Later On

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

Archive for July 12th, 2022

Biden’s Bad Judges

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Matt Stoller points out one of the ways in which President Biden consistently falls short:

The Supreme Court is a problem. But Joe Biden just nominated a Google attorney to sit on the second highest court in the land. And he’s putting too many corporate lawyers on the lower courts. Why?

Today I’m writing about judges. We’ve heard a lot about the Supreme Court of late, and the conservative majority making highly consequential decisions in a host of areas. But who is Joe Biden nominating? I’m going to look at the most recent slate of judicial nominees that the Democrats are putting forward for lifetime appointments.

The Governing Style

Ronald Reagan’s administration did many things, but the best way to understand Reagan’s governing style was to look at one particular incident – how he fired striking air traffic controllers upon taking office. That moment, in which he crushed a constituency of organized government workers, illustrated, more than any policy document, what Reagan was about.

If I had to pick an incident that characterizes Joe Biden’s White House, I’d choose the administration’s March, 2022 executive order on cryptocurrencies. Most people don’t remember this order, because it didn’t actually do anything. And to the extent anyone does remember it, five months after crypto blew up, it is embarrassing. (‘Where were the regulators?’ asks Paul Krugman today.) And that’s why I think it reflects the governing style of the Biden administration – a sort of consistent paralyzing inaction.

In this case, Gary Gensler, the Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission thinks crypto is a scam, whereas bank regular Michael Hsu at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sees crypto as an inevitable part of the banking system. Normally, when officials disagree, the decision is elevated to the President, who makes a decision. But Biden, and this is his style, does not like making decisions on economic policy questions. So the order didn’t do anything, because no one could agree on what should be done.

According to former aide Jeff Connaughton, on economic questions Biden is a procrastinator. It doesn’t matter the issue – student debt, China tariffs, crypto, trade agreements, pharmaceutical pricing, et al – Biden tends to avoid choices. As his team is full of people who disagree with each other on core economic questions, the result is incoherence.

Such is the case for antitrust and competition policy. Biden took office in 2021, and the consensus was that we need more aggressive antitrust enforcement. His appointments reflected that consensus, and the policy results are starting to look meaningful. Bank mergers are way down, largely because of bank regulator Rohit Chopra. So too are mergers in the government contracting space, which is a result of Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks and Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan. Furthermore, a year ago, Biden issued an executive order on competition, which has led to actions on right to repair, potential actions on hearing aids, and a nascent crackdown on private equity.

But Biden also appointed Pete Buttigieg to the Department of Transportation and Tom Vilsack to the Department of Agriculture, and they have thwarted action in places the public might notice, like food or airlines. More importantly, all competition-related policy choices are going to be litigated in the courts, and some of them will likely run up against judges that Biden has nominated. And as it turns out, the economic philosophy of many of the judges that Joe Biden is nominating for lifetime appointments may contravene what some of his competition policy enforcers are trying to achieve.

Brad Garcia: Google’s Man on the D.C. Circuit Court

While the social issues get much of the attention, judicial rulings on market power and fair competition are an essential fulcrum for understanding how politics work. And in that area, despite swings on social issues, the courts have been aggressively narrowing the scope of antitrust law since 1977, at the behest of both Republicans and Democrats. It’s well-known that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 4:55 pm

Fascinating connections vis-à-vis the Shinzo Abe assassination

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Read this thread and the comments on it.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 4:47 pm

Comparison of Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope

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Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 4:42 pm

Posted in Science, Technology, Video

Who broke capitalism?

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Judd Legum’s interview of David Gelles is a strong reminder that most people will be swayed by incentives even when the incentivized behavior is destructive, immoral, or illegal — and most people find it difficult to act now toward long-term objectives — cf. climate change, and as I note in my post on Coveys method:

Perhaps as a result of evolutionary pressures, we are highly sensitized to urgent situations (whether important, like that bear coming toward us, or unimportant, like an itch we can’t quite reach), whereas situations that lack urgency are easily postponed and ignored from one day to the next even when they are important (for example, making a will [or climate change – LG]).

Legum writes:

I recently finished reading “The Man Who Broke Capitalism,” a new book by New York Times business reporter David Gelles. The book describes how Jack Welch, while he was CEO of GE in the 80s and 90s, fundamentally changed the way corporations operate. I reached out to Gelles because his book provides essential insights into corporate behavior today. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. I hope you enjoy it. — Judd


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LEGUM:
 You lay out in the book that Jack Welch introduced a new style of management, which involved financialization (getting out of the business of making stuff and into the business of moving money around), making jobs much more precarious (either by firing people, or making people worried that they might be fired), and a relentless focus on quarterly profits. But you describe how, especially after Welch left, this didn’t work out for GE over the long term. And it didn’t work out for some other companies that followed Welch’s model. But today, Welch’s management style continues to be influential. Why do you think, despite the objective failures of this over the long term, Welch’s approach to corporate management endures?

