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Archive for September 2019

Which is more fundamental: processes or things?

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My immediate response on reading the title is that processes are fundamental, because things are simply slow-motion processes. I think most people understand that they themselves are processes, a tree is a process, and even rocks and mountains. Still, I thought this is of interest.

Celso Vieira, who has a PhD in philosophy from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil and lives in Belo Horizonte (where he started the first Brazilian chapter of the effective altruist group The Life You Can Save) writes in Aeon:

Metaphysics is the attempt to understand how existence works by examining the building blocks of reality, the distinctions between mental and physical entities, and the fundamental questions of being and reality. But metaphysics is not only an arcane branch of philosophy: human beings use metaphysical assumptions to navigate the world. Assumptions about what exists and what is fundamental exert a powerful influence on our lives. Indeed, the less aware we are of our metaphysical assumptions, the more we are subject to them.

Western metaphysics tends to rely on the paradigm of substances. We often see the world as a world of things, composed of atomic molecules, natural kinds, galaxies. Objects are the paradigmatic mode of existence, the basic building blocks of the Universe. What exists exists as an object. That is to say, things are of a certain kind, they have some specific qualities and well-defined spatial and temporal limits. For instance: Fido is my dog, he is grey, and was born one year ago. (It’s worth noting that such a simple statement will give rise to a litany of metaphysical disputes within substance metaphysics: realists believe that universals, such as the natural kind ‘dogs’, exist while nominalists believe them to be only intellectual abstractions.)

Though substance metaphysics seems to undergird Western ‘common sense’, I think it is wrong. To see this, consider the cliché about the glass of water: is it half-empty or half-full? The question assumes a static arrangement of things serving as a basis for either an optimistic or a pessimistic interpretation. One can engage in interminable disputes about the correct description of the physical set-up, or about the legitimacy of the psychological evaluations. But what if the isolated frame ‘a glass of water’ fails to give the relevant information? Anyone would prefer an emptier glass that is getting full to a fuller one getting empty. Any analysis lacking information about change misses the point, which is just what substance metaphysics is missing. Process philosophers, meanwhile, think we should go beyond looking at the world as a set of static unrelated items, and instead examine the processes that make up the world. Processes, not objects, are fundamental.

Continue reading.

I’ve long been interested in process theology, which applies process to the idea of God. That was initially developed by Charles Hartshorne working in the light of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality. (And see also A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality.)

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2019 at 8:13 pm

Posted in Books

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How Derren Brown Remade Mind Reading for Skeptics

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Adam Green writes in the New Yorker:

In 2005, when I was visiting London, a magician friend told me that I had to see the English mentalist Derren Brown, who was appearing in the West End, in his one-man show “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Brown had become famous for an astonishing ability to seemingly read the thoughts of his fellow-humans and to control their actions. In a series of TV specials, he’d reinvented a waning branch of magic—mentalism—for a new generation, framing his feats as evidence not of psychic powers but of a cutting-edge knowledge of the mind and how to manipulate it.

A few days later, I was sitting in a capacity audience at a theatre in Covent Garden. A slim, pale, vulpine man in his mid-thirties, with well-tended light-brown hair and a goatee, came onstage, dressed in a trim black suit and a black shirt. He looked more like the creative director of an advertising agency than like a mind reader, and seemed to take neither his spectators nor himself too seriously: when someone’s cell phone went off, he gave a look of mock alarm and said, “Don’t answer it. It’s very bad news.” Beneath his genially impudent manner lurked a suggestion of preternatural self-assurance and even menace.

Brown spent the next two and a half hours performing a series of increasingly inconceivable set pieces, organized around the theme of how susceptible we are to hidden influence. He gave demonstrations of subliminal persuasion, lie detection, instant trance induction, and mass hypnosis, as well as manipulation of his own mental state to control his response to pain. To show that participants were selected at random, he hurled a stuffed monkey into the auditorium, and whoever caught it would come up onstage. (You can see a later performance of the show on YouTube.)

Early on, a woman in the audience was entrusted with a locked briefcase. For the finale, Brown held up a large envelope, which he said contained “a prediction of the future, about the decisions that you’re going to make”; clipped the envelope to a metal stand at center stage, where it remained in full view; and summoned the woman back up. He then tossed that day’s editions of ten assorted newspapers into the audience and asked her to pick someone who’d caught one of them. Next, he gave her and other audience members a series of choices, through which, eventually, page 14 of the Daily Mail was torn into dozens of pieces, and the woman selected a single word on one of them: “influences.”

Pointing out the number of papers he’d tossed out and the approximate number of words in each one, Brown said, “That’s 1.6 million different words that you had to choose from in this room, and you choose the word ‘influences.’ Is that fair?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“No!” Brown said in a stage whisper. “No, it’s not. It is not fair. It is inevitable.”

He went over to the stand where he’d left the envelope, opened it, and, giving the woman one end to hold, unfurled a long roll of paper that read, in large letters, “Influences.” The audience gasped and started cheering.

Brown held up a hand for quiet, saying, “Hold on a second. You’re all intelligent people. You’re going to be having a drink afterwards, or driving home, or up at four in the morning trying to work out how that worked. And you’ll think, Maybe it didn’t make any difference what she chose. Maybe all that happened is magic boy here switches a bit of paper at the end, hopes she goes for that word, or something. It’s a comfortable thing to think. But here’s the point: if that is what happened and it didn’t matter what paper you chose or what page, and all that was rubbish, then that word ‘influences’ wouldn’t really be on page 14 of today’s Daily Mail. And it is.”

Brown unlocked the woman’s briefcase and removed an envelope containing page 14 of that day’s Mail, with the word “influences” circled in red. The audience roared and leaped to its feet. “Thank you all for coming—good night!” Brown said, taking a bow and starting to walk offstage.

But then he paused and again signalled for quiet. He explained that he had been exposing us to secret messages and that it thus made no difference who got selected for the final trick—anyone in the audience would have picked that word on that page of that paper. “Let me tell you what I’ve been doing,” he said. “We’ve been filming little bits from the wings, little clips of the show.”

There followed a montage of moments from that night, in which Brown gave verbal suggestions, sometimes via subtle mispronunciations or non sequiturs, that we had apparently absorbed subconsciously. In one clip, Brown set up a stunt that involved hammering a nail into his nasal cavity, saying, “Do you hammer daily a number 14 mail into your head?”

In another, he explained, “Because of the sorts of unconscious behaviors that we unconsciously choose daily”—and here he turned to the camera and winked—“male subjects tend to be . . .”

And in another he said, “Pain is a subjective thing, like when you’re young and you tear around influences, and you cut yourself, and you don’t really know that you’re cut till you look down and see the blood.”

“This is what you’ve been hearing without realizing you’ve been hearing it,” Brown announced triumphantly. “That’s why it was the Daily Mail, that’s why it was page 14, and that’s why it was the word ‘influences.’ Thank you for your attention, thank you for coming out tonight, and thank you for playing. Good night!”

This is what Brown does best: he takes an effect from the mentalism repertoire and generates from it an escalating series of climaxes that forces you to rethink everything you’ve just seen. Rather than diminish the mystery, Brown’s revelation of his ostensible methods reasserts and deepens it. He has always maintained that he neither has nor believes in any kind of psychic power, and his emphasis on manipulating people with techniques from the outer frontiers of psychology gives an audience too sophisticated to believe in the paranormal something scientific-seeming to hold on to. Often, the explanations end up being even more perplexing than the feat itself. Whether one believes that he’s actually doing what he claims or that he’s simply cloaking sleight of hand and the like in brilliant theatrics, he seems to be drawing back the curtain and offering a glimpse into some uncanny realm. As Brown once told me, “People feel that they understand something about what I’m up to but not everything, which satisfies their rational side but leaves room for something more playful and subterranean.”

In the U.K., Brown has been a household name for nearly two decades, thanks to dozens of TV shows, several stage shows, two Olivier Awards, and a number of best-selling books. Despite various forays into the U.S., including an Off Broadway run and Netflix specials, he remains relatively unknown here, but now he is making his Broadway début, with the show “Secret.” One of the producers, Thomas Kail, who directed “Hamilton,” told me that he’d been obsessed with Brown for years. “He just kind of lifts you up and takes you away, showing you things that should not be, and yet they are,” Kail said. “He tells you that it’s not real, and then he does it.”

Kail’s words reminded me of something that had happened after the London show I saw. I’d been invited to say hello to Brown in his dressing room. Though clearly exhausted, he was courtly and chatty, but, as we talked, he sat down and started picking tiny shards of glass out of the sole of his foot. Earlier, he’d done a routine that involved walking barefoot across a carpet of jagged broken bottles without bleeding or feeling pain. As I stood in his dressing room, I wondered whether these glass splinters were really from earlier or if he was just treating me to an extra layer of deception—what magicians call a “convincer.” Fourteen years later, I’m still not sure.

I met up with Brown again for breakfast one summer morning last year in Southend-on-Sea, a down-at-the-heels resort town about forty miles east of London. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2019 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Daily life

What if Your Abusive Husband Is a Cop?

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Rachel Aviv writes in the New Yorker:

Jessica Lester’s friends persuaded her to date Matthew Boynton, a boy in the eleventh grade, by saying, “If you don’t like him, you can always break up.” He was the grandson of the sheriff of Spalding County, where they lived, an hour south of Atlanta, and his friends were football players and cheerleaders. Jessica thought that Matthew, who was baby-faced but muscular, looked rich; he wore Ralph Lauren boots and collared shirts from Hollister. Jessica, who was in tenth grade, was less popular. She wore hand-me-downs and liked to take nature photographs. Her parents had abandoned her when she was three, along with her sister and brother, and she grew up on a farm with her mother’s adoptive parents. “I guess she felt like ‘Matthew could have picked anybody, and for some reason he picked me,’ ” her sister, Dusty, said.

Jessica had pale-green eyes, a melodic voice, and blond hair that hung down her back like a slab of wood. In the spring of 2013, when she was sixteen and had dated Matthew for a year, she took her grandparents into the kitchen, closed the door, and told them, apologizing, that she was pregnant. Jessica’s grandparents, who are Baptist, were willing to help her bring up the child, but Jessica decided to settle down with Matthew, her first boyfriend. Her aunt Kathy, who lives on the farm, said, “With Jessica’s family background, there was probably just a feeling of ‘Oh, I’ve finally found someone who loves me.’ ”

Jessica and Matthew moved into a house across the street from the sheriff, Wendell Beam, and his wife. Jessica was the kind of intuitive mother who predicts a baby’s danger—a fall, a spilled drink, a choking hazard—a few seconds before it happens. But she felt isolated. She finished her high-school coursework online, and almost never saw her friends or family. She said that Matthew told her she wasn’t related to them by blood.

