Later On

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

Archive for August 12th, 2021

Psychology has struggled for a century to make sense of the mind

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Bruce Bower in Science News has an interesting and useful historical summary of the various approaches scientists have taken in trying to understand and explain the human mind. It’s worth reading, and it begins:

One of the most infamous psychology experiments ever conducted involved a carefully planned form of child abuse. The study rested on a simple scheme that would never get approved or funded today. In 1920, two researchers reported that they had repeatedly startled an unsuspecting infant, who came to be known as Little Albert, to see if he could be conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs.

Psychologist John Watson of Johns Hopkins University and his graduate student Rosalie Rayner viewed their laboratory fearfest as a step toward strengthening a branch of natural science able to predict and control the behavior of people and other animals.

In a questionable experiment published in 1920, researchers conditioned an infant nicknamed Little Albert to fear various furry animals and objects.

At first, the 9-month-old boy, identified as Albert B., sat placidly when the researchers placed a white rat in front of him. In tests two months later, one researcher presented the rodent, and just as the child brought his hand to pet it, the other scientist stood behind Albert and clanged a metal rod with a hammer. Their goal: to see if a child could be conditioned to associate an emotionally neutral white rat with a scary noise, just as Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov had trained dogs to associate the meaningless clicks of a metronome with the joy of being fed.

Pavlov’s dogs slobbered at the mere sound of a metronome. Likewise, Little Albert eventually cried and recoiled at the mere sight of a white rat. The boy’s conditioned fear wasn’t confined to rodents. He got upset when presented with other furry things — a rabbit, a dog, a fur coat and a Santa Claus mask with a fuzzy beard.

Crucial details of the Little Albert experiment remain unclear or in dispute, such as who the child was, whether he had any neurological conditions and why the boy was removed from the experiment, possibly by his mother, before the researchers could attempt to reverse his learned fears. Also uncertain is whether he experienced any long-term effects of his experience.

Although experimental psychology originated in Germany in 1879, Watson’s notorious study foreshadowed a messy, contentious approach to the “science of us” that has played out over the last 100 years. Warring scientific tribes armed with clashing assumptions about how people think and behave have struggled for dominance in psychology and other social sciences. Some have achieved great influence and popularity, at least for a while. Others have toiled in relative obscurity. Competing tribes have rarely joined forces to develop or integrate theories about how we think or why we do what we do; such efforts don’t attract much attention.

But Watson, who had a second career as a successful advertising executive, knew how to grab the spotlight. He pioneered a field dubbed behaviorism, the study of people’s external reactions to specific sensations and situations. Only behavior counted in Watson’s science. Unobservable thoughts didn’t concern him.

Even as behaviorism took center stage — Watson wrote a best-selling book on how to raise children based on conditioning principles — some psychologists addressed mental life. American psychologist Edward Tolman concluded that rats learned the spatial layout of mazes by constructing a “cognitive map” of their surroundings (SN: 3/29/47, p. 199). Beginning in the 1910s, Gestalt psychologists studied how we perceive wholes differently than the sum of their parts, such as, depending on your perspective, seeing either a goblet or the profiles of two faces in the foreground of a drawing (SN: 5/18/29, p. 306).

And starting at the turn of the 20th century, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 6:25 pm

Humanity’s response to warnings: see “Cassandra”

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The previous post quotes from a report of how a scholar’s warnings about the bad side-effects of the internet and AI were simply ignored. Related to that is this post from Kevin Drum:

The warning:

Global warming is dangerously close to spiralling out of control, a U.N. climate panel said in a landmark report Monday….U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the report as a “code red for humanity”. “The alarm bells are deafening,” he said in a statement. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”

The reality:

Greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. energy industry are on track to surge the most in more than three decades as utilities increasingly turn to coal to power the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Carbon emissions will swell 7% this year to 4.89 billion metric tons, according to government data released Tuesday, the biggest increase since at least 1990.

Welcome to the world of h. sapiens.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 5:52 pm

He predicted the dark side of the Internet 30 years ago. Why did no one listen?/

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Reed Albergotti reports in the Washington Post:

In 1994 — before most Americans had an email address or Internet access or even a personal computer — Philip Agre foresaw that computers would one day facilitate the mass collection of data on everything in society.

