Later On

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

Archive for July 6th, 2021

Looking back at January 6, 2021: The day of the insurrection

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Six months ago today, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, intending to stop the counting of the certified ballots that would make Joseph R. Biden president and Kamala Harris vice president. This attack was unprecedented. It broke our nation’s long history of the peaceful transfer of power.

You know the story of that day. Former president Donald Trump refused to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, insisting that he had lost only because the election had been “stolen” from him, despite Biden’s decisive victory of more than 7 million votes and 74 electoral votes. He urged his supporters to stop Biden’s election from becoming official.

What has surprised me most in the six months since is how quickly the leaders of the Republican Party turned from establishing oligarchy—a process that the country has undergone in the past—to embracing authoritarianism, which it hasn’t.

Since 1986, Republican leaders have pushed policies that concentrate wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. In 1986, they began to talk of “voter integrity” measures that would cull Black voters from the rolls; by 1994, after the Democrats passed the Motor Voter Act allowing voter registration at state offices like the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Republicans began to say they were losing elections only because of “voter fraud.” Suppressing the vote became part of the Republican strategy for winning.

But voter suppression has a long history in America. Especially in the 1850s and the 1890s, political parties concerned about losing power cut their opponents out of the vote.

After the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, Republican leaders accepted the support of talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who created a narrative in which Democrats were dangerous socialists, out to destroy home and family. With the establishment of the Fox News Channel in 1996, that narrative, shared not by reporters but by personalities behind sets meant to look like newsrooms, skewed reality for FNC viewers.

But promoting a false narrative through media is not new to the United States. Elite enslavers in the 1840s and 1850s similarly shaped what information their neighbors could hear.

In 2000, Republicans put into office George W. Bush, who had lost the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes. The election came down to the state of Florida, where more than 100,000 voters had recently been removed from the voter rolls. A recount there stopped after a riot encouraged by Roger Stone, and the Supreme Court then decided in favor of Bush.

In 2016, Trump, too, lost the popular vote, but the distribution of those votes enabled him to win in the Electoral College.

But installing a president who has lost the popular vote is not new, either. In 1877 and 1889, presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison both took office after losing the popular vote, Hayes by 250,000 votes, Harrison by more than 100,000.

In 2010, Republican leaders used Operation REDMAP (the Redistricting Majority Project) to win control of swing state legislatures and deliver the states to the Republicans by gerrymandering them. It worked. After the 2010 election, Republicans controlled the key states of Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan, as well as other, smaller states, and they redrew congressional maps using precise computer models. In the 2012 election, Republicans received 1.4 million fewer votes for the House than Democrats did, but won a 33 seat majority.

Still, gerrymandering has been around for so long it’s named for early Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, whose name a journalist mixed with “salamander” in 1812.

Taken together, all these old tactics, amplified by modern technology, enabled the Republican leadership to lay the foundation for an oligarchy. Beginning in 1981, wealth began to move upward significantly, reversing the trend from 1933 to 1980, when wealth compressed. By 2017, lawmakers who had initially opposed Trump appeared to come around when he backed a huge corporate tax cut and put three originalists who endorsed the Republican vision of America on the Supreme Court.

Then Trump lost the 2020 election.

Before January 6, Republican lawmakers seemed to humor the outgoing president as he refused to accept the outcome. Trump and his people launched and lost more than 60 lawsuits over the election. They tried to pressure election officials in both Georgia and Arizona to change the outcome in those states. They refused to start the normal transition process that would enable Biden and Harris to set up their administration. And Republican lawmakers, trying to court Trump’s help in the Georgia Senate special runoff elections of January 5, kept their mouths shut.

And then January 6 happened. At a rally on Washington, D.C.’s Ellipse, Trump lied to his supporters again and again that the election had been stolen “by emboldened radical-left Democrats.” “We will never give up, we will never concede,” he told them. “You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.” He promised (falsely) that Vice President Mike Pence could send the ballots back to the states for recertification in his favor, “and we become president and you are the happiest people.”

“[W]e’re going to have to fight much harder,” he said, “[b]ecause you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated…. And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

“So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

In the ensuing crisis, lawmakers had to be rushed out of the chambers as rioters broke in. Five people died, and 140 police officers were injured. It could have been much worse: the insurrectionists erected a gallows for Pence. Nonetheless, even after the insurrection, 147 Republicans voted against certification of the electoral votes.

