Later On

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Archive for July 25th, 2021

Facing Years in Prison for Drone Leak, Daniel Hale Makes His Case Against U.s. Assassination Program

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This article by Ryan Devereaux in The Intercept is a must-read:

THE MISSILES THAT killed Salim bin Ahmed Ali Jaber and Walid bin Ali Jaber came in the night. Salim was a respected imam in the village of Khashamir, in southeastern Yemen, who had made a name for himself denouncing the rising power of Al Qaeda’s franchise in the Arabian Peninsula. His cousin Walid was a local police officer. It was August 21, 2012, and the pair were standing in a palm grove, confronting a trio of suspected militants, when the Hellfires made impact.

The deaths of the two men sparked protests in the days that followed, symbolizing for many Yemenis the human cost of U.S. counterterrorism operations in their country. Thousands of miles away, at the U.S. military’s base in Bagram, Afghanistan, Daniel Hale, a young intelligence specialist in the U.S. Air Force, watched the missiles land. One year later, Hale found himself sitting on a Washington, D.C., panel, listening as Salim’s brother, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, recalled the day Salim was killed.

As Fazil recounted what happened next, I felt myself transported back in time to where I had been on that day, 2012. Unbeknownst to Fazil and those of his village at the time was that they had not been the only ones watching Salem approach the jihadist in the car. From Afghanistan, I and everyone on duty paused their work to witness the carnage that was about to unfold. At the press of a button, from thousands of miles away, two Hellfire missiles screeched out of the sky, followed by two more. Showing no signs of remorse, I, and those around me, clapped and cheered triumphantly. In front of a speechless auditorium, Fazil wept.

Hale recalled the emotional moment and others stemming from his work on the U.S. government’s top-secret drone program in an 11-page, handwritten letter filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia this week.

Secret Evidence

Hale was indicted by a grand jury and arrested in 2019 on a series of counts related to the unauthorized disclosure of national defense and intelligence information and the theft of government property. In March, the 33-year-old pleaded guilty to leaking a trove of unclassified, secret, and top-secret documents to a news organization, which government filings strongly implied was The Intercept. His sentencing is scheduled for next week.

The Intercept “does not comment on matters relating to the identity of anonymous sources,” Intercept Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed said at the time of Hale’s indictment. “These documents detailed a secret, unaccountable process for targeting and killing people around the world, including U.S. citizens, through drone strikes,” Reed noted. “They are of vital public importance, and activity related to their disclosure is protected by the First Amendment.”

Federal prosecutors are urging Judge Liam O’Grady to issue a maximum sentence, up to 11 years in prison, arguing that Hale has shown insufficient remorse for his actions, that his disclosures were motivated by vanity and not in the public interest, and that they aided the United States’ enemies abroad — namely the Islamic State.

“These documents contained specific details that adversaries could use to hamper and defeat actions of the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community,” the government claimed. “Indeed, they were of sufficient interest to ISIS for that terrorist organization to further distribute two of those documents in a guidebook for its followers.”

Prosecutors have acknowledged, however, that Hale’s sentencing was “in an unusual posture” because the probation officer in the case, who makes recommendations to the court, “has not seen some of the key facts of the case,” namely those that the government says support its claim that Hale’s disclosures had the potential to cause “serious” or “exceptionally grave” harm to U.S. national security. The Intercept has not reviewed the documents in question, which remain under seal, shielded from public scrutiny.

Harry P. Cooper, a former senior official in the CIA and noted agency expert on classified materials who did review the documents, provided a declaration in Hale’s case on the potential national security threat posed by the release of the documents.

Cooper, who maintains a top-secret clearance and has trained top-level officials at the agency, including the director of the CIA, said that while some of the documents did constitute so-called national defense information, “the disclosure of these documents, at the time they were disclosed and made public, did not present any substantial risk of harm to the United States or to national security.”

Commenting on the government’s claim that Hale’s disclosures were circulated by ISIS, Cooper said, “such publication further supports my conclusions, because it suggests that the adversaries treated the documents as trophies rather than as something that would give a tactical advantage, given that publication would reduce to zero any tactical advantage that the documents might otherwise have given.”

“In short,” Cooper said, “an adversary who has gained a tactical advantage by receiving secret information would never publicize their possession of it.”

Hale was charged under the Espionage Act, a highly controversial 1917 law that has become a favored tool of federal prosecutors pursuing cases of national security leaks. The law bars the accused from using motivations such as informing the public as a defense against incarceration, and yet, Hale’s alleged personal motivations and character came up repeatedly in a sentencing memo filed this week, with prosecutors arguing that he was “enamored of journalists” and that as a result, “the most vicious terrorists in the world” obtained top-secret U.S. documents.

In their own motion filed this week, Hale’s lawyers argued that the former intelligence analyst’s motivations were self-evident — even if the government refused to recognize them. “The facts regarding Mr. Hale’s motive are clear,” they wrote. “He committed the offense to bring attention to what he believed to be immoral government conduct committed under the cloak of secrecy and contrary to public statements of then-President Obama regarding the alleged precision of the United States military’s drone program.”

Hidden Assassinations

Legal experts focused on the drone program strongly dispute the prosecution’s claim that Hale’s disclosures did not provide a significant public service. Indeed, for many experts, shedding light on a lethal program that the government had tried to keep from public scrutiny for years is vital.

“The disclosures provided important information to the American public about a killing program that has virtually no transparency or accountability, and has taken a devastating toll on civilian lives abroad in the name of national security,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, director of the Counterterrorism, Armed Conflict and Human Rights Project at Columbia Law School. “They helped reveal how some of the most harmful impacts of this program, in particular the civilian toll, were obscured and hidden.”

