutor’s decision to drop charges against a 17-year-old football player accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, the simplicity of small-town life here has been complicated by a storm of negative attention.”

Leaving aside the dubious victimology—poor Maryville, battered so cruelly by the dark-hearted Kansas City media and their relentless “negative attention”—the paragraph also represents a great big logical problem for anyone who read the Star story, or even the 20-odd inches of stellar Times copy that followed the clunky lede: The whole point of a story of rape allegations dismissed by a political-prosecutorial complex intimately connected to an accused assaulter’s state-legislative relative is that… Maryville never featured any of that simplicity in the first place!

It’d be easy to beat up on a reporter who was tasked with following a competitor’s story and slipped into cliché. In fact, the reductio ad Rockwell is a common tic of journalistic visits to small towns, especially those put on the map by infamy. And it’s one that really ought to stop. Decades of culture wars have left us with a set of social rules where it is largely OK for rural types to slander their citified co-citizens (cf. Sarah Palin, small-town mayor and “Real America” stalwart) but where urbanites can’t dis the country folks without being deemed elitist (cf. Barack Obama, Chicagoite and “cling” apologizer).

Where that leaves us is with few ways of describing small-town life beyond patronizing clichés about their simplicity. But does anyone actually believe that residents of the hamlets and villages of the republic are simpler or cleaner or more honest than anyone else? Come to think of it, there’s a pretty good case for small towns being a lot more complicated than big cities. Consider Maryville again for a moment. There are two ways the town could have lived up to the Times’ rose-colored description of its status quo ante:

1. Beforehand, by not sexually assaulting ninth-graders, videotaping the incident, and leaving a victim asleep on her front lawn in freezing weather.

2. After the fact, by not ostracizing the victim’s siblings, firing her mom from her job, dropping the case inexplicably, and burning the family’s house down.

Now ask yourself whether either of these scenarios would be more or less likely in a metropolitan area. On option number one, . . .

Continue reading. I like how a large city can in effect dilute the poisons that can become concentrated in a small town.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2013 at 10:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

OSHA chief warns rules are ‘dangerously out of date’

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Maybe some year soon Congress will cease posturing and playing to the media and actually start to govern. (Yeah, right.) The Hill has an article by Julian Hattem that caught my eye. My father was killed in an industrial accident a couple of months before my 8th birthday. It obviously completely changed the course of my life, and the accident was unnecessary and with good practices would not have happened. A lot of people don’t like OSHA, particularly large businesses who don’t want to bother keeping workers safe (coal mines leap to mind, but it seems a lot of businesses are perfectly happy with putting their workers’ health and lives at risk—Bangladesh is merely more open about it). At any rate, I recommend the article:

Federal limits on the amount of hazardous chemicals that workers can be exposed to are decades out of date, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said on Thursday, and workers across the country could be at risk even if their employers are following the rules.

David Michaels said that it has become nearly impossible for the agency to update its chemical safety regulations, so it is urging companies to take action on their own.

The agency’s rules on what workers can be exposed to “are dangerously out of date, dating from the 1970s or even earlier, and do not adequately protect workers,” he told reporters.

“The complexity of OSHA’s current rulemaking process makes it extremely difficult for us to update our chemical safety standards and issue new standards in a reasonable period of time. We recognize this and are developing new ways to approach the problem of workplace exposure to hazardous substances,” he added. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2013 at 10:19 am

Posted in Business, Government, Health

Krugman offers counseling to those with apocalypse addiction

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Excellent column by Paul Krugman in the NY Times. From the column:

As I’ve already suggested, there are two remarkable things about this kind of doomsaying. One is that the doomsayers haven’t rethought their premises despite being wrong again and again — perhaps because the news media continue to treat them with immense respect. The other is that as far as I can tell nobody, and I mean nobody, in the looming-apocalypse camp has tried to explain exactly how the predicted disaster would actually work.

On the Chicken Little aspect: It’s actually awesome, in a way, to realize how long cries of looming disaster have filled our airwaves and op-ed pages. For example, I just rereadan op-ed article by Alan Greenspan in The Wall Street Journal, warning that our budget deficit will lead to soaring inflation and interest rates. What about the reality of low inflation and low rates? That, he declares in the article, is “regrettable, because it is fostering a sense of complacency.”

It’s curious how readily people who normally revere the wisdom of markets declare the markets all wrong when they fail to panic the way they’re supposed to. But the really striking thing at this point is the date: Mr. Greenspan’s article was published in June 2010, almost three and a half years ago — and both inflation and interest rates remain low.

So has the ex-Maestro reconsidered his views after having been so wrong for so long? Not a bit. His new (and pretty bad) book declares that “the bias toward unconstrained deficit spending is our top domestic economic problem.”

