Later On

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

Archive for July 2018

The Worst Drug Crisis in American History

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In the NY Times Jessica Bruder reviews a timely nonfiction book:

Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America
By Beth Macy
Illustrated. 376 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $28.

In 2000, a doctor in the tiny town of St. Charles, Va., began writing alarmed letters to Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin. The drug had come to market four years earlier and Art Van Zee had watched it ravage the state’s poorest county, where he’d practiced medicine for nearly a quarter-century. Older patients were showing up at his office with abscesses from injecting crushed-up pills. Nearly a quarter of the juniors at a local high school had reported trying the drug. Late one night, Van Zee was summoned to the hospital where a teenage girl he knew — he could still remember immunizing her as an infant — had arrived in the throes of an overdose.

Van Zee begged Purdue to investigate what was happening in Lee County and elsewhere. People were starting to die. “My fear is that these are sentinel areas, just as San Francisco and New York were in the early years of H.I.V.,” he wrote.

Since then, the worst drug crisis in America’s history — sparked by OxyContin and later broadening into heroin and fentanyl — has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, with no signs of abating. Just this spring, public health officials announced a record: The opioid epidemic had killed 45,000 people in the 12-month span that ended in September, making it almost as lethal as the AIDS crisis at its peak.

Van Zee’s prophecy and other early warnings haunt the pages of “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America,” a harrowing, deeply compassionate dispatch from the heart of a national emergency. The third book by Beth Macy — the author, previously, of “Factory Man” and “Truevine” — is a masterwork of narrative journalism, interlacing stories of communities in crisis with dark histories of corporate greed and regulatory indifference.

Macy began investigating the drug epidemic in 2012, as it seeped into the suburbs around her adopted hometown, Roanoke, Va., where she worked for 20 years as a reporter at The Roanoke Times. From there, she set out to map the local onto the national. “If I could retrace the epidemic as it shape-shifted across the spine of the Appalachians, roughly paralleling I-81 as it fanned out from the coalfields and crept north up the Shenandoah Valley, I could understand how prescription pill and heroin abuse was allowed to fester, moving quietly and stealthily across this country, cloaked in stigma and shame,” she writes.

[Read Beth Macy on the life and death of an addict]

The word “allowed” is a quiet curse. The further Macy wades into the wreckage of addiction, the more damning her indictment becomes. The opioid epidemic didn’t have to happen. It was a human-made disaster, predictable and tremendously lucrative. At every stage, powerful figures permitted its progress, waving off warnings from people like Van Zee, participating in what would become, in essence, a for-profit slaughter. Or as Macy puts it: “From a distance of almost two decades, it was easier now to see that we had invited into our country our own demise.”

Particularly grotesque is the enthusiasm with which Purdue peddled its pills. In the first five years OxyContin was on the market, total bonuses for the company’s sales staff grew from $1 million to $40 million. Zealous reps could earn quarterly bonuses as high as $100,000, one former salesperson told Macy, adding, “It behooved them to have the pill mills writing high doses.”

Doctors were plied with all-expense-paid resort trips, free tanks of gas and deliveries of Christmas trees and Thanksgiving turkeys. There were even “starter coupons” offering new patients a free 30-day supply. As sales rocketed into the billions, noxious side effects began to emerge. Chief among them was the creation of a legion of addicts who, desperate to stave off withdrawal, made the leap to cheap heroin and, later, fentanyl. (“Four out of five heroin addicts come to the drugs … through prescribed opioids,” Macy notes pointedly.) . . .

Continue reading.

Again we see that a corporation has no ethical or moral (or legal) limits when it comes to profit. Profit seems to justify anything. That’s very destructive, as we see (opioid crisis, Superfund sites, public parks sold off, endanger species to become extinct, and on and on).

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 7:09 pm

Great dinner: Chicken hearts and veggies

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You don’t have the use the veggies I used.Just use some allium (I used garlic and long green onion and scallions, but regular onions would work, as would leeks or shallots. For the yu choy sum and Shanghai bok choy, just use other leafy vegetables: red chard, regular bok choy, kale (red or green). Use a plain zucchini, or summer squash if you can get it. It’s your food: cook to suite your taste. But this really tasted good to me.

I used my large 4-qt All-Clad sauté pan.

1 Tbsp duck fat (or extra-virgin olive oil—I had duck fat, so I used it)

When fat is hot, add

1 lb chicken hearts
salt and pepper

Sauté chicken hearts for a few minutes. The rest of the dish will in effect be steamed, so if you want the hearts to be browned, now’s the time to do it.

Yu choy sum, about 6 little bunches, chopped
3 Baby Shanghai Bok choy, chopped
1 yellow zucchini, quartered lengthwise and chopped
2 long green onions, chopped (this is a Chinese vegetable)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
10-12 stalks thinnish asparagus, chopped
10 San Marzano cherry tomatoes, sliced
about 1.5 cups oyster mushrooms, caps and stems, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped small (including core and ribs)
2 cloves of the giant garlic, minced
salt, Aji-no-moto, fair amount of black pepper

I had never even heard of yu choy sum, but it looked very fresh and nice, and hey! it’s greens. I know how to cook greens. And it turns out to be quite yummy.

I cooked that 15 minutes with top on, 15 with top off. I served with topped with pickled red onions from my butcher (where I got the duck fat, in fact).

Really extremely tasty.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

Major Quantum Computing Advance Made Obsolete by Teenager

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Bob and Ray had a routine with Wally Ballou interviewing a washed-up has-been of a baseball umpire. One great call: an enrage batter throws his bat into the air, and the Ray character of the umpire says, “If that bat comes down, you’re out of the game.” (Great line, IMO)

His lament in the interview, “Somewhere this game just passed me by.” I had sort of that feeling on reading this Quanta article by Kevin Hartnett:

A teenager from Texas has taken quantum computing down a notch. In a paper posted online earlier this month, 18-year-old Ewin Tang proved that ordinary computers can solve an important computing problem with performance potentially comparable to that of a quantum computer.

In its most practical form, the “recommendation problem” relates to how services like Amazon and Netflix determine which products you might like to try. Computer scientists had considered it to be one of the best examples of a problem that’s exponentially faster to solve on quantum computers — making it an important validation of the power of these futuristic machines. Now Tang has stripped that validation away.

“This was one of the most definitive examples of a quantum speedup, and it’s no longer there,” said Tang, who graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, in spring and will begin a Ph.D. at the University of Washington in the fall.

In 2014, at age 14 and after skipping the fourth through sixth grades, Tang enrolled at UT Austin and majored in mathematics and computer science. In the spring of 2017 Tang took a class on quantum information taught by Scott Aaronson, a prominent researcher in quantum computing. Aaronson recognized Tang as an unusually talented student and offered himself as adviser on an independent research project. Aaronson gave Tang a handful of problems to choose from, including the recommendation problem. Tang chose it somewhat reluctantly.

“I was hesitant because it seemed like a hard problem when I looked at it, but it was the easiest of the problems he gave me,” Tang said.

The recommendation problem is designed to give a recommendation for products that users will like. Consider the case of Netflix. It knows what films you’ve watched. It knows what all of its other millions of users have watched. Given this information, what are you likely to want to watch next?

