Later On

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Archive for October 2018

At least they admit it (now): Economists reverse claims that $15 Seattle minimum wage hurt workers, admit it was largely beneficial

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One would, on the face of it, think that raising the minimum wage would help workers (more money). But if economists just go with the obvious, what does their job amount to? So they have to be counter-intuitive, which—oddly—is not always correct.

Barry Ritzholtz writes in Bloomberg:

The dire warnings about minimum-wage increases keep proving to be wrong. So much so that in a new paper, the authors behind an earlier study predicting a negative impact have all but recanted their initial conclusions. However, the authors still seem perplexed about why they went awry in the first place.

Seattle, like some other thriving West Coast cities, a few years ago passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in a series of steps. The law was a partial response to rising income inequality and poverty in the city, which began its post-crisis economic boom well before the rest of the country.

The reaction was immediate, strident — and deeply wrong. The increase was an “economic death wish” that was going to tank the expansion and kill jobs, according to the sages at conservative think tanks. The warnings were as unambiguous as they were specific: Expect restaurants to close in significant numbers and unemployment to rise, all because of this foolish attempt to raise living standards.

Those ideologically opposed to mandated minimum-wage increases freaked out when a Seattle pizza parlor closed. Meanwhile, they ignored data showing Seattle-area employment in the restaurant industry on the rise. The critics even blamed Seattle’s minimum wage law for unemployment in suburbs not covered by Seattle’s laws. Despite their dire forecasts, not only were new restaurants not closing, they were in fact opening; employment in food services and drinking establishments has soared, as the chart [above] shows.

Alas, if only the critics has done their homework first, instead of using scare tactics.

Much of the hand-wringing was based upon a deeply flawed University of Washington study. As we noted in 2017, the study’s fatal flaw was that its analysis excluded large multistate businesses with more than one location. When thinking about the impact of raising minimum wages, one can’t simply omit most of the biggest minimum-wage employers in the region, such as McDonald’s and other fast-food chains, or Wal-Mart and other major retailers. These are the very employers that were the main target of the minimum-wage law; indeed, the law established an even higher minimum wage of $15.45 an hour for companies with 500 or more employees.

There were two other glaring defects in the first study that are worth mentioning. The first is that its findings contradicted the vast majority research on minimum wages. As was demonstrated back in 1994 by economists Alan Krueger and David Card, modest, gradual wage increases have not been shown to reduce employment or hours worked in any significant way. Ignoring that body of research without a very good reason made the initial University of Washington study questionable at best.

Second, there potentially is a problem with having a lead researcher — economist Jacob Vigdor, whose affiliations among others include the right-leaning Manhattan Institute — whose impartiality is open to question. I don’t wish to suggest people cannot have opinions, but researchers need to be open-minded. This especially true in fields like economics and public policy, where belief systems and political affiliations can have an outsized impact on objectivity.

Now of course, we should consider the argument that Seattle’s economic growth has been so strong that it overwhelms any negative effects from the higher minimum wage. No one should ignore that possibility and we will be among the first to acknowledge that this could be the case. We may never know for sure, because in economics you don’t get a chance to run control experiments; you only have the facts at hand.

But we can’t emphasize enough just how wrong many of the initial analyses of the wage increase have been. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force. If your ideology includes the belief that all government attempts at raising living standards are doomed, then of courseyou are going to be against mandated minimum wages. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 9:09 pm

I just learned about Spoon Lady

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Music, Video

“I live among the neo-Nazis in eastern Germany. And it’s terrifying”

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A report in the Guardian from a person who understandably remains anonymous:

Media coverage of racist riots in the east German city of Chemnitz earlier this year showed just the tip of the iceberg: what lurks beneath the surface remains hidden.

I’m a university student and an antifascism activist living in Saxony, not far from Chemnitz. For a long time I underestimated the extent of rightwing extremism in Germany. Before I moved to this area a few years ago I didn’t know Saxony, and took antifascism for granted. I’d never come across “real” Nazis or violent racists.

I grew up in Berlin, I’m the child of a metropolis where it is normal not to be white or have a German name. My French grandfather fought for the Allied air force – that’s how my father came to Germany. My mother, a German, was born in West Berlin, that western enclave in the middle of the German Democratic Republic, a refuge for “alternative” people, punks and conscientious objectors.

For a long time I told myself that the east-west divide didn’t concern me. I was born after the Berlin Wall came down. But when I moved to the east, I started thinking more deeply about my western upbringing. I also tried to dispel my prejudices and started thinking more critically about how Germany handled reunification.

I want to stand up against discrimination everywhere and at any time, but in these small towns that can be hard, and exhausting. You’d think Germany’s history would be enough to ensure that fascism and nationalism are denied even the slightest encouragement. That should matter to everyone, shouldn’t it? Unfortunately that’s not how things are.

When the far right Pegida movement suddenly appeared, with crowds of up to 20,000 people marching through Dresden chanting Islamophobic and racist slogans, there was an initial sense of shock among the public. But soon enough the media discourse swerved, and there were voices saying we should try to understand those among the protesters who were “of good will”. Pegida held similar rallies in many other cities and they were largely met with a degree of complacency. Then came talk in the press of the “asylum question” as a problem, and the need for a cap on refugee numbers. Pegida was given yet another boost.

Next came Alternative für Deutschland, a new party in the political landscape, Eurosceptic, xenophobic, nationalist. Panic spread among mainstream parties as they lost voters, and “the asylum issue” became the pivotal issue in the 2017 general election. Asylum law was tightened. As a counter-reaction, some groups organised themselves to demonstrate the “wilkommenskultur” or “welcome culture”. Refugees were greeted in Munich with tea and biscuits. People began to take action against discrimination. And the media loved showing images of Germans reacting to a crisis with love and harmony.

But what remained largely unnoticed were the attacks on foreigners and asylum hostels. More than 4,000 have occurred since 2015, some involving the use of molotov cocktails, baseball bats, and with armed neo-Nazis even raiding children’s rooms. In 2016, an average of 10 hate crimes each day against migrants was officially registered.

What does that mean for daily life in the places where these attacks happened? To take the full measure of it, you have to live here. There’s the conversation at the bakery where an old woman complains about the “bad” foreigners, and the woman serving her agrees. There’s the conductor on the tramway who deliberately checks only the tickets of the black passengers. And there are the attacks on leftwing cultural projects or community centres – stones thrown, beatings, the violence you experience when you try to get involved. And there’s the passivity of the so-called civilian population – locals who stand by when a black person is beaten up in the town centre. Racist, fascist normality sets in.

Youth centres and social workers are rare. People who try to act against far-right groups by launching “alternative” projects live dangerously, in daily confrontation with hatred. You struggle to set up a school workshop against extremism, and have to look hard to find people who would even consider this kind of work in rural areas. After all, who wants to live in a Nazi village? Those with German passports can choose to stay away from these towns where car tyres get punctured and homes are subjected to arson attacks just because some people don’t like who you are, where you come from, or what your political position is. But not everyone can leave easily. Asylum seekers have a residency obligation if they want to receive benefits or work permits.

The towns and villages that have a Nazi problem form a seemingly endless list now. It doesn’t stop at Chemnitz or Dresden. Looking at Europe more generally, it’s clear that fascism must be fought at a grassroots level – and that means being there, physically. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Is it coming to the US as well?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 8:42 pm

Social Media Is Making the World a Better Place. Quit Griping About It.

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Kevin Drum has an interesting take (and that’s his heading):

Frank Bruni expresses today what I think is a common opinion:

Nora Ephron once wrote a brilliant essay about the trajectory of her and many other people’s infatuations with email, from the thrill of discovering this speedy new way of keeping in touch to the hell of not being able to turn it off. I’ve come to feel that way about the whole of the internet.

What a glittering dream of expanded knowledge and enhanced connection it was at the start. What a nightmare of manipulated biases and metastasized hate it has turned into. Before he allegedly began mailing pipe bombs to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others, Cesar Sayoc found encouragement online — maybe not in the form of explosives instructions, but in the sense that he could scream his resentments in a theater that did the opposite of repudiating them. It echoed them back. It validated and cultivated them. It took something dark and colored it darker still.

….I don’t know exactly how we square free speech and free expression — which are paramount — with a better policing of the internet, but I’m certain that we need to approach that challenge with more urgency than we have mustered so far. Democracy is at stake. So are lives.

I realize that this might not be the most opportune moment to persuade you otherwise, but I’d like to offer a far different take.

I once wrote that the internet makes smart people smarter and dumb people dumber. Likewise, it might very well make good people better and bad people worse. But on average, that doesn’t mean the world is a worse place. So why does it seem so much worse?

That’s pretty easy: the internet boasts an immediacy that allows it to pack a bigger punch than any previous medium. But this is hardly something new. Newspapers packed a bigger punch than the gossipmonger who appeared in your village every few weeks. Radio was more powerful than newspapers. TV was more powerful than radio. And social media is more powerful than TV.

Contrary to common opinion, however, this has little to do with the nature of these mediums. Sure, they’ve become more visceral over time: first words, then pictures, then voice, then moving images, and finally all of that packaged together and delivered with the power of gossip from a trusted friend. But what’s really different is how much time we spend on them—and by this I mean the time we spend on news, not crossword puzzles or Gilligan’s Island. We are addicted to our smartphones, and that means we spend far more time absorbing news than we used to with TV or radio. There’s the news we actively seek out. There’s the news we get after acccidentally clicking on something else. And then, just to make sure we don’t miss one single thing, there’s the news that’s forced on us because we’ve set up our smartphones to buzz and beep at us when something happens.

Does all this mean that there’s more news than ever before? Of course not. Does it mean that there seems to be more news than ever before? Oh my, yes.