GELLES: I think the reason his views hold sway, when, as you say, the evidence over the long term is clear, is that business school students aren’t taught to think about the long term, and our economy isn’t set up to incentivize long-term performance. And so what he was able to do at GE undoubtedly worked, as long as he was getting away with it. And then when the music stopped, things started to fall apart. During that time, he got enormously rich, and his deputies got enormously rich. People who were smart enough to invest in the stock and get out at the right time got enormously rich. And there are very few consequences in corporate America for long-term failure. The incentive structures in our economy are simply not set up to really enhance true long-term performance, let alone take care of people or communities.

LEGUM: One of your colleagues, Andrew Ross Sorkin, recently interviewed the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. Sorkin asked Schultz about Starbucks’ own anti-union efforts. And in response, Schultz said that unions were important in the 40s, 50s, and 60s because people were working in coal mines and companies were abusing their workers. But today companies treat their workers well. That is the exact was the exact opposite thesis of your book. You refer to the 40s, 50s, and 60s as the “golden age” of capitalism where companies had a more equitable relationship with workers.

GELLES: Listen, Howard Schultz talking about coal miners is a classic red herring. The reason that Starbucks baristas are unionizing is because even though Starbucks may pay above the minimum wage, the reality is that most frontline workers in the United States don’t make enough money to take care of their families. And the reason that is, is because the minimum wage hasn’t kept pace with inflation for the past 40-plus years.

It was definitely true that at big corporations, the Dow and the Fortune 100 in the postwar decades, there was a clear effort to let everyday workers share in the wealth that was created by these companies. I cite the 1953 GE annual report where they’re so proud to talk about how this was their biggest payroll in history, and how great that was, and how great it was that they were paying their suppliers so much money, and how great it was even that they were paying their taxes. They were proud to do all these things because there was this implicit understanding that what was good for big companies, could be good for the country, and vice versa. That, obviously, painfully, isn’t the world we live in today.

The book covers this transition from, call it the golden age of capitalism, which, of course, was not perfect, to this era of shareholder privacy, where workers are really treated as expendable labor. They’re treated as expendable. When Howard Schultz scratches his head and wonders why people want to unionize at Starbucks shops, I encourage him to really do the work of understanding what a Starbucks barista’s life is like, and that’s probably hard for a billionaire to do. But if he were to do so, I suspect he might come away from that exercise having a bit more empathy for what it’s actually like to make less than $20 an hour in this country without the promises of real and enduring job security and steady benefits. It’s not a pretty picture.

LEGUM: Your book describes GE’s dominance in the 80s and 90s. Today, many of the most powerful companies are tech companies, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. One of the things these companies are famous for is creating these sort of lavish campuses to attract talent. And they are paying their top talent quite a bit of money. Do you still see Welch’s influence in modern tech companies?

GELLES: The answer is . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 4:24 pm

“A novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.”

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The title quotation is from Randall Jarrell’s introduction to Christina Stead’s novel The Man Who Loved Children. I came across it in reading Wyatt Mason’s wonderful article (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times about Akhil Sharma, who rewrote (and is about to publish) his first novel, published 22 years ago and started 30 years ago.

That caught my attention, but I also find myself revising and augmenting things I previously wrote — in fact, I spent time last night and this morning polishing (again) my post on Stephen Covey’s method, a post that I initially wrote more than 5 years ago and have revisited (and revised) many times over the years.

Needless to say, Akhil Sharma is a much better writer than I, but then it’s even more appropriate for me to revisit and revise things long since written.

The article begins:

“Hey, man, can I give you a hug?”

The unexpected question was posed by a man I’d just met — the 50-year-old, Delhi-born Indian American novelist, essayist and short-story writer Akhil Sharma — as we stood at the top of the chilly little hill we had climbed. The hill was part of a loop we would end up taking a number of times over two days, the three of us, which is to say me, Sharma and his baby daughter, asleep in her stroller. Her need for a nap had been the pretext for our circuit around Hollins, a small university outside Roanoke, Va., where Sharma was a writer in residence.

