Later On

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

Archive for March 22nd, 2021

A common theme in the US

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The NRA and gun enthusiasts accept the carnage as just the price we pay for having guns freely available, and they think it’s worth it. Others disagree.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 9:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Guns

Death by gentrification: the killing that shamed San Francisco

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Rebecca Solnit writes in the Guardian:

On 4 March, on what would have been his 30th birthday, Alejandro Nieto’s parents left a packed courtroom in San Francisco, shortly before pictures from their son’s autopsy were shown to a jury. The photographs showed what happens when 14 bullets rip through a person’s head and body. Refugio and Elvira Nieto spent much of the rest of the day sitting on a bench in the windowless hall of the federal building where their civil lawsuit for their son’s wrongful death was being heard.

Alex Nieto was 28 years old when he was killed, in the neighbourhood where he had spent his whole life. He died in a barrage of bullets fired at him by four San Francisco policemen. There are a few things about his death that everyone agrees on: he was in a hilltop park eating a burrito and tortilla chips, wearing the Taser he carried for his job as a bouncer at a nightclub, when someone called 911 on him a little after 7pm on the evening of 21 March 2014. When police officers arrived a few minutes later, they claim Nieto defiantly pointed the Taser at them, and that they mistook its red laser light for the laser sights of a gun, and shot him in self defence. However, the stories of the four officers contradict each other, and some of the evidence.

On the road that curves around the green hilltop of Bernal Heights Park there is an unofficial memorial to Nieto. People walking dogs or running or taking a stroll stop to read the banner, which is pinned by stones to the slope of the hill and surrounded by fresh and artificial flowers. Alex’s father Refugio still visits the memorial at least once a day, walking up from his small apartment on the south side of Bernal Hill. Alex Nieto had been walking on the hill since he was a child: that evening his parents, joined by friends and supporters, went up there in the dark to bring a birthday cake up to the memorial.

Refugio and Elvira Nieto are reserved people, straight-backed but careworn, who speak eloquently in Spanish and hardly at all in English. They had known each other as poor children in a little town in central Mexico and emigrated separately to the Bay Area in the 1970s, where they met again and married in 1984. They have lived in the same building on the south slope of Bernal Hill ever since. She worked for decades as a housekeeper in San Francisco’s downtown hotels and is now retired. He had worked on the side, but mostly stayed at home as the principal caregiver of Alex and his younger brother Hector. In the courtroom, Hector, handsome, sombre, with glossy black hair pulled back neatly, sat with his parents most days, not far from the three white and one Asian policemen who killed his brother. That there was a trial at all was a triumph. The city had withheld from family and supporters the full autopsy report and the names of the officers who shot Nieto, and it was months before the key witness overcame his fear of the police to come forward.

Nieto died because a series of white men saw him as a menacing intruder in the place he had spent his whole life. They thought he was possibly a gang member because he was wearing a red jacket. Many Latino boys and men in San Francisco avoid wearing red and blue because they are the colours of two gangs, the Norteños and Sureños – but the colours of San Francisco’s football team, the 49ers, are red and gold. Wearing a 49ers jacket in San Francisco is as ordinary as wearing a Saints jersey in New Orleans. That evening, Nieto, who had thick black eyebrows and a closely cropped goatee, was wearing a new-looking 49ers jacket, a black 49ers cap, a white T-shirt, black trousers, and carried the Taser in a holster on his belt, under his jacket. (Tasers shoot out wires that deliver an electrical shock, briefly paralysing their target; they are shaped roughly like a gun, but more bulbous; Nieto’s had bright yellow markings over much of its surface and a 15-foot range.)

Nieto had first been licensed by the state as a security guard in 2007 and had worked in that field since. He had never been arrested and had no police record, an achievement in a neighbourhood where Latino kids can get picked up just for hanging out. He was a Buddhist: a Latino son of immigrants who practised Buddhism is the kind of hybrid San Francisco used to be good at. As a teen he had worked as a youth counsellor for almost five years at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center; he was outgoing and participated in political campaigns, street fairs and community events.

He had graduated from community college with a focus on criminal justice, and hoped to help young people as a probation officer. He had an internship with the city’s juvenile probation department not long before his death, according to former city probation officer Carlos Gonzalez, who became a friend. Gonzalez said Nieto knew how criminal justice worked in the city. No one has ever provided a convincing motive for why he would point a gun-shaped object at the police when he knew that it would probably be a fatal act.

n the evening of 21 March 2014, Evan Snow, a thirtysomething “user experience design professional”, according to his LinkedIn profile, who had moved to the neighbourhood about six months earlier (and who has since departed for a more suburban environment), took his young Siberian husky for a walk on Bernal Hill.

As Snow was leaving the park, Nieto was coming up one of the little dirt trails that leads to the park’s ring road, eating chips. In a deposition prior to the trial, Snow said that with his knowledge of the attire of gang members, he “put Nieto in that category of people that I would not mess around with”.

His dog put Nieto in the category of people carrying food, and went after him. Snow never seemed to recognise that his out-of-control dog was the aggressor: “So Luna was, I think, looking to move around the benches or behind me to run up happily to get a chip from Mr Nieto. Mr Nieto became further – what’s the right word? – distressed, moving very quickly and rapidly left to right, trying to keep his chips away from Luna. He ran down to these benches and jumped up on the benches, my dog following. She was at that point vocalising, barking, or kind of howling.”

