Later On

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

Archive for June 15th, 2020

Jon Stewart makes some good points

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David Marchese interviewed Jon Stewart for the NY Times. It’s worth reading. From the interview:

For all the value Jon Stewart delivered as a political satirist and voice of reason during his 16-year-run as the host of ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ it’s quite plausible to suggest that the political and media Bizarro World in which we live — where skepticism is the default, news is often indistinguishable from entertainment and entertainers have usurped public authority from the country’s political leaders — is one that he and his show helped to usher in. ‘‘Look, we certainly were part of that ecosystem, but I don’t think that news became entertainment because they thought our show was a success,’’ Stewart says. ‘‘Twenty-four-hour news networks are built for one thing, and that’s 9/11. There are very few events that would justify being covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So in the absence of urgency, they have to create it. You create urgency through conflict.’’ That pervasive sense of political and social conflict has only grown since Stewart left the air in 2015.

. . .  what [have] you been thinking about and seeing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing?

I’d like to say I’m surprised by what happened to him, but I’m not. This is a cycle, and I feel that in some ways, the issue is that we’re addressing the wrong problem. We continue to make this about the police — the how of it. How can they police? Is it about sensitivity and de-escalation training and community policing? All that can make for a less-egregious relationship between the police and people of color. But the how isn’t as important as the why, which we never address. The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation. But if we don’t address the anguish of a people, the pain of being a people who built this country through forced labor — people say, ‘‘I’m tired of everything being about race.’’ Well, imagine how [expletive] exhausting it is to live that.

I get that you’re saying that the police and policing are a mirror of societal power structures, but it doesn’t quite address police brutality. We can’t absolve that.

Police brutality is an organic offshoot of the dehumanization of those power structures. There are always going to be consequences of authority. When you give someone a badge and a gun, that’s going to create its own issues, and there’s no question that those issues can be addressed with greater accountability. It can be true that you can value and admire the contribution and sacrifice that it takes to be a law-enforcement officer or an emergency medical worker in this country and yet still feel that there should be standards and accountability. Both can be true. But I still believe that the root of this problem is the society that we’ve created that contains this schism, and we don’t deal with it, because we’ve outsourced our accountability to the police.

Does the scale and intensity of the protests suggest some positive strides toward accountability?

Maybe. Look, every advancement toward equality has come with the spilling of blood. Then, when that’s over, a defensiveness from the group that had been doing the oppressing. There’s always this begrudging sense that black people are being granted something, when it’s white people’s lack of being able to live up to the defining words of the birth of the country that is the problem. There’s a lack of recognition of the difference in our system. Chris Rock used to do a great bit: ‘‘No white person wants to change places with a black person. They don’t even want to exchange places with me, and I’m rich.’’ It’s true. There’s not a white person out there who would want to be treated like even a successful black person in this country. And if we don’t address the why of that treatment, the how is just window dressing. You know, we’re in a bizarre time of quarantine. White people lasted six weeks and then stormed a state building* with rifles, shouting: ‘‘Give me liberty! This is causing economic distress! I’m not going to wear a mask, because that’s tyranny!’’ That’s six weeks versus 400 years of quarantining a race of people. The policing is an issue, but it’s the least of it. We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them. . .

There’s much more.

* On April 30, protesters, some of whom were armed, assembled inside Michigan’s State Capitol building to protest a request by the Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to extend her emergency powers in response to the coronavirus.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 8:49 pm

If you won’t take a wooden nickel, how about a wooden dollar?

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Interesting article in The Hustle: “Why a small town in Washington is printing its own currency during the pandemic.”

In a bid to lessen the blow of COVID-19, the town of Tenino has started issuing its own wooden dollars that can only be spent at local businesses. Will it work?

From the article, it seems as though it might.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 8:33 pm

Points of contact – a short history of door handles

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Edwin Heathcote writes in Apollo:

We have all become suddenly more aware of the moments when we cannot avoid touching elements of public buildings. Architecture is the most physical, most imposing and most present of the arts – you cannot avoid it yet, strangely, we touch buildings at only a very few points – the handrail, perhaps a light switch and, almost unavoidably, the door handle. This modest piece of handheld architecture is our critical interface with the structure and the material of the building. Yet it is often reduced to the most generic, cheaply made piece of bent metal which is, in its way, a potent critique of the value we place on architecture and our acceptance of its reduction to a commodified envelope rather than an expression of culture and craft.

Despite their ubiquity and pivotal role in the haptic experience of architecture, door handles remain oddly under-documented. There are no serious histories and only patchy surveys of design, mostly sponsored by manufacturers. Yet in the development of the design of the door handle we have, in microcosm, the history of architecture, a survey of making and a measure of the development of design and how it relates to manufacture, technology and the body.

