Later On

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

Archive for June 2018

Noisy restaurants and aged ears

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Jack Aubrey in The Yellow Admiral is talking about a cousin, Harry Turnbull:

“Just as well, thought I, for Harry was in a horrid rage, having lost more money than he cared for to Colonel Waley – was barely civil – would not lend me a shirt – should be damned if he would lend me a shirt – scarcely had a shirt to his name – barely a single shirt to his back. You know how cross Harry Turnbull can be: he must have fought more often than any man in the country – a very dangerous shot and very apt to take offence. So when I walked into the committee-room and saw him still looking furious and contrary and bloody-minded, I felt quite uneasy: and though smiles from Crawshay and two other Blackses [members of Jack Aubrey’s club – LG] comforted me a little I did not really have much hope until the lawyer started proceedings. His low soapy tone did not suit Harry, who kept telling him to speak up, to speak like a Christian for God’s sake, and not mumble. When he was young, people never mumbled, he said: you could hear every word. If anyone had mumbled, he would have been kicked out of the room.”

I was thinking about this because we went to a restaurant this evening for dinner and the noise level was astonishing. I would estimate it as at least 80dB. Of course, that’s just a guess—but no more. I now have this nifty little app on my iPhone: Decibel X: dB, dBA Noise Meter. Now if I complain about the noise level, I can quantify it and and put it in context.

I see, for example, that dB level of my living is 42. Not bad at all. For comparison:

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2018 at 8:48 pm

A white woman called police on a black 12-year-old — for mowing grass

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Where do people get the idea that the US is a racist country? In the Washington Post Cleve Wootson Jr. reports on one way people might get the idea:

It’s a business that has existed for as long as there have been summer vacations and borrowed lawn mowers: A pint-size entrepreneur offers to endure the rage of a summer sun on a neighbor’s behalf, pushing a lawn mower across high grass for a small fee.

Last week, in Maple Heights, Ohio, that entrepreneur was Reggie Fields, a 12-year-0ld middle schooler who is the owner and mower-in-chief of Mr. Reggie’s Lawn Service. His sister and two cousins also provided manual labor in their neighborhood outside Cleveland, working a rake and a broom to corral clippings.

That’s what they told Lucille Holt-Colden, 51, who encountered them at a Dollar Tree where they were purchasing a gas canister and some lawn bags on June 23. Holt-Colden thought it was a good investment. Her grass was growing taller, and her $20 would be used to keep this particular group of black youths off the street and out of trouble.

She was mostly right.

As Reggie and his troupe were finishing up her yard, a Maple Heights Police SUV rolled up in front of Holt-Colden’s house.

When she saw the police through the window, she was surprised. Then, when she learned what had happened, she was outraged — and reached for her cellphone to share it with the world.

“My neighbors that stay in that house right there,” she said, swiveling the phone as it recorded her on video. “So I guess I have a line where part of it is not my yard. They called the police to tell the police that the kids was cutting their grass. Who does that? Who does that?”

She captioned the video: “This is RIDICULOUS!!!” a phrase she repeated several times during an interview with The Washington Post, along with “Who does this?”

Reggie, it seemed, was not just getting a lesson in summer business economics; he was also being schooled in the 21st century phenomenon known as #LivingWhileBlack.

Recently, African Americans who were engaged in laughably innocuous activities have been viewed through criminal-tinted glasses — and suddenly found themselves making explanations to police officers and security guards about completely lawful activities.

Someone called the police on a black man who was reading a book about Christianity while watching the ocean. Black people have had the authorities sicced on them while going to the gymshopping for underwear, waiting for the school bus and couponing.

Reggie isn’t even the youngest #LivingWhileBlack victim. A few weeks ago, an 8-year-old selling cold water to passersby to help fund a trip to Disneyland was approached by a white woman who pretended to call the police on her. In 2012, police were summoned to an elementary school in Georgia, where they handcuffed a 6-year-old kindergarten student — for throwing a temper tantrum.

Holt-Colden and Reggie are both black; the neighbor who called the police on Reggie is white, but Holt-Colden doesn’t know why the woman called the police. According to Holt-Colden, the same neighbor has called police in the past — in December, the neighbor reported a snowball fight between Holt-Colden’s children. The Washington Post has reached out to the Maple Heights Police Department to verify the call about a snowball fight. The neighbor could not be reached for comment.

“If the kids were white,” Holt-Colden said of Reggie and his family members, “they would not have called.” She told The Washington Post that neighbors of various races live in the neighborhood, but “I don’t have any problems with any other neighbors.”

When the police came, Holt-Colden said, Reggie’s 9-year-old cousin was frozen with fear in her driveway, worried that he was in trouble.

But Reggie kept mowing. The children were not cited or stopped by the police in any way.

Still, Holt-Colden said she was upset that an officer responded in the first place.

The Cleveland area has recently been shaken by the death of Saniyah Nicholson, a 9-year-old killed in the crossfire during a shooting in the eastern part of the city. Her death raised concerns about the idle time of thousands of students out of school for the summer, Holt-Colden said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2018 at 12:09 pm

So much for Trump’s great negotiation with North Korea: Intel Community Says North Korea Is Deliberately Deceiving Us

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Here are details from Kevin Drum. North Korea got what they wanted: prestige and an international stage shared just with the US, plus the cessation of the joint US-South Korean military exercises (plus President Trump called the exercises “provocative,” the propaganda word from North Korea). What did President Trump get in return? A few days with big headlines bearing his name, and that’s all he’s ever wanted.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2018 at 7:25 am

“Police attacked me for stealing a car. It was my own.”

