Later On

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

Archive for September 9th, 2021

Sustainable infrastructure: Tokyo canal

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A drawing of one of the nine docks and towpaths, willow trees, storehouses, bales of rice (each weighing 60kg) etc. From the book 京都千二百年〈下〉世界の歴史都市へ by 西川 幸治 and 高橋 徹. Illustrations by 穂積 和夫

WratOfGnon writes in its newsletter:

Kyoto, the imperial capital of Japan, spring 1608. A merchant by the name of Suminokura Ryōi is given the contract to supply building materials for the renovation of Hōkō-ji, a temple in central Kyoto designed to rival the famous temples of nearby Nara. The Suminokura family had made a name for themselves in finance, medicine and overseas trade, with offices as far away as distant Annan (the Japanese name of the country today called Vietnam).

Suminokura1 soon realized that transporting goods into Kyoto was a difficult and expensive business. The Kamo river which runs through Kyoto was too irregular for transports, so goods arriving by boat mostly had to be unloaded at Fushimi, a town about ten kilometers south of Kyoto, repacked to ponies and transported on roads through the southern neighborhoods of Kyoto before spreading out to their final destinations. The daily comings and goings of men and animals, more or less non-stop, wasn’t popular with the locals either. There was an opportunity here. In 1610, the Suminokura family got permission from the government, and using their own money they contracted teams of workers to dig out a canal parallel to the river, connecting the port of Fushimi with central Kyoto, to be lined with stone from local quarries. It was built for a continuous water depth of a mere thirty centimeters [11.8 inches – LG], about twice the minimum needed for the boats they wanted to use.

At this time, land transport was not very efficient. At walking speed, it was expected that a man could carry 60kg, a pony could carry 120kg and a small simple cart pulled by either man or pony, could take 180kg [397 lbs – LG]. The new canal meant that the same muscle power (either pony or man or both) could pull a boat carrying a maximum load of 2700kg [3 tons – LG] at walking speed. This represents an increase in weight efficiency of about twenty-two point five times over that of a pony. And since no feed was needed it meant that no valuable agricultural land had to be set aside (the “ecological footprint” of the canal was far smaller than a pony based system).

The canal flowed in all weathers all hours of the day and night with no more noise than the soft trampling of the boat operator on the towpaths next to the canal.

When the 9.7km long and 7 meters wide2 [6 miles by 23 feet – LG] canal was completed in 1614—construction took about three years—it changed the face of the city. Spared of the noise and traffic, and with a larger volume of goods coming in both faster and cheaper, the population density increased. Wholesale merchants and artisans could conveniently concentrate their businesses to spots along the canal, building warehouses together so that in time entire neighborhoods would be named “Lumber Town” or “Wood Town” or “Barn Town” and so on (names that still survive to this day even though the merchants are long gone). Building materials could be brought into the city in large quantities: a couple of boats could take all the material you needed to put up a house or a shop.

The boats used on the canal were simple flat bottomed craft called “takasebune”, in construction they used an absolute minimum of wood, and could carry two point seven tons of goods at water depths of just under fifteen centimeters [6 inches – LG]. At typically thirteen meters long and two meters wide [43 feet by 6.6 feet – LG], they weren’t pretty: imagine a rectangular floating box with a sort of raised beak, but they were durable, strong and inexpensive to build by even apprentice carpenters. In 1710 the canal would use 188 of these boats, all of which would use one of nine dedicated quays to moor, unload cargo and turn around for the return journey, each quay holding a maximum of three boats at the same time. There were about 700 people employed on the canal.

Locals benefited from the less busy return trip as well. It was a cheap and efficient method to reach Osaka (the commercial center of Japan where far larger ocean going vessels traded). It even became a famous spot for sightseeing: the willows, the cherry blossom trees, the beautiful gardens along the canal, the stately mansions and interesting tall white and black warehouses attracted both rich and poor. A lively entertainment district also sprung up to cater to both refined merchants and the rougher canal workers. At night the boats were famously used to transport criminals condemned to exile, downstream to Osaka. A police-guard, a crewman, the condemned man, and as a final act of mercy, a relative or friend of the condemned: the last the condemned would see of the world they had to leave behind.3  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and it’s worth considering..