And that brings me circuitously to my point: broadly speaking, the world is not worse than it used to be. We simply see far more of its dark corners than we used to, and we see them in the most visceral possible way: live, in color, and with caustic commentary. Human nature being what it is, it’s hardly surprising that we end up thinking the world is getting worse.

Instead, though, consider a different possibility: the world is roughly the same as it’s always been, but we see the bad parts more frequently and more intensely than ever before. What has that produced?

Well, sure, it helped produce Donald Trump. There’s a downside to everything. But what it’s also produced is far more awareness of all those dark corners of the world. And while that may be depressing as hell, that awareness in turn has produced #MeToo. It’s produced #BlackLivesMatter. It’s produced a rebellion among the young. It’s produced the #Resistance. It’s produced more awareness of extreme weather events. It’s produced an entire genre of journalism, the health care horror story, that in turn has produced a growing acceptance that we need something better.

I could go on, but the point I want to make is simple:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 11:44 am

DOJ investigation of Zinke follows possible administration efforts to thwart probe

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Miranda Green reports in the Hill:

he Interior Department’s internal watchdog referred its investigation of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Department of Justice (DOJ) more than two weeks ago, just days before it was announced that Interior would be getting a Trump political appointee to replace its acting inspector general, two sources confirmed to The Hill.

Ben Carson, head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), told his staff on Oct. 12 that Suzanne Tufts would be leaving HUD to replace Interior’s longtime acting inspector general (IG) Mary Kendall — after the watchdog referred its probe to DOJ, according to two government sources with knowledge of the timeline.

One source described the timing as “incredibly circumspect” and raised questions about whether the plan to have Tufts fill a position traditionally occupied by a career staffer was in reaction to the investigation that was referred to DOJ.

“That is exactly what we were concerned about two weeks ago,” said Elizabeth Hempowicz, director of policy at the Project on Government Oversight.

“The IG office is not only in charge of investigating the secretary but keeping the entire agency kind of in check. The movement of a political appointee with no oversight experience into that role kinda makes it look like that move was to stymie that investigation or keep an eye on what was going on internally.”

Tufts would have overseen all investigations at Interior, including at least four known open investigations into Zinke, and she would have been authorized to end investigations that were already underway. The watchdog’s investigations, once referred to DOJ, remain ongoing, meaning Tufts would have had some influence over the one sent to DOJ shortly before her move was announced.

The specific nature of the investigation into Zinke, referred to the DOJ and reported this week, has not been made public.

A week after Carson emailed staff about Tufts’s planned departure, HUD announced that she was not joining Interior and had instead resigned. The housing agency chalked it up to a miscommunication.

Zinke said this week he was unaware of the DOJ investigation and has not been contacted for it. In a statement Tuesday, his lawyer said in a statement, “The Secretary has done nothing wrong.”

DOJ is not commenting on the matter. HUD and the Interior Department did not immediately respond on Wednesday to requests for comment from The Hill.

Earlier this month Interior’s Office of Inspector General released a report that said Zinke had violated department travel policies by bringing his family members in government-owned vehicles. The investigation also said Zinke and his wife brought a Park Police security detail on a vacation, costing more than $25,000, though there was no policy prohibiting it. After investigators started looking into the issue, Interior changed the travel policy to allow family members on official trips.

Other investigations the IG is looking into include a real estate deal Zinke was reportedly poised to benefit from financially that’s backed by the chairman of oil services giant Halliburton in the secretary’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont., and a decision Zinke made last year to not approve a casino project in Connecticut following heavy lobbying from competing casino giant MGM.

IG is required to establish legal grounds for a case, criminal or civil, before referring matters to the DOJ. The watchdog is also required to refer cases to DOJ when it has reasonable grounds to believe there is a violation of federal criminal law. DOJ is not obligated to take up every case it receives. . .

Continue reading.

This election is important. If the Democrats hold a majority of the House, Zinke’s conduct can be investigated through hearings. The GOP House members do not take their responsibilities seriously.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 8:20 am

A suitable shave for Hallowe’en: Organism 46-B

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Organism 46-B:

Organism 46-B was an enormous 33ft (10m) long, 14-tentacled squid-like creature which lived in Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake located under two miles of ice beneath Vostok Station in the Antarctic. The animal had limbs which were animate and aggressive even after amputation, could release a toxin into the water to immobilise its prey from a distance of up to 150 feet, displayed an astonishing degree of shapeshifting, and showed a considerable degree of both hostility and intelligence.

An imaginary dreadful creature is just right, and the soap and its fragrance are excellent: “Scent Notes of burnt sugar – bitter orange – brandy – Hedione – tobacco absolute – benzoin resin – ambergris.” An unusal fragrance, but very pleasant.

Mr Pomp made a terrific lather, and my RazoRock stainless Mambe delivered a perfect shave. A splash of Organism 46-B aftershave, and I’m ready for the day (and evening).

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 8:15 am

Posted in Shaving

Can pot save the pumpkin farm?

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Damian Paletta reports in the Washington Post:

John Muller steered his tractor left onto Main Street, four Atlantic Giant pumpkins in tow, and thousands of people at the pumpkin parade screamed with delight.

But there were many others, spread throughout the festival that day, who feared the famous farmer had led the city down an uncertain path, demanding changes that couldn’t be undone and attempting to enrich himself in the process.

They are determined to stop “Farmer John,” even if it means putting him — and his pumpkin patch — out of business.

On Nov. 6, residents of this small, coastal city will vote on whether Muller, 72, can use a section of his 21-acre farm to grow thousands of young marijuana plants.

Muller and his wife, Eda, said they need this revenue to save their property, Daylight Farms. If voters don’t approve Measure GG, the Mullers could be forced to sell everything before next year’s harvest.

“If that doesn’t pass, there won’t be a pumpkin farm,” Eda Muller told critics at a recent city council meeting, muttering under her breath, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

U.S. farmers last year harvested 2 billion pounds of pumpkins, many of which were later carved into spooky or silly faces for Halloween. The economics behind these Jack-o’-lanterns can be as messy as their gunky guts, though, with everything hanging on six weeks of sales. But these and other iconic American holiday symbols exist in an often overlooked economy with hidden pressures and pain.

For California farmers — many struggling like the Mullers — the state’s legalization of marijuana has offered the prospect of raising a lucrative crop that could keep them on their land. They must first win the approval of their communities, and the debate dividing Half Moon Bay has also paralyzed other parts of the state.

Local governments, particularly in remote rural areas, are deciding whether cannabis should be treated like any other crop or banned, out of concern that it could lead to crime and other unwanted social change. Calaveras County, for instance, allowed the cultivation of cannabis, collecting millions of dollars of taxes, only to backtrack. Now growers are suing.

Here in Half Moon Bay, 130 miles west, John Muller’s plans are straining the entire city, pitting neighbor against neighbor, past against future. The choice is about more than farming and economics, reaching into the community’s sense of values. Voters must decide whether to welcome commercial cannabis inside their community and help the farm or stand firm against marijuana and possibly smash the Mullers’ pumpkin business.

In a city that calls itself the World Pumpkin Capital, losing the Mullers’ pumpkins could be a devastating turn of events. Their iconic roadside plot draws wealthy visitors from San Francisco and Silicon Valley for more than a month each autumn.

And the Mullers are the only local farmers who have shown the ability to raise Atlantic Giants, pumpkins that can gain 40 pounds each day and grow to the size of small cars. These orange boulders give the city a connection to its agricultural past, something many residents are scrambling to protect.

Some competitors have boosted revenue by adding haunted houses, hayrides, and corn mazes to their farms, but the Mullers have eschewed such agritourism, describing themselves as purists.

Giant-pumpkin farmers, though, are known for being secretive and wily, and many residents don’t trust the Mullers’ motives despite their increasingly desperate pleas.

Opening Half Moon Bay to commercial cannabis could change the city forever, they worry, normalizing pot for teenagers, luring outside investors with nefarious motives, and drawing federal scrutiny upon farm laborers, many of whom are undocumented Mexican workers.

“To say there are no other crops that a farmer could grow in Half Moon Bay is ridiculous,” said Virginia Turezyn, who works at a business advisory firm and is running for city council on the same ballot as Measure GG. “They could grow Brussels sprouts. They can grow other stuff. . . . Everybody thinks [cannabis] is a cure-all and a panacea, but I’ve read tons of research that highlights tons of negative implications for the community, for crime, for youth and for the stench.”

Eda’s father, Al Adreveno, purchased Daylight Farms in the 1950s, growing flowers for buyers in San Francisco, just 30 miles away. He built glass greenhouses to protect some of the plants, a decision that is central to November’s vote.

His daughter Eda married John, a Vietnam War veteran, in 1969, and they went to work in the family flower business. Adreveno served three terms on the city council and four years as mayor.

During one of those stints, Adreveno challenged the leaders of another pumpkin town, Circleville, Ohio, to a weigh-off. The California community put up the biggest plant, and it has proclaimed its pumpkin dominance ever since.

The family’s flower business relied on the San Francisco market, and they lost roughly 25 percent of their customers by the mid-1990s because of the AIDS crisis. California flower growers were also becoming crowded out by foreign competition.

In the late 1990s, the Mullers pivoted to pumpkins as a way to save their farm. This quickly made them local legends, in part because the Mullers moved in when others were moving out.

In 2008, San Mateo County growers raised pumpkins on 263 acres. By 2017, pumpkins grew on just 167 acres. There were fewer pumpkin farms but still plenty of buyers, particularly each October during Half Moon Bay’s Art & Pumpkin Festival, a two-day celebration that can draw 200,000 people, clog roads for miles and raise millions of dollars for nonprofit groups and vendors.