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And to think people say the US is a racist country! Lawrence Crosby, a PhD graduate in materials engineering, writes in the Washington Post:

I was face down on the pavement. One police officer was kneeing me in the back, while others pulled or punched. They paid no attention to my screams identifying myself as an engineering PhD student at Northwestern University. They just kept punching. One shouted, “Stop resisting!”
The record is on the dash-cam footage: It’s nighttime. I step out of my car, bewildered at being pulled over and surrounded by police vehicles in the college town I’ve lived in for years. I hold my hands up high, shocked to see several guns pointed at me. It turns out a fellow student had called the police to report that someone was trying to steal a car. That someone was me. The car was my own. I had a key.
“I don’t know if I’m, like, racial profiling,” the woman had told the 911 dispatcher. To her and to the police, I was a black man in a hoodie. After the cops arrived, after they tackled me, and after they determined that the car was, indeed, my own, they charged me anyway.
Resisting arrest, they said. One cop joked to another that I “should feel lucky” he didn’t shoot me.
I don’t feel lucky. Every time I see the video from that October 2015 encounter, I experience fear, anger and terror. Fear that the color of my skin will make me out to be a criminal when I have broken no laws. Anger at the blatant disregard for human life and rights that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee to all citizens. Terror to have come — perhaps — within seconds of being shot by people sworn to serve and protect.
Amadou Diallo Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams Philando Castile . Their stories — like many others — are all too familiar. They all suffered gross overreactions by officers of the peace. Unfortunately, you will never hear their side of the stories, as they didn’t get the chance to speak before being shot to death. But you can hear mine.
My experience happened in Evanston, Ill., a college town that thinks of itself as progressive and forward-thinking. If such rough treatment can happen here, where the police department has hired outside trainers to give lessons on racial sensitivity, and if it can happen to me, with my education and resources, it can happen anywhere.
My life is no more valuable than any of the people I mentioned above. Not at all. But this shouldn’t happen to anyone. I was minding my own business and driving my own car, my accuser was aware of her racial preconceptions, and the police should have known better. And still I ended up face down for a crime I didn’t commit, fearing for my life.
Now I must face consequences that are not of my own making. There’s an arrest on my record, even though a Cook County judge found me not guilty once he heard the evidence. There’s news coverage and the dash-cam video on the Internet, available for any future employer or colleague who might choose to question me or my motives.
This isn’t the story that I expected to be telling at this point in my life, having just received my doctorate from one of the top schools in the country. The bigger story of my life is growing up without knowing my father, losing my mother to illness when I was 8 and becoming a ward of the state.
Many people — black and white — stepped up to serve as mother, father, sister and brother to me. I persisted. The day after my foster mother kicked me out because I refused to join the National Guard, I applied to Stanford University and got in. After four years, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.
I’ve done everything in my power to defy the odds. Yet I feel as though I’m forever going to have to explain myself. As for the arresting officers, are they doing any explaining? Will they have to answer for the rest of their lives for their decision to wrestle me to the ground, pummel me and charge me with a crime?
A fellow student’s impulsive action and her hasty decision to call the police have put all of my hard work in jeopardy. The arrest, the charges and the trial — a scarlet letter to go with the dark brown skin that I will wear for the rest of my life.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2018 at 8:12 pm

Great illusion

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Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2018 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Math

Trump is going to be really really angry at them: G.M. Says New Wave of Tariffs Could Force U.S. Job Cuts

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Trump will doubtless threaten to tax them heavily and talk about how they betrayed him. Tiffany Hsu reports in the NY Times:

General Motors warned Friday that another wave of tariffs being considered by the Trump administration could force the company to scale back its business and cost American jobs.

In comments submitted to the Commerce Department, the automaker said that the tariffs, if approved, could drive individual vehicle prices up thousands of dollars, stifling demand. Such costs would need to be borne either by consumers or the company.

Last month, President Trump ordered an investigation into whether imported cars and automotive components could pose enough of a national security risk to warrant tariffs of as much as 25 percent. If he goes ahead, it would intensify a global trade war that has engulfed allies and adversaries. In recent months, the administration has imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, along with measures targeted at China.

Carmakers, in particular, have been caught in the middle of the trade fight. They rely heavily on metals to build their cars, including parts from overseas. The president’s threat to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement could also hurt the industry supply chain.

Several other automakers and manufacturing organizations, including the National Association of ManufacturersBMW and Volvo, have also submitted comments on the tariffs under consideration for foreign automakers and part suppliers.

“Increased import tariffs could lead to a smaller G.M., a reduced presence at home and abroad for this iconic American company, and risk less — not more — U.S. jobs,” General Motors wrote in its comment.

The tariffs would result in “broad-brush trade barriers that increase our global costs, remove a key means of competing with manufacturers in lower-wage countries, and promote a trade environment in which we could be retaliated against in other markets,” the company said.

General Motors pointed to other potential consequences, including “less investment, fewer jobs and lower wages” for its employees.

“The carry-on effect of less investment and a smaller work force could delay breakthrough technologies and threaten U.S. leadership in the next generation of automotive technology,” the company wrote. . .

Continue reading.

