Later On

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Archive for March 22nd, 2017

Neil Gorsuch is either heartless or has monumentally bad judgment—not what you want in a Justice of the Supreme Court

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In Salon Paul Rosenberg summarizes Sen. Al Franken’s questioning in the hearing:

In a few short minutes of questioning Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Tuesday, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., exposed the utter absurdity of an elaborate legal fiction that conservatives have spent decades constructing. That fiction is meant to place them unreachably beyond any possible question, no matter how ludicrous, cruel or unjust their rulings might be. If the Democrats had any semblance of a coherent messaging apparatus, the Gorsuch nomination would be finished. But, of course, they don’t.

It happened so quickly, and Franken’s manner — as usual — was so understated, that it was easy to miss the significance of what happened. But the nation cannot afford to let that happen. The point Franken was making was far too critical to let it pass by unnoticed. In fact, it should be a rallying point to gather around, one that could reset the course of American jurisprudence along more sound and sober lines.

Franken’s questioning concerned the notorious “frozen trucker” case, TransAm Trucking v. Dept. of Labor. Other senators had mentioned it, but never quite in the way that Franken did. A trucker named Alphonse Maddin was fired for making a commonsense decision to save his own life — and to protect others as well. Gorsuch, alone among all the judges who ruled on the case, thought that was perfectly fine. Indeed, he felt it was the only legal conclusion he could possibly reach, a conclusion Franken called “absurd.”

A black-robed judge in the warm comfort of his chambers decides that a trucker should have meekly accepted freezing to death (alone in his truck, in midwinter, in the middle of the night), and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. That is conservative jurisprudence in a nutshell. It’s reason enough to not merely reject Neil Gorsuch but also spurn any judge who would justify himself and his rulings with similar rhetoric — like John Roberts before him — of simply, heartlessly interpreting the law the only way he could, by “calling balls and strikes.”

The acts of the matter were perfectly straightforward. As summarized by the court, “In January 2009, Maddin was transporting cargo through Illinois when the brakes on his trailer froze because of subzero temperatures. After reporting the problem to TransAm and waiting several hours for a repair truck to arrive, Maddin unhitched his truck from the trailer and drove away, leaving the trailer unattended. He was terminated for abandoning the trailer.”

Maddin successfully sued for reinstatement, the court explained, under a provision that “makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge an employee who ‘refuses to operate a vehicle because . . . the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public because of the vehicle’s hazardous safety or security condition.’”

Throughout the proceedings, Gorsuch was the only judge at any level who thought Maddin should have risked death or been fired. That’s what Franken honed in on, dramatizing Maddin’s plight, going through it step by step. After Maddin made a stop at about 11 p.m. on the night in question, he noticed his brakes had frozen. He called for repairs. Franken took it from there.

The dispatcher says wait, hang on there. OK, couple hours goes by, the heater is not working in his cab, it’s 14 below zero, . . . 14 below zero. He calls in and says, ‘My feet, I can’t feel my feet. I can’t feel my feet, my torso, I’m beginning not to be able to feel my torso,’ and they say, ‘Hang on, hang on, wait for us.’ OK, now he actually falls asleep, and at 1:18 a.m., his cousin I think calls . . . and wakes him up, and his cousin says that he is slurring his speech. . . . Now, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota says that is hypothermia, and if you fall asleep in 14-below-zero weather you can freeze to death. You can die.

He calls them back, he calls them back and his supervisor says, ‘Wait. You gotta wait.’ So he has a couple choices here, wait or take the trailer out, with frozen brakes, onto the interstate.

Doing that, Franken observed, would have put others’ lives at risk as well as Maddin’s own, since without reliable brakes he could only drive 10 to 15 miles per hour.  “So what’s that like on an interstate?” Franken asked Gorsuch. “Someone’s going 75 miles an hour, they come over a hill, and slam into that trailer.”

Then there was Maddin’s hypothermia to consider. “He’s a little woozy. . . . I don’t think you’d want to be on the road with him, would you, Judge?” Franken asked. Gorsuch stuttered but did not reply.

“You would? Or not?” Franken pressed. “It’s really easy: Yes or no, would you like to be on the road with him?”

After a bit more back and forth, Gorsuch finally admitted the obvious: “I don’t think I would.”

Franken then wound up his recounting of the case. “He gets fired. And the rest of the judges all go, ‘That’s ridiculous; you can’t fire a guy for doing that.’ There were two safety issues here, . . . the possibility of freezing to death or driving with that rig in a very dangerous way.”

Then Franken asked Gorsuch another simple question: “Which would you have chosen? Which would you have done?

Gorsuch replied, in his best law-school patronizing manner, “Oh, Senator, I don’t know what I would’ve done if I were in his shoes, and I don’t blame him at all for a moment for doing what he did do. I empathize with him entirely.” Which clearly is no answer.

So Franken pressed him again: “OK, we [have] been talking about this case [and] you haven’t decided what you would have done? Haven’t thought for a second what you would have done in his case?”

Responding defensively, Gorsuch said, “I thought a lot about this case.”

“And what would you have done?” Franken asked. “I’m asking you a question. Please answer the question,” Franken pressed.

“Senator, I don’t know,” the finest legal mind in all of conservative America answered. “I wasn’t in the man’s shoes, but I understand why . . . ”

“You don’t know what you would’ve done,” Franken summed up for him. “OK, I’ll tell you what I would’ve done. I would’ve done exactly what he did. And I think everybody here would’ve done exactly what he did. And I think that’s an easy answer. Frankly, I don’t know why you had difficulty answering that.”

From there, Franken turned to the dissent Gorsuch wrote. As Franken described it, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 4:14 pm

A big “uh-oh” on Rex Tillerson

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Read Kevin Drum’s post. This is going to end badly.

Trump seems to be ignoring Tillerson, but the rest of the world must deal with him.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 3:07 pm

What is Devon Nunes up to? John Aravosis takes a look

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From a bulk email:

 today’s breaking news is that House Intelligence Committee chair Devon Nunes, who is a huge Trump ally who helped Trump on his transition, has just gone public with what appears to be blockbuster news: US intelligence picked up communications involving the Trump transition. While initially wow-worthy, it appears that once again Nunes is providing a distraction for Trump’s disastrous week.

