Later On

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

Archive for December 1st, 2020

Republicans increasingly show what they are — and it’s ugly

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Still operating on a generator without room for much revision, so again, apologies for typos or inelegance….

There is an increasing feeling of desperation coming from the White House. Trump continues to insist he won the 2020 election, although the states whose results he has challenged have all certified their votes for Joe Biden. Biden has tallied more than 6 million votes more than Trump, including significant majorities in all the states Trump claims, in the biggest win for a candidate challenging an incumbent since Franklin Delano Roosevelt challenged Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Today loyalist William Barr, Trump’s Attorney General, admitted that the Department of Justice has not found any evidence of widespread voter fraud that would mean Trump won the election. Trump’s lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis promptly issued a statement saying “With the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.” Trump allies told PBS NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor that Barr’s statement was a “complete betrayal.”

For the last three weeks, Trump and his supporters in the Republican Party have attacked elections officials—including Republicans– who failed to throw out Democratic ballots to give the election to Trump. The president called Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger an “enemy of the people,” and Trump’s loyalists are intensifying their rhetoric against officials who have persisted in defending the integrity of the election. Right-wing followers on social media called for jail, torture, or execution for a 20-year-old Georgia election technician, falsely alleging he manipulated election data. On NBC’s Today Show, the president’s lawyer Joseph diGenova called for former cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs, whom Trump fired after Krebs stated the election was not marked by fraud but was quite secure, to be “drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”

Social media accounts from right-wing loyalists are increasingly calling for violence. One user on the conservative media site Parler said that “[We the People] want to kill all of you cheating traitors….” Another called for “Civil war if Biden does steal the election.” These loyalists claim to be waiting for Trump’s “order” to start just such a war.

Today Gabriel Sterling, a voting systems manager for Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger held a news conference in which he said: “It has all. Gone. Too. Far. It has to stop.” Of the young technician whose life is now in danger, he said, “[t]his kid… just took a job. And it’s just wrong. I can’t begin to explain the level of anger I have right now over this. Every American, every Georgian, Republican or Democrat alike, should have the same level of anger.”

Sterling attacked Trump for the death threats Georgia officials have been receiving, and chewed out Georgia Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who both face runoff elections in early January against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, for refusing to shut such language down. “Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” he said. “Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. . . . Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence…. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for people who ask us to give them responsibility.” Sterling also called out diGenova for his language: “Someone’s going to get hurt,” he said. “Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.”

Trump and allies of Don Jr. have been fundraising on the idea that Trump must contest the 2020 election. Trump’s Save America Political Action Committee (PAC) has raised more than $170 million in contributions to overturn the election, but very little of that money goes to the recount effort. It goes primarily to whatever Trump wants—including golf memberships, travel, and salaries– and to the Republican National Committee.

Don Jr.’s allies have formed the Save the U.S. Senate PAC. It is nominally about the Georgia run-off Senate elections, but can take in unlimited money from anyone, including corporations, and spend it however it wishes, so long as it doesn’t explicitly coordinate with a political campaign. As Washington Post correspondent Philip Bump puts it: “Trump and his team have figured out a way to parlay his base’s concerns about the election — concerns Trump has been hyping for months — into a well-stocked bank account with few limitations on how it is used.”

And yet, Trump seems to have accepted that he’s going to have to leave office, and to be exploring his options. New York Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt tonight broke the news that he has discussed with advisers whether he should grant preemptive pardons to Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, Jared Kushner, and Giuliani. This poses a problem for them, though, since to make a pardon stick it needs to be as specific as possible, which would mean he would have to suggest what they might have done that requires a pardon.

Pardons were in the news tonight for another reason, too, as news broke that the Department of Justice is investigating what appears to have been a bribe before the end of the summer. Someone apparently promised payments to either the White House or to a related political committee in exchange for a presidential pardon.