For their son’s first Christmas, Matthew took Jessica to her grandparents’ house—the first time she’d seen them in months—but before she opened her presents he told her that they had to leave. When Jessica graduated from high school, her grandparents held a party for her and projected a movie on the side of their barn. Shortly after the movie started, Matthew said that it was time to go. “The rest of us enjoyed her graduation party,” Martha, her grandmother, said.

Matthew’s childhood dream was to work in law enforcement—a career inspired by his grandfather, who had helped bring him up following his parents’ divorce. After high school, he worked as a jailer at the Pike County sheriff’s office before being hired as a patrol officer in Griffin, the largest city in Spalding County. In his personnel file there, a supervisor described him as “fiercely loyal” but “stiff and unwilling to bend.” Another officer described him as “the type who wants to make ten arrests a day if he could.” A senior officer privately advised Matthew, “Lighten up a little bit, man.”

That mentality spilled into his home life. Twice, Matthew called the police on Jessica, for yelling or cursing or poking his chest. According to a police report, Jessica was “very reserved and appeared to be upset.” She said that the officers recommended that she not yell at Matthew.

In December, 2014, Jessica had a brief affair and got pregnant again. Her family wondered if this was her way of escaping the relationship. But Matthew said that he’d raise the child as his own. They decided to get married. Jessica could never quite explain why—there was no proposal, just an understanding that there was too much momentum to break up. Martha worried that Jessica had “lost her feistiness. It was almost like her personality got squished out of her.”

Her aunt Denise, a public-school teacher, said that, at the wedding, “there was just this sadness in her eyes, like, ‘I’m done.’ ” She had the demeanor of a child who had promised herself not to cause trouble or draw attention to her own feelings. Jessica and Matthew left their wedding reception, which her family hosted, after less than an hour. Matthew wore a titanium wedding ring with a blue stripe, to signify that he was in law enforcement.

They rented an apartment in Griffin, in a complex of beige two-story buildings surrounding a swimming pool. But the sheriff still loomed large in their relationship. Matthew asked Beam to phone him in the morning to wake him up. Jessica didn’t have her own credit card or car, so if she needed something from the supermarket she texted Matthew, who either took her to the store himself or asked Beam or his wife to deliver the item. When Matthew drove his patrol car, he would often take the keys to his truck, a Chevrolet Avalanche, so that Jessica couldn’t use it.

Denise was on a science-curriculum committee with Matthew’s stepmother, Amy, a teacher in the same district. A few months after the wedding, Denise and Amy went out for lunch. Denise said that Amy confided that Matthew had once hit her and that their relationship was strained. “She became dead serious—I’d never seen her so serious,” Denise said. “She said we needed to know what kind of kid he was. She said, ‘Do me a favor. I want you to make sure that Jessica is going to be O.K., because he’s going to hurt her.’ ”

In the spring of 2016, less than six months after the wedding, Jessica discovered that Matthew was having an affair with Courtney Callaway, a dispatcher at the Spalding County sheriff’s office, a mile away from the Griffin Police Department.

“If you don’t want to be with me anymore,” Jessica texted him, “I’m not going to stay here and play house.” Matthew, who had begun spending his free days with Callaway, told her, “It’s not gonna work for us. I already know it won’t.”

Jessica’s grandmother made an appointment with a lawyer who could help her file for divorce. In a composition note­­book, Jessica documented the times she assumed Matthew had been with his girlfriend, and she jotted down notes for the lawyer. “Difference between non-­contested & adultery divorce?” she wrote. “Most important to me. Custody (full?).” She and the boys planned to move into her sister Dusty’s house on Friday, April 15th, and the next week she would begin working at a chiropractor’s office. “She had both of the boys packed and ready to go,” Dusty said.

Jessica had to wean her baby before starting the job, so on Thursday night she and Matthew drove to Walmart, to buy formula. At the store, they got into a fight, and when they left Jessica said she didn’t want to get into the car. Matthew called a Griffin police lieutenant for advice. “She’s a grown lady,” the lieutenant told him. “You can’t force her into the truck.” (Matthew refused to comment for this story.)

From her porch, Jessica’s neighbor Megan Browning saw Jessica and Matthew return home. A half hour or so later, Browning was lying in bed when she heard a gunshot. Unnerved, she went out to the porch, where she heard another. Not long afterward, she saw Matthew walk briskly to his truck.

He drove to a nearby Waffle House to have a late dinner with a fellow Griffin police officer. On his way, at 12:54 a.m., he said, he received a text from Jessica: “I can’t do this anymore. Take care of” the children. “Please tell them I love them everyday. I have been suffering for a while now and no one has noticed. Here lately I have not been able to recognize the person I see in the mirror. This is not the first time I have had suicide thoughts. I love you and the boys.”

A minute later, Matthew responded to a joke from Callaway. “Haha I’m sorry I didn’t think about that lol,” he wrote. Then he called E.M.S. “Can you please dispatch a unit out to my location?” he said calmly. “In reference to my wife.” He explained that she was having suicidal thoughts and “she told me to take care of the boys. So I’m trying to hurry up and get back home, just to make sure that nothing is going to happen to them.”

Six minutes later, Matthew reported on his police radio that he had heard two gunshots as he was walking up the stairs to his apartment. He had looked in the master bedroom, and when he didn’t see the baby, who typically slept there, he ran outside. “I didn’t know if it was an active scenario,” he later told investigators. “I was scared to death, because I couldn’t find him, that she would shoot me, shoot him, and then kill herself.”

Eleven Griffin police officers arrived at the apartment complex. With their guns drawn, the officers checked every room in the house. The older boy was asleep in his bedroom, and the baby was in his own room, crying in his crib. The officers found Jessica in her bedroom closet, unconscious and lying on her side, her head on a bloody pillow. She was wearing fluffy slippers. On a shelf by her head was the notebook documenting Matthew’s infidelity. Matthew’s service gun was under her stomach.

Jessica’s grandparents live on two hundred acres of farmland in Pike County, a twenty-five-minute drive from her apartment. A fence separates their house from an open field, where nine cows and two donkeys graze. Just before 2 a.m. on April 15th, Wendell Beam asked the sheriff of Pike County to send officers to the house. Two deputies woke Jessica’s grandparents and told them that Jessica had committed suicide, using Matthew’s gun. “No, that doesn’t ring right,” Martha told them. Four of her grandchildren had taken target-shooting classes together, but Jessica had refused to participate. “Jessica would not touch a gun,” she said. “She did not want to have anything to do with it.”

Dusty and her husband drove to Jessica’s apartment. The first officer she saw in the parking lot was Beam. The sheriff’s department does not respond to incidents inside the Griffin city limits, and he was the only one from his office there. Dusty asked him where Jessica was, and he said that she had been taken by helicopter to Atlanta Medical Center. He did not explain why he’d earlier sent word that Jessica was dead. Dusty approached a group of Griffin police officers and asked whether Matthew had shot her sister. “She loved those kids more than anything, and she knows how it feels to grow up without a mom,” she said. “She wouldn’t have done that to them.” The officers told Dusty she needed to either calm down or leave the property.

The police asked for assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Early that morning, Matthew was interviewed by Chris DeMarco, a G.B.I. agent who lived near Spalding County and had worked with Beam on several cases over the years. DeMarco told Matthew that his clothes might need to be collected as evidence. “Absolutely,” Matthew said. “I didn’t try to brush off anything. I didn’t try to wash my hands—nothing.” He sounded like an eager student. “I didn’t think about getting any other clothes.”

G.B.I. agents canvassed the apartment complex and discovered that Megan Browning and her fiancé and a couple that lived next door to Jessica were the only neighbors who had heard gunshots. Both couples said that the shots occurred around 11 p.m.—not at 1 a.m., when Matthew had reported them. One of the neighbors said that, not long before he heard the gunshots, he also heard “some banging, like she was banging on the door or something.”

Browning, who sometimes socialized with Jessica and Matthew, cried throughout her interview. “I hope he goes to jail for this shit,” she said. She wanted to elaborate on what she’d witnessed, but the agents left after eight minutes and never came back.

On a hospital-admission form, Jessica was described as a “19 year old reported to have shot herself in the right skull.” But Vernon Henderson, a trauma surgeon for more than two decades, who treated Jessica, wrote that her injury “did not fit with that description”; neither of her hands had “any evidence of any gunpowder stippling.” And her wound was on the top of her skull, which suggested that she would have had to hold the gun above her head, pointing downward—“a very unusual direction in which to point the gun at one’s self with the intention of committing suicide,” Henderson wrote. Indentations in the walls of Jessica’s closet suggested that one bullet had been shot at an upward angle—it entered the wall near the top of the closet—and another bullet hit the wall near the floor. Her neurosurgeon, Paul King, told me, “It seemed most likely that someone else shot her.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Much.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2019 at 4:45 pm

The sort of nation the US has become: These Sheriffs Release Sick Inmates to Avoid Paying Their Hospital Bills

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The US seems to have become a nation in which all decisions are based on money rather than on morality, ethics, legality, self-respect, respect for others, community spirit, and so on. Just as corporations look only at increasing profit with no other considerations nearly so important, so governments (local, county, state, and federal) look only at costs and how to cut them, rather than at their responsibilities and how to fulfill them.

This is, I know, an overstatement, but there definitely is a strong strain of that running through the US, and Connor Sheets of AL.com reports on one example in ProPublica:

Michael Tidwell’s blood sugar reading was at least 15 times his normal level when sheriff’s deputies took him to the hospital. But before they loaded the inmate into the back of a car, deputies propped up his slumping body and handed him a pen so he could sign a release from the Washington County Jail.

“I could barely stand up or keep my eyes open,” he recalled.

Tidwell said that he didn’t know what he was signing at the time, and that he lost consciousness a short time later. The consequences of his signature only became clear in the weeks that followed the 2013 medical emergency.

