Later On

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

Archive for March 7th, 2017

“It can’t happen here.”

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Just check out this post at Open Culture.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 8:12 pm

Jason Chaffetz is the very epitome of a person not to be: Sen. Warren speaks up

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One of her Facebook posts:

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz said that after the GOP guts the Affordable Care Act, people struggling to get coverage will be fine if they just give up “that new iPhone that they just love.”

Republicans have been repeating a version of this lie since Reagan – that families are living the good life with government hand-outs and wasteful spending. I know that trick pretty well. It once fooled me, too.

Decades ago, when I was a young law professor, I had what I thought was a clever idea. I’d go take a look at thousands of court documents to find out why families were actually declaring bankruptcy. I was sure that my study would expose tons of people taking advantage of the system – going on shopping sprees at the mall, wasting money on giant TVs and fancy dinners, and then crying to the courts to save them from their own bad financial choices. It’s a story Jason Chaffetz would’ve loved.

Only it wasn’t true.

Two other professors and I collected piles of data on the actual families that were filing for bankruptcy. What we found was shocking. These folks weren’t lazy cheats. They were hard-working people who sacrificed for their kids and hung on to their spot in the middle class by the very tips of their fingernails – right up until they just couldn’t make it any longer. For most of them, some combination of medical problems, job losses and family break ups turned their lives upside down.

Today, every middle class family in America knows how hard it is to hang on – even with both parents working, it’s hard to make ends meet in a world where wages are flat and with housing, education, and yes, health care costs going through the roof.

We need to do more, so much more, to address the financial squeeze that’s crushing our families. But the Republican plan to gut the Affordable Care Act moves in exactly the wrong direction. If it passes, millions of these families will see their health costs skyrocket. Millions will lose coverage entirely for themselves or their kids.

And only in Republicans’ land of make-believe will everything be okay if people just buy fewer iPhones.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 7:57 pm

George Lakoff: Trump’s Twitter Distraction

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Lakoff writes on his blog:

The net has been drawing closer around Trump’s Russian connections. His unwavering support for America’s major enemy has raised a question: Is Treason the Reason?

The Tax Return issue has become a treason issue. The tax returns could show if Trump is deeply in debt to Russians or if he is involved in illegal financial activity. He might clear suspicions by releasing the returns.

The longer he refuses to do so, the greater the suspicion gets. Jeff Sessions’ recusal made Trump furious because it meant that Sessions could no longer protect him from an independent Justice Department investigation, if there were to be one. If Sessions is forced to resign, the net gets that much tighter. Of course, in addition to releasing the tax returns, Trump should support a full and independent investigation to clear up all questions about his Russia contacts.

In the midst of this, Trump created a distraction: accusing Obama of wiretapping the Trump Tower, with no evidence. Faced with the biggest scandal in American history – presidential treason – Trump, with a tweet, accuses Obama of a scandal bigger than Watergate.

Trump’s tweets are strategic. I analyzed the tweets on NPR’s On the Media, and a diagram has been shared widely on social media and also appeared in the Washington Post.

Trump’s tweet is a doozy. It is an example of all four of Trump’s strategies.

Pre-emptive Framing: He frames first. He creates a new presidential scandal – Obama’s wiretapping — an accusation without evidence, and with all evidence against it.

Deflection: He puts the onus on his squeaky-clean predecessor.

Diversion: The press bit and the diversion worked. It generated headlines questioning whether Obama, rather than Trump, had committed wrongdoing.
The diversion worked, at least temporarily.

Trial Balloon: Will the public accept it, or listen to a discussion of it long enough to distract the press and the public from the treason issue?

The media is still focused on the false accusation, not on the investigation of Trump’s Russian connections and the treason issue.  (Of course, the growing nature of the scandal is making it harder and harder for Trump to pivot away from his Russia problem)

Pretty effective tweet.  But it gets more effective.

It put the press and those from the Obama administration in the position of denying the accusation — of repeating the accusation by questioning it and negating it — like saying Obama is not a crook. The more the press discusses it, the more Obama is associated with the idea of wiretapping Trump, thus strengthening Trump’s claim in the minds of the public by denying the claim, or asking for evidence of the claim. Meanwhile, Trump’s minions are associating Obama with Watergate by repeating “What did he know and when did he know it?” This question is what brought Nixon down. They can keep this up for a long time.

