Later On

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

Archive for September 2021

Police officers convicted of rape, murder and other serious crimes are collecting tens of millions of dollars during retirement

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Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken report for CNN:

Tens of millions of dollars are flowing into the bank accounts of retired police officers convicted of breaking the very laws they were sworn to uphold. They have been found guilty of sexual and violent crimes, including murder and rape, or other serious job-related offenses, such as bribery and embezzlement.

Some have admitted to molesting young children. Others have used their badges to enrich themselves or wield power over vulnerable members of their communities. Many are still sitting in prison cells. Yet the checks keep coming and will for the rest of their lives all as taxpayers help foot the bill.

The promise of these unlimited monthly retirement checks is one of the biggest perks of going into the physically demanding and dangerous field of law enforcement. It is only in rare cases that governments strip disgraced officers of these benefits, using a harsh penalty known as pension forfeiture.

Now, in the face of growing calls for police reform, some lawmakers, academics and police reform advocates say forfeiture of these coveted police retirement packages could be used as a tool to discourage the worst behavior. Recent research backs this up, suggesting that states with strict pension forfeiture laws have experienced lower levels of police misconduct.

Nationally, however, there is no consensus on when and if pensions should be taken away. Laws, if they exist at all, vary widely from state to state and don’t always target the same crimes meaning that whether convicted cops are able to keep their benefits largely depends on the state where they worked.

More than 350 officers convicted of felony crimes have already received pension payments or are eligible in the future, according to a CNN analysis. Reporters identified the officers using individual member pension data from more than 70 funds obtained through records requests, retirement vesting schedules, and data on convicted officers arrested between 2005 and 2015 from Bowling Green State University’s Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database. Officers convicted of sexual and violent felonies, as well as felony crimes committed within an officer’s ‘official capacity,” were included in the analysis. And this is just a snapshot of those eligible for taxpayer funded payments in part because pension data is kept confidential in more than 15 states and not all funds queried by CNN responded to requests.

Of the officers identified by CNN, more than 200 have already received benefits and collectively taken in roughly $70 million, the analysis of pension data shows. Current retirees will take in more than $8 million this year alone not including payments from states where pension amounts are confidential. They stand to receive hundreds of millions of dollars during the course of their retirements.

“There’s got to be a way to hold their feet to the fire,” said D. Bruce Johnsen, a George Mason University law professor emeritus who has studied pension forfeiture specifically for police officers. “If you have more serious penalties for misconduct, you’re going to have less misconduct.”

The dark parking lot

The woman in the burgundy van already sensed she was being followed. Then, the police lights began flashing in her rearview mirror, illuminating the midnight sky.

Officer Bradley Stewart Wagner had noticed the woman filling up with gas moments earlier. When she drove off, he followed, stopping her vehicle as she headed toward a secluded, industrial part of town not far from Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

This isn’t right. There is something deeply wrong with American police departments. Partly, I imagine, it’s that power corrupts.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 1:20 pm

Mac Miller “Colors and Shapes”

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Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Art, Movies & TV, Video

Knowledge is power: The unintended outcomes of Orientalist William Jones’ study of Sanskrit texts

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The story is perhaps familiar, but this is a good retelling at an apropos time: the 275th anniversary of his birthday was on September 28. Girish Shahane writes in

By 1783, the year he was appointed judge in the Bengal Supreme Court, William Jones could read some two dozen languages. He had composed Latin poems, rendered pre-Islamic Arabic odes in English, and translated a biography of Nadir Shah from Persian into French. Jones received the lucrative judgeship because his accomplishments and genial personality deflected attention to a sufficient degree from his sympathy for the American side in that country’s war for independence from Britain. The post was worth 6,000 pounds a year, or about 9,30,000 pounds sterling in today’s currency, equivalent to a little over Rs 9 crore at current exchange rates. [According to one calculator, £6000 in 1783 is equivalent to US$971,157 in 2021. – LG]

Once his appointment was confirmed, the 38-year-old Jones could afford to marry his longtime betrothed, Anna Shipley. He planned to spend five or six years in India before retiring and returning to England. As things turned out, he continued to live in Bengal till his death in 1794, and it is for his Indian enquiries that he is chiefly remembered. Within four months of stepping on Indian shores, he founded the Asiatic Society, which was devoted to studying the culture of the largest continent. Apart from being white and male, prospective members needed only to express a love of knowledge to be admitted to the club, whose initial meetings were held in a jury room of the Calcutta court. He nudged his fellow Britons to welcome Indian members but only got them to accept the inclusion of native contributions in the society’s journal. [It should perhaps be mentioned that Sir William was studying Sanskrit because Indian law depended on texts in that language. – LG]

It was around this time that Jones began to study Indian languages in earnest, employing a group of Indian scholars to collect and translate Sanskrit and Persian manuscripts. In the weeks he had free from court duties, he would move upriver to a thatch-roof bungalow in Krishnagar, a centre of Sanskrit learning, discarding his judge’s robes for loose kurtas and spending more time conversing with pandits than with fellow-countrymen. Only a handful of Europeans before him had acquired a working knowledge of Sanskrit and none of them possessed anything like his command over numerous other tongues. Mulling over the structure of the language that had opened the doors of classical Indian learning to him, he came to a momentous conclusion, made public in his third annual address to the Asiatic Society, delivered on February 2, 1786:

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from a common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.

