Later On

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Archive for March 2021

As Cuomo Sought $4 Million Book Deal, Aides Hid Damaging Death Toll

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Jesse McKinley, Danny Hakim, and Alexandra Alter report in the NY Times:

As the coronavirus subsided in New York last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had begun pitching a book proposal that would center on his image as a hero of the pandemic. But by early last summer, both his book and image had hit a critical juncture.

Mr. Cuomo leaned on his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, for assistance. She attended video meetings with publishers, and helped him edit early drafts of the book. But there was also another, more pressing edit underway at the same time.

An impending Health Department report threatened to disclose a far higher number of nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus than the Cuomo administration had previously made public. Ms. DeRosa and other top aides expressed concern about the higher death toll, and, after their intervention, the number — which had appeared in the second sentence of the report — was removed from the final version.

The revisions occurred as the governor was on the brink of a huge payoff: a book deal that ended with a high offer of more than $4 million, according to people with knowledge of the book’s bidding process.

A New York Times examination of the development of Mr. Cuomo’s lucrative book deal revealed how it overlapped with the move by his most senior aides to reshape a report about nursing home deaths in a way that insulated the governor from criticism and burnished his image.

Mr. Cuomo also utilized the resources of his office — from his inner circle to far more junior personnel — to help with the manuscript. In late June and early July, for example, a top aide to the governor, Stephanie Benton, twice asked assistants to print portions of the draft of the book, and deliver them to Mr. Cuomo at the Executive Mansion in Albany, where he lives.

One of Ms. Benton’s directives came on June 27, the same day that Ms. DeRosa convened an impromptu teleconference with several other top advisers to discuss the Health Department draft report.

On Wednesday, Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, rejected any link between Mr. Cuomo’s book and the Health Department report.

“There is no connection between the report and this outside project, period,” Mr. Azzopardi said. “And any suggestion otherwise is just wrong.”

The book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic,” was a dramatic retelling of the battle against the virus in a state where nearly 50,000 people have died. It would garner Mr. Cuomo a fleeting spot on the best-seller list.

Emails and an early draft of Mr. Cuomo’s book obtained by The New York Times indicate that the governor was writing it as early as mid-June, relying on a cadre of trusted aides and junior staffers for everything from full-scale edits to minor clerical work, potentially running afoul of state laws prohibiting use of public resources for personal gain. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. MUCH more, and in damning detail: names, dates, actions. This is from the inside, and probably (given Cuomo’s management style) multiple sources.

To take a few paragraphs at random from a long sequence of such paragraphs:

Ms. DeRosa, the highest nonelected official in Mr. Cuomo’s office, was particularly involved with the development of the book, and was present during some online pitch meetings with Mr. Cuomo. The July 5 request, in fact, was to print a 224-page draft entitled “MDR edits” — a reference to Ms. DeRosa, who had sent the draft to Ms. Benton on July 4, according to the emails. The staffers communicated via personal Gmail accounts, not official governmental email addresses.

Mr. Azzopardi said that Ms. DeRosa and Ms. Benton had “volunteered on this project” during their free time, something he added was “permissible and consistent with ethical requirements” of the state.

As for the junior aides’ participation in tasks related to the book, he said, “Every effort was made to ensure that no state resources were used in connection with this project.”

“To the extent an aide printed out a document,” he said, “it appears incidental.”

Ms. DeRosa also had significant input on the July 6 report issued by the Department of Health, which basically cleared Mr. Cuomo’s administration of fault in its handling of nursing homes — discounting the impact of a March 2020 state memo that had asked such facilities to take in or readmit residents who had tested positive for the disease.

Critical changes had been made to the final version of the Health Department report, after concerns were raised about the data by Ms. DeRosa and a second Cuomo aide, Linda Lacewell, according to interviews and documents.

In two earlier drafts of the report, which were both reviewed by The Times, the second sentence said that “from March 1, 2020, through June 10, 2020, there were 9,844 fatalities among NYS nursing home residents with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.”

The earlier drafts were written by . . .

And it goes on, naming names. Cuomo is looking at criminal charges.

Later:

Mr. Cuomo, 63, has declined to confirm exactly how much he was paid for “American Crisis,” which was published by Crown Publishing Group in mid-October, just as a second wave of the coronavirus began to swell in New York.

Crown declined to comment on the sale price or confirm that it slightly exceeded $4 million, a large sum for an author whose previous memoir, “All Things Possible,” from 2014, sold fewer than 4,000 hardcover copies.

The governor’s office said he would donate a “significant portion” of the book’s proceeds to a Covid-related charity, though he has not indicated how much; on Wednesday, Mr. Azzopardi reiterated that the governor’s book payment and charitable contributions would be released with his tax returns and state-mandated financial disclosures, both of which are due in mid-May.

Since the book’s publication, . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2021 at 9:44 pm

Understanding Legal Argument (1): The Five Types of Argument

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John Danaher writes at Philosophical Disquisitions:

I have been teaching about legal reasoning and legal argumentation for years. When I do so, I try to impress upon students that legal argument is both simple and complex.

It is simple because in every legal case there is, in essence, one basic type of argument at the core of the dispute between the parties. This argument works from a general legal rule to a conclusion about the application of that rule to a set of facts. Philosophers and logicians would say that the basic form of legal argument is a syllogism: a simple three-step argument involving a major premise (a general principle or rule), a minor premise (a claim about a particular case or scenario) and then a conclusion (an application of the general rule to the particular case).

Here is a simple conditional syllogism:

  • (1) If roses are red, then violets are blue. (Major Premise)
  • (2) Roses are red. (Minor Premise)
  • (3) Therefore, violets are blue. (Conclusion)

My view is that legal arguments take on a similar conditional, syllogistic form. There is a legal rule that stipulates that if certain conditions are met, then certain legal consequences will follow. This is the major premise of legal argument. Then there is a set of facts to which that rule may apply. This is the minor premise of legal argument. When you apply the rule to the facts you get a conclusion.

In abstract form, all legal arguments look like this:

  • (1) If conditions A, B and C are satisfied, then legal consequences X, Y and Z follow. (Major premise: legal rule)
  • (2) Conditions A, B and C are satisfied (or not). (Minor Premise: the facts of the case)
  • (3) Therefore, legal consequences X, Y and Z do (or do not) follow. (Conclusion: legal judgment in the case).

To give a more concrete example, imagine a case involving a potential murder:

  • (1*) If one person causes another person’s death through their actions, and they performed those actions with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm, and they had no lawful excuse for those actions, then they are guilty of murder and may be punished accordingly.
  • (2*) Cain caused Abel’s death through his actions and in doing so he intended to kill and acted without lawful excuse.
  • (3*) Therefore, Cain is guilty of murder and may be punished accordingly.

Simple, right? Unfortunately it is not. Although this basic argument is the core of all legal disputes it is not the totality of those disputes. The problem is that legal rules don’t just show up and apply themselves to particular cases. There are lots of potential legal rules that could apply to a given set of facts. And there are lots of qualifications and exceptions to legal rules. You have to argue for the rules themselves and show why a particular rule (or major premise) should apply to a particular case. In addition to this, the facts of the case don’t just establish themselves. They too need to argued for and the law adopts a formalised procedure for establishing facts, at least when a case comes to trial.

