Later On

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

Archive for April 2018

Michael Hayden: The End of Intelligence

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Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, writes in the NY Times:

In 1994 during the height of the Bosnian civil war, when I was head of intelligence for American forces in Europe, I walked through the ruined streets of Sarajevo. A city of once-beautiful steeples, onion-shaped domes and minarets had been devastated by Serbian artillery in the hills rising above the Miljacka River. I wondered what manner of man could pick up a sniper rifle and shoot former neighbors lining up for scarce water at a shuttered brewery.

What struck me most, though, was not how Sarajevans were different from us, but how much they weren’t. This had obviously been a cultured, tolerant, vibrant place that had been ripped asunder by the conflict pitting Muslim Bosniaks against Christian Serbs and Croats.

The veneer of civilization, I concluded, was quite thin — a natural thought for an intelligence officer whose profession trends pessimistic and whose work is consumed by threats and dangers. Over the years I had learned that the traditions and institutions that protect us from living Hobbesian “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” lives are inherently fragile and demand careful tending. In America today, they are under serious stress.

It was no accident that the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth,” a condition where facts are less influential in shaping opinion than emotion and personal belief. To adopt post-truth thinking is to depart from Enlightenment ideas, dominant in the West since the 17th century, that value experience and expertise, the centrality of fact, humility in the face of complexity, the need for study and a respect for ideas.

President Trump both reflects and exploits this kind of thinking. It is fair to say that the Trump campaign normalized lying to an unprecedented degree. There was the candidate’s claim that legions of Arabs celebrated wildly in New Jersey as the World Trade Center collapsed. He defended his calls for the intentional killing of the Sept. 11 terrorists’ families because “they knew what was happening” and had “watched their husband on television flying into the World Trade Center,” something for which there is zero evidence. He insinuated that Senator Ted Cruz’s father had a hand in John F. Kennedy’s assassination and that the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia had been murdered.

When pressed on specifics, the president has routinely denigrated those who questioned him, whether the “fake” media, “so called” judges, Washington insiders or the “deep state.” He has also condemned Obama-era intelligence officials as “political hacks.”

David Priess, an intelligence officer who once gave presidential daily briefings, asked me whether I thought Mr. Trump could distinguish between truth and untruth. He raised the controversial speech Mr. Trump gave at a Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia in July 2017, a speech that was overly political and occasionally tasteless. In the face of sharp criticism, the president said that the Scouts’ leader had called him to say it was “the greatest speech that was ever made to them.”

Of course, no such call ever occurred. But was Mr. Trump actually able to draw a distinction between the past that had really happened and the past that he needed at that moment? Mr. Priess’s point was that you could sometimes convince a liar that he was wrong. What do you do with someone who does not distinguish between truth and untruth?

We in the intelligence world have dealt with obstinate and argumentative presidents through the years. But we have never served a president for whom ground truth really doesn’t matter.

For many Americans, this is not a problem. Last year, I met a few of them in the back room of a Pittsburgh sports bar where my brother had arranged for several dozen Trump supporters to meet with me.

I knew many of them, indeed had grown up with several. But we could have been from different planets. They were angry. They work hard, pay taxes and struggle to raise children, but feel neglected by their government. And Donald Trump is still their guy. “He is an American.” “He is genuine.” “He doesn’t filter everything or parse every word.”

They didn’t seem very interested in facts, either. Or at least not in my facts. Political partisanship in America has become what David Brooks calls “totalistic.” Partisan identity, as he writes, fills “the void left when their other attachments wither away — religious, ethnic, communal and familial.” Beliefs are now so tied to these identities that data is not particularly useful to argue a point.

Intelligence work — at least as practiced in the Western liberal tradition — reflects these threatened Enlightenment values: gathering, evaluating and analyzing information, and then disseminating conclusions for use, study or refutation.

How the erosion of Enlightenment values threatens good intelligence was obvious in the Trump administration’s ill-conceived and poorly carried out executive order that looked to the world like a Muslim ban.

That order was almost certainly not the product of intelligence analysis about the threat posed by immigrants from certain nations, but rather the president trying to fulfill a campaign promise based on exaggerated fears about immigrants and unfair criticism of the refugee vetting system. One former senior intelligence official told me that when the ban was announced internally, everyone was simply told to get on board. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2018 at 11:18 am

Wee Scot, D.R. Harris Arlington, and the iKon 102

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A fine way to start the week: An excellent lather from D. R. Harris & Co. Arlington shaving soap, thanks in part to the Wee Scot, and then a smooth and easy shave from my iKon 102, ending with a splash of Arlington aftershave.

The previous post will be of interest to those who cook, and I’ve updated my current diet advice in various ways, including a game.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2018 at 9:08 am

Posted in Shaving

Dinner and a note on cooking chicken breasts

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Boneless skinless chicken breasts are 0 Weight Watchers points, so we have been having them often, chopped up in salads, added to chili, ratatouille, stews, etc. I have been poaching them the way Cook’s Illustrated suggested, as described in this post. Because the breasts are cooked relatively quickly, you must pound them to a uniform thickness (more or less) so that the thinner parts are not overcooked in the time it takes to get the thicker parts done.

However, I recently learned that bone-in skin-on chicken breasts are also 0 Weight Watchers points if you strip the skin off before serving. Since those are cheaper than the boneless skinless sort, I decided to go for it. I used my large (11″, 4-qt) All-Clad Stainless sauté pan and put in 2.5 qts water, 3/4 c soy sauce, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1/4 cups salt, and stirred it up. Then I put the 3 bone-in skin-on chicken-breast halve to marinate. They occupied a single layer (and were slightly cheaper than the boneless skinless versions).

I let them marinate for about 3 hours. There was no way to pound them to uniform thickness, so I needed to cook them very slowly so that the thickest parts arrived at 160ºF at around the same time the thinnest parts did.

So I drained them, returned them to the sauté pan, covered it, and put it in a 200ºF oven for 2.5 hours. Check the temperature then. If it’s above 160ºF in the thickest part, that’s fine with me.

Let it cool, then strip off skin and bones by hand and refrigerate for use in salads, ratatouilles, etc. The nice thing about cooking them this way instead of, say, roasting them, is that this way the skin is rubbery, pale, and unappetizing, quite unlike the crisp, brown, tasty-looking skin of roasted chicken.

And tonight we had a black-eyed pea salad that was quite good:

1 cup dry blackeyed peas
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped
3-5 oz baby arugula, chopped
200g feta, crumbled—7 oz, essentially. I formerly used 8 oz, but now we’re in Canada, and metric rules.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice or lime juice
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp minced or crushed garlic
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
1 bunch large scallions, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped small
1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp capers, drained
3-5 anchovy fillets, minced
2 Tbsp tamari
NO salt (feta does it)
2 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 can chunk white tuna, 120g drained (amps the protein, adds no points)

Cook beans (they take about 45 min after soaking), drain, and add all ingredients. The arugula probably amounts to 2 cups, compressed.

Stir/toss well until thoroughly mixed. The Wife likes this as well.

They sell pickled eggs in the supermarket, and eggs—like tuna—are zero points and high in protein. So next time I might slice 2-3 eggs into the salad, with or without the tuna.

Feta is 22 points, olive oil is 8 points, plus 1 poit each for mustard, garlic, and lemon/lime juice. However, it makes an enormous amount: I estimate at least eight 1-cup servings—so 4 points per serving. If it is sufficient for 10 servings, as seems likely, then it’s 3 points per serving.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2018 at 6:47 pm

Scott Aaronson’s route to quantum physics

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Very interesting lecture by Scott Aaronson:

There are two ways to teach quantum mechanics. The first way — which for most physicists today is still the only way — follows the historical order in which the ideas were discovered. So, you start with classical mechanics and electrodynamics, solving lots of grueling differential equations at every step. Then you learn about the “blackbody paradox” and various strange experimental results, and the great crisis these things posed for physics. Next you learn a complicated patchwork of ideas that physicists invented between 1900 and 1926 to try to make the crisis go away. Then, if you’re lucky, after years of study you finally get around to the central conceptual point: that nature is described not by probabilities (which are always nonnegative), but by numbers called amplitudes that can be positive, negative, or even complex.

Today, in the quantum information age, the fact that all the physicists had to learn quantum this way seems increasingly humorous. For example, I’ve had experts in quantum field theory — people who’ve spent years calculating path integrals of mind-boggling complexity — ask me to explain the Bell inequality to them. That’s like Andrew Wiles asking me to explain the Pythagorean Theorem.

As a direct result of this “QWERTY” approach to explaining quantum mechanics – which you can see reflected in almost every popular book and article, down to the present — the subject acquired an undeserved reputation for being hard. Educated people memorized the slogans — “light is both a wave and a particle,” “the cat is neither dead nor alive until you look,” “you can ask about the position or the momentum, but not both,” “one particle instantly learns the spin of the other through spooky action-at-a-distance,” etc. — and also learned that they shouldn’t even try to understand such things without years of painstaking work.

The second way to teach quantum mechanics leaves a blow-by-blow account of its discovery to the historians, and instead starts directly from the conceptual core — namely, a certain generalization of probability theory to allow minus signs. Once you know what the theory is actually about, you can then sprinkle in physics to taste, and calculate the spectrum of whatever atom you want. This second approach is the one I’ll be following here.


So, what is quantum mechanics? Even though it was discovered by physicists, it’s not a physical theory in the same sense as electromagnetism or general relativity. In the usual “hierarchy of sciences” — with biology at the top, then chemistry, then physics, then math — quantum mechanics sits at a level between math and physics that I don’t know a good name for. Basically, quantum mechanics is the operating system that other physical theories run on as application software (with the exception of general relativity, which hasn’t yet been successfully ported to this particular OS). There’s even a word for taking a physical theory and porting it to this OS: “to quantize.”