In the same passage, he perspicaciously included Gothic, Celtic and Persian in the list of languages which had sprung from the same root as Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. With a few cursory observations, he had inaugurated the field of comparative linguistics and the idea of what came to be called the Indo-European family of languages. Other philologists had previously produced analogous hypotheses, but his was the definitive statement. To put it another way, William Jones was the last person to discover the Indo-European language family, just as Christopher Columbus was the last to discover the Americas and Charles Darwin the last to discover the evolution of species.

Three Legends

In 1788, Jones translated into English the 4th century Indian playwright Kalidasa’s most celebrated drama, Abhijnanasakuntalam, giving it the title, Sacontala, or The Fatal Ring. His preface mentioned that Kalidasa lived “at a time when the Britons were as unlettered and unpolished as the army of Hanuman”, and described the play as “a most pleasing and authentic picture of old Hindu manners, and one of the greatest curiosities that the literature of Asia has yet brought to light”. The published translation was faithful to the original apart from a deleted description of Shakuntala’s breasts, considered too steamy for an increasingly conservative British public (The first edition of Thomas Bowdler’s Family Shakespeare was printed not long after Sacontala).

The action of Abhijnanasakuntalam commences with the great king Dushanta on a hunt. Pursuing a deer, Dushanta chances upon the hermitage of sage Kanva and is captivated by his foster-daughter Shakuntala. He courts Shakuntala, weds her, gets her pregnant, and leaves for his kingdom, promising an early reunion. Lost in dreamy memories of her time with Dushanta, Shakuntala fails to notice the arrival at Kanva’s hermitage of sage Durvasa, who feels affronted by her lack of hospitality. Most sages are quick with their curses and Durvasa is one of the tetchiest of the lot. He tells Shakuntala that she will be completely forgotten by the man whose thoughts kept her from doing her duty. After being mollified, he partially retracts the curse, allowing that Dushanta’s memory will return on seeing the ring he has left with Shakuntala as a remembrance. Unfortunately, Shakuntala loses the ring while bathing in a river, and is rejected by Dushanta when she appears in his court. The ring she has lost has been swallowed by a fish, which is snared by a fisherman, who finds the precious object in its belly. He recognises the king’s seal, and restores the ring, and thus the memory of Shakuntala, to Dushanta.

The earliest extant version of the Shakuntala legend is found in the Mahabharata. The son born to Shakuntala and Dushanta is, after all, Bharata, the ancestor of the Indian nation, whose domain is the location of the great Bharata war. But the story of Shakuntala as presented in the epic is rather different from Kalidasa’s version. In the Mahabharata, Dushanta recognises Shakuntala immediately but refuses to acknowledge their connection fearing public censure. It takes a voice from the heavens confirming Shakuntala’s story for her claim to be accepted. There’s no lost ring, no fish and no recognition scene.

There are, however, two other places in the epic where a fish plays an important intermediary function. These narratives  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

King Dushanta proposes to Shakuntala with a ring. Credit: Raja Ravi Varma/Wellcome Trust/Wikimedia Commons [Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license].

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, History

Congress is an ineffectual organization

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Congress seems to be designed to not accomplish things, a problem when a bad-faith party like Republicans have a significant voice — and in the Senate, the ability to veto action (thanks in large part to Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, two Democratic Senators who side with Republicans). Heahter Cox Richardson writes:

We are coming down to the wire for the Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act.

This bill was hammered out earlier in September by a group of senators trying to find common ground with conservative Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who objected to the sweeping For the People Act passed by the House. The Freedom to Vote Act pared down that larger bill but retained its most important pieces. It creates a national standard for voting rules and tries to stop voter suppression, modernizes voter registration, and replaces old, paperless voting machines with new ones that have a voter-verified paper trail. It slows the flood of money into our elections and ends partisan gerrymandering. It establishes strict rules for post-election audits.

This defense of voting is popular. A Data for Progress poll found that 70% of likely voters support the act. That number includes 85% of self-identified Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 54% of Republicans.

Manchin maintains that he can find 10 Republican senators to join the Democrats to get 60 votes, enabling the measure to overcome a Republican filibuster. But there is, so far, no sign that those votes are materializing, and every day that goes by brings us closer to having gerrymandered district lines hardened into place before the 2022 election. Indeed, the stonewalling by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of Democratic attempts to lift the debt ceiling is wasting time that otherwise would be given to the voting rights bill.

If Manchin cannot find ten Republican votes, the measure will die unless the Senate agrees to block a filibuster on it, as it has done for judicial appointments. A simple majority cannot pass it, even though the 50 Democratic senators (who would make a majority of 51 if Vice President Kamala Harris were called in to break a tie) represent about 40.5 million more Americans than the 50 Republican senators. (The U.S. has about 328 million people.)