That process would change and simplify human behavior, wrote the then UCLA humanities professor. And because that data would be collected not by a single, powerful “big brother” government but by lots of entities for lots of different purposes, he predicted that people would willingly part with massive amounts of information about their most personal fears and desires.

“Genuinely worrisome developments can seem ‘not so bad’ simply for lacking the overt horrors of Orwell’s dystopia,” wrote Agre, who has a doctorate in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an academic paper.

Nearly 30 years later, Agre’s paper seems eerily prescient, a startling vision of a future that has come to pass in the form of a data industrial complex that knows no borders and few laws. Data collected by disparate ad networks and mobile apps for myriad purposes is being used to sway elections or, in at least one case, to out a gay priest. But Agre didn’t stop there. He foresaw the authoritarian misuse of facial recognition technology, he predicted our inability to resist well-crafted disinformation and he foretold that artificial intelligence would be put to dark uses if not subjected to moral and philosophical inquiry.

Then, no one listened. Now, many of Agre’s former colleagues and friends say they’ve been thinking about him more in recent years, and rereading his work, as pitfalls of the Internet’s explosive and unchecked growth have come into relief, eroding democracy and helping to facilitate a violent uprising on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in January.

“We’re living in the aftermath of ignoring people like Phil,” said Marc Rotenberg, who edited a book with Agre in 1998 on technology and privacy, and is now founder and executive director for the Center for AI and Digital Policy.

Charlotte Lee, who studied under Agre as a graduate student at UCLA, and is now a professor of human-centered design and engineering at the University of Washington, said she is still studying his work and learning from it today. She said she wishes he were around to help her understand it even better.

But Agre isn’t available. In 2009, he simply dropped off the face of the earth, abandoning his position at UCLA. When friends reported Agre missing, police located him and confirmed that he was OK, but Agre never returned to the public debate. His closest friends declined to further discuss details of his disappearance, citing respect for Agre’s privacy.

Instead, many of the ideas and conclusions that Agre explored in his academic research and his writing are only recently cropping up at think tanks and nonprofits focused on holding technology companies accountable.

“I’m seeing things Phil wrote about in the ’90s being said today as though they’re new ideas,” said Christine Borgman, a professor of information studies at UCLA who helped recruit Agre for his professorship at the school.

The Washington Post sent a message to Agre’s last known email address. It bounced back. Attempts to contact his sister and other family members were unsuccessful. A dozen former colleagues and friends had no idea where Agre is living today. Some said that, as of a few years ago, he was living somewhere around Los Angeles.

Agre was a child math prodigy who became a popular blogger and contributor to Wired. Now he has been all but forgotten in mainstream technology circles. But his work is still regularly cited by technology researchers in academia and is considered foundational reading in the field of social informatics, or the study of the effects of computers on society.

Agre earned his doctorate at MIT in 1989, the same year the World Wide Web was invented. At that time, even among Silicon Valley venture capitalists betting on the rise of computers, few people foresaw just how deeply and quickly the computerization of everything would change life, economics or even politics.

A small group of academics, Agre included, observed that computer scientists viewed their work in a vacuum largely disconnected from the world around it. At the same time, people outside that world lacked a deep enough understanding of technology or how it was about to change their lives.

By the early 1990s, Agre came to believe the field of artificial intelligence had gone astray, and that a lack of criticism of the profession was one of the main reasons. In those early days of artificial intelligence, most people in AI were focused on complex math problems aimed at automating human tasks, with limited success. Yet the industry described the code they were writing as “intelligent,” giving it human attributes that didn’t actually exist.

His landmark 1997 paper called “Lessons Learned in Trying to Reform AI” is still largely considered a classic, said Geoffrey Bowker, professor emeritus of informatics at University of California, Irvine. Agre noticed that those building artificial intelligence ignored critiques of the technology from outsiders. But Agre argued criticism should be part of the process of building AI. “The conclusion is quite brilliant and has taken us as a field many years to understand. One foot planted in the craftwork in design and the other foot planted in a critique,” Bowker said.

