Later On

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

Archive for December 23rd, 2013

McDonald’s advice to employees: For health reasons, do not eat at McDonald’s

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Amazing.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2013 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Health

Lead causes crime: Links to futher information

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Kevin Drum, who has written a fair amount on environmental lead as being a leading cause of the rise in crime in the US in the 60s, 70s, and 80s until leaded gasoline and paint were phased out and the rate began a sharp decline in the 90s and 00s, has a post of useful links:

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been writing updates of various kinds to my article about the link between gasoline lead and violent crime. A reader suggested that I should collect everything in one place for ease of reference, and I thought that sounded like a good idea. So here it is.

Criminal Element. This is the original piece spelling out the detailed evidence that the rise and fall of gasoline lead in the post-World War II era was responsible for the rise of violent crime starting in the 60s and its subsequent decline starting in the 90s.

The story in a nutshell. Provides a brief version of the lead-crime story as an introduction to the full article.

It’s not just lead. Emphasizes that lead is a major part of the crime story, but not the only part. Also: audio of my appearance on the Leonard Lopate show explaining the lead-crime connection.

The prison population is dropping. Declining exposure to lead starting in the mid-70s reduced the rate of violent crime 20 years later. Twenty years after that, as members of Generation Lead are being released from prison and aren’t being replaced, the prison population has started to drop too.

Lead and murder. We have fairly good data on murder rates going back for a century, and it turns out the United States has had two epidemics of murder, the first in the 20s and 30s and the second in the 70s and 80s. When you account for both lead paint and gasoline lead, it turns out that lead can explain them both.

Crime in Chicago. Violent crime is up in certain parts of Chicago. Is lead responsible?

A response to Deborah Blum. A small correction, and another post emphasizing that although lead is an important part of the crime story, it’s not the whole story.

International crime trends. Violent crime began to drop in the United States in the early 90s, about 20 years after we began reducing the lead content of gasoline. But how about other countries? Where can we expect to see crime drops in the future?

The Melissa Harris-Perry show. Video of me talking about lead and crime with Melissa Harris-Perry. Howard Mielke, a longtime lead researcher from Tulane University, is also on the show.

How did lead get into our gasoline in the first place? The whole fascinating story is right here, along with lessons for the future.

George Monbiot and Scott Firestone. Monbiot endorses the lead-crime theory and Firestone criticizes it. I respond, along with a brief summary of the multiple threads of research that support the lead-crime hypothesis. Followup here.

Baselines vs. crime waves. Lots of things contribute to baseline levels of crime. But lead is uniquely able to explain why there was such a huge rise of crime above the baseline during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, followed by an equally huge reduction back to the baseline in the 90s and aughts.

Big cities vs. small cities. Surprisingly, it turns out that once you reduce exposure to gasoline lead, big cities aren’t really all that much more dangerous than small ones after all.

A response to Jim Manzi. This is a wonky post responding to Manzi’s generic critique of econometric analysis of complex social issues.

Crime and race. In the postwar era, black children were exposed to much more lead than white children. This explains some of the racial differences in both crime rates and incarceration rates.

UPDATE: See also Protecting Children From Lead Poisoning At Home

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2013 at 12:20 pm

Causes and effects in airline travel

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Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

Speaking of airlines, two stories crossed my radar by chance today. Here’s the first:

The number of incidents of unruly passengers jumped from less than 500 in 2007 to more than 6,000 in 2011, according to the International Air Transport Assn., the trade group for world airlines, which has been keeping track of the incidents….A meeting has been scheduled for March by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a branch of the United Nations, to discuss new rules on how to deal with unruly passengers. A location for the meeting has not been set.

And here’s the second:

On Jammed Jets, Sardines Turn on One Another

With air travelers increasingly feeling like packed sardines, flying has become a contact sport, nowhere more than over the reclined seat.

Now, it is only getting worse, as airlines re-examine every millimeter of the cabin. Over the last two decades, the space between seats — hardly roomy before — has fallen about 10 percent, from 34 inches to somewhere between 30 and 32 inches. Today, some airlines are pushing it even further, leaving only a knee-crunching 28 inches.

