Later On

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

Archive for August 3rd, 2021

The love affair between Republicans and dictators

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted on Facebook a photo of Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson visiting him. Carlson is broadcasting his television show from Hungary this week, before he speaks on Saturday at MCC Feszt, an event hosted by a government-sponsored university whose mission is to produce a conservative elite.

Hungary is a country in central Europe of about 10 million people who have, in the decade since Orbán took power for the second time, watched their democracy erode. On paper, Hungary is a democracy in that it still holds elections, but it is, in fact, a one-party state overseen by the prime minister.

Orbán has been open about his determination to overthrow the concept of western democracy, replacing it with what he has, on different occasions, called “illiberal democracy,” or “Christian democracy.” He wants to replace the multiculturalism at the heart of democracy with Christian culture, stop the immigration that he believes undermines Hungarian culture, and reject “adaptable family models” with “the Christian family model.”

No matter what he calls it, Orbán’s model is not democracy at all. As soon as he retook office in 2010, he began to establish control over the media, cracking down on those critical of his party, Fidesz, and rewarding those who toed the party line. In 2012, his supporters rewrote the country’s constitution to strengthen his hand, and extreme gerrymandering gave his party more power while changes to election rules benefited his campaigns. Increasingly, he used the power of the state to concentrate wealth among his cronies, and he reworked the country’s judicial system and civil service system to stack it with his loyalists. While Hungary still has elections, state control of the media and the apparatus of voting means that it is impossible for Orbán’s opponents to take power.

Trump supporters have long admired Orbán’s nationalism and centering of Christianity, while the fact that Hungary continues to have elections enables them to pretend that the country remains a democracy.

Currently, political patterns in America look much like those Orbán used to gather power into his own hands. Republican-dominated legislatures are passing new measures to suppress the vote, aided by the Big Lie that former president Trump did not lose the 2020 election. Trump and his supporters are focusing on the so-called “forensic audit” of Maricopa County in Arizona, paid for and conducted by Trump loyalists who insist that Trump actually won despite the repeated investigations that have proved the election was clean.

Today, a piece by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker revealed how the money for that audit is coming not from local protesters, but rather from “sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives.” Those organizations “have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote.”

Mayer details how organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the anti-regulation FreedomWorks, and the Judicial Education Project (which is tied to Leonard Leo, a chair of the Federalist Society, which has worked since the 1980s to stack the courts with originalists) have turned from their previous advocacy to focus on voter suppression. These groups are bankrolled by Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, whose board member Cleta Mitchell was on Trump’s January 3, 2021, call to Georgia election officials.

In the Washington Post, Greg Sargent noted that the goal of these audits is to undermine Americans’ faith in elections altogether. Continued questioning of election results even after repeated recounts and verification makes any outcome seem untrustworthy. In such a case, a state legislature might argue it was justified either in “finding” enough votes to swing an election—as Trump tried to get Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to do in Georgia in 2020—or in throwing out the vote altogether and advancing its own slate of electors to the Electoral College.

Mayer points out that organizations funded by the Bradley Foundation are, indeed, talking about taking the choice of electors away from voters and giving it instead to state officials.

Carlson has shown support for Hungary in the past. Notably, in 2019, he endorsed . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 4:18 pm

Congress Is Already Botching the Next Pandemic

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One reason the US is such a mess is that its government is — overall — incompetent. The reasons for the incompetence are various, but in terms of getting crucial things accomplished, the picture is dismal. In New York Eric Levitz points out one example of legislative incompetence:

COVID caught the United States napping through a cacophony of shrieking alarms. When the novel coronavirus reached our shores, the CDC was spending only $500 million a year on programs aimed at tackling emerging diseases. The National Institutes of Health’s total budget for its program on infectious diseases, meanwhile, was roughly $5.5 billion, with only a small fraction of that sum going toward pandemic prevention. Little to nothing was spent on shoring up U.S. hospitals’ surge capacity. By contrast, in late 2019, Congress increased the Pentagon’s budget — which was already larger than the military budgets of China, India, Russia, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, and Australia combined — by $21 billion.

In other words: The U.S. government treated preparing for a pandemic as a nigh-trivial concern, or a matter roughly 0.01 percent as important as modernizing the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads.

