Later On

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

Archive for April 23rd, 2018

The White House can’t hide Trump’s worry about Michael Cohen

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Callum Borchers has a good analysis in the Washington Post of the Trump/Cohen thing. It’s logically tight, and so far it corresponds exactly with the real-life version.

President Trump has not been tweeting like a man with nothing to fear.
Over the weekend, he tried to project confidence that his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen — under federal investigationfor possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations — will not flip to avoid legal trouble. But in doing so, and skipping a denial of wrongdoing, the president implied two things.
One is that Cohen would need to strike a deal with prosecutors to avoid charges or prison time. Trump’s tweet did not even entertain the idea that the investigation will turn up nothing because Cohen committed no crimes.
The second is that Cohen possesses damaging information about the president. Trump said he believes Cohen will keep his mouth shut, not that Cohen can talk all he wants because there is no dirt to dish. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 10:04 pm

How American Racism Influenced Hitler

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Alex Ross writes in the New Yorker:

“History teaches, but has no pupils,” the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. That line comes to mind when I browse in the history section of a bookstore. An adage in publishing is that you can never go wrong with books about Lincoln, Hitler, and dogs; an alternative version names golfing, Nazis, and cats. In Germany, it’s said that the only surefire magazine covers are ones that feature Hitler or sex. Whatever the formula, Hitler and Nazism prop up the publishing business: hundreds of titles appear each year, and the total number runs well into the tens of thousands. On store shelves, they stare out at you by the dozens, their spines steeped in the black-white-and-red of the Nazi flag, their titles barking in Gothic type, their covers studded with swastikas. The back catalogue includes “I Was Hitler’s Pilot,” “I Was Hitler’s Chauffeur,” “I Was Hitler’s Doctor,” “Hitler, My Neighbor,” “Hitler Was My Friend,” “He Was My Chief,” and “Hitler Is No Fool.” Books have been written about Hitler’s youth, his years in Vienna and Munich, his service in the First World War, his assumption of power, his library, his taste in art, his love of film, his relations with women, and his predilections in interior design (“Hitler at Home”).

Why do these books pile up in such unreadable numbers? This may seem a perverse question. The Holocaust is the greatest crime in history, one that people remain desperate to understand. Germany’s plunge from the heights of civilization to the depths of barbarism is an everlasting shock. Still, these swastika covers trade all too frankly on Hitler’s undeniable flair for graphic design. (The Nazi flag was apparently his creation—finalized after “innumerable attempts,” according to “Mein Kampf.”) Susan Sontag, in her 1975 essay “Fascinating Fascism,” declared that the appeal of Nazi iconography had become erotic, not only in S & M circles but also in the wider culture. It was, Sontag wrote, a “response to an oppressive freedom of choice in sex (and, possibly, in other matters), to an unbearable degree of individuality.” Neo-Nazi movements have almost certainly fed on the perpetuation of Hitler’s negative mystique.

Americans have an especially insatiable appetite for Nazi-themed books, films, television shows, documentaries, video games, and comic books. Stories of the Second World War console us with memories of the days before Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq, when the United States was the world’s good-hearted superpower, riding to the rescue of a Europe paralyzed by totalitarianism and appeasement. Yet an eerie continuity became visible in the postwar years, as German scientists were imported to America and began working for their former enemies; the resulting technologies of mass destruction exceeded Hitler’s darkest imaginings. The Nazis idolized many aspects of American society: the cult of sport, Hollywood production values, the mythology of the frontier. From boyhood on, Hitler devoured the Westerns of the popular German novelist Karl May. In 1928, Hitler remarked, approvingly, that white settlers in America had “gunned down the millions of redskins to a few hundred thousand.” When he spoke of Lebensraum, the German drive for “living space” in Eastern Europe, he often had America in mind.

Among recent books on Nazism, the one that may prove most disquieting for American readers is James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law” (Princeton). On the cover, the inevitable swastika is flanked by two red stars. Whitman methodically explores how the Nazis took inspiration from American racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He notes that, in “Mein Kampf,” Hitler praises America as the one state that has made progress toward a primarily racial conception of citizenship, by “excluding certain races from naturalization.” Whitman writes that the discussion of such influences is almost taboo, because the crimes of the Third Reich are commonly defined as “the nefandum, the unspeakable descent into what we often call ‘radical evil.’ ” But the kind of genocidal hatred that erupted in Germany had been seen before and has been seen since. Only by stripping away its national regalia and comprehending its essential human form do we have any hope of vanquishing it.

The vast literature on Hitler and Nazism keeps circling around a few enduring questions. The first is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Books

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The Renegade Sheriffs

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Ashley Power has an ominous article in the New Yorker:

On a Friday afternoon in March, 2013, a sheriff’s sergeant named Jody Hoagland noticed a red Nissan pickup truck drifting off a road. Hoagland was two hours into his shift patrolling Liberty County, Florida, eight hundred square miles of the state’s Panhandle. He had just come from a small shed fire, and was driving through the Apalachicola National Forest, which carpets the southern half of the county in longleaf pines. Two-lane roads meander past grazing cows, Baptist churches (“Good News: Jesus Loves You”), Confederate flags, and roadside stands peddling stink bait. Signs of humankind vanish, save for the solitary roadside mailbox. You live here because you want to be left alone.

Hoagland signalled the truck to pull over. A scruffy bearded man was driving and a blond woman was in the passenger seat. A silver .357 revolver lay between them. Two Chihuahuas barked excitedly. Hoagland asked the man, whose name was Floyd Parrish, to get out of the truck, and noticed a bulge in his right jeans pocket—a Titan .25-calibre handgun, it turned out, with one round in the chamber and the safety off. Parrish didn’t have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. It was easy to get one—all you had to do was take a class and pay a fee. Hoagland arrested Parrish and drove him to the county jail. Not long afterward, the sheriff, Nick Finch, called.

