Later On

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

Archive for July 2020

Fork: a surreal short video

leave a comment »

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Video

To Protect and to Serve: Global Lessons in Police Reform

leave a comment »

Laurence Ralph writes in Foreign Affairs:

Public outcry over the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd earlier this year has ignited mass demonstrations against structural racism and police violence in the United States. The protests have reached every American state and spread to countries around the world; they arguably constitute the most broad-based civil rights movement in American history. Protests against the brutalization of communities of color by the U.S. criminal justice system have been growing for years, but the explosive scale of the uprising this spring and summer makes it clear that the United States has reached a national reckoning.

Most Americans now understand that their country needs a radical transformation: polls conducted in early June found that a majority of U.S. citizens support sweeping national law enforcement reforms. But as Americans embark on an urgent public conversation about policing, bias, and the use of force, they should remember that theirs is not the first or the only country to grapple with these policy questions. Many reform advocates and researchers have already begun to look overseas, pointing to countries where police training looks vastly different than it does in the United States: countries where police departments take far different approaches to the use of force or have even disarmed entirely, where criminal justice systems have adopted alternative sentencing programs, and where authorities have experimented with innovative approaches to de-escalation.

Some of these ideas could be adapted for use in the United States. For too long, a culture of American exceptionalism has been a barrier to the implementation of policies that have improved public safety around the globe. Now, the United States’ capacity to heal as a nation could very well depend on its willingness to listen and learn from the rest of the world.

BRUTALITY AND BIAS

If Americans and their political leaders are to glean useful lessons from the experiences of other countries, they must first examine the practice of policing in the United States and try to define—as precisely as possible—the nature and scope of the problem. The aggressive tactics that U.S. police departments employ today were shaped by the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. During the late nineteenth century, the slave patrols and militias that had regulated the movement of enslaved people before emancipation coalesced into more formalized police forces, and they continued to enforce the racial hierarchy in a segregated nation. In the second half of the twentieth century, as the country slowly and often grudgingly integrated, police departments honed the tactics of those earlier eras as a new means of controlling and repressing Black Americans. In response to the protests and unrest of the 1960s, police forces developed the kinds of quasi-military techniques that Americans today have seen applied to a new generation of protesters. In recent decades, police departments have systematically harassed Black communities with stop-and-frisk methods and aggressive fines, which municipalities craved to supplement their shrinking budgets in an age of tax cuts and austerity.

This kind of policing does not simply threaten the quality of life in Black communities; it is a matter of life and death. In 2014, ProPublica published one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of racial disparities in deadly police encounters. Its examination included detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides between 1980 and 2012, drawn from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports. During this three-decade period, ProPublica found that young Black men were 21 times as likely to be fatally shot by law enforcement as were their white peers.

The ProPublica investigation went on to describe how white officers, who were responsible for 68 percent of the police killings of people of color, typically reported that they had used deadly force out of fear for their physical safety. Reliance on this rationale increased substantially after the Supreme Court’s 1985 decision in Tennessee v. Garner, which held that the police could use deadly force if a suspect posed a threat to a police officer or to others. In the four years preceding Tennessee v. Garner, “officer under attack” was cited in just 33 percent of police killings; 20 years later, over another four-year period, it was cited 62 percent of the time, eventually becoming an almost infallible legal defense for police officers who kill.

The U.S. government has not made data on police shootings available to the public since 2013, despite a number of high-profile fatal police shootings that would have made these records a matter of keen public interest. Although the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013 requires U.S. law enforcement agencies to provide basic information about the people killed while in custody, the extent to which individual police departments have complied with this mandate is unclear.

Citizen-led organizations have tried to fill the void. A group called Mapping Police Violence maintains a comprehensive, crowdsourced database on police killings in the United States, scouring social media, obituaries, and criminal records in an effort to account for every lost life. In an analysis of the more than 8,200 police killings that have taken place in the United States since January 2013, Mapping Police Violence found that African Americans were three times as likely to be killed by law enforcement as were their white counterparts. Crucially, the group’s findings contradict the common assumption that police officers kill African Americans at higher rates because they pose a greater threat: police departments of the 100 largest American cities killed unarmed Black people at a rate four times as high as the rate for unarmed white suspects. Still, in a shocking 99 percent of the cases the group analyzed, no officers were convicted of a crime.

GLOBAL POLICING NORMS

The analysis by Mapping Police Violence also contained another revealing finding: the group compared the victim data it had compiled against published crime rates and found no correlation between levels of violent crime in American cities and the likelihood of police killings. This presents a stark contrast with the rest of the world, where correlations generally exist between crime, social instability, and police killings. The United States is a wealthy, stable outlier in the list of countries with the highest rates of police killings. In 2019, the rate at which people were killed by the police in the United States (46.6 such killings per ten million residents) put it right between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (47.8 per ten million) and Iraq (45.1 per ten million), both of which are just emerging from years of conflict. Countries with levels of police brutality comparable to that in the United States are generally far more violent places to live and include ones, such as Egypt and Iran, that are often described by human rights campaigners as “police states.”

