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Archive for November 22nd, 2021

Time for some good news: Judge orders two lawyers who filed suit challenging 2020 election to pay hefty fees: ‘They need to take responsibility’

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Rosalind S. Helderman reports in the Washington Post:

A federal judge has ordered two Colorado lawyers who filed a lawsuit late last year challenging the 2020 election results to pay nearly $187,000 to defray the legal fees of groups they sued, arguing that the hefty penalty was proper to deter others from using frivolous suits to undermine the democratic system.

“As officers of the Court, these attorneys have a higher duty and calling that requires meaningful investigation before prematurely repeating in court pleadings unverified and uninvestigated defamatory rumors that strike at the heart of our democratic system and were used by others to foment a violent insurrection that threatened our system of government,” wrote Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter.

“They are experienced lawyers who should have known better. They need to take responsibility for their misconduct,” he wrote.

Read the judge’s order

The two lawyers, Gary D. Fielder and Ernest John Walker, filed the case in December 2020 as a class action on behalf of 160 million American voters, alleging there was a complicated plot to steal the election from President Donald Trump and give the victory to Joe Biden.

The two argued that a scheme was engineered by the voting machine vendor Dominion Voting Systems; the tech company Facebook, its founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; and elected officials in four states. They had sought $160 billion in damages.

Their case was dismissed in April. In August, Neureiter ruled that the attorneys had violated their ethical obligations by filing it in the first place, arguing that the duo had run afoul of legal rules that prohibit clogging the courts with frivolous motions and lodging information in court that is not true. At the time, he called their suit “the stuff of which violent insurrections are made,” alleging they made little effort to determine the truth of their conspiratorial claims before filing them in court. He ordered them to pay the legal fees of all of the many entities that they had sued.

The two did not respond to a request for comment Monday but have previously argued that their suit was not filed in bad faith. They have appealed Neureiter’s order that they be penalized.

In Monday’s order, Neureiter said the lawyers should pay just over $11,000 to cover the legal fees of the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, both defendants in the suit, a dollar figure the duo had agreed was fair. The two lawyers had balked, however, at far higher fees requested by three other entities: Facebook, Dominion Voting Systems and the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), an election reform advocacy group that has received funding from Zuckerberg and Chan.

In a 21-page order Monday, Neureiter ordered that Fielder and Walker pay $50,000 to Facebook and $62,930 each to Dominion and CTCL, arguing that billing records submitted by the group showed the fees were reasonable given the prominence of the lawyers who worked on the case and the amount of time they spent.

What’s more, Neureiter wrote, the hefty fees were appropriate given “the severity of the violation” and because the lawyers had solicited donations from the “arguably innocent and gullible public” to fund their suit. He said he weighed whether the penalties could chill future legitimate lawsuits but concluded that “the repetition of defamatory and potentially dangerous unverified allegations is the kind of ‘advocacy’ that needs to be chilled.”

Neureiter agreed to stay his order, pending the outcome of the lawyers’ appeal.

Neureiter’s order is one of the first efforts to . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Although the report does not say, my hope is that the judge also ordered the bailiffs to take the lawyers into the alley behind the courthouse and slap them silly.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2021 at 6:59 pm

Could One Shot Kill the Flu?

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Matthew Hutson has an interesting article in the New Yorker:

In 2009, global health officials started tracking a new kind of flu. It appeared first in Mexico, in March, and quickly infected thousands. Influenza tends to kill the very young and the very old, but this flu was different. It seemed to be severely affecting otherwise healthy young adults.

American epidemiologists soon learned of cases in California, Texas, and Kansas. By the end of April, the virus had reached a high school in Queens, where a few kids, returning from a trip to Mexico, had infected a third of the student body. The Mexican government closed its schools and banned large gatherings, and the U.S. considered doing the same. “It was a very scary situation,” Richard Besser, who was then the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told me. Early estimates suggested that the “swine flu,” as the new strain became known, killed as many as fourteen per cent of those it infected—a case fatality rate more than two hundred times higher than typical seasonal flu. The virus soon spread to more than a hundred and fifty countries, and the Obama Administration considered delaying the start of school until after Thanksgiving, when a second wave could be under way. Manufacturers worried about vaccine supplies. Like most flu vaccines, the one for the swine flu was grown in chicken eggs. “Even if you yell at them, they don’t grow faster,” Tom Frieden, who replaced Besser as the director of the C.D.C., said, at a press conference.

