Later On

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

The problem with trade agreements, exemplified by dolphin-safe tuna

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Public opinion cannot seem to halt the passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, strongly supported by many international corporations and President Obama, but trade agreements supersede national sovereignty and should be approached cautiously. David Dayen provides a good example in The Intercept:

International trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) need to be carefully examined piece by piece because they can take precedence over a country’s own laws.

Case in point: the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Friday ruled that dolphin-safe tuna labeling rules — required by U.S. law, in an effort to protect intelligent mammals from slaughter — violate the rights of Mexican fishers.

As a result, the U.S. will have to either alter the law or face sanctions from Mexico.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how the “investor-state dispute settlement system” baked into trade agreements can force countries to compensate corporations when regulations cut into their profits.

The long-running quarrel over tuna reveals another way that domestic laws can be overturned by trade agreements: when countries can file trade challenges on behalf of domestic industries.

“This should serve as a warning against expansive trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would replicate rules that undermine safeguards for wildlife, clean air, and clean water,” said the Sierra Club’s Ilana Solomon in a statement.

In the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972, the United States banned importation of yellowfin tuna harvested with netting that also scooped up dolphins, which often swim in the eastern Pacific Ocean above yellowfin schools. Since the 1950s, millions of dolphins have been killed in the tuna fishing trade, but the MMPA resulted in significant reductions in dolphin deaths.

Mexico, which has more lax fishing standards than the U.S., launched trade challenges in 1990 to overturn the import ban. Other nations piled on to the trade challenges, seeking to force the U.S. to change its dolphin conservation practices.

Congress did weaken the law in a series of amendments in 1997, replacing the import ban with a voluntary labeling policy. This allowed countries to use the same harmful netting that caught dolphins, as long as they ensured no dolphins were killed. Tuna caught without conforming to these standards can still be sold in the U.S., just without the dolphin-safe label.

But in 2008, Mexico launched a case against the revamped tuna labeling law, arguing that it still violated international trade agreements.

The WTO has ruled in Mexico’s favor on four separate occasions since 2011, most recently last Friday, in a final ruling that cannot be appealed. Though the U.S. changed its label standards several times, most recently in 2013, the WTO said that the law discriminates against tuna caught in Mexico, relative to other countries. Informing consumers of the fishing practices used to catch their tuna, the WTO concluded, represented a “technical barrier to trade.” . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2015 at 10:40 am

Egypt’s brutal prisons create ISIS volunteers

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An article worth reading in The Intercept. Given the practices of some US allies (Egypt in the article at hand, but also Saudi Arabia, the successful version of ISIS), putting an end to ISIS will be difficult. The article, by Murtaza Hussain, begins:

For nearly two years, Mohamed Soltan, a 26-year-old citizen of both Egypt and America, endured torture, deprivation, and cruelty while locked in the prisons of Egyptian military dictator Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. In 2013, he was among thousands arrested in a country-wide crackdown of civil society activists, journalists, and members of the deposed government following Sisi’s coup and massacre of protestors in Cairo’s Raba’a Adawiya Square.

Soltan was released this year after a 400-day hunger strike in which he lost over 130 pounds and nearly died, saved only by the intervention of the American government on his behalf. Despite bending to pressure in his case, the Egyptian regime continues to imprison as many as 41,000 other political prisoners, recent Human Rights Watch estimates suggest. And Soltan worries that extremism is incubating in those facilities, where he witnessed and experienced torture. Today, he says that, through its oppressive practicesm, the Sisi government is effectively acting as a “recruiting agent” for extremist groups like Islamic State.

“The regime is fostering an environment in their prisons that makes them a fertile ground for that kind of ideology to flourish,” Soltan says. “The brutality and the overwhelming loss of hope is creating a situation which fits [Islamic State’s] narrative, and they’re using it to try and recruit people and spread their message.”

Despite Soltan’s ordeal, some of his own relatives support Sisi. Like many families in Egypt today, they are starkly divided between support for Sisi’s military regime and for the deposed government of Mohamed Morsi. Soltan’s father, Salah, who was also taken into custody, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and served in Morsi’s government, although Soltan himself remained aloof from the party. “I was against the policies of Morsi, but I would’ve liked to have seen a referendum or early elections instead of a coup,” Soltan says.

The Obama administration has taken a similarly mixed stand, occasionally criticizing Sisi’s human rights abuses even as it continues to send him roughly $1.5 billion in mostly military aid each year. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2015 at 10:29 am

The most popular arguments against climate change, and the effect of funding

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Funding to support climate change denial comes overwhelmingly from the Koch brothers and from Exxon/Mobil (whose own research shows that climate change is indeed happening). And that funding drives certain arguments.

Kevin Drum summarizes an article that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that analyzed which are the most popular arguments against climate change, how they are affected by funding, and how they change over time.

Take, for example, the argument that CO2 buildup in the atmosphere is not a problem “because CO2 is good.” The frequency of the appearance of the argument is heavily influenced by funding:

CO2 is good

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2015 at 10:23 am

Two open-comb razors compared: Parker 24C and Maggard’s

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SOTD 24 Nov 2015

The Stirling angel-hair synthetic in a 22mm format is quite a nice brush—as, indeed, is the Stirling 26mm. Both perform quite well, though of course the size difference is felt on the face. Both have ample capacity for a full shave, and the lather this morning from Razor Emporium’s Connecticut Yankee was, as usual, superb—plus I am now accustomed to the citronella fragrance. (Citronella oil is derived from a species of lemongrass, something I learned thanks to the Internet.)

