Later On

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Archive for May 2018

High-protein diets are linked to heightened risk for heart disease, even for vegetarians

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Chase Purdy reports at Quartz:

For 20 years a team of researchers watched more than 2,400 Finnish men eat. What they learned gives us a glimpse into some of the long-term health effects of one of today’s most popular dieting fads.

The fascination with high-protein diets isn’t new. In the 1970s, American doctor Robert Atkins popularized the idea with his namesake eating plan, designed to help people lose weight fast. Today, similar regimens are still hitting the market. In April 2018, Pierre Dukan, a French doctor, introduced the Dukan Diet, which also emphasizes limited carbohydrate intake while promoting protein.

Despite the popularity of such diets, the research on how they impact heart health has been relatively scant. A new study, though, published this week by the American Heart Association, shows that eating a lot of protein—derived from both plants and animals—is linked to an elevated risk of cardiovascular failure. Even still, the University of Eastern Finland researchers who undertook the study noted in the paper that many unanswered questions about their findings remain. For example, it’s not yet clear how and why various amino acids abundant in animal protein sources often lead to poor heart function. Also left unanswered: why fermented dairy foods (which also contain protein) such as cheese are worse for heart health than unfermented dairy, such as milk.

This research project began in 1984, when scientists launched the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. As part of the study, scientists recruited 2,441 middle-aged and older men and tracked their daily protein consumption for an average of 22 years.

Each participant was assessed on how much dairy, animal, plant, and overall protein they ate. In each of those four categories, the participants were divided into four quartiles; the researchers then compared the top quartile in each category to the bottom quartile. So, for example, they looked at the risk of heart failure for the 25% who ate the most dairy protein compared to the 25% who ate the least dairy protein.

In general, a higher intake of protein was associated with a greater risk of heart failure. A total of 334 people experienced heart failure over the course of the research period. But those study participants who ate (and drank) the most dairy and animal protein sources had the highest risk for heart failure—and there was no correlation found between heart failure and consumption of fish and egg protein. The results give health experts even more reason to promote diets rich in vegetables, fish, beans, and nuts.

These findings are especially important for establishing policies and health guidance in wealthier countries, where protein consumption is typically higher than in poorer parts of the world. In the US, for instance, the average person eats about 100 grams (a little less than 0.25 lb) (paywall) of protein per day, about double the recommended amount given by the Institute of Medicine. Even vegans, who don’t eat meat, typically—in the US—consume 60 to 80 grams per day from foods such as beans, nuts, and broccoli.

All that protein contributes to broader heart health trends. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2018 at 7:07 pm

“Bye, Chrome: Why I’m switching to Firefox and you should too”

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Full disclosure: I write my blog in Firefox and use Opera as my regular browser. (Opera, like Chrome, is based on Chromium — the article at the link lists several such browsers, including Opera.)

Katharine Schwab writes in FastCo:

You’re probably sick of hearing about data and privacy by now–especially because, if you live in the United States, you might feel like there’s very little you can do to protect yourself from giant corporations feeding off your time, interests, and personal information.

So how do you walk the line between taking advantage of the internet’s many benefits while protecting yourself from the corporate interests that aim to use your data for gain? This is the push-and-pull I’ve had with myself over the past year, as I’ve grappled with the revelations that Cambridge Analytica has the personal data of more than 50 million Americans, courtesy of Facebook, and used it to manipulate people in the 2016 elections. I’ve watched companies shut down their European branches because Europe’s data privacy regulations invalidate their business models. And given the number of data breaches that have occurred over the past decade, there’s a good chance that malicious hackers have my info–and if they don’t, it’s only a matter of time.

While the amount of data about me may not have caused harm in my life yet–as far as I know–I don’t want to be the victim of monopolistic internet oligarchs as they continue to cash in on surveillance-based business models. What’s a concerned citizen of the internet to do? Here’s one no-brainer: Stop using Chrome and switch to Firefox.

Google already runs a lot of my online life–it’s my email, my calendar, my go-to map, and all my documents. I use Duck Duck Go as my primary search engine because I’m aware of how much information about myself I voluntarily give to Google in so many other ways. I can’t even remember why I decided to use Chrome in the first place. The browser has become such a default for American internet users that I never even questioned it. Chrome has about 60% of the browser market, and Firefox has only 10%. But why should I continue to use the company’s browser, which acts as literally the window through which I experience much of the internet, when its incentives–to learn a lot about me so it can sell advertisements–don’t align with mine?

Firefox launched in 2004. It’s not a new option among internet privacy wonks. But I only remembered it existed recently while reporting on data privacy. Unlike Chrome, Firefox is run by Mozilla, a nonprofit organization that advocates for a “healthy” internet. Its mission is to help build an internet in an open-source manner that’s accessible to everyone–and where privacy and security are built in. Contrast that to Chrome’s privacy policy, which states that it stores your browsing data locally unless you are signed in to your Google account, which enables the browser to send that information back to Google. The policy also states that Chrome allows third-party websites to access your IP address and any information that site has tracked using cookies. If you care about privacy at all, you should ditch the browser that supports a company using data to sell advertisements and enabling other companies to track your online movements for one that does not use your data at all.

Though Mozilla itself is a nonprofit, Firefox is developed within a corporation owned by the nonprofit. This enables the Mozilla Corporation to collect revenue to support its development of Firefox and other internet services. Ironically, Mozilla supports its developers using revenue from Google, which pays the nonprofit to have Google Search as Firefox’s default search engine. That’s not its sole revenue: Mozilla also has other agreements with search engines around the world, like Baidu in China, to be the default search engine in particular locations. But because it relies on these agreements rather than gathering user data so it can sell advertisements, the Mozilla Corporation has a fundamentally different business model than Google. Internet service providers pay Mozilla, rather than Mozilla having to create revenue out of its user base. It’s more of a subscription model than a surveillance model, and users always have the choice to change their search engine to whichever they prefer.

I spoke to Madhava Enros, the senior director of Firefox UX, and Peter Dolanjski, a product manager for Firefox, to learn more about how Mozilla’s browser builds privacy into its architecture. Core to their philosophy? Privacy and convenience don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Instead, Firefox’s designers and developers try to make the best decision on behalf of the user, while always leaning toward privacy first. “We put the user first in terms of privacy,” Dolanjski says. “We do not collect personally identifiable data, not what you do or what websites you go to.”