Other factors also differentiate the United States from wealthy, stable countries with low rates of police killings. For one thing, the countries with the lowest rates, such as Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, and Japan, have instituted mechanisms for police oversight at the national level. Although police unions exist in countries with low levels of police violence, these unions are generally affiliated with larger organizational bodies, such as Sweden’s Confederation of Professional Employees and the German Confederation of Trade Unions, and do not have as much power to insulate officers from punishment as police unions in the United States do. Many professional groups in the United States have experienced sharp declines in union membership since the 1970s, yet American police unions remain strong, and union protection frequently makes it difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

Compared with the law enforcement infrastructures in countries that have lower levels of police violence, the U.S. law enforcement infrastructure is extremely decentralized. There are nearly 18,000 police agencies in the United States. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 2:56 pm

Older All-Clad Copper Core doesn’t work on induction burners

leave a comment »

I had assumed that it would, since All-Clad Stainless works fine, but no. They simply didn’t use a stainless steel cladding that responds to magnetism. No problem, really. I’ll replace that one piece with the All-Clad Stainless version.

I note that the current line of Copper Core does work on induction burners — but mine was an older model.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Congress, Technology

Trump’s ‘Delay the Election’ tweet checks all 8 rules for fascist propaganda

leave a comment »

Timothy Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University, is the author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from The Twentieth Century. He writes in the Washington Post:

Just before 9 this morning, President Trump wrote this and pinned it to the top of his Twitter feed: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

With this tweet, the president both revives fascist propaganda and exploits a new age of Internet post-truth: He follows a trail blazed by fascists, but adds a twist that is his own.

A fascist guide to commentary on elections would have eight parts: contradict yourself to test the faith of your followers; tell a big lie to draw attention from basic realities; manufacture a crisis; designate enemies; make an appeal to pride and humiliation; express hostility to voting; cast doubt on democratic procedures; and aim for personal power.

Trump achieves all eight with admirable concision in this one tweet. He decries voting by mail, but praises absentee ballots, which are nothing else but voting by mail. The blatant contradiction, the test of faith for the true believer, is there right at the beginning, a gatekeeper for the rest of the tweet.

The big lie, in all capitals, is that the coming elections will be the most inaccurate and fraudulent in history. Historically speaking, the greatest source of inaccuracy and fraud in our elections is the suppression of African American votes, which is bad now but has been much worse. Of course, this is not at all what Trump means, and that is the point of a big lie: to replace a familiar reality with a nonexistent problem.

My entire state votes by mail. Sorry, Mr. President. It works great.

Tyrants in general and fascists in particular like to manufacture crises. Something that is true but of limited significance is transformed into an emergency that requires breaking all the rules. So, true, it does take time to count ballots, and some states do it better than others. But the claim that this requires an extraordinary step such as delaying an election is a manufactured crisis.

The cleverness of the manufactured crisis is that it plays out at the level of emotions rather than facts. If people accept it, they put their emotions in the service of the tyrant. The next move, made in the next sentence of the tweet, is to invoke humiliation. The “great embarrassment” has not happened and will not happen, but if we choose to feel humiliated, we then look for the wrongdoer.

This has been the siren song of tyrants: Some shady enemy has done us wrong, and we must restore our honor. In this tweet, the enemy is implicit: Someone has made voting improper, unsafe and insecure. From the context, it is clear that what is meant is that Democrats have tried to make voting easier. In fact, paper ballots are the most proper, safe and secure way to vote.

The basic substance of the message, then, is a call to resist voting and question democratic procedures. In that way, the final three traditional fascist objectives are achieved. Citizens are supposed to forget about their individual right to cast a ballot and doubt the familiar procedures of democratic elections, while the president simply remains (as he imagines it) in power.

So we circle back to the grand contradiction. The president claims . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 12:49 pm

Kentucky town hires social workers instead of more police officers – and the results are …

leave a comment »

David Mattingly reports for WAVE 3 News in Louisville KY:

Faced with a tight budget and rising demands on its 17 officer police department, the City of Alexandria in Campbell County tried something different. Instead of hiring an additional officer and taking on the added expenses of equipping that officer, the police chief at the time hired a social worker to respond in tandem with officers.

The goal was to provide expertise and immediately connect people in crisis to needed services.

“I’m more the second responder, so the officer responds first,” police social worker Kelly Pompilio said. “There are times that I do go on scene with the officer but that’s only after it’s secured and safe for me to enter. But I try to assist the family in whatever services they need so they don’t have to, whenever they’re having a crisis, or having a situation where they need law enforcement, they don’t have to call 911.”

Pompilio is the first to work a position of her kind in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Instead of working at another agency and waiting for a referral from a police department after a crisis, Pompilio works side-by-side with officers to respond as calls come in.

“Every day is different. We have no idea what’s going to come our way,” Pompilio said. “The main calls are domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse.”

After four years on the job, Pompilio said there has been a significant drop in repeat 911 calls with approximately 15 percent fewer people going to jail.

Now retired, former Alexandria Police Department chief Mike Ward said the results were immediate both for people in need and taxpayers.

“It was close to a $45,000 to $50,000 annual savings from hiring a police officer the first time to hiring a social worker,” Ward said. “They (police social workers) started solving problems for people in our community and for our agency that we’ve never been able to solve before.”

Ward believes the results in Alexandria, a city of less than 10,000, could be replicated in larger cities like Louisville, where officers respond to calls involving mental health, domestic disturbances, and homelessness an average of once every 10 minutes.

“Louisville is very big with services,” Pompilio said. “They have lots of things to offer families. It’s just a matter of a social worker connecting.” . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 12:38 pm

When the Culture Wars Hit Fort Wayne

leave a comment »

Charlie Savage — a really fine reporter — has a lengthy and intriguing article in Politico on the nuts and bolts of civic ambition aand conflict. It begins:

FORT WAYNE, Ind.—One chilly February evening last year in this Midwestern town where I grew up, a city council member named Jason Arp proposed a resolution: Starting that summer, the city should annually celebrate a “General ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne Day.”

