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Archive for February 19th, 2021

‘This Crap Means More to Him Than My Life’: When QAnon Invades American Homes

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Anastasia Carrier reports in Politico:

For months, Emily has been married to a ghost. The trouble began last summer, when her husband Peter, the man who once showered her with affection and doted on their kids, started to spend all of his free time online, watching videos and reading message boards. He skipped the family activities they had once enjoyed, like watching football and playing outdoor sports. The couple, she recalled, stopped laughing together; everything suddenly turned serious with him. The pandemic had forced Peter to work from home, but it didn’t feel like he was there.

Before long, there were further turns. Peter started saying things that bordered on “bigoted and xenophobic,” Emily told me. Most shocking to her, Peter made her feel like an enemy for disagreeing with him. When she pushed back on his new strange ideas, like Tom Hanks being a pedophile, he answered her with disdain and treated her as if she were stupid.

“I was told that I buried my head in the sand and couldn’t see the ‘real’ problems,” said Emily, who shared her story under the condition of anonymity because she fears Peter’s retaliation and feels disloyal for speaking up. (Emily and Peter are not their real names.) Sometimes he undermined her this way in front of their kids.

Emily knew her husband was wrapped up in something called “QAnon.” She had heard the term before—Peter, prior to his conversion, had once dismissed it as “nuts”—but she didn’t fully grasp what QAnon was until early October, when she watched a few of the videos Peter kept talking about. That was when she learned that her husband had been consumed by a complex and false conspiracy theory that accuses “deep state elites” of running a secret pedophile ring. By then, it was too late to pull him out.

That month, Emily read an article online about “QAnonCasualties”—a Reddit forum for people like her, whose loved ones had also been drawn in by the bogus conspiracy theory. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so alone. For the next four days she watched the forum closely until she gathered the courage to post about her husband. “It’s exhausting loving someone and watching them get sucked into this cycle you can’t break,” she wrote.

“Thank you all for responding. Just knowing others are going through this disaster is relieving,” Emily replied.

Emily is just one of thousands who have found their way to r/QAnonCasualties. Started in 2019 by a Reddit user whose mother was a part of the “Qult,” the subreddit has ballooned in popularity over the past year, growing from less than a thousand followers in February 2020 to more than 133,000 in February 2021. The group’s followers more than doubled in the weeks following the Capitol riot alone. And as QAnon continues to spread—about 30 percent of Republicans have favorable views about the conspiracy theory, according to a January poll by YouGov—so does the forum’s reach.

As American politics scrambles to deal with this fringe ideology and its followers—a set of people seemingly impervious to facts, some committed enough to assault the U.S. Capitol—the country might learn a few things from the people who have to grapple with QAnon in their very homes, and who live with it every day. And what their stories tell us is unsettling. In post after post on r/QAnonCasualties, fathers and daughters, wives and husbands, best friends and colleagues describe their inability to get through to the people they are closest to. There are stories of marriages and friendships torn asunder, estranged siblings, parents and children severing ties. There are occasional accounts of success. But more often the stories end with people giving up trying to reach their radicalized loved ones. Sometimes, they walk away entirely.

After Emily found the board in October, the tone of her posts quickly went from hopeful to defeated. She began to accept that she might have to leave her husband. One day she wrote: “I would have never married this person, yet somehow, I am [married to him]. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

Peter has stopped treating the pandemic seriously, and Emily, who is in a high-risk group, can’t understand. They are both in their early 40s, and over the two decades that they’ve known each other Peter has always been protective of her fragile health. Now he thinks the pandemic is a hoax and doesn’t wear a mask, putting Emily in danger.

So Emily continues to avoid talking about politics and opts to do all of the house chores like groceries herself because she can’t trust Peter to be careful. As she wrote in one post: “This crap means more to him than my life.”

The QAnonCasualties subreddit came to life on July 4, 2019, when user Sqwakomodile shared a story about their mother being consumed by QAnon.

“The ignorance, bigotry, and refusal to question ‘the plan’ have only gotten worse over time,” Sqwakomodile wrote. The user barely talked to their mother anymore, but felt guilty about it. “It only seems to make me feel terrible and feeling like it’s my responsibility to try to lead her back to reality. Having a loved one involved in QAnon is an exhausting, sad, scary, demoralizing experience.”