I’m rushing this out, so please excuse any typos.

What we know

Nunes is all over TV claiming that members of Trump’s transition — and possibly Trump himself, but possibly not (in other words, Nunes doesn’t know) — were caught up in “incidental collection” of ongoing National Security Agency intercepts. Meaning, the US routinely spies on foreigners around the world. While spying on those foreigners, we picked up conversations that members of the Trump transition — i.e., after the election — had with foreigners who we were spying on.

Nunes says that there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with the incidental collection itself. The intercepts were legal, and incidental collection happens all the time. (Just to reiterate, incidental collection is when we eavesdrop on a foreigner and an American happens to talk to that foreigner, and we collect the American’s conversation even though we never intended to spy on the American.)

What Nunes claims to be upset about is the inclusion of the names of those incidental Americans in government reports about the wiretaps. Nunes says the names should have been “masked” in the reports, they should have removed the names from the reports, but they didn’t.

But it gets stranger. Nunes found out about this today, and immediately went to tell Trump, even though Nunes is leading the investigation of Trump. Nunes claims that isn’t improper because the new information doesn’t fall under the Russia investigation. Nonetheless, Nunes now says he’s going to include this new information as part of his Russia investigation, even though a minute ago Nunes said it wasn’t a part of it so it wasn’t improper for him to run and brief Trump.

Nunes did not bother to brief the top Democrat on the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, making this look all the more partisan.

Why this matters

1. It’s important to recognize that Nunes isn’t claiming that Team Trump was illegally spied on. He’s claiming that their names should not have been included in government documents reporting on the collection.

2. Why is Nunes briefing Trump? Trump has this information via the NSA, which he runs. Nunes says the collection came via the NSA. So why isn’t the NSA director briefing Trump, why is the House Intel chair doing it? If this came from an NSA staffer, why didn’t that staffer report it to the NSA director himself? Is this an effort by Nunes to cast aspersions on the NSA director — Nunes couldn’t trust him to report it to Trump instead?

3. It sure looks like Nunes, who is as partisan as they come, is trying to help Trump by causing a huge distraction in the middle of the worst week in Trump’s presidency. You’ll recall that the House Intel Committee hearing earlier this week wit the FBI Director and the NSA Director was a disaster for Trump. Both men said there was no evidence that Trump had his wires tapped by Obama. And they revealed that there is an ongoing investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Add that to tomorrow’s vote on health care reform repeal, which isn’t going well, and Trump needed a distraction. Nunes just handed it to him.

4. Why didn’t this information come up during Monday’s hearing?

5. Trump said today that he feels partly vindicated by this news — Trump thinks this news helps prove the case that Obama had his “wires tapped.” In fact, it doesn’t. This news shows that perhaps the Trump transition got legally caught up incidentally. That is not “Obama tapping your wires.” But Trump, who isn’t known for nuance, will see it as just that. And that is a disaster for Republicans. Yes, this story will help detract from the bad news of the week. But it will also empower Trump’s worse instincts (which I wrote about earlier today). Trump will be on a renewed tear, convinced that his debunked conspiracies are all true. And that means more crazy tweets, and more crazy attacks from Sean Spicer at the White House podium. None of this is good news for Trump, his administration, the country or our allies.

This is why, in the end, we need an independent investigation of this entire Russia mess. Nunes is far too partisan to do a fair investigation — he ran to brief the very man he’s investigating. We need someone objective, someone independent, and someone(s) we all can trust.

As always, feel free to share this Trump Update with your friends. They can sign up for it here. The more subscribers, the more powerful we are. . . .

Thanks as always, JOHN

John Aravosis
Editor of AMERICAblog
Washington, DC

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 2:41 pm

The smallest collection comprises three items.

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f you have one of a type of item, that’s just a possession; if you have two, then you have a “pair” of them or a “brace” of them (e.g., a brace of dueling pistols); at three, the word is “collection.” I suppose the idea is that we have a common word for a pair of items (there, I’ve just used it), but no common word for three items of a kind, and we switch to “collection.” This must be ancient, since it is in effect, “one, two, many.” We do have “a few” (3-4, IMO) and “several” (5 or 6, 7 at the most, IMO).

Of course, you can have a collection of collections (e.g., you collect card decks (a deck being a collection of cards) or jigsaw puzzles (each puzzle a collection of pieces). (Obviously, you can also have a collection of pairs, as for those who collect salt-and-pepper sets.)

Note, however, that we are restricting ourselves to instances in which the components are of individual interest: a salt shaker does not represent a “collection” of salt. For aggregates of indistinguishable items, we might use, say, “a bucket of x” or “a bag of x,” but we would never say “a collection of x.” A collection of chess sets, however, is a collection of sets (a tip-off word) that are collections of chess pieces.

Let’s define collection depth as the maximum number of levels of a collection (since some collections within a collection may not be a complete collection—a card deck missing some cards or a jigsaw puzzle missing some pieces).

A collection of shaving brushes: collection depth = 1
A collection of straight razors that includes one or more 7-day sets: collection depth = 2
A collection of 20-pack cartons or carts of packages of five blades each—e.g., I have cartons of Astra Superior Platinum and Wilkinson Sword blades, and cards containing 20 packs of Gillette Silver Blues, Zorriks, and others, and each of the packs is a collection of 5 blades. Collection depth = 3

Any ideas for collection depth = 4? It need not be shaving related, but cool if you can do it.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

ProPublica Fact-Checked Lawmakers’ Letters to Constituents on Health Care

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And the letters are full of lies. This is, I contend, a very bad sign. Charles Ornstein reports in ProPublica:

When Louisiana resident Andrea Mongler wrote to her senator, Bill Cassidy, in support of the Affordable Care Act, she wasn’t surprised to get an email back detailing the law’s faults. Cassidy, a Republican who is also a physician, has been a vocal critic.

“Obamacare” he wrote in January, “does not lower costs or improve quality, but rather it raises taxes and allows a presidentially handpicked ‘Health Choices Commissioner’ to determine what coverage and treatments are available to you.”

There’s one problem with Cassidy’s ominous-sounding assertion: It’s false.

The Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, includes no “Health Choices Commissioner.” Another bill introduced in Congress in 2009 did include such a position, but the bill died — and besides, the job as outlined in that legislation didn’t have the powers Cassidy ascribed to it.

As the debate to repeal the law heats up in Congress, constituents are flooding their representatives with notes of support or concern, and the lawmakers are responding, sometimes with form letters that are misleading. A review of more than 200 such letters by ProPublica and its partners at Kaiser Health News, Stat and Vox, found dozens of errors and mischaracterizations about the ACA and its proposed replacement. The legislators have cited wrong statistics, conflated health care terms and made statements that don’t stand up to verification.

It’s not clear if this is intentional or if the lawmakers and their staffs don’t understand the current law or the proposals to alter it. Either way, the issue of what is wrong — and right — about the current system has become critical as the House prepares to vote on the GOP’s replacement bill Thursday.

“If you get something like that in writing from your U.S. senator, you should be able to just believe that,” said Mongler, 34, a freelance writer and editor who is pursuing a master’s degree in public health. “I hate that people are being fed falsehoods, and a lot of people are buying it and not questioning it. It’s far beyond politics as usual.”

Cassidy’s staff did not respond to questions about his letter.

Political debates about complex policy issues are prone to hyperbole and health care is no exception. And to be sure, many of the assertions in the lawmakers’ letters are at least partially based in fact.

Democrats, for instance, have been emphasizing to their constituents that millions of previously uninsured people now have medical coverage thanks to the law. They say insurance companies can no longer discriminate against millions of patients with pre-existing conditions. And they credit the law with allowing adults under age 26 to stay on their parents’ health plans. All true.

For their part, Republicans criticize the law for not living up to its promises. They say former President Obama pledged that people could keep their health plans and doctors and premiums would go down. Neither has happened. They also say that insurers are dropping out of the market and that monthly premiums and deductibles (the amount people must pay before their coverage kicks in) have gone up. All true.

But elected officials in both parties have incorrectly cited statistics and left out important context. We decided to take a closer look after finding misleading statements in an email Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sent to his constituents. We solicited letters from the public and found a wealth of misinformation, from statements that were simply misleading to whoppers. More Republicans fudged than Democrats, though both had their moments. . .

Continue reading. Good examples of bad faith.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 2:06 pm

Domestic Violence Hotline and Suicide Prevention Hotline: Know the numbers

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You may find yourself wanting to give someone the number or, God forbid, want to use the number yourself. It is good to know that help is available and to be able to talk to someone not involved to get an unbiased opinion.

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

If you have one of those newfangled smartphones, enter the numbers so you can access them when someone needs them.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

AP Exclusive: Manafort’s plan to advance Putin’s interests

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Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day report for the Associated Press:

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned.

The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in confidential strategy plans as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP.

Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Manafort’s plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.

The disclosure comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI investigation and two congressional inquiries. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign.

Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided, and said he never worked for Russian interests. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort’s ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed.

In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 1:08 pm

Things I didn’t know about cooking pasta—but that make sense and are easy

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I found this brief 100-second video interesting and informative:

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Today the Supreme Court will hear a case with major implications for the Second and Fourth amendments

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Radley Balko reported earlier:

In Monday’s morning links, I noted the story of Andrew Scott, a Florida man who was shot and killed by a police officer who came to his home, pounded on his door and never identified himself as law enforcement. Scott wasn’t suspected of any crime and did nothing illegal during the altercation. What he did do is grab his own gun, which he held pointed at the floor after he was understandably startled by the banging on the door to his apartment. Scott opened the door, saw a figure with a gun and then attempted to close the door. The officer fired six shots, three of which struck Scott, killing him. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit threw out the lawsuit filed by Scott’s family, finding that the officer who killed Scott is protected by qualified immunity, the court-invented doctrine that makes it nearly impossible to sue police officers, even for egregiously over-the-top use of force that ends in death.

As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern points out, this is something that should worry not just Fourth Amendment advocates, but also those who care about the Second Amendment. Citing the dissent written by 4th Circuit appeals court Judge Beverly Martin, Stern writes:

The most fascinating part of Martin’s analysis centered around Sylvester’s insistence that the shooting was justified because Scott opened the door while holding a firearm. This “conclusion that deadly force was reasonable here,” Martin noted, “plainly infringes on the Second Amendment right to ‘keep and bear arms.’ ” Citing the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller, which affirmed an individual right to handgun ownership under the Second Amendment, Martin wrote, “If Mr. Scott was subject to being shot and killed, simply because (as the District Court put it) he made the “fateful decision” to answer a late-night disturbance at the door to his house, and did so while holding his firearm pointed safely at the ground, then the Second Amendment (and Heller) had little effect.”

That seems exactly right to me—and it raises an important point: The 11th Circuit has now effectively found an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights are diminished whenever he chooses to exercise his Second Amendment right to possess a firearm. Unfortunately, the 4th Circuit reached the same conclusion in a dreadful ruling handed down in January. The Supreme Court should step in soon to remedy the contradiction by clarifying that the exercise of one constitutional right cannot diminish the protection of another. This is an area where liberals and conservatives should be in agreement.

One would think. Over at National Review, David French made a similar point. 

On Wednesday [today – LG], the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in L.A. County v. Mendez, a case that could give them just such an opportunity to address the issue. The case stems from a 2010 confrontation between Angel and Jennifer Mendez and L.A. County deputies Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson in the couple’s home.

In October 2010, the two deputies were looking for a rogue parolee. According to the deputies, a confidential informant told them that a man who fit the description of the parolee had been spotted riding a bicycle in front of a house owned by a woman named Paula Hughes. Acting only on that tip (note, the man wasn’t spotted on a parked bike at the house; he was seen riding by it), the deputies searched the house — without a warrant. Before the search, the deputies had also been told that Hughes had let a down-on-his-luck high school friend named Angel Mendez and his pregnant wife build a little shack and live in her back yard. After not finding their fugitive parolee in the house, Deputy Pederson announced that she was going to “clear the back yard.” Conley joined her. They still hadn’t bothered trying to obtain a warrant.

