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Archive for August 10th, 2020

How Suffering Farmers May Determine Trump’s Fate

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I found the Canadian reference interesting. Dan Kaufman writes in the New Yorker:

Last October, Jerry Volenec, a dairy farmer from southwestern Wisconsin, took the morning off to go to Madison for the World Dairy Expo, an annual cattle-judging contest and trade show. Volenec wanted to hear a town-hall discussion led by Sonny Perdue, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, to learn how the Administration planned to address the economic crisis gripping Wisconsin’s family dairy farmers.

Volenec’s farm sits atop Bohemian Ridge, a jagged plateau named for the Czech immigrants who settled there in the late nineteenth century. Among them was Joseph Volenec, Jerry’s great-great-grandfather, who established the farm, in 1897. In the nineteen-fifties and sixties, Volenec’s grandfather milked a herd of sixteen cows; he could make a living because New Deal policies used price supports and other measures to boost farmers’ earnings and limit overproduction.

Jerry Volenec always wanted to become a farmer. “You couldn’t keep me out of the barn,” he said. “I was milking cows by myself by the time I was fourteen.” By the early nineties, when Volenec began farming full time, the New Deal policies had largely been dismantled. The family increased its herd to about seventy, and Volenec’s father started paying him a salary, enough money for his education at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and to start an I.R.A. In 2000, Volenec installed a milking parlor, and since then he has increased the herd to three hundred and thirty cows. “We’re the biggest of the small guys,” Volenec, who is forty-five, with a sturdy build and a thin goatee, said. “But I was making more money, doing less work, when I started, twenty-five years ago. I’m basically paying myself living expenses now.”

Five years ago, the price of milk fell precipitously, accelerating the long unravelling of rural Wisconsin. Since 2010, the population in two-thirds of the state’s rural counties has decreased, leading to a shrinking workforce, fewer jobs and businesses, and slower income growth rates than in metro counties. More than seventy rural schools have closed, and for the past three years the state has led the country in family-farm bankruptcies. “The level of desperation and lack of hope in our phone calls has increased,” Angie Sullivan, who supervises caseworkers at the Wisconsin Farm Center, part of the state’s Department of Agriculture, said. “Dairy farmers are working on their fifth year of low milk prices. Many banks have stopped loaning them money.” Wisconsin has seven thousand dairy farms, roughly half the number that it had a decade ago. Yet the number of cows has remained constant, because of consolidation and the proliferation of factory dairy farms, some of which have herds of more than five thousand cows.

“It’s like a never-ending cycle, almost like a hamster on the wheel,” Travis Tranel, a Republican state representative from Cuba City, forty miles south of Volenec’s farm, told me. Tranel is an organic dairy farmer with a five-hundred-cow herd. “You just keep running and running. Your only option is to produce more.” Tranel said that consolidation has all but wiped out small dairy farms in Wisconsin and now threatens medium-sized farms such as his. “We can see the future if we stay on the path we’re on,” he said, noting that the consolidation of hog farming had already transformed Iowa. “I definitely do not want to see rural Wisconsin become as empty as rural Iowa.”

After the town hall, Perdue took questions from reporters, one of whom asked if the state’s loss of small farms was inevitable. “In America, the big get bigger, and the small will go out,” Perdue said. “I don’t think in America for any small business we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” Volenec wasn’t surprised by Perdue’s answer. “I walked in there knowing that’s how they felt,” Volenec told me, referring to the Trump Administration. “The part that was unnerving to me was that he said it to our faces. They’re not trying to hide it anymore. They’re telling us flat out: You’re not important.”

In 2016, after voting for Barack Obama twice, Volenec voted for Trump. Volenec had grown disenchanted with Obama after his Administration banned whole milk from schools and did little to slow the loss of family farms. “I wasn’t following politics closely,” he said. “I never listened to Trump give a speech, just commentary over the radio. I had the general impression that what’s wrong with the agricultural economy was that too many politicians were involved, and that having a businessman in the White House would benefit me.”

