Later On

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

Archive for August 24th, 2019

If Trump Were an Airline Pilot

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

Through the 2016 campaign, I posted a series called “Trump Time Capsule” in this space. The idea was to record, in real time, what was known about Donald Trump’s fitness for office—and to do so not when people were looking back on our era but while the Republican Party was deciding whether to line up behind him and voters were preparing to make their choice.

The series reached 152 installments by election day. I argued that even then there was no doubt of Trump’s mental, emotional, civic, and ethical unfitness for national leadership. If you’re hazy on the details, the series is (once again) here.

That background has equipped me to view Trump’s performance in office as consistently shocking but rarely surprising. He lied on the campaign trail, and he lies in office. He insulted women, minorities, “the other” as a candidate, and he does it as a president. He led “lock her up!” cheers at the Republican National Convention and he smiles at “send them back!” cheers now. He did not know how the “nuclear triad” worked then, and he does not know how tariffs work now. He flared at perceived personal slights when they came from Senator John McCain, and he does so when they come from the Prime Minister of Denmark. He is who he was.

The Atlantic editorial staff, in a project I played no part in, reached a similar conclusion. Its editorial urging a vote against Trump was obviously written before the election but stands up well three years later:

He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent

The one thing I avoided in that Time Capsule series was “medicalizing” Trump’s personality and behavior. That is, moving from description of his behavior to speculation about its cause. Was Trump’s abysmal ignorance—“Most people don’t know President Lincoln was a Republican!”—a sign of dementia, or of some other cognitive decline? Or was it just more evidence that he had never read a book? Was his braggadocio and self-centeredness a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder? (Whose symptoms include “an exaggerated sense of self-importance” and “a sense of entitlement and require[s] constant, excessive admiration.”) Or just that he is an entitled jerk? On these and other points I didn’t, and don’t, know.

Like many people in the journalistic world, I received a steady stream of mail from mental-health professionals arguing for the “medicalized” approach. Several times I mentioned the parallel between Trump’s behavior and the check-list symptoms of narcissism. But I steered away from “this man is sick”—naming the cause rather than listing the signs—for two reasons.

The minor reason was the medical-world taboo against public speculation about people a doctor had not examined personally. There is a Catch-22 circularity to this stricture (which dates to the Goldwater-LBJ race in 1964). Doctors who have not treated a patient can’t say anything about the patient’s condition, because that would be “irresponsible”—but neither can doctors who have, because they’d be violating confidences.

Also, a flat ban on at-a-distance diagnosis doesn’t really meet the common-sense test. Medical professionals have spent decades observing symptoms, syndromes, and more-or-less probable explanations for behavior. We take it for granted that an ex-quarterback like Tony Romo can look at an offensive lineup just before the snap and say, “This is going to be a screen pass.” But it’s considered a wild overstep for a doctor or therapist to reach conclusions based on hundreds of hours of exposure to Trump on TV.

My dad was a small-town internist and diagnostician. Back in the 1990s he saw someone I knew, on a TV interview show, and he called me to say: “I think your friend has [a neurological disease]. He should have it checked out, if he hasn’t already.” It was because my dad had seen a certain pattern—of expression, and movement, and facial detail—so many times in the past, that he saw familiar signs, and knew from experience what the cause usually was. (He was right in this case.) Similarly, he could walk down the street, or through an airline terminal, and tell by people’s gait or breathing patterns who needed to have knee or hip surgery, who had just had that surgery, who was starting to have heart problems, et cetera. (I avoided asking him what he was observing about me.)

Recognizing patterns is the heart of most professional skills, and mental health professionals usually know less about an individual patient than all of us now know about Donald Trump. And on that basis, Dr. Bandy Lee of Yale and others associated with the World Mental Health Coalition have been sounding the alarm about Trump’s mental state (including with a special analysis of the Mueller report). Another organization of mental health professionals is the “Duty to Warn” movement.

But the diagnosis-at-a-distance issue wasn’t the real reason I avoided “medicalization.” The main reason I didn’t go down this road was my assessment that it wouldn’t make a difference. People who opposed Donald Trump already opposed him, and didn’t need some medical hypothesis to dislike his behavior. And people who supported him had already shown that they would continue to swallow anything, from “Grab ‘em by … ”  to “I like people who weren’t captured.” The Vichy Republicans of the campaign dutifully lined up behind the man they had denounced during the primaries, and the Republicans of the Senate have followed in that tradition.