And worse: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 4:49 pm

A lost craft: Globe-making

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Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Video

Missouri state senator on prescription abuse: “If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool”

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Matthew Rozsa has a story in Salon of an excellent example of the GOP’s attitude (which is also captured in the GOP replacement for Obamacare):

Even as America reels from a wave of prescription drug abuse, largely involving opioids, that has reached epidemic levels, only one state continues to refuse to provide a prescription drug monitoring program (PMDP) — Missouri. And the reason could be traceable to the darkly Darwinian philosophy of a single Republican state senator.

“If they overdose and kill themselves, it just removes them from the gene pool,” said State Senator Rob Schaaf in 2012 after successfully filibustering an earlier version of a bill to establish a prescription drug database.

Schaaf’s threat to repeat his 2012 filibuster has thwarted attempts by other Missouri legislators to establish a monitoring program over the past six legislative sessions. Although Schaaf is a physician himself, he has opposed creating a PDMP by claiming that it would violate privacy rights. As recently as last year, Schaaf claimed that PDMPs “don’t work. And it’s an infringement upon people’s privacy. Most people don’t want the government to have that information and have it on a database in which many people can get it.”

Instead, Schaff has proposed an alternative bill that would require doctors to send the names of patients who request painkillers to the state health department, which would in turn notify medical professionals of a history indicating abuse. This is in contrast to the databases in other states that provide medical professionals with direct access to each patient’s narcotic history, which may explain why the Missouri State Medical Association opposes Schaaf’s proposal. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 3:36 pm

In a Rust Belt Town Where Tuition Is Covered, Economy Begins to Revive

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Gabriel Ware reports in Yes! magazine:

Autre Murray, 24, never planned to go to college. He thought he couldn’t afford it—even with student loans. Besides, he wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of ending up in “debt up to the neck.” Instead, Murray planned to earn a high school diploma and find a job doing manual labor, maybe somewhere like a factory. He told himself he didn’t need a college education to become successful.

But now he’s on his way to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, as are other members of his Kalamazoo, Michigan, hometown. That’s thanks to the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program first announced at a board meeting of Kalamazoo Public Schools in November 2005. The nonprofit of the same name provides scholarships that cover 65 to 100 percent of college tuition and fees for all graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools who meet certain criteria. Students have 10 years from the day they graduate high school to use the scholarship.

“I might as well go now,” Murray says he told himself, when he heard about the Promise. “I’ll be stupid not to.”

Murray, the eldest of four children raised by a single mother, remembers his family relying on government assistance and bouncing from house to house in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Murray’s newfound hope was shared by many in this economically troubled city, which lost about 4 percent of its population between 1990 and 2000. The Promise was intended to reverse that trend by creating incentives for residents to remain in Kalamazoo and for new families to move in.

“The donors believe that a community’s vitality—politically, socially, and economically—is closely related to the educational level of the community,” says Bob Jorth, executive director of the Kalamazoo Promise. “In the knowledge-based economy that we’re in, almost all good jobs require some kind of training and education beyond high school.”

By many measures, the program has succeeded. The population began to rebound almost immediately, while dropout rates declined, particularly among African American women. Over its first 10 years, the Promise invested more than $75 million in 4,000 students, and at least 90 other communities across the U.S. have created Promise scholarships based in some way on Kalamazoo’s program. Barack Obama even considered it a model for a federally funded free community college program.

Realtors even began posting yard signs featuring the Kalamazoo Public Schools logo and the phrase “College Tuition Qualified” in front of homes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 3:25 pm

Great way to finesse the gender/bathroom problem: Unisex bathrooms

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And Yelp is tracking them. Totally solves the problem and gives everyone what s/he wants.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Daily life

Trump in the China Shop

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Gideon Rachman writes in the NY Review of Books:

The arrival of Donald Trump in the White House threatens a significant acceleration in the rivalry between the US and China. The deliberate but careful attempts of the Obama administration to push back against Chinese ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region are likely to be replaced by a new Trump approach that is much more openly confrontational, and more impulsive in style. Even before taking office, the new US president demonstrated his willingness to antagonize Beijing—by speaking directly to the president of Taiwan, something that all US presidents have refused to do since the normalization of relations between the United States and China in the 1970s.

If a direct military conflict between China and the United States does break out during the Trump years, the likeliest arena for a clash is the South China Sea. In his confirmation hearings before the US Senate, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s new secretary of state, signaled a significant hardening in the American attitude to the artificial islands that China has been building in the South China Sea. Tillerson likened the island building to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and said that the Trump administration intended to let Beijing know that “your access to those islands is not going to be allowed.”