In this two-part article, I want to examine some of the complexities of legal argument. I do so first by examining the different kinds of argument you can present in favour of, or against, particular legal rules (i.e. for and against the major premise of legal argument). Understanding these kinds of arguments is the main function of legal education. People who study law at university or in professional schools spend a lot of their time examining all the different ways in which lawyers try to prove that a certain rule should apply to a given set of facts.

Several authors have presented frameworks and taxonomies that try to bring some order to the chaos of arguments for legal rules. I quite like Wilson Huhn’s framework The Five Types of Legal Argument, which not only does a good job of reducing legal argument down to five main forms, but also identifies all the different ways of arguing for or against a legal rule within those five main forms. I’ll try to explain Huhn’s framework, in an abbreviated fashion, in the remainder of this article. I should say, however, that I have modified his framework somewhat over the years and I’m not entirely clear on which bits of it are his and which bits are my own modification. Most of it is his. Some bits are mine (and most of the examples are ones that I use in my teaching and not ones that come from Huhn’s book).

1. Argument from Text

For better or worse, law has become a text-based discipline. There are authoritative legal texts — constitutions, statutes, case judgments and so on — that set down legal rules. Consequently, one of the most common forms of legal argument is to identify the case-relevant legal texts and then use them to figure out the relevant rule. This is the first type of legal in Huhn’s framework and perhaps the starting point for most legal arguments.

Here’s a real example. Suppose . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, since he describes all five types of argument.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2021 at 7:29 pm

Kayaking at 100km/hr on snow — and how it was shot

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2021 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

The Collapse of Puerto Rico’s Iconic Telescope

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Daniel Alarcón writes in the New Yorker:

Just before eight in the morning on December 1st of last year, Ada Monzón was at the Guaynabo studios of WAPA, a television station in Puerto Rico, preparing to give a weather update, when she got a text from a friend. Jonathan Friedman, an aeronomer who lives near the Arecibo Observatory, about an hour and a half from San Juan, had sent her a photo, taken from his sister-in-law’s back yard, of the brilliant blue Caribbean sky and the green, heavily forested limestone hills. In the picture, a thin cloud of dust hovered just above the tree line; the image was notable not for what it showed but for what was missing. On a normal day—on any day before that one, in fact—a shot from that back yard would have captured Arecibo’s nine-hundred-ton radio-telescope platform, with its massive Gregorian dome, floating improbably over the valley, suspended from cables five hundred feet above the ground. Accompanying the photo was Friedman’s message, which read, simply, “Se cayó ”—“It fell.”

Every year since Arecibo’s completion, in 1963, hundreds of researchers from around the world had taken turns pointing the radio telescope toward the sky to glean the secrets of the universe. It had played a role in the fields of radio astronomy and atmospheric, climate, and planetary science, as well as in the search for exoplanets and the study of near-Earth asteroids that, were they to collide with our planet, could end life as we know it. There were even biologists working at Arecibo, studying how plant life developed in the dim light beneath the telescope’s porous dish.

Monzón, along with thousands of other scientists and radio-astronomy enthusiasts for whom Arecibo held a special meaning, had been on high alert for weeks, ever since two of its cables had failed, in August and in early November. Although the telescope seemed to have survived Hurricane Maria, in 2017, without serious damage, the earthquakes that followed had perhaps weakened components that were already suffering from decades of wear and tear. It was, in many ways, a death foretold. Even so, when the inevitable finally occurred, Monzón was stunned.

Monzón is a presence in Puerto Rico, a much beloved and trusted figure, as meteorologists sometimes are in places where reporting on extreme weather can be a matter of life and death. She’d covered Hurricane Maria and its harrowing aftermath, as well as dozens of lesser but still dangerous storms and the resulting floods or landslides. She’d done a Facebook Live through a magnitude-6.4 earthquake. Still, she told me, the end of Arecibo was somehow harder, more personal. “It was devastating,” she said. “One of the most difficult moments of my life.” Arecibo, she added, “was a place of unity for everyone who loves science on this island, and all of us who truly love Puerto Rico.”

For more than half a century, Arecibo was the world’s largest single-aperture telescope, its global reputation built on grand discoveries that matched its size: from the observatory, the presence of ice on the poles of Mercury was first detected, the duration of that planet’s rotation was determined, and the surface of Venus was mapped; the first binary pulsar, later used to test Einstein’s theory of relativity, was found by astronomers working at Arecibo. (They were awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery in 1993.)

In 1974, a team led by an astronomer at Cornell University named Frank Drake (which included Carl Sagan) put together the Arecibo Message, a radio transmission that was beamed to a cluster of stars more than twenty-five thousand light-years away. The message was meant to celebrate human technological advancement, and, supposedly, to be decoded and read by extraterrestrials. Not all radio telescopes can both receive and transmit: this was one more way in which Arecibo was special. The message itself—a series of bits and squares containing the numbers one through ten, the atomic numbers of certain elements, and a graphic of a double helix, among other scientific touchstones—was mostly symbolic, to mark the occasion of an upgrade to the telescope’s capabilities, but it captured the public imagination nonetheless. In theory, were any alien life-forms to respond, we earthlings could discern their answer at Arecibo.

Each year, more than eighty thousand visitors came to the observatory, including tourists from all over the world and twenty thousand Puerto Rican schoolchildren, who had their first brush with the cosmos there. The 1995 James Bond film “GoldenEye” featured an absurd fight scene that was shot at Arecibo, which culminated in Pierce Brosnan’s Bond dropping a scowling villain to his death from the suspended platform; two years later, in the film “Contact,” Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey shared a kiss beneath a starry sky with the Gregorian dome as a backdrop. “If you had to tell someone about Puerto Rico,” Monzón told me, “you’d say, ‘We have the largest radio telescope in the world,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, sure, Arecibo.’ ”

That December morning at the WAPA studios, Monzón told the production team that she had to go on the air right away, and minutes later she was standing in front of a weather map, her voice cracking: “Friends, with my heart in my hands, I have to inform you that the observatory has collapsed.” She bit her lip and shook her head. “We tried to save it however we could. And we knew this was a possibility. . . .” She trailed off, looked down at the phone in her hand, and stammered that the director of the observatory was calling. She answered on air and, for an awkward moment, even wandered off camera. Everything was true, she told her audience when she returned. It was gone.

The construction of a world-class radio telescope in Puerto Rico was, in some ways, an accident of the Cold War. After the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite, in 1957, there was a lot of money in Washington for big ideas that could showcase American power and technology, particularly in space. Enter a Cornell physicist and astronomer named William Gordon, a veteran of the Second World War in his early forties, who wanted to use radio waves to study the upper atmosphere—something that required a giant transmitter and a massive dish. Nothing on this scale had ever been done. Radio astronomy was still in its early days; Cornell was among the first American universities where it was studied. The Advanced Research Projects Agency, created by President Eisenhower, funded the project, hoping that it would detect any intercontinental ballistic missiles cutting a path across the upper atmosphere.

In order to be useful for planetary study, the telescope had to be situated in the tropics, where the planets pass overhead in their orbits. Cuba, in the midst of revolution, was not an option. Hawaii and the Philippines were too far away. Puerto Rico, which had formalized its colonial relationship with the U.S. less than a decade earlier, emerged as a possibility, facilitated by a Ph.D. candidate from there who was studying at Cornell. The rest, as they say, is history. Gordon, who died in 2010, described the rather arbitrary nature of the site-selection process in a 1978 interview: “Our civil-engineer man looked at the aerial photographs of Puerto Rico and said, ‘Here are a dozen possibilities of holes in the ground in roughly the dimensions you need.’ And we looked at some and said, ‘Well, that’s too close to a town or a city or something.’ Very, very quickly he reduced it to three, and he and I went down and looked at them and picked one.”

