Later On

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Archive for August 2018

The Mystery of People Who Speak Dozens of Languages

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Judith Thurman writes in the New Yorker:

Last May, Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, flew to Malta for a week to learn Maltese. He had a hefty grammar book in his backpack, but he didn’t plan to open it unless he had to. “We’ll do this as I would in the Amazon,” he told me, referring to his fieldwork as a linguist. Our plan was for me to observe how he went about learning a new language, starting with “hello” and “thank you.”

Rojas-Berscia is a twenty-seven-year-old Peruvian with a baby face and spiky dark hair. A friend had given him a new pair of earrings, which he wore on Malta with funky tank tops and a chain necklace. He looked like any other laid-back young tourist, except for the intense focus—all senses cocked—with which he takes in a new environment. Linguistics is a formidably cerebral discipline. At a conference in Nijmegen that had preceded our trip to Malta, there were papers on “the anatomical similarities in the phonatory apparati of humans and harbor seals” and “hippocampal-dependent declarative memory,” along with a neuropsychological analysis of speech and sound processing in the brains of beatboxers. Rojas-Berscia’s Ph.D. research, with the Shawi people of the Peruvian rain forest, doesn’t involve fMRI data or computer modelling, but it is still arcane to a layperson. “I’m developing a theory of language change called the Flux Approach,” he explained one evening, at a country inn outside the city, over the delicious pannenkoeken (pancakes) that are a local specialty. “A flux is a dynamism that involves a social fact and an impact, either functionally or formally, in linguistic competence.”

Linguistic competence, as it happens, was the subject of my own interest in Rojas-Berscia. He is a hyperpolyglot, with a command of twenty-two living languages (Spanish, Italian, Piedmontese, English, Mandarin, French, Esperanto, Portuguese, Romanian, Quechua, Shawi, Aymara, German, Dutch, Catalan, Russian, Hakka Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Guarani, Farsi, and Serbian), thirteen of which he speaks fluently. He also knows six classical or endangered languages: Latin, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Shiwilu, Muniche, and Selk’nam, an indigenous tongue of Tierra del Fuego, which was the subject of his master’s thesis. We first made contact three years ago, when I was writing about a Chilean youth who called himself the last surviving speaker of Selk’nam. How could such a claim be verified? Pretty much only, it turned out, by Rojas-Berscia.

Superlative feats have always thrilled average mortals, in part, perhaps, because they register as a victory for Team Homo Sapiens: they redefine the humanly possible. If the ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes can run three hundred and fifty miles without sleep, he may inspire you to jog around the block. If Rojas-Berscia can speak twenty-two languages, perhaps you can crank up your high-school Spanish or bat-mitzvah Hebrew, or learn enough of your grandma’s Korean to understand her stories. Such is the promise of online language-learning programs like Pimsleur, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and Duolingo: in the brain of every monolingual, there’s a dormant polyglot—a genie—who, with some brisk mental friction, can be woken up. I tested that presumption at the start of my research, signing up on Duolingo to learn Vietnamese. (The app is free, and I was curious about the challenges of a tonal language.) It turns out that I’m good at hello—chào—but thank you, cảm ơn, is harder.

The word “hyperpolyglot” was coined two decades ago, by a British linguist, Richard Hudson, who was launching an Internet search for the world’s greatest language learner. But the phenomenon and its mystique are ancient. In Acts 2 of the New Testament, Christ’s disciples receive the Holy Spirit and can suddenly “speak in tongues” (glōssais lalein, in Greek), preaching in the languages of “every nation under heaven.” According to Pliny the Elder, the Greco-Persian king Mithridates VI, who ruled twenty-two nations in the first century B.C., “administered their laws in as many languages, and could harangue in each of them.” Plutarch claimed that Cleopatra “very seldom had need of an interpreter,” and was the only monarch of her Greek dynasty fluent in Egyptian. Elizabeth I also allegedly mastered the tongues of her realm—Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, and Irish, plus six others.

With a mere ten languages, Shakespeare’s Queen does not qualify as a hyperpolyglot; the accepted threshold is eleven. The prowess of Giuseppe Mezzofanti (1774-1849) is more astounding and better documented. Mezzofanti, an Italian cardinal, was fluent in at least thirty languages and studied another forty-two, including, he claimed, Algonquin. In the decades that he lived in Rome, as the chief custodian of the Vatican Library, notables from around the world dropped by to interrogate him in their mother tongues, and he flitted as nimbly among them as a bee in a rose garden. Lord Byron, who is said to have spoken Greek, French, Italian, German, Latin, and some Armenian, in addition to his immortal English, lost a cursing contest with the Cardinal and afterward, with admiration, called him a “monster.” Other witnesses were less enchanted, comparing him to a parrot. But his gifts were certified by an Irish scholar and a British philologist, Charles William Russell and Thomas Watts, who set a standard for fluency that is still useful in vetting the claims of modern Mezzofantis: Can they speak with an unstilted freedom that transcends rote mimicry?

Mezzofanti, the son of a carpenter, picked up Latin by standing outside a seminary, listening to the boys recite their conjugations. Rojas-Berscia, by contrast, grew up in an educated trilingual household. His father is a Peruvian businessman, and the family lives comfortably in Lima. His mother is a shop manager of Italian origin, and his maternal grandmother, who cared for him as a boy, taught him Piedmontese. He learned English in preschool and speaks it impeccably, with the same slight Latin inflection—a trill of otherness, rather than an accent—that he has in every language I can vouch for. Maltese had been on his wish list for a while, along with Uighur and Sanskrit. “What happens is this,” he said, over dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Nijmegen, where he was chatting in Mandarin with the owner and in Dutch with a server, while alternating between French and Spanish with a fellow-student at the institute. “I’m an amoureux de langues. And, when I fall in love with a language, I have to learn it. There’s no practical motive—it’s a form of play.” An amoureux, one might note, covets his beloved, body and soul.

My own modest competence in foreign languages (I speak three) is nothing to boast of in most parts of the world, where multilingualism is the norm. People who live at a crossroads of cultures—Melanesians, South Asians, Latin-Americans, Central Europeans, sub-Saharan Africans, plus millions of others, including the Maltese and the Shawi—acquire languages without considering it a noteworthy achievement. Leaving New York, on the way to the Netherlands, I overheard a Ghanaian taxi-driver chatting on his cell phone in a tonal language that I didn’t recognize. “It’s Hausa,” he told me. “I speak it with my father, whose family comes from Nigeria. But I speak Twi with my mom, Ga with my friends, some Ewe, and English is our lingua franca. If people in Chelsea spoke one thing and people in SoHo another, New Yorkers would be multilingual, too.”

Linguistically speaking, that taxi-driver is a more typical citizen of the globe than the average American is. Consider Adul Sam-on, one of the teen-age soccer players rescued last July from the cave in Mae Sai, Thailand. Adul grew up in dire poverty on the porous Thai border with Myanmar and Laos, where diverse populations intersect. His family belongs to an ethnic minority, the Wa, who speak an Austroasiatic language that is also widespread in parts of China. In addition to Wa, according to the Times, Adul is “proficient” in Thai, Burmese, Mandarin, and English—which enabled him to interpret for the two British divers who discovered the trapped team.

Nearly two billion people study English as a foreign language—about four times the number of native speakers. And apps like Google Translate make it possible to communicate, almost anywhere, by typing conversations into a smartphone (presuming your interlocutor can read). Ironically, however, as the hegemony of English decreases the need to speak other languages for work or for travel, the cachet attached to acquiring them seems to be growing. There is a thriving online community of ardent linguaphiles who are, or who aspire to become, polyglots; for inspiration, they look to Facebook groups, YouTube videos, chat rooms, and language gurus like Richard Simcott, a charismatic British hyperpolyglot who orchestrates the annual Polyglot Conference. This gathering has been held, on various continents, since 2009, and it attracts hundreds of aficionados. The talks are mostly in English, though participants wear nametags listing the languages they’re prepared to converse in. Simcott’s winkingly says “Try Me.”