Finch had been Liberty’s sheriff for less than three months. He first decided to run for the job during a garage sale, after a customer locked her keys in her car and Finch called the sheriff’s office for help. There was only one deputy on the road, he was told, and the deputy was tied up in a funeral procession. Finch, who was raised on a farm in Iowa, had spent close to two decades in the Army and in the Air Force Reserve, so he was fluent in the language of God and country. White-haired and blue-eyed, with a meaty build, he was appealing to voters, and was helped by the fact that his wife’s family had lived in the area for generations.

Liberty County, with eighty-seven hundred residents, is the state’s second least populous. It is whiter, poorer, and less well educated than Florida as a whole. Timber has long been the chief industry, though the federal government has slowed logging in recent decades to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. One local told me, “The saying goes, ‘In Liberty County, if you run out of toilet tissue try a woodpecker.’ ” A number of side roads bear the names of residents; when I visited recently, I drove down Jimmy Lee Drive and ran into the actual Jimmy Lee. The closest thing to a community history, “The Heritage of Liberty County, Florida,” has entries on the region’s tupelo honey; homecoming queens; and worm grunting, or coaxing worms out of the earth with a wooden stake and a metal strip. Several pages are devoted to a theory that the Apalachicola River’s east bank was the original Garden of Eden.

Liberty’s sheriff and his dozen or so deputies are the only law-enforcement agents in the county. As in much of rural America, the sheriff is far more than an administrator. He’s an aspirational figure and a moral touchstone. Eddie Joe White, the current sheriff, told me, “There’s no way to define the parameters of sheriff. From one day to the next, you’re a fireman, you’re a paramedic, you’re a grief counsellor. You can’t back away from any responsibility and say it’s not your job, because, as sheriff, you are responsible for everything as it deals with humanity.”

Finch won the election on his second try, in 2012, just after his fiftieth birthday. Before taking office, he went online to research his new position. Finch is conservative, and the sites he visited argued that the sheriff, in his county, is more powerful than the President. That argument was consistent with the beliefs of Finch’s law-enforcement hero, Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who last year was convicted of defying a court order to stop the racial profiling of Latinos. “I like Joe, because Joe’s a lot like me,” Finch told me. “He doesn’t take shit from nobody. He knows what his role is, and come hell or high water, he was going to do what he thought was right.” On Facebook, Finch posted a Breitbart story, about a sheriff named Denny Peyman, headlined “Kentucky Sheriff to Obama: No Gun Control in My County.

There are roughly three thousand sheriffs in America, in forty-seven states. Arpaio and Peyman are among the dozens aligned with the “constitutional sheriffs” movement. Another is David A. Clarke, Jr., the cowboy-hatted Wisconsin firebrand who considered joining the Department of Homeland Security. (He now works at America First Action, a pro-Trump political-action committee.) There are even more followers of constitutional policing across America among law enforcement’s rank and file. One group, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, or C.S.P.O.A., claims about five thousand members.

C.S.P.O.A. members believe that the sheriff has the final say on a law’s constitutionality in his county. Every law-enforcement officer has some leeway in choosing which laws to enforce, which is why it’s rare to get a ticket for jaywalking, for example. But, under this philosophy, the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which dictates that federal law takes precedence over state law, is irrelevant. So is the Supreme Court. “They get up every morning and put their clothes on the same way you and I do,” Finch told me. “Why do those nine people get to decide what the rest of the country’s going to be like?” To the most dogmatic, there’s only one way to interpret the country’s founding documents: pro-gun, anti-immigrant, anti-regulation, anti-Washington.

Finch was on the way to Dirty Dick’s Crab House with his wife when he started getting calls about the arrest. (If you are a rural sheriff, everyone has your cell-phone number.) After speaking with Hoagland, he drove to the county jail, where . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 9:08 pm

Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry

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Subhead is:

People who are short on relatives can hire a husband, a mother, a grandson. The resulting relationships can be more real than you’d expect.

It’s by Elif Batumen, and it goes something like this:

Two years ago, Kazushige Nishida, a Tokyo salaryman in his sixties, started renting a part-time wife and daughter. His real wife had recently died. Six months before that, their daughter, who was twenty-two, had left home after an argument and never returned.

“I thought I was a strong person,” Nishida told me, when we met one night in February, at a restaurant near a train station in the suburbs. “But when you end up alone you feel very lonely.” Tall and slightly stooped, Nishida was wearing a suit and a gray tie. He had a deep voice and a gentle, self-deprecating demeanor.

Of course, he said, he still went to work every day, in the sales division of a manufacturing company, and he had friends with whom he could go out for drinks or play golf. But at night he was completely alone. He thought he would feel better over time. Instead, he felt worse. He tried going to hostess clubs. Talking to the ladies was fun, but at the end of the night you were alone again, feeling stupid for having spent so much money.

Then he remembered a television program he had seen, about a company called Family Romance, one of a number of agencies in Japan that rent out replacement relatives. One client, an elderly woman, had spoken enthusiastically about going shopping with her rental grandchild. “The grandchild was just a rental, but the woman was still really happy,” Nishida recalled.

Nishida contacted Family Romance and placed an order for a wife and a daughter to join him for dinner. On the order form, he noted his daughter’s age, and his wife’s physique: five feet tall and a little plump. The cost was forty thousand yen, about three hundred and seventy dollars. The first meeting took place at a café. The rental daughter was more fashionable than Nishida’s real daughter—he used the English word “sharp”—but the wife immediately impressed him as “an ordinary, generic middle-aged woman.” He added, “Unlike, for example, Ms. Matsumoto”—he nodded toward my interpreter, Chie Matsumoto—“who might look like a career woman.” Chie, a journalist, teacher, and activist, who has spiky salt-and-pepper hair and wears plastic-framed glasses, laughed as she translated this qualification.

The wife asked Nishida for details about how she and the daughter should act. Nishida demonstrated the characteristic toss of the head with which his late wife had rearranged her hair, and his daughter’s playful way of poking him in the ribs. Then the women started acting.  . .