As rural Wisconsin’s fortunes have declined, its political importance has grown. Trump won the state by less than twenty-three thousand votes. If the 2020 election is close, Trump could lose Michigan and Pennsylvania—the other Rust Belt states he flipped in 2016—and still win a second term by holding Wisconsin. Trump underperformed in the suburban counties of Milwaukee, the Republican Party’s stronghold, while overperforming in the state’s rural areas, where he won nearly two-thirds of the vote. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that the largest shift in voting between Obama’s seven-point victory in Wisconsin, in 2012, and Trump’s one-point win came in communities that cast fewer than a thousand votes. (Nationally, Trump won sixty-two per cent of the rural vote.)

Four years ago, Trump promised to reverse the economic decline of family farmers. “Hillary Clinton wants to shut down family farms just like she wants to shut down the mines and the steelworkers,” he said, during a campaign stop at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. “We are going to end this war on the American farmer.” In early 2018, he launched a series of trade wars, which provoked China, Mexico, Canada, and the European Union into imposing penalties on American dairy products. Mexico, the largest importer of Wisconsin cheese, levied a twenty-five-per-cent tariff on American cheeses. Last summer, Trump allotted fifteen billion dollars in compensation to farmers, but the vast majority of it has gone to the largest farms. In a tweet, he called farmers “great patriots” and promised that they would eventually be better off.

In June, as Trump’s poll numbers dropped nationwide, the Washington Post reported that his campaign advisers were losing hope for Michigan and Pennsylvania, and would focus on holding Wisconsin. “It’s baked into the cake that Trump will lose the state’s large metro areas in a landslide, while the suburbs have been fleeing him,” Ben Wikler, the head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, told me. “Trump can’t win a second term unless he racks up enormous margins in rural Wisconsin.”

For Volenec, Trump’s appeal vanished almost immediately. “If I had known the things I know about him now, I wouldn’t have voted for him,” he said, when I visited him at his farm in February. As Trump’s trade wars escalated, Volenec’s problems worsened. In March, 2018, Canada effectively cut off all dairy imports from the United States, and milk from Michigan that had previously been exported began flooding into Wisconsin’s processing plants. The co-op where Volenec sent his milk for processing was now competing with cheap out-of-state milk, and put a cap on the amount that it would take from him. That week, Volenec heard about a meeting of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, a family-farm advocacy group, in nearby Dodgeville, to promote a version of supply management, a system used in Canada that sets a quota on the production of dairy, eggs, and poultry. Designed, like the New Deal policies, to prevent overproduction and to guarantee farmers a stable income, the system relies on higher prices for Canadian consumers. Trump’s trade war with Canada is aimed at dismantling supply management, which has long been deplored by Republican politicians. John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House, called it “Soviet-style” agriculture. For Volenec, it was a revelation. “This was my first glimpse into a world where the dairy farmer is not subservient to The Market,” he wrote in an essay called “Groomed for Apocalypse.”

Volenec lives on the farm with his wife, Jennifer, and their four daughters. His parents still live and work there, too, and the family employs four farmhands, Mexican immigrants who milk the cows three times a day, in five-hour shifts. Volenec spends most of his time feeding cattle and doing maintenance. His workday begins at five in the morning and, in the spring and summer, ends at nine or ten at night. It was bitterly cold the day I visited, so Volenec led me into a small office adjacent to the milking parlor. On the wall was a whiteboard with numbers detailing the farm’s milk production, which averages roughly thirty thousand pounds a day. A truck picks up the milk every day and takes it to the co-op, where it is turned into cheese. (Ninety per cent of Wisconsin’s milk is used to make cheese; if the state were a country, it would be the fourth-largest cheese-producing nation in the world.)

Dairy farmers have felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic acutely. As schools and restaurants closed, they abruptly cancelled their contracts with milk bottlers and cheese factories. The price of milk dropped by more than thirty per cent, and some processors began asking their farmers to dump milk. By late April, as hungry people lined up at food banks, one farm had already dumped more than five million pounds of milk, according to “The Mid-West Farm Report.” Mitch Breunig, a dairy farmer in Sauk City, had to dump all of his morning milking for ten days. “We took a hundred-and-fifty-foot hose and ran it from the milking parlor right into the manure-storage unit in the barn,” he told me. Breunig wound up dumping eighty thousand pounds of milk, for which he received no money. “I would just look at it and think, Wow, everything we did was for nothing.”

