Later On

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

Archive for August 8th, 2017

Another Fats Waller great: Ain’t Misbehavin’, 1943, from the movie “Stormy Weather”

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And a great site, BTW. Look around and note the downloads.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2017 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Jazz

Why did Homo sapiens prevail over other species of the genus Homo?

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I’m reading again the early part of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind language was invented once, by Yuval Noah Harari, in which he talks about how several species of humans were living on the planet at the same time, including Homo erectus, who lasted 2 million years. How did Sapiens displace the other humans? I’m wondering if the invention of language was unique to Sapiens. There is an argument that language was invented only once, in Africa, and spread out from there.  And if it were Homo sapiens that invented language, that would provide a crushing (as it turns out) advantage over the other humans. Sapiens had the advantage of a medium in which memes could more readily propagate.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2017 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Memes, Science

In Memoriam: Glen Campbell (April 22, 1936 – August 8, 2017)

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2017 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Music

Secrecy and Suspicion Surround Trump’s Deregulation Teams

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Danielle Ivory and Robert Faturechi report in the NY Times:

When President Trump ordered federal agencies to form teams to dismantle government regulations, the Transportation Department turned to people with deep industry ties.

One appointee had previously lobbied the department on behalf of American Airlines. Another held executive roles for several electric and hybrid car companies regulated by the department. A third was a lawyer who represented United Airlines in regulatory matters.

The three appointees have been identified by The New York Times and ProPublica in a continuing effort to track members of the deregulation teams. The appointments, previously unreported, follow a pattern identified by the two news organizations: By and large, the Trump administration has stacked the teams with political appointees, some of whom may be reviewing rules their former employers sought to weaken or kill.

A full vetting of industry connections has been difficult because some agencies have declined to provide information about the appointees — not even their names.

The lack of transparency has concerned several top Democratic members of Congress who serve on committees that oversee regulatory matters. In a letter to the White House on Monday, they called on the administration to release the names of all regulatory team members as well as documents relating to their potential conflicts of interest.

“It is unacceptable for federal agencies to operate in such a clandestine and unaccountable manner especially when the result could be the undoing of critical public health and safety protections,” Representatives Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia and David Cicilline of Rhode Island wrote in the letter.

The congressmen cited a recent investigation by The Times and ProPublica revealing that members of the deregulation teams have included lawyers who represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups and employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules.

Since the publication of that investigation last month, the news organizations have identified more than a dozen other appointees through interviews, public records and reader tips — including the three appointees to the deregulation team at the Transportation Department.

In all, there are now 85 known current and former team members, including 34 with potential conflicts. At least two of the appointees may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone and at least four were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2017 at 10:56 am


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James Fallows has a very interesting post this morning. Do click and read. From the link:

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2017 at 10:43 am

Deputy AG announces new Forensic Science Working Group but still doesn’t grasp the extent of problem

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The criminal-justice system seems unable to reform itself.

Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

In a speech at the International Association for Identification on Monday, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced the creation of a Forensic Science Working Group within the Justice Department. Recall that one of the first moves by Attorney General Jeff Sessions was to end the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS), which brought in independent scientists to evaluate the credibility of forensics fields used in U.S. courtrooms.

The new group will be housed within the Justice Department, which will inevitably make it less independent and less transparent than the NCFS. It will be led by Ted Hunt, a longtime prosecutor. Though Hunt worked with the NCFS, putting a prosecutor in charge of forensic reform doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the new working group’s impartiality.

For that matter, neither does Rosenstein’s speech. It’s been striking to see prosecutors and law enforcement groups react to the critiques of forensics that have come from the scientific community. Those critiques didn’t come out of nowhere. They came from commissions and panels formed after DNA testing, crime lab scandals and exonerations showed us that for decades prosecutors have been presenting juries with “scientific” evidence that is anything but. The FBI’s hair fiber analysis scandal alone tainted thousands of cases. And yet the reactions from prosecutors to these critiques — that experts are overstating their findings, wrongly implicating suspects, or practicing fields utterly lacking in any scientific principles at all — have been utterly devoid of any humility.

Rosenstein’s speech Monday is less strident than others I’ve seen, but it’s still preachy and didactic.

Those disciplines have been around for a long time. When subjected to informed cross examination, expert testimony can be tremendously probative and helpful to the jury.