Pumpkins, which local farmers call “punkins,” are difficult to grow profitably on a small farm. They must be farmed on different plots every two to three years, or they can become diseased. Seeds are planted after Mother’s Day in May, and harvest comes four or five months later. Buyers typically want pumpkins only during a six-week stretch, leading up to Halloween. That puts enormous pressure on growers to cash in during a small window.

The Mullers grow 60 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and squash, including Cinderellas, Fairytales and Tonda Padanas. They plant 80,000 seeds each spring, and each seed can produce up to four pumpkins. Harvest takes one month, and then the pumpkins are sold at a plot called Farmer John’s Pumpkins on the Pacific Coast Highway, where visitors can see the ocean peeking across a crest of trees.

Muller has always been more than just a farmer, though. In 2008, he served his first of two terms as mayor, helping steer the beleaguered city away from bankruptcy. He also served in other local government posts and advised the U.S. Agriculture Department during the Reagan administration.

At his pumpkin patch, he’s a dusty blur, working as greeter, cashier, wheelbarrow pusher and parking director. He’s five-and-a-half feet tall and wears a deep tan on his face from farm work.

On a recent Friday, he was constantly in motion, sporting torn green coveralls and a sweat-stained hat, hugging visitors and pulling wagons and directing people to a tepee past the hay bales.

He looked at times joyful and at times exhausted, saying he had been up at 4 a.m. discussing the farm’s future with Eda. The Mullers still care for Adreveno, now 95, and his wife, who is 90.

“The family estate is dwindling — we’ll have to make some very, very life-altering decisions,” he said. “We worked hard all our lives, but our little bodies are slowing down a bit.”

A lifelong Republican, John Muller voted against the statewide measure in 2016 that legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults. He was an outlier in Half Moon Bay, where 69 percent of voters backed it.

Shortly after that vote, Muller was approached by Eric Hollister, a chef and acquaintance from the local farmers market. Hollister wanted to refurbish the Mullers’ dilapidated greenhouses, grow cannabis “starts” — young, non-flowered plants — and market the products to individual consumers and other commercial growers.

The Mullers were strapped for cash. Health care for Eda’s mother was nearing $10,000 a month. Hollister said he planned to pay the Mullers nearly $1 million a year in rental fees and spend around $3 million rehabbing the greenhouses, which they would still own. Hollister said he could sell between 100,000 and 150,000 plants a month, grown in 65,000 square feet of greenhouse space. Each plant would fetch between $5 and $10, perhaps more.

Because the plants would be “starts,” they wouldn’t have an intense odor and could not be immediately used as recreational marijuana. For struggling pumpkin farmers, Hollister’s offer made it appear their financial rescue was imminent. And it nearly was. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 8:41 pm

Elaine Pagels on How Devastating Loss Influenced Her Groundbreaking Religious Scholarship

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Elaine Pagels is interviewed in New York:

Elaine Pagels has made a career out of rewriting Christian history. Her first book, the 1979 best seller The Gnostic Gospels, reappraised Christian documents long considered heretical. In the books that followed, she took on the development of Satan, the apocalypse, and original sin, writing with academic rigor for a broad audience. Most of those books were informed by cataclysms in her personal life, as she outlines in her new memoir, Why Religion? In 1987, her 6-year-old son, Mark, died after a prolonged illness, and the following year, her husband, the famous physicist Heinz Pagels, died after falling off a mountain in Colorado.

Why Religion? evokes the depth of her grief, but it also contains a twist: The scholar is also a believer — of sorts. In an increasingly pluralistic world, with the Catholic Church marred by scandals and Evangelicals compromising their values to support Trump, Pagels represents a contingent — less doctrinaire and more self-focused — that’s likely to keep getting larger. We met recently at her office at Princeton University, where she’s taught since 1982, to discuss how she’s tried to shore up the fragments of a religious life.

You’ve always written about the social history of texts, but now you’re doing that kind of excavation work on your own personal history.
One friend who’s a college professor said to me, “If you write this, they’ll think you’re not a scholar anymore.” That was a little unsettling, coming from someone I respect. But I can show you my CV. If people don’t think I’m a scholar, that’s not my problem.

Did it make you think about your work in a different way?
No — I was thinking about this all along. I just didn’t know I’d ever talk about it. The death of a child is one of the things that many people who have experienced it don’t talk about. People would more easily talk about their sex lives. But it feels liberating to open about something that was such a hidden part of one’s own experience.

The title has two meanings, right? You’re asking both, “Why does religion persist?” and also, “Why participate in religion?” 
My late husband asked that question when we first met. He thought it was crazy that I was studying this. And he came to really enjoy the work — and I came to really enjoy his work. I loved to hear about elementary particle physics. It’s all analogies — black holes and string and glue. They think in images, and I do, too. I think imagining is what religious tradition is. It’s like poetry. A lot of it is poetry. But also, at first, as I wrote this, I was thinking, “What hit me when I went through that evangelical thing as a teenager?”

Your parents weren’t religious.
Well, sometimes my mother took me to a Methodist church. It was basically boring. And then my best friend — going to her Catholic church was really scary. That was about it. I was much more engaged with poetry and music and dance.

But then you ended up converting at one of Billy Graham’s events — not a service rich with poetry.
It was about living in a universe where there’s God and there’s Satan, and you’re part of this huge drama. I think that was very appealing in the early Christian movement, too. For me, it lasted for about a year and a half.

When you first encountered the secret gospels in grad school, what did you find so appealing about them?
I was told they were heresy, and that made them very attractive. The word “heresy” in Greek means “choice.” Also, no one had ever seen these books. So I opened up the Gospel of Thomas, and it said, “If you bring forward what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” I thought, “Hey, you don’t have to believe that — it just happens to be true.” It’s about creativity, or any kind of emotional or intellectual suppression.

If more people were to read them, how do you think it would change their understanding of Christianity?
What is known as Christianity today is a huge spectrum, from Russian Orthodox to Pentecostals, or Christian Scientists, or Quakers, or whoever. But it’s still a stream focused upon four particular views of Jesus and his message. Now we know it was once a much wider stream.

Could you talk about the experience you had when your son was dying?
I had always been brought up to think that when people die, as Steve Jobs once put it, “It’s lights out.” I was habituated to thinking about it in a scientific way. The experience of my son’s death was very different: I had a sense of other things happening that were mysterious, and I still don’t know what to make of them. I wouldn’t have even said it was his soul leaving the body, but there was — like, an energy or something. I sensed that somehow he was glad to be out of the body. It had been such a stress for him to stay in a body that was so challenged.

Things like that can’t be scientifically verified, but they happen. At one time I would have thought that it’s projection. And then when my husband died, the following year, what came into my head was totally alien to what I was feeling then: It was him saying, “This is fine with me.” It was not my unconscious speaking. It didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t reassuring. It was not fine with me; it’s not fine with me now. But that’s what came. I questioned whether to write about that stuff, because people may think I’m going off the deep end. But why not? People have these experiences all the time.

Was there a connection between your son’s death and the book you wrote afterward, about original sin?
I had read an article by some psychologist who said that whenever something is wrong with a child, the mother blames herself. The father does not. My husband was devastated, but he didn’t feel guilty. I did. So I had to realize that guilt is a kind of façade in such a situation for the worst thing — the sense that you’re completely helpless about what matters to you more than your life. So then, I was looking at how the culture teaches that human beings get sick and die because we sinned. “It’s your fault. It’s my fault. We’re all guilty.” This is a very peculiar point of view, but it is the way people have coped since the story of Adam and Eve.

Then I was reading an opponent of Saint Augustine, who created original sin. This opponent said, “Illness and death are just part of nature. They’re not punishments at all” — and that’s what I believe. My child had some illness. It happens all the time; it’s not about us. So these old stories became a kind of yoga, which let me play them out, explore them, turn them around, struggle with them, and come to different insights.

How has your own spiritual life changed over the years?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

The election returns become even MORE a soap opera

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Will President Trump’s pushy visit to Pittsburgh have the same effect on the GOP in this election as Comey’s last-minute letter had on the Democrats in the 2016 election? (I say “pushy” because  “Local, national officials decline to appear with Trump in Pittsburgh” and of course people asked him to stay away, at least until after the burials—particularly since Trump’s weekend activities showed no signs of grief. He so clearly sees his visit as a photo-op.)

We’ll just see.

Update: “Whopping 62 percent of jobs don’t support middle-class life after accounting for cost of living” and “9 hours of ‘Executive Time’: Trump’s unstructured days define his presidency.” Regarding the latter, it’s clear that Trump hates his job (being president), probably in part because he must work with people whom he cannot control or fire—thus his frequent (and desperate) flight to rallies with his core supporters. But that this story (which clearly is true) is reported just a week before the election just adds to the soap opera.

People may feel there must be some changes made.

Update again: Add this to the perfect storm of bad news one week before the election:

A company that appears to be run by a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist offered to pay women to make false claims against Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the days leading up to the midterm elections—and the special counsel’s office has asked the FBI to weigh in. “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation,” the Mueller spokesman Peter Carr told me in an email on Tuesday.

The special-counsel office’s attention to this scheme and its decision to release a rare statement about it indicates the seriousness with which the team is taking the purported plot to discredit Mueller in the middle of an ongoing investigation. Carr confirmed that the allegations were brought to the office’s attention by several journalists, who were contacted by a woman who identified herself as Lorraine Parsons. Another woman, Jennifer Taub, contacted Mueller’s office earlier this month with similar information.