Still, at first, many Republican lawmakers appeared to condemn the events of January 6. But they quickly came around to defending the Big Lie that Trump won the election. That lie is behind the voter suppression measures enacted by a slew of Republican-dominated states, as well as the new measures in Arizona and Georgia that enable legislatures to have control over election results.

In the House, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2021 at 8:58 pm

UNC Chapel Hill kisses Walter Hussman’s ass

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Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2021 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Education, Media, Politics

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The Tragedy of Polarization

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First, some interesting statistics from The Eldest:

June 2021 data

100% of COVID-19 deaths in Maryland occurred in people who were unvaccinated

95% of new COVID-19 cases in Maryland occurred in people who were unvaccinated (and that 5% includes people like my colleague, who is fully vaccinated but on immunosuppressive drugs as an organ transplant recipient: because she was vaccinated, she needed treatment for the COVID infection but was never in danger of death)

93% of new COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maryland occurred in people who were unvaccinated

Michael A. Cohen writes:

Over the weekend, I published my latest column at MSNBC, looking at the growing disparity in red and blue state America vaccination rates.

This chart, put together by Seth Masket and the Denver Post, tells an alarming tale.

If you live in a state that voted for Joe Biden, you are far more likely to be vaccinated than if you live in a state that voted for Donald Trump. Of the 18 states that have hit the 70 percent vaccination rate benchmark, all are states that went for Biden.

I am particularly fascinated by what’s happening in Missouri. Here’s a look at how the Show Me State voted in the 2020 election.

If you head over to the NYT’s interactive vaccine map and check out Missouri, you’ll notice that the two of the counties that voted for Biden, Boone County (in central Missouri) and St. Louis County (in eastern Missouri), have the highest vaccination rates in the state. The third Jackson County is among the state leaders.

Quite simply, going forward, Americans who supported Trump last November are more likely to get sick and die from COVID-19 than those who did not. If that doesn’t speak to the deadly consequences of political polarization, I don’t know what does.

As I note in the piece … what’s happening on vaccines is a part of a larger, disquieting trend:

Blue state Americans have far greater access to health care. Their political leaders invest more in education, day care, and other safety net programs. They strictly regulate handguns, which means fewer of their residents die from gun violence. Medicaid benefits are generous and are not tied to punitive regulations like work requirements.

Today, more than a decade after Obamacare became law, there are still 12 states that have refused to accept federal money to expand Medicaid … Not surprisingly, all 12 states have Republican-controlled state legislatures and the rationale for not accepting the federal government’s largesse is grounded in political polarization: They want to have nothing to do with a federal program associated with Barack Obama. That means nearly 4 million people are being deprived of access to health insurance for literally no good reason.

This gets to a significant phenomenon in American society that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Blue state America is more democratic, has higher standards of living, better health outcomes, and more generous government benefits, while red state America is becoming more authoritarian, with lower standards of living, a more frayed social safety net, and worse health outcomes. As a result, an American’s potential for living a long and happy life is increasingly tied to where they live and how they vote.

When you combine these trends with greater levels of hostility between Democrats and Republicans, with members of both parties inclined to view the other party with outright hostility, and more residential segregation by partisan and political identity, you have a situation in which the United States is functionally a house divided. The very idea of a shared American identity is becoming an increasingly antiquated notion. I fear the fight over vaccines is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Don’t Forget

I highly recommend watching this extraordinary video assembled by the digital team at the New York Times of the January 6 insurrection. It captures, in vivid detail, the utter chaos and mayhem of that day, the extent to which the storming of the Capitol was organized and planned, how close we were to a mass casualty event, including the deaths of lawmakers, and how woefully unprepared the Capitol Police were for the violence that day. Watching this video puts to rest any doubt that this was an armed insurrection against the United States government, and, as citizens, we have a responsibility to bear witness to what happened that day – especially as the former president and his allies seek to whitewash the events of that day.

What’s Going On?

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2021 at 3:23 pm

Evolution finds amazing solutions: Moustached bat example

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Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2021 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine?

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I drink coffee from time to time, but definitely not regularly because I too easily become physically addicted, so that if I don’t have it in the morning, I feel tired and too sluggish to move, and if I then skip it for a few days I get terrible headaches. Tea does not affect me the same way, so I stick to tea as my main morning cuppa.

