Later On

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

Archive for October 9th, 2018

I became curious about the types of gin

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Partly I became curious because of the local distillers, who make “New Tom” gin, a play on the gin type known as “Old Tom,” which was where the Tom Collins got its name. Its full name is Old Tom Collins—i.e., a collins made with that particular style of gin. I knew “London Dry” (who doesn’t), and I knew that Plymouth Gin (the brand) was the last remaining Plymouth gin (the type). And I guess I knew about sloe gin, the only drink seeming to be the Sloe Gin Fizz.

But there’s more to know (as always).

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2018 at 5:52 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drinks

While Mueller Stays Quiet, Suspicious Trump–Russia Clues Keep Popping Up

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Wow. Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

“I think we’ll be treated very fairly,” President Trump told reporters yesterday, after meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “Everybody understands there was no collusion, there’s no Russia. It was all made up by the Democrats.”

If Trump is going to shut down the Russia investigation, he is probably waiting until after the midterm elections, which he hopes will deliver a House Republican majority committed to protecting him from oversight or legal accountability. In the meantime, the scope of possibilities for what Robert Mueller might uncover continues to broaden.

Saturday, The Wall Street Journal updated one of the most curious side plots in the investigation: the role of Peter W. Smith, a Republican activist who in 2016 sought Hillary Clinton’s emails from the State Department on behalf (according to Smith) of Trump’s then-adviser Michael Flynn. Smith met with one cybersecurity expert in an attempt to acquire the emails, and waved off concerns about the ethics or legality of colluding with Russian intelligence. Smith died in 2017, very shortly after being contacted by a reporter, bearing a suicide note explaining that he had a “life insurance of $5 million expiring” and his suicide involved “no foul play whatsoever.”

The Journal’s latest report fills in many new details about Smith’s work. Smith raised at least $100,000, from at least four wealthy donors, as part of his effort. Smith “went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the privacy and secrecy of his projects,” reports the Journal. Smith personally donated $50,000 to the effort, a generous gift for a man who, only months later, putatively faced so much financial distress that he killed himself for the life insurance money.

Most interestingly, the Journal got in touch with somebody who spoke with Smith shortly before his death. “Retired Wall Street financier Charles Ortel said he spoke with Mr. Smith on the phone in the hours before his death about a new project to brief the Obama Foundation and warn its leaders against the mistakes they believed were made by the Clinton Foundation,” reports the Journal. “According to Mr. Ortel, Mr. Smith sounded excited, and he began brainstorming who to contact and how to proceed.”

As Betsy Woodruff reported earlier this summer, and as Ryan Goodmannoted, Mueller recently added to his team attorney Kathryn Rakoczy, “best known for her work on violent crime cases.” This would support the likelihood that Mueller is investigating Smith’s death as a murder. It is obviously possible that Smith suddenly decided to commit suicide after this conversation without betraying any hint of his intention, and while sounding excited about a future plan. But it is looking increasingly plausible that somebody in fact killed him.

Monday, The New Yorker published an investigation by Dexter Filkins into the connection between the Russian Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. The story was originally broken by Franklin Foer in the waning days of the 2016 campaign, and its basic contours have not changed very much. Computer scientists discovered patterns of suspicious traffic between the bank’s Moscow office and the Trump Organization during the campaign. When New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau inquired with Alfa Bank in September 2016, the Trump Organization quickly shut down its server, suggesting the two were in close contact. “The knee was hit in Moscow, the leg kicked in New York,” a computer scientist told Foer.

Some experts have disputed whether the server was used for any real Moscow–Trump Tower communication, and a host of observers have treated the possibility as a crazy conspiracy theory. Filkins, frustratingly, does not resolve the question either way. He produces lots of deep circumstantial evidence and credible testimony suggesting the server played some role in collusion between Trump and Russia, but not enough to prove it.

If there is a smoking gun here, it will probably require testimony from one of the people involved in the campaign. We have no indication that that kind of testimony is coming — but, then, we have no indication of anything Mueller is up to, nor have we had much indication the entire time he’s been investigating.

The final and perhaps most intriguing development is last week’s explosive New York Times account of Donald Trump’s fraudulent tax schemes. What makes this report so extraordinary is that it breaks new ground on a figure who has been in the public eye for four decades, on matters at the very center of the source of his fame. It has not been known that Trump received hundreds of millions of dollars in payments from his father, nor that his methods included (according to the Times) outright criminality.

What does this have to do with the Russia investigation? Quite a bit, actually. It shows that Trump is willing not merely to skirt the law but to blatantly violate it. It reveals that he has been able to harbor enormous secrets even in the face of constant media coverage. And, most directly, it raises unanswered questions about his mysterious financial methods.