But if quantum mechanics isn’t physics in the usual sense — if it’s not about matter, or energy, or waves, or particles — then what is it about? From my perspective, it’s about information and probabilities and observables, and how they relate to each other.

Ray Laflamme:

    •  That’s very much a computer-science point of view.

Scott: Yes, it is.

My contention in this lecture is the following: Quantum mechanics is what you would inevitably come up with if you started from probability theory, and then said, let’s try to generalize it so that the numbers we used to call “probabilities” can be negative numbers. As such, the theory could have been invented by mathematicians in the 19th century without any input from experiment. It wasn’t, but it could have been.

Ray Laflamme:

    •  And yet, with all the structures mathematicians studied, none of them came up with quantum mechanics until experiment forced it on them…

Scott: Yes — and to me, that’s a perfect illustration of why experiments are relevant in the first place! More often than not, the only reason we need experiments is that we’re not smart enough. After the experiment has been done, if we’ve learned anything worth knowing at all, then hopefully we’ve learned why the experiment wasn’t necessary to begin with — why it wouldn’t have made sense for the world to be any other way. But we’re too dumb to figure it out ourselves!

Two other perfect examples of “obvious-in-retrospect” theories are evolution and special relativity. Admittedly, I don’t know if the ancient Greeks, sitting around in their togas, could have figured out that these theories were true. But certainly — certainly! — they could’ve figured out that they were possibly true: that they’re powerful principles that would’ve at least been on God’s whiteboard when She was brainstorming the world.

In this lecture, I’m going to try to convince you — without any recourse to experiment — that quantum mechanics would also have been on God’s whiteboard. I’m going to show you why, if you want a universe with certain very generic properties, you seem forced to one of three choices: (1) determinism, (2) classical probabilities, or (3) quantum mechanics. Even if the “mystery” of quantum mechanics can never be banished entirely, you might be surprised by just how far people could’ve gotten without leaving their armchairs! That they didn’tget far until atomic spectra and so on forced the theory down their throats is one of the strongest arguments I know for experiments being necessary.


A Less Than 0% Chance

Alright, so what would it mean to have “probability theory” with negative numbers? Well, there’s a reason you never hear the weather forecaster talk about a -20% chance of rain tomorrow — it really does make as little sense as it sounds. But I’d like you to set any qualms aside, and just think abstractly about an event with N possible outcomes. We can express the probabilities of those events by a vector of N real numbers: . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it’s intriguing.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2018 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Math, Science

The Quest for the Next Billion-Dollar Color

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Zach Schonburn writes for Bloomberg:

Mas Subramanian, the biggest celebrity in the uncelebrated world of pigment research, glances at a cluster of widemouthed jars containing powders in every color of the rainbow, save one. He’s got OYGBIV. “We’re getting closer,” he says brightly. He points to a jar of reddish brown dust, smoky and rich as paprika. Fetching, but it isn’t what he’s looking for.

During his nine-year sojourn into the strange, finicky realm of color, Subramanian, a materials science professor at Oregon State University at Corvallis, has grown infatuated with a form of chemistry that he, like many of his peers, once considered decidedly low-tech. His renown derives from his accidental creation, in 2009, of a new pigment, a substance capable of imparting color onto another material. YInMn blue (pronounced YIN-min) is an amalgam of yttrium, indium oxide, and manganese—elements deep within the periodic table that together form something unique. YInMn was the first blue pigment discovered in more than 200 years.

It isn’t only the exotic blueness that has excited the color industry, but also the other hues the pigment can generate. Subramanian soon realized that by adding copper, he could make a green. With iron, he got orange. Zinc and titanium, a muted purple.

Scanning these creations, scattered across his workbench like evidence of a Willy Wonka bender, he frowns. “We’ve made other colors,” he says. “But we haven’t found red.”

The world lacks a great all-around red. Always has. We’ve made do with alternatives that could be toxic or plain gross. The gladiators smeared their faces with mercury-based vermilion. Titian painted with an arsenic-based mineral called realgar. The British army’s red coats were infused with crushed cochineal beetles. For decades, red Lego bricks contained cadmium, a carcinogen.

More than 200 natural and synthetic red pigments exist today, but each has issues with safety, stability, chromaticity, and/or opacity. Red 254, aka Ferrari red, for example, is safe and popular, but it’s also carbon-based, leaving it susceptible to fading in the rain or the heat. “If we sit out in the sun, it’s not good for us,” says Narayan Khandekar, director of Harvard’s Straus Center for Conservation & Technical Studies and curator of the Forbes Pigment Collection. “That’s the same for most organic systems.” One red is stable, nontoxic, and everlasting: iron oxide, or red ocher, the ruddy clay found in Paleolithic cave paintings. “It’s just not bright in the way that people want,” Khandekar says.

A new pigment can generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually, affecting product categories from plastics to cosmetics to cars to construction. The most commercially successful blue, phthalocyanine, is found in eye shadow, hair gel, even the cars on British railways. Subramanian’s blue appears to be superior, but that doesn’t mean it has made him rich. What began as a scientific pursuit has opened up a whole new set of challenges getting YInMn approved, produced, and on the market.

With that process in motion, Subramanian, more scientist than chief executive, is now hunting for a similarly safe, inorganic red derivative of YInMn—something that could put Ferrari red, which is worth an estimated $300 million annually, well in its rearview mirror. Mark Ryan, marketing manager at Shepherd Color Co. in Cincinnati, says whoever finds such a red “wouldn’t have to come into work the next day.”

Told of Ryan’s promised reward, Subramanian chuckles. “I’d still come in to work,” he says. “I love what I do.”

Subramanian is 64 and short, with a slight paunch and a dark mustache that curls down the sides of his mouth. Raised in Chennai, on the southeastern coast of India, he developed a fascination with the makeup of objects by examining beautiful seashells that had washed ashore. “How does nature make these things?” he would ask himself. It wasn’t until much later that he began asking how the shells got their colors.

Technically speaking, colors are the visual sensates of light as it’s bent or scattered or reflected off the atomic makeup of an object. Modern computers can display about 16.8 million of them, far more than people can see or printers can reproduce. To transform a digital or imagined color into something tangible requires a pigment. “Yes, you have this fabulous blue,” says Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, which assists companies with color strategies for branding or products. “But wait, can I actually create the blue in velvet, silk, cotton, rayon, or coated paper stock?

“It’s not just the color,” she adds. “It’s the chemical composition of the color. And can that composition actually be realized in the material I’m going to apply it to?” . . .

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

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2018 at 3:32 pm

Despite So Much Winning, The Right Feels Like It’s Losing

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Conservatives seem to do a lot of psychological projection, and one common projection is to label liberals as “sensitive” or “snowflakes,” when quite clearly conservatives are easily upset when the cultural tide turns against them. Tim Mak reports for NPR:

Diamond and Silk caused a spectacle on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

“Facebook along with other social media sites have taken aggressive actions to silence conservative voices such as ourselves,” the pro-Trump social media stars charged.

It’s a claim Facebook denies, pointing out that the social media network has changed its settings so that users see more content from friends — and less from political groups of all stripes.

But beyond the fireworks before the House Judiciary Committee, the two online celebrities reflect a broader point within the conservative movement right now. Many feel unfairly persecuted by the powers that be in American culture.

“I think that is a difficult thing for a lot of liberals to get, that for them you know they look and say, ‘Trump’s in charge, Mitch McConnell’s out there, Paul Ryan — well Republicans have got everything,’ ” said John Hawkins, the founder of Right Wing News, a Facebook group with more than 3 million followers.

President-elect Donald Trump proclaimed on election night 2016: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

With his victory, Republicans held more power than they have had in nearly a century. Conservatives had control of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House, and held a majority of the country’s governorships. Conservatives also now have a majority on the Supreme Court, in no small part because of Trump’s election.

But beyond politics, Hawkins said, the average American conservative feels bombarded daily with disrespect.

“He turns on a TV show where he’s insulted, and then he’s like, ‘well, maybe I’ll just unwind and watch an awards show’ — the Oscars or something — where he gets trashed all day long,” Hawkins said. “He goes to Twitter and he’s got some you know guy calling him in a-hole … this is sort of like a pervasive all-out attack if you’re a conservative. And it’s all the time sort of thing.”

“Politics is downstream from culture. And I do think that it’s true that conservatives have lost in many ways the culture,” said Matt Lewis, a conservative columnist for The Daily Beast who has previously worked for conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and Human Events.

He also said, “There is a sense on the right that is apocalyptic and fearful.”

Earlier this month, Jesse Kelly, a writer for the mainstream conservative website The Federalist, wrote that Americans on the left and right can’t get along anymore, that domestic unrest could be coming and that the best alternative course would be to just split the country up.

“We’re just not on the same page on anything anymore. Rather than the constant fighting and before it gets really nasty, I think we should just go our separate ways,” Kelly told NPR.

Kurt Schlichter, a columnist for the conservative Townhall.com, recently wrote a column speculating about whether there could be another civil war. He concluded there could be one and predicted how the left would lose a violent conflict if it came to it.

“We want to be treated with respect, and we will not tolerate anything less which is just unacceptable for this to continue. I’m tired of Hollywood spitting on us. I am tired of academia spitting on us. I’m tired of the news media spitting on us,” he said. [Notice that there has been no actual spitting; Kurt Schlichter just can withstand criticism, which to him apparently feels like being spat upon. This a canonical example of a “snowflake.” And he should be aware that conservatives do not hold back in the contempt for liberals, including name-calling, but I don’t see liberals asking for their own special country where they will not have to face disagreement. – LG]

Trump ran on these frustrations — but his election, as well as the election of many other Republicans to positions of political power, haven’t dulled them.