By signing the document, which freed him on bond from the small jail in south Alabama, Tidwell had in essence agreed that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office would not be responsible for his medical costs, which included the two days he spent in a diabetic coma in intensive care at Springhill Medical Center in Mobile.

It’s unclear whether Tidwell, who was uninsured at the time and in poor health afterward, was billed for his care or if the medical providers wrote it off. Neither Tidwell’s attorneys nor the hospital was able to say, and Tidwell was unable to get answers when he and a reporter called the hospital’s billing department.

What is clear is that the sheriff’s office avoided paying Tidwell’s hospital bills.

Tidwell had been on the receiving end of a practice referred to by many in law enforcement as a “medical bond.” Sheriffs across Alabama are increasingly deploying the tactic to avoid having to pay when inmates face medical emergencies or require expensive procedures — even ones that are necessary only because an inmate received inadequate care while incarcerated.

What’s more, once they recover, some inmates are quickly rearrested and booked back into the jail from which they were released.

Local jails across the country have long been faulted for providing substandard medical care. In Alabama, for instance, a mentally ill man died from flesh-eating bacteria 15 days after being booked into the Mobile County Metro Jail in 2000. And in 2013, a 19-year-old man died of gangrene less than a month after he was booked into the Madison County Jail. In both cases, officials denied wrongdoing and surviving relatives settled lawsuits alleging that poor jail health care contributed to their loved ones’ deaths.

But the use of medical bonds isn’t about inferior care. It’s about who pays for care.

While medical bonds have been a last resort in many states for more than 20 years, experts say they are employed in Alabama more often than elsewhere. Their use in some counties but not in others illustrates the vast power and latitude that sheriffs have in Alabama, which is the subject of a yearlong examination by AL.com and ProPublica.

Several Alabama sheriffs, including Washington County Sheriff Richard Stringer, said in interviews that they often find ways to release inmates with sudden health problems to avoid responsibility for their medical costs. Stringer denied any wrongdoing in his office’s handling of Tidwell’s emergency.

“We had a guy a couple of weeks ago with congestive heart failure. … The judge let him make bond so the county didn’t get stuck with that bill,” Lamar County Sheriff Hal Allred said in a March telephone interview. “We don’t have any medical staff in the jail. I wish we did, that would be great, but the way the county finances are, I won’t live long enough to see it.”

Typically the process works like this: When an inmate awaiting trial is in a medical crisis, a sheriff or jail staffer requests that a judge allow him or her to be released on bond just before, or shortly after, the inmate is taken to a hospital. If the request is granted, the inmate typically signs the document granting the release.

Michael Jackson, district attorney for Alabama’s 4th Judicial Circuit, said he is aware of multiple recent cases in which sheriffs released inmates on bond without first obtaining a judge’s approval. Jackson said he also worries about the risk of inmates reoffending after they receive medical treatment.

“I’m not saying there should be no situation where an inmate can get released early, but it shouldn’t be about money,” Jackson said in a phone interview this month. “No one’s watching them when they get out, and people might get robbed or their houses might get broken into.”

While judges usually sign off on bonds, lawyers who represent inmates and other experts say sheriffs are often the key decision-makers and can be held legally responsible for what happens after they release inmates via such methods.

If an inmate is already sick or injured when he or she is released, sheriffs are “not going to be able to avoid the liability just by opening the trap door and letting them go,” said Henry Brewster, one of Tidwell’s attorneys.

“They Have to Do Something”

Shortly after Tidwell was locked up for a probation violation in 2013, his sister Michelle Alford, a nurse at a Mobile hospital, said she brought his diabetes medications to the Washington County Jail and gave them to the guard on duty.

She says she explained to the staff that her brother is a “brittle” diabetic, meaning he needs frequent monitoring. She provided the jail with a two-page document that explained how often his blood sugar needed to be checked, what symptoms to watch for and the purpose of each medication.

The jail’s employees, none of whom had any formal medical training, did not follow those instructions, according to Tidwell’s jailhouse medical records, a copy of which Alford provided to AL.com and ProPublica.

On his fourth day in the aging jailhouse, Tidwell became ill and vomited off and on for the ensuing 48 hours. He was unconscious for most of his final two days there, according to court and medical records.

Before he was taken to Washington County Hospital, Tidwell’s blood sugar reading was 1,500 mg/dl; a normal reading for him is 80 to 100 mg/dl. Over the less than seven full days he was incarcerated, he had lost at least 17 pounds, records show.

Tidwell’s release form bears his signature scrawled incomprehensibly outside the signature box, overlapping the typed prompt for “Signature of Defendant.” It does not match other examples of his signature on court documents reviewed by AL.com and ProPublica.

“If you’re in there and you get sick, they have to do something and get some medical attention,” he said. “But if you’re in so bad of shape that they’re trying to hold you up and get you to sign something, that’s wrong.”

Tidwell, who was 42 at the time, was assessed at the local hospital and taken to Springhill, a larger and better-equipped hospital, where he lay in a coma in the intensive care unit. He was suffering from renal failure and other complications related to his diabetes, according to the records.

During a conversation in his office in downtown Chatom, Stringer, the Washington County sheriff, said that he and his jail staffers are not medically trained. Instead, they “listen to what [inmates are] complaining about and examine them to determine if they need medical bond, because people will do anything to get out of jail.”

If they decide an inmate has a serious and potentially costly medical issue — and doesn’t pose a threat to the public — Stringer said he or the jail’s administrator will call a judge and request that the inmate be released.

Asked last week whether he believes Tidwell was legally able to provide consent to being bonded out, Stringer said: “They’ve got to be physically able to sign the bond. I’m sure he was [conscious] or he wouldn’t have been able to be bonded out. … It’s been so long ago it’s hard to remember all these things. I’m sure we did what needed to be done.”

But in an earlier interview, the sheriff provided an alternate explanation for Tidwell’s hospitalization.

“When someone comes in and says he’s a diabetic, we try to prepare a meal that will accommodate his diabetes,” Stringer said. “But now on commissary, they’re on their own there. I mean, you know you’re diabetic. Don’t order — he actually ordered 12 honey buns.”

Tidwell, who denies eating a dozen honey buns in the jail, recovered and was sent home from the hospital.

He filed a lawsuit against Stringer and several sheriff’s office employees in 2014; it was settled the following year. Stringer said he believes he and his employees would have been exonerated had the suit gone to trial, but because he said the settlement was for “something like $20,000 … it’s not worth fighting it.”

But Tidwell’s problems didn’t end there. Exactly three months after Tidwell was released on bond, a judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest on another probation violation.

“They’ll Lower the Bond”

AL.com and ProPublica have reviewed the cases or media reports of inmates in 15 of Alabama’s 67 counties who were issued last-minute bonds or released on their own recognizance just before they were hospitalized for emergencies.

In September 2018, for instance, a 38-year-old inmate at the Lauderdale County Jail was taken to a nearby hospital after he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to communicate verbally, stand or perform daily tasks, state court records show. The inmate, Scottie Davis, was released from sheriff’s office custody on bond the following day, though he couldn’t sign the release document. Someone instead wrote the words “Unable to sign due to medical cond.” in the space for the inmate’s signature. Davis was responsible for the medical costs after he was bonded out.

Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said when inmates are too ill to sign their names, sheriff’s officials notify a judge who decides whether to allow them to be released on bond.

And earlier last year, in Randolph County, an inmate was

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2019 at 12:21 pm

The risks of Trump’s hyperbolic defense

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James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

Sunday started with President Trump’s former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the implications of his call to the Ukrainian president and ended with a GOP congressman, Adam Kinzinger, calling one of Trump’s tweets “beyond repugnant.”

While key Republicans have rallied to the president’s defense since House Democrats opened an impeachment inquiry last week, the bookends to the day underscore the riskiness of a scorched-earth defense strategy that is predicated on an insistence that Trump did absolutely nothing wrong.

The president is running the smashmouth playbook he learned from Roy Cohn, his mentor and Joe McCarthy’s hatchet man. It’s worked repeatedly for Trump, from fighting the Justice Department’s investigation of racial discrimination at his family’s rental properties in the 1970s to overcoming Bob Mueller’s investigation the past two years. Among other things, this strategy involves denying everything and counterattacking critics by accusing them of whatever you’ve been accused of.

The don’t-give-an-inch mentality is what prompts someone like White House policy adviser Stephen Miller to declare on “Fox News Sunday” that “the president of the United States is the whistleblower, and this individual is a saboteur trying to undermine a democratically elected government.” And it is why Trump allows Rudy Giuliani, his ferocious personal attorney, to keep defending him on television despite the messes he seems to make each time he goes on the air.

— Bossert’s appearance Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week” showed that even Trump loyalists cannot always be counted on to espouse Trump’s I-know-what-you-are-but-what-am-I talking points. The former homeland security adviser strongly criticized the president for furthering the unfounded conspiracy theory that the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike played a role in shielding the Democratic National Committee’s server and perhaps the true origins of the hackers. Bossert noted that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the Russians hacked the Democratic servers.

“That conspiracy theory has got to go,” Bossert said, explaining that Trump is motivated to spread the “completely debunked” theory because he had “not gotten his pound of flesh yet” over being “wrongly accused of colluding with Russia” to win the 2016 election. But Bossert warned that he risks taking it too far: “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down,” he said.

Bossert resigned as the top homeland security official in the White House in April 2018 at the request of John Bolton, one day after Bolton took over as national security adviser. On ABC, where he has a contributor contract, Bossert also criticized Giuliani for pushing conspiracy theories on the president because “it sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again.”

Bossert’s comments were measured. He said he’s not convinced that Trump leveraged U.S. aid to Ukraine for political dirt, noting that there might have been legitimate reasons to hold back the money, such as getting other European countries to put up more. “That said,” Bossert added, “it is a bad day and a bad week for this president and this country if he is asking for political dirt on an opponent.”

Appearing later in the program, Giuliani told anchor George Stephanopoulos: “Tom Bossert doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

— Kinzinger’s tweet on Sunday night suggested that there’s some limit to how much congressional Republicans will defend Trump’s tactics. The president vigorously defended himself on Twitter all weekend and continued to attack the whistleblower whose complaint set in motion the impeachment inquiry. At one point, the president highlighted a quote he apparently heard on Fox News from an evangelical pastor who supports him.

“If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal,” Trump tweeted, adding his own parenthetical to a comment from Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist preacher who is based in Dallas.

