Later On

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

Archive for January 23rd, 2021

Loyalty is indeed important, but equally important is the object of the loyalty.

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Three days into the Biden administration and lots of commenters are noting the return of calm in the media, and the return of a sense of stability in the government. People are sleeping so much better that the word “slept” trended on Twitter the day after the inauguration.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appear to be eager to reestablish expertise as the foundation for public service. Biden is appointing what the Washington Post calls “technocrats” and what others have called “nerds” to public service. The former president tried to “burrow” his loyalists into office, politicizing positions that were supposed to be nonpartisan. Biden asked for the resignations of those political appointees and, when they refused to resign, fired them.

While some right-wing Republicans have howled that Biden’s firing of burrowing Trump loyalists betrays his promise of “unity,” in fact the new administration’s quick restoration of a qualified, nonpartisan bureaucracy is an attempt to stabilize our democracy.

Democracy depends on a nonpartisan group of functionaries who are loyal not to a single strongman but to the state itself. Loyalty to the country, rather than to a single leader, means those bureaucrats follow the law and have an interest in protecting the government. It is the weight of that loyalty that managed to stop Trump from becoming a dictator—he was thwarted by what he called the “Deep State,” people who were loyal not to him but to America and our laws. That loyalty was bipartisan. For all that Trump railed that anyone who stood up to him was a Democrat, in fact many—Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, for example—are Republicans.

Authoritarian figures expect loyalty to themselves alone, rather than to a nonpartisan government. To get that loyalty, they turn to underlings who are loyal because they are not qualified or talented enough to rise to power in a nonpartisan system. They are loyal to their boss because they could not make it in a true meritocracy, and at some level they know that (even if they insist they are disliked for their politics).

In the previous administration, the president tried to purge the government of career officials, complaining they were not loyal enough to him. In their place, he installed people like acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, who had been a lobbyist before his meteoric elevation to a Cabinet-level position and whose appointment a court ruled illegal. Wolf was never confirmed in his position by the Senate. He was dependent on the goodwill of the president and, deeply loyal, was a key player in the deployment of law enforcement personnel against the Black Lives Matter protesters last summer.

Another example of a functionary loyal to a person, rather than to the government, is Jeffrey Clark, identified last night as the relatively unknown lawyer in the Department of Justice who aspired to replace the acting attorney general by helping Trump overturn the results of the 2020 election. We have another example of such a character tonight: Pennsylvania Representative Scott Perry, who brought Clark to Trump’s attention. Perry is a conspiracy theorist who suggested that ISIS was behind the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and who joined the chorus falsely claiming the election had been fraudulent. These are not people who would be serious players in a nonpartisan, merit-based bureaucracy, but they came within a hair’s breadth of enabling Trump to overturn the election. What stopped them was bureaucrats loyal not to Trump, but to our laws.

Trump’s politicization of the government during his term is a problem for the success of the Biden administration as well as for American democracy. Trump supporters in the government remain loyal to the man himself, rather than to the country. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has suggested that the Senate will not confirm Biden’s Cabinet appointments if the Democrats proceed with the Senate trial to decide whether Trump is guilty of inciting the deadly riot on the Capitol on January 6. Johnson is explicitly threatening to prevent the confirmation of “the Biden admin’s national security team” if the trial proceeds. “What will it be” he tweeted. “[R]evenge or security?”

That lawmakers tried to keep Trump in office by discrediting our electoral system was a terribly dangerous attack on our democracy. That they are threatening to leave the country vulnerable to foreign and domestic threats in order to try to stop the Senate impeachment trial–the constitutional process for evaluating the president’s role in overturning our election– is alarming.

The attempt of Trump and his supporters to overturn our democracy has created a split in the Republican Party. Strongmen demand loyalty from their followers, who give it because their leader is their only hope of advancement. But loyalty to an individual, rather than to laws, means that supporters’ jobs, finances, and possibly lives all depend on the leader’s good graces. This is no environment for . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 10:57 pm

Greens du jour: Spinach Exceptionale

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It’s likely you’re unfamiliar with Spinach Exceptionale since I just made it up. Here’s the secret recipe — now, of course, no longer secret:

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 3 bunches thick scallions (not those annoying knitting-needle-sized scallions)h
• about 1/3 cup finely chopped Russian red garlic that has been allowed to rest
• 1 larged red bell pepper, chopped
• 2 thick slices daikon radish, cubed (about 3/4 cup)
• 2 300g packages frozen chopped spinach
• 8-10 small San Marzano tomatoes, sliced (these are like large grape tomatoes)
• about 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
• about 2-3 teaspons ground black pepper
• about 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
• good dash (~1 tablespoon) yuzu ponzu sauce (or regular ponzu or soy sauce or tamari or fish sauce)
• about 3 tablespoons Bragg’s apple cider vinegar

I used my 4=qt All-Clad Stainless Sauté Pan for this, but the 3-qt would have been ample. Put oil and onions in pan, turn heat to medium, and sauté until onions have wilted somewhat. Add garlic and continue to cook, stirring, for a minute or two, then add bell pepper and daikon radish.