But now we’ve had something we didn’t see so clearly during the campaign. These are episodes of what would be called outright lunacy, if they occurred in any other setting: An actually consequential rift with a small but important NATO ally, arising from the idea that the U.S. would “buy Greenland.” Trump’s self-description as “the Chosen One,” and his embrace of a supporter’s description of him as the “second coming of God” and the “King of Israel.” His logorrhea, drift, and fantastical claims in public rallies, and his flashes of belligerence at the slightest challenge in question sessions on the White House lawn. His utter lack of affect or empathy when personally meeting the most recent shooting victims, in Dayton and El Paso. His reduction of any event, whatsoever, into what people are saying about him.

Obviously I have no standing to say what medical pattern we are seeing, and where exactly it might lead. But just from life I know this:

  • If an airline learned that a pilot was talking publicly about being “the Chosen One” or “the King of Israel” (or Scotland or whatever), the airline would be looking carefully into whether this person should be in the cockpit.
  • If a hospital had a senior surgeon behaving as Trump now does, other doctors and nurses would be talking with administrators and lawyers before giving that surgeon the scalpel again.
  • If a public company knew that a CEO was making costly strategic decisions on personal impulse or from personal vanity or slight, and was doing so more and more frequently, the board would be starting to act. (See: Uber, management history of.)
  • If a university, museum, or other public institution had a leader who routinely insulted large parts of its constituency—racial or religious minorities, immigrants or international allies, women—the board would be starting to act.
  • If the U.S. Navy knew that one of its commanders was routinely lying about important operational details, plus lashing out under criticism, plus talking in “Chosen One” terms, the Navy would not want that person in charge of, say, a nuclear-missile submarine. (See: The Queeg saga in The Caine Mutiny, which would make ideal late-summer reading or viewing for members of the White House staff.)

Yet now such a  person is in charge not of one nuclear-missile submarine but all of them—and the bombers and ICBMs, and diplomatic military agreements, and the countless other ramifications of executive power.

If Donald Trump were in virtually any other position of responsibility, action would already be under way to remove him from that role. The board at . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 7:32 pm

Which countries dominate the world’s dinner tables?

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The article in the Economist states:

“THE DESTINY of nations,” wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th-century French gastronome, “depends on how they nourish themselves.” Today a nation’s stature depends on how well it nourishes the rest of the world, too. For proof of this, consider the rise of culinary diplomacy. In 2012 America’s State Department launched a “chef corps” tasked with promoting American cuisine abroad. Thailand’s government sends chefs overseas to peddle pad Thai and massaman curry through its Global Thai programme. South Korea pursues its own brand of “kimchi diplomacy”.

But which country’s cuisine is at the top of the global food chain? A new paper by Joel Waldfogel of the University of Minnesota provides an answer. Using restaurant listings from TripAdvisor, a travel-review website, and sales figures from Euromonitor, a market-research firm, Mr Waldfogel estimates world “trade” in cuisines for 52 countries. Whereas traditional trade is measured based on the value of goods and services that flow across a country’s borders, the author’s estimates of culinary exchange is based on the value of food found on restaurant tables. Domestic consumption of foreign cuisine is treated as an “import”, whereas foreign consumption of domestic cuisine is treated as an “export”. The balance determines which countries have the greatest influence on the world’s palate. . .

Continue reading. (Though the rest is behind a paywall if you’re not a subscriber.)

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Politics

In Men, It’s Parkinson’s. In Women, It’s Hysteria.

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David Armstrong reports in ProPublica:

Once it was called “hysterical” movement disorder, or simply “hysteria.” Later it was labeled “psychogenic.” Now it’s a “functional disorder.”

By any name, it’s one of the most puzzling afflictions — and problematic diagnoses — in medicine. It often has the same symptoms, like uncontrollable shaking and difficulty walking, that characterize brain diseases like Parkinson’s. But the condition is caused by stress or trauma and often treated by psychotherapy. And, in a disparity that is drawing increased scrutiny, most of those deemed to suffer from it — as high as 80% in some studies — are women.