It is imperative that this bill become law. Without it, the Republicans will almost certainly regain control of Congress, and with new voter suppression and election-counting laws in place in 18 Republican-dominated states, they will likely command the Electoral College as well. Once installed in power, will this particular incarnation of the Republican Party ever again permit a Democratic victory?

Congress today illustrated the importance of making sure all Americans have the right to choose their lawmakers.

The media focused on the intraparty fighting of the Democrats over a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that is supposed to be linked to the $1 trillion bipartisan package, but it is important to remember that the only reason anyone is even discussing an infrastructure package is because voting rights activist Stacey Abrams helped so many Georgians register to vote in 2020 that they were able to overcome Republican roadblocks and elect two Democratic senators. Without Senator Raphael Warnock and Senator Jon Ossoff, the two men who gave the Democrats 50 seats in the Senate to shift the majority from the Republicans, we would not be having this discussion at all.

Both infrastructure bills are popular. Americans support the bipartisan bill by 51% to 19% (with 30% unsure). About 62% of Americans like the larger package, despite a price tag that seems larger than it really is, since it spreads out funding for ten years. Even among Republicans, more like it than dislike it, at 47% to 44%.

But it took months of negotiations to secure the ten Republican votes necessary on the smaller package to get it past a filibuster of the other Republican senators, and the Republicans are united in their opposition to the larger bill.

Our right to vote was also on the table as our most effective tool for stopping the Republican Party’s current fall into authoritarianism.

After yesterday’s hearing in the Senate, Senator Angus King (I-ME) told reporters that the Senate Armed Services Committee had had only one hearing all last year when the Republicans were in control of the Senate. Washington reporter Laura Rozen recounted the conversation on Twitter. Since the Democrats retook control of the Senate, King said, they have held five hearings. But he pointed out that senators in yesterday’s hearing spent a great deal of time asking questions about the decisions to withdraw from Afghanistan, a decision made by former president Trump and unquestioned either as he made it or as he quickly began withdrawing troops. King noted that those questions should have been asked a year ago.

In today’s hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, Republicans defended the former president and attacked the man who helped to stop his takeover of the U.S. government, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley.

They insisted that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was “an extraordinary disaster” that “will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of American leadership,” although it was former president Trump who set the terms of the withdrawal and tried to make it happen in the dead of winter, which would almost certainly not have permitted the successful airlift of 130,000 Americans and allies that the military ultimately pulled off. (Interestingly, Milley also explained that U.S. commanders missed that the Afghan army and government would crumble because the withdrawal of tactical advisers over the past few years hurt U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities.)

Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Ronny Jackson (R-TX) did not simply defend Trump, though. They demanded that Milley resign. Gaetz repeatedly interrupted and berated the general, who has served the United States in uniform for more than 40 years—two years longer than Gaetz has been alive.

The attacks on Milley were not simply partisanship. They are part of a longer crusade of the pro-Trump forces against the man who stood against Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. For months now,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:22 pm

Obesity as a wicked problem

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“Wicked problems” are complex systems such that if you fix one part of the system, the overall system simply adapts, so that the problem remains. See this post for more info on wicked problems.

To see the complexity of the problem of obesity, check out this map (PDF).

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

The perfecting of the Edwin Jagger razor, and good marketing thought in the Wilkinson Sword shave stick

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I mentioned yesterday that the Speick shave stick bore its brand identification only on the bottom of the plastic base. Wilkinson Sword not only has the name proudly (and visibly) displayed on the foil wrapping, it also has given the stick a distinctive color (perhaps chosen in homage to woad — “Woad is the plant from which the indigo dye is made.  Ancient warriors such as Boudicca’s Iceni tribe and the Picts are thought to have decorated their skin with woad before going into battle.”). Even if the foil’s gone, the stick’s brand is still evident from the color.

I got quite a good lather, but it did take some time. I washed my stubble with MR GLO, rinsed partially with a splash, and rubbed the stick well over all my stubble. Then I went to work with the damp Rooney Style 2 Finest. The lather developed slowly because, unlike when the brush is loaded from the tub, I had to coax the soap awake, using only a little water — too much, and it would just run off my face. After a first brushing, the brush had picked up enough soap so that, when I added a driblet of water and continued brushing, the lather started to form. I continued to brush and did add a little water twice more, and by then the lather was fully alive and raring to go. It struck me that this small amount of additional time spent in lathering before starting to shave would probably better prepare the stubble.

And indeed I did get a remarkably good result — perfectly smooth in three passes — but credit must be shared by the razor. The RazorRock MJ-90A is probably the razor that an Edwin Jagger razor hopes to be when it grows up: the same design, but better materials and more precision — and, surprise!, a lower price: $30 for a truly great razor.

A splash of Penhaligon’s wonderful Blenheim Bouquet, and the day has started very well indeed.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2021 at 10:49 am

Posted in Shaving

“The Maze,” by Mary-Kim Arnold

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From here. The poem:

I dislike uncertainty. Take no pleasure in the element of surprise.
I’ll carry the clipboard and checklists around
at my own birthday party. No need to leave anything to chance.

