Later On

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

Archive for May 19th, 2021

My favorite grain: Kamut®

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Kamut® (hereinafter “kamut,” pronounced “ka-MOOT”) is a trademarked khorasan wheat, an ancient variety with high protein content. The trademark is used only for khorasan that has been organically grown. The grains are enormous, and since I cook and eat only intact whole grains, it looks like giant rice. It has a wonderful flavor and the intact whole grain is pleasantly chewy. (You can also get kamut flakes, the equivalent of rolled oats, which cooks faster.)

After I cook a batch — 1 cup kamut in 3 cups water, cover pot and simmer until all the water’s been absorbed, which typically takes a little over an hour but sometimes two hours — I refrigerate it before eating it. That makes the starch resistant and not so quickly digested. The Kamut® website has a lot more information on the grain — history, nutritional analysis, and so on — and it includes this video:

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 6:01 pm

How to be a genius

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Craig Wright, professor emeritus of music at Yale University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and author of The Hidden Habits of Genius: Beyond Talent, IQ, and Grit  Unlocking the Secrets of Greatness (2020), has an interesting article in Aeon that begins:

Don’t get me wrong – yes, I’m a professor at Yale University, but I’m no genius. When I first mentioned to our four grown children that I was going to teach a new course on genius, they thought that was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. ‘You, you’re no genius! You’re a plodder.’ And they were right. So how did it come to pass that now, some dozen years later, I continue to teach a successful course on genius at Yale, and have written an Amazon Book of the Year selection, The Hidden Habits of Genius (2020). The answer: I must have, as Nikola Tesla urged, ‘the boldness of ignorance’.

I started my professional life trying to be a concert pianist, back in the days of the Cold War. The United States was then trying to beat the Soviet Union at its own games. In 1958, Van Cliburn, a 23-year-old pianist from Texas, won the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition, something akin to the Olympics of classical music. And then in 1972, Brooklyn’s Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in chess. Because I had shown an interest in music, and was also tall with enormous hands, I, too, would become the next Cliburn, at least so my mother declared.

Although our family wasn’t wealthy, my parents managed to provide me with a Baldwin grand piano and find the best teachers in our hometown of Washington, DC. Soon, I was packed off to the prestigious Eastman School of Music, where, once again, every opportunity was placed before me. And I had a strong work ethic: by the age of 21, I had engaged, by my estimation, in 15,000 hours of focused practice. (Mozart had needed only 6,000 to get to the level of master-composer and performer.) Yet, within two years, I could see that I would never earn a dime as a concert pianist. I had everything going for me except one: I lacked musical talent. No special memory for music, no exceptional hand-eye coordination, no absolute pitch – all things very necessary to a professional performer.

‘If you can’t compose, you perform; and if you can’t perform, you teach’ – that’s the mantra of conservatoires such as the Eastman School of Music. But who wants to spend each day in the same studio teaching other likely soon-to-fail pianists? My intuition was to find a larger arena in a university. So off I went to Harvard to learn to become a college professor and a researcher of music history – a musicologist, as it’s called. Eventually, I found employment at Yale as a classroom instructor teaching the ‘three Bs:’ Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Yet the most captivating composer I ran into there was an M: Mozart. My interest in him accelerated with the appearance of the Academy Award-winning film Amadeus (1984). For a time, the entire world seemed obsessed with this funny, passionate and naughty character.

Thus it was a movie, of all things, that caused me to shift the focus of my academic research to Mozart. Yet the cardinal principle of scholarship I’d been taught at Harvard remained the same: if you seek the truth, consult the original primary sources; the rest is simply hearsay. Thus, over the course of 20 years, I went in search of Mozart in libraries in Berlin, Salzburg, Vienna, Krakow, Paris, New York and Washington, studying his autograph (or handwritten) music manuscripts. I found that Mozart could effortlessly conceive of great swaths of music entirely in his head, with almost no corrections. What Salieri said of Mozart in Amadeus no longer seems so fanciful: here ‘was the very voice of God’.

To hold in your hands the divine pages of a Mozart autograph – even if wearing the oft-required white gloves – is at the same time an honour and an exhilaration. The fluctuating angles of his pen, changing size of his note heads and varying tints of ink provide an insight as to how his mind is working. As if invited into Mozart’s study, you watch as this genius, empowered by his huge natural gifts, enters a creative zone, and the music just pours forth.