Of course, coffee has many health benefits, or so coffee companies tell us, and God knows they paid scientists handsomely to come up with those results. Michael Pollan writes in the Guardian:

After years of starting the day with a tall morning coffee, followed by several glasses of green tea at intervals, and the occasional cappuccino after lunch, I quit caffeine, cold turkey. It was not something that I particularly wanted to do, but I had come to the reluctant conclusion that the story I was writing demanded it. Several of the experts I was interviewing had suggested that I really couldn’t understand the role of caffeine in my life – its invisible yet pervasive power – without getting off it and then, presumably, getting back on. Roland Griffiths, one of the world’s leading researchers of mood-altering drugs, and the man most responsible for getting the diagnosis of “caffeine withdrawal” included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the bible of psychiatric diagnoses, told me he hadn’t begun to understand his own relationship with caffeine until he stopped using it and conducted a series of self-experiments. He urged me to do the same.

For most of us, to be caffeinated to one degree or another has simply become baseline human consciousness. Something like 90% of humans ingest caffeine regularly, making it the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, and the only one we routinely give to children (commonly in the form of fizzy drinks). Few of us even think of it as a drug, much less our daily use of it as an addiction. It’s so pervasive that it’s easy to overlook the fact that to be caffeinated is not baseline consciousness but, in fact, an altered state. It just happens to be a state that virtually all of us share, rendering it invisible.

The scientists have spelled out, and I had duly noted, the predictable symptoms of caffeine withdrawal: headache, fatigue, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, decreased motivation, irritability, intense distress, loss of confidence and dysphoria. But beneath that deceptively mild rubric of “difficulty concentrating” hides nothing short of an existential threat to the work of the writer. How can you possibly expect to write anything when you can’t concentrate?

I postponed it as long as I could, but finally the dark day arrived. According to the researchers I’d interviewed, the process of withdrawal had actually begun overnight, while I was sleeping, during the “trough” in the graph of caffeine’s diurnal effects. The day’s first cup of tea or coffee acquires most of its power – its joy! – not so much from its euphoric and stimulating properties than from the fact that it is suppressing the emerging symptoms of withdrawal. This is part of the insidiousness of caffeine. Its mode of action, or “pharmacodynamics”, mesh so perfectly with the rhythms of the human body that the morning cup of coffee arrives just in time to head off the looming mental distress set in motion by yesterday’s cup of coffee. Daily, caffeine proposes itself as the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates.

At the coffee shop, instead of my usual “half caff”, I ordered a cup of mint tea. And on this morning, that lovely dispersal of the mental fog that the first hit of caffeine ushers into consciousness never arrived. The fog settled over me and would not budge. It’s not that I felt terrible – I never got a serious headache – but all day long I felt a certain muzziness, as if a veil had descended in the space between me and reality, a kind of filter that absorbed certain wavelengths of light and sound.

I was able to do some work, but distractedly. “I feel like an unsharpened pencil,” I wrote in my notebook. “Things on the periphery intrude, and won’t be ignored. I can’t focus for more than a minute.”

Over the course of the next few days, I began to feel better, the veil lifted, yet I was still not quite myself, and neither, quite, was the world. In this new normal, the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep. That reconsolidation of self took much longer than usual, and never quite felt complete.

Humanity’s acquaintance with caffeine is surprisingly recent. But it is hardly an exaggeration to say that this molecule remade the world. The changes wrought by coffee and tea occurred at a fundamental level – the level of the human mind. Coffee and tea ushered in a shift in the mental weather, sharpening minds that had been fogged by alcohol, freeing people from the natural rhythms of the body and the sun, thus making possible whole new kinds of work and, arguably, new kinds of thought, too.

By the 15th century, coffee was being cultivated in east Africa and traded across the Arabian peninsula. Initially, the new drink was regarded as an aide to concentration and used by Sufis in Yemen to keep them from dozing off during their religious observances. (Tea, too, started out as a little helper for Buddhist monks striving to stay awake through long stretches of meditation.) Within a century, coffeehouses had sprung up in cities across the Arab world. In 1570 there were more than 600 of them in Constantinople alone, and they spread north and west with the Ottoman empire.