Thanks in large part to the government’s efforts to keep the drone program under tight secrecy, the task of calculating the human impact of the program has been left to investigative journalists and independent monitoring groups. The numbers that these groups have compiled over the years show a staggering human cost of these operations. The U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, or TBIJ, estimates the total number of deaths from drones and other covert killing operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia to run between 8,858 and 16,901 since strikes began to be carried out in 2004.

Of those killed, as many as 2,200 are believed to have been civilians, including several hundred children and multiple U.S. citizens, including a 16-year-old boy. The tallies of civilian casualties are undoubtedly an undercount of the true cost of the drone war — as Hale’s letter to the court this week and the documents he allegedly made public show, the people who are killed in American drone strikes are routinely classified as “enemies killed in action” unless proven otherwise.

Following years of pressure — and in the wake of the publication of the materials Hale is accused of leaking — the Obama administration introduced new requirements for reporting civilian casualties from covert counterterrorism operations to the public in 2016, disclosing that year that between 64 and 116 civilians were believed to have been killed in drone strikes and other lethal operations. However, the Trump administration revoked that meager disclosure requirement, leaving the public once again in the dark about who exactly is being killed and why. . .

Continue reading. There’s more and it’s important because it shows an aspect of the US that one normally associates with the baddies. Some of what the US has done — a drone strike on a wedding party, for example — are functionally equivalent to terrorism.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 4:56 pm

The mRNA Vaccines Are Extraordinary, but Novavax Is Even Better

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Hilda Bastian writes in the Atlantic:

At the end of January, reports that yet another COVID-19 vaccine had succeeded in its clinical trials—this one offering about 70 percent protection—were front-page news in the United States, and occasioned push alerts on millions of phones. But when the Maryland-based biotech firm Novavax announced its latest stunning trial results last week, and an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent even against coronavirus variants, the response from the same media outlets was muted in comparison. The difference, of course, was the timing: With three vaccines already authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the nation is “awash in other shots” already, as the The New York Times put it.

Practically speaking, this is true. If the FDA sees no urgency, the Novavax vaccine might not be available in the U.S. for months, and in the meantime the national supply of other doses exceeds demand. But the asymmetry in coverage also hints at how the hype around the early-bird vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna has distorted perception. Their rapid arrival has been described in this magazine as “the triumph of mRNA”—a brand-new vaccine technology whose “potential stretches far beyond this pandemic.” Other outlets gushed about “a turning point in the long history of vaccines,” one that “changed biotech forever.” It was easy to assume, based on all this reporting, that mRNA vaccines had already proved to be the most effective ones you could get—that they were better, sleeker, even cooler than any other vaccines could ever be.

But the fascination with the newest, shiniest options obscured some basic facts. These two particular mRNA vaccines may have been the first to get results from Phase 3 clinical trials, but that’s because of superior trial management, not secret vaccine sauce. For now, they are harder and more expensive to manufacture and distribute than traditional types of vaccines, and their side effects are more common and more severe. The latest Novavax data confirm that it’s possible to achieve the same efficacy against COVID-19 with a more familiar technology that more people may be inclined to trust. (The mRNA vaccines delivered efficacy rates of 95 and 94 percent against the original coronavirus strain in Phase 3 trials, as compared with 96 percent for Novavax in its first trial, and now 90 percent against a mixture of variants.

Pandemic-vaccine success, as I wrote last year, was never just about the technology. You needed a good vaccine, sure—but to get it out the door quickly, you also had to have a massive clinical-trial operation going, and it had to be situated in places where the virus would be spreading widely at just the right time. Even if your candidate worked amazingly well, if you weren’t testing it in the middle of a huge outbreak, you’d have to wait a very long time for the evidence to build.

The precise timing of these studies mattered a great deal in practice. The Phase 3 clinical trials for Pfizer and Moderna, for example, were up and running in the U.S. by late summer 2020, and so they caught the nation’s giant wave of infections in the fall. By the time Novavax had finished recruiting in the U.S. and Mexico, in February, case rates had been dropping precipitously. This fact alone, independent of any aspect of vaccine technology, did a lot to shape the outcome.

Corporate strategy was another crucial factor. To “win” the vaccine race, a company would need to be able to produce high-quality vaccine doses reliably and quickly, and in vast numbers. It would also need to field the challenges of working with multiple regulatory agencies around the world. And it would need to do all of this at the same time.

BioNTech, the German company that developed the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, could not have accomplished so much, so quickly by itself. Last October, the company’s CEO, Uğur Şahin, told German interviewers that BioNTech had sought out Pfizer for help because of the scale of the clinical-trial program necessary for drug approvals. That strategic partnership, and not simply the “triumph of mRNA,” was what propelled them past the post. (Moderna had the advantage of its partnership with the National Institutes of Health.) Consider this: The BioNTech-Pfizer first-in-human vaccine study appeared on the U.S. government’s registry of clinical trials on April 30, 2020—the same day as the first-in-human vaccine study for Novavax, which would be going it alone. In a parallel universe where Novavax had paired up with, say, Merck, this story could have come out very differently.

In the meantime, the early success of two mRNA vaccines pulled attention away from the slower progress of other candidates based on the same technology. Just two days after last week’s Novavax announcement came the news that an mRNA vaccine developed by the German company CureVac had delivered a weak early efficacy rate in a Phase 3 trial, landing below even the 50 percent minimum level set by the World Health Organization and the FDA. “The results caught scientists by surprise,” The New York Times reported. CureVac is the company that President Donald Trump reportedly tried to lure to the U.S. early in the pandemic, and the one that Elon Musk said he would supply with automated “RNA microfactories” for vaccine production. In the end, none of this mattered. CureVac’s mRNA vaccine just doesn’t seem to be good enough.