Later in the article:

For over three hundred years the canal was in daily use and benefited the people of Kyoto, until transport on the canal was finally banned in 1920. During its three centuries it needed virtually no maintenance, it relied on no engines or fuel, no mining, no metals, no chemicals. There was no pollution, the boats could be hand built by any carpenter from most any kind of wood. The canal never broke down or got stuck. It did not cause any emissions or erosion, it saved millions of man hours otherwise spent on maintaining roads and road surfaces. There were no accidents: at walking speed and thirty centimeter depth it was safe enough to have children playing in the middle of it with boats coming and going. It could transport anything right into the heart of the city without noise or smell or toxic fumes and the operating costs were negligible. It helped cool the city down during hot summers. It was even a popular sightseeing spot. People would mention it in poetry. It brought with it neither pests nor weeds.4

It was a perfect piece of infrastructure without unforeseen problems or accumulating debt—paid in full from day one—or waste. Completely human scaled and operating on nothing but gravity or human muscle power.

Photograph of the canal in use, ca. 1900.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 6:56 pm

Louisiana: A state to avoid

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Jim Mustian and Jake Bleiberg report for AP on a state that embraces a totalitarian mentality:

The most violent videos languished for years, lost or ignored in a digital vault. Louisiana State Police troopers and top brass alike would often look the other way, even as officers took to official messaging channels to banter about their brutality.

In one video, white troopers can be seen slamming a Black man against a police cruiser after finding marijuana in his car, throwing him to the ground and repeatedly punching him — all while he is handcuffed.

In another, a white trooper pummels a Black man at a traffic stop 18 times with a flashlight, leaving him with a broken jaw, broken ribs and a gash to his head. That footage was mislabeled and it took 536 days and a lawsuit for police to look into it.

And yet another video shows a white trooper coldcocking a Hispanic drug trafficking suspect as he stood calmly by a highway, an unprovoked attack never mentioned in any report and only investigated when the footage was discovered by an outraged federal judge.

As the Louisiana State Police reel from the fallout of the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene — a case blown open this year by long-withheld video of troopers stunning, punching and dragging the Black motorist — an Associated Press investigation has revealed it is part of a pattern of violence kept shrouded in secrecy.

An AP review of internal investigative records and newly obtained videos identified at least a dozen cases over the past decade in which Louisiana State Police troopers or their bosses ignored or concealed evidence of beatings, deflected blame and impeded efforts to root out misconduct.

AP’s review — coming amid a widening federal investigation into state police misconduct — found troopers have made a habit of turning off or muting body cameras during pursuits. When footage is recorded, the agency routinely refuses to release it. And a recently retired supervisor who oversaw a particularly violent clique of troopers told internal investigators this year that it was his “common practice” to rubber-stamp officers’ use-of-force reports without reviewing body-camera video.

In some cases, troopers omitted uses of force such as blows to the head from official reports, and in others troopers sought to justify their actions by claiming suspects were violent, resisting or escaping, all of which were contradicted by video footage.

“Hyper-aggressiveness is winked upon and nodded and allowed to go on,” said Andrew Scott, a former Boca Raton, Florida, police chief and use-of-force expert who reviewed videos obtained by AP. “It’s very clear that the agency accepts that type of behavior.”

Most of those beaten in the cases AP found were Black, in keeping with the agency’s own tally that 67% of its uses of force in recent years have targeted Black people — double the percentage of the state’s Black population. AP reporting revealed that a secret panel the state police set up this year to determine whether troopers systematically abused Black motorists was just as secretly shut down, leaving the agency blind to potential misconduct.

The revelations come as civil rights and Black leaders urge the U.S. Justice Department to launch a broader, “pattern and practice” investigation into potential systemic racial profiling by the overwhelmingly white state police, similar to other probes opened in recent months in Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix.

“These things are racially motivated,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “It doesn’t seem you could have this level of criminality going on without it being something much more sinister.”

It’s not clear how the Louisiana State Police rate of force against Black people compares to that of other states because there is no national benchmark and definitions of uses of force differ between jurisdictions. Activists, however, say it points to a clear problem.