Nevertheless, AI has barreled ahead unencumbered, weaving itself into even “low tech” industries and affecting the lives of most people who use the Internet. It guides people on what to watch and read on YouTube and Facebook, it determines sentences for convicted criminals, allows companies to automate and eliminate jobs, and allows authoritarian regimes to monitor citizens with greater efficiency and thwart attempts at democracy.

Today’s AI, which has largely abandoned the type of work Agre and others were doing in the ’80s and ’90s, is focused on ingesting massive sums of data and analyzing it with the world’s most powerful computers. But as the new form of AI has progressed, it has created problems — ranging from discrimination to filter bubbles to the spread of disinformation — and some academics say that is in part because it suffers from the same lack of self-criticism that Agre identified 30 years ago.

In December, Google’s firing of AI research scientist Timnit Gebru after she wrote a paper on the ethical issues facing Google’s AI efforts, highlighted the continued tension over the ethics of artificial intelligence and the industry’s aversion to criticism.

“It’s such a homogenous field and people in that field don’t see that maybe what they’re doing could be criticized,” said Sofian Audry, a professor of computational media at University of Quebec in Montreal who began as an artificial intelligence researcher. “What Agre says is that it is worthwhile and necessary that the people who develop these technologies are critical,” Audrey said.

Agre grew up in Maryland, where he said he was  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 5:46 pm

Chayote Delight

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Not much going on, so I’m inclined to cook. Because I’m going to be simmering some tomato, I decided to usethe 2-qt All-Clad d2 Stainless sauté pan. (I always mention what pot or pan I use to give an idea of the size.)

• 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/2 large red onion, chopped
• pinch of Diamond Crystal kosher salt
• 6 cloves Russian red garlic, chopped small and allowed to rest 15 minutes
• 4 banana peppers, sliced thinly across
• 1 chayote squash, diced
• 1 San Marzano tomato, diced
• 2 mushrooms, chopped
• 1 tablespoon Mexican orgeano
• 1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
• 1 medium turmeric root, chopped small (remembered it this time)
• 2 tablespoons Sriracha Revolver Cilantro-Lime hot sauce (partly for liquid)
• splash of vinegar
• dash of fish sauce
• about 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper (for the turmeric)

Cook onion in the oil over medium-low heat until it becomes soft and transparent.

Add garlic and cook about a minute, then add remaining ingredients, stir, cover, and cook over low heat (250ºF is my burner setting) for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. I started at 225ºF, but that was too low, so I upped it. The food starts out dry, but enough liquid develops as it cooks.

Above on the left: chopped garlic in my little food scoop (which I use constantly), chopped mushrooms, finely chopped turmeric, diced chayote, and thinly sliced banana peppers. On right, the red onion (and olive oil), before and after the onion has cooked to the point where I’m ready to add the garlic.

It filled the pan quite full, but it did cook down. Still, the 4-qt sauté pan with its larger cooking surface might have worked better. But it worked out, and it will be a tasty Other Vegetable. Here it is at the end:

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 4:49 pm

Why wasps? And why now?

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Joe Becigneul posted this on Facebook:

In this crazy wasp year, this repost is timely.

You’re having a few drinks in the garden with your friends, or a family BBQ, when a load of pesky wasps arrive to spoil the party. You haven’t seen them all summer and then suddenly they’re all over the place, annoying everybody, causing panic and helicopter hands. Sound familiar?

August is the time of year when people start to ask ‘what’s the point of wasps?’ The answer may surprise you.

Did you know that there are approximately 9,000 species of wasps? These include the parasitic wasps, some of which are so diminutive they are like pin heads. Of the 250 larger wasps which have a stinger, the majority are solitary and cause no upset to humans.

However, when we talk about wasps, we’re almost certainly referring to the our nation’s nemesis, the Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris). To understand why these wasps become really annoying this time of year, you first need to understand their life cycle.

Common wasps live socially like bees but, unlike honey bees, they haven’t evolved a way of storing food to allow the colony to survive the winter. In fact the only survivors are the young, fertilised queens who hibernate over winter. They emerge in the spring to build little walnut sized nests where they they lay around 20 eggs.

