Later On

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

Archive for October 17th, 2022

Unseparate and Unequal

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Peter Coy has an interesting article (no paywall) in the NY Times on the dictatorship of the boss. It begins:

With more than 10 million jobs in the United States unfilled as of August, this is about as good as it gets for workers’ leverage. But it still isn’t very good. For most Americans, particularly those earning less than the median income [and especially those who do not belong to a strong union – LG], employers continue to control when, where and how they work, in some cases right down to their bathroom breaks.

“When we are workers, we lie under the government of a boss. It’s a dictatorship. The boss rules,” Elizabeth Anderson, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, told me last week. She wrote a 2017 book on the topic, “Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It).”

Despite the obvious dominance of employers, though, a lot of economic research and legal scholarship is based on the libertarian notion that employers and employees have relatively equal bargaining power and are thus “free to contract” with one another as truly independent parties.

The assumption of roughly equal power is not just silly, it’s harmful. Take the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Epic Systems Corporation v. Lewis, which upheld the validity of contracts in which employees surrender the right to collective litigation against their employers. Underlying the decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, was the implicit assumption that when workers give up that important right, it’s their free choice.

But as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a dissent, free choice in this situation is an illusion. “Forced to face their employers without company, employees ordinarily are no match for the enterprise that hires them,” she wrote. She likened the Epic Systems contract to yellow-dog contracts of the 1930s, which prohibited new hires from joining unions as a condition of employment. Take it or leave it.

A recent special issue of The Journal of Law and Political Economy casts a jaundiced eye on the convenient fiction that employment contracts reflect the free choices of employees. The issue was conceived and edited by Lawrence Mishel, the former president of the Economic Policy Institute.

“This is Econ 101 silliness, that any transaction between consenting adults is optimal,” Mishel said. “The basis of at-will employment is that if a worker can quit then an employer has to be able to quit a worker. That’s the logic. If you articulate it like that, people would be something between horrified and laughing.”

The main power workers do have is  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 7:54 pm

The (bad) side effects of burning incense

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Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to inhale the products of combustion (for example, those who live in homes that have a gas range have more frequent respiratory ailments) and in particular to inhale particulate matter (so I wear an N95 face mask when I walk on days when the air carries smoke from wildfires). Deliberately putting smoke into the air to be breathed is… well, breathtaking. Literally.

Watch this short video:

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 7:42 pm

Non-prescription hearing aids

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Christopher Rowland and Amanda Morris have a thorough and informative report (no paywall) in the Washington Post on the new world of over-the-counter hearing aids — not sound amplifiers or “personal sound amplification products,” but true hearing aids.

Given that uncorrected hearing loss leads to cognitive decline, and that the price of hearing aids has been around $5000 for a pair, this new generation of over-the-counter hearing aids, running around $800 to start with (and competition is likely to bring that price down over time) will reach a great many new users.

Their article begins:

The government on Monday will begin allowing pharmacies and big-box stores to sell hearing aids without prescriptions, a move that is expected to shake up an industry that has long been dominated by a handful of manufacturers under a model of care that critics said raised costs and stifled innovation.

Backers of the change say the move to over-the-counter hearing aid sales will usher in a revolution of lower prices and new technologies, and expand access for millions of people with untreated hearing loss.

But while the shift holds the promise of improving the lives of millions of people who have untreated mild to moderate hearing loss, it also is a sweeping test of consumer-driven health care.

For first-time users, hearing aids require fine-tuning and a degree of patience as the brain becomes accustomed to processing sounds that have been muffled for years, say audiology experts. It’s not like popping on a new pair of glasses and instantly seeing clearly. It sometimes takes days or weeks to become accustomed to them, which might be easy for tech-savvy people but more challenging for the target audience of elderly people.

Manufacturers say they are ready to smooth the process for new customers. Today’s hearing aids come with smartphone apps that allow consumers to calibrate the devices themselves. The manufacturers are setting up call centers and help desks to assist customers with fit and tuning.

[How to pick the right hearing aid for you] (no paywall) 

Moreover, with millions of new customers on the horizon representing billions of dollars in sales, they are gearing up for competition over price, sound quality, design and multiple functions like call-streaming and music.

“It’s going to be the wild, wild west for a few years, but I mean that in a good way,” said Frank Lin, director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. “There is so much market opportunity here. It’s never been done this way.”

The substantial learning curve will be a worthwhile trade off for consumers, giving them more options without having to see a doctor, said advocates. The Food and Drug Administration has limited retail, no-prescription sales to devices designed for people 18 and older with mild to moderate hearing loss.