Knowing that the shack in the yard was a residence, the two entered it without knocking or announcing themselves, as they’re required to do by law. Angel Mendez kept a BB gun near his bed to shoot away pests. When the police entered his home without knocking or announcing, he was startled and reached for the gun. Deputies Conley and Pederson then opened fire, sending 15 bullets toward Angel Mendez and his wife. Jennifer Mendez was struck in the back. Angel Mendez was hit in the back, right arm, right hip, right shin and left foot. His right leg had to be amputated below the knee.

The case turns on a long-standing problem created by the consistently deferential way the courts treat police officers. Absent clear evidence to the contrary, cops who violate laws or constitutional rights are assumed to have done so inadvertently. But what happens when those violations of law or constitutional rights cause a suspect to take (also justified) actions that then cause police officers to reasonably fear for their lives — and to then use lethal force? In this case, the deputies clearly violated the Fourth Amendment, several times over. But after they did so, Mendez reached for what probably looked like a real gun. Under the law, once he did, the deputies were justified in using lethal force. But Mendez was also justified in his own actions, given that the deputies had violated his own Fourth Amendment rights, and he quite reasonably feared for his safety.

The cops can’t be criminally charged for the shooting. In theory they could be sued, but in every circuit in the country but the 9th, federal appeals courts have ruled in favor of the police in such instances. But the 9th Circuit has adopted a doctrine of provocation. That doctrine says that if unconstitutional police actions create a chain of events resulting in the use of force, the initial violations make the police civilly liable for harm caused by that force, even if other circumstances transpired to make the use of force itself reasonable. So far, because of the provocation doctrine, both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit have ruled in favor of the Mendezes. Los Angeles County appealed to the Supreme Court late last year, and the court granted cert.

Conceivably, the Supreme Court could . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and it’s interesting.

Later in the article:

One other thing: There are only a few tools available to enforce the Fourth Amendment. One is the exclusionary rule (the rule that evidence seized due to an illegal search is inadmissible at trial). Another is civil liability for police officers. The only real remaining deterrent is professional discipline. In Hudson v. Michigan, the Supreme Court refused to apply the exclusionary rule when police fail to properly knock and announce themselves before breaking down a door. If the Supreme Court dispenses with the provocation doctrine too, the only possible remaining deterrent to enforce the knock-and-announce requirement — the rule that says the police have to knock, announce themselves and give you time to peacefully answer the door before subjecting you to the violence of a forced entry — will be professional discipline. In other words, our sole protection from cops barging into our homes unannounced will be the hope that other cops will discipline their colleagues for failing to knock and announce — and discipline them severely enough that it serves as an effective deterrent. If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll know why that isn’t exactly encouraging.

Okay, one more thing: . . .

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

FOIA the Dead uses The New York Times’ obituaries to shine a light on FBI surveillance, for the living

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Fascinating article by Laura Hazard Owen at NiemanLab:

“Reader, would you be surprised to learn that you had been a terrorist suspect?” The author William T. Vollmann wrote in Harper’s in 2013 about the process of FOIAing his FBI file and discovering that he had been a Unabomber suspect. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates uncovered an FBI file for his father, William Paul Coates, a Black Panther in Baltimore. “I thought of Hoover’s FBI, which harassed three generations of black activists,” he wrote in his Atlantic cover story “My President Was Black”: “Whether this generation of black activists and their allies should be afraid.”

Parker Higgins hopes to track down more stories like these with his new project, FOIA the Dead. Higgins first became familiar with the FOIA process and transparency activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where he worked for five years as a copyright activist. “The obituary page has always fascinated me,” he said, “not just as an activist, but as someone alive in the world.”

A person’s FBI file becomes available to the public at the moment they die. Higgins wrote a script that lets him automatically send a FOIA request for the FBI file of every public figure listed in The New York Times’ obituary pages (not the paid death notices). So far, he has sent 1,300 requests, roughly two-thirds of which have been processed so far. Higgins got back FBI files for about 29 of them, and in a roughly equal number of cases, he was told he’d need to file a second request because the files had been moved to the National Archive.

“The dream of doing this is to uncover someone that you would not expect to be under FBI surveillance, and discover that they are,” he said. “A lot of the people who are in the obituary pages right now are notable for their involvement in the Civil Rights movement or were Black Panthers. We’ve heard stories of potential FBI overreach [in these movements], but now those files are potentially available. In order to find those, you just need to be requesting, a lot.”

Higgins posts each file he receives to his website, along with a brief description of the person it’s for. Many of the files are for activists. “If they’re a public enough activist to get a Times obituary, they frequently have an FBI file,” Higgins said, noting that in many cases the activists were aware that the FBI had files on them and had requested them in their own lifetimes. Among them:

Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor who served as a translator in the Nuremberg trials before emigrating to the U.S., worked as an activist for various causes over a span of more than five decades. Her FBI file covers those five decades, and the overwhelming majority concerns housing discrimination cases she helped prepare in the 1970s.

Michael Mariotte was a prominent anti-nuclear activist throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Before that, in 1973, he’d gotten the FBI’s attention as a member of the Youth International Party and a potential protestor at Richard Nixon’s inauguration.

Higgins launched FOIA the Dead on March 1. It’s a personal project that he’s funding himself, though he’d ultimately like it to serve more of a “clearinghouse” function. “I don’t have subject-matter expertise on any of the people I’m filing about,” he said. “I’d love to start working with people who know the most interesting parts of the files I’m getting. It could be cool if I could work with other people to see if there are stories in here, maybe annotate the files. That’s a longer-term goal.”

By coincidence, the day the project launched, the FBI stopped taking FOIA requests via email, which was what Higgins’ script had relied on. It now takes requests through an E-FOIA portal. “That was underway for a long time before the election,” Higgins said. “Its actual rollout comes at a time when people are really concerned about the future of transparency law.” The new portal works well, he said, but it is resistant to the type of automation that he’d used previously. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 12:48 pm

America’s criminal-justice system really is criminal: Miami-Dade prison guards who allegedly laughed as they scalded a man to death in a hot shower won’t face criminal charges.

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Via Radley Balko’s links, Jerry Ianneli’s report in the Miami New Times:

On June 23, 2012, Darren Rainey, a schizophrenic man serving time for cocaine possession, was thrown into a prison shower at the Dade Correctional Institution. The water was turned up to 180 degrees — hot enough to steep tea or cook ramen noodles.

