Later On

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

Archive for September 2020

What is critical race theory?

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From a newsletter by Susan Smith Richardson, CEO of the Center for Public Integrity:

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump ordered the Office of Management and Budget to stop federal agencies from any government training programs that included references to critical race theory or white privilege, calling them divisive and anti-American.

Ian Haney López, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley, specializes in critical race theory and is the author of “Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America.” Trump’s mischaracterization of critical race theory as an attack on white people is part of his ongoing efforts to weaponize race to pit whites against people of color, says Haney López.

My interview with Haney López was on Sept. 17, Constitution Day, and Trump was at the National Archives promoting his ideas to “restore patriotic education” to schools and denouncing The 1619 Project, the New York Times Magazine series on the legacy of slavery, and critical race theory as “toxic propaganda.”

And now a moment with Ian Haney López… (This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.)

What is critical race theory?

I think you can only really understand critical race theory by understanding what it was reacting to. There was, and remains to a certain extent, something that can be called liberal race theory. And liberal race theory understands racism in a fairly truncated way. It understands racism as personal prejudice that risks nothing more than errors in judgment — the sort of personal prejudice that liberal race theorists deemed could be cured simply by getting to know people across racial divisions. To see that in operation, you can think about the grand hopes in the 1950s for school integration. There was a sense that school integration and justice required little more than Black and white children mixing in schools, and they would get to know each other, and voilà, no more racism.

Critical race theory responds to that by saying individual prejudice, yes, that’s real. That’s a major thing. But we have to understand that racism has been essential to the foundation of this country and indeed essential to the creation of the modern world. Capitalism and racism co-evolved under colonialism, including in what would become the United States of America. … Now, once you move to this notion that racism is actually a part of the way that the country was founded, you then have to have a lot of very challenging conversations about how racism is part of our culture. It’s built into our institutions.

Two important points that I really want to emphasize: One, the critical in critical race theory is a gesture toward European philosophical thinking that said almost all of our practices and ideas are socially produced. They do not exist in nature. They are not handed down from God. They are socially produced. … The other important insight is that racism is a complex phenomenon that requires serious study. And you can’t hope to understand racism simply on the basis of living race in your daily life, just as you cannot hope to understand the economy because you are spending money every day to buy goods. That doesn’t make you an economist. It doesn’t make you an expert on the economy. Likewise, living in a racially stratified society doesn’t mean you understand race and racism.

Give me an example of a law that reflects what you just said.

So, my first book was entitled “White by Law,” and it examined one of the first laws that Congress enacted. Under the Constitution, the first Constitution, the Constitution of 1787, it wasn’t clear who would be a citizen and who could [be a citizen]. In 1790, Congress passed a law that said only free white persons could naturalize and become a U.S. citizen. But, in turn, this required courts to interpret who was white. And more than that, because courts need to reason in a way that allows their judgments to be transparent and could be extended to other cases, they not only had to rule on individual cases, white or not, they had to explain their reasoning.

The result is an astounding series of cases, including two decided in the U.S. Supreme Court, that seek to define who is white and why the U.S. Supreme Court, that seek to define who is white and why some people are white, and others are not. In other words, what we see is the courts directly engaged in the legal and social production of racial categories. To emphasize again, there is no white race as a matter of biology, as a matter of nature.

What do you think is the purpose of President Trump’s attack on critical race theory? Why now?

In order to understand what President Trump is doing, you have to understand his basic strategy for getting elected in 2016 and for possible reelection in 2020. His basic strategy is to promote a story in which a country is locked into a racial battle between whites and non- whites. And he wants to encourage people to believe that battle is really inevitable and that they have no choice but to choose sides. One way that battle is framed is as direct physical threats to whites. And that’s the rhetoric of law and order: arson, looting, terrorism.

But another part of his story is the threat of cultural replacement. And this is evidenced in his rhetoric about, for example, cancel culture or even the rhetoric “Make America Great Again.” Part of the story he’s telling is, hey, this country is fundamentally a white country, was built by whites. It’s led by whites. It evinces the values of whites. And yet white culture is right now under threat of being replaced and disrespected and that there’s this new culture that’s arising that in fact denigrates and insults whites and celebrates people of color. That’s the story in which these attacks on The 1619 Project and critical race theory fit. … That’s why in the president’s version, critical race theory is said to claim that whites are inherently evil, that there is this fixed condemnation of white people that is supposedly emanating from critical race theory and progressive scholars.

But, of course, that’s an outrageous lie. Rather, what critical race theory is saying is we need to take racism seriously. We’re all enmeshed in this system, and all of us have a capacity to change. All of us have the capacity to see our shared humanity, to connect and build bridges across racial differences, and to build a multiracial society in which every family is valued and has a place, whether they are people of color or white.

Ian’s must-read list is a platform he co-founded that “explains our political descent as well as the way forward by showing how racial political descent as well as the way forward by showing how racial division has served as the main weapon in the class war the rich have been winning.”

Whiteness as Property” by Cheryl I. Harris explores how white racial identity became the basis for privilege and receiving public and private benefits in American society. The ground-breaking analysis was published in the “Harvard Law Review” in 1993.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2020 at 9:58 pm

The dark side of capitalism (aka greed): Investors Extracted $400 Million From a Hospital Chain That Sometimes Couldn’t Pay for Medical Supplies or Gas for Ambulances

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Peter Elkind with Doris Burke report in ProPublica:

In the decade since Leonard Green & Partners, a private equity firm based in Los Angeles, bought control of a hospital company named Prospect Medical Holdings for $205 million, the owners have done handsomely.

Leonard Green extracted $400 million in dividends and fees for itself and investors in its fund — not from profits, but by loading up the company with debt. Prospect CEO Sam Lee, who owns about 20% of the chain, made $128 million while expanding the company from five hospitals in California to 17 across the country. A second executive with an ownership stake took home $94 million.

The deal hasn’t worked out quite as well for Prospect’s patients, many of whom have low incomes. (The company says it receives 80% of its revenues from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.) At the company’s flagship Los Angeles hospital, persistent elevator breakdowns sometimes require emergency room nurses to wheel patients on gurneys across a public street as a security guard attempts to halt traffic. Paramedics for Prospect’s hospital near Philadelphia told ProPublica that they’ve repeatedly gone to fuel up their ambulances only to come away empty at the pump: Their hospital-supplied gas cards were rejected because Prospect hadn’t paid its bill. A similar penury afflicts medical supplies. “Say we need 4×4 sponges, dressing for a patient, IV fluids,” said Leslie Heygood, a veteran registered nurse at one of Prospect’s Pennsylvania hospitals, “we might not have it on the shelf because it’s on ‘credit hold’ because they haven’t paid their creditors.”

In March, Prospect’s New Jersey hospital made national headlines as the chief workplace of the first U.S. emergency room doctor to die of COVID-19. Before his death, the physician told a friend he’d become sick after being forced to reuse a single mask for four days. At a Prospect hospital in Rhode Island, a locked ward for elderly psychiatric patients had to be evacuated and sanitized after poor infection control spread COVID-19 to 19 of its 21 residents; six of them died. The virus sickened a half-dozen members of the hospital’s housekeeping staff, which had been given limited personal protective equipment. The head of the department died.