State agencies issued protocols for dumping milk, which can pollute groundwater and decimate fish populations. Though Volenec has not had to dump any of his milk, he’s been worrying about the environmental costs of large-scale dairy farming, from water contamination to climate change. Manure runoff from industrial dairy farming has contributed to a dramatic increase in bacteria and nitrates in the state’s groundwater, according to a study funded in part by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources. (A farm with twenty-five hundred cows produces as much waste as a city of four hundred thousand people.) The E.P.A. recently sampled the groundwater in a thirty-mile area of Juneau County that’s dense with dairy cows and found that sixty-five per cent of the sites had elevated levels of nitrates, which have been linked to birth defects, colon cancer, and “blue-baby syndrome,” a condition that reduces oxygen in an infant’s blood and can be fatal.

“You’re now looking at three or four generations of depletion,” Curt Meine, an environmental historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told me. “Depletion of rural communities, rural landscapes, rural soils and water, depletion of the land and local economies. And you have the brain drain that followed it. This is why we have this deep urban-rural divide. We have concentrated and exported the wealth. Everyone sees it, but neither party has wrestled with it. One party exploited it, the other party has ignored it.”

“It’s hard, because I’ve built my life around a system that I believe now is extremely problematic from an environmental, social, even a personal level,” Volenec said. “It’s not the farming that I was brought up with. It’s not really even farming anymore. It’s mining. We’re extracting resources and shipping them away, and they’re not coming back. There’s no cyclical nature to it. It’s a straight line out.”

Volenec and I walked across the road to see his great-great-grandfather’s homestead. The land begins behind . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Basically, Republicans do not want the common people to do well.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 7:14 pm

Walkies, produce haul, and some plants observed

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One walk today for exercise, another for groceries. On the exercise walk I saw this horse topiary and the two crane topiaries at the right. They were both in the same yard, which was a hotel (with tea room) in a predominantly residential neighborhood. The hotel was not out of character for the neighborhood and fit in well.

I also walked by this tree overhanging the sidewalk and admired the blooms. That yard and many of the yards I walked past was given over to a flower garden. As you walk along you’ll find yourself engulfed in a cloud of fragrance that fades as you move beyond that yard, but then another fragrance will waft across the sidewalk from the next yard. And the colors!

Altogether, it made me appreciate urban living rather than suburbs with their vast empty lawns, spread out so that cars are required to get anywhere. In this little neighborhood, I walked by a variety of little cafés, tea rooms, and bars, all nestled into the neighborhood.

And once I returned home and had lunch, I set out again for the local store that sells bulk foods and someproduce — that’s the store where I got the San Marzano tomatoes. None of those today (they will get more tomorrow), but I did get some very nice Roma tomatoes, a young onion (the stem was still green), and couple of male eggplants. (Males eggplants are preferred because they have many fewer seeds, and the seeds tend to be bitter — this I learned today, along with how to tell the difference, from a recipe video.)

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 4:34 pm

Beyond Smart Rocks: It’s time to reimagine what a computer could be.

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Claire L. Evans writes in Grow:

IN MOMENTS OF technological frustration, it helps to remember that a computer is basically a rock. That is its fundamental witchcraft, or ours: for all its processing power, the device that runs your life is just a complex arrangement of minerals animated by electricity and language. Smart rocks. The components are mined from the Earth at great cost, and they eventually return to the Earth, however poisoned. This rock-and-metal paradigm has mostly served us well. The miniaturization of metallic components onto wafers of silicon — an empirical trend we call Moore’s Law — has defined the last half-century of life on Earth, giving us wristwatch computers, pocket-sized satellites and enough raw computational power to model the climate, discover unknown molecules, and emulate human learning.