That’s not just lip service, like it often is when companies like Facebook claim that users are in control of their data. For instance, Firefox  protects you from being tracked by advertising networks across websites, which has the lovely side effect of making sites load faster. “As you move from website to website, advertising networks essentially follow you so they can see what you’re doing so they can serve you targeted advertisements,” Dolanjski says. “Firefox is the only [major] browser out of the box that prevents that from happening.” The browser’s Tracking Protection feature automatically blocks a list of common trackers in private browsing mode and can be enabled to run all the time, something you need a specific, third-party browser extension to do on Chrome.

The “out of the box” element of Firefox’s privacy protection is crucial. Chrome does give you many privacy controls, but the default for most of them is to allow Google to collect the greatest amount of information about you as possible. For instance, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2018 at 3:17 pm

Mitch McConnell Committed a Judicial Heist and Blames Obama for His Crime

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Here is a story about how the Republican Party violated governing norms, and lied about it, and ultimately convinced themselves that the crime they committed was actually committed against them.

The story comes to us today via George F. Will, who has given up his Republican Party identity out of dismay at the crassness of Donald Trump, but who remains mostly loyal to the party’s congressional wing. In his Washington Post column today, Will lavishes praise upon Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who deftly outmaneuvered Democratic attempts to pack the federal courts. “To prevent Republicans from reciprocating with filibusters against Obama’s packing-by-enlargement of the nation’s second-most-important court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Democrats changed Senate rules to bar filibusters of judicial nominees other than those for the Supreme Court,” writes Will. “McConnell removed that pointless exemption to make possible the confirmation of Neil M. Gorsuch.”

So the history, as described by Will today, is:
1. Obama enlarged the D.C. Circuit Court, to create more seats he could fill with his nominees
2. Republicans retaliated by filibustering his judicial nominees
3. Senate Democrats changed the rules to eliminate the filibuster of Court nominees, except for the Supreme Court
4. McConnell eliminated the exception for filibustering the Supreme Court

First, Step 1 never happened. It is a pure figment of Will’s imagination — or, far more likely, it is a lie McConnell told Will that Will uncritically conveys. Court-packing is a pretty serious violation of political norms — if one party can change the number of seats on a court, they can quickly seize the ability to manipulate its power balance.

But Obama did not propose enlarging the D.C. Circuit. Instead, he nominated judges to fill three existing vacancies. Republican senators filibustered these nominees. Republicans didn’t argue that Obama’s choices were unqualified or too extreme. Instead they took the novel position that Obama had no right to nominate anybody, and instituted a blanket filibuster against all his nominees for the court. They proposed to eliminate the three open seats, which was itself a form of court-packing: Altering the number of seats on a court in order to manipulate its balance is court-packing, whether it’s done by adding to or subtracting from the number of seats.

In an Orwellian twist, Republicans at the time described Obama’s plan to nominate judges for the existing vacancies as “court-packing.” Again, as Politifact pointed out at the time, Obama was not packing the court, because nobody had ever described filling existing vacancies as “court-packing.” Now, the McConnell version passed on by Will today not only repeats the lie that Obama “packed” the courts, it extends it by pretending Obama wanted to add new seats to the court.

The rest of Will’s narrative is hardly more accurate. Republicans didn’t “reciprocate” Obama’s completely imaginary court-packing by filibustering his judicial nominees. They instituted a filibuster of all his nominees first. Democrats then retaliated by eliminating the judicial filibuster. Once Republicans won a Senate majority in 2014, they slowed down judicial confirmations to a historically low rate, coming close to their total blockade without quite approaching it.

Of course, the broader point of Will’s column is true. By gleefully smashing governing norms, McConnell cleared dozens of vacancies in the courts which he has helped Trump to fill. Lying about how he did it is simply the crowning touch. The Republican Party has . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2018 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Media

Looking for Life on a Flat Earth

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Alan Burdick reports in the New Yorker:

On the last Sunday afternoon in March, Mike Hughes, a sixty-two-year-old limousine driver from Apple Valley, California, successfully launched himself above the Mojave Desert in a homemade steam-powered rocket. He’d been trying for years, in one way or another. In 2002, Hughes set a Guinness World Record for the longest ramp jump—a hundred and three feet—in a limo, a stretch Lincoln Town Car. In 2014, he allegedly flew thirteen hundred and seventy-four feet in a garage-built rocket and was injured when it crashed. He planned to try again in 2016, but his Kickstarter campaign, which aimed to raise a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, netted just two supporters and three hundred and ten dollars. Further attempts were scrubbed—mechanical problems, logistical hurdles, hassles from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Finally, a couple of months ago, he made good. Stuff was leaking, bolts needed tightening, but at around three o’clock, and with no countdown, Hughes blasted off from a portable ramp—attached to a motorhome he’d bought through Craigslist—soared to nearly nineteen hundred feet, and, after a minute or so, parachuted less than gently back to Earth.

For all of that, Hughes might have attracted little media attention were it not for his outspoken belief that the world is flat. “Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is,” he told the Associated Press. “Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up in space.”

Hughes converted fairly recently. In 2017, he called in to the Infinite Plane Society, a live-stream YouTube channel that discusses Earth’s flatness and other matters, to announce his beliefs and ambitions and ask for the community’s endorsement. Soon afterward, The Daily Plane, a flat-Earth information site (“News, Media and Science in a post-Globe Reality”), sponsored a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than seventy-five hundred dollars on Hughes’s behalf, enabling him to make the Mojave jump with the words “Research Flat Earth” emblazoned on his rocket.

To be clear, Hughes did not expect his flight to demonstrate Earth’s flatness to him; nineteen hundred feet up, or even a mile, is too low of a vantage point. And he doesn’t like that the mainstream media has portrayed things otherwise. This flight was just practice. His flat-Earth mission will come sometime in the future, when he will launch a rocket from a balloon (a “rockoon”) and go perhaps seventy miles up, where the splendor of our disk will be evident beyond dispute.

If you are only just waking up to the twenty-first century, you should know that, according to a growing number of people, much of what you’ve been taught about our planet is a lie: Earth really is flat. We know this because dozens, if not hundreds, of YouTube videos describe the coverup. We’ve listened to podcasts—Flat Earth Conspiracy, The Flat Earth Podcast—that parse the minutiae of various flat-Earth models, and the very wonkiness of the discussion indicates that the over-all theory is as sound and valid as any other scientific theory. We know because on a clear, cool day it is sometimes possible, from southwestern Michigan, to see the Chicago skyline, more than fifty miles away—an impossibility were Earth actually curved. We know because, last February, Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics point guard, told us so. “The Earth is flat,” he said. “It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” We know because, last November, a year and a day after Donald Trump was elected President, more than five hundred people from across this flat Earth paid as much as two hundred and forty-nine dollars each to attend the first-ever Flat Earth Conference, in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Look around you,” Darryle Marble, the first featured speaker on the first morning of the conference, told the audience. “You’ll notice there’s not a single tinfoil hat.” He added, “We are normal people that have an abnormal perspective.”

