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Archive for November 12th, 2019

New evidence shows contact between Trump official and Republican redistricting expert over census citizenship question, contradicting earlier DOJ claims

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Tara Bahrampour reports in the Washington Post:

Newly released documents show that contrary to statements by the Trump administration, a member of the president’s transition team communicated directly about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census with a Republican redistricting strategist who determined the question would help Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

The documents, released Tuesday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, show text messages about the question between transition team member Mark Neuman and the strategist, Thomas Hofeller, in the summer of 2017, at a time when other evidence shows administration members were actively discussing how the question might be added to the survey.

A Justice Department spokesman in May flatly denied allegations of contact between Hofeller and the administration. The spokesman also had said an unpublished study by Hofeller from 2015 showing the question would benefit Republicans and whites had “played no role” in the administration’s push to add the question.

But July 2, two weeks after a request from the Oversight Committee, Neuman produced documents confirming he had communicated with Hofeller and his business partner, Dalton “Dale” Oldham, on how to craft the question, according to a memo released by the committee Tuesday.

The memo cites an email sent Aug. 30, 2017, from Neuman, who was an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the citizenship question, “asking Mr. Hofeller to review language for a letter Mr. Neuman was drafting to request the addition of a citizenship question.”

The letter, addressed from the Justice Department to the director of the Census Bureau, argued that data from a citizenship question was needed to ensure “compliance with requirements of the Voting Rights Act and its application in legislative redistricting,” the memo said, adding that the language Mr. Neuman sent to Mr. Hofeller was part of that draft letter.

In the email, Neuman appeared to critique one argument against adding the question: that the Census Bureau had other ways to obtain information the government wanted on citizenship.

“We understand that the Bureau personnel may believe that ACS [American Community Survey] data on citizenship was sufficient for redistricting purposes. We wanted the Bureau to be aware that two recent Court cases have underscored that ACS data is not viable and/or sufficient for purposes of redistricting,” he wrote to Hofeller, according to the memo.

A citizenship question currently appears on the ACS, which goes to a small sample of American households each year. The decennial census, which goes to all households, has not asked a citizenship-related question since 1950.

Referring to Hofeller’s partner, Mr. Neuman wrote: “Please make certain that this language is correct. Dale doesn’t return my calls,” the memo said, adding that Hofeller replied the same day, saying, “Dale just read it, and says it is fine as written.”

Neuman later sent a draft letter that included the language approved by Hofeller and Oldham to the Justice Department, according to the memo.

The Justice Department did not respond to inquiries about the newly released documents. A Commerce Department spokesperson called the committee actions “a PR stunt primarily intended to malign senior officials in the Trump Administration,” adding that the department has cooperated “in good faith“ with the committee.

The timing and impetus of the department’s involvement became a flash point during litigation over the question. The Justice Department wrote a letter in December 2017 requesting that the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, add it, but documents released during the lawsuits revealed Ross had actively solicited the request from the Justice Department.

The government had said it needed the citizenship question on the decennial form to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But census experts, civil rights organizations and the bureau’s internal analysis said the question probably would depress response rates among immigrants and minorities, resulting in underrepresentation of those groups.

Data from the decennial census is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding each year, and for redistricting and congressional reapportionment.

The administration backed off trying to add the question in July, after a Supreme Court ruling found its rationale for adding it to be “contrived.” But members of Congress, led by recently deceased congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), continued to push for information related to the government’s 19-month quest to add it.

The administration did not respond to congressional subpoenas over the matter, and in July the House voted to hold Ross and Attorney General William P. Barr in criminal contempt for failing to provide documents connected to it.

The question of Hofeller’s involvement came to light in May, as the question was being litigated, when new evidence discovered on his hard drives after his death suggested the administration had worked with him to craft the question. . .

Continue reading.

We’ve come to this: the Department of Justice now lies to Congress and the public. The US is doomed.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 8:23 pm

What Is the Meaning of Sacred Texts?

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Truthfully, the way Karen Armstrong explains it, sacred texts seem more or less a variety of tarot cards, rich in suggestions, open to interpretation, to be read in the light of the current situation and context, with many possible meanings. And perhaps that is indeed the proper approach, akin to the way one approaches serious music: not for specific detailed meaning but for an experience and an openness of understanding.

Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times:

THE LOST ART OF SCRIPTURE
Rescuing the Sacred Texts
By Karen Armstrong

In the Bible, St. Paul declares: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Scholars suspect that this was actually written by some grump other than St. Paul, but such sexist passages are sometimes used by conservative Christians to justify the subjugation of women — and by secular liberals to portray the Bible as outdated and misogynistic.

Or take militant passages from the Quran like this one: “Kill them wherever you encounter them.” Early Muslims considered this obsolete because it applied narrowly to enemies in a particular conflict; more recently, Muslim extremists have interpreted such passages to justify murder, while Islamophobes cite them to excuse religious bigotry.

Similar points can be made of many Scriptures from around the world. Both secular liberals and fundamentalists see Scripture as words to be taken literally, the former to ridicule and the latter to embrace. Karen Armstrong wades into these debates and says that both sides are wrong.

“Too many believers and nonbelievers alike now read these sacred texts in a doggedly literal manner that is quite different from the more inventive and mystical approach of premodern spirituality,” Armstrong writes. “Because its creation myths do not concur with recent scientific discoveries, militant atheists have condemned the Bible as a pack of lies, while Christian fundamentalists have developed a ‘Creation science’ claiming that the Book of Genesis is scientifically sound….Not surprisingly, all this has given Scripture a bad name.”

A British writer and former nun, Armstrong argues in her magisterial new book, “The Lost Art of Scripture,” that Scripture shouldn’t be interpreted literally or rigidly from a pulpit or in a library. She argues that Scripture is flexible, evolving, contextual and more like performance art than a book.

“Our English word ‘Scripture’ implies a written text, but most Scriptures began as texts that were composed and transmitted orally,” she writes. “Indeed, in some traditions, the sound of the inspired words would always be more important than their semantic meaning. Scripture was usually sung, chanted or declaimed in a way that separated it from mundane speech, so that words — a product of the brain’s left hemisphere — were fused with the more indefinable emotions of the right.”

With the rise of literacy and science, Scriptures were printed and scrutinized, then examined as if they were historical documents. Believers and skeptics alike came to read Scripture as if they were poring over Thucydides or Plutarch.

I’ve adopted that approach myself. Among the Gospels, I’ve put the most weight on the Gospel of Mark, because it was the first written, and have skeptically pestered pastors about why Mark doesn’t mention the Virgin Birth or describe the Resurrection. Strange things to leave out. I’ve also been puzzled that the Bible can have multiple versions of the Ten Commandments, or provide conflicting accounts of how Judas died or on which night the Last Supper occurred.

Armstrong argues that this approach misunderstands how Scripture works. It’s like complaining about Shakespeare bending history, or protesting that a great song isn’t factual. That resonates. Anyone who has been to a Catholic Mass or a Pentecostal service, or experienced the recitation of the Quran or a Tibetan Buddhist chant, knows that they couldn’t fully be captured by a transcript any more than a song can be by its lyrics. I still don’t understand Don McLean’s classic song “American Pie,” but it moves me every time I hear it. Music doesn’t need to be factually accurate to be true.

“Because it does not conform to modern scientific and historical norms, many people dismiss Scripture as incredible and patently ‘untrue,’ but they do not apply the same criteria to a novel, which yields profound and valuable insights by means of fiction,” Armstrong writes. “A work of art, be it a novel, a poem or a Scripture, must be read according to the laws of its genre.”

Partly because Scriptures are revered, they are often regarded today as fossilized, the last word for all eternity. But historically, they were regularly repurposed to provide comfort or insight for new challenges. During the Babylonian Exile, the “editors” of the Hebrew Bible dramatically shaped previous Scripture to make sense of their own turmoil. Abraham, who Armstrong says was originally a southern Israeli hero with only a minor role in northern lore, assumed far greater importance because his story resonated: He had been commanded by God to leave his home, suffered exile and was richly rewarded in turn. The exiles also appear to have added details on the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt, which paralleled their own trauma in Babylon.

Some Muslims applauded a similar process of seeking new meaning from old Scripture. “The Quran is perpetually new,” argued Muid ad-Din Ibn al-Arabi, who died in 1240. He went so far as to add that anyone who recited a verse in the same way twice had not understood it correctly.

The subtitle of this book is “Rescuing the Sacred Texts,” and Armstrong’s effort reminds me of Kant trying to save religion by arguing that God is beyond reason and therefore cannot be rationally proved. Not all believers welcomed Kant’s intervention; likewise, traditionalists will resent Armstrong’s “rescue.”