In the end, the world got lucky. The early stats were misleading: although swine flu was extremely contagious, it wasn’t especially deadly. Sometimes the reverse is true. Avian flu, which spread across the world during the winter of 2005-06, is not particularly transmissible but is highly lethal, killing more than half of those it infects. Each flu virus has its own epidemiological profile, determined by its genetic makeup, and flu genes shift every year. Howard Markel, a physician and historian of epidemics who, in the early two-thousands, helped invent the concept of “flattening the curve,” compared influenza’s swappable genetic components to “two wheels of fortune.” A double whammy—ease of spread combined with lethality—could make covid-19, or even the 1918 flu, which killed between forty million and a hundred million people, look like a twenty-four-hour bug.

After the swine flu’s relatively harmless nature became apparent, many people asked if the alarm it provoked had been warranted. A Swiss survey found that trust in institutions had decreased. Some scientists and officials accused the World Health Organization of stirring up a “faked” pandemic to justify its budget. But most drew the opposite conclusion from the experience. Trying to prepare for a deadly flu pandemic had left them more alarmed. “There was just a sense of overwhelming relief,” Besser said. “If this had been like 1918, we sure weren’t ready.”

In truth, we’re never fully ready for the flu. We know it’s coming, like the first fall leaf, and yet three times in the past century—in 1918, 1957, and 1968—it has flattened us, killing a million or more each time. Even in ordinary years, the disease infects a billion people around the world, killing hundreds of thousands; one study estimated that it costs the United States economy close to a hundred billion dollars annually. Our primary weapon against the virus, the flu vaccine, is woefully inadequate. Over the last decade and a half in the United States, flu vaccines have prevented illness only forty per cent of the time; in particularly bad years, when vaccines were less fine-tuned to the strains that were circulating, they were only ten-per-cent protective. Today, the coronavirus pandemic is rightfully the object of our most strenuous efforts. And yet, as the infectious-disease specialists David Morens, Jeffrey Taubenberger, and Anthony Fauci wrote, in a 2009 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, that “we are living in a pandemic era that began around 1918,” when the flu used shipping networks to traverse the world. Since the 1918 pandemic, this century-long, multi-wave pandemic has killed roughly the same number of people.

We’ve controlled a vast number of diseases with vaccination—chicken pox, diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, rabies, rubella, smallpox, tetanus, typhoid, whooping cough, yellow fever—and, to some degree, we’ve added covid-19 to the list. But the pathogens behind those diseases tend to be relatively static compared with the flu, which returns each year in a vexingly different form. For decades, scientists have dreamed of what some call a “universal” flu vaccine—one that could target many strains of the virus. A universal vaccine would save countless lives not just this year but every year; as those numbers add up, it would become one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in history. Until recently, it’s been beyond the reach of molecular biology. But new technologies are extending our abilities, and researchers are learning how to see through the flu’s disguises. Without knowing it, we’re living on the cusp of a remarkable scientific achievement. One of the world’s longest pandemics could soon be coming to an end.

What we call “the flu” is really plural. Every season, several strains circulate. When it’s summer in one hemisphere, flu infections surge in the other. Virologists at the W.H.O. investigate the viruses and share what they learn with pharmaceutical companies; pharmaceutical researchers then often develop quadrivalent vaccines, which target four separate strains simultaneously. It’s the shotgun approach.

It takes more than six months to design, test, and manufacture a season’s worth of flu vaccine. In that time, a lot can change. Out in the world, strains mutate, jostling for dominance; prevalent varieties fade away, and sleepers come to the fore. Arnold Monto, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan who has advised the Food and Drug Administration on flu-vaccine targeting, told me that choosing strains to target requires “science and a little bit of art.” The selected flu viruses mutate further as a result of vaccine manufacturing. By the time a needle reaches your arm, there’s a good chance that the vaccine might be off target or obsolete.


Each strain of the flu can be seen as plural, too. Morrens, Taubenberger, and Fauci explain that “it is helpful to think of influenza viruses not as distinct entities but as eight-member ‘gene teams.’ ” A flu virus, they write, “must sometimes trade away one or more team members to make way for new gene ‘players’ with unique skills.”

The surface of a virus is covered by a forest of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2021 at 4:25 pm

How Pythagoras Broke Music (and how we kind of fixed it)

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Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2021 at 3:40 pm

‘Buy the Constitution’ Aftermath: Everyone Very Mad, Confused, Losing Lots of Money, Fighting, Crying, Etc.

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I’ve been collecting questions that are red-flag warnings — for example:

What’s the worst that could happen?
Don’t you trust me?
What could possibly go wrong?
How hard could it be?
Who would ever know?