At the time, QAnon had already made its way out of the far-right chat rooms where it was born and begun to spread via mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. The conspiracy could be traced back to 2017, when  . . .

Continue reading. Needless to say, there’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 7:18 pm

T.S. Eliot and the Jews

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David P. Goldman has an interesting essay of literary criticism in First Things, which begins:

There recur in the work of ­T. S. Eliot two obsessions that make one cringe: his Jew-­hatred and his contempt for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The first is sometimes excused as a reflection of ambient prejudice, the second as critical crankiness. In fact, these obsessions have a common source. The characteristically Jewish contribution to Western literature is the tragicomedy, which reached one of its peaks in Hamlet. Just as he disliked the Jews in general, Eliot rejected what might be termed the Jewish sensibility in culture.

None of this would concern us if Eliot were not the author of some important poems and even more important lines. There is no question about Eliot’s rank among the leading English-language poets of the past century, nor about his critical acumen. The issue is the end to which he directed his ability.

If the canonical definition of anti-Semitism is hating the Jews more than is absolutely necessary, the word surely applies to Eliot. One finds the stray smirk about Jews in the verse of ­Belloc and Chesterton, but Eliot, as Anthony ­Julius observed, makes Jew-hatred into art. No other poet employed so great a talent to elicit as much loathing as Eliot did in the “Bleistein” poems. First published in 1920 and reprinted in all subsequent editions of Eliot’s poetry through 1963, “Burbank with a ­Baedeker: Bleistein with a cigar” depicts a “­Chicago Semite Viennese” tourist on the Rialto Bridge in Venice, a nod to Shylock. He is less than a rat: “A lustreless protrusive eye / Stares from the protozoic slime. . . . The rats are underneath the piles. / The jew is underneath the lot.” Eliot revisited ­Bleistein in his masterwork, The Waste Land. The passage was dropped from the initial printings on the advice of Ezra Pound, who thought it too inflammatory, but it appeared posthumously in the annotated edition:

Full fathom five your Bleistein lies
Under the flatfish and the squids.
Graves’ Disease in a dead jew’s eyes!
When the crabs have eat the lids
Lower than the wharf rats dive
Though he suffer a sea-change
Still expensive rich and strange.

This reverie over a Jewish corpse parodies the tender account of the drowned Phlebas (“who was once handsome and tall as you”) that appears elsewhere in The Waste Land.

There have been any number of anti-­Semites among the important poets, but none evinces quite so much hatred—not Lope de Vega when he needles Cervantes over his Jewish heritage, nor Quevedo when he mocks Gongora’s long nose and alleged aversion to bacon, nor Shakespeare in depicting ­Shylock, who suffers and bleeds like all men. Eliot gloats over the piscine eyes of a crab-eaten Jewish corpse, lampooning Ariel’s Song in The Tempest. An antipathy upon which a talented poet lavishes such invention goes beyond mundane bigotry.

Eliot’s Jew-hatred was racial. It was not (as Harold Bloom claimed) “simply a mark of the authenticity of his Neo-Christianity.” This is evident from his imagery, full of horror at the stereotypical appearance of Jews, and is explicit in his 1933 lecture, “After Strange Gods.” In it he claimed:

The population should be homogeneous; where two or more cultures exist in the same place they are likely to be fiercely self-conscious or both to become adulterate. What is still more important is unity of religious background; and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.

The juxtaposition of the words “race” and “undesirable” as they apply to Jews had a distinct meaning in 1933. Eliot’s Victorian antecedents held no such views. On the contrary, Matthew Arnold named Heinrich Heine the true heir of Goethe (whom he thought the best modern poet and second only to Shakespeare), praising in particular Heine’s Jewish-themed poems “Princess Sabbath” and “Yehuda ­HaLevi.”

It is generally assumed that anti-Semites hate Jews not for what Jews actually are, but for what they imagine Jews to be. That was true of Ezra Pound, who imagined that Jews were usurers responsible for social crisis and war. Eliot, by contrast, hated the Jews for what they really are. In particular, he abhorred Jewish irony. Jewish humor has many facets, but its ultimate source is the paradoxical encounter of infinite God and finite man, in which there always lurks an element of the absurd. This is sharpened by the ironic distance inherent in the experience of exile. For two thousand years, the Jewish people have looked askance at the countries they inhabit. But even in their homeland they have understood themselves as spiritual strangers and sojourners in a fallen world. This is an existential dislocation, the knowledge that one is out of joint with a disordered world.

