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Archive for November 2nd, 2017

Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War

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Good reading list. And the Kindle is just made for this sort of thing. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in the Atlantic:

On Monday, the retired four-star general and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly asserted that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” This was an incredibly stupid thing to say. Worse, it built on a long tradition of endorsing stupidity in hopes of making Americans stupid about their own history. Stupid enjoys an unfortunate place in the highest ranks of American government these days. And while one cannot immediately affect this fact, one can choose to not hear stupid things and quietly nod along.

For the past 50 years, some of this country’s most celebrated historians have taken up the task of making Americans less stupid about the Civil War. These historians have been more effective than generally realized. It’s worth remembering that General Kelly’s remarks, which were greeted with mass howls of protests, reflected the way much of this country’s stupid-ass intellectual class once understood the Civil War. I do not contend that this improved history has solved everything. But it is a ray of light cutting through the gloom of stupid. You should run to that light. Embrace it. Bathe in it. Become it.

Okay, maybe that’s too far. Let’s start with just being less stupid.

One quick note: In making this list I’ve tried to think very hard about readability, and to offer books you might actually complete. There are a number of books that I dearly love and have found indispensable that are not on this list. (Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America immediately comes to mind.) I mean no slight to any of those volumes. But this is about being less stupid. We’ll get to those other ones when we talk about how to be smart.

1) Battle Cry Of Freedom: Arguably among the greatest single-volume histories in all of American historiography, James McPherson’s synthesis of the Civil War is a stunning achievement. Brisk in pace. A big-ass book that reads like a much slimmer one. The first few hundred pages offer a catalogue of evidence, making it clear not just that the white South went to war for the right to own people, but that it warred for the right to expand the right to own people. Read this book. You will immediately be less stupid than some of the most powerful people in the West Wing.

2) Grant: Another classic in the Ron Chernow oeuvre. Again, eminently readable but thick with import. It does not shy away from Grant’s personal flaws, but shows him to be a man constantly struggling to live up to his own standard of personal and moral courage. It corrects nearly a half-century of stupidity inflicted upon America by the Dunning school of historians, which preferred a portrait of Grant as a bumbling, corrupt butcher of men. Finally, it reframes the Civil War away from the overrated Virginia campaigns and shows us that when the West was won, so was the war. Grant hits like a Mack truck of knowledge. Stupid doesn’t stand a chance.

3) Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee: Elizabeth Pryor’s biography of Lee, through Lee’s own words, helps part with a lot of stupid out there about Lee—chiefly that he was, somehow, “anti-slavery.” It dispenses with the boatload of stupid out there which hails the military genius of Lee while ignoring the world that all of that genius was actually trying to build.

4.) Out of the House of Bondage: A slim volume that dispenses with the notion that there was a such thing as “good,” “domestic,” or “matronly” slavery. The historian Thavolia Glymph focuses on the relationships between black enslaved women and the white women who took them as property. She picks apart the stupid idea that white mistresses were somehow less violent and less exploitative than their male peers. Glymph has no need of Scarlett O’Haras. “Used the rod” is the quote that still sticks with me. An important point here—stupid ideas about ladyhood and the soft feminine hand meant nothing when measured against the fact of a slave society. Slavery was the monster that made monsters of its masters. Compromising with it was morally bankrupt—and stupid.

5.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2017 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Books, Government, Law, Military

Surprise! Trump Could Save Millions From GOP Tax Plan

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Timothy O’Brien spotted an interesting coincidence in the GOP tax bill that Trump is touting as good.

Republicans, pushed along by President Donald Trump, have a new tax planthey’re unveiling in Washington on Thursday. Among the various proposals in the plan is the elimination of the alternative minimum tax, or the AMT.

The AMT was rolled out almost 40 years ago to make sure that wealthy Americans couldn’t take advantage of lots of deductions and credits that allowed them to end up paying next to nothing in federal income taxes. That cohort of wealthy Americans has always included taxpayers like the president.

In 2005, according to Trump’s personal tax return for the year, the president paid $38 million in federal taxes on income of $150 million. The return, leaked to reporter David Cay Johnston and featured on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC news show in March, showed that $31 million of that $38 million in taxes that Trump had to pay was due to the AMT kicking in. He claimed $103 million in deductions on his return that year, and only paid $5.3 million in regular federal income taxes.

The new tax plan also envisions lowering the so-called “pass-through” tax rate to 25 percent. Taxpayers in certain types of business partnerships — developers like the president among them — already enjoy the option of having their business income taxed at sometimes more favorable personal rates instead of potentially more onerous corporate rates. As my Bloomberg View colleague Justin Fox has pointed out, lowering the pass-through rate “just seems like a really great deal for people like Donald Trump.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2017 at 4:20 pm

Robert Mercr is resigning from everything: Indictment coming?