Nevertheless, some critics have sought to limit the forensic evidence and testimony that can be presented in court. These critics suggest that unless a forensic discipline has a “known error rate,” evidence derived from that discipline should not be admitted in court. Under that standard, trusted and reliable forensic evidence would be excluded simply because the discipline is not susceptible to an easy-to-calculate error rate.

The folly of that approach is clear when critics question fingerprint analysis. They admit that it usually works. Their objection is that it requires judgment.

This isn’t quite true. Few are suggesting fingerprint evidence be barred from the courtroom. The criticism is that experts have been overstating the certainty of fingerprint evidence, particularly when it comes to partial prints. Fingerprinting has long been touted as the “gold standard” in forensics. It’s been touted as foolproof and definitive. The criticism here is that if we don’t actually know how unique a fingerprint is in a given population, we can’t tell jurors that they’re unique. If prosecutors want to present fingerprint evidence, jurors should be made aware of this. And if experts want to testify about “matches” and levels of “certainty,” let’s give them regular competency tests arranged by outside entities.

More from Rosenstein:

Evidence is relevant if it tends to make a material fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. It is not necessary for the evidence to be indisputable.

For example, a shoeprint with irregular edges and unique wear on the outsole found at the scene of a burglary is likely relevant and admissible. Both the prosecution and the defense can use the evidence to help the jury decide whether to believe a defendant was at the scene of the crime.

Physical evidence may be more helpful to a jury if an expert can explain the evidence and place it in context. The jury may benefit from expert testimony in interpreting how probative the shoe print is. Is it the same size as the defendant’s foot? Does it match a shoe found in the defendant’s closet? Answers to those questions may determine whether the physical evidence is incriminating or exculpatory. If the testimony were excluded, the search for truth would be impeded. The jury would have no assistance in determining what to conclude about the discovery of the shoeprint.

There’s nothing wrong with an expert stating that a shoe print is similar in size to the foot of a suspect or that it appears to be of a similar brand of shoe. But how similar? What if an expert tries to claim not that the suspect’s shoe is of a similar size and brand to those found in dirt near the crime scene but that he can tell by the wear in the tread on the suspect’s shoes that only that particular pair of shoes could have left the marks at the crime scene?

The problem is that there are no standards for making these assessments, nor for the language analysts use to convey those assessments to juries. And here we get back to error rates. With DNA, with blood typing and with other science-based fields of forensics, we can give juries probabilities. In the fields of forensics known as “pattern matching,” there are no such calculations to be made, because those fields are little more than experts relying on their expertise to “eyeball” the evidence. And when you’re eyeballing it, it becomes pretty easy to start to seeing matches that aren’t matches at all.

More from Rosenstein:

When the judicial system functions as intended, justice is advanced. Our adversarial system is based on the principle that the truth is most likely to emerge when opposing parties have the opportunity to cross-examine each other’s witnesses, and each party is able to call its own witnesses and introduce conflicting evidence.

Our criminal justice system provides important procedural protections for defendants. For example, a federal defendant is entitled to a written summary of the testimony of the government’s forensic expert. That allows the defendant to know in advance what the government’s expert plans to say, and to rebut it with his own expert testimony. The defendant also has the right to examine and challenge the results of any scientific test.

The search for truth benefits from those protections. But most of all, the quest for truth benefits from prepared legal practitioners and trained forensic examiners.

This cuts to the heart of our adversarial justice system. It also cuts to the heart of what’s wrong with it. The very fact that two experts claiming to employ a form of scientific analysis can testify in direct opposition to one another about, say, a bite mark or blood spatter or a hair fiber, is a pretty good indication that the field isn’t all that scientific. You’ll rarely, if ever, see two DNA experts at odds over how many markers match between two samples.

There are a few reasons why we can’t simply rely on cross-examination and our adversarial system to weed out bad expert testimony. The first is that when two experts contradict one another, the jury will be won over by the expert who is most effective at persuading juries. And that isn’t always the expert who is using the best science. In fact, as prosecutors themselves often admit, juries love certainty. They love experts who will tell them what to think. Scientists tend to avoid speaking with certainty. They speak in probabilities. All of which means the adversarial system may be biased against more scientific evidence.

The second is that we have relied on the current system for most of our history. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2017 at 10:29 am

Crafting a Charter for the “Precariat”: How to Build an Economy That Works for Everyone

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First, take a look at the charts in David Leonhardt’s NY Times column today.