That brings us to Eliot’s other obsession. He published three attacks on Hamlet between 1919 and 1932, each stating a new reason to hate it. One is reminded of Aesop’s fable of the wolf whose shifting accusations against a lamb are easily refuted and finally irrelevant. Eliot’s first sally, “Hamlet and His Problems,” pronounced the play “an artistic ­failure” on the grounds that Hamlet lacks convincing ­motivation—is it revenge, or guilt over the behavior of his mother, or something else that Shakespeare does not quite clarify? Drawing on the dodgy scholarship of J. M. Robertson, Eliot argues that ­Shakespeare had revised and mangled an earlier revenge drama by Thomas Kyd. His 1927 essay “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca” scolds Shakespeare for having the wrong philosophy. Years later, Eliot conceded that these two early efforts were marred by “callowness” and a “facility of unqualified assertion which verges, here and there, on impudence.”

Eliot’s mature statement on Hamlet appears in his 1932 Harvard lectures, in which he denounces ­Shakespeare for violating the . . .

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

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 1:58 pm

Ted Cruz Is No Hypocrite. He’s Worse.

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David A. Graham reports in the Atlantic:

Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Ted Cruz jetted to Cancún. And although the emperor was at least ensconced in a lavish, louche palace, the senator from Texas was stuck in economy class with the peasantry.

Cruz’s appeal as a politician, such as it is, has never been about being lovable or relatable, but the latest incident is embarrassing even by his standards. He was spotted on a flight to Mexico yesterday, amid a catastrophic storm that has left Texans without power, heat, and sometimes water, huddled in freezing homes and community centers as the state’s electrical grid verges on collapse. More than a dozen of his constituents have already died. Cruz is headed home today—if not necessarily chastened, at least eager to control the damage. In a statement, he said he took the trip at his daughters’ behest. Blaming your children is a curious tack for an embattled politician, but he doesn’t have much else to work with.

The pile-on was nearly as fierce as the storm. A Cruz tweet from December resurfaced in which he lambasted the mayor of Austin, a Democrat, for flying to Cabo San Lucas during coronavirus stay-at-home orders. “Hypocrites. Complete and utter hypocrites,” Cruz wrote at the time.

It is tempting to turn the “hypocrite” label on Cruz, but his sin is worse. Every politician is a hypocrite at some point. Cruz’s error is not that he was shirking a duty he knew he should have been performing. It’s that he couldn’t think of any way he could use his power as a U.S. senator to help Texans in need. That’s a failure of imagination and of political ideology.

Cruz’s approach to politics and Texas’s approach to electrical generation flow from the same libertarian-inflected, low-regulation, small-government vision. In this worldview, the government’s role is to set a set of minimal baseline requirements, offer market-based incentives to ensure they work, and then stay the hell out of the way. Cruz reveres the late President Ronald Reagan, who quipped, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Consider how this works out in the case of electricity. The lower 48 U.S. states are divided into two big electrical grids—except for Texas, which maintains its own independent system. (Small, outlying parts of the state belong to the big grids.) The state maintains a separate grid to avoid having to comply with federal regulation. If Texas had been connected to the broader national grid, the state might have been able to borrow power that would have filled the hole left when large parts of the system failed in this storm: As demand for energy for heating surged, power plants went offline, equipment froze, and wind turbines froze too. Instead, Texas has experienced staggering blackouts.

Texas had ample warning that this system was vulnerable. A decade ago, another storm caused large (though smaller) failures, as the Texas Tribune explains. A report warned that the state needed to harden its grid to prepare for major storms. But the state’s regulators didn’t want to mandate upgrades. Instead, they issued voluntary guidelines to providers, and they offered financial incentives to make upgrades. This is by-the-book free-market governance: The government shouldn’t make requirements, but companies will do the right thing if it serves their business interests.

As we now know, that didn’t work. Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and U.S. secretary of energy, says now that Texans are willing to endure blackouts in order to maintain the independence of their grid. That’s a bold bet to make when hundreds of thousands of them still don’t have power.