It was my son’s idea of course. There was a plastic pirate out front
and the promise of treasure at the end. I paid, then
shuffled behind, his voice ringing out, follow me

All glass and mirrors. I saw myself reflected a thousand times
all of them weary, impatient. Some days motherhood is just
din and obstacle. I was thinking about

the letter I had received. Another dead end
in my family search. No contact information, no forwarding address.
No one—no one—had been looking for me.

At a certain point, I stopped trying. Extended my arms and felt
along the walls for edges. It was cheating maybe but plodding along
without pleasure or intent doesn’t get you to the end any faster.

It’s been forty-five years. My mother, my father, they
are not getting any younger. Perhaps I waited too long. Perhaps
if I had started earlier there would have been other options. Other

people to reach out to. I read once in my file that I had
a “very good memory,” that I memorized the names
of all the neighborhood dogs. I would like to know them now.

I saw him before he saw me. He was looking around and pacing
not panicked yet but on the verge. I stopped and watched him for as long
as I thought he could bear. He turned when I emerged at last

and ran up and showed me the flag he had won
for making it through first. You were so slow, he told me. It was so
easy. Next time, don’t take so long.

The author says about the poem:

“The poem itself is narrative, so I don’t have a lot to say about it except that I wrote it several years ago, and since then I’ve had a lot more practice living with uncertainty. My relationship to the idea of the future has changed, but probably the clipboard part is still true.”
Mary-Kim Arnold

And about the poet:

Mary-Kim Arnold is a Korean American poet and the author of The Fish & The Dove (Noemi Press, 2020). She lives in Rhode Island, on Narragansett land.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Art, Books

“Count Me In” on Netflix: If you like drums and rock & roll

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Count Me In is an interesting and highly dynamic documentary.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Music

Dudley Moore parodies a Beethoven sonata

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Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Humor, Music, Video

Slime Mold Time Mold on the obesity epidemic

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The Browser interviews Slime Mold Time Mold:

Uri Bram: Today I’m delighted to welcome Slime Mold Time Mold, the authors of a fascinating new series about the obesity epidemic — could you start by introducing that series to our audience please?

Slime Mold Time Mold: Sure! Each of us had been separately following the literature on obesity for a couple years. It was clear that most of the theories that seemed promising in the 1990s and 2000s were falling apart. Even experts have felt this way for almost a decade now, maybe especially experts, since they’re the ones following the literature most closely.

On a long car ride we discussed that some of the mysteries that seem hard to explain otherwise would make sense if obesity were caused by environmental contaminants, so we decided to take a closer look. We started writing and looking into this idea, and the evidence ended up being much stronger than we expected.

Now we’re here. 🙂

Uri Bram: That’s awesome. Before we dig in further to the specifics about obesity, I actually have a meta question for you: how do you evaluate whether a massive social trend is monocausal or multi-causal? Does the pattern around obesity make it seem more likely that the rise is caused by “just one thing”, or a bunch of different factors coming together?

One Cause or Many Causes?

Slime Mold Time Mold: This is a really great question. Unfortunately we don’t think there’s an easy rule of thumb! We might say generally, you should assume a multicausal explanation until someone can make a monocausal case, because most things are complicated. Obesity looks kinda monocausal because there’s such an abrupt shift around 1980. But a lot of things changed around 1980 so it could go either way.

It’s good to keep your options open epistemically. Right now we think there is a good case for just a few contaminants. But we keep an open mind about there being more causes, so we’re still looking into others — for example, we recently took a look at glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup), and we feel good about that even though we ended up concluding that glyphosate doesn’t seem to cause obesity.

Uri Bram: Ok great! I don’t want to make you repeat too much from your series — to everyone reading this I really recommend checking it out starting here, it’s just a phenomenally engrossing read and it’s definitely started a lot of conversations – but I’m just going to ask some questions that came to mind for me while reading.

Slime Mold Time Mold: Sure! Just to clarify, it’s not over yet!

The obesity you don’t see

Uri Bram: Ahahah, for sure. So: one question is about the relationship between obesity and either wealth or socioeconomic class. Anecdotally, just from everyday life, it seems that there’s a strong relationship there — I don’t think you see a lot of obesity among the “elite” professional class or on fancy college campuses. But you have some counterintuitive findings around that, so I wanted to ask you to speak a little about how the environmental contaminant model could be compatible with the relationship between socioeconomics and obesity.

Slime Mold Time Mold: So first of all, it’s totally compatible with contaminants. Poor people are more likely to have jobs like janitor, coal miner, or factory worker, where they get direct contact with lots of different contaminants. The president of 3M gets a lot less exposure to pretty much everything than his workers do. Same thing for college campuses. And there’s a general environmental justice issue here — poor people are more likely to live next to a factory or downstream from a coal mine. See Flint, MI.

But also, we’ve taken a look and just don’t think there is much of a relationship between poverty and obesity! If there is an effect, it’s pretty small. This seems pretty well-supported and we’ve done a review of the literature in a recent post.

Uri Bram: That’s pretty surprising for people, isn’t it?