And in the meantime Larry Kudlow flat-out lies that the deficit is coming down due to tax cuts. It is not. It is getting bigger, much bigger. Jeff Stein reports in the Washington Post:

President Trump’s top economic adviser said Friday that the federal deficit is “coming down rapidly,” contradicting estimates by nonpartisan analysts, Congress’s official scorekeeper and a branch of the White House.

Larry Kudlow, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said on Fox Business that stronger economic growth was creating enough new tax revenue to bring down the deficit.
“The deficit — which was one of the other criticisms [of the GOP tax law] — is coming down, and it’s coming down rapidly,” Kudlow said. “It’s throwing up enormous amounts of new tax revenue.”
It’s hard to know where Kudlow is getting his numbers. The deficit from January through April was $161 billion, according to Treasury, up from $135 billion at the same point last year. And it will deteriorate further from here, since the Treasury collects a large amount of tax revenue during April when taxes are due for most Americans.
Kudlow, whose office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, may have been referring to a Congressional Budget Office report earlier this week that said the long-term deficit would be smaller than its estimate in 2017,  partly because of revised downward estimates of health-care spending.
But it made clear that deficits are still set to rise — both in the near and long term. “The federal budget deficit, relative to the size of the economy, would grow substantially over the next several years, stabilize for a few years, and then grow again over the rest of the 30-year period,” the CBO said, projecting that deficits as a percentage of the economy would rise from 3.9 percent in 2018 to 9.5 percent in 2048. The agency projects that on average for the next decade, the deficit would represent 4.9 percent of economic activity.
Commenting specifically on the 2017 tax law, the CBO said it would increase deficits by $1.27 trillion over the next decade, even when including the positive effects of the law on the economy.  Annual deficits require the government to borrow money to finance its operations, adding debt. The CBO estimates that the amount of debt the United States will have in a decade will equal almost the total size of the economy.
Official White House data suggest deficits are increasing, too. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget says the deficit is rising from $665 billion in 2017 to $832 billion in 2018, and will approach $1 trillion annually in 2019. . .

The US is now being run by the 3 stooges.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2018 at 1:13 pm

Nice recipe for Pico de Galla

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Simple but tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2018 at 12:42 pm

Media failure: Not being able to distinguish what’s important from what’s not

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Kevin Drum has a very pointed post worth reading and thinking about.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2018 at 10:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Media, Medical

Purple yams redux

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The last time I had purple yams, I got photo requests. Here’s the “before,” with washed yams on my silicone baking mat:

And here’s the “after”: 50 minutes at 400ºF, then broken open and finished with some good extra-virgin olive oil, Maldon salt, and black pepper.

They are very tasty indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2018 at 10:15 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Rooney butterscotch Emilion, Antica Barbieria Colla, and the iKon X3

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A fine shave today. Antica Barbieria Colla is a very nice shaving soap, and the aftershave milk is also good. The X3 did such a smooth job I barely felt it, but at the end my face was perfectly smooth. Great way to start Friday.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2018 at 7:47 am

Posted in Shaving

The plot thickens: How the ‘Bad Boys of Brexit’ forged ties with Russia and the Trump campaign — and came under investigators’ scrutiny

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Manuel Roig-Franzia, Rosalind S. Helderman, William Booth, and Tom Hamburger report in the Washington Post:

On Aug. 19, 2016, Arron Banks, a wealthy British businessman, sat down at the palatial residence of the Russian ambassador to London for a lunch of wild halibut and Belevskaya pastila apple sweets accompanied by Russian white wine.

Banks had just scored a huge win. From relative obscurity, he had become the largest political donor in British history by pouring millions into Brexit, the campaign to disentangle the United Kingdom from the European Union that earned a jaw-dropping victory at the polls two months earlier.

Now he had something else that bolstered his standing as he sat down with his new Russian friend, Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko: his team’sdeepening ties to Donald Trump’s insurgent presidential bid in the United States. A major Brexit supporter, Stephen K. Bannon, had just been installed as chief executive officer of Trump’s campaign. And Banks and his fellow Brexiteers had been invited to attend a fundraiser with Trump in Mississippi.

Less than a week after the meeting with the Russian envoy, Banks and firebrand Brexit politician Nigel Farage — by then a cult hero among some anti-establishment Trump supporters — were huddling privately with the Republican nominee in Jackson, Miss., where Farage wowed a foot-stomping crowd at a Trump rally.

Banks’s journey from a lavish meal with a Russian diplomat in London to the raucous heart of Trump country was part of an unusual intercontinental charm offensive by the wealthy British donor and his associates, a hard-partying lot who dubbed themselves the “Bad Boys of Brexit.” Their efforts to simultaneously cultivate ties to Russian officials and Trump’s campaign have captured the interest of investigators in the United Kingdom and the United States, including special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Both inquiries center on questions of Russia’s involvement in seismic political events that have shaken the world order, with the European Union losing a key member and U.S. voters electing a president critical of Washington’s traditional alliances.

In the U.K., recent revelations about Banks’s Russian contacts have triggered scrutiny of whether the Russians sought to bolster the Brexit effort. In the U.S., congressional Democrats who recently obtained a trove of Banks’s communications have begun exploring a different question: Did the Brexit leaders serve as a conduit between the Kremlin and Trump’s operation?

Banks rejected the notion that he was a go-between, insisting his contacts were routine business and diplomatic exchanges — and that the investigations are a “witch hunt.” But he acknowledged that the interactions raised reasonable questions about whether the Brexiteers were “a back channel to the Russians,” as he put it.

