Later On

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

Archive for May 17th, 2021

History rhymes: Israel does not want outsiders to observe their actions

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Many still recall the USS Liberty incident, in which Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats attacked and attempted to sink a lightly armed US Navy technical-research ship that was in international waters. The ship was clearly flying the US flag, and there is no doubt in the minds of many that Israel deliberately attacked the vessel. Casualties included 35 killed and 171 wounded, and the ship was badly damaged.

And day before yesterday, Israeli warplanes bombed and destroyed a civilian building in Gaza, giving the residents had 1 hour to pick what possessions they wanted to keep and get out of the building. Al Jazeera reports:

Youmna al-Sayed had less than an hour to get to safety.

But with just one elevator working in al-Jalaa tower, an 11-storey building in Gaza City housing some 60 residential apartments and a number of offices, including those of Al Jazeera Media Network and The Associated Press, al-Sayed made a dash for the stairs.

“We left the elevator for the elderly and for the children to evacuate,” the Palestinian freelance journalist said. “And we were all running down the stairs and whoever could help children took them down,” she added. “I myself helped two children of the residents there and I took them downstairs – everyone was just running quickly.”

Moments earlier, the Israeli army, which has been bombarding Gaza for six straight days, had given a telephone warning that residents had just an hour to evacuate the building before its fighter jets attacked it.

Al Jazeera’s Safwat al-Kahlout also had to move quickly. He and his colleagues “started to collect as much as they could, from the personal and equipment of the office – especially the cameras”, al-Kahlout said.

“Just give me 15 minutes,” an AP journalist pleaded over the phone with an Israeli intelligence officer. “We have a lot of equipment, including the cameras, other things,” he added from outside the building. “I can bring all of it out.”

Jawad Mahdi, the building’s owner, also tried to buy more time.

“All I’m asking is to let four people … to go inside and get their cameras,” he told the officer. “We respect your wishes, we will not do it if you don’t allow it, but give us 10 minutes.”

“There will be no 10 minutes,” the officer replied. “No one is allowed to enter the building, we already gave you an hour to evacuate.”

When the request was rejected, Mahdi said: “You have destroyed our life’s work, memories, life. I will hang up, do what you want. There is a God.”

The Israeli army claimed there were “military interests of the Hamas intelligence” in the building, a standard line used after bombing buildings in Gaza, and it accused the group running the territory of using journalists as human shields. However, it provided no evidence to back up its claims.

“I have been working in this office for more than 10 years and I have never seen anything [suspicious],” al-Kahlout said.

“I even asked my colleagues if they’ve seen anything suspicious and they all confirmed to me that they have never seen any military aspects or the fighters even coming in and out,” he added.

“In our building, we have lots of families that we know for more than 10 years, we meet each other every day on our way in and out to the office.”

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of AP, also told Al Jazeera: “I can tell you that we’ve been in that building for about 15 years for our bureau. We certainly had no sense that Hamas was there.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

It strikes me that Israel did not want reporters covering the conflict in Gaza, and this was an efficient way to preventing it.

I have to say Jared Kushner’s great peace plan doesn’t seem to be working. Patrick Kingsley in the NY Times explains what led to the current outbreak of war:

 Twenty-seven days before the first rocket was fired from Gaza this week, a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard. Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.

It was the night of April 13, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was also Memorial Day in Israel, which honors those who died fighting for the country. The Israeli president was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish site that lies below the mosque, and Israeli officials were concerned that the prayers would drown it out.

The incident was confirmed by six mosque officials, three of whom witnessed it; the Israeli police declined to comment. In the outside world, it barely registered.

But in hindsight, the police raid on the mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was one of several actions that led, less than a month later, to the sudden resumption of war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, and the outbreak of civil unrest between Arabs and Jews across Israel itself.

“This was the turning point,” said Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the grand mufti of Jerusalem. “Their actions would cause the situation to deteriorate.”

That deterioration has been far more devastating, far-reaching and fast-paced than anyone imagined. It has led to the worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in years — not only in the conflict with Hamas, which has killed at least 145 people in Gaza and 12 in Israel, but in a wave of mob attacks in mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel.

It has spawned unrest in cities across the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces killed 11 Palestinians on Friday. And it has resulted in the firing of rockets toward Israel from a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, prompted Jordanians to march toward Israel in protest, and led Lebanese protesters to briefly cross their southern border with Israel.