“Driving while Black is still a crime in Louisiana,” said Eugene W. Collins, president of the Baton Rouge branch of the NAACP, adding that the numbers “prove our assertion that our communities are woefully over-policed.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more at the link, including 3 videos and several photos, such ass the one below. Louisiana is an example of why some countries view the US as backward and dangerous.

In this August 2019 photo provided by his attorney, Darrell Smith is apprehended by Louisiana State Police troopers after fleeing a a traffic stop near Baton Rouge, La. Smith’s lawsuit says troopers shared this photo of him after a beating, with his eyes swollen shut, and the caption: “This is what happens when you run from the police.”

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 6:23 pm

A somewhat comforting thought: A large proportion of Americans have always experienced difficulty in thinking clearly

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A group of people observing a doctor as he vaccinates a man in an 1870s illustration called “Vaccinating the Poor,” by Solomon Eytinge Jr. via National Library of Medicine

Maggie Astor writes in the NY Times:

As disease and death reigned around them, some Americans declared that they would never get vaccinated and raged at government efforts to compel them. Anti-vaccination groups spread propaganda about terrible side effects and corrupt doctors. State officials tried to ban mandates, and people made fake vaccination certificates to evade inoculation rules already in place.

The years were 1898 to 1903, and the disease was smallpox. News articles and health board reports describe crowds of parents marching to schoolhouses to demand that their unvaccinated children be allowed in, said Michael Willrich, a professor of history at Brandeis University, with some even burning their own arms with nitric acid to mimic the characteristic scar left by the smallpox vaccine.

“People went to some pretty extraordinary lengths not to comply,” said Professor Willrich, who wrote “Pox: An American History,” a book about the civil liberties battles prompted by the epidemic.

If it all sounds familiar, well, there is nothing new under the sun: not years that feel like centuries, not the wailing and gnashing of teeth over masks, and not vaccine mandates either.

As the coronavirus overwhelms hospitals across the South and more than 650,000 Americans — an increasing number of them children — lie dead, the same pattern is emerging. On Thursday, President Biden announced that he would move to require most federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated and, more sweepingly, that all employers with 100 or more employees would have to mandate vaccines or weekly testing. Colleges, businesses and local governments have enacted mandates at a steady pace, and conservative anger has built accordingly.

On Monday, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, tweeted that vaccine mandates were “un-American.” In reality, they are a time-honored American tradition.

But to be fair, so is public fury over them.

“We’re really seeing a lot of echoes of the smallpox era,” said Elena Conis, an associate professor and historian of medicine at the University of California, Berkeley. “Mandates elicit resistance. They always have.”

The roots of U.S. vaccine mandates predate both the U.S. and vaccines. The colonies sought to prevent disease outbreaks by quarantining ships from Europe and sometimes, in the case of smallpox, requiring inoculations: a crude and much riskier predecessor to vaccinations in which doctors rubbed live smallpox virus into broken skin to induce a relatively mild infection that would guard against severe infection later. They were a source of enormous fear and anger.

In January 1777, George Washington mandated inoculations for the soldiers under his command in the Continental Army, writing that if smallpox were to break out, “we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.” Notably, it was in large part the soldiers’ desires that overcame his resistance to a mandate.

“They were the ones calling for it,” said Andrew Wehrman, an associate professor of history at Central Michigan University who studies the politics of medicine in the colonial and revolutionary eras. “There’s no record that I have seen — and I’ve looked — of any soldier turning it down, protesting it.”

Buoyed by the success of the mandate, Washington wrote to his brother in June 1777 that he was upset by a Virginia law restricting inoculations. “I would rather move for a Law to compell the Masters of Families to inoculate every Child born within a certain limitted time under severe Penalties,” he wrote.

Over the next century, many local governments did exactly that. Professor Wehrman this week tweeted an example of what, in an interview, he said was a “ubiquitous” phenomenon: The health board in Urbana, Ohio, Jordan’s hometown, enacted a requirement in 1867 that in any future epidemic, “the heads of families must see that all the members of their families have been vaccinated.”