The dog had Nieto cornered on the bench while its inattentive owner was 40 feet away – in his deposition for the case, under oath, his exact words were that he was distracted by a female “jogger’s butt”. “I can imagine that somebody would – could assume the dog was being aggressive at that point,” Snow said. The dog did not come when he called, but kept barking. Nieto, Snow says, then pulled back his jacket and took his Taser out, briefly pointing at the distant dog-owner before he pointed it at the dog baying at his feet. The two men yelled at each other, and Snow apparently used a racial slur, but would not later give the precise word. As he left the park, he texted a friend about the incident. His text, according to his testimony, said, “in another state like Florida, I would have been justified in shooting Mr Nieto that night” – a reference to that state’s infamous “stand your ground” law, which removes the obligation to retreat before using force in self-defence. In other words, he apparently wished he could have done what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin: execute him without consequences.

Soon after, a couple passed by Nieto. Tim Isgitt, a recent arrival in the area, is the communications director of a nonprofit organisation founded by tech billionaires. He now lives in suburban Marin County, as does his partner Justin Fritz, a self-described “email marketing manager” who had lived in San Francisco about a year. In a picture one of them posted on social media, they are chestnut-haired, clean-cut white men posing with their dogs, a springer spaniel and an old bulldog. They were walking those dogs when they passed Nieto at a distance.

Fritz did not notice anything unusual but Isgitt saw Nieto moving “nervously” and putting his hand on the Taser in its holster. Snow was gone, so Isgitt had no idea that Nieto had just had an ugly altercation and had reason to be disturbed. Isgitt began telling people he encountered to avoid the area. (One witness who did see Nieto shortly after Isgitt and Fritz, longtime Bernal Heights resident Robin Bullard who was walking his own dog in the park, testified that there was nothing alarming about him. “He was just sitting there,” Bullard said.)

At the trial, Fritz testified that he had not seen anything alarming about Nieto. He said that he called 911 because Isgitt urged him to. At about 7.11pm he began talking to the 911 dispatcher, telling her that there was a man with a black handgun. What race, asked the dispatcher, “black, Hispanic?” “Hispanic,” replied Fritz. Later, the dispatcher asked him if the man in question was doing “anything violent”, and Fritz answered, “just pacing, it looks like he might be eating chips or sunflowers, but he’s resting a hand kind of on the gun”. Alex Nieto had about five more minutes to live.

San Francisco was never anti-newcomer: until recently, it had always been a place where new people arrived to reinvent themselves. When they arrive in a trickle, they integrate and contribute to the ongoing transformation. When they arrive in a flood, as they have during economic booms since the 19th-century gold rush, including the dotcom surge of the late 1990s and the current tech tsunami, they scour out what was there before. By 2012 the incursion of tech workers had gone from steady stream to deluge, and more and more people and institutions – bookstores, churches, social services, bars, small businesses – began to be evicted.

San Francisco had been a place where some people came out of idealism or stayed to realize an ideal: to work for social justice or teach the disabled, to write poetry or practise alternative medicine – to be part of something larger than themselves that was not a corporation, to live for something more than money. That was becoming less and less possible as rent and sale prices for homes spiralled upward. What the old-timers were afraid of losing, many of the newcomers seemed unable to recognise. The tech culture seemed in small and large ways to be a culture of disconnection and withdrawal. And it was very white, very male and pretty young, which is why I started to call my hometown “Fratistan”. (As of 2014, Google’s Silicon Valley employees, for example, were 2% black, 3% Latino, and 70% male.)

Tech companies created billionaires whose influence warped local politics, pushing for policies that served the new industry and their employees at the expense of the rest of the population. None of the money sloshing around the city trickled down to preserve the centre for homeless youth that closed in 2013, or the oldest black-owned black-focused bookstore in the country, which closed in 2014, or San Francisco’s last lesbian bar, which folded in 2015, or the African Orthodox Church of St John Coltrane, which is now facing eviction from the home it found after an earlier eviction during the late-1990s dotcom boom. Resentments rose. And cultures clashed. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US is a dangerous place for many of its citizens. Rather than protecting them, the police attack them.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 6:05 pm

A new shape in cut pasta

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Meme evolution continues: a recent pasta mutation, described by Heidi Glenn and Rachel Martin in an NPR story:

Why does the world need a new pasta shape?

For Dan Pashman, host of the food podcast The Sporkful, there’s just a lot of mediocre pasta out there. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

“Spaghetti is just a tube,” he tells Morning Edition. “After a few bites, it’s the same.” And its round shape means it’s not great at holding on to sauce.

Meet his cascatelli — Italian for “little waterfalls.”

To come up with his own shape, he bought, ate, studied and catalogued all kinds of existing pasta. “I brought together attributes from different shapes that I especially like that have never been brought together in this way before,” he says.

Cascatelli is short, with a flat strip and ruffles that stick out at a 90-degree angle. The ruffles give the shape texture, Pashman says.

“That right-angle element is really key to what I think makes this shape different,” he says. “There are very few pasta shapes that have right angles. It provides resistance to the bite at all angles. It creates kind of like an I-beam, and that makes for a very satisfying bite.”