“The benefit that is likely to happen is going to  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 7:38 pm

A BIG look back over the past year and how US climate for monopoly has changed

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Matt Stoller has an exceptionally informative post on the changes the past year has brought in the organizations and agencies that regulate monopolistic power in the US. He writes:

Today I’m writing about this newsletter, since it’s been a year since I started accepting subscriptions. I am going to talk about how I write it, and what we’ve accomplished together. Plus:

  • The weird monopoly of premium car audio systems.
  • The National Security Agency and the Antitrust Division get into a bit of a scuffle over surveillance, monopoly power, and Booz Allen.

And now…

Three years ago, I started writing BIG. While that’s not a long time, 2022 feels like a different world than 2019. When I first picked up the Substack pen, there was no such thing as Covid, Biden was just a candidate in the Democratic primary, and there hadn’t been a single government antitrust suit filed against a Big Tech firm. In fact, the Antitrust Division hadn’t filed a monopolization suit in 20 years. All of that has changed, to say the least.

My goal was to write about political economy, not the standard political sniping madness all over TV. That focus has paid off. The innumerable political scandals washed away, mostly irrelevant. But the big changes in our economy have not. When Covid was just a disease in far-off China, you and I saw it early, because we paid attention to China as an industrial center. When supply chains started breaking down, you and I saw it before almost everyone else, because market power thins out production. When crypto collapsed, we knew why. And when antitrust came to occupy the center of discourse, we were ready.

A year ago, I decided to ask you to pay for this newsletter, to invest in it. It was a nerve-wracking choice, because I had no idea whether what I did mattered or meant much. Your response was remarkable, and continues to be remarkable.

One result of the broad anti-monopoly movement of which BIG is a part is that in 2022, dominant firms across the economy are hiring antitrust counsel furiously, the antitrust agencies and big business are in a near-war, and populists are running key parts of competition policy. This conflict over the core of our economy isn’t a story you’d necessary see on CNN, but it is a key way this period in history will be remembered decades from now.

So today, on the one year anniversary of going paid, I wanted to take some time to explain why I write it, what this community means, and how we are actually changing the very guts of politics. First of all, if you’re a subscriber, either free or paid, thank you. Every time you forward this newsletter, bring up antitrust in conversation, or leave a comment or like, you act as an important ambassador for the anti-monopoly movement. And if you are one of the people willing to sign up for a paid subscription or who just-reupped after a year, I appreciate it and will explain why it matters. A lot of people can’t afford to become paid subscribers, but if you can, and you think this community is worth investing in, you can subscribe here.

With that in mind, here are some stats about BIG. Since last October, 3059 people signed up for paid subscriptions, which is a lot. More surprisingly, the number of people who receive the free version of BIG has gone from 47,791 to 69,359, and the growth rate has actually accelerated. (That’s a far cry from the collapse of many mainstream media outlets since Trump left office.)

I try to only send out one BIG issue a week, because each one is long and we all get too much email. As a result, every issue gets between 50-150k viewers. And the audience is broad and important. There are BIG readers in the antitrust agencies, across the Federal government and among state officials, among enforcers all over the world, politicians in the House and Senate, and within the antitrust bar itself. I get thousands of emails from everyday people, business people, elected leaders, students, workers, consumers, etc. Most are lovely, a variant of ‘I didn’t realize that monopoly was so fundamental.’ But more on that in a bit.

With the revenue you’ve provided, I’ve hired a copy-editor and guest-writers, rented a Discord server, and I do open threads on the weekends. I’ve started doing twice a month video segments on Breaking Points, and I have a section on Weird Monopolies. The goal is to build out arguments around monopoly, tech, learn, and persuade. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. I’m on the left, but I write a lot about the conservative movement and their changing views on monopoly. Sometimes it’s powerful. We’ve watch-dogged antitrust cases, regulatory actions like an attempt to ban non-compete agreements for workers, and submitted thousands of comments to the Antitrust Division and Federal Trade Commission to rewrite merger guidelines.

I think an anecdote will illustrate the impact we’ve had. A contact at one of the agencies recently told me that a lot of antitrust lawyers are fairly upset these days, because despite the rapid increase in fees that they get for their services, the culture of antitrust practice has changed in a way that makes many of them sad. The old model of merger enforcement involved a sort of clubby atmosphere, where lawyers repping merging firms would meet with government enforcers, and the lawyers on all sides would act like they were greeting old friends, and they were all trying to work out a deal, a divestment here, a consent decree there. Today, the feeling is much more distant; the meetings about a deal exist to see if the government will sue. It’s cold, unfriendly, business-like.

The antitrust defense lawyers have a sense of hurt feelings, a kind of ‘What did we do wrong? Why are you so angry with us?’ The answer is of course, nothing. It’s just that antitrust is a form of law enforcement, and the old culture in the antitrust agencies, one of deal-making to facilitate consolidation, is gone. And this newsletter is part of the reason, because everyone in the antitrust world knows that we are watching. I still find the reach of this newsletter hard to believe, but there we go.