The “sobering” struggles of CureVac perfectly illustrate what epidemiologists call “survivor bias”—a tendency to look only at positive examples and draw sweeping conclusions on their basis. When the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines triumphed, The Washington Post suggested that a bet on “speedy but risky” mRNA technology had paid off with a paradigm-shifting breakthrough. Anthony Fauci called the gamble “a spectacular success.” Such analyses usually had less to say about the non-mRNA vaccines that had gotten into clinical trials just as quickly—and about the other mRNA vaccines that were hitting snags along the way.

Now we’ve seen what happened to CureVac, and that some mRNA formulations clearly work much better than others. By one count, nine groups were testing mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in animal studies as of May 2020, and six were expected to be in clinical trials a few months later. By the end of the year, only BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna, and CureVac had reached Phase 3 testing, compared with 13 non-mRNA vaccines. Of the nine mRNA-vaccine candidates that were already testing in animals in mid-2020, just two have proved efficacy at this point, while no fewer than nine vaccines based on more traditional technologies have reached the same mark.

These other, non-mRNA vaccines have been widely used throughout the world—and some could still make an important difference in the U.S. Although the U.S. has plenty of doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available right now, demand for them has cratered. The Washington Post reports that in 10 states, fewer than 35 percent of American adults have been vaccinated. An international study of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, published in May, found that among the most common online rumors were those alleging particular dangers of mRNA technology—that it leads, for example, to the creation of “genetically modified human beings.” The CDC has also made a point of debunking the circulating falsehood that COVID-19 vaccines can change your DNA. For a time, it looked as though the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would help address this worry. It’s based on a fairly new technology, but not as new as mRNA. However, concerns about tainted doses made at a Baltimore factory and the emergence of a very rare but serious side effect have pretty much dashed that hope. The Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine has reportedly accounted for fewer than 4 percent of doses administered in the country.

In this context, the success of the Novavax vaccine should be A1 news. The recent results confirm that it has roughly the same efficacy as the two authorized mRNA vaccines, with the added benefit of being based on an older, more familiar science. The protein-subunit approach used by Novavax was first implemented for the hepatitis B vaccine, which has been used in the U.S. since 1986. The pertussis vaccine, which is required for almost all children in U.S. public schools, is also made this way. Some of those people who have been wary of getting the mRNA vaccines may find Novavax more appealing.

The Novavax vaccine also has a substantially lower rate of side effects than the authorized mRNA vaccines. Last week’s data showed that about 40 percent of people who receive Novavax report fatigue after the second dose, as compared with 65 percent for Moderna and more than 55 percent for Pfizer. Based on the results of Novavax’s first efficacy trial in the U.K., side effects (including but not limited to fatigue) aren’t just less frequent; they’re milder too. That’s a   . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 3:33 pm

Short walk

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Too many days spent sitting has greatly lowered my energy reserves, so again I take to the sidewalks with walking poles. 3000 steps — I’m starting slow — and some nice plants along the way.

Click any image to get a slide show, and right-click on any slide to open image in a new tab; click it there to enlarge it.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 1:43 pm

Interesting passage from “The House of Arden,” by E. Nesbit

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In The House of Arden two children are transported from their own time to the same surroundsings a century before, to 1807. They pretend to the cook that they have lost their memory (since the actual story seems to far-fetched), and she assumes that a spell has been cast upon them, so she sends them to the local witch, along with a twist of sugar and a small packet of tea to get the spell removed.

When they arrive at the cottage, Edrid refused to in.

So Elfrida went into the cottage alone, and said “Good morning” in rather a frightened way.

“I’ve brought you some tea and sugar,” she said, and stood waiting for the “Thank you,” without which it would not be polite to say “Good morning” and to go away.

The “Thank you” never came. Instead, the witch stopped stroking the hen, and said—

“What for? I’ve not done you no ’arm.”

“No,” said Elfrida. “I’m sure you wouldn’t.”

“Then what have you brought it for?”

“For—oh, just for you,” said Elfrida. “I thought you’d like it. It’s just a—a love-gift, you know.”

This was Aunt Edith’s way of calling a present that didn’t come just because it was your birthday or Christmas, or you had had a tooth out.

“A love-gift?” said the old woman slowly. “After all this long time?”

Elfrida did not understand. How should she? It’s almost impossible for even the most grown up and clever of us to know how women used to be treated—and not so very long ago either—if they were once suspected of being witches. It generally began by the old woman’s being cleverer than her neighbours, having more wit to find out what was the matter with sick people, and more still to cure them. Then her extra cleverness would help her to foretell storms and gales and frosts, and to find water by the divining rod—a very mysterious business. And when once you can find out where water is by just carrying a forked hazel twig between your hands and walking across a meadow, you can most likely find out a good many other things that your stupid neighbours would never dream of. And in those long-ago days—which really aren’t so very long ago—your being so much cleverer than your neighbours would be quite enough. You would soon be known as the “wise woman”—and from “wise woman” to witch was a very short step indeed.

The novel was published in 1908, when women still were not allowed to vote, generally not allowed to own property or establish credit in their own name, and so on. And of course we still have police departments and the FBI covering up for and protecting serial pedophiles like Larry Nassar (see this post).

