Later On

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

Archive for July 17th, 2019

Ad hoc salad from stuff on hand

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This was quite tasty. I don’t eat a lot of salads, mostly cooking my meals (or heating a mix of things I’ve already cooked and refrigerated). But a good salad is quite nice, especially in the summertime.

I put all this in one of my stainless bowls:

1 cup red cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup Mediterranean Power Squash
1/2 cup cooked and drained lentils (just plain green lentils)
1/2 cup cooked whole-grain rye
1/2 avocado, diced
1 medium jalapeño, chopped small, with core, seeds, and ribs

I made a dressing by putting into a little jar:

2 tablespoons homemade hummus
juice of one lemon

I shook that well, and that served as the dressing.

I poured the dressing over the salad, tossed well, topped with several grindings fresh pepper. Very tasty, very filling—and according to Cronometer, 525 calories.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 8:07 pm

When Facebook’s Bill Lumbergh Tries to Start a Currency

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Matt Stoller publishes a very interesting on-line column (and newsletter) about monopolies in the US and the power they wield. Today is about Facebook, and I’ll quote just some from the column, but do read the whole thing.

There are many ways to describe the governing regime under which Western commerce and politics has operated since the late 1970s. But the most visceral way is to understand that the basic goal, not necessarily by design, was to put men like the fictional character Bill Lumbergh from the movie Office Space in charge of everything.

I was reminded of Lumbergh yesterday while watching Facebook’s VP in charge of their new crypto project, David Marcus, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee to try and justify the company’s attempt to create a global parallel currency.

Lumbergh is one of the most brilliant and iconic characters of 1990s era cinema. He runs Initech – the generic technology company – through fear, extending control over every aspect of his employees’ lives. He’s a passive aggressive bully to everyone around him, except for the notable exception of the “Bob’s,” two management consultants brought in to lay off employees. Both are named Bob, and are equally greedy, manipulative, and repugnant. Management’s short-sightedness and penchant for micro-management humiliates the engineers, leading to bad engineering choices. One such choice creates an opening for the attempt to steal large sums of money, which animates the plot. An equally passive aggressive manager runs the chain restaurant who humiliates the love interest of the main character. The Bob’s, and Lumbergh, are cultural touchstones today for a reason. Characters like them run our institutions and businesses, and our lives.

It’s not too hard to imagine how Office Space analogizes to Boeing, a company run by engineers taken over by Lumbergh-types in the 1990s. The engineers were pushed aside and humiliated, repeatedly, not just over pay, but over what they really care about, which is the engineering and safety integrity of the machines they create. Short-sighted control-freak management can boost stock in the short-term, but ultimately, planes fall out of the sky. This is true for Hollywood as well, where creativity is slowly being drained out of films as the suits dominate the creatives. Which brings me back to the Libra experiment, and the hearings yesterday and today.

I was reminded of Bill Lumbergh because Facebook’s David Marcus sounded like what I imagine Lumbergh would sound like if he were testifying to Congress (though Marcus has an unspecified European accent.) Marcus was polite, smooth, evasive, and passive aggressive. Such powerful executives are common in D.C., and usually Congress treats them with deep respect, even reverence.

Though Marcus is clearly talented, and normally such a man from such a powerful company would have Congress eating out of the palm of his hand, the hearings did not go well for Facebook. Senator Sherrod Brown started out by saying that Facebook was like a toddler playing with matches, and has a record of committing “arson,” calling each instance of arson a “learning experience.” It got worse from there. Republican Senator Martha McSally was openly angry and sarcastic over Facebook’s gall in launching the project, and Republican Senator John Kennedy meticulously went through Facebook’s litany of lies around data. Senator Pat Toomey, who is quite friendly to Facebook, asked how it is that the Libra Reserve, which may pay large dividends to investors, is chartered as a nonprofit.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez got from Marcus that the Libra Association may not enforce U.S. sanctions. Jon Tester pressed on the potential for bank runs. Senator Mark Warner spent time asking about whether Facebook would exclude competitors from the payments space, and Marcus, while he said Facebook would support other wallets, implied Facebook would probably be embedding its own wallet into its services. As everyone involved in consumer-oriented network systems knows, such defaults are a key way to dominate markets.