Congress had been told plenty of times that this was a poor set of priorities. For decades, public-health experts and advocates had been warning of scenarios quite similar to the COVID-19 crisis. An episode of Vox’s Netflix show Explained from fall 2019 described how a Chinese wet market — where humans and a wide variety of livestock are packed into close proximity — could facilitate the spread of a novel influenza virus from animals to humans, and thus trigger a pandemic. In September 2019, a report commissioned by the World Bank and World Health Organization began, “There is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people.” The first two decades of the 21st century also saw the SARS and MERS outbreaks — two previews of how a deadly new coronavirus could cause a global catastrophe.

Perhaps America could only have learned the hard way. Only after seeing a novel pathogen kill hundreds of thousands of its citizens, shutter its economy, and shred much of its social fabric would Congress finally see that spending a pittance on public health had significant downsides.

This is what I thought a little over a year ago, anyway. Today, such an assessment looks far too optimistic.

As the Delta variant has reminded the complacent, the COVID pandemic is not over. And with upwards of 616,000 Americans lost to the virus, and outbreaks still testing hospital capacity in many regions of the country, Congress is already back to treating pandemic preparedness as a minor concern.

The Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill includes no significant investment in public health. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats are reportedly planning to scale back Joe Biden’s proposed investment in pandemic preparedness by more than 80 percent. Whereas the president called for spending $30 billion on fortifying the nation’s defenses against contagious diseases, Nancy Pelosi & Co. plan to dedicate just $5 billion — of their impending $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill — to such purposes.

This move is understandable, if indefensible. Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the House. And to pass partisan legislation out of the Senate, the party cannot afford a single defection. Moderates in both chambers have a limited tolerance for both deficit spending and taxing the wealthy. It’s not clear that the party has the votes to pass a $3.5 trillion spending bill, let alone one greater than that sum. And yet, the party’s myriad ambitions for public investment cost far more than $3.5 trillion. So something has to go.

Pandemic preparedness is an easy line-item to shrink for the same reason that it was an easy one to underfund pre-COVID: The constituency with the greatest stake in preventing or mitigating the next public health crisis is unidentifiable, let alone, organizable. [The downside of politicians whose primary focus is getting re-elected, not governing. – LG] The 600,000 Americans who died of COVID-19 over the past 17 months did not know in 2019 that they had a potentially life-or-death stake in the size of the CDC’s budget. If Democrats go small on pandemic preparedness, the victims of the next novel virus will not light up Congress’s phone lines. By contrast, if the party scraps its plan to add dental, hearing, and vision benefits to Medicare, the AARP would make its discontent known.

It’s plausible that Democrats could pass a large increase in pandemic funding on a bipartisan basis, as part of an omnibus budget bill. Or at least, Republicans would more plausibly support $25 billion in pandemic preparedness funding than a $25 billion investment in childcare. The $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill is Democrats’ only vehicle for moving partisan priorities. So why spend a full $30 billion of that limited sum on a cause that both parties (at least nominally) support?

This reasoning may be superficially compelling, but it doesn’t withstand scrutiny. If Republican support for funding pandemic preparedness could be relied upon, we would see such funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. In any case, Democrats can’t bet the nation’s public health on Mitch McConnell’s good sense. The inadequacies of America’s existing pandemic-fighting capacities are too myriad, and the stakes of increasing those capacities too great, to give the GOP veto power on the issue.

America needs to establish . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, including a list of priorities — priorities that Congress will not attend to.

His conclusion points out something that looks an awful lot like stupidity:

In response to a terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, the U.S. spent more than $4 trillion on (largely counterproductive and homicidal) efforts to prevent the occurrence of such tragedies. In response to a virus that’s killed 616,800 Americans and counting, America can surely spend $30 billion. To pare back that sum by 80 percent for the sake of placating the deficit-phobic would be the opposite of fiscal responsibility.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 3:40 pm

Where Are The Robotic Bricklayers?

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“Not yet ready for prime time” seems to be the answer. Brian Potter writes in Construction Physics:

When researching construction, you invariably discover that any new or innovative idea has actually been tried over and over again, often stretching back decades. One of these new-but-actually-old ideas is the idea of a mechanical bricklayer, a machine to automate the construction of masonry walls.

It’s easy to see the appeal of this idea – masonry construction seems almost perfectly suited for mechanization [0]. It’s extremely repetitive – constructing a masonry building requires setting tens or hundreds of thousands of bricks or blocks, each one (nearly) identical, each one set in the same way. It doesn’t seem like it would require physically complex movements – each brick gets a layer of mortar applied, and is simply laid in place next to the previous one. And because each brick and mortar joint is the same size, placement is almost deterministic – each brick is the same fixed distance from the previous one.