Continue reading.

Modern life, with its stresses mentioned earlier in the post on the Times article, is a stressor. Stressors have costs. Loneliness is a cost. But humans are adaptable, which is how humans got where they are today: given any environment, they adapt. The above is an adaptation to a new kind of emotional environment. Cultural evolution in actin.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Bourdain on Trump associates: ‘They’re all going to turn on each other’

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Mallory Shelbourne reports in The Hill:

CNN’s Anthony Bourdain said in a recent interview he thinks the members of President Trump’s inner circle will “turn on each other.”

In an interview with the Daily Beast, Bourdain compared the ongoing controversies and investigations surrounding Trump with the trial of New York mobster John Gotti.

“In the end, I think they’re all a bunch of frightened, self-interested greedheads. They’re all going to turn on each other, and the whole thing is going to come crashing down like any other conspiracy of not-too-bright people,” Bourdain said of those close to Trump.

The “Parts Unknown” host specifically said the members of Trump’s circle “are not the best and the brightest.”

The interview comes ahead of the season 11 premier of Bourdain’s show. In the upcoming episode, he travels to West Virginia, a state Trump won by more than 40 points in 2016.

Bourdain, a frequent critic of the president, said the people he spoke to provided “nuanced” reasons as to why they supported Trump.

“People were incredibly kind and generous to me, not hostile to my political beliefs, and we talked a lot about coal, the Second Amendment, and why people who come from five generations of breaking their backs in the coal mine would vote for a sketchy New York real estate guy who’s never changed a tire in his life,” Bourdain told the Daily Beast.

Last year, . . .

Continue reading.

He does tell it with the bark on, as Mark Twain would say.

And maybe it’s already started.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 8:18 pm

How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews

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Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report in the Washington Post:

On Amazon, customer comments can help a product surge in popularity. The online retail giant says that more than 99 percent of its reviews are legitimate because they are written by real shoppers who aren’t paid for them.

But a Washington Post examination found that for some popular product categories, such as Bluetooth headphones and speakers, the vast majority of reviews appear to violate Amazon’s prohibition on paid reviews. Such reviews have certain characteristics, such as repetitive wording that people probably cut and paste in.

Many of these fraudulent reviews originate on Facebook, where sellers seek shoppers on dozens of networks, including Amazon Review Club and Amazon Reviewers Group, to give glowing feedback in exchange for money or other compensation. The practice artificially inflates the ranking of thousands of products, experts say, misleading consumers. banned paying for reviews a year and a half ago because of research it conducted showing that consumers distrust paid reviews. Every once in a while, including this month, Amazon purges shoppers from its site whom it accuses of breaking its policies.

But the ban, sellers and experts say, merely pushed an activity that used to take place openly into dispersed and harder-to-track online communities.

There, an economy of paid reviews has flourished. Merchants pledge to drop reimbursements into a reviewer’s PayPal account within minutes of posting comments for items such as kitchen knives, rain ponchos or shower caddies, often sweetening the deal with a $5 commission or a $10 Amazon gift card. Facebook this month deleted more than a dozen of the groups where sellers and buyers matched after being contacted by The Post. Amazon kicked a five-star seller off its site after an inquiry from The Post.

“These days it is very hard to sell anything on Amazon if you play fairly,” said Tommy Noonan, who operates ReviewMeta, a website that helps consumers spot suspicious Amazon reviews. “If you want your product to be competitive, you have to somehow manufacture reviews.”

Sellers say the flood of inauthentic reviews makes it harder for them to compete legitimately and can crush profits. “It’s devastating, devastating,” said Mark Caldeira, owner of the baby-products company Mayapple Baby. He said his product rankings have plummeted in the past year and a half, attributing it to competitors using paid reviews. “We just can’t keep up.”

Suspicious or fraudulent reviews are crowding out authentic ones in some categories, The Post found using ReviewMeta data. ReviewMeta examines red flags, such as an unusually large number of reviews that spike over a short period of time or “sock puppet” reviewers who appear to have cut and pasted stock language.

For example, of the 47,846 total reviews for the first 10 products listed in an Amazon search for “bluetooth speakers,” two-thirds were problematic, based on calculations using the ReviewMeta tool. So were more than half of the 32,435 reviews for the top 10 Bluetooth headphones listed. . .

Continue reading.

Just to be absolutely clear, the customer reviews for Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving the Double-Edge Way are totally authentic: reviewers wrote the reviews on their own initiative and without any prodding or compensation from me, and almost all wrote their review after reading the book. (A couple of reviews are so far off the mark that I find it hard to believe that the reviewers read the table of contents, much less the book.)

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

GOP: “We Don’t Need No Education”

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Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

Matt Bevin, the conservative Republican governor of Kentucky, lost it a few days ago. Thousands of his state’s teachers had walked off their jobs, forcing many schools to close for a day, to protest his opposition to increased education funding. And Bevin lashed out with a bizarre accusation: “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them.”

He later apologized. But his hysterical outburst had deep roots: At the state and local levels, the conservative obsession with tax cuts has forced the G.O.P. into what amounts to a war on education, and in particular a war on schoolteachers. That war is the reason we’ve been seeing teacher strikes in multiple states. And people like Bevin are having a hard time coming to grips with the reality they’ve created.

To understand how they got to this point, you need to know what government in America does with your tax dollars.

The federal government, as an old line puts it, is basically an insurance company with an army: nondefense spending is dominated by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. State and local governments, however, are basically school districts with police departments. Education accounts for more than half the state and local work force; protective services like police and fire departments account for much of the rest.

So what happens when hard-line conservatives take over a state, as they did in much of the country after the 2010 Tea Party wave? They almost invariably push through big tax cuts. Usually these tax cuts are sold with the promise that lower taxes will provide a huge boost to the state economy.

This promise is, however, never — and I mean never — fulfilled; the right’s continuing belief in the magical payoff from tax cuts represents the triumph of ideology over overwhelming negative evidence.

