Later On

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Archive for April 7th, 2020

What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis

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Grim but accurate. Jennifer Senior writes in the NY Times:

Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats. Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.

Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.

But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.

Let’s start with the basics. First: Narcissistic personalities like Trump harbor skyscraping delusions about their own capabilities. They exaggerate their accomplishments, focus obsessively on projecting power, and wish desperately to win.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump says we’ve got plenty of tests available, when we don’t. He declares that Google is building a comprehensive drive-thru testing website, when it isn’t. He sends a Navy hospital ship to New York and it proves little more than an excuse for a campaign commercial, arriving and sitting almost empty in the Hudson. A New York hospital executive calls it a joke.

Second: The grandiosity of narcissistic personalities belies an extreme fragility, their egos as delicate as foam. They live in terror of being upstaged. They’re too thin skinned to be told they’re wrong.

What that means, during this pandemic: Narcissistic leaders never have, as Trump likes to say, the best people. They have galleries of sycophants. With the exceptions of Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, Trump has surrounded himself with a Z-team of dangerously inexperienced toadies and flunkies — the bargain-bin rejects from Filene’s Basement — at a time when we require the brightest and most imaginative minds in the country.

Faced with a historic public health crisis, Trump could have assembled a first-rate company of disaster preparedness experts. Instead he gave the job to his son-in-law, a man-child of breathtaking vapidity. Faced with a historic economic crisis, Trump could have assembled a team of Nobel-prize winning economists or previous treasury secretaries. Instead he talks to Larry Kudlow, a former CNBC host.

Meanwhile, Fauci and Birx measure every word they say like old-time apothecaries, hoping not to humiliate the narcissist — never humiliate a narcissist — while discreetly correcting his false hopes and falsehoods. They are desperately attempting to create a safe space for our president, when the president should be creating a safer nation for all of us.

Third: Narcissistic personalities love nothing more than engineering conflict and sowing division. It destabilizes everyone, keeps them in control.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is pitting state against state for precious resources, rather than coordinating a national response. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 7:54 pm

A wonderful tribute that observes social distancing

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Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Music, Video

A big batch of greens

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I used the 6-qt All-Clad Stainless pot.

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 bunches scallions, chopped
3 jalapeños, chopped small including core and seeds
1 tsp chipotle flakes
2 tbsp black pepper

Sauté that until the scallions wilt and soften, then add:

1 head of garlic, chopped small

Cook for a minute or two, then add in batches, letting the greens cook down to make room:

1 big bunch red chard, chopped
1 big bunch rapini, chopped
1 big bunch green kale, chopped
2 lemons, diced after cutting off and discard ends
about 10-12 oz white mushrooms, chopped
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sliced kalamata olives

Let that cook down. I looked at it and decided to add:

1/2 head red cabbage, chopped

I cooked the batch, once everything was added (which required some time for the greens to cook and wilt) for about half an hour. Then I added:

1 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Greens for days at two servings a day (though I occasionally have them as a snack).

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 4:34 pm

A hard-fought point in platform tennis

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Platform tennis uses a paddle rather than a racquet.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 4:10 pm

Posted in Games

Why Wisconsin Republicans Insisted on an Election in a Pandemic

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Reid J. Epstein writes in the NY Times:

Tuesday’s mess of an election in Wisconsin is the culmination of a decade of efforts by state Republicans to make voting harder, redraw legislative boundaries and dilute the power of voters in the state’s urban centers.

The Republican-dominated state legislature, which has held a majority since 2011, due in part to gerrymandered maps, refused to entertain the Democratic governor’s request to mail absentee ballots to all voters or move the primary. Then the State Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservative justices, overturned the governor’s ruling to postpone the election until June.

Now Wisconsin is conducting an election that the state’s largest newspaper — which previously endorsed Republican leaders including former Gov. Scott Walker — called “the most undemocratic in the state’s history.”

Here’s a look at how it came to this point.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders are on the ballot in Wisconsin, but the main event is the State Supreme Court race between the conservative incumbent justice, Daniel Kelly, and a liberal challenger, Jill Karofsky.