The unsettling thing about spending two days at a convention of people who believe that Earth is flat isn’t the possibility that you, too, might come to accept their world view, although I did worry a little about that. Rather, it’s the very real likelihood that, after sitting through hours of presentations on “scientism,” lightning angels, and nasa’s many conspiracies—the moon-landing hoax, the International Fake Station, so-called satellites—and in chatting with I.T. specialists, cops, college students, and fashionably dressed families with young children, all of them unfailingly earnest and lovely, you will come to actually understand why a growing number of people are dead certain that Earth is flat. Because that truth is unnerving.

The November conference was held in a darkened ballroom of an Embassy Suites near the Raleigh airport. Dozens of rows of chairs had been set out and nearly all were filled. To my right, a young couple with a stroller listened intently; a man in front of me wore a T-shirt with the words “They Lied” across the back. Onstage, Marble recounted his awakening. Marble is African-American and was one of a handful of people of color in the room. He had enlisted in the Army and gone to Iraq after 9/11; when he returned home, to Arkansas, he “got into this whole conspiracy situation,” he said.

For two years, Marble and his girlfriend drank in YouTube. “We went from onething to another to another—Sandy Hook, 9/11, false flags,” he said. “We got into the Bilderberg, Rothschilds, Illuminati. All these general things that one ends up looking into when you go on here, because you look at one video and then another suggestion pops up along the same lines.” Finally, he had to step away. “You come to a place where you start to feel that reality is just kind of scary,” he said. “You’ll find out that nothing, ultimately, is what it seems to be. I hit my low point, where everything was just terrifying.”

Marble found the light in his YouTube sidebar. While looking for videos related to “Under the Dome,” a TV sci-fi drama, he came across “Under the Dome,” a two-hour film, which takes the form of a documentary, by Mark K. Sargent, one of the leading flat-Earth proselytizers. The flat-Earth movement had burbled along in relative darkness until February of 2015, when Sargent uploaded “Flat Earth Clues,” a series of well-produced videos that, the Enclosed World site notes, “delves into the possibility of our human civilization actually being inside a ‘Truman Show’-like enclosed system, and how it’s been hidden from the public.” (Access to those videos and more is available on Sargent’s personal Web site, for ten dollars a month.) It announced itself as “a Reader’s Digest version” of the flat-Earth theory; Marble watched it over and over, all weekend.

“Each thing started to make that much more sense,” he said. “I was already primed to receive the whole flat-Earth idea, because we had already come to the conclusion that we were being deceived about so many other things. So of course they would lie to us about this.”

If we can agree on anything anymore, it’s that we live in a post-truth era. Facts are no longer correct or incorrect; everything is potentially true unless it’s disagreeable, in which case it’s fake. Recently, Lesley Stahl, of “60 Minutes,” revealed that, in an interview after the 2016 election, Donald Trump told her that the reason he maligns the press is “to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.” Or, as George Costanza put it, coming from the opposite direction, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

The flat Earth is the post-truth landscape. As a group, its residents view themselves as staunch empiricists, their eyes wide open. The plane truth, they say, can be grasped in experiments that anyone can do at home. For instance, approach a large body of water and hold up a ruler to the horizon: it’s flat all the way across. What pond, lake, or sea have you ever seen where the surface of its waters curves? Another argument holds that, if Earth were truly spherical,  . . .

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“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2018 at 2:38 pm

A primer on fentanyl(s)

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Mark Kleiman posts at The Reality-Based Community:

The synthetic opioids – usually referred to both in the press and by law enforcement as “fentanyl” – have now outstripped not only the prescription opioids such as oxycodone but also heroin in terms of overdose deaths, and (as you can see below) the trend line is almost vertical.

Keith Humphreys warns of “fentanyl’s potential to permanently alter illegal drug markets.”

Kevin Drum asks about the causes of the change:   “Fentanyl has been around for a long time, and only recently has its use become widespread. Why?”

Why, I thought you’d never ask. Settle back; this is a complicated story, and it’s going to take a while to tell. But Keith is right: this is a BFD. So it’s worth understanding.

First, a little bit of chemistry and pharmacology. “Fentanyl,” in its precise use, is the name of a single molecule. It’s a purely synthetic opioid: that is, it binds to the same μ opioid receptors as do oxycodone or heroin and has most of the same effects, but it’s not made from the opium produced by the poppy plant; its raw materials are chemicals, not crops. It’s about thirty times as “potent” as morphine: that is it takes about thirty times as much morphine as it does fentanyl to get the same pain relief. (Here’s a handy chart.) Morphine is the standard reference molecule here; note that both diamorphine (heroin) and oxycodone are about 1.5x as potent as morphine itself. Potency also varies with route of administration; injection is about 3x as effective as swallowing a pill.

For a person who hasn’t developed a tolerance (and who enjoys the emotional effects of opioids: most people don’t) 5mg. of oxycodone (by mouth) is enough to get high on; that’s also the dose that will handle moderate pain, and the amount in a Percocet. That same person would likely get the same effect with about 1-1.5 mg. of injected heroin.  But it would only take about 1/20th of a milligram – that’s 50 micrograms – of injected fentanyl.

In medical practice, injected fentanyl is most common as part of surgical anaesthesia; as a pain reliever – generally for people with severe, chronic pain – it’s more usually administered as a transdermal patch from which the molecule gradually leaches into the bloodstream, or as a lozenge.

But the “parent” fentanyl compound turns out to be one member of a very large chemical family, known generically as “fentanyls,” each with its own name and a varying set of pharmacological properties. Some of them are astoundingly potent: carfentanil, for example, has something like 100 times the potency of fentanyl itself, which makes the effective dose for a human a fraction of a microgram. (And yes, it’s literally used – in dart guns – as an elephant tranquilizer.) Legally, those other molecules are “fentanyl analogues.”

The opioids as a class have what is known as a “narrow therapeutic window,” where the “window” is the range between the median effective dose (ED50) – the dose that’s has the desired effect in half the population – and the median lethal dose (LD50). The larger the LD50/ED50 ratio (the wider the “window”) the safer the drug will be in terms of overdose risk.