The woman identifying herself as Parsons told journalists in an email, a copy of which I obtained, that she had been offered roughly $20,000 by a man claiming to work for a firm called Surefire Intelligence—which had been hired by a GOP activist named Jack Burkman—“to make accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Robert Mueller.” . . .

I smell desperation. And Trump is rushing troops to the Mexican border fast (i.e., before the election) despite the fact that the asylum seekers, more than 2000 miles from the border, will not arrive for weeks—and a substantial number are women and children, who clearly pose no threat to national security.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems, and Trump is clearly feeling desperate.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 3:17 pm

An obvious AI application: Scan the hate-group tweets and forums and pick out the dangerous ones.

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Certainly it would be no more difficult than this: “The police are now using artificial intelligence to spot fake robbery claims.”

And that would quite specifically be protecting us against terrorists, which is exactly what we want. And I don’t think it would be that expensive.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 3:03 pm

An example of what I like in Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series

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From early in the first novel in the series, Master and Commander (which, with Post-Captain, and HMS Surprise, comprise a trilogy of sorts.

Jack Aubrey has just been given a command (his first? Apparently so, for it advances him to the rank of Master and Commander (one epaulet). So in his first command, he sets about becoming becoming master of what he commands. And so:

From that moment on the captain of the Sophie was plunged deep into her accounts – her muster-book, slop-book, tickets, sick-book, complete-book, gunner’s, bosun’s and carpenter’s expenses, supplies and returns, general account of provisions received and returned, and quarterly account of same, together with certificates of the quantity of spirits, wine, cocoa and tea issued, to say nothing of the log, letter and order books – and what with having dined extremely well and not being good with figures at any time, he very soon lost his footing. Most of his dealings were with Ricketts, the purser; and as Jack grew irritable in his confusion it seemed to him that he detected a certain smoothness in the way the purser presented his interminable sums and balances. There were papers here, quittances, acknowledgements and receipts that he was being asked to sign; and he knew very well that he did not understand them all.

‘Mr Ricketts,’ he said, at the end of a long, easy explanation that conveyed nothing to him at all, ‘here in the muster-book, at number 178, is Charles Stephen Ricketts.’

‘Yes, sir. My son, sir.’

‘Just so. I see that he appeared on November 30th, 1797. From Tonnant, late Princess Royal. There is no age by his name.’

‘Ah, let me see: Charlie must have been rising twelve by then, sir.’

‘He was rated Able Seaman.’

‘Yes, sir. Ha, ha!’

It was a perfectly ordinary little everyday fraud; but it was illegal. Jack did not smile. He went on, ‘AB to September 20th, 1798, then rated Clerk. And then on November 10th, 1799, he was rated Midshipman.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the purser: not only was there that little awkwardness of the eleven-year-old able seaman, but Mr Ricketts’ quick ear caught the slight emphasis on the word rated and its slightly unusual repetition. The message it conveyed was this: ‘I may seem a poor man of business; but if you try any purser’s tricks with me, I am athwart your hawse and I can rake you from stem to stern. What is more, one captain’s rating can be disrated by another, and if you trouble my sleep, by God, I shall turn your boy before the mast and flog the tender pink skin off his back every day for the rest of the commission.’ Jack’s head was aching; his eyes were slightly rimmed with red from the port, and there was so clear a hint of latent ferocity in them that the purser took the message very seriously. ‘Yes, sir,’ he said again. ‘Yes. Now here is the list of dockyard tallies: would you like me to explain the different headings in detail, sir?’

‘If you please, Mr Ricketts.’

This was Jack’s first direct, fully responsible acquaintance with book-keeping, and he did not much relish it. Even a small vessel (and the Sophie barely exceeded a hundred and fifty tons) needs a wonderful amount of stores: casks of beef, pork and butter all numbered and signed for, puncheons, butts and half-pieces of rum, hard-tack by the ton from Old Weevil, dried soup with the broad arrow upon it, quite apart from the gunner’s powder (mealed, corned and best patent), sponges, worms, matches, priming-irons, wads and shot – bar, chain, case, langrage, grape or plain round – and the countless objects needed (and so very often embezzled) by the bosun – the blocks, the long-tackle, single, double, parrel, quarter-coak, double-coak, flat-side, double thin-coak, single thin-coak, single strap-bound and sister blocks alone made up a whole Lent litany. Here Jack was far more at home, for the difference between a single double-scored and a single-shoulder block was as clear to him as that between night and day, or right and wrong – far clearer, on occasion. But by now his mind, used to grappling with concrete physical problems, was thoroughly tired: he looked wistfully over the dog-eared, tatty books piled up on the curving rim of the lockers out through the cabin windows at the brilliant air and the dancing sea. He passed his hand over his forehead and said, . . .

You see what I mean?

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Military

Birthright citizenship: A Trump-inspired history lesson on the 14th Amendment

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Fred Barbash wrote in the Washington Post:

It was the fall of 1895, and Wong Kim Ark was puzzled and alarmed as he bided his time on the steamship Coptic, which floated in the San Francisco Bay after returning him from a visit to China. His papers were in order. He had seen to that. The required statement, certification from white men that he was born in the United States and therefore a citizen, were in order. He had traveled to China for a visit and had little trouble being readmitted.

On this occasion, however, authorities denied him entry, returning him to the ship on which he had arrived, and from there to another ship, the Gaelic, and then to the Peking. For four months, the only certainty to Wong’s life was the tides in San Francisco Bay, where he awaited word of his fate.

What he could not have known was that he was about to become a “test case” brought by the United States government, egged on by a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment, in an effort to undermine the 14th Amendment “birthright” provision, which made Wong a citizen in the first place as the plain and simple language of the amendment said that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

For the Chinese in America, this was the “exclusion era,” a radical shift for the United States., which for the most part, since its creation as a republic, had encouraged people to come to its shores. In the beginning, as the country built its railroads, mined its gold and farmed the valleys of Northern California, the Chinese were also welcomed. They streamed in by the thousands.

But as the Depression of 1873 took its toll on white working men, they began to look for scapegoats. Mob violence, arson and overt racist derision swept through California, powered by slogan “the Chinese must go.” Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, designed to put an end to the flow of Chinese. But that was not enough for the building anti-Chinese wave.

Thousands of children had been born to Chinese parents in the United States and birthright citizenship was the next target, just as it is now today under President Trump. He has long denounced what he and other immigration foes call “anchor babies,” whose parents enter the country illegally just to make sure their children enjoy the benefits of citizenship.

On Tuesday, in a taped interview with Axios, Trump vowed to sign an executive order to try to end the right to U.S. citizenship for children born in the United States to noncitizens. Trump was reviving an issue from his presidential campaign ahead of next week’s midterm elections.

“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits,” Trump said in the interview, which is scheduled to air on HBO over the weekend. “It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

Bills to do just what Trump is advocating have been around for years and have gone nowhere. Additionally, many, but not all, scholars believe such a change would need to confront the almost insurmountable task of amending the Constitution.

 

Young men like Wong were not called “anchor babies” by critics then but rather “accidental citizens,” said University of New Hampshire legal historian Lucy Salyer, “citizens by the accident of birth” as the dissenting justices in Wong Kim Ark’s Supreme Court case would put it.

What he did not know was that “they were looking for some poor chump,” Salyer told the Washington Post, to make an example of, at the nation’s highest court. And that “chump” was Wong Kim Ark. So there it was, the intimidating-sounding case of United States vs. Wong Kim Ark, a cook.

Yet he won.

And in the annals of civil rights in America, it was a “huge” case, Salyer said. The justice who wrote the opinion for the court’s majority, was fully aware that its implications went far beyond the Chinese. As the justice who authored the majority opinion in U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark wrote, “to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.” Had the decision gone the other way, Salyer said, instead of a nation of immigrants, America would have become “colonies of foreigners.”

For all its importance, it never became a famous landmark. There is Dred Scott and there is Plessy, there is Brown and there is Bakke and Loving. But Wong Kim Ark draws a blank with most Americans.

His case is so little known that even his own great-granddaughter was only dimly aware of its importance. Then, one day in 1998, having decided to research her family’s history, the 20-year-old college student Alice Wong phoned the San Bruno regional office of the National Archives and Records Administration to say she was coming down to find out about her grandfather. When she arrived, she told the SFWeekly at the time, an archive employee who specialized in the history of the Chinese Exclusion Act asked for her autograph and then introduced her to the entire staff. “This,” he said, “is Wong Kim Ark’s great-granddaughter.”

They knew what that meant, but she didn’t. “‘I was like, ‘Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into,’” she told her interviewer, Lisa Davis. “I knew absolutely nothing about who the heck this guy was.”

“I learned about Wong Kim Ark being a relative after my father died, at his funeral,” Sandra Wong, his granddaughter, said in a recently released and powerful documentary about the 14th Amendment, aptly titled “14: Dred Scott, Wong Kim Ark & Vanessa Lopez,” as she too examined Wong Kim Ark’s documents at the archives. “You know, I became very interested but I knew nothing about it, my father never talked about it. And I had all these questions,” she told the filmmakers, Portland-based Graham Street Productions, which provided excerpts to the Post.

Who “the heck” was Wong Kim Ark

Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873, into the increasingly hostile environment of the exclusion era, a time of unvarnished racism, that made no effort to hide behind euphemisms. In 1877, Erika Lee writes in her chapter in Immigration Stories, a congressional committee investigating Chinese immigration described the Chinese in America as an “indigestible mass in the community, distinct in language, pagan in religion,” “inferior in mental and moral qualities,” who therefore required exclusion “for the good of the public.”