Armstrong has won respect for her scholarly and thoughtful treatment of faith in books such as “A History of God,” “The Case for God” and “Fields of Blood.” Her latest work builds on these, partly by exploring common threads across different religious traditions, and it’s an encyclopedic undertaking. Armstrong guides us not only through the history of Judeo-Christian and Islamic Scripture, but also through Hindu and Sikh texts and Buddhist and Chinese philosophies. She uses “Scripture” loosely, encompassing ancient Greek plays as well as Confucian and Taoist texts that are more about how to live a good life than about God in a Western sense. That’s partly because Armstrong perceives the God of Scripture not as a white-bearded old man on a cloud but as an ineffable, indescribable, unknowable transcendence. We encounter the transcendent, she says, in music, poetry, sex, love, nature — and religion. In effect, Armstrong has written a highly rational tribute to the murky wingman of our lives that exists beyond what is material and rational.

A common feature of Scripture, as she sees it, is . . .

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 8:18 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

Here’s How Corporate America Took Over America

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Kevin Drump posts at Mother Jones:

Have American businesses become more concentrated over the past 30 years? Anecdotally, it seems like the answer is yes. The Big 8 accounting firms are now the Big 4. There are only four cell phone companies, soon to be three. Four airlines control 80 percent of the American market. The car industry consolidated into the Big Three decades ago. Four companies control two-thirds of the cloud computing market.

But in spite of this anecdotal feeling, it’s an undecided question among economists about whether American businesses are really a lot more concentrated than they used to be. Anyone can pick a few examples of industries that have consolidated, but what happens when you look rigorously at the business community overall?

We’re not going to solve this question today, though in general I’ve been more persuaded by the researchers who say that consolidation has, in fact, happened, and the result has been increasingly monopolistic behavior among US corporations.

One of those researchers is French transplant Thomas Philippon, who is introduced to us today in the New York Times by David Leonhardt. Philippon’s research has convinced him that we have indeed gone through an era of considerable consolidation, and it’s mainly due to weak enforcement of antitrust laws. In Europe, which has much stronger antitrust enforcement than we do, Philippon reports that the top firms have increased their market share far less than American firms. As a result, prices charged to consumers have also increased far less than in America. Here is Philippon’s conclusion about how this has affected American workers:

The consolidation of corporate America has become severe enough to have macroeconomic effects. Profits have surged, and wages have stagnated. Investment in new factories and products has also stagnated, because many companies don’t need to innovate to keep profits high. Philippon estimates that the new era of oligopoly costs the typical American household more than $5,000 a year.

I find that $5,000 number quite easy to believe. In fact, it seems a little low to me. But how did it happen? Even with weak antitrust enforcement (thanks Robert Bork!), how do companies get away with raising prices and cutting pay? They still have some competition, after all. The answer to that, I think, is the long Republican war against unions:

The destruction of the American working class is a two-part story. First, it was necessary to get rid of unions. As long as they were around, they’d demand a fair share of profits for workers no matter what the competition landscape looked like. That war lasted from about 1947 to 1981. When Ronald Reagan broke the air-traffic controllers union it was the final straw. Unions had already been decimated both by Republican laws and by Republican-led-efforts to train companies in how to resist unionization. Democrats never had the will to fight back hard enough, and after Reagan they never had the power. Republicans won their war against unions decisively.

It was only then, with unions effectively out of the way, that corporations could start consolidating and taking an ever bigger share of profits for top executives and shareholders, leaving workers with stagnating wages and grinding working conditions. No union, for example, would accept the practice of “clopening,” where an employee is required to close up a store at night and then turn right around and open in the morning. Nor would they accept the ever-more-common practice of expecting workers to be on call at all times, never knowing for sure what their work schedule will be. As much as low pay, these are the kinds of things that make work such a burden for the working class these days.

So this is the story. Spend three or four decades wiping out the power of labor unions, and then you can spend the next three or four decades turning the United States into a plutocracy with no one to effectively fight you about it.

