Later On

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

Archive for April 2021

Mushrooms, onions, and bitter melon

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I love having the 9″ induction coil. I used my Field Company No. 8, which now heats totally evenly.

• 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/2 large red onion, chopped
• 1 tsp Maldon salt
• 8 large domestic white mushrooms, halve and sliced thick
• 2 tsp Herbes de Provence
• 2/3 medium bitter melon, diced

Cook onion in oil with salt. Once onions start to caramelize, add mushrooms, herbs, and bitter melon. Cook until mushrooms release their liquid and continue to cook until liquid has boiled away.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2021 at 6:14 pm

Scientists Spot Yet Another Unexplained Ring-Shaped Radio Structure In Space

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Becky Ferrereira writes in Vice:

Scientists have spotted yet another bizarre, gigantic, and unexplained circle-shaped radio structure in outer space, a discovery that contributes to “exciting times in astronomy,” reports a new study.

The bubble is the latest example of an Odd Radio Circle (ORC), an aptly named type of spectral ring that debuted in a 2020 paper led by Western Sydney University astrophysicist Ray Norris. Norris and his colleagues detected four of these enormous circles eerily glowing in faint radio wavelengths far beyond our galaxy.

Now, scientists led by Bärbel Koribalski, a research scientist at CSIRO’s Australia Telescope National Facility, have discovered a fifth ORC that appears to span about one million light years.

This structure, named ORC J0102–2450, also looks like it has an elliptical galaxy at its center, a feature it shares with two of the ORCs found by Norris’ team. Koribalski and her co-authors, including Norris, said the presence of the galaxies is “unlikely a coincidence” and may help explain the origin of these ghostly rings, according to their forthcoming study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters, which is available on the preprint server arXiv.

ORCs have flown under the radar for decades because they are extremely dim, but new and advanced radio telescopes, such as the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), are sensitive enough to spot the huge bubbles.

“Since ASKAP can see an area of 30 square degrees—a very large area—it is an excellent survey instrument, and the data collected will lead to many more discoveries,” Koribalski said in an email. “We typically observe one 30 square degree region for ~10 hours (if possible), then repeat these observations multiple times to increase the sensitivity of the field. The more sensitive, the more radio sources we detect.”

Koribalski and her colleagues combined eight ASKAP observations conducted between Aug 2019 and Dec 2020 to catch a glimpse of the newest member of the ORC family.

Because ORCs are so faint, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and also photos of ORCs.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2021 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

J.M. Fraser and the Rockwell Model T

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Yesterday’s shaving cream was a pleasure, so I went with another good shaving cream today. I’ve had this 1-lb tub of J.M. Fraser shaving cream for well over a decade and it continues to perform magnificcently.

With the Model T set at 4 (as you see in the photo) I easily stripped my face of stubble, and a tiny globule of Arko Aqua aftershave gel finished the shave and started the day.

Written by Leisureguy

30 April 2021 at 10:11 am

Posted in Shaving

Taiwan cauliflower and bitter melon

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The sign definitely said “Taiwan cauliflower,” but the actual name seems to be Taishan cauliflower. I’ve made it before, and I liked it. I just got it again:

• 1.5 Tabsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 bunch scallions, chopped (including leaves)
• 1/2 large red onion, chopped
• 1 medium bitter melon, chopped
• 1 large jalapeño, chopped
• pinch of salt.

I used my 12″ Stargazer, which heats up ever so much better with the Max Burton 6600 — the 9″ induction coil makes a big difference.

After cooking the above on medium heat until onion translucent and starting to caramelize, I added:

• 1 head Taiwan/Taishan cauliflower, cored and chopped
• small splash Shaoxing wine

Cook over medium heat, stirring to mix, for a few minutes, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook about 15-20 minutes, stirring once.

I had a bowl of this with a little salad dressing, and it was so good I had another bowl with mirin, shoyu sauce, and toasted sesame oil.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2021 at 5:01 pm

Rewrite the Laws of Physics in the Language of Impossibility

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Amanda Gefter writes in Quanta:

They say that in art, constraints lead to creativity. The same seems to be true of the universe. By placing limits on nature, the laws of physics squeeze out reality’s most fantastical creations. Limit light’s speed, and suddenly space can shrink, time can slow. Limit the ability to divide energy into infinitely small units, and the full weirdness of quantum mechanics blossoms. “Declaring something impossible leads to more things being possible,” writes the physicist Chiara Marletto. “Bizarre as it may seem, it is commonplace in quantum physics.”

Marletto grew up in Turin, in northern Italy, and studied physical engineering and theoretical physics before completing her doctorate at the University of Oxford, where she became interested in quantum information and theoretical biology. But her life changed when she attended a talk by David Deutsch, another Oxford physicist and a pioneer in the field of quantum computation. It was about what he claimed was a radical new theory of explanations. It was called constructor theory, and according to Deutsch it would serve as a kind of meta-theory more fundamental than even our most foundational physics — deeper than general relativity, subtler than quantum mechanics. To call it ambitious would be a massive understatement.

Marletto, then 22, was hooked. In 2011, she joined forces with Deutsch, and together they have spent the last decade transforming constructor theory into a full-fledged research program.

The goal of constructor theory is to rewrite the laws of physics in terms of general principles that take the form of counterfactuals — statements, that is, about what’s possible and what’s impossible. It is the approach that led Albert Einstein to his theories of relativity. He too started with counterfactual principles: It’s impossible to exceed the speed of light; it’s impossible to tell the difference between gravity and acceleration.

Constructor theory aims for more. It hopes to provide the principles behind a vast class of theories of physics, including the ones we don’t even have yet, like the theory of quantum gravity that would unite quantum mechanics with general relativity. Constructor theory seeks, that is, to provide the mother of all theories — a complete Science of Can and Can’t, the title of Marletto’s new book.

