Later On

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

Archive for July 3rd, 2019

Clarence Thomas vs. the Evidence

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Joe Biden is pretty directly responsible for Clarence Thomas being on the Supreme Court. David Leonhardt writes in today’s NY Times:

The Supreme Court recently threw out the quadruple murder conviction of Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man whom I’ve written about before. It was a good decision. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing an opinion signed by six other justices, documented the numerous dishonest methods that the prosecutor used to keep African-Americans off the jury at Flowers’s trial.

In today’s newsletter, though, I want to focus on a single paragraph from the dissent, which Justice Clarence Thomas wrote. (Justice Neil Gorsuch joined much of the dissent.) The paragraph betrays a distressing disregard for evidence that’s symbolic of a much larger problem in our justice system.

The paragraph is near the beginning of the 42-page dissent, and it summarizes what Thomas evidently considers to be the strongest evidence against Flowers:

“On the morning of the murders, a .380-caliber pistol was reported stolen from the car of Flowers’ uncle, and a witness saw Flowers by that car before the shootings. Officers recovered .380-caliber bullets at Tardy Furniture [the site of the murders] and matched them to bullets fired by the stolen pistol. Gunshot residue was found on Flowers’ hand a few hours after the murders. A bloody footprint found at the scene matched both the size of Flowers’ shoes and the shoe style that he was seen wearing on the morning of the murders. Multiple witnesses placed Flowers near Tardy Furniture that morning, and Flowers provided inconsistent accounts of his whereabouts. Several hundred dollars were missing from the store’s cash drawer, and $235 was found hidden in Flowers’ headboard after the murders.”

Anyone who has followed this case — especially anyone who has listened to “In the Dark,” a prize-winning podcast from Madeleine Baran, Samara Freemark and their colleagues at American Public Media — knows that much of this evidence falls apart under scrutiny.

To take a few examples: An investigator for the district attorney appears to have fabricated evidence about the shoes. Investigators also seem to have coached witnesses to remember — months later — seeing Flowers near the furniture store. The $235 apparently found at Flowers’s home doesn’t match the amount taken from the store. And the test for gunshot residue wasn’t done until after Flowers had been interrogated at a police station, where small amounts of residue are common. The amount of residue on Flowers’s hands? A single particle.

If you listen to the podcast, you come away amazed by the thinness of the evidence against him and by the willingness of police and prosecutors to exaggerate it. To this day, no witness has tied Flowers to the scene of the crime, nor has any reliable physical evidence. More than one witness has recanted testimony given at trial.

I can’t say for sure that Flowers is innocent. But based on the evidence I’ve heard, I would vote to acquit him without agonizing over it. The case against him is shockingly weak and relies on claims by the prosecution that have been proven to be false.

Yet Thomas and Gorsuch don’t appear to have engaged with any of this evidence. They simply accepted the version of events offered by the prosecutor — Doug Evans, a man with a record of lying in court.

Curtis Flowers remains behind bars, where he has been since 1997, while the same prosecutor decides whether to try him again. Many other Americans — most of them black and male, like Flowers — also sit in prison or jail today because of evidence that judges or prosecutors refuse to acknowledge as flimsy or manufactured.

It reminds of me a heartbreaking quotation in “Just Mercy,” Bryan Stevenson’s 2014 book about systemic injustice: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2019 at 10:10 am

Getting kids to eat their veggies

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I thought this would be useful to those with small children. From Part 2 of How Not to Die, by Michael Greger MD; the numbers in the text identify footnotes in the book that specify the studies whose finding support the statement.

Getting Kids (and Parents) to Eat Their Veggies

Published strategies for getting kids (of all ages) to eat their vegetables include cutting them into slices, sticks, or stars—the most popular shape.45 Supposedly, putting an Elmo sticker on veggies swayed 50 percent of children to choose broccoli over a chocolate bar.46 If they’re still not biting, though, you can apply the same trick I use to get our dog to take her pills: Dip the veggies in peanut butter. A study found that pairing vegetables with peanut butter successfully increases intake “even in vegetable-resistant children.”47 Offering a salad dressing dip has also been found to help.48

Simply having healthy foods out and available can boost intake. Guess what happened when researchers put out bowls of cut-up fresh fruit in addition to the regular party fare brought by parents for kindergarten or preschool celebrations? No special effort was made to encourage students to choose the fruit—the researchers just put it out on the table with all the other food. Would kids actually eat fruit when such foods as birthday cake, ice cream, and cheese puffs were available? Yes! On average, each kid ate a full fruit serving.49 Take that, cheese puffs!