Small government won’t just take a hands-off approach to regulation; it’s also likely to take a more hands-off approach to assisting citizens in the case of a disaster. (I’ve praised citizen-led efforts like the Cajun Navy, but they should serve as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, government disaster relief, and all too often they have been closer to the latter.) Now Texans are turning to the government for help, but Cruz apparently didn’t see a role for himself.

Cruz’s defenders say that criticism aimed at him is nothing but point-scoring, and that there’s nothing for him to do: Any response that Cruz offered would be performative, rather than actually useful. Cruz calls himself a constitutional conservative, and it is true that nothing in the Constitution lays out a local disaster-response role for a senator.

But this dismissiveness is a double failure of imagination. First, it overlooks the importance of leaders bucking up the morale of a struggling population. Giving heart to citizens is good politics. (This lesson was not lost on Reagan, but Cruz has never had much of a way with soft persuasion.) Second, it ignores the power that Cruz holds. A U.S. senator has immense unwritten power. He can use his connections, and the doors that a Senate role opens, to call on businesses and leading citizens to get things done. He can also use his political network to organize relief efforts.

Even a non-senator can do that. Democrat Beto O’Rourke, whom Cruz beat in a 2018 Senate race, said he’d organized phone banking to check on vulnerable seniors. But such a role seems never to have occurred to Cruz. He did, however, see how government could help him—drawing on a presumably stretched-thin Houston police force to escort him through the airport yesterday.

O’Rourke is a progressive, and those on the left are ideologically more inclined toward this kind of organizing. But progressives don’t have a monopoly on soft power. The late . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 12:23 pm

Arkansas School District Goes Solar, Boosts Teacher Pay

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A Batesville School District rooftop solar array. Entegrity

Diana Madson reports in EcoWatch:

In Batesville, Arkansas, teachers are getting raises – thanks, in part, to solar power.

Megan Renihan is communications coordinator for the Batesville School District. She says that four years ago, teacher salaries were below average for the state, and lower than other districts in the county.

“In order to attract and retain our staff, we wanted to increase the pay,” she says.

So the district started looking for ways to cut costs.

At the time, it was spending more than half a million dollars a year on utilities. To reduce its energy costs, the district installed thousands of LED lights, replaced windows and HVAC units, sealed leaks, and improved building insulation.

And it installed almost 1,500 solar panels that now generate about half of the district’s electricity.

“We were the first school district in the state of Arkansas to invest in solar panels,” Renihan says.

Together, the solar power and energy efficiency improvements are saving the district more than $300,000 a year. Along with other cost-cutting measures and state funding, those savings have helped raise teacher pay across the district.

“And that money is going to continue to go back into our teachers’ salaries. That’s the whole goal,” Renihan says. “We want to be the best in the area for teachers, because that means that our kids are getting the best.”

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 11:17 am

Citibank just got a $500 million lesson in the importance of UI design

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Timothy B. Lee reports in Ars Technica:

A federal judge has ruled that Citibank isn’t entitled to the return of $500 million it sent to various creditors last August. Kludgey software and a poorly designed user interface contributed to the massive screwup.

Citibank was acting as an agent for Revlon, which owed hundreds of millions of dollars to various creditors. On August 11, Citibank was supposed to send out interest payments totaling $7.8 million to these creditors.

However, Revlon was in the process of refinancing its debt—paying off a few creditors while rolling the rest of its debt into a new loan. And this, combined with the confusing interface of financial software called Flexcube, led the bank to accidentally pay back the principal on the entire loan—most of which wasn’t due until 2023.

Here’s how Judge Jesse Furman describes the situation:

On Flexcube, the easiest (or perhaps only) way to execute the transaction—to pay the Angelo Gordon Lenders their share of the principal and interim interest owed as of August 11, 2020, and then to reconstitute the 2016 Term Loan with the remaining Lenders—was to enter it in the system as if paying off the loan in its entirety, thereby triggering accrued interest payments to all Lenders, but to direct the principal portion of the payment to a “wash account”—”an internal Citibank account… to help ensure that money does not leave the bank.”