The litany goes on. Various Prospect facilities in California have had bedbugs in patient rooms, rampant water leaks from the ceilings and what one hospital manager acknowledged to a state inspector “looks like feces” on the wall. A company consultant in one of its Rhode Island hospitals discovered dirty, corroded and cracked surgical instruments in the operating room.

These aren’t mere anecdotes or anomalies. All but one of Prospect’s hospitals rank below average in the federal government’s annual quality-of-care assessments, with just one or two stars out of five, placing them in the bottom 17% of all U.S. hospitals. The concerns are dire enough that on 14 occasions since 2010, Prospect facilities have been deemed by government inspectors to pose “immediate jeopardy” to their patients, a situation the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines as having caused, or is likely to cause, “serious injury, harm, impairment or death.”

Prospect has a long history of breaking its word: It has closed hospitals it promised to preserve, failed to keep contractual commitments to invest millions in its facilities and paid its owners nine-figure dividends after saying it wouldn’t. Three lawsuits assert that Prospect committed Medicare fraud at one of its facilities. And ProPublica has learned of a multiyear scheme at a key Prospect operation that resulted in millions of dollars in improper claims being submitted to the government.

Leonard Green and Prospect, which have operated hand-in-glove throughout this period, both declined requests for interviews. (Near the end of the reporting for this article, Prospect’s CEO, Lee, spoke to ProPublica on the condition that he not be quoted.) Leonard Green and Prospect responded to ProPublica’s questions in . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including a photo of mold breaking through a hospital wall.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2020 at 11:15 am

A brief guide to the accusative in Esperanto

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Lee Miller is the author of this overview, which I found in a Facebook post quoting him. It struck me as useful and succinct.

In Esperanto, the accusative does several things. These are the main ones:

1. It marks the direct object of a verb. (The thing which is being acted upon – so the thing being eaten, or read or had etc)

Mi havas katon.
Mia kato havas katidojn.

2. It indicates movement towards (not movement in general).

La kato saltas sur la tablon.
Mi vojaĝis norden.

3. It marks expressions of measurement (weight, length, time, distance, height, etc.)

Mi aĝas 68 jarojn.
La konstruaĵo estas 40 metrojn alta.

4. It marks points or periods in time.

Mi alvenos lundon.
La parado okazos la sekvan tagon.

5. It marks a number of customary greeting and other expressions.


The accusative isn’t optional. In places where you need it, you have to use it. But it also isn’t random. Don’t just throw -n endings in without a reason.

Note that in 2 (the accusative of direction) one result is distinguishing whether “en” means “in” or “into” (since those two English words differ in meaning):

La knabo kuris en la ĉambro. = The boy ran in the room (i.e., running around inside the room).
La knabo kuris en la ĉambron. = The boy ran into the rooom (i.e., from outside the room).

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2020 at 9:45 am

Posted in Esperanto

Another tobacco shave: Puros La Habana from Van Yulay

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Van Yulay soaps, which I like a lot, vary in their formulation — some are vegan, some are, and the fats and herbs used vary as well. This soap uses lard among its fats:

Stearic Acid, Aloe, Coconut Fatty Acid, Palm Stearic, Castor, Potassium Hydroxide, Glycerin, Coconut-Tallow-Lanolin-Babassu-Manteca-Emu Oils, Shea & Kokum Butters, Sodium Lactate, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Allantoin, Silica, Bentonite & Kaolin Clay, Tobacco Absolute, and Fragrance.

Despite the clay content (both Bentonite and Kaolin), the lather was easy to generate and quite rich and thick, with distinct “aromas of a Cuban Cigar. With very Smokey robust tobacco leafs & hint of cedar.” That is from the catalog description.

I used one of my Vie-Long horsehair brushes and enjoyed it. Horsehair, like boar, works best if you soak the brush before using by wetting the knot well and then letting the brush stand while you shower.

That Maggard V2 open comb (very like the Parker 24C/26C head) is riding on their MR7 handle, and that combination is a very fine razor indeed: three comfortable passes left my face perfectly smooth, and ready for a small dab of Van Yulay’s aftershave balm in the Puros La Habana fragrance:

Water, Aloe Vera, Glycerin, Emulsifying Wax, BTMS, Stearic Acid, Emu Oil, Glycerin, Abyssinian Seed Oil, Argan Oil, Allantoin, Par d Arco, Ylang-Ylang, Tea Tree, Hydrolyzed Oat, Holy Basil, Liquid Silk, Germaben II, and Fragrance.

Regarding the ingredients, she notes:

· Tea Tree – To prevent bacteria to grow & help with ingrown hairs.
· Argan- Provides a high content of vitamins & provide moisture.
· Hydrolyzed Oats – Protective, moisture binding and coating on the skin.
· Holy Basil – Prevents breakouts,relieving acne, redness and sensitive skin.

A good way to end the month.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2020 at 9:42 am

Posted in Shaving

“California Is Built To Burn”

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In Der Speigel Hilmar Schmundt interviews Stephen Pyne, a fire historian and emeritus professor at Arizona State University:


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

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2020 at 9:11 pm

Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown: Verses for a Despotic Age by John Lithgow

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Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2020 at 9:19 am

Another pipe-tobacco shave

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Cavendish is a favorite — so much so that I bought it in the CK-6 formula, which was a treat this morning. That little Edwin Jagger synthetic is quite a nice little brush — closer to badger than are the Plissoft knots, with a nice feel on the face and excellent lathering efficiency.

Fine’s Marvel is quite a good razor, the head here mounted on a UFO bronze handle. Three passes, and then a splash of Cavendish aftershave, with its long-lasting fragrance.

After the update to Catalina yesterday, Photos is working again and I recovered most of the photo library from backup (and I will now be doing backups more regularly).

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2020 at 8:33 am

Posted in Shaving

New approach to Other Vegetables

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I do follow Greger’s Daily Dozen (see this post), and till now for Greens I have cooked a combination of greens — any three of rapini, lacinato kale, green kale, red kale, collards, spinach, chard, red chard, cabbage — along with some allium (garlic always and scallions or leeks or red onions) and often a lemon, sometimes also kalamata olives.

And I’ve done the same with other vegetables: a big mix of a lot of different vegetables. But lately I’ve been attracted to cooking a smaller variety (and amount), moving the variety toward a series rather than in parallel. So tonight I took only some of the Other Vegetables I had bought to cook and made a kind of Mediterranean dish that turned out quite good. Remembering Dr. Greger’s point about the importance of recipe names, I offer:

Eggplant Power Fennel

I used my All-Clad 12″ fry pan (for which I purchased an aftermarket lid).

First I peeled .

6 cloves garlic

and sliced them thinly using my little garlic mandoline. Those I set aside to rest.

