Later On

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

Archive for May 17th, 2014

Hospitals In Arkansas See Drop In Uninsured ER Visits Following Obamacare Implementation

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The Affordable Care Act, to the GOP’s horror, seems to be working.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 5:20 pm

Posted in Government, Healthcare

Education in the new US oligarchy

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Seeing the US proclaimed an oligarchy is no longer unusual, and the data support it. For example, when the oligarchs want a certain response to an issue and the public sentiment is strongly at odds, Congress does what the oligarchy wants.

And what is happening in higher education now makes some sense: humanities programs are cutting back, getting defunded, airbrushed out because, really, in the US as it is today, the oligarchs want good workers, people who will stay focused on the job and not wander much outside that. Certainly the last thing the oligarchs would want is for oi polloi to study and take seriously the liberal arts—the knowledge and skills to make a person free: liberated. The humanities, even if they do not always provide the answers, raise questions the oligarchs do not want to be asked—or even considered.

Once again I have to recommend Don Quixote, and this time the translation by Burton Raffel under the title Don Quijote.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Books

Home report

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Things going on at chez Leisureguy: Molly had surgery a week ago for a bladder stone. Surgery successful and patient now ambulatory (i.e., doesn’t have to spend the day in a cage we got). She is still wearing a cone for another week, and a bigger cone at that: she managed to lick the incision with the original cone.

Megs is quite perturbed and extraordinarily cautious: stalking Molly warily, ready not to pounce but to retreat. My theory is that Megs knew Molly was gone and when she returned, she is wearing the enormous cone, and so Megs thinks that Molly now has superpowers. If so, it’s the superpower of bumping into things, one of the lesser superpowers.

And—subject change—my latest batch of pepper sauce is really excellent. I used probably 30 or so habaneros, and 8 Serrano of good size, along with 4 Ancho chiles, 10 dried chipotes, 2 small cans chipotles in adobo, a whole lemon, about 10 garlic cloves, 1/3 c salt, 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, and enough white vinegar so that it is a thick sauce when well blended. Bring to boil, simmer 30 minutes, cool 30 minutes, reblend, and bottle.

This batch has more kick that the commercial pepper sauced I was trying, and more taste as well. I think next time I will try adding some dried herbs when I blend.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 2:20 pm

Big corporations routinely act in bad faith

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And GM provides a current example. Read this interesting report by Bill Vlasic in the NY Times:

As General Motors faces a number of continuing investigations into its handling of a vehicle safety defect linked to 13 deaths, its legal department has become a focus of a broad internal inquiry into how the company handled the issue, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.

Even as G.M. acknowledged that it knew about the defect for more than a decade, it has insisted that work on the ignition problem was limited to a handful of midlevel employees. But a review of internal documents, emails and interviews paint a different picture, showing that high-ranking officials, particularly in G.M.’s legal department, led by the general counsel Michael P. Millikin, acted with increasing urgency in the last 12 months to grapple with the spreading impact of defective ignition switches.

A number of departments in the company stepped up efforts to fix the switches once depositions threatened to ensnare senior officials.

And as the automaker finally began to face up to the issue, G.M. lawyers moved to keep its actions secret from families of crash victims and other outsiders.

G.M. declined to make Mr. Millikin or any other executives available for interviews. Since the recall began, four senior executives have resigned or left the company, including a top engineer, Jim Federico, who avoided being deposed in a lawsuit last summer when G.M. lawyers suddenly settled a case tied to a defective ignition switch.

Despite its agreement on Friday to pay a $35 million penalty imposed by federal regulators, the automaker faces several investigations, including from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, intently focused on whether G.M.’s top officers deliberately ignored the need to fix faulty ignition switches in some of its vehicles.

The toll on management is expected to grow in coming weeks, as a former United States attorney, Anton R. Valukas, concludes an internal investigation that is being closely watched by lawmakers, federal regulators and Justice Department investigators.

Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx said on Friday that G.M.’s unwillingness to share information it had about defective switches with regulators most likely cost lives in accidents.

“Literally, silence can kill,” Mr. Foxx said in a news briefing. . .

Continue reading. And read the entire article to see many instances of bad faith. I’m pleased that I have not purchased a GM car for decades.

Emphasis added. I certainly hope that at least some of these miscreants go to prison.

