Later On

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

Archive for March 2018

Scientists Baffled by McConnell and Ryan’s Ability to Stand Upright Without Spines

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A friend sent me a recent Borowitz report:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling it a “medical mystery of the first order,” scientists are baffled by the ability of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to stand upright without the benefit of spines.

Doctors at the University of Minnesota Medical School, who have been studying the skeletal structures of both Republicans for months, believe that their ability to stand, walk, and even break into a brisk trot when confronted by reporters’ questions is “virtually inexplicable.”

“The fact that they can do these things without the aid of spines makes McConnell and Ryan anomalies in the animal kingdom,” said Dr. Davis Logsdon. “According to everything medical science teaches us, their bodies should be collapsing to the ground in two heaps.”

As the Minnesota scientists have struggled to solve the medical conundrum presented by the two invertebrate leaders, one theory that has gained traction is what Logsdon calls “the startled-deer hypothesis.”

“Just as a deer freezes in the headlights of a car and briefly appears statue-like, we believe that Ryan and McConnell’s bodies may retain their rigid structure out of terror alone,” he said. “In other words, fear is performing the function that a spine performs in other people.”

Calling it “just a theory,” Logsdon said that the anatomies of McConnell and Ryan require further study, and that there was growing public support for both men to be dissected.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Congress, Science

“Veteran,” a Korean movie with particular resonance now

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When Korean movies are good, they are very, very good, IMO. Veteran is one that, as I started watching tonight, I realized I had seen some years back—not that many years: it was released in 2015.

But watching it tonight, it had new impact. It’s about the ordinary people—and the police—going up against the super-rich. In Korea, that means the chaebols. In the US, it means the super-rich corporations (and hedge funds) and the super-rich who run them.

It’s a good movie. I am using my Roku 3 again, and they have seriously upgraded the software and service. Neither Amazon Prime (up here, at any rate) nor Netflix had the movie, but Roku has its own search and I found it available on Google Play. I added that channel to my Roku after a little difficulty: the device code was displayed in red on black, practically invisible to a colorblind person like me, but then (after calling Roku for help) I suddenly spotted it. (You’d think Google of all places would have good UX designers: red on black for critical information is a rookie mistake. They should use yellow on black, for example)

I had to rent it, but I’m liking it again, and liking how it digs into the problem of how the super-rich can drift a long way from ordinary morality: they can too easily avoid being held to account, so they grow in strange directions—cf. the Trump family. (There’s a reason Jesus warned strongly against wealth.)


Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Italian East grain pie

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A new one on me. And on a low-carb diet, I won’t have any, but it does sound intriguing.

This recipe sounds particularly good.

Wikipedia has an article on it under “Pastiera.”


Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 8:45 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Anna Murphy: how my midlife yoga fix is transforming my body

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The subtitle: “After years of dismissing it as hippy-dippy nonsense, in her forties Times fashion director Anna Murphy has become a yoga devotee. And it might even be slowing the ageing process.”

It’s interesting that Anna Murphy describes herself as a complete asshole: refreshing candor, in a way. She writes, in the Times, about her judgmental and ignorant attitude and how she treasured it:

The story of yoga and me is the story of yoga and the west. Out and out scepticism for years. Now fully signed up to the programme. Why did I turn from someone who considered the whole shebang – its ostentatiously loud breathing, its ridiculous Om-ing, its sanctimonious smugness – to be hippy-dippy garbage, into someone who practises it most days, and who believes their body, more than that, their life to be better as a result?

For the same reason as all those other former sceptics. (There are now pushing 500,000 regular practitioners in the UK alone.) This stuff is good. Those preternaturally bendy little old Indian men – and it was always men – were on to something millennia ago. And now lots of us are, too.

I was born in Seventies West Country suburbia. People didn’t do yoga then. People didn’t even know what it was. It wasn’t like now, when you either knowingly compare notes on which vinyasa class you prefer, or knowingly cock a snook at yoga in its entirety. In Nailsea in 1978 it just wasn’t on the map. Heck, no one even went to the gym. When the first one opened at the leisure centre next to our school, in 1983, my class was taken on a tour of an entirely alien world. It’s easy to forget how recent the culture of fitness is.

I didn’t come across anyone who practised yoga until my first job in London in 1994. She was called Catherine, and there was obviously something suspect about her. Her erect posture seemed a deliberate challenge to my already slouchy one. Even now, 20 years on, I can remember how her eyes twinkled and her skin shone. And, gosh, she was serene. Always smiling. Which I somehow also took as a personal affront. And all this in an office ruled over by a tyrant, a boss who once sent me a poison-pen letter because she didn’t like my hair. Catherine somehow rose effortlessly above all the swirling bile.

On one occasion Catherine, with typical self-effacement, volunteered that she did yoga. Despite the obvious signs that she might be onto something, I immediately filed under “No, thank you very much”. There was something “other” about Catherine, something that wasn’t for me. Now, looking back, I can only laugh. That something was precisely what should have been “for me” then, as it is now: a way to tune out, to be calm; not to mention to stand straighter and – forgive me but it’s true – to glow. As it was, I had to wait another 12 years, until I was 34, before I even started to get going on any of the above.

I spent the next few years pounding away at the gym. Yoga sounded boring, and also creepy, a world of gurus, dodgy sexual practices and yonis, whatever the hell they were.

But people would keep banging on about it, and I had never met a zeitgeist I didn’t at least try to surf, so eventually I went to my first class. A male German teacher. In Canary Wharf. It was never going to go well. And it didn’t. The teacher was an egomaniac, telling off students one minute, hitting on them the next. (He had a thing – reciprocated – for a blonde in the front row.) I have no memory of the actual yoga. But it definitely wasn’t for me.

Cut to 2005. A week-long bikini bootcamp in Brazil. The twice-daily sessions of yoga were simply going to be one more thing to get through, along with the sea kayaking (hell) and the hiking up mountains (in theory, fine, but in practice deranged: it was boiling hot, and we weren’t allowed to stop to drink water, but had to sip from our requisite CamelBak rucksacks, the better to make like the maniac Californian guide who was leading us, and who peed while power-walking up a gradient).

The yoga teacher was called Kirtan, of course, and was also from LA, of course, and he spoke so S-L-O-W-L-Y that it drove me nuts. Until we actually started doing the yoga, that is, at which point I was too busy going bonkers about the lethargic non-pace to notice his diction any more. But what annoyed me even more was how bad I was at it. (If this account is making me sound short-fused, well, BY, Before Yoga, I was.) But something must have clicked. When I got back home I started doing yoga classes twice a week at a gym.

One was run by a woman channelling Olivia Newton-John in Physical. It was an aerobics class with twiddly bits, I now realise. She didn’t know what she was doing. But that didn’t matter, because neither did I. (Although, of course, it does matter. Yoga injuries are common, as detailed in William J Broad’s The Science of Yoga: the Risks and the Rewards, and a teacher who practises without expertise can enact serious harm.)

The second was led by an American. It was thanks to him that I really first started to get it. The joy of the so-called flow, of beginning to shift gracefully from one posture into another, and of feeling a new kind of strength developing, flexible and open. The joy, even – after a while – of the more static asanas or postures. How holding an asana for several breaths could also be a kind of movement – more minuscule but more profound – as your body gradually recalibrated itself. And how delicious it was when a precise physical arrangement that had initially eluded you slowly started to come within reach.

Yes, as you can probably tell, the head stuff still wasn’t really happening for me. Yoga is supposed to be about patience, about transcending ego. More than that, about transcending thought; having nothing in your head at all. The fact that I got impatient was indicative of my failure to subdue mental activity; the fact that I was pleased when I managed to do something I couldn’t do before, ditto, while also indicating that my ego – unlike my upper-body strength – remained very much present and correct.