But by the end of the 1800s, opposition was louder and more widespread. Some states, particularly in the West, introduced laws prohibiting vaccine mandates. Others narrowly passed mandates after intense debate.

The reasons for resistance were myriad: Some Americans opposed mandates on the grounds of personal liberty; some because they believed lawmakers were in cahoots with vaccine makers; and some because of safety concerns that were, to be fair, more grounded in reality than the modern equivalent. Vaccines then were not regulated the way they are now, and there were documented cases of doses contaminated with tetanus.

The government’s response resembled what, today, are wild conspiracy theories. Contrary to the assertions of some on the far right, the Biden administration has never suggested going door to door to force people to take coronavirus vaccines. But in the 1890s and 1900s, that actually happened: Squads of men would enter people’s homes in the middle of the night, breaking down doors if necessary, to inject people with smallpox vaccines. 

Legally speaking, the Supreme Court . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

I’ll point out that the deadly scourge of smallpox, which killed millions upon millions, was ended by vaccines. Smallpox is now an extinct disease — no thanks to anti-vaxxers.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 4:49 pm

Ilan Stavans on Don Quixote

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Bronze statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, at the Plaza de España in Madrid, Spain. 2010. Photo by רנדום.

I am a big fan of the book Don Quixote, and I am just one fan among millions of others. (Indeed, it is probably time to read the book again.) In Octavian, Ilan Stevens writes about the book:

More than 400 years ago, an aging and obscure Spaniard named Miguel de Cervantes published a novel that would change the course of literature (and come to be regarded as perhaps the greatest of all novels by numerous critics): The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, more commonly known as Don Quixote. Rich, strange, nearly infinite in its influence, the book offers us a profound understanding both of humans and of the stories they tell. This brilliant essay by Ilan Stavans  critic, essayist, translator, Octavian board member, and publisher of Restless Books imagines the Quixote as a nation unto itself, one whose ambassadors have spread its magic through space and time. 

It has been described as the most influential novel in the history of the form. It is also among the bulkiest, longer even than David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. It is the steadiest of bestsellers, only outshined by the Bible (speaking of which, the 19th-century French critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve once called it “the secular Bible of humanity”). It has been translated into English a total of twenty times, more than any other novel. The first appeared in 1613, while its author Miguel de Cervantes was still alive.

Don Quixote of La Mancha, in other words, is a book one should love without restraint. It is moody and unpredictable. It is formally idiosyncratic. It moves easily between the highest and lowest of tonal registers. It possesses an uncanny ability to weed out unwelcome readers. Its 381,104 words, 8,207 periods, 40,617 commas, 690 exclamation points, 960 question marks, and 2,046 semi-colons draw those readers it does welcome into a labyrinth not only of signs but of images and emotions. To find one’s way through this requires intellectual stamina, psychological alertness, and — paradoxically — a willing credulity. After all, the book is a collection of bizarre episodes, some comic, some pathetic, some utterly disengaged from the rest, all connected by the thread of its two wandering protagonists, a slim, laid-back hidalgo who does nothing but spend his idle hours reading tales of adventure, and his squire, Sancho Panza, an almost illiterate field laborer and family man who believes he’s a practical fellow when he isn’t. It’s hard to know which of the two is more cuckoo: the foolish señor who is convinced he can change the world by becoming a superhero, or the silly employee who wastes his time following him.

This already complex structure exists, as well, in four dimensions — it changes with time. Come to the book when you are young and you will discover in it the endless ebullience of youth; read it again in your fifties (about the age of its protagonist, Don Quixote de la Mancha, also known as the Knight of the Mournful Countenance) and you will see a subtle and empathetic portrayal of a man in the grip of a midlife crisis. Return again in your old age, and find the Quixote transformed into a book on how to deal with the end that awaits us all, a well-tempered look into the face of death.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Cervantes completing the novel’s manuscript. If the definition of a classic is a book that passes the test of time, this one has succeeded with flying colors. But I want to propose a different definition: a classic is a book capable of building a nation around itself. This one has. The world may be divided by flags, currencies, borders, and governments, but the realest nations congregate around mythologies. Unquestionably there is a Quixote nation, made up of the millions of readers who have fallen under its spell. It includes an assortment of admirable names: Lord Byron, Gustave Flaubert, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Orson Welles, Salvador Dalí, Miguel de Unamuno, and Pablo Picasso (whose 1955 ink study, also undertaken as an anniversary commemoration, of the knight and his squire still amazes the eye today). George Washington, who helped build his own republic of the imagination, read the book and loved it. But more admirable than these are the countless readers of the book whose names are lost to history — the true creators of a homeland for the knight and his servant.