A plum gig, it required that Sharma teach one graduate-level fiction course to a small group of students at Hollins. So Sharma and I had taken his daughter for her daily stroller nap through the not particularly lovely campus, which, beyond its lackluster borders, was ringed in the distance by the oceanic peaks that make up the Virginia quadrant of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

As we walked, Sharma and I fell easily into the discussion of uneasy things. The particulars of those uneasy things haven’t much bearing here, except to say that we — two men in our early 50s — were addressing, with candor, the difficulties through which people at midlife pass. And it was at one materially insignificant moment in our conversation, when we reached the crest of that hill on that loop, that Sharma posed the unexpected question.

Sharma, who is slight and dapper, opened his arms. I opened mine. His leatherette puffer parka compressed slightly as he held me and I him.

It is unusual to hold a stranger in a loving way, and yet it didn’t feel strange. What’s odd to me, retrospectively, about that moment in Sharma’s arms is how congruent the feeling of it was with the feeling of reading his work: to be brought suddenly, unexpectedly, un-self-consciously close to another human — a pressure that’s palpable on every page of his work.

I realize the same assessment might be made of any number of contemporary writers, and while I stand by it and will try to qualify it, there is something undeniable about Sharma that can be said of very few novelists, and it was for this reason that I went to see him. Sharma had done a weird thing, something white-rhino rare in the history of literature: He had revised and radically rewritten a novel, his first, “An Obedient Father,” one he published 22 years earlier. Considerably shorter, with a very different ending but the same title, the novel was about to be published a second time — it reappears this month — more than 30 years after Sharma began it.

It’s not as though the first version of “An Obedient Father” was ignored. It met with the kind of success few first novels receive. It was excerpted in The New Yorker and won the PEN/Hemingway Award, and Sharma received a Whiting Award — career milestones for any writer. Novelists reached out to its 29-year-old author out of the blue. Sharma was not shy to say that among them was the Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee. Still, the book would sell only adequately for a literary novel: according to Sharma, 6,000 hardcover copies and then 11,000 paperback copies over the next two decades, taking 17 years to earn back what the publisher advanced him for it and certainly not paying well enough that it let Sharma live off his writing.

Aside from those encouraging/discouraging realities, Sharma was secretly displeased with the novel when he published it. He’d had doubts, yes, but he had been arrogant enough, or insecure enough, or hopeful enough to want to be hailed as a genius, and when it was clear that, despite the praise the book received, “genius” was not a word being thrown around, Sharma’s sense of failure, of not living up to his hopes for the novel, was confirmed. In that little way, what he already knew to be true was borne out: Whatever the book did well, aesthetically, it had real things wrong with it, formal problems he hadn’t been able to name, much less fix.

“An Obedient Father” is a brutal book. It tries to integrate two first-person reports of family life, one by a father and another by his daughter, with a larger, social story about modern India, its political history and its fraught, failed attempts at change. The father . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Writing

Improvised (and blended) sauce

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By now it’s obvious that I just make up my recipes, generally based on what’s on hand. This sauce was one of those. I used my (immersion) blender because I wanted to use parsley (and dates).

Green Ginger Miso Sauce

Put in the beaker that comes with the immersion blender:

• zest of 1 Meyer lemon
• the lemon itself, after cutting off the peel
• 3/4″ fresh ginger root, sliced thin and minced
• about 3 tablespoons Shiro miso
• about 1-2 teaspoons chipotle-garlic paste
• about 2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar
• 2 Medjool or 4 deglet noor dates, pitted & chopped
• 1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
• about 3/4 cup water

Blend until smooth. Add water if needed to get right consistency. 

I used 1/2 bunch parsley because that’s what I had on hand. Things I might add when I make something like this again:

• pinch of MSG
• 1-2 teaspoon dried mint
• instead of dates, some frozen mixed berries

I used the sauce on a stir-fry that included tempeh (lentils and foxtail millet), mushrooms (4 large crimini), greens (Colorful Collards), walnuts, scallions, cooked grain (spelt and kamut), some frozen peas, a San Marzano tomato, fresh ginger root, yellow cayenne and red Fresno peppers, a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and a few sprays of EVOO. I also mixed in 1 tablespoon flaxseed after grinding it.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 12:49 pm

Benefits of Brewer’s Yeast for Diabetes

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I found this convincing enough to order a supply of brewer’s yeast tablets. It’s also available as a powder

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 9:54 am

Advanced Electric-Vehicle Batteries Move From Labs to Mass Production

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This is great news, though I fear it may be too late. Jack Ewing has a report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times:

For years, scientists in laboratories from Silicon Valley to Boston have been searching for an elusive potion of chemicals, minerals and metals that would allow electric vehicles to recharge in minutes and travel hundreds of miles between charges, all for a much lower cost than batteries available now.

