Later On

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Archive for July 29th, 2021

Some members of Congress are going to pay the piper — or at least their lawyers

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Heather Cox Richardson:

The ripples of the explosive testimony of the four police officers Tuesday before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol continue to spread. Committee members are meeting this week to decide how they will proceed. Congress goes on recess during August, but committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) suggested the committee would, in fact, continue to meet during that break.

Committee members are considering subpoenas to compel the testimony of certain lawmakers, especially since the Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that it would not assert executive privilege to stop members of the Trump administration from testifying to Congress about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. This is a change from the Trump years, when the Department of Justice refused to acknowledge Congress’s authority to investigate the executive branch. This new directive reasserts the traditional boundaries between the two branches, saying that Congress can require testimony and administration officials can give it.

Further, the Department of Justice yesterday rejected the idea that it should defend Congress members involved in the January 6 insurrection. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) sued Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, as well as the former president and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, for lying about the election, inciting a mob, and inflicting pain and distress.

Famously, Brooks participated in the rally before the insurrection, telling the audience: “[W]e are not going to let the Socialists rip the heart out of our country. We are not going to let them continue to corrupt our elections, and steal from us our God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.” “Today,” he said, “Republican Senators and Congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed, and socialist nation on the decline or they will join us and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft, and vote for keeping America great.”

“[T]oday is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” he said. He asked them if they were willing to give their lives to preserve “an America that is the greatest nation in world history.” “Will you fight for America?” he asked.

To evade the lawsuit, Brooks gave an affidavit in which he and his lawyers insisted that this language was solely a campaign speech, urging voters to support Republican lawmakers in 2022 and 2024. But he also argued that the Department of Justice had to represent him in the lawsuit because he was acting in his role as a congress member that day, representing his constituents.

Yesterday, the Department of Justice declined to take over the case, pointing out that campaign and electioneering activities fall outside the scope of official employment. It goes on to undercut the idea of protecting any lawmaker who participated in the insurrection, saying that “alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a Member of Congress is employed to perform.” This means Brooks is on his own to defend himself from the Swalwell lawsuit. It also means that lawmakers intending to fight subpoenas are going to be paying for their own legal representation.

If the committee does, in fact, start demanding that lawmakers talk, Brooks is likely on the list of those from whom they will want to hear. Trying to bolster the new Republican talking point that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should have been better prepared for the insurrection (this is a diversion: she has no say over the Capitol Police, and she did, in fact, call for law enforcement on January 6), Brooks told Slate political reporter Jim Newell that he, Brooks, knew something was up. He had been warned “on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.” “That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told Newell. “To cover up the body armor.”

Brooks is not the only one in danger of receiving a subpoena. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) admitted on the Fox News Channel that he spoke to the former president on January 6, although he claimed not to remember whether it was before, during, or after the insurrection. He tried to suggest that chatting with Trump on January 6 was no different than chatting with him at any other time, but that is unlikely to fly. Jordan also repeatedly referred to Trump as “the president,” rather than the former president, a dog whistle to those who continue to insist that Trump did not, in fact, lose the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, it looks more and more like Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), are  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 9:52 pm

Age of Invention: An Absent Atlantic

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Anton Howes has an interesting newsletter, and I found this issue worth reading:

I’ve become engrossed this week by a book written in 1638 by the merchant Lewes Roberts — The Marchant’s Mappe of Commerce. It is, in effect, a guide to how to be a merchant, and an extremely comprehensive one too. For every trading centre he could gather information about, Roberts noted the coins that were current, their exchange rates, and the precise weights and measures in use. He set down the various customs duties, down even to the precise bribes you’d be expected to pay to various officials. In Smyrna, for example, Roberts recommended you offer the local qadi some cloth and coney-skins for a vest, the qadi’s servant some English-made cloth, and their janissary guard a few gold coin.