The queen feeds the resulting larvae until around May, when they mature and become workers. Then she focuses on more egg-laying and the workers get on with feeding them, enlarging the nest as they go along. By this time of year the nest has grown to around 40cm in diameter, often larger, and that nest can contain up to 10,000 wasps!

Then, in late August and September, a dramatic change takes place. The queen quits her egg laying (save a few that will go on to be future queens and males to fertilise them) and she no longer releases the pheromone that causes the workers to work.

Basically, these workers are made redundant, and are left jobless and disorientated. And the problem for us is that, although adult wasps are insect predators, that meat is to feed the larvae not themselves. In their adult state wasps are not able to digest solid food and need sugary liquid to survive. Now, with no larvae to feed, they become uncontrollably and insatiably hungry.

Wasps love easy food such as over ripe fruit and your fizzy drinks. Towards the end of their brief lives, their hunger drives them to search for easy sugar at exactly the time when we are more likely to be using our gardens and outdoor spaces for eating sweet things. The timing couldn’t be better for them or worse for us.

So why are those who panic and try to swat them away more likely to be stung than those who remain calm?

Well, the problem is that these redundant workers have their own pheromone, which helps protect the nest from attack earlier in the year, and that’s essentially a chemical rallying cry to other workers that the nest is under attack.

So when you swat that annoying wasp and it feels under attack, that rallying cry will go out. Suddenly it all kicks off, and loads more wasps will start arriving in aggressive ‘red-mist’ mode, fired up and ready to defend their nest. This is why the best advice is to stay calm.

Think of it this way, from May that wasp has been working its socks off helping to keep things nice on planet earth. Now it’s going to die. So why not give it a break, save your swats, put a bowl of sugary drink somewhere out of your way, and let it go out on a nice sugar rush. At the very least don’t kill it.

What’s the point of wasps? Without them it’s likely that human life would not survive because, in the absence of their role as predators, our planet would be overrun by even more damaging insects such as aphids, ants and caterpillars.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The Senate is a horror show

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Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post:

In 1911, a freshman congressman from Milwaukee named Victor Berger, dissatisfied with the legislative branch, submitted a resolution to amend the Constitution. “Whereas the Senate in particular has become an obstructive and useless body, a menace to the liberties of the people, and an obstacle to social growth,” it read, the Senate should be dissolved and all its powers given to the House.

That might strike you as going a bit too far. But it’s hard not to sympathize, especially when you see stories such as this one, which describes how only one of President Biden’s ambassador nominees has been confirmed by the Senate. A key reason: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), “who has repeatedly held up confirmations of Biden nominees in opposition to a controversial natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.”

If the idea that a single senator can stop a bunch of nominations all on his own strikes you as ridiculous, you’re absolutely right.

In fact, there may be no greater obstacle to both a democratically responsive political system and an efficiently operating federal government than the United States Senate.

The system of “holds” that allows a senator to exercise a personal veto is just one thing that makes the Senate so problematic. Because the chamber does a good deal of business by “unanimous consent,” any objection by even one senator can stop the process in its tracks.

It’s part of what makes being a senator so great: You’re one of 100 kings, possessed of privileges and powers no lowly House member could dream of.

The ability to throw a nomination into limbo because of some petty personal grievance is just the beginning. The Senate’s power over nominations has become more of a problem as the number of Senate-confirmed positions has grown: The president appoints about 4,000 people across the executive branch, and more than 1,200 require Senate confirmation, an absolutely absurd number. That creates 1,200 opportunities for delay and mischief.

And while you’d think other senators would be angered by the abuse of holds and would support changing the system, they don’t. Why? Because they guard their own privileges so closely. They don’t want to give up a power they themselves might someday like to abuse.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it echoes an argument often made in defense of the Senate filibuster: Sure, today the filibuster may enable the other party to prevent the majority from passing the agenda we ran on and the electorate voted for, but sooner or later we’ll be in the minority and will want to prevent them from doing what they promised the voters they’d do!

As bizarre as it is when you think about it, many senators find this argument persuasive: An utter lack of democratic responsiveness, where almost nothing happens at all, is preferable to a system in which the public gets what it votes for.