The winner will be in position to cast a deciding vote on a case before the court that seeks to purge more than 200,000 people from Wisconsin’s voter rolls — in a state where 2.6 million people voted in the last governor’s race. When the matter was first before the court in January, Mr. Kelly recused himself, citing his upcoming election. He indicated he would “rethink” his position following the April election, which comes with a 10-year term.

But the election proceeding on Tuesday is not just about the voter purge case. It is the latest example of what many in the state see as a decade-long effort by Wisconsin Republicans to dilute the voting power of the state’s Democratic and African-American voters.

Since 2011, when Mr. Walker led a Republican takeover of the state government, the G.O.P. has enacted one of the nation’s strictest laws requiring government-issued identification to vote. In 2020, a voter must have a photo ID with a current address, or an ID and acceptable proof of residency — often a hardship for poorer black Milwaukee residents who live in neighborhoods with some of the highest eviction rates in the country. A 2017 study by the University of Wisconsin found nearly 17,000 registered voters were unable to cast a ballot during the 2016 election, and untold more were deterred from voting.

The Republican majority also drew legislative and congressional boundaries that are widely considered the most gerrymandered in the country. During the 2018 election, Democratic candidates won 190,000 more votes for State Assembly seats, but the G.O.P. held a 64-35 advantage in the chamber.

Forty Republican lawmakers on Monday wrote to Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, asking him to reopen the state’s golf courses.

If Mr. Kelly wins, it would cement the conservative majority’s ability to block any future Democratic efforts to change voting laws and litigate an expected stalemate over congressional and state legislative boundaries during redistricting that will follow the 2020 census.

Wisconsin is, by many projections, a key state for clinching an Electoral College victory. And in the last four years it has seen some of the closest statewide races in the country.

In 2016, President Trump won the state by less than 23,000 votes.

In 2018, Mr. Evers ousted Gov. Walker by less than 30,000 votes.

In 2019, a State Supreme Court race was decided by just 6,000 votes.

In a state so closely divided, any adjustment to voting procedures or voter eligibility has the potential to swing enough votes to tip the state.

This is truly a mystery that has consumed Democrats both inside and outside Wisconsin.

For weeks Gov. Evers insisted . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 4:01 pm

Coronavirus Is Forcing the GOP to (Tacitly) Admit Its Ideology Is Delusional

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

As the coronavirus pandemic shutters America’s storefronts and fills its ICUs, the GOP is camouflaging a whispered confession beneath a cough. The party’s admission is so quiet most Republicans can’t even make it out themselves. But listen carefully to recent directives from the Trump administration and its allies and you’ll hear unmistakably: Our theory of governance is a lie.

The modern conservative movement holds these truths to be self-evident:

1. Undocumented immigrants are a scourge of American society, a nefarious invading army that’s depriving native-born workers of precious jobs, filling our cities with crime, and leeching off our welfare programs.

2. Uncle Sam has grown badly bloated and could govern more effectively if a wide swath of federal agencies were gutted.

3. The market is (a largely) apolitical sphere ruled by the impartial dictates of an invisible hand. Thus the superrich do not owe their astronomical market incomes to any set of politically ordained laws or institutions; rather, they earn their gains in a fundamental, metaphysical sense, and the state must therefore meet a heavy burden before it can justify coercively redistributing the wealth that billionaires have rightly earned. By the same token, the working poor cannot blame their low pay on political powerlessness but the objectively low value of their contributions to society. Thus mandating a higher wage floor would only condemn workers with skills that are objectively worth only $7.25 an hour to permanent unemployment.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Donald Trump made a halfway-convincing show of governing as though these claims had some correspondence with reality. The president established a new federal office dedicated to publicizing crimes committed by undocumented immigrants while ramping up deportations and border enforcement. As his chief strategist heralded the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” Trump downsized the federal bureaucracies — first by neglecting to fill vacant positions, then by purging the “deep state” of experts who would privilege their official duties over personal loyalty to the commander-in-chief. Finally, the White House has affirmed the moral premises of laissez-faire by prioritizing tax cuts, inveighing against socialism, opposing an increase to the federal minimum wage, and slashing regulations that attempt to price the social costs of economic activity that market signals fail to capture.