Whether someone has Parkinson’s or a functional disorder can be difficult to determine. But the two labels result not only in different treatments but in different perceptions of the patient. A diagnosis of Parkinson’s is likely to create sympathy, but a functional diagnosis can stigmatize patients and cast doubt on the legitimacy of their illness. Four in 10 patients do not get better or are actually worse off after receiving such a diagnosis and find themselves in a “therapeutic wasteland,” according to a 2017 review of the literature by academic experts.

“This is the crisis,” said University of Cincinnati neurologist Alberto Espay, the author of guidelines on diagnosing functional movement disorders. “It shouldn’t be stigmatized but it is. No. 1, patients are wondering if it is real. ‘Does my doctor think I am crazy?’ Secondly, doctors can approach it in a way that implies this is a waste of their time.”

A study published last year in a leading neurological journal stoked the growing controversy. Of patients diagnosed with functional symptoms, 68% were women. This finding, the authors wrote, “suggests that female sex may be an independent risk factor for the development” of functional symptoms.

The study prompted a furious letter to the journal’s editor from Dr. Laura Boylan, a New York City neurologist. She argued that the study’s results might demonstrate instead that symptoms thought to be psychogenic were actually the result of Parkinson’s, and that doctors were slow to identify the brain disease in women. “Disparities in healthcare for women are well established,” she wrote, adding, “Women commonly encounter dismissal in the medical context.”

For Boylan, the issue was more than a professional debate. It was personal. She had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s-like symptoms that her doctors, all top caregivers at some of the world’s leading medical institutions, largely believed to be psychogenic or side effects of medication. Most of her doctors were men, but two were women. Boylan, herself a brilliant neurologist, disagreed vehemently with them. She attributed her problems to a physiological cause, a tiny cyst in her brain, and grew despondent when other neurologists doubted her theory. She gave up her medical practice, became housebound and contemplated suicide. Even today, her case remains a mystery.

The first sign that something was wrong came in 2008.

At the time, Boylan was busy with a successful career that included work as a teacher, researcher and clinician. She was an assistant professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine; the director of the behavioral neurology clinic for the VA in New York City; and an attending physician at a hospital in Pennsylvania. She was married to another neurologist, Daniel Labovitz, who is a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and practices at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

It was while driving at night on a Pennsylvania highway that Boylan experienced a vivid hallucination. She saw a cartoonish chipmunk on the steering wheel, smiling and waving at her. Another time, two blue men with red hats appeared on either side of her. She knew the images were not real, but she couldn’t make them go away.

Her doctors at the time blamed the hallucinations on side effects of psychiatric medicine Boylan took for her long-diagnosed bipolar disorder. Her bipolar condition would later add another element of uncertainty to the debate over her Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Studies show that people with preexisting psychiatric disorders are more likely to develop Parkinson’s — or have a functional disorder with similar symptoms. Boylan said she sees a psychiatrist for the bipolar disorder, but it’s “just not a big deal in my life.”

Over time, her health continued to worsen. In early 2011, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 12:10 pm

Six-minute lithium battery recharge for phones and cars on way

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Amazing. Mike Scialom writes in Cambridge Independent:

Echion Technologies, the Sawston-based battery specialist spun out of Cambridge University, is preparing to commercialise technology which has been trialled to allow charging times for both mobiles and electric cars to drop to six minutes.

The development could revolutionise the electric transport era, allowing electric car owners to recharge at any garage over a cup of coffee rather than having to stay close enough to recharge overnight at home.

The restrictions are being lifted thanks to technology which involves replacing graphite with a new material, possibly a compound – but Dr Jean De La Verpilliere isn’t saying what.

Echion is the brainchild of Dr De La Verpilliere. Two years ago, while studying for a PhD in nanoscience at the University of Cambridge, he created a material that could be used in lithium batteries. In 2017 – the final year of his phD – he founded Echion, with a focus and expertise on high performance materials innovations for lithium, or Li-ion, batteries. Echion “engages with chemicals and battery cell manufacturers to integrate its materials solutions into next-generation products”. Currently, materials are simply ‘dropped in’ to lithium battery infrastructure.