The crisis came as the Israeli government was struggling for its survival; as Hamas — which Israel views as a terrorist group — was seeking to expand its role within the Palestinian movement; and as a new generation of Palestinians was asserting its own values and goals.

And it was the outgrowth of years of blockades and restrictions in Gaza, decades of occupation in the West Bank, and decades more of discrimination against Arabs within the state of Israel, said Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Parliament and former chairman of the World Zionist Organization.

“All the enriched uranium was already in place,” he said. “But you needed a trigger. And the trigger was the Aqsa Mosque.”

It had been seven years since the last significant conflict with Hamas, and 16 since the last major Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

There was no major unrest in Jerusalem when President Donald J. Trump recognized the city as Israel’s capital and nominally moved the United States Embassy there. There were no mass protests after four Arab countries normalized relations with Israel, abandoning a long-held consensus that they would never do so until the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had been resolved.

Two months ago, few in the Israeli military establishment were expecting anything like this.

In private briefings, military officials said the biggest threat to Israel was 1,000 miles away in Iran, or across the northern border in Lebanon.

When diplomats met in March with the two generals who oversee administrative aspects of Israeli military affairs in Gaza and the West Bank, they found the pair relaxed about the possibility of significant violence and celebrating an extended period of relative quiet, according to a senior foreign diplomat who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely.

Gaza was struggling to overcome a wave of coronavirus infections. Most major Palestinian political factions, including Hamas, were looking toward Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for May, the first in 15 years. And in Gaza, where the Israeli blockade has contributed to an unemployment rate of about 50 percent, Hamas’s popularity was dwindling as Palestinians spoke increasingly of the need to prioritize the economy over war.

The mood began to shift in April.

The prayers at Aqsa for the first night of Ramadan on April 13 occurred as the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, was making his speech nearby.

The mosque leadership, which is overseen by the Jordanian government, had rejected an Israeli request to avoid broadcasting prayers during the speech, viewing the request as disrespectful, a public affairs officer at the mosque said.

So that night, the police raided the mosque and disconnected the speakers.

“Without a doubt,” said Sheikh Sabri, “it was clear to us that the Israeli police wanted to desecrate the Aqsa Mosque and the holy month of Ramadan.”

A spokesman for the president denied that the speakers had been turned off, but later said they would double-check.

In another year, the episode might have been quickly forgotten.

But last month, several factors suddenly and unexpectedly aligned that allowed this slight to snowball into a major showdown.

A resurgent sense of national identity among young Palestinians found expression not only in resistance to a series of raids on Al Aqsa, but also in protesting the plight of six Palestinian families facing expulsion from their homes. The perceived need to placate an increasingly assertive far right gave Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, little incentive to calm the waters.

A sudden Palestinian political vacuum, and a grass-roots protest that it could adopt, gave Hamas an opportunity to flex its muscles.

These shifts in the Palestinian dynamics caught Israel unawares. Israelis had been complacent, nurtured by more than a decade of far-right governments that treated Palestinian demands for equality and statehood as a problem to be contained, not resolved.

“We have to wake up,” said . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Benjamin Rosenbaum, a writer, made this comment on Facebook:

American politicians enjoy piously invoking “Israel’s right to defend itself”, and many Americans catch themselves nodding along to what seems like a commonsensical thought experiment: what if someone lobbed a missile over your borders? Surely no nation would simply ignore it! We too would pound the hell out of them!

And, yes, firing a missile over your borders is an act of war. However — never mind for a moment occupation and UN resolutions and all that other stuff that makes our heads hurt, just keeping it very simple — embargo is also an act of war. As is assassination. Somehow we always do the thought experiment “what if Canada fired a missile at us” and we never do the thought experiment “what if Canada embargoed all our ports and airports, periodically shut off our water and power supply, didn’t allow anyone to sell us food or medical supplies, didn’t allow us to leave, didn’t allow anyone to come in, and we were regularly dying for lack of medical care, and also they regularly assassinated our political leaders?”