For as long as there have been doors there have been door handles. They may have been primitive to start, an iron or wooden latch, a turned wooden knob, a piece of string or a leather strap.  By the 18th century houses in central Europe displayed elaborate wrought-iron lever handles on their front doors, French palaces showed off with delicately cast brass versions and English houses preferred simple round or oval knobs. Manufacture was relatively local and types developed in specific regions, each with their own tastes and materials. They might be wooden knobs in the forms of beehives and small levers with wooden grips, or made out of porcelain or ceramic.

At the turn of the 20th century architects, rather than artisans, began turning their attention to door handles. The advent of art nouveau and the conception of the building as a Gesamtkunstwerk led to a proliferation of florid, organic brass handles which mirrored the fluid lines of the structure, reconceiving the handle as architectural microcosm rather than craftwork add-on. Peter Behrens, Hector Guimard, Josef Maria Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann and dozens of others created complex, intense and compact designs which mirrored the whiplash lines or geometric obsessions of their architecture. Antoni Gaudí’s designs for the delicately scrolled door handles of the Casa Batlló of 1904–06 have a stripped rococo feel and are still in production. . .

Continue reading. Good photos at the link. Free registration required.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 8:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Tour of Manhattan’s destroyed storefronts

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This is interesting — and grim. There seems to have been considerable property destruction and looting.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Interesting test of knife-sharpening systems

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A very interesting video. FWIW, I’ve used the Lansky system, and I found the KME system to be much better (although also more expensive). For one thing, the KME system is easier to use and of better construction. To be fair, the KME system costs more than the Lansky — the full KME kit is $320 whereas the Lansky kit with 4 diamond hones is $115. (The KME full kit provides 6 diamond hones and 4 hard Arkansas hones.) You can also get a Lansky kit for $65 that has 4 carbide hones.

One stumbling block for most sharpening systems that grip the back of the blade occurs when the blade has a distal taper, which means that the blade’s thickness tapers, being thickest near the handle and thinner as you near the tip. Clamping such a blade at one place generally means that with pressure the blade pivots in the clamp. Ideal is a two-clamp system, which clamps the blade at two places.

Wicked Edge addresses this problem in their Gen 3 Pro by using a pronged clamp, which definitely helps. The TSPROF sharpening system, however, uses two separate clamps. I haven’t used the TSPROF but it looks as though that approach would solve that problem.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Daily life

It Can Happen Here

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In the New York Review of Books Cass R. Sunstein reviews a couple of ominous books about how a public can blind itself to what is happening (review also available in complete form here):

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45
by Milton Mayer, with a new afterword by Richard J. Evans
University of Chicago Press, 378 pp., $20.00 (paper)

Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century
by Konrad H. Jarausch
Princeton University Press, 446 pp., $35.00<

Liberal democracy has enjoyed much better days. Vladimir Putin has entrenched authoritarian rule and is firmly in charge of a resurgent Russia. In global influence, China may have surpassed the United States, and Chinese president Xi Jinping is now empowered to remain in office indefinitely. In light of recent turns toward authoritarianism in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and the Philippines, there is widespread talk of a “democratic recession.” In the United States, President Donald Trump may not be sufficiently committed to constitutional principles of democratic government.

In such a time, we might be tempted to try to learn something from earlier turns toward authoritarianism, particularly the triumphant rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. The problem is that Nazism was so horrifying and so barbaric that for many people in nations where authoritarianism is now achieving a foothold, it is hard to see parallels between Hitler’s regime and their own governments. Many accounts of the Nazi period depict a barely imaginable series of events, a nation gone mad. That makes it easy to take comfort in the thought that it can’t happen again.

But some depictions of Hitler’s rise are more intimate and personal. They focus less on well-known leaders, significant events, state propaganda, murders, and war, and more on the details of individual lives. They help explain how people can not only participate in dreadful things but also stand by quietly and live fairly ordinary days in the midst of them. They offer lessons for people who now live with genuine horrors, and also for those to whom horrors may never come but who live in nations where democratic practices and norms are under severe pressure.

Milton Mayer’s 1955 classic They Thought They Were Free, recently republished with an afterword by the Cambridge historian Richard J. Evans, was one of the first accounts of ordinary life under Nazism. Dotted with humor and written with an improbably light touch, it provides a jarring contrast with Sebastian Haffner’s devastating, unfinished 1939 memoir, Defying Hitler, which gives a moment-by-moment, you-are-there feeling to Hitler’s rise. (The manuscript was discovered by Haffner’s son after the author’s death and published in 2000 in Germany, where it became an immediate sensation.)* A much broader perspective comes from Konrad Jarausch’s Broken Lives, an effort to reconstruct the experience of Germans across the entire twentieth century. What distinguishes the three books is their sense of intimacy. They do not focus on historic figures making transformative decisions. They explore how ordinary people attempted to navigate their lives under terrible conditions.