Slime Mold Time Mold: Yeah, like many things in this area it’s very counter-intuitive!

Uri Bram: Suppose that someone said to you, though, that they look at their social circle and don’t see a lot of obesity. What would you say to that? Is this a misunderstanding of what “obese” looks like in practice?

Slime Mold Time Mold: It . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:08 pm

A food problem I didn’t know about — and another reason why fried foods are bad

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Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:01 pm

The Advantage of Permission & The Fall Of Oligarchies

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Ian Welsh writes on his website:

One of the main advantages of capitalism is “permission.” It gives more people permission to do things than oligarchical or state capitalism. This was, actually, a lot of what Adam Smith was complaining about in “The Wealth of Nations”: that state monopolies and controls were limiting who could effectively participate in the economy: you might have a great idea, but you couldn’t do anything with it.

Capitalism, as a Western system, also has other features, of course, including wide-scale theft of capital from the majority of the population, of which the enclosure of the commons was one part (the commons were property rights). Society becomes divided into those who have capital, and those who don’t, who are compelled by Marx’s “whip of hunger” to work for wages. (Thus wage-slavery, a term coined in the 19th century when this process was happening in America.)

Still, the explosion of businesses of all sizes is much of what drove the success of capitalism: the ability to DO things, and not be stuck in old forms.

This is also at the heart of much of the success of China. What Westerners don’t realize is that, despite all the cries of totalitarianism, the Chinese government is one of the most decentralized in the world: over 70% of spending decisions are made below the national level: this makes it the most decentralized national government in the developed world.

China’s central leaders make decisions and laws, to be sure, but much of how that is implemented in any locale is up to the local party, and definitely not micro-managed.

If China had tried to micro-manage everything, they would never have succeeded in becoming the World’s largest economy, or lifted so many people out of poverty. Instead they would have succumbed to the same diseases that did in the USSR. (Which had its own successes, but stalled out for a variety of reasons.)

Some years ago, in an old book I can’t find, I read an introduction where the author, who had lived thru WWII, noted that the idea that fascism was the superior form of government had been proved to be absolute nonsense: when the Allies turned their economy around and pointed it at war production and mobilization it produced miracles precisely because decision making wasn’t bottle-necked at the top. A dictator and his few trusted cronies can be decisive, but their unwillingness to extend trust down the chain cripples them.

This requires social consensus and trust, however. America and Britain and Canada and Australia had to be behind the war at a population level: but they were, and while guidance was needed and often correction, it is precisely that many people could make decisions which made the war effort possible and helped crush the Nazis.

The problem we have now in the West is dual-barreled; we both  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And see also this post, which supports the premises of the argument.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 12:51 pm

The economic basis of the current social structure

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A grotesque level of economic inequality weakens the connections that make a society prosper and can ultimately lead to its downfall, sometimes by violence and revolution and sometimes by a withering away. The US is well on its way to an extreme of economic inequality, and it seems to be getting worse.

Anand Giridharadas wrote a book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, about some of the drivers of the situation. (I previously blogged the Prologue to Winners Take All. It’s worth (re)reading. )

The book begins with two epigraphs:

I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making hjm carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible…except by getting off his back.
— Leo Tolstoy, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence

Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another.
— Letter to Bahá’í from the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel

Bahá’í is an interesting religion. FWIW, Dizzy Gillespie was a lifelong member of that faith.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:56 am

Snapshot of the sad state of the US

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the fight over the debt ceiling continued. As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that breaching the debt ceiling would delay Social Security payments and military paychecks, as well as jeopardizing the status of the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) offered Senate Republicans “a way out” from having to participate in raising the ceiling, despite the fact that the Republicans had added $7.8 trillion to the now-$28 trillion debt during Trump’s term. Schumer asked for unanimous consent to pass a debt ceiling increase with a simple majority that the Democrats could provide alone.

Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked the effort. “There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy, so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible,” he said.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that McConnell is deliberately running out Congress’s clock, and it is hard to ignore that the big item on the Senate’s agenda is the Freedom to Vote Act, which Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Angus King (I-ME) have worked to hammer out in place of the voting rights bills passed by the House.

The Freedom to Vote Act protects the right to vote. It also bans partisan gerrymandering.

States have already begun to carve up districts based on the 2020 census numbers. The Texas legislature, for one, has gerrymandered its state—one that is imperative for the Republicans to hold for the 2024 presidential election—to protect Republicans and underrepresent Black and Latino voters, who tend to vote Democratic. (Growth in the Latino population is what gave the state two new representatives.) If Texas redistricting is completed by November 15, the candidate filing period will end on December 13. At that point, after candidates have filed according to established district lines, it will be significantly harder for courts to overturn those lines before the 2022 election.

So if McConnell can tie up Democrats over the absolutely must-pass debt ceiling increase and can stave off a voting rights bill, Republican gerrymandering might well survive for the 2022 election.

