Later On

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

Archive for October 2020

Hitler quotes in uncovered police training material

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Too much — way too much — of what we learn about police in the US is bad. I’m willing to admit that there are bad apples, but (a) there seem to be bushels of them, and (b) one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel. There is a systemic problem that is not being addressed.

See also: “White supremacists and militias have infiltrated police across US” in the Guardian and “Police Rethink Policies as Cities Pay Millions to Settle Misconduct Claims” in the Wall Street Journal. (“Millions” is a gross understatement. As the subtitle notes, “Municipalities with 20 largest police departments paid over $2 billion since 2015 for alleged wrongdoings and civil rights violations.”) Note that these payouts normally come from the general fund, not the police department budget, so police departments have no financial incentive to change their practices. See this ABC news article.

Celine Castronuovo reports in The Hill:

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) on Friday reacted to reports of a previously removed state police training slideshow that appeared to quote Adolf Hitler three times and urged officers to be “ruthless.”

According to the Louisville Courier Journal, Beshear said in an emailed statement that the inclusion of the quotes was “absolutely unacceptable.”

“It is further unacceptable that I just learned about this through social media,” the governor added. “We will collect all the facts and take immediate corrective action.”

Student journalists at Louisville’s duPont Manual High School first reported on the slideshow Friday.

The high school’s newspaper, the Manual Redeye, later added a statement it received from Morgan Hall, the communications director for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, saying that the slideshow was removed in 2013 and “is not currently a part of any training materials.”

“It is unacceptable that this material was ever included in the training of law enforcement,” Hall added.

The Manual Redeye obtained the slideshow through an open records request by local attorney David Ward during the discovery phase of a lawsuit.

Ward requested Kentucky State Police (KSP) materials used to train a detective who shot and killed a man in Harlan County in May 2018.

According to the student news outlet, one slide, titled “Violence of Action,” instructed officers to be “ruthless killer[s],” to have a “a mindset void of emotion” and to “meet violence with greater violence.”

The slide also reportedly included a line from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” — “The very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence” — one of three from the genocidal German leader included in the presentation.

KSP spokesperson Lt. Joshua Lawson wrote in an initial emailed statement to the Manual Redeye that he was not sure how many times the presentation had been used by the police department but added, “The quotes are used for their content and relevance to the topic addressed in the presentation.”

“The presentation touches on several aspects of service, selflessness, and moral guidance,” Lawson continued. “All of these topics go to the fundamentals of law enforcement such as treating everyone equally, service to the public, and being guided by the law.”

In a separate email, the spokesperson said that the presentation was seven years old and appeared to have been made by a police academy instructor.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2020 at 6:55 pm

Tom Toles’s final cartoon

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Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2020 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Politics

The Trojan Horse of Integrative Medicine

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Common medical practice in the US does indeed focus on the treatment of illness, with most medical doctors giving short shrift to nutrition and exercise, which are central to good health. Medical schools include less than 24 classroom hours devoted to nutrition. Most doctors also practice in isolation rather than as part of a team that includes (for example) nurse practitioners, dietician/nutritionist, physiotherapist, and fitness professionals. Thus it’s no wonder that the focus is almost always on the treatment of disease rather than on ensuring wellness.

So the idea of “integrative medicine” arose, to bring nutrition and exercise into treatment recommendations. But it can go too far, and if the tent is open, other less helpful ideas can saunter in. Jonathan Jarry writes for McGill University Office of Science and Society:

The story of the Trojan horse is well known: the Greeks allegedly delivered to the city of Troy a massive wooden horse, which the Trojans mistook for a gift and pulled inside their city. At night, this hollow horse released a band of Greek men who had been hiding inside of it, and they opened the city gates so that their army could strike the final blow in the Trojan War.

The concept of “integrative medicine” has gained in popularity since it was coined by Dr. Andrew Weil in 1994 and it is important to recognize it as the Trojan horse that it is. Although the metaphor usually implies deception, many fans of integrative medicine promote this gift horse without misleading intentions, but the damage may well be the same.

A horse designed by a committee

The claim at the heart of integrative medicine is that conventional medicine is not enough and that so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is also insufficient, but that by integrating the two, patients get the best of both worlds. Medicine is accused of being hyper-focused on disease and on the use of pharmaceuticals, failing patients with chronic illnesses. CAM is positioned as the answer to this, the yang to conventional medicine’s yin to yield a complete, holistic perspective.

On its surface, the CAM half of integrative medicine looks wonderful. We are usually told it involves nutrition and exercise. Similarly, proponents of integrative medicine claim its added value is in holism, meaning focusing on the whole person. Strangely though, as has been argued by many people, conventional medicine at its best is focused on the whole person. But integrative medicine’s seductive, superficial messaging does not end there.