Unusually for so many books of the period, Roberts was also careful to be accurate. He often noted whether his information came from personal experience, giving the dates of his time in a place, or whether it came second-hand. When he was unsure of details, he recommended consulting with better experts. And myths — like the rumour he heard that the Prophet Muhammad’s remains at Mecca were in an iron casket suspended from the ceiling by a gigantic diamond-like magnet called an adamant — were thoroughly busted. Given his accuracy and care, it’s no wonder that the book, in various revised editions, was in print for almost sixty years after his death. (He died just three years after publication.)

What’s most interesting about it to me, however, is Roberts’s single-minded view of English commerce. The entire world is viewed through the lens of opportunities for trade, taking note of the commodities and manufactures of every region, as well as their principal ports and emporia. A place’s antiquarian or religious tourist sites, which generally make up the bulk of so many other geographical works, are given (mercifully) short shrift. Indeed, because the book was not written with an international audience in mind, it also passes over many trades with which the English were not involved, or from which they were even excluded. It thus provides a remarkably detailed snapshot of what exactly English merchants were interested in and up to on the eve of civil war; and right at the tail end of a century of unprecedented growth in London’s population, itself seemingly led by its expansion of English commerce.

So, what did English merchants consider important? It’s especially illuminating about England’s trade in the Atlantic — or rather, the lack thereof.

Roberts spends remarkably little time on the Americas, which he refers to as the continents of Mexicana (North America) and Peruana (South America). Most of his mentions of English involvement are about which privateers had once raided which Spanish-owned colonies, and he gives especial attention to the seasonal fishing for cod off the coast of Newfoundland — a major export trade to the Mediterranean, and a source of employment to many English West Country farmers, who he refers to as being like otters for spending half their lives on land and the other half on sea.

But as for the recently-established English colonies on the mainland, which Roberts refers to collectively as Virginia, he writes barely a few sentences. Although he reproduces some of the propaganda about what is to be found there — no mention yet of tobacco by the way, with the list consisting largely of foodstuffs, forest products, tar, pitch, and a few ores — the entirety of New England is summarised only as a place “said to be” resorted to by religious dissenters. The island colonies on Barbados and Bermuda were also either too small or too recently established to merit much attention. To the worldly London merchant then, the New World was still peripheral — barely an afterthought, with the two continents meriting a mere 11 pages, versus Africa’s 45, Asia’s 108, and Europe’s 262.

The reason for this was that the English were excluded from trading directly with the New World by the Spanish. It was, as Roberts jealously put it, “shut up from the eyes of all strangers”. The Spanish were not only profiting from the continent’s mines of gold and silver, but he also complained of their monopoly over the export of European manufactures to its colonies there. It’s a striking foreshadowing of what was, in the eighteenth century, to become one of the most important features of the Atlantic economy — the market that the growing colonies would one day provide for British goods. Indeed, Roberts’s most common condemnation of the Spanish was for having killed so many natives, thereby extinguishing the major market that had already been there: “had not the sword of these bloodsuckers ended so many millions of lives in so short a time, trade might have seen a larger harvest”. The genocide had, in Roberts’s view, not only been horrific, but impoverished Europe too (he was similarly upset that the Spanish had slaughtered so many of the natives of the Bahamas, known for the “matchless beauty of their women”).

Moving to the other side of the Atlantic, to the western coast of Africa, it’s clear from Roberts’s descriptions that English trade with Morocco was not what it used to be. As I’ve written before, the Saadi empire based at Fez had once had a sort of mutually reinforcing, symbiotic relationship with England, both having had a common enemy in Spain. The English had in the late sixteenth century secretly sent the Saadis weapons, buying from them sugar, copper, and saltpetre — essential for gunpowder. The sultan had once even suggested to Elizabeth I that they invade Spain’s colonies in the New World together. But by Roberts’s time the region’s commerce had been wrecked by decades of civil war. One Moroccan coastal city, Salé, had even become a semi-independent pirate republic. English merchants, having once been a major presence in Fez, now avoided storing any goods or residing there, instead making “their ships their shops” and only unloading precisely whatever merchandise was actually sold. “Where peace and unity is wanting,” as Roberts sagely put it, “trade must decay”.