My hometown is a rust-belt industrial city of a quarter-million people on the confluence of three slow rivers, today home to branches of several defense contractors and a regionally famous zoo. Wayne was an early American military leader who in 1794 built a frontier fort here, during the period when white settlers from the young United States were pushing west into the Ohio Valley and coming into conflict with Native Americans. As a piece of city business, having a day in Fort Wayne to honor Anthony Wayne might seem—from a distance at least—to be correcting an oversight. Why wouldn’t the city have a founder’s day?

At the meeting, Arp, a stocky man in his mid-40s with close-cropped hair, leaned back and put forward a glowing portrait of Wayne as a hero and role model, clicking through a slideshow. Not only had Wayne won the Northwest Indian War and established the outpost that grew into the city, but he had earlier won fame in the American Revolution for leading a charge that overran a British outpost at Stony Point, New York. This feat, Arp said, had thwarted a British attempt to capture top American military leaders like George Washington and Henry Knox after the traitor Benedict Arnold had revealed their location. “We can thank Anthony Wayne for the fact that we even have a United States of America,” he said.

He proposed that July 16, the date of the 1779 Stony Point raid, be celebrated as Wayne Day.

Arp’s account of Wayne’s life and contributions to American history is not the universal consensus among historians, and the details appeared unfamiliar to the other city council members. Watching a video of this meeting later, this did not surprise me. Local public schools had taught us almost nothing about Wayne. Occasional Cub Scout visits to the “Old Fort”—a replica fort built in the run-up to its bicentennial and staffed by costumed reenactors—were primarily about spectacles like a blacksmith hammering red-hot iron into a horseshoe and soldiers raising a flag or firing a deafening blank from a cannon, with light discussion of history. To the extent we thought about Wayne himself, the version we grew up with amounted to something like this: Indians had been giving settlers a hard time, and Wayne solved the problem.

Arp described this, in a way. His presentation detailed a military campaign in which Wayne defeated a regional alliance of native tribes, omitting most of the larger context about what had led to the war. His resolution also softened any moral discomfort raised by the basic circumstances of Wayne’s feat—he led outside invaders to victory over people trying to defend their homes—by making the claim that the Indians had been “British led,” reframing the conflict as a struggle driven by two factions of white people.

The council meeting went on to address more typical business, like approving a maintenance contract for a water treatment plant. The impact of Arp’s resolution on Wayne Day would be very different. The people in the room might not have fully appreciated it when they arrived, but the culture wars had just come to Fort Wayne.

It wasn’t surprising that Arp had been the one to fire the first shot. He had stood apart from most of his colleagues on the city council since his election in 2015, embodying a local version of the strain of Republican politics that branded itself as the Tea Party in opposition to Barack Obama and that has tightened its grip on the GOP in the Donald Trump era. Though Arp was one of seven Republicans on the nine-member council, he often found himself fighting against the majority in his own party, as well as the two Democrats. A former mortgage-backed securities trader who told me he primarily lives off his investments, he voted against budgets and redevelopment project subsidies that the council nevertheless passed; he unsuccessfully proposed to eliminate a tax that funds local libraries and public schools. (His own daughters are home-schooled.) Arp went so far as to release a scorecard on his colleagues based on whether their votes supported or opposed activity by the government, which he translated into a choice between an “authoritarian” mindset or for “liberty.” He tarred not only the two Democrats on the council as authoritarian-leaning, but also its five more traditional Republican members.

Arp pitched his Wayne Day resolution at a moment when he needed to shore up support and attract attention. Near his term’s end, he was facing a contested primary. His opponent, a more traditional Republican, won a few prominent endorsements, putting Arp’s political future in doubt. But that was before the Wayne Day fight—which would arouse the anger of a local clergyman, paralyze the city’s historical society, and surprise Fort Wayne with unhappy emissaries from a distant tribal nation in Oklahoma.

The summer of 2020 has become a time of asking questions about what America commemorates and why. The nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis are growing into a broader moment of reckoning, as the push to take down Confederate Civil War monuments expands into reconsidering statues and naming honors for historical figures like Christopher Columbus, Woodrow Wilson and Margaret Sanger. Business owners are dropping longstanding Native American stereotypes as logos and mascots from products like Land O’Lakes Butter and the no-longer Washington Redskins; frictions are erupting over calls to paint over New Deal-era murals in schools that depict slavery and Indian warfare.

But these tensions usually flare around whether to take down existing things and retire established traditions. Such debates tend to be complicated by nostalgia and the impulse to preserve things as we are accustomed to them. Wayne Day was different: This was an attempt to create something new.

On one level, to grow up in Fort Wayne was to be saturated in references to Anthony Wayne and the Native Americans he fought. I opened my first savings account at a branch of Anthony Wayne Bank, across Anthony Boulevard from an ice cream parlor that served massive “Mad Anthony” sundaes. The names of tribes that originally lived here and their chiefs also adorn schools, streets, libraries and camps. The most prominent was Chief Little Turtle of the Miami tribe, whose de facto capital town, Kekionga, had stood here long before Wayne came.

Yet most of us would have been hard-pressed to detail who any of these people were, or explain the wthat Fort Wayne’s submerged and sometimes unpleasant history helped shape modern-day America.

I have no recollection of anyone explaining that the name of our main geographical feature—the Maumee River, which forms here where two lesser waterways merge and flows to Toledo, Ohio, where it empties into Lake Erie—came from the Miami tribe. Nor was I taught that as white Americans pushed west, the Miami invited refugee tribes dislodged from their homelands, the Shawnee and the Delaware, to resettle here.