Taken at face value, that sounded like a threat to blockade the islands, on which China has been constructing military installations. China would almost certainly attempt to break such a blockade by sea or air. The stage would be set for a modern version of the Cuba missile crisis. The Chinese government’s official reaction to the Tillerson statement was restrained. But China’s state-controlled media was ferocious. The Global Times, a nationalist paper, warned of the possibility of a “large-scale war” between the United States and China, while the China Daily spoke of a “devastating confrontation between China and the U.S.” Independent observers had come to similar conclusions. Speaking to me in Davos a couple of days after Tillerson’s statement, Vivian Balakrishnan, the foreign minister of Singapore, warned that any effort at a US blockade in the South China Sea would lead to a war between the United States and China. The Singaporeans, who maintain close ties to both Washington and Beijing and whose natural style is cautious and technocratic, are not given to hysteria.

In an effort to calm the rising anxieties in Asia, expressed by the likes of Balakrishnan, James Mattis, Trump’s new defense secretary, used his first trip to the region in early February to reassure allies that the US is not planning any “dramatic military moves” in the South China Sea. But there are other influential voices in the new administration who clearly believe that a war with China is both inevitable and necessary. Stephen K. Bannon, chief strategist in the Trump White House, told a radio show in early 2016, “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to ten years. There is no doubt about that.”

A decision by President Trump to confront China over its territorial claims would represent a new development in the president’s thinking, for Trump’s most longstanding and profound concerns about Asia are economic. Conventional economic theory has long held that the growing wealth of Asian nations is a good thing for the United States, since it creates larger markets for American companies and cheaper goods for American consumers. But Trump and his advisers emphatically reject this idea. They blame the stagnation of the living standards of American workers on “globalism”—otherwise known as international trade and investment. Bannon argues that “the globalists gutted the American working-class and created a middle-class in Asia.” In his view, the increasing wealth of Asia, far from being a mutually advantageous process, has impoverished the United States.

During the election campaign, Trump was visceral in his denunciations of China, proclaiming that, “We have a $500 billion deficit with China…We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country…It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world.” Those who hoped that Trump would abandon protectionism after winning office were quickly disappointed. On the contrary, the new president placed protectionists in top positions in his administration. Peter Navarro, author of a book and film called Death By China, was appointed to head a new National Trade Council, based in the White House. Navarro’s intellectual ally and sometime coauthor, Wilbur Ross, was made Commerce Secretary. Robert Lighthizer, another noted protectionist, was given the job of chief trade negotiator.

Navarro’s film begins by urging viewers, “Don’t buy Made in China.” It points out the considerable loss in US manufacturing jobs since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and blames this on a range of “unfair” Chinese trading practices, including lax environmental standards, currency manipulation, intellectual property theft, and illegal export subsidies. Some of the ills that Navarro highlights, such as commercial espionage, are real enough. Other complaints, such as the charge of currency manipulation, are outdated.

The broader difficulty with the Trump–Navarro analysis is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 1:19 pm

Why Did Life Move to Land? For the View

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Interesting how a particular development is compelling enough to drive evolution—that is, once it by chance arises, the advantages are so great that it defines an evolutionary direction. In that sense, the move onto land was inevitable, driven by the logic of the evolutionary engine. So perhaps also the creation of the meme: being able to imitate another may have arisen naturally in group living—it’s one of the things you can do in a group that you can’t do by yourself—and imitation allows learning and teaching, and that starts meme evolution. Certainly learning and teaching is a survival advantage for a social animal since it in effect pools intelligence to learn more and more quickly than could one alone.

So memes emerge as a useful capability, with their own evolutionary process moving very quickly.

I would imagine more things are determined by inexorable physical law than we realize. We know that matter is common in the universe, and there seems to be evidence that lifeforms inevitably arise (in time, perhaps in long time) when conditions are favorable. Now it seems those lifeforms will move to land because of the difference in efficiency of light transmission, which is physical law. It’s perhaps a lot more deterministic than we realize, and so thus our own processes: a cascade of falling dominoes can present a great display with no free will. Maybe we are the same thing, only fancier and with the illusion of free will to boot (which also inevitably arises, I would imagine).

Jennifer Ouellette reports in Quanta:

Life on Earth began in the water. So when the first animals moved onto land, they had to trade their fins for limbs, and their gills for lungs, the better to adapt to their new terrestrial environment.