But conservative orthodoxy has always been too detached from reality to command strict adherence. A theory of government assembled out of the self-affirming delusions of the reactionary rich — and seething, amnesia-laden nostalgia of white cultural traditionalists — is bound to be a poor compass for guiding the ship of state. This was true before the coronavirus reached our shores. But the pandemic has brought the tension between the verities of CPAC and exigencies of governance to such vertiginous heights Republicans have been forced to (tacitly, quietly) make three startling admissions:

1. Undocumented immigrants are among the most indispensable contributors to the American economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the U.S. to determine whose labor it can and cannot live without. In much of the country, nonessential businesses have been forced to shut their doors, while workers in (temporarily) dispensable sectors of the economy — from event planning to tourism to (gulp) political commentary — have forfeited their paychecks. At present, our society has decided that if the American people’s most basic needs aren’t contingent on what you do for a living, you’re more valuable sitting at home than showing up for work.

Unfortunately for Trumpism, undocumented agricultural workers are among our economy’s most valuable players. As the New York Times reports:

Like legions of immigrant farmworkers, Nancy Silva for years has done the grueling work of picking fresh fruit that Americans savor, all the while afraid that one day she could lose her livelihood because she is in the country illegally.

But the widening coronavirus pandemic has brought an unusual kind of recognition: Her job as a field worker has been deemed by the federal government as “essential” to the country.

Ms. Silva, who has spent much of her life in the United States evading law enforcement, now carries a letter from her employer in her wallet, declaring that the Department of Homeland Security considers her “critical to the food supply chain.”

“It’s like suddenly they realized we are here contributing,” said Ms. Silva, a 43-year-old immigrant from Mexico who has been working in the clementine groves south of Bakersfield, Calif.

In truth, Donald Trump’s immigration policies have never been commensurate with his demagogic rhetoric. The president has expended little-to-no effort on punishing employers who avail themselves of undocumented labor (many of whom happen to be patrons of Trump’s party, if not subsidiaries of his company). But his administration has never before formally acknowledged the fact that undocumented workers are essential for keeping America fed.

By some estimates, roughly three-quarters of all crop hands in the U.S. do not have a legal right to be in this country. This is no accident. Since the early 1920s, when nativists enacted ethnic quotas restricting the inflow of Asian and European immigrants, America’s large growers have relied on Mexican migrants to provide the cheap, physically grueling seasonal labor that their business models demand. For much of the 20th century, such workers crossed the border with the coming and going of the harvest (and/or the push and pull between the American economy’s material needs and its xenophobic rages). But the border militarization policies of the past four decades erected literal and figurative barriers to seasonal migration, thereby nudging much of the workforce into permanent residence.

There is little evidence that these workers are taking jobs from native-born Americans. When the Trump administration and the Federal Reserve implemented full-employment fiscal and monetary policies before the pandemic, the unemployment rate went to historic lows even as the undocumented population remained millions strong. Rather, undocumented farmworkers are mostly just aiding U.S. consumers by accepting the low wages that keep food prices down and subsidizing Social Security recipients by paying into that program despite their own ineligibility for benefits. In truth, the undocumented aren’t an illicit foreign presence in the U.S. so much as our country’s hyperexploited lower caste; they are as essential to the functioning of our economy as they are to the demagoguery of plutocratic politicians in need of powerless scapegoats.

2. The administrative state needs to be reconstructed.

For the White House, this confession has been more tacit than explicit. But the pandemic has forced the Trump administration to confront the fact that much of America’s “administrative state” is less bloated than it is emaciated. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 3:27 pm

A Nurse Bought Protective Supplies for Her Colleagues Using GoFundMe. The Hospital Suspended Her.

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Something bad happens to the brains of some when they are given authority, something Lord Acton pointed out long ago: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Marshall Allen points out an example in ProPublica:

Olga Matievskaya and her fellow intensive care nurses at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey were so desperate for gowns and masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus that they turned to the online fundraising site GoFundMe to raise money.

The donations flowed in — more than $12,000 — and Matievskaya used some of them to buy about 500 masks, 4,000 shoe covers and 150 jumpsuits. She and her colleagues at the hospital celebrated protecting themselves and their patients from the spread of the virus.