No one becomes a hyperpolyglot by osmosis, or without sacrifice—it’s a rare, herculean feat. Rojas-Berscia, who gave up a promising tennis career that interfered with his language studies, reckons that there are “about twenty of us in Europe, and we all know, or know of, one another.” He put me in touch with a few of his peers, including Corentin Bourdeau, a young French linguist whose eleven languages include Wolof, Farsi, and Finnish; and Emanuele Marini, a shy Italian in his forties, who runs an export-import business and speaks almost every Slavic and Romance language, plus Arabic, Turkish, and Greek, for a total of nearly thirty. Neither willingly uses English, resenting its status as a global bully language—its prepotenza, as Marini put it to me, in Italian. Ellen Jovin, a dynamic New Yorker who has been described as the “den mother” of the polyglot community, explained that her own avid study of languages—twenty-five, to date—“is almost an apology for the dominance of English. Polyglottery is an antithesis to linguistic chauvinism.”

Much of the data on hyperpolyglots is still sketchy. But, from a small sample of prodigies who have been tested by neurolinguists, responded to online surveys, or shared their experience in forums, a partial profile has emerged. An extreme language learner has a more-than-random chance of being a gay, left-handed male on the autism spectrum, with an autoimmune disorder, such as asthma or allergies. (Endocrine research, still inconclusive, has investigated the hypothesis that these traits may be linked to a spike in testosterone during gestation.) “It’s true that L.G.B.T. people are well represented in our community,” Simcott told me, when we spoke in July. “And a lot identify as being on the spectrum, some mildly, others more so. It was a subject we explored at the conference last year.

Simcott himself is an ambidextrous, heterosexual, and notably outgoing forty-one-year-old. He lives in Macedonia with his wife and daughter, a budding polyglot of eleven, who was, he told me, trilingual at sixteen months. His own parents were monolingual, though he was fascinated, as a boy, “by the different ways people spoke English.” (Like Henry Higgins, Simcott can nail an accent to a precise point on the map, not only in the British Isles but all over Europe.) “I’m mistaken for a native in about six languages,” he told me, even though he started slow, learning French in grade school and Spanish as a teen-ager. At university, he added Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, and Old Icelandic. His flawless German, acquired post-college, as an au pair, made Dutch a cinch.

As Simcott entered late adolescence, he said, “the Internet was starting up,” so he could practice his languages in chat rooms. He also found a sense of identity that had eluded him. There was, in particular, a mysterious polyglot who haunted the same rooms. “He was the first person who really encouraged me,” Simcott said. “Everyone else either warned me that my brain would burst or saw me as a talking horse. Eventually, I made a video using bits and bobs of sixteen languages, so I wouldn’t have to keep performing.” But the stranger gave Simcott a validation that he still recalls with emotion. He founded the conference partly to pay that debt forward, by creating a clubhouse for the kind of geeky kid he had been, to whom no tongue was foreign but no place was home. . .

Continue reading.

I’ll remind language learners that learning Esperanto as one’s first foreign language seems to help in learning the second language (generally the target language for the learner—e.g., learning Esperanto first in order to learn German better). But the article “Esperanto ne nepre helpas lingvolernadon” (in Libera Folio) says that isn’t necessarily so.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 3:31 pm

Chart of the Day: Democrats and the White Working Class

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Kevin Drum offers up a puzzler:

Here’s a chart for you to ponder over:

Between 1992 and 2008, the identification of the white working class with the Democratic Party stayed pretty stable. No matter who the presidential candidate was—Clinton, Gore, Kerry, or Obama—they were about evenly split beween identifying Democratic and identifying Republican.

That was true all the way up to 2008, when Obama was first elected. But then the white working class suddenly defected to the Republican Party in huge numbers. By 2010, net Democratic ID was -12 percent. By 2012 it was -14 percent. By 2015 it was -22 percent. And by 2016 it was -25 percent.

This all started in 2010, so it wasn’t caused by Mitt Romney. The second plummet started in 2014, so it wasn’t caused by Donald Trump. Fox News got its start in 1996, so it seems unlikely that they were the proximate cause. So what’s your guess? What happened between 2010 and 2015 that suddenly caused the white working class to abandon the Democratic Party in large numbers?

Hmm. I can think of one reason.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 10:32 am

John McCain’s Death Brought Out the Worst in the Trump Administration

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David Graham writes in the Atlantic:

You can tell a lot about a person, and a presidential administration, by the way they handle small, symbolic things. The White House’s handling of the American flag in the aftermath of Senator John McCain’s death is providing a good test of the Trump team.

The episode has managed to combine most of the worst aspects of Donald Trump’s presidency: pettiness as a major motivating force for administration policy, a preference for sowing division over unity, disdain for tradition and norms, chaotic decision making, and an ultimate tendency to surrender.

As my colleague Russell Berman has written, McCain and Trump had a contentious relationship, and that spilled into the president’s reaction to the Arizona senator’s death. After McCain, a fellow Republican, died on Saturday, the president tweeted a terse condolence to his family, with nothing about the man himself. The Washington Post then reported that Trump had nixed an official White House statement about McCain.

On Monday, matters reached peak pettiness, as the White House raised its American flag to full-staff, while other flags around Washington remained at half-staff. This follows strict protocol—which mandates the flag be lowered the day of a senator’s death and the day after—but was widely viewed as a snub, since a president can, and often does, override rules in moments like this. During a brief White House appearance, Trump folded his arms, glowered, and remained silent as reporters asked him about McCain.

Finally, late Monday afternoon, the White House’s flag was lowered back to half-staff. Trump also issued a proclamation calling for flags to remain lowered until the day McCain is buried. He said in a statement that he had asked Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a Capitol ceremony honoring McCain, and would dispatch his chief of staff, John Kelly; defense secretary, James Mattis; and national-security adviser, John Bolton, to attend McCain’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral. (Left unsaid was the fact that the president was conspicuously not invited to the funeral.)

Yet even there, Trump couldn’t resist a dig at McCain. His statement began, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 10:20 am

Omega small silvertip, Meißner Tremonia Woody Almond, RazoRock Game Changer, and Speick EDT

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Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond has a strong (and pleasant fragrance). The almond smell is very present, with the cedar detectable. It’s a shaving paste, and the lather I made with the baby Omega silvertip was excellent.

RazoRock’s Game Changer is a first-rate razor: easily got a BBS result with not only no problems, but not even a mild threat of a problem: a very comfortable razor.

A few sprays of Speick EDT into the palm, rub hands together, and rub it on my face as an aftershave. It works well.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 10:16 am

Posted in Shaving

The way to have pork belly

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I stopped by Farm & Field Butchers (Blanshard between Broughton and Fort), and they had nicely wrapped and ready-to-go Braised Pork Belly Spicy Bugogi.

Did I buy any? Like a shot. They come shrink-wrapped with four little (precooked) rectangles, about 4″ long, 1″ tall, 1″ wide. All you have to do is heat them to serving temperature.

I used a sauté pan with a lid, using medium-low heat. I checked it and when all sides had sputtered and browned, I ate it.

Wow! Not only outstandingly tasty with a terrific mouthfeel, also small enough that you maintain the illusion of control (unless, of course, you heat and eat a second).

Low-carb, though.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2018 at 4:13 pm

The old ways are best: Ice-crusher division

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I think everyone is familiar with the-old-ways-are-best shaving division. But it’s true for ice crushers as well. I’ve had the Tap-Icer, I’ve had the little ice crusher with a handle (and a lid that generally pinched you at least once), turn the handle one way for “fine,” the other way for “coarse.”

None of them hold a candle to what we did when I was very young. We had a canvas bag, and Mother would fill it with ice, and then I would take it out to the sidewalk and hammer the bag to crush the ice.

Hammer a little, coarse; hammer a lot, fine; hammer for mint juleps, snow.

The nice thing is that the result is somewhat variegated in size (unless you did “snow”). I find that pleasant and also indicative of ice that has been crushed and not ground up in a machine. The irregularities in size are testimony to crushing.

And we didn’t have a cool mallet with a large face surface. I used a regular carpenter’s hammer, but to get the broad impact I used the side of the hammer head.

This is better. Better than what I had (the mallet v. the hammer). And does a better job. And if the ice is cold, it stays cold. Crushing machines get the ice to melting. Not this.

True crushed ice is essential in any number of cocktails. The Old Fashioned, of course, and also the Scotch Mist.

And you can’t make a mint julep without ice smashed to snow. It must melt quickly and thoroughly when you stir the drink so that frost will form on the outside of the (silver) cup.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2018 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks

Trump’s Student Debt Policies Are Mind-bogglingly Corrupt

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

The Republican Party’s economic policies have grown so corrupt and regressive as to be literally unbelievable. In focus groups, Democratic operatives have found that swing voters will often dismiss simple descriptions of the GOP’s self-avowed fiscal priorities as partisan attacks — after all, how could any major political party actually favor slashing Medicare benefits to lower taxes on the one percent?