Kinzinger, a decorated Air Force veteran who served as a pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan and represents the Chicago suburbs in Congress, quickly replied: “I have visited nations ravaged by civil war,” he tweeted. “I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a President.”

THE LATEST ON THE INVESTIGATION:

— Nancy Pelosi, mindful of her front-line moderates, is counting on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to keep the impeachment inquiry focused on Ukraine. She thought the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing with Corey Lewandowski the week before last was a debacle for Democrats. By coincidence, that embarrassing fiasco came just days before the deluge of revelations about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine’s president. Those two events prompted the speaker to change strategy. For now, she’s largely sidelined Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler to elevate Schiff. Pelosi wants the investigation to focus narrowly on Ukraine and believes it’s easier for the public to understand than what was covered in the Mueller report. (Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis have more on the internal machinations.)

 “On a conference call with House Democrats on Sunday afternoon, Pelosi told her colleagues that public sentiment — something she had frequently cited as an obstacle to pursuing impeachment — had begun to swing around,” per Felicia Sonmez and DeBonis. “‘The polls have changed drastically about this,’ she said, urging a careful approach, according to notes taken by a person on the call: ‘Our tone must be prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution.’”

— Here’s the jurisdictional breakdown by committee: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2019 at 10:34 am

The RazoRock Lupo and a comment on pre-shave soaps

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I’ve been switching back and forth between my new shave soap, Phoenix Artisan’s Cube 2.0 (the original) at $5.95 for 8oz, and my old standby MR GLO (Musgo Real Glyce Lime Oil soap), though I now use the same product under the Ach. Brito label because it costs less—€3.05 at the link (orders from outside the EU don’t pay VAT), or $3.32 for 6oz. (I say it’s the same product because sometimes when I unwrap the Ach. Brito version I see the bar is stamped with the Musgo Real stamp.) Even with shipping, the Ach. Brito GLO is pretty inexpensive, especially if you buy several bars to minimize shipping cost per bar. Cube 2.0: 74¢ per ounce; Ach. Brito GLO: 55¢ per ounce. Shipping is in addition, of course.

Both soaps work well for the pre-shave task. I got the non-mentholated Cube, since I’m meh on menthol. After switching back and forth, I have decided that I personally prefer MR (or Ach. Brito) GLO. YMMV.

Today I continued my shaving switch—slants for regular shave, conventional razor for the two-day stubble Monday morning, the opposite of previous practice—and I chose the RazoRock Lupo. The Lupo is somewhat aggressive in feel and performance, so I thought it would do well on a two-day stubble. Again I chose a Mama Bear soap for the excellent lather, and this Turkish Mocha has a good fragrance as well. The Plissont synthetic really did a fine job working up the lather.

The shave was good, though I did feel some initial resistance from the stubble, more than I’ve felt when using a slant. That could just mean I should change the blade, and I’ll do that before the next shave. After three passes, though, my face was totally smooth with one tiny nick on the upper lip, which My Nik Is Sealed took care of instantly.

A good splash of Phoenix Artisan’s Spring-Heeled Jack, an excellent coffee-fragranced aftershave, and the week gets underway.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2019 at 9:28 am

Posted in Shaving

Diabetics should take their pulses

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2019 at 8:49 pm

A very nice look at the golden ratio

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29 September 2019 at 8:46 pm

Posted in Math, Video

Vinegar and type 2 diabetes

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I’m going to try it.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2019 at 8:21 pm

Populism is growing because more people than you think want chaos

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Matthew Taylor writes at Thersa.org:

At the heart of populism is the divide between the establishment and the people.

Two new studies suggest that divide is deeper than we think. They find a substantial number of people aren’t just angry at certain policies or leaders but want to simply smash the system – and enjoy the chaos. Maybe we don’t know as much about political alienation as we think we do.

Populism needs the establishment

Populism grows from and deliberately reinforces anti-establishment feelings. All opposition involves articulating a critique of those in power. But while conventional parties focus largely on the record and ideology of those they are trying to replace, populists typically widen this to an angrier, more amorphous critique of the whole system.

It can be a problem for populists if they win. It puts them at risk of becoming the establishment themselves. But today’s populists in government have developed a sophisticated playbook of tactics intended to convince their supporters they are still radical outsiders facing elite conspiracies.

Sometimes, as with Trump, the enemies are portrayed as working within the system. In other countries, like Hungary, they are presented as external saboteurs, part of the liberal cabal said to be running most international governance institutions.

A substantial number of people are ‘anarchists’

We tend to think of those who buy enthusiastically into an anti-establishment position as a relatively small minority, albeit one that has grown in recent times. But a paper by Mirko Draca and Carlo Schwarz of the University of Warwick and CAGE challenges both assumptions.

Through analysis of three rounds of the World Values Survey (WVS) spanning the years 1989 to 2009, Draca and Schwarz divide the population into four groups: left and right centrists and left and right ‘anarchists’. Those in the latter pairing are identified by a set of responses to WVS questions which indicate low trust in institutions including government, business and the media.

The authors offer three conclusions from their research:

First, that the substantial size of the anarchist group, averaging over 40% of people across the world, suggests that the centrist/anarchist divide is as important a political cleavage as that between left and right.

Second, while this block is large, there is limited evidence in most countries of the amount of ‘anarchists’ growing across the twenty years covered by the responses.

Third, in Britain, anarchist attitudes are much stronger on the right than the left. Indeed, while the left/liberal centrist group is twice as big as the left anarchist group, on the right the anti-establishment group is much larger than what would once have been seen as the mainstream. The Brexit-propelled drift of modern Conservativism towards more populist politics clearly appeals to a strong and long-standing base.

Many people’s need for chaos is bigger than their need for truth

The Warwick study has many limitations. The word ‘anarchist’ is unhelpful to describe those who distrust institutions. The simple dichotomy between centrists and ‘anarchists’ surely glosses over some big differences within these camps. Most problematically, the main data set is modest at national level and ten years old.

However, elements of Draca and Schwarz’s can be put alongside a more substantial paper by Michael Bang Peterson, Mathias Osmundsen from Aarhus University and Kevin Arceneaux from Temple University entitled A “Need for Chaos” and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies.

This research is based on extensive surveys of in the USA, where the focus is mainly on the ideological divide, and Denmark, where it is on attitudes among and between (non-Western) immigrant and indigenous groups. The aim of the research is to discover the characteristics and motivations of people who use social media to share hostile and inaccurate news and rumours.

The authors make a distinction between partisan actors, whose aim is to promote their side, and those ‘in need of chaos’ who gain satisfaction from anything which may contribute to ‘tearing down the system’.

Like the Warwick study, this research finds a much higher level of enthusiasm for destruction than might have been expected. They put forward three statements that propose this kind of radical action and find that 40% of people support two of them and 20% the third. As the authors write:

“A substantial minority of individuals are so discontent that they are willing to mobilize against the current political order to see if what emerges from the resulting chaos has something better in stock for them.”

In relation to hostile online material, the enthusiasts for chaos have no interest in whether it is true, nor even whether it supports their own ideological position. They will share hostile fake material both for and against their ‘side’, not simply for the devilment but because they see it as making collapse and chaos more likely. Social media has provided a huge proselytising opportunity to those with destructive intentions.

The researchers then explore the nature of that substantial minority who want to smash the system. They find that in all three of their subject groups – Americans, Danes and non-Western migrants – it is those who have a relatively low status and who believe it should be higher. The group is disproportionately young, male and with low education.

What does this mean? Opponents of populism need to get their act together

Taken together these two studies suggest that in just about every country those who distrust institutions, dislike modern society, and not only want to smash the system but are willing to act in pursuit of chaos comprise one of the largest political constituencies.

What are the implications of these findings?

First, it seems that political alienation and anger are endemic in modern societies. It is not just a consequence of certain events or social misfortunes. Indeed, it may be more related to who people are than what they have experienced. Using a health analogy, we should perhaps see extreme alienation not as an epidemic to be cured but, like obesity or anxiety, a feature of modern life that can only be addressed by long-term change in society and people’s choices.

Second, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2019 at 8:45 am

How to Understand the Whistleblower Complaint

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David Kris lays it out at LawfareBlog.com:

The news is moving quickly on events surrounding President Trump’s ill-fated phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the whistleblower complaint about the call that precipitated this latest crisis. But the complaint itself, released on Sept. 26, is a complicated document. It may be more easily understood with the benefit of three additional explanations, which I attempt to provide below.

First, a straight chronology of the events in question. The complaint begins with an account of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, and then separately covers efforts to restrict access to the records of that call, other ongoing concerns raised by government officials, and the circumstances leading up to the July 25 call. The letter also distinguishes between information obtained privately and information obtained from the public domain (e.g., public statements or tweets by the president), and it segregates possibly classified material in an enclosure. This makes for a compelling presentation, but more sustained analysis may benefit from an integrated, all-source, linear approach.

Second, a framework for assessing the facts and the chronology. This is an analysis of the whistleblower’s factual reporting as well as the  Memorandum of Conversation (MemCon, as such transcripts are known) of the July 25 presidential call and associated public reporting. In brief, I think we are presented with a subversion by Trump of many of the traditional instruments of national power, in service not of the national interest but of his own personal and political interest. That is, the president used the carrots and sticks of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy, and at least attempted to use certain counterintelligence and law enforcement tools, to damage a political opponent. This represents a profoundly corrupt misuse of the machinery of government for personal gain.

Third, a brief assessment of what remains to be done. The complaint requires some validation but also serves as a kind of road map for the House of Representatives in its impeachment investigation. There are several witnesses named in the complaint—along with several who are unnamed but may be available—who should be interviewed and perhaps called to testify, either in closed or perhaps in open session. There are documents that can be pursued. Overall, the complaint provides several leads to be followed.