But rather than thanking the staff, hospital administrators on Saturday suspended Matievskaya for distributing “unauthorized” protective gear.

Across the country, front-line medical providers and hospital administrators are butting heads about precautions against the coronavirus pandemic. Clinicians are being told to reuse or go without necessary supplies even when treating patients infected with COVID-19. That goes against the way they’ve been trained. Some doctors and nurses now say they are being instructed not to speak to journalists and disciplined for doing so or taking action to protect themselves.

Matievskaya spoke to ProPublica last week about the fundraising campaign. She said she had been able to purchase most of what the nurses needed on eBay. She did not criticize her administrators, and after her suspension she declined to comment. But four other Newark Beth Israel nurses spoke to ProPublica on the condition of anonymity about the dire shortage of gear.

All four said their administration has failed to provide the supplies they need to protect themselves and patients. Two of them work in the intensive care unit, which houses the sickest patients. The other two work in other areas of the hospital. They said Matievskaya showed leadership to keep people safe where their hospital administration has not. “There was no information distributed” about not being allowed to purchase supplies for others on staff, one of the nurses told ProPublica.

The hospital told ProPublica in a statement that Matievskaya’s suspension ended Monday. “No employee is allowed to distribute unauthorized medical supplies within the hospital,” the statement said. “The nurse in question was temporarily suspended for inappropriately distributing unauthorized medical supplies, against this policy.”

The hospital said it ensures clinicians have the supplies they need by following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reusing gear. “We are working 24-hours a day, 7-days a week to ensure that the appropriate PPE gets to the right staff, at the right time,” the hospital said in its statement.

It did not answer questions about what would become of the supplies purchased through the campaign or whether other nurses who participated in the fundraising might be subject to discipline.

The confrontation at Newark Beth Israel may foretell what’s coming in other cities. Northern New Jersey, just outside New York City, is one of the nation’s hotspots, with more than 41,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday. As of Thursday, the 665-bed hospital had housed 196 COVID-19 patients, according to an internal communication to hospital staff. Hospitals across the country have shortages of protective equipment, according to a report published Monday by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Aline Holmes, a clinical associate professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing, said she didn’t know the details of the case but was “very surprised” to hear of Matievskaya’s suspension. Hospital administrators are telling clinicians to reuse supplies, she said, which violates typical infection control standards. Suspending a nurse for obtaining protective equipment “doesn’t make any sense,” Holmes said.

“That just seems counterintuitive and really not a good message to send to your staff,” Holmes said. “The staff have a right to protect themselves. If the hospital can’t provide the necessary supplies, they have a right to do what they need to do. They’re caring for the sickest patients in the hospital right now.”

The situation is changing by the day as Newark Beth Israel acquires and runs through its supplies. But the four nurses told ProPublica that they have often not been given the N95 respirator masks the CDC has recommended to protect themselves from the virus. One of the ICU nurses said for at least one shift she received a regular surgical mask, which in her opinion is “like putting a paper towel over your face.”

Some nurses outside the intensive care unit have been given a single surgical mask in a brown paper bag that they’re expected to use for an entire week, one nurse said. Nurses at other hospitals around the country have made similar statements.

The shortage of gowns has also . . .

Continue reading.

A rational response would be to praise the nurse for her initiative and promote her in view of her responsible and creative response to an emergency situation.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 1:40 pm

Does Time Really Flow?

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The answer apparently is “Yes.” The idea of a block universe falls before intuitionist mathematics. Natalie Wolchover writes in Quanta:

Strangely, although we feel as if we sweep through time on the knife-edge between the fixed past and the open future, that edge — the present — appears nowhere in the existing laws of physics.

In Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, time is woven together with the three dimensions of space, forming a bendy, four-dimensional space-time continuum — a “block universe” encompassing the entire past, present and future. Einstein’s equations portray everything in the block universe as decided from the beginning; the initial conditions of the cosmos determine what comes later, and surprises do not occur — they only seem to. “For us believing physicists,” Einstein wrote in 1955, weeks before his death, “the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

The timeless, pre-determined view of reality held by Einstein remains popular today. “The majority of physicists believe in the block-universe view, because it is predicted by general relativity,” said Marina Cortês, a cosmologist at the University of Lisbon.