“The only problem with all of that is that not one shred of evidence has been produced. . . . It doesn’t go anywhere,” Banks said in one of two interviews with The Washington Post in Bristol, England, this week.

Asked whether Russians had been probing them or seeking to win influence or intelligence, Banks conceded, “They may have. But if so, it wasn’t a very good probe.”

Throughout the 2016 campaign, the wealthy insurance executive built a first-name rapport with the Russian ambassador as Banks briefed him on the breakaway campaign — exchanging frequent, chummy texts and emails and meeting with him in person four times in about 12 months, according to Banks. At the same time, he and other Brexit backers also intently pursued entree to Trump’s world, according to interviews and dozens of emails and text messages Banks provided to The Post.

As both relationships deepened, Banks and his associates discussed Trump’s bid and the U.S. presidential campaign with Yakovenko, the Brexit backers acknowledge. At least two of the meetings between Banks and the ambassador came shortly before or after meetings with Trump.

In recent weeks, British parliamentary investigators have sought information about Banks’s relationship to Russia and allegations that he was offered financial inducements, including a potentially lucrative gold-mine deal with a Russian businessman he met through the Russian ambassador.

The interactions between the Brexit leaders and the Trump campaign have also drawn the interest of Mueller as part of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign, which is examining contacts between Trump associates and Russians.

Two people — former Trump communications official Michael Caputo and another person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation — told The Post that Mueller’s investigators asked about Farage’s relationship to Trump associates in witness interviews this year, including Caputo just last month.

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are examining the role of the Brexit leaders after a whistleblower gave a cache of documents detailing Banks’s interactions with the Russian ambassador to members of the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month, according to three lawmakers on the panel.

U.S. Rep. Adam B. Schiff, (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the committee, said he has questions about whether Banks and his associates “served as a conduit of information to and from the Russians on behalf of the Trump campaign.” Another committee member, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) said the material “opens a whole new chapter” in the ongoing inquiry into Russian efforts to intervene in the 2016 U.S. election.

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2018 at 5:06 pm

A baby was treated with a nap and a bottle of formula. His parents received an $18,000 bill.

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Just to clarify: this report is about an incident in the US. In Canada, you are not charged a fee for medical care, since the costs are paid by the government from tax revenue. Jenny Gold and Sarah Kliff report in Vox:

On the first morning of Jang Yeo-im’s vacation to San Francisco in 2016, her eight-month-old son Park Jeong-whan fell off the bed in the family’s hotel room and hit his head.

There was no blood, but the baby was inconsolable. Jang and her husband worried he might have an injury they couldn’t see, so they called 911, and an ambulance took the family — tourists from South Korea — to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

The doctors at the hospital quickly determined that baby Jeong-whan was fine — just a little bruising on his nose and forehead. He took a short nap in his mother’s arms, drank some infant formula, and was discharged a few hours later with a clean bill of health. The family continued their vacation, and the incident was quickly forgotten.

Two years later, the bill finally arrived at their home: They owed the hospital $18,836 for the 3 hour and 22 minute visit, the bulk of which was for a mysterious fee for $15,666 labeled “trauma activation,” which sometimes is known as “a trauma response fee.”

“It’s a huge amount of money for my family,” said Jang, whose family had travel insurance that would cover only $5,000. “If my baby got special treatment, okay. That would be okay. But he didn’t. So why should I have to pay the bill? They did nothing for my son.”

American hospital bills today are littered with multiplying fees, many of which don’t even exist in other countries: fees for blood draws, fees for checking the blood oxygen level with a skin probe, fees for putting on a cast, minute-by-minute fees for lying in the recovery room.

But perhaps the kingpins are the “trauma fees,” in part because they often run more than $10,000 and in part because they seem to be applied so arbitrarily.

A trauma fee is the price a trauma center charges when it activates and assembles a team of medical professionals that can meet a patient with potentially serious injuries in the ER. It is billed on top of the hospital’s emergency room physician charge and procedures, equipment, and facility fees.

Emergency room bills collected by Vox and Kaiser Health News show that trauma fees are expensive — typically thousands of dollars — and vary widely from one hospital to another.

In the past six months, Vox has collected more than 1,400 emergency room bills submitted by readers in all 50 states and Washington, DC, as part of an investigation into emergency room billing practices.

The dominant storyline to emerge is what anyone who has visited an emergency room might expect: Treatment is expensive. Fees have risen sharply in the past decade. And when health insurance plans don’t pay, patients are left with burdensome bills.

Charges ranged from $1,112.00 at a hospital in Missouri to $50,659.00 at a hospital in California, according to Medliminal, a company that helps insurers and employers around the country identify medical billing errors.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2018 at 2:55 pm

Chuck Schumer Is Secretly Sabotaging the Next Democratic President

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

President Trump periodically registers his totally correct opinion that the legislative filibuster is a stupid relic that the Senate should abolish. Senate Republicans continue to oppose him out of the highly rational belief that abolishing the filibuster would one day open the door to progressive legislation they oppose. But the real news in this story about Trump’s fruitless argument against the filibuster is that, according to Senate Republicans, Minority Leader Charles Schumer has promised Republicans not to change the filibuster if Democrats gain power.