Further south, in the Gulf of Guinea (then called the “Genin and Benin” or “Ginney and Binney” coast), Roberts describes how the English trade there — buying gold, and selling cloth, weapons, and especially salt — was limited by competition with other Europeans. The Portuguese had long ago built . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 3:58 pm

Biden dithers and stalls in addressing a news report, leaving thousands in limbo

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Sam Stein, Tina Sfondeles, and Alex Thompson report for Politico:

For weeks, the Biden administration has kept thousands of people in a state of panic by letting a single news report linger without formal denial or confirmation.

The report, published on July 19 by the New York Times, said the administration’s “legal team” had concluded, based on prior legal guidance, that inmates released to home confinement for fear of Covid-19 spread in their prisons will legally have to return when the pandemic state of emergency ends.

The Department of Justice has declined to say whether or not it will uphold or rescind the Trump-era Office of Legal Counsel memo that says those inmates must go back. And the White House has not commented on whether President JOE BIDEN will use his clemency powers to intervene. Instead, it has simply restated the president’s commitment to “reducing incarceration and helping people to re-enter society.”

Absent any action from Biden, criminal justice reform advocates say, that’s an impossible line to swallow.

To understand why, just look at the stats. The Bureau of Prisons Director MICHAEL CARVAJAL testified that 7,000 inmates are in home confinement under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Of those, the Brennan Center estimates that roughly 20 individuals have been returned to prison as result of violations. Twenty.

“We know that these are people who are not a threat to public safety,” said LAUREN-BROOKE EISEN, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “There is absolutely no public interest being served in having this group of individuals reincarcerated.”

But those are just numbers, devoid of any sense of the human toll that comes if neither the DoJ nor the president take action. A fuller illustration comes from a man named RUFUS ROCHELL.

Rufus’s story is a microcosm of the inequities in the criminal justice system. At the age of 36, he was given a 40-year prison sentence for conspiracy to distribute and possession of crack cocaine. To this day, he claims his innocence and there are compelling reasons to believe him. But he never received clemency, even after one of his best friends in prison — the financier CONRAD BLACK — got a pardon from DONALD TRUMP and subsequently petitioned Trump’s son-in-law JARED KUSHNER to grant one to Rufus.

Instead, what got Rufus out was Covid. He was released in April of 2020 because of fears of rampant spread in his facility. He stopped at a Boston Market for his first post-prison meal — barbeque chicken — and then made his way to his sister’s home in Micanopy, Florida.

Over the past 16 months Rufus has worked with at-risk youth, helped at food drives, volunteered with church groups and spoken before members of Congress, including House Speaker NANCY PELOSI, about the Covid risks in prison facilities. He wears an ankle monitor and can’t venture past the front yard without clearance from his halfway house.

A few weeks back, he got a call from AMY POVAH — a former prisoner-turned-clemency advocate who’s helped with his case — informing him about the Times story.

“I didn’t want it to be a shock to him,” Povah told me.

As she spoke about Rufus and others facing the prospect of reincarceration, Povah was near tears. She thought about what it would mean for her to go back to prison after having served nine years for a trafficking case (her sentence was commuted by President BILL CLINTON).

“I’m not sure I wouldn’t commit suicide,” she said. “It’s just too much to ask of a human being.”

Rufus, by contrast, was almost disturbingly circumspect about it all.

“I’m not upset or nothing,” he told me when we talked. “Because the fact is, I did a good job out here in terms of changing lives. And doing the best I could to change lives. And maybe it is time for me to step back in for a little while to help change lives inside of there.”

Rufus is 69 years old. He has ten months left on his sentence due to time well served. Perversely, the longer Covid lingers, the better off he’ll be: there will be no official end to the pandemic and he will remain out from behind bars.