“Israel’s right to defend itself” sounds like Israel is minding its own business (terrorizing and evicting its minorities, brutally suppressing its protesters… hey, we’ve all been there, right?) when Hamas, just trying to stir shit up, makes an unprovoked attack. This is very silly because if Hamas-controlled Gaza is a neighboring state, then Israel is constantly committing acts of war against it. Every day the ports don’t open is a day when “any other nation” would fire a rocket, right?

I am not a big fan of Hamas, people. Hamas is loud and clear that it wants to kill me (Hamas isn’t too into making fine distinctions between “the Israeli state”, “Israelis” and “Jews”). (Also there are a bunch of people I love in Israel, and it is very scary to be herded into bunkers because your prime minister is an asshole who has provoked a war, and I have a deep emotional connection to Israel as a big part of world Jewry and as the source and locus of my religion, and, sure, my people’s homeland; which is, by the way, all a bunch of emotions happening in my brain, which does not magically give me any rights to anything).

But: come on. You cannot have it both ways. If Gaza is a separate state, it is a state with which Israel is at war, all the time; and acting shocked when it fires rockets is very odd. If you are at war with a state and you want it to stop shooting at you, maybe consider making peace?

And if Gaza is not a separate state — and you have to squint pretty hard to claim that an entity that has no control of its exports, imports, water, power, free movement of people, where no one has a valid passport, etc., is a state — then it is a piece of territory Israel controls in which it is slowly strangling three quarters of a million people, and depriving them of almost all human rights. It’s one or the other.

I mean, no, dude, I don’t know how to make peace there either, the positions of the two sides are so incompatible. A younger me was full of ideas, but a younger me was partly playing into a racist and colonialist idea that clever people from the enlightened West should arrive with Solutions. So, younger me, STFU. I’m not Palestinian or Israeli; it is not my job to know what they should do. I am a human, so I know that people should stop killing each other, and also particularly the people with 95% of the weapons who are inflicting 95% of the casualties bear the responsibility for that happening. And, I am an American; so it IS my job to react to the bullshit American politicians spout. And this whole “oh noes! For Some Reason naughty Hamas is firing the rocketz! Everything was Going So Well before Why Would They Do That” is a monumental act of willful pretend ignorance.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 6:31 pm

What a day! But tempeh incubator box ready for assembly

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Today The Wife and I tackled the tempeh incubator box project and cut from rigid foam insulation the six sides of the box, which I will assemble later (not today). Experience is a great teacher, and even just in the course of this project the final pieces were cut more easily and quickly than at the beginning.

Photos, etc., will be posted in time, but I’m relieved that the heavy lifting is done (metaphorically speaking: the rigid foam insulation board, 1″ thick, is quite light).

Now I’m relaxing with a salad and soon a movie.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 5:36 pm

Posted in Daily life

How a Cheerleading Monopolist Played Rough During the Pandemic

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

. . . I’m writing about how Varsity Brands, the cheerleading monopolist, has handled the pandemic. Like many monopolists, at first it looked like it was in trouble, then it was hit with legal problems, and now it’s doing better than ever, raising money and appearing to issue threats to competitors. Plus:

  • AT&T concedes its merger with Time Warner failed.
  • In a major power move, Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee overwhelmingly supported progressive trust-buster Lina Khan.
  • Why Are There Shortages of Plastic Bags Needed for Vaccine Production? . . .

Varsity Brands Lets Slip the Value of Its Monopoly

Last January, just before the pandemic, I wrote up one of the more interesting monopolies I’ve seen, which is a Bain Capital-owned firm named Varsity Brands that has rolled up power in cheerleading. Yes, cheerleading, the gymnastics-style team sport, largely but not entirely female, where young athletes don sparkly uniforms and do incredibly dangerous and difficult stunts.

Cheerleading is a tight knit community, and the people in it – parents, coaches, cheerleaders, judges, event producers, gym owners – care deeply about ‘the spirit of cheer.’ The sport is important to millions of young people, who make lifelong friendships and gain confidence and pride in themselves. And yet, it’s also incredibly expensive for no good reason. Parents tell me they are shocked at the prices for equipment and events; some take second jobs to afford the high fees, because that’s how much their kids love it.

In this close-knit passion for a common activity, cheerleading is not so different from most industries. In Silicon Valley in the 1970s, for instance, there was a bar called the Wagon Wheel where semiconductor engineers would meet and exchange gossip excitedly about the latest discoveries. “Information travels at the speed of beer,” was the expression. People are often passionate about what they do, no matter how nerdy or weird, and industries are social networks and identities as much as they are mechanisms to produce goods and services. Go on to the dating site FarmersOnly if you don’t believe me.

