Later On

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

Archive for February 21st, 2021

It is increasingly clear that Republicans hate the US system of voters deciding who will represent them.

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Heather Cox Richardson writes in her column today:

On ABC’s This Week this morning, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) refused to admit that Democrat Joe Biden had legitimately won the 2020 presidential election.

It’s hard to overestimate how dangerous this lie is. It convinces supporters of the former president that they are actually protecting American democracy when they fight to overturn it. Jessica Watkins is one of 9 members of the right-wing paramilitary group the Oath Keepers indicted for their actions on January 6. Yesterday, her lawyer told the court that Watkins behaved as she did because she believed that then-President Donald Trump would use the military to overturn what he falsely insisted was the rigged election.

“However misguided, her intentions were not in any way related to an intention to overthrow the government, but to support what she believed to be the lawful government. She took an oath to support the Constitution and had no intention of violating that oath….”

Watkins claims she was given a VIP pass to the pro-Trump rally, had met with Secret Service agents, and was charged with providing security for the leaders marching to the Capitol from Trump’s January 6, 2021, rally.

Supporters of the former president are portraying the deadly attack on the Capitol on January 6 as a legitimate expression of anger over an election in which states did not follow their own rules. This is a lie that the Trump wing hopes will resurrect their lost power. Politico’s Gabby Orr and Meridith McGraw report that Trump is planning to “exact vengeance” on the Republicans who have turned against him, running his own candidates in 2022 to undercut them. Earlier this week, he met with Scalise.

Trump’s big lie is deeply cynical, and yet it is falling on the ears of voters primed to believe it.

Republican Party leadership launched the idea that Democrats could not win an election legitimately all the way back in 1986. They began to examine the made-up issue of voter fraud to cut Democrats out of the electorate because they knew they could not win elections based on their increasingly unpopular policies.

In 1986, Republicans launched a “ballot integrity” initiative that they defended as a way to prevent voter fraud, but which an official privately noted “could keep the black vote down considerably.” In 1993, when Democrats expanded voter registration at certain state offices—the so-called Motor Voter Law– they complained that the Democrats were simply trying to enroll illegitimate Democratic voters in welfare and unemployment offices.

In 1994, Republicans who lost elections charged that Democrats only won through voter fraud, although then, as now, fraud was vanishingly rare. In 1996, House and Senate Republicans each launched year-long investigations into what they insisted were problematic elections, one in Louisiana and one in California. Keeping investigations of alleged voter fraud in front of the media for a year helped to convince Americans that voter fraud was a serious issue and that Democrats were winning elections thanks to illegal voters.

In 1998, the Florida legislature passed a voter ID law that led to a purge of voters from the system before the election of 2000, resulting in what the United States Commission on Civil Rights called “an extraordinarily high and inexcusable level of disenfranchisement,” particularly of Democratic African American voters.

After 2000, the idea that Democrats could win only by cheating became engrained in the Republican Party as their increasing rightward slide made increasing numbers of voters unhappy with their actual policies. Rather than moderating their stance, they suppressed the votes of their opponents. In 2016, Trump operative and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” Roger Stone launched a “Stop the Steal” website warning that “If this election is close, THEY WILL STEAL IT.” The slogan reappeared briefly in 2018, and in 2021, it sparked an attack on our government.

The idea that Democrats cannot legitimately win an election has been part of the Republican leadership’s playbook now for a generation, and it has worked: a recent survey showed that 65% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was plagued by widespread fraud, although election officials say the election was remarkably clean.

Republican lawmakers are going along with Trump’s big lie because it serves their interests: claiming fraud justifies laws to suppress Democratic votes. Alice O’Lenick, a Republican-appointed election official in Gwinnett County, Georgia, endorsed restrictive measures, saying, “they have got to change the major parts of [laws] so we at least have a shot at winning.”

But that is not the only story right now.

Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, includnote links to sources.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 7:56 pm

Shanghai Bok Choy with Leek, Fennel, Jalapeño, and Mushroom

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I don’t know that these recipes, which I just make up or adapt from recipes I’ve read, are really of interest, but I thought they might give readers some ideas and also show what a person following whole-food plant-only diet eats, since before I got into the diet I myself had no real idea (and for all I know, I’m the only one eating as I do).