But a contempt for the idea of democratic responsiveness is built into the Senate’s design, one in which fewer than 600,000 people who live in Wyoming get the same representation as the nearly 40 million who live in California. It’s why we now have a Senate divided 50-50, yet the 50 Democrats represent over 41 million more Americans than the 50 Republicans.

The Senate is not the only undemocratic feature of the American system, but it functions as a bridge linking other undemocratic elements together. For instance, the electoral college allowed Donald Trump, like George W. Bush, to become president despite winning fewer votes than his opponent. Trump appointed three members of the Supreme Court, confirmed by a Senate Republicans controlled despite winning far fewer votes than their Democratic counterparts.

That conservative court supermajority has set about to validate all manner of GOP tactics that make it harder and more cumbersome for people to vote. The Senate is the linchpin of minority rule.

The Senate’s defenders will point to the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill as proof that the chamber’s languid pace and innumerable veto points produce sublime results in the end. This is utterly ridiculous. The fact that every once in a while the Senate can manage to actually do the job of passing a law proves just the opposite. And there has yet to be a persuasive argument that the stripped-down bill backed by a few Republicans is substantively superior to what would have passed in a chamber not constrained by the filibuster.

And now — once again because of the abomination of the filibuster — Senate Republicans are threatening to force a default on the United States’ debts, which would create an economic crisis. Why? Because they can.

So this is the Senate: A place where the least responsible and most reckless people have inordinate power, a chamber whose very design is an affront to the idea of democratic representation, a factory producing sand to pour in the gears of the executive branch, and a lawmaking body barely capable of making laws.

Any sensible program of reform would have to attack the power of individual senators: Eliminate the filibuster, get rid of holds, drastically reduce the number of positions requiring Senate confirmation and more. But of course, all that would require the approval of the senators themselves, which makes it all but impossible. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 2:47 pm

On lullabies

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Ted Gioia has some interesting observations on the lullaby in The Honest Broker:

(1) Is any music genre more disrespected than the lullaby? It may be the oldest music genre, and almost certainly the most widely performed. Every one of us has benefited from the lullaby at some point in our life—if not as a singer, at least as a listener during our infancy. But show me a single musicologist who specializes in this genre. Who has written its history? What music writer has celebrated its power?

(2) And this power is undeniable. If you were constructing scientific experiments on the efficacy of music in changing human behavior, the place to start is with a lullaby. You rarely hear the words “power” and “lullaby” in the same sentence, but the history of song as a force of dominance and submission could hardly find a richer area for exploration. Yet it represents such a gentle force of persuasion that many would resist any such inquiry, almost as a matter of principle. The whole topic is rich with philosophical and sociological implications.

(3) The omissions in the standard texts are sometimes startling. The single most frequently cited book on the mesmerizing power of music is Gilbert Rouget’s Music and Trance. I don’t have my copy at hand (its packed up in moving box right now), but if I recall correctly he has no interest in lullabies. He’s a skeptic about music’s ability to put people into a trance state, yet almost every parent on the planet knows otherwise from personal experience. Rouget doesn’t even realize that this is an issue he ought to consider.

(4) The absence of lullabies in music history books is even more striking. Medievalist John Haines offers this interesting observation: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. And I offer this:

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, History, Music

How Sweden became the Silicon Valley of Europe

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 and  report in Reuters:

STOCKHOLM, Aug 11 (Reuters) – As Klarna’s billionaire founder Sebastian Siemiatkowski prepares to stage one of the biggest-ever European fintech company listings, a feast of capitalism, he credits an unlikely backer for his runaway success: the Swedish welfare state.

In particular, the 39-year-old pinpoints a late-1990s government policy to put a computer in every home.

“Computers were inaccessible for low-income families such as mine, but when the reform came into play, my mother bought us a computer the very next day,” he told Reuters.

Siemiatkowski began coding on that computer when he was 16. Fast-forward more than two decades, and his payments firm Klarna is valued at $46 billion and plans to go public. It hasn’t given details, though many bankers predict it will list in New York early next year.