It’s 12 years on now, and the number of to-do lists I have enumerated, the number of supermarket shops I have planned, the number of pieces I have sketched out – including this one – during hours spent supposedly blissfully empty-headed on the mat, doesn’t bear thinking about. But, of course, I do think about it. Often, again, on the mat. Because that’s what the mat does. It bears witness to what you do on it, and what you think on it, day after day. And, somehow, as a result – just occasionally if you are me – you actually stop thinking. And even if you don’t stop thinking, when you finish your practice you always feel more clear-headed than you did before you started.

Gradually, I began to shift away from the most physically demanding yoga that had originally appealed to me. It was what had first drawn me in because, of course, it was what was most similar to what I did at the gym. I had been pounding my mat doing the strenuous form known as ashtanga. My wrists hurt, and I felt all-over tired. Cue a perfectly timed encounter six years ago with a yoga teacher called Simon Low, one of the founder members of Triyoga, a key organisation in the initial dissemination of yoga in the UK.

I still remember one of the first things Low said to me: “What you do on the mat should be the opposite of what you do off the mat.” There I was, a driven, goal-focused personality, being driven and goal-focused on the mat. Ashtanga yoga was the last thing I needed.

I needed softness. Low introduced me to his own flow, a form of so-called yang or dynamic yoga, which draws on other disciplines such as chi gong. Strong but soft. Perfect. And – more importantly – he introduced me to yin yoga: even softer, in which poses are held for many minutes, not just for a few breaths, thereby allowing the body fully to recalibrate, to heal. Combine the two, the yin and the yang, and you have the full yogic package.

Low, now 60, is not only a brilliant yoga teacher, he also has his sense of humour and his intellect intact. For those of us who need to satisfy our rational mind before we can hope to move beyond it, Low’s peerless at pinning the yogic butterfly to the board.

“Classical yoga came about over 2,000 years ago as a way of man dealing with his psychology,” he says. “The Yoga Sutra, the most important text, is a kind of psychological guide. The human condition hasn’t changed. It’s still our thought patterns and attitudes that separate us from a peaceful state of contentment in life.”

The asanas are “not an end in themselves”, continues Low. “They are tools that help us develop self-discipline and healthier existence, and they stimulate neuroplasticity, too.” Developing certain qualities in your body – calmness, flexibility, an openness to change – prompts those same qualities to develop in your brain, believes Low. Certainly that has been my experience. Yoga has changed my head at least as much as my body.

Low’s own, ahem, journey with yoga – sorry, but that’s the way we yogis speak – was one I recognised, even though it had started much earlier, and gone far deeper. He, too, had initially practised it as a competitive sport. “I just wanted to do yoga stronger and faster, and it wasn’t long before I developed issues in my lower back, knees and neck. Then I explored and developed yin and yang yoga, and my body has really thanked me for it. I felt so much more energised and balanced. I haven’t had a yoga injury since.”

I cannot begin to describe the warm bath yin yoga represents for body and mind. Typically on a yoga retreat, by day three or four you feel physically tired, even sore. I know. I have done enough of them. On a Low retreat, even though you often do more yoga – as much as six hours a day, three of yang in the morning, three yin in the afternoon – you feel stronger, and yet softer, day by day. . .

Continue reading.

I can’t help but believe that she now is simply an asshole who practices yoga: those attitudes toward new information do not change readily.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

How Trump favored Texas over Puerto Rico

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Trump is President of some of the people some of the time. Danny Vinik reports in Politico:

As Hurricane Maria unleashed its fury on Puerto Rico in mid-September, knocking out the island’s electrical system and damaging hundreds of thousands of homes, disaster recovery experts expected that only one man could handle the enormity of the task ahead: Mike Byrne.

But Byrne, a widely acknowledged star of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, remained in Houston, which had been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey less than a month earlier.

Today, disaster recovery experts still express shock that FEMA kept Byrne in an already-stabilizing Texas and didn’t send him to Puerto Rico for three more weeks. But now, the decision strikes many as emblematic of a double standard within the Trump administration. A POLITICO review of public documents, newly obtained FEMA records and interviews with more than 50 people involved with disaster response indicates that the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico.

“We have the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. We go anywhere, anytime we want in the world,” bemoaned retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led the military’s relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. “And [in Puerto Rico] we didn’t use those assets the way they should have been used.”

No two hurricanes are alike, and Harvey and Maria were vastly different storms that struck areas with vastly different financial, geographic and political situations. But a comparison of government statistics relating to the two recovery efforts strongly supports the views of disaster-recovery experts that FEMA and the Trump administration exerted a faster, and initially greater, effort in Texas, even though the damage in Puerto Rico exceeded that in Houston.

Within six days of Hurricane Harvey, U.S. Northern Command had deployed 73 helicopters over Houston, which are critical for saving victims and delivering emergency supplies. It took at least three weeks after Maria before it had more than 70 helicopters flying above Puerto Rico.

Nine days after the respective hurricanes, FEMA had approved $141.8 million in individual assistance to Harvey victims, versus just $6.2 million for Maria victims.

During the first nine days after Harvey, FEMA provided 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water and over 20,000 tarps to Houston; but in the same period, it delivered just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water and roughly 5,000 tarps to Puerto Rico.

Nine days after Harvey, the federal government had 30,000 personnel in the Houston region, compared with 10,000 at the same point after Maria.

It took just 10 days for FEMA to approve permanent disaster work for Texas, compared with 43 days for Puerto Rico.

Seventy-eight days after each hurricane, FEMA had approved 39 percent of federal applications for relief from victims of Harvey, versus 28 percent for Maria.

Those imbalances track with another one: the attention of President Donald Trump. In public, Trump appeared much more concerned with the victims of Harvey than Maria. He visited Houston twice during the first eight days after the hurricane, but didn’t visit Puerto Rico for 13 days. In the first week after the disasters, Trump sent three times as many tweets about Harvey as Maria — 24 about the plight of Texas and eight about Puerto Rico, including a series of comments about Puerto Rico’s debt level and quality of infrastructure that local officials considered insulting and enraging while lives were still in jeopardy.

“Wow – Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!” he crowed about Texas on Aug. 27, two days after the storm made landfall.

On Sept. 30, 10 days after Maria, and while fielding criticism from Puerto Rican officials, Trump testily tweeted: “[They] want everything to be done for them and it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job.”

Behind the scenes, according to people with direct knowledge of his comments, Trump was focused less on the details of the relief effort than on public appearances, repeatedly using conference calls and meetings designed to update him on the relief effort to direct FEMA Administrator Brock Long to spend more time on television touting his agency’s progress.

In addition, Trump spent the first weekend after the Puerto Rico crisis tweeting repeatedly about NFL players kneeling for the national anthem. Those messages, experts said, send a subtle, yet important signal to the federal bureaucracy.

“On Texas and Florida [during Hurricane Irma], the president was very vocal and engaged in the run-up to the storm. His messaging was frankly pretty good,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, the former top disaster response official at USAID under former President Barack Obama. “If you look at his public messaging on a comparable timeline around Puerto Rico, there’s virtually nothing. … That sends a signal to the whole federal bureaucracy about how they should prioritize.”

FEMA and administration officials defend the response to the storm, saying it posed unprecedented logistical challenges as the agency faced perhaps the most demanding stretch in its 39-year history. Hurricane Maria was the third major hurricane to strike the United States in less than a month. Combine that with an overwhelmed local government and nonexistent communications and it created a fog-of-war atmosphere that made it difficult to determine what resources were needed when and how to get them to an island whose ports and airports were heavily damaged.

In a statement to POLITICO, Long defended FEMA’s efforts, arguing that, unlike in Texas, the agency was forced to take on a greater role in the post-disaster response. “We provided Puerto Rico the same, if not more support, as we have for all presidentially declared disasters across the nation,” he said, “but an optimal response cannot rely on FEMA’s efforts alone.”