Alas, a plain recitation of the Trump administration’s agenda on student debt is sure to strike many Americans as even more implausible.

But before we examine the president’s (absurdly corrupt) “college affordability” policies, let’s take a quick tour of the crisis that he inherited.

In the United States today, 44 million people carry $1.4 trillion in student debt. That giant pile of financial obligations isn’t just a burden on individual borrowers, but on the nation’s entire economy. The concomitant rise in the cost of college tuition — and stagnation of entry-level wages for college graduates — has depressed the purchasing power of a broad, and growing, part of the labor force. Many of these workers are struggling to keep their heads above water; recent research suggests that 11 percent of aggregate student-loan debt is more than 90 days past due or delinquent. Other borrowers are unable to invest in a home, vehicle, or start a family (and engage in all the myriad acts of consumption that go with that).

The full scale of this disaster is still coming into view. Just this week, the Center for American Progress (CAP) revealed that official government statistics have been hiding the depths of our student-debt problem. Federal law requires colleges that participate in student-loan programs to keep their borrowers’ default rates under 30 percent for three years after they begin repayment. But once those three years are up, federal tracking ends. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, CAP’s Ben Miller secured never-before-released data on what happens to default rates after Uncle Sam stops watching.

He found that many colleges (especially for-profit ones) have been artificially depressing their default rates during the three-year window by showering their borrowers in deferments — essentially, special allowances that empower debtors to temporarily stop making debt payments without going into delinquency. After the three years are up, the deferments disappear — and the default rates skyrocket. . .

Continue reading. And look at the charts in the article. And the corruption is jaw-dropping—as is the damage done to the future of the US.

Later:

Just about all of America’s institutions of higher learning are complicit in this sorry state of affairs. But for-profit colleges have been far and away the most malevolent actors. The entrepreneurs behind such schools looked at the masses of Americans struggling to claw their way up the socioeconomic ladder — and then at the giant stack of federal student loans available to such strivers — and hatched a plan for “disrupting” the higher-education market: Whereas many traditional universities had inefficiently concentrated their capital on research centers, student services, and faculty, for-profit colleges recognized that an ounce of marketing was worth a pound of quality instruction.

Later:

As DeVos works to funnel more taxpayer money to low-performing, for-profit colleges, she’s cracking down on federal-student-loan forgiveness.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2018 at 2:03 pm

A major US city will start drinking its own sewage. Others need to follow.

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I would say “Others will follow.” The supply of fresh water is going to drop precipitously in some regions. Zoë Schlanger reports in Quartz:

It’s possible, a few decades from now, humans living in water-scarce places will find it ridiculous that we spent centuries just flushing away our watery sewage. Didn’t we know we could have been drinking it?

The idea of a closed-loop water system, in which we drink, expel, treat, and then drink again, is not new. The technology already exists to treat human wastewater to drinking water standards; water engineers call it by the polite (if euphemistic) name of “direct potable reuse.” But few city water utilities have been daring enough to try it on their customers, given its poor public image.

On the other hand, El Paso, Texas, a land of scarce rainfall—it’s drier than Windhoek, Namibia, the capital of the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa—is charging into potable reuse with near-religious zeal. The border city (population 700,000), which shares a river and groundwater with its sister city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, has been building up to this moment for decades.

El Paso recently proved to state officials it could do it, running a pilot (pdf) of the purification process for most of a year, finishing up in 2016. Now the city is seeking grant funding to shepherd a potable-reuse plant through the remainder of a design process; water-utility officials think they can break ground on the plant “in the next few years,” according to Joshua Moniz, a public affairs coordinator for the El Paso water utility. Within a decade, El Paso hopes its residents will be drinking reclaimed sewage water. In short, El Paso, situated in the middle of the punishingly dry Chihuahuan desert is on the cutting edge of water technology. It really has no choice.

El Paso today is unrecognizable from the city in the 1980s. In 1985, each El Pasoan was using on average 205 gallons of water every day, far above the US average of 112 gallons—a national peak that has been declining ever since. Water was cheap. Lush lawns were all the rage. Half of the city’s water was being used outdoors, feeding St. Augustine grass in a desert. But water levels in the Hueco Bolson, the aquifer that quenched booming El Paso and Juarez, were dropping by 1.5 ft per year. A later report would reveal (paywall) that the water in the Bolson dropped a full 147 ft (45 meters) between 1940 and 1999. At that rate, the aquifer would effectively be pumped dry by 2025 (pdf). The stakes were very clear: If the aquifer went, so would the city.

Ed Archuleta came to El Paso to take a director job at the water utility in 1989. He grew up in northeastern New Mexico, in a small town called Clayton, an arid place where annual rains were only a few inches more than in El Paso. He earned his degree in engineering from New Mexico State University and knew right away he wanted to work in water. By age 47, he was the deputy director of the water utility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a large, very dry city grappling with chronic scarcity as it rapidly depleted its aquifers.

By the time he arrived in El Paso, Archuleta was used to the hard reality of trying to squeeze water from the desert. But El Paso was a special case. At the time, it was the fifth-fastest growing large city in the country, and it was getting desperate. “We were projected to run out of water,” Archuleta recounts today. The Texas city, which sits at the border with New Mexico, is home to a small slice of a large aquifer called the Mesilla Bolson. A far greater share of the Mesilla sits beneath New Mexico, just across the state line. When Archuleta took the job in 1989, El Paso was still in the midst of a legal dispute with New Mexico, after suing the state over the claim that the city had the right to drill hundreds of wells into the Mesilla from the other side of the state line and pipe the water back to El Paso—a scheme that ultimately failed (pdf).

Fast forward 24 years, to 2013, when Archuleta finally retired: He’d become well-known in the world of water planning for recently pulling the city through the worst single-year drought in Texas (pdf) history—with water to spare. In 2011, the city went 119 days without rain. But while other Texas cities languished, and began imposing emergency water-rationing measures, El Paso was sitting relatively pretty. They did make some temporary water cutbacks, but they were minor. They’d already done the hard work. “We’re basically drought-proof,” Archuleta told the Guardian at the time.

What happened between 1989 and 2013 in El Paso makes for a master class in how to effectively reckon with the reality that when water doesn’t abide by borders, those on both sides must learn to talk to each other. If another city inextricably bound to an international (and/or interstate) water resource hopes to make it through the coming era of freshwater scarcity, they would do well to read the story of El Paso.

Archuleta, now 76, speaks with the steadiness of a person who gets things done because they think it would be ridiculous not to. “How’d we do it? Like I said, we had a plan, and then we implemented the plan,” he said in a video interview in 2014.

That plan, he said, was a 50-year strategy—his mind was on the long game from the start of his tenure at the El Paso utility—and the short-term part of it looked like this: First,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2018 at 1:25 pm

The Arctic Explorer Who Pushed an All-Meat Diet

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Anne Ewbank writes at Atlas Obscura:

In 1928, Vilhjalmur Stefansson was already world-famous. A Canadian anthropologist and consummate showman, he promoted the idea of a “Friendly Arctic,” open to exploration and commercialization. Newspapers and magazines breathlessly covered his sometimes-deadly escapades in the Arctic, including his discoveries of some of the world’s last unknown landmasses, and, more controversially, a group of “blond” Inuinnait who he claimed partially descended from Norse settlers. But for a little while, another facet of Stefansson’s life drew media attention. While living in New York for a year, Stefansson ate nothing but meat.

Today, this would be known as a ketogenic, or a no-carb diet. It’s in vogue as a weight-loss tactic: The idea is that limiting carbohydrates, which are an easy source of energy, can make the body burn fat.

But Stefansson wasn’t trying to burn fat. Instead, he wanted to prove the viability of the Inuit’s meat-heavy diet. In the Arctic, people mainly ate fish and meat from seals, whale, caribou, and waterfowl, while brief summers offered limited vegetation, such as cloudberries and fireweed. Meals could be frozen fish, or elaborate treats such as the creamy fat-and-berry dish akutaqWestern doctors thought it was a terrible way to eat.

Even in the 1920s, a diet light on meat and heavy on vegetables was considered optimal. Vegetarians were more numerous than ever, and raw vegetables, particularly celery, took on a virtuous shine. This was the era of John Harvey Kellogg, famed for not only cereal, but his health resort in Battle Creek, where no meat was on the menu. (Stefansson was even a guest there, perhaps briefly swapping steak for snowflake toast.)