Whether constructor theory can really deliver, and how much it truly differs from physics as usual, remains to be seen. For now, Quanta Magazine caught up with Marletto via Zoom and by email to find out how the theory works and what it might mean for our understanding of the universe, technology, and even life itself. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

At the heart of constructor theory is the feeling that there’s something missing in our usual approach to physics.

The standard laws of physics — such as quantum theory, general relativity, even Newton’s laws — are formulated in terms of trajectories of objects and what happens to them given some initial conditions. But there are some phenomena in nature that you can’t quite capture in terms of trajectories — phenomena like the physics of life or the physics of information. To capture those, you need counterfactuals.

Which are?

The word “counterfactual” is used in various ways, but I mean a specific thing: A counterfactual is a statement about which transformations are possible and which are impossible in a physical system. A transformation is possible when you have a “constructor” that can perform a task and then retain the capacity to perform it again. In biology, we call that a catalyst, but more generally we can call it a constructor.

In the current approach to physics, some laws already have this counterfactual structure — the conservation of energy, for example, is the statement that it is impossible to have a perpetual motion machine.

So the constructor is the perpetual motion machine, and the counterfactual states that this transformation of usable energy to usable energy is not possible?

Yes. Counterfactuals do appear in existing laws, but these laws are regarded as second class. They are not incorporated wholeheartedly. Constructor theory puts counterfactuals at the very foundation of physics, so that the most fundamental laws can be formulated in these terms.

How would this work in practice? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2021 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

The Free Market is Dead: What Will Replace It?

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Chris Hughes, co-chair of the Economic Security Project and a senior advisor at the Roosevelt Institute, is the author of Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn and was a co-founder of Facebook. He writes in TIME magazine:

Big meetings in the Oval Office in the time of Covid-19 are rare, but two weeks into his presidency, President Joe Biden decided to make an exception. It was only a few days after the nation’s coronavirus case count peaked in late January, and Biden sat on a stately beige chair, double masked and flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and newly confirmed Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen.

The leaders of some of the nation’s largest businesses like Wal-Mart and J.P. Morgan Chase had come to the White House that day to talk economic stimulus. But the real surprise attendee was the head of America’s largest business advocacy group, the Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue. Under Donohue’s leadership over the past two decades, the Chamber had effectively become an organ of the Republican party, handsomely rewarding conservatives who worked to dismantle public programs and the regulatory state with campaign donations and support.

Donohue said little, but he didn’t have to. His presence was enough to rock the political landscape. “Washington’s most powerful trade group is having a political identity crisis,” wrote Politico. Two weeks later, a group of 150 CEOs, unaffiliated with the Chamber, followed suit, throwing their weight behind Biden’s COVID relief bill, which sailed through Congress. They have been similarly supportive of the additional $2 trillion the administration has now proposed for infrastructure spending – but they unsurprisingly don’t want corporate tax rates to be the means for paying for it.

But corporate America’s newfound support for more public investment is not a temporary phenomenon. We are witnessing the most profound realignment in American political economy in nearly forty years. President Ronald Reagan summed up the conventional wisdom that reigned from the mid-1970s onward in the United States: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Economists, policymakers, and everyday Americans alike generally accepted that markets, unfettered and free, are the best way to create economic growth.

That ideology began to crack after the Great Recession, and in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it has collapsed. The rise of ethno-nationalism on the right and democratic socialism on the left testify to the growing disillusionment with the conventional wisdom of how government and economics are supposed to work.

It’s not just the fringes questioning free market orthodoxy in a time of disease. Cross-partisan supermajorities of Americans want some of the biggest companies of America to be broken up, significantly higher minimum wages, a wealth tax on billionaires, and believe significantly more public investment is required to create economic growth.

We have had regulations, public investment, and macroeconomic management to varying degrees throughout American history. What makes this moment different is that Americans across parties, class, and educational background are using a new framework to think about how we create prosperity.

The new managed market paradigm is bigger than Bidenomics or any particular economic agenda—it is a story about how the economy works.

We went from living in a country where markets couldn’t be touched to one where Americans believe the state has an important role in managing them to create prosperity. What killed off free market mythology, and what will come next?


A crisis in confidence in government triggered the last paradigm shift, making way for the rise of free market thinking. In the 1970s,

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

Later in the article:

In the years after the [2008 financial] crisis, scholars and policymakers came to realize that free markets had failed empirically to live up to their promise.

Reduced taxes on capital and fewer regulations were supposed to create more growth by making it easier for investors to invest and entrepreneurs to hire, the orthodoxy said. Yet the economy grew by 3.9 percent on average between 1950 and 1980, the era before free market orthodoxy took hold, and only at 2.6 percent on average in the 40 years since.

Similarly, aggregate growth, fueled by deregulation and free trade, should have boosted incomes for American workers if free market orthodoxy was to be believed. The rich would do well with lower taxes, they promised, but so too would the middle class and poor because of all the additional economic activity. In reality, wages have not meaningfully increased over the past 40 years after accounting for inflation, while income inequality has soared.

This list goes on. Relaxed antitrust enforcement was supposed to enable monolith companies to benefit from economies of scale, reducing costs for Americans. But the cost of living in America has skyrocketed, with housing, healthcare, and education eating up a greater proportion of Americans’ budgets than ever before. Expected investments in productivity-enhancing technologies by such large companies have not materialized.

We were told that policies developed to combat inequality like progressive taxation or public investment were supposed to constrict growth. Studies now show the opposite is true. The work of economists like Raj Chetty and Janet Currie has shown that poorer children lack access to good nutrition, stable neighborhoods, and quality schools and are not able to climb a meritocratic ladder. That hurts them individually and starves the economy of skilled workers that boost growth. The lack of public investment in public programs like affordable childcare means parents are more likely to drop out of the labor force, depriving the economy of workers and growth, as Heather Boushey has shown. And because the wealthy save for more than the poor, growing wealth inequality has muted the largest driver of economic growth, consumer spending, as documented by the economist Karen Dynan. . .