A blog reader sent me a link to this interesting article by Leslee Goodman at Truthout:

Development economist Guy Standing, of the University of London, has popularized the term “precariat” to describe a global social class whose most salient characteristic is precariousness. Standing blames neoliberal economic policies, globalization, automation, and outsourcing for the rising number of precariats, who, if not completely locked out of the economy, must increasingly compete for temporary employment at low wages — to the point that they can’t pay off student loans or consumer debt, qualify for mortgages, save for retirement, or make plans for the future. Many are essentially one paycheck away from destitution.

Standing’s solution is a 29-plank platform of policy changes he calls “the Precariat Charter.” Some are as basic as redefining work to include all productive labor, paid or unpaid, while others are as “revolutionary” as unconditional basic income (UBI), which would pay a basic, livable stipend to every man, woman, and child who is a legal resident of a country. Although to capitalist ears this sounds like a recipe for apathy and a reward for laziness, in the places it has been implemented it has, instead, unleashed creativity. Freed from concerns about basic survival, people have used their unconditional basic income to care for children or aging parents, volunteer for favorite causes, pursue creative work or other passions, and start their own businesses. Recipients have also been able to take low-paying temporary jobs offered by employers — knowing that the wages, added to their basic income, will be adequate to make ends meet. Guaranteed income has boosted productivity and happiness, not dampened it.

Standing is no starry-eyed idealist. From 1975 to 2006 he worked at the International Labor Organization (ILO), and as director of its Socio-Economic Security Program. Toward the end of his tenure, he was coordinating editor and main author of the ILO’s Economic Security for a Better World, a global report issued in 2004. He is also a founding member and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), an international non-governmental organization that promotes basic income. BIEN’s members include economists, philosophers and other social scientists from over 50 countries.

Standing has a doctorate in economics from the University of Cambridge and a master’s degree in industrial relations from the University of Illinois. His most recent book is Basic Income and How We Can Make It Happen (Penguin Books, 2017). Other books on our current economic crises and how we might create an economy that works for everyone include Basic Income: A Transformative Policy for India, with Sarath Davala, Renana Jhabvala and Soumya Kapoor Mehta (London and New Delhi, Bloomsbury Academic, 2015); The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (London and New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011); A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (London and New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), and The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay (Biteback Publishing, 2016).

In his 2011 book, Standing argued that if governments fail to address the needs of the precariat class, their societies would witness increasing violence and the rise of far-right politicians — scenarios that appear to be playing out in many countries around the globe, including our own.

Standing travels and lectures widely. He spoke with me by phone on two occasions while addressing university audiences in Massachusetts.

Leslee Goodman: You say that globalization has created a new, worldwide class structure. What do you mean?

Guy Standing: We’re undergoing the painful construction of a global market system. The initial phase, which began in the 1980s and continued up to the crash of 2008, was dominated by a certain brand of economics known as neoliberalism. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the quintessential spokespeople for this ideology, which emphasized “liberalized,” or deregulated markets, individualism, competitiveness, and an erstwhile “meritocracy.” Neoliberalism coincided with a huge ongoing technological revolution, particularly in electronics and robotics, combined with the creation of a global labor market, to give rise to this new global class structure, which transcends national class structures.

Essentially what we’ve got is a plutocracy. Everybody’s talking about it as the top one percent, but it’s actually much smaller than that — more like the top 0.001 percent. These are the 62 richest people in the world, who own as much as the poorest half of the rest of the world’s population, according to Oxfam’s 2016 annual report. The incomes of the plutocrats keep skyrocketing exponentially — mostly from forms of rent and investment income. Below them is an elite — millionaires and multimillionaires, perhaps five percent of the world’s population, who serve the plutocrats. Far below these two income groups, are two other groups. One I call the salariats, consisting of people with long-term employment security, pensions, paid holidays, medical insurance, and all the trappings of salaried employment. This group has also been gaining an increasing percentage of its income from capital, not from wages, which makes them different from those below them. When I was doing economics many years ago at Cambridge we expected this salaried group to be the overwhelming majority by now, but that hasn’t happened. Only about twenty percent of the population at most is now in salaried stable employment.

Alongside the salariats you’ve got another group, the proficians, who are people who don’t necessarily want employment security; they’re happy to freelance in “the gig economy,” going from contract to contract. Many of them make a lot of money from short-term projects as consultants and various types of professionals. However, they have no paid leave or retirement, other than what they provide for themselves. They’re also living a very frenetic lifestyle — always in search of their next gig. Their numbers vary enormously from country to country, but run anywhere from five to ten percent of the population.