What other genius, I wondered, worked like Mozart? Here again, it was the autograph manuscripts that drew me in. Who among us has not been attracted to the fascinating designs of Leonardo da Vinci – his sketches of ingenious machines and instruments of war, as well as pacifist paintings? Unlike the original manuscripts of Mozart, the drawings and notes of Leonardo (some 6,000 pages survive) have mostly been published in facsimile editions, and many are now available online.

If Mozart could hear in his head how the music ought to go, Leonardo, judging from his sketches, could simply see in his mind’s eye how the machine should work or the painting should look. Here, too, Leonardo’s natural technical facility is manifest, as seen in the hand-eye coordination that results in correct proportions and the cross-hatching lines that suggest three-dimensional perception. Likewise evident is Leonardo’s relentless curiosity. We watch his mind range across an endless horizon of interconnected interests; on one page, for example, a heart becomes the branches of a tree, which then become the tentacles of a mechanical pulley. How do all these seemingly disparate things of the world hang together? Leonardo wanted to know. With good reason, the cultural historian Kenneth Clark called him ‘the most relentlessly curious man in history’.

Mozart in music, Leonardo in art; what about the everyday world of politics? Here the perfect subject of a study of genius was close at hand: Elizabeth I, queen of England. The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale owns copies of every history of her reign written by her contemporaries. The secret to her success? Elizabeth not only read books voraciously (three hours a day was her wont) but also people. She read, she studied, she observed, and she kept her mouth shut (Video et taceo was her motto). By knowing all and saying little, Elizabeth ruled for nearly 45 years, laid the foundations of the British empire and fledgling capitalist corporations, and gave her name to an entire epoch, the Elizabethan era.

Fascinating! I was learning so much. Why not have students learn along with me – after all, that’s why we have these young people cluttering up the place! And that’s how my genius course – or ‘Exploring the Nature of Genius’ – came to be.

Perhaps it takes a non-genius to analyse how exceptional human accomplishment happens. During my years at Harvard and at Yale, I met a lot of smart people, including a half-dozen Nobel Prize winners. If you’re a prodigy with a great gift for something, you can simply do it – yet might not be aware of why and how. And you don’t ask questions. Indeed, the geniuses I met seemed too preoccupied with committing acts of genius to consider the cause of their creative output. Maybe an outsider looking in has a clearer overview of how the magic gets done.

Year after year, increasing numbers of Yale students enrolled in my course to find the answer but, from the very first, something unexpected happened, and I should have seen it coming: the appreciation of genius turns out to be gender-biased.

Although the ratio of Yale undergraduates is now 50/50 male-female, and although the genius course is a general humanities class open to all, annually the enrolment in that class skews about 60/40 male-female. Students at Yale and other liberal arts colleges vote with their feet and, despite favourable course evaluations, women at Yale don’t seem to be as interested in exploring the nature of genius as their male counterparts are.

Why, I wondered. Are women less excited by competitive comparisons that rank some people as ‘more exceptional’ than others? Are they less likely to value the traditional markers of genius in a winner-take-all world – things such as the world’s greatest painting or most revolutionary invention? Does the absence of female mentors and role models play a part? Why take a course in which the readings, once again, will be mostly about the triumphant accomplishments of ‘great [mostly white] men’? Was the very way I’d framed this course perpetuating, once again, an unconscious bias against women and the assumption of a white cultural supremacy?

Happily, I ultimately ‘capped’ the course at 120 students and, thus, could do bit of social engineering. I was at liberty to admit whom I wished and thereby assure a representative proportion of women and minority students. The aim was not to fill quotas, but to increase diversity of opinion and inspire robust argumentation, things especially useful in a course in which there’s no answer.

‘There is no answer! There is no answer! There is no answer!’ chanted 120 eager undergraduates in the first session of the ‘genius course’, as I urged them on. Students typically want an answer to put into their pocket as they leave class, one they can later deploy on a test – but I felt that it was important to make this point immediately. To the simple question ‘What is genius?’ there’s no answer, only opinions. As to what drives it – nature or nurture – again, no one knows.