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2021 at 12:11 pm

Vaccine skepticism stems not from ignorance but from beliefs and values

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Sabrina Tavernise reports in the NY Times:

For years, scientists and doctors have treated vaccine skepticism as a knowledge problem. If patients were hesitant to get vaccinated, the thinking went, they simply needed more information.

But as public health officials now work to convince Americans to get Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, new social science research suggests that a set of deeply held beliefs is at the heart of many people’s resistance, complicating efforts to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control.

“The instinct from the medical community was, ‘If only we could educate them,’” said Dr. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, who studies vaccine skepticism. “It was patronizing and, as it turns out, not true.”

About a third of American adults are still resisting vaccines. Polling shows that Republicans make up a substantial part of that group. Given how deeply the country is divided by politics, it is perhaps not surprising that they have dug in, particularly with a Democrat in the White House. But political polarization is only part of the story.

In recent years, epidemiologists have teamed up with social psychologists to look more deeply into the “why” behind vaccine hesitancy. They wanted to find out whether there was anything that vaccine skeptics had in common, in order to better understand how to persuade them.

They borrowed a concept from social psychology — the idea that a small set of moral intuitions forms the foundations upon which complex moral worldviews are constructed — and applied it to their study of vaccine skepticism.

What they discovered was a clear set of psychological traits offering a new lens through which to understand skepticism — and potentially new tools for public health officials scrambling to try to persuade people to get vaccinated.

Dr. Omer and a team of scientists found that skeptics were much more likely than nonskeptics to have a highly developed sensitivity for liberty — the rights of individuals — and to have less deference to those in positions of power.

Skeptics were also twice as likely to care a lot about the “purity” of their bodies and their minds. They disapprove of things they consider disgusting, and the mind-set defies neat categorization: It could be religious — halal or kosher — or entirely secular, like people who care deeply about toxins in foods or in the environment.

Scientists have found similar patterns among skeptics in Australia and Israel, and in a broad sample of vaccine-hesitant people in 24 countries in 2018.

“At the root are these moral intuitions — these gut feelings — and they are very strong,” said Jeff Huntsinger, a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago who studies emotion and decision-making and collaborated with Dr. Omer’s team. “It’s very hard to override them with facts and information. You can’t reason with them in that way.”

These qualities tend to predominate among conservatives but they are present among liberals too. They are also present among people with no politics at all.

Kasheem Delesbore, a warehouse worker in northeastern Pennsylvania, is neither conservative nor liberal. He does not consider himself political and has never voted. But he is skeptical of the vaccines — along with many institutions of American power.

Mr. Delesbore, 26, has seen information online that a vaccine might harm his body. He is not sure what to make of it. But his faith in God gives him confidence: Whatever happens is God’s will. There is little he can do to influence it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2021 at 12:04 pm

Using sailing ships to move cargo again: 90% reduction in emissions

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The Oceanbird’s giant wing sails can retract to a quarter of their length for overhead clearance or safety in storms

Loz Blain writes in New Atlas:

The idea of using sails to power a boat is not exactly a new one; indeed, the earliest known depiction of a ship under sail appears on a painted disc found in Kuwait, dated back to somewhere between 5,000-5,500 BCE. Boats themselves, interestingly, appear to be closer to a million years old, and were used by homo erectus long before neanderthals or homo sapiens ever walked the Earth.

Sails propelled humanity around the globe for thousands of years, before being relegated mainly to recreational use over the last couple of hundred years by the development of steam technology and internal combustion engines, among other things, which developed more reliable propulsion across a wider range of conditions and use cases.

Fuel-burning ships have been phenomenally successful, opening up the global trade network we enjoy today, but we may not have seen the end of sails just yet. In response to the increasingly obvious consequences of climate change, a number of companies are working on ways to bring emissions-free sail propulsion back to the cargo shipping world, taking advantage of advanced materials, computer controls and some interesting new designs to take performance and speed to the next level.

The latest concept is the Oceanbird, a giant Pure Car and Truck Carrier capable of transporting up to 7,000 cars at an average speed of 10 knots on a North Atlantic crossing. That’s not quite as quick as a conventional ship; you’re looking at around 12 days instead of the typical 8, but the Oceanbird’s four colossal 80-meter (260-ft) high extendable wing sails promise to reduce emissions by as much as 90 percent.

The wing sails, built in metal and composites, can be retracted down to around 20 m (66 ft) when required, keeping them safe in stormy conditions and letting the ships get under bridges when they need to. While the Oceanbird project team sees the sails as providing the vast majority of the ship’s power, there will also be engines fitted for maneuvering close to land and ports, and to get the ship out of a pickle in an emergency. . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including more images.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2021 at 11:33 am

A shaving-cream morning: Wholly Kaw’s La Supérieure Dulci Tobacco Shave Cream

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I saw mention of Wholly Kaw’s La Supérieure shaving cream in Sharpologist, and on looking further into it, decided to give it a go. The Dulci Tobacco fragrance sounded good (and it is, as it turns out):

Warm and spicy with Tobacco, Vanilla, Nutmeg, Cacao, Tonka Bean, Plum, Sandalwood, Cashmeran

And the ingredients looked good:

Potassium Cocoate, Sodium Methyl 2-Sulfolaurate, Stearic Acid, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Glycerol Monostearate, Glycerin, Propanediol, Cetyl Betaine, Alkyl Polyglucoside, Decyl Glucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Water, Potassium Hydroxide, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Sulfated Rincinus (Castor) Seed Oil, Gossypium Herbaceum (Cotton) Seed Oil, Cetearyl Glucoside, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Xanthan Gum, Benzoic Acid, Dehydroacetic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Sunflower Seed Oil, Beta Carotene, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sucrose Palmitate, Fragrance, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin

I let the brush soak while I showered, then wet it under the hot-water tap, shook it a few times, and twirled the tip in the shaving cream, then moved to my face to work up the lather. The lather does have a very good fragrance, on the light side, and the Fine Marvel razor glided easily through the stubble. I’ve noted that some razors seem more sensitive to Grooming Dept’s pre-shave, and the combination of the pre-shave and this lather — plus doubtless the razor design — made the glide quite pronounced.