Meanwhile, the country continues to suffer from the coronavirus. While the White House appears to have given up addressing the spikes that are leaving hospitals overwhelmed and the economy faltering, today Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, a Trump appointee, warned Congress that it must pass a coronavirus relief package or see even worse damage. To Republicans who insist there is no need for such relief, he responded, “The risk of overdoing it is less than the risk of underdoing it.” Powell encouraged aid to state and local governments, hard hit by the pandemic, noting they are some of the country’s largest employers. Because most cannot borrow to make up for their lost tax revenues, without relief they will have to lay people off, thus worsening the recession.

Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Biden’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, echoed Powell today. “Lost lives, lost jobs, small businesses struggling to stay alive are closed for good. So many people struggling to put food on the table and pay bills and rent. It’s an American tragedy. And it is essential we move with urgency. Inaction will produce a self-reinforcing downturn causing yet more devastation.”

In May, Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to take it up. The Senate began to work on its own package in mid-July, just before federal unemployment benefits ran out, but McConnell could not bring his caucus together behind anything. So he turned his back on negotiations, leaving Democrats to negotiate with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who held to a $1 trillion limit. The Democrats offered to split the difference and agree to a $2 trillion compromise. The Republicans refused.

In September, McConnell offered a $500 billion bill that has the key measure he wants: a liability shield for businesses whose employees contract coronavirus at work. When the Democrats refused it, he accused them of partisanship.

Then, today, news emerged that a bipartisan group of lawmakers had tried to hammer together a stopgap relief measure of about $908 billion to rescue small businesses, the unemployed, and other hard-hit parts of the economy.

As soon as news broke of the new bipartisan bill, McConnell shot it down. Instead, he  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more plus at the link she includes links to the supporting data.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 8:44 pm

Inside the white supremacist global network

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David Ignatius reports in the Washington Post:

Violent white-supremacist groups have formed a connected global movement that rose before Donald Trump’s presidency and threatens to continue long after he leaves office.

These white-supremacist groups have used the Internet to recruit and train followers, much as Islamist extremists did a decade ago, argues a major new study by Jigsaw, a research arm of Google. The study, described here for the first time, is being published Tuesday by Jigsaw’s digital journal, the Current.

The study shatters the image that many analysts have of white supremacist attackers as “lone wolf” extremists. Jared Cohen, the chief executive of Jigsaw, argues that “this myth obscures the vast underlying infrastructure of white supremacist online communities around the world.”

These groups “move fluidly between mainstream and fringe platforms,” Cohen warns. They recruit followers on Facebook or YouTube, among other venues, and then direct them to protected “alt-tech” sites where they can privately share propaganda and boast about operations.

The challenge as Trump’s presidency ends is how to reduce the spread of this toxic movement and deradicalize its followers. The Jigsaw study offers some useful case studies in interviews conducted over the past two years with 36 former members of white-supremacist groups. But it’s clear there’s no silver bullet for deprogramming hate.

Former members told Jigsaw researchers that their escapes began with basic things — a life-changing event such as a birth or death in the family; disgust with violent acts perpetrated by other followers; or doubts raised by exposure to “minorities . . . they had vilified,” the study explains.

The movement is far larger and more violent than many people realize. Numbers collected by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database depict a network that has been growing globally since 2010 and has expanded in tandem with Islamist extremism, its twin in using online media to spread hate.

Consider these comparisons: In 2009, white supremacists were responsible for six deaths in 19 incidents, while Islamist extremists were responsible for 14 deaths in 12 incidents. Those numbers kept climbing steadily through the decade. By 2019, white supremacists were linked to 165 deaths in 336 incidents, while Islamist extremists were tied to 193 deaths in 82 incidents.

In three “hot spots” for white supremacists — Germany, Britain and the United States — the number of incidents seemed to spike because of special factors: in Germany, the influx of Syrian migrants in 2015; in Britain, the angry debate over Brexit in 2016; in the United States, Trump’s presidency in 2017. But in each case, the problem pre-dated these events.