Trump is and always has been a bad businessman who relies on regular, large cash infusions from his father to stay afloat. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2018 at 2:48 pm

Republicans: Protesters Are an Unruly Mob — Unless They’re Heavily Armed and Support Us

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

The Republican Party is the only thing standing between you and “the left’s angry mob” of ideological zealots (who are all, also, the hired hands of a foreign Jewish billionaire, and thus, aren’t genuinely angry, or ideological, or zealous).

This is the narrative that Republican lawmakers are pushing in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. A majority of Americans might think they just saw the Senate GOP install a temperamentally unfit perjurer — who probably committed sexual assault — onto the Supreme Court. But Republicans believe they can persuade the public that what they really saw was a Democratic mob’s lawless attempt to destroy an innocent man by any means necessary.

Democrats “have encouraged mob rule,” Judiciary committee chair Chuck Grassley lamented from the Senate floor Friday, before proceeding to tell Fox Business that he believed the protesters were mercenaries employed by George Soros, as “it fits in his attack mode and how he uses his billions and billions of resources.” Utah senator Orrin Hatch echoed this assessment, decrying the self-proclaimed sexual assault survivors who’d gathered in the capitol as “a paid mob trying to prevent senators from doing the will of their constituents.” Marco Rubio, meanwhile, criticized the media for treating these (entrepreneurial) anarchists with undue sympathy, tweeting, “Imagine the coverage on cable news if an angry mob of conservatives stormed the steps of the Supreme Court building.”

On one level, this is just bog-standard, bad-faith Republican messaging. The GOP long ago determined that it can’t compete on the strength of its (deeply unpopular) tax cuts and health-care agenda, or even, on a straightforward presentation of its positions on “culture war” issues — most Republican voters want more border enforcement, and a pathway to legalization for all undocumented immigrants (i.e., the Democratic Party’s official position on immigration). Rather, Republicans know that their best bet is to stoke the paranoid fears and cultural resentments of their base, through demagogic lies if necessary. So, the party that insisted on a thorough, nonpartisan investigation of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations is trying to end “due process” in the United States; protesters who nonviolently made their voices heard in the halls of power are assaulting “democracy”; Dianne Feinstein is the lead sponsor of an “open borders bill”; and some Democratic House candidates are literal terrorists.

And yet, it wouldn’t be fair to call the GOP’s attacks on Kavanaugh purely cynical. Rather, what makes the party’s arguments truly concerning is that they are rooted in genuine principle — just not the one that Republicans are publicly endorsing.

The modern GOP has no principled opposition to angry, or even lawless, demonstrations. When the far-right rancher Cliven Bundy protested federal land policy by assembling a heavily armed militia — which then threatened to shoot Bureau of Land Management (BLM) workers who refused to obey their orders — many Republican lawmakers rallied to Bundy’s defense; Ted Cruz even suggested that this insurrection against federal law enforcement was an understandable response to the Obama administration’s “jackboot of authoritarianism.” Years later, Bundy’s son Ammon led an armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge — demanding, among other things, that the government release friends of his who’d been convicted of arson. Over the summer, Donald Trump rewarded this (ostensibly not moblike) form of protest by using his clemency powers to honor Ammon’s request. And, of course, Republicans celebrated tea party protesters for deploying the exact same “in-your-face” protest tactics that GOP lawmakers are currently clutching their pearls over — even as those same lawmakers continueto venerate pro-life activists who spend their free time verbally accosting pregnant teens at Planned Parenthoods.

But if the GOP’s arguments are hypocritical and ever-shifting, their actions are nonetheless consistent with an overriding principle: When conservatives exercise political power it is by definition legitimate, when their opponents do, it is not.

So, when a federal government headed by Barack Obama tried to collect grazing fees from conservative ranchers, it was an act of unconstitutional authoritarianism that could be justly met with threats of violence. When a sheriff’s office headed by Joe Arpaio tortured inmates at tent prisonsterrorized Latino constituentsarrested journalists who reported critically on their activitiesblackmailed a man into staging an assassination attempt against Arpaio, and openly defied court orders, it was acting as a “tireless champion” of “the rule of law.” When reactionary senior citizens scream at Democratic lawmakers to get government’s hands off their Medicare — or a heavily-armed militia challenges the state’s monopoly on violence for a cause the conservative movement supports — then they are civic-minded Americans who know that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. When sexual assault survivors, liberals, and labor unions protest the Senate’s decision to confirm a Supreme Court justice — over majoritarian opposition — they are an unruly mob doing the bidding of their sinister paymasters.