The Quixote’s birth was far from certain. Prior to starting work on what would become his magnum opus, Cervantes was a soldier (he fought in the Battle of Lepanto against the Turks, a heroic yet humbling experience: he was injured and lost much of the use of his left arm), a captive at war, and a lousy tax collector who ended up in jail for mishandling funds. He was also a rather limited author, a poet and playwright (he also wrote novellas), whom, I suspect, posterity would ignore if, about a decade before his death in 1616 at 69, he hadn’t stumbled on the idea of exploring the limits of parody. Still, he was penniless in the end, never suspecting for a minute the global impact his work would have. Indeed, I often imagine the surprise on his face (none of the portraits available were done while he was alive) had he realized the whole period he belonged to would be called “the age of Cervantes.” Not the age of Lope de Vega, the most successful and prolific of all playwrights who were his contemporaries? Not Quevedo or Góngora, two astonishing sonnetists?

The majority of readers, at least American readers, first learn of Don Quixote through Man of La Mancha, a syrupy and formulaic Broadway musical that in most ways could not be more distant from the antinomian spirit of the book. The one consolation to be drawn from this fact is that, for all its flaws, Man of La Mancha does manage to communicate an essential truth about the novel — the essential truth, in fact: both are driven by the restless and infinite imagination of Don Quixote, who dreams, in the words of the song, the impossible dream. (One is tempted to quote Picasso here: “Everything you can imagine is real.”) Indeed, no book addresses with a more penetrating eye the freedom dreams grant us. (Sorry, Freud!) Consider the arch-famous episode of the windmills, which should be seen as a clash between a decrepit feudalist and the most innovative energy technology of the time. Don Quixote is convinced these magisterial structures are giants whose intent is to conquer the earth, whereas Sancho knows (and so does the narrator) that they are far more mundane than that. Or the puppet theater performing a tale of adventure and submission which the knight confuses with real events, jumping on the stage and destroying the marionettes. Or the group of prisoners in transit whom Don Quixote liberates because he believes them to be innocent. Or the Cave of Montesinos, a dark and frightening place where Don Quixote has a mystical experience. The list of such incidents is long.

True, Cervantes wasn’t a good stylist. There are bumpy parts in Don Quixote, in which the author seems asleep at the wheel. He is sometimes repetitive. He forgets crucial details, such as the name of Sancho’s wife, calling her variously Juana and Teresa. But novels, especially lasting ones, don’t need to be perfect. What they need to be, of course, is . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

And read — or listen to — Don Quixote. The Edith Grossman translation is serviceable.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 10:36 am

Seth Godwin’s thoughts on a reformed curriculum

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One tension in curriculum design is how to balance knowledge and skills — or, more precisely, theoretical knowledge (the facts of history, grammar, logic, science, and so on) with practical knowledge (being able to read, write, pose and solve mathematical problems, analyze and explain things observed or read, speaking fluently a couple of languages, and so on). Both knowing and doing are valuable, and a good education includes both. For one thing, learning the touchstones of one’s culture — the philosophy, history, literature, political theory and political practice — provides a common foundation of shared knowledge that facilitates communication and understanding. OTOH, knowing things doesn’t mean that one can do things. Skills require practice and learning skills goes deeper and takes more time than learning facts — skills are retained after facts are forgotten.

Seth Godin points out that the educational interruption resulting from the pandemic, when many students were willy-nilly home-schooled, provides an opportunity to recast the curriculum. In a post on his blog, he sets forth a suggestion for discussion:

The basic foundation is student-centered, self-directed projects. In service of learning to solve interesting problems and how to lead as well as follow. And to support that, the “courses” are practical tools students can use on their projects.