1 good-sized leek, sliced including the green part (rinsing is important in the green: lots of dirt)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive

I turned the heat to medium and let that begin to cook while I prepared the rest:

1 Japanese eggplant, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 bulb fennel, fronds chopped, quartered and cored and sliced thinly
•  about 1/2 cup — perhaps a little more — sun-dried tomato (not packed in oil), chopped
•  8-10 mushrooms, sliced or chopped (didn’t think of these in time, but next time for sure)

When the leek had cooked down a bit, I added the garlic and cooked that, stirring, for about a minute, then added eggplant, fennel, and tomatoes. I cooked it for a few minutes, the added:

2 cans Ro-Tel original tomatoes (this is why I did use a cast-iron skillet)
about 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
about 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
about 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
about 1/4 cup tomato paste (from a tube)
about 1/2 cup or a little more pitted Kalamata olives
about 1/3 cup Shaoxing wine (or sherry)
about 1 tablespoon Red Boat fish sauce
about 2 tablespoons hot sauce (next time I will use crushed red pepper — or chipotles in adobo)

I stirred well to mix, covered, and simmered for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally

To serve, I put into a bowl:

1/4 cup cooked beans and
1/4 cup intact whole grain wheat
1 cup of Eggplant Power Fennel

I topped it with a sprinkling of

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

It was extremely tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2020 at 6:46 pm

Semi-good news on Photos and my photo library

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I finally remembered Time Machine and located my most recent back-up. Unfortunately, I have been lackadaisical about doing back-ups, so the most recent copy of the library was 25 March of this year. Still, I was able to retrieve the bulk of it.

And now I have put a weekly reminder in Calendar to remind me to do a backup. That is somewhat like locking the barn door after the horse has bolted, but still…

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2020 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Daily life

Daily Dozen newsletter: Flaxseed and Nuts & Seeds

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The Daily Dozen calls for 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed daily (and I do that, using a little whirling-blade grinder) and 1/4 cup nuts or seeds (usually walnuts or pumpkin seeds, occasionally pecans or peanuts). I also have soaked cashews and then ground them to make a sauce or salad dressing. The current newsletter’s focus is on those two. From the newsletter:

Greetings, fellow green-eating machine! Now that we all know just how many ways there are to eat your greens, let’s take a look at the nitty gritty of Flaxseed, Nuts, and Seeds!

We’re covering another power pair this week: Flaxseed – which gets its own Daily Dozen checkbox – and Nuts and Seeds. Why does flax get such a premium spot on the list? What is the evidence in support of flax? Which nuts are the healthiest options? Let’s shuck off our preconceived notions and take a look at just the flax!

Quick Tips

Flaxseed – mix ground flaxseed in with oatmeal, smoothies, homemade salad dressings, or just sprinkle it on top of your meals. [This grinder works well. Also good for grinding fennel seed, whole allspice, etc. – LG]
Nuts and Seeds – use in oatmeal, salads, smoothies, and pasta dishes. Cashews, sunflower seeds, and tahini can be made into creamy dressings or sauces.

Fast Facts

  • A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of flax seeds (a source of lignans) in breast cancer patients finds flax appears to have the potential to reduce tumor growth—in just a matter of weeks.

Tasty Recipes

Super Salad With Garlic Caesar Dressing & Hemp Hearts

Add bite-sized dices of steamed or sautéed tempeh to this salad for a pretty perfect entrée.

Fruit and Nut Bars

In need of a healthy go-to snack that both kids and adults will enjoy? Check out these tasty fruit and nut bars. Mix and match the dried fruit with what you have in your pantry

Easy Oatmeal Bowl

Here’s a simple Daily Dozen inspired breakfast bowl – as seen in our Evidence-Based Eating Guide.

Top Viewed Videos on Flaxseed, Nuts, and Seeds

Which Are Better: Chia Seeds or Flax Seeds?
What effect do chia seeds have on weight loss, blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation?

Nuts and Obesity: The Weight of Evidence
Nut consumption does not appear to lead to the expected weight gain. How is it possible given how many calories they have?

Flaxseed for Hypertension
Extraordinary results reported in a rare example of a double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of a dietary intervention (flaxseeds) to combat one of our leading killers, high blood pressure.

See also Flax Seeds topics page and Nuts topics page.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2020 at 1:13 pm

Some excellent tips on making scrambled eggs

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I’ve pretty much stopped eating eggs (after watching this brief video), but The Wife has a couple of scrambled eggs each morning for breakfast, so I sent this article to her. It begins:

Scrambled eggs are one of the ultimate throw-together meals. Less work than even the easiest poaching, and less fuss than a standard fried.
Still, who hasn’t overcooked scrambled eggs into rubbery unpleasantness? I know I have. Here are a few tips to success, as well as strategies for cooking your eggs exactly the way you want them.
Consider a nonstick skillet. I know, some of you are going to swear you make great scrambled eggs in your well-seasoned cast-iron. And if you do, don’t let me deter you! But for anyone who has struggled with eggs sticking or burning to the skillet, nonstick can be a lifesaver. “Most pans, even the really good ones, are actually filled with little cracks and crevices,” Joseph Provost, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at the University of San Diego, told me last year. Provost, who co-wrote “The Science of Cooking: Understanding the Biology and Chemistry Behind Food and Cooking,” explained that when a pan is heated, the metal expands, which means eggs can get trapped in those microscopic cracks, where they then stick and burn. The coating of a nonstick skillet provides a smooth surface and separates the food from the metal.
Use a smaller skillet. One of the easiest ways to guard against overcooking is using a smaller skillet. My 12-inch nonstick skillet is great for when I want a very thin omelet for folding onto a sandwich. The greater surface area, though, means it’s all too easy for the eggs to dry out quickly. When you want actual curds (whether dense and creamy or light and fluffy), consider dropping the skillet size to 10 or even 8 inches, depending on how many eggs you’re cooking.
Salting. From a taste perspective alone, I have found that adding a little more salt (I favor Diamond Crystal for its easy-to-grasp grains that nonetheless dissolve well) than my instincts would tell me has made a marked improvement in flavor. My eggs have gone from blah to, wouldn’t you know, well-seasoned!
But there’s another reason salting is important for scrambled eggs: It can actually improve the texture. As Harold McGee explains in “Keys to Good Cooking,” heating eggs (more on that below) causes the proteins in both the yolks and whites to stick together, or coagulate. The more that happens, the more dry and rubbery the eggs get. The goal, then, is to keep those proteins from getting too close and squeezing out water. Salt can help achieve that. In “The Food Lab,” cookbook author and food science guru J. Kenji López-Alt explains that the salt serves as a kind of buffer between the proteins. For the best effect, he recommends salting eggs at least 15 minutes before cooking (while you assemble other ingredients/preheat the skillet, perhaps) to allow the salt to evenly dissolve, though just before cooking also helps. He found that salting toward the end of cooking produced tougher eggs that wept liquid.
Similarly, in “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” Samin Nosrat suggests “a few secret drops of lemon juice” in scrambled eggs. Like salt, acid affects the way proteins bond, in this case affecting the speed and density at which the they coagulate. . .

Continue reading for more tips.