On top of this, masonry, especially block masonry, is one of the most physically punishing construction tasks, since it requires hours and hours of repetitively moving extremely heavy objects. All together masonry seems like the perfect candidate for a task to hand over to a machine, and it’s something people have been attempting for over 100 years.

Early Attempts

The first attempts at machine-laid masonry date back to the turn of the century – we can find patents issued for mechanical bricklayers in 18991904, and 1924, all by different individuals (some of whom worked on their idea for years – John Thompson, who was was awarded the 1904 patent, had additional patents in 1918 and 1926). These machines would (theoretically) run along the top of a wall, set down a layer of mortar, and place bricks one at a time. These machines couldn’t sense anything about their environment, or measure where a brick needed to go – they simply extruded a layer of mortar and mechanically placed a brick at regular intervals. It’s unclear how many of these machines ever made it beyond the drawing board, but at least one of these (John Knight’s) was used to build a brick wall that allegedly still stands today.

This same concept would reappear several times over the next few decades – patents can be found for similar machines issued in the 60s and 70s. This video from 1967 of the “Motor Mason ” shows one in action – it’s not all that different from the early 1900s efforts: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 3:04 pm

“You Say You Want A Revolution …”: The Right Embraces Authoritarianism

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Michael A. Cohen writes in Truth and Consequences:

At the Bulwark, Charlies Sykes has a smart piece looking at the growing embrace of dictatorship on the far right.

He cites a recent article in American Greatness, an online publication that styles itself as the intellectual home of Trumpism, titled The Salazar Option, which celebrates the reign of Portugal’s fascist dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.

The crux of the argument made by Christopher Roach, an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness, is that the right can no longer acquiesce to liberal indoctrination. “The forces of the aggressive, secular Left are not going to let any of us retreat into our own enclaves,” says Roach. “They will hunt down every last private clubpizza shop, and bakery out of mere spite. They will steal your kids and destroy your life.”

“Passive resistance” is a fool’s errand, says Roach, as he argues that history teaches that “the only thing that worked” in resisting “revolutionary leftist power …was the acquisition of real power.” Hence the reverence for Salazar, whose regime Roach describes as “undoubtedly authoritarian” … but “far less intrusive and far less damaging to society than the alternative.”

According to Roach, the brutality that defined the 1926 coup in Portugal, led by Estado Novo that overthrew a left-wing government, is a feature, not a bug. “Estado Novo and its supporters did not treat its enemies with kid gloves,” says Roach. “They were not limited by self-defeating notions of ‘principle.’ Hostile and revolutionary elements—whether domestic Communists, fascist syndicalists, internal political factions, or international high finance—were treated as equal potential dangers.”

For months now, political observers have noted the conservative movement’s increasingly authoritarian bent, so I suppose it’s not surprising that a publication devoted to promoting Donald Trump would unabashedly embrace such a message. But after reading a number of posts at American Greatness, I was struck by something even more disturbing — the increasingly existential, even eliminationist rhetoric emanating from the far right. Liberalism is presented not as an ordinary political or cultural movement. Instead, it is a clear and present threat to America’s future and the American people. To read American Greatness is to believe that America is in the last throes of liberal indoctrination, and the time is now to confront it with force, if necessary.

“First They Came For Our Putters … and I Said Nothing”

American Greatness is rife with references to “cultural catastrophe” and the “ongoing leftist cultural indoctrination of America’s future.” The usual conservative bugaboos are trotted out, such as “the explosion of violent crimes in American cities,” “disease-bearing illegal aliens,” “and the takeover of the military and education by the intersectional Left.” A former congressman from Arkansas, Thaddeus McCotter, laments the impact of the left’s “climate cult” on children because, and I’m not making this up, there is now a New York-based miniature golf course focused on the theme of climate change. “‘Fun’ is subordinate to and subsumed beneath politics and power,” writes McCotter. “Only if one has been ‘informed’—i.e., indoctrinated and submissive—will the Left let you have fun.”

Once piece compares vaccine mandates to the Shirley Jackson short story, “The Lottery,” in which a child is chosen by lottery to be stoned to death as a human sacrifice. This idea of vaccine and mask mandates being an attempt at societal control and an example of the left’s burgeoning tyranny is a recurrent theme on American Greatness.