The Jigsaw researchers found that former group members had been attracted by the combination of solidarity and anonymity of the online community. One former member of several white-supremacist groups explained: “Every time I went online, it was like putting on a mask, one where you’re shielded from empathy, from consequences. . . . I’d say all sorts of horrible things. And then I’d get offline and hang my mask up and go back to my family.”

Another former member told Jigsaw researcher Beth Goldberg about her path from a curious 16-year-old browsing online forums to membership in the neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division. As recruiters sensed her initial interest, the discussions moved to private channels where she was cultivated as a “prospect,” gaining status and “hidden knowledge” from the group. Eventually, before finally breaking away, she became an Atomwaffen recruiter herself.

The concealment tactics of these organizations were described by a former member of a group that helped organize the August 2017 Charlottesville rally. The group urged people to . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 8:23 pm

Castles in the Sky: A true love story from a century ago

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Christine Lalane has a lengthy and fascinating account of how she unraveled clues to discover a story of love and heartbreak. She writes in The Activist Magazine:

a few years ago, my husband and I decided to buy a house. We wanted to save a piece of historic San Francisco, making a new home in an old place before it became unrecognizable. Mat and I visited a few grand Victorians, their facades dripping with gingerbread trim. Inside we expected to find the San Francisco that my parents and grandparents knew: formal, dignified, timeless. Instead there was clean, crisp minimalism. Silicon Valley tastes had gotten there first.

What luck, then, that we did find our house. Narrow and wooden, it was in some ways a time capsule of 1910, the year it was completed, with stained-glass windows, parquet floors, and a built-in buffet. Most of its surfaces, however, had been painted white. Realtors had informed the sellers that to attract buyers and a good price, the place needed to be brightened up. So the subtle distinctions among types of wood—oak, mahogany, fir—were erased in favor of aesthetic uniformity and an oppressive glare.

Thankfully, the house’s most unusual features were left exposed, though you had to squint to see them amid the encroaching whiteness. Two murals, dusty and faded—they were unsigned and of no great ability, but what charm they had. Stretching across all four walls of the dining room was a depiction of colonial San Francisco. Catholic priests, swashbucklers, and revelers passed in front of a faded Mission church, opposite a seascape with a Spanish galleon in the foreground and another silhouetted on the horizon. Seagulls hovered above the buffet. A small back room presented a quieter, more reflective mural. It was a landscape of the American West at its most idyllic: a tranquil lake and waterfowl surrounded by a thick forest. Occupying two corners were, respectively, a white stork and a pair of mute swans, distinguished by their orange beaks. A mighty, lone mountain loomed behind them.

Who had created these scenes? My imagination filled in a story. Maybe the builder was a European aristocrat whose father had squandered the last of the family fortune. The son was forced to live modestly, in no grand neighborhood and in a house too small for servants. But he refused to do so without art or elegance, so he adorned the walls himself.

Or perhaps he was a man of noble Spanish descent who with melancholy dreamed of the days before American fortune seekers arrived. Even though he hadn’t lived through that era himself, it was in his blood. He could feel what it was like when California was sparsely populated by Indians, cattle, and Spaniards, when contact with the rest of the world came through only a handful of ships per year.

Maybe he was a former frontiersman who recalled the wonder of the landscapes he had willed himself across. People don’t understand nowadays, he would say, how easy they have it—just hopping on a train to get where you’re going doesn’t provide the same satisfaction as getting there on foot. He recalled leaving home as a boy, the flatness of the East giving way to the ruggedness of the West. He hadn’t just witnessed the change—he’d felt it beneath his boots.

The first week we owned the house, Mat and I learned the true identity of its builder. Such are the wonders of the internet. A quick newspaper-archive search and there he was: Hans Jorgen Hansen, a young Danish immigrant alternately described as a carpenter and a contractor. He built many houses. This one, finished when he was 30 years old, was his home.

He had created something beautiful, but  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and at the link you can also listen to an audio version of the account.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

Protein folding: A brief explanation

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The Roots of Progress have a post that explains well the nature of the problem:

Today Google DeepMind announced that their deep learning system AlphaFold has achieved unprecedented levels of accuracy on the “protein folding problem”, a grand challenge problem in computational biochemistry.