Marcus had no answer to any Congressional concerns. The utter disaster of the Senate hearing is being repeated today in the House Financial Services Committee, where members are deeply unhappy about Facebook’s project. The virtually unanimous wall of frustration will empower and press regulators to become far more aggressive in dealings with Facebook. I suspect the Federal Reserve got the message, and will slow walk the Libra project to an ultimate quiet death.

But I thought the most interesting moment of the hearing was when Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz noted the private conversation he’s had with some of the other 27 members of the Libra Association. This association includes companies like Uber, Mastercard, and VISA, as well as nonprofits like MercyCorps. Facebook has portrayed the Libra Association as a collective, as if Facebook is just one of many voices in this venture. But as Schatz revealed, Facebook’s voice is more like the godfather’s voice in the family. It’s true that it’s just one voice among many, but, you know, it’s also the only voice that matters. Here’s what Schatz said: . . .

Do read the column. The US is rapidly changing in directions that I believe the majority do not want.

Later in the column:

I’ve written before about the wave of terror in American commerce. From low-paid workers to coders to aerospace engineers to venture capitalists all the way to large companies like VISA, fear is now pervasive. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported on the wave of tech IPO’s, and how the market power of Amazon and Google loomsover basically of them. This fear is coming from the concentrated market structures that allow these kinds of companies to set the terms and conditions for all businesses that use their essential services.

Both parties, starting in the late 1970s, decided to place power over our industrial commons into the hands of financiers, because leaders and Americans broadly believed, for good reason, that our corporate structures were faltering and needed radical change. Part of this project involved allowing financiers to structure markets into monopolies, part of it involved transferring the power to set market rules from public institutions to private monopolies.

We are now forty years into this experiment. And the shift of sovereignty from democratic bodies to autocratic ones was on display in the hearing over Facebook’s Libra in a particularly overt way. And that is why Marcus reminded me so much of Bill Lumbergh. He was polite and disdainful, passive aggressive and dishonest, untrustworthy yet all-powerful.

The question is no longer whether we want Bill Lumbergh-types running our corporations. It’s whether they will start governing every facet of our society.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 7:39 pm

Make the Guarantee Clause Great Again

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Matt Ford has an interesting article in the New Republic:

The Supreme Court’s 5–4 ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause last month dealt a harsh blow to American democracy. For the last decade, federal courts were the strongest bulwark against partisan gerrymandering in the states, but Chief Justice John Roberts closed the door on that remedy in the future. In his opinion, though, he accidentally hinted at another way to challenge warped legislative maps on constitutional grounds.

“The District Court nevertheless asserted that partisan gerrymanders violate ‘the core principle of [our] republican government’ preserved in [Article I, Section 2], ‘namely, that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,’” Roberts wrote, referring to the lower court’s finding that North Carolina’s maps were unconstitutional. “That seems like an objection more properly grounded in the Guarantee Clause of [Article IV, Section 4], which ‘guarantee[s] to every State in [the] Union a Republican Form of Government.’”

“This court,” he added, “has several times concluded, however, that the Guarantee Clause does not provide the basis for a justiciable claim.”

What if the clause did, though? While the court has long held that the clause can’t be invoked in federal courts, that interpretation of the Constitution isn’t without its critics. The resurgence of anti-republican measures in the laboratories of oligarchy, and the Roberts Court’s unwillingness to intervene, cry out for alternatives. Like Excalibur resting at the bottom of a lake, the Guarantee Clause waits to be pulled from the constitutional netherworld and wielded on behalf of the people.

While the Constitution’s first three articles define the federal government’s three branches, Article 4 dwells on the interlocking relationship between federal, state, territorial, and tribal powers. Among its provisions is a deceptively simple-sounding one: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.” The first portion is typically referred to separately as the Guarantee Clause.

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison framed the guarantee as a way to ensure that no member of the Union drifted toward forms of government rejected in the revolution. “In a confederacy founded on republican principles, and composed of republican members, the superintending government ought clearly to possess authority to defend the system against aristocratic or [monarchical] innovations,” he wrote. This fear may sound ridiculous today, but it was hardly unreasonable in an age where kings and emperors were the norm and American republicanism was the exception.

“At a minimum, the guarantee of a republican form of government was meant to protect against a monarchy,” Erwin Chemerinsky, a Berkeley Law School professor, wrote in a 1994 law review article calling for the Guarantee Clause to be justiciable. “What was so objectionable about a monarchy? In a monarchy, citizens do not get to choose their rulers, power is fixed and inherited; in a republican form of government, the people ultimately retain sovereignty and choose their officeholders.” It’s no great leap to conclude that partisan gerrymandering, where lawmakers pick their voters instead of the other way around, could also qualify.