One of the materials is graphite, which Echion has replaced with its own material. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 11:52 am

Pink power juice with green foam

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It’s great! I use my immersion blender and its beaker. Put into the beaker:

1 cup frozen cranberries
[1 peeled lemon (use this method) — this is my addition, which I like]
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves [or use 2 tablespoons dried mint[
2 rounded tablespoons erythritol
water to cover — or, even better, hibiscus tea instead of water (for reasons cited at the link)

Blend that, then add enough water (or hibiscus tea) to bring the total to 2 cups, stir, and enjoy.

I brew a pot of hibiscus tea, let it cool, and then drink it as iced tea in the afternoon, so I have it on hand when I want to make this cranberry slushie. As noted above, I’ve also been including a peeled lemon.

Update: My current version of the recipe:

1 lemon, peeled as shown here
1/2 cup frozen mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries)
1 1/2 cups frozen cranberries (or enough to almost fill the beaker)
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts (omit if allergic to peanuts)
2 heaping tablespoons erythritol
3 tablespoons dried mint
1 teaspoon vanillin (artificial vanilla)
hibiscus tea to cover
update: several good dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Erythritol is good. It doesn’t cause gas or bloating, doesn’t raise blood glucose or trigger insulin, has no side effects, and is just about zero calories. Use it instead of granulated sugar, teaspoon for teaspoon.

Since I’m consuming the whole cranberry and not just extracted juice, I’m  thus getting fiber and the bioflavonoids that are in the skin, making this a very healthful drink indeed. The antioxidants added by using hibiscus tea instead of water is just the (healthful) icing on the (nutritious) cake.

You can also try frozen cherries or frozen berries instead of (or along with) the cranberries, and also experiment with proportions to find the consistency you like..

Here’s the source of the recipe:

More on erythritol:

and more on fruit juices:

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 11:49 am

World’s Lightest Solid!

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 11:15 am

Posted in Science, Technology

Avocado and cholesterol

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24 August 2019 at 10:31 am

What the Free College Movement Can Learn from Kalamazoo

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It’s not all bad news these days. Michelle Miller-Adams has a good report in the Washington Monthly:

The 700 students who graduated from Kalamazoo Public Schools in 2019 are unique. They are the first graduating class in this high-poverty city, located halfway between Chicago and Detroit, to have spent their entire K through 12 years knowing that their college tuition and fees will be largely or entirely free.

For this, they can thank the Kalamazoo Promise, the first of the current wave of place-based scholarship, or “promise,” programs. Launched in November 2005 by a group of anonymous philanthropists, the Kalamazoo Promise has provided scholarships to almost all of the city’s public school graduates since 2006. For students who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools starting in kindergarten, any in-state public college or university, along with a select group of private colleges, is tuition-free. For those who attend for just high school, 65 percent of tuition is covered.

In the fourteen years since it was announced, the Kalamazoo Promise has reached more than 6,000 students. The Kalamazoo school district has grown by 25 percent, academic achievement is up, and the high-school graduation rate is rising. Almost 90 percent of the district’s graduates head to college or another form of post-secondary training—an exceptionally high rate for a low-income urban school district. Of the district’s graduates, 50 percent complete a post-secondary degree or credential within ten years of graduating, up from 40 percent before the program.

Most high school graduates are not so lucky. After marching across commencement stages, many end their education. Those who go on must pay for increasingly expensive college degrees. College costs have been rising for decades, and the growing burden on students and families has moved center stage as student loan debt has reached crisis-level proportions. As a result, “free college” has become an increasingly popular idea, making an appearance in the platform of almost every Democratic presidential candidate, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Free college is a powerful concept, and it can boost college enrollment and completion. But the experiences of Kalamazoo and other cities with promise programs offer valuable lessons on how free college should work. Few promise programs are as simple and generous as the Kalamazoo Promise. Many provide students with less money and fewer choices, and make what they do offer contingent on student performance. As a result, they do not reach as many students and families.

Policymakers should instead make promise scholarships generous. They should make them available to all students, not just those with the highest grades. And as scholarship programs in places as diverse as Kalamazoo, El Dorado, Arkansas, and the state of Tennessee show, promise programs are especially effective when they provide recipients with community support, not just money.

Since Kalamazoo set course, nearly 150 local communities and almost two-dozen states have created their own free-college programs. But the impact in many places has been less dramatic than in Kalamazoo. That’s because of design decisions made by program stakeholders.