I’m sure some of those questions were asked in the creation of ConstitutionDAO. Jordan Pearson and Jason Koebler report in Vice:

The community of crypto investors who tried and failed to buy a copy of the U.S. Constitution last week has descended into chaos as people are realizing today that roughly half of the donors will have the majority of their investment wiped out by cryptocurrency fees. Meanwhile, disagreements have broken out over the future of ConstitutionDAO, the original purpose of the more than $40 million crowdfunding campaign, and what will happen to the $PEOPLE token that donors were given in exchange for their contributions.

Over the weekend, the next steps of the project repeatedly changed. In the immediate aftermath of the Sotheby’s auction, in which ConstitutionDAO lost to hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin, the founders of the project asserted on its official Discord that, though they lost, “we still made history tonight.”

“We have educated an entire cohort of people around the world—from museum curators and art directors to our grandmothers asking us what eth is when they read about us in the news —about the possibilities of web3,” an admin of the project posted on Thursday.

Many donors are indeed getting an education about Ethereum and web3, but it’s certainly not all positive as the community tries to quickly come up with a reason it should exist at all after failing in its initial goal.

Chaos Reigns

The specifics of what is happening are quite complicated, but, basically, ConstitutionDAO raised more than $40 million worth of Ethereum using a crowdfunding platform called Juicebox. In exchange for donations, contributors had the option to redeem a “governance token” called $PEOPLE at a rate of 1 million $PEOPLE tokens per 1 ETH donated, issued through Juicebox. If ConstitutionDAO had won, those $PEOPLE tokens would be used for voting on what would happen to the Constitution.

It was never explained exactly how voting rights would be apportioned (the DAO said “Due to the unusual and extremely short timeline of needing to rally around obtaining the Constitution during the auction window, we have not been able to focus on giving the technical aspects of DAO governance mechanics the careful consideration and community deliberation this topic requires.”) But many DAOs use a proportional voting structure; for explanation’s sake, one way of doing this would have been to give 1 vote per $PEOPLE token, allowing people who donated more to have an outsized say in what happened to the document.

Crucially, ConstitutionDAO repeatedly said that donors were not buying a fractionalized share of the Constitution and that individual donors would not “own” part of the Constitution, they would merely have a say in where it was displayed, etc. ConstitutionDAO also said that donating to the project should not be looked at as an “investment.”

“You are receiving a governance token rather than fractionalized ownership of the artifact itself. Your contribution to ConstitutionDAO is a donation with no expectation of profit,” the DAO’s FAQ section read. “Some examples of this would be voting on advisory decisions about where the Constitution will be displayed, how it should be exhibited, and for how long.”

That’s all well and good, but regardless of the intentions of the core team, many people of course were looking at this as an investment (the meme was “buy the Constitution,” after all.) This was a somewhat reasonable expectation—many cryptocurrencies have skyrocketed to ridiculously high valuations off the strength of a meme alone, and DAO governance tokens are themselves a $40 billion market. Clearly, some people expected to be able to flip either a tiny ownership stake in the Constitution or $PEOPLE tokens for a profit. This did start happening over the weekend, with some investors selling $PEOPLE tokens on decentralized exchanges such as Uniswap. ConstitutionDAO repeatedly said on Discord that it “neither prohibits nor encourages any secondary trading of the $PEOPLE token.”

This is all important because, on Saturday, . . .

Continue reading. It’s quite an interesting story, in an insane sort of way (cf. the Dutch Tulip Market Bubble, when tulip mania swept through investors).

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2021 at 3:10 pm

“If Everybody’s White, There Can’t Be Any Racial Bias”: The Disappearance of Hispanic Drivers From Traffic Records

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It is increasingly difficult to believe that police departments in the US operate in good faith. Richard A. Webster in ProPublica provides an example from Louisiana:

When sheriff’s deputies in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, pulled over Octavio Lopez for an expired inspection tag in 2018, they wrote on his traffic ticket that he is white. Lopez, who is from Nicaragua, is Hispanic and speaks only Spanish, said his wife.

In fact, of the 167 tickets issued by deputies to drivers with the last name Lopez over a nearly six-year span, not one of the motorists was labeled as Hispanic, according to records provided by the Jefferson Parish clerk of court. The same was true of the 252 tickets issued to people with the last name of Rodriguez, 234 named Martinez, 223 with the last name Hernandez and 189 with the surname Garcia.

This kind of misidentification is widespread — and not without harm. Across America, law enforcement agencies have been accused of targeting Hispanic drivers, failing to collect data on those traffic stops, and covering up potential officer misconduct and aggressive immigration enforcement by identifying people as white on tickets.