The one that they picked was a half-hour drive into the hills from Arecibo, a town of about seventy thousand, with a harbor and a lively central plaza. In the sixties, it was a hub of rum production, home to one of the island’s largest cathedrals and three movie theatres. Every year during carnival, people came to Arecibo from all over the island to dance to steel-drum bands. There was a fifty-room hotel on the plaza, where visiting scientists and engineers sometimes stayed, and where the New York Times and the Daily News were delivered every Sunday. Gordon and his team moved to Arecibo in 1960, setting up shop in a small office behind the cathedral. Several other mainland scientists and their families, along with a few Cuban engineers, settled in Radioville, a seaside development a couple of miles west of the center of town—named for a radio station, not for the observatory, which, in any case, was still just an idea.

Size was always a core-value proposition of the observatory at Arecibo. At the time, the largest radio telescope, near Manchester, England, had a diameter of two hundred and fifty feet; Arecibo’s telescope would be a thousand feet wide, dwarfing every other such instrument in use. The limestone hills of northern Puerto Rico were dotted with natural sinkholes, which made the excavation and construction simpler, though there was nothing simple about building a spherical dish with the area of approximately eighteen football fields. The curve of the dish had to be precise in order for the radio waves to be gathered within a movable instrument platform. According to the astronomer Don Campbell, who arrived at Arecibo in 1965 and is now working on a history of the facility, the construction of the observatory—which was built at a cost of around nine million dollars, the equivalent of more than seventy million today—was a tremendous achievement.

The original walkway to the suspended platform had wooden slats. There was no phone communication from the observatory to the city, though there was a radio link to a phone that rang on the fourth floor of the Space Sciences Building at Cornell. Back then, the trip from San Juan to the observatory might take two or three hours, longer during the harvest season, when trucks piled high with sugarcane clogged the narrow roads. Joanna Rankin, a radio astronomer at the University of Vermont, who made her first observation at Arecibo in 1969, told me that the terrain at the site was so steep and unforgiving she found it miraculous that the place had even been built. “Going up there at night was like being on an island in the sky,” she said. “So vast and so delicate.” The facility attracted an adventurous sort of personality in those early days, Campbell said. Still, it was good living: the scientists worked hard all week and went to the beach every Sunday. The Arecibo Country Club, which had no golf course and whose swimming pool was often drained of water, nonetheless hosted great parties, to which the scientists were often invited. And, of course, the chance to work on a telescope of that magnitude was unique.

Planetary and atmospheric researchers used Arecibo to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, Arecibo was once a part of America’s greatness.

Later in the column:

The problems began for Arecibo in the mid-aughts, when the National Science Foundation, which owned the site and supported it with about twelve million dollars a year, convened a panel of astronomers to evaluate the foundation’s holdings. With the N.S.F. facing flat budget allocations, and with several large investments in new telescopes under way, the panel recommended a multimillion-dollar cut to the Arecibo astronomy budget, to be implemented over several years. The report was stark and final: if partners couldn’t be found to help cover the cost of maintaining the site by 2011, Arecibo should be closed.

And there’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2021 at 6:44 pm

Brush coming along and I like D.R. Harris

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You will note that this morning I used the DOC razor that matches the brush handle. And the knot really feels quite different this morning, much friendlier to the lather.

I used MR GLO as the pre-shave since I’m using a shave stick, Marlborough by D.R. Harris in this case. Ieasily worked up a fine lather and, as noted, the brush accepted the lather readily. Three passes with the razor easily and comfortably removed all roughness, and a splash Marlborough finished the shave with the wonderful woody fragrance.

Spring is advancing quickly. This is one of eight trees ranked in front of the apartment building. This one’s on the end, so it caught the morning sun while the other trees were still shaded by the building. I’ll take an afternoon photo soon to capture the full glorious length of the row.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2021 at 10:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

America’s Immigration Amnesia: Despite recurrent claims of crisis at the border, the United States still does not have a coherent immigration policy

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Caitlin Dickerson writes in the Atlantic:

In the early 2000s, Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas were accustomed to encountering a few hundred children attempting to cross the American border alone each month. Some hoped to sneak into the country unnoticed; others readily presented themselves to officials in order to request asylum. The agents would transport the children, who were exhausted, dehydrated, and sometimes injured, to Border Patrol stations and book them into austere concrete holding cells. The facilities are notoriously cold, so agents would hand the children Mylar blankets to keep warm until federal workers could deliver them to child-welfare authorities.

But starting in 2012, the number of children arriving at the border crept up, first to about 1,000 a month, then 2,000, then 5,000. By the summer of 2014, federal officials were processing more than 8,000 children a month in that region alone, cramming them into the same cells that had previously held only a few dozen at a time, and that were not meant to hold children at all.

As the stations filled, the Obama administration scrambled to find a solution. The law required that the children be moved away from the border within 72 hours and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, so they could be housed safely and comfortably until they were released to adults willing to sponsor them. But HHS facilities were also overflowing. The department signed new contracts for “emergency-influx shelters,” growing its capacity by thousands of beds within a matter of months. Government workers pulled 100-hour weeks to coordinate logistics. And then, seemingly overnight, border crossings began to drop precipitously. No one knew exactly why.

“The numbers are unpredictable,” Mark Weber, an HHS spokesperson, told me in 2016, just as another child-migration surge was beginning to crest. “We don’t know why a bunch of kids decided to come in 2014, or why they stopped coming in 2015. The thing we do know is these kids are trying to escape violence, gangs, economic instability. That’s a common theme. The numbers have changed over the years, but the themes stayed the same.”

The cycle repeated itself under President Donald Trump in 2019, and is doing so again now. And as border crossings rise and the government rushes to open new emergency-influx shelters, some lawmakers and pundits are declaring that the Biden administration is responsible for the surge. “The #BidenBorderCrisis was caused by the message sent by his campaign & by the measures taken in the early days of his new administration,” Marco Rubio tweeted last week. The administration is “luring children to the border with the promise of letting them in,” Joe Scarborough, the Republican congressman turned cable-television host, told millions of viewers during a recent segment.

But for decades, most immigration experts have viewed border crossings not in terms of surges, but in terms of cycles that are affected by an array of factors. These include the cartels’ trafficking business, weather, and religious holidays as well as American politics—but perhaps most of all by conditions in the children’s home countries. A 2014 Congressional Research Service report found that young peoples’ “motives for migrating to the United States are often multifaceted and difficult to measure analytically,” and that “while the impacts of actual and perceived U.S. immigration policies have been widely debated, it remains unclear if, and how, specific immigration policies have motivated children to migrate to the United States.”

The report pointed out that special protections for children put into place under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 may have shifted migration patterns by encouraging parents to send their children alone rather than travel as a family. But it found that blaming any one administration for a rise in border crossings ultimately made no sense—the United States has offered some form of protection to people fleeing persecution since the 1940s, and those rights were expanded more than 40 years ago under the Refugee Act of 1980.