“According to a senior GOP senator who spoke on condition of anonymity,” reports Politico, “Schumer has privately reassured Republican senators in recent weeks that he would not change the rules and is committed to keeping the filibuster.” What this means is that the decision to bottle up the agenda of the next Democratic president is being made right now, in private, in a secret deal between Schumer and Senate Republicans.

Contrary to popular belief, the supermajority requirement to pass legislation is not in the Constitution, and indeed was considered and consciously rejected by its framers. It evolved by accident and has changed many times. In 1917, the threshold to defeat a filibuster was set at two-thirds, and in 1975 reduced to 60 percent. In 2013, the Senate eliminated the filibuster on Executive branch appointments and judges below the Supreme Court, then last year it eliminated the filibuster for the Supreme Court, too.

I have yet to see anybody construct a good-government defense of the current arrangement of a supermajority threshold for legislation, regular majority for appointments. There are at least plausible arguments one could make for (1) a supermajority requirement for everything, (2) a majority requirement for everything, or (3) a majority requirement for legislation and a supermajority requirement for a judgeship. (After all, legislation can be undone, but a judicial appointment is forever.)

The status quo, in which you need a supermajority to pass routine legislation, while being able to give judges a lifetime appointment with a mere majority, has no public purpose whatsoever. Nobody would ever consciously design a system where you can seat a judge to the Supreme Court, with unlimited authority, with 50 senators, while needing 60 senators just to fund annual government appropriations.

So why does it exist? Because it stands to the advantage of Republicans, who currently hold the Senate majority.

That might sound strange, given that the legislative filibuster is a weapon that is momentarily useful for Democrats. But the reality is that the filibuster isn’t stopping very much right now. Republicans have only 51 senators, one of whom is incapacitated, and several of whom are in various states of rebellion from their party’s president. What’s more, the party has few domestic policy ideas it would pass if it had the chance. The crusade to repeal and replace Obamacare failed mainly because Republicans couldn’t design a practical alternative. What Republican senators could agree on eventually wound up in a budget-reconciliation bill that failed because it only got 49 votes.

This, by the way, points to another irrational aspect of the status quo: Budget reconciliation is a loophole that allows certain kinds of legislation to pass with a majority, but only bills related to budget policy, a restriction that severely impairs Congress’s ability to design well-functioning laws. Last year, Republicans came within a hair of defunding with 50 votes — a law Democrats had to find 60 votes to create. The status quo makes complicated reforms difficult to build and easy to wreck.

So the filibuster is a momentary annoyance for the Republicans. No doubt Republicans are constantly telling Trump that the filibuster is stopping many of his kooky ideas from being passed into law. But the truth is that very few of the proposals Trump imagines could pass if the filibuster didn’t exist would actually get 50 votes. It’s a convenient shield for Republican senators to steer clear of bills they would rather not have to debate in public.

The vast majority of the conservative agenda can be carried out without securing 60 Senate votes. Tax cuts — by orders of magnitude the right’s highest domestic priority — can be passed with 50 votes through reconciliation. So can spending cuts, except to Social Security. Republicans can’t legislate weaker regulation, but they don’t have much stomach to vote for rules letting coal companies dump pollutants into the air, or denying overtime pay to workers. They are much happier undermining these rules bureaucratically, below the radar and without exposing elected officials to accountability for it. And of course judges can be seated with 50 votes, and those judges have increasingly used activist rulings to enact policy goals conservatives don’t have the votes to pass in Congress.

Republicans prefer a system with imposing barriers to passing legislation because, over the long run, they have less workable legislation to pass. The Bush and Trump administrations alike have exposed the bankruptcy of conservative-movement dogma as a practical governing blueprint. The Republicans are like a putrid football team with a moribund offense, which would naturally prefer to play all its games in a mud pit.

Why, though, would Democrats go along with this? Because they hope a supermajority requirement will result in bipartisan cooperation? That is is a forlorn hope. Republicans have greeted every major legislative initiative by a Democratic president with total opposition. This was true when Barack Obama passed a fiscal stimulus at the outset of the biggest economic calamity since the Great Depression, or when he tried to pass Mitt Romney’s health-care plan, or the cap-and-trade program John McCain had endorsed. It was likewise true when Bill Clinton eschewed social activism to focus on deficit reduction in 1993. The modern Republican Party is constructed to hysterically attack every Democratic policy initiative, however moderate, as the final extinction of human freedom on Earth.

Schumer is surely not alone among Democrats in his fondness for retaining the Senate’s antiquated supermajority requirement. Some members of his caucus probably worry about the optics of eliminating it, which would surely open Democrats to a few days of scolding from Morning Joe and the Sunday talk shows.

But Democrats are deluding themselves if they think that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2018 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

US Steel Is Not Opening Any New Plants [But Is Afraid to Contradict Trump’s Lies – LG]

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Kevin Drum posts at Mother Jones:

I suppose the headline to this post seems like non-news. Lots of companies aren’t opening new plants, after all. Why single out US Steel?

You can guess the answer: because for the past month Donald Trump has been claiming that they’re opening six or seven new plants. This is ridiculous, of course. Why not a hundred plants? Or a thousand?

There’s no telling. But what’s interesting here is not that Trump is making up random shit. He does that all the time. The interesting thing is that US Steel’s CEO, Dave Burritt, is terrified of contradicting him. Glenn Kessler explains:

One would think this would be easy to clear up. But the White House did not respond to a query. Burritt also did not respond to an email from The Fact Checker asking him to confirm the conversation. Meghan M. Cox, U.S. Steel’s spokeswoman, simply offered this response: “To answer your question, we post all of our major operational announcements to our website and report them on earnings calls. Our most recent one pertained to our Granite City ‘A’ blast furnace restart.”