This feeling of losing the American culture war reflects polling of white, working-class Americans. A poll taken last year by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic showed 48 percent of them believe that “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”

“I mean, shoot, I had a conversation with my mother about this a couple of years ago,” Kelly said. “This had nothing to do with the election or anything else. Like something’s coming, it just feels that way and I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”

These feelings pop up on all sorts of political issues, from Diamond and Silk — also known as Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson — to accusations of “fake news” to the schadenfreude on the right over Kanye West’s complimentary tweets about Trump this week. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 April 2018 at 8:48 am

Posted in GOP, Politics

At Nike, Revolt Led by Women Leads to Exodus of Executives Guilty of Misconduct and Harassment

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Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper, and Rachel Abrams report in the NY Times:

For too many women, life inside Nike had turned toxic.

There were the staff outings that started at restaurants and ended at strip clubs. A supervisor who bragged about the condoms he carried in his backpack. A boss who tried to forcibly kiss a female subordinate, and another who referenced a staff member’s breasts in an email to her.

Then there were blunted career paths. Women were made to feel marginalized in meetings and were passed over for promotions. They were largely excluded from crucial divisions like basketball. When they complained to human resources, they said, they saw little or no evidence that bad behavior was being penalized.

Finally, fed up, a group of women inside Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., headquarters started a small revolt.

Covertly, they surveyed their female peers, inquiring whether they had been the victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Their findings set off an upheaval in the executive ranks of the world’s largest sports footwear and apparel company.

On March 5, the packet of completed questionnaires landed on the desk of Mark Parker, Nike’s chief executive. Over the next several weeks, at least six top male executives left or said they were planning to leave the company, including Trevor Edwards, president of the Nike brand, who was widely viewed as a leading candidate to succeed Mr. Parker, and Jayme Martin, Mr. Edwards’s lieutenant, who oversaw much of Nike’s global business.

Others who have departed include the head of diversity and inclusion, a vice president in footwear and a senior director for Nike’s basketball division.

It is a humbling setback for a company that is famous worldwide and has built its brand around the inspirational slogan “Just Do It.” While the #MeToo movement has led to the downfall of individual men, the kind of sweeping overhaul that is occurring at Nike is rare in the corporate world, and illustrates how internal pressure from employees is forcing even huge companies to quickly address workplace problems.

As women — and men — continue to come forward with complaints, Nike has begun a comprehensive review of its human resources operations, making management training mandatory and revising many of its internal reporting procedures.

While the departure of top executives has been covered in news accounts, new reporting by The New York Times, including interviews with more than 50 current and former employees, provides the most thorough account yet of how disaffection among women festered and left them feeling ignored, harassed and stymied in their careers. The Times also viewed copies of three complaints to human resources.

“I came to the realization that I, as a female, would not grow in that company,” said Francesca Krane, who worked for five years in Nike’s retail brand design area before leaving in 2016. She said she grew tired of watching men get promoted into jobs ahead of women she felt were equally or better qualified.

Many of those interviewed, across multiple divisions, also described a workplace environment that was demeaning to women. Three people, for instance, said they recalled times when male superiors referred to people using a vulgar term for women’s genitals. Another employee said that her boss threw his car keys at her and called her a “stupid bitch.” She reported the incident to human resources. (She told her sister about it at the time, the sister confirmed.) He continued to be her supervisor.

Most of the people who spoke to The Times insisted on anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements or a fear of being ostracized in the industry, or in the Portland community, where Nike wields outsize influence. Some have spouses or family members still working there.

In response to questions, Nike portrayed its problems as being confined to “an insular group of high-level managers” who “protected each other and looked the other way.”

“That is not something we are going to tolerate,” said a spokesman, KeJuan Wilkins.

In a statement, Mr. Parker said the vast majority of Nike’s employees work hard to inspire and serve athletes throughout the world. “It has pained me to hear that there are pockets of our company where behaviors inconsistent with our values have prevented some employees from feeling respected and doing their best work,” he said.

For Amanda Shebiel, who left Nike in September after about five years at the company, the promise to address longstanding systemic problems is welcome, but late.

“Why did it take an anonymous survey to make change?” she asked. “Many of my peers and I reported incidences and a culture that were uncomfortable, disturbing, threatening, unfair, gender-biased and sexist — hoping that something would change that would make us believe in Nike again.”

“No one went just to complain,” Ms. Shebiel added. “We went to make it better.”

An Inner Circle of Men

With a market value of about $112 billion and annual revenues of around $36 billion, Nike is a global behemoth in the athletic market, where its dominance went largely unchallenged for several decades.

But the company is facing significant business hurdles. Adidas, one of its biggest competitors, has gained ground in key markets like apparel and footwear. Nike is also struggling to get traction in women’s categories, the fastest-growing segment of the market.

Some of those interviewed by The Times said the weakness in women’s products in part reflected a lack of female leadership and an environment that favored male voices. Nike’s own research shows that women occupy nearly half the company’s work force but just 38 percent of positions of director or higher, and 29 percent of the vice presidents, according to an April 4 internal memo obtained by The Times.

And while Nike executives have told investors that the women’s category was a crucial part of its revenue growth strategy, former employees said it was not given the budget it needed to roll out the sophisticated marketing campaigns that were the hallmark of traditional men’s sports, like basketball.

When Nike did put money behind campaigns targeting women, it sometimes flailed.

Last year, Mr. Edwards, the former president, gave the green light for a marketing campaign for the fall launch of the VaporMax shoe for women; the female British singer FKA Twigs was given creative license for a shoot in Mexico City. The result, according to a person who saw a rough cut of the commercial and another who saw the final cut, featured few shots of the shoes and instead had a woman twirling on what looked like a stripper pole and male athletes in sports bras striking odd poses. The campaign was killed, costing Nike millions of dollars.

Asked about the aborted campaign, Mr. Wilkins of Nike said the company was proud of its relationship with the singer. “We have a history of pushing the boundaries in marketing, just as we do in product development,” Mr. Wilkins said. “We create a lot of material that is not deployed in the marketplace.’’

Nike forcefully disputed the notion that women were not involved in the creative and marketing operations, noting that a female executive leads its women’s division. But Mr. Wilkins, the spokesman, acknowledged that, in areas like basketball, “there was more room and opportunity for the company to increase female representation in its senior positions.”

While women struggled to attain top positions at Nike, an inner circle of mostly male leaders emerged who had a direct line to Mr. Edwards. Within the company, as reported earlier in The Wall Street Journal, this group was known as F.O.T., or Friends of Trevor. They texted him in meetings or bragged about having lunch or dinner with him. . .

Continue reading.

Oddly, the original headline read “At Nike, Revolt Led by Women Leads to Exodus of Male Executives,” as if the problem were that the executives were male. That was not the problem, as the article makes clear.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Almost 1,500 Migrant Children Placed in Homes by the U.S. Government Went Missing Last Year

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This report is shocking, and though I don’t trust the government in such matters as these, I do hope there is an investigation, indictments, and imprisonment of the guilty, which would include government officials whose dereliction of duty led to this state of affairs. Garnace Burke reports in TIME:

Federal officials lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children last year after a government agency placed the minors in the homes of adult sponsors in communities across the country, according to testimony before a Senate subcommittee Thursday.

The Health and Human Services Department has a limited budget to track the welfare of vulnerable unaccompanied minors, and realized that 1,475 children could not be found after making follow-up calls to check on their safety, an agency official said.

Federal officials came under fire two years ago after rolling back child protection policies meant for minors fleeing violence in Central America. In a follow-up hearing on Thursday, senators said that the agencies had failed to take full responsibility for their care and had delayed crucial reforms needed to keep them from falling into the hands of human traffickers.

“You are the worst foster parents in the world. You don’t even know where they are,” said Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. “We are failing. I don’t think there is any doubt about it. And when we fail kids that makes me angry.”

Since the dramatic surge of border crossings in 2013, the federal government has placed more than 180,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.

An AP investigation found in 2016 that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay. At the time, many adult sponsors didn’t undergo thorough background checks, government officials rarely visited homes and in some cases had no idea that sponsors had taken in several unrelated children, a possible sign of human trafficking.

Since then, the Health and Human Services Department has boosted outreach to at-risk children deemed to need extra protection, and last year offered post-placement services to about one-third of unaccompanied minors, according to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

But advocates say it is hard to know how many minors may be in dangerous conditions, in part because some disappear before social workers can follow up with them and never show up in court.

From October to December 2017, HHS called 7,635 children the agency had placed with sponsors, and found 6,075 of the children were still living with their sponsors, 28 had run away, five had been deported and 52 were living with someone else. The rest were missing, said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman gave HHS and the Department of Homeland Security until Monday to deliver a time frame for improving monitoring.

“These kids, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked,” said Portman, who chairs the subcommittee. “This is all about accountability.”

Portman began investigating after a case in his home state of Ohio, where eight Guatemalan teens were placed with human traffickers and forced to work on egg farms under threats of death. Six people have been convicted and sentenced to federal prison for their participation in the trafficking scheme that began in 2013. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 2:15 pm

The Galvanizing Shock of the Bill Cosby Verdict

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Jia Tolentino writes in the New Yorker:

Early on Thursday afternoon, at the culmination of his retrial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Bill Cosby was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault. This should not have been surprising. Women have accused Cosby of drugging and molesting them on a timeline that stretches from the mid-sixties to 2008. In 2000, a report of his misbehavior made the New York Post. In 2005, Andrea Constand’s allegations against Cosby became public, and Tamara Green went on the “Today” show to accuse Cosby of assaulting her in the nineteen-seventies. By the time that Philadelphia magazine and Peoplecovered the story, in 2006, there were a dozen accusers. In 2014, Gawker resurrected the accusationsNewsweek investigated them, and Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist during a standup routine, prompting thirty more women to come forward. In the summer of 2015, New York put thirty-five of Cosby’s accusers on the cover of the magazine. At the end of that year, Cosby was charged with raping Constand. His trial, in 2017, ended with a hung jury, but a public consensus had formed that the comedian and TV star would be remembered as a rapist. A few months later, starting with the Harvey Weinstein story, man after man after man was exposed and investigated for sexual assault and harassment. The tables, everyone said, were turning.