A long while back a commenter objected to regulations on companies, which (he aid) could be trusted to do the right thing. It seems more that companies can be trusted to act in bad faith and to try to conceal the harm they do to their customers and the public.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Business

Obama breaks yet another promise, this one on net neutrality

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Obama seems to have a bad habit of breaking promises—he does it often, and on high-profile issues. It’s a terrible weakness in a president, particularly one who is elected based on his promises. I do not believe that history will be kind to him. Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

Nearly a decade after he vociferously defended an Internet that didn’t speed up Web traffic to Fox or slow traffic to, President Obama’s stance on net neutrality has considerably softened.

On Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether a federal proposal that could change the basic economics of the Internet ran afoul of Obama’s campaign promises on net neutrality, the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, not slowed down or blocked by Internet providers.

“What was passed yesterday was something that kept options on the table,” Carney told White House reporters, referring to a vote Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission to advance the proposal. Pressed further, Carney added merely that Obama would be “looking very closely to see that the outcome of this results in a final rule that stays true to the spirit of net neutrality.”

The exchange offered no definitions about what constituted net neutrality, in Obama’s view. Carney offered no official perspective on Internet fast lanes, nor on requiring broadband providers to be more transparent about their traffic practices. Carney only repeated the White House’s statement from Thursday, which said Obama was “looking at every way” and “consider[ing] any option that might make sense” on net neutrality.

The vagueness of the statement is a far cry from 2007, when Obama gave a lengthy response to a town hall question on net neutrality. Then, Obama said he was specifically opposed to “charging different rates to different Web sites” — which is to say, creating a fast lane.

Obama was far more specific in his claims back then, arguing that what he meant by net neutrality was “a level playing field for whoever has got the best idea.” This online equality and fairness was so important, he said, that it amounted to a “basic principle in how the Internet functions.”

“As president,” said Obama, “I’m going to make sure that that is the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward.”

It’s hard to know what to make of Obama’s apparent reluctance to define net neutrality that way now. Although Carney vowed that Obama is committed to the free and open Internet, those are terms that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has also used — and consumer advocates are less than enthused about how Wheeler appears to be interpreting the words. . .

Continue reading. So far as I can see, Obama is simply not to be trusted: if he promises something, he seems to feel little or no need to fulfill his promise. The promise is made, so far as I can tell, simply to get support. He may or may not fulfill the promise, but fulfilling it is clearly not a very high priority for him.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 11:23 am

Some beautiful straight razors

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Via a link at Wicked_Edge: take a look at these. See Wicked_Edge comments here.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 11:14 am

Posted in Shaving

Exposing hypocrisy and cowardice of NRA and gun lobby

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Paul Rosenberg has a good column about Chris Hayes’s (unsuccessful) efforts to get a pro-gun spokesman to make sense about smart guns. It’s worth reading to see the way those opposed to smart guns contradict themselves and refuse to answer questions.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 10:15 am

Posted in Guns

How A Lawsuit Over Hot Coffee Helped Erode the 7th Amendment

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The 7th Amendment reads:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

The lawsuit is question was the one against McDonald’s brought by a woman who suffered third-degree burns from scaldingly hot coffee (about which that particular McDonald’s outlet had received numerous complaints but had done nothing about it).

Alex Mayyasi has an excellent review of the case and its effects at

In 1992, an elderly woman in New Mexico bought coffee at a McDonalds drive through, spilled it on herself, and successfully sued for nearly $3 million.

The account is the poster child for the absurdity of the American legal system. Nearly every late night comic has a bit about suing over hot coffee. In a Seinfeld episode, Kramer burns himself while hiding coffee in his pants as he enters a movie theater. “You’re gonna walk out of [the courtroom] a rich man,” his lawyer tells him confidently as they prepare to sue the coffee shop. The anecdote is also popular with politicians. “We’re a litigious society,” George Bush told supporters while pressing to curtail frivolous lawsuits. “But there have to be limits.”

There’s just one problem: the story is incredibly distorted. The elderly New Mexico resident, Stella Liebeck, was not greedy and her lawsuit was not frivolous. In fact, it’s an example of America’s civil justice system working as intended.

The story of Stella Liebeck is one of rumors and jumping to conclusions. But it is also, arguably, part of a much larger story: the least publicized death of a constitutional right in the history of the United States — the right to a trial by jury.