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said Trump was “personally engaged” on the response and his “primary directive” to Long was to oversee a unified and effective federal response.

But in that situation, former FEMA officials say, extra political pressure and impetus can make a difference. Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory rather than a state, has just a single, nonvoting delegate in Congress, compared with the 36 representatives and two senators from Texas who loudly demanded proper resources for their state. Likewise, victims of Superstorm Sandy had six senators and dozens of U.S. representatives in the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to demand extra disaster relief, including powerful lawmakers like Chuck Schumer, then the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate.

“After Sandy, [Rep.] Peter King was all over FEMA continuously. So was Schumer,” said Michael Balboni, a former New York state legislator and an expert on disaster response. That constant pressure on senior federal officials, he added, is critical to getting the proper resources after a disaster.  [Because the federal government is unresponsive to citizens, apparently—not a good sign. – LG]

In that vacuum, presidential leadership plays a larger role. But as the administration moves to rebuild Texas and Puerto Rico, the contrast in the Trump administration’s responses to Harvey and Maria is taking on new dimensions. The federal government has already begun funding projects to help make permanent repairs to Texas infrastructure. But in Puerto Rico, that funding has yet to start, as local officials continue to negotiate the details of an experimental funding system that the island agreed to adopt after a long, contentious discussion with Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 2:26 pm

The accumulating impact of accumulating stuff

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James Wimberly writes in The Reality-Based Community:

Are we doomed to drown in stuff, or run out of the raw materials to make it? After the midwinter potlatch I was ready for some good fire and brimstone on this well-worn theme. George Monbiot is usually a reliable Savonarola, but I found his latest Christmas diatribe against growth and consumerism disappointing.

Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction. Among the snow saunasportable watermelon coolers and smart phones for dogs with which we are urged to fill our lives, my #extremecivilisation prize now goes to the PancakeBot: a 3-D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa or the Taj Mahal or your dog’s bottom every morning. In practice, it will clog up your kitchen for a week until you decide you don’t have room for it. For junk like this we’re trashing the living planet, and our own prospects of survival. Everything must go.

Personally, I’d have gone with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, now twice the size of France. [Update: you can of course follow her on Facebook.] The trouble with anecdotes, however stomach-churning, is that they don’t tell you anything about the trend. Are Monbiot’s ghastly examples typical, or the reflection of the fact that most middle-class people in rich countries already have all the material possessions they need and most of what they want? In that environment, finding affordable presents the recipients will actually like is getting harder and harder, before we finally stop the pointless exercise.

For the trend, we need models and numbers. I’ve already written about solid research by Thomas Wiedmann et al that Monbiot pointed me to, showing that:

1. The material intensity of world GDP has been going down.

2. It is still coupled to GDP, and there is no complete dematerialisation of growth.

So far so so-so. Wiedmann’s data stop in 2009, and he hasn’t updated yet. To fill the gap, Monbiot pointed to a new paper by Australian economist James Ward et al, purporting to show that decoupling of economic growth from material inputs is an illusion. IMHO this is question-begging hothouse orchid-growing; a wearisome takedown below the jump.

To get an idea of what’s been happening recently, I had a go myself with rustic methods. I constructed indices of world consumption for five significant materials (steel, aluminium, copper, cement, paper and board), normalised to 2005, before the financial crisis. Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels track their production. I couldn’t find world data for construction sand and gravel, so I threw in data for the USA: it’s interesting because these are very cheap and widely available, so consumption cannot be significantly affected anywhere by price or supply constraints. Here’s the result. A pretty chart; spreadsheet with working and data sources here. . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 11:46 am

Cigarette smoking adults: Trend

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The above is from Kevin Drum’s post.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 10:33 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Health

“I contradict myself”

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Nat Case has an interesting post in Aeon:

I read voraciously as a child, even obsessively. Our family drove across the US when I was 13, and I hardly noticed the scenery, eyes glued to a mammoth book of classic science-fiction stories. As I recall, this ticked off my parents.

Magical stories moved me to tears. I vividly remember, at the age of eight, being surprised at how deeply the second chapter of Astrid Lindgren’s The Brothers Lionheart (1973) affected me. The narrator dies and goes to the land where sagas come from, and when he arrives he finds that all that he had wanted — to be strong, healthy and beautiful like his older brother — has come to be, and that his beloved brother is there, too. And this is just the beginning of the story. I remember arriving at the end of Penelope Farmer’sThe Summer Birds (1962) and weeping bitterly as the children, who have spent the summer flying about the English countryside, return gravity-bound to school while their lonely classmate and the strange bird-boy fly off together over the ocean.

This essay wasn’t supposed to be about the stories I read as a child. It was supposed to be about how I manage to be an atheist within a religious community, and why I dislike the term ‘atheism’. But however I wrote that essay, the words died on the page. That story comes down to this: I do not believe in God, and I am bored with atheism. But these stories, this magic, and their presence in my heart, they don’t bore me — they are alive. Even though I know they are fiction, I believe in them.

My main religious practice today is meeting for worship with the Religious Society of Friends: I am a Quaker. Meeting for worship, to a newcomer, can feel like a blank page. Within the tradition of Friends, it is anything but blank: it is a religious service, expectant waiting upon the presence of God. So it’s not meditation, or ‘free time’. But that’s how I came to it at first, at the Quaker high school I attended.

After almost 15 years away, I returned to Quakerism in 1997. During a difficult patch of my life, a friend said I needed to do something for myself. So I started going to the meeting house on Sunday mornings. What I rediscovered was the simple fact of space. It was a hiatus, a parenthesis inserted into a complicated, twisty life. Even if it held nothing but breath, it was a relief, and in that relief, quiet notions emerged that had been trampled into the ground of everyday life.

I am an atheist, but I’ve been bothered for a long time by the mushiness I’ve found in the liberal spiritual communities that admit non-believers such as me. I’ve spent the better part of two decades trying to put my finger on the source of this unease, but it is not a question to be solved by the intellect: it must be lived through.

Several years ago, Marshall Massey, a fellow Friend, pointed out to me that ‘truth’, in the sense that it was used by 17th-century Friends, had less to do with verifiable evidence, and more to do with sense of being a ‘true friend’, an arrow flying true. It was about remaining on a path, not about conforming to the facts of the world. This points to a deep truth: we humans are built for a different kind of rigour than that of evidentiary fact. It is at least as much about consistency, discipline and loyalty as it is about the kinds of repeatable truth that we hold up in a scientific world as fundamental.

This is a large part of what drew me to the Friends rather than the Unitarians or other study groups. Binding oneself to specific patterns, habits, and language seems to have the effect of providing a spine, and Quakers seemed to have more of this spine than other groups I was attracted to. It was a partial solution of my sense of mushiness, but it certainly didn’t solve everything.

If you are really going to be part of a community, just showing up for the main meal is not enough: you need to help cook and clean up. So it has been with me and the Quakers: I’m concerned with how my community works, and so I’ve served on committees (Quakerism is all about committees). There’s pastoral care to accomplish, a building to maintain, First-Day School (Quakerese for Sunday School) to organise. And there’s the matter of how we as a religious community will bring our witness into the world. Perhaps this language sounds odd coming from a non-theist, but as I hope I’ve shown, I’m not a non-theist first. I’ve been involved in prison visiting, and have been struck at the variety of religious attitudes among volunteers: some for whom the visiting is in itself ministry, and others for whom it’s simply social action towards justice (the programme grew out of visiting conscientious objectors in the Vietnam era). The point is: theological differences are not necessarily an issue when there’s work to be done.