What tax cuts do, instead, is sharply reduce revenue, wreaking havoc with state finances. For a great majority of states are required by law to balance their budgets. This means that when tax receipts plunge, the conservatives running many states can’t do what Trump and his allies in Congress are doing at the federal level — simply let the budget deficit balloon. Instead, they have to cut spending.

And given the centrality of education to state and local budgets, that puts schoolteachers in the cross hairs.

How, after all, can governments save money on education? They can reduce the number of teachers, but that means larger class sizes, which will outrage parents. They can and have cut programs for students with special needs, but cruelty aside, that can only save a bit of money at the margin. The same is true of cost-saving measures like neglecting school maintenance and scrimping on school supplies to the point that many teachers end up supplementing inadequate school budgets out of their own pockets.

So what conservative state governments have mainly done is squeeze teachers themselves.

Now, teaching kids was never a way to get rich. However, being a schoolteacher used to put you solidly in the middle class, with a decent income and benefits. In much of the country, however, that is no longer true.

At the national level, earnings of public-school teachers have fallen behind inflation since the mid-1990s, and have fallen even more behind the earnings of comparable workers. At this point, teachers earn 23 percent less than other college graduates. But this national average is a bit deceptive: Teacher pay is actually up in some big states like New York and California, but it’s way down in a number of right-leaning states.

Meanwhile, teachers’ benefits are also getting worse. In particular, teachers are having to pay a rising share of their health insurance premiums, a severe burden when their real earnings are declining at the same time.

So we’re left with a nation in which teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor, unable to make ends meet unless they take second jobs. And they can’t take it anymore.

Which brings us back to Bevin’s unhinged outburst.

One way to think about what’s currently happening in a number of states is that the anti-Obama backlash, combined with the growing tribalism of American politics, delivered a number of state governments into the hands of extreme right-wing ideologues. These ideologues really believed that they could usher in a low-tax, small-government, libertarian utopia.

Predictably, they couldn’t. For a while  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Education, GOP, Government

Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match

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Amanda Taub and Max Fisher report in the NY Times:

MEDAMAHANUWARA, Sri Lanka — Past the end of a remote mountain road, down a rutted dirt track, in a concrete house that lacked running water but bristled with smartphones, 13 members of an extended family were glued to Facebook. And they were furious.

A family member, a truck driver, had died after a beating the month before. It was a traffic dispute that had turned violent, the authorities said. But on Facebook, rumors swirled that his assailants were part of a Muslim plot to wipe out the country’s Buddhist majority.

“We don’t want to look at it because it’s so painful,” H.M. Lal, a cousin of the victim, said as family members nodded. “But in our hearts there is a desire for revenge that has built.”

The rumors, they believed, were true. Still, the family, which is Buddhist, did not join in when Sinhalese-language Facebook groups, goaded on by extremists with wide followings on the platform, planned attacks on Muslims, burning a man to death.

But they had shared and could recite the viral Facebook memes constructing an alternate reality of nefarious Muslim plots. Mr. Lal called them “the embers beneath the ashes” of Sinhalese anger.

We came to this house to try to understand the forces of social disruption that have followed Facebook’s rapid expansion in the developing world, whose markets represent the company’s financial future. For months, we had been tracking riots and lynchings around the world linked to misinformation and hate speech on Facebook, which pushes whatever content keeps users on the site longest — a potentially damaging practice in countries with weak institutions.

Time and again, communal hatreds overrun the newsfeed — the primary portal for news and information for many users — unchecked as local media are displaced by Facebook and governments find themselves with little leverage over the company. Some users, energized by hate speech and misinformation, plot real-world attacks.

A reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s descent into violence, based on interviews with officials, victims and ordinary users caught up in online anger, found that Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing. Facebook officials, they say, ignored repeated warnings of the potential for violence, resisting pressure to hire moderators or establish emergency points of contact.

Facebook declined to respond in detail to questions about its role in Sri Lanka’s violence, but a spokeswoman said in an email that “we remove such content as soon as we’re made aware of it.” She said the company was “building up teams that deal with reported content” and investing in “technology and local language expertise to help us swiftly remove hate content.”

Sri Lankans say they see little evidence of change. And in other countries, as Facebook expands, analysts and activists worry they, too, may see violence.

One Town, Two Versions

Five hours east of Medamahanuwara lies the real Ampara, a small town of concrete buildings surrounded by open green fields. The road there passes over verdant mountains before coasting through tropical flatlands, contested territory during the civil war that ended in 2009, now distinguished mostly by quiet teahouses.

But the imagined Ampara, which exists in rumors and memes on Sinhalese-speaking Facebook, is the shadowy epicenter of a Muslim plot to sterilize and destroy Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority.

As Tamil-speaking Muslims, the Atham-Lebbe brothers knew nothing of that version of Ampara when, using money they saved laboring in Saudi Arabia, they opened a one-room restaurant there. They had no way to anticipate that, on a warm evening in late February, the real and imagined Amparas would collide, upending their lives and provoking a brief national breakdown.

It began with a customer yelling in Sinhalese about something he had found in his dinner. Unable to understand Sinhalese, Farsith, the 28-year-old brother running the register, ignored him.

He did not know that the day before, a viral Facebook rumor claimed, falsely, that the police had seized 23,000 sterilization pills from a Muslim pharmacist in Ampara.

The irate customer drew a crowd, which gathered around Farsith, shouting: “You put in sterilization medicine, didn’t you?”

He grasped only that they were asking about a lump of flour in the customer’s meal, and worried that saying the wrong thing might turn the crowd violent.

“I don’t know,” Farsith said in broken Sinhalese. “Yes, we put?”

The mob, hearing confirmation, beat him, destroyed the shop and set fire to the local mosque.