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Coldplay, Achilles, and Spiderman

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Brian Theng writes in Antigone:

Some years ago, after receiving a rejection letter from a Cambridge college, I decided to go onto the Oxford website. I looked up the A-to-Z of courses available, from Archaeology and Anthropology to Mathematics and Theology and Religion. I crossed these off my list, and a couple more. But ‘Classics’ was sufficiently unfamiliar for me not to cross it out.

That was the start of a wonderful adventure.  It is not one I can share with many where I live, Singapore, a city that is famed for good food and the general lack of chewing gum. (It’s not illegal to chew gum, but it can’t be imported or sold.) We are a modern nation, with swimming pools on a cantilevered rooftop, 16-storey-tall concrete and steel trees, and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall in our airport.

Besides a few copies of Robert Fagles’ 2006 translation of the Aeneid in the National Library, there are few opportunities to even hear about Classics in the first place. That is a shame, because Classics makes us think harder and differently about what it means to be human.

Once in a while, I come across little things in today’s world that drive this message home. It could be rapping (sometimes wrongly) about Romans, Trojans, and the Odyssey, wanting to smell like a Roman centurion, or some interesting tunes, as in this case…

The Chainsmokers and Coldplay’s 2017 electronic pop tune Something Just Like This starts off with the singer – let us call him Chris – doubting his worth as a partner, because he is no superhero:

I’ve been reading books of old
The legends and the myths
Achilles and his gold
Hercules and his gifts
Spider-Man’s control
And Batman with his fists
And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list.

His significant other replies that it is alright. She just wants a love that is simple and honest:

I’m not lookin’ for somebody
With some superhuman gifts
Some superhero
Some fairy-tale bliss.

It is not every day that we find Achilles and Hercules mentioned in the same breath as Spider-Man and Batman. To my mind, what divides them are what different understandings of ‘heroism’ entail and what different societies value. What unites them is far less their heroism than their conflicts and struggles despite their superhero abilities and feats.

What does it mean to be a hero? Taken together, gold, gifts (whether material or god-given), self-control, and fists form an intriguing combination of heroic references. Being a comic-book hero usually means saving the world. When we imagine Spider-Man and Batman, we may think of fighting crime and cosmic threats, or the famous clichés “with great power comes great responsibility” and “it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” In the Homeric world, hērōs (ἥρως) “signifies a warrior who lives and dies in pursuit of honour (τιμή) and glory (κλέος)”.[1] Being a hero seems to mean more using one’s powers for oneself.

Let’s dive into some specifics, taking “Achilles and his gold” as our cue. Gold in Homer is often associated with the gods and immortality. It is surely associated with wealth, but sometimes it is not as highly “ranked” as we might think.[2] In setting out the chariot race prizes in Patroclus’ funeral games, Achilles offers a brand-new cauldron for third place, but two talents of gold for fourth (Iliad 23.267–9).[3] This opens up a whole conversation about symbolic and commercial value: what would we do if presented with choosing between a one-of-a-kind handcrafted kitchen appliance by a famed craftsman and a cash prize? The answer may be obvious, or not – the Iliad makes us think twice.

In any case, Achilles is not usually noted for his gold, even though he was rich in prizes and spoils. He tells us so in his great speech on honour and glory, when he rejects Agamemnon’s copious material compensation, which included seven whole cities (9.356–409). Others might say that the song lyrics refer to Homer’s famous ecphrasis, the shield and armour made by the god Hephaestus at the request of the hero’s mother Thetis (18.468–617). Achilles’ divine parentage and connection with the gods can go some way to explain why Chris does not see himself upon that list of superheroes.

To me, “Achilles and his gold” recalls the meeting between the hero and godlike Priam, who brings “countless ransom” (ἀπερείσι’ ἄποινα) for the body of his son Hector. This ransom included ten talents of gold (24.232; Agamemnon also offered this as part of his recompense in 9.122). It is a powerful and emotional scene (24.477–571).[4] Evoking Achilles’ aged father Peleus at the start and end of his supplication, Priam

roused in Achilles the desire to weep for his father. He took the old man by the hand and gently pushed him away. And the two of them began to weep in remembrance. Priam cried loud for murderous Hector, huddled at the feet of Achilles, and Achilles cried for his own father, and then again for Patroclus: and the house was filled with the sound of their weeping.[5]

Scholars raise many interesting points about the whole scene: there are themes of father-son relationships, memory, pity and anger, mortality and immortality, separation, and reconciliation with society.[6] But what strikes us first is a sense of tender vulnerability amidst overflowing emotion. For all the heroic associations we make, we find fragility. Achilles tells Priam, “this is the fate the gods have spun for poor mortal men, that we should live in misery” (24.525–6). We see and feel little fairy-tale bliss.

In a different way, the premise of the Spider-Man character elicits the same feeling.[7] Stan Lee explained how he created a superhero who “would lose out as often as he’d win – in fact, more often.” Peter Parker is a relatable teenager, self-absorbed, awkward, and misunderstood. As Brandon Wright explains, this could not have been farther from male DC superheroes, who were all the same: rational and in control, predictable, and wholly altruistic. Soon superheroes with “awesome powers and human shortcomings became the defining feature of Marvel Comics”, though in fairness I should mention that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy does well to draw out the conflicts and complexity of Bruce Wayne. Despite their gifted abilities, theirs are not the lives we unquestioningly yearn for.