It’s now widely acknowledged that the Inuit subsistence diet is quite balanced. As biochemist and Arctic nutrition expert Harold Draper told Discover magazine, there are no essential foods, only essential nutrients. Vitamin A and D, so easily available from milk, vegetables, and sunlight, can also be obtained from oils within sea mammals (particularly livers) and fish. And fresh meats and fish, prepared raw, contain trace amounts of vitamin C, a fact that Stefansson was the first Westerner to realize. It only takes a little to prevent scurvy.

During Stefansson’s day, though, doctors, dietitians, and general opinion considered the meat-heavy diets of the Arctic peoples poor and improbable. Stefansson’s year of eating carnivorously was a high-profile attempt to prove them wrong.

Stefansson himself had only come around to the diet after an extended stay in the Mackenzie Delta of the western Arctic in 1906. When a ship carrying his supplies failed to materialize, he instead depended on the hospitality of a local family. At first, he roamed far and wide to build up an appetite for the plain roasted fish he received. “When I got home I would nibble at it and write in my diary what a terrible time I was having,” he wryly wrote later. But he gradually learned to enjoy the alternatively boiled, frozen, and fermented fish that he watched Inuvialuit women prepare.

It was during this first extended stay that he started to object to what he had been told about the Arctic diet, especially his peers’ horror over the “uncivilized” practice of eating fermented fish. “I tried the rotten fish one day, and if memory servers, liked it better than my first taste of Camembert,” he wrote. It wasn’t hard to notice that the diet had other benefits, too. “[I] did not get scurvy on the fish diet, nor learn that any of my fish-eating friends ever had it,” he wrote in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in 1935. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2018 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Low carb, Science

Fine Classic, Martin de Candre, Maggard V3A, and New York aftershave

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The Fine Classic synthetic made a terrific lather from Martin de Candre shaving soap, and then the Maggard V3A (here on a UFO handle) provided its usual great shave. I’m going to add that to the list of recommended razors. The “A” is for “aggressive,” but that applies on to its efficiency. In feel, it is a very comfortable razor, though with some blade feel—but not uncomfortable or threatening. A splash of New York aftershave finished the job.

Yesterday I took a day off from the walk, but on Sunday the walk was 1:02:27; today, 1:02:06. So I’m still making progress. The walk is 3.6 miles, according to Plotaroute.com, and today I carefully carried my phone down so it would not record any steps (and thus also no distance) before setting out on the walk, and Pedometer++ also shows the distance as 3.6 miles. I think I may be able to get the time to under an hour. We’ll see if the new poles make a difference.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2018 at 8:57 am

Posted in Shaving

House Republicans Have a Secret List of Trump Scandals They’re Covering Up

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In New York Jonathan Chait writes something that I find stunningly cynical even for the GOP:

Axios has obtained a list of Trump administration scandals. The list hints at the overflowing sewer of Trumpian corruption and incompetence, and the refusal of congressional Republicans to investigate any of it. Oddly enough, this list is being circulated by Republicans in Congress. The list, composed of Democratic requests for hearings that Republicans have blocked, is meant to warn of what Congress would look into if Democrats win the midterms. Axios reports that Republican “stomachs are churning” at the mere thought that any of the items on the list could receive a public hearing.

The list includes the kinds of policies a normally functioning Congress would probe, including “Election security and hacking attempts,” “White House security clearances,” and “Hurricane response in Puerto Rico.” (Congress held bipartisan hearings on the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, but has not done so for the response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of Americans died.) But most of the cases listed focus on corruption: “President Trump’s tax returns,” “Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization,” “Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” and on and on.

Probably the most picayune item on the list would be “White House staff’s personal email use,” though of course it might be difficult for Republicans to dismiss this issue given that they based their entire campaign on the premise that the use of personal email constitutes a grave criminal defense and continue to demand the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton for this very offense.

The most predominant theme of the list is corruption. Trump has maintained control of a private business empire, refused to disclose its details to the public, and has interwoven his private and public interests. Congressional Republicans refuse to take any steps to limit the potential for corruption and blackmail. Even the basic step of compelling disclosure of Trump’s tax returns, so that Americans could learn who might be bribing the president, is too much for them.

Republicans have so completely internalized their role as handmaidens to Trump’s corruption that they have turned evidence of his incompetence and guilt into an argument for maintaining their power to cover it up. Why are they emphasizing this point? Some Republican voters are unenthusiastic about the midterm elections, and fail to grasp the stakes. Since the base likes Trump much more than they do his congressional allies, it makes sense for the purposes of base mobilization to emphasize their role as Trump’s legal bodyguards.

Additionally, some of Trump’s allies have floated arguments that Trump would actually benefit from a Democratic Congress, giving him a useful foil to play off of. The Trump scandal list is likely aimed in part at Trump himself, reminding him of what he has to lose if Congress were to begin looking into his misconduct.

The public-facing version of the argument focuses on the specter of impeachment. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial echoes the argument made by the party’s congressional wing. After acknowledging that Democratic leaders might be saying they have no intention to impeach the president if they win the House, it proceeds to argue that they will anyway. And the reason it provides is that … Trump is a gigantic crook: . . .

The list published in Axios is in an article by Jonathan Swan that begins:

Congressional Republicans are getting ready for hell.

Axios has obtained a spreadsheet that’s circulated through Republican circles on and off Capitol Hill — including at least one leadership office — that meticulously previews the investigations Democrats will likely launch if they flip the House.

Why this matters: Publicly, House Republicans are putting on a brave face about the midterms. But privately, they are scrambling to prepare for the worst. This document, which catalogs requests Democrats have already made, is part of that effort.

It has churned Republican stomachs. Here are some of the probes it predicts:

  • President Trump’s tax returns
  • Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization
  • Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin
  • The payment to Stephanie Clifford — a.k.a. Stormy Daniels
  • James Comey’s firing
  • Trump’s firing of U.S. attorneys
  • Trump’s proposed transgender ban for the military
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s business dealings
  • White House staff’s personal email use
  • Cabinet secretary travel, office expenses, and other misused perks
  • Discussion of classified information at Mar-a-Lago
  • Jared Kushner’s ethics law compliance
  • Dismissal of members of the EPA board of scientific counselors
  • The travel ban
  • Family separation policy
  • Hurricane response in Puerto Rico
  • Election security and hacking attempts
  • White House security clearances

The spreadsheet — which I’m told originated in a senior House Republican office — catalogs more than 100 formal requests from House Democrats this Congress, spanning nearly every committee.

  • The spreadsheet includes  . . .

 

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2018 at 3:40 pm

Student Loan Watchdog Quits, Says Trump Administration ‘Turned Its Back’ On Borrowers

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Corey Turner reports for NPR:

The federal official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory lending practices has stepped down.

In a scathing resignation letter, Seth Frotman, who until now was the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, says current leadership “has turned its back on young people and their financial futures.” The letter was addressed to Mick Mulvaney, the bureau’s acting director.

In the letter, obtained by NPR, Frotman accuses Mulvaney and the Trump administration of undermining the CFPB and its ability to protect student borrowers.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” it read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

The letter raises serious questions about the federal government’s willingness to oversee the $1.5 trillion student loan industry and to protect student borrowers.

Frotman has served as student loan ombudsman for the past three years. Congress created the position in 2010, in the wake of the financial crisis, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As ombudsman and assistant director, Frotman oversaw the CFPB’s Office for Students and Young Consumers and reviewed thousands of complaints from student borrowers about the questionable practices of private lenders, loan servicers and debt collectors.

Since 2011, the CFPB has handled more than 60,000 student loan complaints and, through its investigations and enforcement actions, returned more than $750 million to aggrieved borrowers. Frotman’s office was central to those efforts. It also played a role in lawsuits against for-profit giants ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges and the student loan company Navient.

Over the past year, the Trump administration has increasingly sidelined the CFPB’s student loan office. Last August, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would stop sharing information with the bureau about the department’s oversight of federal student loans, calling the CFPB “overreaching and unaccountable” and arguing that the bureau’s actions were confusing borrowers and loan servicers alike. Of the move, Frotman writes, “the Bureau’s current leadership folded to political pressure … and failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices.”

In May, Mulvaney called for a major shake-up in Frotman’s division. The Office for Students and Young Consumers would be folded into the bureau’s financial education office, signaling a symbolic shift in mission from investigation to information-sharing. While the CFPB told NPR at the time that the move was “a very modest organizational chart change,” consumer advocates reacted with alarm.