In an earlier time, this might have ended in Ampara. But Farsith’s “admission” had been recorded on a cellphone. Within hours, a popular Facebook group, the Buddhist Information Center, pushed out the shaky, 18-second video, presenting it as proof of long-rumored Muslim plots. Then it spread.

Vigilante Justice

As Facebook pushes into developing countries, it tends to be initially received as a force for good.

In Sri Lanka, it keeps families in touch even as many work abroad. It provides for unprecedented open expression and access to information. Government officials say it was essential for the democratic transition that swept them into office in 2015.

But where institutions are weak or undeveloped, Facebook’s newsfeed can inadvertently amplify dangerous tendencies. Designed to maximize user time on site, it promotes whatever wins the most attention. Posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger or fear, studies have found, produce the highest engagement, and so proliferate.

In the Western countries for which Facebook was designed, this leads to online arguments, angry identity politics and polarization. But in developing countries, Facebook is often perceived as synonymous with the internet and reputable sources are scarce, allowing emotionally charged rumors to run rampant. Shared among trusted friends and family members, they can become conventional wisdom.

And where people do not feel they can rely on the police or courts to keep them safe, research shows, panic over a perceived threat can lead some to take matters into their own hands — to lynch.

Last year, in rural Indonesia, rumors spread on Facebook and WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging tool, that gangs were kidnapping local children and selling their organs. Some messages included photos of dismembered bodies or fake police fliers. Almost immediately, locals in nine villages lynched outsiders they suspected of coming for their children.

Near-identical social media rumors have also led to attacks in India and Mexico. Lynchings are increasingly filmed and posted back to Facebook, where they go viral as grisly tutorials. . .

Continue reading.

And Mark Zuckerberg seems to be doing very very little to address this problem. The same goes for Twitter.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 4:14 pm

Colorado teachers are going on strike. State Republican lawmakers want to punish them with jail time.

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I have often encountered the mindset that wants to “solve” a problem by attacking the indicators of the problem rather than the problem itself. I call this “bending the needle,” since it seems to me the same sort of solution that, when faced by the needle getting into the red zone on some vital indicator, decides to “fix” the problem by bending the needle so that it is back in the green zone.

That is how the GOP in Colorado thinks. Alexia Campbell reports in Vox:

Two Republican state lawmakers are trying to shut down a potential teachers strike in Colorado with the threat of jail time.

The bill, introduced in the state Senate Friday, prohibits districts from supporting a teachers strike and requires schools to dock a teacher’s pay for each day they participate in a walkout. The teachers could also face up to six months in jail and a $500 daily fine if they violate a court order to stop striking. Under the new law, sponsored by state Sen. Bob Gardner (R) and state Rep. Paul Lundeen (R), a teacher could be immediately fired without a hearing.

The harsh punishment comes in reaction to the teacher strikes sweeping red and purple states, including OklahomaWest VirginiaArizona, and Kentucky. Thousands of teachers in Colorado have joined the grassroots movement, holding rallies at the state capitol in recent weeks to demand a pay raise and more funding.

Teachers are planning to walk out of class on April 27 to protest low teacher pay and school spending. Several school districts, including Denver schools, have announced they will close that day.

Colorado teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, earning an average $46,155 in 2016 — ranking Colorado 46th in average teacher pay according to the National Education Association. The state also spends about $2,500 less per student each year than the national average.

The Colorado Education Association is supporting the teacher walkout, and the Senate bill proposed on Friday would also punish the organization in the event of an illegal strike. The law would allow school districts to seek a court injunction against teachers and teacher organizations that are threatening to strike. If the organization (either a union or professional association) violates the court order, it faces a fine of up to $10,000 a day and a ban on representing teachers in the state for up to a year. . .

Continue reading.

The GOP has zero interest in solving problems, just is covering them up and distracting our attention from them. They particularly are not interesting in solving problems that would require money from the government, since their entire governmental mission is to cut governmental revenue (taxes).

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 10:24 am

Parents Didn’t Want Fracking Near Their School. So the Oil Company Chose a Poorer School, Instead.

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Income inequality hurts people badly, as does racism: “The first school was 77-percent white. The second is 87-percent students of color.” Megan Jula reports in Mother Jones:

In one of the most fracked counties in the country, a fight is underway between environmental justice advocates and the Colorado commission that oversees oil and gas development. Four environmental and civil rights groups are suing the commission for allowing a company to build 24 oil and gas wells by a public school in a low-income area—after the same company tossed its original plans to build near a charter school serving mostly white, middle-class families.

Back in 2013, the company Mineral Resources was granted a permit to drill a few hundred feet from Frontier Academy, a majority white charter school in Greeley, Colorado. But after parents and neighborhood residents strongly resisted, the project was delayed. The following year, the Denver-based energy company Extraction Oil and Gas acquired Mineral Resources and abandoned the plans to frack near Frontier Academy. The site, Extraction explained in an internal analysis, was “not preferable” for oil and gas development because of its proximity to the school and its playground.

Instead, Extraction began scouting other locations in Greeley, a small city about 50 miles northeast of Denver. In May 2016, Extraction Oil and Gas filed a new application. This time, Extraction selected a site even closer to another school: Bella Romero Academy. The student population at Bella Romero is more than 87 percent Latino or Hispanic, African American, or other people of color. More than 90 percent of students at Bella Romero qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. (At Frontier, 77 percent of students are white, and about 20 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.)

“When they were looking for another site away from Frontier, where does it wind up? In the Hispanic community, by the Hispanic school,” says Eric Huber, an attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, one of the groups behind the lawsuit. “We think that decision was made, unfortunately, because that particular community doesn’t have the resources to fight it.”

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is the process of creating small cracks in underground rock formations using sand, water, and chemicals pumped at high pressure. The resulting fractures allow oil or natural gas to flow into a well. Fracking is a fiercely debated issue, with proponents claiming it is a valuable method for extracting resources needed for energy production, and opponents raising environmental and health concerns. More than 17 million American now live within one mile of oil and gas wells. Weld County, where Greeley sits, is one of the most fracked counties in the US, with more than 23,000 active oil and gas wells.

