Later On

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

Archive for December 1st, 2016

A former White House ethics lawyer casts an eye on Trump’s various issues

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This is really a strong column, written by Richard W. Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and from 2005 to 2007 the chief White House ethics lawyer.

President-elect Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he would separate himself from his businesses before he enters the White House. More details about the arrangement will be announced in mid-December, but it sounds as if he plans to step away from only the management of his business, which presumably will be turned over to his children, while retaining ownership.

This is not enough. There has been much discussion of Mr. Trump’s business dealings’ putting him in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits government officials from accepting gifts and payments from foreign governments or corporations controlled by foreign governments. But there are other conflict-of-interest issues that have gotten less attention and could cause Mr. Trump — and America — much trouble as well. To prevent this, he must sell or give away his ownership interest in his global business empire as soon as possible.

One of Mr. Trump’s most lucrative initiatives has been the licensing of the Trump brand — and name. There are Trump-branded properties like towers and hotels in some 20 countries. .

This first presents an ethical problem: No president should allow his name to be put on commercial properties in return for payment. The presidency is not a branding opportunity. President Trump can’t do this unless he wants to create the impression that he is being paid off.

But it also presents a global security risk. A building branded with the name of an American president — any president, but perhaps especially Mr. Trump — would be a tempting target for terrorists and other enemies of the United States. Who is going to protect the buildings? Will the Trump organization hire a security firm to do the job, or will the American taxpayer be on the line for the bill? Will foreign governments offer to pay to secure the properties — a subsidy of the Trump organization that would probably violate the Emoluments Clause? If a terrorist attack, a botched security operation or some other tragedy happens on a Trump property, the United States could easily get drawn into a conflict abroad. And our adversaries know this. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of Mr. Trump’s conflict-of-interest problem.

Then there is the litigation risk. In Clinton v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled that the president can be sued in his personal capacity and required to testify in depositions and at trial. Sexual misconduct is a litigation magnet; extensive business operations are another. If Mr. Trump owns his businesses while he is president, it will be a lot easier for plaintiffs’ lawyers to sue him on behalf of customers, counterparties, investors and others, and to require his testimony under oath.

The Trump University case settled for $25 million shortly after the election, and lawyers will be looking for other quick and profitable settlements from a president who does not want to be embarrassed by litigation. As plaintiffs’ lawyers pile on, they will be egged on, and perhaps subsidized by, the president’s political opponents, as happened in the Paula Jones case against Bill Clinton. How can Mr. Trump focus on defending the country if he has to waste time defending himself in court?

The fundamental problem, of course, is one the founders envisioned: They did not want our government officials being paid off by foreign sovereigns. This is why the Constitution has the Emoluments Clause. We also have . . .

Continue reading. It just gets worse.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 8:10 pm

Video critical essay on Stanley Kubrick (with examples from his work)

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If you like movies, watch this:

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Art, Movies & TV

Cognitive closure and US politics

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That’s from a very interesting Open Culture post by Dan Colman, which begins:

There’s a political disconnect in the United States. We have two political parties, each now living in its own reality and working with its own set of facts. The common ground between them? Next to none.

How to explain this disconnect? Maybe the answer lies in the theory of “cognitive closure”–a theory first worked out by social psychologist Arie Kruglanski back in 1989.

“People’s politics are driven by their psychological needs,” Kruglanski explains in the short documentary above. “People who are anxious because of the uncertainty that surrounds them are going to be attracted to messages that offer certainty.”

He sips a soda, then continues, . . .

But watch the documentary. It’s just 7 minutes.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 6:12 pm

An innovation for smoke alarms

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The smoke alarm in our apartment hallway will erupt with noise when I attempt high-temperature roasting: bacon, steak, roast, whatever. It’s a great pain.

It can be prevented, of course, by removing the battery, but then one should replace the battery, which can take a while because it’s a bother.

In hotel bathrooms with a heat lamp, the switch is a timer: you can turn on the heat lamp, but after a certain amount of time (usually the maximum is 30 minutes), the timer reaches zero and the lamp is turned off.

So here’s what I want: an off-switch with timer for the smoke alarm. If I’m going to cook something that will trigger the alarm, I can turn the alarm off, but when the timer runs out, the alarm goes back on. An hour should be ample.