The question ‘Nature or nurture?’ always provoked debate. The quant types (mathematics and science majors) thought genius was due to natural gifts; parents and teachers had told them that they’d been born with a special talent for quantitative reasoning. The jocks (varsity athletes) thought exceptional accomplishment was all hard work: no pain, no gain. Coaches had taught them that their achievement was the result of endless hours of practice. Among novice political scientists, conservatives thought genius a God-given gift; liberals thought it was caused by a supportive environment. No answer? Call in the experts: readings from Plato, William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin to Simone de Beauvoir followed, but each had his or her own take.

The students hoped for something more concrete. Some wanted to know if they were already geniuses and what their futures might hold. Most wanted to know how they, too, might become a genius. They had heard that I’d studied geniuses from Louisa May Alcott to Émile Zola, and thought that I might have found the key to genius. So I asked: ‘How many of you think you already are or have the capacity to be a genius?’ Some timidly raised their hands; the class clowns did so emphatically. Next: ‘If you’re not one already, how many of you want to be a genius’? In some years, as many as three-quarters of the students raised their hands. Then I asked: ‘OK, but what exactly is a genius?’ Excitement turned to puzzlement, which was followed by a two-week quest to formulate a definition of genius, one that usually ended with the following sort of hypothesis:

A genius is a person of extraordinary mental powers whose original works or insights change society in some significant way for good or for ill across cultures and across time.

Only gradually, and not until I’d written my book The Hidden Habits of Genius, did I come to see that this complex verbiage might be simplified into something akin to a ‘genius equation’.

Here was a formula that students and the populace at large could immediately grasp: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 4:25 pm

In a Small Town, a Battle for Racial Justice Confronts a Bloody Past and an Uncertain Future

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Here’s another report that makes it hard to understand why many people (white people, it should be noted) believe that the US is free of racism. Carli Brosseau of The News & Observer (Charlotte, NC) reports in ProPublica. The report includes a 20-minute video documentary that’s also worth watching. The report begins:

One afternoon in mid-July, hundreds of people gathered around a stage in front of the historic gray stone courthouse at the heart of the small town of Graham, North Carolina. They were listening to a song of protest.

“We don’t want to die,” a local musician sang out to the diverse crowd.

The group wanted the removal of a marble statue of a Confederate soldier that had stood watch over the town square since white citizens of Alamance County erected it in 1914. But protesters in this central North Carolina county seat were seeking much more.

“We don’t want to die no more,” the man belted out again.

Across the street from the monument, dozens of people, most of them white, lined the manicured edge of a small park. They waved Confederate battle flags. Some wore T-shirts purchased at a local motorcycle shop that sells patches with Nazi symbols and KKK “life member” insignia. The shirts bore a picture of the town’s Johnny Reb statue with the words “I ain’t coming down.”

A brass bell that once tolled from the roof of the original courthouse, built before the Civil War and demolished in the 1920s, sat at the center of the park. A man in the crowd had seized control of it, heaving its clapper over and over against the bell’s lip to drown out the protesters.

The singer and his audience did their best to ignore the noise. “We don’t want to die no more,” he sang out again. The bell ringer looked around. Nobody, including nearby law enforcement officers, tried to stop him. He picked up his pace. The singer continued, “That’s why we on a riot.”

For many protesters, the statue symbolized the deep injustices that continue to plague America: the police and vigilante violence that killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others; the criminal, voting and nuisance laws that appear to invariably favor white people; the backlash that seems to follow every small gain in Black political power.

Their demonstration, the first of its kind here in living memory, signaled that a vocal demand for change was rising in Alamance County, a place where the civil rights movement never flourished. Even with the surging national momentum of Black Lives Matter, the protesters knew the odds of change were steep. Black people still endured racial slurs in the town square and grocery stores. The governing boards of the city and county were all-white and had been that way, with brief exceptions, for a century and a half. Many Black people feared even going downtown.

Alamance County offers a rare view into the fight for racial justice in small-town America. With its long history of violently suppressing Black political action, it is an especially bitter battlefield in the national conflict over race, police and power. Locals seeking change launched a stubborn rebellion after Floyd’s death, bound together by grief and a sense of profound unfairness. Law enforcement cracked down, sending dozens to jail. People calling themselves Confederates backed the status quo, and some grew increasingly radical.