Even just calling vegetables by different names can help. Elementary schools were able to double vegetable consumption simply by coming up with names that better appealed to the kids. Students ate twice the number of carrots if they were called “X-Ray Vision Carrots,” compared to when they were just carrots or generically called the “Food of the Day.”50 Are adults as gullible? Apparently so. For example, grown-ups reported “Traditional Cajun Red Beans and Rice” tasted better than just “Red Beans with Rice” … even though they were the exact same dish.51

When school cafeterias put out signs like Power Punch Broccoli and Silly Dilly Green Beans, or called broccoli Tiny Tasty Tree Tops, selection of broccoli increased by about 110 percent, and selection of green beans jumped by nearly 180 percent.52 The researchers concluded that “these studies demonstrate that using an attractive name to describe a healthy food in a cafeteria is robustly effective, persistent, and scalable with little or no money or experience. These names were not carefully crafted, discussed in focus groups, and then pretested.” They were just invented out of thin air. And kids were suckered into eating healthier for weeks simply by adults’ putting out silly little signs. Indeed, in the school displaying these playful new names in the cafeteria line, vegetable purchasing went up nearly 100 percent, while in the control school without signs, vegetable purchases started low and actually got worse.53 So why isn’t every single school in the country doing this right now? Bring it up at your next PTA meeting.

Let’s not forget the hide-the-veggies strategy. Studies have shown that broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini can be added covertly to familiar entrées such that the appearance, flavor, and texture of the original recipes are maintained (like puréeing vegetables into a pasta sauce).54 Studies found the trick works for adults too. Researchers were able to slip in up to a pound of clandestine vegetables a day (resulting in 350 fewer calories eaten).55 Surreptitiously incorporating vegetables into foods shouldn’t be the only way that vegetables are served to children, though. Since the appetite for an initially unappetizing vegetable can be increased through repeated exposure, it is important to use several strategies to ensure that kids experience whole vegetables. After all, they’re not always going to be eating at home. One of the most important predictors of children’s fruit and vegetable consumption has been found to be parents’ consumption,56 so if you want your kids to eat healthfully, it helps to be a healthy role model.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2019 at 9:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

The new left economics: how a network of thinkers is transforming capitalism

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It has become obvious that capitalism in the US has become unworkable and unjust. Memes evolve, and the meme of capitalism in the US seems to have run amok, with no restraints and no compunction about damaging the public weal. Andy Beckett writes in the Guardian:

For almost half a century, something vital has been missing from leftwing politics in western countries. Since the 70s, the left has changed how many people think about prejudice, personal identity and freedom. It has exposed capitalism’s cruelties. It has sometimes won elections, and sometimes governed effectively afterwards. But it has not been able to change fundamentally how wealth and work function in society – or even provide a compelling vision of how that might be done. The left, in short, has not had an economic policy.

Instead, the right has had one. Privatisation, deregulation, lower taxes for business and the rich, more power for employers and shareholders, less power for workers – these interlocking policies have intensified capitalism, and made it ever more ubiquitous. There have been immense efforts to make capitalism appear inevitable; to depict any alternative as impossible.

In this increasingly hostile environment, the left’s economic approach has been reactive – resisting these huge changes, often in vain – and often backward-looking, even nostalgic. For many decades, the same two critical analysts of capitalism, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes, have continued to dominate the left’s economic imagination. Marx died in 1883, Keynes in 1946. The last time their ideas had a significant influence on western governments or voters was 40 years ago, during the turbulent final days of postwar social democracy. Ever since, rightwingers and centrists have caricatured anyone arguing that capitalism should be reined in – let alone reshaped or replaced – as wanting to take the world “back to the 70s”. Altering our economic system has been presented as a fantasy – no more practical than time travel.

And yet, in recent years, that system has started to fail. Rather than sustainable and widely shared prosperity, it has produced wage stagnation, ever more workers in poverty, ever more inequality, banking crises, the convulsions of populism and the impending climate catastrophe. Even senior rightwing politicians sometimes concede the seriousness of the crisis. At last year’s Conservative conference, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, admitted that “a gap has opened up” in the west “between the theory of how a market economy delivers … and the reality”. He went on: “Too many people feel that … the system is not working for them.”

There is a dawning recognition that a new kind of economy is needed: fairer, more inclusive, less exploitative, less destructive of society and the planet. “We’re in a time when people are much more open to radical economic ideas,” says Michael Jacobs, a former prime ministerial adviser to Gordon Brown. “The voters have revolted against neoliberalism. The international economic institutions – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund – are recognising its downsides.” Meanwhile, the 2008 financial crisis and the previously unthinkable government interventions that halted it have discredited two central neoliberal orthodoxies: that capitalism cannot fail, and that governments cannot step in to change how the economy works.

A huge political space has opened up. In Britain and the US, in many ways the most capitalist western countries, and the ones where its problems are starkest, an emerging network of thinkers, activists and politicians has begun to seize this opportunity. They are trying to construct a new kind of leftwing economics: one that addresses the flaws of the 21st-century economy, but which also explains, in practical ways, how future leftwing governments could create a better one.