John Conlin, who bills himself as an “expert on organizational design and change,” compares the calls from Democratic leaders for vaccine mandate to that of genocidal leaders:

Listen carefully to the Biden Administration, the Squad, and all the rest. They are tyrants in the making and if they had the power and ability, they would surely use it. From the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, to Stalin, to Mao, to Islamist supremacists, to Venezuela and Cuba and many others, the road to tyranny—and the end of individual freedom—started with “I’ll just make them . . .”

Conlin implores his readers to “Vote and live like your very freedoms—and the lives of all you love—hang in the balance. They do.” Comparing the president and his congressional supporters to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge might also lead one to conclude that voting is the least you should do to forestall this outcome.

Roger Kimball, the editor and publisher of The New Criterion, decries the “tyrannous spirit” that is driving “lockdowns, the mask mandates, and the smug, hectoring, politically correct demands for proof of vaccination.” He says, “the weaponization of public health diktats … is simply the latest manifestation of the profoundly anti-democratic spirit” and “at some point, there will be a revolt.”

According to Kimball,

“The longer the arbitrary insanity persists, the more violent the reaction will be. The question is whether we are at or are approaching the point of crisis. Will the voters stand for another lockdown as we approach the 2022 election? Lockdowns markedly increased the opportunities for voter fraud; 2020 showed that. That is precisely why the swamp is prepping us for another go. Let’s see if we stand by grumbling impotently or if, finally, we actually do something. I am not holding my breath.”

So we’re clear, Kimball is bemoaning the fact that there likely won’t be an armed revolt in response to public health measures around COVID-19.

The Evils of Wokeism

But it’s not just vaccinations that have the writers at American Greatness so upset. Bruce Abramson, who is “a director of the American Center for Education and Knowledge, and author of the forthcoming book, The New Civil War: Exposing Elites, Fighting Utopian Leftism, and Restoring America,” has penned an attack on what he calls the ideology of “Wokeism.” He calls it “a new world religion engaged in a stealth conquest of America, the West, and the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Abramson’s criticism of wokeism is not your usual attack on socially conscious liberals. Instead, what roused him to write his jeremiad against Wokeism is a recent poll that shows a rejection of religious affiliation by a quarter of all Americans (he dubs these Americans “nones”)

“At a societal level, religion provides the basis for morality, law, and community,” says Abramson. “Without some external anchor for basic concepts of good and evil, all morality becomes situational—rendering the rule of law untenable. In short, if a quarter of America can find true fulfillment as nones, American society is dangerously unstable (italics added).”

If you detect a strong Handmaid’s Tale vibe in this language, you’re not alone.

“It’s Just a Flesh Wound”

Conrad Black, who is a prominent Canadian news publisher and author of a reasonably well-reviewed one-volume biography of Franklin Roosevelt, focuses on the “real doubt about the integrity of voting and the fairness of the vote-counting system in key parts of six swing states” and claims 2020 “wasn’t a demonstrably fair election.”

This is standard right-wing misinformation, but it is Black’s defense of the January 6 insurrectionists that stands out. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. These people are dangerous.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 2:37 pm

“I went to a party with 14 other vaccinated people; 11 of us got COVID”

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Allan Massie, an epidemiologist and biomedical researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, writes in the Baltimore Sun:

I was sitting on an examination table at an urgent care clinic in Timonium, giving my history to a physician’s assistant. An hour later, she would call me to confirm that I was positive for COVID-19.

Given the way that I felt, it was what I expected. But it wasn’t supposed to happen: I’ve been fully vaccinated for months.

Five days earlier, I had gone to a house party in Montgomery County. There were 15 adults there, all of us fully vaccinated. The next day, our host started to feel sick. The day after that, she tested positive for COVID-19. She let all of us know right away. I wasn’t too worried. It was bad luck for my friend, but surely she wasn’t that contagious. Surely all of us were immune. I’d been sitting across the room from her. I figured I’d stay home and isolate from my family for a few days, and that would be that. And even that seemed like overkill.

The official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline stated that, since I was fully vaccinated, I didn’t need to do anything different unless I started developing symptoms. I’m an epidemiologist at a major medical research university, which has a dedicated COVID exposure hotline for staff. I called it, and workers said I didn’t need to do anything.

Then, I started to hear that a few other people who had been at the party were getting sick. Then a few more. At this point, 11 of the 15 have tested positive for COVID.