The Islamic world at this time was in many respects more advanced than Europe, in science and technology, and in learning. Whether this mental flourishing had anything to do with the prevalence of coffee (and prohibition of alcohol) is difficult to prove, but as the German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch has argued, the beverage “seemed to be tailor-​made for a culture that forbade alcohol consumption and gave birth to modern mathematics”.

In 1629 the first coffeehouses in Europe, styled on the Arab model, popped up in Venice, and the first such establishment in England was opened in Oxford in 1650 by a Jewish immigrant. They arrived in London shortly thereafter, and proliferated: within a few decades there were thousands of coffeehouses in London; at their peak, one for every 200 Londoners.

To call the English coffeehouse a new kind of public space doesn’t quite do it justice. You paid a penny for the coffee, but the information – in the form of newspapers, books, magazines and conversation – was free. (Coffeehouses were often referred to as “penny universities”.) After visiting London coffeehouses, a French writer named Maximilien Misson wrote, “You have all Manner of News there; You have a good fire, which you may sit by as long as you please: You have a Dish of Coffee; you meet your Friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t care to spend more.”

London’s coffeehouses were distinguished one from another by the professional or intellectual interests of their patrons, which eventually gave them specific institutional identities. So, for example, merchants and men with interests in shipping gathered at Lloyd’s Coffee House. Here you could learn what ships were arriving and departing, and buy an insurance policy on your cargo. Lloyd’s Coffee House eventually became the insurance brokerage Lloyd’s of London. Learned types and scientists – known then as “natural philosophers” – gathered at the Grecian, which became closely associated with the Royal Society; Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley debated physics and mathematics here, and supposedly once dissected a dolphin on the premises.

The conversation in London’s coffee houses frequently turned to politics, in vigorous exercises of free speech that drew the ire of the government, especially after the monarchy was restored in 1660. Charles II, worried that plots were being hatched in coffeehouses, decided that the places were dangerous fomenters of rebellion that the crown needed to suppress. In 1675 the king moved to close down the coffeehouses, on the grounds that the “false, malicious and scandalous Reports” emanating therefrom were a “Disturbance of the Quiet and Peace of the Realm”. Like so many other compounds that change the qualities of consciousness in individuals, caffeine was regarded as a threat to institutional power, which moved to suppress it, in a foreshadowing of the wars against drugs to come.

But the king’s war against coffee lasted only 11 days. Charles discovered . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2021 at 3:02 pm

A stirring response to a racist university in North Carolina

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Nikole Hannah-Jones issued a statement on her decision to decline a (reluctant and belated) tenure offer from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and to accept the Knight Chair appointment at Howard University. It’s a powerful statement, and I think it should be read in its entirety.

Some passages from the statement:

. . . As part of the months-long tenure process, I had to write a teaching statement, a creative statement, and a service statement. I had to teach a class while being observed by faculty. Dean King solicited letters to assess my portfolio of work and professional accomplishments from several academic experts in the field of journalism whom I did not personally know. I presented to the journalism faculty. Following these steps, my tenure was put to vote by all the full professors of the journalism school, who were overwhelmingly in support.

My tenure package was then submitted to the university’s Promotion and Tenure committee, which also overwhelmingly approved my application for tenure. My tenure package was then to be presented for a vote by the Board of Trustees in November so that I could start teaching at the university in January 2021. The day of the Trustees meeting, we waited for word, but heard nothing. The next day, we learned that my tenure application had been pulled but received no explanation as to why. The same thing happened again in January. Both the university’s Chancellor and its Provost refused to fully explain why my tenure package had failed twice to come to a vote or exactly what transpired. The rest of this story has been well documented in the press.

Being asked to return to teach at Carolina had felt like a homecoming; it felt like another way to give back to the institution that had given so much to me. And now I was being told that the Board of Trustees would not vote on my tenure and that the only way for me to come teach in the fall would be for me to sign a five-year contract under which I could be considered for tenure at a later, unspecified date. By that time, I had invested months in the process. I had secured an apartment in North Carolina so that I would be ready to teach that January. My editors at The New York Times had already supplied quotes for the press release of the big announcement. I did not want to face the humiliation of letting everyone know that I would be the first Knight Chair at the university to be denied tenure. I did not want to wage a fight with my alma mater or bring to the school and to my future colleagues the political firestorm that has dogged me since The 1619 Project published. So, crushed, I signed the five-year contract in February, and I did not say a word about it publicly.