Translation: The president is wrong. But apparently U.S. Steel is afraid to say that out loud.

This is the point of Trump’s bluster and his threats and his Twitter rants. By scaring everyone into silence, he’s basically scaring them into complicity. If CEOs and Republican politicians are afraid to challenge him; the mainstream media mostly produces he-said-she-said thumbsuckers; and Fox News and the conservative noise machine loudly back up his lies—then why wouldn’t most people believe him?  . . .

Continue reading.

Also he has this interesting post: “Europe’s Migrant Crisis Has Been Over For Years.”

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2018 at 8:57 am

Hnefatafl: The Board Game at the Heart of Viking Culture

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Daniel Crown writes at Atlas Obscura:

THE ICELANDIC SAGA HERVÖR AND HEIDREK abounds with tropes instantly familiar to modern fantasy fans. Regarded as a key influence on classic early-20th century works in the genre, the 13th-century tale features dwarves, a tragic curse, a magical sword, and, perhaps most recognizable of all to fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a fateful contest of riddles.

The contest begins in the saga’s closing chapters when Heidrek, King of the Goths, summons to court his enemy, Gestumblindi. Fearing execution, the latter resorts to desperate measures: He seeks help from Odin, the most powerful and notoriously capricious Viking god. Seemingly content with Gestumblindi’s subsequent sacrifice, Odin agrees to transform himself into a doppelgänger and take the man’s place at court. Rather than submit himself to the judgment of Heidrek’s council, the disguised god convinces the king to settle the matter through a game of wits.

The story’s subsequent riddles illustrate countless facets of life during the Viking Age—most notably riddle 13, which provides rare insight into an intriguing Nordic pastime. “What women are they,” asks Odin as Gestumblindi, “warring together before their defenseless king; day after day the dark guard him, but the fair go forth to attack?” For centuries, Heidrek’s answer to this riddle has fascinated archaeologists and historians alike. “This is the game of hnefatafl,” he says, “the darker ones guard the king, but the white ones attack.”

Heidrek’s reference, here, is one of several in the Icelandic sagas to an ancient board game known as hnefatafl (pronounced “neffa-tafel”). Ubiquitous among Nordic settlements during the early Middle Ages, the game was played on a checkered wooden tablet similar to the modern-day chess board. Once a relative mystery to researchers, archaeologists now believe it held immense symbolic and religious significance.

Over the past 150 years, excavators have unearthed large quantities of gaming material from Viking boat burials. Dating from the 7th to the 11th centuries, most of it consists of checker-like pieces constructed from glass, whale bone, or amber. These pieces range from ordinary discs to ornate figurines and are usually uniform in shape and size, save for one prominent king piece, known as the hnefi. The archaeologist Mark Hall recently chronicled the contents of 36 burials containing such pieces in a 2016 article for The European Journal of Archaeology. This material, he says, indicates the game was much more than a frivolous way to kill time between raids. “Its presence in these burials suggests it was an aspect of everyday life that was desirable to see continued,” he says, as well as “a significant element that helped define the status of the deceased.”

That archaeologists and game historians can confidently make such claims is a testimony to more than 100 years of painstaking research. Indeed, until the early 20th century, few scholars differentiated hnefatafl from other contemporary board games. Early published editions of the Sagas relied upon wildly disparate translations of medieval Icelandic texts, which also confused the matter. Because the oldest extant copies of these documents often refer to the game as “tafl”—a Germanic word denoting “board” or “table”—translators regularly mistook references to it for generic allusions to chess. This resulted in ill-informed interpretations among 19th-century researchers not only of Odin’s riddle for King Heidrek, but also of a notable scene in Frithiof’s Saga, in which the titular hero uses the game as an elaborate metaphor for military strategy.

According to the archaeologist David Caldwell, author of The Lewis Chessmen Unmasked, such mistakes among early chess historians are not surprising. Chess, he says, dates to sixth-century India, and its origins are possibly even older. By the Viking Age, it had also reached Europe. “Both hnefatafl and chess were played side by side,” he says. “It is not always clear from early sources which game is being referred to, but double-sided boards are known with one side suitable for one game and the other for the other game.”

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that historians realized the games shared little in common beyond a checkered board and a prominent “king.” In his 1905 monograph Chess in Iceland and in Icelandic Literature, the scholar Willard Fiske devoted dozens of pages to how the games differed. “For whatever we may not know about hnefatafl,” he concluded, “we do know it could never have lain in the same cradle as chess.” Instead, he suggested, it belonged to a family of “tafl” or “table” games played in Europe throughout the Middle Ages.

Eight years later, the historian H.J.R. Murray confirmed this theory. While researching his classic A History of Chess, he isolated an arcane reference to a game called tablut in the diary of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist. Linnaeus encountered the game during a 1732 trip to Lapland, at which time he jotted down its basic rules. After comparing these rules to the game mentioned in the Sagas, Murray hypothesized that “it is extremely probable that [tablut] is identical with the old hnefatafl.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, plus photos.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2018 at 8:23 am

Posted in Games

Mr Pomp, Van Yulay Achilles, and the Merkur 37G

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Van Yulay’s Achilles soap makes a (fine) lather that is tan rather than white, much like Barrister & Mann’s Lavanille. The ingredients in Achilles don’t reveal to me the source of the tan color, though perhaps it is the tea.