Fortunately, none of us seems to be seriously ill. When fully vaccinated people experience so-called “breakthrough” infection, they tend not to progress to serious disease requiring hospitalization, and I expect that will be the case for us. But I can tell you that even a “mild” case of COVID-19 is pretty miserable. I’ve had fever, chills and muscle aches, and I’ve been weak enough that I can barely get out of bed. I don’t wish this on anybody.

Our research group at work has shown that the COVID vaccine isn’t always fully effective in transplant recipients. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. But once I got the vaccine, I figured the COVID battle was over for me. Out of an abundance of caution I took an antibody test shortly after my second vaccine dose. It was off the charts.

As much as I hate me and my fully-vaccinated friends being sick, I’ve been thinking about what our little outbreak among means for the rest of us. Here’s what I’ve concluded:

State and local health departments, and the CDC, need to do a better job collecting and reporting data on breakthrough infections. The CDC announced in May that it was only going to collect data on breakthrough infections that led to hospitalization or death, which are fortunately rare. But that means that outbreaks like ours will fly under the radar. Any of us could infect others, apparently including other vaccinated people. It’s not clear if our group got sick because of a particularly virulent variant, because the vaccine is wearing off or for some other reason. Without good data, we’ll never know.

Fully vaccinated people exposed to COVID need to isolate at home and get tested. I thought I might be overreacting by leaving work in the middle of the day and immediately moving to our basement at home. Now I’m glad I did.

Governments and businesses should consider . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 2:25 pm

In search of civilisation

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David Wengrow, Professor of Comparative Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University of London, writes in Engelsberg Ideas:

The task I’ve set myself here is to think about the history of civilisation before the state. Why should this be so difficult? And why is it nevertheless a task worth pursuing? The answers lie partly in a set of widespread assumptions about what constitutes a civilisation in world history. It is common, for example, to group a whole series of ancient societies together under the banner of ‘early civilisation’. The ones that usually get included are ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, the Classic Maya, the Aztecs, Shang China, the Inca Empire and the Yoruba kingdoms of West Africa. But when it comes to defining what these particular societies have in common, the concept of civilisation seems to drop out of the equation. Suddenly the focus shifts, without explanation, to other factors that can be easily described without any use of the term civilisation – factors such as class stratification, urbanisation, centralised (and often literate) administration, sacred kingship, economic exploitation of the many by the few and so on. ‘Civilisation’, by this point, has simply become an umbrella term for a whole cluster of other cultural attributes that are basically to do with the effective exercise of power by a small and determined elite. In other words, ‘early civilisation’ and ‘state formation’ have become indistinguishable from one another as historical and descriptive categories.

Sensing the trap of a circular argument, some anthropologists have tried, albeit tentatively, to separate these two things out. For instance, in cases of early civilisations that are made up of politically independent city-states – such as the Classical Maya or ancient Mesopotamia – the term ‘civilisation’ is sometimes used to refer to the shared cultural and cosmological milieu within which multiple states exist: a kind of overarching set of guidelines about the proper moral relationships among mortals, kings and gods that encompasses the strategic rivalries of political factions. Yet the more fundamental equation between state and civilisation as coeval stages of social development stands largely unquestioned. This might be defensible were it possible to argue that only the power of centralised states is capable of generating such large-scale patterns of cultural uniformity and moral consensus. But as we shall see, this is very far from being the case.

Also largely unquestioned are the wider historical implications of a term such as ‘early civilisation’, which must then imply that there is also such as a thing as ‘late’ or ‘developed’ civilisation. Where then would we locate the transition from one to the other? Was medieval Europe – with its sacred kingdoms and administrative elites – an early or a late civilisation? Have we, in fact, until very recently – say, until the political revolutions of the eighteenth to twentieth centuries – been living under social and political conditions that are basically analogous to those of ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia? How different in structure were the ‘old regimes’ of Europe from what are sometimes described as ‘archaic states’ or ‘early civilisations’? Fencing off early civilisation as a distinct stage in human history can quickly become an arbitrary and subjective affair.