All of the top four groups are detached from society below them. The next rung down in terms of incomes is the old proletariat, or working class. Essentially it consists of people who had stable, fulltime employment a generation ago — manual jobs that were the mainstay of the trade unions and various big corporations engaged in manufacturing. But this class is shrinking all over the world. It now constitutes maybe ten percent of the working population worldwide.

Below them are the precariats, whom I’ll define shortly. And below the precariat is an underclass consisting of people who are out in the streets and losing their lives to social illnesses. Although their numbers constitute only two-to-five percent of the population, they’re rising. However, it’s important to differentiate the underclass from the precariat because right-wing politicians like to lump them all together. The precariat is not an underclass. It is a rapidly growing class because the global production system is pushing more and more people into it. However, it already constitutes forty to fifty percent of the population.

Precariats are subject to unstable labor and unstable living. They are in casual jobs, temporary jobs, part-time jobs with no benefits, and various types of piecework or insecure contracts. But even more important, people in the precariat don’t have an occupational identity — an occupational narrative they can give to their lives. They don’t feel they’re in control, developing their competencies, and building a career. So they’re insecure now, but worse, they’re insecure about the future.

Third, people in the precariat have to spend an increasing portion of their time doing work that is not remunerated — such as looking for work, updating their résumés, tailoring their résumés to fit various types of jobs, acquiring additional skill training in the hope that it will land them a better-paying or more stable position, and so on. Thus, they find that their time is increasingly out of control. They can never relax or “take a day off,” and they suffer from what I call a precariatized mind. They don’t know which way to allocate their time optimally because the future is so uncertain.

Yet another feature of the precariat, which is still part of this first dimension, is that it is the first class in history for which the average level of education is above the level of the jobs they can get. This creates a sort of existential insecurity.

The second dimension is that the precariat is distinct in having limited access to many types of income and support. Unlike other groups, it has to rely almost entirely on money wages for all its needs. It doesn’t get non-wage benefits provided by employers; nor rent and other forms of capital income that the plutocrats, salariats, and proficians do. It doesn’t live in a village where people look out for each other; or have access to union or guild support when times are hard. Further, it has shrinking access to state-sponsored benefits, which are always being cut and increasingly restricted to those who are deemed “deserving.”

In addition to being dependent solely upon wages, precariat wages are stagnant or falling. They’ve been falling for thirty years in many countries, including of course the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, and Japan. It’s an extraordinary global phenomenon and it’s partly to do with the emergence of the newly industrializing countries, most importantly China, but also other countries that have been emerging with very, very low wages.

Globalization basically has enabled an additional two billion people to enter the global workforce simultaneously, driving down wages everywhere. As a result, many people in the precariat, particularly in developed countries, are living on the edge of unsustainable debt. This debt is a form of exploitation because it’s systemic: You go to college and come out with debt. If you’re lucky enough to land a job, you find you have to borrow to make your wages last to the end of the month. Your rents keep climbing out of reach of your income. You cannot pay for medical bills, car repairs, or any other emergency, so you’ve got the threat of debt hanging over you all the time.

In addition, changes in welfare policies over the last twenty years mean that many in the precariat suffer from “poverty traps.” If they’re receiving subsistence benefits and then get the possibility of a low-wage job, they face a dilemma: taking the low-wage job might mean that they actually lose total income rather than gain from it. I call this a moral hazard. If they take the job and don’t report it, so as not to lose their benefits, they’ve fallen into an “immoral hazard.”

All of these phenomena lead to the third dimension, which is that the precariat is unique in experiencing a loss of rights. Precariats lose civil rights, for example, when they can’t afford access to justice, or if they’re migrants, or have a criminal record, and aren’t entitled to the civil rights of citizens. They’ve lost cultural rights because they don’t belong to communities that give them identity, purpose, mutual support, and so on. They’ve lost social rights because welfare reforms are more dependent upon means-testing and aren’t available to certain people at all. Precariats are also losing economic rights because they often can’t practice the skills that they’ve acquired. Finally, they’re losing political rights because they don’t see in the political spectrum parties that represent their interests, needs, and aspirations. I say that they’re not full citizens any longer, but denizens. The entire system is creating a “perfect storm” of conditions for alienating and angering large numbers of people. Which is why I call the precariat the new dangerous class.

How has neoliberalism gotten us here? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2017 at 9:53 am

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