This Trojan horse has been making major in-roads inside of academic hospitals, and it moves on four wheels: the appeals to nature, antiquity, authority, and popularity. Hospital directors and patients alike are told that integrative medicine prioritizes natural treatments… without mentioning that synthesized products are not necessarily harmful and natural ones, not necessarily harmless (or useful). They are told that many of these interventions, like acupuncture, have been used for a long time… just like bloodletting was in ye olden days. They are told that many serious university hospitals, like Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Yale, are already offering integrative medicine… but keeping up with the Joneses is no substitute for a critical appraisal of the body of evidence. And they are told that many, many people are clamouring for these therapies. Market forces being what they are, the Trojan horse rolls into town and we may wonder what pours out of it.

The two towers

Inside the Trojan horse of integrative medicine, painted in the colours of nutrition and exercise, we find unproven and disproven remedies like homeopathy, the 200-year-old philosophy that claims that the more a substance is diluted, the stronger it becomes. We find Reiki and other energy healing interventions, which pretend that hands-off massages of an undiscovered force field around the body can provide healing. We find poorly regulated herbal remedies, problematic therapies like acupuncture, and things like reflexology, where a foot massage can somehow help your stomach heal itself. The horse also contains more benign interventions, like art therapy and massages, but the majority of CAM’s contribution puzzles the mind. These often pre-scientific folkloric therapies often lack plausible mechanisms. Given our extensive knowledge of biology, it makes no sense for the entire human body to be represented on the sole of our feet (see reflexology). Given our extensive knowledge of chemistry, it makes no sense for vast dilutions that leave behind no trace of the ingredient to work (see homeopathy). Yet proponents often throw their hands up when confronted with this and simply claim that it works, how ever it may work.

Universities can easily fall under the spell of integrative medicine because of what I would call “the two towers.” Imagine two towers that visually represent the evidence we have for conventional medicine and for complementary and alternative medicine, things like homeopathy and Reiki. The conventional medicine tower has an old foundation and is continually being extended and repaired with better materials. By comparison, the CAM tower’s foundation is made of cheap, imitation material, and while there’s a shell that gives it its full height, the bricks have not been laid yet. But the structure is draped in a banner that illustrates what the tower will look like when finished. From a distance, both towers appear similar. Same height, same look. But when you get closer to the CAM tower, you notice how grossly incomplete it is. “Don’t worry,” you are told, “what we have so far is very promising and we will keep building it.” This slogan never goes away. The CAM tower will always be sold as promising, year after year, convincing many people to invest in it.

Always look a gift horse in the mouth

Studies of ear acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, homeopathy and many other complementary interventions are usually small, poorly done, and encouraging. When rigorous trials are completed, they fail to demonstrate efficacy, which leads CAM proponents to return to smaller studies and extract hopeful results from those. This tower of promising results can then be presented to academic health centres by philanthropists who believe acupuncture or homeopathy cured them, and their generous donations can lead to the creation of integrative medical centres within these hospitals. Impressive consortia are created to advocate for integrative medicine and to put pressure on medical school curricula to pull the Trojan horse in.

There are clear harms to this. Obviously, if I were to argue that because astronomy is insufficient, it needs to hold hands with astrology in university faculties, it would be easier to see the potential for intellectual harm. Similarly, I have seen Canadians elevating Indigenous ancestral knowledge to the same level as science and asking for its integration into medicine, without testing these claims with the most rigorous tools we have, and I find this equally troublesome

There’s also the financial harm to selling invalid therapies to patients, but perhaps an even bigger eye-opener on the subject of harm is vaccination. Integrative medicine frequently does not embrace immunization, one of the most important public health interventions we have. Dr. Daniel Neides, former director of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, infamously wrote  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2020 at 11:48 am

Decartes’s dictum, updated

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Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2020 at 10:37 am

Posted in Medical, Philosophy

A fat-waist brush handle and a coffee-theme shave

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Stubble Trubble’s Up and Adam, whose fragrance is espresso and vanilla, comes — well, came: the brand is defunct — in a tub that fits nicely in the upturned lid, but now that I’ve tried the lid-as-pedestal approach, I prefer that the lid not be upturned, since then just the rim gets wet from splashed water, not the entire top of the lid.

This Mühle gen 2 synthetic has a handle not at all wasp-waist — just the opposite — and doesn’t offer any grip assistance at the base. Nonetheless, it is totally comfortable to hold and the knot is excellent: wonderful lather generation and retention. And that fragrance!