Also, read this very clear explanation.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2013 at 10:13 am

Posted in Business, Government

Interesting mustard on the way

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After reading this interesting post by James Fallows, I have ordered some Raye’s Mustard directly from their Eastport ME in solidarity for a sardine industry that slipped away. (I live about two blocks from Cannery Row, the subject of novels by John Steinbeck.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2013 at 10:10 am

Posted in Food

15 years ago, Congress kept Mickey Mouse out of the public domain. Will they do it again?

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US copyright laws have become distorted through the influence of major corporations to lock up intellectual property forever, even if the corporation had nothing whatsoever to do with the creation. Of course, Walt Disney did originally create Mickey Mouse (plus ripped off many folktales from the public domain and then copyrighted everything in sight). Timothy Lee has a good article on the overall situation and issue:

For most of history, a great character or story or song has passed from its original creator into the public domain. Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and Beethoven are long dead, but Macbeth and Oliver Twist and the Fifth Symphony are part of our shared cultural heritage, free to be used or re-invented by anyone on the planet who is so inclined. But 15 years ago this Sunday, President Clinton signed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which retroactively extended copyright protection. As a result, the great creative output of the 20th century, from Superman to “Gone With the Wind” to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” were locked down for an extra 20 years.

It was a windfall to the families and corporations that owned these lucrative copyrights. But it meant these iconic works would be off-limits to those who wanted to reuse or reinvent them without permission. And hundreds of thousands of lesser-known works aren’t available at all, because there’s no cost-effective way to obtain permission to republish them.

The copyright extension Clinton signed will expire in five years. Copyright holders like the Disney Corp. and the Gershwin estate have a strong incentive to try to extend copyright extension yet further into the future. But with the emergence of the Internet as a political organizing tool, opponents of copyright extension will be much better prepared. The question for the coming legislative battle on copyright is who will prevail: those who would profit from continuing to lock up the great works of the 20th century, or those who believe Bugs Bunny should be as freely available for reuse as Little Red Riding Hood.

Longer and longer

Today, copyrights can easily last for more than a century. Things were very different when America was founded. In America’s original copyright system, protection only lasted for 28 years. By the mid-20th century, Congress had doubled the maximum term to 56 years. Then, in 1976, Congress overhauled the copyright system. Instead of fixed terms with a maximum of 56 years of protection, individual authors were granted protection for their life plus an additional 50 years, an approach that had become the norm in Europe. For works authored by corporations—Hollywood blockbusters, for example—copyright terms were extended to 75 years.

The 1976 legislation granted a retroactive extension for works published before the new system took effect. The maximum term for already-published works was lengthened from 56 years to 75 years. That meant that any work that was still under copyright in 1978, when the new system took effect, was eligible for an additional 19 years of protection. Without the term extension, works published between 1922 and 1941 would have fallen into the public domain between 1978 and 1997.

Instead, those works remained under copyright, providing a windfall to the owners of iconic copyrighted works such as the original Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Steamboat Willy,” and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” When the 1990s arrived, the holders of those older copyrights began agitating for another extension. Copyrighted works from the 1920s were scheduled to begin falling into the public domain again in 1998, and copyright interests wanted Congress to stop that from happening.

Following Europe’s lead

“There was not a single argument that actually can stand up to any kind of reasonable analysis,” says Dennis Karjala, a law professor at Arizona State who emerged as a de facto leader of the opposition to the law. The supporters of the law, Karjala says, were “basically the Gershwin family trust, grandchildren of Oscar Hammerstein, Disney, others of that ilk”—that is, holders of copyrights in old works that were on the verge of expiring.

Supporters of the extension pointed to Europe. In 1993, the European Union added 20 years to the term of European copyrights. Under European law, American authors would only enjoy longer copyright terms in Europe if the United States followed Europe’s lead and adopted “life plus 70” copyright terms.

“It didn’t seem like there was any reason why American creators should be at a disadvantage vis a vis their European counterparts,” says Preston Padden, who represented Disney in the late 1990s and is now affiliated with the University of Colorado Law School. “The old disparity invited mischief, like American creators artificially creating legal domiciles for Europe in order to gain the benefit of the longer license term.” And, advocates said, if Congress was extending terms for new works, it would only be fair to extend terms for existing works as well.

Critics pointed out that extending copyright terms retroactively wouldn’t benefit the public. After all, William Faulkner, George Gershwin and Walt Disney had died decades earlier. Granting longer copyright terms for their existing works couldn’t cause them to produce any more masterpieces.

“To suggest that the monopoly use of copyrights for the creator’s life plus 50 years after his death is not an adequate incentive to create is absurd,” wrote Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.) in a 1996 report for the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The real incentive here is for corporate owners that bought copyrights to lobby Congress for another 20 years of revenue—not for creators who will be long dead once this term extension takes hold.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2013 at 9:16 am

Posted in Art, Books, Business, Government

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