But there are limits to what a rock can do. Computer scientists have been predicting the end of Moore’s Law for decades. The cost of fabricating next-generation chips is growing more prohibitive the closer we draw to the physical limits of miniaturization. And there are only so many rocks left. Demand for the high-purity silica sand used to manufacture silicon chips is so high that we’re facing a global, and irreversible, sand shortage; and the supply chain for commonly-used minerals, like tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, fuels bloody conflicts all over the world. If we expect 21st century computers to process the ever-growing amounts of data our culture produces — and we expect them to do so sustainably — we will need to reimagine how computers are built. We may even need to reimagine what a computer is to begin with.

Starting from Slime

It’s tempting to believe that computing paradigms are set in stone, so to speak. But there are already alternatives on the horizon. Quantum computing, for one, would shift us from a realm of binary ones and zeroes to one of qubits, making computers drastically faster than we can currently imagine, and the impossible — like unbreakable cryptography — newly possible. Still further off are computer architectures rebuilt around a novel electronic component called a memristor. Speculatively proposed by the physicist Leon Chua in 1971, first proven to exist in 2008, a memristor is a resistor with memory, which makes it capable of retaining data without power. A computer built around memristors could turn off and on like a light switch. It wouldn’t require the conductive layer of silicon necessary for traditional resistors. This would open computing to new substrates — the possibility, even, of integrating computers into atomically thin nano-materials. But these are architectural changes, not material ones.

For material changes, we must look farther afield, to an organism that occurs naturally only in the most fleeting of places. We need to glimpse into the loamy rot of a felled tree in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, or examine the glistening walls of a damp cave. That’s where we may just find the answer to computing’s intractable rock problem: down there, among the slime molds.

Slime molds are way ahead of our computational speculations. Take memristors: in 2014, a group of researchers at the University of West England discovered memristive behaviors in the many-headed Physarum polycephalum, a primitive but compellingly intelligent slime mold. Slime molds aren’t fungi, nor are they animals; at different points in history, they’ve been classified both ways, earning them the latin name Mycetozoa, or fungal animal. That a slime mold could act as a living memristor — regulating the flow of electricity through a circuit and “remembering” electrical charges — is remarkable, but it’s not unique in the natural kingdom. Scientists have observed these behaviors in the sweat ducts of human skin, in flowing blood, and in leaves. A 2017 study concluded that, most likely, “all living and unmodified plants are ‘memristors,’” proof that Mother Nature anticipates even our cleverest speculations. She may even dictate our the next computational frontier, after quantum and memristive computers have arrived and gone.

Biological systems not only anticipate, but excel at certain thorny computational tasks. In one experiment, researchers released a Physarum polycephalum slime mold on a topographical relief map of the United States. They placed it on the West Coast, on the Oregon coastal town of Newport, and placed a pile of oat flakes — the slime mold’s favorite food —at the other end of the country, in Boston, Massachusetts. The mold shot out protoplasmic tubes, searching for an efficient path towards the oat flakes it sensed via airborne chemicals. After five days, the mold reached Boston, cutting across the country while avoiding mountainous terrain. You may recognize its path if you’ve ever road-tripped from Oregon to New England: the slime mold charted Route 20, the longest road in the US.

Physarum polycephalum is an expert at such tasks. Its sensing, searching protoplasmic tubes can solve mazes, design efficient networks, and easily find the shortest path between points on a map. In a range of experiments, it has modeled the roadways of ancient Rometraced a perfect copy of Japan’s interconnected rail networks, and smashed the Traveling Salesman Problem, an exponentially complex math problem. It has no central nervous system, but Physarum is capable of limited learning, making it a leading candidate for a new kind of biological computer system — one that isn’t mined, but grown. This proposition has entranced researchers worldwide and attracted investment at the government level. An EU-funded research group, PhyChip, hopes to build a hybrid computer chip from Physarum, by shellacking its protoplasmic tubes in conductive particles. Such a “functional biomorphic computing device” would be sustainable, self-healing and self-correcting. It would also be, by some definition, alive.