But of the 7,000 inmates in home confinement, an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 or so have sentences unlikely to end before the pandemic. They’re now waiting for any word from Biden. And even those in the advocacy community who work on these issues — and have pushed for clemency for this community — say they’ve gotten no sense of what the White House is going to do.

“I would love to stay out, I would love to have my freedom,” Rufus told me before we hung up the phone. “But sometimes things are out of your control and what this shows me is that those in authority, if this happens, are not for rehabilitation and second chances and changing individual lives for positive good.”

The White House did not comment for this piece. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 3:33 pm

The infrastructure bill

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

It appears that it is finally infrastructure week.

Today, negotiators hammered out a deal on a bipartisan bill, which includes $550 billion in new spending. This evening, the Senate voted to move the bill forward by a vote of 67 to 32, with 17 Republicans joining all the Democrats to begin debate on the measure.

The bill is not fully hammered out yet, and the Congressional Budget Office, which examines bills to see how much they will cost, has not yet produced a final number, but it appears that the bill will cost about $1.2 trillion over 8 years. It puts together unspent monies from other programs and from new “user fees” to pay for it, but Republicans demanded that funds to increase funding for the IRS to enable it to crack down on tax cheats, who cost the United States about $1 trillion a year, be stripped from the bill.

The White House said the bill would create about 2 million “good-paying” jobs a year for the next decade. It provides $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for public transit, $66 billion for passenger rail, $73 billion to upgrade the electrical grid; $7.5 billion for electrical vehicle chargers on highway corridors, $17 billion for rebuilding our ports, $50 billion for addressing climate change and cybersecurity, and $55 billion for clean drinking water.

The bill also calls for $65 billion to expand broadband internet, tying all Americans into the same grid and lowering prices. In the White House statement, Biden explicitly tied the expansion of broadband to the nation’s 1936 expansion of access to electricity through the Rural Electrification Act. Through that act, the government tried to level the playing field between urban Americans who had electricity through private companies and rural Americans who did not because the profit margins weren’t high enough to make it worthwhile for private companies to bring electricity to them.

Electrification not only enabled rural Americans to enjoy the new products created in the early twentieth century, but also created a new industry of consumer products that helped the post–World War II economy boom. Then, as now, federal funding for a vital infrastructure need opened up the door to government oversight and regulation of that utility, a principle that today’s Republicans oppose, especially when it comes to broadband. (It’s an interesting thought, though: could regulation of publicly supported broadband help address the problem of disinformation on social media?)

That is only one of the ways in which this bipartisan bill remains precarious. There are others. It is always possible that the Republicans cannot muster the 10 votes they need to pass the bill, and continuing to tinker with it is simply a way to run out the clock on the congressional session so that the Democrats cannot get the infrastructure deal they want so badly.

From the other direction, progressive Democrats have made it clear they will not accept this bill, which focuses on “hard” infrastructure like roads and bridges, unless it goes along with a larger “soft” infrastructure bill that focuses on human infrastructure. There are not enough Republican votes to pass that second measure over a Senate filibuster, so it will have to pass the Senate through budget reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority. But that means it will need all 50 Democratic votes, and today Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema said she does not support the bill in its current form. She apparently wants adjustments, but what they are and whether progressives will accept them remains unclear.

Still, the idea of this new, sweeping infrastructure package becoming reality is . . .

Continue reading.

For a different take, look at Kevin Drum’s post:

I see that cats and dogs are living together and have produced a bipartisan infrastructure bill. I figure they did this just to annoy me, but I hold no grudges. I just want to know how they’re going to pay for it:

The new agreement also included significant changes to how the infrastructure spending will be paid for, after Republicans resisted supporting a pillar of the original framework: increased revenues from an I.R.S. crackdown on tax cheats, which was to have supplied nearly one-fifth of the funding for the plan.