Three passes to a smooth face, then rinse, dry, and apply a splash of Valley of Ashes aftershave. A good start for a sunny day.

Written by Leisureguy

29 April 2021 at 8:38 am

Posted in Shaving

A departure from plant-only: chicken hearts

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I generally stick to a whole-food plant-only diet for health reasons. It’s pragmatic, not ideological. So from time to time I will have a non-plant food. Tonight it was chicken hearts.

I just received my new Max Burton 6600 induction burner, which has a nine-inch induction coil, so that my cast-iron skillets will heat evenly. Tonight I tried it for the first time.

Can’t say that I lack the controls — the UX person who designed this has an AA degree at best — but performance was excellent. Even heaat.

Cooked onions well in a little olive oil with salt and pepper. Once they were starting to caramelize, I added half the chicken hearts I had bought (along with tung ho, some weird Chinese broccoli (very stalky), Taiwan cauliflower (and they definitely labeled it “Taiwan” cauliflower), and bitter meon (3)). They cooked better, and that will now be my practice.

Tomorrow I’m going to cook the remaining half of the chicken hearts with scallions, fresh garlic, and bitter melon. And maybe a jalapeño.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2021 at 5:21 pm

America’s tax cheats

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Judd Legum has an excellent column in Popular Information. It begins:

On Wednesday evening, Biden will introduce the “American Families Plan,” a sweeping proposal that calls for hundreds of billions in spending on “child care, universal prekindergarten, and paid family and sick leave.” The package would be paid for, in part, by modestly higher tax rates on capital gains and wealthy individuals. But the single largest source of funding, an estimated $700 billion over 10 years, is expected to come from cracking down on Americans who cheat on their taxes.

How is this possible?

It’s not the case that the typical taxpayer is trying to shortchange Uncle Sam. The vast majority of Americans — more than 80% — pay the taxes they owe on time. For most people, cheating isn’t even an option. Their taxes are automatically withheld from each paycheck. People who receive W-2 forms have a tax compliance rate approaching 100%.

But some “taxpayers with more complex sources of income, most of whom are in high-income brackets” are able to avoid paying what they owe. In recent testimony before Congress, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said that he believes the “tax gap” — the difference between what is paid to the IRS and what is owed — could exceed $1 trillion annually.

A paper published in March from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that Americans in the top 1% underreport their income by an average of 21%. These individuals then hire “sophisticated lawyers and accountants capable of expanding years and significant resources on fighting IRS claims.”

The privileged few are taking advantage of an agency that has been hollowed out. Years of ideological warfare have left the IRS with a small fraction of its previous capacity to enforce the law. It’s easier than ever for the wealthy to get away with cheating.

Biden’s plan attempts to reverse these trends. His proposal would invest about $80 billion  in the IRS over 10 years in an effort to recover $780 billion.

Kneecapping the IRS

The IRS “lost more than 33,378 full-time positions” between 2010 and 2020. Many of these were auditors tasked with catching tax cheats. As of 2019, there were 8,526 auditors working at the IRS. The last time the agency had fewer than 10,000 people working in that role was 1953 “when the economy was a seventh of its current size.” As a result, the IRS conducted “675,000 fewer audits in 2017 than it did in 2010, a drop in the audit rate of 42 percent.” For the top 1%, audit rates “have fallen from about 8 percent in 2011 to 1.6 percent in 2019.”

The IRS currently lacks the resources to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2021 at 4:15 pm

The IRS Used to Be a Guard Dog. Republicans Neutered It.

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Michael Mechanic has a good article in Mother Jones, which begins:

Taxpayers and politicians are forever complaining about rich people taking advantage of “loopholes” in the tax code, but the IRS, America’s most beloved government agency, doesn’t view things such as carried interest or the special tax treatment of offshore insurers—which hedge funders parlayed into an elaborate tax-avoidance scheme—as loopholes.

The law is the law, an agency spokesman told me recently, and subject to interpretation. If a family or company is audited and found in violation, it can settle up, protest to an IRS appeals board, or take the agency to tax court—a little-known venue where the white-shoe lawyers for America’s dynasties ply their trade. If the well-heeled taxpayer loses their case, they can appeal. If they win, they may well stand to save millions of dollars—or billions. And often they win.

That’s assuming they are audited in the first place. President Joe Biden is prepared to announce that his administration will seek $80 billion to beef up IRS audits of high earners—a necessary move given that the water carriers for the dynasties have done their utmost to make such audits exceedingly rare. The Republican Party has waged open warfare on the IRS since at least 1994, chipping away at its resources and enforcement abilities even as mainstream Republican lawmakers and candidates called for the agency’s abolition.

Administration officials estimate that a 10-year, $80 billion investment in IRS enforcement could yield $700 billion for the Treasury. And indeed, there’s a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the superrich. By the end of the Bush years, the IRS was auditing fewer than 1 in 10 taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $10 million–plus, and just 1 in 15 with incomes from $5 million to $10 million.

These high-end audit rates increased substantially under President Barack Obama, but congressional Republicans, embittered by the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the surcharges it imposed on the wealthiest 1 percent, hit back hard. After regaining the House in 2010, they systematically eviscerated the IRS budget and launched a series of dog-and-pony-show hearings based on claims that the agency was unfairly targeting conservative nonprofits, though it later turned out the IRS was also scrutinizing liberal ones.

During a contentious 2015 hearing highlighted in a must-read piece by ProPublica, Representative Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican, laid into John Koskinen, Obama’s feisty IRS commissioner. Koskinen, in a recent speech, had griped that his overworked employees would have to “do less with less,” and referred to the assault on his budget as “a tax cut for tax cheats.”