But the committees I’ve been in have also had a curious sense of unease too, a sense of something missing, and I’ve now been on three committees that were specifically charged with addressing aspects of a sense of malaise and communal disconnect. The openness of liberal religion resonates strongly with me. It means I do have a place, and not just in the closet or as a hypocrite. But I wonder if my presence, and the presence of atheists and skeptics such as me, is part of the problem.

People need focus. There’s a reason why the American mythologist Joseph Campbell chose the hero’s journey as his fundamental myth: we don’t give out faith and loyalty to an idea nearly as readily as we give it to a hero, a person. And so a God whom we understand not as a vague notion or spirit, but as a living presence, with voice and face and will and command — this is what I think most people want in a visceral way. In some ways, it’s what we need.

And I do not believe such a God exists in our universe.

Here’s a peculiar sense I’ve been getting in Friends committee meetings: we often don’t know how to seek the will of God; we are uncertain whether God actually possesses will. And yet, I suspect that the way out of our tortuous debates is to stop arguing and submit. That submission — because that’s what it is, in the same sense that islam means submission — is what pulls us out of ourselves and gets us lined up to do what needs doing instead of arguing about whose idea is better.

In the 17th century, the Quaker theologian Robert Barclay argued for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 10:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Religion

The Paris Climate Accords Are Looking More and More Like Fantasy

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David Wallace-Wells reports in New York:

Remember Paris? It was not even two years ago that the celebrated climate accords were signed — defining two degrees of global warming as a must-meet target and rallying all the world’s nations to meet it — and the returns are already dispiritingly grim.

This week, the International Energy Agency announced that carbon emissions grew 1.7 percent in 2017, after an ambiguous couple of years optimists hoped represented a leveling off, or peak; instead, we’re climbing again. Even before the new spike, not a single major industrial nation was on track to fulfill the commitments it made in the Paris treaty. To keep the planet under two degrees of warming — a level that was, not all that long ago, defined as the threshold of climate catastrophe — all signatory nations have to match or better those commitments. There are 195 signatories, of which only the following are considered even “in range” of their Paris targets: Morocco, Gambia, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, India, and the Philippines. This puts Donald Trump’s commitment to withdraw from the treaty in a useful perspective; in fact, his spite may ultimately prove perversely productive, since the evacuation of American leadership on climate seems to have mobilized China, eager to claim the mantle and far more consequential to the future of the planet because of its size and relative poverty, to adopt a much more aggressive posture toward climate. Of course those renewed Chinese commitments are, at this point, just rhetorical, too.

But this winter has brought even worse news than the abject failure of Paris compliance, in the form of a raft of distressing papers about what beyond compliance is required to stay below two degrees. Were each of those 195 countries to suddenly shape up, dramatically cutting back on fossil fuels to bring emissions in line with targets, that would still be not nearly enough to hit even Paris’s quite scary target. We don’t just need to draw down fossil fuels to stay below two degrees; doing so also requires “negative emissions” — extracting carbon from the atmosphere, essentially buying back some amount of existing fossil-fuel pollution through a combination of technological and agricultural tools. As Chelsea Harvey, among others, has pointed out, in 2014, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — now somewhat outdated, but still more or less the gold-standard single source for big-picture perspective — presented more than 100 modeled scenarios that would keep global temperatures below two degrees of warming. Nearly all of them relied on negative emissions. These tools come in two forms: technologies that would suck carbon out of the air (called CCS, for carbon capture and storage) and new approaches to forestry and agriculture that would do the same, in a slightly more old-fashioned way (bioenergy carbon capture and storage, or BECCS).

According to these recent papers, both are something close to fantasy: at best, uneconomical and entirely untested at scale, and, at worst, wholly inadequate to the job being asked of them. A new report of the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council found that negative-emissions technologies have “limited realistic potential” to even slow the increase in concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere — let alone meaningfully reduce that concentration. A letter in Nature Climate Change described the forestry and agricultural technologies, as imagined, “difficult to reconcile with planetary boundaries” — that is, it would impose such devastating costs in terms of forest cover, biodiversity, agriculture, and fresh water that doing so “might undermine the stability and resilience of the earth system,” lead author Vera Heck writes.

To keep us on track for Paris, BECCS “would require plantations covering two to three times the size of India — a third of the planet’s arable land,” Jason Hickell has calculated — and more than double that which is presently used to produce all the world’s agriculture. “Not only would this make it impossible to feed the world’s population, it would also be an ecological disaster.” Staying within those boundaries, and sparing the planet from those self-inflicted disasters, would mean deploying BECCS at such a small scale it could only offset, at best, one percent of annual emissions. Which means, all told, that the pathway to two degrees is getting so slim you can hardly see it; at present, it depends on emissions commitments literally no nation is keeping and technologies no one has seen work, and which many scientists now believe cannot possibly work. This is not good.

How not good? Another new paper sketches in horrifying detail what this failure would mean, though its findings are smuggled in under cover of rhetorical optimism. In the new issue of Nature Climate Change, a team lead by Drew Shindell tried to quantify the suffering that would be avoided if the planet were kept below 1.5 degrees of warming, rather than two degrees — in other words, how much additional suffering would result from that additional half-degree of warming. Their answer: 150 million more people would die from air pollution alone in a two-degree-warmer world than in a 1.5-degree-warmer one.

Numbers that large can be hard to grasp, but 150 million is the equivalent of 25 Holocausts. It is five times the size of the death toll of the Great Leap Forward — the largest non-military death toll humanity has ever produced. It is three times the greatest death toll of any kind: World War II. The paper’s math is speculative, of course, and there will surely be those who take issue with its methodology. But it also looks at deaths solely from air pollution — not from heat waves, drought, agricultural failure, pandemic disease, hurricanes and extreme weather, climate conflict, and more. And the paper reaches that figure, 150 million, only for a world that is two degrees warmer, when everything we are seeing now tells us that two degrees, always an optimistic target, is becoming more and more of a long shot.

That is all to say, it is a virtual certainty that we will inflict, thanks to climate change, the equivalent of 25 Holocausts on the world. Or . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 9:38 am

The Prosecution of Noor Salman, Pulse Shooter’s Widow, Highlights the Criminalization of Domestic Abuse Survivors

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Maha Ahmed reports in the Intercept:

THE FIRST TIME Noor Salman told her aunt about the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of her husband was also the first time she found herself free of him. It was June 2016, just five days after her husband, Omar Mateen, had walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring many others before he died in a shootout with police. Salman and her aunt, Susan Adieh, had driven the 13 hours from Port St. Lucie, Florida, where Salman was kept under lock and key by her in-laws in the shooting’s aftermath, to Adieh’s hometown of Batesville, Mississippi. When they arrived in Batesville, Salman recalled all the times that he had punched her, called her names, and sexually assaulted her during their marriage.

“Just like a maid in the house — that’s what her life was with him. And sex when he needed it out of her,” Adieh told The Intercept. “I went crazy when she told me all this.”

Now, nearly two years later, Salman is on trial for the only charges being brought in relation to the Pulse massacre. She has been charged with aiding and abetting her husband’s support of a foreign terrorist organization, as well as with obstruction of justice. Jury deliberations in her case began Wednesday.

While questions remain about the facts of the case, the abuse Salman endured is indisputable — and it highlights the widespread phenomenon of domestic abuse victims being prosecuted and incarcerated for acts committed by their abusers, or for crimes they were forced into. Both prosecutors and Orlando community members understandably want to seek justice for Pulse victims. But Salman’s family and advocates for defendants in situations like hers say that few are stopping to ask the question: Why is a domestic abuse victim being tried for crimes that her abuser committed?

Gail Smith, the director of the Women in Prison Project, a subdivision of the Correctional Association of New York, says that Salman is far from the only abuse victim she has seen prosecuted when the perpetrator of the crime has died or isn’t available. “The prosecution will find somebody to punish,” Smith told The Intercept. Abuse victims often end up being that “somebody.”