You can think of this data as being arranged in a giant grid, or matrix, with movies listed across the top, users listed down the side, and values at points in the grid quantifying whether, or to what extent, each user likes each film. A good algorithm would generate recommendations by quickly and accurately recognizing similarities between movies and users and filling in the blanks in the matrix.

In 2016 the computer scientists Iordanis Kerenidis and Anupam Prakash published a quantum algorithm that solved the recommendation problem exponentially faster than any known classical algorithm. They achieved this quantum speedup in part by simplifying the problem: Instead of filling out the entire matrix and identifying the single best product to recommend, they developed a way of sorting users into a small number of categories — do they like blockbusters or indie films? — and sampling the existing data in order to generate a recommendation that was simply good enough.

At the time of Kerenidis and Prakash’s work, there were only a few examples of problems that quantum computers seemed to be able to solve exponentially faster than classical computers. Most of those examples were specialized — they were narrow problems designed to play to the strengths of quantum computers (these include the “forrelation” problem Quanta covered earlier this year). Kerenidis and Prakash’s result was exciting because it provided a real-world problem people cared about where quantum computers outperformed classical ones.

“To my sense it was one of the first examples in machine learning and big data where we showed quantum computers can do something that we still don’t know how to do classically,” said Kerenidis, a computer scientist at the Research Institute on the Foundations of Computer Science in Paris.

Kerenidis and Prakash proved that a quantum computer could solve the recommendation problem exponentially faster than any known algorithm, but they didn’t prove that a fast classical algorithm couldn’t exist. So when Aaronson began working with Tang in 2017, that was the question he posed — prove there is no fast classical recommendation algorithm, and thereby confirm Kerenidis and Prakash’s quantum speedup is real.

“That seemed to me like an important ‘t’ to cross to complete this story,” said Aaronson, who believed at the time that no fast classical algorithm existed.

Tang set to work in the fall of 2017, intending for the recommendation problem to serve as a senior thesis. For several months Tang struggled to prove that a fast classical algorithm was impossible. As time went on, Tang started to think that maybe such an algorithm was possible after all.

“I started believing there is a fast classical algorithm, but I couldn’t really prove it to myself because Scott seemed to think there wasn’t one, and he was the authority,” Tang said.

Finally, with the senior thesis deadline bearing down, Tang wrote to Aaronson and admitted a growing suspicion: “Tang wrote to me saying, actually, ‘I think there is a fast classical algorithm,’” Aaronson said.

Throughout the spring Tang wrote . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 4:39 pm

Posted in Math, Science, Software

Workers, systematically ripped off, need to take back the government

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Read these articles:

Eric Levitz in New YorkNew Study Confirms That American Workers Are Getting Ripped Off The graph above is from that article, which also has this chart:

And also read Emily Stewart’s report in VoxOne chart that shows how much worse income inequality is in America than Europe,

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 3:14 pm

Trump Administration Ordered to Stop Injecting Migrant Kids With Psychotropic Drugs Without Consent

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Amanda Arnold reports at TheCut.com:

After reading testimony from several migrant children who said they’d been injected with psychotropic medication without their consent, a federal judge ruled that the Texas facility holding them had violated state child welfare laws.

Per the Washington Post, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of Los Angeles ordered the Trump administration to either obtain consent or a court order before giving medication to minors, unless there is a dire emergency. She also demanded the immediate evacuation of all children — except those deemed to pose a “risk of harm” — from the offending facility, Shiloh Residential Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas, which is contracted by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Staff members at the facility admitted to violating welfare laws by signing off on medications for children — but the government was quick to defend this practice, claiming that drugs were only given to children “on an emergency basis,” when their psychiatric symptoms became “extreme.” The judge took issue with this explanation, noting that some children said they’d been given meds “every morning and every night.”

One girl held at Shiloh, who testified as Isabella M. in court filings, said she was prescribed multiple psychotropic medications while she was detained in the center. She also recalled watching staff members “forcefully give [other children] medication four times.”

“Two staff members pinned down the girl … and a doctor gave her one or two injections,” she said. According to the child’s testimonies, while some minors were given injections, more were given pills on a daily basis. She said the staff members and doctors claimed these drugs were vitamins, but they caused side effects like nausea, dizziness, depression, and weight gain.

According to Isabella’s mother, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 1:21 pm

Why the Most Important Idea in Behavioral Decision-Making, Loss Aversion, Is a Fallacy

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David Gal, professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes in Scientific American:

Loss aversion, the idea that losses are more psychologically impactful than gains, is widely considered the most important idea of behavioral decision-making and its sister field of behavioral economics. To illustrate the importance loss aversion is accorded, Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, wrote in his 2011 best-selling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, that “the concept of loss aversion is certainly the most significant contribution of psychology to behavioral economics.” As another illustration, when Richard Thaler was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in economics, the phrase “loss aversion” appeared 24 times in the Nobel Committee’s description of his contributions to science.

Why has such profound importance been attributed to loss aversion? Largely, it is because it is thought to reflect a fundamental truth about human beings—that we are more motivated by our fears than by our aspirations. This conclusion, it is thought, has implications for almost every aspect of how we live our lives.

However, as documented in a recent critical review of loss aversion by Derek Rucker of Northwestern University and myself, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, loss aversion is essentially a fallacy. That is, there is no general cognitive bias that leads people to avoid losses more vigorously than to pursue gains. Contrary to claims based on loss aversion, price increases (ie, losses for consumers) do not impact consumer behavior more than price decreases (ie, gains for consumers). Messages that frame an appeal in terms of a loss (eg, “you will lose out by not buying our product”) are no more persuasive than messages that frame an appeal in terms of a gain (eg, “you will gain by buying our product”).

People do not rate the pain of losing $10 to be more intense than the pleasure of gaining $10. People do not report their favorite sports team losing a game will be more impactful than their favorite sports team winning a game. And people are not particularly likely to sell a stock they believe has even odds of going up or down in price (in fact, in one study I performed, over 80 percent of participants said they would hold on to it).

To be sure it is true that big financial losses can be more impactful than big financial gains, but this is not a cognitive bias that requires a loss aversion explanation, but perfectly rational behavior. If losing $10,000 means giving up the roof over your head whereas gaining $10,000 means going on an extra vacation, it is perfectly rational to be more concerned with the loss than the gain. Likewise, there are other situations where losses are more consequential than gains, but these require specific explanations not blanket statements about a loss aversion bias.

If what I am claiming is true, why has belief in loss aversion persisted so strongly? An idealized view of science is that theories are accepted or rejected based solely on empirical evidence. In fact, science is not simply an objective search for truth, but also a social process, in which proponents of a theory must convince other scientists, through logic and argumentation, of how evidence should be interpreted.

However, this process advantages incumbent theories over challengers for a number of reasons, including confirmation bias, social proof, ideological complacency, and the vested interests of scientists whose reputations and even sense of self are tied to existing theories. A consequence is scientific inertia, where weak or ill-founded theories take on a life of their own, sometimes even gaining momentum despite evidence that puts their veracity in doubt.