Pashman has documented his three-year effort to invent a new pasta shape, have a die-maker create a mold and then ultimately sell it. “If  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food, Memes

An unholy union: The battle in Bessemer

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Kim Kelly has an excellent report in Vox that gives a fuller picture of what is at stake and why the union movement there has energy (and why Amazon is panicked about it). Read the article. Here are two paragraphs from it:

In a statement to Vox similar to one issued to other news organizations, Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox noted the starting pay, full health care, 401(k) match, and other benefits the company provides its Bessemer workforce. “We don’t believe [the retail workers’ union, under which the workers would organize] represents the majority of our employees’ views,” she wrote. “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”

But organizers say the union effort is not a fight over a $15 or $16 wage — though Amazon founder Jeff Bezos made nearly $75 billion in 2020. It is a matter of morality, of just who will make money off their labors. It’s a question of good and evil, about what is righteous, and just, and fair. For these workers and the organizers who have traveled from across the South to support their unionization effort, this is their David and Goliath story. What they want is dignity.

See also “On the Overnight Shift with the Amazon Union Organizers,” by Charles Bethea, in the New Yorker. It begins:

At three-twenty-seven on a recent morning in Bessemer, Alabama, Randy Hadley, a sixty-five-year-old man, was dancing at a traffic light. He wore a fedora and had a trimmed white goatee, and he waved a sign as he shimmied: “Without Change, Nothing Changes.” Beside him, a burly younger man named Curtis Gray held up a different sign: “Don’t Back Down.” Gray watched Hadley, who, in turn, watched workers file out of the nine-hundred-thousand-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center up the hill, near where ancient Native American mounds once stood.

“I don’t know what kind of dance that is,” Gray said, pulling his hood up against the cold. He and Hadley, members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, have been passing out pamphlets and holding up their signs in this spot almost every day since October, in an attempt to unionize a group of Amazon workers in America for the first time. Voting on whether to form a union has already begun. Gray’s earliest successful campaign was at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant, in Russellville, Alabama, a decade ago. Hadley’s been at it longer. He has honed the art of talking through boredom and bad weather.

“You could drive from here to Ohio, he’d talk the whole way,” Gray said.

“Coldest I’ve ever been on a line was in Minnesota,” Hadley said. “Windchill thirty-five below zero. To strike a Hormel factory in fucking February!” He tossed off some of his greatest hits: “I’ve organized a peanut-butter plant in Albany. A dog-food plant in Virginia. Poultry plants in Mississippi. All kinds of nursing homes. Piggly Wigglys.” He added, “I tried to organize a condom plant down in, uh . . . ”

“Eufaula,” Gray said.

“Down in Eufaula, yeah,” Hadley went on.

“That’s the one that Steve Harvey ended up buying,” Gray added.

Around four-fifteen, traffic picked up. Some workers waved as they drove away. Others honked. A few offered a thumbs-up. The majority sped into the dark without a sideward glance.

“She’s gotta drive all the way back to Walker County,” Gray said, reading the license plate of a beat-up Honda. “That’s a long ways.”

“Bless her heart,” Hadley said. He went on, “We’re here this early just in case she rolls her window down and we can lean over there and have a conversation for two minutes.” He added, “Some days you’ll catch fifteen. Some days you’ll catch fifty. It’s just like going fishing.”

Eventually, Hadley was in need of a rest room. “Jeff Bezos just built a house with twenty-five bathrooms,” he said when he returned from the woods.

“They ain’t got twenty-five in there,” Gray said, motioning to the warehouse.

A man drove by and honked affirmatively. “Our president was down here the other day,” Hadley said, “and he goes, ‘Everybody is so friendly. How do you know if they don’t like you?’ I said, ‘Trust me—you’ll get that finger in just a second.’ ”

Traffic picked up again around five. Employees  . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Unions

How Biden Can Clean Up Obama’s Big Tech Mess

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Last week, documents leaked showing that the Obama administration nearly brought antitrust charges against Google in 2012. I’m going to write about why they didn’t, the damage that decision caused, and why Biden will forge a different path.

Also in this column are short pieces on:

  • How Gmail Quietly Controls a Vital Channel for Political Speech
  • The Slow Collapse of Corporate Republicans
  • The Monopoly Behind the Nuclear Weapons Lobby
  • The Coming Merger Boom
  • Why Golf Clubs Are Getting Worse

Before the main event, some house-keeping. I have a piece in the New York Times on the Arizona state legislative fight against the app store monopolies of Google and Apple. Also, I was recently on Marketplace to talk about Google. Finally, reporter Alec McGillis has an important book out on Amazon and the tearing apart of American society. It’s called Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America, and I’ll be writing more about it shortly.

And now…

Bad Search Engine Results Kill People

Americans expect Google to deliver the most relevant and best results for any particular query. But Google has an edge case problem. When an unsophisticated or desperate user really needs information about something important, and marketers are trying to lie or defraud the user, Google may deliver results that are not only bad, but actively harmful.

For instance, in 2017, reporters Cat Ferguson and Dave Dayen showed that Google’s poor search results had become a useful tool for con artists trying to entice addicts and alcoholics to sham rehab facilities. Google’s marketing tools often worked, helping shoddy treatment center firms cheat addicts, some of whom no doubt relapsed.

Offering poor quality rehab facilities is wrong, and Google didn’t cheat the addicts directly. But what made this line of business profitable was among other things the easy access to customers enabled by using Google. Indeed, as Ferguson noted, these companies were “united by their dependence on Google.” Embarrassed by the publicity, Google eventually made some effort at addressing the problem, but never really figured out how to stop con artists from using its service to harm these desperate people.

Similarly, in 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported on millions of fake listings on Google Maps, which con artists used to cheat customers and blackmail honest small businesses. Users were screwed. But for businesses, the only recourse was to spend more ad money on Google; complaining got you nowhere, or worse. Said one businessman, “It’s less harmful to piss off the government than piss off Google. The government will hit me with a fine. But if Google suspends my listings, I’m out of a job. Google could make me homeless.”

