Later On

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

Archive for April 13th, 2020

The Naval Academy’s War With a Professor Who Sends Shirtless Pics, Offends Women and Minorities—and Somehow Came Out on Top

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Because my undergraduate college was just across the street from the US Naval Academy (and because occasionally there was a class or course with students from toth institutions), I found a Washingtonian article by Benjamin Wofford of interest. (I wonder whether he’s related to Harris Wofford — a grandson?) The article begins:

The US Merit Systems Protection Board—the judicial dustbin where the United States does battle with employees it wants to fire—is one building no bureaucrat ever wants to see. The jig may well be up by the time you arrive: Terminating a civil servant is so comically burdensome that the very fact of anyone assembling here means Uncle Sam has judged him worthy of the exertion. Certainly that was true last year when the court heard the case of US Naval Academy professor Bruce Fleming.

The Academy’s commandant had arrived that day in his Service Khakis—gold clipped belt, shined black shoes, collar insignia denoting rank. Across the aisle, in a Corneliani jacket and yellow bow tie, was the flopping marlin the school had spent years trying to spear: Fleming, a longtime English teacher. Or, as the Navy would argue, a threat to order and discipline, a corrupting influence, and, reading between the lines, a profound pain in the ass.

A grudging civility hung in the air. After three military investigations, one department inquiry, a three-year-long federal lawsuit, and one whistleblower complaint, most everybody knew everybody by now. This time, the Navy had brought allegations on behalf of five students: that Fleming had discussed oral sex and transgender surgery in class, lobbed a political epithet at two midshipmen, touched one inappropriately, and, among other things, deliberately mispronounced an Asian student’s name and told the student to “f— off” (Fleming denied the last accusation). The charge that had garnered the most attention was a photo: a shirtless selfie Fleming had sent to students.

Some of the allegations would set off alarms anywhere, not least at the storied service academy, where future officers are shaped by the Honor Concept and Uniform Code of Military Justice. Fleming, though, barely raised a brow behind his tortoiseshell glasses. Over years of fighting the Navy, he’d proven impossible to fire, even as he’d acknowledged—proudly, in fact—many incidents the brass described.

It was true, for instance, that he’d told a student to fix his lisp—he said he had been “doing the Navy a favor” by pointing it out, according to the findings of one Academy investigation. And he’d happily admitted discussing anal sex in class. He was fond, too, of lampooning Academy traditions, such as the famous Herndon ritual, in which shirtless plebes climb a greased obelisk. “Talk about homoerotic! This is, like, jacked-boy mud wrestling!” he exclaimed before outlining to me his theory of Annapolis’s culture of sexual repression.

Fleming called this most recent attempt to fire him “the most skewed, the most horrible, the most demeaning” ordeal of his career. He described Academy officials to me as “assholes” and “shits.”

This year, the Naval Academy was ranked highest among public liberal-arts college in America—an honor owing to its unique arrangement in which military and civilian instructors teach side by side. Fleming, beloved by his defenders as a refreshingly contrarian voice in a chauvinistic military culture, is exhibit A for anyone who sees preserving that arrangement as important. Yet he’s also the worst spokesman imaginable for just about any cause.

Which is strange because, after all these years of sparring with the higher-ups, a larger cause is precisely what he has inspired.

Fleming is 65 but looks closer to 45, a feat he owes to a lifetime of physical fitness. Mornings often consist of an hour of jogging in place while classical music pipes from his record player. His pedigree is impressive—Haverford degree at 19, dozens of books on an array of topics. A notoriously harsh grader, he simultaneously inspired a measure of devotion: Students who took to him were sometimes called the Fleming Faithful.

Not even the most faithful, though, would ever confuse him with a naval officer. Fleming spoke frankly and cursed frequently, interspersing his lectures on Tennyson and Shelley with what he called “life lessons” about things like condom use and gay relationships. He discouraged students from standing for “attention on deck” when he entered. He dressed in a different Italian suit every day, letting students try on the jackets. A male model well into his thirties, he began his courses with . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 2:46 pm

Mixed vegetables cooked today

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I used my 6-qt pot, which was large enough after I allowed things to cook down a bit.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 or 6 spring onions [or 2 good-sized leeks; or 5 or 6 bunches of scallions], chopped
3 large jalapeños, chopped (with seeds and core)
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

I put all that in the pot. Today I used 6 spring onions (including all the leaves) and 1 large leek (also including all the leaves, which require careful rinsing because of the dirt).

