Later On

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Archive for August 11th, 2020

Present at the Disruption: How Trump Unmade U.S. Foreign Policy

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Richard Haass writes in Foreign Affairs:

Present at the Creation is an 800-page memoir written by Dean Acheson, U.S. President Harry Truman’s secretary of state. The title, with its biblical echo, was immodest, but in Acheson’s defense, it was deserved.

Working from planning begun under President Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and his senior advisers built nothing less than a new international order in the wake of World War II. The United States adopted the doctrine of containment, which would guide U.S. foreign policy for four decades in its Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union. It transformed Germany and Japan into democracies and built a network of alliances in Asia and Europe. It provided the aid Europe needed to get back on its feet under the Marshall Plan and channeled economic and military assistance to countries vulnerable to communism under the Truman Doctrine. It established a host of international organizations, including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the forerunner to the World Trade Organization). And it constructed a modern foreign and defense policy apparatus, including the National Security Council, the CIA, and the Department of Defense.

It is impossible to imagine one of the national security principals of the Trump administration writing a memoir that includes the word “creation” in its title. The problem is not just that little has been built over the past three and a half years. Building has simply not been a central aim of this administration’s foreign policy. To the contrary, the president and the frequently changing cast of officials around him have been much more interested in tearing things apart. A more fitting title for an administration memoir would be Present at the Disruption.

The term “disruption” is in and of itself neither a compliment nor a criticism. Disruption can be desirable and even necessary if the status quo is incompatible with one’s interests and there is an alternative that is both advantageous and achievable. But disruption is anything but desirable if the status quo serves one’s interests (or would with only minor adjustments) or the available alternatives are likely to be worse. By this standard, the disruption set in motion by the Trump administration was neither warranted nor wise.

As with health care and the Affordable Care Act, when it came to foreign policy, Trump inherited an imperfect but valuable system and tried to repeal it without offering a substitute. The result is a United States and a world that are considerably worse off. This disruption will leave an enduring mark. And if such disruption continues or accelerates, which there is every reason to believe it will if Donald Trump is elected to a second term, then “destruction” might well become a more apt term to describe this period of U.S. foreign policy.

A DISTORTED LENS

Trump entered the Oval Office in January 2017 convinced that U.S. foreign policy needed to be disrupted. In his inaugural address, speaking from the steps of the Capitol, the new president offered a grim account of the United States’ record:

For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own. And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. . . . From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.

After three and a half years at the helm of U.S. foreign policy, Trump had apparently seen nothing to change his mind. Addressing graduating cadets at West Point earlier this year, he applied a similar logic to the use of military force:

We are restoring the fundamental principles that the job of the American soldier is not to rebuild foreign nations, but defend—and defend strongly—our nation from foreign enemies. We are ending the era of endless wars. In its place is a renewed, clear-eyed focus on defending America’s vital interests. It is not the duty of U.S. troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have never even heard of. We are not the policemen of the world.

Many of the foundational elements of Trump’s approach to the world can be gleaned from these two speeches. As he sees it, foreign policy is mostly an expensive distraction. The United States was doing too much abroad and was worse off at home because of it. Trade and immigration were destroying jobs and communities. Other countries—above all U.S. allies—were taking advantage of the United States, which had nothing to show for its exertion even as others profited. The costs of American leadership substantially outweighed the benefits.

Missing from this worldview is any appreciation of what, from a U.S. perspective, was remarkable about the previous three quarters of a century: the absence of great-power war, the extension of democracy around much of the world, a 90-fold growth in the size of the U.S. economy, a ten-year increase in the lifespan of the average American. Also missing is a recognition that the Cold War, the defining struggle of that era, ended peacefully, on terms that could hardly have been more favorable to the United States; that none of this would have been possible without U.S. leadership and U.S. allies; and that despite this victory, the United States still faces challenges in the world (beyond “radical Islamic terrorism,” the one threat Trump singled out in his inaugural address) that affect the country and its citizens, and that partners, diplomacy, and global institutions would be valuable assets in meeting them.

Numerous other dubious assumptions run through Trump’s worldview. Trade is portrayed as an unmitigated negative that has helped China take advantage of the United States, rather than as a source of many good export-oriented jobs, more choices along with lower costs for the American consumer, and lower rates of inflation at home. The United States’ domestic ills are attributed in large part to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2020 at 2:10 pm

Pandemic and depression

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Quoting The Eldest: “The mental health issues related to our lockdown and the pandemic are especially hard for people with depression. NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Health have a 24 hour helpline: 800-950-6264.”

I will note that in some cases people suffering from clinical depression don’t realize (a) that’s what’s wrong and (b) it can be helped. From an article by the Mayo Clinic:

Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:

Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.

Depression symptoms in children and teens

Common signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences.