Nonetheless, I went blank with shock when I saw the verdict on Thursday. So did a lot of people. It didn’t matter that this was, by now, a he-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said situation. For all the fears that the #MeToo moment will be marked by overreach, the fact remains that a single instance of justice feels more surprising than several decades of serial rape.

I covered Cosby’s first trial, last summer, from Norristown, where I sat in a pack of reporters, inexperienced and reeling. I had never covered a trial before, let alone a rape trial. I had not watched a woman try to prove to twelve strangers, under cross-examination, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a man had raped her. Before Constand testified, a woman named Kelly Johnson told her own story about being drugged and assaulted by Cosby. (Johnson was the only prior bad-act witness allowed by the judge.) To watch the defense question Johnson and then Constand was to watch an essential part of our criminal-justice system align with some of the worst things about being a woman. Women put their sanity and selfhood on the line in the process of securing sexual justice. They accept that they will be dressed up like paper dolls to look cruel, selfish, naïve, dishonest, slutty, greedy, stupid, or just unwanted—another woman talking about something we’d rather not know.

I wasn’t surprised, last year, when the first jury couldn’t settle on a verdict. I wasn’t surprised by the Weinstein story, or by the excruciating months that followed. It’s hard to graft new values onto an old world. There are a lot of people who think that men’s jobs are as important as women, period. (The careers and happiness and earning power that women have lost as victims of sexual assault and harassment, rather than as perpetrators of those crimes, still mostly go unmourned.) But people kept speaking up. Women kept voluntarily reëntering a world they had been dragged into, their pain and bravery always inextricable and twinned.

Writing about sexual assault, you get a tiny glimpse of what these women deal with: the way they are asked to answer for the entire spectrum of sexual encounters, the way they open themselves up to a firehose of other people’s pain. In February, I wrote about sexual assault again, this time at Columbia. It was the thirteenth story I’d written about the subject in a year. I had gotten sad and tired, and wanted the sort of peace that all of these women had denied themselves. I never suggested to my editor that I go back to Pennsylvania for the retrial. I expected a not-guilty verdict. There were far fewer reporters in Norristown this time around.

At Jezebel, Diana Moskovitz, who attended both trials, suggested that, the second time, the gloss of celebrity scandal, the shock of seeing an iconic cultural father figure on trial, had worn off, leaving the mundane fact of violence against women. My surprise at the verdict has reminded me how much fear and cynicism I’m still carrying around. Inequality has all of history on its side. Stories have already been published about how Matt Lauer and Louis C.K.could stage comebacks; Charlie Rose is reportedly in talks to do a #MeToo-themed television series interviewing his predatory peers. The President, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly twenty women, remains inconceivably untouchable. As Andi Zeisler tweeted, many people still think of sexual assault as a matter of opinion rather than as a crime.

But all of the women—and not only women—who have come forward in the past year mattered; what they endured, what they continue to endure, mattered. For a jury to convict in this case, its members had to understand that the absence of a yes was a violation of consent, as Kevin Steele, the Montgomery County district attorney, asserted in the prosecution’s opening statement. The Weinstein case shed light on many aspects of sexual assault that tend to confuse people: that victims often maintain relationships with their attackers, or act irrationally in an attempt to rescue their dignity, or stay silent for years. These past six months have shown that serial abusers behave in predictable patterns, and that these patterns are crucial: the judge in Norristown allowed five bad-act accusers, rather than one, to testify at Cosby’s retrial. The presence of these accusers, I suspect, made the difference. This isolated outcome is the result of the accumulated outpouring of an unfathomable amount of female pain.

To be surprised at this verdict is disheartening, destabilizing. After all of this, are our expectations still so low? (Clickhole caught the mood with its headline: “A Slippery Slope: Could Bill Cosby’s Conviction Lead to a Mob Mentality Where Society Wantonly Punishes Any Serial Rapist After Decades of Inaction?”) It’s also galvanizing. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 1:33 pm

Why we should bulldoze the business school

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Martin Parker writes in the Guardian:

Visit the average university campus and it is likely that the newest and most ostentatious building will be occupied by the business school. The business school has the best building because it makes the biggest profits (or, euphemistically, “contribution” or “surplus”) – as you might expect, from a form of knowledge that teaches people how to make profits.

Business schools have huge influence, yet they are also widely regarded to be intellectually fraudulent places, fostering a culture of short-termism and greed. (There is a whole genre of jokes about what MBA – Master of Business Administration – really stands for: “Mediocre But Arrogant”, “Management by Accident”, “More Bad Advice”, “Master Bullshit Artist” and so on.) Critics of business schools come in many shapes and sizes: employers complain that graduates lack practical skills, conservative voices scorn the arriviste MBA, Europeans moan about Americanisation, radicals wail about the concentration of power in the hands of the running dogs of capital. Since 2008, many commentators have also suggested that business schools were complicit in producing the crash.

Having taught in business schools for 20 years, I have come to believe that the best solution to these problems is to shut down business schools altogether. This is not a typical view among my colleagues. Even so, it is remarkable just how much criticism of business schools over the past decade has come from inside the schools themselves. Many business school professors, particularly in north America, have argued that their institutions have gone horribly astray. B-schools have been corrupted, they say, by deans following the money, teachers giving the punters what they want, researchers pumping out paint-by-numbers papers for journals that no one reads and students expecting a qualification in return for their cash (or, more likely, their parents’ cash). At the end of it all, most business-school graduates won’t become high-level managers anyway, just precarious cubicle drones in anonymous office blocks.

These are not complaints from professors of sociology, state policymakers or even outraged anti-capitalist activists. These are views in books written by insiders, by employees of business schools who themselves feel some sense of disquiet or even disgust at what they are getting up to. Of course, these dissenting views are still those of a minority. Most work within business schools is blithely unconcerned with any expression of doubt, participants being too busy oiling the wheels to worry about where the engine is going. Still, this internal criticism is loud and significant.

The problem is that these insiders’ dissent has become so thoroughly institutionalised within the well-carpeted corridors that it now passes unremarked, just an everyday counterpoint to business as usual. Careers are made by wailing loudly in books and papers about the problems with business schools. The business school has been described by two insiders as “a cancerous machine spewing out sick and irrelevant detritus”. Even titles such as Against Management, Fucking Management and The Greedy Bastard’s Guide to Business appear not to cause any particular difficulties for their authors. I know this, because I wrote the first two. Frankly, the idea that I was permitted to get away with this speaks volumes about the extent to which this sort of criticism means anything very much at all. In fact, it is rewarded, because the fact that I publish is more important than what I publish.

Most solutions to the problem of the B-school shy away from radical restructuring, and instead tend to suggest a return to supposedly more traditional business practices, or a form of moral rearmament decorated with terms such as “responsibility” and “ethics”. All of these suggestions leave the basic problem untouched, that the business school only teaches one form of organising – market managerialism.

That’s why I think that we should call in the bulldozers and demand an entirely new way of thinking about management, business and markets. If we want those in power to become more responsible, then we must stop teaching students that heroic transformational leaders are the answer to every problem, or that the purpose of learning about taxation laws is to evade taxation, or that creating new desires is the purpose of marketing. In every case, the business school acts as an apologist, selling ideology as if it were science.


Universities have been around for a millenium, but the vast majority of business schools only came into existence in the last century. Despite loud and continual claims that they were a US invention, the first was probably the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris, founded in 1819 as a privately funded attempt to produce a grande école for business. A century later, hundreds of business schools had popped up across Europe and the US, and from the 1950s onwards, they began to grow rapidly in other parts of the world.

In 2011, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business estimated that there were then nearly 13,000 business schools in the world. India alone is estimated to have 3,000 private schools of business. Pause for a moment, and consider that figure. Think about the huge numbers of people employed by those institutions, about the armies of graduates marching out with business degrees, about the gigantic sums of money circulating in the name of business education. (In 2013, the top 20 US MBA programmes already charged at least $100,000 (£72,000). At the time of writing, London Business School is advertising a tuition fee of £84,500 for its MBA.) No wonder that the bandwagon keeps rolling.

For the most part, business schools all assume a similar form. The architecture is generic modern – glass, panel, brick. Outside, there’s some expensive signage offering an inoffensive logo, probably in blue, probably with a square on it. The door opens, automatically. Inside, there’s a female receptionist dressed office-smart. Some abstract art hangs on the walls, and perhaps a banner or two with some hopeful assertions: “We mean business.” “Teaching and Research for Impact.” A big screen will hang somewhere over the lobby, running a Bloomberg news ticker and advertising visiting speakers and talks about preparing your CV. Shiny marketing leaflets sit in dispensing racks, with images of a diverse tableau of open-faced students on the cover. On the leaflets, you can find an alphabet of mastery: MBA, MSc Management, MSc Accounting, MSc Management and Accounting, MSc Marketing, MSc International Business, MSc Operations Management.

There will be plush lecture theatres with thick carpet, perhaps named after companies or personal donors. The lectern bears the logo of the business school. In fact, pretty much everything bears the weight of the logo, like someone who worries their possessions might get stolen and so marks them with their name. Unlike some of the shabby buildings in other parts of the university, the business school tries hard to project efficiency and confidence. The business school knows what it is doing and has its well-scrubbed face aimed firmly at the busy future. It cares about what people think of it.