After that cooked down a reasonable amount, I added:

2 heads garlic, cloves peeled and chopped and allowed to rest for 15 minutes

I cooked that about three minutes, then added

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded (might go with a half)
3 medium beets, diced
1 good-sized broccoli crown, chopped
[about 4” daikon radish, diced — I didn’t have this today but normally would use it]
1 large carrot, diced
1 cup chopped celery
10 oz domestic white mushrooms, chopped coarsely
1 can tomato paste + 1 can’s worth of red wine or vermouth or water
[1 tablespoon chipotle flakes or 1 small can chipotles in adobo, chiles chopped — I didn’t include this and I regret it to this day; however, the jalapeños helped]
3/4 cup kalamata olives (pitted or sliced)
1 cup unsalted redskin peanuts
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

Cook over medium heat, stirring (carefully) until you can get all the vegetables into the pot. Then add:

1 package frozen spinach

Stir that in (carefully: the pot will be very full), cover the pot, and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring it with a spatula every 10 minutes to mix it up, moving the bottom layer to the top, and burying the top layer to cook some more.

It will last a while — that is, it will be enough for more than one meal.

You can, of course, alter the recipe to suit your own taste. Consider adding fresh asparagus, for example, and eggplant (particularly Japanese eggplant) is a good addition. A diced whole lemon or two (except the ends: cut off and discard the ends) is nice. I like bitter melon. Summer squash (diced) is good when available, and of course zucchini works as well. A bulb of fresh fennel, cored and chopped along with a few fronds, adds some crunch. A fresh bamboo shoot, peeled and diced, is good, though I would skip canned. Kohlrabi is good, again peeled and diced — kohlrabi skin is particularly tough, so remove it all. Fresh green beans, cut into 1″ sections, are nice. I sometimes include a little dried fruit such as goji berries or dried cherries.

Instead of peanuts, I sometimes use walnuts or pepitas or pecans or almonds. I use unsalted. With almonds as with peanuts, I prefer those with the pelicle (the red/brown skin) intact since it has good nutritional value.

I’m not suggesting you include all of these with the original recipe — we’d be talking in terms of a few gallons, more than one might want (though good if you’re feeding many people). I’m just listing some ideas so you can make your own mix of fresh vegetables.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 2:22 pm

Remembering the Unstoppable Freeman Dyson

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Robbert Dijkgraaf writes in Quanta:

hen Freeman Dyson passed away in February at the age of 96, the world lost one of its most versatile scientists and astute humanists. Trained as a mathematician, Dyson had an appetite for number theory, but his most famous achievement came early as a theoretical physicist, laying out the architecture of modern particle physics. He then moved into the design of nuclear reactors, nuclear-powered space travel, astronomy, astrobiology, climate change and futurism, all while being “a wise observer of the human scene.” He described himself as a frog, not a bird, as he enjoyed jumping from pool to pool, studying their details deeply in the mud. The bird’s-eye perspective was not for him, and he had a lifelong suspicion of grand unified theories.

No life was more entangled with the Institute for Advanced Study, Dyson’s home in Princeton, New Jersey. The English-born scientist came first to the Institute in 1948 as part of an exceptional group of young physicists and mathematicians working with the director, J. Robert Oppenheimer. His colleagues included the future Nobel laureates Hideki Yukawa and Jack Steinberger, as well as Dyson’s first wife, Verena Haefeli, the mother of his eldest children, Esther and George. (In 1958, Freeman married Imme Dyson, a master runner, with whom he had four daughters: Dorothy, Mia, Rebecca and Emily.)

When today’s younger scientists asked Dyson how it felt to be a physicist at the Institute in 1948, in those halcyon days when giants like Albert Einstein and Oppenheimer roamed the grounds, he had great pleasure telling them he wasn’t impressed at all by the famous men. Einstein rarely came to seminars, only when his friend Max von Laue visited, and Oppenheimer did little physics. No, his young colleagues inspired him the most.

It was in his own youth that Dyson had his most celebrated result: the unification of two complementary views of quantum electrodynamics, the theory describing the interaction of light with charged matter. During a postwar visit to the United States, he was fortunate to join the group of young American physicists who had returned from Los Alamos after building the atom bomb. Together, they set their minds on resolving the mysteries of quantum theory. Among them was Richard Feynman, the quirkiest and most brilliant of the bunch. Dyson described him as “half genius and half buffoon.” They made an immediate and lasting connection.