And that’s why I love the saga of Varsity Brands. There’s a real human story, a community of people that love a youth sport and the act of growing up, intersecting with the worst trends in American business. After all, if there’s a monopoly in something as idiosyncratic as cheerleading, then it’s evident corporate concentration is a systemic feature of the American economy, where monopolies aren’t just massively powerful institutions like Google and Comcast, but are firms like Varsity in niche markets too. As Harvard antitrust professor Einer Elhauge noted, a cheerleading monopoly shows that most of the economic theories policymakers have been using to see corporate power are wrong.

Cheerleading became a monopoly the same way that most monopolies form in America, through mergers. Over the course of a few decades, Varsity bought up 80-90% of the cheer contests, the most significant one being its purchase of Jam Brands in 2015. It also gained control over the nonprofit rule-making organizations for the sport, most importantly the U.S. All Star Federation, which it financed and staffed.

With control over the rules of the sport, and how the tournaments worked, Varsity gained power over the gyms where athletes train. It raised prices for its events, and charged inflated amounts for apparel, uniforms and equipment. At the same time, it gave secret rebates to gyms based on how many tournaments they attended and how much apparel they bought. Gyms and independent event promoters operated in fear of Varsity, not just because of this rebate system, but because Varsity determines which teams got to go to the best tournaments, and even the scoring systems deciding who wins and loses. Its control over the sport, and resulting pricing power over apparel and equipment, was so iron-clad that CNBC called Varsity one of the “few retail businesses of scale that may also have an Amazon defense.”

How valuable is its monopoly in this corner of the athletic world? Varsity recently let slip a number. In a March filing of a lawsuit against a former employee, Varsity’s legal counsel, William S. Rutchow, told the district court that if it were to face significant competition for just one tournament, the D2 Summit, its losses could “exceed $75,000,000.” Keep in mind, that’s what Varsity’s monopoly power helps generate just for one event. The parents who wonder why the sport is so expensive can just dwell on that number.

Varsity’s During Covid: “A Cash Flow Machine”

Two months after I wrote about this cheer monopoly, Covid hit, and nearly all live events and sports businesses, including cheerleading, shut down. Varsity reduced its workforce by thousandscut employee pay, and canceled contests. But problems for Varsity extended far beyond the virus. In May, a law firm filed the first class action antitrust suit against the cheerleading giant, with several more filed since. Even worse, in September, USA Today uncovered a scandal of sexual predators in the sport, linked to the USASF, the nonprofit governing body controlled by Varsity.

One would generally think all of these problems, and a pandemic shutting down most live events, would be bad for Varsity’s business. But in fact, Varsity seems to be doing better than ever. In the midst of the pandemic, CEO Adam Blumenfeld announced they had raised $185 million in just ten days, four times what they originally sought. “This amount is distinguishable and differentiating in our marketplace,” he said.

And as it turns out, the pandemic was in other ways very good for Varsity, beyond just getting cheap capital. Bain Capital had been trying to clean house after buying the firm a few years ago, and it was able to do so with its layoffs. And canceling live events wasn’t necessarily bad for the corporation, because it had monopolized the space. As one industry participant told me, Varsity was able to get teams to compete virtually, and had virtually no costs – no stages, setup, or event costs beyond web streaming. “Varsity is a cash flow machine,” one person in the industry told me. Their costs dropped by 80-90%, but their fees only declined by a third. It’s no wonder that, according to the Dallas Morning News, Varsity has “grown its cash pile during the pandemic.”

Antitrust Suits Drive Competition

It’s not all good news for Varsity. One of the consequences of the increased scrutiny caused by the antitrust suits is an explosion of anger within the tight-knit cheer community. Some gym owners, apparel makers, parents and event producers decided to get out from under Varsity’s shadow, and shift, as one person told me, “towards a free and ethical market.” With the lawsuits pending, people . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 12:56 pm

Google, Deloitte, and Citigroup quietly collaborate with GOP group pushing voter suppression

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Judd Legum and Nick Surgey report at Popular Information:

Several large corporations that have recently issued public statements supporting voting rights — including Google, Deloitte, and Citigroup — are also funding and collaborating with a top Republican group advocating for new voter suppression laws. Internal documents obtained by Popular Information and Documented reveal the corporations participated in a “policy working group” on “election integrity” with the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a party organization that is actively supporting new voter suppression bills. Participation in the roundtable required a minimum annual contribution of $15,000 to the RSLC.