Now a few of those scientists and the companies they founded are approaching a milestone. They are building factories to produce next-generation battery cells, allowing carmakers to begin road testing the technologies and determine whether they are safe and reliable.

The factory operations are mostly limited in scale, designed to perfect manufacturing techniques. It will be several years before cars with the high-performance batteries appear in showrooms, and even longer before the batteries are available in moderately priced cars. But the beginning of assembly-line production offers the tantalizing prospect of a revolution in electric mobility.

If the technologies can be mass-produced, electric vehicles could compete with fossil-fuel-powered vehicles for convenience and undercut them on price. Harmful emissions from automobile traffic could be substantially reduced. The inventors of the technologies could easily become billionaires — if they aren’t already.

For the dozens of fledgling companies working on new kinds of batteries and battery materials, the emergence from cloistered laboratories into the harsh conditions of the real world is a moment of truth.

Producing battery cells by the millions in a factory is vastly more difficult than making a few hundred in a clean room — a space designed to minimize contaminants.

“Just because you have a material that has the entitlement to work doesn’t mean that you can make it work,” said Jagdeep Singh, founder and chief executive of QuantumScape, a battery maker in San Jose, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. “You have to figure out how to manufacture it in a way that’s defect-free and has high enough uniformity.”

Adding to the risk, the slump in tech stocks has stripped billions of dollars in value from battery companies that are traded publicly. It will not be as easy for them to raise the cash they need to build manufacturing operations and pay their staff. Most have little or no revenue because they have yet to begin selling a product.

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Later in the article:

After years of experimentation, QuantumScape developed a ceramic material — its exact composition is a secret — that separates the positive and negative ends of the batteries, allowing electrons to flow back and forth while avoiding short circuits. The technology makes it possible to substitute a solid material for the liquid electrolyte that carries energy between the positive and negative poles of a battery, allowing it to pack more energy per pound.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 9:41 am

James Bond’s favorite

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Bond — James Bond — favored Floris No. 89. (The number, as seems traditional, refers to the company’s street address). And I can see why: the fragrance is very pleasing and the lather, back in the day, was excellent. (My own tub is from back in the day; since then Floris has endured a number of reformulations of their shaving soap, and I have no idea of the quality of their current offering.) The fragrance notes, from Basenotes.com:

  1. Top Notes

  2. Heart Notes

  3. Base Notes

With the somewhat diminutive Simpson Emperor 2 Super, I fully enjoy fragrance and feel of the lather, and the Parker (Semi-)Slant — here mounted on a Yaqi handle — did a very nice job indeed, leaving my face perfectly smooth and comfortable.

A splash of Floris No. 89 aftershave, with a couple of squirts of Hydrating Gel, and I’m ready for the day.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Queen Victoria: “rich Darjeeling and Ceylon, smoky Lapsang Souchong and sweet Jasmine.”

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 9:28 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

James Webb Space Telescope first images

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I’m sure the new images will be available in many places, but it seems important to recognize the achievement. The image above (click to enlarge) is from the NY Times report (gift link, no paywall), which has a collection of images. Of this one, it notes:

Stephan’s Quintet is a snippet of the night sky that looks unreal — five galaxies that appear to be almost touching each other. In 1877, Édouard Stephan, an astronomer at the Marseille Observatory in France, was first to spot the group, located in the constellation Pegasus.

The visual juxtaposition is, in part, an illusion. One of the galaxies, NGC 7320, is actually much closer to us, about 40 million light-years from Earth, but along the line of sight with the others. The other four galaxies, however, are all about 290 million light-years away, part of what astronomers call a compact group of galaxies. Tails and loops of gas and stars in the four distant galaxies as well as bright emissions of X-rays from diffuse hot gas point to violent gravitational interactions between them.

Astronomers are still working to understand how several galaxies can end up that close together.

It took combing almost 1,000 individual images and 150 megapixels to adequately capture a gaggle of five interacting galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet, says Dr. David Law. Zooming in, he shows the two galaxies on the lower right ripping stars and gas away from each other. “Even as galaxies are destroyed, Webb shows the birth of new stars.”

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 8:46 am

Posted in Science, Technology

Dave Troy on the idea of civilizational conflict

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I find Dave Troy”s insights to be interesting. Here is one of his recent posts on Facebook:

Let’s talk about the end of the world, and what Russia thinks it’s doing. First, it’s necessary to zoom out and discard notions of nation-states, institutions, and politics, and think with a civilizational lens. By now, it’s clear that Putin is following the Dugin playbook.

