Later On

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

Archive for February 26th, 2017

The myth of trans regrets

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gray block DARKER

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

A solution to gerrymandering (if SCOTUS were techno-aware)

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Kevin Drum suggests a way out of gerrymandering:

Generally speaking, the Supreme Court is reluctant to weigh in on gerrymandering cases. There are exceptions, primarily where race is a factor, but for the most part they take the view that legislative redistricting is a political question, not a legal one. If a majority party gerrymanders a state to improve its chances in subsequent elections, that’s just politics red in tooth and claw.

But there’s another reason that courts shy away from gerrymandering cases: there’s no obvious judicial standard to use. If they did rule that gerrymandering was illegal or unconstitutional, they’d have to provide some kind of guidance about what’s acceptable and what’s not. But what would that be? Some weird topographical algorithm? Something relating partisan breakdowns in individual districts to the overall partisan breakdown of the state? Neither of these would work, and the lack of an easily justiciable rule means it’s unlikely the Supreme Court would ban gerrymandering even if it did decide it was a legal issue.

But it turns out there is a rule that can be applied easily and fairly. I’ve had this in an open tab for weeks, and it’s time to either close the tab or share the insight. So here it is:

There is a perfectly good scientific standard for determining whether there is partisan gerrymandering. This is the “partisan symmetry” measure developed by Andrew Gelman and Gary King. Essentially, symmetry requires that a specific share of the popular vote (say, 60 percent) would translate into the same number of congressional seats, regardless of which party won that share of the vote. For instance, if winning 60 percent of the popular vote in a state gives the Republican Party 65 percent of the congressional seats, then the Democratic Party should also win 65 percent of the seats if it wins 60 percent of the vote.

….But as Justice Scalia pointed out in his Vieth opinion, parties do not have a right to equal representation, any more than any other social group. It is only individual voters who have a right to equal treatment under the 14th Amendment and Article 1 of the Constitution….In our book, we show that the partisan symmetry standard can be logically derived from the equal treatment of individual voters, based on recent results in social choice theory. In partisan elections, you cannot treat all individual voters equally without treating all parties equally. This means that the party that gets more votes must get more seats. This sounds obvious, but it is precisely what the Supreme Court did not accept in the Vieth case. We show — line by mathematical line — that this logic is inescapable.

Continue reading.

Will the Court act? Depending on the state, gerrymandering can work against Republicans as much as it can against Democrats. One would hope both parties would embrace it, but (unfortunately) although liberals place a high value on fairness/reciprocity, conservatives are not so enamored of it.

We’ll see.

The Washington Post article at the link is well worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 4:37 pm

Posted in Law, Politics, Science

Cutting back on the shaving soap collection: A dozen go to auction

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Well, I’m tired of having stacks and stacks of shaving soaps, so I’m cutting back. Here’s the ebay listing.

Two of them are somewhat rare: Floris is a high-end soap, but a few years ago they reformulated the soap and the result was not good. I think they’ve done another reformulation to try to fix it. This soap is from before the first reformulation (and the wooden tub is quite nice). And the Geo. F. Trumper Almond is the same story: fine soap, from before the reformulation. And Trumper did not only reformulate, they outsourced the making of the soap.

So, they’re listed. If you have questions, let me know. I’m selling them together as a lot, so I won’t be breaking apart the dozen.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Shaving

Will Americans submit to despotism in an urge to “escape from freedom”? Erich Fromm saw it coming

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Conor Lynch writes in Salon:

President Donald Trump took his rancorous feud with the press to a frightening new level last week when he posted an inflammatory tweet that echoed tyrants of the past, calling the all-caps “FAKE NEWS” media “the enemy of the American People.”

As many were quick to point out, the phrase “enemy of the people” has a disturbing and violent history, and has long been used by totalitarian dictators to foster resentment and hatred of certain groups, and eventually to crush dissent and opposition. The infamous French revolutionary and Reign of Terror apologist Robespierre declared that the revolutionary government owed “nothing to the enemies of the people but death,” while the term was widely used in Stalinist Russia to single out dissidents, who were either imprisoned, executed or sent to the Gulag (in the end, almost all of the original Bolsheviks became “enemies of the people” during the great purge — which in reality meant enemies of Joseph Stalin).

Needless to say, the fact that President Trump thought it was appropriate to use this incendiary language on the free press — long considered the “bulwark of liberty” — is dangerous and alarming, and just the latest manifestation of the Trump administration’s authoritarian tendencies. Just one month into his term, the president has spent most of his time in public scapegoating and demonizing the free press, blatantly lying and espousing conspiracy theories that undermine faith in the electoral system and displaying his contempt for the idea of separation of powers and judicial review (once again attacking a sitting federal judge).

None of this behavior is particularly surprising for a man who has spent that past two years shattering democratic norms — e.g., threatening to jail his political opponent, encouraging violence against peaceful protesters, publicly sympathizing with oppressive dictators, advocating war crimes and so on.