….Southwest, the nation’s largest domestic carrier, is installing seats with less cushion and thinner materials — a svelte model known in the business as “slim-line.” It also is reducing the maximum recline to two inches from three. These new seats allow Southwest to add another row, or six seats, to every flight — and add $200 million a year in new-found revenue.

I wonder if these could possibly be related in any way?

Notice that the focus is on how to deal with unruly passengers (Taser?) rather on finding and fixing what is making passengers unruly. It’s clearly not simply the nature of passengers, or the rate of unruliness would not have increased from 2007 to 2011: the passengers in 2007 were very like the passengers of 2011. But corporations will not take any steps that might slightly lower profitability.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2013 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Corporations and the government

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I find myself returning frequently to the ideas I discuss in this post because I continue to see the country as going in a dangerous direction.

The source, to a great degree, is an obsessive focus the bottom line to the exclusion of all else. Corporate culture nowadays has abandoned an idea that once was common: the idea that the corporation has responsibility for the welfare of its “stakeholders”—namely, not only the shareholders but also the corporation’s employees, community, and customers.

With a hyper-capitalistic focus solely on the return on investment, the idea of stakeholders has been abandoned. Corporations now focus purely on shareholders and executives: if those benefit, anything is allowed. For example:

The community: Corporations typically demand inordinate tax breaks—why, they feel, should they support the local government and community? Moreover, corporations are quick to relocate if they can reduce costs—every dollar of cost reduction falls directly to the bottom line.

The employees: Benefits and pay for the rank and file simply are not keeping up: they continue to fall, because underpaying employees and eliminating benefits increases profit. Moreover, outsourcing is increasingly common—and the companies to which work is outsourced don’t really do well by their employees: in order to be able to reduce costs to secure contracts, we see employees treated as they are in Bangladesh and at Foxconn. From the corporate point of view, the ideal is reached when the corporation has no rank-and-file employees at all—something that they’re working on. (This issue of increased efficiency meaning fewer workers required has come up before, and a good solution was proposed and tested in practice: it worked well. But corporations didn’t like it so they destroyed the idea.)

The customers: While the quality of some goods have increased (in hopes of gaining market share), increasingly often one sees a design in the quality of corporate output, including foods. In shaving (for an example close to my heart) it has not been rare to discover that a shaving soap that once was excellent now is terrible. Presumably the reformulation that drove down the quality as done to save on costs. And, in addition, corporations work to gain an effective monopoly so they can raise prices. (Have you checked the price of multiblade cartridges for razors today? That’s because Gillette owns the patents—the main reason Gillette moved away from the DE blade. Patents on the DE blade had expired, so customers had many choices, forcing corporations to compete on price, which they hate.)

In contrast, shareholders and corporate executives are doing very well indeed.

And perhaps this is as it should be: corporations are not tasked to improve the general welfare: that’s the (explicit) job of government. But corporations, as persons, are sociopaths. That means that, really, in pursuit of profits, anything goes. Of course, corporations frequently must pay big fines for violating laws and regulations, but most corporations treat that as a cost of doing business. They pay the fine, but do not admit fault or wrongdoing.

Ford, for example, knew that the Pinto was likely to burst into flames in a low-impact collision, incinerating the vehicle occupants, but OTOH it would cost money ($11/car) to eliminate that possibility. Ford ran the numbers, estimating the amount they would pay in court costs and settlements (for the families of those burned to death), and it turned out that in fact the company would realize a net profit by not spending the $11/car. So the Pinto was released without the fix. Ford did face a trial. Although I cannot find a link for it, I recall from news accounts at the time that Ford management submitted falsified documents (e.g., a forged vacation schedule) in the trial. The actual analysis that Ford did:

Benefits and Costs Relating to Fuel  Leakage
Associated with the Static Rollover
Test Portion of FMVSS 208

Benefits
Savings:  180 burn deaths, 180 serious burn injuries, 2100 burned vehicles
Unit Cost:  $200,000 per death, $67,000 per injury, $700 per vehicle
Total Benefit:  180 x ($200,000) + 180 x ($67,000) + 2100 x ($700) = $49.5 Million

Costs
Sales: 11 million cars, 1.5 million light trucks
Unit Cost: $11 per car, $11 per truck
Total Cost: 11,000,000 x ($11) + 1,500,000 x ($ I 1) = $137 Million

Another example: Exxon has simply refused to pay for the long-term environmental damages awarded from the Valdez incident.