Christopher Peterson, director of financial services at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, called the move “an appalling step in a longer march toward the elimination of meaningful American consumer protection law.”

In his resignation, Frotman also accuses the CFPB’s leadership of  . . .

Continue reading.

Full text of his resignation letter at the link. It’s worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2018 at 2:45 pm

No One Is Safer. No One Is Served.

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David Eggers writes in the New Yorker:

The legendary Chicago oral historian and moral force Studs Terkel once said, “There is a decency in the American people and a native intelligence—providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.” During a lifetime of listening to Americans, Terkel came to believe that, when Americans have the information, they do the right thing.

So here is the information:

For a hundred and fifty-eight days, Malik Naveed bin Rehman, Zahida Altaf, and their five-year-old daughter, Roniya, have been living in the basement of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut. There is an electronic bracelet attached to Malik’s ankle, which provides his real-time location to ice authorities. On a recent Saturday morning, Malik showed me the plastic bracelet, which looks like a snug black shackle. Though iceauthorities can send pre-recorded messages to him through the bracelet, he said that they prefer to call him on his cell phone, usually between 2 and 5 a.m.“Malik? Are you there?” they ask. He is convinced they do this to prevent the family from sleeping through the night.

Malik and Zahida are a middle-aged couple, originally from Pakistan, who have been in the United States for almost twenty years. They arrived as asylum seekers in 2000, and the first two attorneys they hired both absconded with their money—more than sixteen thousand dollars in total—and were later prosecuted for fraud. Over subsequent years, Malik and Zahida consulted eight more attorneys. In 2008, immigration officials denied their asylum application. They filed an appeal, which was rejected in 2010. Immigration officials then began court proceedings to remove them from the United States.

In 2012, Roniya was born; she is an American citizen. In 2014, Malik and Zahida gained protection under an executive action concerning enforcement priorities signed by President Obama. Immigrants who had committed no crimes and who had played by the rules—working and paying taxes, for example—were not prioritized for deportation. Then, in 2017, the Trump Administration reversed the executive action, and deportation proceedings were started against Malik and Zahida.

The family’s living quarters consist of a small bedroom and, across the hall, two rooms customarily used for Sunday school. They have the run of the church, but six days a week these three rooms are set aside for their use only. A shower has been fashioned in a bathroom by connecting a garden hose to the sink. A large picture of a beach scene brightens the windowless bedroom. A guitar leans against a wall. A pair of bongos rests on a bookshelf. Members of the congregation have been teaching Zahida how to play both instruments. “I always wanted to learn the drums,” she said. Because she and Malik can’t leave the church, they try to stave off boredom and depression by taking classes in yoga, needlepoint, and ceramics. There is a pottery studio in the basement, and the couple has made more bowls and plates than they can use.

There are at least forty-two families or individuals facing deportation who are now living in churches across the United States. It is only a form of courtesy that prevents ice from entering sensitive areas such as schools and places of worship; if they choose to, they can go anywhere they please. The forty-two cases are those that have been publicized in some way, but because more than a thousand churches have signed on to participate in the sanctuary movement, and because many more churches are providing sanctuary in secret, the total number of humans hiding in American houses of faith is not known.

Old Lyme, Connecticut, is a preppy town of old-growth trees, wide lawns, and twenty-seven miles of coastline, on the Long Island Sound. The First Congregational Church was established the same year the town was incorporated, in 1665. The church, with fluted white columns and a towering spire, was immortalized by the Impressionist Childe Hassam, in 1903. It stands on a manicured pea-green lawn in a neighborhood of similarly situated white Colonial and Victorian homes. American flags bow from wide porches; everywhere, the greens are very green and the whites are very white.

The church, not previously known as a bastion of progressive activism, began forging partnerships in 1985 with churches and social-justice organizations in South Africa, Haiti, and the Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation, in South Dakota. According to the church’s brochure about its missions, the congregation sought “a deeper level of friendship with those of other races and cultures, recognizing, honoring, and celebrating both the diversity and the integrity and interconnectedness of all of God’s Creation.” When I arrived that Saturday, women and men were pushing shopping carts along the sidewalk, heading for the church. Outside, a large, handwritten sign resting on the steps read:

WE AFFIRM

Muslims
People of Color
Immigrants and Refugees
The LGBTQ Community
The Disabled
Women and Children
Jews
The Environment

Taught by our faith, we stand firm
You are our family

Lina Tuck, a longtime congregant and a steward of the church’s sanctuary program, greeted me outside. She is an energetic woman in her early fifties who, after the election of Donald Trump, helped create and now runs the church’s immigration committee. Inside, the church was bustling. A dozen or so people carried groceries through the narrow back hallways. “The Saturday food pantry,” Reverend Steve Jungkeit explained to us. The First Congregational serves as a distribution center for the Shoreline Soup Kitchen, so every week about a hundred and fifty families come to the church to collect free groceries.

Jungkeit, the church’s senior minister, just turned forty-four, though he looks no more than twenty-five. He wore immaculate canvas sneakers, ankle-pegged pants, and black-framed glasses. A newsboy hat was set back on his head. A graduate of Yale’s Ph.D. program in religious studies who still lectures at Harvard Divinity School, he came to the church five years ago. “It was really the emphasis on social justice” that attracted him, he said. “Drawing North Americans out of their comfort zones to get, for instance, a community in Connecticut to care about what’s happening in Palestine.” He added that the “WE AFFIRM” sign had gone up a week after the 2016 election. “We thought we had to clarify where we stood.”

“So it wasn’t a stretch,” Tuck said, about the church’s experiment with sanctuary. In April of 2017, she and Jungkeit proposed the idea of sheltering a family to its board of deacons, and they approved it.

Shortly after that, Jungkeit and Tuck delivered a joint sermon from the pulpit. Tuck shared her own immigration story. “We came from Portugal in 1970,” she told me. “My dad came in 1969 with a visitor’s visa, which expired. So he was here illegally. My mom was a seamstress, so she was able to get a contract to come to the United States with me and my brother. And, since immigration laws were different in 1970, my dad was able to be grandfathered in and stay.” They were given permanent-resident status, and when Tuck was twenty, she and her mother became citizens. Her brother joined the Marines and fought in the Gulf War with a green card and a Portuguese passport. “He just got his American citizenship, like, two or three years ago,” Tuck said.

After receiving approval to shelter a family, Tuck and Jungkeit attended an informational gathering of New Sanctuary Connecticut, a Hartford-based organization that helps place immigrant families in churches. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2018 at 2:39 pm

Verizon Incompetence and Greed Leaves Firefighters Throttled During Wildfire

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Karl Bode writes in Motherboard:

A little more than a decade ago, Verizon Wireless settled a dispute with the New York Attorney General over the definition of “unlimited” data.

As part of the settlement, Verizon was forced to reimburse consumers to the tune of $1 million after a nine-month investigation found it was advertising wireless connections as “unlimited,” but then kicking users off of the Verizon Wireless network for “excessive use”—without disclosing the hidden limits of these connections.

Ten years later and it’s not clear that Verizon has learned much of anything from the experience.

The company made headlines again this week after a brief filed by net neutrality advocates highlighted that Verizon had throttled the “unlimited” data connection of the Santa Clara County Fire Department as it struggled to battle the Mendocino Complex Fire, one of the largest forest fires in California’s history.

Verizon Wireless routinely embeds all manner of limits in its unlimited mobile data plans, including restrictions on HD streaming, restrictions on the use of phones as modems or hotspots, and a general 25 GB consumption limit that results in users having their connections throttled to a crawl.

In this case, Verizon’s throttling caveat wound up crippling the cellular connection embedded in “OES 5262,” a mobile command and control vehicle the department uses to manage and coordinate emergency response. Instead of a 50 Mbps connection, the fire department was left trying to battle a raging fire with the equivalent of a dial-up modem (30 kbps).

Emails last June from Fire Captain Justin Stockman to Verizon show this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

“Verizon is currently throttling OES 5262 so severely that it’s hampering operations for the assigned crew,” Stockman wrote. “This is not the first time we have had this issue. In December of 2017 while deployed to the Prado Mobilization Center supporting a series of large wildfires, we had the same device with the same SIM card also throttled.”

Verizon’s own internal policies state that such restrictions aren’t supposed to apply to first responder connections. But when the department contacted Verizon, the company’s first reaction wasn’t to immediately fix the problem—but to try and upsell the Fire Department to a new wireless plan that was twice as expensive.

