Later On

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

Archive for July 24th, 2018

“Nanette” on Netflix is seriously good

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Watch it. All the way through.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2018 at 5:47 pm

Is There a Science of Culture?

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Long-time readers (if there be any) will know the title represents a long-time interest of mine. Thom Scott-Phillips writes in Scientific American:

There’s an edition of the Web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal in which one of the recurring characters asks God: “What’s the deal with the platypus?

As the character goes on to explain, the platypus is an animal of contradiction. It’s got a cloaca and beak, like a bird, but it also has fur and lives in the water, like a mammal. So the question is a good one, from a comparative point of view—but God is having none of it. “You’re a talking ape. You’re like 10 seconds out of the trees and you drive around in giant metal boxes like it’s perfectly normal animal behavior. You get your food from a giant box-shaped cave built by other talking apes, none of whom knows where the food came from. Your dominant form of communication is entering patterns of squiggles into a mechanical brain and sending it to other mechanical brains! And you’re weirded out by a mammal with a beak? You’re weird.”

Weird we are. And look at the things God uses to make this point: languages, cars, shops, writing, computers—cultural, all of them. We are not born with any of this nor do we have the capacity to invent them alone. Such beliefs, behaviors, knowledge and artifacts are not part of the human phenotype but are instead the consequence of an enormous crisscrossing mesh of causes and consequences that stretches back through time, to the very beginning of human history. Any science of the human must grapple with this process and its consequences.

But what sort of science would that be? Many anthropologists, recognizing the important truth that humans are deeply, inevitably embedded in an individual cultural context, have concluded any science of human culture is either impossible, undesirable or both. Psychologists, for their part, have an almost dogmatic commitment to the tools and trappings of the mature sciences: objective measurement, controlled experimentation, model systems and the like. But it is hard to apply such tools to something as chaotic and amorphous as culture.

Over the past 30 or so years, advocates of a research agenda known as cultural epidemiology have developed arguments that a natural science of culture should be epidemiological. The word is a concatenation of Greek origin: epi (upon, among), demos (people, district) and logos (study, word, discourse). Epidemiology, then, is the study of what is upon the people. The word is presently mostly used in medical contexts but its historical meaning is not restricted to that domain; and indeed, we often use the language of epidemiology to talk about cultural phenomena, particularly those we consider harmful. We sometimes talk, for instance, about cultural “epidemics”: of, say, knife crime. Cultural commentators describe nationalism, political cynicism and other such passions as “pathogens,” and the idea we can be “inoculated” against particular attitudes and beliefs has a long history in social psychology.

Belief in the supernatural, marriage rituals, the rules of chess, legal norms, tulip mania, writing, technological knowledge, and countless other examples too: all are epi demos. Good or bad, they , exploit susceptibilities of the mind, just as infectious diseases exploit susceptibilities of the body.

There are of course many differences between the two domains. Probably the most important difference is in the mechanics of how items spread through a population. Ideas and other cultural phenomena are not ‘transmitted’ between individuals, not strictly speaking. They are, instead, generated and constructed anew by each mind. It just happens that different minds often generate similar ideas.

At the same time, diseases and ideas are both upon the people, so to speak, and there may be a great deal to be learned from the equivalence. As part of the medical sciences, pathology and epidemiology are joined at the scientific hip, as they rightly should be, for each is highly relevant to the other. In other words,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2018 at 12:29 pm

Paul Waldman: “Is this the administration’s dumbest idea yet?”

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Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post:

President Trump probably won’t follow through on his threat to revoke the security clearances of a bunch of former federal officials who have been critical of him, if only because within a couple of days he’ll get distracted by something else and forget all about it. But this bizarre episode contains so many Trump administration pathologies wrapped up into one idiotic idea that it really is a wonder, and something we shouldn’t forget.

Yesterday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the press corps that Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of former CIA directors John Brennan and Michael Hayden, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., former FBI director James B. Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and former national security adviser Susan E. Rice. All have been publicly critical of Trump in one way or another.

What do I mean when I say that this idea wraps so many Trump administration pathologies together? Let’s count the ways. It has no real policy justification but is based entirely on the president’s momentary whims. In fact, it has its roots in right-wing media. It’s born of the president’s inability to tolerate criticism and his authoritarian impulses. It’s petty and vindictive. In justifying it, the administration accuses others of things Trump and those around him are guilty of. It was offered without any understanding of even basic facts. (For starters, Comey and McCabe no longer have security clearances, so there’s nothing to take from them.) And arguing in its favor requires a herculean level of shamelessness and dishonesty, but Trump’s employees and allies will show themselves to be up to the task.

Let’s look at how Sanders described the reasons Trump might take this step:

The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances. Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate. And the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.

Naturally, she provided no details or specifics. But stand back and marvel for a moment that Trump’s White House is taking the position that “making … baseless charges” is absolutely intolerable and must be punished. Trump, the most profligate liar in the history of the American presidency. And the Trump administration now believes that you’re not supposed to monetize your public service? Good to know.

This idea, however, didn’t just occur to Trump yesterday morning. It goes back a couple of months, and like many things, it began on the fringes of the right and moved quickly to Fox, and from there into Trump’s brain.