Three passes with the original .68-P Game Changer wiped away the stubble (trubble indeed!), and then a splash of Phoenix Artisan’s excellent Spring-Heeled Jack — coffee fragrance that dries down to an interesting and attractive hint of something… something familiar…. something nice…

The weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2020 at 10:35 am

Posted in Shaving

Resveratrol not that much help — in fact, no help whatsoever

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Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 3:40 pm

Speaking of corrupt organizations: How a C.I.A. Coverup Targeted a Whistle-blower

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The CIA surely does some good, along with a fair amount of bad (such as torturing suspects to death). Ronan Farrow describes a particularly corrupt aspect of the organization:

Before dawn on January 23, 2019, Mark McConnell arrived at the Key West headquarters of the military and civilian task force that monitors drugs headed to the United States from the Southern Hemisphere. McConnell, a prosecutor at the Department of Justice and a former marine, left his phone in a box designed to block electronic transmissions, and passed through a metal detector and a key-card-protected air lock to enter the building. On the second floor, he punched in the code for his office door, then locked it behind him. On a computer approved for the handling of classified information, he loaded a series of screenshots he had taken, showing entries in a database called Helios, which federal law enforcement uses to track drug smugglers. McConnell e-mailed the images to a classified government hotline for whistle-blowers. Then he printed backup copies and, following government procedures for handling classified information, sealed them in an envelope that he placed in another envelope, marked “secret.” He hid the material behind a piece of furniture.

McConnell had uncovered what he described as a “criminal conspiracy” perpetrated by the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. Every year, entries in the Helios database lead to hundreds of drug busts, which lead to prosecutions in American courts. The entries are typically submitted to Helios by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the F.B.I., and a division of the Department of Homeland Security. But McConnell had learned that more than a hundred entries in the database that were labelled as originating from F.B.I. investigations were actually from a secret C.I.A. surveillance program. He realized that C.I.A. officers and F.B.I. agents, in violation of federal law and Department of Justice guidelines, had concealed the information’s origins from federal prosecutors, leaving judges and defense lawyers in the dark. Critics call such concealment “intelligence laundering.” In the nineteen-seventies, after C.I.A. agents were found to have performed experiments with LSD on unwitting Americans and investigated Vietnam War protesters, restrictions were imposed that bar the agency from being involved in domestic law-enforcement activities. Since the country’s founding, judges, jurors, and defendants have generally had the right to know how evidence used in a trial was gathered. “This was undisclosed information, from an agency working internationally with different rules and standards,” Nancy Gertner, a retired federal district judge and a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, told me. “This should worry Trump voters who talk about a ‘deep state.’ This is the quintessential deep state. This is activities beyond your view, fundamentally affecting what happens in American courts.”

But the scheme benefitted the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.: the former received information obtained during operations, and the latter reported increased arrests and was able to secure additional federal funding as a result. The scope of the scheme was corroborated in hundreds of pages of e-mails, transcripts, and other documents obtained by The New Yorker.

For weeks, C.I.A. officials had been trying to stop McConnell from revealing the agency’s activities. They sent a lawyer to Key West with nondisclosure agreements, but McConnell refused to sign. A day before his early arrival at the office, McConnell had learned of an order to delete the screenshots on his computer. “I knew that I had to get the electronic evidence to outside investigators,” he told me. “There was no doubt about what I needed to do, and there was no doubt retaliation against me would follow.” He worked quickly, not knowing when security officers would arrive. Later that day, they came to McConnell’s office and deleted the images.

A little more than a month later, after C.I.A. officials accused McConnell of “spilling” classified information, the director of the task force suspended him. Soon, the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, visited the task force and was briefed on the matter. According to a sworn affidavit that McConnell filed with the Senate Intelligence Committee, and to a source with knowledge of the meeting, Haspel said that there needed to be repercussions for McConnell. (A C.I.A. spokesperson, Timothy Barrett, called the allegation “inaccurate and a gross mischaracterization.” [However, it should be remembered that Gina Haspel was an enthusiastic supporter of the CIA’s program of systematic torture and was deeply involved in it. – LG]) The military leadership of the task force ignored McConnell’s appeal of his suspension, and discussions about future assignments came to an abrupt halt. Six officials said that they believed the C.I.A. had retaliated against McConnell, leaving him nominally employed but unable to find a new post after decades of public service.

“This was appalling and blatant,” Tom Padden, one of McConnell’s supervisors, who has filed his own whistle-blower complaint, told me. “It was a blatant attempt to silence a career public servant who identified a real issue.” McConnell and other officials accused Patrick Hovakimian, the Associate Deputy Attorney General, of failing to protect McConnell. Hovakimian is President Trump’s nominee to become the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and his handling of whistle-blower issues has been a central question in his confirmation process. (A Justice Department spokesperson said that Hovakimian enlisted a department lawyer and other officials “to ensure that any whistle-blower was treated appropriately.”)