The fort that Wayne built here was soon abandoned by the army as the frontier kept shifting west, and while the white settlement that grew up around the site boomed for a period as an industrial center, it was always a minor place compared with other cities that grew up around frontier forts in the Midwest, especially Chicago and Detroit. But for a period, this spot was of singular importance in North America.

As a principal Native American settlement under the control of the Miami tribe, it flourished for most of the 18th century because it controlled the shortest overland connection between two vast river networks, linking Quebec and the Great Lakes region to the Mississippi Valley and its seaport at New Orleans. This land portage made it a crossroads both for the lucrative North American fur trade, and for Algonquin tribes throughout what we now call the Midwest.

Already a crucial hub, the cluster of native towns here then served as the military headquarters for a multi-tribal alliance—sometimes called the Western Confederacy—that battled white America for control of the entire Midwest after the Revolutionary War. The war ended when General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, carrying out the policies of President George Washington, subjugated the tribal confederation’s warriors in battle and then systematically burned down their villages and destroyed their food stores ahead of winter, breaking the tribes’ will to keep resisting. Wayne died soon after negotiating a peace treaty, but his conquest unleashed hundreds of thousands of white settlers to rapidly transform the Old Northwest into the new states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Most of its original inhabitants, especially those like the Miami who lived in the lower three states, would be removed within two generations.

Perhaps it was not surprising we hadn’t been taught about the . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and it’s interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Tagged with

Eight Go Mad in Arizona: How a Lockdown Experiment Went Horribly Wrong

leave a comment »

This article by Steve Rose from the Guardian describes the lessons learned in Biosphere 2. As the article concludes,

. . .  Both Nelson and Leigh would happily volunteer to go back in. Both were transformed by the experience, in a way they wish society as a whole could emulate. “Inside Biosphere 2, everything made sense,” says Nelson. “Everything you did, you could see the impact of it. No anonymous actions. It was like my body suddenly got the message: every time you breathe, these plants are waiting for your CO2. They are your third lung. I thought, ‘My God, this is keeping me alive! I am absolutely metabolically connected to the life here.’”

Even if history does judge Biosphere 2 a failure, is that really so bad? “The media can be very dismissive of people trying new things,” says Wolf. “So much so that people hesitate to try for fear of criticism or failure. If everybody feared failure, they would never try new and ambitious things.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 11:52 am

What Big Tobacco’s Fall Tells Us About Big Tech’s Future

leave a comment »

Will Oremus writes on Medium:

April 14, 1994, the CEOs of the seven big American tobacco firms sat side by side, facing a Congressional subcommittee hearing on their products’ health impacts. Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked them one by one to answer a simple question: Do you believe nicotine is not addictive? All seven, under oath, confirmed that they did not believe nicotine was addictive (video). The executives acknowledged that they manipulated nicotine levels in their products, but said it was to improve their flavor, not keep users hooked.

The hearing marked a turning point in the industry’s history. Up to that point, Big Tobacco had seemed untouchable politically at the federal level thanks to its cozy relationship with the GOP. But public opinion gradually turned against it as the industry continued to deny what had become plain to see: that its products were deadly, that it knew they were deadly, and that it marketed them to young people anyway.

After the 1994 hearing, the executives’ claims became infamous, and they were dubbed the “seven dwarfs.” A cascade of litigation followed, and by 1998 Republicans had abandoned the industry as a political liability, setting the stage for the industry-changing Tobacco Master Settlement later that year.

What does all of this have to do with the tech industry in 2020? Well…

The Pattern

Mr. Bezos, Mr. Cook, Mr. Pichai, and Mr. Zuckerberg go to Washington.