This is not to say that President Joe Biden’s stance on immigration—which has thus far been to discourage foreigners from crossing the border while also declaring that those who do so anyway will be treated humanely—has had no effect on the current trend. Like other business owners, professional human traffickers, known as coyotes, rely on marketing—and federal intelligence suggests that perceived windows of opportunity have been responsible for some of their most profitable years.

For example, border crossings rose in the months before President Trump took office in part because coyotes encouraged people to hurry into the United States before the start of the crackdown that Trump had promised during his campaign. With Trump out of office, some prospective migrants likely feel impelled to seek refuge now, before another election could restore his policies.

But placing blame for the recent increase in border crossings entirely on the current administration’s policies ignores the reality that the federal government has held more children in custody in the past than it is holding right now, and that border crossings have soared and then dropped many times over the decades, seemingly irrespective of who is president.

Given, then, that the movement of unaccompanied minors has long ebbed and flowed—we are now experiencing the fourth so-called surge over the course of three administrations—why do border facilities still appear overwhelmed? The answer, in part, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2021 at 1:36 pm

Bob Pape was a beloved father and foster carer. Did ‘eat out to help out’ cost him his life?

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Sirin Kale writes in the Guardian:

Amanda Pape didn’t want to go on a city break to Birmingham during a pandemic, but her husband, Bob, a 53-year-old lawyer, insisted. “Bob was convinced that the government would not allow people to travel if it wasn’t safe,” says Amanda, a 56-year-old former teacher. Bob was persuasive – he was a lawyer, after all – so she relented. Along with her daughter, Jazzy, 19, one of Jazzy’s friends and a child Bob and Amanda were fostering, they booked three nights in a Holiday Inn from 2 August 2020.

The family, from Altrincham, Greater Manchester, stayed from Sunday to Wednesday, to make the most of the government’s “eat out to help out” (EOTHO) scheme, which offered food and soft drink discounts on Mondays to Wednesdays in August. Right until they left for Birmingham, Amanda was uneasy. She was on the verge of cancelling. It felt wrong.

In the end, they had a wonderful time. They visited Cadbury World, where Bob got overexcited and bought too much chocolate at the gift shop. They ate at Five Guys, a Jamaican restaurant and a brewery. “Me and Amanda visited the local Brewdog for a pint,” Bob wrote in his diary. “It was almost normal!” Most mornings, Bob fetched breakfast for everyone from McDonald’s. Amanda would shove a bottle of hand sanitiser at him before he left and remind him to use it.

On their final night, they had dinner at Wetherspoon’s with the kids. There was a bit of ugliness – a man at a nearby table was leering at Jazzy, so they moved seats. “I was concerned as some guys were getting lairy,” Bob said in his diary. Bob took Amanda and their foster child back to the hotel before returning for the girls. It was just as well because Jazzy was a bit the worse for wear. Bob hauled her home and put her to bed.

Where did Bob contract Covid? From the touch-screen he used to place his McDonald’s orders? At Five Guys, where they were careful to sit at a large table, away from everyone else? Amanda thinks about this now, late at night, running through all the places they visited on that weekend when everything was still right in the world and her partner of 11 years was by her side, smiling and carefree, and she thought this blasted pandemic was coming to an end.

Driving home, Amanda was in ebullient spirits. She was silly to have worried. They had had a great trip. Life was good.

There were two Bob Papes. If you had met the first, you would have seen a man dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, most likely with a beer in hand. He was cheerful, gregarious and loved to travel. Bob had no volume control and his constant wisecracking made some people wince. “His entire existence was about embarrassing me,” says Jazzy, a law student, with a sigh. “He wore Hawaiian shirts everywhere. And he was so loud when we were out. I would tell him to be quiet because people were looking.” Bob would look at you intently, make bad jokes, ask you questions about your life and really want to know the answers. “He collected people in the way some people collect bottles,” says Amanda. “He would talk to a stranger in a bar for hours.”

The second Bob was different. This was the lawyer who specialised in child support issues. He was respected and competitive. “If the judgment went his way, he’d say: ‘1-0,’ and wink,” remembers his friend and sometime legal adversary Mike Smith. But Bob preferred to keep his cases out of the tribunal courts, if possible, concerned for the welfare of the child. Most of the time, Bob would encourage his clients to come to an agreement out of the courtroom. If Smith was the opposing counsel, Bob would call him up and ask: how can we resolve this? It was better for the child that way. Less acrimony.

And woe betide a parent who was trying to hide their assets, to cheat their former partner out of child support. He would force them to come clean – even if they were his own client. “His big thing was fairness,” says Smith. “Just because you and your partner have separated doesn’t mean you can walk away from your responsibilities to the child. He was a great believer in that.”

Bob was born in Boston, Lincolnshire. His father was a telecoms engineer; his mother a homemaker. His childhood was wild and carefree. “They all had weird nicknames and would chuck themselves off bridges into the river and hope they didn’t break their necks,” says Amanda. At 16, Bob began temping in a law firm. He was not ambitious and lacked focus. “His first job had been collecting trolleys at the local supermarket, but he’d got fired from that for not paying attention,” says Amanda. “His dad wondered how long it would be before he got sacked from the law firm.”

Bob’s job there was to move boxes around and sort paperwork. On slow days, he would read the files. He started asking the lawyers about their cases. One of the senior partners at the firm began to take an interest in him. “He took Bob under his wing and said: ‘If you want to learn, I will teach you. I will pass on to you everything I know if you promise me that you’ll teach someone else one day,’” says Amanda. Bob founded his own firm, specialising in child support cases, in 1997.

When the senior partner died, he left Bob his wig in his will. On hearing this, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Later in the article, the thorn:

When the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced EOTHO in a statement to parliament last summer, Covid cases were falling. Just 640 were reported in the UK on that day, 8 July. “I know people are cautious about going out, but we would not have lifted the restrictions if we did not think we could do so safely,” said a bullish Sunak, the second-youngest chancellor in history.

Sunak was the driving force behind EOTHO; promotional images for the initiative had his signature on them. He was riding high at the time, basking in approval ratings higher than those of the prime minister. A political unknown just six months previously, he was now beloved by the British public for turning on the spending taps. The government-funded scheme gave consumers 50% off the cost of food and soft drinks, up to a maximum discount of £10 a person, in participating businesses on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August. A total of 160m meals were claimed at 78,116 participating outlets that month, meaning that about 1.5 meals were claimed for each person in the UK.

Two days before Sunak’s announcement, Prof Lidia Morawska of Queensland University of Technology published an open letter, warning the World Health Organization (WHO) and national healthcare authorities of the dangers of airborne transmission of Covid. Her letter was signed by 239 scientists from around the world. “We are 100% sure about this,” Morawska said at the time, warning governments that 1- or 2-metre social distancing rules in indoor settings did not protect people from infection via airborne Covid particles. “These rules are completely arbitrary,” Morawska says. “They just prevent people from inhaling very large particles. But very small particles, which come out of a person’s mouth or nose when they are speaking, can stay in the air for a very long time and go much further than 1 metre.”

These Covid-19 particles range in size from less than a micrometre up to 100 micrometres, roughly the width of a strand of human hair. Even an asymptomatic person can shed them simply by breathing and talking; people with Covid are the most infectious in the first week of infection, often before the onset of symptoms. In an indoor restaurant setting, particularly one with poor ventilation or reliant on air-conditioning, these particles may circulate freely in the air, infecting people at tables metres away from the infected person. “Imagine you’re in a restaurant with a smoking area,” says Morawska. “There’s no one smoking in the area you’re in. But you can still smell the smoke from the other area. In the same way, the virus can travel with this air flow.”