This unorthodox hybrid of computer science, physics, mathematics, chemistry, electronic engineering, biology, material science and nanotechnology is called Unconventional Computing. Professor Andrew Adamatzky, the founder of the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of the West of England, explains its ethos: “to uncover and exploit principles and mechanisms of information processing in…physical, chemical and living systems” in order to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 2:42 pm

Mitochondria May Hold Keys to Anxiety and Mental Health

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This is interesting, and surprising only in that it didn’t occur to anyone sooner: of course cellular energy-production problems could affect nerve cells as well as muscle cells, and clearly the effects would differ. Elizabeth Landau writes in Quanta:

Carmen Sandi recalls the skepticism she faced at first. A behavioral neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, she had followed a hunch that something going on inside critical neural circuits could explain anxious behavior, something beyond brain cells and the synaptic connections between them. The experiments she began in 2013 showed that neurons involved in anxiety-related behaviors showed abnormalities: Their mitochondria, the organelles often described as cellular power plants, didn’t work well — they produced curiously low levels of energy.

Those results suggested that mitochondria might be involved in stress-related symptoms in the animals. But that idea ran contrary to the “synapto-centric” vision of the brain held by many neuroscientists at the time. Her colleagues found it hard to believe Sandi’s evidence that in anxious individuals — at least in rats — mitochondria inside key neurons might be important.

“Whenever I presented the data, they told me, ‘It’s very interesting, but you got it wrong,’” Sandi said.

Yet a growing number of scientists have joined her during the past decade or so in wondering whether mitochondria might be fundamental not just to our general physical well-being but specifically to our mental health. In particular, they have explored whether mitochondria affect how we respond to stress and conditions like anxiety and depression.

Although much of the evidence so far is preliminary, it points to a substantial connection. Mitochondria seem to be central to the very existence of a stress response, serving both as mediators of it and targets for the damage it can do. To some of the researchers involved in this work, the stress response even looks like a kind of coordinated action by mitochondria throughout the body that interacts with the neurological processing.

“I think mitochondria are underrated,” said Martin Picard of Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center in New York, whose laboratory has helped to pioneer this research. “They’re the chief executive organelle of the cell.” Now scientists can explore what the implications of the organelles’ importance might be for future therapies.

Mitochondria and Mental Health

Mitochondria are the tiny structures inside complex (eukaryotic) cells that manufacture adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the chemical fuel for most metabolic processes. “ATP is the energy that sort of allows for living cells to do what they do when they’re alive,” said Lisa Kalynchuk, vice president for research at the University of Victoria in Canada. The organelles are ancient invaders — the remnants of symbiotic bacteria that integrated themselves into host cells about 2 billion years ago and specialized for energy production. Mitochondria still carry a small amount of DNA of their own, although with just 37 genes, they have less genetic material than any living bacteria.

A relationship between mitochondria and disease started to become apparent in 1975, when Douglas Wallace and his colleagues, then at Yale University, described an association between mitochondrial DNA and a genetic disorder. During the 1990s, researchers linked the effects of mutations in mitochondrial DNA to various other conditions. One in 5,000 people has an inherited mitochondrial disease of some kind, with consequences that can include diabetes, vision and hearing problems, learning difficulties and other disorders. Only in the last decade or so, however, have scientists seriously explored the influence of mitochondria on mental health and well-being, especially when it comes to stress, anxiety and depression.

Sandi’s work sprang from an intuition that mitochondria might alter the operation of select brain pathways. Our brains eat up 20% of the oxygen our bodies take in, even though the brain accounts for only 2% of our weight. A deficit of cellular energy production in critical neural circuits, she hypothesized, might explain an overall lack of motivation and self-esteem seen in anxiety-prone people.

When Sandi put rats in competition to establish a social hierarchy, she saw that the animals with less anxiety were more likely to acquire dominant rank. Further study showed that these less anxious animals had greater mitochondrial function in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain vital to motivated behavior and the production of effort.

Other research in many laboratories unearthed further ties between stress and mitochondria. In 2018, Picard and the stress research pioneer Bruce McEwen, who died earlier this year, published a meta-analysis of 23 studies on mitochondria and anxiety: 19 demonstrated “significant adverse effects of psychological stress on mitochondria” and even the other four noted changes in mitochondrial size or function in response to stress.