His father was a Chinatown merchant named Wong Si Ping; his mother was Wee Lee. By the time Wong was 9, however, thanks to hostility and the Exclusion Act, business for Chinese was on the verge of collapse and the population of Chinese in America on the decline, from a high of about 101,000 to some 70,000. Wong Si Ping did what he had to to: He took his family, including young Wong Kim Ark, back to China.

But while his parents would remain in China, young Wong found his prospects in China limited and returned to California in 1890, securing work as a cook in California’s Sierra Mountains. Wong and other Chinese born in America lived and worked in a kind of twilight world, technically citizens, but citizens on a ledge, off of which they could easily be shoved. The tests would come whenever they risked visiting China, which they did in part to find wives and see relatives, and attempted to return, at which point they might be admitted or might be turned back.

The documentary “14” captures this well. As archivist Marisa Louie, in the presence of Sandra Wong, sorts through thousands of files of men like her grandfather, she explains: “Any time anyone of Chinese descent left the U.S. during the exclusion period, they had to make some provision for themselves being able to get back into the U.S. So before they would leave, they would maybe go and get a document like this that was a sworn affidavit of some witnesses, some non-Chinese witnesses, mind you, so some white witnesses, typically. And they would attach a photo to the document and it would say yes, we have known Wong Kim Ark, we know that he was born here, we know his parents and we swear that he’s a legally born U.S. citizen.”

The case law was clear. A California circuit precedent in 1884, in the case of Look Tin Sing, established “that both the 14th Amendment and the common law of the land compelled the conclusion that Look was indeed a citizen.” If Look Tin Sing was a citizen so was Wong Kim Ark. Birthright was their only route home as laws dating back to 1790 barred the naturalization of non-whites.

But there were no “immigration” officials as we know them today but rather “collectors of customs,” Salyer explained, “a very lucrative position that until the exclusion laws were passed, were mainly concerned with collecting” tariffs on imported goods. After exclusion, the “collectors” effectively made up their own laws, infused by their own bias.

Indeed, “John Wise, the collector who refused to admit Wong, described himself as a ’zealous opponent of Chinese immigration.’” writes University of Connecticut law professor Bethany Berger.

As Sandra Wong examined the documents describing the questions her grandfather was asked in the documentary, she read aloud from them.

“‘Okay, how old are you?’ the collector asked.

’24 years old,’ replied Wong

‘Have you ever been to China before this time?’

‘Yes,’” Wong Kim Ark answered. “Once before.’

‘ … What are you?’

‘Cook.’

‘Where were you born?’

‘Sacramento Street. My father kept a store: 751 Sacramento Street. I was born upstairs, third floor.’

‘Do you know any white men in San Francisco that know you were born here?’

‘Yes,’” Wong replied. ‘Mr. Selenger. He knew me when I was little before I went to the country. Before I was 10.’”

Wong had made the round trip once. While there, according to Berger, “Wong married a woman from a nearby village. Although the new couple conceived a son, Wong Yook Fun,” Wong had returned to America by the time he was born and had been readmitted.

In 1894, as he prepared for a second trip, he was careful to secure the documents he understood were necessary to get back in, “a notarized affidavit with his photograph as a form of identification,” noting that Wong was a ‘‘citizen of the United States, born in the City and County of San Francisco.’’

There was nothing sinister about Wong’s second trip. While in China, writes Berger, “he met his oldest son for the first time and conceived another, Wong Yook Thue.”

But upon his return, Lee writes, he was asked ‘‘You are sure you were born here?’’ the official asked. ‘‘Yes,’’ answered Wong. Nevertheless, he was returned to the Coptic.

Most immigrant communities in the U.S. had their own self-help organizations. Early Germans migrating to Pennsylvania in the 1700s had the German Society of Pennsylvania, while Jewish immigrants from Imperial Russia had HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, for example. The Chinese had the “Six Companies,” otherwise known as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in San Francisco.

The Six Companies, Berger writes, kept lawyers on retainer, among them Thomas Riordan of San Francisco. Riordan filed a petition for habeas corpus in response to which, Berger writes, “Judge William Morrow opined that having citizenship follow that of one’s parents was ‘undoubtedly more logical, reasonable, and satisfactory,’ but the law of the circuit required him to uphold birthright citizenship. He declared Wong a citizen and ordered him released upon payment of a $250 bond.”

That merely gave the government its opening for an appeal.

Meanwhile, the government moved forward with its test case. In the brief U.S. Solicitor General Holmes Conrad filed, Berger writes in the the Cardozo Law Review, Conrad conceded, that “the opinions of the Attorneys-General, the decisions of the Federal and State courts, and, up to 1885, the rulings of the State Department all concurred in the view that birth in the United States conferred citizenship.”

But he argued that they were all wrong, in part, he explained, because it departed from the laws of other nations and for that matter of ancient Rome, where the citizenship of the child was bound not to the birthplace but to the blood of the parent. Besides, he argued “the exclusion laws showed that the U.S. did not want Chinese to be citizens anyway.”

For Justice Horace Gray it was an open and shut case. The majority opinion was issued on March 28, 1898.

History and law, he wrote, “irresistibly lead us to these conclusions:  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 11:27 am

Trump’s Corruption: The Definitive List

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Good reference article in the NY Times by David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick. It’s lengthy, and should be read in full. It begins:

They don’t even try very hard to hide it.

President Trump, his family and more than a few of his appointees are using his presidency to enrich themselves. They are spending taxpayer dollars for their own benefit. They are accepting sweetheart deals from foreigners. And they are harnessing the power of the federal government on behalf of their businesses.

There’s a word for this: corruption.

Given how widespread Trumpian corruption has become, we thought it was time to make a list. It’s meant to be a definitive list of self-dealing by the president, his family, his staff or his friends — since he began running for president. To qualify, an incident needs to seem highly credible, even if it remains unresolved, and needs to involve making money.

Compiling the list made us understand why some historians believe Trump’s administration is the most corrupt since at least Warren Harding’s, of 1920s Teapot Dome fame. Trump administration officials and people close to them are brashly using power to amass perks and cash. They are betting that they can get away with it. So far, Congress has let them.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

Here’s the list, sorted into thematic categories:

A few days after the 2016 election, the government of Kuwait canceleda planned event at the Four Seasons Hotel. It instead held the event — a celebration of Kuwait’s National Day — at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

hat celebration fits a pattern. Officials from foreign governments have realized they can curry favor with Trump by spending money at his properties. The list of governments includes Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Turkey, China, India, Afghanistan and Qatar. Some may have done so even if he were not the president, but others are well aware of what they are doing.

The Constitution forbids federal officials from accepting gifts, known as emoluments, from foreign powers, unless they have received congressional approval. Congressional Democrats have sued Trump for violating this clause, and the case is now in federal court.

American officials and business leaders have also spent money at Trump properties, sometimes in an apparent effort to please the president. Gov. Paul LePage of Maine last year stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Other Republicans have held campaign fund-raisers and party events at the properties. So have corporate lobbyists.

“National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Dinner at the Trump Hotel where I am drinking Trump coffee,” Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, posted on Instagram last year.

During Trump’s presidency, his companies have pushed to expand overseas, with help from foreign governments. One example: In May, an Indonesian real-estate project that involves the Trump Organization reportedly received a $500 million loan from a company owned by the Chinese government. Two days later, Trump tweeted that he was working to lift sanctions on a Chinese telecommunications firm with close ties to the government — over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. He ultimately did lift the sanctions.

Trump’s businesses have also moved to expand in India, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia, using deals directly with foreign governments.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top aide, has also reportedly been using his position to help his family business — Kushner Companies, also a real-estate company. Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, has bragged about the company’s high-level ties when trying to attract Chinese investment in a New Jersey apartment complex. The Kushners have wooed Chinese investors despite warnings from American counterintelligence officials that China is using the investments to sway Trump administration policy.

The Kushner company also successfully lobbied the Qatari government to invest in 666 Fifth Avenue, a financially troubled luxury building. The company’s dealings with Middle Eastern countries are especially problematic because Jared Kushner is one of the administration’s top policymakers for the region and has played a central role in policy toward Qatar.

The president has played golf at his properties dozens of times since taking office. He refers to his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, as the winter White House. Shortly after his election, he celebrated New Year’s along with 800 guests there, with tickets costing more than $500. And Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, once encouraged people to buy clothes from Ivanka Trump’s line — while Conway was giving a television interview from the White House.

These moves are intended, at least partly, to bring attention and ultimately customers to Trump’s businesses. Of course, some of Trump’s critics have responded in kind, refusing to stay at or live in a Trump-branded property since he won the election. But in other ways, the presidency has clearly helped his bottom line. One example: The Mar-a-Lago club has doubled its membership rates.

Trump has visited or stayed at one of his properties almost one out of every three days that he has been president, according to both The Wall Street Journal and NBC News. Like previous presidents, Trump travels with a large group of staff and security personnel, and American taxpayers typically foot at least part of the bill for the trips. Unlike previous presidents, Trump is directing money to his own business on his trips.

In one three-month period last year, the Secret Service spent about $63,000 at Mar-a-Lago and more than $137,000 on golf carts at Trump’s Florida and New Jersey clubs. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 8:52 am

Trolling the Monster in the Heart of the Milky Way

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Dennis Overby reports in the NY Times:

In a dark, dusty patch of sky in the constellation Sagittarius, a small star, known as S2 or, sometimes, S0-2, cruises on the edge of eternity. Every 16 years, it passes within a cosmic whisker of a mysterious dark object that weighs some 4 million suns, and that occupies the exact center of the Milky Way galaxy.

For the last two decades, two rival teams of astronomers, looking to test some of Albert Einstein’s weirdest predictions about the universe, have aimed their telescopes at the star, which lies 26,000 light-years away. In the process, they hope to confirm the existence of what astronomers strongly suspect lies just beyond: a monstrous black hole, an eater of stars and shaper of galaxies.