Instead of its original $38 per month plan, the fire department was told it would need to pony up for a $100 per month unlimited plan. And even that “unlimited” option involved very real limits, including a 20 GB monthly cap and $8 per gigabyte overage fees should that limit be exceeded.

That’s not particularly surprising for an industry with some of the worst customer satisfaction ratings in America. Nor is it particularly surprising for a company that routinely embeds arbitrary restrictions on its unlimited lines in a bid to upsell you to more expensive services they may not actually need.

For example, Verizon users need to shell out significantly more for HD video to actually function as intended on these lines. Thousands of rural Verizon customers sold “unlimited” connections have also frequently found themselves kicked off the Verizon network for using an unspecified but “significant amount of data.”

While not surprising, it’s still a major scandal for a company that just spent millions of dollars and countless lobbying man hours to dismantle the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules. Then repeatedly tried to claim that wasn’t actually happening. This denial remains firmly intact.

“This situation has nothing to do with net neutrality or the current proceeding in court,” Verizon told Motherboard in an email exchange.

But the FCC’s discarded rules allowed ISPs to throttle connections in period of network congestion under guidelines allowing for “reasonable network management.” Such throttling is only supposed to kick in during periods of congestion (the fire department says it was throttled all of the time, regardless of network load), and never for first responders.

Had the net neutrality rules still been intact, the Santa Clara fire department could have filed a formal complaint with the FCC about Verizon’s “unjust or unreasonable prices and practices,” a process that has since been dismantled thanks in large part to Verizon and FCC boss Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer.

Verizon was at least willing to concede that its support staff made a mistake in failing to adequately explain the hidden limits of the plan, and in failing to remove the limits when contacted by first responders. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2018 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

How the Trump Administration Went Easy on Small-Town Police Abuses

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Ian MacDougall reports in ProPublica:

The Obama Justice Department thought Ville Platte, Louisiana — where officers jail witnesses to crimes — could become a model of how to erase policing abuses that plague small towns across the nation. Jeff Sessions decided not to bother.

On a chilly morning in December 2016, 12-year-old Bobby Lewis found himself sitting in a little room at the police station in Ville Platte, a town of 7,300 in southern Louisiana. He wasn’t sure exactly how long it had been, but the detective grilling him had been at it for some time. Bobby was a middle school student — a skinny kid with a polite demeanor — and though he got in trouble at school from time to time, he wasn’t used to getting treated like this. He was alone, facing the detective without a parent or a lawyer.

A blank piece of paper sat on the table in front of Bobby. He and his friends were thieves, the detective insisted. They sold drugs. They trafficked guns. The detective brushed off Bobby’s denials. She knew what he was up to, and if he didn’t write it all down — inform on his friends and confess to his crimes — she’d charge him. She’d confiscate his dog, Cinnamon, she told him. She’d throw his mother in jail. Bobby was nothing but a “B” and an “MF,” as he later relayed the detective’s words to me, sheepish about repeating them. When his mother finally turned up at the station house, it seemed only to enrage the detective further. “Wipe that fucking smile off your face, and sit up in that fucking chair,” Bobby and his mother recall the detective barking at him.

Earlier that day, Bobby told me, he had been walking home from a friend’s house when a police cruiser pulled up alongside him. He recognized one of the officers. Her name was Jessica LaBorde, but like most people in Ville Platte, Bobby knew her only as Scrappy. The sobriquet was too fitting not to stick. Profanity prone in the extreme, LaBorde was known for her tinderbox temper and hostile disposition. She styled herself like a Marine drill sergeant — fastidiously pressed police blues, jet-black hair pulled back tight — and she would become Bobby’s interrogator. (LaBorde did not respond to calls or a detailed list of questions about the incident.)

Somebody had put a rock through a window in one of the abandoned houses that litter Ville Platte, and a neighbor had seen three boys taking shelter from the rain under a carport nearby. But, the neighbor later told Bobby’s mother, Charlotte Lewis, he didn’t know which of the boys had thrown the rock. Bobby admitted he had been there but insisted he wasn’t the culprit.

Police need probable cause — evidence sufficient to show there’s a fair likelihood that a person committed a crime — to take someone into custody. Generally, an officer can’t detain somebody just because that person was near the scene of a crime. “Mere propinquity,” the U.S. Supreme Court has written, “does not, without more, give rise to probable cause.” Whether LaBorde didn’t know that or didn’t care, she ordered Bobby into the back of her squad car.

LaBorde didn’t call Bobby’s mother to tell her that her 12-year-old was in custody, according to a complaint Lewis later filed with the police department. But eventually another officer did. Lewis says she told the officer not to let anybody question her son until she got there. She had to wait out a morning downpour before she could walk to the station house.

Lewis was familiar with LaBorde’s rough reputation. Still, she told me, she was shocked by how her son was treated. “She cussed him out like he’s a stray dog,” she said. “It’s like my child is a convict or a criminal.” After two hours of pressing Bobby fruitlessly, LaBorde finally let him go — but not before charging him with criminal mischief, police records show. (A judge later dismissed the charge, Lewis told me; a friend admitted throwing the rock.)

Two weeks later, on Dec. 19, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on policing in Ville Platte and surrounding Evangeline Parish. The investigation found that, for decades, the city Police Department and the parish Sheriff’s Office maintained an unwritten policy of jailing people without probable cause — for days and even weeks at a time — to pressure them to cooperate with law enforcement. These “investigative holds” ensnared anybody who might know something about criminal activity, from a suspect to a potential witness to a suspect’s relatives. As the Justice Department report put it, “Literally anyone in Evangeline Parish or Ville Platte could be arrested and placed ‘on hold’ at any time.” Many were. From 2012 to 2014 alone, the police unlawfully held at least 700 people in Ville Platte — close to a tenth of the town’s residents.

That, the report concluded, amounted to “a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct.” To end this cycle of abuses, the report prescribed an array of institutional changes to eliminate investigative holds, such as imposing new department protocols and overhauling training regimens.

The case wasn’t merely about Ville Platte. The Justice Department lawyers viewed it as a template. Similar policing practices exist in scores of towns and villages across the country, and Justice Department officials selected Ville Platte precisely because it was a pure embodiment of a widespread problem. They hoped it would provide a model for reform at other police departments.

Justice Department officials planned to negotiate a consent decree — a long-term reform plan supervised by a federal judge — with local officials. Systemic police reform was a defining feature of the Obama-era Justice Department, which considered judicial oversight key to dislodging unlawful practices as firmly entrenched as investigative holds were in Ville Platte.

But Jeff Sessions, who took office as attorney general just months after the Justice Department report, has a different view. He considers his predecessors’ reform efforts, particularly via consent decree, to be gross federal overreach that denigrates and demoralizes police. Sessions all but declared that the Justice Department was getting out of the business of meaningful police reform. There would be no consent decree in Ville Platte. Instead, the result is what former Justice Department officials say is an anemic reform plan, announced in June, that largely leaves the future of policing there to the police.

There’s little reason, they say, to expect that this plan will induce law enforcement in Ville Platte to change its ways. The town’s policing culture is defined by arbitrary arrest and detention — and it has been for a long time. It’s a culture that’s proven intensely resistant to change. “You do what you know,” one former Ville Platte police official told me. “And that’s all they know.”


When Neal Lartigue joined the Ville Platte Police Department in 1991, investigative holds were part of his training. “I’ve been here 27 years, and that was going on before I started,” he told me when I visited Ville Platte early this year. The practice was never enshrined in any manual, but it was as good as official policy at both the department and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office, which is headquartered in Ville Platte. (For its part, the Sheriff’s Office didn’t have a policy manual at all until last year.)

Lartigue rose to become the Police Department’s narcotics officer, and in that role, he was a regular practitioner of investigative holds, according to a former police official who worked with him during that time. Lartigue would “put people in jail” — people he thought might be drug users or small-time dealers — “and he’d make them sit there, and say: ‘You gonna tell me something? I know you ain’t got the drugs, but you’re getting them from somebody. Who you getting them from?’” the former police official told me.

It was an unnerving experience. Lartigue is an intimidating figure — a stern, laconic man with a shaved head and a stout frame. If his detainee pleaded ignorance, the former official said, Lartigue’s response was inevitably, “Well, then you’re gonna sit in jail till you decide you want to talk.” (Lartigue did not respond to requests for comment on his practices as an officer.)