BTW, I not only don’t eat eggs, I also don’t add salt to what I cook.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2020 at 12:21 pm

Making a nifty butterfly knife from a bearing case

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Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2020 at 11:12 am

Posted in Video

If the NY Times story is “fake news,” why doesn’t Trump release his tax returns to set the record straight?

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren had a good comment:

This is about more than one man’s personal tax scams. Donald Trump is a liar, a cheater, and a crooked businessman, yes. But he’s also taking advantage of a broken, corrupt, and unequal system that’s built for people like him to do what he did.

Trump paid a lot more in taxes in some foreign countries, which undercuts the statement that the US tax system is particularly hard on the wealthy.

And Heather Cox Richardson has an excellent column, well worth reading in its entirety:

Late this afternoon, the New York Times published the story we have been waiting for since 2016: the story of Donald Trump’s taxes. There was never any doubt that whatever was in those taxes was bad or he never would have worked so hard to hide them. But the picture the New York Times story revealed was worse than expected.

The New York Times obtained more than two decades of Donald Trump’s tax information, including that of his companies, through his first two years in the White House. The picture they paint is of a man more than $300 million in debt; whose businesses are constantly losing money; who deducts personal expenses including houses, airplanes, and $70,000 in hairstyling; who is fighting with the IRS over the repayment of a $72.9 million tax refund which, if it has to be repaid, will run to $100 million; and who in his first year in office paid the most income tax he had paid in a decade: $750.

That’s not a typo.

In 11 of the 18 years the reporters examined, Trump paid no taxes at all. He has, however, paid taxes elsewhere. In 2017, Trump paid $750 to the U.S., but paid $15,598 in Panama, $145,400 in India, and $156,824 in the Philippines (rather undercutting the idea that American tax laws are too harsh on the very wealthy).

The information illuminates a number of the shadowy puzzles of the Trump presidency. It shows that he was deeply in debt in 2015, and was, as his former fixer Michael Cohen said, eager to rebuild his brand by running for the highest office in the land. He had a bad habit of running through cash and accumulating huge debt, a pattern that showed up first when he ran through the money his father gave him, and then when the brief popularity of The Apprentice put $427.4 million into his pocket. He threw the money from The Apprentice into failing golf courses.

The presidency has injected cash into Trump’s businesses, as lobbyists and foreign governments invest in them, but he is still losing money. The Times notes that “within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans—obligations for which he is personally responsible—will come due.”

This, of course, means that Trump is a huge national security risk. He owes money—to whom we don’t know—and he does not have it to pay his debts. It is no wonder that a bipartisan group of nearly 500 national security officials, past and present, last week endorsed Biden for president. According to Defense News, the list included “five former secretaries of the Navy, two former Army secretaries, four former Air Force secretaries, two retired governors, and 106 ambassadors.” Retired General Paul Selva, who served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first two and a half years of Trump’s term, signed the letter.

The tax returns also suggest that Trump’s desperation to stay in office is sparked by the 1973 Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel memo saying a sitting president cannot be indicted. Former inspector general of the Department of Justice Michael Bromwich tweeted “Trump knew something we didn’t when he started balking at the peaceful transfer of power. If he loses the election, he faces federal and state prosecution for bank fraud, tax fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud, as does his entire family. No OLC memo will spare him.”

Among other things, the information revealed that Trump wrote off about $26 million in “consulting fees” between 2010 and 2018. This reduced his taxable income, but it appears it might have simply been a way to give money to his children without paying taxes on it: his daughter Ivanka appears to have received $747,622 from the Trump Organization in consulting fees, despite being an employee there.

Remember, this is the information Trump chose to tell the IRS. It seems worth wondering what he did not tell them.

The Times says it will not release the actual documents in order to protect its source(s). It also says it will continue to drop more news from this trove over the coming weeks.

A piece from Michael Kranish at the Washington Post today reinforced the New York Times story. Apparently, when he was on the verge of personal bankruptcy in the 1990s, Trump tried to trick his 85-year-old father, who was sliding into dementia, into signing a codicil to his will that would cheat Trump’s siblings out of their inheritance and give Trump control of his father’s entire estate. Trump’s mother stopped her husband from signing it.

Trump had a press conference scheduled for shortly after the New York Times story broke. When asked about it, Trump claimed the story was “totally fake news,” although a lawyer for the Trump Organization could only try to refute the story with misleading information. After the conference, CNN’s Ana Cabrera pointed out that Trump could stop the New York Times story if it were wrong by “releasing his tax returns, by making them public.”

This evening, news broke that Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, has been hospitalized after threatening suicide. While most commentators simply noted the story and warned against making this particular personal story political, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said: “Brad Parscale is a member of our family and we all love him. We are ready to support him and his family in any way possible. The disgusting, personal attacks from Democrats and disgruntled RINOs have gone too far, and they should be ashamed of themselves for what they’ve done to this man and his family.” There is no evidence linking Democrats or anyone else to this incident.

The big New York Times story came on top of yesterday’s big story: Trump’s announcement that he has nominated Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, to take the seat formerly held by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and like he was, she is an originalist. In a speech, she explained: “The constitution means what it meant to those who ratified it.” Scalia “interpreted that text as people would have understood that text at the time it was ratified…. if we change the law now to comport with our current understandings or what we want it to mean then it ceases to be the law that has democratic legitimacy.” Change must come from new laws and new constitutional amendments, not from the courts. Like Scalia, Barrett resists “the notion that the Supreme Court should be in the business of imposing its views of social mores on the American people.” This understanding does not bode well for the Affordable Care Act, which the court will begin to review on November 10, just a week after the election.

Trump elevated Barrett from her professorship at Notre Dame Law School to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on May 8, 2017, and the Senate confirmed her the following October 31. Now 48 years old, she is in line to join the Supreme Court.

Lindsey Graham (R-SC), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has laid out a lightning fast schedule for Barrett’s expected confirmation. Today he told the Fox News Channel that his committee will approve her by October 22, so she will be on track for a full Senate vote before the end of October. It will be one of the fastest confirmations for a Supreme Court justice in history.

This is a huge scandal. In March 2016, when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court after the death of Antonin Scalia the previous month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insisted that it was inappropriate to confirm a justice so close to an election. That was ridiculous, of course, in our history 14 justices have been confirmed in an election year before the election (three more have been confirmed after it). But no Supreme Court justice has ever been confirmed later than July before an election. Now the Republicans are fast-tracking a nominee while people are literally already voting. And the president has said he wants Barrett confirmed because he expects the election results will be thrown into the Supreme Court where, presumably, she will vote in his favor.

Barrett is a devout Catholic who is a member of the charismatic Christian People of Praise community. Concern about the gender roles enforced in that patriarchal community have prompted her supporters to claim that her opponents are anti-Catholic. This claim is odd when both the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, are themselves devout Catholics who have endured Republican attacks on their faith, including Trump’s declaration that, if elected, Biden would “hurt the Bible, hurt God…. He’s against God.”