For the opioids, the ratio (also called the “therapeutic index”) is typically about six, which sounds like a reasonable margin of safety until you remember that individuals differ, that individual vulnerabilities differ from occasion to occasion (especially with the presence of other drugs, notably alcohol), and that people make mistakes, especially when drugs are made and distributed illicitly rather than in pharmaceutical factories and taken by people who are not always operating at their cognitive peak.  Given all that, a factor of six is an uncomfortably narrow window.

The narrow therapeutic window explains why overdose death is so much more common with the opiods than with the stimulants or the benzos or alcohol. And the smaller the intended dose, the harder it is to measure out precisely.  So high potency, which can be an advantage clinically (allowing less painful injections and the use of things like transdermal patches) can be a nightmare on the street. To make things even worse, neither users nor dealers have reliable ways of knowing just what’s in the white powder they’re consuming or selling: someone who injects what he thinks is the right dose of heroin, but has in fact purchased fentanyl, is likely to stop breathing. Even someone who intends to take fentanyl could die if he’s actually been given, say, 3-methylfentanil or some other high-potency analogue.

Which – finally – brings us back to Kevin’s question: “Why is this stuff just getting popular now?” Fentanyl was patented as a pharmaceutical nearly 60 years ago. It was in limited use as a street drug – some diverted from medical use, some illicitly synthesized (back then, mostly domestically) by the early 1980s. From a trafficker’s viewpoint, high potency meant high value-to-bulk, making it much easier to ship illegally without getting caught. But from a user’s viewpoint, it was Russian Roulette. A street dealer buying fentanyl from a higher-level supplier and “stepping on it” – diluting it with mostly inert chemicals – would have needed remarkable skill to ensure that every dose had just 50 micrograms of the active agent and that none had the 300 micrograms – roughly the weight of a grain of table salt – that could be deadly. So fentanyl never really caught on.

At the same time, the price of heroin started to fall, and kept falling. In 1979, a milligram of pure heroin delivered to an illegal consumer in the U.S. sold for about $2.40; that’s something like $9 in today’s money. Today, that same milligram sells for something less than a quarter. The causes of that decline – and similar declines seen over the same time period in the prices of cocaine and cannabis (adjusted for its rising potency) – aren’t entirely clear. It certainly hasn’t been for want of vigorous enforcement; we have about thirty times as many drug dealers behind bars today as we had in 1980 (450,000 v. about 15,000). My guess is that it’s mostly learning-by-doing: over time, drug dealers develop smoother and smoother procedures for doing business and avoiding enforcement, helped along by the falling prices of transportation and information and the rising volume of international and long-distance commerce. (Falling homicide rates also reduced one major risk of drug-selling.)

Then we got hit with the wave of prescription-opioid (mostly hydrocodone and oxycodone) diversion and dependency that started around 1992 and was accelerated by the introduction of Oxycontin in 1996, and its relentless marketing by Purdue Pharma. The widespread availability of diverted prescription opioids – available in pharmaceutical bottles, in every neighborhood, often from friends or at least from people who didn’t look as scary as old-fashioned heroin dealers, and cheap enough to be taken orally rather than by the more efficient, but ickier, injection route – created a widespread national demand for opioids. As those oxycodone users built up habits they could no longer afford, or lost access to their favorite script-happy M.D. or “pill mill” pharmacy, the falling price of heroin enticed many of them to “trade down.” Milligram-for-milligram, heroin cost about a quarter as much as oxycodone (25 cents vs. a dollar). The 2011 reformulation of Oxycontin – a high-dose, time-release form of oxycodone, whose time-release feature turned out to be trivially easy to circumvent and which could be dissolved and then injected – into a less-easily-abusable form accelerated the transition from pills to strictly illegal street drugs.

At the same time, people in the U.S. were learning how to buy chemicals unavailable here – banned drugs, cheap unbranded pharmaceuticals, Human Growth Hormone, you name it – by mail-order from illicit or quasi-licit outfits in China, ordering over the Internet (and, when law enforcement made that dangerous, over the “Dark Web”) often paying in cryptocurrencies. Instead of using complicated smuggling schemes, sellers simply put these products in the mail; for about $20, you can get a package of up to four pounds mailed from China to New York.

It didn’t take long for some of those Chinese outfits to start making fentanyl; unlike heroin dealers, they didn’t need a source of opium. The chemistry involved isn’t especially challenging (not, for example, like making LSD). Fifty grams  of fentanyl – just over an ounce and a half – has the punch of a kilogram of heroin, and it’s way, way cheaper.

Somewhere in here someone figured out a technique for diluting the stuff with enough accuracy to reduce the consumer’s risk of a fatal overdose: far from perfectly, but enough to create a thriving market. (I don’t know what that technique is, though I can think of at least one way to do the trick.) And for a retail heroin dealer, the financial savings from buying fentanyl (or an analogue) rather than heroin, and the convenience of having the material delivered directly by parcel post rather than having to worry about maintaining an illegal “connection,” constituted an enormous temptation. More sophisticated . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2018 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Business, Drug laws

No more robocalls—if your carrier is listed

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Ours, unfortunately, is not, but it’s worth a look if you dislike robocalls.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2018 at 11:10 am

Puerto Rico, an American tragedy (thanks to an incompetent president)

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David Leonhardt reports in the NY Times:

Puerto Rico. When President Trump traveled to Puerto Rico last October after Hurricane Maria, he touted the storm’s low death toll as proof that his administration had done its job well. “Every death is a horror,” he said. “But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina … what is your death count, as of this moment? 17?”

He was very wrong.

The true death toll could exceed 4,600, according to a study published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine that appears to be the most rigorous count yet. Many of the victims likely died from delayed medical care, which is something that a competent government response could have avoided. Puerto Rico’s fatality count is now more than twice as high as the Katrina count that Trump called a “real catastrophe.”

It’s easy to overlook Puerto Rico with everything else going on — the latest news about Trump’s apparent efforts to obstruct justice, his continuing criticism of his own attorney general and so on. But I urge you to not forget Puerto Rico. Here is a selection of commentary on the new study:

“There are life-and-death consequences to putting someone like Donald Trump in command of the federal government,” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie writes. “The profound failure of leadership and management that Trump’s critics feared has actually happened, and we are just now learning the scale of that disaster.”

“If we had a responsible Congress that took oversight seriously there would be a top-to-bottom review” of the administration’s response, writesThe Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. “But don’t hold your breath.”