Consider program generosity. In Kalamazoo and a few other communities, scholarships are awarded on a “first-dollar” basis, where promise money is used first and low-income students can add their Pell grants on top of it, allowing them to cover some living expenses. In most places, stakeholders have opted for “last-dollar” structures, where low-income students must use Pell grants first and the promise scholarship closes any remaining gap. This decision may save money, but it has the largely unintended outcome of channeling more promise dollars to non-poor than to poor students. More importantly, it means that low-income students receive little “new” money, making it harder for them to afford all the other costs of college—from books to meals.

Another key question is who receives the scholarship. Many communities have sought to target their promise scholarships on “deserving” students, measured by high-school GPA and attendance rates. On the surface, this may seem like a sensible way to conserve resources. But such targeting tends to disadvantage low-income students who generally have lower academic achievement levels. In a promise experiment in Milwaukee, for example, the average GPA of ninth graders at the time the program was announced was 1.8 on a 4.0 scale, and the average attendance rate was 81 percent. Yet the program required a GPA of 2.5, and 90 percent attendance. These cutoffs mean Milwaukee’s Promise was uniquely ill-suited to help the students it pledged to serve. Ultimately, only 21 percent of students ended up eligible for the scholarship.

Proponents argue that performance cutoffs inspire students to work harder. But researchers have found no evidence that that’s the case. Instead, all they do is direct resources to high-performing students, a group that is typically wealthier, and that needs the scholarship least. In one Michigan community, for instance, students must have a 3.5 high-school GPA to receive a promise scholarship, yet they are only allowed to use it at one of two local, non-selective two-year institutions. This high GPA requirement means that the program benefits white, non-poor students and school districts far more than the area’s low-income students of color. And it does this by channeling them into institutions that are, academically speaking, generally a poor fit. It’s kids with GPAs below 3.5—not A-level students—who would benefit most from free community college. But they are the ones left out.

In Kalamazoo, by contrast, rules are minimal. Academic success has no bearing on scholarship eligibility (although it will naturally determine where students will be admitted). The scholarship is awarded irrespective of financial need. Students have 10 years after high-school graduation in which to access their promise funding. The application form is a single page.

As a result, the Kalamazoo Promise (and programs like it) reach a critical mass of students attending the same school district and living in the same community. It is therefore perceived as being for the community rather than for a specific group of students, resulting in broad buy-in. “It changed the debate about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 9:02 am

Trump’s Get Out of Jail Free Card for a Convicted Scammer Is Full of Half-Truths and Omissions

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Benjamin Hardy and Moiz Syed report in ProPublica:

On July 29, President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of Ted Suhl, an Arkansas businessman who was released after serving about two and a half years of a seven-year sentence for bribery and fraud, after a campaign led by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

We examined the White House announcement of the commutation and found multiple omissions and misleading statements. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. . .

Continue reading to see the annotated 3-page White House statement, with the lies and omissions highlighted and identified. This represents the US government at the highest levels today.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 8:55 am

Jeffrey Epstein’s Intellectual Enabler

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Evgeny Morozov writes in the New Republic:

If you are an accomplished science or technology writer, your books are probably handled by the most powerful literary agency in the field: the famous Brockman Inc., started by John Brockman and now run by Max Brockman, his son. As it happens, Max is also my agent—and has been since my first book was sold in 2009. As agencies go, I only have positive things to report: The Brockmans fight for their authors and get us very handsome advances. That’s what agents are for.

But that’s not the whole story. John is also the president, founder, and chief impresario of the Edge Foundation, which has earned a stellar reputation as an eclectic platform for conversations that involve scientists, artists, and technologists. There is more than one Edge Foundation, though: There is the one meant for public consumption, with its “annual question”—e.g. “What are you optimistic about?”—answered by famous intellectuals and thinkers; and one meant for private consumption by members of Brockman’s elite network. The former exists primarily online. The latter has a vibrant real-life component, with sumptuous dinners, exclusive conferences, and quite a bit of travel on private jets—it functions as an elaborate massage of the ego (and, apparently, much else) for the rich, the smart, and the powerful.