In the case of loss aversion, contradictory evidence has tended to be dismissed, ignored or explained away, while ambiguous evidence has tended to be interpreted in line with loss aversion. For example, a paper purporting to illustrate that price increases are more impactful than price decreases received 65 citations in Google Scholar in 2016, whereas a follow-up paper challenging this view received only 17 citations.

Moreover, belief in loss aversion has meant that phenomena that have nothing to do with loss aversion have nonetheless been interpreted to reflect loss aversion. For example, the sunk cost effect, the finding that people are more likely to continue an endeavor once an investment in it has been made, has been attributed to loss aversion. While the sunk cost effect might reflect a reluctance to recognize losses, this is not relevant to loss aversion, which requires a comparison be made between losses and gains.

In sum, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 12:38 pm

Conservative Think Tank Says Medicare For All Would Save $2 Trillion

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Good news about Medicare for All, though probably viewed as bad news by the think tank involved, though that would be perverse. Kevin Drum notes:

Here’s some good news. The libertarians at the Mercatus Center did a cost breakdown of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan and concluded that it would save $2 trillion during its first ten years:

Now, as you might guess, this was not the spin the Mercatus folks put on their study. Their headline is “M4A Would Place Unprecedented Strain on the Federal Budget.” This isn’t really true, of course, since M4A would absorb all the costs of our current health care system but would also absorb all the payments we make to support it. That includes current taxes (for Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare), premiums paid by employers, premiums paid by individuals, and out-of-pocket costs from individuals. Instead of going straight to doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies, it would go instead to the federal government, which would then pay everyone else. It’s a lot of money, but it’s no particular “strain” on anything.

And overall we’d save at least $2 trillion over ten years. Blahous thinks the number would be be less because lots of people would flock to use free health care that they hadn’t used before, but most health economists disagree. Demand for health care would probably stay about the same, while costs would be more strongly contained because everything would be paid for out of tax dollars—and voters are strongly motivated to keep taxes low.

Update: See also this report in The Hill.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 10:50 am

Walk notes and Original Sin

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My walk currently comprises three loops:

Big Loop – the perimeter of a two-block area: my block and an adjacent block. The first side of that adjacent block is uphill with one section that is quite steep (a path through a pocket park), and that gets me huffing and puffing.

Small Loop – the perimeter of my block, a little downhill, a little uphill, but nothing too severe.

Tiny Loop – our apartment building parking lot bisects our block a short way from the bottom side of the block, and the Tiny Loop is through the parking lot, around the bottom side of the block, and back through the parking lot. This is a flat route: no ups, no downs.

My usual route is 2 Big Loops, 1 Small Loop, and 1 Tiny Loop in that order, but then I got to thinking that I could work up to the Big Loops by first warming up, doing the walk in this order: 1 Tiny Loop, 1 Small Loop, and 2 Big Loops. So I tried that yesterday.

Big mistake. The warm-up loops did get me going, but then when I hit the Big Loop’s steep section I was already somewhat tired, and it was an effort. And then when I finished that first Big Loop and faced a second one, I almost gave up—but I hadn’t even hit my step goal, so I forced myself through it.

Today, I reverted to previous (and more pleasurable) practice: 2 Big Loops, getting them done while I was still fresh, and then the Small Loop, which in comparison seem very easy, and then the Tiny Loop, just a piffle. And in fact, I did that in 57 minutes, and I like to be closer to an hour, so I did a second Tiny Loop. (Total today: 62 minutes, 6900 steps: more than 100 steps/minute. Pedometer++ says that is 3.5 miles, but what does it know?)

So I learned: do the hard stuff first, and finish with the easy stuff.

Basically, I learned by trying something new, and finding that it didn’t work. I do like novelty—new foods (pork belly, fresh herring), new activities (Nordic walking), new techniques, and so on. It is certainly not the case that all new things work, but they work in that I learn something (that they don’t work). Thus knowledge advances.

It struck me that this is the process of cultural evolution: trying new things, either on purpose (“Let’s do it this way”) or by accident (“I think he did it like this—nope”), and keeping those that work. Each person does this for him/herself but since we live as social animals those individual lessons can become part of the social fabric: someone got tired of having heavy equipment back over people because the driver couldn’t see directly behind, so heavy equipment was made to beep (pretty loudly, if you ask me) when it backed. This little lesson learned became built into all heavy equipment and now it’s a part of the human culture embedded in artifacts.

Cultural evolution is the overall result and summation—the integral, as it were—of all the little things people try. Those new things are mutations in culture, and of course most mutations (in lifeforms as well as in culture) don’t persist, since they convey no survival advantage and in some cases are actually counter-productive (yesterday’s experiment in the walking route).

Original Sin, IMO, is a good example. It was observed that people—all people—routinely sin, mostly with small sins, but still: everyone sins at one time or another and generally quite a few others. That seems odd: people do things they know to be wrong, and that applies to everyone. Something that’s true of everyone reveals an aspect of our “nature” (an obsolete concept, but it persisted for quite a while). So it is in the “nature” of humans to sin. How is that?

It’s particularly a problem if you think humans are the creation of a perfect and loving God, who would not give humans such a nature: God would not make humans so that they more or less continually sin. So what is the explanation?

One effort to explain this phenomenon was the doctrine of Original Sin: humans were indeed just fine as created by God, but then came the Fall from grace and the expulsion from Eden, and humans ever since have lived in a fallen state, prone to sin. Etc.

This strikes me as a good effort to save the appearances, as Ptolemy put it: to define a structure and tell a story that provides an explanation of (and is consistent with) what we observe. The story of the Fall and the existence of Original Sin (which affects everyone) accounts for our error-prone ways and even has some predictive value (tempted people will give in to temptation, in general) just as Ptolemaic astronomy accounts for the movement of the planets, sun, and moon and allows (excellent) predictions.

Some take the fallen nature idea too far and say that people are “inherently evil,” which seems to me to be inconsistent with our own experience. We’ve all met good people, we’ve all done some good things, and in general we want to be good (not true of everyone, of course, but true of most). Still, evil people exist, and one explanation is that they have rejected God and/or are under the influence of Satan. That’s an explanatory story, but it is limited in that the mechanisms are hard to investigate. An explanation of evil can be made in terms of neuroscience, and that seems to most a more fruitful approach.

All these explanations, and all the errors people make, are the working out of cultural evolution: errors in general are trying things and discovering that they don’t work, so they are discarded. Things that do work are kept. Slowly but surely the bulk collection of all the little human discoveries moves and changes. For example, language changes very slowly, but we today have difficulty in understanding the English of just 800 years ago. And when we look today for explanations of human behavior we don’t look to God or angels or demons, but look at psychology and neuroscience. Our explanatory modes and stories are different. Ptolemy is no longer an innovative voice giving an explanatory account of what we see in the heavens, and Original Sin doesn’t seem quite so satisfactory as an explanatory account of human behavior.

I’ll close with a renewed recommendation that you at some point try reading The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore. (Link is ot inexpensive secondhand copies.)

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 9:59 am

What’s going on with Donald Trump? Psychologist explains the president’s lies, reversals

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Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, writes in USA Today:

When I saw CNN’s Jake Tapper suddenly blurt out, “What the hell is going on?” in an online video the other day, I thought I’d better speak up.