What is this problem, and why is it hard?

I don’t usually do science reporting here at The Roots of Progress, but I spent a couple years on this problem in a junior role in the early days of D. E. Shaw Research, so it’s close to my heart. Here’s a five-minute explainer.

Proteins are long chains of amino acids. Your DNA encodes these sequences, and RNA helps manufacture proteins according to this genetic blueprint. Proteins are synthesized as linear chains, but they don’t stay that way. They fold up in complex, globular shapes: . . .

Continue reading. Helpful and interesting images at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 3:45 pm

“I should have loved biology”

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James Somers describes in this post how schools shortchanged him on biology — particularly poignant given the previous post on Lake Tanganyika’s cichlids. He writes:

I should have loved biology but I found it to be a lifeless recitation of names: the Golgi apparatus and the Krebs cycle; mitosis, meiosis; DNA, RNA, mRNA, tRNA.

In the textbooks, astonishing facts were presented without astonishment. Someone probably told me that every cell in my body has the same DNA. But no one shook me by the shoulders, saying how crazy that was. I needed Lewis Thomas, who wrote in The Medusa and the Snail:

For the real amazement, if you wish to be amazed, is this process. You start out as a single cell derived from the coupling of a sperm and an egg; this divides in two, then four, then eight, and so on, and at a certain stage there emerges a single cell which has as all its progeny the human brain. The mere existence of such a cell should be one of the great astonishments of the earth. People ought to be walking around all day, all through their waking hours calling to each other in endless wonderment, talking of nothing except that cell.

I wish my high school biology teacher had asked the class how an embryo could possibly differentiate—and then paused to let us really think about it. The whole subject is in the answer to that question. A chemical gradient in the embryonic fluid is enough of a signal to slightly alter the gene expression program of some cells, not others; now the embryo knows “up” from “down”; cells at one end begin producing different proteins than cells at the other, and these, in turn, release more refined chemical signals; …; soon, you have brain cells and foot cells.

How come we memorized chemical formulas but didn’t talk about that? It was only in college, when I read Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, that I came to understand cells as recursively self-modifying programs. The language alone was evocative. It suggested that the embryo—DNA making RNA, RNA making protein, protein regulating the transcription of DNA into RNA—was like a small Lisp program, with macros begetting macros begetting macros, the source code containing within it all of the instructions required for life on Earth. Could anything more interesting be imagined?

Someone should have said this to me:

Imagine a flashy spaceship lands in your backyard. The door opens and you are invited to investigate everything to see what you can learn. The technology is clearly millions of years beyond what we can make.

This is biology.

–Bert Hubert, “Our Amazing Immune System”

In biology class, biology wasn’t presented as a quest for the secrets of life. The textbooks wrung out the questing. We were nowhere acquainted with real biologists, the real questions they had, the real experiments they did to answer them. We were just given their conclusions.

For instance I never learned that a man named Oswald Avery, in the 1940s, puzzled over two cultures of Streptococcus bacteria. One had a rough texture when grown in a dish; the other was smooth, and glistened. Avery noticed that when he mixed the smooth strain with the rough strain, every generation after was smooth, too. Heredity in a dish. What made it work? This was one of the most exciting mysteries of the time—in fact of all time.

Most experts thought that protein was somehow responsible, that traits were encoded soupily, via differing concentrations of chemicals. Avery suspected a role for nucleic acid. So, he did an experiment, one we could have replicated on our benches in school. Using just a centrifuge, water, detergent, and acid, he purified nucleic acid from his smooth strep culture. Precipitated with alcohol, it became fibrous. He added a tiny bit of it to the rough culture, and lo, that culture became smooth in the following generations. This fibrous stuff, then, was “the transforming principle”—the long-sought agent of heredity. Avery’s experiment set off a frenzy of work that, a decade later, ended in the discovery of the double helix.