Of course, this may already exist, but I doubt it.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Technology

The true story of America’s sky-high prescription drug prices

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Sarah Kliff has an excellent article in Vox that explains exactly when the US prescription drug prices are out of control and why prescription drug prices in other countries are much more reasonable. (It’s due to different government approaches and roles.) The article is copiously illustrated with stick figures, and it begins:

Let’s say you’re at the doctor. And the doctor hands you a prescription.

The prescription is for Humira, an injectable medication used to treat a lot of common conditions like arthritis and psoriasis. Humira is an especially popular medication right now. In 2015, patients all around the world spent $14 billion on Humira prescriptions — that’s roughly the size of Jamaica’s entire economy.

Let’s say your doctor appointment is happening in the United Kingdom. There, your Humira prescription will cost, on average, $1,362. If you’re seeing a doctor in Switzerland, the drug runs around $822.

But if you’re seeing a doctor in the United States, your Humira prescription will, on average, run you $2,669.

How does this happen? Why does Humira cost so much more here than it does in other countries?

Humira is the exact same drug whether it’s sold in the United States, in Switzerland, or anywhere else. What’s different about Humira in the United States is the regulatory system we’ve set up around our pharmaceutical industry.

The United States is exceptional in that it does not regulate or negotiate the prices of new prescription drugs when they come onto market. Other countries will task a government agency to meet with pharmaceutical companies and haggle over an appropriate price. These agencies will typically make decisions about whether these new drugs represent any improvement over the old drugs — whether they’re even worth bringing onto the market in the first place. They’ll pore over reams of evidence about drugs’ risks and benefits. . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing.

The US system is badly out of whack. To see how badly, take a look at this BBC article by Greg Dunlop, which begins:

US executive Martin Shkreli became a symbol of greed when he raised the price of a tablet of Daraprim from $13.50 (£11) to $750.

Now, Sydney school students have recreated the drug’s key ingredient for just $20.

Read the whole thing. It’s short.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 3:16 pm

The story of vermouth and its US renascence

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Craftsmanship magazine has a whole new collection of really interesting and excellent articles. I’m not going to blog them all, but do take a look.

Laura Fraser, for example, has a new article on the excellence of good vermouth (and why once you’ve opened the bottle you should refrigerate it). Her article begins:

It all started when I was in the mood for a Negroni—a classic Italian cocktail that is herbaceous, bitter but balanced, and made from a combination of equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, with a twist of orange. But I was out of Campari, and wanted something less lethal than a martini, which left only the vermouth.

But who drinks vermouth by itself? It’s the dusty bottle at the back of the liquor cabinet, brought out only for the occasional Manhattan or martini–and viewed, in the latter case, with a good deal of suspicion. Winston Churchill’s instruction for a martini was, allegedly, to “drink a tumbler of gin and bow in the direction of France.” Alfred Hitchcock’s martini recipe called for “five parts gin and a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth.” The mania for the dry martini, beginning in the 1950s, made vermouth unfashionable. Only Julia Child championed the much-maligned, herb-infused wine, inventing the “reverse martini,” where the vermouth took center stage, with only a splash of gin.

Well. In matters of taste—and with nothing else open in the liquor cabinet–are you going to listen to gin-guzzling gourmands or a French-inspired gourmet? I poured some vermouth on the rocks, added a twist, and drank it more or less straight—the way, it turns out, Europeans have been drinking it for centuries. It was surprising: light and refreshing, while satisfying that Negroni-like urge for something complex with a bitterness that bites back. I did glance at the bottle, as Hitchcock suggested, and considered that if I’d opened a fresh one sometime within the past seven years, it might have tasted even better. Vermouth is mainly wine—and wine, once opened, even if infused with herbs and fortified with brandy—doesn’t keep forever.

Intrigued, I began tasting other vermouths, starting in Italy, and spreading out to new artisanal varieties being made in the United States. It turns out that while I was rediscovering vermouth, so were the craft cocktail crowd and small-batch vintners, who have made this old-fashioned drink hip again. “Fifteen years ago, no one in the U.S. knew what a Negroni was, and even in Italy, vermouth was out of fashion,” says wine expert Claudio Villani of InoVino in San Francisco, who is from Florence. “Then the bar became central in restaurants, and you needed a mixologist, seasonal ingredients, and hand-crafted cocktail mixers, including vermouth.” In Barcelona, people have been going mad for vermouth bars, drinking the aperitif during “La hora de vermut,” which usually lasts three hours, not one; Spaniards tend to like their vermouth poured from the tap over ice with an olive and an orange twist, accompanied with a selection of anchovies, olives, mussels, and other savory snacks.

