Later On

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

Archive for October 2015

Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice

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I have blogged against forced arbitration (no right to legal recourse) multiple times. The arbitrator is hired by the corporation, and arbitrators who find against a corporation are blackballed: the game is totally rigged. Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff report in the NY Times:

On Page 5 of a credit card contract used by American Express, beneath an explainer on interest rates and late fees, past the details about annual membership, is a clause that most customers probably miss. If cardholders have a problem with their account, American Express explains, the company “may elect to resolve any claim by individual arbitration.”

Those nine words are at the center of a far-reaching power play orchestrated by American corporations, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

By inserting individual arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts, companies like American Express devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to apply for a credit card, use a cellphone, get cable or Internet service, or shop online without agreeing to private arbitration. The same applies to getting a job, renting a car or placing a relative in a nursing home.

Among the class actions thrown out because of the clauses was one brought by Time Warner customers over charges they said mysteriously appeared on their bills and another against a travel booking website accused of conspiring to fix hotel prices. A top executive at Goldman Sachs who sued on behalf of bankers claiming sex discrimination was also blocked, as were African-American employees at Taco Bell restaurants who said they were denied promotions, forced to work the worst shifts and subjected to degrading comments.

Some state judges have called the class-action bans a “get out of jail free” card, because it is nearly impossible for one individual to take on a corporation with vast resources.

Patricia Rowe of Greenville, S.C., learned this firsthand when she initiated a class action against AT&T. Ms. Rowe, who was challenging a $600 fee for canceling her phone service, was among more than 900 AT&T customers in three states who complained about excessive charges, state records show. When the case was thrown out last year, she was forced to give up and pay the $600. Fighting AT&T on her own in arbitration, she said, would have cost far more.

By banning class actions, companies have essentially disabled consumer challenges to practices like predatory lending, wage theft and discrimination, court records show.

“This is among the most profound shifts in our legal history,” William G. Young, a federal judge in Boston who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, said in an interview. “Ominously, business has a good chance of opting out of the legal system altogether and misbehaving without reproach.”

More than a decade in the making, the move to block class actions was engineered by a Wall Street-led coalition of credit card companies and retailers, according to interviews with coalition members and court records. Strategizing from law offices on Park Avenue and in Washington, members of the group came up with a plan to insulate themselves from the costly lawsuits. Their work culminated in two Supreme Court rulings, in 2011 and 2013, that enshrined the use of class-action bans in contracts. The decisions drew little attention outside legal circles, even though they upended decades of jurisprudence put in place to protect consumers and employees.

One of the players behind the scenes, The Times found, was John G. Roberts Jr., who as a private lawyer representing Discover Bank unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case involving class-action bans. By the time the Supreme Court handed down its favorable decisions, he was the chief justice.

Corporations said that class actions were not needed because arbitration enabled individuals to resolve their grievances easily. But court and arbitration records show the opposite has happened: Once blocked from going to court as a group, most people dropped their claims entirely.

The Times investigation was based on thousands of court records and interviews with hundreds of lawyers, corporate executives, judges, arbitrators and plaintiffs in 35 states. . .

Continue reading. It’s an important issue, and one that reflects how corporations increasingly exert control our lives.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2015 at 10:36 am

A non-antagonistic use of technology to improve quality of service

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Here’s a neat one: A bank takes the comments people have made about their contact with their customer service agents. The information system identifies comments by the service agent, so the system can look at all comments for a particular agent and make a word cloud from the comments, and then displays the word cloud next to the bank’s internal on-line directory with rep’s name, title, photo, etc.

The agent’s name is always largest in the word cloud, since the system treats agent name as being part of the text in each comment. Next in prominence will be words like “helpful” and “pleasant” and “happy.” Obviously the words “churlish” and “hostile” may occur, but rarely (since customer service agents really are trying to help you). Since such words are rare, in the word cloud they will simply vanish—such responses are extreme outliers and in the word cloud if they appear at all they will be tiny, and rightly so: comments like these are basically noise in the system and may well have causes outside the system (e.g., certain types of personality disorders, or some temporary mood swing—they are not necessarily due to the interaction with the service agent. (If the cause is the service agent, such words will appear more often, of course, but sometimes it’s really not the service agent.)

Naturally enough, the customer service agents will be interested in the word clouds (their own clouds and the clouds of colleagues). I would imagine that they will inevitably compare word clouds and start to compete in various ways. For example, some will try to produce a well-rounded word cloud. One might also see some mild gambling: “Okay, I say I can make the biggest word (besides my name) be ‘helpful.’ By Friday. Ten bucks.”

I’m assuming that the word cloud is computed at least daily but why not hourly? Once a hour take the words from each agent’s most recent 1000 transactions, say: a number that will include roughly transactions for the past 30 days. The idea is to establish habits, and since it takes a while to alter the cloud, it’s most productive to work steadily at itsteady work is needed since it takes a while to influence the feedback.