In place of those lost revenues, negotiators agreed to repurpose more than $250 billion from previous pandemic aid legislation, including $50 billion from expanded unemployment benefits that have been canceled prematurely this summer by two dozen Republican governors, according to a fact sheet reviewed by The New York Times. That is more than double the repurposed money in the original deal.

As I recall, the previous version of this “$1 trillion” bill actually represented $600 billion in new spending. With this new funding in place, it looks like the $1 trillion bill is now a $350 billion bill. In other words, starting with the very first proposal from the Biden administration, the amount of new spending has gone from $2 trillion to $1 trillion to $600 billion to $350 billion. I think. This gets kind of tricky. In any case, it sure seems like Republicans got a helluva good deal here.

And there’s this:

“We still have a long way to go before we get to the finish line, but this was a vitally important first step,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the lawmakers who helped broker the deal, at a press conference after a vote.

That sounds mighty familiar, doesn’t it? For one thing, it turns out there’s still no actual legislative text. I’m sure that’s not a problem, though. Stay tuned. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 3:24 pm

What’s Behind the U.S. War on Science?

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Vincent Ialenti, formerly a MacArthur postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia and now MacArthur Assistant Research Professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and author of Deep Time Reckoning: How Future Thinking Can Help Earth Now has an interesting article in Sapiens. It begins:

In U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s victory speech last November, he vowed his administration would “marshal the forces of science” to take bold action against climate change and the pandemic. Describing his election as a “great day” for American educators, he drafted a national coronavirus strategy with a clear mandate: “Listen to science.”

Biden, now halfway through his first year as president, has mostly followed through. He appointed a leading geneticist as his top science adviser and elevated his role to the Cabinet rank. He established a new position—deputy director for science and society at the Office of Science and Technology Policy—and filled it with a renowned sociologist. He reengaged the World Health Organization and issued a detailed pandemic plan focused on health equity and higher vaccination rates. He rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement and set an ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by around 50 percent by 2030.

This all broke with his predecessor. Under former President Donald Trump, more than two-thirds of scientists across 16 federal agencies reported that hiring freezes and departures interfered with their work. Federal funding was cut for expertise on matters ranging from invasive insect risk to the effects of chemicals on pregnant women. The White House attempted to undermine the National Climate Assessment and even sent a “cease and desist” order to a top National Park Service scientist for testifying to Congress about climate change. The Trump administration moved coronavirus data collection away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic.

Biden has a historic opportunity to reverse Trump’s regressive science policies. Yet to achieve a more fundamental change in how American political culture approaches science, Biden has to go further to confront an unsettling reality: Current suspicions of science did not begin with the election of one man in 2016. They have often been symptomatic of frustrations and critiques that gained relevance decades prior to Trump’s inauguration, leading many critics to write off scientists as just another untrustworthy, out-of-touch group of elites.

In my new book, Deep Time Reckoning, I refer to this as a “deflation of expertise.” To understand its origins, I first had to leave my home country and experience everyday life in a society that approaches scientific and other forms of expertise differently: Finland. Reflecting on these contrasts can reveal some of the societal disillusionments that fueled Trump’s war on science—and help the U.S. move beyond them.

From 2012 to 2014, I lived in Helsinki. I was conducting anthropological fieldwork among experts developing what will likely become the world’s first deep geological repository for high-level nuclear energy waste. I often asked these experts how Finland was able to keep so closely to the disposal schedules it set back in the early 1980s. The United States’ now-defunct nuclear repository project at Yucca Mountain had, in contrast, been stymied by decades of fierce litigation, political stagnation, and scientific uncertainty.

The Finnish experts attributed their project’s comparatively smooth rollout to Finland’s broad public trust in the competence of their domestic engineers, technocrats, and scientists.