IN COURTS AROUND the country, abuse survivors like Salman regularly face criminal charges. While Salman’s case is unique in its focus on an alleged act of terrorism, as opposed to felony murder or other charges, the underlying phenomenon of abuse-to-criminalization is remarkably commonplace. Almost 80 percent of women who are currently in federal and state prisons were victims of physical or sexual abuse before their incarceration. And the Correctional Association of New York, which has been monitoring New York prisons since 1846, estimates that around 75 percent of incarcerated women have experienced severe abuse at the hands of an intimate partner during adulthood.

There’s no good way to measure how many of those women end up in prison as a result of charges directly related to that abuse, but many advocates who work with criminalized abuse survivors argue that it’s the majority. The difficulty in tracking such cases stems from a host of factors, including that not all victims of abuse realize they’ve experienced it until years later, meaning it isn’t reflected in court filings or other official documentation.

There are a number of different scenarios that wind up with abuse survivors on the defense side of a courtroom. Perhaps the most obvious examples concern  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 9:34 am

Danny Ray Thomas Was A Broken Man Who Needed Help. Instead He Was Gunned Down by a Cop in Broad Daylight.

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Shaun King reports in the Intercept:

EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW the name and story of Danny Ray Thomas, but too few people do. Our national attention span for police brutality and racial violence has plummeted since the election of President Donald Trump. He has a way of completely sucking the wind out of the news cycle and much of mainstream media obliges — obsessing over his every move.

From 2014 to 2016, we reached a national crescendo — where the important names and stories of injustices, and the cities where they happened, were seen and known by the world. Over 3,500 people were killed by American police during that period, according to the website Killed by Police, which aggregates information about reported killings. In 2014, the nation came to know the stories of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice. In 2015, it was Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. In 2016, it was Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

But what about 2017? Of the 1,193 people killed by American police last year, according to Killed by Police, whose story do you know? When I ask this question of audiences around the country, most people struggle to name one person. Why is that? What happened? The brutality damn sure didn’t end.

Until police slaughtered 22-year-old Stephon Clark — an unarmed, nonviolent black man — in his own backyard in a hail of twenty bullets, could you name a single victim of police violence from 2018?

I’m not judging you. You don’t know these names and stories because they just aren’t being shared with the same force of previous years. But you need to find a place in your heart and mind to know the story of Danny Ray Thomas.

It’s a story of grief. It’s a story of the excessive consequences of mass incarceration. It’s a story of mental health. It’s a story of the criminalization of drug addiction in black communities. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a story of a police officer who cared so little about the story, the humanity, the pain, that he executed a broken man in broad daylight. The details I’m going to give you about this case — that Danny Ray Thomas was unarmed, that the cop had other ways to deal with it, and much more — make it hard to see this any other way.

THE CRISIS OF mass incarceration does many things — chief among them is that it tears families apart. On August 12, 2016, Thomas, who was then 32 years old, was serving a three-year prison sentence in Bryan, Texas — over one hundred miles away from his kids in Houston. The man had lived a rough life and struggled with drug addiction. According to local news reports, he was sentenced to three years in prison not for a violent crime, not even for selling drugs, but for possession of PCP.

He needed rehab, diversion, and counseling. Instead, like hundreds of thousands of African-Americans, he was sent to prison. This isn’t how that situation goes down in affluent white communities across this country when parents or children struggle with drug addiction.

On Friday, August 12, 2016 — while Thomas was serving that outrageous sentence in prison — the unthinkable happened. His two children, 5-year-old Kayiana and her 7-year-old brother Araylon “Ray Ray” Thomas, named after his father, were killed. According to local news reports, their mother, 30-year-old Sheborah Thomas, invited the kids one by one into the bathroom and deliberately drowned them. Earlier that day, the kids had performed at a talent show.

After Sheborah Thomas allegedly killed the kids, she hid their lifeless bodies under her neighbor’s house and left them there for days until she told an acquaintance on Sunday. The acquaintance took her to a police station and flagged down an officer; Sheborah Thomas then confessed to the crime. She was charged with capital murder and is still in jail now, awaiting trial.

Imagine now the pain of Danny Ray Thomas, far away from home, locked behind bars for simple drug possession. Imagine getting the news that your babies were drowned to death. When it happened, Jason Clark, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, released a statement on how Thomas received the news: “As you can imagine, he’s pretty upset right now.”

I don’t how I’d wake up and push through life again if anyone killed my babies. But trying to imagine being in prison, and their deaths happening while I was away, is simply unthinkable. Those who knew Thomas, of course, said he struggled mightily in the wake of such a loss. How could he not?

His sister Marketa Thomas told reporters that she and her brother both struggled with mental illness and supported each other through it all the best way they knew how. “He had my back through everything. And he promised me he wouldn’t leave me, and he didn’t leave me,” she said. “Somebody took him from me.”

Indeed, they did.

LAST THURSDAY, IN broad daylight, as onlookers filmed and even nervously laughed a little, Thomas appeared to be in the middle of a mental health emergency. Waddling through the street with his pants all the way down at his feet, his body moved, but his mind was somewhere else. He genuinely appeared lost, wandering to and fro aimlessly, walking with intention but going nowhere sensible.

It was a spectacle. Even if you didn’t know that the man wandering around with his pants at his feet had had his heart and soul ripped away, any sensible human being would’ve known that Thomas was a man in distress. He needed an ambulance. Instead, he got a cop.

That cop, Cameron Brewer, worked for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and just happened to be in the area when he saw the disturbance Thomas was causing. Within 30 seconds, Thomas was shot and killed.

Danny Ray Thomas was completely unarmed. From what we can see in the videos of the encounter — only a few seconds of which are off-camera — it doesn’t appear that Thomas ever touched or threatened the officer.

What’s doubly disturbing is that the officer, as we so often hear, had a body camera, according to the Harris County Sheriff, but it was charging in his car. He also had a Taser, but chose not to use it; and he had been trained in how to deescalate a mental health crisis, but appeared to have forgotten that, too.

If America’s nurses were as nervous and easily frightened as our cops, and had the power to shoot people, our national murder rate would skyrocket overnight. Instead, those nurses, who see broken men like Thomas every hour of every single day, find a way to provide treatment without ever firing a single bullet.

Unarmed black men like Danny Ray Thomas and Stephon Clark received absolutely no patience from the officers who eventually shot and killed them, but watch the endless patience cops gave the man in another video posted to Twitter.

How in the world is the Parkland shooter, armed with an arsenal and having killed 17 people, alive, but Danny Ray Thomas is dead? How in the world is Dylann Roof, having slaughtered nine sweet souls at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, alive, but Stephon Clark couldn’t make it out of his own backyard after being suspected of vandalism?

Waddling through those streets with his pants down, Danny Ray Thomas couldn’t have outrun a little old lady. He was a nuisance. Whatever crime he committed would’ve likely received a ticket or citation.

Instead, he got the death penalty. While the local sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, has expressed concernabout the shooting by his deputy, concern is not justice. Concern is better than nothing, I suppose, but only slightly. That concern won’t bring this man’s life back. . .

Continue reading.

The US program for the mentally ill is mainly to imprison them or shoot them. This is not a constructive approach to mental health issues.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 9:30 am

Trump’s Nominee To Oversee Superfund Program Spent Decades Fighting EPA Cleanups on Behalf of Polluters

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Sharon Lerner reports in ProPublica:

THOUGH HE HAS openly disparaged much of his agency’s mission, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has remained steadfastly enthusiastic about Superfund, the federal program responsible for cleaning up some of the country’s most contaminated industrial sites. The EPA budget brief released in February said the agency would “accelerate the pace of cleanups” and make an additional 102 Superfund sites and 1,368 brownfield sites “ready for use” by September 30, 2019. That move follows Pruitt’s creation of a “Superfund task force,” which laid out the program’s priorities in July and, in December, issued a list of 21 sites to be fast-tracked for cleanup.