However, she said, “if somebody is called on to reflect a bit more deeply about what the block universe means, they start to question and waver on the implications.”

Physicists who think carefully about time point to troubles posed by quantum mechanics, the laws describing the probabilistic behavior of particles. At the quantum scale, irreversible changes occur that distinguish the past from the future: A particle maintains simultaneous quantum states until you measure it, at which point the particle adopts one of the states. Mysteriously, individual measurement outcomes are random and unpredictable, even as particle behavior collectively follows statistical patterns. This apparent inconsistency between the nature of time in quantum mechanics and the way it functions in relativity has created uncertainty and confusion.

Over the past year, the Swiss physicist Nicolas Gisin has published four papers that attempt to dispel the fog surrounding time in physics. As Gisin sees it, the problem all along has been mathematical. Gisin argues that time in general and the time we call the present are easily expressed in a century-old mathematical language called intuitionist mathematics, which rejects the existence of numbers with infinitely many digits. When intuitionist math is used to describe the evolution of physical systems, it makes clear, according to Gisin, that “time really passes and new information is created.” Moreover, with this formalism, the strict determinism implied by Einstein’s equations gives way to a quantum-like unpredictability. If numbers are finite and limited in their precision, then nature itself is inherently imprecise, and thus unpredictable.

Physicists are still digesting Gisin’s work — it’s not often that someone tries to reformulate the laws of physics in a new mathematical language — but many of those who have engaged with his arguments think they could potentially bridge the conceptual divide between the determinism of general relativity and the inherent randomness at the quantum scale.

“I found it intriguing,” said Nicole Yunger Halpern, a quantum information scientist at Harvard University, responding to Gisin’s recent article in Nature Physics. “I’m open to giving intuitionist mathematics a shot.”

Cortês called Gisin’s approach “extremely interesting” and “shocking and provocative” in its implications. “It’s really a very interesting formalism that is addressing this problem of finite precision in nature,” she said.

Gisin said it’s important to formulate laws of physics that cast the future as open and the present as very real, because that’s what we experience. “I am a physicist who has my feet on the ground,” he said. “Time passes; we all know that.”

Information and Time

Gisin, 67, is primarily an experimenter. He runs a lab at the University of Geneva that has performed groundbreaking experiments in quantum communication and quantum cryptography. But he is also the rare crossover physicist who is known for important theoretical insights, especially ones involving quantum chance and nonlocality.

On Sunday mornings, in lieu of church, Gisin makes a habit of sitting quietly in his chair at home with a mug of oolong tea and contemplating deep conceptual puzzles. It was on a Sunday about two and a half years ago that he realized that the deterministic picture of time in Einstein’s theory and the rest of “classical” physics implicitly assumes the existence of infinite information.

Consider the weather. Because it’s chaotic, or highly sensitive to small differences, we can’t predict exactly what the weather will be a week from now. But because it’s a classical system, textbooks tell us that we could, in principle, predict the weather a week on, if only we could measure every cloud, gust of wind and butterfly’s wing precisely enough. It’s our own fault we can’t gauge conditions with enough decimal digits of detail to extrapolate forward and make perfectly accurate forecasts, because the actual physics of weather unfolds like clockwork.

Now expand this idea to the entire universe. In a predetermined world in which time only seems to unfold, exactly what will happen for all time actually had to be set from the start, with the initial state of every single particle encoded with infinitely many digits of precision. Otherwise there would be a time in the far future when the clockwork universe itself would break down.

But information is physical. Modern research shows it requires energy and occupies space. Any volume of space is known to have a finite information capacity (with the densest possible information storage happening inside black holes). The universe’s initial conditions would, Gisin realized, require far too much information crammed into too little space. “A real number with infinite digits can’t be physically relevant,” he said. The block universe, which implicitly assumes the existence of infinite information, must fall apart.

He sought a new way of describing time in physics that didn’t presume infinitely precise knowledge of the initial conditions.