Finns from many walks of life told me of their country’s fondness of large, centralized, hierarchical organizations like public transport systems, government ministries, and the welfare state. They pointed me toward polls casting Finland as unique in its high levels of trust in its domestic civil servantspolice officerseducatorsjournalists, and scientists. For sure, I met Finns who did not fit neatly with these generalizations. But on the whole, my findings lined up with the conclusions of Finnish social scientists: Finns generally “count on expertise, technology, and authorities.”

When I returned to home in August 2014, my mild reverse culture shock revealed Finland’s approach to expertise to be a world apart from the United States’.

Without realizing it at first, I found myself continuing my field research—but now it was the U.S. that looked unfamiliar. I asked my compatriots about trust in science while living in Upstate New York, then in Washington D.C., and when visiting my hometown in Central Massachusetts. I encountered a deep suspicion of experts that, in Finland, would have seemed almost paranoid.

American distrust of science is not new. Yet in recent decades, moral and religious critiques of science have fueled the growth of an anti-elite fervor against scientists and other experts, especially among conservatives. Why?

Some Americans I met told me how their trust in high-ranking military leaders had been shaken when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 based on false pretenses about weapons of mass destruction. Others told me that their trust in economists had been damaged after the 2007–2008 global financial crisis. Still others expressed that their trust in Silicon Valley had given way to concerns about digital privacy losses, big data cybersecurity hacks, and U.S. National Security Agency surveillance.

After multiple breaches of public trust by powerful state institutions and trained experts, some people felt that suspicion of any kind of person in an elite position seemed reasonable. A trust gap was widening between the general public and elites.

Come the 2016 election, all sorts of claims to expert authority were written off as mere pompous elitism. Right-wing populists clamored loudly against technocrats, globalists, and the deep state. The Trump administration openly questioned established science on topics ranging from climate change to human evolution.

Meanwhile, deluges of online misinformation left millions of Americans—on both the political left and right—siloed in algorithmically generated, increasingly extreme social media echo chambers.

But the reasons behind this intensification of anti-science political fervor, especially among conservatives, the majority of whom are White people, are complex and multifaceted.

I will focus on a few that I see as particularly relevant to the intensification of anti-elitism in the U.S. For one thing, some White Americans have had to reckon with a crumbling American DreamOver the past two decades, working-class White people have seen decreased life expectancies and increased rates of suicide and opioid overdoses. Meanwhile, middle-class White males’ wages have stagnated or, in some cases, declined.

These economic changes, alongside other factors, have led some conservatives to feel that “establishment” institutions—not just in media and government, but also in science and technology—have abandoned them. Some also say they’ve lost faith in the country’s higher education system. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, Republican or Republican-leaning voters tend to be concerned that these institutions are “too liberal/political” and don’t allow students to “think for themselves.” Some critics fear conservative students are marginalized by far-left faculty and administrators, a critique that hasn’t been borne out by the research.

Today only 37 percent of conservative Republicans believe in global warming—down from 49 percent in 2008. Many reject peer-reviewed findings on COVID-19 or view public health guidance as a threat to their sense of self-determination. Only 27 percent of Republicans—compared to 43 percent of respondents who are or lean Democrat—report “a great deal” of confidence in the scientific community as a whole.

Science advocates can find hope in Biden’s political appointments and policy initiatives. However, Biden faces a grander challenge: regaining trust in science among those who have lost faith in expertise itself.

Sociologist Bruno Latour has observed that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it offers insights into the breakdown of the US social compact.

Lying eyes: Using disproven methods to make legal judgments

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Gayan Samarasinghe writes in New Humanist:

The pandemic has meant most court hearings are now conducted online. For some of the judiciary, these virtual hearings are a great modernising development. Others are less enthusiastic. That is perhaps not surprising given that our courts are one of the most conservative of our institutions. Its priests appear in wigs and robes, its natural language is Latin, cameras and the press are largely shut out. In this context, trial by Skype is a polarising reform. But some judges complain that there is an insoluble problem when trials are held remotely: reading faces.