• In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.

• In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.

Depression symptoms in older adults

Depression is not a normal part of growing older, and it should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated in older adults, and they may feel reluctant to seek help. Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as:

Memory difficulties or personality changes
Physical aches or pain
Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or
medication
Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2020 at 1:58 pm

Making kimchi at home

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I suggest starting this video at 1:05. I think I’ll make it, but first I must find Korean red pepper flakes. (The impetus to make this comes from the article on fermented vegetables mentioned in the previous post — but I also like kimchi.)

From the video notes:

2-qt canning jar

Vegetables
kosher salt for curing
1 large napa cabbage (2 lbs 2 oz OR 980g)
2 medium sized carrots
1 small daikon radish
1 bunch green onion

Paste
1 large Asian pear (250g)
6 cloves (20g) garlic, peeled
2 inch (82g) piece ginger, peeled
1/4 cup (60ml) fish sauce
1/3 cup (65g) Korean red pepper flakes *be careful with these, if yours are very spicy then reduce the amount to 1/4 cup (52g)*

Korean red pepper flakes
Less Spicy
Spicier

He also recommends Red Boat Fish Sauce, which some Whole Foods stores carry. I use the 40º N sauce regularly.

Note from Amazon:

Degrees N is an industry standard to measure the number of grams of nitrogen per liter of fish sauce which relates to the protein level. The highest quality fish sauces are greater than 30N with the flavor becoming more rich and complex with larger N designation.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2020 at 1:20 pm

Study links fermented vegetable consumption to low COVID-19 mortality

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Thanks to JvR for pointing out an article by Sally Robertson in News-Medical-Life Sciences. At the link you can download a PDF of the study. Robertson writes:

An intriguing new study by researchers in Europe suggests that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) mortality rates are likely to be lower in countries where diets are rich in fermented vegetables.

Earlier this year, Jean Bousquet (Charité, Universitätsmedizin Berlin) and colleagues investigated whether diet may contribute to the significant variation in COVID-19 death rates that have been observed between countries. The study found that in some countries with low mortality rates, the consumption of traditional fermented foods was high.

The researchers say that if their hypothesis is confirmed in future studies, COVID-19 will be the first infectious disease epidemic to involve biological mechanisms that are associated with a loss of “nature.”

Significant changes in the microbiome caused by modern life and less fermented food consumption may have increased the spread or severity of the disease, they say.

A pre-print version of the paper is available on the server medRxiv*, while the article undergoes peer review. However, this paper is a preliminary report and should not be regarded as conclusive or established information. . .

Continue reading.

Unfortunately, some fermented foods (sauerkraut, for example) are high in salt. But tempeh is good, and I think I’ll resume making tempeh. While it may not offer total protection against Covid-19, it is a tasty and healthful food.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2020 at 12:25 pm

During covid-19 crisis, American billionaires have increased their wealth by more than half a trillion dollars: $685 billion

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Turn the sound off for this one

That’s from a Mother Jones article by Mark Helenowski, which begins:

President Trump thinks he is delivering the average American a winning hand right now—despite a cratering economy, mass unemployment, and no clear plan to fight the cause of all this calamity, the coronavirus. At a Monday afternoon press conference at the White House, Trump went so far as to say that “carpenters and policemen and farmers”—millions of ordinary Americans—are “the ones that benefit by having a good stock market, probably more than anybody else.”

Probably more than anyone else? That’s absurd on its face (only 55 percent of Americans report owning stocks, a number that correlates with higher household income, among other things.) But it’s even more disconnected from reality when you collect the receipts: This pandemic period has been a bonanza for billionaires, for whom Trump’s brutalist coronavirus denial and inaction have reaped untold rewards, as our new video infographic above shows.

This cadre of 643 Forbes-certified billionaires grew their collective wealth by an estimated $685 billion, from mid-March through early-August of this year. That’s according to a fresh analysis of Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires Data by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies. To be clear, that’s just the increase in wealth. In total, the richest 0.00019 percent of the US population—which includes household names like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates—hold $3.6 trillion in combined wealth, as of August 5, 2020.

In February, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2020 at 12:18 pm

Journalist offers mea culpa, in new book, for undercovering Black working class

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James Hohmann writes in “The Daily 202” in the Washington Post:

New York Times correspondent Jim Tankersley lays out in his new book how reducing barriers for minorities and women to participate in the workforce helped fuel the boom that gave America the world’s most prosperous middle class in the decades after World War II. “The Riches of This Land,” published on Tuesday, tells the story of the stagnation that followed through the struggles of individuals he has met from Oregon and Ohio to North Carolina and California during two decades of covering economic policy. Tankersley argues that combating persistent discrimination based on race and gender could go a long way toward restoring upward mobility and creating a new golden age for the middle class.