Indeed, the political news out of Washington must all be read with an eye to the 2022 election, including the other big story from today: the testimony of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and General Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Before his testimony, Milley submitted a statement that was quietly remarkable. A highly decorated career soldier, Milley was appointed by former president Trump and, after making the mistake of walking with Trump across Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square in June 2020 for the former president’s ill-received photo-op with a Bible, has become a principled and outspoken advocate for the military’s defense of the United States Constitution, even, when necessary, against domestic enemies.

In his statement, Milley laid out the course of the war in Afghanistan. He noted that in 20 years there, more than 800,000 U.S. military personnel served; 2,461 were killed in action, 20,698 were wounded, and countless others came home with internal scars. Milley expressed his opinion that their service in Afghanistan prevented another attack on America from terrorists based there.

Then Milley talked of our exit from the country, emphasizing that it is a mistake to focus only on our rushed exit in August. In 2011, we began a long-term drawdown of troops from their peak of 97,000 U.S. troops and 41,000 NATO troops. On February 29, 2020, when the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban, there were 12,600 U.S. troops, 8,000 NATO troops, and 10,500 contractors in Afghanistan. With that agreement, known as the Doha Agreement, we agreed to withdraw if the Taliban met seven conditions that would lead to a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, while we agreed to eight conditions.

Milley wrote that the Taliban honored only one of its seven required conditions: it did not attack U.S. personnel. It did not cut ties to al Qaeda, and it significantly increased, rather than decreased, its attacks on Afghan civilians. Nonetheless, in the 8 months after the agreement, “we reduced US military forces from 12,600 to 6,800, NATO forces from 8,000 to 5,400 and US contractors from 9,700 to 7,900….”

On November 9, 2020, six days after the presidential election, Milley and then–Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recommended stopping the withdrawal until the Taliban met the required conditions. Two days later, on November 11, then-president Trump ordered the military to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. Blindsided, military officers were able to talk Trump out of that rushed timetable, but on November 17, Trump ordered Milley to reduce troop levels to 2,500 no later than January 15.

So, when President Biden took office, only about 3,500 U.S. troops, 5,400 NATO troops, and 6,300 contractors were still in Afghanistan, leaving him with the problem that he would have either to leave altogether or to put in more troops in anticipation of resumed hostilities with the Taliban. Biden ordered a review of the situation and ultimately decided to withdraw from the country altogether.

Milley went on to explain . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:52 am

The Tomb of Maid Marian

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The historical Maid Marian seems to have been a formidable person.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:43 am

Posted in Daily life, History

The Macaroni in ‘Yankee Doodle’

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Among other interesting things in the article: how quickly a term of approbation switched to a term of condemnation. Michael Waters writes in Atlas Obscura:

Generations of American kids forced to sing “Yankee Doodle” have grown up justifiably puzzled by its lyrics.

Though the song, set to an upbeat melody, appears to satirize Americans, it is today treated as a patriotic anthem. Anyone who is not given proper context—that “Yankee Doodle” was originally created by the British to ridicule Americans, and that American soldiers reclaimed it during the Revolutionary War—might well question the point of the song.

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni

Yankee Doodle, keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy!

The “macaroni” in question does not, however, refer to the food, but rather to a fashion trend that began in the 1760s among aristocratic British men.

On returning from a Grand Tour (a then-standard trip across Continental Europe intended to deepen cultural knowledge), these young men brought to England a stylish sense of fashion consisting of large wigs and slim clothing as well as a penchant for the then-little-known Italian dish for which they were named. In England at large, the word “macaroni” took on a larger significance. To be “macaroni” was to be sophisticated, upper class, and worldly.

In “Yankee Doodle,” then, the British were mocking what they perceived as the Americans’ lack of class. The first verse is satirical because a doodle—a simpleton—thinks that he can be macaroni—fashionable—simply by sticking a feather in his cap. In other words, he is out of touch with high society. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including more illustrations of the dandies who affected a macaroni style.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 11:40 am

Posted in Daily life, History

The destruction of Sodom: Perhaps a large meteor

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Update: See also this article.

A meteor strike would certainly have been seen as God striking. Science News reports a finding from UC Santa Barbara:

In the Middle Bronze Age (about 3600 years ago or roughly 1650 BCE), the city of Tall el-Hammam was ascendant. Located on high ground in the southern Jordan Valley, northeast of the Dead Sea, the settlement in its time had become the largest continuously occupied Bronze Age city in the southern Levant, having hosted early civilization for a few thousand years. At that time, it was 10 times larger than Jerusalem and 5 times larger than Jericho.

“It’s an incredibly culturally important area,” said James Kennett, emeritus professor of earth science at the UC Santa Barbara. “Much of where the early cultural complexity of humans developed is in this general area.”

A favorite site for archaeologists and biblical scholars, the mound hosts evidence of culture all the way from the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, all compacted into layers as the highly strategic settlement was built, destroyed, and rebuilt over millennia.

But there is a 1.5-meter interval in the Middle Bronze Age II stratum that caught the interest of some researchers, for its “highly unusual” materials. In addition to the debris one would expect from destruction via warfare and earthquakes, they found pottery shards with outer surfaces melted into glass, “bubbled” mudbrick, and partially melted building material, all indications of an anomalously high-temperature event, much hotter than anything the technology of the time could produce.