Finally, the song’s reference to “Hercules and his gifts” opens up a whole new . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 11:34 am

Whatever Is True, Is My Own: Seneca’s Open-minded Enquiry

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Barnaby Taylor teaches Classics at Exeter College, Oxford and writes in Antigone:

Say that you subscribe to a particular set of values, which you believe are the key to being truly good and happy. You haven’t mastered them yet, but you pursue them with increasing devotion, and feel yourself making progress. Say now that your friend, about whom you care very much, feels some attraction to these values, to this way of life, but is yet to cultivate a deep and lasting interest. He has other intellectual temptations, and, what’s more, he is weighed down by the cares and troubles of the world. How can you help him to develop his nascent interest in your philosophy of the good life? And what attitude should you encourage him to hold towards those with whom you disagree? These questions are explored in Seneca’s Moral Epistles, written over the last few years of his life to his friend and philosophical fellow-traveller, Lucilius.

Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) was a Stoic, and so thought that virtue is the only thing that matters for a truly good life. Nothing else – including health, wealth, possessions, and family – makes any contribution to happiness. This may sound austere, and indeed there was a certain unrelenting quality to Stoic ethics, but the Epistles are not an austere work by any measure. Across 124 letters, in which the narrative exploration of life is generally preferred to abstract theorising, Seneca engages in a deep and intimate evaluation of what it means to be good, discussing at length, and with much wit and uncompromising self-scrutiny, his own faltering moral progress.

In the first 29 letters – those on which I’ll concentrate here – we find discussions of reading (what should one read, and how should one read it?) – friendship, moral and social imagination, candidness, perfectionism, self-awareness, vulnerability, solitude, sociability, emotion, mental discipline, old age, and death. Above all, Seneca focuses on the question of how to pursue a life of introspection in the midst of worldly responsibilities and concerns – a focus which may be especially attractive to those who, like me, have often felt the tension between the obligations of the world and the possibility of an inner life.

These early Senecan letters appeal to me in several ways. Partly it’s the elegance, wit and economy of his Latin style; partly it’s the thoughtful depiction and exploration of the didactic process, which interests me as someone who, being a teacher, spends a lot of time helping others to develop and cultivate their intellectual interests and values; partly it’s simply the richness and depth of the discussion; and partly it’s the sense of Seneca’s own flawedness and failure – these are not the writings of a moral saint.

d like here to focus on one surprising feature of these early letters, namely their treatment of a certain philosopher with whose doctrines Seneca elsewhere expresses fundamental disagreement. While acknowledging that the strictness of Stoic doctrine may need to be relaxed for those who are just getting started, Seneca is clear that what he is engaged in, and what he is encouraging Lucilius towards, is the cultivation of a Stoic life. Now, one might think that a good way of getting ahead with Stoicism would be to focus on Stoic texts, and indeed Seneca does give a few select quotations from the Stoic philosopher Hecaton (noster, “one of ours,” 5.7).

‘Don’t read too widely,’ Seneca advises Lucilius in the second letter, where the focus on books and reading is programmatic for the whole work. It is better, he says, to focus your attention on a few particularly valuable authors, and to really learn something from them, than to try to read everything and absorb nothing from it. This second letter ends, though, with a quotation not from a fellow Stoic, but from Epicurus (341–271 BC), the founder of Epicureanism, a doctrine whose central ethical tenets were held to be quite incompatible with Stoic thought. Epicurus goes on to become by far the most regularly quoted philosopher in the first books of the Epistles. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 11:05 am

Long-Duration Batteries Using Iron-Air Technology

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Russell Gold reports in the Wall Street Journal:

A four-year-old startup says it has built an inexpensive battery that can discharge power for days using one of the most common elements on Earth: iron.

Form Energy Inc.’s batteries are far too heavy for electric cars. But it says they will be capable of solving one of the most elusive problems facing renewable energy: cheaply storing large amounts of electricity to power grids when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing.

The work of the Somerville, Mass., company has long been shrouded in secrecy and nondisclosure agreements. It recently shared its progress with The Wall Street Journal, saying it wants to make regulators and utilities aware that if all continues to go according to plan, its iron-air batteries will be capable of affordable, long-duration power storage by 2025.

Its backers include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate investment fund whose investors include Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Inc. founder Jeff Bezos. Form recently initiated a $200 million funding round, led by a strategic investment from steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal SA, MT 1.07% one of the world’s leading iron-ore producers.

Form is preparing to soon be in production of the “kind of battery you need to fully retire thermal assets like coal and natural gas” power plants, said the company’s chief executive, Mateo Jaramillo, who developed Tesla Inc.’s Powerwall battery and worked on some of its earliest automotive powertrains.

On a recent tour of Form’s windowless laboratory, Mr. Jaramillo gestured to barrels filled with low-cost iron pellets as its key advantage in the rapidly evolving battery space. Its prototype battery, nicknamed Big Jim, is filled with 18,000 pebble-size gray pieces of iron, an abundant, nontoxic and nonflammable mineral.

For a lithium-ion battery cell, the workhorse of electric vehicles and today’s grid-scale batteries, the nickel, cobalt, lithium and manganese minerals used currently cost between $50 and $80 per kilowatt-hour of storage, according to analysts.

Using iron, Form believes it will spend less than $6 per kilowatt-hour of storage on materials for each cell. Packaging the cells together into a full battery system will raise the price to less than $20 per kilowatt-hour, a level at which academics have said renewables plus storage could fully replace traditional fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

A battery capable of cheaply discharging power for days has been a holy grail in the energy industry, due to the problem that it solves and the potential market it creates.

Regulators and power companies are under growing pressure to deliver affordable, reliable, and carbon-free electricity, as countries world-wide seek to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change. Most electricity generation delivers two out of three. A long-duration battery could enable renewable energy—wind and solar—to deliver all three.

The Biden administration is pushing for a carbon-free power grid in the U.S. by 2035, and several states and electric utilities have similar pledges. There is widespread agreement that a combination of wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear power mixed with short-duration lithium-ion batteries can generate 80% of electricity. The final 20% will require some type of multiday storage.