“If everybody’s white, there can’t be any racial bias,” Frank Baumgartner, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina of Chapel Hill, told WWNO/WRKF and ProPublica.

Nationally, states have tried to patch this data loophole and tighten controls against racial profiling. In recent years, legislators have passed widely hailed traffic stop data-collection laws in California, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Virginia and Washington, D.C. This April, Alabama became the 22nd state to enact similar legislation.

Though Louisiana has had its own data-collection requirement for two decades, it contains a loophole unlike any other state: It exempts law enforcement agencies from collecting and delivering data to the state if they have an anti-racial-profiling policy in place. This has rendered the law essentially worthless, said Josh Parker, a senior staff attorney at the Policing Project, a public safety research nonprofit at the New York University School of Law.

Louisiana State Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, attempted to remove the exemption two years ago, but law enforcement agencies protested. Instead, he was forced to convene a task force to study the issue, which thus far hasn’t produced any results, he said.

“They don’t want the data because they know what it would reveal,” Duplessis said of law enforcement agencies.

To understand the impact of the state’s unique policy, WWNO/WRKF and ProPublica looked at nearly six years of data on traffic citations issued by the New Orleans Police Department in the state’s largest city, by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, and by the state police in Jefferson Parish. The parish was chosen because it has the largest Hispanic population in the state, and because the Sheriff’s Office, which is the primary police presence there, has been routinely accused by residents and local activists of harassing and profiling Hispanic people.

The data showed that of the almost 80,000 tickets that the Louisiana State Police handed out in Jefferson Parish over nearly six years, not a single one was issued to a person labeled as Hispanic.

It showed a similar pattern in Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office: Of the more than 73,000 traffic tickets the office issued between 2015 and September 2020, deputies identified only six of the cited people as Hispanic. As of 2020, Hispanics made up 18% of the parish’s population of more than 440,000.

By contrast, the New Orleans Police Department issued about 7,000 tickets to Hispanic people during the same period when the Sheriff’s Office claimed it issued only six. That represented 4% of all tickets in New Orleans, where the overall percentage of Hispanic people was 8% in 2020.

Baumgartner said that in many law enforcement agencies, there is “no real rhyme or reason or logic” to how officers classify race. “The white/black distinction is generally well recorded, but the Hispanic one is not. Many Hispanics are wrongly classified as white.” The data bears out Baumgartner’s point in an alarming way: Unlike Hispanic drivers, Black drivers in Jefferson Parish were cited at a rate 1.5 times what would be expected based on their share of the population.

State Police spokesperson Lt. Melissa Matey, as an explanation for not counting Hispanics, cited the current National Crime Information Center standards, which don’t include Hispanic as a race. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

While Hispanic is an ethnicity, more than 80% of law enforcement agencies use it as a race when collecting information from drivers during traffic stops, according to a sample of 69 departments studied by one expert on racial profiling.

Traffic stops are the most common interaction between citizens and police, and often lead to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2021 at 11:57 am

The chase for fusion energy

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The above infographic uses imagines from an excellent article by Philip Ball in Naturewhere the images are used more cunningly and interactively in the course of the lengthy and informative article, which begins:

The ancient village of Culham, nestled in a bend of the River Thames west of London, seems an unlikely launching pad for the future. But next year, construction will start here on a gleaming building of glass and steel that could house what many people consider to be an essential technology to meet demand for clean energy in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Long derided as a prospect that is forever 30 years away, nuclear fusion seems finally to be approaching commercial viability. There are now more than 30 private fusion firms globally, according to an October survey by the Fusion Industry Association (FIA) in Washington DC, which represents companies in the sector; the 18 firms that have declared their funding say they have attracted more than US$2.4 billion in total, almost entirely from private investments (see ‘Fusion funding’). Key to these efforts are advances in materials research and computing that are enabling technologies other than the standard designs that national and international agencies have pursued for so long.

The latest venture at Culham — the hub of UK fusion research for decades — is a demonstration plant for General Fusion (GF), a company based in Burnaby, Canada. It is scheduled to start operating in 2025, and the company aims to have reactors for sale in the early 2030s. It “will be the first power-plant-relevant large-scale demonstration”, says GF’s chief executive Chris Mowry — unless, that is, its competitors deliver sooner.

Designed by British architect Amanda Levete, GF’s prototype plant illustrates the way fusion research has shifted from gargantuan state- or internationally funded enterprises to sleek, image-conscious affairs driven by private companies, often with state support. (GF will receive some UK government funding; it has not disclosed how much.)