Even if the reality isn’t always as shiny – if . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 12:33 pm

It’s official: Praying for the poor is a firing offense in the GOP House

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Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post:

Praying for the poor is now apparently a firing offense in the corridors of power.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) did not give a reason when his chief of staff this month told the Rev. Patrick Conroy, a Jesuit priest and House chaplain, to resign or face dismissal.

But we know this much: Ryan’s office complained to Conroy about a prayer he offered on the House floor during the tax overhaul debate that those who “continue to struggle” in the United States would not be made “losers under new tax laws.” Ryan admonished the priest after the Nov. 6 prayer, saying, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics,”Conroy told the New York Times.

He was warned. He was given an explanation. Nevertheless, he persisted.

Over the five months since Ryan’s warning, Conroy dared to continue to preach the teachings of Jesus on the House floor:

He prayed to God that lawmakers would help “the least among us.”

He prayed for them to follow the example of St. Nicholas, “who fed the hungry, brought hope to the imprisoned, gave comfort to the lost.”

He admonished lawmakers “to serve other people in their need” and “to pray for the unemployed and those who work but still struggle to make ends meet.”

After an immigration deal collapsed, he urged “those who possess power here in Washington be mindful of those whom they represent who possess little or no power.”

He prayed for lawmakers to be “free of all prejudice” and, after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, to “fulfill the hopes of those who long for peace and security for their children.”

But such “political” sentiments are apparently no longer compatible with service as House chaplain. “As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation,” Conroy, named chaplain seven years ago by then-Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), wrote to Ryan on April 16. The ouster became public Thursday.

Only in this perverted time could a priest lose his job after committing the sin of crying out for justice for the poor. But then, look around: Everywhere are the signs of a rising kleptocracy. The $1.5 trillion tax cutdid make winners of corporations and the wealthy. And actions since then show that the Trump administration is making losers of the poor.

In a speech to bankers this week, Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney spoke of the “hierarchy” he followed when he was in Congress: “If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Also this week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was on Capitol Hill, defiant as lawmakers grilled him about his lavish expense account (at a time when Trump wants to cut the EPA budget by 25 percent) and coziness with corporate lobbyists — most notably renting a condo at a sweetheart rate from the wife of an energy lobbyist. “I simply have not failed to take responsibility,” Pruitt said after blaming bureaucrats and others. “I’ve simply recited the facts.”

Meanwhile, Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development, this week proposed to triple the rent charged to the poorest familiesliving in subsidized housing. “It’s clear from a budget perspective and a human point of view that the current system is unsustainable,” Carson explained. It’s hard to sustain help for the poor when you’re proposing to cut HUD spending by 14 percent next year — and when you’ve borrowed $1.5 trillion to give tax breaks mostly for the wealthy.

Conroy, of course, didn’t preach about such truly political things; he prayed, generically, for compassion. In the prayer that earned him Ryan’s reprimand, he merely reminded lawmakers that “the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle.” He prayed that lawmakers “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

Such heresies continued. He prayed for “peace and reconciliation where those virtues are so sorely needed.” He prayed for them to rise above “self-interest” and “immediate political wins.” He prayed for them to promote “justice, equity and truth.” He admonished them to “show respect for those with whom they disagree.”

On Friday morning, in the well for one of his last remaining prayers, Conroy prayed “for all people who have special needs” and “those who are sick” and for those “who serve in this House to be their best selves.”

Best selves? Respect? Reconciliation? No can do. Later Friday,  . . .

Continue reading.

Notice that the GOP’s actions, which could have been accurately predicted if you took as an assumption that the GOP hates the poor, were done by a group whose members profess (in some cases strongly) to be Christian.

I am not saying that the GOP does hate the poor, just that what they do is what people would do if they did hate the poort.

So I propose a different definition of Christian. The usual definition is that a Christian who believes in Jesus (i.e., believes that Jesus is divine) and believes that Jesus offers salvation to the world for those who believe in Him.

The problem is that belief is very easy to fake, since belief is something completely internal to a person. It’s truly impossible to know what a person believes, but it is fairly easy to see what what a person does.

So I propose eliminating the “belief” part of the definition of Christian and focus on words and actions: a person whose words and actions are in accordance with what Jesus taught is a Christian, regardless of what the person believes. (I suddenly realize that this is the exact definition my mother used, which I could not understand at the time, being fixated on the belief definition.)

So a person who prays in public, seeks wealth, and is okay with divorce: not a Christian, since those are things Jesus specifically forbade. Their belief may or may not be Christian—who knows?—but their actions show clearly that they do not follow the teachings of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus Himself said (in the Sermon on the Mount), “By their fruits [i.e., their words and deeds: what they produce] you will know them.” Not by their beliefs. By their deeds. And, BTW, rereading the Sermon on the Mount shows that the GOP’s actions (not their beliefs, but their actions) are profoundly un-Christian.

The number of Christians is much diminished by this definition, I would guess. But no one said being a Christian was easy.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 12:07 pm

Of increasing interest: Can the President Be Indicted? A Long-Hidden Legal Memo Says Yes

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Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times last July:

A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted?

The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office.

“It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr office memo concludes. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.”

Mr. Starr assigned Ronald Rotunda, a prominent conservative professor of constitutional law and ethics whom Mr. Starr hired as a consultant on his legal team, to write the memo in spring 1998 after deputies advised him that they had gathered enough evidence to ask a grand jury to indict Mr. Clinton, the memo shows.

Other prosecutors working for Mr. Starr developed a draft indictment of Mr. Clinton, which The Times has also requested be made public. The National Archives has not processed that file to determine whether it is exempt from disclosure under grand-jury secrecy rules. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 9:47 am

Accidental rewilding

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Brigid Haines writes in Aeon:

I stepped out into the sunlight, scarcely able to believe what I had seen or, rather, what I had not. I stared at the hills around me, contrasting them with the old photos of those same hills I had seen. Where dense forests now grew, forming a high, closed canopy — in the valleys, over the hills and up the mountain walls until they shrank, many thousands of feet above sea level, into a low scrub of pines, which diminished further to a natural treeline — there had been almost nothing. In the photos, taken on the western side of Slovenia during the First World War, the land was almost treeless.

So tall and impressive are the trees now and so thickly do they now cover the hills that when you see the old photos — taken, in ecological terms, such a short time ago — it is almost impossible to believe that you are looking at the same place. I have become so used to seeing the progress of destruction that scanning those images felt like watching a film played backwards.

Tomaž Hartmann had driven for almost an hour along a forest track through Kočevski Rog to bring us here. The woods of beech and silver fir towered over us, in places almost touching across the road. Their roots sprawled over mossy boulders. They rolled down into limestone sinkholes: karstic craters. Karst topography — weathered limestone landscapes of chasms and caves, sinkholes, shafts and pavements — is named after this region of Slovenia, which is sometimes called the Kras or Karst plateau. The word means barren land. When Karst landscapes are grazed, they are rapidly denuded, but it was hard to connect the term with what I now saw.

Where the road clung to the edge of a hill, I could see for many miles across the Dinaric Mountains. The mountains rambled across the former Yugoslavia, fading into ever fainter susurrations of blue. The entire range was furred with forest. Where the road sank into a pass, the darkness closed around us. Through the trunks I could see the air thicken, shade upon shade of green. A few yards from the road, a fox sat watching us. Its copper fur glowed like a cinder in the shadows, which cooled to charcoal in the tips of its ears. It raised its black stockings and loped away into the depths. Woodpeckers swung along the track ahead of us.

The leaves of the beeches glittered in the silver light above our heads. The great firs grazed the sun, straight as lances. They looked as if they had been there forever.

‘All this,’ Tomaž told us, ‘has grown since the 1930s.’

He parked the car and we set off up a forest trail. Mushrooms nosed through the leaf litter beside the path. Saffron milk caps, orange and sickly green, curled up at the edges like Japanese ceramics. Dryad’s saddle, sulphur tuft and cauliflower fungus accreted around rotting stumps. Russulas — scarlet, mauve and gold — brightened the forest floor.

Tomaž led us up a limestone slope towards a stand of virgin forest, the ancient core of the great woods that had regenerated over the past century. As we climbed, we stepped into a ragged fringe of cloud. Sounds were muffled. The trees loomed darkly out of the fog. As we walked, Tomaž spoke about the dynamism of the forest system: how it never reached a point of stasis, but tumbled through a constant cycle of change. He had noticed some major shifts, and knew that, as the climate warmed, there would be plenty more. Though he described himself as both a forester and a conservationist, he had no wish to interrupt this cycle, or to seek to select and freeze a particular phase in the succession from one state to another. He sought only to protect the forests, as far as his job permitted, from destruction.

Ahead of us something dark and compact shot across the path in a blur and disappeared into the undergrowth: probably a young wild boar, Tomaž said. Then, though it was not clear where the transition had occurred, we found ourselves in the primeval core of the forest. The trees we had walked past until then were impressive, but these were built on a different scale. The beeches grew, unbranched — smooth pillars wrapped in elephant skin — for 100 feet until they blossomed, like giant gardenias, into a leafy plateau in the forest canopy. Silver firs pushed past them, the biggest topping out at almost 150 feet high. Only where they had fallen could you appreciate the scale of their trunks. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 9:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Environment

The Coal Industry Extracted a Steep Price From West Virginia. Now Natural Gas Is Leading the State Down the Same Path

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Those who do not learn from history are doomed to make the same damn mistakes repeatedly. Ken Ward, Jr., reports in ProPublica:

This article was produced in partnership with the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

It was a warm Monday afternoon in late February. Thousands of teachers, public school employees and supporters rallied on the steps of West Virginia’s Capitol building, on the banks of the Kanawha River in Charleston.