For example, on March 31, Google’s SVP for Global Affairs, Kent Walker tweeted that the company is “concerned about efforts to restrict voting at a local level” and “strongly support[s] the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

A week later, Google’s State Policy Manager, Joe Dooley, was listed as a participant in a private RSLC policy working group led by the organization’s “Election Integrity Committee.” The April 6 presentation, obtained by Popular Information and Documented, details an array of proposals to suppress voting, including purging of voting lists, more stringent voter ID requirements, and targeting of voting centers. The RSLC also opposes any federal action to protect voting rights. The meeting was run by Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R), who has embraced Trump’s lies and conspiracies about election fraud.

The RSLC presentation deck makes clear that the purpose of restricting voting under the guise of “election integrity” is to elect more Republicans. One slide asserts that Republican control of state legislatures is the “last line of defense for the Republican Party.” The RSLC argues that Republicans must act “now” because “2022 is just over the horizon — election integrity is likely to have a major impact.”  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including charts and slides.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 12:53 pm

Human microbiome extinction event

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Andrew Curry writes in Science:

Every meal you eat is digested with the help of the bountiful bacteria thronging your intestines. When you’re done digesting, those bacteria are also part of what’s excreted. Now, 1000-year-old piles of dried-out poop are offering insights into how the billions-strong bacterial ecosystems in the human gut have been altered by sanitation, processed foods, and antibiotics.

In a study published today in Nature, researchers analyzed ancient DNA from coprolites, or preserved feces, found at the back of rock shelters in Utah and Mexico. The data give scientists their first good look at ancient gut bacterial communities, says Stanford University biologist Justin Sonnenburg. “These paleofeces are the equivalent of a time machine.”

They suggest that over the past millennium, the human gut has experienced an “extinction event,” losing dozens of species and becoming significantly less diverse, says lead author and Harvard Medical School microbiologist Aleksandar Kostic. “These are things we don’t get back.”

Previous studies have used the gut bacteria of today’s hunter-gatherers and herders as a proxy for the ancient microbiome. Their microbial diversity far exceeds that of people in industrial societies, and researchers have linked low diversity to higher rates of “diseases of civilization,” including diabetes, obesity, and allergies. But it wasn’t clear how much today’s nonindustrial people have in common with ancient humans. “We really wanted to be able to go back in time and see when those changes [in the modern gut microbiome] came about, and what’s causing them,” says Harvard University geneticist Christina Warinner, a co-author on the paper. “Is it food itself? Is it processing, is it antibiotics, is it sanitation?”

An international team analyzed eight ancient coprolites preserved by dryness and stable temperatures in three rock shelters in Mexico and the southwestern United States. Researchers radiocarbon dated the samples, some of which were excavated almost 100 years ago and stored in a museum, to between 0 C.E. and 1000 C.E. Meradeth Snow, a molecular anthropologist at the University of Montana, Missoula, then rehydrated tiny bits of feces, recovering longer DNA strands than previous paleofeces analyses.

Earlier attempts to analyze the ancient gut microbiome had been thwarted by the challenge of sorting ancient gut bacterial DNA from that of microbes invading from the surrounding soil, says Marsha Wibowo, a Ph.D. student at Harvard’s Joslin Diabetes Center, who analyzed the DNA. She singled out the ancient gut species by focusing on DNA that had been damaged by time, and on sequences from bacteria known to be associated with the mammalian gut. Some of the ancient DNA was unfamiliar, however, evidently representing never-before-seen kinds of extinct bacteria.

The coprolites yielded 181 genomes that were both ancient and likely came from a human gut. Many resembled those found in nonindustrial gut samples today, including species associated with high-fiber diets. Bits of food in the samples confirmed that the ancient people’s diet included maize and beans, typical of early North American farmers. Samples from a site in Utah suggested a more eclectic, fiber-rich “famine diet” including prickly pear, ricegrass, and grasshoppers.