When the pepper seems to have cooked a bit, add the remaining ingredients. I push aside the onions, garlic, pepper, and radish so that the blocks of spinach can sit on the bottom of the pan. Cover and cook 12 minutes over medium low heat (around 3.5 on a scale of 1-10), then use spatula to stir and mix ingredients well, cover, and cook 12 minutes more.

My recipes are descriptive (what I did with what I had on hand) and not prescriptive (do it exactly as I describe, or else). I assume that anyone reading a descriptive recipe will adjust it in accordance with their tastes and the availability of ingredients. For example, I used yuzu ponzu because I saw a bottle at Whole Foods and wanted to try it. I certainly do not expect anyone reading the reccipe to search down and acquire that particular ingredient. Look instead at the purpose: to provide a umami boost and add a little liquid. I just updated the recipe to include some alternatives. Another reasonable substitute would be Worcestershire sauce (the English version of fish sauce).

I had a bowl of this with kamut and black beluga lentils, and I topped it with a teaspoon of Bragg’s nutritional yeast, having watched this video that I posted yesterday. For Other Vegetables, I had some beets and mushrooms that I roasted.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 8:35 pm

Why Biden’s Inaugural Address Succeeded: View of a one-time chief presidential speechwriter

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

Political speeches follow a surprisingly simple set of rules—or at least the successful ones do. Newly sworn-in President Joe Biden observed them all in his inaugural address. Although his 20 minutes at the lectern are not likely to be parsed and studied for rhetorical flourishes, with this speech Biden accomplished something more important: He signaled how he will approach this job and this moment in history.

The first rule in political rhetoric is authenticity. Does the essence of the speech—its vocabulary, its rhythms, its cadences, its tendencies toward “plain” versus “fancy” tone—match the essence of the speaker? Does the rhetoric call attention to itself? Or does it mainly serve to transmit the mood, intention, and ideas the speaker hopes to convey?

Martin Luther King Jr. was modern America’s greatest rhetorician. But the very words and cadences of his speeches that have gone down in history—“I’ve been to the mountaintop …  I’ve seen the promised land”—would have sounded forced and stagey from most other prominent Americans. They would not have rung true even from the first Black president, Barack Obama, whose single greatest speech—his “Amazing Grace” elegy for the victims of the racist gun massacre in Charleston, South Carolina—was delivered at the historic Mother Emanuel Church, where King himself once spoke.

Obama’s eloquence, as I once argued here, is in the paragraph-scale development of ideas, rather than the sentence-by-sentence coinage of standalone phrases. The American politician I can most imagine presenting a Martin Luther King speech and sounding authentic would have been Barbara Jordan, the late Democratic Representative from Texas—who indeed gave a very King-like speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1976.

When it comes to rhetoric, many politicians would love to be considered another King, another FDR, another Jordan, another Churchill. But the wisest of them aspire to sound like the best possible version of themselves. (And the wisest of speechwriters aspire to make their own work invisible—to serve, in essence, as glaziers, creating transparent panes through which the speaker’s intent can be most clearly seen.)

Joe Biden sounded like the best version of himself on Inauguration Day. Few if any of the sentences he uttered will be chiseled into marble. The exception illustrating the rule was Biden’s summary statement about foreign policy: “We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.” This line, which he has used in other speeches (and which Bill Clinton also used in his speech nominating Obama back in 2008), was both a distillation of a swing away from Trumpism (as Fred Kaplan observed) and a handy case study of the rhetorical technique called chiasmus, or reversing terms. (Homely example: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s …” High-flown example: “Ask not what your country can do for you …”)

But the speech in its entirety was admirably plain and direct, and therefore plausible. It sounded not like John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama or Franklin D. Roosevelt or any other Democratic president, but like Joe Biden. It sounded like the vice president who served loyally for eight years under Obama, like the candidate who struck and stayed true to a “Can’t we just get along?” tone from the start of his 2020 campaign, like the president-elect who would not rise to the bait of Donald Trump’s taunts or sink to the depths of his discourse but instead calmly reasserted his plans to address the nation’s crises. (But it also sounded like the person who had learned from the bitter fights Obama had when trying to get his legislation and nominees approved, and from the assault on the democratic process itself launched by Trump and many of his allies.) The speech’s tone matched the speaker, and thus the tone was right.