The Logic of Time

The modern acceptance that there exists a continuum of real numbers, most with infinitely many digits after the decimal point, carries little trace of the vitriolic debate over the question in the first decades of the 20th century. David Hilbert, the great German mathematician, espoused the now-standard view that real numbers exist and can be manipulated as completed entities. Opposed to this notion were mathematical “intuitionists” led by the acclaimed Dutch topologist L.E.J. Brouwer, who saw mathematics as a construct. Brouwer insisted that numbers must be constructible, their digits calculated or chosen or randomly determined one at a time. Numbers are finite, said Brouwer, and they’re also processes: They can become ever more exact as more digits reveal themselves in what he called a choice sequence, a function for producing values with greater and greater precision.

By grounding mathematics in what can be constructed, intuitionism has far-reaching consequences for the practice of math, and for determining which statements can be deemed true. The most radical departure from standard math is that the law of excluded middle, a vaunted principle since the time of Aristotle, doesn’t hold. The law of excluded middle says that either a proposition is true, or its negation is true — a clear set of alternatives that offers a powerful mode of inference. But in Brouwer’s framework, statements about numbers might be neither true nor false at a given time, since the number’s exact value hasn’t yet revealed itself.

There’s no difference from standard math when it comes to numbers like 4, or ½, or pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Even though pi is irrational, with no finite decimal expansion, there’s an algorithm for generating its decimal expansion, making pi just as determinate as a number like ½. But consider another number x that’s in the ballpark of ½.

Say the value of is 0.4999, where further digits unfurl in a choice sequence. Maybe the sequence of 9s will continue forever, in which case x converges to exactly ½. (This fact, that 0.4999… = 0.5, is true in standard math as well, since x differs from ½ by less than any finite difference.)

But if at some future point in the sequence, a digit other than 9 crops up — if, say, the value of becomes 4.999999999999997… — then no matter what happens after that, x is less than ½. But before that happens, when all we know is 0.4999, “we don’t know whether or not a digit other than 9 will ever show up,” explained Carl Posy, a philosopher of mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a leading expert on intuitionist math. “At the time we consider this x, we cannot say that x is less than ½, nor can we say that x equals ½.” The proposition “x is equal to ½” is not true, and neither is its negation. The law of the excluded middle doesn’t hold.

Moreover, the continuum can’t be cleanly divided into two parts consisting of all numbers less than ½ and all those greater than or equal to ½. “If you try to cut the continuum in half, this number x is going to stick to the knife, and it won’t be on the left or on the right,” said Posy. “The continuum is viscous; it’s sticky.”

Hilbert compared the removal of the law of excluded middle from math to “prohibiting the boxer the use of his fists,” since the principle underlies much mathematical deduction. Although Brouwer’s intuitionist framework compelled and fascinated the likes of Kurt Gödel and Hermann Weyl, standard math, with its real numbers, dominates because of ease of use.

The Unfolding of Time

Gisin first encountered intuitionist math at a meeting last May attended by Posy. When the two got to talking, Gisin quickly saw a connection between the unspooling decimal digits of numbers in this mathematical framework and the physical notion of time in the universe. Materializing digits seemed to naturally correspond to the sequence of moments defining the present, when the uncertain future becomes concrete reality. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, Math, Science

Unintended outcomes: The Hate Store: Amazon’s Self-Publishing Arm Is a Haven for White Supremacists

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Ava Kofman, Francis Tseng, and Moira Weigel report on how unmonitored media are exploited by hate groups (cf. various subreddits), in this case Amazon’s CreateSpace.

“Give me, a white man, a reason to live,” a user posted to the anonymous message board 4chan in the summer of 2017. “Should I get a hobby. What interests can I pursue to save myself from total despair. How do you go on living.”

A fellow user had a suggestion: “Please write a concise book of only factual indisputable information exposing the Jews,” focusing on “their selling of our high tech secrets to China/Russia” and “their long track record of pedophilia and perversion etc.”

The man seeking advice was intrigued. “And who would publish it and who would put it in their bookstores that would make it worth the trouble,” he asked.

The answer came a few minutes later. “Self-publish to Amazon,” his interlocutor replied.

“Kindle will publish anything,” a third user chimed in.