On Twitter, Refinery29’s Andrea González-Ramírez has compiled a list of the dead and invites others to add their loved ones’ names. “Most of these deaths were preventable,” she writes.

Puerto Rico’s crisis isn’t only Trump’s fault. As NPR’s Laura Sullivan has documented for Frontline, decades of irresponsible loans, lack of oversight from Washington and bad financial decisions by Puerto Rico’s leaders also played a role. They hurt the island’s economy and infrastructure, worsening the hurricane’s impact.

The study’s methodology is unavoidably imprecise, explains The Atlantic’s Vann R. Newkirk II. The actual toll could be higher or lower than 4,600. Almost certainly, though, “Hurricane Maria is one of the most significant and destructive natural disasters in recent American history,” he writes.

About 30,000 people in Puerto Rico still lack electricity, Emily Atkin of The New Republic notes. They lack it, she explains, because of a combination of government incompetence and neglect.

This year’s hurricane season starts Friday. Several vulnerable areas in the United States, including Puerto Rico, seem prepared to distribute food and water more quickly than last year. But many dangers remain. “We have not fixed the underlying major problem, which is an utterly non-resilient infrastructure that at the end of the day will determine how much suffering there is after a large storm,” Irwin Redlener, the director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told Atkin.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2018 at 10:35 am

Maggard 22mm synthetic, Meißner Tremonia Woody Almond, RazoRock German 37, and Creed Viking

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A very nice shave after a night of coughing: I returned home with a cold, so it’s chicken soup for lunch for me.

I really like the fragrance of Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond, and this is the shaving paste (as you see). The combination of almond and cedar works out quite well, and the lather is excellent.

Three passes with the German 37 left my face perfectly smooth and unharmed, and then a splash from the sample of Creed Viking finished the shave in fine style.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2018 at 10:30 am

Posted in Shaving

A highly successful meme being revised: Corporations

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George Zarkadakis writes in Aeon:

Why do corporations exist? These hierarchical, self-contained assemblies of labour, capital and know-how have been with us for so long that by now they seem almost ‘natural’. But apart from what they make or do or sell, the very structure of the company has a history.

The clearest rationale for corporations comes from the Nobel prizewinning economist Ronald Coase and his 1937 theory of the firm. Imagine you want to make money by selling widgets. What’s the best strategy: sign up talent individually and on a needs-only basis, or hire staff to do the various jobs in-house? Coase showed that it made more economic sense to incorporate as a company, because it allowed you to minimise three very important costs. The first reduction would come from resourcing: it’s less expensive to find and recruit people with the right skills and knowledge from inside the company than to look for them externally every time you want something done. The second line-item is transacting, or managing processes and resources: it’s less of an administrative burden to have teams in-house than to keep an eye on multiple external contractors. And finally there’s contracting: every time work takes place within a company, the rules and conditions are implied in the employment contract, not negotiated afresh each time. By reducing these three costs, Coase claimed, corporations are the optimal structures for increasing economic activity.

But what if the nature of the economic puzzles that corporations evolved to solve have shifted? Thanks to software, the internet and artificial intelligence, the expenses that Coase identified can now be reduced just as well with tools from outside the company as they can from within it. Finding freelance workers via online marketplaces can be less costly, less risky and quicker than recruiting full-time employees. Collaboration tools are opening up space for manager-free forms of work. And contracting costs are likely to fall markedly thanks to the advent of blockchain protocols – algorithms that replace trusted third parties, and instead automatically verify transactions using a huge digital ledger, spread across multiple computers. As a result of these innovations, a new way of working is emerging: a series of interactions that are open, skills-based and software-optimised. Where once we had the ‘corporation’, instead we are witnessing the ascendancy of the ‘platform’. The question is: should we see this as a promise, or a threat?

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2018 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Memes

Change in recommendation for seasoning compound for cast-iron and carbon-steel

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After seeing some recommendations for Crisbee and Larbee seasoning compounds, I decided to give them a try. I started with Larbee, and I am very impressed indeed with how well it works. The advice in user comments is to get the puck (at the links) and not the stick (which doesn’t last so long).

The Crisbee home site has various resources (and you can order from there), including a FAQ page. I have used Larbee, which the Amazon link above lists as “plant-based oils” and beeswax although the ingredients are leaf lard and beeswax. Perhaps Amazon was misled by the word “leaf,” but the operative word is “lard”—i.e., the fat of a pig (not a plant). Leaf lard is the highest quality lard, which encases the kidney and is used for fine pastries. Lard is odorless, so the unscented puck has only a faint fragrance of beeswax.

In the puck format, it costs less than 25¢ per seasoning and IMO is well worth it. I’ve never had a seasoning compound that works this well. I used it on my Matfer Bourgeat carbon steel frying pan, which I have in a couple of sizes and like a lot: all the advantages of cast iron but lighter in weight and with a polished cooking surface (unlike, say, Lodge cast iron).

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2018 at 10:28 am

Back home again: Simpson Chubby 1 Best, Barrister & Mann Leviathan, and Gillette 1940s Aristocrat

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On at least one of Homer Capehart’s re-election campaigns for US Senator from Indiana, his campaign song was “Back Homer Again in Indiana.” <rimshot>

Back home myself, I selected the Simpson Chubby 1 has a step up in size but with the same idea as the Simpson Case I used on the road. Barrister & Mann Leviathan is a terrific shaving soap.

The Gillette 1940’s Aristocrat appeals to me in part because I’m a 1940’s person, and it did a fine job today. (On the trip I used my Dorco PL602.)

A splash of Leviathan aftershave, and I’m just beginning to dig out from emails, Facebook posts, Quora comments, and the other accumulated electronic detritus.

Great visit and got a recipe for a terrific seaweed soap, which I’ll undoubtedly post.

Written by Leisureguy

30 May 2018 at 9:20 am

Posted in Shaving

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse: Ariz. Education Department strikes ‘evolution’ from science standards draft

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Avery Anapol reports in The Hill:

Arizona education officials have published a draft of revised science standards for the state’s K-12 and charter schools, deleting several references to evolution.

The draft standards, the state’s first update in 15 years, no longer includes some mentions of “evolution” or the word “evolve,” and edits wording in places to refer to it as a “theory.”

One line replaces “evolution” with “biological diversity,” while another adds the words “are believed to” to describe the impact of evolution, according to The Arizona Republic.

Science teachers who drafted the revised standards said they were surprised that state Department of Education officials struck some of the language from the standards.