For the moment, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2018 at 2:27 pm

Forests Emerge as a Major Overlooked Climate Factor

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Gabriel Popkin writes in Quanta:

When Abigail Swann started her career in the mid-2000s, she was one of just a handful of scientists exploring a potentially radical notion: that the green plants living on Earth’s surface could have a major influence on the planet’s climate. For decades, most atmospheric scientists had focused their weather and climate models on wind, rain and other physical phenomena.

But with powerful computer models that can simulate how plants move water, carbon dioxide and other chemicals between ground and air, Swann has found that vegetation can control weather patterns across huge distances. The destruction or expansion of forests on one continent might boost rainfall or cause a drought halfway around the world.

Swann is now a professor at the University of Washington, where she runs the Ecoclimate lab. She is in the vanguard of a small but growing group of scientists studying how plants shape Earth’s weather and climate. Their results could shake up climate science. “None of the atmospheric scientists are thinking about” how plants could influence rainfall, Swann said, though hints had appeared in the scientific literature for decades. And, she added, “it blows the ecology community’s mind … that the plants over here could actually influence the plants over there.”

“Many of us are surprised at what a powerful role plants actually play,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University. “The influence of Earth’s surface on large-scale climate is currently a really booming topic, and Abby Swann is one of the emerging leaders in that field.”

The Ignored Influence of Plants

The schism between the atmospheric and life sciences that Swann encountered was a holdover from the late 1800s, when the U.S. government proclaimed that planting crops and trees would turn the arid Great Plains wet. The government had embraced a dubious theory pushed by land speculators and rejected the counsel of one of the nation’s top scientists, John Wesley Powell. Spurred on by such optimistic but dubious claims, thousands of would-be farmers headed west, only to find that greening the land did not, in fact, make it rain. Many struggled to scrape a living from the dry ground, and the ill-conceived agricultural experiment eventually contributed to the devastating Dust Bowl.

Scientists reacted strongly. Early meteorologists, hoping to save their young field’s credibility, rejected the notion that forests influence weather. “Much of the discussion of it, unfortunately, has not been of a purely scientific character,” one wrote in 1888 in Science. Meteorology, and later climate science, became the study of air and water. Plants were relegated to passive participant status.

Atmospheric scientists — and everyone else — could be excused for thinking of a stoically standing tree or a gently undulating wheat field as doing little more than passively accepting sunlight, wind and rain. But plants are actually powerful change agents on the planet’s surface. They pump water from the ground through their tissues to the air, and they move carbon in the opposite direction, from air to tissue to ground. All the while, leaves split water, harvest and manipulate solar energy, and stitch together hydrogen, oxygen and carbon to produce sugars and starches — the sources of virtually all food for Earth’s life.

The key features of this molecular wizardry are pores, called stomata, in plant leaves. A single leaf can contain more than 1 million of these specialized structures. Stomata are essentially microscopic mouths that simultaneously take in carbon dioxide from the air and let out water. As Swann notes, the gas exchange from each stoma — and indeed from each leaf — is, on its own, tiny. But with billions of stomata acting in concert, a single tree can evaporate hundreds of liters of water per day — enough to fill several bathtubs. The world’s major forests, which contain hundreds of billions of trees, can move water on almost inconceivably large scales. Antonio Nobre, a climate scientist at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, has estimated, for example, that the Amazon rainforest discharges around 20 trillion liters of water per day — roughly 17 percent more than even the mighty Amazon River. 

Yet the computer models that scientists rely on to predict the future climate don’t even come close to acknowledging the power of plants to move water on that scale, Swann said. “They’re tiny, but together they are mighty.”

Scientists have known since the late 1970s that the Amazon rainforest — the world’s largest, at 5.5 million square kilometers — makes its own storms. More recent research reveals that half or more of the rainfall over continental interiors comes from plants cycling water from soil into the atmosphere, where powerful wind currents can transport it to distant places. Agricultural regions as diverse as the U.S. Midwest, the Nile Valley and India, as well as major cities such as Sao Paulo, get much of their rain from these forest-driven “flying rivers.” It’s not an exaggeration to say that a large fraction of humanity’s diet is owing, at least in part, to forest-driven rainfall.

Such results also imply a profound reversal of what we would usually consider cause and effect. Normally we might assume that “the forests are there because it’s wet, rather than that it’s wet because there are forests,” said Douglas Sheil, an environmental scientist at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences campus outside Oslo. But maybe that’s all backward. “Could [wet climates] be caused by the forests?” he asked.

Forests in the Arctic

Swann arrived at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2005 to do her doctoral work with Inez Fung, an atmospheric scientist. In the 1980s, Fung had helped pave the way for climate models that included realistic vegetation and associated carbon dioxide fluxes. (Among her other accomplishments, she was a co-author on the 1988 paper with the NASA scientist James Hansen that helped bring climate change to the public’s attention.) The model she worked with was state-of-the-art at the time, but, like its counterparts at other research institutions, it could only represent the biosphere simplistically.