“That first 80% we know the technology pathway, and it is already cost competitive,” said Jeremiah Baumann, deputy chief of staff at the Energy Department. “We have a good sense of the technology for the final piece. The real question is which technology is going to get its cost down and get into the marketplace.”

Form’s battery will compete with numerous other approaches in what is becoming a crowded space, as an array of startups race to develop more advanced, cost-effective energy-storage techniques.

Several companies are heading to market with different battery configurations, such as solid-state designs. Some think pumped water storage or compressed air can be used more widely to bank energy. The European Union is pushing the use of hydrogen to store and generate power. . .

Continue reading.

See also “A Review of the Iron–Air Secondary Battery for Energy Storage” and “The Iron Age: Opportunities and Challenges of Iron-Air Batteries.”

And note:

Iron-air batteries are attractive for several reasons. We have plenty of iron, we know how to extract it, it is cheap (about $200 per tonne of ore compared to $12-15k per tonne for lithium salts), and iron extraction, while full of environmental degradation, may not be as complex as the cobalt supply chain needed in Li-ion batteries. Iron-air batteries have appealing technical characteristics too. The theoretical energy density, at 764 Wh/kg is higher than that of Lithium-Ion batteries (about 265 Wh/kg), and in volumetric terms, they do well too (9700 Wh/l compared to 2000 Wh/l). Current estimates are that Form’s batteries should be able to operate at around $20 per kWh, sufficient to compete with fossil fuel systems.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 10:28 am

Oscar Peterson – Boogie Blues Etude

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Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 7:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Video

The corruption and moral and legal failings of the FBI — and the FBI’s decision to do nothing about it

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The Washington Post has an interesting if horrific podcast in which James Hohmann of the Post interviews on of Larry Nassar’s victims. From the transcript of the podcast:

James Hohmann:
I’m James Hohmann from The Washington Post, and this is “Please, Go On.” Just a note before we begin that today’s episode contains brief descriptions of sexual violence. Listener discretion is advised. The Justice Department’s inspector general released a scathing report last week on the FBI’s failure to properly investigate extensive sex-abuse allegations against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

During a three-year internal review, FBI officials gave misleading and downright false answers when confronted about those failures. Inspector General Michael Horowitz paints a disturbing portrait of the nation’s premier law-enforcement agency being told stomach-churning details of what would become one of the most shocking cases of serial sexual abuse in memory, yet failing to follow up with key witnesses or even to notify other law-enforcement agencies of potential sex crimes happening in their jurisdictions. Horowitz notes that, according to civil-court filings, about 70 women and girls were abused by Nassar between the time when the FBI was first told of the allegations, in the summer of 2015, and when Michigan officials finally arrested him more than a year later on the basis of separate information.

The inspector general found that while the FBI’s Indianapolis office was dealing with the Nassar allegations, the head of that office, Jay Abbott, was talking with Steve Penny, then-president of USA Gymnastics, about getting Abbott a job with the Olympic Committee. When agents confronted Abbott, who applied for the job but didn’t get it, he falsely claimed to have never applied. He retired in 2018, and the Justice Department declined, this spring, to prosecute him for these allegedly false statements.

Nassar has been accused by more than 330 girls and women, including Olympians Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Simone Biles, of sexual abuse, often committed under the guise of medical treatment. Our guest this week is Rachael Denhollander. She was the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse. Back in 2016, she told her story to the Indianapolis Star and Michigan state investigators, who subsequently pursued criminal charges against Nassar. She was the last of 156 women and girls to confront Nassar during his sentencing hearing. In a 36-minute statement that drew global attention, she recounted what had been done to her as a 15-year-old gymnast.

Rachael Denhollander: Larry meticulously groomed me for the purpose of exploiting me for his sexual gain. He penetrated me, he groped me, he fondled me, and then he whispered questions about how it felt. He engaged in degrading and humiliating sex acts without my consent or permission.

James Hohmann:
During her victim-impact statement, Rachael repeatedly posed a question to the court: How much is a little girl worth? The packed courtroom gave her a standing ovation. The judge called her the five-star general of the army of survivors. Nassar is now serving a 60-year term for federal child-pornography crimes and a sentence of 40 to 175 years for assaulting nine girls and women in the state of Michigan. Rachael, now 36, lives with her husband and four kids in Louisville, Kentucky. In an op-ed for The Post, she wrote that the inspector-general report shows how difficult the road can be for survivors. Here is our conversation.

James Hohmann:
Well, Rachael, thank you so much for joining us. You wrote, after reading the inspector-general report, that you felt so many different emotions, including gut-wrenching pain. Can you talk about the mix of feelings?

Rachael Denhollander:
On the one hand, I’m grateful we got that report. So many survivors who are failed by the justice system, there’s never any answers. There’s no one who looks into it. There’s no one who cares. And so I’m grateful that we got those answers.

At the same time, it was a deeply painful report to read and a deeply painful process to get there. Yeah, we didn’t get that report until we had six years past the initial time that the FBI first received notice of what Larry was doing. It took six years. It took hundreds of survivor voices. It took having a team of civil attorneys and an incredible assistant attorney general, who achieved a conviction, to even be able to get where we got.

And then, when you read the report, yeah, there’s, again, a wide range of realities that come from it, and the first reality is just that nobody cared. Yeah, and that question of why did these people, why did these little girls, why did these women not matter to anybody?