In particular, corporations are quite interested in subverting government from its mission to improve the general welfare to ensure that the government instead focuses on improving corporate welfare (cf. farm subsidies, oil depletion allowance, tax breaks, and so on). On the whole, corporations have been successful in gaining control of much of the government (e.g., through individual members of Congress, through placing their own personnel in regulatory agencies, and so on), as the continuing high level of long-term unemployment indicates and the weakness of regulatory agencies both indicate.

What I believe we desperately need is a revitalized government that takes seriously its role of protecting and improving the general welfare. This was brought to mind this morning by a Wonkblog interview of Benjamin Radcliff by Dylan Matthews:

Benjamin Radcliff is a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. His current research focuses on how public policy affects human happiness. His recent book, “The Political Economy of Human Happiness,” argues that generous welfare states and strong labor market protections produce happier citizens than do more laissez-faire policies. We spoke on the phone Thursday afternoon; a lightly edited transcript follows.

Dylan Matthews: Before we dig in, I wanted to ask about the distinction between “happiness” and “life satisfaction,” since many happiness researchers tend to distinguish between the two. What’s the difference, and which do you focus on?

Benjamin Radcliff: Sometimes the psychologists will want to say that if we ask people about happiness we get an more an affective (i.e. emotional) response, whereas life satisfaction, and this is what I tend to focus on, is more cognitive and thus more foundational and less subject to change. We simplify down to the basic idea, which is not “are you in a good mood” but “do you actually enjoy your life”? So, we’re not talking about the happiness of the  smiley face but  the truly basic question of, when push comes to shove, how much do you enjoy being alive? In other words, to what degree do you find your life positive and rewarding? In any case, when you’re dealing with broad aggregate data they correlate massively. Empirically, the distinctions between them are fairly modest.

A recent New York Times op-ed by AEI president Arthur Brooks argued that happiness is largely determined by either genetic factors or recent life events — and that the effects of the latter are generally small in scale. So, how much room is there left for policy to influence, short of out-there stuff like genetic engineering?

That’s a good point. There is a debate about the extent to which genetics (or social comparison, which Brooks didn’t talk about much, which economists are obsessed with), dominate our well-being. Fifty percent determined by genetics — other people would say higher, others would say lower — but that’s probably a good middle consensus figure. It is certainly true that some large percentage of our wellbeing is determined genetically or through personality structures that don’t conform to our commonsense view that happiness is determined by the quality of life that you experience.

That other, more commonsense tradition of thinking about happiness is associated with what’s called livability theory, that if you live in a better society that takes care of people better you’ll lead a happier life.

One footnote from rereading the Brooks piece, which in many ways is a nice article, however we parse the percentages, he claims that the key to happiness is choosing to concentrate on basic values that should promote happiness.

There’s a lot to be said for that kind of thing, but hidden in there is the assumption, which comes from the market fundamentalist view that seems to inform his basic world view, that happiness is something we choose, that we decide for ourselves, instead of something that happens to you. For a  lot of people who don’t have the privilege to live comfortable upper-middle class lives like Brooks or me, life is not solely what you make it. Your quality of life is largely determined by your life circumstances. The obsession with happiness as an individual-level phenomenon that individuals can determine is dangerous and dubious.

You argue that social democratic or left-leaning policies are more conducive to happiness. What sorts of things are you talking about? Government spending? Regulations? Both?