The second rule in political rhetoric is  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 6:37 pm

Detecting a B12 deficiency

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Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 6:27 pm

Kevin Drum points out a glum fact: Republicans are going to bitterly oppose whatever Democrats propose

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It’s nothing new. We’ve seen it over and over and over again. “Bipartisan” is a dirty word for Republicans today, and any Republican who fails to oppose Democratic proposals is chastised, demoted, and defeated. Example: how Republicans treated Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court (“9 months is too close to an election”) vs. how they treated Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination (34 days before election).

Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

I have been browsing many articles over the past few days that ponder the question of whether Joe Biden will be able to get his legislative agenda through Congress. They are all nuanced and carefully written, which means they are all wrong. Here is the answer:

No. Republicans in the Senate will block just about everything and Democrats don’t have the votes to end the filibuster.

I don’t know how much clearer Republicans need to be about this. They are not going to vote to impeach Donald Trump.¹ They are not going to pass a huge coronavirus bill. They are not going to raise the minimum wage to $15. They are going to do exactly what they did in 2009: oppose everything.

Nor is there anything really unusual about this. Historically, Democratic presidents can pass significant legislation only if they come to office with big majorities in Congress. Obama had that for a little while. LBJ had it for a couple of years. FDR had it for his entire first term. Ditto for Woodrow Wilson. Bill Clinton didn’t have it and he struggled. Obama got little done after 2010. And Biden has both the thinnest possible majority and a Republican Party more opposed to passing Democratic legislation than any we’ve ever seen.

So that’s that. Biden might be able to pass a few things via reconciliation. He might be able to swing a few modest deals in the annual appropriations bill. But that’s it. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 4:31 pm

Quentin Tarantino’s movie-making at three budget levels

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This brief look at the technical work-a-day aspect of making movies I found fascinating. There’s more in the Open Culture post that brought it to my attention. Here’s the summary:

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 12:39 pm

Self-styled militia members planned on storming the U.S. Capitol days in advance of Jan. 6 attack

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Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman, and Devlin Barrett report in the Washington Post:

Self-styled militia members from Virginia, Ohio and other states made plans to storm the U.S. Capitol days in advance of the Jan. 6 attack, and then communicated in real time as they breached the building on opposite sides and talked about hunting for lawmakers, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

While authorities have charged more than 100 individuals in the riot, details in the new allegations against three U.S. military veterans offer a disturbing look at what they allegedly said to one another before, during and after the attack — statements that indicate a degree of preparation and determination to rush deep into the halls and tunnels of Congress to make “citizens’ arrests” of elected officials.

U.S. authorities charged an apparent leader of the Oath Keepers extremist group, Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va., in the attack, alleging that the Navy veteran helped organize a ring of dozens who coordinated their movements as they “stormed the castle” to disrupt the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

“We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan,” co-defendant Jessica Watkins, 38, an Army veteran, said while the breach was underway, according to court documents.

“You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud,” a man replied, according to audio recordings of communications between Watkins and others during the incursion.

“We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here,” a woman believed to be Watkins said, according to court documents.

[U.S. v Thomas Edward Caldwell, Donovan Ray Crowl and Jessica Marie Watkins]

A man then responds, “Get it, Jess,” adding, “This is . . . everything we f—ing trained for!”

The FBI said it recovered the exchange from Zello, a push-to-talk, two-way radio phone app.

FBI charging papers against Caldwell, Watkins and a third person, former U.S. Marine Donovan Crowl, 50, allege that Caldwell and others coordinated in advance to disrupt Congress, scouted for lodging and recruited Oath Keepers members from North Carolina and like-minded groups from the Shenandoah Valley. The group claims thousands of members who assert the right to defy government orders they deem improper. The plotters both anticipated violence and continued to act in concert after the break-in, investigators alleged in court documents. FBI papers also say that Caldwell suggested a similar event at the local level after the attack, saying in a message: “Lets storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”

The three are charged with five federal counts of conspiracy against the United States; obstructing an official government proceeding; impeding or injuring government officers; and destroying U.S. property, entering restricted grounds and disorderly conduct at the Capitol. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the report:

In charging papers, the FBI said that during the Capitol riot, Caldwell received Facebook messages from unspecified senders updating him of the location of lawmakers. When he posted a one-word message, “Inside,” he received exhortations and directions describing tunnels, doors and hallways, the FBI said.