Madison took care to note that the clause would not give the federal government free rein to interfere in a state’s internal structures. “As long, therefore, as the existing republican forms are continued by the States, they are guaranteed by the federal Constitution,” he wrote. “Whenever the States may choose to substitute other republican forms, they have a right to do so, and to claim the federal guaranty for the latter. The only restriction imposed on them is, that they shall not exchange republican for anti-republican constitutions; a restriction which, it is presumed, will hardly be considered as a grievance.”

The Supreme Court’s first brush with the Guarantee Clause came after one of the most esoteric struggles in American political history: the Dorr Rebellion. By the 1840s, every state in the Union but one had adopted its own constitution. The sole exception was Rhode Island, which instead relied upon the royal charter granted to it by Charles II in 1663 as its basic law. State leaders made some changes after independence by statute. But one key provision remained: a suffrage requirement that restricted the vote to men who owned more than $134 in land.

The charter thus empowered wealthy rural Rhode Islanders while condemning to political isolation the state’s poorer urban residents and its growing Irish immigrant community. After multiple failed efforts to persuade the state legislature to reform state law, activists took a more extreme approach. In 1841, they organized a constitutional convention without the charter government’s assent and drafted the People’s Constitution. It received the expanded electorate’s assent in a referendum that year. By 1842, the state had two rival governments: a constitutional one led by Governor Thomas Dorr and a charter one led by Governor William King.

King’s government eventually declared martial law to suppress the rebellion, a task made easier by Dorr’s failure to capture the state arsenal in Providence in May 1842. Luther Borden, a state official tasked with rounding up the uprising’s participants, broke into Martin Luther’s house and arrested him for his role in the crisis. Luther responded by suing Borden for trespass, arguing that Borden’s actions were unlawful because the state government he served violated the Guarantee Clause. When Lutherv. Borden reached the Supreme Court in 1849, Chief Justice Roger Taney concluded that it was for Congress, not the courts, to determine which state government was legitimate.

Under this article of the Constitution, it rests with Congress to decide what government is the established one in a State. For as the United States guarantee to each State a republican government, Congress must necessarily decide what government is established in the State before it can determine whether it is republican or not. And when the senators and representatives of a State are admitted into the councils of the Union, the authority of the government under which they are appointed, as well as its republican character, is recognized by the proper constitutional authority. And its decision is binding on every other department of the government, and could not be questioned in a judicial tribunal. It is true that the contest in this case did not last long enough to bring the matter to this issue, and, as no senators or representatives were elected under the authority of the government of which Mr. Dorr was the head, Congress was not called upon to decide the controversy. Yet the right to decide is placed there, and not in the courts.

Taney’s broad language went beyond what was necessary to resolve the case, a habit that would prove disastrous ten years later. The Guarantee Clause limped on until the 1912 case Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph v. Oregon, which challenged direct-democracy laws in the state that gave voters the power to introduce laws and to reject those passed by the legislature. The ruling was not a high point for judicial sobriety: Chief Justice Edward White implied that the claim would bring about “anarchy” and concluded it would produce “strange, far-reaching, and injurious results.” The Supreme Court then transmogrified Luther into a general rule that Guarantee Clause claims were nonjusticiable. It would be up to Congress, not the courts, to decide when a state was no longer republican. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 3:32 pm

There Is No Such Thing as a Sugar Rush

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I avoid refined sugar at all costs, including all its forms (granulated sugar, brown sugar, agave syrup, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and so on), which is one reason I avoid processed foods, which often include refined sugar (and also often have too much sodium). Adam Popescu writes in Medium Elemental:

Continue reading.

Natural sugars, found in fruit and vegetables, is quite different in its effects on the body.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 2:03 pm

The late Justice John Paul Stevens: “The Supreme Court’s Worst Decision of My Tenure”

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His article appeared in the May issue of the Atlantic, and it was adapted from The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years, by John Paul Stevens. The article begins:

District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized an individual right to possess a firearm under the Constitution, is unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during my tenure on the bench.

The text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains its purpose: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” When it was adopted, the country was concerned that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states.