A raucous and diverse coalition of church leaders, longtime activists and newfound converts collided with the most visible representative of the local power structure: Sheriff Terry Johnson. A tireless political operator, Johnson had served as the county’s top law enforcement official since first being elected in 2002. So dominating was his presence that supporters and opponents alike refer to Graham as “Terry’s Town.”

Johnson first banned demonstrations on courthouse grounds, but a federal judge ruled against him in early August. Switching tactics, the 71-year-old sheriff kept the heat on by outfitting his deputies in military gear and repeatedly arresting protesters for minor infractions. His actions delighted his base of voters, who like to describe Alamance as North Carolina’s last bastion of conservatism, a place where “Southern heritage” has yet to be diluted by outsiders. And he inspired the Confederates, who saw in him their truest defender.

Since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last May, Johnson and his deputies have jailed scores of protesters. A judge and a prosecutor deemed some of the charges unconstitutional. Deputies arrested a woman at one protest for swearing after they tackled her husband. At another, they arrested a man for impeding traffic by standing on a curb with a sign held aloft. Charges against both were dropped.

Civil rights groups criticized Johnson for overly aggressive police tactics. Deputies body-slammed one man after he called them “pigs” while leaving a county commissioners meeting. Grandparents and young children were choked by clouds of pepper vapor during a preelection march to the polls.

In an interview in March, Johnson said his approach was necessary to keep order. He pulled out a copy of the oath he took when he became sheriff and read it aloud:

“I, Terry Steven Johnson, do solemnly and sincerely swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States; that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina, and to the constitutional powers and authorities which are or may be established for the government thereof; and that I will endeavor to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of said State, not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, to the best of my knowledge and ability; so help me God.”

Personal politics or racism play no role in his decisions, he said: “I have no preference for anything except following the law.”

But the law hasn’t always protected Black people in Alamance County. Ku Klux Klan chapters that formed there after the Civil War were infamous for extreme violence, including the lynching of the county’s foremost Black leader in 1870. In the 1920s, the governor sent members of the state militia to Graham to stop a lynching, but the ensuing shootout left a bystander dead. A month later, a masked mob kidnapped a Black man and shot him to death.

In the 1960s, locals vigorously protested school integration. At a rally of 500 parents in 1968, a clergyman invited the ultraconservative John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan to join his group’s campaign against the federal government’s school desegregation plan. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit alleging that the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office had racially profiled Latinos. Johnson fought the charges and won in district court, settling only after federal officials filed an appeal.

In recent years, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 3:47 pm

When All Moments Have Equal Value

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I read David’s Raptitude blog more often I post about it, but I am moved to post what he wrote today because it relates to my interest in deriving enjoyment from the small passing pleasures of daily life. He writes:

A young Austrian bodybuilder arrives in America and starts looking for work.

He can find only menial labor that pays almost nothing. Cleaning up construction debris. Lifting crates onto trucks.

He does this work with a grim face and without complaint. His employer, a small, apprehensive man, sometimes apologizes when he asks the bodybuilder to do particularly unglamorous tasks.

When he’s asked to haul thirty splintery wooden crates up to the second floor:

“It is fine. I get to strengthen my biceps, and enjoy how strong they already are.”

When he’s asked to gather all the scrap iron from a factory floor and put it into a bin:

“It is good. I get to strengthen my back, and enjoy how strong it already is.”

After a year or so, he’s able to find a better paying job as a security at a roughhouse bar. This comes with new challenges, however. He has to deal directly with people, often drunk and belligerent ones. The owner gives him one piece of advice: “Stay mean. Don’t give an inch or they take a mile.”

Despite the bodybuilder’s imposing physical presence, or perhaps because of it, conflicts in the bar rarely become physical. He is able to defuse altercations with words alone, almost every time. Sometimes he even gets the involved parties to shake hands, or at least nod in truce. The owner is surprised at this.

“You’re too nice to be a bouncer,” the owner tells him. “You shouldn’t have to deal with these sorts of people.”

“It is all right. I am doing what I came here to do. Every time I have to talk to someone, I get to practice my English, and enjoy how strong it already is. Every time someone is aggressive, I get to practice my patience. Every time someone is upset, I get to practice my kindness. It is all strength training to me.”

“Don’t you want a break from ‘training’ all the time? It sounds like you’re making a hard life for yourself.”

“No. Every other way to live is harder.”