“We saw evidence for temperatures greater than 2,000 degrees Celsius,” said Kennett, whose research group at the time happened to have been building the case for an older cosmic airburst about 12,800 years ago that triggered major widespread burning, climatic changes and animal extinctions. The charred and melted materials at Tall el-Hammam looked familiar, and a group of researchers including impact scientist Allen West and Kennett joined Trinity Southwest University biblical scholar Philip J. Silvia’s research effort to determine what happened at this city 3,650 years ago.

Their results are published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Salt and Bone

“There’s evidence of a large cosmic airburst, close to this city called Tall el-Hammam,” Kennett said, of an explosion similar to the Tunguska Event, a roughly 12-megaton airburst that occurred in 1908, when a 56-60-meter meteor pierced the Earth’s atmosphere over the Eastern Siberian Taiga.

The shock of the explosion over Tall el-Hammam was enough to level the city, flattening the palace and surrounding walls and mudbrick structures, according to the paper, and the distribution of bones indicated “extreme disarticulation and skeletal fragmentation in nearby humans.”

For Kennett, further proof of the airburst was found by conducting many different kinds of analyses on soil and sediments from the critical layer. Tiny iron- and silica-rich spherules turned up in their analysis, as did melted metals.

“I think one of the main discoveries is shocked quartz. These are sand grains containing cracks that form only under very high pressure,” Kennett said of one of many lines of evidence that point to a large airburst near Tall el-Hammam. “We have shocked quartz from this layer, and that means there were incredible pressures involved to shock the quartz crystals — quartz is one of the hardest minerals; it’s very hard to shock.”

The airburst, according to the paper, may also explain the “anomalously high concentrations of salt” found in the destruction layer — an average of 4% in the sediment and as high as 25% in some samples.

“The salt was thrown up due to the high impact pressures,” Kennett said, of the meteor that likely fragmented upon contact with the Earth’s atmosphere. “And it may be that the impact partially hit the Dead Sea, which is rich in salt.” The local shores of the Dead Sea are also salt-rich so the impact may have redistributed those salt crystals far and wide — not just at Tall el-Hammam, but also nearby Tell es-Sultan (proposed as the biblical Jericho, which also underwent violent destruction at the same time) and Tall-Nimrin (also then destroyed).

The high-salinity soil could have been responsible for the so-called “Late Bronze Age Gap,” the researchers say, in which cities along the lower Jordan Valley were abandoned, dropping the population from tens of thousands to maybe a few hundred nomads. Nothing could grow in these formerly fertile grounds, forcing people to leave the area for centuries. Evidence for resettlement of Tall el-Hammam and nearby communities appears again in the Iron Age, roughly 600 years after the cities’ sudden devastation in the Bronze Age.

Fire and Brimstone

Tall el-Hamman has been the focus of an ongoing debate as to whether it could be the biblical city of Sodom, one of the two cities in the Old Testament Book of Genesis that were purportedly destroyed by God for how wicked the cities and their inhabitants had become. According to the story, one denizen, Lot, is saved by two angels who instruct him not to look behind as they flee. Lot’s wife, however, lingers and is turned into a pillar of salt. Meanwhile, fire and brimstone fell from the sky; multiple cities were destroyed; thick smoke rose from the fires; city inhabitants were killed and area crops were destroyed in what sounds like an eyewitness account of a cosmic impact event.

“All the observations stated in Genesis are consistent with a cosmic airburst,” Kennett said, “but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 9:56 am

Speick for a great shave

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I knew that Speick referred to an Alpine flowering plant, and I thought that Speick products used the blossoms. Not so:

High in the Austrian Alps grows a little plant, which has lent its name to our Speick soaps and body care range. The precious Speick plant extract, used in all our Speick products, is carefully taken from individual roots of the plant. The exclusively in-house development of the whole Speick range of products has taken place over many decades, so we can guarantee that none of the products is tested on animals, either by us or by others. The practice of animal testing in the development of cosmetics has been illegal since 1998. It is of utmost importance to our business to satisfy the modern day needs for a healthy lifestyle through use of natural ingredients and plant extracts. Due to the requirements of our customers and our own code of practice, all ingredients are exhaustively tested for side- or after effects before use. As the body care culture develops further, we endeavour to react dynamically to current changes in both technology and environmental considerations. Thus, new products are created which satisfy this demand.

The shave stick is quite good, though not so good as an ultra-premium soap, but nowadays we are spoiled. The shaving stick’s foil contains no product brand identification — a mistake in the view of this former product marketing manager — but the bottom of the plastic base does identify it as from “Walter Rau GmbH & Co. Speickwerk” in Stuttgart, Germany.

My WSP Monarch had no problem in getting a fine lather from the soap left on my face after rubbing the stick against the grain on my (washed, wet) stubble, and the amazing and wonderful Dorco PL602 made the shave totally pleasurable: highly efficient and very comfortable.