The 320-page book offers deep introspection on mistakes that Tankersley believes he and other journalists inadvertently made when framing the hollowing out of the middle class for readers, especially during the 2016 presidential campaign. He argues that the mainstream media erred by devoting vastly more attention to the plight of non-college-educated White men in the Midwest than their Black counterparts who were also feeling left behind.

While many White people in the region were deciding whether to vote for Donald Trump and his nativist rhetoric after previously backing Barack Obama, a lot of African Americans who had turned out twice for Obama were deciding whether to vote at all. Ultimately, many of them stayed home. Trump won the battleground state of Michigan, for instance, with fewer votes than Mitt Romney lost it with as the GOP presidential nominee four years earlier.

“We missed a big and important story about Black workers and their economic struggles and how it was going to affect their decision to vote or not. But we also misled our audiences by showing them a picture of the working class that was not complete and allowed politicians to distort it,” Tankersley explained in a telephone interview. “The sad and unfortunate product of that was we perpetuated this myth that working-class White men are suffering alone in America and do not have anything in common with these other struggling workers. The idea that women, immigrants or workers of color are in competition with them for prosperity is wrong. It’s not what American history shows us.”

As Tankersley writes in a chapter of his book devoted to this theme: “We whitewashed the middle class, and in the process, we legitimized a lie.”

Tankersley covered economic policy for The Washington Post during the 2016 election cycle and has been on the same beat for the New York Times since 2017. After growing up in a working-class Oregon logging town and serving as editor in chief of the Stanford Daily, Tankersley worked at the Portland Oregonian and Toledo Blade before coming to Washington to work for the Chicago Tribune and National Journal.

“To be really clear, I think it was good that we did a lot of stories about the struggles of White workers,” he said. “I just think we needed to do even more stories about other workers who were struggling. I also don’t want to at all downplay the economic distress that the White working class in the industrial Midwest has gone through in the 21st century. It is severe, and if you are a worker without a college degree in states like Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania, you have a lot to be angry about. The economy has not performed for you the way that it did a generation before and the way that you were told that it was going to. Obviously, discrimination is acute against workers of color in different ways, but in terms of the economy not working for them, everybody’s feeling it.”

The novel coronavirus has underscored many of the fragilities in our economy that Tankersley addresses in the book. It has demonstrated how tens of millions of Americans were living on the edge of poverty, despite a decade of uninterrupted GDP growth. The book was mostly written before the pandemic plummeted the country into its worst economic crisis in a century, but Tankersley was able to update the conclusion with some fresh thoughts. None of the developments of the past five months, though, change any of his recommendations for restoring upward mobility.

When we chatted, Tankersley emphasized that minority groups are suffering the most both from the virus itself and its economic contagiousness. They disproportionately work in jobs that cannot be completed from home. White workers who were laid off in the spring have been hired back at higher rates than Black workers. Unemployment benefits tend to be less generous in the Southern states, where African Americans make up a higher share of the unemployed. “All of these things speak to the idea that these are the workers we need to be finding better and greater opportunities for,” he said.

Tankersley plans to watch closely during the Democratic convention next week and the Republican convention the week after that to see what Joe Biden and Trump specifically promise to do for everyone in the working class. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2020 at 8:57 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

How America Became an Idiocracy

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umair haque (he uses lower-case) writes in Medium:

“What the? What’s wrong with them? Don’t they care?” That’s what the world is asking about Americans. Don’t take it from me, here’s Canada speaking for itself. You see, to the rest of the world — all of it, more or less — what America’s let itself become is mind-blowing, bizarre, bewildering: mass death, rampant disease, economic ruin, a grinning dictator atop it all — and this sense that Americans just don’t care.

Americans will tell you that they do care. And maybe that’s true. But it’s also plain to see that either they don’t care enough, enough of them don’t care, they don’t care in the right ways, or all of those things. As I often say, in most other countries, the head of state would be either exiled, in prison, or at least ousted by now. But there’s this sense that Americans just shrug — and get on with it. What the?

The world’s long suspected America to be an especially brutal and unintelligent country. (It is the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which should remind us that America is the only country to have dropped an atomic bomb.) And yet there is also a suspicion that this judgment was unfair, uncharitable, unforgiving.

Surely that was going too far. Yes, America’s been the world’s aggressor, it’s most violent country — but maybe that was just the fault of a few bad apples, wielding big guns.

But this America, Trump’s America, seems to have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt what the world’s suspected about America: it’s a nation of idiots. Not all of them. Enough of them, anyways, to have caused this kind of spectacular and nightmarish collapse of a society.