  • On Wednesday, the CEOs of the four most dominant internet platforms testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust. Each called in via Cisco’s WebEx videoconferencing service, though each runs a company that offers its own such service. (Fun fact: the venerable WebEx is The Wirecutter’s top pick for videoconferencing.)
  • While it may not have been clear to the casual viewer, this wasn’t a one-off event; it was the sixth in a series of hearings by the subcommittee on digital platforms and market power, part of an investigation that’s expected to culminate in a bipartisan report to Congress later this year. So you can automatically discount any take that treated the hearing as if it were supposed to be the be-all and end-all of Congress’s antitrust inquiry. As the Amazon critic Stacy Mitchell pointed out in my Q&A with her ahead of the hearing, there’s a long game here that’s bigger than the hearing itself.
  • That became more apparent when the subcommittee released a huge trove of documents obtained in the course of the investigation, which included internal emails and chats from each of the companies. These documents build a far better antitrust case against the four tech giants than anything the CEOs said during the hearing,” CNBC’s Steve Kovach wrote.
  • Still, Wednesday’s six-hour marathon understandably stole the spotlight, because it featured the top executives of four of the most powerful companies in world history. The hearing was Thursday’s top story in the major U.S. papers, and drew inevitable comparisons to the Big Tobacco hearings a quarter-century ago.
  • We can learn from the similarities between the two. The label “Big Tech” to describe the largest internet companies overtly echoes “Big Tobacco,” and is meant to evoke the same sense of shadowy power, a force in society whose influence sprawls far beyond its direct relationship with customers. Inviting the executives of all four of the major companies involved in the probe was certain to evoke callbacks to the seven dwarfs. As with Big Tobacco, there’s a sense that Big Tech is up to devious tricks behind the scenes that belie its marketing claims.
  • But the differences are at least as instructive as the similarities, when it comes to mapping out where this will lead us. While smartphones and social media have been compared to tobacco for their addictive qualities and health effects — mostly mental health, in tech’s case — that is not the core of the antitrust argument against them. Whereas Big Tobacco was under fire for making products that were literally lethal to its customers, the alleged harms at issue in the current Big Tech inquiry are mostly to rival businesses, and to more nebulous concepts such as fair competition and open markets. (I wrote briefly on Wednesday about what’s really at stake.) That doesn’t necessarily make them less urgent. But it makes them harder for the mainstream press and general public to wrap their minds around, let alone get riled up about.
  • And unlike the tobacco executives, whose companies were more or less interchangeable, the tech executives who testified Wednesday represent firms whose core platforms focus on four different arenas: online retail, mobile apps, internet search, and social media. There is a common thread — their control of lucrative sub-economies that myriad smaller companies depend on — but each raises distinct competition problems that must be understood individually. That’s why there could be no single “gotcha” moment in Wednesday’s hearing, as there was in the 1994 tobacco hearing; no iconic clip that indicts all of them in one swoop.
  • It did offer moments of drama. They were one-on-ones between a prosecutorial representative and a stammering CEO, as when Rep. Pamila Jayapal, R-WA grilled Zuckerberg (video) on whether he bullied Instagram into selling in 2012, or when Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-PA, pressed Bezos (video) on Amazon’s alleged 2010 use of predatory pricing against Diapers.com. On multiple occasions the CEOs were struck by sudden cases of selective amnesia when it came to some of the largest business moves in their history. But watching them dissemble separately, via videoconference, in response to disparate lines of attack was not the same as seeing the tobacco executives squirming side-by-side as Wyden pinned them down with one simple question.
  • The antitrust questions around tech platforms won’t be decided solely by the media and the public, of course. The subcommittee’s inquiry is helmed by Chair David Cicilline, D-RI, who in turn is being advised by staffers with deep knowledge of antitrust law and a strong reform agenda, as this New York Times profile of Cicilline from December 2019 explains. (See also this profile of law professor Lina Khan, who is helping to lead the investigation behind the scenes.) Several other Democratic committee members, including Jayapal — who got her own Times profile as an increasingly vocal Amazon critic in May — seem fully on board.
  • But the Big Tobacco saga reminds us that it may . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting.

Later in the article:

The documents released by the antitrust subcommittee make for fascinating reading, not just from an antitrust standpoint but for students of business strategy and anyone who wants to better understand how the largest tech companies operate and make decisions. You can read them for yourself here. (You can also watch a replay of the hearing, if you have six hours to kill and a masochistic streak.) As The American Prospect’s David Dayen pointed out, “the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division all had access to the same information that the subcommittee had,” and could have used it to make the same case against Big Tech, but so far has not.

BTW, I checked out WebEx (see link to the Wirecutter review above), and it looks quite good. No limit on the length of meetings even in the free account (which is what I have). Sign-up is easy.

Maybe I should host some blog chats. Any readers interested?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 11:10 am

Dismantle the Department of Homeland Security

leave a comment »

Richard A. Clarke served on the National Security Council for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He writes in the Washington Post:

President Trump has, often intentionally, damaged essential federal departments and agencies, driving from their ranks thousands of career civil servants who are global experts and national treasures. The country is seeing the results play out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but such damage has happened across the federal bureaucracy.

No national institution has been more damaged than the Department of Homeland Security. The youngest of the federal departments, the DHS is among the largest by employee count, ranking just below the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs. It was created in 2003 by smashing together 17 agencies from five departments in an ill-conceived response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Its divisions and agencies are now largely leaderless, because the White House refuses to nominate senior managers to replace those who have left. Quick, who is the secretary of homeland security?

You get my point.

Trump has done far more damage to the DHS, however, than leaving it leaderless. He has branded it as the department that cages children, swoops innocent citizens off U.S. streets, sends warriors dressed for the apocalypse to deal with protests, hunts down hard-working people doing “essential jobs” to forcibly deport them, and harasses foreign students at leading universities. The DHS has become synonymous with unsympathetic government overreach, malevolence and dysfunction.

For the patriotic, underpaid Americans working hard in the agencies of the DHS, what Trump has done to their reputations is a tragedy. The department, however, was doomed from the start. When such an agency was proposed before the Sept. 11 attacks, I was working in the White House, where I coordinated many “homeland” issues for almost a decade under President Bill Clinton and, later, President George W. Bush. Blocking the creation of the DHS was one of the few things on which Vice President Dick Cheney and I agreed. We thought that such a department would be too large, too diverse in function and too difficult to integrate into a well-functioning institution.

Congressional leaders, however, wanted to “do something” after 9/11, and it became impossible for the Bush administration to maintain its opposition to the idea of a homeland security agency. Instead, the Bush administration embraced it and quickly merged a raft of agencies ripped from their home departments. The new department never really came together.

For more than a decade, reports from the Government Accountability Office, think tanks and congressional committees have documented the failures of the DHS to coalesce into an effective entity. Its image steadily declined and was not helped by the popular television series “Homeland,” which despite its name depicted a dark world of CIA intrigue, portraying missions and functions that the DHS never actually had.. Contrary to popular belief, Homeland Security has never been the government’s lead counterterrorism entity. The FBI, part of the Justice Department, leads counterterrorism efforts within the United States.

The next administration would be well advised not to try to make the existing DHS structure work, for it will end up as another presidential administration that has failed in that task. Instead, the department should be reimagined — perhaps as part of a Reinventing Government effort, the first of which was led by then-Vice President Al Gore — with more manageable and mission-consistent entities. It should also shed its Orwellian name.