Aleksandr Dugin (warning: woo alert) believes that all of human history is the product of conflict between two major networks: Eurasianists and Atlanticists. Eurasianists are bound to rule from Dublin to Tokyo (at least); Atlanticists are bound to North + South America.

According to Jean Pârvelescu, a Franco-Romanian writer who worked with Dugin, Putin is a historical character predestined to bring about a final conflict between the Eurasianist and Atlanticist networks. There is no real notion of a rules based order or which side is “right”; this conflict is simply necessary for the course of history to proceed and for evolution of civilization.

It is Putin’s job to be a historical character and advance history; there can be no other way. This conflict also addresses the fact that “liberalism” inverts the traditional hierarchical order of the world. As Dugin said in 1992:

• Order of Eurasia against Order of Atlantic (Atlantides).
• Eternal Rome against Eternal Carthago.
• Occult punic war invisibly continuing during millennia.
• Planetary conspiracy of Land against the Sea, Earth against Water
• Authoritarianism and Idea against Democracy and Matter.

René Guénon described a “Hyperborean” northern culture home to a pure Aryan race, with two outposts: Shambhala in the East, and Atlantis in the West. From this division, the conflicting networks were born.

Occultists like Madame Blavatsky suggest Atlantis collapsed because its people became “wicked magicians;” they also believe Shambhala perhaps survived. Nicholas Roerich traveled to Asia in the 1930’s to locate Shambhala (perhaps a “Shangri-La”) that may still have existed.

So when we evaluate Putin’s actions, we need to look at them as being predestined, inevitable, and civilizational in scope. This is, at root, what they think they’re doing, and other details and pressures aren’t particularly relevant to that framework.

They believe hierarchy will prevail over any kind of collectivism. Now, it should be noted that Russia itself has not hidden this information; any of you can go look this up and see this is true. Whether this is “real,” or merely what Russia wishes to project as “real” is open to serious, reasoned debate.

I believe we should hedge against both possibilities, because as they run out of options, fantasy will increasingly dominate, just as it did with Hitler’s regime. But we shouldn’t underestimate the gravity of this situation, or the apocalyptic narrative that lies just under the surface. We have some people here flirting with the end of the world, and who have a story to justify it.

We should take that seriously and figure out a real way to end this; the established order of nation states and rules-based order has nearly no bearing on how we might do that. This situation calls for creativity, will, and force.

If the US and Europe wish to counter it, we need to start preparing our populations now for significant and sustained hardships. Because they will not give up unless forced to do so, and they will not be constrained by institutions. Only raw power and a clear sign that the Eurasianists have lost will put out the fire that’s raging in the hearts of this network. What that looks like? Not sure, but it likely doesn’t look like this.

I should also point out that Dugin has mapped this Eurasianist conflict onto “Gog and Magog” from the Book of Revelations, which has helped draw in Christian dominionists anticipating (and desiring) the end of the world, which just amplifies the scope of the conflict.

Many are understandably drawn to make American references to this conflict; I’d encourage zooming out. 330 million people out of ~8 billion is a rounding error in the context of this framework and their idea is that America is dispensable.

What concerns me is we are so wedded to the post-war international order of nation-states and institutions that we have no effective language to communicate about something civilizational in scope. I want to hear leaders talk about their understanding of this dilemma.

To be clear, this does not mean we should be afraid or cowed by Putin. To the contrary, we need to figure out a way to end Russia’s ability to end the world without triggering global catastrophe. That’s a tall challenge but we need the right frameworks in order to conceive it.

Troy notes that the above Facebook post is from a Twitter thread, and for comments from others, check the thread:

There are a great many comments to that Twitter thread, so it’s definitely worthwhile taking a look.

Troy also notes:

With respect to our current pursuits in the democratic realm, I offer some cautions; meanwhile the Russian duma has introduced a law to replace Putin’s title with of “president” with “ruler.”

We are starting to get a clearer picture of the extensive planning and deep involvement of President Trump in the coup plot, which will help in shaping public opinion in support of indictments and undermine support for Republicans going into the midterm elections. But with short news cycles and accelerating instability around the world, the timing of the release of the findings, along with any actions taken by the Department of Justice, will be critically important in determining what impact they may have.

From a threat assessment perspective, it is also likely that events will overtake us and render any retrospective analysis moot. Political strategists should expect and prepare for more violence and chaos proportionate to any political points the committee may expect to score. While anti-democratic forces cannot control the outcome of the committee’s work, they can always add more chaos and violence in hopes of altering the conflict terrain and public perception, and we should expect such attacks.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 6:51 am

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