Schools in all 55 counties were closed again. Teachers, cooks and janitors were in the third day of a strike. They wanted pay raises and a fix to the skyrocketing cost of their health insurance.

On the other end of the state, at a town hall meeting with teachers in Wheeling, Gov. Jim Justice tossed out a possible solution: Fund the pay raises with an increase in taxes on the state’s booming natural gas industry.

West Virginia “benefited from the extraction of coal and we benefited from the extraction of timber, but we were still dead last in everything,” said Justice, whose family made its fortune in coal. “And now we have this gas situation and we’re on fire, and we have a real opportunity again.” If the state doesn’t pass a gas-tax hike, the governor said, “we’re going to be left holding the bag again.”

But what seemed like a stunning change of direction proved to be little more than a feint. Gas industry lobbyists strongly criticized the proposal and the governor’s tax hike idea quickly faded.

West Virginia has been here before.

Sixty-five years ago, then-Gov. William Marland, the son of a mine superintendent, shocked state lawmakers by proposing a new tax on coal to upgrade schools and roads.

“Let’s use this equitable source of revenue, because whether we like it or not, West Virginia’s hills will be stripped, the bowels of the earth will be mined and the refuse strewn across our valleys and our mountains in the form of burning slate dumps,” Marland told a joint session of the Legislature in February 1953.

Marland’s proposal was soundly defeated following an onslaught of criticism. One biographer called it “political suicide.”

Today, West Virginia’s headlong race into the gas rush is taking the state down the same path that it’s been on for generations with coal.

Elected officials have sided with natural gas companies on tax proposals and property rights legislation. Industry lobbyists have convinced regulators to soften new rules aimed at protecting residents and their communities from drilling damage.

In 2011, for example, then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, and his party’s legislative leadership weakened a measure to regulate the growing industry, at the urging of gas company lobbyists. Among other changes, language was eliminated that would have given state regulators more authority to deny drilling permits that threatened water supplies and populated areas.

Supporters say the state’s actions over the past few years have positioned West Virginia to compete for growth.

“We have a regulatory body and a legislative body and an industry that are all willing to work together,” said Al Schopp, chief administrative officer for Antero Resources, the state’s biggest natural gas producer. “That makes it a good environment.”

But critics fear that West Virginia won’t fully share in the riches the industry creates and will be forced to bear the long-term environmental, health and infrastructure costs, much as it has for the now-dwindling coal industry.

“It’s repeating the same cycle,” said former state Senate President Jeff Kessler, a Democrat from Marshall County, one of the state’s biggest producers of both coal and natural gas.

In 2014, after several years of trying, Kessler persuaded the Legislature to approve a plan to use gas industry taxes for educational and infrastructure projects, to help diversify the state’s economy. Six U.S. states have such programs, including North Dakota and Alaska.

But while West Virginia lawmakers created a similar program on paper, they haven’t set aside any money for it.

Retired Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also worries about what he’s seen in recent years. Rockefeller, who served for 30 years in the Senate and, before that, as the state’s governor, recalled “devastating” testimony about the gas industry during a 2012 public hearing in Fairmont. A local sheriff, Rockefeller remembered, described an “invasion” of heavy traffic and damage to local roads from thousands of trucks servicing all the new natural gas wells. Such complaints continue today.

“It’s a terrible peril for a rural state like West Virginia to have so much drilling,” Rockefeller said in an interview this month. “Natural gas is doing well now, but at what price?”

As One Industry Busts, Another Booms

For generations, coal has been the most economically significant, politically powerful and socially influential industry in the state. West Virginia coal provided high-wage jobs, paid a large portion of state and local budgets, and fueled a nation hungry for both electricity and steel. The state’s mining jobs peaked at more than 125,000 in the 1940s.

Along the way, the industry received huge tax breaks, often to offset the costs of machines that allowed much more coal to be mined with fewer workers. Lobbyists, lawmakers and regulators picked away at environmental and worker safety rules and enforcement.

Over time, the costs of these regulatory and tax breaks became clear: Miners died in horrific explosions, massive mine cave-ins or from deadly black lung disease. Creeks were left polluted and land scarred.

In the past 10 years, the job losses in coal have picked up. The 14,000 miners working in West Virginia last year represented a drop of about 40 percent from 2008, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. Today, the parts of West Virginia that for generations produced the most coal are among the poorest communities in the region. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 9:33 am

If you can’t get a RazoRock Baby Smooth, get a Dorco PL602

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The Dorco PL602 and the RazoRock Baby Smooth have the same head geometry, which includes extreme curvature of the blade, and so the feel (on the face) and performance of the two razors is quite close. The Baby Smooth is made from machined aluminum alloy and the Dorco PL602 is molded plastic, so the prices and durability differ substantially, but looking simply at the shave, I would say it’s a tie.

The Sabini brushwith the ebony handle (and very fan-shaped knot) made a fine lather from Barrister & Mann’s aromatic Cologne Russe, and the Dorco removed lather and stubble comfortably and efficiently. A splash of Cologne Russe aftershave, and the weekend is underway.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2018 at 7:57 am

Posted in Shaving

Ideological purge reminiscent of the Soviet Union: Trump critics fired at conservative site RedState

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Just as in Stalinist USSR, no dissenting opinions allowed. (At least the Red State apostates were not murdered or sent to the Gulag.) Joe Concha reports in The Hill:

Conservative outlet RedState fired most of its staff Friday while its owner, Salem Media, froze the site, citing an inability to “no longer support the entire roster of writers and editors.”

“The site name will linger, but RedState is all but dead now. I have invited the fired writers here,” Erick Erickson, a RedState founder who left the site in 2015, wrote in a blog post.

Fired staffers said the cuts focused on writers who have been critical of President Trump. RedState had often distinguished itself since 2016 as a home for Trump critics within the GOP.

RedState staffers were reportedly locked out of their accounts on a temporary or permanent basis, depending on job status, while the firings were being carried out.

Patrick Frey, a RedState blogger who goes by the name of “Patterico” online, wrote on Twitter that “those let go are all Trump critics” while “his supporters remain.”

Erickson also echoed Frey’s sentiment in his Friday blog post, stating the dividing line was drawn between supporters of the president while “those insufficiently loyal to the President were fired.”

“My understanding from the writers is that there were two contracts, one more expensive than the other. Most of those on the expensive contracts were tossed, though some very good ones will stay,” wrote Erickson, himself a critic of the president.

“Of those under the cheaper contracts, it seems the dividing line was loyalty to the President. In fact, among those under the expensive contracts, I’m aware of some writers having near equal traffic generation, and those insufficiently loyal to the President were fired,” he added. . .

Continue reading.

This seems to be the way the entire Republican part is going, based on the fearfulness and timidity of Republicans in Congress.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, United States. Mitch McConnell is showing the direction.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2018 at 2:24 pm

Posted in GOP, Media

Game over: The impact of a computer program’s “solving” a game

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Tom Whipple writes in 1843 Magazine:

IN THE YEARS following the publication of J. Sturge’s canonical “Guide to the Game of Draughts” in 1800, the world of serious players was wracked by argument. Number 105 of Sturge’s “140 Striking Situations” had asked readers to demonstrate that with the pieces in a given position white could always win. An expert claimed in a rival publication that Sturge was wrong: the position was a draw. Another countered that it was a win for white – but not for the reasons Sturge suggested. Arguments would continue for the entire reign of Queen Victoria until a consensus was finally reached: it was a win for white.

This most controversial conundrum in the history of draughts became known as the Hundred Years Problem. The name was a little premature.

In 1997, a grandmaster showed the Hundred Years Problem to Jonathan Schaeffer, professor of computer science at the University of Alberta, who is by his own admission a rather mediocre player. Minutes later, Schaeffer announced that the result was a draw. This time, there was no controversy, because although Schaeffer is a mediocre draughts player he is an excellent computer scientist who had spent the previous decade working on a program, Chinook, designed to “solve” draughts.

It so happened that in the same year the computer Deep Blue defeated Gary Kasparov at chess – an event that Newsweek dubbed, “The Brain’s Last Stand”. In the battle of man versus machine, machine had won a great victory.

In draughts, though, the brain’s defeat has been much more comprehensive. By 1994 Chinook was already good enough to draw a championship match 6-6 with the world number one draughts player, Marion Tinsley. Three years later, it conquered the Hundred Years Problem. Ten years after that, it defeated the game itself: a paper published in the journal Science showed that Schaeffer’s program could play a “perfect” game of draughts. Whatever its opponent did, it would respond with the strongest possible play. While in theory a better computer program than Deep Blue could come along, the best any future human or computer could hope to do against Chinook was to draw. The game contained no further mysteries.

To many players, Chinook’s victory was the game’s loss. Before a game is solved a skilled player can be considered an artist, driven by inspiration and creativity as much as by cold logic. Afterwards the player is a fallible human – imperfectly striving to do what a computer has already done. The success of Chinook was as if overnight portrait painters had to cope with the invention of photography, calligraphers with the printing press.

Tinsley was untroubled. He said the program made him feel young again: for decades he had been unbeatable and at last he had a worthy opponent. But some draughts players took it badly. “They said I was going to destroy the game, to ruin it – that no one was going to play,” says Schaeffer. He received hate mail. Some players argued that the computer’s ability to draw on a database of moves, rather than computing best play each time, was cheating. Others considered Schaeffer had besmirched the name of Tinsley, who over a 40-year career lost fewer than ten games. In particular, they objected to the fact that the program won against him by default, because he discovered he had terminal cancer halfway through. “Chinook couldn’t hold a candle to Tinsley,” complained one angry player in a letter to Schaeffer. Another accused him of “trumpeting an unjustified victory against a sick old man”, a third of “engaging in intellectual dishonesty”. A fourth just called him “despicable”.