Rather than being prompted by concern for religious freedom, Republicans insisting that Democrats are anti-Catholic falls in line with a pattern identified by Brian Fallon, former director of public affairs for the Department of Justice and now the executive director of Demand Justice, which has tried to stop Trump’s packing of the federal judiciary. “It is a long running tactic of Senate GOP that, when they are about to do something unpopular, they invent some grievance to ‘psych’ themselves up and act like Dems forced their hand. This is why they are desperate to act like attacks on Catholicism are lurking out there.”

Today, Biden urged senators, many of whom he knows personally from his decades in the Senate, to de-escalate their stance on Barrett and to “do the right thing.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2020 at 10:32 am

Software tsuris but a great shave with Sherlock and the 102

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I’ve hit a stumbling block. I upgraded my Mac OS to Catalina (a mistake, as it turns out) and now the Photos app will not work — not only can it not read my photos library, I cannot even open the app. Whatever I try to do, it shuts itself off.

I did a quick search for photo-editing software for the Mac, and one free option is Google Photos. I uploaded the photos, did a quick edit, and now I have an edited photo, but I have not figured out how to download the photo file to my Mac. What I finally did was do a screen capture, shown above. — update: I found the download option, and now the photo above is from the downloaded file.

I did go to Apple Community forum and I see that currently there are more than 300 posts about have problems with the Apple app Photos after an upgrade to Catalina. Be warned.

The shave itself was (thankfully) superb: Sherlock is a very pleasant tobacco-fragranced soap (and aftershave), and of course the iKon 102 is a wonderful slant. Three passes to perfect Monday-morning smoothness, followed by a splash of the aftershave and a good bout of frustration with the software — which, for some reason, did get me stirred up as such frustrations have so often done in the past. I imagine that it’s because I fully recognize that the problem is external to me (plus, of course, I did find some workaround — now if I could only figure out how to move the photo file from Google to my computer….)

Hope your day started bettr.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2020 at 10:19 am

Posted in Shaving

Long-concealed tax records show Trump’s chronic (and staggering) losses and years of tax avoidance

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Well, now we clearly understand why he refused to make public his tax returns—exactly for the reasons people surmised. and 

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adv

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of The Times’s findings; additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.

The returns are some of the most sought-after, and speculated-about, records in recent memory. In Mr. Trump’s nearly four years in office — and across his endlessly hyped decades in the public eye — journalists, prosecutors, opposition politicians and conspiracists have, with limited success, sought to excavate the enigmas of his finances. By their very nature, the filings will leave many questions unanswered, many questioners unfulfilled. They comprise information that Mr. Trump has disclosed to the I.R.S., not the findings of an independent financial examination. They report that Mr. Trump owns hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable assets, but they do not reveal his true wealth. Nor do they reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.

In response to a letter summarizing The Times’s findings, Alan Garten, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, said that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate” and requested the documents on which they were based. After The Times declined to provide the records, in order to protect its sources, Mr. Garten took direct issue only with the amount of taxes Mr. Trump had paid.

“Over the past decade, President Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015,” Mr. Garten said in a statement.

With the term “personal taxes,” however, Mr. Garten appears to be conflating income taxes with other federal taxes Mr. Trump has paid — Social Security, Medicare and taxes for his household employees. Mr. Garten also asserted that some of what the president owed was “paid with tax credits,” a misleading characterization of credits, which reduce a business owner’s income-tax bill as a reward for various activities, like historic preservation.

The tax data examined by The Times provides a road map of revelations, from write-offs for the cost of a criminal defense lawyer and a mansion used as a family retreat to a full accounting of the millions of dollars the president received from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Together with related financial documents and legal filings, the records offer the most detailed look yet inside the president’s business empire. They reveal the hollowness, but also the wizardry, behind the self-made-billionaire image — honed through his star turn on “The Apprentice” — that helped propel him to the White House and that still undergirds the loyalty of many in his base.

Ultimately, Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.

“The Apprentice,” along with the licensing and endorsement deals that flowed from his expanding celebrity, brought Mr. Trump a total of $427.4 million, The Times’s analysis of the records found. He invested much of that in a collection of businesses, mostly golf courses, that in the years since have steadily devoured cash — much as the money he secretly received from his father financed a spree of quixotic overspending that led to his collapse in the early 1990s.

Indeed, his financial condition when he announced his run for president in 2015 lends some credence to the notion that his long-shot campaign was at least in part a gambit to reanimate the marketability of his name.

As the legal and political battles over access to his tax returns have intensified, Mr. Trump has often wondered aloud why anyone would even want to see them. “There’s nothing to learn from them,” he told The Associated Press in 2016. There is far more useful information, he has said, in the annual financial disclosures required of him as president — which he has pointed to as evidence of his mastery of a flourishing, and immensely profitable, business universe.

In fact, those public filings offer a distorted picture of his financial state, since they simply report revenue, not profit. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. And see also:

Charting An Empire: A Timeline Of Trump’s Finances

18 Revelations From a Trove of Trump Tax Records

An Editor’s Note on the Trump Tax Investigation

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2020 at 3:16 pm

Cheerleading, Monopolies and Sexual Predators

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Cheerleading and Sexual Abuse

When I started writing this newsletter on monopoly power, I would not have predicted that one of the more interesting and popular themes would be on how market power plays out in the world of cheerleading. And yet, the story of monopolization in cheer is a great example of the problem of concentrated corporate power, because it reveals so much about how our economy actually works.

As a quick recap, the company involved is called Varsity Brands, which has monopolized the sport of cheerleading by buying up most major competitions. Varsity is owned by private equity giant Bain Capital. What makes this story so useful is that there are no fancy high tech gadgets in cheer, no possible excuses from economists; it’s just the use of raw power to extract money from teenagers and their families through a business conspiracy.

The story also speaks to the power of advocates to make change. Over the past six months, competitors and customers have filed multiple class action antitrust lawsuits against Varsity, all essentially alleging the same anti-competitive practices from different angles. These cases hit one after another, building on each other and adding more details to the overall story of recklessness that occurs under a monopoly.

And now another shoe just dropped.

Last week, Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tricia L. Nadolny at USA Today detailed a massive scandal of rampant sexual abuse in cheerleading. There’s a high-profile aspect of this scandal; Netflix’s Cheer celebrity Jerry Harris was arrested for producing child pornography involving young cheerleaders, with complaints about him seemingly ignored by the main cheer governing body. But the scandal is more far-reaching than just Harris. What Kwiatkowski and Nadolny found was that over a 100 convicted sex offenders who had raped or assaulted children or otherwise engaged in sexual misconduct were allowed to work in the cheerleading world, and the two governing nonprofits of the sport – USA Cheer and the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF) – did not put these sex offenders on their list of people banned from the sport.

This kind of abusive behavior happens in every sphere of human activity, so one might think that abuse is not intrinsic to any particular business model. Further, these offenders by and large did not work at Varsity, but at independent gyms and associated companies doing business in the cheerleading ecosystem, so it’s even easier to see this as an isolated scandal. And yet, while it may not at first seem like it, this scandal about predators is part of the same monopoly story that I happened to hit on in January. This is a story of a theme I’ve hit on in other industries, or what is known as absentee ownership.