Despite community opposition to the project voiced in public meetings and written comments, in March 2017 the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) granted Extraction a permit for the site near Bella Romero’s fourth- through eighth-grade campus.

Shortly after, the Sierra Club, the Colorado NAACP, and environmental groups Weld Air and Water and Wall of Women filed a lawsuit against the COGCC. The suit claims the commission’s approval of the site was unlawful; the commission did not adequately address concerns about health impacts that had been raised in public comments, and failed to ensure the site was far enough away from inhabited buildings, the suit alleges. (COGCC regulations require oil and gas production facilities to be “as far as possible” from homes, schools, and other occupied buildings.)

“We have one of the largest developments proposed in Colorado within 1,000 feet of fields where middle school children play,” says Tim Estep, a clinical fellow with the University of Denver’s Environmental Law Clinic and a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “It’s not that our clients are opposed to oil and gas everywhere. In this case, it’s being done so wrong, and to a community that has already been marginalized in so many ways.” While there is no legal claim of environmental injustice, “that’s really the underlying problem in this particular case,” Estep explains.

The site meets state regulations, which mandate that fracking operations be at least 500 feet away from homes and 1,000 feet away from schools. But not by much: The 24 wells will be built only 509 feet away from a home and 1,360 feet from Bella Romero. And, according to the lawsuit, Bella Romero’s playground and athletic fields sit in between the school and the proposed wells, meaning students will be playing less than 1,000 feet away from oil and gas facilities. (Extraction contended that the site is 1,250 feet from the nearest playground.)  . . .

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This seems to me very corrupt and third-worldish, but that’s the direction the US has been going for a while now.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 9:34 am

The depression epidemic and why the medical profession is failing patients

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William Leith reports in the Times:

In 1989, a trainee physician called Edward Bullmore treated a woman in her late fifties. Mrs P had swollen joints in her hands and knees. She had an autoimmune disease. Her own immune system had attacked her, flooding her joints with inflammation. This, in turn, had eaten away at Mrs P’s collagen and bone, noted Bullmore, who was 29, and whose real ambition was to become a psychiatrist.

He asked Mrs P some routine questions about her physical symptoms, and made a correct diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Then he asked her a few questions he wasn’t supposed to ask. How was she feeling? How would she describe her mood? Well, said Mrs P, she was feeling very low – she was tired, listless and losing the will to live. She couldn’t sleep.

At this point, Bullmore made another diagnosis. “She’s depressed,” he told his boss at the hospital.

“Depressed?” said the consultant. “Well, you would be, wouldn’t you?”

Both of these doctors understood that Mrs P had an inflammatory disease. They knew that it had wrecked her joints. They understood the basic process that caused the joints to be wrecked. And they also knew that Mrs P was depressed.

But still, there was something about Mrs P’s symptoms that Bullmore and his boss had missed – something they didn’t see. That’s because they had been trained not to see it. As Bullmore puts it, they had a “blind spot”.

This blind spot was, and still is, part of the medical mindset. What Bullmore and his boss couldn’t see concerns inflammation, and the way it is connected to depression. It might even solve the mystery of why a quarter of the population of the developed world gets depressed. Why do hundreds of millions of people who are safer, better fed and richer than humans have ever been in their entire history suddenly lose the will to live?


Ed Bullmore is now 57, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. Sitting in his office at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, he will, over the course of an afternoon, tell me some extraordinary things. He will say that Mrs P was probably depressed because she was inflamed. He will say that he believes inflammation in the body can cause depression in the mind. This is the subject of his new book, The Inflamed Mind. We sit at his round table, with a life-size plastic model of a brain between us, and by the timeI leave his office, I will see human history in a different light.

“Of course!” That’s what I will keep saying to myself over the next few days. Bullmore says that inflammation causes depression. And stress causes inflammation. And the modern world is full of things that make us stressed. We are the product of ancient genes, many of which were designed to help us survive in the African savannah tens or even hundreds of thousands of years ago. In those days, we weren’t stressed by mortgages or PowerPoint presentations. We were stressed by different things – for instance, when we thought we might be wounded in a fight. That’s because, for most of human history, a wound might easily become infected and kill you. When you’re stressed, your body is flooded with inflammation. It’s getting ready to save your life.

And what happens in the modern world? Mostly, the wound never comes. Instead, the PowerPoint presentation comes. The mortgage comes. And the emails. And the texts. And the beeps and buzzes emanating all day from the phone in your pocket.

Stress, I will think, is chronic. So the body is chronically inflamed. The inflammation gets into the brain. The wound never comes. Sometimes the depression does.

So what do you do? You go to a psychiatrist. Because you think your problem is a mental one. It’s not physical, you think. It’s in the mind. And the mind is different, isn’t it?


Mrs P – she was inflamed. She was depressed. The consultant had said, “You would be, wouldn’t you?” He thought she was depressed because she was thinking about being inflamed. Her physical problems had made her reflect on the future, which looked bleak. So naturally she was depressed. As the consultant said, you would be, wouldn’t you?

“There is quite a lot under the surface of that remark,” Bullmore tells me. “He said it almost without thinking. It was like an automatic response. But it did mean, frankly, as far as we were concerned, as her physicians, if that’s what we thought was the cause of her depression – that she was reflecting on her arthritis, that she was thinking too much about it – that was equivalent to saying, ‘It’s not our problem.’ ”

If Mrs P was depressed, the doctors felt, it was not a medical problem at all. It was a problem for a psychiatrist to solve.

But what would a psychiatrist do?


Shortly after Bullmore treated Mrs P, he started training as a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in south London. By now he was 30. One day, in 1990, he treated a patient, Mr Q. “He wasn’t much older than me,” says Bullmore. “He told me he’d got depression.” To look at “you wouldn’t think he had psychiatric problems”. His condition was not immediately visible. Like Mrs P, his mood was low. He was tired, listless, losing the will to live. Nothing gave him pleasure any more.