This dish is one that I just made up — I bought some vegetables and cooked them, so really not much of a recipe — and my goal in part was to get additional different vegetables. I’m really taken by the idea that one should eat 30 different plant foods in the course of a week, and since I do eat a variety in the dishes I make, I like the challenge of eating 30 different plant foods every two days. The first two days I ate 32. Today ended the second pair of days, and I needed 6 new vegetables to finish with a total of 31. (When I reach 30 (or more), I reset the count and start anew the next day.) So when I went shopping, I deliberately picked vegetables to increase the count.

I used my Field Company No. 8 cast iron pan. Ingredients for the dish:

• 1-1.5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• fronds from a bulb of fresh fennel — I needed to get rid of those before eating the bulb, so I chopped them up
• 1 long skinny leek, including green part chopped
* 2 small Shanghai bok choy — these were not baby bok choy, but roughly middle-school size — chopped
• 1 jalapeño, chopped
• 4 medium domestic white mushrooms, chopped
• freshly ground black pepper
• a couple of good dashes fish sauce — the store’s been out of Red Boat for a while, so I’m using what they have

I cooked the above over medium heat until the mushrooms released their liquid and the vegetables were tender.

I served a cup of that over 1/4 cup black beans and 1/4 cup kamut with a dash of Louisiana Hot Sauce. It tasted very good indeed, and I have enough left for another such meal.

Earlier I diced 2 medium turnips and simmered them for about 20-25 minutes until they were tender. I drained them in a sieve, returned them to the pot, and mashed them with the pulp blended from 1 peeled lemon (like this) and a dash of olive oil, with some ground black pepper. That was just a little treat: I like cooked turnips.

I also ate 1 Belgian endive as a kind of hand salad, breaking off leaves and eating them, as I watched TV.

All that added 6 vegetables that I had not counted earlier (mushrooms and lemon already counted in earlier meals); that, together with the 25 from yesterday, took me to a total of 31.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 6:21 pm

Ancient kauri tree captures last collapse of Earth’s magnetic field

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Paul Voosen writes in Science:

Several years ago, workers breaking ground for a power plant in New Zealand unearthed a record of a lost time: a 60-ton trunk from a kauri tree, the largest tree species in New Zealand. The tree, which grew 42,000 years ago, was preserved in a bog and its rings spanned 1700 years, capturing a tumultuous time when the world was turned upside down—at least magnetically speaking.

Radiocarbon levels in this and several other pieces of wood chart a surge in radiation from space, as Earth’s protective magnetic field weakened and its poles flipped, a team of scientists reports today in Science. By modeling the effect of this radiation on the atmosphere, the team suggests Earth’s climate briefly shifted, perhaps contributing to the disappearance of large mammals in Australia and Neanderthals in Europe. “We’re only scratching the surface of what geomagnetic change has done,” says Alan Cooper, an ancient DNA researcher at the South Australian Museum and one of the lead authors of the study.

The study not only nails in fine detail the timing and magnitude of the magnetic swap, the most recent in Earth’s history, but is also among the first to make a credible, though speculative, case that these flips can affect the global climate, says Quentin Simon, a paleomagnetist at the European Center for Research and Teaching in Environmental Geoscience in Aix-en-Provence, France. But some paleoclimate scientists are skeptical of the team’s broader claims, saying other records show few traces of climate upheaval.

Earth’s magnetic field is created by the flow of molten iron in the outer core, which is prone to chaotic swings that not only weaken the field, but also cause the poles to wander and sometimes flip entirely. The magnetic orientations of minerals in rock record long-lasting reversals, but can’t capture the details of a flip lasting hundreds of years, like the one 42,000 years ago.

Radioactive carbon-14, however, can mark these shorter fluctuations. The isotope is produced when cosmic rays—charged particles from outer space—slip past the magnetic field and strike the atmosphere. It is taken up by living things, and its specific half-life makes it a standard clock. The team used radiocarbon to date the kauri wood by lining it up with accurate, but coarse, radiocarbon cave records from China. And by measuring finer carbon-14 changes in the rings, they tracked how its production varied over 40-year intervals, as the magnetic field ebbed and surged. “It’s just amazing you can do this back 42,000 years ago,” says Lawrence Edwards, a geochemist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who worked on the Chinese cave records.