Haffner’s real name was Raimund Pretzel. (He used a pseudonym so as not to endanger his family while in exile in England.) He was a journalist, not a historian or political theorist, but he interrupts his riveting narrative to tackle a broad question: “What is history, and where does it take place?” He objects that most works of history give “the impression that no more than a few dozen people are involved, who happen to be ‘at the helm of the ship of state’ and whose deeds and decisions form what is called history.” In his view, that’s wrong. What matters are “we anonymous others” who are not just “pawns in the chess game,” because the “most powerful dictators, ministers, and generals are powerless against the simultaneous mass decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large.” Haffner insists on the importance of investigating “some very peculiar, very revealing, mental processes and experiences,” involving “the private lives, emotions and thoughts of individual Germans.”

Mayer had the same aim. An American journalist of German descent, he tried to meet with Hitler in 1935. He failed, but he did travel widely in Nazi Germany. Stunned to discover a mass movement rather than a tyranny of a diabolical few, he concluded that his real interest was not in Hitler but in people like himself, to whom “something had happened that had not (or at least not yet) happened to me and my fellow-countrymen.” In 1951, he returned to Germany to find out what had made Nazism possible.

In They Thought They Were Free, Mayer decided to focus on ten people, different in many respects but with one characteristic in common: they had all been members of the Nazi Party. Eventually they agreed to talk, accepting his explanation that he hoped to enable the people of his nation to have a better understanding of Germany. Mayer was truthful about that and about nearly everything else. But he did not tell them that he was a Jew.

In the late 1930s—the period that most interested Mayer—his subjects were working as a janitor, a soldier, a cabinetmaker, an office manager, a baker, a bill collector, an inspector, a high school teacher, and a police officer. One had been a high school student. All were male. None of them occupied positions of leadership or influence. All of them referred to themselves as “wir kleine Leute, we little people.” They lived in Marburg, a university town on the river Lahn, not far from Frankfurt.

Mayer talked with them over the course of a year, under informal conditions—coffee, meals, and long, relaxed evenings. He became friends with each (and throughout he refers to them as such). As he put it, with evident surprise, “I liked them. I couldn’t help it.” They could be ironic, funny, and self-deprecating. Most of them enjoyed a joke that originated in Nazi Germany: “What is an Aryan? An Aryan is a man who is tall like Hitler, blond like Goebbels, and lithe like Göring.” They also could be wise. Speaking of the views of ordinary people under Hitler, one of them asked:

Opposition? How would anybody know? How would anybody know what somebody else opposes or doesn’t oppose? That a man says he opposes or doesn’t oppose depends upon the circumstances, where, and when, and to whom, and just how he says it. And then you must still guess why he says what he says.

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

Mayer suggests that even when tyrannical governments do horrific things, outsiders tend to exaggerate their effects on the actual experiences of most citizens, who focus on their own lives and “the sights which meet them in their daily rounds.” Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. They were able to vacation in Norway or Spain through the “Strength Through Joy” program. Fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick were more likely to receive treatment. The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”

Even in retrospect Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who had “a feeling for masses of people” and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment—to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of “the whole pack”—“all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties”—and for his “cleanup of moral degenerates.” The bank clerk described Hitler as “a spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.”

Mayer did not bring up the topic of anti-Semitism with any of his subjects, but after a few meetings, each of them did so on his own, and they returned to it constantly. When the local synagogue was burned in 1938, most of the community was under only one obligation: “not to interfere.” Eventually Mayer showed his subjects the local newspaper from November 11, 1938, which contained a report: “In the interest of their own security, a number of male Jews were taken into custody yesterday. This morning they were sent away from the city.” None of them remembered seeing it, or indeed anything like it.

The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”

With evident fatigue, the baker reported, “One had no time to think. There was so much going on.” His account was similar to that of one of Mayer’s colleagues, a German philologist in the country at the time, who emphasized the devastatingly incremental nature of the descent into tyranny and said that “we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.” The philologist pointed to a regime bent on diverting its people through endless dramas (often involving real or imagined enemies), and “the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise.” In his account, “each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’” that people could no more see it “developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”

Focusing largely on 1933, in Defying Hitler Haffner offers a radically different picture, in which the true nature of Nazism was evident to many Germans from the start. Just twenty-five years old that year and studying law with the goal of becoming a judge or administrator, he describes the mounting effects of Nazism on the lives of his high-spirited friends and fellow students, who were preoccupied with fun, job prospects, and love affairs. Haffner says that as soon as the Nazis took power, he was saved by his capacity to smell the rot:

As for the Nazis, my nose left me with no doubts. It was just tiresome to talk about which of their alleged goals and intentions were still acceptable or even “historically justified” when all of it stank. How it stank! That the Nazis were enemies, my enemies and the enemies of all I held dear, was crystal clear to me from the outset.