At that time, there were two different approaches toward understanding particle physics. Julian Schwinger at Harvard University had developed a complicated scheme of calculations that was comprehensive, but which few understood. Feynman at Cornell University, on the other hand, had posited a deceptively simple set of diagrams that described the interactions of particles in terms of their trajectories through space and time. In the summer of 1948, while traveling by Greyhound bus from San Francisco to Princeton, Dyson had an epiphany that united the two.

In a flash he understood how Feynman’s straightforward diagrams could perfectly reflect Schwinger’s abstract algebra. A single diagram could in fact be drawn in space and time in many separate ways, interchanging cause and effect, and so each one could capture a whole range of particle behavior. For example, it could describe the emission of a photon by an electron and the subsequent absorption by a second electron, but also the reverse process where the second electron emitted the photon and the first absorbed it. All these processes corresponded exactly with each of the separate calculations in Schwinger’s approach.

It was nothing less than the birth of modern particle physics. Nobel Prizes naturally soon followed — for Schwinger, Feynman and the Japanese physicist Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, who had independently found a third approach. Dyson just missed the boat that by tradition has room for only three passengers, but he often said it was much better when people asked why you didn’t get a Nobel Prize, rather than why you did.

After a brief stay at Cornell, Dyson took up a permanent post at the Institute in 1953, where he stayed until the very end, walking every morning to his office to think and write. A few years into the appointment, he abandoned particle physics. It was time for a jump into a different pool. Dyson threw himself into  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Math, Science

President Trump’s role in the US response to coronavirus and the US death toll that resulted

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Note that the graph is not of the absolute number of deaths. Because the US has a much greater population than South Korea (328.2 million for US vs. 51.6 million for South Korea), the US will naturally suffer more deaths. But what about the proportional death rate? The chart shows the rate of deaths — number of deaths per 10 million of population — and that number can be directly compared since it finesses the disparity in population size.

Take a look at that chart. The US, based on what might have been done (and in fact was done, in South Korea) has a great number of excess deaths — an excess due to the bungled response from the US.

The chart is from a NY Times article by David Leonhardt, which begins:

The United States and South Korea each had their first confirmed case of the coronavirus around Jan. 20. They each suffered their first death in late February. If anything, South Korea appeared to be slightly ahead of the United States, with more cases and more deaths, in early March.

But then the two countries began following very different paths.

From the beginning, South Korea took the virus extremely seriously, with widespread testing, tracking of cases and quarantining. The results have been impressive: Only about 220 deaths so far, and not a single day with more than a dozen deaths.

The situation in the United States, of course, has been radically different. About 2,000 Americans have been dying each day since early last week, and the United States now has the highest death toll of any country: more than 22,000 overall. In the chart above, you can see the number of new deaths each day for the two countries, adjusted for the population of each.

How did this happen?

There are multiple reasons that the virus has had such a different toll in different countries. But one of the reasons for the large toll in the United States is clearly President Trump. Over the weekend, The Times published a long story documenting the many warnings that he received throughout late January, February and much of March, about the likely severity of the virus and the need to take action.

He rejected those warnings, again and again. He chose a path of denial, rather than a path of aggressive response, as South Korea did.

In late January, several officials — including Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, and Peter Navarro, the trade adviser — told the president that the virus would likely do great damage unless the country responded. On Feb. 21, Trump administration officials conducted a meeting during which they discussed the need to close schools, cancel large gatherings and take other measures. On Feb. 25, a top disease expert in the government went so far as to make a public warning, only to be sidelined for doing so.

Each time, Trump’s response was a version of “stop panicking,” as The Times story explains.

He now conducts daily briefings where he tries to rewrite history, claiming that he knew it would be a serious problem all along. That is simply false. There is a long trail of evidence (including his own words) showing that he chose inaction over action, overruling the advice of scientists, public health experts and even some of his own advisers.

Hundreds more Americans are likely to die of the virus again today. For that, . . .

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I’ve read some comments that we should not assign blame, but of course President Trump vehemently disagrees: he is quick to assign blame, left and and right. And quick to act on it, firing people he blames (mostly people who have the temerity to disagree with him). Indeed, he seems to be moving toward firing Dr. Anthony Fauci right now because Dr. Fauci’s opinions as a doctor and epidemiologist don’t match Trump’s opinions. Trump has great respect for his own “knowledge” and no respect at all for the knowledge of others.