And then, you know, you read through the report and you see the failures and the outright corruption and collusion that’s laid out in the report and multiple FBI agents who lied to investigators. And the conclusion of the report is that there’s nothing that’s going to be done. These agents have all either voluntarily moved on or voluntarily retired with their government pensions intact. There’s no accountability. There are no consequences. And so what we really have is a report that lays out all the failings, but concludes nothing can be done. It doesn’t matter. It still doesn’t matter. [Emphasis added – LG]

James Hohmann:
For those who don’t know your story, can you explain your decision to come forward to law enforcement and to the Indianapolis Star about what you experienced as a high-school student in the year 2000?

Rachael Denhollander:
So, I was abused by Larry from ages 15 to almost 17. And when I began to realize, even just have some level of understanding that what I experienced wasn’t normal and wasn’t actually medical treatment, my mom and I actually had a conversation. I was 17, almost 18 years old at this point when I disclosed to her. And she said, “You know, what do we do with this information? Do we go to law enforcement?”

And at that point in time, as a 17-, almost 18-year-old, there were a couple of thought processes I had. At the time of my abuse, my thought process was, “Larry has been treating young — young girls for years.” You know, by the time I saw him, he had already been the doctor for the Olympic team for — since 1996. He’s treating little girls every day. He clearly does this type of treatment regularly. That was obvious from his behavior. And then my thought process was, “If there’s any question about whether this treatment is valid, surely somebody would have stopped him. Somebody would have asked those questions. There’s no way somebody hasn’t described what’s going on in this exam room. There’s no way somebody hasn’t seen it. So the fact that I’m here in this exam room means that this must be valid medical treatment.” I had a very clear linear thought process at 15 years old.

And when I began to realize that, actually, Larry’s treatment wasn’t medical treatment, what I realized was, I was right. He was abusing little girls every day. And what that meant was not that nobody had ever spoken up, but that whoever had spoken up must be being systematically silenced. And at 17, I said to my mom, “There’s no way I can do this without media pressure. There’s no way one voice is ever going to be enough. A Jane Doe is never going to be enough.”

And we actually talked, when I was 17 years old, about taking my story to a local news station and seeing if we could get some kind of coverage just in hopes that we would reach other victims who could come forward and be able to take the narrative away from Larry. Because at 17, I realized, “If I speak out against Larry, you know, not only is he in control of the narrative, but we have a Big Ten university who’s in control of the narrative. We have USAG,” the national governing body for our gymnastics teams, one of the sports that makes the most money in the Olympic Games. USAG is protected and sheltered by the USOPC, and the USOPC is a creation of the Senate.

James Hohmann:
Just so listeners are clear, the Big Ten university you’re referring to is Michigan State, where Nassar was employed. USAG is short for USA Gymnastics. And the USOPC the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the governing body for all Olympic sports. It was created by Congress, and Congress has the power to amend or revoke that charter.

Rachael Denhollander:
So, when I followed the chain of command upwards and looked at abuse and abusive dynamics at 17, I was 100% convinced that the problem was not that nobody had warned about Larry before. The problem was that there were so many people in authority who were able to silence whoever was coming forward. So what I was waiting for, for 16 years, was really just the chance to be believed.

And when I saw the Indy Star article on USAG’s cover-up of sexually abusive coaches in 2016, I spent some time just very quickly, you know, researching the Indy Star staff and how they had done their reporting. And my first thought process was, I was right. USAG is systematically covering up sexual abuse. And if they covered up the abuse of their coaches, they would cover up Larry’s abuse, too.

And my second thought was, “This is it. Now is the time.” And so I reached out to the Indy Star and I told them my story and I said, “I’ll come forward as publicly as necessary if you can just get the truth out. You can take video, you can use my name, my face, my identity. I’ll put all the details out there. I will do whatever it takes if you can just get the story out.”

And my hope was to force Larry to confront some of these allegations in the public square and to be able to take control of the narrative both from him and from the institutions surrounding him, because I knew that’s what it was going to take, because, unfortunately, what we see in this FBI report is not an anomaly. It’s actually normal. This is a common battle that victims face is that law enforcement either doesn’t believe them or doesn’t care.

James Hohmann:
You open your op-ed by saying, “Real life doesn’t follow kind of the tidy plot arc of an episode of ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.'” And I think it’s so important for people to understand is — You write, in the conclusion of your piece, if there’s a silver lining to the ugliness of this Justice Department report, it’s that it tells the truth about the realities that survivors face in being believed and in being heard.

Rachael Denhollander:
Absolutely. Yeah, and what is most shocking to me, almost, is not just what this report contains, but all the other pieces that it doesn’t contain. In addition to the multiple failings and corruption in the FBI, we also had two police departments, at various points in time, that received direct reports of Larry’s abuse.

Neither of them did proper investigations. And we also had a separate Title IV investigation of Larry that cleared him. And we had the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department that actually tried to kill the Indy Star story. When Steve Penny found out that there was going to be a report on Larry and on USAG and their policies on abuse, Steve Penny picked up the phone and he texted the head of IMPD’s child-sex-abuse division, a detective named Bruce Smith, and he asked Bruce to help him “Body-slam the sources,” meaning the reporters for this story.

James Hohmann:

Rachael Denhollander:
And the head of the child-sex-abuse division at IMPD did. They actually sent out a press release and reached out to the Indy Star to basically tell them, “You’re barking up the wrong tree. Go look somewhere else.”

And a question that we still have that no one wants to answer or investigate is how in the world the president of USAG knew that he could text the head of the child-sex-abuse division in Indianapolis and get help trying to kill a story about how USAG covers up sex abuse.