Throughout most of American history there was no federal objection to laws regulating the civilian use of firearms. When I joined the Supreme Court in 1975, both state and federal judges accepted the Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Miller as having established that the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of the militia and applied only to weapons used by the militia. In that case, the Court upheld the indictment of a man who possessed a short-barreled shotgun, writing, “In the absence of any evidence that the possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”

Colonial history contains many examples of firearm regulations in urban areas that imposed obstacles to their use for protection of the home. Boston, Philadelphia, and New York—the three largest cities in America at that time—all imposed restrictions on the firing of guns in the city limits. Boston enacted a law in 1746 prohibiting the “discharge” of any gun or pistol that was later revived in 1778; Philadelphia prohibited firing a gun or setting off fireworks without a governor’s special license; and New York banned the firing of guns for three days surrounding New Year’s Day. Those and other cities also regulated the storage of gunpowder. Boston’s gunpowder law imposed a 10-pound fine on any person who took any loaded firearm into any dwelling house or barn within the town. Most, if not all, of those regulations would violate the Second Amendment as it was construed in the 5–4 decision that Justice Antonin Scalia announced in Helleron June 26, 2008.

Until Heller, the invalidity of Second Amendment–based objections to firearms regulations had been uncontroversial. The first two federal laws directly restricting the civilian use and possession of firearms—the 1927 act prohibiting mail delivery of handguns and the 1934 act prohibiting the possession of sawed-off shotguns and machine guns—were enacted over minor Second Amendment objections that were dismissed by the vast majority of legislators participating in the debates. After reviewing many of the same sources that are discussed at greater length by Scalia in his majority opinion in Heller, the Miller Court unanimously concluded that the Second Amendment did not apply to the possession of a firearm that did not have “some relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” And in 1980, in a footnote to an opinion upholding a conviction for receipt of a firearm, the Court effectively affirmed Miller, writing: “[T]he Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.’”

So well settled was the issue that, speaking on the PBS NewsHour in 1991, the retired Chief Justice Warren Burger described the National Rifle Association’s lobbying in support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment in these terms: “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Even if the lobbyists who oppose gun-control regulation actually do endorse the dubious proposition that the Second Amendment was intended to limit the federal power to regulate the civilian use of handguns—that Burger incorrectly accused them of “fraud”—I find it incredible that policy makers in a democratic society have failed to impose more effective regulations on the ownership and use of firearms than they have.

And even if there were some merit to the legal arguments advanced in the Hellercase, all could foresee the negative consequences of the decision, which should have provided my colleagues with the justification needed to apply stare decisis to Miller. At a minimum, it should have given them greater pause before announcing such a radical change in the law that would greatly tie the hands of state and national lawmakers endeavoring to find solutions to the gun problem in America. Their twin failure—first, the misreading of the intended meaning of the Second Amendment, and second, the failure to respect settled precedent—represents the worst self-inflicted wound in the Court’s history.

It also represents my greatest disappointment as a member of the Court. After the oral argument and despite the narrow vote at our conference about the case, I continued to think it possible to persuade either Justice Anthony Kennedy or Justice Clarence Thomas to change his vote. During the drafting process, I had frequent conversations with Kennedy, as well as occasional discussions with Thomas, about historical issues, because I thought each of them had an open mind about the case. In those discussions—particularly those with Kennedy—I now realize that I failed to emphasize sufficiently the human aspects of the issue as providing unanswerable support for the stare decisis argument for affirmance. After all, Kennedy had been one of the three decisive votes that had saved Roe v. Wade from being overruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Before the argument, I had decided that stare decisis provided a correct and sufficient basis for upholding the challenged gun regulation, but I nonetheless asked my especially competent law clerk, Kate Shaw, to make a thorough study of the merits of the argument that an independent review of the historical materials would lead to the same result. I wanted that specific study to help me decide which argument to feature in my dissent, which I planned to complete and circulate before Scalia completed his opinion for the majority. Shaw convinced me that Miller had been correctly decided; accordingly, I decided to feature both arguments in my dissent, which we were able to circulate on April 28, 2008, five weeks before Scalia circulated the majority opinion on June 2, 2008. In the cover memorandum for my probable dissent, I wrote:

The enclosed memorandum explains the basis for my firm belief that the Second Amendment does not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of the federal government to regulate the non-military use or possession of firearms. I have decided to take the unusual step of circulating the initial draft of a probable dissent before [Scalia] circulates his majority because I fear the members of the majority have not yet adequately considered the unusual importance of their decision.