Like millions of people around the world, Tapper has become increasingly baffled by President Donald Trump’s odd behaviors: sucking up to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, then rewriting his own words the next day; scolding British Prime Minister Theresa May in an interview in The Sun, then denying that he ever did so when he was in May’s presence hours later; lying, reversing himself, lying again, then lying about the lies.

Come up with your own list of peculiar and often contradictory Trump statements — about women, the Access Hollywood tape, immigrants, Charlottesville, gun rights, you name it. The bottom line, more and more, seems to be that exasperating question, “What the hell is going on?”

Late last year, 27 prominent mental health professionals were so concerned about Trump’s odd and sometimes belligerent behavior that they contributed chapters to an unprecedented book called, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” Their deep concern, they said, justified setting aside an important ethical standard of the mental health professions — the one that forbids mental health professionals from diagnosing public figures they’ve never actually evaluated.

But diagnose they did — without a consensus, of course, because none of them, as far as I can tell, had ever even met Trump. (Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter for “The Art of the Deal,” has a chapter in the book, but he is not counted as one of the 27 mental health professionals.)

Is Trump really mentally deranged, maybe ready for the loony bin? If so, how could he have achieved so much over the course of his life? How could he have functioned so well in business, in media and now even in politics? How could he have raised such loyal and high-functioning offspring? How could he last even a day in the most stressful office in the most stressful building in the most stressful city in the world?

Trump’s ‘audience control’ problem 

Trump is not mentally ill, and I doubt that he is even “living in his own reality,” as so many have claimed. He is simply fairly unique in a way that is hard for the public to understand. In a nutshell, Trump is highly vulnerable to what can reasonably be called “sympathetic audience control.”

If that sounds jargony, I apologize. It’s actually a pretty simple concept and, in Trump’s case, it explains a lot — maybe even 90 percent of the behavior that seems so baffling.

All normal people are subject to “audience control” to one degree or another. That means simply that they regulate what they say and do based on who’s around them. They are respectful sitting in a church pew, a bit more daring sitting in a classroom, and somewhat wild sitting in the bleachers. Near a police officer, most people are cautious and deferential; near a best friend, people feel comfortable and speak freely.

Sometimes audience control goes haywire. You might behave one way with your parents and a very different way with your new romantic partner. When you finally bring your new friend home to meet the ‘rents, you might feel awkward and barely know what to do or say.

Except for situations like that, audience control doesn’t usually cause problems, and it also usually doesn’t persist when the audience is gone. But for Trump, audience control works in a special way:

When Trump is in the presence of someone he dislikes or distrusts, he attacks and  will continue to lash out for a while, but not necessarily forever. When someone he perceives as a threat becomes deferential (Rocket Man, for example), Trump not only stops attacking, he also  becomes highly vulnerable to influence.

In general, when Trump is around someone whom he perceives as supportive, or when he gets a phone call from a supportive billionaire, or when he hears a supportive commentator on Fox News, his thinking is rapidly influenced by what that person is saying. This is “sympathetic audience control.” With Trump, the impact is so strong that it persists after the person is gone — maybe even until another sympathetic individual comes along.

When Trump is in front of a large group of cheering people, his thinking is fully controlled by the crowd. It might seem he’s in control, but the opposite is actually the case. The supportive audience completely dominates his thinking, causing him to repeat, over and over, things he believes the audience wants to hear.

We need to add just one more element here to make sense of Trump’s roller coaster mind: Like my 92-year-old mom, Trump lives in a very small window of time, and no, I don’t mean he lives “in the moment” in that healthy, New-Age-y sort of way. I mean he has trouble looking backwards or forwards in time.

You might think he formulates and lives by long-term plans and strategies, but I doubt that very much. He is much more like a rudderless sailboat blown about by the wind, with the direction largely determined moment-to-moment according to who’s got his attention and whether he views that person as friend or foe.

No principles, just gusts of wind

Sympathetic audience control and a small time window produce most of the odd cognitive glitches we see in our president. Moment to moment, he either sees a foe and shoots, or he sees a friend and is influenced. In that kind of perceptual world, Trump inevitably — and without shame or even awareness — shifts his views frequently, sometimes multiple times a day.

Not only do his views shift, he also has no trouble denying, entirely without guile, in my view, what he said yesterday. All that’s shiny and real to him is what friends or foes are saying inside those small time windows. Everything else is fuzzy, and that’s why he can so easily tell so many lies. From his perspective, lying has no meaning. Only reacting has meaning. Trump reacts.

The small time window and sympathetic audience control also explain why Trump always seems to be creating foreign policy on the fly, why his meetings with world leaders rarely produce tangible results, why he can’t get congressional deals, and why he is almost certainly incapable of negotiating those famous bilateral agreements that were supposed to replace the multinational treaties he has swept aside.

If I’m right, and I’m pretty sure I am, Trump is capable of only a minimal level of analytical or critical thinking. Perhaps more alarming, our president — the putative leader of the free world — doesn’t believe in anything and he rarely, if ever, means anything he says. The impulsive tweets, the conservative court appointments, the unfunded tax cuts, the obsession with a wall, the swipes at immigrants — all are byproducts (dross, if you will) of sympathetic audience control operating in small time windows. There are no principles operating here, just gusts of wind. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 7:51 am

Omega Mixed Midget, Asses’ Milk shaving soap, Baili BR171, and The Holy Black Gunpowder Spice Whisker Whiskey aftershave

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The Omega badger+boar small brush is very nice, and today it make a very nice lather from the 25% organic asses’-milk shavings soap.

The Baili BR171 is IMO an exceptional razor, and the price is definitely right: $8 from Italian Barber, which calls it the “DE 1.” Very comfortable, very efficient, very nice feel in the hand.

A good splash of The Holy Black’s Gunpowder Spice, and I’m set for the day. This aftershave’s fragrance is very appealing to me, and it definitely seems to be a masculine fragrance. I can’t imagine that a woman would want to wear it.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2018 at 7:43 am

Posted in Shaving

Wow. Trump’s latest rage-tweets about Mueller and border wall reveal GOP weakness

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Greg Sargent of the Washington Post (and judge from content, not from source, please) writes:

Over the weekend, President Trump escalated his rage-tweets about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, threatened a government shutdown to get his great wall on the southern border, and blasted the news media for selling out the country, while basically shrugging at the idea that egging on his supporters’ hatred of the press might be placing independent journalists in greater danger. It’s a reminder that Trump’s authoritarianism and bigotry will be front and center in this fall’s midterm elections.
An important new analysis of the House map by Nate Cohn of the New York Times may help explain Trump’s escalations on all those fronts — or if not, it certainly provides crucial context for understanding how those escalations might shape the battle for control of the lower chamber.
Cohn’s central finding is that the House map is turning out to be a lot broader than we expected. The districts that are in play aren’t merely suburban ones in which Hillary Clinton did well in 2016; they also include many working-class and rural districts that voted for Trump. Cohn analyzed the 60 GOP-held House seats that are rated competitively (Lean Republican, Toss Up, and Lean/Likely Democratic) by the Cook Political Report. Here are the key conclusions about the aggregate electorate in those districts:

  • The electorate in those 60 districts is 78 percent white, whereas the United States is 70 percent white overall.
  • The electorate in those 60 districts is 65 percent suburban, whereas the United States overall is 55 percent suburban.
  • The electorate in those 60 districts boasts about 31 percent college graduates, whereas the United States overall is 28 percent college graduates.
  • Forty-nine percent of the electorate in those 60 districts voted for Trump in 2016, while 46 percent voted for Hillary Clinton. (Nationally, of course, Clinton actually won the popular vote by over two points.)