For several months this year, the star streaked through its closest approach to the galactic center, producing new insights into the behavior of gravity in extreme environments, and offering clues to the nature of the invisible beast in the Milky Way’s basement.

One of those teams, an international collaboration based in Germany and Chile, and led by Reinhard Genzel, of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, say they have found the strongest evidence yet that the dark entity is a supermassive black hole, the bottomless grave of 4.14 million suns.

The evidence comes in the form of knots of gas that appear to orbit the galactic center. Dr. Genzel’s team found that the gas clouds circle every 45 minutes or so, completing a circuit of 150 million miles at roughly 30 percent of the speed of light. They are so close to the alleged black hole that if they were any closer they would fall in, according to classical Einsteinian physics.

Astrophysicists can’t imagine anything but a black hole that could be so massive, yet fit within such a tiny orbit.

The results provide “strong support” that the dark thing in Sagittarius “is indeed a massive black hole,” Dr. Genzel’s group writes in a paper that will be published on Wednesday under the name of Gravity Collaboration, in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“This is the closest yet we have come to see the immediate zone around a supermassive black hole with direct, spatially resolved techniques,” Dr. Genzel said in an email.

The work goes a long way toward demonstrating what astronomers have long believed, but are still at pains to prove rigorously: that a supermassive black hole lurks in the heart not only of the Milky Way, but of many observable galaxies. The hub of the stellar carousel is a place where space and time end, and into which stars can disappear forever.

The new data also help to explain how such black holes can wreak havoc of a kind that is visible from across the universe. Astronomers have long observed spectacular quasars and violent jets of energy, thousands of light-years long, erupting from the centers of galaxies.

Roger Blandford, the director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University, said that there is now overwhelming evidence that supermassive black holes are powering such phenomena.

“There is now a large burden of proof on claims to the contrary,” he wrote in an email. “The big questions involve figuring out how they work, including disk and jets. It’s a bit like knowing that the sun is a hot, gaseous sphere and trying to understand how the nuclear reactions work.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 7:25 am

Posted in Science

It’s never too early for dark chocolate

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Phoenix Artisan got dark chocolate exactly right in this Valentine’s Day special soap from a while back. The lather this morning was exceptional, and credit must be given not only to the soap but to the Kent Infinity brush.

The Dorco PL602 is a wonderful razor (despite the price) and I greatly enjoyed using it this morning. As is usual with this razor, the result is a flawless BBS pleasure.

A splash of the dark chocolate aftershave, and here we are: Hallowe’en-e’en.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 7:03 am

Posted in Shaving

Wisconsin’s $4.1 Billion Foxconn Boondoggle

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Bruce Murphy reports in the Verge:

KEY POINTS

  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wooed Foxconn with a huge subsidy plan, which was first drawn up on the back of a napkin
  • It now totals $4.1 billion, much of it in cash, and many doubt taxpayers will ever be repaid
  • Now, Foxconn no longer plans to build a Generation 10.5 factory manufacturing panels for 75-inch TVs
  • Instead, it plans to build a smaller factory manufacturing smaller panels and requiring far less investment
  • Foxconn maintains it will still create 13,000 jobs, but they will mostly be for knowledge workers developing an ecosystem it calls “AI 8K+5G”
  • Foxconn was given large exemptions from environmental regulations, raising concerns about pollution
  • The Walker administration refused to talk to The Verge for this story

It was a veritable lovefest in Milwaukee in July 2017 when Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou announced their plan to create a heavily subsidized manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin. Walker gushed that Gou, who founded his Taiwan-based company in 1974, was “one of the most remarkable business leaders in the world.” Gou returned the favor by saying, “I’ve never seen this type of governor or leader yet in this world.” Effusive, yet ambiguous.

The details of the deal were famously written on the back of a napkin when Gou and the Republican governor first met: a $3 billion state subsidy in return for Foxconn’s $10 billion investment in a Generation 10.5 LCD manufacturing plant that would create 13,000 jobs.

The size of the subsidy was stunning. It was far and away the largest in Wisconsin history and the largest government handout to a foreign company ever given in America. Like most states, Wisconsin had given subsidies to companies in the past, but never higher than $35,000 per job. Foxconn’s subsidy was $230,000 per job.

But Walker was elected in 2010 on a promise of creating 250,000 new jobs in the state in his first term as governor. Six years into his tenure, he still was far short. Running for a third term in 2018, he badly needed a big win.

And the Foxconn deal was beyond big. Some predicted that bringing the company that manufactures devices for Apple and many other tech giants to the state would create the “Silicon Valley of Wisconsin,” which is no small claim in a state that’s far from a high-tech hotbed. Conservatives predicted Walker’s re-election would be a slam dunk on the back of the deal.

But what seemed so simple on a napkin has turned out to be far more complicated and messy in real life. As the size of the subsidy has steadily increased to a jaw-dropping $4.1 billion, Foxconn has repeatedly changed what it plans to do, raising doubts about the number of jobs it will create. Instead of the promised Generation 10.5 plant, Foxconn now says it will build a much smaller Gen 6 plant, which would require one-third of the promised investment, although the company insists it will eventually hit the $10 billion investment target. And instead of a factory of workers building panels for 75-inch TVs, Foxconn executives now say the goal is to build “ecosystem” of buzzwords called “AI 8K+5G” with most of the manufacturing done by robots.

Polls now show most Wisconsin voters don’t believe the subsidy will pay off for taxpayers, and Walker didn’t even mention the deal in a November 2017 speech announcing his run for re-election. He now trails in that re-election bid against a less-than-electric Democratic candidate, the bland state superintendent of public instruction Tony Evers.

It all seemed so promising. So how did everything go so bad so quickly?

When Walker signed the Foxconn deal in November 2017, the details matched those jotted on the napkin: the state promised a $3 billion state subsidy if the company invested $10 billion in a plant that created 13,000 jobs.

The size of Wisconsin’s subsidy quickly began to grow, as spelled out in state legislation passed about six weeks later and implemented by the Walker administration. By December 2017, the public cost had grown to include $764 million in new tax incentives from local governments in Racine County, which is just 40 minutes south of Milwaukee where the plant was to be located. Other additions included $164 million for road and highway connections built to service the plant, plus $140 million for a new electric transmission line to Foxconn that would be paid for by all 5 million ratepayers of the public utility We Energies. With other small costs added, the total Foxconn subsidy hit $4.1 billion — a stunning $1,774 per household in Wisconsin.

Back when the subsidy was $3 billion, Wisconsin’s non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that it would take until 2043 for taxpayers to recoup the subsidy. This long payback period was due to Walker and Republicans effectively cutting the state’s corporate income tax for manufacturers to zero in 2011. This meant the subsidies to Foxconn would not be a tax write-off, but billions in cash that would be paid back by state income taxes paid by Foxconn workers. At $4.1 billion, the payback date for the state was likely 2050 or later.

Some doubt the subsidy will ever actually be recouped. “Realistically, the payback period for a $100,000 per job deal is not 20 years, not 42 years, but somewhere between hundreds of years and never,” wrote Jeffrey Dorfman, an economics professor at the University of Georgia, in a story for Forbes. “At $230,000 [or more] per job, there is no hope of recapturing the state funds spent.” And this was before the subsidy had risen to $4.1 billion, or about $315,000 per job.

In retrospect, it’s clear that Walker had a strong hand to play in negotiations with Foxconn. The company had to locate in a Great Lakes state because of the huge amount of water needed to clean the glass used in manufacturing LCD screens. And no other Great Lakes state came close to offering the $4.1 billion Foxconn is getting. Michigan came the closest, offering $2.3 billion, but it was partly a tax subsidy rather than cash. As for Ohio, Gov. John Kasich condemned the Wisconsin deal. “I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, “it’s not going to take us 40 years to make back the investment we make. We don’t buy deals.”

Over the summer, Walker’s response to such criticism was pointed. ”There’s a whole lot of people out there scrambling to try and come up with a reason not to like this,” he said in July of last year. “They can go suck lemons. The rest of us are going to cheer and figure out how we are going to get this thing going forward.” Several weeks later, he called the deal a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that will be “transformational” for the state. “These LCD displays will be made in America for the very first time, right here in the state of Wisconsin.”

The Walker administration did not return repeated requests for comment about when taxpayers would recoup the Foxconn subsidies.

In May, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Foxconn was greatly scaling back its plans for the plant. Foxconn released a statement “categorically” denying this, but by late June, company officials conceded they would not be building the kind of plant Gou had originally promised Walker.

Instead of a Generation 10.5 plant, which produces 10-foot by 11-foot panels for 75-inch TV screens, Foxconn would be building a Generation 6 plant that only produces 5-foot by 6-foot glass panels. A Gen 6 plant would require about a $2.5 billion investment, according to Bob O’Brien, a partner at Display Supply Chain Consultants, rather than the $10 billion Foxconn initially promised.

Foxconn had hoped to have New York-based Corning build a factory nearby, as the large glass panels required for a Generation 10 plant cannot be transported long distances. But Corning officials made it clear they’d need a subsidy for as much as two-thirds of the cost of this facility, and officials within the Walker administration, suffering continuing criticism about the Foxconn subsidy, ruled out any more handouts. The Walker administration, it seems, had not checked to see if Foxconn could deliver on its promises without help.

Foxconn spokesperson Louis Woo told BizTimes that a co-located glass plant “would no longer be a necessity” with a Gen 6 plant. “We can just ship [glass] from somewhere else… because the pieces of glass that would be required would be a lot smaller.”