No less arbitrary, it seems, are the initial criteria on which current definitions of ‘early civilisation’ are grounded. Urbanism, for instance, was sometimes characteristic of societies that actually exhibit very little evidence for pronounced class stratification. To continue describing the appearance of 250-hectare settlements in fourth millennium BC Mesopotamia as an ‘urban revolution’ begins to look a little strange when we realise that, during the same period, the prehistoric societies of Eastern Europe – from the Carpathian Mountains to the Dniepr River – were forming settlements of over 400 hectares. The Ukrainian site of Talianki, for instance, is thought to have held something in the order of 10,000 inhabitants. What is so striking about these earliest European cities is that they achieved such immense sizes with no apparent need for centralised government, bureaucracy or a political elite. And their ground plans – forming concentric rings of similarly designed households – suggest a robustly egalitarian ethos. Yet they are usually excluded from the roster of ‘early civilisations’ and their (potentially enormous) implications for how we understand the root causes of social inequality go largely unrecognised. Studies of human political evolution seem to remain, for the most part, oblivious to the whole phenomenon and happily continue to assume that urban egalitarianism was something confined to a very brief period of mid-twentieth-century Catalonian history.

Similar points could be made about bureaucracy. Although often included as a key component within the list of attributes shared by ‘early civilisation’, complex administration in fact turns out to predate the emergence of cities and kingship by thousands of years. In Upper Mesopotamia – what is now inland Syria and northern Iraq – there is clear evidence for the use of complex bureaucratic devices, such as commodity seals and economic archives, in small-scale farming communities as far back as the 7th millennium BC. Why such devices were adopted in what must essentially have been face-to-face societies remains something of a mystery. And, again, the writers of general sourcebooks on world history seem largely content to ignore the facts and continue to describe specialised administration as a distinct evolutionary feature of urban civilisations.

It is worth adding at this point that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 1:23 pm

Flowers and a walk

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I’ve found a good route my walk and I’m settling into it. Today’s walk took 1 hr 1 min 14 sec: 6623 steps at a pace of 108.2 steps/min and a total of 3.581 miles, so 3.51 mph. My pace today was quicker and my speed greater than yesterday, but today I walked a slightly shorter distance. (Yesterday I had a detour where the sidewalk was blocked, and that added 340 feet to yesterday’s route.)

I walked by these flowers and was moved to take a photo. And a couple of days ago I posted a photo of a tree that Seek could not identify, so today I took more photos of it at Seek’s direction.

Seek (quoting Wikipedia) tells me this is a Buddleja davidii (spelling variant Buddleia davidii), also called summer lilac, butterfly-bush, or orange eye, and is native to China and Japan. More at the link.

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

3 August 2021 at 1:17 pm

The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement

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The Abilene Paradox is well-known in management, and it’s an interesting social phenomenon in any case, particularly if you have an interest in small-group sociology. The article that introduced the idea is available as a PDF, which also includes spinoffs and exercises. The article itself begins:

The July afternoon in Coleman, Texas (population 5,607) was particularly hot—104 degrees as measured by the Walgreen’s Rexall Ex-Lax temperature gauge. In addition, the wind was blowing fine-grained West Texas topsoil through the house. But the afternoon was still tolerable — even potentially enjoyable. There was a fan going on the back porch; there was cold lemonade; and finally, there was entertainment. Dominoes. Perfect for the conditions. The game required little more physical exertion than an occasional mumbled comment. “Shuffle em,” and an unhurried movement of the arm to place the spots in the appropriate perspective on the table. All in all, it had the makings of an agreeable Sunday afternoon in Coleman — that is, it was until my father-in-law suddenly said, “Let’s gel in the car and go to Abilene and have dinner at the cafeteria.”

I thought, “What, go to Abilene? Fifty-three miles? In this dust storm and heat? And in an unairconditioned 1958 Buick?”

But my wife chimed in with, “Sounds like a great idea. I’d like to go. How about you, Jerry?” Since my own preferences were obviously out of step with the rest I replied, “Sounds good to me,” and added, “I just hope your mother wants to go.”

“Of course I want to go,” said my mother-in-law. “I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

So into the car and off to Abilene we went. My predictions were fulfilled. The heat was brutal. We were coated with a fine layer of dust that was cemented with perspiration by the time we arrived. The food at the cafeteria provided first-rate testimonial material for antacid commercials.

Some four hours and 106 miles later we returned to Coleman, hot and exhausted. We sat in front of the fan for a long time in silence. Then, both to be sociable and to break the silence, I said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?”

No one spoke. Finally my mother-in-law said, with some irritation, “Well, to tell the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much and would rather have stayed here. I just went along because the three of you were so enthusiastic about going. I wouldn’t have gone if you all hadn’t pressured me into it.”

I couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean ‘you all’?” I said. “Don’t put me in the ‘you all’ group. I was delighted to be doing what we were doing. I didn’t want to go. I only went to satisfy the rest of you. You’re the culprits.”

My wife looked shocked. “Don’t call me a culprit. You and Daddy and Mama were the ones who wanted to go. I just went along to be sociable and to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in heat like that.”

Her father entered the conversation abruptly. “Hell!” he said.

He proceeded to expand on what was already absolutely clear. “Listen, I never wanted to go to Abilene. I just thought you might be bored. You visit so seldom I wanted to be sure you enjoyed it. I would have preferred to play another game of dominoes and eat the leftovers in the icebox.”

After the outburst of recrimination we all sat back in silence. Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who, of our own volition, had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in a furnace-like temperature through a cloud-like dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go. In fact, to be more accurate, we’d done just the opposite of what we wanted to do. The whole situation simply didn’t make sense.

At least it didn’t make sense at the time. But since that day in Coleman, I have observed, consulted with, and been a part of more than one organization that has been caught in the same situation. As a result, they have either taken a side-trip, or, occasionally, a terminal journey to Abilene, when Dallas or Houston or Tokyo was where they really wanted to go. And for most of those organizations, the negative consequences of such trips, measured in terms of both human misery and economic loss, have been much greater than for our little Abilene group.

This article is concerned with that paradox – the Abilene Paradox. Stated simply, it is as follows: Organizations frequently take actions in contradiction to what they really want to do and therefore defeat the very purposes they are trying to achieve. It also deals with a major corollary of the paradox, which is that the inability to manage agreement is a major source of organization dysfunction. Last, the article is designed to help members of organizations cope more effectively with the paradox’s pernicious influence.

As a means of accomplishing the above, I shall: (1) describe the symptoms exhibited by organizations caught in the paradox; (2) describe, in summarized case-study examples, how they occur in a variety of organizations; (3) discuss the underlying causal dynamics; (4) indicate some of the implications of accepting this model for describing organizational behavior; (5) make recommendations for coping with the paradox; and, in conclusion, (6) relate the paradox to a broader existential issue.


Continue reading. There’s much more.

And see also this brief explanation, which points out:

Although the Abilene Paradox is similar to groupthink, it differs in a major way. Groupthink involves people coming to a consensus through discussion despite the fact that the premise is greatly flawed. Each person in the group is influenced and becomes convinced that the proposed idea is a good one. In the Abilene Paradox, no one in the group believes the idea is a good one, yet they all go along with it.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 12:45 pm

Maybe I should try cold showers again

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Adam Egger, in his newsletter Simply Good Life, lists the benefits:

I’ve been only taking ice-cold showers for the last 6 years. Why? Here are just a few advantages of cold showers.

  • Cold showers increase norepinephrine – the hormone that counterbalances the stress hormone cortisol – by 300% (!!). There’s nothing else that can lower our stress levels like that.
  • Cold exposure increases our alertness.
  • Cold showers before sleep dramatically improve sleep quality
  • Also, studies show that people who expose themselves regularly to the cold get 42% fewer respiratory infections.

Are cold showers worth it for you? The only way to know is to try cold showers for yourself – here’s everything you need to know to get started.

And do click the link: lots of information there.

I think I’ll start with a lukewarm shower, and then gradually decrease the temperature, day by day.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 11:03 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

What Philadelphia Reveals About America’s Homicide Surge

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In ProPublica Alec MacGillis takes a close look the homicide surge in Philadelphia to see what drove the homicide rate down and what caused the recent surge:

Nakisha Billa’s son was still a baby when she decided to make their first flight to safety. It was early in 2000 and she and Domonic were living in the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington, which had long suffered some of the highest crime rates in the city. Billa was 22, proud to be living in her own place after having been raised in West Philadelphia mostly by her grandparents, and flush with the novelty of motherhood. “When I found out I was carrying Dom, it was the best thing that had ever happened to me,” she said. She liked to kiss his feet, and he liked it, too, so much so that he would stick them out invitingly with a big smile on his face.

One unseasonably warm spring day, she walked with Dom to the store to get something to eat. As they were leaving, a fight broke out on the street, with gunfire all around. “I just froze,” she said. “There was nothing I could do but just stand there and hold my baby.”