As his punishment, four corrections officers — John Fan Fan, Cornelius Thompson, Ronald Clarke, and Edwina Williams — kept Rainey in that shower for two full hours. Rainey was heard screaming, “Please take me out! I can’t take it anymore!” and kicking the shower door. Inmates said prison guards laughed at Rainey and shouted, “Is it hot enough?”

Rainey died inside that shower. He was found crumpled on the floor. When his body was pulled out, nurses said burns covered 90 percent of his body. A nurse said his body temperature was too high to register with a thermometer. And his skin fell off at the touch.

But in an unconscionable decision, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office announced Friday that the four guards who oversaw what amounted to a medieval-era boiling will not be charged with a crime.

“The shower was itself neither dangerous nor unsafe,’’ the report says. “The evidence does not show that Rainey’s well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff.’’

Rundle’s office announced the results of its investigation in a Friday-afternoon news dump, the kind that public officials typically use to bury unflattering news or information. Rundle’s office would clearly like this case to vanish over the weekend — but the facts are so inhumanely grotesque that the decision should haunt the office for eternity.

Rundle took over as Miami-Dade’s top prosecutor in the 1990s after Janet Reno left to join the Bill Clinton administration. Rundle has remained the state attorney since then. In that time, she has never charged a Miami police officer for an on-duty shooting.

It’s important to note that all Rundle had to do to show she cared was to charge the prison guards with a crime. It’s up to a jury to assess guilt. Despite the fact that a man died in a shower and that multiple witnesses said they saw burns on his body and heard screaming, Rundle didn’t think there was enough evidence to bring criminal charges. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 12:40 pm

Mr. Trump Goes After Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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The GOP has never, so far as I know, shown the slightest interest in protecting consumers. The GOP is to protect and assist corporations (thus the gutting of the EPA, which is certainly going to harm the public but will be a boon to corporate profits). The editors of the NY Times write:

Shortly after Inauguration Day, the Trump camp indicated it had no immediate plan to fire Richard Cordray, the Obama-appointed director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose term runs until July 2018. The administration’s restraint was a welcome contrast to congressional Republicans’ unrelenting efforts to weaken the bureau, including calls to get rid of Mr. Cordray, an effective leader, on the ground that he had become a dictator.

Last week, however, the administration signaled it wanted to fire Mr. Cordray. Specifically, the Justice Department weighed in on a pending case in federal court that will decide how much power a president has to fire the bureau’s director. In its filing, the Justice Department has asserted that the director should be removable at the president’s will. That stance is consistent with an earlier 2-to-1 ruling by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but it is inconsistent with the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that created the bureau in 2010 and that says the director can be fired only for cause, defined as “inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance.”

None of those criteria remotely describe Mr. Cordray’s work or the consumer bureau he helped to build. In the past five years, the bureau’s investigations and enforcement actions against banks and other lenders have returned nearly $12 billion to homeowners, students, servicemen and servicewomen, car buyers, credit card holders and other borrowers who were subject to abusive, deceptive or predatory practices. The bureau is now working on ways to regulate payday lending, where loans often end up impoverishing borrowers.

Mr. Cordray and the bureau have been doing what President Trump pledged to do in the campaign: protecting Americans from a system that has “robbed our working class.” So why would he want to fire Mr. Cordray? For one, Mr. Trump, despite his populist claims, has promised to dismantle the Dodd-Frank law, with the consumer bureau arguably the law’s most visible accomplishment. Second, the move may be part of a bigger power play.

Mr. Cordray is not the only agency head with statutory protections from removal at will by the president. The heads of the Office of Special Counsel, the Social Security Administration, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Federal Reserve, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other agencies are also shielded. Such protection is intended to insulate independent agencies from political interference.

But even if the full appeals court, which is hearing the case, rules that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 12:18 pm

Fewer Americans Would Be Insured With G.O.P. Plan Than With Simple Repeal

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Margo Sanger-Katz reports in the NY Times:

The Congressional Budget Office recently said that around 24 million fewer Americans would have health insurance in 2026 under the Republican repeal plan than if the current law stayed in place.

That loss was bigger than most experts anticipated, and led to a round of predictable laments from congressional Democrats — and less predictable ones from Republican senators, including Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and John Thune of South Dakota, who told reporters that the bill needed to be “more helpful” to low-income people who wanted insurance.

But one piece of context has gone little noticed: The Republican bill would actually result in more people being uninsured than if Obamacare were simply repealed. Getting rid of the major coverage provisions and regulations of Obamacare would cost 23 million Americans their health insurance, according to another recent C.B.O. report. In other words, one million more Americans would have health insurance with a clean repeal than with the Republican replacement plan, according to C.B.O. estimates.

The C.B.O. estimated what would happen after a simple repeal when it considered a bill that Congress passed last year. (President Obama later vetoed that bill.) The bill left parts of Obamacare in place, so the 23 million estimate didn’t come with the kind of detailed analysis that accompanied last week’s score of the American Health Care Act. But the similarity of the two estimates highlights some of the difficulties of the current proposal, both for Democrats, who are strongly criticizing potential coverage losses, and for the repeal-or-die crowd, who hate the structure of this new bill.

“It’s reaffirmed how exceedingly complicated and convoluted the approach the House leadership took,” said Dan Holler, the vice president for communications and government relations at Heritage Action, an advocacy group firmly in the repeal-or-die camp.

Late Monday, House leadership revealed a set of amendments to the bill, which will be considered when the bill comes up for a vote. But, if they are adopted, the changes are unlikely to have major effects on overall coverage numbers. If anything, the changes might lead to a larger increase in the number of Americans without health insurance.

The people who would end up without health insurance are slightly different in the two cases. The current bill would cause more people to lose employer insurance, while a straight repeal bill would most likely cause more people who buy their own coverage to become uninsured. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 12:13 pm

Trump’s ‘big, beautiful wall’ will require him to take big swaths of other people’s land

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Tracy Jan reports in the Washington Post:

The order has been issued for the immediate construction of a Mexico border wall. The specs have been outlined: 30 feet high and “aesthetically pleasing.” The next thing on President Trump’s to-do list for building his “big, beautiful wall”: Hire more lawyers  for a long and expensive battle over private land.