“What in the world were you thinking of?” Kelly demanded. Such talk could crush worker morale and encourage tax evasion, he said. Koskinen countered that the cuts had indeed crippled his agency’s ability to enforce the law, and now he was worried his congressional foes were about to make the situation worse. “I don’t want you saying later on, you know, you should have told us about this, that it is serious,” he told the senators. “It is serious.”

Koskinen’s warnings were ignored, and the cuts continued. From 2010 to 2018, even as the IRS received 9 percent more tax returns, its budget was slashed by $2.9 billion—a 20 percent reduction that cost the agency more than one-fifth of its workforce. Investigations of non-filers plummeted and the amount of outstanding tax debt the IRS formally wrote off (based on the 10-year statute of limitations for collections) more than doubled—from less than $15 billion in 2010 to more than $34 billion in 2019.

Most notably, the bloodbath resulted in an exodus of experienced auditors, people with the expertise required to decode the financial voodoo of the wealthiest taxpayers and their deliberately opaque partnerships. It can “take months to identify the person who represents the partnership,” IRS auditors told the Government Accountability Office in 2014.

Virtually no partnerships were audited in 2018. By then, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2021 at 1:32 pm

Vintage Lenthéric shaving soap and recent Ascension razor make a good shave — with Origins Fire Fighter™ as surprise star

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Now that this Yaqi silvertip is broken in, it does a wonderful job, and I do love the fragrance of this Lenthéric shaving soap — its lather is excellent, and its fragrance exceptional.

Three passes of the Ascension left my face perfectly smooth, and a dot of Origins Fire Fighter aftershave balm end the shave on a pleasant note. This balm dries down quickly, leaving my skin soft and smooth. I rather like this balm. Its ingredients:

Water\Aqua\Eau; Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Anthemis Nobilis (Chamomile) Flower Water, Myrtus Communis (Myrtle) Leaf Water, Butylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Ceteth-20, Coriandrum Sativum (Coriander) Seed Oil *, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Oil*, Salvia Sclarea (Clary Sage) Oil*, Fusanus Spicatus (Australian Sandalwood) Wood Oil*, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil*, Lavandula Hybrida (Lavandin) Oil*, Cymbopogon Martini (Indian Palmarosa) Oil*, Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium) Flower Oil*, Eucalyptus Radiata (Eucalyptus) Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Citral, Geraniol, Linalool, Citronellol, Limonene, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Caffeine, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice, Pantethine, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glycerin, Polysorbate 20, Silica, Potassium Carbomer, Caprylyl Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Disodium Edta, Phenoxyethanol * Essential Oil <ILN33684> Please be aware that ingredient lists may change or vary from time to time. Please refer to the ingredient list on the product package you receive for the most up to date list of ingredients.

I think I’ll use this balm more often. It’s light on fragrance but strong on performance.


Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2021 at 10:29 am

Posted in Shaving

6 Road Design Changes That Can Save Lives

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Schuyler Null, Anna Bray Sharpin, and Paula Cunha Tanscheit write at World Resources Institute:

Urbanization is by and large a good thing, corresponding with steady declines in extreme poverty. More compact cities may also hold the key to a sustainable future.

But this trend has come with a side effect: more dangerous city streets.

With more vehicles and more people in cities, there are more opportunities for crashes—especially as cities race to keep up with infrastructure demands, sometimes leading to sloppy or ill-planned growth.

The World Health Organization estimates some 1.3 million people die in road-related crashes every year, a 4 percent increase from their last estimate in 2015. Ninety percent of fatalities occur in the developing world, where urbanization is fastest. The majority of these aren’t people in cars — they are walking or riding motorcycles or bicycles.

To reverse this trend, it’s not enough to ask drivers, pedestrians, and other people using the road to simply drive or walk differently; city planners should be intentionally designing roads and cities with safety in mind.

A video produced by WRI Brasil explains six simple road design changes that can significantly improve road safety. These changes put people—not vehicles—at the center of design to reduce speeds, demand more awareness from drivers and create more opportunities for safe crossings. They can even help make cities greener.

1. Shorter Blocks

City blocks can vary in size considerably, from less than 300 feet (90 meters) wide to more than 600 feet in some places. Shorter blocks improve pedestrian safety by creating more intersections and therefore providing more opportunities to cross the street safety. More junctions also mean more places where cars must stop, reducing vehicle speeds. In cases where long blocks are already established, mid-block crossings and pedestrian refuge islands can increase the number of safe crossing options and reduce the need for pedestrians to cross at un-marked locations.

2. Narrower Lanes

On a basic level, narrower lanes shorten the distance of pedestrian crossings, putting people in harm’s way for less time. But they also provide more space for sidewalks, a critical need in dense urban environments. They also have a psychological effect on drivers: Reduced street widths tend to lower vehicle speeds as drivers become more aware of risk.

3. More Roundabouts

Depending on the scale and complexity of the intersection, installing roundabouts or traffic circles can significantly benefit safety. Circular junctions reduce the severity of crashes because all traffic is moving in the same direction, vehicles are forced to slow down and there is a lower chance of head-on collisions. Studies have shown an incredible 70-90 percent reduction in fatal and serious injuries in some places where roundabouts or traffic circles have been installed.

4.  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2021 at 3:23 pm

DNA of Giant ‘Corpse Flower’ Parasite Surprises Biologists

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The world’s biggest flower, Rafflesia arnoldii, is a parasite that spends much of its life inside its vine hosts. New genomic work suggests that the parasites in this group of plants have lost an astonishing share of their genes.

Christie Wilcox writes in Quanta:

They are invisible at first. In their Southeast Asian forest homes, they grow as thin strands of cells, foreign fibers sometimes more than 10 meters long that weave through the vital tissues of their vine hosts, siphoning nourishment from them. Even under a microscope, the single-file lines of cells are nearly indistinguishable from the vine’s own. They seem more like a fungus than a plant.