But the ancient microbiomes also stood apart from their modern counterparts, for example lacking markers for antibiotic resistance. And they were notably more diverse, including dozens of unknown species. “In just these eight samples from a relatively confined geography and time period, we found 38% novel species,” Kostic says.

Treponema bacteria, for instance, are virtually unknown in the industrialized gut microbiome and appear only occasionally in people living nonindustrial lifestyles today. But, “They’re present in every single one of the paleofeces, across all the geographic sites,” Kostic says. “That suggests it’s not purely diet that’s shaping things.” He hopes future experiments on coprolites from other time periods will make it possible to isolate when the biggest shifts took place and what prompted them.

The findings echo another study of much older samples by Warinner and colleagues published this week, which reported DNA from previously unidentified microbes on the teeth of Neanderthals and early modern humans.

The new data from old poop show no one on the planet today has been spared changes to their microbiome. “Nonindustrial populations, including their microbiomes, shouldn’t be considered proxies for our ancestors,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology geneticist Mathieu Groussin.

The findings also suggest we’ve lost a lot of microbial helpers in the recent past, and our bodies may not have had time to adapt. “This study gives us a gold standard to check on what species we’ve lost,” Sonnenburg says.

Because feces aren’t considered human remains under U.S. law, Warinner says, there was  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 11:44 am

When governments go bad: Environment department tried to bury research that found huge underspend on Australian threatened species

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It is all to common for organizations to act as entities that focus on their own survival and growth as their primary mission and subordinate their ostensible mission to those priorities, including betrayal of their ostensible mission. Lisa Cox reports in the Guardian:

The federal government tried to stop the publication of an academic paper that found it needed to drastically increase its spending on threatened Australian wildlife.

Internal documents released to Guardian Australia under freedom of information laws show senior officials in the federal environment department spent months pressuring the scientists from the government-funded Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

The scientists had drafted a paper in 2019 that compared Australian threatened species funding with that in the US. They found Australia was spending just a tenth of what the US dedicated to trying to recover endangered wildlife.

The documents show that before a meeting with two of the hub’s scientists at the University of Melbourne the department drew up options, including “don’t publish the paper” or remove references to the government program.

Another option considered was publishing the paper under a different set of author names – something that could have qualified as academic misconduct.

The research, known as the Spending to Save paper, was ultimately published in the journal Conservation Letters in November 2019 after the researchers deleted references to the government program and agreed not to promote its findings in the media.

The environment department said in a statement on Friday, after this story was published, that: “We strongly reject any assertion that department officials sought to pressure researchers in relation to the non-publication or authorship of the paper.”

Don Driscoll, a professor at Deakin University who led a recent study that surveyed Australian scientists about pressures they face to change or not release their work, said the internal documents revealed a “disgraceful example of scientific suppression”.

“It’s really worrying because the public service is trying to hide important information about the state of our biodiversity from the public,” he said. “The public needs to know why our biodiversity is under threat. They need to know it’s being enormously under-funded.”

This week’s federal budget delivered only a marginal increase in funding for nature after years of spending cuts.

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub is one of six “hubs” funded through the federal government’s national environmental science program (NESP) from 2014 to 2021. Its researchers are drawn from 10 Australian universities.

The “spending to save” paper found Australia was spending about $122m a year on endangered wildlife, about 10% of what was being spent in the US and about 15% of what was needed to prevent the extinction of species.

It was written when the environment minister, Sussan Ley, was new to the role and the government was under pressure about its record on threatened species, which was being scrutinised through a Senate inquiry and multiple media reports.

In June 2019, the hub notified the department it had written a paper on the subject and it had been accepted for publication. The email triggered a flurry of activity among senior officials, who raised concerns about the paper with the University of Melbourne’s Brendan Wintle.

When Wintle responded with a plan to “move forward in our aim of working with the department on this”, Beth Brunoro, a first assistant secretary, was dismissive. In an email to colleagues she rejected Wintle’s plan, saying there was a “fundamental difference of perspectives on the role of the hub”.

In another email an unnamed official wrote the research was “not helpful in providing any evidence base for policy development” suggesting it would have been better to ask how governments could target spending to achieve the best results.

Nicholas Post, another official, wrote to his colleagues that he had previously told his team in the department that they needed to think more “politically/strategically”.