It’s important to note that many people, both high-ranking and not-so-high-ranking, retain their security clearances after leaving government service. According to a fiscal year 2016 report from the Director of National Intelligence, at the time there were 4 million Americans with security clearances, which includes not only the staff of agencies such as the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security or the CIA, but also former employees and people employed by government contractors, many of whom have never worked for the government. This was actually a decline from a few years before, when the number topped 5 million.

But few Americans understand that, which is why it wasn’t hard for those on the right to begin shouting OMG these former officials still have security clearances! as though it were something unusual. On April 30, right-wing conspiracy site Gateway Pundit published a piece entitled “Clapper and Brennan STILL Have Security Clearance as They Trash Trump and Work at CNN, MSNBC,” breathlessly reporting this shocking news.

A few weeks later, former Trump official Sebastian Gorka went on Fox Newsto demand that Trump “pull the clearances of Clapper, Comey, Brennan, and Hillary.” Host Jeanine Pirro was incredulous. “Hold on a second,” she said. “These people are not in office anymore and they still have security clearances?” “Yes! Yes!” Gorka shouted.

Then yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on Twitter, “Today I will meet with the President and I will ask him to revoke John Brennan’s security clearance!” Apparently, he was quite persuasive.

Let’s return to Sanders’s assertion that it’s so problematic that former intelligence officials have gotten work using their government experience, thereby “monetizing” that experience in a way no Trump aide would ever dream of. Had it been Sean Spicer, you would have seen droplets of sweat pouring off his forehead, the telltale sign of shame and fear as he offered up what he knew was an laughable justification for an indefensible decision. But Sanders doesn’t hesitate or waver, not for an instant. She can tell you that today is Tuesday or that Hillary Clinton killed JFK, and she’ll say both things with the same flat affect and barely disguised contempt at anyone who would possibly question the rightness of everything she says. This is why Sanders is and will always be the one true Trump spokeswoman, no matter who comes after her when she leaves. No one could possibly match her unwavering shamelessness.

As to what it means to monetize your security clearance and government service, it’s what thousands of officials from Democratic and Republican administrations, not to mention Congress, do all the time. They serve on corporate boards, they make paid speeches, they become lobbyists, they go into “consulting,” they work for defense contractors or other corporations. Even those who go to think tanks or nonprofit advocacy groups are using what they learned in government to earn a salary. There’s plenty to criticize about the revolving door, but the idea that it’s something that only a few former officials who served under Barack Obama (as well as Republican presidents) have done is so plainly ludicrous that it’s almost surprising that even Sanders could say it with a straight face. Almost. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2018 at 12:16 pm

The worst U.S. human rights abuse in decades isn’t over

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Jennifer Rubin writes about how the US government is treating people nowadays:

The greatest scandal of this presidency — and out of all U.S. presidencies, really — is Russia’s co-opting of President Trump. But that should not diminish the importance or the horror of Trump’s greatest domestic outrage: the cruel, senseless separation of migrant parents from their children with no real plan swiftly to reunite them. The American Civil Liberties Union in a written statement points out that the administration has already missed one deadline and is likely to miss another. (“On July 23, the Trump administration told the court that it had reunited or ‘appropriately discharged’ 1,187 of the 2,551 children ages five and older who were forcibly separated from their parents. The government has also reunited 58 out of 103 children who are under the age of five and whose reunions were required by the first deadline, July 10.”)

We now know hundreds of parents were deported without their kids:

The status report to Southern California U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw, in an update between plaintiffs and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the 463 cases are “under review,” and in those cases the adult “is not in U.S.”

The report was requested by Sabraw ahead of the Trump administration’s 30-day deadline to reunite separated families, which ends Thursday. The judge wanted clarity on how many of the more than 2,551 parents eligible for reunions are no longer in the United States.

The administration has the nerve to claim that parents — under the duress of family separation — willingly gave up their children. UPI reports: “Attorneys and immigration advocates are questioning, though, whether the parents fully understood what they were asked, and are hoping a court hearing Tuesday will provide clarity. … Advocates argue that migrant parents have been pressured and, out of desperation, signed deportation forms to be released from custody once their sons and daughters were sent to government shelters.” The ACLU expressed “concerns about misinformation given to these parents about their rights to fight deportation without their children,” given the near-impossibility of tracking down parents in Central America.

The ACLU very reasonably rejects the assertion that parents acted voluntarily. “As of July 23, the government reported that 130 parents had waived their right for reunification, meaning that their child would stay in the U.S. while they are removed, either in Office of Refugee Resettlement custody or possibly being released to a sponsor,” it explained. “It is critical that we are able to reach these parents and independently verify that they made this important choice with full knowledge of their families’ legal rights. In court on Friday, the government was not able to say how many of the 136 parents were still in the country, and this is information we will continue to press for.”

Consider the trauma already inflicted on these children. Then add in the real possibility that some parents will never be found. The Trump administration will have willfully and inhumanely inflicted ongoing emotional trauma on innocent kids and created hundreds of orphans for the sake of “deterrence.”