Spikes in radiocarbon indicated the magnetic field weakened to some 6% of its present day strength by 41,500 years ago. At that point the poles flipped and the field recovered some strength, before crashing and flipping back 500 years later. Cooper notes that not only was Earth’s cosmic ray shield down; the Sun’s was, too. Evidence from ice cores suggests that, around this same time, the Sun was experiencing several “grand minima”—episodes of low magnetic activity. The resulting cosmic ray assault charged the atmosphere to a level that would have knocked out today’s power grid and created aurorae in the subtropics, Cooper says. “What happens when the atmosphere is that ionized?” he asks. “God only knows.” (The paper is the first Cooper has led since he was fired in 2019 from the University of Adelaide following allegations that he bullied staff and students; Cooper has denied the allegations.)

To explore the consequences, the team  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Environment, Science

“Mark Changed The Rules”: How Facebook Went Easy On Alex Jones And Other Right-Wing Figures

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It’s difficult not to see Facebook as a serious problem whose root cause is Mark Zuckerberg’s shallowness and immaturity coupled with arrogance and power. Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman report in Buzzfeed News:

In April 2019, Facebook was preparing to ban one of the internet’s most notorious spreaders of misinformation and hate, Infowars founder Alex Jones. Then CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally intervened.

Jones had gained infamy for claiming that the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre was a “giant hoax,” and that the teenage survivors of the 2018 Parkland shooting were “crisis actors.” But Facebook had found that he was also relentlessly spreading hate against various groups, including Muslims and trans people. That behavior qualified him for expulsion from the social network under the company’s policies for “dangerous individuals and organizations,” which required Facebook to also remove any content that expressed “praise or support” for them.

But Zuckerberg didn’t consider the Infowars founder to be a hate figure, according to a person familiar with the decision, so he overruled his own internal experts and opened a gaping loophole: Facebook would permanently ban Jones and his company — but would not touch posts of praise and support for them from other Facebook users. This meant that Jones’ legions of followers could continue to share his lies across the world’s largest social network.

“Mark personally didn’t like the punishment, so he changed the rules,” a former policy employee told BuzzFeed News, noting that the original rule had already been in use and represented the product of untold hours of work between multiple teams and experts.

“That was the first time I experienced having to create a new category of policy to fit what Zuckerberg wanted. It’s somewhat demoralizing when we have established a policy and it’s gone through rigorous cycles. Like, what the fuck is that for?” said a second former policy employee who, like the first, asked not to be named so they could speak about internal matters.

“Mark called for a more nuanced policy and enforcement strategy,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said of the Alex Jones decision, which also affected the bans of other extremist figures.

Zuckerberg’s “more nuanced policy” set off a cascading effect, the two former employees said, which delayed the company’s efforts to remove right wing militant organizations such as the Oath Keepers, which were involved the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. It is also a case study in Facebook’s willingness to change its rules to placate America’s right wing and avoid political backlash.

Internal documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews with 14 current and former employees show how the company’s policy team — guided by Joel Kaplan, the vice president of global public policy, and Zuckerberg’s whims — has exerted outsize influence while obstructing content moderation decisions, stymieing product rollouts, and intervening on behalf of popular conservative figures who have violated Facebook’s rules.

In December, a former core data scientist wrote a memo titled, “Political Influences on Content Policy.” Seen by BuzzFeed News, the memo stated that Kaplan’s policy team “regularly protects powerful constituencies” and listed several examples, including: removing penalties for misinformation from right-wing pages, blunting attempts to improve content quality in News Feed, and briefly blocking a proposal to stop recommending political groups ahead of the US election.

Since the November vote, at least six Facebook employees have resigned with farewell posts that have called out leadership’s failures to heed its own experts on misinformation and hate speech. Four departing employees explicitly cited the policy organization as an impediment to their work and called for a reorganization so that the public policy team, which oversees lobbying and government relations, and the content policy team, which sets and enforces the platform’s rules, would not both report to Kaplan.

Facebook declined to make Kaplan or other executives available for an interview. Stone, the company spokesperson, dismissed concerns about the vice president’s influence.

“Recycling the same warmed over conspiracy theories about the influence of one person at Facebook doesn’t make them true,” he said. “The reality is big decisions at Facebook are made with input from people across different teams who have different perspectives and expertise in different areas. To suggest otherwise is absurd.”

An integrity researcher who worked on Facebook’s efforts to protect the democratic process and rein in radicalization said the company caused direct harm to users by rejecting product changes due to concerns of political backlash.