Yet even as he’s offered up these promises, some of Pruitt’s budgetary and hiring decisions have threatened the possibility that he’ll be able to fulfill them. The EPA’s proposed 2019 budget would cut the enforcement staff necessary to track down polluters and hold them accountable.

Perhaps even more undermining to the program are the people Pruitt has chosen to run it. First there was Albert Kelly, a former banker who had contributed to Pruitt’s campaigns and whose bank had given him loans, appointed to head the Superfund task force last May despite the fact that he had no previous environmental experience. And now comes Trump’s nomination for Kelly’s boss at the office responsible for managing hazardous waste: Peter Wright, a man with an extensive history with Superfund — fighting EPA cleanups on behalf of polluters.

From the beginning, the government’s efforts to remediate lead smelters, mines, paper mills, refineries, landfills, and the like under the Superfund program have been dogged by delays. Superfund was created in 1980 to remediate the most egregious industrial messes that companies were unable or unwilling to clean up themselves. At first, the program was mostly paid for by a tax on the chemical and oil industries. But the rate of cleanup got infinitely worse after 1995, when Congress allowed that tax to expire, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. The number of completed Superfund cleanups (of sites not owned by the federal government) dropped from 80 in 2000 to 13 in 2013, according to a 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office. While presidential administrations have come and gone, hundreds of communities have awaited the removal of dangerous chemicals for decades as they languished on the ironically named “National Priorities List.”

Scott Pruitt promised to fix that. But his first step was to appoint someone to head up his Superfund reform initiative whose experience with Superfund sites seemed to be limited to living near one. Like about half of the more than 1,300 Superfund sites, the Wilcox Oil site in Albert Kelly’s hometown, Bristow, Oklahoma, was polluted by companies that no longer exist. It’s been 96 years since Albert Rollestone sold Continental Petroleum, one of the companies that originally operated on the land that is now the Wilcox site. In the early 1900s, Rollestone shared a house with Kelly’s grandfather, a banker whose fortune came partly from oil. Both men profited from the Bristow oil boom. Rollestone, whose bank eventually merged with one the elder Kelly ran, went on to live “on a prominent Easy Street corner,” as the magazine Petroleum Age wrote at the time, and Kelly’s community bank, now known as SpiritBank, remains in operation.

While Continental and the six other companies that originally operated on the land have long since ceased to exist, their pollution remained. On a chilly Tuesday last month, it took the form of black goo that had oozed up from the ground and hardened into tarry patches dotting Glen Jones’s backyard. Jones, 73, hoped for a peaceful retirement on his 20-acre property when he bought it 14 years ago. That was before the EPA found elevated concentrations of lead, arsenic, 2-methylnaphthalene, and the carcinogen benzo(a)pyrene in the 125-acre swath of Bristow that includes his backyard and, in 2013, declared it a Superfund site.

For most of the past year, while the position above him has remained vacant, Kelly, the grandson of Rollestone’s business associate, has been running the $1 billion program that oversees the cleanup of Superfund sites, including the one in Bristow. While Kelly is new to this professional world, Wright, Trump’s nominee to head the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, has an extensive track record with hazardous waste: For the last quarter-century, he has defended companies responsible for some of the biggest of these industrial disasters, including Dow Chemical, where he has worked for more than 18 years, and Monsanto, where he worked for seven years before that.

The Senate has yet to schedule Wright’s confirmation hearing. If confirmed, he would oversee emergency response as well as cleanups under the Superfund program, which is mostly used for abandoned industrial sites, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which is designed for sites that are still in use. Together, Dow and DuPont, which merged in 2017, are responsible for the remediation of nearly 200 Superfund sites and more than 300 sites being cleaned up under other laws, including the RCRA, according to DowDuPont’s Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Monsanto is associated with at least 100 Superfund sites and seven RCRA sites, according to the EPA website. A spokesperson for Monsanto could not confirm the number of sites the company has been involved in remediating.

While Pruitt has promised to speed cleanups, as an attorney representing companies that have to pay cleanup costs, part of Wright’s job has been to avoid liability. Among the complicated environmental messes Dow is now cleaning is Rocky Flats, where the company manufactured triggers for nuclear weapons. An EPA and FBI raid of the plant in 1989 led to discoveries that plutonium and tritium had leaked into local water — and spurred the environmental agency to add the site to the Superfund list that same year. Thousands of residents have since sued. In an emailed statement, Dow spokesperson Rachelle Schikorra noted that the EPA closed the Rocky Flats cleanup project in 2006 and that legal cases associated with historical operations of this site have settled. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 9:23 am

Why Devin Nunes and His Local Paper Suddenly Can’t Stand Each Other

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Bryan Schatz reports in Mother Jones:

For nearly two decades, Rep. Devin Nunes had enjoyed an amiable relationship with the Fresno Bee, the largest local paper near his district in California’s Central Valley. That ended on January 25, when the Bee’s editorial board published an eviscerating editorial about the veteran Republican congressman. Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had been accusing the FBI of allegedly abusing a secret surveillance program in order to target the Trump campaign and undermine his presidency. Democrats said Nunes was attempting to discredit his own committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Nunes claimed that a soon-to-be declassified four-page memo he’d written would prove everything.

The Bee‘s editorial board wasn’t buying it. Its piece titled “Rep. Devin Nunes, Trump’s Stooge, Attacks FBI” opened with this no-holds-barred lead:

What, pray tell, does Rep. Devin Nunes think he’s doing by waving around a secret memo attacking the FBI, the nation’s premier law enforcement agency? He certainly isn’t representing his Central Valley constituents or Californians, who care much more about health care, jobs and, yes, protecting Dreamers than about the latest conspiracy theory. Instead, he’s doing dirty work for House Republican leaders trying to protect President Donald Trump in the Russia investigation.

It was the first public rift between the Bee‘s editorial board and the veteran Tulare County Republican. The Bee‘s editorial page had stayed silent eight months earlier when Nunes made headlines with his “midnight run” to the White House, when he purportedly read classified documents and then held a solo press conference the next morning to repeat the Trump administration’s claims that the Obama administration may have illegally spied on its transition team. The much-hyped Nunes memo, however, marked a turning point. “This was not something we took lightly. It was very seriously thought out,” says Gail Marshall, the Bee‘s editorial page editor. “We wanted to get his attention and the attention of the people on this direction he’s going. And I think it succeeded in that.”

In response, Nunes has lashed out at the Bee—including the reporters whose work is separate from its editorial page. In an interview with Bee reporter Rory Appleton on February 22, Nunes called the paper “a joke” and a “left-wing rag.” Nunes fumed when Appleton asked him if he would be holding any public forums or town halls during the 2018 election cycle. “You know—it’s actually sad,” he said. “I actually feel bad for the people who work at the Bee.”

National outlets reported on the unexpectedly harsh January editorial, and emails, letters, and phone calls from around the country started pouring into the Bee. “We expected a lot of pushback,” says Marshall, but the overwhelming majority, she says, blasted Nunes, not the paper. A few days after Nunes went public with his memo, the Bee published a 13-letter sample of what they’d been receiving. Eric Hanson of Minneapolis asked, “Is Devin Nunes really as stupid as he is behaving?” In an appeal to voters in the district, John Mapes of Eugene, Oregon, wrote, “You elected Nunes and you need to fix this mess.”

The few critical letters the Bee received didn’t support Nunes so much as they railed against his perceived enemies, Marshall says. Targets included “the media, the Democrats, the evil dark state—always going back to some other evil villain, but not jumping up and saying, ‘Here’s my experience with Congressman Nunes. Here’s how he helped us.’”