In his “Mathematician’s Lament,” Paul Lockhart describes how school cheapens mathematics by robbing us of the questions. We’re not just asked, hey, how much of the triangle . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 3:05 pm

Kevin Drum’s political wishlist

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Drum’s list is much like mine. He writes:

For no particular reason, it occurred to me the other day that one of the drawbacks of blogging is that readers never get a full sense of how I feel about various topics in the progressive firmament. If you’re a longtime reader you can probably put it all together from posts here and there, but not everyone is a longtime reader.

So here’s a super brief rundown. I’ve limited this list to domestic policies that are primarily addressed at the federal level. There are no explanations here; this list solely represents what I would do if I could wave a magic wand and get whatever I wanted without stoking a revolution. In real life, of course, I believe that change happens only incrementally and I’m always open to compromises that get me part of the way to my goals. But these are the goals.

If there’s anything I’ve left out, it’s not because I’m holding out on you. I just forgot. Feel free to ask about things in comments, but please make your asks fairly specific.

  • Climate change: Spend a truly vast amount of money on buildout and R&D. This should be funded partly by a large and growing upsteam tax on carbon emissions.
  • Social Security: Increase benefits for the bottom third by about 30 percent.
  • Health care: True national health care, including long-term nursing care, on something like the French model. Fund it with a combination of taxes on business, and modestly progressive income taxes.
  • Minimum wage: Raise the federal minimum wage to $12-13 and index it to inflation. States and cities, as always, would remain free to legislate higher minimums.
  • Forgiving student debt: Pretty regressive, pretty poor stimulus, and not well handled at the federal level anyway.
  • Prison sentencing: Reduce minimum sentences substantially. Encourage states to do the same.
  • Labor: I’m in favor of practically anything that revives private-sector unions.
  • Abortion: No regulation whatsoever, aside from normal medical regs that govern all outpatient procedures.
  • Guns: Ban everything except single-shot firearms.
  • National ID: Everyone gets a free national ID card.
  • Voting: Voting should be a right, similar to freedom of speech, that can be restricted only under . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 2:47 pm

New Fish Data Reveal How Evolutionary Bursts Create Species

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Elena Renken has an interesting article in Quanta, and it’s worth clicking the link to view the GIFs showing species variation among Lake Tanganyika’s cichlids. Her article begins:

Africa’s deepest freshwater lake holds a dizzying array of animals, including hundreds of species of cichlid fish found nowhere else in the world. They crowd the waters of Lake Tanganyika, with scales and stripes in most colors of the rainbow. One kind of cichlid there measures just over an inch; others are 2 to 3 feet long. “When you’re snorkeling in the water with these fish, it’s just incredibly striking how different they are,” said Catherine Wagner, an assistant professor of botany at the University of Wyoming. Throughout history, local fishermen have pulled up the cichlids in nets for food, but for several decades researchers from around the globe have collected these fish as well in their quest to understand that lush diversity.

recently published study in Nature offers a new wealth of data on Lake Tanganyika’s cichlids and uses it to outline the wild ebb and flow of evolution for these fish, which diversified from one common ancestor to an astonishing 240 or so cichlid species in less than 10 million years.

That’s a very small amount of time for so many species to evolve, said Walter Salzburger, an associate professor at the University of Basel’s Zoological Institute and senior author on the study. And this process wasn’t gradual or random — the data reveals that these cichlids evolved predominantly in bursts. “It’s still surprising how clear and distinct these pulses of accelerated evolution are,” Salzburger said.

Mapping out the emergence of all these species took Salzburger’s team several years. The researchers compiled a list of the lake’s cichlid species after they tracked down descriptions in scientific records as well as in books and magazines written about cichlids (which are so visually striking that they have become popular aquarium fish). In between encounters with crocodiles and hippos during their months in Africa, the researchers snorkeled and dived to gather examples of every cichlid they could. Fishermen on the lake provided specimens that live deeper than divers can reach. “Whenever we saw a boat, we would ask, ‘What do you have?’” said Fabrizia Ronco, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Basel and first author on the study. Eventually, they amassed a collection of almost every one of Lake Tanganyika’s 240 cichlid species, including dozens that had not been described previously.