I have organized my research around two dimensions of policy. The first is the size of government, i.e. of what it is government does, from the tax burden to the generosity of the welfare state to the total impact of the government in terms of its overall consumption on GDP. The second involve institutions that protect people in labor markets, which means labor unions and economic regulations (the minimum wage, mandated vacation time, etc.), which provide  a degree of sovereignty and power for workers in their employment relationships. Two sides of the coin: the general scope of what government does to make life more secure for people and the stuff that works specifically in terms of peoples’ work conditions.

Both types of policies contribute to what social theorists call “decommodification,” meaning limiting the degree to which in a capitalist economy people have to act as commodities in order to survive. You have to sell your labor power on the market. Decommodification measures how much people can opt out of the labor market, whatever the reason, and provides a way of judging to what extent have we made them free of market commodification.

More decommodification makes people happier, and it does so for rich and poor people, men and women, and controlling for just about any other thing. Similar empirical results obtain when considering total social spending on education, health care, total government consumption, the tax burden, a well-known OECD measure of employee protection legislation, even indices on the size of government and labor market regulation from the conservative Fraser Institute. The smaller the government, the less happy people are.

Another variable I find of interest is labor union membership and density, i.e. do you belong, and the percentage of all workers who belong the unions. People who belong to unions are happier, and, more importantly, union density is strongly related to levels of happiness for union members and non-members.

How does that compare to the effects on happiness of non-policy things like, say, the effect of being married or unemployed? . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Here’s an example of the kind of thinking that led to this. From a Wonkblog post by Ezra Klein:

. . . Here’s how Sen. Rand Paul explains his reason for letting 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers lose benefits at the end of this month:

There was a study that came out a few months ago, and it said, if you have a worker that’s been unemployed for four weeks and on unemployment insurance and one that’s on 99 weeks, which would you hire? Every employer, nearly 100 percent, said they will always hire the person who’s been out of work four weeks.

When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really — while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you’re trying to help.

This is a correlation/causation error of staggering size — and, because it’s coming from a sitting U.S. senator whose vote will help decide whether millions of unemployed families lose the paltry checks that are helping them buy food and shelter and fuel, of staggering consequence.

Imagine a study that asked doctors whether they thought a patient who’d been under treatment for a serious illness for four weeks was more or less likely to survive than a patient under treatment for a serious illness for 99 weeks. Of course the doctors would say the patient under treatment for 99 weeks was less likely to survive.

Paul would look at that study and argue for removing the treatment from the patient who’d been sick for 99 weeks. After all, doctors thought it made the patient less likely to survive!

Last month, D.C.’s two new Wal-Marts began accepting applications. More than 23,000 people applied for fewer than 600 jobs. This is the reality of life for the unemployed: They can’t get jobs because there aren’t enough jobs.

harvard-vs-walmart

Nationally, there are three job seekers for every one open position. But because unemployment is much higher in some cities than in others, the reality is that most people who’ve been unemployed for more than 26 weeks live in areas where there are four, five, six, seven and even eight job seekers for each open job. They’re not being held back by their unemployment checks. They’re being held back by mass unemployment.

The study Paul mentions points toward a real problem: Unemployment is self-perpetuating. Employers discriminate against the long-term unemployed. And so a cycle begins: Someone doesn’t get hired because they’re unemployed. That extends the length of their unemployment. That makes the next potential employer that much less likely to hire them. That further extends the time they’ve been unemployed. And so the cycle continues.

This isn’t just theory. Northeastern University’s Rand Ghayad sent out 4,800 fake resumes to job postings. Some of the resumes were from the new unemployed. Others showed longer spells of unemployment. The callback rate for the long-term unemployed was just 1 to 3 percent. For the newly unemployed, it was 9 to 16 percent.

The problem for the long-term unemployed isn’t that their lavish government checks keep them from wanting jobs. It’s that they can’t get jobs — in part because they’re unemployed. And that makes them even less likely to get jobs in the future. The long-term unemployed are slowly becoming unemployable.