“This would be something I would definitely be incredibly uncomfortable with,” Amber Struthers, a teacher who worked on the draft, told 12 News.“It would be a huge missing gap in understanding core concepts in science.”

National groups, including the National Center for Science Education and the Secular Coalition for Arizona, have voiced opposition to the changes.

Opponents have accused Arizona Superintendent of Public Institutions Diane Douglas of inserting her personal religious beliefs into the revisions.

Douglas said earlier this year at a political event that she believed intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution in schools.

Douglas said in a statement that her beliefs are “not included” in the new science standards.

The education department told The Arizona Republic the standards are not curriculum or instructional practices and they focus on core ideas regarding science and engineering that teachers can use. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 6:13 pm

Bowing to pressure, White House to host bipartisan briefing on Russia investigation

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He blinked.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 6:00 pm

Former EPA head Gina McCarthy knows why climate change activists aren’t getting their message across

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Neil Swidey writes in the Boston Globe Magazine:

GINA MCCARTHY STRIDES INTO the ocean-view ballroom at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth, plops down her green backpack, and glances out the window. The waves are angrily advancing on this last night in April, which feels as dreary as mid-January. “The water seems way closer than it was the last time I was here,” she says.

Maybe that’s because of climate change, the threat that McCarthy led the charge to confront as head of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration. Or maybe it’s just high tide.

She is surrounded by a couple of hundred researchers and advocates from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national nonprofit based in Cambridge. It’s a gathering of serious specialists whose usual concern appears to have morphed into clinical depression. After all, they’ve spent the last year watching McCarthy’s successor at the EPA, Scott Pruitt, aggressively work to reverse each of the Obama administration’s environmental initiatives, as if crossing off every last item on a grocery list before reaching the checkout.

Following her introduction, as the crowd gives her a standing ovation, the 5-foot-2, white-haired McCarthy bounds to the podium in her New Balance sneakers. “The Union of Concerned Scientists,” she begins, drawing out the adjective for effect. “I’ve always wondered, compared to what? The Union of I-Don’t-Give-a-S*** Scientists?”

Channeling that old Saturday Night Live skit where William Shatner implored a convention of Trekkies to “get a life,” McCarthy tells the crowd she isn’t interested in moping. She invokes a different SNL skit, saying she has no use for “Debbie Downers.”

“I agree we live in crazy-ass times,” she says. “But if we get hopeless, we lose. We’re in the fight of our lives. Get tough!”

McCarthy has always been known for her blunt, no-nonsense style. But as the 64-year-old new Harvard professor travels the country these days, feeling unencumbered because she’s out of government for the first time in nearly four decades, and dumbfounded by the demolition work going on at the EPA, she is letting loose even more. She now comes across as one part tent-revival preacher and one part take-your-lumps therapist.

Environmentalists love McCarthy for pushing through the Clean Power Plan, which set the first federal standards for power plants to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is the main driver of global warming. They love her for the rules she championed to cut mercury emissions, rules to increase fuel efficiency in cars, and rules to protect rivers and streams that supply drinking water. Most of all, they love her for . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 5:48 pm

What if the United States had proportional representation instead of a winner take all system?

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Excellent answer on Quora. Go read it and give him an upvote.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 5:46 pm

Breitbart after Bannon

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In an Atlantic newsletter I just received:

Breitbart Without Bannon: Raheem Kassam, the London editor brought on by Steve Bannon in 2014, has left Breitbart. His departure marks a turning point for Bannon and the news network; Kassam, who is heavily involved in far-right organizations such as the anti-European Union and anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party, was one of the few allies Bannon had left at the company after departing in January. Kassam’s exit comes after reports that the website’s readership has dropped by half since last year.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 5:35 pm

Extremely nice rye whisky: Gibson’s “Rare” 12-year-old

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Real presence, and smooth—and deep somehow. They had a minibottle, so I thought I’d give it a try just on general principles (“rare,” “rye,” “12 years old” has a certain appeal), but I never expected it to be so good. Minibottle was CDN$15.75 (marked down from CDN16.75), and as I recall the larger bottles (750ml? 1L? 1.14L?) was CDN$45.75. I may have to invest.

To American readers, I can only repeat what I see too often on Amazom streaming (but not only there), to wit “Sorry – not available in your country.” But up here I bought it at my local BC Liquor.

Eat your heart out.

Oddly, I started liking rye after I moved here. I wonder whether one’s taste is shaped by local cultural norms. That might explain fraternity drinking, for example, both what and how much.

We drink in accordance with our identified culture, and to some extent I think we would choose the cultures to match one’s own preferences, so naturally there are cultural groupings along that aspect of culture—along that cultural dimension. Culture seems to have a lot of dimensions, in that sense. A continuum of dimensions. Isn’t that a Hilbert space?

UPDATE: By coincidence (I presume), I was reading The Great God Pan, by Arthur Machen. “Pan” means “everything,” so the god Pan is simply everything, considered as a God. That means, of course that you are a part of God (since you exist, you’re part of “everything” (i.e., a part of Pan)), Of course, the evil also are a part of God.

In the book Machen writes:

Clarke heard the words quite distinctly, and knew that Raymond was speaking to him, but for the life of him he could not rouse himself from his lethargy. He could only think of the lonely walk he had taken fifteen years ago; it was his last look at the fields and woods he had known since he was a child, and now it all stood out in brilliant light, as a picture, before him. Above all there came to his nostrils the scent of summer, the smell of flowers mingled, and the odour of the woods, of cool shaded places, deep in the green depths, drawn forth by the sun’s heat; and the scent of the good earth, lying as it were with arms stretched forth, and smiling lips, overpowered all. His fancies made him wander, as he had wandered long ago, from the fields into the wood, tracking a little path between the shining undergrowth of beech-trees; and the trickle of water dropping from the limestone rock sounded as a clear melody in the dream. Thoughts began to go astray and to mingle with other thoughts; the beech alley was transformed to a path between ilex-trees, and here and there a vine climbed from bough to bough, and sent up waving tendrils and drooped with purple grapes, and the sparse grey-green leaves of a wild olive-tree stood out against the dark shadows of the ilex. Clarke, in the deep folds of dream, was conscious that the path from his father’s house had led him into an undiscovered country, and he was wondering at the strangeness of it all, when suddenly, in place of the hum and murmur of the summer, an infinite silence seemed to fall on all things, and the wood was hushed, and for a moment in time he stood face to face there with a presence, that was neither man nor beast, neither the living nor the dead, but all things mingled, the form of all things but devoid of all form. And in that moment, the sacrament of body and soul was dissolved, and a voice seemed to cry “Let us go hence,” and then the darkness of darkness beyond the stars, the darkness of everlasting.