It is impossible to estimate how far airborne Covid particles can travel in an indoor setting. “They will travel as far as the airflow takes them,” says Morawska. “That may be metres or tens of metres.” UK government guidance requires that restaurants space tables at least one metre apart, with rules to mitigate risk, such as removing multiuse items including menus, mandating table service to avoid people clustering together at the bar, requiring face coverings when not eating or drinking and improving ventilation.

Han Liu of the University of Minnesota has modelled the transmission of Covid in restaurant settings. “Only keeping 6ft [1.8 metres] away from each other is not enough in some circumstances,” says Liu. He cites other factors, such as air-conditioning, ventilation and even the way body heat can cause air particles to rise and circulate. “All of these factors will create a complex flow pattern that will drive small droplets further than 6ft from a spot and infect other people.” Although Liu’s study was published in February 2021, he points me towards a paper published in July 2020 that examined a Covid outbreak in a restaurant in Guangzhou, China. It came to similar conclusions.

Did the government consult scientists before the introduction of the EOTHO scheme? Speaking at an Institute for Government briefing in November 2020, Prof John Edmunds, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that Sage was not informed in advance about EOTHO. The Treasury has never said if it sought advice from other, non-Sage-affiliated, scientists prior to the introduction of the scheme. In January 2021, the Labour MP Bridget Phillipson asked Sunak if he would publish a copy of the epidemiological advice he received before introducing EOTHO. The Treasury minister Jesse Norman said the scheme was designed in “a safe and responsible manner”, but his department has failed to publish any advice.

Had the government consulted Sage or other scientists before the introduction of EOTHO, they could have warned the chancellor about the risk of airborne transmission of the virus in indoor restaurant settings. The evidence was already there. “We knew this was a respiratory virus and we knew all along that it was transmitted by the air,” Morawska says. “If the government was telling people to eat out in restaurants in August, but didn’t do anything to protect people from airborne transmission, then it was just exposing people to the virus.”

The day after Morawska’s open letter, the WHO publicly acknowledged the risk of airborne transmission of Covid. The day after that, Sunak stepped up to the dispatch box and announced the EOTHO policy. Afterwards, he travelled to a central London branch of the restaurant chain Wagamama. In front of photographers, a grinning chancellor served customers with his sleeves rolled up. He did not wear a mask. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2021 at 1:24 pm

“Why we can’t have nice things” — Planned obsolescence

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I found this video very interesting, but it does not mention the benign aspect of planned obsolescence: if you expect a device — a washing machine, for example — to have a useful life of 15 years, don’t put a motor guaranteed to last 100 years in it (since that would drive up the cost for no purpose).

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2021 at 12:25 pm

Another exquisite shave, with notes on brush break-in

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Today I soaked the knot of this brush, a step I normally omit when the brush is badger. However, given that this brush is still learning the ropes, it seemed a good thing to try. I also selected Otoko Organics, which is unlike other soaps, thinking that it might help the break-in along by presenting a different detergent profile.

And of course I began with Grooming Dept pre-shave. I think that the rubbing with wet fingers in the second half of the application contributes to its efficacy. Specifically:

  1. Wet stubble.
  2. Rub a pea-sized amount of pre-shave into the stubble, all over, massaging it well into skin and stubble for 30 seconds.
  3. Wet fingers and continue to massage your face. I did a second wetting of my fingers this morning, followed by more massaging for a total of 30 more seconds.

I then rinsed my hand, loaded the brush, and began the shave. The pre-shave’s glide seemed more pronounced this morning, but that’s probably a combination of things — the application technique, the Otoko lather, and the excellent MJ90-A, which truly is an excellent razor.

I noted the glide was particularly pronounced, and also that the brush performed better — either the break-in is progressing, or Otoko works especially well with the brush, or both.

Three passes left my face perfectly smooth — the exceptional smoothness that is such a pleasure — and a good splash of June Clover finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2021 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

Ad hoc greens (the best kind)

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Finished cooking and one bowl removed and eaten with great gusto.

These turned out exceptionally tasty, all cooked from what’s on hand because I didn’t want to go to the supermarket. Use 4-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan.

• about 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 spring onions, chopped with leaves

• 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled, chopped, and rested for 15 minutes
• 2 300g block of frozen chopped spinach
• 6 miniature San Lorenzo tomatoes (finished them off)
• 6 very small domestic white mushrooms, halved
• 1 lemon, ends discarded, cut into slabs and diced
• 2 chipotle peppers, ends discard, cut into small pieces with seeds
• about a dozen kalamata olives with a little of the juice (finished the jar)
• 5-6 good dashes fish sauce
• pinch of salt

Sauté onions until transparent and almost starting to brown. Add other ingredients, cover, and cook on low (3.0) for 35 minutes, going in after 20 minutes to break up the two blocks of spinach.

It is very tasty. I thought about adding a few shavings of nutmeg, but forgot. I do add a spoonful of pumpkin seed to a serving and stir it in.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 3:59 pm

Inside the Koch-Backed Effort to Block the Largest Election-Reform Bill in Half a Century

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Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker:

In public, Republicans have denounced Democrats’ ambitious electoral-reform bill, the For the People Act, as an unpopular partisan ploy. In a contentious Senate committee hearing last week, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, slammed the proposal, which aims to expand voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics, as “a brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats.” But behind closed doors Republicans speak differently about the legislation, which is also known as House Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 1. They admit the lesser-known provisions in the bill that limit secret campaign spending are overwhelmingly popular across the political spectrum. In private, they concede their own polling shows that no message they can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections.

A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups—including one run by the Koch brothers’ network—reveals the participants’ worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too. The speakers on the call expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill’s provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors. The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.

Kyle McKenzie, the research director for the Koch-run advocacy group Stand Together, told fellow-conservatives and Republican congressional staffers on the call that he had a “spoiler.” “When presented with a very neutral description” of the bill, “people were generally supportive,” McKenzie said, adding that “the most worrisome part . . . is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description.” In fact, he warned, “there’s a large, very large, chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.”

As a result, McKenzie conceded, the legislation’s opponents would likely have to rely on Republicans in the Senate, where the bill is now under debate, to use “under-the-dome-type strategies”—meaning legislative maneuvers beneath Congress’s roof, such as the filibuster—to stop the bill, because turning public opinion against it would be “incredibly difficult.” He warned that the worst thing conservatives could do would be to try to “engage with the other side” on the argument that the legislation “stops billionaires from buying elections.” McKenzie admitted, “Unfortunately, we’ve found that that is a winning message, for both the general public and also conservatives.” He said that when his group tested “tons of other” arguments in support of the bill, the one condemning billionaires buying elections was the most persuasive—people “found that to be most convincing, and it riled them up the most.”

McKenzie explained that the Koch-founded group had invested substantial resources “to see if we could find any message that would activate and persuade conservatives on this issue.” He related that “an A.O.C. message we tested”—one claiming that the bill might help Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez achieve her goal of holding “people in the Trump Administration accountable” by identifying big donors—helped somewhat with conservatives. But McKenzie admitted that the link was tenuous, since “what she means by this is unclear.” “Sadly,” he added, not even attaching the phrase “cancel culture” to the bill, by portraying it as silencing conservative voices, had worked. “It really ranked at the bottom,” McKenzie said to the group. “That was definitely a little concerning for us.”