Sweden’s home computer drive, and concurrent early investment in internet connectivity, help explain why its capital Stockholm has become such rich soil for startups, birthing and incubating the likes of Spotify, Skype and Klarna, even though it has some of the highest tax rates in the world.

That’s the view of Siemiatkowski and several tech CEOs and venture capitalists interviewed by Reuters.

In the three years the scheme ran, 1998-2001, 850,000 home computers were purchased through it, reaching almost a quarter of the country’s then-four million households, who didn’t have to pay for the machines and thus included many people who were otherwise unable to afford them.

In 2005, when Klarna was founded, there were 28 broadband subscriptions per 100 people in Sweden, compared with 17 in the United States – where dial-up was still far more common – and a global average of 3.7, according to data from the World Bank.

Spotify allowed users to stream music when Apple’s (AAPL.O) iTunes was still download-based, which gave the Swedish company the upper-hand when streaming became the norm around the world.

“That could only happen in a country where broadband was the standard much earlier, while in other markets the connection was too slow,” Siemiatkowski said.

“That allowed our society to be a couple of years ahead.”

Some executives and campaigners say the Scandinavian nation demonstrates that a deep social safety net, often viewed as counter to entrepreneurial spirit, can foster innovation. It’s an outcome that might not have been envisaged by the architects of Sweden’s welfare state in the 1950s.

Childcare is, for the most part, free. A range of income insurance funds can protect you if your business fails or you lose your job, guaranteeing up to 80% of your previous salary for the first 300 days of unemployment.

“The social safety net we have in Sweden allows us to be less vulnerable to taking risks,” said Gohar Avagyan, the 31-year-old co-founder of Vaam, a video messaging service used for sales pitches and customer communication.


Although overall investments are larger in the bigger European economies of Britain and France and their longstanding finance hubs, Sweden punches above its weight in some regards.

It has the third highest startup rate in the world, behind Turkey and Spain, with 20 startups per 1000 employees and the highest three year survival rate for startups anywhere, at 74%, according to a 2018 study by OECD economists.

Stockholm is second only to Silicon Valley in terms of unicorns – startups valued at above $1 billion – per capita, at around 0.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Sarah Guemouri at venture capital firm Atomico.

Silicon Valley – San Francisco and the Bay Area – boasts 1.4 unicorns per 100,000, said Guemouri, co-author of a 2020 report on European tech companies.

No one can say for sure if the boom will last, though, in a country where capital gains are taxed at 30 percent and income tax can be as high as 60 percent.

In 2016, Spotify said it was considering moving its headquarters out of the country, arguing high taxes made it difficult to attract overseas talent, though it hasn’t done so.

Yusuf Ozdalga, partner at venture capital firm QED Investors, said access to funding and administrative or legal tasks connected with founding a company could also prove tough to navigate for non-Swedish speakers.

He contrasted that to Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, where the government adopted English as an official language in April to make life easier for international companies.


Jeppe Zink, partner at London-based venture capital firm Northzone, said a third of all the exit value from fintech companies in Europe – the amount received by investors when they cash out – came from Sweden alone.

Government policy had contributed to this trend, he added. . .

Continue reading.

Seems an awfully lot as though a well-run social-democratic systems works just fine.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 11:03 am

Josh Hawley makes a good point

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Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 10:29 am

The effort to overthrow US democracy

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Heather Cox Richardson from last night:

Four years ago today, racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to “Unite the Right.” The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park. But the rioters turned immediately to chants that had been used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia, and many brought battle gear and went looking for fights. By the end of August 12, they had killed counterprotester Heather Heyer and had injured 19 others. After the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency, the rioters went home.

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, telling a reporter that there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden watched the events at Charlottesville and concluded that the soul of the nation was at stake. He decided to run for president and to defeat the man he believed threatened our democracy. Biden was especially concerned with Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” aligned with the rioters. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said, “and in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

Four years later, it is much easier to see the larger context of the Charlottesville riot. The political threat of those gangs who tried to unite in Charlottesville in 2017 recalls how fascism came to America in the 1930s: not as an elite ideology, but as a unification of street brawlers to undermine the nation’s democratic government.