Statistics–seeing the world around us clearly and understanding nuance, analog results and taxometrics (learning how to sort like with like). Realizing that everyone and everything doesn’t fit into a simple box. Learning to see the danger of false labels and propaganda, and the power of seeing how things are actually distributed.

Games–finite and infinite, poker, algorithms, business structures, interpersonal relationships, negotiation, why they work and when they don’t. We all play them, even when they’re not called games.

Communication–listening and speaking, reading and writing, presentations, critical examination and empathy. Can you read for content? Can you write to be understood? Can you stand up and express yourself, and sit still and listen to someone else who is working to be heard? What happens when we realize that no one is exactly like us?

History and propaganda–what happened and how we talk about it. More why than when. The fundamental currents of human events over time.

Citizenship–Participating, leading, asking and answering good questions. As a voter, but also as a participant in any organization.

Real skills–Hard to measure things like honesty, perseverance, empathy, keeping promises, trust, charisma, curiosity, problem solving and humor.

The scientific method–understanding what we know and figuring out how to discover the next thing. Learning to do the reading and show your work. There’s no point in memorizing the Krebs Cycle.

Programming–thinking in ways that a computer can help you with. From Excel and Photoshop to C++.

Art–expressing yourself with passion and consistency and a point of view. Not because it’s your job, but because you can and because it matters. Appreciating the art that has come before and creating your own, in whatever form that takes.

Decision-making–using the rest of the skills above to make better choices.

Meta-cognition–thinking about thinking, creating habits with intention.

There are some odd omissions — for example, presumably because he is an American, he fails to include mastery of a second language (IMO a major oversight). OTOH, I applaud that he includes listening in the curriculum — too often listening skills are self-taught, which leads to common errors hardening into bad habits, errors that a reasonably good trained coach could easily correct.

He includes decision-making, an excellent idea, but omits negotiation, also a very useful skill too often self-taught (as indeed decision-making is often self-taught). My list of repeatedly recommended books includes books that address both of those.

I would include in “Citizenship” some time and training and practice in civic responsibility so that students would learn what is expected from them in their role as citizens: the obligations that they incur from living in a governed state.

I would also include instruction and practice both in planning and in executing plans. That was certainly something I had to learn on my own, and it would have been helpful to have had explicit instruction in those skills as much as in decision-making or negotiation. (Covey’s method is a good example of one approach.)

His “write to be understood” probably includes the skills of editing — reading what you have written from the viewpoint of some other person — the reader over your shoulder — and making changes to help that person understand. For example, a two-month daily effort along these lines would do it.

One seemingly minor skill that is now not taught at all is handwriting. The keyboard is certainly a helpful device, but for certain kinds of work and thought, handwriting works much better. The reason why handwriting works better is unclear — I have some guesses — but experience shows that fluent handwriting (handwriting learned so well it flows naturally and is not laborious) is a useful and productive skill to acquire. And of handwriting that uses the Latin alphabet (rather than, say, the Arabic or Cyrillic), I found italic handwriting (aka chancery cursive) to be the most practical — legible even when written at speed and also attractive (so that writing it is a pleasure).

Another odd omission is home economics — that is, the skills needed in living an independent life in a place of one’s own: the essentials of nutrition, how to select and prepare food (including things like knife skills and cooking methods and skills), the pluses and minuses of possessions per se, how to plan and follow a home budget, basic social practices and etiquette, and so on. Of course, some students learn such things at home — just as some students learn a second language at home or become practiced in art at home — but many students do not, and the idea Godin has, if I understand it, is to ensure that all students have a solid foundation in the skills and knowledge that will help them lead a full life.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

The road from Nixon

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Heather Cox Richardson lays out recent history in showing how the dominoes topple after Nixon’s criminal presidency:

On this day in 1974, President Gerald Ford granted “a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.” Ford said he was issuing the pardon to keep from roiling the “tranquility” the nation had begun to enjoy since Nixon stepped down. If Nixon were indicted and brought to trial, the trial would “cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.”

