Later On

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

Archive for April 23rd, 2022

Why is Ghislaine Maxwell’s Lawyer Attacking Antitrust Enforcers?

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Matt Stoller writes at Big:

In 2017, reporter Jesse Eisinger came out with a book with the best title about the Department of Justice’s sorry track record during the financial crisis. It was called “The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.” The title comes from a 2002 anecdote about James Comey, who was then running the lead prosecutorial unit in the prestigious Southern District of New York.

The story went as follows. Comey asked the assembled litigators which ones won every case. A bunch of hands went up, along with expectations of praise for what fine litigation skills their winning records implied. But Comey did not offer praise, instead he told them that a perfect record suggested not skill but cowardice. Attorneys who never lost cases were members of ‘the Chickenshit Club,’ because such a record meant they were picking easy cases, rather than risking failure.

Eisinger used this metaphor to describe the collapse of justice and law in America over the course of forty years. From the Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s, when thousands of bankers went to jail to the Enron scandals where lead executives were found guilty under George W. Bush, the DOJ had some ability to levy charges of justice against the powerful, to send them to jail. This capacity weakened. By the time of the financial crisis, and afterwards, including over monstrous crimes such as the opioid killing spree caused by the billionaire Sackler family, neither the Obama nor Trump administration’s DOJ held anyone accountable, even as prosecutors sent millions of poor people to jail.

There are many reasons for this shift. Of course there is the revolving door to big law, that network of fancy law firms that mints millionaires of former government officials. Big law is deeply problematic; I’ve long noted how these firms actively encourage firms to break the law, even in their marketing materials. But big law has always existed, so this doesn’t explain the change over time. There was the political dimension; the Obama and Trump DOJ actively cut deals for the Sacklers, for instance, at the behest of Rudy Giuliani and Mary Jo White. But such a collapse among enforcers is also a result of a degraded culture of deference to the powerful among public servants, an institutional fear of losing. I think this change is the most important and most insidious, because it pervades much of our government.

This week, the Antitrust Division is beginning to leave the Chickenshit Club. Because they are now willing to use the same standards of justice against white collar criminals that poor Americans receive, even if it means losing cases in front of juries. That’s a big claim, but I think a reasonable one. There were three criminal cases brought by the DOJ Antitrust Division decided over the past two weeks, tough cases breaking new legal and political ground. And while the Antitrust Division only lost one outright, in none of them did the prosecutors convince a jury any of these executives violated the antitrust laws. For lawyers who work for months or years prepping for a trial, this was a very tough couple of weeks.

In the most prominent case, the Division tried the powerful, politically connected CEO of DaVita Inc., a dialysis firm, for conspiring with DaVita’s competitors to suppress competition for senior-level employees by agreeing not to solicit them for each other’s companies. He was acquitted. They also tried chicken firm executives for price-fixing. The jury couldn’t make up its mind, and wouldn’t convict, though that one will be tried again. Finally, in the case against a physical therapy staffing company, the jury acquitted the defendants for wage-fixing, though did find one of them guilty of obstruction of justice.

These losses really hurt, but the Antitrust Division lost in a smart way. In terms of the legal precedent, in a stage before the jury heard the case, prosecutors established that wage-fixing is a crime and a violation of the Sherman Act. That’s a huge legal victory, even if they couldn’t get a jury to convict. But then there’s the jury, which refused to see such actions as criminal. I’m not sure why juries went the way they did, but if I had to guess, it’s probably because cheating has become normalized in American culture, so people have a tough time viewing stealing from your employees as crime. But that’s a matter of presentation. The Division has already announced it will continue to indict more executives for antitrust violations around labor, and will eventually figure out how to convey to juries that it’s illegal to steal from your employees by preventing them from accessing other job opportunities or illegally suppressing wages.

Losing two tough cases while breaking new legal ground is impressive, and shows a change in the rank careerism at the DOJ. But I’m most impressed by the chicken price-fixing case. After the second hung jury, the Division said . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2022 at 7:37 pm

Life’s little pleasures: Food masher division

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Perfect Masher™

The Perfect Masher™ by Kitchen Innovations has two good ideas: using blades (though not actually sharp, but still blade-ish — more blade than bar) and rounding the ends of the masher. The first makes it easy to break down potatoes, beans, or whatever else you’re mashing, and the second makes it easy to get to the very edge of the pot in which you’re doing the mashing.

This required a long-ish drive to Lee Valley Hardware, which is where I had seen it but hesitated to buy, but as a bonus we drove past Market Garden, a little local grocery store, and I was able to buy a lion’s mane mushroom about the size of a Chicago ball. I just enjoyed a couple of slabs of the mushroom — perfect little steaks, cooked in a spray of olive oil with a pinch of pepper.

And BTW, if you’ve never played Chicago softball, with the16-inch softball, you’ve missed a great pleasure. No mitts required, and be ball is actually fairly soft. Very fun. 