Some messages, according to the FBI, included, “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down,” and “Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps.” Another message read: “All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas,” the FBI added.

Other arrests Tuesday also underscored law enforcement’s concerns about threats to elected leaders, particularly because so many of the participants in the Jan. 6 chaos are still unidentified.

In New York, a Queens man who worked in the state court system was accused Tuesday of making threats to murder Democratic politicians, including suggesting another attack on the Capitol timed to Biden’s inauguration. The man was not at the riot on Jan. 6 but made threatening remarks about Democratic politicians beforehand that intensified in a video he posted two days later, which was titled “KILL YOUR SENATORS.” In the video, he encourages people to return to the Capitol and take up arms.

“If anybody has a gun, give it to me, I’ll go there myself and shoot them and kill them,” the man said, according to the FBI.

And also this:

The FBI said without elaboration that it also recovered a document titled “Making Plastic Explosives from Bleach,” redacting the instructions in a photo exhibit.

We have to recognize that this was a serious and determined effort at insurrection, and that the punishment should fit the crime.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 11:51 am

There is still work to be done

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23 January 2021 at 10:42 am

Texas Supreme Court rejects Alex Jones request to toss lawsuits from Sandy Hook parents

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Maybe things in the US really are starting to improve. Tal Axelrod reports in The Hill:

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to dismiss four defamation lawsuits against him from parents whose children were killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

The rulings, which came without comment from the justices, upheld decisions by two lower courts allowing the lawsuits to proceed.

The parents sued Jones in Travis County, where his popular, far-right website Infowars is based, alleging Jones defamed them and caused emotional distress when he repeatedly claimed the shooting and subsequent news coverage of the attack were hoaxes.

Twenty-six people were killed in the Newtown, Conn., shooting, including 20 children and six adults.

The suits against Jones cite various comments he made about the shooting, including that the shooting was “a giant hoax” and a “false flag” intended to promote support for gun control measures.

Friday’s ruling noted that Justices Jeff Boyd and John Devine would have granted Jones’s petition for review in one of the suits but did not include any reasoning behind their dissents.

The ruling also permitted a lawsuit to proceed against Infowars and reporter Kit Daniels filed by a man the website mistakenly said was a suspect in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Jones, who runs and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 10:15 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Law, Media, Politics

An ethical stance regarding QAnon

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David Troy wrote an excellent thread on how to respond ethically and appropriately to QAnon. He quite correctly (in my view) defines it as a virulent and highly infectious meme entity. His thread begins:

It’s time to clarify an ethical stance regarding QAnon, and those who research and report on it. It is a disease — a mind virus — with real victims, people who have been lied to and alienated from their families and communities.

2/ First, we must help the victims, and focus on helping them restore their bonds to family and community. Second, we must hold the perpetrators accountable. Third, we must shun all those who profit from its continuance.

3/ We need to make fringe ideas fringe again. They will always be with us, but fringe groups should remain small and in dark corners. If we think of QAnon as a virus, we need to shrink the number of infected people.

4/ While QAnon has suffered a major blow with the failure of its prophecies, it is slithering along, trying to find new narratives that stick; and it likely will.

But we must not allow it to grow again. Some suggest that’s impossible. I disagree.

5/ By declining to give . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 10:07 am

Adjusting the lather for an optimal shave

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Pan’s Pipe is one of Dr. Jon’s Vol 3 shaving soaps, and I like its fragrance a lot: “notes of Lilac, Ivy, Orange Zest, Dirt, Oakmoss and Cannabis.” With the Yaqi Target Shot synthetic shaving brush, I worked up a fragrant, thick lather and set to work with the Baby Smooth, but I noticed I was not getting so good a glide as I wanted. I wondered whether it was the soap, but then it occurred to me that it was more likely my lather. I had loaded the brush heavily, and perhaps the lather simply lacked adequate water. So on the third pass (I was thinking about it as I shaved), I worked more water into the lather, and the glide improved immediately.

Three passes left my face baby smooth, and a splash of Speick finished the job and started the weekend on a good note.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2021 at 9:52 am

Posted in Shaving

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