But Foxconn officials also said that the company was still committed to a $10 billion investment and 13,000 jobs, adding it might eventually add a Gen 10.5 plant, but it would get there in “phases.” The phases were not spelled out.

Just seven weeks later, in late August, the company announced the plans had changed yet again — far more radically. Woo told the Racine Journal Times that Foxconn would never add a Gen 10.5 plant to its Racine campus, despite past statements, because by the time it was built, the market would be glutted by other manufacturers in China.

And even the Gen 6 panels might not be manufactured in Racine for long. . .

Continue reading.

Scott Walker, scourge of Wisconsin.

Read the whole thing. It’s jaw-dropping. Scott Walker has crushed Wisconsin, much as Donald Trump is crushing the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2018 at 1:40 pm

9 hours of ‘Executive Time’: Trump’s unstructured days define his presidency

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In Politico Eliana Johnson and Daniel Lippman report on Trump’s lack of interest and engagement in doing the work of president:

President Donald Trump had about three times as much free time planned for last Tuesday as work time, according to his private schedule. The president was slated for more than nine hours of “Executive Time,” a euphemism for the unstructured time Trump spends tweeting, phoning friends and watching television. Official meetings, policy briefings and public appearances — typically the daily work of being president — consumed barely more than three hours of his day.

The president was slated to spend 30 minutes on the phone with CEOs and make brief remarks at a state leadership conference. He was briefed by senior military leaders in the evening and joined them for dinner. Aside from an 11:30 a.m. meeting with White House chief of staff John Kelly — his first commitment of the day — the rest of his day was unstructured, some in blocks as long as 2 hours and 45 minutes.

A review of one week of the president’s private detailed schedules, from Monday Oct. 22 through Friday Oct. 26, showed the president had more free time on Tuesday than on any other day that week, but his Tuesday agenda was hardly atypical. And while the notion of Executive Time, and the president’s increasingly late start to the day, has come under scrutiny over the past year, this new batch of schedules obtained by POLITICO offers fresh insight into the extent to which that unscheduled time dominates Trump’s week and is shaping his presidency, allowing his whims and momentary interests to drive White House business.

“The president’s time is, in many ways, his most valuable commodity because it’s finite,” said Mack McLarty, who served as chief of staff for President Bill Clinton’s first year in office. “It reflects his priorities. It reflects what he’s trying to get done with the country.”

As a freewheeling president in one of the world’s most regimented jobs, Trump appears to be redefining the nature of the role. Past presidents were disciplined in their scheduled time, squired from meeting to meeting, event to event, from the moment they arrived in the Oval Office until they headed up to the residence at night.

Trump, by contrast, enjoys huge blocks of unscheduled time in which he can do as he pleases. He is hardly the first president to have an erratic schedule. Clinton and Jimmy Carter were known to make middle-of-the-night phone calls, and every president has kept different hours: George W. Bush was an early bird, Barack Obama a night owl. But even Trump allies who say the president is always working concede that the Trump presidency is uniquely defined by his down time, when his short-term bugaboos become the drivers of his agenda, rather than any long-term vision.

“He might read something in the paper and immediately you’d get an impromptu meeting on trade,” said a person familiar with the president’s scheduling. “It’s just more impromptu than like a month in advance you have a policy time set that you’re going to work up to.”

Some White House aides insist the president is productive during these open stretches, calling lawmakers, Cabinet members and world leaders, and scheduling meetings rather than simply watching television in the private dining room off the Oval Office. One aide even described Trump as a “workaholic.”

But the president’s official commitments last week began no earlier than 11 a.m. according to the schedules obtained by POLITICO, and on Tuesday — in the midst of a potential serial bomber and two weeks ahead of the midterm elections — they didn’t start until 1 p.m.

Trump’s work activity also reflects much more time spent on the performative aspects of the job, like signing ceremonies and media interviews, than on the actual work of policymaking.

A bulk of the president’s time last week was spent traveling to and from political rallies and campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates ahead of next Tuesday’s midterm elections. On Wednesday, which began with an 11:30 a.m. meeting with John Kelly, Trump delivered brief remarks on the opioid crisis and sat for a media interview before departing for an evening rally in Wisconsin. The rest of his day, according to his schedule, was open.

Last week’s schedules are remarkably light on policy discussions. The president spent a little more than two hours of his week in policy briefings, according to the schedules, and he was scheduled to receive the President’s Daily Brief on just two of the five days reviewed.

Obama, by contrast, was generally booked throughout the day, according to Mona Sutphen, who served as his deputy chief of staff for policy from 2009 to 2011. “I’d say it was significantly, fundamentally a different pace of intensity of workload,” Sutphen said. Her successor, Nancy-Ann DeParle, recalled schedules packed with policy meetings — on average, six to seven hours a day, she said.

“If the president was taking nine hours of Executive Time, we would just say the president was down for the day or something like that,” said a senior Obama White House aide, who declined to be named.

For Trump aides, scheduling presented a challenge from the outset. Accustomed to conducting business largely over the phone from his office in Trump Tower, the president chafed at back-to-back meetings that kept him off his phone and away from the television, according to a half dozen current and former White House aides.

The concept of “Executive Time” was Kelly’s response to the president’s complaints that he was over-scheduled under his previous chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and “didn’t have any time to think,” one of those aides said.

“There was always this tug and pull early in the administration when Priebus was there because if there were too many things on his schedule, he would complain. But if there were too few things on his schedule, the senior staff would complain because he would be left to his own devices and spend more time watching TV or calling people on the phone or calling in advisers unscheduled to the Oval Office,” said a former White House aide familiar with the evolution of his schedule and the president’s gripes about it.

What is unclear is how much thinking and working actually takes places in these off-hours, despite the protestations of some Trump aides — as opposed to tweeting, television-watching, gossiping and venting with friends and allies by telephone.

Last week, White House aides say, Trump was briefed on the spate of attempted pipe bombings that targeted some of his political enemies, last-minute meetings that did not appear on his private schedule. On Monday afternoon, the president said on Twitter that he had just spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, calls also left off the schedule. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2018 at 1:33 pm

Luca Turin was on to something: ‘Quantum smell’ idea gains ground

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Jason Palmer reports for the BBC:

A controversial theory that the way we smell involves a quantum physics effect has received a boost, following experiments with human subjects.

It challenges the notion that our sense of smell depends only on the shapes of molecules we sniff in the air.

Instead, it suggests that the molecules’ vibrations are responsible.

A way to test it is with two molecules of the same shape, but with different vibrations. A report in PLOS ONE shows that humans can distinguish the two.

Tantalisingly, the idea hints at quantum effects occurring in biological systems – an idea that is itself driving a new field of science, as the BBC feature article Are birds hijacking quantum physics? points out.

But the theory – first put forward by Luca Turin, now of the Fleming Biomedical Research Sciences Centre in Greece – remains contested and divisive.

The idea that molecules’ shapes are the only link to their smell is well entrenched, but Dr Turin said there were holes in the idea.

He gave the example of molecules that include sulphur and hydrogen atoms bonded together – they may take a wide range of shapes, but all of them smell of rotten eggs.

“If you look from the [traditional] standpoint… it’s really hard to explain,” Dr Turin told BBC News.

“If you look from the standpoint of an alternative theory – that what determines the smell of a molecule is the vibrations – the sulphur-hydrogen mystery becomes absolutely clear.”

Molecules can be viewed as a collection of atoms on springs, so the atoms can move relative to one another. Energy of just the right frequency – a quantum – can cause the “springs” to vibrate, and in a 1996 paper in Chemical Senses Dr Turin said it was these vibrations that explained smell.

The mechanism, he added, was “inelastic electron tunnelling”: in the presence of a specific “smelly” molecule, an electron within a smell receptor in your nose can “jump” – or tunnel – across it and dump a quantum of energy into one of the molecule’s bonds – setting the “spring” vibrating.

But the established smell science community has from the start argued that there is little proof of this.

Of horses and unicorns

One way to test the idea was to prepare two molecules of identical shape but with different vibrations – done by replacing a molecule’s hydrogen atoms with their heavier cousins called deuterium.

Continue reading.

Prof. Vosshall certainly clings tenaciously to his idea. I recall how Alfred Wegener‘s 1912 paper was roundly rejected by scientists for decades.

I highly recommend Chandler Burr’s wonderful profile of Turin, The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession and the Last Mystery of the Senses.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2018 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

Lady Leadfoot: Denise McCluggage

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Amy Wallace writes in Sports Illustrated:

MARCH 20, 1961
SEBRING, FLA.

Five days before the race, the automobiles began to appear in this small backwater town. They came on trailers, on huge haul-aways, on tow-bars behind passenger cars and some under their own power, all accompanied by crews of eager, purposeful men and a few purposeful women. Their goal: to compete in (or at least witness) the Twelve Hours at Sebring, one the premier sports car events in the world. The race’s formal name was the Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance, and the need to endure affected everyone, not just the drivers. Pity the local resident who had the misfortune of blowing an engine during the run-up to the start, because garage space—even filling station space—was suddenly unavailable. Noisy strangers—weekend hobbyist racers and top-flight factory teams alike, including the finest drivers from both the old and new world—thronged restaurants in the center of town. Tourists passing through on their way north were well advised to take alternate routes, for every available bed, even empty bunks in the local jail, had been booked for months.

That said, no one visited Sebring to sleep. In the run-up to race day, the pungent punch of orange blossoms that normally filled the air was replaced by the sharp smell of burned castor oil and exhaust. Even in the small hours of the morning came the sound of engines revving and growling and howling. Over several days of hard-won practice, it would become clear that this Sebring Grand Prix would be a faster and tougher than ever before. One driver completed a one-lap practice dash of the 5.2-mile, 12-turn course in just three minutes and twelve seconds—a record! And every evening after practice sessions ended, the lights in the garages burned for hours as drivers and their crews sought to identify and switch out their cars’ weakest components, hoping for victory.