1. Chronology

Here, in chronological order, is what the letter describes. The account below takes as true the whistleblower’s account, including his characterization or quotation of public statements in the news media. The purpose of the chronology is not to independently verify the accuracy of the report, or the sources that it cites, but simply to present it in a more accessible form, and to integrate it with other available information, including the MemCon of the July 25 call. In the account below, for simplicity, I refer to individuals by position rather than by name with the following exceptions: President Trump; President Zelensky; Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani; U.S. Attorney General William Barr; former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko; and former Vice President (and current Democratic candidate for president) Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

The story begins in late 2018, when Giuliani is apparently in contact with Ukrainian law enforcement officials, and becomes more focused in January and February 2019, when Giuliani meets with Lutsenko in New York and in Warsaw, Poland. The following month, March 2019—at a time when Lutsenko’s political patron, who is running for president against Zelensky, is expected to lose the election—The Hill publishes a series of articles featuring various assertions from Lutsenko that are favorable to President Trump. These include claims that Ukrainian officials engaged in election interference in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election; that the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine tried to suppress evidence of this election interference; and that the ambassador also opposed efforts by Ukrainians (including Lutenko’s predecessor as prosecutor general of Ukraine) to investigate or prosecute matters that could be damaging to Vice President Joe Biden and/or his son, Hunter Biden. Lutsenko also says publicly that he wants to talk to the U.S. attorney general, William Barr, about these concerns. In April 2019, Trump refers on Fox News to Lutsenko’s allegations and says that they should be reviewed by Barr. (According to a recent statement from the Justice Department’s spokesperson, issued after the release of the MemCon, Trump never speaks directly to Barr about this; the Justice Department statement does not say whether Barr ever becomes aware of the president’s remarks about him on television.)

Within a few weeks, however, Lutsenko has effectively disavowed the claims and/or contradicted himself in public statements, including in an assertion to Bloomberg that he has no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. (In a story published after the release of the whistleblower complaint, the Washington Post reports that Lutsenko also confirmed this in a very recent interview.) The whistleblower complaint describes how Lutsenko does not enjoy a reputation for honesty, integrity or excellence in Ukraine, and that he has various political and personal motivations to say things favorable to Trump, perhaps based on suggestions from Giuliani in the January and February meetings. (For a thorough review of the merits of the Biden allegations, see this post and this post at Just Security.)

On March 31, Ukraine holds the first round of its presidential elections. During the final round on April 21, Lutsenko’s patron is defeated and Zelensky wins. On May 11, Lutsenko meets with President-elect Zelensky in an effort to keep his job as prosecutor general of Ukraine. Zelensky is inaugurated as the president of Ukraine on May 20, and Lutsenko apparently departs some time thereafter, perhaps officially as late as August 2019.

Although Lutsenko has basically recanted his allegations, they remain relevant. By late April, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine has been recalled to Washington, and on May 6, the State Department announces that she is ending her assignment “as planned.” Various U.S. officials, however, tell the whistleblower that the ambassador was removed precisely because of Lutsenko’s prior allegations, and Giuliani himself confirms this in public statements to the Ukrainian news media.

On May 9, Giuliani states publicly that he is going to travel to Ukraine to press Ukrainian officials to conduct investigations that will help his client, President Trump. He says that Trump basically knows what he (Giuliani) is doing, and Trump later states that he knows about the trip. Giuliani says publicly that he is going to Ukraine to “meddle” in the Ukrainian investigations in ways that are helpful to Trump. But Giuliani later announces he is canceling the trip, and his comments suggest the cancellation is due to the preferences of the Ukrainians. He apparently does manage to send two unnamed “associates” to meet with high-ranking Ukrainian officials in May 2019, however. Giuliani himself also apparently meets with two other Ukrainian officials shortly after Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20, perhaps outside of the Ukraine. (In the July 25 call, Zelensky say to Trump that “I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently.”)

Also in May, Barr announces his investigation into the U.S. intelligence community’s work related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Among the issues on which Barr expresses concerns are questions of whether the intelligence community improperly “spied” on the Trump campaign. On May 23, at Barr’s request, the president gives the attorney general unilateral authority to declassify intelligence community information pertaining to the investigation.

By mid-May, multiple U.S. officials mention concerns to the whistleblower that Giuliani has created a backchannel to Ukrainian officials that is subverting U.S. foreign policy and national security. Two senior U.S. diplomats—the special representative for Ukraine negotiations and the ambassador to the European Union—speak with Giuliani in an apparent effort to rein him in and “contain the damage” to U.S. national security.

These two senior U.S. diplomats also meet with Ukrainian officials to help them sort out and understand the American position, given the divergence between Giuliani’s focus on advancing his client’s interest and the efforts of U.S. government personnel to pursue and advance the national interest. The whistleblower learns from U.S. officials that the Ukrainians have come to understand—presumably from Giuliani and/or his associates, although the whistleblower doesn’t know for sure—that if they want a telephone call between their president and President Trump, they need to “play ball” on the allegations against Biden et al.

The complaint then describes a series of three escalating measures, directed by Trump and/or carried out by Giuliani on a monthly cadence from May to July 2019. These measures appear to have been designed to convey the “play ball” requirement to the Ukrainians in increasingly stark terms. The whistleblower conveys these three steps in a way that suggests, although the complaint does not always firmly assert, that they are explicitly part of an organized strategy.

First, on May 14, Trump instructs the vice president not to attend Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration in Ukraine. The U.S. delegation is instead headed by the secretary of energy, a lower-ranking U.S. official. Other U.S. government officials advise the whistleblower that it was “made clear” to them that the president does not want to meet with Zelensky until he sees how the latter behaves in office. The whistleblower does not know whether this stated reluctance to meet with Zelensky is tied to the requirement that he “play ball” on the Biden allegations.

Second, on June 21, apparently frustrated at the lack of Ukrainian ball-playing, Giuliani tweets his complaint that Zelensky was “still silent on the investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 and alleged Biden bribery” and explicitly calls for Zelensky to “investigate both.” This tweet from Giuliani comes eight days after Trump makes clear, in a televised interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, that he would in fact accept damaging information on a political rival provided by a foreign government.

Third, the following month, on July 18, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the White House officially informs U.S. departments and agencies that Trump had, “earlier that month,” suspended foreign aid to Ukraine. The whistleblower characterizes this as a “sudden change” in U.S. policy. The suspension directive is repeated by OMB officials in two U.S. National Security Council (NSC) meetings later in July, and while the OMB officials explain that the suspension order comes directly from Trump, they are not aware of any policy rationale behind the president’s decision.

On July 25, Trump and Zelensky have their fateful telephone call, as described in the now-declassified MemCon, which reads like a transcript. It appears that the whistleblower did not have the benefit of seeing this MemCon at the time he wrote his letter to Congress and that his knowledge of it comes from various U.S. officials who either saw it or heard of it. But his letter provides the background for the call and some interesting information about what happened after it.

The July 25 call, as described in the MemCon, begins with Trump congratulating Zelensky on a recent victory in Ukrainian parliamentary elections. As noted above, Zelensky was elected in April 21 and inaugurated on May 20, and Zelensky refers to a prior call from Trump to congratulate him on that victory, saying that Trump has been a “great teacher” on how to achieve political and governmental success. Trump responds by agreeing that “the United States has been very very good to Ukraine” and specifically that the U.S. has been better than Germany and other Europeans. But Trump also observes that “I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.”

Trump does not specify the “things” that are “not good” or the lack of “reciprocal” favorable treatment from Ukraine, and Zelensky does not initially take the bait. Instead, he agrees “[n]ot only 100%, but actually 1000%” with Trump, apparently about Europe, recounting his own prior complaints to the German and French leaders about their lack of support and reiterating his gratitude for how “the United States is doing quite a lot for Ukraine.” Zelensky ends by saying that “[w]e are ready to continue to cooperate for the next steps specifically we are almost ready to buy more Javelins [a military weapons system] from the United States for defense purposes.”

Trump does not engage on the Javelin weapons, having previously decided to suspend aid to Ukraine, but instead makes the following points—many of which are understandable with the benefit of context provided by the complaint.

First, Trump makes the following bizarre statement: “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people … The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation.”

As the whistleblower explains, “I do not know why the President associates these servers [from Crowdstrike] with the Ukraine.” The idea appears to be that Crowdstrike, the cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to investigate Russian hacking in connection with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, tried to hide the DNC servers in Ukraine and/or fabricate evidence of Russian misconduct. Trump has discussed this on Fox News and on Twitter in the past (see, e.g., herehere and here).

Trump asks Zelensky to assist with Barr’s investigation of the intelligence community and its investigation of the Trump campaign: “I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”

But the center of the call is when Trump refers specifically to Lutsenko’s predecessor as Ukraine’s prosecutor general and his investigation of the Bidens. He says, “I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair… Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man … and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General … If you could speak to him that would be great.”

Trump also mentions the recall of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, whom he describes as “bad news,” adding that “the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that.” Zelensky has no objection to her removal; he apparently did not like her or believe that she supported him.

And then Trump gets to “[t]he other thing,” which is that “[t]here’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

Zelensky responds by promising that “the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate,” and “he or she will look into the situation, specifically the company that you mentioned in this issue.” According to the MemCon, Trump has not in fact mentioned the company at this point (Hunter Biden was on its board of directors), but apparently Zelensky has been briefed by his staff in advance of the call, probably based on prior discussions with Giuliani, which is a routine precursor to calls between presidents. A subsequent Ukrainian public readout of the call refers to Trump’s “conviction that the new Ukrainian government will be able to … complete the investigation of corruption cases that have held back cooperation between Ukraine and the United States.” The only “cases” discussed on the call concern Biden.

Trump reiterates that Barr and Giuliani will call Zelensky and that “I’m sure you will figure it out.” By this point, Zelensky has already said that “I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine.”

Zelensky then mentions that he stayed in Trump Tower when last he visited New York and that he “wanted to thank you for your invitation to visit the United States, specifically Washington DC. On the other hand, I also want to ensure [sic] you that we will be very serious about the case and will work on the investigation” relating to Biden.

Trump replies by again saying that “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call” and that “[w]henever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call.”

Zelensky reciprocates with an invitation for Trump to visit Kyiv and suggests the possibility of a meeting in connection with a Sept. 1 visit to Poland.

This call between Trump and Zelensky appears to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and at least initially triggered the whistleblower. To be sure, the complaint makes clear that multiple officials had been communicating with him during the spring and summer of 2019, but the July 25 call clearly raises the stakes. “Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed” the whistleblower that, “after an exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests” and, in particular, to “pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.” The whistleblower reports that around a dozen White House officials (and one named State Department official) listened to the call. These White House officials, we now know, accurately conveyed the substance of the call to the whistleblower, including Trump’s praise for Lutsenko’s predecessor, the explicit request to investigate Joe Biden’s son, the strange reference to the DNC servers, and the reference to follow-up communications with Giuliani and Barr. Some of these officials may have used the whistleblower as a clearinghouse for raising their own concerns.