***

I’m starting to see the unifying principle behind all the philosophies that really appeal to me (e.g. Buddhism, Stoicism, Arnold Schwarzenegger). They view all of life’s moments as having equal value, at least where it counts, and what counts is your skill in embracing the moments that make up your life.

It’s a genius idea, possibly the smartest thing human beings ever came up with. Embracing all moments as a rule transforms every day into precisely what you’re looking for: an interesting variety of experiences, every one of which offers you what you value, regardless of what happens in particular.

This is a dramatic improvement over the prevailing mammalian strategy – desperately trying to make certainties out of favorable possibilities, and impossibilities out of unfavorable possibilities. It’s a losing game by definition, so playing it makes us unhappy. The bigger our brains get, the more obsessively we try to map out every contingency, and the more of our lives we spend suffering possibilities in our heads instead of appreciating the actualities around us.

All moments can be appreciated, on a basic level at least, when you value the two opportunities each one offers – to respond skillfully to what’s happening, and to experience being alive for another moment. When this is what’s valued – rather than the fleeting bubbles of pleasure or ease they might bring — an unpleasant moment is just as good as a pleasant one, sometimes better.

For at least a few thousand years, curious individuals have occasionally stumbled upon this brilliant principle. Like all the best ideas, people discovered it independently, in different times and places. It’s so powerful they sometimes start philosophy schools or religions around it. The Stoics worked on using each moment to practice patience, rationality, and fortitude. The Buddhists used their moments to practice meeting reality without desire or aversion. The Christians, the Daoists, and probably many other traditions, all had their own version.

Even more people, probably most of us, have stumbled on . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 3:03 pm

Some things I see when I walk to the store

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I walked a few blocks to a local store to buy some roasted sunflower seed (as a topping for this), some organic soybeans (which I’ll cook for tempeh), and some whole-kernel Kamut (the video at the link is worth watching). Along the way I started to notice that I was constantly encountering wonderful plants, so I took photos of some of them. Just above the bottom row are two photos side by side. The one on the left shows a well-trimmed evergreen shrub; the one on the right is a close-up showing the tiny colorful pine cones (or seed clusters) that are growing on it. (Click any photo to enlarge it and see the photos as a slide show; right-click the enlarged photo to open it in a new tab, and then you can click it to really enlarge it.)

Update: And let me add a photo I took of a non-floral subject: one of Victoria’s more than 350 little free libraries:

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Daily life

In Texas, Local Governments Must Toe the Line

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Kevin Drum has (as usual) a good post:

Republicans are always droning on about the importance of local control, but their dedication to the cause always seems to waver as soon the locals start doing something they don’t like:

Most government authorities in Texas will soon be prohibited from requiring people to wear masks, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday….The executive order Mr. Abbott announced on Tuesday would prevent counties, cities, public health authorities and local government officials from requiring people to wear masks beginning on Friday. Violators could be fined $1,000.

So much for local governments being closer to their people and understanding their needs better than the one-size-fits-all bureaucrats back in the capital. But that was all just a sham from the beginning anyway, wasn’t it?

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government

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Media bias delegitimizes Black-rights protesters

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Systemic racism is endemic in the US (and other countries, though the focus of this study is the US, though they are many (who coincidentally are overwhelmingly white) who deny the problem exists (see the previous post for an example). Danielle Kilgo writes in Nature on the workings of media bias:

The protests following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police a year ago built on those that came before — in response to the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and far too many others. The global reckoning was a result of decades of work by advocates who prepared the public to engage with race and racism. One reason their message had taken so long to become mainstream lies in how the press typically covers protests.

I study media representation, marginalized communities and social movements. I have quantified narratives in news coverage of Black civil rights since the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, comparing it with coverage of protests for and against former US president Donald Trump, women’s rights, gun control, environmental protection and more. My colleagues and I use computational methods to find linguistic patterns, rhetoric and sentiment in texts, together with human coding for overarching themes including ‘violence’, ‘combativeness’ and ‘racial justice’, as well as for contextual cues, such as the passive voice in headlines, for example “peaceful protesters teargassed”, which neglect to say who took the action.

Linguistic analysis can show what narratives are being presented to and adopted by the public. Such work — examining which groups are privileged at the expense of others — can help many enterprises, including the scientific system, to repair damage from stigmatizing narratives.