But when the drive to breed awakens them, the members of the Rafflesiaceae family erupt as immense, stemless, rubbery red “corpse flowers” covered in polka dots, with a putrid smell like rotting meat designed to draw pollinating carrion flies. The blooms of one species, Rafflesia arnoldii, are the largest flowers in the world — each one can be more than a meter across and weigh a whopping 10 kilograms, roughly the heft of a toddler.

More than a decade ago, Rafflesiaceae parasites caught the eye of Jeanmaire Molina, an evolutionary plant biologist at Long Island University in Brooklyn, who wondered if their genomes were as bizarre as their outward forms. Her initial investigations suggested they were. As she and her colleagues described it in a 2014 paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution, they successfully assembled the mitochondrial DNA from one Philippines species of Rafflesia. But they were unable to detect any functional genes from its chloroplasts. The plants seemed to have simply ditched their entire chloroplast genome.

That was almost unthinkable. Chloroplasts are best known for using light to make food, but like all the food-making organelles called plastids, they contain genes that are involved in many key cellular processes. Even malaria parasites still carry a plastid genome, Molina noted, and their last photosynthetic ancestor lived hundreds of millions of years ago.

This shocking finding has now been confirmed by an independent research team from Harvard University. The draft genome for another member of the Rafflesiaceae family that they recently published in Current Biology is full of surprises, showing how far parasites can go in shedding superfluous genes and acquiring useful new ones from their hosts. It also deepens mysteries about the role of highly mobile genetic elements that don’t encode proteins in enabling evolutionary changes. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the study is how much we still have to learn about genomics, particularly in plants, and in parasites — a category of organisms that includes more than 40% of all known species.

Losing to Win

Like Molina, Charles Davis, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University and the curator of vascular plants in the Harvard University Herbaria, was drawn into studying the Rafflesiaceae because they are the most “charismatic and enigmatic of all the quarter-million species of flowering plants,” he said.

He has been trying to reveal their many secrets for nearly 15 years, but a nuclear genome sequence always proved elusive. Finally, his doctoral student Liming Cai (now a postdoctoral researcher in systematic biology at the University of California, Riverside) stepped up to spearhead the project, and with the help of the university’s informatics group and its director of bioinformatics, Timothy Sackton, the team was finally able to put together a draft genome for Sapria himalayana, a species with blooms the size of a human head.

Sapria’s genome follows several trends seen in many other parasitic plants (and in parasites more generally). Like them, Sapria has done away with many genes considered essential to its free-living relatives. Because parasites steal from their hosts, they essentially outsource the labor of metabolism, so they don’t need all the moving biochemical parts of an independent plant cell.

Still, Davis was shocked to see that nearly half of the genes widely conserved across plant lineages had disappeared from Sapria. That’s more than twice as many genes as are lost from the parasitic plants called dodders (genus Cuscuta), and four times the losses in cereal-killing witchweeds (genus Striga). “We knew that there would be loss,” he said, “but we didn’t think it would be on the order of 44% of its genes.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2021 at 3:16 pm

Good news on IRS and tax collection

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The GOP has systematically attacked and defunded the IRS to cripple it so that it cannot accomplish its mission of collecting taxes owed. Partly that is because Republicans in general don’t want to pay taxes and if they can safely cheat (by crippling IRS enforcement capabilities), they will. Partly it’s because Republicans in general do not like government and by cutting government revenue they can weaken government. As Grover Norquist famously wrote, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Their hatred of government seems to be caused by the government helping people.

I am mightily pleased to read that Democrats are funding the IRS so that it can do its job and get the funds needed for the government to operate effectively. This will have almost no effect on those who routinely pay their taxes, but I imagine this initiative will be disturbing to those who evade paying the tax they owe.

I expect the number of random audits will increase, and that too is good. Through random audits the IRS can determine how much money is being lost to tax evasion. Random audits strike me as simply a sensible quality-control measure.

I wonder whether the tax-audit software will be beefed up with AI pattern recognition that will learn to detect common sorts of fraud. One simple check would be to implement a software check to see whether Benford’s law is violated in the tax information an individual or corporation provides. That would be easy to implement, and it’s hard to fool Benford’s law.

Jeff Stein reports in the Washington Post:

White House officials plan to make a massive increase in enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service a central component of the tax proposal they will unveil this week alongside a $1.8 trillion spending package, according to four people briefed on the matter.

President Biden’s American Families Plan, set to be released ahead of the president’s joint address to Congress on Wednesday, calls for devoting hundreds of billions of dollars to child care, universal prekindergarten, and paid family and sick leave, among other domestic priorities.

The tax side of the plan to pay for those efforts includes increasing the amount of capital gains paid by investors above $1 million, as well as increasing the top income tax rate.

But probably the single biggest source of new revenue in the plan comes from dramatically expanding the clout of the nation’s tax agency. It seeks to beef up the number of agents and give the IRS new tools and technology to execute collections and crack down on avoidance, the people said. White House officials have eyed raising as much as $700 billion from toughening IRS enforcement and auditing over 10 years, two of the people said, although the precise amount in the plan remained unclear. Enforcement will be focused on the wealthy, the people said.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private administration deliberations. Officials cautioned the plan had not been finalized. White House officials are looking at increasing the agency’s budget by $80 billion over 10 years, a figure first reported by the New York Times.

If approved, the coming White House proposal would represent a remarkable change to the IRS, which has been beset for more than a decade by problems from steep budget cuts and a growing list of responsibilities. The IRS lost roughly 18,000 full-time positions after 2010, due primarily to cuts pushed by Republicans in Congress under President Barack Obama, with the number of auditors falling to lows unseen since the 1950s.