This upset Schaeffer, who in the course of developing the program had formed a friendship with Tinsley. “He was as close to perfection as you could imagine a human being. What some human players were upset about is we now were better than him.” Schaeffer uses the collective noun a couple of times when referring to him and Chinook. “He was truly outstanding, but he wasn’t quite perfect. He would make a mistake. It may have been only once every 10-15 years, but he would make a mistake.”

Schaeffer is one of a small group around the world trying to solve the world’s games. Last year, a colleague of his published a paper in which he solved a simplified version of poker. It ended by quoting Alan Turing: “It would be disingenuous of us to disguise the fact that the principal motive which prompted the work was the sheer fun of the thing.”

THERE ARE AROUND 26,830 days in the average life. If you walked 26,830 miles you would cover the entire circumference of the equator, and still have enough distance left to go from Paris to Moscow. There are also 26,830 possible permutations in the first major game to be solved by a computer. That sounds like a lot, but this is a game so simple that in America there is a family of animal trainers that raises chickens to play it against humans as a casino attraction: noughts and crosses.

Most humans have solved noughts and crosses, and the solution is a draw. Writing a program to play a perfect game of noughts and crosses is now a basic undergraduate assignment.

A bigger number is 4,531,985,219,092. There have been roughly 4.5 trillion seconds since humans evolved. When Victor Allis, a computer-science student, contemplated the number in 1988, he realised it was too big for any computer to handle. It is, however, the number of possible permutations in Connect 4. “Computers then were pretty small,” says Allis.

Allis now runs Quintiq, a large Dutch software company. But he still enjoys talking about Connect 4. Unlike Schaeffer and draughts,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2018 at 11:01 am

Breaking bad news

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Sally Williams writes in 1843 Magazine:

ONE WINTER EVENING in 1986, a police officer stood outside a home in north London, knowing he had to tell the woman inside that her husband was dead. Just 23, Jason Clauson was the newest recruit at the station, and therefore, by tradition, the one pushed into delivering the “death message”. “They’d say, ‘Come on lad, you’ve got to go and do it.’ If you objected, the governor would have gone, ‘Don’t be so stupid’.”

A few hours earlier, Clauson had been called to a roadside where a man in his late 50s had been found dead at the wheel of his car. It transpired that the man had taken early retirement and was on his way home from his last half-day at work, when he had apparently stopped because he felt unwell. Seconds later, he had a massive heart attack; the engine was still running when he died.

“He was sat there for three hours with the car overheating before someone noticed and started banging on the window, thinking he was asleep,” Clauson remembers. “By the time I got to the house, his wife was panicking because she’d called his office and they’d told her he’d left hours ago. So as soon as she opened the door and saw me, she knew something was wrong and she staggered on the doorstep. I reached out to grab her and her daughter got hold of her and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And now they’re both saying, ‘What’s up? What’s wrong?’ Just bombarding me with the same question.

“I remember being told, ‘try and get them to sit down because if they faint [while standing up] they’ve got further to fall’, so eventually I got them to sit down. Basically I said, ‘I’m afraid I’ve got some terrible news for you. Your husband has passed away in his car.’ And you could see her world collapse. And you could see her daughter’s world collapse too. And I was sitting with my arm on the shoulder of two ladies thinking, what do I do now?”

Breaking bad news might seem straightforward. “It’s not rocket science,” said one surgeon I spoke to, “you’ve just got to be a half-decent person and give them the facts.” But common sense tells us that those facts are an emotional bomb waiting to go off. And medical thinking now recognises this: receiving bad news, according to the Western Journal of Medicine, “results in cognitive, behavioural, or emotional deficit in the person receiving the news that persists for some time after the news is received.” News of a sudden death can prompt intense crying, anger or guilt. Some people appear calm and controlled; others are seized by a need to be busy—faced with overwhelming pain, some of us block it by going and doing the washing-up. But no one in such a predicament can be considered normal. We go into shock, which means we are unbalanced mentally and physically. Distress impairs circulation, makes us cold, disrupts the endocrine, immune and cardiovascular systems, upsets rational thought, disturbs sleep.

Every year, 1.17m people die in road accidents around the world. As of January 2011, 7,066 soldiers from coalition forces had been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with an estimated 110,000 civilians; in 2007, the last year for which there are full figures, 521,303 people died of cancer in western Europe. Behind all these statistics are families who need to be informed and someone whose job it is to inform them. There is now a widespread belief that the way the news is delivered has a profound effect on the way the dead person is remembered and the way the survivors heal.

There are some textbook examples of what not to do. Putting a note through the letterbox; getting the victim’s name wrong; using euphemisms such as “lost” or “passed on” (confusing at a time when someone is trying hard not to believe it); and turning up in shorts and flip-flops, like the British diplomats who greeted one woman as she arrived in Bahrain in 2006 after her husband’s death in a boat disaster. A vision that has stuck in her mind, rather than anything that was said.

And what of the bearers of bad news? What is it like to knock on a door knowing you are about to instigate the worst moment in someone’s life, and then have to confront the ways in which they do or do not deal with the fact that a life has ended? We live in an age where death has been largely exiled offstage. Families used to see it up close, at home; it did not typically involve hospital wards or dual carriageways or a stranger breaking the bad news. And there has been a slow realisation that unless the psychological particulars of that moment are addressed, unless the many challenges of grief and shock are dealt with competently, there can be unwelcome consequences. Which is why a number of fields have begun to wrestle with the problem: how do you break bad news in a good way?

ROB COCKBURN SITS in his office in London, opens his laptop, inserts a DVD and shows me how best to tell someone they’re dying. Cockburn manages Connected, a nationwide British programme to train oncologists in “difficult consultations”.

Launched in 2008, and funded by the Department of Health, it has so far trained 9,000 clinicians working with cancer on three-day courses using experts, actors and role play. The course is not voluntary: all cancer specialists in Britain are now expected to attend. This is the legacy of a shift in medical thinking. Thirty years ago, doctors believed that the dying didn’t want or need to know how ill they were. They disguised the truth in euphemisms (“just a little growth”) or restricted it to the patient’s family. Telling the patient, they believed, would take away all their hope. Even a decade ago, doctors felt quite anxious about telling people they had cancer and were going to die, so that news was often withheld from them.

In 2000, a report entitled Open Space was published by Macmillan Cancer Relief. “If only the surgeon would talk to me properly,” one patient said to the researchers. “They arrived in a group of five round my bed in hospital—and he talked quickly to me—he discussed something with them and moved on—I had no chance to ask questions…the surgeon gave me the impression he was busy big-time in front of his juniors—and not caring about my feelings…he is a clever surgeon but has a bad way with patients.”

Also in 2000, the Blair government launched a Cancer Plan to upgrade services and start a new drive informed by an increasing awareness of patients’ psychological needs. Some patients, the plan said, were “being given bad news in a deeply insensitive way, being left in the dark about their condition and badly informed about their treatment and care…By 2002 it will be a pre-condition of qualification that they [hospital consultants] are able to demonstrate competence in communication with patients.”

The ability to communicate is now seen as an essential clinical skill. The DVD in Cockburn’s laptop is some homework for his trainees. It features Dr Pauline Leonard, a consultant medical oncologist and trainer on the course, who is in her 40s and has long blonde hair, along with two fictional characters—“Sylvia Braithwaite”, a meek woman in her early 50s, suffering from bowel cancer, and her domineering husband “Harry”. The couple are played by actors, but the scenario is based on a real case. Sylvia has had surgery to remove a tumour and part of her bowel, followed by six months of chemotherapy, and she thinks the worst is over. But this is the moment when Dr Leonard has to tell her the treatment hasn’t worked: the cancer has spread to her liver and lungs and she has only 12 to 14 months to live.

Cockburn goes through the DVD, stopping and rewinding to discuss Dr Leonard’s methods. He picks out the way she starts by asking Sylvia how she is: “she’s allowing the patient to express feelings.” The trouble is that Sylvia says she’s feeling a lot better and looking forward to having her colostomy bag removed. She smiles, hopefully. We fast-forward.

Dr Leonard pauses, then takes a deep breath. “There was never a guarantee that six months of chemotherapy would stop the cancer.”

Cockburn points at the screen, “That’s the warning shot,” he says. “ ‘No guarantee’—now if you were hearing that, you would subconsciously or consciously think: hang on a minute, that doesn’t sound so good.”

He presses play: Dr Leonard gives the facts, and then says,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2018 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Non cogito, ergo sum

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Ian Leslie writes in 1843 Magazine:

IT WAS THE fifth set of a semi-final at last year’s US Open. After four hours of epic tennis, Roger Federer needed one more point to see off his young challenger, Novak Djokovic. As Federer prepared to serve, the crowd roared in anticipation. At the other end, Djokovic nodded, as if in acceptance of his fate.

Federer served fast and deep to Djokovic’s right. Seconds later he found himself stranded, uncomprehending, in mid-court. Djokovic had returned his serve with a loose-limbed forehand of such lethal precision that Federer couldn’t get near it. The nonchalance of Djokovic’s stroke thrilled the crowd. John McEnroe called it “one of the all-time great shots”.

Djokovic won the game, set, match and tournament. At his press conference, Federer was a study in quiet fury. It was tough, he said, to lose because of a “lucky shot”. Some players do that, he continued: “Down 5-2 in the third, they just start slapping shots …How can you play a shot like that on match point?”

Asked the same question, Djokovic smiled. “Yeah, I tend to do that on match points. It kinda works.”