To understand why this abuse connects to monopoly, it helps to know a little bit about how monopolistic industries like cheerleading work. The cheerleading business is a tiered structure, with Varsity, though it owns and operates a bunch of different brands, at the top as the producer of the cheerleading sport. The ultimate customers are the 3.7 million children and teenagers in the sport, whose parents both pay to enter Varsity’s contests and buy apparel and equipment from Varsity. In between Varsity and the end customers are gyms, the ostensibly independent businesses who actually train the cheerleaders. The kids actually have choices of which gyms to attend, and there is fierce competition among gyms to showcase themselves as getting your kid onto a team that can win contests and compete at a high level.

The sport’s rules and standards are organized by the major nonprofit governing bodies – the USASF and USA Cheer. These governing bodies structures the rules for contests, and for who gets to move on to championship competitions and even international cheer contests. They handle safety standards, including certifying tens of thousands of coaches on safety, doing background checks, and maintaining an “online reporting form for abuse allegations.”

Based on the rhetoric, you’d imagine that it’s a well-run sport with a lot of care for the athletes, who are of course young and vulnerable. Independent gyms compete in contests over delivering a better and more enriching experience for kids. There are governing bodies that ensure that everyone plays by fair rules, and these rules include strong safety standards.

In reality, however, cheerleading is a dictatorship, with Varsity having control over every aspect of the industry. When it was first started, Varsity was an ordinary producer of cheerleading competitions. A few decades ago, Varsity started buying up its competitors, until by 2015 it controlled 90% of the relevant cheerleading competitions in the country. So now, if you want to compete in cheerleading, you are going to compete in contests where Varsity sets the rules and the terms for entering. Varsity can send your team to championship contests, or not. Varsity used its market power to make its cheer camps and apparel business dominant. As Jeff Webb, the founder of Varsity, put it to Chief Executive magazine in 2018, they were creating a concept and ecosystem and then “positioning ourselves to provide all the products and services that that affinity group utilized.”

The gyms, while independently owned and operated, are in fact under the control of Varsity. Being a high performer in the Varsity ecosystem is high-stakes for gym owners, as hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars can be on line based on how they perform in the corporation’s competitions. Varsity forces gyms who sought to enter its competitions to buy Varsity apparel by giving them kickbacks based on volume purchases (as John D. Rockefeller did to railroads), and penalizes them with higher prices should they not buy enough Varsity product. Rebates came in the form of ‘Varsity Fashion Dollars’ useful only to buy Varsity product. Lawyers in one suit allege Varsity rigged the rules at cheerleading competitions, giving “extra points awarded at All-Star Competitions” to gyms using Varsity apparel.

And what of the governing bodies? This is where it gets interesting. USA Today also noted that Varsity controlled, funded, and organized the major governing bodies for cheerleading. USA Cheer, for instance, has six staffers, all of whom are Varsity employees that are contracted out from the organization. The governing bodies are also critical to Varsity’s control. Gyms, for instance, must report their entire cheerleading schedule to the USASF and buy liability insurance from it; those who compete at non-league events face higher prices, meaning that USASF is reinforcing Varsity’s monopoly.

With all this control, one would imagine that it would be easy for Varsity to put an end to abuse. Yet, when it comes to maintaining a list of sexual misconduct offenders at gyms, suddenly Varsity and its affiliated organizations become totally powerless. USASF executive Amy Clark told USA Today, “We’re a voluntary-membership organization, not a gatekeeper for participation in the sport.” But of course, Varsity and its affiliates are gatekeepers, and have even threatened teams that compete in international non-sanctioned events. It’s just that the gatekeeping seems to be oriented around maintaining market power, not stopping sexual predators from working in cheerleading.

Clark’s denial of capacity here is very hard for me to believe, because it doesn’t seem like they actually try. USA Today’s story exposed that Varsity/USASF had a list of offenders banned from the sport, however, it had just 21 people on it. Immediately after being told they were being investigated by the newspaper, they added on many more. In other words, it doesn’t seem like preventing sexual abuse in the cheer ecosystem was the guiding desire here so much as avoiding bad publicity.

More qualitatively, the cheerleading world is a small gossipy place full of open secrets and controlled, both socially and financially, by Varsity. As I did reporting on the business practices of Varsity, I constantly heard rumors and stories of very ugly currents in the cheer world. You don’t have to take my word for the tight-knit nature of the community and how angry they are at Varsity, you can just read the comments on the last story I wrote on the company. The lawyers and investigators in the antitrust cases heard the same stories, and some were even motivated to take on Varsity because of this abuse. I don’t know how much Varsity was involved here, but I suspect, at the very least, that Varsity execs were turning a blind eye to what was happening.

There are many reasons Varsity might have preferred to do little about the sexual abuse allegations. One case in Texas alleges that Varsity was protecting high-profile cheer celebrities because those celebrities were valuable recruiters for the sport. I was told that there may have been other reasons, like the possibility of blackmail or just because certain officials didn’t think any of it was a big deal. But a more likely reason is simply that, as a monopolist, Varsity, didn’t have to. There was nowhere else for cheer officials to go if they wanted to raise the issue, because Varsity could retaliate against them by having them exiled from the sport. Being able to crush someone’s livelihood is power.

Moreover, Varsity had constructed a legal structure such that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2020 at 11:28 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

The secret economics of a VIP party

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Ashley Mears describes in the Economist an existence that strikes me as grim:

The nightclub pulsed in the Miami heat. Dancers waved glow sticks with neon letters spelling out “F*** me I’m famous”. The millionaire was dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, and would have been easy to miss if he hadn’t been surrounded by a dozen tall, thin, beautiful women and waving a pink bottle of Cristal champagne. His next drinks order arrived in a ceremonial procession, known in the nightclub business as a bottle train. A group of bouncers carried two bins full of champagne bottles and sparklers, lifted high above their heads. They were followed by a procession of stiletto-clad waitresses, bearing the same gifts.

Onlookers cheered in the glow and held up their phones to take pictures. A man standing next to me looked blasé at the unfolding scene and offered me a swig from his own champagne bottle: a 2004 Cristal rosé.

How much does this cost?” I asked him, gesturing at the bottle.

He told me it was $1,700. I watched as the millionaire shoved his bottle towards the face of a nearby model, causing the expensive liquid to foam wastefully over the neck.

We’ve all seen scenes like this on Instagram or the pages of glossy magazines. Over the last few decades, a new elite has emerged, partly as a result of deregulation of the financial sector in the West and partly because of the spread of global capitalism across the world. This elite is more geographically dispersed and mobile than the aristocrats and capitalists of yesteryear. And an industry has sprung up to feed it.

A small cohort of oligarchs, New York hedge-fund managers and Silicon Valley investors now patronise a network of nightclubs that span the globe. Whether they’re in Miami or St Tropez these clubs tend to have similar decor and the same clientele. The coronavirus pandemic has temporarily paused the partying, but you can be sure that this sector of society, locked down in large homes and insulated from the economic recession, will soon be up for a good time again.