An Urban Legend

After Mrs. Liebeck bought her coffee and breakfast, her grandson, who was driving, pulled over so she could add cream and sugar to her coffee. Since his Ford Probe had no cupholders, she placed the cup between her legs. When she fumbled with the lid and spilled the coffee on her sweatpants, she began to scream.

“All I remember is trying to get out of the car,” Liebeck later related. “I knew I was in terrible pain.” She went into shock and her grandson rushed her to the emergency room, where she would undergo surgery and receive skin grafts. She had third degree burns on 6% of her body; the pictures of her injuries are shocking.

McDonalds served Mrs. Liebeck coffee at 180-190 degrees fahrenheit. According to her surgeon, “Any hot liquid, if it’s in the range of 180 degrees or hotter, if it’s in contact with your skin for more than just a few seconds… if you’re lucky it will produce second degree burns. If you’re not as lucky, you will get 3rd degree or full thickness burns requiring skin grafts and surgery.” Liebeck spent a week in the hospital, amassing hospital bills of $10,000.

Still, Liebeck did not sue. Her family wrote a letter to McDonalds asking them to pay her hospital bills and check whether its coffee machine was faulty. McDonalds rebuffed them, offering $800, so they found a lawyer. But even the outcome of the lawsuit — a $2.9 million verdict that people saw as Liebeck hitting the jackpot — was a fiction.

During the course of the trial, McDonalds revealed that serving coffee at 180-190 degrees was standard policy. A McDonalds executive described it as an “industry standard” that responded to customers wishes for coffee that would still be hot after a car ride home. He also said that the 700 complaints McDonalds had received about the coffee causing burns did not concern him. It was not significant given the size of the McDonalds customer base.

His response may have seemed reasonable given the scale of McDonalds’s operations. But to a jury looking at a grandmother dealing with terrible injuries — Liebeck required two years of additional medical attention that greatly increased her medical bills — it seemed callous.

The jury decided to award Liebeck $200,000 — less than the $300,000 recommended by a mediator in a settlement that McDonalds rejected before trial. The jury, however, decided Liebeck was 20% at fault since she spilled the coffee, so they gave her $160,000. In addition, they awarded her around $2.7 million (two days of McDonalds coffee revenue) in punitive damages. In civil cases, since there are no criminal sentences, punitive damages exist to ensure companies change their behavior. The judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000, for a total of $640,000. McDonalds appealed and later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount believed to be between $400,000 and $600,000.

The media only noticed the initial multimillion dollar figure. Major news broadcasts and newspapers picked up the story from local New Mexico press, and then reporters all over the world related the story. But it was like a giant game of telephone, with the nuance never making it byeond local press. Retro Report describes how the word count went from 700 words in local press, to 349 in the first AP story, to “as few as 48” even in major papers. As Liebeck’s lawyer relates, “‘Woman, coffee, millions’ sounds like a rip off, not the consequence of a thoughtful trial.”

Mythbusters: Frivolous Lawsuits

In a Reddit conversation that inspired this post, a user with a stated background as an attorney who defends medium and small businesses against liability suits cites Liebeck’s case:

Everybody now thinks it’s easy as hell to sue and get big money. Lots of people think the court system and our laws are all fucked up… People sue over trivial stuff all the time hoping to cash in. Most of the time, they get their case dismissed or they get a nominal settlement after they’ve invested tons of time and effort in their case and… just want out of the case already.

Susan Saladoff, a lawyer who made a documentary about the McDonalds coffee case called Hot Coffee, has called frivolous lawsuits a myth. In an appearance on the Colbert Report, she relates all the checks that exist to prevent greedy people from suing for unreasonable amounts of money: judges can throw out frivolous cases and fine people for wasting the court’s resources, a jury deliberates on the right amount of damages to award, judges can reduce the compensation given, and defendants can appeal a ruling.

Saladoff has represented clients in liability lawsuits, so she is no outsider to the debate. But we see some of the restraints at work in the McDonalds case. A jury deliberated and decided on an amount resembling that recommended previously by a professional mediator, and the judge reduced the amount awarded. A different jury and judge could have found differently. (Coffee is often served commercially at temperatures approaching or equal to that served to Stella Liebeck; finding Liebeck 80% or 100% responsible may be reasonable.) But the result was hardly an absurdity, and as designated in the constitution, a jury made the decision.