A splash of Speick aftershave — another favorite — and the day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 9:39 am

Posted in Shaving

Novel device harvests drinking water from humidity around the clock

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The payoff line is toward the end of the article:

Researchers were able to show that, under ideal conditions, they could harvest up to 0.53 decilitres of water per square meter of pane surface per hour.

That’s a little less than 2 ounces per hour, so in 8 hours (presumably) just under a pint — about 15 ounces. Still, it’s something.

Here’s the article.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Republicans working to destroy US government

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, the Senate considered a bill to fund the government until December and to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans joined together to filibuster it.

Such a move is extraordinary. Not only did the Republicans vote against a measure that would keep the government operating and keep it from defaulting on its debt—debt incurred before Biden took office—but they actually filibustered it, meaning it could not pass with a simple majority vote. The Republicans will demand 60 votes to pass the measure in the hope of forcing Democrats to pass it themselves, alone, under the system of budget reconciliation.

This is an astonishing position. The Republicans are taking the country hostage to undercut the Democrats. If Congress does not fund the government by Thursday, the government will shut down. And if the country goes into default sometime in mid-October, the results will be catastrophic.

We are in this position now because Congress last December funded the government through this September 30 as part of a huge bill. The new fiscal year starts on October 1, and if the government is not funded, it will have to shut down, ending all federal activities that are not considered imperative. This year, such activities would include a wide range of programs enacted to combat the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans have said they are willing to pass a stand-alone funding bill. That is, they are willing to continue to spend money going forward, even though to do so at the rate they want means raising the debt ceiling. Indeed, Senators Bill Cassidy, (R-LA), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Richard Shelby (R-AL) joined McConnell today to try to pass a new funding bill that would provide disaster relief to Louisiana and Alabama in the wake of Hurricane Ida and fund the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). They complained that “disaster assistance is long overdue” and that “it’s critical” to extend flood insurance “so homeowners are covered come the next storm.”

But while willing to add to the debt, they refuse either to raise taxes or to raise or suspend the debt ceiling that would enable the government to pay for it.

The debt ceiling is the amount of money Congress authorizes the government to borrow. Congress started authorizing a general amount of debt during World War I to give the government more flexibility in borrowing by simply agreeing to an upper limit rather than by specifying different issues of debt, as it had always done before. That debt limit is not connected directly to any individual bill, and it is not an appropriation for any specific program. Nowadays, it simply enables the government to borrow money to pay for programs in laws already passed. If the debt ceiling is not raised when necessary, the government will default on its debts, creating a financial catastrophe.

So, while a measure to fund the government is forward looking, enabling the government to spend money, a measure to raise the debt ceiling is backward looking. It enables the government to pay the bills it has already run up.

Not funding the government means it will have to shut down; not paying our debts means catastrophe. Both of these measures will hobble the economic recovery underway; refusing to manage the debt ceiling will collapse the economy altogether and crash our international standing just as President Biden is trying to reassert the strength of democracy on the world stage.

Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Republicans are trying to tie the debt ceiling to the idea that Democrats are big spenders. They are determined to stop the passage of Biden’s signature infrastructure packages, both on the table this week: a smaller bipartisan package that funds road and bridge repair as well as the spread of broadband into rural areas, and a larger package that funds child care and elder care infrastructure, as well as measures to combat climate change, over the next ten years.

Both infrastructure measures are popular, and if they become laws, they will reverse the process of dismantling the active New Deal government in which Republicans have engaged since 1981. The Republicans are determined to prevent at least Biden’s larger package from passing. Killing it will keep in place their efforts to whittle the government down even further, while it will also destroy Biden’s signature legislative effort.

But the Republican link of the debt ceiling to Biden’s infrastructure package is disingenuous.

Raising the debt ceiling will enable the government to pay for debts it has already incurred. The Republicans themselves voted three times during Trump’s presidency to raise that ceiling, while they added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, bringing it to its current level of $28 trillion. Further, Biden has vowed to pay for his new package in part by restoring some—not all—of the corporate taxes and taxes on our wealthiest citizens that the Republicans slashed in 2017.

This, Republicans utterly reject.

McConnell maintains that he does not want the U.S. to default on its debt; he just wants to force the Democrats to shoulder the responsibility for handling it, enabling Republicans to paint them as spendthrifts.

It is an extraordinary abdication of responsibility, driving the U.S. toward a disastrous fiscal cliff in order to gain partisan advantage. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns that a default “could trigger a spike in interest rates, a steep drop in stock prices and other financial turmoil. Our current economic recovery would reverse into recession, with billions of dollars of growth and millions of jobs lost.” Financial services firm Moody’s Analytics warned that a default would cost up to 6 million jobs, create an unemployment rate of nearly 9%, and wipe out $15 trillion in household wealth.

The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. Today Senate Republicans voted to make that happen.

In 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, Congress dealt with a similar challenge to the national debt. Democrats eager to undermine the United States wanted to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Interesting how the relative rationality of Republicans and Democrats have swapped since the 1860s. That happened a hundred years later, in the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leading to an exodus of Southern racist Democrats who entered the Republican Party and with Nixon’s decision to exploit racism as a way to energize Republicans.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 2:19 pm

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