The visual tropes of this world are familiar even to non-vips: angular cheekbones, Louboutin heels, sprays of champagne. What most people don’t realise is that the apparently spontaneous abandon of those extravagant nights is, in fact, painstakingly planned. It takes a carefully hidden, intricate economy, based on a complex brokering of beauty and status, to create an atmosphere in which people will spend $100,000 on alcohol in a single night. This economy’s currency is young women. The leggy blondes who surrounded the millionaire that night in Miami were not there by chance.

I went behind the scenes in this world between 2010 and 2014, trying to establish how it worked. Because I was a model before I became a sociologist, I was able to enter roped-off areas that ruthlessly exclude any woman who does not conform to a certain body type. I talked to the young women who surrounded the millionaires and came to understand that, whether they fully acknowledged it or not, they were being managed: shunted in and out of nightclubs with brisk efficiency. Women in this world were living props in a carefully scripted theatre that created real financial value for men – the promoters who set up the scene, the nightclub-owners who raked in the bar bills, the wannabe billionaires who used the environment to network. The women’s motivation was harder to pinpoint. But every night they gamely donned their heels and hit the clubs. The show had to go on.

Dre was a promoter for some of the biggest clubs on the vip circuit (like others in this story he asked me to use a pseudonym). He was a handsome 38-year-old with a shaved head and dazzling smile, whose job was to encourage big spenders to book tables at the clubs he worked for. He achieved this partly through his own charisma. He’d dabbled in the music business before becoming a promoter (at a certain point in the night he performed an unforgettable rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean”), and was the kind of person celebrities liked to greet on a night out. But Dre’s main talent was his ability to bring in models, ideally at least five a night (other promoters aimed for ten – it was important for there to be an excess of beauty). “I know how to talk to girls,” Dre often said. “They like me.”

Through spending a lot of time with Dre in New York, I learned the basic economics of the system that he worked so effectively. In some ways Dre’s job resembled that of a pimp but, like every promoter, he flinched when I raised the idea. Some of the rich nightclub customers may have had sex with the beautiful women rustled up for them by promoters, though I didn’t see much evidence of this (often the men hardly spoke to them). But fundamentally that was not the reason the women were there. The point of gathering a crowd of models was to put customers in the right kind of mood to spend money. Dre’s ultimate client was the club-owner, who transformed that ambience into profit by inflating the price of the alcohol they bought by up to 1,000%. That mark-up included the invisible labour it took to summon the models. Customers paid so they didn’t have to bring the women themselves or engage a broker to procure them. They paid for the illusion of spontaneity.

Dre had a gift for creating a relaxed atmosphere in fancy places. I watched him at work in a famous restaurant in SoHo, where the owner was paying him at least $1,000 a night to bring in the right crowd. He sat flanked by bottles and beautiful women, apparently kicking back but in reality watching the room like a hawk. “ . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Later in the article:

Katia took what she could from the scene: sex with a promoter, smoking his pot on the beach, dining in fancy restaurants and the excitement of seeing where the night would take you. Yet she couldn’t simply leave a club if she wasn’t having fun, or when her feet hurt from the heels the promoter made her wear. She kept a credit card tucked in the back of her phone for emergencies, but she didn’t have much money so she relied on promoters to get around. Katia looked back on the experience as an overwhelmingly positive one. “It was amazing, no?”

Yet I wasn’t totally convinced. The Miami experience seemed pretty exhausting, and Katia and the other women had little capacity to determine their own movements. Another model I met, Petra, had been taken to Miami by a different promoter for a client whom she described as a “Brazilian mafia guy or whatever”.

Petra had been put up in a penthouse with a group of women, but it turned out not to have any furniture, so they were moved to a bedroom inside the client’s place. On the first night there, Petra’s friend Rose felt ill during dinner and wanted to go back to rest. No one would take her, and since she didn’t have a key to the flat, she had to wait outside the nightclub until the early morning when the clients had finished partying. Petra, meanwhile, felt she had no choice but to go into the club without her. “I had to go there alone not knowing these people, and then I did feel like a piece of meat, like totally, I had to be fun…so I was like, dancing, and laughing, and hating my life at the same time.” She had no control over her own time: “Just not being able to eat on time, you think that’s ok, but when it happens, it’s not,” she said.

Most of the women I spoke to seemed to think that following promoters around would be valuable in the longer term, though this value was hard to measure. One benefit was  . . .

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2020 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Memes

The crackpots and charlatans will always be with us, and some will prosper

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No, not him. This guy:

It is alarming to find a popular medical doctor on the Internet who claims that appendicitis—a common inflammation of the appendix which can lead to sepsis and death—is no big deal. According to him, it’s simply constipation, which can be relieved by enema. He says it so calmly, though, that you may be inclined to believe him.

This doctor is Andrew Kaufman, based in Syracuse, New York. In the middle of a global health pandemic, he has become a prominent voice in the COVID denialism movement online. Many of his lengthy commentaries on YouTube have received hundreds of thousands of views. If you have heard that the coronavirus is not real, that scientists are actually detecting “exosomes,” you are familiar with Kaufman’s theory. His turn away from medicine seems to have been triggered in part by reading the book A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan, a psychiatrist turned virus denier and Goop contributor. Kaufman regularly takes to YouTube to answer specific medical questions from viewers and provides them with “information” that runs counter to basic knowledge of the human body, endorsing bone broths and detox protocols for a variety of ailments. He is not a naturopath; he is a psychiatrist with an active medical license in his state.

Illuminating fringe claims can poison the public discourse, but Kaufman is popular enough that addressing his main theory is necessary. And his even-tempered warnings about a “globalist agenda” and a “manufactured crisis” that has led to “coercion” feed the playbook of COVID-19 conspiracy theorists.

The myth that the virus isn’t there

Sounding composed and knowledgeable, Kaufman repeatedly tells his viewers that viruses are not a cause of human diseases. Through watching hours and hours of video, I have seen him deny the existence of the viruses behind the common cold, polio, HIV-AIDS, viral hepatitis, chickenpox, COVID-19, and measles. One of his favourite examples for why his war against germ theory is justified is the case of Stefan Lanka, which he sells to his audience as “the Supreme Court of Germany actually ruled that there is no measles virus that’s been proved to exist” (from his interview with London Real, time code 1:04:00). The truth is that Lanka issued a challenge: he wanted a single scientific paper that, on its own, proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the virus existed. When a doctor named David Bardens produced six papers that together met the burden of proof, Lanka refused to pay and the Court recognized that Lanka was free to set the rules as he saw fit because this was an award and he could give it to whomever. The measles virus is very real: Lanka’s public challenge was, in my opinion, a no-win scenario to give credence to his virus denialism.

Dr. Andrew Kaufman rose to fame in the early days of the pandemic by claiming that what scientists were actually seeing with their electron microscopes was not a new coronavirus but rather exosomes. This story is quite interesting as it reveals a common tactic Kaufman uses. In building a bridge between an observation and a conclusion he likes, he will often use valid science to lay down a number of planks. When that bridge is almost complete, he runs out of planks and takes a leap of faith, but that leap may only be noticeable by an expert. Going back to exosomes, most of what Kaufman says is true. Our body is made of cells, and you can imagine a cell like a soap bubble. An exosome is a tiny bubble that buds off from that soap bubble and starts floating around, maybe eventually fusing with another soap bubble.