Since its first critical editorial ran, the Bee‘s editorial page has continued to call outNunes not only for his role in gumming up the Trump-Russia investigation, but also for his lackluster record. Nunes is considered a champion of water rights in his heavily agricultural district, but he has delivered few tangible results. Since 2013, only two of his bills have become law, and neither was related to water. In his interview with Appleton, he struggled to detail any major accomplishments during his 15 years in office. “We’re still talking about needing storage, needing to move water. By now, we should have dams with his name on them,” says Marshall. “He’s been at this a long time. I and a lot of other people don’t see a lot of great results coming from it.”

Marshall thinks that Nunes is increasingly “afraid of talking to his constituent press, his constituents, and of meeting with people.” He reportedly hasn’t held a town hall since 2010. His constituents, Marshall says, “wanted to talk to their congressman, and he was having none of it. He was getting more and more distant from us, more and more partisan, and more and more allied to his Washington duties, and less interested in us,” Marshall says.

Nunes and the Bee didn’t always have such a combative relationship. For more than 20 years, the Bee‘s reporting on him has been straightforward and its editorial board has recommended him for reelection “time after time,” says Marshall. In 1996, at just 23 years old, Nunes unseated a long-time incumbent on a community college board. “Who doesn’t love a young upstart college student who is eager to get into politics and have his voice heard?” notes Marshall. In 1998, Nunes tried to run for Congress, but the elections office said he was too young. He challenged the decision, and a judge ruled in his favor after he noted that he would be 25 by election day. (He lost in the primary.) In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him to be California’s director of rural development for the Department of Agriculture. He was elected to Congress in 2003 and quickly gained a reputation as an up-and-coming young Republican. In the early years, Marshall says, Nunes was “very personable, very willing to talk to everybody; he was visible in the district. He gave us no reason to be very upset with him.”

The relationship first started to sour in 2010 when . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 9:19 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP, Media

Guatemala shows why the CIA must be held accountable for torture

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person who does bad acts will resist as much as possible facing any accountability for her or his choices and actions. Elizabeth Oglesby reports in The Hill:

Gina Haspel’s nomination for CIA chief has reignited debate over accountability for torture. A bi-partisan group of Senators, including John McCain (R-Ariz.), is demanding greater transparency from the CIA on Haspel’s involvement in waterboarding and other acts of torture at the “black site” she ran in Thailand, as well as her role in destroyingvideotapes of torture sessions.

As discussions around Haspel’s nomination heat up, other contentious legal proceedings — the current genocide trials in Guatemala — remind us that U.S. sanctioning of torture has a long, dark history with which we have yet to reckon.

Guatemala shows us why amnesia is dangerous and why the Senate must reject Haspel’s nomination.

On March 9, just days before Haspel’s nomination, I testified in a courtroom in Guatemala City in the dual genocide trials against the former Guatemalan dictator, General Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983), and his intelligence chief, General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.

For six hours, I described how the Guatemalan army massacred Mayan communities in the early 1980s, and captured, tortured and “disappeared” survivors during its war against leftist insurgents.

The United States supports Guatemala’s efforts to prosecute human rights violators. At the same time, the trials remind us that CIA involvement in torture is not an anomaly of the immediate post-911 world, but stretches back decades. Declassified U.S. government documents disclose that beginning in the 1960s, the CIA trained the Guatemalan military in covert repressive techniques, including kidnapping, torture, disappearance and executions of suspected communist dissidents.

Fast-forward 30 years, and the repression left 200,000 dead and 40,000 forcibly disappeared, with Guatemala’s 1999 Truth Commission attributing 93 percent of these crimes to government forces.

Mass forced disappearances, what we now call “rendition,” spread to other Latin American countries during the 1970s and 1980s, with the active collaboration of U.S. intelligence agencies in operations such as Operation Condor to target and eliminate dissidents, as declassified U.S. documents show.

Guatemala shows why human rights prosecution is key. It’s not just reckoning with the past. These cases are entwined with the present and future. Many of Guatemala’s notorious human rights violators still hold power, inside and outside the government. Some are reputed leaders of violent crime syndicates that destabilize the country.

No surprise: if human rights criminals aren’t prosecuted, they can continue to corrode the rule of law. Sometimes, they get “laundered” back into respectable, high-level government positions. Some have a similar concern with Haspel.

Finally, Guatemala shows that torturers and other human rights abusers can be prosecuted, even at the highest level.

In addition to the genocide trials, more than a dozen high-ranking former Guatemalan military officers face charges in cases of torture and forced disappearance that occurred during the 1980s.

These officers deploy the same defense as torture architects in the U.S: They claim they did what was necessary to protect the country from an imminent threat. But Guatemala’s courts aren’t buying it.

Like the U.S., Guatemala has debated offering immunity to human rights violators. But unlike the U.S., Guatemalan courts have rejected amnesty as incompatible with national and international law. While the U.S. has backed away from prosecuting torture, Guatemala has appointed special prosecutors and high-risk tribunals to try human rights cases.

The United States has supported these accountability efforts. Between 2008 and 2016, the U.S. gave $36 million to the U.N.-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which is helping the Guatemalan Public Ministry investigate high-risk cases. U.S. Embassy personnel often attend high-profile human rights hearings in Guatemala and tweet their support of human rights cases.

In an October 2017 report, the U.S. Congressional Research Service called Guatemala’s efforts to prosecute high-profile human rights and organized crime cases a “step forward” in the country’s democratic development. Time Magazine named Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana one of its 100 most influential people in 2017.

On March 14, a bipartisan group of 14 congressional leaders, including the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to the State Department affirming that having strong public prosecutors in Central America is an “important policy priority” for the United States, within the framework of a regional stability plan.

Of course, the irony is that many of the senior military officers on trial now in Guatemala are graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. So, in a sense, the U.S. is confronting its own past in Guatemala.

If only we could apply this logic to ourselves. Guatemala and the U.S. are bound by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which bans torture, without exceptions, and requires that torturers be prosecuted.

At least 100 people died from torture inflicted at U.S. detention facilities around the world after 2001, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. Yet, a 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, completed in 2014, remains mostly classified.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who led the Senate torture investigation, has called on the CIA to declassify records on Haspel’s involvement in the CIA’s rendition, detention and torture program. McCain asked Haspel to commit to declassifying the 2014 Senate report on torture. These are important steps.

Yet, we know enough about Haspel’s record to conclude that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 9:09 am

Rooney Style 3, Martin de Candre, Stealth, and Bulgari: a fine Saturday shave

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Martin de Candre is a remarkable soap: extremely simple ingredients, extremely good lather, and an extremely long-lasting puck. Perhaps this accounts for the long life:

Martin de Candre and Marseille soaps in general use a fully boiled method of production, precipitating the soap out of solution using salt. Martin de Candre claim to use sea water for this purpose.

Well-lathered, I used the Stealth to good effect. This is a fine slant for me, never nicking, always efficient in producing a totally smooth result.

A little splash of Bulgari, and the weekend looks good. I am totally over my little bout of food poisoning and at almost nothing yesterday except broth. I gained a pound. So it goes.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2018 at 8:48 am

Posted in Shaving

The myth of the criminal immigrant

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Anna Flagg reports for the Marshall Project:

The Trump administration’s first year of immigration policy has relied on claims that immigrants bring crime into America. President Trump’s latest target is sanctuary cities.

“Every day, sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities,” he said last week. “They’re safe havens for just some terrible people.”

As of 2017, according to Gallup polls, almost half of Americans agreed that immigrants make crime worse. But is it true that immigration drives crime? Many studies have shown that it does not.

Immigrant populations in the United States have been growing fast for decades now. Crime in the same period, however, has moved in the opposite direction, with the national rate of violent crime today well below what it was in 1980.