I am not so much interested in assigning blame as in assessing responsibility for reasons of accountability, something Republicans have long endorsed strongly. And the President of the US does, by virtue of his office and role, have a leadership responsibility. Harry S Truman famously had a sign on his desk, “The buck stops here.” President Trump apparently dislikes that sentiment — perhaps Truman’s sign should be located and nailed to the desktop, facing President Trump.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 1:21 pm

Trump’s belated and useless travel ban

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Kevin Drum blogs at Mother Jones:

Our president spent the weekend on an insane Twitter rampage, insisting that he bravely cut off travel to China in January even though everyone denounced him for it. This is, of course, a lie, but one that Trump is apparently going to repeat forever until we all get so tired of it we just let it go. For the record, though, Aaron Blake dismantled it a month ago:

After adjusting his tone on the novel coronavirus in recent days, President Trump has set about arguing — against oodles of evidence to the contrary — that he took the virus “very seriously” from the start. And to make his case, he’s again pointing to his decision to halt travel from China six weeks ago. He has repeatedly claimed that there was widespread opposition to the restrictions and has thus hailed it as a bold step.

But there are two major problems with that. The first is that there actually wasn’t anything amounting to the resistance he described, and the second is that his move actually came after the airlines had already said they would stop service to China.

Click the link for more. The truth is that Trump dithered and finally took action only when it hardly mattered anymore because nearly every airline in the world had already stopped service to China. On the morning of January 31 the three big American carriers followed suit, and it wasn’t until hours later that Trump announced his ban. The only real criticism, if you can call it that, came from experts who said that it was too late for a travel ban to have much effect. And they were right.

After the travel ban, as we all know, Trump spent the next six weeks insisting that the coronavirus was no big deal and would miraculously disappear in no time. By the time he finally . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 12:27 pm

Cut the calorie-rich-and-processed (CRAP) foods

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Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 10:58 am

A reminder: Standard Ebooks

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Many of us are homebound now, either quarantined or simply finding it the easiest way to maintain social distance, and while movies may satisfy for a while, books are a stable delight for those who read.

Nowadays ebook readers are not uncommon, and computers, tablets, and phones can be used as well. I pointed out earlier Standard Ebooks, which provides well-edited ebooks from titles out of copyright, which of course includes many classic works. Scroll down on that page to get a list of the features and benefits of their approach.

They offer free downloads in a variety of formats:

  • epub—All devices and apps except Amazon Kindle and Kobo.
  • azw3—Amazon Kindle devices and apps. Also download the Kindle cover thumbnail to see the cover in your Kindle’s library.
  • kepub—Kobo devices and apps.
  • epub3—Advanced format not yet fully compatible with most ereaders.

The links here will download Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I felt an impulse to reread the book after reading an article on maps of fictional places, which includes the map of Treasure Island. Among the pleasures of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I read in my junior year of college, were the fold-out maps of the lands traversed. (I send a thank you to Jim Broschart for getting me started on those books. In those days most of us smoked cigarettes, and Jim used a cigarette holder, which was rare and made an impression, but soon it was such a part of him that when he didn’t use it and just held the cigarette between his lips, it was shocking and close to repugnant. I doubt that he still smokes, however. But he still writes books.)

Treasure Island also appealed to me because I have good memories of reading it as a child — and because of another connection: Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it, I’m told, when he lived in Monterey, and some say that the map of Treasure Island is based on Point Lobos.

Browse through the titles. Some very good books are included.


Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 8:04 am

Posted in Books, Software, Technology

Starting the week right: Omega Pro 48, Tcheon Fung Sing, Merkur vintage bakelite slant, and Floïd aftershave

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The Omega Pro 48 is a very good brush, and though it is large (knot diameter and loft), I have no problem in using it for face lathering. It does require some time to load, though — high capacity requires more loading, whether it’s the Pro 48 and soap or a cast-iron skillet and heat. The benefit: once loading is complete, you’re good to go for a long time.

This morning the extended loading from Tcheon Fung Sing’s Tabaco verde shaving soap produced a really excellent lather: thick and creamy and clingy with an excellent fragrance.

The Merkur vintage white bakelite slant has served as a model and inspiration for a number of slants, including RazoRock’s Stealth and Fine’s ABS plastic slant and Fine’s aluminum slant. It’s a truly remarkable razor, and I have found that it always performs well.

With three totally comfortable passes I achieved an excellent BBS result. Although my was perfectly smooth, it did not feel quite so soft as it did after Saturday’s shave using The Dead Sea shaving so, which makes me think that the exceptional exfoliating quality of The Dead Sea’s ingredients, mentioned in a comment, might account for the difference in results. If you try The Dead Sea sometime, let me know your experience in a comment.

A good splash of Floïd and now the week begins. It may be that for the US as whole, this week will see the peak of pandemic deaths — which means many deaths yet to come. Stay safe and keep your distance.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2020 at 7:22 am

Posted in Shaving

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