They were basically right. It takes just a couple of minutes to upload one’s work to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon’s self-publishing arm; the e-book then shows up in the world’s largest bookstore within half a day, typically with minimal oversight. Since its founding more than a decade ago, KDP has democratized the publishing industry and earned praise for giving authors shut out of traditional channels the chance to reach an audience that would have been previously unimaginable.

It has also afforded the same opportunity to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, an investigation by ProPublica and The Atlantic has found. Releases include “Anschluss: The Politics of Vesica Piscis,” a polemic that praises the “grossly underappreciated” massacre of 77 people by the Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Breivik in 2011, and “The White Rabbit Handbook,” a manifesto linked to an Illinois-based militia group facing federal hate-crime charges for firebombing a mosque. (Amazon removed the latter last week following questions from ProPublica.) About 200 of the 1,500 books recommended by the Colchester Collection, an online reading room run by and for white nationalists, were self-published through Amazon. And new KDP acolytes are born every day: Members of fringe groups on 4chan, Discord and Telegram regularly tout the platform’s convenience, according to our analysis of thousands of conversations on those message boards. There are “literally zero hoops,” one user in 4chan’s /pol/ forum told another in 2015. “Just sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing and publish away. It’s shocking how simple it is, actually.” Even Breivik, at the start of the 1,500-page manifesto that accompanied his terrorist attacks, suggested that his followers use KDP’s paperback service, among others, to publicize his message.

That these books are widely available on Amazon does not seem to be an accident but the inevitable consequence of the company’s business strategy. Interviews with more than two dozen former Amazon employees suggest that the company’s drive for market share and philosophical aversion to gatekeepers have incubated an anything-goes approach to content: Virtually no idea is too inflammatory, and no author is off-limits. As major social networks and other publishing platforms have worked to ban extremists, Amazon has emerged as their safe space, a haven from which they can spread their message into mainstream American culture with little more than a few clicks.

“There is a lot of extremist content on Amazon,” said J. M. Berger, who studies such works as a fellow with the E.U.-funded VOX-Pol research network. “The platform has gone largely overlooked because, understandably, we think of books differently than other content. But these products are for sale and they’re being algorithmically pushed.” We tested the recommendations for many far-right texts and discovered several that could lead users down a hate-filled rabbit hole, where the suggested books reinforce a white nationalist worldview. For e-books that retail between $2.99 and $9.99, authors keep 70% of the profits and Amazon takes the rest. (Amazon doesn’t break out revenue for book sales or its self-publishing arm.)

“As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “That includes books that some may find objectionable, though we have policies governing which books can be listed for sale. We invest significant time and resources to ensure our guidelines are followed, and remove products that do not adhere to our guidelines. We also promptly investigate any book when a concern is raised.”

The growing influence of social networks on political life has prompted a national debate about what should stay up on these platforms, what should come down, who’s to blame and who decides. Following the deadly far-right violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and PayPal cracked down on the activities of white supremacists and hate groups on their platforms. In recent years, Amazon has barred several high-profile white supremacist authors, including former Klan leader David Duke, from its bookstore. It does occasionally pull extremist books from KDP, sometimes months or years after publication, and often in secret, without providing any explanation to authors or readers. But these removals appear to be the exception. KDP’s terse policies do not address hate speech, racism or incitements to violence, though Amazon reserves the right to remove any items from its store, including “content that disappoints our customers” or fails to “provide an enjoyable reading experience.” By and large, Amazon, which in the United States controls around half of the market for all books, and close to 90% for e-books, has become a gateway for white supremacists to reach the American reading public.


The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Billy Roper “the uncensored voice of violent neo-Nazism”; Roper calls himself “the most widely read living fiction author in the white nationalist movement.” For several decades, he has led . . .

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Full disclosure: My own book on shaving is published through CreateSpace, but the only object of hatred is bad shave experience.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 10:39 am

How the Man Who Invented Xbox Baked a 4,500-Year-Old Egyptian Sourdough

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I would love to taste this bread. It sounds delicious. Luke Fater reports in Atlas Obscura:

LIKE MANY OF US, SEAMUS Blackley tweeted a photo of homemade sourdough while stuck at home this weekend. Unlike many of us, however, Blackley is no novice, and this was no online recipe comprised of everyday ingredients. A trained physicist and video game producer credited with inventing the Xbox, Blackley is also an experienced baker and amateur Egyptologist. The recipe came, in part, from ancient hieroglyphs, and the ingredients came, in part, from museum archives.