The White House officials told the whistleblower that they were “deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call” and that White House lawyers were already engaged on the issue because of worries that the officials had witnessed the president “abuse his office for personal gain.” There is a solemnity to the whistleblower’s account on this point, apparently to emphasize the significance of the concerns and the importance to the officials of bringing them forward.

The White House lawyers, however, reacted differently than their nonlawyer colleagues, at least as described by the whistleblower. His letter reports that the lawyers “directed” other White House officials to “remove the electronic transcript” or MemCon “from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored” and to load it into “a separate electronic system that is otherwise used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature,” a system used for things like covert action and other special access programs. This is described as an effort to “‘lock down’ all records of the phone call,” which the whistleblower says reflects a consciousness of guilt: “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.” However, the whistleblower reports that it was not the first time that presidential MemCons were segregated in this way—and this certainly invites speculation about what might be memorialized concerning some of Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin or other world leaders.

One White House official described the White House lawyers’ conduct “as an abuse of this electronic system because the [July 25] call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective.” The MemCon of the July 25 call was originally classified at the Secret level, not as Top Secret or as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). The government had no difficulty declassifying it in its entirety when politically compelled to do so. As the whistleblower notes in his letter, Section 1.7 of Executive Order 13526 provides that “[i]n no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to … conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or to “prevent embarrassment.”

Meanwhile, outside the White House, the two senior U.S. diplomats who had tried to control Giuliani and explain U.S. priorities to the Ukrainians back in May were dispatched again. On July 26, the day after the call, they were in Ukraine prepared to meet with Zelensky, and they advised Ukrainian officials on “how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelensky.”

But Giuliani was also continuing to act. On or about Aug. 2, the whistleblower reports, he went to Madrid to meet with one of Zelensky’s advisers, which U.S. officials characterized as “‘direct follow-up’” to the July 25 call. On Aug. 8, Giuliani said on Fox News that the Justice Department official looking into the Russia investigation was also examining Ukraine, and the whistleblower refers to public reporting that two associates of Giuliani were working with Ukraine to assist with this. The next day, Trump said publicly that he thought Zelensky was going to make a deal with Putin and would be invited to visit the White House. Zelensky has not in fact visited the White House since then.

2. Analysis

Assuming that all or most of it is accurate—and there are ample reasons to believe that is the case—the complaint describes an utterly devastating abuse of power. As described by the whistleblower, the president essentially subverted or hijacked the machinery of government to his personal and political ends. To their credit, the White House and intelligence community officials who spoke to the whistleblower seem to have recognized this and reacted with alarm. Even when measured against Trump’s prior behavior, the Ukrainian episode is very bad.

When I began writing this piece, I thought I might need to explain in some detail why . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 9:01 pm

How the Security Democrats Came Around to Impeachment

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Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes in the New Yorker:

The possibility of impeachment has been part of the political atmosphere since President Trump’s election, but this week it grew not only more tangible but also more specific. The debate over whether to remove the President from office will not begin with arguments over Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, or President Trump’s detention of children at the border, or his Administration’s pattern of self-dealing and corruption, but over the question of whether the President held up military aid to the Ukrainian government this summer on the condition that its President provide him with damaging information about the Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden.

There are many ways to tell the story of how, exactly, this came to be, but one begins at 9 p.m. on Monday, when the Washington Post published an op-ed by seven freshmen Democratic members of Congress, arguing that the Ukraine allegations, if true, “represent an impeachable offense.” The seven Democrats were not especially famous, but they shared several significant characteristics. Each had a lengthy record of military or intelligence service, each had won a seat in Congress in 2018, each had defeated a Republican incumbent, and each represented a moderate district that was seen as vulnerable to being lost to the Republicans in 2020. The op-ed had a pointed earnestness. “Everything we do harks back to our oaths to defend the country,” the seven freshmen wrote. “These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect.”

Almost exactly thirty minutes after the op-ed was published, one of its authors, Elaine Luria, of Virginia, was sitting on Rachel Maddow’s set. Luria is a retired naval commander, and she was wearing her House-member pin as a pendant around her neck. Maddow asked her how she had reached the decision to support impeachment. Luria replied, “Well, my thinking process is, if this particular instance that’s happened, with the President of the United States enlisting a foreign leader to assist him in conducting an investigation that will smear and damage his potential political opponent in the upcoming election, and in the process of doing that potentially withhold foreign aid to that country—if this isn’t impeachable, what is?” She used the word “concise” to describe the case against the President, and she seemed to be making an effort to be concise herself, picking her words carefully.

Luria represents a particular strain of the midterm triumph of 2018—she was a political novice and a national-security lifer who was said to have run not out of ideological conviction but out of a patriotic concern for the fate of the country under Trump. Luria’s co-authors have similar backgrounds: Abigail Spanberger, of Virginia, and Elissa Slotkin, of Michigan, are veterans of the C.I.A. Mikie Sherrill, of New Jersey, overlapped with Luria at the Naval Academy, and became a helicopter pilot. Gil Cisneros, of California, served as an enlisted soldier; Jason Crow, of Colorado, led a platoon of paratroopers during the invasion of Iraq. Chrissy Houlahan, who represents a district in suburban Philadelphia, was a lieutenant in the Air Force and a captain in the Air Force Reserve. Voters in the swing districts they represented had seemed to want these embodiments of the sturdy, national-security center to serve as a check on the President. But those voters might not have anticipated that the sturdy, national-security center would, in less than a year, be propelling the nation toward impeachment. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, read the op-ed on a plane to Washington, and began making notes for her own speech declaring an impeachment inquiry, which she delivered a little less than twenty-four hours later.

The seven Democrats have been a cadre since they arrived in Washington, in January. They are friends. They keep a running group chat on Signal. They have regular meals and get-togethers; their families know one another. “We aren’t necessarily ideologically aligned,” Houlahan told me on Thursday, sitting on a very stiff-looking couch in her D.C. office. The affinity sounded more tribal. She pointed out that few Americans serve in the military, and that most who do have a family tradition. “So we have a really tight bond. We trust each other.” Most of the time, this group has tended toward similar positions, but not always. In July, frustrated by the Administration’s refusal to deliver witnesses to House investigations, Crow announced he was in favor of an impeachment inquiry, but none of the others were with him. For many of them, impeachment had an incredible weight. “I think the calculation for me was the damage that it could do to the nation, and trying to make sure that if there were ever a place where I felt like we needed to move forward, that it was a place where I felt like it was explainable to people,” Houlahan said. “I’m trying to articulate that there’s nothing more destructive to the country than what we’re doing.”

One reason that none of the seven had supported impeachment during the Mueller investigation was that the story was so convoluted. The original transgressions took place when Trump was a candidate, and in a more ambiguous constitutional position. The Mueller report wasn’t an easy read, either. “There was so much information,” Luria said. “I mean, you’re going to present to this average person this five-hundred-page report and expect them to distill it? It’s so complicated, you know, like one of those diagrams in a detective movie, with the pins and the pieces of string between all the different players. And we were still in the process of investigating, because we didn’t even understand everything related to it.” The story of Trump and Ukraine was much neater. It fit on a five-page memo. “You can sit down and read it in ten minutes,” Crow told me. “And it’s breathtaking.”

Crow and I were sitting in a cafeteria deep in the Capitol—a gray and beige institutional redoubt that forces you to notice that everyone around you is wearing a badge on a lanyard. The freshman national-security Democrats are an earnest, Eagle Scout sort of group, and Crow is especially so—he mentioned the “oath” he had taken several times. “Part of what makes this different is that it is current, and prospective—it’s not backward-looking,” Crow said. Trump had presented an implicit quid pro quo—military aid, in return for Ukrainian interference in the 2020 election—but neither side had delivered. This put the impeachers in a different, perhaps less partisan, position: they would not be punishing a crime, but preventing one. I asked Crow whether he would have been as sure about pursuing impeachment if it had taken longer for the whistle-blower’s allegations to become public. Crow said, “If this had happened a year or two ago, it might dictate the manner in which we proceed. The fact that we have to move with some urgency and focus is in part the result of the fact that it is ongoing. And we don’t know what damage has been done and the extent of that damage and what needs to be done to address it.”

But this week the allegations were still fresh. By Sunday morning, the group Signal text was filled with debate. “A constant dialogue was going on,” Crow said. “Number one, how shocking it was, how it really hit us to our core. Number two, all of our desire to do something about it. And number three, that, given our backgrounds, we could come together as a group and have a role in the response.” How quickly to move, and in exactly what way, was less obvious. They only had five days before Congress went into recess. “We were on the same trajectory, but maybe not the same timeline,” Luria told me.

Luria herself was already committed, with or without the group. She had prepared a statement supporting impeachment, and by Sunday afternoon her advisers were working to book her on television to make her case. By Sunday evening, all seven members of the group had essentially agreed on impeachment, and they were working on a draft of the op-ed in Google Docs. Early on Monday afternoon, they sent it to the Washington Post’s editorial page. Then they called Pelosi to tell her it would be published. “We’re of the school that you don’t surprise your leadership,” Luria said. But it was a notification, not a question.

The op-ed itself was sharp and concise, perhaps because its authors were clear about what they presenting: not a litigation of details but a declaration of identity. “We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country,” they wrote. “These allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent.”

When I met Luria at her office on Thursday, she told me that there had been no long evolution in her views on impeachment. The break was very clear. Nothing that Trump had done until the middle of the summer seemed to her to meet the standard for impeachment, but the pressure he had put on the Ukranian President did. “It’s seeking to alter a future election. It’s leveraging the full power of the United States government by withholding taxpayer money appropriated by Congress to support the defense of Ukraine,” she told me. “What has happened here is clearly a violation of the oath that the President took—the same one that I took—to support and defend the Constitution. He’s supposed to be looking out for the common good, not his personal good. And, to me, he’s clearly using the position of his office—backed, in this case, by the weight of the U.S. government and its military assistance—for his personal gain, by trying to get dirt on his political opponents so that he can bolster his chances for reëlection. This is very cut and dried.”

On the desk in front of Luria was a printed copy of . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 3:16 pm

These tea bags release billions of plastic particles into your brew, study shows

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Plastics are endocrine disrupters, so small amounts do big damage. (I always make tea using loose tea: cheaper and also makes better tea. I do have a stainless-steel fine-mesh tea strainer that’s amazingly easy to use.)