And here’s an actual game. Note the pleasant simplicity of this game: a bat, a ball, and 4 bases — elemental ball.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2022 at 5:16 pm

Taking a scientific/informed approach to building a social media platform

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Amy Barret writes at Science Focus:

In recent memory, social media seems to have done more to drive us apart than bring us together. Long gone are the days of using Facebook to find new friends at university or checking in on Twitter to keep an eye on the news. Instead, social networks are fast becoming a maddening cacophony where users appear to compete for who can provide the hottest, most extreme take and the prize, for better or worse, is visibility.

But what if we could start again? What if we could build a network that nurtured social media’s best qualities and cut out the bad?

At the Polarization Lab in North Carolina, US, a team of multidisciplinary researchers including social scientists, statisticians and computer scientists, are breaking apart the social media status quo to rebuild it one peer-reviewed brick at a time.

Together they’ve created real social media sites from scratch, in the lab, with real human users, to find out what happens when you play with the rules. Prof Chris Bail, founding director of the lab at Duke University, explains what happened next.

What’s wrong with social media as we know it now?

We’ve just accepted how social media is now is how it’s always going to be. But the status quo doesn’t make a lot of sense. Facebook started as a site that allowed college students to rate each other’s physical attractiveness. Instagram was essentially a way to organise alcohol-based gatherings, and was originally called Burbn. TikTok and YouTube were founded to share funny videos. So the question that I think more people should be asking is, why should we accept these platforms that were designed for kind of sophomoric purposes as the status quo, as the inevitable?

Meanwhile, the world is collapsing around us in many ways. Incivility, hatred, outrage have never been higher. There’s a variety of evidence that suggests social media is probably contributing to all those things. It’s certainly not the only contributor, but there’s growing consensus that it’s a major player.

[But before we make changes] we need to understand how platforms shape human behaviour. That’s what prompted us to say, OK, we need a social media platform for scientific research.

Is your social media site based on any platform in particular, or is it completely new?

We’re building our platform for two purposes. One is to simulate existing platforms, like Twitter and Facebook. When you’re exploring interventions that could increase or decrease positive behaviour, if it decreases positive behaviour then it’s dangerous to do it in the wild. So, we need a testing ground – in the world of computer science, we call a sandbox. It’s where we start to learn how to play.

But the thing that we’re much more excited about is that our site could be used to explore the space of possibilities and social media more systematically.

What possibilities are there?

There are many other models that we could explore. A lot of tech leaders say the point of social media is to connect people, to connect the world. That’s Mark Zuckerberg’s stated mission for Facebook.

On the one hand, that’s admirable. You can massively connect the world in largely positive ways – people in Ukraine can fundraise internationally.

But we don’t know what connecting to that many people does to the human brain. The British anthropologist Robin Dunbar famously discovered that we struggle to maintain meaningful relationships with more than 150 people.

Promoting connection ad infinitum might create shallow, meaningless connections instead of the deeper connections that give the kind of social cohesion that sustains civil society.

Can you give me an example of how your social media site has been used? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2022 at 1:05 pm

Not sea monsters after all

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Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2022 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Tempeh stir-fry

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I’m eating the above as I write. I sprayed my 10″ Misen nontick skillet with olive oil, then added:

• small piece of ginger root, minced
• 5 small garlic cloves, chopped small
• 2 large green onions, chopped including leaves
• 3 large stalks asparagus, chopped
• 4 medium mushrooms, halved and sliced
black-eyed pea + peanut tempeh, about 3/4 cup, diced small
• 3 tablespoons cooked intact whole-grain barley 
• 2 slices preserved lemon, chopped
• good pinch of rosemary salt.

I cooked over medium-high heat (4 on my Max Burton induction burner) until it seemed done — for example, the mushrooms gave up their liquid.

Serving suggestion

At right is some of it in a bowl, topped with some pickled jalapeños that I made last night.

It’s very tasty, and in terms of the Daily Dozen it includes grain, beans, and other vegetables. I’ll pick up greens and cruciferous vegetables in another meal, and I already have berries set out to thaw.

The black-eyed pea and peanut tempeh is very nice when lightly cooked. More of a success than I expected.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2022 at 11:38 am

Inexpensive excellence

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All good, all inexpensive, but some no longer available — starting with brush and shaving cream. The brush was a limited run by Chiseled Face, and I very much like the handle. The knot is also quite good, but this type of synthetic knot is now widely available, and it’s the handle that caught my eye: a treated wood with a pleasantly stained grain.

And of course the wonderful J.M Fraser shaving cream, now alas no more. That 1-lb tub cost me about $13.50 and it still has many, many shaves left in it. The fragrance is merely pleasant, but the efficacy of the lather is superb. Alas, I do not think we shall see its return.

The Holy Black’s SR-71 slant has a head that is a clone of the Merkur 37, so it is good, and this morning it delivered an effective shave with a smooth result. 

Finally, Arko’s aftershave gel is quite an effective little balm, though again with a fragrance that is merely pleasant.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s London Afternoon: “Fragrant rose petals are interwoven with smoky Lapsang Souchong, sweetened with creamy vanilla and a touch of bright bergamot to create a comforting blend perfect for the fireside.” (Though no fireside here.)

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2022 at 8:54 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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