Last month, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, notified Attorney General William Barr and Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. director, that the committee would be investigating McConnell’s allegations and requested records related to his case. Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, said that he would be calling on the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate as well, and told me, “Senior officials should never punish employees who raise concerns about abuse, especially when it concerns secret programs or activities.” McConnell said, “The C.I.A. has corrupted F.B.I. agents to violate basic rules as to how the Department of Justice does criminal prosecutions.”

Mark McConnell, who is sixty-six, was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He was brought up by his grandparents, a paper-mill worker and a homemaker. When McConnell was seven, he took to wearing the garrison cap of his father, a former marine. McConnell was the first in his family to go beyond high school; he counted coins at the Federal Reserve Coin Vault to pay for junior college, which he attended at night. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from Florida State University before returning to Jacksonville to work as a public defender. Later, he spent six years on active duty in the U.S. Marines. After leaving active duty, in 1995, he worked as a state prosecutor and at the Department of Justice, where for sixteen years he has investigated fraud, corruption, national-security matters, and drug trafficking. McConnell has a salt-and-pepper mustache and speaks in a clipped Southern accent. “He’s of a high moral character,” a law-enforcement official who has worked with him told me. “Matter of fact, he’s so straight it sometimes annoys people.”

In July, 2017, McConnell was assigned to the Joint Interagency Task Force South, in Key West. It comprises people from various parts of the military, law-enforcement agencies including the D.E.A. and the F.B.I., and intelligence agencies including the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. McConnell kept his office sparse—the only sign of his military service was a photograph of the decorated marine Chesty Puller, with the quote “We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”

Shortly after McConnell began working at the task force, a D.E.A. special agent named William Cambre stopped by his office. Cambre, a Louisiana native who had worked drug cases at the D.E.A. for more than fifteen years, told him that he had discovered troubling entries in the Helios database. They were labelled as having been submitted by the F.B.I., based on unclassified sources and methods, but they contained G.P.S. coördinates that were updated with unusual frequency. The entries were marked “secret/noforn,” a classification level that prevents disclosure to foreign nationals. Intelligence and law-enforcement officials later told me that the information came from a C.I.A. special-access program, one of the highest categories of classification in the government. The program, which one intelligence official described to me as “inherently extra-sensitive,” involved national-security surveillance. It also captured information that was unrelated to its mission but useful for finding drug traffickers. Cambre told McConnell that the F.B.I. had refused to answer questions about the source of the information, which he believed came from “the Christians”—slang for the C.I.A. “This is what they’re writing in Helios,” Cambre told him. “It’s a lie.” (An F.B.I. spokesperson said that the Bureau reviewed the arrangement with the C.I.A. and considered it “consistent with our internal protocols and legal requirements.”)

Searching Helios, McConnell ultimately found more than a hundred entries that bore the deceptive labelling Cambre had described. An F.B.I. agent estimated that fifty-seven prosecutions had relied on these entries. I was able to identify nineteen resulting criminal convictions. In all of the cases, U.S. Coast Guard cutters, relying on information from Helios, had intercepted small vessels on the open waters of the Pacific. They confiscated bales of cocaine, and arrested men from Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico, who were taken to the U.S. to face trial. All nineteen pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and are now serving sentences ranging from six to fourteen years. The men, who worked at the lowest level of the drug trade, were poor and uneducated. Antonio Jorge Narvaez Tubay, a fisherman and a construction worker from Guayaquil, Ecuador, was apprehended south of Mexico in February, 2018. A sixty-year-old with four children, he had been struggling to care for his infirm father. “I was so desperate, and I was so poor,” he told the judge in his case.

It was not disclosed in the court proceedings that classified C.I.A. information had led the Coast Guard to the locations of the smugglers. In most of the cases, including Narvaez’s, F.B.I. agents submitted affidavits attributing the arrests to routine patrols. McConnell and other officials said that the affidavits were intentionally misleading, denying prosecutors the information they needed to properly meet discovery obligations, and undermining the resulting convictions. “If I had learned that a law-enforcement agent had not been forthcoming about reliance on classified information in a case that was prosecuted, I would have had a conniption,” David Laufman, a former prosecutor and a senior Department of Justice official, said.

“We always wondered how the fuck they figured out where these fishermen were,” Ricardo Hermida, who represented Narvaez, told me. “It’s a discovery violation. We were operating under misconceptions.” (The Justice Department spokesperson said, “The government believed at the time, and continues to believe after its careful review, that the information underlying this claim was simply not discoverable.”) . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Given how often the CIA totally misses the boat, perhaps we should rethink the utility of the organzation..