In short, the House battleground is only a bit more suburban and educated than the United States overall, and crucially, it’s whiter and more pro-Trump. The data is complicated by the need to use different voter pools to break out different demographic categories, but that’s the overall picture. The bottom line: The fact that this electorate shows Democrats with so many pickup opportunities suggests, as Cohn says, both that Democrats have recruited strong candidates in tough areas and that the national political environment may be “more favorable to Democrats than the generic ballot polls imply.” What’s more, Cohn notes that in special elections, Democratic candidates have already been running further ahead of Clinton in Trump districts than in Clinton-friendly ones.
In that context, Republican hopes of holding the House may turn on energizing core supporters and Trump voters.  If the map were narrower, and largely focused on suburban pro-Clinton districts, Republicans might have a better shot running on the GOP tax cut and the good economy, which could win back more affluent, better-educated, GOP-leaning whites who might be willing to overlook Trump’s ongoing lunacy on that basis.
But Republican incumbents are campaigning much less than expected on the tax cut, and the broader map may help explain why: Working-class whites (and, of course, minorities) are not the tax cut’s beneficiaries. Indeed, a new Politico analysis finds that some of the “biggest winners” from the tax cut are “corporate executives who have reaped gains as their companies buy back a record amount of stock, a practice that rewards shareholders by boosting the value of existing shares,” even as it is producing “less clear long-term benefits for workers.” Not exactly a potent message in fabled Trump country.
Enter Trump’s weekend rage-tweets. Trump went further than ever before in casting Mueller as corrupt (blasting unspecified “conflicts of interest“) and his investigation as illegitimate (an “illegal Scam“). Trump claimed he is “willing” to shut down the government if Democrats don’t support his wall. After New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger privately informed Trumpthat his anti-press rhetoric could lead to more violence against journalists, Trump only escalated his assaults on the media, claiming its “anti-Trump haters” are selling out the country.
It is not clear whether Trump deliberately intends these escalations to juice the base in advance of the midterms. But some Republican candidates have already been embracing Trump’s race-baiting immigration rhetoric and policies. And as the Mueller probe advances — and the news media fills in new details about possible Trump obstruction and collusion — Trump’s public rage will intensify, and GOP candidates will likely amplify his attacks on the investigation and on the press, to keep pro-Trump voters sufficiently energized behind them, an imperative on this broadening House map.
Trump’s latest rage-tweets, then, signal that an election that Republicans hoped would be about how their awesome tax cuts are supercharging the Trump economy may end up being shaped to no small degree by Trump’s bigoted and authoritarian appeals.
* REPUBLICANS AREN’T CAMPAIGNING ON TAX CUT: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 4:30 pm

Bad times: the NY Times evening briefing

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From the briefing:

First item:

“We talked to people experiencing extreme temperatures on four continents, including a worker at an Algerian oil plant who walked off the job as the temperature hit 124 degrees Fahrenheit. “We couldn’t keep up,” he recalled. “It was impossible to do the work. It was hell.””

Decades ago, as I recall, scientists said that the tropics would be uninhabitable if global temperatures went up 2ºC. Looks like they were optimistic.

Second item:

President Trump reiterated a threat to shut down the federal government if Congress doesn’t grant his demand to build his long-promised wall with Mexico.”

Third item:

“The Trump administration is also considering bypassing Congress to grant a $100 billion tax cut mainly to the wealthy.”

Unusual, I’d have to say.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 3:46 pm

Lord save us. FEMA personnel chief harassed women, hired some as possible sexual partners for male employees, agency’s leader says

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Lisa Rein reports in the Washington Post:

The personnel chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency — who resigned just weeks ago — is under investigation after being accused of creating an atmosphere of widespread sexual harassment over years in which women were hired as possible sexual partners for male employees, the agency’s leader said Monday.

The alleged harassment and other misconduct, revealed through a preliminary seven-month internal investigation, was a “systemic problem going on for years,” said FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long. Some of the behavior could rise to the level of criminal activity, he said.

Some of the claims about the agency’s former personnel chief are detailed in a written executive summary of the investigation provided to The Washington Post. FEMA officials provided other details and confirmed that the individual under investigation, whose name was redacted from the report, is Corey Coleman, who led the personnel department from 2011 until his resignation in June.

Coleman could not immediately be reached for comment, and no one answered the door at his Northeast Washington home when a Washington Post reporter visited Monday. Coleman resigned June 18, before a scheduled interview with investigators, and FEMA officials said they have not been able to question him since.

Online records show Coleman was a senior executive who was paid an annual salary of $177,150.

In an interview, Long described a “toxic” environment in the human resources department Coleman had led at FEMA headquarters, hiring dozens of men who were friends and college fraternity brothers and women he met at bars and on online dating sites — then promoting them to roles throughout the agency without going through proper federal hiring channels.

Coleman then transferred some of the women in and out of departments, some to regional offices, so his friends could try to have sexual relationships with them, according to statements and interviews with employees, said a FEMA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

“What we uncovered was a systemic problem going back years,” Long said. He said he has referred several of the cases to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who oversees FEMA, to investigate possible criminal sexual assault.

“The biggest problem I may solve here may be  . . .

Continue reading.

Is it just me, or are things getting really weird? This takes some sort of cake.

And you know this is just the tip of the iceberg. If this department — a government department, no less—is dong this, then it’s going on in a lot of other places. As we’re seeing at CBS.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 3:38 pm

Things for Trump are going south quickly.

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Read this report by Aaron Blake, for example. I got the link from Amber Phillips of the Washington Post who says in her newsletter today:

President Trump’s most visible lawyer said Monday morning that collusion isn’t a crime. As The Fix’s Aaron Blake explains, that was a conspicuously huge step back from what Trump himself has been saying about his innocence — that his campaign didn’t collude at all with Russia to win the White House.

 

What this new “collusion isn’t a crime” argument says about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia is open to interpretation. But it sounds like the legal definition of collusion could be the crux of a new defense for Trump. So let’s break down what we know and what we don’t about how collusion works in the court of law

Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, is right about one thing: Collusion is not technically a crime. There’s no line in the criminal code that says you go to jail for colluding with a foreign adversary. Collusion is a political term we use as short hand for the legal definition.

But you can go to jail for conspiring with a foreign adversary to influence or undermine an election. Outside legal experts think Donald Trump Jr. may have done just that when he met with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton at Trump Tower in 2016. Emails show Trump Jr. accepted the meeting after hearing from an intermediary that the dirt offered was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” . . .

There’s more. Subscribe to her newsletter, always good: The Five-Minute Fix (“Keeping up with politics is easy now,” and I have to say she delivers on that promise. Some or all of the newsletter might be from or appear in her regular Washington PostThe Fix” column.