It’s quite a work.  But the idea that “God” is “everything” seemed, oddly, to work. And if so, then God (a peculiar sort of God) obviously exists: it consists of everything that exists, so it also exists (and everything that is, is a part of it).

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks

America’s Version of Capitalism Is Incompatible With Democracy

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Eric Levitz has a very interesting column in New York:

American democracy is unwell; on this much, President Trump’s detractors can agree.

But when they turn to the tasks of identifying our republic’s symptoms, naming its illness, and writing a prescription, different factions of “the resistance” produce divergent diagnoses.

One group — comprised of comparative politics scholars, liberal pundits, and NeverTrump conservatives — have their eyes fixed on Donald Trump. They see the moral cowardice of a Republican elite that declined to deny an illiberal demagogue their nomination, or to abandon him in the general election, or to let the investigation into his campaign proceed unimpeded. They observe a president who relentlessly assails the independence of federal law enforcement, the legitimacy of adversarial media, and the veracity of official election results — and a conservative base that takes his lies to be self-evident. And, pulsing beneath it all, they discern the rise of a hyperpartisanship that’s leading each party’s elected officials to eviscerate informal constraints on their authority — and each party’s voters, to believe that the other side has no legitimate claim to power.

In these complaints, the democracy movement (as my colleague Jonathan Chait has dubbed it) sees all the telltale signs of a bad case of norm-erosion. Democracies can’t live on laws alone; they also require adherence to certain informal rules that correct for the inevitable flaws in any Constitution’s design, and protect against the threat of charismatic leaders consolidating power. Thus, to heal our republic, and immunize it against future strains of the same virus,several liberal thinkers have called for the formation of bipartisan coalitions, united in defense of democratic norms and the rule of law. In their view, the threat that Trump poses is so grave and unique, ideologues on both sides of the aisle should now prioritize maintaining a rule-based order over winning policy battles, so as to safeguard their freedom to settle such disputes democratically in the future.

But there is a second opinion.

Several social democratic (and/or, democratic socialist) thinkers, examining the patient from a few steps to the democracy movement’s left, have had their eyes drawn to a different set of symptoms. They see state and federal legislators who routinely slash taxes on the wealthy, and services for the poor, in defiance of their constituents’ wishes; regulatory agencies that serve as training grounds for the firms they’re meant to police; a Supreme Court that’s forever expanding the rights of corporations, and restricting those of organized labor; a criminal-justice system that won’t prosecute bankers for laundering drug money, but will dole out life sentences to small-time crack dealers; a central bank that has the resources to bail out financial firms, but not the homeowners whom they exploit; a Pentagon that can wage multitrillion-dollar wars that exacerbate the very problems they were supposed to solve — and still get rewarded with a higher budget — even as the Housing Department asks the working poor to pay higher rent for worse accommodations; and, seething beneath all of these defects, disparities in the distribution of private wealth so vast and consequential, the nation’s super-rich have come to enjoy an average life expectancy 15 years longer than its poor.

In these grisly conditions, social democrats see a textbook case of malignant capitalism. Democracies cannot survive on norms alone. When markets are left under-regulated — and workers, unorganized — the corporate sector becomes a cancerous growth, expanding until it dominates politics and civil society. An ever-greater share of economic gains concentrates in ever-fewer hands, while the barriers to converting private wealth into public power grow fewer and farther between. Politicians become unresponsive to popular preferences and needs. Voters lose faith in elections — and then, a strongman steps forward to say that he, alone, can fix it.

All this contraindicates the democracy movement’s prescription: If our republic’s true sickness is its inegalitarian economic system, then that illness won’t be cured by cross-ideological coalitions. Quite the contrary: What’s needed is a movement that mobilizes working people in numbers large enough to demand a new deal from capital. Thus, if the liberal intelligentsia wishes to save American democracy, it should devote the lion’s share of its energies to brainstorming how such a movement can be brought into being — and what changes that movement should make to our nation’s political economy, once it takes power.

Why this argument matters.

It’s important not to exaggerate the division between “normcore” liberals and “radical” leftists. Jedediah Purdy, the Duke University law professor who wrote a much-discussed critique of the former, has condemned Trump’s (norm-defying) lies about voter fraud as a dire threat to “self-rule” in the United States. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, whose book How Democracies Die is the bible of the “normie” center, argue in that very text that “addressing economic inequality” could help inoculate America against future populist demagogues. Each side recognizes that both our economic system’s tendency to concentrate wealth at the top and Trump’s assault on democratic norms are serious problems; they just disagree about which of these represents the more fundamental threat to American democracy at the present moment.

But there are real stakes to that dispute. Beyond the aforementioned implications for how the anti-Trump opposition should be organized, the goal of preserving norms, and that of redistributing economic power, can — and, if Democrats ever regain power, will — come into conflict.

Let’s say Chuck Schumer becomes Senate Majority Leader next year. If restoring norms is the paramount objective, then . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 4:51 pm

Trump’s FBI Spy Theory Is Completely Insane

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Not that it will matter to Trump supporters, who seem to read only Trump’s Twitter feed. Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

In the face of widening evidence of Trump campaign culpability in the Russia investigation, Republicans have churned through a frequently mutating series of conspiracy theories to defend him. The latest, and possibly final, such theory, involves an informant used by the FBI to report on the campaign’s connections to Russia, whom Trump has promoted to “spy,” or possibly multiple spies. “A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country,” Trump told reporters yesterday. “That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone has ever seen.” Trump has mixed his insinuations with dark threats of revenge. “Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State,” he tweeted this morning, “They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before! What goes around, comes around!”

Trump’s ability to comprehend objective reality is characteristically cracked. But his confidence that the array of forces are shifting to his benefit, and that he may turn the tables on his enemies, has a real basis in reality. He is bringing his party, and the powers it commands, around to his warped manner of thinking.

The spy theory holds that the FBI, working on orders from the Obama administration, implanted a spy into the Trump campaign in order to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 4:06 pm

Why Do Americans Stay When Their Town Has No Future?

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Alec MacGillis writes in Bloomberg:

John Arnett chose Adams County, Ohio, as his home long before he was old enough to vote, drink beer, or drive a motorcycle along the Ohio River. After his parents split up, Arnett opted at age 10 to spend most of his time with his grandmother in Adams County, along the river 70 miles southeast of Cincinnati, rather than with his parents in the Dayton area. He liked life on the tobacco farm his grandfather had bought after retiring early from General Motors Co. in Dayton. And his grandmother, who became a widow when her husband died in a tractor accident, welcomed the companionship.