While I think a fair reading of history provides overwhelming support for Warren Burger’s view of the merits, even if we assume that the present majority is correct, I submit that they have not given adequate consideration to the certain impact of their proposed decision on this Court’s role in preserving the rule of law. We have profound differences over our role in areas of the law such as the Eighth Amendment and substantive due process, but I believe we all agree that there are areas of policy-making in which judges have a special obligation to let the democratic process run the show …

What has happened that could possibly justify such a massive change in the law? The text of the amendment has not changed. The history leading up to the adoption of the amendment has not changed … There has been a change in the views of some law professors, but I assume there are also some professors out there who think Congress does not have the authority to authorize a national bank, or to regulate small firms engaged in the production of goods for sale in other states, or to enact a graduated income tax. In my judgment, none of the arguments advanced by respondents or their numerous amici justify judicial entry into a quintessential area of policy-making in which there is no special need or justification for judicial supervision.

This is not a case in which either side of the policy debate can be characterized as an “insular minority” in need of special protection from the judiciary. On the contrary, there is a special risk that the action of the judiciary will be perceived as the product of policy arguments advanced by an unusually powerful political force. Because there is still time to avoid a serious and totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound, I urge each of the members of the majority to give careful consideration to the impact of this decision on the future of this institution when weighing the strength of the arguments I have set forth in what I hope will not be a dissent.

In the end, of course, beating Scalia to the punch did not change the result, but I do think it forced him to significantly revise his opinion to respond to the points I raised in my dissent. And although I failed to persuade Kennedy to change his vote, I think our talks may have contributed to his insisting on some important changes before signing on to the Court’s opinion.

That’s cold comfort. I have written in other contexts that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Guns, Law, Politics

Unlocking the Benefits of Garlic

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About a dozen years ago, Tara Parker-Pope had a useful article in the NY Times:

Garlic has long been touted as a health booster, but it’s never been clear why the herb might be good for you. Now new research is beginning to unlock the secrets of the odoriferous bulb.

In a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers show that eating garlic appears to boost our natural supply of hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is actually poisonous at high concentrations — it’s the same noxious byproduct of oil refining that smells like rotten eggs. But the body makes its own supply of the stuff, which acts as an antioxidant and transmits cellular signals that relax blood vessels and increase blood flow.

In the latest study, performed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers extracted juice from supermarket garlic and added small amounts to human red blood cells. The cells immediately began emitting hydrogen sulfide, the scientists found.

The power to boost hydrogen sulfide production may help explain why a garlic-rich diet appears to protect against various cancers, including breast, prostate and colon cancer, say the study authors. Higher hydrogen sulfide might also protect the heart, according to other experts. Although garlic has not consistently been shown to lower cholesterol levels, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine earlier this year found that injecting hydrogen sulfide into mice almost completely prevented the damage to heart muscle caused by a heart attack.

“People have known garlic was important and has health benefits for centuries,” said Dr. David W. Kraus, associate professor of environmental science and biology at the University of Alabama. “Even the Greeks would feed garlic to their athletes before they competed in the Olympic games.”

Now, the downside. The concentration of garlic extract used in the latest study was equivalent to an adult eating about two medium-sized cloves per day. In such countries as Italy, Korea and China, where a garlic-rich diet seems to be protective against disease, per capita consumption is as high as eight to 12 cloves per day.

While that may sound like a lot of garlic, Dr. Kraus noted that increasing your consumption to five or more cloves a day isn’t hard if you use it every time you cook. Dr. Kraus also makes a habit of snacking on garlicky dishes like hummus with vegetables.

Many home chefs mistakenly cook garlic immediately after crushing or chopping it, added Dr. Kraus. To maximize the health benefits, you should crush the garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. That triggers an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds in garlic. . .

Continue reading.

She notes that chewing fennel seeds can help with garlic breath.

More articles on the importance of letting garlic rest for 15 minutes after chopping or mincing (or crushing, for that matter).

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 10:36 am

Seifenglatt Pumpkin Pie Spice and Booster Oriental Spice

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Spice is the name of the game today, and my Phoenix Artisan worked up a wonderfully fragrant lather from Seifenglatt’s one-off Tarte à la Citrouille. The Dorco still is a great pleasure to use, and splash of Booster’s Oriental Spice finished the job and started the day with pleasure.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2019 at 8:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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