On a personal level, having you invest in this work has calmed me down. It can be terrifying as a writer to send out work to lots of people. What if it is obviously wrong in some way? What if it is naively written? What if it is hurtful? What if it is embarrassing? Before I went paid, every time I would hit send, I felt a twinge of fear. That is how antitrust lawyers often used to win before the first shot is fired, by intimating their audience into remaining silent for fear of getting something wrong in a complex area of law. But once you started subscribing, it helped me understand that this is a community effort, that this work isn’t just mine, but yours as well.

And that’s because most of us have a shared experience in coming to understand market power, even if we don’t know it. I analogize this process to understanding plate tectonics. Before 1967, we didn’t really know the cause of earthquakes and volcanoes. But that year, scientists Dan McKenzie and Robert Parker published a paper describing the theory of plate tectonics, the idea that Earth’s crust is composed of big flexible plates that smash into one another, fostering lots of phenomena, including earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain ranges and continents.

As plate tectonics does to geology, monopoly power explains the underlying features of our politics in such a fundamental way that it is inconceivable to understand how things work without it. Earthquakes and continents do not make sense without a basic explanation of movements in earth’s crust, just as culture wars and social questions do not make sense without understanding that they flow through corporations and business law.

Once you see the basic architecture of politics, you can’t unsee it. Once you understand the market power of Disney, Google, or CVS, and how their strategies and choices are based on a set of ideas interpreted by legislators and judges, arguments about culture or health care or technology seem foolish without a grounding in market power.

And believe it or not, this process is something that happens to everyone. It happened to antitrust lawyers who saw the collapse of their body of law over the last three decades, it happened to people in the cheer world when they realized that Varsity Brands is organized to acquire power over them, and it happens to policymakers as they come to understand their role in protecting our markets and our liberties. It’s why a lot of the antitrust bar lawyers are still upset, they haven’t gone through the experience of seeing what we see, of recognizing that the dysfunction of our politics and society is a result of consolidated market power.

And it still happens, every day. And that’s why this newsletter matters. That’s why your interest matters. The emails and discussions are essential. But being an interactive audience is the most fundamental part of what it means to govern ourselves. When people in power know that there is an audience for what they are doing, they operate differently. The people that want to get more aggressive, get more aggressive; the people that want to stop them, get less aggressive. Just the fact that there is an audience, matters.

There are more granular ways we’re having an impact, of course. Over the next year, one of the big conflicts in antitrust is going to be over  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 6:14 pm

Saudi Arabia sentences 82-year-old U.S. citizen to 16 years in prison for tweets made in the U.S.

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Saudi Arabia is a poor excuse for an ally. Josh Rogin writes in the Washington Post (no paywall):

The Saudi government has sentenced a 72-year-old U.S. citizen to 16 years in prison for tweets he posted while inside the United States, some of which were critical of the Saudi regime. His son, speaking publicly for the first time, alleges that the Saudi government has tortured his father in prison and says that the State Department mishandled the case.

Many dictatorships unjustly imprison Americans. But while the Biden administration has gone to considerable effort to secure the release of high-profile Americans from RussiaVenezuela and Iran, it has been less public and less successful in securing the release of U.S. citizens held in Saudi Arabia. In fact, despite that Saudi Arabia is supposedly a U.S. ally, the Saudi government under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is dealing with its U.S.-citizen critics more harshly than ever. The latest and most egregious example concerns Saudi American Saad Ibrahim Almadi.

Almadi is not a dissident or an activist; he is simply a project manager from Florida who decided to practice his right to free speech inside the United States. But last November, when he traveled to Riyadh to visit family, he was detained regarding 14 tweets posted on his account over the previous seven years. One of the cited tweets referenced Jamal Khashoggi, the Post contributing columnist who was murdered by Saudi agents in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Other tweets criticized the Saudi government’s policies and the corruption in the Saudi system.

“He had what I would call mild opinions about the government,” his son Ibrahim told me. “They took him from the airport.”

Almadi was charged with harboring a terrorist ideology, trying to destabilize the kingdom, as well as supporting and funding terrorism. He was also charged with failing to report terrorism, a charge related to tweets Ibrahim sent on a separate account.

On Oct. 3, Almadi was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He also received a 16-year travel ban on top of that. If he serves his whole sentence, he will leave prison at age 87 — and would have to live to 104 before he could return to the United States.

“I feel empty inside. I feel dead inside. I feel betrayed,” Ibrahim said. “He’s not only my father, he’s my best friend. He is everything to me.”

Since the arrest, Ibrahim had been working behind the scenes to urge the U.S. government to help secure his father’s release. But now, frustrated and desperate, he wants the American public to know his father’s story. Almadi has been tortured in prison, forced to live in squalor and confined with actual terrorists — all while his family was threatened by the Saudi government that they would lose everything if they didn’t keep quiet, Ibrahim said.