Back on land, the researchers scanned the fish to examine their skeletal structures, studied the differences in their genes, and analyzed their chemical composition for clues to the ecological niche each occupied. The team accumulated enough details to reveal how all the species are related and when they diverged from one another.

“It’s just a fantastic amount of data,” Wagner said. “This was just a dream, a sparkle in our eyes 10 years ago, that we would be able to sequence this many genomes.”

One finding was that all but a handful of the species have a common ancestor that lived only about 9.7 million years ago. That corresponds to shortly after Lake Tanganyika is believed to have formed, which strongly implies that the species evolved within the lake from that one ancestral species, and not from multiple colonization events over the millennia.

This fact confirmed for the researchers that Tanganyika’s cichlids were ideal subjects for testing ideas about adaptive radiation — an evolutionary event in which many diverse species emerge rapidly and adapt to new environmental niches. Evolutionary theorists have two models for how adaptive radiation might play out. In one,  . . .

Continue reading — and do look at those GIFs.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Make lemon pulp, not lemon juice

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This tip comes from How Not to Die, by Dr. Michael Greger. If you peel and blend a lemon and use the resulting pulp in lieu of the juice squeezed from the lemon, you get significantly more nutrients and also dietary fiber. After a little experience, I worked out an efficient way to prepare a lemon for the blender (where most frequently I blend it with the other ingredients for a salad dressing, as described in this post on my salad checklist). Since I just made a salad for lunch, I thought it was a good opportunity to show the method in photos.

Viewing the two rows left to right, you see:

• Lemon, knife, and beaker for immersion blender.
• Ends cut off lemon
• Lemon cut in half at equator and place flat, wide side down
• Trimming the peel from the first half, partly done
• First half done, trimming second half, partly done
• Peeled halves in beaker, read for other salad dressing ingredients to be added before blending

Since I was using the immersion blender, I used a clove of fresh garlic rather than garlic powder. This was ou local garlic, whose (enormous) cloves are not pungent and indeed somewhat sweet.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 1:45 pm

Covid-19’s exponential growth in the US

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From a Facebook post by The Eldest:

The first Covid-19 case in the US was reported 22 January 2020. The progression since:

0 to 1 million – 96 day
1 to 2 million- 44 days
2 to 3 million- 27 days
3 to 4 million- 15 days
4 to 5 million- 17 days
5 to 6 million- 22 days
6 to 7 million- 25 days
7 to 8 million- 21 days
8 to 9 million- 14 days
9 to 10 million- 10 days
10 to 11 million- 7 days
11 to 12 million- 5 days
12 to 13 million- 7 days

Source: Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, 12/1/20. They believe that we reached 13 million cases more quickly than 7 days, and that the longer time period merely reflects delays in reporting as a result of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

In the meantime, President Trump golfs and tweets and rants on Fox.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Medical

52 interesting things

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Tom Whitwell writes at Medium:

This year I edited another book, worked on fascinating projects at Fluxx, and learned many learnings.

  1. Most cities plant only male trees because it’s expensive to clear up the fruit that falls from female trees. Male trees release pollen, and that’s one of the reasons your hay fever is getting worse. [Jessica Price]

Continue reading. There are more (41.5 more).

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Daily life

Trump can’t grant a pardon to himself — and granting pardons is all he can do

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Eric Muller makes an interesting point in the Atlantic:

As Donald Trump’s tenure in office comes in for its landing, a major question is whether the president—facing questions about liability for offenses including bank and tax fraud—can pardon himself.

This might seem like the right operational question, but it is imprecise as a constitutional one. Article II of the Constitution says that the president “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” Did you catch that? The president has the power not to pardon people, but “to grant … Pardons” (emphasis added). So the question is not whether Trump can pardon himself. It’s whether he can grant himself a pardon.