I have to say that the Trump tweets quoted in the Blake column sound one hell of a lot Trump is becoming unhinged. See what you think.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 2:17 pm

Food notes: Pork belly; herring

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First, the herring. I found fresh herring at Fairways market and brought home 3 of the little guys (CDN$1.85 total, so they’re inexpensive). They’re a little larger than fresh sardines I used to buy in Monterey, but you can easily fillet them the same way: cut open belly, remove guts and innards, cut off head, then run your fingertip along either side of the spine and remove it.

I sautéed a long green onion, an enormous garlic clove from the whole garlic (head, stem, and seeds) that The Wife brought me from a fair, a yellow zucchini, a jalapeño, a large handful of oyster mushrooms, and 8 cherry tomatoes, all chopped or sliced or minced as appropriate, in 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (thus 4 points for this dish) with salt, pepper, and Aji-no-moto, then stirred in the herring fillets cut into chunks and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I covered and cooked for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then put it into a bowl and sliced a hard-boiled egg on top for a very hearty (and rather late) breakfast. It will serve as lunch today as well.

The herring was really tasty and since I’m on an omega-3 kick, I’m going to return and buy more for while The Wife’s away.

The pork belly (580g piece): I used a sharp utility knife (a disposable one) to score the skin, then sliced the piece lengthwise into two pieces, which I’ll cook separately (since I’m unsure how good leftovers will be). I plan to use this recipe.

Update and lessons learned. Cook a wide piece of pork belly. A narrow piece will fall on the sides and the meat, lacking the basting of fat from above, becomes dry and tough. Get a piece at least 10cm wide—and that’ probably a good width. Note that pork belly is basically pure fat.

Cook’s Illustrated‘s final step is something I’ll adopt when I get a wider piece. The skin really dores require another step. Very sticky and chewy without that step.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 11:05 am

Wee Scot, Dr. Selby, Game Changer, and Champs de Lavande

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An early shave (4:00 a.m.) to take The Wife to the airport. The Wee Scot easily made a very nice lather from Dr. Selby’s 3X Concentrated Shaving Cream, and the reamrkably good RazoRock Game Changer, a stainless steel razor a good price ($55) delivered a great shave: very comfortable and totally smooth.

A splash of Chatillon Lux’s Champs de Lavande and then a drive to the airport.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 6:05 am

Posted in Shaving

Squash Is a Mediocre Vegetable. It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way.

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Tom Philpott writes in Mother Jones:

We’re often told to eat our vegetables, and for good reason. But face it: They often kind of suck. Our supermarkets teem with towers of flawless looking squashes and tomatoes—but where’s the flavor?

For generations, plant breeders have largely been taking their orders from the food industry, in pursuit of varieties that are high-yielding and that can withstand long-haul travel. Flavor isn’t a priority—flavor comes from adding lots of salt, sugar, and fat in the factory, or from a restaurant chef’s bag of tricks. But at an event I attended in 2013, Dan Barber, chef of the acclaimed Blue Hill restaurants in New York, assembled a team of agriculture professors and rolled out a new idea: What if seed breeders started taking their cues from chefs instead of big food companies when they’re tweaking varieties of the fruits, vegetables, and wheat we eat?

Nearly five years later, the fruit, so to speak, of Barber’s collaboration with seed breeders has ripened into a new project called Row 7, which calls itself a seed company “built by chefs and breeders striving to make ingredients taste better before they ever hit a plate.” On the latest episode of Bite podcast, Barber and I chatted about why a chef who runs two restaurants is barging into an industry dominated by three multinational behemoths who use seeds as a marketing tool for selling pesticides.

Barber said the idea germinated about a decade ago, when Michael Mazourek, a Cornell University vegetable seed breeder, visited Barber’s restaurant for dinner. The two ended up chatting afterward in the kitchen, where a cook was preparing butternut squash for the next day’s service. Barber reports: “Just off the cuff and kind of flippantly, I said, ‘You’re a squash breeder—why don’t you create a butternut squash that actually tastes good?’”

Barber then went on to complain to Mazourek about “all the heroics” chefs go through to “eke out any deliciousness” from butternut squash: careful roasting and caramelizing, goosing it with maple syrup and brown sugar, etc. Mazourek replied that “in all my years of breeding, no one has ever asked me to select for flavor before,” Barber reports. And that’s when the lightbulb went on.

His conversations with Mazourek taught him that breeders are a little bit like chefs: They “combine genetics in a kind of recipe format” to create traits. Modern butternut squash, for example, is “bred to be picked green,” he said—that is, to be harvested before it’s ripe, and then stored for months and ripened at the convenience of the food industry. A winter squash that’s bred to be picked ripe, with flavor as its main goal—rather than storeability—would be a much more delicious thing, he said.

When US chefs began to rebel against bland ingredients in the 1970s (listen to my interview with Alice Waters to dig into that history), they began an enduring alliance between farmers and chefs that became the farm-to-table movement. But in seed terms, the focus of that relationship was on heirloom vegetable varieties—highly flavorful old strains that are adapted to very particular microclimates, don’t tend to produce very high yields, and aren’t suited to resist various fungal pathogens.

What Row 7 is trying to do, Barber said, is bridge the gap between the flavor of heirlooms and the yield potential of modern industrial varieties. The company has set up a nationwide network of 70 chefs working with seed breeders to create flavor-forward vegetable varieties. And the goal is to create products that appeal not just to rarefied foodies. “The north star is to get into Walmart, not to keep [the new varieties] in the cathedral of our white-tablecloth restaurants,” he said.

Barber’s original challenge to Mazourek ultimately resulted in a winter squash variety called honeynut, which Barber says is now available at supermarkets nationwide. I haven’t tried a honeynut squash; here’s how Bon Appetit describes it: “The flavor is much more concentrated because their flavor isn’t diluted from water weight…an intense natural sweetness that becomes rich, caramel-y, and almost malt-like when roasted at high heat, they don’t have to be peeled because they have thin skin (similar to a delicata), and they have three times the amount of beta-carotene packed in.”  . . .

Continue reading.

Also: audio at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2018 at 1:22 pm

Charlie Stross also looks at what Brexit accomplished might be like

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Charlie Stross writes in his blog, Charlie’s Diary:

We are now 25 months on from the Brexit referendum. Theresa May filed notice of departure from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on 29 March, 2017: on 29 March, 2019 (in 8 months’ time—approximately 240 days) the UK, assuming nothing changes, will be out of the EU.

In the intervening time, the UK has undergone a disastrously divisive general election—disastrous because, in the middle of an unprecedented (and wholly avoidable and artificial) national crisis, it returned to power a government so weakened that it depends on an extreme right-wing sectarian religious party to maintain its majority. The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) stands for Union with the United Kingdom, and hostility towards Ireland (in the form of the Irish Republic); they will veto any Brexit settlement that imposes a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. However, this implies that a customs border must exist between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the two economies are so entangled that this is impractical. (The border between north and south cuts across roads, railways … and also through farms, living rooms, and business premises.) Creating a hard border in Ireland is anathema to the government of Ireland, which will therefore veto any Brexit agreement with the UK that posits one. (It would also violate the Good Friday Agreement, but hey, nobody in Westminster today cares about that.)