The State Department told Ibrahim not to speak publicly about the case, but he no longer believes that staying quiet will secure his father’s freedom. And he says that State has handled his father’s case with neglect and incompetence.

Nobody from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh visited Almadi until May, six months after his arrest. At that meeting, . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 6:04 pm

What a Pennsylvania Prison Learned After Getting a Scandinavian-style Makeover

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The US imprisons a great many of its citizens — the highest proportion of any country — and yet it has not worked out a good way of doing that. Jordan Hyatt and Synøve Nygaard Andersen write in Fast Company (no paywall):

The United States has the largest number of people incarcerated in the world—about 25% of all people imprisoned worldwide are in American prisons and jails.

Overcrowding, violence, and long sentences are common in U.S. prisons, often creating a climate of hopelessness for incarcerated people, as well as people who work there.

Additionally, correctional officers, often challenged by long shifts, worries about their own safety, and stressful working conditions, have a life expectancy that is on average a decade less than the general population.

Some advocates have called for diverting people away from prisons, especially low-risk individuals. Others encourage shorter sentences and earlier releases.

But reform efforts could also extend to changing the prison environment itself.

We are American and Norwegian criminologists. While trying to better understand our countries’ justice systems, we have spent significant time in correctional facilities across Scandinavia and the U.S. There, we often try to identify overlooked similarities within these very different places—and ways they could learn from each other.

A recent collaboration between correctional services in Pennsylvania and several Scandinavian countries presents an opportunity to test these ideas. One Pennsylvania prison unit we are researching adapts elements from Scandinavian prisons, and offers a window into what drawing from other penal systems might look like in the U.S.


Correctional systems throughout much of Scandinavia are guided by a general set of philosophical principles. In Sweden, these standards emphasize

Continue reading. (no paywall) 

In this connection, the following video is of interest:

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 12:50 pm

Fermentation basics

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Some of my readers probably have not yet begun fermenting vegetables, and those might find this video by Adam Ragusea of interest. In it, he explains the basics of fermentation. He mentions how the good bacteria, in vegetables submerged in a 2.5% brine, will gradually take over. One reason I use a starter culture is that, though the good bacteria are in the vegetables, the starter culture gives them a head start so that they can more quickly achieve domination. (For more on fermenting vegetables, including various recipes I’ve made, see this post.)

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 12:10 pm

“Be Prepared for Your Layoff”

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I have a new article up on Medium, “Be Prepared for Your Layoff.” I am uncomfortably aware that this piece now applies to a much smaller proportion of the working population than when I was in my prime. Back then, full-time jobs for corporations were the norm, but nowadays, piecing together a patchwork of smaller jobs in a gig economy is common, and in that context, a “layoff” doesn’t have the same meaning.

Nonetheless, many still work full-time for a corporation, whether in an office or on the factory or warehouse floor and in that context layoffs still happen. And for those whose job might encounter a layoff, being prepared for that is a good idea: it can calm the mind and stiffen the spine.

Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 11:26 am

Honeysuckle and the delights of using great equipment

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Two things I particularly noticed in this morning’s shave:

  1. The Phoenix Artisan Kokum Butter formula (less costly than the CK-6 formula) is really excellent, good enough that one wonders why he worked on improving it (which he did, but the KB formula really is a first-rate shaving soap).
  2. I get a much more noticeable fragrance hit from loading the brush from a tub than from rubbing a shaving stick on my face and then brushing the lather into existence. This may be due to the vigor with which I brush the soap in the tub, using a brush that’s merely damp.

My observations of course continued, apace with the experience, but those two stood out. I also noticed how much I liked the Honeysuckle fragrance (but enjoyment of fragrances is the epitome of YMMV), and also just how great the Omega Pro 48 is. I hope that readers who have yet to try it will at some point splurge on one — not a great splurge since they sell for around $17.

(Wet the knot well before you shower and when your shower’s done, but brush will be ready — though for the first week, just load the brush, work up a lather in your cupped palm, and rinse the brush — hot water until clear, then cold water — and shake it dry. After a week, you can start actually using it, and the brush will continue to improve over the coming months.)

The lather was really superb — partly because of the brush, partly because of the soap, partly because I’m now practiced in making lather — and using my iKon stainless slant (with its coated head) was pure pleasure. The handle I’m using is from Above the Tie, and it goes well with this head. I love this razor.

Three easy passes to a perfect finish, and then a splash of Honeysuckle aftershave with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s No. 10 Blend: “sweet green and black tea blend is lightly aromatic with a mild and soft, smooth flavour.”


Written by Leisureguy

17 October 2022 at 10:04 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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