These exosomes can carry payloads, like genetic material, and act as transporters inside our body, and they do look an awful lot like many viruses. In fact, sometimes a virus will infect a cell and an exosome containing the virus’ genetic material will bud off and go on to infect another cell, just like a viral particle would! But here we reach the end of our bridge. Two scientific experts discussed this issue in a YouTube video and concluded that “clearly, there are similarities between exosomes and the coronavirus but they are absolutely different in many aspects.” Kaufman takes a leap and claims the virus does not exist. It’s all exosomes.

In fact, Kaufman loves to mention that doctors who claim to have found an infectious virus have never been able to fulfill Koch’s hallowed postulates. A brief history lesson is warranted. Microbiologist Robert Koch stated during the Victorian era (just before we even really knew what DNA and viruses were) that to prove that a microbe caused disease, you needed to isolate it from living things with the disease and not find it in living things without the disease. And if you took it from a living thing that had it and gave it to a living thing that did not, it should produce disease and you should be able to then isolate this microbe within it. So if scientists have not done this with a particular virus, it gives license to people like Kaufman to claim that we just don’t know.

The problem is that Koch himself realized that requiring his postulates to be fulfilled each and every time was mistaken. He noticed people who were carriers of typhoid fever and of cholera who did not have symptoms. They had the infectious agent but not the disease. Was it proof these microbes did not after all cause the disease? No. Koch’s postulates are historically interesting, but they have essentially been supplanted by guidelines based on the detection of DNA or RNA from the microbe itself.

From MD to ND

Dr. Andrew Kaufman is, in my opinion, a naturopath now. He charges USD 750 for a natural health consultation (and $1,750 for the premium package). He has stated that technological advances in medicine are only superior to natural methods “if your bone is sticking out of your skin”; that it’s wrong to be synthesizing drugs; and that we should simply rely on natural molecules whose safety, he claims, is known. And like naturopaths, Kaufman sees toxins everywhere. He thinks we get them from clothes, shampoo and the food supply. Urinary tract infections, he believes, can be caused by toxins in the rectum that “translocate” to the urinary system. So naturally, he recommends “cleansings” to many people writing in with questions. These mysterious toxins and our rituals to purify ourselves from them remind me of the demons and exorcisms of old, and if you think that’s a stretch, Kaufman, a psychiatrist who has done work in the criminal justice system in the past, thinks “demon possession may actually be a factor in some mental illness” like schizophrenia. Many of the comments on his live streams display a strong religious fervour—“Yes demons are for real” and “Just walk with Christ and you are save [sic] even if they kill you!”—so much so that you would think you were watching the world’s most unflappable preacher.

But Kaufman is not content to embrace naturopathy and deny the existence of germs: he has to imply that . . .

Continue reading. There’s even more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2020 at 11:07 am

Fine shave with cheap razor (but excellent shaving soap)

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This little RiMei razor is probably no available, or not in this format. (I think they improved the handle fairly early). It cost $2 and delivers a perfectly fine shave. The description says that it’s stainless, but obviously it is stamped and not machined.

Declaration Grooming’s Milksteak shaving soaps are wonderful, and the lather from them — this morning via the Simpson Duke 3 Best shown — is a marvel. Part of the credit to the quality of this morning’s shave experience and shave result must go to that lather.

I finished with a splash of D.R. Harris Pink After Shave, and the weekend welcomes me.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2020 at 9:32 am

Posted in Shaving

Characteristics of Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (WEIRD) societies

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A couple of papers. First, the abstract from a paper in Behavioral and Brain Science:

Abstract: Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior – hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re-organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.

And the abstract of a paper in Science, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Cultural evolution

There is substantial variation in psychological attributes across cultures. Schulz et al. examined whether the spread of Catholicism in Europe generated much of this variation (see the Perspective by Gelfand). In particular, they focus on how the Church broke down extended kin-based institutions and encouraged a nuclear family structure. To do this, the authors developed measures of historical Church exposure and kin-based institutions across populations. These measures accounted for individual differences in 20 psychological outcomes collected in prior studies.

Science, this issue p. eaau5141; see also p. 686

Structured Abstract


A growing body of research suggests that populations around the globe vary substantially along several important psychological dimensions and that populations characterized as Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) are particularly unusual. People from these societies tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial (e.g., trusting of strangers) while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty. Although these patterns are now well documented, few efforts have sought to explain them. Here, we propose that the Western Church (i.e., the branch of Christianity that evolved into the Roman Catholic Church) transformed European kinship structures during the Middle Ages and that this transformation was a key factor behind a shift towards a WEIRDer psychology.


Our approach integrates three insights. First, anthropological evidence suggests that diverse kin-based institutions—our species’s most fundamental institutions—have been the primary structure for organizing social life in most societies around the world and back into history. With the origins of agriculture, cultural evolution increasingly favored intensive kinship norms related to cousin marriage, clans, and co-residence that fostered social tightness, interdependence, and in-group cooperation. Second, psychological research reveals that people’s motivations, emotions, and perceptions are shaped by the social norms they encounter while growing up. Within intensive kin-based institutions, people’s psychological processes adapt to the collectivistic demands of their dense social networks. Intensive kinship norms reward greater conformity, obedience, and in-group loyalty while discouraging individualism, independence, and impersonal motivations for fairness and cooperation. Third, historical research suggests that the Western Church systematically undermined Europe’s intensive kin-based institutions during the Middle Ages (for example, by banning cousin marriage). The Church’s family policies meant that by 1500 CE, and likely centuries earlier in some regions, Europe lacked strong kin-based institutions and was instead dominated by relatively independent and isolated nuclear or stem families.

Our theory predicts that populations with (i) a longer historical exposure to the medieval Western Church or less intensive kin-based institutions will be more individualistic, less conforming, and more impersonally prosocial today; and (ii) longer historical exposure to the Western Church will be associated with less-intensive kin-based institutions.


We test these predictions at three levels. Globally, we show that countries with longer historical exposure to the medieval Western Church or less intensive kinship (e.g., lower rates of cousin marriage) are more individualistic and independent, less conforming and obedient, and more inclined toward trust and cooperation with strangers (see figure). Focusing on Europe, where we compare regions within countries, we show that longer exposure to the Western Church is associated with less intensive kinship, greater individualism, less conformity, and more fairness and trust toward strangers. Finally, comparing only the adult children of immigrants in European countries, we show that those whose parents come from countries or ethnic groups that historically experienced more centuries under the Western Church or had less intensive kinship tend to be more individualistic, less conforming, and more inclined toward fairness and trust with strangers.


This research suggests that contemporary psychological patterns, ranging from individualism and trust to conformity and analytical thinking, have been influenced by deep cultural evolutionary processes, including the Church’s peculiar incest taboos, family policies, and enduring kin-based institutions.

Click the links to see the papers.

Written by Leisureguy

25 September 2020 at 6:53 pm

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