The Electoral Commission has uncovered evidence of electoral spending irregularities in the Leave.UK and Vote Leave campaigns serious enough to justify criminal investigation and possible prosecution; involvement by Cambridge Analytica is pretty much proven, and meddling by Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer has also been alleged in testimny before the US Senate judiciary committee. There’s also an alleged Russian Connection with Aronn Banks (the main financial backer of Brexit) having been offered too-good-to-be-true investment opportunities in a Russian gold mine (according to The Observer newspaper).

But not to worry, the will of the people has spoken! (Although it’s actually the will of these peope—a mixed bunch of right-wing Atlanticists, hedge fund managers, warmed-over neo-Nazis, and disaster capitalists. Never mind, I’m certain they have only our best interests at heart.)

For added fun and optimism, back in the summer of 2016 it looked reasonably likely that over the next few years we would see business continue as usual, on a global scale. This was before the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the USA. Trump doesn’t understand macroeconomics—he’s convinced that trade is a zero-sum game, that for every winner there must be a loser, and that trade tariffs and punitive sanctions are good. He’s launched attacks on the World Trade Organization (as well as NATO) and seems intent on rolling back the past 75 years of post-WW2, post-New Deal global free trade. The prospects for a favourable post-Brexit trade deal with the United States went out the window on January 20th, 2017; Trump perceives isolation as weakness, and weakness in a negotiating partner as an opportunity to screw them. (So much for the Conservative Atlanticists and the Special Relationship.)

The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner, with roughly 44% of all our foreign trade going through our EU siblings. This includes food—the cramped, densely populated UK hasn’t been self-sufficient in food since the 19th century, and we import more than 50% of what we eat.

A customs union with the EU has been ruled out unless the UK agrees to cooperate with certain EU “red line” requirements—essentially the basis for continuing free trade: for reasons too preposterous and stupid to go into this is unacceptable to the Conservative party even when national food security is in jeopardy. In event of a no-deal Brexit, Operation Stack will become permanent, causing gridlock on motorway routes approaching Channel ports. Perishable goods and foodstuffs will be caught up in unpredictable protracted delays, resulting in dairy produce (including infant formula) becoming ‘very scarce’. Large manufacturing concerns with cross-border supply chains such as BMW, Airbus, and Toyota are threatening to shut down production in the UK in event of a hard Brexit; Amazon’s UK manager warns of civil unrest in event of a no-deal Brexit, and in event of a no-deal that doesn’t include services (as well as goods) it’s hard to see how the Amazon supply chain can continue to function in the UK.

(Note: Online sales account for 18% of all UK retail and Amazon is the proverbial 500lb gorilla in this sector. UK customers who purchase from Amazon.co.uk are, however, doing business with Amazon SarL in Luxemburg, who then subcontract fulfillment/delivery to a different Amazon company in the UK—Amazon SarL takes advantage of one of the lowest corporate tax regimes in the EU. This is obviously not a sustainable model in event of a hard brexit, and with shipping delays likely as well as contractual headaches, I think there’s a very good chance of Brexit shutting down Amazon.co.uk and, thereby, close to 20% of the British retail distribution system.)

Current warnings are that a no-deal Brexit would see trade at the port of Dover collapse on day one, cutting the UK off from the continent; supermarkets in Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days, and hospitals will run out of medicines within a couple of weeks. After two weeks we’d be running out of fuel as well.

Note that this warning comes from the civil service, not anti-Brexit campaigners, and is a medium-bad scenario—the existence of an “Armageddon scenario” has been mooted but its contents not disclosed.

In the past month, the Health Secretary has admitted that the government is making plans to stockpile vital blood products and medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit, and the Brexit secretary is allegedly making plans to ensure there are “adequate food supplies” to cover a no-deal exit.

But before you say “well, then it’s going to be all right, we’ll just go back to 1939-54 era food ration books and make do and mend”, we need to factor in not only Donald Trump’s latest bloviations, but Global Climate Change! Europe is facing one of the most intense regional droughts in living memory this summer, with an ongoing crisis-level heat wave. Parts of the UK have had the least rainfall in July since 1969, with a severe heat wave in progress; Greece is on fireSweden is having a wildfire problem inside the Arctic circle this summer).

A Hard Brexit, on its own, would be a very dubious but probably long-term survivable scenario, with the UK economy taking a hit not much worse than the 10% downsizing Margaret Thatcher inflicted on it in 1979-80. But a hard Brexit, coinciding with the worst harvest failures in decades, ongoing climate destabilization, a fisheries collapse, and a global trade war being started by the Tangerine Shitgibbon in the White House is … well, I’m not optimistic.

Right now, the British cabinet seems to be locked in a suicide pact with itself. Theresa May is too weak to beat back the cabal of unscrupulous opportunists within her own party who want the worst to happen—the disaster capitalists, crooked market short-sellers, and swivel-eyed imperialist revenants of the European Research Group. Any replacement Conservative PM would face exactly the same impedance mismatch between reality and his or her back bench MPs. On the other side of the house, Jeremy Corbyn’s dislike for the EU as a capitalist entity has combined with his fear of alienating the minority of “legitimate concerns” racist voters in Labour’s base so that he’s unwilling or unable to adopt an anti-Brexit stance. Brexit cuts across traditional party lines; it’s a political Outside Context Problem that has effectively paralysed the British government in a time of crisis.

So I’m not optimistic that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided.

What happens next?

On a micro scale: I’m stockpiling enough essential medicines to keep me alive for six months, and will in due course try and stockpile enough food for a couple of weeks. I’m also going to try and move as much of my savings into other currencies as possible, preferably in financial institutions accessible from but outside the UK. (I expect a Sterling crisis to follow promptly in event of NDB. We saw Sterling drop 10% the day after the referendum—and certain people made a fuck-ton of money by shorting the stock market; I expect it to go into free fall if our trade with the EU is suddenly guillotined.)

On a macro scale:

Airports and the main container freight ports for goods entering the UK will shut down on day 1. There will be panic buying. I expect widespread rioting throughout the UK and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland (contra public received wisdom, NI is never quiet and this summer has been bad.)

A currency crisis means that goods (notably food) entering the UK will spike in price, even without punitive trade tariffs.

There will be mass lay-offs at manufacturing plants that have cross border supply chains, which means most of them.

You might think that as an author I’d be immune, but you’d be wrong: although paper editions of my UK books are printed in the UK, you can bet that some elements of the wood pulp and the ink that goes on it and the glue that binds them are imported. About 90% of my UK ebook sales are made as (contractually speaking) services via Amazon.co.uk (see above), the fuel that powers the trucks that ship the product to the bookstores is imported, my publishers (Orbit and Tor) are subsidiaries of EU parent companies (Hachette and Holtzbrink), and anyway, people are going to be spending money on vital necessities during the aftermath, not luxuries.

(Luckily for me, many of my sales come from other EU territories—in translation—and from the USA. Unfortunately, getting paid in foreign currency may become … problematic, for a while, as Brexit jeopardizes both currency exchange and the UK retail banking sector’s ability to exchange funds overseas.)