Gretchen Reiter, the senior vice-president of communications for Stand Together, declined to respond to questions about the conference call or the Koch group’s research showing the robust popularity of the proposed election reforms. In an e-mailed statement, she said, “Defending civil liberties requires more than a sound bite,” and added that the group opposes the bill because “a third of it restricts First Amendment rights.” She included a link to an op-ed written by a member of Americans for Prosperity, another Koch-affiliated advocacy group, which argues that the legislation violates donors’ freedom of expression by requiring the disclosure of the names of those who contribute ten thousand dollars or more to nonprofit groups involved in election spending. Such transparency, the op-ed suggests, could subject donors who prefer to remain anonymous to retaliation or harassment.

The State Policy Network, a confederation of right-wing think tanks with affiliates in every state, convened the conference call days after the Democrats’ twin victories in the Senate runoffs in Georgia, which meant that the Party had won the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress, making it likely that the For the People Act would move forward. Participants included Heather Lauer, the executive director of People United for Privacy, a conservative group fighting to keep nonprofit donors’ identities secret, and Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, who expressed alarm at the damage that the disclosure provisions could do. “The left is not stupid, they’re evil,” he warned. “They know what they’re doing. They have correctly decided that this is the way to disable the freedom movement.”

Coördinating directly with the right-wing policy groups, which define themselves as nonpartisan for tax purposes, were two top Republican congressional staffers: Caleb Hays, the general counsel to the Republicans on the House Administration Committee, and Steve Donaldson, a policy adviser to McConnell. “When it comes to donor privacy, I can’t stress enough how quickly things could get out of hand,” Donaldson said, indicating McConnell’s concern about the effects that disclosure requirements would have on fund-raising. Donaldson added, “We have to hold our people together,” and predicted that the fight is “going to be a long one. It’s going to be a messy one.” But he insisted that McConnell was “not going to back down.” Neither Donaldson nor Hays responded to requests for comment. David Popp, a spokesperson for McConnell, said, “We don’t comment on private meetings.”

Nick Surgey, the executive director of Documented, a progressive watchdog group that investigates corporate money in politics, told me it made sense that McConnell’s staffer was on the call, because the proposed legislation “poses a very real threat to McConnell’s source of power within the Republican Party, which has always been fund-raising.” Nonetheless, he said that the close coördination on messaging and tactics between the Republican leadership and technically nonpartisan outside-advocacy groups was “surprising to see.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 1:24 pm

Astounding footage — staged, but…. wow!

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Daily life, Video

Physicist Nassim Haramein’s Prediction that the Universe is Rotating Receives a Second Strong Observational Confirmation

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As is often said, the universe is not just weirder than you imagine, but weirder than you can imagine. William Brown, Resonance Science Foundation Research Scientist, writes in Resonance Science:

In the Resonance Science Foundation article The Rotating Universe, the evidence for a large-scale spatial coherence of the spin axes of quasars spanning mega parsecs (billions of light years) was reported. This was the first incontrovertible evidence of a cosmological-scale structure, or anisotropy, of the universe—following the controversial findings of dark flowthe axis of evilthe great wall and great voids, and the great cold spot.

Such large-scale structure is problematic to most cosmological models because the universe is assumed to be isotropic and homogeneous; in fact, this is so central to cosmological modeling that it is called the cosmological principle. Any deviation from a symmetric and random orientation of galaxies (isotropic ordering) would mean current models are wrong and would be unexplainable with conventional theory.

Damien Hutsemékers, the lead astronomer of the team at the University of Liège in Belgium which discovered the anomalous synchronization of galaxies, stated: “Existence of correlations in quasar axes over such extreme scales would constitute a serious anomaly for the cosmological principle.”

However, physicist Nassim Haramein’s cosmological model emerging from his discoveries in unified physics not only describes the origin and nature of large-scale structure, but it also posited a priori such anisotropic ordering. The key solution Haramein provided is that in addition to generating curvature of spacetime geometry, mass-energy also induces a torque component in spacetime so that it curves and spins. Therefore, wherever you have a high-density of matter, such as in protons, planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe itself, there will be spin.

A spinning universe will have properties different from an isotropic universe. Namely, there will be a definite orientation at large-scales, resulting in spatial coherence of a galaxy’s rotational direction and the average motion of its nearby neighbors, and it would be a definite rebuke of the cosmological principle of standard models.

Now, a study published in The Astrophysical Journal has identified “mysterious coherence in several-megaparsec scales between galaxy rotation and neighbor motion.” The study found that hundreds of galaxies were rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that were separated by up to 6 megaparsecs (about 20 million light years)—a correlation that should be impossible.

Lead author Joon Hyeop Lee, an astronomer at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, and his colleagues studied 445 galaxies within 400 million light years of Earth and found that the orientation of the rotation of the galaxies was correlated with the average movement, such that galaxies rotating in a specific orientation, say clockwise, were also all co-moving in the same direction, while galaxies that were rotating counter-clockwise were all moving in the opposite direction.

The observed coherence implies that all of the galaxies are embedded in a large-scale structure that is rotating counter-clockwise. This synchronization should not be there according to the currently accepted cosmological model (the lambda cold dark matter or ΛCDM model). However, in Haramein’s unified physics, this is exactly what is predicted to be observed based on his cosmological model.

This, however, is not the only anomalous coherence that has been found between galaxies. Over the last several decades, highly . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Trump’s secret sit-down with Ohio candidates turns into ‘Hunger Games’

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Alex Isenstadt reports in Politico:

It was a scene right out of “The Apprentice.”

Donald Trump was headlining a fundraiser on Wednesday night at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Fla. But before the dinner began, the former president had some business to take care of: He summoned four Republican Senate candidates vying for Ohio’s open Senate seat for a backroom meeting.

The contenders — former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP Chair Jane Timken, technology company executive Bernie Moreno and investment banker Mike Gibbons — had flown down to attend the fundraiser to benefit a Trump-endorsed Ohio candidate looking to oust one of the 10 House Republicans who backed his impeachment. As the candidates mingled during a pre-dinner cocktail reception, one of the president’s aides signaled to them that Trump wanted to huddle with them in a room just off the lobby.

What ensued was a 15-minute backroom backbiting session reminiscent of Trump’s reality TV show. Mandel said he was “crushing” Timken in polling. Timken touted her support on the ground thanks to her time as state party chair. Gibbons mentioned how he’d helped Trump’s campaign financially. Moreno noted that his daughter had worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign.

The scene illustrated what has become a central dynamic in the nascent 2022 race. In virtually every Republican primary, candidates are jockeying, auditioning and fighting for the former president’s backing. Trump has received overtures from a multitude of candidates desperate for his endorsement, something that top Republicans say gives him all-encompassing power to make-or-break the outcome of primaries.

And the former president, as was so often the case during his presidency, has seemed to relish pitting people against one another.

One person familiar with what transpired in Wednesday evening’s huddle described it as “Hunger Games,” an awkward showdown that none of them were expecting. Making matters even more uncomfortable, this person said, was that the rival candidates sat at a circular table, making it so that each had to face the others.

Trump kicked off the meeting by asking everyone to tell him about how the race was going. Timken, who was Trump’s handpicked state party chair, was the first to speak. She talked about the early support she’d received and how she’d worked to reelect him.