The young Bullmore diagnosed Mr Q with depression. “When I told him he was depressed, he wasn’t very impressed by that,” says Bullmore. “Because, in effect, he’d told me that himself. I’d just written it down and translated some of his ordinary language into some of this neoclassical gobbledegook that doctors tend to talk. Like, he told me he’d lost pleasure in simple things, and I told him, ‘You’ve got anhedonia.’ He told me he was feeling gloomy, and I told him he had major depressive disorder. Although I was putting it in different words, I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know.”

That’s one thing a psychiatrist would do. Bullmore suggested drugs. That’s another. “He asked me how they worked. I told him all about how they changed the serotonin level in the brain, because there was supposedly a serotonin imbalance the drug could correct. He said, ‘How do you know that about me?’ And it was quite a shock, actually.”

This was the world of psychiatry in 1990, and there are several things that might shock you about it. A man tells a doctor he feels extremely low and has lost the ability to feel pleasure. The doctor tells him he’s suffering from depression and anhedonia. He then prescribes an SSRI drug – a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor such as Prozac or Seroxat – in order to raise the level of a substance called serotonin in the patient’s brain. But he has no idea whether or not the patient’s levels of serotonin are too low. He’s just guessing.

Also, he has no idea whether or not the drug will work. It works, or seems to work, for some patients. Sometimes it works for a while, and then stops working, at which point some patients respond well to increased doses. Others don’t. Sometimes there are side-effects. SSRIs can make patients gain weight or lose interest in sex. Sometimes the patient might find the side-effects another set of reasons to be depressed.

“I realised,” says Bullmore, “that there was quite a lot we didn’t know about why and how we were using these treatments.”

And now he says another shocking thing. “There still isn’t a good answer to that question. The crucial thing is: anybody prescribing SSRIs to anybody for depression or anxiety – nobody knows that that particular patient has a problem with serotonin in the first place. There is no biomarker.”

In medicine, drugs are usually prescribed to respond to biomarkers. For instance, a doctor might diagnose an inflammatory disease by analysing a blood sample, and then decide to prescribe a steroid to treat the inflammation. It was shocking that, in the world of mental illness in 1990, doctors were prescribing drugs that might or might not work, without responding to a biomarker. It’s even more shocking that they’re still doing it now. Nothing much has changed for almost 30 years.


I’ve never been depressed, although I’ve suffered from anxiety, a disorder that shares some characteristics with depression. But we all know at least one person who has suffered from depression. At any one time, 10 per cent of us are depressed. Sometimes it creeps up; sometimes it happens suddenly. It happens to more women than men, but more men commit suicide as a result of it. Several studies suggest that it happens to people whose status is low – underlings are more depressed than their bosses. It’s been linked to obesity and diabetes. It happens to people with heart disease more than people without heart disease, all else being equal. There is a genetic component – if members of your immediate family have suffered, you are more likely to suffer. People are always depressed for a reason, or several reasons. But often we can’t say what those reasons are. For a long time, depression has seemed to be one very big mystery.

It’s reasonable to ask what, if anything, depression does for us. Why hasn’t it been selected out of our genome? After all, depressed people live shorter lives, are less likely to prosper and have fewer children. Think of all those lost work days, all that time and money spent on recovery. It knocks billions off the national GDP, says Bullmore, if you want to think of it that way. But think of all the broken relationships. Think of all those people who fall, quite suddenly, to depression. Think of the futures they never get to have.

According to the writer Andrew Solomon, depression is emotional pain beyond sadness. Sadness such as grief, he writes in his brilliant book The Noonday Demon, is like being attacked by rust, which weakens the structure of your mind. Depression is what happens when the structure collapses. Solomon describes his own depression as a living force trying to take him down. “Its tendrils threatened to pulverise my mind and my courage and my stomach, and crack my bones and desiccate my body. It went on glutting itself on me when there seemed nothing left to feed it.”

Solomon says that depression is what happens when things go catastrophically wrong with the mind. He says it’s the price we pay for being creatures who are able to love. Creatures who love must also be primed for loss. To Solomon, “Depression is the flaw in love.”

And Bullmore says something that most of us, until now, hadn’t thought of. Depression can be a product of both the mind and the body. The mind picks up sensory signals that cause stress, the body becomes inflamed, and the inflammation enters the brain, and this in turn affects the mind. It’s a hall of mirrors. It’s not something a doctor would think of; a doctor treats the body. It’s not something a psychiatrist would think of; a psychiatrist treats the mind. It exists in the blind spot.


About halfway through our afternoon together, . . .

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Interesting factoid: Obesity causes inflammation. If inflammation can cause depression, moving from being obese to being normal weight might reduce (or even cure) depression.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 9:29 am

The Latest Research on Disciplining Children Will Make You a Better Parent—and a Better Spouse

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Katherine Reynolds Lewis reports in Mother Jones:

Imagine, for a moment, that you are lying inside an MRI scanner. A giant plastic cylinder surrounds your head and shoulders, and the unit’s interior wall is inches from your nose. “Stay perfectly still,” a technician says. There’s a loud whirring and knocking of parts as the machine shifts position and then, suddenly, another voice comes through your earpiece. It’s your mother. She’s talking about you, about choices you’ve made that you know she disapproves of. Harvard psychology professor Jill Hooley created this scenario to study how parental criticism affects our mental health. Her team, with permission, had called the moms of study participants and pre-recorded their critical commentaries.

During the five years I spent reporting for a new book on the science of discipline, my sources reliably cringed when I told them about Hooley’s experiment. There’s something about a parent’s disapproval that’s instinctively repellent. It may even be bad for your health. A growing body of scientific work suggests that criticism from our loved ones can bring latent mental illnesses to the surface and make it harder for people to recover from stints of depression, schizophrenia, and other crippling brain conditions. For parents grappling with how to discipline difficult children, the implications are profound—and sometimes profoundly frustrating.