It is tempting to write this all off as Donald being Donald — an impulsive, thin-skinned little man-child who can’t take any criticism — but that would be a mistake. Trump has surrounded himself with sycophantic enablers and right-wing extremists who appear eager to advance his authoritarian agenda. One of these individuals is the president’s 31-year-old senior adviser, Stephen Miller, a weaselly young man who would be perfectly cast as a Star Wars villain. Last week, Miller made the almost cartoonish assertion that “our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

Like the phrase “enemy of the people,” this is the kind of language used by party hacks in a totalitarian state, not a free and democratic society.

Not long ago this kind of rhetoric would have provoked outrage from both sides of the aisle and widespread disapproval from the populace. But today, in our hyper-partisan political landscape, many Americans have instead cheered Trump and his administration’s increasingly dictatorial and undemocratic behavior. This invites the question of whether the American people will stand up to autocracy if and when it comes, and how much of the populace is actually prepared to give up its freedom and submit to a strongman.

Shortly after the election, Yale historian Timothy Snyder, who recently said that we have “at most a year to defend the Republic,” wrote a chilling article in Slate narrating Adolf Hitler’s unexpected rise to power — without once saying his name — to draw parallels with our current historical situation, and to highlight how the German people quickly fell in line once Hitler had consolidated power and established his totalitarian regime.

One of the many brilliant Jewish intellectuals to flee from Germany after Hitler’s rise, philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm attempted to explain the shocking spread of totalitarianism in his lifetime with his influential and urgent 1941 book, “Escape from Freedom.” This classic investigation into the psychology of authoritarianism can help elucidate some of what is happening today. In the first half of the book, Fromm surveys the profound cultural, economic and political changes that had occurred since the Middle Ages with the Protestant Reformation and the emergence of industrial capitalism, and explores how these shifts impacted the human psyche and the individual’s interaction with the external world.

Fromm posits that industrialization and the rise of liberalism resulted in the “complete emergence” of the individual (i.e., “individuation”), along with newfound freedom, but also upended “primary ties” that had once provided men and women with “security and a feeling of belonging and of being rooted somewhere.” In other words, modernization freed man from traditional authorities that had greatly limited him, but also provided him with security and meaning in life. “Growing individuation,” writes Fromm, “means growing isolation, insecurity, and thereby growing doubt concerning one’s role in the universe, the meaning of one’s life, and with all that a growing feeling of one’s own powerlessness and insignificance as an individual.”

That brings us to Fromm’s powerful thesis:

If the economic, social and political conditions on which the whole process of human individuation depends, do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality … while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world which promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of his freedom.

The crucial point Fromm was trying to get across is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 11:17 am

Paul Waldman asks why there is so little outrage over’s Russia’s interference in the election

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This piece ran on CNN on December 10, 2016, but it still seems timely:

Now we know: Russia was apparently trying very hard to get Donald Trump elected, and the two parties reacted very differently to that fact.

We already knew that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, as had the emails of John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. We also knew that intelligence officials and independent cybersecurity analysts believed that those hacks came from Russia.

But Friday, The Washington Post reported that the intelligence community had definitively concluded that Russia was behind these hacks, not merely to sow chaos and destabilization but to help Trump win.

The Post told of an extraordinary meeting on Capitol Hill in mid-September, when FBI Director James Comey, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and other officials met with the leadership of both parties. They made the case for a bipartisan statement sending a warning to Russia that such actions would not be tolerated.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the kibosh on it.

“McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics,” the Post reported, citing accounts of several officials.

So the White House backed down, apparently to avoid being seen as trying to aid Clinton’s campaign.

Now fast-forward about a month. Nine days before the election, Comey does something unprecedented: He announces that the FBI is investigating emails relating to Hillary Clinton that were found on a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. This was a clear violation of FBI policy, which dictates that the bureau shouldn’t make public comments about ongoing investigations, especially close to an election.

The news landed like a nuclear blast, dominating the headlines and television discussion for days and reinforcing exactly the message Trump wanted to send about Clinton. If Comey was trying to destroy Clinton’s candidacy, he couldn’t have come up with a better way. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 10:46 am

Posted in Election

Cheese as crack

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Barbara King has an interesting report at NPR:

The average American eats more than 33 pounds of cheese a year.

This is according to Neal Barnard, physician and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. And that’s a problem, he says, because it’s helping to make us overweight and sick.

Barnard’s new book, The Cheese Trap: How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Get Healthy, is set to hit shelves Tuesday. In it, Barnard writes about cheese in strong terms:

“Loaded with calories, high in sodium, packing more cholesterol than steak, and sprinkled with hormones — if cheese were any worse, it would be Vaseline …

Some foods are fattening. Others are addictive. Cheese is both — fattening and addictive.”

I’d never before thought in terms of dairy products being addictive (with the personal exception of milk chocolate, I admit). Barnard explains that dairy protein — specifically a protein called casein — has opiate molecules built in. When babies nurse, he notes, they’re getting dosed with a mild drug: “Milk contains opiates that reward the baby for nursing.”

It’s no different with the cow’s milk — or other mammalian milk — from which cheese is made. In fact, Barnard says, the process of cheese-making concentrates the casein:

“A cup of milk contains about 7.7 grams of protein, 80 percent of which is casein, more or less. Turning it into Cheddar cheese multiplies the protein count seven-fold, to 56 grams. It is the most concentrated form of casein in any food in the grocery store.

Call it dairy crack.”

The U.S. produces more cheese than any other country in the world, according to Barnard.

The big issue, he says, is that cheese lovers aren’t just addicted to a delicious food, they’re addicted to one that may seriously contribute to health problems. He cites studies in the book that tie eating cheese to weight gain and risks of numerous diseases.

Barnard suggests that giving up cheese is associated, for example, with relief of asthma symptoms. In an email, Barnard summarized the case for this association this way: . ..

Continue reading.

My own favorite cheese currently is Chimay.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 10:38 am

Posted in Food, Health, Low carb, Science

President Trump’s Anti-Secular Foreign Policy

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Lawfare has an interesting piece by Jacques Berlinerblau:

Jacques Berlinerblau is the Rabbi Harold S. White Professor of Jewish Civilization at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (Cambridge), How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and co-editor of Secularism on the Edge: Rethinking Church-State Relations in the United States, France, and Israel (Palgrave Macmillan).

President Trump is taking the U.S. in many new directions. This piece explores one of them:

Editor’s Note: The Trump administration is turning many things on their heads, not least the role religion is playing in society. But what is happening is also shaping U.S. policy overseas. Jacques Berlinerblau, my colleague at Georgetown, argues that the Trump administration’s foreign policy represents a dramatic shift for the United States and one that may prove disastrous.


In a landmark 1960 speech, John F. Kennedy warned against pointing “a finger of suspicion” at any one religious group. “Today,” intoned the man who would soon be the nation’s first Catholic president, “I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you—until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped.” Kennedy’s sentiments express what might be the Golden Rule of modern American secularism: our government cannot discriminate against, nor show preference towards, citizens on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The administration of Donald J. Trump appears eager to turn this secular logic completely upside down. As for preference, the president has made common cause with conservative Christians and their particular policy goals, like the reinstatement of the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy, which bans federal funding for any NGO providing abortion counseling, often affecting the provision of other forms of birth control. As for discrimination, Trump’s flagging “Muslim Ban” points “the finger of suspicion” at members of one religious group. Just a few weeks past his inauguration, Trump is poised to become the most anti-secular president in recent American history.

What does that mean in practice? Drawing a distinction between anti-secularism’s domestic and foreign policy applications is a good first step toward understanding its implications. On the domestic front, Trump’s disdain for mid-century secular conventions is evident in everything from the “Merry Christmas” sign ostentatiously glued to his podium at a post-election rally to his Supreme Court and cabinet nominations. At the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump vowed that he would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pulpits from becoming veritable PACs. Alongside his GOP allies, Trump may try to nationalize countless “religious freedom” bills, like the one Mike Pence signed in Indiana. That legislation, which was framed as a “restoration” of religious freedom, legitimated discrimination in accordance with one’s faith convictions, including denying services to members of the LGBT community.

Implementing an anti-secular agenda in world affairs, however, is a different matter altogether. For starters, the activism that takes place in Republican state houses is usually a pipeline for ideas about national, as opposed to international, policies. Second, the infrastructure for effectuating such policies on an international scale is less built-out; there are far fewer operatives, legal advocates, think tanks, pressure groups, and donors committed to the promulgation of anti-secularism in global relations.

One also wonders if an anti-secular Trump administration would have partners in the State Department and elsewhere as helpful and reliable as the Republican Party. As recently as 2006, The Economist dubbed America’s foreign policy elite “one of the most secular groups in the country.” It is telling that Madeleine Albright describes the study of international relations in the 1980s as “theorized in almost exclusively secular terms.” “I cannot remember,” writes the former secretary of state reflecting on the pre-9/11 period, “any leading American diplomat…speaking in depth about the role of religion in shaping the world.”

From the Kennedy era to 9/11, while experts like Albright were steadfastly avoiding religious questions, a culture war was raging within U.S. politics. In the 1960s a late-blooming variant of secularism known as “separationism” achieved unprecedented judicial victories. Resurrecting a Jeffersonian metaphor, mid-century secularists spoke of a “Wall of Separation.” They proceeded to shunt prayer out of public schools and eliminate religious tests for civil service employment. These separationists challenged the idea that the federal government should be for, or against, any religion.

The backlash, led by conservative Christian activists who first came to national prominence during the Reagan years, was swift and devastatingly effective. In the intervening decades they endeavored to dismantle the Wall brick by brick. They were buoyed by Justice William Rehnquist’s 1985 dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree that the Wall was “a metaphor based on bad history…and should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.” The result has been a notable decline in the acceptance of separationism as a judicial or governing ideology on the local, state, and federal levels.

The activism of the Christian Right has yet to achieve globally what it has achieved nationally. That could now begin to shift. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2017 at 9:49 am

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