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 3:18 pm

Wilbur Ross Remained on Chinese Joint Venture Board While Running U.S.-China Trade War

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:sigh: The Trump administration takes a novel approach to corruption — rather than avoiding or hiding corruption, the Trump administration seems to glory in it. Isaac Stone Fish reports in Foreign Policy:

Wilbur Ross, an investor-turned-U.S. commerce secretary, has long been accused of ethical violations because of his failure to extricate himself from his business ties. Documents obtained by Foreign Policy show that Ross’s potential conflicts of interest around Chinese business are greater than previously known.

In Chinese corporate documents obtained by Foreign Policy, Ross is listed as serving on the board of a Chinese joint venture until January 2019—nearly two years into his term as commerce secretary. That joint venture, now called Huaneng Invesco WLR (Beijing) Investment Fund Management Co., is an investment partnership formed in September 2008 between Huaneng Capital Services, the U.S. management company Invesco, and a firm Ross founded, WL Ross & Co. Huaneng Capital Services is an arm of China Huaneng Group, a major state-owned power producer.

The documents correspond to the information found on Chinese corporate data sites, such as Qichacha and Qixinbao, including the dates of board membership. The documents don’t say if Ross was paid for his board seat or whether there is any current financial relationship between Ross and the joint venture. It’s also unclear if Ross knew that he remained on the board seat: The more recent documents don’t include the signatures or seals of the individual board members. That Chinese documents state Ross was on the board of a Chinese joint venture until 2019 has not been previously reported.

The U.S.-China trade war started heating up in the summer of 2018, as Beijing and Washington levied increasingly onerous tariffs on each other. At the same time as Ross was overseeing the trade war as U.S. commerce secretary, he was still, according to the paperwork, on the board of a joint venture that was a partnership with a Chinese state-owned firm. “Instead of reporting on well-documented facts, including a dated and signed letter of resignation that I provided them, Foreign Policy Magazine is purporting a false narrative that I remained on the board of a Chinese company, citing Chinese documentation,” Ross replied in a statement sent by the U.S. Commerce Department. “It is clear which foreign policies Foreign Policy Magazine actually support and the American public deserves better.”

The letter that Ross provided to Foreign Policy is dated Feb. 27, 2017, marked “Confidential,” and has as its subject line “Re: Resignation from WLR Entities.” In the letter, addressed to WL Ross & Co., Ross writes that he “shall be deemed to have retired, resigned or withdrawn” from every entity affiliated with WL Ross & Co. Ross lists dozens of companies that he claims the letter applies to, including those affiliated with Huaneng. (Invesco, which owns WL Ross & Co., declined to comment for this story.) “The failure to withdraw from the board may have just been an inadvertent slip, but what you said is clearly not a ‘false narrative,’” said Fred Rocafort, an attorney at the international law firm Harris Bricken. “Chinese corporate records establish, without a doubt, that he was officially on the board until February 1, 2019.”

Ross’s position as commerce secretary allowed him to influence the direction of the U.S.-China trade war and America’s global trade policies. While there is no evidence that Ross directly benefited from the joint venture while serving as commerce secretary, entanglements like this have traditionally been seen as potential violations of the national interest. “Public trust demands that all employees act in the public’s interest, and are free from any actual or perceived conflicts when fulfilling the governmental responsibilities entrusted to them,” the then-acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics wrote to Ross in a July 2018 letter, about other inadvertent ethical violations.

On March 20, 2017, less than a month after Ross was confirmed as commerce secretary, the joint venture entered into a partnership with the parent company Huaneng and Taikang Assets Management Co., a subsidiary of the major Chinese insurance firm Taikang. The companies agreed to raise 5 billion RMB ($745 million) to invest in renewable energy projects—a market that Ross had influence over at the Commerce Department and which was directly affected by trade tariffs. Ross’s relationship to the Taikang partnership has not been previously reported. (Taikang Assets and Huaneng didn’t respond to requests for comment. A representative of the Huaneng joint venture, Catherine Han, didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

One set of documents that Foreign Policy obtained, dated March 2018, show that the joint venture filed paperwork stating which of its previous board members would continue to serve on the board. Ross’s name is on that list. Another document, from January 2019, removes Ross from the board and appoints the investor Nadim Qureshi as a new board member. Qureshi served on the board until September 2020. (At the time, Qureshi was a managing partner at WL Ross & Co., according to his LinkedIn profile; he didn’t respond to a request for comment.) The joint venture affixed its seal to the document. Under Chinese law, a seal is generally seen as more official than a signature.