The federal government could move aggressively to put them back to work. It could hire them directly as teacher’s aides and park rangers. It could pass a large tax cut for employers who hire new workers and and an even larger one for employers who hire the unemployed. It could invest hundreds of billions in infrastructure repair. Paul could be a powerful advocate if he took up the cause of getting them jobs now so they could get jobs later.

But Paul isn’t fighting to do any of that. Instead, he’s responding to their plight by cutting off the emergency benefits that are barely keeping them unemployed afloat. He isn’t helping the unemployed get jobs. He’s abandoning them to joblessness — and so are a critical mass of his colleagues.

And to emphasize the point, Kevin Drum offers 10 reasons why long-term unemployment is a national catastrophe. And cutting off unemployment insurance does not create jobs, whatever Sen. Rand Paul “thinks.”

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2013 at 11:11 am

Dropping supplements

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After reading about the risks of dietary supplements, I’m taking a hard look at the supplements I take. When I started using FitDay.com’s meal-tracking program, I discovered to my surprise that quite a few vitamin supplements I had been taking were redundant, because the program’s nutritional analysis showed that I was getting an ample daily amount of key vitamins in my good: Vitamin C from citrus, Vitamin D from dairy, Vitamin B from beef—you see how it works. And if a vitamin seemed short, I looked up foods that were highest in that vitamin and lowest in calories and added the appropriate food(s) to the diet. FitDay lets you search the food database with that sort of criteria; another excellent site for nutritional information is Self Nutrition Data, which provides a friendly fact for the USDA Nutrition Database (which you can also use, of course). The Self Nutrition Data search for foods high in X and low in Y is here.

I especially like to get vitamins and minerals from food sources since those sources automatically include undiscovered nutritional factors: taking supplements tends to provide only the nutrients that we know about, not those still unknown.

Yesterday, for example, I made a nice meal of sautéed beef liver and onions, a tasty dish—and beef liver is very high in Vitamin A and also very high in Vitamin B12, which we can store indefinitely in our bodies. Eating a food high in B12 on occasion will keep our bodies well supplied with a good reserve. A 3-oz serving of cooked beef liver has 423% of daily value (i.e., recommended daily intake) of Vitamin A and 1122% of vitamin B12—and our body stores both of those, so I eat beef liver only once a month or so. (Beef liver is also surprisingly high in copper: 591%DV for a 3-oz serving. It also has almost half the daily value of protein. All that for less than 150 calories.

To pick another food I routinely eat: a cup of raw parsley (which I use in cooking) is high in A (101%DV), C (133%DV), and K (1230%DV). Not bad for 22 calories.

I do, BTW, mainly eat a plant-based diet, but occasionally I have animal protein, generally fish. The annual standing rib roast is a special case.

Based on what I learned about food sources, I have long since dropped most vitamin supplements, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B-complex, vitamin K. I continue taking vitamin D supplements because I’m mostly indoors and don’t drink milk (which generally is fortified with vitamin D).

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2013 at 9:17 am

Posted in Food, Health, Science

Pefect shave, happy face

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SOTD 23 Dec 2013

Monday is always a good-shave day because I have a two-day stubble–and I use a slant.

The prep today was very good. I have become quite fond of this little Omega boar brush, which I like to call the 11575. It’s a virtuous circle: because I liked the look of it, I used it more, which made it break in faster, which made me like and use it even more, and so on. It holds plenty of lather for three passes, especially given the excellent lathering properties of Tabula Rasa shaving cream, a rather firm cream that I load like a soft soap: brush pretty well, tub on its side over the sink, but rather less brushing is required than for a soap. LeesRazors.com carries Tabula Rasa in a few fragrances if you want to give it a go.

The Merkur 37G slant with a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade did a flawless job with not a nick, leaving a BBS result with no particular effort. I’ve realized that all the slants are quite comfortable in use, and I’m wondering why. Is it the need for light pressure (which makes the shave more comfortable)? Is it the ease of cutting? But it’s interesting how all the slants are good.

A splash of Alt-Innsbruck and we start a countdown to Christmas.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2013 at 7:52 am

Posted in Shaving

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