Two people familiar with the discussion said that Trump at one point reminded Timken that she’d initially defended Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) after he’d voted for Trump’s impeachment in January. That evening’s fundraiser was to benefit Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who was running to unseat Gonzalez, and the former president spoke derisively about the member of Congress throughout the evening, several attendees said. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 12:31 pm

The History of the Pivot Table, The Spreadsheet’s Most Powerful Tool

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Dan Knopf writes in Quartz:

Pivot tables are the quickest and most powerful way for the average person to analyze large datasets. No coding skills or mathematical brilliance are necessary—just the ability to point and click your mouse.

But don’t take our word for it. Pivot tables had a superfan in none other than Apple founder Steve Jobs, who immediately saw their genius.

In 1985, Jobs was forced out of his role as chairman of the board at Apple after failing to beat IBM in the business computer market. Fortunately, he was a stubborn man. Jobs immediately started the company NeXT, with the idea of taking on IBM once again.

As he developed the NeXT computer, which would launch in 1988, Jobs was looking for killer software programs to create demand for the product. From his experience at Apple, he knew that a good spreadsheet program could drive sales. Jobs credited VisiCalc, the first widely used spreadsheet software, for the huge success of the Apple II computer, released in 1979.

In his search for that need-to-have product, Jobs met with software company Lotus. The organization had already developed Lotus 1-2-3, a popular spreadsheet program that ran on IBM computers. It was in these meetings that Jobs would first stumble upon the “pivot table.”

Software developer Pito Salas was at the time working in research and development for Lotus, looking into how people typically utilize spreadsheets. Salas saw that users would often use spreadsheets to try to calculate summary statistics by categories (often referred to as crosstabs). For example, a company selling bicycles might want to examine their data to find unit sales by month or revenue by country. The way people did that at the time was cumbersome and error-prone because it involved writing complicated formulas.

Salas decided the world needed software that would make those calculations simple. Rather than enter formulas, users would be able to point and click to get those summary statistics. The Lotus team called this tool “flexible views,” but today similar tools are called “pivot tables” in both Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets.

The Lotus team showed Jobs an early prototype. “Steve Jobs thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Salas, now a professor at Brandeis University, tells Quartz. Jobs then convinced Lotus to develop the pivot table software exclusively for the NeXT computer. The software came out as Lotus Improv, and though the NeXT computer was a commercial failure, Lotus Improv would be hugely influential. The “flexible views” aspect of Improv would be built into both Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel (the latter was the first to actually use the term “pivot table”).

Bill Jelen, Excel evangelist and co-author of Pivot Table Data Crunching, credits Salas as the “father of pivot tables.” Salas says his contribution to pivot tables is one of his life’s most gratifying accomplishments, though he believes he was just building on the foundations of many others.

Today, pivot tables are among the most important and commonly used tools in the spreadsheet wizard’s toolbox. “A pivot table lets you create a one-page summary report from hundreds of thousands of rows of data, often in four, five, or six clicks,” says Jelen. “It is the fastest way to get answers from large datasets.”

It’s hard to know exactly how . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 11:44 am

Ships keep crashing because the maritime industry won’t apply the lessons of aviation.

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David Graham writes in the Atlantic:

When a big jet airplane crashes, it almost always makes headlines around the world, and for good reason: Fatal passenger accidents are extremely rare. Right now, though, the eyes of the world are on the Ever Given, the massive container ship still stubbornly lodged between the banks of the Suez Canal.

The Ever Given’s predicament is both highly unusual and typical: Seldom does a ship get stuck in the Suez (though it does happen every few years), and seldom does a maritime disaster attract such attention. But even though the world is incredibly dependent on ships like Ever Given—a reality that pandemic-related disruptions have suddenly made visible—major maritime incidents are surprisingly common. According to the insurer Allianz, 41 large ships were lost in 2019, and 46 in 2018. Over the past decade, about 100 big vessels have been lost annually.

Why does this keep happening? Every maritime accident, like every plane crash, has its own unique failures. But one key to the improvement in aviation safety was the advent of a radical new approach to safety and training, known as cockpit resource management or crew resource management. Airplane failures still occur, but they rarely become fatal catastrophes. The shipping industry has tried to learn from aviation’s success, dubbing its equivalent “bridge resource management,” but the implementation and modernization of the approach have largely failed.

The result is ships destroyed, vital goods delayed, and mariners’ lives lost. We still don’t have enough information to understand what happened on the Ever Given, with possible causes including a loss of power and high winds. But when I asked Captain John Konrad, a merchant mariner who runs the maritime-news site gCaptain, how many major ship incidents were a result of bad bridge resource management, he answered, “Every one. They are all BRM problems.”

When aviation took off, it borrowed its titles, uniforms, and practices from seafaring. The man (in that era) in charge of the plane was a captain, and he wore naval-style insignia. His second in command was the first officer or chief mate; the person in charge of the cabin, as on a ship, was the purser. At Pan Am, lead pilots were known as “clipper skippers,” taking the name from the airline’s famous flying boats.

A sea captain historically held nearly absolute authority aboard his ship. His power was unquestioned and unquestionable; in the British Navy, mutiny was a capital offense. Around the world, many captains retain the power to conduct weddings. They are traditionally also expected to be the last off a sinking ship, or to go down with it. When the captain of the Costa Concordia fled his sinking cruise ship in 2012, he was upbraided by Coast Guard officers and then the press. He was ultimately sentenced to 16 years in prison, including one year for abandoning passengers.

This power bred an imperiousness among captains, and it translated to aviation. The journalist William Langewiesche recounts a first officer’s quip that he was the captain’s sexual adviser, “because whenever I speak up, he says, ‘If I want your fucking advice, I’ll ask for it.’” But beginning in the 1970s, aviation experts realized that this approach was often to blame for crashes that might have been prevented if pilots had heeded advice from their co-pilots, flight engineers, or flight attendants.

In one famous CRM triumph, three pilots were able to save 184 of the 296 people aboard a 1989 United flight following a catastrophic engine failure. The captain, Alfred Haynes, later remembered, “Up until 1980, we kind of worked on the concept that the captain was the authority on the aircraft. What he said, goes. And we lost a few airplanes because of that. Sometimes the captain isn’t as smart as we thought he was … If I hadn’t used [CRM], if we had not let everybody put their input in, it’s a cinch we wouldn’t have made it.”

Some aviation failures are still associated with bad cockpit culture. Six months later, an Avianca flight landing at JFK crashed, killing most on board, after it ran out of fuel—a problem that the National Transportation Safety Board attributed to poor communication both among the crew and with air-traffic control. Still, the gains have been impressive, especially in the United States: From 2009 to 2018, no U.S. airline had a single fatality.

But these advances in aviation haven’t made it aboard ships. “The maritime industry in the ’90s took CRM, the basics, and they created BRM,” Konrad said. “They kind of dumbed it down a little bit. They have not updated it since the ’90s.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 11:11 am

Ultra-smooth with Creed Green Irish Tweed and the iKon stainless slant

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The shave began with Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, and then Creed’s quite good (although overpriced in terms of quality per dollar as compared with some of the premium artisan soaps) Green Irish Tweed shaving soap. The lather from this soap is excellent. This brush has two interchangeable knots: the black and white Target Shot synthetic and this silvertip badger. I’ve used the badger infrequently because (a) I like the synthetic, and (b) the few times I’ve used the badger knot it did not seem to accept lather so readily.