Federal departments and agencies develop personalities and images from their mission, and they attract people who identify with those personas. These identities are almost immutable, but new organizational designs and branding can reinvigorate and redirect agencies. Breaking up the DHS could have positive results.

One possibility would be to create a Department of Public Safety and Protection composed of the agencies engaged in protecting Americans on water, in cyberspace, in air travel and after natural disasters, as well as protecting U.S. leaders. A Department of Public Safety and Protection could include the Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the cyber agency CISA, Transportation Security Administration and the Secret Service. Such a smaller department could be better integrated into a well-functioning whole, with an improved public image, fewer agencies, greater transparency and positive outreach. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 10:47 am

Ludic fallacy

leave a comment »

“The map is not the territory” (Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity), and a game is not real life.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 10:42 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Games, Science

Savannah Sunrise, summer shave

leave a comment »

A summer shave for sure: “Orange Blossom, Peach, Gardenia, Jasmine, and Honeysuckle.” I have version 1 of the soap, which has now evolved to version 3:

. . . The addition of slippery elm bark, aloe, soy wax, jojoba oil and sunflower oil allows us to make an amazingly slick soap that leaves your face feeling soft and so moisturized it you don’t need any post shave treatment. . .

Ingredients: Stearic Acid, Water, Castor Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Shea Butter, Mango Butter, Babassu Oil, Sodium Lactate, Essential/Fragrance Oils, Sodium Hydroxide, Vegetable Glycerin, Myristyl Myristate, Avocado Oil, Sunflower Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Jojoba Oil, Meadowfoam Oil, Soy Wax, Cucumber Extract, Licorice Extract, Candelilla Extract, Sodium PCA, Sensolene, Squalane, Slippery Elm Bark, Aloe Vera Concentrate, Citric Acid.

The citric acid should help performance in hard water. As you note, it’s a vegan shaving soap.

My Vie-Long horsehair did a fine job and I do love this fragrance. Three passes with the EJ head on a Maggard stainless handle left my face very smooth, and the Savannah Sunrise aftershave felt good and smelled wonderful. And I can see the weekend from here.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

Dried persimmons

leave a comment »

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2020 at 5:32 pm

Q: Why Are Plants Green? A: To Reduce the Noise in Photosynthesis.

leave a comment »

Rodrigo Pérez Ortega writes in Quanta:

From large trees in the Amazon jungle to houseplants to seaweed in the ocean, green is the color that reigns over the plant kingdom. Why green, and not blue or magenta or gray? The simple answer is that although plants absorb almost all the photons in the red and blue regions of the light spectrum, they absorb only about 90% of the green photons. If they absorbed more, they would look black to our eyes. Plants are green because the small amount of light they reflect is that color.

But that seems unsatisfyingly wasteful because most of the energy that the sun radiates is in the green part of the spectrum. When pressed to explain further, biologists have sometimes suggested that the green light might be too powerful for plants to use without harm, but the reason why hasn’t been clear. Even after decades of molecular research on the light-harvesting machinery in plants, scientists could not establish a detailed rationale for plants’ color.

Recently, however, in the pages of Science, scientists finally provided a more complete answer. They built a model to explain why the photosynthetic machinery of plants wastes green light. What they did not expect was that their model would also explain the colors of other photosynthetic forms of life too. Their findings point to an evolutionary principle governing light-harvesting organisms that might apply throughout the universe. They also offer a lesson that — at least sometimes — evolution cares less about making biological systems efficient than about keeping them stable.

The mystery of the color of plants is one that Nathaniel Gabor, a physicist at the University of California, Riverside, stumbled into years ago while completing his doctorate. Extrapolating from his work on light absorption by carbon nanotubes, he started thinking of what the ideal solar collector would look like, one that absorbed the peak energy from the solar spectrum. “You should have this narrow device getting the most power to green light,” he said. “And then it immediately occurred to me that plants are doing the opposite: They’re spitting out green light.”

In 2016, Gabor and his colleagues modeled the best conditions for a photoelectric cell that regulates energy flow. But to learn why plants reflect green light, Gabor and a team that included Richard Cogdell, a botanist at the University of Glasgow, looked more closely at what happens during photosynthesis as a problem in network theory.

The first step of photosynthesis happens in a light-harvesting complex, a mesh of proteins in which pigments are embedded, forming an antenna. The pigments — chlorophylls, in green plants — absorb light and transfer the energy to a reaction center, where the production of chemical energy for the cell’s use is initiated. The efficiency of this quantum mechanical first stage of photosynthesis is nearly perfect — almost all the absorbed light is converted into electrons the system can use.

But this antenna complex inside cells is constantly moving. “It’s like Jell-O,” Gabor said. “Those movements affect how the energy flows through the pigments” and bring noise and inefficiency into the system. Quick fluctuations in the intensity of light falling on plants — from changes in the amount of shade, for example — also make the input noisy. For the cell, a steady input of electrical energy coupled to a steady output of chemical energy is best: Too few electrons reaching the reaction center can cause an energy failure, while “too much energy will cause free radicals and all sorts of overcharging effects” that damage tissues, Gabor said.

Gabor and his team developed a model for the light-harvesting systems of plants and applied it to the solar spectrum measured below a canopy of leaves. Their work made it clear why what works for nanotube solar cells doesn’t work for plants: It might be highly efficient to specialize in collecting just the peak energy in green light, but that would be detrimental for plants because, when the sunlight flickered, the noise from the input signal would fluctuate too wildly for the complex to regulate the energy flow. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2020 at 2:31 pm

This was the week America lost the war on misinformation

leave a comment »

Margaret Sullivan was the only good Public Editor the NY Times had. (The Times has since abolished the post, presumably because it kept pointing out errors and misjudgments by the Times.) She writes in the Washington Post:

You may have heard about the viral video featuring a group of fringe doctors spouting dangerous falsehoods about hydroxychloroquine as a covid-19 wonder cure.