Stearic Acid, Coconut Fatty Acid, Palm Stearic, Castor, Potassium Hydroxide, Glycerin, Tobacco Tea, Aloe Vera, Coconut-Emu-Tallow-Meadow Foam-Borage-Argan- Oils, Kentucky Bourbon, Sodium Lactate, Herbal Ground Tea, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Allantoin, Silica, Bentonite Clay, Glycerin Soap, Tobacco Absolute, Mica, and Fragrance.

Withal, the lather was excellent in consistency and fragrance, thanks in part to Mr Pomp, and the Merkur 37G glided easily across my face, leaving a perfectly smooth result with no harm done. A splash of Achilles aftershave and the day is launched, with The Wife safely back from her travels of the past several days.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2018 at 8:19 am

Posted in Shaving

Einstein’s Greatest Theory Validated on a Galactic Scale

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Maya Miller writes in Scientific American:

Three years ago astrophysicist Tom Collett set out to test a theory. Not just any theory, but one that sets scientists’ expectations for how the universe operates at large: Einstein’s general relativity. First published in 1915, the theory mathematically describes how gravity emerges from the fundamental geometry of space and time, or spacetime, as physicists call it. It postulates that dense objects, such as Earth and the sun, create valleylike dips in spacetime that manifest as gravity—the force that binds together a galaxy’s swirling stars, places planets around suns and, on Earth (or any other planet), keeps your feet on the ground.

Einstein’s equations underpin a host of real-world applications such as the global positioning satellites that make precise navigation and split-second financial transactions possible around the planet. They also elucidate several otherwise-inexplicable phenomena, including Mercury’s oddball orbit, as well as predict new ones, such as gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime that were only directly observed a century after general relativity’s debut. In test after test, whether here on Earth or in observations of the distant universe, the theory has emerged unscathed—a success so stunningly unshakeable it draws a certain breed of scientists like moths to a flame—each seeking to reveal cracks in Einstein’s edifice that could lead to the next breakthrough in physics.

Collett, a research fellow at the University of Portsmouth in England, is among them. “General relativity is so fundamental to the assumptions we make in our interpretation of cosmological and astrophysical data sets that we’d better be sure it’s right,” he says. With that mind-set, in 2015 Collett partnered with nine colleagues to perform the most sensitive experiment yet to test whether Einstein’s famed theory holds up at the scale of an entire galaxy. Their results, published June 21 in Science, reiterate Einstein’s theory still reigns supreme.

Even so, it is no secret general relativity is in some respects incomplete, and perhaps even fundamentally flawed: It cannot, for instance, explain conditions inside a black hole or during the first instants of the big bang. The theory also has a complicated relationship with a fundamental tenet of modern astronomy and cosmology—the notion that the universe is suffused with dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that only interacts with normal matter through gravity.

Astronomers found the first hints of dark matter in the 1930s, spying stars whipping around other galaxies so fast that they should have spun off into intergalactic space; some hidden gravitational hand—dark matter—must be holding them in place. That, or general relativity’s accounting of gravity somehow breaks down at galactic scales, leading to theory-defying stellar motions at a galaxy’s outskirts. Similarly, in 1998 cosmologists found evidence the universe is expanding faster than expected, driven by an even more mysterious dark energy. In 2011 that research netted a Nobel Prize, but its validity hinges on general relativity being the correct description of gravity at cosmological scales.

For their test, Collett and his collaborators focused on two galaxies in a coincidental celestial alignment, with one directly in front of the other along an Earthbound observer’s line of sight. In keeping with general relativity, the “foreground” galaxy’s great bulk warps the surrounding fabric of spacetime, forming a “gravitational lens” that distorts and magnifies the far-distant background galaxy’s light. Precisely measure those distortions, and you gain a good sense of how much mass the foreground galaxy should contain according to general relativity.

Collett’s key insight was this estimate could be readily double-checked by monitoring the motions of stars in the foreground galaxy, yielding an independent mass measurement. Although hundreds of galactic gravitational lenses are known, only a few are sufficiently close by to allow their individual stars to be seen. At just 450 million light-years away—a relative stone’s throw in cosmological terms—this particular foreground galaxy was an ideal candidate for such observations, Collett says. “The original Eureka! moment was when I realized, we can measure this,” he says.

Those measurements required marshaling the combined power of the world’s two most advanced optical instruments—NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in low Earth orbit and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Chilean Andes. Collett’s team used Hubble to measure the foreground galaxy’s mass via gravitational lensing and the VLT to measure its mass via the speeds of stars twirling around its edges. After carefully analyzing and comparing the data, they found a striking agreement between these independent mass measurements. With an error margin of just 9 percent, the experiment’s findings are the most precise measurement of general relativity beyond our solar system to date. The results also indirectly support the theory’s validity in the face of dark matter, dark energy and other cosmological curveballs.