While the administration has tried to claim a “victory” in decreasing illegal entry, its data — big surprise! — is misleading at best. As Harsha Panduranga, counsel in the Brennan Center’s liberty and national security program, pointed out, “data from the past few years shows that southwestern apprehensions and detentions regularly decrease from May to June. In four out of the past five years, when there was no ‘zero-tolerance’ policy, and which were all years when Barack Obama was president, southwestern apprehensions and detentions also went down from May to June.” Moreover, cases of family apprehensions “only decreased from 9,485 to 9,449, or 0.4 percent, from May to June. That’s hardly evidence that the administration’s practice of family separation caused any drops in attempted illegal border-crossings. Indeed, as Adam Cox and Ryan Goodman have convincingly argued — and as cited recently by a federal court reaffirming an order limiting the detention of migrant children to 20 days — there is little proof that harsh immigration detention policies have had any deterrent effects.”

This disgraceful chapter . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2018 at 11:20 am

I thought Trump supporters opposed government handouts: Farmers to Receive Up to $12 Billion to Ease Pain From Trump’s Trade War Image

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Doesn’t make sense. These are the very people whose votes showed that they opposed government assistance and handouts. Boy, are they going to be angry!

Julie Hirschfield Davis reports in the NY Times:

The Trump administration on Tuesday will announce up to $12 billion in emergency relief for farmers hurt by the president’s trade war, according to two people familiar with the plans, in an effort to insulate food producers from looming financial losses that would be a direct result of President Trump’s policies.

The aid to farmers, to be announced by the United States Department of Agriculture, would come through a direct assistance program, one designed to help with food purchase and distribution, and one specifically geared toward promoting trade, according to one of the people. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not have authorization to pre-empt a planned announcement later Tuesday.

The move is an indication that Mr. Trump — ignoring the concerns of farmers, their representatives in Congress, and even some of his own aides about the adverse consequences of a trade war he says he relishes — plans to plow forward in escalating his tariff tit-for-tat around the world. The approach could cost American producers billions of dollars, and potentially inflict political pain on Republicans in farm states who would be forced to answer for the policies of a president who has shown little regard for the consequences of his trade agenda.

Mr. Trump and his advisers have argued that while American producers may feel short-term pain from his protectionist stance, ultimately they will benefit from it. In the meantime, the administration has sought ways for the Agriculture Department to help farmers sustain the negative consequences. As part of the program to be announced on Tuesday, the department is expected to draw on the financial resources of a program known as the Commodity Credit Corporation, which helps shore up American farmers by buying their crops.

The initiative, which would not authorize any new money and thus not need approval from Congress, was a way for Mr. Trump to tamp down on criticism of his trade policies. But it was also an unmistakable signal that the president has no plans to lift his tariffs any time soon, as senators from across the Farm Belt have pleaded with him to do.

The plan met with swift condemnation from Republicans, who said that Mr. Trump had devised an expensive solution to a crisis of Depression-era proportions.

“This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches,” Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. “This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2018 at 10:21 am

Nordic walking progress report

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My goal is currently set at 5500 steps a day, and I currently meet that just from my morning 55-minute walk. Pedometer++ tracks steps and gives awards (unfortunately, of no monetary value).

A streak consists of a sequence of consecutive days on each of which you met or exceeded your step goal.

I like the aspirational 15,000,000 steps.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2018 at 9:41 am

Rooney Style 2 Finest, Stubble Trubble Up & Adam, RazoRock Game Changer, and Barrister & Mann Fougère Classique

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My Rooney Style 2 Finest is one of my favorite brushes. The knot is slightly asymmetrical, but then so am I. It made a wonderful lather from Stubble Trubble’s Up & Adam, one of my favorite shaving soaps: “a robust espresso and vanilla blend with a hint of menthol,” but the hint of menthol is so faint I don’t really detect it. Great fragrance, though, and the lather works a treat.

The razor is new, pointed out by Ryan in some comments. The RazoRock Game Changer comes with the same Halo handle I got on my RazoRock Mamba, and the Game Changer, like the Mamba, is a machined stainless steel razor—quite a bargain at $55, assuming the razor is good in workmanship and performance.

The workmanship is fine: well-finished and smooth. This razor has the alignment studs on the baseplate rather than the cap, so when you load it, you put the blade first on the baseplate, not the cap. You always load the blade onto the alignment studs or bar.

I loaded it with my last remaining Astra Keramik Platinum blade and set to work. It is very comfortable—no hint that it might nick, and it did not—and it is quite efficient, having perhaps a bit more blade feel than the RazoRock Mamba. Here is a side view of the two heads, the Mamba on the left.

I would say it is a great bargain. They currently are sold out, but I imagine the razor will return. I would guess that this razor will satisfy those who find the Mamba a bit too mild.

The razor comes with a very nice black leather travel case, so it is in a sense “gift-ready” if you’re already looking for back-to-school presents for a young man. The Mamba comes with the same case, as I recall.

Altogether, a fine shave and a great way to start the day.

Written by Leisureguy

24 July 2018 at 8:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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