When the result of a lawsuit make headlines, it is usually because of a multimillion dollar verdict. Those verdicts come from punitive damages, which are only awarded when a company seems unwilling to change its behavior. In this way, individual court cases can serve the public interest.

Despite the rhetoric of businesses under attack by greedy Americans, the evidence does not show an epidemic of frivolous lawsuits winning jackpots. As Priceonomics wrote previously, rather than exploding, the number of tort (injury) cases in America decreased 25% from 1999 to 2008 and fell 9% in the nineties. Only 5% of civil cases result in punitive damages for an average $50,000 to $60,000, not millions.

Today, the full story of the McDonalds coffee case has gone viral. A quick Google search will reveal many media outlets that ran stories on the case. Recently Upworthy posted a video produced for the New York Times about Liebeck’s story and it went viral.

But the main reason revealing the truth of Liebeck’s case finds such an interested audience is . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.


Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 10:04 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Mindfulness Training Produces Less-Stressed Marines

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Tom Ricks in his extremely interesting book Making the Corpshows how the US Marine Corps is a learning organization—a very difficult feat to pull off. (The Army hasn’t been able to do it, for example.) The effort exists at all levels—for example, it is not unusual for a Marine to publish in Marine publications a detailed critique of a battle action, showing what could have been done better. Ricks comments in the book that when he described such an article to an Army officer, the officer’s face turned white and he said that in the Army such a thing would be a career-ending move. (Thus the Army insulates itself from informative feedback.)

Teaching mindfulness is not new: Richard Strozzi-Heckler, who has a black belt in Aikido, taught awareness discipline (essentially the same as mindfulness) to the Green Berets. (The book originally came out in the late ’80s, but the link is to the 4th edition, published 2011.) Tom Jacobs describes the Marine experiment in Pacific Standard:

Given the epidemic of stress-related disorders among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we clearly need a better way to emotionally prepare military personnel for battle. Fortunately, a group of researchers have come up with a promising one, which adapts techniques from an ancient spiritual tradition.

A study just published in the American Journal of Psychiatry provides compelling evidence that, whether you’re a Marine or a monk, the key to mental peace is mindfulness.

In the results of research we first described two years ago, Marines who underwent an eight-week course in mindfulness recovered more quickly from an intense training session that simulated battlefield conditions. The positive effects were noted using a variety of physical markers, and confirmed with brain scans.

“Mindfulness training won’t make combat easier,” said University of California-San Diego psychiatrist Dr. Martin Paulus, senior author of the paper. “But we think it can help Marines recover from stress and return to baseline functioning more quickly.”

Mindfulness, which is adapted from teachings of Zen Buddhism, is the ability to be fully aware of one’s moment-to-moment thoughts and feelings, while observing them from a place of detachment. Numerous studies in recent years suggest this ability produces mental and physical benefits for many people, including veterans and others suffering from PTSD.

But why wait until after emotional trauma has occurred? Believing there was good reason to think such training could create a mental and emotional buffer for soldiers in combat, the research team, which also included Dr. Douglas Johnson and Elizabeth Stanley, recruited members of eight Marine infantry platoons stationed at California’s Camp Pendleton.

Four platoons underwent the standard training regimen to prepare for combat. Members of the other four additionally received eight weeks of mindfulness-based mind fitness training.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 9:06 am

Correlation is not causation: Obesity and overeating

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The common wisdom is that overeating causes obesity, but there is increasing evidence that the causation primarily goes in the other direction: obesity causes overeating, a vicious cycle that is hard to break. David Ludwig and Mark Friedman write in the NY Times:

FOR most of the last century, our understanding of the cause of obesity has been based on immutable physical law. Specifically, it’s the first law of thermodynamics, which dictates that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. When it comes to body weight, this means that calorie intake minus calorie expenditure equals calories stored. Surrounded by tempting foods, we overeat, consuming more calories than we can burn off, and the excess is deposited as fat. The simple solution is to exert willpower and eat less.

The problem is that this advice doesn’t work, at least not for most people over the long term. In other words, your New Year’s resolution to lose weight probably won’t last through the spring, let alone affect how you look in a swimsuit in July. More of us than ever are obese, despite an incessant focus on calorie balance by the government, nutrition organizations and the food industry.

But what if we’ve confused cause and effect? What if it’s not overeating that causes us to get fat, but the process of getting fatter that causes us to overeat?