In early July, Post told the threatened species commissioner Sally Box and another senior official that he and Brunoro, were meeting with Wintle “to remind him of the importance of focusing on science rather than policy matters”.

None of the correspondence suggests Ley or her office were aware of what was playing out in her department.

Tensions about the paper culminated with a meeting between Brunoro, Post and Box and Wintle and another of the paper’s authors, Martine Maron, in Melbourne in late August. In notes prepared ahead of the meeting, department officials again outlined their concerns, writing that the researchers’ “advocacy-type” approach could make them appear politically biased and undermine their credibility to provide unbiased science.

The briefing note listed several . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 11:40 am

Liz Cheney v. her party (especially Kevin McCarthy)

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), whom the Republican House conference dumped as chair last week after she refused to kowtow to former president Trump, said some interesting things to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday this morning. She reiterated that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has information about conversations with Trump surrounding the events of January 6 and should be subpoenaed if he will not talk about those things voluntarily (and, by implication, under oath).

Cheney is bringing back into the media cycle a number of things we heard between the election and January 6, but she has said that McCarthy should be subpoenaed enough times that it’s hard to believe she is talking generally.

On ABC’s This Week, Cheney also repeated the information she gave last week: that Republicans were afraid to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial because they were frightened for their lives. You may recall that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-CA) said something similar in his closing remarks in January 2020 at Trump’s first impeachment trial, and Republicans claimed to be outraged. Senator James Lankford (R-OK) told reporters: “That’s insulting and demeaning to everyone to say that we somehow live in fear and that the president has threatened all of us.”

And yet, sixteen months later, here we are.

Cheney is not the only Republican who is turning on the former president and his loyalists. Last night, Trump posted a statement claiming that “the entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona”—where the bizarre “audit” is underway—“has been DELETED!” The statement goes on to make sweeping claims about “this unbelievable Election crime,” and so on.

But, in real time, the Republican recorder of Maricopa County wrote on Twitter in response to Trump’s statement: “Wow. this is unhinged,” Stephen Richer wrote. “I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now.” He went on: “We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5. If we don’t call this out….”

And Maricopa County did call it out. In a remarkable Twitter thread, the Maricopa County official account destroyed the effort by the private company Cyber Ninjas to recount the 2020 votes in that county. “The 2020 elections were run w/ integrity, the results certified by the county & state were accurate, & the 2 independent audits conducted by the County are the true final word on the subject,” the account said. “We know auditing. The Senate Cyber Ninja audit is not a real audit.” The account went on to list all the many ways in which this audit is simply a propaganda effort to shore up the Big Lie that the election was stolen.

This weekend we also learned that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 9:08 am

Medieval Italian Longsword Fighting Techniques

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Depending on how the future unfolds, you may or may not need to know how to use a longsword effectively, but if the knowledge does prove useful, Open Culture points out the Fior di Battaglia (“Flower of Battle”), an Italian fencing manual by Fiore de’i Liberi dating from circa 1404.

The manual describes using a longsword in actual hand-to-hand combat, rather than in a formal (and bloodless, God willing) fencing match done now as a sport. This video, included in the post at the link, shows some of the moves from the manual.

The post also includes pages from the manuscript, which is copiously illustrated. Here is just one example:

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 8:59 am

Monday mornings are always great

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Since I skip shaving on Sunday, Monday always begins with a great shave, which sets the tone for the day: shaving a two-day (and well-prepped) stubble with a good slant always makes for a good shave.

Prep this morning included (of course) Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave, and then a very nice lather from Mystic Water Leather & Smoke shaving soap, created with my Yaqi Bunny brush, whose 19mm synthetic knot is ample.

The Above the Tie S1 slant is a good razor, but the slant part is minimal. Nonetheless, it does deliver a good shave and perhaps slightly better than the R1, which seems to have much the same feel. Three passes left my face smooth and undamaged for a splash of Latha. If you click the photo you can enlarge it enough to read part of the list of ingredients, so you can see that this aftershave, like the one I used Saturday, is based on the same basic astringent lotion, which you also can order. Add a few drops of an essential oil or fragrance oil of your choice, and you have your own brand of aftershave. (Label design is important, as any graphic artist will tell you.)

 

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2021 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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