After high school, Arnett joined the U.S. Marine Corps, in 1999. His unit, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines—the storied Suicide Charley—took him to the other side of the world: South Korea, Japan, Thailand. In the spring of 2003 he was an infantryman in the invasion of Iraq, spending five months in country—Baghdad, Tikrit, Najaf.

Once back in Ohio, he settled in Adams County with his future wife, Crystal, and started taking classes in criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati, figuring he’d follow the well-worn path from the military to law enforcement. One day, though, Crystal alerted him to an ad in the paper for jobs right in Adams County, at the coal-fired power plants down on the river. He jumped at the chance. The Dayton Power & Light Co.plants had been there for years—the larger, 2,400-megawatt J.M. Stuart Station, opened in 1970 as one of the largest in the country, and the 600-megawatt Killen Station followed 12 years later, 14 miles to the east—and weren’t going anywhere: Ohio was getting 80 percent of its electricity from burning coal.

Arnett started out in 2004 making $12 an hour, handling heavy machinery in the yard where the coal was offloaded from barges coming up the river from mines in southern Indiana and Illinois. He soon moved inside the plant, operating the boiler and turbines, and finally became an operator chemist in charge of monitoring water quality, making about $38 per hour. He got active in the union that represented the plants’ 380 hourly employees, Local 175 of the Utility Workers Union of America; eventually he was elected its vice president. He and his wife started a family and in 2009 bought a larger home, a repossessed rancher they got for $130,000, in Manchester, the community nearest to Stuart. Occasionally he still got out for rides on his Harley, but life was taken over by family and youth sports, which was fine with him. He liked how he could call up his sister-in-law to watch his kids on a snow day when he was at the plant and his wife was in classes for her physical therapy degree. He liked how, at high school football games, he could send his 7-year-old off to buy himself a hot dog. “I can look over to the concession stand and I’ll know someone over there,” he said.

In mid-November of 2016, a few days after the election of Donald Trump, the president of Local 175, Greg Adams, called Arnett with news: Dayton Power & Light, which had been bought in 2011 by the global energy company AES Corp., had notified the state that it intended to close Stuart and Killen in June 2018. The plants were by far the largest employer and taxpayer in Adams County, population 28,000, which by one measure of median family income is the poorest county in Ohio. The announcement left the county with just a year and change to figure out how it was going to make do without them.

And it provided just a year and change for Arnett and hundreds of other workers—there were more than 100 management employees and 300 contractors in addition to the 380 union workers—to answer the question being asked in other deindustrializing places all over the country: Stay or go?

It was a hard question to confront, one the workers would be left to answer almost entirely on their own. Ohio was facing more retirements of coal-fired power plants than anywhere else in the country. Yet nobody in government—not in the state, not in Washington—was doing anything to grapple comprehensively with the challenge that Adams County and other areas were facing. It wasn’t just the economy that was leaving so many places behind.

America was built on the idea of picking yourself up and striking out for more promising territory. Ohio itself was settled partly by early New Englanders who quit their rocky farms for more tillable land to the west. Some of these population shifts helped reshape the country: the 1930s migration from the Dust Bowl to California; the Great Migration of blacks to the North and West, which occurred in phases between 1910 and 1960; the Hillbilly Highway migration of Appalachian whites to the industrial Midwest in the 1940s and ’50s.

In recent years, though, Americans have grown less likely to migrate for opportunity. As recently as the early 1990s, 3 percent of Americans moved across state lines each year, but today the rate is half that. Fewer Americans moved in 2017 than in any year in at least a half-century. This change has caused consternation among economists and pundits, who wonder why Americans, especially those lower on the income scale, lack their ancestors’ get-up-and-go. “Why is this happening?” New York Timescolumnist David Brooks asked in 2014. His answer: “A big factor here is a loss in self-confidence. It takes faith to move.” Economist Tyler Cowen wrote last year that “poverty and low incomes have flipped from being reasons to move to reasons not to move, a fundamental change from earlier American attitudes.”

The reluctance to move is all the more confounding given how wide the opportunity gap has grown between the country’s most dynamic urban areas and its struggling small cities and towns, a divide driven by a mix of factors that include technology, globalization, and economic concentration. According to a new Brookings Institution report, the largest metro areas—those of 1 million or more people—have experienced 16.7 percent employment growth since 2010, and areas with 250,000 to 1 million have seen growth of 11.6 percent, while areas with fewer than 250,000 residents have lagged far, far behind, with only 0.4 percent growth. The question has taken on a stark political dimension, too, given how much Trump outperformed past Republican candidates in those left-behind places.

For policymakers, the low rates of migration to opportunity present a conundrum. Should there be a wholesale effort to revitalize places that have lost their original economic rationale? Or should the emphasis be on making it easier for people in these places to move elsewhere?

The country has a long tradition of place-based investment, most notably the New Deal, which, through the Tennessee Valley Authority and similar grand-scale projects, sought to raise up Appalachia and the South. Yet there’s strikingly little support these days for similar efforts, anywhere on the political spectrum. Kevin Williamson put it most caustically in a March 2016 essay in National Review. “So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be,” he wrote. “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die.” Paul Krugman was more charitable, but hardly effusive, in a blog post last year. “There are arguably social costs involved in letting small cities implode, so that there’s a case for regional development policies that try to preserve their viability,” he wrote. “But it’s going to be an uphill struggle.”

Some calls are easier than others. It’s hard to argue that, say, a town that sprang up for a decade around a silver mine in Nevada in the 1870s needed to be sustained forever once the silver was gone. Where does one draw the line, though? If all of southern Ohio is lagging behind an ever-more-vibrant Columbus, should people there be encouraged to seek their fortunes in the capital? What would it look like to write off an entire swath of a state?

This has all become particularly urgent in places that are home to coal-fired power plants. These utilities get less media attention than actual coal mines, but they are far more widespread, employ almost half as many—some 20,000—and are experiencing a much more immediate decline. Whereas coal mines have been shedding jobs for decades, coal-fired plants are experiencing their biggest crisis right now, squeezed by both competition from cheap natural gas and government constraints on their copious carbon emissions. At least 14 coal-fired plants are scheduled to close this year alone, many in remote places where they’re the big employer in the area.

Adams County is a classic example. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2018 at 2:10 pm

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