Over the course of my research into the history of digital culture, I’ve got to know quite a lot about John’s role in shaping the digital—and especially the intellectual—world that we live in. I’ve examined and scanned many of his letters in the archives of famous men (and they are mostly men), such as Marshall McLuhan, Stewart Brand, and Gregory Bateson. He is no mere literary agent; he is a true “organic intellectual” of the digital revolution, shaping trends rather than responding to them. Would the MIT Media Lab, TED Conferences, and Wired have the clout and the intellectual orientation that they have now without the extensive network cultivated by Brockman over decades? I, for one, very much doubt it.

Lately, John has been in the news for other reasons, namely because of his troubling connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the so-called financier who reportedly hanged himself earlier this month while facing federal charges of sex-trafficking. Epstein participated in the Edge Foundation’s annual questions, and attended its “billionaires’ dinners.” Brockman may also be the reason why so many prominent academics—from Steven Pinker to Daniel Dennett—have found themselves answering awkward questions about their associations with Epstein; they are clients of Brockman’s. Marvin Minsky, the prominent MIT scientist who surfaced as one of Epstein’s island buddies? A client of Brockman’s. Joi Ito, the director of the elite research facility MIT Media Lab, who has recently acknowledged extensive ties to Epstein? Also, a client of Brockman’s.

Should we just write it off as natural collateral damage for someone with a network as extensive as Brockman’s? He is, after all, a networker’s networker. Based on my observations over the last decade, his whole operation runs on two simple but powerful principles. First, the total value of the network (and thus his own value) goes up if the nodes start connecting to each other independently of him. Second, the more diverse the network, the more attractive it is to newcomers as well as to all the existing members. Billionaires are rich, but they might harbor an insecurity complex related to not being very well-read (looking at you, Bill Gates!). Scientists, in contrast, are usually well-read but might aspire to fancier cars and luxuries and funding for their pet projects. And so on: There’s something for everyone—and, in the case of Epstein, someone seems to have done the matchmaking.

In Brockman’s world, billionaires, scientists, artists, novelists, journalists, and musicians all blend together to produce enormous value—for each other and, of course, for Brockman. This mingling of clients doesn’t happen in other literary agencies, at least not to this extent. Nor does this happen at Brockman Inc., as all such interactions that we know of took place under the umbrella of the Edge Foundation, a sibling organization, with Brockman as its president. Would Brockman Inc. exist without the Edge Foundation? Possibly—and it did, at the outset. Would it be as powerful, trading on Brockman’s ability to rub shoulders with academics and billionaires alike? Probably not. Still, I can attest that Brockman’s authors face no pressure to get involved with Edge: I, for example, diligently responded to their annual questions between 2010 and 2013—and then stopped, as I was put off by Brockman’s insistence that people responding to the annual question should keep away from politics.

When the Epstein-Brockman connection first surfaced in the news, I wanted to give Brockman the benefit of the doubt. It’s possible, I thought, that Epstein was just one of the many rich people in Brockman’s orbit. Or maybe the two had been close only before Epstein’s first criminal case in the mid-2000s. Or maybe Brockman was in the dark about Epstein’s tendencies and they only talked about quantum physics and artificial intelligence.

In the last few weeks, such a charitable interpretation has become very hard to sustain, especially as other details—implicating Marvin Minsky and Joi Ito, who has apologized for taking money from Epstein—became public. John Brockman has not said a word publicly about his connection to Epstein since the latest scandal broke, preferring to maintain silence on the matter. That I have found quite infuriating.

Knowing that Brockman likes to brag about all the famous people he has met and befriended—you can easily count the seconds until he name-checks “Marshall” (McLuhan) or “Andy” (Warhol) or “Gregory“ (Bateson) in a casual conversation—I decided to look over our correspondence over the past decade and see if he might have name-dropped Epstein somewhere. And, of course, he did. Browsing through our email correspondence, I stumbled upon a most peculiar email from September 12, 2013.

It was very laconic: “JE, FYI, JB”—followed by my short bio and some media clippings. (You can check the entire PDF of the correspondence here.) Strangely, it was sent to me and had no other contacts in cc. Perhaps he wanted to send it to “JE” but put my email there by mistake. When I commented on the meaning of this cryptic message, he responded with the following message, reproduced here in full:

I missed that one.

Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire science philanthropist showed up at this weekend’s event by helicopter (with his beautiful young assistant from Belarus). He’ll be in Cambridge in a couple of weeks asked me who he should meet. You are one of the people I suggested and I told him I would send some links.

He’s the guy who gave Harvard #30m to set up Martin Nowak. He’s been extremely generous in funding projects of many of our friends and clients. He also got into trouble and spent a year in jail in Florida.

If he contacts you it’s probably worth your time to meet him as he’s extremely bright and interesting.

Last time I visited his house (the largest private residence in NYC), I walked in to find him in a sweatsuit and a British guy in a suit with suspenders, getting foot massages from two young well-dressed Russian women. After grilling me for a while about cyber-security, the Brit, named Andy, was commenting on the Swedish authorities and the charges against Julian Assange.

“We think they’re liberal in Sweden, but its more like Northern England as opposed to Southern Europe,” he said. “In Monaco, Albert works 12 hours a day but at 9pm, when he goes out, he does whatever he wants, and nobody cares. But, if I do it, I’m in big trouble.” At that point I realized that the recipient of Irina’s foot massage was his Royal Highness, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.

Indeed, a week later, on a slow news day, the cover of the NYpost had a full-page photo of Jeffrey and Andrew walking in Central Park under the headline: “The Prince and the Perv.” (That was the end of Andrew’s role at the UK trade ambassador.)

To which I responded:

thanks for clarifying this. I’m sure he’s an all-around sweet guy but I’ll have to think about it. It could be that I spent far too much time in the Soros bubble but I have zero interest in meeting billionaires – if I did, I’d be going to Davos every year. but I appreciate you taking the time.

Here is Brockman again:

A billionaire who owns Victoria’s Secret plus a modelling agency is a different kind of animal. But I hear you and basically agree. Gregory Bateson once advised me that ‘Of all our human inventions, economic man is by far the dullest.’


And here is my final answer:

“A billionaire who owns Victoria’s Secret plus a modelling agency” –> one more reason to stay away actually.

I didn’t know who Epstein was at the time. Since I’ve never been very keen to hang out with billionaires, mine was a natural response (I similarly declined Brockman’s invitations to hang out on his farm or attend his famous billionaire dinners). So I didn’t think much of that invitation and eventually forgot about it. Needless to say, I never heard from Epstein—or from Brockman about Epstein.

In that old email, it seems clear that Brockman was acting as Epstein’s PR man—his liaison with the world of scientists and intellectuals that Brockman had cultivated. That Brockman has said nothing over this affair is rather bewildering. (He did not return requests for comment left on his email and voicemail.) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 8:51 am

The Yaqui Jano-Bi: comb guard on one side, bar guard on the other

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This is the Jano-Bi (Jano for Janus, the two-faced (literally) Roman god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings.). Its design resembles that of one of my favorite razors, the iKon Shavecraft 101:

I also used a very nice Yaqi 24mm brush (and they do offer some 22mm brushes—that $7 one is a bargain). The quality of these brushes seems excellent, and it easily produced a fine lather from my LA Shaving Soap Company’s Vanilla/Eucalyptus/Mint shaving soap, a very nice soap indeed with a fine fragrance.

I set to work with the razor. It is highly efficient, but unfortunately for me it is not very comfortable: lots of blade feel and a tendency to nick. The 101 is, in contrast, also very efficient but also extremely comfortable and gentle on the face. In fact, by the third pass I had switched to the 101.

I do know that some who have encountered the rough side of the personality of the iKon owner have avoided the brand, which is unfortunate since the 101, the 102, and some other iKons are really top-notch razors. But of course I also have an Apple computer despite Steve Jobs’s toxic personality (the technical description is “flaming asshole”). I distinguish product and creator, and some lamentable people have produced some very fine work (and of course some totally wonderful people have produced absolute flops, another reason to separate creator personality from his or her work). I wouldn’t buy a ghastly painting from someone because they are very nice, and I wouldn’t hestitate to buy a fine painting from a jerk. But some do factor personality in, and I defend their right to do it (and I have some paintings I want to sell them 🙂 ).

A good splash of Paul Sebastian to a smooth and only slightly dinged face finished the job. I picked Paul Sebastian because of the vanilla (tonka bean) note, which carried forth the vanilla of the shaving soap.


Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

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