Civil-rights protesters are the least likely to have their concerns and demands presented substantively. Less space is given to protesters’ quotes; more space to official sources. Although my work captures amazing individual pieces of journalism that explore themes such as civil rights, protesters’ motivations and communities’ grief, the dominant narrative accentuates trivial, disruptive and combative actions. My early analyses hint that practices improved during the wake-up call that was 2020, but not by much.

In 2017, more than half the coverage of immigration, health and science demonstrations included protesters’ grievances. Less than one-quarter of Black civil-rights protest coverage did so. After a police officer shot Michael Brown in 2014 in Missouri, one-third of articles emphasized disruption and confrontation. Fewer than 10% described protesters’ demands for reform, and then did so shallowly. Our sample found broad consistency across the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and top newspapers such as The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalUSA TODAY and The Washington Post. The pattern persists over national and local papers and broadcast coverage, as well as around the world.

Activists’ work here in Minneapolis, where Floyd died, extends well before and after the events of May 2020, and is often done by people carrying the trauma of their own losses. Many are veterans of demonstrations that followed the deaths of dozens of Black people, including those of two other young Minnesotan men, Philando Castile and Jamar Clark. What I learnt from being on the ground is just how much mainstream media does not cover. Namely, how organized, civil, inspiring and restorative many protest efforts are — from setting up food drives to holding public vigils.

In our preliminary analysis of cable news and Associated Press coverage from May to December 2020, there’s a small rise (12% of coverage) in mentions of police violence during protests from years past. Otherwise, there is little change. Headlines such as “Police violence is just the tip of the issue”, and “Lawmakers use protest momentum to push state racial reforms”, made up only about 69 of 690 articles. Headlines focusing on protester violence and disruption were about four times more common. There were days when some protesters were violent or used radical tactics, but there were solid weeks of peaceful demonstrations. Descriptions of the latter appear in only 4.9% of articles.

Consistently under-represented from the eight years’ worth of coverage my team has worked on — from newspapers, websites and TV — are discussions about how racism intersects with other issues. For example, the connection between police shooting Black people and gun violence is rarely made. Stories about police violence against Black and trans women are often pushed to the margins.

Before 2020, journalists’ reaction to my research was usually indifference. As newsrooms around the country made efforts to reckon with their racist pasts, they were more willing to engage in initiatives, training courses and workshops. This shift makes reanalysis essential. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 11:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

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‘A Community for All’? Not So Fast, This Wisconsin County Says.

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Reid J. Epstein has an interesting report in the NY Times. It’s a kerfuffle in a county about the slogan “Community for All,” in which it becomes apparent that the county is not “a community for all” but indeed exhibits a high level of intolerance and racism. I suppose I still support their use of the slogan in an aspirational sense, but it is clear that today the slogan is factually incorrect. (However, I don’t think those opposed to the slogan would phrase their opposition in those terms.) The report begins:

WAUSAU, Wis. — A standing-room-only crowd packed a drab courthouse meeting room one recent night and tried to resolve a thorny, yearlong debate over whether Marathon County should declare itself “a community for all.”

The lone Black member of the county board, Supervisor William Harris, stood up and begged his colleagues who opposed the resolution to change their minds.

“I want to feel like I’m a part of this community,’’ he said. “That’s what a lot of our residents are saying. We want to contribute to our community. We want to feel like a part of this community.”

But a fellow board member was just as passionate at the meeting on Thursday in arguing that acknowledging racial disparities is itself a form of racism.

“When we choose to isolate and elevate one group of people over another, that’s discrimination,” said Supervisor Craig McEwen, a retired police officer who is white.

When George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis last May, communities and businesses all over the world engaged in a reckoning over social justice, diversity and inclusion. But while scores of other communities adopted new policies and issued proclamations vowing to make progress, the residents of Marathon County, with a population of 135,000 that is 91 percent white, couldn’t agree on what to say.

A year later, they still can’t.

About the only consensus that has emerged is that the prolonged fight over a four-word phrase has only made things worse, ripping at the communal fabric in this central Wisconsin county and amplifying the tensions that had been simmering before Mr. Floyd’s death.

The racial divisiveness that President Donald J. Trump stoked during his four years in the White House endures in the daily life of towns like Wausau, exacerbated by the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of white police officers, and leading to new battles over whether racism is baked into local institutions. Wausau is an old paper mill town now filled with working-class manufacturing workers, medical professionals and people who work in the tourism industry, but the schisms here serve as a window into the ways that opposing views of racial equity have roiled American life.