Ross attended a board meeting in September 2012 and signed an agreement with other directors to, among other changes, increase . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 2:37 pm

“I Have A Few Questions”

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Morgan Housel, an investment counselor, has some interesting questions to consider:

They’re relevant to everyone, and apply to lots of things:

Who has the right answers but I ignore because they’re not articulate?

What haven’t I experienced firsthand that leaves me naive to how something works? As Jeff Immelt said, “Every job looks easy when you’re not the one doing it.”

Which of my current views would I disagree with if I were born in a different country or generation?

What do I desperately want to be true, so much that I think it’s true when it’s clearly not?

What is a problem that I think only applies to other countries/industries/careers that will eventually hit me?

What do I think is true but is actually just good marketing?

What looks unsustainable but is actually a new trend we haven’t accepted yet?

What has been true for decades that will stop working, but will drag along stubborn adherents because it had such a long track record of success?

Who do I think is smart but is actually full of it?

What do I ignore because it’s too painful to accept?

How would my views change if I had 10,000 years of good, apples-to-apples data on things I only have recent history to study?

Which of my current views would change if my incentives were different?

What are we ignoring today that will seem shockingly obvious in a year?

What events very nearly happened that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

Heather Cox Richardson on the explosion of corruption and destruction as Donald Trump ends his run

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Heather Cox Richardson wrote last night:

Four years ago, headlines across the country announced that FBI Director James Comey had sent a letter to Congress on October 28 saying that the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. That announcement, made despite the Justice Department’s policy of taking care not to do anything that could affect an election, swung the election toward Donald Trump, who won.

Four years later, Trump’s attempt to seed another “investigation” into his rival through the “discovery” of a compromising laptop has fizzled. Today, NBC News noted that a document purporting to show Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden in a corrupt relationship with Communist leaders in China was actually ghost written by an academic and published under a fake identity.

Meanwhile, a record number of 80 million early ballots have already been cast, and we are all parsing the polls for clues about who will emerge as the winner of the 2020 election.

What is clear is that, as we approach the end of the campaigns, each is reflecting its presidential candidate.

This morning, the New York Times revealed that Trump and Attorney General William Barr worked together to try to stop a criminal investigation into a bank owned by the Turkish state. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, was preparing a case against Halkbank, which the government suspected was laundering money and sending billions of dollars to Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions. Investigators believed Iran was using the money to pay for its nuclear weapons program. The case involved President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and members of his family and his political party. In June 2019, Berman was shocked when Barr asked him to end the investigations and let Halkbank get away with paying a fine and admitting some wrongdoing.

The story shows Trump undermining American policy to advance his own interests. From the beginning of Trump’s presidency, Turkey worked to gain influence with the new administration, hiring Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn, for example, as a lobbyist. Erdogan had personally lobbied Trump hard to get rid of the Halkbank investigation. Senior officials worried that the president was chatting with an authoritarian leader about a criminal case, in a country where Trump does business. Erdogan had tried unsuccessfully to get the Obama administration to drop the case, but now appeared to be having better luck. Erdogan told reporters that Trump had assured him he would take care of the matter. It was not until Trump and Erdogan clashed over Syria last October that the U.S. charged the bank, but the charges did not include any individuals. Barr fired Berman this summer.

Similarly, Trump’s willingness to defend his own interests at others’ expense is showing in the final days of his campaign. It is showing generally, with his willingness to expose his supporters to coronavirus infections at his rallies. It is showing more specifically with Trump’s refusal to support endangered Republican Senators who have stood by him and lost support because of it. At Trump’s recent visit to Maine, he did not mention Senator Susan Collins, who is in a tight race with her Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon.

In Arizona, Trump mocked vulnerable senator Martha McSally. “Martha, just come up fast. Fast. Fast. Come on. Quick. You got one minute!” Trump said, as the senator rushed to the stage for some airtime with the president. “One minute, Martha! They don’t want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let’s go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let’s go.” Trump gave McSally just 60 seconds to speak before turning the microphone over to other national figures.

A recent endorsement of the president was damning. The publisher of the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, urged people to vote for Trump only because he claimed Biden’s policies would “strike at the economic well-being of the country.” As for Trump himself, the editorial acknowledged, he “is a bully and a bigot…. He panders to racists and prevents sensible immigration reform in a nation built on immigrant labor and intellect. He tweets conspiracy theories. He’s cavalier about Covid-19 and has led poorly through the pandemic. He seeks to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without proposing a replacement. He denies climate change.”

Even such a half-hearted endorsement drew rebuttals from an editor and a columnist at the paper.