The first evidence linking parental criticism with mental illness came to light in the late 1950s in London’s Camberwell district. A sociologist named George Brown was curious why schizophrenia patients were so rarely successful in re-entering society after long-term hospitalization. To his surprise, patients who moved back home with a spouse or a parent fared worse than those who resided with strangers. They were more likely to start hearing voices again, to experience delusions or act aggressively. Intrigued, Brown set out to study the role of family relationships in recovery from schizophrenia. As his researchers interviewed more patients and families, a pattern began to emerge. Patients living with a critical, hostile, or overly involved parent or spouse did poorly. Those living with a more supportive family, or in a boardinghouse, did much better.

Other researchers followed up on Brown’s findings, eventually developing a standard measure that is still in use. People are asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, their sensitivity to criticism from their spouse or closest relative. This number, it turns out, aligns remarkably well with a person’s mental health and overall well-being: For people with mental illness, a score of 6 or greater indicates a high risk of psychiatric relapse, whereas 2 or 3 is favorable for recovery—the mere presence of a critical family member can spike a patients’ blood pressure, one study showed, whereas having a non-critical relative around helps people self-regulate. Researchers have seen similar results over the years for people with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse problems.

Hooley wanted to take the observational approach to the next level. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), she realized, would let her observe directly how the brain responds to parental criticism, so she recruited people 20 to 30 years old with a history of depression who had been stable for at least six months prior. When the subjects heard those critical recordings of their mothers (for whatever reason, most of the studies involve maternal criticism), their brains snapped back into a depressive state: The regions that process emotions went offline and activity increased in the amygdala, suggesting a fight-or-flight response. Neither the control group (people with no history of depression) nor depressive young people exposed to maternal praise had this reaction.

The vexing part is that even if a parent doesn’t mean to be critical, a depressive child’s brain may hear it that way. People prone to mental illness have difficulty managing and responding to negative comments—it’s as if those comments were stickier. (Behavioral researchers are just beginning to explore whether criticism conditions our brains to be more prone to depression in the first place.) “One take-home message is that we need to be attentive to some of the consequences that criticism can have, even though it doesn’t seem very harsh to us,” Hooley says. “It’s not that these are bad relatives and they’re mean—they’re trying their very best.”

So what’s a parent to do? Spanking is out, based on reams of evidence linking the corporal punishment of children to aggressive, abusive, and even criminal behavior in adults. We’re not supposed to yell at our kid, either. Harsh verbal discipline (shouting, cursing, humiliating a child) is associated with an elevated risk of depression, aggression, and substance abuse, increasing a child’s likelihood of alcohol abuse, for example, by more than tenfold. Even timeouts can be problematic. “We’ve found that time-outs are often used in a reactive and punitive manner that leaves children feeling more reactive and dysregulated,” writes Dan Siegel, a professor of clinical psychology at the UCLA School of Medicine.

Must we now treat our little monster like a fragile snowflake?

Not exactly. Parental criticism is both inevitable and necessary—it’s vital to helping a child learn to navigate the world. The tricky thing is that criticism can be uniquely problematic for the very kids whose behavior seems to warrant it the most. These are common conditions: In a 2016 survey by the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 13 percent of adolescents reported having at least one major depressive episode that year. An earlier study of more than 10,000 American children found that fully half had developed some kind of mood disorder, behavioral disorder, or addiction by age 18. Simply playing the odds, a parent would be wise to dial back on the disapproval.

The salvation for adults who want to raise kids with limits, who aspire to be their children’s protectors and not their coddlers, may lie in the very latest science. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder stem from our inability to properly manage thoughts, emotions, and behavior. These are learned abilities, and the way children learn to self-regulate, recent studies suggest, is through connection, empathy, physical touch, and simply being near their parents. This is where we adults can get smarter about discipline.

In one memorable 2012 experiment, researchers from the laboratory of University of Pittsburgh neuroscientist Greg Siegle were using an fMRI study to observe changes in the brains of kids diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Some of the children, who were around 10 years old, wanted their mothers standing next to them while they were in the machine. This is typically allowed. But one of Siegle’s graduate students was worried it might sway the results.

She was spot-on. The anxious children placed in the scanner by themselves showed heightened activity in the parts of the brain that integrate emotional and physiological reactions to fear and stress. But remarkably, when mom was close at hand, that activity disappeared—the anxious kids’ brains looked just like those of the non-anxious kids. “It was absolutely an accidental finding,” Siegle told me. “When we have another person with us, especially touching us, it seems to do a lot to regulate our emotional reactivity.”

Because neurons wire and rewire themselves very rapidly when we are young, Siegle’s results, supported by numerous follow-up studies, suggest that an adult, by establishing a connection with a child at a moment of stress or conflict, can actually stimulate development in the parts of the child’s brain that control emotional regulation. This intervention might consist of a gentle hand or a loving hug after you separate your tantruming toddler from the Cap’n Crunch in the cereal aisle. With an incensed teenager, it might be as simple (or challenging) as keeping your cool, refusing to lock horns, and expressing empathy for the teen while gently but firmly enforcing a family rule on screens or curfews. We can’t control how the kid will respond, but at least we can regulate our own behavior.

So that’s the choice, basically: . . .

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The article notes:

This article is adapted, in part, from Katherine Reynolds Lewis’s new book, The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever—and What to Do About It, out April 17 from PublicAffairs.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 9:04 am

The Fine slant and Sandalwood

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The Fine slant is still for me a touchy little beast. But after lathering well with Art of Shaving Sandalwood, I used it with a very light touch indeed and got a very smooth result with just two small weepers on my upper lip, staunched easily and immediately with My Nik Is Sealed. A good splash of Van Yulay’s Sandalwood aftershave finished the job, and the week is now officially launched.

And to date I have now lost 25 lbs. My secret? This.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2018 at 8:59 am

Posted in Shaving

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