2018 review article by Anke Hoffmann of the Museum of Natural History in Berlin and Dietmar Spengler of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich summarized evidence that mitochondria could mediate the brain’s structural and functional responses to early life stress and serve as “a subcellular substrate in the programming process.” The experimental evidence for connections between mitochondrial function and mental health is still tentative and has important limitations, but it is strong enough to convince scientists to look deeper.

The Cross-Talk of Mitochondria

One mystery still under investigation surrounds the details of what happens to mitochondria under stress. Picard’s best guess is that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 2:37 pm

Pulverized cashew idea

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I made creamy cashew sauce again: soak raw cashews in water for two hours, drain, put into a blender or food processor with a little water, and pulverize. This time I didn’t add a measured amount of water, just added water a little at a time, processing/blending after each addition, until I got the consistency I wanted.

When I tasted it, I immediately thought that I should next time include a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a couple of tablespoons of erythritol and use it over berries. (Definitely not refined sugar — causes cavities — or artificial sweetener — destroys gut microbiome).

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 11:39 am

Pencil production: Memes in action

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I thought this brief video illustrates how memes form networks that direction human activities on a widespread network of activities: a constantly motion of adaptation and evolution.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 9:57 am

What a 1924 case from Montana says about dismissing the Flynn prosecution

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Dayna Zolle, appellate counsel at Constitutional Accountability Center, a public interest law firm, writes in the Washington Post:

As the full federal appeals court in D.C. considers whether to order dismissal of the criminal case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, it should bear in mind a far more obscure prosecution: that of a Montana-based federal tax collector named Franklin Woody in the 1920s.

Woody was accused of embezzling federal funds. He was also extraordinarily well connected. His grandfather was Missoula’s first mayor and a district judge, while Woody’s father was close friends with the governor and had served as Montana’s assistant attorney general. After Woody’s indictment, the federal prosecutor argued that the case against him should be dismissed, noting that the defendant “is of a prominent pioneer family, is young, … [and] is studying law in a California university,” that “his ‘career as a lawyer will be spoiled,’ ” and “that the government’s losses have been reimbursed.”

The judge deciding whether to grant the government’s motion to dismiss the prosecution found his hands tied. The government’s reasons for dropping the case, he said in a 1924 ruling, “savor altogether too much of some variety of prestige and influence (family, friends, or money) that too often enables their possessors to violate the laws with impunity.”

Nonetheless, he acknowledged, “the district attorney has absolute control over criminal prosecutions.” Thus, despite the judge’s assessment that dismissal of the case was “abhorrent to justice,” he had no choice but to grant the motion to dismiss, “albeit reluctantly.”

That case helped lead to the federal rule that is at issue in Flynn’s case, Rule 48(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. As Thomas Ward Frampton explains in the Stanford Law Review, the committee tasked with drafting the federal rules “focused on the possibility that improper political influence might spur a prosecutor’s decision to drop a case.” Ultimately, the Supreme Court adopted the requirement currently found in Rule 48(a) — that the government obtain “leave of court” for a dismissal. That change, as Frampton observes, “armed the district judge with a powerful tool to halt corrupt or politically motivated dismissals of cases.”

Understanding this background is critical to finding the right approach in Flynn’s case. Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, is seeking something extraordinary from the appeals court: an order that the judge overseeing the criminal case against him immediately grant the government’s motion to dismiss the case, before that judge has even had an opportunity to consider the government’s motion.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court voted, 2-1, to order the immediate dismissal of the case; on Tuesday, the full appeals court will reconsider that ruling. The outcome should be clear. The “leave of court” requirement in Rule 48(a) was designed to protect against corrupt or politically motivated dismissals that could undermine our nation’s criminal justice system — arguably the very kind of dismissal sought here. Flynn has no right to have his case dismissed — let alone the “clear and indisputable” right the law requires for dismissal before the district court has even had an opportunity to weigh in.

In its motion to dismiss, the government mischaracterized Rule 48(a), stating that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 8:47 am

What if a friend or family member drifts into conspiracy ideation?

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The Eldest shared in Facebook a post by David Troy, CEO at 410 Labs, Curator at TEDx, a former speaker at TED. Troy writes:

In the last week, I have heard from multiple friends who are concerned about family, friends or other loved ones who seem to be losing their grip on reality and falling into conspiracy thinking and other destructive online communities.