“This is one more feather in the cap for general relativity, that’s true—but it’s not true that this really disfavors any other theory” besides a narrow subset of alternative explanations for gravity, says Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist at Case Western Reserve University who was not associated with the study. The real value of this new result, he says, comes from its unprecedented scale and precision, which are of relevance regardless of what one’s preferred  theory might be. McGaugh should know—he is one of the more open-minded researchers when it comes to alternatives to dark matter and general relativity’s description of gravity. He studies a class of dim, diffuse galaxies that appear to defy some tenets of those theories. “This is another test that any theory you want to build has to satisfy,” he says. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2018 at 7:58 pm

Posted in Science

CBO: Republicans Have Blown Up the National Debt Again

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As Kevin Drum points out, Republicans repeatedly cut taxes, causing the national debt to balloon, and then they point to the debt and try to cut government services that help the poor. And somehow it works. Read his post, which includes this revealing chart showing how the public is literally left holding the bag:

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2018 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

Look Who’s Not in Trump’s Travel Ban

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Timothy O’Brian reports in Bloomberg:

President Donald Trump took a victory lap on Tuesday after the Supreme Court upheld his travel ban targeting immigrants from five mostly-Muslim countries.

The court “has upheld the clear authority of the President to defend the national security of the United States,” Trump said in a statement releasedby the White House. “In this era of worldwide terrorism and extremist movements bent on harming innocent civilians, we must properly vet those coming into our country.”

Trump may add more countries to his ban, but the current roster includes Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Four countries are noticeably missing from that list: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. They’re located in the same region as the countries subject to the ban and they’re home to large Muslim populations. They also have something else in common: They all do business with Trump.

If the president was as dedicated to national security as he suggests, it would be logical for his list of banned countries to look a little different. After all, 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were from Saudi Arabia. Two of them were from the U.A.E., and one was from Egypt. More recent attacks in the U.S. haven’t involved immigrants from any of the countries on Trump’s list.

Perhaps the fact that Trump is doing business in countries that didn’t make his roster isn’t the reason they’re not subject to the ban. But because the president has done so little to insulate himself, his family and his business, the Trump Organization, from financial conflicts of interest, it’s hard to know who he’s looking after when he makes policy calls.

According to the president’s financial disclosure form, which he released in May, he has limited liability companies set up to promote and protect the Trump brand and develop new projects in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He has golf course interests in Dubai, the commercial center of the U.A.E. And he licenses his name to the owner of Trump Towers Istanbul.

Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized the importance of assessing the travel ban on its own merits when he wrote for the majority in the Supreme Court’s travel ban decision.

“The issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements,” Roberts wrote, referring to Trump’s long history of anti-Muslim remarks. “It is instead the significance of those statements in reviewing a presidential directive, neutral on its face, addressing a matter within the core of executive responsibility.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2018 at 3:05 pm

Decency wins — and Trump gets smacked down

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

On the same day that the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban in a tortured ruling, a district court judge hearing a suit on behalf of a class of migrants separated from their children struck a blow for common decency and family reunification. The Post reports:

Judge Dana M. Sabraw of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California granted a preliminary injunction sought by the American Civil Liberties Union. He said all children must be reunited with their families within 30 days, allowing just 14 days for the return of children under 5 to their parents. He ordered that parents must be entitled to speak by phone with their children within 10 days.

The court slammed the administration for “a chaotic circumstance of the Government’s own making.” Sabraw, appointed by President George W. Bush, found: “This situation has reached a crisis level. The news media is saturated with stories of immigrant families being separated at the border. People are protesting. Elected officials are weighing in. Congress is threatening action. Seventeen states have now filed a complaint against the Federal Government challenging the family separation practice.”
In issuing an injunction, the court found there was a likelihood that the plaintiffs would succeed on a due process claim. (“We are a country of laws, and of compassion. We have plainly stated our intent to treat refugees with an ordered process, and benevolence, by codifying principles of asylum.  The Government’s treatment . . . [of] class members does not meet this standard, and it is unlikely to pass constitutional muster.”) The court continued:

The practice of separating these families was implemented without any effective system or procedure for (1) tracking the children after they were separated from their parents, (2) enabling communication between the parents and their children after separation, and (3) reuniting the parents and children after the parents are returned to immigration custody following completion of their criminal sentence. This is a startling reality. The government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings. Money, important documents, and automobiles, to name a few, at all levels — state and federal, citizen and alien. Yet, the government has no system in place to keep track of , provide effective communication with, and promptly produce alien children. The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.  Certainly, that cannot satisfy the requirements of due process.

The court cited at length the findings of the Children’s Defense Fund regarding the extensive harm done to children forcibly separated from their parents. The court expressed the shock and dismay many ordinary Americans are feeling:

The facts set forth before the Court portray reactive governance — responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the Government’s own making. They belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution. This is particularly so in the treatment of migrants, many of whom are asylum seekers and small children. The extraordinary remedy of classwide preliminary injunction is warranted based on the evidence before the Court.

In contrast to the Supreme Court’s travel ban ruling, constructed to avoid identifying the president as an abject racist whose intent should have invalidated his executive order, this court did not avert its eyes. In ordering the reunification of children younger than 5 within 14 days, older children within 30 days and a halt to child separation, the judge followed a long tradition recognizing that anyone here — illegally or not — enjoys the benefits of ordered, fair government. (The entire country has been deprived of that under this president.) In this instance, the American people can be proud of their judiciary.
Consider, if you will, the Justice Department lawyer arguing in effect, “No, really, we can treat these kids worse than property.” Justice Department attorneys need to seriously consider their professional and own moral code of conduct in continuing to defend the administration’s inhumane practices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2018 at 8:07 am

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