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Robert Mercer is out of all business connections, is selling stake in Breitbart, moving away from Bannon, away from Trump. Cashing out quickly. Does that mean a Mueller indictment is headed his way and he’s trying to protect others.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2017 at 4:15 pm

Kevin Spacey: Old Vic accused of ignoring sexual misconduct allegations

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Kevin Spacey is much sleazier than I ever could have imagined. Mark Brown and Matthew Weaver report in the Guardian:

Actors and former staff at the Old Vic have accused the theatre of turning a blind eye to inappropriate sexual behaviour by Kevin Spacey during the 11 years that the Hollywood star was its artistic director.

A number of people who have worked at the theatre in London have contacted the Guardian claiming it was well known that Spacey groped and behaved in an inappropriate way with young men at the time.

Roberto Cavazos, a Mexican actor, said he recalled a “couple of unpleasant encounters” with Spacey including, being “squeezed” by him in the Old Vic bar, in a posting on Facebook.

A former employee told the Guardian: “We were all involved in keeping it quiet. I witnessed him groping men many times in all sorts of different situations,” on a day when other allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by Spacey emerged.

Spacey has been in focus since actor Anthony Rapp accused him of making drunken sexual advances when Rapp was 14. Since then, several more allegations about Spacey’s conduct have emerged in both the US and the UK.

A representative for Spacey released a statement on Wednesday that said the actor “is taking the time necessary to seek evaluation and treatment” and “no other information is available at this time.”

Cavazos said there were many young men with a “Kevin Spacey story”. He added: “It seems that it only took a male under 30 to make Mr Spacey feel free to touch us.” More common was that Spacey was in the bar at the Old Vic, “squeezing whoever caught his attention”, Cavazos said.

He recalled being told a similar story by many people of how Spacey invited young male actors to the Old Vic to “talk about their careers”. Cavazos continued: “When they arrived at the theatre, [Spacey] had prepared a picnic with champagne on the stage, beautifully lit.”

Cavazos said his direct experiences with Spacey were on the edge of harassment. “Had I been a woman, I probably would not have hesitated to identify it as such, but I suppose that the lack of a more specifically direct or aggressive action led me to justify the incident as ‘one of those things’,” he said.

A former Old Vic employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Guardian he saw Spacey take advantage of a friend of his after a party in 2011.

He said: “We were all involved in keeping it quiet. I witnessed him groping men many times in all sorts of different situations … at his apartment in North Lambeth and even at the Old Vic itself and his favourite pub the Pineapple, which is right near the Old Vic. He was taking advantage of the fact that he is this great icon.

“He touched men on the crotch. Doing it really fast so they couldn’t get out of the way.”

The former employee criticised . . .

Continue reading.

Terrorism. Emotional terrorism done in series rather than parallel: ruining one life at a time.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2017 at 4:06 pm

Global warming starts to bite: Buyouts Won’t Be the Answer for Many Frequent Flooding Victims

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Lisa Song and Al Shaw, ProPublica, and Neena Satija, Texas Tribune and Reveal, report in ProPublica:

HOUSTON — After four sleepless days fighting to keep her home dry during Hurricane Harvey, after losing her car, after nearly getting electrocuted by a fallen electric box as she waded through brown muck in what wound up being the third flood to hit her property in three years, Maurine Howard wants out.

“I can’t go through this again,” she said. “I don’t have it in me.” The 2015 flood was minor enough she mopped it up with towels, but her house flooded badly last year when a city water pipe under her patio burst open during heavy rains. Then Harvey destroyed the entire first floor.

Howard, a longtime nonprofit director who calls herself a “mouthy person,” left a message with the mayor’s office demanding that the government buy her house.

If only it were that easy.

Experts see buyouts as a cornerstone of disaster recovery, a way to take the most chronically flooded homes and turn them into open space so they can improve drainage and lower flood risk for the surrounding area.

It’s hard to find another county in America that has accomplished more buyouts than Harris County. Since 1985, the Harris County Flood Control District — the main entity managing buyouts in the Houston area — has spent $342 million to purchase about 3,100 properties. But thanks to a decadeslong trend of increased flooding in Houston, caused by a combination of urban sprawl, lax building regulations and intense rainstorms linked to climate change, buyouts haven’t kept up with the destruction.

At the rate Harris County has been going, it would take more than three decades to acquire the 3,300 or so homes on the district’s priority buyout list — a drop in the bucket compared to the number of properties that flooded these past three years alone. Hurricane Harvey damaged at least 69,000 properties in the county, according to preliminary figures that are likely an underestimate. Devastating floods also hit the county in 2015 and 2016.

Despite the obvious need and high demand, Harris County is plagued by challenges endemic to buyout programs: limited funds, competing priorities, strict criteria that place buyouts out of reach of willing participants, and the snail’s pace of bureaucracy, which puts homeowners in limbo while creating opportunities for private developers to buy and flip flooded homes, perpetuating the problem.

When Howard talked to the flood control district, officials said her case wasn’t a priority, she said. Even though her home has flooded repeatedly, and will likely flood again, it lies outside the 100-year floodplain, the high-risk zone designated by government flood maps.

