Later On

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

Archive for September 24th, 2021

The Constitutional Crisis Has Arrived

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Robert Kagan has a lengthy piece in the Washington Post that’s well worth reading — and that link is gift article that skips the paywall. His essay begins:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.”  — James Madison

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial. But about these things there should be no doubt:

First, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. The hope and expectation that he would fade in visibility and influence have been delusional. He enjoys mammoth leads in the polls; he is building a massive campaign war chest; and at this moment the Democratic ticket looks vulnerable. Barring health problems, he is running.

Second, Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary. Trump’s charges of fraud in the 2020 election are now primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go his way. Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022, just as Larry Elder tried meekly to do in the California recall contest.

Meanwhile, the amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Today’s arguments over the filibuster will seem quaint in three years if the American political system enters a crisis for which the Constitution offers no remedy.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

These were not the checks and balances the Framers had in mind when they designed the Constitution, of course, but Trump has exposed the inadequacy of those protections. The Founders did not foresee the Trump phenomenon, in part because they did not foresee national parties. They anticipated the threat of a demagogue, but not of a national cult of personality. They assumed that the new republic’s vast expanse and the historic divisions among the 13 fiercely independent states would pose insuperable barriers to national movements based on party or personality. “Petty” demagogues might sway their own states, where they were known and had influence, but not the whole nation with its diverse populations and divergent interests.

Such checks and balances as the Framers put in place, therefore, depended on . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:12 pm

Doctor who has lost over 100 patients to covid says some deny virus from their deathbeds: ‘I don’t believe you’

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For reassurance, read again the earlier post in which Steven Pinker talks about rationality. Andrea Salcedo reports in the Washington Post (gift article: no paywall):

Matthew Trunsky is used to people being angry at him.

As a pulmonologist and director of the palliative care unit at a Beaumont Health hospital in southeastern Michigan, Trunsky sees some of the facility’s sickest patients and is often the bearer of bad news.

He gets it. No one is prepared to hear a loved one is dying.

But when a well-regarded intensive care unit nurse told him during a recent shift that the wife of an unvaccinated covid patient had berated her when she informed the woman of her husband’s deteriorating condition, Trunsky, who has lost more than 100 patients to the coronavirus, reached his breaking point.

When he got home that evening, he made himself a sandwich and opened Facebook.

Still sporting his black scrubs, he began to vent. He wrote about a critically ill patient who disputed his covid-19 diagnosis. Another threatened to call his lawyer if he wasn’t given ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug that is not approved for treating covid. A third, Trunsky wrote, told the doctor they would rather die than take one of the vaccines.

One demanded a different doctor. “I don’t believe you,” he told the physician.

The physician added: “Of course the answer was to have been vaccinated — but they were not and now they’re angry at the medical community for their failure.”

Trunsky’s post detailing his interactions with eight covid patients and their relatives highlights the resistance and mistreatment some health-care workers across the United States face while caring for patients who have put off or declined getting vaccinated. Trunsky estimates that 9 out of every 10 covid patients he treats are unvaccinated.

His post — a plea for people to get vaccinated — also reveals the physical and emotional toll the pandemic has had on health-care workers, who have been on the front lines for over a year and a half. Roughly 3 out of 10 have considered leaving the profession, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, and about 6 in 10 say stress from the pandemic has harmed their mental health.

Some doctors are refusing to treat unvaccinated patients. Last month,  . . .

Continue reading. No paywall.

What’s odd is that people will refuse to get a thoroughly tested and proven effective covid-19 vaccine as recommended by medical professionals, but will jump at the chance to take a horse medicine because they read something about it on Facebook. (Maybe some have rationality antibodies.)

I saw a cartoon wondering how it was that parents who could not do their kid’s 6th-grade math homework six months ago are now infectious-disease experts.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:02 pm

Folding an origami knight from a single sheet of paper

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Thank heavens the video is speeded up — the actual process takes around 40 hours in real time.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Why doesn’t rationality seem to matter anymore?

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The Harvard Gazette has an excerpt from Rationality: Why It Seems Scarce and Why It Matters,by Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology. It begins:

Rationality ought to be the lodestar for everything we think and do. (If you disagree, are your objections rational?) Yet in an era blessed with unprecedented resources for reasoning, the public sphere is infested with fake news, quack cures, conspiracy theories, and “post-truth” rhetoric. We face deadly threats to our health, our democracy, and the livability of our planet. Though the problems are daunting, solutions exist, and our species has the intellectual wherewithal to find them. Yet among our fiercest problems today is convincing people to accept the solutions when we do find them.

How should we think of human rationality? The cognitive wherewithal to understand the world and bend it to our advantage is not a trophy of Western civilization; it’s the patrimony of our species. The San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are one of the world’s oldest peoples, and their foraging lifestyle, maintained until recently, offers a glimpse of the ways in which humans spent most of their existence. Hunter-gatherers don’t just chuck spears at passing animals or help themselves to fruit and nuts growing around them. The tracking scientist Louis Liebenberg, who has worked with the San for decades, has described how they owe their survival to a scientific mindset. They reason their way from fragmentary data to remote conclusions with an intuitive grasp of logic, critical thinking, statistical reasoning, correlation and causation, and game theory.