These days, if you take a seat at a bar with a serious mixology program in Brooklyn or San Francisco and ask for a vermouth, they don’t look at you like you just asked for a glass of your grandmother’s sweet sherry. They’ll ask which of the many new artisan brands you’d prefer. There’s even a bar in my neighborhood in San Francisco, the Alembic, that serves Brown Label vermouth on tap, made on the other side of town by a man named Carl Sutton. This made me curious to compare his vermouth—and how upstarts like him make it—with the Italian giants who’ve been concocting secret vermouth recipes since the mid-18th century. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 3:03 pm

Posted in Drinks

The hydraulic genius of Shari’ah law

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Fascinating article (and photos) by Roberto Lovato in Craftsmanship magazine:

Near the southernmost deserts of Colorado, in the immense silence and blue shadow of the Sangre de Cristo (blood of Christ) mountains, José Avila’s raspy, soft voice seems to blend seamlessly with the swish of water flowing in the irrigation ditch cutting through the alfalfa farm at our feet. A 30-degree chill begins what will later become a 70-degree October day in the San Luis valley. The farm’s quiet feels eons away from Denver, Colorado Springs, and other upstream cities that are trapped in yearly cycles of drought, fires, and other water calamities. Such is the fate of the arid land between the Rio Grande and Interstate 25, as opposed to the communities where the Culebra River flows.

With the ditch burbling next to him, José explains the ancient practice of dividing the flow of water with acequias, the gravity-based ditch and communal water management systems that have irrigated farms in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico since the arrival of the conquistadores. To be historically precise, the conquistadores–and the indian warriors and craftsmen accompanying them from Mexico–brought this technology with them on their transatlantic journey from the semi-arid regions of 16th-century southern Spain to the New World. The Spaniards, in turn, learned it from their Arab and Berber conquerors, whose civilization dominated large of swaths of Spain’s Iberian peninsula for more than seven centuries.

José and I are standing in a parched piece of the farm around what’s known as the People’s Ditch, marked by a bronze plaque that commemorates this acequia’s founding in 1852. “Some of the original signers,” José informs me, “have the same last name as the parciantes (affiliated water users) today.” The football field-sized strip of acequia serves 16 parciantes and irrigates more than 2100 acres of hay, chicos (dry corn) alfalfa, and other heirloom crops. And this is just one slice of a four-mile network of earthen and concrete acequias. This watery nervous system connects the People’s Ditch to 14 other acequias uniting more than 350 families, and irrigating in excess of 23,000 acres across the valley.

When I ask José how acequias work, he says “How do you explain how salt tastes?” His Spanglish accent contains hints of the Purépecha indian heritage that he brought with him from Michoacán, Mexico. “People write books and tell stories about cambiando agua (literally “changing water”), but I’ve read some of those books and sometimes it’s not stated well. You really have to do it.” José describes acequia as a method of irrigation in which water managers work with what they see as nature’s intent. As romantic as this sounds, it is supported by the findings of Sylvia Rodriguez, a scholar at the School for Advanced Research, a Santa Fe think tank. Acequia irrigation, she says, is “kinesthetic, visual, technical, and interactive, but not especially verbal.”

I check my boots and tuck in my pants in preparation for my first-ever attempt change the water in the 40 years since I discovered acequias as a curly-haired, working-class, city-boy tourist in southern Spain. Moving slowly, José leads me along the banks of the ditch next to a parcel used to grow alfalfa. Acequias, he explains, “begin with finding springs and venas (veins) of water.” Once they identify a source, locals try to envision the water’s course from higher to lower elevations, according to the natural pull of gravity. Central to the process,he adds, is the excavation of the acequia madre (literally “mother acequia”). This is the largest and widest of the family, and it is cut perpendicular to the stream so as to move the water laterally, toward the fields the farmers want irrigated.

José says the parciantes’ job is to make sure the water curves and cradles itself within the natural embrace and gravity of the land. To do this, acequia managers actually re-form the surrounding landscape. Once the higher elevations have been irrigated, any water that remains returns to the original stream, through what’s known as a desague (unwatering) channel located at the acequia’s bottom portion. A line of trees, plants and other vegetation growing alongside the acequias signal another of their distinguishing features: the ecological benefits of the earthen materials used to build them. . .

Continue reading.

And do read the whole thing. The photos help.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2016 at 2:19 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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