Blackley’s weekend sourdough was the culmination of a year-long passion project that produced a loaf of bread not eaten for millenia. By extracting 4,500-year-old dormant yeast samples from ancient Egyptian baking vessels and reviving them in his home kitchen, Blackley and his collaborators quite literally brought history to life, and ate it. “It was unbelievably emotional for me,” says Blackley. “I stan Egypt.” While the breakthrough is cause for celebration among Egyptophiles, archaeologists, and bakers everywhere, the project was actually born of an online blunder.

Ever since he first saw a mummy on Scooby-Doo as a child, Blackley has harbored an insatiable curiosity for all things Egypt. And ever since his parents let him in the kitchen as a teenager, he’s been baking bread as well. So when a friend approached him last April with what he claimed was ancient Egyptian yeast, Blackley leapt at the opportunity, tweeting a photo of the resultant “ancient” loaf. Online academics summarily dragged him for the yeast’s questionable provenance.

One of the detractors was an archaeologist with a background in Egyptology from the University of Queensland, Dr. Serena Love. “I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I don’t have an Xbox, I could care less about Xboxes,” says Dr. Love. She expertly probed him about the yeast, asking what Blackley ultimately called “the right questions.” Another interested voice was Richard Bowman, a biologist at the University of Iowa.

The online reaction actually seemed to encourage Blackley. “I feel I have a responsibility of being a modern representative of ancient Egyptians and not letting people give them any shit,” says Blackley. He’d hoped his experiment would disprove all-too-common assumptions about ancient cultures.

“People assume they were primitive because they didn’t have iPhones,” says Blackley. “They were potentially more sophisticated because of that.” He believes that feeble attempts at ancient-baking reenactments further denigrate the legacy of ancient Egyptians as well. “People come out with a bad result and say, ‘Oh, look at this disgusting food, the ancient world must have been terrible,’ but anyone who’s studied this knows that’s utter bullshit,” says Blackley. “They were master bakers.”

Instead of arguing with his auditors, Blackley enlisted Love and Bowman to help him get it right and bake a truly ancient Egyptian loaf. “I picked the two people who gave me the most crap and I said, ‘Let’s be friends,’” says Blackley.

Between an archaeologist, a biologist, and a dedicated, well-funded baker, the team laid their groundwork. If Dr. Love could secure access to ancient baking pottery, Bowman could provide a safe method to extract the ancient yeast for Blackley to then revive and bake. “It was one of those weird confluences where the right people with the right mix of skills showed up on Twitter at the same time,” says Blackley. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 9:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

Achilles and the 102 — and the benefits of palm lathering

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When I loaded this Plisson European Grey, I got a good amount of soap, though I did have to add a driblet of water twice during the loading — additional water is often required when the shaving soap contains clay, which Achilles does:

Stearic Acid, Coconut Fatty Acid, Palm Stearic, Castor, Potassium Hydroxide, Glycerin, Tobacco Tea, Aloe Vera, Coconut-Emu-Tallow-Meadow Foam-Borage-Argan- Oils, Kentucky Bourbon, Sodium Lactate, Herbal Ground Tea, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Allantoin, Silica, Bentonite Clay, Glycerin Soap, Tobacco Absolute, Mica and Fragrance.

When I brought brush to face, it spread the soap and dribbled water, rather than instantly having a good lather in it. So I worked up my lather in my cupped palm: you cup your non-dominant hand and treat it as a lathering bowl. It works extremely well, and with some vigorous brushing the soap and water combined, along with some air, to produce an extremely nice lather. I rinsed myhand, brought brush to face, and no more issues.

With the excellent lather and the superb iKon 102, the shave itself was a pleasure and comfortably produced the smooth finish one wants. A splash of Achilles aftershave, and the new day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2020 at 9:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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