A new study, out today, suggests that the shift to lungs and limbs doesn’t tell the full story of these creatures’ transformation. As they emerged from the sea, they gained something perhaps more precious than oxygenated air: information. In air, eyes can see much farther than they can under water. The increased visual range provided an “informational zip line” that alerted the ancient animals to bountiful food sources near the shore, according to Malcolm MacIver, a neuroscientist and engineer at Northwestern University.

This zip line, MacIver maintains, drove the selection of rudimentary limbs, which allowed animals to make their first brief forays onto land. Furthermore, it may have had significant implications for the emergence of more advanced cognition and complex planning. “It’s hard to look past limbs and think that maybe information, which doesn’t fossilize well, is really what brought us onto land,” MacIver said.

MacIver and Lars Schmitz, a paleontologist at the Claremont Colleges, have created mathematical models that explore how the increase in information available to air-dwelling creatures would have manifested itself, over the eons, in an increase in eye size. They describe the experimental evidence they have amassed to support what they call the “buena vista” hypothesis in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

MacIver’s work is already earning praise from experts in the field for its innovative and thorough approach. While paleontologists have long speculated about eye size in fossils and what that can tell us about an animal’s vision, “this takes it a step further,” said John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College in the U.K. “It isn’t just telling stories based on qualitative observations; it’s testing assumptions and tracking big changes quantitatively over macro-evolutionary time.”

Underwater Hunters

MacIver first came up with his hypothesis in 2007 while studying the black ghost knifefish of South America — an electric fish that hunts at night by generating electrical currents in the water to sense its environment. MacIver compares the effect to a kind of radar system. Being something of a polymath, with interests and experience in robotics and mathematics in addition to biology, neuroscience and paleontology, MacIver built a robotic version of the knifefish, complete with an electrosensory system, to study its exotic sensing abilities and its unusually agile movement.

When MacIver compared the volume of space in which the knifefish can potentially detect water fleas, one of its favorite prey, with that of a fish that relies on vision to hunt the same prey, he found they were roughly the same. This was surprising. Because the knifefish must generate electricity to perceive the world — something that requires a lot of energy — he expected it would have a smaller sensory volume for prey compared to that of a vision-centric fish. At first he thought he had made a simple calculation error. But he soon discovered that the critical factor accounting for the unexpectedly small visual sensory space was the amount that water absorbs and scatters light. In fresh shallow water, for example, the “attenuation length” that light can travel before it is scattered or absorbed ranges from 10 centimeters to two meters. In air, light can travel between 25 to 100 kilometers, depending on how much moisture is in the air.

Because of this, aquatic creatures rarely gain much evolutionary benefit from an increase in eye size, and they have much to lose. Eyes are costly in evolutionary terms because they require so much energy to maintain; photoreceptor cells and neurons in the visual areas of the brain need a lot of oxygen to function. Therefore, any increase in eye size had better yield significant benefits to justify that extra energy. MacIver likens increasing eye size in the water to switching on high beams in the fog in an attempt to see farther ahead.

But once you take eyes out of the water and into air, a larger eye size leads to a proportionate increase in how far you can see.

MacIver concluded that eye size would have increased significantly during the water-to-land transition. When he mentioned his insight to the evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin — a member of the team that discovered Tiktaalik roseae, an important transitional fossil from 375 million years ago that had lungs and gills — MacIver was encouraged to learn that paleontologists had noticed an increase in eye size in the fossil record. They just hadn’t ascribed much significance to the change. MacIver decided to investigate for himself.

Crocodile Eyes

MacIver had an intriguing hypothesis, but he needed evidence. He teamed up with Schmitz, who had expertise in interpreting the eye sockets of four-legged “tetrapod” fossils (of which Tiktaalik was one), and the two scientists pondered how best to test MacIver’s idea.

MacIver and Schmitz first made a careful review of the fossil record to track changes in the size of eye sockets, which would indicate corresponding changes in eyes, since they are proportional to socket size. The pair collected 59 early tetrapod skulls spanning the water-to-land transition period that were sufficiently intact to allow them to measure both the eye orbit and the length of the skull. Then they fed those data into a computer model to simulate how eye socket size changed over many generations, so as to gain a sense of the evolutionary genetic drift of that trait.

They found that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Jason Chaffetz wants to compare health care to iPhones

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And thus we see that Jason Chaffetz is not very bright, something we’ve suspected for a while. Christopher Ingraham points out in the Washington Post:

Speaking this morning on CNN in defense of House Republicans’ Obamacare replacement plan, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz said that rather than “getting that new iPhone that they just love,” low-income Americans should take they money they would have spent on it and “invest it in their own health care.”