In the end, the executive committee of the county board rejected the resolution by a 6-to-2 vote on Thursday night, a result that both sides say is worse than never having considered it in the first place.

Advocates say the failure to reach an agreement will serve as a civic black eye and convey the message of an unwelcoming community. Opponents argue the fight has been a waste of time that makes the county look racist when they say it is not.

“I don’t have the same type of confidence or faith in the community like I used to,” said Supervisor Ka Lo, a 39-year-old of Hmong descent who said she had received death threats while pushing for the resolution. “I was born and raised here, and I don’t recognize the community that I grew up in right now.”

The “community for all” story began last summer when a small group of county officials began drafting a resolution they hoped would acknowledge disparities faced by local people of color. The original title, No Place for Hate, was deemed too inflammatory, so it was renamed A Community for All.

After six revisions and countless hours of negotiation and debate, they arrived at a document calling for the county to “achieve racial and ethnic equity to foster cross-cultural understanding and advocate for minority populations.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 11:41 am

The compulsion to order things linearly

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Linear orders (for example, arranging things on a line according to weight or height or price) are appealing because they allow for instant comparisons: if A is to the left of B, then A is lighter(or shorter or cheaper) than B. But linear orders work only when you are looking at a single characteristic, and not always then — colors, for example, don’t go into linear orders so well (because there are three components: hue, saturation, and brightness). With multidimensional variation, linear ordering doesn’t work, and if linear order is forced, much information is lost (or ignored).

I’ve pointed out this issue with respect to razors. Many men think of razors being linearly ordered from “mild” to “aggressive” so that two razors can be instantly compared: if A is to the left of B, the A is milder and B is more aggressive.

But as I gained some experience in using razors, I realized that razors are best ordered not on a line but on a plane, with one axis being “comfort” (feeling) from “mild” (in that sense) to “aggressive” and the other axis “efficiency” (performance) from “mild” (in that sense) to “aggressive.” And even that leaves out other characteristics, such as material, manufacturing method, price, aesthetic appeal (though that varies by individual).

The Eldest pointed out that the same issue arises with respect to autism: to think of a line with one end being extremely autistic and the other being normal, with autistic people being at some point on the line, does not match reality. (The term “autism spectrum” encourages that idea, BTW, since a spectrum — for example, the radio spectrum — implies a linear ordering — of frequency, for radio.)

There are multiple dimensions to autism, as the diagram below suggests.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 10:46 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The headline fight: New jobs vs. GOP craziness

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today President Joe Biden traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, to sell his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan. Visiting Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center, he tested an electric version of the classic F-150 pickup and urged Americans to use the race to dominate the market in electric vehicles as a way to create jobs. The American Jobs Plan provides $174 billion to switch the nation’s car industry away from fossil fuels and toward renewables, and Ford’s electric F-150 could help sell the idea.

Union leaders support the idea of constructing the nation’s new electric fleet despite their concern that the new vehicles need less human labor than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. (Ford says that building the new electric truck—the Lightning—will add jobs.) But Republican lawmakers, especially those whose states produce oil, remain skeptical.

Biden is quietly and deliberately trying to rebuild the American economy, which has been gutted in the years since 1981. Yesterday, he announced that the Treasury would deposit the benefits of the child tax credit, expanded in the American Rescue Plan Congress passed in March shortly after Biden took office, directly into people’s bank accounts on the 15th of every month, beginning in July. The child tax credit will amount to at least $250 per child every month, up to an annual amount of up to a maximum of $3600 per child. About 90% of all families with kids—about 39 million of them—will receive the money; the program is expected to cut child poverty in half. It is a tax cut, but one that benefits ordinary Americans.

Biden appears to be gambling that restoring the economy and rebuilding the middle class will weaken Trump’s hold on the dispossessed voters who cling to his racist nationalism out of anger at being left behind in today’s economy. He gives the impression of a president who is above the fray, simply trying to do what’s best for the nation.

But it seems hard for him to get media attention as the Republicans continue to make more dramatic news.