And you have to give Republicans credit: Not only did they cobble together this plan and execute it brilliantly, they’ve managed even . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 11:06 am

The Diet That Might Cure Depression

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From March 2018, Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic:

At the turn of the 20th century, prominent physicians who were trying to understand where mental illness comes from seized on a new theory: autointoxication. Intestinal microbes, these doctors suggested, are actually dangerous to their human hosts. They have a way of inducing “fatigue, melancholia, and the neuroses,” as a historical article in the journal Gut Pathogens recounts.

“The control of man’s diet is readily accomplished, but mastery over his intestinal bacterial flora is not,” wrote a doctor named Bond Stow in the Medical Record Journal of Medicine and Surgery in 1914. “The innumerable examples of autointoxication that one sees in his daily walks in life is proof thereof … malaise, total lack of ambition so that every effort in life is a burden, mental depression often bordering upon melancholia.”

Stow went on to say that “a battle royal must be fought” with these intestinal germs.

Another physician, Daniel R. Brower of Rush Medical College, suspected that the increasing rates of melancholia—depression—in Western society might be the result of changing dietary habits and the resulting toxins dwelling in the gut.

Of course, like most medical ideas at the time, this one was not quite right. (And the proposed cures—removing part of the colon or eating rotten meat—seem worse than the disease.) Your gut doesn’t contain “toxins” that are poisonous so much as it hosts a diverse colony of bacteria called the “microbiome.” But these doctors were right about one thing: What we eat does affect how we feel, and gut microbes likely play a role.

A poor diet is a leading risk factor for early death, responsible for one in five deaths globally. Depression, meanwhile, is the leading cause of disability worldwide. A relatively new line of research suggests the two might be related: An unhealthy diet might make us depressed, and depression, in turn, makes us feel even sicker.

In a recently released abstract, researchers studying 964 elderly participants over six and a half years found those who followed the dash diet, which emphasizes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, had lower rates of depression, while those who ate a traditional Western diet were more prone to depression. The participants were asked how often they ate various foods, and they were screened for depression annually using a questionnaire.

“I think we need to view food as medicine,” Laurel J. Cherian, an assistant professor of vascular neurology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and the study’s lead author, told me. “Medications to treat depression are wonderful, but for many people, it’s going to be a combination of things.”

The research will be presented at the upcoming meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. The study has not been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal, but other researchers have found similar antidepression benefits from the dash diet, which was developed by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Past research has found that following the DASH diet was associated with reduced depression in adolescent girls and with less physician-diagnosed depression among thousands of Spaniards. The results in teens suggest that diet could be a way to stave off some mental disorders entirely, since half of all mental illnesses start in the teen years.

John Cryan, an expert in the gut-brain connection at University College Cork in Ireland, said he’s enthusiastic about this field, but there are a few cautionary notes about this study in particular. It’s an observational study, for example, and it studied a very old population. “Geriatric depression is a different beast,” he says.

Of course, rich people tend to be happier and can afford to eat better. Cherian’s study did not control for socioeconomic status. But overall, the evidence suggests diet improves depression symptoms even when controlling for factors like income or education, says Felice Jacka, a professor of nutritional psychiatry at Australia’s Deakin University.

Jacka found in 2010 that women who ate a diet high in produce, meat, fish, and whole grains had lower odds of major depression and anxiety than others. Since then, a meta-analysis of 21 studies found that “a dietary pattern characterized by high intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression.”

In fact, Jacka told me that at this point, the connection between diet and depression is so well-established that more studies like Cherian’s aren’t really necessary. “Given how many observational studies there are already published, the field does not really need more of these,” she said. “What it needs now are interventions that show that if you improve diet, you also improve depression.” Jacka found in a small study last year that depressed people were more likely to see improvements in their mood if they were given dietary advice over a three-month period, rather than just social support. She says such interventions are cost-effective, to boot. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 10:42 am

La Toja and the Duke: A Game Changer

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You’ll note that the surface of the soap in the Czech & Speake travel container is a little lumpy. The soap there was former in a La Toja shave stick (a spare), which I cut into sections and crammed tightly into the container, replacing the unresponsive C&S soap the container formerly held. I do like the container, but I wanted a soap that would lather. [Full disclosure: Others have reported they had no problem with C&S shaving soap, so mine may have just been a bad batch.]

Conting along shelf 3, this morning I took my Simpson Duke 3 Best, and it had no problem at all in getting a good lather from the relatively small puck. Three passes with the Game Changer left my face perfectly smooth, and a splash of La Toja aftershave finished the ritual.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 10:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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