Host Alisyn Camerota started the exchange by pointing out that “access for lower-income Americans doesn’t equal coverage.” Chaffetz responded:

Well we’re getting rid of the individual mandate. We’re getting rid of those things that people said they don’t want. And you know what? Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. And so, maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest it in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions for themselves.”

Chaffetz’s remarks comport with messaging from Republican leadership that frames their health-care proposal as a victory for consumer choice. “We dismantle Obamacare’s damaging taxes and mandates so states can deliver quality, affordable options based on what their patient populations need, and workers and families can have the freedom and flexibility to make their own health care choices,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said in a statement.

But framing the consumer “choice” as one between an iPhone and health coverage ignores the massive gap between the price of an iPhone and what Americans spend on health care.

Let’s start with the most generous comparison, and posit that someone wants to buy the most expensive iPhone — a brand new 7 without a contract and with the luxurious “Plus” version’s 5.5″ screen — which has a sticker price of $769. With tax, that comes to around $800.

Conversely, a year of individual insurance coverage on the open market will run you about $393 per month, or $4,617 per year, per eHealth. For the purpose of this comparison we’ll assume you’re a healthy individual who doesn’t have to worry about deductibles (which run over $4,000 for these plans), and that that $4,617 is all you have to pay.

Even in this expensive-iPhone no-deductible scenario, the typical annual cost of an individual market plan costs is about six times as costly as Chaffetz’s “new iPhone.”

But the expensive-iPhone zero-deductible scenario isn’t wholly realistic. Only 2 percent of us buy a new smartphone every year, per Gallup. Another 44 percent get a new phone every two years when their cellular contracts run out, and 54 percent of us are cheapos who only get a new phone when our old one breaks or becomes obsolete. So for a better point of comparison, let’s call it one iPhone to two years of insurance.

That means that across the typical life span of an iPhone, we’re spending 12 times as much on health insurance as we are on the phone.

But this, too, is an overly rosy scenario for many of us. Those individual market plans don’t just involve monthly premium payments, they also have high deductibles, too — $4,328 in a year, per eHealth. That represents out-of-pocket spending you need to cover before your plan even starts kicking in.

So let’s say we get sick. We break a leg. We have to get lab work done. Our health isn’t great, so we need a lot of medical care and max out on our deductible each year. Under the standard individual plan referenced above, that works out to about $18,000 in premiums and out-of-pocket expenses over two years. Or, for that span, the price of 23 iPhones.

Chaffetz’s iPhone argument comes as the GOP is pitching a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that would offer tax credits for individuals under certain income thresholds. In the scenario above, if you are under 30 years old and make less than $75,000 a year, you’d be eligible for $2,000 in tax credits to help offset your expenses. That would take $4,000 out of your $18,000 two-year bill, leaving you on the hook for $14,000, knocking the price down to 18 iPhones.

This all involves a lot of speculation because we don’t really know yet how the GOP plan would reshape the out-of-pocket expenses landscape. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 10:51 am

Rooney Style 2 Finest, Antica Barbieria Colla, and RazoRock Old Type

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A commenter highly recommended Antica Barbiera Colla shaving soap and pointed out that the easiest way was to order it directly from the company (in Italy). It arrived—a paper-wrapped puck and a bottle of their Green Tobacco aftershave milk—and so I thought to give them a try.

I didn’t have a tub on hand, so I cut the puck to fit the Edwin Jagger apothecary mug, pressing the trimmings on top. They press together fairly well, and the water from loading the brush welds them together.

The soap is another example of a very good soap with quite simple ingredients (as are Martin de Candre, Tcheon Fung Sing, Nuávia, et al.).

Stearic acid, water, coconut oil, potassium hydroxide, sweet almond oil, fragrance, sodium hydroxide, potassium carbonate

The sweet almond oil seems to be their claim to fame. The fragrance is pleasant and unobtrusive, and the lather is good—indeed, when I rinsed following a pass, it seemed exceptionally slick.

With the wonderful RazoRock Old Type, a fantastic bargain at $15, I easily achieved a trouble-free BBS result.

A tiny bit of ABC’s aftershave milk with green tobacco fragrance, and the day is now underway.

Written by Leisureguy

7 March 2017 at 9:19 am

Posted in Shaving

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