But some of those who had lobbied against me were not satisfied to simply ensure I did not receive tenure. When the announcement of my hire as the Knight Chair came out at the end of April, writers from a North Carolina conservative think tank called the James G. Martin Center railed against the university for subverting the board’s tenure denial and hiring me anyway. The think tank had formerly been named after Art Pope, an influential conservative activist who now serves on the UNC Board of Governors, who had helped birth the center. The article questioned how I had been hired without the Board of Trustees approval, and its writer argued that, because the university hired me anyway after the board stymied my tenure, the Board of Governors “should amend system policies to require every faculty hire to be vetted by each school’s board of trustees.” And yet, when that article was published, it had not been made public that I had been hired without the board approving my tenure or my hire. Even faculty at the journalism school were not aware that I had not been considered for tenure and would not learn this until some days later.

Nine days after the James G. Martin Center published this piece, reporter Joe Killian at N.C. Policy Watch broke the story that, because of political interference and pressure by conservatives, I had been denied consideration for tenure and instead offered a five-year contract. The story about the denial of consideration went viral, and I was dragged into the very thing that I had tried to avoid as the actions of the Board of Trustees became a national scandal. . .

. . .  I cannot imagine working at and advancing a school named for a man who lobbied against me, who used his wealth to influence the hires and ideology of the journalism school, who ignored my 20 years of journalism experience, all of my credentials, all of my work, because he believed that a project that centered Black Americans equaled the denigration of white Americans. Nor can I work at an institution whose leadership permitted this conduct and has done nothing to disavow it. How could I believe I’d be able to exert academic freedom with the school’s largest donor so willing to disparage me publicly and attempt to pull the strings behind the scenes? Why would I want to teach at a university whose top leadership chose to remain silent, to refuse transparency, to fail to publicly advocate that I be treated like every other Knight Chair before me? Or for a university overseen by a board that would so callously put politics over what is best for the university that we all love? These times demand courage, and those who have held the most power in this situation have exhibited the least of it. . .

. . . Every Knight Chair at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since the 1980s has entered that position as a full professor with tenure. And yet, the vote on my tenure had to be forced by weeks of protests, scathing letters of reprimand, the threat of legal action and my refusal to start July 1 without it. Even then, the Board of Trustees had to be led to this vote by its youngest member, Lamar Richards, the student body president who publicly demanded the special meeting. The board then chose to wait to vote until the last possible day at the last possible moment.

If I had any doubts about whether I should come to UNC or not, watching the proceedings affirmed my decision.

I watched as student protestors, who for weeks had been expressing their pain and hurt, were forced to wait for more than 20 minutes before they were let into the meeting room. I watched as not a single official in the room bothered to explain that the meeting they had advertised as a special meeting that would be livestreamed would in fact be held in closed session because that is the rule. I watched as their response to the shock, hurt, and outrage of students, who thought they’d come to a public hearing, was to remain silent when any adult in the room could have calmly explained what was happening. I watched as the Chancellor and other officials looked down and did nothing as law enforcement shoved, pushed, and pummeled the students they are supposed to serve. I watched as student protestors were forced outside in the heat to wait for nearly two hours as the board argued over my tenure. And then I watched as one of the trustees came out and falsely claimed that June 28 had been the first time the board had ever had the opportunity to review my application, and that it was the board that had been treated unfairly in this situation.

To this day, no one has ever explained to me why my vote did not occur in November or January, and no one has requested the additional information that a member of the Board of Trustees claimed he was seeking when they refused to take up my tenure. The university’s leadership continues to be dishonest about what happened and patently refuses to acknowledge the truth, to offer any explanation, to own what they did and what they tried to do. Once again, when leadership had the opportunity to stand up, it did not. . .

Read the whole thing. UNC-Chapel Hill should be ashamed, but the response of ignorance and bigotry comes exactly from those who lack any sense of shame.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2021 at 9:45 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Politics

Tagged with

Coffee and honey and the Model T, oh my!

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Mystic Waters Sardinian Honey and Spring-Heeled Jack go well together, as it turns out. The lather was quite good, though I could stand for this knot to have a bit more loft. This is the original Model T and it did an excellent job this morning, leaving my face perfectly smooth with minimal effort required, and it was comfortable throughout. I’m enjoying the coffee fragrance and as soon as I finish this, I’m going to go enjoy some coffee taste.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2021 at 8:27 am

Posted in Shaving

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