The federal government is losing billions in unpaid taxes, in part due to racial disparities in the tax code

Those changes have hampered the IRS’s ability to collect taxes even from those who legally owe them, particularly among the rich. Former IRS commissioner Charles Rossotti joined economists Larry Summers and Natasha Sarin in a recent analysis that found the tax agency could raise as much as $1.4 trillion in additional tax revenue with better data, technology, and personnel. Sarin is now deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department under Secretary Janet Yellen. IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig told Congress earlier this month that it “would not be outlandish” to believe the tax gap could exceed $1 trillion annually. The tax gap is the difference between the amount of taxes owed and the amount of tax revenue collected.

White House officials learned during the process of drafting the American Families Plan that they could raise significantly more money from the plan than they initially anticipated, two people familiar with the matter said. Senior administration officials consulted with career staffers at the Treasury Department about revenue estimates, one person familiar with the matter said.

“Democrats believe we should audit rich tax cheats more than poor grandmothers who claim a kid as a dependent,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the author of the Stop CHEATERS Act, a sweeping bill aimed at dramatically increasing enforcement, auditing and reporting requirements. Khanna noted widespread support from Democrats’ disparate factions for the measure. “I am happy to have that debate with Republicans every day between now and 2022.” . . .

Continue reading.

And see also “Finally: Biden Plans to Start Auditing the Rich Again,” a post by Kevin Drum with an interesting graph.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2021 at 10:52 am

The Edwin Jagger razor head is excellent — and so is Institut Karité

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Institut Karité has quite a range of shea-butter-based products, and their 25% shea butter shaving soap, which is what is in the tub, makes quite a good lather, this morning achieved with the aid of a silvertip shaving brush from Whipped Dog — which, despite its modest cost ($32, as I recall), is an excellent brush. Because I had the brush set at standard depth (some asked for knot to be set deeply), I got the benefit of the full loft, and the feel and performance of this little brush are first rate. Its octagonal handle also provides a pleasant grip.

This Edwin Jagger head is mounted on some stock bulldog handle, and the result is a highly satisfactory razor. Three passes stripped away all traces of stubble, and a dot of Institut Karité aftershave balm finished the job. This balm really does the job and dries (and/or is absorbed) quickly, leaving no greasy feel, just smooth, soft skin.

A good start to a day that has dawn clear and sunny..

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2021 at 9:13 am

Posted in Shaving

Code Miko

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Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2021 at 5:12 pm

Parents Want Justice for Birth Injuries. Hospitals Want to Strip Them of the Right to Make That Decision.`

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Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang, Miami Herald, report in ProPublica:

Ashley Lamendola was still a teen when medical staff at St. Petersburg General Hospital delivered the awful news that would change her life forever: Her newborn son, Hunter, had suffered profound brain damage and would do little more than breathe without help.

“It was like an atomic bomb went off in my life,” she said.

Lamendola believed the hospital was partly responsible for Hunter’s birth injuries. But Florida is one of two states that shield doctors and hospitals from most legal actions arising from births that go catastrophically wrong. Lamendola filed a lawsuit against St. Petersburg General anyway, and when it appeared she was gaining traction, the hospital advanced an extraordinary argument.

It suggested that Hunter’s mother was not acting in her son’s best interest and that a critical decision about his future care should be put in the hands of an independent guardian and a judge. Lamendola, attorneys said, was pursuing her own self-interest by refusing to participate in the quasi-government program that compensates the families of children injured at birth.

Under the program, known as the Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, or NICA, the state provides $100,000 upfront and pays for “medically necessary” care for the child’s lifetime. In exchange, parents give up their right to sue hospitals and doctors, lawsuits that can result in judgments or settlements in the tens of millions of dollars.

By choosing to “pursue her own speculative, complicated civil lawsuit” rather than permitting her son to accept his “vested” NICA benefits, Lamendola was trying to profit from Hunter’s injuries, St. Petersburg General attorneys argued in a court filing. They underscored the words “her own.

Had she accepted Hunter’s inclusion in NICA, “the Mother would be unable to pursue her own civil lawsuit, seeking her own separate monetary damages for the Child’s injuries,” the lawyers added.

“You carry a child for nine months, and then you finally get to hold them — eventually in my case,” said Lamendola, who was employed as a customer service rep at an AutoZone when she gave birth. “And you take care of their every want and need, and you put a child before you. I mean, once you have a child, there is no more you. It’s them. It’s us. It’s that baby that needs you and needs everything from you.

“I didn’t understand how somebody who wasn’t me could know what he wants and needs. I knew every sound, every movement, every seizure that he had,” Lamendola said. “And to think that somebody thought they knew better than me. It was wild to me.”

The battle between parents like Lamendola and hospitals like St. Petersburg General can seem like a gross mismatch: Lamendola was a single mom who made $10.50 an hour and lived with her mother. HCA Healthcare, which owns St. Petersburg General, is one of the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chains, with 180 hospitals, 280,000 employees and revenues of $51.5 billion in 2020.

For hospitals facing stunningly high settlements or verdicts, NICA, the state’s no-fault program, is a valuable legal tool — a club to bat away expensive lawsuits. At the cost of $50 per live birth, hospitals can protect themselves from multimillion-dollar judgments.

Paolo Annino, who heads the Children’s Advocacy Clinic at the Florida State University College of Law, said attempts to restrict a parent’s authority through the appointment of a guardian are unusual: In child welfare disputes, for example, parents must be found unfit by a judge before being stripped of their right to decide what’s best for their children.

“What we have here is a scenario where there’s no allegation of offending parents at all,” he said. “The parent is, with very few exemptions, the one who makes the child’s health care decisions.”

NICA came under fire this month after  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2021 at 1:31 pm

John Milton’s defense of free speech

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Nicholas McDowell has an interesting essay in Aeon. Who is he?

Nicholas McDowell is professor of early modern literature and thought at the University of Exeter. He is the author and editor of several books on the relationship between literature, history and ideas in the 17th century, including The Oxford Handbook of Milton (2009). His most recent book is Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton (2020), the first volume of a two-part intellectual biography of Milton.