Nothing had changed by 2006, when Lartigue . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2018 at 12:12 pm

Scientists Warn the UN of Capitalism’s Imminent Demise

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Nafeez Ahmed writes at Motherboard:

Capitalism as we know it is over. So suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN Secretary-General. The main reason? We’re transitioning rapidly to a radically different global economy, due to our increasingly unsustainable exploitation of the planet’s environmental resources.

Climate change and species extinctions are accelerating even as societies are experiencing rising inequalityunemploymentslow economic growthrising debt levels, and impotent governments. Contrary to the way policymakers usually think about these problems, the new report says that these are not really separate crises at all.

Rather, these crises are part of the same fundamental transition to a new era characterized by inefficient fossil fuel production and the escalating costs of climate change. Conventional capitalist economic thinking can no longer explain, predict, or solve the workings of the global economy in this new age, the paper says.

Energy shift

Those are the stark implications of a new scientific background paper prepared by a team of Finnish biophysicists. The team from the BIOS Research Unit in Finland were asked to provide research that would feed into the drafting of the UN Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), which will be released in 2019.

For the “first time in human history,” the paper says, capitalist economies are “shifting to energy sources that are less energy efficient.” This applies to all forms of energy. Producing usable energy (“exergy”) to keep powering “both basic and non-basic human activities” in industrial civilisation “will require more, not less, effort.”

The amount of energy we can extract, compared to the energy we are using to extract it, is decreasing “across the spectrum—unconventional oils, nuclear and renewables return less energy in generation than conventional oils, whose production has peaked—and societies need to abandon fossil fuels because of their impact on the climate,” the paper states.

The shift to renewables might help solve the climate challenge, but for the foreseeable future will not generate the same levels of energy as cheap, conventional oil.

In the meantime, our hunger for energy is driving what the paper refers to as “sink costs.” The greater our energy and material use, the more waste we generate, and so the greater the environmental costs. Though they can be ignored for a while, eventually those environmental costs translate directly into economic costs as it becomes more difficult to ignore their impacts on our societies.

And the biggest “sink cost,” of course, is climate change:

“Sink costs are also rising; economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use. Climate change is the most pronounced sink cost,” the paper states.

The paper’s lead author, Dr. Paavo Järvensivu, is a “biophysical economist”—an emerging type of economist exploring the role of energy and materials in fueling economic activity.

The BIOS paper suggests that much of the political and economic volatility we have seen in recent years has a root cause in ecological crisis. As the ecological and economic costs of industrial overconsumption continue to rise, the constant economic growth we have become accustomed to is now in jeopardy. That, in turn, has exerted massive strain on our politics. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s important.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2018 at 11:32 am

RazoRock all the way: Zi’ Peppino and the Old Type

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Zi’ Peppino has a wonderful fragrance and quite a good lather. Three passes with the Old Type always leaves a perfectly smooth result, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a nick from this razor.

A splash of the aftershave, and the day begins.

In my obsession with figuring out the aerobic points I’ve been getting on my walk, I ended up buying Ken Cooper’s most recent book to get his most recent recommendations. In reading it, I decided to take to heart his admonition that one should not exercise 7 days per week, so I’m now taking one rest day per week. Even so, the amount I’m exercising now is comfortably above the minimum he suggests.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2018 at 11:25 am

Posted in Shaving

“Aerobics” revisited and my current Aerobics score

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I first read Ken Cooper’s book Aerobics when it was published in mass-market paperback format in 1968. I recall working to achieve the amount of exercise he recommended to trigger the “training effect,” in which the body responds by increasing lung capacity, strengthening the heart to pump more blood on demand, expanding the capillary network to deliver more oxygen to muscles, increasing the volume of blood in the body, etc.. As he points out, the training effect requires cardio (aerobic) exercise—exercise that pushes one to consume more oxygen for an extended period of time. He found that an exercise that increases your heart rate to an average of 150 beats per minute and maintains that for 5 minutes, the training effect will begin and will continue as you continue exercising. If the exercise doesn’t raise your pulse rate to that level, then it takes longer for the training effect to begin.

To make it easier to figure out how long you must do an exercise, he assigned point values to different exercises, and he recommended a minimum of 35 points a week for men, 27 points per week for women, attained, for example, by jogging two miles in 20 minutes four times a week or bicycling seven miles in 28 minutes four times a week on a three-speed bicycle. He specifically recommends exercising at least 4 days a week and at most 6 days a week: that ensures that you exercise with adequate frequency and provides at least one rest day a week.

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 9.48.38 AMFortunately, Ken Cooper’s exercise tables are on-line and easily found in a search, and I discovered this entry for walking 3.8 miles (which, according to Plotaroute.com, is the length of my current route).

Since my time is currently around 1:05 to 1:06, I’m getting 6.6 points of aerobic exercise each day I walk. In reading Cooper’s most recent book, I decided to heed his admonition not to exercise 7 days a week, so I’m cutting back to 6 days a week: 39.6 points per week. (See also this interview with Cooper, in which he advises not overdoing it.)

So I’m getting 4.6 points more than the minimum for men, every week. That’s good, but it gets even better. The 39.6 points per week is a significant underestimate because I am doing Nordic walking, which burns about 20% more calories than regular walking (according to tests done by the Cooper Institute) “without significantly affecting the rate of perceived exertion by the participants.”

Since Nordic walking burns 20% more calories than regular walking, I get 20% more points. (Because points are derived directly from calories burned, 20% more calories burned = 20% more points earned.)

20% more than 39.6 points is 1.2 * 39.6 = 47.5 points, and that many points per week is comfortably more than my minimum requirement of 35 points per week (needed to get the benefits of the training effect). And I have indeed noticed evidence of the training effect at work in, for example, the time it takes me to complete the route, which has steadily dropped.

I think I can safely say that I no longer am sedentary. However, I should point out the health risks of abruptly stopping a walking program.

BTW, the book still reads quite well and the the Cooper Institute is still a going thing. It’s worth looking into. You can get secondhand copies of Cooper’s books cheaply.

And I do highly recommend Nordic walking. My slogan is “Make any repeated task enjoyable!Nordic walking poles made “getting sufficient weekly exercise points” enjoyable.

If you must do some task repeatedly, it’s important to make the task something you enjoy. I had to shave every day, so I figured out a way to make shaving enjoyable (see the Guide). I must eat healthful foods, so I found a way to make healthful foods enjoyable (i.e., tasty). Those food must be prepared right to be tasty, so I found a way to make cooking enjoyable. I must exercise so I looked for a way to make exercise enjoyable. And so on. It you must do some task repeatedly, it’s worth your effort to make doing it enjoyable. If you get pleasure from doing it, you are drawn to doing it.

If you don’t make the task enjoyable, then doing it requires willpower, either active willpower or willpower congealed into habit. In either case, each time you do the task, you decide whether to do it or not, measuring benefit against effort, always with the temptation to skip it “this time.” That problem does not arise if you actively enjoy doing the task.

Update: One occasionally sees a recommendation of 2000 calories of exercise per week. Gretchen Reynolds reports in the NY Times in May 2014:

The idea that we should burn at least 2,000 calories a week during exercise seems to have originated in data gathered decades ago as part of the Harvard Alumni Study. That study followed male Harvard graduates for as long as 50 years, tracking how they lived and died. One of the first publications based on the data, appearing in 1978, showed that the older alumni who expended less than 2,000 calories a week in exercise were at 64 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack than those who burned 2,000 calories a week or more during exercise. It’s worth noting that the researchers’ definition of exercise in this study was generous, including climbing stairs and walking around the block, as well as playing sports or jogging.

Widely reported at the time, the 2,000-calorie guideline still gets bandied about today. But the current exercise guidelines from the federal government, based on a large body of recent scientific evidence, emphasize time, not calories, and recommend that healthy adults engage in 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking [3mph or faster – LG] or cycling.

Adhering to these guidelines means that most of us would burn about 1,000 calories per week in planned exercise, said Michael J. Joyner, an exercise researcher at the Mayo Clinic. And with the stairs we climb and chores we do, we come closer to that 2,000 calorie a week number, he said.

But we don’t have to fret about actually reaching it. Meeting the current guidelines for 150 minutes or five brisk 30-minute walks per week is enough, he concluded. “The added health benefits start to level off after that.”

My moderate-intensity exercise is Nordic walking, and I do that 390 minutes per week rather than 150. Moreover, a “brisk walk” is 3 mph, and my current speed is 3.8 mph (thus more intensity), and in addition I’m Nordic walking rather than regular walking, and that also increases the intensity. So by this measure as well I’m getting sufficient exercise.