In a precedent-setting case at the start of the pandemic – known only as the matter of “P (A Child: Remote Hearing)” – a senior judge overturned a decision to hold a virtual trial. A local authority had accused a mother of child abuse by fabricating and inducing symptoms of illness in her daughter: a case, social services argued, of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.

The judge ruled the virtual trial could not proceed because the postage stamp version of the mother on Skype was too small. He wanted to see her properly, not only while she was giving her evidence, but while she was sitting in the well of the court and reacting to the evidence against her. This assessment of outward appearance, the judge said, was crucial to judging.

The judgment in P stands for a long and largely unquestioned tradition that asserts judges can and should try to read people’s facial expressions and body language when reaching decisions. But increasingly, both the ethics and science behind this practice are being called into question.

Biasing the court

In my first year of training as a barrister in the UK, I arrived at court to represent one of two parents involved in a bitter custody dispute over their young son. The judge – sensing the animosity in the room – warned both of them to be respectful when the other was speaking. He then expressed a sentiment that I have heard many judges repeat, something along these lines: “Judges often learn far more watching you while you are listening, than when you are speaking on oath.”

Not long after, in a domestic violence case in a different court, I learned what could happen when the warning wasn’t heeded. While listening to her ex-husband’s answers to questions, my client sighed, made faces and – worst of all – committed the crime of kissing her teeth: an acceptable way of expressing disapproval in her West African culture but a noise that is strangely hated in much of Europe (“le tchip” as it is known in French, is now banned in many schools both in France and in the UK).

When the court’s judgment was given, my client was described by the judge as a woman whose behaviour in court had not been consistent with that of a domestic abuse victim. By the narrowest of margins, however, and due to other evidence, the judge (seemingly grudgingly) found in her favour. I was relieved my client won her case, but I was troubled by the idea that even people who have been ruled to be victims may not have a courtroom demeanour that lives up to the imagined standard of what a victim should look like.

I couldn’t help wondering how juries in criminal trials approached similar questions. One of my former lecturers at law school, Professor Louise Ellison, has investigated how juries make decisions in rape cases. Her research suggests that many jurors may have little understanding of the factors that could influence a rape complainant’s demeanour in court. Although victims of trauma may present as calm for a number of reasons, Ellison’s jurors were struck and perplexed with what they perceived as “stoic” testimony by a complainant. Some speculated whether the witness’s measured pace and somewhat “flat” intonation meant that her answers had been rehearsed.

A complication for Ellison’s research is access to jurors. Her studies have been undertaken with actors in the roles of complainants. While criminal trials are held in public, jurors are forbidden, at risk of imprisonment, from revealing how they reached their verdicts. There is an anxiety as to how many mistrials might take place were jurors to reveal their deliberations. In one study, conducted with Ellison’s colleague Professor Vanessa Munro and published in the British Journal of Criminology in 2009, their mock jurors often said troubling things. One discussion focused on what the witness had chosen to wear to court – with a juror suggesting that a “dowdy” dress was a deliberate attempt to manipulate the jury: “she’s got no make-up on, her hair’s tied back, she looks like a frightened little woman. Who knows, in the office she could have black stockings on, four and a half inch heels, wearing loads of make-up.” Do these mirror the discussions of juries in real trials?

Some think the answers to these types of questions could do immense damage to the system: the right to be judged by a jury of one’s peers, ever since it was enshrined in the Magna Carta, has long been seen as a safeguard against tyranny and a fundamental part of British justice.

There may, however, be ways of improving the system. Much like in other social situations, jurors can and do correct each other. And judges can also help. Ellison has argued for . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 1:24 pm

Are We All Getting More Depressed?: A New Study Analyzing 14 Million Books, Written Over 160 Years, Finds the Language of Depression Steadily Rising

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Interesting column at Open Culture today, written by Josh Jones — and note at the bottom of the column the links to related content. He writes:

The relations among thought, language, and mood have become subjects of study for several scientific fields of late. Some of the conclusions seem to echo religious notions from millennia ago. “As a man thinketh, so he is,” for example, proclaims a famous verse in Proverbs (one that helped spawn a self-help movement in 1903). Positive psychology might agree. “All that we are is the result of what we have thought,” says one translation of the Buddhist Dhammapada, a sentiment that cognitive behavioral therapy might endorse.