In other words, while generally speaking you will get good results from Google, in edge cases you may get results that are extremely harmful, like a repairman who cheats you, a bad doctor, or someone who wants to steal your money in the guise of helping you recover from addiction. Since most people expect to get credible results from Google, it’s a form of mass deception. And those who rely on Google to convey information to customers, like small businesses, are often on a knife’s edge, existing at the whim of a search monopolist that does not notice them.

These quality problems are a result of Google’s monopoly; poor quality is a classic symptom of monopoly power. How Google seems to offer good results on the whole, but sometimes undermines quality at the edges, is a somewhat subtle story.

Why Does Google Help Kill Addicts Seeking Recovery Services?

Google’s main search engine is what is called a ‘general search engine,’ meaning it provides general results based on indexing most of the web.

There are other types of search engines. Yelp and Expedia, for instance, are known as ‘vertical search engines’ who focus on a much narrower topic, like local businesses and travel. You can’t ask Yelp generalized questions about research or culture, but it is likely better (though not perfect) at removing local restaurant listing spam than Google, because that is its entire business.

Of course Google isn’t just a general search engine. It has vertical search lines of business as well. It competes with Yelp, Expedia, etc, listing restaurants, health providers, travel information, etc, and has user reviews. But the incentives are different for Google. If Google Maps stopped listing every restaurant in New York City, the lost revenue literally wouldn’t show up on Google’s income statement. Yelp, however, would see it as a crisis for its business.

The CEO of Yelp no doubt spends a lot more time thinking about removing fake listings of restaurants than Google CEO Sundar Pichai, just because Pichai has nine products with more than a billion users. Maybe Google is better at building stuff than most companies, but it’s not so much better that its executives can spend no time on a search problem and, all things being equal, still outperform a specialized search vertical. In other words, the reason Google isn’t very good at finding the right health care provider or local business is because that’s not really what its executives think about.

All of this is a way of saying that vertical search engines are sometimes better at finding certain kinds of information than Google. In its original form, from 1998-2007, Google helped blend the world of general and specialized search; it simply chose the best results, sending people to the right place on the web or to the right vertical search engines that had the best results. As Google co-founder Larry Page once put it, “We want to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible.” People built businesses around an open web. Yelp was founded in 2004, back when you could still found firms adjacent to Google; Yelp got a lot of traffic from Google because it had the best local results.

But in 2007, Google stopped trying to send users to the most relevant place to answer their query, and started to try and keep people on Google properties. It began transforming itself from a general search engine into a walled garden, and it arranged its business strategy to exclude competitors, both vertical and general search, from the market, especially as people started to use their mobile phones to find things. At first this change was subtle, but Google gradually expanded its walled garden, encompassing more and more content. In doing so, it directed ad revenue to itself, eventually strangling not only vertical search competitors, but also publishers, online video and mapping competitors, and advertising technology firms.

Today, Google is the key gatekeeper to the web for users and advertisers, and venture capitalists will not invest in firms adjacent to it. Google’s dominance is also why the web in 2021 is increasingly a mess, a place for scam artists and disinformation. Today, if there were a vibrant competitive market for search, this rehab clinic fiasco might not be a problem; a health-based vertical search engine might be able to solve the problem that Google cannot. But in Google’s walled garden internet, that’s no longer a possibility. And as there really is no distinction between the web and the offline world, Google’s absentee landlord relationship to problems involving credible information is one reason scam artists and disinformation are proliferating globally.

It didn’t have to be this way. And in fact, in 2012, the Federal Trade Commission, which is our antitrust enforcer, nearly filed a case that would have stopped Google from corrupting our information commons.

Fumbling the Future

And this brings me to Leah Nylen’s story last week titled “How Washington Fumbled the Future”, looking back on the Obama administration’s policy vis-a-vis Google. She got her hands on a series of allegations the FTC had in 2012, in documents kept secret for nearly a decade. Recently, there have been multiple antitrust suits launched against Google, two by states and one at the Federal level. What is astonishing is how the FTC in 2012 had the evidence to bring most of the suits in court today.

Those of us who follow this area didn’t think that the 2012 FTC documents would be that interesting. The vote to close the Google investigation was unanimous, 5-0, with both Republican and Democratic commissioners letting Google skate. We figured that the FTC just didn’t see the problem clearly, as technology markets tend to morph quickly. Back in 2011 when the investigation started, who would have imagined that Google would become this powerful and dominant?

And yet, it turns out that the FTC had evidence of Google’s behavior, and just chose not to act. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman called these released documents a “smoking gun” showing how “Google methodically destroyed the web.” Stoppelman competes with Google, but other more neutral observers agree with him. William Kovacic, a Republican ex-FTC member, said, “I always assumed the staff memo was not so specific, direct and clear about the path ahead. A lot of the DOJ case is in there. It’s really breathtaking.” Kovacic, who voted to open an investigation in 2011, left the FTC before the complaint came up for a vote, so he hadn’t read it until this week.

These documents revealed many things, one of which was . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 10:59 am

Yes, it is all men.

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This account of a common sort of encounter is somewhat depressing. Speaking as a man, it took me way too long to understand the daily stress women endure by having to be alert. So far as the encounter described, it illustrates one of the hallmarks of privilege: those privileged feel absolutely confident that they are entitled to involve themselves even when no one has requested their involvement. The privileged plunge in, because that is a perquisite of privilege: to do what you want.

A better tag than #notallmen: #anymanmight.

Julie Cohen writes on Medium:

Following the murder of Sarah Everard, who was killed by a man when taking an ordinary walk through London, I’ve seen the hashtag #NotAllMen trending. I want to tell you a story. It’s not an important or traumatising story, though it is. It’s not about all men, either. But it is.

This is a picture of me a few years ago, at a publishing party. It was a fun party. I met a lot of great colleagues, and some quite famous people. I’d been told that my book was the top selling ebook in the company. I was wearing a new dress. I felt great: successful, pretty. My dress was a little more low-cut than I’d normally wear, but that wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t inappropriate or immodest; it was a warm day, and this was a party. It was a normal dress, and I’m a professional adult. As I said, I felt great. Until I got on the Tube home.

Across from me on the Tube carriage, were three men. Middle aged, white, middle class. They looked like dads at my son’s school. They’d been at a party, or a sporting event; they were drunk and very merry. They kept on looking at me and sniggering. Finally one said ‘Nice hat.’

I’m a successful, confident woman. I’ve been taught to be pleasant to people. I’ve been taught to be pleasant to men. I said ‘Thank you,’ and smiled. Then I looked away. But they kept trying to talk to me. They kept sniggering. Trying to flirt. Looking at my chest.

I knew that when they said ‘Nice hat’ what they really meant was: ‘Nice tits.’

But I didn’t say anything. I was a mother, a teacher, a writer with two degrees and several awards. A bestseller. I’d been all of these things before I stepped into that carriage and they spoke to me and laughed. Now, I was a pair of tits in a hat.

I didn’t say anything. I tried to ignore them. If you can’t be pleasant to men, you’re taught to ignore them, because if you encourage them they might get worse. If you refuse them, they might get much worse. They asked me my name. I didn’t answer. They said, ‘You look like a Jemima. We’ll call you Jemima.’

Now these were really normal-seeming guys. They weren’t scary looking. They were having fun. I wasn’t having fun any more, but they were. In a normal way. Three of them, one of me. No one on the carriage said anything.

(This is a totally normal story by the way. There is nothing special or unusual at all about this story. Because #NotAllMen is wrong.)

I got off the train at my stop. I walked away, not looking back. Until I heard them behind me. They’d got off too. They were following me. Laughing and yelling, ‘Hey, Jemima! Where are you going, Jemima? Can we try on your hat, Jemima?’ I told myself that this is okay. They were normal men. They’d mentioned their wives. Their kids. They were just having a day out in London, had a few beers. They weren’t rapists or murderers. They were just being assholes, normal blokes, trying to flirt and banter. That’s what I told myself to feel safe.

Here’s what these normal men probably did. They laughed some more. Traded some bants. They went home to their wives and kids. Next day they remembered that they had a great time, saw a woman on the train and flirted with her. Had a laugh.

Here’s what I did.

I walked quickly out of sight. Took off my hat. Pulled on a scarf. Tucked up my hair. Walked to the next platform, took a train in the opposite direction. Rode it one stop, got out. Took another train back to my destination. Looked around for the men in case they hadn’t left. I was on high alert all the way home. Made eye contact with no one. Texted my friend to say where I was. Held my keys betweeveren my fingers, ready to jab. Stayed in lighted areas. In the cab, I pretended to be talking to someone at home, waiting for me.

I was fine, in the end. I was safe. They didn’t mean any harm. I have never worn that dress again. I will never forget how . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

We live with this fear all the time. For many women it’s much much worse. I had the privilege of being white, cis, abled, middle class — though none of those would’ve helped if those men wanted to hurt me.

We can’t tell which men are safe because even the ones who are supposedly safe feel enabled to humiliate us for fun. No men are safe. Normal men aren’t safe. We are never safe because our society believes that the safety of women is not as important as the entitlement of men.

. . . I originally posted this story as a thread on Twitter. I didn’t expect it to reach more than my usual followers, but it went viral, and as night follows day, the online abuse started. Men called me names. Swore at me. Told me it never happened. Told me to shut up, that I’m ugly and stupid and that they wouldn’t fuck me. Tried bad-faith arguments to prove me wrong. Abused me with misogynistic and antisemitic images and slurs. A few women joined in too, but mostly it was men. I knew it was going to happen, because this stuff is normal. Women are always treated like this.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 10:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Memes

Bill Gates on why we can’t have electric airplanes

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A. Tarantolla writes in Engadget:

The renaissance of electrification that we’re seeing in passenger vehicles unfortunately won’t likely adapted to heavier forms of transportation — such as airplanes, cargo ships and semi tractor trailers — in the foreseeable future. Today’s batteries simply can’t hold enough power to sufficiently offset their weight and bulk. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still take steps to reduce the carbon footprints of our commercial people and cargo movers.

In his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, tech luminary Bill Gates — with the help of countless subject matter experts — lays out his comprehensive plan to halt the oncoming environmental apocalypse, blunt the effects of human-caused climate change, and keep Earth habitable for the next generation.

Adapted from How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates, published on Feb. 16, 2021 by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Bill Gates.

Not long ago, my friend Warren Buffett and I were talking about how the world might decarbonize airplanes. Warren asked, “Why can’t we run a jumbo jet on batteries?” He already knew that when a jet takes off, the fuel it’s carrying accounts for 20 to 40 percent of its weight. So when I told him this startling fact — that you’d need 35 times more batteries by weight to get the same energy as jet fuel — he understood immediately. The more power you need, the heavier your plane gets. At some point, it’s so heavy that it can’t get off the ground. Warren smiled, nodded, and just said, “Ah.”

When you’re trying to power something as heavy as a container ship or jetliner, the rule of thumb I mentioned earlier — the bigger the vehicle you want to move, and the farther you want to drive it without recharging, the harder it’ll be to use electricity as your power source—becomes a law. Barring some unlikely breakthrough, batteries will never be light and powerful enough to move planes and ships anything more than short distances.

Consider where the state of the art is today. The best all-electric plane on the market can carry two passengers, reach a top speed of 210 miles per hour, and fly for three hours before recharging.* Meanwhile, a mid-capacity Boeing 787 can carry 296 passengers, reach up to 650 miles an hour, and fly for nearly 20 hours before stopping for fuel. In other words, a fossil-fuel-powered jetliner can fly more than three times as fast, for six times as long, and carry nearly 150 times as many people as the best electric plane on the Market.

Batteries are getting better, but it’s hard to see how they’ll ever close this gap. If we’re lucky, they may become up to three times as energy dense as they are now, in which case they would still be 12 times less energy dense than gas or jet fuel. Our best bet is to replace jet fuel with electrofuels and advanced biofuels, but there are hefty premiums that come with them.

The same goes for cargo ships. The best conventional container ships can carry 200 times more cargo than either of the two electric ships now in operation, and they can run routes that are 400 times longer. Those are major advantages for ships that need to cross entire oceans.

Given how important container ships have become in the global economy, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 10:42 am

How Republicans are fighting to change the government

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Heather Cox Richardson notes:

As the Biden administration sets out to restore a government that can regulate business to level the playing field in the United States between workers and employers, address inequality, and combat climate change, Republicans are turning to the courts to stop him.

Republican attorneys general have already launched a number of lawsuits challenging various of the new administration’s policies. Twenty-one states are suing Biden for revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada. They claim such authority belongs to Congress because it has the authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. Biden cancelled the permit because he said it was not in the national interest, and legal experts say he is on solid ground.

Twelve states are suing the president over his executive order to address climate change because they say that Biden has no authority to regulate “’social costs’ of greenhouse gases.” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is considering running for the Senate and who is leading the lawsuits, says such regulations will be expensive and ordinary Americans will bear the higher costs on everyday products. Missouri legislators are talking about blocking any of Biden’s executive orders with which they disagree.

Eleven states are challenging Biden’s immigration policy: they want to reinstate the rule that requires applicants for citizenship to prove they are financially secure before they are allowed to become citizens.

And twenty-two Republican states are suing to challenge the provision of the American Rescue Plan that says states cannot use the federal money, which is intended to stimulate the economy, to cut taxes. Democrats added this provision deliberately to prevent Republican legislatures from using the money to cut taxes rather than as it was intended. States have the option to turn down the funds, but if they take the money, they must use it as Congress intended: to fund public programs.

Former President Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—who was known for saying “Leave no vacancy behind”—made it their top priority to reshape the federal judiciary. McConnell stalled confirmations for Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, leaving a number of vacancies for Trump to fill. McConnell approved the new judges with vigor, keeping the Senate confirming them during the pandemic, for example, even when all other business stopped.

Most notably, of course, Trump appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. McConnell refused to hold hearings for Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, now Biden’s attorney general, saying that his nomination in March 2016 was too close to the November presidential election to permit an appointment. This obstruction created an opening for Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. When Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018, Trump replaced him with Brett Kavanaugh. Then, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, Trump replaced her with Amy Coney Barrett less than two weeks before the November 2020 election.

The importance of those appointments is about to start playing out.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a somewhat confusing case about the rights of workers. The case is about whether union organizers can talk to farm workers in their workplaces (when they are not working). The 1975 law that permits such conversations has enabled agricultural workers, who are mostly people of color and immigrants, to bargain for better conditions. But in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, companies argue that the regulation permitting organizers into work spaces deprives the property owner of economic benefit and thus is unconstitutional.

If the Supreme Court agrees, the precedent will go a long way toward striking down regulations that involve intruding on private property—like workplace safety inspections—and which are currently allowed. That the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case suggests it is open to the argument.

For years now, the court has hemmed in Congress’s ability to use the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate different aspects of American life. Since the 1930s, Congress has expanded the use of that clause to regulate anything that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Recently, the Supreme Court has challenged that sweeping argument, saying it cannot be used to regulate guns in schools, for example, or require individuals to buy health insurance.

Most dramatic, though, is the court’s apparent willingness to revisit something called the “nondelegation doctrine.” According to . . .

Continue reading. It’s important.

Richardson concludes:

As Justice Elena Kagan points out, the nondelegation doctrine would mean that “most of Government is unconstitutional.”

But that, of course, is the point. We are caught up in a struggle between two ideologies: one saying that the government has a significant role to play in keeping the playing field level in the American economy and society, and the other saying it does not.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 10:32 am

How to Collect $1.4 Trillion in Unpaid Taxes

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The NY Times Editorial Board points out that, while some increase in tax rates in the topmost brackets may indeed be desirable, the US could gain a lot by funding the IRS better to go after taxes owed but not paid. The board writes:

When the federal government started withholding income taxes from workers’ paychecks during World War II, the innovation was presented as a matter of fairness, a way to ensure that everyone paid. Irving Berlin wrote a song for the Treasury Department: “You see those bombers in the sky? Rockefeller helped to build them. So did I.”

The withholding system remains the cornerstone of income taxation, effectively preventing Americans from lying about wage income. Employers submit an annual W-2 report on the wages paid to each worker, making it hard to fudge the numbers.

But the burden of taxation is increasingly warped because the government has no comparable system for verifying income from businesses. The result is that most wage earners pay their fair share while many business owners engage in blatant fraud at public expense.

In a remarkable 2019 analysis, the Internal Revenue Service estimated that Americans report on their taxes less than half of all income that is not subject to some form of third-party verification like a W-2. Billions of dollars in business profits, rent and royalties are hidden from the government each year. By contrast, more than 95 percent of wage income is reported.

Unreported income is the single largest reason that unpaid federal income taxes may amount to more than $600 billion this year, and more than $7.5 trillion over the next decade. It is a truly staggering sum — more than half of the projected federal deficit over the same period.

The government has a basic obligation to enforce the law and to crack down on this epidemic of tax fraud. The failure to do so means that the burden of paying for public services falls more heavily on wage earners than on business owners, exacerbating economic inequality. The reality of widespread cheating also undermines the legitimacy of a tax system that still relies to a considerable extent on Americans’ good-faith participation.

Proposals to close this “tax gap” often focus on reversing the long-term decline in funding for the I.R.S., allowing the agency to hire more workers and to audit more wealthy taxpayers. But Charles Rossotti, who led the I.R.S. from 1997 to 2002, makes a compelling argument that such an approach is inadequate. Mr. Rossotti says that Congress needs to change the rules, by creating a third-party verification system for business income, too.

The core of Mr. Rossotti’s clever proposal is to obtain that information from banks. Under his plan, the government would require banks to produce an annual account statement totaling inflows and outflows, like the 1099 tax forms that investment firms must provide to their clients.

Individuals would then have the opportunity to reconcile what Mr. Rossotti dubs their “1099New” forms with their reported income on their individual tax returns. One might, for example, assert that a particular deposit was a tax-exempt gift.

Mr. Rossotti has proposed that the I.R.S. require the new forms only for people with taxable income above a generous threshold. A bill including Mr. Rossotti’s plan, introduced by Representative Ro Khanna of California, sets that threshold at $400,000, to minimize the burden on small business. The money is undoubtedly in chasing wealthy tax cheats, but equity argues that business income, like wage income, should be subject to a uniform reporting standard. Small businesses ought to pay their taxes, too.

The proposal would not increase the amount anyone owes in taxes. It would, instead, increase the amount paid in taxes by those who are currently cheating.

It would have the immediate benefit of scaring people into probity.

Consider what happened after Congress passed legislation in 1986 to require taxpayers to list a Social Security number for each person claimed as a dependent. The government could not easily crosscheck all of those claims then, but the requirement itself caused a sharp drop in fraud. The next year, seven million children abruptly disappeared from tax returns.

To realize the full benefit of the new data, however, Congress does need to make a significant investment in upgrading the I.R.S.’s outdated computer systems, and in hiring enough qualified workers to examine suspicious cases and to hold accountable those who cheat.

In 2008, for example, Congress passed a bill to require credit card processors to report payments processed on behalf of online retailers on an annual form called a 1099-K so the I.R.S. could verify the income reported by those retailers. But in December, the Treasury Department’s inspector general reported that “resource limitations” had prevented the I.R.S. from investigating more than 310,000 cases in which individuals and businesses failed to report more than $330 billion in income documented on 1099-Ks.

Congressional Republicans, unable to muster public support for reductions in federal spending, have pursued that goal indirectly by constraining federal revenue, in part by hacking away at the I.R.S.’s budget. The share of all tax returns subject to an audit declined by 46 percent from 2010 to 2018, according to the Congressional Budget Office. For millionaires, the decline in the audit rate was 61 percent. Today, the government employs fewer people to track down deadbeats than at any time since the 1950s.

The result is a parallel increase in federal debt and in tax fraud.

Mr. Rossotti, together with the Harvard economist Lawrence Summers and the University of Pennsylvania law professor Natasha Sarin, argued in an analysis published in November that investing $100 billion in the I.R.S. over the next decade, for technology and personnel, in combination with better data on business income, would allow the agency to collect up to $1.4 trillion in lawful tax revenue that otherwise would go uncollected. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 9:55 am

The Coal Plant Next Door

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Max Blau reports in ProPublica for Georgia Health News:

Mark Berry raised his right hand, pledging to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The bespectacled mechanical engineer took his seat inside the cherry-wood witness stand. He pulled his microphone close to his yellow bow tie and glanced left toward five of Georgia’s most influential elected officials. As one of Georgia Power’s top environmental lobbyists, Berry had a clear mission on that rainy day in April 2019: Convince those five energy regulators that the company’s customers should foot the bill for one of the most expensive toxic waste cleanup efforts in state history.

When Berry became Georgia Power’s vice president of environmental affairs in 2015, he inherited responsibility for a dark corporate legacy dating back to before he was born. For many decades, power companies had burnt billions of tons of coal, dumping the leftover ash — loaded with toxic contaminants — into human-made “ponds” larger than many lakes. But after a pair of coal-ash pond disasters in Tennessee and North Carolina exposed the environmental and health risks of those largely unregulated dumps, the Obama administration required power companies to stop using the aging disposal sites.

Berry had spent nearly two decades climbing the ranks of Southern Company, America’s second-largest energy provider and the owner of Georgia Power. By the time he was under oath that day, company execs had vowed to store newly burnt coal ash in landfills designed for safely disposing of such waste. But an unprecedented challenge remained: Figuring out what to do with 90 million tons of coal ash — enough to fill more than 50 Major League Baseball stadiums to the brim — that had accumulated over the better part of a century in ash ponds that were now leaking.

Georgia Power would have to shut down roughly 30 ponds from the Appalachian foothills to the wetlands near the Georgia coast. After draining all the ponds, the company would have two options for disposing of the highly contaminated dry ash left behind: It could either move the ash into a landfill fitted with a protective liner, or pack the dry ash into a smaller footprint and place a cover on top — leaving a gaping hole in the ground that, in some places, would be the larger than Disneyland. The former would cost more but vastly reduce the possibility of toxic leakage; the latter lowered expenses but would perpetually risk contaminating drinking water in neighboring communities.

As scientists had grown more aware of the threat posed by coal ash, Southern states like Virginia and North Carolina had forced utilities to move ash into lined landfills. But Georgia was something of an outlier. The state historically was known as a coal ash capital, a place where lawmakers touted their pro-business bona fides by denouncing regulations, and Georgia Power had a track record of delaying or blocking efforts to regulate pollution. The company was lobbying hard for the cheaper option.

Of course, the $7.3 billion price tag wasn’t all that cheap. Sitting on the Georgia Public Service Commission’s witness stand, Berry and his top deputy spent hours arguing that the whopping costs of cleaning up Georgia Power’s coal-ash ponds should be passed along to its customers. If Berry could persuade the regulators that the costs were both “reasonable” and “prudent,” the company could tack a monthly fee onto the bills of 2.2 million residential customers for decades to come, which would work out to each customer footing $3,300 of the bill to clean up the company’s mess. If he failed, the commissioners could effectively force Georgia Power to eat those costs — a major blow to investors in a publicly traded company that has annual operating revenues of over $8 billion.

During Berry’s testimony, PSC commissioner Tim Echols said he has concerns about putting ratepayers on the hook for the costs of cleaning up the ash ponds — and whether Georgia Power is spending more than it has to. “This is enormously expensive,” he said.

Berry didn’t mention that the cleanup costs could increase by billions of dollars if Georgia’s environmental officials adopted the safer standards used by neighboring states. Anticipating Echols’ next question, Berry said that Georgia Power’s $7.3 billion plan was the “most cost-effective way” to comply with coal-ash regulations.

“If we were to do something less,” Berry added, state environmental officials “would force us to go back and redo what we did not do right the first time.”

Had those five energy regulators swiveling in their chairs asked more pointed questions about Georgia Power’s waste-disposal practices, Berry would have been pressured to tell a long-hidden story about ash and avarice. In the second half of the 20th century, Georgia Power had saved money by building some of America’s largest coal-ash ponds without a protective liner underneath, despite knowing some of the risks of contaminating residents’ drinking water. It had also sought to do as little as possible to protect drinking water that’s now believed to be tainted by coal-ash toxins.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 9:45 am

Ginger’s Garden balm-ish splash, with the Parker Semi-Slant and the Pro 48

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I consider my Omega Pro 48 (10048) one of the best brushes I own, for all its low price ($13.75). It gets better and better. Initially, I assumed the improvement in performance was because it was breaking in, and that certainly is true in the beginning: a new Omega boar knot actively kills lather (technically, commits lathercide), to the degree that the best approach to a new Omega boar brush is not to even try to use it the first week. Each morning, wet the knot well under the hot-water tap and stand the brush on its base to soak while you shower.

Once you’re back at the sink, rewet the brush, given it a couple of shakes, load it with soap, and work up a lather in the palm of your hand or a bowl. Then rinse the brush with hot water until the water runs clear, followed by a rinse with cold water. Shake out excess water and stand stand the brush on its base to dry until the next morning.

After a week, the knot will be broken in enough to shave, but the break-in continues and the knot performs better and better over time. This morning it occurred to me that some of the improvement in performance is not due to the brush breaking in but to my learning how to use it effectively.

Experience is a great teacher, and even if you’re not consciously studying how you can best use the brush, if you pay attention to what you’re doing and to what results, your adaptive unconscious will be paying close attention and learning what to do. (Obligatory nod to Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.)

The net result is that over time I have come to love this brush more and more, and seeing the size of the knot (both loft and diameter) as a boon. But, as I found, it does take some time (to break it in and to master its use). When I went looking for a purchase link, I kept coming across a new (to me) Omega boar brush: the Pro 83 (10083). Despite the model numbers, the Pro 83 is significantly smaller than the Pro 48:

Pro 48 (model 10048)- loft 70mm, knot 28mm
Pro 83 (model 10083)- loft 64mm, knot 26mm

I would bet that the Pro 83 was a response to complaints that the Pro 48 was “too large and too hard to use,” complaints from those who do not complete the learning process. Of course, there may also may have been those who wanted a stiffer knot — I like the degree of gentle yet insistent resilience the Pro 48 has due to the large diameter knot combined with a high loft, but if someone wants a “scrubby” brush, this is not what they want. The Pro 83 may be more along those lines. Perhaps at some point I’ll get one and see.

This morning I first used Grooming Dept pre-shave, then worked up a good lather from Stubble Trubble’s Up & Adam. The Parker Semi-Slant is a wonderful razor (here the head’s mounted on a Yaqi handle taken from another razor). Three passes left my face perfectly smooth with no damage at all.

As noted in the title, Ginger’s Garden aftershaves — this morning, Havana Cognac — are somewhat balm-ish: a greater viscosity than a regular splash, and some lingering moisturizing.

Altogether, a great way to start the week.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 9:08 am

Posted in Shaving

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