I tried two razors, and I have finally learned that if you want to compare two razors, you should put a fresh blade in each, since otherwise you are also comparing blades. Both the Parker 24C (in front) and the Maggard open comb head ($16 at the link) on a Wolfman handle (in back) have a new Gillette Silver Blue blade.

Both razors gave absolutely first-rate shaves. Indeed, I could not detect any difference in feel or performance between the Maggard open-comb head and the Parker 24C head. If you have a spare handle, the Maggard open-comb head is a very good buy.

On the quality of the result: there’s a notion about that a shave with a straight razor can be better than any shave you can get with a DE safety razor. This idea is false. First, of course, the quality of the end result can vary a lot, depending on the razor, the prep, the skill of the shaver, and so on. But the best straight razor result is no different from the best DE safety razor result: skin that’s so smooth you cannot feel any roughness in any direction.

The difference between the two is in the experience of the process of the shave, not the final result. And indeed some much prefer the experience of a (good) straight-razor shave: the ritual of stropping the razor, the degree of focused attention required, the two-handed technique, with one hand stretching the skin, the other wielding the blade. The experience during the shave is different; the final result is much the same.

Three passes to a flawless BBS result, followed by a tiny dab of Esbjerg aftershave gel, and we approach the holiday.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2015 at 9:03 am

Posted in Shaving

Agriculture Linked to DNA Changes in Ancient Europe

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Carl Zimmer reports in the NY Times:

The agricultural revolution was one of the most profound events in human history, leading to the rise of modern civilization. Now, in the first study of its kind, an international team of scientists has found that after agriculture arrived in Europe 8,500 years ago, people’s DNA underwent widespread changes, altering their height, digestion, immune system and skin color.

Researchers had found indirect clues of some of these alterations by studying the genomes of living Europeans. But the new study, they said, makes it possible to see the changes as they occurred over thousands of years.

“For decades we’ve been trying to figure out what happened in the past,” said Rasmus Nielsen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the new study. “And now we have a time machine.”

Before the advent of studies of ancient DNA, scientists had relied mainly on bones and other physical remains to understand European history. The earliest bones of modern humans in Europe date to about 45,000 years ago, researchers have found.

Early Europeans lived as hunter-gatherers for over 35,000 years. About 8,500 years ago, farmers left their first mark in the archaeological record of the continent.

By studying living Europeans, scientists had already found evidence suggesting that their ancestors adapted to agriculture through natural selection. As tools to sequence DNA became more readily available, researchers even discovered some of the molecular underpinnings of these traits.

But these studies couldn’t help determine exactly when the changes occurred, or whether they resulted from natural selection or the migrations of people into Europe from other regions.

Scientists are now tackling these questions in a much more direct way, thanks to a rapidly growing supply of DNA from ancient skeletons. These studies have revealed that the DNA of Europeans today comes from three main sources. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 9:24 pm

Vital Lies, Simple Truths should be required reading for all journalists

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Michael Massing writes in the NY Review of Books:

Despite fizzling out within months, Occupy Wall Street succeeded in changing the terms of political discussion in America. Inequality, the concentration of wealth, the one percent, the new Gilded Age—all became fixtures of national debate thanks in part to the protesters who camped out in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. Even the Republican presidential candidates have felt compelled to address the matter. News organizations, meanwhile, have produced regular reports on the fortunes of the wealthy, the struggles of the middle class, and the travails of those left behind.

Even amid the outpouring of coverage of rising income inequality, however, the richest Americans have remained largely hidden from view. On all sides, billionaires are shaping policy, influencing opinion, promoting favorite causes, polishing their images—and carefully shielding themselves from scrutiny. Journalists have largely let them get away with it. News organizations need to find new ways to lift the veil off the superrich and lay bare their power and influence. Digital technology, with its flexibility, speed, boundless capacity, and ease of interactivity, seems ideally suited to this task, but only if it’s used more creatively than it has been to date.

Consider, for instance, DealBook, the online daily financial report of The New York Times. It has a staff of twelve reporters plus a half-dozen columnists covering investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, and regulatory matters. Every day, DealBook posts a dozen or so pieces on theTimes website, some of which also appear in the print edition, making it seem a good vehicle for showing how Wall Street really works.

Unfortunately, it only intermittently delivers. Most DealBook postings are narrowly framed, with a heavy emphasis on CEO comings and goings, earnings and expectations, buyouts and IPOs. Some sample headlines: “BB&T Is New Deal-Making Powerhouse in Banking.” “Investors Hope to Ride Swell of SoulCycle Fever in Coming IPO.” “Dell Is the Straw That Stirs Tech M&A.” “Strong Profit for Bank of America, and Investors See Signs of Progress.” Some pieces veer into outright boosterism. A long feature on “How Jonathan Steinberg Made Good on a Second Chance,” for instance, described in admiring detail how this mogul, through a combination of pluck and savvy, built his asset management firm into “one of the fastest-growing fund companies around.”

DealBook’s founder and editor, Andrew Ross Sorkin, is known for his closeness to Wall Street executives (many of whom serve as sources of information), and it often shows in his weekly column. In one that appeared on October 3, 2011, two weeks after the start of Occupy Wall Street, he explained that he had decided to visit Zuccotti Park after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank:

“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the CEO asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?”

After speaking with some of the occupiers, Sorkin concluded that the bankers were not in imminent danger, though he warned that they did have to grapple with the demonstrators’ demands for accountability for the financial crisis and growing inequality. . .

Continue reading.

I highly recommend Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception; in it, Daniel Goleman explains why blind spots occur: that is, what is the value of having a blind spot? Why do we create them? Some of the secondhand copies at the link cost little more than shipping.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Business, Media

Watch it happen: New Rubik’s Cube world record solution time, 4.904 seconds

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Story here.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2015 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Games, Video


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