By the mid-2000s, models had improved enough that scientists could more precisely study the role plants might play in the climate system. Fung suggested that Swann try foresting the Arctic in a climate model. Trees are colonizing higher latitudes as the globe warms, so it seemed reasonable to ask what impact they would have on the region’s climate. Other researchers had previously looked into the potential effects of an expansion of northern spruce forests; unsurprisingly, they found that the Arctic would likely get warmer because those trees’ leaves are dark and would absorb more sunlight than virtually any of the tundra, ice and shrubs they might replace. Swann decided to look into what would happen if the encroaching forests were deciduous trees with lighter colored leaves, such as birch or aspen.

In her model, the Arctic did still warm — by about 1 degree Celsius, which was more than she expected. Swann determined that her simulated forests emitted a lot of water vapor, which, like carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas that absorbs infrared radiation from Earth and redirects some of it downward. The vapor then caused ice to melt on land and at sea, exposing darker surfaces that absorbed yet more sunlight and grew even warmer. The new forests had set off a feedback loop, amplifying the impact of climate change. The finding hinted at the power that plants could exert over a region’s climate.

In a separate study, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2018 at 2:14 pm

Here’s What’s Really Wrong With the Supreme Court: It’s Too Damn Powerful

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Kevin Drum makes some good points:

Jonah Goldberg sez:

Confirming Brett Kavanaugh was the best outcome at the end of a hellish decision-tree that left the country with no ideal option. Reasonable people may differ on that. But what seems more obvious: It’s all going to get worse. Because everyone is taking the wrong lessons from the Kavanaugh debacle.

Goldberg’s lesson is, roughly, that politics is nasty and now it’s going to get any nastier. But that’s not the right lesson either. The right lesson is that the Supreme Court is just too damn powerful. That’s why everyone goes nuts over it.

Consider. Neither Congress nor the states can pass laws that legalize or outlaw abortion. The Supreme Court won’t let them. Likewise, Congress has tried to pass various forms of campaign finanance reform for more than 40 years, but every time the Supreme Court wipes them out. Gay marriage is the law of the land because the Supreme Court says so. Congress tried to renew the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court killed it—almost literally for no reason except that they were tired of it. Cities can no longer regulate handguns because after 200 years of silence, the Supreme Court suddenly decided it didn’t want cities to regulate handguns. They’ve wiped out affirmative action; prohibited states from banning interracial marriage; restricted police interrogation by insisting on the presence of counsel; banned prayer in public schools; elected a president in 2000; ruled that schools don’t need to be equally funded; and are almost certainly about to embark on a long line of rulings favoring corporations and restricting the regulatory power of the EPA and other agencies.

Some of these are decisions you probably like. Some you don’t. More to the point, though, is that I could go on and on with examples like these. Now considering all that, which would you say is more powerful: one Supreme Court justice out of nine or one senator out of 100? The question answers itself.

When did the Supreme Court become the most powerful branch of government? During the New Deal, maybe. Certainly the Warren Court cemented its power. And the past couple of decades have made its ultimate power beyond any real question. Does anyone doubt, for example, that the court could, if it felt like it, declare adequate medical care a constitutional right of all US residents and force the federal government to make Medicare (or some similar substitute) available to all? Maybe that sounds crazy to you since the current makeup of the court is more likely to do just the opposite, but if gay marriage can become a right overnight, why not health care?

I’m not sure what the answer is here, but it has nothing to do with lifetime tenure of Supreme Court justices. It does have something to do with Congress’s habit of passing vague laws that are wide open for multiple interpretations. Mostly, though, it has to do with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2018 at 11:33 am

Chris Hedges: Are We Witnessing The Collapse Of The American Empire?

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I would definitely say the tide has turned for American, particularly with the wholesale destruction of government agencies and missions. That will not be easily repaired. Watch this video.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2018 at 11:05 am

Cold-weather shaving

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I haven’t been around really cold weather for a couple of decades—a bit more in fact—but Institut Karité is for me an exemplar of cold-weather shave products with its 25% shea butter content, both in the soap (in the little tub) and in the aftershave (very reasonably priced: it costs the same as other good balms, but for the price you get 250ml rather than 100ml).

Because yesterday was a rest day following a big (and delicious) Thanksgiving dinner, I didn’t shave, so this week I get two 2-day stubble shaves. I brought out the German 37 for today’s shave.

The lather, made with my little $32 silvertip from Whipped Dog (I think prices have gone up a bit) was excellent, and the German 37 is one of my best slants (and a bargain: you can buy the head by itself for $12).

A dot of Institut Karité was enough to apply plenty of balm, and my skin feels great now.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 October 2018 at 7:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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