Christine Berry, a young British freelance academic, is one of the network’s central figures. “We’re stripping economics back to basics,” she says. “We want economics to ask: ‘Who owns these resources? Who has power in this company?’ Conventional economic discourse obfuscates these questions, to the benefit of those with power.”

The new leftwing economics wants to see the redistribution of economic power, so that it is held by everyone – just as political power is held by everyone in a healthy democracy. This redistribution of power could involve employees taking ownership of part of every company; or local politicians reshaping their city’s economy to favour local, ethical businesses over large corporations; or national politicians making co-operatives a capitalist norm.

This “democratic economy” is not some idealistic fantasy: bits of it are already being constructed in Britain and the US. And without this transformation, the new economists argue, the increasing inequality of economic power will soon make democracy itself unworkable. “If we want to live in democratic societies, then we need to … allow communities to shape their local economies,” write Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill, both prolific advocates of the new economics, in a recent article for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) – a thinktank previously associated with New Labour. “It is no longer good enough to see the economy as some kind of separate technocratic domain in which the central values of a democratic society somehow do not apply.” Moreover, Guinan and O’Neill argue, making the economy more democratic will actually help to revitalise democracy: voters are less likely to feel angry, or apathetic, if they are included in economic decisions that fundamentally affect their lives.

The new economists’ enormously ambitious project means transforming the relationship between capitalism and the state; between workers and employers; between the local and global economy; and between those with economic assets and those without. “Economic power and control must rest more equally,” declared a report last year by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a radical London thinktank that has acted as an incubator for many of the new movement’s members and ideas.

In the past, left-of-centre British governments have attempted to reshape the economy by taxation – usually focused on income rather than other forms of economic power – and by nationalisation, which usually meant replacing a private-sector management elite with a state-appointed one. Instead of such limited, patchily successful interventions, the new economists want to see much more systemic and permanent change. They want – at the least – to change how capitalism works. But, crucially, they want this change to be only partially initiated and overseen by the state, not controlled by it. They envisage a transformation that happens almost organically, driven by employees and consumers – a sort of non-violent revolution in slow motion.

The result, the new economists claim, will be an economy that suits society, rather than – as we have at present – a society subordinated to the economy. The new economics, suggests Berry, isn’t really economics at all. It’s “a new view of the world”.

In the excitable but often intellectually becalmed world of British politics, the arrival of a significant new set of ideas tends to generate certain responses. Events about it are packed out. Ambitious young researchers gravitate towards it. Adventurous older thinkers are intrigued by it. New intellectual institutions are created around it. Mainstream journalists initially dismiss it.

Over the past year, the left’s new economics has acquired this status. Jacobs, who is nearing 60, spent the New Labour era trying, and largely failing, to persuade centrist politicians that the economy needed drastically reshaping. “But nowadays,” he told me, “I’m thinking: ‘Oh God, we finally might be able to do it.’”

Like all the new economists I met, he talks very fast, cutting short sentences as if there is too much to explain in the time available. A longstanding environmentalist, he describes the emerging network of new economists as “an ecosystem”. Like the one that produced Thatcherism in the 70s, this network may involve only a few dozen people, whose polemics and talks and policy papers are being followed by an audience in the hundreds, but there is an intoxicating sense of political and economic taboos being broken, and of a potential new consensus being born.

“There are British and American websites that publish a lot of our stuff, like openDemocracy, Jacobin and Novara. There are people producing stuff while freelancing for thinktanks – or setting up new thinktanks. And social media means the ideas spread, and collaborations happen, much faster than when leftwing economics was just about meetings and pamphlets,” Jacobs says. “It’s slightly incestuous, but it’s rather thrilling.”

This ferment is beginning to solidify into a movement. The New Economy Organisers Network (Neon), a NEF spin-off based in London, runs workshops for leftwing activists, to learn how “to build support for a new economy” – for example, by telling effective “stories” about it in the mainstream media. Stir to Action, an activist organisation based in Bridport in Dorset, publishes a quarterly “magazine for the new economy”, and organises advice sessions in left-leaning cities such as Bristol and Oxford: Worker Co-ops: How to Get Started, Community Ownership: What If We Ran It Ourselves?

“There’s a totally new impulse to activism about the economy now,” says the magazine’s editor, Jonny Gordon-Farleigh, who was previously involved in anticapitalist and environmental protests. “The movement has gone from oppose to propose.”

Looming over this activity is the possibility, for the first time in decades, of  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2019 at 8:22 am

Avocado shave from Phoenix Artisan

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The fragrance of this soap and aftershave strikes me as “green,” and the brush seems appropriate. And it was a very good lather indeed, which the double-open-comb design of the Ascension razor seemed to exploit. (I do like that ball-end handle for the pass against the grain.) This razor really does glide well, thanks to the open-comb cap.

A splash of the aftershave and the day is launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2019 at 7:48 am

Posted in Shaving

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