The actual work of entering this transaction into Flexcube fell to a subcontractor in India. He was presented with a Flexcube screen that looked like this:

The subcontractor thought that checking the “principal” checkbox and entering the number of a Citibank wash account would ensure that the principal payment would stay at Citibank. He was wrong. To prevent payment of the principal, the subcontractor actually needed to set the “front” and “fund” fields to the wash account as well as “principal.” The subcontractor didn’t do that.

Citibank’s procedures require that three people sign off on a transaction of this size. In this case, that was the subcontractor, a colleague of his in India, and a senior Citibank official in Delaware. All three believed that setting the “principal” field to an internal wash account number would prevent payment of the principal. As he approved the transaction, the Delaware supervisor wrote: “looks good, please proceed. Principal is going to wash.”

Revlon’s creditors were delighted

But the principal wasn’t going to wash. When the subcontractor conducted a routine review the next morning, he noticed there was something drastically off about the previous day’s figures. Citibank had actually sent out almost $900 million, not the $7.8 million it was trying to send.

Citibank then scrambled to get the funds back, notifying each creditor that the principal payments had been made by mistake. Some of the creditors sent the money back. But others refused, leaving Citibank out $500 million.

Ordinarily, paying back a loan early wouldn’t be a big deal, since the parties could simply negotiate a new loan on similar terms. But in this case, some of the lenders were not on good terms with Revlon and Citibank.

Earlier in the year, as the pandemic was accelerating, Revlon experienced financial difficulties and sought to borrow more money. To do that, Revlon convinced a majority of its previous creditors to allow it to transfer collateral from its old loan to a new one.

The strong-arm tactic angered the other creditors, who felt that the reduced collateral could leave them holding the bag if Revlon ran out of money. That’s more than a theoretical concern: Bloomberg’s Matt Levine reports that Revlon’s debt is “trading at around 42 cents on the dollar.” But under the terms of the loan, the minority lenders didn’t have a way to force early repayment.

So Citibank’s screwup allowed Revlon’s creditors to claw back cash that it might otherwise have never gotten back. And it could leave Revlon in a precarious financial situation if the company can’t get the money back from the old lenders and can’t find new lenders willing to replace the funds. Though given its screwup, Citibank could possibly end up as Revlon’s new creditor.

The judge ruled against Citibank

Citibank sued, arguing that it was entitled to get the money back since the cash was sent out by mistake. Ordinarily, the law would be on Citibank’s side here. Under New York law, someone who sends out an erroneous wire transfer—for example, sending a payment to the wrong account—is entitled to get the money back.

But the law makes an exception when a debtor accidentally wires money to a creditor. In that case, if the creditor doesn’t have prior knowledge the payment was a mistake, it’s free to treat it as a repayment of the loan. Judge Furman ruled that that principle applies here, even though Citibank notified its creditors of the mistake the very next day. The defendants noted that the amounts they received matched the amounts Revlon owed down to the penny, making it reasonable for them to assume it was an early repayment of the loan. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 10:51 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Software

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Barber-shop shave fragrances

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Another fine lather from a Mike’s Natural soap, this morning his Barber Shop, whose light fragrance did tend toward barber-shop memories. Mike’s Natural fragrances do seem to be present but also not pushy. I’ve noticed that after I load a bit with the damp  brush I must add a very small amount of water — just barely touch the tip of the brush to the stream of hot water from the faucet — to complete the loading. That, I assume, is due to the clay content:

Distilled water; saponified tallow (beef) and stearic acid; vegetable glycerin; saponified kokum butter, avocado oil, and shea butter; lanolin, fragrance and/or essential oil(s); saponified coconut oil; kaolin clay, vitamin E.

Apparently there’s very little clay — based on its position in the list of ingredients — but that loading requirement definitely is common to soaps containing clay.

The Rockwell Model T did a very nice job, though I’ll give some credit to Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave. Saturday will complete the “week with,” so next week will be the “week without” for comparison, though I think I’ll use it on Monday so I can get a side-by-side comparison (Monday shave and Tuesday shave) without a day off in between. Similarly, when I repeat the “week with,” I’ll start on Tuesday, with the Monday shave being a shave “without.” (On the “without” shaves, I will use MR GLO, however.)

In keeping with the barber-shop experience, I used a barber-shop aftershave, and the morning has dawned sunny and bright. A good start always is a hopeful sign.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2021 at 8:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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