The more calories we lock away in fat tissue, the fewer there are circulating in the bloodstream to satisfy the body’s requirements. If we look at it this way, it’s a distribution problem: We have an abundance of calories, but they’re in the wrong place. As a result, the body needs to increase its intake. We get hungrier because we’re getting fatter.

It’s like edema, a common medical condition in which fluid leaks from blood vessels into surrounding tissues. No matter how much water they drink, people with edema may experience unquenchable thirst because the fluid doesn’t stay in the blood, where it’s needed. Similarly, when fat cells suck up too much fuel, calories from food promote the growth of fat tissue instead of serving the energy needs of the body, provoking overeating in all but the most disciplined individuals.

We discuss this hypothesis in an article just published in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. According to this alternative view, factors in the environment have triggered fat cells in our bodies to take in and store excessive amounts of glucose and other calorie-rich compounds. Since fewer calories are available to fuel metabolism, the brain tells the body to increase calorie intake (we feel hungry) and save energy (our metabolism slows down). Eating more solves this problem temporarily but also accelerates weight gain. Cutting calories reverses the weight gain for a short while, making us think we have control over our body weight, but predictably increases hunger and slows metabolism even more.

Consider fever as another analogy. A cold bath will lower body temperature temporarily, but also set off biological responses — like shivering and constriction of blood vessels — that work to heat the body up again. In a sense, the conventional view of obesity as a problem of calorie balance is like conceptualizing fever as a problem of heat balance; technically not wrong, but not very helpful, because it ignores the apparent underlying biological driver of weight gain. . .

Continue reading.

Regarding my own weight loss, this morning I am down to 221.3, which is exactly 8 ounces into obesity. Once I lose 8 more ounces, I will have a BMI of 29.9: overweight, not obese. (Obesity is when the BMI is 30.0 or greater.) FWIW, my goal has been to lose 1.5 lb/week. I’m now 11 weeks into the effort, and my weight loss averages 1.6 lb/week. Not bad, and the little $5 program Diet Controller (in the App Store for Macbook) has been an enormous help.

I do know how to lose weight now, thanks to the regimen of a few years ago which taught me the necessary skills by having me practice them for months. (One important skill I learned was patience: not to bail out at setbacks.) But I have now learned that for me it is important to track my intake or it slides into dangerous territory. And in fact recording my meals turns out to be easy and allows me more control. Without the recording of intake—well, for me it’s like driving a card with no speedometer. I have the illusion that I can regulate my speed to road conditions and traffic, but out on a four-lane highway it’s easy for me to find myself going over 80 mph. With a speedometer I can track and thus regulate my speed. By recording my intake, I can regulate that.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 7:52 am

Great shave with Razor Emporium shave stick

with 2 comments

17 May 2014

This morning was a BBS shave with one good nick: on the upper lip, centered, down a bit from the nose. I figure I had the blade angle wrong, since it was on the WTG pass. (Feather blades…)

But to begin: I came across this new shave stick: King R. Emporium Synergy Shave Stick/HTGAM Collaboration. Yes, a new format for How To Grow A Moustache’s super shaving soap. You get two sticks the size of the one shown for $9.95: keep one in the bathroom and one in your travel kit, the shave stick being an excellent format for travel: compact in size and not requiring a lathering bowl.

I liked the fragrance of the stick and the lather even more: the G.B. Kent BK4 worked up a wonderfully thick and creamy lather. I did add a little water to the brush part way through working the lather up.

My Schick Krona carries a Feather blade, a brand I can use only in a few razors. Feathers tend to nick me (see above). But that’s the beauty of My Nik Is Sealed: the nick was staunched instantly.

Of the Fine aftershaves I’ve recently gotten, I like this fragrance perhaps the best: an old-timey fragrance, perhaps, but I’m an old-timey guy. The aftershave is a simple recipe: alcohol, water, fragrance, and menthol. I’m thinking I might add a dash of glycerin just as an experiment. I’ll do that in my palm or in a separate little bottle. I’m just curious about what difference it would make.

However, the aftershave is quite good as it is, and the menthol is not, as is sometimes the case, overpowering: just enough to give a sensation of coolness—cf. the Alt-Innsbruck splash.

Great shave.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2014 at 7:41 am

Posted in Shaving

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