Federer’s inability to win Grand Slams in the last two years hasn’t been due to physical decline so much as a new mental frailty that emerges at crucial moments. In the jargon of sport, he has been “choking”. This, say the experts, is caused by thinking too much. When a footballer misses a penalty or a golfer fluffs a putt, it is because they have become self-conscious. By thinking too hard, they lose the fluid physical grace required to succeed. Perhaps Federer was so upset because, deep down, he recognised that his opponent had tapped into a resource that he, an all-time great, is finding harder to reach: unthinking.

Unthinking is the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation. Its power is not confined to sport: actors and musicians know about it too, and are apt to say that their best work happens in a kind of trance. Thinking too much can kill not just physical performance but mental inspiration. Bob Dylan, wistfully recalling his youthful ability to write songs without even trying, described the making of “Like a Rolling Stone” as a “piece of vomit, 20 pages long”. It hasn’t stopped the song being voted the best of all time.

In less dramatic ways the same principle applies to all of us. A fundamental paradox of human psychology is that thinking can be bad for us. When we follow our own thoughts too closely, we can lose our bearings, as our inner chatter drowns out common sense. A study of shopping behaviour found that the less information people were given about a brand of jam, the better the choice they made. When offered details of ingredients, they got befuddled by their options and ended up choosing a jam they didn’t like.

If a rat is faced with a puzzle in which food is placed on its left 60% of the time and on the right 40% of the time, it will quickly deduce that the left side is more rewarding, and head there every time, thus achieving a 60% success rate. Young children adopt the same strategy. When Yale undergraduates play the game, they try to figure out some underlying pattern, and end up doing worse than the rat or the child. We really can be too clever for our own good.

By allowing ourselves to listen to our (better) instincts, we can tap into a kind of compressed wisdom. The psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer argues that much of our behaviour is based on deceptively sophisticated rules-of-thumb, or “heuristics”. A robot programmed to chase and catch a ball would need to compute a series of complex differential equations to track the ball’s trajectory. But baseball players do so by instinctively following simple rules: run in the right general direction, and adjust your speed to keep a constant angle between eye and ball.

To make good decisions in a complex world, Gigerenzer says, you have to be skilled at ignoring information. He found that a portfolio of stocks picked by people he interviewed in the street did better than those chosen by experts. The pedestrians were using the “recognition heuristic”: they picked companies they’d heard of, which was a better guide to future success than any analysis of price-earning ratios.

Researchers from Columbia Business School, New York, conducted an experiment in which people were asked to predict outcomes across a range of fields, from politics to the weather to the winner of “American Idol”. They found that those who placed high trust in their feelings made better predictions than those who didn’t. The result only applied, however, when the participants had some prior knowledge.

This last point is vital. Unthinking is not the same as ignorance; you can’t unthink if you haven’t already thought. Djokovic was able to pull off his wonder shot because he had played a thousand variations on it in previous matches and practice; Dylan’s lyrical outpourings drew on his immersion in folk songs, French poetry and American legends. The unconscious minds of great artists and sportsmen are like dense rainforests, which send up spores of inspiration. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

On that last point—having to learn soething so well that you no longer have to think about the mechanics, you just do it—is something I’ve likened to learning a skill as one learns a language: you do not have to search for and assemble the individual words/actions, you just automatically use them to express your thought. Your focus becomes your goal, which you achieve without thought. For example, a skilled fencer n launching an attack is not thinking analytically/thoughtfully about what s/he’s doing, but is reading the opponent and engaging in a series of practiced moves (without really thinking about them) to achieve the touch. And I believe jazz improvisation is much like this as well: the ideas flow through without the musician having to consider fingerings or individual notes. Those who learn Morse code, no longer hear dots and dashes nor even letters, but words and sentences.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2018 at 10:44 am

Posted in Daily life

Light through the Fog: Translations of the “Odyssey”

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Colin Burrow writes in the London Review of Books:

  • The Odyssey translated by Peter Green
    California, 538 pp, £24.00, April, ISBN 978 0 520 29363 2
  • The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson
    Norton, 592 pp, £30.00, December 2017, ISBN 978 0 393 08905 9
  • The Odyssey translated by Anthony Verity
    Oxford, 384 pp, £7.99, February, ISBN 978 0 19 873647 9

Sausages and sneezes both have small but significant parts to play in Homer’s Odyssey. Sausages (or blood-puddings, or ‘paunches full of blood and fat’ as more literal translators call them) figure occasionally as food. But they also pop and fizzle their way into a simile that describes Odysseus’ behaviour the night before he slaughters his wife Penelope’s suitors, which Peter Green translates like this:

As a man cooking a paunch chockful of fat and blood
on a fierce blazing fire will turn it to and fro,
determined to get it cooked through as fast as he can,
so Odysseus tossed this way and that, trying to work out
how he was going to lay hands on the shameless suitors,
one man against so many.

This simile was much reviled by neoclassical critics. In his translation of 1726 Alexander Pope couldn’t bring himself to mention the sausage, and produced instead one of his prissiest euphemisms: ‘As one who long with pale-ey’d famine pin’d,/The sav’ry cates on glowing embers cast.’ Odysseus has returned to Ithaca and is still disguised as a beggar, which is the reason he can be compared to a humble cooker of sausages. He is trying at this moment to do what The Odyssey as a whole attempts to do: to make deliberative inaction into something heroic. He has just overheard the slave girls of his household giggle as they head off to assignations with the suitors, who are eating all the prime cuts of his pigs and cattle. Should he kill the slave girls immediately or allow them one more gaudy night? He tells himself to swallow his anger. As Emily Wilson has it in her sprightly rendering:

      ‘Be strong, my heart. You were
hounded by worse the day the Cyclops ate
your strong companions. But you kept your nerve,
till cunning saved you from the cave; you thought
that you would die there.’

And so, having reached a decision not to kill the slave girls, Odysseus lies writhing like a man impatient for his sausage to be cooked. It’s an unusually extended example of the way the author of The Odyssey (whom we call Homer, but who probably dates from at least half a century after the person or persons who wrote The Iliad) does interior psychology. Two options are clearly stated (kill now, or kill later). The hero decides, and bides his time. But all the energy of the resisted option fizzles and spits within him.

The sneeze in The Odyssey is a bit different, but it also indicates how complicated the psychology of this poem can appear to be. Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, sneezes immediately after Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, has (in Peter Green’s literal translation) said this:

      ‘there is no man here
such as Odysseus once was, to keep ruin from our house.
But were Odysseus to come back home, then he and his son
would at once exact vengeance for these men’s violent acts.’
So she spoke. Tēlemachos now sneezed, loudly. The whole
house echoed ringingly round them. Penelopē laughed,
and at once addressed Eumaios with winged words, saying:
‘Please go now and bring the stranger [the disguised Odysseus] here before me!
Don’t you see how my son just sneezed at everything I said.’

A footnote in Green’s translation tells us that sneezes were regarded as omens in antiquity, and so, implicitly, Telemachus does not ‘sneeze at’ Penelope’s speech in the modern sense of regarding it as nothing, but rather as a sign that it will all come true. Odysseus will indeed return and wreak vengeance on the suitors. This historical explanation for the sneeze has been common at least since Eustathius’s commentary from the 12th century. But Telemachus’ sneeze also invites other kinds of explanation. His mother has just said in public and in front of him that there is no man around like his father, Odysseus. But she has also said that when Odysseus returns his son will join him in vengeance. Attention is turned on Telemachus in a way that both makes him big and belittles him. Then he sneezes. Does the sneeze express awkwardness or embarrassment as well as being a portent?

The sneeze is a kind of reprise of an earlier outburst from the youthful Telemachus, who doesn’t quite know if he is a man or not, or if he can take control of his father’s household or not. In Book 1 Penelope tells the bard Phemius to stop singing about the return of the heroes from Troy because it makes her weep. This prompts Telemachus to give his mother a dressing-down, which concludes (this time in Anthony Verity’s careful and unshowy translation):

‘Go back to your rooms and take charge of your own tasks,
the loom and the distaff, and order your women servants
to go about their work. Talk must be men’s concern, all of
them, and mine especially, for the power in the house is mine.’

The anxious young man asserts himself here in a remarkable way. He virtually quotes an earlier hero, and that makes it particularly hard to assess the tone of his speech. In Book 6 of The Iliad Hector told his wife, Andromache, to go back to her weaving and leave war to men. Telemachus uses the same phrases as Hector, but substitutes the word ‘talk’ or ‘speech’ (muthos) for ‘war’ (polemos). Aristarchus, one of Homer’s earliest editors, regarded this as a sign that Telemachus’ rebuke to his mother was an interpolation by a later author. More recent editors have shared his suspicion because the same form of words is repeated much later in the poem in a context that seems more appropriate. But along with the sausage and the sneeze, Telemachus’ attempt here to sound like the hero Hector – a man uncompromisingly in control of his household, and who is talking to his wife, rather than to a mother who may be about to remarry – shows something significant about the psychological and poetic methods of The Odyssey, as well as demonstrating how difficult it is to be sure about what is going on in the poem. A sneeze or a quotation from The Iliad can convey power and awkwardness at once. Lines from The Iliad repeated in a new context may show a young man trying to replicate earlier heroism by quoting it, or the Odyssey-poet making a slightly clumsy use of the tradition inherited from the Iliad-poet, or they might have been added by an enthusiastic scribe or editor. Being a hero after or before the battlefield, in the close environment of a household or – worst of all – in front of your mum, isn’t easy. And describing behaviour in a household in an oral formulaic idiom fashioned principally to represent action on the battlefield can simultaneously generate enigmas, awkwardness of tone, and suggestions of psychological depth.

All of this makes The Odyssey much harder to translate than The Iliad. One person’s interpolation or historical curiosity will be another person’s moment of deep psychological insight. That problem is compounded by . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2018 at 10:36 am

Posted in Books

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