Into this happy chaos drove Denise McCluggage, a 34-year-old amateur racer who had just bought her very first Ferrari—a dark blue “mouthful of a car,” she liked to say, “with superb handling and wonderful manners.” The used 1960 250 short wheel-base Scaglietti-bodied Berlinetta had set her back $9,000 and was the most expensive thing she’d ever owned by a factor of three, but McCluggage had no doubt it was worth it. A lean, 5-foot-6-inch beauty with short-cropped hair and angular features, she’d been a sports car freak since the age of six. Now, as European sports car racing really began to catch on in the United States, she’d earned a nickname: Lady Leadfoot. 

McCluggage’s entrée to the sport was unusual: She was a journalist who had a reputation for participating in and excelling at the extreme sports she covered. She had jumped out of airplanes, skied treacherous mountains, become a champion fencer—all in search of what she called “the perfect meditation” that well-honed exertion can bring. No matter the contest, she always played to win. But she’d lost at Sebring before—three times. In 1958, she’d raced in a borrowed Fiat-Abarth 750 Zagato but didn’t finish. In 1959, her team came in 18th in an OSCA. In 1960, she drove in another OSCA, but didn’t complete the race. Now, on her fourth consecutive try, she hoped driving her own Ferrari would give her an advantage. In terms of international prestige, Sebring was second only to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in France. But the French didn’t let women drive. This, then, was McCluggage’s shot at the big time, her chance to go down in history. Maybe this race would bring her better luck. 

The only question was with whom she would share the driving. No one completed Sebring’s dozen hours alone. The course demanded not just concentration, but agility and physical strength. It was utterly exhausting, which is why several cars would be piloted by as many as four people. This year, McCluggage planned to make do with two. If she had her way, she and her boyfriend—a jazz saxophonist named Allen Eager—would take turns in the Berlinetta, spelling each other, switching out when it was time to refuel. McCluggage had been coaching Eager for months; this would be his first race ever. But to qualify, he had to pass the physical. And that was by no means a sure thing.


The first time Denise McCluggage cracked a joke, it was about a car. She was five years old, riding in a Dodge sedan her father was thinking of buying. The salesman was taking her family for a demo ride, and was weaving sharply in and out of traffic. “No wonder they call it a Dodge,” she piped up from the back seat, and everyone laughed.

That Dodge notwithstanding, the McCluggages were an Oldsmobile family. They had a mud-colored sedan, probably a ’36. Each summer, it transported the whole clan—Robert, a lawyer, Velma Faye, a court reporter, Denise and her two younger sisters (a third had died of measles and pneumonia)—from Topeka, Kansas, to Tincup, Colorado, to escape the heat. Every year, upon arrival, they would take up residence in a rented log cabin chosen for its location (next to a creek, famous for good fishing) more than its amenities (no plumbing and no electricity).

One summer, the family went to watch the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb—an annual race run on the narrow dirt roads that ascend the mountain’s face. It was there that she first saw Louis Unser, whose nephews Al and Bobby would later combine to win seven Indy 500s between them, and even filmed him with the family’s eight millimeter camera. Years later, he would pilot a Maserati to victory on that course. For the rest of her life, Denise would call the daring, dark-haired Unser her hero.

Cars always seemed to speak to her. There was the Baby Austin 7 she saw when she was six, parked on the street in Topeka. (She promptly asked Santa to bring her one for Christmas). There were the kiddie-sized racers her family encountered at a carnival in Manitou Springs, Colo. Denise got to drive one for a dime a lap, and put her foot down, hard.

MARCH 25, 1961
SEBRING, FLA., 9 A.M.

With one hour to go before the start, there was no avoiding the jitters. After months of preparation, the Sebring four-wheeled endurance marathon was about to begin.

Denise McCluggage was ready; she even had a back-up plan. Worried that Allen Eager wouldn’t be allowed to compete, she’d invited another driver, Fred K. Gamble, a Floridian who’d raced a Corvette the previous year at Sebring, to join her team as an alternate. The reason: Like many jazz musicians, Eager had experimented with drugs. Heroin, specifically. Though he’d been clean for some time, McCluggage worried the mandatory physical might trip him up. Moreover, Gamble recalled: “We didn’t think the race organizers would let him drive, because he’d never driven a race before.” But McCluggage and Gamble hadn’t factored in Eager’s star power. The saxophonist had played with Tommy Dorsey! He knew Miles Davis! The race organizers loved the buzz Eager’s fledgling race would generate, so they cleared him to drive. Gamble, relegated to the sidelines, would shoot home movies of the race.

Now, it seemed as though all the energy in town converged around the track. After just 10 years in existence, the Sebring International Raceway had a well-earned reputation as a treacherous course. Like many early racetracks, on series of a World War II era landing strips—the former Hendricks Army Airfield. The concrete expanse was broken by large seams, its surface so uneven that racers often scraped their cars’ undercarriages as they careened by, sending sparks flying. Even the best drivers had trouble keeping a grip on the wheel. Then there was the track’s irregular shape. Instead of an oval, Sebring was a road course whose dozens turns included one head-spinning hairpin and several high-speed 90-degree corners. There was very little elevation change and little camber—or tilt—at the turns, which made it difficult to maintain speed while turning. As if that weren’t enough, the course was poorly marked with orange cones banded in reflective tape. Since the race began precisely at 10 o’clock in the morning and ended at 10 o’clock at night, drivers would be navigating these obstacles for about four hours in the dark—a confusing task at best and, at worst, a fatal one.

McCluggage knew the risks were real. She’d seen more than one racing phenom lose his life to the sport—Herbert MacKay-Fraser, Jean Behra, and Peter Collins to name a few. This was a time before roll bars and flame retardant suits, an era when race car driving was defined largely by machismo. Few women attempted to compete in such a male-dominated space; those who did were mostly relegated to so-called Ladies Races or “Powder Puff Derbies.” But today would be different. Of the 65 vehicles entered, two would be piloted by teams that included a woman driver.

In endurance sports car racing, the cars are the stars. Most fans root for manufacturers, not drivers. This year, the cars were as varied as they were spectacular. Two Triumphs, three Arnolt Bristols, four Sunbeam Alpines, five Corvettes, six Maseratis, seven Porsches and 13 Ferraris were competing, not to mention a few OSCAs, Alfa Romeos and Elva Couriers, among other models. As always, there were two categories for the entrants—Sports Prototype and Gran Turismo (or GT). As a general rule, GT cars are vehicles you could buy at a dealership that have been prepared for racing, while Prototypes are limited production cars built specifically for racing. At the end of 12 hours, one car would win in each category. All told, the 65 cars would be driven in shifts by 145 drivers.

With its engine running, McCluggage’s Ferrari would be blazing inside—way hotter than Florida’s balmy 75 degrees. But she didn’t care. She strapped on her signature polka-dot crash helmet, determined to win.


Denise McCluggage would never forget the sight of her father sitting in the Olds, his ear to the car radio, the summer the Germans marched into Poland. She was 12. “I didn’t understand what was going on but clearly it had import beyond rainbow trout,” she wrote. “The Olds was parked creekside… Daddy sat sideways in the car with the door open, a solemn look on his face, listening to the news.”

Like most things in her life, Denise’s memories of her parents would be intertwined with automobiles. The way her father hated to stop for gas, for example. (“Daddy was a champion avoider. As a child, I thought everyone routinely ran out of gas, because we did. Daddy strove to wean every car he drove.”) Or the way, in bad weather, he wrestled “to keep tall wheels lightly aimed on a slithering pathway, solemnly seeking higher ground.”

She had always been drawn to sport. “I like to experience those clear neon-lined moments of being truly tuned in,” she wrote. “And I like to watch the concentration of energy in anything done purely—two good doubles teams ricocheting volleys at the net, the perfect ballooning of a spinnaker, a kid bending a skateboard around a corner—golly, a Frisbee that doesn’t wobble! Beauty is a tremor of the spine.”

Growing up, her first love was football—tackle, not touch. On hard Kansas vacant lots after school and all-day Saturdays, Denise showed up to play, gravitating not to the glory role, but the brutish ones. “I liked to block,” she recalled. “I liked that hard contact. That force hitting force. That unequivocal confrontation that said, ‘This is Me; that is Not Me.’” But she knew her football days were numbered. Girls did not play football. It wasn’t acceptable.

She was never unaware of the complexities of being a strong girl. Her first best friend was a boy named Sammy Barnhill. They rode scooters and bikes together, and signed secrets in blood. But then, he had a birthday, and invited only boys to the party. “I was so convinced there had been a mistake I cried my eyes out,” she recalled. “Well, they let me go along after all. But it wasn’t the same.” Later, she told an interviewer, “There were no boys in the family, and I awfully wanted to be one.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2018 at 11:25 am

Posted in Daily life

Natural trans fats

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I didn’t realize this:

Natural trans fats are formed by bacteria in the stomach of cattle, sheep and goats. These trans fats make up 3–7% of the total fat in dairy products, such as milk and cheese, 3–10% in beef and lamb and just 0–2% in chicken and pork (12).

I wonder whether these trans fats are responsible for some of the adverse health effects of consuming cheese, beef, and lamb. I’m surprised at how much in the way of trans fats beef and lamb can contain.

The whole article is interesting, but its main focus (and list) is of foods that contain artificial trans fats.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2018 at 11:18 am

Posted in Food, Health, Science

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