The campaign continues to downplay the coronavirus. Tonight, campaign spokesperson Donald Trump, Jr., told Fox News Channel personality Laura Ingraham that the number of deaths from Covid-19 is now “almost nothing, because we’ve gotten control of this.” But today alone, at least 951 Americans died of the coronavirus, and more than 91,000 new cases were reported. Our overall official death total is approaching 230,000. “If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s gonna be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday night.

Trump has begun to muse about losing the election, and said he would like simply to drive away, or fly away, from the burden of the presidency. Yesterday, retired Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack wrote that, with his immense financial debts and pending legal issues, “Trump appears to be a classic flight risk.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including in footnotes the links to her sources. One link in particular I wanted to point out, so I embedded it in the passage above.

Do read the whole thing. It’s astonishing. I will note that President Trump has canceled the election night party scheduled in one of his hotels.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 2:17 pm

Covid deaths getting worse in UK, France, Italy, while US chugs along at more deaths per week than two 9/11’s — “nothing,” according to Donald Trump, Jr.

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The fact that Donald Trump, Jr. sees around 7000 American deaths a week as “nothing” means, I think, that he doesn’t know the people dying so they’re of no concern to him. In the meantime, his father continues to hold rallies (aka superspreader events).

This chart from Kevin Drum this morning is sobering:

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 2:01 pm

In Georgia, a strong clear statement about incumbent US Senator David Perdue

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Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Business, Election, GOP

Gillette seems to be bringing back double-edge safety razors

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I received the photo above from Eddie of Australia, so the AU$30 price is US$20, which seems about right. Based on my experience with the recent Gillette Heritage, this is likely to be an okay razor.

I note also the transparent shave gel, which helps you not be able to tell where you have shaved and where you have not (as well as sharply diminishing the pleasure of prep). :sigh: Procter & Gamble, you sometimes seem hopeless. Note that the DE blades are US$0.98 apiece. Not interested, though I’m sure this helps with their profit margins. (The Gillette blades cost more then 10 times what my Astra Superior Platinums cost, and more than 5 times what my Personna Lab Blues cost.)

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

“Royal Wedding” and some notes

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I just rewatched Royal Wedding (the 1951 Lerner and Lowe movie musical. The actual royal wedding was in 1947, and footage from the event is included in the musical — the crowds! the coach!)

Some points of interest:

Winston Churchill daughter Sarah plays a prominent role as the love interest of Fred Astaire’s character.

I realized as I watched the movie that the famous dance sequence in which Fred Astaire dances with a coat rack follows closely the dance Fred Astaire later does with Jane Powell. (They play a brother-and-sister dance duo, and her love interest is played by Peter Lawford, later of Kennedy clan fame.)

There’s a wonderful slapstick Bronx-set dance sequence in which Astaire’s costume hints at a zoot suit: the trousers have the high waist, though are not so full cut (because he has to dance in them), but the coat does suit, totally lacking in the requisite drape shape. Here’s a real zoot suit worn with panache by Cab Calloway. (I have seen Calloway wearing what seems to be the same suit in a color film. The suit there is yellow — bright yellow.)


Another reason that a zoot suit might have been avoided in a movie probably made in 1950 is the still-recent memory of the zoot-suit riots of 1943, which took the suit out of fashion. The riots occurred in Los Angeles, so Hollywood would have been keenly aware.

There’s one of Astaire’s most famous dance sequences later in the movie, but I won’t spoil the surprise for those who are viewing the movie for the first time. And here’s the full movie.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Mystery solved: The box-back coat Phil Harris mentions in “That’s What I Like About The South”

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Listen to the song and you’ll hear the line:

I always wondered about the “box-back coat,” and as it happens Harris is wearing one. See the last two coats on the second row.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 11:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Music

Elizabeth Harmon v. Harry Beltnik with commentary.

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I’ve been enjoying The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, a limited series based on a Walter Tevis novel of the same name. (Tevis also wrote The Hustler and The Color of Money, about “Fast Eddie” Felson (made into movies), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (also made into a movie).)

This game occurs early in the series, in Elizabeth Harmon’s first tournament in her home town in Kentucky. She enters as an unrated player. The YouTube chess commentaries by agadmator are all excellent. Below he comments on this game and also provides a link to the original, played in 1955, so in keeping with the era of the series.

A Vulture article explains why the chess in the series is so good. From the article:

Two key figures in putting together those sequences were Bruce Pandolfini, a longtime chess author and coach who also consulted on the original novel, and Michelle Tesoro, The Queen’s Gambit’s editor, who also worked with Frank on Godless. The two of them talked to Vulture about mapping out the series’ many chess matches, finding innovative ways to cut them together, and the useful advice they got from grandmaster Garry Kasparov.