As Haffner describes it, a form of terror began quickly, as members of the SS made their presence felt, intimidating people in public places. At the same time, citizens were distracted by an endless stream of festivities and celebrations. The intimidation, accompanied by the fervent, orchestrated pro-Nazi activity, produced an increase in fear, which led many skeptics to become Nazis. Nonetheless, people flirted, enjoyed romances, “went to the cinema, had a meal in a small wine bar, drank Chianti, and went dancing together.” Sounding here like Mayer’s subjects, Haffner writes that it was the “automatic continuation of ordinary life” that “hindered any lively, forceful reaction against the horror.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Government, Law, Politics

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From national parks to the deep sea, plastic pollution is showing up wherever scientists look

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Humans have fouled their nest — and they keep doing it. I was thinking of a time-travel approach, but that wouldn’t work. If you could travel back to just prior to the Industrial Revolution and warn of the dangers that fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) pose to the global environment, you would have zero impact. If you could travel back to the 1930s or 1940s and warn about the dangers of plastics to the environment — and, since they are potent endocrine disruptors, to life — no one would listen. By 1967, it would be much too late:

John Metcalfe reports in the Washington Post:

In 2017, Janice Brahney was examining dust that had blown across the wilderness of the Western United States to determine its nutrient composition. She slid her samples under a microscope, expecting to see the usual quartz and feldspar grains, pollen and random bug parts.
Instead, what leaped from the lens were candy-colored shards and spherules — blue, pink and red plastics mixed with the dust like foul confetti.
“I was really taken aback when I saw this,” said Brahney, an assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Utah State University. “I had no idea that our pollution had extended to that level.”
Sensing a potential discovery, Brahney, along with fellow researchers, started monitoring dust deposits in nearly a dozen protected areas in the West — places we tend to think of as relatively pristine, like Joshua Tree National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Grand Canyon.

At each location, they found microplastics blown in on the breeze. In a study released Friday in the journal Science, they reveal just how much plastic is landing on protected areas in the West: more than 1,000 tons each year, equal to 123 million to 300 million pulverized plastic water bottles.
Not many hikers huffing up a mountain trail would realize they might be breathing in components of what used to be somebody’s snazzy nylon pants. Minuscule plastic particles — microplastics made from artificial clothing fibers, broken-down consumer products, beads used in medical and industry applications and other sources — are practically undetectable to the naked eye.
But they’re ubiquitous now, thanks to a world that generates hundreds of millions of tons of plastic every year.
“We are producing something that doesn’t go away, and just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Brahney said.
The study found microplastic particle sizes that ranged between four and 188 microns. The smallest were as tiny as one-tenth the width of a human hair, and the largest were twice the size of fine beach sand. Some of the smaller particles can, if ingested, become lodged in human lungs.
We’ve known for decades that plastics litter the oceans, accumulating in floating garbage patches, piling up like landfills in deep-sea trenches and being eaten by the tiniest organisms in the marine food chain.
But it hasn’t been until recently that scientists realized it was flying above our heads, similar to how dust particles are picked up by the wind. One of the first studies on this phenomenon came out in 2015 — though the precise mechanisms of uptake and deposition and, more importantly, their consequences are still poorly understood.
The discovery of airborne plastic dusting cities and agricultural areas as well as more-remote locations have alarmed the research community that studies such contamination. “Atmospheric transport means our wilderness areas — and thus our safety net of ecosystems, insects, and animals not affected by farming — are not safe,” Steve Allen, a plastics researcher at Scotland’s University of Strathclyde, said via email.

“The effects of microplastic on these areas is still being researched, but it is known that even the physical act of eating it can block the digestive tract of small creatures like worms. That is not even counting the mutagenic, carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals that plastic carries,” Allen said.
Brahney’s work sheds new light on the atmospheric plastic cycle, revealing the role cities play as generation tanks, how storms can fling plastics many miles away and vast ribbons of lightweight plastic whizzing across vast distances on the power of large-scale atmospheric circulation like the jet stream.
This research “has shown that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 9:58 am

Meißner Tremonia Natural Bay Rum with Gilbert Henry and the Merkur 37G

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Something I’ve noticed that seems common to German and Austrian shaving products in bottles and jars (and tubs such as this: a short, squat jar): they use locking threads on the caps. This may be common across northern Europe or even through the EU, but I seem to notice it most on the German products I use — e.g., Meißner Tremonia, Hâttric).

The Rooney Style 2 Finest made a very nice lather, and I find Natural Bay Rum’s fragrance appealing. Three passes of my Merkur 37G wiped away the three-day stubble and an little Gilbert Henry Bay Rum Aftershave Balm (though I would call it an aftershave milk — a little thin for a balm) finished the job in fine style. This aftershave is very pleasant, and the net result is a soft, supple, smooth face: a good start for the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 8:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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