James Hohmann:
An internal Indianapolis police investigation in 2019 concluded that the Detective, Lieutenant Smith, did not violate departmental policies by working with Penny to deflect criticism of the organization’s child-abuse-reporting policies. But a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department said that Internal Affairs investigators were “Unsuccessful in obtaining all of the statements sought in this instance due to the unwillingness of external individuals with knowledge of the situation to cooperate with the investigation, as well as indictments in other jurisdictions.”

Absent that additional information, the spokeswoman for the Indianapolis police said that Internal Affairs found no violation of department policy or procedure. Now, Penny resigned, under pressure, from his job with USA Gymnastics in 2017 and was charged in Texas, in 2018, with evidence tampering in the Nassar case. He’s accused of ordering the removal of documents related to Nassar’s activities at the national team training center. Penny has pleaded not guilty and is still awaiting trial.

Rachael Denhollander:
So, what we still don’t know goes way beyond the scope of this FBI report. This is the tip of the iceberg. But this is a story that survivors face every single day. In 2019, RAINN reported — and they catalog every year — the approximation of how many rape reports actually result in criminal charges and jail time. The general number that these hover around is, out of about every 230 rapes reported to the police, only 5 to 6 are going to result in criminal charges and conviction. That’s what RAINN reported in 2019, but the numbers are pretty consistently hovering around there. What sexual-assault survivors face in speaking up is a system that does not care or cares and is poorly trained.

James Hohmann:
You came forward before the MeToo movement. . .

Continue reading or listening. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 6:24 am

The majority of Americans lack a college degree. Why do so many employers require one?

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My immediate thought is that possession of a college degree is a rough indicator of docility and willingness to meet sometimes arbitrary requirements, along with an ability to persist. Byron Auguste, CEO of Opportunity@Work and deputy director of the National Economic Council from 2013 to 2015, explains in the Washington Post his ideas on the question:

While companies scramble to find talent amid perceived “skills gaps” and “labor shortages,” their job postings exclude millions of qualified Americans. These applicants do not face this dispiriting experience because of race, ethnicity, gender, age or disability — these reasons would be illegal, and rightly so. Instead, they are excluded because they’re among the roughly two-thirds of U.S. workers who lack a bachelor’s degree.

Employers will never discover their aptitudes and mind-sets since they screen out these applicants before assessing their skills. Degree discrimination is not illegal, but it is a damaging bias that’s blinding companies to talent they need and reinforcing existing economic inequalities.

It wasn’t always this way. In 1971, my father left his job as a factory shipping clerk to study computer programming for six months. He had no technology experience, never worked in an office and dropped out of college. But a company allowed him to shadow a colleague on the job, tested his skills and hired him as a junior programmer. His career change launched our family firmly into the American middle class. Despite the discrimination my father faced as a Black man in 1971, the lack of a bachelor’s degree didn’t stand in his way.

Fast forward 50 years to today, and my father likely would not have the same opportunity.

Employers have been sleepwalking into a system that screens out the majority of workers, including millions of people who possess sought-after skills. As applications per job listing surged with the rise of online job-searching, employers looked for automated ways to screen applicants. Upcoming research by Joseph Fuller of Harvard Business School shows how little thought often goes into the process, as “requirements” are habitually cut and pasted from one job description to the next.

College-degree discrimination has become so widespread that many take it for granted. Almost three-quarters of new jobs from 2007 to 2016 were roles in which most employers typically “require” bachelor’s degrees — but fewer than 4 in 10 American workers have that credential. Going to war against arithmetic is a bad idea, and our post-pandemic skilled-worker shortage is a wake-up call.

Requiring a medical degree to treat patients or a civil engineering degree to design a bridge is common sense. By contrast, requiring a generic college degree to be considered for jobs such as office manager, sales representative, digital marketer or data-center technician may be common, but it makes no sense.

Some say a bachelor’s degree signals cognitive skills, commitment and a capacity to learn. However, college is not the only way to learn, nor the only source of skills. Our workforce includes more than 70 million workers who don’t have bachelor’s degrees but who are “skilled through alternative routes,” or STARs. Some of these unconventional paths include military service, certificate programs and community college. Mostly, STARS learn by doing, on the job.

We all witnessed the commitment and ingenuity of essential workers during the covid-19 pandemic; two-thirds of these workers are STARs. Employers spend time and money to recruit college-educated workers who might have the required degree and skills while overlooking STARs who could do those very same jobs.

These three seemingly innocuous words — “bachelor’s degree required” — are causing serious damage to our workers and economy. The damage falls hardest on Black, Latino and rural workers — screening for bachelor’s degrees excludes nearly 80 percent of Latino workers, almost 70 percent of African Americans and more than 70 percent of rural Americans across all backgrounds. The impact is particularly damaging for midmarket and smaller businesses, which struggle to find workers while the highest-profile companies poach pedigreed employees from one another and from their own suppliers and customers. Blocking advancement for such a large part of our workforce is economically toxic.

Smart employers are taking notice, reworking job descriptions to focus on relevant skills, not how those skills were gained. For example, IBM’s New Collar jobs initiative removed degree barriers and opened up thousands of jobs based on skills. Companies pledging racial inclusion in hiring are realizing that to attract and develop a more diverse workforce, they must move beyond sending a “virtue signal” to sending a clear “skills signal,” with emphasis on talent and relevant experience over degrees.

Even online job platforms may be changing. LinkedIn’s CEO, Ryan Roslansky, recently committed to piloting skills-based tools to encourage accessible paths to high-paying jobs and to meet the demands of today’s economy. Last month, the Biden administration issued an executive order advancing inclusive hiring within the federal government, our single largest employer. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2021 at 5:55 am

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