In this respect, advocates of fusion technology say it has many parallels with the space industry. That, too, was once confined to government agencies but is now benefiting from the drive and imagination of nimble (albeit often state-assisted) private enterprise. This is “the SpaceX moment for fusion”, says Mowry, referring to Elon Musk’s space-flight company in Hawthorne, California.

“The mood has changed,” says Thomas Klinger, a fusion specialist at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald, Germany. “We can smell that we’re getting close.” Investors sense the real prospect of returns on their money: Google and the New York City-based investment bank Goldman Sachs, for instance, are among those funding the fusion company TAE Technologies, based in Foothill Ranch, California, which has raised around $880 million so far. “Companies are starting to build things at the level of what governments can build,” says Bob Mumgaard, chief executive of Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And just as private space travel is now materializing, many industry observers are forecasting that the same business model will give rise to commercial fusion — desperately needed to decarbonize the energy economy — within a decade. “There’s a very good shot to get there within less than ten years,” says Michl Binderbauer, chief executive of TAE Technologies. In the FIA report, a majority of respondents thought that fusion would power an electrical grid somewhere in the world in the 2030s.

Several fusion researchers who don’t work for private firms told Nature that, although prospects are undeniably exciting, commercial fusion in a decade is overly optimistic. “Private companies say they’ll have it working in ten years, but that’s just to attract funders,” says Tony Donné, programme manager of the Eurofusion consortium which conducts experiments at the state-run Joint European Torus, established at Culham in the late 1970s. “They all have stated constantly to be about ten years away from a working fusion reactor, and they still do.”

Timelines that companies project should be regarded not so much as promises but as motivational aspirations, says Melanie Windridge, a plasma physicist who is the FIA’s UK director of communications, and a communications consultant for the fusion firm Tokamak Energy, in Culham. “I think bold targets are necessary,” she says. State support is also likely to be needed to build a fusion power plant that actually feeds electricity into the grid, adds Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).

But whether it comes from small-scale private enterprise, huge national or international fusion projects, or a bit of both, practical nuclear fusion finally seems to be on the horizon. “I’m convinced that it’s going to happen”, says Chapman. Chris Kelsall, chief executive of Tokamak Energy, agrees. “Sooner or later this will be cracked,” he says. “And it will be transformative.”

Seventy-year dream

Nuclear fusion, says Klinger, is “the only primary energy source left in the Universe” that we have yet to exploit. Ever since the process that powers the stars was harnessed in the 1950s for hydrogen bombs, technologists have dreamt of unlocking it in a more controlled manner for energy generation.

Existing nuclear power plants use fission: the release of energy when heavy atoms such as uranium decay. Fusion, by contrast, produces energy by merging very light nuclei, typically hydrogen, which can happen only at very high temperatures and pressures. Most efforts to harness it in reactors involve heating the hydrogen isotopes deuterium (D) and tritium (T) until they form a plasma — a fluid state of matter containing ionized atoms and other charged particles — and then fuse (see ‘Fuel mix’). For these isotopes, fusion starts at lower temperatures and densities than for normal hydrogen.

D–T fusion generates some radiation in the form of short-lived neutrons, but no long-lived radioactive waste, unlike fission. It is also safer than fission because it can be switched off easily: if the plasma is brought below critical thresholds of temperature or density, the nuclear reactions stop. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Fusion energy could be a boon to the energy industry, though of course the coal, natural gas, and petroleum industries will do all they can to undermine and delay fusion energy. But it may be too late to be effective in global warming. If all human-caused CO2 and methane emissions were stopped today, the world would continue to warm for 60 years because of what’s already in the atmosphere.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2021 at 11:28 am

More Corretto, in good company

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My Nikon has given up the ghost, so my iPhone becomes the camera I use, thus the different angle.

I like Corretto’s fragrance — and performance — a lot, thus the quick reprise. I brought out my trusty and beloved Pro 48, and it did its usual wonderful job. The Mallard lather really is exceptional — ultra-premium all the way. And the Corretto fragrance is captivating.

The razor is Above the Tie’s S1 with their own handle and it did a good job. it’s far from my favorite slant because it has very little slant. It’s more like a slightly-out-of-spec R1.

I chose Barrister & Mann’s Fougère Classique aftershave because I wanted another complex and compelling fragrance with which to end the shave. He mentioned in an email that he was considering bring this one back into production, but no sign of it on the site. I hope he does. I’m just about out.

A great start for the new week, with US Thanksgiving looming dead ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2021 at 9:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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