Update 2: The 10,000-steps-per-day goal, as most people probably know, is arbitrary and was created as a marketing idea to get people to buy pedometers (since only with a pedometer can you determine whether you are taking that many steps or not). Knowing that 10,000 steps/day is arbitrary, I ignored it. My initial goal was time, not steps, and I started with 20 minutes a day. As I worked out a good route, that went to 25 minutes and then 30 minutes. Around then I got my Nordic walking poles and started to really enjoy my walk, and also a pedometer app. So I set a daily goal of 5000 steps.

But because I enjoyed walking so much, my walks became longer, and now I walk 66 minutes a day, and I easily meet my new goal of 8000 steps/day. And I find I walk at a cadence of 109-110 steps/minute.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2018 at 3:34 pm

When The U.S. Government Tried To Replace Migrant Farmworkers With High Schoolers

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Gustavo Arellano reports at NPR:

Randy Carter is a member of the Director’s Guild of America and has notched some significant credits during his Hollywood career. Administrative assistant on The Conversation. Part of the casting department for Apocalypse Now. Longtime first assistant director on Seinfeld. Work on The Blues BrothersThe Godfather II and more.

But the one project that Carter regrets never working on is a script he wrote that got optioned twice but was never produced. It’s about the summer a then-17-year-old Carter and thousands of American teenage boys heeded the call of the federal government … to work on farms.

The year was 1965. On Cinco de Mayo, newspapers across the country reported that Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz wanted to recruit 20,000 high schoolers to replace the hundreds of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers who had labored in the United States under the so-called Bracero Program. Started in World War II, the program was an agreement between the American and Mexican governments that brought Mexican men to pick harvests across the U.S. It ended in 1964, after years of accusations by civil rights activists like Cesar Chavez that migrants suffered wage theft and terrible working and living conditions.

But farmers complained — in words that echo today’s headlines — that Mexican laborers did the jobs that Americans didn’t want to do, and that the end of the Bracero Program meant that crops would rot in the fields.

Wirtz cited this labor shortage and a lack of summer jobs for high schoolers as reason enough for the program. But he didn’t want just any band geek or nerd — he wanted jocks.

“They can do the work,” Wirtz said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., announcing the creation of the project, called A-TEAM — Athletes in Temporary Employment as Agricultural Manpower. “They are entitled to a chance at it.” Standing beside him to lend gravitas were future Baseball Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Warren Spahn and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown.

Over the ensuing weeks, the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness bought ads on radio and in magazines to try to lure lettermen. “Farm Work Builds Men!” screamed one such promotion, which featured 1964 Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte.


The migrant labor barracks where Randy Carter and his high school classmates lived during the summer of 1965 were still standing in 1992, when Carter took this photo. Carter says the barracks had no insulation and no air conditioning, with “nighttime temperatures in the 90s.”

Local newspapers across the country showcased their local A-TEAM with pride as they left for the summer. The Courier of Waterloo, Iowa, for instance, ran a photo of beaming, bespectacled but scrawny boys boarding a bus for Salinas, where strawberries and asparagus awaited their smooth hands. “A teacher-coach from [the nearby town of] Cresco will serve as adviser to all 31,” students, the Courier reassured its readers.

But the national press was immediately skeptical. “Dealing with crops which grow close to the ground requires a good deal stronger motive” than money or the prospects of a good workout, argued a Detroit Free Press editorial. “Like, for instance, gnawing hunger.”

Despite such skepticism, Wirtz’s scheme seemed to work at first: About 18,100 teenagers signed up to join the A-TEAM. But only about 3,300 of them ever got to pick crops.

One of them was Carter.

He was a junior at the now-closed University of San Diego High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Southern California. About 25 of his classmates decided to sign up for the A-TEAM because, as he recalls with a laugh more than 50 years later, “We thought, ‘I’m not doing anything else this summer, so why not?’ ”

Funny enough, Carter says none of the recruits from his school — himself included — were actually athletes: “The football coach told [the sportsters], ‘You’re not going. We’ve got two-a-day practices — you’re not going to go pick strawberries.”

Students from across the country began showing up on farms in Texas and California at the beginning of June. Carter and his classmates were assigned to pick cantaloupes near Blythe, a small town on the Colorado River in the middle of California’s Colorado Desert.

He remembers the first day vividly. Work started before dawn, the better to avoid the unforgiving desert sun to come. “The wind is in your hair, and you don’t think it’s bad,” Carter says. “Then you go out in the field, and the first ray of sun comes over the horizon. The first ray. Everyone looked at each other, and said, ‘What did we do?’ The thermometer went up like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. By 9 a.m., it was 110 degrees.”


An exterior view of the barracks where Carter and his classmates lived for the summer, pictured in 1992. Carter says even in 1965, the housing was dilapidated.

Garden gloves that the farmers gave the students to help them harvest lasted only four hours, because the cantaloupe’s fine hairs made grabbing them feel like “picking up sandpaper.” They got paid minimum wage — $1.40 an hour back then — plus 5 cents for every crate filled with about 30 to 36 fruits. Breakfast was “out of the Navy,” Carter says — beans and eggs and bologna sandwiches that literally toasted in the heat, even in the shade.

The University High crew worked six days a week, with Sundays off, and they were not allowed to return home during their stint. The farmers sheltered them in “any kind of defunct housing,” according to Carter — old Army barracks, rooms made from discarded wood, and even buildings used to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Problems arose immediately for the A-TEAM nationwide. In California’s Salinas Valley, 200 teenagers from New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming quit after just two weeks on the job. “We worked three days and all of us are broke,” the Associated Press quoted one teen as saying. Students elsewhere staged strikes. At the end, the A-TEAM was considered a giant failure and was never tried again.

This experiment quickly disappeared into the proverbial dustbin of history. In fact, when Stony Brook University history professor Lori A. Flores did research for what became her award-winning 2016 book, Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement, she discovered the controversy for the first time. Until then, the only time she had heard of any A-TEAM, she now says with a laugh, “was the TV show.”

Flores thinks the program deserves more attention from historians and the public alike.

“These [high school students] had the words and whiteness to say what they were feeling and could act out in a way that Mexican-Americans who had been living this way for decades simply didn’t have the power or space for the American public to listen to them,” she says. “The students dropped out because the conditions were so atrocious, and the growers weren’t able to mask that up.”

She says the A-TEAM “reveals a very important reality: It’s not about work ethic [for undocumented workers]. It’s about [the fact] that this labor is not meant to be done under such bad conditions and bad wages.”

Carter agrees.

“If we took a vote that first day, we would’ve left,” he says of his friends. “But it literally became a thing of pride. We weren’t going to be fired, and we weren’t going to quit. We were going to finish it.”

The students tried to make the most of their summer. On their Sundays off, they would swim in irrigation canals or hitchhike into downtown Blythe and try to get cowboys to buy them a six-pack of beer. Each high school team was supposed to have a college-age chaperone, but Carter said theirs would “be there for a day, and then disappear to go to Mexico or surfing.”

Carter and his classmates still talk about their A-TEAM days at every class reunion. “We went through something that you can’t explain to anyone, unless you were out there in that friggin’ heat,” the 70-year-old says. “It could only be lived.”

But he says the experience also taught them

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2018 at 12:29 pm

Mr Pomp, Kell’s Original Energy shave stick, X3, and Krampert’s Finest Acadia Bay Rum

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I bought this before Kell’s Original started using waterproof labels, and it is now difficult to read. It’s this shave stick, and the fragrance is described:

Energy – A stimulating blend of Citrus, including Grapefruit, Lemon and Lime, with hints of fresh Cucumber and Jasmine, and a touch of Pineapple, Blackberry and Champagne. Energy is an exciting mix that’s perfect for spring and summer.

Kell also offers soaps in tins with interesting ingredients. This stick seems to be a glycerin soap, though it may include hempseed oil, as some of his soaps do. In any event, the lather was excellent, and I really like the Energy fragrance.

Three passes with the iKon Shavecraft X3, here on a UFO handle, and then a splash of Krampert’s Finest Acadian Bay Rum, very moisturizing despite being a splash. (“Moisturizing” is something I associate more with aftershave balms and milks.) This is the aftershave that made me develop a habit of shaking well any aftershave splash before applying: it never hurts, and some aftershaves need it—and Krampert’s Finest does.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2018 at 8:22 am

Posted in Shaving

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