That might seem like an odd way of putting the question, but it’s linguistically important. On the one hand, some actions can’t be reflexive—you can’t do them to yourself. Think of surrenderingrelinquishing, or handing over something. These verbs entail a transfer to someone else; the actor can’t also be the recipient.

On the other hand, countless verbs do leave open the possibility of reflexive meaning. If, for example, the Constitution had empowered the president not to grant a pardon but to announce a pardon, one would be hard-pressed to insist that the president could not announce himself as a recipient.

So, what about granting? Is it—in its usage in the Constitution—a verb more like handing over or announcing?

Judges and other legal scholars have a set of techniques for determining the meaning of constitutional text. One is to scour the rest of the Constitution for hints. If the same word appears in multiple clauses of the Constitution, one should assume that it has the same meaning throughout unless a clear reason exists to think otherwise. So let’s look at the verb grant in the Constitution outside the pardons clause.

Article I says that all of the “legislative power herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” “We the People” are doing the granting here, doling out to Congress the power to make policy. Grant here is transitive—from one entity to another.

The same article gives Congress the power “to grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal.” Those are permission slips that let private commercial vessels make war against ships of enemy nations and do things that would otherwise be piracy. Again, grant is transitive—from Congress to ships.

Article I later states that “no Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States,” that “no state … shall grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal,” and that “no state … shall grant any title of Nobility.” Transitive, transitive, and transitive.

According to Article II, the president has the power “to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” Again, transitive. If, say, the previously Senate-confirmed secretary of education quits while the Senate is in recess, the president can name a temporary replacement.

The last use of the word grant in the Constitution, apart from the pardons clause itself, is in Article III, where the power of the judiciary is set to include “Controversies … between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States.” Here grant is a noun, not a verb, but it again describes something extending from one entity (a state) to another (a citizen).

Based solely on other uses of grant in the Constitution, a person could reasonably determine that a president cannot grant himself a pardon. But in evaluating the meaning of the Constitution’s words, the text of the Constitution isn’t all that counts. The most common interpretive method these days—championed by Justice Antonin Scalia and now broadly popular among conservatives—is to look for evidence of a term’s “original public meaning.” That, theoretically, is the meaning that ordinary English speakers of the late 18th century would have attached to a given term when coming upon it in a legal document like the Constitution.

But how is one to determine this “original public meaning”? One place to begin is  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and it makes it even more clear that one must “grant” something to someone other than oneself.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 11:44 am

Have lawn? Consider a pet (dwarf) goat

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Some people who have their own home (and enough lawn space for, say, a garden) keep a few chickens as pets and for eggs. A dwarf goat seems the next logical step: cute, intelligent, mows lawn, and provides rich milk. Chris Malloy writes at Gastro Obscura:

UNTIL RECENTLY, EMILY SCHERER RAISED goats in the heart of Denver. They lived in a 33-foot pen on her quarter-acre lot. She used their manure to fertilize vegetable plants whose produce she sold at a stand in her front yard. One goat, she says, produced enough milk for her family of three.

Her goats were a special breed: the Nigerian Dwarf, ideal for urban farming.

“They’re my favorite animal,” Scherer says. “Goats don’t bark and they can live outside and their manure is actually useful.”

Fully grown, a Nigerian Dwarf goat is as big as a medium-size dog. The breed tops out at about 85 pounds, but many are 50 pounds or lighter. None are taller than two feet. First imported from West Africa in the 1930s, the breed has become one of the most popular dairy goats in America, kept in all 50 states. Nigerian Dwarf goats have a reputation for their small size, yes, but also their docility, friendliness, intelligence, blue eyes, coats that vary widely in pattern and color, and rich milk. For many urbanites and suburbanites with limited land, the breed brings the dream of backyard livestock within reach.