The San track fleeing animals from their hoofprints, effluvia, and other spoor. They distinguish dozens of species by the shapes and spacing of their tracks, aided by their grasp of cause and effect. They may infer that a pointed track comes from an agile springbok, which needs a good grip, whereas a flat-footed track comes from a heavy kudu, which has to support its weight. They then make syllogistic deductions: Steenbok and duiker can be run down in the rainy season because the wet sand forces open their hooves and stiffens their joints; kudu and eland can be run down in the dry season because they tire easily in loose sand.

The San also engage in critical thinking. They know not to trust first impressions and appreciate the dangers of seeing what they want to see. Nor will they accept arguments from authority: Anyone, including a young upstart, may shoot down a conjecture or come up with his own until a consensus emerges from the disputation.

Another critical faculty exercised by the San is distinguishing causation from correlation. Liebenberg recalls: “One tracker, Boroh// xao, told me that when the [lark] sings, it dries out the soil, making the roots good to eat. Afterwards, !Nate and /Uase told me that Boroh// xao was wrong — it is not the bird that dries out the soil, it is the sun that dries out the soil. The bird is only telling them that the soil will dry out in the coming months and that it is the time of the year when the roots are good to eat.”

Yet for all the deadly effectiveness of the San’s technology, they have survived in an unforgiving desert for more than a hundred thousand years without exterminating the animals they depend on. During a drought, they think ahead to what would happen if they killed the last plant or animal of its kind, and they spare members of the threatened species. They tailor conservation plans to the vulnerabilities of plants, which cannot migrate but recover quickly when the rains return, and animals, which can survive a drought but build back numbers slowly.

The sapience of the San makes the puzzle of human rationality acute. Despite our ancient capacity for reason, today we are flooded with reminders of the fallacies and follies of our fellows. Three quarters of Americans believe in at least one phenomenon that defies the laws of science, including psychic healing (55 percent), extrasensory perception (41 percent), haunted houses (37 percent), and ghosts (32 percent) — which also means that people believe in houses haunted by ghosts without believing in ghosts. In social media, fake news (such as Joe Biden Calls Trump Supporters “Dregs of Society” and Florida Man Arrested for Tranquilizing and Raping Alligators in the Everglades) is diffused farther and faster than the truth, and humans are more likely to spread it than bots.

How, then, can we understand this thing called rationality, which would appear to be our birthright yet is so frequently and flagrantly flouted? The starting point is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 11:49 am

My favorite squash

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Not this particular one — the variety:  Buttercup. it’s totally wonderful, and they’re just starting to appear, along with those giant Russian red garlic from the fall harvest. This particular squash is a small one, bought in part because it’s cute — but also oh!, so tasty.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 11:27 am

The Most Important Device in the Universe Is Powered by a 555 Timer

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I love the kind of technical shop talk exchanged among people familiar with some line of country remote from my knowledge. Such talk is studded with things I don’t know, though I can follow the trend of the conversation. It’s like a stream: I follow the overall flow, but there are occasional boulders sticking up out of the water.

It has some of the same appeal in certain kinds of science fiction, where the writer has begun in media res and uses casually words whose referents the reader is expected to figure out as the story progresses. This is a common technique (cf. William Gibson, Charlie Stross, et al.), and for me it works well, keeping me alert for clues that will explain the terms, which may refer to culture, dress, devices, or whatever.

A recent post at Hackaday.com is full of that, but also provides an entertaining look at prop construction and usage in science-fiction movies and TV — the short clip at the end is a must see, and the comments also are worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 11:08 am

The Driver Is Red — An animated short documentary

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Information about the documentary here, along with another good video.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 9:39 am

Posted in Daily life, History, Video

Java Hive, Solar Flare, and Short Comb walk into a bar…

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… only to discover it was not a bar, but my bathroom — so they delivered a great shave. I grow increasingly fond of Phoenix Artisan’s Solar Flare shaving brush, a 24mm synthetic, and it certainly did a good job with PA’s wonderful Planet Java Hive, a Formula CK-6 shaving soap. With this soap, I have no problem at all in picking up the fragrance; perhaps my sense of smell is well-attuned to coffee and honey.

The iKon Short Comb turned out to be a fine razor once I became aware that it is quite angle-sensitive. Once I grasped that, I made sure to keep blade angle shallow, holding its handle well away from my face and riding its cap. When used properly, it has a very nice feel on the face and is awesomely efficient. Also, I think for this razor the use of Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave is particularly beneficial.

A good splash of PJH with a squirt of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel and the shave was a complete — and a wonderful shave to greet Friday morning.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 9:34 am

Posted in Shaving

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