Ford later said that he issued the pardon with the understanding that accepting a pardon was an admission of guilt. But Nixon refused to accept responsibility for the events surrounding the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C.’s fashionable Watergate office building. He continued to maintain that he had done nothing wrong but was hounded from office by a “liberal” media.

Rather than being chastised by Watergate and the political fallout from it, a faction of Republicans continued to support the idea that Nixon had done nothing wrong when he covered up an attack on the Democrats before the 1972 election. Those Republicans followed Nixon’s strategy of dividing Americans. Part of that polarization was an increasing conviction that Republicans were justified in undercutting Democrats, who were somehow anti-American, even if it meant breaking laws.

In the 1980s, members of the Reagan administration did just that. They were so determined to provide funds for the Nicaraguan Contras, who were fighting the leftist Sandinista government, that they ignored a law passed by a Democratic Congress against such aid. In a terribly complicated plan, administration officials, led by National Security Adviser John Poindexter and his deputy Oliver North, secretly sold arms to Iran, which was on the U.S. terror list and thus ineligible for such a purchase, to try to put pressure on Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorists who were holding U.S. hostages. The other side of the deal was that they illegally funneled the money from the sales to the Contras.

Although Poindexter, North, and North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, destroyed crucial documents, enough evidence remained to indict more than a dozen participants, including Poindexter, North, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and four CIA officials. But when he became president himself, Reagan’s vice president George H.W. Bush, himself a former CIA director and implicated in the scandal, pardoned those convicted or likely to be. He was advised to do so by his attorney general, William Barr (who later became attorney general for President Donald Trump).

With his attempt to use foreign policy to get himself reelected, Trump took attacks on democracy to a new level. In July 2019, he withheld congressionally appropriated money from Ukraine in order to force the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to announce he was opening an investigation into the son of then–Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. That is, Trump used the weight of the U.S. government and its enormous power in foreign affairs to try to hamstring his Democratic opponent. When the story broke, Democrats in the House of Representatives called this attack on our democracy for what it was and impeached him, but Republicans voted to acquit.

It was a straight line from 2019’s attack to that of the weeks after the 2020 election, when the former president did all he could to stop the certification of the vote for Democrat Joe Biden. By January 6, though, Trump’s disdain for the law had . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 9:34 am

A coffee morning because I quit coffee (again)

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I had gradually moved to coffee as my morning beverage, and then for the past two or three days skipped it for one reason or another. Then last night and into this morning I had a headache — not severe, but definitely noticeable and annoying (and, of course, painful) — and I was wracking my brain for a cause. I had taken care to drink water, since dehydration can cause headaches. 

This morning it hit me: coffee withdrawal. I’ve been here before, the first time when I went cold-turkey to break a habit of probably a quart or two of coffee a day. (The place I worked had free coffee.) That headache was like what I’ve read of a full-grown migraine, so painful you become nauseated. 

In the years hence, I have switched from coffee to tea and back again a few times, and when I quit coffee, the headache returns, its severity depending on the depth of habit. My coffee habit this time was not so bad, so the headache was not so bad — but still: who needs it. 

So I’m off coffee again, that treacherous, jealous, vindictive friend, and back this morning with a pint mug of Murchie’s No. 10, a favorite tea. But in recognition of the pleasant side of coffee, my shave this morning celebrates the aroma.

Planet Java Hive, here in CK-6, has a honey+coffee fragrance that is very pleasant as a morning aroma, and the lather made by my Mühle Gen 2 synthetic was again first-rate. The Progress did a much better job than yesterday’s Gillette Aristocrat, which now holds a new Wilkinson Sword blade (and thanks for the tip, Larry). (In the search for the Wilkinson blade I discovered a box of 100 Personna Med Preps that I didn’t know I had. That was a pleasure.)

Three passes left my face smooth, and I carried forth the coffee theme with a splash of Phoenix Artisan’s excellent Spring-Heeled Jack, an aftershave with a coffee fragrance on first application that in drydown becomes more complex and interesting. PA no longer offers this, but I’m hoping it will return — a wonderful aftershave despite its scurrilous namesake.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 9:16 am

Posted in Shaving

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