But the insights of these traditions — and of social psychology — also show that we’re embedded in webs of connection: we don’t only think alone; we think — and talk and write and read — with others. External circumstances influence mood as well as internal states of mind. Approaching these questions differently, researchers at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University asked, “Can entire societies become more or less depressed over time?,” and is it possible to read collective changes in mood in the written languages of the past century or so?

The team of scientists, led by Johan Bollen, Indiana University professor of informatics and computing, took a novel approach that brings together tools from at least two fields: large-scale data analysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Since diagnostic criteria for measuring depression have only been around for the past 40 years, the question seemed to resist longitudinal study. But CBT provided a means of analyzing language for markers of “cognitive distortions” — thinking that skews in overly negative ways. “Language is closely intertwined with this dynamic” of thought and mood, the researchers write in their study, “Historical language records reveal a surge of cognitive distortions in recent decades,” published just last month in PNAS.

Choosing three languages, English (US), German, and Spanish, the team looked for “short sequences of one to five words (n-grams), labeled cognitive distortion schemata (CDS).” These words and phrases express negative thought processes like “catastrophizing,” “dichotomous reasoning,” “disqualifying the positive,” etc. Then, the researchers identified the prevalence of such language in a collection of over 14 million books published between 1855 and 2019 and uploaded to Google Books. The study controlled for language and syntax changes during that time and accounted for the increase in technical and non-fiction books published (though it did not distinguish between literary genres).

What the scientists found in all three languages was a distinctive “‘hockey stick’ pattern” — a sharp uptick in the language of depression after 1980 and into the present time. The only spikes that come close on the timeline occur in English language books during the Gilded Age and books published in German during and immediately after World War II. (Highly interesting, if unsurprising, findings.) Why the sudden, steep climb in language signifying depressive thinking? Does it actually mark a collective shift in mood, or show how historically oppressed groups have had more access to publishing in the past forty years, and have expressed less satisfaction with the status quo?

While they are careful to emphasize that they “make no causal claims” in the study, the researchers have some ideas about what’s happened, observing for example: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including some likely causes — and note this earlier post by Kevin Drum, which focuses on the US.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 11:35 am

The apotheosis of the Edwin Jagger razor

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At first blush, Phoenix Artisan’s avocado-oriented Avo Nice Shave strikes one as an indie artisan experiment, but in fact Taylor of Old Bond Street offers a very nice avocado shaving cream. In both cases, the emphasis is on the use of the oil, not the fragrance — avocados don’t really have much of a fragrance. The lather, from soap or shaving cream, is luxurious and kind to the skin, and that Rooney Emilion gets the job done.

The RazoRock MJ-90A is, I’m sure, what Edwin Jagger aspires to be when he grows up: the same head geometry, but realized in CNC-milled aircraft aluminum alloy instead of die-cast zinc alloy, and the handle is stainless steel, not zinc alloy or a resin. The head of the MJ-90A covers the blades end tabs instead of leaving them exposed. The particular weakness of the Edwin Jagger is that the threaded stem from the cap has a tendency to snap off — sometimes because the razor fell to the floor, but more often the end result of over-tightening the head slightly, day after day, thus weakening the zinc alloy, which is short on tensile strength.

Overall, the MJ-90A has all the benefits of the Edwin Jagger head design while eliminating the flaws in construction. So, like the EJ, the razor today gave a very comfortable and very efficient shave, leaving my face undamaged and perfectly smooth.

A splash of Avo Nice Shave with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel to up its SQ (skincare quotient), and the day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 9:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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