As someone who studies this closely, I believe radicalization is accelerating right now. Some conspiracy communities (such as QAnon) have created powerful incentives for participation and can take people from no exposure to a break from reality in a matter of just a few weeks. This is not something to brush off.

For those of you left in the position of wanting to help but are not sure what to do, it is useful to first understand the problem: it is not a “beliefs” problem but a social problem. People get pulled into these communities because they feel alienated, and are looking for sense-making and connection. It is often driven by an overwhelming fear that “we aren’t being told the truth,” and the feelings of having been deceived that come with that. That tends to be a powerful driver of radicalization and can quickly re-wire people’s social landscape.

Individuals become enmeshed in this new world of fake truth-tellers and movements that seem to provide connection and identity, but these relationships are not real: anything requiring actual time or money is out of reach for this fake network of support. Family and longtime friends, by contrast, are real and persist. The challenge comes when people begin to confuse this new identity with their “old” one.

The worst thing you can do to someone who has been pulled into these networks is to attack them, or focus too much on correcting their false “beliefs.” The ideas are secondary artifacts of the social pathology.

Instead, it is necessary to aid them in minimizing their connection to the destructive network while bolstering their ties to their “real world” support network. This can be done by asking open-ended, respectful questions, and leaving space for answers. “You seem to have really changed your thinking a lot lately. Can you tell me more about what’s behind that?” or “Wow, I’ve never heard that point of view until now. Are you sure that’s really true?”

Simultaneously, it is a good idea to reinforce ties to positive, stable life relationships. Maybe suggest a family outing, or find some way to spend more time with the person, away from online communities. Maybe suggest new hobbies or otherwise distance from destructive content channels, whether internet, tv, or radio. Help them find new patterns and habits, and always with love.

To be clear I am not a clinical expert on this; I just study radicalization behavior. But as part of that I have been working this year with Steven Hassan, who is one of the top experts on this topic in general and on cults in particular, and I have squared his work with my own studies and with other experts in the field. So I am echoing many of his ideas above. For more on this topic I am recommending his book “Freedom of Mind” as well as his website “freedomofmind. com.”

Americans in particular have a hard time with the relationship between individual and community. We mostly think in individual terms; if someone is acting strange, they have “mental health” problems and need “therapy” or drugs. And certainly therapy is an invaluable resource for all of us, and is frequently called for as part of helping people recover from undue influence.

But it is also important to understand that many kinds of individual pathologies are social in nature. We are the average of the people around us; so disrupted social ties can lead to disruptions in ourselves and in our outlook. We must properly understand online radicalization and conspiracy theories within this framework. People are falling into believing crazy ideas not because they are stupid, mentally ill, or because they lack critical thinking capacity or intellect. They are manifesting a lack of strong social connection, which in turn is born of a desire for meaning, connection, and identity.

If we focus on providing those core human needs then we address conspiracy radicalization at the same time. Our culture and social structures do not do a great job at meeting those needs, so it’s not surprising that in this time of massive uncertainty we are seeing a spike in radicalization. And many people are suffering from various kinds of trauma as well.

Please treat your friends and loved ones with care, help knit them better into normative social fabrics, and ramp down destructive channels. This will work far better than arguing with them or trying to “fix” their false statements. That will just make them dig in further, and will work against you. Consider also doing this in person or by video/phone, and off of social media, as online dynamics can often be counterproductive and destructive.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you think may benefit. Every situation is a bit different, so seek professional help as needed, but I do hope that having a little better understanding of the nature of the problem will be useful. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 8:15 am

Eufros Violet and Gold Red Cedar, with the excellent iKon 102

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Eufros is a good soap and the violet fragrance is pleasant for a late-summer morning. My Rooney Victorian did a fine job, and the iKon Shavecraft 102 is a masterful razor that easily cleared my face of any trace of stubble while being completely comfortable in the process. A good splash of Anthony Gold’s wonderful red-cedar aftershave, and the new week is launched.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2020 at 7:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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