The wall will cost a lot more — politically and economically — than Trump has publicly acknowledged. To build the wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border — and fulfill a key campaign promise — Trump will need to wield the power of government to forcibly take private properties, including those belonging to his supporters.

Much of the border, especially in Texas, snakes through farms, ranches, orchards, golf courses, and other private property dating back to centuries-old Spanish land grants. As a signpost to the troubles ahead, the government has still not finished the process from the last such undertaking a decade ago.

“It’s going to be time consuming and costly,” said Tony Martinez, an attorney who is mayor of the border town of Brownsville, Tex. “From a political perspective, you have a lot of rich landowners who were his supporters.”

Trump, in his recent budget proposal, is calling for the addition of 20 Justice Department attorneys to “pursue federal efforts to obtain the land and holdings necessary to secure the southwest border.” The Justice Department would not expand upon the details. Of the department’s 11,000 attorneys, fewer than 20 currently work in land acquisition. Trump’s budget would double that.

The battle has been fought before. The last wave of eminent domain cases over southern border properties dates back to the 2006 Secure Fence Act authorizing President George W. Bush to erect 700 miles of fencing.

Of the roughly 400 condemnation cases stemming from that era, about 90 remain open a decade later, according to the Justice Department. Nearly all are in the Rio Grande Valley in southwest Texas.

The U.S. government has already spent $78 million compensating private landowners for 600 tracts of property for the construction of the existing pedestrian and vehicle fence, according to Customs and Border Protection. The agency estimates that it will spend another $21 million in real estate expenses associated with the remaining condemnation cases — not including approximately $4 million in Justice Department litigation costs. . .

Continue reading.

And the wall is totally not needed: illegal immigration across the southern border is today negligible. OTOH, severe cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard budget to build the wall will indeed damage our national security.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 12:05 pm

How Aristotle Created the Computer

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Chris Dixon writes in the Atlantic:

The history of computers is often told as a history of objects, from the abacus to the Babbage engine up through the code-breaking machines of World War II. In fact, it is better understood as a history of ideas, mainly ideas that emerged from mathematical logic, an obscure and cult-like discipline that first developed in the 19th century. Mathematical logic was pioneered by philosopher-mathematicians, most notably George Boole and Gottlob Frege, who were themselves inspired by Leibniz’s dream of a universal “concept language,” and the ancient logical system of Aristotle.

Mathematical logic was initially considered a hopelessly abstract subject with no conceivable applications. As one computer scientist commented: “If, in 1901, a talented and sympathetic outsider had been called upon to survey the sciences and name the branch which would be least fruitful in [the] century ahead, his choice might well have settled upon mathematical logic.” And yet, it would provide the foundation for a field that would have more impact on the modern world than any other.

The evolution of computer science from mathematical logic culminated in the 1930s, with two landmark papers: Claude Shannon’s “A Symbolic Analysis of Switching and Relay Circuits,” and Alan Turing’s “On Computable Numbers, With an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.” In the history of computer science, Shannon and Turing are towering figures, but the importance of the philosophers and logicians who preceded them is frequently overlooked.

A well-known history of computer science describes Shannon’s paper as “possibly the most important, and also the most noted, master’s thesis of the century.” Shannon wrote it as an electrical engineering student at MIT. His adviser, Vannevar Bush, built a prototype computer known as the Differential Analyzer that could rapidly calculate differential equations. The device was mostly mechanical, with subsystems controlled by electrical relays, which were organized in an ad hoc manner as there was not yet a systematic theory underlying circuit design. Shannon’s thesis topic came about when Bush recommended he try to discover such a theory.

Shannon’s paper is in many ways a typical electrical-engineering paper, filled with equations and diagrams of electrical circuits. What is unusual is that the primary reference was a 90-year-old work of mathematical philosophy, George Boole’s The Laws of Thought.
Today, boole’s name is well known to computer scientists (many programming languages have a basic data type called a Boolean), but in 1938 he was rarely read outside of philosophy departments. Shannon himself encountered Boole’s work in an undergraduate philosophy class. “It just happened that no one else was familiar with both fields at the same time,” he commented later.Boole is often described as a mathematician, but he saw himself as a philosopher, following in the footsteps of Aristotle. The Laws of Thought begins with a description of his goals, to investigate the fundamental laws of the operation of the human mind:

The design of the following treatise is to investigate the fundamental laws of those operations of the mind by which reasoning is performed; to give expression to them in the symbolical language of a Calculus, and upon this foundation to establish the science of Logic … and, finally, to collect … some probable intimations concerning the nature and constitution of the human mind.

He then pays tribute to Aristotle, the inventor of logic, and the primary influence on his own work:

In its ancient and scholastic form, indeed, the subject of Logic stands almost exclusively associated with the great name of Aristotle. As it was presented to ancient Greece in the partly technical, partly metaphysical disquisitions of The Organon, such, with scarcely any essential change, it has continued to the present day.

Trying to improve on the logical work of Aristotle was an intellectually daring move. Aristotle’s logic, presented in his six-part book The Organon, occupied a central place in the scholarly canon for more than 2,000 years. It was widely believed that Aristotle had written almost all there was to say on the topic. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant commented that, since Aristotle, logic had been “unable to take a single step forward, and therefore seems to all appearance to be finished and complete.”

Aristotle’s central observation was that arguments were valid or not based on their logical structure, independent of the non-logical words involved. The most famous argument schema he discussed is known as the syllogism:

  • All men are mortal.
  • Socrates is a man.
  • Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

You can replace “Socrates” with any other object, and “mortal” with any other predicate, and the argument remains valid. The validity of the argument is determined solely by the logical structure. The logical words — “all,” “is,” are,” and “therefore” — are doing all the work.

Aristotle also defined a set of basic axioms from which he derived the rest of his logical system:

  • An object is what it is (Law of Identity)
  • No statement can be both true and false (Law of Non-contradiction)
  • Every statement is either true or false (Law of the Excluded Middle)

These axioms weren’t meant to describe how people actually think (that would be the realm of psychology), but how an idealized, perfectly rational person ought to think.