Kayla Epstein reports in the Washington Post:

A couple of years ago, Nathalie Tufenkji stopped by a Montreal cafe on her way to work and ordered a cup of tea. She sat down with her mug, enjoying its warmth, before she noticed something strange: Her tea bag appeared to be made of plastic.

“I thought, ‘That’s not a very good idea, putting plastic into boiling water,’ ” she told The Washington Post.

Tufenkji was worried that the plastic bags could leach particles into the beverage that she and her fellow customers were consuming, and as a professor of chemical engineering at McGill University, she was well positioned to investigate. She dispatched her student Laura Hernandez to purchase tea bags from stores in the area and bring them back to the lab.

It turns out Tufenkji’s hunch was right. The bags were releasing plastic particles into the brewed tea. Billions and billions of them.

Hernandez, Tufenkji and their fellow researchers at McGill University tested four kinds of plastic tea bags in boiling water, and found that a single bag would release more than 11 billion microplastic and 3 billion nanoplastic particles. You would not be able to see the contamination with your own eyes; the researchers had to use an electron microscope. But it’s there.

Their findings were published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology this month.

The four brands of tea they tested came from regular grocery stores in Montreal. After emptying and cleaning the tea bags of any trace of tea leaves, they submerged them in water heated to 203 degrees Fahrenheit, and then they left the bags to steep for five minutes.

The researchers then examined the water for leftover particles, placing drops on a slide and examining them under an electron microscope. There, they could see particles of varying sizes, some a little larger, some frighteningly small. Further testing of additional samples revealed their structures and confirmed that the material was made of the same plastic materials as PET, a kind of polyester, and nylon. It was clear, Tufenkji said, that the plastic was coming from the tea bags themselves, not the tea.

Though Tufenkji declined to name the brands they used for fear of singling out one company over others, she said that some frequent tea drinkers could be repeatedly dosing themselves with billions of particles of plastic as they drank the beverage day after day. Some of the particles, she noted, would be small enough to potentially infiltrate human cells.

Some manufacturers sell tea in plastic bags rather than loose or in paper bags, even as the public becomes increasingly aware of how plastic is clogging our bodies of water, as well as our bodies. While the health implications of consuming plastic are unknown, people around the world are inadvertently eating quite a lot of it.

Earlier this year, a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature estimated that on average, a person might ingest 5 grams of plastic a week, the equivalent size of a credit card. Researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia compiled dozens of studies on the presence of plastic in water, as well as in food such as shellfish and even beer. Studies are underway to establish how plastic consumption can affect human health, according to WWF’s study.

While the McGill study did not explore the human health effects of consuming this plastic, when some of the particles were given to water fleas, they began acting erratically and developed some deformities, Tufenkji said. . .

Continue reading.

This is exactly the sort of hazard that requires government action. A law forbidding the use of plastic mesh with food is needed.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 12:57 pm

Trump told Russian officials in 2017 he wasn’t concerned about Moscow’s interference in U.S. election

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Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey, and Ellen Nakashima report in the Washington Post:

President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.

The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.

A memorandum summarizing the meeting was limited to a few officials with the highest security clearances in an attempt to keep the president’s comments from being disclosed publicly, according to the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

The White House’s classification of records about Trump’s communications with foreign officials is now a central part of the impeachment inquiry launched this week by House Democrats. An intelligence community whistleblower has alleged that the White House placed a record of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, in which he offered U.S. assistance investigating his political opponents, into a code-word classified system reserved for the most sensitive intelligence information.

The White House did not provide a comment Friday.

It is not clear whether a memo documenting the May 10, 2017, meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak was placed into that system, but the three former officials said it was restricted to a very small number of people. The White House had recently begun limiting the records of Trump’s calls after remarks he made to the leaders of Mexico and Australia appeared in news reports. The Lavrov memo was restricted to an even smaller group, the former officials said.

A fourth former official, who did not recall the president’s remarks to the Russian officials, said memos were restricted only to people who needed to know their contents.

“It was more about learning how can we restrict this in a way that still informs the policy process and the principals who need to engage with these heads of state,” the fourth former official said.

But the three former officials with knowledge of the remarks said some memos of the president’s communications were kept from people who might ordinarily have access to them. The Lavrov memo fit that description, they said.

White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.

The previous day, Trump had fired Comey amid the FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia. White House aides worried about the political ramifications if Trump’s comments to the Russian officials became public.

Trump had publicly ridiculed the Russia investigation as politically motivated and said he doubted Moscow had intervened in the election. By the time he met with Lavrov and Kislyak, Trump had been briefed by the most senior U.S. intelligence officials about the Russian operation, which was directed by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and included the theft and publication of Democratic emails and the seeding of propaganda in social media, according to the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. . .

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I imagine the Russian view is that Donald Trump is a fool.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 12:44 pm

An ant colony has memories that its individual members don’t have

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Of course, a human has memories its individual cells do not have, and a human culture has memories that individual humans do not have. For example, in modern American culture, there’s a memory of how to make a piano—modern American culture can still produce pianos—but almost all individual humans do not have that memory. Still, as a culture, that memory is present (but fading: see Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037).

Deborah M Gordon, a professor of biology at Stanford University whose latest book is Ant Encounters: Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior (2010) writes in Aeon:

Like a brain, an ant colony operates without central control. Each is a set of interacting individuals, either neurons or ants, using simple chemical interactions that in the aggregate generate their behaviour. People use their brains to remember. Can ant colonies do that? This question leads to another question: what is memory? For people, memory is the capacity to recall something that happened in the past. We also ask computers to reproduce past actions – the blending of the idea of the computer as brain and brain as computer has led us to take ‘memory’ to mean something like the information stored on a hard drive. We know that our memory relies on changes in how much a set of linked neurons stimulate each other; that it is reinforced somehow during sleep; and that recent and long-term memory involve different circuits of connected neurons. But there is much we still don’t know about how those neural events come together, whether there are stored representations that we use to talk about something that happened in the past, or how we can keep performing a previously learned task such as reading or riding a bicycle.

Any living being can exhibit the simplest form of memory, a change due to past events. Look at a tree that has lost a branch. It remembers by how it grows around the wound, leaving traces in the pattern of the bark and the shape of the tree. You might be able to describe the last time you had the flu, or you might not. Either way, in some sense your body ‘remembers’, because some of your cells now have different antibodies, molecular receptors, which fit that particular virus.

Past events can alter the behaviour of both individual ants and ant colonies. Individual carpenter ants offered a sugar treat remembered its location for a few minutes; they were likely to return to where the food had been. Another species, the Sahara Desert ant, meanders around the barren desert, searching for food. It appears that an ant of this species can remember how far it walked, or how many steps it took, since the last time it was at the nest.

A red wood ant colony remembers its trail system leading to the same trees, year after year, although no single ant does. In the forests of Europe, they forage in high trees to feed on the excretions of aphids that in turn feed on the tree. Their nests are enormous mounds of pine needles situated in the same place for decades, occupied by many generations of colonies. Each ant tends to take the same trail day after day to the same tree. During the long winter, the ants huddle together under the snow. The Finnish myrmecologist Rainer Rosengren showed that when the ants emerge in the spring, an older ant goes out with a young one along the older ant’s habitual trail. The older ant dies and the younger ant adopts that trail as its own, thus leading the colony to remember, or reproduce, the previous year’s trails.

Foraging in a harvester ant colony requires some individual ant memory. The ants search for scattered seeds and do not use pheromone signals; if an ant finds a seed, there is no point recruiting others because there are not likely to be other seeds nearby. The foragers travel a trail that can extend up to 20 metres from the nest. Each ant leaves the trail and goes off on its own to search for food. It searches until it finds a seed, then goes back to the trail, maybe using the angle of the sunlight as a guide, to return to the nest, following the stream of outgoing foragers. Once back at the nest, a forager drops off its seed, and is stimulated to leave the nest by the rate at which it meets other foragers returning with food. On its next trip, it leaves the trail at about the same place to search again.

Every morning, the shape of the colony’s foraging area changes, like an amoeba that expands and contracts. No individual ant remembers the colony’s current place in this pattern. On each forager’s first trip, it tends to go out beyond the rest of the other ants travelling in the same direction. The result is in effect a wave that reaches further as the day progresses. Gradually the wave recedes, as the ants making short trips to sites near the nest seem to be the last to give up.

From day to day, the colony’s behaviour changes, and what happens on one day affects the next. I conducted a series of perturbation experiments. I put out toothpicks that the workers had to move away, or blocked the trails so that foragers had to work harder, or created a disturbance that the patrollers tried to repel. Each experiment affected only one group of workers directly, but the activity of other groups of workers changed, because workers of one task decide whether to be active depending on their rate of brief encounters with workers of other tasks. After just a few days repeating the experiment, the colonies continued to behave as they did while they were disturbed, even after the perturbations stopped. Ants had switched tasks and positions in the nest, and so the patterns of encounter took a while to shift back to the undisturbed state. No individual ant remembered anything but, in some sense, the colony did.

Colonies live for 20-30 years, the lifetime of the single queen who produces all the ants, but individual ants live at most a year. In response to perturbations, the behaviour of older, larger colonies is more stable than that of younger ones. It is also more homeostatic: the larger the magnitude of the disturbance, the more likely older colonies were to focus on foraging than on responding to the hassles I had created; while, the worse it got, the more the younger colonies reacted. In short, older, larger colonies grow up to act more wisely than younger smaller ones, even though the older colony does not have older, wiser ants.

Ants use the rate at which they meet and smell other ants, or the chemicals deposited by other ants, to decide what to do next. A neuron uses the rate at which it is stimulated by other neurons to decide whether to fire. In both cases,  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 11:11 am

Posted in Memes, Science

Autonomous roofing drone nails down shingles

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Just wow.

The report from a University of Michigan press release is interesting:

An octocopter capable of attaching asphalt shingles to roofs with a nail gun has been demonstrated at the University of Michigan.

This aerial vehicle is autonomous, meaning that it positions the nail gun on a nailing point, places the nail and moves to the next point without needing a human at the controls.

“For me, the biggest excitement of this work is in recognizing that autonomous, useful, physical interaction and construction tasks are possible with drones,” said Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering and robotics.