In 2018, historian Joseph Fronczak explored the arrival of fascism in the U.S. In an article in the leading journal of the historical profession, the Journal of American History, Fronczak explained how men interested in overturning Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934 admired and then imitated the violent right-wing gangs that helped overturn European governments and install right-wing dictators.

The United States had always had radical street mobs, from anti-Catholic gangs in the 1830s to Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1860s to anti-union thugs in the 1880s. In the 1930s, though, those eager to get rid of FDR brought those street fighters together as a political force to overthrow the federal government.

While they failed to do so in an attempted 1934 coup, Fronczak explains, street fighters learned about the contours of fascism once their power as a violent street force was established. He argues that in the U.S., fascism grew out of political violence, not the other way around. Mobs whose members dressed in similar shirts, waved similar flags, and made similar salutes pieced together racist, antisemitic, and nationalistic ideas and became the popular arm of right-wing leaders. In America, the hallmark of budding fascism was populist street violence, rather than an elite philosophy of government.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had the hallmarks of such a populist movement. Leaders brought together different gangs, dressed similarly and carrying the emblem of tiki torches, to organize and attack the government. Rather than rejecting the rioters, then-President Trump encouraged them.

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to ride a wave of violent populism into authoritarianism. He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during coronavirus, telling supporters to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” His encouragement fed the attacks on the Michigan state house in 2020. And then, after he repeatedly told his supporters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, violent gangs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the government and install him as president for another term.

While that attempted coup was unsuccessful, the empowerment of violent gangs as central political actors is stronger than ever. Since January 6, angry mobs have driven election officials out of office in fear for their safety. In increasingly angry protests, they have threatened school board members over transgender rights and over teaching Critical Race Theory, a legal theory from the 1970s that is not, in fact, in the general K–12 curriculum.

Now, as the coronavirus rages again, they are showing exactly how this process works as they threaten local officials who are following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require masks. Although a Morning Consult poll shows that 69% of Americans want a return to mask mandates, vocal mobs who oppose masking are dominating public spaces and forcing officials to give in to their demands.

In Franklin, Tennessee, yesterday, antimask mobs threatened doctors and nurses asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”

Her column includes notes and comments, and those are worth reading. For example:

Elizabeth B. Scupham          1 hr ago

I read from Jeff Sharlet yesterday: ” A little while ago I drove slowly across the country visiting rightwing churches & individuals. What I found confirms a change I’ve been observing for the last 5 yrs: It’s really, truly, not issue-driven. What the Rightwing base wants, fundamentally, is a fight. Which, of course, is a core principle of fascism, albeit in its rapidly mutating, inchoate American form: A longing for redemption through violence, identity through the destruction of your foes.

The January 6 beating and attempted murder of Officer Michael Fanone makes that clear. As Officer Fanone has noted, he was down on the ground, incapacitated–and yet the mob kept beating him and calling for his death. He was, he notes, not an “impediment” to their stated goal of gaining entry to the Capitol to “stop the steal”; and yet instead of pursuing that goal, they kept beating him. Some of this is mob frenzy; but I’ve encountered the same sensibility among people sitting calmly in church lobbies: A desire to destroy one’s enemies as an end in itself.

So Trying to finesse policy differences or even “cultural” differences (read: white supremacy self-aware or not) isn’t noble, or pragmatic; it *misses the point.* The point, of much of the Right now, is conflict for its own sake, a belief that fighting will make them whole, or “great” again.”

And as a reminder of the particular Americans who want violence in their politics:

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 7:30 am

Dr. Selby, the 101, and Aquarius, with the mystery brush

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The mystery brush was sold as boar, but it sure seems like horsehair to me. In any event, it’s a terrific little brush with a nicely curved octagonal handle, and this morning it did a fine job with Dr. Selby’s 3X Concetrated Shaving Cream, which seems to be no longer available in the US — but if you ever go to Uruguay, look for it: extremely good lather with a lavender fragrance.[

The iKon Shavecraft #101 is a superb little razor and always delivers a good shave while being totally nonthreatening. Three passes left my face smooth, and a splash of Booster Aquarius finished the job.

I’m now going for a walk before the heat hits.

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2021 at 7:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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