Aristotle’s axiomatic method influenced an even more famous book, Euclid’s Elements, which is estimated to be second only to the Bible in the number of editions printed. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more and it’s solid and interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 11:46 am

Posted in Math, Science, Technology

Three new books examining the premise of the Enlightenment, reviewed by Adam Gopnik

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Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker:

Of all the prejudices of pundits, presentism is the strongest. It is the assumption that what is happening now is going to keep on happening, without anything happening to stop it. If the West has broken down the Berlin Wall and McDonald’s opens in St. Petersburg, then history is over and Thomas Friedman is content. If, by a margin so small that in a voice vote you would have no idea who won, Brexit happens; or if, by a trick of an antique electoral system designed to give country people more power than city people, a Donald Trump is elected, then pluralist constitutional democracy is finished. The liberal millennium was upon us as the year 2000 dawned; fifteen years later, the autocratic apocalypse is at hand. Thomas Friedman is concerned.

You would think that people who think for a living would pause and reflect that whatever is happening usually does stop happening, and something else happens in its place; a baby who is crying now will stop crying sooner or later. Exhaustion, or a change of mood, or a passing sound, or a bright light, something, always happens next. But for the parents the wait can feel the same as forever, and for many pundits, too, now is the only time worth knowing, for now is when the baby is crying and now is when they’re selling your books.
And so the death-of-liberalism tomes and eulogies are having their day, with the publishers who bet on apocalypse rubbing their hands with pleasure and the ones who gambled on more of the same weeping like, well, babies. Pankaj Mishra, in “Age of Anger” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), focusses on the failures of what is sometimes called “neoliberalism”—i.e., free-market fundamentalism—and, more broadly, on the failure of liberal élites around the world to address the perpetual problem of identity, the truth that men and women want to be members of a clan or country with values and continuities that stretch beyond merely material opportunity. Joel Mokyr’s “A Culture of Growth” (Princeton) is an attempt to answer the big question: Why did science and technology (and, with them, colonial power) spread west to east in the modern age, instead of another way around? His book, though drier than the more passionate polemics, nimbly suggests that the postmodern present is powered by the same engines as the early-modern past. In “Homo Deus” (HarperCollins), Yuval Noah Harari offers an elegy for the end of the liberal millennium, which he sees as giving way to post-humanism: the coming of artificial intelligence that may leave us contented and helpless, like the Eloi in H. G. Wells’s “Time Machine.” Certainly, the anti-liberals, or, in Harari’s case, post-humanists, have much the better of the rhetorical energy and polemical brio. They slash and score. The case against the anti-liberals can be put only slowly and with empirical caution. The tortoise is not merely a slow runner but an ugly one. Still, he did win the race.

Mishra, an Indian-born journalist now resident in London, is dashing. Dashing in the positive sense, as one possessed by real brio, and dashing in the less positive sense, as one racing through Western, and a great deal of Eastern, intellectual history of the past three centuries at a pace that leaves the reader panting—sometimes in admiration of his verve, sometimes in impatience at his impatience. Everything in modern history, his book suggests, has been inexorably leading up to the conditions of 2017. Since, if the book had been written a scant seven years ago—with Obama triumphant, Labour in power in Britain, and the euro having survived its shocks—the entire vector of the centuries would have seemed dramatically different, one wonders whether what Mishra traces through time might really be not a directional arrow but more like a surfboard, rising and falling on the quick-change waves of history.