Today’s headlines were dominated by the fight in Congress over a commission to investigate the events surrounding the January 6 insurrection. Last week, Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and John Katko (R-NY), the top Republican on the committee, hammered out a deal to create an independent commission patterned on the one that investigated the 9/11 attack. Katko was one of the ten Republican representatives who voted to impeach Trump after the January 6 insurrection.

According to Politico, McCarthy authorized Katko to negotiate and gave him a list of demands, including equal representation for Republicans and Democrats on the committee, power for both parties to subpoena witnesses, and a final report before the end of the year so it wouldn’t still be active before the 2022 election.

Thompson conceded these three big points to the Republicans. And then, this morning, McCarthy came out against the deal. “Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” he said.

Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) has repeatedly called for McCarthy to be subpoenaed to testify about his contact with Trump around the time of the insurrection, and Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) says that McCarthy dismissed him when Kinzinger warned before January 6 that the party’s rhetoric would cause violence.

“McCarthy won’t take yes for an answer,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said. “He made three requests—every single one was granted by Democrats, yet he still says no.” A senior Republican House aide told Politico: “I think Kevin was hoping that the Democrats would never agree to our requests—that way the commission would be partisan and we can all vote no and say it’s a sham operation…. Because he knows Trump is going to lose his mind” over the commission.

Indeed Trump later weighed in, saying the deal was a “Democrat trap.” This afternoon, in yet another illustration of how determined House leadership is to protect the former president, it began “whipping” House Republicans—that is, trying to get them to hold the party line— to oppose the creation of the commission. Nonetheless, Politico reported tonight that dozens of Republicans are considering supporting the commission despite how much it would infuriate Trump, because it would provide them political cover in 2022.

The measure will come to the floor of the House on Wednesday and should pass. The real question will be how it fares in the Senate, where seven Republican senators voted to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection in January. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), who voted to acquit the former president, told Sahil Kapur of NPR News that he wanted a bipartisan commission that would focus on January 6. “We clearly had an insurrection on that particular day, and I don’t want it to be swept under any rug,” he said.

While Republicans try to avoid a reckoning over January 6, there are signs that the hold of Trump loyalists is weakening. Yesterday, the Maricopa County, Arizona, Board of Supervisors sent a spectacular letter to Karen Fann, the president of the Arizona Senate that authorized the “audit” of the ballots cast in Maricopa County by the private company Cyber Ninjas. The 14-page letter tore apart the entire project, pointing out that the Cyber Ninjas are utterly ignorant of election procedures.

It is a devastating take down, saying, for example: “You have rented . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 10:04 am

Iodine deficiency and plant-only diets

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I mentioned in yesterday’s recipe that I would try including kelp noodles for the iodine — specifically, a local brand, but kelp noodles are readily available online. And today, Dr. Greger explains the importance:

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 9:54 am

Another truly excellent cheap razor

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The WSP Prince made a terrific lather from Meißner Tremonia Himalayan Heights shaving soap, in both consistency and lather.

The Dorco PL602 is a truly excellent razor judged on the two criteria of comfort on face (including a strong disinclination to nick) and efficiency at removing stubble. When I got it, they were less than $2 each — injection molded plastic in mass production drives down costs — but the capitalist compulsion to change and replace products has made th4e razor harder to find and more expensive (around $12 now, and if you’re going to pay that much, the Baili 171 would be a better choice (at $6), since it will last longer. I had one I had used for years, and then one day when I went to change the blade the threaded stem on the cap simply snapped off. (So the excellence I point out does not extend to materials or lifespan.) Interestingly, the vintage Merkur white bakelite slant is more than 80 years old and doing fine: bakelite, though somewhat brittle, ages better than the plastic Dorco used. (And, of course, capitalism considers a long product lifespan a drawback.)

The feel on the face of the PL602 is unlike that of the Baili 171, however, and more closely resembles the feel and performance of the RazoRock Baby Smooth (which has no lifespan problems, being machined from either aluminum alloy or stainless steel, depending on the model).

I note that my criteria for judging the feel and performance of a razor do not include aesthetics, materials, manufacturing method, and so on. I focus solely on comfort and efficiency.

With a very smooth face — it really is a remarkably good razor (in terms of comfort and efficiency) — I splashed on some Vitos Tabacco EDT and am ready for the day. (“Tabacco” is how Italians (for example) spell “tobacco.”)

Written by Leisureguy

19 May 2021 at 9:17 am

Posted in Shaving

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