Of course, any tool can be used destructively, and I can imagine some bosses might use the information inappropriately. Better is for the boss to convey, “This is about you. This is how people actually see you, from their own words.”

As Robert Burns wrote, “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!” The word cloud is exactly such a giftie.

It really does seem that the result might be a virtuous circle.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2015 at 9:36 am

A rose-fragranced shave: Fine, QED, iKon, and Saint Charles Shave

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SOTD 31 Oct 2015

I very much like a good rose fragrance in my shaving soap and aftershave. In my mind, a rose fragrance is somehow connected with the Cavaliers. Or perhaps the connection is somehow to the War of the Roses. Whatever the reason, the fragrance of rose resonates with manly for me.

This QED shave stick exudes the essence of the fragrance of roses fresh in the garden. It really is one of the best rose soaps I’ve encountered, and the Fine Accoutrements angel-hair synthetic make a fine lather.

This is the companion to the iKon head I used yesterday: the comb-guard version, which I had gold plated, along with the handle. I had no problems at all in getting a fine BBS result.

A splash of Saint Charles Shave Dark Rose, and the weekend begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2015 at 9:14 am

Posted in Shaving

Reading list free association

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I just came across “12 Great Books (And The Perfect Kind Of Mood To Read Them In),” by Koty Neelis. I was misled at first. My guess for each category after reading just the category title:

  1. When it’s late at night and you want to go on a dark, twisted journey. I immediately thought of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Pretty dark and twisted if you look closely. In a lighter vein, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. In movies, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, definitely.

  2. When you want to buy a one way ticket and never look back. My immediate thought was the Odyssey, but on reflection Gulliver’s Travel might be better in new of Gulliver’s longing to return to the land of the Houyhnhnms.

  3. When you hate everyone in your family. Oedipus Rex, but really that’s a man hating himself. I’m thinking theater, Eugene O’Neill.

  4. When it feels like no one understands you. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or perhaps Don Quixote (to which much reference is made in Tom Sawyer as well as Huckleberry Finn.

  5. When you’re not sure if you’re doing that great at this whole adult thing. Hamlet.

  6. When you’re waiting for that person to text you back but they haven’t texted back and now you’re re-examining everything. Waiting for Godot.

  7. When there’s a soft rain outside and you’re all introspective about life and love. Jane Austen, without a doubt. Anthony Trollope as well?

  8. When you’re thinking of saying “fuck it” and wandering off into the Alaskan wilderness like some type of modern day Thoreau. Well, Walden, obviously, but it’s been interesting to discover how little empathy it expresses and the strong racism.

  9. When it feels like no one else has ever felt alone as you feel right now. Achilles grieving for Patroclus? The protagonist of John Barth’s The Floating Opera.

  10. When your day job sucks and you want to figure out how to do something, anything else with your life. A big biography of Gaughin, lushly illustrated with excellent reproductions of his paintings. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.

  11. When you’re questioning absolutely everything right now. The first choice would be the complete Dialogues of Plato, but one has to admit that the Meditations of Descartes have a certain relevance.

  12. When all you want is your best friend. Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corners.

Your own free associations with the titles are welcome in comments.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2015 at 6:22 pm

Posted in Books

Outlook of traditional automakers hard to distinguish from one that’s hidebound

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Interesting post. There may be a tipping point approaching. Of course, for Google and Apple to take on the established auto industry would require that the “invaders” be comfortable with disrupting existing technologies and, ideally, have prior experience with doing so. If you get my drift.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2015 at 1:15 pm

Question for NRA: What if you have two good guys with guns, facing each other?

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It happens. Guns are really dangerous, and in many ways.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2015 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Guns

Perhaps it’s TMI, but: Why Animals That Died Scared Taste Bad

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Trigger warning: Vivid.

Motherboard reports:

If you’re ever locked in a cage in a gingerbread house, screaming in terror as you’re menaced by a wicked witch, take heart: she isn’t planning to eat you.

At least, not if she wants you to taste good. That’s because when animals (and presumably humans) have been frightened or stressed out before death, it actually affects the quality of their meat.

The scientific basis for the phenomenon is well-established, and it’s frequently been discussed as a reason to make slaughterhouse practices more humane. The key ingredient here is lactic acid: in an unstressed animal, after death, muscle glycogen is converted into lactic acid, which helps keep meat tender, pink, and flavorful. Adrenaline released by stress before slaughter uses up glycogen, which means there’s not enough lactic acid produced postmortem. This affects different kind of meat in different ways, but in general it’ll be tough, tasteless, and high in pH, and will go bad quicker than unstressed meat. (Lactic acid helps slow the growth of spoilage bacteria.)

In pigs, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2015 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Health, Science

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