I don’t mean that as an insult, or as a jeremiad, or even a rebuke. I mean, funnily enough, analytically. To the Greeks, the idiots was someone only interested in private gain, private advantage. And America is a nation like that. The Greeks thought, though, that such societies — made of too many idiots, or at least enough idiots — wouldn’t prosper: they’d be unable to cooperate to provide any form of public goods, or even cultivate virtues, which are allocentric (I care about us, you, not just me) human qualities. The Greeks, it seems, were far, far smarter than America’s crop of intellectuals — because if America’s a nation of idiots, then the Greeks were right: idiots do cause the ruin of a society, by leaving it unable to have any real form of common wealth, public good, functioning systems, or even gentle virtue.

There are three kinds of American idiots that the world sees.

The first is the one that you’re probably familiar with: the dummy. Just think of the Trumpist. How many Americans would take a Covid vaccine? Just sixty five percent. Fully one in three Americans would not take a vaccine to fight a pandemic. That’s a pretty good proxy for the number of dummies in a society. Vaccines are one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. If you doubt me, go ahead and live in a place where polio still runs rampant, or google a picture of smallpox. Smallpox was eradicated, by the way, in 1977. That’s how brief this interregnum of good human health has been.

This kind of American Idiot is constitutionally incapable of cooperating. They’re extreme individualists, and pride themselves on their self-absorption, narcissism, cruelty, selfishness. Ask them to cooperate with something in the name of human decency, and they’ll react furiously, indignantly yelling at you about “freedom” and “rights.” Nobody’s ever taught them that there are higher freedoms and even more fundamental rights than, say, guns — like healthcare, retirement, pensions — which can only come about through cooperation. And so America has no functioning social institutions or systems largely thanks to this first kind of idiot.

The dummy is the one who made Coronavirus explode in America, by refusing to cooperate with any kind of social distancing, any measures to contain the virus. Bang! Pandemic. By refusing masks, distancing, and even a future vaccine, this first kind of American Idiot — the dummy — has made America have the world’s worst Covid outbreak.

The Greeks would have put that more simply. “Aha!,” they would have cried, “We told you! What’s the world’s worst Covid outbreak? A lack of public health. Public health is a public good. Idiots are only interested in themselves. A society of idiots can’t have public goods, and that’s how America was always going to end up with a massive lack of public health in a pandemic. Idiots predict social collapse.”

Meanwhile, American intellectuals have been penning hoary and cheesy defenses of radical individualism — self-reliance! Emerson! Bootstraps!! John Galt!! — for decades now. Didn’t they ever read Aristotle? Plato? Ayn Rand was a greater thinker than the people who…invented democracy? But I digress. The point is that the danger of idiots was familiar to those who created democracy, so many millennia ago — but America conveniently forgot all about it.

Like I said, that kind of American Idiot — the dummy — is familiar even to Americans. But the next one might not be.

Who else does the world see when it looks at America? It sees two more kinds of idiots, working in tandem: the wise man and the fool.

To understand the fool, think of the kind of American who knows exactly the danger of concentration camps, bans, raids, purges. He or she’s been taught, over and over again, what Nazism is. First in grade school, then high school, then college. They’ve been to good schools, they’ve had a decent education, unlike many of the Trumpists. They know. What to call all this, how dangerous it is, where it leads.

And yet there they are, deafeningly silent, for years now. So much so that America’s now got just what it condemns in other countries: a silent majority. America’s silent majority is made of fools — people who know better, but. They smile, sometimes, and say, “It’ll be fine!” Or maybe they express outrage for a day or two — and then forget all about it. Or maybe that outrage and horror simmers away — but they repress it deep down, in the name of politeness.

This kind of American Idiot is literally fooling themselves. Playing dumb. It’s not just that they should know better. They do. But they can’t bring themselves to say it — utter basic social truths in times of collapse and crisis — for foolish reasons. Reasons that usually orbit around . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and I think his gloomy conclusion is justified.

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2020 at 8:47 am

Fine shave with the Gillette Heritage version of the Edwin Jagger razor — and why isn’t Otoko Organics better known?

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Otoko Organics makes a superb lather: somewhat stiffish, with a wonderful fragrance (presumably from the pear essence) that’s light and refreshing. I’m surprised Otoko Organics is not more popular, but I suspect people just don’t know about it. Definitely worth a try, IMO.

I used my Edwin Jagger synthetic and my Edwin Jagger Gillette Heritage razor for the shave. I call it an Edwin Jagger razor because, so far as I can tell, that’s who made the razor head. The handle has very nice and grippy knurling but is hollow so the razor is somewhat head heavy. IMO, you’d be better off just getting a different Edwin Jagger instead of the Heritage — perhaps this one.

Still, the Edwin Jagger head is very good and I got a good and close shave (with some credit due also the lather). Three passes, a very smooth finish, and a splash of Speick to finish the job. The day begins!

Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2020 at 7:43 am

Posted in Shaving

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