Mishra’s thesis is that our contemporary misery and revanchist nationalism can be traced to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s romantic reaction to Voltaire’s Enlightenment—with the Enlightenment itself entirely to blame in letting high-minded disdain for actual human experience leave it open to a romantic reaction. In Mishra’s view, Voltaire—whose long life stretched from 1694 to 1778—was the hyper-rationalist philosophe who brought hostility to religion out into the open in eighteenth-century France, and practiced a callow élitist progressivism that produced Rousseau’s romantic search for old-fashioned community. Rousseau, who, though eighteen years younger, died in that same fateful year of 1778, was the father of the Romantic movement, of both the intimate nature-loving side and the more sinister political side, with its mystification of a “general will” that dictators could vibrate to, independent of mere elections. The back-and-forth of cold Utopianism and hot Volk-worship continues to this day. The Davos men are Voltaire’s children, a transnational and fatuously progressive élite; Trump and Brexit voters are Rousseau’s new peasant hordes, terrified of losing cultural continuity and clan comfort.
Piling blame on Voltaire as an apostle of top-down neoliberalism is familiar from John Ralston Saul’s 1992 “Voltaire’s Bastards,” and the idea of Rousseau, the Genevan autodidact, as the key figure in the romantic political reaction against modernity, even as the godfather of Nazism, was present in Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy,” back in the nineteen-forties. A fan of Voltaire will object that Mishra offers a comically partial picture of him, neglecting his brave championing of the fight against torture and religious persecution. Mishra’s Voltaire is a self-seeking capitalist entrepreneur, because, among other things, he established a watch factory at Ferney—as a refuge and asylum for persecuted Protestants. Casting Voltaire as the apostle of fatuous utopian progressivism, Mishra curiously fails to note that he also wrote what remains the most famous of all attacks on fatuous utopian progressivism, “Candide.”
The truth is that no thinker worth remembering has some monolithic “project” to undertake; all express a personality inevitably double, and full of the tensions and contradictions that touch any real life. Voltaire was greedy, entrepreneurial, self-advancing; he was also altruistic, courageous, and generous. He spread Enlightenment ideas to the farthest outposts of Europe—and he sold them out to the autocrats who lived there. A persistent oddity of intellectuals is that when they’re talking about someone they actually know they offer a mixed accounting of bad stuff and good stuff: he’ll drive you crazy with this, but he’s terrific in that. The moment someone becomes a feature of the past, however, he is reduced to a vector with a single transit and historical purpose. If we treated our friends the way we treat our subjects, we wouldn’t have any. (Mishra himself is a voice against the neoliberal consensus who also writes a column for Bloomberg View. This does not make him a hypocrite. It makes him, like Voltaire, one more writer who works for a living.)
Mishra’s Rousseau, infatuated with a dream of ancient Spartan order and inflamed with resentment at the condescension of the Enlightenment élite, is more recognizable. But one wonders if an irascible Swiss pastoralist is really responsible for the temper of nineteenth-century anti-rationalism, which Mishra ably presents as it develops over the next two centuries, with a love of apocalyptic violence for its own sake. (Mishra rightly finds the obsession summed up in Bakunin’s phrase about destruction as a creative passion.) There are lots of romantic anti-rationalisms to play with; Rousseau’s was largely soft and sentimental in tone, rather than apocalyptic and violent. As Mark Twain saw, the prewar American South grounded its “organic” medievalism in Walter Scott’s novels, without a trace of Rousseau infecting the brew.
Things get much more original and interesting when Mishra captures how the many currents of romantic nationalism are entangled in the contemporary world. This is the beating heart of the book, and it is both richly realized and wonderfully detailed. He demonstrates that “radical Islam” is an almost wholly modern “collage” of parts borrowed from Western romantic-reactionary thought; even Ayatollah Khomeini’s version was as much a product of Paris as of ancient Persia. (This may explain Michel Foucault’s enthusiasm for Khomeini and his revolution.)
The Indian material is particularly revealing. Mishra shows that, far from being some kind of restorative, backward-looking “tribalism,” the ideology that filled pre-independence India was a bizarre mixture of right-wing social Darwinism, muddled and mystical Theosophy, and left-wing Fabianism—not intrinsically “Eastern” but modern, eclectic, and fantastically mercurial in its turnings. Savarkar, the chief ideologue of the extreme Hindu nationalism now once more in power in India (and a mentor of Gandhi’s assassin), relied on Western ideas absorbed during his student days in England, wedged in alongside Germanic and Wagnerian notions of glorious racial battles. He hated Muslims for their intrusion into a Hindu homeland, and adored them for their history of religious machismo.
For Mishra, elements in modernity that seem violently opposed, Zionism and Islamism, Hindu nationalism and Theosophical soppiness—not to mention Nazi militarism—share a common wellspring. Their apostles all believe in some kind of blood consciousness, some kind of shared pre-rational identity, and appeal to a population enraged at being reduced to the hamster wheel of meaningless work and material reward. Mishra brings this Walpurgisnacht of romanticized violence to a nihilistic climax with the happy meeting in a Supermax prison of Timothy McVeigh, perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Ramzi Yousef, perpetrator of the World Trade Center bombing: the fanatic, child-murdering right-wing atheist finds “lots in common” with the equally murderous Islamic militant—one of those healing conversations we’re always being urged to pursue. (“I never have [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as his,” Yousef gushed of McVeigh.)
Mishra is too intelligent and humane to have any confusion about the end and outcome of these romantic reactions—one need be no fan of Shah or Tsar to see that the suffering of the people increased after the ruler’s overthrow by ideologues, religious or secular, enraptured by a dream of the renewed social whole. The twentieth century is a graveyard of such attempts, or, rather, is filled with graveyards of people crushed by such attempts. But Mishra does take most of his mordant pleasures in detailing the illusions on the liberal side. His insistence that the liberal state serves only a tiny élite seems belied by the general planetary truths of ever-increasing, if inequitably divided, prosperity. The same principle of pluralism that applies to minds must also be applied to models. The state can be both inarguably more prosperous and plural and still insufficiently equal. Perhaps Tocqueville’s most brilliant insight (and Mishra, to his credit, cites it) was that revolutions are produced by improved conditions and rising expectations, not by mass immiseration. As Louis C.K. says, right now everything is amazing and nobody is happy. Each citizen carries on her person a computer more powerful than any available to a billionaire two decades ago, and many are using their devices to express their unbridled rage at the society that put them in our pockets.

Behind this rage is the history of European domination, which has produced an inequality favoring the North against the South, and the West against the East. In Samuel Johnson’s eighteenth-century parable “Rasselas,” a Persian prince asks a philosopher, Imlac, an essential question:

“By what means,” said the prince, “are the Europeans thus powerful? or why, since they can so easily visit Asia and Africa for trade or conquest, cannot the Asiaticks and Africans invade their coasts, plant colonies in their ports, and give laws to their natural princes? The same wind that carries them back would bring us thither.”
“They are more powerful, Sir, than we,” answered Imlac, “because they are wiser; knowledge will always predominate over ignorance, as man governs the other animals. But why their knowledge is more than ours, I know not what reason can be given.”

That question underlies the other questions: we can’t understand either the history of liberalism that produced modern life or the history of colonialism that produced Mishra’s postmodern collage without first understanding why the wind blew only one way. Liberalism, on this view, is simply the hot air that blew the imperialists toward their loot.
Joel Mokyr is an economic historian at Northwestern, and “A Culture of Growth,” though rather plainly written, is a fascinating attempt to answer that essential question. He reminds us that the skirmishing of philosophers and their ideas, the preoccupation of popular historians, is in many ways a sideshow—that the revolution that gave Europe dominance was, above all, scientific, and that the scientific revolution was, above all, an artisanal revolution. Though the élite that gets sneered at, by Trumpites and neo-Marxists alike, is composed of philosophers and professors and journalists, the actual élite of modern societies is composed of engineers, mechanics, and artisans—masters of reality, not big thinkers. . .

Continue reading.

The whole view provides food for thought. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel discusses some non-philosophical forces that shaped the modern world.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 9:01 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

The redoubtable iKon 101 with i Coloniali shaving soap and Chatillon Lux aftershave

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Mr Pomp did a good job with i Coloniali’s mango-butter shaving soap, which comes in a terra cotta bowl. This soap is one for which it’s good to add a little water during loading.

The iKon 101 is an underappreciated gem of a razor, very comfortable and very efficient. Three passes gave me a BBS result, though some blade-buffing was required. I think iit’s time to replace the blade.

Chatillon Lux aftershaves are quite nice. Today I used Gratiot League Square Aftershave: tobacco, leather, rose, clove, nutmeg, sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla, musk, bergamot, and amber are the fragrance notes. Ingredients: Denatured alcohol, chamomile extract, calendula extract, witch hazel, aloe vera, cat’s claw bark extract, vegetable glycerin, menthol and fragrance.

A fine mid-week shave.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2017 at 8:54 am

Posted in Shaving

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