She added that tasks best suited to robotization are said to be “dull, dirty and dangerous,” presumably moving the human workforce on to cleaner, safer and more interesting jobs.

Already, drones spare humans some high-stakes fall risks by inspecting bridges, wind turbines and cell towers. The natural next step, according to Atkins, is to upgrade from surveillance alone to performing physical tasks.

The problem of nailing down a shingle breaks down into several smaller problems—among them telling the octocopter where the nails should go and triggering the nail gun. Atkins’ team used a system of markers and stationary cameras to enable the octocopter to precisely locate itself in space. They used this system to tell the octocopter where the nails should go.

To fire the nail gun, they first measured the force needed to compress the point of the nail gun, which must be done before a nail will deploy. Then, they wrote software that would enable the octocopter to apply that force.

The off-the-shelf version of this electric nail gun requires a trigger to be compressed as well, but the team turned that into a virtual switch. This activated when the octocopter was in position to place a nail.

For now, the drone is slow compared to human roofers.

“Initially, we tried using faster approach speeds to minimize nailing time,” said Matthew Romano, a robotics Ph.D. student and first author on the paper submitted to the International Conference on Robotics and Automation. “However, for those attempts, the nail gun tip often bounced off the roof, which meant it either wouldn’t trigger or it would trigger in the wrong place.”

However, Atkins argues that it is already as fast as she and her spouse were when they put the first nails into the house they re-roofed as graduate students.

“A novice roofer—who’s never climbed on a roof, who’s never used a nail gun—they start out slow. That learning process, the evolution from them being a complete novice to being successful, is something that we’ll need to see in this system as well,” she said.

In addition to speed, the team identified other improvements that would be needed for a practical system. First, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 10:58 am

Posted in Technology

Small Trial Reverses a Year of Alzheimer’s Cognitive Decline in Just Two Months

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David Nield posts in Science Alert:

In the ongoing efforts to control and treat Alzheimer’s, one of the more promising avenues of research is using electromagnetic waves to reverse memory loss – and a small study using this approach has reported some encouraging results.

The study only involved eight patients over a period of two months, so we can’t get too excited just yet, but the researchers did see “enhanced cognitive performance” in seven of the participants.

In this case, the volunteers – who all have mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – were fitted with what’s called a MemorEM head cap, which uses specially developed emitters to create a custom flow of electromagnetic waves through the skull. Treatments are applied twice daily, for an hour, and they can be easily administered at home.

The MemorEM device is being developed by NeuroEM Therapeutics, and we should point out that two of the authors behind the new study founded the company – so there is some vested commercial interest here.

That said, the research has produced a peer-reviewed, published paper, and shows some results that are definitely worthy of future investigation.

“Perhaps the best indication that the two months of treatment was having a clinically-important effect on the AD patients in this study is that none of the patients wanted to return their head device to the University of South Florida/Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute after the study was completed,” says biologist Gary Arendash, who is CEO of NeuroEM Therapeutics.

According to Arendash, one patient even said: “I’ve come back.”

The study builds on . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 9:49 am

Why do women poop more during their periods?

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One lacuna in my early education was in learning the details of how women’s bodies work. It was doubtless the result of Southern prudishness expressed in educational choices and restrictions, but I just was amazingly ignorant. And I’m still fighting that ignorance. (A friend who was a tutor at St. John’s once commented that the work of an ignorance fighter is never-ending.)

This note from McGill’s Office for Science and Society by Ada McVean was enlightening.

The menstrual cycle of humans is complicated. It consists of a luteal and follicular phase, follows a roughly 21-day cycle, and has many effects beyond the shedding of the uterine lining. In addition to the cramps, bloating, hunger, exhaustion or nausea that some women deal with, many may also experience period related poop problems. Menstrual cycles are regulated by changing hormone levels, namely progesterone and estradiol (an estrogen), with some minor inputs from other biologically active molecules. One of these molecules is a prostaglandin that is released by the cells of the uterine lining when they die, that triggers the uterine contractions that expel the lining. The problem is that some of these prostaglandins escape the uterus and are detected by the smooth muscle cells of the large intestine, which are then triggered to contract. This results in, predictably, more frequent bowel movements during your period. It also turns out that the progesterone regulating your period can also affect your intestines, though contrarily to prostaglandins- by relaxing smooth muscle. This often manifests as fewer trips to the bathroom, or even constipation, during the luteal phase (from ovulation to just pre-menstruation) of the menstrual cycle.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 9:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Fine aluminum slant v. vintage white bakelite slant

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Not so much “versus” as a comparison. First, of course, came the prep. I went with Mama Bear’s soap again because I wanted a thick lather, and Vanilla Cream is a very nice fragrance. Phoenix Artisan’s Solar Flare brush performs well and looks good: a very nice brush.

Fine deliberately modeled this aluminum slant on the vintage white bakelite Merkur slant that I used in yesterday’s shave, and yet in my memory it was not quite the same: not quite so comfortable. But memory plays tricks, and this morning I found that the Fine slant felt very like the white bakelite slant. Still, I sense a slight difference—very slight—in that I think light pressure is possibly a bit more important with this slant than with with the white bakelite. OTOH, my recollection that the Fine slant has more blade feel than the white bakelite was wrong: the white bakelite slant has more blade feel than I recalled, and the blade feel between the two razors is much the same.

So if you want that vintage white bakelite slant and it’s not coming up on eBay or int he Buy/Sell/Trade topics in forums, try the Fine aluminum slant. It’s an excellent razor, and I’ll be bringing it out more often now. The result was a BBS face with no problems at all. And I did use very light pressure.

I seem to running a bit low on Paul Sebastian aftershave, which I like a lot. (Duh—that’s why I’m running low.) Maybe I’ll replace, but more likely I’d bid farewell and start using up the enormous number of other aftershaves I’ve accumulated.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 9:10 am

Posted in Shaving

Would an Elizabeth Warren Win Crash the Stock Market?

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

I was watching Bloomberg TV this morning, and saw an invited guest explain a recommendation to clients that they bet on a declining stock market in advance of the main Democratic primaries, in case Elizabeth Warren wins.

In explaining her theory, this analyst needlessly used the word ‘heretofore,’ which is a good indication she was just trying to sound smart. So my guess is that she’s a random Wall Street person, and is reflecting an emerging conventional wisdom. CNBC often covers fear of Warren; random anonymous private equity Democrats just told CNBC they will back Trump if Warren is the nominee. I imagine Trump will probably say that anyone who opposes him will cause the stock market and economy to tank.

So let’s ask that question. What happens if Warren wins?

The Bear Case: Warren Will End the Stock Market Monopoly Premium

The bear case is pretty obvious. Elizabeth Warren’s basic philosophy is producer-ism, which is that the people who do the work, whether that work is making or designing things, doing service work, or managing, should get the rewards from that work. Her belief is that corruption – whether through monopolization, financial manipulation, or conflicts of interest – are a way of extracting revenue and exerting control over people who work for a living.

This philosophy manifests in a number of ways. She wants to raise taxes on the wealthy, both through higher income taxes and an annual wealth tax. A wealth tax of two percent would force people like Jeff Bezos and the Walton family to sell stock on a regular basis. Warren would probably stop stock buybacks from the corporate treasury, and she would rapidly slow mergers and acquisitions. She would break up banks and more broadly tightly regulate finance and private equity. She would also shift the output share of the American corporate apparatus away from returns to capital and towards labor through pro-worker policies. All of this would put a drag on stocks.

In addition, her trade posture of economic patriotism would induce cost increases as in-shoring replaces offshoring, and she would probably take an aggressive approach to health care, defense industrial consolidation/contracting and climate change, meaning shifts in the petrochemical complex, defense stocks, the electric utility industry, and pharma and health insurance. These may harm the market overall, but they may just help and hurt specific sectors.

The strongest case though for Elizabeth Warren as a bearish indicator is the idea that stock market valuations are premised on froth and fraud. We have capitalized monopoly rents, and many billionaires – from Peter Thiel to Warren Buffett – are billionaires precisely because they buy into industries without competition.

Investment banks like Goldman Sachs have recommended to clients that they should welcome oligopolies, and buy them. Oligopolies may have a bad reputation for pillaging consumers, but they are attractive because in Goldman’s view they have “lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness, and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice, scale cost benefits including stronger leverage over suppliers, and higher barriers to new entrants all at once.”

Investors could read that loud and clear: Oligopolies can squeeze workers and suppliers, hike prices on consumers, and that makes oligopoly stocks attractive buys.

Popular investment books openly recommend monopolies. Before the financial crisis, you could find a book titled Monopoly Rules: How to Find, Capture and Control the Most Lucrative Markets in Any Business. It offered advice to young entrepreneurs, “you probably learned that monopolies are unnatural, illegal, and rare. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! In fact, monopolies are often natural, usually legal, and surprisingly common.” Just in case the government held a different view, it advised earmarking part of the very high profits “for top-flight anti-trust attorneys.”

Buffett calls monopolies businesses with ‘moats.’ Under Elizabeth Warren, antitrust enforcers might start calling them crimes. That probably won’t be good for equity valuations.

The Bull Case: Warren Will End the Stock Market Monopoly Premium

The bull case is actually… the same idea. Everything that Warren would do would be oriented towards producer-ism, and producer-ism is good for business. For example, right now, Boeing is having serious problems because its products aren’t very good, a result of corruption and financialization.

Just a year ago Boeing appeared unstoppable. In 2018, the company delivered more aircraft than its rival Airbus, with revenue hitting $100bn. It was also a cash machine, shedding 20% of its workforce since 2012 while funneling $43bn into stock buybacks in roughly the same period. Boeing’s board rewarded its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, lavishly, paying him $23m in 2018, up 27% from the year before.

There was only one problem. The company was losing its ability to make safe airplanes. As Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst and editor of Leeham News and Analysis, puts it: “Boeing Commercial Airplanes clearly has a systemic problem in designing, producing and delivering airplanes.”

If Warren breaks up Boeing and erodes the corruption underpinning Boeing’s business model, who knows what would happen to investor holdings? Maybe one of the spinoffs of Boeing might go down, but other parts of the company could go up as value gets unlocked. It could be in aggregate a net increase in market value. If the aerospace industry gets healthier in terms of products, the resulting multiple spinoffs may become more profitable because there’s just more value to go around.

To take a better example, look at . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 September 2019 at 12:37 pm

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