In a large-scale collaboration by four universities, led by Robert Adelman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers compared immigration rates with crime rates for 200 metropolitan areas over the last several decades. The selected areas included huge urban hubs like New York and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth that size, like Muncie, Ind., and were dispersed geographically across the country. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . In 136 metro areas, almost 70 percent of those studied, the immigrant population increased between 1980 and 2016 while crime stayed stable or fell. The number of areas where crime and immigration both increased was much lower — 54 areas, slightly more than a quarter of the total. The 10 places with the largest increases in immigrants all had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980.

And yet the argument that immigrants bring crime into America has driven many of the policies enacted or proposed by the administration so far: restrictions to entry, travel and visas; heightened border enforcement; plans for a wall along the border with Mexico. This month, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against California in response to the state’s refusal to allow local police to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants charged with crimes. On Tuesday, California’s Orange County signed on in support of that suit. But while the immigrant population in the county has more than doubled since 1980, overall violent crime has decreased by more than 50 percent.

There’s a similar pattern in two other places where Trump has recently feuded with local leaders: Oakland, Calif., and Lawrence, Mass. He described both cities as breeding grounds for drugs and crime brought by immigrants. But Oakland, like Orange County, has had increasing immigration and falling crime. In Lawrence, though murder and robbery rates grew, overall violent crime rates still fell by 10 percent.

In general, the study’s data suggests either that immigration has the effect of reducing average crime, or that there is simply no relationship between the two, and that the 54 areas in the study where both grew were instances of coincidence, not cause and effect. This was a consistent pattern in each decade from 1980 to 2016, with immigrant populations and crime failing to grow together. . .

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2018 at 4:39 pm

John Bolton Skewed Intelligence, Say People Who Worked With Him

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Sebastian Rotella reports in ProPublica:

In early 2002, as the Bush administration hunted for Osama bin Laden, pressed its war in Afghanistan and set its sights on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, John Bolton saw another looming threat: that Cuba was secretly developing biological weapons.

Bolton, who was then the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control issues, included a warning about the Cuban threat in a draft of a speech and sent it around the department for the necessary clearance. A biological warfare analyst wrote back that Bolton’s proposed comments overstated what U.S. intelligence agencies really knew about the matter, and, as routinely happens, suggested some small changes.

The analyst was summoned to Bolton’s office. “He got very red in the face, and shaking his finger at me, and explained to me that I was acting way beyond my position,” the analyst, Christian Westermann, recalled laterduring a Senate inquiry. Bolton then demanded that Westermann’s supervisor remove him permanently from the biological weapons portfolio, thundering that “he wasn’t going to be told what he could say by a mid-level munchkin.”

Last week, President Donald Trump named Bolton to be his new national security adviser, a job that would arguably make him the government’s most important arbiter of competing views on foreign policy and a key judge of what intelligence information reaches the president on the most serious threats to national security.

The nomination — which does not require Senate confirmation — has drawn attention mainly for Bolton’s combative bureaucratic style and the hawkish views he has espoused in three Republican administrations and as a Fox News analyst. Among other ideas, Bolton has advocated overthrowing the Islamic government of Iran, bombing that country’s nuclear facilities, and (just last month) taking preemptive military action against North Korea.

But many foreign policy experts, including some who worked closely with him, argue that the more significant issue for Bolton’s new role may be his history as a consumer of intelligence that does not conform to his views, and the lengths to which he has sometimes gone to try to suppress analyses that he sees as wrong or misinformed.

An examination of Bolton’s record, based on interviews with some of his former colleagues and the Senate hearings on his nomination in 2005 to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reveal a tendency to aggressively embrace intelligence that supported his positions, while discounting information that undercut those views. The confrontations that arose from that approach have often been ascribed to partisanship or sharp elbows, but even some conservative veterans of the Bush administration accused Bolton of exaggerating, minimizing or cherry-picking intelligence information to bolster his policy positions, and of retaliating to try to silence intelligence professionals with whom he disagreed.

“Anyone who is so cavalier not just with intelligence, but with facts, and so ideologically driven, is unfit to be national security adviser,” said Robert Hutchings, who dealt extensively with Bolton as head of the National Intelligence Council, a high-level agency that synthesizes analysis from across the intelligence community to produce strategic assessments for policymakers. “He’s impervious to information that goes against his preconceived ideological views.” . . .

Continue reading.

He actually sounds like a good fit for Trump.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2018 at 3:04 pm

Trump’s border wall rhetoric is increasingly divorced from reality

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Steve Benen writes at MSNBC:

A week ago today, Donald Trump announced that he’d secured funding for his proposed border wall and construction would begin “immediately.” This wasn’t even remotely true.

Two days ago, the president boasted about a White House briefing on the project – whether that briefing occurred in reality is a subject of some debate – and released photographs he said were proof that his border wall was initiative getting underway. This wasn’t true, either.

All of which led to yesterday, and Trump’s speech in Ohio on infrastructure, which included increasingly bizarre rhetoric about the project. From the transcript:

“We started building our wall, I’m so proud of it. We have $1.6 billion. And we’ve already started, You saw the pictures yesterday, I said, ‘What a thing of beauty.’ […]

“You think that’s easy? People said, ‘Oh, has he given up on the’ – no, I never give up. We have $1.6 billion toward the wall. And we’ve done the planning, and you saw those beautiful pictures. And the wall looks good. It’s properly designed.

“That’s what I do, is I build. I was always very good at building. It was always my best thing. I think better than being president, I was maybe good at building. […]

“We’ve done prototypes all over and we have something special happening.”

The president’s audience seemed impressed, which is a shame, because Trump’s rhetoric was wrong to the point of delusion.

The omnibus spending package included funds for border security, but it didn’t include so much as a penny for Trump’s plan for a wall. As NBC News reported, the spending bill sets aside $1.6 billion, but the money “can be used only to repair and build previously approved fencing,”

Washington Post  report added:

“The bill provides $1.6 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but with some serious strings attached. Of the total, $251 million is earmarked specifically for “secondary fencing” near San Diego, where fencing is already in place; $445 million is for no more than 25 miles of “levee fencing”; $196 million is for “primary pedestrian fencing” in the Rio Grande Valley; $445 million is for the replacement of existing fencing in that area; and the rest is for planning, design and technology – not for wall construction

“The biggest catch is this: The barriers authorized to be built under the act must be “operationally effective designs” already deployed as of last March, meaning none of President Trump’s big, beautiful wall prototypes can be built.”

And as a result, effectively everything the president said about the subject was demonstrably ridiculous. “We started building our wall”? Not in this reality he hasn’t. “We have $1.6 billion toward the wall”? No, he doesn’t.

“We’ve done prototypes all over and we have something special happening”? Again, Trump’s wall project isn’t being built, at least not anytime soon. Period. Full Stop.

The trouble is, Trump’s lying about border wall construction is so over the top, I’m starting to think he actually believes his own patently untrue claims. I’m not sure which is worse:  . . .

Continue reading.

Kevin Drum’s take:

. . . I won’t pretend to know what goes on in the lump of gray matter Trump uses for a brain, but the reason he says stuff like this is simple: it’s aimed at his supporters, who have no idea that he’s lying. As far as they’re concerned, it’s promise made, promise kept. That’s all Trump cares about.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2018 at 9:34 am

Posted in Trump administration

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We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads

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Worth watching.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2018 at 7:58 am

Under the weather: A spot of food poisoning

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I’ve had a mild case of food poisoning—I suspect a tub of shucked oysters that tasted a little off—and so I’ve been inactive and somewhat miserable. I slept a lot yesterday, followed by sleeping a lot last night. I did drink a lot of water during the day, which seems to be the only real recommendation. I’m feeling better today, but still a little fragile.

I think I’ll avoid oysters for a while and probably cook them in the future.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2018 at 7:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Medical

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