“Out of fears over potential public and policy stakeholder responses, we are knowingly exposing users to risks of integrity,” they wrote in an internal note seen by BuzzFeed News. They quit in August.

Those most affected by Jones’ rhetoric have taken notice, too. Lenny Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was the youngest victim of the Sandy Hook shooting, called the revelation that Zuckerberg weakened penalties facing the Infowars founder “disheartening, but not surprising.” He said the company had made a promise to do better in dealing with hate and hoaxes following a 2018 letter from HONR Network, his organization for survivors of mass casualty events. Yet Facebook continues to fail to remove harmful content.

“At some point,” Pozner told BuzzFeed News, “Zuckerberg has to be held responsible for his role in allowing his platform to be weaponized and for ensuring that the ludicrous and the dangerous are given equal importance as the factual.”

“Different Views On Different Things”

Kaplan’s close relationship with Zuckerberg has led the CEO to weigh politics more heavily when making high-profile content policy enforcement decisions, current and former employees said. Kaplan’s efforts to court the Trump White House over the past four years — from his widely publicized support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to his interventions on behalf of right-wing influencers in Facebook policy decisions — have also made him a target for civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers.

In June 2020, three Democratic senators asked in a letter what role Kaplan played “in Facebook’s decision to shut down and de-prioritize internal efforts to contain extremist and hyperpolarizing activity.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren called him out for overseeing a lobbying effort that spends millions of dollars to influence politicians. With a new presidential administration in place and a spate of ongoing antitrust lawsuits, Zuckerberg must now grapple with the fact that his top political adviser may no longer be a Washington, DC asset but a potential liability.

“I think that everybody in DC hates Facebook. They have burned every bridge,” said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project and a former member of Joe Biden’s presidential transition team. Democrats are incensed with the platform’s tolerance of hate speech and misinformation, while “pulling Trump off the platform” has brought new life to Republican gripes with the company, she said.

“Facebook has fires to put out all across the political spectrum,” Miller added. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s damning

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 12:55 pm

How to be an Atheist in Medieval Europe

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While it’s unlikely that you will encounter that situation, the lecture itself is quite interesting. For one thing, it shows how cultural memes tend to remain inchoate until the currents of cultural evolution move them into a definite shape/voice/role. Moreover, this is one of a collection of interesting lectures from Gresham College, which has offered free public lectures for over 400 years. From Wikipedia:

Gresham College is an institution of higher learning located at Barnard’s Inn Hall off Holborn in Central LondonEngland. It does not enroll students or award degrees. It was founded in 1597 under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, and hosts over 140 free public lectures every year. Since 2001, all lectures have also been made available online. . .

The seven original Gresham College Professorships that date back to the origins of the college are as follows:

Astronomy  
Divinity  
Geometry 
Law
Music  
Physic 
Rhetoric 

These original endowed chairs reflect the curriculum of a medieval university (the trivium and quadrivium); but as a place for the public and frequent voicing of new ideas, the college played an important role in the Enlightenment and in the formation of the Royal Society. Early distinguished Gresham College professors included Christopher Wren, who lectured on astronomy in the 17th century and Robert Hooke, who was Professor of Geometry from 1665 until 1704.[6]

The professors received £50 a year, and the terms of their position were very precise, for example:

The geometrician is to read as followeth, every Trinity term arithmetique, in Michaelmas and Hilary terms theoretical geometry, in Easter term practical geometry. The astronomy reader is to read in his solemn lectures, first the principles of the sphere, and the theory of the planets, and the use of the astrolabe and the staff, and other common instruments for the capacity of mariners.[7]

Today three further Professorships have been added to take account of areas not otherwise covered by the original Professorships:

Commerce, established in 1985.[8]
Environment, established in 2014.[9]
Information Technology, established in 2015.[10]

The great seal of my alma mater, St. John’s College, Annapolis MD, shows seven books, which represent the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic — the language arts) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music — the mathematical arts), along with a balance (representing the sciences), with the device “Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque.” (“I make free men from children by means of books and a balance,” though in fact the college has been co-ed since 1951.) The curriculum (which has no electives) centers on those disciplines, which students learn through reading closely and discussing the canonical works of the Western canon. (“Reading closely” becomes “listening thoughtfully” in the case of music, drama, the weekly Friday night lecture, and of course in the discussions.)

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 10:21 am

A new way to visualize General Relativity

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This is pretty cool.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2021 at 7:27 am

Posted in Science, Video

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