If you’ve watched the series, that article is very interesting. And see also this Vulture article on the series.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 11:24 am

Posted in Chess, Games, Movies & TV

Betty Boop as Snow White, and Cab Calloway doing the moonwalk

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The above is from this Open Culture post, well worth reading. You’ll notice that the ghost Cab Calloway does the moonwalk. From the Wikipedia article on the step:


There are many recorded instances of the moonwalk; similar steps are reported as far back as 1932, used by Cab Calloway. In 1985, Calloway said that the move was called “The Buzz” when he and others performed it in the 1930s.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 10:51 am

Posted in Jazz, Movies & TV

A hefty no-waist brush with Meißner Tremonia shaving paste and the Game Changer

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This Plisson European Grey badger brush has a plated brass handle, so it’s a hefty brush. No waist, but a belt of sorts. The pedestal base is flared a bit so that it can be used as a grip, but I find I use it as a secondary  grip, mostly holding the brush mid-handle.

The feel is a pleasant coarseness. Again, I loaded the brush well with MT’s wonderful Woody Almond shaving paste. I did have to add a little water during loading, which clearly distinguishes this shaving paste from a shaving cream — I’ve never had to add water to a shaving cream to load the brush.

The lather from a well-loaded brush, when worked up on (washed and partially rinsed) wet stubble, fills the knot fully, so that the feel on your face is like a warm firm cloud. The added texture of the coarse (but not scratchy) bristles was very pleasant.

The Game Changer .84-P is a fine razor and efficiently (and comfortably) smoothed my face in three passes, and the splash of Anthony Gold’s Red Cedar aftershave finished the job and made Friday seem quite promising.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2020 at 10:36 am

Posted in Shaving

Trump Quashed Probe Into Crimes by Bank in Turkey, Which Is Paying Trump

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

In 2016, Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked then-Vice-President Joe Biden to lean on federal prosecutors who were investigating a Turkish bank for financial crimes and to hand over a dissident cleric living in the United States. The requests seemed to be on Biden’s mind when he publicly addressed reporters and piously explained that, in the United States, the justice system doesn’t work like that. “I suspect it’s hard for people to understand that as powerful as my country is, as powerful as Barack Obama is as president, he has no authority under our Constitution to extradite anyone,” Biden explained to reporters. “Only a federal court can do that. Nobody else can do that. If the president were to take this into his own hands, what would happen would be he would be impeached for violating the separation of powers.”

Well, the justice system works like that now.

The New York Times has a comprehensive report on Erdogan’s successful efforts to recruit top Trump administration officials into his corrupt scheme.

Scandals tend to be complicated, especially scandals involving banks. But this one is extremely simple. The basic elements:

1) The Justice Department was prosecuting financial crimes by a Turkish bank.

2) Turkey’s president asked President Trump to quash the investigation.

3) Trump has personally received more than $1 million in payments from business in Turkey while serving as president.

4) Two attorneys general loyal to Trump, Matthew Whitaker and William Barr, both pressured federal prosecutors to go easy on the Turkish bank.

The Times adds plenty of new detail to the last point, which is yet another blow to anybody who hoped Barr might preserve some shred of respect for the rule of law. “In mid-June 2019, when [Geoffrey] Berman met with Mr. Barr in Washington, the attorney general pushed Mr. Berman to agree to allow the Justice Department to drop charges against the defendants and terminate investigations of other suspected conspirators,” the Times reports. When Barr subsequently fired Berman, who resisted his pressure, Justice Department officials cited his stubbornness on the Turkey case “as a key reason for his removal.”

Biden’s casual assumption in 2016 that granting Erdogan’s wish would automatically result in impeachment is a time-capsule record of the standards of good government that prevailed before Trump blew them to smithereens. In a pre-Trump world, the Turkish bank scandal would destroy a normal presidency.

The misconduct found by the Times is actually much worse than the hypothetical behavior Biden said would lead to impeachment for two reasons. First, it undermines Trump’s own foreign policy. The crimes for which the bank, Halkbank, was being investigated relate to violating American sanctions on Iran. After the Obama administration relaxed sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear deal, the Trump administration ramped up those sanctions and used them as the lynchpin of its strategy in the region. (This helps explain why national security adviser John Bolton, an Iran Über-hawk, was motivated to blow the whistle on this corruption.)

Now, you don’t have to agree with the administration’s agenda of pressuring Iran. I certainly don’t. The point is that the fact that it undermined its own policy agenda highlights the extent of the corruption. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 6:17 pm

Brief yet unusual video

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Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2020 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Video

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