Critically, Nigerians don’t need much space. “Because of their diminutive size, they really don’t need a whole lot of pasture like you would for a cow, and that’s why they’re so popular with hobby farmers,” says Ann Alecock, show chair of the Nigerian Dairy Goat Association. “They’re more of a browser than a grazer.”

In many cities, the opportunity to raise goats is new, and not just because the Nigerian Dwarf has become readily obtainable only in recent decades. Many cities have legalized goats within the last 10 or 15 years. In Seattle, a watershed moment came in 2007, with a victory notched by Jennie Grant, founder and president of the Goat Justice League.

Back in the aughts, a neighbor reported Grant’s illegal goats. So Grant, who raises Nigerian Dwarfs crossed with other breeds, contacted her city councilman. Sure enough, the city soon passed a measure allowing for the keeping of small, hornless goats, such as the Nigerian Dwarf (though some Nigerian Dwarfs have horns). Other cities have seen similar grassroots efforts, some drawing from Grant’s book, City Goats, which covers topics including working toward legalizing goats in your community, milking, and cheesemaking. Today, miniature goats can be kept in cities across the country, including Phoenix, Austin, Pittsburgh, and San Diego.

Nigerians are one of two popular diminutive goats. The other is . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s informative. And there are more photos.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 10:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Learn How to Play Chess Online: Free Chess Lessons for Beginners, Intermediate Players & Beyond

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When I first learned to play chess I knew no chessplayers, so I tried to figure it out with the instructions that came with the little plastic set I received. I only knew checkers, and from that got the (mistaken) idea that knights captured pieces by jumping over them (rather than as they do: by landing on them).

Nowadays the resources available are manifold. For those who already know the game, I have at the right a link to a excellent on-line book providing instruction in tactics: Predator at the Chessboard. But that assumes you know the game and have some experience in playing it. What if you have never played?

Open Culture has an excellent round-up of free on-line resources available to those who want to learn the game from scratch. And I’ll note that there are many opportunities to play on-line so that your opponent need not be physically present or even close.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 10:24 am

New-age bullshit generator

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Perhaps superfluous, but perhaps handy in some circumstances. The page notes:

New Age Bullshit Generator

Namaste. Do you want to sell a New Age product and/or service? Tired of coming up with meaningless copy for your starry-eyed customers? Want to join the ranks of bestselling self-help authors? We can help.

Just click and the truth will manifest

Click the Reionize electrons button at the top of the page to generate a full page of New Age poppycock.

The inspiration for this idea came from watching philosophy debates involving Deepak Chopra.

After sitting through hours of New Age rhetoric, I decided to have a crack at writing code to generate it automatically and speed things up a bit. I cobbled together a list of New Age buzzwords and cliché sentence patterns and this is the result.

So, what is this for? Put it on your website as placeholder text. Print it out as a speech for your yoga class and see if anyone can guess a computer wrote it. Use it to write the hottest new bestseller in the self-help section, or give false hope to depressed friends and family members.

Give it a go.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 10:11 am

Posted in Daily life, Software

Grog and gentle brush

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The Kent BK4 (and the BK8, which I also once had — I preferred the size of the BK4 knot, so that was the one I kept) is another gentle brush. Despite the gentle touch on the face, these brushes are not at all difficult to load and they easily generate good lather (assuming (a) the soap is good and (b) the water is reasonably soft). And so it was today: Grog was Tallow + Steel’s great take on bay rum, and their soap is excellent. Full, rich lather with a great fragrance.

This razor is the handle from the Parker Semi-Slant (used yesterday) plus a head that’s an Edwin Jagger or a clone. I still am bemused by the marketing decision to omit the EJ brand name from the baseplate, but perhaps they figured that anyone cloning the head could copy the brand name — but that would violate the law whereas matching the design does not.

At any rate, EJ or clone, the head provided a fine shave, and I did enjoy the renew Grog fragrance from the aftershave.

One of those who read my praise of Nancy Boy Signature shaving cream did respond to my request that he let use know what he thought. On the whole, he likes it.

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2020 at 9:52 am

Posted in Shaving

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