Howard, like thousands of other homeowners in similar circumstances, is likely ineligible for a buyout.

“Where am I going to go?” she asked. “What am I going to do?” Her flood insurance won’t cover the scope of needed repairs, she said, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave her just $2,200 for rent — not enough for Howard and her boyfriend to put down a deposit and get a furnished apartment for a month.

She still owes $270,000 on the house, which was appraised at $480,000 when she refinanced it two years ago, she said. A private buyer approached her in her driveway and offered her $175,000. Insulted, she turned it down.

“Now what happens to our property value?” she wondered. “It’s a flood house.”

The Harris County Flood Control District keeps a priority list of homes “hopelessly deep” within the floodplain, in areas “where we don’t think we can fix the flooding problems,” said James Wade, the district’s acquisitions manager. These are homes that “never should have been built.” Officials say the majority were constructed more than three decades ago, before Houston adopted modern floodplain maps and stricter regulations about where and how developers could build.

The district’s current $44 million buyout budget will be able to pay for only a few hundred homes — less than 10 percent of these prioritized properties.

“It’s always a funding issue,” Wade said. “We always have more volunteers than funds available.” . . .

Continue reading. Chart at the link.

I wonder whether the upsurge of terrorism and suicidal terrorists might not be ultimately driven by global warming and the losses that result—not simply money, but also one’s livelihood (see the rate of suicide among Indian farmers as the climate change is the reason they can’t go on).

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2017 at 3:47 pm

Not good news: White Supremacists Share Bomb-Making Materials in Online Chats

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A.C. Thompson and Ali Winston report in ProPublica:

Right-wing extremists communicating in confidential online chats in recent months have shared scores of documents detailing the manufacture and use of bombs, grenades, mines and other incendiary devices.

The documents, which range from instructions on detonating dynamite to U.S. military manuals for constructing improvised explosives and booby traps, were passed around during online conversations among members of Anticom, a secretive and militant group that has emerged during the past year.

Records of the online chats were made available to ProPublica by Unicorn Riot, a leftist media collective that has reported critically on racist marches and right-wing political rallies in cities around the U.S.

Anticom, or Anti-Communist Action, views itself as a guerilla army fighting against what it has called the radical elements of the country’s political left. On its social media channels, Anticom openly embraces fascist ideology and imagery, and the group’s members have engaged in hate-filled talk involving Jews, Muslims, immigrants and African Americans. In recent weeks Anticom has stepped out of the shadows as its members have provided security to so-called alt-right champion Richard Spencer at a speaking event in Florida. Anticom also helped to organize a “White Lives Matter” protest in Shelbyville, Tennessee, last weekend.

It is unclear how seriously the documents shared in the chats were explored by any of Anticom’s members or followers, much less whether the documents were actually used to craft incendiary devices. But the transcripts of the chats include racist talk and open mentions of mass killings.

The user who posted the bomb-making documents, for instance, said he or she wanted to overthrow the U.S. government. “Death to all non whites,” the user wrote in a chat forum post on April 26. Another Anticom member encouraged recruits to construct a bomb and use it to carry out an attack in the style of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

The chatroom logs shared with ProPublica show that Anticom members were in communication with another extremist group, several members of which have surfaced in federal investigations.

In May, federal agents searching the Tampa home of 21-year-old Brandon Russell discovered an array of explosives and bomb ingredients: fuses made from rifle shells, a white cake-like explosive substance called HMTD, more than one pound of ammonium nitrate and other explosive precursors, and two different kinds of radioactive material. The agents promptly arrested Russell, who was both a member of the Florida National Guard and a leader of Atomwaffen, a small fascist group calling for a “white revolution in the 21st century.”

Federal authorities only uncovered Russell’s bomb-making materials after his roommate and fellow Atomwaffen member Devon Arthurs killed two of their comrades. Arthurs later told law enforcement that he acted in order to prevent acts of domestic terrorism, and that Atomwaffen intended “to build a FourthReich.” Russell participated in “neo-Nazi internet chat rooms where he threatened to kill people and bomb infrastructure,” and was plotting to blow up a nuclear power plant near Miami, according to Arthurs.

After . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2017 at 3:42 pm

A full-Canadian shave: Copper Hat brush, Tallow + Steel Dark, Rockwell 6S R3, and Anthony Gold’s Red Cedar aftershave

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The brush shown I got from The Copper Hat, a local shaving store. It has a Delrin® handle and is a very nice brush indeed. Tallow + Steel shaving soaps are exceptional, and they do have matching aftershaves, but I went a slightly different direction there.

The lather was excellent, and the Rockwell 6S razor is superb. I used the R3 baseplate today, and quite easily achieved a BBS result in three passes. The 6S baseplates are all comfortable and are all efficient. Excellent design. (Rockwell is a Canadian company, although the razors are made in the U.S. So I think of it as a Canadian razor.)

A good splash of Anthony Gold’s remarkably good Red Cedar aftershave, and I’m set for my optometrist appointment.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2017 at 9:05 am

Posted in Shaving

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