So he knows Milton, and here he discusses Areopagitica (full text here). He writes:

Published at the height of the first English Civil War, Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, to the Parliament of England (1644), remains a powerful defence of free expression. Printing might now have almost given way to digital media as the form in which beliefs and ideas are proposed, argued with and attacked, but the questions raised by Areopagitica about liberty of thought and speech, and more specifically writing, are more urgent than ever. John Milton, the poet who, in Paradise Lost (1667), composed an English epic that could compete with and even surpass the Greek and Latin classics, was also a prose writer of distinction. This fact tends to be eclipsed by his reputation as a poet. But in Areopagitica, he gave Western liberalism some of the language through which it still conceives of itself. It’s both illuminating and salutary, at a moment of crisis in the liberal tradition, to return to the principles that shaped that tradition. At a time when the possibility of civil war in the United States is openly entertained by some, literally as well as metaphorically, we can learn much about the tensions inherent in liberalism by returning to the origins of Milton’s arguments amid the actual civil war that raged in Britain and Ireland in the mid-17th century.

There’s little evidence that what has become Milton’s best-known prose work had any wide impact on the thinking of his contemporaries: one German reader in 1647 suggested that it should be translated into other languages to ‘give it good circulation in other lands where such tyranny reigns’, but he also thought it ‘rather too satirical’ and that its arguments needed to be ‘more moderately set forth’. The real impact of Areopagitica ­– the title alludes to Isocrates’ seventh oration addressed to the Areopagus, the ancient council of Athens – came in later revolutions and in different lands. Thomas Jefferson quoted it, and the comte de Mirabeau’s translation into French went through four editions between 1788 and 1792.

Its eventual influence on British thought is apparent in the echoes of its argument and imagery in John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty (1859), in which Mill insists that freedom of expression is a precondition of a flourishing society. The occasion for George Orwell’s powerful essay ‘The Prevention of Literature’ (1946), in which he considers the twin threats posed to ‘intellectual liberty’ by ‘totalitarianism’ and ‘monopoly and bureaucracy’, was Orwell’s dismay after attending a meeting of the PEN Club – a society founded in 1921 to further intellectual cooperation among writers – to commemorate the tercentenary of the publication of Areopagitica. That ‘no speaker quoted from the pamphlet which was ostensibly being commemorated’ was, for Orwell, an indication of the failure of his contemporaries to live up to the ideals that they claimed to promote.

The resonance of Areopagitica for US ideals of the free exchange of ideas is, however, apparent to anyone who has been to the New York Public Library. A plaque on Library Way bears this quotation from the pamphlet beside an image of a printing press: ‘Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good persons is but knowledge in the making.’ More prominent is the quotation displayed above the entrance to the main reading room, which preserves the original spelling: ‘A good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life.’

These lofty and poetic declarations emerged out of a more prosaic personal context for Milton. The outbreak of civil war between parliament and the Royalist forces of Charles I in 1642 had caused the ecclesiastical and political mechanisms of prepublication licensing in England, according to which every publication had first to be approved by a committee of bishops, to fall into disuse. The early 1640s consequently witnessed an unprecedented spike in the number of publications in England, many of them polemical attacks on the other political side in the civil war. The Westminster Assembly, composed mainly of clerics of various Puritan beliefs, had begun, by 1643, to discuss what forms of worship should replace the structures of the collapsed Church of England. It was in this atmosphere of innovation and revolution that Milton felt that he could publish, in the same year, proposals for a reform of the divorce laws that would enable a husband to separate from a wife on the grounds, not merely of nonconsummation or adultery, but of unhappiness and incompatibility. For Milton, who was 34 at this point, the argument for reform seemingly had a deeply personal impetus: in the early summer of 1642, he had married Mary Powell, but she had left him after little more than a month to return to her family, and hadn’t come back.

The reception of his tract The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), which he published anonymously and unlicensed, deeply shocked him: it was condemned by the Puritan clergy as being heretical and intending to foster sexual libertinism, and it was cited in petitions to parliament as evidence of the need to reinstall a system of prepublication licensing. Parliament’s Licensing Order of June 1643 required once again that appointed officers, including clerics, examine books for heterodoxy, sedition and libel before licensing them for printing. It was in response to these attempts to restore prepublication censorship on the grounds of the appearance of his own book on divorce reform, among other books charged with promoting heresy, that Milton issued Areopagitica in November 1644 (again without a licence). Yet, as I show in my intellectual biography of the young Milton, Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton (2020), his interest in these matters wasn’t sudden, nor entirely the result of a sense of personal insult.

Milton had been thinking hard about how censorship and state persecution suppressed intellectual and literary achievement for some years prior to Areopagitica. After leaving Christ’s College, Cambridge in 1632, he had embarked on an intensive period of reading about the history of Europe and became particularly interested in episodes of literary censorship in Italy, the country in which he lived and travelled from 1638 to 1639. In 2014, Milton’s copy of the 1544 edition of Giovanni Boccaccio’s book Vita di Dante (c1360), translated as Life of Dante, was discovered in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, complete with annotations, dating from around 1637 to 1638, that mark Boccaccio’s account of how Dante’s political work On Monarchy (1313) was burnt as a heretical text by the papal authorities. Milton even shows his awareness that Boccaccio’s account of this censorship of Dante was itself later censored and that parts of it are missing from some editions of the Life of Dante, marking in his annotations the passages that were excised by the authorities between editions. In other words, Milton identified a process of double censorship that had been imposed in different centuries on two of the Italian writers whom he most admired.

Milton’s fascination with the topic of censorship and the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books, before he wrote Areopagitica, is evident also in his surviving commonplace book, a manuscript notebook compiled mostly during the late 1630s and early 1640s, in which he gathered a list of  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2021 at 1:06 pm

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