This morning it occurred to me that the brush may simply require some more break-in. New boar brushes will actively kill lather until they are used enough that whatever kills the lather leaves the bristles. Badger brushes are not so reluctant to lather, and in my experience after I’ve used them once or twice they perform as well as they ever will. However, this may be an undertreated exception. I’m going to try using it daily for a while and see whether the performance improves. It’s not a bad knot, it just has an odd hesitancy in its relationship with lather, as if it were not yet ready to fully embrace lather and lathering.

iKon’s stainless slant, here with a DLC coating on the head, is right now my favorite slant. Once I moved the handle farther from my face and lightened up on the pressure, it’s performed flawlessly, and the smoothness of my skin following this shave is remarkable.

A small splash of Creed Green Irish Tweed EDT as an aftershave, and the week begins, a week that will take us into April. Spring is definitely here.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 9:51 am

Posted in Shaving

Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.

The Civil War brought two great innovations to the United States that would mix together to shape our politics from 1865 onward:

First, the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln created our first national system of taxation, including the income tax. For the first time in our history, having a say in society meant having a say in how other people’s money was spent.

Second, the Republicans gave Black Americans a say in society.

They added the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing human enslavement except as punishment for crime and, when white southerners refused to rebuild the southern states with their free Black neighbors, in March 1867 passed the Military Reconstruction Act. This landmark law permitted Black men in the South to vote for delegates to write new state constitutions. The new constitutions confirmed the right of Black men to vote.

Most former Confederates wanted no part of this new system. They tried to stop voters from ratifying the new constitutions by dressing up in white sheets as the ghosts of dead southern soldiers, terrorizing Black voters and the white men who were willing to rebuild the South on these new terms to keep them from the polls. They organized as the Ku Klux Klan, saying they were “an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy, and patriotism” intended “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… [and] to aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws.” But by this they meant the Constitution before the war and the Thirteenth Amendment: candidates for admission to the Ku Klux Klan had to oppose “Negro equality both social and political” and favor “a white man’s government.”

The bloody attempts of the Ku Klux Klan to suppress voting didn’t work. The new constitutions went into effect, and in 1868 the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union with Black male suffrage. In that year’s election, Georgia voters put 33 Black Georgians into the state’s general assembly, only to have the white legislators expel them on the grounds that the Georgia state constitution did not explicitly permit Black men to hold office.

The Republican Congress refused to seat Georgia’s representatives that year—that’s the “remanded to military occupation” you sometimes hear about– and wrote the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution protecting the right of formerly enslaved people to vote and, by extension, to hold office. The amendment prohibits a state from denying the right of citizens to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

So white southerners determined to prevent Black participation in society turned to a new tactic. Rather than opposing Black voting on racial grounds—although they certainly did oppose Black rights on these grounds– they complained that the new Black voters, fresh from their impoverished lives as slaves, were using their votes to redistribute wealth.

To illustrate their point, they turned to South Carolina, where between 1867 and 1876, a majority of South Carolina’s elected officials were African American. To rebuild the shattered state, the legislature levied new taxes on land, although before the war taxes had mostly fallen on the personal property owned by professionals, bankers, and merchants. The legislature then used state funds to build schools, hospitals, and other public services, and bought land for resale to settlers—usually freedpeople—at low prices.

White South Carolinians complained that members of the legislature, most of whom were professionals with property who had usually been free before the war, were lazy, ignorant field hands using public services to redistribute wealth.

Fears of workers destroying society grew potent in early 1871, when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 9:24 pm

“I see no color” is not the goal.

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 7:11 pm

What Can We Learn from a Big Boat Stuck in a Canal?

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Matt Stoller explains in his current BIG column:

Today I’ll be writing about the big boat stuck in the Suez Canal. This situation is a very simple and dumb disruption to global trade, and it is precisely the simplicity and stupidity at work that lets us peak beneath the glossy sheen of trade happy talk that has fooled us for so long.

First, some house-keeping. A few years ago I wrote a piece in the American Conservative with national security expert Lucas Kunce on private equity and monopolies in the military defense base. Kunce is now running for Senate on an anti-monopoly platform. I don’t tend to mention political candidates in this newsletter, but I’ll put a caveat in there for people who have a bylined article with me about monopoly power. Also, this week I was on the podcast Useful Idiots with Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper to talk about why changing the business model behind big tech is better than censorship.

Finally, my organization is doing an event on health care monopolies this coming Tuesday at 2pm ET. If you are interested, you can RSVP here.

And now…

The Empire State Building Falls into the Suez Canal

In this newsletter, I do a lot of explaining about complicated problems caused by big dumb corporate institutions. I don’t have to do that this time, because the story of the mess in the Suez is so simple. “After years of bitcoin and reddit short selling and credit default swaps and a million other things I don’t understand,” one random person put in a tweet that went viral, “it’s so refreshing to hear that global commerce is in peril because a big boat got stuck in a canal.”

That’s basically the story right there, it’s a big boat and it got stuck in a canal. The ship blocking the Suez, called the Ever Given, weights 220,000 tons, and is as long as the Empire State Building is high. Despite the hilarious nature of the problem, the disruption to world trade is large and serious, costing tens of billions of dollars. And if the ship can’t be dislodged soon, some consumers will once again experience shortages of basic staples like toilet paper.

That said, the reason this disruption to global commerce seems so dumb is because it is. It starts with the ship size itself. Over the last few decades, ships have gotten really really big, four times the size of what they were 25 years ago, what the FT calls “too big to sail.’ The argument behind making such massive boats was efficiency, since you can carry more at a lower cost. The downside of such mega-ships should have been obvious. Ships like this, which are in effect floating islands, are really hard to steer in tight spaces like ports and canals, and if they get stuck, they are difficult to unstick. In other words, the super smart wizard financiers who run global trade made ships that don’t fit in the canals they need to fit into.

The rise of mega-ships is paralleled by the consolidation of the shipping industry itself. In 2000, the ten biggest shipping companies had a 12% market share, by 2019 that share had increased to 82%. This understates the consolidation, because there are alliances among these shippers. The stuck ship is being run by the Taiwanese shipping conglomerate Evergreen, which bought Italian shipping firm Italia Marittima in 1998 and London-based Hatsu in 2002, and is itself part of the OCEAN alliance, which has more than a third of global shipping.

Making ships massive, and combining such massive ships into massive shipping monopolies, is a bad way to run global commerce. We’ve already seen significant problems from big shipping lines helping to transmit financial shocks into trade shocks, such as when Korean shipper Hanjin went under and stranded $14 billion of cargo on the ocean while in bankruptcy. It’s also much harder for small producers and retailers to get shipping space, because large shippers want to deal with large clients. And fewer ports can handle these mega-ships, so such ships induce geographical inequality. Increasingly, we’re not moving ships between cities, we’re moving cities to where the small number of giant shipping lines find it efficient to ship.

Dumb big ships owned by monopolies are the result of dumb big ideas, the physical manifestation of what Thomas Friedman was pushing in the 1990s and 2000s with books such as The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The World is Flatthe idea that “taking fat out of the system at every joint” was leading towards a more prosperous, peaceful and competitive world. Friedman’s was a finance-friendly perspective, a belief that making us all interdependent with a very thin margin of error would force global cooperation.

Just make ships bigger, went the thinking, until . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 6:29 pm

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