In fact, it’s very possible you saw the video since it was shared on social media tens of millions of times — partly thanks to President Trump who retweeted it more than once, and who described the group’s Stella Immanuel, also known for promoting wacky notions about demon sperm and alien DNA, as “very impressive” and even “spectacular.”

Given this and a few other hideous developments, it’s time to acknowledge the painfully obvious: America has waved the white flag and surrendered.

With nearly 150,000 dead from covid-19, we’ve not only lost the public-health war, we’ve lost the war for truth. Misinformation and lies have captured the castle.

And the bad guys’ most powerful weapon? Social media — in particular, Facebook.

Some new research, out just this morning from Pew, tells us in painstaking numerical form exactly what’s going on, and it’s not pretty: Americans who rely on social media as their pathway to news are more ignorant and more misinformed than those who come to news through print, a news app on their phones or network TV.

And that group is growing.

The report’s language may be formal and restrained, but the meaning is utterly clear — and while not surprising, it’s downright scary in its implications.

“Even as Americans who primarily turn to social media for political news are less aware and knowledgeable about a wide range of events and issues in the news, they are more likely than other Americans to have heard about a number of false or unproven claims.”

Media coverage of the 2016 campaign was disastrous. Now’s the last chance to get 2020 right.

Specifically, they’ve been far more exposed to the conspiracy theory that powerful people intentionally planned the pandemic. Yet this group, says Pew, is also less concerned about the impact of made-up news like this than the rest of the U.S. population.

They’re absorbing fake news, but they don’t see it as a problem. In a society that depends on an informed citizenry to make reasonably intelligent decisions about self-governance, this is the worst kind of trouble.

And the president — who knows exactly what he is doing — is making it far, far worse. His war on the nation’s traditional press is a part of the same scheme: information warfare, meant to mess with reality and sow as much confusion as possible.

Will Sommer of the Daily Beast took a deeper look this week into the beliefs of Stella Immanuel — the Houston doctor whom Trump has termed “very impressive” and “spectacular.”

“She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches,” Sommer wrote. “She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by ‘reptilians’ and other aliens.”

Immanuel said in a recent speech in Washington that the power of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment means that protective face masks aren’t necessary. None of this has a basis in fact — but try telling that to the tens of millions who have not only seen it but been urged to believe it.

The video featuring Immanuel and others eventually was taken down by Facebook. But as usual, it was far too late.

And Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted it out calling it a “must watch,” got his hand slapped by Twitter — briefly losing his right to sully the truth and jam the gears of reality. . . .

Continue reading. There’s even more. The US is becoming a basket case.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2020 at 11:59 am

Trump administration “war on coronavirus” has some flaws

leave a comment »

Remember when Trump claimed he was a “wartime President” because of his role in directing the fight against Covid-19? (And also remember when he said he would accept no responsibility for what happened?)

It doesn’t seem to be going well. From Kevin Drum’s daily tracking post this moring:

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2020 at 10:08 am

More Formula 1: New requirements, and a look at the driving

leave a comment »

First, the technology seems amazing to me (since I am completely new to this).

Second, the driving!

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2020 at 7:44 am

Posted in Business, Technology

Catie’s Bubbles Waterlyptus and a Wolfman handle

with one comment

The brush is Omega’s Mighty Midget (or Mixed Midget), a boar-badger blend, which I soak for the boar. Waterlyptus is a very pleasing fragrance and Catie’s Bubbles soaps give good lather.

The head of this razor is an Edwin Jagger clone under the Charcoal brand name, and the handle is a very pleasing Wolfman job in stainless steel. I mentioned in a comment yesterday that the handle of the (excellent) Parker Semi-Slant was just too long for my taste, but since it is a three-piece razor, I easily swapped it out for a shorter handle from a Yaqi razor. It’s a good head, and I got a very smooth result.

This handle is at least as long as the Parker Semi-Slant handle, and yet I like this handle. Some of that is aesthetic, but also like the balance and feel — but I don’t think I’d like it with a slant head. Perhaps I’ll try it, but with a slant I prefer a shorter handle, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it has to do with a greater sense of control. With the Charcoal/EJ head, though, it felt fine and did a fine job.

I did get one tiny cut on my upper lip — I just had the wrong angle when I started the stroke — but My Nik Is Sealed did its job, and all is well.

A splash of Stirling’s Executive Man, and the day begin.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2020 at 7:38 am

Posted in Shaving

How to build a Formula 1 Gearbox

leave a comment »

A follow-on to a video posted earlier:

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2020 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Technology, Video

Amazon Has Too Much Power. It Needs to be Unionized.

leave a comment »

As an introduction to this column, let me quote Matt Strasser, International Opinion Editor at the NY Times. He wrote in a newsletter this morning:

Would you walk away from several million dollars to stand up for someone else’s rights?
I’d like to think that I know what answer I’d give, but one can never be sure.

Unless you’re Tim Bray. In May, he quit his job as a vice president at Amazon Web Services — and in doing so likely sacrificed millions of dollars in compensation — to protest the fact that Amazon fired workers who were raising concerns about health and safety issues in the company’s warehouses.

Tim has an Op-Ed in The Times today, written with Christy Hoffman, the general secretary of UNI Global Union, taking his position even further: Amazon workers need a union, they write.

Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, will testify today in front of a House antitrust committee. The questions put to him will likely focus more on consumers than on workers, but it’s worth remembering the people who labor to make Amazon profitable: the delivery drivers and warehouse workers who are putting their health on the line. (Bezos is the richest man in the world, worth nearly $180 billion, and his company’s share price has skyrocketed thanks to the pandemic.)

Unions work. They lead to higher wages and better working conditions. (I recommend reading Cole Stangler’s piece from April on how unions successfully took on Amazon in France to get better workplace safety.) They require, essentially, some sacrifice: profits for people. [This is an excellent article, well worth reading. – LG]

Maybe you wouldn’t leave millions of dollars on the table. But what is the most you would be willing to give up to protect workers’ rights? Would you pay higher prices? Accept longer delivery times?

Just to get a feeling for how much a billion dollars is: suppose you spent $1 per second, around the clock.

$1 million would last just over 11.5 days (11 days 13 hours 45 minutes, roughly, given 246060 ( = 86,400) seconds per day)

$1 billion would last last about 31.6 years — 11,547 days. A billion is 1000 times as large as a million, so a billion dollars will last 1000 times as long: about 31 years 7 months (taking a year as 365.25 days)

The column by Bray and Hoffman begins:

Covid-19 has created strange bedfellows. Six months ago, a labor leader and an Amazon vice president would have been on opposite sides in discussing the future of work at Big Tech in general and Amazon in particular. Then on May 1, one of us, Tim, walked away from a senior role at Amazon Web Services, and potentially millions in compensation, in protest over the firing of workers who spoke out about conditions in the company’s warehouses.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen Big Tech share prices and revenue rocket, while some of Amazon’s warehouse workers say they fear coming to work and catching the coronavirus. The company’s decision to fire the activists who demanded safer jobs is unacceptable.

Both of us now agree: Amazon — and the rest of Big Tech — must change. And that includes allowing its workers to unionize.

We’re not alone in wanting accountability from these companies: Jeff Bezos and the heads of Facebook, Google and Apple will appear before the House judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee today.

The coronavirus has killed over half a million people worldwide and pushed global unemployment to rates not seen since the Great Depression. Shared sacrifice is called for, yet the burden has been far from even. Since mid-March, when quarantined shoppers turned to Amazon’s vast retail platform, its shareholder value increased by nearly $500 billion, to more than $1.4 trillion. Stock market shares are owned disproportionately by the richest people in society, and by Mr. Bezos in particular; his lead over the other richest people on earth has increased markedly.

This wealth is not shared with the workers who help create it. The temporary Covid-19-related hourly raise was rolled back in June, but the order flow remains high, making the already stressful work of those who sort, package and deliver Amazon goods even worse.

As this was unfolding, most of Big Tech, including Amazon, sent white-collar workers home to “flatten the curve” and fight the pandemic. Tim saw company leadership go to great lengths to make sure this new system was working and actively seek feedback from the remote workers. Christy heard from a warehouse employee who said productivity targets made it difficult for workers to take a break even for hand washing without a mark on their record. Pay for warehouse workers starts at $15 an hour with minimal access to time off; in May Amazon ended the unpaid leave policy that for a few weeks allowed them to stay home if they had Covid-19 symptoms. The contrast in the treatment of knowledge and warehouse workers couldn’t be starker. Equally clear is the cause: One group has power, the other doesn’t.

Amazon’s decision to fire the activists was easy to make in the United States, where Amazon workers have no union and are left to fend for themselves. With no right to paid sick leave or protection from unfair dismissal, American workers are among the most vulnerable in the world to pressure from any employer, not just Amazon.

Union-represented Amazon workers in Spain, Italy, France and Germany initially failed to resolve their concerns through negotiation, but with court action, regulatory intervention and strikes, they got their needs addressed.

Let’s look at France: Unions there brought a civil case arguing that Amazon had taken inadequate steps to protect workers from infection risk and that it had sidestepped the unions’ statutory role. The court ordered Amazon to limit its sales to only “essential” items, or face harsh penalties until it could reach a safety agreement with the unions. Rather than negotiate, Amazon closed its French operations and appealed. But the appellate court also sided with the workers, who ultimately negotiated a settlement including mandatory union consultation over safety measures, union hiring of external experts to assess the measures’ effectiveness and a continued increase in workers’ hourly pay. The news from Europe shows that Amazon can work with unions and get good results.

Both of us want Amazon to share the wealth with workers and stop putting the relentless pursuit of revenue growth ahead of all other concerns. One way or another, this requires putting more power in the hands of workers. Regulation and legislation are part of the solution. But there’s no need to wait; power can be taken, not just given. That’s what unions are for. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2020 at 11:58 am

Ultimate Immunity: A gift the GOP wants to offer businesses

leave a comment »

Judd Legum in Popular Information has a column worth reading. It begins:

With the pandemic raging and unemployment well above 10%, Congress is rushing to pass another relief bill. Extended unemployment assistance will expire in days, millions are at imminent risk of eviction, and there are still major backlogs in COVID-19 testing.

But the top priority for the White House and Senate Republicans is not economic relief or improving testing to slow the spread of the virus. The top priority is to grant businesses near-total immunity if they expose their workers or customers to COVID-19. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said the Senate will not vote on any bill that doesn’t include a liability shield for businesses.

Successfully suing a business for exposing someone to COVID-19 is already extremely difficult. Part of the reason is that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s good to know.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2020 at 10:44 am

%d bloggers like this: