Later On

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Archive for March 31st, 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

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