After week 1 I expect the UK to revert its state during the worst of the 1970s. I just about remember the Three Day Week, rolling power blackouts, and more clearly, the mass redundancies of 1979, when unemployment tripled in roughly 6 months. Yes, it’s going to get that bad. But then the situation will continue to deteriorate. With roughly 20% of the retail sector shut down (Amazon) and probably another 50% of the retail sector suffering severe supply chain difficulties (shop buyers having difficulty sourcing imported products that are held up in the queues) food availability will rapidly become patchy. Local crops, with no prospect of reaching EU markets, will be left to rot in the fields as the agricultural sector collapses (see concluding remarks, section 5.6).

Note that during her time as Home Secretary, Theresa May presided over 30% cuts in police numbers. During the recent state visit by Donald Trump, virtually every police force in the UK had to cancel all leave just to maintain cover for those officers temporarily assigned to POTUS’ security detail (the policing operation was on a scale comparable to the 2011 summer riots … when there were many, many more officers available). Also, police and emergency service workers will be trying to source food, medicines, and the necessities of life for themselves and their own families: there may be significant absenteeism from critical posts just as everything comes to a head.

I expect the government will collapse within 1-4 weeks. There will be a state of emergency, managed under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) (which replaced earlier civil defense emergency legislation). Emergency airlifts of medicines, food, and fuel may take place—but it’s hard to see the current US administration lending a hand.

Most likely the crisis will end with the UK crashing back into the EU, or at least into Customs Union and statutory convergence—but on EU maximalist terms with none of the opt-outs negotiated by previous British governments from Thatcher onwards. The negotiating position will most likely resemble that of Greece in 2011-2015, i.e. a vastly weaker supplicant in a state of crisis and near-collapse, and the British economy will take a generation to recover—if it ever manages to.

(This is, by the way, not the worst scenario I can envisage. The worst case is that the catastrophic collapse of the world’s sixth largest trading economy, combined with a POTUS whose understanding of economics is approximately as deep as that of Louis XVI, will lead to a global financial crisis on the scale of 2007-08—but without leadership as credible as, say, George W. Bush and/or Gordon Brown to pull our collective nuts out of the fire. In which case we’re looking at a global banking collapse, widespread famine due to those crop shortages, and a wave of revolutions the like of which the planet hasn’t seen since 1917-18. But hopefully that won’t happen, right? Because only a maniac would want to burn everything down in order to provide elbow room for a new white supremacist ethnostate world order. Oops, that would be Steve Bannon.)

Anyway: the most likely historical legacy of a no-deal Brexit will be . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2018 at 9:07 am

What could day one of no-deal Brexit look like? From transport chaos to medical meltdown and financial panic

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At least the US is not the only country facing a mess. Ben Chu, economics editor of the Independent, writes, looking into the (possible) future:

It’s Saturday 30 March 2019 and Britain has gone over the cliff edge.

At 11pm the night before the UK left the EU with no deal agreed. There is no financial liabilities settlement. There is no agreement on EU citizens’ rights or security cooperation. Britain is totally outside the customs union. There’s no single market “transition”.

Nor is there any route to a free trade deal. All Britain has to govern its trade with the EU now is the bare rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Theresa May announces her resignation and the Conservative Party begins its leadership election process.

Nigel Farage is delighted at the last-minute collapse of the Brexit negotiations and declares outside parliament, as the dawn breaks, that Britain is now truly an independent nation once again.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, now the clear favourite for the Tory leadership having lead the successful campaign to thwart May’s proposed “vassalage” deal, informs BBC Radio 4’s Todayprogramme that although what he describes as a “clean Brexit” will likely entail some “bumpiness” any disruption will be short-lived and ultimately well worth it.

Travellers are the first to feel the bump. UK airports are in chaos, as all flights to mainland Europe have been cancelled since late on Friday.

The WTO rules do not cover aviation. And no aircraft is permitted to fly between the UK and EU airports until a new bilateral agreement on flights is reached.

Weekend motorists in Kent are also suffering, as the roads leading to the ports of Dover and Folkestone soon become gridlocked with stationary lorries.

Each UK export consignment to Europe now has to be checked by customs staff in Calais, with tariffs and VAT collected.

The French port’s infrastructure is rapidly overwhelmed and ferry companies are instructed not to disgorge any more lorries until they can hire and train more officers.

The only option for hauliers bound for the EU is to queue and wait.

Traffic going the other way also locks up, as the UK’s small band of customs staff also soon become swamped, despite instructions for them to check only one incoming consignment from the EU in five.

By the end of the day, gaps are already starting to appear on UK supermarket shelves as shoppers, hearing about the customs crisis, stockpile goods, anticipating that deliveries from Europe will fail to arrive.

Some petrol stations are running low on fuel as tankers have difficulty getting through. Expecting a rush of panic buying, some profiteering operators jack up fuel prices on Sunday to as much as £1.50 a litre.

When the stock markets open on Monday, traders’ screens are drenched in red as UK stocks and investment funds get brutally marked down. Many find they cannot process orders on behalf of European clients due to the sudden demise of the single market passport for financial services.

Bank executives implement their contingency plans, informing thousands of employees that they will either be sacked or relocated to Frankfurt.

Lawyers are commissioned across the Square Mile for a gargantuan battle over trillions of pounds of derivative contracts whose legal status is now suddenly in doubt.

Despite an emergency rate cut and unprecedentedly large financial market liquidity injection from the Bank of England, panic takes hold in the City.

The pound is sinking at its most rapid rate since the night of that Leave vote in the Brexit referendum. One airport bureau de change offers to buy pounds for only a single dollar. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2018 at 8:41 am

Weight progress note

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I’ve been bouncing between 190 and 195 for a while now, but I finally settled down and refocused again on meeting my daily goal in Weight Watcher Freestyle points and stopped having a glass of wine or a cocktail—and, of course, took up Nordic walking—and my weight this morning is 189.9 lbs with average weight loss since 27 Dec 2017 of 1.1 lbs/week. But last Sunday I weighed 197.1 lbs:  8 lbs lost in this past week. (The 197.1 is a little misleading, though: the day previous I weighed 193.5 lbs.) The last 7 days:

197.1
195.0
196.1
195.0
193.8
192.9
192.7
189.9

Given how it bounces around, I would not be surprised if tomorrow I were again above 190, but I’m going to try to avoid that.

I broke 190 despite a 20-point breakfast yesterday (eggs Benedict). After the breakfast, though, I was careful. I ate a 0-point lunch (sardines packed in water, drained and chopped, with chopped scallion, chopped cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce) and a 0-point afternoon snack (frozen mixed berries, thawed) and a 3-point dinner (chicken breast cooked with a little olive oil (the 3 points) and onions, zucchini, tomatoes, etc.). My daily point limit is 23 points, so I was exactly at the limit. Thank heavens for 0-point foods.

I’m sure Nordic walking helped: I have walked 87 miles so far this month. (Pedometer++ has nice summary readings.) And yesterday I read a research paper that quantified how much Nordic walking contributes to upper-body exercise. From that paper:

Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 12.43.23 PM

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2018 at 8:40 am

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