By the time they got safely home, she had resolved to leave the neighborhood. She knew her grandparents would take them in, but she preferred to seek her own path, and so she packed up their belongings and sought assistance at a shelter. “I knew that if I didn’t do something for Domonic and me, we would always be dependent on someone,” she said.

While bouncing around a succession of subsidized apartments, Billa started working in medical billing. But she wasn’t happy with the child care center that Dom was in. So she jumped at the chance of a job where, she was told, she would be allowed to bring him with her: driving a school bus. She studied hard for her commercial driver’s license and passed. Every weekday, she would set off with him strapped in the front row of the bus.

In 2005, Billa made yet another move, to Northeast Philadelphia. That swath of the city, an arm extending far up Interstate 95, had a much lower rate of crime and violence than where she was living in North Philadelphia. She wanted a safe environment for her son.

As it happened, even her former neighborhoods in North Philadelphia would grow safer in the years following her move. The decline in violent crime in Philadelphia was not nearly as attention-getting as those in New York City and Los Angeles, but it was impressive in its own right. Between 1990 and 2007, Philadelphia averaged 382 homicides per year. Beginning in 2008 the numbers dropped steadily, and in 2013 and 2014, the city registered fewer than 250 killings each year. The decline coincided with a notable upgrade of the city’s prospects: the rejuvenation of Center City, the resumption of population growth. “I believe that there are some people probably still alive today because of many of the things we did back in those days,” said Michael Nutter, who served as mayor from 2008 to 2016.

As elsewhere, there was no clear consensus about what was behind the drop in violent crime. Criminologists offered up a string of possible explanations, among them the passing of the crack epidemic, the expansion of police forces in the 1990s, and the reduction of childhood lead exposure in house paint and gasoline.

The debate was largely academic, a friendly argument over a happy story. In recent years, however, the trend started to reverse in Philadelphia and much of the country — first gradually, and then last year sharply. The nationwide homicide rate jumped 25% in 2020, taking it back to where it was in the late 1990s, wiping out two decades’ worth of progress. The nationwide rate is still below its highs in the early 1990s, but many cities, including Philadelphia, are near or past their all-time highs. And in many cities, including Philadelphia, this year is on track to be even worse than last year.

This soaring toll, which is heavily concentrated in Black neighborhoods, has brought new urgency to understanding the problem. But the terrible experience of the past year and a half has also offered an opportunity to make sense of what drives gun violence, and how to deter it. The coronavirus pandemic, and the decisions that officials made in response to it, had the effect of undoing or freezing countless public and social services that are believed to have a preventative effect on violence. Removing them, almost simultaneously, created a sort of unintended stress test, revealing how essential they are to preserving social order.

The effect of this withdrawal was layered atop other contributing factors, such as criminal justice reforms in Philadelphia and other cities, and further deterioration of police-community relations in the wake of more high-profile deaths at police hands. Criminologists and city leaders across the country are now scrambling to disentangle these layers of causation as the spike carries on, turning a city such as Philadelphia into a sort of high-stakes laboratory.

Of course, for Philadelphians like Nakisha Billa, the city is not a laboratory. It is her home. The path the city has taken on public safety over the past two decades has been something palpable in her life, shaping it at every turn — and shattering it during the pandemic.

Caterina Roman is wary of easy sound bites. But if she had to explain why violent crime declined for years in Philadelphia, it would boil down to this: . . ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 11:00 am

A sign of intelligence that many view as a sign of stupidity

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The thread following this tweet contains the most popular answers.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 10:45 am

Posted in Daily life

Nancy Boy Signature shave cream and the highly esteemed Rockwell 6S

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The Simpson Case was once known as the Wee Scot 3, today’s Wee Sc6ot being the Wee Scot 2. The Case is a good size to fit into my travel size Nancy Boy Signature shave cream, and I got a lovely lather from it.

The handle of the 6S has the same sort of blunt-tipped chequering as yesterday’s Merkur 37G, but something in the details of the design make the 6S handle have a better grip. It is not nearly so prone to slip as the 37G, and in fact the grip feels quite secure. And the R4 baseplate provided the basis for a very good shave indeed, though of course good prep contributes a lot.

A splash of Barrister & Mann Reserve Cool — in response to summer, though it’s not very hot here (60ºF right now) — with a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel finished the shave in fine style.

And now I set out for my morning walk…

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2021 at 7:47 am

Posted in Shaving

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